Book of Mormon dispute: Mesoamerica or the Great Lakes, U.S.


The 10th Annual Book of Mormon Lands Symposium was held in Salt Lake City to discuss the research and discoveries most recently made supporting the Mesoamerican setting of the events of the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

This map shows what some think as original settings for the Book of Mormon.

John L. Lund gave the keynote address. Lund is a motivational speaker, author, tour guide, scholar and consultant. He spoke on “Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon geography: Challenging the Heartlanders,” which is also the topic of his recently published book.

The two theories of the setting of the Book of Mormon discussed at the conference were the Mesoamerican theory and the United States Great Lakes theory. Lund approached them both and offered up a piece of universal advice:

“Whatever the theory, it needs to be consistent with the internal evidence in the Book of Mormon,” he said.

Part of the evidence supporting the Mesoamerican theory and disproving the North American Great Lakes theory has to do with minerals discussed in the text itself. Scriptures, such as 1 Nephi 18:25, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jacob 2:12, Helaman 6:9–11 and Ether 10:23, all mention the plentiful presence of gold, silver and/or copper. Lund challenged anyone to find a place in the United States Great Lakes area that has the abundance of these minerals as stated in the verses.

“If you are finding lands of the Book of Mormon you must find all of these (minerals), and there are at least six areas in Mesoamerica where you’ll find every one of them,” Lund said.

Kirk Magleby was one of the three officers who originated the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and spoke at the symposium of the history of Book of Mormon archaeology and research.

Magleby used Alma 50:11 as an example of chronological and geographical reading. The verse, according to Magleby, clearly tells of the Nephites settling in the west.

“We need to use chronology as well as geography to read the Book of Mormon,” Magleby said. “If it says down, we look south. If it says over, we look for some land mass they would have had to climb over.”

Mark Wright is a professor of ancient scripture and well versed in Mesoamerican and Mayan research, and he also sees Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon.

“There has been a shift more recently to finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon instead of finding the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica,” he said. “Once you start looking at the Book of Mormon through a Mesoamerican lens, you can’t unsee it.”

Wright gave an example of an edition popularly used in the 1970’s that was gold with ancient characters on the cover as well as the attire used in the Manti Pageant, which he classified as “Mesoamerican clothing.”

“You can look at Church films and art and even though there is no official position, the Church has always favored Mesoamerican art and style.”

“I think the strongest case for Mesoamerica is that it was a literate culture; nowhere else at that time was like that,” Wright said. “They had paper books, they were flammable. In the Book of Mormon in Ammonihah they burn the books of the believers.”

Regardless of people’s different theories on the setting of the Book of Mormon, Magleby said that there is one key fact that could be agreed upon, “The Book of Mormon is true from an academic perspective, from a textual perspective,” he said. “It is true.”

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