Michael Ash is a long-time M2C promoter who has written books and articles. We've discussed his work on this blog before, but in light of what Hanna and Ardis wrote recently, it's a good time to review some of the misinformation at the core of his M2C arguments.
This is an article on the FAIRLDS website.
article by Michael Ash in blue, my comments
Lord has never revealed the specific location of Book of Mormon events.
see why scholars promote this oft-repeated claim—they want scholarship to be
the preferred, if not only, means of answering the question in the title of the
article. But the claim is problematic for several reasons.
We can’t know what the Lord has or has not revealed; at most, we can say that
we have no published record of a modern revelation about the specific location
of Book of Mormon events in the New World.
To know that “the Lord has never revealed the specific location of Book of
Mormon events” would require a revelation to that effect. So far as I know, no
one is claiming to have received such a revelation.
If revelation is the only way to know locations, and the Lord “has never
revealed” these locations, we must assume that Book of Mormon authors and
compilers did not know the locations of events that preceded their own experience.
Revelation is not the only way to know things; it is redundant when people have
personal experience and/or records of those who did have personal experience.
our day, the Lord did not need to “reveal” to us where Joseph Smith’s family
homes were, even though no one living today has personal knowledge of where
they lived. Instead, we know these locations because their contemporaries in
the area knew from their experience, as they told Willard Bean when he was assigned
to serve in Palmyra. The knowledge was passed on, corroborated by records.
the Lord never revealed specific locations, Mormon could only have gained knowledge
about Nephite territories because it was transmitted through the records he
abridged. Otherwise, he could not have accurately described the geography of
events that took place hundreds of years before he was born.
Moroni wrote our book of Ether, he explained he was writing about the people
who lived “in this north country.” If the Lord never revealed specific
locations, then Moroni could have known only by his personal experience and he
wouldn’t need revelation on that topic. Moroni knew because he lived in the
same north country and saw the evidence of their activities, together with the
records Ether provided.
we are left to our own speculations concerning Book of Mormon geography.
claim does not follow from the first sentence because revelation is not the
only way we can know the specific location of Book of Mormon events. We know
from Biblical history where Jerusalem is. We aren’t left to speculate about the
location of the Smith family homes; we know from contemporary historical accounts
and records. In the same way, we can know from the personal experiences of
Joseph and Oliver where certain events took place.
the days of Joseph Smith most Saints believed that the Book of Mormon took
place across the entire expanse of North and South America.
is merely an assumption. Certainly several LDS authors (primarily Orson and
Parley Pratt and Benjamin Winchester) described this scenario, but no one has
polled Latter-day Saints about what they believe. More importantly, Joseph
refuted Orson Pratt’s 1840 hemispheric theory when he wrote the Wentworth
theory—referred to as the Hemispheric
Geography Theory (HGT) posits that North America is the “land northward,” that South America is the
“land southward,” and that present-day
Panama is the “narrow neck” of land.
This is a natural interpretation of Book of Mormon geography based on a cursory
reading and superficial understanding to the Book of Mormon text.
is only a “natural interpretation” because of the teaching that the events took
place in the Americas. What is the source of that teaching? Ash doesn’t tell us.
He has a good reason not to, as we’ll see.
is likely that Joseph Smith, his contemporaries, and most Saints—perhaps even
most Saints today—have unquestioningly accepted this as an accurate model for
Book of Mormon geography.
is clever rhetoric. Ash writes “it is likely” because he has no evidence that
Joseph ever accepted the HGT (let alone “unquestioningly”). Instead, what Ash
doesn’t explain is that the historical record shows Joseph refuting Orson Pratt’s
HGT and, to the extent Joseph did discuss geography, he identified sites in
North America, starting with the Hill Cumorah in New York.
to this view is the common belief among LDS that Book of Mormon people were the
founding inhabitants of all native peoples of both North and South
assume that the term “continent” as Joseph used it refers to the western
hemisphere, meaning North and South America. But Joseph explained in the
Wentworth letter that, contrary to Orson Pratt’s HGT theory, the remnant of
Lehi were only the Indians that inhabited this country, which is consistent
with what he directly told those Indians, as well as D&C 28, 30 and 32.
Orson Pratt outlived Joseph by decades and continued to promote his HGT theory.
Currently, most LDS
scholars (and some LDS leaders) reject the HGT in favor of a Limited Geography Theory (LGT) for the
Book of Mormon.
This appeal to authority
is entirely unpersuasive, particularly because the proponents of LGT disingenuously
use LGT as a euphemism for M2C (the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory).
This theory posits that
the Lehites arrived to a New World already inhabited. (I discuss
this in a brochure entitled “Were the Lehites Alone in the Americas?”)
Notice, Ash simply
assumes the Lehites live in “the Americas.” “Americas” is a term adopted by
M2Cers; it is not found anywhere in the Joseph Smith Papers apart from the
According to this view,
the Lehites would have not only engaged these natives, but they would have also
become part of their society and culture.
These are two distinct
claims. The text does not exclude the presence of indigenous inhabitants, but
it does exclude the presence of “nations” in the area occupied by Lehi. The
text also emphasizes that the Nephites observed the law of Moses, which
contradicts any known indigenous society and culture. People can interpret the
text to confirm their biases, but they still have to explain why the text
omitted any reference to the Nephites becoming part of a larger society and
The LGT claims that Book
of Mormon events would have taken place in a relatively small area of land
and that this section of land
is that of Mesoamerica (Central America) with the Isthmus of Teuhuantepec as
the “narrow neck” of land.
Notice how smoothly Ash transitions
from LGT to M2C. It’s one thing to recognize the implausibility of HGT. Few
students of the Book of Mormon can make sense of a hemispheric setting, and Joseph
never articulated or implied such an extensive setting. So far, so good.
An LGT, therefore, makes
sense from a textual as well as a logical and practical perspective. But there
are lots of potential limited geographies. M2C is just one of several
possibilities, but Ash and the M2Cers falsely portray M2C as the only viable alternative
Notice also how Ash put
quotation marks around “narrow neck” but not “of land.” The text actually
refers to a “narrow neck of land” only once, in Ether 10:20. Separately, it
refers to a “small neck” and a “narrow neck,” but common usage of these terms
can refer to either a narrow channel of water or a sliver of land. Ether 10:20 modifies
“narrow neck” by adding “of land,” thereby distinguishing it from the other
references. To be sure, the terms could all refer to the same
geographical feature, but that is not required by the text and actually
contradicts normal textual interpretation which assumes different terms mean
And, of course, there are
hundreds of possible “narrow necks” of varying sizes throughout the western
are at least four questions or concerns which arise among LDS when they first
encounter this theory:
What is the evidence for a limited geography?; (2) why Mesoamerica?; (3) how can Cumorah be in New
York if Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica?; and (4) Why did
Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets accept the HGT?
reserve comment for the specific analysis below.
What is the Evidence for a Limited Geography?
decisive factor in opting for a limited geography is travel distances between
extreme ends of Book of Mormon cities. Travel distances, where mentioned, are
always mentioned in terms of how long the travel took. All travel distances
that we can decipher from Book of Mormon events indicate a very limited scale,
probably no more than a few hundred miles.
this is not a question of deciphering, which connotes decoding for a correct
answer. We’re dealing with a question of interpreting the text.
it’s accurate to say travel distances in the text are expressed in terms of
time, the text says nothing about means of travel. People “march” but they also
“travel.” In Helaman 3:14, when Mormon explains all the things he couldn’t
cover in detail, the only mode of transportation he mentions is that he didn’t
write about their shipping and their building of ships. If the Nephites
traveled by water, as most ancient civilizations did whenever possible, travel
distances could be much different than if they traveled only over land. Even
overland travel is greatly affected by the terrain and vegetation. To assume a “very
limited scale” is not unreasonable, but other alternatives are also not
unreasonable. Ultimately, one’s assumptions are subjective and largely arbitrary.
such a small area may seem unusual to modern readers, it should be noted that
95% of the Old Testament took place in an area only 150 miles long and less
than 75 miles wide.
is a strange claim. Presumably, the 95% refers to the number of pages, not the time
frame involved. It’s not clear how that is a relevant consideration. It’s anyone’s
guess how much terrain was covered between the Garden of Eden and Noah’s ark,
the tower of Babel, etc. Abraham alone traveled around 2,000 miles from Ur to
Egypt. Lehi’s family traveled around 2,000 miles from Jerusalem to Bountiful. These
examples are from a few years in one lifetime. Readers should question how and
why the entire Book of Mormon narrative in the New World would be confined to a
small area in Mesoamerica.
are some of the geographic criteria from the Book of Mormon text and how those
criteria are met by Mesoamerica:
the internal geography of the Book of Mormon requires that the land be hourglass shaped.
is an outcome-oriented interpretation of the text, not the result of
considering multiple plausible interpretations. The text does not require an
Mesoamerica is the only place that appears to have had a sophisticated writing
system during Book of Mormon times.
existence of a widespread, public, sophisticated writing system disqualifies an
ancient society as a setting for the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon
describes a Nephite culture with literate elites who were obsessed with preserving
their records from beginning (Enos) to end (Moroni) against the Lamanite
obsession with destroying those records. Ultimately, all the Nephite records
were deposited in the hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), except for the abridged record
Mormon gave to Moroni, who eventually deposited in a separate department of the
the Mesoamerican writing systems were neither Hebrew nor Egyptian. The Book of
Mormon does not mention or imply an alternative writing system.
• Advanced cities and
fortifications. Archaeology confirms such cities in Mesoamerica in Book of
“Advanced” is a subjective
term not used in the text, which describes “erecting small forts, or places of
resort, throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also
building walls of stone to encircle them about.” This is the only place in the
text that mentions using stone for construction.
Instead of building with
stone, the Nephites built with “heaps of earth” topped by “timbers,” just as we
see in ancient North America.
The Nephites prepared for
war by “digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities, throughout all
the land which was possessed by the Nephites. And upon the top of these ridges
of earth he caused that there should be timbers, yea, works of timbers built up
to the height of a man, round about the cities.
And he caused that upon
those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the
timbers round about; and they were strong and high. And he caused towers to be
erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of
security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the
Lamanites could not hurt them. And they were prepared that they could cast
stones from the top thereof, according to their pleasure and their strength,
and slay him who should attempt to approach near the walls of the city.” (Alma
By contrast, Mesoamerican
cities were built of stone and cement, with massive pyramids that are never
described or implied in the text.
• Rivers must be the right
size and in the right portions of the land (we find such correlation in
It’s axiomatic that the
rivers must be the “right size” and in the “right portions of the land,” but
the question is what the text describes. In the New World there is only one
named river, but other rivers and waterways are implied.
Book of Mormon suggests a temperate climate (for growing such things as “wheat”
and “barley”) and never mentions snow or cold in a New World setting.
is a compound fallacy. “Wheat and barley” grow in numerous climates, but mostly
in climates that feature lots of snow, such as Russia, France, Germany, Ukraine,
Canada, and the US. In modern times, barley grows in 100 countries. The Nephite
use of these crops tells us little if anything about the setting.
the text, Nephi describes the tree as exceeding the “whiteness of the driven
snow,” a metaphor that would be meaningless if his people never experienced
driven snow. Like the Book of Mormon, the New Testament refers to snow only
metaphorically. But as with the Nephites, the readers of the New Testament understood
the metaphor because they experienced snow.
logic of claiming a text that doesn’t mention snow couldn’t relate events that
took place in an area where it snows would mean the New Testament couldn’t have
taken place in Israel, Turkey, or Greece, all of which get snow. The same
problem arises in the “limited area” of the Old Testament.
Book of Mormon relates that the armies of the Nephites were “were dressed with
thick clothing” while the Lamanites were “naked” except for a loincloth of
skin. (Alma 43:19-20) In a hot, humid environment, thick clothing could be a disadvantage.
In cold climates, lack of clothing could be a disadvantage. So how to account
for such a disparity in apparel? One way is to interpret the “thick clothing”
as the Mayan defensive attire. Another is to consider the way the Native
Americans in North America actually dressed for battle; i.e., with war paint,
loin cloths, and little else. Illinois, Ohio, New York and other states
experience heat and cold, depending on the season.
Book of Mormon cultures and Mesoamerican
cultures had developed agriculture and commerce.
is a good example of the illusory “correspondences” approach, which takes
common attributes of most human societies and transforms them into some sort of
evidence of Book of Mormon settings. Of course, every human society has
commerce, and all but a few hunter/gatherer types utilize agriculture. For
example, modern archaeologists have determined that the Illinois site Joseph
identified as the burial place of Zelph included artifacts ranging from the
Rocky Mountains to the eastern states, just as Joseph said it did when he
visited in 1834.
• Volcanic activity and
This argument is bizarre in the context of the snow argument. The text does mention earthquakes,
but it never mentions volcanoes. By the reasoning of the M2C snow argument, we
should exclude areas featuring volcanoes from consideration.
Nothing in the text
requires volcanoes or even volcanic activity. The destruction in 3 Nephi can
all be accounted for by earthquake activity. A specific example that produced
the phenomena described in 3 Nephi took place in New Madrid, Missouri, in 1812.
People described darkness, being unable to light fires, places rising and being
buried under water, etc.
first glance there appears to be a problem with Book of Mormon directions and
the layout of Mesoamerica. Whereas the Nephites generally used terms such as
“northward” and “southward,” the hourglass shape of Mesoamerica runs northwest and southeast. How could an intelligent people like the Nephites get
cardinal directions wrong?
is a fake objection. M2Cers raise it because they know they have an answer, but
acknowledging the problem makes their position look more objective and well
considered. But their answer is contrived.
both Mayan and Hebrew, north means on
“the left hand” and south means “on
in reference to facing the rising sun. If it literally meant “on the right” it
would be meaningless, because a person can rotate 360 degrees.
indicate that some people in Mesoamerica called the Pacific Ocean the “west
sea” and the Gulf Coast the “east sea,” just as done in the Book of Mormon.
Even some European conquerors used directions similar to those used in the Book
of Mormon when they wrote about their travels in Mesoamerica.
does the text refer to the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf Coast, so it’s a fallacy
to write “just as done in the Book of Mormon.” But if the land “northward” is
actually west, it contradicts a basic tenet of M2C for people to call the
Pacific the west sea. It should be the north sea.
for labeling directions in ancient times varied by thousands of different
schemes and were generally arbitrary systems designed by individual groups to
deal with their unique geographical and linguistic situations.
put it simply, the directional systems of some ancient cultures were not based
on the same cultural principals as ours. Thus, a Mesoamerican geography for the
Book of Mormon is not problematic when considering cardinal directions.
has to use rhetoric to explain away the direction problem, but most readers
recognize that Joseph Smith translated the text. Whatever terms the Nephites
used, Joseph presumably translated them into terms that we understand; i.e.,
northward in the text means northward the way we understand it today, etc.
How can Cumorah be in New York if Book
of Mormon Events Took Place in
Mesoamerica? It is important to
recognize that Mormon claimed to bury all the plates except those that became the Book of Mormon in the hill Cumorah
is axiomatic because Mormon died before Moroni even finished his writings and
abridgment of the Book of Ether. However, when Moroni first visited Joseph, he
told them the record was written and deposited not far from his house, in the “hill
plates from whence we have the Book of Mormon were given to Moroni who, after
more than thirty years,
was still adding to the record. Moroni doesn’t tell us where he plans to bury
his plates, and it is not unreasonable that he carried them to New York during
the many years following his father’s demise.
Simply saying it is not
unreasonable does not make it reasonable. There’s no reason for Moroni to write
in his record where he intended to deposit the abridged plates, for two
reasons. One, he couldn’t know for sure until he actually deposited them, by
which time it would be too late to record the location. Two, readers can easily
infer he deposited the abridged plates near Mormon’s repository because Moroni
wrote that “I do not write those things which transpired from the days of Adam
until that time; but they are had upon the plates; and whoso findeth them, the
same will have power that he may get the full account.” (Ether 1:4) That statement
makes no sense if Moroni was referring to plates that were 2,000 miles away in
Besides, as previously
mentioned, the first time they met, Moroni told Joseph the record he was to
translate was in the “hill of Cumorah.”
That such a trip is not
as far-fetched as some might suppose, we know of an account of a shipwrecked
sailor who walked for eleven months from Tampico, Mexico to Maine – nearly the
same route and distance as Moroni would have had to travel.
No one says the trip is “far-fetched.”
This is another fake objection. We previously observed that both Abraham and
Lehi traveled long distances. While not “far-fetched,” the narrative is
improbable because we have Moroni traveling alone, carrying a valuable and
heavy load. According to M2C, Moroni was traveling from “this north country” to
a much more northern country, making his description of “this north country” misleading
at best. Furthermore, there is no explanation for why Moroni would have to
travel so far, through hostile and unknown territory, when the Lord could have
arranged for Joseph to be born in Mesoamerica.
was the name given to Moroni’s hill by early LDS. While it’s probable that
early LDS may have supposed that the Cumorah of New York was the hill in which
all of Mormon’s records were deposited, a close reading of the text does not
support this conclusion.
is zero historical evidence that some “early LDS” gave the name to the hill.
The only historical evidence is that it was Moroni who identified the site of
the abridged plates as the “hill of Cumorah,” that Joseph referred to it by
name before he even got the plates, that Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, and others had
visited Mormon’s repository of Nephite records in the same hill, that Oliver
Cowdery declared the New York Cumorah was a fact, that Oliver’s statement was repeatedly
republished in Church newspapers, and that all of Joseph’s contemporaries
understood this simple concept.
to the M2C claim, the text readily supports this conclusion. To be accurate, we
can all see that the text accommodates a variety of interpretations. That’s why
we look at what Joseph and Oliver had to say about the situation.
the only reason to reject what Joseph and Oliver taught is because it
contradicts the M2C interpretation of the text.
Why Did Joseph Smith and Subsequent Prophets Accept a Hemispheric Geography?
heading cleverly persuades readers to think past the sale, meaning it skips
over the question of whether Joseph ever did accept a hemispheric geography.
There is no historical evidence that he did, although there is historical
evidence that some of his contemporaries did.
and other LDS leaders were not (and are not) immune to their own opinions,
thoughts, and even misconceptions based on tradition.
what is left unsaid here: LDS scholars, including Ash, are definitely not “immune
to their own opinions, thoughts, and even misconceptions based on tradition.”
Ash’s statement here typifies the scholarly approach to this issue; i.e., the
prophets can be wrong, but a consensus of the scholars must be correct.
is making another fake argument anyway. No one says that Church leaders are immune
from their own opinions, etc. But we’re not dealing with opinions, thoughts,
and misconceptions. Oliver explicitly said it was a fact. He took care to
distinguish between facts and opinions. Joseph related what he learned directly
from Moroni. Oliver related his experience in the repository of Nephite
records. None of this involves any element of opinion, thought, or
misconception. It’s pure reporting of experiences, just as with the Restoration
of the Priesthood and other experiences.
Church does not support an official
Book of Mormon geography, so it is up others to develop the most plausible
is another red herring. Church leaders from the beginning have avoided declaring
“an official Book of Mormon geography” for the simple reason that there are
hundreds of candidates for Book of Mormon sites that cannot be specifically
identified today. Even assuming Book of Mormon sites remained intact, they
would be impossible to identify today. But the prophets have also specifically
identified the New York Cumorah.
New York Cumorah does not determine the rest of Book of Mormon geography. Even
Orson Pratt, in his 1879 footnotes in the official Book of Mormon noted that
his speculations about the River Sidon, Lehi’s landing place, the land of
Bountiful, etc., were all speculative (“it is believed,” etc.). But he noted as
a fact that Cumorah was in New York.
deliberately mislead Latter-day Saints when they conflate the known New York
Cumorah with the unknown other sites.
fact that Joseph Smith may have believed in a hemispheric model for Book of
Mormon geography is strong support that he did not write the Nephite text, but rather translated it.
we see the clarification from the misleading heading to this section; i.e.,
Joseph “may have believed in a hemispheric model.” No one can deny that Joseph “may
have believed” all kinds of things that he never expressed or implied. And, in
reality, the New York Cumorah does not exclude a hemispheric model. All theories
beyond Cumorah are questions of plausibility.
no one is saying that Joseph learned the location of Cumorah by translating (or
composing) the text. He learned that initially directly from Moroni and then
had that confirmed by visiting the repository himself, with Oliver and others.
any rate, it’s a fake argument to say that Joseph couldn’t have written the
text because he may have believed in a hemispheric model. Such weak apologetic arguments
undermine the credibility of the apologists. Obviously, an author can invent a
hemispheric model but write it in such a way that readers would not find it
a man becomes a prophet, God does not instantly answer all questions and
concerns about all aspects of the gospel (especially peripheral aspects such as
fake argument. Joseph learned about the hill Cumorah from Moroni before he
could have even had a question about geography.
no doubt by the thinking of the day, early Latter day Saints assumed (without
carefully reading the actual text of the Book of Mormon) that Book of Mormon
geography must have encompassed the entire hemisphere.
comes back to the beginning; i.e., the claim that “early Latter-day Saints”
didn’t carefully read the text, so we all have to turn to the M2C scholars to
read and interpret it for us. Hence, we have the incredibly poorly named Interpreter
journal and other members of the M2C citation cartel. On top of that, we have
the sleight-of-hand argument that because the hemispheric model was naïve and
unpersuasive, Cumorah cannot be in New York.
most challenging aspect of M2C is understanding why so many Latter-day Saints
have accepted it, when the arguments the M2C apologists make are so full of
logical and factual fallacies.
hemispheric model offered a superficial fit to a casual reading of the
conclusion makes sense only if the reader accepts the false dilemma; i.e., the
only alternatives are HGC and M2C.
by now, hopefully readers can see that a third alternative is what Joseph and
Oliver always taught.
For more information and
greater detail on this topic see:
L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting
for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 1–47.
L. Sorenson, “Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe!” FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6:1 (1994), 297–361.
L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of
Mormon Events: A Source Book (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992).