Book of Mormon/Geography/New World/Hemispheric Geography Theory

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Book of Mormon Hemispheric Geography Theory

Summary: The Hemispheric Geography Theory (or HGT) is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. It postulates that the events in the book took place over North and South America, with the Isthmus of Panama as the narrow neck of land.

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Question: What is the Hemispheric Geography Theory regarding the location of Book of Mormon lands?

The Hemispheric Geography Theory is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon

The Hemispheric Geography Theory (or HGT) is the traditional understanding of the Book of Mormon. It postulates that the events in the book took place over North and South America, with the Isthmus of Panama as the narrow neck of land.

Orson Pratt was the best-known proponent of the hemispheric model

The earliest and best-known proponent of the hemispheric model was Orson Pratt, who espoused it as early as 1832[1] and continued to teach it for decades. Throughout the nineteenth century, many Latter-day Saint writers followed Pratt’s model, and eventually his geographical ideas were incorporated into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. The popularity of the hemispheric model notwithstanding, it simply is not clear whether it was the result of prophetic revelation or merely the outgrowth of the personal ideas and assumptions of the Prophet Joseph Smith and other brethren.[2]

Joseph Smith likely believed in a hemispheric Book of Mormon geography

Frederick G. Williams attributed this model to Joseph Smith,[3] but this was based on William's interpretation of an anonymous manuscript that did not appear in print until 1882.[4]

A more recent advocate of the HGT, Earl Wunderli[5] has been reviewed.[6] Wunderli believes that the Book of Mormon text is clearly hemispheric, though he seems to presume that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon as a nineteenth century work, and thus reflects Joseph's preoccupations.[7]

Advantages of the hemispheric model

  • it matches how the earliest members of the Church tended to read the Book of Mormon
  • many members of the Church continue to have this sort of 'image' in their mind as they read the Book of Mormon–it is familiar, and comfortable
  • it has sanction in the writings and talks of many Church leaders of the past, who gave their personal opinions about it. However, now the Church takes no position on it.

Disadvantages of the hemispheric model

  • distances in the Book of Mormon are extremely difficult to square with the HGT scale, which requires thousands of miles in a North-South direction
  • even if it were true that there was an exceedingly great distance between the core Nephite domain and the Cumorah where the Nephites and the Jaredites were destroyed, there is no justification from the text of also extending this exceeding distance throughout the whole western hemisphere.

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.[8]

Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:

All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.[9]

This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.[10]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.[11]

Other Wiki Pages

Details: To see specific hemispheric models, click here.

FAIR Answers Wiki Table of Contents

Book of Mormon geography models in table form:

By Author

Book of Mormon geography models sorted by name

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LDS models

RLDS models

Critics' models

Miscellaneous models

By Date

All models by date of authorship

By Scope

Hemispheric Geography Models

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Limited Geography Models

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By Type

External (real world) models

Internal Geography Models

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  1. A newspaper account of Mormon missionaries who preached in Pennsylvania in 1832 mentions Orson Pratt in connection with this teaching. See B. Stokely, “The Orators of Mormonism,” Catholic Telegraph (Cincinnati), 14 April 1832, a reprint from Mercer (PA) Free Press.
  2. "Statement on Book of Mormon Geography," FARMS (accessed 18 September 2006) off-site
  3. John W. Welch and John L. Sorenson, "Did Lehi Land in Chile? An Assessment of the Frederick G. Williams Statement," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 57–61.
  4. William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki
  5. Earl M. Wunderli, "Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35 no. 3 (2002), 161–197.
  6. Brant Gardner, "An Exploration in Critical Methodology: Critiquing a Critique (Review of: “Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue 35/3 (2002): 161–97)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 173–224. off-site
  7. See Gardner, "Critiquing a critique," footnote 16 (referring to Wunderli, note 44.)
  8. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
  9. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445.
  10. LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," (4 May 2007)
  11. Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).