Doctrine and Covenants/Geography/Locations

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The Doctrine and Covenants and the locations in the Book of Mormon

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Question: Was Zarahemla located near present-day Nauvoo?

The intent of this revelation seems to have been to encourage obedience to Joseph's instructions, whether about the name of towns or the locations for settlement

It is claimed that D&C 125: identifies a city as Zarahemla, and this was intended to be a revelatory declaration of the location of the Nephite city of Zarahemla from the Book of Mormon.

The intent of this revelation seems to have been to encourage obedience to Joseph's instructions, whether about the name of towns or the locations for settlement. An exhortation to obedience (a more spiritually vital message) seems more plausible than an oblique revelation of an obscure point of Book of Mormon geography, which none of the recipients noted anyway. Neither Joseph or anyone else described this as the site of the Nephite Zarahemla,[1] and at least two apostles have rejected the idea that anyone knows the location of Zarahemla via revelation.

The claim that the revelation in D&C 125 refers to the Nephite Zarahemla is dubious

Anthony W. Ivins, member of the First Presidency, said in General Conference:

There is a great deal of talk about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Where was the land of Zarahemla? Where was the City of Zarahemla? and other geographic matters. It does not make any difference to us. There has never been anything yet set forth that definitely settles that question. So the Church says we are just waiting until we discover the truth. All kinds of theories have been advanced. I have talked with at least half a dozen men that have found the very place where the City of Zarahemla stood, and notwithstanding the fact that they profess to be Book of Mormon students, they vary a thousand miles apart in the places they have located. We do not offer any definite solution. As you study the Book of Mormon keep these things in mind and do not make definite statements concerning things that have not been proven in advance to be true.[2]

Harold B. Lee also did not show any awareness that the location of Nephite Zarahemla had been revealed:

Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?[3]

In addition to this disavowal, and the Church's insistence that no official geography has been revealed outside the Book of Mormon text itself, there are textual problems with this claim.

D&C 125 was not the first application of the name Zarahemla to the area

In fact, D&C 125 was not the first application of the name Zarahemla to the area—Joseph examined the site near Montrose, Iowa on July 2, 1839, and "advised that a town be built there, and called Zarahemla." The History of the Church clearly indicates that this tract of land had recently been purchased by Bishop Knight with the intent of building a town upon it. Joseph Smith simply suggested a name for the new gathering place.[4] If Joseph had known by revelation that this was the site of the Nephite Zarahemla, it seems strange that he said nothing then or later, given his obvious keen interest in Book of Mormon locations.

Little was done across the river, despite Joseph's instructions, until the March 1841 revelation, whose probable intent becomes more clear when read in context. In response to the question, "What is the will of the Lord concerning the saints in the Territory of Iowa?," the Lord replies, " if those who call themselves by my name and are essaying to be my saints, if they will do my will and keep my commandments concerning them, let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph, and build up cities unto my name…."[5]

Obedience is being emphasized, not a geographic identification. Notice also that the Lord specifically stated that Zarahemla, Iowa was being appointed by Him as a gathering place for the Saints (along with Nashville, Iowa). He said nothing about the location having any historical significance.

The geography of the Mississippi also makes the identification of Zarahemla questionable

The geography of the Mississippi also makes the identification of Zarahemla questionable. In the Book of Mormon, the River Sidon near Zarahemla could be crossed on foot by troops during battle (Alma 2:27–35). Despite this fact, one proponent of this claim tells us elsewhere that American bison "won't swim [across a body of water] if they can't clearly see the other side. And so when they get their heads down low, like a buffalo is, this is the Mississippi River at Nauvoo, this is a long swim. The buffalo wouldn't cross there."[6]

This claim is self-contradictory. It asserts that the Mississippi at Nauvoo is too wide for buffalo to swim—yet, it insists that the Nephite Zarahemla is located right across the Mississippi from Nauvoo, and so the model requires that troops be able to ford it. During an April 1842 visit, the anti-Mormon author Henry Caswall reported that the Mississippi between Montrose and Nauvoo was "about a mile and a half in width." He crossed by canoe, and noted that "at length the stout sinews of the Mormons prevailed….[and a]fter labouring hard [paddling] for more than half an hour we safely landed at Nauvoo."[7] It is difficult to see how Alma and his men could ford the river anywhere near the Zarahemla of Joseph Smith's day.

There is one location on the Mississippi which is not deep, but presents a different set of obstacles to crossing the river on foot. The Des Moines Rapids, located between Nauvoo and Keokuk, Illinois were, according to Wikipedia, "one of two major rapids on the Mississippi River that limited Steamboat traffic on the river through the early 19th century." While it is true that the area of the rapids wasn't deep, it isn't true that it could be therefore crossed safely. Anyone who has had whitewater experience will know that you absolutely do not attempt to cross a river where rapids are present. Rapids are comprised of shallow water flowing very swiftly through and around projections of rock. If an army is attempting to cross the river at the area of a rapid, assuming that they can even retain their footing, they are also expending the energy to fight the current. Rapids are a very dangerous place to attempt a river crossing.


  1. There is, for example, no mention of any connection between the Montrose, Iowa area or nearby Zarahemla Stake with the Nephite Zarahemla in such works as Richard E. Bennett, "Montrose, Iowa," in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, edited by Donald Q. Cannon, Richard O. Cowan, Arnold K. Garr (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Co., 2000). or Stanley B. Kimball, "Nauvoo West: The Mormons of the Iowa Shore," Brigham Young University Studies 18 (Winter 1978), 132–142.
  2. Anthony W. Ivins, Conference Report (April 1929), 16.
  3. Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” address to religious educators, 8 July 1966; in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 65; cited in Dennis B. Horne (ed.), Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluation Doctrinal Truth (Roy, Utah: Eborn Books, 2005), 172-173.
  4. History of the Church, 3:382. Volume 3 link
  5. D&C 125:1-2(italics added)
  6. Rodney Meldrum, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography: New scientific support for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; Correlation and Verification through DNA, Prophetic, Scriptural, Historical, Climatological, Archaeological, Social, and Cultural Evidence (Rodney Meldrum, 2007), mail-order DVD. ( Index of claims ) Quote is from Section #8, "Buffalo Evidence," 1:10-2:30 (approx time stamp).
  7. Rev. Henry Caswall, The City of the Mormons: Or, Three Days at Nauvoo in 1842 (London: Rivington, 1842), 3-4.