Unknown Book of Mormon Cities

Unknown Book of Mormon Cities

Unlike the Bible and other cultures, no Book of Mormon cities can be identified by name in anywhere in the New World.

Book of Mormon JapaneseThe question of identifying sites is a rather complex one, for both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Only 55 percent of the sites mentioned in the Bible have been identified to the satisfaction of scholars, and many of these are guesses only. In the last century, three different archaeological sites have been identified as the biblical city of Debir, which was conquered by Joshua.

Some people seem to think that the identification of biblical sites is certain and that the names of the sites are actually found there, like modern road signs (“Entering Jericho”). This is not the case, however. Before the 1930s, no Palestinian site was known from an in situ inscription, and since then, only a handful have been identified by inscriptions (Dan, Jerusalem, Gezer, Lachish, Arad, and Ekron). In fact, one of them, Ekron, was confirmed as recently as the summer of 1996. Arad is a particular problem, for although a bowl with the name Arad inscribed on it was found at the site known by that name to the Bedouin, there are no remains from the time of Moses, Joshua, and the judges on the site, as the Bible requires (Numbers 21:1; 33:40; Joshua 12:14; Judges 1:16). This led archaeologist Yohanan Aharoni to speculate that another nearby site was the Arad of that time.

One thing that has made biblical sites easier to identify is the fact that many of them have retained their ancient names. This is because the conquerers and inhabitants of Palestine/Israel have always spoken related Semitic languages. Thus, the Israelites spoke Hebrew, while the Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity spoke a related language, Aramaic. Aramaic was retained as a liturgical language (and, in some villages, as a spoken language) by the early Christians, who were converted Jews. The seventh century AD brought the Arabs, whose language is also related to Hebrew. Even during the so-called “Latin” (Crusader) Kingdom of Jerusalem, the official language was Syriac, an Aramaean dialect. (The term “Latin” referred to their religion, Roman Catholocism.) On the other hand, a number of other languages are spoken in Mesoamerica, where the Nephites and Lamanites lived, and while there have been studies showing that some of them have Hebrew words, they are not Semitic languages. Consequently, the place-names in that area are no longer related to Hebrew. So the identification of Book of Mormon sites is complicated.

Despite these difficulties, some progress has been made in Book of Mormon geography. There is general agreement among serious Book of Mormon scholars that the city of Nephi was at Kaminaljuyu, outside Guatemala City, and that the city built near the narrow neck of land by the Jaredite king Lib is to be identified with San Lorenzo. The most thorough study of Book of Mormon geography is John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: FARMS and Deseret, 1985).

Three Old World sites mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but unknown from the Bible, have also been identified. These are the river Laman and its associated valley of Lemuel (1 Nephi 2:8-10), Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34), Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:5-7).

See John A. Tvedtnes, “Historic Archaeology and the Geographic Imperative,” posted on the FAIR web site.

For more information, see William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (Spring 1993).

See V. Garth Norman, “San Lorenzo as the Jaredite City of Lib,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology No. 153 (1983).

For the river Laman, see George D. Potter, “A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999)”; John A. Tvedtnes, “More on the River Laman,” FARMS Update 176, Insights 25/3 (2005). For the site of Nahom, see Ross T. Christensen, “The Place Called Nahom,” Ensign, August 1978; S. Kent Brown, “‘The Place Which Was Called Nahom’: New Light from Ancient Yemen,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999); Warren P. Aston, “Newly Found Altars from Nahom,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001); S. Kent Brown, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail,” in Donald W. Parry et al., eds., Evidences and Echoes of the Book of Mormon (Provo: FARMS, 2002); “Nahom and the Eastward Turn,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003). For the site of Bountiful, see Warren P. And Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey Across Arabia to Bountiful (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1994); Warren P. Aston, “The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi’s Bountiful,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998); William Revell Phillips, “Metals of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000).