Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: The Baja model of Book of Mormon geography
As far as I’m aware, this model is a novel theory that was first developed in 2008 by the father-son team Dr. Lynn Rosenvall and David Rosenvall. Lynn is a retired professor of geography at the University of Calgary and is very well-educated not only in historical geography but also in human environment and world climates.
While the Rosenvall’s model certainly has some fans, I haven’t found either the Baja or Peruvian models garnering wide support from the LDS member or scholarly community — certainly nothing near the support that we find for the Great Lakes or Mesoamerican models. It’s possible that this limited support may be due to the fact that few Latter-day Saints are familiar with these models.
The Baja model has a general list of attractive features. It conforms to the Book of Mormon’s requirement that the events took place in a limited geography; it matches the cardinal directions with north pointing north; it has a “narrow neck” of land and an internal model that is reasonably consistent for most Book of Mormon features.
Specific strengths for the Baja model include a climate (in the northern parts of the peninsula) that is very similar to that of the Mediterranean Basin (from which the Lehites would have derived). Another evidence in favor of the Baja model is the description of the land of Nephi and Zarahemla as nearly surrounded by water (Alma 22:32) and Nephi’s comparison of their land to an “isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20).
In my opinion, the primary weaknesses of the model include a Sidon river that doesn’t flow north, a dearth of archaeological and cultural support, and an external and internal map that is weak compared to some other maps.
Like supporters of the Peruvian model, the Rosenvalls offer answers to criticisms of their model. I find their answers to be less persuasive, however, than those strengths I see in other models. Readers can follow the links to the Peruvian and Baja models and come to their own conclusions.
As noted above, one of the weaknesses for the Baja model is the lack of archaeological support for civilizations during Book of Mormon periods in lands that are suggested to encompass Book of Mormon cities.
While critics question if there is any archaeological support for the Book of Mormon anywhere in the New World, the topic of Book of Mormon archaeology in general will be dealt with in a future installment.
The Rosenvall’s answer to the lack of archaeological remains seems to be three-pronged. They argue that:
1. Book of Mormon civilizations built humble homes and cities rather than the elaborate structures that might have survived until modern times.
2. Because of wickedness, the Nephites and Lamanites were swept off the land by a destruction that may have left little archaeological remains.
3. The Baja Peninsula has barely been touched by professional archaeological excavations.
Of these three arguments, the last — the paucity of archaeological work that has been done in the Baja region — is, in my opinion, the strongest.
As for the other two arguments, I offer these thoughts:
The Nephites undoubtedly built humble homes and cities, but they also built a temple like unto Solomon (2 Nephi 5:16), had — at the end of the history — a sizable population, made buildings of cement (Helaman 3:7-11) and lived — at times — in walled cities (Mosiah 9:10, Alma 53:4-5, 62: 20-36).
I’m under no delusion that such textual clues necessarily force us to view the Nephite world like the cities of medieval Europe or even necessarily of the level of magnitude that we find in some parts of Mesoamerica (for which many of the more spectacular structures date outside of the Book of Mormon timeline). I also believe that their temple would not have been anywhere near as monumental as Solomon’s. From my interpretation of the text, however, it seems reasonable to assume that the Book of Mormon peoples would have left some archaeological evidence for their existence.
This brings us to the Rosenvall’s second answer to the lack of archaeological remains — the destruction of the wicked may have swept the evidence away. While the Rosenvalls agree that the coming of Christ would not have made major changes to the geographical landscape, they apparently believe that some time after the end of the Book of Mormon most of their archaeological evidence somehow disappeared. I personally find this argument unconvincing.
While it’s possible that future archaeological excavations may result in exciting new evidences to support either the Baja or the Peruvian models, based on what evidence is available today, I feel that both models are less impressive that other competing models.
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