Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Geographical inconsistencies in Great Lakes model

Published: Monday, Jan. 17 2011 6:30 a.m. MST

While the past few installments have engaged some of the more common non-geographical claims that Great Lakes proponents propose for Book of Mormon geography, it’s time to deal with geographical issues.

Like most of the other models discussed in this series, the Great Lakes model is a “limited” geography. The model consists of a "land northward," a "land southward," a “narrow neck” between the two and large bodies of water (defined as “seas” that flank parts of the proposed geography).

To emphasize what I’ve already stated many times in this series, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on the location of Book of Mormon events and no revelation has been given regarding such locations. In the absence of revelation, we are left on our own to examine, analyze and debate the issue.

I’m certainly open to all new evidences and data on this topic, but I have yet to see how the Great Lakes data supports the Book of Mormon text on geographical, cultural, archaeological, and climatological requirements and inferences.

Following, are a sampling of the geographical problems with the Great Lakes model.

1. According to Alma 63, Hagoth — a Nephite ship builder — launched his ship (a large ship, see verse 6) into the west sea in order to explore new territory. Great Lakes advocates typically identify Lake Michigan as the west sea and suggest Hagoth could have followed the Great Lakes to the ocean.

Such a route for a larger vessel would probably not have been possible until the construction of the Erie Canal in 1825. Prior to that time, any vessel would have had to cross Niagara Falls to reach the ocean.

2. Great Lakes proponents typically claim that the Mississippi River was the ancient Sidon River. According to the Book of Mormon, the head of the Sidon was in a narrow strip of wilderness and the water flowed from south to north. The Mississippi, on the other hand, runs from north to south and the headwaters are in Lake Ataska in Minnesota — not in a narrow strip of wilderness.

3. There are a number of mismatches between a Great Lakes model and the geographical relationships of Book of Mormon lands and other lands or bodies of water.

For example, according to the Book of Mormon, Bountiful is north of Zarahemla, while the Great Lakes proponents would put it southeast of Zarahemla. Although the Book of Mormon tells us that Zarahemla is directly north of the land of Nephi, the Great Lakes model has Bountiful directly north of the land of Nephi.

In the Book of Mormon, we discover that a narrow strip of wilderness separates the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, but in the Great Lakes model, the land of Bountiful separates the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla.

The land of Nephi is described as stretching from the sea east to west, but in the Great Lakes model it doesn’t touch any sea. In the Book of Mormon the sea is west of Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, while in the Great Lakes model, it is east of Zarahemla and north of Bountiful.

We also are told that there are seashores to the west of Zarahemla and Nephi, but no such seashores are found west of the Zarahemla or Nephi in the Great Lakes model.

The Book of Mormon tells us that the Hill Cumorah is in the land of Desolation north of the narrow neck of land. In the Great Lakes model, Desolation is the area above and between the Great Lakes. In order to get to it, however, one must either cross or travel around the “sea east,” which is south of Desolation.

Dr. John Clark, a professional New World archaeologist, points out the problem for Great Lakes proponents when it comes to any theory as to how the Book of Mormon arrived in the region. According to Great Lakes theories, the Book of Mormon peoples crossed the Atlantic from the east (instead of the Pacific on the west, as proposed by most other models). Clark writes:

“But such landings present logistical difficulties. How did the ocean craft sail upstream and over shallows, rapids and falls to reach (the Great Lakes) hundreds of miles inland? Such a route would have been extremely difficult, and it certainly could not have been the first landing by any stretch of the imagination. ...

“In truth all (Great Lakes) geographies have difficulties with the water passages of the text. They have potential seas in all directions but no easy way for their travelers to get to them from the Atlantic Ocean. … Those who wish to believe that Mediterranean peoples landed in the Great Lakes near Kirtland, Ohio, need to show the feasibility of such a trip. So far they have not established a credible case.”

These are just a few of the geographical inconsistencies that — at least for me — create serious problems for the Great Lakes model.

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