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CES Reply: Book of Mormon geography

This is an excerpt from “A Reply from a Former CES Employee.” The entire document can be downloaded for free.

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This is a line-by-line response to Jeremy Runnells’ “Letter to a CES Director: Why I Lost My Testimony.” Jeremy’s words are in green, the color of life, while mine are in black, the color of darkness.


7.  Book of Mormon Geography: Many Book of Mormon names and places are strikingly similar to many local names and places of the region Joseph Smith lived. 

No, not really, but we’ll get to that later on when you address this point at length. 

The following two maps show Book of Mormon geography compared to Joseph Smith’s geography:

The first map is the “proposed map,” constructed from internal comparisons in the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon Geography:

Joseph Smith’s Geography 

(Northeast United States & Southeast Canada)




The first map is the “proposed map,” constructed from internal comparisons in the Book of Mormon.

No, the first map was constructed from comparison with the second map. Or, rather, the first map is the second map, only with Book of Mormon names placed in substitution for real-world locations that have similar-sounding names. The problem is that many of the “proposed” first-map Book of Mormon sites directly contradict their actual geographical references in the Book of Mormon, making the first map pretty much worthless.

For example, there’s Jacobsburg down near the southwest corner of the second map. (Everybody wave. Hi, Jacobsburg!)  But 3 Nephi 7:12 describes Jacob, a wicked man appointed as the king of a secret combination, as he commands his followers “that they should take their flight into the northernmost part of the land, and there build up unto themselves a kingdom,” a kingdom which is identified as Jacobugath in 3 Nephi 9:9. (“And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness…”)

In what universe can the lower southwest be considered the “northernmost part of the land?”

Alma 22:28 describes the land of Lehi-Nephi as being “on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore.”  Yet there’s Lehigh County, PA, inconveniently on the eastern, not western, seashore, and not really “on the west” of anything.

Perhaps the most brazen error in Map #1 is the proposed location of “Ramah,” which this map equates with a Canadian town using the same name without an H. But Ether 15:11 identifies Ramah as the Jaredite name for “Cumorah,” a location this map pins in Joseph Smith’s hometown of Palmyra. (“Palmyra” sounds very different from “Cumorah,” but we’ll let it slide for now.) How can Ramah/Cumorah be both in Canada and New York at the same time? And weren’t you previously upset about the possibility of two Cumorahs?

Throughout the Book of Mormon we read of such features as “The Narrow Neck of Land” which was a day and a half’s journey (roughly 30 miles) separating two great seas. We read much of the Hill Onidah and the Hill Ramah – all place names in the land of Joseph Smith’s youth.

We “read much of the Hill Onidah and the Hill Ramah?” Where? Onidah is mentioned three times, and only once as a hill, in two verses totaling 122 words. Ramah gets even shorter shrift – one mention in a single 39-word verse. Combined, all verses referencing the Hill Onidah and the Hill Ramah constitute .006% of the Book of Mormon text, which is not “much” at all. There are ironically more references to the Hill Ramah and the Hill Onidah in your letter than there are in the entire Book of Mormon.

And, incidentally, why does the “land of Joseph Smith’s youth” somehow include a remote Canadian village 1,811 miles away from his hometown that didn’t exist at all in 1830 and wasn’t named “Rama” until six years after the Book of Mormon was published?

We read in the Book of Mormon of the Land of Desolation named for a warrior named Teancum who helped General Moroni fight in the Land of Desolation. In Smith’s era, an Indian Chief named Tecumseh fought and died near the narrow neck of land helping the British in the War of 1812. Today, the city Tecumseh (near the narrow neck of land) is named after him. 

Today it is, yes. But not when the Book of Mormon was published. It wasn’t named Tecumseh until 1912.

We see the Book of Mormon city Kishkumen located near an area named, on modern maps, as Kiskiminetas. 

On modern maps, yes. But not any map Joseph Smith could have seen. This area wasn’t named Kiskiminetas until a year after the Book of Mormon was published. And, as demonstrated above, the supposed Book of Mormon locations in the map you provided are highly speculative and often demonstrably incorrect.

There are more than a dozen Book of Mormon names that are the same as or nearly the same as modern geographical locations.

Wow. “More than a dozen.” Out of 337 total proper names in the text, 188 of which are unique to the Book of Mormon. And given that you consider things like “Jacobsburg” and “Jacobugath” to be “nearly the same,” I’m surprised you could only come up with forced parallels for less than 5% of the names in total.

Still, let’s take a look at the “more than a dozen.”


Yep, that’s more than a dozen, all right. 18, to be precise. Although why do you cite “Oneida” twice? Did Joseph really name the “land” of Onidah after the city and the hill after “Oneida Castle?” And since the Book of Mormon never refers to the “Land of Onidah,” why do you get to stick that one in there?

So, really, we’re down to 17.

So allow me to reproduce this list with my comments in a third column. (Most of my comments come from information provided by the unofficial apologists at FAIR you so despise, but since the info seems to be accurate on this subject, I see no reason to avoid using it.)


So, to sum up, out of the Book of Mormon’s 337 total proper names, you cite 17 that you believe were lifted from locales within a 2,000-mile radius of Joseph’s home, yet 8 of those names didn’t apply to locations in 1830, and Joseph’s knowledge of an additional 5 would have been unlikely, leaving 4 geographical names that are similar, but not identical, to Book of Mormon names.

And thus it is that 1.2% of all Book of Mormon names may or may not have been adapted from precisely four place names out of thousands in a geographical area roughly the size of half of the United States, a tenuous correlation at best that still requires you to think “Ani-Anti” is a clear derivative of “Antioch.”

This is all just a coincidence?

Pretty much, yeah.

Tomorrow: Cumorah, Moroni, and Captain Kidd!

CES Reply: Book of Mormon archaeology
CES Reply: Moroni, Cumorah, and Captain Kidd

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