Book of Mormon Geography: An Important Note on John L. Sorenson's Model

Anyone who has read An Ancient American Setting for The Book of Mormon, Mormon's Codex or Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life, or anything else by John L. Sorenson, will notice that he leans on the work of the New World Archaeological Foundation(NWAF). This is because he places the Nephite heartland in the central depression of Chiapas, with the River Sidon being the Grijalva River. 

For me, the convergances in cultural development and in the movements of people, between the Book of Mormon and this region of Mesoamerica, in time and space, stretching from Veracruz, Oaxaca, Chiapas to Highland Guatemala, are impressive. 

As I'v said before, Sorenson's paradigm owes much to the NWAF, a legitimate and respected archeological franchise. Speaking of the his experience with the NWAF, non-mormon archeologist, Michael Coe says:

When I was a graduate student writing my dissertation on very early cultures in the south coast of Guatemala, it was suggested to me by Alfred Kidder -- who was the leading American archaeologist of his day, the leading New World archaeologist -- he asked me, since he was on the board the New World Archaeological Foundation, which had been founded to find for the Mormon Church these relics, these ancient remains, to go over and see what they're doing.

So I did. I went over and visited and spent a wonderful week with the New World Archaeological Foundation archaeologists, who were working on a very early site in the state of Chiapas, and I was very enormously impressed with the work they were doing. It had nothing to do with the book of Mormon archaeology. These were scientific archaeologists working with wonderful field methods. They undoubtedly believed in the Book of Mormon since they were religious Mormons, but they were doing a wonderful job, and I was impressed with that.

However, what Michael Coe might not realize is that the success of the NWAF is due, in part, to Sorenson's use of the Book of Mormon in determining where the Nephite heartland once was, in the real world. 

You see, Sorenson didn't pick this specific area of Mesoamerica because the archeology seemed to match, after which he retrofitted his Book of Mormon map to fit the location. No, Sorenson made the basics of his paradigm and then convinced the heads of the NWAF to dig were he believed the Nephite heartland was. In other words, the basics of the paradigm preceded the archeology. 

The following is an excerpt from Book of Mormon Central's interview with John L. Sorenson, emphasis added: 

Why did you guys decide to go to that specific area in Mexico?
That was the idea of Ferguson and Milton Hunter. They had written a book -I think it was published in 1950 -Archaeology and the Book of Mormon or something of that ilk and their interpretation of the historical traditions in Central Mexico, Southern Mexico, suggested to them that Zarahemla would be in Tabasco. So they sent the expedition there for the first time just to see what was there. There wasn’t much there. Obviously, it was not going to work. By the end of the –near the end of five months of the season, there was no discovery of any significance and Ferguson was counting on some kind of a discovery to whet interest to get more money for a second year. By the way, the primary donors were the Marriotts in Washington and Rose Marie Reid, by the way. I have no idea how that came about, but that was an interesting thing.

Anyway, Ferguson came to Tabasco where we were working in about the first of Mayin 1953 and said we’ve got to do something to light a fire to get some more money. Lowe and I had been spending our evenings doing Book of Mormon geography research. We’d heard all that Jakeman had to say about it and were not satisfied. It was alright generally, but he was kind of a fuss-budget and everything had to be exactly the way he thought it would be and there was no room for anything else. So we felt free to speculate a little and analyzed the material in the Book of Mormon and I concluded that it was much more logical that the central depression of Chiapas, up toward the Guatemalan border on the Grijalva River,would be where Zarahemla would logically be.We agreed that the highlands of Guatemala, southern highlands,would be where Nephi was. Thinking all that we thought, so I peddled the idea to Ferguson that we ought to go look where I thought Zarahemla was to be in the Central Depression. 

He agreed; we flew up there, went out and got a jeep and a guide and cruised around in that general area for ten days. It was just about time for the rains to start so we didn’t have much time left and we found a hundred sites or so that had never been reported before. Actually only one or two archaeologists had ever even been there, had even looked and they found a couple of obvious things of late. Anyway, it became clear to me and to Ferguson that this was where the new work of the Foundation should center. He went back to –he lived in California, Bay area -went back there and trudged to Salt Lake and peddled the idea to the church authorities that they ought to do something with this knowledge and they did; they bought it.

The rest, as they say, is history. The point I'm trying to make is that Sorenson came to the conclusion that the Nephite heartland was in the central depression of Chiapas BEFORE the NWAF even began digging there. In fact, Sorenson's reading of the Book of Mormon is why the NWAF digs where it does.


  1. The foundations of Book of Mormon geography laid down by these men was of historic significance to the Church, but that they found nothing substantial is instructive. Those involved for money-raising purposes became disillusioned because they were looking for "quick finds", something a true scientist will never let predominate his thinking. My personal opinion is that the Sidon is probably the Usumacinta or one of its tributaries such as the Pasion. Though nothing confirmatory has been discovered yet, I think the Highlands of Guatemala are most likely the land/city of Nephi. Though I applaud Sorenson's anthropological contributions, I think his compass alteration was counter productive and actually threw us off the path for decades.

  2. I agree with the above comment.

    Looking at the civilization during the Book of Mormon era, specifically the Zarahemla period, the geographical placement of the two main and dominant regional powers has El Mirador located in the North in lowlands.

    (A geographical requirement for Zarahemla is that it has lands to its north, from where Mormon journeyed as a youth, which has a shared culture. This is fulfilled by cities in the Yucatan, their temples are the same indicating the same belief system. This is during the Book of Mormon era, and stuff that dates later out of era is not directly relevant.)

    It’s well accepted that the land of Zarahemla is lowlands and the land of Nephi highlands, as the books references are always down to Zarahemla and up to the land of Nephi. The southern regional power, in those precise years, centers at Kaminaljuyu in the highlands. In those years the Book references no other regional superpower. So for Mesoamerica to work that would be the placement of Lamanite and Nephite polities, Lamanites in the south, Nephites in the North. If these main polities, around Kaminaljuyu in the south and El Mirador in the North are not the Nephites and Lamanites, than realistically it rules our Mesoamerica as these lands. My view is it’s either them or it’s not there.
    Add to that the requirement of the ancient Jaradite lands to the north west and it is fulfilled by the Olmec civilization which was also literate as the record requires.
    When you look at the detail of triadic temples the structures, they are perfect to function as pre-Christian era Hebrew temples. These triadics are not just isolated pyramids, but an arrangement of integrated structures.
    The fact that the triadic temples share the same plan as Ezekiel’s temple has enormous relevance. Plus the whole structure suits the symbolism and ordinances described in Hebrews 9. They do not occur south of Caracol. Only in the northern areas.

    ‘Mormon 1:7
    ‘The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.’
    He spoke of its temples and synagogues and sanctuaries.

    Nephi described the nation’s elevated highway network:
    ‘… there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.’
    During 2016 expensive radar imaging was done in the Mirador basin, articles appeared, ‘The world’s first super highways discovered’ Engineered and built by the pre-classic Maya two thousand years ago. Over 240KM of elevated highways leading between cities. The radar imaging is like a photo but it eliminates the foliage and shows what exists beneath.

    The extent of the cities the buildings the population matching Mormon’s description exactly.

    From what I can research all ditch and inner wall fortifications, dating to the BofM era, surrounding cities, only occur in this region, not outside it. Becan, Tikal, and Tintal are within this area, all also have late pre-classic triadic temples.

    To use examples of structures in this region as support for another geographical model is very misleading.


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