George Reynolds argues for a hemispheric geography model for the Book of Mormon.

George Reynolds

George Reynolds, The Story of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Joseph Hyrum Parry, 1888), 17–20, 364–367, 382–394

Joseph Hyrum Parry
George Reynolds
Reading Public

THE story that we are about to relate is a true one. It is the history of the races who lived on this broad land of ours long, long ago. From it we shall learn many lessons of God's great love for man. We shall also learn how oft his love has been spurned, how apt his favored children have been to walk in ways of sin, and how prone to disobey his holy law. It is a story full of light and shade, one which it will be well for all of us to take to heart, for by so doing our faith in God will increase, and we shall be prompted to strive the more earnestly to avoid the evils that others, by their misdeeds, have brought upon themselves and their posterity.

America, the land we love, is, in our Heavenly Father's eyes, choice above all other lands as the home of those of his sons and daughters, whom he has placed upon this earth. For all God's creatures are not here. He has made many worlds and filled them with his children. How many we know not; they are countless to us. The stars, that shine in myriads in the heavens, are nearly all suns like the one that gives us light: the remaining few are worlds like unto this on which we dwell; and ours is one of the very smallest of them all. To the works of God there is no beginning, neither is there any end.

God made America the richest of all lands. He filled its depths with precious minerals; he caused the most lovely trees, and herbs, and flowers to grow upon its surface. In all things he made it most desirable as a home for man. And here he planted the Garden of Eden, and placed our first parents, Adam and Eve, therein. From that garden they were afterwards driven forth when they failed to keep God's law. But they did not leave this continent. Here they still remained; here their sons and daughters were born, until many strong peoples had sprung from them. It was in this land that Cain slew his brother Abel; it was here that Enoch and his city dwelt, that Noah preached to the ungodly, and the ark was built. But when the flood was over and the waters sank, that ark, by the winds and waves, had been carried far away to a new land, until it rested on the Mountains of Ararat. Then for a short time America was without inhabitant.

But not long after the deluge the wicked tried to build a tower that would reach so high that if ever another flood came they might escape the rising waters by ascending it. This is called the Tower of Babel. The Lord was angry with those who attempted to build this tower, for he had promised that he would never again destroy the earth with the waters of a flood. But they did not believe him; and in their unbelief they went to work to construct it. In his anger he confounded their language, that they could not understand each other. Then he scattered them abroad upon the face of the earth. Some few, better than the others, he brought to America. Here he made them a great nation; and they filled the land for many hundreds of years. By and by they grew exceedingly wicked and gathered together in vast armies to war one with another. And they fought so terribly that at last they were all destroyed,—all except one man. These people were called the Jaredites.

By this we see that this continent was a second time left without inhabitants because of the great wickedness of the people.

After this the Lord brought another people to fill this land. They were a branch of the house of Israel, and we call them the Nephites and Lamanites. They also grew great, prospered, flourished, and fell. Like the Jaredites, at the last, they destroyed each other in war, and there were but few left. But from those few have come the many tribes of Indians that today are found scattered far and wide over both North and South America, and also on some of the outlying islands of the sea.

Thus fell a third race who would not serve God; for he had decreed that the wicked should not inherit this land. To one of his ancient servants he declared, "If iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes; but unto the righteous it shall be blessed for ever." (II. Nephi 1:7.)

North America was the first of all lands to be inhabited; it was here that Adam and Eve dwelt. The Jaredites from the Tower of Babel also first landed here. But the Nephites made their earliest settlements on the western shores of the southern continent, where by degrees they spread north and south, then east and west, until their cities and villages could be seen in every part of the land.

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EVER and anon throughout the Book of Mormon, we are reminded by the inspired historians of the beauty of the Nephite race, especially in the days when the glory of righteousness beamed in their eyes, and shone in their countenances; then they were fair, very fair—a white and a delightsome people.

And well might it be so, for were they not descended from that kindred couple, Abraham and his half-sister, whose great beauty has been proverbial in every generation, since they graced the earth with their comeliness? So lovely was Sarah, the fairest of womankind of her generation, that when she was sixty-seven years of age, the royal Pharaoh, disregarding the charms of the darker daughters of Egypt, desired her for his wife; and his admiration was doubtless in good taste, for the Bible tells us that she was then very fair. And still more remarkable, when yet another twenty-two years had passed away, and she had seen nearly ninety summers and winters come and go on this earth, another monarch, Abimelech, sought to take her to himself. Nor was her husband's manly beauty less striking; obedience to God, the observance of the laws of life, and the cultivation of the generous virtues so ennobled his existence, that strength and manhood tarried with him in its force, long after that age when the sons of modern generations are feebly tottering to their graves.

Of the commanding beauty of Abraham's descendants, we have many recorded instances, but none that exceed that of his great-grandson Joseph, whose surpassing manliness placed him in the greatest jeopardy, but whose uncompromising virtue and unaffected innocence brought him off conqueror over temptation, and raised him to the highest pinnacle of earthly splendor and heavenly favor. It was from this well-favored Joseph that the Nephites sprang.

God has set the mark of his displeasure on the Lamanites, whom he has cursed, because of the iniquities of their fathers, with a darkened skin, uncomely features, and straight, black, coarse hair. In the beginning it was not so with either Judah or Manasseh.

In confirmation of the testimony of the Book of Mormon, that the inhabitants of this continent were once a white and beautiful people, it may be stated that when very ancient burial places in North and South America have been opened, the remains of two races—one dark and the other fair—have been exhumed. The question may arise: How could this be told, when the skin had long rotted off the bones, and left only the skeleton behind, which fell in powder as soon as it was exposed to the action of the air? In this way: The dry, gravelly soil in which some of these bodies were buried, had so little affected the mummy, that portions of the hair still remained in good preservation, and in numerous instances it was such as is only found on heads of light races. We will cite a few examples given by different inquirers in this field of research.

One writer, speaking of the ancient mummies found in Peru, says: The hair in general is of a lightish brown, and of a fineness of texture which equals that of the Anglo-Saxon race. Again: The ancient Peruvians appear, from numerous examples of hair found in their tombs, to have been an auburn-haired race. Another gentleman, a Mr. Haywood, has described the discovery, early in the present century, of three mummies, in a cave near the Cumberland river, in Tennessee; and the color of their skin was said to be fine and white, and their hair auburn and of a fine texture. The same investigator mentions several other cases where mummies were found in the limestone and saltpetre caves of Kentucky and Tennessee, with light yellowish hair. One scientist, to account for this peculiarity, suggests that it is possible that the light color was due to the action of the lime and saltpetre; but this suggestion will not affect those buried in other formations of rock, nor will it account for the fineness of the texture of the hair. Reasoning from other data, other writers have concluded that the cities whose ruins still stand in Yucatan and Central America were the work of two races, a light and a dark-skinned race respectively.

The reference to the Anglo-Saxon race, above made, is not without its value. To us it seems highly probable that the righteous Nephites, in very many particulars of form and feature, resembled this people and its kindred races. Our reasons are: first, that there was a striking similarity in the appearance of the ancient Israelites and the olden Anglo-Saxons. This likeness has been remarked and commented upon by various authors. Again, it is well known to the Latter-day Saints that there was a large percentage of the blood of Ephraim in the stock whence the Angles and Saxons sprung. So much admitted, it is easy to understand how the two half tribes, descended from the comely Joseph—the one from Ephraim, and the other from Manasseh—would bear a strong family likeness.

Were we introduced to a typical Nephite, we should expect to find him well proportioned, ruddy of countenance, auburn haired and light eyed. This, of course, is simply conjecture, and is entitled to consideration only as such.

From reliefs found sculptured on the walls of the ruined cities of Central America, it seems probable that the ancient Lamanites esteemed flat, receding foreheads the highest type of beauty. Most of the figures on which the greatest artistic skill is displayed appear to represent persons on whom some artificial means had been used, in infancy, to flatten the front part of the head, as their debased descendants, the Flat-heads, do in our day. It is a noteworthy fact, that other races of Israelitish descent, or who have come in close contact with the Hebrews, show this same tendency.

Skulls thus flattened have been taken out of tombs in the neighborhood of Ancient Media, where the Israelites were once in captivity; also from sepulchres in Circassia, Scandinavia, Great Britain, etc., and one was even exhumed from outside the walls of Jerusalem. It is true the Book of Mormon does not refer to this custom, but it often speaks of the Lamanites shaving their heads, which in all probability may have afterwards grown into the still more hideous practice of flattening the skull, under the idea that it made them courageous. Indeed, it is quite possible that it did make them recklessly blood-thirsty, by injuring their intellectual powers, and thus tending to develop their more savage instincts.

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TO THE ancient Nephites the whole of North America was known as the land of Mulek, and South America as the land of Lehi; or, to use the exact language of the Book of Mormon, the land south was called Lehi; and the land north was called Mulek.

The reason why these names were so given was because the Lord brought Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south, when he led them from Judea to this greater land of promise.

From the days of the first Mosiah to the era of Christ's advent, South America was divided into two grand divisions. These were the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi. During this period, except in times of war, the Lamanites occupied the land of Nephi, and the Nephites inhabited the land of Zarahemla.

That these two lands occupied the whole of the southern continent is shown by the statement of the sacred writer: Thus the land of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla, were nearly surrounded by water; there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward. The width of this narrow neck of land which connected the two continents is in one place said to have been the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite. In another place it is called a day's journey. Perhaps the places spoken of are not identical, but one may have been slightly to the north of the other along the line of the isthmus.

Both the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla were sub-divided, for governmental purposes, into smaller lands, state or districts. Among the Nephites, these lands, in the days of the republic, were ruled by a local chief judge, subject to the chief judge of the whole nation; and among the Lamanites by kings, who were tributary to the head king, whose seat of government was at the city of Lehi-Nephi or Nephi.

The land of Nephi covered a much larger area of country than did the land of Zarahemla. The two countries were separated by the wilderness which extended entirely across the continent from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The northern edge of this wilderness ran in a line almost due east and west, and passed near the head of the river Sidon. The Sidon is generally understood to be the river in these days called the Magdalena.

All north of this belt of wilderness was considered the land of Zarahemla; all south of it was included in the land of Nephi. We are nowhere told its exact breadth, and can only judge thereof from casual references in the narrative of the Book of Mormon.

The river Sidon flowed through the centre of the Nephite civilization of the days of the republic. After the convulsions that attended the crucifixion of the Holy Messiah, the physical and political geography of the continent was greatly changed, and the new conditions are very vaguely defined by the inspired historians.

On the western bank of the river Sidon was built the city of Zarahemla. From the time of its first occupancy by the Nephites, to the date of its destruction by fire at the crucifixion, it was the capital or chief city of the nation, the centre of its commercial activities, and the seat of government. It was the largest and oldest city within their borders, having been founded by the people of Zarahemla before the exodus of the Nephites, under the first Mosiah, from the land of Nephi.

When the Nephites, by reason of increasing numbers, the exigencies of war, or for other causes founded new cities the cities so built were generally called after the name of the leader of the colony or of some illustrious citizen, and the land immediately surrounding, contiguous or tributary to the new city was called by the same name. As an example we will take the city or land of Ammonihah, regarding which it is written: Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.

Some of these lands appear to have been relatively small, more resembling a county, or possibly a township, than any other division at present prevailing in this country. Such we suppose to have been the lands of Helam and Morianton. Others, such as the lands of Bountiful and Desolation, embraced wide, extended tracts of country.

The exact place where Lehi and his little colony first landed on this continent is not stated in the Book of Mormon: but it is generally believed among the Latter-day Saints to have been on the coast of Chili in thirty degrees south latitude. In fact, the Prophet Joseph Smith so stated.

We do not think it possible, without divine revelation, to determine with accuracy the identical spot where Lehi and his colony landed. We believe that the coast line of that region has entirely changed since those days. Even if we do not take into consideration the overwhelming convulsions that took place at the crucifixion of our Lord, which changed the entire face of nature, there remains the general elevation or subsistence of the land which is continually taking place the world over. Some coasts are rising, some are falling. The land in South America, on its western or Pacific shores, has long been rising, some think for centuries.

If this be so the rise of an inch a year would entirely change the configuration of the sea shore, and give this generation shallows and dry land, where but a few centuries ago there were deep waters. But so far as the results growing out of the terrible earthquakes that occurred at the death of the Savior are concerned, we can form no conclusions, for they were variable. In some regions the waters usurped the place of the land, in others the land encroached upon the waters. Which way it happened near the place where Lehi landed we have no record, and consequently can say nothing. For all we know a huge mountain may now cover the spot, or it may be hidden beneath the blue waters of the Pacific, scores of miles away from any present landing place.

In the region that Lehi landed there he also died. Soon after his death, Nephi, and those of the colony who wished to serve the Lord, departed for another country. They did so by direct command of heaven. The reason for this command was the murderous hatred shown by Laman and Lemuel towards Nephi and his friends. These vicious men determined to kill Nephi, that he might not be a king and a ruler over them. Their hearts were wicked, they loved sin and were resolved that they would not be governed by their virtuous and heaven-favored brother.

Nephi and his company journeyed in the wilderness for many days. By the expression "the wilderness," we understand the inspired writer to mean the uncultivated and uninhabited portion of the land. This word appears to be frequently used in after years, with this signification. At other times it is applied to the desert and uninhabitable regions, the tropical forests, and jungles infested with wild beasts. The journey of the Nephites was northward, as is shown by their later history; but Nephi, in his very brief account of this migration, says nothing with regard to the direction in which they traveled.

At the end of many days a land was found which was deemed suitable for settlement. There the company pitched their tents, and commenced the tillage of the soil. In honor of their leader, it was called the land of Nephi; or to use the modest language of Nephi, My people would that we should call the name of the place Nephi, wherefore we did call it Nephi.

No doubt the choice of location was made by divine inspiration. It was a highly-favored land, rich in mineral and vegetable productions, and yielded abundant crops to the labors of the husbandman.

In this happy country the Nephites dwelt, prospered and increased until they again moved northward. Perhaps not once nor twice they migrated, but several times; for we hold it to be inconsistent with the story of the record and with good judgment to believe that in their first journey they traveled as far north as they were found four hundred years afterwards, when they again took up their line of march, and finally settled in the land of Zarahemla. In the first place there was no necessity for Nephi and his people taking such a lengthy, tedious and hazardous journey; in the second place, in their weak condition, it was nigh unto an impossibility. To have taken a journey of a few hundred miles would have placed them out of the reach of the Lamanites; there was no need for them to travel thousands. Again, in a few years the Lamanites had followed and come up to them; it is altogether inconsistent to think that that people, with its racial characteristics, would in so short a time have accomplished so marvelous a triumph as to follow, hunt up and attack their late brethren if the latter had placed all the distance from Chili to Ecuador between them and their pursuers. When we consider the difficulties of travel through the trackless wilderness, the obstacles interposed by nature, the lack of all roads or other guides to indicate where the Nephites had gone, it seems out of the question to imagine that in twenty years or so, the shiftless, unenterprising Lamanites had accomplished such a feat. To the contrary, we believe that Nephi and those with him traveled until they considered themselves safe, then settled down in a spot which they deemed desirable. By and by the Lamanites came upon them; the Nephites defended themselves as long as they could, and when they could do so no longer they again moved to the northward. Their early history was one of frequent wars; and as the Lord used the Lamanites as thorns in their sides when they turned from him, we judge for this reason, and that they were found so far north in the days of Amaleki and Mosiah, that the savage descendants of Laman had frequently defeated them and driven them farther and farther away from the land of their first possession.

The inquiry will naturally arise, as a result of these suggestions: In what portion of the South American continent lay the home of the Nephites in the days of Mosiah? This cannot be answered authoritatively. We are nowhere told its exact situation. Still, there are many references in the Book of Mormon from which we can judge, to some extent, of its location. Elder Orson Pratt suggests that it was in the country we now call Ecuador. The writer entirely agrees with Elder Pratt's suggestion. Other brethren have placed it considerably farther south; but in our reading of the Book of Mormon we have found no evidence to confirm their suppositions, but much to contradict them.

We believe that the lands occupied by the Nephites before they went down into the land of Zarahemla were situated among the table lands or high valleys of the Andes, much as Utah is located in the bosom of the Rocky Mountains and parallel chains. For these reasons:

First:—They were lands rich in minerals, which all through the American continents are found most abundantly in mountain regions. We may (so far as mineral proximity is concerned) compare the country east of this portion of the Andes—the unexplored, alluvial silvas of the Amazon—to the great plains or prairies east of the Rocky Mountains. These silvas, stretching from the Andes to the Atlantic, we regard as the great wilderness south of Zarahemla so often spoken of in the annals of the Judges.

Secondly, the climate of the torrid lowlands, almost directly under the equator, would be intolerable for its heat, and deadly in its humidity; while the country in the high valleys and table lands would be excellently adapted to human life, especially (we may presume) before the great upheavals and convulsions that marked the death of the Redeemer. As the Nephites spread over the country they located in regions where fevers were common, possibly in those parts rendered unhealthy by the overflowing of the rivers, which, when they receded, left large bodies of stagnant water covering the surface of the ground for the greater portion of the year.

It is also probable that in their journeys the Nephites would follow the most available route, rather than plunge into the dense, untrodden, primeval forests of the wilderness; the home of all manner of savage animals, venomous snakes and poisonous reptiles; where a road would have to be cut every foot of the way through the most luxuriant and gigantic tropical vegetation to be found on the face of the globe. Therefore we regard its accessibility as another reason for believing that the Nephites did not leave the great backbone of the continent to descend into the unexplored depths of the region whose character they aptly sum up in the one word, wilderness.

Our readers must not forget that there were two lands called by the name of Nephi. The one was a limited district immediately surrounding the city of Lehi-Nephi or Nephi. There Mosiah and the Nephites dwelt, about two hundred years before Christ. The other land of Nephi occupied the whole of the continent south of the great wilderness.

As this wilderness, though of great length east and west, was but a narrow strip north and south, and its northern edge ran close to the head waters of the river Sidon, it is evident that the land of Nephi covered by far the greater portion of South America. Within its wide boundaries was situated the original land of Nephi; as well as many other lands called by various local names, just in the same way as there are many States in these United States, all together forming one great nation.

It is very obvious how there came to be these two lands of Nephi. At first, the small district around the capital city comprised all the territory occupied by the Nephites. As they spread out, whatever valley, plain, etc., they reclaimed from the wilderness was considered a part of that land; and thus, year by year, its borders grew wider and wider, while for convenience sake or governmental purposes, the newly built cities and the lands surrounding were called by varied names, according to the wishes of the people, most frequently after the leader of the out-going, colony or founder of the city. Thus we have a land of Nephi within the land of Nephi; just as we have now-a-days Utah County within the State of Utah; and the city of New York and the County of New York within the state of New York. To distinguish the smaller land of Nephi from the whole country, it is sometimes called the land of Lehi-Nephi.

We have stated that the small land of Nephi was a very limited district. We think this is easily proven. It was so limited in extent that we are told king Noah built a tower near the temple so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook not only the land of Lehi-Nephi where it was built, but also the land of Shilom and the land of Shemlon, which last named land was possessed by the Lamanites. No matter how high the tower, these lands must have been comparatively small (or at any rate the land of Lehi-Nephi was) to have enabled a man to overlook the whole three from the top of one building.

It was on the borders of this land, at the outer edge of its cultivated grounds, in the forest (or thicket) of Mormon, that Alma used to hide himself in the day-time, from the searches of the king, while he ministered among the people when the shades of evening gave him security. It was there he gathered the believers in his teachings, baptized them in the waters of Mormon, and organized the Church of Jesus Christ. From the waters of Mormon to the city of Zarahemla it was twenty-one days' actual travel for an emigrant train.

Alma having been warned of the Lord that the armies of king Noah would come upon his people, the latter gathered together their flocks, and took of their grain and departed into the wilderness which divided the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla. They fled eight days' journey into the wilderness when they rested and commenced to build a city, which they called Helam. Being afterwards compelled to leave this city, on account of the persecutions of the Lamanites and Amulonites, they again took their journey northward, and reached the homes of the main body of the Nephites in Zarahemla in about thirteen days.

Here we have a people encumbered and delayed by flocks and herds, heavily laden with grain, etc., making the journey (in two separate stages) in twenty-one days. It is scarcely supposable that they traveled in a direct line; mountains, rivers and swamps would render the journey somewhat circuitous or winding. But even supposing that they did advance in an almost direct line from point to point, it would only make the distance between Nephi and Zarahemla 210 miles, if they traveled ten miles a day; 315, if they traveled fifteen miles; and 420 if they journeyed twenty miles a day.

Our readers must decide for themselves which distance per day is the most likely that a company, driving their flocks and herds before them, would advance through an unexplored wilderness, full of natural hindrances, and without roads, bridges, ferries and other helps to the traveler.

Zarahemla was situated on the Sidon, certainly a considerable distance from its head waters, as other lands and cities (such as Minon and Manti) are mentioned as lying far above it. If we measure the distance from such a point southward, either 200, 300, or 400 miles, all these measurements will bring us into the country now called Ecuador.

We are of the opinion that the land of Lehi-Nephi was situated in one of the higher valleys, or extensive plateaus of the Andes. In the first place, admitting it was in Ecuador, it would lie almost immediately under the equator, and the lowlands, as before suggested, would be unbearable for an industrious population on account of the great heat; as well as exceedingly unhealthy by reason of chills, fever, and like complaints.

Again, the crops of which the Nephites raised most abundantly—barley and wheat—are not those that flourish in a tropical climate, but can be grown most advantageously in a temperate region, such as could be found in these higher valleys.

It was also a land rich in mineral wealth, which is not probable would have been the case if it had been situated among the wide-spreading alluvial plains east of the Andes.

It is likewise spoken of as a hilly or mountainous country. The hill north of the land of Shilom is frequently mentioned in the historical narrative. For instance:

Ammon came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom (Mosiah vii. 5).

King Limhi caused his guards to go to the hill which was north of Shilom (Mosiah vii. 16).

King Noah erected a great tower on the hill north of the land of Shilom (Mosiah xi. 13).

For another reason, the expression "up" is almost always used when reference is made to persons going towards the land of Nephi. Not only did they travel from Zarahemla up the Sidon and across the wilderness to Nephi, but also up from the land of Ishmael and other portions of the land of Nephi to the city of Nephi and its surroundings. In contradistinction to this, persons leaving Nephi went down to the land of Zarahemla and to other places.

The only time in which the word down is used, when referring to persons going towards Nephi, is when certain persons came down to the city from off the hill mentioned above.

Some of our readers may object to the statement that the city of Nephi and the city of Lehi-Nephi were one and the same place; and that the land round about was sometimes called the land of Lehi-Nephi, and sometimes the land of Nephi only. But we think that a careful perusal of the record of Zeniff, in the Book of Mormon, will convince them of the fact; especially if they will compare it with the last few verses of the book of Omni. Zeniff in one place speaks of possessing, by treaty with the Lamanites, the land of Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah ix. 6), and a few verses later on (verse 14), he talks of the thirteenth year of his reign in the land of Nephi.

If we mistake not, the name of Lehi-Nephi occurs only seven times in the Book of Mormon, everywhere else the name Nephi is used when referring to this land.

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