Vernal Holley’s Book of Mormon Map

Mr. Vernal Holley published a hypothetical map of BoM lands that intends to demonstrate that Joseph Smith modified the names of towns and areas from his surroundings and incorporated them into the BoM narrative.

In a discussion of this topic on an internet discussion board I examined Holley’s map to find out if it is consistent with internal Book of Mormon geography. An obvious necessity of any proposed Book of Mormon geography is that it be consistent with the internal geographical clues found in the text . My conclusion is that a large portion of Holley’s map is inaccurate according to the BoM text, and also to demonstrate that small number of parallels are statistically insignificant.

Angola and Zarahemla

Holley’s map has Angola and Zarahemla being in in the “Land Southward”, with Angola being further south than Zarahemla. But the text indicates otherwise:

Mormon 1:5-6
5 And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father’s name was Mormon) I remembered the things which Ammaron commanded me.
6 And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.

Mormon 2:3-4
3 And it came to pass that in the three hundred and twenty and seventh year the Lamanites did come upon us with exceedingly great power, insomuch that they did frighten my armies; therefore they would not fight, and they began to retreat towards the north countries.
4 And it came to pass that we did come to the city of Angola, and we did take possession of the city, and make preparations to defend ourselves against the Lamanites. And it came to pass that we did fortify the city with our might; but notwithstanding all our fortifications the Lamanites did come upon us and did drive us out of the city.

Angola is located in the north countries, being north of the south countries, where Zarehemla was located.

Jacobugath is located north of Zarahemla:

3 Nephi 7:12
12 Therefore, Jacob seeing that their enemies were more numerous than they, he being the king of the band, therefore he commanded his people that they should take their flight into the northernmost part of the land, and there build up unto themselves a kingdom, until they were joined by dissenters, (for he flattered them that there would be many dissenters) and they become sufficiently strong to contend with the tribes of the people; and they did so.

Jacob, being the king of this group, led them into the northernmost part of the land.

Mormon 9:9
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, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.

Jacobugath was the name of the city of the king Jacob. It was located in the northernmost part of the land. Definitely north of Zarahemla.

Valley of Almais north of Lehi-Nephi:

A man named Zeniff, a Nephite, left the land of Zarahemla to dwell among the land of the Lamanites. The Lamanites dwelled in the Land of Nephi, located south of Zarehemla. To show this would not be too difficult, but it is attested to more easily by the map in question.
The king of the Lamanites allowed Zeniff and his people to establish themselves in a region called the Land of Lehi-Nephi. (Mosiah 9:1-6)
After a generation the people of Zeniff became wicked under the wicked king Noah, the son of Zeniff. Alma, a priest of King Noah, was converted to the gospel by the prophet Abinadi. Alma began to preach and baptize near the waters of Mormon, hidden from the knowledge of the King. (Mosiah 18:30-34)
After King Noah discovered them there, they fled north into the wilderness, eventually reaching the land of Zarahemla.
After fleeing for eight days they settled and called their settlement Helam. (Mosiah 23:1-5, 19)
They were discovered by the Lamanites, who placed some of the wicked renegade priests, led by Amulon, of the now deceased King Noah as rulers over them. (Mosiah 23:39)
The righteous people of Helam sought to flee from their wicked masters. They fled in the night to a place they named Alma. (Mosiah 24:18-20)
They then departed from the valley of Alma, and after a 12 day journey arrived in Zarahemla. (Mosiah 24:24-25)

This people fled from the land of Lehi-Nephi in the south eventually arriving in Zarahemla in the north. Along the way they stopped at a place they called Alma. Since they were traveling from the south to the north, Alma was north of Lehi-Nephi.

Jerusalembordered the Land of Lehi-Nephi
As shown above, the waters of Mormon were located in the land of Lehi-Nephi, in the territory of the Lamanites.

Alma 21:1
1 NOW when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, behold Aaron took his journey towards the land which was called by the Lamanites, Jerusalem, calling it after the land of their fathers’ nativity; and it was away joining the borders of Mormon.

Jerusalem should be near or in the Land of Lehi-Nephi.

Morianton is in the land southward
The people of the land of Morianton sought to flee into the land northward, and the path they took was via the narrow neck of land.

Alma 50:29,33-34
29 Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward.

33 Therefore Moroni sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.
34 And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.

Therefore Morianton was located in the land southward. This is contrary to the map created by Holley.

Ramah/Cumorah in Canada?It is also interesting to note that Mr. Holley proposes that the hill Ramah/Cumorah is in Canada, when Cumorah is insisted by the anti-mormon world at large to be located in New York. Another popular anti-mormon challenge is that Cumorah is named after Comoros Island. It seems the critics cannot agree amongst themselves.

How many?Mr. Holley’s map includes a number of cities, lands, and rivers that do not have corresponding locations on it’s opposite map. This might be an attempt to make the situation appear worse than it really is, or it may be just that he thought we would enjoy a lesson in New England geography.
The place-names that have corresponding locations on both maps include:
Jacobugath/Jacobsburg
Jerusalem/Jerusalem
Valley of Alma/Alma
Shilom/Shiloh
Kishkumen/Kishkiminetas Junction
Lehi-Nephi/Lehigh County
Onidah/Oneida Castle
Angola/Angola
Morianton/Moravianton
Teancum/Tecumsah
Ramah/Rama
Moron/Morin
Ogath/Agathe
Ephraim/Ephraim
Shurr/Sherbrooke

 

Conclusion
While Holley’s map is interesting, it is far from being an accurate reflection of the Book of Mormon lands. Of the 15 place names proposed to have been taken straight from the New England map, 5 of them are in the wrong place according to the Book of Mormon. That is 1/3, or 33%. Certainly that qualifies as “many”. And these are not the only problems with Holley’s map, others not so obvious exist. But these suffice to show that Holley’s map is not a correct portrayal of the Book of Mormon lands.
As for the point you make that a significant number of them are depicted as in the same place as their New England sources, this conclusion is entirely wrong. One source I consulted (pronunciation guide at back of BoM) said that there are 337 proper names in the Book of Mormon. Mr. Holley provides a mere 15 as evidence that Joseph Smith simply took from his surroundings. Of those 15, only 10 are compatible with the geographical descriptions found in the Book of Mormon. That would make 10 out of 337 that Joseph could possibly taken from his surroundings, assuming he even was aware of their existence.
That is about 3% of all the names in the Book of Mormon.
James

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20 comments on “Vernal Holley’s Book of Mormon Map

  1. Macrae says:

    I’m looking on Google maps in that area and i don’t see the cities that the first image shows JS using surrounding cities to name the BOM cities with…maybe i am miss understanding what you are saying?

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

  2. James says:

    Hi Macrae.

    Vernal Holley was suggesting that Joseph merely took the names of cities, towns, and other geographical names from the New England are which Joseph was allegedly familiar with, and used those names in the Book of Mormon.

    The second map is a map with those places on it which Holley believes Joseph used as names in the BoM. The first map is Holley’s reconstruction of BoM places, using the names from the second map.

    Hope that isn’t too confusing!

    I believe Holley is wrong.

  3. Rajah Manchou says:

    Hey James,

    While technically you are correct about where he placed the Book of Mormon locations on his map, I think you are missing the point. If the actual location names are as close to the Book of Mormon names as the two maps suggest, then it doesn’t really matter where he placed them.

    So the real argument is whether the place-names actually existed in Joseph Smith’s day…

    Rajah

  4. James says:

    Hi Rajah.

    I think Holley’s side-by-side map is evidence that he was arguing that Book of Mormon geography correlates to New England geography. The existence of his map seems to be making that exact point. Therefore, by demonstrating that Holley’s map does not correlate well to Book of Mormon geography, his thesis is debunked.

    But I do understand your point. Regardless of whether or not the place-names match geographically, one might see the existence of so many place-name parallels as evidence that Joseph simply took from his surroundings.

    I argue that a book that introduces hundreds of new names of cities, lands and people will inevitably have some names at random which vaguely or even closely parallel names of modern places. Holley’s 15 names account for roughly 4-5% of all Book of Mormon place-names. This simply isn’t compelling.

    Thanks!

  5. Rajah Manchou says:

    Hey, I forgot I posted this a while back, and I just happened upon the page again!

    Anyway, thank you James for your response.

    I think we can summarize the argument like this:

    Null hypothesis: Joseph Smith may or may not be a prophet. The maps above show a plausible explanation for some of the geography and place names. It is not entirely geographically accurate, but then it isn’t trying to argue that Joseph Smith used exactly this map when creating the Book of Mormon, only that he could have used a general knowledge of the area to create the Book of Mormon geography. One might even argue that since the Book of Mormon has yet to be found to fit ANY actual geography, that this map is the best fit so far. The similiarities in the place names are at least compelling, if not damning and not easily dismissed by coincidence.

    Reverse engineering theory: Joseph Smith was a prophet, make everything work backwards from there. If the names are similar, then it has to be coincidence. If the maps don’t match exactly, then it can’t possibly explain anything. Nothing short of a silver bullet can be compelling evidence.

    Don’t you see the dismissal of the maps as disingenuous? Sure, I suppose that it could just be coincidence, but then couldn’t it also be a telling explanation for where Joseph came up with the geography? It reminds me of how when I talk to people who use the “argument from ignorance” logical fallacy to say “that Joseph Smith was a young uneducated farm boy, how could he possibly make something like this up?”, but then go on to dismiss any attempt at explaining how he could have made it up.

    I’ll agree that this isn’t the silver bullet (nothing ever will be since you can’t prove a negative) but if he weren’t a prophet, wouldn’t you expect something exactly like this map? If he were a prophet, wouldn’t you expect the geography to match some actual place and coincidences like this to be minimal?

    Rajah

  6. James says:

    Thanks to Jason for commenting and drawing my attention back to this thread.

    Rajah,

    I want to comment on both of your proposed hypotheses.

    “Null Hypothesis”: I think my analysis, especially the last paragraph, demonstrates that Holley’s map is not a “plausible explanation” nor is it “compelling”. It doesn’t show that Joseph could have used his general knowledge of the NE region of the US in creating the Book of Mormon. In fact, in direct opposition to what you wrote, Holley’s is very easily dismissed as coincidence. Why? Because the sum total of names that Holley includes on his map, whether they be geographically consistent with the Book of Mormon text or not, amount to 4% of all Book of Mormon names. That is statistically insignificant in my view. That isn’t going to impress anyone.

    “Reverse Engineering Theory”: Your ‘hypothesis’ here is nothing short of a caricature. The bottom line is that Holley’s map shows a an incredibly small number of correlations, and it ought to be ignored. Further, we should wonder how far and wide from Joseph Smith’s home can we roam before we are looking too far for place-names similar to those in the Book of Mormon?
    I think a better “reverse engineering theory” is that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and in translating Book of Mormon place-names he sometimes had to provide a transliteration of the name in English. That is normal. And if he had to provide a transliteration he would have been influenced by the names of places he knew or had heard of that sounded like it.
    For example, if I were translating an ancient Chinese document that spoke of a town that transliterated in English sounded like “hee-yew-stunn”, and if I’m not a scholar (Smith wasn’t), I’m likely to just write it as “Houston”.

    If Joseph Smith were not a prophet I’d expect a map much more significant than this one. As it stands, fortunately, such a map does exist. LDS Mesoamerican scholar John Sorenson has done exhaustive detailed work in charting out Book of Mormon geography, and the very best fit in all the world is in Mesoamerica.

  7. Hi James,

    I just came across your post and I thought it was very interesting. I had heard about this theory several times, but until recently I had never seen a list of proposed names in the BoM and their corresponding place names in NY/New England etc. I have also never seen a map of the proposed corresponding geography, so this was rather interesting to see.

    The first list that I encountered giving the corresponding BoM/NY place names claimed that all of the names came from New York and made no mention of the possibility of the names coming from other states. So when I tried to verify the list I was looking mainly in New York (it also did not help that some of the names were misspelled). On my own blog I did (a rather tongue in cheek) review of the list of the “corresponding” place names and what I found. Most of the places on the list I did not find (though a few of those were because I was looking more inside New York state), and about half of those that I did find were actually named after the Book of Mormon was published (for example, Angola, Oneida, Minoa and now that I have the spelling correct I found that Kishkiminetas was also named after (1831) the BoM was published). This proves extremely problematic for this theory given that several of the main candidates were not given their present name until after the BoM was published, and others I have found do not and have never existed.

    You can check out my review of the modern place names and their “corresponding” BoM names:

    http://quantumleap42.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-of-mormon-place-names-in-new-york.html

    Also I should point out that the list that I was using was slightly different from the list that you are using. Maybe it might help the proponents of this theory if they got together and made a coherent list, but then that would be problematic because then we could call them on it and actually verify something…

  8. New York Archaeologist says:

    Vernal Holley’s B or M map fails to consider the Archaeology of the area. There is no cement used in any indian site. Pottery did not appear until well into the B or M time frame. The B of M never mentions snow, cold or blizzards, a major weather factor in the area. You could make the same name game argument that Joseph Smith barrowed names from the Bible and personal names in use in his day in creating the B or M story. Or were some of these names comon in Judia when Lehi left about 600 BC.
    Sorry Vrtnsl is as far out in the cold as a raging New York blizzard.

  9. James says:

    Thank you for your thoughts quantumleap42 and New York Archaeologist.

    New York Archaeologist, I think you may have misunderstood Holley’s intentions. Holley is an anti-Mormon who does not believe that the Book of Mormon is an ancient record. He doesn’t believe any of the stories in the book. Holley’s theory is that Joseph Smith authored the Book of Mormon and used the names of places in the New England area that he was familiar with to come up with names for the Book of Mormon.

    • Dr H.Davis says:

      Holly really believed Spalding wrote the BOM as Ms Found. The geography is what it was patterned after or as best could be done with the kind of info available during that time period. JS was too ignorant to possess this kind of knowledge. The point is H taught from the BOM in the M church for many years. He had much of it memorized. he had a fantastic memory. You left out much about H’s background!!! Typical MI knew him. Spalding’s first small work the MS Story was located in the Great Lakes region SAME as the BOM!http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs2/vernP3.htm#pg6061

  10. James says:

    Here is a neat little study by Jeff Lindsay that is pertinent to this topic:

    http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2007/07/book-of-mormon-plagiarism-hawaiian.html

  11. Kerry Wallace says:

    I would also like to see how many of the names he provided actually existed in 1830 or were some of them influenced by the Book of Mormon, E.G. there are two Jerusalems in Ohio Jerusalem township and Jerusalem Village. One of these two had only one house in 1825 and by 1845 there were only three so this could not have been known by Joseph Smith at the time. I just downloaded a map of the state of New York from 1839 and I cannot locate Zarahemla where it is on the map above. I have the funny feeling all if not most of these similarities are going to fall to scrutiny. I do not have time to do this but am sure someone will take up where I have left off. Interestingly enough there is even a town called Kobol in southern Utah. Maybe Joseph stole that name for the Pearl of Great Price as well. I am being sarcastic of course but you get my drift.

  12. Howard says:

    http://www.solomonspalding.com/docs2/vernP3.htm#pg54
    First error- and I knew and met with Vernal Holly (he had the BOM memorized-he was a life long student of the BOM)as well as exchanged letters and spoke by phone. He wrote (and told me many times )that he believed that Joseph Smith did NOT write the BOM,but that Solomon Spalding did and that the same location for Spalding’s first Ms or Ms Story was that SAME setting for his second Ms or the BOM! This was the Great Lake region.
    Please read his book- it’s free online and get the straight facts!!!

  13. Howard says:

    Also, many gazetteers and maps in the 1700-1800 period had place names in different areas. This was to be expected as their resources were limited compared to designers of modern maps .Vernal took ALL of the best references, maps, gazetteers ,newspapers,articles,etc.,from 1700-to 1812 /14 to approximate his locations of place names, etc. I remember finding and mailing a reprint of a gazetteer published prior to 1812 that helped Vernal greatly adjust some of the place names and he found some he had missed! He knew he had the basic locations corrects as to the Great Lakes, narrow neck of land,etc.

  14. Howard says:

    http://sidneyrigdon.com/vern/VH_Lib.htm ALWAYS go to the source not second hand references,etc.

  15. Dr H.Davis says:

    How many out there that posted have read Holly’s revised book on this geography subject? How many posters have read geography book from the 19 century? How many have read MS Story which is germane to this discussion? Not 33%? No, more like less than 0.1%!
    I knew Holly. Met with him in the past. Got correspondence from him. I had a reprint of one of (there were several books he wrote or revised) Morse’s geography and gave him some info. He knew the BOM well and in detail -he had a great memory-having taught from it in the M church for many years.

    Let’s NOT leave out of this discussion the MS Story which Holly also has a MAP of in his booklet, and . written by Solomon Spalding. His old neighbors saw it in 1833/4 and affirmed it was Spalding’s ‘first attempt’ to write a ‘fictional history’ of North America, but he ‘later dropped it’ and wrote a MS in ‘old English’ and went ‘back much further in dates’,etc. Spalding’s daughter Matilda read the Reorganized churches copy and said it was NOT the MS Found which she was familiar with. It was a ‘much larger work’ that he read to them in the evenings mostly.
    Holly told me in person and by phone he really believed it was Spalding that wrote the original BOM story or MS.Found not JS who was ignorant of geography, etc., and a great many other subjects. Spalding studied such subjects.

    The main premise is that Spalding wrote his first MS for his ‘own entertainment’ of MS. Story then later began a more serious endeavor and expansion called the Ms. Found. The SETTING for this first work or MS. Story which doesn’t seem to be of interest to our introductory Mormon writer-was in the Great Lakes region which Holly then matched up to The BOM ‘Seas; ‘the ‘narrow neck of land’ in the Niagara region all of which fits nicely. The writer seems to blame the Hill Cumorah location to the North in the story and BOM on anti- Mormon writers;but actually it was Smith and ever present crazy (and he was know his life well) Rigdon and other M writers. S claimed in was in upstate NY near his home! Very convenient!
    Oh well he didn’t write the BOM or MS Story so how should he know it was North or ? Canada (The Hill ‘Rama’) of the Great Lakes region or ‘Sea East- Sea West-Narrow neck of Land ‘in the BOM, etc.

    Geographies or gazetteers of Morse and Parish (whom Spalding knew)of that time period were not always consistent or accurate; but Holly’s main features and premise are as good as can be done taking in several works from the 19 th century. He made a great discovery and he was well aware of his former fellow members famous mind MMS ‘Mormon mind set’- in rejecting anything that contradicts Smith’s teachings.

    BOM geography is a rank unscientific mess today with abounding fanciful theories and wild unfounded postulates from various M writers many of which I have read. The Bible- unlike the poorly written and unverifiable BOM ( and I have kept up with the orthodox established archeological discoveries over the years, and have gone into works of the past )verifies it’s content from various historical and archeological angles consistantly.

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