Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Why Heartland?

First, a definition.

The Heartland model proposes that the events of the Book of Mormon took place mostly in the Heartland of the United States; i.e., the area from Iowa to Ohio.

If you ask a proponent of Book of Mormon Heartland why he/she is looking in the Heartland, you will probably get an answer such as "Because that's where Joseph Smith said it was." In this post, I'm explaining my understanding, based on what I've read and heard. I want to be accurate and fair.

The Heartlanders generally think that Joseph Smith knew where the Book of Mormon took place, and that he specified North America. They reject the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that linked the Book of Mormon to Central America, for example. They don't think Joseph had anything to do with them, whether because he was in hiding from the Missouri authorities, or because he was too busy, or because he wasn't interested in the geography by that point because he was so focused on the temple, on real estate issues, on the European immigrants, and other legal problems.

They generally accept the idea that Benjamin Winchester, William Smith, and W.W. Phelps were responsible for those Times and Seasons articles.

Heartland proponents instead look at Joseph's letter to Emma, written on the banks of the Mississippi River during the Zion's Camp march, in which Joseph told Emma they had been crossing "the plains of the Nephites," referring to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. They look at the Zelph account as another revelation about the Nephite wars taking place in North America. They consider the Hopewell civilization to be roughly equivalent to the Nephite civilization.

Although these two accounts are important, the Heartland proponents also believe the Hill Cumorah is in New York, based on Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII and other historical accounts. They think the Wentworth letter, D&C 28, 30 and 32, and other accounts of Joseph Smith meeting the Indians in Iowa and elsewhere indicate that these "western tribes" of Indians are literally descendants of the Lamanites.

They don't accept the hemispheric model or even the continental model; instead, they think Zarahemla is in Iowa pursuant to D&C 125, and Cumorah is in New York.

Aside from these historical reasons, the Heartland proponents believe the text describes the North American setting. Here are some of their main points:

• Mapping the internal geography of the Book of Mormon does not require that the land be hourglass shaped. Mormon described the geography from the ground, not from a satellite. An abstract map based on the text is meaningless; the only way to determine the geography is with a starting point, which the Lord gave us at Cumorah.

• Writings. The Book of Mormon does not describe societies in which sophisticated writing was ubiquitous and apparent. For hundreds of years, the people of Zarahemla lived without a written language, as did the Lamanites. These groups vastly outnumbered the Nephites. Book of Mormon prophets from Enos through Mormon mentioned that the Lamanites wanted to destroy their records. Therefore, the Book of Mormon had to take place in an area where writing was nonexistent or not apparent.

• Cities and fortifications. The text gives the population of only one city: the City of Helam, population 450. Other cities were probably larger. Archaeology confirms such cities in North America in Book of Mormon times.

• Rivers must be the right size and in the right portions of the land (we find such correlation in North America).

• The Book of Mormon doesn't discuss weather, but suggests a temperate climate (for growing such things as “wheat” and “barley”) and mentions multiple seasons, but never mentions one rainy and one dry season. 

• Both Book of Mormon cultures and Hopewell cultures had developed agriculture and commerce.

• Because the Book of Mormon never mentions volcanoes, it is highly unlikely the events took place in an area where volcanoes are prominent. 3 Nephi describes flooding, whirlwinds (tornadoes), earthquakes, and thick darkness, all of which are typical of the Heartland. Massive earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 produced disasters described almost exactly like 3 Nephi. 

• The directions in the text and in the real world are the same; i.e., north means north.

• The Book of Mormon speaks of a covenant land that will fulfill the purposes of the Lord, which can refer only to the United States, where the gospel was restored, the Church is headquartered, the first temples built, etc. Plus, the United States continues to support the expansion and development of the Kingdom around the world.


If anyone has a better explanation for why people are looking in the Heartland, I'd love to know about it so I could add it here.