A Review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Postscript)

Part 1 ⎜Part 2Part 3APart 3bPart 3CPart 3D Part 3E Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

I am grateful for the responses to my series reviewing the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (AEBOM). They have come to me both as public comments on different posts in the series and as personal communications (both online and in person). They have given me an opportunity for reflection and have confirmed to me that there is considerable interest among Latter-day Saints for the subjects discussed in my review. 

I also appreciate the editorial team of the AEBOM responding to my review. You can read their replies here, here, and here. In this postscript to the series, I want to take a few moments to respond to just some of the points raised by the editorial team of the AEBOM since I think they deserve further comment.

The comments of the editorial team of the AEBOM I have set off in bolded italics, followed by my response.

It has been with keen interest that the editors of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon have watched the non-stop litany of attacks frantically being hurled at the Heartland Geographic theory over the past few years and now the latest target found worthy of the heavy artillery is the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon. While this type of response is not surprising, we are, at times taken aback by the strident language employed by our fellow Elders in the Gospel.

The editors of the AEBOM are startled by the “strident language” and “litany of attacks” that I and other proponents of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon employ in our unflinching criticism of the so-called Heartland model for Book of Mormon geography. I will allow readers to judge for themselves whether the language I employed throughout my review is appropriate. What I do want to point out is that any handwringing about my supposed “strident language” on the part of the editorial team of the AEBOM is more than a tad hypocritical. As this blog has documented at length, AEBOM editor Jonathan Neville has routinely employed disparaging and pejorative language when criticizing proponents of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon. For example, Neville coined the term “M2C” (“Mesoamerica-Two-Cumorah”) as an offhand pejorative label to describe those who don’t accept his particular theories about Book of Mormon geography (and especially the location of the ancient Hill Cumorah). Make no mistake about it: “M2C” is, in its most fundamental meaning, intended to be a derogatory epithet. Attached to it are all sorts of calumnious claims about those who fall under its scope. Other pejorative language employed by Neville includes repeated accusations of a “citation cartel” (invoking images of a drug cartel trafficking illegal narcotics and committing other crimes) seeking to “censor” Heartlanders from meaningful academic discourse. I recommend readers see the hyperlink above for additional examples illustrating this.

So I beg the editors’ pardon if I am not particularly concerned with what they think about my “strident language.”

[T]he mere acceptance [of the AEBOM] and readership by leaders and lay-people is not in itself a validation of all the claims found in the book, it is an indication that the Spirit has not raised red-flags of concern for these doctrinally-proven and time-tested Latter-day Saint leaders and members is worthy of note.

This is a rather fascinating claim. The editors of the AEBOM believe it is noteworthy that the AEBOM is popular among rank-and-file Latter-day Saints and has not raised “red-flags [sic] of concern” among them. I must ask: noteworthy of what, exactly? What exactly do the editors of the AEBOM think this proves? That their claims are sound? That they are accurately representing the historical, archaeological, and genetic record? Shouldn’t my review (and the past reviews of Gregory Smith, Matthew Roper, Ugo Perego, and other faithful Latter-day Saints) and the positive response I have been receiving be “red flags” for the editors of the AEBOM?

If anything, the popularity of the AEBOM and Rod Meldrum’s Heartland movement confirms the regrettable observation of Brigham Young: “It is a daily spectacle before your eyes and mine, to see the Latter-day Saints trying to take advantage of their brethren. There are Elders in this Church who would take the widow’s last cow, for five dollars, and then kneel down and thank God for the fine bargain they had made.”1 And let it not be forgotten that Korihor “[lead] away the hearts of many” with his preaching (Alma 30:18), or that “many did believe on [the] words” of Nehor, “even so many that they began to support him and give him money” (Alma 1:5). Now unlike Jonathan Neville, I don’t actually think those who disagree with me about Book of Mormon geography are comparable to Korihor or Nehor. My point here is that the popularity and success of the AEBOM is no indication of either its doctrinal or scholarly soundness.

President Nelson has said that it has long been his practice to place a period or exclamation point rather than a question mark after the words of prophets. As editors of the Annotated Book of Mormon we have sought to follow his lead in that respect.

The editors of the AEBOM make this claim twice in their response to my review. In the second instance, they say that they put an exclamation mark next to the words of the prophets who specifically taught the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

The editors of the AEBOM certainly have been emphatic in their (selective) quotations of prophets and apostles such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Anthony W. Ivins when it comes to the location of the Hill Cumorah. But I am curious as to why they do not put an exclamation point next to these words from Elder John A. Widtsoe:

[T]he hill from which the Book of Mormon plates were obtained by Joseph Smith is definitely known. In the days of the Prophet this hill was known among the people as Cumorah. This is a fixed point in Book of Mormon later history. There is a controversy, however, about the Hill Cumorah—not about the location where the Book of Mormon plates were found, but whether it is the hill under that name which Nephite events took place.2

Or these ones from Elder Harold B. Lee,

“Some say the Hill Cumorah was in southern Mexico (and someone pushed it down still farther) and not in western New York. Well, if the Lord wanted us to know where it was, or where Zarahemla was, he’d have given us latitude and longitude, don’t you think? And why bother our heads trying to discover with archaeological certainty the geographical locations of the cities of the Book of Mormon like Zarahemla?”3

Or these ones from the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, 

“The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas. . . . Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken. However, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.4

It would be much easier for me to take this claim made by the editors of the AEBOM seriously if they did not habitually misrepresent prophets and apostles beginning with Joseph Smith. But because they do, and because these misrepresentations are unfailingly in the direction of getting unsuspecting Latter-day Saints to attend Heartland conferences, workshops, and tours, and to buy expensive books like the AEBOM, I am left wondering if the editors of the AEBOM are, in fact, putting exclamation points next to the prophets; it seems to me that they are more interested in putting dollar signs next to them.

This excellent criticism is being taken into account by all of the editors on this project and serves as a gauge by which we measure our accuracy and academic compliance. One of the nice things about rapid book sales is the opportunity it affords us to issue newly printed editions that will feature many amendments, corrections, enhancements, improvements and overall enrichment of our research and its supporting data (which we are finding in abundance).

I sincerely look forward to future editions of the AEBOM removing the forgeries and mis-contextualized archaeological artifacts discussed in Part 2 of my review. (Heck, I’ll even settle for them removing the picture of the skeleton of an eighteenth-century Irishman that the editors somehow thought was related to ancient Jaredites.)

I am looking forward to future editions correcting the multiple misrepresentations of the historical record I demonstrate in all five parts of Part 3. Perhaps they can start by removing the egregious misrepresentation of what Joseph Smith meant by all of North and South America being Zion.

I am looking forward to future corrections eliminating Rod Meldrum’s dishonest treatment of DNA evidence and genetic science. 

If the editors really mean it, then I am very pleased that they are going to gut future editions of the AEBOM to remove the many outlandish and factually-inaccurate claims found therein.

Also, we feel that members of the Church should know about evidence of ancient Hebrews in the Western Hemisphere that is accepted by non-LDS researchers, scholars and scientists, including many Christians.

I would be very interested to hear more about these “non-LDS [sic] researchers, scholars and scientists.”

We fully accept that fact that there is controversy surrounding artifacts which date far back into antiquity. Who can absolutely “know” everything about something that is 2,000 years old?

Despite paying lip service to “accept[ing]” this fact, the editors of the AEBOM act is if there’s no controversy at all. They act as if there is demonstrable genetic evidence for ancient Hebrew migrations to North America. They act as if archaeological reports from the mid-nineteenth century (!) are the final word in reconstructing the archaeological and anthropological portrait of the Hopewell and other ancient indigenous North American peoples. They act as if there is no serious question about the Newark Holy Stones or the Bat Creek Stone being authentic. They act as if their portrayal of what past Latter-day Saint prophets have said about Book of Mormon geography is incontestable truth.

The editors of the AEBOM talking out of both sides of their mouth like this is truly remarkable.  

If a point-by-point debate is desired we have in the past extended an invitation to host a formal debate in a public setting anytime, anywhere. But so far all such invitations have been rebuffed by the M2C side. If you feel we have not properly extended such an invitation, consider this as your formal invitation and opportunity to respond.

The editors of the AEBOM appear to have exceptionally poor memory. They appear to be forgetting the January 2017 excursion to the Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah where they met with scholars such as Book of Mormon Central researchers, Ugo Perego, and others to discuss Book of Mormon geography and present their best claims for the Heartland theory. Jonathan Neville and Rod Meldrum were both in attendance at that summit. They also seem to be forgetting the trip made in June 2016 where Book of Mormon Central researchers and some Brigham Young University professors accompanied them (including Meldrum and Neville) on a tour of Hopewell sites in Ohio to discuss Heartlander claims.

Whatever else proponents of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon might be, they are not afraid to debate or discuss competing theories for Book of Mormon geography. In fact, they’ve been debating and discussing Book of Mormon geography with Meldrum and his supporters for over a decade.

As for an invitation to do a formal debate, I can only speak for myself when I say that while I have considered past offers to participate in such, formal debates are, for the most part, useless gestures. The majority of audience members who attend formal debates go to cheer for their team and already have their minds made up. It is also easier to hide behind rhetorical bluster in a live debate. I myself prefer online debates or written reviews. They give me time to carefully craft my thoughts and responses and are more useful to the public because they can be read anytime, anywhere, and anyone can check the documentation for themselves.

I am happy to approve any comments on my blog that address the substance of my arguments and criticisms of the Heartland theory. The very fact that I approved all three comments from the editorial team of the AEBOM without any alteration or redaction, I believe, amply disproves this attempt to portray me as intellectually cowardly when it comes to debating this matter.

There is much more I could say in this postscript in response to these comments from the editors of the AEBOM. But this post has dragged on long enough. As a gesture of goodwill, let me echo my boss Kirk Magleby in congratulating the editors of the AEBOM and other “entrepreneurs behind the heartland business [for] have[ing] succeeded in identifying a lucrative niche market and providing a steady supply of goods and services to satisfy consumer demand.” I must indeed admit that “[y]ou can’t argue with success. Meldrum outsells [John] Sorenson. The Firm Foundation Expo generates positive cash flow. Heartlanders are good at their craft. . . . The Firm Foundation drives traffic by staying on message and some leaders earn a respectable livelihood from their occupation. They know what sells and it certainly isn’t high-brow scholarship. I applaud the Firm Foundation for their ongoing commercial success.”

I will conclude with these words by Hugh Nibley which were shared earlier by my friend and colleague Matthew Roper. I hope the editors of the AEBOM will indulge me in closing with this epitaph for their tome. Nibley has had a profound influence on my own thinking since I was a teenager, and I can’t help myself but to appreciate the self-evident relevance these words of his have for this situation.

Since one person does not receive revelation for another, if we would exchange or convey knowledge, we must be willing to have our knowledge tested. The gifted and zealous Mr. Olney was “disfellowshiped, because he would not have his writings tested by the word of God,” according to Joseph Smith.

Not infrequently, Latter-day Saints tell me that they have translated a text or interpreted an artifact, or been led to an archaeological discovery as a direct answer to prayer, and that for me to question or test the results is to question the reality of revelation; and often I am asked to approve a theory or “discovery” that I find unconvincing, because it has been the means of bringing people to the Church. Such practitioners are asking me to take their zeal as an adequate substitute for knowledge; but like Brother Olney, they refuse to have their knowledge tested. True, “it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God,” but only the hard worker can expect such assistance: “It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.” We must know what we are doing, understand the problem, live with it, lay a proper foundation. How many a Latter-day Saint has told me that he can understand the scriptures by pure revelation and does not need to toil at Greek or Hebrew as the Prophet and the Brethren did in the School of the Prophets at Kirtland and Nauvoo? Even Oliver Cowdery fell into that trap and was rebuked for it (see D&C 9). “The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent” says the Prophet Joseph.

New converts often get the idea that having accepted the gospel, they have arrived at adequate knowledge. Others say that to have a testimony is to have everything—they have sought and found the kingdom of heaven; but their minds go right on working just the same, and if they don’t keep on getting new and testable knowledge, they will assuredly embrace those “wild, enthusiastic notions” of the new converts in Kirtland.5

  1. Brigham Young, “Cease to Bring in and Build up Babylon,” Journal of Discourses 17:41.
  2. John A. Widtsoe, “Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era, July 1950, 547. For a discussion of this source, see “Has the location of Cumorah really been revealed? An apostle says no,” online at Neville-Neville Land.
  3. Harold B. Lee, “Loyalty,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Church Educational System and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1982), 65.
  4. “Book of Mormon Geography,” Gospel Topics.
  5. Hugh Nibley, “Zeal without Knowledge,” in Approaching Zion (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1989), 73–74.

12 thoughts on “A Review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Postscript)”

    • “Are you going to go on Bill Reel’s podcast? If not, why?”

      This is equivalent to asking Stephen if he is going to use his Master’s Degree in Egyptology to teach third grade history. Sure, it could be done but what is the point?

  1. Just out of curiosity. Do heartlander proponents believe the Nephites landed in Mesoamerica and then immediately moved to the heartland? Or do they think the currents brought them somehow from Arabian coast to east coast America? West coast America? The M2C comment makes Mesoamerica sound hilarious, but I don’t get how the Nephites would have arrived anywhere else, based on latitude and ocean currents from the Arabian peninsula. Or perhaps they believe they landed, and still not satisfied they had found the promised land, immediately relocated to the “heartland?” Lousy scholarship and selective reliance on prophetic revelation aside, the heartland theory just seems odd. Perhaps I am missing something here.

    • I can’t speak for other “heartlander proponents,” only myself. But the notion that they traveled east from Bountiful across the Pacific to some place in Central or South America and then up to the Ohio river valley seems far fetched. But if they travelled all the way across the Pacific, why couldn’t they travel overland? But that’s beside the point. I don’t believe it happened that way.

      On the other hand, it seems highly plausible that they traveled south-west from Bountiful and around the Cape of Good Hope and up the western coast of Africa until prevailing currents carried them north-west to either the Florida/Georgia coast or inland to some place near Louisiana after traversing the Caribbean. The idea of traveling this route is supported by the voyage of the Phonecia which sailed around Africa in 2008-2010. The interesting aspect of that voyage is they came within 1000k of the Florida coast while trying to travel to the Azores. They had to fight the prevailing currents which were carrying them west. It wasn’t until they got north of the trade winds that they could make it back to the east.

      Here’s a link:

      You’ll have to decide if citing the voyage of the Phoenicia is lousy scholarship. That it happened is fact. That it demonstrates the plausibility of Lehi’s group traveling west from Bountiful is hard to refute. For myself, the idea that the Hopewells are Nephite/Lamanites and that the Adena are the Mulekites/Jaredites seems every bit as plausible as any of the Mesoamerican models Smoot et al champion. There is certainly enough archeological evidence of a large and advanced culture in the heartland and the timing of the disappearance of the Hopewells is close enough to the end of the Nephites to give cause for thought.

      That said, I find the polemics being hurled between the Heartlanders and the Mesoamericans to be at the same time both amusing theater and disappointing. It smacks of the Pharisees arguing with the Sadducees over who has the “true” Gospel… whatever.

      For myself, I don’t know for certain which of the two camps is “right.” (Most likely it is something else entirely.) I wont know until I have a chance to ask Nephi personally. I’m ok to wait.

      • Ken,
        The Heartland model, as supported by Wayne May, has Lehi’s family landing around Florida, possibly on the Georgia side or Gulf of Mexico side then over time moving north (which follows Hopewell oldest to youngest settlements). The Mulekites came through the St. Lawrence river to Michigan area and parked it causing the two groups not to hook up till about 400 years later according to the BofM. Hagoth was supposed to have sailed up towards the north on Lake Michigan and out to the Pacific via Canadian water ways than on to New Zealand etc.( an actual New Zealander has family stories that correspond with that model)……then the theory is Lehi’s descendants traveled south and very possibly the left over Lamanites moved south to Central and South America blending in with the indigenous population’s there(explaining President Kimballs and President Hinckleys references to Lehi’s descendents among those locations)….at least by then the Lamanites would have belended in quite well with the bloodthirsty nature of the Mayan and Inca culture.

  2. I’m glad to see that there is a peer review for any work regarding where is the setting of, The book of Mormon, took place, it’s important to know that.
    My questions for those who believe that it is mesoamerica.
    1. Where in the text, of the book of Mormon, are the Mayans mention?
    2. The “New Jerusalem” will be built in the “Promised Land” Joseph Smith indicated that that would be Missouri USA.
    3. The gold plates were found in upstate New York, USA.
    4. The worldwide headquarters for the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day saints is found in Utah USA. So is United States the “Promised Land” or somewhere else?
    I would just like to say that I enjoy the debate, glad to see that everybody is staying civil.

    • 1. Where in the text are “Hopewell” mentioned? The catch-all name used in the Book of Mormon is “Lamanite”.

      2. I don’t see how this is relevant to Book of Mormon geography.

      3. I also don’t see how this is relevant. Moroni had 20 years between getting the plates, finishing his record, and burying them. Plenty of time to go from Central America to New York.

      4. I don’t see how this is relevant. The long-standing “teaching of the prophets” (if you’re into that sort of thing) has been that all of North and South America is Zion, the Land of Promise, etc.

  3. Stephen,

    Let’s get the quote straight……Joseph said: ” All of America, from the North to the South, is Zion”.

    In Joseph’s day “America” was defined as the Land where the US government was established and which immigrants eagerly referred to coming too with new hopes of prosperity and success; indeed a unique “mold” of people and character represented the people of America and were referred to as “Americans”.

    So, with this in place, and in mind, one cannot pull out Joseph’s words and wrap it around a more modern interpretation just to fit the Central and South American models. One would have to concede that Joseph was exclusively speaking in reference to North America.

    If you want to get technical with the catch-all name of “Lamanite”, please remember that right after the Book of Mormon was printed the Lord, as a Revelation, commanded Joseph to take that book the Lehi’s decedents on “the borders of the Lamanites “. Joseph did not send missionaries to Central or South America (though this would have been easier than sending missionaries to England), but he sent them to Native American Tribes residing in and around the local areas.

    One other point about “Revelation”; you mentioned in your video that Joseph received no “revelation” as to the Book of Mormon geography locations. I beg to differ, in his explanation of the warrior Zelf, who he was, what he was etc… that clearly was a “Revelation”, and where his corpse was laid clearly gives a “geological” reference point to a Book of Mormon Geography reference.

    • Your argument has been addressed at length here:


      “In Joseph’s day “America” was defined as the Land where the US government was established and which immigrants eagerly referred to coming too with new hopes of prosperity and success; indeed a unique “mold” of people and character represented the people of America and were referred to as “Americans”.”

      This is a contrived reading which I address here:


      “If you want to get technical with the catch-all name of “Lamanite”, please remember that right after the Book of Mormon was printed the Lord, as a Revelation, commanded Joseph to take that book the Lehi’s decedents on “the borders of the Lamanites “. Joseph did not send missionaries to Central or South America (though this would have been easier than sending missionaries to England), but he sent them to Native American Tribes residing in and around the local areas.”

      Addressed here:


      “One other point about “Revelation”; you mentioned in your video that Joseph received no “revelation” as to the Book of Mormon geography locations. I beg to differ, in his explanation of the warrior Zelf, who he was, what he was etc… that clearly was a “Revelation”, and where his corpse was laid clearly gives a “geological” reference point to a Book of Mormon Geography reference.”

      I agree with apostle John A. Widtsoe that the Zelph incident has little relevance for Book of Mormon geography (“This is not of much value in Book of Mormon geographical studies”):


    • Darryl,
      You wrote, “Let’s get the quote straight……Joseph said: ” All of America, from the North to the South, is Zion”.”

      I agree, let’s actually get the quote straight and then let’s put it in context.

      “The whole of America is Zion itself, from North to South; and is described by the Prophets who declare that it is the Zion where the Mountain of the Lord should be, and that it should be in the centre [sic] of the land.”

      My quotation above is straight from the original document which has been made available by the Church (see pg 49/130). https://catalog.lds.org/assets?id=233d2432-4def-4525-b56a-cc575837c6ac&crate=0&index=48

      From here, the Prophet makes it clear that the “Mountain of the Lord” is figurative and refers to the temple. He talks about the building of the temple in Nauvoo, the elders needing to be washed, anointed, and endowed so that they can become kings and priests unto God in order to build up the stakes of Zion. The temple is central to all of this (as the rest of the discourse makes abundantly clear). He then states that, “The Lord has an established law in relation to the matter; there must be a particular spot for the salvation of our dead. I verily believe this will be the place…” In other words, Joseph twice identifies Nauvoo to be the center place – the place for the temple to be built, the “Mountain of the Lord” so that Zion can be established and from where it would branch out, and the place where the salvation of the dead would take place. So irrespective of what Joseph had said previously, in 1844 he believed that Nauvoo was the center place. So, this is something that you should take into consideration when evaluating the heartland model. (But Book of Mormon geography shouldn’t be limited to Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery – the text of the Book of Mormon itself should be your primary source.)

      You also wrote, “In Joseph’s day “America” was defined as the Land where the US government was established…”

      You assume this is true based on the simple premise that white settlers in the [then] colonized United States were referred to as “Americans,” and so by inference, you intend to exclude everybody in every other North or South American country. This assumption is a little absurd when you consider that the name “America” was attached to the Western Hemisphere by Martin Waldseemüller as early as 1507. Waldseemüller’s intent was to apply the name America (after Amerigo Vespucci) to the areas explored by Christopher Columbus and Vespucci. Ironically, neither Columbus nor Vespucci ever set foot in present-day United States. Columbus explored the Caribbean, Central, and South America, and Vespucci explored South America. So the heartlander position is a little ironic when applying 1 Nephi 13:12 to Christopher Columbus since Nephi wrote that the man would come “unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.” In other words, if Columbus is indeed the primary character of 1 Nephi 13:12, then the Lamanites and the promised land is primarily South and Central America (and the Caribbean). However, as Stephen has already pointed out in his response to you via URL link, he has addressed the geography of the “whole of America” in which North and South America are clearly intended by Joseph Smith, so I will leave this here.

      You wrote, “If you want to get technical with the catch-all name of “Lamanite”, please remember that right after the Book of Mormon was printed the Lord, as a Revelation, commanded Joseph to take that book the Lehi’s decedents on “the borders of the Lamanites “. Joseph did not send missionaries to Central or South America (though this would have been easier than sending missionaries to England), but he sent them to Native American Tribes residing in and around the local areas.”

      If Central America is the place that the BoM narrative took place (possibly implied by Pres. Hinckley in his dedication of the Mexico City Temple) and Moroni traveled to upstate New York during the twenty year period between the final wars and his deposit of the plates and more than one thousand years had passed between the end of the BoM and the missionary work in the 1830s, then it certainly makes sense that the Lamanites continued to expand north (and south). Also, however, Joseph did confirm that the content described by Stephens and Catherwood in the Yucatan provided confirming evidence of the Book of Mormon. Lastly, you assert that travel to Central and South America would have been easier than England – although this is an irrelevant assertion – it isn’t true. There weren’t established highways into the jungles in the Yucatan or South America. There was, however, convenient transportation to the eastern seaboard and ships to England that travelled back and forth regularly.

      It seems to me that you like 1830’s Joseph Smith but not 1840’s Joseph Smith.

      Lastly, Zel[ph]. This subject can be argued many ways. Since Zelph is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon at all the finding of this skeleton has no direct relevance to the actual setting for the narrative of the Book of Mormon.


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