Just a few short years ago, our model of the lands of the Book of Mormon in Baja California and the North American Southwest didn’t even exist. A few years previous to that, no Baja models existed at all. This means that in just the last several years, the Baja model arrived on the scene and we are already claiming that it should be considered as a viable model of the lands of the Book of Mormon.
In some ways, it would seem like our timing couldn’t be worse. After several decades of LDS scholarly entrenchment in Meso-American settings for the Book of Mormon, the proponents of Meso-American models have found themselves in a debate with scholars promoting another geographical setting known as the “Heartland” model.
Although aware of this debate, it didn’t really hit home to me how contentious things had become until I had my Baja model ready to publish and asked a friend of mine, who is a published proponent of the general Meso-American setting, if he would mind reviewing it for me before I posted my work online. My friend’s reply was terse and surprised me. He said something to the effect of “We already have our hands too full with the heartland people!”.
His response made me think that he was engaged in a debate that was as much about “who” was right than it was about “what” was right.
I found this to be a little sad. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time researching the lands of the Book of Mormon. I have found the exercise to be intellectually challenging and spiritually rewarding. I don’t know how my friend feels as he continues to pursue his Book of Mormon studies, but I hope that he and others can make sure to address their differences in a civil manner rather than worrying about “who” is right or wrong.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer my views about “what” seems correct and “what” seems wrong or unsubstantiated as it relates to the Book of Mormon lands in Baja California and the North American Southwest.
You’ll see in other articles that we like to dig into details and provide references to make the best case we can for the various subjects related to our model. In this article, I’m going to take a different approach.
In order to provide an easy-to-understand view of the state of our research, I’m going to share more opinions than usual. My hope is that by doing this it will help people gain an overall grasp of what does and what doesn’t yet seem to fit a Baja model.
I’ll start by describing “what” things in our model seem to match the Book of Mormon text. I’m starting with the things that match before I describe our model’s problems for two reasons:
- It’s a lot more fun to talk about the strengths of our model 🙂
- Understanding the strenghts of the model tends to help people understand why we’re not giving up based on the weaknesses presented afterward
The Strenghts of our Model
- Geography!, Geography!, Geography!
The truth is, the geography matches the text wonderfully. The fit is natural, and when considered in relation to the stories being told, it is not difficult to see why the various authors in the Book of Mormon described their lands in the ways that they did.
Yes, I know, there are academics with credentials who say the geography is wrong…but they’re just under-informed. Don’t be too hard on them. If they ever take time to seriously consider our model, they will have difficulty making arguments against its geography.
The geographical correlations between our model lands and the geography described in the Book of Mormon is by far the biggest strength of the model. The strength of the geographic argument gives us hope that we might find solutions to serious weaknesses that still exist in the model which we will present below.
- Our website presents some good climate information and focuses on the fact that the climate was likely to have been wetter in Book of Mormon times, but the real strength of the climate argument is presented well on the other Baja model’s website (achoiceland.com). Take time to read their climate information. It makes a lot of sense.
- Horses, Camels, Elephants, etc.
The fact of the matter is that the Book of Mormon mentions animals that scientists tell us went extinct many millennia before Book of Mormon times. Among LDS scholars, there are various explanations for this anachronism, but none is better than what Baja offers: Baja is a place where species live and develop in isolation. Outside events, like mass-extinction events caused by hunting or climate or whatever, don’t necessarily affect populations in the peninsula. It is a place where it makes sense that otherwise-extinct animals like the horses, camels, and elephants (that used to roam the Americas) could have survived without showing up significantly in the scientific studies that are cited as evidence of extinction.
The scientific community is already aware that mammoth’s lived on isolated islands long after their supposed extinction. Scientists don’t have heartburn over this. Likewise, finding evidence of horses in Baja 2,000 years ago wouldn’t send scientists to the drawing-board regarding the extinction events that they’ve documented. Such a discovery would match what scientists already know: Populations of otherwise-extinct Pleistocene megafauna survived extinction longer in isolated environments.
This argument is not just a theoretical one, both past and current archaeologists in Baja report tool markings on horse, camel, and mammoth fossils found in the peninsula. Most of these finds have not been dated yet, so we don’t yet have reason to believe that they date to Book of Mormon times, but we are hopeful.
- Large Redwood Trees for Hagoth’s Ships
That’s right, we’re claiming that Baja not only was, but still IS a place where you can find large redwood trees for ship-building right where our model says that Hagoth built his ships (It’s fun when we’re studying our model and suddenly things turn up right when and where the Book of Mormon says they’re supposed to).
It’s true that there are no redwood forests in Baja right now, and it’s also true that we can’t yet prove that redwood trees grew there during Hagoth’s lifetime…but…the California Current regularly deposits huge redwood trees on the Baja coastline, and it delivers them very specifically to the only spot in Baja that can possibly be a match to where the text says that Hagoth built his ships.
It is Unquestionable that there were large redwood trees at the exact place and time for Hagoth’s ships in our model.
This doesn’t mean that we have given up on the idea that redwood forests could have been growing there too. There are good reasons to think they were, but we like the fact that Hagoth’s ships could be built in that location regardless of whether or not forests existed right there during Book of Mormon times.
- Forces of Nature
- In Baja, sections of the coast slip into the sea just like the Book of Mormon describes. It is tectonically active, it is volcanically active, it experiences strong winds and even frequent hurricanes, etc., etc.. Simply put, it experiences all the forces of nature that are mentioned in the text and doesn’t experience forces like snow that are strikingly absent from the text. Even more simply put: It’s good loincloth country for the Lamanites, just like it should be under normal circumstances, but it also experiences the specific extreme forces that the text requires.
- Cultural Subsistence Patterns
Modern archaeologists have documented two different peninsular cultures that match up well with what we know about divisions within the Lamanite culture. It turns out that in the prehistoric peninsula, many of its inhabitants lived a lifestyle that early writers described as “lazy”. They could and did live along the seashore eating almost nothing but raw meat (from the sea) continually. The other population lived inland and lived almost exclusively on seeds and other terrestrial resources. This inland versus seashore contrast is a strong parallel to what we know about divisions within the Lamanite culture.
It also turns out that archaeologists are puzzled about why they find so many tools related to terrestrial resources in the area we associate with the “east wilderness” in the Book of Mormon. Archaeologists thought they would discover that prehistoric peoples in that area counted on marine resources, but instead they have found the area literally littered with seed-processing tools and relatively few indications of a marine diet compared to similar wilderness/coastal areas in the peninsula. Although this confuses archaeologists, it parallel’s our model well.
- Archaeology is generally not considered a strength of our model, but there are some exceptions. A sunken prehistoric settlement exists right were our model says the Lamanite city of Jerusalem sunk. Onidah, “The place of arms”, seems to match up to the most exploited obsidian quarry in the Southwest (far more exploited than currently makes sense to archaeologists). Bows, arrows, scimitars, and other weapons and armor are well-documented. The list goes on, but we’ll save space for now and leave it at that.
- Large-Scale warfare
- Anthropologists tell us that the Yuman Indians who occupied the northern peninsula and the Colorado River and its delta are closely related to peninsular tribes. Yuman warfare is famous for its scale and complexity. Allies would come from near and far in organized armies to fight pitched battles. Documented Yuman warfare parallels Book of Mormon warfare in many important respects.
- Where the Sea Divides the Land
- Simply put, the sea (of Cortez) divides “the land” (meaning practically the whole land described in the Book of Mormon) in a way that no other model even comes close to approximating.
- I could go on and on…
- …but I’m already straying from my goal of keeping this article high-level, so I’ll stop listing the strengths and move onto the weaknesses of our model.
Weaknesses of Our Model
- Two High-Level Written Languages
If there’s one thing that gives me heartburn about my own Baja model it’s the fact that we can’t document two high-level written languages like the text describes.
This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on trying, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any indications that written languages may have existed. What it means is that if writing systems like the Book of Mormon describes actually existed in the prehistoric peninsula, strong evidence of them has not yet been found.
We hope that future discoveries or research will turn up evidence of prehistoric written languages, but until then all we have are interesting speculations to share.
This is a substantial weakness of our model
- This is a weakness of our model, but it doesn’t keep me up much at night. I think that the idea of a wetter prehistoric climate (an idea with some substance behind it) can explain most of the population-size weaknesses of the model. Although population sizes are a weakness of the model, they are not nearly as bad as most people think because the largest population figures (which are associated with the destructions of the Jaredites and Nephites at Cumorah/Ramah) do not draw strongly from the Baja peninsula. They come from populations in the greater Southwest in our model. The numbers still seem off when compared to the millions of Jaredites, but only depending on the distances people were willing to travel to fight.
- Large Cities
- Although a peninsular setting for the Book of Mormon as opposed to a Meso-American setting for the Book of Mormon changes one’s views of what Nephite architecture was constructed of and looked like, we cannot yet point to evidence of prehistoric settlement patterns in large, centralized cities. We hope that ongoing research and/or future discoveries turn up evidence of population centers in the prehistoric peninsula that match Book of Mormon requirements.
- We’ve got some tidbits and theories, but no solid evidence of advanced metallurgy in the lands of our model.
- Agriculture and Animal Husbandry
- Like Metallurgy, we have tidbits and theories, but no solid evidence of agriculture or animal husbandry like the Book of Mormon seems to describe.
- I could go on…
- …like the model’s strengths, the list of weaknesses also goes on and on.
As you can see, the Baja model is a mixed-bag. The more you study it the more you’ll realize that in many ways the model is much more complete and compelling that most LDS scholars currently realize. On the other hand, an honest look at all the current evidence still leaves serious questions about the model’s viability.
In the end, do I think it the Book of Mormon took place largely in Baja?
…But I’m keeping an open mind.