We’ve just reviewed the Mesoamerican model for the Book of Mormon with Brant Gardner. Now I’m going to ask Brant to review other geography theories, including Baja, Malay, Africa, & Heartland. We’ll also discuss faith and science. Check out our conversation…
Copyright © 2022
All Rights Reserved
Except for book reviews, no content may be reproduced without written permission.
M2C Citation Cartel
GT 00:30 Let’s shift gears a little bit. I know I was talking to Jonathan Neville lately, or a few months ago, and he was complaining about what he called the M2C citation cartel, that you guys won’t pay any attention to the Heartland and refuse to even acknowledge they exist. What do you have to say about that?
Brant 00:56 Certainly not that we refuse to believe that they exist. That’s awfully harsh.
GT 01:03 I may have exaggerated there.
Brant 01:06 What I would say is Mesoamerican-ists don’t look at the Book of Mormon against Mesoamerica and try to justify it against somebody else’s theory. We’re not trying to say, “This is good, because it’s better than that. They had a problem here. But we don’t have that problem here.” That’s not what we’re concerned with. What we’re concerned with is saying, “Yeah, here’s a geography. Once we have the geography, what else does that teach us?” And so, we’re very focused on learning that. They have a different purpose in mind. They have different interests. The few times that we have sort of interacted and said, “Well, here are some of the things that we see as issues and problems with the geography you’re putting forth.” They’re not very interested in them and tend to dismiss them. So, if they’re not interested in discussions on that level, they can go build their models, and try to do what we’re doing here. So, it isn’t so much that we don’t acknowledge them. We have tried. We do see some problems with the geography. But the focus isn’t to try to diminish anything else in the Book of Mormon. If somebody else comes up with a good argument, yeah, that’s wonderful. I haven’t seen any that fit the detail and complexity that I see in Mesoamerica. So, I’d much rather spend my time on that than arguing with somebody else over geography. I’m not interested.
GT 02:55 Even though you’re not interested, do you see any strengths and or weaknesses that you’d like to share with the Heartland theory?
Brant 03:11 The strengths and weaknesses of the Heartland theory?
GT 03:13 Yes, of the Heartland theory.
Brant 03:15 I think it has two strengths. One is it allows people the culturally historical ties to the New York Hill as the Hill Cumorah. Without question, that was a theme in the early Church. People believed that. And the fact that they make a geography that fits, that allows them to keep that, that’s a strength. It’s a strength that it fits the most common reading of certain prophecies about Promised Land. I probably read those very differently, but they’re very much in line with the way they have been traditionally read. And I think that also is a strength. I think the weakness is everything else. Let me give you an example. The last time I remember looking at the [Heartland] geographic model, you have to find a narrow neck of land. Every Book of Mormon geographer knows you have to find a narrow neck of land. And if I remember correctly, they were looking at a narrow neck of land just north of like, Buffalo and the Great Lakes. There’s a narrow neck that kind of leads up, fits narrow neck really, really well. It doesn’t fit the Book of Mormon text, because that narrow neck is northwest of the Hill Cumorah in New York. And so that puts the Hill Cumorah to the southeast of the narrow neck. In the text of the Book of Mormon, it says you have to go north of the narrow neck and then east in order to get to Cumorah. So, it’s completely contrary, you’ve got the wrong narrow neck, if that’s your narrow neck. And I don’t know where you’re going to find a narrow neck anywhere south of that. So the narrow neck doesn’t work. Distances have a problem. There are no horses to ride on. So, you’re on foot traffic.
Brant 03:56 I mentioned that to Jonathan, and he said, “Well, you’ve got rivers, right?”
Brant 05:23 Yeah. And he does river travel. There was an article that I know about and will not mention until it’s published, but I’ve read the draft. And it looks at the idea of river travel. And, absolutely, river traveled down river helps. Upriver, it’s faster to walk in many cases. So, the rivering idea is really good if you only have to move in one direction. So, if they’re always going downstream, it works. As long as nobody ever goes in the other direction, it works. Except they always go in the other direction. So, it’s just not going to work in the article that will give the documentation on that–well, the way publication works, you won’t see it for a year, but somewhere a year from now.
GT 06:15 Okay, good. Can you tell us where this will be published?
Brant 06:19 No, because it hasn’t been accepted for publication.
GT 06:21 Okay. So it may not even be published ever.
Brant 06:24 Oh, it will be published, yeah. It is good enough research that it’ll be published. I know it will. I just don’t know when.
GT 06:33 Can I give a multiple choice guess as to where it will be published?
Brant 06:37 My guess would be Interpreter. That would be my guess of where it will show up.
GT 06:41 Okay. That’s what I was going to guess, too.
Brant 06:46 Right now, that is the venue that is publishing this kind of material. It’s all being funneled there. There doesn’t really, as far as something publishing papers, we really don’t have another venue for that. The Mormon Studies Review has gone into Mormon studies, and so it’s not the thing they are looking for. The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies is heading more where the Mormon Studies Review is. So it’s heading more, and there’s, I suspect, less going to be showing up there. So, most of these articles are going to show up in Interpreter. That’s just the venue that’s available.
GT 07:32 Is that a good or bad thing in your mind? I know Maxwell Institute’s not really interested in geography and things like that. Is that kind of the nice thing of Interpreter, that it will still in the entertain those things?
Brant 07:45 It is absolutely imperative that we have a way to publish. We’ve got to have a way to get this material out. Because if you don’t publish it, nobody can criticize it. You’ve got to get it out into the world so people can say, “Okay, yeah, that works, or that doesn’t work.” And every once in a while people will latch on to something they think works, and I don’t think so. But you still have to get this stuff out there. The kinds of things that Maxwell Institute is doing, I think, are extremely valuable. I think they’re publishing some really good stuff. It’s just different. And so, to say that there’s a problem because there’s two different ways to do it, no. There’s two different things that we’re looking at. And you each have to have a way to get the articles out that are within the purview of what you want. And the kinds of things they’re looking at are very, very different and because they’re different, having two different venues makes a lot of sense.
GT 08:47 Okay. I’ve been in talks with some people from the FIRM Foundation, and one of the things they say is, “We will talk about Meso, but Meso won’t talk about us. Would you entertain going to like the FIRM Foundation conference? I know it’s a big one. It’s at the Salt Palace this year. It’s coming up in a couple of weeks. If they were to give you an invitation, would that be something that you might be interested in?
Brant 09:20 I’m trying to think of the right answer to that. The first answer would be, “Well, yeah, of course I would.” The second answer is, “No, I wouldn’t, because that isn’t people that are interested in anything I have to say.” I don’t want to go spend my time speaking to a crowd, basically, where the entire function is for them to disagree with me. So, no. I have no interest in doing that kind of thing. There was a time when we actually had a small conference, where Mesoamerican people and Heartland people got together, and we presented to each other and we never could come too much of an agreement. There was at least one time where it was sort of, okay, rather than just look at what we have, there was someone who said, “Well, let me look at these things that the Heartlander is using archaeology for. Let me look to see if they’re actually viable.” And then they weren’t. So, the question becomes, how much do you follow the Thumper rule? If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. It seems much more polite to allow them to do what they would like to do, without having to turn around and say, “Excuse me, here’s how you get the archaeology, wrong, the geology wrong, the topography, wrong, the hydrology wrong.” It just doesn’t seem productive. And there are a lot of people who want to believe the Heartlander concept, who have no idea about archaeology, geology, and don’t care. It’s just, for those people, they found something and they’re welcome to it. I guess I don’t want to rain on their parade.
Brant’s Background as Anthropologist
GT 11:23 Now, one of the things that I usually do at the beginning, but I forgot to do, if we can do that now, let’s talk a little bit about your background. You did mention you were an anthropologist, if I remember right.
Brant 11:34 Anthropologist by training, I worked at the State University of New York in Albany. I was the first student who had ever shown up there and said, I wanted to get a degree in ethnohistory. And ethnohistory is basically taking concepts of archaeology and history and moving them together and saying, “I’m going to try to deal with history of people that kind of don’t have a long-written history.”
GT 12:00 Okay.
Brant 12:01 And a lot of that was because I got interested in Mesoamerica and was interested in their religious history and the archaeology of the area. So, I spent time studying that. I ended up only with a master’s degree, so I don’t have a Ph.D.
GT 12:19 I have a master’s degree, too, so I like those people. So, you got your anthropology degree where?
Brant 12:27 State University of New York-Albany.
GT 12:29 Okay, and then the Ethnohistory, is that what the Masters was?
Brant 12:32 Ethnohistory, yeah.
GT 12:33 In the same place?
Brant 12:35 Yeah. I mean, that was what I was studying while I was there. So, the degree is in archaeology, but my emphasis was ethnohistory, trying to figure out how to get history out of very few documents, and, really, how to milk documents, to be able to get the history behind them. So, for example, if you really want to know a lot about Aztec history, there are a few Aztec documents. But most of what we have are Spanish documents, which are telling us what they understood that the history was. In a lot of cases, what you have to do is you really have to kind of combine all of these things and say, “Aha, here’s where the themes are. Here’s why I’m getting a pure Spanish interpretation that is different from what I’m getting from the natives.” And I was doing all of that prior to the translation of the Maya glyphs. So, I was central of Mexico, trying to figure that out, because that’s where we had the texts. If I were doing it over again, I’d be a Mayanist, because that’s where we have the texts.
GT 13:44 So State University of New York, did you grow up there?
Brant 13:48 No, I did my undergraduate work at BYU. I worked in the manuscripts department, and they had this big collection of Mesoamerican languages. I ended up working in the manuscripts division. And the director says, “Here, why don’t you try to put this together?” And it was a visually easily discerned set of documents. And I went up to the reading room once and there’s a great big cart that had all of these Mesoamerican documents on it. I’m going, “Somebody’s reading this stuff. Who is reading this?” I went over and talked to the guy who was and it turned out to be Lyle Carmack, who is anthropologist, linguist, and at the time was at the State University of New York, Albany. I said, “I really want to do this stuff in graduate work, where do I go to school?”
Brant 14:43 He said, “Really, you’ve got four choices, the University of Utah, UCLA, Tulane, and Albany.” He said, “The problem with the University of Utah, the guy you’d want to study with is getting ready to retire. We don’t know if he’s going to be replaced. Maybe not.” I asked UCLA and nobody ever wrote me back. There was another reason for not really being interested in Tulane. That left me with Albany. And so, I ended up at Albany.
GT 15:12 Interesting, very interesting.
Brant 15:14 It turned out to be a really good place for that. I mean, we had some really strong linguists at the time. A couple of Mesoamerican-ists. It was, for what I wanted to do, it was probably the best place in the country.
GT 15:26 Oh, good. How did you end up in Albuquerque?
Brant 15:31 Well, it turned out that I couldn’t get a degree that would feed my family. So, we decided that having food on the table and a roof overhead was a high priority. And so, I should probably work for a living. And I did. At one point in time, my wife–we were back in Albany, and had been there for any number of years. I can’t remember how many. But a decade or more. She was looking at the gloomy skies one time, and she says, “Okay, I’m fed up with this. I’m leaving, and I’m moving west. If you’d like to come with me, you can?”
Brant 16:09 And I said, “Well, okay. So, I went to my bosses and told him that I was going to start looking for a job out west.”
Brant 16:17 And they said, “Well, why don’t you keep working for us and just have a remote office?”
Brant 16:22 And I said, “Well, that would be wonderful.” So, I was the company’s first remote employee. And basically, I could live anywhere there was internet and an airport. We looked around the West and the Northwest was too wet. California was too expensive. Arizona was too hot. Utah had too many Mormons.
GT 16:44 (Chuckling)
Brant 16:44 We came to Albuquerque. Plus her sister was here at the time.
GT 16:51 Very good. You mentioned Aztec culture. I believe, if I remember right, Brian Stubbs, do I have his name right?
Brant 17:02 Yes.
GT 17:03 He’s done some work on languages.
Brant 17:05 Yes. Uto-Aztecan.
GT 17:07 Say it again.
Brant 17:09 Uto-Aztecan.
GT 17:10 Yes, and so he’s found some Semitic origins, (can I say it that way?) with Uto-Aztecan, which is not Mayan.
Brant 17:22 It’s a very different language sect.
GT 17:24 Yeah. And so, I was wondering if you could comment on that.
Brant 17:30 Briefly, briefly. I’m not a fan.
GT 17:36 Oh.
Brant 17:37 It is the best work that has been done and the only work that has ever been done that does the correct linguistic work to try to get sound changes. So, it looks the best of anything that’s ever been done. I have some discomfort with some of the methodology. I have some discomfort with the way he’s developed certain explanations, datasets used. I have a big problem with the language group. The Uto-Aztecan family includes Paiute, Ute, so it’s a language group that is very much Western Rocky Mountain, Southwestern, and then moves down into Mexico. All of the indications are that it’s not moving into Mexico until after the time of the Book of Mormon. So, from everything I can tell about the Book of Mormon, no matter how good it looks, it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. So that leads me to wonder about the rest of it. I know that Stubbs does look at some evidence for Uto-Aztecan being further south at an earlier time period. I think that still makes it extremely difficult to figure out how any kind of Semitic word language change affects the entire group, because you have to go way back into, again, the origins of these languages to get them to spread through all of the families. It does not impress me. Now, I’m not as good a linguist as I would need to be, to be able to give you really good reasons. I can just say I don’t think that works.
GT 19:47 Because the time period is off and then the location’s off.
Brant 19:49 And the location, yeah. I think it’s really interesting stuff for the wrong place at the wrong time. And that and a few other things suggest to me that it maybe…
GT 20:02 It’s too late.
Brant 20:02 It may be more artificial than natural.
GT 20:07 Okay. And so, it developed too late. Is that what you’re saying?
Brant 20:13 Yeah, I’m saying the time period is too late. It’s like saying I’m tracing the early development of the Spanish language. And I find a whole bunch that’s related to Latin. So, I then hypothesize that everything started when people came into Spain with that language. It’s just kind of the wrong place and the wrong time. The homeland of that language really does look more like the southwestern United States. And everything else that I can see of the culture, geography, everything else, puts me down in Mesoamerica. So, if I’m a Mesoamerican-ist, I have a really hard time dealing with that type of information. So, it’s really interesting, really tempting. But I can’t accept that as much of a proof, because based on everything else I’ve seen, it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Other Geography Theories: Baja
GT 21:20 I was wondering if I can get your opinion on a couple other theories, too, Baja, California.
Brant 21:30 Baja.
GT 21:30 That’s relatively close to Mesoamerica, right?
Brant 21:33 Yeah.
GT 21:34 Plus, it’s a peninsula, a narrow neck of land.
Brant 21:38 Yeah, I mean, geographically, and I’ve seen some good agricultural information that may work. And so, there’s some interesting strengths about it. It has one big drawback. Nobody ever lived there. So, I have a hard time putting Book of Mormon people, and the populations and the movements of populations and the wars, I can’t put it there, because there’s zero evidence, archaeologically, that that ever happened. So, yeah, geographically, it’s a nice theory. But that goes back to what I said about geographies. The problem with geographies is everybody can come up with one. Once you have a geography, you have to go somewhere else to try and find out whether or not that geography actually works. And where do you go? Well, you go to the text, and how well the text interacts with what we know of the culture at the time and in that place. And if they match, that’s good. If they don’t match, we’re going, “Okay, that’s a disqualification.” So, I think the fact that there were no good populations there, I think that’s a real drawback to that report.
GT 22:56 Even if it was just 30 people that came? (Chuckling)
Brant 23:01 With the Book of Mormon, where you’re talking about how many people are fighting, I mean, the fact is, the Book of Mormon explains lots of cities and lots of big cities and lots of population. [There’s] zero in Baja. So, yeah, as a geography, it’s really interesting. As a correlation to the real world, it doesn’t work.
GT 23:22 It doesn’t work, okay.
Brant 23:23 Yeah, and let me give you another one. Again, because we’ve talked Heartlanders. Heartlanders will use the fact that there are the Adena, and the Hopewell, in the time periods for the Adena and Hopewell really seem to fit well, with the Jaredites and Nephites, even Lamanites. But there’s a problem with that. In the Book of Mormon, the Jaredites are always north, and there’s only one Jaredite, whoever has any interaction with a Book of Mormon person, and that’s in the city of Zarahemla, before Mosiah gets there. So, by the time we get to Book of Mormon period, the Jaredites are in the north. Mormon always talks about them being in the north, they’re never down where everybody else is, and there’s no interaction. So, although the Adena and Hopewell have a really good timeframe, they’re thoroughly intermixed, so much so that the modern archaeologists are beginning to say, “Yeah, there aren’t two different peoples. They’re not the Adena and the Hopewell. They’re all the same people. It’s just a different time period. And the culture advanced. They’re in the same place at the same time. That’s not what the Book of Mormon says. So, if you cherry pick the archaeology and don’t look at what’s actually happening, you can say Adena and Hopewell, will match the Book of Mormon. If you actually look at the descriptions, they don’t fit the way it works in the text. So, again, I would say, “Okay, yeah. Regardless of what you do with geography, when you actually put people there and try and match it up with people, you can’t make it work.”
Brant 25:09 And Malaysia has some really interesting correlations.
GT 25:11 That’s where I was going next.
Brant 25:12 Malaysia is interesting. I wrote a review of that.
GT 25:17 I knew that, yeah.
Brant 25:20 Although it’s very interesting. Geographically, it’s got some other problems. It doesn’t have as many cultural [problems], because it does have cities and populations. What you have is a very difficult time–and I think the worst of it, it is very difficult to explain the destruction in 3rd Nephi. We don’t have any way of doing it. Krakatoa is there. But the island of Java is in between, and so Krakatoa, any tsunami that’s going to hit, is far enough away that Java is going to disperse it and it’s not going to get up into the Malaysian peninsula. So, yeah, there were a couple of other things where I was looking at it and the geography didn’t seem to work. Interesting, because there are some cultural things that work better than Mesoamerica. You get elephants. That’s kind of nice.
GT 26:19 Yeah.
Brant 26:20 But, yeah, some of the other geography–and again, there’s no way to explain 3rd Nephi. I don’t think you can explain 3rd Nephi and Baja. I know that the Heartlands try to explain 3rd Nephi with the Madrid Fault. The problem with that is, that’s a fault and it creates an earthquake. Earthquakes are very quick. Jerry Grover is the best geologist on this, and it has written about it in his book on the Geology of the Book of Mormon. It is essential reading for people who really want to know stuff. And since he’s a geologist, I’d say, two thirds of it is really dry, which I would say to his face, and then he would laugh and say, “Yeah, you’re right.” Jerry is extremely self-aware. He knows his stuff. But you’ve got to have it in order to be able to get to the interesting parts. And as he points out, he says, “The problem with the description in the Book of Mormon is they last for hours. Earthquakes are over quickly in minutes.” So, yeah, you can have a terrible earthquake–and it talks about the shaking of the ground in the Book of Mormon. But everything that’s going to happen with the shaking around, it’s minutes, and it’s over. You may get an aftershock. We know earthquakes. Many people have been through earthquakes. And they’re quick. [They’re] terrible, but quick. They don’t last for hours on end, which is the definition we get in the Book of Mormon.
Brant 27:49 So, as a geologist, he’s looked at this and said, “Yeah, it’s got to be volcanic activity.” And then he went one step further. And he said, “Yeah, here’s Mesoamerica. Here’s how it’s all laid out. Here’s how the plates line up.” He identified a candidate volcano that’s known to have erupted at the time period that the Book of Mormon says that it should have and would have had the destructive power that the Book of Mormon relates. Then, in addition to that, because of the way the plates sit down there, he says, “Why isn’t Bountiful affected by this thing? That’s not all that far away.” And he looks at the geography of the plates and says, “Okay, here’s why Bountiful survived and nothing else, the other ones didn’t.” So, again, going back to the fact that you can get really detailed in Mesoamerica, you can get explanations down to why didn’t Bountiful get destroyed? Try that anywhere else. You take any other geography for the Book of Mormon. You can’t come close to correlating details like that. And Mesoamerica is full of them.
GT 29:00 I’m trying to remember. Malay is one of my favorites. There was a tribe. I’m trying to remember, in Malay.
Brant 29:10 The Karen.
GT 29:11 The Karen, yeah, they’ve got this story about the gold book, Karen, yeah.
Brant 29:14 It’s spelled Karen, but think it’s pronounced [Car-wren] at least we’ll call it [Car-wren,] so we don’t have to call them Karens.
GT 29:21 Yeah. They’ve got the story about the gold book, I guess, which is kind of cool. But, I swear [it’s a different group I’m thinking of.] No, there was another group called the Bene’ Menashe, which sounds like Manasseh, that claim to be of Jewish heritage, and I’ve heard they were trying to do a DNA test on that. Have you heard if that’s been done?
Brant 29:45 I don’t know that one. I mean, none of this surprises me, because Jewish populations were dispersed. And, historically, they tried to stay together, which is why you could have pogroms come and wipe them out, because they were all in the same place. So, I wouldn’t be surprised. Now, does it relate to the Book of Mormon? Probably not. At least not in any way I can imagine. But the concept of Jews in diaspora are well-known, and, well known that as they spread out–and, frankly, any community tries to stay together. There was a time period in the United States where we had a large population of Hmong come in from Cambodia. And they all settled, most of them, I won’t say all. But you have a large Hmong settlement, is it Wisconsin or Minnesota? I think Minnesota, which is really surprising, given the fact that come from subtropical area, and end up in the frozen land.
GT 29:55 Go to cold Minnesota.
Brant 30:58 Yeah.
GT 31:02 Well, alright, so anything else on Malay you’d like to add?
Brant 31:08 I think the only thing–for as much as it’s really interesting, the only time the Church has ever come out and said anything about Book of Mormon geography is they have declared that it’s in the New World. So, the only time we have a Church pronouncement, excludes Malaysia. It doesn’t exclude anywhere else, but it would exclude Malaysia. So, if I go with Church official statements, Malaysia is excluded.
GT 31:36 Okay, have you followed the African theory very much? I think that one’s probably the least scholarly of any that I know.
Brant 31:43 Yeah, I think that’s the right definition for it, and the reason why I don’t put much credence in it. I think that’s just a wonderful outlier.
GT 31:52 I wish it would include the Lemba tribe. But it seems like it’s more like Ethiopia and [Eritrea.] Because I’m like, “Lemba, come on. You’ve got to throw that in there.”
Brant 32:03 It’s an example of the fact that pretty much everybody will try to find the Book of Mormon wherever they are related. I heard someone talking recently and they said that somebody in the Church had gone to a lot of returned missionaries, from various places in the New World. and they were asking the missionaries, “Where do you think the Book of Mormon took place?” And, invariably, the most popular one was wherever they served. And I think that explains Africa. There’s a really interesting [theory] Nephites in England, and I don’t know more about that, [other] than we have Nephites in England.
GT 32:42 Wasn’t that on Amazon Prime? I think.
Brant 32:46 Oh, I can’t remember. Yeah, I mean it…
GT 32:48 I think it was.
Brant 32:49 Yeah, whatever it is, everybody wants to find something connected to the Book of Mormon, and we want to be connected to it. So, I think there’s this natural attempt to say, “Okay, I’m going to try and find it so that it connects to me. And so, we get Africa and Malaysia, and England and everywhere from South to North America.
GT 33:17 I know, I’ve had a couple people say that–and I don’t know that this is a compliment, per se. But the “genius” of the Book of Mormon, is that it’s so vague, it could have taken place anywhere. So, therefore, it probably didn’t take place anywhere. What do you say to that?
Brant 33:35 I would say that that’s, in general, sort of a good beginning point. And it goes back to what I was saying about geography. Everybody can come up with geography. The geography is not going to tell us. The Book of Mormon is sufficiently vague that you can make up a geography to fit certain parts. Now, if you’re really getting careful, you have to be much more detailed than most of them are. Most geographies get satisfied if they find seas, and they find a narrow neck of land, and, somehow, they can put Cumorah in there and feel good about it. And if they do those things, you’ve got a geography. There are other parts of geography that really matter, and people don’t spend time on them. And my litmus test, when I go look at a geography and my personal philosophy is, when I go look at anybody else’s geography, the Malaysian, Baja, Heartland, Great Lakes, any of those, the way I approach it is, I will accept their assumptions and try to find out how well it works. I basically accepting their assumptions. So, I don’t want to go to it saying, “Well, I know you’re wrong. Let me find out why. You know, maybe you’re right. Let me see if you are.” That’s the approach I like to take with it.
Brant 34:56 And one of my litmus tests is Manti, because Manti is really important, and nobody cares about it. So, you never build a geography, trying to figure out Manti. But Manti has to be near the source of the Sidon, it has to be in a mountain pass, that is a critical and most typical, most common path between Lamanites and Nephites. So, it’s got to be hard to get around any other area, but easy to go through this pass at Manti, because Manti is built there to be a defensive fortification. And there has to be a valley off to the east of it. Those are really specific things about Manti. And people don’t pay attention to them. And so you go look at it, you say, “Okay, tell me about Manti. Where are the mountains? Where are the hills? What’s its relationship to the Sidon. And particularly, why is it a defensive position? And you can’t find it, because they build the geography based on the big things, not the details that you have in the Book of Mormon. Now, the obvious question is, can I find that in Mesoamerica? The answer is yes, of course. But other places, I don’t see it. And, again, that’s one of the reasons why I take Manti. It becomes a real quick thing for me to say, “Okay, yeah, how does Manti fit? And if you don’t fit Manti, then I’ve got to wonder about the rest of the correlation.
Middle East Geography
GT 36:31 All right. One thing we haven’t talked about is Middle Eastern geography. Are you comfortable? Is that in your wheelhouse that, you’d like to talk about that, like, how did Lehi get out of [Israel]?
Brant 36:43 I’m comfortable talking about it, yeah.
GT 36:46 Okay. Tell us more about that. I know Daniel Peterson has said, like, he’s called Nahom a bullseye. I know, John Hamer has said, “Well, there’s like, three letters: NHM. They’re all over the Middle East. You could put that anywhere.”
Brant 37:01 Yeah, let’s start with the Nahem/Nahom thing. There are three letters, and it’s possible have them in multiple places. And depending on the language you’re in, it has different meanings. So, in the context, where they found this altar that has the Nahem or Nahom on it, it is most likely Nahem, rather than Nahom. Nahom would be the way a Hebrew would fill in the vowels. And Nahem would be the way a southeastern Arabian would fill in the vowels. In the southeast Arabian, as I understand it, it refers to stone cutting, and a place where there were stone cutters. If you fill in the vowels, more like the Hebrew would, you get the suffering and the grief, etc. And, frankly, I think what we’re seeing is a pun in the Book of Mormon, because that is the place where Ishmael is buried. Now, bullseye, maybe? Well, if you remember a bullseye on any target, the bull’s eye is maybe this big, and the target is maybe that big. But the bullseye isn’t that big. It’s not a very precise point. It’s a range. So, is it a bullseye? Yeah, within a range, it’s a bullseye. Now, why is it a bullseye in the range? Well, there’s a couple of reasons. One of them is where it’s located. They’ve done a lot of work to trace back the tribal name, and they find out that this is a tribal name. It’s been there forever. The Nihmites have been here for a very, very long time. So as far as the name being appropriate to that specific location, it goes back to Book of Mormon times, the altar puts it in Book of Mormon times. So, the timeframe fits.
Brant 39:03 Now, how about the location? Is it a bullseye to find that location, if you could find maybe another location somewhere else? Well, the answer is no. Because this is a specific location and they talk about the Book of Mormon, where they are making in this area, a turn off of the common route, which would have been– why am I forgetting it?
GT 39:31 The Frankincense Trail?
Brant 39:32 The Frankincense trail, thank you. I find the older I get, the harder it is to recall words when I really need them.
GT 39:40 We all get that.
Brant 39:41 They’re on the Frankincense Trail, but there’s a point where it turns off and they go mostly eastward. There is a trail there. That is another way to do it. It’s much more dangerous. It’s not nearly as safe or as good, but it’ll get you where you’re going. But it starts right at this area. Well, the Book of Mormon says at this area where we’ve gotten NHM, you’re making this change. And that’s where this location is on the map. So yeah, is it a bullseye? Well, the Book of Mormon says you’re going in a certain direction, you’re making a change at this location. That is a place called Nahom, and that’s where you’re turning East and the information about this tribal land of Nahem is right where that happens and turns east? Well, okay, that’s a pretty good bullseye. It’s not just the name. It’s where the name is. The name is the in location to where they’re making the turn and that connection of what happened there. What’s happened more recently is Neil Rappleye, of Book of Mormon Central has been doing some research and happened to find out that there are burial sites there. And that there are multiple people named Ishmael that are buried there. Now, it is absolute certain that we cannot say that Book of Mormon Ishmael was buried there. That’s not what he is saying. He would deny that, as well.
GT 39:41 (Chuckling) We all get that.
Brant 39:42 Ishmael was a pretty common name.
GT 40:35 It was a common name.
GT 41:10 Even with Isaac and Ishmael, you know, the Arabs and the…
Brant 41:13 Yeah, the point isn’t that the Ishmael that we want, is buried there.
GT 41:20 Right.
Brant 41:21 It’s that this is not a common name in that area. And it indicates that this is a place where other foreigners would be coming through and if someone died, they could be buried there. And so the idea that this is a stopping place for non-locals that might die and be buried there, that’s what’s interesting, because that fits the context. Now, can we do any better than that? Doubtful. But when you look at the specific location, and the time period and the correlation to that specific point in time period, that’s about as good as you’re going to get anywhere. I mean, obviously, the Book of Mormon says, Jerusalem, and we know where Jerusalem was, but saying that something was in Jerusalem is hardly a bullseye. That’s a bullseye where you can paint the arrow and paint the bullseye around here, because everybody knows that. But this one, to find that kind of correlation, it’s not as easy as saying there’s only three letters, and you can find them anywhere. Those three letters have a meaning, just like any other word. And those meanings are specific to that location, to a tribe in that place, to a name that goes back and fits in the geographical shift, that the Book of Mormon indicates is happening at that point. That convergence of information says it’s a bullseye, not just the name.
GT 42:49 Okay. And so, are you saying they turned to East at Nahom, or that was just along the Frankincense Trail, and then they turned later?
Brant 42:59 They are on the Frankincense Trail. They are coming down on the western coast of the peninsula. And then instead of going further south around the tip, and then coming back up, they cut across East?
GT 43:10 Is that in Yemen?
Brant 43:12 Pardon me?
GT 43:13 Is that in Yemen, approximately, that general area, or Oman?
Brant 43:15 I don’t know the location, I think you’re heading in that direction. But, I mean, basically, you’re going through the desolate quarter there. So, that’s why it’s not as popular. You’re farther away from good watering holes. It’s hotter. It’s just a much more difficult slog to go through there. And historically, there were tribes in the area that might make it difficult for you to go through that region. There’s a very interesting article that S. Kent Brown wrote a few years back, where he talks about the concept of sojourning. And he said that the way that term is used is sort of involuntary servitude in a place. If you sojourned for a while, you are stuck there, because you needed to be stuck there. And his supposition is that as they make that turn, there is some conflict with some of the peoples there and the reason why you’re eight years in a trip that should only take like three months, is because they’ve been sojourning in some location there where they were kind of held captive. And then you know, what they were doing all of that is speculation. But that is an interesting explanation, both for what’s going to happen on that side, why it’s dangerous, why they don’t want to have fires, because they don’t want people to come see them. And then for the fact that it took eight years to get across. Something happened, that it took that amount of time.
GT 45:01 Okay. I know there are a couple of possible locations for Nephi’s Harbor, I think. I always get these mixed up. The Ashtons have Khor Rori and George Potter has Khor Khofut, or I might have that backwards, I’m not sure.
Brant 45:23 I wouldn’t remember. I could look it up and find out. But, yeah, there are two possibilities. They both have arguments for them. I’m not sure that we could definitively say, one way or the other. But the fact that you’ve got two possibilities that fit, even the fact that there’s two of them gets very interesting, given the expectation that there should not have been any. I mean, obviously, if you’re going to find a coastline, you might be able to launch a ship, but to be able to find the land Bountiful, you’ve just come through the Sinai Peninsula with all of the desert. And there wasn’t a lot of expectation that there would have been anything that could be called Bountiful. Well, there is. We found that. The rest of the arguments about what they found: how close is it to ore? How close is it to trees? Potter’s hypothesis is more on the depth of the harbor, I think, more on the surrounding.
GT 46:33 Well, I know, originally, he had found iron ore there, and he thought it was a better thing. But I think the Ashtons found ore in their place, as well, if I remember right.
Brant 46:44 Yes.
GT 46:44 So you don’t have an opinion on who’s got the better harbor?
Brant 46:47 No, I really don’t.
GT 46:49 Okay.
Brant 46:50 No, I haven’t spent enough time on that to worry about it.
GT 46:53 Okay. Too much time on Mesoamerica? (Chuckling)
Brant 46:57 I’ve got plenty to do trying to figure out through the other things. That one I can leave to somebody else to argue about.
South American Model
GT 47:04 You know, I know George Potter has said, he goes along with the 30 degrees south latitude in South America. And I guess that’s the last one we forgot to mention. Do you have any comments on that one?
Brant 47:19 South America has the advantage of high civilizations, metal work. You can really make a lot of the cultural things work nicely. The real problem you have is geography. It’s way too big. So, you have to find some way to narrow it down. And the one really popular way of narrowing it down is to have most of the Amazon Basin be underwater.
GT 47:47 Right. I was just going to show you this book.
Brant 47:49 Yeah.
GT 47:50 By Venice Priddis.
Brant 47:52 Yep. That’s it.
GT 47:54 What’s the problem with this map?
Brant 47:57 You see the blue right in the middle of it.
GT 48:00 There’s a narrow neck of land right here. (Chuckling)
Brant 48:05 The problem is with all that blue in between all of the land.
GT 48:09 It’s the Amazon River.
Brant 48:10 There were people living there at the time they say that water was there.
GT 48:12 Yeah, it’s off by what, a million, a few million years? I can’t remember.
Brant 48:16 Yeah. So, again, one of my quick things on the geography of the Book of Mormon is how well does it violate known principles? If it’s contrary to geology and known archaeology and known time, Anybody that tries to put something underwater when we know, for a fact, it wasn’t underwater, they’ve got to be wrong. So, I’m not all that interested.
GT 48:46 Yeah. I mean, is this a true map for like, a million years ago?
Brant 48:51 Yeah, I think a million years ago, I think was true.
GT 48:53 Yeah. So to me, that’s the biggest problem with it, too.
Brant 48:58 I mean, if you really want to go a few million years ago, I mean, we’ve got Lake Bonneville.
GT 49:02 Right.
Brant 49:04 Rocky Mountains could have–they said that Manti, that Moroni came up into the Rocky Mountains. So, maybe that’s where it was. It was Lake Bonneville, a big ocean there.
GT 49:19 (Chuckling)
Brant 49:19 There’s another one I heard of that had that required that the Gulf of Mexico be elevated and dry so that the Nephite could get from Mesoamerica to Florida more easily. Because they could kind of walk across, because it wasn’t sunken yet.
GT 49:39 I hadn’t heard that one.
Brant 49:41 Yeah, I can’t remember where I heard that one. But you can tell how much attention I’m going to pay to it, if it requires that you have dry land where we know there wasn’t any.
GT 49:50 Well, and I am curious, because I need to talk to George again, or somebody. Is this kind of a mainstream idea as far as South America is concerned, or do most people have the whole continent there?
Brant 50:04 You know, I haven’t spent enough time there to know. I’ve looked at a few of them. I just haven’t seen any that I’ve wanted to spend more time with. The couple I looked at did use that water. So, obviously, I dismissed them pretty quickly. I don’t even remember how Potter reconciles that.
GT 50:25 Yeah, and I need to talk to him again.
Brant 50:28 I think I read through his stuff, but I read it so quickly that…
GT 50:33 Yeah, I’ve talked to George before, and it was mainly about Nephi’s harbor. We didn’t get into South America at all.
Brant 50:42 Yeah, I really liked his book. I’ve quoted it for the Old World. I haven’t quoted it for the New World, gulp. Well, we’re in different areas.
Final Thoughts on Meso
GT 50:58 Yeah. Well, do you want to give us any final strengths or anything on Meso? I’m trying to hit you with everything I could, I think.
Brant 51:12 I think the thing that I would like people to understand about Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, is that it really does give us a cultural background that begins to explain the text, rather than just have the text laid on top of it. So, for most geographies, we’re happy if we can lay the book down and say, “See how this matches.” But that doesn’t help us understand why people do things. For example, we have the great story of Ammon, who comes to King Lamoni. And he goes and stands before the king, and the king is all dumbfounded for what Ammon has done. And he basically says to him, “I’m not more than a man.” Yeah, sure. he says that.
Brant 52:08 And then you skip right by and you go, “Why in the world would he say that? Why is that something interesting?” Well, he’s being accused of being very godlike, because he’s done something nobody could do. And so they’re looking to him.
Brant 52:18 They’re going, “Man, is this a God come down to earth?”
Brant 52:20 And he says, “No, I’m not more than a man.” Well, Mesoamerican has a class of deities that come down and operate on Earth. And so, it would have been a very interesting assumption for people at that time to say, “Oh, man, he just performed a miracle. He must be a God,” realizing these aren’t people who believe in one God, but multiple.
Brant 52:45 And so the first thing he has to say to them is, “I’m not more than a man.”
Brant 52:48 You go back to King Benjamin, King Benjamin gives this great sermon. At the very beginning of the sermon, he starts this long list of saying, “Here’s what I’m not.”
Brant 53:00 Now, we read through them go, “Okay, yeah, that’s nice.”
Brant 53:02 “Yeah, I didn’t make you slaves, and I didn’t overtax you, and I didn’t do this.” We never asked the question of why in the world would he say that?
Brant 53:14 I did not come on to talk to you and begin saying, “By the way, I’m not a medical doctor. I’m not a veterinarian. I’ve never done an autopsy on a horse.” Why would I tell you all of the things I’ve never done? Well, in the context of Mesoamerica, every one of those things is what a Mesoamerican King would have done. And so why does he say that? He’s saying, “I’m different. I’m not that kind of king. I’m a different kind of king. And therefore you should look to your heavenly king as a different kind of king.”
Brant 53:47 So, once you have that context, you go, “Oh, that’s why he did that.” And those kinds of things pop up frequently in the Book of Mormon, where, once you know what that culture is that’s behind it, all of a sudden, things are richer. It’s not more true, but they’re richer. And I think that’s the reason why the Mesoamerican geography of the Book of Mormon is important, not because of the geography, but because of how it helps us understand the people in the text and why they do the things they do. Why do things happen at this time period? Why is this time period different from another? Why do the Nephites end when they do? Go back to the other end of things with Nephi. Why do the people immediately want a king, even though Nephi says, “I don’t want to be a king.” Why do the people insist? It just so happens at that time period, that’s right when kingship is becoming a really big thing in Mesoamerica. Everybody around them is doing it. It’s sort of like, “Everybody else is doing it. I want a king, too.” When we get that kind of set of things behind it, all of a sudden, the Book of Mormon becomes more real to us. It’s always true. It can become more real.
Can Faithful Believe in Old Earth/Evolution?
GT 55:18 Very good. Let me ask you this one last question, especially since we talked about a million years ago. Are you a young earth guy or an old earth guy?
Brant 55:31 Old earth.
GT 55:32 Old earth. So, what would you say? Let me, also, ask about evolution. Is that something you think is compatible with gospel principles?
Brant 55:41 Sure.
GT 55:42 Sure, okay. So, what would you say to those who are like, “Earth is only 6000 years old. Evolution is crap.” What would you say to that?
Brant 55:56 I would use the Thumper rule.
GT 55:58 The Thumper rule?
Brant 56:00 Yeah, don’t say anything, if you can’t say anything nice. I must be getting too old. People don’t know the Thumper rule out of Bambi, anymore.
GT 56:10 (Chuckling)
Brant 56:11 Yeah. People who firmly believe that, really want to believe that, and if evidence could convince them, they would be convinced. So, they’re not interested in anything that I would say to them. So, I would say, “Bless you for your belief. We disagree.” Now, can I say that there is a reason for my disagreement? Yeah. Can I point to time periods, not too long after Joseph Smith, where the brethren were speculating on the earth being hundreds of thousands of years old? Yeah, that happened. They were conservative by modern timing.
GT 57:02 Right.
Brant 57:03 For their time, this was expansive. They were saying, “Oh, yeah, the Earth is really, really old, hundreds of thousands of years old.”
GT 57:10 Yeah, it’s not 6000 years old.
Brant 57:11 Yeah, 6000, no, definitely not 6000. There is, obviously no scientific evidence that would allow us to have a 6000-year-old Earth. There’s just nothing that we know about the way any of the sciences work, that would allow that. Too many things can be dated to older than 6000 years. So, from a scientific standpoint, no. It is purely a choice based on some religious assumptions that I think I know where the cultural background of those assumptions came from. I don’t think they hold true, and I don’t think there’s anything in the Gospel that requires me to believe those things.
Brant 58:09 Right now, Ben Spackman is doing the best research on the Church and its relationship to evolution. The generation that grew up with Joseph Fielding Smith’s Man, His Origin and Destiny, which was, adamantly, anti-evolution. I grew up believing that I wasn’t allowed to believe in evolution, because of that book. It wasn’t until later that I found out that James Talmage, and B.H. Roberts vehemently disagreed with him, and would follow each other around to conferences so that they could contradict each other. I’m happy with Talmage and B.H. Roberts saying that Joseph Fielding Smith, it was his opinion. I like their opinion better, especially since Talmage was a geologist. I think he knew. So, yeah.
GT 59:05 Do you have an explanation for Adam and Eve? Did they live 6000 years ago, and then they had pre-Neanderthals and whatever? Do you have a good [explanation?]
Brant 59:15 I don’t know how to deal with a specific Adam and Eve at a specific time. It certainly wasn’t 6000 years ago, because we know there were other people around. We certainly know that the story of Adam and Eve is highly symbolic and intended to be highly symbolic. It’s not intended to be a history book. And I’ll tell classes that I’ll teach that talk about, “Well, this is what happened in the Garden of Eden.” I’ll remind them about who was holding the tape recorder at the time. You don’t have it. How did you get this conversation? How do you know that exactly what happened? Well, we have it written down from what people said about it long time later, when they’re having a different reason for writing. So, like I said about Nephi, when Nephi is writing on the small plates, he has a very different reason for writing than he did when he was on the large plates. And we don’t have what he wrote on the large plates. But you’d have to go with what the function is? I think the story of Adam and Eve is highly symbolic, intended to be highly symbolic. And how it fits into actual history, I don’t think we have that information.
Brant 1:00:40 My personal guess is, as I try to figure out the difference between what the brethren have firmly stated, which is what the nature of man is, human, I should say. What is the nature of a human? Their definition is theological. It’s the Spirit of God that’s in them. So that tells me that it isn’t the physical body that makes a difference. There are all kinds of things that don’t make a difference. It’s, at what point in time did spirit children enter into those bodies? That’s when we start humanity. When that started in the historical process of evolution. I really don’t know. And there’s lots of complications in that. We know that Neanderthal, for example, we don’t, we aren’t Neanderthal. We know they’re before us. And again, going back to dating, we know that that dates a long time before, most of the Cro-Magnon young people are coming up and mixing with them, where we have modern humans. But the Neanderthal had culture, at least incipient culture. They took care of their wounded. There was a bone found where there was a broken leg bone, and it was healed. Well, you can’t do that unless somebody is going to bring you food and take care of you. Which means you have to have some unit that will care for you. If you have an animal that gets a broken leg out in the wild, what happens? They die.They don’t live long enough for it to heal, because they don’t have a culture that will make sure that they’re taken care of. The Neanderthal did.
Brant 1:02:20 Neanderthal appear to have had religion. One Neanderthal burial was found with a shaman’s bag that indicated that they had a shamanic religion. There’s evidence of flowers that were buried with some of the Neanderthal. So yeah, there’s indication that human concepts of religion go way back. So, again, if I’m going to mix all of that up together, I go with the Book of Abraham where it says, [that] there’s two things, there’s one higher than lower, and he indicates that for humanity, there’s one higher and one lower and God’s at the top. I think there’s some infinite, higher and lower, where God said, “This is the point where you’re capable becoming like gods. You are now children of Adam. I think that’s the dividing line. I think right below that line, for whatever reason, that couldn’t become like God, but could still be exalted. God exalts them to the highest position, they could be, perhaps Neanderthal be up somebody else. I don’t know. But I don’t think dogs and cats could ever become as God is. But I think they had a spirit and I think God elevated that pre-existing spirit to the best it can be. So, I think, theologically, that’s where I would go with it.
GT 1:03:51 Great. Well, I’ve kept you long time. Is there anything else you want to share before I let you go?
Brant 1:03:56 I think we better not, because if I try another subject, we’re going to keep going forever.
GT 1:04:03 All right. Well, Brant Gardner, I really appreciate you being here on Gospel Tangents. Thanks a lot.
Brant 1:04:08 Thank you very much.
 It was backwards. Potter supports Khor Rori and Ashtons support Khor Khofut.
Copyright © 2022
All Rights Reserved
Except for book reviews, no content may be reproduced without written permission.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 1:05:46 — 60.4MB) | Embed
Subscribe: Google Podcasts | Email | | More