Apr 7, 2010

Columbus and Book of Mormon Geography

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi foretold the coming of the Europeans to the Americas. The fulfillment of this prophecy gives us a clue to the location of the Nephites "promised land". Nephi wrote:
"And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land (my emphasis).
And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations."  1Ne.13:12-19.
This prophecy was fulfilled literally.  We recognize this "man among the gentiles" (verse 12) as Christopher Columbus, who first crossed the Atlantic in 1492 (and although he was not the first European to do so, he was the catalyst that initiated the European colonization).  He made three more voyages to the Americas in subsequent years, and during these visits made contact with the Lamanites in the promised land.  
Where did he visit in the New World?  Columbus did not visit Mexico or Guatemala, and certainly not the shores of the continental United States. Most of his initial contacts were in the islands of the Caribbean. But on his 3rd voyage in 1498 he briefly landed in Venezuela, and on the fourth voyage, in 1502, he spent four months exploring the Caribbean coast of Central American from Honduras to Panama. On that occasion he was impressed with one area which he named Costa Rica (Rich Coast). There he found the natives using a gold-copper alloy (called tumbaga) for ornaments and jewelry. But he was much more impressed with the southern region of Central America which he named Veraguas (now in western Panama). There the natives ostentatiously displayed pure gold jewelry and ornaments.  The chronicles especially made mention of “gold mirrors”, round disks, or pectorals, of gold, which the Indians wore around their necks.  He traded with them extensively, and even learned the location of one the gold mines. The Spaniards found they could trade simple trinkets, worth several cents, for gold objects worth hundreds of times more. (1)
John Sorenson has expressed his opinion that the fullfillment of Nephi's prophecy in 1 Nephi 13 took place in Latin America and not in the United States where we normally assume it took place. As noted above, Columbus contacted the Lamanites in Central America, the lands of the Spanish conquest. The Spanish could also qualify as the “mother Gentiles” (verse 17) who fought against the Gentile settlers in the promised land. In this part of Latin America the "gentiles" revolted against the "mother" country and won their freedom in much the same way, and about the same time, as the people of the United States won theirs. This view could completely change the implications of Nephi’s prophecy.  Could the Nephite "promised land" be located in Central America?  This perspective might be difficult for those of us in the United States to accept who have the provincial attitude that only the U.S. could be the "promised land".
1. Morison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Little, Brown and Co. 1942.  ch. 34-35.


  1. I don't have time to check my facts, but in those same prophecies doesn't Nephi talk about the church being restored? If that is true wouldn't that imply that mainland usa is the land spoken of?

    Thanks! Very enjoyable reading!!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read this article and comment on it. That is very helpful to me as I only see things from my perspective. Regarding Ch. 13 of 1 Nephi: he is told many things in this vision. He is shown the Great and Abominable Church, the coming forth of the Bible, the alteration of the Bible, Columbus of course, the times of the gentiles, the invasion of the land by the gentiles and the destruction of the people of the land by them. The gentiles of the Americas achieving freedom, the importance of the Bible among them, and finally the coming forth of the BofM and other scriptures. It could be used to justify a location in the US, but I think it is more of an overview of the unfolding of history in the Americas and the gentiles influence here.