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Mapping the Book of Mormon:
A Comprehensive Geography of Nephite America
by Robert A. Pate
The Book of Mormon lands have finally been found after 173 years of research and speculation. It appears that a researcher has forged the link between the ancient place names mentioned in the Book of Mormon and the current place names in Central America. The ancient orthography of the name, Guatemala, along with other new evidence, suggests that the south coast of Guatemala may well have been the ancient land of Zarahemla described in the controversial LDS scripture, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. In Mapping the Book of Mormon: A Comprehensive Geography of Nephite America, Dr. Robert A. Pate, a mechanical engineer turned Book of Mormon geographer, identifies the current location of nearly every site mentioned in that revered record, including Zarahemla, Bountiful, Desolation, and Cumorah, using the same approach employed to pinpoint biblical sites in the Middle East.
The Book of Mormon was first published in 1830 as the sacred record of three groups of ancient Americans who came to this continent from the Middle East. Joseph Smith claimed to have translated it from gold plates given to him by an angel named Moroni, the last of a line of prophets who had kept the record of these inhabitants. While some surprising linguistic and historical facts unearthed since its publication have given support to the historical nature of the record, most archaeologists have regarded it as religious fiction. Pate’s book could change that view entirely.
The locations of biblical cities were traced from modern to ancient sites through linguistics and geographical descriptions in the Bible. The situation for American locations, however, is much more difficult. After Columbus arrived in the New World, the Conquistadors destroyed the Mayan records, forced the people to learn Spanish, and renamed all the cities in Central America. This has discouraged LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) scholars from even trying to reconstruct Book of Mormon names through linguistics.
Approaching the problem with an engineer’s feel for what works, Dr. Pate assumes that current Mayan dialects have undergone a lengthy metamorphosis starting from ancient Hebrew, Sumerian, and the other Middle Eastern languages spoken by the three groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon, coupled with extensive Oriental infusion. Using the three oldest secular histories of the region (Popol Vuh, Titles of the Lords of Totonicapan, and Annals of the Cakchiquels), numerous dictionaries and word lists for the indigenous dialects and related languages, ancient maps, current archaeological charts and reports, and the geographical descriptions contained in the Book of Mormon, Dr. Pate meticulously traces place names in Central America to Book of Mormon cities. The result is a geography that not only fits the map, but also provides new insights about the terrain described in the Book of Mormon.
The discovery turns the tables on recent detractors who are doing DNA research on early American roots. The tribes of Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, and Zoram are specifically identified by their names and specific locations they still occupied at the time of the Conquest. These detractors note that, if the Book of Mormon describes a hemispheric geography, it would not account for the mixture of DNA found in current Native Americans. Dr. Pate’s research supports their conclusion but emasculates their premise, thus nullifying their challenge. While the Book of Mormon mentions a “narrow neck of land” separating a “land northward” from a “land southward,” it is Americans, with their global sense of geography, who have seen in this description a reference to North and South America, separated by the Isthmus of Panama. More recently, Mormon scholars like John L. Sorensen in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon have suggested that the area described in the Book of Mormon is much smaller.
Dr. Pate’s study concludes that the area occupied by the groups described in the Book of Mormon is limited to the Costa Sur of Guatemala southward into central El Salvador and northeasterly into the highlands of Guatemala and Honduras—an area approximately 270 miles long by 70 miles wide, most of the Nephite events occurring in an area just 60 miles by 60 miles. In this setting, the “land northward” and the “land southward” appear to be fertile areas of the Costa Sur to the north and south of the broad Samala River, which to this day can only be crossed easily in the piedmont where the current highway has been built. Indeed, there may have been a volcanic land bridge there that crossed the river and was referred to as the “narrow neck of land.”
Interestingly, this area is precisely the region where archaeologists believe the most ancient Mayas lived. In fact, remnants of the ancient tribes that Pate traces to the various Book of Mormon groups still occupy the area. The most advanced tribe in this area disappeared suddenly just before the classical Maya era, which began in about 400 AD. This is consistent with the Book of Mormon record, which claims that two groups, the Lamanites and the Nephites, engaged in internecine warfare at that time until the Nephites, the group that had kept the records, were wiped out.
A propitious linguistic link led Dr. Pate to examine Guatemala and El Salvador as a potential Book of Mormon site. From there, locations kept falling into place until it became apparent through the mounting evidence that he had hit pay dirt. One piece of evidence is the center of the Quiché nation, known anciently as Kumarkaj (pronounced the same as “Cumorah,” with a glottal closure on the last syllable). It remains now for archaeologists to dig in the areas identified by Dr. Pate to confirm his findings, the same as has been done in the Middle East.
Fifty photos, maps, and diagrams are included in the book, which is offered in both hardback and softbound editions by Cornerstone Publishing, in cooperation with the Alma Jacob Pate Family of Logan, Utah.