Rulebook for Mapping the Book of Mormon Inside Out

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

Get out your pencils and paper...and most likely an eraser. Let's frame the Book of Mormon internal map from the voices of the people who lived through the story. Breaking down the nearly 600 statements on geography to build an internal map will:

  1. Contextualize your future Book of Mormon studies as real and relatable.

  2. Provide the foundation (scale, geography, topography) to overlay into the real world setting for Book of Mormon people and events.

Rules of Mapping

In mapping, you have two forms - absolute and relative. Absolute locations, think latitude and longitude, positions sites at fixed points. You also have relative locations, which identify sites' locations based upon relationships with other locations. Ancient documents like the Bible or Book of Mormon use relative locations.


Example of Relative Locations: My home is a 2 hour drive from your home. More relevant to the Book of Mormon Map: City of X is a 3 day journey from City of Y. For geometry students tuning in, knowing the distance between two points does not mean you know their exact locations. It could be 3 days to the north, 3 days to the south, or anywhere along the perimeter. However, if you interlock 3 or more locations, now you can map with precision.


As Aric Turner articulates, the Book of Mormon's Promise Land includes 173 features with 29,756 possible relationships. Not every feature will be described with relative locations, but enough points, distances and relationships do exist to build a consistent and working internal map for personal studies. The more scholars identify and agree on interlocking locations relative to one another, the more accurate the results.


Distances and Scale

It's safe to say you probably cannot hike from Southern Chili to New York State in 3 weeks. Google won't even estimate any results on foot. Google. Hikers take 5-7 months to traverse the Appalachian Trail. If you currently believe the Book of Mormon events covered all of North and South America...or even all of North America...or even all of Central America...it's time to review scale together. The Book of Mormon events transpired within a very limited geography.


The Book of Mormon describes distances as days traveled. Anthropologist John Sorenson reviewed real world examples and averaged distances groups could travel per day to convert days into miles (with some variation allowed based on the size of the group and pressure). Groups would not be traveling miles in a straight line, but would naturally accommodate the terrain of the land.

  • Ammon et al travel 40 days from the City of Zarahemla up to the Land of Nephi through mountain terrain without exact knowledge of the route to a final location. They get lost during this time, so only 4-5 miles in the right direction averaged per day.

  • Alma's group, including women and children, travel 21 days from the Waters of Mormon, near the City of Nephi in the Land of Nephi, to Zarahemla. This averages to approximately 11 miles per day.

Review internal map journey's and travel with this chart.


Scholars conclude the City of Nephi at + or - 250 trail miles from Zarahemla, + or - 180 miles in a straight line and both events listed above match the model. Connecting other points with consistent rates and distances leaves us with a Book of Mormon terrain of only 400 miles from its southern most point to the north. The Book of Mormon's geography was about twice as large as biblical Canaan, but still limited and not hemispheric in scope.


From a Certain Point of View

Ancient authors understood geography through their first hand experiences and available resources (without any GPS). Like the New Yorker's famous world map, the mental map of Mormon and Book of Mormon authors needs to be considered while we complete the puzzle. Consider the ancient world's maps for the task at hand. Authors did not describe their environment looking from the stars down, something we might take for granted today with satellites. Everything Mormon and other authors describe is true...from their own culture & location's perspective.


Directions: Which way is Northward?

Directions represent the perfect example of cultural perspective. Today, north means north and every modern map, car or phone specifically agrees. For historic cultures, this isn't so simple. Many times instead of an linear arrow, a direction might represent a very broad area. Consider Mayan directions with multiple variations broken into 4 quadrants. Phrases for "Eastward" or "Westward" often followed the entire range of a sun solstice on either side. Here's an article about directions as written in Hebrew and Egyptian.


This leaves a massive and rotatable territory as potentially "Northward" in the Book of Mormon, a territory referenced 31 explicit times. Northward or Southward might not mean true north, which considering the world's dynamic geography makes perfect sense. Mapping directions requires open space for adjustments based upon the correct cultural setting applied. Northward needs defined from the perspective of the people who traveled it, not from magnetic north.


Topography: Up, Down & Over


Many people claim to drive down somewhere and '...back up home'. The terms up, down and over in the Bible and Book of Mormon, however, refer to elevation, not directions. For example, Nephi and his family always travel down from Jerusalem, located in the central highlands of the Levant, to the Red Sea. They always travel up from their camp at the Red Sea to Jerusalem. The description is true to the terrain and topography of the Old World setting.


This rule fits well into the Book of Mormon's map, where Nephites always travel up (while south in direction) to the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla and down (while north in direction) from the Land of Zarahemla to the Land of Nephi. The terms up, down and over are topographic.


Does the destruction at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ make mapping or geography studies impossible?

No. Although truly the face of the land changed from the massive destruction events described at the crucifixion of Christ (see 3 Nephi 8:4-17), including noted outliers of 5 cities sunk or buried in water, 5 cities burned, 4 cities buried in earth and one city rising up, the landscape of the terrain changed very little. Consider the following:

  • The City and the Temple at Bountiful were both still present.

  • Zarahemla, one of the burned cities, was rebuilt.

  • The Hill Cumorah, Land Southward, Land Northward, Land of Desolation, Land of Bountiful, Land of Zarahemla, Land of Nephi and, in fact, all lands and many cities remained both before and after the destruction.

  • The narrow neck, narrow pass, and fortified line Bountiful all remained in place.

  • The overall mountains and elevation remains the same, the River Sidon still ran, etc.

We know these statements are true both from accounts after the destruction and because Mormon (living hundreds of years after Christ) writes the most information on all geographic statements in the Book of Mormon. He does so fluently with no confusion whether inserting a commentary on geography in Alma (before the destruction) or describing his own journeys and battle sequences in Mormon (afterwards). The destruction was severe, but the geography did not change beyond Mormon's recognition.


Major Geographic Features

The Book of Mormon contains major features including specific lands, rivers and seas - all of which need properly mapped into any internal Book of Mormon layout. See our Top 10 Major Map Features list and their descriptions.


Review all geographic names from the start of the Book of Mormon until the end with this scripture chart. Access an alphabetical order chart here.


Final Thoughts

We've covered topography, directions, cultural mapping, distances, scale and important rules for building a Book of Mormon internal map *whew*. Maps built outside these parameters have problems with a real world setting placement. The foundation for any quality real world map starts with the Book of Mormon. We go from inside out.


First step: build the inside map. Then, onto the next step. This method separates fun speculation from rigorous scholarship. So, as you explore the hundreds of available maps written from hundreds of sincere believers, make sure you use this working template (or more importantly the source materials) to evaluate someone's mapping skills. Our real world map will be in a future article applying every rule outlined, so stay tuned.


  1. Layer 1: Build a detailed, inside (internal) Book of Mormon Map -- completed but a source of continual review open to edits, revisions and further studies.

  2. Layer 2: Build the parameters (think culture, language, archaeology, geology) for a real world setting of the Book of Mormon - again from the inside out. For a quick example, the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites all had elaborate writing systems. Any real world setting for Book of Mormon events must have multiple, complex written language systems.

  3. Layer 3: Overlay the 1) inside map & 2) guts of the Book of Mormon's own cultural setting to 3) place the text into a real world setting.

As you explore the hundreds of available maps written from sincere readers, make sure you use this working template & sources. Enjoy one of the final products of one of the greatest pioneers for systematically evaluating the inside Book of Mormon Map. Here is a working model from Anthropologist John Sorenson, which remains a true barometer for future studies:


John Sorenson's Internal Map:

Map 3 from Mormon’s Codex, John L. Sorenson © 2013. Graphics by Curtis L. Sorenson


EASY MAP ACCESS FOR FURTHER STUDY:

  • Virtual Scriptures Map (BYU): Interactive map currently available for download. A terrific tool to follow the stories, travel and wars of the Book of Mormon with an inside map that is both comprehensive and follows the story chapter by chapter.

  • Internal Map (Book of Mormon Central): Inside map of Book of Mormon focused on the major features. This is also interactive, you can click on features of the map for more details and references.

  • Internal Map Commentary and Diagrams (Independent): Research and website from Restoration Branch scholar Aric Turner including internal maps and commentary on all features.

ARTICLES FOR FURTHER STUDY (SOURCE DOWNLOADS):

RECOMMENDED BOOK READINGS (SOURCES)

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