My focus for this supplement is on the "land of promise" as the place where Lehi landed and where his descendants lived for a thousand years until Moroni buried the record. Can the description of the "land of promise" tell us anything about the setting of the Book of Mormon?
I think it can.
2 Nephi 1 provides descriptions of the promised land that fit only one place.
|Cherokee Indians forced from their homeland|
Obviously Lehi didn't land everywhere in the world, or everywhere in the Western hemisphere. He, like the Jaredites and the Mulekites, landed in one place. Does this mean they landed at the exact same spot? No, because it wasn't until hundreds of years later that Lehi's descendants encountered the remains of the Jaredites and then the descendants of Mulek (the people of Zarahemla). Yet all three groups lived on the land of promise, the land choice above all other lands. So if we can figure out where they landed, we have an idea of the extent, and maybe the boundary, of the land of promise.
In lesson 14 I'll discuss where the Mulekites landed, and in lesson 45 I'll discuss the Jaredites. For now, I'm just looking at where Lehi landed. As we look at Lehi's description of his promised land, we see that he described, in unmistakable fashion, North America--specifically, a land that would eventually become part of the United States of America.
|Trail of Tears map|
I won't take the time to go through each of these in detail, but look at these attributes of Lehi's land of promise, all from 2 Nephi 1:
- a land which is choice above all other lands [this phrase is repeated several times, including among the Jaredites, who were also brought to "a choice land above all other lands." Both Ether and Lehi, when speaking about the choice land, referred back to the beginning of man, and Adam and Eve. Where was the garden of Eden?]
- a land which the Lord God hath covenants with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed [where is Lehi's seed? See D&C 28, 30, 32.]
- a land covenanted
--unto Lehi's children forever, and
--unto all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord [where is the world's melting pot?]
- there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
- this land is consecrated unto him whom he [the Lord] shall bring.
- if they serve him according to the commandments, it shall be a land of liberty unto them [Interesting that the song "America," containing the lyric "sweet land of liberty," was composed in 1831, the year after the Book of Mormon was published, and was first performed in public on July 4, 1831]
- they shall never be brought down into captivity, except for iniquity.
- this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations. [There were few if any parts of the world that were completely uninhabited in 600 BC, but this verse does not require that. It requires only that "other nations" did not know about this promised land. Lehi landed in a place that was sparsely populated in 600 BC, such as by groups of hunter/gatherers, not in a place that already had nation-states, such as Central America.]
- many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
- if those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land.
- they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves.
- if they reject the true Messiah, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from the them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten. [What indigenous people have had their lands taken from them and have been scattered and smitten (i.e., put on reservations)?]
Here's some food for thought. The Book of Mormon, which contained Lehi's prophecies, was published in March, 1830. The infamous "Indian Removal Act" was passed by Congress on May 28, 1830. Here's a description of what happened.
"At the beginning of the 1830s, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres of land in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Florida–land their ancestors had occupied and cultivated for generations. By the end of the decade, very few natives remained anywhere in the southeastern United States. Working on behalf of white settlers who wanted to grow cotton on the Indians’ land, the federal government forced them to leave their homelands and walk thousands of miles to a specially designated “Indian territory” across the Mississippi River. This difficult and sometimes deadly journey is known as the Trail of Tears."
For a more detailed map, click on the image below or go here.
*Some people have objected to a North American setting for the Book of Mormon on the ground that such an idea represents deplorable American Exceptionalism. I don't think politics should have anything to do with this analysis. We are seeking to understand the scriptures, in this case 2 Nephi 1-2, so we should look at the prophecies and the relevant facts. It diminishes no one in any country to determine where Lehi landed. For those who aren't familiar with this discussion, you can read an analysis by an author who has sold over a million copies of books promoting the Mesoamerican theory to the youth of the Church here.