On Saturday and Sunday, May 22-23, 1909 a convention was held at College Hall on the campus of Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah. The subject of the convention was The Book of Mormon. Lecture topics ranged from the proper pronunciation of Book of Mormon Names to the Location of Zarahemla and the River Sidon. Because the Book of Mormon is not a book about geography, there are many differing opinions about where cities were or where things took place. It was no different in 1909 at the convention. The Deseret News reported that throughout the two days President Joseph F. Smith had to remind those in attendance to calm down when debates got a little heated.
In his opening remarks, President Smith introduced their objective. He said the purpose of the convention was to consider the Book of Mormon and the people to whom it gave a history, and the lands to which it refers. The convention was not organized to discuss the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. That, he said, had been accepted when we accepted the divine mission of Joseph Smith and the testimony of the witnesses to the book.
President Smith reminded those attending the convention that where things took place in the Book of Mormon was certainly of interest; it was not of vital importance. He advised against placing the same level of importance on Book of Mormon geography as on gospel principles.
From the lectures that were presented at that Book of Mormon convention, it is clear that not only has there always been great interest in Book of Mormon geography, but there have also been great debates between the various schools of thought.
Elder James E. Talmage, who studied chemistry and geology at Lehigh University and Johns Hopkins University, presented what he called Internal Evidence of the Book of Mormon. His lecture dealt with the various writing styles found in the book, which he and others believed confirmed the idea that the book was written by several different people in different places and at different times.
Lectures were presented arguing that the city of Zarahemla was located in various places from Venezuala to Honduras to North America.
Proposals were given for the River Sidon being in Central America, South America and North America.
Elder B. H. Roberts took issue with those at the convention who believed the destruction and changes in the land at the time of the crucifixion were minimal. Elder Orson F. Whitney, who had served as assistant Church Historian from 1899 to 1906 concurred with Roberts and presented evidence of great destruction.
It seems the only thing that everyone could agree on was a pronunciation guideline for Book of Mormon names. That information was shared by Elder Charles W. Penrose and, on motion of Professor J. B. Keeler, was adopted by the committee. That pronunciation guide can be found at the end of this article.
At the conclusion of the convention, President Joseph F. Smith again cautioned those in attendance to avoid making the geography of the Book of Mormon of equal importance with the doctrine contained in the book.
For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon is the cornerstone of their religion. Although knowing where Book of Mormon events took place is not essential for a testimony, knowing where the Land Bountiful was may help bring 3 Nephi alive and can even strengthen a testimony. More important than knowing where the resurrected Christ visited with the Nephites is knowing who Jesus Christ was, what he taught, and what his resurrection means for each of us.
Although we at Joseph Knew believe that North America was the Promised Land where Lehi and his family disembarked, and although we believe there was only one Cumorah where both the Jaredites and the Nephites perished, we will always be respectful of other opinions. We may strongly disagree with another viewpoint, and we may present evidence and facts that contradict that viewpoint, but that does not mean we don’t respect the view and the thought and research that went into it. We believe it is through mutual respect and the sharing of ideas that we can gain greater understanding of the Book of Mormon, its lands and people.
The goal at Joseph Knew is, as President Joseph F. Smith told conventioneers in 1909, to consider the Book of Mormon and the people to whom it gives a history, and the lands to which it refers. We are not here to discuss the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. That was accepted when we accepted the divine mission of Joseph Smith and the testimony of the witnesses to the book.
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