Stephen L Carr - Book Review Joseph L. Allen "Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 2nd edition"

Book Review
Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, Second Edition, Joseph Lovell Allen and Blake Joseph Allen
                            Published by Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute, LLC, P.O. Box 970250, Orem, Utah 84097, 2008                 

In 1989, Dr. Joseph Allen wrote and published Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, a large 8.5 x 11-inch paperback book, 1.25 inches thick, filled with the results of his many travels to Mesoamerica with photos, maps, diagrams, and concepts of where Book of Mormon locations might be found; and ideas of numerous aspects of Book of Mormon culture that could be explained by geography, modern archaeology, and anthropological research. This volume has been used as the text for understanding the Book of Mormon on the many subsequent Mesoamerican tours that Dr. Allen and his tour company have taken. Many hundreds of tour participants and thousands more have read this book and have gained an understanding of one of the foremost scholars of Mesoamerica as the land of the Book of Mormon. This first edition has been out of print since about 2005 but has been sought after since.
As a result of many subsequent tours and further research by Joseph Allen, this time assisted by his son Blake, it was deemed necessary to not just reissue the original edition but to essentially rewrite the volume almost as a new book. This new second edition is 7 x 9 inches and fully 2.5 inches thick, hard-bound, and weighs 4.5 pounds. By hard-bound is meant the new style of making hard-bound books using thinner cardstock with a photograph surrounding both front and back covers without the use of a dust jacket, although it does come in a sturdy case. The thin covers cause the weight of the tome to press down into the hands producing a little discomfort after holding it for some length of time.  

The book can be purchased at most LDS retail outlets and the Allens have an arrangement with Costco (the wholesale company in Utah and elsewhere) to sell it for $39.95; and sells it for $39.95 on up.

The book contains 919 pages, including 31 chapters, an excellent index, pronunciation guide, selected bibliography, scripture references, numerous acknowledgments, and special contributors (that include several BMAF officers and advisors). The main editor is Dr. Ted D. Stoddard, who has written an 8-page section, and who has worked with Joseph Allen on a number of assignments. The editing is excellent in every way.

One of many aspects that I appreciated was the use of ‘footnotes.’ The main text of the book is toward the center with footnotes and references in the wide margins toward the edges of the book. These notes are much easier to read and notate than if they were at the bottom or (worse yet) if they had been at the end of each chapter. Captions of photos and maps are in a different type face (font) and color than the text, making them easy to read and follow. Sometimes the captions are in the wide margins and sometimes under or above a photo. In contrast to the First Edition, almost all the photos and maps are in color, which makes for very pleasant reading.


The authors go to great lengths to identify the major groups mentioned in the Book of Mormon with archaeologically-known peoples in Mesoamerica. Whole chapters discuss the Olmec (Jaredite) culture; The Maya (Lamanite-Nephite) culture; the Zapotec (Mulekite-Nephite) culture; the Izapa (Jaredite-Nephite-Lamanite) culture; and the Teotihuacán culture. The volume is very up to date when considering this last culture, based on recent postulations as to this culture’s relationships with Lamanite peoples in Guatemala with the Nephites in between.

The Allens also spend considerable time discussing the writings of some of the early Catholic and native historians, such as Ixtlilxochitl, Sahagún, and de Landa. The white God Quetzalcoatl is dealt with along with other customs and traditions. They discuss in great detail geography and the plan of salvation, the land northward, and the land southward, the land of Nephi, and the land of Zarahemla. They close with chapters on the Maya Classic Period and the Nephite Apostasy; and the Restoration in Mesoamerica as foretold in the Book of Mormon. One interesting thought is, “No matter how we look at it, the Book of Mormon is a spiritual account written in a geographical, cultural, and historical setting. In many instances, it is the understanding of that setting that carries us to the spiritual message of the Book of Mormon” (page 141).

There are about six major theories regarding the location in Mesoamerica of numerous sites mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Many of the locations are common among these theories, but many more find divergence between the concepts of the six models. Each of the theories has its major proponents along with others who favor them, generally with strong opinions as to why their model is most likely the correct one. One notable researcher and educator, when discussing possible “Book of Mormon tours to Mesoamerica” has opined, “It really doesn’t matter which one you take, as none of them know for certain where any of the sites mentioned in the book are really located.” Another equally conversant researcher has stated, “We know a great amount of the sites mentioned in the Book of Mormon but, because we don’t know the language of the early Maya very well, we don’t know the exact names of the sites, for instance, Zarahemla, and we don’t know which of the sites are of the Book of Mormon and which aren’t, even in the correct time period.” The authors also state, “We firmly believe that Mesoamerica can teach us as much about the culture and geography of the Book of Mormon as the Book of Mormon teaches us about Mesoamerica” (page 166). Elder Ted E. Brewerton, emeritus member of the First Quorum of Seventy, has also stated, “So far we haven’t found the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica but we have surely found Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon.”

This book is the most recent of the volumes written describing the geography and culture of Book of Mormon peoples and their possible relationship to the known indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. The authors generally try to maintain a positive posture by stating that such and such a location is the best candidate for a particular Book of Mormon site, or that “we feel” that a certain location is where the Book of Mormon says that a certain site would be. At times, they are more than merely pointed and essentially come right out and state their conclusions without any suggestion of variance. With the extensive travels to Mesoamerica that Joseph Allen has undertaken over some 30-plus years he has come to believe in many certain and near-certain locations. Readers should be aware that even with his and Blake’s confidence, there are still other concepts and theories that are current and may be just as valid; and that readers should be aware of many conclusions that are based only on assumptions. Nonetheless, the book is extremely well-written with hundreds of quotations of known and documented bits of information, including much current archaeological data taken from numerous non-LDS certified archaeologists, woven into the fabric of the narration. I suspect that readers who are interested in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon will find many hours of enjoyable reading. And, at $39.95 per copy, it is a real bargain.

The book is also available in a CD-ROM format so it can be read from the computer screen.  The entire 920-page book is formatted as a searchable pdf file on one CD.  Two outstanding features of the CD are (1) the reader can enlarge the page as large as desired for improved readability; and (2) the reader can quickly search the entire 920 pages in the pdf format for any term.  This makes the book even easier to read and reference than the printed volume itself.

Stephen L. Carr, MD
BMAF Senior Vice-president