There is a lot I like about the Book of Mormon. Many of its messages inspire me. I love the story of Abinadi. I love the message of King Benjamin. But despite all the things I like about the Book of Mormon, I don’t believe it’s a record of people that existed in the real world.
One of the key geographic features in the Book of Mormon is the narrow neck of land that separates the land northward from the land southward. Find the narrow neck, and you find the place where the Book of Mormon took place.
Growing up in the church, I’d been told that maybe the narrow neck of land was in the Great Lakes region of the United States. This seemed to match up the closest with what I learned about church history and what I read in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Or maybe it was Panama. One time, I was shown a video that explained why this was the case.
Or maybe it was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico. This seemed to be the favored theory of Mormon academics.
Later in life, I learned that some people claim that the narrow neck is on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico.1
Or the Isthmus of Rivas in Nicaragua.2
When I first ran across the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in the Baja Peninsula, it was like a light bulb went off above my head. “Maybe,” I thought, “no one can find it because it doesn’t exist at all.”
All these theories can’t be right. There are only two options: (1) one of these theories is correct; or (2) all of them are wrong.
If one of these theories is correct, which one is it? Why is there so much uncertainty about it? Why do so many faithful members have such confident conclusions about places spanning the North American continent? Why couldn’t someone figure it out? Why couldn’t the prophet ask God where it was?
Growing up in the church, I was promised on a number of occasions that archaeology would prove the Book of Mormon true. The more time passed and the more I studied, the less this seemed to be happening. Instead, the more I searched and pondered, the more the Book of Mormon appeared to be a 19th century work of fiction.
Over time, it appeared that option (2) was the only one that made sense. It made a lot more sense that all these theories were wrong and that the people looking for the narrow neck of land were looking for a fictional place that never existed.
Inspiring though it can be, if the Book of Mormon is fiction, that’s a fatal flaw for the church. How can the church be true if the Book of Mormon is fiction? It can’t be. The elusiveness of the narrow neck of land is one of the reasons I believe the Book of Mormon is fiction.