An Answer to the Vernal Holley Map Theory

Vernal Holley made the argument that the geography described in the Book of Mormon is strikingly similar to geography and place names of the Great Lakes region of the United States. He therefore concludes that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century work based on the author’s personal experience. For reference, the Holley map can be found here. This argument has since been regurgitated by Jeremy Runnells, who compiled his somewhat well-known “Letter to a CES Director” where he concludes the argument by saying “Why are there so many names similar to Book of Mormon names in the region where Joseph Smith lived? This is all just a coincidence?” (It should be noted that Runnells has removed many names from Holley’s original list such as “St. Agathe/Ogath,” “Conner/Comnor,” and “St. Ephrem/Hill Ephraim” because there is demonstrable proof that they were founded well after the Book of Mormon was published).

FairMormon, Daniel Peterson, and Wheat & Tares have all provided thorough rebuttals  to this theory. Peterson rightly concludes that the theory “has been exploded, detonated so many times that it’s exasperating to see it keep coming back.” FairMormon does a very good job debunking this theory by pointing out that many of the locations identified by Holley do not match what is described in the Book of Mormon. For example, Holley places the Nephite city of “Morianton” (which is supposed to be similar to “Moravian Town”) on the west side of the map, when it is described as being near the eastern seashore (Alma 51:26). In addition, Holley places the Nephite city “Jacobugath” (which is supposed to be similar to “Jacobsburg”) in the land south when the Book of Mormon clearly places it in the land northward (3 Nephi 7:12).

From what I can tell, however, none of the apologists answer the question “Why are there so many similar names between the Great Lakes region and the Book of Mormon?” This is an easy question to answer. First, it is important to know that many of the names mentioned on Holley’s list are names found in the Bible. The Book of Mormon tells the story of Hebrew people coming to the Americas and basing their society on Biblical writings. It should not surprise anyone that a 500-600 mile region of the eastern United States founded by Protestants would share some Biblical place names. For example, the fact that Jordan, Jerusalem, Noah, Midian, and Boaz are the names of locations in both the Book of Mormon and the eastern United States is not miraculous.

In addition, just because names sound similar doesn’t mean that they are similar, especially since most of the Book of Mormon names on the list have roots in the Bible. I have made a list refuting some of the supposedly similar place names identified by Holley by providing an explanation of their possible Biblical origins.

  1. Moravian Town = Morianton (Alma 51:26)
  • These names look sort of similar (even though Holley placed it in the wrong location). The name “Morianton,” however, clearly has its roots in names in the Bible such as “Moriah” (2 Chronicles 3:1) and names with the ending “-ton” such as “Eshton” (1 Chronicles 4:12), which is a much stronger correlation than “Moravian Town.” In addition, there are Book of Mormon names similar to Morianton such as “Corianton” (Alma 39) and “Gadianton” (4 Nephi 1:42). I seriously doubt Joseph Smith based these names on cities named “Coravian Town” and “Gadavian Town.”

2. Shiloh = Shilom (Mosiah 10:8)

  • First off, Shiloh is a name found frequently in the Bible (Judges 21:12). In addition, the Bible has many derivations of the name Shiloh such as “Shelomith” (1 Chronicles 26:28), “Shallum” (Ezra 7:2), “Shiloni” (Nehemiah 11:5), “Shelemiah” (Nehemiah 3:30), and “Shillem” (Numbers 26:49). “Shilom” looks like a perfectly suitable derivation of a Biblical name.

3. Jacobsburg = Jacobugath (3 Nephi 9:9)

  • Other than the fact that “Jacobsburg” on Holley’s map isn’t anywhere near where the Book of Mormon describes “Jacobugath,” these names do sound similar. However, the name Jacobugath has more in common with the Bible than it does with the name Jacobsburg. It is likely a combination of the Biblical names “Jacob” (Genesis 29:1)–who founded the city–and “Gath” (2 Chronicles 11:8); not a creative derivation of Jacobsburg.

4. Sherbrooke = Shurr (Ether 14:28)

  • Like so many of the names on Holley’s list, “Shur” is a name found in the Bible (1 Samuel 15:7) and is much more similar to “Shurr” than Sherbrooke. I seriously doubt Joseph Smith or Solomon Spaulding saw the name Sherbrooke and decided to derive the name “Shurr” instead of simply using the Bible as its source.

5. Hellam = Helam (Mosiah 23:19)

  • Once again, “Helam” (2 Samuel 10:16) is a name found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon contains its original spelling. There would be no reason to use the town of “Hellam” as a source for the location.

6. Rama = Ramah (Ether 15:11) 

  • “Ramah” (1 Kings 15:17) is found many times in the Bible, and the Book of Mormon contains the correct spelling.

7. Ripple Lake = Waters of Ripliancum (Ether 15:8)

  • This might be a compelling similarity if “Ripliancum” didn’t have roots in the Bible and other Book of Mormon names. For example, the name “Riplah” (Alma 43:31) is a name found in the Book of Mormon, which contains the suspect letters “Ripl” which sounds like “Ripple.” Was this name also based on “Ripple Lake?” No, because it is a variation on the Biblical name “Riblah” (Numbers 34:11). Another name in the Book of Mormon is “Riplakish” (Ether 10:4), which is a combination of “Riplah” and “Kish” (1 Samuel 14:51) or “Riphath” (1 Chronicles 1:6) and “Lachish” (Joshua 10:3). Ripliancum makes more sense as a derivation of “Riblah” and the Book of Mormon names “Moriancumer” (Ether 2:13) or “Teancum” (Alma 52:1) rather than a mindless variation on “Ripple Lake.”

8. Minoa = Minon (Alma 2:24)

  • This is an obscure comparison considering the land of “Minon” is only named once in the Book of Mormon. “Minon” is likely a derivation of “Pinon” (1 Chronicles 1:52), or “Minnith” (Ezekiel 26:17) and any other of the hundreds of Biblical names that end in “-on” such as “Maon” (1 Chronicles 2:45). “Manoah” (Judges 13:2) is also a Biblical name which sounds more similar to “Minoa” than does “Minon.”

9. Monroe = Moroni (Moroni 1:1)

  • This similarity Holley identifies is quite a stretch. To me, it makes much more sense to see how the name “Moroni” has its roots in Biblical names such as “Moriah” (2 Chronicles 3:1) or “Beth-horon” (Joshua 16:3), and names like “Hachmoni” (1 Chronicles 27:32), “Shiloni” (Nehemiah 11:5), and “Gideoni” (Numbers 10:24).

10. Lehigh = Lehi (1 Nephi 1:5)

  • They do look similar. Do you know what else is similar? The actual name “Lehi” found in the Bible (Judges 15:14).

11. Tecumseh/Tenecum = Teancum (Alma 52:1)

  • In my opinion, Teancum is one of the more difficult names in the Book of Mormon for which to identify a Biblical correlate, only second to the name “Gimgimno” (3 Nephi 9:8). It seems, however, that Teancum is likely a combination of the Biblical name “Teman” (Genesis 36:11) and any of the other Book of Mormon names with the letters “c-u-m” such as “Ripliancum,” “Moriancumer,” “Cumorah,” or “Cumeni” [which seems to be a derivation of names like “Cush” (1 Chronicles 1:8) and “Temeni” (1 Chronicles 4:6)].

12. Antioch = Ani-Anti (Alma 21:11)   

  • “Antioch” is a name found frequently in the New Testament (Acts 11:19). To suggest that “Ani-Anti” was based off of a location named “Antioch” in the Great Lakes region falls apart when considering the root “Anti” is used in other Biblical names (see “Antipas” in Revelation 2:13) and many times in the Book of Mormon for locations such as “Antionum” (Alma 31:3), city of Antiparah” (Alma 57:1), “mount Antipas” (Alma 47:7), the “city of Manti” (Alma 58:1), and for character names such as “Antionah” (Alma 12:20), “Anti-Nephi-Lehi” (Alma 27:2) and “Antipus” (Alma 56:9). An “antion” (Alma 11:19) is also a Nephite monetary measurement. The “Mantua = Manti” connection is also explained with this line of reasoning.

13. Morin = Moron (Ether 7:5)

  • Both of these names are similar to Biblical names such as “Beth-horon” (Joshua 16:3) “Merom” (Joshua 11:5), and “Shimron-meron” (Joshua 12:20). There is nothing special about these two names being similar that can’t be explained by appealing to the Bible.

14. Sodom = Sidom (Alma 15:1)

  • Both “Sodom” (Genesis 19:1/2 Nephi 23:19) and “Sidon” (Genesis 10:15/Alma 43:22) are found in the Bible and Book of Mormon. The fact that there is a place in the Book of Mormon called “Sidom,” which looks like a combination of both of these names, should not be surprising to anyone.

15. Kishkiminetas = Kishkumen (Helaman 2:3)

  • “Kish” is a name found many times in the Bible (1 Samuel 9:1). “Kishkumen” is most likely a combination of the name “Kish” and Book of Mormon names such as “Kumen,” “Kumenonhi,” (3 Nephi 19:4), or “Cumeni” (Alma 57:7) [a derivation of names like “Cush” (1 Chronicles 1:8) and “Temeni” (1 Chronicles 4:6)].

16. St. Agathe = Ogath (Ether 15:10)

  • Even though “St. Agathe” wasn’t founded until after the Book of Mormon was published, I thought I would go ahead and talk about it anyway. The name “Ogath” is most likely a combination of the name “Gath” (2 Chronicles 11:8) and similar sounding names like “Oboth” (Numbers 33:43).

17. Oneida = Onidah (Alma 47:5)

  • The name “Onidah” has its “oni” roots in names like “Hachmoni” (1 Chronicles 27:32), “Shiloni” (Nehemiah 11:5), and “Gideoni” (Numbers 10:24), while it has its “dah” roots in names like “Adah” (Genesis 36:2). The Book of Mormon also contains the city “Onihah” (3 Nephi 9:7).

18. Antrim = Antum (Mormon 1:3)

  • “Antum” is derived from Book of Mormon names like “Coriantumr” (Ether 14:3), “Irreantum” (1 Nephi 17:5), “Seantum” (Helaman 9:26), and “Moriantum” (Moroni 9:9). It is not very plausible that Joseph Smith heard the name “Antrim,” changed it to “Antum,” and then used it as a root word for other location/character names as well. See the commentary on “Antioch = Ani-Anti” as well.

19. Comoros = Cumorah (Mormon 6:2)

  • While not on Vernal Holley’s list, Runnells argues that it is an impossible coincidence that there is an island nation off the coast of Mozambique called “Comoros” “Comore,” “Comorra,” or “Camora” (depending on who you ask) and had a settlement called “Moroni” or “Meroni” which today is its capital city. Cumorah, however, has its roots in the Bible, sounding similar to “Gomorrah” (Genesis 14:2) or “Deborah” (Judges 4:4) with the inserted letters “cu” much like other Book of Mormon names such as “Ripliancum,” “Teancum,” and “Cumeni.” The potential origin of the name Moroni has already been discussed.

Conclusion

After seeing these comparisons, what we are left with is a map of the eastern United States that has some names that sound a little similar to very obscure Book of Mormon locations (that are in the wrong place) that share more in common with the Bible than the eastern U.S. It is not difficult to find similarities in names if one looks hard enough. If Joseph Smith lived in southern California, critics would argue that “Riverside” sounds like the “River Sidon,” that “Tonner Canyon” sounds like “Teomner,” that “Monrovia” sounds like “Moronihah,” that “Moreno Street” look like “Moroni,” and that “Corona” sounds like “Cumorah” (not to mention I drove in my Toyota “Tacoma” which sounds like “Teancum”).