Some of the town names in New York State and surrounding regions resemble some names in the Book of Mormon. For example, there is the town of St. Agathe in Quebec (Ville de Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, to be precise), and in Ether in the Book of Mormon, there is a passing reference to a place called “Ogath.” Coincidence?? (If this challenges your delicate religious beliefs, it might be good to quit reading now. Toward the end of this post, I’ll present new evidence pertaining to Book of Mormon plagiarism could blow your testimony to shreds. But first, I’ll discuss the much weaker evidence for plagiarism of names from Joseph’s rather vast surroundings.)
Here is the list of parallels recently posted in comments at Mormanity from someone with the screen name “ruadamu2”:
Here is an interesting fact for you to research:
Names of towns in the vicinity of Joseph at the time he wrote the Book of Mormon (and their BofM counterparts)
Actual Town BofM Town
Ste Agathe Ogath
Lehigh Land of Lehi-Nephi
Also note that the towns of Ramah, Moron, Ogath were in the land northward where Rama, Ste Agathe, and Morin are in Canada
And Teancum and Moriancum were near the border of the Land Northward, where Tecumesh and Moravian are near the Canadian border.
Am I the only one that sees an incredible bit of plausibility here?
Several anti-Mormon Web pages make much of these parallels, and even suggest that the locations can be fit onto a Book of Mormon map, as if Joseph Smith thought the Book of Mormon took place in Canada and the northeastern US and was simply copying names from his knowledge of the area (the critics sometimes recognize that he probably didn’t have access to detailed maps). The efforts to fit these few Book of Mormon place names onto a map of the US and Canada requires, in my opinion, vast amounts of stretching or ignoring Book of Mormon data to obtain the desired result. However, I recognize that the results can appear impressive, at least at first glance.
To obtain this list of parallels, a huge geographical area has been scanned to obtain names like Rama, Ontario (over 100 miles north of Toronto, Canada); St. Agathe, Quebec (north of Montreal and Ottawa); Shiloh, New Jersey; Jerusalem and Jacobsburg, Ohio; and Alma, West Virginia. Five states and two Canadian provinces yield this little list of strained parallels.
Let’s start with Tecumseh, the supposed origin of Teancum. Hmmm. Oh, I see it now: take off the last sylable, add “an” after the “Te,” and there you have it. Tecumseh = Teancum. Kind of like John = Joshua, see? But could Joseph have known about Tecumseh, Ontario? As a prophet of God, yes, but as a plagiarizer, probably not. You see, there’s a slight problem with Tecumseh, Ontario in this context: it didn’t get that name until 1912. As Wikipedia explains, “Originally known as Ryegate Postal Station when it was first settled in 1792, Tecumseh was renamed in 1912 after the Shawnee tribe leader of the same name. It was officially incorporated as a town in 1921” (as viewed July 30, 2007). I’ve noticed some anti-Mormon sites speak of Tecumseh, Michigan instead of the Tecumseh, Ontario, replacing a ridiculous candidate with one that is merely silly (and even further from Joseph Smith than its later Canadian cousin). A quick Wiki-check of the history of the Michigan township indicates that this tiny Western suburb of Detroit had just barely been settled by a tiny handful of people in the late 1820s, but at least there was a village of Tecumseh in 1824. Insignificant and remote for those in Joseph Smith’s area, it’s hard to imagine Joseph being aware of that village and feeling some need to stick it on a mental map of the Book of Mormon. And while he may well have heard of the Indian warrior Tecumseh, it’s still quited a stretch to get Teancum from that name.
Turning our attention to the second name given in the list of parallels above, let’s consider Rama, Ontario. Yes, Rama is similar to an important name in the Book of Mormon, the Hill Ramah of the Jaredites. But was Joseph aware of Rama, Ontario? Google Rama, look at it on the satellite maps, read the minute entry on Rama in Wikipedia (and the article on the small Native American group that lives there), and tell me why Joseph would know of this tiny place. There’s almost nothing there. It’s far away on the other side of Lake Huron, home to about 500 members of an Indian tribe. It has a large casino, granted, but that probably wasn’t much of a draw in Joseph’s day. I see no evidence that it was any more significant in Joseph’s day. Correct me if I’m missing something here.
Actually, Ramah is a Biblical place name, but it’s such a simple name that it should be easy to find in many languages and cultures – even Roma in Italy is close enough. It’s occurrence among the Jaredites doesn’t require plagiarizing, especially not from tiny distant towns that Joseph probably never heard of. Not to mention the fact that Rama is another name for Cumorah in the Book of Mormon, not far to the north (the “two Cumorahs theory” does nothing to simplify the problem for critics).
Most of the closest parallels in the Americas are actually based on Biblical names, so Joseph would have no need to turn to North American locations to come up with names like Jerusalem, Shiloh, or Jacob.
The most interesting parallel to me is Angola, New York. And it’s in the same state. OK, here’s a place that Joseph Smith might have known about – except that the town wasn’t named Angola in his day. Yes, some antis are seriously claiming Angola as a point in their favor, but if they would just let their guard down and give in to “a brief moment of Wikiness” (hey, I like that phrase!), they would discover this from Wikipedia’s entry on Angola, New York:
Angola is a village in Erie County, New York, USA. The population was 2,266 at the 2000 census. The name is reportedly derived from the nation of Angola. . . .
The community was previously called “Evans Station.” The name was changed to “Angola” supposedly because of local residents (primarily, Quakers) supporting missionary efforts in that African country. The economy of the village improved with the arrival of a railroad line in 1852. The Village of Angola was incorporated in 1873.
Following Wikipedia’s link to a “Partial History of Angola,” one learns that there are rumors of an “Angola” post office elsewhere opening in 1822 to accommodate some Quakers doing missionary work in Angola (I am not sure if this name was actually in use for that African colony at the time, though), but it wasn’t until 1855, supposedly, that a request was made to move the Angola post-office to Evans Station, which was still almost 20 years before the Village of Angola become incorporated. There’s a chance Joseph could have heard of the little Angola post office, or of the territory of Angola in Africa, but it seems far-fetched to think that modern Angola, New York could have any direct bearing on the Book of Mormon.
Alma, West Virginia is another interesting name. Unfortunately, the town is so small that there is almost no information about it on the Web – not even a stub in Wikipedia. The satellite image of the town suggests that there might be a couple of businesses in the area, but there’s almost nothing there from what I can see. With so many other sources of “Alma” to choose from – like Alma Mater, or the female Latin name, Alma, why do we have to drop down to West Virginia to find this “incredible” parallel? Alma isn’t a city in the Book of Mormon – it’s a prominent name for a couple of prophets. True, there was a valley that Alma’s group encounters in Mosiah 24 that his people briefly called the valley of Alma on their way back to the main land of the Nephites, but this is nowhere close to a notable landmark in Book of Mormon geography. The reality is that nothing available to Joseph Smith would have informed him that Alma was not a predominantly female name [note: among the few New Englanders bearing the originally female Latin name “Alma” in his day, some were men], but was actually an authentic male Jewish name in Nephi’s day, a name that could have been brought to the New World by Nephi’s group. This impressive fact from modern archeaology is discussed at MormonEvidence.com.
The Morin/Moron connection puzzles me. I’ve seen anti-Mormon Websites claiming there is a Morin, Ontario, but I can find no such place on the map. Google and Wikipedia don’t seem to know of this important town that so influenced Joseph Smith. But there is a Morin-Heights in Quebec, almost a suburb of Sainte Agathe (north of Montreal). Very small resort community with a golf course. How influential was this on young Joseph Smith? The first question to ask is whether it was actually on the map in his day. The answer is found in A Brief History of Morin Heights by Sandra Stock:
Before the mid nineteenth century, there were only the occasional seasonal aboriginal hunters passing through the Morin Heights region, most likely Mohawk. Although some settlement had begun in the 1840’s, coming from the direction of Mille Isles, it was in 1850 that Augustin-Norbert Morin, with his guide, Simon, from Oka, came to survey the area. Morin later was the government minister for Lower Canada in charge of the colonization of our entire district and oversaw the organization of Morin into a township in 1855.
Some of the anti-Mormon sites, recognizing how easy it might be to show that these town names weren’t on the map in Joseph’s day, suggest that the names must have been known locally years before the towns were incorporated, and that Joseph could easily have known of them from others. But it’s not like Morin was a major name of the land or river for decades before it became a town. The name comes from a man who arrived in the area in 1850. Chances of plagiarism from Morin Heights, Quebec seem remote – unless Joseph were using his prophetic skills again. But surely Joseph could find plenty of morons in his own area without having to scan the remote and sparesly populated hills of Quebec. In fact, if Joseph were making up names or plagiarizing them, I would think that he would naturally avoid common English words like “Moron” or “Grapefruit” (the latter not being in the Book of Mormon, by the way), to avoid raising unnecessary questions.
Kiskiminetas is somewhat similar to the name of a person in the Book of Mormon, Kishkumen. But a town of that name could not have been known to Joseph Smith before 1830, for as a history of Armstrong County, Pennsylvania explains, a “petition of sundry inhabitants of Allegheny township was presented December 22, 1831, to the court of quarter sessions of this county, asking that a new township be formed out of the upper end of Allegheny township, to be called Kiskiminetas.” But the new town of Kiskiminetas was named for a short nearby river (27 miles long) that had long had that name in southwestern Pennsylvania. Did Joseph know about that little river, roughly 200 miles away from Palmyra? Think of all the short rivers you know of from regions 200 miles away from you and then decide. Sure, it’s possible. But the case for Book of Mormon plagiarism from local place names becomes increasingly tenuous once you look into the details.
Frankly, I’m not very impressed by someone’s ability to find a handful of strained parallels after scanning over townships spanning many thousands of square miles. Cognates and similar names occur easily by chance and can readily be found anywhere you look.
A Luau of Place Names: The Shocking Case for Plagiarism from Hawaii!
To demonstrate the ease with which one can find names similar to the Book of Mormon, let’s explore an area that anti-Mormons, shockingly, have failed to consider: the case for Book of Mormon plagiarism from Hawaii. Now it’s true that Hawaii was not yet a state in Joseph Smith’s day, and obtaining good geographical information about those islands may have been almost as difficult for Joseph as obtaining detailed information about the Arabian Peninsula. But with Joseph’s vast international network of frontier farmer-scholars at his side, surely he could have gleaned a few tidbits from the tiny islands of Hawaii.
As I scan the ridiculously small list of Hawaiian place names, behold, I find rich parallels to the Book of Mormon with a far greater density of “incredible finds per square mile” than any anti-Mormons have crafted by their scanning of Canada and the United States. In fact, I fear to list the parallels lest I shake the testimonies of some of the more gullible Latter-day Saints out there with the shocking theory of Joseph Smith and the Hawaiian Connection to the Book of Mormon. But, recognizing that momentarily entertaining my readers is far more important than rescuing the dozens of souls I’m about to destroy, here goes.
Below are name pairs, showing the Hawaiian place name first, followed by the Book of Mormon name that may have been plagiarized via Joseph’s Hawaiian connection (perhaps drawing upon traders who used a little-known extreme westward extension of the Erie Canal). Some of the names are not exact matches, I admit, but educated readers will readily recognize that they are still within the acceptable limits of scholarship and do a much better job of establishing Joseph Smith’s guilt as a plagiarizer than any previous critiques.
Hawaiian Place Name – Book of Mormon Name
Lahaina – Liahona (virtually a direct hit – the first plausible non-Semitic explanation of this strange name!)
Molokai – Muloki, Mulek (a direct hit for Muloki! Another first!)
Lihue – Lehi (as direct as a direct hit can be, minus a clumsy vowel shift)
Halawa – Heleman (note Joseph’s clumsy inversion of the “w” to “m”, as if we wouldn’t notice – damning evidence indeed! Or could this just be poor penmanship on Oliver Cowdery’s part?)
Lanai – Laman, Lamoni
Kihei – Kish (adding an “s” or “sh” is another of Joseph’s amateurish tricks)
Hilo – Helam, Helaman, Helorum
Haleiwa – Helaman (“w” to “m” again), Helorum
Laie – Laish (there’s that tell-tale added “sh”)
Lanai – Laman
Lawai – Laman (the familiar “w” to “m” shift is at play again – such a lack of imagination on Joseph’s part)
Mililani – Moroni (a characteristic “l” to “r” shift, no doubt influenced by Joseph’s exposure to Far Eastern scholars)
Pahala – Pahoran (again, a clumsy repeat of the “l” to “r” shift that scarcely covers Joseph’s tracks, being ever stuck in the same rut)
Pahoa – Pahoran
Pukalani – Pacumeni, Paanchi
Manoa – Manti
Nihoa – Nephi (note that the “h” in Nihoa may have a more fricative nature than in English, readily suggestive of the “ph” sound in Nephi)
Na Pali, Napili – Nephi (one can readily see how Joseph would conglomerate Nihoa and Napili into the shorter “Nephi” name)
Kohala – Cohor (the old “l” to “r” shift again!), Korihor
Kaumana – Cumora
Kemoo – Chemish (following the recipe of “just add ‘sh'”)
Maili – Melek
Anini – Ammon, Ammonihah
Plus many more, no doubt!
There you have it: in a territory vastly smaller than any one of the seven states or provinces that former anti-Mormon scholars have scanned to find place name parallels to the Book of Mormon, I have found an approximately equal number of parallels – with outstanding “direct hits” – in the microscopic islands of Hawaii. Surely this presents a vastly better case for plagiarism.
Further, Hawaii also offers the advantages of having a sea to the west, a sea to the east, several narrow necks of land to choose from, abundant hills, ancient native cultures, sea faring peoples, a history of wars, and, above all, ample evidence of volcanic activity consistent with the dramatic inferred volcanism in 3 Nephi. Plus, guess where the Spaulding Manuscript was eventually found? HAWAII!!! It’s all coming together now.
Book of Mormon critics, take a deep breath, ponder for a moment as you sip an alcohol-free pineapple cocktail, recognize the significance of these finds, and join me in saying “Aloha” to the most plausible non-divine explanation for the Book of Mormon so far: Joseph Smith and the Hawaiian Connection.
Book ’em, Danno!