Gordon B. Hinckley and Book of Mormon Geography

The following article is a collection of quotes that President Gordon B. Hinckley made concerning Book of Mormon peoples in Central America.

Here’s an interesting statement he made during a 1985 General Conference.

“Now, recently, when the Mexico City Temple was dedicated, they came by the thousands. They were clean, their faces bright and smiling, their clothes neat and attractive. They bore every mark of education and refinement. There was something of greatness apparent in them. Most of them have the blood of Lehi in their veins. The shackles of darkness have fallen from their eyes, as promised by the prophets of the Book of Mormon. They have become “a pure and a delightsome people.” (2 Ne. 30:6.) What a wonderfully uplifting experience it was to be with them and to witness the miraculous power of God in their lives.” -Gordon B. Hinckley, emphasis added, (1)

He made a similar statement in the actual dedicatory prayer of the Mexico Temple:

“Bless Thy saints in this great land and those from other lands who will use this temple. Most have in their veins the blood of Father Lehi.” -Gordon B. Hinckley, emphasis added, (2)

In a First Presidency message for the Ensign, Hinckley quoted a story of a Temple President in Guatemala who said,

“In time I fell in love with a beautiful girl in whose veins flowed English and Spanish blood and also the blood of Lehi, Laman, and Samuel.” -Gordon B. Hinckley, emphasis added, (3)

Lastly, from that same First Presidency message, Hinckley dives deeper into this subject:

“Even though it has now been over two years since the dedication of the Guatemala City Temple, I vividly recall the great and moving experience it was to participate in those sacred services […] Those familiar with the people estimated that more than 75 percent of those who were there were descendants of Father Lehi.”

“What an inspiration it was to look into their faces—handsome men and beautiful women with lovely children. Yet behind their stoic expressions, I felt I could see, almost in vision, generations of their forebears—the glorious days of their strength and goodness when they knew and worshipped the Christ, and then the tragic, miserable years, reaching through many generations, when, having rejected Him, their blood ran from the wounds of conflict, and they lived in pain, filth, poverty, and oppression.” Gordon B. Hinckley, emphasis added, (3)

Obviously, President Hinckley was familiar with the phrase “blood of Lehi” and felt that the people in Mexico and Guatemala were in some way connected to it. I highly suggest reading the full First Presidency message, as there are more nuggets like this.

Do the people in Mexico have the blood of Lehi literally in their veins? I don’t know. I guess there is no absolute way to prove this. Lehi’s family was such a small group among a much larger native population that likely reached into the hundreds of thousands, maybe more. There were thousands of years of intermixing. Not to mention the Lamanites almost annihilating the Nephites. Plus, identifying Lehi’s specific DNA is next to impossible. But still, a small bit of blood could be there.

To be clear, I don’t think this necessarily proves the Book of Mormon happened in Central America. Other Church leaders have made similar statements about the “blood of Lehi”. For example, Parley P. Pratt made a “blood of Lehi” statement for Peru. We could also apply a hemispheric model to Hinckley’s statement if we wanted to, whether or not he would agree with it.

I personally don’t like the idea of cherry picking prophetic quotes to definitively prove a personal theory. My only purpose here is to catch a glimpse of Hinckley’s thoughts and to observe his leanings to a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon.

Hinckley and Scholarship

Hinckley was known as one interested in scholarship. He knew, read and admired LDS Scholar Hugh Nibley. He brought FARMS into BYU. We could all do well with following his example of academic study.

“Read the Book of Mormon itself. Read it again and again. Ponder its beauty. Reflect upon its many magnificent passages. Think of the complexity of the detail of its historical accounts.” -Gordon B. Hinckley, (4)

He encouraged us to read the book and to get that spiritual confirmation. But even though he apparently enjoyed much of the scholarly research about it, he knew that the only proof for it’s truth was in reading and praying about it.

“The evidence for its truth, for its validity in a world that is prone to demand evidence, lies not in archaeology or anthropology, though these may be helpful to some. It lies not in word research or historical analysis, though these may be confirmatory. The evidence for its truth and validity lies within the covers of the book itself. The test of its truth lies in reading it. It is a book of God. Reasonable men may sincerely question its origin; but those who have read it prayerfully have come to know by a power beyond their natural senses that it is true” -Gordon B. Hinckley, emphasis added, (5)

Gordon B. Hinckley Visits Chichén Itzá

Another interesting quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley was reported by the LDS Church News in 1998. They reported that after President Hinckley visited the Maya ruins at Chichén Itzá, he then spoke to nearly 8,000 members in Mérida, Mexico and said:

“I thought of the great people who lived there but who lived in such falsehood concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ in which their fathers once lived in peace. It was terrible to see what happened to them. I thought of these great words of the prophet Mormon, who saw his people go down to death by the tens of thousands, and in his loneliness and in his sadness he cried out:

“‘O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! …

“‘O that ye had repented before this great destruction had come upon you. But behold, ye are gone, and the Father, yea, the Eternal Father of heaven, knoweth your state’ [Morm. 6:17, 22].

“I thought of those words as I visited Chichén Itzá this morning and heard of the terrible human sacrifice that occurred there. Over the years thousands were killed because of the false worship of the people. I thought of Father Lehi and how he must have wept and mourned as he looked down upon his wicked children.” (6)

From the context of this quote, it seems clear that President Hinckley assumed that the ancient Maya who had lived around those ruins were once related to the people in the Book of Mormon. He alludes to “their fathers” who once had the gospel and lived in peace. He says that he could imagine their “Father Lehi” looking at “his wicked children” at Chichén Itzá because of their human sacrifices.

Although Chichén Itzá technically dates a bit later than Book of Mormon times, this quote makes sense since the Lamanites continued to live on and continued in wickedness.

President Hinckley’s quote also makes sense in light of his statements above about the people in Mexico and Guatemala having the “Blood of Lehi in their veins”. From all these accounts, it appears that President Hinckley had an interest in the people of Central America and that they were, in some way, related to the people in the Book of Mormon.

If anyone has any more cool Gordon B. Hinckley quotes I’d like to hear them! Add it to the comments section.

Sources

1. Gordon B. Hinckley, Rejoice in This Great Era of Temple Building, emphasis added

2. Gordon B. Hinckley, Mexico City Mexico Temple Dedicatory Prayer, emphasis added

3. Gordon B. Hinckley, Giving Ourselves to the Service of the Lord – Ensign Mar. 1987, emphasis added

4. Gordon B. Hinckley, Words of the Prophet: The Book of Mormon: Read All about It

5. Gordon B. Hinckley, The Cornerstones of Our Faith, emphasis added

6. Gordon B. Hinckley, “News of the Church”, 1998

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