I think readers will find this article very interesting. However, it's quite long, so be sure to grant yourself a reasonable block of time.
The Book of Mormon: A Brilliant Mess
The complexities of Nephite culture are often overlooked when reading the Book of Mormon for the first time. It is, after all, a compilation by many authors who write by their own hand, intermixed with others who abridge their histories and spiritual commentaries, frequently interjecting their private, inspired perspective in the middle of another author's narrative. It offers a detailed history of at least four separate tribes or peoples—the Nephites, Lamanites, Mulekites (people of Zarahemla), and the Jaredites. To divide them into only four tribes is an oversimplification (Jacob 1: 13-14, Morm. 1:8-9), even among the Jaredites or descendents of Zarahemla. These tribes sometimes intermingle, but also have histories entirely independent of one another. The compilers of the Book of Mormon openly admit to having other records, but announce that such material won't be repeated "here" because it's available on other plates. Or they lament that there simply isn't enough space on their particular set of plates. Or they confide that such material will be revealed at a future time. From the perspective of pure literary cohesion, the volume is a mess.
But what a brilliant mess! In fact, it's in the very nature of its disorganization that we discover the vitality of its truth, its reality, its authenticity. How could any human being, especially a 19th century farm boy—or even an alliance of 19th century New Englanders (as suggested by the wispy Solomon Spalding theory)—have fabricated such a complex amalgamation of culture, religion, and history while simultaneously maintaining any homogeneity of thought. If the Book of Mormon was a human endeavor, that's when it would become a work of genius. But the book is not merely a work of genius. It's a volume of scripture. It's been asked before, but I'll ask again: How could any author pen such a work that over time did not reveal countless inconsistencies, contradictions, and anachronisms? And then, after achieving such extraordinary literary success, to have managed to keep this complex hoax a secret, with none of its original accomplices or colluders irresistibly spilling the beans. This is an achievement that rivals the greatest conspiracies in world history. Naysayers ought to appreciate it for just that!
However, it's the religious nature of the volume that allows so many to dismiss it out of hand. The only other option is to ponder its accuracy, and in this humanist, secularist age there is hardly any chance for that. Of course I am speaking generally, and not individually. Many individuals have drawn similar conclusions as those I put forth here, many relying wholly upon its spiritual promises and having no need for intellectual confirmation. However, on some level the spiritual and the intellectual intersect. So let's focus upon the volume itself from multiple levels.
For nearly two centuries keen eyes have found a boundless wealth of knowledge in its pages. Such gems are often mentioned only incidentally, buried in a single verse, or within a single phrase of that verse. Such nuggets reinforce the complexity of book's internal cultures and offer rich opportunities for scholarly examination—some of the richest ever provided by a single document.
A fascinating evolution regarding perceptions of the Book of Mormon has taken place within the LDS community itself. Don't misunderstand this statement. Since its publication, the book has never ceased to be a source of spiritual solace and insight. But perceptions about its scientific orientation—its geography, archeology, and anthropology—have remained fluid.
There was a time in Church History when the narrow neck of land described in at least six verses of the Book of Mormon referred irrefutably to the Isthmus of Panama, and any disagreement to this tenet bordered on heretical. Yet modern analysis reveals that nothing about these verses fits the observable geography of Panama. There was a time when a short statement written in 1836 by one of Joseph Smith's scribes, Frederick G. Williams, was considered the preeminent starting place for anyone who wished to pursue Book of Mormon geography. Brother Williams placed the landing site of Lehi's expedition as "the continent of South America in Chile thirty degrees south latitude (LDS Archive, Ms d 3408 fd 4)." This simple statement, which Frederick G. Williams defined as private inspiration independent of Joseph Smith Jr. (see D&C 28:2) dominated geographical thinking about the Book of Mormon for over a century before it was effectively challenged somewhere in and about the 1950s.
The volume is rife with geographical designations and descriptions. It's obvious that its authors had a concise and consistent geography in mind. Those who doubt this are invited, for starters, to re-read Alma Chapter 50. Some have wondered why such descriptions couldn't have been just a tad more detailed. Why were its authors and translators unable to foresee a time when every verse on every subject would be so rigorously scrutinized? It's presumed that they never thought anyone would ever be confused. The information they omitted was, to them, so obvious and insignificant, it apparently didn't cross their minds.
Dr. John Sorenson, PhD, described this human tendency when he wrote: For example, [the Book of Mormon prophets] nowhere tell us that the Nephites made and used pottery. Any ancient historian would be considered eccentric if he had written, 'And some of our women also made pottery.' To anyone of his time it would seem absurd to say so because 'everybody knows that.' The obvious is rarely recorded in historical documents because it seems pointless to do so" ("When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?", John L. Sorenson, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol. 1, Iss. 1, Pages: 1–34).
Only in hindsight is it apparent that what may have seemed obvious and insignificant to the volume's authors and compliers might have been enormously helpful to those of us studying it thousands of years later. Who's to blame for these omissions? They seem natural, probably inevitable. Imagine yourself in a position like that of the Prophet Mormon. For example, if you were going to write a short history of America during your lifetime on plates similar in size to what Mormon had at his disposal, many would likely feel compelled to discuss modern technology, atomic weapons, or our progress in outer space. But unless we can offer a step-by-step progress report of how these subjects evolved—for example, of how we came to have something like the iPhone or Facebook—future readers might find themselves completely lost. Beyond these "monumental" subjects, who among us would mention the more elemental aspects of society? Things like electricity, trains, interstates, light bulbs, hospitals, postmen, culinary water, vaccinations, snowplows, pesticides, peanut butter, Christmas lights, assembly lines, Valentine's Day, plastic, or pizza? Depending upon the event, failing to describe even one of these topics might cause tremendous confusion in a thousand years. And if some other mundane subject came to the reader's mind while scanning my short list, this only emphasizes the point! The reality is that most historians would only mention such things as they became applicable to the specific history they were telling or the particular event that they were describing.
At the risk of exhausting this example, consider if a modern historian were to write this statement: "It was Dr. Jonas Salk who in 1957 introduced the vaccine that cured the disease of polio." Readers in a few hundred years might have no idea what a "vaccine" is, how such a thing was "introduced" or what it means to "cure a disease." Today we don't need explanations. We take every word in the sentence for granted because we understand the norms of biological research, intravenous injections into our bloodstream, and what it means to say that a disease is "cured" (although it might be more accurate to state that the disease was put into remission). How many High School students of the 21st century even know what polio is, its causes, symptoms, or effects? In some ways, this sentence already assumes too much from modern readers. The polio epidemic of the first half of the 20th century is nearly forgotten. Ask your closest friend: Who was Dr. Jonas Salk? Add a thousand years and this sentence might become entirely meaningless without a multiplicity of footnotes.
That doesn't mean that cultural and historical information found in the Book of Mormon is dispensable or unimportant. Also, I reject the rationale that cultural and historical verses found in this volume don't matter. This always strikes me as a silly argument. The Book of Mormon occurred somewhere. We are, by the gift of God, naturally curious beings; we shouldn't have to apologize for our curiosity. Scholarly explorations into the Book of Mormon do not cause most researchers to miss the forest for the trees. On the contrary, such questions make the forest infinitely more illuminated and interesting. They generally magnify the impact of the volume's spiritual messages.
Moreover, enemies of the Church have consistently used science to try to undermine the Book of Mormon. Latter-day Saints should be able to employ the same disciplines and techniques when called upon to do so. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, quoting English theologian Austin Farrar, said, "'Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish'" ("The Historicity of the Book of Mormon," Elder Dallin H. Oaks, FARMS Annual Dinner, Provo, UT, October 29, 1993).
However, there is an important caveat. Any obsession with some limited aspect of the gospel, including LDS scholarship and apologetics, if it eclipses other aspects, such as Church attendance, obedience to commandments, or family obligations, may permit the adversary to infect our minds with a harmful kind of interference. Somewhere in the midst of what began as an innocent pursuit for knowledge, it became an obsession. Obsessions of this kind are never healthy. This applies to virtually any obsession and reminds us of the principal of moderation and balance in all things.
Even today, as professional scholars and armchair enthusiasts of the Book of Mormon have narrowed down a convincing geographical landscape in Mesoamerica, schisms within the LDS community persist. Since its publication in 1830, there are three, perhaps four, principal parties who must bear the brunt of responsibility when it comes to stopping or slowing our progress in nailing down a universally accepted Book of Mormon geography. I've already named one: Frederick G. Williams. However, as I name each of these persons, it's doubtful that any Church member will feel any particular resentment, not when the value of the positive contributions of these people are given a side-by-side comparison. Later I'll discuss if, and why, such omissions and ambiguities might have been "baked in" by these individuals for spiritual motives, whether they were cognizant or unconscious of their reason.
If the first culprit mentioned herein is Frederick G. Williams, the second must certainly be Joseph Smith, Jr. How careless, some might think, that the great prophet of the Restoration never penned a definitive revelation on Book of Mormon geography. The subject was certainly on his mind. He seems to have freely offered his own opinions and allowed others to offer speculations as well, including sweeping statements published in the Church's periodicals (See Times and Seasons 15, September 1842 and Times and Seasons 3-1, Oct. 1842: 922).
As the editor of Church periodicals like the Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith, Jr. was fascinated with the works of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, who documented their travels in the Yucatan. Commenting on the book, Incidents of Travel in Central America to a friend named John Bernhisel, the prophet writes, "I received your kind present by the hand of Er Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprihensive." ("Letter to John Bernhisel," Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, compiled and edited by Dean C. Jessee, 16 November 1841, p. 533).
However, Joseph was also fascinated with ancient inhabitants and cultures located in the United States as they might relate to the Book of Mormon ("American Antiquities", Times and Seasons Volume 3, number 18, July 15, 1842, p. 859-60) and even penned to his wife, Emma an enthusiastic report of his experiences while in the company of Zion's Camp. He writes that he and his men found themselves "wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity " ("Joseph Smith letter to Emma Smith, 4 June, 1834," Dean C. Jesse, Joseph Smith Papers, 345-46)."
It appears that Joseph Smith's interest in the subject is similar to any other enthusiast who has pursued scientific speculation about the Nephites and Lamanites. Joseph Smith was no less tantalized by such studies as the rest of us. For some unknown reason, in the midst of restoring the Church of Jesus Christ, translating the Book of Mormon, receiving a multitude of revelations, building two temples, founding at least three communities, languishing in prison, serving as mayor of Nauvoo and Lieutenant General of the Nauvoo legion, running for president, suffering terrible grief for the spiritual and physical loss of friends and children, as well as perpetually fleeing for his life, he never felt the inclination (or need?) to write down a definitive geographical revelation on the Book of Mormon with the indelible stamp: "Thus saith the Lord."
This last paragraph, while written with a note of facetiousness, also sincerely mourns the reality that it presents. The fact is that whenever the First Presidency has been asked to offer up an accurate picture of Book of Mormon geography, they have cordially refused. George Q. Cannon wrote in 1890, "The word of the Lord or the translation of other ancient records is required to clear up many points now so obscure" (George Q. Cannon, “Editorial Thoughts: The Book of Mormon Geography,” 25/1 The Juvenile Instructor, 1 January, 1890.
His point about requiring "other ancient records" is interesting. It might mean that the primary culprit responsible for our lack of valuable cultural and anthropological information in the Book of Mormon may not be Joseph Smith. It may be Martin Harris.
That's right. The financier who made it possible for the first 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon to be published and distributed may also be the one who has left us with the greatest geographical and scientific dearth—a chasm of information that may have answered and defined many, if not all, of the major questions that Book of Mormon scholars have pondered and explored over the last two centuries.
Yes, I'm referring to the loss of those pesky 116 pages; those same 116 pages of translated manuscript that Martin Harris—against the advice of Joseph Smith—carried to his home with the principal object of appeasing his nagging wife; the same manuscript he ostentatiously displayed to relatives and neighbors and ended up losing without a trace from his wife's unlocked bureau.
Rarely do we still hear today's members of the Church mourning the loss of these 116 pages. Not since Joseph Smith confronted an anguished Martin Harris and proclaimed, "Oh, my God! All is lost! All is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned--it is I who tempted the wrath of God! He told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession!"—no, not since this time have Latter-day Saints been so bereaved as to "weep and groan and walk the floor continually" (Smith, Lucy Mack, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 1845, pg.138).
Instead, we have comforted ourselves in the miracle known as the Small Plates of Nephi. In D&C 10 it states that the Lord had prepared from the outset a "backup plan" to compensate for the "wicked" errors of men like Martin Harris. The Lord proclaims, "Behold, there are many things engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work" (D&C 10:45).
These 116 pages are known to have been written on "foolscap" paper, which was the common lined paper of the time. If we presume that the 116 pages were similar in size to the original handwritten manuscript of the existing Book of Mormon, we can come up with a rough estimate of how much text was lost. About 75 or so of the original handwritten pages of the Book of Mormon were recovered by the Church from Lewis Bidaman, the second husband of Emma Smith, in the 1880s. They were discovered, badly water-damaged, in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House where Joseph Smith himself had deposited them in the 1840s. These pages were about 8" by 13". Larger pages—6 5/8" by 16 1/2"—containing portions of First and Second Nephi, were also recovered. When interviewed in 1892, one of the original typesetters of the Book of Mormon, John H. Gilbert, Jr., stated that each hand-written page accounted for more than one single page in its final typeset form (Wilford C. Wood, Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Salt Lake City: Wilford C. Wood, 1958, introductory pages).
Since the original edition of the Book of Mormon was approximately 600 pages, this would mean that the pages lost by Martin Harris might have added about 150 pages to the existing text. This would extend the Book of Mormon's current length by about one-fourth. When contemplated, this is an extraordinary amount of written material.
So what was contained in these 116 lost pages? We know that at least a portion was comprised of "the things which my father [Lehi] hath written, for he hath written many things he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many thing which he prophesied and spake unto his children" (1 Ne. 1:16). This may be why Joseph Smith sometimes referred to it as the "Book of Lehi." But Lehi's writings were not all that it contained. These 116 pages were Mormon's abridgement of the historical affairs of the Nephites from the Large Plates of Nephi. These, we are informed, included accounts of the reigns of Nephite kings, their wars, contentions, and potentially other spiritual and cultural information dating from about B.C. 600, when Lehi first left Jerusalem, down to about B.C. 130, or the reign of King Benjamin, a period of about 570 years (see 1 Ne. 9:2-6). This is where Mormon's abridgement officially begins in our present volume, immediately following the "Words of Mormon."
The wisdom of God and his prophets to have included the Small Plates of Nephi with Mormon's final plates is undeniable. This material from the Small Plates is verbatim, exactly as Nephi, Jacob, Omni and the other six direct descendants of Lehi composed them. Without the books of 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, Jacob, and the other three books, including the Words of Mormon, the Book of Mormon would have no exposition. It would have made no chronological sense. In short, it would have been a baffling hodgepodge insofar as any semblance of a storyline is concerned.
So the miracle is clear and evident. Yet despite the foresight of God and his prophets to have included the Small Plates of Nephi within Mormon's final record, there remains an aching curiosity that would only be satisfied if we possessed both records. It's clear that Mormon and Moroni had intended to preserve all of the material they'd abridged on each golden sheave. No part of their work was considered superfluous or unnecessary, even knowing they would later tuck the narrative of the Small Plates of Nephi at the very end. If Mormon had felt the material contained in these lost leaves of about 150 type set pages were negligible, he wouldn't have troubled himself to abridge them in the first place.
Several excellent studies have been published disclosing what material might have been included on these lost pages by such LDS scholars as S. Kent Brown, John Tvedtnes, and Don Bradley. Their conclusions, while insightful, readily admit that they are based upon educated speculation. Even if many of their conjectures prove accurate, they'd be the first to lament that their analysis remains incomplete. Unless the 116 pages themselves were to re-emerge, somehow miraculously preserved, perhaps inside a safe box in some dry, secluded attic or unless the Lord decided that sufficient time had passed that the risks inherent in retranslating these pages (as enumerated in D&C 10) were finally benign so that a modern-day prophet could be enlisted to finish this work, speculation will have to suffice.
Countless issues might have been answered or resolved if these 116 pages had survived. Because these lost pages comprised the opening segment of the record, Mormon likely would have been far more sensitive to questions that readers would pose in 1600 years. Explanatory or expositional material is normally, logically suited more to the first segment of any record. If this was also true for the golden plates, these 116 pages might have offered an extensive cultural and geographical summary that identified and exposed critical details on major cities and landmarks that were important to Nephite history, details that are no longer extant.
For example, mapping the New World was such a passion for Spanish and Portuguese explorers that, within a century of the discoveries of Christopher Columbus, much of this work had already been completed. Mormon was compiling information that covered an entire millennium. Even if we presume that the Nephites traveled primarily by foot (or boat, as suggested in Alma 63:5-8 and Hel. 3:14),, there was much that Mormon could have told us about Nephite occupied lands and territories, and even information about what Nephite explorers discovered in regions where the Nephites never settled. In the 16th century there are records of foot-traveling explorers and adventurers who reputedly walked from the vicinity of Tampico, Mexico as far north as Nova Scotia in a matter of months (Ogburn, Charlton, "The Longest Walk: David Ingram’s Amazing Journey," American Heritage 30, April/May 1979,). Another manuscript recounts the adventures of a lost party of Spaniards who journeyed by foot from Florida to Mexico City in a matter of yearsAdorno, Rolena, and Pautz, Patrick Charles, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca: His Account, His Life, and the Expedition of Pánfilo de Narváez. 3 vols., University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1999).
An additional question that has irritated researchers of the Book of Mormon is whether Lehi's party encountered indigenous peoples when they landed, some whom they may have subjugated and others with whom they intermixed. Might Lehi, Nephi, or another prophet have plainly elaborated upon this fact in the opening 116 pages? Such a simple concept has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by the Church's general membership since the days of its initial publication, despite an abundance of collateral evidence otherwise found within its pages.
Many of these points are addressed in Dr. Sorenson's article, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 1, pages 1-34, Fall 1992). Obvious examples are the sudden population explosions among Lamanites and Nephites, civil wars in Nephi's lifetime that might have otherwise been defined as "family feuds" unless other peoples or tribes were involved. There is also the inclusion of an episode from Jacob Chapter 7 discussing an anti-Christ named Sherem who arrives in Jacob's kingdom. Jacob doesn't seem to know anything about this person until they actually meet. How likely is it that Jacob, a first-generation Nephite, would not know Sherem unless there were other New World denizens unrelated to his original shipmates?
Information found within the missing 116 pages might have expounded upon the complex composition of Nephite, Lamanite, and Jaredite tribal identities. Suffice it to say that when Jacob in Chapter 1:13-14 and Mormon in 4 Ne. 1:36-38 and Morm. 1:8-9 attempt to simplify complex tribal associations, it's either to save space on the plates or because further elaborations might muddle their spiritual message. Besides, why not keep things simple from the Book of Mosiah onward if the issue had already been addressed in greater detail in the opening 116 pages?
Initial readers of the Book of Mormon often don't realize that after Jacob and Omni there is a gap of nearly 400 years—almost twice the present age of the United States of America. These four centuries are summarized in five typeset pages. Since Jacob and Omni felt uncompelled to provide a detailed account of politics or history in their day, it could be argued that nearly 500 years of Book of Mormon history are missing. If a more balanced history did exist, it would most likely be found within Mormon's abridgement of the time period from Lehi to King Benjamin, or the lost 116 pages.
If these pages were ever recovered or retranslated, a half dozen or more prophets might become an integral part of our Book of Mormon curriculum. Their names would suddenly become as endearing as Ammon, Alma the Younger, or Captain Moroni. It's always been a jarring element of the volume's plotline that within a few chapters after Nephi tells of the establishment of the city and kingdom of Nephi and its sacred temple patterned after the temple of Solomon (see 2 Ne. 5:15-16), we learn that the Nephites are no longer in possession of this city or its temple, but that such lands are now in Lamanite hands. The Nephite kingdom suddenly describes itself as living in exile in a place called Zarahemla among an indigenous population with a combined Jewish and seemingly Jaredite heritage. Nephite adventurers are already setting about organizing expeditions to reclaim the lost lands of their forefathers. The reader, however, has no idea how their predecessors lost such lands in the first place. By default Zarahemla becomes the most famous city of the Nephites when it likely should have been the city of Nephi.
The Book of Mosiah, which officially restarts Mormon's abridgment, begins abruptly with a complete lack of exposition about King Mosiah. Instead, it opens with an address by King Benjamin. This is better understood if (and as) we realize that the lost 116 pages ended with several translated chapters found at the beginning of the Book of Mosiah. What probably should have been labeled as Mosiah Chapter 3 is today called Mosiah Chapter 1 (Skousen, Royal, "Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, vol. 6, no. 1, pp 121-144).
Which brings us to the ill-defined cultural and tribal complexities at the time of the final Nephite battle at a hill called Cumorah in 385 A.D. The Prophet Mormon often hints that he is simplifying the history of the last decades of the Nephite nation to spare himself and future readers of the interminable heartache that he, himself, feels as he writes it. His other motive is to try and remain focused upon spiritual matters, and for the most part he succeeds. But not entirely. He can't avoid the tragic nature of events entirely. Expounding upon his spiritual messages inevitably demands that he provide the reader with a historical context. He tells us in 4 Nephi 1:36 that ". . . there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ . . ." Prior to this, designating any kinship with the suffix "ites" had been abandoned (4 Ne. 1:17). Mormon adds in verse 38 that ". . . they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites." So at this period in history identifying oneself with the label "-ite" is less racial and more spiritual. Presumably, even a direct descendent of Nephi could be identified as a Lamanite by apostasy.
Mormon further compounds the problem of tribal designation when he identifies two distinct enemies with whom the Nephites are at war: the Lamanites and the robbers of Gadianton. He makes this distinction in Morm. 2:27, 2:28, and 8:9, implying that the robbers of Gadianton are a separate political entity—neither Nephite nor Lamanite—but possessing enough independent clout that they must be invited to the table to take part in treaty negotiations in A.D. 350.
These complex intertribal rivalries undoubtedly lead to the political morass of "one continual round of murder and bloodshed" (Morm. 8:8) which transpires immediately after the Nephites are destroyed, with the Lamanites fighting each other, until eventually there are "none save it be the Lamanites and robbers" upon the land (Morm. 8:9).
Mormon or Moroni might have offered us more detailed information regarding Lamanite and Gadianton tribal associations. Perhaps they could have taken more time to identify the contenders for power after his civilization was wiped out, and even chronicled genealogies and battle statistics for the ensuing civil wars. The Prophet Mormon certainly revealed his knowledge of the stratagems of warfare in earlier books of the Book of Mormon. However, in the end, these individuals, perhaps by necessity, placed far greater emphasis upon their spiritual objectives. After all, they were prophets, not historians. They sought to write that which was pleasing to God. Moreover, in the wake of the complete destruction of the people that Mormon and Moroni had sincerely loved and defended all of their lives, such information—though it might have been helpful to modern scholars—was something at that particular time that these men clearly preferred to forget.
So the final culprits who hindered our pursuit of definitive Book of Mormon geography and anthropology may be its final authors and abridgers, Mormon and Moroni. Honestly, who would hold this against them? Without their efforts and sacrifices, we'd have no Book of Mormon at all. No one can imagine the challenges they faced—and for the most part overcame—to provide the record that is now in our possession.
So for now, the modern generation of saints must content itself with whatever comes to us from the next generation of scholars, apologists, and enthusiasts. Such men and women will certainly build upon that which has already been compiled, especially as other historians, archeologists, and anthropologists—LDS and non-LDS—dredge up additional information that sheds new light on ancient cultures from both the New and Old Worlds.
As I have previously suggested, it's possible that God deliberately made the puzzle of Book of Mormon scholarship and geography abstruse, holding His cards close to the breast (so to speak), and permitting us merely to "see through a glass darkly." If so, His motive would have been, as I have always suspected, to encourage His children to perpetually search the text, reading and re-reading the Book of Mormon's testimonials and sermons, and waxing in greater and greater appreciation of holy writ.
Lest we forget, in the not-so-distant future we fully anticipate that new prophets will be raised up to bring forth new records and new revelations. Such information will certainly propel us light years beyond anything that mere mortals can deduce using slide rules, i.e., the learning and methodologies of science. When this happens we can hope that those of us who have spent our lives doggedly poring over the Lord's written word will be better prepared to receive the intelligence and edification to come.