Listening to the Book of Mormon on my iPhone while driving the other day, the following passage came up:
And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered. (1 Nephi 22:7)
Now, here in the States, we Mormons hear “a mighty nation among the Gentiles” and start chanting “USA! USA!” But I don’t think Nephi is referring to the US at all. I think in this particular passage he is referring instead to the Spanish Empire. Here’s why:
- The US really didn’t become a “mighty nation” until the late 19th or early 20th Century. Spain, on the other hand, established a global empire pretty much coinciding with the discovery (by Spain) of North and South America at the end of the 15th Century, and it remained a mighty nation well into the 19th Century.
- Spain conquered and claimed half of North America, all of Central America, and most of South America, in the process killing, enslaving, and scattering many of the native American inhabitants. The US, at the time of publication of the Book of Mormon, occupied less than half of its current extent and really hadn’t done much “scattering” of native Americans compared to what Spain had done for the previous 240 years.
- For that matter, much of the “scattering” of native Americans that happened in the eastern half of the United States happened under British rule (see “British Territory” on the map above), before the US was founded.
- And, somewhat redundantly, the US never occupied Mesoamerica, which is where Book of Mormon events most likely occurred.
I’m certain this isn’t a novel thought, and I suspect that Latter-day Saints in Latin America have always assumed that 1 Nephi 22:7 referred to Spain; it would be obvious to them. Some might point to the phrase “raise up…upon the face of this land” as meaning the mighty nation has to originate in the Americas, but I don’t know that this carries a lot of weight. What made the Spanish Empire mighty was not the resources within the borders of Spain over in Europe, it was the tremendous wealth and resources that Spain extracted from the Americas. After all, if you saw the map below (Spanish Empire in 1800) without knowing any historical geography, would you assume that the Empire in red sprang from the small red area near the middle of the map, as opposed to the massive red areas near the left side of the map? Food for thought.