The Book of Mormon’s full significance cannot be reduced to early nineteenth- century American concerns. This article examines a basic aspect of the Book of Mormon which is viewed more adequately from the perspective of ancient civilizations rather than that of the American frontier.
Ancient world civilizations believed that the perceived order of territorial environment, in its “natural” and built-up features, revealed the structure of a sacred universe. The epitome of this symbolic order was a capital city or ceremonial center. “In those religions which held that human order was brought into being at the creation of the world there was a pervasive tendency to dramatize the cosmogony by constructing on earth a reduced version of the cosmos, usually in the form of a state capital.” Characteristic of complex societies throughout the ancient world, this phenomenon is referred to as cosmic urban symbolism. The principles of cosmic urban symbolism account for many ideas and events in the Book of Mormon which are otherwise unexplained within a nineteenth-century American context.