A Mesoamerican Place Name for Bountiful?
By V. Garth Norman
Editor’s Note: This research is based on original research by Garth Norman first published in an Ancient America Foundation Newsletter.
What are the chances that a Book of Mormon land, a land that we don’t know by its Nephite name, could be located, and its native American name be found to match Joseph Smith’s English translation meaning, and also match Hebrew words in both sound and meaning, and then find the matching American land has a geographic archetype in ancient Palestine of the same related name?
These would certainly be extremely remote chance matches. We may now have the first identified Book of Mormon land with its place name.
The general land of Bountiful where Christ appeared to the Nephites is easily identified along the eastern coastal territory of the narrow neck of land (Alma 22:31,32;52:17ff). Many Mesoamerican scholars of Book of Mormon geography agree that the land Bountiful is principally the state of Tabasco in the southern Gulf Coastal region of the Isthmus of Tehuntepec and adjacent southern Veracruz.
Tabasco is the pre-Columbian name for this territory and has a meaning of abundance (Bruce Warren, personal communication, from Scholes & Roys 1948).
The Nephite-Hebrew name for the land Bountiful was translated and not given in the Book of Mormon. We can only speculate what the original name might be by considering Hebrew words for bountiful. There are two Hebrew words, sho’a and tob, for “bountiful” (Book of Mormon 1986, vol. 2, p. 591, n.55). A bountiful or abundant, fertile earth is tob, and abundant prosperity is sho’a. I believe a composite of these two words is the origin of the name Tabasco. It can be easily recognized as a transliteration of Toba-shoa, with a vowel added to Tob to attach shoa.
A matching geographical place-name would be most significant. Was there a land Bountiful in Palestine that could be a place-name match for the Nephite Bountiful? Yes. Tob was the name of a land east of the Sea of Galilee, not specifically identified, that is in the most fertile and prosperous district in all of Palestine. It is curious that Christ’s ministry in Palestine began on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, just as his ministry among the Nephites took place at Bountiful.
Tob was in the rich fertile land of Bashan watered by numerous streams from Mount Herman and known for its rich grass lands (Wigoder 1986). Bashan, bordering on the east of the river Jordan and Sea of Galilee, was the extreme northeastern district of the land of Palestine, just as the land of Bountiful in the Book of Mormon, and as it fits Tabasco, was the extreme northeastern territory of the land of Zarahemla.
Some exploration to identify the city Bountiful has been conducted, but to date there is no compelling ruin or archaeological data. I personally favor Minatitlan, which is a pre-Columbian city on the lower Rio Coatzacoalcos on the Isthmus of Tehuntepec.
The city of Bountiful was on the east coast and was the last major defense to keep the Lamanites from penetrating into the land northward in that region. The area of Minatitlan is well suited for a defense because it is situated on the edge of the high ground on the west bank of the Coatzacoalcos that does not flood during the rainy season. A large mound rises above the jungle just south of Minatitlan. I have inspected pipeline trenches with deep ceramic deposits in Minatitlan, but no in-depth archaeological study has yet been accomplished. If the city of Bountiful was never abandoned, then Minatitlan is for me the best prospect. Coatzacoalcos is another possibility.
Is there any evidence that Minatitlan was a defense? Mina in Nahuatl means to shoot or pierce someone with arrows, and titlan means to send a messenger (Karttunen 1983). This meaning certainly sounds like the narrow neck defense where Teancum was sent, where Moroni’s army was sent to cut off Morianton, or where Bountiful was fortified as the last defense along the east coast against Lamanite penetration into the land northward.
What’s in a Name?
The Hebrew tob for bountiful may be in a Book of Mormon proper name. Tob is found in Tubaloth, keeping in mind that vowels were not written in Hebrew. I propose Tubaloth was named after the land Bountiful.
Tubaloth was son of Ammaron who joined his brother Amalickiah’s revolt against Helaman in 73 B.C. Through treachery, Amalickiah became the Lamanite king and led them to war. After he and Ammaron were both killed by Teancum, Tubaloth became king in 51 B.C. and appointed Coriantumr commander of the Lamanite armies (Hel 1:16). The military objective to conquer Zarahemla required taking Bountiful, where they could control the narrow neck of land and access into the land northward (Alma 50:30).
Assuming Tubaloth was born during the revolt, he would have been in his early twenties when he became king. I speculate Ammaron named Tubaloth after the land Bountiful as a sign of the revolt objective to possess Bountiful in victory over Zarahemla, which king Tubaloth almost achieved when Coriantumr reached the city Bountiful, the last stronghold on the borders of the land northward, where Helaman halted the Lamanite offensive.
Based on the name Tubaloth, the Nephite name Bountiful that Joseph Smith translated would have been Tuba-shoa or Tuba-sho, which survives in the state of Tabasco, long recognized as the probable Nephite land Bountiful.
This place name discovery is more significant as Book of Mormon evidence than if Joseph Smith had included the Nephite name in his translation. It is not only evidence of his translation, he cannot be accused of lifting the name Tabasco to compose the geography.
This Bountiful research has opened the door to many other prospective surviving related place names in Book of Mormon geography in the region, including desolation, Cumorah, the narrow neck and the narrow pass. (G. Norman publication in preparation.)
Book of Mormon Critical Text, Critical Text Project. Vol.2. 1986
Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. Provo. 1986
Karttunen, Frances., An Analytical dictionary of Nahuatl. University of Texas Press, Austin. 1983
Scholes, F. V., and R. L. Roys., The Maya Chontal Indians of Acalan-Tixchel. Carnegie Inst. Wash., Pub. 560. Washington. 1948
Wigoder, Geoffrey Gen. Ed., Illustrated dictionary & Concordance of the Bible. The Jerusalem Publishing House Ltd. 1986
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