Do references to the “east wind” in the Book of Mormon provide a clue as to its real-world geographic setting?
The Book of Mormon records the events of a people that once resided in some part of ancient America. The specific location, however, is not stated. To this day, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on where the events may have occurred. There are, however, numerous geographic references within the book itself that can be used as clues. Of interest to this blog post, the Book of Mormon twice mentions an east wind. The east wind appears to have been a familiar source of destruction that the people feared and were plagued by.
Here are the actual Book of Mormon references to the east wind:
Abinadi quoting the Lord (Mosiah 12:6; about 148 B.C.):
And it shall come to pass that I will send forth hail among them, and it shall smite them; and they shall also be smitten with the east wind; and insects shall pester their land also, and devour their grain.
King Limhi quoting Abinadi, quoting the Lord (Mosiah 7:30–31; about 121 B.C.):
And again, [the Lord] saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison. And again he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the east wind, which bringeth immediate destruction. And now, behold, the promise of the Lord is fulfilled, and ye are smitten and afflicted.
Note that both of these references are related: A prophecy about the east wind, and a report made over 20 years later regarding the prophecy’s fulfillment. The location where the prophecy occurred was in the Land of Nephi, in the southern part of Book of Mormon lands.
Is the east wind merely figurative?
One possibility is that the east wind is a term used only figuratively, and the residents of the Land of Nephi have no first-hand knowledge of destructive east winds. The basis for this idea is that there was an east wind frequently referred to in the Old Testament, which was characterized by dry winds rolling in off the Arabian peninsula and choking the Israelites’ crops with dust and arid air. The 7 years of famine prophesied by Joseph in Egypt, for example, was due to the east wind, and the east wind continues to be a problem in modern Israel. The west wind from the Mediterranean, by contrast, is a life-giving wind that brings moisture. Since the people of the Book of Mormon were descendants of the Israelites and at least a few of them had access to ancient scriptures and stories from the region, it might make sense that they would continue to associate the east wind with destruction more than 400 years after their departure from Jerusalem. I consider this explanation less likely because the Lord prophesied of destruction by the east wind, and according to King Limhi, the prophecy was fulfilled. The phrasing itself makes it seem very literal to me.
Was there a literal east wind that the people of the Land of Nephi feared?
If the wind is not figurative imagery based on stories of weather patterns in Israel, then there must be a literal east wind that the people came to fear. There are several possible types of winds that could be likely candidates:
- A desert wind consisting of dust and dry air similar to that of the Old Testament East Wind
- Santa Ana winds: Dry summertime winds that sweep down from the mountains in California and the Baja peninsula exacerbating the fire season
Easily ruled out. I would rule out #1 (desert wind) and #4 (tornadoes) as likely candidates. There is simply no desert wind that can rival the Old Testament East Wind that is located in the Americas. During the 1930’s there was a “Dust Bowl” in the United States that could meet the description of a biblical plague type of wind, but it was entirely caused by early efforts at industrialized agriculture. I’m not too sure about the directionality. I know that at least some of the Dust Bowl storms went from North to South, but I can’t say whether people expected them to regularly come from the East. It is unlikely that the Book of Mormon peoples would have been able to achieve the same level of desertification with primitive farming methods. Tornadoes can be ruled out because they lack any kind of predictive directionality (they are winds, but not “east winds”) and because their damage is limited to a narrow corridor.
Difficult to rule out. Neither Santa Ana winds nor hurricanes can easily be ruled out. I really like Santa Ana winds because they have a clear directionality, and it is certainly from the East, exactly like the Old Testament East Winds. Santa Ana winds exacerbate the painful fire seasons on the West Coast of North America. Hurricanes can be even more destructive, but the directionality must be established (which is what I attempt to do below).
Where could one find a region affected primarily by hurricane winds blowing primarily from the east?
Hurricanes in the northern hemisphere spin in a counter-clockwise direction. There are no hurricanes south of the equator in the Americas, so no hurricanes in the Americas spin clockwise. For a hurricane to be primarily associated with an east wind, the Land of Nephi would need to be primarily buffeted by the northern part of a hurricane. When hurricanes make landfall, they lessen in intensity and die out, so south to north travel through the land could have this effect. In that case, the hurricane starts out with very strong east winds, followed by winds in other directions (especially west) as it weakens (see illustration below).
Because the more powerful east wind is the signal that a hurricane is occurring, and people would likely be taking shelter during the remainder of the hurricane when it might switch directions as it runs out of power, it’s easy to see why a hurricane that strikes land while traveling in a mostly northward direction would be associated with the earlier, more powerful east winds. It’s also of note that the people of Lehi had a history with the east winds in Israel before coming over, so one can see why they might associate hurricanes that primarily blow from the east with the devastating East Wind that blew from the desert on the Arabian peninsula.
Do prominent models of Book of Mormon geography support the idea that the east wind could be a hurricane or Santa Ana wind?
I’m not too familiar with all of the U.S.-based models (heartland, New York, Great Lakes, etc.), but I know they are generally inland and northern, so of course would not be too heavily affected by hurricanes or Santa Ana winds. Likewise, the most prominent Mesoamerican model, that of John Sorenson, places the Land of Nephi in a part of Guatemala that is completely free of hurricane activity. None of the more prominent Book of Mormon models supports the idea of the east wind being a hurricane. I would guess that proponents of existing models would be more likely favor a metaphorical interpretation of east winds, possibly arguing that the peoples’ knowledge of the east wind was derived from ancient scripture.
What about Baja California?
Though less well-known than other models, Lynn and David Rosenvall have proposed a Baja California model of the Book of Mormon that maps extremely well to the hurricane hypothesis (better than any other location in North or South America). It turns out that hurricanes that strike Baja usually come from the south and die out as they travel northward through Baja. That means that residents of Baja are most affected by the top of the hurricane — the east winds.
In the imagery below, you can see that hurricanes that strike Baja in vicinity of the Rosenvalls’ hypothesized location for the Land of Nephi come from the south and weaken when they make landfall. Northern Baja California rarely receives hurricanes.
It’s clear that the ancient inhabitants of the southern half of Baja California would have lived in tremendous fear of powerful winds from the east. Hurricane Odile, for example, caused a tremendous amount of damage in the southern part of the Baja peninsula in 2014 (see video below).
Does the Baja model support the idea of Santa Ana winds being the East Winds?
Not really because the Santa Ana winds wreak havoc in California and the Northern part of the Baja Peninsula. The Book of Mormon references to East Winds relate to the southernmost parts of Book of Mormon lands, which would be the southern tip of the Baja pensinsula under existing Baja models. This area appears to be relatively free from Santa Ana-type winds.
Does this rule out non-Baja models?
No. It just means that if other models are correct, the cause is not a hurricane or Santa Ana winds, but there are other locally known winds that could be destructive to agriculture and worrisome to locals in different geographic regions. Book of Mormon Central provides a great explanation for what the East Wind could be in their Mesoamerica model: https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/why-did-abinadi-warn-the-people-of-an-east-wind
While the east wind is only mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon, and there are multiple possible interpretations of what it means, it seems unwise to overlook the possibility that there could have been a literal east wind, and that this wind that “bringeth immediate destruction” could have been a hurricane.
This information should be evaluated with other information about Book of Mormon geographic models. Here are some useful resources related to the Baja California geographic model that I am aware of: