Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Geography of the Book of Mormon—Necessary or Superfluous?

Some claim that the authenticity of the Book of Mormon can be determined by the consistency of issues found within its pages. And those regarding such minor ideas as the geography of the events are even more important in this regard for it is easy to become confused in covering events within a geography over a thousand year period.

Thus, the geography of the Book of Mormon plays an important part in showing the accuracy of the book itself. Therefore, scholars and theorists ought to pay particular attention to the descriptions with the scriptural record and not try to change or alter them—or ignore them—for their own purposes.

While we all know from studying the Book of Mormon, it is not a geography text book by any means—but then, neither is the Bible, yet the biblical events can be placed within a geographical setting that has become, over the years, completely understandable. And, too, can the Book of Mormon reach that level of acceptance if scholars and theorists would pay 100% attention to the descriptions of the scriptural record and accept them at face value rather than trying to make them fit some pre-determined theories and ideas.

After all, we do not as a people try to alter or change the doctrinal information within the pages, so why do so many try so hard to change and alter the simple understanding of the geographical statements made?
To begin with, perhaps the nearest thing to an organized clarification of the overall layout of the Land of Promise is Mormon’s geographical picture inserted into the Alma narrative. While relating an occurrence involving Nephite missionaries and Lamoni’s father, the Lamanite high king, Mormon inserted a 570-word explanation that outlined the major features of the Land of Promise, beginning in the Land Southward (Alma 22:27–34). Starting with the Land of Nephi as far south as Lehi’s landing site (the Land of First Inheritance) , Mormon begins moving northward from there to finally settle his description in the Land Northward, “so far north as the Land of Many Waters.”

Obviously, Mormon considered this explanation of the location of the lands sufficient for his future readers that he never addressed the subject again. But that is not all. There are over 550 verses in the Book of Mormon containing information of geographical significance—of where the events took place, from the many journeys to numerous descriptions. This is important, because any writing that is based on historical events will be judged by how consistent the writing is in referring to geographical locations of cities, places, and topography. Even the most ardent critic has to accept the fact that Mormon never misses to stay within the framework of the geographical outline he has given.

This, of course, could only happen if the original writer, in this case Mormon, had a perfect mental picture or image of the geography of the area about which he was writing. Not once does he stray from the picture he has described to his future readers, and that is why scholars and theorists must stay within the intent and purpose of the scriptural record and not wander off into unknown and untested areas in trying to prove their exotic settings—especially when they do not agree with the plain and simple language of the text provided.

And there is one last thought that should be kept in mind. With all the rhetoric that has been written about Hebrew words and their meanings and how that is needful to understand the Book of Mormon geographical descriptions, it should be kept in mind that the small and large plates of Nephi, and the abridgement of Mormon, were all written in Reformed Egyptian. Consequently, knowing what Hebrew words meant is meaningless, since they were never used in the compiling of the Book of Mormon.

In addition, even though the Nephites spoke and thought in Hebrew, the plates themselves were laboriously written in Reformed Egyptian—and to show that they were, Moroni ended his father’s record by stating: “And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Mormon 9:32). And even if some diehard linguist wants to claim they thought in Hebrew, therefore would have used Hebrew in their manner of writing Reformed Egyptian, Moroni also said, “And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew, but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also” (Mormon 9:33).

Thus, we see, that all this rhetoric by scholars and theorists regarding the Hebrew words and their meaning has two problems: 1) The plates were not written in Hebrew, and 2) Whatever Hebrew the Nephites knew had been altered by them by the time Mormon abridged the records in the 4th century A.D.

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