Monday, April 11, 2011

Understanding Mormon – Part III

Continuing with the website comments mentioned in the last two posts, the list continues with these two items:

“2. Nature worked the same anciently as it does today. For example, we can be sure that the headwaters of rivers were at a higher elevation than their mouths, and a river implies the presence of a corresponding drainage basin. (This may seem too obvious to deserve mentioning; however, some students of Book of Mormon geography seem to have missed the point.)”

It may seem too obvious to the one stating it, but the second point involved is not accurate. That is, “a river implies the presence of a corresponding drainage basin.” While this is true in areas such as the Amazon River and its drainage basin, which is larger than the entire United States, or the Mississippi River and its drainage basin, which cover over 50% of the United States, it is not necessarily true of all rivers. A river that begins high in the mountains would not have a draining basin until it reached a much lower level, and that would not be true if the river passed through a canyon to where it emptied into a lake or the ocean. In the case of the former, the river drains over a very large area, but in the latter it drains only at its mouth. Therefore, we do not know if the Sidon River had a drainage basin anywhere along its course, or if it only emptied into the sea (Alma 44:22).

Obviously, from the scriptural record, we can see that the river Sidon ran downhill to the sea (Alma 44:22). It also appears that the headwaters were on the borders of Manti (Alma 22:27), and in the narrow strip of wilderness that separated the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla “away up in the borders of the Land of Manti” (Alma 16:6), and that there was a south wilderness on the east side of the river (Alma 16:7). Thus we can seed that the narrow strip of wilderness was at a higher elevation than the Land of Nephi.

One might also conclude that since the bodies were cast into the River Sidon somewhere inland, perhaps not far from the headwaters, that the river flowed directly to the sea and had no drainage basin at all. The point is, we simply do not know. And we cannot conclude that “a river implies the presence of a corresponding drainage basin.”

“3. Ideas in the record will not necessarily be familiar or clear to us. There was some degree of continuity in Nephite thought and expression from the Hebrew/Israelite roots of Lehi’s time, but it was only partial. Mormon could read and compile from his peoples archive of traditional records, so his patterns of thought and terminology still followed with sufficient continuity from his predecessors that he was part of a continuous scribal tradition passed down through the preceding nine centuries. That tradition may have required special training to master the old script and records.”

There seems little question that those who kept the records were able to read and write in the Reformed Egyptian, and that they had to be taught this particular language. Beginning with Nephi, who “having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father” (1 Nephi 1:1). And that language of Lehi was both Hebrew “having lived all his days at Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 1:4) and Egyptian. “For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time” (Mosiah 1:4).

Nephi goes on to tell us that he made a “record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). Later, Mosiah taught his sons from “the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God”’ (Mosiah 1:3)

Thus, the Reformed Egyptian was taught among the Nephites, all the way down to Moroni who could read and write Reformed Egyptian, though he complained of its unwieldy language (Mormon 9:32), and who also knew how to read and write Hebrew (Mormon 9:33).

(See the next post, “Understanding Mormon – Part IV,” for the final comments on the website claiming what needs to be understood to understand Mormon’s writings)

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