Monday, May 23, 2011

Do We Know Where the Land of Promise is Located? – Part I

A friend recently sent me an article from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship website (formerly the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS]).

It states that in 1992, the Foundation published John L. Sorenson’s research in the 415-page study aid “The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book.” In 2000, FARMS published an updated summary of Sorenson’s work in the book "Mormon's Map." It states that as a professional scholar, Sorenson recognizes that no text speaks for itself. All readers approach a text with preconceived notions, bias and assumptions, and all people interpret passages based on a variety of other influences. In order to approach the textual elements of geography as bias-free as possible, Sorenson spells out some necessary assumptions that undergird the research such as “both textual evidence and logic require an assumption of uniformity in the way nature operates today and operated in Book of Mormon times … subject to the normal laws and processes of nature.” One of the premises is that “When an internal model is generated from the text we discover a number of significant features. First, and foremost, the Book of Mormon events took place in a limited geography. Secondly, the overall shape of this geography, at least near the narrow neck of land was somewhat like an hourglass and flanked by an east and west sea.” There are also arguments which explain Book of Mormon passages that speak of north and south seas (Helaman 3:8), the description of the land of Nephi and Zarahemla as nearly surrounded by water (Alma 22:32), and why Nephi compared their land to and “isle of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20).

The article concludes with “FAIR recognizes that faithful individuals and scholars can honestly disagree on where Book of Mormon events took place; there is no revealed or officially accepted geography.”

Now, there seems to be a lot said in the short information provided above, and taken as a whole, most people would probably accept that scholarly approach and the comments made. However, being more interested in the scriptural record than a scholarly approach to the Book of Mormon, there seems several problems with these statements. Starting in this post and continuing until the above points have been answered, these points of inaccuracy are:

1. “Faithful individuals and scholars can honestly disagree on where Book of Mormon events took place; there is no revealed or officially accepted geography.”

While it is true there is no official declaration by the Church on this issue, the fact that people can honestly disagree over scripture is an inaccurate and satanic idea. How can one interpret the scripture for himself? As an example, Peter cautioned against that: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). Peter went on to say, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21), and also “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). Obviously, Peter is telling us that the scriptures are not for private interpretation. In addition, it can be said that the primary cause of the false beliefs of the numerous Christian sects that exist in the world is based upon their individual interpretations of the Bible.

Certainly the Book of Mormon is not open to private interpretation. From Nephi to Moroni, prophets have written about the doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and intermingled within that record, mostly inserted by Mormon, is geographical information that is clear and precise, needing no contemporary scholar or theorist to explain. It was Nephi himself who said, “For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3).

This hardly suggests that we need someone to interpret the scriptural record for us—especially some professional scholar like Sorenson who cannot accept that “east” means “east” and “west” means “west” as written by Mormon. In addition, Mormon himself tells us that what he has engraved on the plates is "according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me" (Words of Mormon 1:9).

If we accept the statement that we can all honestly have different opinions of what was written by Mormon, it seems we are doomed to failure in understanding that those words meant.

(See the next post, “Do We Know Where the Land of Promise is Located-Part II,” for more comments on the website quoted above)

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