Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Sea That Divided the land – Part I

The language of the Book of Mormon is particularly important for two reasons—Joseph translated the record according to his own language and knowledge of the time, and that the end result is according to our understanding.

In fact, Mormon initially 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), and Nephi wrote “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).

Therefore, we need to better understand the English language before starting to determine what the scriptural text says. And that language should be the one known to Joseph Smith in 1829, as well as the proper use of that language so that we can understand it today.

As an example, in proper English, there is a correct usage of the word “the” and “a” when preceding a noun. That is, “the door” is used when the door has been earlier introduced, but the wordage “a door” is used when the door has not been earlier introduced, and is the introduction of that word. Therefore, a person “opened a door,” but later “closed the door,” to show it is the same door. Stated differently, we would initially say that a sea surrounds an island, but after that refer to it as “the sea around the island.”

In Mormon’s writings, we find: “And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east” (Alma 50:34). Thus, we find that the narrow pass in the narrow neck of land was bordered on the east by the East Sea and on the west by the West Sea.

This is why “the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). Later we find that Mormon writes: “And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20).

Note, this is the first introduction of the city built there (probably the City of Desolation), but not the first time the sea has been introduced. Consequently, Mormon is telling us that the sea that divides the land is the East Sea and West Sea, which has earlier been introduced, that divides “the land” (also earlier introduced), but the wordage where “a city” was built is not previously introduced.

Thus, we can see that this “sea that divides the land” is not a new sea being introduced to the reader—it is not a large lake, or another unconnected body of water—but the same body of water earlier described. That is, the East Sea and the West Sea, which bordered the area of the narrow neck of land where the city was built.

The only seas ever mentioned in relationship to the Land of Promise are the “East Sea, West Sea, North Sea, and South Sea,” and since these seas are often mentioned in concurrence with one another, it would stand to reason that these seas were not only connected, but one continuous sea around the “island” of the Promised Land (2 Nephi 10:20).

This is also found in the explanation of Hagoth. Mormon wrote; “And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5). There is one introduction of a subject (an exceedingly large ship), and six uses of the word "the," which in each case describes a noun previously introduced.

Obviously, that sea that divided the land was, in this case, the West Sea, for there is where Hagoth launched his ships, and it was by the narrow neck of land that led into the land northward.

Thus, we can see that the “sea that divides the land” was not describing the South Sea, or any other body of water so located around or in conjunction with the narrow neck of land, but the seas already described that ran on either side of the narrow neck.

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