Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Criteria for the Book of Mormon Lands – Part I

Recently an article was sent to me by one of our readers showing sixteen (16) points that a Book of Mormon Land of Promise had to match in order to be considered the location of the Nephites. The article is headed: Criteria for Book of Mormon Lands and People, and is sponsored by The Book of Mormon archaeological Forum Website, Shortcut to BMAF Articles by Subject Matter, 8th Annual Book of Mormon Lands Conference, and the subject was introduced with the following statement:
“There are several theories held among Latter-day Saints for the location of Book of Mormon lands. Some place the geography of the book in upstate New York or near the Great Lakes. Others look to Peru and South America, or to the Baja Peninsula, or Texas and some even propose the Malaysian Peninsula. BMAF supports a Mesoamerican context for the major Book of Mormon sites. Other locations may meet some of the following criteria, but only Mesoamerica meets all these elements required by the book itself.  This list of criteria is not a cafeteria list.  Any Book of Mormon lands proposal must be able to demonstrate all.”
The area of Mesoamerica, which includes southern Mexico, Yucatan, Gualemala, Belize, and the western edge of Honduras. As you can see, this area basically runs east and west, not north and south, with a sea to the north and a sea to the south, but no west sea
Since this was used to show that Mesoamerica was the correct geographical setting for the Book of Mormon Land of Promise, we are showing the criteria here, along with our response, including any conflict with Mesoamerica and the scripture(s) involved, with only one caveat—there has to be a clear-cut scriptural reference of the subject as outlined in each of their 16 points:
(1)  Major River flowing from South to North (Alma 2:15, 22:27)
Response: The Urubamba River in Peru, runs south to north, has its headwaters in the mountains, and at one time emptied into the sea (now empties into the Amazon drainage basin and then into the sea).
(2) A Major River originating from a mountainous narrow strip of wilderness that runs from "the sea east even to the sea west" and serves as a natural feature providing protection from the Lamanites (Alma 50:11)
A narrow strip of wilderness could be any of several types of land. All of the above are strips of wilderness, however, none are natural protective barriers, they simply separate the land on either side
Response: The scripture outlined, and the one in Alma 22:27: which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore” as well as “Therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about” (Alma 22:34), do not state that this wilderness was a “a natural feature providing protection from the Lamanites,” only that it marked the division between the Land of Nephi held by the Lamanites and the Land of Zarahemla, held by the Nephites. This division, called a wilderness, which means, according to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, stating the language of New England and that which Joseph Smith would have known and used, that a wilderness is “an unoccupied tract of land.” That is, no one was living in this narrow strip of wilderness. Why it was unoccupied we are not told. But as a feature or barrier providing protection, the Lamanites continually came down from the Land of Nephi to do battle, obviously crossing this strip of wilderness to enter the Land of Zarahemla. There is no indication in the scriptural record that it performed any “protection” from the Lamanites. As for the scripture cited (Alma 50:11), states: And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon -- the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure.” That is, Moroni, after driving the Lamanites out of the east wilderness, had Nephites move into that area and possess the land (Alma 50:9), and then “placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies” (Alma 50:10). Thus, Moroni fortified the southern edge of the Land of Zarahemla, along that strip of wilderness, in order to keep the Lamanites from attacking the Nephites. There was no natural feature mentioned, and this cannot be a criteria.
(3)  High Civilizations with Kings and Priests and City-States with scribes as important officers and evidence of many major cities surrounding the Narrow strip of mountainous wilderness.  No other theory can show this fact.
Response: First of all, “many major cities surrounding the narrow strip of mountainous wilderness” is not shown in the scriptural record. Some fortifications were erected along the southern border of the Land of Zarahemla (Alma 50:10), and some cities were built in the east wilderness, that is, along the eastern seashore, of which Moroni was one, but not many major cities. Secondly, the entire Andean area of South America has a very long history (longer than Mesoamerica) of high civilizations, temples, a network of magnificent roads totaling over 10,000 miles, complex governments, with regional kings, etc. As for city states, the scriptural record does not suggest city state arrangements. The Lamanites had one overall king, who appointed some sub-kings, such as Lamoni; the Nephites were governed by one king at a time (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), and then by a single chief judge, and were not separated into city states unless the period of time some Nephites occupied the city of Lehi-Nephi under kings Zeniff, Noah and Limhi.
(4)  The area of the northern culture must contain evidence of many cities made out of cement. (Helaman 3:3-18,)
Left: Even today, building concrete homes requires a lot of wood (see house on right) for framing before concrete can be poured. After hardening, the wood is removed; Right: An ancient concrete structure. Note the faint outline of stones mortared together, then a thin coat of plaster or stucco smoothed over it. At the time of Joseph Smith, "concrete" had not yet been invented, with "cement" being invented only in 1824 in Europe—it is doubtful Joseph would have known the kind of cement we use today (Portland cement), but understood concrete to mean a glutinous stucco or plaster, which was the type of "cement" known in the U. S. at the time
Response: First of all, most historians recognize that the mention of cement in the scriptural record was likely meant to imply mortar or stucco, as opposed to the type of Portland Cement we know of today. Secondly, Mesoamerica does not run north and south, and therefore a “northern culture” could not be located there. Third, the Andean area of Ecuador (the Land Northward) shows evidence of ancient buildings where mortar or stucco was used in the manner of cement for buildings.
(5)  Two Highly Literate (Written Language) Societies living adjacent to but separate from each other between 550 BC and 200 BC, one of which lived "far northward" from the other.  They must have coexisted for at least 250 years
Response: Between 550 and 200 B.C., the Nephites, who were literate, occupied the Land of Nephi, and second, further north the Land of Zarahemla. There was nothing known “far northward” until somewhere around the middle of the last century B.C. when Nephites moved in large numbers into the Land Northward, traveling as far as the land of many waters (Helaman 3:3-4). These were Nephites and they were literate. From this point on, from the Land of Zarahemla to the narrow neck of land and beyond, into all the Land Northward, there was one language, Hebrew, spoken and written, by one people—Nephites. Those who kept the records also knew the written language of Reformed Egyptian. In all of Mesoamerica, there is absolutely no evidence of any Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian language ever found or suggested was used. On the other hand, there is interesting evidence to both having been used in Andean Peru, both Sumerian and Egyptian—which posts covering this have been written here on this website in the past and are too lengthy to cover in a brief sentence or paragraph.
(See the next post, “Criteria for the Book of Mormon Lands – Part II,” for more of these so-called 16 items necessary to determine the location of the Land of Promise)

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