Saturday, June 22, 2013

Have You Ever Wondered? – Part II

Continuing from the last post in which Mormon’s descriptions of the Land of Promise were covered, the question was asked, “Why did Mormon include so much and so detailed geographical information?”
Obviously, Mormon didn’t include geographical information for scholars today to dispute and argue over, any more than the Biblical writers wrote their books thinking people would argue over what they wrote—yet there are some 40,000 different Christian denominations at last count, each using the exact same scriptures as the basis of their religion.
In the case of the Book of Mormon, it is not a matter of disputing the statements of doctrine, as in the various Christian religions, but a matter of disputing the meaning of geographical information among those trying to locate the Land of Promise among today’s geography.
The problem seems to stem from one basic source—that of Mesoamerican Theorists who claim that area is the site of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise. To understand this, we need to retrace the steps of the LDS thinking in the early days of the Church.                 
Simply put, when Joseph Smith told others of his First Vision in which he saw God the Father, and his son, Jesus Christ, he was met with such strong opposition, including that from local ministers, he was astounded. From that time forth there was a concentrated effort from the surrounding communities to ridicule and defame Joseph and his claim. When the Church was organized and the Book of Mormon in publication, early members were eager to learn more of the ancient people called the Nephites found within its page. When the ancient ruins of Mexico, Yucatan and Guatemala were discovered, many members and scholars began trying to show that this was the area of the Book of Mormon. It became the pet view of M. Wells Jakeman, the founder and first chairman of the department of archaeology at BYU. In time, certain early scholars at BYU and later elsewhere began touting Mesoamerica as the home of the Nephite nation.
Studies were made, books written, trips arranged, and soon the idea of Mesoamerica as the home of the Book of Mormon within the Church, especially at BYU, came into the LDS consciousness. Archaeology began at the University and it was all centered in Mesoamerica. In 1953, Jakeman, erroneously claimed the carved stela found at Izapa (Izapa Stela 5) was the Lehi Tree of Life Stone, which swept through the church like wildfire for many years. However, many scholars with the requisite technical training, knowledge, and experience in this area, some LDS and some not, examined the stone and Dr. Jakeman's interpretation of it--their conclusions were all the same: Professor Jakeman's interpretation was not correct.
Replica of the Chiapas Izapa Stela 5 “Tree of Life Stone” presented to West Valley City, Utah, by Chiapas. Standing beside it is Donald W. Lowe, son of Gareth W. Lowe, who was field director of BYU’s New World Archaeological Foundation and directed excavation of the Stela 5 site in the 1960s
However, this did not deter Jakeman and other scholars who followed at BYU, such as John L. Sorenson, in teaching, claiming, and writing about Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise. Sorenson, head of the Department of Anthropology at BYU and now emeritus, wrote his landmark book, “An American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” and in it took extreme license with the scriptural record, twisting and turning Mormon’s writing to agree with Mesoamerican topography and geography. Along came FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), founded by John W. Welch, of which Sorenson was part for 28 years, an organization dedicated to studies connecting the Book of Mormon with Mesoamerica (today, this group is called Neal A. Maxwell Institute and is involved in LDS historical scholarship, but the archaeology has always been centered on Mesoamerica).
As an example of twisting and turning the scriptural record, Sorenson in his book, and Mesoamerican Theorists today, among others claim:
1. The Land of Promise really ran east and west as does Mesoamerica, not north and south as the scriptural record shows;
2. Nephi and others did not know directions as we do today and didn’t know the directions of the Land of Promise;
3. Mormon’s day and a half journey was really meant for a marathon runner or the like and is over 120 miles;
4. The Land Northward was really to the west of the Land Southward;
5. Land of Desolation was to the west of the Land of Bountiful;
6. Where no distances are stated in the scriptural record, they provide short distances to fit Mesoamerica;
7. Ignore clearly stated scripture and use their own interpretation, such as with the Mulekite landing in the Land Northward;
8. Involve Jaredites among 1) Mulekites, 2) Lamanites, and 3) Nephites; though the scriptural record shows no connection at all other than Coriantumr for 9 months;
9. Claiming the narrow neck of land was 120 miles across (144 by foot);
10. Creating a land to the east of the Land of Nephi, though the Land of Nephi ran from sea to sea;
11. Claiming the destruction in 3 Nephi 8 was only cosmetic and really didn't alter the land view;
12. Claiming other indigenous people were in the Land of Promise, even before Lehi arrived despite the promise to Lehi that the Land would he his;
13. Claiming the Nephite copper or dark skin blended them in with indigenous Indians already in the land of promise when Lehi arrived;
14. Claiming other indigenous people of numerous languages were in the land of promise;
15. Claiming indigenous people in the land of promise taught the Lehi colony how to plant seeds when they arrived, and that Nephite diseases killed off the indigenous people;
16. Claiming the Nephites were not literate;
17. Claiming the Lamanites were not dark skinned;
18. Claiming the Nephites hated the Lamanites and spoke ill of them and described them as far worse than they were;
19. Claiming not all Jaredites were killed off, only the ruling line;
20.  Claiming linen and silk, horses, elephants, metallurgy, etc., in the scriptural record meant something else.
This list of 20 items is only a glimpse of all those errors, changes, alterations, stretches, and outright disagreements Sorenson makes with the scriptural record in his book and later publications (for a more complete list, see the book Inaccuracies of Mesoamerican and Other Theorists).
The point is, Mormon gave us an exact and clear glimpse of the Land of Promise. Changing or altering Mormon’s descriptions, or explaining away why they meant something else, is not worthy of a scholarly effort, let alone an inspired understanding of the Book of Mormon.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Whatever exact and clear glimpse of the Land of Promise the Book of Mormon gives us is more than obfuscated by the writer of this review, who never quite gets beyond his criticisms to show us the error of the Mesoamerican theory or the more compelling theory he/she may hold to.

  3. Perhaps you would care to read more of our comments about Mesoamerica, for in them we have taken every single point about Mesoamerica and compared it with scripture in order to show that their model simply does not agree with Mormon's many descriptions. It is not that we are critical of Mesoameria, we are critical of those who misuse, misinterpret, change or alter the scriptural record in order to promote their pre-determined location and view. I would address you to the book "Inaccuracies of Mesoamerican and other Theorists" for a complete coverage of several Mesoamerican theorists writings and claims and comparing them to the scriptural record