Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Slanted Land of Promise Book Reviews – Part VIII

Continuing with the last post on the FARMS review of Art Kocherhans’ book, “Lehi’s Isle of Promise,” showing the self-serving nature of such reviews and their tendency toward self-absorbed and self-advancing results. Earlier points and comments were discussed in the first seven posts, more of Fleugel’s ill-advised comments are covered below beginning with the second of the last four points mentioned in the last post:

Fleugel, as well as most other Mesoamericanists, follow John L. Sorenson’s model of the Land of Promise being in Central America, but more specifically, in Mesoamerica, which is an area of southern Mexico to western Honduras, including the Yucatan, Guatemala and Belize. In this map, Sorenson tries in vain to show why the Nephites didn’t understand the directions of north-south-east-west as we do today. His map is skewed nearly 90º off center of the directions in the scriptural record. What is interesting in Sorenson’s work, is that in his book he starts out with the first three or four maps in a northerly orientation, showing how they relate to the scriptural record, then suddenly, the next map is shown, which is oriented in a totally different manner, and then he spends several pages trying to justify why the Nephites didn’t understand directions as we do today.

John L. Sorenson’s map of his Land of Promise model in Mesoamerica from his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which, as can easily be seen, runs east and west, not north and south as Mormon described

It is also interesting to note that Sorenson makes no attempt to deal with Nephi’s two directional statements he makes in their travels toward Bountiful along the Arabian coast, when he describes their direction of travel as south southeast (1 Nephi 16:13) and nearly eastward (1 Npehi 17:1). In checking those directions, they are exactly correct to the compass headings along his course of travel, though he was traveling in an area he had never before been in.

In fact, a well-written criticism of Sorenson’s skewing of directions was authored by Deanne G. Matheny, “Does the Shoe Fit? A Critique of the Limited Tehuantepec Geography,” in New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, ed. Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993), p277, in which he stated:

“Among many of Sorenson’s arguments for a change in directions of the Nephites in the Land of Promise is his statement: ‘The Hebrews, like most Semitic peoples, oriented themselves by facing east, toward the rising sun. Thus east in Hebrew was simply front (qedem), with south as right (yamîn), north as left (śemôl), and west as rear (achôr) or “sea” (yam).’ One need not assume any linguistic connection between the Middle Eastern and Mesoamerican languages to account for the similarities. Using the body as the directional model from an accepted focal point is easily seen as independent invention. For both Middle Eastern and Mesoamerican terminology, directional terms were created based upon a particular orientation of the body.”

Based on Sorenson’s putting your back to the Sea and knowing you faced east, the ten yellow arrows show a person with back to the Sea in Mesoamerica, and facing in ten different directions. Doesn’t anyone think this method of getting directions sounds really dumb?

Thus Sorenson feels qualified to determine that the Nephites faced away from the sea in Mesoamerica (which would have been looking north if on the west coast) and saying that was east. In this way, he justifies his map to actually be running north and south from the Nephites point of view, when it really runs east and west. He also feels, then, that he can call a sea to the north the East Sea, and a sea to the south the West Sea. In this way, he is telling us that Mormon, who wrote all the directions in the scriptural record under the influence of the Spirit, didn’t know what he was talking about and the Spirit felt no inclination to correct his mistakes in a scriptural record—and that Joseph Smith, translating Mormon’s writing wrote the wrong directions and the Spirit verified he was correct in writing incorrect terminology. Personally, it would be much wiser to go along with the Spirit that Mormon’s and Joseph’s writings were correct, than try to find a way to justify a Mesoamerican model by claiming everyone else was wrong except Sorenson.

How does Sorenson, changing the directions set, then, with Nephi’s comment in referring to how the Bible has been changed by men: “And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest -- because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God -- because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (1 Nephi 13:29).

Are we repeating the mistakes of past scribes working on the Bible by removing or changing the simple language of the Book of Mormon?

Also, how does Sorenson’s convoluted explanation of why the correct directions were unknown to the Nephites set with Nephi’s comment: “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). Wouldn’t you think, based upon Nephi’s comment, that the simple idea of directions, which we all know very well, would be written in the scriptural record in “our language for our understanding”? Why would the Spirit testify to Joseph Smith that his translation was correct when it was both incorrect and misleading?

I guess I’m confused. Are we supposed to read the scriptures and search for understanding? Or are we supposed to listen to an academic who tells us the scriptures are incorrect and we need to listen to his explanation?

It seems illogical to use Sorenson’s model of Mesoamerica as the criteria by which all other suggestions and models are judged. It was Fleugel who said, “There are, however, those who begin by picking a favorite location like Japan, the Baja, New York or the area around the Great Lakes, Mesoamerica, or places in South America and then start looking for language in the Book of Mormon to support their hunches. Brushing aside crucial geographical information on directions, distances, and other relevant geographical clues in the text is a fatal mistake.”

Might we not assume that Sorenson and other Mesoamerican Theorists, including Fleugel, have done just that? The have picked a model, or location, because of the buildings there that overlap a portion of the Nephite time frame, and then looked for “language in the Book of Mormon to support their hunches.” Yet finding none, they twist and turn the language that does exist and tell us it means something else. Fleugel also stated: “Brushing aside crucial geographical information on directions, distances, and other relevant geographical clues in the text is a fatal mistake.” It seems odd if one is going to give advice, that the giver of that advice doesn’t follow their own advice!

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