Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Narrow Neck of Land One More Time – Part VI—Mesoamericanists’ Achilles Heel

Continuing from the last posts showing the fallacy of the Mesoamerican Theorists’ view of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in being the narrow neck of land—it becomes clear that this isthmus is the real Achilles heel of every Mesoamerican model. In pursuing this, the following is from John E. Clark, himself a Mesoamericanist and follower of John L. Sorenson’s model, in which he defends the Mesoamerican Theory.
Clark’s argument continues:
3. General north-south direction. Sorenson's argument about directional systems is that they are cultural and not necessarily transparent. Soliciting directions in a sun-centered system is like asking someone to identify the shady side of a tree. This simple request should elicit more questions because shade pivots with the sun through the day and across the year. That celestial-dependent directions such as east and west are a bit sloppy—seasonally, topographically, latitudinally, and culturally—is such an anthropological commonplace that I have difficulty understanding why Sorenson's proposal for directions has become so controversial.”
Response: First of all, it should be understood that different peoples (cultures) might have different ways of saying directions, but the directions are still constant, i.e., pohjoiseen in Finnish is still north; север, pronounced sever, is north in Russian; nord and nordover, are words for north in Norwegian (and "vestre, vest, vest-, vestlig" are the words for west), and norður is north in Icelandic. Obviously, every language has a different way of saying north. In addition, some peoples use different expressions—to those in tropical areas, who sometimes refer to the north as where it snows; in English, various words for north are: arctic, boreal, cold, frozen, hyperborean, northbound, northerly, northern, northmost, northward, polar, septentrional, toward the North Pole, tundra; it could also be said that “toward the top,” is an expression of north. The Romans referred to north as the home of “evil people,” i.e., “the evil from the North.”
Almost all peoples past the Stone Age, in all areas, use relative directions, that is, directions from the “self,” as shown in the image to the left. But this idea is relative only to a person’s orientation and not used for permanent directions, as Sorenson claims. In fact, the Jewish word for “east” is qedem, which literally means “the direction of the rising sun.” However, we need to understand what this means. In our orientation, established by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy, we use north as our major orientation such as in maps which are always oriented to the north. On the other hand, the Jewish orientation (as well as the entire Middle East), uses east as their orientation point and all directions are oriented to this point; while in China, their orientation is to the south, which lies at the top of their maps.
For example, in Hebrew, one of the words for south is teyman from the root yaman meaning "to the right." The word qedem is also the word for the past. In the ancient Hebrew mind the past is in front of you while the future is behind you, the opposite way we think of the past and future. This is not so different than in English, where we think of north as the future, or focal point. As an example, anciently, the top, above, or upward, was the north point—which is the idea of up: “up the block,” “up north,” “going up to Ogden from Salt Lake City,” etc.
Also, in the Hebrew, a common phrase is "l'olam va'ed" and is usually translated in English as "forever and ever" but in the Hebrew it means "to the distant horizon and again" meaning "a very distant time and even further" and is used to express the idea of a very ancient or future time. Stated differently, time, as defined as the distance between two physical events, is not a physical measurement in and of itself. Yet in ancient Hebrew, time and distance refer to the same thing and literally to “the direction of the rising sun,” (which we would say, “In the direction of east”), means both the direction of east, and the origin of all things could have come, does come, and will come from the east.
The problem arises when Westerners try to think of Hebrew directional words, as Sorenson does, meaning more than how we would translate them in the West. Obviously, when Nephi wrote that they were headed nearly eastward (1 Nephi 17:1), he did not mean that his heading was in the direction of all things, now and in the past. But when Westerners try to go beyond the mark in translation understanding of the Hebrew, they often get into confusing territory and, in the case of Sorenson, goes far beyond the mark in trying to make east or eastward mean something else than the way it is translated. Thus, we can know for an assuredly that when Mormon called the eastern sea the East Sea or Sea East, we can be assured that he was not talking about the past, present or future when which all things come.
In addition, in Hebrew, while qedem is east, it is also antiquity, front, former estate, before, and in a broader sense, can also mean meet, confront, go before. Qedem is also the word for “the past, ancient time, aforetime.” But when qedem is used with a final he expressing direction toward, it should be compared with mizrah, meaning “where the sun rises,” which emphasizes location rather than direction. Stated differently, qedem can be used as a noun, abstract noun, or as an adjective. In the Old Testament, as an example, qedem is used 171 times, only 61 of those with the meaning of our “east,” 26 times meaning location (where the sun rises), 5 times meaning antiquity or former times, 69 times meaning the desert wind, east wind, etc., and 10 occasions meaning former times.
It is hard to imagine that Sorenson is able to determine that “east” in the Book of Mormon, written mostly by those who did not have a history with Hebrew among the Jews, and wrote in Reformed Egyptian, would try to tell us that this meant other than what we know it to mean.
When Nephi wrote about their traveling in the wilderness, he said, “nearly a south-southeast direction,” and “nearly eastward from that time forth,” all we have to do is compare his route of travel with a map of the Middle East and we find he used the exact, correct terms of our directional orientation. Yet he was traveling in an area in which he had never been, and when he turned eastward, was approximately along the 19º north latitude, with Bountiful along the southern Oman coast at about 21º north latitude. This is a difference of only 11º from Jerusalem. This is the same spread as Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, California, or Boise, Idaho, to San Diego, California. Having spent time in all these places, the sun’s swing, generally speaking, is close enough to being the same as to know the cardinal directions without problem. Certainly not to get them mixed up by 90º, which Sorenson’s map orientation does.
In addition, the major areas in Mesoamerica range from Mexico City area (19º north latitude—the same as where Nephi told us the correct compass direction along the Red Sea), to Guatemala City (14.6º north latitude), which is a swing from Jerusalem of between 13-degrees to about 17-degrees. It should also be understood that the latitude of the Mesoamerican Land of Promise from much of the Land Northward to much of the Land Southward, is along the basic same degree line of about 17º.  In addition, the area of Bountiful along the south Oman coast and that of the northern Yucatan (Sorenson’s Land of Promise) is the same latitude. The point of all of this is simply that is not a swing of the sun that would justify a 90º mis-orientation of the Land of Promise, and whatever Sorenson and others choose to say, does not change that one basic fact.
(See the next post, “The Narrow Neck of Land One More Time – Part VII—Mesoaermicanists’ Achilles Heel,” for more on this difficult area for the Mesoamerican Theorist model to reconcile with the scripture)

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