Monday, September 30, 2013

The Narrow Neck of Land One More Time – Part XII—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 arguments continue:
14. “The description of poisonous snakes blocking passage to the land southward in Jaredite times is one of the more unusual claims in the Book of Mormon. I agree with Warr that the incident indicates warm climes and favors the interpretation of the narrow neck as an isthmus rather than a corridor. Beyond this, there is not much that we can wring from this description. John Tvedtnes suggests that the snakes could have been associated with drought and infestations of small rodents, something that could have occurred in either area. Poisonous snakes are probably prevalent in both proposed areas. For now, this criterion does not favor either proposal. For his part, Allen reads these passages metaphorically to refer to secret societies; he claims that a literal reading is nonsensical.”
Response:  First of all, the Children of Israel were being bitten and killed by a huge  number of snakes, so many in fact, that they infested the tens of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness (Numbers 21:6), which should suggest that the Lord has used snakes for his purposes more than just in the Book of Mormon. Secondly, a warm clime would fit Mesoamerica, the Rivas Isthmus, and also the Bay of Guayaquil in Ecuador, South America (nearer the Equator than the other two), so that idea is not helpful for a location. Secondly, there is nothing about the event that suggests an isthmus over a corridor. However, the word isthmus (defined as “a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land”) certainly seems to be more accurate than corridor; however, since this narrow neck of land had a “narrow passage” (Mormon 2:29), a synonym of corridor is passage, but not pass, which this area is also called by Mormon (Alma 50:34, 52:9). So why don’t we stick with Mormon’s term “neck of land,” rather than inserting Isthmus, especially since Mesoamericanists and James Warr both prefer that term because their models are called an Isthmus (of Tehuantepec and of Rivas).
As for “one of the most unusual claims,” perhaps we should consider the purpose of this action—it kept the Jaredites from entering the Land Southward (Ether 9:32-33). Evidently, the Lord did not intend for the people to do so, and the snakes were his way of keeping the Jaredites in the Land Northward “but that they should  hedge up the way that the people could not pass” (Ether 9:33). And as for “John Tvedtnes suggests that the snakes could have been associated with drought and infestations of small rodents,” certainly this was because of drought, since their was “a great dearth upon the land, and the inhabitants began to be destroyed exceedingly fast because of the dearth, for there was no rain upon the face of the earth” (Ether 9:30). Since a dearth is a lack of something, and there was no rain upon the land, one would normally consider that a drought. And with a lack of rain, this usually leads to a lack of food crops, so there was a famine. This is not rocket science, and John Tvedtnes making the statement that “the snakes could have been associated with a drought,” and Clark even quoting that, seems on the ridiculous side. Certainly the idea of rodents, since there is no mention or suggestion of such in the scriptural record, is equally ridiculous to bring up. But as long as it was brought up, one of the favorite meals of large snakes is small rodents, so it is not likely they would have escaped the horde of snakes, and meaningless to bring up. The point is, it is not wisdom to invent ideas not specifically mentioned or suggested by the scriptural record—it does nothing for the student of the scriptures, and often creates a false knowledge that serves little or no purpose.
15.  “A careful reading of [Ether 9:35] may cause questions to arise. Neither serpents nor flocks behave in the manner described here. That is, poisonous serpents do not pursue animals; they defend themselves against intruders including animals.”
Response: The key here is the term: “The Lord did cause the serpents that they should pursue them no more” (Ether 9:33), which should suggest that the Lord caused the serpents to pursue them in the first place. Most importantly, we need to understand that neither Mormon nor Joseph Smith used the term snakes, but serpents. A serpent is a large snake, and if large enough, many animals would move away from them. If the serpents were inclined to attack, an attitude that could have been installed in them by the Lord, the animals would have fled. This brings to mind when “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people” and the Lord told Moses hold up the pole with a brass serpent on it (Numbers 21:8). It seems to me that there are no questions that need arise. We need to trust in the prophets who wrote the scriptural record, and know that nothing is too difficult for the Lord (Jeremiah 32:27).
16. “Additionally, if in reality the flocks represent sheep or cattle, it is contrary to the way these animals react. They simply do not travel hundreds of miles just to get away from snakes…If the serpents and flocks represent groups of people instead of animals, the scripture in Ether 9:31 takes on an entirely different meaning. The poisonous serpents may be symbolic of the secret combinations, which did "poison many people" (Ether 9:31). This is exactly how secret combinations work. They spread their deadly poison among the people. They draw them away by false promises for the sole purpose of obtaining power over the masses and to get gain. Hence, the flocks could represent a righteous group of people who retreated to the Land Southward to escape the wickedness that had come upon the land. The word "flocks" is used in many instances in the scriptures to represent a righteous group of people. Indeed, the Savior is the Good Shepherd who watches over His flocks (Alma 5:59 60).”
Response: This is very imaginative and reminds me of types of Sunday School discussions that stray far afield of the scripture under discussion. On the other hand, most scripture is symbolic and meant to point one toward Christ. Unfortunately, that is no interpretation in the scriptural record to suggest such a  meaning. And certainly the fiery serpents mentioned in Numbers was tied directly into the pole and serpent Moses held up, since the pole and serpent, when looked upon, saved the people, which is an obvious suggestion of how looking upon Christ, the one that was lifted up on the cross, results in our salvation. In this quote Clark attributes to Joseph Allen’s book, evidently Clark and I agree since he goes on to state: “There is no indication in the text that this verse should be read metaphorically to refer to secret combinations.” In addition, we might consider that the Lord, who controls all things, evidently wanted flocks, herds, etc., to enter into the Land Southward during Jaredite times, so they would multiply and cover the Land Southward for the future needs of the Lehi Colony and the Nephite nation. It is always amazing when people start limiting what the Lord can and does do to further his plans.
17. “In discussions of Nephite demography…it is now commonplace to make the observation that Lehites and Mulekites were not alone on the continent. The same was true for the Jaredites.”
Response: It is certainly commonplace among those who champion Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise site. However, and once again, since there is not a single reference of any kind in the scriptural record that the Land of Promise was occupied by anyone other than Lehi’s family, the Jaredites before them, and the Mulekites, it seems less than prudent to keep harping on the unfounded belief that the area described in the Book of Mormon was occupied by anyone between the Flood rescinding and the coming of the Jaredites and later the Lehi colony. Those who do so sound like the proverbial "used-car salesman" of an earlier era who kept telling tall tales about his product that eventually the customer believed him. Such an approach falls under the also proverbial statement that come out of World War II, "if you tell a lie often enough it will be believed." There simply were no other people in the Land of Promise according to all the prophets who wrote about their land. Of course, it is completely self-serving for Mesoamericanists to keep claiming this.
(See the next post, “The Narrow Neck of Land One More Time – Part XIII—Mesoaermicanists’ Achilles Heel,” for more on this difficult area for the Mesoamerican Theorist model to reconcile with the scripture)

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