Friday, October 18, 2013

A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Direction & Distance – Part II

Continuing with John W. Welch’s comments in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, in which he discusses Nephite placement of cities, the directions in the Land of Promise, and the distance across the narrow neck of land; and continuing from the last post with Chapter 52: “Directions in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Nephite Language,” with “Alma 22:27 on the east and on the west” as a sub-heading, he states:     
    2. How would the Nephites, using the "learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians" (1 Nephi 1:2), have written north, south, east, and west? 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).”
    Response: First of all, I grew up learning directions from facing north, thus the west was on my left, the east on my right, and south was behind me. I suspect all children learn their cardinal directions from some similar concept. That the Jews learned theirs from facing east, or the Chinese from facing south, matters little, since once we all learned the directions, we never again had to face in a certain direction to know which way the four cardinal points were from one another. Secondly, in the Middle East, the direction of east was the main direction, and their maps were oriented with east on the top; in China, with south as their main orientation, their maps had south on the top, in Europe and the Western Hemisphere, north was the direction of orientation, and all maps have north at the top. I am not personally aware of any culture that had west as their main orientation and maps with west at the top, but there might be one somewhere.
Top LtoR: Old Ship compass; Chinese compass; Russian compass; Bottom LtoR: Mayan compass; Aristotle’s wind rose; Standard rose compass
    Third, the point is, no matter what is the main emphasis of a culture, every culture and people know there are cardinal directions other than the main area of their orientation. However, there are areas in the world that are limited to one north or south direction, and that is either at the North or South Pole. And the closer you find people to those poles, like Iceland, northern Greenland, northern Canada, northern Finland, Sweden, Norway, or northern Russia, you have people who are going to be out of the main directional path of four basic cardinal directions. The same may be said for those in Tierra del Fuego, Tasmania, Melbourne, Australia, Queenstown, New Zealand, etc.
    Fourth, in addition, the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south mark the limits of the suns movement north and south in its risings and settings. And any ancient culture knew this from looking at their early crude observatory and astronomical formations or structures. Since Jerusalem and Mesoamerica in the north, and Andean Peru and La Serena in the south, and all other claimed Land of Promise models, encompass all of the areas in between these points, the rising, movement and setting of the Sun would have little bearing on the Nephites knowing their orientation from the Sun.
    Fifth, after all, in antiquity, survival meant knowing that the Sun changed its rising and setting positions during the course of a year, and that its noon height in relation to the horizon varies with the seasons. In winter, the Sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest, while in summer it rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest, spending much longer in the sky than during winter (when it is summer in the northern hemisphere, it is winter in the southern hemisphere). At the equinoxes, the sun rises at due east and sets and due west and the length of day and night are the same. Any agricultural people, such as the Nephites, and Lehi, Nephi and Sam in Jerusalem, would have known this. Every culture knew when to plant and when to harvest, and knew this from the course of the Sun.
In addition, the Nephites were a lunar society, that is they measured by the Moon (Omni 1:21), which basically follows the Sun across the sky. As an example, when there is a New Moon, the moon is in the exact same position in the sky as the Sun, a week later the moon is in its First Quarter (half moon), telling the observer that in three months time, the Sun will occupy that exact position. In fact the moon is always located 180º from the sun on an east-west plane, so if the Full Moon is rising, the Sun is setting. When the ancients saw a Full Moon rising around the time of Winter Solstice, they marked its spot since that would roughly be where the Sun would rise in six months time, at the Summer Solstice. And lastly, there's the last quarter (or last half!) which marks out the position the Sun will be in nine months' time. 
    Not to belabor the point, but the Moon and Sun move in relation to one another, something any ancient culture would know, just as ancient mariners knew when the tide would rise and fall, or when we know today the exact time of sunrise and sunset.
    Thus, living anywhere along the two tropics or in between (as all Land of Promise models are located) would not cause them to misunderstand their directions, since they would understand the general location of the Sun and Moon during the course of the year just as we understand that in the summer we use air conditioning and in the winter we use forced air heating. We know this for our comfort, they knew the Sun and Moon for their preservation—planting and harvesting was both their livelihood and their sustenance, without that knowledge, the ancients would have starved. It is one of the reasons ancient observatories are found all over the world, such as Newgrange (Ireland), Stonehenge (England), Jantar Mantar (India), El Kernak (Egypt), Nabta Playa (Africa), Gaocheng (China), Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Gotland Grooves (Sweden), Medicine Wheel (Wyoming), Machu Picchu (Peru), Chichen Itza (Mexico), etc.
Chankillo, Peru—the 13 regularly-spaced towers of the astronomical observatory built in the 4th century B.C. The site covers 1.5 square miles, with the towers aligned with the rising and setting of the sun
    As for what they knew of the cardinal directions, it has been stated in this blog many times, that Lehi led his party along the Red Sea after their stopover along the borders of the Red Sea after traveling for three days in the wilderness after leaving Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:4). There he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water (1 Nephi 2:6), which he called Laman and it emptied into the Red Sea, near its mouth (1 Nephi 2:8).
Map of Lynn and Hope Hilton (Sept 1976 Ensign) shows where Lehi would have camped around the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba as it opens off the Red Sea, an area today near Al Beda
    In the morning of the day they were to commence their journey once again (after receiving the brass plates, getting Ishmael’s family to join them, and the five marriages), Lehi found the Liahona (1 Nephi 16:10). At that point, Nephi tells us they “traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer.“ (1 Nephi 16:13). It is the first direction that Nephi writes on the plates, and is absolutely correct with the compass direction along the coastal area of the Red Sea where they traveled. Then, after reaching an area they called Nahom (after Ishmael dies), they turned into the sand desert and “traveled nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Nephi 17:1). This again, is the correct compass heading. Thus we see that Nephi knew and understood the cardinal and ordinal directions of the compass, which he stated, without being in Jerusalem and having to face east with the sea to his back, etc.
    Consequently, Sorenson’s comment: “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),” is simply not applicable here, since Nephi, with his back to the sea, would have been facing northeast, thus his south-southeastern direction would have been 45º off from traveling along the Red Sea—or, stated differently, he would have been traveling inland into the Arabian Peninsula along that course, not along the Red Sea.

(See the next post, “A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Direction & Distance – Part III,” for more of this type of problem facing Mesoamericanists and how it is ignored in order to sustain and support their Mesoaemrican model)

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