Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Directions & Distances – Part VI

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. Turning to Chapter 53: “A Day and a Half’s Journey for a Nephite,” with “Alma 22:32 It was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea," as a sub-heading, he states:
    1. “The narrow neck of land is an important geographical feature in the Book of Mormon. For many years people have debated whether the narrow neck was the Isthmus of Panama, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, or somewhere else.”
    Response: One of the things that must be considered in any physical topographical feature of the Book of Mormon is whether or not it still exists after some 2,000 years. The last mention of the narrow neck is made in 55 B.C. (Alma 63:5). Whether the narrow neck flanked by two seas survived the destruction mentioned in 3 Nephi is not known, however, the narrow neck is never mentioned after that point, despite much activity taking place in the many battles described in that area beginning around 360 A.D. (Mormon 3:5). In fact, when Mormon mentioned the treaty between the Nephites and Lamanites, he informs us that the dividing line of that treaty was the narrow neck of land, but does not use that terminology, avoiding the use of “neck” in any way: 
Two examples of a narrow neck of land between two extended lands. The one on the left is 26 miles wide and crossable in a day-and-a-half journey; the one on the right is 144 miles across and no crossable in a day-and-a-half; nor can it even be considered or called "narrow," especially from any sight at ground level
   “And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward.” (Mormon 2:29). Note that while Mormon uses the “narrow passage” and “narrow pass” (Mormon 3:5), he does not talk about any sea by it, though earlier he did describe it that way: “by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east” (Alma 50:34). This also might suggest that the East Sea no longer existed after this destruction that brought up mountains “whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23), since it also is not mentioned after 3 Nephi. The point is, all we know is that in prior to 3 Nephi, the narrow neck of land existed. We do not know if it did after that point, so looking for it today might not be a valid point in finding where the Land of Promise was located, unless it can be shown that the narrow neck did exist there in B.C. times.
    2. Some have argued that the neck must have been very narrow, because Alma 22:32 says that the distance across the "narrow neck" of the promised land from the east to the west sea was "a day and a half's journey for a Nephite." How wide could this distance have been?”
    Response: This is a critical issue and cannot be ignored or passed over. The only reason Mormon would have included it was to show the distance factor of its width, since he was describing the land throughout the entire Land of Promise for his future readers. And for that measurement to mean anything to a future reader, it had to convey a normalcy that would be easily recognized by a future reader. Thus, the distance a normal man could cover in about 18 hours of travel would be something that could be reasonably understood then, now, and in the future as well. That distance figures out to be somewhere around 25-30 miles--the distance an average person could walk in a day and a half.
    3. “Recently analyzed information suggests that it [narrow neck of land] could have been quite wide indeed.”
    Response: Mormon would not have known about any recently analyzed information, only what he wrote for the purpose he wrote it. He called it narrow and small, which does not suggest “quite wide indeed.” Nor could it be any wider than a normal man could cover on foot in a day-and-a-half, otherwise his remark is meaningless to us, his future readers.
    4. “First, since the Limhi explorers (see Mosiah 8:7-8; 21:25-26) passed through this narrow neck without knowing that they had done so (they thought they were still in or around the land of Zarahemla), this warns us that the narrow neck must be of some substantial width.”
    Response: This is fallacious thinking. We already know that a narrow pass existed within the narrow neck of land as stated by Mormon. A pass suggests something that is not only narrow, but blocks or limits vision to either side.
In addition, there are wide canyons, large and steep-sided valleys, gorges, ravines, arroyos, fissure, chasm, etc., flanked by unscalable slopes, walls, hills, cliffs or mountains that limit views to the side and keep one from seeing much over a distance, often less than a mile or two. Nor did Limhi's "explorers" know anything about a Land Northward and obviously would have thought they were in the Land of Zarahemla--what other land would they considered themselves to be in? This is why, when they found the bones and ruined cities, they thought Zarahemla and the Nephites had been destroyed (Mosiah 21:26).
I travel between Cedar City and St. George, Utah, frequently. About ten miles north of St. George the Interstate passes between the Pine Valley Mountain Range on the West and the mountain range in the national park between Hurricane and Cedar Breaks on the East. The distance between both mountain ranges is less than five miles and about 20 miles in length along the freeway. In that corridor, you cannot see beyond the two ranges and have no idea what might lay beyond them. There could be an ocean there, a huge grand canyon, a sand desert, or “many waters.” There is no way to know that unless 1) you fly over it, 2) climb nearly unscalable mountain cliffs and ridges, or 3) find some way around them, a distance off the main highway of fifty miles or more in either direction. The point is, trough this five mile width a person would never know what was on either side of him beyond the mountains, and would not know if they were traveling through "a narrow neck of land."
5. “Second, we also know that some people can go a long way in a day and a half. For example, a new BYU Media Productions film Tarahumara: Footrunners Live On describes a northwest Mexican Indian group who call themselves the Raramuri (footrunners). Some of them have been known to run five hundred miles in six days and to return that distance after a day's rest. Even more, the book Ultra-Marathoning, the Next Challenge documents such accomplishments as Edward Weston's walking five hundred miles in six days. The record for the greatest distance traveled on foot in twenty-four hours was set in 1973 by Ron Bentley of Great Britain—161 miles.”
    Response: Perhaps we should ask ourselves if Mormon knew of such records and had them in mind when he tried to give us an idea of how wide was the narrow neck of land. It seems so disingenuous to talk about extraordinary accomplishments by individuals or a people, i.e., “setting world records” that is so ridiculous under the circumstances of Mormon’s description, that one has to wonder why any scholar, academician, historian, or writer would even suggest such a thing. Perhaps there is an ulterior motive? Like trying to prove one’s very wide isthmus and selling it off as a “narrow neck”? Does anyone truly believe that Mormon's purpose in stating the time it took to cross the narrow neck of land to be done by some world record holder, or that the Nephites were "footrunners" and could cross such distances in short times? Would Mormon think that we would know that? Why would Mormon bother to tell us how long it took for a Nephite to cross that narrow neck if it would not be clearly understood by his future reader? Mesoamerianists love to confuse this issue since a normal reading of this passage shows that their Isthmus of Tehuantepec simply does not match or even come close to matching the scriptural record.
(See the next post, “A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Direction & Distance – Part VII,” for more of this type of problem facing Mesoamericanists and how it is ignored in order to sustain and support their Mesoamerican model)

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