Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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

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:
    6. “Since the Nephite record says that it was a day and half's journey for a Nephite, we might infer that this was a significant feat and that it would have taken longer for someone else.”
    Response: If we infer such a thing, we must ask ourselves, why is Mormon inferring such a thing? For what purpose would Mormon be telling us a special fete would be for a Nephite to cross the narrow neck of land in a day and a half? This makes little or no sense at all. 
We need to keep in mind that Mormon is in the process of describing the Land of Promise as a follow up to the stated action of the Lamanite king sending a proclamation “throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west -- and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided” (Alma 22:27).
Mormon then goes on to described where the Lamanites were in that land, and then describes the land itself, saying: “And now, 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; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward. (Alma 22:32).
    It seems obvious that Mormon is trying to tell us the width of the narrow neck, and if so, would he be choosing some unusual circumstance? And why would anyone think Mormon was inferring that crossing that narrow neck in a day and a half “was a significant feat that would have taken longer for anyone else”? We have to keep in mind that Mormon is not discussing how fast someone could make the crossing. After all, if a stranger asks you how long it would take to drive from Salt Lake to Logan, Utah (about 85 miles), you would reply, “It is about a two hour drive.” Now does that mean if you are Mario Andretti, or have a Lamborghini, that you can make it in two hours? Or would you mean that he can reach Logan in two hours driving normally? Mormon was trying to tell us, a future reader, the width of the narrow neck. Why would we consider that he was thinking in terms of some unusual race or runner? The only purpose of his explanation is to tell his future reader a distance that would be normal in his day and normal in some future day--a normal person walking. In so doing, he chose a normal person of his day--a Nephite. Perhaps if he wanted to tell us it was someone unusual, he might have said a Lamanite—that would at least tip us off he was not talking about a normal man (a Nephite).
    7. “Moreover, the isthmus itself may have been wider than the "day and half's" distance since we cannot be sure that the measuring point began on the east at the sea. Alma says that it was a day and a half's journey from "the east" to the west sea. The journey may have begun some distance inland.”
    Response: If Mormon is not trying to inform us how wide the narrow neck was so that we could understand it, why even mention it? I can see Mormon now: “Let’s see, I’ll tell them how wide this small neck is, by telling them a person could cross it in a day and a half, but I’ll start my measurement from halfway across, or I’ll use Brother Moriancumr who can run that puppy faster than any man alive--he made it in a day-and-a-half once, or I’ll really confuse them by using a Nephite, but I’ll send five of them to try it out and use the fastest time.” I’m sure Mormon had something up his sleeve when he gave us such a simple measurement knowing none of us could understand or comprehend what he meant. 
    This is so ridiculous an idea and concept that one has to wonder who these Mesoamericanists think they are that keep harping away at a distance interpretation no one would have used in describing a distance.
    8. “Obviously, we do not yet know how wide the narrow neck was…”
    Response: Mormon knew exactly how wide it was, but his vocabulary did not include miles, kilometers, leagues, furlongs, etc., nor would we have understood his measurement, anymore than we understand other ancient measurements, such pes, palmipes, gradus passus, pertica, aclus, milliarium, or leuga. What if someone left in their writing that a saltus was 800 jugera, which was 28,800 pedes. Or how about one parasang, which equals 4 mils, which equals 2,000 ells, or 200 khet equals one iteru? What if someone told you it takes 18 minutes to walk a mil, or that the distance covered by an average man in a day’s walk is 10 parsa’ot. What if you read in an ancient text that a day and a half journey was 15 parasangs.
Would you know any of these measurements? Each is a true measurement in different culture of antiquity. The vast majority of people would not know those measurements in terms of their own distance system. Nor would we have known the terms of the Nephite’s distance measurement system. Mormon knew this, and gave us a measurement that would translate then and far a normal person could walk in a day and a half. And yes, it is as simple as that.
    9. “…but these figures show that it could have been a substantial distance.”
    Response: Funny, nothing in Mormon’s description suggests “a substantial distance.” How far can a man walk in a day and a half? If Mormon’s intent was to tell us how wide the narrow neck was, then that person would be a normal person. And a normal person can walk about 27 miles in that time, averaging 1.5 miles per hour for 12 straight hours, a night’s rest, and another 6 hours. My suggestion to Welch, Sorenson, and all other Mesoamericanists is go out and walk six hours without resting and see how far you have traveled—the vast majority of people could not make 9 miles in that time, let alone keep it up for twelve hours straight. If you think you could walk for more than about 12 hours straight, go out in the desert away from any city lights or aurora, and see how long you can chance walking in pitch black darkness (I am not aware that the Nephites possessed flashlights).
    10. “The width of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is now accepted by many Book of Mormon scholars as the Nephite narrow neck of land…”
    Response: Only those Book of Mormon scholars who accept Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, and not even all of those, some claiming other areas in Mesoamerica. However, for those who accept the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, perhaps they should try and orient that thinking directly to the scriptural record without changing the meaning of the words used by Mormon, translated by Joseph Smith, and verified by the Spirit. It seems they would have a very difficult time unless they employ these games that Welch uses here.
    11. “…is 120 miles—an acceptable distance for the day-and-a-half journey.”
    Response: First of all, the Mexican government uses the figure of 144 miles across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, unless you are a crow flying. Secondly, it is not an acceptable distance to anyone who actually thinks about it and tries to cover that kind of distance in a day and a half. After all, Mormon is not describing a contest or race across the narrow neck of land. He is describing to the future reader how wide that “small neck” was so we could understand the width. Why is that so hard for a student of the Book of Mormon to understand? And especially a scholar like Welch?
Instead of saying it can be done and is accepted—why not go on down there and try it? Or try to walk 120 miles in 18 hours in any environment. Only specially trained runners or walkers could even come close, and without a world record-holder type, you would find it simply cannot be done. Instead of trying to find a way around this simple statement by Mormon, why not look for a land where there really is (or was) such a narrow neck?
    Let's  be honest about this. If a neighbor told you a person could walk from where you were standing to a specific point in a day-and-a-half, what would you think? Would you really think he meant some Zuni runner, a marathon runner, a world-record holder? Or would you think he was referring to a normal person? It is time to stop making the scriptural record say things it does not in order to safe-guard one's own thinking, and understand the "simple and plan language" Nephi told his people to write in. A plain and simple language that can easily be understood today. If the scriptural record is not so written, then what good is it? It merely becomes a mass of confusion as Mesoamericanists try to make it so they can tell us what it means from their point of view!

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