Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Comments Received from Readers – Part IV

Continuing with comments and questions received from readers of the blog.    
    Comment #1: In the New World, where can Book of Mormon readers find a “narrow strip of wilderness” (interpreted to be a narrow mountain range) that runs from east to west—from a sea on the east to a sea on the west? Answer: Only one location in the entire New World has a narrow strip of mountainous area that runs from east to west—beginning at a sea on the east and ending at a sea on the west. That narrow strip of wilderness is the Cuchumatanes mountain range and connected mountains that run from the Caribbean Sea off the small east coast of Guatemala/Belize and ends at the base of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. From the perspective of the Alma 22 Lamanite king in the land of Nephi, then, the east sea is the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic Ocean), and the Pacific Ocean at the base of the isthmus is the west sea” Archer B.
Response: Well, the first problem is saying that the “narrow strip of wilderness” is interpreted to be a narrow mountain range. Obviously, the narrow strip of wilderness is at a higher level, or at least the land beyond, meaning the Land of Nephi. There is no real comment that the narrow strip is the same height as where the headwaters are located, though most of us figure they are one of the same. However, that narrow strip ran the entire width, from east sea to west sea, and there is no suggestion that the entire strip was a mountain range. Secondly, this narrow strip, nor the headwaters of the Sidon River, are mentioned after the destruction in 3 Nephi at the Savior’s crucifixion—this height, or mountains, if they were such, could well have been altered and not exist in the same manner today. As an example “And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed” (3 Nephi 8:17), and “the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah that in the place of the city there became a great mountain”(3 Nephi 8:10), and “made hills and valleys in the places thereof” (3 Nephi 9:8) and “There shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23). It would be very difficult to suggest that a particular area of mountains seen today were the same mountains before the destruction and changes in 3 Nephi. 
The Sierra los Cuchamatanes is the highest non-volcanic region in all of Central America, is configured in a crescent shape, and runs from the neighboring Chiapas in Mexico, northeast until the mountains of the Verapaces to the east crossing the Huehuetenango and El Quiche and, in total, covers fifteen percent of the country. It does not run from sea to sea, even with "connected mountains," and could neither be considered narrow or match the scriptural record describing it
    It might also be noted that the Sierra los Cuchamatanes is in Western Guatemala, and alone covers 6, 310 square miles not counting the "connected mountains," which would add several more thousand square miles. The Chuchanatanes are bordered by the Selegua River, the Rio Negro, and the Chxoy River (not a sea). This area, in no way, matches Mormon's numerous descriptions of the narrow strip of wilderness.
    Comment #2: Natural boundaries played a major role in the divisions of the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica. The most common boundary lines consisted of mountains and bodies of water. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has long been a natural dividing line. In the long history of the Maya, including up to the present, the Maya never crossed to the west of the Isthmus. The Book of Mormon probably honored that same idea, as it states that there was “a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). Further, “And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward” (Mormon 2:29)” Stefan R.
    Response: First of all, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec cannot be considered a narrow neck of land, nor would anyone living in the Nephite period ever have known it was a narrow neck since, at 144 miles across, it could not be seen as such by anyone earth bound and without satellite or aerial photography. 
When comparing that area to the eastern end of the Bay of Guayaquil in South America (map left), which is about 26 miles across, now bound by the impassable Andes mountains to the east, but before the destruction and change in topography of 3 Nephi, was an inland sea (see earlier posts on this subject), you have a both a narrow neck (red arrow) that restricted movement between the Land Southward and the Land Northward, and was a natural division of the lands, and a narrow pass (green arrow) leading through the narrow neck (known as the Pass of Huayna Capac during Inca times), which meets scriptural criteria where the Isthmus of Tehuantepec does not in any way. Secondly, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec might well have been a dividing line of a political nature, but it simply is not one of a physical, restrictive nature as Mormon writes about the narrow neck of land--there are several avenues of egress into the north from south of this isthmus. Thirdly, in the scriptural record, the use of the term mountain(s) is mostly used for non-descriptive scriptural means, such as “how beautiful on the mountains,” and also for the destruction mentioned in conjunction with the Savior’s crucifixion, which means, of course, that there were mountains in the Land of Promise. But there is no mention of mountains as a landmark other than the general term of the robbers infesting the mountains and the wilderness in Helaman and 3 Nephi, such as “from the hills, and out of the mountains, and the wilderness, and their strongholds” (3 Nephi 4:1). And even here, you will note that the term and wilderness suggests that the term mountain does not mean wilderness (Helaman 11:28, 31).
    Comment #3: “I read somewhere that one of the requirements for a Land of Promise model was ‘A merchant class using weights and measures.’ Perhaps you can tell me where weights and measures are mentioned in the Book of Mormon.” Freeman E.
Response: You probably read this from one of the Mesoamericanists points, for it exists in the list of BMAF’s requirements for the Land of Promise. The term “weights” is not mentioned in the scriptural record; however, “measure” is mentioned. “Neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews; but they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people, in every generation, until the reign of the judges, they having been established by king Mosiah” (Alma 11:4). 
Now this measure was to determine the weight of grain (Alma 11:7). Obviously, the Nephites had merchants, and obviously, any society that does business and trade, would have to have some type of weights and/or measures to determine a value of exchange or purchase. Evidently, the Nephites had a type of measure that fluctuated “according to the minds and the circumstances of the people.” Mormon tells us that King Mosiah standardized these measures (Alma 11:4), and also tells us how the Nephite monetary system after that was equal to certain measures. That is, both a senum of silver and a senine of gold could buy a measure of barley, as well as all other grains. This should not be construed, however, as most Mesoamericanists do, that it had anything to do with their monetary system based on weights and measures, i.e., meaning the Nephites did not have coins. It only means that the money the Nephites used would buy certain amounts of product, and the product Mormon gives us is grain, since he undoubtedly knew grain would always be something people would be buying and know the value of it. As an example, consider when Zeezrom said to Amulek "Behold, here are six onties of silver, and all these will I give thee if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being" (Alma 11:22), he would have had those six onties of silver on his person and no doubt held them out for not only Amulek to see, but the crowd to which Zeezrom was playing. Now, six measures of silver would not make any sense to have on his person--not only would it be bulky, but difficult to carry and use. However, some type of coin would be more in keeping with the scriptural inferences and suggests a Nephite coinage or physical monetary system--not based upon measure, but upon what that coinage could buy, i.e., six onties of silver could buy as much as six senums of silver (Alma 11:11-13), which would purchase 12 measures of barley (Alma 11:15).
    Comment #4: “Mormon writes that the Nephites had a different reckoning than that of the Jews. Obviously, this means that they did not reckon their directions (north, east, south, west) as did the Jews, therefore, the changes in directions that John L. Sorenson reports for his Mesoamerica holds true” Adrian G.
    Response: An interesting take on the word. However, the word “reckoning” means “the action or process of calculating or estimating something,” and in this case, Mormon is referring to the reckoning of the Nephite monetary system. He tells us: “These are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value. And the names are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem” (Alma 11:4). That is, Mormon is tell us that the Nephites did not reckon their monetary system on the same basis that the Jews reckoned theirs. Mormon goes on to say: Now this is the value of the lesser numbers of their reckoning” (Alma 11:14); and Now this is their number, according to their reckoning” (Alma l1:18). These comments about the Nephite “reckoning” has nothing to do with directions.
    Comment #5: “I thought you might be interested in this, which I read on a BMAF website: “The discussion to this point has not presented much of what might be called “new” information. That is, over the past quarter century, surely scholars associated with the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) must have thought about the issues related to the seven errors that Sorenson makes in his vertical hourglass model for Book of Mormon geography. But why has no one associated with FARMS stepped forward to challenge Sorenson’s thinking? Natural answers to that question evolve around an understanding of Sorenson’s relationships with FARMS. In some respects, John L. Sorenson is FARMS. He helped organize it at its outset and has “worked” for FARMS in one capacity or another ever since. Even more suspicious is the fact that FARMS publishes several of his books. FARMS definitely does not publish other books that deviate from or that challenge Sorenson’s thinking about Book of Mormon geography. Have the executives and scholars at FARMS agreed that they will not go counter to Sorenson’s thinking as they publish articles and books? Surely someone at FARMS must have thought about the consequences of merely turning Sorenson’s hourglass on its side and placing it over a map of Mesoamerica. Why hasn’t that someone stepped forward and published something from the perspective of FARMS that suggests legitimate Book of Mormon geographic perspectives other than those espoused by Sorenson?” Chase M.
    Response: It is interesting, isn’t it? You might also be interested to know that a few years ago Deseret Book stopped publishing anything contrary to Sorenson's model. In fact, nearly twenty years ago when I first approached Deseret Book with an thorough outline for what became "Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica" book, I was told by their Sr. V.P. in a lengthy interview for its publication (she is now the CEO of Deseret Book) that they would not publish anything contrary to something (Sorenson's book) they had already published.

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