Sunday, February 2, 2014

More Comments Answered Part IV

Continuing with more comments from readers of  our website, and our responses: 
    Comment #1: “Why do you think Joseph Smith talked about the Nephites being in Mesoamerica if it was not the location of the Book of Mormon lands?”
    Response:  Obviously, no one can read the mind of another person, especially one who died 169 years ago. However, there are certain facts that are known that may help in trying to understand the fact you mentioned. In 1842, twelve years after the Book of Mormon was published, the leaders in Nauvoo were presented with a newly published book, written by John Lloyd Stephens called Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (London: John Murray, 1841). Stephens, who died ten years later, was an American explorer, writer, and diplomat. He was a pivotal figure in the rediscovery of Maya civilization throughout Middle America (Mesoamerica) and in the planning of the Panama railroad.
 John Lloyd Stephens, American traveler and archaeologist whose exploration of Maya ruins in Central America and Mexico generated the archaeology of Middle America
    Stephens was born in New Jersey, a month before Joseph Smith, and among many other adventures, he read with interest early accounts of ruined cities of Mesoamerica by such writers as Alexander von Humboldt and Juan Galindo. In 1839, President Martin Van Buren commissioned Stephens as Special Ambassador to Central America, and while there, the government of the Federal Republic of Central America fell apart in civil war. His book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán gives a vivid description of some of those events which Stephens witnessed.
    Along with his traveling companion, Frederick Catherwood, Stephens came across Maya ruins at Copán, having landed in British Honduras (now Belize), and was astonished at their findings and spent a couple weeks mapping the site. They surmised that this must have been built by some long forgotten people as they couldn't imagine the native Mayans as having lived in the city. Stephens was actually able to buy the city of Copán for a sum of $50 and had dreams of floating it down the river and into museums in The United States. They went on to Palenque, Uxmal, visiting a total of 44 sites overall. Stephens and Catherwood reached Palenque in April 1840 and left in early June. They documented the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Foliated Cross (all names he gave them).  Of even greater importance, their book provided descriptions of several ancient Maya sites, along with illustrations by Catherwood. These were greatly superior in both amount and accuracy of depiction to the small amount of information on ancient Mesoamerica previously published. He also traveled to the Yucatan, writing more books for the New York Review and Graham’s Magazine, of which Edgar Allen Poe was the Editor in 1841.
The types of pictures Stephens and Catherwood brought back to the U.S., showing ruins never-before-known to the average person of an ancient civilization that seemed to match the Nephites
    His book, Incidents of Travel, found its way into the hands of Joseph Smith, who read it with interest, which spurred a new interpretation of Book of Mormon geography. The work of the dramatic discovery of great ruins in Central America was enthusiastically reviewed in the Times and Seasons, Navuoo’s newspaper (15 September 1842, pp 914-915, 921-922). History did not record who the author of the review was, but John Taylor was the managing editor of the paper at the time, and Joseph Smith had declared six months earlier regarding the paper that “I alone stand responsible for it” (“Editorial to Subscribers,” Times and Seasons 3, 15 March 1842, p710). The article included, “The Nephites lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America…the city of Zarahemla stood upon this land.?” ("Zarahemla," Times and Seasons 3, 1 October 1842, p 927). It was Elder John A. Widtsoe who observed, "The interesting fact…is that the Prophet Joseph Smith at this time was editor…and had announced his full editorial responsibility for the paper. This seems to give the…article an authority it might not otherwise possess" (Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1951, 3:96).
    Having said all of that, we should keep in mind that at the time (1842) in Nauvoo and almost all of the United States, the ruins in Mesoamerica were basically unknown, and the ruins in Andean South America totally unknown. The early leaders and members of the Church were astounded to see the ruins of Central America that Stephens and Catherwood photographed and wrote about, and it seemed like a godsend of information about the very people (Nephihtes) the member had been reading about in the Book of Mormon. It would have been interesting to see what Joseph Smith might have said had he learned of the ruins in South America during his lifetime; however, that information was not known in America until just before 1900.
    Comment #2: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, the Nephites in Mesoamerica merely oriented to the northwest as we orient to the north. After all, they never had the compass, or knew anything about such cardinal directions” Walter B.
    Response: The Nephites had the Liahona, called a compass. Nephi, himself, knew the cardinal, and all 32-points of the compass as shown in his description of the colony's travel beside the Red Sea before turning “nearly eastward.” But even forgetting that, they did not orient to northwest as we do to north. That is a comment made by Brant A.Gardner in his article “The Problem of Directions in the Book of Moromon,” regarding the belief of Mesoamerican Theorists that the Nephites’ Land of Promise was in Mesoamerica. The problem with this “cover story” Mesoamericanists, beginning with John L. Sorenson, have been spreading, is their claim that Mesoamerica is oriented only 45º off center of north, which keeps it (barely) in the “northwest” category. The fact of the matter is that Mesoamerica is oriented about 90º of center of north.
 John L. Sorenson’s Mesoamerican Land of Promise. If one looks directly at the area of his narrow neck of land, the narrowest point in the center of the image, in going to the left you move due west, going to the right, you move due east, which is 100º off center of north
    The one thing you have to keep in mind is that the Nephites did not have aerial photography, satellite images, or moder-style map makers, etc. They could not get far enough above their land to recognize its contour (or lack thereof), nor far enough on foot, even from the low hills in the areas, ascertain that there was a slight indentation in the northern coast along the Bahia de Compeche (Compeche Bay) in the Gulf, and though more pronounced, still not really able to recognize on foot that there was an indenture along the Golfo de Tehuantapec (Tehuantapec Gulf) of the Pacific Ocean. Such a minor incline over a 230 miles on the north coast, and 250 miles on the south coast, would not give anyone the idea that either coast indented—after all, they could not see both coasts to know that there was a mutual indentation at what is called the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. They did not have GPS, sextants, nor even binoculars to know there was a so-called narrowing at this Isthmus. 
    The most they would be able to ascertain was that the south coast beyond this isthmus has an 85-mile unbroken broken coastline at what is now called the Laguna Mar Muerto (Dead Lagoon) which would be extremely difficult to see past to know that the coast beyond rounded outward at Salina Cruz in a gradual slope toward Puerto Angel (Angel Point) 90 miles away. But even if they could see that, it would look like the coast, after a distance of 260 miles (from Puerto San Jose (St. Joseph Point) just gradually curved out into the Pacific. To look at a modern map with the technical understanding of our day and claim the Nephites would have seen this area as an Ithmus, let alone a narrow neck of land, is not only unscholarly, it is just plain irresponsibled!

The coastal line along the Dead Lagoon which extends for 85 miles. It is impossible to note that there is any curve or narrowing of this coast

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