Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Still Another Theorist’s View of the Narrow Neck

While we are on the theme of the narrow neck of land and how some theorists have completely misunderstood and even misled others into believing views inconsistent with the scriptural record, we have received additional comments, questions, and examples of still other views. Take for instance, the view of Joseph Allen: 
   “From what we know of the Maya, we can now deduce that a day’s travel is approximately 10 miles and that it would make the narrow neck about 15 miles wide.” 
It would seem that this is a debate that will go on forever, since whenever someone determines a place they believe is the narrow neck of land, they adjust their travel time to fit that location.
Though Allen is a Mesoamericanist, he departs from John L. Sorenson’s view (and many others) that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the narrow neck, and chooses an area just inland from the coast where highway 200 (Tapachula-Juchitán de Zaragoza) now runs past Tres Picos. About two miles east of there is an ancient archaeological site called La Perseverancia in Chiapas, Mexico.
La Perseverancia is merely a test pit dug by the NWAF that, according to them, has produced Late Preclassic material dating to about 100 BC. It was a large ceremonial and population center, located northward from present-day Pijijiapán between the Rio Jesus and the Finca Perseverancia. It is said to have flourished from about 400 B.C. to about 200 A.D., and had strong ties with the Olmec, and is claimed to be similar in many ways to Izapa and Takalik Abaj, but without any known stone sculpture. Allen claims that from Perseverancia northwest between the coast and the mountains to Paredón was the supposed “fortification line that made up the ‘day and a half journey’ in the Book of Mormon.” ("How far was 'a day-and-a-half's' journey for a Nephite?" Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. 1/1, Spring 1998, p 7).
    Now the maps above show the Mesoamerican Land of Promise, with their Land Northward to the west of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and their Land Southward to the east, with Allen’s 1 ½ day fortified line. Obviously, while this might defend against a force coming west along the southern coastal area, there is still some 140 miles of terrain to the Gulf of Mexico, much of it passable from the Land Southward into the Land Northward, therefore disqualifying it as the defensive line mentioned in Helaman 4:7, and certainly does not match the narrow neck area mentioned in Alma 22:32. The bottom image is the line between the ancient ruins of Perseverancia and Paredón, a distance of 15 miles. In Allen’s writing, there is simply no relationship to the scriptural record and Allen’s placement of his narrow neck or day-and-a-half journey area Mormon writes in Alma 22, nor does it qualify for Helaman’s day journey line of defense, which ran from the West Sea to the east (Helaman 4:7).
Top: Allen's map showing (yellow arrow) invading movement from the south along the coastal corridor, which his defensive line (green line) could stop because of the parallel run of the mountain range (green arrow) limiting the distance; Bottom: On a larger map of the same area, the same yellow and green arrows show the same defensive line and mountain range; however, when showing the entire isthmus area, there are easy approaches (white arrows) for an invading force to gain access to the Land Northward, which Allen's defensive line cannot stop
Allen's map, showing this easy access area (Yellow Arrow, gold circle) into the Land Northward filled with cities, villages, and development--an obvious lowland area where travel of an invading force from the Land Southward would have easy access, defeating the purpose of Allen's defensive line along the western coastal corridor 
Allen also notes that Mormon’s description states that "it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation [and] since it was "only," we may assume that it was not a huge distance.” From there, Allen jumps to a distance of 15 miles to match his La Perseverancia to Paredón span. However, if you take a day’s journey for a Nephite to cover 15 miles, he is only walking at a 1.25 mile-per-hour pace for 12 hours. Since this is mentioned in connection with a military situation (the fortified line), we may be looking at something closer to 20 to 20 miles—1.6 to 2 miles per hour, though a general individual we have discussed in other posts as traveling about 1.4 miles per hour. Still, 15 miles seems a little short for a day’s journey for a Nephite.
    Yet, the real problem lies in Allen mixing up his scriptures and evidently assuming no one is going to notice. The day-and-a-half journey Mormon mentioned in connection to the narrow neck of land was a measurement of its width (Alma 22:32), while the fortified line mentioned in Helaman had to do with a line of defense (Helaman 4:7). This is one of the reasons we continually place the scriptural reference within our writing so one can check up on our content throughout the reading, while most Mesoamericanists often neglect to provide references, and when they do, they are infrequent, and actually, sometimes wrong. Anyone reading any other person’s understanding of the Book of Mormon should follow along with the scriptural record and double-check everything a person writes. Only in that way can one really know if he is being misled, or reading accurate information. And never, never, take someone’s reference information or blatant statements at face value—if they do not cite a reference, look it up yourself. With the scriptures digitized today, and the internet so available to everyone, there is simply no reason to be a lazy reader.
    Allen also writes that “Both from a Mesoamerican perspective and a Book of Mormon view, we know that major division lines consisted of high mountain peaks.” However, there simply is no way to justify this with the scriptural record. Today we look at borders or division lines from strictly a political view, i.e., we have city, county, state, and national borders. In modern times, boundaries often were a line of degrees; but in the past, and especially anciently, boundaries, where they existed at all, were typically rivers, canyons, gorges, deserts or other transportation obstacle, which could have included high mountains, but not chiefly. If Allen can make a case for mountain peaks in ancient Mesoamerican, fine—but that does not mean that the Land of Promise was so divided or bordered. Very anciently, where there was not a lot of movement of people, boundaries were hills surrounding a valley, where the Land of— was the valley cup and the next Land of— was the next valley, etc. It was not often anciently that a mountain peak divided lands, since people did not climb those peaks, or settle up to those peaks, such a boundary would have been meaningless. Today, a mountain peak may be chosen, as he shows in Mesoamerica, but that is merely for convenience and map drawing, etc. Few governments are concerned about land along a high mountain peak, unless there is something on that mountain they want.
    Allen goes on to talk about a wall built at Paredón (big wall) from the sea eastward to the mountains that sealed off that coastal corridor; however, that distance is about 12 miles—they would have been more successful, if he intends this to be a Nephite defense position, to have built it about 13 miles eastward at La Polca where the width between the sea (La Joya, the jewel) and mountains, is only about four miles. However, because of the ancient ruins of Paredón, he chooses to show that location, but it is less of a defensive line than one would have been at La Polca, had this been Nephite lands and Moroni was building a defensive wall to cut off or stop the advancing Lamanites. Again, though, a Nephite defensive position as described in Helaman 4:7 which stopped the Lamanites from advancing further northward, and then allowed the Nephites to push southward and drive the Lamanites out of their lands does not match the situation Allen describes at Paredón since this was simply a coastal corridor, and there were numerous other approaches through this area, especially on the other half of the land, which was more level and quite wide, some 60 miles at its narrowest.
    Once again, a Theorist is trying to make something fit their model, and in so doing, either misunderstands or tries to stretch the scriptural record to cover their idea. But a 15-mile defensive line running in the same direction as the Land of Promise is not a defensive line across the movement of advancing Lamanite forces.

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