Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Was the Shape and Size of Mormon's Small Neck of Land? – Part I

Another look at Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) website tells us that their interpretation of Alma 22 is far from accurate. However, in an introduction they write an interesting precedent for understanding the Book of Mormon, which relates back to the last post regarding Hender’s two Bountifuls. 
   BMAF writes: Why is redundancy in geographic reference association so important? Because redundancy eliminates confusion…”
It is interesting when we apply this very accurate statement to Hender’s point in the previous posts about where Lehi landed. In doing so, we find that an obscure comment by Neal A. Maxwell in a Conference talk (“Lessons from Laman and Lemuel,” Oct 1999) regarding Laman and Lemuel unwilling or unable to rise to the level of their birthright in both the Old World Bountiful and also in the Land of Promise, which, as a subject connector, Elder Maxwell also called Bountiful (“From Bountiful to Bountiful”), to show that in both worlds, Laman and Lemuel “became rebels instead of leaders.” Hender took this small comment about Lehi landing in Bountiful and built an entire concept around it that Lehi landed in the northern part of the Land Southward, in what became later known as Bountiful, then traveled south to the area of what became known as the Land of Nephi. As BMAF concludes, “one single reference should never be used to establish a critical correlation..” But from there, they go off point and state: “Take the idea of an isthmus, for instance. Only one single reference in the book’s text, Alma 22:32, can be interpreted as an isthmus explanation yet numerous current and historic geographies of the Book of Mormon pivot around this concept.”
    It is true that Mesoamericanists’ models of the Land of Promise pivot around this area called the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; however, the term “isthmus” is never used in the scriptural record, though Joseph Smith would have been familiar with that word. The problem is, a narrow neck of land can be called an isthmus in our present language; however, in 370 A.D., the term would not have been known and, perhaps, “small neck” translates to the same thing—but this is simply not known to us. The point is, however, that when we start using words that are not in the scriptural record to describe a different term used, we run into difficulty. And the only reason that Mesoamericanists use Isthmus is because they want to associated their so-called narrow neck to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is neither narrow nor small as Mormon writes.
“…there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward“ (Alma 22:32);
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);
“…secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward” (Alma 52:9);
“…by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5);
“…even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward” (Mormon 2:29);
“…by the narrow pass which led into the land southward” (Mormon 3:5);
“…by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20)
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec on this NASA satellite photo is barely discernable—one can only imagine how anyone in Nephite times would have considered it a “narrow neck” or “small neck” of land
   This illustrates the problem when someone inserts a word to replace another explanation. Once calling the narrow neck an Isthmus, it then allows the giant leap to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (which, of course, is called an isthmus—but certainly no one would ever relate the terms “small neck” or “narrow neck” to it), and having done so, the other correlating statements no longer apply, since a narrow pass or passage through Tehuantepec, 144 miles by foot across, simply could not be defensible and allow someone to cut off another group trying to get through to the north. This then leads others to think of the narrow pass and narrow passage as separate and disconnected locations, even though all of them relate to the single factor of connecting the Land Southward to the Land Northward, which Mormon also describes the former as nearly surrounded by water except for this small neck of land (Alma 22:32)—which agrees with Jacob’s description in 2 Nephi 10:20) and shows that it was the only land connection between these two large land masses of the Land of Promise.
    Again, BMAF goes far afield when they add, “If a variety of similar reinforcing references concerning an isthmus should actually exist, than everyone writing their geographies around this core concept would be standing on bedrock. Since there is no redundancy, these writers are standing on sand when they rely on the term “isthmus” as a correct interpretation of Alma 22:32.”
    In the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, Webster defines isthmus as: “A neck or narrow slip of land by which two continents are connected, or why which a peninsula is united to the mainland…the word is applied to land of considerable extent, between seas, as the isthmus of Darien, which connects North and South America.” 
    As one can see, the term in Joseph Smith’s time referred to as an extensive amount of land. Today’s definition, on the other hand, is more aligned with Mormon’s usage and is defined as: “A narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land,” which is exactly what Mormon wrote.
However, the important thing here is Webster’s 1828 definition from Joseph Smith’s time. But setting that aside, we can take the more modern definition and point out that the key word here is “narrow.” And to make sure we understand how narrow this small, narrow neck was, Mormon adds: “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” (Alma 22:32)—a day and a half journey. This is not for a Lamanite, for some special individual, record-breaking run, world-setting pace, Book of Guiness rarity, marathon runner, or some remarkable individual or group, but a typical Nephite, or in our day, a typical man. 
    So we have several references to a small, narrow neck of land that separates the Land Northward from the Land Southward, where the sea encroaches on either side, perhaps like a bay or some type of inlet and “divides the land,” where a narrow pass or passage extends through the land providing movement between the two major land divisions. There are at least seven references to this location, of which, in 1829, the word Isthmus would not apply.                                                 
    Consequently, from all of this, we find that Mormon’s narrow neck was a strip of land, perhaps 20-30 miles long (north to south) and 25-30 miles wide (east to west). While we do not have a measurement or comment from Mormon to its length, he informs us that overall it was “small” (Alma 22:32), and the width was “narrow” enough for a man to cover in a day and a half, which makes that distance about 25-30 miles, and to make it "small" the length would probably be a similar distance.
(See the next post, “What Was the Shape and Size of Mormon's Small Neck of Land? – Part II,” for more information on this narrow neck of land that separated the Land Northward from the Land Southward “where the sea divides the land.")

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