Sunday, April 27, 2014

Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part VII

Continuing with Dan R. Hender’s article about the Lehi’s landing site at 30º south latitude and his belief that it is not correct and more of myth than truth. Following is the continuation regarding the paper about Lehi’s landing written in the hand of Frederick G.Williams discussed in the last post] 
    Hender: “On that paper where found notes pertaining to the doctrine and history of the Church. And there also was found the above quote. Elder Widtsoe points out that diligent search has failed to trace it to the Prophet.”
    Response: Interesting. I don’t know who wrote it or who didn’t. I do know that if Elder Faust or Elder Uchtdorf were to jot down a statement on a paper that had other important words about doctrine and Church history, that basically only Pres. Monson knew or was known to have discussed, one might think they were connected.
    Evidently, however, though Frederick G. Williams was both Joseph Smith’s personal scribe, and his second counselor in the First Presidency, and as such around the prophet a great deal, Elder Widtsoe could find no connection between them on this matter.
A little background at this point might be of importance. In 1946, M. Wells Jakeman (far left) came to teach at Brigham Young University and founded the department of archaeology (now anthropology), encouraged by Elder John A. Widtsoe (left) of the Council of the Twelve. Jakeman believed thoroughly in a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon Land of Promise and taught it openly until his retirement in 1976, influencing a large number of BYU students and faculty and made consideration of the Mesoamerican hypothesis acceptable—including LDS archaeologists Ross T. Christensen and John L. Sorenson, each of whom later became chairman of the same BYU department and also taught the Mesoamerican Theory, along with V. Garth Norman, Gareth W. Lowe, and Bruce W. Warren, all of whom taught in that department.
    Elder Widtsoe, while acknowledging that Joseph Smith “did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred,” leaned toward the Mesoamerican view (John A. Widtsoe, “Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era 53/7, July 1950, pp 547, 596-7).
Coquimbo Bay and La Serena along the 30º south latitude on the west Chilean coast of South America. It is one of only three or four such possible landing sites along the entire Chilean coast, a fact that would have been unknown in New England in 1830s
    But whether Elder Widstoe was right or not in his assessment of the statement, it does not change the caveat outlined above. How did anyone of these men know about the 30º South Latitude in 1840s America? All of the information showing such a connection and match to the scriptural record did not appear in print or understanding until the following century, and some of these areas not until the latter part of the 20th century.
    Hender: “The Church Historian obtained the paper as a gift from Ezra G. Williams, the son of Frederick G. Williams in 1864, twenty years after Joseph's death.”
    Response: Note: Williams written paper can be found in Frederick G. Williams III, Did Lehi Land in Chile? p. 1. LDS Archives, MSD 3408 fd 4 v, S. L. C., Utah). It was a sheet of paper that had been separated into four sections by a line drawing. The top section contained a copy of the revelation pertinent to John, the second had "Questions in English and Answers in Hebrew," and the third section had writings titled "Characters on the Book of Mormon." The Lehi statement was found at the bottom of the page in the fourth section.
    It is pointed out by critics of the Chilean landing site that this sheet of paper containing the reference to John the Beloved was clearly labeled "A Revelation concerning John the beloved," yet the section of paper containing the Lehi’s travel statement had no title or header calling it a revelation or anything else. However, the issue should not be whether or not it was a revelation, but that it was suggested and written in the 1830s at all!
    Along this line, one of the most bizarre statements made is that of Phyllis Olive in her book, The Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, which states: “Even though no information about the physical geology of Lehi’s landing site is ever given in the scriptures, those who were following the journey of Lehi eastward from the Arabian Peninsula may have still found the Chilean landing site plausible.”
    One might want to ask “how plausible?” 
Top: A visual direct route to South America; Bottom: A visual route island-hopping to Central America
    A glance at any map would have shown most people in the 19th century that a direct route to South America would have been through Indonesia and the South Pacific islands for a landing around Ecuador. Chile is visually not along any direct route and would hardly be “plausible” looking at a world map, let along even considered. Ecuador or maybe Peru would be within that direct route; and a visual route to Central America might even have been considered. The fact that winds and currents would not have allowed any of these routes would not have been known in the 1830s and many of which were not even discovered until Admiral Halsey sent his Task Force 38 into the Philippine Sea during World War II.
    The point is, no one would have considered a 40º-50º southern ocean current or path taking Lehi to Chile—it would have been out of the question. Only modern knowledge of the Prevailing Westerlies wind and the strong West Wind Drift current of an area named an ocean only in the 20th century would suggest to anyone of such a voyage. Olive, like so many others, used 20th century knowledge to suggest a route for an 19th century written document.
The idea of a southeast sailing through the Indian Ocean and then crossing the Pacific and landing in Chile would not have been a logical idea looking at a map, since no one would have known of this southern current and would think this would be too close to Antarctica
    Finally, B. H. Roberts dismissed the writing with the comment: “Now, if no more evidence can be found to establish this passage in Richards and Little’s Compendium as a ‘Revelation to Joseph the Seer,’ than the fact that it is found in the hand writing of Frederick G. Williams, and on the same sheet of paper with the body of the revelation about John, the evidence of its being a ‘revelation to Joseph, the Seer,’ rests on a very unsatisfactory basis (John Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, p. 386, quoting B. H. Roberts, NewWitness for God, Vol. II. Deseret News; Salt Lake City, 1909 pp. 501-502.)
    John Sorenson added, “There was no reference to authorship or headers of any kind in this section. Therefore, no basis for it being considered a revelation to Joseph could ever be justified.”
    So, because they could dismiss the statement as not being a revelation, they dismissed the statement out of hand. Yet, once again, the importance of the statement in the 1830s is not whether it was a revelation, but that someone made it at all—a subject that would have been inconceivable to just about everyone in the eastern United States at the time. Discussing a place for Lehi’s landing that not until the late 20th century could be verified on every single point of description given in the scriptural record is a matter quite remarkable. It may seem quite natural to think this in our day, but in the 19th century, no one even knew about these winds, currents, and the area of Coquimbo and La Serena and how they match so perfectly with Lehi’s landing site.
(See the next post, “Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part VIII,” for more on Lehi’s landing site and whether or not it was in Chile)

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