Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Look at a Mesoamericanist Rebuttal – Part III

Continuing with John R’s January 2014 rebuttal of our March 1, 2011 article series on Mesoamerica, which did not come to our attention until now, we find him writing that : “…Joseph Smith specifically stated during the latter part of his life that Mesoamerica was where the Book of Mormon events took place.” 
    We answered that in part in the last post, but continuing on here:
We should keep in mind that Joseph Smith talked about Lehi landing on the Chilean coast, 30º south latitude; he also talked about Lehi landing south of the Isthmus of Darien (Panama); he also talked about the Nephites occupying Central America and what we call Mesoamerica; he also talked about Nephites in North America, as well as the white Lamanite Zelph and the prophet Onandagus.
    It is obviously disingenuous to claim that one statement is more important or more accurate than another, especially without going much deeper into the statement and the facts surrounding it. Nor can it be suggested that one of his statements is correct and all the others are incorrect simply because you like it better or it fits your way of thinking.
    Regarding something Joseph Smith said, we might want to also consider something else he said: “This morning I ... visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet;" but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such” (HC 5:265; Teachings p 278)
    An official statement of the Church in May 2007, states: “Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church.”
B. H. Roberts (left) in 1887 said, “Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible”
     In 1902, Joseph F. Smith said: "The theories, speculations, and opinions of men, however intelligent, ingenious, and plausible, are not necessarily doctrines of the Church or principles that God has commanded His servants to preach. No doctrine is a doctrine of this Church until it has been accepted as such by the Church, and not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority–the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints as a religious body. The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated until proper permission is given.”
In 1892 Elder Charles W. Penrose (left) wrote in the Millennial Star: "At the head of this Church stands a man who is a Prophet . . . we respect and venerate him; but we do not believe that his personal views or utterances are revelations from God." In 1912, he added, “We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.”
    There are numerous such statements made over the entire time the Church has been restored. We do not, no matter what some might say or think, as a church believe in the infallibility of any man. As Joseph Smith once said, “I never told you I was perfect -- but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught." Joseph also said that, when a certain group of brethren once asked him to give his opinion on a certain public question, he refused. Joseph told them he did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen; that of free speech. He said to them that when he ventured to give his private opinion on any subject of importance his words were often garbled and their meaning twisted and then given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him. ("LaFayette C. Lee, Notebook, LDS Church Archives).
    In fact, it is both irresponsible and ridiculous to rest an entire belief or theory on a single statement or two made by a person, especially one of speculation, such as where Lehi landed. As has been pointed out, Joseph Smith is credited with saying there were two or three different areas.
If you want to know where Lehi landed, or any other description of the Land of Promise, or the events therein, the only source is the scriptural record itself—written by men who were there at the time. Until such time as the Church is given a revelation on the matter, the scriptural record is the only source for any understanding of Lehi or Nephi and the events the latter wrote about, or the events written about by Mormon.
    In reality, Joseph Smith placed Lehi and later the Nephites in four specific areas: 1) 30º south latitude Chile (landing), 2) Just south of the Isthmus of Darien, 3) Mesoamerica (because of the ruins), and 4) North America, when talking a bout Zelph’s bones he found in Illinois.
    And the only way all statements could be correct is if Lehi landed in South America…
Lehi’s path across the Pacific, following the currents that would “drive a ship forth before the wind” with a landing in Chile where the winds and currents die down to a minimum nearing the Tropic of Capricorn at the 30º south latitude 
    …then later went north in Hagoth’s ships and landed in Central America and built the vast civilization found in Mesoamerica and southern Mexico (Maya and Aztec progenitors), and whose descendants migrated north over time into what is now the United States.
    John R: “Since much of Mesoamerica (including Mexico) is on the North American continent, and since the Nephites undoubtedly knew what an isthmus was and where the isthmus (of Tehuantepec) was located, they might very well think of it as a narrow neck.
    First, what is now North America was referred to, along with South America, as the single American Continent until around World War II, about 120 years after Moroni spoke to Joseph Smith that the Nephites lived on “this” continent (see earlier discussion). Secondly, before one starts talking about people in B.C. times knowing where the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was located, I would invite them to travel to the area along the Gulf of Mexico and walk the shores from the area of Laguna de la Redonda to Coatzacoalcos and say this is an inlet or narrowing of the shoreline based simply upon their view (it is a straight shore for sixty miles in one direction (west) and for another fifty miles in the other (east). In fact, all the way from Campeche to Coatzacoalcos, a distance of 346 miles, the shore is almost a straight line.
    Beyond Coatzacoalcos, the shoreline juts out toward La Perla del Golfo (“The Pearl of the Gulf), into the Bay of Campeche as though it is a peninsula. It would be impossible for anyone to know that this area is a narrowing of the land, let alone a narrow neck of land.
Such a coastline looks like a straight shore jutting out into a peninsula. It does not suggest to the earth-bound person without aerial photography or satellite maps, to be a narrow neck, or even a narrowing of the land—simply a sharp angle change in the shore. Remember, we are dealing with a people who did not have GPS or even advanced cartographers, merely a rudimentary understanding of the shores even if they sailed both coasts 
    After viewing the Gulf side, then go over to the Pacific side and stand at the mouth of the Rio Nahualate (about 30 miles east of Champerico, Guatemala), and look westward along the shore toward San Francisco del Mar (beyond Tonalá), which is a straight shoreline distance of about 240 miles, with Santa Cruz and beyond jutting out into the Pacific like a Peninsula.
    There is simply no way to know from ground level of the Nephite times that there was any narrowing of the land, or that the land in this Isthmus was narrower than the land elsewhere. It takes satellite or aerial views to know this, and charts drawn by mariners and cartographers who know of such business.
Top: As seen from space, the area of Mesoamerica is obviously narrower in the area of Tehuantepec (yellow arrow), however, the narrowing of this land is not really a “neck” between two larger land masses, but simply a narrowing of the land—something that is simply not observable from the ground or even hills or mountains (Photo taken from space by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer [MODIS] on NASA’s Terra satellite on May 2, 2002); Bottom: All you really see is a coastline and your perspective does not suggest whether the land goes in or out or straight, though it tends to look straight 
(See the next post, “A Look at a Mesoamericanist Rebuttal – Part IV,” for more on John R’s rebuttal of our six-part post on Narrow Neck of Land and the Fallacy of Mesoamerica’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec.)

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