Monday, May 12, 2014

A Look at a Mesoamericanist Rebuttal – Part IV

We continue 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. In the last post, we were answering the comment: 
    “… 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.”
    Since there is no Isthmus anywhere in Israel, and certainly not along Lehi’s trek to Bountiful, one might wonder where the Nephites learned of an isthmus. However, setting that aside, we concluded the last post with photos from NASA of a space shot of Mesoamerica, and also photos of shorelines, suggesting the improbability of the Nephites, if they had occupied Mesoamerica, of knowing that Tehuantepec was an isthmus.
    In concluding that thought, we should remember that it is easy for us today, with extensive maps, GPS, google maps, satellite photos and aerial views to understand coastlines, but in B.C. times, there is no way anyone would know there was a narrow neck of land unless it was so narrow, it was obvious to them either in a view from a height, or in walking across it with measurement in mind. Let us not be so uninformed as to think that the ancients had the kind of tools we have today for such measuring of land and coasts.
Here are two coastline photos providing the kind of view a Nephite would have had of their coast. The question is, are we looking at an inlet, gulf, isthmus, or just a simple coastline?
    As for the Nephites knowing what an isthmus was, how would we arrive at that conclusion? Except for Nephi, Sam, and Zoram, no Nephite had ever lived anywhere but in the Land of Promise (except for Jacob and Joseph, whose early life was of a sand desert and Bountiful). There were no history or Atlas books to describe such a land area, and up until at least the time of Mosiah, there were obviously no maps, for people got lost trying to find lands other than their own (Mosiah 7:4; 8:8; 21:25; 22:16; 23:30).
    To understand that a “narrow neck” exists, one must be able to compare one shoreline with the other, generally through observation or measurement. In the case of Mesoamerica, to measure a land width of approximately 144 miles (distance according to the Mexican government), and then measure again some distance in either direction. However, with Mesoamerica, the change of width is so general, that it would be very difficult even with measuring to tell it was narrower--certainly not enough to call it a "neck."
Top: Even from an aerial view, one cannot tell if this shoreline cuts in to a narrower point of land, widens, or just runs straight; Bottom: To understand that a narrow neck exists, it needs to be seen, or a view of both oceans almost simultaneously needs to exist
    In addition, the word isthmus (defined originally as “narrow strip of land,” and today as “a narrow strip of land connecting two larger masses of land and has water on both sides”) came into our language in 1545 A.D., from the Latin isthmus, taken from Ancient Greek isthmós, meaning neck, with the same cognate (linguistic derivation) as Old Norse eiö. Considered to be from eimi (to go) and the suffix -thmo (step, movement).
    Despite your unresearched and flippant comment about the Nephites knowing what an isthmus was, they obviously did not have much experience with such a land area, for they did not even have a word for it. From Joseph Smith’s translation, it would appear that Mormon, Ether/Moroni, and perhaps others simply called it a “small” or “narrow” neck of land. The word “isthmus” neither appears in the description or naming of the area between the Land Northward and the Land Southward, and is only used, by the way, in the writings and thinking of Mesoamericanists—no doubt, from the term Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
    John R: “And contrary to the article above, [the narrow neck] did not have to run east to west, as author Del DowDell asserts.
Response: It is not what I assert, but what the scriptures state. This narrow neck did not run east and west. It ran north and south in length, stretching from the Land Southward to the Land Northward and was the only land area between these two major land masses ("the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southwar" Alma 23:32). The width of the narrow neck (crossing in a day-and-a-half) obviously would have had to run east and west since both the width and length cannot run in the same direction.
    The Land of Nephi ran from the East Sea to the West Sea (Alma 22:27), north of that was a narrow strip of wilderness, also running from the East Sea to the West Sea (Alma 22:27). North of this wilderness were all the lands that the Nephites controlled (Alma 22:29), with Zarahemla north of the narrow strip of wilderness and the Land of Bountiful to the north of Zarahemla (Alma 22:29). To the north of Bountiful was the Land of Desolation (Alma 22:30, 31), and separating the Land of Desolation (in the Land Northward) and the Land of Bountiful (in the Land Southward), was “a small neck of land” (Alma 22:32).
    Now this neck of land, which obviously ran north and south, from the Land Southward to the Land Northward, was the width of a day-and-a-half journey for a Nephite from the “east to the west sea” (Alma 22:32).
    Since the “isthmus” as you want to call it ran north and south between the two lands, and an isthmus has water on two of its sides, this means this narrow width had the East Sea to the east and the West Sea to the west, and was narrow enough to be crossed in a day-and-a-half by a Nephite—a distance we have numerous times in these posts shown to be somewhere between about 25 and 30 miles.
    I don’t assert this. Mormon tells us all this. I merely repeat it, hopefully for clarification where needed for those who do not seem to understand Mormon's simple descriptions.
    John R: “Reading the text more carefully, we see no direction is stipulated at all ‘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).”
Response: While we have Mormon’s words in our scriptural record today separated by verses, they were not separated in his writing, nor in Joseph Smith’s original translation. They were simply contained on this subject in one long statement. They are now in verse form to make it easier to read, easier to remember, and easier to later quote or reference. Consequently, Mormon does not need to state a direction at this point, he has just spent over five verses before this statement telling us those directions.
    After all, if something (Desolation/Land Northward) is on the north, and something (Bountiful/Land Southward) is on the south, then something in between runs north and south, connecting these two places. This is not rocket science, merely the clear, logical, and only conclusion from Mormon’s stated facts.
    In addition, if something connects a land to the north and a land to the south, with a sea on both sides, then logically the seas must be to the east and west. This is what Mormon tells us. And if this is truly an isthmus, which you proclaim (a narrow neck of land with two major land masses, and seas to either side is the description of an isthmus), then these two seas must be on either side of this isthmus or narrow neck. And if it is indeed small and narrow, as Mormon and Ether/Moroni says it is, then these seas must be fairly close to each other, otherwise, we would not have a “narrow neck of land” between them.
    John R: “Notice the prophet doesn’t say “from the east sea to the west sea,” but “from the east to the west sea.”
    Response: First, it might be of interest to know that in the original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, where no paragraph, verses, or punctuation was included in the translation, the wordage was written "from the East to the West sea" with both directional words capitalized, which appears to suggest that both East and West modified "sea". This is also the same situation in the following statement "And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful even from the East unto the West sea" where it would again appear that both the words East and West modified "sea". 
    Second, in this single statement (which we have separated into six verses today), to add “from the east sea to the west sea” would be rather redundant. As an example, the original statement was written (without punctuation): "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 and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla was nearly surrounded by water there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward" (1830 edition of Book of Mormon). For more information on this, see an earlier post on this subject. 
(See the next post, “A Look at a Mesoamericanist Rebuttal – Part V,” 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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