Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Look at a Mesoamericanist Rebuttal – Part V

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: 
    John R: “DowDell apparently thinks this means a straight, horizontal line from one sea to the other, and this is not what the text states.”
    Response: Really? What does the text state? Mormon tells us the Land Northward and the Land Southward were separated by a small neck of land (Alma 22:32), which he later calls “narrow” (Alma 63:5). The width of this land is east and west, the length is north and south according to Mormon’s statements (Alma 63:5; Mormon 2:29).
It is hard to imagine any line across the width of this area that is not basically horizontal, since it goes from the “east to the west.” And since you are pointing out wordage, note that Mormon does not say eastward or westward, but east and west! (Alma 50:34). That pretty much sounds like a horizontal line to me. In fact, in the same statement, Mormon uses the term “on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation” (Alma 22:32, italics mine).
    John R: “He also strongly asserts the term “for a Nephite” means an ordinary, run of the mill Nephite. But how does he know this? Is this Nephite a male or female? And what age? Is the Nephite carrying anything or is he a military courier? We don’t know. It’s like saying it’s a two-hour trip for an American. What would that mean?”
    Response: OK, let see what Mormon meant. Why was he telling us this? What distance did he want us to know? Was he trying to confuse us? Was he wanting to be ambiguous? If you were Mormon, what distance measurement would you choose? A mile? A kilometer? Yard? Ell? Klick? Cable? League? Kellicam? Cubit? Furlong? Span? Vara? Digit? Line? Verst? Chain? Pole?--all of which are measurements.
    First of all, let’s remember he was describing the land of the Lamanites, and the territory the Nephites controlled. He chooses to describe a unique place in that territory—a small neck of land. He then gives us a distance across it so we would know how narrow it was—because this point was a very strategic position mentioned several times later by Mormon to describe choke points in stopping defector and Lamanite movement into the Land Northward, which would, had their enemy achieved such movement, would have put an enemy on both sides of the Nephite nation. Since he later tells us of attempted movement through this narrow neck, its width would be of some importance to us.
    Consequently, he tries to tell us its size (width). He uses small and narrow, but those are not specific, so he uses the only measurement he can that in his mind would be fairly constant down through the ages for his future reader—the distance a person could walk in a specific time. If this is not a normal person, then the example he gives would be pointless.
    Now he could have used terms such as Lamanite, soldier (warrior), runner, rider (horseman), king, or slave, etc. However, he chose using the term Nephite. Why would he do that? What was his purpose? Certainly the Nephites had a term for what we would call a “mile,” or a standard distance of some length.  The ancient Hebrews used etzba (thumb), tefach or palm, zeret or span, arnah or cubit, ris, ell, mil or millin, parasa (paras’ot), parasang. In Hebrew measurement, the “distance covered by an average man in a day’s walk is 10 paras’ot or between 24 and 28 miles, which means a day and a half would be about 36 to 42 miles over an even, unbroken surface in normal conditions).
The problem Mormon faced was trying to choose a measurement word or term that would be understood by his future reader, who he knew would be in some distant period of time. He logically, and masterfully, chose an average man walking at an average pace over the topography of the narrow neck’s width. Evidently, from experience he knew that a Nephite could make that walk in a day and a half. Thus, his simple and easily understood measurement translated to our day in what an average man could do. Not an athlete, marathon runner, Apache, soldier, and certainly not a woman, for Hebrews anciently did not write about or discuss women in such manner.
    It would be a common man so a future reader could compare a common man of his day and get a close-enough understanding of the width of this narrow neck of land. Again, this is not rocket science. It is simply understanding what Mormon is telling us and why, which in this case, is quite simple—he is telling us the simple width of land he is describing in terms consistent in his day and ours.
    What would you say? The width of that piece of land is: “thirty leagues across,” or “twenty-two klicks,” or more commonly, “twenty-five-and-a-half miles in width.”

The problem lies in using simple terms, such as “mile,” which is not so simply understood—as an example, in Rome, a mile meant one thousand paces, and in Britain it was 8 furlongs, both measuring to 5,000 feet; the Arabic mile was 6,315 feet; Scottish mile was 5938 feet; Irish mile was 6,720 feet; Italian mile was 4,877 feet; Persian mile was 4921 feet; Turkish mile was 6,079 feet; Danish (German and Prussia) mile was 24,712 feet; French mile was 12,788 feet; Flanders mile was 12,401 feet; Spain mile was 18,274 feet; Guatemalan mile was 13,123 feet; Mexican mile was 13,746 feet; Swiss mile was 15,744 feet; Hungarian mile was between 27,406 and 29,322 feet; Swedish mile was 36,000 feet; Norwegian mile was 37,066 feet; Portuguese mile was 6848 feet; Russian mile was 24,501,312 feet; and Croation mile varied from 24,000 feet to 36,515 feet. Obviously, using a "mile" down through history would not have been very effective.
How far did you say?
    John R: “But how does [DowDell] know this? Is this Nephite [Alma 22:32] a male or female?”
    Response: As mentioned earlier, it would certainly not be a female, because of the Hebrew tendency not to mention women, especially in writing. In fact, in the entire Book of Mormon, only six women are mentioned by name: Sariah (wife of Lehi and righteous mother), Abish (converted Lamanite), Isabel (harlot who led away Corianton), Eve (Adam’s wife), Mary (mother of Jesus), and Sarah (Abraham’s wife)—only two were contemporary in Nephite times. Not even Nephi’s wife is named, though she performs two heroic acts in trying to save him from his murderous older brothers. Simply put, Women are rarely mentioned in Hebrew writing. However, even if it was a female, men and women walk at close to the same pace over a long distance, and even if the distance was a couple of miles difference, unlike a marathon runner, military courier, etc., you would still get a reasonably close idea of the width of the narrow neck of land. Bringing a female into the picture is merely a smoke-screen, attempting to confuse the issue.
    John R: [The Nephite journey across the narrow neck] It’s like saying it’s a two-hour trip for an American. What would that mean?”
    Response: In a time without cars, where the normal mode of transportation would be walking (say in George Washington’s time, etc.), it would mean that an average person could make a certain distance in two hours. If you are younger, you could make it a little faster, if you are older, you could make it a little slower. If you are running, you could make it twice as fast, and if you are on a horse, maybe four to six times as fast, etc. Using the term American would not be any different than using Canadian, Mexican, or Egyptian--all would walk out at about the same pace. 
    Again, this is not rocket science—Mormon is giving us a tool for measuring a distance he wants us to understand. Not precisely, but close enough so we can later understand why this “narrow neck” could be cut off from Morianton or Amalakiah taking an enemy force into the Land Northward that could then harass the Nephites from the north as well as the Lamanites from the south.
(See the next post, “A Look at a Mesoamericanist Rebuttal – Part VI,” 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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