Sunday, June 8, 2014

Missing the Point in Locating the Land of Promise – Part I

Land of Promise Theorists seem to miss the point in trying to locate an area where Lehi landed and the Jaredite and Nephite nations existed. For some reason, they look at maps and try to locate an area that is a Peninsula, has two or three seas around it, and has something that they think will pass for a narrow neck of land. Once they locate such a place, they proclaim it the location of Lehi’s landing and name it the Land of Promise. They then set about trying to prove it with rhetoric sometimes based upon the scriptural record, and sometime based upon their wishful thinking, and sometimes based upon a statement a Church leader once made.
The fact of the matter is, as has been written about here in these posts for the past four years, is that the only—and we mean only—criteria for locating the Land of Promise is that it must match all—and we mean all—of the descriptions written about in the scriptural record first, and foremost. Other criteria can be used—but only as backup and support for the descriptions Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Ether (through Moroni), wrote about and recorded.
    As simple and logical as that sounds, it is amazing how many Theorists, some well credentialed in academia, pay little attention to anything but their own very biased pet theory. And if the scriptural description does not match it, they try desperately, and sometimes quite involved, complicated and always convoluted, to make it fit. The most bizarre is that of John L. Sorenson and his claim that the Nephites, and thus those who recorded the scriptural record, did not understand north, south, east and west in the same manner as we do today. Thus enabling him to use Mesoamerica, a basic east-west land mass as the Land of Promise, which Mormon described many times as a north-south land.
Another interesting theory is that the Land of Promise was a peninsula, i.e., “a piece of land almost surrounded by water projecting out into a body of water. This brings to mind Florida, Baja California, or the area of Boston, Massachusetts. While this seems to be the opinion of many Theorists, Jacob describes the Land of Promise quite differently: “we have been driven out of the land of our inheritance; but we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea”  (2 Nephi 10:20).
    Now, an “isle” is a word in Joseph Smith’s time that was used as we use “island” today. In fact, Noah Webster, in his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, tells us that “island” in his day “is an absurd compound of isle and land, that is, land-in-water land, or ieland-land. There is no such legitimate word in English.“ The word then used was “isle,” which is “A tract of land surrounded by water, or a detached portion of land embosomed in the ocean.”
To support Jacob’s statement, Helaman added, “that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Helaman 3:8). An isle (island) of course is surrounded by water (shown in the example left), and anciently, that water (ocean) would have been described by directions rather than names. Thus, the sea to the north of the island was the Sea North; the sea to the south of the island was the Sea South; the sea to the east of the island was the Sea East, and the sea to the west of the island was the Sea West.
    It is also interesting and should be duly noted that the words “isthmus” and “peninsula,” both words known to Joseph Smith, were not used in the description—just “isle.”
    In any event, while those scriptural-based criteria—all of them—have been written about in this blog over the years, no other Theorist has tried to use all of the descriptions and information the above four writers of the record have given us.
    As an example, John L. Sorenson insists that the location of the Land of Promise “must have evidence of an ancient civilization during Nephite times that had a written record.” However, at the same time he ignores other hard criteria such as:
1. No evidence of iron and metal working (2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8; Mosiah 11:3,8; Helaman 6:9; Ether 10:23);
2) No two unknown animals (Ether 9:19); 
3) No two unknown grains (Mosiah 9:9);
4) No herb to cure deadly fever (Alma 46:40); 
5) No climate where seeds from Jerusalem (a Mediterranean Climate) would grow exceedingly and provide an abundant crop (1 Nephi 18:24; 2 Nephi 5:11);
6) No island as in Nephi’s time (2 Nephi 10:20);
7) No four seas (Helaman 3:8);
8) No sea that divides the land (Ether 10:20);
9) No forts and resorts (Alma 48:5,8; 49:13,18; 52:6).
Sorenson’s Mesoamerica, turning Mormon’s clearly written descriptions of a north-south (Alma 22:27-34) Land  of Promise on its side so it reflects Mesoamerica, an east-to-west land 
    Yet, despite this very unarguable fact of the difference in cardinal directions, Sorenson writes in a very self-serving manner regarding his theory of Mesoamerica: “In addition to the cultural criteria, only in that area can all of the geographical requirements be met” (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol 12, Iss 1). He has also written: “Ingenious and impassioned arguments have been mustered in support of other theorized areas (from the Great Lakes to Peru or encompassing the entire hemisphere) as the scene for Nephite history. But every proposed geographical setting other than Mesoamerica fails to meet the criteria established by the text of Mormon's account.”
    One can only wonder how his Mesoamerica can get around just those above nine scriptural descriptions without even a comment, yet still smugly proclaim his model the only one that fits all the criteria.
    He goes on to say, "For example, only in Mesoamerica are there lands of appropriate scale (that is, several hundreds, but not thousands, of miles in extent) that can appropriately be said to be "nearly surrounded by water" (Alma 22:32), as well as an isthmus bounded by Pacific and Atlantic waters." In reality, it is difficult to say that Mesoamerica can be described as nearly surrounded by water when it extends far to the south and far to the north and is never surrounded by water. An isthmus is never described as nearly surrounded by water, like a peninsula could be; but neither are surrounded by water as is an island.
    Another interesting comment by Sorenson is: “That the inhabitants of Book of Mormon lands knew and used formal writing systems and compiled numerous books (see Helaman 3:15) restricts the possible real-world location to Mesoamerica (central and southern Mexico and northern Central America). In Mesoamerica there were thousands of books in use at the time of the Spanish Conquest, but nowhere else in the Western Hemisphere is there convincing evidence for genuine writing being used on a consistent basis. In addition to writing, other social and cultural conditions required by the scriptural text to be present in the Nephite homeland area confirm Mesoamerica as the only plausible location of Book of Mormon lands.”
Yet, at the same time, he fails to mention that these works were far more modern than Nephite times, and written by people, if Mesoamerica was indeed the Land of Promise, that would have been Lamanite descendants. When the Spanish arrived, it is claimed the Maya had thousands of books, which the conquistadors burned or destroyed around 1523—only four books or codices survive. For these books to have been written by Nephites, they would have had to be at least over 1138 years old—but more likely date to a period before the final series of Lamanite-Nephite wars, or to around 300 A.D. or earlier, over 1250 years old!
    Naturally, it could be claimed that these were copies of copies—that is, copied by the Lamanite survivors; however, one small but extremely important factor seems to be ignored in such a scenario. Except for the time Amulon taught the Lamanites to be literate (Mosiah 24:4), they could neither read nor write even among themselves. That they learned to do so in more congenial times around 130 B.C. (24:6-7), it is not likely that after some 500 years this warring people, with no recorded history of building, repairing, creating, planting or growing, would have a need for such matters, especially by the time they entered into such debauchery as sacrificing women and children prisoners before idols (Mormon 4:14, 21).
    So savage and bloodthirsty were their acts that Mormon did not even want to write about them (Mormon 5:8) and “daring not to give a full account” of what he did write (Mormon 5:9), it might be suggested that such a people do not hold much interest in book learning or writing. Obviously, it seems doubtful that after some 120 years of such brutal and violent natures, that the last generation or next ones, would be interested in, let alone capable of, copying or even reading books.
    Even the Mulekites, in less than 400 years, lost their original language altogether and were not literate, though they sprang from the royal house of Judah. What of the Lamanites who, for nearly a thousand years had lived such lives and never been known, at any time they were called Lamanites, to have accomplished anything noteworthy. Even what cities they lived in were either captured from the Nephites (Mosiah 7:21), or were built by Nephite defectors (Alma 21:4). And once Lamanites became converted, they recounted the name Lamanite (Alma 23:17).
(See the next post, “Missing the Point in Locating the Land of Promise – Part II,” to see why the Lamanites would not have been inclined to keep books, Nephite-written or otherwise, and how fallacious it is to claim that Maya books destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors are evidence of a Nephite location because of a literacy in that area)

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