Saturday, August 23, 2014

More on Sorenson’s Land of Promise – Part V

We are continuing with John L. Sorenson’s book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which is so extensively hyped by Mesoamericanists and Land of Promise Theorists, especially because of Sorenson’s reputation as the one-time Dean of Anthropology at BYU, and current status as Professor Emeritus, and referred to as the “Guru of Book of Mormon Archaeology,” that it needs a reality check every so often. 
    Continuing with Sorenson’s comments about the distance across the narrow neck of land.
    Sorenson continuing: “The day and a half’s “journey for a Nephite” then likely was effectively all the way across (although it would be silly to demand that it mean from salt-water to salt water; perhaps from garrison coastal settlement to a similar defense point on the other, which could be a number of miles from actual shore).”
    Response: Here we go, getting into qualifying statements that are not suggested or obviously meant in the scriptural record. Why would “from sea to sea” be silly to think it meant actual sea? We are either going from the Sea East to the Sea West, or we are not, since there is no other terminal point mentioned or suggested in the scriptural record. To claim one exists becomes self-serving for Mesoamerica because of its extreme width distance (125 to 144 miles); and if not, then why even bring it up? But let’s take a look at what Mormon is telling us. The narrow neck of land was, by definition, “narrow.” How narrow?
A narrow neck of land, to be seen and noticed, has to be observable from some vantage point (in Nephite times, this would not be an aerial map, NASA image, satellite photo, etc.) but seen by the naked eye
    Again, how narrow? In order to define that for a future reader who may or may not have similar dimensional language (i.e., mile, league, kilometer, etc.), Mormon chose to use the distance a person could walk in a period of a day and a half in his time. Would that be the same as today? Mostly likely—human anatomy has not changed, nor has the ability to walk changed. So if Mormon is trying to give us a distance, then why would he choose a point to start that would be unknown? In fact, if Mormon meant “perhaps from garrison coastal settlement to a similar defense point on the other side, which could be a number of miles from actual shore” then why not mention it? In not mentioning it, his idea of telling us something is meaningless, so why even state anything? The point being, since Mormon is trying to describe the distance between two points, those two points have to be clear and understood to his future reader. From the East (sea—sea in this case being understood) to the West Sea, is a very clear understanding. So if Sorenson (who likes to have things both ways) is going to use from “sea to sea” here as the meaning, then he can’t alter that with an unknown starting point.
    Sorenson continuing: “However, without more information, such as explanation of “a journey for a Nephite,” we cannot specify the distance with confidence.”
    Response: When we look at Mormon’s writing and the purpose behind his writing, then answers become much clearer and easily understood. This passage, if not from sea to sea, has absolutely no purpose or meaning, so either Mormon was rambling along or he was thinking about an upcoming Lamanite battle, or he had something specific in mind, and stated it. Personally, I believe his statement is quite clear. He was telling us the distance or width of the narrow neck from sea to sea. And I think he was doing this because this landmark and its size, plays an important role in Nephite defenses and strategy over their 1000 year history, and in his lifetime becomes the dividing line between Lamanite and Nephite controlled land (Mormon 2:29).
    Sorenson continuing: “[But logic allows us to bracket the distance. When we know on the one hand that Limhi’s exploring party passed through the isthmus without even realizing it (Mosiah 8:7–9; 21:25–26), we see that it was of substantial width. On the other hand, that the neck was relatively narrow was clear to knowledgeable Nephites.]”
    Response: First, logic suggests no such thing. Logic actually tells us that narrow is narrow, and further discussions about this being a choke point where Nephites cut off both defectors and Lamanites trying to get into the Land Northward, it must indeed be narrow—a word in 1828 when Joseph Smith used it that meant: “Of little breadth; not wide or broad; having little distance from side to side; as a narrow board; a narrow street; a narrow sea; a narrow hem or border. It is only or chiefly applied to the surface of flat or level bodies.” In the case of this narrow neck of land, it would have been narrow enough to use as a choke point between the Land Northward and the Land Southward. It was so important to the Nephite defenses that Mormon calls the defense of it “in their wisdom” (Alma 22:33), and it was where they cut off Morianton (Alma 50:34), and also stopped the Lamanites (Alma 52:9). From a military point of view, a distance of 125 miles to 144 miles is very difficult if not impossible to use as a choke point, or a defensive line.
    As an example, the battle that took place along the Karelian Isthmus between Russia and Finland in the Great Northern War of 1712 suggests an interesting parallel with Mesoamerican topography. Though narrower at 68 miles in width, it has no mountains, and its highest point is 607 feet (Mesoamerica 830 feet), covered with forest, some swamp, steep hills, grass, fen and raised bogs. It lies between two bodies of water (Gulf of Finland and 136-mile long, 6800 square mile Lake Ladoga).
Depsite having sufficient troops to withstand the Russian Army, the Finnish Army was stretched over too wide a front and could not react in time to any one area of concentrated attack
    The Army of the Grand Duchy of Finland had set up a defense line across the Isthmus just above Northern Ingria, to stop the Russian Empire advance; however, their defenses did little spread across such a wide area and Russia easily conquered Finland. In this same area, this war was refought in 1939-1940 when the Russian Army threw 13 divisions against a strong Finnish defensive line made up of cement walls, tank obstructions, bunkers, dug in guns, etc. Again, the Finnish Army was unsuccessful—they simply had too wide a line to control. A choke point in a defensive line has to be narrow. 68 miles was simply too much of an area to defend effectively.
    It is interesting that the Nephite defensive line across the narrow neck was described as narrow on several occasions in the scriptural record—perhaps we ought to accept that.
    Second, Sorenson tries to word his comment about Limhi’s expedition to find Zarahemla to be self-evident, but his reasoning is convoluted. A group of people, traveling hundreds of miles could pass through a valley or canyon a few miles in length with high mountains or hills or jungle or thick forest on either side and never know the topography beyond those mountains, hills, jungle or forest. Those of us who drive freeways and know nothing of what is beyond hills, forests, or other obstructions to either side, have no idea what is beyond our limited vision—there could be a lake there, a canyon, a river, or even a sea. Limhi’s expedition was looking for a city (Zarahemla) and a developed land area (farms, etc.), and not for seas.
Walking through any of the type of areas as these five shown above, a small group of people would have no idea what was beyond them on either side. This is simply not an argument for a wide passage or neck of land without knowing the existing topography
    Sorenson continuing: “A width as low as 50 miles seems too small…”
    Response: Why? These images above show widths as small as a couple of miles in width. Driving through southern Utah within the Rocky Mountains, sometimes your vision to either side is restricted by a mile or two, with no understanding what lies beyond your vision—without a map or investigation, what lies beyond remains unknown.
Top: The Sierra Blanca, east of El Paso, Texas. The hills shown are eleven miles away. There is no way to know what is beyond them walking through this valley; Bottom: Santa Catalina Island (yellow arrow), 26 miles off the coast of Newport Beach in Southern California. Looking 26 miles directly across a flat ocean one can barely make out an island 22 miles in length, and 2,097 feet in height
    Sorenson continuing: “…a more likely minimum is 75, while “a day and a half’s journey” could range up to 125 miles, depending on who traveled how (e.g., a messenger relay?)”
    Response: Of course, to help us understand the width of this narrow neck, Mormon is using a special messenger relay team, a marathon runner, a military dispatch racer, an accomplished athlete, a unique individual with special travel abilities, etc., etc., etc. Let's be realistic here. Mormon is telling us something, not trying to confuse us! Of course, Sorenson has to find a way to justify his 125 miles or more of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, so he stretches facts and believability to meet his requirement. This is scholarly? Perhaps a humorous look at this might make the point.
Let’s see, you work at a gas station on the edge of town and an out-of-state motorist stops and asks you how long it would take him to get from the station to the center of town. Now, instead of telling him how long it would take him to drive it in his car as he sits behind the wheel, you’re going to tell  him a time that could be accomplished by a rocket sled, a prototype rocket ship, a helicopter, an ambulance with siren running, a cop car chasing a speeding vehicle, or a unique individual on the track team that can run the four-minute mile.
    Which makes the most sense to you?
    What makes the most sense in Mormon's description? If he trying to fool us? Is he trying to make it unclear and ambiguous? Or is he trying to make it clear for his future reader, using things that would be both typical in his day and hopefully typical in a future day?
(See the next post, “More on Sorenson’s Land of Promise – Part VI,” for more information on how far Sorenson is willing to go to stretch reality and believability to prove his Mesoamerican Theory)

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