Friday, August 22, 2014

More on Sorenson’s Land of Promise – Part IV

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 to remind us what is actually being said by the "leader of Mesoamerican theory."
    Continuing with Sorenson’s comments about the use of compass points and what directions the Nephites used, he states on p39:
    Sorenson: “In fact, we don’t know what Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi did call their directions, since the first terms for directions appear in the Book of Mormon only hundreds of years after the first landing (Mosiah 7:5; 9:14). In a footnote to this statement, Sorenson states: ”Some people have thought the Liahona of Lehi (1 Nephi 16:10) was a magnetic device. I find no persuasive evidence for such a view Hugh Nibley’s valuable discussion of it gives an alternative picture of its functioning.” 
Upper Left: Four Cardinal Points of the Compass; Upper Right: Eight sub-cardinal points; Bottom Left: Sixteen Ordinal points; Bottom Right: Full thirty-two points of the compass. Nephi knew all sixteen ordinal points according to his statements 
    Response: Let’s take this one point at a time. We know that Nephi not only knew his cardinal (NESW), sub-cardinal (NE, SE, SW, NW) but even his ordinal compass points (SSE, NNE, SSW, NNW) and used them correctly in his narrative of his journey in the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:13; 17:1)—and he did this in an area he had never before been. At the same time, we should keep in mind that prior to his use of “south-southeast” direction, no directions had been stated in their journey  southward from Jerusalem to where they first pitched their tents (1 Nephi 2:6).
    Now, as the party was about to disembark after a lengthy stay (obtaining the Brass Plates, Ishmael’s family, and the five weddings), Lehi finds the “Liahona” (1 Nephi 16:10), two verses later, Nephi gives us the compass direction they are heading, and then states after another stop, they started out again “And we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction” (1 Nephi 16:14), “traveling for the space of many days” (1 Nephi 16:15), “following the directions of the ball” (1 Nephi 16:16). And when they turned and headed into the empty desert, he states: And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth” (1 Nephi 17:1).
Isn’t it interesting that once the Liahona was obtained, Nephi tells us what direction they traveled, even down the the third level ordinal compass point. Now this “Liahona” Nephi calls a compass (1 Nephi 18:12), so that Laman and Lemuel had no idea in which direction to steer the ship when it stopped working (1 Nephi 18:13). He calls it a “compass” a second time (1 Nephi 18:21). In fact, Alma tells us that the word “Liahona” is interpreted as “compass” (Alma 37:38), and refers to it as a “compass” more than once (Alma 37:43, 44).
    In defining the word “compass” today, it is “an instrument containing a magnetized pointer that shows the direction of magnetic north and bearings from it.” In Joseph Smith’s day, Noah Webster states two types of compass: 1) A Mariner’s compass—“An instrument for directing or ascertaining the course of ships at sea, consisting of a circular box, containing a paper card marked with the thirty two points of direction, fixed on a magnetic needle, that always points to the north, the variation excepted. The needle with the card turns on a pin in the center of the box. In the center of the needle is fixed a brass conical socket or cap, by which the card hanging on the pin turns freely round the center. The box is covered with glass, to prevent the motion of the card from being disturbed by the wind,” or 2) A normal or land compass—“An instrument used in surveying land, constructed in the main like the mariners compass; but with this difference, that the needle is not fitted into the card, moving with it, but plays alone; the card being drawn on the bottom of the box, and a circle divided into 360 degrees on the limb. This instrument is used in surveying land, and in directing travelers in a desert or forest, miners, etc.” 
    Joseph Smith, in translating the word used by Mormon, chose “compass,” which had a very specific meaning in his day and was a magnetic-based instrument, using the north pole as its magnetic point in the northern hemisphere. Had this instrument been of some other nature, surely Joseph would have chosen another word to define it, such as a Pointer, Indicator or just Instrument. The fact that the Spirit ascribed to the word “compass” should suggest to us that a compass of Joseph Smith’s day was what he had in mind. Now, having said that, it should be kept in mind that the “Liahona” had two spindles (1 Nephi 16:10; Alma 37:40) or needles, and one showed the direction they were to go (1 Nephi 16:10). In addition, the instrument could show writing on the ball, which was instructions and guidance from the Lord (1 Nephi 16:26).
Field or Military Compass has either extra needles or outside rings that can be set in position of direction so when holding the needle to north, you can site along your direction to identify landmarks, etc. 
    However, for anyone who has ever used a field compass out in the true wilderness where no landmarks are visible or known, such a compass has at least two very important uses—the first is to point toward north, but the second is that the magnetic needle can be set so in its pointing north, another marker can be set to show the actual direction (say east by southeast) one wants to travel. By keeping the compass pointing north, the other needle or marker points in the way you want to go, so with these two needles or points working, it is quite possible to unerringly reach a specific compass point miles away. Sophisticated military compasses, though simple in use, operate in this fashion, since seldom is a person going to be actually traveling due north. We see a parallel of these two working in tandem when Alma states: “if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go” (Alma 37:40).
    The “Liahona” operated out of faith (Alma 37:40) and righteousness (1 Nephi 18:13), showed the course one was to travel (Alma 37:39), and provided written counsel and knowledge (1 Nephi 16:29; Alma 37:43).
    It is both unrealistic and unbelievable to think that when Nephi arrived in the Land of Promise, that he did not determine the directions of their new land. And with the “Liahona” in hand, it is also unbelievable to think that he had to place his back to the sea to know which way was east (Sorenson p38-39), for that was not necessary for him to do along the Red Sea where he showed his accurate knowledge of three levels of compass points. In fact, had he thought of the normal sea and placed it to his back (Mediterranean Sea, the sea he knew from birth and life, which he knew was behind him), he would have thought himself facing east rather than south, and his directions he stated would have been wrong—but they were correct, showing he was using some other means rather than the sea at his back.
    Just as a side note, since numerous Jews traveled to Egypt (evidently including Lehi), where the Mediterranean Sea, if to their back, would have made Egypt lying to the east—how would they have equated that, with both Egypt and Jordan to the east? And, Syria too, if they were up the east coast of the Mediterranean?
According to Sorenson’s explanation, a Jew standing with his back to the Mediterranean Sea in the area of Israel (red arrow) would think of Cypress to the “west” (behind him); standing in Egypt, with his back to the Sea (green arrow), Cypress would also be to his “west,” though it would actually be to the “north”; standing along the Black Sea in Turkey (black arrow), Cypress would be to his “east” (fore), though actually “south.” 
    If Sorenson is right, then every Jew who ever traveled in the Old Country would have been confused as to his directions most of the time. After all, with his back to the sea in northern Israel, Cyprus would have been basically behind him, or to the West, yet in Egypt, Cyprus would have been to the north. Talk about confusion! And what if he traveled to Cyprus? Where do you stand with your back to the sea on a small island? And what if he put his back to the Dead Sea—would Jerusalem be to the east? One can only wonder how Moses and any Old Testament prophet ever got their directions correct.
    Let’s take another example of Sorenson’s convoluted way of thinking about directions for the Nephites.
    Sorenson: “From the east to the west sea” seems to me probably the equivalent of “from the east sea to the west sea,” particularly when we pay attention to the end of the sentence: “thus the [greater] land of Nephi and the [greater] land of Zarahemla [together constituting the land southward] were nearly surrounded by water.” 
    Response: OK, that sounds reasonable. We are going from then East Sea to the West Sea, a description Mormon uses later in describing the narrow pass that runs through the narrow neck of land “to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east“ (Alma 50:34).
(See the next post, “More on Sorenson’s Land of Promise – Part V.” You won’t believe how far Sorenson is willing to go to stretch reality and believability to prove his Mesoamerican Theory)

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