Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More on Sorenson’s Land of Promise – Part IX

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 of how far afield from the scriptures he wanders to try and prove his Mesoamerica model.
    In discussing the way Sorenson treats the scriptural record over the past several posts, it is also interesting how he uses figures to satisfy his meanings, though they are in conflict with one another. Take, for an example, how he describes a distance factor for travel on pp 8-9 when he is trying to prove a short distance for the Land of Promise overall.
The pioneers cross the plains in America averaged about 10 to 11 miles per day
    To do this he tries to limit the distance from the Waters of Mormon (City of Nephi) to Zarahemla. He begins by discussing Alma and his converts making about 10 to 11 miles per day, as did the Mormon Pioneers. He also cites Guatemala drovers taking 11 miles a day to drive pigs to market 90 miles away in 8 days. Or travelers on routine trading trips on jungle trails from Cotal Valley to the Peten, 120 miles away taking 19 days or more, averaging a little more than six miles a day. He also states that during the movements of the Toltecs described in the Mexican chronicles, dawn-to-dusk marches, without animals along, averaged six leagues, somewhere between 15 and 24 miles a day. He concludes by stating that “other data on travel rates fall within these established ranges.” Thus he surmises that the distance from the Waters of Mormon to Zarahemla would be no more than 231 miles at 11 miles per day for the stated 21 days of travel.
    However, and here is the issue. When he needs a distance to be further than the record states, such as across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which he states is 125 miles, which Mormon claims could be covered by a Nephite in a day and a half’s journey, he talks about Mohave Indians covering 100 miles in a day, etc., and about 75 years ago, one Indian reportedly made a hundred mile trip, then turned around after only a few hours rest and went back again, averaging six miles an hour, which was not exceptional in their case. From this and other unusual circumstances, Sorenson concludes that the narrow neck at 125 miles is plausible for a day and a half’s journey. Sorenson concludes his discussion (p 17), “As we have already calculated the rate for ”a Nephite,” a single individual, could potentially be up to six miles an hour for as long as 24 hours within the ‘day and a half.’ That would amount to 144 miles.”
    The fallacy of this comment is borne out in every marathon run in recent history. Nearly every runner trains for as much as three to six months prior to the marathon, they have special shoes, are assisted along the way with food and drink, and all the modern conveniences, yet the average run is about 6 hours, averaging about 4.74 miles per hour. The world record is a couple of minutes over two hours at the speed of 12 miles per hour. The idea of someone covering 144 miles in 24 hours at the rate of six miles an hour for a day and a half without stopping is beyond any sane person’s imagination (see our recent post on this subject). If you doubt that, take a look at the marathon runners after two to four hours running at such a pace—you’ll get the idea how fallacious such a statement is.
    The point is, when Sorenson begins writing he does so with a blind eye to parts of the scriptural record he doesn’t like, a willingness to make changes and alterations to the meaning of Mormon’s descriptions when it does not agree with his theory, and a propensity to add or delete information that meets his purposes. 11 miles a day when he wants a short distance, but 6 miles an hour for a day and a half when he needs a longer one. That is obviously not scholarship.
Take another example, that of Hagoth, the shipbuilder. For some reason, despite no word to support this, Sorenson writes (p269): “What about the LDS tradition that Hagoth, the Nephite shipbuilder who failed to return home was an ancestor of the Polynesians?” Then added, “The Book of Mormon itself of course, says only that the man and his mates disappeared form the knowledge of the people in Zarahemla. For all they knew he might have died at a ripe old age on the west Mexican coast without a suitable vessel in which to make the return voyage. And neither do we know.”
    It is always interesting to read Sorenson’s writing which, at times, is more fiction than fact. One wonders if he really ever read the Book of Mormon. As stated in the scriptural record, Hagoth was a shipbuilder not an explorer. While Hagoth’s ships were at sea, Mormon tells us “this man built other ships” (Alma 63:7). In fact, he was building other ships while his first ship went north and returned, “and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward” (Alma 63:7). There is absolutely no suggestion that Hagoth ever went to sea, sailed in his ships, and certainly went anywhere with the ships that went northward and were not heard from again. Nor is there any suggestion his history and later life were known in any way.
    Sorenson, as we have pointed out in these past 9 posts, plays it loosely with the scriptural record, more often than not completely in error without seeming to understand he is so far afield from the scriptural record itself. As in the case of Hagoth, all we now from the scriptural record of only four verses is that he was a curious man and built exceedingly large ships (Alma 63:5-8).
    Sorenson also makes rather definitive statements where the scriptural record is silent, or suggests the opposite. He states on p268 that “The ‘ship’ of Hagoth, if it was like craft known later on the Pacific coast, was either a very large dugout canoe with built-up sides or a log raft with sails Whatever its form, it could hardly have been a complex planked vessel at all resembling European ships.”
Dugout canoes, no matter how large are still just canoes, with limited space and limited use. It would be hard to imagine men taking their families, provisions and supplies to a far off land in such a canoe
    However, Mormon, who had lived at the tail end of the Nephite golden age (100 to 300 A.D.), and read their records which showed and covered the Nephite “shipping and their building of ships” (Helaman 3:14) and a list of their other accomplishments, would have known something about their building ability, and even their ships, which no doubt were still in use in his growing up years, stated: “Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship” (Alma 63:5). It would be hard for anyone to understand that a large dugout canoe would be considered an “exceedingly large ship.” In addition, Joseph Smith knew the different between a canoe, raft, dugout, boat and ship—and chose the word “ship.”
    In 1828, “ship” was defined as: “a vessel or building of a peculiar structure, adapted to navigation, or floating on water by means of sails [and] fitted for navigation, furnished with a bowsprit and three masts, a main-mast, a fore-mast and a mizen-mast, each of which is composed a lower-mast, a top-mast and top-gallant-mast, and square rigged.” Thus, we can see, that Joseph Smith was not translating a word that mean canoe or dugout, etc., but a full sized ship that could carry many emigrant passengers along with their families, provisions and supplies to start a new life elsewhere (Alma 63:6-7).
Phoenician ships of the Abydos fleet in 1300 B.C. were 72-feet long and found buried in Egypt in 1991. Such ships were built in the eastern Mediterranean 700 years before Lehi
    In another example of Sorenson not understanding the meaning of Mormon’s writing, he states (p240): “It is an interesting commentary on Nephite conceptions of the land that the territory on the south described as “wilderness” should be “full of the Lamanites.” Clearly the essence of “wilderness” lay not in the absence of inhabitants but in something else, apparently the substantial modifications of the landscape that civilization entails.”
    The problem lays in Sorenson’s pre-determined understanding of the word “wilderness.” He states elsewhere that wilderness means desert or mountains; however, in 1828, the word had a very specific meaning—first, is understanding the word comes from “wild,” meaning “not tamed or domesticated, growing without culture, not refined by culture, or cultivated, an uncultivated tract or region,” and wilderness defined as “a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide barren plain. In the United States, it is applied only to a forest. In Scripture, it is applied frequently to the deserts of Arabia, and can mean desert, ocean, forest, etc.”
    Thus, we understand that it is an area where people are not living in a permanent setting, with plowed fields, houses, improvements, etc. After all, “the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents” (Alma 22:28), which are not permanent dwellings, lending to a cultivated and cultured area. Understanding this meaning, “wilderness” is not only the correct word, but nomadic people living in such an area does not violate the definition of “wilderness.”
(See the next post, “More on Sorenson’s Land of Promise – Part X,” for more information on how far Sorenson is willing to go to stretch reality and believability to prove his Mesoamerican Theory, and how often he ignores what is in the scriptural record, or adds things that are not there)

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