Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stoddard Evaluating Sorenson – Part I – Are the Scriptures Misleading?

An article recently appeared on the internet written by Ted Dee Stoddard (left), a professor emeritus of Management Communication in the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Management where he taught business writing throughout his academic career. While involved in academia, he published numerous books, articles, and other creative works. Following his retirement, he served for several years as editor for The Religious Educator (published by the BYU Religious Studies Center) and Mormon Historical Studies. He is the editor of Joseph Lovell Allen and Blake Joseph Allen's book, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. 
    For some reason, Stoddard felt compelled in 2008, around the time he was working on Allen’s book, to write about his friend and companion professor emeritus at BYU, John L. Sorenson, and defend the latter's stance of the Land of Promise being in Mesoamerica, as Allen had also long claimed.
    Stoddard begins by stating: “Perhaps no verse of scripture in the Book of Mormon has caused more confusion than the words of Mormon in Alma 22:32.”
    For those unfamiliar with this passage, Mormon inserted a nine-verse explanation into Alma’s writing at the conclusion of the story of Aaron’s conversion of the Lamanite king over all the land. Now, to make certain his future reader understood this meaning, Mormon inserts this explanation of the Land of Nephi that was controlled by the king and to which he sent a “proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in the land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided” (Alma 22:27).
Now, for a point of reference, Mormon is writing this sometime around 325 A.D., about two years before the final series of wars destroyed the Nephite Nation that caused Mormon to lead the Nephite armies (Mormon 2:2).
    Sitting somewhere in his home at Zarahemla before these wars erupted, Mormon’s point of reference, as clearly shown, is the Land of Zarahemla. Consequently, to the south of him was this narrow strip of wilderness, which had divided the Lamanites and Nephites for some 525 years, ever since Mosiah left the City of Nephi around 200 B.C.
    So from this point of view, Mormon describes the lands involved. In verses 28 and 29, he describes the fact that there were idle Lamanites living in tents in the wilderness along the coastal areas north of the narrow strip of wilderness, both on the east and west coasts.
    At the conclusion of verse 29, after mentioning the land the Nephites occupied, he states, “…on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful.” In verse 30, he then continues with a land description, “And it [Bountiful] bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken…”
    These bones, of course, were those of the Jartedites, and Mormon is telling us that the Jaredite lands were far to the north, in the Land Northward. After telling us that the Jaredites landed in this far northern land, he tells us that Desolation was beyond the narrow neck of land in the Land Northward, and Bountiful was on the south of the narrow neck of land, in the Land Southward. And that Bountiful was the land to which the wild animals had escaped in Jaredite times and were left alone in that wilderness preserve by the Jaredites.
    Now we commence with the verse Stoddard claims is the problem. Mormon continues, “And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea—that is, through this area he calls the small neck of land and later calls a narrow neck of land. “And thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla”—the entire Land Southward, “were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.”
So we have the land south of the narrow neck surrounded by water except for this narrow neck of land connecting the Land Southward to the Land Northward. And since this narrow neck of land is a major geographical point of interest to the Nephite defenses against the Lamanites, Mormon goes on to explain its actual size.
    “And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea”—so a narrow neck of land ran between these two major land masses, narrow enough for it to be important that the East Sea and the West Sea ran along either side, which would be comparatively narrow. But to make certain we understood its width, he tells us a common man, a Nephite, could cross the width of the narrow neck in a day and a  half—which would make it somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 miles in width.
    He then adds, “And thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.”
Now, Stoddard considers this a problem and confusing, probably because in Mesoamerica, there is no 25-30 mile width narrow neck of land. In fact, the area they claim is this narrow neck, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, is between 125 and 144 miles, depending on whether you are a crow flying over it or a man walking across its topography. This is such an issue with Mesoamericanists, that Sorenson takes pages to describe different individuals in history that have ran a hundred miles in a short period of time to show that Mormon meant this was a unique Nephite, with unique athletic abilities to be able to cross a125 to 144 miles in a day and a half. On the other hand, looking at the example map to the left, being nearly surrounded by water except for a narrow neck leading into the Land Northward, is not confusing at all. All we need to do is go along with Mormon’s writing without trying to make it fit something Mormon never intended.
    Thus, to Mesoamericanists, there is confusion in Mormon’s writing, since it does not validate their own model of the narrow neck.
    Stoddard goes on to write: “Perhaps the confusion associated with Alma 22:32 would be less if the verse had been punctuated as follows from the outset and if Orson Pratt had versified the verse as follows…” He then re-writes the scriptural record with his own punctuation, which in truth, does not help his case much. So, to try and make a better case, he adds, “Outgrowths of the confusion are reflected in six issues associated with the content of Alma 22:32 and other related verses dealing with Book of Mormon geography.”
    1. What is the distance across the narrow neck of land?
    2. Should Alma 22:32 read as it appears in the Book of Mormon, or should it read “on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east [sea] to the west sea?”
    3. For directional purposes, did the Nephites employ the cardinal directions, or did they employ their own directional system? What do “east” and “west” refer to in Alma 22?
    4. Where are the east sea and east wilderness of the Book of Mormon?
    5. Where is the narrow pass in relation to the narrow neck of land?
    6. What is unique about the narrow strip of wilderness in connection with Alma 22?
    Because of space, we will answer these six points in the next post.
(See the next post, Stoddard Evaluating Sorenson – Part I – Are the Scriptures Misleading?)

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