Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Changing Land of Promise—The Effect of Rising Mountains - Part VI - On the Waters of Mormon and the river Sidon

Continuing with the past five posts and our understanding of how the changes described in 3 Nephi affected the landscape of the Land of Promise and what that means to us today, we concluded the last post with: 
   The point is, land has risen or sunk throughout recorded history. Unfortunately, modern man has a firm belief that the world was always as it is now, without realizing the changes that have taken place over the centuries. However, we have been given sufficient knowledge to know and understand that changes have not only taken place, but in some cases what those changes were.
    Certainly, the Lord has the innate ability to transform, realign, change, create, organize and alter anything within the physical world he chooses. His creations of worlds is beyond number (Moses 7:30), and he knows them all (Moses 7:36). To Enoch, the Lord granted the power to move mountains and change the courses of rivers by the power of his words (Moses 7:13), as did the Brother of Jared (Ether 12:30), and the Lord told us that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains, too (Matthew 17:20). The point is, moving mountains can and has been done. Changing the courses of rivers, can and has been done. Based on the last several posts, it should be obvious to anyone that trying to pin-point changeable places in the Land of Promise today is speculative at best—and downright misleading at worst.
    Now in knowing and understanding this, the question arises of what changes have occurred in the Land of Promise since 34 A.D. As simple of an understanding as this is, that some drastic changes had to have taken place, it is always amazing that people will make claims and even take people on tours of so-called Book of Mormon lands as though no changes ever occurred in the land. As an example, Joseph Allen Tours (formerly Middle American Tours) in the past 40 years has taken over 400 tours into Mesoamerica, with their leader, Dr. Joseph L. Allen, who has written extensively about Mesoamerica being the Land of Promise, claiming such things as Lake Atitlan in Guatemala as being the Waters of Mormon, among many other such assertions.
    So let’s take this one claim and have a look at it:
    Lake Atitlan is nine miles long and four miles wide, is surrounded by volcanoes, and has some very rugged terrain between it and where Allen places the City of Nephi.
Red Arrow: Lake Atitlan (Waters of Mormon) on Allen’s map, sits in a cauldron or volcanic depression. This lake is about 40 miles west of Kaminaljuyu (his city of Nephi), but 100 miles by curving access through tall, rugged mountains and volcanic terrain that surrounds it 
    By the way, there is a curious point to Allen’s map and placement of locations. When the Lord told Nephi to flee from his brothers and the sons of Ishmael, and take all those who would go with him (2 Nephi 5:5), and they “did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days. And after we had journeyed for the space of many days we did pitch our tents” (2 Nephi 5:8). Now the term “many days” covers a wide range of time, since it was also used to describe the time it took to cross the ocean (1 Nephi 18:23), so we cannot be certain how far Nephi and his party traveled from the area of their first landing. However, based on Allen’s map, he is suggesting a distance of about 120 miles as the crow flies, which does not seem like a far enough distance for someone to travel who fears being tracked down and killed by his brothers.
Blue Arrow: Lehi’s landing site; Green Arrow: city of Nephi; Red Arrow: length of their travel (blue line)
    Another interesting point of Allen’s map, especially for those interested in accuracy, which Allen seems not to be himself, is the location of Bountiful, near the east coast of the Yucatan, approximately 400 miles from the narrow neck of land, though Mormon tells us that the Land of Bountiful was adjacent to the narrow neck of land on the south (Alma 22:29-30).
Red Arrow: Location of Allen’s Bountiful; Green Arrow: Location of Allen’s Narrow Neck of Land, making Bountiful even further from the Land of Desolation, which was to the north of the narrow neck 
    It is hard to place much credence on someone who is so unwilling to follow the scriptural record, and so blatantly in error as to the simple location of Mormon’s very clear explanation and description of these lands and places. Certainly, when Mormon writes: “even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful, and it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward” (Alma 22:29-30); “Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful” (Alma 22:31); “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” (Alma 22:32). Obviously, in Allen’s map, the Land of Bountiful is nowhere near his West Sea.
    However, coming back to Allen’s Waters of Mormon, we find an interesting problem in locating this area today. Like John L. Sorenson before him (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p 176), Allen locates the Waters of Mormon as Lake Atitlan, an area lying roughly between the area of his First Landing and the City of Nephi.
Lake Atitlan is considered to be the Waters of Mormon by Mesoamericanists John L. Sorenson and Joseph Allen, with the ruins of Kaminaljuyu (near Guatemala City) as the city of Nephi 
    The simple question regarding Lake Atitlan as the Waters of Mormon is, what would we find today compared to Nephite times if, 1) The mountains surrounding the Waters of Mormon had been those that Nephi saw “tumbling into pieces,” or 2) the mountains surrounding the Waters of Mormon had been those that Samuel mentioned would rise up to great heights?
    In both cases, any attempt to correlate the Waters of Mormon with Lake Atitlan today would be impossible, since 1) if the mountains tumbled to the ground certainly the Waters of Mormon would have disappeared, no longer having a base, and 2) if the mountains rose up at the time of this destruction, the present Lake Atitlan would not have existed at the time of Alma, not having formed until the mountains rose at the time of the crucifixion.
    This is the kind of problem we get into when we start claiming this or that location is the one mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Another problem is that when we try to do this, we are stuck with the exact locations that we now see on a map. In the case of Lake Atitlan, its location from Allen’s city of Nephi is approximately 40 miles as the crow flies, but, according to a photographer and mountain climber who is quite familiar with the area, who claims that the topography is so rugged, that the distance by foot is actually one hundred miles because of the many mountains, volcanoes and incisive terrain surrounding it.
    This 100 miles is about the same distance as from Layton to Nephi in Utah, or Long Beach to San Diego in California—hard to image people and families (Mosiah 18:4) making such a trek (about three days one way or longer in such terrain) over such difficult topography; or that the king’s army would travel that far to search for Alma (Mosiah 18:5) “during the day.” Or why Alma would have traveled away from the city of Nephi to hide in the very direction of Lehi’s first landing, an area heavily occupied by Lamamites (Alma 22:28).
    The area simply does not match the circumstances about which Mormon writes.
    Allen also claims that the narrow strip of wilderness is a range of mountains that flows from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean—he writes: “The only place in all of the Americas where there is an east-west mountain range that touches two seas is that which divides Guatemala from Chiapas, Mexico.” However, a significant problem is that we do not know, nor does Allen, that these mountains existed prior to 34 A.D., or that they ran from one end of the land to the other at that time, or were not affected in some way during the collapse of mountains and the rising of others described by Nephi. It is very hard to make a case with mountains before and after 34 A.D. because of their destruction and their rising as stated in the scriptural record.
(See the next post, “Changing Land of Promise—The Effect of Rising Mountains - Part VII and the Disappearing Sea East,” for more information on the changes wrought by the events described in 3 Nephi, and their effect on the Land of Promise before and after 34 A.D. and how the Lord intervened to change this landscape in three hours)

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