Monday, September 1, 2014

Sorenson’s Fallacy of Basing Nephite Directions – Part I

Writers and Theorists with a predetermined answer in mind have a tendency to give only the information that supports their point of view when citing other work, or even the scriptural record. This is a tactic Sorenson uses repeatedly, especially in the subject of Nephite directions. 
    First, let’s see what is at stake here. Sorenson has based his entire theory of Mesoamerica on one simple understanding—the directions Sorenson claims the Nephites used, which was a compass system that about 90º off from the standard compass directions we all know and the rest of the world uses.
Sorenson's map of the Land of Promise (his Mesoamerica). Note the directions: Yellow Arrow: North; Orange Arrow: South; White Arrow: East; Green Arrow: West. When you compare Sorenson's skewed directions with those used by Nephi and Mormon in the scriptural record, you find Sorenson's map is 90º off from the directions used in the Book of Mormon
    Second, if Sorenson’s position on this “Nephite compass” is correct, then his east-west model of Mesoamerica is plausible. However, if he is wrong about there being a “Nephite compass” different than our compass, then his entire idea and theory is wrong and cannot be salvaged, which of course would damage his entire reputation and career standing as the “guru of Mesoamerican  thought.”
    Third, Sorenson’s Theory of a “Nephite compass” is based on his understanding of certain ancient Hebrew directional words, specifically East, south, West, and North, and how they came about (root) and their underlying meaning.
    Fourth, Sorenson’s premise is based on the belief that the Hebrew word qedem, which is “east,” means “front” and “before,” to suggest that along with the definition of the word yam, which is “west,” means “back” and “seaward.” Therefore, Sorenson says that the ancient Hebrew placed his back to the sea and then knew what direction “east” would be. Thus, in a new land—Mesoamerica—Nephi put his back to the sea and knew the direction of east, which is about 90º off kilter of true east. Thus, his Sea East in Mesoamerica, the Gulf of Mexico, is due north.
The red arrow shows the location of Sorenson's Lehi landing. So if Nephi put his back to the sea there, he would think that northeast was east and be off 45º
    Now, having said all that and recognizing that Sorenson took several pages to more or less come to that conclusion, let us take a look at the reality of Hebrew directional words and their actual meaning, since Sorenson’s conclusion is not only misleading, but in some cases, totally inaccurate—even though it has been repeated so many times by so many academicians and writers (especially those at BYU, FARMS, etc.) that one might think it is correct.
    The basic problem stems from the understanding of “east.” Two Hebrew words are related to the direction of “east,” and they are Misrah/Mizrach and Qedem/Kedem. First of all, Mizrah literally means “from the place where the sun rises, and is from the root zarach, meaning “rise,” which has evolved to today meaning “shine.” 
The underlying meaning of this word in Hebrew thought is that “East is where God dwells,” and comes to us in the New Testament as “Jesus is the Light of the World” (Revelations 22:16). In the last days Jesus will come out of the east “as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west so shall the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27), meaning the East is where Christ is.
    In Hebrew thought, then, they did not go east because they came from the presence of God. Eastward in Eden was where the Garden was located (that is, near God), Ezekiel proclaimed “I saw the glory of the Lord coming from the East” (Ezekiel 43:2). In fact, if a strong wind came from the north, west or south it was considered an act of nature, but a “dreaded East Wind” (blowing from the east) was punishment from God—his wrath in motion.
    Hosea (left) preached to the people that “Though he be fruitful among his brethren, an east wind shall come, the wind of the Lord shall come up from the wilderness” (Hosea 23:15). 
And in Exodus, “Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts (Exodus 10:13), and again, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).
    In addition, the East wind was used many times in scripture to show that God’s punishment was really his love whereby He used the “East wind” to drive men to Him, not away from Him. An example of this is found in “I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labors of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the Lord” (Haggai 2:17), which is symbolized by sending man East when he is punished rather than sending him west or north.
    In Hebrew thought and among the Jews in particular, the East represents the presence or person of God. The West, the things that come from God. The South is the location of man or the things that are from a source other than God.
    As for words, while Mizrah means the location of “east,” that is, “where the sun rises.” Qedem (Kedem), then, means the direction of “east,” that is, “toward where the sun rises.” In other words, the Hebrew words depict “east” as a single source, either in the direction it lies, or the direction one takes to get there. And both are associated with the rising of the Sun.
    • “The Dead Sea is in the east” (Mizrah)
    • “Go east to reach the Dead Sea” (Qedem)
Qedem, then, means ”east,” while qadmôn means “eastern,” q’dim means “east wind” and “east,” qadmoaî means “former,” “ancient,” “eastern,” q’dûm means “antiquity,” q’dam means “meet,” “confront,” “go before,” qodem means “east,” qadmâ means “antiquity, “former estate,” “before.”
    In this case, Mizrah shares the same root as the Herbew words for “welcome,” “ancient,” and “front.” Thus, Qedem has either a geographical meaning, “east,” or a temporal notion, “ancient,” “time,” or “aforetime.”
    As a result, the opposite direction from east, of course, is west, yam, and has the meaning of “west,” “westward,” “sea,” “seaward,” and “back” or “behind.”
    To round this out, teman means “right,” “south,” and smol means “left,” “north.”
This is much like when I was a kid and learning my cardinal directions for the first time. The teacher had us stand in the classroom and face to the north, then she told us that “east was on the right hand,” “west was on the left hand,” and “south was behind us.” Interestingly enough, the Hebrew word “teymen” (from the root word yaman) which is used for “right or south” literally means “to the right.” So standing and facing east, “south is to the right.” This is no different than my teacher saying, as we faced north, “east is on the right hand, and west is on the left hand.”
    The problem with Sorenson lies in the fact that he thinks the Hebrews and Jews oriented themselves by placing their back to the sea (Great Sea/Mediterranean Sea) in order to determine east, which is totally untrue. The Hebrews and Jews always knew which direction was “east,” since that was where God was and they were well oriented to things of God. In fact, the Hebrew understanding of directions was that “man’s point of reference should be always facing east—toward God.”
    After all, while much of the western world uses north as their major orientation such as in maps, which are always oriented to the north (top of any map is north); however, to the Hebrews and Jews, and the eastern world, including China, Japan, etc., they use east as their major orientation. The Bible, directions, maps, etc., are all oriented to the east.
(See the next post, “Sorenson’s Fallacy of Basing Nephrite Directions – Part II,” showing why Sorenson’s “Nephite North” directional system is both inaccurate and deceptive the way it is presented in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon)

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