Saturday, November 15, 2014

More Comments from Readers – Part IX

We continue to have comments, questions and criticisms being sent in from readers of our blog. Here are a few more with our responses. 
   Comment #1: “I was reading recently about someone named Degroote who wrote an article in Mormon Times, entitled “Pros, cons of Book of Mormon geography theories” in which he made an interesting case for Mesoamerica. Did you see it? And if so, what do you think?” Rainey A.
Response: I try to keep up with all things written about the Book of Mormon, though sometimes I miss one here or there. As for Michael De Groote (left), since May 2010, he has been a staff writer  for the Deseret News. He is a financial writer, but also occasionally writes on other topics such as faith. He graduated from Arizona State University and from J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU, and his professional background includes advertising, video production, marketing and public relations. He actually wrote two articles in May of 2010 for Mormon Times, for both their newspaper and on-line versions. The other was entitled “The Fight Over Book of Mormon Geography,” which discusses the importance, or non-importance, of such study. The first, which you mentioned, “Pros, cons of Book of Mormon geography theories,” provides De Groote’s perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of what he considers to be the two strongest theories of where the Book of Mormon saga may have taken place, the Mesoamerican theories and the Heartland Model.  While De Groote does seem to lean toward Mesoamerica, there are several errors in his article from strictly a scriptural record perspective.
    It his first of five “primary strengths of Mesoamerica,” the “Geographic correlation” is glaringly misleading in which he states: “There are hundreds of different geographic descriptions in the Book of Mormon, such as two seas, a narrow neck of land, a large north-flowing river and so forth, correlate with features in Mesoamerica…”
The Mesoamericanist only acknowledges two seas—the Gulf (Atlantic) and the Pacific oceans, even though the scriptural record lists four. This is because Mesoamerica only has two seas—four does not fit their model and therefore ignored
    The problem with such thinking and writing is that 1) The scriptures do not single out only two seas—four are mentioned (Helaman 3:8), plus the “Sea that divides the land” (Ether 10:20, plus another sea, the waters of Ripliancum (which is “large, or to exceed all”); 2) it gives a false idea that with only two seas, Mesoamerica qualifies as the Land of Promise because that is all the seas that can be identified in Central America (unless one wants to separate the Gulf of Mexico (one sea) and the Caribbean Sea (a second sea) and the Pacific Ocean (third sea). Still, to do so, misaligns the names and directions to such an extent that while Sorenson does this, Joseph Allen avoids naming a third sea, leaving the Gulf unnamed.
    De Groote also states early on regarding the narrow strip of wilderness “which is a narrow mountain range that ran from the sea east to the sea west…” and then continues with “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.”
An example of a narrow strip of wilderness (yellow arrow) running across the land, between a high plateau (white arrow) on one side, and a tall rocky ledge (red arrow) on the other. A wilderness can be about any kind of topography, since the term is not limited to mountains
    Again, the problem with such writing is that 1) there is no mention in the scriptural record that the narrow strip of wilderness was a mountain range. Obviously, the Land of Nephi was in high hills or a plateau (at least at a higher level than the Land of Zarahemla) with hills on at least one side—the north side—for that is what we see from Ammon’s experience (Mosiah 7:5-6). Since wilderness simply means an unoccupied and undeveloped track of land, we cannot attribute the entire strip of wilderness to a mountain range. But when one has an area in mind, like Mesoamerica, they try to squeeze the scriptural description into that area so it substantiates their model. All this does, in the long run, is bring about differences of opinion; 2) Again, it is completely misleading.
Each of these four areas show a type of wilderness—tracks of land that are unoccupied and undeveloped
    Personally, I think there should be no fight over anything in the Book of Mormon, and believe there would not be if people like Sorenson, Allen, and most other “theorists” would stop trying to make the scriptural record sound like it is Mesoamerica, or Heartland, or Great Lakes, etc., and interpret the record accurately by itself without another location in mind. Mormon’s descriptions should never lead to antagonism, fights, arguments or contentions, but should lead us to one geographic understanding as the doctrines lead us to one spiritual understanding. I also believe that those who use the scriptures and interpret them for their own benefit (to support their claim to a theory that is ill-founded to start with), will at some point in time wish they had not done so.
    Comment #2: “Joseph Allen has stated that “Any serious discussion on Book of Mormon geography has to take into consideration the “day and a half journey” fortification line. The purpose of this twelve mile fortification line was to keep in the Lamanites in the land of Nephi in order “that they should have no more possession only in the land of Nephi” that “they might not overrun the land northward” (Alma 22:32-34). The twelve mile (day and a half journey) fortification line extended from the borders of Desolation and Bountiful to the West Sea, or from present day Tonala to the town of Paredon located on the Pacific Ocean. Paredon literally means the big wall.” What do you think of a day and a half journey covering only 12 miles?” Alton T.
Allen’s narrow neck of land is a narrow 12-mile strip of land along the Pacific coast in southern Mexico. Yellow Arrow: Where his wall starts inland; Red Arrow: his narrow neck at a place called Laguna Mar Muerto (Lagoon of the Dead Sea); it is a marshy, shallow lagoon with an entrance and a “wall” or sandbar of low relief in an area of mangrove swamps
    Response: First, Joseph Allen seems to be free with his comments and use of scripture that is inconsistent with the record, yet uses it to make a point that is also inconsistent with the record. Secondly, the fortified line was only a day’s journey long: “And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day's journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country” (Helaman 4:7), and this was not in the area of Bountiful, but in the land which was between Bountiful and Zarahemla—in fact, the Lamanites had “succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla” (Helaman 4:5), and actually another land that is never named, that lay between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Bountiful (3 Nephi 3:23), and “also all the lands, even unot the land which was near the land Bountiful” (Helaman 4:5), so that “the Nephites and the armies of Moronihah were driven even into the land of Bountiful” (Helaman 4:6). At this point, along the border of the Land of Bountiful and the unnamed land to the south, they foritified a line from the west sea, even unto the east, it being a day’s journey for a Nephite along that line they fortified (Helaman 4:7).
    Third, the line that was a day and a half journey for a Nephite lay further north, along the line that separated the Land of Bountiful from the Land of Desolation at the narrow neck, which is stated by Mormon “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).
    Fourth, Allen not only changes the length (day’s journey to a day and a half) of this line, he both changes its location (at the narrow neck instead of between Bountiful and the unnamed land) and its distance (12 miles, which is not established in the record at all), but given a day or a day and a half journey. The distance of a day’s journey in pre-modern literature, including the Bible, ancient geographers and ethnographers such as Herodotus, was measured at 20 to 25 miles—Priscus of Panium, a 5th century Roman diplomat and Greek historian, in Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, used 26-34 miles per day for a fast traveler (a 13 day journey for a fast traveler from Constantinople to Istambul). The Jews used an average of 20 miles for a day’s travel.
    As for what do I think of a 12-mile day’s journey—it would be traveling at the rate of four hours to go three miles, which is a ridiculously slow rate of travel. It appears that Allen uses that 12-mile distance, which is contrary to everything available about distances of ancient travel, because it is the distance of the line he uses in his Mesoamerican model and not from anything in the scriptural record.

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