Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More Comments from Readers – Part VI

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 read where a different narrow neck of land is being suggested for Mesoamerica. The author wrote: “The narrow strip of wilderness of the Book of Mormon must run from a sea on the east to a sea on the west. The only location in the entire New World where a narrow strip of mountains reaches from a sea on the east to a sea on the west is the mountainous areas associated with the Cuchumatanes mountain range. These mountains run from the east coast of the Caribbean near the border of Guatemala and Belize (east sea) to the south end of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (west sea)” Gerado P.
    Response: This information was written by Ted Dee Stoddard in an article for Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) in 2009 entitled “From the East to the West Sea—an Analysis of John L. Sorenson’s Book of Mormon Directional Statements,” and appears in the Conclusions, Point 34. The problem with Stoddard’s evaluation, which in part is quite accurate in his showing Sorenson’s numerous errors in thinking and conclusions, is that he, too, is a Mesoamericanist and while disagreeing with Sorenson in part, does not disagree with the location overall. As for his “narrow neck of land,” if you look at a map along the Caribbean coast of Guatemala, just south of the Belize border, there is a city called Livingston (Guatemala). Drawing a line westward from there (along the 16º north latitude) to Puerto Arista in Mexico, about 94º W longitude, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean—it is a distance of 385 miles.
White Line: Sorenson’s 144-mile-wide narrow neck; Yellow Line: Stoddard’s narrow neck at 385-miles in length; Red Line: would be a better narrow neck, but it is still 188 miles across. All of these narrow necks in Mesoamerica would be prohibitive distances to try and match Mormon’s 1 ½-day description for a Nephite in crossing the narrow neck
    While the distance alone is prohibitive for a narrow neck of land as Mormon describes, and while the Caribbean Sea becomes the Sea East and the Pacific Ocean at this point could be seen as the Sea West, though its extension would not hold true once leaving the coastal area of Chiapas, and the Gulf of Mexico becomes the North Sea, there is no separate South Sea—the South and West Seas are the same, and do not validate Helaman 3:8 in which four seas are suggested more or less opposite one another so a land could be considered filling up from one point to another.
    But 385 miles! That would be a ridiculous distance for a narrow neck of land as described by Mormon in the Land of Promise.
    The better line would be from Livingston, Guatemala, southward along the 89º W longitude to near San Rafael Tarajesra on the Pacific coast—a distance of 188 miles (still too long); or southwest through Lake Isabel to Puerto San Jose on the coast—a distance of 183 miles. The problem, of course, with all three of these areas would be the mountains and finding ways over or through them.
    Comment #2: I enjoyed your articles a while back about “Sorenson’s Land of Promise” series. However, while Sorenson uses a distance across the narrow neck of 125 miles, which is in error (obviously doing so he is biased in selecting that figure because he presumes that is the distance a Nephite would have to travel from sea to sea to traverse his Isthmus of Tehuantepec), the distance is much further. Sorenson’s 125 miles is close to the distance across the isthmus “as a crow flies,” a Nephite, however, would have walked between 150 to 175 miles to cross the isthmus from sea to sea because no one anciently could walk across the isthmus in a straight line. Even today, the driving distance across the isthmus on roads that followed the ancient paths approaches 175 miles because of the necessity of circumventing geologic barriers. To walk from sea to sea across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the first century BC probably would have required several days’ time for a Nephite—even a superhuman Nephite” Jakob H.
    Response: Thank you for that update. Actually, the Mexican government places the distance overland today at 144 miles. Whether it is more, I do not know, but the 144 miles is the figure I have used since corresponding with government officials on the distance. On the other hand, they may have been using an old, or inaccurate figure to make it sound easier than your 175 miles. However, the government might not be using the driving distance of the road, but a railroad line or some other measurement path.
    Comment #3: “When I read Alma 22:27, I understand that to mean that the Sidon River runs east and west, not north and south” Gerold.
Response: Mormon wrote: “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and 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). This entire information is regarding the separation of the two lands and the dividing line between the Lamanites in the Land of Nephi and the Nephites in the Land of Zarahemla. The River Sidon is a secondary thought (parenthetical phrase, often referred to as a trivial comment), only mentioning that it flowed down from this narrow strip, with its headwaters in the elevated south. The east to west description in both instances is about the narrow strip of wilderness. The scriptural record mentions several geographic entities or events either east or west of the river Sidon, but never north or south of the Sidon. All of these points reinforce the fact that the Sidon flowed in a general north/south direction over most, if not all, of its length.
    Comment #24 “What do you think of Hugh Nibley, John L. Sorenson, and so many others who claim that some of the Jaredites were not involved in the final battle and that others than Coriantumr survived?” Brooke C.
    Response: I think Ether makes it quite clear that just before the final battle the Jaredites “that they did gather together all the people upon all the face of the land, who had not been slain, save it was Ether” (Ether 15:12). “Save it was Ether” means everyone other than Ether. Simply put, Nibley and Sorenson and the others you cite are wrong. Ether made it quite clear that all of the Jaredites had been gathered in, and all were killed except for Coriantumr. That is about as clear as it gets.
    Comment #5: “How can people continue to think of Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, given all the knowledge we now have about South America, and how it fits the words of Mormon to a T?” Tristan C.
    Response:  The answer to your question is found in Nephi’s comment about those who still ponder for answers that are already given: “And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.”
    Comment #6: ”In the Discourse of Joseph Smith, page 269, last paragraph: 'They traveled nearly a south, southeast direction until they came to the nineteenth degree of north latitude; then, nearly east to the Sea of Arabia, then sailed in a southeast direction, and landed on the continent of South America, in Chile, thirty degrees south latitude.' My question is, why is everyone having a problem with this? There is a lot of confusion out there. Your writings seem to fit the pattern of Nephi. I would gladly buy your book but I'm on Social Security and can't do it right now. Thank you” Jim S.
Response: “Thank you for your kind words. Obviously, I agree with you, and have written a few posts about this route and the comment Frederick G. Williams wrote down regarding it. People have a hard time with it because it does not fit into the Mesoamerican scene, theory and model (or any of the North America ones, either), which has permeated the thinking of LDS since the first days of the Archaeological department at BYU was formed and Mesoamerica was ordained by the first people there to teach--since then thousands have been taught that Mesoamerica is the Land of Promise and much money is made by tours, etc., not to mention the reputations, careers, etc. Evidently, none of these are going to listen to any contrary comments or evidence, not even the scriptures themselves."


  1. Joseph Smith and other early leaders said a lot of things. The culture of the church seems to be that whatever isn't officially canonized is open to interpretation and/or rejection. In other words, whatever isn't "made official" isn't "official." We see that in a variety of examples. Therefore, it's easy to pick and choose Joseph's sayings. It's a cultural issue and also a doctrinal challenge for sure. Joseph also made comments that would seem to support meso-America.

    No, the bigger reason to reject meso-America is because it is so easily falsifiable on scores of details.

  2. We have posted numerous articles on this statement--whether it was Joseph Smith or just Frederick G. Williams who wrote it down is not the issue (neither is whether or not it was a revelation)--the important point is that it was written down about a place that in the 1830s would not have been known for all its inherent matches to the scriptural record. It was remarkable that they came up with the 30º south latitude in Chile, which matches everything Nephi wrote about their landing site and how they got there--something no one could have known in the time of Joseph Smith and Williams.
    You might want to look at some of these earlier posts:
    Thursday, May 1, 2014
    Counselor and Scribe, Frederick G. Williams
    Saturday, April 26, 2014
    Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part VI
    Sunday, April 27, 2014
    Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part VII
    Monday, April 28, 2014
    Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part VIII
    Monday, April 28, 2014
    Is the Chile Landing Site a Myth? – Part VIII
    If memory serves, I wrote a series about "What Did Williams Know?" which also outlines the importance of that statement made at a time no one could have known how accurate the location was. Personally, I think it is quite remarkable Williams came up with that--whether he got it from Joseph Smith or the Lord, I don't know, but one must consider a source with a much greater knowledge of matters unknown in the U.S. at the time.

  3. How about Joseph Smith's comment that it was just south of the Ismus of Darien? You can't hand pick Joseph Smith statements. There appears to be a contradiction.

  4. I don't disagree. I think it's absolutely remarkable. I'm simply saying that there are ways for people to discount what Joseph said, or to cherry pick.

    At the end of the day, it doesn't seem to matter how strong a defense you make of the SA model and Joseph's statements. All other BOM theories are so easily falsifiable, yet people embrace them anyway. In the face of such intellectual malpractice, should we be surprised that they also selectively accept Joseph's non-canonized words, whether primary or second-hand?

  5. I am not disagreeing with either of your statements. My point was that my comments were not about Joseph Smith's statement, but about the remarkable coincidence of the area attributed to him or to Frederick G. Williams on an area that is, of all the areas in the entire Western Hemisphere, the ONLY ONE that matches ALL of the scriptural record's descriptions of that landing site and what was found there and how a ship “driven forth before the wind” could have reached there, without fudging, changing, or explaining away meanings in any way. How anyone, and I mean anyone, at that time in the New England area would have known anything about that area to pick the EXACT latitude degree where all its matches are found, are beyond belief and certainly would be questionable to attribute to coincidence. Personally, I rarely use current statements by leaders regarding the scriptural record, but this one has always been of interest because it is not just a statement--it is an unbelievably accurate place based upon the scriptures--not upon some modern idea or belief—and simply cannot be explained away by fancy comments or meanings.

  6. Del,

    Your last statement made me think of something that I've been stewing on for a long time. Almost every amazing/coicidental/marvelous/inexplicable thing relating to the Book of Mormon has a parallel 1-in-a-whatever-gazillion "explanation" by non-,ex-, and anti-mormons. Critics.

    While one, two, a few, or a fair amount of these "explanations" might plausibly account for some of the amazing Book of Mormon coincidences, at some point they can't ALL be explained away. If we are to believe the critics, then the literally thousands of "plausible explanations" should really start to make us question the fabric of the space-time continuum and the metaphysical structure of the universe! If we are to explain away the Book of Mormon using every one of the objections to amazing BOM concidences, then Joseph Smith's genius exceeds Einsteins and Shakespeare's collective genius by several orders of magnitude. Which is preposterous.

    At some point, you reach what is called "an orgy of evidence." Too many coincidences. Too many things to have to explain away. Too many things for one person to combine perfectly from a thousand disparate fields of study and knowledge.

    This "orgy of evidence" concept is not new in the defense of the Book of Mormon (although, I'm fairly certain my phrase hasn't been used before). However, what's becoming increasingly apparent is that mormons WITHIN THE FOLD are themselves guilty of the same oversight at times. The Frederick Williams "coincidence" is just one of many. On its own, it ought to raise eyebrows pretty high. Combined with the wealth of supporting evidence for SA, someday people will be astounded that the saints ever believed it could have been anywhere else. But, not today. Someday, though.

    The orgy of evidence for SA is building, and it will continue to do so. We now live in a dispensation where the truth cannot be stopped or snuffed out like it was in the past. The truth, as Taleb puts it, is anti-fragile. With time and testing it only becomes stronger and more apparent. It's frustrating that one of the forces fighting it comes from within the BOM community itself, but at some point those forces will subside or give way to the superior weight of evidence.

    Keep up the good work.