Friday, May 29, 2015

Thoughts from General Conference

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in a recent conference, “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.” Answers, we were told by another speaker come in quiet awareness, and that “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
We also learned that “The scriptures are a fountain of knowledge that never runs dry, there is always something new to learn.” This seems to be especially true when reading the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon, and in learning more and more from the many insights Mormon provided us as he abridged the record of numerous other writers and clarified their writing for us, his future reader. Without doubt, Mormon has shown us that we can always learn something from the scriptural record, particularly when he approach it without pre-conceived thinking, but with an open mind, studying his words and making every attempt to understand what he meant in his writing.
    In fact, the message of conference, among others, seemed to be that we should never reach a point when we feel we know everything about any subject. Progress through our second estate is one of continual learning and continually ever-increasing understanding.
    While this is true in all aspects of study, learning and life, it seems particularly important in our researching and investigating of the Land of Promise and the prophet Mormon’s numerous descriptions inserted to help us better understand the region where the Nephite nation flourished.
    As an example, when we decide a certain place is the Land of Promise, we should never reach a point where we feel we know everything involved—we should keep learning and seek for more and more information regarding that location and most importantly, compare all scripture to it because if it is the correct location, all additional reading and scriptural interpretation will match the location. If it is not the correct location to start with, then we will find things that do not match as they are written, and we should discard our thoughts and look for a more accurate matching location.
    Unfortunately, when we have stopped trying to learn and verify, we have a tendency to try and make adjustments in the scriptural record thinking we know something that was not known or understood by the original writers, inserting our own thoughts into our interpretations, and making adjustments in scriptural meaning. We read what Mormon has written, and try to fudge its simple meaning into some deeper, more convoluted thoughts.
    Once we believe we have the final word on such a location, say where the hill Cumorah is located, then read that from the top Mormon and 23 of his men were so well hidden from view of the blood-thirsty Lamanties bent on their death, that they could look out onto the surrounding land and see the bodies of 230,000 Nephite dead (Mormon 6:11-15)—we should be able to say that, yes, that could happen from this hill. On the other hand, when we find that the hill we thought is only 130 feet tall, basically shaped like a cigar buried its length halfway in the ground, with a gently, easily traversable rounded (drumlin) shape that provided no covering for hiding, or hindrance from the enemy forces overrunning it, we need to readjust our thinking. 
The Hill Cumorah in upstate New York. Red Arrow shows the view point from the highest point of the drumlin hill; Yellow Arrow shows the 130-feet high hill running lengthwise. In neither case would there have been any way to keep from being spotted from a vantage point where sight of 230,000 dead could be seen 
    Or when we read that the land runs north and south (Alma 22:27-34) and our model runs east and west, such as Mesoamerica, we need to discard our model and seek a location that matches the scripture, not write lengthy articles to justify why Mormon didn’t use our cardinal directions, though he was writing to us, his future reader, for our enlightenment and understanding. Or when the Sidon River is clearly shown to flow northward as Mormon describes it, but our model has it running southward, that we back up and recognize that our model is wrong and look elsewhere for the correct location.
    Another example is that when Jacob, speaking as a prophet during a special two-day conference on the Atonement, tells the Nephites that they are on an island (2 Nephi 10:20), we need to discard any location, no matter how much we have been committed to it, that is not now or was not at the time of the Nephite occupation, at least prior to the drastic changes made in 3 Nephi, an island. This is also true when Jacob tells us that their island was in the midst of the very sea over which they had sailed (2 Nephi 10:20).
    Or when Samuel the Lamanite tells us that at the time of the crucifixion “and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23), we need to verify our belief in a location by making sure there are numerous mountains, “whose height is great.” And if not, such as New York state at the Land of Promise where no “high” mountains of any kind exist, then we need to discard that location and look for a location that does match.
The flat land of upstate western New York where no mountains exist, let alone ones “whose height is great” 
    Another step is to compare other scripture on the same subject, location, or image to see if they agree. As an example, Jacob writes of the Nephites being on an island in the midst of the sea, Helaman describes the Nephites within the Land of Promise “did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Helaman 3:8). And Mormon also writes of this in “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” (Alma 22:32).
    When different scriptural references agree with the same overall viewpoint, it would seem sufficient to make a claim that this description of the Land of Promise is without question.
    Another example is the narrow neck of land where Mormon describes it as connecting the Land Southward to the Land Northward (Alma 22:32), and that this narrow neck led into the Land Northward (Alma 63:5), and Moroni tells us that the Jaredites “built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20). All of these and numerous others, consistently describe a narrow neck of land that provides egress from the south into the north lands, and each agrees with the other.
There is no conceivable way that anyone even today, let alone in 600 B.C. without aid of satellite images or aerial photography to even recognize that the land narrowed as seen in this map of Mesoamerica. Nor does it fit the defensive descriptions of Mormon with its 140 mile width 
    We can constantly learn form the scriptural record if we don’t stop trying to learn. In addition, when one has a theory about a land location, that theory should continually be challenged with everything that is written to make sure everything agrees with that point. However, when we close our mind to continual learning, we often ignore and bypass statements or descriptions Mormon gives that are not consistent with our pet “theory.” At such a time, we simply stop learning.
    As an example, when someone develops a theory about Mesoamerica being the Land of promise (perhaps because of the ruins there), one should then read 2 Nephi 10:20 where Jacob tells us they were on an island. When reading such, the theory of Mesoamerica should have immediately been discarded, or at least looked at with a critical eye and come under severe scrutiny as to how Mesoamerica could have been considered an island in 600 B.C. Nor should one simply chalk it up to the belief that Jacob didn’t know what he was talking about, or didn’t understand his land, or whatever. 
    Jacob, speaking at a conference on very sacred subjects, i.e., the atonement, resurrection from the dead, and forgiveness of sins, would not also be talking about something of which he did not know. We need to give credit to these early prophets and their inspirations rather than think we are the seat of all such knowledge and look for reasons why, such as in this case, Jacob didn’t know what he was talking about.
    And when the brethren today talk about how we need to keep learning, we should discard their pet-beliefs, theories and attitudes and search with an open mind the true meaning of the scriptural record and what Mormon wrote and its very clear meaning, even if it means forming new beliefs and theories about locations and models.

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