Saturday, June 27, 2015

How North Does North Have to be?

So many writers over the years have tried to make light of Mormon’s adamant comments about north and south, east and west. It is almost as though some contest took place at BYU years ago to decide how north could be re-figured to be east, and the resultant winners all decided to write books about their newly found directions and the Mesoamerican landscape.
Max Wells Jakeman (left) was evidently the first to bring this so-called huge error of directions in the Book of Mormon to the forefront, when he became the first head of the newly created chair of archaeology, a regular academic department at Brigham Young University in 1946. Considered the “father of Book of Mormon archaeology,” he taught archaeology in the framework of “historical archaeology,” based on a close connection with historical documents (text-related archaeology as opposed to field archaeology).
    Jakeman, the author of The Origin and History of the Mayans (1945), and a firm believer in Mesoamerican Land of Promise location while at UC Berkeley, to become the first Latter-day Saint ever to earn the doctorate in the field of archaeology, whose dissertation was entitled The Maya States of Yucatan 1441-1545. His conviction that the Book of Mormon Land of Promise was located in Mesoamerica dates to eight years before he was appointed archaeology chair at BYU, from his early days at UC Berkeley and studies there about the Maya. He also negotiated the 1946 BYU purchase of the famous William Gates Collection of Early Middle American Literature, believed to contain 98% of all known early manuscripts in the native Indian languages of Mexico and Central America.
    Under his leadership, archaeology became an established academic subject at BYU and widely recognized as an approach of great potentiality with which to study the scriptural foundations of the Latter-day Saint faith—the Book of Mormon.
Top: Jakeman (seated) discussing the location of Aguacatal with members; Bottom: BYU archaeological expedition at the ruins of Aguacatal, Campeche, Mexico, believed to be the city of Bountiful by Jakeman
    Consequently, it should be kept in mind that  since at least 1946, studies of the Book of Mormon at BYU were centered around a geographic location in Mesoamerica. In 1948, 1954 and 1956, Jakeman headed BYU expeditions to Central America, which are claimed to have “uncovered highly important evidence on the location of the Book of Mormon cities, particularly Bountiful and Zarahemla.” Between 1946 and 1956, about 4,500 students passed through classes offered by the BYU Department of Archaeology, many of them taught by Jakeman himself. As a result, then, from the very beginning (in fact, eight years before the Archaeology Department at BYU was formed), Jakeman was convinced that Mesoamerica was the site of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise; an attitude and belief he brought to BYU and began teaching in his “historic archaeology.”
    Thus, from the man who had no problem changing Mormon’s explicit scripturally stated north-south Land of Promise to an east-west oriented land in Mesoamerica, thousands of individuals have over the past 59 years been taught that Mormon was wrong, Joseph Smith mistranslated the Book of Mormon and the Spirit allowed such an error to be propagated regarding the direction of the Land of Promise.
    In 1950, one of Jakeman’s early protégés dating back to the University of California at Berkeley, Thomas Stuart Ferguson, teamed with Milton R. Hunter, who had been responsible for bringing Jakeman to BYU from Berkeley, with a forward by John A. Widtsoe, who had recommended Jakeman’s appointment, (Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, p 176), began to write about Mesoamerica and had to change his directions in mid-sentence from the scriptural record: “The literate Nephite-Mulekite nation began colonizing north (actually west and north or northwest) of the Isthmus in 55 B.C.
Ferguson’s overall map of Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise. Note that this land actually runs east and west, not north and south, nor even northwest to southeast as Ferguson claims, but due east and west
    The resultant change in direction, beginning with Jakeman, continued with Ferguson, picked up by John L. Sorenson and others, until the inaccurate directions of Mesoamerica that disagree so strongly with the scriptural record and Mormon’s clear north-south directions, has been accepted in all corners of the discussion about the Land of Promise until today only a few are knowledgeable enough to make a negative comment about this glaring inaccuracy.
    The point is, Jakeman, Ferguson, and Sorenson’s Mesoamerica cannot be altered by language—it does not run to the northwest or southeast, but along an almost true east-west axis at the narrow neck area, where Bountiful and Zarahemla have been inaccurately placed to the east of the narrow neck (instead of south) and also to the east of Desolation and the Land Northward (instead of to the south). It is interesting with these very obvious and uncontested differences with the scriptural record, Ferguson wrote to Richard L. Evans in 1941: “For many years I have been actively interested in the Book of Mormon, and I believe I have an unusually strong testimony of its divinity,” yet still felt free to rearrange the directions of the Land of Promise, ignoring the directions Mormon made so clear in Alma 22:27-34. It was also clear at the time that he believed Church members entertained certain misconceptions about the Book of Mormon that needed to be corrected—a belief also held by Hugh Nibley who mentioned this belief frequently.
    The point being, that when modern historians, writers, and theorists begin playing with the wordage of the scriptural record in an effort to bend Mormon’s words to a more general fit of their ideas, both the Book of Mormon and the members of the Church are ill-served.
    Take, as an example, Jakeman’s early belief (before he came to BYU) that the city of Bountiful was located in the ancient settlement of Aguacatal, Compeche, Mexico.
In Jakeman’s Land of Promise, his city of Bountiful is located far to the east of his Land of Bountiful, to the east of Zarahemla, and far from the narrow neck of land, where Mormon placed the city
    With little, if any, real evidence of any kind, one of Jakeman’s early decisions was to lead a group of BYU archaeology students to Aguacatal for a dig in 1948, that over time, extended into a series of trips to Aguacatal and later other sites, including Tula, Mitla and Teotihuacan and the museums of Mexico City, Jalapa and Oaxaca.
    So steeped in Mesoamerica did Jakeman and Ferguson become, that thousands of archaeological students at BYU have been taught this location for the Book of Mormon Land of Promise until hardly a single LDS archaeologist would think of looking elsewhere for the location, despite the continual lack of any evidence to support Mesoamerica in any archaeological manner. So much so, that non-LDS archaeologists have long criticized and blatantly rejected such a connection.
     The problem is, and it always is the same problem, when people start trying to alter or change the meaning of the scriptural record, it unleashes a whole series of problems that have far-reaching effect. Mormon gave us his simple directions of north and northward as he outlined the relationship of the various lands in the Land of Promise beginning with the Lamanite king’s proclamation, showing us, his future reader, exactly where that land was located, and where it was located in relationship to the Nephite held lands of Zarahemla, Buntiful, the narrow neck of land, and Desolation in the Land Northward—all in a northward movement from the Land of Nephi.
    The question asked earlier was, how far north does north have to be for it to be north? Nibley, Jakeman, Ferguson, Sorenson, Allen, Hauck, and numerous other Mesoamerican theorists all want us to believe that if you go west, you will eventually go north, or if you go east, you will eventually go south, that a sea to the north of the Land of Promise was called the Sea East by the Nephites, and the sea to the south of the Nephites was called the Sea West.
When overlaying a north-south-east-west compass direction rose on the map of Mesoamerica, there can be no question that the land runs east and west, nor north and south as Mormon describes the Land of Promise
    However, all this playing with words does not change the fact that Mesoamerica runs east and west, just like the United States runs east and west between the seas—you can move from Southern California to Main, which is truly a northeast direction, but you are going east and no one would entertain the thought you were going north or even northward. And since Mesoamerica is located in a much smaller land area, the idea that east is south and west is north is simply out of the question to any sane individual. Only Mesoamericanists can consider the opposite—certainly Mormon did not when he told us the directions of the Land of Promise.

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