Thursday, June 4, 2015

Theories—The problem with Speculation – Part V

Continuing from the last post regarding the problems created when theorists begin speculating about the scriptural record in light of clear descriptions to the contrary, or where there is nothing to suggest such a thing at all. In this final post on Speculation, let’s look at the theories running wild about the Great Lakes, Heartland America, and the Eastern U.S. as the Land of Promise. 
    Several theorists have developed their own, individual models of this area and tried to fit the scriptural record into it. As difficult as it has been for them, and as much as their maps and speculations abound in error, they continue to espouse their beliefs and draw people into their thinking. It is a shame that such people do not bother to check out the scriptural record and make their own comparisons rather than just trust to the authors of these ideas.
    Take one glaring area of speculation and error—that of the earthen works for defense they claim abound all over the eastern U.S., especially in the northern states from New York to New England. First of all, let us consider what earthworks are, what they are for, and how we might identify them.
Top: Earthwork fortifications at Petersburg during the Civil War, a type of fortification that led to the trench warfare of World War I; Bottom: Earthworks at Fort McAllister, Georgia. These are not the type of so-called “earthworks” found in the Great Lakes area
    Mormon writes: “And he caused that upon those works of timbers there should be a frame of pickets built upon the timbers round about; and they were strong and high. And he caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets, and he caused places of security to be built upon those towers, that the stones and the arrows of the Lamanites could not hurt them. And they were prepared that they could cast stones from the top thereof, according to their pleasure and their strength, and slay him who should attempt to approach near the walls of the city” (Alma 50:3-5).
    He also described stone walls for defence that circled cities and their lands: “Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land” (Alma 48:8)
The earthworks found in the eastern U.S., especially around the Great Lakes, does not at all match the wording of Mormon’s descriptions
    Then there is Ashton’s comment that the Book of Mormon speaks of earthwork fortifications, then goes on to say, “Nephites indeed built many earthworks of defense; however, there is no place anywhere in either the U.S. or Canada where more earthworks for defense have been discovered than in Western New York—highly visible in colonial days these earthworks for defense now have been almost completely destroyed by farming interests.”
    It should be of interest that in the same statement Mormon makes about earthworks, he also mentions stone work: “Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land” (Alma 48:8). Yet the speculation is of enormous earthworks and little, if any of stone. For there are really no stone walls anywhere in the U.S. or Canada that Ashton refers where such stonework walls and fortifications can be found sufficient to be called works of defense, i.e., capable of keeping an enemy from attacking.
Top: Berkeley Mystery Walls in northern California; yet even that would have provided defense for riflemen, but not swordsmen; Bottom: Another stone structure built in New York, built more for a shelter than any type of defense. The dirt over looks like an earthwork wall until seen up close
    The Berkeley Mystery Wall, though a structure of some significance because of its length, shows the poor workmanship of stacking rocks on top of one another, the type of construction seen from California to New York and New England that dates to around the last century B.C. and into the early A.D. period.
Top: Earthworks now grown over with trees; Bottom: the remnant of a stone wall of very poor workmanship in Tennessee, first century A.D.
    One of the problems is when early discoverers looked at the remnants of ancient work and made judgments about them, often incorrectly. As an example, the so-called “Old Stone Fort” in Tennessee, long believed to have been an earthwork for defense has lately been shown to be built for ceremonial purposes rather than defense (Charles Faulkner, “Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park,” The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009).
(Image E – Called the New England Ancient Stonework Chamber, this small shelter was built with stacked stones that would not have served for any purpose of defense against man or animal, and likely just a shelter against weather. Note the poor working of stone both (left) outside and (right) inside
    In fact, throughout New England there are considered to be over 800 known ancient sites, including dolmens, menhirs, henges and stone chambers, some include massive ground or earthworks, including mounds. However, and this is critically important, the work is of a people with limited building skills, using earth to make their structures, not rock, framing, or supportive timbers for roofs. Hardly what one might expect from a people in 600 B.C. who came from an area where Solomon’s Temple was built—the envy of the world at the time; or from an earlier group who came from Mesopotamia where the Tower of Babel was being constructed of stone, reaching several stories into the sky.
Stone walls in New Hampshire, Vermont, and around the Great Lakes. Note the simple stacking of stones and lack of any competent workmanship
    On the other hand, the Nephites coming out of Jerusalem, a five hundred year old city at the time built of stone buildings, temple, huge 30 to 40 feet high walls that were 8 feet thick, where the stones were cut and dressed and fit perfectly. One would expect stonework far superior to that found in New England, Great Lakes and across the pre-historic U.S. But, as can be seen above, the stonework highly touted by Great Lakes and Heartland theorists falls far short of what Nephi and his people would have been capable of accomplishing.  
    As Nephi, himself, put it: “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine. And I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands” (2 Nephi 5:15-17).
This stonework, found in the last centuries B.C. and first centuries A.D. in Andean Peru is far more consistent with the Nephite capability than anything found in the eastern U.S. 
    The point being, when people speculate on such matters, it leads to an erroneous understanding of what is factual and fallaciously made up about the scriptural record and provides much ammunition for critics of the work. Unfortunately, few people upon hearing about a match such as this, whether member or non-member or critic take the time to look up the reality of such claims.
    Thus, we say that speculation about the Land of Promise and the Book of Mormon, in any form and for any reason, is most likely an injustice to the truth and the scriptural record.

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