Sunday, November 1, 2015

Going Far Afield With Personal Views-Part I

Taking another look at John L. Sorenson’s landmark book that supposedly shed new light on the Book of Mormon and the location of the Land of Promise, we can see how far afield from the actual scriptural record and its intent we get when we try to place everything in a pre-determined location, such as Mesoamerica.  
    Taking his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, we can look at page 266 as he tries to make a case between the scriptural record and Mesoameria;
    The prime movers were, in all likelihood, ambitious leaders who saw a chance for increased personal and lineage power in the moves. Morianton and Jacob (3 Nephi 7:12) illustrate the type. All this business of seeking new lands and power sounds very Mesoamerican.”
Response: First, Morianton (left) was not seeking power in his attempted move to the Land Northward, he was escaping for his life. Second, in the 24th year of elected judges conflicts arose between the Nephites who lived in the new coastal lands of Lehi and Morianton. The people of Morianton, whose claims to the Land of Morianton and which joined upon the borders of Lehi” (Alma 50:26), evidently thought the people of Lehi were encroaching on their land, and set about to reclaim their land with the sword. The people of Lehi “fled the to the camp of Moroni, and appealed unto him for assistance; for behold they were not in the wrong” (Alma 50:27).
    Fearful of the army of Moroni, Morianton put it into their hearts of his people that “they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward” (Alma 50:29). However, Moroni was forewarned by one of Morianton’s maid servants, and Moroni, fearful “that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty” (Alma 50:32). So Moroni “sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward” (Alma 50:33). This army, under the direction of Teancum, was successful, Morianton was killed in battle, and the people of Morianton were brought back, and upon their covenanting to keep the peace were released, and peace was restored (Alma 50:34-36).
    The point is, as the scriptures show, this was not a desire on the part of Morianton to increase his power of leadership or lineage power of authority. Two cities were built, they were inhabited for the purpose of creating a bulwark against the Lamanite incursions in the east coastal area, and a disagreement arose over the land boundaries.
    This may sound Mesoamerican to Sorenson, but it does not sound Nephite, who did not have border squabbles that we know about, but had squabbles over religion and religious pursuits.
    The trouble is, it appears that when Sorenson tout Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, it is not important how the wordage of the scriptural record is, but how he can tie it into Mesoamerica, which is not a scholarly practice at all.
    (p268) “Settlements of the 1st Century B.C. had been found scattered along the coast of the States of Guerrero and Oaxaca a few hundred miles north of the isthmus of Tehuantepec. The Nephite colonization and subsequent trade (Helaman 3:10) was directed there particularly since good timber is rare in that hot, dry strip.”
In Sorenson’s model, from Hagoth’s shipyard (Juchitan de Zaragosa/narrow neck/Isthmus of Tehuantepec) to Punta Corneta (coast of Oaxaca) is in a southwest direction; From there to Los Corrales is a west by southwest direction—only the last 100 miles of a 925 mile coastal sailing voyage matches the direction Mormon gives us in the scriptural record. A scholar might suggest this map and Mormon’s descriptions do not match
    Response: Coastal Guerrero, around the area of Acapulco today, is due west of Juchitan de Zaragoza, which is within the protected harbors Soreonson uses along the southern coast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec as the location of Hagoth’s shipyard—a distance of 375 miles. And any direction along the Oaxaca coast at Punta Corneta (Point Corneta or Corneta End) at San Pedro Pochutia—a distance of 125 miles—would be in a southwest direction, not “north” as Sorenson claims. And neither case meets the scriptural record of direction: “and they took their course northward” (Alma 63:6). And the furthest most point of Guerrero is actually 500 miles away as the crow flies, over 600 miles by sea—hardly the “few hundred miles” Sorenson minimizes in his writing. Nor is Nayarit 600 miles “north” of the Isthmus, but a whopping 920 miles (and the first 800 miles is not “north” at all, but a “west by northwest” direction. Not until one passes around present day Puerto Vallarta (Los Corrales) can one say a northward course was taken, 800 miles away!
    (p268)  “Hagoth was a major figure in promoting northward migration.”
    Response: We do not know what role Hagoth played in this other than he built ships. We use his name a lot because names of people are seldom given outside the military battles. We do know that shipping was a major industry in the Land of Promise (Helaman 3:10, 14). Whether he promoted the industry, sold his ships, leased or rented them out, or there was a major shipping company or two that simply had Hagoth build them ships, is unknown. Certainly, his ships were a major factor in immigration and business shipping since Mormon singled him out. However, it would seem from the scriptural record that far more people went north to “inherit the land” by going overland than by ship.
    (p268)  “There is concrete evidence that sea travel along the Pacific coast of not only Mexico but all the way to Ecuador in South America was an ancient, though probably not a regular, practice.”
    Response: Sorenson can talk about concrete evidence; however, all anthropologists and archaeologists who study South America write about a south to north movement of artifacts and contact. That is, South America moved northward, not Central America moving to South America. And if the Nephites were involved in trading by ship with Central  America, one might wonder why, when the Lamanites threatened to wipe them out in 385 B.C., they didn’t embark on ships to a land northward with whom they had been trading. Escape is preferable, especially with wives and children, to certain annihilation.
    (p268) Regarding plank-decked European style ships: “There is no evidence so far that such ships were constructed or used in the New World until after the Spanish conquest, and it seems unlikely they would have left no evidence even in art.
Response: What evidence Sorenson might want to see is interesting. First, that shipbuilding continued in the Land of Promise after the Nephites were wiped out. Who does he think would have built such ships? The surviving Lamanites? It is highly unlikely they would have possessed such expertise in building the kind of ships Hagoth built, and just as unlikely that they would have had an interest or need since they were embroiled in a bloody, long-lasting civil war. No doubt, by the time that war ended, the original combatants who knew why they were fighting tribe against tribe, community against community, had even started. Moroni tells us the war had continued for 26 years and was still going strong at the conclusion of his record. As for art, they didn’t leave evidence of horses, elephants, metallurgy (in Mesoamerica), coins, etc. We need to keep in mind that period art was not created to leave a history of a society—archaeologists just use it as such, but the absence of something does not mean it did not exist, as archaeologists are always ready to point out unless it does not work in their favor.

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