Wednesday, December 16, 2015

America is the Land of Promise—But Where is America? – Part I

It is interesting that so many uninformed people choose to write articles, even post blogs, about lands and names they obviously do not understand.
Since the Book of Mormon was translated in 1829 and published in 1830, it behoove us to understand the language used in that period of time and what words meant—not what words mean today, 185 years later. This is especially important when we truly understand what Nephi wrote when he said, “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3). He did not speak to Joseph Smith in Chaucer’s English, or Shakespeare’s English, or the English we know today—he spoke to man through Joseph Smith’s translation in that day, in 1830 New England English as known and understood by the Prophet Joseph Smith.
    Therefore, if we are truly going to understand the Book of Mormon scriptural record, we need to know and understand what certain words meant in 1830, not what they mean today.
    On a blog site one of our readers sent us and asked that we comment on the information posted there, we find the following comment under a heading of “Where is the Promised Land?” the article goes on to say:
    If you were to ask 100 Mormons, “Where is the Promised land?” Its a pretty safe bet that at least 95 of them would say America is the Promised Land. But it’s interesting that if you asked those same 100 people, “Where did the events in the Book of Mormon take place?” the majority would probably say it all happened in Central America . . . and maybe South America. It’s not possible for America to be the Promised Land and yet NOT be the land of the Book of Mormon. When writers of the Book of Mormon wrote about the Promised Land, they were talking about the land they were living in at the time. Therefore, if we believe America is the Promised Land, then those writers were living in America.”
The question to be asked, is what or where is America? Under scholarly works, “America,” is variously defined as 1) the United States, 2) North America, 3) South America, 4) The Americas, i.e., North and South America, and 5) the American continent, i.e., North, Central and South America and adjacent islands. As most Americans know, the word “America” comes from “Americus,” the Latin form of Amerigo, after Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine (Italian) merchant, adventurer, and explorer after whom America was named. Vespucci, by the way, On May 10, 1497, embarked on his first voyage with a fleet of Spanish ships. On his third and most successful voyage in 1499 as a navigator under the command of Alonzo de Ojeda, he crossed the equator, and traveled to the coast of what is now Guyana, where it is believed that Vespucci left Ojeda and went on to explore the coast of Brazil. During this journey Vespucci is said to have discovered the Amazon River and Cape St. Augustine, as well as discovering present-day Rio de Janeiro and Rio de la Plata. Believing he had discovered a new continent, he called South America the New World. On his third voyage in 1501, setting sail for Cape Verde, this time in service to king Manuel I or Portugal ,though he did not start out commanding the expedition, when Portuguese officers asked him to take charge of the voyage he agreed. His ships sailed along the coast of South America from Cape Sao Rogue to Patagonia.
    In 1507, some scholars at Saint-Dié-des-Vosges in northern France were working on a geography book called Cosmographiæ Introductio, which contained large cut-out maps that the reader could use to create his or her own globes. German cartographer Martin Waldseemüler, one of the book's authors, proposed that the newly discovered Brazilian portion of the New World be labeled America, the feminine version of the name Amerigo, after Amerigo Vespucci. The gesture was his means of honoring the person who discovered it, and indeed granted Vespucci the legacy of being America's namesake. Three decades later, in 1538, the Belgian cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, working off the maps created at St-Dié, chose to mark the name America on both the northern and the southern parts of the continent, instead of just the southern portion. While the definition of America expanded to include more territory, Vespucci seemed to gain credit for areas that most would agree were actually first discovered by Christopher Columbus.
Left: Americus Vespucci; Right: His four voyages, each to South America
    The obvious point here is that neither Christopher Columbus nor Americus Vespucci, the discoverers of “America,” ever saw or set foot on North America, specifically the area now known as the United States. To attribute the word “America” to singularly mean the United States is both inaccurate and non-historical.
    Today, the word “America” is the name of a whole continent while the United States of America means that the U.S. belongs to America and not that America belongs to the United States. After all, both Canada and Mexico are also part of North America, as are the Latin countries of South America part of "America."
    Today, we list seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. However, that was not always the case. As an example, for a very long time, both North and South America were considered one continent until around the time of World War II when the United States decided it wanted to be a separate continent. It can also be seen that the official name of the U.S. is The United States of America, it doesn't say The United States of North America. Why? Because it has always been one continent and when the U.S. was founded, that's how Americans saw it too and kept seeing it for many years afterwards.
    While North America and South America are treated as separate continents in the seven-continent model, they are also viewed as a single continent known as America or the Americas, a viewpoint that was common in the United States until the early to mid 20th century, and remains prevalent in some Asian six-continent models today. In fact, this remains the more common vision in Latin American countries, as well as Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Greece, where they are taught as a single continent. Since the U.S. uses a seven-continent model since World War II, not all other countries have done so. Even in Mexico, both Americas are considered one continent in a six-continent world; the Modern day Olympics with their five circles representing five continents. While the seven-continent model is often taught in China, India, and most English-speaking countries, the six-continent combined-America model is taught in Latin America and in some parts of Europe including Greece, Portugal, and Spain—as well as the equivalent 5 inhabited continents model, i.e., excluding Antarctica.
In Joseph Smith’s day, “the continent” or the "American Continent" was considered both North and South America, thus when Moroni said to Joseph: “the plates contain an account of this continent’s former inhabitants” (JS-H 1:34-35), he was referring to the entire continent of North and South America. In addition, Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother, said of his evening recitals to the family, ““During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals [reports] that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.”
    Note that both the Angel Moroni and Joseph’s mother used the same term, i.e., “this continent,” which, in the 1820s meant the Western Hemisphere (North and South America).
    In fact, there are six different views in the world of the continents even today:
1. 3 continents: Afro-Eurasia, America, and Antarctica;
2. 4 continents: Afro-Eurasia, America, Antarctica, and Australia;
3. 5 continents: Africa, Eurasia, America, Antarctica, and Australia;
4. 6 continents: Africa, Europe, Asia, America, Antarctica, and Australia;
5. 6 continents: Africa, Eurasia, North America, South America, Antarctica and Australia;
6. 7 continents: Africa, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Antarctica and Australia.
    Of the six listings, four consider both North and South America as one continent.
(See the next post, “America is the Land of Promise—But Where is America? – PtII,” for more understanding of what the ancients meant by this continent and how we see this differently today, as well as understanding what was meant in Joseph Smith’s day as compared to the language we use today)

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