Friday, March 18, 2016

More from John Sorenson—Instant Expertise – Part II

Continuing from the last post regarding the article John Sorenson wrote entitle, “Instant Expertise on Book of Mormon Archaeology,” in which he downplays all the work, study, and writing that others have done who do not have a degree in archaeology, etc. Our last post ended with his third point, and here we pick up with the continuation of his comment on that third point: 
    Sorenson: This third effect encourages criticse.g. John Price in The Indian Historian (1975) or Michael Coe in Dialogue (1973)—to set up a straw-man Book of Mormon to attack based on what Mormons have said about it instead of what it says itself.”
Response: I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be careful in our writing that we do not give critics cause to be more critical of the Church, the Book of Mormon, or out opinions of Mormon's descriptions regarding the scriptural record. To me, this is done far more than it should be by people stating their opinions that are not scripturally based. After all, when the scripture says they were on an island (2 Nephi 10:20), then I see no value in trying to claim, as many theorists do, that he didn't really mean that; or others who claim a horse was really a deer; or that two animals that were of great value to  man like the elephant were actually a sloth and tapir. However, what draws the most attention of critics is Sorenson’s own book and his outlandish claims about Mesoamerica: its changes of cardinal compass directions; its lack of a true narrow neck; its lack of a southern ocean nearly surrounding the Land Southward; in fact, it lacks anything in the ground prior to about 100 B.C. (when Hagoth’s ships went north), and its several other huge discrepancies that do not even come close to matching Mormon’s descriptions. Yet here he is criticizing other’s for their lack of scholarship.
    Sorenson: “Coe, for example, knows little about the book, but he wrote from Mormon sources, after all. If we are willing to settle for surface reading and shallow study, why should a non-Mormon scholar expend energy to dig seriously into the Book of Mormon?”
    Response: When it comes to surface reading and shallow scholarship one might question Sorenson’s seemingly cavalier approach to using the scripture in the Book of Mormon. While there are surely those who would not agree with everything we have written about Sorenson’s use of scripture, in our book Inaccuracies of Mesoamerican and Other Theorists, we do list 352 specific and very questionable quotes Sorenson makes regarding scripture covering 490 pages and 286 footnotes to show what can only be called an extremely dubious use of scripture. As an example, citing Alma 17:20 to 24:30, Sorenson tries to build a case of Nephite illiteracy and blames this lack of literacy on their use of Reformed Egyptian as their language (page 76-77 of Sorenson’s book and page 131-133 of our book), and that only the less numerous Mulekite nobility would have made the change to speak the Nephite language. He tends to ignore or forget that Hebrew was the Nephite language, and Reformed Egyptian used only for the written (sacred) record. One would also think that when Helaman had "all those engravings which were in [his] possession written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land" (Alma 63:12), a futile gesture if most of the people were illiterate and couldn't read. 
In addition, Sorenson goes on to try and prove that the “Egyptian language was the language of the Nephites,” yet, Moroni makes it very clear that the Nephite language was Hebrew (Mormon 9:33), but that they had written the sacred record in Reformed Egyptian (Mormon 9:32), and that no other people know their written language so the Lord had prepared a way for it to be interpreted (Mormon 9:34). In fact, it should be noted that almost all of the criticism leveled at the theories behind the location of the Land of Promise are directed at the claims made by Mesoamerican theorists.
    Sorenson: “The Book and the Map, ‘New Insights into Book of Mormon Geography,’ by Venice Priddis (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1975, $3.95, pp.), differs in focus from the volumes discussed above, but the quality of scholarship is similar.”
    Response: In The Book and the Map, by Priddis, she uses a total of 147 references on 157 pages, which is .93 footnotes per page, using 57 separate bibliography entrants. Almost all of these references are from well-known, scholarly works by professionals in their fields, whereas, Sorenson’s book, which covers 353 pages, and uses 552 footnotes, or 1.56 footnotes per page, of which almost half are not of professional works, but of added opinions. By way of example, our book Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica, has 735 pages, with 2,133 footnotes, or 2.9 footnotes per page. So what is unscholarly about Priddis’ work at nearly one footnote per page to Sorenson’s 1.56 footnotes per page?
    Sorenson: “Ignoring all past serious study on Book of Mormon geography, Priddis picks one "key" statement and builds a fanciful picture of the Book of Mormon lands to accord with it alonea picture, incidentally, that requires the Amazon and the Plate River basins to lie entirely under water.”
Response: Surely, Sorenson falls prey to his very own criticism, when saying that Priddis’ work is based entirely on a map. The interesting thing is, throughout her 157 pages of scholarly writing, that map is never used, whereas in Sorenson’s book, his singular map of Mesoamerica, is used more than a score of times (Priddis does use a map throughout her work, but it is not the one showing areas underwater, but an outline drawing of her Land of Promise). It seems that Sorenson’s review of Priddis’ work is every much of his own criticism of others in that it is “surface readings and shallow study,” for Priddis’ arguments, whether accepted or rejected, are detailed in every way on every subject covered and based almost entirely on professional viewpoints of the land in which she is discussing and places no value on wild ideas of Mojave Indians, Eskimos and how people in Greenland and Iceland think as does Sorenson’s work.
    Sorenson: “The evidence adduced is trivial, and the arguments are fatally flawed at point after point.
    Response: Still criticizing Priddis’ work, Sorenson disqualifies it without a single example or reference as to what makes it trivial and fatally flawed—which so happens to be a typical way in which many Mesoamericanists’ evaluate work on a Land of Promise that covers an area outside Mesoamerica. However, Priddis spends section after section in her book covering every aspect of her theory, with scriptural references throughout (something Sorenson’s work so obviously and glaringly lacks in a discussion of the scriptural record)
    And it might be noted, contrary to possibly some readers’ views here, I do not support Priddis because she writes about South America, for I think George D. Potter‘s model in South America is almost entirely inaccurate—the difference is that Priddis’ follows the scriptures, whether I agree with her placement or not, but Potter does not follow the scriptural meanings in his South American views, adjusting them to fit his locations, or providing locations that simply do not meet the descriptions.
    Sorenson: “Anyone willing to be this selective in what is to be noted and what ignored could constrict at least two dozen other geographical correlations for the Nephite scripture which could be equally (im)plausible.”
Response: For someone who discredits an entire continent of greater examples of Nephite construction, with dates in the ground more representative of the Land of Promise era than his own, Sorenson (left) goes out of his way to discredit a work that is by far more qualified to be a scholarly effort than his own. The problem with Priddis work, as it is in the eyes of all Mesoamericanists, is that it ignores Mesoamerica as being the Land of Promise. 
    No matter what is found there, what studies show, what correlations to the scriptural record exists, because it is not Mesoaemerica it is rejected out of hand—but worse yet, Priddis’ work, which is quite amazing for the fact that it was the first to cover an area no one else had ever thought to consider, that matches in almost all the scriptural descriptions Mormon has listed (as we have verified on these pages, scripture by scripture), is so maligned by Sorenson as to suggest not only an unfair and unscholarly bias, but this maligning of a person’s life-time work is uncalled for. It is one thing to point out where a person's views differ from the facts and the scriptural record, and where your disagreement lies, but quite another to make such drastic claims without a single example backed up by a scriptural reference is quite another.
(See the next post, "More from John SorensonInstant Expertise Part III," for more on the article Sorenson wrote and his implication in locating and writing about the Land of Promise today and continuing with his attacks on Venice Priddis' work)


  1. Excellent Del, I didn't know that Sorenson had commented on Priddis work. You make some great points. Thanks, Ira

  2. The scriptures clearly and simply state that the lands of the Book of Mormon were an isle (island).
    2 Nephi 10: 20 ..."we are upon an isle of the sea..."

    1 Nephi19:10 says "... according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea..."

    Like many others, I first struggled with the idea that South America used to be under water. But Genesis 7 clearly shows that the entire earth was underwater around 2300 BC and most of South America today is barely above sea level.

    I then struggled with the Andes mountains having only been formed a little over 2,000 years ago. But I thought more about
    Helaman 14:23. "...and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great."

    I then asked myself- according to the scriptures new mountains were formed at the death of Christ. If not the Andes, then where? Even the scientists agree the Andes are the newest mountains.

    I also had to get comfortable with how good people like Sorenson could get it wrong since I previously thought the Mesoamerica model was most likely correct but had concerns about several aspects of it. I came to realize they were led to think of Mesoamerica by the early works of John Lloyd Stephens and the ancient ruins he found in Mesoamerica. I can see how easy it was to think those were Book of Mormon lands. In fact Del has pointed out those lands were in fact settled by Nephites and Lamanites from Hagoth's ships- they just weren't settled by Lehi's family.

    For me it has been an enlightening and exciting experience to see how it all comes together and matches the scriptures in all cases. I'm very appreciative of Del's work and hope it becomes known much more broadly.