Thursday, August 18, 2016

Why Do We Have Scriptures? Part I

A recently published book by Jonathan Neville caught my attention entitled Moroni’s America: the North American setting for the Book of Mormon, published in December 2015. One of the maps associated with the book is this one:
[Map from Book of Mormon Wars Website]
    One of the statements made by the author as he summarizes the thesis of his book is: “Until now, proposed settings for the Book of Mormon failed to reconcile all the available evidence from the text itself, additional latter-day scripture, teachings of Joseph Smith and the Three Witnesses, and real-world geology, geography, anthropology, and archaeology…The North American setting embraces all of these sources and harmonizes them in a way I didn’t think possible.”
    Now, part of the harmonizing of all he mentioned is this map. If you take a look at it and study it for a moment, then compare it with Alma 22 where Mormon inserts a lengthy explanation of what the Land of Promise looked like in the days that the sons of Mosiah went preaching to the Lamanites, we find an interesting mis-match of several descriptions that Mormon so thoughtfully left us so we could get a better grasp of the territory involved.
So before going over the map in detail, let us see what Mormon had to say, and in so doing, perhaps give some thought to the above question: “Why do we have scripture?”
 LtoR: Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, Moroni—all gave us descriptions of the Land of Promise 
    We also need to keep in mind that the writers of the Book of Mormon and Mormon, as its major abridger, along with his son Moroni, who abridged the Jaredite record of Ether, as well as the first two prophets of the work, Nephi and Jacob, we have the four people whose writings about the shape and distances and configuration of the Land of Promise who actually lived there, walked the land, fought over it, and knew the territory from both a citizen and a leader of men in battle perspective. In fact, as the scripture tells us, "in the mouths of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established" (II Corinthians 13:1).
    On the other hand, consider later on the perception of people like Oliver Cowdery and     other early members and leaders of the Church who, at best, can only speak from an educated guess, opinion, or viewpoint. The one exception to the modern view is that of Joseph Smith. However, since he never at any time stated in an official capacity that was viewed officially by the Church as to incorporate it into doctrinal level, a location of the events, places, or geography of the Nephi and Jaredite Book of Mormon lands, we need to be careful laying claims at Joseph’s feet that he did not make and did not intend to be accepted as official Church standing of any location other than to mention the Western Hemisphere of North and South America.
    Having said all that, let us take a look at Mormon’s descriptions and then compare them to the map above:
1. There was a narrow strip of wilderness on the north of the Land of Nephi by the Land of Zarahemla (Alma 22:27).
2. The narrow strip of wilderness ran from then East Sea to the West Sea (Alma 22:27).
3. Narrow Strip of Wilderness ran between and separated the land of Zarahemla on the north and the Land of Nephi on the south (Alma 22:27)
4. The Land of Nephi and the Lamanites were hemmed in on the south of the Nephites (Alma 22:33).
5. The Land of Nephi ran from the Sea West to the Sea East (Alma 22:27).
6. Lamanites were scattered on the west in the Land of Nephi and on the west and in the Land of Zarahemla on the west in the borders by the seashore (Alma 22:28).
7. The place of their Father’s First Inheritance was located in the west in the Land of Nephi and thus bordering along by the seashore (Alma 22:28).
8. There were many Lamanites in the east by the seashore (Alma 22:29).
9. The Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful—thus Bountiful was to the north of the Nephite lands of Zarahemla (Alma 22:29).
10. Bountiful bordered upon the Land of Desolcation, which was to the north (Alma 22:30).
11. The Land of Desolcation was so far northward that it came into the land of the Jaredites (Alma 22:30).
12. The land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful (Alma 22:31).
13. The land of Zarahemla and the Land of Nephi were nearly surrounded by water, except for a small neck of land between the Land Northward and the Land Southward (Alma 22:32).
14. The small neck of land between the Land Northward and the Land Southward was the distance of a day-and-a-half journey for a Nephite (Alma 22:32).
    So let us again ask the question. “Why do we have scripture?”
One of the reason is explained in the killing of Laban, for it was “better that one man perish than a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:13), suggesting that the scriptures help us better understand the truth. In addition, Alma tells us that scriptures “enlarge the memory of a people and convince many of the errors of their ways” (Alma 37:8), obviously helping us to understand when we are wrong; and also convince people of the incorrect traditions" they hold (Alma 37:9), indicating that we can know when our course of action or thought are inaccurate. On a personal level, scriptures help us keep from going astray from the truth, help us stay on course, and keep us reminded of the truth so we don't invent our own beliefs. In other words, it keeps us from claiming thing are true which do not agree with the scritpural record, suh as John L. Sorenson's skewed directions of his Land of Promise in Mesoamerica.
    All of this is helpful, of course, in understanding the geography of the Book of Mormon location for the Land of Promise. So let’s take a look at Jonathan Neville's map above and go over the points Mormon describes in Alma 22 listed above.
1. There was a narrow strip of wilderness on the north of the Land of Nephi by the Land of Zarahemla.
    Map Result: Inaccurate. His narrow strip mostly runs between the Land of Bountiful and his Land of Nephi.
2. Narrow Strip of Wilderness running from Sea East to Sea West. 
    Map Result: Inaccurate. Neville’s “narrow strip” does not begin or end at any sea.
3. Narrow Strip of Wilderness ran between and separated the land of Zarahemla on the north from the Land of Nephi on the south.
    Map Result: Inaccurate. Neville’s “narrow strip” does not run between the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Nephi—it runs south of the Land of Bountiful contrary to the scriptural record.
(For more on this list, see the next post, “Why Do We Have Scriptures? Part II,” and the map of Jonathan Neville showing the location of the lands of the Land of Promise and how he has them out of place compared with Mormon’s descriptions in Alm a 22:27-33)

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