Friday, February 3, 2017

Evolution of Land of Promise Geography – Part VII

Continuing with the understanding of the paper on which Frederick G. Williams wrote that Lehi landed along the Chilean west coast at 30º South Latitude. It should be noted that theorists who champion other sites, such as Mesoamerica and the Heartland and Great Lakes, take issue with the Williams’ note, though they have no explanation what prompted it and why it was circulated about the early Church. Some, of course, want to claim it was a revelation, others simply want it to go away so they can promote their own views, especially those who champion Mesoasmerica or the eastern U.S., Great Lakes or Heartland theories. 
Regarding Frederick G. Williams statement about Lehi landing at 30º South Latitude, Carol Phyllis Olive stated: “Yet, the easiest path to follow is often the path of least resistance, thus, speculations about the exotic lands to the south of them continued. New theories sprang up on a regular basis, and even though there was no supportive evidence that Lehi landed in Chile many of the Saints continued to lean toward a Central and South American setting for the Book of Mormon lands.” It might be of interest in checking out her statement before responding to it:
1. The easiest path to follow. In the 1830s and thereafter, the idea that Lehi went southeast from Arabia to the Southern Ocean and then east to South America, landing at the 30º South Latitude would not have been an easy thing to grasp at the time,let alone the easiest path to follow. For the average member, they would  1) not have known where the Southern Ocean was located since it was not on any American map until the 20th century; 2) sailing south from the Arabian Peninsula would not have made as much sense when looking at a general map as sailing east through Indonesia and island-hopping across the Pacific; 3) supporting an unknown area as a location for the Book of Mormon would not have been an easy path to follow. And lastly, the average member of the Church would not have even known about Williams writing since it was not in the public sector through 1864, when it was presented to the Church Historian’s Office by Ezra G. Williams, son of Frederick G. Williams—prior to that time, it was in the private collection of the Williams’ family. When the Church made that note public is not known specifically, but it was likely for some time after that.
2. Exotic lands to the south. Most Americans in the 1830s had no knowledge of South America, especially the west coast, and very little about the western Andean area. The llama and alpaca were unknown in America, the Amazon was merely a large river, the aborigines were unknown, and the vast Inca lands and the buildings in the region were also unknown. The knowledge of Mesoasmerican buildings in Stevens and Catherwoods “Incidents in Travel in Central America’ was still ten years from publication, and that of the Inca discovery years beyond that. About the only things the average American might have known about Latin America would have been parrots, and those were mostly in Central America.
3. Speculation continued. What speculation? The early members of the Church knew the Book of Mormon lands were somewhere, but where was not even a question in most people’s minds. The formation of Brigham Young Academy’s archaeological journey to South America was still more than 70 years away, and nothing about South America was a draw other than Williams’ written statement, which few members of the Church would have known about at the time.
4. Even though there was no supportive evidence that Lehi landed in Chile. There would not have been any evidence in South America since no one in America knew anything about the country, especially along the west coast in what is called the Andean Shelf. Much later, of course, toward the end of the 20th century, knowledge of the Andes and the Inca became well known and the ruins showed evidence of an even older civilization in the Americas than Mesoamerica. Later still, it was found that the 30º South Latitude was the ideal landing place since it matched everything Nephi wrote about that area (1 Nepnhi 18:23-25).
5. Many of the Saints continued to lean toward a Central and South American setting. After 1842-3 when Stevens and Catherwood’s book Incidents in Travel in Central America came out, and joseph Smith made comment about these ruins showed evidence of an ancient civilization in the Americas, most members who had opinions about and interest in a location for the Land of Promise thought they had taken place in Central or Mesoamerica.
    Olive goes on to write that: “The theory that Lehi landed in Chile was so embedded in the minds of so many of the Saints by 1886, that when A. H. Cannon was asked in his book Questions and Answers on the Book of Mormon: Q: 19 - "Where does the Prophet Joseph Smith tell us they landed?" The answer came: "On the coast of Chile in South America” (Questions and Answers on the Book of Mormon. Designed Especially for the use of the Sunday Schools in Zion, Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor’s Office, 1886, p24).
This would have been 44 years after Joseph Smith commented so favorably about the ruins found in Mesoamerica showing an ancient American culture settling there. It is hard to imagine that this attitude about Chile in South America was predominant over that of the ruins in Mexico, Yucatan and Guatemala. But it should be understood that between the 1840s and 1950s , the later when I was a teenager in the Church, the two continent understanding of North and South America, or the entire Western Hemisphere was the Land of Promise. Around Salt Lake City, perhaps, and particularly Provo, the Limited Geography Theory was gaining strong momentum, this Western Hemisphere idea was predominant throughout the far flung regions of the Church.
    It wasn’t particularly because of Williams’ note, but because in a cursory reading of the Book of Mormon, an understanding of two large land masses connected by a narrow central corridor (neck) was pretty much understood as North and South and Central America. In fact, even today, many Church leaders and some Presidents of the Church have been vociferous in speaking in and about Latin America that the entire Western Hemisphere is Zion, i.e., the Land of Promise (we have written several articles on this issue in the past, quoting numerous leaders who have made very clear statements to this fact).
    After the turn of the Century, the Church withdrew all speculative comments from the Book of Mormon footnotes, and other sources, as to where the Land of Promise was located. After years of the First Presidency telling the Church members nothing concrete was known about the location and everything about it was mere speculation, serious students of the geography of the Book of Mormon began to see in the scriptural record that the distances being described in Mormon’s abridgement did not justify a two continent theory regarding that portion of the Land of Promise covenanted by the Lord to Lehi and his posterity.
Eventually, this led to the Limited Geography theory that mostly centered in Mesoamerica, because of the ruins located there.
    Once that happened, serious pursuits, especially in archaeology and anthropology, centered at BYU, concentrated all their efforts, through an organization named FARMS, on Mesoamerica. Theories abounded around Mesoamerica, several books were written and tours undertaken to the so-called “Book of Mormon Lands,” and much money was made in this concentrated speculative theory.
In 1950, John A. Widtsoe reaffirmed the fact that the whereabouts of the Book of Mormon lands was still considered a mystery. He stated:  “As far as can be learned, the Prophet Joseph Smith, translator of the book, did not say where, on the American continent, Book of Mormon activities occurred. Perhaps he did not know” (John A. Widtsoe, “Is Book of Mormon Geography Known?” Improvement Era, 53, 7 July, 1950). Even so, numerous attempts to pin-point the actual setting for the Book of Mormon continued. In John L. Sorenson’s book, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events; A Source Book, he details 70 of the more popular Book of Mormon models with by far the greatest portion of them dealing with the Mesoamerican setting. His own work has become the most widely accepted at the present time. Now, in all these works no two are alike and one must wonder why that is? One simple answer is that each theory is based on a person or persons personal views and beliefs and not on Mormon’s abridgement of the Nephite writings now found in the Book of Mormon.
    Nor are we ever going to find the location of the Land of Promise until theorists stop trying to force their beliefs on others, and stop quoting modern-day Prophets and General Authorities whose opinions and speculation are no different than any other according to the Church's stand. Not until we start paying attention to what Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni tell us in their writings are we going to find the location of the Land of Promise--not what we want them to say, but what they actually said. There are, at last count, some 65 different references in the scriptural record, of which at least 44 are direct scriptural quotes, giving us the answers we seek. 
It is only a matter of looking for them and what they tell us, rather than trying to force them to tell us what we want to here.
    Until we do that, the location of the Land of Promise will remain a mystery to most people who seek its location.

1 comment:

  1. Del, a while back you mentioned the age of Noah. Are you aware that the Joseph Smith translation originally had different ages in some cases for the antediluvian Patriarchs?