Saturday, September 30, 2017

A Matter of Perspective – Part I

Mesoamerican guru John L. Sorenson has stated: “Nothing is contained anywhere in the Book of Mormon that dictates how narrow or how wide the narrow neck of land must be. The best that can be deduced from the Book of Mormon itself is that the narrow neck of land is undoubtedly an isthmus. The issue then becomes one of finding a suitable narrow neck—in Mesoamerica. The only isthmus—and hence the only narrow neck of land—in geographical Mesoamerica is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.”
The black line suggests the gradual curvature of the shoreline over a long distance. Unless one could see both shores at the same time, they would not even suspect that there was a narrow point in the middle

Response: Here’s the problem. We are dealing with a people in 600 BC to 400 AD that did not have topical maps, GPS, satellite photos, and aerial photographs, yet, Sorenson claims they could tell that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which lies between 125 and 144 miles across (the Tehuantepec Route from gulf to gulf measures 137 miles; though a railway route was built in 1893 that ran 130 miles), could have been understood by a people living in the area or along the shores, that it was not only an isthmus, but a “small” and “narrow” neck of land.
    Consider how far a person can see along a straight line, such as a coastline while standing on the beach. Can one perceive a gradual curve as anything more than simply a curving or rounding piece of land at sea’s edge? Does anything that moves so gradually as this shoreline suggest anything other than a simple shoreline that gradually curves over a great distance?
As an example, the distance from Veracruz, Mexico to Champoton on the Yucatan Peninsula, is 370 miles—about the same distance as from Logan in northern Utah to St. George, in southern Utah. Just exactly what curvature could you see in that distance?

There is simply no way a person without the kind of visual site we have today could know that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was even an isthmus in Nephite times, let alone one that was “narrow.” Short of seeing both coastlines at the same time from a considerable height (which was not possible for the Nephites), such as in the Space Shuttle, there is no way you could tell it was anything more than a slight narrowing of the land.
    As Sorenson says, “The only isthmus—and hence the only narrow neck of land—in geographical Mesoamerica is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.” But what if you were not looking for a narrow neck of land? What if in Nephite times you were simply walking that distance along the shore—say, walking from Logan, Utah, to St. George, Utah, and deducing along the way that a shoreline was a gradual curve.
    Could you even tell that?
    Do you get the picture? There is simply no way that anyone could know that this was a narrowing of the land. And if you walked along the opposite southern shore of Mesoamerica, say from Santa Maria in Guatemala to Puerto Angel in Oaxaca, Mexico, a distance of about 370 miles (as the crow flies), what could you tell?
There are no mountains on the northern side of the Isthmus and the Sierra Madre to the south breaks down at this point into a broad, plateau-like ridge, whose elevation at the highest point is 735 feet, thus, there is no point in all of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that is high enough from which a person in Nephite times could have seen both shores. Nor is there anywhere between the two Gulfs when crossing through the Chivela Pass or the swampy jungle beyond that would elevate a person to see the distant shore.
    The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a broad, plateau-like ridge that separates the Bay of Campeche (located in the Gulf of Mexico) in the north from the Gulf of Tehuantepec (part of the South Pacific Ocean) on the south. The southeastern parts of the Mexican states of Veracruz and Oaxaca occupy territory in the isthmus, while the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco lie to its east. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec lies just to the west of the Yucatan Peninsula, where many consider Central America to be geographically separated from North
Along the coastal Gulf of Tehuantepec that borders the Pacific Ocean. Top: Looking north along the shore line; Bottom: Looking south along the shoreline

View along the Gulf of Tehuantepec of the Pacific Ocean side, showing a straight coastline as far as one can see. There is no way to even suspect from such a view that this is a narrowing of land or that there is an Isthmus involved here.
The Bay of Compeche shoreline off the Gulf of Mexico. Top: Looking north; Middle: Looking south; Bottom: Along the Gulf of Mexico at Tehuantepec 

View along the Bay of Compeche on the Gulf of Mexico side, showing a straight coast line with a jutting land outward into the Gulf in the far distance. Again, there is nothing here to suggest a narrowing of the land or an Isthmus. How on Earth would people in 600 BC think there was an Isthmus at this point or that the land narrowed, let alone would have used a term like “small” or “narrow” neck of land.
    The point, and a very obvious one at that, is simply that it would have been impossible for Nephites, if they were living in Mesoamerica to have known that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec—which we can identify as an isthmus today only because of aerial photography, satellite imagery and NASA space shots—was in fact an isthmus, or even little more than a slight narrowing of the land—or, more likely, that there was a slight change in the shoreline. There would have been nothing whatsoever to lead them to think in terms of a “small” or “narrow” neck of land with the technology they had in their day.
    Walking that land, viewing it form seashore views, even walking across it, would not have suggested in the slightest way that it was a narrow or small neck of land as Mormon writes. Obviously, without a vantage point where the land can be seen in its entirety, could anyone know that it was an isthmus. Even so, like today, there is no way anyone would look at that and say, oh, that is a “narrow neck of land,” for it does not give that impression from any view whatever, even from views unknown to the Nephites.
    Thus, Sorenson accurately says, “The only isthmus—and hence the only narrow neck of land—in geographical Mesoamerica is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.” It may be and may have been the only area. But in 600 B.C. or in Nephite times, there is no way anyone would have known, if they lived in that area, that there was an isthmus in Mesoamerica. Even today, it is a stretch to consider Tehuantepec an isthmus, even though it is so labeled on maps.
Consider the difference between what is seen, a gradual indentation of the land, from the 1828 definition of “isthmus”—“A neck or narrow slip of land by which two continents are connected, or by which a peninsula is united to the mainland…the word is applied to land of considerable extent, between seas; as the isthmus of Darien, which connects North and South America, and the isthmus between the Euxine and Caspian seas

It certainly does not meet any criteria as described by Mormon: “A small neck of land,” or a “narrow neck of land.” The distance of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is about the same distance as from Ogden to Nephi in Utah (120 miles) or from Brigham City to Nephi (141 miles)—one can hardly refer to either as a “narrow or small distance.” And when you consider that the distance by ancient trails or modern highways is closer to 160 miles, the problem becomes even greater.
    What perspective would a person have to have to consider that kind of distance to equate to Mormon’s “small” or “narrow” description? Certainly not a perspective that the scriptural record is the guide and answer to things pertaining to the Land of Promise.

(See the next post, “A Matter of Perspective – Part II,” for the rest of Allen’s comments about the narrow neck and Sorenson’s views on the subject)


  1. Why does every map just made from what the Book of Mormon itself says always look so much like the "Andes with the Amazon basin underwater before Christ" model?

    BYU Virtual Scriptures

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I found out that regular hyperlinks can be made in these comments:

      Use this as is, except change ^ into < in the two places:

      ^a href="">Somelink^/a>

      where is the hyperlink you want to make (no matter how complicated the link is), and Somelink is the name of it that you want to show in the comment.

  2. For an observer standing on the beach looking into the ocean with eye level at h = 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m), the horizon is at a distance of 2.9 miles (4.7 km). For an observer standing on a hill or tower 100 feet (30 m) in height, the horizon is at a distance of 12.2 miles (19.6 km).

    The earth's natural curvature prevents one from seeing past 3 miles from ground level. The only way they could measure the distance.. was to walk it... and it took a day and a half for a Nephite... but there is no way they can see farther than 3 miles from the ground level.

  3. The thing that I find interesting about the narrow neck is the fact that it does not exist today in Peru either. The Meso boys could argue as we do that the narrow neck changed at the time of Christ. But they don't! They argue that there weren't any significant changes to the continent at that time. And I would agree. There weren't any changes to MesoAm at the time of Christ.

  4. A couple other things that never made sense to me back a decade or so ago when I was studying the meso model and thought it was perhaps the most likely model are: 1) why didn't they expand south of guatemala into what is now el salvador? 2) why didn't they go north (actual north not made up north that is really west) into Yucatan 3) how can they claim the water east of yucatan is the east sea and the water west of yucatan (and north of the isthmus) is east sea? 4) how can the place the cities- the book of mormon says are on the east sea (moroni, lehi, mulek, etc)- along the east coast going up yucatan, but then suddenly stop and place bountiful and desolation nowhere near them- but rather almost due west over 200 miles by the isthmus.

    Feels a bit like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

  5. iterry: Your point is well taken, however, I would add that today, the distance between the east edge of the gulf of Guayaquil (western edge of the land) to nearly a straight up cliff and mountain is 26 miles--it still looks quite narrow and formidable, a cliff/mountain instead of an East Sea. At least in Peru, there was a narrow neck of land between two seas--in Mesoamerica, there never was one.