Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Mormon Gave So Many Geographical Details – Part I

How often do we stop and ponder the scriptures, rather than simply read them like a novel, often trying to get so many verses or chapters read at one time? How often do we read something we have read many times before and suddenly realize it says something we had not before realized? Sometimes this is because we were not looking for such information previously, sometimes because we were not ready for it then, and sometimes because we were so interested in other matters that the information did not penetrate. And sometimes it is because we simply do not know how to dig deeper into the meaning of something on our own without outside help or direction.
A day and a half journey for a Nephite

Take a simple meaning of a word or phrase where its meaning at first escapes our more detailed understanding. As an example: “And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32).
    By way of discussion, there are several questions that this single statement should elicit to the interested reader:
1. Distance of a day and a half journey
    (How far is a day and a half journey?)
2. For a Nephite
    (Why is "Nephite" here used and not "Lamanite" or "person"?)
3. On the line between the land of Bountiful and the land of Desolation
    (What is meant by “on the line”? What line?)
4. From the east to the west sea
    (What point in the east?)
5. Thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water
    (Nearly surrounded? What does that mean?)
6. There being a small neck of land
    (What is a “neck of land”? What is “small?)
7. Between the land northward and the land southward”
    (What is meant by “between”?)
At this point, one might ask, “why be concerned with such details?” “Is it important?” “If so, why?”
To answer these last questions, we need to know the answer to another question: “why did Mormon insert this 568 word aside into the narrative of Ammon, Aaron and their brethren doing missionary work among the Lamanites?”
    Sorenson, himself, answers that question when he stated that it was “The nearest thing to a systematic explanation of Mormon’s geographical picture…that summarized major features of the land southward” (Mormon’s Map, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, Provo UT, 2000, p9). Nor can we consider that this statement found in Mormon’s insertion in Alma 22:27-34 is incomplete or not sufficient, for even Sorenson agrees that Mormon considered it complete, since “he must have considered that treatment full and clear enough for his purposes, because he never returned to the topic.”
    It is interesting to know that, according to Randall P. Spackman, both John L. Sorenson (637-725 passages) and John E. Clark (318 passages), both dedicated Mesoamericanist theorists, used “upwards of 1000 passages of potential geographic significance to develop an internal reconstruction of the geography of the Book of Mormon” (Interpreting Book of Mormon Geography, FARMS Review 15, no 1, 2003, p29). Evidently, “they mapped out the general lay of the land, and the relationship between different lands and cities without tying it to any real-world location.”
Sorenson’s Narrow Neck of Land is hardly seen on a map, let alone what would be observable to someone standing along either shore during Nephite times

Yet, they both Sorenson and Clark adhere to the narrow neck of land, from sea to sea, being over 125 miles wide (as much as 144 miles), even though Mormon states quite clearly that this line between the seas can be covered in a day and a half by a Nephite.
    One can only wonder how those two concepts can be justified, not that Sorenson doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to do so, talking about special Indian warriors, the run of Phidippides from Marathon to Athens following the Greek defeat of the Persian Army in 490 B.C., and a number of other unrelated events and possibilities. However, despite several inconsistencies in Sorenson’s map, not alone the directions, but also the extensive width of his narrow neck and the impossibility that anyone in Nephite times could have perceived that it was a “narrow neck” from land-based observation, Sorenson glibly states (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1985, p36):
“The distance indicated by the Book of Mormon across the land from Ammonihah to Moroni on the east coast is just about the distance across most of Chiapas and Tabasco states around 150 miles. The topography also matches. The mountainous band of wilderness separating highland Guatemala from central Chiapas is in the right place to be the “narrow strip of wilderness” of the Nephites. More detail is not necessary at this point.”
    At this point it might also be stated that the interesting thing about the Book of Mormon is how much actual detail that exists, though most readers feel there should have been a lot more. Unfortunately, many readers try to breeze through its reading in order to accomplish a goal or reading requirement, missing many points of both interest and importance along the way. As Royal Skousen stated (Analysis of Textual Variants of the book of Mormon, Six-Volume Set, Interpreter Foundation, 2017), “Textual accuracy is crucial when trying to determine the specifics of Book of Mormon geography.”
    In addition, upon careful inspection, Grant Hardy, a professor of history and Religious Studies and Director of the Humanities Program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, states in his book (Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010, pp6–7), “It requires considerable patience to work out all the details of chronology, geography, genealogy, and source records, but the Book of Mormon is remarkably consistent on all of this.” Hardy, who studied Ancient Greek at BYU before obtaining his doctorate at Yale, also stated: “The complexity is such that one would assume the author worked from charts and maps,” though none such are indicated by Mormon nor by the translator, Joseph Smith.
    As V. Garth Norman, archaeologist and President of the Ancient America Foundation (AAF), and one who worked as a research associate with the BYU-New World Archaeological Foundation’s Izapa, Mexico project noted, “Mormon gave very specific geographic details at times …that could have no other purpose than to paint the landscape where these events occurred” (Book of Mormon - Mesoamerican Historic Geography, Ancient America Foundation, American Fork, Utah, 2006, pix).
The point of all of this is that all these theorists talk about being specific, exact, using textual accuracy, and considerable patience to work out that accuracy, etc. Yet, they all place the Land of Promise in an area inconsistent with the very scriptures they use and quote and pay little attention to Mormon’s explanations though they claim to be using his words as a guide.
    So let us return to Mormon’s statement, made for clarification of the geographical setting of the Nephite and Lamanite lands and the seven questions or points made in his one statement in Alma 22:32)
(See the next post, “Why Mormon Gave So Many Geographical Details – Part II,” to see what Mormon meant and why these Mesoamerican theorists simply do not agree with Mormon’s descriptions and, therefore, his location of the Land of Promise)


  1. John Sorenson says he started with an internal map before trying to match to a land. His internal map actually looks far more like the Andes area than it does Mesoamerica. He even has North actually pointing North in his internal map- and if you leave it that way, you could almost overlay his internal map over the andes area. Here's a link to his internal map:

    It would appear that only after he could not make the internal map fit his predetermined Mesoamerica did he decide to change the cardinal directions. If he really had a legitimate basis for changing the cardinal directions - he should have changed them on his internal map too- but he didn't. In my opinion, his internal map fits Del's Andes model closer than it fits John's own Mesoamerican model.

    1. Among the things I noticed about Sorenson's internal map is the narrow neck is only about 100 miles across. That is a little bit too wide but it is still less than the real narrow neck which is estimated at 75 miles or about half the distance of the Meso-Am narrow neck.

  2. In regards to John Sorenson changing the cardinal directions- Del has addressed in the blog how inaccurate that is. Nephi clearly knew the cardinal directions and wrote of them as they traveled to Bountiful (Salalah). It is also interesting to note that there is ample evidence that the mayans also knew the proper cardinal directions. Having visited Chichen Itza and Tulum, the architecture is even laid out using proper cardinal directions.

    From wikipedia "mesoamerican architecture": "the layout of most Mesoamerican cities seem to be influenced by the cardinal directions and their mythological and symbolic meanings in Mesoamerican culture."

    From wikipedia "maya architecture": "At the onset of large-scale construction, a predetermined axis was typically established in congruence with the cardinal directions"

    They mayans had specific glyphs for each cardinal direction:

    from sites about mayan astrology: "The foundation of Mayan cosmovision and astrology is the concept of the four cardinal directions and the center." ..." East, the primary cardinal direction, is the direction of the rising sun."

    I am not aware of any evidence whatsoever that the mayans used cardinal directions different than the North, East, South, West that we use today. I've read Sorensons books in detail and I don't recall him ever offing any evidence. Yet the Book of Mormon, the mayan history, and the mayan buildings themselves offer overwhelming evidence that they used proper cardinal directions. There is simply no justification for changing the cardinal directions 90 degrees and then claiming a location now fits the Book of Mormon lands. (even if you do believe the 90 degree flip, the map still does not fit the Book of Mormon description- when I used to study it, I could never figure out what this big chunk of land - the Yucatan was that was never mentioned in the Book of Mormon- and there are many other things that don't fit).

  3. It also amazes me that Nibley bought into and pushed the Mesoamerican theory. Why are highly educated people sometimes lacking in common sense?

    1. I believe the answer to that question erichard is they do not believe God can or would raise a continent up out of the ocean. Same is true of Noah's flood. You might say they are blinded by science.

      I've quizzed a number of BYU types over the years and that is what I've found. So I'm not surprised that Nibley et al would never accept a South American model. The next best is Meso America but it isn't even close much like the North American model.

      Only South American model fits perfectly but you have to believe scripture in order to accept it.

    2. That is the biggest challenge to the South American model- accepting that the entire Amazon basin was underwater and the Andes were not as prominent until Christ's death. It's a huge leap for most people. It was a stumbling block for me until I really asked myself, "Do you believe what Samuel the Lamanite prophesied or not? Do you believe the scriptures exaggerate or say exactly what they mean?"

      I've told friends before that I like the Andes model because it doesn't have to change anything in the scriptures to make it fit. Then they hear me explain the East Sea and they say, "Sounds like you had to change a lot to make it fit."

      People don't like accepting a geography that they can't fit "as is" on a current map. I almost feel that, despite Mormon's simple geographical details, the land was intentionally altered to be "hidden in plain sight" during the latter days. Faith had to be the key element of conversion, so perhaps the physical proof of the Book of Mormon had to be less obvious? Only when the Book of Mormon is accepted wholeheartedly, in every detail and exactly as written are eyes opened to see what consequently appears more obvious.

  4. Todd, excellent points. One thing we need to think about is why did God raise the continent up at the time of Christ. You mentioned to hide everything in plain sight. I like that and it makes sense.

    There is another reason too and that is in the last days we are taught in the scriptures there will be great tribulation on the people of the earth. I also think the Lord raised it up to protect the Lamanites during the tribulation. Many today live above 12,000 feet high in the mountains. By tucking the Lamanites away like that they are more likely to survive the coming tribulation so that they can be gathered at a later date.