Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Looking at Some Interesting Comments – Part I

Over the years, we have been inundated with comments sent to us and have faithfully answered each one, including highly critical comments about the Book of Mormon and the Latter-day Saint faith, though we try to restrict our blog to dealing with the geographical setting and the correct reading of the scriptural record just as it was written. Recently, we have come across another type of comment directed to the scriptural record and the location of the Land of Promise that begs to be answered, since they are being made by people with considerable following and who have achieved a high degree of credibility in the community. 
     Since these comments often place the scriptural record either in a poor light, or incorrectly state what was written in its simplest format, we have endeavored to respond to such statements to try and keep the integrity of the scriptural record intact, since it is a sacred record written by prophetic means and guided by the Spirit from beginning to end. With this in mind we submit the comments and who made them, with our responses.
Comment #1: “Almost invariably the first question that arises is whether the geography fits the archaeology of the proposed area. This should be our second question, the first being whether the geography fits the facts of the Book of Mormon—a question we all can answer without being versed in American archaeology. Only after a given geography reconciles all of the significant geographic details given in the Book of Mormon does the question of archaeological and historical detail merit attention. The Book of Mormon must be the final and most important arbiter in deciding the correctness of a given geography; otherwise we will be forever hostage to the shifting sands of expert opinion” (John E. Clark, “A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1, 1989, p21; reprinted as John E. Clark, “Revisiting ‘A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies’,” Mormon Studies Review 23/1, 2011, pp13–14.)
    Response: Actually, the first question anyone should ever ask about the location of the Land of Promise is “Does the geographical area being determined fit the location that the scriptural record leads one to find?” That is, under the circumstances of the facts Nephi states in arriving at the Land of Promise in his ship that was “driven forth before the wind,” does that match the scriptural record?—could his ship in 600 B.C., directed by only winds and ocean currents, have reached the location being discussed? If not, then the location should be discarded--it is as simple as that!”
    As simplistic and practical as this question would be, it seems to seldom be asked, and often ignored completely by theorists who have pre-determined locations based on other criteria. As an example, contary to individuals and uninformed groups using specially designed graphs may suggest differently, winds and currents from the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula do not move to the east toward Indonesia according to all known wind and ocean charts from recognized Oceanographers, NOA, NASA, etc.—nor do winds and currents move into the Pacific Ocean through Indonesia, but flow into the Indian Ocean from the Pacific through what is called the Indian Ocean/Western Pacific Thoroughfare. In fact, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, the Pacific-to-Indian Ocean connectivity, or Indonesian Throughway, is described as “the water in the upper ocean flows from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean as part of the upper limb of the global thermohaline circulation.”
Actually, there are two routes for this Pacific-to-Indian exchange, the first of which is around the north of Australia via the Indonesian Archipelago, in this Indonesian Throughway, which has been studied for many years, culminating in the early 2000s in an extensive field campaign known as the International Nusantara Stratification and Transport (A.L. Gordon, J. Sprintall, et al, The Indonesian Throughflow During 2004-2006, as observed by the INSTANT program, Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans, 2010; A. L. Gordon, Oceanography of the Indonesian seas and their throughway, Oceanography, Vol 18, 2005).
    Now, before someone gets their pet belief furled, and their pen out to write, we are not talking about small craft of antiquity, powered by oars, and others having moveable Polynesian-style sails that can be moved about to capture various wind angles. Those have sailed into winds and currents for centurieseven larger such craft used for trade and settlement. However, we are talking about deep ocean vessels designed to withstand the pounding of the blue water of the world's deep oceansthe ones that crossed the Pacific Ocean to the Western Hemisphere.
    The actual movement of winds and currents off the coast of Arabia move toward the southwest and then the southeast through the Indian Ocean in what is called the Indian Ocean Gyre, and then east along the Southern Ocean. Or, while winds and currents might be possible to have achieved an Atlantic crossing, though getting around the Cape of Africa was so perilous they called it the “Graveyard of Ships,” there would have been no way to go inland once reaching North America because the Mississippi and St. Lawrence rivers were blocked from inland sailing by an ocean-going vessel because of shallow waters and heavy rapids. Until the age of sail and the knowledge of tacking (about 2000 years after Lehi sailed), it was impossible to cross the Pacific Ocean from west to east south of the equator.
    Consequently, the first question that should be asked, even before a location is considered, is “Where would the winds and currents take a ship leaving the southern coast of Arabia as Nephi describes?” Now, before trying to answer that, one has to understand we are not talking about rowing a boat, tacking the sail, moving a sail about to catch winds, or staying close to shore where winds and currents are different—we are talking about a current acting on its own, taking the vessel where it flows and the wind blows behind a fixed sail as in "driven forth before the wind."
    Keep in mind that it took man until the age of Columbus to discover that currents could be found to take a ship westward across the Atlantic. And no ship in 600 B.C., especially with a “land lubber” crew, could possibly have maneuvered through straits, islands, shoals, etc., of Indonesia in a ship “driven forth before the wind.” Such sailing even todayis not for the novice, but for experienced mariners.
    Comment #2: “Geography provides us a rather permanent set of landmarks from which to compare the Book of Mormon text: mountains, valleys, rivers, and seas should be arranged in a way that actually fits the text. Archaeology does not hold this same advantage. Today’s archaeology might contradict an element of the Book of Mormon history; however, that does not mean that in another twenty years the reverse might not be the case” (George Potter, Nephi in the Promised Land: More Evidences That the Book of Mormon Is a True History (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, 2009)
    Response: The Book of Mormon tells us of mountains tumbling onto the plains and becoming valleys, and of other valleys rising up to form mountains, “whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23). It hardly seems worthwhile to suggest that mountains, valleys and rivers could be considered permanent sets of landmarks that existed in the Land of Promise prior to the destruction during the crucifixion as described in 3 Nephi. Even seas can change as sub-surface shelves rise and fall through plate tectonic movements over a two thousand year period. 3 Nephi, discussing events in the Land of Promise at the time of the crucifixion indicates some serious land movements. It is also interesting that after that time, three very prominent features of the Land of Promise are never again mentioned, though each were mentioned many times before then—the East Sea, the Narrow Neck of Land, and the Sidon River.
    It seems very doubtful that land features not mentioned after the crucifixion should be considered a prominent feature of the current location of the Land of Promise. As an example, in a land where mountains ceased to exist, and other mountains were created, mountain passes existing in B.C. times may not also exist in A.D. times, including rivers and similar features.
    Comment #3: “Over the last couple of years, one of the many things I have dabbled in off-and-on has had to do with the methodologies employed by those who develop New World Book of Mormon geographies. There is obviously a lot of diversity of opinion on this topic, and certain proponents have blamed all this confusion on there being inadequate information in the text, or on the methodology followed by a select few, as if it were the dominant methodology. The reality is that the diversity of opinions is the result of a diversity of methods: 1) Geographic priority, 2) Archaeological priority, and 3) Prophetic priority. All those who fall into one category or another do not necessarily follow the same method—they just place priority on the same kind of evidence. From there, their methods can be quite different, and hence they can reach vastly different conclusions” (Neal Rappleye, “Models and Methods in Book of Mormon Geography: The Peruvian Model as a Test-Case,” Interpreter, A Journal of Mormon Scripture, January 2014).
    Response: It is interesting that no one seems to think that the scriptural record of the Book of Mormon should be a priority in determining where the Land of Promise was located. Instead, they look to try and match a geographical appearance, or archaeological findings, or comments by Joseph Smith (often taken out of context) or prophecies and promises (often misinterpreted). It is more than curious that while the Book of Mormon was written by those who lived in the Land of Promise, walked its lands, knew its seas, passes, mountain ranges, and roadways, and which was abridged by one who fought wars from one end of the Land of Zarahemla to the furthest area in the Land Northward, who had read all the Nephite records, and intimately knew the entire landscape, is not even considered a major priority as the basis in locating the Land of Promise.
    The sad thing is, not only does the actual record of this land take a back seat in trying to locate it, what is written within its sacred pages is often altered in one way or another to allow the record to agree with a pre-determined location. As we have shown on numerous occasions, such disagreement over directions of the land have resulted in theorists altering the meaning of Mormon’s cardinal compass points of north, south, east and west, to an understanding that north was really meant to be west; east, meant to be north; south meant to be east; and west meant to be south, thus these theorists champion Mesoamerica and feel confidence in their misalignment since they have changed the meaning of the words in the scriptural record. At the same time, others change seas to mean rivers, narrow necks to be mountain passes distant from any sea, lands disoriented from one another, inland locations where no ship could have reached, thus these theorists champion North America, such as the Heartland or Great Lakes theories.
(See the next post, “Looking at Some Interesting Comments – Part II,” for more on various comments and our responses)

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