Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Why Understanding Sorenson’s Writing is Important

Like more and more people who consider the Book of Mormon as scripture, I am fascinated by questions about where it has a setting in ancient historical events. And like true science and true religion compliment one another, the true location of the Land of Promise and the truth of the words within the record both compliment one another and leave no room for concern, doubt, or require any apologetics—the events unfolded just as written and described factual locations, some of which can easily be identified today and others with a little more effort.Of course, we all have personal ideas about things, about what we read, and even how we think and view the scriptural record. The problem lies in our trying to change the Word of God so that it better fits our own personal beliefs.
This is quite true about actual doctrinal matters, especially in this day of Political Correctness when the Lord’s doctrines do not fit in with the world’s view of such things as morality, homosexuality, and racial discrimination. Much of society wants churches and God to be more lenient, more accommodating of today’s social mores. While most of us resist such worldly ideas, maintaining our doctrinal stance with that of the Lord and the scriptures, the question is what about our views of areas that are not considered so black-and-white by most?
    This leads us to the area that is now and has been for decades, a matter of question among many Latter-day Saints who find Land of Promise geography important. While this number is probably not that large, it is still a significant number of members, judging by all the books and articles written about it.
    In fact, we recently picked up a lengthy article on the Land of Promise local, and read the first sentence: “A majority of Mormon scholars who believe in Book of Mormon “historicity” today consider the “best candidate” geographic theory is the limited geography Mesoamerica theory.”
    It is this type of statement andattitude that sheds a negative light on the scriptural record since, as the article goes on to say, there is not much in Mesoamerica to support and justify the Book of Mormon as an accurate document. The article, like many others we’ve read, focuses on several aspects of Mesoamerica that simply show the scriptural record to be inaccurate and, at times, downright silly if one really accepts that such an area is the actual Land of Promise.
    What so many LDS scholarly writers and academicians at BYU and elsewhere fail to understand in their promotion of Mesoamerica, is that this is not an academic contest, a subject to earn a doctorate degree over, or a place to make money through tours and books. The Land of Promise is a scriptural subject matter that should be approached like any Biblical site, and that is with serious study, research, and spiritual assistance.
    Picking the area because of the many ruins that seem to match the scriptural record, then setting out trying to prove it is the correct location, and fudging the scriptural record to try and make it fit is simply doomed to failure—especially to professionals who study the location without a pre-determined view in mind and without membership and collective thought as their motivation. And to the critic, it simply provides enormous amounts of firepower in their quiver to write and complain about the Church.
    Nor is the criticism of Mesoamerica just about the incorrect directions, which is a serious problem and hardly can be overcome by Sorenson’s silly “Nephite North,” idea, or Gardner’s equally silly Maya fifth directional system, which is nothing more than a fifth area of importance, like Home or God. While young people in a classroom can be convinced with a good argument because of their lack of experience and knowledge, there are far too many very knowledgeable adults out there with backgrounds in archaeology, anthropology, geography, science, and other world views, that can see past the silly and superficial Mesoamerican smoke-screen and quickly and correctly see that very little about Mesoamerican agrees with and supports the Book of Mormon geographical descriptions.
     Accept through “tricks” of anthropological diffusion systems, the “hard” evidence of Mesoamerican cultures, i.e., buildings, structures, palaces and temples, do not date earlier than about the first century B.C., there really is no “narrow neck of land” a Nephite could cross in a day and a half, or even one that would be noticeable to a resident in 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. without topographical maps of today, satellite or aerial photos. In fact, the list of what does not match is so long, it is overpowering to anyone who hasn’t emotionally made up their mind of the location.
    Based on all the criticism the area receives from knowledgeable members and especially from knowledgeable and archaeological non-members and critics of the Church, one might wonder why so much effort is put into its promotion at BYU by FARMS (now Neal A. Maxwell Institute), archaeology and anthropology professors, and groups who find its promotion both beneficial to their careers, and in many cases to their pride and monetary advancement.
    While the ruins in Mesoamerica do fit into the Nephite picture of the many immigrants that went north in Hagoth’s ships, they simply are not part of the Nephite Nation and the Land of Promise described in the scriptural record. For writers, professors, scholarly publications to play word tricks and make attempts to “cloud the issue” with fallacious arguments and ideas that simply do not address the written description Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, Moroni, etc., left us, serves no good purpose, and only provides critics with ammunition to mount one attack after another.
    One might think that scholars would want to spend more time on following the path that Nephi lays out for us in his writing of his voyage that was “driven forth before the wind,” and where those winds, which are the same as today, would have taken a deep ocean sailing vesse on a drift voyagel in 600 B.C., without the advantage of tacking and other more modern sailing techniques. Where seeds from the Mediterranean Climate of Jerusalem would have grown in the Western Hemisphere, and the numerous other clues that these ancient prophets left us in describing their Land of Promise to us.
It needs to be kept in mind that the reason Sorenson’s ideas are so important to us is that, as several scholars have written of Sorenson’s work: “Mesoamerica has become the focal point for understanding the Book of Mormon. Sorenson’s landmark work, “An Ancient American Setting for the book of Mormon ably demonstrates that [Mesoamerica] is a plausible geographic and cultural setting that can accommodate the Book of Mormon test.”
    Evidently, these people think they are doing the Church a service and helping people understand the Book of Mormon, but when Mesoamerican fails in almost every way to support Mormon’s descriptions, it doesn’t seem like much of a service is achieved. As for our writing about Sorenson’s work, we feel it important to show how erroneous his conclusions were and to help the modern member get over the idea of an east-west Mesoamerica, and find a north-south actual Land of Promise that contains all the things in it that Mormon and others have described.
    In this way, we can break away from the wrong conclusions of a century-and-a-half-ago when the ruins were first discovered and return to an understanding that the scriptural record is accurate the way it was written and needs no special interpretation of directions or understanding to clearly see where Nephi traveled, where he landed and where the Nephite nation settled.
    In these blog articles, we place the events of the scriptural record in a real, ancient geographical context, so that a reader can understand it better in the same way that knowing about the ancient Middle East and the paths Christ and the Apostles took in their preaching, allows us to understand the Bible better. After all, Mormon knew of what he wrote, Joseph Smith translated under the guidance of the Spirit, and the Lord’s will in the matter was paramount and precise.
    Only in this way can we be led to a correct understanding of the location of the Land of Promise, and acquire a deeper appreciation for the writers of the Book of Mormon and those who lived their lives on that land.
    To accomplish this giant leap into the reality of the Nephire world, one merely needs to follow Nephi’s descriptions and methodology of his voyage, to know where he went and where he landed. The problems arise in this when one chooses a place and then sets out to try and fit the scriptural record into that location. This only leads to enormous errors in judgment and interpretation, as in trying to justify Sorenson’s east-west map when Mormon tells us the Nephite lands were north-south.
    The answer, or method, is, and always has been, follow the scriptural record relating to Nephi’s voyage, location of winds and currents that took him, and where he landed that would accommodate what he clais he found there and what he did there, such as plant the seeds “brought from Jerusalem” that provided an exceeding resuilt and abundant crop.


  1. Del, have you communicated with some of the profs at byu about the South American model? If so is their opposition to it based on the rising of the South American Continent out of the ocean at the time of Christ.

  2. No, I have not. A friend of mine (and author) had done so several times and used to go to their meetings where discussions took place, which he passed on to me. As far as I know, all opposition lies in the fact that nothing outside of Mesoamerica is even possible, let alone worth discussion--their discussions and arguments surrounded which Mesoamerican theory was correct and often resulted in heated debates. Deseret Book, who originally agreed to publish my book, changed their minds and turned down the book because it did not follow the Mesoamerica theme. Sherry Dew (Sr. Editor) once told me personally in her office that Deseret Book would not publish anything that contradicted what they had already published (referencing John L. Sorenson's book that they published). So I eventually started this website and decided to sell my books here--not that there is any money in it, but that it's a way of making this info available to those interested. Otherwise it would have never been heard at all.

  3. It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, that that ultimate problem has to be with the leadership of the church. If they were not out of order they could shut down the divergent ideas overnight.

  4. erichard: Thank you for your comment. And though I understand your view, there is more to this than that.
    BYU is an independent university, hiring professors who are well qualified in their fields and given the freedom, as all colleges do, to teach their subjects as they see fit (within a code of ethics criteria). I once asked why BYU taught evolution, the geologic column (4.5 billion year old Earth, etc.) and was told, and rightly so, that BYU teaches the subjects in a way as to provide recipients (students) with the teachings of the academic community in other colleges so that their degrees meant something in the world in which they would have to compete for jobs, professions, etc.
    As for the Land of Promise, to the Church, who does not lend their agreement or acceptance to any theory about location, etc., they would be amiss to step in and limit people's opinions and personal beliefs. We are all entitled to have, talk about, and publish our own views of all things, whether we be right or wrong. In fact, in our society, we are facing a Constitutional Crisis at the moment and as we go forward regarding the possessors of one view trying to eliminate the legal rights of those with a different view, and making any different view illegal.
    As for Deseret Book, they have a principle of publication that may seem to favor one view over another, but that is as publication policy and they are entitled, as a private enterprise, to have whatever one they deem proper for their goals and objectives, as does any business.
    While I may not agree with some of these particular views and directions, it is not the Church's place, nor that of its leadership, to step in and require views simply because of opinions. It was disappointing Deseret Book would not handle the distribution of my book, especially for the reason given, however, it is their publication right to do so and the Church would be amiss in stepping in and changing their policy and decisions over such a matter. I fully understand that decision--after all, they no doubt feel it would undermine their reputation to publish or distribute something contrary to what they had already published.
    If the Church leadership did as you suggest, it would be in violation of the principle of free agency to which the Church strongly adheres, and to which I lend my complete support.
    In the world of ideas, the best, most accurate idea generally wins out. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to make it so, but in the long run, the Lord is in charge and things flow along a path to which they were meant. I have faith in that principle as every Latter-day Saint should.
    For whatever it is worth, I think the ultimate problem is not within the Church or its leadership, but is Satan and his minions, and their unending fight to spread evil and falsity in the world and among men—in so doing, truth sometimes takes a back seat, at least for a time, but eventually it seeks its way to the surface. The problem is, as mortals, we often do not want to wait.