Thursday, February 22, 2018

For a Better Understanding – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding how words are used in descriptions in the Book of Mormon Land of Promise settings and what they actually mean. As an example, in the previous post we mentioned the “small” or “narrow neck of land,” as Mormon and Moroni describe the land connection between the Land Northward and then Land Southward.
    Mormon states this area as: “there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines “neck” as “A long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury.” Now this narrow tract of land between Boston and Roxbury has a definitive appearance as “long and narrow,” and until the landfill projects in the mid-to late 1800s, was referred to as “Boston Neck.”
Top Left: Early drawing of Boston and Roxbury and the narrow neck of land in between; Top Right: A more modern map, showing (dark green) the land area as it was in 1820, and the (light green) the land that was filled and added in the 20th century; Bottom Left: A 1775 drawing of Boston by the British Army’s tactical evaluation of Boston; Bottom Right: As it appears today with most of the original bay now land fill and part of Boston proper. Note: how narrow and small the neck was between Boston and Roxbury when Noah Webster used it as an example of a “narrow neck of land” 

When Mormon says: “there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward,” he describes for us the size of the narrow neck, using the word “small.” In 1828, that word meant: “Slender; thin; fine,” “minute, slender,” “Little,” and “short, containing little.” Later in his narrative, Mormon uses the term “by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5). Later, his son, Moroni, when abridging the Jaredite record, uses the same term “by the narrow neck of land” (Ether 10:20).
    Now “narrow” in 1828 was defined as “of little breadth, not wide or broad; having little distance from side to side,” “of little extent, very limited,” “within a small distance,” “as in a narrow passage through a mountain.”
    When we put these explanations together with Mormon and Moroni’s descriptions, we can only come up with a very small, narrow piece of land that connects to larger land masses or bodies of land.
    In light of this, John L. Sorenson states in his book (p29): “the only “narrow neck” potentially acceptable in terms of the Book of Mormon requirement is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico." First of all, Tehuantepec does not meet the requirements--consider that this area is described today as "The isthmus is a broad, plateaulike ridge," with the key word here used being "broad." Now "broad" does not fit the description of either "small" or "narrow." It also might be understood that this area, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, is 16,440 square miles--hardly a "small" neck of land. 
    Sorenson then goes on to write: "All LDS students of Book of Mormon geography who have worked systematically with the problem in recent decades have come to agree on this.” However, we here at are students of Book of Mormon geography and have been for the past more than three decades, and do not agree with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, nor do any of the people we know. Third, any cursory view of the isthmus Sorenson discusses could not possibly be considered a “neck,” i.e., “a long, narrow tract of land” as defined in Joseph Smith’s day regarding the English language.
Sorenson’s map of the Nephite Land of Promise, with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the center, showing a narrowing of the land, but not a “long, narrow neck” or a “small neck” 

It simply cannot be shown from this map, designated as Map #5 found on page 37 of his book, that his narrow neck meets any description found in the scriptural record. The problem is compounded when Sorenson’s map runs east-west and not north-south as Mormon describes in Alma 22:27-34. Thus. it is especially difficult to claim when we consider that this “narrow neck” is 125 miles wide (according to Sorenson) or 144 miles wide (according to the Mexican government), and considering that a railroad built to cover this distance in 1907 covered 192 miles. None of this hardly fits Mormon’s description of being able to walk across it in a day and a half, even though Sorenson states that it is: “considered by some LDS scholars to be "just within the range of plausibility" for the "day and a half's journey for a Nephite" indicated by the text of the Book of Mormon.
    What is plausible about walking 125 miles or more in 18 hours? That means one would have to walk without stopping covering 7 miles per hour for 12 hours, rest at night, and cover 6 more hours the next day, when physically fit people in training cover about 4.5 miles per hour for only about 4 hours at a time before resting, and the average individual covers about 2 to 3 miles per hour for less than three hours straight. Who on earth is Sorenson kidding? The best way to judge for yourself is to go out one day and see how far you can walk before you simply wear down—then determine how many miles that was per hour. If you can do 3.5 miles per hour for 4 hours, you would be doing extremely well—then consider that pace for 12 straight hours, then six hours the next morning.
    In addition, there is the problem with the narrow pass or passage, which must be within the narrow neck of land since the narrow neck is the only land described as laying between the Land Northward and the Land Southward, and the narrow pass leads between those two lands (Alma 50:34; 52:9; Mormon 2:29; 3:5). Then, too, the narrow neck is also the only piece of land that kept the entire Land Southward from being surrounded by water (Alma 22:32). Again, not so in Sorenson's narrow neck and Land Southward of Mesoamerica.
    W. Vincent Coon, author of Choice Above All Other Lands, and advocate, along with Phyllis Olive, Duane Aston and Delbert Curtis, of the Great Lakes area, notes that the entrance to the narrow pass, near the Bountiful border, was such a localized feature that scripture describes it as a "point," like a “point of land.” He also states that in addition to fortifying the land Bountiful this critical "point", needed to be secured,” and references Alma 52:9.
    However, that scripture does not refer to a specific point of land, like a “point” being a river bend, or cliff, or specific or exact location, but rather refers to an overall area, i.e., the narrow pass itself, not a point in or around the pass. Mormon writes: “And he also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side” (Alma 52:9, emphasis added).
    Point: “Place near, next or contiguous to,” “exact place,” “The place to which anything is directed,” “To direct towards a place,” “directing attention to.”
    There is no reason to believe that Mormon was referring to a specific, single point, but to a general aspect of an area, i.e., an area or place to be secured. In this sense, the statement interpreted is that this area, i.e., the narrow pass, needed to be secured—there is no specific implication that a given place within that general description needed to be secured, but the area in total, i.e., the pass, to keep the enemy from getting beyond the narrow neck and into the Land Northward, where they would he difficult to eradicate, since guarding the narrow pass could keep anyone from following them and get through into the Land Northward.
    John L. Sorenson suggests that the direction of “West” was known and understood by the ancient Hebrews through an understanding of the location of the Mediterranean Sea, which was to their “West.” He specifically claims that this is explained by understanding the manner in which ancient cultures label directions. He points out that the Israelites in Palestine defined their directions as though they were standing with their backs to the sea. The direction "sea" (seaward) denoted west while the direction "fore" (inland) denoted east. The direction south was denoted by "right hand" and the direction north by "left hand."
    Frankly, this is without merit. As we have reported before, the ancient Hebrews had an infinity to “east.” They would have always known where the “east” was since that was the direction of God—their religion, beliefs, festivals, prayers, temples etc., were all oriented to the “East.” Even their neighboring Arabs were oriented to the “East,” bowing toward the “East” or “Mecca” five times a day. To say that the Hebrews put their backs to the sea to know where “east” was located is not in keeping with the depth of understanding of directions of the Hebrews. It just so happened, that when they faced “East” while in what is now Israel, that placed the Mediterranean Sea to their backs, and thus “West” was behind them. But the cardinal direction of “East” was before them and they always knew in which direction “East” lay. “West” was incidental, for that was the direction of man and being away from God. Sorenson uses a known factor and reverses its importance to support his point which no Hebrew would have felt, i.e., “West” was more known and important than “East.”
    No Hebrew, when away from his home would be thinking, which way is the sea and then figure that would be “West” of him—for the ocean is not always to the “West,” which is the first thing a traveler learns when heading to or landing in, unknown areas. Many years ago, when I was traveling a lot, directions were important to immediately know when flying into a different or unknown area. As an example, my first trip to St. Louis was for a speaking engagement in East St. Louis. The first thing I wanted to know after renting a car after the plane landed was which way was “East” since that was where I was headed. When flying into Palm Springs, I wanted to know which direction was South since I was headed to Palm Desert for a meeting; and when flying into Santa Barbara, the first thing I wanted to know was which way was “West” since that was where the beach and surf was located (by the way, since Santa Barbara has a southern shore that cuts inland, placing the "beach" to the south, it is confusing until you learn that tidbit of information.
While the ocean can be reached heading west (the way California coastal cities tend to be) , it is difficult because of few access roads. Going to the beach in Santa Barbara means heading south since that is how the city and the streets are laid out
    The point is, to have a better understanding of the meaning of Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni’s words, and Joseph Smith’s translation, it is important that we understand the words they use and their meanings—particularly at the time they used them, as opposed to what they might mean today. It is not that a theorist can’t find the means to justify his own thinking, no matter what that thinking might be; however, to evaluate what that theorist is purporting, we have to understand the background of the period and the meaning of the words the people used to describe what the theorist is claiming. Mormon, specifically, and Moroni as well, were abridging overall records written long before their time and they know they were writing to a future people, whose understanding of words would probably be very different than their own. So they were careful to give us information that we could use in our day, based on a knowledge of them and their day. We don’t need people with letters after their names to understand what Mormon wrote, but it helps to have a little understanding of words and time frames if we are going to fully understand what they were trying to tell us.


  1. The thing I find interesting is that neither the Meso-American and North American theorists never claim that their proposed narrow neck was altered at the time of the great upheaval at the time of Christ. That event is prophesied in Helaman and yet none of the theorists claim that their narrow neck was changed. They simply do not believe that anything of significance happened at the time of Christ.

    The opposite is true of the South American model because that model follows the scriptures. Point is the other models do not follow scripture.

  2. Right on. It was John L. Sorenson who first claimed that the damage and changes described in 3 Nephi were just cosmetic. Every theorist since his book has taken that as gospel--very few actually cite scripture along with their their discussions. It is as though to them the Book of Mormon is merely starting point and they can then add to it whatever they think is applicable to further their narrative and beliefs.