Friday, February 16, 2018

Orson Pratt’s Message of Lehi’s Travels to the Land of Promise – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding the beliefs and attitudes of Church leaders in the 19th century and prior to the introduction of archaeology into BYU, and specifically with Apostle Orson Pratt’s address in the tabernacle: 
   Orson Pratt continued: “Being so severely persecuted by the Lamanites, the Nephites were commanded of the Lord to depart from their midst, that is to leave the first place of colonization in the country which the Spanish now call Chile. They came northward from their first landing place, traveling, according to the record, as near as I can judge, some two thousand miles.
While the Lamanites occupied the East and West Wilderness, living in tents, the Narrow Strip of Wilderness that ran from the East Sea to the West Sea divided the Lamanite and Nephite people

“The Lamanites remained in possession of the country on the South. The Nephites formed a colony not far from the head waters of the river Amazon, and they dwelt there some four centuries (in the land we call today “Peru”), increasing and spreading forth in the land. The Lamanites, in the South and in the middle portions of South America, also spread forth and multiplied, and became a very strong and powerful nation.
    “Many wars existed between the two nations, in which hundreds of thousands were destroyed. Finally, in the course of generations, the Nephites fell into wickedness; they departed in a great measure from the law of Moses and from the precepts of truth which had been taught to them by the prophets in their midst.
    “A certain portion of them who still believed were commanded of the Lord to leave their brethren in consequence of their wickedness; they did so, and those who still remained faithful, under the guidance of prophets and revelators, came still further northward, emigrating from the head waters of what we now term the river Amazon, upon the western coast, or not far from the western coast, until they came on the waters of the river which we call the Magdalena. On this river, not a great distance from the mouth thereof, in what is now termed Columbia, they built their great capital city. They also discovered another nation that already possessed that country called the people of Zarahemla.”
    Now despite this understanding, though it may well have been imperfect, especially placing the Nephites so far northward in Colombia, which would leave almost no room for a Land Northward, but still a workable scenario with foundations in several scriptural references for anyone who wanted to have taken a look at it—and one would think that a new Archaeology Department at Brigham Young would have done so since several Church leaders had similar views at the time, including Frederick G. Williams, a member of the original First Presidency serving under Joseph Smith, that Jakeman would have at least looked into the idea. But he did not.
    Jakeman arrived at BYU with a firm, fixed belief in where the Land of Promise was located—in Mesoamerica among the Maya—and began teaching that principle to his first class, from which nearly all the following BYU professors and leaders in the Archaeology Department and field were later gleaned, and no one has ever checked out Pratt or William’s or possibly even Joseph Smith’s views of the time.
    When Jakemen came to BYU, he stated emphatically: “The ‘authenticity problem’ of the Book of Mor­mon is therefore the foremost problem of future Maya research. It is difficult if not impossible to conceive of a scientific problem fraught with greater significance for the modern world...The admittedly paramount scientific and religious signifi­cances which it involves make its undertaking, by both ‘Mormon’ and non-’Mormon’ scientists or agen­cies, a matter of greatest urgency. Further delay on the excuse of unimportance or insufficient data is no longer admissible.”
Left: The dining and lecture tent of the First Annual Archaeological Field School of BYU, Montezuma Canyon, August, 1969; Right: BYU 1948 Archaeological expeditions to Mesoamerica, at the ruins of Aguacatal, Campeche, Mexico
And that is exactly the approach the founder of Archaeology at BYU took. The problem is, more than just analyzing contemporaneous trends in Maya research, the 1938 article many Mesoamerican theorists today believe to be the first statement of Book of Mormon archaeology in its scientific dimen­sions, the initial theoretical orientation upon which most of the work of subsequent years has been based, seems to be misunderstood by all so connected to Jakeman and his approach creating the department of Archaeology at BYU, is the fact that his interest and, therefore, that of the school to begin with was not concerned about Book of Mormon archaeology, but Mayan archaeology as being that of Book of Mormon archaeology. In one fell swoop, the years of previous views of some Church leaders, inspiration, and dearly held beliefs were swept under the rug never again to surface at BYU to see if they, indeed, held some semblance of worth or truth under the support of academic archaeological work.
    As the1938 statement continues: “And the fact that it was submitted to such a periodical as the Church Section seems to foreshadow a complete dedi­cation on the part of its author to the archaeological study of the scriptural foundations of Mormonism—being inseparably connected to the archaeology of Mesoamerica.”
    The obvious question no one connected to BYU and the Jakeman Archaeology Department seems to have ever asked, or are even interested in asking, is: “What if Mesoamerica is not the landing place of Lehi?” And indeed is a question that demands to be asked—and answered—for if Mesoamerica is not the landing site of Lehi and the home of the Nephite 1000-year existence of the scriptural record, the better part of 80 years has been wasted on an endeavor that can neither ever be satisfactorily concluded or ever solved. It is like looking for the origin of the landing of Noah’s Ark in the islands of Japan, or the remains of the Tower of Babel in Australia.
    It seems rather foolhardy to concentrate an entire University’s department of Archaeology for eighty years on an area that has yet to provide much in the way of concrete connection between the scriptural record and “in ground evidence.”
    As an example, while one can debate beliefs, there are 44 different scriptures that relate to or describe in detail Land of Promise connections, i.e., from a “north-south” land layout as described in Alma 22:27-34, to an indigenous plant that heals deadly fevers (like quinine), as mentioned in Alma 46:40, neither of which are found in Mesoamerica (though both are found in Andean Peru); from the Nephite four seas described in Helaman 3:8 to a Jerusalem-type climate to regrow seeds brought from Jerusalem as stated in 1 Nephi 18:24, again neither of which are found in Mesoamerica, but both are found in Andean Peru; or from Metalsmith work spanning 2500 years in the Land of Promise among both the Jaredites and Nephites, and not found existing in Mesoamerica until at least two hundred years after the final Nephite demise, to a Sea that Divides the Land outlined in Ether 10:20, again not existing in Mesoamerica, but existing in Andean Peru.
    The list of scriptural references goes on regarding what does not exist in Mesoamerica, but does exist in a single location in the Western Hemisphere, namely Andean Peru in South America. However, BYU has never bothered to open any research in that area, though for nearly a hundred years before Jakeman, it was thought to be where Lehi landed by Church leaders and members.
    Why is that? And why concentrate in Mesoamerica? Perhaps because that was Jakeman’s area of interest, his expertise, and his conviction of it being the Book of Mormon land. As is stated of Jakeman by Ross T. Christensen in "The True History of Archaeology at Brigham Young University," (1969): “Far from being narrowly specialized on the archae­ological and epigraphic aspects of what he termed ‘the general reconstruction problem of Maya History,’ with­out neglecting these, he outlined—following the Carnegie Institution of Washington—a far-flung ‘pan-scientific attack.’ This approach comprised studies of the living Mayas, including physical anthropology, tropical medi­cine, ethnology, linguistics, and agronomy; historical studies, including both archaeology and pre-Conquest and post-Conquest documentary research in such sources as the extant ancient hieroglyphic books (“codices”) and the sixteenth-century Maya manuscripts found in the archives of Spain and Mexico; and environmental studies, including geology, vulcanology, climatology, geography, botany and zoology.”
    It did not, however, extend beyond the limits of the Maya in Mesoamerica! It totally ignored any other possibility!
    In fact, glaringly absent was a total absence of studying anyone other than the Maya, whose existence was limited to what is today Guatemala and the Yucatan, the latter by the way a physical landform that simply does not fit into any geographical description in the scriptural record, which covers the Sea East in rather good detail, but nothing about an area over 76,000 square miles with a 700-mile coastline, that is in any way described in Mormon’s detailed discussions of the area throughout Alma.
(See the next post, “Orson Pratt’s Message of Lehi’s Travels to the Land of Promise – Part III,” for a better understanding of the beliefs and attitudes of Church leaders in the 19th century and prior to the introduction of archaeology into BYU)


  1. Del, Has any of the profs at BYU ever contacted you or offered any kind of comment on your work? I may have asked this question in the past but I'm curious about that. Seems like they are still trying to pound a square peg in a round hole.

  2. No. One ordered all four of my books a couple of years ago to review them, but never heard a word out of it. Since I've written so extensively against Mesoamerica, it is hard to imagine that they would find any interest in what I do.

    1. I'm sure that is correct, but you are pointing out some major (fatal) flaws in their model. You would think that someone over there would finally use their head a little bit and figure out that they are looking in the wrong place. After all, they supposedly have the scriptures over there to guide them.

      I guess its the same with the North American folks. But their model is so ridiculous that any thinking person can see the flaws in it very quickly.

      Thanks Del for that update.

  3. Unsurprisingly, the theories that I hear most about are ones being actively promoted. BYU set up a theory that was eventually embraced and promoted by travel agencies and others to the extent of creating tours and businesses around it. The Heartland theory is actively promoted in firesides now where members go to support a church event and learn something new, then leave convinced by an inspiring and patriotic presentation, despite how incorrect the information might be. But they don't question it.

    Well that's the power of promotion, I suppose. People want to learn about it, in search for a place on the map in which they can place the stories they love. So they turn to where the most noise is being made. That's what grabs their attention. Plus, you can travel to the Hill Cumorah Pageant or maybe as far as Mexico and say you've "been there" with relative ease. The mountains of Peru are a bit more remote.

    It is also a shame that discussions about Book of Mormon lands risk becoming contentious if the promoted norms are questioned.

  4. Excellent point Todd, I hadn't thought of the commercial angle to all of this. Thanks

  5. The commercial angle is probably a lot more extensive and pervasive than most think--it is big business and certain Theorists have a lot tied up in that angle. This is true of Mesoamerica, which was the first to run guided tours down there (as far as I know, Joseph Allen was the first) and has been doing so ever since. Heartland, with Rod Meldrum opening up the tours of the U.S. are quite lucrative--a close friend of mine spent a week on one of those tours recently. You can always tell that it is a big push when you see tours offered on the website that is supposed to be talking about the Book of Mormon and the Land of Promise.

  6. Think of the benefits of a very limited geography in terms of the costs and management of tours. Mesoamerica or the Great Lakes can pack in more "sites" in less time at less cost than the Andean alternative. Think about it...

    "We'll be starting off the tour at Lake Titicaca before traveling to the Cusco area, and then make our way, ruin by ruin, through Peru and past Quito in Ecuador to Cerro Imbabura. Don't forget your tent and hiking gear, and alpaca, because you will need them..."