Saturday, February 17, 2018

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

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. 
    Isn’t it interesting that in all of the time that people have written between Orson Pratt’s time and the Mesoamericanist theorists of today, hardly a word is mention at BYU Archaeology about the fact that Orson and others had such a firm, fixed conviction that Lehi landed in Chile and moved northward to around Peru/Ecuador where the Nephite Nation dwelt and the Book of Mormon took place. Granted the limited theory was developed but that does not mean that South America was still not the landing and dwelling place of the Nephites—nor does it suggest that Mesoamerica had to be the place of landing.
In the early days of the Book of Mormon, members and leaders assumed the description of the Land of Promise meant the entire Western Hemisphere. Later, more careful reading of the scriptural record led to an understanding of a much smaller area than an entire hemisphere or even an entire continent that resulted in the “Limited Geography Theory”

All the Limited Theory actually showed was that the Land of Promise was not a continent-large area, but a much smaller region that the entire Western Hemisphere as several early leaders perceived. In fact, South America, as we have reported here several times, though unknown to any American in the 1830s or for many years afterward, was basically an island before the Andes rose and the central continent came up to form the Amazon Drainage Basin—an area barely above water—a fact according to Charles Darwin, and as other evidence shows, occurred during the age of man.
    The difficulty with Jakeman’s approach was that he was so convinced of Mesoamerica, specifically Guatemala and the Mayan civilization being that of the Nephites, that he turned a deaf ear and unseeing eye to the scriptural record for verification of his ideas. The fact that the land form was and never had been north and south did not bother him, nor that so many scriptural references were not found in Mesoamerica and did not verify his viewpoint.
Only two places in the entire Western Hemisphere has advanced ancient ruins expected to have been built by a people with 1000 years of history and an advanced building capability from Jerusalem

In fact, there are so few matches in Mesoamerica, other than the ruins, that it is remarkable that Andean South America, where there are so many matches to the actual scriptural record was not only completely ignored, but never even considered as a possibility and no BYU archaeological digs or events occurred there, especially after M. Wells Jakeman became the head of Archaeology at BYU.
    One of the extremely sad and disastrous results of Jakeman’s approach is found in the life of Thomas Stuart Ferguson, who teamed with Milton R. Hunter of the Quorum of Seventy, and wrote a book entitle Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, published in 1950 (Kolob Book Company, Oakland California).
    The story of Ferguson is indeed a sad one. He was born in Pocatello, Idaho, on 21 May 1915. He received degrees in political science and law from the University of California and practiced law in Orinda, California. He worked with the F.B.I., but his first love seemed to be trying to prove the Book of Mormon through the study of Mesoamerican archaeology. In 1983, J. Willard Marriot wrote a letter in which he commented concerning Ferguson's dedication to establishing an archaeological base for the Book of Mormon:
    "We spent several months together in Mexico looking at the ruins and studying the Book of Mormon archaeology. I have never known anyone who was more devoted to that kind of research than was Tom. I remember when he was with the F.B.I., he would arise at 4:30 or 5:00 AM and read the Book of Mormon and information he could find pertaining to it." (Bruce W. Warren and Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America, Book of Mormon Research Foundation, Provo, Utah, 1987, p250).
Though there were two distinct and acceptable locations for a (red circles) Limited Geographical Theory location, complete with extensive ruins and artifacts of an early Book of Mormon-era period, BYU and LDS archaeology centered only upon one

He was helpful in getting the Church to open an Archaeology Department, and received a grant of $250,000 for archeological research in Mesoamerica from then President David O. McKay (The Messiah in Ancient America, pp263-266), to fund Ferguson's work from 1955-1959. After Ferguson’s death in 1983, Fred W. Nelson wrote: “"Thomas Ferguson has either directly or indirectly influenced thousands of people's thinking on archaeology...He has had a great influence on professional archaeology through the Department of Archaeology at Brigham Young University, the Gates Collection, and the New World Archaeological Foundation...Ferguson's legacy in the founding of the Archaeology Department at Brigham Young University, the obtaining of the Gates Collection, and as founder of the New World Archaeology Foundation stands as shining example to us all" (The Messiah in Ancient America, pp282-83).
    However, despite a quarter of a million dollar expenditure, five years of searching (and a lifetime) of effort, Ferguson never discovered the evidence he had desired to find to support the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. In response to a letter Hal Hougey wrote in 1972 which reminded him that he had predicted in 1961 that Book of Mormon cities would be found within 10 years, Ferguson sadly replied: "Ten years have passed…I sincerely anticipated that Book-of-Mormon cities would be positively identified within 10 years - and time has proved me wrong in my anticipation" (Letter dated June 5, 1972).
    According to Ferguson, at first it had all seemed so simple; since the Book of Mormon told when the Nephites were in Mesoamerica [which it does not ever say the Land of Promise was in Mesoamerica], all one had to do was find archaeological sites that dated to the period and the Book of Mormon would be established by the evidence. The fact that archaeological research failed to provide the confirmation which Ferguson expected to find must have weighed very heavily on his mind. The most serious blow to his faith, however, came just after Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri were rediscovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
    This collection, which had been lost for many years, contained the very papyrus from which Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Abraham. Ferguson obtained copies, gave them to two renowned Egyptologists, who both said “that the papyrus Joseph Smith claimed was the Book of Abraham was in reality the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian funerary text made for a man by the name of Hor (Horus).”
    When Ferguson learned that this papyrus had nothing at all to do with the patriarch Abraham or his religion, he was shaken to the core by the discovery. He soon lost his faith in the Book of Mormon and the work he had undertaken for the better part of his life.
    While the mummies and papyri are a different story, ones which we have explained here on other occasions, the point is that Ferguson lost his faith in the Book of Mormon because after so many years, he could find no proof of it in Mesoamerica.
    One can only wonder what he might have found and what the Church might know today had Jakeman not demanded Mesoamerica was the Land of Promise and Ferguson done his work in South America as had been the attitude before Jakeman. However, that was not to be the case.
    In 1973 Michael Coe, one of the best known authorities on archaeology of the New World, and an avid critic of the Church, wrote an article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. In this article he addressed the issue in a very forthright manner: "Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples...Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group…The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has even shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp41,42,46).
    Of course, Coe, like BYU Archaeologists, is referring to Mesoamerica when he talks about New World Book of Mormon evidences and artifacts—none have been found in Mesoamerica and none are likely to be found there dating to the time of the Book of Mormon, since the Land of Promise was in Andean South America.
    The sad tale of Thomas Stuart Ferguson is simply a prime example when someone’s personal views overshadow what is written and described in the scriptural record. When we put out faith in the beliefs of man, we endanger our souls and lose all help from the Spirit, who otherwise testifies to us what is truth. Mesoamerica has been shown to be anything but the Landing Site of Lehi. Yet, it is promoted today with as much vigor as it ever was.
    The reputations of all those who have promoted Mesoamerica on nothing more than their opinions, beliefs and desires rather than on the descriptive information Mormon gave us, will always fail. So why is it that someone coming in from Berkeley as an historian/archaeologist and an avid Mesoamericanist was able to completely ignore and turn all attention away from South America that had been the focal point of so much Church discussion, talks, and early Church leaders views?
Why was South America never again even discussed? How did BYU Archaeology manage to ignore all the previous understanding of South America and remove it so completely from all consideration as Lehi’s landing and the Nephite dwelling lands?
(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)

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