Sunday, February 18, 2018

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

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. 
    It is also interesting that though “the original stated two-fold assignment of the Archaeology Department at BYU was: (1) to serve BYU and the Latter-day Saint church as a center for research and publication on the archaeology of the Scriptures, i.e. the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, and especially the Book of Mormon; and (2) to offer academic instruction leading to the bachelor’s and the master’s degrees in archaeology. This dual assign­ment continues in force to the present day.”
No known work from BYU has been conducted in Andean Peru or anywhere else in South America, and very little, if any, south of Mesoamerica

Unfortunately, from the very beginning almost every ounce of archaeology done regarding the Book of Mormon by the BYU Archaeology Department has been centered, conducted and performed in Mesoamerica, and rather than having any semblance of an open mind regarding other possible areas, any attempt to suggest another area, especially in written format, i.e., books, articles, papers, etc., is met with general criticism and verbal attacks under the auspice of “critiquing” another’s work.
    If BYU had ever opened up any additional arm of research regarding another landing and dwelling site for the Book of Mormon, there would be no cause for comment here, but when a department begins with a singular point of view and maintains that for 80 years, one can hardly suggest that it is academically sound.
    Continuing with the article covering the talk by Orson Pratt given in the tabernacle in 1872 and found in the Journal of Discourses (Vol 14): “a branch of Israel who came out from the city of Jerusalem five hundred and eighty-nine years before the coming of Christ, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time he was taken captive, and the Jews were carried into Babylon. One of the sons of Zedekiah, King of Judah, being commanded of the Lord, left the city of Jerusalem with a colony, who were brought forth and landed north of the Isthmus and journeyed southward, passed through the narrow neck of land which we term the Isthmus into the United States of Columbia, and formed their settlements there, and when discovered by the Nephites had dwelt there near four hundred years.
    “The Nephites and the people of Zarahemla united together and formed a great and powerful nation, occupying the lands south of the Isthmus [of Panama] for many hundreds of miles, and also from the Pacific on the west to the Atlantic on the east, spreading all through the country. The Lamanites about this time also occupied South America, the middle or southern portion of it, and were exceedingly numerous. I will here observe, that from the time the Nephites consolidated themselves with the people of Zarahemla, they had numerous wars with the great nation of the Lamanites, in which many hundreds of thousands perished on both sides.
    “About fifty-four years before Christ, five thousand four hundred men, with their wives and children, left the northern portion of South America, passed through the Isthmus, came into this north country, the north wing of the continent, and began to settle up North America, and from that time a great emigration of the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla took place year by year. I will here mention one thing which perhaps may be startling to individuals who are unacquainted with the antiquities of this country, that the Nephite nation about this time commenced the art of shipbuilding. They built many ships, launching them forth into the western ocean. 
    The place of the building of these ships was near the Isthmus of Darien. Scores of thousands entered these ships year after year, and passed along on the western coast northward, and began to settle the western coast on the north wing of the continent. I will observe another thing—when they came into North America they found all this country covered with the ruins of cities, villages and towns, the inhabitants having been cut off and destroyed. The timber had also been cut off, insomuch that in many places there was no timber by which they could construct their dwellings, hence the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla had to build their houses of cement, others had to dwell in tents. 
    Vast quantities of timber were shipped from the south to the people on the western coast, enabling them to build many towns, cities and villages. The latter also planted groves of timber, and in process of time they raised great quantities, which furnished them with sufficient for building and other purposes.
    “Forty-five years before the coming of Christ there was a vast colony came out of South America, and it is said in the Book of Mormon that they went an exceeding great distance, until they came to large bodies of water and to many rivers and fountains, and when we come to read more fully the description of the country it answers to the great Mississippi Valley.”
The Darien Gap is considered for all intense and purposes to be impassable, even today. Only a handful of adventurers, with special equipment, have ever made it through the Gap in modern times
As we have reported here many times, the idea of a large number of people, let alone many thousands, including women and children, moving up into Central America through the Darien Gap from Colombia in South America is not only unlikely, it would have been patently impossible at such a time in such an age. Even today such a trek would be unthinkable. In 1873, Orson Pratt may have looked at a map and thought that such a movement was feasible without knowing anything about the landform and topography. Today, we know that no one from South America came into Central America overland in such a manner. All those who tried in history, including the Spanish invasions and colonization met with failure.
    To speak of the Mississippi Valley in light of the Nephites not being able to travel to the north through the Darien Gap precludes any discussion of the Nephites of the scriptural record being in North America. Could they have gotten there another way? Of course, for in Alma we find that a man named Hagoth built many exceedingly large ships and numerous Nephites traveled northward in them—but they were not the ones that traveled into the Land Northward through the narrow neck of land that both Alma and Helaman later describe.
    What is of interest here is that Lehi was said to have landed around the 30º South Latitude by both Frederick G. Williams and also Orson Pratt. It is also of interest that the winds and ocean currents would not only have allowed such a voyage, but would have been the singular most likely course a ship in 600 B.C. “driven forth before the wind” as Nephi describes his vessel, would have and could have taken.
    It was the use of such great distances that was not warranted by a careful reading of the scriptural record that led to the development of the idea of the Limited Geography Theory that Jakeman brought to BYU Archaeology regarding the lands and circumstances surrounding the Land of Promise. And that people like Hugh Nibley and later, John L. Sorenson championed. But it was their problem of having the right (Limited Geography) idea but the wrong application (Mesoamerica). Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, what should have been done was refigure how far northward the Nephites moved step-by-step.
    As an example, from the area of First Landing at La Serena, Chile (Coquimbo Bay), to Cuzco Valley in Peru, is about 1500 miles. While that would be quite a trek, it would not have been nearly as long as Lehi’s 2100 mile trek from Jerusalem to Salalah in Oman, where Nephi built his ship. Again, while that is a long distance, it does not make up the bulk of the Land of Promise as written about in the scriptural record. Stated differently, that distance of some 1500 miles, to our knowledge, was never again mentioned in the scriptural record.
    From the time Nephi settled at the end of that 1500 miles in the area they called (the land of) Nephi, and built the city of Nephi, the Land of Promise encompasses that location (northward) to Zarahemla and then (northward) to Bountiful and the narrow neck of land. So one can still embrace a Limited Geography Theory, without discarding a landing site at 30º South Longitude on the Chilean coast.
    Therefore, there was no logical reason for Jakeman to disregard and reject the landing site location proposed by Frederick G. Williams and Orson Pratt that had deep roots in the membership at the time the first Archaeological Department was founded at BYU in 1945, about 110 years after Williams first wrote down his idea, which he claimed was divulged to him by an angel.
    Nor can we rule out that Joseph Smith was the one who first stated such an idea, since we find in Church history that the Prophet Joseph Smith said that “Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land,” meaning America (Richard C. Galbraith, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected sermons and writings as they are found in the Documentary History and other publications of the Church, selected and arranged by the Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith, 1938, p267). Now the Southern Ocean is an area below 40º South Latitude, south of the Indian Ocean, reachable by currents and winds from the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the area of Khor Rori, near Salalah in Oman.
    Certainly South America should have been a location of consideration in the early days of the BYU Archaeology studies and research. But it was not and today we are saddled with Mesoamerica which in so many cases has been shown to not match the scriptural record in so many instances. Will we ever see a change in that thinking and a movement to at least consider South America? Only time will tell.


  1. "...Williams first wrote down his idea, which he claimed was divulged to him by an angel."

    I do not remember reading that Williams claimed the Chile landing "revelation" was divulged to him by an angel.

    I would like to see that quote.

    1. By the way, this was an excellent post Del. Not everything you write is as excellent as this, but we do appreciate your work a lot.

  2. erichard: “Even though no original source can be given, the members of Frederick G. Williams family later declared the statement had been falsely attributed to Joseph Smith and that an angel had given the revelation to Williams for his own benefit at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple” (John W. Welch, ed., Frederick G. Williams III author, Did Lehi Land in Chile? FARMS/Deseret Book, Provo/Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, pp57-61).
    Frederick G. Williams III is the great grandson of Frederick G. Williams who wrote the note, and he is not overly favorable toward the note or its meaning since he is a heavy believer in Mesoamerica and part of the old FARMS group. Still, his comment writings were not opposed to what Williams, Joseph Smith’s scribe, claimed.

  3. I found the writing by FG Williams III. The family claim that FG Williams obtained it by revelation starts on page 7:

    Did Lehi Land in Chile?