Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Intent of Mormon’s Description – Part I

One of the important statements made in the scriptural record regarding the description of the Land of Promise, is the insertion of eight verses that Mormon places in the writing of Alma, as the abridger describes for us the land of the Book of Mormon and who was placed where in that land, i.e., the Nephites and the Lamanites.
The Nephites and Lamanites were divided by a Narrow Strip of Wilderness that ran from the East Sea to the West Sea

In this insertion, Mormon goes so far as to describe the Land Southward northward to the Land of Desolation, which was separated from the Land of Bountiful by a narrow neck of land. To me, this description has always been quite clear, and delineates the land between the north and south at this narrow neck.
    However, a friend wrote to me recently, in which he disagreed with that interpretation, stating: “In these verses I do not think Mormon is telling us how wide the narrow neck of land is, although he is showing us why the land southward was nearly surrounded by water. Mormon makes it clear twice when he is talking about the East and the West Sea, then with v 32 he only says from the east to the West Sea.”
    It is interesting that in his letter, my friend abbreviated the narrow neck of land by writing N.N.L. Sometimes I think Mormon does the same, that is, he shortens a known subject. As an example, I type on a computer much faster than I can write longhand, but I can appreciate someone writing longhand wanting to abbreviate, or even omit, from time to time—in fact, Mormon, who was engraving on thin metal plates with some sort of stylus, would have been a much more laborious effort than writing in longhand, as writing in longhand is more laborious for some people than typing.
    As a result, it seems Mormon sometimes used what is called elliptical writing today, that is, writing clauses in which some words have been omitted, yet the sentence retains the same meaning. A generic example of this would be He talked carefully in order to appear fair is an elliptical sentence for He talked carefully in order [that he] appear fair.
    Another would beHe left after the speeches instead of He left after the speeches [ended] or He left before the speeches [began]. Closer to the scriptural record would be: The breaking of Nephis bow affected the others more than [it affected] him,orNephi was better with the bow than [was] Lemuel,or Nephi loved the Lord more than Laman [loved the Lord].
The first elliptical sentence is correct only if it follows an introduction of the parties involved; the second elliptical sentence is correct, but is complete only if it follows an introduction of the two parties and who they were; the third sentence is correct and should proceed either of the other two elliptical sentences for full understanding as it does in Mormon 1:8

Such elliptical sentences are grammatically correct only if the necessary information to understand the sentence has been supplied previously in the context of the sentence. As an example, in supplying the information previously in The breaking of Nephis bow affected the others more than [it affected] him,showing that the others were affected, and what affected them was the breaking of the bow. The same is true in Nephi was better with the bow than [was] Lemuel,or Nephi loved the Lord more than Laman [loved the Lord].
    Such writing is used to avoid unnecessary repeated words. This is seen in the Book of Mormon in such statements as Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which [language] consists of the learning of the Jews (1 Nephi 1:2); and “the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read [the book]. And it came to pass that as he read [the book], he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Nephi 1:11-12); and “Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father [on the plates] then will I make an account of mine own life [on the plates]” (1 Nephi 1:17).
    Ellipsis writing then is used to shorten a sentence by omitting unnecessary words, as in this first Chapter of 1 Nephi; however, while these examples are obvious, elliptical writing or speaking is not always so understandable, as many Theorists’ beliefs make it quite clear. Take, as an example Mormon’s inserted writing of the land’s description:
    “And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they [the Nephites] came to the land which they called Bountiful. And it [the land of Bountiful] bordered upon the land which they [the Nephites] called [the land of] Desolation, it [land of Desolation] being so far northward that it [land of Desolation] came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose  [the people who had been destroyed] bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla [Limhis 43-man expedition], it [the land of Desolation] being the place of their [peoples whose bones had been found] first landing. And they [people whose bones had been found] came from there [first landing] up into the south wilderness [in the land of Desolation]”.
    Using elliptical writing, Mormon’s insertion of these three verses amounts to 120 words in English. Without elliptical writing, Mormon would have written the equivalent of 170 words of English, an approximate savings of 30% engraving effort. Thus, using elliptical sentences both saves time and does not lose anything in the translation, unless one (Theorists) is trying to prove another point, such as the Mulekites (people of Zarahemla) landing in the Land Northward and intermingling with the Jaredites—then problems arise from this elliptical writing.
    However, when read correctly, no problem arises, since elliptical construction is a construction that lacks an element that is recoverable or inferable from the context, which in the case of Mormons insertion it most certainly does! Thus, the above sentences are grammatically correct since the necessary information to understand the sentences has been supplied previously, making them clear from the context of the sentence. It is only when someone wants to claim the statements mean something else that problems arise, as Mesoamericanists have done with Mormons insertion dating all the way back to Hugh Nibleys time. And we can say that, because there is another verification these Theorists rarely, if ever, quote from, and that is Omni 1:15-16) in which the prophet Amaleki tells us that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon. And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth” (emphasis added).
    Now, let’s go back to Mormon’s insertion regarding the narrow neck of land, which is what prompted my friend to comment on this issue. Mormon states “it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea” (Alma 22:32).
(See the next post, “The Intent of Mormon’s Description – Part II,” to see what he had in mind by using “the line” and “east” in Alma 22:32 in his description of the Land of Promise)

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