Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How Did We Get to a Limited Theory for the Land of Promise Geography? – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding the movement from early understanding of Lehi’s landing site in Chile, South America, to a small or limited Nephite area in Mesoamerica.
    In addition to understanding the movement and distances involved in Lehi’s journey from Jerusalem to Bountiful, as well as the fact that the Book of Mormon is not a history of the entire Western Hemisphere—it is only, and we repeat the word “only,” a partial history of a mere slice of the hemisphere, namely, that area in which the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites occupied—we need to know something about distances within the Land of Promise by comparison with distances covered in the ancient world compared to distances covered today.
    Obviously, the distances outlined, though not spelled out, in the Book of Mormon are not as large as a continent, let alone the entire Western Hemisphere, at the same time they are also not as small as Mesoamericanists would want us to believe. However, we should also keep in mind that the Book of Mormon facts and influence overlap into other areas, not specifically occupied by the Jaredites or Lehi’s posterity during the era of the two civilizations as recorded in the Book of Mormon.
The red circles represent where the scriptural story line basically takes place; once landing in the Land of Promise, the area occupied is limited to the far south; the Nephites went northward and the entire story line takes place in a very limited area; then Mosiah goes northward and the story line through the bulk of the record takes place between city of Nephi and city of Bountiful; then Mormon is granted a treaty and the rest of the story line takes place only in the Land Northward. At no time do we find a large area occupied at one time within the story line, which centers around the Land of Zarahemla for most of it. Rarely are distances long than that from Zarahemla to Bountiful ever mentioned

Consider, for instance, the scriptural record’s involvement with a landing site in the south, along the seashore of the West Sea (Alma 22:28). From there, Nephi and “those who went with him” traveled for the space of “many days” (2 Nephi 5:7) to where they finally settled somewhere toward the north. Obviously, that distance is simply unknown.
    Since Nephi tells us that after the storm at sea, they traveled “for the space of many days, they arrived at the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:23)—again an unknown distance, but since the overall sea voyage would have been several thousands of miles, that “many days” would represent a significance distance. Thus how far Nephi journeyed to the northward is unknown, but one might consider it a significant distance since he was putting distance between himself and his brothers who sought his life, and doing so at the command of the Lord (2 Nephi 5:5).
    Now also consider that this area was in the southern portion of the land, meanwhile near the Narrow Neck of Land in the north, a man named Hagoth built a shipyard along the West Sea (Alma 63:5). He built “exceedingly large ships” and “there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children, and they took their course northward” (Alma 63:6). Another ship went northward and was never heard from again—evidently meaning that this time it did not return. It could have been lost at sea, as Mormon suggests, or it simply could have gone elsewhere and not returned, such as “to a land which was northward” (Alma 63:4).
    In any event, from Peru, a land which was northward showing considerable building expertise like Andean South America is Mesoamerica. Since the Darien Gap was and still is an impossible area to pass through on land heading northward from Colombia, the only way to get around it was by ship. With this in mind, we can discount any theorists’ concept of Lehi settling in Mesoamerica simply because of Nephite connections there, since such landing from Hagoth’s ships would give sound scriptural record reasoning for such existence as Nephites and Lamanites eventually reached that are to the north.
The movement of Nephite and Lamanite occupation of the Americas, beginning with Lehi’s landing
The same would be true of movement overland further northward into North America, where Joseph Smith commented about Nephite presence in Illinois and the Lamanite Zelph burial. Thus, a Western Hemisphere connection can also be found through both the scriptural record and the early Church leaders’ beliefs. Obviously, we do not need three different landing sites for Lehi—only one, then movement northward by Nephites and Lamanites as indicated in the scriptural record.
    There is one last caveat, and that is regarding the belief among many that the Book of Mormon account is about events involving American Indians throughout the entire New World—such a belief is bound to prove incorrect since we know that the Lord has led many away from Jerusalem, from the House of Israel, from the Old World promised land from time to time. As Jacob so succinctly states: “But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren. For behold, the Lord God has led away from time to time from the house of Israel, according to his will and pleasure. And now behold, the Lord remembereth all them who have been broken off, wherefore he remembereth us also” (2 Nephi 10:21-22).
    Who else, or in what numbers, may have been led into the Western Hemisphere from time to time is unknown to us, but rest assured such a statement by Jacob should have meaning to each of us and that we should not make rash statements about all American Indians being Lamanites. Many are, perhaps most are. But surely not all.
    Regardless of what beliefs and views members and leaders had prior to 1946, once M. Wells Jakeman brought his Maya-Nephite theory centered in southern Mexico/Guatemala to BYU as he opened up the first Archaeology/Anthropology department at the University in 1946, his theory has taken wings and been promoted and reinforced over the last 72 years until now it is the only Western Hemisphere area where Lehi is considered to have landed by scholars at and from BYU, despite its many flaws and drawbacks.
    In fact, once Jakeman began teaching his theory, others jumped on board. One of those was Thomas Stuart Ferguson, an undergraduate law student at U.C. Berkeley and a co-believer in Jakeman’s Mesoamerican theory. Ferguson led his first expedition into southern Mexico in the area northeast of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in Mesoamerica, in January 1948. Upon observing the Mayan ruins he and his companions found on the western shore of Laguna de Términos, he immediately labeled it a Nephite structure.
    Ferguson later switched his research to Chiapas where he was joined by a master’s student in archaeology at BYU, John L. Sorenson, where they found and studied the unknown ruins of Chiapa de Corzo, eventually surveying 22 ancient sites in the area. Ferguson decided at the time all were Nephite sites.
    It is interesting that during the years 1948 to 1961, the Department of Archaeology at BYU sent five archaeological expeditions to Middle America. While no Nephite connection was found, the results of these excavations shed great light on Mesoamerican settlement during the last millennium B.C., though most of the valuable finds were obtained during additional fieldwork after 1961.
    This same Sorenson, who also later taught anthropology and archaeology at BYU, and eventually headed up the department, furthered the belief in this Limited Geography Theory of Mesoamerica drawing even more students turned archaeologists to this belief, and his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon in 1985, increased that number. The further works of these students, now making up a large number of BYU people involved in this geographic theory has only increased the number of believers whose interest and commitment to the theory seem to far outstrip their knowledge of, or interest in, the actual scriptural record of the land’s descriptions.
    The point is, to these individuals now, the idea of the Limited Geography Theory is the basis of their work, their interest, and their evaluations. Anything that doesn’t fit their opinion of this “limited geography” model is simply rejected out of hand. To all these theorists, South America is unworthy of any consideration because of the size of the entire South American continent as it is known today.
(See the next post, “How Did We Get to a Limited Theory for the Land of Promise Geography? – Part III,” for more on this and specifically the travel in the Land Northward of the Jaredites)

No comments:

Post a Comment