Monday, April 9, 2018

How Inspired is Inspired?

When it comes to the Book of Mormon, most who accept it do not find fault with the doctrines, and few want to change them or reword them or alter their meaning; however, when it comes to the more geographical wordage, the land seems full of people who fail to apply the same logic of inspiration behind the writing as they apply to the doctrinal information.
Did the one ship that sailed and no one knew where it went sail westward into the South Pacific Gyre and down into Polynesia?

Take, as an example, Robert E. Parsons, who was professor emeritus of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, and author of “Hagoth and the Polynesians,” in which he stated: “The interest in the people of the Pacific comes from a brief account in the Book of Mormon of one Hagoth, a Nephite shipbuilder who left the Americas and sailed away and was “never heard of more” (Alma 63:8)” (The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 1992, pp249–262).
    The problem with such sloppy writing is that it conveys an idea that is not supported by the scriptural record, and runs contrary to what is written there. As an example, when Mormon abridged Alma 63, he simply wrote after mentioning a large company of men, women and children that “went to a land which was northward,” that:
    “Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea…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…And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward. And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And…one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not” (Alma 63:4-8).
    Nowhere in this brief writing does it even suggest that Hagoth, himself, ever went anywhere in his ships. Mormon tells us Hagoth built the ships and others sailed in them to northern locations. One ship returned and others went aboard and sailed northward again—but it does not say or even imply that Hagoth went on the ship or any other ship. Yet, Parsons tries to make it clear that Hagoth sailed twice aboard his ships without any evidence or suggestion that supports it.
Parsons follows that up with: “In 55 BC, Hagoth built an “exceedingly large ship” and launched it into the West Sea by the narrow neck of land and went north with many men, women, children, and provisions (Alma 63:5–6).”
    But as stated, he did not go north with the ship. It is simply an unfounded assumption that he went aboard his ship. In fact, Mormon’s next statement is, that while that ship was sailing north and before it returned, “this man built other ships” (Alma 63:7). “And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again northward.”
    Clearly, Hagoth was not aboard that ship as Parsons claimed, for he was still in his shipyard “building other ships.” He was not aboard either ship that sailed, according to the scriptural record. He evidently was a shipwright or shipbuilder (Alma 63:5,7), not an explorer or sea captain.
    Yet, Parsons continues: “This ship returned in 54 B.C., was provisioned and sailed north again never to be heard from thereafter. An additional ship was launched that year, and it also was never heard from again (Alma 63:7–8).”
    Never heard from again. Of the first ship mentioned here, the comment is accurate. In fact, Mormon, writing some 400 years later, makes the assumption that “we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea.” However, this is not a fact, nor does Mormon suggest any rationale as to why he or anyone else thought the other ship have never been heard from again. It may be that they never intended to return, never intended to have further communication with the homeland. After all, when Lehi left Jerusalem, no one there ever heard from him again. Yet, there was no disaster involved, just a leaving with no intention of returning.
    Of course, several reasons exist why this second ship was not heard from again: 1) this ship, after making its second voyage northward decided to stay and not return; 2) this ship was blown off course and ended up in another land and was wrecked on the shore, or the crew decided to stay or were forced to stay where they landed; 3) this ship was sailing to “a land which was northward” and not part of the Land of Promise, and had no intention of returning, but staying in this new land.
    It is interesting that Mormon makes an assumption here and inserts his unfounded opinion, stating no reasoning for his view. Perhaps he is merely abridging a remark made by the author of Alma that, at the time, knew nothing more about the voyage and no additional information was ever entered into the record Mormon was abridging.
    The point is, Parson himself inserts his own view into his writing that is not supported by anything in the scriptural record, when he states that the second ship mentioned in his statement was also “never heard from again.” However, the scriptural record does not say that—it only says no one knew where the ship went. That is, no one knew of its destination. Perhaps it was an exploration voyage, perhaps it was one of inspiration, or just curiosity that the vessel left for a destination of hope, belief, or desire without really knowing what lay before them along the course they chose. Or perhaps they just wanted to see what lay out in the ocean to the West, and perhaps they ended up in Polynesia. If they did, no one in Alma’s day would have known that, let alone in Mormon’s time.
    Consequently, one simply cannot inject a line of thinking into a critique or dissertation about the Book of Mormon. It is best to stick with what is written in the scriptural record, or have a strong supportive reason for injecting another idea to show why it should even be considered.
Sorenson claims Hagoth was shipwrecked somewhere and couldn’t make it home

John L. Sorenson makes this same mistake, adding even more to the story line when he wrote (p269): “What about the LDS tradition that Hagoth, the Nephite shipbuilder who failed to return home, was an ancestor of the Polynesians…The Book of Mormon itself, of course, says only that the man and his mates disappeared from the knowledge of the people in Zarahemla. For all they knew he might have died at a ripe old age on the West Mexican coast without a suitable vessel in which to make the return voyage.”
    Phyllis Carol Olive also makes this mistake, when she writes, “Hagoth was described as a very curiu man, we would have to assume that his journey took him much further away…with Hagoth launching his ship in to the west sea by the narrow neck, and then sailing as far as he could northward” (Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, Bonneville Books, Springfield UT, 2000, p189
    However, in the short 4-verse, 178-word coverage of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon, there is no mention he sailed anywhere, and in fact, was home building more ships while other of his ships were sailing northward and back. There is certainly no mention that he was shipwrecked or did not return to his shipyard in the scriptural record.
    However, that does not deter well respected writers and academicians like Parsons, Sorenson and Olive from making up their own story lines when writing about the Book of Mormon.
    In fact, Sorenson makes the claim (267) that “Hagoth was a major figure in promoting the northward migrations,” again without any scriptural backing, other than the fact that he built “exceedingly large” ships (Alma 63:5). At the same time, Sorenson lays most of the cause of the northward movement on the fact that lower crop production, larger populations and the end of a recent war were all cited as causes for this northward migration.
    Nor can we forget that in the year being discussed, “there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward” (Alma 63:4). If these did not go by ship, then Hagoth indeed played a very small part in this northward migration, as well as “corporate” sponsorship of organized movement was involved.
    How inspired is inspired?
    Joseph Smith said, ““I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461.)
    The most correct of any book on earth” was a bold statement to make in in his day, let alone in our day of sophisticated publication. However, the statement is still applicable, for the Lord has never rescinded it nor cast doubt upon it. In fact an analysis of the statement reveals important principles that are significant to readers of the Book of Mormon and especially to members of the Church. Its correctness must be attributed to the Lord’s hand operative in its translation, an event that was, as Isaiah described it, a “marvelous work and a wonder” (Isaiah 29:13-14).
    Thus, if Joseph Smith can correctly translate the Book of Mormon into the most correct book regarding God’s dealings with man and the doctrines of Heaven as he said and we so often claim, then how can we at the same time claim he was incorrect, unclear or misleading in the translation of Mormon’s descriptions?
    It seems that we either accept Joseph Smith as being inspired in translating the Book of Mormon plates into the scriptural record that we now have, or we don’t. We either accept that the Spirit worked through him to bring about that translation, or we don’t. What we cannot do is claim the Spirit worked with him and he translated the doctrinal information correctly, but not the geographical information correctly, though this is what so many theorists have done, by trying to put their own spin on the translation and try to bend it to fit their own personal opinions and models regarding the descriptions of Mormon and other prophet-writers.

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