Saturday, May 12, 2018

From the East to the West Sea

Not long ago we received yet another suggestion that, simply put, stated that “’from the east to the west sea,’ sometimes means just that. From the East to the West sea, and not always to mean from the East Sea to the West Sea.”
Yellow Arrow shows from East Sea to West Sea, and is completely understandable. The White Arrow shows an ambiguous beginning somewhere in the east and running to the West Sea. The yellow line tells us something, the white line does not and is meaningless

While that is always a possibility, there is the problem with why would Mormon have used that terminology “from the east to the west sea” (Alma 22:32) when describing the Land of Promise to his future reader through this insert? Since he is trying to tell us what the land looked like and where things were, why would he use an unknown starting point, “from the east” when trying to tell us how far, how long, how wide, etc., something was?
    In fact, it is something that every reader should keep in mind when reading something in the scriptural record that sounds ambiguous—the first thought that should come to mind is, what does that mean”? For example, in this verse Mormon inserts, he says: “And now, 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.” O.K., a day and a half journey, but from where to where? While we know from his words that the line ends at the West Sea, we have no idea where it begins, i.e., “in the east.” East what, or east where? Did he mean a canyon, a mountain range, some foothills, a valley, a fort, a forest, a swamp, a river, a city, a settlement or village?
    For theorists to simply pass this off as unimportant, we need to keep in mind that Mormon was trying to tell us something. He was describing a distance of a day and a half for a Nephi to journey across—across what? A “small neck of land” between the Land Northward and the Land Southward. So, if that eastern boundary was not already known and understood, already introduced by Mormon in this writing, why not tell us where the line started?
    After all, Mormon did not know how learned his future reader would be or how much they would know about the area he was writing about, so the question remains, why be ambiguous about some point in the east? If he left this eastern point unnamed, how would he expect his future reader to know what it was, and therefore, to know what he meant by his measurement of a day-and-a-half journey to show the distance.
    However, the location was already introduced by Mormon. As any good linguist knows, and English grammar states (in this case Hebrew grammar as well)—the given subject of a sentence, if not specifically listed, generally refers back to the previously introduced noun. In this case, what in the “east’ had Mormon already introduced?
    Well, let’s take a look. In vs.28, Mormon writes: “from the sea east to the sea west,” telling us what area he was describing. He repeats this in vs.33, when he again says “from the east unto the west sea.”
    Thus, Mormon had already introduced the East Sea as the eastern boundary of what he was describing. For a clearer understanding, because our modern scriptural record is divided into verses and chapters, let’s turn to the original writing of this area. In the original manuscript, a single paragraph covers from Alma 22:26 thru Alma 22:32—that is, there can be no question that these seven verses were run-on events, not separated by anything, and not having any punctuation originally on the plates, i.e., no periods or semi-colons.  Thus, the original sentence of this description would have read:
    “And now, 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 and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward
    When read like that, it is clearer and there are no punctuation marks to mislead or alter the original meaning. Thus we see that Mormon is telling us the small neck between the two major lands was the subject, and its distance was that a Nephite could cover in a day and a half. This makes the small neck of land about 25 to 30 miles across at most. Since Mesoamerica’s narrow neck is about 140 miles across, one can see why Mesoamerican theorists either pay no attention to this statement or try to discredit it by changing its meaning, saying that the point in the east is unknown, and probably some landmark—if it is the Sea East, then their entire model is inaccurate!
    Take John L. Sorenson’s comment in his book(p29) “The only ‘narrow neck’ potentially acceptable in terms of the Book of Mormon requirements is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. All LDS students of Book of Mormon geography who have worked systematically with the problem in recent decades have come to agreement on this.” It is interesting to note that not all students of geography of the book of Mormon have come to that conclusion—in fact outside the classrooms of BYU where this is taught, very few have that conclusion. While the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the only narrowing area of Mesoamerica, and if isolated to Mesoamerica, one is consigned to have to accept that isthmus, it certainly does not agree with the requirements of the scriptural record and falls far short of matching and statements about it Mormon and Moroni make.
    In fact, Sorenson goes on to state (p35) “the general hourglass shape is evident in both” referring to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and the narrow neck of land in the scriptural record. However, there is no suggesting of an hourglass shape in Mormon’s writings. Mormon only says that “thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32).
    However, that narrow neck does not have to be in an hourglass shape.
Top Left: Hourglass; Middle: Hourglass shaped land; Right: Narrow neck of land not an hourglass shape; Bottom: Shows a narrow neck of land that is not configured like an hourglass—the hourglass shape is something Mesoamericanists promote, it is not mentioned in the scriptural record and neither is the word “Isthmus”

The reason for the hourglass shape from Sorenson is because he uses that hourglass to make his point about the Isthmus of Tehuantepec,showing in Maps 1-4 that the hourglass shape running north and south matches up with the Land of Promise as described in the scriptural recor, then suddenly, in Map 5, he discards the hourglass shape, uses a map of Mesoamerica running east and west, lays it down so that it is horizontal rather than vertical and claims that is how you get to the shape of his Land of Promise.
    He then goes on to write (p35): “The general hourglass shape is evident in both. The dimensions are very similar—that is, if we ignore the northern and western extension of Mesoamerica, which we may do, since the Book of Mormon is silent about the corresponding area.” It seems Sorenson claims the scriptural record is silent about anything he doesn’t want it to say, since Jacob tells us that they were on an island (2 Nephi 10:20), and that Mormon had nowhere left to run in the Land Northward and agreed to make a last stand at Cumorah (Mormon 6:1-9). Both passages suggest that there was no land to the south and no land to the north, contrary to Sorenson’s self-serving claim.
    However, he isn’t finished. He then goes on to add (p35-36): “We must then ignore the Yucatan Peninsula and adjacent lowlands, for we noted earlier that the Nephite-controlled portion of the coast along the east sea was short and that the entire area eastward from the city of Nephi is undescribed in the scripture.” The problem with Sorenson’s claim is that the east coast of the Land of Promise, from the area of the City of Nephi northward to the Land of Bountiful is very well described. In fact, after Moroni’s army drove the Lamanites out of the wilderness along this coast (Alma 50:11-12); and then built two cities there—city of Moroni (Alma 50:14) and also the city of Lehi (Alma 50:15).
The Nephites built the City of Moroni along the east coast near the line of the Lamanites

Now this area where they built the city of Moroni “was by the east sea; and it was on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites” (Alma 50:13). There seems to be no question about this fact, leaving no room for the 76,300 square mile Yucatan Peninsula.
    Yet, Sorenson goes on to add (p36): “Thus the two areas of Mesoamerica that do not fit clearly with what the Nephi leaves us hazy There are no contradictions.”
The Nephites had at least four cities along the east coast of the are just north of the narrow strip of wilderness, which strip marked the dividing line between the Nephites and the Lamanites—again, there is no room for a Yucatan Peninsula

As can be plainly seen, the hourglass shape of the Sorenson’s Land of Promise does not match his Map 5, the map of his Mesoamerica Land of Promise, in any way. Neither is Mesoamerica an island, nor is there a terminus in th eland northward or southward, continuing northward into Mexico and North America, and continuing southward into Central and south America.
    It should be noted that at this point, Sorenson’s East Sea and West Sea now lie to the North and to the South of his narrow neck of land, and his Land Southward is to the east and his Land Northward is to the west.
    Summing it up, Sorenson states (p36-38): “Many features of south and central Mexico and Guatemala seem to match up decisively with the requirements for the Book of Mormon territory, except perhaps for one major anomaly. The Book of Mormon writers talk about their geography in terms of ‘north’ or ‘northward’ and ‘south’ or ‘southward,’ while Mesoamerica seems skewed from those standard compass directions. How is this problem to be solved?”
    Most intelligent people would, in answer to this question, say that they had the wrong place and look for another. But not Sorenson, who then goes on to spend pages telling us why “north” and “south” were not the directions Mormon meant and that the land of Promise really ran “east” and “west.”
    Of course, all this flies in the face of Mormon’s description in Alma 22:27-34. It also does not fit the question about the east and west running line mentioned in vs 27.
    Thus we can suggest that ambiguous comments have no place in the scriptural record—Mormon and the others were not ambiguous in their writing. We find ambiguity only because we look for something that is not there and cannot accept what is there in plain and clear sight.

1 comment:

  1. I often read the Book of Mormon from Skousen's book.. The Book of Mormon:The Earliest Text. The reason is I really enjoy the way he uses sense lines and groups the verses together in subject of thought. Here is an example of Alma 22:

    As you can see.. each red box signifies thoughts on one subject. And as you stated... reading Alma 22:32 as one complete thought. And then adding verse 33 to the thought.. even makes more sense.