Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is Meant by Wilderness?

Hugh Nibley was the first to mention that “wilderness” in the scriptures meant mountains. Other Mesoamerican Theorists have picked this up and used the idea in their own writings. John E. Clark, in his book, “The Book of Mormon and Archaeology,” adds to this theme when he writes on page 27:

“Internal evidence in the Book of Mormon is convincing that "wilderness" refers to mountainous regions filled with wild beasts.”

There is no such “convincing evidence” of the kind. The scriptures refer to several different type of landscape as a wilderness. As an example, see 1 Nephi 2:2-6; 3:27; 5:6,22; 8:4; 16:20,38; 17:1-4,28; 18:6; 19:10; 2 Nephi 5:5-7; 7:2; 8:3; Jacob 4:5; Omni 1:12-13,16, 27-29; Mosiah 7:4; 8:7-8; 9:2-4; 19:18; 21:25; 23:35; 24:25.

In some descriptions, a wilderness had wild beasts, as in 1 Nephi 7:16; Enos 1:20; Alma 2:37; 22:27; however, there is no indication of wild beasts in Mosiah 10:9; 18:34; 19:9; 20:4-5; 22:2,6,8,11.

Thus the scriptures are not convincing that wilderness refers to areas filled with wild beats. Nor should we think in terms of a “wilderness” as a mountainous region, for when the Lehi Colony traveled in “the wilderness” along the shores of the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5), it was a coastal plain, not a mountainous region, nor when they turned east across the desert (1 Nephi 17:1), which was such a difficult and arduous journey for them—this was a rather flat, parched desert. In Alma 22:27 it is used as a division between lands, and in the following verse it describes the seashore as it does in Alma 22:28; 50:9; 56:31,39.

The problem arises that when a person has a mindset, they ignore other scriptures and center on the ones that agree with their point of view. However, the word “wilderness” had a very specific meaning in the time Joseph Smith translated the term. In the 1828 “American Dictionary of the English Language,” written by Noah Webster in New England about the same time Joseph was translating (see my post February 27, 2010, “Understanding Joseph Smith’s Translation,”) lists the word “wilderness” as meaning an “unoccupied tract of land.” This could mean desert, coastal, mountainous, or forest regions, including meadows, clearings, Moors, plains, or any area that is unoccupied by permanent settlement. And that is exactly how the word is used in Book of Mormon scripture. Nor is it used any differently today, as in the description of “wilderness areas” by the U.S. Forest and Park services, as stated clearly in the Wilderness Act.
Such images in the 1800s were considered the westward movement into and across the Westward Wilderness

1 comment:

  1. You know, I read your posts every day and not only do they make a lot of sense, but these last few pointing out how Hugh Nibley, Sorenson, and others who promote Mesoamerica misread or misuse scripture is beyond belief. Hugh Nibley was a very intelligent individual--I believe he spoke six or seven languages, and was a great defender of the Book of Mormon, yet time and again, as you have pointed out, completely misstated scripture. It is too bad that all these Mesoamerican Theorists as you call them, have not read your books, or at least your blog posts. For whatever it is worth, you stand head and shoulders above any of these other people who write about the geography of the Book of Mormon. Keep at it. I am continually learning thanks to you.