Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sorenson’s Inaccurate Narrow Neck of Land – Part II

In the last post, John L. Sorenson’s comments about his narrow neck of land were introduced, and his disagreement with other areas in Mesoamerica. His final statement: “The only "narrow neck" potentially acceptable in terms of the Book of Mormon requirements is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico.” Taking these points one by one, we find:

1. The lack of an acceptable "neck" in the Yucatan.

While this is true, there is also a lack of an acceptable “neck” in all of Mesoamerica, including his Isthmus of Tehuantepec. However, let’s continue with his argument:

“A solution is found by looking at fine-grained geographical details of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec area. An irregular sandstone and gravel formation arrears as a ridge averaging a couple of miles wide and rising 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding country running west from the lower Coatzacoalcos River. It provides the only reliable year-round route from the isthmian/east coast area "northward" into central Veracruz. A great deal of the land on either side of this ridge is flooded periodically, as much as 12 feet deep in the rainy season. At times during that season the ridge pass would indeed lead "by the sea, on the west and on the east" (Alma 50:34), for the water in the flooded basins would be on both sides of the ridge and would have barred travel as effectively as the sea, with which the floodwaters were continuous. Even in the dry season, the lower terrain is choked with thorny brush, laced with lagoons, and rendered impractical as a customary route. This formation runs from near Minatitlan, the modern city on the Coatzacoalcos, west about 20 miles to Acayucan. From there the normal route leads farther west to the river crossing at San Juan, a key junction. The modern highway runs partly along this elevation to escape the boggy conditions on either side. Where it does so, it essentially follows the pre-European way that had been in use as the road of preference for thousands of years.”

An 1853 Map in the Library of Congress of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec before satellites or aerial views. Note the slight indentation of the Tehuantepec area (red arrow) and the very slight slope inward on the blow up below)

For any narrow neck to match scripture, it must be discernable by land-based people without aerial views or drawn maps of Central America. Certainly, Tehuantepec does not qualify because of its gradual change, hardly even noticable when walking the area. Without an aerial map, this would not even be noticed as a Bay, let alone a narrow neck of land.

The interesting thing is, while Sorenson spends some time telling us about the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, he neglects to mention how it is described in the scriptural record. These points are listed for us by Mormon:

1. “A small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). He also calls it a narrow neck (Alma 63:5). Evidently, to Mormon, this neck of land was both narrow and small.

2. “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). That is, all of it, or a major portion of it, could be crossed in a day and a half by a Nephite. It should be recognized here that “a Nephite” would be a normal person of Mormon’s day, otherwise the comment would have no meaning. Also, the so-called "passage" Sorenson mentions (above) from sea to sea, could be crossed in minutes--hardly what Mormon had in mind.

3. It was on the boundary between the land “Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west” (Alma 22:32). That is, the neck ran north and south, but the line separating the two lands ran east and west. Sorenson's narrow neck is just the opposite, running 90º off from Mormon's description.

4. “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). The Land Southward, consisting of the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla (including the Land of Bountiful) were surrounded by water except for the narrow neck of land which connected the Land Southward to the Land Northward. Sorrenson's Land Southward is not nearly surrounded by water--it has two coasts, but at no time was there a southern teminous so it could not be surrounded by water except for a narrow neck.

5. “The Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea. And thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward. Therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about” (Alma 22:33-34). Obviously, this narrow neck was small or narrow enough to be a bottleneck for any invading army to get past into the Land Northward. As Mormon wrote: “And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward. And there we did place our armies, that we might stop the armies of the Lamanites, that they might not get possession of any of our lands; therefore we did fortify against them with all our force” (Mormon 3:5-6). The defense of the entire Land Northward by guarding a narrow pass tells us that this was the only way into the Land Northward from the south, and such a circumstance requires a very specific and narrow area indeed that can be militarily defended. This alone disqualifies the Gulf of Tehuantepec with its 140-mile width. Consider trying to defend an area from Provo to Ogden, a distance of only 80 miles, to keep an invading force from moving from one side of the I-15 to the other. Obviously, a 140-mile front is a very large and indefensible area.

(See the next post, “Sorenson’s Inaccurate Narrow Neck of Land – Part III,” for more references in the scriptural record to show that the Gulf of Tehuantepec could not be the Sorenson’s Narrow Neck of Land)

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