Monday, June 6, 2011

A Theorist’s Way of Understanding the Record – Part II

As begun in the last post, John L. Sorenson’s method of proving his Mesoamerican theory and interpreting the scriptural record has many flaws.

Sorenson wrote of himself in the forward of his book about the Book of Mormon: “I came to see it as a document so subtle and complex that it virtually demanded to be analyzed and understood in new terms,” which seems to be at the heart of his Mesoamerican beliefs. In “analyzing” the scriptural record in “new terms,” Sorenson has been led to see what is not there, define what does not exist, and create what is not written.

As an example, when his Mesoamerica model runs east and west rather than north and south as Mormon tells us (Alma 22:32), Sorenson creates a compass problem for the Nephites to show they did not understand or use normal cardinal directional information. When Sorenson’s narrow neck of land is much wider than when Mormon tells us it can be crossed in a day and a half by a Nephite (Alma 22:32), Sorenson clouds the simple issue with “Mohave Indians in California could cover nearly 100 miles a day, sometimes going without food or even water for days. About 75 years ago, one Indian reportedly made a hundred mile trip, then turned around after only a few hours rest and went back again. Averaging six miles an hour, not a day, was not exceptional in their case,” to show that Mormon might have meant a special runner in his distance measurement. Which obviously does not make sense, since Mormon was giving to his future reader a measurement device that would only work if it was in regard to a normal person walking normally across the land.

In fact, Sorenson begins his work by saying: “We will want to be cautious, especially about any biases we might bring to the subject from modern conditions.” He then turns around and writes: “when we analyze Book of Mormon statements about geography and events, the ‘land of first inheritance’ can lie only on the west (Pacific) coast of Central America.”

How is one unbiased when he translates scripture based on his own previously determined model? If Mesoamerica is not the Land of Promise, then obviously, all Sorenson’s extensive work is wasted and achieves nothing at all.

Sorenson also wrote: “Nephi left us no information in the Book of Mormon about the route, nor did he tell us in modern terms where they landed,” yet he places that landing on the south Guatemala coast without any explanation as to how he arrived at that location other than it would be his Land Southward.

Bishop Diego de Landa (left) who studied pre-Columbian Maya civiization in the Yucatan and Father Bernardino de Sahagun (right) who studied the Aztec Indians of Mexico

Sorenson also wrote: “As my knowledge of archaeology, history and languages deepened,” which caused him to not turn to the scriptural record to find the answers, but to the sectarian history of “key Spanish records (of) Bishop Diego de Landa's account of Yucatan and Father Bernardino de Sahagun's superb books about central Mexico.” To Sorenson, man’s records were more important than God’s—or at least on the same level.

Sorenson also wrote: “Jakeman, Nibley and Sperry led me to understand that the Book of Mormon was not only a religious resource but also a challenging intellectual and historical puzzle.”

Nowhere in the numerous writings of the prophets or general authorities is the suggestion made that the Book of Mormon is an intellectual puzzle. Not even Neal A. Maxwell, with his outstanding intellect, ever suggested such a thing. Nor can we say that the Book of Mormon is an historical puzzle for it is not a history text, nor a geography text, nor an academic text. It is what Joseph Smith called it, “the most
perfect book on earth, the keystone of our religion.”

The word “keystone” means “the fastening stone” something that “binds the work.” That is, the book binds (ties together) the work of the Church, the gospel, the doctrines of salvation. It is not, and never was, a book to be understood intellectually, but spiritually. Nor is it a puzzle, for the Lord said that he speaks to man in man’s own language for man’s understanding. Thus, the Book of Mormon is not a “religious resource,” but the foundation of our religion.

(See the next post, “A Theorist’s Way of Understanding the Record – Part III,” for the last of these points about Sorenson’s flawed evaluation of the geography of the Book of Mormon)

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