Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Was Guatemala the Land of Nephi? Part IV

In the last of the three posts on Sorenson’s fanciful depiction of the land of first inheritance—Lehi’s landing site—including the climate and the Lamanites who lived there, he discussed the fact that the hot and humid coastal weather of his model, caused the laziness and uselessness of the Lamanites, and why they did not plant crops.

It would be humorous if we were not discussing the scriptural record, when Sorenson claims a situation is a fact which he completely made up, then evaluates that conclusion as the reason for something else. As an example, he wrote regarding his completely made up “hot and humid” coastal region of the land of first inheritance (see last post):

“The circumstances of life in that environment could account for some of those characteristics.”

That is, the Lamanites became lazy and useless because of his “hot and humid” climate, which exists only in his mind—certainly not in the scriptures.

But not finished, he then goes on to add, “Many centuries later the Spaniards spoke in like terms of natives in the same area. The Tomas Medel manuscript, dating about A.D. 1550, just a generation after the first Spaniards arrived in the area, reported that the Indian men on the Pacific coast of Guatemala "spent their entire lives as naked as when they were born. That practice may have seemed a sensible response to the oppressive climate."

This is completely possibly along the Guatemala coast, but there is no reason to believe it existed in the scriptural area of first landing. The one does not justify the other.

He goes on to say “It may have been economically smart for them to hunt and gather the abundant natural food from the estuaries, while again the damp heat would make their lack of energy understandable.”

Whatever the climate after their first landing, it did not stop the colony from planting and harvesting—nor do we know how long this lasted for Nephi did not flee northward until after Lehi had died. No, it was not the climate that caused Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael, and their children, to become idle and lazy, for they had been such before ever reaching the Land of Promise. Even in the first Bountiful—where we know it to have a year round pleasant climate—they “were desirous that they might not labor” (1 Nephi 17:18). In fact, throughout their entire history, whether along the seashore or in the city of Nephi after Mosiah left to discover Zarahemla, the Lamanites were never known to build or create anything. They were quick to vacate the cities of Nephi and Shilom to Zeniff and his people (Mosiah 7:21), because they were in hopes of being able to later steal Nephite crops and enjoy the fruits of others’ labor “for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage. And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us” (Mosiah 7:22).

No, we cannot say that the climate had anything to do with the Lamanite idleness. Almost all peoples throughout history who had been in, or degenerated into, a savage state, have preferred hunting and fishing over the back-breaking labor of clearing fields, tilling ground, planting seeds and harvesting their crops. The Indians of North America were in such a state when first encountered and, for most tribes, remained in that state for many generations afterward. It has nothing to do with climate, but with attitude of mind.

According to Sorenson, “Where the party of Nephi settled was quite surely the Valley of Guatemala, or, as they named it, the land of Nephi. The continental divide runs right through the valley, present-day Guatemala City, and the ancient city of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) at an elevation of about 5,000 feet.”

It is one thing to believe that a place was the Land of Promise because the scriptural record leads you to no other location—but Sorenson has not arrived in Guatemala by the scriptures, but by his own beliefs and thinking, and his unique interpretation of the record. As he wrote in the introduction of his book and covered in an earlier post, “Over the next three years Professors 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.”

And, indeed, Sorenson sees the scriptural record as a puzzle to be interpreted by him as it fits his pre-determined beliefs regarding the Mesoamerican area as the Land of Promise. This is not scholarship. It is biased writing through and through, which violates his own premise as stated in his book, “we'll want to be cautious, especially about any biases we might bring to the subject from modern conditions.”

(See the next post, “Was Guatemala the Land of Nephi? Part V,” for how Sorenson fancifully describes Guatemala as the Land of Promise.”

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