Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sorenson's Land of Promise Directions

Once again, since John L. Sorenson’s book, “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” is the criteria against which all other Land of Promise writings, locations, and books are to be judged, according to Arrington, Madsen, and Welch, then it is incumbent upon us to take another look at Sorenson’s claims.

He wrote: “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.”

The word “seems” used here is an interesting choice of words. It means “to appear.” Thus, Sorenson tries to soften the difference between his Mesoamerican model and the wordage of the scriptural record. However, there is no “seems to be skewed,” It is skewed! By about 90º. That is, Mesoamerica runs almost true east and west, while the Land of Promise runs north/northward and south/southward. It is not just that Mesoamerica appears to be skewed—it is skewed!

To try and explain this, Sorenson asks the question: “How is this problem to be solved?” then goes on to write: “The Israelites of Palestine, in their most common mental framework, derived directions as though standing with backs to the sea, facing the desert. Yam ("sea") then meant "west," for the Mediterranean lay in that direction, while qedem ("fore") stood for "east." Then yamin ("right hand") meant "south," while semol ("left hand") denoted "north."

It is always interesting to see how far Sorenson will go to cloud an issue so that the scriptural record can be ignored while his worldly knowledge is excelled. Does anyone really believe that after nearly 1000 years in Palestine (from Joshua 1500 B.C. forward), the Hebrews had to have their backs to the Mediterranean Sea to know their directions? Or that a sea had to be present for them to determine west and east? Such silliness is beyond imagination.

What about when the Lehi colony was in Bountiful, when their backs to the sea would mean they were facing north. Did that mean they thought north was east? This is just as silly as when the colony was traveling down by the Red Sea for quite some time. With the sea to the right, did they then think that they were heading south? Yet, Nephi wrote they were heading south-southeast. And what about when they were crossing the desert known as the Empty Quarter with no sea in sight for years. Did they not know their direction at all? Yet, Nephi wrote they were heading nearly eastward all that time.

Not finished, Sorenson goes on to write: “In Palestine, this model coincided nicely with nature (the coast runs nearly north-south) and also proved neatly translatable to our European uses of the terms east, west, north, and south. (This was not the only model of directions in use among the Israelites, but it was the most fundamental, being deeply embedded in the language.)”

Sometimes we get so carried away with our own knowledge and intellect, we fail to realize how ridiculous our ideas sound. “Deeply imbedded in the language.” When I was a kid, I was taught that north meant a cold, freezing area, such as the North Pole. And that south meant heat, such as the tropics of the South Pacific. But when I was in the southern latitudes as an adult, heading north took me to the hot and humid lands of the tropics. And, conversely, heading south took me to Tierra del Fuego, a cold and forbidding land; however, it had no impact on my knowing direction in my new location.

The point is, no matter how deeply imbedded an idea is in language, thought, or understanding, it does not preclude basic and reasonable thought. To say that the Nephites, once away from Palestine, could not tell directions because their new land was skewed from normal directions is beyond fallaciousness, it is downright disingenuous. As is Sorenson’s further attempts to cloud the issue with how Eskimos, Greenlanders, Assyrians and other groups saw their cardinal directions.

Fortunately for such types of thinking as Sorenson displays, the actual scriptural record betrays their ignorance or deviousness. Let’s take a look at one idea:

“And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director -- or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it” (Alma 37:38), and that it “pointed unto them a straight course to the promised land” (Alma 37:44), and that it did show them where to go “For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land” (Alma 37:45).

If Lehi, Nephi and others had the Liahona, which is a compass, and that it pointed out directions, why would they not have known the cardinal directions of the land in which they reached and lived? Sorenson’s entire idea of the Nephites not knowing the directions of their land is totally without merit.

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