Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Were There Other People in the Land of Promise? Part I

In a FARMS website, Sorenson wrote: “Several lines of evidence in the Book of Mormon point directly to the presence of other peoples in the land from the very beginning of Nephite colonization. One of the most telling passages in the record of Nephi relates the confrontation of Sherem and Jacob (see last two posts), but questions about population actually arise still earlier in the story—especially in the building of a temple

1. “We find Nephi setting out to build a temple when his adult male relatives in the little colony in the land of Nephi apparently would have numbered only three: Nephi, Sam, and Zoram (plus Jacob and Joseph if they were old enough). So few men could not have put up much of a temple.”

Sorenson is comparing this to the temple Solomon built which took 30 years and thousands of laborers. However, there is no indication that this was done early on when there were only three men present. The few of them might well have laid out the groundwork, foundation, etc., of the temple, but it took 20 years to complete, and toward the latter part of that time, there would have been several teens to young adult males. When first leaving the area of first landing, Nephi says: “it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family” (2 Nephi 5:5). Both Zoram and Sam had families, and in all three cases, their older children would have been 8 to 10 years old before leaving Bountiful, and as old as 12 to 15 years when Nephi left the area of first landing. In ten years, before building the temple, there could have been a dozen young men around 15 to 20 years old, plus Jacob and Joseph would have become capable men.

In addition, another larger number under those ages could have taken care of planting and harvesting, hunting, etc., a couple of dozen males could have been working on the temple from dawn to nightfall. Naturally all this is conjecture, but certainly only three males to build a temple is a ridiculous approach on Sorenson’s part—he must know that there were children and in a thirty year period, some of them would have been quite old.

Obviously, their labor would not have been sufficient to build a temple the size of Solomon’s, with its four-story tall ceilings, all the fine appointments, porches, etc. In fact, when Ezra records the building of the second temple in Jerusalem, the older men wept for it was not as grand as the first temple built. Obviously, it was not the magnificent structure Solomon built, and only took about 7 years to complete. The Nephites certainly could have built a small temple to fit the needs of the much smaller community. And there is nothing to prevent the temple from being expanded over the next nearly 400 years that the Nephites occupied that land they called Nephi.

In addition, it should be kept in mind that we do not know when this temple was built. There are two scenarios to keep in mind. 1) This temple could have taken numerous years to build--we do not know when it was started or when it was completed, except that it took place sometime between the time Nephi and those who went with them reached the area they called Nephi, and just before Nephi's death; 2) or it could have been built much later in Nephi's life when the Nephite colony had grown in size and number of adults.

2. “Furthermore, what kind of wars could the group have fought against the Lamanites with the minuscule "army" that the handful of immigrants could have mustered at the end of 25 years in the land? (see 2 Nephi 5:34). Without increases in the early population of the two factions that can only be explained by the accretion of people from a resident population, reference to "wars" could not be a significant reality.”

It is obvious that Sorenson should learn a little about military matters before writing about them. When I was in the military, we sometimes had “war games” where only a platoon (30-40 men) was involved, and sometimes just a squad (10 men). On very rare occasions an entire Company (150 men) was involved, and only once in my career was a Battalion (800 men) was involved—it is rarely like the movies. Even at a squad level, there was a “war” with “fighting” among the opposing squads, which included blank cartridges, sheathed bayonets, hand to hand fighting, etc.

War can be defined as a “disposition of contention; enmity (hostility, hate, antagonism); to be in a state of contest by violence; to content, to strive violently; to be in a state of opposition; to invade or attack.” In our world today, a “war” is defined as a battle or contest between nations, with a great deal of bloodshed and thousands to millions dead. But war in ancient times meant whatever number against another number, with killing the objective. The point is, we cannot assign a number of people that is required to have a war. According to the record, the “wars” between the Nephites and Lamanites occurred between 30 and 40 years after leaving Jerusalem (2 Nephi 5:28,34. After 30 years, there could have been 20 to 50 people fighting—not a “war” by our standards of today, but certainly by the standards of the time. By the time forty years had passed, about 557 B.C., there had been contentions between the two groups, and wars (2 Nephi 5:34)

(See the next post, “Were There Other People in the Land of Promise? Part II,” for more on Sorenson’s comments about other people in the land of promise)

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