Monday, November 7, 2011

What is Behind the Compromise of 75 to 125 Miles? Part I

In writing about the narrow neck of land within his Mesoamerican model, John L. Sorenson asks the question:

1. “What are we told about the narrow neck of land itself? First, it had to be wide enough that Limhi's explorers could pass through it without even realizing that it was an isthmus (Remember that upon their return they supposed they had been in the land southward all the time.)”

First of all to be accurate, they never "supposed they had been in the land southward all the time" for they never knew there was a Land Northward at this time. They did, however, know they "did find a land which had been peopled; yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi" (Mosiah 21:26). It does not do the study of the scriptural record well when words and meanings are added not supported by the record.

Secondly, the word “isthmus” is used by Sorenson because it matches the terminology of Mesoamerica. However, the term used is a “neck of land.” According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, an “isthmus” is a wide area and does not apply to the scriptural record terminology Joseph Smith used to describe this area.

Third, how wide does an area need to be to pass through it without knowing what is on the other sides of your pathway? Throughout South and Central America, there is a very large series of mountain chains, commencing from the Andes in Tierra del Fuego and going north through the cordilleras of the Sierra Madres in Central America, and on into the Rockies of North America. Within these ranges are valleys, canyons and other natural breaks, that if a group of men were to pass through, the high mountains on either side would preclude anyone from knowing much of what was beyond the narrow confines of the pass, canyon or otherwise passage through the mountains.

So difficult was it to see from east to west through the narrow neck, that the expedition had no idea they were in a different land than that of Zarahemla and returned to the city of Nephi thinking they had seen the ruins of the city and people of Zarahemla.

2. “On the other hand, it was narrow enough that "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).”

Wide enough but narrow enough. You cannot have it both ways—either the narrow neck was wide or it was narrow. Of course, Mormon tells us it was both “small” (Alma 22:32) and “narrow” (Alma 63:5) and that a pass existed through it from the Land Southward to the Land Northward (Alma 50:34;52:9). A “pass” is defined as “a pass between mountains; a narrow passage,” and Mormon calls it a “narrow passage” as well (Mormon 2:29). Thus it would seem reasonable to accept this narrow pass within the narrow neck is a pass or passage between mountains.

In addition, we know that this narrow neck was sufficiently narrow enough for the Nephite militarily to guard it against their enemy, the Lamanites, from gaining access to the Land Northward (Alma 22:33).

Now, as for the day and a half journey, we ought to understand that Mormon, who wrote this, was writing to a future reader (us) and trying to explain the distance in terms a future reader would understand, since he would not have known mile, league, furlong, etc. So he chose to use how long it would take a man to walk across the area of the narrow neck, from east to west, since anyone, at any time, could understand that length within a reasonable distance.

So how fast would an average man walk to cover a given distance? In his book, Sorenson involves numerous unusual circumstances of men’s achievement, such as Philippides (or Erchius), an ancient Greek day-runner, who carried a message of victory from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens—a distance of 150 miles in two days without stopping before collapsing in death—these runners were specially trained and possessed great stamina and strength of character to carry messages in times of war, often through enemy territory; or Mohave Indians reportedly who could cover 100 miles in a day; or the Toltecs of Mesoamerica who were called “tlanquacemilhuique,” which, according to Sorenson, means they cold run an entire day without tiring. On the other hand, the information carried in all writings concerned with this name (such as Bancroft’s 14-volume History of Mexico, in which he quotes from Sahagun and numerous others), the statement is: “When they (the tlanquacemilhuique) wished to publish any command of Quetalcoatl, they sent a crier up upon a high mountain called Tazatzitepec, where with a loud voice he proclaimed the order; and the voice of this crier was heard for a hundred leagues distance, and further, even to the costs of the sea.” Of course, most historians consider this information a myth.

The point is, it matters little what special men have achieved in walking, running, or racing. Mormon tells us “for a Nephite,” which should eliminate any consideration beyond that of a normal man. And only in this context is his distance measurement of any value and can be clearly understood by a future reader.

(See next post, “What is Behind the Compromise of 75 to 125 Miles? Part II,” for more on this issue)

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