Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Problem With Models-Part I

Here is the problem with individuals who try to verify a location for the Land of Promise by starting with the location first, then trying to fit in the scriptural accounts and descriptions as written by Nephi, Alma, Mormon and others.

Lawrence Poulsen in his Book of Mormon Geography, based upon a Mesoamerican location, tries to describe the Land of Zarahemla by saying: “The Land of Zarahemla is located in the Grijalva River valley in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. The valley is surrounded on the south, west and north by mountainous wildernesses as described in Alma 22:27.”

Now, while that sounds innocent at first, consider two items in that simple sentence. 1) He has chosen the location, the Mesoamerican area, and the Grijalva River as the River Sidon; 2) He verifies this location by telling us that the “mountainous wilderness” surrounding this Mesoamerican location meets the description found in Alma 22:27.

So first, let’s take a look at Alma 22: “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west -- and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided” [Alma 22:27].

For clarification, there is no mention of mountains in that scripture, nor in any scripture is there mention of mountains to the north or east of Zarahemla. And since there is absolutely no mention in Alma 22:27 of “mountainous wildernesses,” why would Poulsen make such a claim? Does he think no one would look up the reference? Evidently, two comments in the scripture leads Poulsen to make his claim, which are the same reasons that John L. Sorenson used to make an identical claim years earlier They are: 1) narrow strip of wilderness, and 2) borders of the wilderness. What do these comments have in common? They are both wildernesses. What does wilderness suggest? To Poulsen it suggests mountains. Why? Because it matches his Mesoamerican model.

However, the word “wilderness” as known in the region in which Joseph Smith grew up, meant according to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language: “A desert, a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide barren plain. In the United States, it is applied only to a forest. In Scripture, it is applied frequently to the deserts of Arabia, as ‘the Israelites wandered in the wilderness forty years’.” Also in that dictionary, wilderness could be described as the ocean (quoting Waller), or a state of disorder (quoting Milton), or just a wood in a garden resembling a forest.

How interesting that there is absolutely no mention of wilderness being described as a mountain, mountain region, or mountainous area.

It might also be noted that the word wilderness derives from the word “wild.” Thus any wild area, specifically one not inhabited by people, and one not cultivated, would be considered a wilderness. This, of course, could also include a mountain area, but the latter use was seldom employed in that period of time.

Today, the term wilderness is defined as: “a wilderness or wildland is a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by human activity.” It may also be defined as: "The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure.”

The problem then “with individuals who try to verify a location for the Land of Promise by starting with the location first” is that it leads them to misquote the scriptures and to think the written word includes or refers to something they do not. In this case, then, if we take away the term “mountainous”—of which there is absolutely no reference, it cannot be said that “The valley is surrounded on the south, west and north by mountainous wildernesses as described in Alma 22:27.” Thus, one is left to accept or reject Paulsen’s comment as an unsubstantiated idea without scriptural support. In addition, one cannot say Zarahemla is surrounded by wilderness at all. There are really only two wldernesses mentioned, one to the south—the narrow strip of wilderness than runs from sea to sea, and the wilderness of Hermounts to the northwest. No other wilderness is mentioned or implied.

Of course, this leads Poulsen without a leg to stand on to support his thesis about the location of his Land of Promise. So it is not likely we are going to see him accept the fact that the scriptures do not say or imply what he claims. And so it is with people who determine a location first, then try to support that claim with scriptural references that do not back up that claim.

One would think it would be better to start with the scriptures first, then see where the descriptions lead one. Not the other way around.

(See the next post, The Problem With Models-Part II, for an understanding of his mentioning the mouth of the river Sidon and his erroneous rational)

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