Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part III

Continuing from the last post about why Ishmael followed Lehi into the wilderness and more about Nephi’s sisters.
In the last post, about the father’s control over his family and even grown sons and their wives, reveals some interesting dimensions in Lehi’s relationship with his rebellious older sons Laman and Lemuel, we covered the authority of Hebrew fathers in the time of Lehi. However, some ask that if Lehi had the paternal authority to kill his rebellious sons, why did he let them live, or at least not threaten them when they continued with such rebellious actions? Obviously, under Hebrew law, Laman and Lemuel were worthy of punishment for their treatment and disregard for their father, even seeking to kill him (1 Nephi 17:44).
There seems little doubt that Lehi, if he wanted to be severe in his treatment of his sons, had the right and authority to do so. What Lehi might have done under such circumstances earlier in his life, before being called to be a prophet, and then to head into the wilderness with a promise of a future land for he and his posterity, is unknown, but no doubt these latter events in his life brought out a more loving nature had he ever been of such punishing nature earlier.
    Then, too, through the visions and revelations he had been given, Lehi knew that Laman and Lemuel and their posterity had important long-term roles to play in the Lord’s plans, just as did Nephi and Sam. Rather than punishing, or disinheriting these sons, Lehi showed forth his love, patience and long-suffering and “did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off” (1 Nephi 8:37). No doubt, Lehi was in hopes, even though his vision showed him otherwise, that Laman and Lemuel would repent and remain in the fold. One of the many things we can learn from Lehi is that of his tender feelings to his family and completely forgiving nature—something that many of those of his time in Israel did not possess. But what of the daughters Laman and Lemuel married, what of their rebellion?
Under Hebrew law of the time, Lehi well understood that it was the duty of each person to take and be taken in marriage, and it was the obligation of parents to see that their children were married, and to the right person. As Jeremiah put it, “take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands” (Jeremiah 29:6). Israel was definitely a family-oriented culture and nation, with parental duty evidenced reflected in numerous scriptural passages.
    In addition, Lehi’s love for his sons and daughters-in-law would have been fused through Hebrew and Jewish practices and the rules that surrounded marriage. Obviously, the ancient Israelites had a patriarchal family structure. In some ways, the status of women was low—they were regarded as the property of their fathers or husbands and could do nothing without their consent. And as has been pointed out, the father in ancient Israel controlled who his sons and daughters married, with usually the patriarch selecting a bride for his son and who paid a "bride price" to her father. The acceptance of this bride price constituted a legally binding betrothal, which was followed by some wedding celebration when the bride took up residence with her new family. Most marriages, therefore, were arranged. Moreover, the wife usually had fewer rights than her husband and was expected to be subservient to him.
    To a considerable extent, marriage was also an economic arrangement. There was little room for romantic love, and even simple affection was not considered essential. Procreation and cooperation were the main marital duties. Also of concern was the perpetuation of a man's name, which brought about levirate (a man's obligatory marriage to his brother's widow). This kind of marriage was at times required (Deuteronomy 25:5) and at other times prohibited (Leviticus 20:21). Every healthy person was expected to marry, and single men and women were often reviled and shunned. While a man could have several wives and concubines, divorce was permitted if a man found some "uncleanness" in his wife. In such a case, he simply wrote her a bill of divorce and sent her out of his house (Deuteronomy 24:1); however, it was virtually impossible for a wife to divorce her husband.
However, while marriage was deemed important, it was usually treated as a practical matter as a father arranged the most advantageous marriage for his son and then had a contract signed before witnesses. As a rule, the bridegroom was around 30, or sometimes older, and the bride was a teenager. In addition to this disparity in ages there also existed an inequality in education and political rights. Women were considered subordinate to men and remained confined to the home. Their main function as wives was to produce children and to manage the household while their husbands tended to religious and public affairs.
    Lehi acted in accordance with these general principles. He would have largely controlled whom his sons and daughters married. Through him came the commandments of the Lord that “his sons should take daughters to wife” and that they should return to Jerusalem to get Ishmael and his family for this very purpose (1 Nephi 7:1–2). As far as we know, no objections were raised by Lehi’s sons, nor were their preferences consulted. Furthermore, it is said that by seeing his sons married, Lehi “fulfilled all of the commandments of the Lord which had been given unto him” (1 Nephi 16:8). Thus, Lehi’s own obedience to the Lord included the duty of seeing that his sons were married. The fact that Lehi selected the family whose daughters his sons would marry gave an additional element to his relationship with all his posterity—bonded by the fact that Lehi was responsible for their marriages.
    Its should also be kept in mind that at the time of Lehi, there were no possibilities for a woman to earn a living, and no place she could go without a father, a husband, or older male guardian to “protect her.” However, being betrothed under Jewish law of the time was far more serious than engagements in our day and about the same as being married today except for the consummation. This event of the daughters aligning themselves with Lehi’s sons is significant under the circumstances and should suggest that a prior alignment had been arranged, no doubt by their parents, which led Lehi, and his sons, to believe that Ishmael would follow Lehi into the wilderness. There certainly seems no question in Lehi, Nephi, or his brothers about going and getting Ishmael (1 Nephi 7:1-2). Obviously, there was no complaint on the part of Laman and Lemuel to travel another two weeks up to Ishmael’s home, nor do we find any resistance on the part of Ishmael to go into the wilderness with Nephi and his brothers (1 Nephi 7:3-6).
The only “odd-man-out” arrangement was Ishmael’s oldest daughter. But obviously, the Lord had a plan, and the inclusion of Zoram in that plan settled the problem of the oldest daughter finding a husband for the journey to the Land of Promise. It should also be kept in mind, that though a woman was brought into the house of her husband's family upon marriage, she remained somewhat of an outsider for the remainder of her life. It was, therefore, also desirable for her to marry into a household that was related by blood. For this reason, cross-cousin marriages were a time-honored Israelite tradition. This seems to be the case with Lehi’s and Ismael’s children, since at least Hugh Nibley has suggested they were related when he said, “it has ever been the custom among the desert people for a man to marry the daughter of his paternal uncle." That Lehi and Ishmael were somehow kinfolks indeed seems likely, but what that relationship was is not clear.

(See the next post, “Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part IV,” for the continuing discussion of not only why Ishmael followed Lehi into the wilderness, but who the sisters of Nephi were and how they fit into Lehi’s family)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part II

Continuing from the last post about why Ishmael followed Lehi into the wilderness and more about Nephi’s sisters.    
    As shown in the last post, the 600 B.C. Jewish custom of marriage consisted of very formal application to a covenant bond, and also of agreements between parents of both the bride and groom. Once again, the Lord commanded Lehi to send his sons to Jerusalem and bring Ishmael and his family into the wilderness. Ishmael and his family were obviously orthodox in their religious beliefs and obedient to the Lord’s commands. If Lehi’s sons and Ishmael’s daughters were betrothed under the Jewish custom by their parents (see the last post), then it was simply an unquestionable matter of Ishmael having to take his children into the desert after Lehi.
At the same time, one might ask why the older children, at least, had not already married since they had been betrothed. The answer might lie in the oldest daughter of Ishmael. Apparently, she had not been previously betrothed, and ended up marrying Zoram (1 Nephi 16:7). Under Jewish custom at the time, the oldest daughter had to be the first one married, as is seen in the story of the patriarch Jacob, who married first Leah, then his love Rachel (Genesis 29:17). Laban, the two girls’ father, explains why he tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first when Jacob had asked for the hand of the second daughter, Rachel, saying: “it is uncustomary to give the younger daughter away in marriage before the older one” (Genesis 29:16-30). Leah, who is described as having “tender eyes,” which is claimed to be a Hebrew idiom meaning she was slow, or possibly unattractive because of a slight deformity, and therefore had not married by the time Jacob came along after Rachel. In the same token, the question needs to be asked why Ishmael’s youngest daughters were betrothed and not his oldest daughter. 
    After all, when the five daughters were married, the youngest, who married Nephi, could not have been younger than about 15 years of age, which was a common age for a Jewish girl to be married in 600 B.C. In this case, that would make the next older daughter about 17, the next about 19, the next about 21, and the oldest about 23 or so, with Ishmael’s sons older still.
On the other hand, Nephi tells us that “one of the daughters of Ishmael pled with Laman and Lemuel to spare Nephi’s life (1 Nephi 7:19), which might suggest an older young woman to go against at least one of her brothers, and the much older sons of Lehi—an event seldom known in the ancient Jewish world. It may be that she was older, maybe 17 or 18, to have stood up to these “men” who, in the ancient world, had great authority over women. If this was the case, then her sisters would have been older, making the oldest daughter as much as 30 years old or so.
    We have to keep in mind that marrying ages of ancient Israel and the Middle East were very different from our day and age. Women had no say in the selection of their future husband, which was arranged by their parents, mainly the father, or possible an uncle, etc. Women married very young by our standards, but the men did not marry at a similarly young age. It was imperative that the young man be 1) established in some type of occupation, apprenticeship, etc., where he could support a family, and 2) mature enough to be the head of a household, which by ancient Jewish custom was around 25 or older. Again, the age of 30 was the age of maturity and wisdom among men in Israel.
    Then, too, if Ishmael’s two sons had been born between the first and second daughters, that would make her somewhere between 32 and 36 years of age, which would be very old for a girl not to be married. So, not knowing any other reason, it is likely she had some type of problem that made her less desirable than her sisters to a suitor. Also, she would have been too old for a marriage bond younger in life, very likely older than Lehi’s oldest son, Laman, for there would only have been a year or two difference, and under Jewish custom, women were not betrothed to a man unless he was enough older to be into some type of business where he could support her and bring her into his home. As much as a ten-year difference was far more common in ancient Israel.
    If, in fact, Ishmael’s oldest daughter had no suitor or betrothal, then it would answer the problem of the next girls and Lehi’s older sons not already married by the time they left Jerusalem. Yet, it seems certain that the daughters who eventually married Laman and Lemuel were already aligned with them, such as through betrothal, since when Laman and Lemuel rebelled against Nephi (1 Nephi 7:6-7), these two daughters joined with Laman and Lemuel. One might wonder why, since their sustenance and protection came from their father, Ishmael, and his household. After all, if these two girls rebelled against their father, in his presence with Laman and Lemuel, with a desire to go back to Jerusalem, what future would they believe they had without a household and money to provide for themselves unless they were 1) already betrothed to Laman and Lemuel, and 2) knowing Laman and Lemuel would inherit their father’s wealth, and 3) know Laman would have double his father’s holdings as the oldest son and be responsible for their welfare as well.
Again, we have to keep in mind that living in 600 B.C. under Jewish laws was very different than what we experience in our life and society today. As we understand the role of the father during this time we can better understand Lehi’s dealings with his sons. As the dominant figure in ancient family law, the father had broad and complete powers, apparently even over his married sons if they lived with him, and over their wives. Thus, Lehi would have continued to exercise legal control over all his sons, even after they married. Then, too, in the ancient Hebrew family, children were considered part of the father’s “property,” especially unmarried children still living at home. The father had the right to do with them or to take them with him virtually as he willed, which would appear to explain Lehi’s power to take his family with him out into the desert. Indeed, the idea that family members were legally part of the father’s moveable property seems to be reflected in Nephi’s listing of the family together with Lehi’s provisions and tents. Although a man’s wife and grown sons might murmur and object, their legal and social duty was to follow. Accordingly, of all the things Laman and Lemuel complain about, they never object to Lehi’s right to have taken them with him.
    In this sense, then, a father had complete and absolute control over his family, and even his sons and their families while he was alive—which might have been the reason Laman and Lemuel sought to kill Lehi after the death of Ishmael, which would have left Laman in charge of Nephi, and the sons of Ishmael in charge of their own families (1 Nephi 16:37). This idea in 600 B.C., was, no doubt, a reflection of Hebrew law dating back to the Exodus, when “smiting” or “cursing” one’s father or mother was a capital offense (Exodus 21:15, 17). Certainly, earlier, the offenses of Laman and Lemuel would have resulted in serious punishment under Hebrew law as seen in the procedures spelled out in Deuteronomy and applicable in Israel during Lehi’s day where the “stubborn and rebellious son” was to be chastened, seized, taken to the elders at the city gate, accused by the father and the mother, and stoned by all the men of his city (Deuteronomy 21:18–21). Thus, we can see that such ingrained obedience to the degree expressed by his complaining sons, Laman and Lemuel, was well within reason as Nephi describes it in his account of their leaving Jerusalem.

(See the next post, “Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part III,” to see how this bethrothed state affected the women who are said to have rebelled against Nephi and following Lehi into the wilderness, and also the state and number of Nephi’s sisters)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part I

It is interesting that most members when reading the first part of 1 Nephi, do not question why Ishmael agreed to take his family into the desert when Lehi sent his sons for him. It seems safe to assume that Ishmael was quite old, for within a couple of years, three at the most, he dies along the borders of the Red Sea, and is buried in “a place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34). This area NHM (Nahom) was a very old and established area, even in 600 B.C., of an ancient NHM tribe known to have been in that area. Whether he died in this place, or earlier and was carried to this place, is unknown. 
Lehi reached the area () of the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5), then traveled three more days nearer () the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:6)
    Once Lehi left Jerusalem, they traveled southward toward the Red Sea, for that is the first recorded area they reached (1 Nephi 2:5), which was probably the northern area of the Gulf of Aqaba, near the present day city of Ezion-Geber. They would have traveled along the Wadi Araba, a section of the Jordan Rift Valley running north-south between the Dead Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba, also called the Gulf of Eliat, a distance of about 190 miles from Jerusalem. Once near the Gulf (called the Red Sea in Nephi’s record), they traveled about 50 miles more, heading south for three more days to a valley Lehi called Lemuel, where they pitched their tents. This entire travel time was about 14 days and covered about 230 miles, averaging about 17 miles per day (ancient caravans along this route average about 20 miles per day, but Lehi had his wife along, and probably traveled a little slower).
It seems that Lehi and his sons might have traveled to the Gulf of Eilat of the Red Sea before, for they seem to have known it well. Nor did the Lord intervene with the Liahona until after they had made camp in that valley. It was a regularly traveled route, and one that might have been used by Lehi in his business which would have required donkeys and tents, which he had readily available when the Lord told him to flee into the wilderness (1 Nephi 1:3-4). Whether Lehi traded with the caravans or came into the Sinai to mine copper and metal ore—Nephi’s capability with bellows and smelting is evident (1 Nephi 17:11)—is not known, but either way, he probably had traveled this way with his boys in the past, perhaps several times.
    At this point, after a few days rest, Lehi sent his sons back to obtain the brass plates from a distant relative, Laban, who was the keeper of the family record of the Jews 1 Nephi 5:16). While the Lord appeared to Lehi in a dream, or vision, (1 Nephi 3:2) and commanded him to get the plates, it seems likely that Lehi would have known about Laban and the record, and that they were on sheets of brass. Nephi and his brothers not only seem to have known where Laban lived (1 Nephi 3:11), but also knew him enough to fear going to his house and drew lots to see who was to go (1 Nephi 3:16). In addition, it seems Nephi’s mother, Sariah, knew Laban well enough to know that “the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban” (1 Nephi 5:8).
Since Lehi was fairly wealth, for he had “gold and silver and all manner of riches (1 Nephi 3:16), and precious things” (1 Nephi 2:4). How he obtained this, we are not told, but that wealth was sufficient to cause Laban, already a wealthy man and custodian of a treasury (1 Nephi 4:20), to try and kill Nephi and his brothers to obtain Lehi’s wealth (1 Nephi 3:25). As a result, Lehi would have been known among the people of Jerusalem, and probably without where he, himself, lived. He also made enemies in Jersualem with his preaching (1 Nephi 1:19-20).
    In any event, after sufficient time for Lehi to read the record of the Jews on the Brass Plates, find out about his genealogy, and then spend some time prophesying and preaching to his family (1 Nephi 5:17), the Lord commanded him to send Nephi and his brothers back to Jerusalem after Ishmael and his family (1 Nephi 7:1-2). 
Again, it would seem that Nephi and his brothers knew where Ishmael lived, going to his house (1 Nephi 7:4); nor did they hesitate or fear requesting Ishmael to follow them into the wilderness with his family. The result of this discussion caused Ishmael to take his family into the wilderness with Lehi’s four sons (1 Nephi 7:5). Not only was this event passed over briefly, but there seems no resistance on Ishmael and his family to up and leave their home and follow Lehi (1 Nephi 7:6).
Two questions arise at this point. Why did the Lord choose Ishmael’s family, and why did Ishmael, and his entire household, agree to go into the wilderness at the word of Nephi? Yes, the Lord softened their hearts (1 Nephi 7:5), but still it seems most people would have offered some resistance to such a proposal, especially adult children, even in the Middle East. It was not until they were already on the trail toward Lehi’s camp that some second thoughts seem to have occurred, when “as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters. In which rebellion they desired to go back to Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 7:6-7).
    Again, the question begs, why did Ishmael agree to follow Lehi? And why did Ishmael’s family of five daughters and two sons, with their own families, agree to such an unknown journey? And when the rebellion began, no doubt inspired by Laman and Lemuel, why did Ishmael, his wife, and three of his daughters not join the movement to go back to Jerusalem?
    In the Middle East among the Arabs and Jews anciently, it was the rite of parents to arrange marriages for their children, and for the father of a family to make such an arrangement with the father of another family, typically a friend and someone well known to him, and general from the same or closely related tribes. Such arrangements were usually made when the children were young, and the arrangement became binding for the time until they were married. Thus, the likelihood that Lehi knew Ishmael before sending his sons back to get him is well founded in the ancient custom of the time.
In fact, the two fathers generally signed a contact and formed a covenant and bond (promise of an everlasting and enduring relationship of marriage between their children meant to last a lifetime, called Ish Ve’Isha). The period after that time can last as long as the agreement states, though it is generally a shorter period than longer—but in the time of Lehi, it was often from childhood. In ancient Israel, a Jewish marriage consisted of two stages: 1) bethrothal ceremony, known as erusin or kiddushin, which means the bride becomes sanctified (dedicated) to the groom, and 2) nuptials, called chuppah (the canopy under which the couple stands during the wedding ceremony—later in Talmudic times, the room where the marriage was consummated was called the chuppah) and Kichah (taking, the formal acquisition of the wife).
    In ancient Israel, when the first stage of the marriage covenant and bond, the kikddushin, was performed, the couple were actually married, though consummation did not take place until after the second stage, the chuppah. However, the rules of adultery applied after the kiddushin even though the actual nuptials or wedding ceremoney (chuppah) had not yet taken place. While we do not know the actual condition of the relationship between Lehi’s sons and Ishmael’s daughters, it is possible, and probably likely, that some relationship like the kiddushin had taken place—certainly the marriage covenant and bond between the two parents.
    If this were the case, then Ishmael had no choice but to follow Lehi into the desert, for his daughters belonged to Lehi’s sons. It would also explain why his two daughters that paired off with Laman and Lemuel later rebelled, since once their bethrohed wanted to turn back to Jerusalem, they were duty bound to follow them. It also tells us why the Lord commanded Lehi to send his sons back for Ishmael’s family, and why Ishmael’s family were all swayed by Nephi’s words—for once it was clear that the Lord had commanded Lehi to flee into the wilderness and that the sons were following along with him, the daughters of Ishmael were willing to follow.

(See the next post, “Why Did Ishmael Follow Lehi into the Desert? Part II,” to see how this bethrohed state affected the women who are said to have rebelled against Nephi and following Lehi into the wilderness, and also the state and number of Nephi’s sisters)

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Land Northward and Land Southward

From time to time we receive several comments about a particular subject and use them to write a complete post. In this case, several comments have been received about different writers (Mesoamericanists) who are trying to convince their readers of the directional system of Mesoamerica agreeing with Mormon’s descriptions.    
    Comment: There is another feature of the Book of Mormon that may be plausibly related to an underlying Mesoamerican directional system. The vast majority of the times we see either the word northward or southward in the Book of Mormon, they are descriptive of a place, not of movement.”
    Response: The issue surrounds the meaning of northward and southward. Northward literally means (noun) “The direction to the north,” (adjective) “In a northerly direction,” (adverb) “Toward the north"—that is, “to, toward, facing, or in the north.” Synonyms are northern, north, northerly, northwardly, northwards. It does not matter whether you are talking about “a place or movement.”
You can go in a northward direction to a place that is northward—it is the same as saying you can go north to a place that is in the north. While Mesoamericanists and academicians love to play with words, you cannot make a word mean something different than it means.
There are really three sections to this area between the U.S. and South America: 1) Mexico to about Mexico City, northward-southward, Mesoamerica, eastward-westward, and Honduras and beyond, northward the southward—while we can see this, the Nephites without aerial maps, would not have. To them, the land would have run east and west if they had been located in Mesoamerica
    First of all, it can be correctly said that Mexico runs northward and southward until you reach the the area of Mexico City (about the border of what is called today Mesoamerica) where the land turns eastward. This is like the United States can correctly be said to run eastward and westward, though from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama, it becomes more applicable to saying it runs northward and southward. In addition, from eastern Honduras to Colombia, it can be said that Central America runs northward and southward. However, the area of Mesoamerica (the middle area between these two points) does not run in those directions—but in an eastward and westward direction. Secondly, Mormon’s description clearly states the land went northward and southward.
    Comment: “Mormon refers to the land northward and the land southward. The term northward only appears three times as a description of motion and southward only twice. Eastward occurs three times, always as an indication of direction of travel, and westward does not occur at all.
Response: When we talk today, we do so with a complete understanding of our surroundings and the cardinal directions of a compass. As an example, when we first moved from Southern California to southern Utah, we realized that Cedar City lies north of St. George, Parowan lies north of Cedar City, Beaver lies north of Parowan, Fillmore lies north of Beaver, and Nephi lies north of Fillmore, etc. The reason we knew that was because they were all on the I-15, which runs north and south through the entire states. However, as Utah residents no doubt know, the I-15 does not run directly north—it runs off at an angle toward north by northeast until you reach Spanish Fork, then the freeway heads north by northwest to the Point of the Mountain, then it goes almost due north until you reach Farmington, etc. In fact, from Brigham City to Burley, Idaho, you would be traveling almost exactly Northwest. However, we refer to these cities north of St. George as being north, though they would more correctly be called northward. The point of all this is simply that today we talk about more direct compass points since we  have aerial photographs and satelite images. However, when Jim Bridger first crossed into what is now Salt Lake County to investigate what he thought was an arm of the Pacific Ocean, he eventually turned northward toward where he finally built his trading post that later became Fort Bridger across the line in Wyoming. However, the direction he took was northeast, though he referred to it as northward. In the past, because of lack of specific locations, maps, etc., people generally referred to directions in a more casual way—things to the north were northward, the farther away they were, the more inclined they were to use northward rather than north. In the eastern United States, the land toward the Pacific Ocean was the land “out west” or “westward.” When one of my Huguenot ancestors entered New York, they wrote about going northward into Canada to avoid the war with Britain. It would be wise, I think, if scholars didn’t try to milk a statement beyond the point where it could give milk, or produce more than the simple language in which it was written.
    Comment: “The phrases ‘land northward/land southward’ can parallel the functions of the ‘north/south’ spatial orientation markers, but they are textually distinct from them.”
    Response: For those who do not use such language, spatial orientation is about having a sense of direction while moving around an environment—a sense of direction. It’s a nice skill to have when exploring a new city, following directions to a friend’s place or navigating towards the bathroom in the dead of night. In very short distances, it is something we use all the time, though seldom connected to directions but to landmarks of which we have heard or seen; however, having taught orienteering to both military personnel in far away unknown areas, and Boy Scouts in local surroundings, it is of less, if any value. For long distances or general map alignment, that is thinking of an area like a map with cardinal and ordinal directions and choosing a direction that will take you to a known location some distance away, spatial orientation is more of a hindrance than a value. I have seen numerous men in critical situations choose a path they felt was right, only to end up in swamps, dead ends, or enemy positions.
    Comment: “We find in 3 Ne. 6:2 “And it came to pass that they had not eaten up all their provisions; therefore they did take with them all that they had not devoured, of all their grain of every kind, and their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and they did return to their own lands and their possessions, both on the north and on the south, both on the land northward and on the land southward.” There is no reason to indicate the spatial orientation twice, and the reference here clearly separates the ‘land’ from the spatial orientation.
Response: When one realizes that the Land North and the Land South were not synonymous terms with Land Northward and Land Southward, then such a statement shows a lack of understanding as to how these terms were used. When Lachoneus had the Nephites gather (3 Nephi 3:22), they did so in the Land Southward (3 Nephi 3:24). The Robbers themselves were only in the Land Southward, coming down from the mountain hideouts, and took possession of the Land Southward, both in the land north and in the land south (3 Nephi 4:1). After the Robbers were mostly defeated, the Robber leader, Zemnarihah commanded his followers to march into the furthermost parts of the land northward—and area they had not been in earlier (3 Nephi 4:23). Eventually, after complete victory, the Nephites returned to their homes in the land north and in the land south of the Land Southward, and also in the Land Northward. Spatial orientation has no part in this series of events.
    Comment: The two lands conceptually meet along a dividing line: “Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food” (Alma 22:31). When the land northward has a name, it is Desolation. When the land southward has a name, it is Bountiful. They are adjacent lands. Land northward and Desolation are interchangeable labels, as are land southward and Bountiful.
    Response: This is not entirely true. The Land Southward is more often referred to as the Land of Zarahemla than the Land of Bountiful. And the term Land Southward cannot be interchangeable with Land of Bountiful, for in the Land Southward were located two lands with greater emphasis, the Land of Zarahemla (the chief city of the Nephites and their nation’s capital), and the Land of Nephi, the land of their enemies. In fact, when Mormon is carried into the Land Southward from his home in the Land Northward at the age of ten, he calls the Land Southward the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:6). Nor when Mormon arranges with the Lamanmites their final battle, he does so in the Land of Many Waters, which contains the Land of Cumorah and the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:2, 4). The land of Desolation is not mentioned.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

When Did Nephi Write the Record We Have?

First of all, there was a Book of Lehi, the record Nephi’s father kept (1 Nephi 1:17). When Lehi began this record, we are not told, but the information beginning in 1 Nephi 1:4, and continuing through 1 Nephi 9:6, is abridged from Lehi’s writings, and suggests that at least Lehi’s record began after he was called to preach, evidently in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4), or shortly before. Obviously, Nephi read the record of his father when he made an abridgement, or shortened version, of it on a set of plates he was commanded to make (1 Nephi 9:4). This second set of plates, usually referred to as the Small Plates, for though they were the same size as the others, they were limited in number of plates (metal sheets), and contained less information, or an abridgement of both Lehi’s and Nephi’s writing (1 Nephi 19:4).
The first set of plates, upon which Lehi may have written his own record, and Nephi continued with his own record (1 Nephi 10:1), became known as Large Plates, and Nephi referred to as “other plates” (1 Nephi 9:4), which were a much longer and more full account (1 Nephi 19:4). It was these large plates (or at least Mormon’s abridgement of these plates) that Joseph Smith began to first translate, and when 116 pages of written translation were complete, Martin Harris convinced Joseph to let him show the translation to his skeptical wife, and were eventually lost. 
It was these first or Large Plates that Ammaron held and hid up (4th Nephi 1:48), commanding Mormon to later obtain from the hill Shim (Mormon 1:3), which he did (Mormon 4:23), and engraved upon them the history of his times (Mormon 1:4).
    Knowing in advanced that these 116 pages would be lost, even telling Joseph Smith several times not to allow Martin Harris to take them, still, in the end the Lord let Joseph do it as part of Joseph’s learning curve; but from the beginning, the Lord knew a second record would be needed, so he told Nephi to make a another set of plates “the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not” (1 Nephi 9:5). Which purpose we now know, for when the 116 pages were lost, the Lord told Joseph to translate from the small, or Nephi’s abridged, plates, which contained the writings we now have from 1 Nephi to and including Omni. 
It might be of interest to know that the 166 pages were not taken directly from the Book of Lehi, but from the abridgement of that record that Nephi made on the Large Plates )D&C 10:44). Later he took some of that material and included it in his abridgement on the Small Plates.
     When Nephi made, and engraved his abridgement on the Small Plates, he selected those parts that he felt would help us better understand the Savior and His desire to help us (1 Nephi 1:20), and also “that the more sacred things may be kept for the knowledge of my people” (1 Nephi 19:5). Of course, writing any abridgment is challenging because the person making the abridgment has to decide what to include and what to leave out. When Nephi abridged his father’s record, and then his own, onto the Small Plates, he had to choose from the extensive records, which both he and his father had already written. At the same time, in knowing this, we can see why Nephi said some of what he did, and knew what was already available to the reader on the Large Plates for he “did make a record upon the other plates, which gives an account, or which gives a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions of my people” (1 Nephi 19:4), and in some cases, seem to explain the future of what he is writing.
    In reading what Nephi wrote that we now have in the Book of Mormon, few people stop to think when Nephi actually wrote the account of his family’s flight from Jerusalem and journey across the sea to a land of promise. Knowing when Nephi began to write the small plates (beginning with the account we now have in 1 Nephi) clarifies the purposes that stand behind that record and shaped its ultimate form and subject matter.
    Nephi’s first set of plates were his large plates, fashioned after his arrival in the New World (1 Nephi 19:1–2). On these plates while in the area of their first landing, he recorded the book of Lehi and the secular affairs of his people. Nephi made the small plates even later, after he had left the land of first inheritance and moved to the land they called Nephi—he was probably around 50 years old at that time. The fact that Nephi spent the time abridging and engraving the writings we now have under his name should suggest that the colony probably spent more time in the area of their first landing than many have assumed, because the record says nothing about how long they were there before Nephi was told to flee “with all those who would go with him” (2 Nephi 5:5). However, during that time there he engraved the Large Plates he made, and Lehi spent time to bless all his children before his death, which occurred in that area of first landing (2 Nephi 4:12).
    Thus the small plates should be understood as having been written after the death of Lehi, after the separation of Nephi from his brothers Laman and Lemuel, after the small Nephite party knew of the life-threatening animosity of the Lamanites against them, after Nephi knew that he would eventually accept the role of ruler over his people, and after the temple of Nephi had been constructed.
Many read 1 Nephi like it was a daily journal, but it is not—it is a reminiscent, retrospective account (2 Nephi 4:15) of the past, and a purposeful revision of the earlier book of Lehi and the other words previously recorded on the large plates. This matter of timing was important enough to Nephi that he stated three times in 1 Nephi that he was writing the small plates somewhat late in his life—as early as in 1 Nephi 6:1, Nephi openly acknowledged that, as stated earlier, the small plates were being written after he knew what the book of Lehi contained. The book of Lehi would have been finished after Lehi and Nephi arrived in the New World. In much the same way, Mormon abridged the entire record from Mosiah through 4th Nephi, with Moroni abridging Ether’s record. In such cases, both injected information from time to time that was known to them, of events of  a much earlier date than when they wrote the records they abridged. Thus, Mormon inserts a description of the Land of Promise in Alma 22 so we, his future readers, could better understand the size of the Nephite domain and how much of it was controlled by the Lamanites.
    Nephi was careful to let us know that his small plates were different from the large plates, the latter being those plates “upon which I make a full account of the history of my people” (1 Nephi 9:2). He also makes it very clear that it was the Lord who directed him to make the small plates that they contained “an account engraven of the ministry of my people” (1 Nephi 19:3). Thus we understand that Nephi began the small plates after the large plates had been completed up to that point in time. We also understand that the small plates were begun after the “reign of the kings” had been established, and after he had become the Nephite leader long enough to refer to “my people” five times in only three verses—161 words (1 Nephi 9).
    From all of this we see that Nephi began writing the small plates after the large plates were well under way—after the reign of kings was established, after Nephi received the Lord’s commandment mentioned in 2 Nephi 5:30, and after he had a distinct group of people whom he could call “my people.” In the case of Nephi’s writings, because we know when, where, and why he wrote what he did, we can confidently turn our attention to pursue revealing information and obtain meaning from the lessons he left behind. 
And in this vein, we again turn to the comments Nephi made about constructing his ship, and the simplicity of his statements about “being driven forth before the wind,” for when he wrote this, he had already sailed to the Land of Promise in the New World. He fully understood the motive power of his ship and the fact that currents and winds were what propelled them. Nor did he feel it necessary to include any events along the way, for obviously there were none of note, such as landings, sightings, etc. They did not island hop, nor wind their way between small land masses, but sailed along the current as he said—evidently swiftly and without incident.
    There is much to learn from what Nephi wrote. However, that does not mean we have to look beyond the mark, or try to dig deeper than what he simply told us—what we need to do is understand what he said without trying to alter, change, or ignore parts that do not agree with our models and opinions.

Friday, October 25, 2013

FAIR’s Defense is No Defense at All – Part II

In a FAIR (Defending Mormonism) website article in support of Sorenson’s 1985 book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FAIR claims that his work and book established a real world setting that plausibly fit the textual geography in the Book of Mormon. However, in addition to the rebuffs we stated in the last post, Deane G. Matheny, a lawyer with a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Utah, stated 
    “The most fundamental geographical problem associated with Sorenson’s model has to do with issues of directionality…In order for his model to fit the geography of Mesoamerica, one must assume that the Nephites had a system of directions with cardinal directions skewed “45 degrees or more” off of the usually observed cardinals…In other words, the whole directional card must be shifted more than 60 degrees to the west for this model to fit the geography of the chosen area. Otherwise, as Vogel has pointed out, the land north will be on the west, and the south on the east, and so forth…Making this shift in directions creates its own set of problems, however, because in such a Nephite directional system the sun would come up in the south and set in the north.”    
FAIR Article goes on to say: “These are serious considerations [stated by Matheny]. How could Nephites possibly think that the sun would come up in the south and set in the north?”
    Response: This is one of the serious flaws in this re-orientation of Mesoamerica to the scriptural record. To skew the Nephite directions to fit Mesoamerica, the sun would actually rise in their south, if their north was actually west as Methany points out. Yet, undaunted, FAIR continues with their support.
    FAIR Article: “They couldn’t [think the Sun would come up in the south and set in the north]. Yet we have a geographic correlation that fits both real world geography and cultural history remarkably well–except when we come to the terms north, south, east, and west.”
    Response: Now here is the problem with Mesoamericanists—they do not allow a little problem with the scriptural record to stop them. Most people would stop and say, “hey, it looks like we have the wrong model location.” But not the Mesoamericanists. So what do they do? They try to change the understanding of north, south, east and west. By the ways, there are numerous other problems with the Mesoamerican model not fitting Mormon's descriptions, which have been described in these posts numerous times.
    FAIR Article: “I propose that if Mesoamerica is a good fit for the Book of Mormon’s real world geography, then information about Mesoamerica may be used to reexamine and refine the nature of that fit.”
    Response: Of course. So far it doesn’t fit in plain and simple language of the scriptural record; however, not to be deterred, the Mesoamericanist looks for some clever, out-of-the-way explanation which will allow them to keep hold of their non-fitting model. So they turn to a concept that theyh claim existed over a thousand years after the last Nephite drew breath to claim this was the Nephite orientation--and they call this scholarly.
    FAIR Article: “In short, an understanding of the Mesoamerican directional system offers an explanation for the way that Book of Mormon directions correspond to that geography, without recourse to an artificial shift in the directions.”
FAIR, Sorenson, et all, want us to believe that Mesoamerica, which is oriented east and west is the Land of Promise in which is stated numerous times as north-south orientation
    Response: Without recourse to an artificial shift in the directions? Who are we kidding here? Whatever is claimed through a Mesoamerica history is simply not acceptable to evaluating the scriptural record, and it is an artificial change in directions since the vast majority of readers of the scriptural record are going to interpret north, south, east and west, as north, south, east and west! Nephi, who clearly understood both cardinal and ordinal directions in an unknown land along the Red Sea wouldn’t have known about Mesoamerican orientation. Mormon didn’t know about any Mesoamerican orientation to directions. After all, what if Lehi did not land in Mesoamerica? Then what? And also, did the Lord really think we had to have John L. Sorenson to clarify the Book of Mormon for us so that we could understand that Mormon didn’t really mean north, south, east and west, but instead actually meant a Mesoamerican directional orientation that is nearly 90º different?
    The FAIR article then goes on to give us four points for our clarification in order to make their point about Sorenson’s different directional system:
    FAIR Article: “1. The directional system of the Nephites has six Nephite cardinal directions: north, northward, south, southward, east, and west.”
    Response: Northward and Southward cannot be a cardinal direction. Northward is well understood to be somewhere between Northwest and Northeast, actually between North by Northwest and North by Northeast. Despite FAIR wanting to do so, you cannot just create a new cardinal direction. 
On the other hand, if you are going to insist on this, then we must say that the Jaredites had only three cardinal directions, northward, southward and eastward, since no other direction is given in the record. Imagine a society with no understanding of west or westward. Now if that doesn’t sound ridiculous, let us go on:
    FAIR Article: “2. “Northward” reflects the general direction of northwest rather than northeast. “Northward” could be either a northwest or a northeast direction by its very nature, but northwest is the correct orientation from an Isthmus of Tehuantepec perspective. Or, as Noah Webster in his 1828 dictionary says about “northward” as an adjective, as in land northward: “Being towards the north, or nearer to the north than to the east and west points.”
    Response: 1) Northward does not reflect any single direction, like northwest, over northeast. Just because Mesoamerica is so aligned, one cannot change the meaning of words; 2) Yes, Noah Webster makes it clear what northward is—and he makes no comment about it being a cardinal direction in any sense of the word or in any location, etc. Northward as he defines it, and as all dictionaries since have described it, means "toward the north." FAIR's argument is a spurious one and totally disingenuous, meant to mislead.
    FIAR Article: “3. “Southward” reflects the general direction of southeast rather than southwest. “Southward” could be either a southeast or a southwest direction by its very nature, but southeast is the correct orientation from an Isthmus of Tehuantepec perspective. Interestingly, Noah Webster does not show an adjectival definition for “southward” in his 1828 dictionary.”
    Response: Again, FAIR tries to make Southward mean that which aligns with Mesoamerica, however, once again, the word does not make that differentiation. Defined, southward means toward the south.
    FAIR Article: “4. North, south, east, and west are the directions that readers of the twenty-first century are accustomed to based on compass bearings.”
    Response: Throughout history, north, south, east and west have always meant the same thing to the vast majority of people on earth. To claim it is a “twenty-first century compass bearing” is once again totally disingenuous and misleading. The four cardinal directions were not coined after the invention of the compass. 
Dating back at least to the time of the Alexandrian astronomer Plotemy, who created the first world atlas in the second century A.D., and even before that, to the Greeks who had sailing directions they called periplus or "circumnavigation," and even earlier to the Chinese in the third millennium B.C. who had developed a magnetic device they called the "Point-South Carriage," mariners knew about these directions, and so did most citizens of various countries who had the ocassion to travel or move away from the "birth-to-death in one town" cycle. Long before the invention of the compass, the ordinal directions were coined, and eight further divisions were officially added with the compass; however, Mesoamericanists want us to think that these directions were not known in Nephi’s time, but once again, he uses them when traveling along the Red Sea--or was Joseph Smith lying to us when he inserted those directions (1 Nephi 16:13; 17:1)?
    FAIR Article: “When these cardinal directions are viewed from the perspective of a horizontally positioned hourglass that is placed over a map of Mesoamerica, they coincide with the same four cardinal directions employed by Book of Mormon readers of the twenty-first century.”
    Response: This is such an illogical argument it hardly requires comment. When you place an  hourglass over some other locations, it would fit their orientation, also. This is true with Baja California, Malaysa, and probably others if one wants to take the time to look. The point is, Mormon said nothing that would give anyone the idea that an hourglass shape should be laid flat and oriented to a land on a map that is off kilter by close to 90º. Nor can we glean anything from the scriptural record that suggests such a thing. A narrow neck does not necessarily mean an hourglass shape--a cut in of land on one side, say such as a large bay, does not require a cut in on the other side to create a narrow neck of land (see a full explanation of this and diagrams in the book Lehi Never Saw Mesoamerica).
    FAIR Article: “The certainty of these declarations comes from dual assumptions. The first is that the translation must necessarily represent the precise plate meaning that is found in the English words.”
    Response: That should be an unquestionable point. The scriptural record is accurate in every way, including its directions! Nor do we need to make any assumptions about the word meanings--Nephi, Mormon and others were quite specific.
    FAIR Article: “The second is that therefore the application of modern meaning may therefore accurately interpret textual information.”
Response: Another unquestionable point so long as we do not go to modern understanding beyond the time of Joseph Smith--that is when the record was interpreted and that is when the words used had their particular meaning. The Lord is not a God of confusion. Nor is he going to give us a record that makes no sense in any way or in any part! If we require academic instruction in order to understand the scriptural record, then we are in deep trouble and might as well be back in the Dark Ages where scribes and priests had to tell us what the words meant because we people were too uneducated to understand them.
    FAIR Article: “Neither of these propositions can be supported by the data that I have reviewed.” 
    Response: Evidently, then, you have a problem with the scriptural record being what it is and you feel the need to, the authority to, and the right to change it. I totally disagree with FAIR, Sorenson, or anyone else making changes or claiming the scriptural record is anything but what it purports to be in the language the Lord chose to give it to us.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

FAIR’s Defense is No Defense at All – Part I

In a FAIR (Defending Mormonism) website article, the following is stated: In 1985, John L. Sorenson published An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. That book was the culmination of decades of work establishing a real world setting that plausibly fit the textual geography in the Book of Mormon.”    
    Response: Despite Mesoamericanists’ continual claim that Mesoamerica fits the textual geography in the Book of Mormon, it simply does not unless you change or ignore the statements in the scriptural record. Consider:
1. They have to change the meaning of directions stated by Mormon;
2. They ignore the description of a narrow neck of land that a Nephite could cross in a day and a half and claim this was a special courier, runner, marathon candidate, etc.;
3. They ignore Mormon’s several comments that the narrow neck of land could be defended against Lamanites or defectors getting through when it was guarded;
4. They ignore that their Land Southward is due east of their narrow neck, claiming that it is southward;
5. They ignore that their Land Northward is due west of their narrow neck, claiming that it is northward;
6. They ignore that Jacob tells us the Land of Promise was an island in the sea;
7. They ignore that the Land Southward was surrounded by water except for the narrow neck;
8. They ignore that the narrow neck of land is flanked by the Sea East and the Sea West and simply re-label their sea to the north (Gulf of Mexico) and sea to the south (Pacific Ocean) their east and west seas;
9. They ignore descriptive terms like from the Sea North to the Sea South, and from the Sea West to the Sea East, in explaining the width and breadth of the land;
10. In order to do all of this, they claim that the Nephites’ directional system was not the same as ours is today, that their system allows for a Land of Promise nearly 90º off kilter to our cardinal directions.
    FAIR Article: “Sorenson’s model places the Book of Mormon in part of the region known as Mesoamerica, extending from perhaps a little south of modern Guatemala to somewhat north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. In addition to his work on the geography, Sorenson took his correlation to the next step. He examined the relationship between the available historical and cultural information for that region and the descriptions and events in the Book of Mormon. The correlations were impressive and have led to further productive investigation.”
Response: If the Book of Mormon was merely a Mayan Codice, or some written history from an ancient source, or some journal, diary, or record of a group of people of an earlier time, then Sorenson’s approach may be acceptable. However, the Book of Mormon is not such a record. It is the writing of several prophets from Nephi to Mormon and Moroni, including Ether, all of which were men of exceptional righteousness, followers of Christ, and servants of God. They wrote from inspiration and guidance. In addition, this record was translated from an ancient language that is totally unknown today and required mechanical devices called the Urim and Thummin, an ancient Biblical instrument, to translate. In addition still, when being translated, the Holy Spirit was involved, acknowledging the accuracy of the translation before the translator, himself a prophet and one of the greatest who ever tread the earth, was allowed to continue.
    With all this in mind, might not we ask these academics who continually want to tell us that the scriptural record cannot be understood by the average “western” mind, why the Lord made it so complicated when the record was meant for us today and is a record to be read by all people, young and old, in order to better understand God and the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do they really think the Book of Mormon was written so only the academic with years and years of study could understand and fully comprehend? 
Do they really think that Mormon, knowing he was writing to a future people, believed it should take “the culmination of decades of work” to understand the simple language used? Do these people really think the Book of Mormon was meant to be viewed by someone who knows and understands the workings of the ancient Middle Eastern mind along with the Mayan mind?
    Another way to look at this is simply that the Lord brought about this record, inspiring numerous prophets and servants to compile it, and an erstwhile prophet to abridge it, and another to translate it, all for us today to understand it. Now does it make sense that the wordage and descriptions within were meant to be so confusing and difficult to understand that unless we turned to the academic we would never comprehend it?
    Does that sound like the way the Lord, who is not the author of confusion, would deal with us? Would the Spirit really let Joseph Smith use north, south, east and west, when it was known to heaven that the Nephites used a different directional system than what those words mean to us?
    FAIR Article: “Scholars have found a very similar directional system among the various Mesoamerican cultures. Much of the data come from the Maya cultures because the ability to translate the carved and painted texts provides a unique view of pre-contact culture currently unavailable for any other Mesoamerican people. Nevertheless, what may be more carefully worked out in the Maya data has sufficient corroboration in data from other cultures to allow an essentially pan-Mesoamerican orientation system.”
    Response: Evidently, the Lord brought about this scriptural record in its present form knowing it could not be understood by some 90% or more of the readers because they did not have the knowledge or background of the pan-Mesoamerican orientation system. The question seems to beg itself, why on earth would we be given a record that states simple, well understood directions of north, south, east and west, as well as northward and southward, that really didn’t mean those directions at all. 
    In addition, we are being told that Mormon was using a Mesoamerican or pan-Mesoamerican orientation system of directions that he never would have understood existed himself. Who created such a system? The Nephites had no map of Central America, no map or knowledge of any land northward beyond the Land of Many Waters (such as Mexico), or south of the Land of Nephi (such as Central America). Why would they have thought in terms of a pan-Mesoamerican orientation, which requires a full understanding that Central America, overall, has a northward and southward direction between the United States and South America.
    Let us quote a comment from Deane G. Matheny, a lawyer with a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Utah, who explains about this problem:
    “The most fundamental geographical problem associated with Sorenson’s model has to do with issues of directionality…In order for his model to fit the geography of Mesoamerica, one must assume that the Nephites had a system of directions with cardinal directions skewed “45 degrees or more” off of the usually observed cardinals…In other words, the whole directional card must be shifted more than 60 degrees to the west for this model to fit the geography of the chosen area. Otherwise, as Vogel has pointed out, the land north will be on the west, and the south on the east, and so forth…Making this shift in directions creates its own set of problems, however, because in such a Nephite directional system the sun would come up in the south and set in the north.”
(See the next post, “FAIR’s Defense is No Defense at All – Part II,” for the continuation of this article and FAIR’s response to Methany’s “fundamental geographical problem”)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Directions & Distances – Part VII

Continuing with John W. Welch’s comments in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, in which he discusses Nephite placement of cities, the directions in the Land of Promise, and the distance across the narrow neck of land. Turning to Chapter 53: “A Day and a Half’s Journey for a Nephite,” with “Alma 22:32 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," as a sub-heading, he states:
    6. “Since the Nephite record says that it was a day and half's journey for a Nephite, we might infer that this was a significant feat and that it would have taken longer for someone else.”
    Response: If we infer such a thing, we must ask ourselves, why is Mormon inferring such a thing? For what purpose would Mormon be telling us a special fete would be for a Nephite to cross the narrow neck of land in a day and a half? This makes little or no sense at all. 
We need to keep in mind that Mormon is in the process of describing the Land of Promise as a follow up to the stated action of the Lamanite king sending 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).
Mormon then goes on to described where the Lamanites were in that land, and then describes the land itself, saying: “And now, 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; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward. (Alma 22:32).
    It seems obvious that Mormon is trying to tell us the width of the narrow neck, and if so, would he be choosing some unusual circumstance? And why would anyone think Mormon was inferring that crossing that narrow neck in a day and a half “was a significant feat that would have taken longer for anyone else”? We have to keep in mind that Mormon is not discussing how fast someone could make the crossing. After all, if a stranger asks you how long it would take to drive from Salt Lake to Logan, Utah (about 85 miles), you would reply, “It is about a two hour drive.” Now does that mean if you are Mario Andretti, or have a Lamborghini, that you can make it in two hours? Or would you mean that he can reach Logan in two hours driving normally? Mormon was trying to tell us, a future reader, the width of the narrow neck. Why would we consider that he was thinking in terms of some unusual race or runner? The only purpose of his explanation is to tell his future reader a distance that would be normal in his day and normal in some future day--a normal person walking. In so doing, he chose a normal person of his day--a Nephite. Perhaps if he wanted to tell us it was someone unusual, he might have said a Lamanite—that would at least tip us off he was not talking about a normal man (a Nephite).
    7. “Moreover, the isthmus itself may have been wider than the "day and half's" distance since we cannot be sure that the measuring point began on the east at the sea. Alma says that it was a day and a half's journey from "the east" to the west sea. The journey may have begun some distance inland.”
    Response: If Mormon is not trying to inform us how wide the narrow neck was so that we could understand it, why even mention it? I can see Mormon now: “Let’s see, I’ll tell them how wide this small neck is, by telling them a person could cross it in a day and a half, but I’ll start my measurement from halfway across, or I’ll use Brother Moriancumr who can run that puppy faster than any man alive--he made it in a day-and-a-half once, or I’ll really confuse them by using a Nephite, but I’ll send five of them to try it out and use the fastest time.” I’m sure Mormon had something up his sleeve when he gave us such a simple measurement knowing none of us could understand or comprehend what he meant. 
    This is so ridiculous an idea and concept that one has to wonder who these Mesoamericanists think they are that keep harping away at a distance interpretation no one would have used in describing a distance.
    8. “Obviously, we do not yet know how wide the narrow neck was…”
    Response: Mormon knew exactly how wide it was, but his vocabulary did not include miles, kilometers, leagues, furlongs, etc., nor would we have understood his measurement, anymore than we understand other ancient measurements, such pes, palmipes, gradus passus, pertica, aclus, milliarium, or leuga. What if someone left in their writing that a saltus was 800 jugera, which was 28,800 pedes. Or how about one parasang, which equals 4 mils, which equals 2,000 ells, or 200 khet equals one iteru? What if someone told you it takes 18 minutes to walk a mil, or that the distance covered by an average man in a day’s walk is 10 parsa’ot. What if you read in an ancient text that a day and a half journey was 15 parasangs.
Would you know any of these measurements? Each is a true measurement in different culture of antiquity. The vast majority of people would not know those measurements in terms of their own distance system. Nor would we have known the terms of the Nephite’s distance measurement system. Mormon knew this, and gave us a measurement that would translate then and far a normal person could walk in a day and a half. And yes, it is as simple as that.
    9. “…but these figures show that it could have been a substantial distance.”
    Response: Funny, nothing in Mormon’s description suggests “a substantial distance.” How far can a man walk in a day and a half? If Mormon’s intent was to tell us how wide the narrow neck was, then that person would be a normal person. And a normal person can walk about 27 miles in that time, averaging 1.5 miles per hour for 12 straight hours, a night’s rest, and another 6 hours. My suggestion to Welch, Sorenson, and all other Mesoamericanists is go out and walk six hours without resting and see how far you have traveled—the vast majority of people could not make 9 miles in that time, let alone keep it up for twelve hours straight. If you think you could walk for more than about 12 hours straight, go out in the desert away from any city lights or aurora, and see how long you can chance walking in pitch black darkness (I am not aware that the Nephites possessed flashlights).
    10. “The width of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is now accepted by many Book of Mormon scholars as the Nephite narrow neck of land…”
    Response: Only those Book of Mormon scholars who accept Mesoamerica as the Land of Promise, and not even all of those, some claiming other areas in Mesoamerica. However, for those who accept the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, perhaps they should try and orient that thinking directly to the scriptural record without changing the meaning of the words used by Mormon, translated by Joseph Smith, and verified by the Spirit. It seems they would have a very difficult time unless they employ these games that Welch uses here.
    11. “…is 120 miles—an acceptable distance for the day-and-a-half journey.”
    Response: First of all, the Mexican government uses the figure of 144 miles across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, unless you are a crow flying. Secondly, it is not an acceptable distance to anyone who actually thinks about it and tries to cover that kind of distance in a day and a half. After all, Mormon is not describing a contest or race across the narrow neck of land. He is describing to the future reader how wide that “small neck” was so we could understand the width. Why is that so hard for a student of the Book of Mormon to understand? And especially a scholar like Welch?
Instead of saying it can be done and is accepted—why not go on down there and try it? Or try to walk 120 miles in 18 hours in any environment. Only specially trained runners or walkers could even come close, and without a world record-holder type, you would find it simply cannot be done. Instead of trying to find a way around this simple statement by Mormon, why not look for a land where there really is (or was) such a narrow neck?
    Let's  be honest about this. If a neighbor told you a person could walk from where you were standing to a specific point in a day-and-a-half, what would you think? Would you really think he meant some Zuni runner, a marathon runner, a world-record holder? Or would you think he was referring to a normal person? It is time to stop making the scriptural record say things it does not in order to safe-guard one's own thinking, and understand the "simple and plan language" Nephi told his people to write in. A plain and simple language that can easily be understood today. If the scriptural record is not so written, then what good is it? It merely becomes a mass of confusion as Mesoamericanists try to make it so they can tell us what it means from their point of view!