Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Question Regarding “Book of Mormon Wars” Website

One of our readers sent us this text of an article from the Book of Mormon Wars website, which we are repeating in its entirely and then asking one—just one—very simple question and then asking you to decide where his introduction of Occam’s Razor fits into the answer. 
    On that website it reads: “This is the place if you want to learn about Book of Mormon geography. The Mesoamerican model originated with a faulty premise and will therefore never achieve consensus. A North American setting fits the text. This blog looks at the origins and scholarship behind the Mesoamerican theory.”
    This article evidently appeared on Thursday May 26, 2016, and was sent to us the same day by Adam W. who sends us a lot of information from that website.
Under the title of “Simplicity,” the website posts: “The simplest explanation is usually the best, a principle often described as Occam’s Razor, [which states} "Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected."
[My comment: By way of explanation, William of Ockham, (Latinized Gulielmus Occamus), 1287-1347, was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian who is believed to have been born in Ockham a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the center of the major intellectual and political controversies of the fourteenth century. He is commonly known for his Occam’s razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logics, physics, and theology]
    Continuing with the post:
    On the topic of Book of Mormon geography, which setting requires the fewest assumptions? Which explanation is the simplest?
The North American setting has one assumption.
1. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knew that the Hill Cumorah in New York was the place where the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations were destroyed. Everything directly attributable to them is consistent with that setting. Contrary ideas are not directly attributable to them; therefore, these contrary ideas were produced by other people who didn't know what Joseph and Oliver knew.
    The Mesoamerican setting relies on a series of assumptions:
1. Joseph Smith didn't know where the Book of Mormon events took place.
2. Oliver Cowdery (or another unknown person) at some unspecified date started a folk tradition that Cumorah was in New York, based on an incorrect assumption.
3. Joseph misled his wife Emma when he wrote to her about crossing the plains of the Nephites after he'd crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
4. Oliver memorialized the incorrect folk tradition in Letter VII in 1835.
5. Joseph, for unexplained reasons, passively adopted Oliver's speculation and had it widely published.
6. Joseph, who wrote very little himself, nevertheless wrote a series of articles in the Times and Seasons about Central America that he left anonymous for unknown reasons.
7. David Whitmer, late in life, conflated his own specific memory of the first time he heard the word "Cumorah" with Oliver's folk tradition.
    Which set of assumptions makes the most sense to you?
[My comment: Not all of the above are facts. Some are opinions, such as we do not have any signed statement by Joseph Smith that he wrote the articles mentioned in #6 above. That they were unsigned cannot be then assigned to Joseph that he actually wrote them or even read them though he was the editor at the time. Nor do we know why Joseph “passively adopted” Oliver’s speculation. Again, this is an opinion not a fact, with at least one other rationale, such as Joseph was interested in using Oliver’s extensive writing on the Hill Cumorah since it covered in detail Joseph finding the plates there, which was the issue of his interest]
    Continuing with the post:
    Here are some relevant quotations about simplicity.
• “If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.”   ― Albert Einstein
• To which Groucho Marx replied:
“A child of five could understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.”   ― Groucho Marx

• “Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”   ― Isaac Newton
• Why did they believe? Because they saw miracles. Things one man took as chance, a man of faith took as a sign. A loved one recovering from disease, a fortunate business deal, a chance meeting with a long lost friend. It wasn't the grand doctrines or the sweeping ideals that seemed to make believers out of men. It was the simple magic in the world around them.”   ― Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages
• “People who pride themselves on their "complexity" and deride others for being "simplistic" should realize that the truth is often not very complicated. What gets complex is evading the truth.”   ― Thomas Sowell, Barbarians inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays
• “..things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems.”   ― Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty
• “I am not a genius, I am just curious. I ask many questions. and when the answer is simple, then God is answering.”   ― Albert Einstein
[End of article]
    Now that the Great Lakes theorist has made his point, I have just one question.
“Where are the mountains whose height is great?”
    It is a simple question, one my six year old grand daughter asked, after reading to her the statement in Helaman 14:23 as we drove through the flat lands of Great Lakes of western New York—a very flat land all through the lakes area and New York until we reached the Pennsylvania border on our way to Philadelphia from Niagara Falls—at which time she got a big laugh out of the term “Endless Mountains” in northeastern Pennsylvania that are not mountains at all, but just some rolling hills (2693 elevation, North Knob Elk Mountain—most of the Endless Mountains, however, are between 1000 and 2000 feet). My wife, who had grown up in her early years in Parowan, Utah, in the Rocky Mountains, where she took numerous trips to Brian Head ski resort, is 9800-feet.
    Show me the mountains whose height is great. If we are going to go with Occam’s Razor, then that is about as simple as it gets.
    Lest we forget, Samual the Lamanite, called by the Lord to speak to the inhabitants of the City of Zarahemla what he (the Lord) put in his (Samuel's) heart to tell them, said regarding the time of the Crucifixion, “And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23). And to make sure we understood him, he added, “And behold, thus hath the angel spoken unto me; for he said unto me…that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:26,28).
Now go ahead. Apply Occam’s Razor. Which is simpler, that Andean Peru had mountains “whose height is great,” Mesoamerica, which has mountains that are medium height in greatness, and the Great Lakes area has no mountains—no, not one.
    Choose which one is the simpler answer.
    Go ahead, apply Occam’s Razor. 
    We’ll wait.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Dominance of Mesoamerican Theory - Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding Mesoamerican dominance of Land of Promise theories where there simply is not sufficient evidence to connect to the scriptural record. 
    In the previous post we discussed how Mesoamerica, when discovered by John L. Stephens and drawings from Frederick Catherwood reached Joseph Smith, he was excited to see evidence of an advanced civilization in the Americas dating to many centuries before Columbus.
In appreciation for receiving the book from his friend John Bernshisel describing the finds in Central America, Joseph responded in a letter to his friend dated November 6, 1841, in which he wrote in part: “I received your kind present by the hand of Er [Elder] Woodruff & feel myself under many obligations for this mark of your esteem & friendship, which to me is the more interesting as it unfolds & developes many things that are of great importance to this generation & corresponds with & supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon; I have read the volumes with the greatest interest & pleasure & must say that of all histories that have been written pertaining to the antiquities of this country it is the most correct luminous & comprehensive.”
    How could Joseph not be excited about such a find and verification of his many statements and stories regarding the Nephite Nation and their earlier civilization in the Western Hemisphere? Wouldn’t you be excited to learn that archaeologists had dug up horses in the Americas dating back to Nephite times?
Think how exciting it would have been for Joseph and for early Church members after being ridiculed by everyone so severely about their stand on the Book of Mormon to actually find non-LDS sources found an exact model of a Nephite city? Why wouldn't Joseph want to show this and talk about it to everyone? After all, it was not the location, other than the Americas, that was exciting at the time, but that it existed!
In addition, of particular interest are five articles that appeared in the Times and Seasons in 1842 when Joseph Smith served as editor. These articles, two signed “Ed.” (presumably indicating editor) and three left unsigned, promoted the work of Stephens and Catherwood among Latter-day Saints. The five editorials highlight Latter-day Saint interest in the discoveries and also encouraged the view that they were consistent with and supportive of the claims of the Book of Mormon.
To go further, however, is to suggest something that Joseph Smith did not say and can be inferred by his interest, but not verified for intent. And that is further interest in Central America and the ruins there. That Joseph would want the Saints to learn more about these ruins and the civilization that created them is understandable—certainly any leader of the time would feel that way, for here, after all, was evidence of the Nephites of the Book of Mormon, i.e., a set of magnificent ruins depicting a civilization dating probably to that same time period.
    However, to suggest that Joseph knew this was where the Land of Promise as described in the Book of Mormon was located is not supported by any statement Joseph made. Again, let’s come back to the earlier scenario of archaeologists finding horses in the Americas dating to Nephite times. If that were to occur now, don’t you think church leaders would suggest an interest in having BYU archaeologists, or others, investigate that information since it is supportive of the Book of Mormon? Would it matter to anyone other than certain theorists where the horses were found? What if they were found in the Great Lakes area—would that excite Mesoamericanists? What if they were found in Andean South America, would that excite Great Lakes theorists?
    To Joseph, who was not promoting a location but an overall idea—i.e., Nephite civilization in the Americas, the find was scientific support of what he had been telling everyone about the Book of Mormon. However, to Mesoamerianists, anything outside of their particular model interest, might not receive the same fanatic interest as if it was found in Mesoamerica. The same is true of the Great Lakes, Heartland or eastern U.S. theorists, or any other theorists of the many different viewpoints found today.
    That is not true, however, of Andean South America enthusiasts, for this belief stems from the scriptural record which makes it clear that when Hagoth’s immigrants went “to a land which was northward” we know that Nephites settled in Central America, and built the numerous Mayan, Yucatan and other ruins now found there. We also know that the Nephites and Lamanties did not stop there, but continued northward and that Zelph, the White Lamanite, and the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the “eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains” was part of the spreading of the Nephite-Lamanite civilization through the Americas.
The point is, finding horses today anywhere in the Americas that dated to Nephite times would be sufficient to show the progression of these movements of the Nephites as we have pointed out. Think, then, how exciting Joseph Smith and other Church leaders and members felt when the information about Stephens’ record of an advanced civilization in the Americas would have been received by the Prophet.
    In fact, these discoveries and drawings caused great excitement among the Saints, and subsequently five editorials appeared in the Times and Seasons commenting on what these meant for the church. Although the author of the editorials was not indicated, historians have wondered if Joseph Smith penned them since he was the newspaper’s editor at the time.
    While many want to argue or contend over whether or not Joseph Smith actually wrote the five editorials that appeared in the Times and Seasons during the 1841-1842 period, the point is those articles appeared and drew our attention to the fact that Joseph was interested and involved in the spreading of the word about the ruins found by Stephens and Catherwood in Mesoamerica. It matters little who actually penned a statement on this matter as does the fact that Joseph found himself and the scriptural record vindicated by the existence of a Nephite style, 600 B.C.-400 A.D. civilization found in the Americas.
    We need to stop promoting ideologies and start describing the consistencies of the Land of Promise in the Book of Mormon as has been found in the Americas. If we are going to promote an area, then we should feel duty-bound to make sure our beliefs not only support,  but match the scriptural record as Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni wrote and abridged it. The time is long past for people who want to prove the scriptural record is wrong, misleading, or inaccurate in what it says. North and south, northward and southward, are as they are stated—if the Lord, Spirit, and writers wanted us to know it was not north and northward, they would have seen to it that the record was written and translated correctly. If Mormon says a Nephite could cross the narrow neck of land in a day and a half, then we are duty-bound to report it that way, not try to justify a wider area that would take a unique Mohave Indian who could run 100 miles in a day to cross as Mormon’s meaning as Sorenson tries to convince us. 
    If Nephi says he planted seeds from Jerusalem, and they grew exceedingly and provided abundant harvests, then we are duty-bound to find an area in the Western Hemisphere that matches the location in Jerusalem, a Mediterranean Climate, where those seeds would have grown so well in 600 B.C. If Mormon says the Land of First Inheritance, where Lehi landed, was on the Sea West (south along the seashore), then we cannot promote an interior lake with no ocean route to it as the Land of Promise.
We need to stop thinking we know more than the original writers—basically all prophets of great standing and character—and try to point out where they meant something other than what they wrote, or that we know more than the Spirit who guided Joseph through the translation process, and above all, we have got to stop promoting the opinions of early Church leaders as factd over those definitive comments made by those who lived in the Land of Promise and left us their writings that were translated by the will and assistance of the Lord through the Spirit via Joseph Smith.
    There is not a single person at BYU or any other University, nor anyone with unlimited letters after their name, that knows more about the Land of Promise than did Mormon. He was born in the Land Northward, and fought the Nephites last, final battle there where 230,000 of his people were killed, and in between moved to Zarahemla in the Land Southward, knew the Lands of Nephi and Lehi well enough to give us specific descriptions of them, and traveled the entire Land of Promise, from the narrow strip of wilderness in the south to the Land of Many Waters in the north, and from the Sea East to the Sea West, over more than fifty years while writing about the events, and from time to time giving us descriptions so we would know what the land was like and where certain events took place and how we might understand them better.
    How Mesoamerica, with its incorrect directions, lack of four seas, including a sea that divides the land, with no narrow neck of land that could have been discerned in 600 B.C. to 421 A.D. short of an aerial, satellite view, and not having  two animals, two grains, and herbs that cure killing fevers, as Mormon tells us were in the Land of Promise, no location where wheat and barley would grow in its tropical lands, or ocean currents that could even reached the area from the Arabian Peninsula claim to be the Land of Promise is beyond the explanation of even the most astute individuals, as clearly seen by the critics who attack the idea daily.
    The same can be said about the Great Lakes, Heartland and eastern U.S. theories where there are no “mountains whose height is great,” no ocean access to a Sea West, no two animals, two grains, herbs to cure fevers, etc., can be found and a hill Cumorah not even within their Land Northward, no narrow neck with a narrow passage, etc., claim to be the Land of Promise is also unbelievable.
It is as though people today feel they are so much smarter than the scriptural record, they simply pick and choose what they want to accept and reject what disagrees with their views.
    Perhaps all would be better served if the different theorists stopped arguing over minor issues and start reading the scriptures—all of them—and recognize that their models simply do not agree with the scriptural record. There would certainly be less fodder for critics to use in their fight against the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and a lot better chance for the Book of Mormon to stand for what it was written, a Second Witness of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Dominance of Mesoamerican Theorym- Part I

When Joseph Smith left the Sacred Grove after his visit from the Father and the Son, he was in possession of startling information that few, if any, in the world at the time knew about—that there was both a Father and a Son that were separate beings, and along with a third, the Holy Spirit, made up the Godhead. 
How did Joseph fare in telling this fantastic news to the world? In his own words, Joseph found himself thinking of Paul in front of king Agrippa when he related the account of the vision he had when he saw a light and heard a voice. There were few that believed him. They called Paul dishonest, mad, and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; and though they should persecute him unto death, yet he knew, and would know to his latest breath, that he had both seen a light and heard a voice speaking unto him, and all the world could not make him think or believe otherwise.
    Joseph was treated much the same way. As he said, “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”
    Both Paul and Joseph Smith found themselves trying to express a different view than that held by the vast majority of people. Both knew they were right, but both found rejection on the right and on the left—people, it seems, are at their worst when their views are challenged, especially if that challenge in any way shows they are wrong in their opinions and beliefs. Some, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, whose position among the people was that of religious leadership and important tenets, found themselves and their future standing at stake; in Joseph’s time, pastors and ministers found their following at stake, thus their incomes and careers.
    It has forever been the same. Once an idea gets into the public conscious (conscience collective) it evolves into “the answer,” “the standard,” “the truth.”
    At which time few, if any, ever check that “answer” against more, new, modern, or greater knowledge that is continually coming forth in all fields. Somewhere along the line, early Church members, eager to find some verification or validation of the Book of Mormon, were ever latching onto new information about the Land of Promise.
The so-called Mesoamerican Tree of Life stone from the site of Izapa, Mexico, that M. Wells Jakeman claimed was an ancient carving of Lehi’s dream 
    When my wife and I were first married, the Tree of Life stone of Izapa was a big thing—every LDS family in the Ward and area had to have a copy of the plaster image that was selling like hotcakes where we lived. The fact that it proved later to be fraudulent, or at least had nothing to do with Lehi, seems to have made no difference to so many who still cling to its “claimed” authenticity--especially the Mesoamericanists.
Left: John Lloyd Stephens, the first non-cleric to suggest that the ancient Maya glyphs and carvings were the actual writing by the people that lived there; Right: Frederick Catherwood. The two met in Belize City (in Honduras at the time) where they visited Copan together 
    Likewise, in the early days of the Church, when Joseph Smith was given a copy of the book Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, by John L. Stephens in 1841 via Wilford Woodruff who received it from John Milton Bernhisel (John Martin Bernheisel), a physician and close friend and companion to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, who was living in New York at the time, and later member of the Council of Fifty organized by Joseph Smith, as well as the original delegate of the Utah Territory in the U.S. House of Representatives (1851-59, 1861-63). This work included extensive and very detailed drawings by Frederick Catherwood of the Mayan ruins, and Joseph’s reaction was as shown in an article in Times & Seasons, June 25, 1842, under the title of “American antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon”:
    “We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, which have been discovered by two eminent travelers who have spent considerable labor, to bring to light the remains of ancient buildings, architecture & cities, which prove beyond controversy that, on this vast continent, once flourished a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity—a people once high and exalted in the scale of intelligence, but now like their ancient buildings, fallen into ruins” (Times and Seasons 2, no. 16, June 15, 1841, 440. “This vast continent” refers to the Western continent—or all the territories of North America, Central America, and South America). Also note that Joseph's comment was rather generic, i.e., "proof that on this vast continent once flourished a mighty people" etc.
Catherwood’s drawings showed a highly advanced civilization living in the Western Hemisphere  of whom no one knew anything about centuries before Columbus
    How exciting that must have been for Joseph and members of the Church to see evidence of the Book of Mormon. The ruins Catherwood drew so obviously showed the past existence of a people far beyond anything ever thought of before in the Western Hemisphere. Think of it—Joseph and early Church members, with the new Book of Mormon in hand, were trying to convince everyone that there had been an advanced society living in the Western Hemisphere long before Columbus, and here, in distinct and beautiful drawings, Catherwood was showing the world that Joseph and the Church were correct in there having been such an advanced society living in the Americas. Those drawings, to them, validated all they had been preaching!
    To us today, this might not seem like much, but it goes along with archaeologists finding engaved writing on metal plates (including gold plates) dating back to the time of Lehi throughout Mesopotamia, the Middle East, and elsewhere. It was an astounding discovery and stopped the critics from being ”nay-sayhers” about Lehi sailing to America.
    The point at the time with Joseph and the others was not where in the Western Hemisphere the ruins were located, but that they existed!
    We also need to keep in mind that to Joseph Smith, and all Americans at the time, the American Continent, or “this” continent referred to the Americas—that is, what we know as North and South America today existed as one continent clear up to around the time of World War II, when American newspapers and public officials began calling North America a separate continent. Before that time, there was really only two continents to most people, i.e., Asia (or the eastern continent) and America (the western continent). As we have reported here on numerous occasions, this is not speculation or an opinion, and can easily be verified by any early 20th century atlas, history, or geography on the subject. In fact, even today, there are numerous countries that still call North and South America one continent, including most of Latin America.
    When I was in Junior High School right after World War II the subject of Geography (which I loved) was replaced with a new subject called Social Studies, which included geography, and it was at this time that the schools were teaching young teens (8th grade) of the change in continental structure, or number of continents. In fact, Joseph Smith said: "He [Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang” and at the time in world geography, “this continent” meant the “American Continent,” which meant both North and South America. 
(See the next post, “The Dominance of Mesoamerican Theory - Part II,” for more information about how Mesoamerican theories of the Land of Promise dominate church attitudes and members’ beliefs)

Friday, May 27, 2016

More Comments from Readers – Part V

Here are more comments that we have received from readers of this website blog: 
    Comment #1: “Why do you say the Jaredites would have left the area of Santa Elena along the coast where you claim they landed. I have been there and have seen how the currents bring drift stuff into the beach along the southern shore. The area seems ideal to me, the beaches are beautiful, the peninsula is intriguing, you can see whales and dolphins in the waters…the Spotted and Spinner dolphins are quite unique in my experience. The bird watching is great, with interesting museums and a lot of quiet” Sunny C.
Santa Elena Peninsula is a barren piece of land that just out into the Pacific as the north rim of the Gulf of Guayaquil
Response: Evidently, you missed the salt mines with their excessive sodium intake that anciently dotted this barren area with monotonous natural ponds, and oil and asphalt seeps with their stench and the resultant bitumen pitch odors and fumes—seriously, though, the area is arid, uncomfortably hot, full of mangrove swamps, yet a little to the east is a desert type of plains, and closer in are tropical dry forests, and miles upon miles of hilly landscape. The peninsula was and still mostly is covered by semi-arid scrub.
    You describe a short one or two day stay on the peninsula, which can be interesting, but totally different from a week or a month or longer—as a side note, if you are going to stay longer on the southern Ecuador coast, I would recommend the Santa Elena Casa Leon’s beachside “resort.” The food is traditional and considered world-class, and you can dine outdoors while gazing at the sea, fishing boats, birds and occasional marine life, then relax on a hammock and enjoy the coastal breeze. If you like raw fish, try the Ceviche, the serving itself is delightful and the taste from the raw fish in citrus juice to “die for.” Or try the Ecuadorian Cazuela, a dish so called because of the cooking pot in which it is cooked, while the combination of mixed meats (pork, turkey, chicken and beef) and vegetables is considered one of their best dishes (the stock varies, but theirs is very good), with potato, pumpkin, cooked rice, small noodles, green beans, carrots, garlic, celery and cabbage—when cooked together for the stock, an interesting meal.
    Ooops, got off topic.
    While I doubt the Jaredites, after spending 344 days in the enclosed barges, would have been interested in your whales, dolphins, sea breezes or the smell of the ocean, the biggest problem for them would have been drinking water, especially as their settlement grew in size (they already numbered a considerable population with their propensity toward large families: Brother of Jared had 22 children, Jared 12, his son Orihah had 31 children of which 23 were sons). With the temperature a continuous 90º daily—the land is extremely hot and dry and would have been so before industrial man arrived there. Besides with the heat and the extreme humidity, yellow fever, malaria, and liver fluke are prevalent, with mildew and mold destroying clothing and leather, and a severe problem with termites. Living along the coast in this area would have been neither easy nor healthy for the Jaredites.
As can be seen from the waves rolling ashore, the current (yellow arrows) runs directly into the peninsula as it juts out into the ocean--the furthest point west along the South American coast
    The scriptural record states: “And they did land upon the shore of the promised land. And when they had set their feet upon the shores of the promised land they bowed themselves down upon the face of the land, and did humble themselves before the Lord and…they went forth upon the face of the land, and began to till the earth” (Ether 6:12-13). The son of Jared, Orihah was made king, his son, Kib, was the second king and dwelt in the land of Moron (Ether 7:6) that “was near the land which is called Desolation by the Nephites.” Kib’s son, Corihor, when 32 years of age, rebelled and “went over and dwelt in the land of Nehor” (Ether 7:4).
    Evidently, the two cities of Moron and Nehor served as the capitol of the land at various times, with Moron being in an elevated area or higher up in the hills or mountains than Nehor since Corihor “came up unto the land of Moron” (Ether 7:5) from Nehor, which also suggests that Nehor might be along the western coast.
    Eastward from the coast there is an unusual change in elevation and topography which produces a very different climate. Two massive mountain ranges run north and south along the country, one the Cordillera Occidental (west) and the other Cordillera Oriental, creating an eight to nine thousand foot highlands or central valley plateau about 200 miles long with 9300-foot Quito at the northern end, and 8640-foot Cuenca at the southern end. The Plain is about twenty to thirty miles wide, divided by a few mountain spurs, leaving several shallow basins or plains where the climate is healthy and today where about 75% of Ecuadorians live. It seems likely that Moron would have been along this central plateau, and Nehor in the lowlands, probably near the coast north of the peninsula where the weather and climate conditions would be far better for lengthy human habitation.
    Comment #2: “Why is the public banned from your temples. I have seen and been in the Cathedrals of the world, why not your temples?” Jacques V.
Response: Latter-day Saint temples are not used for our weekly Sunday worship, which are held in what we call Ward or Branch buildings and meeting places. In those areas, all visitors and people are welcome to attend along with all LDS members. However, in our temples, sacred ordinances are performed only for baptized members who qualify themselves to receive those ordinances. If you want to see a temple just to visit and see what it is like inside, etc., then after a new temple is built, the public may tour it during a month-long open house. After the temple is dedicated to the Lord, the public may visit the grounds and a special visitor center, but the temple is open only to those with a valid temple recommend.
    Comment #3: “You claim the Jaredites were in the land of promise for about 1500 years…in all that time, why do you think they never went into the land southward until after the poisonous serpent problem, and then only to hunt?” Bennie T.
    Response: Other than it being the Lord’s plan to keep the Land Southward for Lehi and his posterity, I would imagine that the topography discouraged movement in that direction.
South of the narrow neck of land, is the area today known as Loja (Lolja Province), and in the high Andes, where malaria was once rampant—the current city is in the bottom of the broad glacial earthquake-prone Cuxibamba valley at 6758 feet, with the high humid Amazon Basin to the east and the Peruvian sechura desert to the west.
    South, between the Gulf and Cajamarca (Nephite city of Bountiful), the land is made up of peaks, mountain knots, canyons, and narrow valleys, which would have been difficult terrain to settle. This two hundred miles of land would have acted as a barrier against much movement, just as the land south of the Gulf of Guayaquil, which is a sandy desert which extends south along most of coastal Peru, where the rain very rarely falls.
Sechura Desert, along the coast of Peru south of the Gulf of Guayaquil, with crescent dunes running most of the way in the second highest sand dune desert in the world, with dune height reaching above 3,000 feet
    The valley itself is a paramo—high, cold, treeless, windy desert plateau—which borders the Podocarpus high cloud forest and jungle.
    It was just a little north of this area, that the Jaredites built a city after the poisonous serpents were all destroyed (Ether 10:19), in the narrow neck adjacent to where the sea divides the land (Ether 10:20), which would have been the Gulf of Guayaquil.
    As you can see, there was little south of there to entice the Jaredites to move southward, i.e., sand-dune desert, high barren desert plateau, and the jungle. Obviously, after the poisonous serpents were killed, it would have been an ideal place to hunt.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

More Comments from Readers – Part IV

Here are more comments that we have received from readers of this website blog: 
    Comment #1: “You say there was no one else in the Land of Promise when Lehi arrived, yet in Nephi’s lifetime, he writes of wars with the Lamanites. Wars would require a lot of people, not just a handful in one family” Simon P.
Response: Many Mesoamerican theorists have rationalized Nephi’s mention of wars and contentions in the early years of the settlement as meaning there were other peoples in the land of promise who were also involved.  Otherwise, they contend, as you do, how were there enough people from the original Lehi Colony to manage to have a war.  Once again, we find the lack of understanding of Joseph Smith’s language misleading when modern readers of the Book of Mormon try to interpret his words by the understanding of words today.  After all, war to us in our time means a very formal battle of forces with typically large numbers of casualties, etc.  But in Joseph Smith’s time, according to Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, the word war is defined as meaning to contend, to strive violently, to be in opposition, to be in a state of opposition or contest; in fact, Webster says the root of the word means strive, struggle, urge, drive, or to turn or twist.  We might recognize that the war in heaven was more along these lines than anything physically violent, such as how we think of war today.  And the word contention, often used in conjunction with these early wars between the Nephites and Lamanites is listed in the 1828 dictionary as to struggle in opposition, to dispute earnestly, to strive in debate, to quarrel or dispute fiercely.  Thus, we can see that while the Nephites and Lamanites battled with each other over contentious issues, and they struggled in opposition, it does not necessarily mean it was a type of event that took large numbers to oppose one another
Comment #2: “I think Mark Twain was correct. Get rid of all “and it came to pass” statements and the Book of Mormon is just a pamphlet. What on earth does that phrase mean, anyway, and why is it used so often in your book?” Christopher M.
Response: The phrase, “it came to pass” occurs 1,297 times in the Book of Mormon, but also occurs 457 times in the KJV of the Old Testament, where it is an English translation of the single Hebrew word, hâyâh, which is more properly rendered, “now it happened,” and is considered a Hebrew idiom (or Hebraism) and is considered equivalent to “and then” or “and so.” The Hebrew Old Testament has 1,114 occurrences of the word hâyâh, with most of these either ignored or reduced to simply "and." When Joseph Smith edited the 1837 edition of the Book of Mormon, he removed 46 occurrences of “it came to pass,” rendering them simply as “and.”  
    Why is this phrase so common in the Book of Mormon? The answer is simple: Because Joseph was translating a Hebrew text. If "it came to pass" were not prominent in the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew claims for its origin would be absurd. Hâyâh is an integral part of Hebrew expression. Thus, "it came to pass" must be found as a common expression in any document that claims to be a translation from Old Testament Hebrew to English, and is used as an elapsed time sequence, especially in abridgement style writing where the original is being condensed and parts skipped over. This basically shows that Hebrew was the language of choice of the Nephites, even though the phrase was rendered into reformed Egyptian on the plates.
Comment #3: “Why do you keep pushing the llama and alpaca so much—it’s getting rather redundant” Evelyn G.
    Response: Because they are the only two animals in the entire Western Hemisphere that matches the description of the cureloms and cumoms in the scriptural record. And since they are indigenous to Andean South America and help prove our location there for the Land of Promise and everyone in the theorist work of trying to find what these animals are but ignore the llama and alpaca, we keep promoting them. If anyone can come up with any other animals that are a better match, I’d like to see it.
    Comment #4: “You wrote in a recent article that all the Jaredites were wiped out and gave an explanation of the word “destroy” that Nibley does not think means what you say it does. It seems Nibley would be more correct—he speaks 10 languages or something like that” Martha M.
    Response: It was Noah Webster, author and creator of the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, who grew up in the same language-speaking region (New England) as did Joseph Smith and about the same time, who gave us the definition the word “destroy.” You might also want to know that Moroni didn’t mention this circumstance just once—but also another time as a casual remark when discussing the topography of the Land Northward when he wrote: “And the Lord warned Omer in a dream that he should depart out of the land; wherefore Omer departed out of the land with his family, and traveled many days, and came over and passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent, and also his sons and his daughters, and all his household, save it were Jared and his family” (Ether 9:3).
At the time Moroni writes this, the battle of Cumorah is long past, the Lamanites have rounded up those who escaped into the south countries, and though he thought he, too, would be killed and not a single Nephite left, he found he had time to abridge the Ether record and include it on the plates, which he did—and as he came to this point, he inserts the comment that Omer was escaping to the east past the hill the Nephites called Cumorah, where his father, Mormon, had hid up the records. It seems his use of the word “destroy” here is also an indication that his use elsewhere in the record is also correct.
    Comment #5 “I have an old map showing a lot of water in Ecuador labeled Los Rios. Is this the area you claim is the Land of Many Waters?
    Response: Basically. Los Rios (which means “The Rivers”) is a Province today, but before that it was an area labeled on maps simply as “The Rivers.” It might be of interest to know that anciently, on very old Spanish maps, it was labeled simply “Land of Many Waters” (Tierra de Muchas Aguas)—a friend of mine received an old map found by a missionary in Ecuador many years ago so labeled. We were very excited about it when first seeing it.
The district known as Los Rios, which has several rivers (Ecuador is full of rivers); however, this is not the Land of Many Waters, which is to the northeast, between Los Rios and Quito
    But to specifically answer your question, the rivers shown in the Los Rios area are the extension of the rivers described by Mormon (Mormon 6:4); however, the land described earlier, that Limhi’s expedition reached, “having traveled in a land among many waters” (Mosiah 8:8) refers to the area north of where you are looking, and is referred to more accurately by Mormon as the Land of Many Waters, Rivers and Fountains (Mormon 6:4), and would be the area referred to on modern maps as surrounding the Laguna Velasco Ibarra where there are scores of lakes, swamps, standing water, ponds, etc., as well as major and small rivers, and the fountains from which the water springs, including the major mountain snow melts in the area.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More Comments from Readers – Part III

Here are more comments that we have received from readers of this website blog:  
   Comment #1: “I read on a website that “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” And that “The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets. The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.” What is your take on this?” Carlson S.
Response: We live in a different world than that of the past. Political correctness today demands certain behavior and attitudes or the disfavor of people, critics, and media come down hard upon the individual, group or people. What the Lord had in mind when “the Lord did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21) is a question that has wrought numerous answers for years. Nephi said only that it was done to keep the Lamanites from becoming “enticing unto my people” and Moses said the mark placed upon Cain was to protect him. In fact, Cain bemoaned the fact that “whoever finds me will kill me" (Genesis 4:13-14), to which God responded, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him" (Genesis 4:15-16).
    The Hebrew word translated "mark" is אוֹת ('owth) and refers to a portent—a sign or signal, i.e., “distinguishing mark, miraculous sign, omen or warning.” It can also mean “token, ensign, standard, miracle, or proof.” Of the 79 times in 77 verses of the Hebrew Scriptures, 'owth is used 43 times for “sign” and 30 times for “signs,” and once each for banners, omens, pledge, standards, witness and wondrous. It is found in Genesis  (6 times), Exodus (15), Numbers (5), Deuteronomy (12), Joshua (3), 1 Samuel (4), 2 Kings (3), Psalms (7), Isaiah (11), Jeremiah (4), Ezekiel (4), and once each in Judges, Nehemiah, and Job.
    So, the Hebrew word does not identify the exact nature of the mark God put on Cain. Whatever it was, it was a sign or indicator that Cain was not to be killed. Some propose that the mark was a scar, or some kind of tattoo, but most today reject that it was a black skin; however, Nephi definitely tells us that the mark on the Lamanaites was a black skin (2 Nephi 5:21).
    Whatever the case, the precise nature of the mark in Genesis is not the focus of the passage. The focus is that God would not allow people to exact vengeance against Cain because of his evil and his whining complaint that he would not survive God’s curse. Whatever the mark on Cain was, it evidently served the purpose of others not killing him. Nor should we interpret this to mean that God was protecting Cain despite his evil in killing his brother. Cain was undoubtedly punished severely by the curse and mark placed upon the man who committed the first murder.
In the past, many believed the mark on Cain to be dark skin—that God changed the color of Cain's skin to black in order to identify him. Since Cain also received a curse, the belief that the mark was black skin caused many to believe that people of dark skin were cursed. Many used the “mark of Cain” teaching as a justification for the African slave trade and discrimination against people with black or dark skin. On the other hand, nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is 'owth used to refer to skin color. The curse on Cain in Genesis chapter 4 was on Cain himself.
    In the 3rd century, the Greek scholar and early Christian theologian, Origen Adamantius (184-253 AD), a prolific writer, claimed “Ham’s discolored posterity and the ignobility of the race he fathered” (Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.)
    Unlike many church fathers, he was never canonized as a saint because some of his teachings directly contradicted the teachings attributed to the apostles, notably the Apostles Paul and John, particularly his teachings on the pre-existence of souls, the final reconciliation of all creatures, including perhaps even the devil (the apokatasis) and the subordination of God the Son to God the Father, were extremely controversial.
    In LDS doctrine, there has never been an attitude that certain people in mortality were punished for their pre-mortal behavior, or that there were “fence sitters” during the war between God and Satan. On the contrary, it has always been taught that all who earned the right to come to this earth were valiant in their defense and participation during that controversy. The problem sometimes arose when people decided on their own that such was not the case.
    During the pre-mortal ages we dwelt in the presence of God, the Father, and not only developed our various characteristics and showed our worthiness and ability, or the lack of it, but we were also where such progress could be observed. It is reasonable to believe that there was a type of Church organization there. The heavenly beings were living in a perfectly arranged society. Every person knew his place. Priesthood, without any question, had been conferred and the leaders were chosen to officiate. Ordinances pertaining to that pre-existence were required and the love of God prevailed. Under such conditions it was natural for our Father to discern and choose those who were most worthy and evaluate the talents of each individual. He knew not only what each of us could do, but what each of us would do when put to the test and when responsibility was given us. Then, when the time came for our habitation on mortal earth, all things were prepared and the servants of the Lord chosen and ordained to their respective missions” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 50–51).
“When the time arrived for us to be advanced in the scale of our existence and pass through this mundane probation, councils were held and the spirit children were instructed in matters pertaining to conditions in mortal life, and the reason for such an existence. In the former life we were spirits. In order that we should advance and eventually gain the goal of perfection, it was made known that we would receive tabernacles or bodies of flesh and bones and have to pass through mortality where we would be tried and proved to see if we, by trial, would prepare ourselves for exaltation. We were made to realize, in the presence of our glorious Father, who had a tangible body of flesh and bones which shone like the sun, that we were, as spirits, far inferior in our station to him” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:57).
    “From this revelation found in Abraham (Abraham 3:23), two things can be inferred:
1) that there were among those spirits [in premortal life] different degrees of intelligence, varying grades of achievement, retarded and advanced spiritual attainment;
2) that there were no national distinctions among those spirits such as Americans, Europeans, Asiatics, Australians, etc. Such ‘bounds of habitation’ would have to be ‘determined’ when the spirits entered their earthly existence or second estate. …
    “Now if none of these spirits were permitted to enter mortality until they all were good and great and had become leaders, then the diversity of conditions among the children of men as we see them today would certainly seem to indicate discrimination and injustice. On the other hand, since we had developed different levels of intelligence, achievement and willingness, our place in this world would then be determined by our own advancement or condition in the pre-mortal state, just as our place in our future existence will be determined by what we do here in mortality.
“When, therefore, the Creator said to Abraham, and to others of his attainment, ‘You I will make my rulers,’ there could exist no feeling of envy or jealousy among the millions of other spirits, for those who were ‘good and great’ were but receiving their just reward” (David O. McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay, 228–30).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

More Comments from Readers-Part II

Comment #1: “You seem to have settled on the idea that the Gulf of Guayasquil is the area that separated the Land Northward fro the Land Southward creating a narrow neck. Is there no other area where this neck could be? Potter thinks he found an area much further south in the Lurin Valley” Linc T. 
    Response: Potter’s area is not a location that actually separates one land from the other, nor is there anything about it that would have caused people at the time to thinik of it as a “narrow neck of land,” but rather a “narrow pass,” since it is not in a “narrow neck” at all. It is simply a pass through the mountains—an important one, but only one of many in Peru. Even the Spaniards called this area a narrow pass, and they were quite leery of moving by horseback through it since in some areas they had to dismount to continue and would have been much easier pray for the attacking Inca. Nor is there anything about crossing this area in a day and a half.
    Comment #2: “I read where the “great fortress” of Sacsahuaman might well have been the great tower mentioned in Mosiah built by king Noah” Rhys A.
    Response: That seems to have been Venice Priddis’ view as she wrote in her book The Book and the Map; however, the facts seem to suggest otherwise. First of all, when the Spanish arrived and saw the three zig-zag walls guarding the entrance to the temple structure complex atop the Sacsahuaman hill overlooking Cuzco, they gazed upon the fortified complex that had a wide view of the valley and called it a ciudadela, or citadel, which comes from the diminutive of città, from civitas, which interpreted means “a strong fortress, typically on high ground, protecting or dominating a city”—a perfect description of Sacsahuaman.
The outer walls of Sacsahuaman, the one time vast complex of fortress, temple and towers that once stood behind these walls overlooking the city of Cuzco below are now gone, dismantled by the Spanish
    The word citadel also relates to a stronghold or fortified place intended as a final point of defense and into which people could go for shelter during a battle. In ancient Spanish terms, it was the third part of a medieval castle, with higher walls than the rest. It was to be the last line of defense before the keep itself. In various countries, the citadels gained a specific name such as "Kremlin" in Russia or "Alcazaba" in the Iberian Peninsula. In European cities, the term "Citadel" and "City Castle" are often used interchangeably. As an example, the Haitian citadel, which is the largest citadel in the Western Hemisphere, is called Citadelle Laferrière or simply the 'Citadel' in English.
The three outer walls, built in a zig-zag pattern to provide the most coverage for defense once stood a third higher before the Spanish dismantled the smaller stones on top
    The construction of Sacsahuaman, which so impressed the Spanish conquerors, has a broken line called Chuquipampa, which faces the main plaza, and slopes, containing 25 angles and 60 walls. The biggest boulder of the first wall weighs around 70 tons and was brought in from the Sisicancha quarry, over two miles away, and where, to this day, you can still see rocks that were only transported part of the way. Each of these walls has 10 fronts; the most important ones are known as Rumipunco, Tiupunku, Achuanpunku and Viracocha Punku. It is considered as one of the best monuments to have been built by mankind on the earth’s surface. The wall, otherwise known as the rampart, is definitely the most impressive part of the structure and has been built from huge carved limestone boulders, many of which weigh over fifty tons, and were a third again as high when the Spanish arrived. The walls were torn down as much as the Spanish could and used for their own buildings, leaving what is now seen.
    While the Spanish thought the construction was the work of the devil, it is understood today that the stones were roughly cut to their approximate shapes at the quarry and were then dragged by rope to the construction site – something that could mean that hundreds of men would be pulling the stone to the site. Once at the site, the stones were carved into their final shape and laid in place.
Top: Aerial view of the placement of the round tower base; Bottom: The rock foundation of the tower, all that is left of the giant tower that once stood 60-feet high
    On the other hand, the tower, which since the Spanish period when they tore all three towers down, is seen only as a round rock base and for many years archaeologists thought it was simply a design for the so-called eye of the puma, rounding off the design of Cuzco. Not until the old chronicles were read showing it was a tower when the Spanish arrived and stood some 60-feet high made of rock and stone did it become apparent that towers once stood alongside the huge building complex that marked the top of the hill, which the Spanish, in their extreme superstitious frenzy, demolished as soon as they could.
    Comment #3: “If the Inca are the final tribal connection of the foregoing Lamanite tribes that fought one another in a civil war as Moroni describes, how exactly did they come to power and unite all the other tribes in the Andean area?” Shelley G.
    Response: Any answer here would be sheer guesswork, since we have no record of what took place begween 421 and 1438 A.D., when the Inca first made their mark in history. We do know there was a fierce Civil War among the Lamanites that went on for many years, according to Moroni, after 36 years of constant warfare, there was “no end in sight” at the close of his record. We have printed a poem written a century ago about those years of constant war, unease and deprivation, but again, that might just be fiction.
    We also can suggest that these tribes broke down into small groups that were highly suspicious of each other and were constantly at war with one another as was found when the Europeans reached North America. When the Spaniards landed in Mexico and Guatemala, and finally South America, the Aztec and the Inca had pretty much subjugated the majority of these tribes, and were involved in Empire building. We also know that many of the regions the Incas conquered in the fifteenth century, such as the vast Chimor kingdom in northern coastal Peru had themselves highly developed cultures with efficient governments and economies and advanced systems of agriculture, trade, and manufacturing.
    As for the Inca, who had always been noted for their sophistication in these areas, which was mainly due to the advanced state of development of the cultures the Incas brought into their empire, had accomplished an Empire that stretched for over 2500 miles along the coast to the lowland jungles.
As for how they did it, it is well known the Inca had a highly developed give-and-take philosophy about governing their empire: They generally allowed conquered territories to operate in the same way they had before conquest, as long as the people living there fulfilled certain requirements, particularly by providing extensive labor to the empire. Though the Incas imposed their religion on the conquered states, they also adopted the gods of the defeated people into the empire's pantheon, which are all of the gods that a particular group of people worship. They ensured that every farmer had enough land to farm, and they provided craftspeople with materials for their arts. But life for the peoples conquered by the Incas was far from free. In order to maintain control over such a vast area and over millions of people, the Incas created an incredibly complex administrative system. Officials representing the empire carefully managed the work of the conquered people, demanding the maximum amount of work out of every individual.