Monday, September 16, 2019

The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part I

Generally speaking, most members and the public in general are of the opinion that the Land of Promise given to Lehi is found in Mesoamerica. We have written before about how this came about with M. Wells Jakeman, the founder of the department of archaeology at BYU in 1946—in fact, has been described as “the father of Book of Mormon archaeology (“Memorial: Max Wells Jakeman: 1910-1998,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol.7, iss.1). In addition, he was the first Chair of the department from 1947-1960, during which time he built his entire department and teaching outlines around Mesoamerica.
Jakeman had an early interest in the Mesoamerica, making it the subject of his doctorate dissertation “The Ancient History of the Mayas,” and later writing several books on the Maya

During the formative years and throughout Jakeman’s tenure as department Chair, the mission statement of the department read: “The mission is to provide academic instruction in archaeology and to serve as a center of research and publishing on scriptural archaeology.” In fulfilling this mission, Jakeman provided leadership in which his approach “comprised studies of the living Mayas, including physical anthropology, tropical medi­cine, ethnology, linguistics, and agronomy; historical studies, including both archaeology and pre-Conquest and post-Conquest documentary research in such sources as the extant ancient hieroglyphic books (“codices”) and the sixteenth-century Maya manuscripts found in the archives of Spain and Mexico; and environmental studies, including geology, vulcanology, climatology, geography, botany and zoology.”
Locations of digs of work done in southern Mexico and Guatemala by the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF), and by BYU

However, in all those years and since, no work studying the Book of Mormon ever took place in South America—only in Mesoamerica, where digs and projects have been carried out regularly for the past nearly 70 years, such as in Izapa, San Isidro, El Mirador, Paso de la Amada, Chiapa de Corzo and along the Grijalva River. In fact, when expanding into other areas, ANTHR 355 classess read: “Students will gain knowledge of the major archaeological sites excavated and studied in Meso-America with an emphasis on critiquing archaeological methodologies and theory as they have been applied to specific archaeological sites in the field. Through this study, students will also gain a knowledge of the history and cultural development of the major societies and cultures of this region and the role that archaeology plays in assisting in providing data related to questions associated with the development and decline of these entities.” In another program, it states: “The Chiapa de Corzo Archaeological Project investigates and promotes public awareness of the large Formative period mound site of Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas, Mexico.”
    In fact, their entire catalog, which has some classes on North America, and several in Israel, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Near East, Islam, and Europe—but not a single one about anywhere in South America. Granted BYU’s work in Mesoamerica and elsewhere has been valuable on many levels, but the question remains, why ignore the ancient development of South America.
    So much for the mission: “to provide academic instruction in archaeology and to serve as a center of research and publishing on scriptural archaeology.”
    The end result of this has been to isolate the Book of Mormon Land of Promise local to the Mesoamerica area, paying no attention to the major works in South America that far surpass those of Mesoamerica. So let’s take a look at the guru of Mesoamerican geography. At the top on the list of misleading information notably the book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (1985) about Lehi’s Land of Promise authored by John L. Sorenson, now emeritus professor of anthropology at BYU, and formerly head of the anthropology program before retiring in 1986.
    Sorenson’s book was the culmination of decades of his work establishing a real world setting that, according to him, plausibly fit the textual geography in the Book of Mormon. Such work earned him the title at BYU as “the father of Book of Mormon geography.”
    However, the problem Sorenson faced in writing his book about Mesoamerica, is that the portion of Middle America typically referred to as Mesoamerica actually runs in an east-west direction, with the seas to the north (Gulf of Mexico) and south (Pacific Ocean), and the chosen area of the narrow neck of land (Gulf of Tehuantepec) running in the opposite direction from Mormon’s description in the scriptural record as does all his directions of Mesoamerica as stated by Mormon in his abridgement of the record, and of Joseph Smith’s translation of the abridgement into English.
Sorenson’s model for a Nephite/Jaredite Land of Promise. It is obvious that the directions are east and west, with the Land Northward to the west and the Land Southward to the east of the narrow neck, the East Sea to the north and the West Sea to the south, and all other scriptural record directions skewed about 90º off of those in the Book of Mormon

Obviously, Sorenson’s problem after choosing Mesoamerica was to come up with a way to convince his readers that his completely changed and inaccurate directions on his map to the scriptural record actually fit Hebrew language and thought. In doing so, he states (p32) “In the course of 35 years of concern with the subject,” he has come up with his directional thinking. He also states of Mesoamerica, “Here, the physical requirements of the promised land are met, and here alone the major flaws of other correlations are avoided.”
    Just as obviously, Sorenson’s need to bypass the writing of Mormon and explain away to his readers that “he was not changing the scriptures, but explaining what was actually meant by Mormon’s descriptions.”
    In his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985), Sorenson goes to great length to so thoroughly confuse the issue, by including so many examples that have nothing to do with the Nephites, such as Toltec dawn-to-dusk marches, distances Mohave Indians could cover, saddle shape of Tehuantepec and the digging of a canal, creating distances out of thin air when no distances are given, comparing Book of Mormon topography, which is almost non-existent in the scriptures, with that of Mesoamerica and claiming they compare favorably, that the Nephite-controleld portion of the coast along the east sea was short, and numerous other side issues of little or no import.
    What is important is that Sorenson provides in the first 24 pages four separate maps, all alike in shape and directions, all running north and south, with a Land Northward to the north of the narrow neck and the Land Southward to the south of the narrow neck, a sea to the east and a sea to the west. Then on page 37, he inserts a map of Mesoamerica with an east-west alignment in total disagreement with his first
Sorenson’s first four maps from his book: Map 1, page 7; Map 2, page 11; Map 3, page 20; Map 4, page 24—all have a north-south orientation as does Mormon’s descriptions in the scriptural record. Then for Map 5, page 37, he switched that design on Map 5 to a horizontal map and claims there is no difference 

As can be seen, Sorenson has an East Sea and a West Sea on his vertical map, but when he lays it flat, he rotates it 90º so that now his East Sea is in the North and his West Sea is in the South, contrary to Mormon’s very clear descriptions. As an example, Mormon, in describing the Nephite lands, states: “When Moroni had driven all the Lamanites out of the east wilderness, which was north of the lands of their own possessions, he caused that the inhabitants who were in the land of Zarahemla and in the land round-about should go forth into the east wilderness, even to the borders by the seashore, and possess the land. And he also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies” (Alma 22:9-10, emphasis added).
    Note that Mormon describes:
1. The east wilderness was north of the land of the Lamanites (Land of Nephi);
2. The east wilderness bordered the seashore of the East Sea;
3. The Nephite borders in the south were along the land of the Lamanites;
4. The Nephites built fortifications in the south, between themselves and the Lamanites.
    There is no way that all these directions would fit a map that runs east andf west as does Mesoamerica. After all, short changing the directions, which Sorenson has done, there is no reality between Mesoamerica and the scriptural descriptions.
(See the next post, “The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part II,” for more on the mystifying directions of Sorenson’s Mesoamerica map)

1 comment:

  1. Exactly! I studied Sorensons work in great detail as well as everything else written I could find on Mesoamerica as the Book of Mormon lands. For a long time I thought they most likely were the Book of Mormon lands. After all someone had to be the Mayans and Joseph Smith did find the area interesting.
    But there were a number of things that just didn’t seem right and did not seem to coincide with the text of the Book of Mormon. I marked several of these in my hard copy of Sorensons book with question marks and questions written in the margin.
    Top of the head scratchers was the change in directions. That never felt right. This was all before Del had a blog. Over the years I kept studying and eventually came across Dels work and was thrilled to see that it matched the Book of Mormon text 100%. And no need to pretend Lehi family and the Liahona meant North when they said West.