Monday, November 25, 2019

An Exercise in Mesoamerican Thinking-Part I

As long as Mesoamerica is so highly touted and frequently mentioned, any other site for the Land of Promise is problematic. Also as a result of this, we are bombarded from time to time with inquiries regarding our opinion of Mesoamerica being the Land of Promise despite all the comments we have made here regarding the fact that Mesoamerica simply does not match the scriptural record and specifically comments made by Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni.
    Following is another so discussion about Mesoamerica, and this time centering on the location and directions of placea mentioned in the scriptural record and the fallacy of Mesomericanists interpretation of those facts.
    First of all, no matter what Mesoamericanist writers, historians, scholars, or members you deal with, they all fall into a group under the “guru of Mesoamerican geography and scholarship,” John L. Sorenson, former head of Anthropology and Archaeology at BYU, now emeritus. That is to say, as long as Sorenson’s tenets hold fast, which are on shaky ground to being with that he outlined in his 1985 seminal book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, hold fast, then all is well in Mesoamericanland—however, knock out one underpinning and they all fall, for they are just a house of cards.
Knock out the underpinning of that work and all his tenets outlined within it, and the Mesoamerican setting as the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon, like a House of Cards, falls. That is one of the reasons we spend so much time in this blog writing about Sorenson’s work, his erroneous ideas, his misplaced beliefs, and his inaccurate thesis of Mesoamerican geography that do not agree with scriptural descriptions, to show how inconsistent it is with the actual words of Nephi, Jacob, Mormon and Moroni, those four prophets who have given us the wealth of knowledge and understanding of the Land of Promise.
    We have written about Sorenson’s work many times in this blog, in our books, and in a landmark work entitled Inaccuracies of Mesoamerican and other Theorists, but as many times as we have compared Sorenson’s claims with the scriptural record to show how far afield he constantly goes from what simple and precise descriptions the prophets have left us.
    In this article, we are going to take a look at the inaccuracies of Mesoamerican thinking in the area of distances, numbers of people, locations and interactions of the Jaredites in their homeland in the Land Northward. We will do this by comparing what Sorenson has written with the actual knowledge of the scriptural record and the facts of the area under discussion.
    As an example, beginning on page 12 of his book cited above (1985, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1985) it is stated:
• Sorenson: “No mention is ever made of travel southward from the city of Nephi, so it must have been near the southern limit of what the Nephites recognized as the greater land of Nephi (Alma22:28).”
White Dotted Circle: The Land of Nephi; Red Dotted Arrow: Where Lehi Landed; Blue Dotted Arrow: Travel south of the City of Nephi never mentioned. The Nephites were always to the north of the Lamanites and nothing of Nephite activity south of the City of Nephi is ever recorded of their activity other than the Sons of Helaman and Alma the Younger’s missionary efforts there, especially among King Lamoni and the area of the Sons of Ishmael

Response: This is not at all accurate. Nephi makes it quite clear that they landed far from where he finally settled, having traveled ”many days” (2 Nephi 5:7) to reach the area known as “the Land of Nephi,” and built the “City of Nephi” (2 Nephi 5:8). At the same time, the Land south of this area was referred to as the Land of Lehi (Helaman 6:10).
    Couple that with the fact that numerous passages make it clear that the Nephites were also to the north of the Lamanites, we can only conclude that Nephi, and those who would go with him, traveled in a northerly direction from the area of first landing. This area referred to as “the place of their fathers’ first inheritance,” was on the West…bordering along by the seashore” (Alma 22:28).
    Thus, somewhere to the south, and probably a considerable distance from the city of Nephi, along the seashore of the Sea West, Lehi landed and came ashore, which comprised of the area 1) Lehi and his party came ashore; 2) pitched their tents; 3) tilled the ground; 4) planted and harvested at least one crop; 5) discovered a large forest nearby; 6) found beasts in the forest of every kind; 7) both domesticated types, such as cow, ox, ass and horse, 8) all manner of wild animals; 9) discovered all manner of ore, including both of gold, and of silver, and of copper; and 10) Nephi and those who would go with him eventually left to travel northward to where they settled in the land the city they called Nephi.
    The distance from this first landing and settlement spot and where the city of Nephi was later founded was the distance that Nephi and those who would go with him to flee from his older brothers who sought to kill him, would have traveled to feel they were at a safe distance. The scriptural record calls this a journey of “many days” (2 Nephi 5:7).
Sorenson, for some reason limits this distance to about a hundred miles. Personally, it seems they would have traveled quite far to get away from someone trying to kill them—a lot further than most people think. How far would you travel before feeling safe and too far away for others to follow?
    It should also be considered that the reason there was no travel mentioned going south from the city of Nephi is, once Nephi separated and settled in the Land called Nephi, there was nothing of importance to the Nephites in the south other than the Land of First Inheritance, which was no longer available to them. Its actual distance could have been hundreds of miles based on that singular idea—a fact that Mesoamericanists, with their “Limited Geography) theory. In fact, Sorenson claims the events of the Book of Mormon occurred in a rather limited geographical scope, on the order of a few hundred miles or so.
    What mattered to the Nephites was to the north, and how far that was depended upon 1) how far Nephi would have traveled before he felt safe from his brothers; 2) the terrain to be covered; 3) the location the Lord wanted Nephi to settle; and 4) the instructions on the Liahona that Nephi had in his possession and would have followed.
At this point, it is important to keep in mind some locations and directions. As an example, in Alma 22:27-34, we learn that the land of First Inheritance is far to the south in the Land of Nephi (Alma 22:28); that the Land of Nephi is south of the narrow strip of wilderness, which separated the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla (Alma 22:27); that the Land of Zarahemla was to the north of the narrow strip of wilderness and the Land of Nephi (Alma 22:27); Bountiful was northward of Zarahemla (Alma 22:29); the land of Desolation was to the north of Bountiful (Alma 22:30); with Bountiful to the south of Desolation (Alma 22:31); with a small neck of land between them (Alma 22:32), causing the Land Southward, i.e., the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla to be nearly surrounded by water except for the small neck (Alma 22:32), and beyond the narrow neck was the Land Northward, and south of the small neck was the Land Southward (Alma 22:32); with the small neck narrow enough to be crossed in a day and a half (Alma 22:32).
• Sorenson: If we take all of these considerations into account, it seems reasonable to divide our tentative mileage figures this way: on the order of 180 airline miles overall separated the city of Nephi from the city of Zarahemla; about 100 of this distance was from Nephi to the midpoint of the “narrow strip of wilderness” (Alma 22:27); then it was 80 miles from that point down to the city of Zarahemla itself. Though only estimates, these distances and relationships are as carefully derived and true to the Nephite record as present information allows.”
Distance and direction between City of Zarahemla and the City of Nephi

Response: In the only somewhat helpful measurement found in the entire scriptural record, we find, over a period of time, a total of 21 days is used for Alma and his people (a group of some 450 converts, assumedly including women and children, cover the distance of travel from the Waters of Mormon in the Land of Nephi (within a day or two distance of the city of Nephi) to the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 24:25). While numerous figures have been suggested as to how fast or slow that travel might have been (Sorenson uses a period of from 6 to 11 days (based on travels of other people elsewhere). The problem lies in how we decide people travel when 1) they are leisurely moving across the land, 2) what pressure they are under, such as fleeing for their lives, and 3) the terrain they are crossing. In the case of Alma and his converts, they were fleeing for their lives, first from the king’s palace guards (army) who sought their lives as Alma well knew having witnesses the death of Abinadi, and also we should recognize that these 21 days were not continuous. Sometimes months, even years separated the periods of flight, so in many cases, when the group started out, (in the middle of the 21 days) they were fresh and well rested.
    In any event, their travel, taken with fresh bodies and legs, and always under the fear of being caught as the Lord had warned them, would have been much faster than historians seem to consider. When fleeing for one’s life, the distance covered is eagerly sought, not regretfully covered. Thus, we might assign a high distance per day to such travel. Nor would they have been following a pre-determined trail, but taking the path of least resistance across valleys, hills or along rivers. Travel during 12 hours of daylight, stopping every couple of hours for a few minutes rest, would see a flight covering as much as 20 miles a day within the realm of probability.
Blue dotted line: City of Nephi to the City of Zarahemla; Red dotted line, from the City of Nephi to the Land of Zarahemla; Green dotted line, from the Land of Zarahemla to the City of Zarahemla

If that were the case, then the distance from the Waters of Mormon to the land of Zarahemla (note it does not say the city of Zarahemla) would be at least 420 miles, 15 miles per day would be 315 miles. Both are far different then Sorenson’s limiting, and Mesoamerica self-serving, 180 miles, which is less than 9 miles per day when one is running for their lives—hardly seems realistic.
    The point being, any map and distances can be determined if one has a particular distance in mind to begin with that they want their figures to fit. The issue of true scholarship is to try and prove your theory wrong and if you cannot, then it stands as is. However, in the process, you cannot just create your own distances as Sorenson does—and say “it seems reasonable to divide our tentative mileage figures [in] this way...” then say, “Though only estimates, these distances and relationships are as carefully derived and true to the Nephite record as present information allows.” Then conclude with “Many Latter-day Saints will have to change their thinking markedly to adjust to the dimensions we have discussed.”
(See the next post, “An Exercise in Mesoamerican Thinking-Part II,” for more information on how Sorenson, the guru of Mesoamerican geography, has skewed the understanding of the scriptural descriptions of the Land of Promise in order to match them to his Mesoamerican model)


  1. When it comes to the distance covered by Nephi and his followers when fleeing from his murderous brothers, the distance may not have been entirely motivated by separation (though I'm certain that was a key factor). But another factor might have been that they had to keep going until they found a suitable land to settle. They would want a land that was workable for agriculture and that had the materials needed for building a city and surrounding defenses.

    Much of the land between their South American landing site and the Land of Nephi (Cusco Valley) is not exactly top notch settlement land. While traveling northward and looking for a home, they very well might have had Lake Tauca on one side and mountainous desert on the other. Lake Tauca was either a "paleo lake" remnant of the flood, or part of the eastern sea which was cutoff and trapped inland during the cataclysm, but either way, there probably wan't much of a workable "Altiplano" in 600 BC until reaching the Lake Titicaca area, where we do find more abundant ancient ruins.

    Anyway...that just popped in my head while reading about the distance traveled to settle the Land of Nephi. I just think that they probably had to go hundreds of miles by necessity, just to find a place they'd actually want to call home.

  2. It might also be considered that Nephi had the Liahona and had trusted in throughout their journey to the Land of Promise, it would seem he would use it here,also. Thus, the Lord would have had a hand in where Nephi settled. In fact, in most of the ancient myths, the original settlers of the various cultures all talk about some object the first people had that then led them to a place where the object indicated that was the place to settle.

    1. I hadn't thought about that. They would still have the Liahona. Funny how I just stopped thinking about it after the boat trip.

  3. 2 Nephi 5:12 And I, Nephi, had also brought the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass; and also the ball, or compass, which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord, according to that which is written.

    Nephi had the Liahona. Whether he used it on the way to the city of Nephi or not is not stated but it is interesting that the legends say he did.

    Good point Todd that they not only had to get far enough away from Lamanites but also had to find a suitable place to settle.

    Another thing to consider is they were not just trying to get a few days ahead of/ away from the Lamanites. 2 Nephi 5 says they planted seeds and reaped them. They raised flocks. They made swords. They built buildings including a temple. It seems they needed plenty of time to establish themselves and build and use their temple. They did not just get days ahead of the Lamanites- they got far enough ahead to have time to establish themselves. While the timelines are not spelled out exactly when the Lamanites first attacked, I get the sense it may have been years. Seems to me as I read 2 Nephi - Jacob they put some significant distance between themselves and the Lamanites.

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  5. When the Lord guided the pioneers to establish a new home he had them go a little over 1200 miles (Nauvoo to Salt Lake). La Serena to Cusco is about 1500 miles.

  6. David: Lehi and his family went over 2700 miles from Jerusalem to Salalah, Oman, about half through very hot weather and across the largest sand desert in the world.

  7. I thought in Mosiah 24:25 it states that Alma and the people traveled for 12 days?

  8. Unknown: In all, Alma traveled 21 days; however, that was the distance between the Land of Nephi(Waters of Mormon)and the LAND of Zarahemla (not city of Zarahemla). We do not know how long it took to get to the city of Zarhemla.