Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Meaning of Scripture – Part I

It is interesting that we can reference a scripture from the Book of Mormon and over time find that several people have different interpretations and meanings they attach to that scripture. In language, there is a concept called “context” that allows a person to interpret what is being said or written regarding an issue by placing the comment in its context, thus, the American Civil War isolates civil war because of its American context. Thus, Captain Moroni’s exploits can easily be separated from the activities of Moroni, Mormon’s son.
    Thus, while language context refers to the linguistic environment in which a word is used within a text, understanding the meaning of vocabulary items using linguistic context may involve syntactic and morphological interpretation of the elements within a text.
Context, then, is “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.” Therefore, when Mormon tells us the width of the narrow neck of land is that distance that a “Nephite could cross in a day-and-a-half,” we can place a context of a Nephite being different than a Lamanite, and most likely a normal, city-dwelling individual, especially in the light that this distance is in connection with an insert Mormon added to the record, no doubt for our understanding. However, ignoring the “context” Sorenson goes on to write a couple of pages about how Mojave Indians could cover 99 miles in a day, or a Raramuri has been known to run 500 miles in six days and to return that distance after a day’s rest, or stating that the record for the greatest distance traveled on foot in twenty‐four hours was 161 miles set in 1973 by Ron Bentley of Great Britain.
    However, the context of Mormon’s sentence is not about a special person or special abilities, or world achievements, but about a common Nephite and the length of time it would take him to travel across the narrow neck of land.
    In addition,what about Nephi’s rather clear indication when sailing his ship into the storm that arose over his brother’s rebellion “a great and terrible tempest and we were driven back upon the waters for the space of three days” (1 Nephi 18:13-14). Does that mean the ship sailed backward, that the ship was turned around in the currents and driven back the way it had come? We get comments from people supporting both views—which leads us to the additional need, besides context, is a knowledge of what is being written about, i.e., knowledge of the subject. Thus, the ship was turned around since ships don’t sail backward.
    In another set of circumstances, take Mormon who writes that he marched his Nephites to Cumorah and they pitched their tent all around the hill, yet theorist Neville Johnson claims they were all in the West Valley for the battle, no doubt taken from Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII to W.W. Phelps. Mormon also tells us that the Land of Promise was aligned north and south, but John L. Sorenson, reading the same information in Alma 22:27-34 claims Mormon had a different compass than we have today, and turns the land of promise to east-west.
    Mormon also describes a narrow neck of land and a narrow passage between the Land Southward and the Land Northward being the only thing that kept the Land Southward from being completely surrounded by water he was talking about a single location, yet Joseph L. Allen among others interprets that to mean that the narrow neck was in one place and the passage in another place providing at least two separate passages into and out of the two lands.
In addition, what about the clear statement of Moroni who wrote “And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms” (Ether 9:19), which clearly states that the two unknown animals, cureloms and cumoms, were more useful to man than the horse and the ass, yet Sorenson tries to pass off these unknown animals as a sloth, tapir, deer, etc., none of which have greater value than a horse or ass, let along as much value to man as an elephant.
    Sometimes one has to wonder how a person reads the scriptural record. What is it about “all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms” that is not clear? What is it about that statement that allows a person to disregard “more valuable” and insert a sloth or tapir, neither of which are particularly useful animals, but certainly not more useful than a horse or donkey, both of which helped develop the American frontier and make early travel of individual riding or horse and carriage transportation or of packing and traveling by foot with a large load possible? Or the elephant, whose power and brute strength as a beast of burden is greater than them all?
    Consequently, to understand scripture, we need to consider both the “context” in which it is written, the structure of its meaning, and have some knowledge of the subject—and then apply to develop our understanding of the scripture. As to the context of the “cureloms and cumoms,” the writer is describing animals the Jaredites possessed and their value; and the knowledge means we have to know something about horses, asses, and elephants.
    In terms of Nephi writing that his ship was “driven forth before the wind,” we have to understand the context, i.e., he is telling us how his ship was motivated, i.e., propelled, and understand the knowledge, what “driven forth before the wind” means in nautical or sailing terms. Thus we find that Nephi’s ship was subject to the winds and the direction in which they blew, since he had no other way of propelling his vessel. So he sailed in the direction the winds blow and currents flowed and no other. Thus, we need to expand our knowledge to include the winds and currents that exist, and more importantly those around the southern shore of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Indonesian Throughflow, brings Pacific Ocean currents through Indonesia to the Indian Ocean. Left: Purple dotted line is Lehi’s course; Red line at far bottom: The Southern Ocean west wind drift or the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, is the largest ocean current in the world, and the only current that flows completely around the globe, and is created by prevailing westerly winds

The Indonesian Throughflow is an ocean current with importance for global climate since it provides a low-latitude pathway for warm, fresh water to move from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean which serves as the upper branch of the global heat conveyor belt. Higher ocean surface topography in the western Pacific than in the Indian Ocean drives upper thermocline water from the North Pacific through the western route of the Makassar Strait to either directly exit through the Lombok Strait or flow eastward into the Banda Sea. Weaker flow of saltier and denser South Pacific water passes over the Lifamatola Passage into the Banda Sea, where these water masses are mixed due to tidal effects, Ekman pumping, and heat and fresh water flux at the ocean surface.
    This means and shows that the winds and currents in the Sea of Arabia at no time flow from west to east, which would keep a sailing ship such as Nephi’s from reaching Indonesia from Arabia, or passing through to the Pacific Ocean. Yet, every Mesoamericanist and many other theorists want to take Nephi from Arabia to Indonesia and out into the Pacific, because it works on looking at a map and finding the shortest route to the pre-determined land of promise.
(See the next post, “The Meaning of Scripture – Part II,” regarding more on the meaning of scripture and how to accurately interpret it)

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