Saturday, February 24, 2018

What Keeps the Idea of Mesoamerica Floating? – Part II

Continuing with the three criteria that Joseph L. Allen uses to support his claim that Mesoamerica is the Land of Promise. In the previous post, we discussed the first two.
We continue here with the third one: 3) The oral traditions, the cultural patterns, and the written history of Mesoamerica contain many interesting parallels with the writings in the Book of Mormon.
    Let’s take “oral traditions.” The last Nephite, Moroni, ended his known writing in 421 A.D. The last Nephites as a people ended in the final battle at Cumorah in 385 A.D. The Spanish arrived in 1519 and by August 13, 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured the emperor Cuauhtemoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire fell in Mexico, and by the mid-1500s, the Maya lands were conquered. So for a period of about 1165 years, Allen is claiming that native tribes occupying the area known today as Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize), kept alive the oral traditions of the Nephites. Since the Lamanites, evidently the precursors of the Aztec (also known as the Mexica), hated everything Nephite, fought for a thousand years to destroy them and finally did, what would cause them to keep any oral traditions of the Nephites alive for over the next thousand years?
    And what of the cultural patterns of the Nephite? What would prompt the Lamanites to keep anything Nephite alive and well for a thousand years? And who and why was it kept alive before the Aztec, who did not come to power until around 1248 A.D.? Even by 1300, the Aztec were still a small tribe—knowing how to cultivate the land, but fierce warriors who were inspired by their war god Hultzlopochtl.
Black rectangle: Land of Promsie; RedCircle: The location of the Aztec Empire; Yellow Line: The division between the Land Northward and the Land Southward. The Aztecs, after wandering for some time, finally settled on an unoccupied island in what is now the area of Mexico City, which as can be seen from the above map, was in the Land Northward of the Mesoamerican Land of Promise model

Through this early era, the Aztecs were vagrants, continually trying to find a territory to occupy, eventually locating themselves on a marshy unoccupied island and establishing Tenochtitlan. What would have prompted the Aztecs, or the various small city states that occupied Aztec land between 1150 and 1248, to keep alive anything that might have survived the previous 750 years? And what would have survived? We cannot say Lamanite “oral traditions” for we have no written indication in the Book of Mormon as to what traditions the Lamanites upheld—only that they lived in tents, wore breechcloths, lived off wild beasts, etc., which is a style that has marked the “Indian” throughout the Western Hemisphere for the past two thousand years, and hated their rival Nephites because they felt the Nephite ancestors had “stolen” the birthright that the Lamanites claimed was theirs?
    The point is, we do not know anything other than what was Nephite, and it is written that the Lamanites would not have maintained anything Nephite. So it would not be possible to find any “oral traditions” in the Lamanite descendants that would have been Nephite.
    The “cultural patterns” certainly would not have been Nephite, and frankly, we have no idea what the Lamanite cultural patterns were, since we have no record of the Lamanites in any manner other than the sketchy comments made regarding them—but nothing about their living style (other than the lazy ones in tents in the wilderness), and that they basically were non-productive, wishing to live off the produce of others. So in all reality, there is no way we could come up with any “cultural patterns” of the Lamanites that would have carried over into Aztec times when the Spanish arrived.
    As for the “written history,” we can readily see in the scriptural record that the Lamanites had little use for writing and were illiterate until around the last century B.C. when Ammon taught them the Nephite language and they used the skill to trade and make money.
However, after the separation following the two hundred years of peace subsequent to the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites, the Lamanites reverted to their original life style and spent the next 150 years warring with the Nephites until they wiped them out completely. During that 150 years, and the following 50 years or more, the Lamanites were embroiled in a war and then a civil war, that would have taken all their time and energy. To believe they would have retained an interest in writing is not realistic and though at some point in the future they took up writing, with pictures in hieroglyphic blocks in an unknown pattern, there is no way this can be stretched to suggest that it was a constant carryover from the Nephite era.
    As to the dissimilarities, it should be noted that the Aztec were polytheistic, like the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, having and worshipping many different gods—they were not monotheistic like the Nephites. The Aztec, different from the Greeks, did not have gods that were related to one another, and there was no hierarchy among them. the Aztecs incorporated the beliefs, ceremonies, and deities of earlier religions. Some of the deities were the patron deities of social, political, or economic groups; some were tribal deities. “Even individual people might have their own special divine patrons, usually the deity associated with the day of their birth” (Brian Fagan, The Aztecs, Freeman & Co., 1984).
    Another of these many differences is that, according to Michael Coe and Rex Koontz (Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, Thames & Hudson, 2008), the Aztec gods, especially Huitzilipochtli demanded human sacrifice, and another, Tialoc, who demanded the sacrifice of small children on mountain tops to bring rain at the end of the dry season (it was said, the more the children cried, the more rain that fell). In fact, it should be pointed out that human sacrifice was found throughout Mesoamerica and that the practice pre-dates the Aztec arrival in the Valley of Mexico. The Aztec, however, carried out human sacrifice at an unprecedented level—for example, in 1487 the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days. There are some who feel that this is an exaggerated figure, but it is evident that the Aztec sacrificed lots of people and that the world did not end during their reign.
    However, the most striking difference between Book of Mormon and the Aztec in religious matters is that the Aztec gods were bisexual, a combination of the male and female. Still, other than myth and legend, not much is known of Mexico’s history before the rise of the various rival city states following the fall of the Toltec empire beginning in 1150 A.D. Certainly there can be no connection between these three areas upon which Allen so blithely bases his Mesoamerican model.
    It is also quite interesting that the concept of working with metal to fashion ornaments and tools did not originate in Mesoamerica but seems to have diffused into the region sometime in the seventh century from the south—coastal Ecuador, or Peru. Metal working seems to have diffused initially into West Mexico through maritime trade. According to Dorothy Hosler, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology: “These maritime traders primarily transmitted technical knowledge, although they sometimes traded artifacts, which were then copied using local materials.” From West Mexico, metalworking diffused to the east and was present in the Valley of Mexico by the eleventh century. By the time the Aztecs rose to power in the Valley of Mexico (the highlands plateau situated in the area now occupied by Mexico City, and is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains) in the fourteenth century, metalworking was well-established among the Mesoamerican civilizations. The technology of alloying tin or lead with copper was unknown in the Valley of Mexico, so the Aztec metalworkers worked with soft, lustrous metals such as copper, gold, and silver. It is interesting to know that none of these metals were found in the Valley of Mexico and had to be imported from distant areas.
    Another dissimilarity was in the fact that the Aztec maintained their empire through hard power: through an efficient and well-led army which was constantly waging war. Aztec culture gloried in warfare and warriors with all Aztec men participating in war: even the nobility, the priests, and the merchants fought in the battles. Through valor on the battlefield, commoners could raise their social status and obtain great wealth. Death in battle was regarded as a glorious sacrifice to the war god Huitzilopochtli, and Aztec warriors were dedicated to die in battle.
    Compare this to the Nephite crede: “Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity” (Alma 48:14-16).
    The point being, that when Allen tries to use the oral traditions, the cultural patterns, and the written history of Mesoamerica to show similarities with the Book of Mormon, he needs to spend a little more time in looking for similarities, rather than dissimilarities. However, one cannot help but wonder what similarities actually exist between Mesoamerica and the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon. Certainly, nothing on the scale of what Allen suggests. So the question is again, what keeps Mesoamerica floating as a viable model for the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon?
    There seems to be very little to float such an idea, let alone defend it with pitiful ideas that cannot survive any scrutiny at all.

Friday, February 23, 2018

What Keeps the Idea of Mesoamerica Floating? – Part I

Despite all the discussion to the contrary by so many people writing about the Land of Promise as described in the Book of Mormon, and despite the more than 44 specific scriptural references and a total of 65 different issues covered in the scriptural record that give us insight into the location of the Nephite Land of Promise, Mesoamerica, which has little to offer along these lines in matching such scriptural criteria continues to be at the forefront of beliefs regarding the site of the Book of Mormon Nephite history. 
    How many times must a location be on the wrong side of the scriptural record to finally fall out of grace with the public view?
    When you get right down to it, and all the issues the scriptural record cites as a criteria for the Land of Promise location, scholars and people continue to write about and support Mesoamerica as though they had never actually read the Book of Mormon in regard to its many geographical comments and descriptions.
    Of course, the first and foremost problem any Mesoamerica model has is the directions of the actual land and those described in the Book of Mormon.
Land of Promise Map of John L. Sorenson in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Map #5). According to he and other Mesoamerican theorists, the Land of Promise map runs east and west; on the other hand, according to Mormon in the scriptural record, the Land of Promise map runs north and south

Mesoamerica, without question, runs basically east and west, while the scriptural record tells us that the Land of Promise runs north and south. In order for Mesoamerica to be right on this (or John L. Sorenson who “invented” Nephite North, a swing of direction almost 90º off from true north and south) then Mormon, the Spirit, and Joseph Smith have to be wrong.
    And then there is Joseph L. Allen, another Mesoamericanist from BYU, who has made more than 130 trips to Mesoamerica, has led paid groups there to show them where he considers the various sites to be as listed in the Book of Mormon, yet despite there being as many as 65 criteria promoted by the scriptural record that we have covered here in these articles many times, Allen sites only three issues of importance as he sees it.
Thus, regarding Mesoamerica, he bases his model and proposal on three major arguments: 1) Scholars have determined that the only place on the American continent where a written language was in use during the time period in which the Book of Mormon history occurred was in Mesoamerica. It is in this area that the calendar system and the written language of the Americas had their origins; 2) Archaeologists have determined that the vast majority of discovered archaeological sites dating to the time period of the Book of Mormon are located in Mesoamerica; 3) The oral traditions, the cultural patterns, and the written history of Mesoamerica contain many interesting parallels with the writings in the Book of Mormon.
    While the scriptural record does show that the Jaredites and Nephites had a written language, though the Lamanites evidently did not have one continually and had to be taught writing by the Nephites at lease on two occasions, and does show that they built vast complexes whose ruins should be visible today, the third category Allen picks is quite questionable—still, in the defense of his position, he fails to cover the scores of references that are far more compelling than such ambiguous ones that he does.
    In a simple response to his three items, consider the first one: a written language. It might be of interest that during the time the Nephites were in the Land of Promise, there were 24 languages spoken in various parts of the world, 22 of which were definitely written languages, and only one of those was Mayan (dated at 292 B.C.) The point being, the fact that there was a written language among the Maya is not unique at the time of the Nephite record. However, the obvious question is, what good is a written language if it does not relate in any way to the two languages known to have been used in the Book of Mormon by the inhabitants of the land there, namely, Hebrew and Reformed Egyptian? There is nothing in any of the claimed writings of Mesoamerica that related to either Hebrew or Egyptian, despite the flippant comment often made by Mesoamericanists that it does. No Eygptologist has ever come forward and claimed that the Mayan language symbols represent any form of Egyptian writing, and none other than LDS Mesoamerican archaeologist and linguists have ever made a connection between Hebrew and Mayan.
    In fact, there is little in Mesoamerica that ties into either Hebrew or Egyptian, even in their artifacts. As an example, the pyramids of Egypt and the pyramids of Mesoamerica have no connection in design, purpose or appearance. Their functionality serve entirely different purposes. Mayans put staircases on the outside leading to the top, the Egyptian pyramids were not to be climbed or have any purposeful use on the exterior. The Mayan pyramids were built in the last century B.C. and totally unrelated to those of Egypt.
    While both the Egyptians and Mayans used symbols to convey meaning in written language, the similarity pretty much stops there. The Egyptian hieroglyphics didn’t have punctuation and were written in long lines of script. They were found on everything from paper, to stone, to jewelry. Reading the glyphs, you go from left to right, and are divided into phonograms, representing sounds, and ideograms, representing ideas or objects. On the other hand, the Mayans’ system used picture blocks to convey meaning, and are very different from Egyptian, being read left to right and a “pair” at a time, then go down to the next line and read the next pair. They form a sort of zig-zag pattern. Thus, if reading, you would read block 1A, then block 1B. Then you go to the next line and read 2A, then block 2B. Mayan glyphs are divided into logograms to express meaning or syllabograms to represent sounds.
    Hebrew, of course, reads right to left. In addition, original American religious ideology and Eastern religions are not related in their origins or ways of delivery. In fact, one has to stretch several points to claim any similarities exist between Mesoamerica and Egypt or the Middle East.
    Thus we can conclude without question that there is no similarity between these writings.
    In addition to all of that, the question that is never raised by Mesoamericanists is why would we expect any examples of Nephite writing to exist? The Lamanites threatened time and again that they would destroy anything Nephite, especially their “sacred” records. Even the Lord showed his concern over the safety of the records in commanding both Mormon and Moroni to hide them in the ground when they were completed so the Lamanites could not find them. In fact, we learn that the Nephites had an enormous amount of records and that eventually they were in the hands of Mormon who hid them in the Hill Cumorah. Later, when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery went to the hill Cumorah in New York to return the plates to Moroni, they were given a vision of a room where these plates were then stored—so many, Joseph told Brigham Young. who said they would fill several wagon loads.
    Consequently, we can suggest that the first of Allen’s three important criteria pointing to Mesoamerica really does not rise to the level since there is no connection between Hebrew and/or Egyptian with the Mayan language in any way.
Top Left: Sumerian; Top Right: Akkadian; Bottom Left: Elamite; and Bottom Right: Eblaite

Thus, Maya, like other ancient languages, was simply a written language like the world’s oldest written languages: Sumerian, Akkadian, Eblaite, and Elamite—all unrelated, but each a written language.
    Now, for the second of his list of three: “Archaeologists have determined that the vast majority of discovered archaeological sites dating to the time period of the Book of Mormon are located in Mesoamerica.”
First of all, this is simply not true. There are far more archaeological sites in Andean Peru (Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile) than in Mesoamerica. Secondly, the stone structures found in Mesoamerica all date to the last century B.C., not the first half of the Nephite occupation, let alone to the Jaredite period. In archaeology, it is important to separate the archaeologists’ “belief” in diffusion, i.e., if an archaeologist finds a pottery sherd, then they date backward into pre-pottery period, to the hunter-gatherer, etc., since archaeology is based strictly upon the development of stages over time. It is simply not prepared to deal with the Nephites, Mulekites, or Jaredites before their arriving on the scene with an already developed and advanced society.
    After all, the Jaredites did not begin in the Western Hemisphere as a group of people who had been cave dwellers, moving through hunting-gathering, herding, agriculture, pre-pottery, pottery, etc. They came from a society in the East that had built several ziggurats of great height. They were an advanced society, with hundreds of years of advancement behind them when they arrived in the promised land.
(See the next post, “What Keeps Mesoamerica Floating? – Part II,” for more information regarding the belief that Mesoamerica was the Land of Promise and showing how that is not the case according to the scriptural record)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

For a Better Understanding – Part II

Continuing from the previous post regarding how words are used in descriptions in the Book of Mormon Land of Promise settings and what they actually mean. As an example, in the previous post we mentioned the “small” or “narrow neck of land,” as Mormon and Moroni describe the land connection between the Land Northward and then Land Southward.
    Mormon states this area as: “there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines “neck” as “A long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury.” Now this narrow tract of land between Boston and Roxbury has a definitive appearance as “long and narrow,” and until the landfill projects in the mid-to late 1800s, was referred to as “Boston Neck.”
Top Left: Early drawing of Boston and Roxbury and the narrow neck of land in between; Top Right: A more modern map, showing (dark green) the land area as it was in 1820, and the (light green) the land that was filled and added in the 20th century; Bottom Left: A 1775 drawing of Boston by the British Army’s tactical evaluation of Boston; Bottom Right: As it appears today with most of the original bay now land fill and part of Boston proper. Note: how narrow and small the neck was between Boston and Roxbury when Noah Webster used it as an example of a “narrow neck of land” 

When Mormon says: “there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward,” he describes for us the size of the narrow neck, using the word “small.” In 1828, that word meant: “Slender; thin; fine,” “minute, slender,” “Little,” and “short, containing little.” Later in his narrative, Mormon uses the term “by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5). Later, his son, Moroni, when abridging the Jaredite record, uses the same term “by the narrow neck of land” (Ether 10:20).
    Now “narrow” in 1828 was defined as “of little breadth, not wide or broad; having little distance from side to side,” “of little extent, very limited,” “within a small distance,” “as in a narrow passage through a mountain.”
    When we put these explanations together with Mormon and Moroni’s descriptions, we can only come up with a very small, narrow piece of land that connects to larger land masses or bodies of land.
    In light of this, John L. Sorenson states in his book (p29): “the only “narrow neck” potentially acceptable in terms of the Book of Mormon requirement is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico." First of all, Tehuantepec does not meet the requirements--consider that this area is described today as "The isthmus is a broad, plateaulike ridge," with the key word here used being "broad." Now "broad" does not fit the description of either "small" or "narrow." It also might be understood that this area, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, is 16,440 square miles--hardly a "small" neck of land. 
    Sorenson then goes on to write: "All LDS students of Book of Mormon geography who have worked systematically with the problem in recent decades have come to agree on this.” However, we here at are students of Book of Mormon geography and have been for the past more than three decades, and do not agree with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, nor do any of the people we know. Third, any cursory view of the isthmus Sorenson discusses could not possibly be considered a “neck,” i.e., “a long, narrow tract of land” as defined in Joseph Smith’s day regarding the English language.
Sorenson’s map of the Nephite Land of Promise, with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the center, showing a narrowing of the land, but not a “long, narrow neck” or a “small neck” 

It simply cannot be shown from this map, designated as Map #5 found on page 37 of his book, that his narrow neck meets any description found in the scriptural record. The problem is compounded when Sorenson’s map runs east-west and not north-south as Mormon describes in Alma 22:27-34. Thus. it is especially difficult to claim when we consider that this “narrow neck” is 125 miles wide (according to Sorenson) or 144 miles wide (according to the Mexican government), and considering that a railroad built to cover this distance in 1907 covered 192 miles. None of this hardly fits Mormon’s description of being able to walk across it in a day and a half, even though Sorenson states that it is: “considered by some LDS scholars to be "just within the range of plausibility" for the "day and a half's journey for a Nephite" indicated by the text of the Book of Mormon.
    What is plausible about walking 125 miles or more in 18 hours? That means one would have to walk without stopping covering 7 miles per hour for 12 hours, rest at night, and cover 6 more hours the next day, when physically fit people in training cover about 4.5 miles per hour for only about 4 hours at a time before resting, and the average individual covers about 2 to 3 miles per hour for less than three hours straight. Who on earth is Sorenson kidding? The best way to judge for yourself is to go out one day and see how far you can walk before you simply wear down—then determine how many miles that was per hour. If you can do 3.5 miles per hour for 4 hours, you would be doing extremely well—then consider that pace for 12 straight hours, then six hours the next morning.
    In addition, there is the problem with the narrow pass or passage, which must be within the narrow neck of land since the narrow neck is the only land described as laying between the Land Northward and the Land Southward, and the narrow pass leads between those two lands (Alma 50:34; 52:9; Mormon 2:29; 3:5). Then, too, the narrow neck is also the only piece of land that kept the entire Land Southward from being surrounded by water (Alma 22:32). Again, not so in Sorenson's narrow neck and Land Southward of Mesoamerica.
    W. Vincent Coon, author of Choice Above All Other Lands, and advocate, along with Phyllis Olive, Duane Aston and Delbert Curtis, of the Great Lakes area, notes that the entrance to the narrow pass, near the Bountiful border, was such a localized feature that scripture describes it as a "point," like a “point of land.” He also states that in addition to fortifying the land Bountiful this critical "point", needed to be secured,” and references Alma 52:9.
    However, that scripture does not refer to a specific point of land, like a “point” being a river bend, or cliff, or specific or exact location, but rather refers to an overall area, i.e., the narrow pass itself, not a point in or around the pass. Mormon writes: “And he also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side” (Alma 52:9, emphasis added).
    Point: “Place near, next or contiguous to,” “exact place,” “The place to which anything is directed,” “To direct towards a place,” “directing attention to.”
    There is no reason to believe that Mormon was referring to a specific, single point, but to a general aspect of an area, i.e., an area or place to be secured. In this sense, the statement interpreted is that this area, i.e., the narrow pass, needed to be secured—there is no specific implication that a given place within that general description needed to be secured, but the area in total, i.e., the pass, to keep the enemy from getting beyond the narrow neck and into the Land Northward, where they would he difficult to eradicate, since guarding the narrow pass could keep anyone from following them and get through into the Land Northward.
    John L. Sorenson suggests that the direction of “West” was known and understood by the ancient Hebrews through an understanding of the location of the Mediterranean Sea, which was to their “West.” He specifically claims that this is explained by understanding the manner in which ancient cultures label directions. He points out that the Israelites in Palestine defined their directions as though they were standing with their backs to the sea. The direction "sea" (seaward) denoted west while the direction "fore" (inland) denoted east. The direction south was denoted by "right hand" and the direction north by "left hand."
    Frankly, this is without merit. As we have reported before, the ancient Hebrews had an infinity to “east.” They would have always known where the “east” was since that was the direction of God—their religion, beliefs, festivals, prayers, temples etc., were all oriented to the “East.” Even their neighboring Arabs were oriented to the “East,” bowing toward the “East” or “Mecca” five times a day. To say that the Hebrews put their backs to the sea to know where “east” was located is not in keeping with the depth of understanding of directions of the Hebrews. It just so happened, that when they faced “East” while in what is now Israel, that placed the Mediterranean Sea to their backs, and thus “West” was behind them. But the cardinal direction of “East” was before them and they always knew in which direction “East” lay. “West” was incidental, for that was the direction of man and being away from God. Sorenson uses a known factor and reverses its importance to support his point which no Hebrew would have felt, i.e., “West” was more known and important than “East.”
    No Hebrew, when away from his home would be thinking, which way is the sea and then figure that would be “West” of him—for the ocean is not always to the “West,” which is the first thing a traveler learns when heading to or landing in, unknown areas. Many years ago, when I was traveling a lot, directions were important to immediately know when flying into a different or unknown area. As an example, my first trip to St. Louis was for a speaking engagement in East St. Louis. The first thing I wanted to know after renting a car after the plane landed was which way was “East” since that was where I was headed. When flying into Palm Springs, I wanted to know which direction was South since I was headed to Palm Desert for a meeting; and when flying into Santa Barbara, the first thing I wanted to know was which way was “West” since that was where the beach and surf was located (by the way, since Santa Barbara has a southern shore that cuts inland, placing the "beach" to the south, it is confusing until you learn that tidbit of information.
While the ocean can be reached heading west (the way California coastal cities tend to be) , it is difficult because of few access roads. Going to the beach in Santa Barbara means heading south since that is how the city and the streets are laid out
    The point is, to have a better understanding of the meaning of Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni’s words, and Joseph Smith’s translation, it is important that we understand the words they use and their meanings—particularly at the time they used them, as opposed to what they might mean today. It is not that a theorist can’t find the means to justify his own thinking, no matter what that thinking might be; however, to evaluate what that theorist is purporting, we have to understand the background of the period and the meaning of the words the people used to describe what the theorist is claiming. Mormon, specifically, and Moroni as well, were abridging overall records written long before their time and they know they were writing to a future people, whose understanding of words would probably be very different than their own. So they were careful to give us information that we could use in our day, based on a knowledge of them and their day. We don’t need people with letters after their names to understand what Mormon wrote, but it helps to have a little understanding of words and time frames if we are going to fully understand what they were trying to tell us.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

For a Better Understanding – Part I

Frequently, many of the questions or comments directed our way, as well as several criticisms of the scriptural record by self-proclaimed “experts” on the matter, and even well-meaning members who think they have an understanding of the general topography of Mormon’s numerous descriptions, often get their bearings out of sync with the meaning of the words the ancient prophet used. So for a better understanding, we are going to take a look at a few areas that seem to give some people a lot of difficulty in understanding.
The Island of South America before the Andes rose, tilting the central continent which came up with the mountains and surfaced

• Island: The Land of Promise was an island (2 Nephi 10:20), at least until the crucifixion around 34 A.D. The word “isle” is used by Joseph Smith in his translation as the word “island” in 1829 was considered “an absurd compound of isle and land, that is, land-in-water land, or ieland-land. Webster claimed: “There is no such legitimate word in English, and it is found only in books. The genuine word always used in discourse is our native word, isle.” Some critics of the word “isle” claim that in Hebrew it meant “coast, dry land, country, isle, island,” however, there is no such word in Hebrew. The Hebrew word אָוָה does not mean “isle,” and has no English translation. In the Old Testament, this Hebrew word, phonetically spelled “ee” meant coastlands. Since they had no other word to describe “isle” or “island,” this word was sometimes translated to mean “isle” or “island,” but the two were not confused. That is, if the sentence was “Cyprus is an island,” that word would have been translated as “island” because the land was known to be an island; however, if it was a sentence dealing with a distant, basically unknown land, it would have been translated as “country,” or if known to be along a coast, as “coastland.”
    As an example, in the King James Version of Genesis 10:5, written as מֵ֠אֵלֶּה נִפְרְד֞וּ אִיֵּ֤י הַגּוֹיִם֙ בְּאַרְצֹתָ֔ם, the early English translation was “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations,” which is obviously an incorrect rendering of the word “isle.” Today, with a better knowledge of ancient Hebrew, it is rendered “From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language,” or “Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity,” or “From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations,” or “From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.”
    In fact, the King James Version 2000 Bible renders this “By these were the coastlands of the nations divided in their lands; everyone after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.” In addition, all places beyond the sea from Judea are called isles, Jeramiah 25:22; however, more accurately that should have been translated as “all placed beyond the sea from Judea are called nations” or “countries” or “lands,” but “coastlands,” would be the most accurate to the meaning of lands bordering on the seas beyond Judeah.
• Land of Promise: The Book of Mormon refers to two lands within the overall Land of Promise, a Land Northward and a Land Southward (Alma 22:32), which was separated by a small neck of land (Alma 22:32) in between.
• Land Southward: This lower land, where most of the Book of Mormon takes place from 1 Nephi 19 through Alma, was nearly surrounded by water (Alma 22:32), except for the small neck of land. This entire Land Southward occupied by the Nephites was called Zarahemla (Ether 9:31), though it was subdivided into numerous lands, including Bountiful (Alma 22:29). That portion of the Land Southward occupied by the Lamanites was called the Land of Nephi; though in the Book of Lehi, making up the 116 translated pages that were lost by Martin Harris, it was also called the Land of Lehi, specifically that area where they first landed.
• Land Northward: This upper land was the home of the Jaredites, who never occupied the Land Southward, and only entered it to hunt (Ether 10:19,21). It is not mentioned as a general knowledge of the Nephites until 73 B.C. (Alma 46:22), and indicated that the Land Northward was controlled by the Nephites in 72 B.C. (Alma 50:11). Apparently, the Land Northward was completely surrounded by water, both as an island (2 Nephi 10:20) at least until the crucifixion, and with seas in every direction (Helaman 3:8), and verified as the land bordering the sea to the east and west (Helaman 11:20). While some claim Jacob’s word “isle” could mean coast, border, region or habitable land, the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language states it as “a tract of land surrounded by water, or a detached portion of land embosomed in the ocean” which would have been the meaning Joseph Smith would have understood. We do know that Jacob tells us that this “isle” was in the midst of the sea over which they traveled (2 Nephi 10:20).
• Narrow/Small Neck: This small or narrow neck of land was located between the Land Southward and the Land Northward (Alma 22:32), and was near where Hagoth had his shipyard (Alma 63:5), and where the Jaredites built a city (Ether 10:20). This narrow neck was the only land between the land Southward and the Land Northward (Alma 22:32). Within the narrow neck was a narrow pass or passage (Alma 50:34).
• Narrow Pass/Passage: The narrow pass or passage within the narrow neck of land, was the only way to get from the Land Southward into the Land Northward (Alma 50:34; 52:9) and visa versa (Mormon 2:29; 3:5). This pass ran by the sea on either side to the east and to the west (Alma 50:34).
• Seas: This word in the Book of Mormon should always be translated as “ocean” as the correct English word. It should be kept in mind that in ancient Hebrew (as today) there was no word for ocean. As an example, the largest body of water that the first readers of the Hebrew Bible knew was the Mediterranean. They called it הים הגדול – the Great Sea (the largest body of water that the first readers of the Hebrew Bible knew was the Mediterranean (hayyam haggddol). Over the years that word for sea remained in the vocabulary, and eventually was used for any body of water of sufficient size. Thus there’s no word in Biblical Hebrew—or Modern Hebrew, for that matter—for ocean. Instead, they use the same word that English borrowed from Ancient Greek: אוקיינוס. For example, האוקיינוס השקט הוא האוקיינוס הגדול ביותר בעולס. which means “The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world.” In fact, the words אוקיינוס and and יָם can both be translated as “ocean.” However, ocean is used in a different way in Hebrew. As an example, the word צוּלָה in Hebrew means “sea,” but more accurately should be translated as “deep,” meaning the depth of the ocean or sea. It is pronounced “tsulah” (tsoo-law) and is often simply translated as “sea” in the Bible. However, it is correctly translated in Isaiah 44:27 “that saith in the deep, be dry.”
    We have to keep in mind that other languages do not have the numerous words for the same thing that English often does because English is a conglomeration of several languages that have been incorporated into the lexicon over the past three hundred years of continual absorbing other cultures into our own. As an example, in English, we have a separate word for almost every conceivable type of body of water, i.e., ocean, sea, main, brine, oceanic, deep, lake, bay, lagoon, pond, puddle, inlet, harbor, gulf, blue, seas, mar, surge, swell, tide, billows, breakers, brink, bite, nautical, whitecap, coastal, breakwater, pool, expanse, basin, fjord, seaside, bayou, marsh, shallows, shoal, seaboard, seacoast, littoral, inshore, offshore, overseas, tsunami, great waters, etc. This is not the case in most other languages, especially in Hebrew.
    At the same time, the Hebrew word for “sea” is “yam,” also written “yaw,” and pronounced “yawm” (almost like yawn, but with a “w” instead of an “n”), and comes from a root word meaning “to roar.” It is this word that is found throughout the Old Testament, and is used 396 times—25 times alone in Genesis and Exodus, of which all are translated as “sea” or “seas” except for twice, which are translated as “west” (Genesis 9:2) and “westward” (Genesis 13:14). Anciently, the word “yam” was used to describe almost any body of water, including oceans (Atlantic Ocean), seas (the Seven Seas), and lakes—but never “river,” since that word is “nahar” נָהָר, (pronounced naw-hawr), which is used 119 times in the Old Testament, and almost always translated as “river” though occasionally translated as “stream” (Exodus 7:19, 8:5) or “flood” (Joshua 24:3,15).
Left: The Land of Promise runs north and south according to the scriptural record; Right: The major areas of the Land of Promise

• Directions: There is absolute certainty from Mormon’s descriptions that the entire Land of Promise runs north and south as stated by Mormon in Alma 22:27-34, as well as elsewhere. That is, running from the far south, you have 1) the Land of First Inheritance; 2) the Land of Lehi; 3) the Land of Nephi; 4) the Narrow Strip of Land; 5) the Land of Zarahemla; 6) the Unnamed Land; 7) the Land of Bountiful; 8) the Narrow Neck of Land and Narrow Pass; 9) the Land of Desolation; 10) Land of Cumorah; and 11) the Land of Many Waters.
• Peninsula: Never mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
• Isthmus: Never mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
    Thus, we need to be careful when we suggest that a Hebrew word can be translated to mean something that fits our purpose, but in reality is not the normal or even seldomly translated as such. “Yam,” as an example, is not the word for “West” as Sorenson claims, but the words “maarab” or “maarabah” are, i.e., מַעֲרָב is the correct word to use for “West,” which comes from the root word “eneb,” and in the Old Testament is translated as “west,” “westside,” and “westward.” When Sorenson tries to use such a word for “West” to concur with his viewpoint, it would be like saying in English, “If I am facing east, then west would be behind me, that is, to my back,” but we would rarely suggest that “back” meant “west,” other than in a certain context.
(See the next post, “For a Better Understanding – Part II,” for further information on certain areas of the Land of Promise as they are used in the scriptural record and their meaning)

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

In a Language That Cannot be Read

In all the books, articles, published scholarly reports and studies regarding the location of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise there seems to be one glaring area all authors miss or ignore—and that is the involvement of the Spirit in the translation.
Mormon, who wrote his own record and abridging the majority written by others, then hid up the records so the Lamanites could not find them and destroy them, seems to make it quite clear that in his involvement of abridging most of the record of five prophets, from Mosiah through Fourth Nephi, he writes: “And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (Words of Mormon 1:7).
    Also, he adds, “and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the Spirit which had testified of things to come” (Mormon 3:16); concluding the thought with, “And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all” (Mormon 3:20).
    When Nephi wrote his record, he made it quite clear that his “soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3), and when he turned over the record to his brother, Jacob, he commanded him to write only that which was sacred upon them.
    As Jacob said, “And he gave me, Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I consider to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi…And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ's sake, and for the sake of our people” (Jacob 1:2, 4).
    In fact, so closely was the Spirit involved in the writing of the record, that from time to time the prophets were restrained (prevented) from saying or writing certain things, such as in “And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance” (2 Nephi 32:7); or restrained (controlled/directed) to say other things. As he said, “for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak” (1 Nephi 7:15); and “now, behold, my brethren, I have spoken unto you, according as the Spirit hath constrained me;” (2 Nephi 28:1).
    Nephi, like other prophets of the scriptural record, was often in direct contact with the Spirit. As he said, “And the Spirit said unto me again…” (1 Nephi 4:11) and also, “And it came to pass that the spirit said unto me again…” (1 Nephi 4:12), and “Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit…” (1 Nephi 4:18). Another time, Nephi wrote: “And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:2).
    In fact, Nephi makes it quite clear that in speaking with the Spirit that it was a distinct process, more than just a whispering in his mind. He wrote: “And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another” (1 Nephi 11:11).
    Nephi also makes it quite clear that his conversations with the Spirit were a visual process of interacting as one man interacts with another, and when the Spirit left him, he knew it. “And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence” (1 Nephi 11:12).
    The point is, that when these great men of the Book of Mormon wrote, they were often guided by the Spirit to say certain things, and even restrained or kept from saying more than the Lord wanted said. Yet, as closely as the Spirit was in the involvement of their writing, today’s theorists, like Sorenson and the rest, would have us believe that what they wrote is not clear, and does not mean what they said it meant, but something entirely different.
Mormon, as an example, makes it quite clear that the Land of Zarahemla was north of the Land of Nephi, separated by a narrow strip of land that ran from the Sea East to the Sea West (Alma 22:27), and the Land of Bountiful was north of that (Alma 22:29), and that the Land of Desolation was north of that (Alma 22:30), and that Desolation was north of Bountiful (Alma 22:31), and that it was only a day and a half journey for a Nephite from east to west across the narrow neck of land between these two lands (Alma 22:32), and that the Land Southward was completely surrounded by water except for this narrow neck of land (Alma 22:32).
    Yet, Sorenson and other Mesoamerican theorists all want to tell us that the scriptural record doesn’t mean north and south as we know them, but completely different, with their Land of Promise in Mesoamerica actually running east and west.
    It is not that the land direction is critically important, but that Mesoamerican theorists claim the Spirit’s involvement and the message the Prophets left us in the record is not accurate. In fact, Sorenson and other theorists would like us to believe that they know more of what Nephi and Mormon and the other prophets meant than we can glean from reading their “plain and simple” language they used so we could understand them.
    It is interesting that when the Lord instructed the Brother of Jared to write down all that he had been shown, and added: “And behold, when ye shall come unto me, ye shall write them and shall seal them up, that no one can interpret them; for ye shall write them in a language that they cannot be read” (Ether 3:22).
    Then, through the process we have described several times, the Spirit worked through Joseph Smith in the translation of all the record that could not be read by anyone except through the power of the Lord as Joseph was directed. Yet, these theorists still think they are the only ones that know exactly what was meant and that the rest of us are all wrong in accepting what is written at face value.
    As one LDS scholar has written: “Much of it is beyond the competence of any one person,” and Hugh Nibley said, “I think by now it should be apparent that the Book of Mormon account is not as simple as it seems,” adding without scriptural support and in opposition to the promises the Lord made to Lehi, “Ether alone introduces a formidable list of possibilities, few of which have ever been seriously considered. Foremost among these is the probability, amounting almost to certainty, that numerous Jaredites survived in out-of-the-way places of the north to perpetuate a strong Asiatic element in the culture and blood of the American Indian.”
    Yet, isn’t it interesting that as much as the Spirit was involved in the writing of the record, and in the translating of the record, we have a myriad of academicians and scholarly writers who keep telling us over and over again that the record is not correct if we read it the way it was written, but that we have to understand that mistakes were made in the writing and translation and/or that we are reading it incorrectly because it really means something other than what it so plainly says.
    As an example, in trying to tell us we do not understand this simple language, Sorenson writes: “Many Latter-day Saints will have to change their thinking markedly to adjust to the dimensions we have discussed,” and also, “the reader had to have a good background of mythology and folklore to comprehend the texts,” and speaking of the great difference Nephi and others claim existed between the Nephites and the Lamanites, Sorenson states; “We may doubt that it was as dramatic as the Nephite recordkeepers made out.” 
    Perhaps these scholars would do well to keep in mind the method of translation and who was involved before they start claiming what is written is not exactly correct and that we need to look beyond what is written to better understand the correct meaning of the events. Perhaps these scholars need to become better acquainted with the workings of translation, the involvement of the Spirit and the fact that the record is correct as written, and stop trying to change things so that the writing better supports their personal pre-determined locations for the Land of Promise, rather than what Mormon so clearly tells us.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is There a Difference?

Since the River Sidon is a landmark of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise that many theorists write about, perhaps we should clarify a point of discussion before getting further into the subject, and that is the misunderstanding between the descriptive words used at times to describe a river, such as head of a river or headwaters of a river or the confluence or tributary of a river, as used by theorists to try and describe the river Sidon in a way that it matches their belief and location of the Nephite river. 
     First of all, it should be noted that Mormon used only one description to describe the river and we need to understand what the word means as opposed to other words bandied about by theorists. Mormon tells us: “…by the head of the river Sidon…” (Alma 22:27)
    So what is the “head” of a river?
    A head is: “The source or headwaters of a river or stream is the furthest place in that river or stream from its estuary or confluence with another river, as measured along the course of the river.” In 1828, the word “head” when associated with a river, meant “its source,” as in “to originate,” “to spring.”
The yellow circle on each photo shows the area of the estuary of that river—all of these rivers (yellow arrow) flow into the sea through the circled estuary

An estuary is “a partially enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea.”
    A confluence is “the point where a tributary joins a larger river, called the main stem, or where two streams meet to become the source of a river of a new name, such as the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania creating the Ohio River. A confluence is also known as a conflux.”
The confluence of a river—the main river (the one that contains its name before and after the joining) is joined or fed by a secondary river—where they join is called the confluence

A tributary is: “is a stream or river that flows into a larger stream or main stem (or parent) river or a lake. A tributary does not flow directly into a sea or ocean. It is also known as an affluent.
    A stem is: “the main river. The Mississippi is a main river, called the stem of the water system that flows from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico with several tributaries joining it along the way.”
This puddle is the source of the Yellow River in China, called “All of China’s sorrow arises from this puddle”

A source or head is: “the headwaters of a river. That is, where the river or stream begins. It is the furthest place in that river or stream from its estuary or confluence with another river, as measured along the course of the river.” In fact, the “U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) states that a river's "length may be considered to be the distance from the mouth to the most distant headwater source (irrespective of stream name), or from the mouth to the headwaters of the stream commonly identified as the source stream.” It should also be noted that in 1828, the word “headwaters” was not used and is not listed in the dictionary—the word “head” was the preferred word at that time.
    A watershed is: “the area of land that contains a common set of streams and rivers that all drain into a single larger body of water, such as a larger river, a lake or an ocean. For example, the Mississippi River watershed is an enormous watershed.”
Now, having looked at head and headwaters as both meaning the “source” of a river or stream, we need to understand arguments about the use of “head” by Mormon and “headwaters” by a theorist, when both referring to the “source” or beginning of a river or stream, would be correct.
    Since one theorist wrote: “Since Sorenson always writes ‘headwaters’ instead of ‘head,’ so okay. Let's say, for sake of argument, that the "head of Sidon" is the same as "headwaters of Sidon." Now let's look at how the term was used in Joseph's Smith's day,” we should recognize we are being set up with a strawman argument, since both words are used today to mean the same thing, and in Joseph Smith’s day, the word “headwaters” was not a word in use, having been in use in 1530s as a word meaning “head of a stream” but then fell into disuse until 1792 when found in descriptions of Kentucky. Assuming the modern word is a re-formation of the original, the word headwater would mean “origin of a river,” as in “head,” a noun meaning “origin of a river” plus “water” also as a noun.
    Evidently, when Noah Webster compiled his 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, he felt this was not a word in use in New England, which can only be attributed to the meaning of “the beginning and upper part of a stream, usually used in plural.”
The head or source of the River is in the foothills as shown, the river flows toward the viewer, and all these various branches of water are called “headstreams,” i.e., streams that lead to the headwaters or source

We should note that the word “headwaters” is not to be confused with the term “headstreams” which is described as “the set of streams that feed into the river’s beginning,” and can either be used for a headwater stream, i.e., one of the streams that leads into a headwaters or is the headwater stream,” i.e., the source or one of the sources of a river. However, for those who like to confuse matters by claiming the term “headwaters” was used in 1828 America to mean what “headstreams” meant in England, should consider that neither word “headwaters” or “headstreams” were words used in common usage in the United States in 1829 when Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.
    Webster goes on to write: “We call the water of a spring, where it issues from the earth, the source of the stream or rivulet proceeding from it. We say also that springs have their sources in subterranean ponds, lakes or collections of water. We say also that a large river has its source in a lake. For example, the St. Lawrence has its source in the great lakes of America.”
    Thus, Webster’s 1828 definitions provide us with “head of a river” meaning with the definition of “source of a river” as “The principal source of a stream; as the head of the Nile,” “to originate,” “to have its source, as a river,“ “the part most remote from the mouth or opening into the sea.” Thus the word Mormon used was correctly translated by Joseph Smith as “head.” In this sense, then, the “head of Sidon” is the same as saying the “source of Sidon,” since the word “source,” meant in 1828: “The spring or fountain from which a stream of water proceeds,”
As already mentioned, in 1828, the word “head” when associated with a river meant the same thing as “headwaters” or more accurately, the “source” or beginning of a river. Thus, when Mormon wrote: “Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah” (Alma 56:25), which tells us that the Lamanites did not dare “march down against the city of Zarahemla” or neither did they dare “cross the head of Sidon” and head over toward the city of Nephihah. At this point, that is at the head or source of the Sidon, it was easily marched across by an army or military force, its beginning small and in its beginning stages, possibly little more than a small stream.
    Consequently, it is correct to use the terms “head of a river” “headwaters of a river” and “source of a river” as all meaning the same thing. It is a shame that theorists, trying to prove their personal views, will so misconstruct the meaning of language known in 1829 New England in order to try and substantiate their models. We need to keep in mind the meaning of the language Joseph Smith knew and the meaning of the language used by Mormon in his abridgement before we start making such erroneous claims.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Orson Pratt’s Message of Lehi’s Travels to the Land of Promise – Part IV

Continuing from the previous post regarding the beliefs and attitudes of Church leaders in the 19th century and prior to the introduction of archaeology into BYU. 
    It is also interesting that though “the original stated two-fold assignment of the Archaeology Department at BYU was: (1) to serve BYU and the Latter-day Saint church as a center for research and publication on the archaeology of the Scriptures, i.e. the Bible, the Pearl of Great Price, and especially the Book of Mormon; and (2) to offer academic instruction leading to the bachelor’s and the master’s degrees in archaeology. This dual assign­ment continues in force to the present day.”
No known work from BYU has been conducted in Andean Peru or anywhere else in South America, and very little, if any, south of Mesoamerica

Unfortunately, from the very beginning almost every ounce of archaeology done regarding the Book of Mormon by the BYU Archaeology Department has been centered, conducted and performed in Mesoamerica, and rather than having any semblance of an open mind regarding other possible areas, any attempt to suggest another area, especially in written format, i.e., books, articles, papers, etc., is met with general criticism and verbal attacks under the auspice of “critiquing” another’s work.
    If BYU had ever opened up any additional arm of research regarding another landing and dwelling site for the Book of Mormon, there would be no cause for comment here, but when a department begins with a singular point of view and maintains that for 80 years, one can hardly suggest that it is academically sound.
    Continuing with the article covering the talk by Orson Pratt given in the tabernacle in 1872 and found in the Journal of Discourses (Vol 14): “a branch of Israel who came out from the city of Jerusalem five hundred and eighty-nine years before the coming of Christ, in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time he was taken captive, and the Jews were carried into Babylon. One of the sons of Zedekiah, King of Judah, being commanded of the Lord, left the city of Jerusalem with a colony, who were brought forth and landed north of the Isthmus and journeyed southward, passed through the narrow neck of land which we term the Isthmus into the United States of Columbia, and formed their settlements there, and when discovered by the Nephites had dwelt there near four hundred years.
    “The Nephites and the people of Zarahemla united together and formed a great and powerful nation, occupying the lands south of the Isthmus [of Panama] for many hundreds of miles, and also from the Pacific on the west to the Atlantic on the east, spreading all through the country. The Lamanites about this time also occupied South America, the middle or southern portion of it, and were exceedingly numerous. I will here observe, that from the time the Nephites consolidated themselves with the people of Zarahemla, they had numerous wars with the great nation of the Lamanites, in which many hundreds of thousands perished on both sides.
    “About fifty-four years before Christ, five thousand four hundred men, with their wives and children, left the northern portion of South America, passed through the Isthmus, came into this north country, the north wing of the continent, and began to settle up North America, and from that time a great emigration of the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla took place year by year. I will here mention one thing which perhaps may be startling to individuals who are unacquainted with the antiquities of this country, that the Nephite nation about this time commenced the art of shipbuilding. They built many ships, launching them forth into the western ocean. 
    The place of the building of these ships was near the Isthmus of Darien. Scores of thousands entered these ships year after year, and passed along on the western coast northward, and began to settle the western coast on the north wing of the continent. I will observe another thing—when they came into North America they found all this country covered with the ruins of cities, villages and towns, the inhabitants having been cut off and destroyed. The timber had also been cut off, insomuch that in many places there was no timber by which they could construct their dwellings, hence the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla had to build their houses of cement, others had to dwell in tents. 
    Vast quantities of timber were shipped from the south to the people on the western coast, enabling them to build many towns, cities and villages. The latter also planted groves of timber, and in process of time they raised great quantities, which furnished them with sufficient for building and other purposes.
    “Forty-five years before the coming of Christ there was a vast colony came out of South America, and it is said in the Book of Mormon that they went an exceeding great distance, until they came to large bodies of water and to many rivers and fountains, and when we come to read more fully the description of the country it answers to the great Mississippi Valley.”
The Darien Gap is considered for all intense and purposes to be impassable, even today. Only a handful of adventurers, with special equipment, have ever made it through the Gap in modern times
As we have reported here many times, the idea of a large number of people, let alone many thousands, including women and children, moving up into Central America through the Darien Gap from Colombia in South America is not only unlikely, it would have been patently impossible at such a time in such an age. Even today such a trek would be unthinkable. In 1873, Orson Pratt may have looked at a map and thought that such a movement was feasible without knowing anything about the landform and topography. Today, we know that no one from South America came into Central America overland in such a manner. All those who tried in history, including the Spanish invasions and colonization met with failure.
    To speak of the Mississippi Valley in light of the Nephites not being able to travel to the north through the Darien Gap precludes any discussion of the Nephites of the scriptural record being in North America. Could they have gotten there another way? Of course, for in Alma we find that a man named Hagoth built many exceedingly large ships and numerous Nephites traveled northward in them—but they were not the ones that traveled into the Land Northward through the narrow neck of land that both Alma and Helaman later describe.
    What is of interest here is that Lehi was said to have landed around the 30º South Latitude by both Frederick G. Williams and also Orson Pratt. It is also of interest that the winds and ocean currents would not only have allowed such a voyage, but would have been the singular most likely course a ship in 600 B.C. “driven forth before the wind” as Nephi describes his vessel, would have and could have taken.
    It was the use of such great distances that was not warranted by a careful reading of the scriptural record that led to the development of the idea of the Limited Geography Theory that Jakeman brought to BYU Archaeology regarding the lands and circumstances surrounding the Land of Promise. And that people like Hugh Nibley and later, John L. Sorenson championed. But it was their problem of having the right (Limited Geography) idea but the wrong application (Mesoamerica). Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, what should have been done was refigure how far northward the Nephites moved step-by-step.
    As an example, from the area of First Landing at La Serena, Chile (Coquimbo Bay), to Cuzco Valley in Peru, is about 1500 miles. While that would be quite a trek, it would not have been nearly as long as Lehi’s 2100 mile trek from Jerusalem to Salalah in Oman, where Nephi built his ship. Again, while that is a long distance, it does not make up the bulk of the Land of Promise as written about in the scriptural record. Stated differently, that distance of some 1500 miles, to our knowledge, was never again mentioned in the scriptural record.
    From the time Nephi settled at the end of that 1500 miles in the area they called (the land of) Nephi, and built the city of Nephi, the Land of Promise encompasses that location (northward) to Zarahemla and then (northward) to Bountiful and the narrow neck of land. So one can still embrace a Limited Geography Theory, without discarding a landing site at 30º South Longitude on the Chilean coast.
    Therefore, there was no logical reason for Jakeman to disregard and reject the landing site location proposed by Frederick G. Williams and Orson Pratt that had deep roots in the membership at the time the first Archaeological Department was founded at BYU in 1945, about 110 years after Williams first wrote down his idea, which he claimed was divulged to him by an angel.
    Nor can we rule out that Joseph Smith was the one who first stated such an idea, since we find in Church history that the Prophet Joseph Smith said that “Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land,” meaning America (Richard C. Galbraith, Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected sermons and writings as they are found in the Documentary History and other publications of the Church, selected and arranged by the Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith, 1938, p267). Now the Southern Ocean is an area below 40º South Latitude, south of the Indian Ocean, reachable by currents and winds from the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the area of Khor Rori, near Salalah in Oman.
    Certainly South America should have been a location of consideration in the early days of the BYU Archaeology studies and research. But it was not and today we are saddled with Mesoamerica which in so many cases has been shown to not match the scriptural record in so many instances. Will we ever see a change in that thinking and a movement to at least consider South America? Only time will tell.