Wednesday, June 18, 2014

John L. Sorenson's 37 objections to North America

John L. Sorenson is a retired BYU Professor who has authored 200 books and articles, many of them dealing with Book of Mormon historicity, geography and anthropology. His latest, titled Mormon's Codex, summarizes his life's work in this field. Wikipedia has a useful bio here.

In subsequent posts, I'll address Mormon's Codex, but recently someone cited Sorenson's list of 37 reasons why the Book of Mormon could not have included North America, and I wanted to comment on them.

Sorenson's list is a nice summary of the orthodox interpretation of North American archaeology and anthropology that was driven by the Manifest Destiny approach to the North American Indians in the 1800s. I can't tell if Sorenson was writing from ignorance or malice, but since I know him, I'll go with ignorance. After all, even Dr. Roger Kennedy, the former director of the Smithsonian's American History Museum, wrote a book titled Hidden Cities--The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilizations. He wrote this: "Few realize that some of the oldest, largest, and most complex structures of ancient archaeology were built of earth, clay, and stone right here in America, in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. From 6,000 years ago until quite recently, North America was home to some of the most highly advanced and well organized civilizations in the world--complete with cities, roads and commerce."

So I'll assume Sorenson was just ignorant, or that he wrote his list before Dr. Kennedy wrote his book in 1991. But the list was cited by Gregory Smith as recently as January 2014, so apparently some BYU people still think it is relevant. I'll address Gregory Smith in a separate post.

So here are my comments on Sorenson.

A Whole Bunch of Reasons Why Book of Mormon Geography
Could Not Have Included North America
by John L. Sorenson
1. The “promised land” occupied by the Nephites was characterized for many centuries as an area of “civilization.” As indicated by archaeology and related studies, no place in North America in the period of  Book of Mormon history contained any cultures at the level of “civilization.” This statement represents the orthodox view that supported not only Manifest Destiny but the genocide of American Indians prophesied by the Book of Mormon. Andrew Jackson signed the "Removal Act" on May 28, 1830, almost two months after the LDS Church was organized and about a year after the translation of 1 and 2 Nephi. In fact, the Hopewell and Adena civilizations were extensive and highly sophisticated, with some of the largest and most elaborate earthworks in the entire world.
2. The population of Book of Mormon lands over much of the period of its history totaled from hundreds of thousands up to millions. The areas of North America touted as occupied by Nephites, Lamanites and Jaredites cannot be shown from objective evidence to have been anywhere near that level. More than two million people are buried in mounds in Illinois alone, most of them dating from around 2,000 years ago.
3. Many “cities” and even “great cities” are reported by the Nephite record between 1500 BC and AD 400. Not a single such city has been documented in North America in that period. The extensive, sophisticated Hopewell civilization included walled cities connected by roads, including the great Hopewell road between Chilicothe and Newark. Around 200,000 Hopewell structures and sites were leveled by settlers, but in some cases, the mounds were preserved, such Circleville, Ohio, which was built within the walls of the ancient city.
4. Intensive agriculture is indicated as the economic means of support, according to the record. Agriculture only on a limited scale was employed by inhabitants of North America before AD 400. A "limited scale" is a relative term, and certainly ancient agriculture everywhere in the world was on a "limited scale" compared with modern agriculture, but the Hopewell and Adena people lived in defined communities supported by agriculture.  
5. Multiple kinds of grains were cultivated by the Nephites as their subsistence mainstay.
In the Book of Mormon period, as far as is known, only limited grain crops of corn/maize were cultivated in North America. "As far as is known" is a rhetorical technique that implies "no one knows" about multiple grain crops in North America, when it really means "as far as is known by the author of these objections." In fact, every food required by the law of Moses was grown in Hopewell areas (which is not true of Mesoamerica) and multiple "kinds of grains" were grown in North America.
6. “Flocks” and “herds” were raised at times by the Nephites and Jaredites (at least). There is absolutely no evidence for any degree of animal husbandry in ancient North America. This categorical objection is simply not true.
7. Many major public buildings, many of them of a religious nature, are referred to in the scripture as characteristic of their settlements. In the Book of Mormon period there is no evidence of any such structures in North America. It's true that 200,000 structures were destroyed by the European invaders, but the extensive earthworks that survive, as well as those documented by Squire and Davis, were both public and religious.
8. Major wars were fought among Book of Mormon peoples for well over 1,000 years; they involved over hundreds of thousands of combatants. In North America in the relevant period there is no evidence of warfare on any significant scale. There are massive burial sites with mixtures of bones and arrowheads throughout the Hopewell area, dating to the Book of Mormon period. The Zelph mound is one of many examples.
9. Swords and “cimeters” (scimitars) are particularly referred to as weapons in the Book of Mormon period. Neither in archaeology or art are any such weapons identified in North American cultures. There are such swords and scimitars in museums around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
10. Armor and shields also were in common use according to the record. Evidence for those features is also entirely lacking in North America before AD 400. There are metal breatplates and helmets in museums around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
11. Large-scale fortifications (of particular types) are described as being used by Book of Mormon peoples, but those types, nor in fact any such large-scale defensive structures, are not known in North America in Book of Mormon times. There are such fortifications at many sites around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
12. Roads and highways were described by the Nephite record as being built near the time of Christ. North American archaeology reveals nothing of the sort. The Great Hopewell Road, currently being excavated by the Ohio State Archaeologist, is an elevated highway stretching 60 miles that was around 100 feet wide. There are others, although most roads and highways have been destroyed for farmland.
13. “Towers,” obviously tall, bulky structures of earth or stone, were features in some Book of Mormon cities. Such constructions were absent before AD 400 in North America. There are many such towers at sites around North America, dating to Book of Mormon times.
14. People of Book of Mormon areas were frequently literate, in fact several scripts are reported. No North American cultures have been shown to have had any system of writing whatsoever. The Book of Mormon text explicitly states that the elite were instructed in writing, which is common in ancient societies. The Mesoamerican "system of writing" has zero correlation to Hebrew or Egyptian languages, but there have been a few artifacts found in North American with Hebrew writing.
15. At least the Nephites are said to have possessed “many” books covering many subjects. No ancient North American books at all are evidenced. There are no "Nephite" books anywhere apart from the Book of Mormon, except for the depository that Oliver Cowdery described in the Hill Cumorah.
16. The Nephites followed several different calendar systems. In North America even a single calendar is only uncertainly known. The syntax of this objection is difficult to understand, but the earthworks of Newark and other sites were elaborate calendars.
17. According to the Nephite record several kinds of metals were worked in the original settlement areas (land of Nephi and Jaredite areas). No true metallurgy is evidenced in North America during the Book of Mormon era. Several museums in North American contain examples of metallurgy dating to Book of Mormon times, and there are photos and records of iron plates and tools, found by archaeologists dating to Book of Mormon times, that have "disappeared" from museums.
18. A substantial number of priests, prophets, and other occupational specialists (including “thousands” of idle people in the land of  Zarahemla—Alma 60: 22) are mentioned. No more than a mere handful of (“idle”) people occupying specialist roles are in evidence in any ancient culture in North America. These categorical "objections" ignore the fact of the massive earthworks created to monitor celestial events. There are many ceremonial earthworks, as well. These required engineering and abundant labor not required for agriculture.
19. There is no mention nor even hint of cold, snow or ice in the Book of Mormon account of its peoples. In the Great Lakes or Prairie regions winter storms are and were so common that it is unthinkable that they would not be a prominent mentioned feature of the climate. The quotations from Isaiah that refer to snow would make no sense if people didn't know about snow, but the "nature of the climate" that led to diseases could easily include cold and snow. Besides, the mountains of Mesoamerica are also cold; it snows in Guatemala even today, and it's anyone's guess as to how much the climate has changed in the last 2,000 years.
20. It is obvious from the description of the great catastrophe at the crucifixion of the Savior that volcanism must be involved as a natural cause (of at least the “darkness”). In eastern North America that is out of the question; there are no volcanoes there. Massive earthquakes documented in North America (specifically along the Mississippi River) have caused such darkness over several days, as documented in the 1800s.
21. The river Sidon is a major drainage feature that runs hundreds of miles from south to north from the highlands of the land of Nephi through the “narrow strip of wilderness” past Manti and Zarahemla to the sea. No river in North America even remotely qualifies. The Book of Mormon doesn't say the River Sidon runs from south to north, so this is a false premise. 
22. The battle of Alma’s Nephite army on the riverbank (Alma 2) has them wade across the river Sidon to battle a combined Lamanite/Amlicite force. The idea of wading across the Mississippi is obviously absurd. What is considered "obviously absurd" was a common practice anciently at the area near Nauvoo, which is the first "crossable" area of the Mississippi north of the Gulf of Mexico. This is why there are remnants of ancient civilizations in this area, dating to Nephite times.
23. The Lehite party in their ship landed on the shore of the (west) sea in the “land of first inheritance” (Alma 22: 28). Any attempt to make that point anywhere but on the Pacific coast of North America requires fantastic twisting of the obvious meaning of the distances and other geographical language. What requires "fantastic twisting" is claiming that the Nephites didn't know north, south, east and west, along with insisting that the only seas mentioned in the Book of Mormon are the Pacific and Atlantic. Any large lake, such as the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, qualified as seas to the Nephites. 
23. From the borders of the (immediate) land of Nephi to Zarahemla via the waters of Mormon, land of Helam and valley of Alma, took Alma’s party about 21 days. No plausible rate of travel can make that distance more than 250 miles. No suggested “Nephi” to “Zarahemla” distance in North America comes close to that. Most if not all of these objections based on geography are inferences built on assumptions not required by the text. Even groups traveling by foot could use rivers for part of the journey, which would make travel over hundreds of miles easy.
24. The land of Zarahemla is said to be “nearly surrounded by water” (i.e., seas). No North American geography qualifies. The "i.e., seas" here is another example of strained inferences. Land can be surrounded by rivers as well as seas and lakes.
25. The land northward supported a population of millions (Ether 15: 2) in late Jaredite times. Not only is it manifestly absurd that any “land northward” around the Great Lakes, given the climatic conditions there, could have supported even one-hundredth as many people, but also the archaeology of that region shows only a tiny fraction of the history’s stated number ever to have dwelt there, let alone in Jaredite times when no one lived there but a few hunting tribes. The archaeological record of early settlers describes massive civilizations, including in the Detroit area.
26. Book of Mormon references allow that the “narrow pass” or “narrow passage” between the lands northward and southward was within the narrow neck of land and constitute the sole feasible way for large parties to go northward/southward. No North American geographical arrangement comes close to such an arrangement. Another inference built on assumptions not required by the text.
27. The hill Ramah/Cumorah of the Book of Mormon lay north of the narrow pass/neck, yet the hill in New York state is not so situated. The hill where Joseph found the plates is actually north of most of the Hopewell civilization.
28. King Limhi’s exploring party  (sent from the land of Nephi to find Zarahemla) traversed the narrow neck/narrow pass without even realizing it, for they returned having been to the final Jaredite battleground (at hill Ramah) but supposed that they had only found the ruins of Zarahemla. Anywhere in North America this is impossible. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
29. The kingdom dominated by the Lamanite king (Alma 22: 27) extended from east sea to the west sea. No North American correlation comes close to fitting with those conditions. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
30. The hill Cumorah in New York could not plausibly have been a refuge for the 23 survivors of the final battle who were found atop it on the day after the great battle. Had they so much as sneezed their presence would have been detected by the Lamanites. Anyone who has visited the site knows that it is plenty large to hide this many people.
31. Had New York’s hill been the site of the final battle, the 230,000 Nephite dead (not to mention a large number of Lamanite dead—up to half a million total corpses) would have left behind over half a million weapons. Remains on any such scale would have become obvious long since to archaeologists. In fact no weapons of the right period have been found near the place. Many arrowheads have been found in this area, but there are many famous, well-documented battles in history that have not left behind such evidence. For example, wouldn't the victorious Lamanites have collected useable weapons and armor for use elsewhere? This is common practice in battle.
32. The notion that Lehi’s party sailed around Africa and northward through the South and North Atlantic not only has no historical analogs whatever, but given the winds and currents, it was probably impossible in ancient times and has never been duplicated in modern times. Actually, this is the only plausible route from the Middle East to the Americas and has been replicated by a modern copy of a Phoenician ship from 600 BC.
33. From the land of Nephi Mosiah led his party “down [across a mountainous narrow strip of wilderness] into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla” (distant no more than c. 200 miles; see 23 above). In North America, it is impossible to find such a place. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
34. West of Zarahemla was the land of Melek (Alma 8: 3-6), “west by the borders of the wilderness.” (That wilderness was adjacent on one side to the land of Zarahemla {Alma 22: 28} and on the other to the west sea {Alma 22: 28}.) No North American area comes close to such an arrangement. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
35. The Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from east [sea] unto the west sea, and thus had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south that they could occupy no lands farther north (Alma 22: 33). These statements are meaningless in North America. Again, the description of geography in the text could fit many places in North America.
36. The Nephites gathered all their people (nearly a quarter of a million of them) to the land of Cumorah (Mormon 6: 3-4) for their final battle. Anyone who has spent a winter  in western New York, let alone four of them, must wonder how they survived in their tents and what so many people might have eaten (there is no mention of manna!) Indian tribes thrived in this area for thousands of years until the Europeans came. Indians taught the Europeans how to survive here!
37. Any attempt to put a land northward in, say, Ontario, must face the fact that there is no trace of anything approaching what the Book of Mormon represents as Jaredite society in that area. There are ancient ruins in this area, including the extensive ancient civilization that has been built over in the Detroit area.

So what do you think?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Purpose of Blog

This blog documents the war over Book of Mormon geography, focusing on the Mesoamerican theory vs the Heartland theory.

I have the book "Mormon's Codex" here in my office. It was written by John L. Sorenson, a retired BYU professor from whom I took a class around 35 years ago. The book presents in considerable detail Sorenson's thesis that the Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica. Most of the BYU faculty seems to agree with that thesis.

Actually, I once did, too.

But now I think the whole concept is fundamentally flawed, for several reasons. I'll be commenting on at least these:

- the fallacy of Sorenson's theory of directions; i.e., that the Nephites didn't know, or use, actual cardinal directions (N,S,E,W) but referenced directions based on the western coastline of Mesoamerica.

- the fallacy of Sorenson's theory of translation; i.e., that plants and animals named in the Book of Mormon actually referred to different species

- the fallacy of Sorenson's approach to the covenant aspects of the Book of Mormon (the word "covenant" does not even appear in his index)

- the lack of discussing the practice of the law of Moses among the Nephites

- the lack of the Book of Mormon fortifications, construction methods, and other details in Mesoamerica

- recent archaeological finds in the Heartland that vindicate the Book of Mormon and undermine the Mesoamerican theory

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Mesoamerica: directions based on the coastline

Heartland: directions based on the compass, sun, moon and stars