Monday, July 13, 2015

Interpreter's review of Mormon's Codex

John Sorenson's book, Mormon's Codex, is a comprehensive analysis of the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography, focused, of course, on Sorenson's own ideas. The Interpreter offered a review of the book here.

The reviewers are Brant A. Gardner and Mark Alan Wright, both well-known advocates of the Mesoamerican theory. Overall, they praise Sorenson's book for its defense of the Mesoamerican setting, but they complain that Sorenson didn't cite the work of other Mesoamerican advocates. In fact, I would say that their main criticism was that Sorenson ignored them (meaning, the reviewers, who cited their own work to show what Sorenson missed). They used their review to promote their own work as "more recent" and "too late to be included in Mormon's Codex." My favorite line was this: "Perhaps because Sorenson has isolated himself from the work of other LDS scholars, he has missed a wider study of the Quetzalcoatl material that explicitly denies the correlation.33" Of course, footnote 33 is to Brant Gardner's own book.

The Interpreter review strains at a gnat and swallows a camel. The reviewers accept the three filters that are fundamental to Sorenson's thesis without a single question. All the Mesoamerican advocates do. But as I've said elsewhere, those filters eliminate the Mesoamerican setting; instead, they point directly to North America.

Plus, without noting the irony, Gardner and Wright complain that "Not only does Sorenson neglect to engage LDS scholars with a different position..."

Gardner and Wright themselves consistently "neglect to engage LDS scholars with a different position" about Mesoamerica in general. It is permissible to quibble about exact locations, so long as one adheres to the Mesoamerican setting overall.

There are a couple of key points in the review that I'll comment on, in red.

"Important to his legacy is the shrinking of the potential Book of Mormon lands from the entire Western hemisphere to a region roughly comparable to the geographic scope of the history of the Hebrews in the Old World. [I agree that Sorenson helped promote a limited geography, but it is unbelievable that Mesoamerican proponents give Sorenson the credit for this. Joseph Smith himself expressly rejected the hemispheric models in March 1842. True, some of his contemporaries and successors inferred a hemispheric model, but most did not. Instead of giving Joseph credit for rejecting the hemispheric model, Sorenson and other Mesoamerican proponents--including Gardner and Wright--pretend that Joseph embraced a hemispheric model, and only the scholars (read: Mesoamerican proponents) clarified the situation. A more historically accurate version is that Joseph made his declaration but allowed people to believe whatever they wanted.]  In addition to convincingly arguing for a more limited geography, Sorenson proposed specific sites that might have taken part in the Book of Mormon story. Those archaeological sites were in the approximate correct interrelationship with other locations according to the text, and the sites all dated from the time periods when the Book of Mormon indicates there should be a city in that location. [Of course, the Book of Mormon never indicates there should be a city anywhere in Mesoamerica. This is pure projection. Like modern-day Mesoamerican advocates, Winchester, too, started out "inferring" where Lehi landed and ended up "reading" it in the text.] The strength of his correlations has been such that while there may not be agreement on the specifics of some of his site-correlations, better correlations have not been proposed. The general geography has been widely accepted even when some doubt about specific locations might be expressed." [IOW, as I wrote above, it is permissible to quibble about exact locations, so long as one adheres to the Mesoamerican setting overall. This is akin to how I characterize the official Church position, as implemented in manuals and media; i.e., the Church officially has no position on Book of Mormon geography, but in practice, this means there is no official position on where in Mesoamerica the events took place. One of these days, I hope the Church takes at least an completely neutral position. You'll recognize that starting when pro-Mesoamerican Emeritus General Authorities have to resign from boards such as BoMAF and when pro-North American Emeritus General Authorities can speak freely.]

"The second important aspect of Sorenson’s legacy is what he did with the geography after establishing a plausible relationship with the real world. He expanded beyond geography and into the culture and history of that geography to compare it with the Book of Mormon. [I agree; it's good that Sorenson did this. But so did Joseph Smith. He wrote about how the mounds and skeletons in the Midwestern U.S. showed the Nephites lived there. That's both culture and history, but the Mesoamerican advocates reject it, completely.] The first part of the lasting legacy is that it is now a requirement that proposed geographies deal with the human historical element along with the physical features. [Agreed.] Any geography that might be argued as plausible but cannot provide similar plausible correlations to the people living in that geography during Book of Mormon times cannot be accepted as a potential location for Book of Mormon events. [This one I find exceptionally bizarre. Despite decades of intense research in Mesoamerica, the proponents such as Gardner and Wright have yet to find a single evidence of the Book of Mormon there. Even the "plausible correlations" that fill the writings of Sorenson, Gardner, Wright, and other Mesoamerican proponents are so general they could be found in just about any culture. I think it would be more difficult to find a human society anywhere in time and space that did not have such correlations, especially when one is free to claim Joseph didn't translate the text accurately (i.e., cardinal directions, plants, animals, law of Moses, etc.). Worse, as I mentioned, these reviewers didn't even question the three filters that are the foundation of Sorenson's model. Had they done so, they would have seen that the "plausible correlations" are illusory.] Sorenson’s premise led to a new approach to Book of Mormon studies and influenced others such as the authors of this review to direct their own academic pursuits to those same studies." [This is true not only of these reviewers, but probably of every Mesoamerican advocate in the last three decades. Such unquestioning acceptance, however, is not something I would highlight. Well, to be fair, it's not exactly unquestioning acceptance; the reviewers do wonder why Sorenson didn't quote their work.]

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