Friday, October 2, 2015

Now for the geography

From now on, this blog will focus on Roger Terry's statement in the heading: "Obviously, if one of the models answered all the questions presented by the scriptural text, there would be consensus on where the Book of Mormon history actually occurred."

We'll see how obvious that is.

Here's an overview of the next few weeks, in the form of questions.

1. What are the questions presented by the scriptural text?

As I've discussed throughout this blog, there are books and articles and blogs and movies and paintings and pageants that have all, one way or another, expressed views on the setting for the Book of Mormon. There are dozens of theories, all invoking the text one way or another. I've seen some new ones in the last few weeks that haven't ever been published. In a sense, this confusion is a result of unanswered questions about what the text means. For example, what is a narrow neck of land? A small neck? A narrow strip? A narrow pass? A narrow passage? Are they all the same thing? If so, why do they have different names?

Most of the existing theories are based on abstract maps; i.e., people draw a map based on what they read in the text and then look at topographical maps to find a fit.

This is a fool's errand.

No two people can independently come up with the same abstract map because the text is too vague. It doesn't give us 1) precise distances or 2) precise directions. But that doesn't mean the text doesn't describe an actual, real-world setting. It just means you have to know where to start.

2. How do I propose to answer "all the questions" Terry referred to?

I have a list of over 300 geographical references from the Book of Mormon that I'll be going through. By January 1, 2016, readers of this blog will have gone through every one of them. And of course I'll respond to questions posed on this blog, as much as possible.

3. How do I approach the geography questions?

I have a few simple rules.

I start with no preconceptions and no deference to previous scholars. (This doesn't mean I have not engaged with the literature on the topic. For decades, I accepted the Mesoamerican theory, but as I've explained on this blog and elsewhere, in my opinion the scholarship on the limited geography Mesoamerican theory has been results oriented. The Mesoamerican theory was based on a historical error and the so-called peer reviews have reflected confirmation bias. I think the Mesoamerican theory is on its way out; it's only a question of how long it will hang around.)

I stick to the text. I reject the RAGS translation (that stands for the re-interpretation of the text that we often see in the writings of Matt Roper, Michael Ash, Brant Gardner, and John Sorenson). I'm not going to discuss the headwaters of Sidon or the narrow strip of mountainous wilderness or Ether's cave or simplistic convergences or correspondences that seek to transform the text into a Mayan document. Those who prefer the RAGS translation can stick with the Interpreter and continue believing the Mesoamerican theories the RAGS translation was designed to promote. (BTW, I'll be updating as time permits.)

I accept the Three Witnesses as credible. (Hence, my book Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about Cumorah.)

I assume the Hebrew influence throughout the text is real, as are the people and the descriptions of their lifestyles, beliefs, practices, etc.

I invite comments and feedback, but not if it involves the RAGS translation.


I'll conclude with the opening of the Preface to the Second Edition of The Lost City of Zarahemla:

To paraphrase Matthew Cowley’s comment about the gospel, Book of Mormon geography is simply beautiful and beautifully simple.

Not everyone agrees, but hopefully by the time you finish this book, you will. The complications that seem so prevalent today actually arose from misunderstandings and speculation in the early days of the Church, combined with excessive missionary zeal that sought to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon in what turned out to be a counterproductive way. That approach was a mistake, and its ramifications continue into the present. This book is my attempt to shed light on historical facts and geography with the goal of building faith, unity and consensus regarding the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. The city of Zarahemla has been lost for too long. 

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