The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Sunday, April 17, 2016

BMAF conference

Yesterday I attended the 2016 BMAF conference. Apparently this is their last conference because the group is merging into BOMC. The conference was well managed and the presentations were effective.

My takeaway: we're much closer to consensus that I realized. With one exception,* every one of the talks could have been given in the context of a North American setting instead of the Mesoamerican setting. In fact, they would have been more persuasive with a North American setting.

The first presentation was "Introduction to Book of Mormon Central." It was excellent. There is tremendous potential for this initiative, and I fully support it. although I think they've got to get their thumbs off the Mesoamerican scale ASAP. The Mesoamerican focus impairs their objectivity and thereby undermines their credibility, IMO. I hope they transition to a "concurrent" approach that gives a voice to all the various models of geography. An equal voice would be ideal, but any voice at all would be a big improvement, both in the usefulness of the resource and in its credibility. I think they should trust users with more information, not less, and right now, they are filtering out pretty much every geography theory except Mesoamerica. Many members of the Church know what's going on and don't like it. But this editorial policy can be changed very quickly. It should have been changed before the web page was launched. The sooner this is changed, the better.

The second presentation was on Fish, Grain and Man in Mesoamerica and Scripture. The basic idea is that Mesoamerican mythology uses fish and maize to represent a sort of resurrection, and then Christ was associated with fish and grain, so there is a connection. It was an interesting presentation, but had absolutely nothing to do with Book of Mormon geography. Pretty much every culture uses fish and grain as religious symbols. It would have been more interesting to see how North American cultures used these symbols.

The third presentation was on Hebrew and Egyptian contributions to Uto-Aztecan languages. There are impressive links--around 1400 terms--between these languages. Uto-Aztecan is unrelated to Mayan languages, so (if I understood correctly) the presenter suggested Hagoth's people brought the Hebrew and Egyptian influences into the Uto-Aztecan areas (which are mainly in what is now the Southwestern U.S.) Here's the kind of question I would have liked to have had discussed: If the term "Sidon" is Phoenician (which most people think), then how did it get applied to a river in Mayan Mesoamerica that is far away from the Uto-Aztecan language territory? I think the presentation would have been far more interesting if it had focused on the Algonquin connection, which was mentioned only once. I'd like to know more about the interaction between Uto-Aztecan and the Algonquin and other Eastern Native American languages.

The fourth presentation was the best, I thought (and not just because I've made very similar presentations in the past). It covered the arrival of Nephi in the promised land and suggested Lehi's group landed in a sparsely populated area, but not one that was uninhabited. I agree with all of this. There were some great points about seeds and metals. The analysis kind of broke down, though, in three places. One was the Pacific crossing, which contradicts known agronomy, currents, winds, and actual experience (not to mention Isaiah 18:1). Second, animals; the presenter resorted to Sorenson's chart of equivalent species. The third problem was the chronology of Guatemala City. The presenter could have given the same presentation with a North American setting and avoided these problems, which would have greatly strengthened the points.

The fifth presentation was the exception I mentioned above. The presenter is excellent, and the material is good, but IMO it has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon, as explained below.

The final presenter discussed "A Glimpse into Lamanite Culture." It was basically material out of his book, which I think is an excellent book if you want to know about Mesoamerica. If you want to know about the Book of Mormon, not so much. If this author would set aside the Mesoamerican lenses for a minute, he could do some phenomenal work in North America.

All in all, it was a worthwhile conference. I made some notes and got some new insights, but I didn't see a single slide or hear a single comment that made Mesoamerica a more plausible setting for the Book of Mormon than North America. Some day I hope to see each of these presenters fixing their presentations by focusing on North America.

*The exception was the talk on volcanoes, which to me is the epitome of Mesoamerican seership. Everyone knows the text never mentions volcanoes, but that doesn't deter the Mesoamerican seers for an instant. They read "volcano" into the text, apparently believing that Samuel the Lamanite, Nephi, and Mormon just didn't know the term for a big mountain that periodically erupts and wreaks havoc. Well, maybe that's unfair. Maybe there was only one volcanic eruption in 1,000 years of Nephite history in Mesoamerica, which must be a record for volcanic quiescence in that region. In that case, the Nephite authors had no idea what a volcano was. They didn't know what volcanic ash was, either. There were just earthquakes and storms and thick darkness. It was the first earthquake in world history to spew enough ash that you couldn't see for 3 days, yet cause no impediment to travel, agriculture, etc. I could go on, but you get the idea.

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