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
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Cumorah deniers and relative directions in the Book of Mormon
This is just a brief note on a common misunderstanding of directions in the Book of Mormon.
People have been trying to come up with an "abstract map" of the Book of Mormon for decades. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of variations. To avoid the Cumorah "problem" they actually use an "abstract map" at BYU right now to teach students in Book of Mormon classes (Religion 121 and 122).
As long as you reject what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught about the Hill Cumorah in New York, you really have no alternative to using an abstract map. You're left without a connection between the current world and the world of the Book of Mormon.
You've got no pin in the map.
You could put the Book of Mormon just about anywhere in the world.
Imagine if Tolkien had not provided a map of Middle Earth and people were sitting around trying to figure out the geography from the text. That's what you've got with these Cumorah deniers, trying to come up with an abstract map.
No two people can possibly come up with the same abstract Book of Mormon map because the directions are so vague. Does it make an abstract map any more accurate or useful just because two or more people have agreed on a particular interpretation? I think not.
In my view, the narrative in the Book of Mormon makes sense once you realize the authors were 1) using adjectives, not proper nouns, for many of the geography terms and 2) writing from multiple frames of reference.
I've explained all of that in Moroni's America but I want to offer an example from the Bible. Notice how the frame of reference changes the meaning of the verse.
Genesis 13:1, KJV, reads: "And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south."
Same verse in the New Living Translation (NLT): "So Abram left Egypt and traveled north into the Negev, along with his wife and Lot and all that they owned."
In KJV, Abram went "into the south."
In NLT, Abraham "traveled north."
And yet, both translations are saying the same thing. How?
KJV uses "the south" to describe the exact same place that NLT designates as "the Negev." This area was not south of Egypt, where Abraham started off; it was south of Jerusalem, where the author/compiler was presumably writing.
IOW, Abraham was traveling northeast out of Egypt to go into the south. It makes no sense unless you know the author's frame of reference was Jerusalem.
I've asked Book of Mormon scholars what kind of map they would come up with using the Bible text without any reference to known maps and locations. So far as I know, none have ever tried it.
If you took the KJV and tried to develop an abstract map, you'd have idiosyncrasies such as the one in Gen. 13:1 that you could never reconcile from the text alone. You'd be comparing different translations, or maybe the Hebrew, to sort through the problems.
With the Book of Mormon, we don't have that luxury. We have one text, and it's in English.
I think there's a reason why Letter VII was written and widely distributed and reprinted. It's a fool's errand to develop a map of the Book of Mormon without starting with Cumorah in New York. If everyone started there, we'd be a lot closer to reaching consensus on the rest of the geography.
Plus, we wouldn't have to repudiate what Joseph and Oliver said in the first place.
Here are some explanations of Genesis 13:1 from scholars who aren't trying to justify their own abstract maps of the scriptures.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
1. went up out of Egypt] Cf. Genesis 12:10, “went down into Egypt.” Egypt is always regarded as the low-lying country; and Palestine as the high ground.
Lot with him] Lot was not mentioned in the previous chapter, but it is here implied that Lot had been with Abram in Egypt.
into the South] i.e. into the Negeb: see note on Genesis 12:9. This is a good illustration of the meaning of Negeb. Abram’s journey from Egypt into the Negeb was by a route leading N.E. The English reader, not understanding the technical meaning of “the South,” might suppose that Abram’s journey from Egypt into “the South” would have led in the direction of the Soudan.
Genesis 13:1. Into the south — That is, the southern part of Canaan, from whence he had come, Genesis 12:9, which, however, was north-east of Egypt. The Scriptures being written principally for the Jews, its language, respecting the situation of places, is accommodated to their manner of speaking.