Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mormon Christianity

Stephen H. Webb was raised in the Stone-Campbell religious tradition (Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ). As an adult he briefly espoused Lutheranism and then converted to Roman Catholicism. For the last several years, he has been an avid student of Mormonism. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School. A theologian and philosopher of religion, he taught at Wabash College for 25 years, retiring in 2012. His penultimate book, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012) has a chapter on Mormonism and Joseph Smith's teachings about divine corporeality and spirit as refined matter. His latest book, Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013) is an insightful look at some of the ways Mormonism extends and enriches traditional Christianity. His next book, co-authored with Alonzo L. Gaskill, is an attempt to begin serious Roman Catholic - Mormon dialogue. Gaskill, raised Greek Orthodox, converted to Mormonism as a young adult and is currently on the BYU religion faculty.

Webb has lectured at BYU on three previous occasions. His lecture today treated some of the themes in Mormon Christianity which for obvious reasons has been well-received in the LDS scholarly community. I found some of his thinking on Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon quite stimulating. The words that follow are from my notes of Webb's lecture. Inline scriptural citations are my additions.
  • Joseph Smith as a theologian is both powerful and attractive.
  • Mormons breathe more of the air of Jesus Christ's original church than any other Christians.
  • Mormonism's open canon enhances the New Testament. It does not change the New Testament. Other branches of early Christianity (Gnosticism, Marcionism, Arianism) tried to change the New Testament. The creeds, particularly the Nicene creed, were responses to these heresies.
  • Mormonism's enhancements to the Christian canon are not like chocolate added to milk that changes the nature of the milk. They are like another topping added to a banana split that makes the already attractive dessert even more delicious.
  • Restoration movements in traditional Christianity have typically tried to strip away layers of tradition accumulated over centuries to get back to some idealized simplicity from a previous era. Joseph Smith's restoration is an addition, not a subtraction. The Book of Mormon says many plain and precious things were lost from original Christianity 1 Nephi 13:26-29 and need to be recovered.
  • "Translation" in other Christian traditions today means an attempt by scholars to get back to the the earliest, cleanest and simplest texts of important writings. "Translation" to Joseph Smith meant exegesis, inspired accretions and fuller explications. The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, JST, removes very little and adds a great deal to the Biblical text. Joseph Smith's translation of the gold plates produced another testament that adds to both the Old and New Testaments in profound ways. Joseph's translations are not trying to change or simplify or de-mystify the Bible. They affirm and re-establish biblical authority.
  • The King James Version, KJV, is not the most accurate translation of the Bible currently available, but it is almost certainly the most inspired. The KJV translators did what Joseph Smith did - made an ancient text come alive with language their contemporaries found compelling.
  • The Book of Mormon is the last flowering of the King James brilliance.
  • Joseph Smith lived within the Bible more than any other person of his age. The Book of Mormon established his prophetic bona fides but Joseph's worldview was thoroughly biblical.
  • Yet, Joseph's Bible was not the same as the Lutheran, Wesleyan or Calvinist Bible. Joseph denied biblio solitude - the Bible in isolation. For Joseph, the Bible was singular but not alone, supreme but not barren. It was a living, breathing reality that could be made even more glorious through the restoration of ancient texts and ordinances. In an 1833 letter to his Uncle Silas, Joseph said the word spoken to Noah was not sufficient for Abraham and neither was the Bible sufficient for our day.
  • In Joseph's world, the word of God is eternal but translatable. A translator is a mediator reading between scriptural lines. Translation is extrapolation and affirmation.
  • Jews add targumim to the Torah. Catholics add tradition to the Bible. For Catholics, canon and creed work together in a seamless whole. The creeds are criteria. Creeds are extra-canonical scriptures meant to interpret the canon. A creed closes the canon and sets rules for how to read scripture. The Nicene creed expands the Bible.
  • The Book of Mormon far surpasses the Nicene creed in affirming the hermeneutics of the Bible.
  • In the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ is God the Creator Mosiah 3:8, Helaman 14:12. In the Nicene creed, God the Father is the Creator.
  • The Nicene creed omits the Old Testament narrative except for the single gloss on Genesis 1:1. The Book of Mormon fills in the gaps in the Old Testament. Who did Ezekiel see on His throne atop the dome of heaven? Ezekiel 1:26-28? Ezekiel saw Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon makes this wonderfully clear. Old Testament theophanies should be cristophanies. The Book of Mormon is unapologetically christological in Old Testament times. Critics have assailed this as an egregious flaw in the text stemming from Joseph's naivete. It is actually a major strength. The Book of Mormon re-enthrones Jesus Christ pre-incarnation.
  • Putting Jesus in Old Testament theophanies supported the Arian speculations, so the councils put a stop to that with the creeds.
  • The Book of Mormon is a magnificent hermeneutical key to the Bible just as Nephi prophesied it would be 1 Nephi 13:40.
  • For Mormons, the Book of Mormon is a rule of faith, a communal linguistic explication of their worldview.
  • For Protestant fundamentalists, the Bible is one flat book with a single fold - the Old Testament and the New Testament. Catholics see small folds on almost every page with mystical readings and allegories. The Catholic Bible is book-ended with the authority of the Church on one side and the Nicene Creed on the other. Mormons have so many folds in so many different dimensions their Bible is more like a piece of origami art than a flat book.
  • The Book of Mormon is more than a mere supplement to the Bible. It adds to the Bible without damaging it, but in ways that enhance and expand the original. After the Book of Mormon, the Bible is not the same as it was before. It is more profound, more cosmic, more glorious. The truth claims of the Bible are significantly strengthened with the addition of the Book of Mormon. These two books complement each other inside and outside. The Nephites, like Joseph Smith, lived in a world heavily influenced by the Bible.
  • Thought doubles reality because you now have external forces and internal consciousness. The Book of Mormon is like the Bible thinking about itself. The two are intertwined in a productive, virtuous cycle.
  • The five components of the Mormon canon (Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine & Covenants) form a complex piece of 3D art. It is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.
  • Is the Atonement limited by human agency? In the JST, Joseph added that the famous phrase of Jesus on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" Luke 23:34 applied to the Roman soldiers who ignorantly sinned but not necessarily to the Jewish leadership who ordered the crucifixion with malice aforethought. The Book of Mormon explicitly says Christ's Atonement applies to those who ignorantly sin Mosiah 3:11.
  • Webb had high praise for the BYU New Testament Commentary project. He called S. Kent Brown's commentary on the Gospel of Luke "brilliant." He finds the prospect of reading the New Testament in light of the expanded Mormon canon exciting.
  • The uniquely Mormon scriptures are hermeneutical keys to the Bible in living, productive, symbiotic relationships with their host.
  • Webb feels a personal calling to dialogue with Mormons. The conversations have blessed his life in many ways. Mormonism has made him a better Christian, particularly as it has helped him personally reconcile science and revealed religion.
  • The strongest part of the Book of Mormon is its account of Christ's visit to the Americas. This helps us better understand Jesus' history before the incarnation. His post-resurrection ministry is strengthened by His pre-mortal ministry and vice versa.
  • The Jesus of the Book of Mormon is a truly human, truly divine, robustly personal Savior. Jesus is the proclaimer, but He is also the good news. He is the cosmic Jesus.
  • The Savior's ministry in the Americas helps us understand his descent into hell and the appropriate relationship we should have with our dead.Catholic excesses regarding the dead (inherit your father's ill-gotten estate and then pay the Church to get Dad out of purgatory) led to a Protestant repudiation of the Biblical concept of filial piety Leviticus 19:3. Protestants with few exceptions pay scant attention to the Savior's descent into hell. For Joseph Smith, baptism for the dead was one of the most important parts of God's plan for humanity.
  • Orthodox Christian theology is closer to Mormon thought in many ways than Roman Catholicism is. With 300 million adherents, orthodoxy is the 2nd largest branch on the Christian tree. After a century of decline under the Nazis and then the Communists, orthodoxy is back in a big way. But, Orthodox Christians don't dialogue with anyone. Rooted in patristics and an unchanging liturgy, they view any form of compromise as heretical so the entire notion of ecumenical outreach is foreign to them.
  • Mormonism should re-think the apostasy. The Christian body has preserved many wonderful things from the dawn of the era and those things should be celebrated rather than vilified. Mormonism can and should enhance Christianity without denigrating it.
Stephen Webb's Latest Book from Oxford University Press
Parenthetically, the reason so many Mormon titles are being published by Oxford these days may be largely commercial. A typical title from an academic press will sell 1,000 copies. Titles in the Mormon genre will typically sell at least 3,000 copies.

Thanks to BYU Studies, John W. Welch, editor-in-chief, and The Wheatley Institution, Richard N. Williams, founding director, for bringing Stephen H. Webb to Provo.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Imaging Izapa

The 79th Annual Meeting of the SAA, Society for American Archaeology, was held April 23 - 27, 2014 in Austin, Texas. On Sunday, April 27th, one of the sessions was a symposium on digital archaeology. Garth Norman and Jason Jones presented a paper about their work photographing the monuments of Izapa with RTI reflectance transformation imaging. This advanced 3D imaging technique reveals surface information not visible to the naked eye and results in more accurate renderings of plaster, wood or stone carvings than was possible in an earlier era using line drawings and traditional 2D photography. Richard D. Hansen, Director of the Mirador Basin Project, was in attendance and responded favorably to the Norman/Jones presentation.

After SAA wrapped up, they were on the same plane to Guatemala City. Hansen went to his massive project site in the northern Peten, often called the cradle of Maya civilization. Norman and Jones went to Izapa and spent a week imaging more monuments, both in the Soconusco Archaeological Museum in Tapachula and on site. The data gathering phase of the Izapa imaging project, begun in 2010, is now substantially complete.

Jones posted a video (no audio) of some of the stela 5 imagery on YouTube. A video (with audio) of stela 4 imagery explains how RTI works and shows why the technique is so powerful for determining what the original artists actually carved despite weathering over the years that has degraded the surface of the stone.

A team from the Peabody Museum at Harvard is doing very similar work on a large scale with Maya monuments and inscriptions as part of their CMHI Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions archival project.

A team from LSU is using the technique coupled with 3D printing to build plastic replicas of wooden Maya artifacts that have been preserved for centuries in saltwater lagoons and peat bogs, but which deteriorate rapidly when exposed to air.

Interestingly, the LSU underwater Maya project is in Payne's Creek not far from Punta Gorda, Belize and very close to the submerged ruins in the Tiger Mound area we correlate with the drowned city of Moroni 3 Nephi 8:9.

Proposed City of Moroni just offshore Punta Gorda, Belize 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Happy 90th, John Sorenson

Today was not really John L. Sorenson's birthday. He turned 90 on April 8th, 2014. But, today was a large birthday celebration with family and friends. It was a delight to spend a few moments with one of the greatest minds in Mormondom, the dean of LDS Mesoamericanists and the man who has done more than any other to help us understand the relationship between Nephite scripture and ancient American civilizations.

John L. Sorenson during the First NWAF
Field Season, Tabasco,Mexico, 1953
Another Photo of John L. Sorenson during the First NWAF
Field Season near Huimanguillo, Tabasco, Mexico, 1953
John L. Sorenson Lecturing in La Venta Park, Villahermosa, Tabasco
on the First (and Only) FARMS Tour to Mesoamerica, 1984 
Jack Welch, John Sorenson & Kirk Magleby, 1980 - 1985 FARMS Officers,
at John L. Sorenson's 90th Birthday Celebration, May 2, 2014

Monday, April 7, 2014

Things Peruvian

Garth Norman and I just returned from a 10 day expedition to Peru where we visited the following pre-Inca sites listed in approximate chronological order by date of first occupation:
  • Caral near Supe, 3,000 B.C.
  • Sechin near Casma, 2.800 B.C.
  • Chavin de Huantar in the city of the same name, 2,400 B.C.
  • Paracas Candelabra and shell middens near Paracas, 800 B.C.
  • Palpa Lines near Palpa 600 B.C.
  • Cahuachi near Nazca, 100 B.C.
  • Pachacamac near Lurin in greater Lima A.D. 200
  • Nazca Lines near Nazca A.D. 400
  • Mateo Salado in Lima A.D. 1,100
In addition, we visited the following museums:
  • Museo Nacional de Arqueologia, Pueblo Libre
  • Museo Larco, Pueblo Libre
  • Museo de Oro, Santiago de Surco
  • Museo de la Nacion, San Borja
  • Museo de Sitio, Pachacamac
  • Museo Antonini, Nazca
  • Museo Maria Reiche, Palpa
  • Museo Nacional de Chavin, Chavin de Huantar
  • Museo Regional Max Uhle, Sechin
We had the pleasure of a private lecture from Viktoria Nikitzki, student of Maria Reiche, at the Centro de Estudios Maria Reiche in Nazca. We examined several examples of Nazca puquios, deep rock-lined canals and tunnels designed to channel water flowing down from the Andes across that arid desert. We were able to investigate the Nazca and Palpa lines from three perspectives: a) from the air in a light aircraft, b) from atop a 610 meter hill known locally as the "mirador natural," and c) from the ground walking along modern dirt roads that intersect the lines. Our guide at Chavin has worked with John Rick of Stanford, director of the most recent excavations at the site. Our guide at Caral is part of the Peruvian Ministerio de Cultura team currently excavating and restoring the site.
Garth is well-informed in Mesoamerican archaeology and arguably the world's expert on the site of Izapa near Tapachula, Chiapas. In his latest book entitled Izapa Sacred Space: Sculpture Calendar Codex, Norman proposes a link between Izapa which sits at 15 degrees north latitude and Nazca which sits at 15 degrees south latitude. Our purpose on this trip was to test Garth's hypothesis and gather data to support or refute the Chavin - Olmec connection that others have suggested (Michael D. Coe, "An Olmec Design on an Early Peruvian Vessel," American Antiquity 27 [1962]: 579-80.) It was Garth's first visit to Peru. I served my mission there in 1972 - 74 and have returned over a dozen times since. This was the first time, though, I have gone to Peru strictly to visit archaeological sites and museum collections. We were like a couple of boy scouts on a camp out with adventure and discovery around every corner.

Some of the things that delighted us:
  • The famous Inca quipu (mnemonic device of knotted, colored cords) originated very early in the Andes. Crude examples have been found at Caral which is the earliest civilization known in the Americas.
  • Ditto pan pipes and flutes which have been found at Caral.
  • The current Peruvian logo, with a spiral forming the letter "P," derives from a bas relief spiral sculpted into one of the altars at Caral.
  • Caral was pre-ceramic and pre-metal. Material culture consisted of worked stone, wood and bone with cotton and other natural fibers woven into cords and crude cloth. No evidence of warfare has been found at Caral.
  • Sechin, on the other hand, had pottery, metal, more sophisticated textiles and a highly-developed culture of armed military conquest.
  • Chavin was a major religious pilgrimage site with a large priestly class. 
  • The well-known chakana or Andean (Inca) Cross is very early. A fine example is on the Lanzon, principal deity figure at Chavin. In addition to cardinal and inter-cardinal (ordinal) directionality, the chakana depicts the Andean belief in life above the earth, on the surface of the earth, and beneath the earth.
  • Deity attributes from apex predators puma, anaconda, eagle (condor) and crocodile were depicted iconographically from Chavin through Inca times. These same attributes are important in Olmec and Izapan iconography. 
  • The Viracocha deity known generally among Andean specialists as "dios de los baculos" or "god with staffs" was venerated from Chavin through Inca times.
  • Sites align to the cardinal directions and to impressive points on the horizon. The temple at Chavin, for example, orients to the eastern sunrise while Sechin orients due north.
  • Temples had windows or doors oriented such that the sun's rays only penetrated sacred precincts on certain days of the year. The Lanzon at Chavin, for instance, had a small window directly overhead that allowed sunlight to illuminate the granite shaft two times per solar year. Specialized temple architecture of this nature was widespread in antiquity.  
  • Pyramids were built to model the contours of the surrounding mountains. The slopes of La Galeria at Caral, for example, follow the lines of the hill immediately behind it. This phenomenon is well-known at Teotihuacan.
  • Garth has assiduously collected standard measure data for decades throughout the Middle East and the Americas. He added several dozen data points to his archive on this trip.
  • The "death eye" prominent at Izapa and known throughout Mesoamerica (e.g. Dresden & Madrid Codices) is found on many carved human figures at Sechin. 
  • There are 102 known huacas (archaeological ruins) in greater Lima including 5 on the Isla San Lorenzo off the coast of Callao. Most of them cluster along the 3 rivers that flow into the metropolitan area, the Chillon on the north, the Rimac in the center and the Lurin on the south. Settlement in the area was continuous from ca. 2,000 B.C. to European contact.
  • Chavin controlled a vast territory about 600 kilometers long from Cajamarca on the north to the Lurin Valley (Lima) on the south. Its domain was about 350 kilometers wide from the Pacific coast on the west to the Ucayali basin east of Huanuco on the east. Chavin's influence extended further still, across 1,400 kilometers from Tumbes on the north to Nazca on the south.
  • Rivers were central to settlement patterns in the Andes just as they were in Mesoamerica and the Old World. The confluence of two rivers was a propitious place. Caral is beside the Supe. Sechin is between the Sechin and the Casma, near their confluence. Chavin is at the confluence of the Huachecsa with the Mosna.
  • Iconographic motifis well-known in Mesoamerica are abundant in early Peruvian sites. These include bands terminating in circles representing blood flow, U and V shaped sky panels, dual-headed serpents, step frets, water scrolls and peanuts representing fecundity.
  • Ancient Andean symbolism is replete with representations of duality:
    • male female
    • day night
    • earth sky
    • life death
    • divinity humanity     
I outlined a possible Viracocha - Jesus Christ relationship in a 1978 article entitled "Four Peruvian Versions of the White God Legend." Based on ethnohistorical accounts recorded in the Spanish and Indian Chronicles, I believe the passage in 3 Nephi 16:1-3 refers to a visit by the resurrected Christ to the Andean peoples.
Chakana Replica with Gold on Copper from Museo Larco
El Lanzon, Chavin, with Overhead Window

3 of the 6 Pyramids at Caral, Oldest Civilization in the Americas

Saturday, March 22, 2014


After escaping King Noah's army Mosiah 18:34 Almaand approximately 450 converts fled eight days' journey Mosiah 23:3 into the wilderness and founded the city and land of Helam named after Alma1's right hand man Mosiah 18:12. Careful reading allows us to identify ten characteristics, highlighted in aqua, that will help us locate Helam on the modern map. 1. Helam was a waypoint between the local land of Nephi and the local land of Zarahemla Mosiah 24:25. Helam will be in the general line of travel between Kaminaljuyu (our correlate for the city of Nephi) on the south and Boca del Cerro (our correlate for the border between the local land of Zarahemla and its southern wilderness) on the north. 2. From the point Alma1's group entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi, they traveled eight days to Helam Mosiah 23:3. Helam will be approximately 8 X 15 = 120 air kilometers (see the article "Land Southward Travel Times") north of the local land of Nephi wilderness border. 3. Natural characteristics of the Helam area should qualify as "beautiful and pleasant" Mosiah 23:4. 4. Something in the environment caused Mormon to describe Helam's water as "pure" Mosiah 23:4. 5. The ground around Helam will be arable Alma 23:5. 6. The description in Mosiah 24:20 suggests a long travel day. We will find a candidate for the valley of Alma approximately 20 air kilometers from the land of Helam in the general direction of Zarahemla. 7. The valley of Alma will be approximately 12 X 15 = 180 air kilometers from Boca del Cerro Mosiah 24:25. 8. The distance from the point the Lamanite army pursuing Limhi entered the wilderness to the land of Amulon Mosiah 23:31 and from there to the land of Helam Mosiah 23:25 will qualify as "many days" Mosiah 23:30 travel. 9. Characteristics of the territory between Helam and Nephi will explain how both the priests of Noah and a Lamanite army could get lost Mosiah 23:35. 10. There will be one logical way to travel efficiently between Helam and Nephi Mosiah 23:36-37.

Our candidate for the land of Helam is the area around the confluence of the Rio Las Mulas and the Arroyo del Cerro with the Icbolay in the northern part of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The modern town of San Benito is 7 kilometers west across the Icbolay. This map shows the location about 14 kilometers south of the east-west Mexico-Guatemala line.
Proposed Land of Helam on the Icbolay River
1. The map below shows a typical ancient route (in white) from highland Guatemala to the middle Usumacinta following first the Motagua, then the Salama, then the Cahabon, then the San Roman, and finally the Salinas which becomes the Usumacinta at the Pasion confluence. Our proposed land of Helam is 35 air kilometers from this route. Criterion #1 satisfied.
Typical Ancient Route (in white) from Highland
Guatemala to the Usumacinta Coastal Plain
2. Almaand his followers could have entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi from any number of points along the north bank of the Motagua River. This map shows circles with radii of 80 kilometers centered on 3 of those possible departure points.
120 Air Kilometer Circles Centered on Points
along the North Bank of the Motagua
As the various circles show, our candidate for Helam is very close to 120 air kilometers (8 days' journey) from the north bank of the Motagua River. Criterion #2 satisfied.

3. Our land of Helam has a number of characteristics many would find pleasant or beautiful. For example, within a radius of 6.5 air kilometers, there are 8 different streams of water: the very large Chixoy, the large Icbolay, and the smaller Las Mulas, Limon with tributary, Lachua and Arroyo del Cerro with tributary. Within that same radius, there are several small lakes. Elevations range from 135 meters along the rivers to hills over 600 meters high. Dense forests cover the higher elevations. A series of rapids on the Icbolay provide cascading whitewater. 8 contemporary villages with populations ranging from 25 to 600 lie within the bounds of our circle.
6.5 Air Kilometer Radius Circle Around Proposed Helam
With rivers and streams, lakes, 465 meters of vertical rise, forests and whitewater rapids, this area has features that could plausibly be called beautiful and pleasant. Criterion #3 satisfied.

4. Mormon's description of Helam's "pure water" has always seemed curious. Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize have hundreds if not thousands of streams of water. Would not most of them have been relatively pure in Book of Mormon times? D&C 121:33 comes to mind, "How long can rolling waters remain impure?" Observing the environment around our Helam, Mormon's word choice makes perfect sense. 15 air kilometers to the west is Laguna Lachua, a Guatemalan National Park. It is a large Karstic lake similar to the famous cenotes of Yucatan. Its waters have a sulphurous smell. The name "Lachua" comes from Q'eqchi' and means smelly or fetid water. 10 air kilometers northwest of our Helam is the famous Maya site Salinas de los Nueve Cerros. The site sits beside a large salt dome that has been worked for over 3,000 years. This was the only inland source of salt in the entire Maya region. A stream called Arroyo Salinas carries brackish, salty water from the salt dome to the Chixoy. This is the reason the big river is called the Salinas from the Mexico line to the Pasion confluence where it becomes the Usumacinta.
Laguna Lachua Sulphur Water and Salinas de los
Nueve Cerros Salt Water near Proposed Helam
With sulphur and salt water in close proximity, Mormon's description of Helam's pure water seems logical and apt. Criterion #4 satisfied. Mormon uses the phrase "pure water" one other time in the text to describe the waters of Mormon Mosiah 18:5 which were also in a sylvan setting, associated with Almaand baptism. This makes it likely the term "multiply" in Mosiah 23:20 refers to religious conversions in addition to natural increase. Baptismal symbolism is also implied by the adjective "beautiful" applied uniquely to Mormon Mosiah 18:30 and Helam Mosiah 23:4, the only 2 places in the text to merit that appellation. This is certainly Mormon's way of indicating a relationship with and partial fulfillment of the prophecies in 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 12:21, Mosiah 15:15-18; and 3 Nephi 20:40 explicated by Abinadi.

5. Farming takes place today in the area we have identified as Helam, so obviously the ground is arable and supports crop production. This satellite image shows worked fields on the outskirts of settlement just as the text describes Mosiah 23:25.
Agriculture in the Proposed Land of Helam
Criterion #6 satisfied.

6.Precisely where our model predicts, we find a valley bounded by the 500+ meter Rubelsanto mountains to the south, 300+ meter hills to the east, a 200+ meter ridge to the northeast, the very large Chixoy River to the west and the large San Roman River to the east.
Proposed Valley of Alma Ringed by Highlands and Rivers
As this map shows, a 20 air kilometer distance from our land of Helam fits comfortably in the proposed valley of Alma.
20 Air Kilometers Land of Helam to Valley of Alma
Downstream on the Chixoy, our candidate valley of Alma is clearly in the line of tavel toward Zarahemla in the coastal plain. Criterion #6 satisfied.

7. Our valley of Alma is 186.74 air kilometers distant from Boca del Cerro, the point we identify as the southeast corner of the local land of Zarahemla. Our model predicts 180 air kilometers based on Mosiah 24:25.
186.74 Air Kilometers Valley of Alma to Local Land of Zarahemla
Criterion #7 satisfied.

8. Based on recent military activity in the area, the Lamanite army dispatched to pursue Limhi probably originated in the land of Shemlon Mosiah 10:7, 19:6. They probably entered the wilderness north of the Motagua. We correlate the land of Amulon with the dual ruins San Vicente and Setal on the Setal River, tributary of the Icbolay. A transect from the bank of the Motagua north of our proposed land of Shemlon to our proposed land of Amulon is 91 air kilometers in length. A second transect from Amulon to Helam is 47 air kilometers in lenth. 91 + 47 = 138 air kilometers.
138 Air Kilometers Shemlon to Amulon to Helam
138/15 = 9.2 which qualifies as "many days" to be lost in the wilderness. Criterion #8 satisfied.

9. It is not hard to imagine both the priests of Noah and the Lamanite army getting lost in the broken country between Nephi and Helam. There were 5 major obstacles to navigate around and through. First was the Sierra de las Minas mountain range rising to heights above 2,800 meters between the Motagua and the Polochic shown here in Google Maps Terrain View.
Sierra de las Minas between the Motagua on
the South and the Polochic on the North
Second was the Narrow Strip of Wilderness - a band of cliffs along the Polochic Fault - shown as a green line on the map below.
Narrow Strip of Wilderness Line of Cliffs (in green)
Third was the Sierra de Xucaneb mountain range rising to heights above 2,600 meters between the Polochic and the Cahabon. The westward extension jutting into the great bend of the Chixoy we correlate with Hill Riplah south of Manti.
Sierra de Xucaneb between the Polochic on the South
and the Cahabon on the North
Fourth was the broad series of east-west elevations knows as the Sierra de Chama north of the Cahabon rising to heights above 1,900 meters.
Sierra de Chama North of the Cahabon
Fifth was the crazy quilt of rivers flowing in every direction. On the map below, the rivers in red are part of the Usumacinta drainage basin. The rivers in yellow flow to the Caribbean. The black lines are river courses detected by satellite-sensed elevation analysis, most of which we have not yet traced into our database of southern Mesoamerican rivers.
Sierra de Chama Rivers and Streams
As further evidence of the difficult nature of the terrain around our proposed land of Amulon, consider the following image from an eye altitude approximately 23 kilometers above the earth.
Broken Country around Land of Amulon
The mountains and rivers are all oriented east-west. The destination, Nephi, is south southwest. Hundreds of small rounded hillocks and depressions dot the landscape. It is no wonder travelers could become disoriented. Criterion #9 satisfied.

10. A surefire route exists from Helam back to Nephi. It follows the very large Chixoy River to the valley south of Manti, then the Cahabon, back to the Chixoy by the head of Sidon, and then the Salama to the pass over the Sierra de las Minas. That gets you back in the Motagua drainage where the mountains and rivers are predictable and much easier to navigate. The part of the Chixoy outlined in black is  generally avoided even today because it is so rugged. Switching back and forth between the Chixoy and the Cahabon to get across the narrow strip of wilderness probably contributed to the Amulonites' and Lamanites' disorientation in the first place.
Reliable Route Helam to Nephi
Alma1 shared the key - following the right rivers - and everyone got safely home Mosiah 23:38. Criterion #10 satisifed.

Our candidate for Helam comfortably meets all 10 textual criteria.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Test #6 Relative Distances

We have deduced a likely value for the Nephite standard unit of distance measure called "one days journey" Helaman 4:7. In the New World that value was probably close to 15 air or straight-line kilometers per day. See the article "Land Southward Travel Times." In the Old World, that distance was almost certainly greater. Camel caravans plying the sands of Arabia routinely travel 25 - 40 air kilometers per day. In this article we will investigate all instances of the term "day" with variants used in a travel context. We have previously analyzed the likely meaning of the terms "near," "not far," and "far" in the text. See the article "Things Near and Far." In Nephite usage, "near" probably meant a distance not to exceed 5 air kilometers. Distances of 5 - 10 air kilometers were "not far," and distances of 10 - 200 air kilometers were probably considered routine, neither near nor far. Our study shows a distance in excess of 400 air kilometers would have been considered "far" in Nephite terminology. Our model was shown to be in complete accord with this understanding of the distances implied by these words. Our recent analysis of the term "by" in spatial contexts (see the article "By and By") led us to conclude two entities that were by each other would probably not have been more than 25 air kilometers distant, with a high likelihood they were immediately adjacent. After some modifications to our model to accommodate newly-acquired insights (we extended the land of Jershon to the seacoast to comply with our new understanding of Alma 27:22) our model is now 100% compatible with this interpretation.

With this background, we are prepared to test our correlation against passages in the text where relative distance is either expressed or implied in terms of a day's travel.

1 Nephi 2:6 says Lehi and family traveled three days in the wilderness from the shores of the Red Sea to the valley of Lemuel. We correlate the shores of the Red Sea with the area around modern Aqaba, Jordan and follow George Potter's and Craig Thorsted's suggestion that the valley of Lemuel is a steep canyon about 2.5 air kilometers west of Tayyib al Ism, Saudi Arabia.
109 Air Kilometers from Shores of Red Sea to Valley of Lemuel
109/3 = 36.33 air kilometers per day which is feasible in the Near East.

1 Nephi 16:13 describes a four day journey from the valley of Lemuel to Shazer. Applying the same 36.33 air kilometer per day metric derived above, we locate Shazer along the 5 kilometer Saudi coastline between Wadi Maharish on the north and Wadi al Ghal on the south, about 15 air kilometers NW of modern Duba. The desert oasis Ra's Abu Sharirah is located precisely at this point.
146 Air Kilometers Valley of Lemuel to Shazer
1 Nephi 16:17 says the Lehites and Ishmaelites then traveled "many days" to the camp where Nephi broke his fine steel bow. Based on 1 Nephi 16:30 we site the camp of the broken bow at the foot of the most prominent mountain range along the coastal corridor between Duba on the north and Jeddah on the south. 2,279 meter Jabal Jar and 2,210 meter Jabal Radwa are peaks in this range. These mountains are home to the Nubian Ibex, a big game species still hunted today.
428 Air Kilometers from Shazer to Camp of the Broken Bow
428/36.33 = 11.78 days travel which fits the textual description of many days.

The next camp along the Arabian Red Sea coastal plain was Nahom in modern Yemen, "many days" south southeast 1 Nephi 16:33 of the camp of the broken bow. Nahom correlates well with Naham on the modern map, 51 air kilometers NE of the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.
1,179 Air Kilometers from Camp of the Broken Bow to Nahom
1,179/36.33 = 32.45 days, in line with what the Nephite text considers "many days" Mosiah 7:4.
At this point, it is appropriate to celebrate the astonishing accuracy of the Nephite scribes. We went to some trouble to analyze cardinal and ordinal directions in the text. See the article "Test #5 North, South, East and West." But, in that study we failed to properly note the subtle nuances of directionality in 1 Nephi 16:13-14, 33. The three legs of this long journey:
  • Valley of Lemuel to Shazer was "nearly a south-southeast direction." Our mapped azimuth is 147.93 degrees, only 9.57 degrees off true south-southeast (157.5 degrees). Nephi's description could hardly be more exact.
  • Shazer to Camp of the Broken Bow was "following the same direction." Our mapped azimuth is 140.91 degrees, only 7.02 degrees from the Valley of Lemuel to Shazer heading. Nephi's subsequent comment shows he observed even that minor difference.
  • Camp of the Broken Bow to Nahom followed "nearly the same course as in the beginning." In other words, the vector from Camp of the Broken Bow to Nahom was closer to the original Valley of Lemuel to Shazer heading (147.93) than was the second leg (140.91). Our mapped azimuth for the third leg is 144.95 degrees, only 2.98 degrees off the original Valley of Lemuel to Shazer metric. Nephi's description is strikingly precise.
The Lehite voyage from Bountiful in modern Oman to first nheritance in modern Chiapas or Guatemala consisted of three segments:
A typical path through the Indian Ocean, skirting the north of Australia and across the Pacific would have been about 25,000 kilometers in length or about 63% of the circumference of the earth.
25,012 Kilometer Proposed Lehi Ocean Voyage
1 nautical mile = 1 minute of longitudinal arc = approximately 1.852 kilometers at the equator. 1 knot = travel speed of 1 nautical mile per hour. A rule of thumb in the sailing world is that a typical ship under favorable wind can travel at a speed of 5 knots. 5 knots = approximately 9.26 kilometers per hour or 222.24 kilometers in a 24 hour day. If the Lehites averaged 5 knots on their circumnavigation, their voyage would have required 25,012/222.24 = 112.54 days. Factoring in the four days of tempest when they went backward, 120 days at sea seems like a reasonable estimate for their length of voyage. That easily fits the textual description of "many days" followed by another leg of "many days."    

2 Nephi 5:7-8 says the early Nephites journeyed "many days" from the land of first inheritance to the local land of Nephi. We correlate first inheritance with the coastal plain near the site of Izapa and Nephi with the area around Guatemala City.
 203 Air Kilometers from First Inheritance to Local Land of Nephi
203/15 = 13.53 days travel which qualifies as a journey of many days.

Mosiah chapter 7 tells the story of Ammon and 15 strong men who traveled from the local land of Zarahemla up into the wilderness Mosiah 7:3 and then up again from the wilderness to the local land of Nephi Mosiah 7:4. They wandered around disoriented for 40 days before finally arriving at the hill north of Shilom. What should have been about a 20 day trip based on air kilometers took twice as long. The circles on the map below represent quandary points, places where it would have been very easy for Ammon & company to take a wrong turn and get lost for a few days.
289 Air Kilometers from the Boca del Cerro Wilderness to the
Hill North of Shilom with Possible Detour Points Circled
This is a closeup of the Lacantun confluence.
Confluence of the Lacantun with the Upper Usumacinta
The Pasion Confluence.
Confluence of the Pasion with the Salinas to form the Usumacinta
And the Salama Confluence showing water backed up behind the Chixoy Dam.
Confluence of the Chixoy Negro with the Salama to form the Chixoy
This wild country could temporarily confuse travelers even today. The story of Ammon and his reconnaissance party is plausible given the terrain they traversed.

A more dramatic story of 43 strong men getting lost in the wilderness is told in Mosiah chapter 8. King Limhi's exploring party left the local land of Nephi bound for Zarahemla, but ended up at hill Ramah/Cumorah in the land northward. They were lost in the wilderness for "many days" Mosiah 8:8. This map shows the two known points on their epic journey.
664 Air Kilometers from Nephi to Ramah/Cumorah
We presume the Limhite explorers were not lost on their return trip back to Nephi, so the phrase "many days" applies to their outbound leg. 664/15 = 44.26 days, very close to the number the text explicitly calls "many" Mosiah 7:4.
I can't resist a little aside here. Even though first hand knowledge of the trail between Zarahemla and Nephi had been lost for two generations Mosiah 7:1, the people of Limhi almost certainly knew a few things about their former home:
  • approximate distance from Nephi to Zarahemla
  • general relationship to river Sidon
  • general relationship to the seacoast at the mouth of Sidon
  • approximate elevation of Zarahemla, whether it was in the highlands or the coastal plain
  • approximate distance from the fall line where the mountains give way to the coastal plain
  • approximate distance from Nephi through the mountains to the fall line
  • approximate direction northward from Nephi
When they finally returned to their homes in Nephi, everyone including King Limhi thought the exploring party had discovered the ruins of Zarahemla Mosiah 7:14, 21:26. This map shows our correlation for Zarahemla, Nueva Esperanza; the leading candidate for Zarahemla on the Grijalva, Santa Rosa; and the known end points of the Limhi explorers' journey.
374 Air Kilometers Nephi to Zarahemla Candidate on the Usumacinta
256 Air Kilometers Nephi to Zarahemla Candidate on the Grijalva
Comparing the two candidates for Zarahemla:
  • 664/374 = 1.78. If Zarahemla is Nueva Esperanza, the Limhi explorers overshot the correct distance by a factor of 1.78. 664/256 = 2.59. If Zarahemla is Santa Rosa, the Limhi explorers overshot the correct distance by a factor of 2.59. Would diligent Mosiah 8:8 men have overshot their goal by more than  a factor of 2.5? Our candidate on the Usumacinta better fits this criterion.
  • The Limhi explorers clearly left the mountains and traveled a considerable distance through the coastal plain. They were looking for Zarahemla in the lowlands toward the seacoast. Our candidate at 25 meters elevation in the piedmont zone, 76 air kilometers from salt water satisfies this criterion. Santa Rosa at 475 meters elevation in the Central Depression of Chiapas, surrounded by high mountains and more than 260 air kilometers from the Gulf Coast simply does not fit this textual scenario.
  • The Limhites' general line of travel (the wrong way to Zarahemla) closely paralleled the Grijalva for over 200 kilometers from the confluence of the Cuilco with the Selegua (the point geographers identify as the head of the Grijalva) to the great bend at the La Venta confluence. Clearly, the Grijalva is much more likely to have been the wrong river.
Zeniff and his followers spent "many days" wandering in the wilderness. This map shows a straight-line route from the wilderness south of the local land of Zarahemla to the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi.
296.14 Air Kilometers in the Wilderness between
Zarahemla on the North and Nephi on the South
296.14/15 = 19.74 days which certainly qualifies as many days.

When Ammon and his brethren helped King Limhi and his people escape from their Lamanite overlords, the group traveled in the wilderness for many days before reaching the land of Zarahemla Mosiah 22:13.This map shows a likely route of travel skirting around the land of Shilom through the wilderness of Mormon Mosiah 18:4, eastward down the Motagua, and then taking a sharp bend northward through the Salama Valley to the area around Coban, Alta Verapaz and from there down the Icbolay or San Roman (probably the San Roman because they did not pass through the land of Helam), Salinas, and Usumacinta to Boca del Cerro. We consider Boca del Cerro the spectacular interface point between the local land of Zarahemla on the north and the higher elevation wilderness on the south.
Limhi's Likely Route from Nephi to Zarahemla
325 Air Kilometers, 498 Trail Kilometers
325/15 = 21.66 which fits the text's description of many days in the wilderness.

The Lamanite army dispatched to pursue Limhi probably mustered from the land of Shemlon, source of other recent military activity Mosiah 10:7, 19:6. The wilderness north of Lamanite territory ca. 121 B.C. we think was north of the Motagua. The Lamanite pursuit force probably lost the people of Limhi's tracks Mosiah 22:16 somewhere in the Salama Valley. The black arc on the map below shows the approximate distance (30 air kilometers) the army would have traveled in 2 days' march.
30 Air Kilometer Arc from Lamanite Army Likely Muster Point
We next meet this Lamanite army Mosiah 23:30 in the land of Helam where Alma1 and his converts were busy making the jungle blossom as the rose. While wandering around lost for "many days" the Lamanites had come upon the priests of Noah newly-settled in the land of Amulon Mosiah 23:31. In one of the most curious plot twists in the Nephite narrative, neither the Lamanites nor the Amulonites knew the way back to Nephi Mosiah 23:35. The Amulonites had recently been night raiders preying on the people of Limhi in the land of Nephi Mosiah 21:21. Their transition from social parasites Mosiah 11:6 to farmers must have been jarring. They were only too happy to find new victims to exploit Mosiah 24:8. Based on Mosiah 24:1-2 we would expect Amulon to be more than a village. Based on Mosiah 18:35, 23:19 we would expect the population of the land of Helam to be on the order of 500 inhabitants. Our placement of the land of Helam is based on Mosiah 23:3. See the article "Helam." This map shows the straight-line distance from the north bank of the Motagua across from our land of Shemlon to our candidate for Amulon and then Helam. 91 + 47 = 138 air kilometers.
138 Air Kilometers Wilderness North of Shemlon to Amulon and Helam
138/15 = 9.2 days which qualifies as many days to be lost in the wilderness.

Mosiah 23:3 is one of the anchor points of Book of Mormon geography, the first leg of Alma1's tripartite journey from the local land of Nephi to the local land of Zarahemla. The 8 days' distance did not originate in Nephi proper. It was the distance the Nephites traveled after they entered the wilderness which we correlate with the Sierra de las Minas north of the Motagua River. The distance on the map below is 120.70 air kilometers from the north bank of the Motagua to our correlate for the land of Helam.
120.70 Air Kilometers in the Wilderness to Helam
The model predicts 8 X 15 = 120 air kilometers for this distance.

Mosiah 24:20 implies a long travel day as the Nephites fled to escape their captors. The distance on the map below is 20.03 air kilometers from our land of Helam to a point in the proposed valley of Alma.
20 Air Kilometers from Proposed Land of Helam to
Plausible Valley of Alma Downstream on the Sidon
20 air kilometers is in line with the distance we would expect for this transect.

The third leg of Alma1's journey was a 12 day trip from the valley of Alma to the local land of Zarahemla Mosiah 24:25. The model predicts a distance of 12 X 15 = 180 air kilometers. The measured straight-line distance between the two points shown below is 186.89 air kilometers, a reasonably good fit to the text.
186.89 Air Kilometers Valley of Alma to SE Corner
of the Local Land of Zarahemla
Alma 8:6 is another anchor point in the study of relative Nephite distances. This map shows our interpretation of the passage. See the articles "Ammonihah" and "Melek" for textual criteria under girding our correlations. 
City of Ammonihah 3 Days' Journey North of Land of Melek
45.03 Air Kilometers Distant
Our model predicts 3 X 15 = 45 air kilometers distance.

Alma chapter 8 describes Alma2's departure from Ammonihah, his travel toward the city of Aaron, and his angelic instruction to return to Ammonihah. We are not told how far the prophet traveled, but we do know he had "fasted many days" Alma 8:26 before Amulek provided hospitality. We correlate Ammonihah with the site of El Hormiguero II and Aaron with El Ceibal, both in Peten, Guatemala.
121 Air Kilometers from Ammonihah to Aaron
If Alma2 had traveled 2/3 of the way to Aaron before his special angel Alma 8:15 turned him around, his round-trip journey would have been 161 air kilometers long. 161/15 = 10.73 days travel which qualifies as a journey of many days.

The sons of Mosiah and their entourage journeyed "many days" in the wilderness to go up to the land of Nephi from the local land of Zarahemla Alma 17:9.
296.14 Air Kilometers Wilderness South of Zarahemla
to Wilderness North of Nephi
296.14/15 = 19.74 days which qualifies as many days.

Alma 22:32 says the boundary line between the land of Desolation on the north and the land of Bountiful on the south ran for a day and a half's journey from a point in the east to the west sea. Our model predicts 1.5 X 15 = 22.5 air kilometers. The use of the word "only" in this passage implies a modest distance.
23.02 Air Kilometers on the East-West Bountiful Desolation
Line from 522 Meters Elevation to Sea Level
Our map shows a very similar distance rising to an elevation of 522 meters up the slopes of the Sierra Madrea de Chiapas. The Nephites defended this line, trying to prevent Lamanite Alma 22:33, 52:9 or dissident Alma 50:34 incursion across it into the land northward. For detailed discussion of this highly strategic area, see the articles "The Narrow (Small) Neck of Land" and "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage." 

Helaman 4:7 describes a similar line further south, entirely contained within land Bountiful. According to our model this line should be about 15 kilometers from a point in the east to the west sea which at this point includes a saltwater lagoon behind a sandbar.
14.92 Air Kilometers from Salt Water to an Elevation of 516 Meters
From Laguna de la Joya to a point up the slopes of the Sierra Madre, 14.92 air kilometers is very close to our derived distance of one day's journey.

Ether 6:11 says the Jaredites were in their barges crossing the ocean for 344 grueling days. If the Jaredites crossed the north Pacific, their route would look something like the 2 images below.
Possible Jaredite Voyage from Origin
The origin point near Wenzhou in modern China was selected based on Ether 6:2. This is one of the few places along the entire Chinese coast with a 600+ meter peak seaside.
Possible Jaredite Voyage to Termination
This route is 13,658 kilometers long. 13,658/344 = 39.70 kilometers per day. The computerized drift model maintained by the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) at the University of Hawaii tracks debris crossing the Pacific driven by surface currents and winds. 40 kilometers per day is toward the high end of the range, but certainly not unheard of for debris riding high in the water with significant wind exposure. Ether 6:5 describes just such a condition. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake struck northeastern Japan, killing 18,000 people and causing a huge tsunami. According to the IPRC, buoyant debris from that tsunami first washed ashore in the continental U.S. 280 days later, lending credibility to our model of the Book of Mormon account.

The text uses the term "distance" three times. We illustrated our correlation for Alma 22:32 above. Alma 56:37 is quite interesting. This is a deliberate attempt on the part of Helaman1 to describe a distance greater than the standard Nephite unit of measure. The Nephite army marched for two full days and part of a third with hordes of the enemy in hot pursuit. After their feint was finished, they traveled in a relatively straight line northward. Their campsite on the first night was a "considerable distance" from the Lamanite bastion, Antiparah. This map shows our current correlation.
Helaman's First Campsite 23.69 Air Kilometers from Antiparah
If our deduced value for a routine Nephite travel day, 15 air kilometers, is correct, then 23.69 air kilometers in one day qualifies as a "considerable distance." Our estimate of the stripling warrior's first day's march from Judea, skirting Antiparah, toward the city beyond on the seashore, and then northward to their first campsite is 41.8 trail kilometers, definitely a considerable distance. An army of young men with adrenaline pumping will travel further in one day than an emigrant party. The terrain along the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas is flat, with many small rivers. Hostile military travel in excess of 40 trail kilometers per day for two days in a row would have been strenuous, but not unreasonable.

A region of lakes in Central Mexico fits the description in Helaman 3:4 and Alma 50:29. The eastern portion of this territory has many rivers, particularly in the Papaloapan Basin which we correlate with the waters of Ripliancum Ether 15:8 and the Tuxtla Mountains which we correlate with the land of Cumorah Mormon 6:4.
Region of Lakes and Rivers in Land Northward
In the ca. 46 B.C. time period Helaman 3:4 refers to, Teotihuacan was in ascendancy near modern Mexico City. Teotihuacan was by the shores of a system of 5 ancient lakes that together covered a surface area of approximately 1,450 square kilometers.
  • Lake Chalco in the southeast
  • Lake Xochimilco in the southwest (the small remaining lake area tourists visit today)
  • Lake Texcoco in the center
  • Lake Xaltocan in the northeast
  • Lake Zumpango in the northwest
A transect from the Bountiful Desolation line which was also the boundary between the lands northward and southward to modern Mexico City is 686.17 air kilometers long. That certainly qualifies as an "exceedingly great distance" in the Nephite world.
Summary. We previously analyzed all occurrences of the terms "near" and "far" used in a spatial context in the Book of Mormon. See the article "Things Near and Far." We also analyzed every instance of the word "by" used in a spatial context. See the article "By and By." We just illustrated all 22 uses of the word "day" as a Nephite unit of measure for distance. We then looked at all instances of the word "distance" in the text. Our model is reasonable, 100% consistent with textual usage of these terms. Any viable model of the Book of Mormon should show similar text to map consistency.

We have not yet examined all terms with distance implications. At some point we still need to look at all occurrences of the words "journey" and "march" with variants and refine our understanding of "many" and "exceeding."