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Statement on Book of Mormon geography

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On 3/6/2019 at 2:39 PM, Gervin said:

Who's opinions?  Sort of a vague statement.  Another vague statement, "... cast significant light on the Book of Mormon."  I don't let people who work for me use the word "significant" unless they can show significance criteria; otherwise the word is meaningless. 

Sorry, not impressed.  The LiDar info shows features on a large-scale.  The details of these Mayan cultures don't jibe with the Book of Mormon.  For example, you want to draw a conclusion that Book of Mormon trade correlates with Mayan trade because the BoM talks about gold and silver.  However, the Mayan were  more interested in trade associated with shells and jade (and  more jade), not gold and silver.  The conclusions touted in the link are strained and incorrect.  Sorry.

Notice that your "Whose opinions?" question had a specific answer in the link.  Kirt Magleby. Did you not notice?  And regarding the link, and whether they don't jibe, and are strained and incorrect, I notice that you could not be less specific in your answer.  And the LiDar surveys done thus far are not far from Book of Mormon areas, but not where Sorenson and Gardner and Poulson and others find the best fit.  Magleby points out that there a places with significant overlap in time.  Those who actually read the link encounter this stuff:

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  • The lowland Maya flourished from 1,000 BC to AD 1500 (European contact). The later portions of the Book of Mormon fit comfortably in this time horizon. Three of the ten survey blocks contain large numbers of structures that were abandoned in the late preclassic (before AD 250). This dating corresponds well with the Nephite record. 
  • The Maya are known for sophisticated writing, art, architecture, astronomy, and mathematics. The Book of Mormon describes this level of cultural attainment Helaman 3:15.
  • The Maya achieved substantial ancient population. The best estimates are 7 - 11 million people in the 95,000 square kilometers of the central Maya lowlands at apogee (AD 650 - 800). The central Maya lowlands constitute about 27% of the entire Maya area (approximately 350,000 square kilometers). Book of Mormon demography is on this order of magnitude Mosiah 8:8.
  • The Maya built "complex previously unrecognized landscape modifications at a grand scale." This corresponds well with the Book of Mormon's own description of its built environment Mormon 1:7.
  • Across the survey area of 2,144 square kilometers, structure density averages 29 per square kilometer. This implies a population density of 80 - 120 persons per square kilometer. 35 modern nations have population densities in this range including Honduras (80), Greece (82), Iraq (88), Spain (92), Egypt (97), Costa Rica (98), Turkey (103), Austria (105), and Portugal (112). All 10 of the PLI survey blocks were in Guatemala which has a modern population density of 158 persons per square kilometer.
  • This population was distributed across rural, periurban, and urban zones, precisely as the Book of Mormon describes Mormon 5:5.
  • The Maya practiced intensive agriculture to sustain their massive populations. The Book of Mormon describes productive agriculture yielding surpluses Alma 1:29.
  • Archaeologists were surprised to find extensive agricultural fields in low-lying wetlands. This implies a high degree of centralized social control. The Book of Mormon explicitly talks about centralized social control Alma 50:9.
  • The PLI survey found approximately 106 kilometers of causeways within and between urban centers. Many date to preclassic (Book of Mormon) times. Most were 10 to 20 meters in width. The widest causeway surveyed, at Tikal, was 80 meters wide. The Book of Mormon describes roads and highways 3 Nephi 6:8, 8:13.
  • "Sizable defensive features" imply "large-scale conflict." This sounds like a paraphrase of the Book of Mormon Mormon 8:8.
  • The Maya had a complex economy based on agriculture and trade. Ditto the economy described in the Book of Mormon 4 Nephi 1:46.
  • The more than 60,000 structures identified in the PLI survey required a heavy labor investment. The Book of Mormon describes public works built with heavy labor investments Alma 55:25.
  • Structures identified in the PLI survey include multiple types of buildings, fortifications, upland and wetland agricultural features, causeways, canals, and reservoirs. This is similar to Book of Mormon verbiage. Helaman 3:9.
  • The PLI survey found ancient landscape features even in flood-prone, poorly drained areas. The Book of Mormon describes population density increasing to such an extent that the people eventually built up even their least desirable land areas Helaman 11:20.
  • Man-made water channels are found throughout the Maya area. One example, at Tintal, is 2.5 kilometers long. The Book of Mormon mentions ditches being dug Alma 53:3.
  • Stone walls as long as 1 kilometer have been discovered. The Book of Mormon explicitly mentions walls of stone Alma 48:8.
  • Archaeologists have found evidence of cultivated fields, orchards, and household gardens. The Book of Mormon describes farmers raising grain and fruit as well as pastoralists raising animals Enos 1:21.
  • The PLI survey implies agricultural land dedicated to fiber production. The Book of Mormon describes cloth production Mosiah 10:5.
  • Portions of the PLI survey blocks remained in old growth forests. Forests are mentioned in the Nephite text Enos 1:3.
  • Portions of the PLI survey blocks contained relatively few structures of any kind. Archaeologists called them "vacant." The Book of Mormon describes tracts of wilderness adjoining settled lands Omni 1:12.
  • Maya cities had dependent hinterlands. The Book of Mormon describes these periurban edges as "the land round about" Mosiah 23:25.
  • Some Maya urbanizations were formidable. The center of El Perú-Waka' had a density of 1,100 structures per square kilometer. Tikal extended over at least 76 square kilometers. The Tikal palace had a man-made reservoir that held 31,000 cubic meters (8 million gallons) of water.  The Book of Mormon mentions great cities 3 Nephi 9:3-5 and implies a high level of urbane sophistication Helaman 3:14.
The Book of Mormon describes warfare in considerable detail per Nephi's original instructions to his posterity 1 Nephi 9:4. The PLI survey provides more information than we have ever had before about defensive structures in the Maya area. Now things get very interesting.
  1. The Maya built five different types of defensive fortifications that show up on LiDAR. Two of them (landscape ditch and rampart, hilltop ditch and rampart) are precisely the kind of fortifications the Book of Mormon describes Alma 49:18. A third (stone wall) is also attested in the Nephite text Alma 48:8.
  2. The PLI survey found 31 instances of defended areas in the 2,144 square kilometers they mapped. This high fortification density was entirely unexpected, but it fits comfortably into Captain Moroni's world Alma 50:1,6. Ubiquitous defensive structures, previously known only from the Book of Mormon, are now attested archaeologically.
  3. Some parts of Maya cities were more heavily fortified than others. The Book of Mormon explicitly says cities had stronger and weaker areas Alma 48:5.
  4. Some Maya cities were more heavily fortified than others. The Book of Mormon describes precisely this situation Alma 49:14-15.
  5. We have known about fortified Maya cities since the 1960's when reports on Becan and Tikal were published. The PLI survey showed that the Maya also built small military forts designed for brief stays remote from urban cores. Scholars did not see this coming, but it is exactly what the Book of Mormon describes. Archaeologists call these isolated structures "refuges" and five of them are identified in the Canuto, et al. article (RS028, Turca East, Kanalna North, Kanalna South, and El Achiotal Peninsula. The Book of Mormon calls them "small forts" and "places of resort" Alma 48:5, 8; 52:6. A defensive structure built primarily for occasional military use, previously known only from the Book of Mormon, is now attested archaeologically.
The article "Light from Guatemala" discusses the spectacular fortress called La Cuernavilla that dominates a steep ridge between El Zotz and Tikal.

The 2016 PLI survey, now ground-truthed, demonstrates monumental Maya engineering, architecture, and construction on a much grander scale than previously thought. World class archaeological data now vindicates many Book of Mormon passages.

I think it interesting to compare this with the kinds of things that Abner Cole put in The Book of Pukei.  Very different.

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The Book of Pukei, mocking the Egyptian origin of the Book of Mormon, describes the Native Americans as “clad, as I supposed, in Egyptian raiment, except his Indian blanket, and moccasins—his beard of silver white, hung far below his knees. On his head was an old fashioned military half cocked hat, such as was worn in the days of the patriarch Moses.”46 In the description of the hat and the Egyptian raiment “as I supposed,” Cole obviously intended to show that Joseph Smith would not know an anachronism when he saw one, for Cole elsewhere described Joseph as “the Ignoramus47 who “can neither read nor write.”48 Cole’s description of the Native Americans agrees mainly with contemporary Native Americans in upstate New York. He notes familiar items and traits such as their blankets,49 moccasins,50 “bark canoes,”51 internecine warfare,52 and susceptibility to smallpox.53

With the exception of warfare, which is too ubiquitous among humans to serve as a cultural indicator, all of the other details that Cole mentions are absent from the Book of Mormon. The closest that the Book of Mormon comes to blankets are generic references to cloth.54 The only references to any sort of footwear in that record pertain to the Old World.55 Beards are mentioned in the Book of Mormon only in a quotation of Isaiah (2 Nephi 17:20). Boats in the Book of Mormon are either barges,56 vessels,57 or ships.58 Far from being bark canoes designed for navigating rivers and lakes, Book of Mormon ships are ocean-going vessels made of unspecified materials. Diseases are mentioned in the Book of Mormon59 as things that Christ would cure60 or as a regular part of life,61 being treatable with Nephite plant lore62 or power from on high.63 There is no mention of plagues of small pox or of any other disease that devastates the population; wars and famines do that.

https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1082&index=10

Regarding trade, there is a possibility that the translation of gold and silver in the Book of Mormon is like that of the "candlestick under a bushel" in the New Testament, where Jerusalem in Jesus's day had neither candlesticks, nor bushels, but the words chosen convey the essential meaning to an audience with different technologies.

FWIW

Kevin Christensen

Canonsburg, PA

 

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1 hour ago, Kevin Christensen said:

Those who actually read the link encounter this stuff:

I read the article and the links before making my comments.  This "stuff" resides in a realm of speculative connections, devoid of scholarly analysis.  I won't waste my time going line by line pointing out the absurdities.  Suffice it to say that there is a very good reason the church cannot and will not touch Book of Mormon geography; links like the one you provide show that there is no sound archaeological claim for the book, and that arguments in support of a Mesoamerican setting are the purview of amateurs and armchair scholars.  Do you think you could haul this "stuff" to the University of Texas and their Mayan studies program and make a sound case for a Hebrew presence in Mesoamerica?  If not, you might reconsider joining yourself to statements like this:

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World class archaeological data now vindicates many Book of Mormon passages.

It's absurd and only serves to undercut any credibility you seek (or think you might have). 

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Regarding trade, there is a possibility that the translation of gold and silver in the Book of Mormon is like that of the "candlestick under a bushel" in the New Testament, where Jerusalem in Jesus's day had neither candlesticks, nor bushels, but the words chosen convey the essential meaning to an audience with different technologies.

Disavowing the words in the Book of Mormon is not a good strategy for convincing people that the Book of Mormon has historic credibility. 

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37 minutes ago, Gervin said:

I read the article and the links before making my comments.  This "stuff" resides in a realm of speculative connections, devoid of scholarly analysis.  I won't waste my time going line by line pointing out the absurdities.  Suffice it to say that there is a very good reason the church cannot and will not touch Book of Mormon geography; links like the one you provide show that there is no sound archaeological claim for the book, and that arguments in support of a Mesoamerican setting are the purview of amateurs and armchair scholars.  Do you think you could haul this "stuff" to the University of Texas and their Mayan studies program and make a sound case for a Hebrew presence in Mesoamerica?  If not, you might reconsider joining yourself to statements like this:

It's absurd and only serves to undercut any credibility you seek (or think you might have). 

Disavowing the words in the Book of Mormon is not a good strategy for convincing people that the Book of Mormon has historic credibility. 

Your reading did not show in your comments.   It's easy for someone to dismiss an investigation as no more than a "Witch hunt" and claim those involved are all corrupt.  Quite another to confront the evidence.  Labeling and dismissing is not the same as scholarship.  I've published around 40 essays in various places, including Oxford University Press, so I do have some idea of what real scholarship involves.

Why would I haul the Magleby's observations about convergences in the LiDar survey discoveries with Book of Mormon passages to the University of Texas and their Mayan Studies program to make a case for Hebrew presence in Mesoamerica?  That's not what he was trying to do. He was trying to show that Book of Mormon descriptions often fit with the new discoveries of previously hidden archeological features.  Not Hebrew presence, which is a different question, involving different questions and evidence. That sort of thing, I would leave to Brian Stubbs who does make that case on linguistic grounds.

As to the omniscience of the University of Texas, and Mayan Studies, I defer to Mark Wright, who posted this comment here, around 11 years ago:

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As for the opinion of most Mesoamerican scholars, the vast majority of them have no clue what the Book of Mormon says and most will never take the time to read it. Most of what they think they know about it comes from psuedoscholars who publish their misinformed junk science that fills the shelves of Deseret Book. As a Mesoamericanist, the only books I can really recommend on the subject that contain current scholarship are Brant's new volumes, but I don't know any scholars would take the time to read a six-volume set. Most won't take the time to respond to an email (I'm not kidding). 

As for how archaeologists who happen to be Mormon are concerned, they are well respected in the field. I'm at the Maya Meetings at Texas right now (they end tomorrow). Allen Christensen from BYU spoke to a packed house last night - everybody here absolutely adores him. He was even asked to cover MCing duty today since David Stuart's voice was going out (David Stuart is the world's leading Maya epigrapher). John Clark is also highly respected in the field, as is Richard Hansen (though he got in some hot water for consulting on Apocalypto). I know of a couple of others who are LDS (who don't make it public out of fear of being labeled crack-pots, which prejudice is based on the aforementioned junk science). My committee members all know I'm LDS, and they show me just as much respect as any other doctoral candidate.

And I am not disavowing words in the Book of Mormon.  I am making an observation about known artifacts of well known translations from one language and culture to another.  If such artifacts as the "bushel and candle stick" did not occur in the best known and most influential translation in human history (the KJV), then we would have nothing to talk about.  But such things happen in translation, and that makes my speculation of possibilities legitimate.  Notice that a suggestion of possibilities is not the same as a formal proof.

FWIW

Kevin Christensen

Canonsburg, PA

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20 hours ago, Kevin Christensen said:

...  to make a case for Hebrew presence in Mesoamerica?  That's not what he was trying to do. He was trying to show that Book of Mormon descriptions often fit with the new discoveries of previously hidden archeological features.  Not Hebrew presence, which is a different question, involving different questions and evidence.

They are the same thing.  A "presence" isn't legitimate unless it is "present" at a particular time, in a particular location.  

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But such things happen in translation, and that makes my speculation of possibilities legitimate. 

That makes anyone's speculation of possibilities legitimate.  But it doesn't make them credible.  For credibility, you take your remote sensing data (LiDAR) and you use it as a tool to help interpret what is found on and in the ground.  You fine tune the descriptions down to the type of seeds found in their diet, and the names of the gods they worshiped.  There has to be a basis for believing your speculations, by using commonly understood artifacts and discoveries.

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On 3/8/2019 at 1:23 PM, Gervin said:

Disavowing the words in the Book of Mormon is not a good strategy for convincing people that the Book of Mormon has historic credibility. 

While I have problem with linguistic drift for gold and silver it is a rather well noted linguistic phenomena. The problem is more people's preconceptions of what a translation is as well as typically little familiarity with these issues in translation. But you see this all the time in Spanish interactions in mesoAmerica where words on both sides are used to deal with novel phenomena. The question is how the Nephites would respond on the plates for new plants, animals, weapons and so forth. Assuming the plates were ideograms and not just Hebrew written in Egyptian then you have a limited number of glyphs to represent such objects. A translation that is already loose that follows KJV fragments when possible could easily have somewhat misleading words. Heck, just words like brass are misleading in the KJV, which I think was Kevin's point. A lot of words in the KJV text don't refer to what a literalist ignorant of context who never consults with the Hebrew/Greek would read them as.

On 3/8/2019 at 11:18 AM, Kevin Christensen said:

Regarding trade, there is a possibility that the translation of gold and silver in the Book of Mormon is like that of the "candlestick under a bushel" in the New Testament, where Jerusalem in Jesus's day had neither candlesticks, nor bushels, but the words chosen convey the essential meaning to an audience with different technologies.

The problem with linguistic drift for gold and silver is that the main trade items of the time as known are jade and obsidian. However Nephi and Jacob, who would have known of the metals, don't describe items like that. Rather 1 Nephi 18:25 says "And we did find all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper." However Egyptians used jade and obsidian so there would have been a word for it and Nephi would have known it. Why use gold or silver let alone ore when reformed Egyptian could already express the object in question? 

I'm completely open to linguistic drift but such drift presupposes there wasn't already a known word for the object in question. 

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