The conclusion of my rambling list of intense disagreements, methodological quibbles, and minor nitpicks of the “Journey of Faith: The New World” DVD:
- Following on from where I left off, the DVD speaks of Teancum’s assassination of Amalickiah at New Years, and asserts this would be particularly disorientating in the face of the New Years Rituals the King was expected to perform. A problem here is that there is no such evidence for such rituals in the Book of Mormon, especially since Amalickiah was in the field with his army. Indeed, much of the evidence of such rituals in ancient societies often rests on slender threads, being the product of things like the myth and ritual school which have tended to receive more questioning in recent times. Incidentally, the murder of the head of state tends to be disconcerting anyway, especially when he was camping in the middle of a loyal army.
- Incidentally on the New Years day thing, Daniel Peterson notes that the association of this time of year with ‘the heat of the day’ (Alma 51:33) indicates that this shows it did not happen near New York, or at a different time of the year from our New Year, ‘probably both’. I’d actually largely agree with that, although strictly it only requires one or the other, but maybe he should have a word with those who inadvertently suggest the Nephites are using a modern calendar, and that this reference proves a particular geography.
- The suggestion is given that swords mentioned in the Book of Mormon were the weapons used in Mesoamerica, using obsidian blades on wooden swords. It should be noted there is no reference to Obsidian in the Book of Mormon and that Metal blades are definitely described in Ether 7:9 & implied in 2 Nephi 5:14. The latter references are not disputed, although perhaps inconsistent with a Mesoamerican setting – one presenter suggested the obsidian blades helped make up for a decline in metal technology, but there’s no textual evidence of such a decline. A possible point for such weapons was brought up with Ammons converts, who spoke of their swords being ‘stained’ with blood (Alma 24:12-13) – however, this also speaks of their swords becoming ‘bright’, so could also possibly be a point against.
- As an addendum to the above discussion, it should be mentioned that blood was sacred in cultures other than Mesoamerica – including biblical ones.
- The general descriptions of armour, protecting the head, body and arms in some fashion, but not the legs, can also match cultures other than Mesoamerica. They also speak at one point of the lower legs being unarmed, but strictly speaking, Alma 49:24 just mentions legs.
- The cataclysm that is associated with the Crucifixion of Christ is explained as Volcanic in the DVD. Certainly some of the phenomena (like the thick darkness), sound quite similar. As a nitpick, however, the first thing mentioned is a storm (3 Nephi 8:5). The overall description sounds like a number of different disasters.
- Another quibble, but the voice heard during the darkness doesn’t just say “I am Jesus Christ” and is then followed by silence – there is a whole discourse that makes up the bulk of 3 Nephi 9 and then there’s silence. Then the voice of the Saviour is heard some more.
- I really wasn’t sure of S. Kent Brown’s whole description of the ‘three ways’ in which Christ healed the people, but in particular the second of his ‘ways’, that Christ healed them of the feeling of being ‘displaced’, doesn’t really seem to jump from the text, and sound very woolly too.
- Nor can the claim that his visit was very different from what happened in Jerusalem be accepted uncritically. While Christ’s ministry to the Nephites is not a carbon copy, many of the elements have biblical parallels, indeed some of them receive greater emphasis by recognising them. Thus the people feeling the wounds in his hands and side, an echo of his encounter with Thomas; the quotation of the Sermon on the Mount; his interactions with the children; his conferral of the Holy Ghost, his intercessory prayer, his institution of the sacrament and the translation of three of his disciples all share deep connections with comparable biblical episodes, even if they vary in detail and magnitude.
- At this point, there was a very odd discussion about the implementation of government during the Utopia that follows Christ’s ministry, including the suggestion (from S. Kent Brown, I think) that the only government was the twelve disciples. I don’t know how or why he reads it in this way. At the very least, we know that in the Church there were Priests & Teachers also (Moroni 3:1), and there doesn’t seem any suggestion that there were no other authorities, especially to administer temporal things (compare the call of the Seven in Acts, specifically to free the twelve there from such things – Acts 6:1-6). There’s no real description of one, but the overall description is very brief – just twenty verses in 4 Nephi.
- The comment is made, in speaking of Mormon and his character, about him being ‘continually renewed in his hope for these people’. This description doesn’t quite seem to grasp him, seeing that one one occasion he confessed he was ‘without hope’ for his people (Mormon 5:2). Part of Mormon’s greatness seems, to me at least, not that he was eternally hopeful, but that even when he wasn’t he continued to perservere.
- The claim is made by Sorenson about a number of settlements abandoned around 350 AD. Recapping from the chronology issue discussed in the first post of this list, this seems to be about by around a couple of centuries, with El Mirador being abandoned by 150 AD.
- Brant Gardner appears to identify Teotihuacan as the land of many waters. This seems problematic, since the land described as such in the Book of Mormon appears to be Cumorah (Mormon 6:4), which Gardner does not identify with Teotihuacan. Likewise, speaking of the region as being deprived of trees, this was true earlier, but Helaman 3:9 records them allowing trees to spring up so they might have sufficient timber, suggesting the region may possibly not have been so deprived in Mormon’s time.
- Reference is also made to Teotihuacan’s conquest, or installation of vassal ruler in the late 4th century, and Brant Gardner appears to suggest Teotihuacan’s expansion from the north played a significant role in the collapse of Nephite civilisation. However, the Book of Mormon does not describe any threat from the North, nor any threat other than the Lamanites and Gadianton Robbers. If the principal actor was someone else, and were acting from the other direction, one would expect this to be mentioned. This is especially apparent as the treaty made with the Lamanites divides the land at the narrow neck, leaving the Nephites the land northward, and the Lamanites ‘all the land southward’ (Mormon 2:29). Furthermore, nearly all the military action in the following two chapters (Mormon 3 & 4) is described as happening around Desolation, a city ‘by the narrow pass which led into the land southward’ (Mormon 3:5), and the city of Teancum, which was nearby (4:3). Only after Desolation has fallen for the last time do we get a battle elsewhere (at Boaz, v.20) and only after that has fallen does the war move on – further suggesting that the fighting was concentrated at a strategic bottleneck until that bottleneck had been seized by the Lamanites. If there were a hostile power to the north, the war wouldn’t work like that.
- Likewise, Mormon’s comments about the war stretch rather further that merely ‘a change in the rules of warfare’, as suggested by Gardner, who appears to suggest such changes are likewise the result of Teotihuacan’s outside influence. Mormon’s lament goes much further, that it his own people who have become ‘brutal’ (Moroni 9:19), ‘without order and without mercy’ (v.18), who have rapidly descended from a civilised to uncivilised people (v.11-12). This moral decay seems to go far beyond an altered code of warfare, and it appears to rob the account of its power and purpose to suggest that it is the result of an outside cultural influence, rather than (as I believe it is depicted) as the people’s own fall into depravity because of their rejection of righteousness. Indeed, certain 20th century parallels might be better to understand what Mormon went through.
A final disclaimer at the end of the DVD, emphasing the need and importance of a spiritual witness over any scholarly evidence, made me feel somewhat better about this DVD. Likewise, the last half an hour, which concentrated more of things happening within the Book of Mormon rather than reading in Mesoamerican material, was better. Overall, however, I’m not sure I could recommend this DVD. I have my issues with the first, both in presentation and in details, but feel the average viewer might get something out of it, but these issues with the second DVD seem to overwhelm it.
In particular, I felt the hermenuetic of finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon was the major flaw, with several symptoms: allowing circular arguments to go unexamined; a sort of ‘parallelomania’, where any sort of parallel, no matter how loose and general with the rest of the world, was taken as evidence; and especially the tendency to see the Mesoamerica in things that definitely aren’t Mesoamerican, such as Abinadi’s quotation of Exodus, or the broken heart & contrite spirit. I don’t believe the Book of Mormon’s geography is, in any case, one of the important or that interesting questions, but allowing a particular assumption about the geography to govern the interpretation of the book is badly flawed as an interpretive scheme.