Lost in the jungle #2 – More of my issues with "Journey of Faith: The New World"

The continuation of my list of bugs, major and minor, with “Journey of Faith: The New World”, which places the events of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica:

  1. The DVD again associates Nephite Temples with the Mesoamerican Temples, stating that all these cultures were temple centred, and asserts that the Nephites were similar, the difference being the covenants the Nephites made at their temples. The issue here is although we know the Nephites had temples (Nephi’s, Zarahemla, Bountiful)and others and so did the Lamanites (Alma 23:2), we don’t have any real details of what was done in them. Sacrifice, based on the OT model, is probable, and three sermons are mentioned as taking place at temples (Jacob’s in Jacob 2-3, King Benjamin’s and Christ’s), but there is no record of covenant-making at temples in the Book of Mormon. These seems more a projection of present LDS ordinances on the Nephite dispensation, particularly since the big covenant-making scenes in the Book of Mormon, (such as that at the waters of Mormon or Ammon’s converts) tend not to take place at the Temple. The one at the end of King Benjamin’s sermon would be an exception – but of course it’s noted there that most people couldn’t fit physically in the temple, and it is the teachings in the sermon, rather than physical location, that are pivotal for the covenant making.
  2. The DVD spends some time claiming that a Mesoamerican maize deity reflects similar religious ideas, as this deity too dies and is resurrected. However, vegetation deities who die and are reborn appear throughout many cultures – Adonis, Tammuz and Osiris, for example. Such general parallels are not sufficient, since in many cases they can be found widely, as above, and in specifics they can often differ drastically and attempts to treat them as simplistic parallels are often highly reductionistic.
  3. The DVD also makes much of the descriptions of the Book of Mormon peoples becoming idolatrous, and associating this with Mesoamerican idols. Again, however, idols are not particular to Mesoamerica, but widespread. Moreover, while on some occasions idols does appear to refer to the specific concept, on other occasions the Book of Mormon appears to use it in a wider sense. Thus Alma hears that the Zoramites ‘bow down before dumb idols’ (Alma 31:1), but as he (and the reader) find out, they actually worship one god who is spirit (v.15-17). Their idolatry appears to rest more upon things like their denial of Christ, and particularly the fact that they set their hearts upon their gold and riches (v.24).
  4. King Benjamin’s statement during his sermon, that he is not ‘more than a mortal man’ (Mosiah 2:10) is claimed to be a specific denial of divine kingship. Again, however, divine kingship is not particular to Mesoamerica, has many precedents in the ancient near east, and the text may not be a specific denial of that point anyway – much of the wider context is on Benjamin’s kingship and his conduct of it, and Benjamin does not appear to belabour that specific point.
  5. Likewise, much is made of Amulek’s discussion of the Atonement and sacrifice (including his statement ‘for it shall not be a human sacrifice’ Alma 34:10) and Mesoamerica’s record of human sacrifice. Yet again, however, human sacrifice, while a significant aspect of Mesoamerican culture, is not unique to it. Human sacrifice occurs elsewhere, including being mentioned in biblical precedents well-known to the Book of Mormon authors. Also, while human sacrifice is recorded in the Book of Mormon, it is only mentioned during the final collapse (Mormon 4:14,21) and not at any other time. Nor does Amulek’s sermon necessarily require human sacrifice to be the context, since he is actually speaking of the inefficacy of any kind of sacrifice and of Christ’s deity: “For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.” (Alma 34:10). His sermon continues to discuss the Atonement in light of the penalty for murder and then with Mosiac sacrifice (Alma 34:11-14), rather than human sacrifice.
  6. On this subject of human & ‘heart’ sacrifice, one of the DVD’s scholars asserts that references to a broken heart and contrite spirit are an allusion to this Mesoamerican practice. Again, this is seeing Mesoamerican roots in something which is palpably biblical, as in Psalms 34:18: “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”
  7. Wars are drawn as a point of comparison, including Mesoamerica’s militarism. However, again this is not peculiar to Mesoamerica, and some of the most famous militarised societies are definitly not Mesoamerican (Sparta, for instance). Also, I’m not an expert on Mesoamerica, so am happy to be corrected on this, but it also appears that Mesoamerican warfare wasn’t really centred around conquest, but on pillage and vassalage – not the sort of wars we see described in the Book of Mormon.
  8. Likewise, I’m not sure the fortifications as described in the Book of Mormon are particularly Mesoamerican. Indeed, I recall reading a similar description (though in different words) in Xenophon’s Anabasis, although take that with a pinch of salt as I don’t have the reference to hand.
  9. There is also the claim that the seasons for fighting wars (and thus not harvest time, and so forth) match up between the Book of Mormon & Mesoamerica, namely the 11th to 2nd months. Unfortunately, there are significant problems with this, for even if the claim of the Book of Mormon months is correct (I haven’t checked it myself, although it could well be correct), it should be noted that those would be the 11th to 2nd months of their calendar, which is highly unlikely to correlate with ours (which is the one being used to time the Mesoamerican season). Indeed, upon investigation, this problem isn’ t solved, as can be seen when we seen Sorenson’s original argument here: “The Nephite war season, their tenth or eleventh through second or third months, must coincide with the period for Mesoamerican conflicts, that is, roughly November through February. That means that the Nephite year (at least in the first century B.C. when these wars were recorded) ran from the latter half of December around through December again.” Note that Sorenson is using the assumption that Mesoamerica is the place: “the most probable scene for the Nephite society”, to match the Nephite and Mesoamerican ‘seasons of war’. For someone else to then take that artificial correlation based on assuming a Mesoamerican locale, and then to assert it as evidence of Mesoamerican location is incredibly circular. Moreover, it leaves us inevitably (since the numbers of the months have to match up) with a incredibly unlikely correlation between our own and the Nephite calendar. Sorenson blurs this a bit by arguing from the latter half of December to December, though with little evidence (he says a ‘good guess’ is it ran from the winter solstice, but there is no evidence of this within the Book of Mormon), but admits that it is ‘quite close to our own calendar’. Furthermore, we do have a rough season for the Nephite New Year later on, as Christ’s death (which would coincide with Passover, and so the spring) is noted as taking place on the 4th days of the 1st month of the 34th year (3 Nephi 8:5). Incidentally, Passover is to take place in the 1st Month of the Israelite calendar, though on the 14th day of the month (Exodus 21:2-6). From what I understand, Sorenson does assume the year was changed at the sign of his birth, but it then seems very unlikely that the Nephites would develop a calendar synchronised with the modern western calendar, and then ditch it for one which incidentally was pretty close to the one they must have started with!

2 thoughts on “Lost in the jungle #2 – More of my issues with "Journey of Faith: The New World"

  1. Pingback: Defending Deuteronomy | Of making many books there is no end...

  2. Pingback: The vexed question of Book of Mormon geography | David's random ramblings

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