"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
March 06, 2015
New Directions from More Random Dots
by Jeff Lindsay

Following up on my last post, "Book of Mormon Sleuthing: Connecting More Dots, Pursuing More Tangents," I'd like to share some additional directions that arose from that minor effort.

Last week I heard from one critic insisting that the work of John Sorenson regarding Mesomerica and the Book of Mormon can be summarily rejected as ludicrous without having to examine his extensive arguments involving numerous themes such as cultural practices, geography, social structure, patterns of warfare, and so on.

The reason for the rejection is that Sorenson's map used to align Book of Mormon locations with specific Mesoamerican locations is fundamentally flawed since Sorenson has to establish a Nephite "north" that is rotated around 60 degrees, making it closer to northwest that it is to north.

This basic problem with the map is a legitimate concern, and the critic feels pointing that out is all it takes to dismiss Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. After all, the ancients were smart enough to know the solstices and the cardinal points, so they could not possibly have confused northwest for north, and so on.

Critics of our faith too frequently speak as if the arguments they cast have never been thoughtfully considered and discussed by LDS thinkers. Sorenson, naturally, has examined the issue of directions from several angles and addresses the challenge at length in his writings, particularly in his grand Mormon's Codex, at pp. 124-127 for starters.

In addition to the evidence raised by Sorensen about the variability in definitions of cardinal points and the plausibility of other systems that could give directions consistent with his map, I think an especially important advance comes from Brant Gardner in "From the East to the West: The Problem of Directions in the Book of Mormon" at MormonInterpreter.com, 2013.

The fact that some ancient peoples could precisely identify various directions does not mean that their cultures used precise terminology to define the four directions in the way we think of them today. This is an important point ably documented by Sorenson and Gardner.

Gardner shows that the ancient peoples in Mesoamerica didn't just have cardinal points, but often used directions to describe entire quadrants. They used the solstices to define east and west, but north and south could then be much broader regions above and below (or to the left and right of) the east-west line.

The quadrant model Gardner discusses can be used to fit Book of Mormon directions onto the modern map of Mesoamerica without a need for shifting the cardinal points at all, especially if one also recognizes the importance of the Mesoamerica concept of the center (the "fifth direction"), wherein the center point used for a reference in describing directions might result in some logical variations in how directions were associated with things like the oceans.

Regarding the role of the center, by the way, you might enjoy reading about its connection to very ancient practices and symbols in Mesoamerica going back to the Olmecs. See, for example, Karl Taube, "Lightning Celts and Corn Fetishes: the Formative Olmec and the Development of Maize Symbolism In Mesoamerica and the American Southwest," in Olmec Art and Archaeology in Mesoamerica, ed. John C. Clark and Mary Pye (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2000).

Reading Gardner and Sorenson has given me a much better appreciation for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon and its geography, and I don't think there is any legitimate reason for dismissing it out of hand without engaging the extensive arguments in favor of Book of Mormon plausibility.

I will dig into these issues more fully in an upcoming post, but wish to point out how a few of the random dots in my previous post led to some new connections and directions for me.

In "Book of Mormon Sleuthing," I present some intriguing new work from Brian Stubbs about Hebrew and Egyptian influence in an important group of Native American languages. The short summary of Brian Stubbs' new work on Uto-Aztecan languages at BMAF.org that I mentioned lists this example of an Egyptian word for north being related to an Uto-Aztecan term:

t'-imnti 'the west' > UA *tīmīnīmīn 'north, west' (reduplicated)

How can one word somehow or sometimes mean both north and west in Uto-Aztecan? (If I understand Stubbs correctly on this -- I need to check.)

I think it is because the use of directions in UA languages does not cleanly correspond with our cardinal points, consistent with what Gardner and Sorenson summarize regarding Mesomerican culture, where the directions are often represented as broad quadrants.

Gardner notes the similarity between Egyptian views and Mayan views. Both had four directions and a center. Both had north associated with death.

Interestingly, the ancient Chinese system may have been similar. Just as there are five elements, so are there five directions, with the fifth being the center (the "zhong" of "Zhong Guo" = Middle Kingdom, or China). The easterly direction is associated with the dragon, which seems related to the crocodile or serpent. See https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5f/Chinese_cardinal_directions_study_panel.pdf

Gardner offers the plausible hypothesis that Book of Mormon "north" and "south" may have literally been written as "on the left" and "on the right" relative to the motion of the sun.

Gardner suggests that this would be an example of loose translation, though I would argue even a generally tight translation would require something other than the literal words in order for it to be a useful translation at all since reference to left and right to English speakers would simply fail to convey what was meant.

A few minutes after Brian Stubbs' article intrigued me with the possibility of an Old World word for north becoming "north, west" in Uto-Aztecan, I ran into an interesting connection with the culture of the Hopis, a Native American group speaking a Uto-Aztecan language. In "The Hopi" in the massive 20-volume set, The North American Indian by E.S. Curtis (Cambridge, Mass.: University Press, 1907), footnote 6 on page 246 offers this observation:

Hopi orientation corresponds only approximately with ours, their cardinal points being marked by the solstitial rising and setting points of the sun. At the summer solstice the sun rises in the east and sets in the north; at the winter solstice it rises in the south and sets in the west. Their cardinal points are therefore not mutually equidistant on the horizon and roughly agree with our semi-cardinal points.

That approach is quite different than our modern conventions, but may be related to some of the directional treatments in the Book of Mormon. Read Gardner and let me know what you think.

I find it interesting that a treatise on Old World connections to New World languages could also help point out some new directions for resolving other Book of Mormon challenges.

We're still just scratching the surface, but we're finding that the more we scratch, the more there is to respect. Don't ignore the annoying itching when there seems to be trouble with the Book of Mormon. Keep on scratching, and keep on sleuthing!

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.


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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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