The revealed text

The revealed text
The light of revelation at the Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver worked upstairs to finish translating the Book of Mormon

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lesson 5 "Hearken to the Truth, and Give Heed unto It"

The title of this lesson could be the motto for this blog. Let's see what the truth is about Book of Mormon geography.

This lesson covers the departure of Lehi from the Arabian peninsula for the new world. This event presents what may be the single most important important question about Book of Mormon geography:

Which way did Lehi go?

If he went east, he crossed the Pacific and landed on the west coast of the Americas.

If he went west, he crossed the Atlantic and landed on the east coast of the Americas.

(Someone will say that he could have gone around Cape Horn, but that's unlikely for many reasons.)

So, which way did he go?

The answer to this question will determine what you think about Book of Mormon geography. And the answer really depends on when they left the Arabian peninsula.

Fortunately for us, Nephi tells us all we need to know to answer that question.

As you'll see, there is abundant evidence, both from the text and from real-world experience, that Lehi's group went west and crossed the Atlantic, landing in North America. Next week we'll look at where they actually landed, but for now, let's just look at which direction they went from Arabia.

Here is a graphical explanation:


The monsoons determine which direction Lehi traveled. If they left in the November time frame, they went southwest along the coast of Africa. How do we know they left in November? Because Nephi tells us they harvested fruit and honey in abundance before they left.





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Here's an excerpt from Moroni's America:

Nephi gives some additional information that may tell us when they left Bountiful. He says they entered the ship to leave “after we had prepared all things, much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance.” (1 Nephi 18:6) To gather fruit, Nephi would have waited until after the September wet season when the fruit would ripen. In Israel, grains were typically harvested in the spring while fruits, including grapes, figs, pomegranates and olives, were harvested in the fall. Presumably Lehi’s family followed this pattern. Perhaps they observed the Feast of the Tabernacles in late September to mid-October before leaving. This feast celebrates the fall harvest of fruits. In Oman, the first honey harvest is in June and July—too early for harvesting other fruits, and coinciding with pounding surf making a launch difficult—while the second is in October and November.[i]
I Nephi 18 tells us they sailed with the wind.

8. And it came to pass after we had all gone down into the ship, and had taken with us our provisions and things which had been commanded us, we did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land…. 22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land. 23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land...

Brother Hilton mentioned the unique seasonal weather feature of the sea off the Arabian coast: the cycle of seasonal monsoons that correspond with changes in ocean currents. From July through September, warming land in Asia causes the air to rise, which pulls air over the Indian Ocean north and east. Because the air flows from the southwest, this is called the Southwest monsoon season. Starting in November, the effect reverses, and the Northeast monsoon blows wind west and south.
The surface currents flow in the same direction as the wind. During the Southwest Monsoon, the current flows eastward, and during the Northeast Monsoon, the current flows west.[ii] 

Accordingly, if Lehi left in the summer, the ship would have traveled eastward, making its way around India, through Indonesia, and across the Pacific. But if Lehi left in the late fall or winter, the ship traveled west and south around Africa, crossing the Atlantic.

Because Lehi’s group harvested fruits and honey prior to leaving, they most likely left the coast of Oman in November or December. The ocean currents and the Northeast Monsoon would have taken them west toward the coast of Africa.






They would have followed the eastern African coast south, then turned west to cross the Atlantic.
The Atlantic crossing, including the circumnavigation of Africa, is shorter than any proposed Pacific crossing. Proximity to Africa offered Lehi’s group multiple stops for supplies, including food and water, that they wouldn’t have crossing the Pacific. The winds and ocean currents work for an Atlantic crossing, but make a Pacific crossing implausible.



The Mulekites, who presumably left from the coast of Israel or Lebanon, would also have crossed the Atlantic. Brother Sorenson agrees with that route, and he documented other evidence of transoceanic voyages.[iii] 







There is also historical evidence to support ancient voyages such as those of Lehi and the Mulekites. Around 600 B.C., Phoenician mariners circumnavigated Africa. Columbus crossed the Atlantic, using the same currents and winds as the ancient explorers did.
In 2008-2010, the Phoenicia, a ship reconstructed using 600 B.C. materials and technology, circumnavigated Africa. Keith Johnson, an LDS researcher who suggested the relevance of honey and fruit harvest seasons, was on part of the voyage. The currents and winds sent the ship across the Atlantic to within a few hundred miles of Florida before they managed to turn the ship around back to Africa.[iv] This is the map of their route:

Figure 13 - Phoenicia voyage
The Phoenicia is an ideal test of the veracity of the Book of Mormon account. It shows not only that the materials and technology of 600 B.C. allowed construction of ocean-going vessels for both Lehi’s group and the Mulekites, but that both groups could have crossed the Atlantic and landed in North America—coming from the east.

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For more information about the Phoencia, go to http://www.phoenicia.org.uk/

For more on an LDS perspective, go to  http://www.firmlds.org/feature.php?id=15




[i] “Beekeeping in Oman,” the Honey Bee Research Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Sultanate of Oman (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2014), available online here: http://bit.ly/Moroni33.
[ii]Chapter 11 (December 2006)  http://bit.ly/Moroni34.
[iii] John L. Sorenson and Carl L. Johannessen, “Scientific Evidence for Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages to and from the Americas,” available online here: http://bit.ly/Moroni35.
[iv] See Phoenicia, the Phoeneican Shop Expedition, at this website: http://bit.ly/Moroni36

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lesson 4: The Things Which I Saw While I Was Carried Away in the Spirit

Lesson 4 focuses on Nephi's vision of his future and the future of his people in 1 Nephi 12-14.

Notice that Nephi saw this vision before he even left the Old World. He knew what his future home--the land of promise--looked like before he even built the boat. He saw the waters that "divided the Gentiles from the seed of [his] brethren." (1 Nephi 13:10) These were the waters he would cross with his family, which tells us two things that we can analogize to our lives.

First, he knew in advance that he would have trials and tribulations. Crossing such a vast sea was beyond his realm of experience (and probably the experience of anyone he had met). It would be a tremendous challenge.

[Note: in next week's lesson we'll look at what sea Nephi crossed. Was it the Pacific or the Atlantic?]

Second, because of the vision, Nephi knew he would survive the challenge and prosper in the promised land, even if his descendants would fall into wickedness.

I like to think of Nephi's vision as a sort of Patriarchal blessing. The vision was a roadmap of his future, just as our patriarchal blessings assure us of eventual victory despite the challenges we will face.
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The lesson manual includes this statement: "The discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus." I realize that there has been a long tradition in the Church that 1 Nephi 13:12 refers to Columbus, but the text does not mention his name. Here's what it says:

12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

 13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

 14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.

Nephi's vision doesn't say the man he beheld in verse 12 was the first to discover the promised land. This man among the Gentiles is identified because (i) the Spirit of God wrought upon him and (ii) he went to the "seed of my brethren." [Note: If the man was the first to cross "the many waters," then it would have been Leif Ericson and the Vikings, not Columbus (although there could have been any number of other crossings prior to Columbus.)]

If Nephi was not referring to the first European to "discover" the New World, he could have been referring to any of the many migrants. If he was referring to the first European who stayed and "smote" the indigenous people, he still may not have been referring to Columbus. There is some evidence that the English reached North America before Columbus. John Cabot was the first European since the Vikings to land on North America. His second voyage, in 1497, brought him to Newfoundland. Cabot was financed by an Italian bank with an office in London that paid him to undertake expeditions to "find the new land." Some scholars think this means Cabot was sent to land that had already been discovered.

John Cabot - also known as Zuan Caboto or Giovanni Chabotte - made two voyages, one in the summer of 1496, one in 1497

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The final question this week is, where and what is the promised land? This is a critical question because of all the promises and covenants associated with the promised land. What do you think? Is the promised land the United States? Mexico? "Guatemala?"

Monday, January 18, 2016

Overview handout

2016 Gospel Doctrine – 

Book of Mormon Study Guide supplements from 

Moroni’s America

When we read the scriptures, it is fun and useful to think about the people in a real-world context. Many people visit Israel and the surrounding areas because of the Bible. It is striking how the Old Testament setting is also the setting for much of the New Testament. Many people also visit Church history sites for the same reason.

But what about the Book of Mormon?

As we learn more about what Joseph and Oliver Cowdery said, and what the text itself says, we discover that when we visited Church history sites in New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri, we were also visiting Book of Mormon sites. We just didn’t know it.

Unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon does not refer to places we recognize in modern times. Instead, we look to modern revelation, where there are scriptural references to the two most important places in the Book of Mormon: Cumorah and Zarahemla. The basic overview for Book of Mormon geography is right in the Doctrine and Covenants!

- Zarahemla, because two cultures joined there: the Nephites and the Mulekites. The text refers to Zarahemla far more than to any other site. Where is it? See D&C 125:3.

- Cumorah, because both civilizations ended there: the Nephites and the Jaredites. Where is it? 

See D&C 128:20 and Oliver Cowdery’s Letter VII.

D&C 125 and 128 have been overlooked because overzealous missionaries in 1842, including Benjamin Winchester, thought it would be a good idea to shift the focus to the exotic ruins in Central America. For Joseph Smith, building the temple and preparing the Church for his death, while also avoiding imprisonment and a host of legal problems, dominated his thinking and energy. Besides, he had already told people the locations of Cumorah, the plains of the Nephites, Zelph, Manti, and the New Jerusalem.

Think of Zarahemla and Cumorah as pins in the map. Then you quickly get a picture of Book of Mormon geography.

The border between the Nephites and the Lamanites was the “narrow strip of wilderness” and both the land of Zarahemla  (Nephite territory) and the land of Nephi (Lamanite territory) were “nearly surrounded by water.” Alma 22. It says water, not ocean or sea. Therefore, the border between them had to be water, with a “small neck of land” between them.  Only a river can be both “water” and a “narrow strip of wilderness.” The rivers in North America (the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Allegheny Rivers) are a perfect fit. And the small neck of land between them—where the river border ended—is not far from Cumorah, which helps explain why Cumorah was strategically important.

There are a lot of geographic details in the Book of Mormon, but with the aid of latter-day revelation and the statements of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, it becomes apparent where the Book of Mormon took place. There is a detailed analysis of the geography verses, in chronological order, in Moroni’s America. The Lost City of Zarahemla and Brought to Light explain the Church history aspects. And Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery’s Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah explains what he and Joseph knew about Moroni and Cumorah.


See more weekly lesson supplements at http://www.2016gospeldoctrine.com/.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Lesson 3: The Vision of the Tree of Life

Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life has inspired a tremendous amount of artwork, as well as discussions about the metaphor and its interpretation. It has also led to some Mormon mythology, such as that surrounding Stelle 5 from Izapa, Mexico.

In June 1985, the Ensign published an article that suggested the stelle could "correspond to features of Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life." Stelle 5 is a complex piece from which one could infer a variety of messages, so it's easy to see why some LDS eager to find connections between the Book of Mormon and Central American would see Lehi's tree of life in this stone. LDS scholars now--even those who support a Central American or Mesoamerican setting--don't think it is related to the Book of Mormon.



For example, Brant A. Gardner, author of Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History, has pointed out that stelle 5 is part of a series of stellae in Izapa that have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. John Clark wrote: "The internal evidence from the Book of Mormon seems to be definitive that the Nephites had nothing to do with Izapa, and it is doubtful that the Lamanites did either."

Those who believe the Book of Mormon took place in North America don't see any reason to connect stele 5 to the Book of Mormon, either.

However, there is a possible link through the Jaredites. In Ether 1:1, Moroni explains he wrote about "those ancient inhabitants who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country." There has been another Mormon myth that all the descendants of Jared, his brother, and the friends of Jared and his brother were destroyed, but the text does not say that.

We'll address the Jaredites later in the year, but for now, consider that when the Jaredites landed, "they began to spread upon the face of the land, and to multiply and to till the earth; and they did wax strong in the land." (Ether 6:18). Because Moroni wrote only about those who were destroyed in "this north country," there were likely many Jaredite descendants who were not destroyed.

Brother Clark wrote, "Some Latter-day Saints may still feel the need to seek a relationship between Stela 5 and Book of Mormon history. The Lehi connection that Jakeman espoused goes nowhere, in my opinion. But, long shot though it may be, a Jaredite link to Izapa cannot be completely ruled out. After all, Izapan art had its roots in the Olmec tradition, and that cultural line paralleled in time a major part of the history of the Jaredite lineage as reported in the book of Ether. The last Jaredite king, Coriantumr, carefully prepared a record on stone of his royal descent and status (see Omni 1:20–22). That is clearly a Mesoamerican-like thing for him to have done. While Stela 5 clearly cannot be his record (the geography and dating rule that out), it could fit within the general tradition of art and rulership that ended officially with Coriantumr’s demise, but which might have persisted among the later Mulekites in the form of myths, art elements, and other cultural patterns all the way down to Izapa’s heyday and beyond."

Of course, Coriantumr was part of the group in the "north country" and Izapa is in the south country. It would make sense that the Jaredites brought their traditions with them from Asia. Carving on a stone is not a "Mesoamerican-like thing" but a "Jaredite thing" that Mesoamericans and other cultures followed later.

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Questions.

What is the significance of the "large and spacious field" and the "great and spacious building?" Both descriptions are given twice.

What kind of building would appear to stand "as it were in the air, high above the earth," in the context of Lehi's experience?

Why would those in the building be in "the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit" if they were wearing "exceedingly fine" clothing?


Monday, January 4, 2016

Lesson 2 "All Things According to His Will"

When Lehi departed from Jerusalem, he went south toward the Red Sea. There are several ways he could have gone. When the boys returned to Jerusalem, they may or may not have followed the same trails.

Possible routes that Lehi and his family took when they left Jerusalem
Whichever route they took, the area is extremely harsh and dry. 

Jordanian desert near Petra, along the King's Highway
One of the questions that arises later in the Book of Mormon is how the population grew so fast after they arrived in the promised land. Here's a comment from Moroni's America, p. 86:

     I think it is likely Lehi brought servants. The journey from Jerusalem through the wilderness would have been arduous for any small group, but also dangerous. Lehi was a wealthy man, and likely accustomed to desert travel; in the context of the times, he would have had servants to assist him in his work, as well as to assist the household. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Lehi would have sent all of his sons back to Jerusalem, leaving Lehi and Sariah and their daughters alone in the wilderness, if he did not have servants. Perhaps he also sent servants to accompany his sons on their trips to Jerusalem.

     Joseph Smith said the group was “principally Israelites,” so some of them were not. Apart from Zoram, the record gives no specifics on the identity of these non-Israelites. Had Zoram been the only exception, would Joseph have used the term “principally?” The term refers to rank or importance, not merely numbers, so even a significant number of non-Israelite servants would leave the group “principally Israelites.” 
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Questions.

1. Did Lehi see the promised land before he left Jerusalem? If so, what did he see?

2. Nephi says the Lord gave him a promise: "inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands." What modern country could be considered "choice above all other lands?"

3. Why was it so important for Lehi's family to obtain the plates of brass?