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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Comments on Mesoamerica Vs. Great Lakes

The following comments were made to some articles published by Michael De Groote in Mormon Times. Here is a link to read the articles:

Here is a reply that I posted:

While I admire the "neutrality" that De Groote's article takes, and its attempts to offer unbiased lists of pros and cons with regard to each theory, the article is negligent with regard to theories regarding Mesoamerica, especially when it tries to pin all such theories on John Sorenson. There were many scholars before John Sorenson, and there are many after John Sorenson who have contributed to an extensive literature of the Limited Tehuatepec Theory. Many of these scholars take issue with some of John Sorenson's ideas and have offered their independent field research completely unrelated to Sorenson. However, these researchers still confidently place Book of Mormon geography in and around the Tehuantepec Isthmus. To ignore that extensive body of literature and infer that Dr. Sorenson is the preeminent authority on the Mesoamerican model acheives a kind of third objective of De Groote, which may be his true objective.

That objective seems to be "Who cares! Stop arguing! Your salvation, and the progress of the Kingdom, depends on neither of these models, and does not depend upon scientific research at all!"

I think most researchers who pursue these studies are already fully aware of that philosophy, and to suggest that we aren't may be somewhat patronizing. We do not pursue such studies to prove our religion. We do it simply because it's fascinating. It's fun. We feel driven to pursue it. And the cumulative effect upon us spiritually, as individual saints, is that we are motivated to dig into the verses of the Book of Mormon in a way that gives us an appreciation that we feel we could not get any other way. We do it for the same reason that George Mallory climbed mountains--"Because it's there!"

De Groote's positives and negatives regarding Mesoamerica are wholly inadequate. I cannot speak to whether he uses the same broad brushstrokes when it comes to the "Heartland" model. But the snippets he offers, particularly on the "weaknesses" of the Mesoamerica model, suggest a high level of unfamiliarity with the subject that he addresses.

1. Metals. First he says that Sorenson has hundreds of examples of smelted metals, but then says that most archeologists would dismiss them??? This is a gross oversimplication of Sorenson's statements on this matter on both sides of the spectrum. Many archeologists do not ignore these findings, and in fact have published about and acknowledged the same. I have personally seen striking examples of Mesoamerican metal tools in Mesoamerican museums at Tres Zapotes, Monte Alban, and other locations. Read the following article for an insightful perspective on gold and gold plates in Mesoamerica. Link

2. Directions. Many noted Mesoamerican scholars who support the Tehuantepec model have presented perspectives that explain away any apparent conflicts on this subject. This almost causes me to wonder if Brother De Groote discovered this weakness from a bullet list presented at a Heartland seminar, because those familiar with the issue understand the many perspectives and do not see this as a debilitating weakness or conflict. If anything, it reveals a healthy ongoing debate among the supporters of Book of Mormon geography in Mesoamerica. Which causes me to wonder...is it the Heartland people who emphasize John Sorenson as the "Father" of Book of Mormon geography in Mesoamerica? Now that I read such an idea couched in the way it is in De Groote's article, I suspect that this may be true. Well, it's obviously much easier to launch a battle against the arguments of one guy, right? Patently unfair and misleading in this context. But easier.

3. Statements of Joseph Smith. The short sentence provided to describe this "weakness" is fair enough, but the conflict itself is one that has been trumpeted by the Heartland people, and because of this the onus has been upon them to explain such statements away. Such efforts appear seriously flawed, as explained by Dr. John Lund in a recent BMAF presentation, which again leads me to believe that this "weakness" comes from a bullet list provided by those espousing the Heartland model. The source of such a bullet list becomes important on some level because it indicates that in De Groote's efforts to present his "neutral and unbiased" review of both camps, he may be far more familiar with the literature of one camp than the other.

4. Transporting gold plates. The statement associated with this "weakness" is so silly that I resist even dignifying it with a rebuttal. It is obviously a Heartland bullet point and utterly ignorant of modes and methods of Mesoamerican trade and travel. It reminds me of a statement I heard recently from an individual who was trying to build a case for a pet theory of his that puts the Hill Cumorah (one different than El Cerro Vigia) somewhere near Tampico, Mexico on the basis that such a location contains extensive outcroppings of volcanic obsidian, and obviously Mormon and his armies would have needed vast supplies of obsidian in order to conduct a battle, right? If this were a valid point, we would all be left scratching our heads wondering how ancient Mesoamericans fought ANY battles anywhere except near a volcanic outcropping. Such a statement is unaware of the fact that no other commodity was more widely traded in Mesoamerica than obsidian, except perhaps salt. By the way, these commodities in and of themselves are pretty heavy, and the various trade syndicates, like the Aztec Pochteca, seemed to have no trouble toting such heavy things for hundreds and possibly even thousands of miles. The examples of items as heavy or heavier than 50 or 60 pounds being discovered hundreds of miles from their locataion of origin across North and South America are so replete that, again, the argument is hardly worthy of a rebuttal.

Michael De Groote's articles are probably noteworthy to some because of the public contention that exists between the various camps. My personal gauge that such may have gotten out of hand has to be that I have heard about this contention from members of my own home Ward--people who previously had no particular interest in the subject. I agree that the emotional investment that some enthusiasts have in their preferred model may be over the top. (A lot of it seems driven by money and profits!) But any effort to quell the contention cannot paint in such broad strokes and, in essence, accuse the whole lot of trained researchers as being ridiculous because such individuals use or view these studies as hallmarks or legitimizers of their faith. Such is not true. I personally do not see the entire study of Book of Mormon goegraphy as a "movement" of any kind that is going to "sweep over" anyone. My personal belief is that the Lord has left this category "unrevealed" because it inspires enthusiasts like me to delve into studies of the Book of Mormon as a way of celebrating its power and complexity--again--"because it's there!"

Writers must be careful not to present a perspective that, in essense, places those who dismiss and trivialize Book of Mormon geography on a lofitier pedestal than those who become caught up in such studies and debates. Not only would such a perspective dwarf or stunt further research into these fields and promote a dismissal of the lifetime efforts of worthy scholars throughout the last century, but it would, in fact, create a THIRD contender in the debate--those who insist that ignoring the entire subject, while awaiting confirmation from the Spirit or a revelation from our beloved Prophet, are somehow superior to the rest.

A better question, to me, is to ask why the Lord has NOT revealed the anwers to this subject. I think the answer to that question may be fairly simple. The Lord, in modern times, has given us incredible tools: science, computers, satellite technology, DNA research--you name it! I think He wants to see what we do with them. I suspect He deliberately gave us a puzzle to solve. How we go about solving that puzzle says a lot about the spiritual maturity of an individual, but it also says much about the spiritual health of the Lord's Kingdom as as whole.

(c) Copyright 2010, Chris Heimerdinger


  1. I like that last paragraph. we have to solve the puzzle for ourselves, or else the knoweledge won't have as much meaning. very interesting post, chris!

  2. I completely agree about the lop-sided comparison of the two theories in Michael De Groote's article. My guess is that since his main point is that the answer doesn't have eternal/spiritual importance, he worried that to show one theory as being more compelling than another (by scholarly standards) would make it seem like he had chosen an answer, and thus believed that it did matter. That is, he thought that the only way to show that it doesn't matter was to make it seem like all theories are of equal value, empirically-speaking.

    That's unfortunate, too. I would hope Latter-day Saints would be able to enthusiastically discuss interesting subjects like this one without fearing that their enthusiasm implies they've inappropriately equated the subject with more important pursuits. It's not really that hard to strike the right balance. I love talking about astronomy or the Legend of Zelda (which my avatar probably gives away), but no one need worry that my testimony of home teaching is based on them.