Examining the Heartland Hypothesis as Geography
Brant Gardner wrote a blog post in the Interpreter site here. I made some comments there, but that format doesn't allow an in-depth analysis. Besides, comments get buried.
First, before commenting on Gardner's post, I note this comment on the introduction to the Interpreter's blog: "This is the blog of Interpreter. It is separate and distinct from the academic journal that is peer-reviewed and professionally edited for publication." As I've documented on this and other sites, some of the papers on the Interpreter contain obvious factual errors that would be corrected through a real peer-review process (not to mention logical fallacies that should also be caught before they reach print). I would be happy to help out with peer reviews if the Interpreter editors are interested.
Second, I want to emphasize that my comments focus on the content of the post and not on its author. I think Brant is a fine scholar and a good guy. When I review material, I focus on the text, not the author, always with the objective of improving the piece. In this case, I appreciate Brant raising these points and I look forward to his response. From my perspective, everyone involved in these issues is seeking greater knowledge and understanding, and in the process, we are closing whatever gaps still exist.
Third, as a former Mesoamericanist myself for decades, I understand the difficulty of conceiving a different paradigm. There seems to be an incredible amount of resistance to a North American setting as opposed to a Mesoamerican setting. That resistance is visible throughout this and other writings by Mesoamericanist authors, as I try to point out here.
My overall conclusion is what I take away from most articles on this topic: "what we've got here is failure to communicate." Hopefully my response will clarify why this keeps happening.
Here are my stream-of-consciousness notes as I read Gardner's post, in red.
[It's an interesting approach to anthropomorphize an hypothesis, but the statement is absurd on its face. The "Heartland hypothesis" is defined by geography. That's what "Heartland" means; i.e., it's a geographical designation. On top of that, the statement overgeneralizes. There are multiple variations of the "Heartland hypothesis," just as there are many Mesoamerican hypotheses. Such broad-brush assertions obscure the issues rather than illuminate them. I'd delete that sentence or at least qualify it appropriately.]
In fact, it is literally the last kind of analysis it cares about.
[Literally? Always a dicey term to use. Even in the ensuing sentences, Gardner notes the geographical passages are number 4 on the list. If we're going to use the term literally, let's write "it is literally the fourth kind of analysis." There are abundant other kinds of analysis that may not have made the list, and only the last of those could be "literally" the last kind "it cares" about.]
Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum lay out their methodology in an important book that provides an excellent overview of the [read: their] Heartland hypothesis:
[I wonder if Gardner would get this point if a criticism of, say, John Sorenson's work was applied broad-brush to all Mesoamerican hypotheses? Since Gardner himself has criticized Sorenson's work, I suspect he doesn't get that point yet. In the future, let's be specific about what we're criticizing.]
“The proposed methodology presented in this book utilizes four highly corroborative resources that assist in coming to an understanding of the lands described in the Book of Mormon text. These resources are 1) the prophetic evidence found in scriptures; 2) the prophetic statements of the inspired translator, Joseph Smith; 3) the physical evidences; and 4) the geographical passages.” I realize that by examining the Heartland hypothesis on the basis of geography I am inverting their order of evidence. However, regardless of the analytical approach, if the resulting geography fits with the Book of Mormon, and a good case has been made. If it does not, then the hypothesis must be revised. [Applying a different analytical method can shed light on a topic, so no problem here. In my view, the Porter/Meldrum approach makes sense in terms of logic, and I don't see where Gardner disagrees with that. Gardner apparently just doesn't like the order of the steps. I can't tell why inverting the order of evidence is a superior method, however, and Gardner does not explain why it would be. I agree with Gardner's point that a good case has been made if the resulting geography fits with the Book of Mormon. I would love to have him apply that test to Mesoamerica instead of changing the text to fit the geography. This is a serious problem with not only his, but every Mesoamerican hypothesis I've read so far, including the ones I accepted for decades (primarily Sorenson's).]
[This is redundant with the previous paragraph, except for the limitation of archaeology to the mound builder cultures and the characterization of geography as "distant." Do Porter/Meldrum ignore physical evidence from other sites, or do they consider and reject them on the merits? I don't know what they do in the Prophecies and Promises book. As for characterizing fourth place as "distant," Gardner lists five "convergences" in his book, Traditions of the Fathers. Fourth is "cultural convergences." Is that convergence also "distant" from the third? And where does that leave the fifth convergence, "production convergences?" In outer darkness? Every analytical method prioritizes steps, but the final step is no less important than the others. This is as true of the Porter/Meldrum approach as any other. A good example in this context is Sorenson's filtering system for analyzing proposed geographies. Or Gardner's use of convergences...]
Jonathan Neville has recently approached the issue of methodology in a slightly different way: [Slightly? Gardner still wants to conflate non-Mesoamerican geographies so they fit his paradigm. Let's see how that works out.]
There are [two] ways to solve the problem:
1. Compose an abstract map from the text and search for a real-world match. This is how Mesoamericanists and other theorists approach the problem.
2. Consult latter-day revelation, realize that two key modern-day identifiers exist, and use those as placeholders when evaluating the text. This is how I recommend people approach the problem.[Hmm, so this is only a "slightly different" approach than the one Gardner claims "really doesn’t care much about geography." The quotation demonstrates that the Neville approach focuses on the text. The difference between this and the Mesoamerican approach is not the development of an abstract map from the text--a map that is inherently vague, at best--but in what to do with it once you have it. Mesoamericanists consult topographical maps and adjust the text to fit the terrain. The Neville approach takes the abstract map, pins the two known points, and, if the terrain is within the parameters of the abstract map, adjusts the map to fit the text. This is the opposite of an approach that "really doesn’t care much about geography."]
[This does not accurately paraphrase the quotation, which is "use those placeholders when evaluating the text."]
The rest of the geography can then be constructed from those two known points.
[This also does not accurately paraphrase the quotation, which is "use those placeholders when evaluating the text." The focus is on the text, not the two known points. What Gardner presents here is a straw-man argument.]
Even knowing one firm location (Jerusalem) had made the examination of Lehi’s trail from Jerusalem to Bountiful much more secure than most New World geographies. Two known points should provide a similar advantage to discovering the New World location where the Book of Mormon took place.
[This is a good example and a fair statement of the advantage of having two known points.]
[I can't let this slip through unnoticed. I realize that, because a New York Cumorah makes Mesoamerica impossible, Gardner and other Mesoamericanists must destroy the credibility of the early brethren who identified the New York hill as the Book of Mormon Cumorah, but let's look at the origin of this "long tradition." David Whitmer learned the name from an angelic messenger even before he read the Book of Mormon--before the book was even published. The messenger was walking toward the "traditional" hill Cumorah in New York. In a series of letters, Oliver Cowdery unequivocally identified the New York hill as the Book of Mormon setting for the final battles. Joseph helped Cowdery write the letters and directed his scribes to copy Cowdery's letter into his personal history. This is in the same book as what is now Joseph Smith-History in the Pearl of Great Price. A few months later, the Lord, Moses, Elijah, and Elias appeared to Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple. Cowdery's account was published in the Church newspapers in Kirtland (Messenger and Advocate) and Nauvoo (Times and Seasons), as well as in the Gospel Reflector. At no time did Joseph or any of the Three Witnesses retract or even qualify their statements about Cumorah.]
The identification of Zarahemla comes from Doctrine and Covenants 125:3, “Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it.”
[Gardner's logic consists of disagreeing that Joseph, Oliver and David were credible on this point]
that leads to Cumorah and Zarahemla as revealed fixed geographic anchors, I accept them for purposes of this examination. The question I will examine is whether or not the geography extrapolated from those two fixed points corresponds to the geographic descriptions in the Book of Mormon.
[Again, Gardner creates a straw man. Since he doesn't explain what geography he is addressing, I infer he means the Neville approach here. But in that approach, the geography is not extrapolated from those two fixed points--it is based on descriptions in the text, used to develop an abstract map. Then that map is overlaid on a real-world map, aligned to the fixed points to see if it fits.]
My only foundational assumption (of which I am aware) is a belief that the Book of Mormon is translated from an ancient source whose ultimate [I think he means original] authors lived in the times described and were familiar with the land in which they lived.
[Well stated. That assumption, presumably, is shared by every believer who works on the historicity issue.]
Although not written as a guide to geography, it nevertheless describes geography from time to time.
[Wait a minute. Above, Gardner noted the advantage of knowing the location of Lehi's starting point--Jerusalem. Now he's saying that knowledge creates challenges? He also pointed out that having two points is even better than having one (hence, the focus on Nahum). Is the analysis of Nahum compounding the "challenge" of knowing where Jerusalem is? This line of thought is difficult to follow. In my view, the more known points we have, the better. Although, come to think of it, having two known points in New York and Iowa does create challenges for a Mesoamerican geography. I'll assume that's what Gardner means here.]
The Heartland geography that extrapolated from those two points
[This may be a sign that Gardner recognizes, finally, that there are multiple "Heartland" geographies and here he is discussing the one "that extrapolated from those two points." So far, that is still a straw man as he has not cited any such method yet.]
appears to borrow from previous Great Lakes models,
[I can't tell what this means or to what it refers]
but necessarily expands south along the Mississippi River to include the purportedly
[Just a few sentences ago, Gardner wrote "I accept them for purposes of this examination." So why this qualifier?]
revealed location of Zarahemla. I can only give an outline of the overall Heartland geography because it is only promoted with generalities.
[Ooops, we're back to the conflated Heartland straw man geographies. What we've got here is failure to communicate. If "generalities" is all Gardner knows about Heartland geographies, then it is no wonder he thinks they don't care about geography. That's an explanation for his approach, but not an excuse.]
Lehi’s family would have landed somewhere near the mouth of the Mississippi, and then used that river as either the guide, or even perhaps the method, for traveling north.
[I'm not aware of any such proposed geography, and since Gardner doesn't cite one, I can only conclude this is a straw man argument.]
The land of Nephi is not well defined, but is indicated as below the junction of the Mississippi, and Ohio Rivers. The land Bountiful is along the Ohio River Valley, and the Great Lakes become the seas described in the Book of Mormon. The one feature all geographies have to be able to locate is a narrow neck of land, and that is proposed as the narrow land bridge separating Lake Ontario from Lake Erie. Apart from Cumorah and Zarahemla, the only generally located city (of which I am aware) is Manti. The land or city of Manti is placed north of the confluence of the Missouri, Mississippi, and Ohio Rivers.
[It would really help to know what particular "Heartland geography" Gardner is referring to here. A citation would be invaluable.]
[Just a few sentences ago, Gardner wrote that the Heartland geography "is only promoted with generalities."]
that they may be compared to the requirements for those locations based on the Book of Mormon.
[A major error here; Gardner uses Grandin's punctuation, which was not in the original text.]
[I keep wondering, which hypothesis? Gardner says the hypothesis is both generalized and defined well enough, that it is derived from "Great Lakes" models but extrapolated from two points and that it doesn't care much about geography. I've seen straw man arguments before, but this one is a straw army. Without a citation to a map, or at least a specific description, Gardner's critique is incoherent.]
[One can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
[Again, one can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
[What can I say? One can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
[A fair interpretation.]
[I thought this might be an actual citation to a specific "Heartland" geography, but it's only a citation to Webster, so we appear to be in straw man territory still.]
I will not look at the merits of the selected definition, but simply accept it for purposes of this examination.
[What I wouldn't give for a citation about now!]
That correlation cannot be correct for two reasons. First the Appalachian Mountains cannot be described as running “from the sea east even to the sea west.” Second, the location of Manti is nowhere near the Appalachian Mountains. If the Heartland hypothesis has Manti right, it has the narrow strip of wilderness wrong. If it has the narrow strip of wilderness right, it has the location of Manti wrong.
[Again, one can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
[How does anyone know how unusual that absence is? There are plenty of details omitted from the record, as Gardner acknowledged above. As a separate point, although we're shooting in the dark because we don't know to what particular hypothesis Gardner refers, Gardner is taking liberties with his own straw man here. The verses he cites refer to the "south wilderness," but Gardner changes the text and labels this "Lamanite lands." It is entirely consistent with the text to have wilderness within Nephite territory, and that wilderness could be south as well as east, west, or north of a given reference point. In addition, the verses he cited do not refer to a confluence (or the head of Sidon). Even in his discussion of the narrow strip of wilderness, Gardner notes that it passes through “the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon.” The borders of Manti are not the same as the head of the river; the text merely says what part of the borders of Manti the narrow strip of wilderness passes through. Whatever map Gardner is thinking of, there is no conflict between people crossing the Sidon to go east and a separate confluence between the Sidon and another river.]
[I can't form a mental image of this without some map reference. I'm thinking the Ohio River runs east/west.]
[I assume Gardner here is accurately describing what the scriptures say, but I can't tell if that's what he's doing or if he's describing a Heartland geography. This should be cleared up.]
The Heartland location is too easy to avoid. [Where is the Heartland location?]
There are simply too many places where it is just as easy to enter Nephite lands as at the land of Manti, and Manti would be ineffective at deterring an invasion crossing a river at a different point, say even a day away from the land of Manti.
[Again, I'm shooting in the dark, but I can think of lots of examples in world history of critical river crossings. Along the Rhine River there are fortifications in strategic places; according to Gardner's theory, those were ineffective because enemies could have crossed the Rhine at a different point.]
[Since we're talking about the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers, it's useful to look at the Civil War, when both sides had fortifications along these rivers. Commander John Rodgers chose Cairo, Illinois, for his base of operations specifically because of its strategic position. The battles along these rivers may or may not be relevant for Book of Mormon geography, but to conclude a fortification at Manti would be ineffective defies both logic and history.]
[Not being argumentative, but from what I've seen in the literature, this is one of the least-known geographic features. As I've written elsewhere, "For all the attention it attracts in the literature, the famous “narrow neck” in the Book of Mormon is only mentioned twice. Often it is conflated with three verses that mention a “narrow pass” and one verse that mentions a “narrow passage,” but to understand the text, it’s important to stick with what the text actually says."]
During the time period in which we have the geographic description in Alma 22:27, Nephite lands extend north only to a line that divided the land Bountiful from the land of Desolation. The dividing line between Bountiful and Desolation was called a “small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32). The Jaredites also used the narrow neck as a border, living in the land northward and preserving the land southward as a hunting wilderness:
[Sure enough, Gardner conflates these different terms. More evidence of how little known these geographic features are.]
[How can any of these details be reconciled when one disregards the text and conflates different features?]
At the end of the Book of Mormon, the Nephites have moved through the narrow neck of land. South of the narrow neck is Lamanite territory. The Heartland geography places the hill Cumorah to the east of the narrow neck, and in the land southward.
[A straw man can place anything anywhere, but what geography is Gardner describing?]
The text requires that it be in the land northward. Once again, if the Heartland narrow neck is right, the location of the hill Cumorah is wrong. If the hill Cumorah is right (as the Heartland hypothesis declares it to be by putative revelation), then the narrow neck is wrong.
[This doesn't follow, except in a straw man sort of way. Without knowing what geography Gardner is critiquing, I have no way to tell if he is making a valid or invalid point.]
I have tested only three specific elements of the proposed Heartland geography,
[actually, a straw man geography]
and each of them fails entirely when compared to the text of the Book of Mormon.
[I actually agree with Gardner here; his straw army fails his test--but the straw army was created specifically to fail the test.]
Regardless of the strength of the prophecies and promises that form the most important part
[It's inaccurate to say the first step of any analysis is the most important. That's like saying the first step of the scientific method is the most important. In reality, they're all important; you have to go through each step to reach a conclusion.]
of the Heartland hypothesis, the resulting geography fails to show any reasonable connection to the descriptions written by people who lived in the land. If the prophecies and promises are correctly interpreted, then the Book of Mormon is providing false and misleading geographic information. [Wow. I have to completely disagree here. Such a categorial statement might be justified if Gardner had been assessing an actual, specific "Heartland" geography, but the straw army he attacks in this piece doesn't qualify.]
However, if the Book of Mormon is true, then the interpretations of the promises and prophecies should be revisited.
[I'm all in favor of revisiting everything over and over until we build a consensus, but that's also true of the Mesoamerican theories, which in my view contradict the text.]
Contrary to the declaration of Heartland hypothesis methodology, those prophesies and promises have led [me] to a geography that is impossible to reconcile with the Book of Mormon.
[I made that insertion to clarify that what Gardner attacks in this piece is a Heartland geography he developed without providing a citation to any particular version of a North American geography.]