Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Interpreter Peer Reviewed

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Examining the Heartland Hypothesis as Geography

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.

Examining the Heartland Hypothesis as Geography
The Heartland hypothesis really doesn’t care much about geography. 
[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.”1 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).]
The [Porter/Meldrum] Heartland hypothesis is clearly built first on scripture, second on statements from early brethren, third on the archaeology of the mound builder cultures, and only in a distant [distant?] fourth place—geography. 
[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.]
Everyone agrees that the text of the Book of Mormon describes geography. Everyone also agrees that the text doesn’t identify any modern sites in the New World, so there is no frame of reference. Most people who read the book still want to know where the events took place.
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.
2  [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."] 
Neville sets out the idea that a geography can be worked out based on two locations identified in revelation. 
[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.3 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.]
For the Heartland hypothesis, the two identified locations are the hill Cumorah in New York and the city of Zarahemla. There is a long tradition of accepting the New York hill as the Book of Mormon Cumorah. 
[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.”
Although I disagree with the logic 
[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. 
There is so much that might be examined for Book of Mormon geography that beginning with even two known points creates challenges. 
[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.]
Although very few geographic features are located, there are enough specifics that a reasonable test can be made. I will examine the Heartland model’s locations for the land of Nephi, the land of Manti, and the narrow neck of land. Each of these are defined well enough in the hypothesis 
[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.
The Heartland Hypothesis and the Land of Nephi
One of the most important scriptures in the Book of Mormon for understanding geography is Mormon’s interjection into the story of Aaron and the king of the Lamanites. Mormon notes that the king sent out a proclamation to all his people, and Mormon used that proclamation to elaborate on the nature of the Lamanite holdings compared to those of the Nephites. Mormon’s literary side trip lasts from Alma 22:27 to 22:34. I will only examine the geographic information in verse 27:
And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided. (Alma 22:27) 
[A major error here; Gardner uses Grandin's punctuation, which was not in the original text.]
I will look at this verse in two sections. The first part is: “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore.”
The king of the Lamanites sends a proclamation to all his people to allow Aaron and his brothers to preach the gospel in Lamanite lands (see verse 26 for this context). To give his readers an idea of what this meant, Mormon describes the extent of Lamanite lands. Removing what I suggest is an errant comma,4 [he should remove all the punctuation] the Lamanite lands extend from “the sea on the east and on the west.” That Mormon clearly intends that his readers understand that there were Lamanites near both seas is clear from Alma 22:28-29:
Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.
And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them. . . . (Alma 22:28–29)
This creates a problem for the Heartland hypothesis. 
[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.] 
If the Heartland hypothesis uses the Great Lakes as the seas assigned to the cardinal direction, this verse would place the Lamanite lands north of Lake Ontario and west of Lake Erie. It also places Lamanite lands north of the narrow neck of land. That scenario completely contradicts the descriptions in the Book of Mormon. 
[One can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
Avoiding that obvious problem, the Heartland hypothesis doesn’t place Lamanite lands that far north. They are appropriately south of Nephite lands, just as the Book of Mormon requires. However, in that location, the only available seas are the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. While those oceans are in the correct cardinal directions, there is no east-west feature that extends across the whole of the current United States from ocean to ocean. Added to that difficulty would be the absolute improbability that any ruler in the Middle Woodland period, such as some Hopewell culture leader, would have influence over such a vast territory. Nor is it feasible that messengers would be sent that far.  
[Again, one can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
The Book of Mormon very clearly outlines Lamanite lands. If the Heartland seas are right, their location of Lamanite lands is wrong. If their location of Lamanite lands is right, their seas are wrong. In either case, the Heartland geography fails to conform to clear requirements written by the people of the Book of Mormon who lived in those lands. 
[What can I say? One can only agree with Gardner's critique of his own straw man.]
The Heartland Hypothesis and the Land of Manti
The second part of Alma 22:27 deals with the land and city of Manti: “and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.” This section declares that the northern reach of Lamanite lands was defined by the wilderness strip. Zarahemla was north of that strip of wilderness, but the land and city of Manti are in that strip of wilderness “by the head of the river Sidon.” This section of the verse has had multiple interpretations in the various proposed geographies. I will attempt to reduce it to only the most important aspects.
1) there is a narrow strip of wilderness that serves as a physical divider between Nephite and Lamanite land during the time when the Nephites are centered in Zarahemla. [Agreed.]
2) the strip of wilderness runs on a roughly east-west line, which appears to reach close to the sea west. The eastern end of the wilderness is not defined. 
[A fair interpretation.]
3) this strip of wilderness also runs through “the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon.” [Agreed.]
There has been quite a debate over what “the head of the river Sidon” might mean.5 The Heartland hypothesis suggests that it means the confluence of two bodies of water, possibly following the twenty-third definition in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: “23 Body; conflux.”6 
[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.
The confluence suggested [By whom? A citation would be very helpful.] for the land of Manti is the joining of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, at the southern tip of Illinois (search for Future City or Cairo, IL on a favorite online map). Manti must be near that confluence, or head. The first problem is the absence of a strip of wilderness in which one would locate the “borders of Manti.” Some maps following the basic Heartland hypothesis use the Appalachian Mountains as the narrow strip of wilderness. 
[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.]
There are other aspects of Manti that are important to understand. The borders of Manti play importantly in the action described in the Book of Mormon. During one of the wars with the Lamanites, Alma the Younger “inquired of the Lord” and was able to tell Zoram (“the chief captain over the armies of the Nephites”) that “the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti” (Alma 16:6). In Alma 16:7 Mormon gives important details: “And it came to pass that Zoram and his sons crossed over the river Sidon, with their armies, and marched away beyond the borders of Manti into the south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon.”
Zoram and his army crossed the river Sidon and marched south to the borders of Manti, entering “into the south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon.” This description is difficult to reconcile with the confluence of two major rivers. Both the Lamanites and the Nephites cross the Sidon, but no mention is made of either army crossing any other river. Nevertheless, Zoram’s army couldn’t reach the Heartland hypothesis’s Lamanite lands from the east side of the Sidon without also crossing the Ohio River. It is possible that this is simply not mentioned, but the explicit mention of the need to cross the Sidon makes it an unusual absence. 
[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.]
The land of Manti also figures in the next major war with the Lamanites:
Behold, now it came to pass that they durst not come against the Nephites in the borders of Jershon; therefore they departed out of the land of Antionum into the wilderness, and took their journey round about in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti and take possession of the land; for they did not suppose that the armies of Moroni would know whither they had gone. (Alma 43:22)
The Heartland model does not locate Antionum. [What I wouldn't give for a citation...] However, the text places it in the eastern holdings of the Zarahemla hegemony: “Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites” (Alma 31:3). At this point I won’t worry about the logistical problem of having the Lamanite army on the borders of a seashore marching such a long distance west to Manti. The problem is with the selection of Manti as the entry point to Nephite lands. If Antionum is somehow on the west side of the Ohio River, then they have land access to Manti, or at least possible lands of Manti on the east of the Mississippi. However, they also have land access to a wide berth around Manti. With the target of Zarahemla, there is no need to go so far south as Manti. 
[I can't form a mental image of this without some map reference. I'm thinking the Ohio River runs east/west.]
If Antionum is on the east of the Ohio (and therefore at least possibly near a coast), the Lamanite army has to cross the Ohio River (and perhaps the Mississippi if Manti is in the confluence). If they are making that long a journey, and have so little problem crossing major rivers, they can cross the Mississippi far enough south of the Heartland Manti that they would not be detected, and then cross the Missouri later, which would avoid Manti entirely.
The land around Manti is an important gateway into the land of Zarahemla. It appears to be the logical entryway to Nephite lands as one crosses the strip of wilderness. Manti is clearly a fortified position placed to guard entrance from the Lamanite lands south of the strip of wilderness into Nephite land to the north of that same strip of wilderness. 
[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.] 
Placed as it is in the Heartland hypothesis, the land of Manti loses all of its strategic advantage. It might be reasonably located near the confluence of two rivers to meet the requirement of being near the head of the Sidon, but it fails the strategic military purposes described in the Book of Mormon. 
[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.]
The Heartland Hypothesis and the Narrow Neck of Land
The most well-known feature geographic feature in the Book of Mormon is the narrow neck of land. 
[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:
And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.
And they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game. And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants. (Ether 10:20–21)
The city of Bountiful was close to this narrow neck and functioned as a protection against passage from the land southward into the land northward: “And he [Moroni] also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side” (Alma 52:9). 
[Sure enough, Gardner conflates these different terms. More evidence of how little known these geographic features are.]
Prior to the Nephite demise they were pushed through that narrow neck of land and began to inhabit the land north of the narrow neck:
And in the three hundred and fiftieth year we made a treaty with the Lamanites and the robbers of Gadianton, in which we did get the lands of our inheritance divided.
And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward. (Mormon 2:28–29)
These details cannot be reconciled with the proposed Heartland narrow neck. 
[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.]
Conclusion Concerning Geography and the Heartland Hypothesis
Perhaps there is a good reason that the Heartland geography rests so strongly on non-geographic data. [I don't like to be redundant, but in case anyone just reads the conclusion, Gardner has done a good job critiquing a straw man geography. He has not cited any specific map or description of a geography that the reader can consult. Readers are left with a choice; do they take his word for it, or do they inquire further? In my experience with Mesoamerican advocates, I see a tremendous amount of confirmation bias; i.e., if they see a criticism of the "Heartland" geography, they're happy with it, regardless of analytical merit, and even when the geography being criticized is a straw man, as it is here.] 
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.]
1.      Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies & Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America, (New York: Digital Legend, 2009), 1. 
2.      Jonathan Neville, “Geography overview for Mesoamericanists,” August 15, 2015, Jonathan lists a third option, “Pretend it doesn’t matter.” That is not intended as a serious analytical method, so I have deleted it to concentrate on what he suggests should be done. 
3.      Warren P. Aston and Michaela Knoth Aston, In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey across Arabia to Bountiful. Lynn M. Hilton and Hope A. Hilton,Discovering Lehi: New Evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia. George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness: 81 New, Documented Evidences That the Book of Mormon Is a True History. 
4.      The original dictated manuscript had no punctuation at all. John Gilbert, a non-LDS compositor, added them as he saw fit. Some of his punctuation choices have been officially changed. This one remains, but the text is clearer without it. 
5.      See J. Theodore Brandley, “Five Misunderstandings of the Book of Mormon Text that Veils Discovery of its Geography,” Interpreter Blog, (accessed Aug. 2015). 
6.      “Head,” in Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language. 1828, Kindle edition. 

1 comment:

  1. Out of interest, do you have anywhere where you identify the specific features of your proposed map, to offer a comparison to whatever Brant Gardner was taking as the heartland hypothesis? I appreciate that might be in an upcoming book or something, but it'd be nice to know some of your proposed specifics (aside from Cumorah and Zarahemla - I can't say I'm necessarily convinced of the latter, but your arguments for the former are definitely solid).

    Full disclosure, I'm fairly agnostic as to Book of Mormon geography, and where isn't top of my research interests, but you've produced some interesting arguments so I'd like to understand your current hypothesis better.