long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Monday, May 21, 2018

No-wise #429 - sunken cities

It's time to take a look at another No-wise from our friends at Book of Mormon Central. You can see it here:

Believers naturally seek actual or at least plausible evidence to support the claims of the Book of Mormon, just as critics seek to deny there is any actual or plausible evidence. This process has two elements: (i) what does the Book of Mormon say and (ii) what physical evidence matches up with the text.

The problem with M2C is the evidence simply doesn't fit well. Whether it's the plains of the Nephites that don't exist in Mesoamerica (and which Joseph said were in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio anyway), or the dominant presence of volcanoes in Mesoamerica that are nowhere even mentioned in the text, the M2C intellectuals resort to re-translations of the text and illusory correspondences that are persuasive only to those who have already accepted M2C.

Plus, of course, M2C requires the repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the hill Cumorah in New York. Consequently, even a "win" for M2C is a "loss" for faith in the prophets.

By now, readers realize that many of the No-wise are pure confirmation bias. I ignore most of them, but this one caught my attention because of a reader and I'll use it to illustrate the dangers of confirmation bias.

No-wise such as this make me wonder, does anyone really fall for these?

They start with a scripture: “Yea, and the city of Onihah and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Mocum and the inhabitants thereof, and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof.”

3 Nephi 9:7

Then they cite a prior verse: “great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned” (3 Nephi 9:4). 

As "evidence" of such a sunken Nephite city, the No-wise refers to a site in Guatemala called Samabaj. Anciently, this was an island that flooded around 250-300 A.D. The site has around 30 buildings where around 150 people lived. Scientists say it was flooded due to volcanic action, which by itself should exclude it from consideration as a Book of Mormon site, since the text never once mentions volcanoes.

And yet, the M2C intellectuals claim this is evidence of a "great city Moroni." They cite the infamous Sorenson book, Mormon's Codex, and explain it in the notes.

Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 647. According to Sorenson, his proposed Book of Mormon geography “plausibly places the city of Jerusalem on the south shore of the Lake Atitlan. The near agreement in time between the flooding described in the Book of Mormon city and the rise of the lake waters over Samabaj, as well as the seemingly abrupt manner of that rise, is striking.” Although the timing of Samabaj’s flooding may be too late, Sorenson’s geographical correlation is still intriguing and deserves further consideration and exploration.

You have to appreciate this understatement: "Although the timing of Samabaj's flooding may be too late..." Never do the M2C intellectuals allow facts to impede the illusory correspondences they find to support M2C.

There's a delightful article published by BOMCA's corporate owner, too:

If you're not suffering from Mesomania (i.e., you're not seeking to confirm your M2C bias), you realize that this one hamlet of Samabaj is no match at all for the list of cities that were sunk in the water and in the earth as described by 3 Nephi. None of those were described as island cities, either.

You might wonder, if the Mesoamerican hamlet is not evidence to support the Book of Mormon, is there any evidence of sunken cities elsewhere?

Yes. Pretty much everywhere in the world.

Some years ago I went to Alexandria, Egypt, to scuba dive at Heracleion, a sunken city, but the water was too murky. (We went diving at Sharm el Sheikh instead, which was one of the best places I've been diving anywhere in the world.)

You can find lots of other examples on the Internet, but typically these are isolated cases. What we need is a set of conditions that would allow a series of cities of indeterminate size to be sunk by water and into the depths of the earth.

There is one place where that happens: along the Mississippi River.

Kaskaskia, 1993 flood
The first capital of Illinois was Kaskaskia. Prior to that, it was a major French colonial town, with 7,000 inhabitants.

Kaskaskia was located on the banks of the Mississippi River but the river shifted course and flooded the site. Now there are 14 residents there.

Flooding along the Mississippi is not unusual, of course. Even in modern times, despite the system of dams and locks, the river sometimes floods dramatically.
Changing course of the Mississippi

This graphic shows how the course of the river has changed over the last 1,000 years or so.

Cities built along the shore anciently would have been flooded much like Kaskaskia.

Just like 3 Nephi describes.

True, verse 4 says the "great city Moroni" was "sunk in the depths of the sea." The term "sea" in the Bible is a translation of a Hebrew word that refers to large bodies of water, including a mighty river. In the Bible, the term refers to the Nile. The lower Mississippi is even more mighty than the Nile, so it makes sense for the Nephites to refer to it as the west sea south.

Notice also that a city can be sunk under the water or under the earth along this river, just as the text describes. The Steamboat Arabia is an example of how a location can be "buried up in the depths of the earth," as the text describes. See http://1856.com/. This steamboat was found 45 feet underneath a farm in Kansas, 1/2 mile from the current course of the river.

Are we going to find the buried Nephite cities someday? It seems unlikely because the Lord said he "buried up in the depths of the earth, to hide their wickedness and abominations from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them."

As we saw at the beginning of this post, people seek evidence to support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Along the Mississippi we find real-world, modern examples of exactly what the scriptures describe. It's still possible, theoretically, that a city dating to 34 A.D. could be found buried underneath a farm some distance from the present course of the river.

The main point, though, is that the descriptions in 3 Nephi are not only plausible along the Mississippi River, but are demonstrable using even contemporary experience. Until we have LiDAR able to penetrate 45 feet or more it's unlikely we'd ever find these sunken cities, but Kaskaskia and the Steamboat Arabia show how the events described in 3 Nephi make sense.

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