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.

Friday, March 12, 2021

A Mighty Nation - an example of bias confirmation

From time to time we like to look at examples of bias confirmation. By now, it is obvious to readers here that people can confirm pretty much any bias they have. They usually frame it as "following the evidence" and they usually believe that's the case. 

Of course, any two people can look at exactly the same evidence and reach contradictory conclusions. That's why it's more important to understand the bias people are confirming than to debate the merits of the evidence.

This example involves the "mighty nation" mentioned in 1 Nephi 22:7.

7 And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered. (1 Nephi 22:7)

The term appears just once in the Book of Mormon. It appears twice in the Bible, in Genesis 18:18 ("Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation") and Jeremiah 5:15 (Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the Lord: it is a mighty nation").

Some think the Book of Mormon "mighty nation" is the United States. Others think it is Spain. Let's look at the arguments so you can make an informed decision.

The argument for Spain as the "mighty nation" has been made by Kirk Magleby of Book of Mormon Central, here: http://bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com/2020/09/mighty-nation-spain.html. Kirk is a fine scholar, great guy, and effective writer. He has a strong bias in favor of M2C. 

Although I shared his bias for decades, I no longer do. Instead, I have a bias in favor of the North American setting. One of the reasons I changed my mind is the type of comparative merits of the two alternatives we'll look here.

Let's see what he has to say.

His words in blue. My comments in red. Emphasis mine.

Mighty Nation = Spain

In December, 2018, I authored an important blog post entitled "Prophecy Fulfilled 016" identifying the mighty nation among the Gentiles described in 1 Nephi 22:7 as Spain. The article explained the historical succession of Spain/France/England as global superpower and interpreted 1 Nephi 13:30 in that light.

The first thing that jumps out is the disconnect between 1 Ne. 22:7 and any foreign nation.

The "mighty nation" was supposed to be raised up "upon the face of this land." Nephi was writing from the New World, not from Europe. Thus, we should be looking for a "mighty nation" that God would "raise up" upon the face of the New World. 

Spain/France/England were all European countries. They were not "raised up" in the New World.

By contrast, the United States adopted the Constitution in 1789. The Lord explained, "I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood." (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80)

Between 1808 and 1826, the continental colonies in the Americas became independent of Spain and Portugal. Mexico became independent in 1821. These countries were all "raised up" in the western hemisphere, and so are candidates for the "mighty nation." 

All of this assumes that "nation" refers to a political entity. Originally, the term referred to a family or group who descended from a common progenitor, like a tribe.

It's also interesting to note that in Joseph's environment, the United States was referred to as a "mighty nation." For example, an article in the Wayne Sentinel from March 23, 1825, said, "That the policy of our country is peace, and the ark of our salvation union, are articles of faith upon which we are all now agreed. If there have been those who doubted whether a confederated representative democracy were a government competent to the wise and order management of the common concerns of a mighty nation, those doubts have been dispelled."

In 1843, Joseph Smith read a speech that included statements from Choctaw Indians, east of the Mississippi, including this passage:

"Brother: You stand in the moccasins of a great chief; you speak the words of a mighty nation, and your talk was long. My people are small; their shadow scarcely reaches to your knee; they are scattered and gone; when I shout, I hear my voice in the depths of the woods, but no answering shouts come back."

More examples are included below, as well as statements from LDS General Authorities identifying the United States as a "mighty nation."

Chronology clinches the identification of Spain as the mighty nation. 

Clinch means to confirm or settle. That means no further analysis or discussion is warranted. That's like the logo of Book of Mormon Central, which uses a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon because, in their view, the geography is settled (contrary to the Church's own position and contrary to the beliefs of many Latter-day Saints).

The term clinch contradicts the approach of multiple working hypotheses, so as far as I'm concerned, it does not end the discussion. Let's continue.

What did the mighty nation do? They scattered Lehi's descendants 1 Nephi 22:7. 

Scatter means to "separate and move off quickly in different directions." The Mayans and other indigenous people throughout Latin America today still live where they've lived throughout history (aside from moving to modern cities). The Spanish conquered indigenous people and moved some into cities, but by and large they retained their ancestral lands. Whether that constitutes a scattering depends on one's own interpretation.

In North America, there was a similar pattern of conquering and subduing. The U.S. established the first Native American reservation in 1786, but settlers constantly pushed the Indians off their lands. President James Monroe took office in 1817 and entered a series of treaties, effectively removing most Indians from states north of the Ohio River. By 1825, he recommended all remaining Indians be relocated to west of the Mississippi. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 expressly relocated indigenous tribes hundreds of miles away from their ancestral lands, never to return.  

When was Lehi's seed scattered? Before the marvelous work among the Gentiles began 1 Nephi 22:8.

1 Nephi 22:8 And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed; wherefore, it is likened unto their being nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders.

Note that the passage is vague about timing and does not say "after all our seed is completely scattered," nor does it preclude additional scattering.

The passage also does not specify when the marvelous work would begin. 

What was the marvelous work? The coming forth of the Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 25:17, 27:26 was a major part of it.

The publication of the Book of Mormon by itself does not satisfy the point of the verse. The first effort to nourish the Indians was the "mission to the Lamanites" which began in October 1830.

Key dates associated with the modern Book of Mormon include:

December 23, 1805 Joseph Smith, Jr. was born
September 21, 1823 Angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr.
March 26, 1830 Book of Mormon went on sale to the public 

All good, but still none of these events directly involved nourishing Native Americans. That effort didn't begin until October 1830.

So, the mighty nation, pre-eminent among all others in the New World, scattered Lehi's posterity prior to the 1805 - 1830 time frame. 

As we discussed above, the "mighty nation" was "raised up" upon the face of the New World. It was not an old nation raised up elsewhere. 

It's an interesting question whether Mexico, post independence, scattered the indigenous inhabitants, or whether Peru, Chile, or any other of the newly independent nations did so. I don't know the answer. But it's clear that the United States, after it was raised up on the face of the New World, did scatter the Indians.

The various Latin American nations gained their independence from Spain between 1810 and 1825. From 1500 - 1810, Spain scattered Lehi's children and appropriated native American lands from California to Argentina.

This is a repeat of the same problem that Spain was not raised up in the New World, but the problem extends beyond that.

The Spanish held little of the land they claimed in North America (above Mexico). Their presence consisted mainly of missions run by Catholic priests. There were some skirmishes between Spanish military and Indian tribes, but no tribes were scattered. 

The map is a little misleading because France controlled the Louisiana territory from 1699-1762, when it was ceded to Spain. In 1800, France took it back before selling it to the U.S. in 1803. But even when France "owned" the territory, it controlled very little of it, just as Spain controlled very little of the west. These areas of North America were inhabited by Native Americans with little interference from Spain, apart from attempts at religious conversions.

During those 300 years preceding the marvelous work of the restoration, no other nation came close to the level of influence Spain exercised in the Western Hemisphere.

The double fallacy here is that (i) Spain wasn't "raised up" in the New World and (ii) we cannot say from the text where Nephi's seed lived. The text doesn't even mention the Western Hemisphere. For that identification, we have to rely on Joseph Smith and the D&C, but both of those sources specifically identified the Indians from New York to Kansas as the Lamanites.

What we can tell is that the first mission to the Lamanites, the first fulfillment of D&C 22:7, started in October 1830 as Oliver Cowdery and three others took the Book of Mormon to the Indian tribes of New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas, where they had been scattered from their ancestral lands.

Soon after this article was published, I was delighted that a friend, Bruce Webster, shared his 2013 blog post with me. He reached the same conclusion that 1 Nephi 22:7 refers to the Spanish Empire.


Bruce Webster's post is here:


He also ignores the point that the mighty nation was to be raised up in the New World.

The US really didn’t become a “mighty nation” until the late 19th or early 20th Century. Spain, on the other hand, established a global empire pretty much coinciding with the discovery (by Spain) of North and South America at the end of the 15th Century, and it remained a mighty nation well into the 19th Century.

Spain conquered and claimed half of North America, all of Central America, and most of South America, in the process killing, enslaving, and scattering many of the native American inhabitants. The US, at the time of publication of the Book of Mormon, occupied less than half of its current extent and really hadn’t done much “scattering” of native Americans compared to what Spain had done for the previous 240 years.

I don't know how to quantify who did more "scattering," but even today, the tribes in the U.S. live largely on reservations far from their ancestral lands, while indigenous people in Latin America occupy their ancestral lands.

For that matter, much of the “scattering” of native Americans that happened in the eastern half of the United States happened under British rule (see “British Territory” on the map above), before the US was founded.

This would be a good point if it was true.

And, somewhat redundantly, the US never occupied Mesoamerica, which is where Book of Mormon events most likely occurred.

This is the bottom line for both Bruce and Kirk. And yet, Joseph Smith failed to take the Book of Mormon to Nephi's descendants in Mesoamerica. Instead, he took it personally to the entirely distinct Native Americans he (and the Lord) called Lamanites, as explained in D&C 28, 30, 32, and elsewhere.


Some references to the United States as a "mighty nation" follow:

The Book of Mormon prophecies concerning the future of America have been referred to in our hearing during this conference, wherein it is stated that this nation, though it becomes a mighty nation, still it can stand in security here only as it serves the God of this land. That conception was in the hearts of the men who rounded America.

(1920s, 1928, October, 5th Session, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, ¶17 • CR)

 believe America to be a Christian country. I believe the principles which are set forth in her fundamental laws to be derived from, consciously, the Savior of the world. His precepts, his principles of truth and living, have been set forth by the founders and the fathers in our laws and statutes; and America, in order to continuously and satisfactorily fill her great mission as a mighty nation, must conform to those fundamental laws and principles of truth, in my humble judgment.

(1920s, 1924, October, 4th Session, Elder Stephen L Richards, ¶10 • CR)

America was independent.

Here then a great and magnificent spectacle breaks in upon the view. A mighty nation rising in arms to recover her natural rights, and boldly [Page 9] braving the storm of regal ambition.

(18c: 1790s; 1796, N22677 / 2. AN ORATION, Paul Allen, Providence, July 5, 1796,8¶–9¶)

The battle of the European warriors is indeed with a confused noise. It is the bruit of a war, which originated, on the one hand, in the too sanguine hope of planting the tree of liberty in every clime, and is prosecuted, on the other, with an unwarrantable acrimony against a mighty nation, struggling to be free, if not in direct repugnance to the natural rights of mankind, and the laws of eternal justice. If, in this huge contest between the sentiments of equal liberty, and the unnatural systems of arbitary power, the latter should prevail, America, in tears, will behold the triumph.

(18c: 1790s; 1794, N20534 / 1. ON THE AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, Harvard, July 4, 1794, William Emerson,33¶)

Of all the injuries done us, none ought to be so quickly resented, or so severely punished, [Page 23] as an injury done to our country. The interests of our country, not only comprise our own, but the interests of a growing and mighty nation; the man, therefore, who seeks to injure his country, is guilty of the blood of millions.

(18c: 1790s; 1798, N26355 / 1. AMERICAN LIBERTY, Discourse in Watertown on July 4th 1798, by Rev. Israel B. Woodward,37¶)

The retiring President retained the full health and strength, the vigor and activity of a strong body and sound mind, equal to the functions of his elevation, and fitted to relish the fascinating charms of his grandeur. But these were not the motives for his consenting to appear at the head of a mighty nation▪ When his country could spare his agency, no inducement remained with him to continue in her service, and he resolved once more, "to pass the remainder of his days in honorable repose, and place his glory beyond the reach of fortune."

(18c: 1790s; 1800, N27614 / 1. A Discourse in Baltimore, Feb. 22, 1800 by Rev. Patrick Allison, &c.,21¶)

Calm reflection here performed the miracles of inspiration, and deliberate valor acquired the achievements of Gods. An empire happy, a mighty nation freed from tyranny. These are the glorious monuments of our revolution; these are the immortal trophies of which we boast.

(18c: 1790s; 1800, N28804 / LUTHER RICHARDSON, JULY 4, 1800. 1. AN ORATION.,6¶)

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