The Light Is Better Over Here
by Lawrence L. Poulsen
FARMS Review 19/2 (2007): 11–19.
ISSN: 1550-3194 (print), 2156-8049 (online)
Review of Book of Mormon Geography—Mesoamerican Historic Geography (2006), by V. Garth Norman.
Poulsen's title is explained in this excerpt from his review: "With so much light shed on the Maya, it is difficult to resist searching among Maya ruins for signs of Book of Mormon culture. After all, “the light is better over here.” In other words, there is more data and information about the Maya, so let’s look here first."
That is one of the best explanations for the Mesoamerican theory yet--all the more so because it came out of the Maxwell Institute. (Well, technically it's a FARMS publication, but as long as the Maxwell Institute continues to publish FARMS material, the Institute is responsible.)
Poulson goes on to write, "Unfortunately, the location of Book of Mormon events is lost like the man’s pocket watch. And the authors of the Book of Mormon text, the men who could tell us where those events took place, are not readily available to enlighten us. All we have been told is that it was someplace on the American continent. The only source we have for exactly where is the text itself."
Now I'm beginning to wonder if Poulson isn't a contrarian, a critic of the Mesoamerican theory. Because if one is relying on the text itself, one cannot support the Mesoamerican theory. Can it be?
Then I come across this: "Norman explains his methodology for map construction. He defines directions as “north/south/east/west— literal planetary cardinal directions.” Unfortunately, this definition imposes a global geocentric definition of direction on the Book of Mormon text. Clearly this text was written by an ancient agrarian culture and ignores the original concept of direction prevalent in ancient cultures."
Hmm. So Poulson is going the old, "north is not north" route. Or, as Brandt Gardner puts it, we don't have evidence of what was on the plates. All we have is Joseph's translation. And we all know that when Joseph used the word "north," he made a mistake.
That's a paraphrase, but just barely.
Sadly, Poulson then looks under his own streetlamp: "A similar study of the words translated as “east” from native Mesoamerican languages gives..." followed by yet more obfuscation based on Mayan terms for directions.
Next follows quibbles about Norman choosing the wrong Mesoamerican mountain for Cumorah, the wrong Mesoamerican site for Zarahemla, etc.
I found one redeeming comment:
"There are at least four geographic features that identify the location of the city of Zarahemla: (1) it is north of the head of the river Sidon and the narrow strip of wilderness, (2) it is on or near the west bank of the river Sidon, (3) it is south and east of the wilderness of Hermounts, and (4) it is south of the narrow neck." All good descriptions of Zarahemla--in Iowa.
Of course, Poulson then replaces "head" with "headwaters" and engages in the debate about the narrow neck being the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, this time veering into a discussion about the origin of the name Tehuantepec, as if it was named after Hermounts in Alma 2:36-8.
Another redeeming comment: "They mistakenly attribute this review (in the Times and Seasons) to Joseph Smith, although it is unlikely that he wrote it, because he was in hiding, as reported in the same issue."
Poulson is wrong about Joseph being in hiding at the time, which has been widely documented. But that's not all. He writes, "John Taylor probably wrote it." And he cites a Matt Roper article.
Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 243–48.
Poulson doesn't seem to notice the irony in this sentence: "These problematic areas in Norman’s publication suggest that perhaps he, like the man who lost his watch, is looking in the wrong place merely because 'the light is better over here.'"
That could end up being the epitaph for all the Mesoamerican publications.