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.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Guest post on Snow

[Introductory note. Probably the most frequent question I get about the North American setting is this: "If the Book of Mormon events took place in North America, why doesn't the text mention snow?"

Lately, I've been answering this by saying "If Paul traveled to Turkey (Galatia, Ephesus, etc.), then why doesn't he ever mention snow? Are you going to say he didn't actually travel where it snows because he didn't write about the snow?"

The Book of Mormon is hardly a weather report. However, it does mention multiple seasons (Mosiah 18:4 and Alma 46:40), which you get in a temperate latitudes but not in tropical zones (Mesoamerica has two seasons: dry (November-May) and rainy (June - October). The average high temperature for Guatemala City, for example, varies by only 3 degrees centigrade all year long.

A reader sent in this guest post, which is a much more complete answer. Well done!]

A Snowball's Chance

A persistent argument against a North American setting for the Book of Mormon is the lack of references to snow in the sacred text.  Of course, the text actually does reference snow (see 1 Ne. 11:8), but it never mentions snowfall, so this is an issue that should be examined.

And, counterintuitively, examination of the issue may actually present strong evidence for a North American setting.

First, let's consider how the Book of Mormon addresses rain.  There are eleven references to rain spread across ten verses in the Book of Mormon.  Here are those verses:

6 And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and a covert from storm and from rain.
    6 And I will lay it waste; it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
    13 O Lord, wilt thou hearken unto me, and cause that it may be done according to my words, and send forth rain upon the face of the earth, that she may bring forth her fruit, and her grain in the season of grain.
      17 And it came to pass that in the seventy and sixth year the Lord did turn away his anger from the people, and caused that rain should fall upon the earth, insomuch that it did bring forth her fruit in the season of her fruit. And it came to pass that it did bring forth her grain in the season of her grain.
      25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.
        27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
        24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
        30 And it came to pass that there began to be a great dearth upon the land, and the inhabitants began to be destroyed exceedingly fast because of the dearth, for there was no rain upon the face of the earth.
        35 And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine.

        The verses in 2 Nephi are from the prophet's quoting of the writings of Isaiah; those in 3 Nephi are from the Savior's Sermon at the Temple; and Ether 2:24 is a somewhat poetic statement of God's power over the elements.  None of these passages actually refer to it raining.  The only ones that reference rainfall are in Helaman 11 and Ether 9, and both of these following lengthy droughts that had produced dearth and famine.  We can be confident that it rained more than twice in the roughly 3,000 years of combined Jaredite/Lehite history, yet the only time it is mentioned in the text is when its occurrence was unusual.

        So how does this apply to snow in the Book of Mormon?  Well, either snow was common enough in regular seasons to not warrant any particular mention, or in those same 3,000 years it never snowed.

        I think the former scenario is more likely than the latter for two reasons:  

        First, although snow is exceptionally rare in Central America, every several generations it does snow there.  There was a snow storm in 2013: http://lovingarms.ca/snow-in-guatemala/.  The freezing temperatures necessary to produce snow are devastating to the tropical crops such as bananas or citrus fruits (see this article: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/cool-weather-tropical-plants-57280.html), which are commonly grown throughout Central America.  If snow was a rare occurrence (occurring maybe once every few generations), and devastating when it happened, don't you think that would have warranted a mention in the text?

        Second, from the scripture referenced at the beginning of this article, Nephi writes how the whiteness of the Tree of Life "did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow."  (1 Ne. 11:8.)  Recognizing that Nephi's principal audience is his own descendants (2 Ne. 33:3) [fn. though he also addresses "the House of Israel" and the "ends of the earth" (2 Ne. 33:13), it is clear that Nephi's record is meant first for his own people], that would be an odd analogy to include for a people who would never encounter snow.  If you were trying to describe the exquisite whiteness of the Tree of Life to your descendants, would you tell them that it was "more white than this really white thing that you'll never actually see and therefore have no context for appreciating how white it was.  But, wow!, it was so white!"?  That just doesn't make much sense to me.

        1 comment:

        1. Probably the Mesoamericanist would say that Joseph translated that the tree of life was whiter than snow because HE knew what snow was... groan!! :S