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Quote by Austin Farrar
The relationship between rational argument (evidence) and belief.
"Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief.
What seems to be proved may not be embraced: but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned.
Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish."
A misleading New Years Article in Deseret News/Mormon Times shows that its author, Dr. Daniel Peterson of BYU's Maxwell Institute was uninformed and thereby mistakenly dismissed the Heartland model geography, yet he is, to his credit, willing to learn more (see below). This article was written as a response to a growing need to correct false statements and unsubstantiated claims against the Heartland Model geography. We hope to do so in a non-confrontational, civil and Christ-like manner using solid, thoughtful research to back our claims as becoming those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
With just two days remaining in 2011 the Deseret News published a clever article titled, May your new year begin better than Amalickiah’s by Dr. Daniel Peterson, BYU professor and Editor in Chief of the Maxwell Institute’s Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. The article, which rather ingeniously referred to the Book of Mormon account of the wicked Lamanite general Amalickiah’s demise at the hands of Teancum on the last day of the year, set the stage for an uninformed dismissal of the Heartland Model Book of Mormon geography. Peterson based his dismissal on several verses in Alma wherein a warm day may have been indicated near the close of the Nephite year. The passage, found in Alma 51:33-34, 37 reads,
33 And it came to pass that when the night had come, Teancum and his servant stole forth and went out by night, and went into the camp of Amalickiah; and behold, sleep had overpowered them because of their much fatigue, which was caused by the labors and heat of the day.
34 And it came to pass that Teancum stole privily into the tent of the king, and put a javelin to his heart; and he did cause the death of the king immediately that he did not awake his servants.
37 And thus endeth the twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and thus endeth the days of Amalickiah.
Peterson “Certain” Book of Mormon Didn’t Occur in Midwest
Dr. Peterson deduced that the “heat of the day” mentioned at the end of the year in this passage indicates that “it’s virtually certain that the story didn’t occur in upstate New York or the upper Midwest, or that the Nephites followed a different calendar than we do, or perhaps both. “ This solitary account of a warm day near the end of the Nephite year unfortunately propelled Peterson, like many students of the Book of Mormon, to assume that a tropical climate is demanded by the text and that its history could not have occurred in North America. He then implies that this premise is true because, “Average December-January temperatures in Rochester, N.Y…range between 36 and 16 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by an average of two feet of snow per month. As I write, it's a relatively balmy 38 degrees in Rochester, and overcast.”
Peterson provided as an example average temperature readings for December through January in Rochester, New York, presumably to substantiate his claim against the Heartland Model. He then confesses that while he used the end of our modern calendar year in his example, this is not likely to have been the actual time of year in which this narrative played out. He shifts to a more correct “Nephite” timing, stating that “in mid-April, when the first month of the Jewish calendar begins, high temperatures in Rochester average roughly 55 degrees, while nights drop very nearly to freezing. But even that scarcely qualifies as “hot.” While correcting for Nephite calendaring, Peterson fails to correct for location in the case of the Heartland Model.
The Heartland Model Geography proposes that the primary lands of the Book of Mormon are today the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys, with the lands of Nephi, Zarahemla and Bountiful being located respectively in eastern Tennessee, Iowa/Missouri, and Ohio. Zarahemla was the Nephites “capital city” (Hel. 1:27) located in the “heart of their lands” (Hel. 1:18) and was revealed to Joseph Smith (D&C 125:3) to be across from Nauvoo, Illinois (see Video Gallery # 40 Zarahemla Near Nauvoo?) which would be regionally near St. Louis and would therefore make a more appropriate comparison than Rochester, NY, as in Peterson’s example.
Peterson suggests that Joseph Smith didn’t notice the supposed difficulty with a warm day at the beginning of the year in New York. Peterson writes that “it’s not the kind of thing that an untraveled, young, early-19th-century farmer with only a couple of months of schooling under his belt would likely have thought up. Instead, it sounds like the sort of curious minor detail that routinely appears in chronicles from exotic places and distant times.” Peterson brought this up in an apparent attempt to defend the Book of Mormon by claiming Joseph Smith was ignorant of such things as the difficulty posed because of the average temperature in upstate New York in January, therefore he could not have authored it.
Does the Phrase “Heat of the day” Indicate a Tropical Climate?
“Heat” has several possible definitions. While “heat” could certainly describe a hot day, the Book of Mormon once describes “heat” as that experienced by a guilty conscience (Alma 15:3) and several times the book describes a form of heat as “warm contention” (Alma 1:22, 50:26) or “dispute” (Alma 51:4). Certainly the use of the word “warm” in this context does not provide a basis for climate. Phrases such as “the heat of battle” do not reflect a type of climate, but an intensity of emotional experience, such has had just been experienced by Amalickiah’s men. Could this reference to heat have been a reflection of the intensity of the battle they had endured as they contended with their adversaries?
Even assuming that “heat” in this passage meant a hot day, does that then preclude the Heartland geography model as potentially valid?
What was the nature of the climate of the Book of Mormon? One longstanding question has been that of snow. If the Book of Mormon lands were in America’s heartland, why was there no mention of snow?
Actually, “snow” and “hail” are mentioned three times in the text in conjunction with dreams and exhortations (1 Nephi 11:8, Mosiah 12:6, Helaman 5:12), but no mention is made that they experienced it occurring. Would it make sense for Lehi to use these metaphors if his posterity, which he witnessed in vision, would be living in a land where they are unlikely to be experienced? Of course it does snow and hail in the mountainous areas of Mesoamerica, but the proposed lands of the primary cities were the people lived are generally located in the lower tropical areas.
Rain, the most common form of precipitation, is mentioned as actually occurring only twice; once by the Nephites (Hel. 11:17) and once by the Jaredites (Ether 9:35). Yet would anyone conclude that it only rained twice in the entire history of the Jaredites and Nephites? Of course not, yet rain is mentioned many more times in the text than a warm day - which some Mesoamerica geography proponents have attempted to stretch into a requirement for a tropical climate for the Book of Mormon.
Warm Weather at New Years in the Heartland?
Why would it be thought that this reference to a warm day at the end of the year rules out America’s heartland as being Book of Mormon related? A very important question brought up by Mesoamerican proponents, such as Peterson, involves not just the fact that Amalickiah was killed on the last day of the year, but that the day may have been warm. Is this plausible in the Heartland of America? Wouldn’t it have been too cold in December in the mid-west to have a warm day? The answer is in the timing of this battle, which was fought on the last day of the Nephite year. An important aspect in our understanding is whether Nephite calendars were the same as ours today.
Early Speculations on Book of Mormon Calendaring
Dr. Peterson has advocated for a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon for many years through the flagship publication of the now defunct organization FARMS. The directors of FARMS were taken over by BYU's Neil A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Study or NAMI and in June of 2012 their flagship publication, FARMS Review, was terminated and its entire editorial board summarily fired. Read more about the firing of these overzealous Heartland critics HERE. The fired editorial team had previously taken up the issue of Book of Mormon calendaring in a number of articles. One of these includes a powerfully documented article by Randall P. Spackman titled The Jewish/Nephite Lunar Calendar which presents evidence that the Nephites were using the Jewish practice of calendaring using lunar cycles. Spackman writes, “During Lehi's life in Judah, four important agricultural feasts marked the year. Three of these feasts served to divide the year into halves. One half of the year began with the lunar month in which the spring feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread occurred (see Leviticus 23:5-8; Numbers 9:5; 28:16-25; 33:3; 2 Chronicles 35:1-19). These feasts occurred in the first month of a lunar calendar that began in the springtime.” Several of these passages state that Passover was to be observed on the 14th day of the Jewish first month.
Mesoamerica theory advocates such as John L. Sorenson have speculated using faulty research about Nephite calendaring in their attempts to use seasons and warfare as a basis to support their theories. Once Spackman’s well-researched article appeared, establishing that Lehi and his family would have continued on in the tradition of Jewish practices as a result of their observance of the Laws of Moses, other less robust speculations, such as Sorenson's, fell aside. A follow up article by Sorenson praises Spackman’s research, calling it a “great improvement in depth of scholarship over my limited efforts” and it is “far superior to anything heretofore” superseding Sorenson’s previous statements on the matter. That Sorenson’s early speculations were seriously flawed can be attested by the fact that after publication of Spackman’s chronology, Sorenson admitted, “I did not do serious research on the complex topic.” Yet both of Sorenson’s articles had been reviewed and published by the FARMS editorial board without question or comment. No one questioned Sorenson's conclusions prior to their publication in the FARMS Review. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case of Sorenson conducting poor research which is unquestioned by Mesoamerica theory promotion organizations.
Connecting Nephite Calendaring with Jewish Lunar Calendaring
Just prior to Christ’s crucifixion he gathered his disciples together to observe Passover (Matt. 26:17-20, Mark 14:12-17, Luke 22:11-16). Passover is observed at the first full moon after the vernal (spring) equinox, generally in mid April in the Northern Hemisphere. This is about the mid-point of the month of Nisan which marks the beginning of the year of the Jewish or Hebrew lunar calendar (see also Jewish Calendar from Jewish Virtual Library).
The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi records that “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land” (3 Ne. 8:2-5). This was the sign of the death of Christ on the cross in the Old World at Jerusalem and it occurred on the fourth day of the Nephite New Year. Since we know Christ died just after Passover, which is generally in April according to our calendar, and this was the first month of the Nephites, it indicates that the Nephite calendar was shifted 4 months (Nephite month 1 was our month 4 or April).
What is interesting is that all of the aforementioned early speculations either ignored or failed to understand that the Book of Mormon provided a chronological ‘anchor’ that directly connects the Nephite calendar with the Jewish and Gregorian calendars at the time of Christ.
Importance of Living the Law of Moses to the Nephites
While Spackman correctly emphasizes that Lehi and his posterity “sought to live the law of Moses” and would have had to be familiar with “the great feasts of spring and autumn,” unfortunately, as a result of scholarly insistence by FARMS that Mesoamerica was the likely setting, he then admits that “as Lehi’s descendants settled in Mesoamerica, a physical and agricultural environment very different from that in Judah, the seasons could not have been counted in the same way.” Spackman fails to mention the exactness that the law of Moses demands of its adherents, such as the Nephites, who were “strict in observing the ordinances of God, according to the law of Moses” (Alma 30:3). Substituting seasons or alternative calendars would not have been allowed.
The Nephite calendar had to utilize a seven day week and must be lunar based in order to remain synchronized with their Hebrew calendaring heritage and observance of the law of Moses. That the Nephites/Mulekites were following a lunar-based calendar at least up to about 130 B.C. can be shown in Omni 1:21 where Coriantumr, the last remaining Jaredite, stayed for "nine moons." Correlating with this Hebrew practice, the Hopewell Civilization, as proposed by the Heartland Model geography to be the Nephites, constructed mighty earthworks having all eight lunar alignments outlining the moons entire 18.6 year cycle, such as the Great Octagon earthworks of Newark, Ohio. Many other of their monumental earthworks were also lunar aligned. (See the Video Gallery #'s 26, 66 with clips from The Lost Civilizations of North America #'s 24-28 and the PBS documentary, Searching for the Great Hopewell Road #'s 65-67 and available at the Bookstore) Modern American Indian tribes also conduct most of their ritual and ceremonial practices based on the moon, not the sun as can be seen in video clip # 66.
The festival of First Fruits determined the beginning of the Jewish year and this was based on the ripening of the barley harvest which occurs in Jerusalem in April. However, barley does not grow in Mesoamerica and there has never been found any indications of barley among the Maya civilization. Nor did the Maya utilize a 7-day week or lunar-based calendaring system, but rather their calendar is a solar (sun) based system.
Spackman mentions that living the law of Moses “prescribed a complex sequence of ceremonial events throughout each year…the people must have used some sort of calendar for scheduling, planning, and holding the feasts.” He then raises, and offhandedly dismisses, a critical difficulty with proposed Mesoamerican theories by stating the following. “While the scriptures (brass plates) provided an important tool for creating such a calendar, the spring and autumn harvest festivals of the land of Judah could not have been applicable to the agricultural seasons where the Nephites lived in tropical Mesoamerica. Thus some modification of Mosaic law and the Israelite calendar was inevitable.” In other words, if the Nephites lived in Mesoamerica, they would have been forced to alter the laws of Moses in very significant ways because the seasons are very different from the land of Israel, yet those seasonal festivals mark the commencement of their year, the exact timing of certain rites and rituals and to a great extent their entire lives revolved around these seasonal regulations. He makes the simplistic assumption that the Nephite lands were in Mesoamerica, without realizing the dilemma this would create for those who were strictly living those laws.
In contrast, had the Lord directed his “chosen people” to the “Promised Land” of the North American Heartland, no such alteration would be necessary, as the seasons and calendaring would have been similar. This is a result of the fact that Jerusalem (310 47’ N latitude) lies at about the same latitude as the gulf coast of the United States (Mobile, Alabama is 300 41’ N latitude, just a few miles south of the latitude of Jerusalem), with the interior Heartland being only 400-600 miles north. Thus the seasonal time frames of the civilizations in the Heartland Model geography are very similar to those at Jerusalem, and Lehi and his family could have observed the laws of Moses without modification, including using the ripening of barley to determine their new year. Barley is known archaeologically to have been cultivated by the Hopewell civilization in America’s Heartland during Book of Mormon time frames. In stark contrast, barley does not grow in Mesoamerica and it is completely absent from Mayan archaeological findings. Would the Lord have brought his chosen covenant people to a “Promised Land” where it would be impossible to observe the law of Moses without radically altering it?
A More Appropriate Example for the Heartland Model Geography
Historical weather almanac’s for St. Louis, Missouri (which is about a hundred miles south of “Zarahemla” as indicated by revelation in D&C 125:3) show the average daily high temperature in April is 67 degrees Fahrenheit (click St. Louis link above and switch month to April then click Submit Query) with record high temperatures as high as 93 degrees (See also NOAA’s Daily Record Maximum, Minimum, Lo High and Hi Low Temperatures). Even in the Heartland Model’s proposed land Bountiful (Ohio region) the weather almanac records for Columbus, Ohio (switch to April) show average high temperatures in April to be 62 degrees with record high temperatures of 85- 89 degrees.
These ancient combatants, whose bodies had acclimatized to the cold of winter in the Heartland, when encountering a warm spring day, and combined with the strains of battle, may have felt the fatigue felt by many people when first coming out of their homes to work on their gardens in early spring. Wouldn’t it be natural for these combatants to describe the warm weather of those first spring days, combined with strenuous fighting, as “heat”? Had this day of battle coincided with temperatures of 80-90 degrees with 50-80% humidity as is common in this region, would anyone question the possibility that they had accurately described what they were experiencing as the “heat of the day”?
Such a scenario more accurately describes what would have been encountered in April in the proposed Heartland model geography. Had Peterson used this scenario he could not have justified his unwitting dismissal of the Heartland Model geography. Did Peterson knowingly create an erroneous example in order to dismiss the Heartland Model?
Another question is whether this passage actually supports the Mesoamerican models. Temperature change is minimal in the tropical regions of Mesoamerica with daily temperatures in these lowlands having minimal variation. Would those accustomed to consistently warm weather make specific comments about the “heat of the day” from one day to another? Not likely. One day would not be significantly warmer than any other. Why would that day have been noteworthy as being hotter than any other, when the temperatures are so consistent? The contrasting temperatures from winter to summer in a more temperate climate, where coming out of winter would cause fatigue more easily, could be considered as strong evidence for a northerly climate. A warm spring day, upon emerging from winter, would no doubt be more likely considered as being hot.
Battle Dress among Book of Mormon Combatants
Another aspect to be considered is that often the Nephites seemed somewhat astonished that the Lamanites came to battle dressed in practically nothing but a loincloth. It would seem that a loincloth was the exception rather than the rule in warfare. Were the Lamanites attempting to show their courage, bravery or confidence by coming to battle with little to no protective gear? Their boastfulness demonstrates that they did so as a token of bravery. In contrast, those going to battle for the Nephites were generally well dressed and protected.
"And when the armies of the Lamanites saw that the people of Nephi, or that Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing…” (Alma 43:19-20)
Five years before Teancum slew Amalickiah on that warm day at the end of their year, the Lamanites had caught the vision of wearing protective clothing to war. The following verse in Alma 49 is noted to have been about 72 B.C. while Alma 51 was about 67 B.C.
"Now the leaders of the Lamanites had supposed, because of the greatness of their numbers, yea, they supposed that they should be privileged to come upon them as they had hitherto done; yea, and they had also prepared themselves with shields, and with breastplates; and they had also prepared themselves with garments of skins, yea, very thick garments to cover their nakedness." (Alma 49:6)
Thus both the Nephite and Lamanite warriors were dressed for battle in thick clothing. No indication is given in the text whether the Lamanites wore loincloths year round, or not. The heartland of America is therefore as viable an option as any in considering potential Book of Mormon lands. There is no legitimate basis to exclude it as Peterson unfortunately did in his article.
Other Book of Mormon Indications of Climate
While the Book of Mormon is not absolutely clear about its climate, it does provide other possible indicators of weather phenomena such as tempests, and whirlwinds (3 Ne. 8:12, 16), along with “seasons of the year,” which was the “nature of the climate” (Alma 46:40) of the Book of Mormon’s Promised Land. Ether describes a “tempest” as being caused by fierce winds (Ether 6:6) such as hurricanes which can afflict the Gulf Coast and southeastern portions of America. Wind, rain, hail, snow, and tempests are mentioned, yet there is another powerful weather phenomenon that occurs primarily in the heartland of North America that was also described in the Book of Mormon…and that is “whirlwinds.” Devastating tornados, capable of literally carrying away people as claimed in the Book of Mormon (3 Ne. 8:16), occur seasonally in what is termed “tornado alley” in America’s heartland. That “whirlwind” most likely indicates “tornado” is clear. Do tornados occur in Mesoamerica? No, the conditions necessary for tornado formation do not occur in Mesoamerica. While one or two small dust devil-like events have occurred in Mesoamerica, none could have been classified as strong enough to do major structural damage or carry people away. Conversely, each year in the American heartland towns and cities are terrorized and too often leveled by massive category 4 and 5 ‘twisters.’ The Nephites described whirlwinds as being a devastating force on the scale of mighty earthquakes and fierce winds (hurricanes). Clearly “whirlwinds” are tornados, which are all too commonplace in the heartland, and virtually nonexistent in Mesoamerica.
Setting the Record Straight About the Heartland Model Geography – emails to Dr. Daniel Peterson
After reading Peterson’s article I decided to ask him, through an email group, a couple of questions. An abbreviated account is shown below.
Rod Meldrum email of Jan 2, 2012 6:23 PM
“So my question to Brother Peterson is this, are you  un-aware of the Heartland research that clearly presented this exact information over two years ago,  were you just ignoring my research, or  were you simply trying to lead people to believe your stated premise that the Book of Mormon could not have occurred in North America is true regardless of the fact that the Heartland model does not propose either Dec/Jan or Rochester, New York as the potential explanation for the "heat of the day" at the time of Amalickiah's death? I would respectfully like to know why you chose to make it appear that a 90 degree day (likely with near 100% humidity) is somehow a “certainty” that the Book of Mormon did not occur in "the upper Midwest."
Jan 2, 2012 9:52 PM email from Daniel Peterson
“Dear Brother Meldrum:
In answer to your question: On the whole, I pay no attention to what you do. Seriously. The column wasn't actually aimed at you. I don't think about you or your "movement" very much. You don't loom very large in my universe.
The first time I ever really paid any attention to your efforts -- and I've paid almost none since -- is when somebody showed me a clip from a video of yours in which you suggested (quite falsely) that President Hinckley, when he commented upon people who wanted the fruits of Mormonism while rejecting its roots, had those in mind who favor a Mesoamerican model for Book of Mormon geography. I didn't find that particularly amusing.
Dr. Peterson Agrees to Review Heartland Research – and to Lunch!
After discovering that Dr. Peterson had a profound lack of knowledge of the Heartland Model research that he had dismissed in his article, I called him to offer a full complementary contingency of our research, including the 5 and 6 DVD sets, Lost Civilizations DVD, and Exploring the Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland book - for FREE. In addition, I offered to buy him lunch, to which he graciously agreed.
A week or two prior, the president of the More Good Foundation had suggested that I try to make reparations with the NAMI organization. When I asked for a recommendation of who I should contact, he had suggested Dr. Peterson. Thus I was very pleased that Dr. Peterson would take the time to discuss this over lunch.
We met at Red Lobster on the appointed day and enjoyed talking about our personal mission experiences, our Church involvement, our families and our thoughts about what was happening with regard to this research. Dr. Peterson agreed to review the materials I gave him and offered to explore the possibility of setting up a time that I might come and present some of my research to the NAMI organization. I agreed that this would be very beneficial to curb further attacks and false claims resulting from a lack of understanding.
We are both hoping that something positive will come of this meeting, that animosities will be quelled and that a spirit of cooperation may emerge. I am grateful to Dr. Peterson for his willingness to consider the ramifications of continued in-fighting amongst fellow members of the Church and also his willingness to learn more about the Heartland Model geography. We hope our efforts will prove to be fruitful.
As I sit at my computer writing this article, the high temperature in St. Louis, Missouri is a balmy 82 degrees (F) with 60% humidity and gusting winds. The date is March 14, 2012. Certainly this could be considered ‘loincloth weather’ yet it will be another month before the beginning of the Nephite New Year in North America.
Update, Dec. 10, 2012: To date Daniel Peterson has given no indication that he has reviewed any of the materials provided at no charge to him, nor made any further contact. He and his FARMS Review editorial team were fired from BYU's Maxwell Institute in June, 2012 and since then he has been busy raising money for his new venture, Interpreter, which will not be subject to oversight by the Church or Church owned BYU.