Recently, much has been made of FAIR taking issue with a DVD and fireside presentation of a theory which claims that the Book of Mormon events were based in the upper Great Lakes region. While that theory may be right, the proponents of the Great Lakes theory bear the burden of showing that it is so.
While I shan’t go deeply into the that theory, let me briefly state why I am unconvinced by the evidence thus far presented, in spite of the fact that an emeritus General Authority is convinced:
1. Zarahemla is north of the River Sidon’s head [Alma 22:27]. This means that it flows from south to north, which to me is fatal to any claim that the Mississippi (or any of its tributaries) is the River Sidon. In what Joel Garreaux calls The Nine Nations of North America,” There are only three such river systems:
a. The Finlay/Peace/Mackenzie Rivers–among North America’s longest–flowing a total of 2,635 miles before emptying into the Arctic Ocean,
b. The Red River of the North; its 550-mile span forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota, before emptying into Lake Winnepeg, in Manitoba, and
c. The Saint Johns River, which travels 310 miles in peninsular Florida, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
There are others, but they are part of these three watersheds.
2. The Book of Mormon states that the Sidon River flows through a peninsula-like Land Southward toward a “narrow neck” separating it from the Land Northward [Alma 22:29-30; 63:5]. In Garreau’s “Nine Nations,” there are only three such peninsulas: Baja California, the Delmarva Peninsula, which forms the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, and peninsular Florida. To me, this eliminates Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, both of which point northward. Of the three “southward” peninsulas, only Florida has the requisite northward-flowing navigable river system.
3. East of the Book of Mormon River Sidon are at least two hills: Amnihu [Alma 2:15] and Riplah [Alma 43:35]. Unfortunately, Florida’s highest elevation, Britton Hill, is the lowest among the fifty States, and is located in the Panhandle region, roughly two miles south of the Alabama State line. The only things resembling hills is in the central Florida highlands, which include Sugarloaf and Iron Mountains, and many miles to the west of the Saint Johns basin.
While it would be cool for Americans if Book of Mormon lands were located in Anglo North America, the facts that the Mississippi flows southward, Michigan’s peninsulas are “northward,” and Florida is FLAT makes that extremely unlikely.
To be “fair,” though, I must also point out that there are also problems in a pure Mesoamerican “Local Geography Theory”, as well as the “Hemispheric Theory.” In the interest of “full disclosure,” I believe that the truth lies in a “hybrid” of the latter two theories.
Yet, there are (at least) two people who presented a Great Lakes theory for the Book of Mormon. Indeed, I go out of my way to praise Brother Theodore Brandley in my post “Deus ex machina” and in comments to Greg Smith’s post, “Book of Mormon geography“, and why does FAIR’s Larry Poulson, an emeritus professor the University of Texas, who believes the in the Mesoamerican model, posted Brother Brandley’s thesis paper on his web site. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves praise, even though I am unconvinced of his theory. He states his thesis, and lets it stand or fall on its merits, he is willing top listen when others have evidence which qualifies or contradicts his thesis, adjusting his argument when called for, and he does the necessary research to strengthen his position. Moreover, he doesn’t attack those who are unconvinced by his theory. In short, he does the scholarship right, and doesn’t claim revelatory powers he doesn’t possess.
This may cause the reader to wonder: “Why has FAIR’s members taken Brother Brandley seriously, while taking issue with Brother Rod Meldrum?” What is the core of our antipathy toward Meldrum is not his advocacy of a “Great Lakes Theory” (Some FAIR members believe in it, and, as I said above, an emeritus General Authority is convinced.), but in the tactics he uses in that advocacy:
1. Using statements by Joseph Smith to gain a better idea of where he thought Book of Mormon sites are located is fine, but to give his opinions based on his “best evidence” the authority of divine revelation, is, at best, foolhardy, considering statements of subsequent leaders that there is no revealed Book of Mormon map [The Instructor, April 1938, 160]. At worst, it is usurping revelatory powers for ALL members of the Church; powers that he does not have.
2. Along those lines, Meldrum (and his defenders) attack those who are unconvinced of his theory, commanding them to get in line with the Brethren–and with his revelation that his model is true. Funny; I do not recall sustaining Brother Meldrum as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” at any General, Stake, or Ward Conference. In fact, I don’t recall a vote to sustain him for ANY calling.
3. At best, having an emeritus General Authority give what marketers and sociologists call a “testimonial” in propagandising is an argument from authority, among the weakest of arguments. But what Meldrum is doing is far worse. He skillfully portrays any questioning of the merits of his theory as “evil speaking of the Lord’s Anointed,” for not following that emeritus General Authority to the same conclusion. I don’t like Meldrum’s less-than-integral implementation of LDS doctrine, and I don’t like his use of honourably-released leaders as a club to use to beat good members of the Church who commit the “sin” of not agreeing with him.
4. When FAIR’s leaders told him that his evidence was weak, Meldrum attacked “the scholars” for allegedly disbelieving in revelation and in Joseph Smith’s diving calling, thus “poisoning the well“. Moreover, such a tactic gives credibility to anti-Mormon claims that Latter-day Saints “assassinate their brains.”
5. Among the scholars Meldrum belittles are members of FARMS, who he says are working against the Brethren. Apparently, the Brethren disagree, since they chose to fund FARMS’s research by appending it to the Church’s flagship school, Brigham Young University.
6. To illustrate his disdain for scholarship, Meldrum offers little as evidence–except for revelation–to him. While the revelation he gets MAY be right, until I get a witness, I’m not biting.
7. Meldrum refuses to consider others’ problems with his theory. He neither attempts to strengthen his theory, nor adjusts it as appropriate.
8. Finally, Meldrum incites others to do the dirty work of attacking those who don’t unquestioningly accept his theories.
To sum up, there is a reason for FAIR’s conservatism: Our mission is not proving the Book of Mormon (That’s the Holy Ghost’s job!), but to give a plausible answer for our faith [See II Peter 3:15]. Far-out explanations–with no basis in solid scholarship–detracts from our ability to help others.