Friday, January 30, 2009

Mormon Mesoamerica Part II

Without further ado...

Standing armies: The writer uses Alma 53:2-6 and Alma 52:5-11 to show that "Both of these sections clearly describe a standing army, that is, an army that remains organized and structured while waiting for active battle. Again, this does not strike a modern reader as unreasonable, yet there is no evidence of such a practice in ancient Mesoamerica during the Book of Mormon time [quotes Payson Sheets "Warfare in Ancient Mesoamerica: A Summary View" 295]The existence of a standing army as described in the book of Alma would have been highly unusual in ancient Mesoamerica, and would have required a highly urbanized and centralized polity, which did not exist in ancient Mesoamerica during the specified time period.

Again, this is a superficial reading of the text. The verses mentioned are part of a seven years war, where the Nephites kept "standing" armies. Alma 62:44-47 mentions how the exceedingly great length of the war required new and extensive re-regulating of Nephite affairs. In verse 43 it mentions how Moroni yielded command of his armies to his son. In my opinion this is a small repsonse force, and the Nephite armies were largely made up of a reserve. See: Alma 16:3, Alma 60:2 which suggest that armies were largely drawn from people that were normaly farmers. Sorenson's seasonality of Warfare, and Merill's army composotioin (both from Warfare in the Book of Mormon) suggest that Nephite armies were largely part time. This does not take into account possible military colonies (at the city of Judea, and Moroni) and possible small garrisons manned by the left over forces, and a possible military caste, or small number of elite. (see "Military Castes" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon). And my paper being published for the BCC Papers suggests that there were significant breaks in the war (I call them three phases, Zoramite War, First and Second Amalickiahite War) because of the time it took to "reload". Suggesting that the Book of Mormon is consistent with the Mesoamerican difficulty of keeping standing armies.

Thus the blogger assumes that the Nephites had large standing armies similar to the Aztecs (and thus being anachronistic and impossible) when there is still much more study to be done concerning the size and composition (full time vs. part time, military castes, military garrisons etc.) of Nephite armies.

Logistics: This is the most egregious case of misreading the Book of Mormon. The blogger cites the distance and travel time from Jershon to Judea as 210 miles and impossible, and pointless since they would consume all their food just arriving there (thus the fathers sending "provisions" is impossible, Alma 56:27). But Alma 35:13 states that the people of Ammon moved from Jershon to Mulek, to make space (and presumably consume less food) for the Nephite armies there. Mulek is significantly closer to Judea. And using Sorensons geography, is less than 100 miles from Judea.

My research paper currently under consideration for the Journal of Book of Mormon studies has dealt with Nephite logistics (based on Alma 56:28 ironically). The women and children that accompnied the army would extend its operating range, and provide necessary labor once upon arrival. Thus the 100 miles is within acceptable range of an travelling army, representing a one way travel of 8-10 days. If a soldier carries 50 pounds worth of weapons and armor (a very high estimate considering most of the soldiers were probably commoners and had less armor and fewer weapons) the soldier could carry 3 days of food. They also travelled through the capital, and probably resupplied for another 3 days. (The capital being rougly halfway between Melek and Judea). Then you assume that the army had one porter for every 3 soldiers which could carry three days of food for themselves, and another 3 days of food and you have will finish your journey with food to spare. Plus, I suggest that Judea was a military colony, thus the remaining porters would farm the available land and provide more food upon arrival. (This is already a long post, I can do the boring details and excact calculations in another post)

The scenario suposedly gets worse with 3 Nephi 3:21-25, where the Nephites gather in one land, and have food left over, despite the supposedly high population density and limited farming space. Again this is a misreading of the text. I read it, as the Nephites abadoning their less defensible outpost cities in favor of their stronger cities and "lands". The most defensible cities were in the valley and flat lands around Bountiful and Zarahemla. Since the robbers would be more vulnerable after leaving their mountain hideouts and defensible terrain to battle on the plains. And, as noted by Sorenson, the term "land" is sometimes used for wide geographic spaces. Thus when the robbers could not longer plunder the less defensible Nephite outposts, they had to either farm themselves (thus exchanging position with the previously exposed Nephites) or try to attack the best defesnive locations of the Nephites. In short, the internal consistency of the Book of Mormon suggests a looser reading of the term "land" and how fortified they were, compared to the bloggers analysis. "If this event occurred in ancient Mesoamerica, then it required the existence of a highly urbanized, centralized polity with a far more efficient transportation system than actually existed in ancient Mesoamerica, and that same polity and transportation system disappeared without a trace." According to what the Book of Mormon actually says, it does not require a city with the size, power,and logistic capacity of the Aztec capital, but simply a more detailed understanding of what the Book of Mormon actually says.

Conclusion: This blogger presents some good points. His arguments would be stronger if he knew the Book of Mormon better, and was willing to adjust his understanding of it to meet his research. One of the best interactions between scholarhsip and faithful reading, is the adjustment of the latter to the former. In other words, we should be willing to allow scholarship to adjust our understanding of the Book, not from true to false, but from shallow reading to nuanced undestanding. Just as believers of the Book of Mormon used to think that it was account of the whole hemisphere; But changed in response to language and population problems presented which forced readers to re-examine verses that got missed due to past assumptions. Likewise, our study of war can benefit from dropping past assumptions under the light of sometimes critical scholarship. It would help if bloggers did not assume the Book of Mormon is false due to their shallow reading concerning warfare and eager desire to contrast it with Mesoamerican research.

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