Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Snow In Jerusalem

I had a question recently about 1 Nephi 11:8, where Nephi sees the tree of life and describes the fruit as being white like "the driven snow." The inquirer assumed that it does not snow in Jerusalem, where Nephi dwelt, and wondered if the reference made any sense. A truly minor point, but I've often heard people make the assumption that Israel must be free of snow. No, there is occasional snow, even right in Jerusalem. Here's one example: Leiah Elbaum's page, Jerusalem in Snow, showing the heavy snow that Jerusalem had in a storm in 2000. You can even see a picture of snowman in Jerusalem.

What's perhaps even more interesting is the absence of snow in the rest of the Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon were based on element's from Joseph's environment, and if he was describing a people who lived or at least fought major battles in the New York area (around the puny hill where the plates where buried, which many Mormons incorrectly and implausibly associated with the Hill Cumorah of the text), then we would expect the snow and cold of winter to play a key factor. But instead, we have battles in winter, such as the one in Alma 51 at the end of the year, where the Lamanite soldiers were exhausted "by the labors and heat of the day" (Alma 51:33). Having a Jerusalem dweller in the arid Middle East make reference to snow while having no hint of snow in all the rest of the record from the New World seems contrary to what one might expect if Joseph Smith had fabricated the Book of Mormon, relying on his knowledge and experience. But once we explore the text and realize that it best fits in a Mesoamerican context, not in New York, then the tendency to have battles in winter (the off season for agriculture) with heat, not cold, makes plenty of sense. What doesn't make sense is that Joseph Smith was the author.

23 comments:

Walter said...

Thanks for the excellent reminder of this important point!

Anonymous said...

I don't really agree that all of the book of mormon took place in Central America. Maybe the reason that there was no mention of snow in the last part of the Book Of Mormon is because the major wars were not fought during the winter. It would be very difficult to move troops and supplies around and would discourage any offensive attacks. I used to live in New York and New England and it sometimes was difficult to travel even with our modern vehicles. I believe that the wars in Alma did take place in Central America but not the wars in Moroni. I have noticed that the scenes in the Book of Mormon changed every 3 books. From Jerusalem to North America. And Remember Mormon and Moroni had limited space to write a condensed version of their history so any unimportant events that happened during the winter would not be included. I have more thoughts on this if anyone is interested.

danithew said...

It snowed while I was in Jerusalem, which was an interesting experience. The way I remember it, some people from there told me it snows maybe once every ten years.

Walker said...

Don't forget the Isaiah passages in chpts. 1 and 55

("White as snow")

("as the snow falls from heaven" or something to that effect).

ujlapana said...
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ujlapana said...

Jeff said: "around the puny hill where the plates where buried, which many Mormons incorrectly and implausibly associated with the Hill Cumorah of the text"

How do you reconcile such a bold statement (implausible, indeed!) with D&C 128, in which Joseph Smith himself, in this canonical epistle, writes, "Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfillment of the prophets--the book to be revealed." So, perhaps Joseph, who actually *met* Moroni on a regular basis, was confused about where Cumorah was?

I know the BoM itself does not say where the abridgement ended up. But Joseph Smith certainly seemed to. Do you assert that he was "speaking as a man" in the D&C? He could have written "Glad tidings from the dust" or "Glad tidings from ...," but he *wrote* "Cumorah."

Walker said...

ujlapana:

That was the commonly accepted title for the hill at that time. We have little/no evidence of the hill being referred to in that way until 1835. It certainly wasn't called by that name in a systematized way.

That instance you pointed out is the ONLY case wherein Joseph referred to the New York site as Cumorah. There is a David Whitmer account, but that is given nearly fifty years after the fact, introducing the possibility that he was using the commonly accepted term as well. Oliver does write in his autobiography that the plates were "hid in the earth by Moroni in a hill called by him, Cumorah, which hill is now in the state of New York." This too is ex post facto.

Ultimately, though, it is fair to propose that Moroni travelled to the New York, named the Cumorah site after the site where his people were destroyed (talk about a powerful device), and buried the plates there. This provides a reasonable accounting of both the Mesoamerican battle ground and the New England plates site. Sorenson's work provides examples where individuals travel similar distances. There's less here than meets the eye.

Bishop Rick said...

If you go to www.journalofdiscourses.com and search on cumorah, you will find many references to the hill where the plates were found, being the same location as the final battle of the Nephites and Lamanites, by GAs. How can you not think it plausible when it is stated by all the early leaders of the church?

Walker said...

Takes a long time to steer a long boat.

At no time (and if you want, I can provide quotations on this), I repeat, at no time, has there ever been an official statement on BOM geography.

Orson Pratt's footnotes in the 1879 edition aren't official (he would later change his own geographic model to one farther southward)

Bruce R. McConkie's introduction on "principal ancestors" is not official (he would also recognize, as Jeff points out, that natives have a far more complext ancestry)

Even Joseph's comments on it aren't official (he would vacillate on geography starting with a hemispheric model by calling Missouri the plains of the Nephites to a Mesoamerican model, when he cited southern Mexico as Lehi's landing spot.

Learning the BOM geography, including the site of the final battle, is a work in progress for all of us. It was only natural for members and leaders to assume the hemispheric model. Now we have more scholarship available to us. Barring a revelation, that scholarship is the best standard we have.

Walker said...

Oops--Orson Pratt changed his views from his Yucatan model in 1848 to the hemispheric in 1879. Just the opposite, though the principle remains.

ujlapana said...

What exactly is an "official statement?" Does it have to start with "The following is an official statement?" Or is it a statement made by an officer of the Church (as in, BRMcConkie, or certainly a President).

If you don't consider the D&C an official statement, I don't know what it would take. Who cares if it's the "only" reference? How many times does God have to say something? The WoW is only in there once, and all future discussion are merely references to that section. So is the WoW just a tradition built on a statement made once by Joseph Smith?

Is there a case where Joseph referred to a different hill as Cumorah? Show me that, and then the "only" will mean something.

Moroni named the new hill? For his own reference? Do you name hills when you're wandering around as the last survivor of your race, hunted by everyone around you? Do you name them with an intent to confuse future hearers? People may travel long distances, but it stretches from reasonable to rationalization to say that Moroni christened a new hill Cumorah.

I'm interested to see your quotations on this. Are they "official?"

Walker said...

"Or is it a statement made by an officer of the Church (as in, BRMcConkie, or certainly a President)."

One of these days, I hope, individuals (including members of my own faith) will recognize a prophet's ability to express a belief and not just be a prophecying machine. Dallin H. Oaks (if you give credence to Mormon orthodoxy--Chesterton's quip that defending orthodoxy has the exhiliration of defending vice is relevant here) remarked that we have continuing, not continuous revelation. We ought not expect every word to be dead on--words are inherently inadequate to express truth. Add the factors of personal belief and difference in phrasing, then one's view of revelation ought to be revised somewhat.

As Jeff points out, Bruce R. McConkie himself vacillated on the question of geography, thus leaving it vague in terms of any official status. At the 1920 rendition of the BOM, James E. Talmage determined that there was no revealed geography...period.

As to what makes something "revealed," well, as John Whitmer once said when asked to be Church historian, "I want to hear the instruction from Joseph the Seer" thus distinguishing it from Joseph the man (Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling)

It makes perfect sense that Joseph would have referred to the hill by commonly accepted title. If the title had little doctrinal significance (which I don't think it really does--though there's some hints on the meaning of Cumorah in Hebrew), then it really wouldn't matter that Joseph called it Cumorah.

Whether it was called Cumorah by Moroni or not is wholly irrelevant to why Joseph called it Cumorah.

However, let's say the hill WAS called Cumorah by Moroni. Paul Hoskisson has done some remarkable analysis of the Hebrew origin of that word, conjecturing (based on sound linguistic principles, of course--as any good scholar of a dead language) that Cumorah is a corruption of the word Gomorrah. Even more interesting, Gomorrah, the "C" sound in Cumorah works well as the Hebrew comparative "like"--"like Gomorrah." Of course, I am no Hebraist--but what knowledge I do have of Hebrew bears this out.

I would suggest (though we cannot be sure--welcome to the nature of ancient historical study) that Moroni was naming it as a memorial of his lost people--a memorial meant to teach the future recipients of the record what not to be like, lest we experience another Gomorrah punishment.

Simply because the word Cumorah is found in a revelation does not tell us much about geography. Does Moses' brazen serpent tell us that we need snakes to be saved? Hardly. There is much symbolism behind the image--as there is behind the appelation of Cumorah.

ltbugaf said...

"Glad tidings from Cumorah" in the D&C doesn't even indicate that the plates were buried in "Cumorah." It only indicates that some of the gospel message of the Book of Mormon came out of Cumorah--which it did.

Jonathan Alfaro Miranda said...

I retired from the church many years ago becuase of people like you on this thread. Who cares what the mount was named or who named it. I am pretty sure that if there is a God in heaven he does not care about your little dispute here. You all missed the point of the scriptures and need to kneedle down and ask God for forgivenes for you have put pride before faith. It is not for any of you to decide what is the truth. Ask your God to guide you and show you the truth but only if you deserve and can handle the truth. By what I have seen you neither deserve such truth nor can handle it and may be that is why you are all confused like babilonians. I hope that your behavior does not affect the life and faith of other who might not have such a strong background for example newly converted members.
Shame on you all!

Mormanity said...

Joseph, the comments here represent people with different backgrounds and beliefs discussing different views on a detail relevant to understanding the Book of Mormon. Surely you don't mean that this kind of thing is why you left the Church?

The people you chastise here include who are not members of the Church, and some within the Church with a variety of perspectives. Someone asks us a question and we try to sort through the different factors that complicate almost all issues in life. The conversation seemed pretty civil and informative, and then WHAM - you pop in and cast shame upon us all and say this is why you left the Church. I really must be misunderstanding what you're trying to say.

Perhaps what you are saying is that you, while a member, expected everything to be black and white, and when you found wrinkles and problems that permitted multiple interpretations, you were caught off guard and lost your faith? I still don't get that, so I must be wrong there, too.

Here's my best guess: you ran into anti-Mormon literature, bought into it and became disillusioned, and then got angry when Mormons defended their position by explaining the difference between opinions and official doctrine, which you saw as dissembling. Is that closer?

Help us out, please, and explain what your beef really us.

Jonathan Alfaro Miranda said...

No I am actually an atheist but I wanted to get you guys going because I knew some one would jump at me for it. The truth is that in real life this conversation has no meaning at all because all of that stuff is a bunch of bologni created to confuse the human beings and blind their souls. Open your eyes and look with no prejudice and inmaculate heart free of the poison of religion and any other kind of moral and you will be reborn for you will see the universe as is....

Mormanity said...

So are you saying that you aren't really a former Mormon who left the Church for the aforementioned reasons?

Jonathan Alfaro Miranda said...

I was a mormon as a child but not by choice as 100% of kids born in a religious family. I always felt something was wrong with religion not only mormons. And yes I have studied and attended seminary and have read many books. I have never beleived in doctrines or anything that must be accepted by faith. Faith is just manipulation tool used by religions to "clear" obscure lies. If its true than why would you need faith to beleive in it? You can tell when something is a big lie because some one died for it. Truth does not need martyrs to prove it self. And I apologize because my intentions were to amuse myself with your religious beleives. But I guess making fun of the blind does not make my vision better. By the way according to your doctrine you should have tried to talk me into coming back to church instead of replying the way you did. But I guess not all mormons beleive their own doctrine.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mormanity said...

Jonathan, I'm trying to figure out what your position (and beef) is. Sorry if that bothers you, but it's hard to engage in dialog when you aren't sure what the other person is trying to do or say. Do come back to the Church, by the way! But if I understand correctly, your intent is just to have a little fun poking at us here. That's cool.

I'm puzzled, though, about the logic behind this statement: You can tell when something is a big lie because some one died for it. Truth does not need martyrs to prove it self.

Joe, rethink that! Martyrs usually aren't people who beg to be killed. It's other people who make that choice. So why does a gang of hateful people who kill someone offer some kind of evidence that the message of the martyr is a lie? Whether it's Christ or Joseph Smith or the heroes who stand up for freedom against tyrants, good people are often killed by bad ones. The fact that they have the courage to put their lives on the line and stay true to their message, even when threatened, HAS TO ADD CREDIBILITY. It doesn't prove the message is true, but it should reduce the doubt people might have about their motives and their level of conviction.

Jonathan Alfaro Miranda said...

First of all: martyrs are rarely killed in a unplanned way. Jesus told Judas to go and bring his captors because it was all planed by himself as his death and resurection was the last trick of an outstanding magician just like David Blane who fasted for longer period than Jesus in the middle of a 21st century crouded city. Socrates also died willingly etc... And I can keep going with examples. Also just to make clear "credibility" is a sign of lie. The truth does not need to be belived in or not it just is. People beleive many lies now days and always have. No beef, just want to see what you guys have to say. Also just to use your religious beleives against yourselfs; I am pretty sure that the churchs position about anything that has not been said by a profet or leader with authority cannot be taken as a truth except in the case of personal revelation. So if none of you have had a personal revelelation about all this then your discussion is pointless as I beleive the church does not have an official position. Jesus did plan his own death for he knew in the last supper what was to happen and he told the apostols about it. Judas is not a traitor but was actually his best friend and that is why he offered him his secrets. By the way I live in central america and there has been cases of snow on the mountains now and then so it would not be rare for it to have snowed in the past. Also a few deegrees of change in the planets temperature could have done the trick. And by the way WHO CARES jeje. Sorry had to say it.

Mary said...

I just wanted to say thank you, I just got to that part in the book of mormon, and was very curious about it snowing in jerusalem. You answered my question with flying colors! So thank you for you great insight!

Dave said...

Hm... be careful about correlating our calendar with the Book of Mormon calendars. Remember that the destruction in Nephite lands began on the fourth day of the first month, but we know that wasn't January. Book of Mormon calendars changed several times, too. If they changed count of the year, they may have also changed when it began. Also we need not assume that climate trends are the same as 1500 to 2000 years ago.
Furthermore, Lehi mentions snow as a color reference, not an event. The lack of mention of weather isn't much of a clue.