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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Open-Mindedness Alert: Non-LDS Observer Reports on His Visit to a Candidate for Nephi's Bountiful

"Kharfot Searching for Mormons" is the title of an article written by author and photographer Pinaki Chakravarty for Oman Today, a publication of Apex Press in Oman, the small Arab state on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula which many LDS scholars believe contain the place that Nephi and group called Bountiful (see, for example, MormonEvidence.com). For those who have been told that there isn't a scrap of evidence for the Book of Mormon, a refreshing new openness might follow when evidence from the Arabian Peninsula is considered. It should give one pause, for example, to consider that there is actually a plausible candidate (perhaps two or three plausible candidates, in fact) meeting many criteria found in the First Nephi for such a place, including being nearly due east of the place Nahom where Ishmael was buried, a place that appears to match well with the ancient burial place called Nehem, now bearing recently discovered ancient altar showing that the related tribal name Nihm (or just NHM in ancient Semitic languages) was in use there in Nephi's era.

Pinaki is remarkably neutral in his article, and has obviously done some homework learning about the views of some LDS writers regarding Kharfot as an excellent candidate for Bountiful. He could have taken the easy way out and chortled that there could never have been such a place as the lush Bountiful in the vast stretches of arid sand that fill Arabia, as others have done, but he is writing for an audience in Oman where the existence of lush coastal regions is no secret. While a visit to Kharfot was difficult by modern standards and took significant time and effort, even with the help of modern transportation, Pinaki made the effort to go see for himself and learn why some Mormons are excited about this remote and rarely visited section of the Peninsula. A refreshing case of open-mindedness! Thank you, Pinaki (and good luck with the books on your adventures in Oman that you are preparing!).

Hat tip to Warren Aston.

Update, 1/8/10: I am honored that Pinaki dropped by and shared some further insights in his comments, such as the editorial constraints in Oman that affected what he could say. Interesting! The original version of his article is at http://pinaki.info/om_sea_kharfot.htm. That version includes additional photographs of the area. Very nice!

Pinaki mentions that Mormons may have found iron ore at Bountiful. Yes, iron ore is available in the area, as the Book of Mormon indicates--and that's actually a big deal given the rarity of iron ore in the Arabian Peninsula. For details, read my post, "'Whither Shall I Go for Ore?' - Another Subtle Requirement for Bountiful's THREE Excellent Candidates. Worth considering. Surely the iron ore finds must good enough at least for a bit of scrap iron, and that ought to be considered next time someone says there isn't a scrap of evidence in faavor of the Boook of Mormon. Not even a scrap iron scrap?

32 comments:

scripturegolf said...

Wow! Very exciting and interesting! Thanks for the link.

Michaela Stephens said...

That is absolutely AMAZING. The guy must really have a driving curiosity if he is willing to 1)put his money into actually VISITING the place and 2)write about it.

Ryan said...

What is lacking is an official, scientific publishing, excavations at the site, historians going on record

This would indeed be cool. Especially since it sounds relatively undisturbed up til now.

Anthony said...

Full disclosure: I'm skeptical of Book of Mormon historicity. My biases aside, if I were evaluating current theories of Book of Mormon geography, I'd have to reconcile an apparent incongruity between the amount of evidence from the Arabian peninsula and the amount of evidence from Central America. A few dozen or so people spend 8 or so years in the Arabian peninsula, while apparently thousands if not millions of their descendants spend a millenium in Central America. Yet the amount of confirmatory evidence from the Arabian peninsula seems disproportionately large in comparison to the amount of confirmatory evidence from Central America. I would have to conclude that maybe the Nephites weren't located where we typically look for evidence around the isthmus of Tehuantepec. I'd suggest looking farther south, in Nicaragua or Costa Rica.

FishFly said...
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FishFly said...
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FishFly said...

Anthony,

You are right on. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and share your feelings about the amount of evidence that has been found. And I am one who is not skeptical of Book of Mormon historicity.

I think there are serious reasons to believe that we have been "digging in the wrong place" in Central America. So where should we look? Malay, anyone?

I tried to get some reaction to the Malay Hypothesis in a response to a different Mormanity post, but almost no one responded. I have yet to hear a really good argument against this theory. Everyone just seems to ignore it without considering it.

ggrand said...

What is Malay Hypothesis?

FishFly said...

Do an internet search. I don't want to completely hijack this thread.

Briefly, it is a hypothesis that the events in the Book of Mormon did not take place in Central America, but rather on the Malay Peninsula (currently Malaysia, Thailand, and Burma). After all, the Book of Mormon never says anything like "they landed on the American Continent" or "the Lamanites lived in a land which is now called Guatemala".

It is a remarkable fit if one considers only evidence internal to the Book of Mormon and if one erases a large number of assumptions that are heavily taught within the Church (though not part of official doctrine).

Anthony said...

FishFly,

It pains me to disagree with someone who previously agreed with me, but I see a couple of problems with the Malay hypothesis. I'm not very familiar with it, so I'm sure that there are counter arguments that I'm not aware of.

One problem is that in Nephi's vision, he describes Gentiles coming to the promised land; they have a war against their "mother Gentiles." There's an obvious correlate for this in America, but I'm not so sure about Malaysia. Another problem is that in Joseph Smith History, Moroni says that the gold plates give an account of the former inhabitants of "this continent," which is apparently the continent where Joseph Smith was. Another problem is that in 2Nephi 1, Lehi says that "this land" [of promise] should be kept from the knowledge of other nations so that it wouldn't be overrun. Europeans have known about Malaysia since the first century at least, and the (Asian) Indians and Chinese probably longer.

The Fat Man said...

There one glaring difference between geographical evidence and information in the old world and that of mesoamerica: In the old world we have a solid, known starting point, that being Jerusalem. Since we know where that is, we have had good luck find other areas described in the book based on their spatial relationships as descibed in the book.

If we had a single, solid starting place in mesoamerica (or anywhere else for that matter) then I think we'd be a lot further ahead in finding BofM sites in the new world.

Mormanity said...

Mesoamerican culture fits very well with many aspects of the Book of Mormon - not just the temples, highways, markets, priests, kings, and fortifications, but in details such as family and political strife (see Brant Gardner's work on how Mesoamerican culture makes sense of puzzling stories like Ammon and the Lamanites). The geography appears to be a good fit (see Sorenson's Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon), including remarkable evidence from volanism. However, while spatial relationships between Book of Mormon locations in the New World can yield a remarkably self-consistent map, we don't have clearcut starting places like we do in the Arabian Peninsula whose original or ancient place names have been preserved. Coupled with the relative infancy of archaeology in Mesoamerica and destruction of nearly all ancient written records by the Spaniards, we are left with much less to work with. I don't think it's a matter of looking in the wrong place to begin with, but having much less information on all counts. Patience. However, it is not 100% settled that Mesoamerica is the best candidate for the post-Arabian Book of Mormon events, so it can be worthwhile to also consider the pros and cons of alternate theories, though I think the preponderence of available evidence and hints points to Mesoamerica as the best place to look. Specific sites have been proposed for various cities, such as Kaminaljuyu for the City of Nephi, but obviously much further work remains to be done and many of our assumptions about what we are looking for may need revisiting.

Doug Forbes said...

Regarding the "incongruity between the amount of evidence" between the Arabian peninsula and the Americas, have you ever heard investigators complain about "contaminating the crime scene". Any genetic evidence of the BoM is routinely written off as "post-Columbian admixture". Whole ethnic groups have been assimilated into the Latino culture with hardly a trace. For example, 61% of Puerto Ricans have Native American (NA) MtDNA. That means they are descended from NA women on a direct maternal line. Yet no trace of the language of their ancestors remains. We don't even know what they called themselves. "Taino" and "Arawak" are names given to them by Europeans and their pre-Columbianenemies, the Caribs.

Brant said...

I took a serious look at the Malay hypothesis using the same criteria that I would use to judge any location for the Book of Mormon. I'm operating under the theory that a correct connection between place and text will result in the convergence of a wide set of information on the same place and time. There are sets of them, such as geospatial, chronological, and cultural.

In the geospatial set you look at the lay of the land against the text. The Malay hypothesis has multiple problems here. A simple one is that the majority of the peninsula is claimed a Nephite territory, with Lamanites confined to a small section on the southern tip. Yet the text says that the Lamanites were significantly more numerous. That requires land for both the people and growing the crops. One of the interesting "correspondences" in the Malay hypothesis was linking names - one of which was to Bountiful (as an Enlgish word). That tells you the care taken in the comparisons.

In the chronological, you have the wrong things at the wrong times. Silk comes way too late and the Karen are entering the peninsula after Book of Mormon times.

There are several points, but the Malay hypothesis fails on all critical points. It is interesting only because it does demonstrate that the way you say things makes something look possible. That should serve as a caution for anyone attempting a Book of Mormon geography - and trying to read about them. Everyone makes their idea sound good. It is quite rare that critical research can support it.

Anthony said...

Mormanity,

Sorenson's isthmus of Tehuantepec geography is only a great fit if you reinterpret the meanings of the cardinal directions. It seems like shoehorning.

Doug,

Shouldn't the Old World crime scene be similarly contaminated? And wouldn't there be less evidence to contaminate and more time to contaminate it?

FishFly said...

Anthony,

Once again, I agree wholeheartedly with your last post. The first time I heard the Mesoamerican idea, I almost left the church (well, not really). I was like "'North' really means west? Yeah, right."

And don't worry about disagreeing with me on the prior post - I don't get offended - although you are not really disagreeing. I never said that I believe the Malay Hypothesis to be true.

Brant,

You make a couple of good (minor) points. Apply your same criteria to Mesoamerica: geospatial, chronological, and cultural (throw in agricultural, zoological, nautical, and others). I guarantee that Mesoamerica will fail your criteria as quickly as, if not more quickly than, Malay.

The best arguments against Malay are those given by Anthony. Many of these can be made weaker by considering that the Malay Hypothesis assumes that there are many "lands of promise" (Didn't the Israelites have one? Where was that again?) and that the seed of Lehi eventually made it to the American Continent anyway.

I still agree that these are weak points in the hypothesis, but Mesoamerica also has many, many weak points.

Brant said...

FishFly:
You seem to think that I haven't applied those criteria to the Mesoamerican location. I have. The convergences are actually pretty remarkable and tight - including chronological issues (the right peoples in the right places at the right times, but also the right cultural events and historical processes happening at the right times and places).

A response like this isn't amenable to a full discussion (which is why you concede my "minor" points). Still, I have the more complete analysis for both Mesoamerica and the Malay hypothesis. I guarantee you that when you have actually done the work, that the Malay hypothesis falls to pieces very quickly, and the Mesoamerican location continues to hold up very well.

Anthony and FishFly: The problem of directions in the Mesoamerican model is typically poorly understood. However, the best explanation for them comes from Larry Poulsen, who realized that if you take what Sorenson was saying (that diretions are culturally determined--a truism, by the way) that applying a typical Mesoamerican system resolves the issue (and even explains a couple of textual anomalies).

We assume directions occur like a plus sign (+). Mesoamericans used an X configuration. North was the whole pie shape, not the direct line. Place that X on Zarahemla (allowing for typical ethnocentrism) and Book of Mormom directions make much more sense.

The resolution to issues with the Mesoamerican model has been to learn more. The more we know, the better it works. That hasn't been true of the Malay hypothesis, the Great Lakes hypothesis, the "heartland" model, or any hemispheric model.

Anthony said...

Brant,

When I look at Larry Poulsen's map (fig. 5 on his website), I don't see a "small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." I also don't see how a Nephite could travel from the east to the west sea in a day and a half. Contra Alma 22:31, his map shows both Desolation and Bountiful in the land northward.

Anonymous said...

To think Brant would deny a Meso model is farfetched.

He has too much invested and like most geography enthusiasts is immune from admitting error - no offense.

Brant said...

Anthony: Unfortunately, this isn't the place for detailed discussions of the geography. Even if it were, I'm no geographer (Larry gets unhappy with me because I don't try to do more with it).

My interests are in examining the historical and cultural connections to a geography. I know that topic much better.

Anonymous: You have your assumptions backwards. I invested a lot of time and investigation before I came to my conclusions. I hope never to be so invested in anything that I stop critically examining evidence.

As for changing my mind, I began researching Quetzalcoatl assuming I was gong to find confirmation of my assumption that he was a remembrance of Christ. I found that wasn't the case and have published to that effect.

Anonymous said...

I think after all these years we would have had some Archaeological Organization come out and support their findings in Latin America as evidence of the BOM. As of yet, it has not happened. Seems after all these years some reputable organization would declare that the BOM and the inhabitants of the Americas were one in the same.

MoSop said...

It really is a fascinating find. I've never heard of Kharfort. I wonder what motivated this man to travel there and write this particular article??

I certainly got a kick out of his last paragraph "So far all we have are clues, possibilities and the dreams of a very small group of people on the other side of the world hoping Kharfot will add legitimacy to their book."

I'm not sure how he concluded that 12 million global members are a "very small group of people on the other side of the world"? :) He paints such a charming little picture for his readers - it makes us sound a bit like Quakers...or, Hobbits.

As for seeking for "legitimacy" - a devout latter-Day Saint's belief is never hinged on a mound of rocks and a group of trees. God has given plenty enough "evidence" when He gave us the Book of Mormon to hold, read, study & pray about.

I hope Mr. PINAKI CHAKRAVARTY's article will spark interest in readers to seek more facts about Mormons and the Book of Mormon.

Mormanity said...

Brant, wow, thank you for dropping by. For those that don't know Brant Gardner, he is a meticulous and careful thinker who has challenged Book of Mormon enthusiasts to be more careful about assumptions and to think critically about the evidence. He has a highly-acclaimed 6-volume commentary on the Book of Mormon and has led the way in showing how Mesoamerican culture provides insights that help us better understand the Book of Mormon. It would be wise to listen carefully to what he has to say.

Robert said...

Brant,

I wanted to thank you for your You Tube videos for FAIR. I found them very enlightening as a lover of history, and I remember feeling about your explanations of stories from the Book of Mormon much like I did when I learned about the setting in which Christ said several things in Israel. By shedding light on the context of why something was said a certain way, or done a certain way, it helps clarify something that previously might have only made sense from the perspective of faithful adherance. My faith is not based on my intellectual understanding of scripture, but I really appreciate when my mind gets some satisfaction.

Again, thank you for your efforts.

FishFly said...

Brant,

I don't have a problem with someone not believing the Malay Hypothesis. In fact, I don't currently believe it - I just find it interesting.

What bothers me a little is saying it would fall apart if I did some serious critical research. How do you know I haven't done serious critical research on the subject?

Your language is similar to that of some antis. There are a lot who say: after doing some serious critical research, we know the Book of Mormon could not have taken place in Mesoamerica because of (insert list here of 50 or 100 or more "problems"). You are now saying that Malay fails because of 3 or 4 problems (I understand that there would be more, but things are somewhat constrained here).

Next, you will say that there are excellent explanations for the 50 or 100 or more things on the antis' list. Well, some people who do critical research would say that some of the explanations are OK, some are a little bit of a stretch, and others are a huge stretch.

Another problem is that the explanations are ideas that have been developed over decades by many researchers, such as yourself, who believe the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica. Malay has not had that benefit.

Let me just reiterate that I am not trying to say that the Malay Hypothesis is true, nor am I saying that Meso is false. While I think that many of the proposed explanations for certain problems within Meso are quite a huge stretch, I still think they are possible. I am just saying that when someone who supports Meso says that another theory can't be true because of a list of problems is at least a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black.

Brant said...

FishFly:
How do I know you haven't given the Malay hypothesis serious study? Because it didn't take very much before its weaknesses were glaringly apparent.

As a comparison, I understand that there are people who denigrate those who support the Book of Mormon. I am very aware of their arguments.

I applied exactly the same methdological approach to the Malay hypothesis and the Book of Mormon. Because I understand what the arguments are contra most of the objections to the Book of Mormon (LGT in particular), I allowed the Malay hypothesis the same possible leeway.

When you approach both hypotheses with the same criteria (a set of criteria that would be used to discover whether any text was related to the geography and history of a certain region), the LGT passes and the Malay hypothesis fails. Of course, it doesn't fail on every point, but on so many that there is nothing left but coincidence.

The method is designed to eliminate coincidence as a means of supporting the hypothesis.

By the way, I went through every point in the article. Every one.

Pinaki said...

Hi Jeff and the others:

I've stumbled across this thread because I noticed a significant number of hits to my site www.pinaki.info from this page.

It's great to get some feedback, whatever form it may take. Since some of it concerns what I've written, I thought I'd address a few points.

1. The title of the article on the Oman Today website sounds a bit off and isn't mine. You can read my version here: http://pinaki.info/om_sea_kharfot.htm (I'd rather people see this than the magazine's version, of course).

2. Oman isn't exactly a democracy and doesn't have a free press, so I had to steer clear of any details that might have been seen as too religious. That accounts for such banalities as this: "The term Mormon isn’t their official name – it comes from the book they follow, The Book of Mormon. But it is a vague-enough term that has come to identify them, and we use it here so as not to get into specifics of their beliefs." So you have to forgive me for that. But this article was really on the fringes of what is or isn't allowed to be written here.

3. I do love the charming little picture of the Mormons and Hobbits (but I didn't say it!). I think I'm pretty neutral, so don't think I'm being negative when I talk of "a very small group of people on the other side of the world." That's part truth and part writing style, but I'd write it that way again if I had to.

4. Just call me Pinaki.

Mormanity said...

Pinaki, I'm honored that you would drop in! I'll add the link you suggested. Thank you for a very thoughtful article and for your ability to puboish something on a sensitive topic effectively in spite of constraints. Many thanks!

The hobbit reference was rather charming. If I understand correctly, then, it was added by the editors? Cute!

Best wishes in your work!

Pinaki said...

Sure, my pleasure, Mormanity, I'm the one thrilled. I was sure no one was reading. The Hobbit thing was actually in reference to an earlier comment ( At 10:10 PM, January 06, 2010, MoSop said... ).

Best wishes from the far side of the world

FishFly said...

Brant,

I would love to see your analysis (Malay) if that is possible. I find this stuff fascinating.

Jeff, I'm sorry for hijacking this thread. It was not my intention. I enjoyed the original post and the article very much.

Matthew said...

@ brant,
I'm a relative noob when it comes to all of the theories regarding the locations of BoM happenings. Are there any even handed debates that show all the pros and cons of the proposed theories? I'd love to read or watch something like that partly because I love debate and partly because I find the subject important but don't want to hear just one side of it.

Brant said...

FishFly and Matthew:

Out or respect for the intent of the thread, please contact me directly. I can send the Malay paper and the discussion of geography is also better done off thread.

Thanks for the tolerance for these side trips in a very interesting thread.

brant_gardner at hotmail.com