Review of A More Promising Land of Promise
A More Promising Land of Promise for the Book of Mormon, written by Ralph A. Olsen, published by Vivid Volumes, Logan, Utah, 2006, 144 pages, including index, paperback – 5 inches by 8 inches. Dr. Olsen, PhD, is a retired scientist who has developed the idea that because the Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia is more properly shaped as the Book of Mormon suggests, along with numerous other facets that show the peninsula having more conforming concepts than Mesoamerica, that the Book of Mormon events took place there.
In the beginning, numerous statements are made by various authorities, such as non-LDS archaeologist Michael Coe, Ray Matheny, Hugh Nibley, and the Smithsonian Institution stating that there is no indication that the Book of Mormon events took place in the Americas. Some of these comments are taken out of context and provide a different meaning than was meant by the speakers. (see John Sorenson’s response to the Smithsonian Institution statement by clicking here.)
Much of Olsen’s complaints stem from John L. Sorenson’s works and ideas, particularly as they are found in his ground-breaking work, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, although Joseph Allen’s work, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon is also briefly taken to task. Other sources that differ from Sorenson’s are generally not mentioned. He particularly criticizes Sorenson’s “Nephite North” concept which, if he were up to date on current scholarship, would know has been abandoned by most Book of Mormon scholars.
Amazingly, Olsen totally discounts the Sierra Cuchamatanes as being a mountainous narrow strip of wilderness while also claiming there is no East Sea. The Carribean Sea is not East? The author states that since the Book of Mormon doesn’t say the River Sidon has a curve in it, the Grijalva River can’t be Sidon. Absence of such a statement does not prove the opposite. Plus, again, current scholarship proposes the Usumacinta River, not the Grijalva as Sidon. His critical comments about Bountiful, Hermounts, population distribution, seas, and basic geography are all predicated on the obsolete Sorenson model.
Many times in the course of this work, statements are made, such as, “If Book of Mormon events occurred in Mesoamerica, evidence should still be there. None has been found.” And, “…there are many lands of promise including some in the Americas. Jews were to be established in all their lands of promise (2ne 9:2). But the principal setting for most Book of Mormon events was on the Malay Peninsula.”
Most of the presentation of the book is in the form of numbered paragraphs that show a specific claim or event was more likely to have occurred in Malaysia than in Mesoamerica. He also says, “Jaredites were to go to a land “where man had never been” (Eth 2:5). In BofM times many Pacific Isles were uninhabited. The Pacific Region is still sometimes referred to as “the Pacific Quarter.” No previous Book of Mormon scholar has ever suggested that the land where the Jaredites went to initially was way out in the ocean. The inference quoted in Ether 2:5 seems to suggest rather that it was an empty place probably not very far from the Tower of Babel, probably somewhere in the north or northeast. Additionally, this “land where man had never been” was crossed before they reached the coast and set sail for their promised land, not after they had left the land where the sea divides the land. (Ether 2:5)
His suggestion is that the Lehites probably sailed along the shore from south Arabia eastward, following the monsoon winds, past India and Sri Lanka, ending up on the Malay Peninsula, having kept the mainland in sight at all times, and also so they could go ashore each night, because the travelers were all inexperienced sailors. He seems to fail to understand the Lord’s divine instructions and directions as far as constructing the ship and sailing it. He also mentions that the Jaredites built heavy log barges. In the Book of Ether, the materials of the Jaredite barges is never mentioned, but what is said is that they were light upon the water.
Olsen quotes Simon Southerton, who has since been discredited as any sort of DNA specialist, stating that a lost tribe may have gone to the Bay of Bengal area. Olsen mentions the Lehites having taken animals along with families. He bases much of his Malay reasoning on animals that are mentioned in the record. The Jaredites did take animals in their barges but there is no hint that the Lehites took any animals. He also states that the “Lamanite lands at the southern end of the peninsula were densely forested and sparsely populated.” Yet, we know from many Book of Mormon passages that the Lamanites were far more numerous than were the Nephites.
The narrow neck of land comes under discussion several times, owing to the long, thin peninsular nature of Malaysia compared with the shorter and fatter nature of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mesoamerica. A major fallacy occurs when, along with other authors who don’t read the Book of Mormon carefully, he states that a Nephite could cross the Malay Peninsula in one-and-a-half days. Recall that the Book of Mormon doesn’t say, or even infer, that a person could cross the entire narrow neck of land in a day-and-a-half, only that that distance was from the West Sea to a point of defense toward the east, not all the way across the narrow neck. Olsen states that the Malay Peninsula meets the geographical requirement of being almost surrounded by water and that Guatemala fails. One must look at all of Mesoamerica, not just Guatemala to account for the geographical statements made in the Book of Mormon. Mesoamerica would have appeared to its inhabitants to be surrounded by water having the four seas called for in the record: Sea East, Sea West, Sea South and Sea North. The Malay Peninsula has three seas, South, East and West.
The author takes issue with the orientation of Mesoamerica stating that since the Isthmus of Tehuantepec runs East and West (it actually extends North and South), it has no land Northward and Land Southward as does Mala. Really? Not according to every map of Mesoamerica extant. Lands Northward and Southward are glaringly identifiable in Mesoamerica.
Much of his contention is that none of the animals and plants mentioned in the Book of Mormon can be found in Mesoamerica, while almost all of them can be found in the Old World, particularly in eastern and southeastern Asia. In particular, he states there were no honey bees prior to the Spanish. This is a false statement. See an article about honey bees in the Book of Mormon by clicking here. Olsen refers to a statement about dragons and that Malay has the Komodo dragon and Mesoamerica has none. The dragon is simply a stylized serpent which plays an extremely important role in the Book of Mormon. On page 103, he states "Those Mormons who propose that the serpent represents Jesus are apparently in error. In Genesis 3:1-3, the devil is called a serpent." It would appear that he has overlooked the very important concept that Christ is the great serpent of healing -- the story of the brazen serpent of Moses healing people is a type of Christ to be raised on the cross to heal mankind. See Num. 21:6-9; 1 Nep. 17:41; 2 Nep. 25:20. Mesoamerican iconography is full of serpents which played an important role both for good and evil.
He takes issue with the immense stone ruins that are found in Mesoamerica compared to what he believes would be simple home, business, and ecclesiastical structures that the Nephites would have built. He doesn’t seem to realize that the majority of the items he mentions were erected after the Book of Mormon time period during the great apostasy of the New World when the devil took over the land, churches, and priests. Archaeological investigation shows cities with outdoor temples, administrative buildings, and shopping; but the vast majority of Mesoamerica Nephites lived in hundreds of small villages consisting of simple homes. Olsen claims there is no evidence of using cement in Mesoamerica. Again, ignorance of the extensive use of cement during Book of Mormon times in Mexico is inexcuseable for someone writing a book criticizing the Mesoamerica model. Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, in their article "Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon," Insights (May 1991): 2. state the following:
|No one in the nineteenth century could have known that cement, in fact, was extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time, the middle of the first century B.C. One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of present-day Mexico City. According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record. And yet its earliest sample "is a fully developed product." The cement floor slabs at this site "were remarkably high in structural quality." Although exposed to the elements for nearly two thousand years, they still "exceed many present-day building code requirements."  This is consistent with the Book of Mormon record, which treats this invention as an important new development involving great skill and becoming something of a sensation. After this important technological breakthrough, cement was used at many sites in the Valley of Mexico and in the Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Olsen states that the “Jaguar cults” of Mesoamerica are not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Lions, however, are mentioned in the book which could have been the word Joseph used for a predatory feline. “Lions and tigers and ……Jaguars.” The Jaguar cult did not substantively carry down from the Olmec (Jaredites) to the Maya (Nephites and Lamanites), so absence of mention is understandable.
Olsen’s comments about corn are laughable. He states that the word “corn” in the Book of Mormon refers to a small grain. Really? He states that Nephites did not till their ground or have corn. Good grief! Corn was domesticated by the Olmec and improved upon by the Maya and was transported to the rest of the world from Mesoamerica.
Black Lamanites, Olsen says, are to be found in Malay due to intermarriage with indigenous black people. He claims no such black people are to be found in Mesoamerica. Indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica were primarily Asian (and possibly Chinese from the Jaredites) with dark skins. Lamanites intermarried with locals and became at least as black as the Malaysians.
The author spends a great amount of time showing the many similarities of Book of Mormon names and still-extant names of locations in Malaysia. He specifies 3 different locations for the city of Moroni, simply because there are 3 current places with what he suggests are similar spellings or pronunciations, regardless of their locations. He appears to have fallen into the same trap as a few other authors who try to relate names of people or lands in the Book of Mormon with names that were in usage hundreds of years ago in various places around the world. He also shows that thought patterns and behavior in the Book of Mormon are more typically found in oriental societies. Yet, Elder Ted E. Brewerton, among others, has noted the great amount of Mesoamerican thought and activities that are found throughout the Book of Mormon. He has stated on numerous occasions, “We haven’t yet found the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica, but we constantly find Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon.”
Olsen mentions the usage of silk and linen, neither of which are found in Mesoamerica, as being a major fault of Mesoamericanists’ thinking. Several authors writing for FARMS over the past decade have shown how pure silk or pure linen that we presently know and understand were undoubtedly not the items that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but that other fabrics of similar feel and consistency were actually meant, for which Joseph Smith had no way of translating differently.
In general, Olsen demonstrates his lack of knowledge of the Mesoamerican model. Besides assuming the Sorenson model is the accepted geography, he makes such statements as, “In traditional Mesoamerican theory, Nephites and Lamanites landed in an unpopulated Land of Promise.” Mesoamericanists insist on quite the opposite. He is out of date in much of his material, as an example claiming there was no barley in Mesoamerica. “Barley is now being found in Mexico and the Southwest, it is becoming more likely that Book of Mormon cultures were in contact with cultures from the North, and may have possessed barley. The Hohokam who lived in Arizona, where domesticated barley was first found in 1983, are thought to have been in trade with those in “middle America”. (http://www.mormonapologetics.org/topic/48983-another-look-at-barley-in-the-book-of-mormon/). There are so many more examples of incorrect assumptions and misunderstandings of the Mesoamerica model that this review cannot be exhaustive without becoming voluminous.
Finally, there are two glaring omissions in this work. Only one brief sentence is devoted to how Moroni was able to take the plates from the last battle to the hill Cumorah in New York state. Olsen thinks that it would have been far easier for Moroni to have taken a ship from Malaysia to America than for him to pack the 200-pound load of plates and walk a few thousand miles northward. I suspect there weren’t very many Queen Mary journeys from the orient to America in 500 AD. Olsen decries the idea of the Lehites taking a trip across the Pacific Ocean to America, and then suggests that Moroni do the same thing. Further, most scholars consider that the plates probably weighed no more than 50-60 pounds, which would have been no problem for a single man and a backpack.
Secondly, he off-handedly mentions that Joseph Smith at one time thought that Palenque was a Book of Mormon site. In the 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, in several places, Joseph Smith emphatically states that the Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica. How Olsen gets around these thoughts is unknown.
Many of the dis-similarities found in the comparisons between Malaysia and Mesoamerica are undoubtedly true but are immaterial. There are undoubtedly numerous places in the world where certain features of geography, culture, or such, may be better than Mesoamerica but the question becomes, So what? All in all, the book fails to dissuade anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the Book of Mormon that the events specified in the book took place on the Malay Peninsula. The retail price is $10.95.
The book was typeset in a Gothic sans-serif font, which, while easy enough to read, would have been even easier in the Times Roman font style. Fortunately, there were very few grammatical typos so one didn’t have to wade through a multitude of mistakes while losing the thought of a paragraph. One thing that should have been done, however, would have been to put the many book titles the author listed in italics, which is normal for this type of work. One peculiarity is the author’s use of ‘hived off,’ when he mentions that a group of Nephites split off from the main body of believers. I haven’t heard this term used since I was in high school and my wife, who is the same age as myself, had never heard of it. It is also not defined in Webster’s dictionary. It is strictly an obsolete, colloquial term that means nothing to anyone under the age of 65. It should never have been used. Any of several other terms could have been used instead with more understanding by readers of any age.