A collection of Cultural Commentary




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The City of Antiparah:


According to John Sorenson, the Sierra Madre mountains form an all but impossible barrier to regular travel between the Pacific seacoast and the interior depression of Chiapas (Sorenson's proposed greater land of Zarahemla) all along it's southern extremity, with one noteworthy exception: a pass links the upper tributaries region of the Grijalva River via the town of Motozintla to the wide, rich foothill and Pacific coastland strip known as the Soconusco. Additionally, from Motozintla, a narrow river valley leads the other way down toward the Grijalva and the interior depression of Chiapas,xxiii and toward the Chicomuselo area, the proposed site for the city of Judea. Thus the location of the city of Antiparah fits well near the site of Motozintla.

We see why Antiparah would fit this scenario by examining the Nephite recapture of Antiparah. Antipus and Helaman, the Nephite leaders on this front, used "a stratagem" to get the Lamanites to come out from within the city's defenses. They sent a small party past the place, teasing the Lamanites to pursue them. The group's destination was meant to be obvious by the route it took: "as if we were going to the city beyond, in the borders by the seashore" (Alma 56:30-31). So Antiparah lay in or near a pass on a route that led down toward the shore from Antiparah on the one hand and toward Zarahemla via Judea on the other. A band of men moving seaward within sight of a defense location in the river valley near Motozintla would obviously be headed over the nearby pass and down [to the Pacific coast] to Izapa or some other city in the Soconusco region.

Helaman's 2000 warriors had apparently first traveled from the land of Melek to the local land of Zarahemla (Helaman's home). From there, they would have traveled from the interior depression to help thwart a Lamanite attack on the city of Judea. Having saved Antipus at Judea, they would then have come up the narrow river valley leading to modern day Motozintla to take part in the operation to regain the city of Antiparah

Having drawn the Lamanite forces out of their stronghold at Antiparah, Helaman's company retreated "northward" (northwest) "into the wilderness" (Alma 56:36-39). Along the open, flattish top of the line of mountains they raced through pine or oak forest.xxiv Had they tried to move down through one of the canyons wending toward Judea, their base, the Lamanites would have suspected a trap and turned back; and the purpose of the maneuver, to draw the Lamanites away from Antiparah, would have been foiled. After long pursuit, the forces met in a battle that gave the Nephites victory. The prisoners were then guarded from the battle site down to Zarahemla, while the main Nephite force returned to their base at Judea. [John L. Sorenson An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 257-258]


Alma 56:14 The city of Antiparah (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for the city of Antiparah (Motozintla). Topographic Map of the Pacific Coast of Chiapas and Guatemala. Map drawn by topographer Eduardo Martinez E. with the collaboration of Gonzalo Utrilla. New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1982.


Alma 56:14 The City of Cumeni:


According to John Sorenson, the "city of Cumeni" (Alma 56:14) might correlate with an archaeological site near Amatenango de la Frontera, which is located farther down the valley from Motozintla, the proposed site for the city of Antiparah (see the previous commentary by Sorenson on Alma 56:14). Reports indicate that ruins of significant size are located there.xxv [John L. Sorenson An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 258]


Alma 56:14 The city of Cumeni (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for the city of Cumeni (an archaeological site near Amatenango de la Frontera). Topographic Map of the Pacific Coast of Chiapas and Guatemala. Map drawn by topographer Eduardo Martinez E. with the collaboration of Gonzalo Utrilla. New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1982.


Alma 56:14 The City of Zeezrom:


According to John Sorenson, the "city of Zeezrom" (Alma 56:14) might correlate with the archaeological site of Guajilar, which was investigated in 1976 and 1977. This site would be located farther down the valley from Amatenango de la Frontera, the proposed site for the city of Cumeni, and even farther down from Motozintla, the proposed site for the city of Antiparah, lying somewhat nearer to La Libertad, the proposed site for the land or city of Manti (see the previous commentary by Sorenson on Alma 56:14). The site of Guajilar was a large settlement in the period of these Nephite wars.xxvi [John L. Sorenson An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 258-259]


Alma 56:14 The city of Zeezrom (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for the city of Zeezrom (farther down the valley from Amatenango de la Frontera). Topographic Map of the Pacific Coast of Chiapas and Guatemala. Map drawn by topographer Eduardo Martinez E. with the collaboration of Gonzalo Utrilla. New World Archaeological Foundation, Brigham Young University, 1982.


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 56:1-29 Helaman & 2000 March to Judea (26th Year)


Alma 56:31 The City Beyond, in the Borders by the Seashore:


The fact that only "the city beyond" is referred to in Alma 56:31 with no proper name might indicate a desire on Helaman's part either to keep his description simple, or to describe the action without getting into a city name which might have made things unclear for Mormon. While there might have been only one unnamed city that the Nephites held in the coastal area, Antiparah could have also been in the borders by the seashore. The lowland route ("in the borders by the seashore") would have probably been the easiest and most traveled route to the land northward. If so, then there would have been reason why the Lamanites stationed their strongest army in Antiparah (Alma 56:34)


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 56:30-41 Nephite Battle Plan--The Lamanites Are Led into the Wilderness (27th Year)

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 56:41-57 Nephites Surround and Capture the Lamanites (27th Year)


Alma 56:52 When Helaman . . . upon Helaman:


According to John Tvedtnes, if we presume that Mormon had access to ancient records, it seems likely that he would sometimes selectively rewrite the stories in his possession, while, at other times, he would paraphrase or abridge them. In some cases, he might wish to quote extracts from the texts. In all but complete rewrites, evidence for Mormon's hand might be reflected in the switch between first- and third-person accounts.

An example of this phenomenon can be found in Alma 56:52:

And it came to pass that the Lamanites took courage, and began to pursue them; and thus were the Lamanites pursuing them with great vigor when Helaman came upon their rear with his two thousand, and began to slay them exceedingly, insomuch that the whole army of the Lamanites halted and turned upon Helaman.


This passage mentions Helaman by name and speaks of him in third person, despite the fact that it is in the middle of a letter (Alma 56-58) written by Helaman in which all other references to him are in the first person. It is likely that Mormon, when including the letter in his account, simply slipped into the role of historian and, in retrospection, employed third person this one time. [John A. Tvedtnes, "Mormon As an Abridger of Ancient Records," in The Most Correct Book, p. 13]


Alma 57:5 Thus Ended the Twenty and Eighth Year:


In Alma 57:5 it says, "thus ended the twenty and eighth year," but contrary to usual practice, nothing had been said of the end of the 27th year or the beginning of the 28th year. Why? Is this an error in dating? Perhaps a plausible explanation is in order.

The reason Helaman uses dating in the first place is to report the action taking place on the western front, while assuming that the background he has explained remains understood.

Consider the phrases Helaman uses to describe the time sequence of events:

26th year: The year "ended" (Alma 56:20) but there is no mention of a "commencement."

27th year: The "commencement" is mentioned (Alma 56:20), the "second month" (Alma 56:27), the "seventh month," but not an "end."

28th year: Only an "end" is mentioned (Alma 57:5).

29th year: A "commencement" is mentioned (Alma 57:6) and a "latter end" (Alma 58:38), but not true "end" is referred to.


This means that we fail to have both a specific "commencement" and a true "end" in every year mentioned; we only have a stated "commencement" in two out of four years; and we only have a designated final "end" in two out of four years. Thus, while the omission of the end of the 27th year and the commencement of the 28th year is significant, it is not overwhelming evidence in and of itself of a mistake. By comparison, while Mormon seems to mention the years in sequence during this time period in his abridgment (21st year ---> 31st year), he seems to have no problem in skipping over almost four years without a mention to the death of Helaman in the 35th year (Alma 62:52).

In summary, what I have found consistent in the writings of both Helaman and Mormon, is that the sequence of their chronology has been not only plausible, but probable.

My analysis of the second major point of Helaman's epistle might give some understanding for the reason that Helaman would not mention either the ending of the 27th year or the beginning of the 28th year. I believe it has to do with his description of action versus the background setting. There are some key background scriptures just before and after the action at Antiparah which demonstrate the reason why Helaman skipped some references in his dating. The first concerns the attitude of the Nephites and Lamanites:

And now they (Antipus and his men) were determined to conquer in this place (Judea) or die; therefore you may well suppose that this little force which I brought with me, yea, those sons of mine, gave them great hopes and much joy.

And now it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that Antipus had received a greater strength to his army they were compelled by the orders of Ammoron to not come against the city of Judea, or against us, to battle.

And thus were we favored of the Lord; for had they come upon us in this our weakness they might have perhaps destroyed our little army; but thus were we preserved. Alma 56:17-19)


Thus it was the intention of the Nephites to maintain what they had. Likewise, after the arrival of Helaman and his 2000 warriors, apparently Ammoron and the Lamanites also thought it was better not to attempt a direct attack against a fortified Nephite city. The stratagem of Antipus and Helaman which eventually led to the fall of Antiparah was not a direct attack on a fortified city, because the cost of victory would have been too great. What they did was to ambush Lamanite forces attacking their supply lines. Furthermore, despite the preparations for an attack on Antiparah by Helaman and his men, we are not told whether or not he would have actually attacked. But whether the Nephite preparations were a bluff or not, Antiparah did not represent the strong fortification that it once was.

Now, let us get down to the apparent crucial omission of the end of the 27th year and the commencement of the 28th year. Concerning the background attitude of maintenance and defense by both the Lamanites and the Nephites, we see that during the time period omitted this attitude apparently did not change! Coincidentally, Moroni on the east coast also used part of the 28th year for maintenance. Mormon's description of this process adds some insight:

And it came to pass that [Moroni] did no more attempt a battle with the Lamanites in that year, but he did employ his men in preparing for war, yea, and in making fortifications to guard against the Lamanites, yea, and also delivering their women and their children from famine and affliction, and providing food for their armies. (Alma 53:7)


Thus, the background setting of maintenance and defense did not change on the west coast until the commencement of the 29th year. Helaman explains why the 29th year (and not the 28th year) suddenly became important:

And it came to pass that in the commencement of the twenty and ninth year, we received a supply of provisions, and also an addition to our army, from the land of Zarahemla, and from the land round about, to the number of six thousand men, besides sixty of the sons of the Ammonites who had come to join their brethren, my little band of two thousand. And now behold, we were strong, yea, and we had also a plenty of provisions brought unto us. (Alma 57:6)

According to Helaman's reasoning, the whole situation had changed! The Nephites were now in a military position to attack! Helaman writes:

And it came to pass that it was our desire to wage a battle with the army which was placed to protect the city Cumeni.

And now behold, I will show unto you that we soon accomplished our desire (Alma 57:7-8)


In summary, although Helaman definitely makes an omission in specific dates of his epistle, the omission of the 28th year was not the only omission of phrases which Helaman used in dating, and as such does not constitute a mistake. Helaman's writings are definitely in sequence. The reason for the omission has to do with the non-changing background setting of the Nephite & Lamanite defensive military posture. In essence, there was nothing significant for Helaman to report that happened in the 28th year. The circumstances that led to the Nephite policy change of attacking rather than defending took place in the 29th year and were duly noted by Helaman. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Alma 57:6 Six Thousand Men:


One might wonder if the "six thousand men" (Alma 57:6) sent from the land of Zarahemla to reinforce the men of Helaman was the same group of 6000 men that Moroni sent as recorded in Alma 62:12. There are some good reasons why this probably is not so:

First, the accounts are two years off;

Second, we observe that in the 31st year, Moroni also sends 6000 men to Teancum and Lehi. (The reader should note that 6000 men might seem to be a common military number); and

Third, as it will be seen in Alma 58:1-13, the 6000 men are not enough for Helaman, and so Helaman sends to Pahoran for more men and supplies. After waiting many months without support from Pahoran, Helaman writes to Moroni complaining. It is this complaint that stirs up Moroni to write and ask Pahoran what is going on. Ultimately, Moroni finds out and goes to Pahoran's aid. After they clean up the area of Zarahemla and restore Pahoran to the judgment seat, they then send 6000 men to Helaman.


Thus, we are dealing with two distinct groups of 6000 men, one that arrived in the 29th year (Alma 57:6), and one that arrived in the 31st year (Alma 62:12). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 57:1-5 The City of Antiparah Falls to Helaman (28th Year)

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 57:6--58:10 Helaman Takes the City of Cumeni (29th Year)


Geographical Theory Map: Alma 58:13-39 The Nephites Battle the Lamanites at Manti (29th Year)


Alma 57:25
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