I first met Bart Kowallis when we were freshmen living in Hinckley Hall on the campus of Brigham Young University. Our paths diverged thereafter. Whereas I went on to an infamous career of malicious lies and character assassination, Bart chose the road of decency and respectability and genuine scholarship, first earning a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Wisconsin and then teaching, researching, and writing in his field as well as holding important administrative positions at Brigham Young University.
I intend to share a few notes here from a significant article that he wrote more than two decades ago: Bart J. Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi,” BYU Studies 37/3 (1997-1998).
More than three centuries ago, an enormous volcanic eruption occurred off the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea. There is no contemporary written account of the eruption, but local legends apparently continue to tell of it. In 1970, one Russell Blong began to collect and record these legends from what was called the “time of darkness.” Here’s a portion of one such reported narrative:
I am going to tell the story of darkness. I am going to tell the story of the great darkness which appeared on this ground/area. I did not see it. People told me and so I know it.
It was while they were asleep, in the night, that it was so dark on this earth, and they slept/lay for about three nights. And when they took flares and went up the hills and made signs, going with flares in the pitch blackness, they said: Can you see my flare? But the flares did not light up the place! So they said: No!
This went on many times. And when they were sleepy and it should have been night they slept. And when it should have been light they woke and got up, and kept looking and looking and lit flares and went up the hills saying: Do you see my flare? And others said: Do you see? And they looked all around. But they didn’t see them. (cited on 137)
The relevant legends typically describe these conditions as lasting for 2-4 days (137-138).
Alert readers of the Book of Mormon will recognize in this story several parallels to the cataclysm described in 3 Nephi.
To be continued.
Posted from Phoenix, Arizona