Friday, June 6, 2008
At the time of Alma 22, the Nephites protected the land northward from occupation by the Lamanites so the Nephites "might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desires" (v. 34). By the 20th year of the reign of the Judges (72 B.C.), Nephites had begun to colonize the land northward. Mormon says they possessed “all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure” (Alma 50:11). He refers to these colonies in Alma 50:32 as he describes the alarm over Morianton’s flight towards the land northward: “Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.” The they must refer to the colonies of Nephites in the land northward, because Mormon states that Moroni’s military strategy is to “head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.”
In Alma 63, Mormon changes his focus from local to general, and in the process describes more extensive colonization of the land northward. The city Zarahemla was still the Nephite capital, both political and religious, but Mormon’s descriptions make it clear that the greater part of the Nephite population lives outside ZARAHEMLA.
During the 37th and 38th years of the reign of the Judges (55-54 B.C.), a colony of 5400 men, with their wives and children, moved to the land northward. Other companies went by ships built by Hagoth and launched “into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5). These ships were launched from ports on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Hagoth built “other ships” which brought companies into the land northward. Hagoth’s first ship returned for “provisions, and set out again to the land northward,” but it was never heard from again (Alma 63:7-8), evidently lost at sea. The Nephites also lost contact with one other ship that was launched (Alma 63:8). Mormon concludes this colonization narrative with the comment, “And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward” (Alma 63:9).
The Nephite colonization resumed in the 46th year of the Judges (46 B.C.), when “an exceedingly great many” moved to the land northward “to inherit the land” (Hel 3:3). This colony traveled “to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers” (Hel 3:4). Other colonies “spread forth into all parts of the land” (Hel 3:5), and included “many of the people of Ammon, who were Lamanites by birth” (Hel 3:12). When they colonized areas without timber, they used cement (Hel 3:7). They also overcame timber shortages by shipping timber from the land southward to the land northward. The colonization was so extensive that Mormon says “they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Hel 3:8).
How important were these colonies to the Nephites in ZARAHEMLA? Did these colonists found new lands governed by the central government in Zarahemla, or separate, self-governing entities? Mormon makes no direct reference to these new colonies being governed by Zarahemla, but he repeatedly includes the Nephites in the land northward as part of the collective Nephite identity.
In Helaman 3:31, he describes the Nephite peace in terms of "all the land which was possessed by the Nephites." When the Lamanites occupied Zarahemla in 35 B.C., Mormon specifically limits the occupation to "the possession of the Nephites which was in the land southward" (Helaman 4:8). Mormon would not have distinguished the Nephite possession in the land southward if the colonies in the land northward were not part of the collective Nephite identity. No longer does he refer to the Nephite nation as ZARAHEMLA.
With the mass conversion of the Lamanites in 30-29 B.C., national boundaries seem to disappear. The conversion was so profound that the Lamanites "did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers" (Helaman 5:51). Converted Lamanites then preached to the wicked Nephites, bringing about another mass conversion. As a result, "the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desires" (Helaman 6:6-7).
With this new development, the distinctions of ZARAHEMLA and NEPHI no longer work when trying to emphasize Nephite and Lamanite. So, Mormon resorts to describing all the people [or land or possessions] of the Nephites, and all the people [or land or possessions] of the Lamanites.
A new enemy -- the Gadianton Robbers
The radical change in the relationship between the Nephites and Lamanites was further accentuated by the rise of the Gadianton Robbers, about 25 B.C. At first, the Gadianton Robbers were more numerous among the more wicked part of the Lamanites, but the Lamanites employed "every means in their power to destroy them off the face of the earth" (Helaman 6:20). The Nephites, however, for the most part supported and joined the Robbers. By the end of 23 B.C., the Robbers "had overspread all the land of the Nephites . . . and did obtain the sole management of the government" (Helaman 6:38-39). Again, Mormon's descriptive "all the land of the Nephites" clearly shows that the Nephites in the land northward were a vital part of a cohesive Nephite culture, and his reference to "sole management of the government" shows that all Nephites, whether in the land southward or the land northward, were governed by a single central government. In addition, the six-year rise of the Robbers paralleled Nephi's and Lehi's extended mission to the land northward (Helaman 6:6; 7:1). Nephi and Lehi returned from the land northward because the people had rejected their teachings (Helaman 7:1).
Mormon continues to emphasize the cohesive relationship between Nephites in the land southward and the land northward. He says, "the contentions did increase, insomuch that there were wars throughout all the land among all the people of Nephi" (Helaman 11:1). He makes the same emphasis regarding the famine that replaced the wars: "And there was a great famine upon the land, among all the people of Nephi" (Helaman 11:5).
When the famine ended in 16 B.C., "the whole face of the land was filled with rejoicing" (Helaman 11:18). In the midst of a new prosperity, the Nephites built "up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the land northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east" (Helaman 11:20). In 17 B.C., the church "spread throughout the face of all the land; and the more part of the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, did belong to the church" (Helaman 11:21).
Are Mormon's claims hyperbolic? Is it possible that the Nephites had a population sufficient to inhabit all of the land northward (Mexico and the United States) as well as the land southward (Southern Mexico and Central America)? The answer is, "No, he is not being hyperbolic" simply because his claims do not require a concentrated population in the land northward, only that settlements existed throughout the land northward. By 1850, the United States spread from sea to sea, and yet a very large area remained unorganized and huge expanses were sparsely populated. This animated map shows population concentrations as they spread from 1790-1990.
Let's not imagine that Mormon is saying anything other than settlements existed throughout the land northward.
However, during the days of Alma and Limhi, a radical change took place through the influence of Amulon, one of Noah's priests. Amulon "did gain favor in the eyes of the king of the Lamanites," and King Laman appointed Amulonites to be teachers "in every land which was possessed by his people" (Mosiah 24:4). The Amulonites taught the Lamanites to keep records, to correspond with each other, and to establish trade (Mosiah 24:6-7). In result, Lamanite wealth and "wisdom of the world" increased dramatically (Mosiah 24:7). Each Lamanite land had its own king, but these kings were both appointed and governed by the King over all the Lamanites (Alma 20:26).
With all the emphasis on the Lamanites in NEPHI, we lose sight of the Lamanites still living in Lehi, south of the Isthmus of Darien. Mormon reminds us of them in Helaman 6:9-12, when he speaks of the wealth of both Nephites and Lamanites living in both the land north and the land south.
This map reflects ZARAHEMLA and NEPHI at the time of Alma 22. It shows the southern border lands of ZARAHEMLA, the narrow strip of wilderness which separated ZARAHEMLA and NEPHI, the wildernesses along the west sea and east sea coasts that were inhabited by the more idle part of the Lamanites, and the lands in NEPHI that have been identified. The blue lands are those which had large scale conversions as the result of the missionary efforts of Mosiah's sons. The place of Mormon is grayed out because the text is silent as to its population and reaction to the missionaries.
Aaron went to the city Jerusalem to preach to the people, but met with such resistance from the Amalekites that he left the city and went "over to a village which was called Ani-Anti, and there he found Muloki preaching the word" (Alma 21:1-11). Failing there, the two missionaries went "over into the land of Middoni" (Alma 21:12). The relationship of Jerusalem to Mormon, and of Middoni to Jerusalem allows us to locate these two new lands.
This map shows the probable route the expedition intended to take and the probable actual route they took after getting lost. This actual route took them through the wilderness along ZARAHEMLA's west sea coast into the land northward. At this time, Bountiful was not yet inhabited from sea to sea (see Alma 22:33), and the west wilderness probably stretched the entire length of ZARAHEMLA's west sea coast.
Is it reasonable to expect the 43 men could have traveled all the way from Nephi in southern Nicaragua to the hill Cumorah in New York state? Three reasons suggest it is: desperation, diligence, and divine intervention. The people of Limhi were desperate for help from the Nephites, the 43 men were diligent in their assignment, and the Lord wanted those plates discovered and he wanted a contemporary witness of the Jaredite destruction.
In addition, no year markers are provided that would make the lengthy travel to hill Cumorah and back impossible. Limhi says they were lost in the wilderness "for the space of many days" (Mosiah 8:8), but does not give a time length for the entire expedition. Time markers are noticeably missing in the account of Limhi's people. We don't know the year Zeniff's colony left ZARAHEMLA and we don't know the year Limhi's group made their escape from NEPHI. The year identifications at the bottom of the page in the Book of Mormon estimate the total expanse of time from Zeniff's departure from ZARAHEMLA to Limhi's return to be about 67 years. Zeniff does provide two year markers to indicate his people had been in NEPHI for twelve years (Mosiah 9:11) and for 22 years (Mosiah 10:3), but the rest of the account provides no year markers at all.
Furthermore, two factors may have impacted their travel. First, the Jaredite society, which stretched from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Hill Cumorah, was very advanced ("Good Proof," Evening and Morning Star: June 1833, 99) and undoubtedly established a road system. This road system may still have been recognizable to the 43 men, leading them from major city to major city. Second, much of their travel may have been by water, using the extensive and interconnected river system in the Great Plains and Mississippi River Valley. Navigating this vast river system might be what caused them to describe the land northward as a "land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8).
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
The Place of Mormon
After Abinidi's martyrdom, Alma began teaching his words to the people. To avoid King Noah, he hid out in the place of Mormon, which included a fountain of pure water, the waters of Mormon, a thicket of trees, and a forest. The description of Mormon's location "in the borders of the land" is stated twice in Mosiah 18, verses 4 and 31. Since Alma's group fled from Mormon into the wilderness, Mormon could be along either the western border of either Nephi or Shilom, or along the northern borders of Shilom.
"Waters of Mormon" may refer to a river, as Mormon uses "waters of Sidon" seven times to refer to the river Sidon (Alma 2:34, Alma 3:3, Alma 4:4, Alma 43:40, Alma 43:50, Alma 44:22, Mormon 1:10). The fountain of water may have been a natural spring or the head of a river--both of which were common meanings of the word "fountain" in Joseph Smith's day (See 1828 Webster's Dictionary). If the fountain of water did refer to the head of a river, then the location of Mormon would be in the area of the head of the Rio Mico or the Rio Siquia. If the Rio Mico formed part of Shilom's northern border, then the Siquia is the better candidate for the fountain as the description strongly suggests the fountain and waters of Mormon are new to Alma's people, and the Rio Mico would already be familiar to them.
The text is ambiguous about the gathering that took place at the place of Mormon. In some instances, it sounds like they gathered together just when they wanted to hear Alma preach (Mosiah 18). However, when they fled from the place of Mormon, they were able to quickly gather together their tents, flocks, and grain (Alma 23:1). People don't normally bring tents, flocks, and grain to church with them. So, it sounds like the gathering at the place of Mormon was a population relocation, either in the place of Mormon itself or in the adjacent areas.
Noticing this population relocation ("having discovered a movement among the people"), Noah "sent his servants to watch them" (Mosiah 18:32). Then, "on the day that they were assembling themselves together to hear the word of the Lord they were discovered unto the king" (Mosiah 18:32). The servants, however, had to return to the city of Nephi to report this to the King, and the King then had to send his army to the place of Mormon. By the time Noah's army arrived in Mormon, Alma's people were gone. I believe this ability for the group to evacuate so quickly and get away from the King's army, with their flocks and grain, strongly suggests the place of Mormon was along Shilom's northern border.
The land of Helam
Alma's colony "fled eight days' journey into the wilderness" and founded a new land, which they called Helam. Besides this 8-day journey, we have only three location clues for placing Helam:
- It was "a land of pure water," which suggests a river
- Other groups traveling between NEPHI and ZARAHEMLA, or the reverse, did not discover Helam
- It is 12 days journey for Alma's colony, with their flocks, to Zarahemla
The head of the Rio Grande de Matagalpa seems a likely place for the land of Helam. Alma's colony may have headed northwest out of the land of Mormon, and then turned northeast to the head of the Rio Grande, finally settling in the crook formed by the Rio Grande. This would have provided some concealment from those traveling between NEPHI and ZARAHEMLA.
The land of Amulon
After the departure of Alma's people from the place of Mormon, the Lamanites attacked Nephi. Noah fled with his priests and a large group of men who left their wives and children behind. These men had second thoughts about what they did and turned on Noah, killing him by fire. The priests escaped, and the men returned to Nephi. Under Limhi's kingship, all of the Nephites gathered together in Nephi for safety. The priests hid in the wilderness and vandalized the Nephites (Mosiah 21:21). They also kidnapped 24 Lamanite daughters (Mosiah 20:5). After this, they relocated to a land, which they called Amulon (Mosiah 23:31), after their leader.
We have no information on Amulon's location, other than it is in the wilderness between NEPHI and ZARAHEMLA. I place the land of Amulon so far north because the record of the missionary efforts of the sons of Mosiah identifies another land north of Shemlon.
The Lamanites, in pursuit of the people of Limhi, got lost in the wilderness and chanced to find Amulon. The point of departure for the Lamanite army was the city of Nephi. They would have been moving at good speed, since they were in pursuit of Limhi's group, but could follow their tracks for only two days (Mosiah 22:16). I have indicated on the slide show the route Limhi's group would have taken through the wilderness along Lake Nicaragua and the point at where the Lamanites lost their tracks and became lost, most probably turning to the northeast instead of following the northwest route. This led them to the land of Amulon.
- The Lamanites from Shemlon invaded Shilom on both the south (Mosiah 9:14) and the north (Mosiah 10:8), without any mention of having to pass through Nephi or any other land.
- When the Lamanites prepared to invade Shilom on the north, Zeniff hid the women and children in the wilderness (Mosiah 10:9). But, when the Lamanites invaded on the south, the people fled to the city of Nephi. Placing Nephi to the south of Shilom, rather than to its side or to its north, is the obvious conclusion.
- When Lihmi's people fled from Nephi, they departed "into the wilderness," and "went round about the land of Shilom in the wilderness, and bent their course towards the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 22:11). This description, too, fits best with Nephi located south of Shilom and a strip of wilderness (forest) along the east side of the Lake that merges into the sea-to-sea wilderness (narrow strip of wilderness) that separated NEPHI from ZARAHEMLA. When the people of Limhi reached the area of Lake Managua, their course bent from north/northwest to due north.
- Limhi, forewarned of a Lamanite invasion, had his people lay in wait "in the fields and in the forests" for the Lamanite army (Mosiah 19:1-9, emphasis added). This supports the presence of a strip of forest along Lake Nicaragua.
Defining NEPHI is more difficult than defining ZARAHEMLA. The Joseph Smith Model focused on the location of ZARAHEMLA in several articles, and Mormon provides sufficient descriptions to identify the isthmus which separates the land northward from the land southward and to identify the real-world river Sidon. These two significant fixtures allow the placement of the lands Bountiful and Manti, which starts the process of location through relationship.
The descriptions of NEPHI are much more general. Alma 22:26-34 provides the earliest and most complete descriptions we have for NEPHI:
- Verse 32: Both "the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." This places NEPHI in the land southward. Since ZARAHEMLA borders the land northward, we know that NEPHI is somewhere between ZARAHEMLA and the Isthmus of Darien.
- Verse 27: the King of the Lamanites "sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west," indicating NEPHI stretched from sea to sea.
- Verse 27: NEPHI was separated from ZARAHEMLA by "a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west."
While these descriptions definitively locate NEPHI in the land southward, and separated from ZARAHEMLA by a wilderness, we still are left with quite a large area to work with--most of Nicaragua and all of Costa Rica and Panama.
Fortunately, we also have the 21 travel days required for Alma's group to get from the place of Mormon, along NEPHI's northern border, to the land of Zarahemla. Alma's group consisted of 450+ men, women, and children, together with their flocks (Mosiah 18:35). They did not get lost or wander, and their travel appears to be directed. Some of their travel was hurried, as they fled to escape from their persecutors (Mosiah 18:34, 23:3). However, the last 12 days were probably more relaxed as the Lord promised them he would "stop" the Lamanites so they could no longer pursue them (Mosiah 24:25).Since we know the location of Zarahemla, we can use this travel distance in the context of a real-world map of Nicaragua to generally locate NEPHI's northern border. Since rivers frequently form national boundaries, I have highlighted distances from Zarahemla's river border, the Rio Coco, to two specific rivers--the Rio Mico and the Rio San Juan. Even if Alma's group had traveled a bee-line from the place of Mormon to Zarahemla, which is highly unlikely, the 225 miles from the San Juan to the Coco seems too far, given the terrain and the inclusion of flocks. We can pretty safely conclude that their average rate of travel (miles per day) would not have exceeded the Mormon pioneers, who averaged 10-11 miles per day crossing Nebraska--a terrain much flatter than Nicaragua's.
After taking the city Zarahemla, the Lamanite leader Coriantumr marched his army “towards the city of Bountiful,” through “the center of the land” (24). Mormon mentions “center of the land” in four consecutive verses, verses 24 through 27, and then adds the descriptive “capital parts of the land” in verse 27. In verse 26, Mormon definitively distinguishes between the “center of the land” and the “cities round about in the borders,” which had previously borne the brunt of the Lamanite attacks.
Coriantumr, being a “descendant of Zarahemla” and “a dissenter from among the Nephites,” would know the road system in ZARAHEMLA and the best route from Zarahemla to Bountiful. He may have been one of the dissenters Mormon mentions in Alma 63:14. Coriantumr’s task was made much easier because of the “contention and so much difficulty in the government” caused by the murder of Pahoran and the rise of the Gadianton robbers (Hel 1:18).
Mormon says Coriantumr's march through the capital parts of ZARAHEMLA was so speedy that it gave the Nephites “no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies” (Hel 1:24). Moronihah had not anticipated such a bold move and had his “strong armies” in the border lands (Hel 1:26). Mormon doesn’t name any of the lands or cities in this center part of the land, but he does say the Lamanites took “possession of many cities and of many strongholds” (Hel 1:27).
Those “many cities” and “many strongholds” lay between the city of Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, because Lehi headed off the advancing Lamanite army “before they came to the land Bountiful” (Hel 1:29). What can’t be determined is the route taken by Lehi as he marched with his army “round about to head them before they should come to the land Bountiful” (Hel 1:28) because we simply don’t know where Lehi was with his army, whether in one of the fortified cities along the west coast or along the east coast. Nor do we know where Moronihah was stationed with his army and how he positioned himself to thwart Coriantumr’s retreat back to Zarahemla.
The Joseph Smith model claims that the ancient Mayan cities, which Stephens described in his Incidents of Travel, were locations of the great Nephite cities. Quirigua and Palenque were particularly of interest. Neither of these two Maya ruins work as a site for one of the named cities in ZARAHEMLA, but Maya ruins cover much of the area of this march. These Nephite cities aren’t named, but their importance to the Nephite culture is no less important. The very fact that Mormon describes these cities as "the capital parts" of the land indicates their importance.
In another general description, Mormon tells us that lands separate Zarahemla and Bountiful, not just cities and strongholds, in his account of the Lamanite invasion of ZARAHEMLA in the 56th year of the Judges. Nephite dissenters stirred up the Lamanites against the Nephites, and the Lamanites spent a year preparing for war (Helaman 4:4). The Lamanites began the invasion in the 57th year, and in the 58th year "they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful" (Helaman 4:5). The plural "lands" and the phrase "even unto" should leave no doubt that more than one land sat between Zarahemla and Bountiful.
In 3 Nephi 3:22-24, Mormon describes the gathering together of the Nephites in response to the threat of the Gadianton robbers. The place appointed for the gathering "was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation" (v. 23). Isolated, this description suggests only one land sat between Zarahemla and Bountiful.
However, collectively defining all the lands that sat between Zarahemla and Bountiful as a "land" is within a definition of land common during Joseph Smith's day: "Any portion of the solid, superficial part of the globe, whether a kingdom or country, or a particular region" (see Webster's 1828 Dictionary). "Land" as a particular region, not a single land, is in harmony with the rest of Mormon's description in 3 Nephi 24: "And there were a great many thousand people who did gather themselves together who were called Nephites, who did gather themselves together in this land. Now Lachoneus did cause that they should gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward" (emphasis added) We see that Mormon again used the singular "land" to mean a region, and also points out that the gathering together included not only the Nephites living in the land southward (ZARAHEMLA) but also the Nephites living in the land northward.
This land or region between Zarahemla and Bountiful is obviously identical with the capital parts of the land Mormon described in earlier references.
Monday, May 26, 2008
To recap, Moroni has retaken Mulek and Gid, along the east sea. Omner has probably also been retaken, as Mormon mentions that Moroni's next goal is to retake Morianton. Helaman has retaken Antiparah, Cumeni, Zeezrom, and Manti along the west sea. That leaves just Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton under Lamanite control.
The new threat is an internal one. King-men in Zarahemla take control of the government and Pahoran and the free-men flee from Zarahemla to Gideon. The king-men enter into an arrangement with the Lamanites, who invade Nephihah. Some of the invading force comes from Lamanites in Moroni and from the Lamanites who fled from Manti; the remainder is a new army from NEPHI. The Nephite refugees from Nephihah flee to Moroni's camp, which is most likely in Omner.
Moroni hears of these problems from Pahoran, leaves Lehi and Teancum to protect Omner, and marches with "a small number of his men" through portions of ZARAHEMLA towards Gideon, raising “the standard of liberty in whatsoever place he did enter, and gained whatsoever force he could in all his march towards the land of Gideon” (62:3-4). Thousands responded and joined Moroni’s ranks (Alma 62:5). He and Pahoran join forces and take the city of Zarahemla. Next they march towards Nephihah and "did pitch their tents in the plains of Nephihah, which is near the city of Nephihah" (Alma 62:18). They retake that city by infiltrating it at night (Alma 62:20-25). The surviving Lamanites fled to Moroni.
After Nephihah, they retake Lehi when the Lamanites flee at the sight of the approaching army. The Lamanites flee "from city to city until they were met by Lehi and Teancum" (Alma 62:31-32). Mormon does not specifically mention Morianton, but undoubtedly it was liberated at this time. Upon seeing Lehi and Teancum, the Lamanites flee towards Moroni, along the east seashore (Alma 62:32). All the Lamanites are now gathered in the land of Moroni, with their king Ammoron. Teancum’s assassination of Ammoron precipitates the final battle that defeats the Lamanite army and drives the survivors out of ZARAHEMLA.
With the Ammonites under a covenant of peace, it makes sense that Moroni would fortify a line of cities in Jershon, not just its southern border, to prevent the Lamanites from destroying the Ammonites and from gaining access to the land northward. Mormon briefly refers to the latter strategic effort in Alma 50:11.
All we have to govern placement is the sequence in which the cities are captured by the Lamanites: Manti (in the land of Manti), Zeezrom, Cumeni, and Antiparah (Alma 56:14). Helaman is with the Nephite forces in Judea, which has not yet been captured by the Lamanites. Another city, unnamed, was in the vicinity of Antiparah, by the seashore, but was not captured by the Lamanites (Alma 56:31-32). Still other cities existed “on the northward” of Judea, and it was possible for the Lamanites to pass by Judea by night or by day undetected (22). The Nephites “kept spies out round about, to watch the movements of the Lamanites,” to prevent them from attacking the cities “on the northward” (22).
Antipus developed a “stratagem” against the Lamanite army in the city Antiparah. Can the playing out of this stratagem help us identify the distance between these two cities? Unfortunately, no. Using Helaman’s narrative of this operation to determine the distance between Judea and Antiparah is futile for 4 very good reasons.
2. Helaman’s role is to lead the Lamanite army out of Antiparah northward into a “wilderness,” not back to the city of Judea. When Helaman flees before the Lamanite pursuit, his march is "northward" (Alma 56:35). Yet, even after going a "considerable distance," he apparently does not come near to Judea because the small army left in Judea never factors into the stratagem. After camping for the night, Helaman marched with his Stripling Warriors "into the wilderness" (Alma 56:39). After a full day in the wilderness, Helaman again camps for the night. The next morning, Helaman continues his flight into the wilderness until he realizes that the Lamanites are no longer pursuing his small army. Is this wilderness between Judea and Antiparah? or to the west or east of Judea?
3. Helaman’s information about the beginning of the operation—the positioning of his and Antipus’ armies—is just too imprecise. Verse 33 tells us that Antipus did not leave Judea with his army until Helaman’s army “came near the city Antiparah.” He does not specify whether Antipus received intelligence back from Helaman that the time was right, or that Antipus knew how long it would take Helaman to get “near” the city Antiparah and simply waited that period of time. Nor does Helaman say where Antipus marched to setup his role in the operation. Finally, Helaman doesn’t provide details about how he setup his army’s role in the operation. Did he march to a position closer to Antiparah, then camp for the night so his men would be fresh and not at risk for fatigue when they came near to Antiparah and the Lamanites began their pursuit?
4. Helaman’s conclusion of the narrative is even more imprecise. Once the great battle is over, he reverts to general information about the sending of prisoners to Zarahemla and returning to Judea. He gives no indication whatsoever of how far this battle was from Judea or how long it took for his army to return to the city. His time markers illustrate quite well how generalized his information has become. He specifically dates the great battle “the third day of the seventh month” (56:42) of the “twenty and seventh year” (56:20), but his next time marker is “thus ended the twenty and eighth year” (57:5).
Helaman’s letter narrates the retaking of Antiparah and Cumeni, but does not mention Zeezrom. This may have been included in Helaman’s narrative of the Lamanite effort to retake Cumeni, in which he says that after defeat, “they were driven back to the city of Manti” (57.22).
As stated earlier, all we have to govern placement is the sequence in which the cities were captured and then retaken. None of Helaman’s narrative is precise enough to be able to determine absolute distances between the cities.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Mulek's name suggests it was the first city established by the Mulekites, who landed in Desolation but did not remain there because of the destruction caused by the Jaredite civil war (Alma 22:31, Ether 10:21). Because Mormon uses the phrase "the place of their first landing," I conclude that the Mulekites did not migrate overland into the land southward, which the Jaredites called Bountiful, but boarded their ship(s) and sailed to their second landing. Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines "landing" as "A place on the shore of the sea or of a lake, or on the bank of a river, where persons land or come on shore, or where goods are set on shore."
Mormon doesn't provide any information about the second landing, or the Mulekite colonization before they were joined by the Nephites under King Mosiah I. He does say that by the time Mosiah's people found them, the Mulekites "had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time" (Omni 1:17). Mormon does not specifically state that Zarahemla, the King of the Mulekites, had relocated their capital city to Zarahemla.
The challenge we face locating Mulek is that most of its descriptions come from its relationship to the city Bountiful, and Mormon doesn't provide very specific information about the location of Bountiful, either. We know the city Bountiful is in the land Bountiful, which stretches from sea to sea and which borders the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. But, Mormon provides no information about the size of the land Bountiful, or about the city's location except in relationship to the city Mulek. All we can do is take the tidbits of information Mormon provides and identify a general location for the two cities.
- Mulek is "on the east borders by the seashore" (Alma 51:26), and its capture is part of the Lamanite plan to “harass the Nephites in the borders by the east sea, and . . . take possession of their lands as much as it was in their power” (Alma 52:13).
- Mulek is the last Nephite stronghold the Lamanites take before advancing on the land Bountiful (Alma 51:28).
- The Lamanites "marched to the borders of the land Bountiful, driving the Nephites before them and slaying many" (Alma 51:28).
- Moroni invited the Lamanite army to "meet them upon the plains between the two cities" (Alma 52:20).
- To position his army as part of the strategy to lure the Lamanites out of Mulek, Moroni took his army and "marched in the wilderness, on the west of the city Mulek" (Alma 52:22).
- Teancum, positioned with his men "near the seashore," "began to retreat down by the seashore northward" when the Lamanites from Mulek marched against him (Alma 52:22-23).
Mormon's account does not mention the crossing of any rivers when the Lamanites advance from Mulek to Bountiful, yet this placement, with Mulek on the east of the Usamacinto and Bountiful west of the Grijalva, would require the crossing of both rivers. This is not unusual, considering that he didn't mention the Lamanites crossing the river Sidon as they marched from city to city along the east coast line, which they certainly would have had to do, since the Sidon empties into the east sea. Mormon is simply silent regarding the locations of other rivers in ZARAHEMLA and only mentions military crossings of the river Sidon when the battles take place as part of the crossing.
As for how the Nephites and Lamanites crossed rivers, expecting a bridge system in ZARAHEMLA is perfectly reasonable. ZARAHEMLA is not a young country. The Mulekites have been there for almost 500 years, and the Nephites for approximately 200 years. The Nephites were "a mighty people, skilled in the arts and sciences, and whose splendor would not be eclipsed by any of the nations of Antiquity—a people once high and exalted in the scale of intelligence" ("American Antiquities," 440). This is not a culture that would have limited itself to a bridgeless travel system.
A hasty reading of the military movements in Alma 52 tempt some to limit the distance between Mulek and Bountiful to the distance an army can march in one night. In verse 22, Mormon says "Moroni and his army, by night, marched in the wilderness, on the west of the city Mulek." Moroni's beginning point is Bountiful, so some believe Mormon's description limits the distance between Mulek and Bountiful. However, reasonable people can interpret the passage differently. I frequently remind myself that Mormon's narrative is an abridgement, whose primary focus is not to identify the distance between two cities. Mormon's description allows for Moroni and Teancum to move together as a single force closer to Mulek, then separate to setup the strategy, with Moroni's army moving into the wilderness west of Mulek "by night" in order to be concealed from the Lamanites, and Teancum and his army moving to "near the seashore" by day, deliberately to be seen by the Lamanites. Mormon's use of "by night" is not intended to mark the time involved in this strategy, but to call attention to Moroni's efforts to conceal his army.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Alma 50:25 says both Lehi and Morianton, neighboring lands, “were on the borders by the seashore.” Mormon always gives the sequence as Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton, or the reverse, Morianton, Lehi, and Moroni.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Mormon provides the general location of 2 of these new cities, which were capital cities of lands by the same names. The city Moroni was “by the east sea; and it was on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites” (50:13). This places the land Moroni bordering the south wilderness. The city Nephihah was built “between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron, joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni” (14).
Alma 51:26 suggests Nephihah is also along the east sea, which would place it directly north of Moroni: “And thus [Amalickiah] went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore.”
However, including Nephihah in this catalog of captured cities probably was a slip of the pen—Mormon should have said "the city of Moroni," not "the city of Nephihah." In verses 22-24, Mormon describes Amalickiah’s defeat of Moroni and Nephihah being the city of refuge for those fleeing from Moroni and Lehi. Amalickiah “would not suffer the Lamanites to go against the city of Nephihah to battle, but kept them down by the seashore” (24-25). Amalickiah’s design is to capture and occupy the fortified Nephite cities along the east coast, making his way to the land northward. Using his forces at this time to occupy Nephihah, which is inland, would be counterproductive. It’s not until Alma 59 that the westcoast-front of the Lamanite invasion captures Nephihah after Helaman’s stripling warriors and other Nephite armies successfully drove them out of Manti. Thus, Alma 51:26 is not evidence that Nephihah is along the east sea.
Furthermore, Nephihah lies between Moroni and Aaron, and Aaron is never associated with the cities along the east sea. The only other time Aaron is mentioned is in Alma 8:13. Alma, failing to make any converts in Ammonihah, “departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.” Mormon provides no other description of Aaron’s location, except its border relationship to Nephihah.
Is the city of Aaron mentioned in Alma 8:13 in the land Aaron mentioned in Alma 50:14? We have no reason to conclude that it is not. Alma 8:13 does not require that the cities of Ammonihah and Aaron be neighboring lands. We frequently say that we are going from one place to another that may be very many miles away with very many other cities and states in between. In D&C 52:3, Joseph Smith and Sidney Ridgon, living in Kirtland, Ohio, were told to “take their journey as soon as their preparations can be made to leave their homes, and journey to the land of Missouri.” Of course, Ohio and Missouri are not neighboring states and Kirtland is separated from Jackson County by a thousand miles.
Finally, the 1828 Webster’s dictionary says the original meaning of journey, “the travel of a day,” was obsolete. The current meaning was “Travel by land to any distance and for any time, indefinitely; as a journey from London to Paris, or to Rome; a journey to visit a brother; a week's journey; we made two journeys to Philadelphia” and could “include a passing by water.”
Assuming the city of Aaron which Alma intended to visit is the same city as the one in the land of Aaron is very consistent with the common meaning of the word journey at the time Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.
According to the 1828 Webster Dictionary, the meaning of “wilderness” in Joseph Smith’s day was:
A desert; a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide barren plain. In the United States, it is applied only to a forest. In Scripture, it is applied frequently to the deserts of Arabia. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness forty years.
Part of Jershon still being wilderness is consistent with this definition, especially since Mormon also describes a wilderness in Manti, near the Sidon (Alma 43:27), and west of the city Mulek (Alma 52:22). Obviously, even with the settlement of Jershon, some wilderness areas remained through which the Lamanites were able to advance towards Ammonihah undetected, and through which they were able to retreat back to NEPHI. Only about four years have passed since the Ammonites colonized Jershon, and so large tracts probably were still uninhabited and undeveloped.
Moroni sent spies to watch the Zoramite/Lamanite camp, and also sent delegates to Alma to ask "whither they should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites" (23). In response to the information from Alma, Moroni took a part of his army “over into the land of Manti” (27). To add to his army, Moroni "caused that all the people in that quarter of the land should gather themselves together to battle against the Lamanites" (26). The Zoramite/Lamanite army does not know Moroni is on to their plan and is not in a hurry to execute its plan to invade Manti, as these activities by Moroni would have occupied several days at least.
From Mormon's description of Moroni's strategy, we know that the river Sidon passes through a valley. Moroni secretes a portion of his army in this valley on the west side of the Sidon (27, 32), and Lehi takes a portion "over into the valley, and concealed them on the east, and on the south of the hill Riplah" (31). Furthermore, the portion of the valley in Manti, on the west side of the Sidon, is uninhabited, as Mormon refers to it as "wilderness" (27).
The hill Riplah could be located anywhere along Sidon's upper course where it forms Manti's southern border, but further identification is not possible unless an on-site survey can identify the valley with some certainty. The Action Map assumes a location only for the sake of demonstrating the action.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
In verse 22, Mormons says Jershon “is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful.” The Nephites promised to “set [their] armies between the land Jershon and the land Nephi.” Impulsive interpretations place Jershon along the east sea.
Mormon’s descriptions of Antionum, a new land established by the apostate Zoramites, provide some clarification of Jershon’s location. Alma 31:3 says Antionum is “east of the land of Zarahemla,” lies “nearly bordering upon the seashore,” is “south of the land of Jershon,” and borders “the wilderness south.” These descriptions place Antionum along the west sea, between Jershon and the south wilderness. It is outside the borders of ZARAHEMLA, and thus described to its east. This also places Jershon along the west sea, not the east sea.
Further evidence that Jershon borders the west sea, not the east sea, comes from Alma 35. When the Zoramites and Lamanites prepared for war against the Nephites, “the people of Ammon departed out of the land of Jershon, and came over into the land of Melek, and gave place in the land of Jershon for the armies of the Nephites.” The combined Zoramite/Lamanite army gathered in Antionum, and the battle with Moroni’s forces began “in the borders of Jershon” (43:18). Defeated in Jershon, the Zoramite/Lamanite army retreated through Antionum “into the wilderness, and took their journey round about in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti” (43:22).
Finally, the Stripling Warriors, the sons of the people of Jershon, are always associated with the war campaign “on the west sea, south” (Alma 53:8). Mormon also phrases it as “in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea” (Alma 53:22). The reason the Stripling Warriors engaged in the war against the Lamanites is because the people of Jershon felt so bad about so many Nephites giving their lives to protect them (Alma 53:13).
Collectively, these descriptions require placing Jershon along the west sea, not the east sea. Jershon is simply the colonization of the west wilderness from Bountiful to the southern border of ZARAHEMLA. This location certainly places Jershon east of Bountiful, along the sea, and south of Bountiful, just as Mormon described in Alma 27:22.
The city Ammonihah is northward of Melek. When Alma finished his preaching and baptizing in Melek, he “traveled three days’ journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah” (Alma 8:6).
Ammonihah is not specifically described as being on the borders of the west wilderness, but Alma 16:2 tells of a Lamanite army that “had come in upon the wilderness side, into the borders of the land, even into the city of Ammonihah.” After destroying the city Ammonihah, the Laminates carry away some captives, retreat back into the wilderness, and then cross “the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land Manti” (Alma 16:6). This places Ammonihah along the west wilderness.
The land of Noah is mentioned only in Alma 16 and Alma 49, both times in connection with Ammonihah. In Alma 16, after the Lamanites destroyed the city of Ammonihah, they also attacked “some around the borders of Noah” (3).
In Alma 49, after their unsuccessful attempt to again destroy Ammonihah, the Lamanites “retreated into the wilderness, and took their camp and marched towards the land of Noah” (12) intending to destroy the city of Noah (13). However, the Lamanites were thwarted in their efforts because Moroni had built up the city Noah as a fortress.
These three lands could be further up the west coast of ZARAHEMLA, making it a more obvious North from Melek to Ammonihah, but the distance from Manti seems to exclude them being so far up. We don't know the exact shapes of the lands, or how much area each covered, or where their capital cities were located within them. We only have to look at a U.S. map to see that the shape of states can present interesting situations direction-wise.
Vermont is east of New York, but people in much of the state would have to travel north to get to it. Part of Idaho is west of Montana, and part of it is south. West Virginia is north of part of Virginia. Part of Michigan is west of Wisconsin, and part of it is north. These are just a few examples to illustrate that directional travel would very much depend on the location of each city in its respective state.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
The subsequent military movement suggests the hill Amnihu is north of Gideon, or one of the northern hills that forms the valley of Gideon. As the Nephites gain power over the Amlicites, the latter flee. Mormon does not mention which direction, but he does say that after pursuing them “all that day,” the Nephites camped for the night in the valley of Gideon, while the Amlicites continued towards Minon, where they join an invading Lamanite army in the process of slaughtering the people of Minon. The spies who were sent to follow the Amlicites call the people of Minon “our brethren,” and Alma 3:20 calls them “the people of Nephi.” That makes Minon a part of ZARAHEMLA.
Placing Minon along the border of the south wilderness easily explains the Lamanite invasions in Alma 2 and Alma 3, as they would have come up from NEPHI through the south wilderness. With Minon along the border of the south wilderness, the movement of the Amlicite army would have been southward.
The time frame Mormon provides suggests Minon borders Gideon. The Nephites camp in the valley of Gideon at the end of the first day, while the Amlicites continue southward. The spies Alma sends to track the Amlicites return “on the morrow . . . in great haste” to the valley of Gideon, warning the Nephite army that they must return to the city Zarahemla quickly to defend it against the Amlicite/Lamanite army. In the meantime, the Amlicite/Lamanite army proceeds northward, crosses the river Sidon, and meets the Nephite army as it crosses the river from the valley of Gideon a little further north. The quick reaction by the Nephite army prevented the Amlicite/Lamanite army from taking the city Zarahemla.
This slide show emphasizes the main actions and movements.
The Wilderness Hermounts
Hermounts, like Amnihu, is mentioned only in Alma 2. Mormon does not provide enough information in his narrative to determine its location, other than it appears to be part of the wilderness west of ZARAHEMLA, possibly as far north as bordering Bountiful.
Mormon says the battle-fatigued Amlicite/Lamanite army again flees from the Nephites after the battle on the west side of the river Sidon. They flee “towards the wilderness which was west and north, away beyond the borders of the land” (35). If you look at the map, you will see that two totally different conclusions can be drawn as to the direction the Amlicites and Lamanites took as they fled from the Nephites. Northwest of the battle site might put the Amlicite/Lamanite army along the east sea. However, since Mormon orders the directions "west and north," I conclude that he means they fled towards the west wilderness.
If the Amlicite/Lamanite army made it to the west wilderness, they would expect to have an unfettered route all the way to Bountiful, and possibly all the way to the land northward, depending on whether the Nephites had already fortified Bountiful to the west sea. That is because the west wilderness was inhabited by the more idle part of the Lamanites. This experience may be what prompted the Nephites to fortify Bountiful from sea to sea. Such an effort to make it to the land northward is a goal for Lamanites and apostate Nephites throughout the books of Alma and Helaman, and explains why the Amlicite/Lamanite army didn’t just retreat to the south wilderness.
The Amlicite/Lamanite army may not have been aware of the dangerous, wild-beast infested Hermounts, but Mormon does not say they were killed by the beasts. Rather, they died from their wounds and were devoured by the beasts (Alma 2:37).
We can't locate Hermounts, other than to say it is somewhere in the west wilderness, because Mormon does not tell us how long they fled before they reached Hermounts. He has stopped giving timelines and other details about the experience, other than to tell us about their fate in Hermounts and to remark upon the destruction caused by this effort in ZARAHEMLA. Besides the “greatness of their number” who had been slain, “many women and children had been slain with the sword, and also many of their flocks and their herds; and also many of their fields of grain were destroyed, for they were trodden down by the hosts of men” (3:2).
When Mormon retells the advance of the Lamanites about 51 B.C., he says, "but they had come into the center of the land, and had taken the capital city which was the city of Zarahemla, and were marching through the most capital parts of the land . . ." This doesn’t have to mean dead-center, but does require that Zarahemla not be a borderland.
Gideon is east of the river Sidon (Alma 6:7) and northward of Manti (Alma 17:1), with a city Gideon in the valley Gideon (Alma 6:7). Mormon is unclear as to whether this valley Gideon constitutes the whole of the land Gideon. It is a relatively young land, founded by Gideon after the return of Limhi’s people from NEPHI (Alma 6:7). Mormon's narrative in Alma 2-3 and Alma 6:7 suggest Gideon is across the river from Zarahemla.
Click here for a really good map that shows the river valleys on the east of the Rio Coco just north of Garrobo. This map gives another excellent view of this area. Manti would be in the general area of Neuva Segovia and extending into Honduras, with Gideon extending from Bocay southward.
Mormon’s failure to say “from the east sea to the west sea” does not suggest the Nephites formed this strategic barrier from some point in the east to the west sea. How effective would that have been had they left Bountiful’s east coastline unprotected, considering that the more idle part of the Lamanites inhabited the wilderness along ZARAHEMLA’s east coastline?
Manti is just as easy to locate. Alma 22:27 tells us Manti is north of the river Sidon’s upper course and that no other land lies between Manti and the Sidon. Alma 43:32 describes Manti as on the west side of the Sidon.
Monday, May 19, 2008
The land of Zarahemla is divided into lands (states), which have cities by the same name. Since one of these states is also named Zarahemla, I shall use ZARAHEMLA when discussing the national land of Zarahemla.
ZARAHEMLA's northern border is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Since its southern border is formed by the head of the River Sidon, we must first locate that river.
The River Sidon
Mormon provides the following descriptions of the river Sidon:
- Its head is near the west sea (Alma 50:11).
- It empties into the sea (Alma 44:22).
- It has east and west banks or sides. Never once is it described as having north or south banks or sides.
- It forms the southern border of the land of Manti, which is located near its head, and yet Manti is on its west side (Alma 22:27, 43:32).
- The south wilderness is on its east side (Alma 16:7).
- While there are Nephite colonies on the east side of Sidon, the capital parts of ZARAHEMLA lie between Sidon and the Desolation/Bountiful line (Hel 1:27).
To accommodate these descriptions, the real-world river Sidon must have an east/easterly flowing upper course before turning north or northerly. Because the greatest length of its course is north or northerly, Mormon describes the banks along its entire course as east or west.
Only three rivers in southern Mexico and Central America are candidates for the real-world river Sidon: the Grijalva, the Usamacinto, and the rio Coco.
The Grijalva is quickly eliminated from consideration. Though it has the necessary north flow to provide east and west banks, it does not have an easterly upper course, it would exclude the majority of the Maya ruins in the former Kingdom of Guatemala as candidates for cities in ZARAHEMLA, it does not allow the capital parts of ZARAHEMLA to be between the Sidon and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and lands bordering the east sea would be hard to place.
The Usamacinto has the necessary easterly upper course and the necessary lengthy northerly course. Several Maya ruins along the river would be candidates for key cities in ZARAHEMLA. However, many Maya ruins would be eliminated as key cities in ZARAHEMLA and the lands along ZARAHEMLA’s east coast are problematic. This river was finally eliminated from consideration when it failed to accommodate numerous geographic descriptions and the population/troop movements described by Mormon.
The rio Coco remains as the only viable candidate. It has the necessary easterly upper course. Its lengthy northeasterly flow as the border between present-day Honduras and Nicaragua provides for east/west banks or sides because of the knee-shape formed by Honduras and Nicaragua.
With Honduras lying in a straight east/west direction, the Honduras side of the river can be described as its west side, and the Nicaragua side as its east side. Finally, ZARAHEMLA would then include much of the former Kingdom of Guatamela, and all of the Maya ruins.
ZARAHEMLA'S Southern Border
With the real-world river Sidon identified as the rio Coco, the southern border of ZARAHEMLA can be positioned.
In Alma 22, Mormon gives his description of this southern border from the Lamanite perspective – that is, as one would come into ZARAHEMLA from NEPHI, which was then under Lamanite occupation. In verse 27, Mormon specifically states that NEPHI stretches from sea to sea. He says, “And it came to pass that the [Lamanite] king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west.”
Separating NEPHI from ZARAHEMLA is a narrow strip of wilderness, “which ran from the sea east even to the sea west” (Alma 22:27). This sea-to-sea wilderness ends at “the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon” (Alma 22:27). Manti is a land in ZARAHEMLA. Drawing a line from the head of the Sidon due east marks the northern border of this wilderness, which is identical with the southern border of ZARAHEMLA.
Mormon makes it very clear that only Sidon’s upper course, not the entire river, forms ZARAHEMLA’s southern border because lands belonging to ZARAHEMLA are located on its east side and Alma 22:27 mentions only the river’s head as the location point for the dividing line between the narrow strip of wilderness and ZARAHEMLA.
The narrow strip of wilderness is also called the south wilderness when described from ZARAHEMLA’s perspective. This south wilderness does not entirely end at ZARAHEMLA’s southern border. Rather, it continues up along ZARAHEMLA’s west and east coastlines (Alma 22:28-29). Mormon says these wildernesses were inhabited by the “more idle part of the Lamanites,” and “thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites” (Alma 22:29).
Sunday, May 18, 2008
This process necessarily involves in-depth analysis of every possible interpretation, followed by an elimination process, as geographic descriptions are considered from all angles—topographic descriptions, distance descriptions, military maneuvers, population relocations, and changes in national boundaries. To present the reader with all of this analysis would be cruel and confusing. What I present is the map that resulted from this analysis and the justification for the various interpretations that comprise it. You, the reader, can judge for yourself whether the locations fit the descriptions. Do keep in mind, it isn't a matter of whether one or two particular sites fit their descriptions, but whether the whole body of sites fit together.
The land north and the land south
The most general geographic locations named in the Book of Mormon for the western hemisphere are the land north and the land south. These names appear first in Helaman 6:9-10: "And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites; and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north. Now the land south was called Lehi and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south."
By naming the land south Lehi and the land north Mulek, Mormon informs us that they are not merely directional descriptions but identifiable landmasses, with identifiable boundaries, and divided by an identifiable common border.
Alma 22:30-31 tells us that the Mulekites landed first in Desolation, which was a Jaredite possession. They did not remain in Desolation because of the destruction caused by the Jaredite civil war. Instead, they established their land of inheritance in what came to be known as the land of Zarahemla. The JSM says the Jaredites occupied Mexico and the United States, so Desolation is somewhere in Mexico or the United States. Furthermore, the JSM says the land of Zarahemla was located in southern Mexico and the former Kingdom of Guatemala. Thus, the Lord brought Mulek to North America.
The JSM says that Lehi landed “a little south of the Isthmus of Darien,” or along the upper western coast of South America. So, the Lord brought Lehi to South America. The Isthmus of Darien is the dividing line between North America and South America. Mulek, or the land north, is North America, and Lehi, or the land south, is South America.
The land northward and the land southward
The names 'land northward' and 'land southward' are not variations for the land north and land south, and neither are they merely directional descriptions. Rather, they are the two major subdivisions of Mulek —specific landmasses with identifiable boundaries and an identifiable common border.
The Book of Mormon is wholly consistent in locating the Jaredite colonies in the land northward. The Jaredites had access to all of Mulek, but they reserved the land southward as a wilderness for hunting (Ether 10:21) and did not colonize it. The southernmost Jaredite inhabited land is Desolation, which is in the land northward.
The Lord gave the Mulekites all of the Jaredite land of inheritance (Ether 13.21). However, when they landed in Desolation, “the place of their first landing,” they were discouraged because of the destruction caused by the Jaredite civil war (Alma 22:30-31). They settled in the land southward, which the Jaredites called the Bountiful wilderness. The Mulekites were later joined by the Nephites and together established the land of Zarahemla. The Desolation/Bountiful line is the dividing line between the land northward and the land southward. The Book of Mormon is wholly consistent in locating the land of Zarahemla in the land southward and identifying the Desolation/Bountiful line as the dividing line between the land northward and the land southward.
The JSM places the land of Zarahemla in southern Mexico and the former Kingdom of Guatemala. The JSM further places the Jaredites in parts of Mexico as well as in the United States. That puts Desolation, the southernmost Jaredite colony, and the Desolation/Bountiful line somewhere in Mexico.
Mormon and Moroni provide several descriptions of the common border shared by the land northward and the land southward—the Desolation/Bountiful Line. Six descriptions use the term “narrow pass,” “narrow passage,” “narrow neck of land,” or “small neck of land.”
- In Alma 50:33-34. Moroni had sent an army to head off the people of Morianton, who were attempting to get into the land northward. Mormon says, “And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.” (emphasis added).
- Regarding Ammoron’s efforts to get into the land northward, Mormon says, “And [Moroni] also sent orders unto [Teancum] that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side.” (Alma 52:9, emphasis added)
- “And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward (Mormon 2:29, emphasis added).
- “And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:7, emphasis added).
- “And [the Jaredites} built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20, emphasis added).
- “And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward” (Alma 22:32).
“Narrow pass” and “narrow passage” might lead us to conclude that Mormon is describing an interior pass, such as a mountain pass. However, the complete description in Alma 50:34, “by the sea, on the west and on the east,” clearly excludes an interior pass. How can it be interior if it is by both seas? An isthmus is the only logical conclusion to draw from Mormon’s description, and his and Moroni’s use of the terms “narrow neck,” “narrow neck of land,” and “small neck of land” reinforce that conclusion.
The strategic importance of the isthmus cannot be ignored. With the Lamanites not being a sea-faring people, the Nephites could effectively establish military fortifications across the width of the isthmus to prevent the Lamanites from gaining advantage over them (Alma 22:33). And, this approach assured them a vast “country whither they might flee, according to their desires,” if the Lamanites became too threatening (Alma 22:34).
The only isthmus in Mexico is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. For more detailed information on the Isthmus, including a relief map, go to Wikipedia's "The Isthmus of Tehuantepec" and also the Encarta Map.
The “sea that divides the land” (Ether 10:20) is the Gulf of Mexico. This map shows the land north, Mulek, divided into the land northward and the land southward.
Mormon makes frequent references to the east sea (or sea east) and the west sea (or sea west). For the land southward, the east sea can be either the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea, and the west sea is the Pacific Ocean.
The land southward
Lehi landed just south of the Isthmus of Darien, and the Nephites colonized first in Lehi, or South America. After Lehi's death, Nephi led a small group to a new inheritance, which they named after Nephi. Then, Mosiah I led the Nephites from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla, where they joined the Mulekites, who had already been there 350 years. The Mulekites first landed in Desolation, a Jaredite colony in the land northward, but did not remain there because of all the destruction caused by the Jaredite civil war. They relocated in what the Jaredites called the Bountiful wilderness, or the land southward. A later king, Zarahemla, established the city Zarahemla as his capital. The combined Mulekite/Nephite colonies in the land southward were named the land of Zarahemla.
The problem of directions
Through macro descriptions, Mormon informs us of the vastness of the territory eventually colonized by the Nephites. Through micro descriptions, he defines only a small part of that territory. Mormon’s descriptions deal almost exclusively with Mulek, and only incidentally with Lehi. Within Mulek, his descriptions deal mostly with the land southward. Within the land southward, his descriptions are pretty much confined to the Nephite ecclesiastical and political capital, Zarahemla, and the Nephite border lands which bare the brunt of the Lamanite invasions or which are the locations of major apostasies. Mormon does provide some descriptions of lands in the land of Nephi, but only as they relate to Nephite efforts to recover the Lamanites.
So, how is Mormon dealing with directions, particularly given the shape of the land southward? Is he providing them on a localized basis, on a national basis, or on an international basis?
Today, an international highway extending from some point in Lehi (South America), passing through NEPHI and then ZARAHEMLA in the land southward and pressing on into the land northward would be dubbed a north/south highway. The highway from Lehi to the land northward would be northbound; the opposite direction would be southbound. This would be true even for travelers going only a short distance in those areas where travel would be in an east or west direction, such as in Honduras.
Perhaps Mormon dealt with travel directions in the same way. The fact that he named Mulek’s two major subdivisions the land northward and the land southward suggests he did so. Thus, in dealing with directions, a reasonable approach is to consider not only cardinal directions but also standardized international travel directions.
The Problem of Distances
A common mistake is to assume that if a specific time marker exists in the account, then all related events are to be measured by that time marker. In a few military maneuvers, we are given some specific time markers, usually camping at night, or some other activity that occurs over a single night. The general conclusion is that these time markers limit the time period for the entire maneuver and thus the travel distances.
Another mistake we must guard against is assuming that travel planned between two cities means the two cities are neighbors. One example is Alma's intent to travel from the city of Ammonihah to the city of Aaron. Many conclude that Aaron and Ammonihah are neighbors. However, in D&C 54:8, the Lord tells Joseph Smith to take his travels from Kirtland to Independence. Yet, we know that Kirtland and Independence are not neighboring cities. They are separated not only by other cities, but also by two states. In numerous other instances in the D&C, the Lord directs his servants to travel from one city to another when those cities are not neighboring cities and the cities and states in between are not mentioned. We must recognize that Mormon probably employed the same abbreviated method for describing travel between cities.
Finally, Mormon provides very little concrete information about the distances between cities: he never gives distance in terms of linear measurement, and only on a few occasions does he provide distance in terms of travel days. Our interpretations of the descriptions provided depend much on our pre-conceived opinions of how large a territory the Nephites occupied and how advanced their society was. If we insist they traveled only by foot, even though the Book of Mormon specifically tells us they had horses and chariots, and had no established road system, even though the Book of Mormon specifically tells us they did, then we are very likely to incorrectly conclude that the cities were much closer than they really were.