If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. Anne Bradstreet

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Ether 12:27

Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season therof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion. D&C 59:18-20

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Book of Mormon Geography: Alma's Colony

The record of Alma's colony identifies three new sites for NEPHI: the place of Mormon, the land of Helam, and and the land of Amulon.

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:

  1. It was "a land of pure water," which suggests a river
  2. Other groups traveling between NEPHI and ZARAHEMLA, or the reverse, did not discover Helam
  3. 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.

Book of Mormon Geography: Zeniff's Colony

The record of Zeniff's colony initially identifies three lands: Shilom, Shemlon, and Nephi (also referred to as Lehi-Nephi). Shilom and Shemlon seem to be side-by-side neighbors, with Nephi on their south, based on these descriptions:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Noticeably missing from Zeniff's account is any threat from Lamanites to the south of Nephi; the threats come only from the Lamanites in Shemlon. That may be because the Rio San Juan and its rain forests provided sufficient deterrent to the Lamanites to its south. Also, at this time the Lamanites were not a cohesive society. Not until the Amulonites are "appointed teachers over" the Lamanites do they establish communication and trade among their various lands (Mosiah 24:4-7).

Book of Mormon Geography: NEPHI's Northern Border

Now we turn our attention to the Land of Nephi, which was inhabited by Nephi and those who followed him when he separated from the Lamanites. Because Nephi also has lands within it, I will use NEPHI to designate the nation.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

My guess is that the Rio Mico, with the Rio Escondido, formed the greater part of NEPHI's northern border at this time. The distance is within the range of 21 days, even if their travel took them around rivers instead of across them.
The narrow strip of wilderness separating ZARAHEMLA from NEPHI would not be the entire 150 miles from north to south, as ZARAHEMLA's southern border is a line from the head of the Rio Coco straight east to the East Sea.

Book of Mormon Geography: Capital Parts of the Land

Previously, the Lamanites have invaded ZARAHEMLA along its West and East coasts, with very limited and short-term success because of the series of fortified cities. In the 41st year of the reign of the judges, the Lamanites tried a new and unexpected tactic -- they invaded ZARAHEMLA by going directly for the land Zarahemla and the capital city, the “heart of their lands” (Hel 1:18). The Lamanites probably came into ZARAHEMLA through Minon, along the same route they followed when they invaded that land and then headed for Zarahemla in Alma 2.

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

Book of Mormon Geography: 2-Front Lamanite Invasion

The operations involved in retaking the Nephite cities and lands do not identify sites, but they are important for showing that my general placements work. The slide show below shows the 2-front Lamanite invasion of ZARAHEMLA, continues through the recapture of some cities and lands followed by the loss of Zarahemla and Nephihah, and concludes with the final expulsion of the Lamanites.

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.

Book of Mormon Geography: Cities in Jershon

Beginning in Alma 56, Mormon describes the Lamanite invasion of the west sea coastal lands, which followed the Lamanite invasion of the east coast by just one year. Mormon's account of the west coast invasion is in the form of a letter from Helaman to Moroni, which spanned a four-year period from the 26th to the 30th years of the reign of the judges. In this letter, Helaman names four new cities, none of which is specifically associated with a land. Alma 53:22 says these cities are “in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea.” Since Jershon occupies the west coastline from Bountiful to the southern border of ZARAHEMLA, these cities must be in Jershon.

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.
1. Helaman’s focus is on the heroic role his stripling warriors played in the operation, not providing information about specific distances between cities. Helaman is not an abridger or a military man--he is a prophet. He leads his Stripling Warriors because of their affection for him, not because of any military expertise (Alma 56:5). In fact, Helaman is uncertain how to act when the stratagem develops some difficulties, much more concerned about the welfare of his Stripling Warriors than he is about the success of the military campaign (Alma 56:42).

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

Book of Mormon Geography: Omner, Gid, and Mulek

Beginning with Alma 51:22, Mormon describes the invasion of the Lamanites along ZARAHEMLA’s east coast. Besides Moroni, Lehi, and Morianton, Mormon specifically mentions Omner, Gid, and Mulek (Alma 50:26), "which were on the east borders by the seashore." Mormon does not provide any distance between these cities, nor any timelines for the invasion, except that it occurred during the "twenty and fifth year of the reign of the judges" (Alma 51:37).

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.

  1. 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).
  2. Mulek is the last Nephite stronghold the Lamanites take before advancing on the land Bountiful (Alma 51:28).
  3. The Lamanites "marched to the borders of the land Bountiful, driving the Nephites before them and slaying many" (Alma 51:28).
  4. Moroni invited the Lamanite army to "meet them upon the plains between the two cities" (Alma 52:20).
  5. 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).
  6. 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).
These descriptions favor placing Mulek along the Bay of Campache coastline, east of the Usamacinto river. This allows for some northward movement along the coastline for Teancum's army, as well as space for a wilderness on the west of Mulek. However, the placement of Mulek is only general.

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

Book of Mormon Geography: Lehi and Morianton

In Alma 50, Mormon locates Lehi “in the north by the borders of the seashore” (15). It is specifically mentioned as one of the “many cities” which Moroni built “on the north” as part of his new defensive against the Lamanites.

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

Book of Mormon Geography: Moroni, Nephihah, and Aaron

Alma 50 describes Moroni’s four-point effort to protect ZARAHEMLA from Lamanite invasions: 1) he fortified the cities, 2) he drove the Lamanites out of the east wilderness and into the south wilderness, 3) he built and fortified cities in the former east wilderness, and 4) he placed armies and built fortifications along the south wilderness (6-11).

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.

Book of Mormon Geography: The wilderness near Ammonihah and Noah

Alma 49, which accounts events occurring in 72 B.C., discusses the 2nd attempt of the Lamanites to destroy the city Ammonihah. Unsuccessful, they attempted another attack upon the city Noah. In this narration, Mormon says the Lamanites “retreated into the wilderness,” and “fled into the wilderness” to return to NEPHI. What wilderness is Mormon talking about? The west wilderness no longer exists, as in Alma 27 (about 76 B.C.) it was colonized by the people of Ammon and named Jershon.

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.

Book of Mormon Geography: The hill Riplah

The hill Riplah is mentioned only in Alma 43. When the Zoramite/Lamanite army sees the strength and protection of the Nephite army, they "departed out of the land of 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 and take possession of the land" (22). The Zoramite/Lamanite army does not plan to attack the city of Manti, which is a Nephite fortress, but to move first against "the weaker part of the people" (24).

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

Book of Mormon Geography: Jershon and Antionum

Alma 27 records a major change in ZARAHEMLA. The sons of Mosiah, just returned from NEPHI, bring word to the Nephites that the converted Lamanites are being slaughtered. The people of Nephi responded by giving them their own inheritance in ZARAHEMLA and promising to protect them from the Lamanites. This inheritance is the land Jershon.

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.

Book of Mormon Geography: Sidom

Sidom is mentioned only in Alma 15. When the people of Ammonihah rejected Alma and Amulek, they went into the land of Sidom, where the poor of Ammonihah had gone for refuge and where Zeezrom lay sick with a fever. Sidom probably borders Ammonihah to its cardinal north, as it seems likely that poor people would seek refuge in a neighboring land.

Book of Mormon Geography: Melek, Ammonihah, and Noah

Melek is “on the west of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness” (Alma 8:3). The double use of "west" strongly suggests it borders the west wilderness.

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

Book of Mormon Geography: Minon, hill Amnihu, and the Wilderness Hermounts

Minon and the hill Amnihu are named only in Alma 2. Minon is mentioned again in Alma 3:20, as the place of another Lamanite invasion, but not named. Mormon says that “not many days after the battle which was fought in the land of Zarahemla, by the Lamanites and the Amlicites, that there was another army of the Lamanites came in upon the people of Nephi, in the same place where the first army met the Amlicites.” This first meeting place was in Minon. Alma 2:15 says the initial battle between the Nephites and the Amlicites took place at the hill Amnihu, “which was east of the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla.” This suggests Amnihu is across the river from Zarahemla.

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).

Book of Mormon Geography: Zarahemla and Gideon

ZARAHEMLA has a land (or state) and city of the same name. Zarahemla (the land or state) is west of the river Sidon (Alma 2:15, Alma 6:7), and the river Sidon runs by Zarahemla, thus forming its east border (Alma 2:15). It is the homeland for ZARAHEMLA’s capital city.

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.

Book of Mormon Geography: Bountiful and Manti

The two easiest lands in ZARAHEMLA to locate are Bountiful and Manti. Bountiful’s northern border has already been established as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. As seen in Alma 22:33, the Nephites inhabited this land “from the east unto the west sea, and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward.”

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

Book of Mormon Geography: Defining ZARAHEMLA

To recap, Mormon's map has two major divisions: the land north (Mulek) and the land south (Lehi). Mulek is divided into the land northward (Jaredites) and the land southward (Mulekites and Nephites). The land southward is divided into the land of Zarahemla (settled by the Mulekites, joined by the Nephites) and the land of Nephi (settled by Nephi, abandoned by Mosiah 1).

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:

  1. Its head is near the west sea (Alma 50:11).
  2. It empties into the sea (Alma 44:22).
  3. It has east and west banks or sides. Never once is it described as having north or south banks or sides.
  4. 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).
  5. The south wilderness is on its east side (Alma 16:7).
  6. 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

Book of Mormon Geography: Macro Mapping

The Joseph Smith Model (JSM) will now be used to interpret Book of Mormon geographic descriptions, moving from the macro to the micro, from the general to the specific.

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.”
  1. 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).
  2. 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)
  3. “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).
  4. “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).
  5. “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).
  6. “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.

The East Sea and the West Sea

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
The land southward stretches from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the Isthmus of Darien. The land southward is divided into two nations – the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi. Alma 22:32 clearly locates the land of Nephi in the land southward, not in Lehi: “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.”

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
Because the Book of Mormon is an abridgement, some details necessary to determine distances between cities are omitted because they are not germane to the abridger's scriptural purposes. If we are not careful, we can mistakenly assume cities are much closer together than the text requires.

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.
However, if we were to apply this same method to other scriptural accounts that include a time marker, we would have to conclude that Egypt is only a day's travel from Bethlehem for a man, woman, and young child, traveling on a donkey. In Matthew 2:13, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him: "Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him." In verse 14, Matthew says, "When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt." Because Matthew does not tell us specifically that Joseph's family over-nighted anywhere, are we to assume that Egypt is only one day's travel from Bethlehem?
Obviously, since we know with exactness the location of both Bethlehem and Egypt, we know that the travel could not have been done in one day (even allowing for some nighttime hours) and we easily adjust to Matthew's omissions. Yet, this example points out the amount of travel detail that is omitted simply because it is not germane to Matthew's point. His emphasis is on the communication through a dream while Joseph slept and his immediate response to that dream, not the time duration for the full deployment of the instructions given in the dream, and certainly not to provide travel distances between two locations.

Military maneuvers in the Old Testament follow the same pattern of omitted details. In the story of Gideon's efforts to rid Israel of the encamped Midianites and Amalekites, the abridger provides a time-marker. After selecting his 300 men, Gideon sneaks into the camp of the Midianites and overhears a conversation that confirms the Lord has chosen him to deliver Israel. Subsequent to this, Gideon engages the strategy, which clearly takes place at night because they use lanterns. However, considerable activity takes place in the absence of another time-marker to note the end of the day.
"[A]nd the host fled to Beth-shittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abel-meholah, unto Tabbath. And the men of Israel gathered themselves together out of Naphtali, and out of Asher, and out of all Manasseh, and pursued after the Midianites. And Gideon sent messengers throughout all mount Ephraim, saying, Come down against the Midianites, and take before them the waters unto Beth-barah and Jordan. Then all the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and took the waters unto Beth-barah and Jordan. And they took two princes of the Midianites, Oreb and Zeeb; and they slew Oreb upon the rock Oreb, and Zeeb they slew at the winepress of Zeeb, and pursued Midian, and brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon on the other side Jordan."
Are we to assume that because the abridger does not mark the end of the day that the deployment of this entire strategy was over by the end of one day? Again, the abridger's emphasis is on Gideon receiving a final witness of his call from God to deliver Israel and the initial deployment of the strategy--using lanterns to confuse the Midianites. Noting these night-time activities is not intended to mark the time needed for the complete deployment of Gideon's strategy.

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.

Book of Mormon Geography: The Joseph Smith Model

The opinions expressed in these twenty-one items are collectively dubbed the Joseph Smith Model and provide some important general information about the advanced nature of the Jaredite and Nephite cultures as well as some key identifications.

The Jaredite and Nephite advancements

"Ancient Ruins," an editorial in the Times and Seasons, January 1844, tells us that at the time the Book of Mormon was translated, "there was very little known about ruined cities and dilapidated buildings. The general presumption was, that no people possessing more intelligence than [the] present race of Indians had ever inhabited this continent, and the accounts given in the Book of Mormon concerning large cities and civilized people having inhabited this land were disbelieved and ridiculed" (390).

The purpose of several articles and editorials is to disprove this notion. “Good Proof,” appearing in the Evening and Morning Star, June 1833, states that “no people that have lived on this continent, since the flood, understood many of the arts and sciences, better than the Jaredites and Nephites, whose brief history is sketched in the Book of Mormon" (99).

In June 1841, “American Antiquities—More Proofs of the Book of Mormon” appeared in the Times and Seasons, echoing the same sentiments: "We feel great pleasure in laying before our readers the following interesting account of the Antiquities of Central America, which have been discovered by two eminent travelers who have spent considerable labor, to bring to light the remains of ancient buildings, architecture &c., which prove beyond controversy that, on this vast continent once flourished 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, but now like their ancient buildings, fallen into ruins" (440).

The Times and Seasons published an editorial in July 1842 entitled “American Antiquities.” This editorial, certainly assumed to express Joseph Smith’s opinion, since he was editor of record, contained some sage advice to the antiquarians, professional and amateur, attempting to explain the mystery of the ruins found in North America: "If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.—were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. . . . Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormon unfolds their history.—ED" (“American Antiquities,” 860, emphasis added).

These statements regarding the advanced state of both the Jaredite and Nephite cultures are essential in helping us to grasp the extent of their travel, road and bridge systems, communication, commerce, and military maneuvers.

Hill Cumorah in New York State is the location of the final Jaredite and Nephite battles and where Mormon deposited the plates (except for the ones he gave Moroni)

In the first issue of the Messenger and Advocate, (October 1834), Oliver Cowdery, the editor, expressed his intent to publish “a full history of the rise of the church of the Latter Day Saints, and the most interesting parts of its progress, to the present time, [which] would be worthy the perusal of the Saints.” He planned to provide an installment in each of the monthly issues (13). Cowdery assured his audience of the history’s authenticity: "That our narrative may be correct, and particularly the introduction, it is proper to inform our patrons, that our brother J. Smith jr. has offered to assist us. Indeed, there are many items connected with the fore part of this subject that render his labor indispensable. With his labor and with authentic documents now in our possession, we hope to render this a pleasing and agreeable narrative, well worth the examination and perusal of the Saints" (13).

In a postscript, Cowdery noted that his history “will necessarily embrace the life and character of” Joseph Smith (16). In the third issue, December 1834, Joseph Smith publicly responded to Cowdery’s intent by providing details about his birth and early years (40).

Surely, had Joseph Smith not agreed with any of the elements of Cowdery’s recitations, he would have called for a retraction or correction. This subject was just too important to Joseph to allow him to ignore fallacies or misunderstandings. This was, after all, the first official publication of Church History.

After John Whitmer became editor of the Messenger and Advocate, Cowdery’s installments appeared as letters. Letter VII, July 1835, describes the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Cowdery claims that the hill Cumorah in New York is, in fact, the same hill where the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed (158). Cowdery further declares that the hill Cumorah in New York is the very place where Mormon “deposited” the records of the Nephites, with the exception of those he gave to Moroni. Finally, he says this hill Cumorah is the same hill that was called Ramah by the Jaredites, where the Jaredites fought the last battles of their civil war (158).

In response to Cowdery’s description of hill Cumorah, W. W. Phelps submitted a letter to Cowdery for publication in the Messenger and Advocate, November 1835 issue. Phelps reasserted Cowdery’s three claims: the hill Cumorah in New York is where the Jaredites were destroyed as a nation, where the Nephites were destroyed as a nation, and where Mormon deposited the Nephite records (221).

The credibility of Cowdery’s opinions is greatly enhanced in November 1840, when Don Carlos Smith and Ebeneezer Robinson, editors of the Times and Seasons, decided to reprint his series on the rise of the Church in its entirety. The editors introduced the series with the following statement: "As the greater portion of our readers, are those who have not had the privilege of being conversant with the former publications of this church, we therefore deem it proper to extract some articles from them. We have commenced, in this number a series of letters written by O. Cowdery, in 1834, on the subject of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the rise of the church, and the restoration of the Priesthood; these three subjects excite more curiosity, create more enquiry, and cause more labor to answer, than any others of our faith. Therefore, that all who wish may have the desired intelligence, we shall publish them from the pen of a living witness" (2).

Cowdery’s letter regarding the hill Cumorah appeared, unedited, in the April 15, 1841 issue. Absolutely no correction or retraction from Joseph Smith followed this reprint. Short of canonization, Cowdery’s opinions could not have received greater validation.

The Jaredites colonized most, if not all, of the United States and also parts of Mexico

Several of the articles describe the extent of the Jaredite possessions. “The Book of Ether,” which appeared in the Evening and Morning Star in August 1832, claims the Jaredites occupied the United States (22).

The article “The Far West,” published in the Evening and Morning Star, October 1832, claims the Jaredites inhabited the territory then called the Far West, encompassing the country “from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains” (37). In his letter to the Messenger and Advocate, Phelps also claims that the Jaredites were “one of the greatest nations of this earth,” and her “inhabitants spread from sea to sea, and enjoyed national greatness and glory, nearly fifteen hundred years” (221) An article entitled “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” appearing in the Times and Seasons in September 1842, and under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claimed the Jaredites “covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities” (922).

Other articles opined a Jaredite presence in parts of Mexico. In June 1842, the Times and Seasons, under Joseph Smith’s editorship, printed the editorial “Traits of Mosaic History. Found Among the Azteca Nations.” This editorial points out how “the Mexican records agree so well with the words of the book of Ether (found by the people of Limhi, which is contained in the Book of Mormon) in relation to the confounding of languages” and included a lengthy extract from the Book of Ether. The editorial continues by claiming that “the tradition and hieroglyphics of the Zaltees, the Colhuacans, and the Azteca nations, in regard to the confusion of the languages and their travels to this land, is so like that contained in the Book of Mormon, that the striking analogy must be seen by every superficial observer” (820). Finally, the editorial concludes with, “The coincidence is so striking that further comment is unnecessary--ED” (820, emphasis added).

Another article, a letter from Chas. W. Wandell appearing in the Times and Seasons, September 1841, discusses the striking similarities between the “glyphs of Otolum,” a stone city found in Mexico and described by the antiquarian Rafinesque, and the description Professor Anthon gave of the characters Martin Harris brought to him for review and which Joseph Smith had copied from the Gold Plates.

Stretching over a ten-year period, these articles and editorials are not presented as individual claims to a restricted colonization by the Jaredites. Rather, they build upon each other to fully realize the extent of the Jaredite colonization. Collectively, they emphatically reflect the opinion that the Jaredites, during the course of their 1500-year existence, colonized most, if not all, of present day United States and Mexico. Not a single one restricts the Jaredite colonization to only a portion of North America, and not a single article in any of the church publications during Joseph Smith’s lifetime retracts or disputes these claims.

Lehi’s colony landed in South America, a little south of the Isthmus of Darien

Regarding the Nephites, one of the most important opinions expressed describes where Lehi’s colony landed. “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” appearing in the Times and Seasons in September 1842, and under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claims “Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land, and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, and improved the country, according to the word of the Lord, as a branch of the house of Israel” (922). South of the Isthmus of Darien places the landing site somewhere on the western coast of South America.

This is the only opinion expressed on Lehi’s landing, and it stood without correction or retraction for the remaining 21 months of Joseph’s life.

The land of Zarahemla is located in the former Kingdom of Guatamela

Another significant opinion concerns the location of the land of Zarahemla. The article “Extract. From Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America,” appearing in the September 15, 1842 issue of the Times and Seasons, under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claims the ruins of Palenque, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico are “among the mighty works of the Nephites.” The article further claims that the Nephites “lived about the narrow neck of land, which now embraces Central America, with all the cities that can be found” (914-15).

In Joseph Smith’s day, Central America was the abbreviated name for the United States of Central America. Previously, it was called the Kingdom of Guatemala, which included the province of Chiapas in Mexico, Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. When the Kingdom of Guatemala declared its independence from Spain in 1823, it converted to a confederacy of five states: Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Chiapas was invited to join, but never did (Stephens 194-195).

The article “Zarahemla,” makes reference to the Kingdom of Guatemala, and claims that “The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land” (927). The city of Zarahemla is the capital city of the land of Zarahemla. “Zarahemla” appeared in the Times and Seasons under Joseph Smith’s editorship.

“Zarehemla” further suggests Quirigua as the site of the city of Zarahemla. Quirigua, if not Zarahemla, is at least one of the Nephite ruins. The article concludes that “It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon” (927), and a subsequent article, “Stephens’ Work on Central America,” claims Stephens’ work “ought to be in the hands of every Latter Day Saint; corroborating, as it does the history of the Book of Mormon. There is no stronger circumstantial evidence of the authenticity of the latter book, can be given, than that contained in Mr. Stephens’ works” (Times and Seasons, October 1843, 346). The sites described in Stephens’ book are all located in the Kingdom of Guatemala. Website with very good map showing Quirigua and Palenque

This is such an important identification because so much of the Book of Mormon’s narration is of events that transpired in the land of Zarahemla.

The Nephites colonized much of the United States, including the Great Plains and the Mississippi Valley

On June 4, 1834, as Joseph Smith made his way from Ohio to Missouri with Zion’s Camp, he wrote a letter to Emma, describing the countryside he had just traversed.

"The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed." (qtd. in Godfrey, 31).

Calling this countryside the “plains of Nephi,” referring to “picking up their skulls & their bones”—all indicate that Joseph Smith believed the Nephites had extended their civilization to the Mississippi Valley.

This is one of the earliest opinions expressed and one that is repeatedly iterated as archaeological discoveries in the United States gave it the support and proof Joseph Smith’s generation so yearned for.

The article “Evidences in Proof of the Book of Mormon,” appearing in the Times and Seasons in January 1842, and under Joseph Smith’s editorship, claimed the ruins left by the Mound Builders of North America were Nephite ruins. The article contains extensive extracts from a book, by the same name, authored by Charles Thompson. The introduction to Thompson’s book includes liberal praise: “We have laying before us, a neat little work of 256 pages . . . entitled “Evidences in proof of the Book of Mormon” &c. By Charles Thompson, minister of the gospel; published at Batavia, N.Y. We are much pleased with the spirit manifested by the writer, and feel to commend him in his laudable undertaking” (640).

Thompson’s stated thesis is to “introduce the description of some of these ancient fortifications and military works of defence, as recorded in American Antiquities, by Josiah Priest, and also introduce a history of the building of these fortifications and works of defence, as recorded in the Book of Mormon” (640) He compares Priest’s description of the mounds near Newark and Circleville, Ohio, with the fortifications erected under Captain Moroni’s supervision in the Book of Mormon and undoubtedly copied by successive Book of Mormon military leaders, including Mormon. Thompson believes that “the corresponding accounts of fortifications and works of defence” found “in the Book of Mormon and American Antiquities . . . are sufficient to show to the public that the people whose history is contained in the Book of Mormon, are the authors of these works.” (641-42)

The article also includes Thompson’s claim that certain ruins in North America are those built by the Gadianton robbers in the Book of Mormon. He describes the discoveries in 1832 by a Mr. Ferguson and published in the Christian Advocate and Journal. Thompson compares Ferguson’s description of “Lookout Mountain,” which belongs to the “vast Allegheny chain, running between the Tennessee and Coos rivers,” with descriptions of the strongholds and secret places built by the Gadianton robbers in the Book of Mormon (642).

The editorial “A Catacomb of Mummies Found in Kentucky” appeared in the Times and Seasons in May 1842, under Joseph Smith’s editorship. It discusses the finding of a “catacomb, formed in the bowels of the limestone rock, about fifteen feet below the surface of the earth, adjacent to the town of Lexington,” discovered in 1775. Lexington, Kentucky, the article says, “stands nearly on the site of an ancient town, which was of great extent and magnificence, as is amply evidenced by the wide range of its circumvalliatory works, and the quantity of ground it once covered” (781). Mr. Ash, who relates the find, reflects: "How these bodies were embalmed, how long preserved, by what nations, and from what people descended, no opinion can be formed, nor any calculation made, but what must result from speculative fancy and wild conjecture. For my part, I am lost in the deepest ignorance. My reading affords me no knowledge, my travels no light. I have neither read nor known of any of the North American Indians who formed catacombs for their dead, or who were acquainted with the art of preservation or embalming" (782).

The editorial responds to Mr. Ash’s reflections: “Had Mr. Ash in his researches consulted the Book of Mormon his problem would have been solved, and he would have found no difficulty in accounting for the mummies being found in the above mentioned case” (782). The editorial gives a brief description of the emigration of “a number of descendants of Israel coming to this continent; and it is well known that the art of embalming was known among the Hebrews, as well as among the Egyptians, although perhaps not so generally among the former, as among the latter people” (782).

The editorial concludes with the claim, “This art was no doubt transmitted from Jerusalem to this continent, by the before mentioned emigrants, which accounts for the finding of the mummies, and at the same time is another strong evidence of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.—Ed." (782).

Like those describing the extent of the Jaredite occupation, these opinions do not compete against each other as models, but rather complement each other to describe the fullness of the Nephite occupation. And, again, no correction or retraction of any of these opinions ever appeared in any of the church publications during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.


In summary, these 21 articles provide the following six key identifications:
  1. the hill Cumorah in New York state is where the Nephites and Jaredites fought their last battles and where Mormon buried the plates
  2. the Jaredites occupied most if not all of present day United States and Mexico
  3. Lehi landed just south of the Isthmus of Darien
  4. the Land of Zarahemla was located in the former Kingdom of Guatemala
  5. the Maya Ruins in Stephens' Incidents of Travel are primary candidates for cities named in the Book of Mormon
  6. the Nephites spread throughout the United States