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: 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.

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