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

Friday, June 6, 2008

Book of Mormon Geography: Nephite Colonization of the Land Northward

One of the difficulties Mormon faced is keeping his readers in touch with the expansive nature of the Nephite and Lamanite societies. He has neither the time nor the space to record every element of these very complex societies, or meticulously track their changing national boundaries. Nonetheless, he does provide significant information about the colonization of the land northward and the role that colonization played in the development of the Nephite nation.

At the time of Alma 22, the Nephites protected the land northward from occupation by the Lamanites so the Nephites "might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desires" (v. 34). By the 20th year of the reign of the Judges (72 B.C.), Nephites had begun to colonize the land northward. Mormon says they possessed “all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure” (Alma 50:11). He refers to these colonies in Alma 50:32 as he describes the alarm over Morianton’s flight towards the land northward: “Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty.” The they must refer to the colonies of Nephites in the land northward, because Mormon states that Moroni’s military strategy is to “head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.”

In Alma 63, Mormon changes his focus from local to general, and in the process describes more extensive colonization of the land northward. The city Zarahemla was still the Nephite capital, both political and religious, but Mormon’s descriptions make it clear that the greater part of the Nephite population lives outside ZARAHEMLA.

During the 37th and 38th years of the reign of the Judges (55-54 B.C.), a colony of 5400 men, with their wives and children, moved to the land northward. Other companies went by ships built by Hagoth and launched “into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5). These ships were launched from ports on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Hagoth built “other ships” which brought companies into the land northward. Hagoth’s first ship returned for “provisions, and set out again to the land northward,” but it was never heard from again (Alma 63:7-8), evidently lost at sea. The Nephites also lost contact with one other ship that was launched (Alma 63:8). Mormon concludes this colonization narrative with the comment, “And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward” (Alma 63:9).

The Nephite colonization resumed in the 46th year of the Judges (46 B.C.), when “an exceedingly great many” moved to the land northward “to inherit the land” (Hel 3:3). This colony traveled “to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers” (Hel 3:4). Other colonies “spread forth into all parts of the land” (Hel 3:5), and included “many of the people of Ammon, who were Lamanites by birth” (Hel 3:12). When they colonized areas without timber, they used cement (Hel 3:7). They also overcame timber shortages by shipping timber from the land southward to the land northward. The colonization was so extensive that Mormon says “they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Hel 3:8).

How important were these colonies to the Nephites in ZARAHEMLA? Did these colonists found new lands governed by the central government in Zarahemla, or separate, self-governing entities? Mormon makes no direct reference to these new colonies being governed by Zarahemla, but he repeatedly includes the Nephites in the land northward as part of the collective Nephite identity.

In Helaman 3:31, he describes the Nephite peace in terms of "all the land which was possessed by the Nephites." When the Lamanites occupied Zarahemla in 35 B.C., Mormon specifically limits the occupation to "the possession of the Nephites which was in the land southward" (Helaman 4:8). Mormon would not have distinguished the Nephite possession in the land southward if the colonies in the land northward were not part of the collective Nephite identity. No longer does he refer to the Nephite nation as ZARAHEMLA.

With the mass conversion of the Lamanites in 30-29 B.C., national boundaries seem to disappear. The conversion was so profound that the Lamanites "did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers" (Helaman 5:51). Converted Lamanites then preached to the wicked Nephites, bringing about another mass conversion. As a result, "the Nephites did go into whatsoever part of the land they would, whether among the Nephites or the Lamanites. And it came to pass that the Lamanites did also go whithersoever they would, whether it were among the Lamanites or among the Nephites; and thus they did have free intercourse one with another, to buy and to sell, and to get gain, according to their desires" (Helaman 6:6-7).

With this new development, the distinctions of ZARAHEMLA and NEPHI no longer work when trying to emphasize Nephite and Lamanite. So, Mormon resorts to describing all the people [or land or possessions] of the Nephites, and all the people [or land or possessions] of the Lamanites.

A new enemy -- the Gadianton Robbers

The radical change in the relationship between the Nephites and Lamanites was further accentuated by the rise of the Gadianton Robbers, about 25 B.C. At first, the Gadianton Robbers were more numerous among the more wicked part of the Lamanites, but the Lamanites employed "every means in their power to destroy them off the face of the earth" (Helaman 6:20). The Nephites, however, for the most part supported and joined the Robbers. By the end of 23 B.C., the Robbers "had overspread all the land of the Nephites . . . and did obtain the sole management of the government" (Helaman 6:38-39). Again, Mormon's descriptive "all the land of the Nephites" clearly shows that the Nephites in the land northward were a vital part of a cohesive Nephite culture, and his reference to "sole management of the government" shows that all Nephites, whether in the land southward or the land northward, were governed by a single central government. In addition, the six-year rise of the Robbers paralleled Nephi's and Lehi's extended mission to the land northward (Helaman 6:6; 7:1). Nephi and Lehi returned from the land northward because the people had rejected their teachings (Helaman 7:1).

Mormon continues to emphasize the cohesive relationship between Nephites in the land southward and the land northward. He says, "the contentions did increase, insomuch that there were wars throughout all the land among all the people of Nephi" (Helaman 11:1). He makes the same emphasis regarding the famine that replaced the wars: "And there was a great famine upon the land, among all the people of Nephi" (Helaman 11:5).

When the famine ended in 16 B.C., "the whole face of the land was filled with rejoicing" (Helaman 11:18). In the midst of a new prosperity, the Nephites built "up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the land northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east" (Helaman 11:20). In 17 B.C., the church "spread throughout the face of all the land; and the more part of the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, did belong to the church" (Helaman 11:21).

Are Mormon's claims hyperbolic? Is it possible that the Nephites had a population sufficient to inhabit all of the land northward (Mexico and the United States) as well as the land southward (Southern Mexico and Central America)? The answer is, "No, he is not being hyperbolic" simply because his claims do not require a concentrated population in the land northward, only that settlements existed throughout the land northward. By 1850, the United States spread from sea to sea, and yet a very large area remained unorganized and huge expanses were sparsely populated. This animated map shows population concentrations as they spread from 1790-1990.

Let's not imagine that Mormon is saying anything other than settlements existed throughout the land northward.

Book of Mormon Geography: Lamanites Become a Cohesive Society

We have very little information about the development of the Lamanite society after Nephi led his group of followers from the original settlement in the land south (Lehi) to NEPHI. Whatever the reason, prior to Mosiah 24, the Lamanites were not a cohesive society, as were the Nephites.

However, during the days of Alma and Limhi, a radical change took place through the influence of Amulon, one of Noah's priests. Amulon "did gain favor in the eyes of the king of the Lamanites," and King Laman appointed Amulonites to be teachers "in every land which was possessed by his people" (Mosiah 24:4). The Amulonites taught the Lamanites to keep records, to correspond with each other, and to establish trade (Mosiah 24:6-7). In result, Lamanite wealth and "wisdom of the world" increased dramatically (Mosiah 24:7). Each Lamanite land had its own king, but these kings were both appointed and governed by the King over all the Lamanites (Alma 20:26).

With all the emphasis on the Lamanites in NEPHI, we lose sight of the Lamanites still living in Lehi, south of the Isthmus of Darien. Mormon reminds us of them in Helaman 6:9-12, when he speaks of the wealth of both Nephites and Lamanites living in both the land north and the land south.

Book of Mormon Geography: The Sons of Mosiah

Our next view of NEPHI is from the eyes of the missionary sons of Mosiah2. All of the lands in NEPHI previously identified are mentioned specifically in this account: Nephi (Alma 20:1, Alma 22); Shilom and Shemlon (Alma 23:12); Mormon (Alma 21:1); and Helam and Amulon (Alma 24:1). Mormon also identifies four new lands: Jerusalem, Middoni, Midian, and Ishmael.

This map reflects ZARAHEMLA and NEPHI at the time of Alma 22. It shows the southern border lands of ZARAHEMLA, the narrow strip of wilderness which separated ZARAHEMLA and NEPHI, the wildernesses along the west sea and east sea coasts that were inhabited by the more idle part of the Lamanites, and the lands in NEPHI that have been identified. The blue lands are those which had large scale conversions as the result of the missionary efforts of Mosiah's sons. The place of Mormon is grayed out because the text is silent as to its population and reaction to the missionaries.

The land of Jerusalem included "a great city, which was called Jerusalem," and which was built by the Amalekites and Amulonites (Alma 21:1-2). Jerusalem joined "the borders of Mormon" (Alma 21:1). We find out in 3 Nephi 9:7 that the city Jerusalem was destroyed at the time of Christ's death: "and the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof." Mormon does not provide any information about Jerusalem's fate after this destruction, whether it remained covered by water, and he does not name it as one of the cities that was rebuilt.

Aaron went to the city Jerusalem to preach to the people, but met with such resistance from the Amalekites that he left the city and went "over to a village which was called Ani-Anti, and there he found Muloki preaching the word" (Alma 21:1-11). Failing there, the two missionaries went "over into the land of Middoni" (Alma 21:12). The relationship of Jerusalem to Mormon, and of Middoni to Jerusalem allows us to locate these two new lands.
Ishmael was the land governed by King Lamoni. After Lamoni's conversion, he wanted to bring Ammon to meet his father, the King of all the Lamanites, who lived in the city of Nephi. Ammon, however, received instructions from the Lord to not go to see the King, because his life would be in danger, but to go instead to Middoni to free his brethren who were in prison. On the way to Middoni, Ammon and Lamoni encountered Lamoni's father, who was on his way to see Lamoni in Ishmael. Mormon does not specify exactly where this encounter took place, but it did not occur in Middoni or Ishmael, but somewhere in between: "Now the father of Lamoni commanded him that he should slay Ammon with the sword. And he also commanded him that he should not go to the land of Middoni, but that he should return with him to the land of Ishmael (Alma 20:14, emphasis added). Since Lamoni's father was on his way from Nephi to Ishmael, Nephi lies between Middoni and Ishmael, and the chance meeting took place in Nephi.
However, this seems inconsistent with the command Ammon received in Alma 20:2: "And the voice of the Lord came to Ammon, saying: Thou shalt not go up to the land of Nephi, for behold, the King will seek thy life; but thou shalt go to the land of Middoni; for behold, thy brother Aaron, and also Muloki and Ammah are in prison." Why would the Lord tell Ammon not to go up to the land of Nephi if they have to go through Nephi to get to Middoni? If I live in California and I planned to go to Oregon, but someone wanted me to go to Washington, they would say, don't go to Oregon, go to Washington, knowing full well that I would go through Oregon to get to Washington. And, if my placement on the map is correct, Ammon and Lamoni could go through Nephi but easily avoid the city of Nephi, where the King lived. The road from the city of Ishmael to Middoni most likely connected with a road that led to the city of Nephi, the combination of which would have been the main route from the city of Nephi to the city of Ishmael. It was only by a chance meeting the the King met Ammon and Lamoni on their way to Middoni.
Very little information is provided for Midian. It is mentioned only in Alma 24:5. When the Lamanites prepared to attack the converts, Ammon met with his brethren in Midian, "and from thence they came to the land of Ishmael" for the purpose of holding a council to discuss how the converts should defend themselves. Since King Anti-Nephi-Lehi had already gathered the people together into Nephi, and since the northern lands were not converted, but controlled by the Lamanites, it seems likely that Midian was to the south of Nephi. Although it was not specifically mentioned by Mormon as one of the lands converted, it must have at least been friendly to the converts.

Book of Mormon Geography: The Expedition to find Zarahemla

After years of enslavement by the Lamanites, Limhi sent an expedition of 43 men to find ZARAHEMLA and enlist help from the Nephites. This expedition does not identify new sites, but deserves some attention. While traveling from NEPHI to ZARAHEMLA, the 43 men "were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel" (Mosiah 8:8).

This map shows the probable route the expedition intended to take and the probable actual route they took after getting lost. This actual route took them through the wilderness along ZARAHEMLA's west sea coast into the land northward. At this time, Bountiful was not yet inhabited from sea to sea (see Alma 22:33), and the west wilderness probably stretched the entire length of ZARAHEMLA's west sea coast.

Did the 43 men travel all the way to Hill Cumorah in New York? Limhi does not say how far into the land northward the 43 men traveled before finding the plates hid by Ether, but does say "they traveled in a land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8). When Mormon used the phrase "a land of many waters" to describe the area of hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:4), was he intending to draw our attention to hill Cumorah as the location where the 43 men found the plates? Moroni does not specifically note that Ether hid his plates at or near hill Cumorah, but does say that he "hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them" (Ether 15:33).

Is it reasonable to expect the 43 men could have traveled all the way from Nephi in southern Nicaragua to the hill Cumorah in New York state? Three reasons suggest it is: desperation, diligence, and divine intervention. The people of Limhi were desperate for help from the Nephites, the 43 men were diligent in their assignment, and the Lord wanted those plates discovered and he wanted a contemporary witness of the Jaredite destruction.

In addition, no year markers are provided that would make the lengthy travel to hill Cumorah and back impossible. Limhi says they were lost in the wilderness "for the space of many days" (Mosiah 8:8), but does not give a time length for the entire expedition. Time markers are noticeably missing in the account of Limhi's people. We don't know the year Zeniff's colony left ZARAHEMLA and we don't know the year Limhi's group made their escape from NEPHI. The year identifications at the bottom of the page in the Book of Mormon estimate the total expanse of time from Zeniff's departure from ZARAHEMLA to Limhi's return to be about 67 years. Zeniff does provide two year markers to indicate his people had been in NEPHI for twelve years (Mosiah 9:11) and for 22 years (Mosiah 10:3), but the rest of the account provides no year markers at all.

Furthermore, two factors may have impacted their travel. First, the Jaredite society, which stretched from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to Hill Cumorah, was very advanced ("Good Proof," Evening and Morning Star: June 1833, 99) and undoubtedly established a road system. This road system may still have been recognizable to the 43 men, leading them from major city to major city. Second, much of their travel may have been by water, using the extensive and interconnected river system in the Great Plains and Mississippi River Valley. Navigating this vast river system might be what caused them to describe the land northward as a "land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8).
The 43 men knew their journey was incredible, so they brought back with them breastplates and swords as evidence of what they had seen, besides the plates hid by Ether (Mosiah 8:11). This personal witness of the utter destruction of "a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel" (Mosiah 8:8) would have been a grimly profound story to relate to a people perishing in their own sin-caused enslavement.