Administrator’s Note: The following post is intended to generate discussion and should only be seen as representing the beliefs of the author. While many individuals have settled on their own ideas about the geography of the Book of Mormon, there is certain a wide range of those ideas. Discussion and clarifications are always beneficial, and this post and subsequent discussions may lead to both.
By J. Theodore Brandley
I believe there are five common misunderstandings of the text of the Book of Mormon that have kept the truth of its geography hidden for the past 185 years. These misconceptions are:
- The River Sidon flows to the north.
- The city of Lehi-Nephi is the original city of Nephi
- Alma’s party travelled only about 250 miles from the city of Lehi-Nephi to Zarahemla.
- Directional geographical names in the Book of Mormon are absolute and always refer to the same location.
- The land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were divided by a narrow neck of land.
Flow of the River Sidon
The “head of the river Sidon” has been assumed to be the source of the river. Under this assumption, it being south of Zarahemla (Alma 22:27), Sidon would flow to the north. However, a study of the context reveals that the “head of the river Sidon” is not its source. Dr. Hugh Nibley is the only one I am aware of to make note of this. Speaking extemporaneously about the head of the river Sidon mentioned in Alma 22:27 he said, “If that’s the head of the river, I suppose it’s the source of the river. Well, it may be the head of the river where it empties. Sidon goes the other way, I think.” ((Hugh Nibley, Teachings of The Book of Mormon–Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988—1990, Provo: FARMS, p.143))
Consider the text Dr. Nibley was referring to in Alma 22:27:
a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west (emphasis added)
From the above we find:
- The narrow strip of wilderness ran east and west round about on the edge of the seashore
- Zarahemla was north of the seashore and north of Manti (see also Alma 6:7, 17:1)
- Manti was near the narrow strip of wilderness, that was by the sea
- The head of the river Sidon was by the narrow strip of wilderness, that was by the sea
Conclusion: As rivers run to the sea, the river Sidon ran from Zarahemla south to Manti and through the east-west narrow strip of wilderness to the “head of the river Sidon” near the sea. There is a second witness from the text in Alma 50:11 confirming that the head of the river Sidon was by the sea:
And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon (emphasis added)
As rivers run to the sea, the river Sidon therefore flowed from Zarahemla south to the “head of the river Sidon” and into the sea. That the Sidon actually ran to the sea is confirmed when we read that after a major battle the dead bodies that were thrown into the river Sidon near Zarahemla were carried into the sea (Alma 2:15, 3:3).
In 1792 the New York State Legislature passed a bill creating the town of Riverhead at the east end of Long Island. ((A History of Long Island: From Its Earliest Settlement to the …, Volume 2, By Peter Ross, William Smith Pelletreau, Lewis Publishing Company, 1905 – Long Island (N.Y.))) The name signifies that the town is located at the mouth of the Peconic River where it flows into the Atlantic at Flanders Bay. Joseph Smith grew to manhood in New York where the elected lawmakers from across the state collectively considered the mouth of the river to be the head of the river. It was obviously a commonly understood use of the word head in that location, in that era. It is reasonable to assume that Joseph Smith also understood the mouth of the river Sidon to be the “head of the river Sidon” and translated it as such. Regardless of the possible explanation, the context of the Book of Mormon clearly describes the Sidon as flowing from north to south and any geography based upon a more common understanding of the one translated English word head, out of context, is probably in error. Incidentally, the Sidon, River entry in the LDS Index To The Triple Combination used to read, “most prominent river in Nephite territory, runs north to sea.” The new 2013 Index now reads, “most prominent river in Nephite territory.” In the LDS Index, the Sidon no longer runs north.
The prime candidate for a major river flowing south on the North American Continent would be the Mississippi River. The prime candidate for the city of Zarahemla would therefore be the World Heritage Site of Poverty Point, on the west side of the lower Mississippi. The Mississippi River may be the link that ties together truths in the Mesoamerica and Heartland theories.
The City of Lehi-Nephi
It has generally been assumed that the city of Lehi-Nephi, from which the Nephites fled under the leadership of King Mosiah 1st, was the original city of Nephi established by Nephi. However, between those two reigns there were about 400 years of wars with the Lamanites. Two hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem, Jarom records that the wars had continued and that the Nephites and the Lamanites were scattered upon much of the face of the land (Jarom 1:5-9). By 280 BC the more wicked part of the Nephites had been destroyed. The record does not indicate where the more righteous Nephite survivors were living at that time but with the pattern of them fleeing their persecutors they certainly would have been driven from their original city of Nephi (Omni 1:4-7). With the passage of another hundred years the more righteous Nephites were living in a city called Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 7:1). After 400 years of war and persecution the city of Nephi and the city of Lehi-Nephi could have been a great distance apart. The city that Mosiah 1st had fled is called Lehi-Nephi from chapter 7 of Mosiah through chapter 9 verse 8. In verse 15 of the same chapter the name of the city suddenly changes to the city of Nephi with no apparent reason. This is what has generated the confusion but there is no indication in the text that this is or could be the original city of Nephi. The reason that this city is critical to the geography of the Book of Mormon is that the travel time between Lehi-Nephi and the city of Zarahemla is known and is the only distance in America that can be calculated with any accuracy from the text.
The Distance Between Lehi-Nephi and Zarahemla, and a Limited Geography
John L. Sorenson set the standard for the travel speed of Alma’s party from Lehi-Nephi to Zarahemla at 11 miles per day, the speed of driving a herd of fat hogs to market through mountains. ((John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting For the Book of Mormon, pp. 8-9, Deseret Book Co. and FARMS, 1996.)) Alma and his people fled the Waters of Mormon with King Noah’s army in hot pursuit, for eight days. Later they fled from the Lamanites for thirteen days, making it twenty-one days travel to Zarahemla (Mosiah 23:3, 24:20, 24:25). Alma had previous fled from King Noah to the waters of Mormon, near the borders of the land (Mosiah 18:4), so it could have been another day from King Noah’s city of Lehi-Nephi. This would make a total of twenty-two days travel, or about 250 miles from Lehi-Nephi to Zarahemla at Sorenson’s rate of 11 miles per day.
Alma was traveling with children and flocks but they were fleeing for their lives and, “The Lord did strengthen them that the people of King Noah did not overtake them to destroy them” (Mosiah 23:2). The war parties of King Noah and the Lamanites, in hot pursuit, would have done about 40 miles per day. ((The first indication of how far the Nephites would generally travel in one day can be estimated from Lehi’s three days of travel from the tip of the Red Sea to the river Laman (1 Nephi 2:5-6). George Potter, in his article A New Candidate in Arabia for the “Valley of Lemuel” (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 8, Issue – 1, Pages: 54-63 Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1999) presents sound evidence for support of Maqna, Saudi Arabia, as the probable site where the River Laman empties into the Red Sea. This is a minimum of seventy-five miles of travel for Lehi in three days, or twenty-five miles per day.
Joseph Smith, leading Zion’s Camp, made twenty-five to forty miles a day (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 2:65, 68). George A. Smith reported that Zion’s Camp traveled 25 to 40 miles a day (LDS Church, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 287). Don Rickey wrote a book about US enlisted soldiers during the Indian Wars. It is entitled, Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay, indicating their standard day’s travel distance.)) Alma and his band had a head start but would still had to have travelled at least 30 miles per day to save their lives. Twenty-two days of travel, in two separate segments, at a rate of 30 miles per day, would put the city of Lehi-Nephi over 600 miles from Zarahemla rather than the traditional 250 miles. This is a significant difference in territory from what has been generally thought and brings into question the whole concept of a limited geography.
A 600 mile radius compass-arc drawn from the suggested Poverty Point/Zarahemla to the southwest, sweeps the Rio Grande River. In this scenario, separating the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla would be the huge southern plain of Texas. During the Nephite period this area of Texas was a grassy savannah rather than the mesquite and brush we see today. ((Around 500 BC West and Southwest Texas underwent a notable cooling that encouraged the southward expansion of the lush grasslands of the Southern High Plains. This expansion reached the Rio Grande and was widespread enough to encourage large herds of bison to range freely as far south and east as Langtry and Del Rio. (Paleoenvironments, The Handbook of Texas Online, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sop02, Dec 16, 2014))) It is easy to understand how the Nephites would keep getting lost on a vast ocean of grass with few landmarks.
The concept of a limited Book of Mormon geography comes mainly from the account of the scouts of King Limhi who were sent out from Lehi-Nephi to find the city of Zarahemla. Instead they found the dead civilization of the Jaredites and returned with their records. It is thought to be unreasonable if they had traveled from Mesoamerica to New York. With their departure point 600 miles from the Mississippi River it becomes reasonable and understandable. The scouts may have come to the banks of the river Sidon above Zarahemla, built dugout canoes or a sailing raft and continued upstream. After they had gone only another 250 miles upstream they were into the central plains at the fork of the Ohio River. By then they would have been finding the death and destruction of the Jaredites which they assumed were the people of Zarahemla (Mosiah 21:25-26). The scouts would have continued to follow the trail of death upstream looking for survivors. The Ohio branch of the Mississippi River would take them within 100 miles of Cumorah. King Limhi referred to the scouts as being “diligent” even though they did not find Zarahemla (Mosiah 8:8). The expedition of the scouts of Limhi would have been similar to our Lewis and Clark expedition. Additionally, the scouts were being led by the Lord to pick up the twenty-four gold plates of Ether. Ether set the plates in the place where the Lord would bring the scouts of Limhi (Ether 15:33). The Book of Ether gave the Nephites a record of the people who came before them and was another testament to them of Jesus Christ. The Book of Ether was to the Nephites what The Book of Mormon is to us (Mosiah 28:17-19; Alma 37:21, 29-30). The long trip of the scouts of Limhi was a small price for them to pay for the Book of Ether.
In the scenario where the Mississippi is the river Sidon, and the city of Lehi-Nephi is not the original city of Nephi, the expedition of the scouts of King Limhi is not geographically limiting. If the people of King Mosiah 1st travelled 600 miles in one migration fleeing from the Lamanites, their ancestors before them would probably have been driven over 1,000 miles from the original city of Nephi in several migrations over the 400 years. There is nothing in the text of the Book of Mormon that would limit the Nephite’s geography from stretching from Costa Rica to Cumorah.
Directional Geographical Locations In The Book of Mormon
One thing that can be particularly confusing in The Book Of Mormon is that all directional names are relative to the context in which they are given. The same directional names do not always refer to the same geographical locations. For example, in the following verse the land north refers to the land of Zarahemla:
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. (Helaman 6:10)
However, in this next verse Zarahemla is in the land southward:
And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla. (Mormon 1:6)
Sometimes Bountiful is in the north as in Helaman 1:23, and sometimes it is in the south as in Alma 22:31. The same is true with references to seas. Today we sometimes use similar references. People in Florida refer to the Atlantic as the east sea, and the Gulf of Mexico as the west sea. Those living in Mesoamerica would refer to the Gulf of Mexico as the east sea and the Pacific as the west sea. Directional names in the Book of Mormon are given relative to their position or to the context.
Names of the various lands in the Book of Mormon can also be confusing because sometimes the same name will refer to different sized areas. The “land of Zarahemla” for example, sometimes refers to the area close around the city like a county size as in Alma 5:1, sometimes to a larger area such as a state size as in Alma 59:4, and sometimes it refers to all the lands of the Nephites as in Alma 22:32.
The Narrow Neck of Land
The concept that the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla are separated by a narrow neck of land is a major misunderstanding of the text. There are only two references to the narrow neck of land:
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 63:5)
And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. (Ether 10:20, emphasis added)
Notice that the narrow neck of land is by the border of the land Bountiful and the land Desolation, which is much further north than the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi. Notice also that the Jaredites built a great city by the narrow neck of land, not on it, or above it, or below it. Also the narrow neck of land was a place where “the sea divides the land,” like a major inlet or bay creating a peninsula, rather than an isthmus creating an hour-glass where the land divides the sea. This narrow neck of land, or peninsula, could be anywhere along a coast-line. As the eastern boundary of the land of Bountiful was on the east sea (Alma 22:33), in our scenario of the river Sidon being the Mississippi River this east sea would be the Atlantic Ocean. The obvious candidate for the narrow neck of land would be the Delmarva Peninsula, which is only 20 miles wide at the neck and the sea of Chesapeake Bay divides the land for 200 miles. Hagoth then launched his ships into the sea on the west side of the narrow neck of land, or into Chesapeake Bay of the Atlantic Ocean.
The confusion about the narrow neck of land is generated from Alma 22:32 where it speaks of a “small neck of land.”
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.
This is the only verse in the Book of Mormon where the phrase “small neck of land” is mentioned. It is not to be confused with the “narrow neck of land” referred to above. This verse explains that the land of Nephi (all of the Lamanite territory) and the land of Zarahemla (all of the Nephite territory), together, were nearly surrounded by water, except for a small neck of land on the south of them that led to another land southward. This verse does not call for a small neck of land between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla. There is no hourglass shaped territory between the lands of the saga of the Book of Mormon. This small neck of land can only refer to the Isthmus of Panama, and the land northward in this verse is North America, and the land southward is South America. Although there were very likely migrations of Lamanites into South America the text does not mention it.
With the above explanations of misconceptions of some of the text of the Book of Mormon, the geography of it becomes clear and simple and fits perfectly into the North American Continent. With the suggested configuration as a basis there are further signposts in the text that help answer many more questions, such as:
Where was Lehi’s landing?
Where was the original city of Nephi?
Where was the city of Bountiful?
Where and on what terrain did the major battles take place?
Where did the ships of Hagoth go, and why did Mormon even mention them?
What was the route of the Jaredite’s journey?
Mormon gave us all the clues we would need to identify the locations he wrote about and to physically verify his work as being accurate. I also hope this explanation can help tie together the truths in the Mesoamerica Theory with the truths in the Heartland Theory.
I know I am way out of my league, but I am curious as to what all of you think about this video I recently saw. There is a lot of discussion about the River Sidon, and I was wondering if anyone had considered that the Mississippi River could be crossed by foot. The video is #40 on the web site which I will put below and is entitled “Zarahemla near Nauvoo?”
I also read that the Mississippi river has changed direction multiple times. Would any of you believe it to be possible that Sidon could have been running south to north during the time frame of the Book of Mormon?
There is no requirement in the text for the Sidon to be crossed on foot. Ancient Americans were very adept at making dugout canoes if a few hours and Mormon specifically mentioned that the Nephites were a shipping and ship-building people (Helaman 3:14)
The Mississippi changed courses many times in flood seasons as it made its way to the sea, but it always flowed to the sea, which was always north to south. For further discussion on the north to south flow of the River Sidon see the Interpreter article, “North American Book of Mormon Geography: The River Sidon,” at
There are several people with a couple of different ideas who suggest the Mississippi as the Sidon. If you listen to the general arguments, it appears to make a good case. Of course there is the problem of the classic reading of a north flowing river. Brandley’s argument for that is probably among the best.
Even though there are some interesting reasons for suggesting the Mississippi, there isn’t enough corroborating data to make it possible. Others have made cases for other rivers, and many of those proposals have long since been abandoned. Finding any single feature that seems like it could be made to fit the text is pretty easy. Finding complex interactions with the geography, topography, and archaeology remains much more difficult. While a case can be made for the Mississippi as the Sidon, it is the rest of the details that then don’t fit. For example, there is no archaeological evidence of the population sizes or political and social complexity required by the Book of Mormon among the Hopewell culture that is associated with the Mississippi during Book of Mormon times. That is a big problem. There are other geographical issues, particularly when the geography of the text meets the history in the text. For example Manti and Bountiful have very specific military functions that they cannot fulfill in a model based on the Mississippi. The defensive lines along the eastern seaboard are non-sensical in a Mississippi-as-Sidon model.
So, yes, there are those who support the Mississippi, but many who do not (and I clearly do not). I see the overwhelming weight of evidence against it.
Chiasmus Structure of Mormon’s Map (Alma 22:28-34)
In this chiasmus proposal I leave out verse 27 as it was Mormon’s abridgement of Alma’s account. While Mormon was writing this abridgement he interjected additional geographical information and gave us a condensed description of the entire geographical area of the Lamanites and the Nephites. One reason that it is difficult to follow is the current sentence and verse structure masks Mormon’s description. I suggest that the chiasmus structure is in the following form:
Combined Lamanite and Nephite Lands
Alma 22:28-34: (and I apologize that I don’t know how to format the indents on the paragraphs in the post)
28 Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.
29 And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them.
And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful.
30 And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.
31 And they came from there up into the south wilderness. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.
32 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;
Combined Lamanite and Nephite Lands
And thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla [together] were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward [combined lands of Lamanites and Nephites] and the land southward.
33 And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even 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.
34 Therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about.
In a recent Interpreter article and presentation Stanford Carmack makes a compelling case for the Book of Mormon being translated into Early Modern English of the 16th and 17th Centuries. A search of the phrase, “head of the river” in the library, Early English Books Online (EEBO), reveals that to a seaman in that time period it meant the mouth of the river, rather than its source. This agrees with the context of the Book of Mormon, which indicates that the “head of the river Sidon” was the mouth of the river.
1. In 1631 Captain Luke Foxe searched the west shores of Hudson Bay for a northwest passage to the Orient, following the attempt of Sir Thomas Button 18 years earlier. In August, Captain Fox entered the mouth of the Nelson River to find wood for repairs to his ship and food for his crew. He wrote:
“In the mouth of Port Nelson at first comming of the tyde…This day we consulted and consented to goe, into Port Nelson, for these reasons following…I hoped to have some intelligence by the Salvages, and to search the head of the River of which I did know nothing from Sir Tho. Button.” (sic)
As the source of the Nelson River was 400 miles upstream in Lake Winnipeg, and not navigable with deep draft ocean going vessels, his reference to “the head of the river” could only mean its mouth where it emptied into the Hudson Bay.
2. Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins on his voyage along the Atlantic Coast of South America in 1593 makes this interesting entry into his log:
“The 18. of December, wee set sayle the wind at North-east, and directed our course for the Straites of Magalianes. The twenty two of this moneth, at the going too of the Sunne, we descryed a Por∣tingall ship, and gaue her chase, and comming within hayling of her, shee rendred her selfe, without any resistance, shee was of an hundred Tuns bound for Angola to load Negroes, to be carried and sold in the River of Plate; It is a trade of great profit, & much vsed, for that the Negroes are carried from the head of the river of Plate, to Patosi, to labour in the Mynes. It is a bad Negro, who is not worth there fiue or six hundreth peeces, every peece of tenne Ryals, which they receiue in Ryals of Plate, for there is no other Marchan∣dize in those partes. Some haue told me, that of late they haue found out the trade, and benefit of Cochanillia, but the River suffe∣reth not vessels of burthen; for if they drawe aboue eight or seaven foote water, they cannot goe further; then the mouth of the Ri∣ver, and the first habitation is aboue a hundred and twenty leagues vp, whereunto many Barkes trade yearely, and carry all kinde of Marchandize serving for Patosi and Paraquay; the money which is thence returned, is distributed in all the Coast of Brasill.” (sic)
From the head of the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) the slaves were transported up the river to Patosi in Bolivia to work in the silver mines. As Admiral Hawkins pointed out, the river was too shallow for ocean going vessels, and he equates the mouth of the river with the head of the river.
3. In the 1700 English translation of the Greek Historian, Diodorus the Sicilian, we read:
“The Eighth of this King’s Race, call’d after the Name of his Father Ʋchoreus, built Memphis, the most Famous City of Egypt. For he chose the most convenient Place for it in all the Country, where Nile divides it self into several Branches, and makes that part of the Country call’d Delta, so nam’d from the shape of the Greek Letter Delta, which it resembles. The City being thus conveniently si∣tuated at the Head of the River, commands all the Shipping that sail up it.” (sic)
Memphis was located at the mouth of the Nile where it fans out to form the Nile River Delta.
Researching the EEBO reveals that in those days, for those on land “the head of the river” usually meant the source of the river as it does today. However, in all references from a seaman’s perspective, it meant the mouth of the river. The Book of Mormon does not record how Mulek, son of King Zedekiah, and his party were able to sail from the Land of Israel to America, but the name of the river Sidon would indicate that Mulek contracted with Phoenicians from the port of Sidon. The ship’s captain would likely have named the river Sidon, and “the head of the river Sidon” when they first sailed into the mouth of it.
I appreciate the research into what sailors might call a head.
The head of the Sidon is mentioned five times in the Book of Mormon. Any hypothesis about what the head of the Sidon is, needs to account for all five references.
Two references are in Alma 22 (versus 27 and 29) in the description (poetic?) of the extent of the King of the Lamanites lands. Both references to the head are accompanied by a “from the east to the west” reference. The head of the Sidon is near the border between the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla.
Alma 22:27 And it came to pass that the 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, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.
28 Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.
29 And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful.
The other three references come from the Lamanite-Nephite wars in Alma, all seem to reference the head of the Sidon as not only between the Nephite and Lamanite lands, but two indicate it was also between Manti on one side and other lands/cities such as Jershon, Antionum, and Nephihah on the other–some point of crossing or getting around the river Sidon.
Alma 43:22 Behold, now it came to pass that they durst not come against the Nephites in the borders of Jershon; therefore 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; for they did not suppose that the armies of Moroni would know whither they had gone.
Alma 50:11 And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon—the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure.
Alma 56:25 Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah.
Note, Alma 56:25 references options for the Lamanite army in the city of Manti and other nearby cities facing Helaman’s forces in that area.
If the mouth of the Mississippi is the head of the river Sidon, then
1. how is that located in or near the strip of wilderness between the Nephite and Lamanite lands?
2. how is that the location that that Lamanites would cross the Sidon to get from one side to the other?
3. how does the idea of a Phoenician sea captain naming the location on arrival of the Mulekites square with Helaman 6:10?
Helaman 6:10 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.
I am intrigued, but not yet satisfied, with the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio. Today, that point is the “source” of the Lower Mississippi and the “mouth” of the Upper Mississippi. And it does appear between the Hopewell lands to the north and the more primitive Native Americans to the south. And it could be a crossing point. It could fit. The sources of the Grijalva and Usumacinta rivers in MesoAmerica and George Potter’s proposed river in his Andean model also appear to fit at least as well if not better. The mouth of the Mississippi in Louisiana seems to fail on all points.
I appreciate your in-depth engagement of this issue from the text. The “Administrator’s Note” prefacing this article called for just such discussion and was the reason “Interpreter” agreed to publish it.
The Mississippi River Delta meets all the requirements of the text that you have raised to be the “Head of the River Sidon.” I will begin by addressing your last question first:
1. How does the idea of a Phoenician sea captain naming the location on arrival of the Mulekites square with Helaman 6:10? “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.”
I dealt somewhat with this issue in the section of the article “Directional Geographical Locations In The Book of Mormon,” using the Helaman 6:10 reference. Directional names in the Book of Mormon are not absolute but are relative to the context in which they are given. In Helaman 6:10 Zarahemla was in the land north, but in Mormon 1:6 Zarahemla was in the land southward. “And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.” Mormon was a distance north of Zarahemla when his father “carried” him to Zarahemla. His father probably “carried” Mormon by boat down the river Sidon. Helaman 6:10 is an overview of the division between the lands of he Lamanites and the Nephites at that time. In another article I submitted to “Interpreter” on Lehi’s Landing (but was declined), I made the case, based on the proximity of all of the required ore deposits mentioned by Nephi, that Lehi landed on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In the Helaman 6:10 reference the “land south” would be what is now Mesoamerica and Mexico, and the “land north” would be the lands of the Mississippi Basin and east of it to the Atlantic. The wilderness between the lands was the central plains of Texas, where everyone kept getting lost because there were no landmarks. The continuous hills of grass were like waves on the sea.
2. (Your question 1) “how is that [the Mississippi Delta] located in or near the strip of wilderness between the Nephite and Lamanite lands?
The “narrow strip of wilderness” is only mentioned once in the Book of Mormon (Alma 22:27) and it is another misconception that this narrow strip was between the Nephite and Lamanite lands. It actually runs along the seashore on the south, and the land of Zarahemla on the north. I addressed this issue in the above article under the heading, “Flow of the River Sidon.”
“a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west…” (Alma 22:27)
The “narrow strip of wilderness” ran east and west “round about on the edge of the seashore.” Therefore, the south side of the narrow strip of wilderness was the seashore. On the north side of this “narrow trip of wilderness” was Manti and the land of Zarahemla. As the river Sidon ran from north to south, and the narrow strip of wilderness ran east and west, the “head of the river Sidon” ran through the narrow strip and into the sea. This describes perfectly a narrow strip of wilderness “round about” the curved northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River flows into it.
About 100 miles north of the Gulf (narrow strip), in the center of Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, is the archaeological site of Marksville. This site is on the west bank of the Old River, which is about fifteen miles west of the old channel of the Mississippi and meets all the textual requirements of the city of Manti.
3. (your question 2) “how is that the location that that Lamanites would cross the Sidon to get from one side to the other?”
Crossing the river Sidon with an army did not require a shallows in the river where they could wade across. Each squad of men could build a dugout canoe or lash together logs of driftwood for a raft in a few hours. These were river and boat people, both the Lamanites and the Nephites. They could cross the river Sidon anywhere.
Alma 22:29 and Alma 50:11 seem to be pretty clear that the head of the Sidon is along the border between the Nephite and Lamanite lands.
Of course, the best explanation I have seen is that Alma 22 is poetry. I also think every “, which” probably indicates another part of the land belonging to the king of the Lamanites.
The narrow strip of wilderness, between the sea (Gulf of Mexico) and the land of Zarahemla became infested with Lamanites after the Lamanites destroyed the city of Ammonihah, and took captives from the city of Noah. Zoram and his armies chased them from the west side of the Sidon into this wilderness on the east of Sidon and recovered the captives. (see Alma 16:1-8) Some years later these Lamanites had spread into much of the east lands all the way to the east sea (Atlantic). Moroni then drives them all south back into the narrow strip of wilderness and into what is now Florida, and fortifies a line from the Head of the River Sidon to the east sea (as is mentioned in Alma 22:29 and 50:11). However, these lands were not the original lands of the Lamanites, or the Land of Nephi, which was west and south of the Land of Zarahemla. (Alma 22:28)
I am sure that Alma 22:27-33 is in a Hebrew poetry or chiasmic form, but I don’t know enough about it to pin it down. Here is my interpretation of these verses:
Following his conversion, King Lamoni sent a proclamation throughout all of his lands giving permission for the sons of Mosiah to preach the gospel. While Mormon was writing this abridgement for us, he interjected additional geographical information. In a few verses, Mormon gave us a condensed description of the entire geographical area of the Lamanites and the Nephites. The quotations of the verses below contain my editorial comments in brackets.
“And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land [of Nephi], 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 [the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico], and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore [Gulf Shore], and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west–and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.” (Alma 22:27)
This was Mormon’s abridgement of Alma’s comments regarding the lands of the Lamanites. Mormon then interjects additional geographical comments.
“Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla [west of the Quachita River], in the borders by the seashore [Gulf Shore], and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore [Pacific Shore].” (Alma 22:28)
“And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore [Gulf Shore], whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful [Atlantic Coastal Plain].” (Alma 29)
“And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their [the Jaredites] first landing.” (Alma 22:30)
“And they [the Jaredites] came from there up [up through the mountains] into the south wilderness [Bountiful]. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.” (Alma 22:31)
“And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line [in line with] Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea [across Florida]; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla [North America] were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land [Isthmus of Panama] between the land northward [North America] and the land southward [South America].” (Alma 22:32)
This is the only verse in the BofM where the phrase “small neck of land” is mentioned.
“And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful [Atlantic Coastal Plain], even from the east unto the west sea [Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico], and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south [in Florida and in the narrow strip along the Gulf Shore], that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward [Bountiful/Desolation].” (Alma 22:33)
Lehi’s tree of life vision establishes a Book of Mormon fact with respect to the head of a river being its distant source. In this context it was a spring head with a spacious desolate field beyond, and where a pathway led along the banks of the river past the tree of life where the river became a deep impassible gulf. The setting of Lehi’s dream was in the valley of Lemuel where the river of Lemuel flowed through the valley to the Red Sea. George Potter and Richard Wellington found this valley on the Gulf of Acaba.
The head of the river Sidon in Mormon’s map insert in Alma 22 some 500 years later is consistent with the Usumacinta River but not the Grijalva. Verse 27 mentions the narrow strip of wilderness (NSW) border between the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla, which is a straight east-west mountain range extending from the east sea to the west sea coast, which I have found correlates best with the Chuacus las Minas mountain range in northern highland Guatemala. This major landmark is described in great deal by Mormon (over a hundred word sentence in verse 27) with the obvious intention of identifying the lands in question for the latter-day restoration of the Book of Mormon to his Lamanite people in this land of Central America, the homeland of their fathers, where the Nephite/Lamanite dispersion reached out through time to North America, South America, and to the islands of the sea.
I have addressed this in prior geography commentaries in Mormon Interpreter in more detail.
The Usumacinta meets all of the Book of Mormon requirements for the river Sidon, including the locations of Manti and the city land of Zarahemla with required ruins.
We can speculate endlessly but will not be able to see the resolution of Book of Mormon geography until we get more focused on objective methodology and scholarship in both Book of Mormon history and applicable archaeology evideneces.
The Book of Mormon is history and is as important to understanding the book as Church history sites are to understanding the Doctrine and Covenants in historic context.
Some interesting features of Poverty Point:
An unusual and interesting feature of Poverty Point is the raised concentric rings that comprises the main residential area of the city. The six rings are constructed of raised earth ridges five to six feet high and about two hundred feet apart. Five streets cut through the ridges towards the center point of the city like the spokes of a wheel leading to the hub. It is about three quarters of a mile across the diameter of the outer ring.
Following an unsuccessful mission to the land northward, Nephi, son of Helaman, returned to his home in Zarahemla. To his dismay he found that the people of his own city had also deteriorated in iniquity. Discouraged, and in agony, he poured out his soul to God in lament upon the tower in his garden.
“And behold, now it came to pass that it was upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway” (Helaman 7:10).
Having a tower in one’s garden is very unusual. At Poverty Point, however, most houses had a tower in their garden, or back yard. There was also a street running past the towers that lead to the chief market. The chief market was near the center of town, just up the hill from the port. Nephi’s house may have been on one of twelve lots along the closest street to the port.
King Benjamin’s Tower
The largest mound at Poverty Point is constructed in the shape of a bird. The wingspan of the bird is about two football fields long and the length of the bird is somewhat longer. The flat tail of the bird is about as wide as a football field and would have stood two stories above the rings of the city. The tail of the bird faces east, the direction that the door of the Temple would have faced. On the west half of this temple mound rises an earthen tower another four stories above the flat tail. Archaeologists have determined that this tower was added at a later time to what was originally a flat-topped mound. From the top of this tower one could have looked over the top of the Temple. The person standing there would also have been visible to anyone surrounding the temple mound. One cannot imagine a more perfect archaeological verification of King Benjamin’s Address setting than this Sacred Bird shaped temple mound with a fifty foot tower on the west end of it. It is a treasured spiritual experience to sit on top of this tower and read King Benjamin’s address.
I thought Poverty Point was primarily between 1500 and 600 BC. Doesn’t seem the right time frame for Zarahemla.
At Poverty Point the carbon dated materials tested from 2278 BC to AD 961 (John L. Gibson, The Ancient Mounds of Poverty Point, 2001, p. 95). In the construction of ancient mounds, the dirt from which they were made came from pits and trenches dug deep into the soil around them. Every basket of dirt that went into the building of a mound was contaminated with the carbon-bearing particles and pieces of previous ages. Many samples for radiocarbon dating were retrieved by coring and auguring. With these conditions, deciding which particles are from the date of construction or habitation would be nearly impossible, and at best, subjective.
Of course, Ortmann in 2010 published what are considered the definitive dates and they tended to move dates earlier than previously believed. And yes, Jackson Mound was built early (and earlier than your earliest date, ca 3948-3661 BC), but is not considered part of the “construction and occupation period proper” which Ortmann has ranging from 1750-979 BC, which is earlier than I had heard from other sources. The massive complex was pretty much complete by 1431 BC.
The dates are calibrated radio carbon, meaning they are compared to tree rings to adjust.
If Poverty Point was built by Book of Mormon peoples, it could only be the Jaredites. Mulekites and Nephites are way too late, at least for the main period of construction and occupation.
Aside from the sampling problems which I mentioned above, radiocarbon dating of Poverty Point is the only negative for it being the city of Zarahemla. I believe that it meets all of the requirements of the text of the Book of Mormon. Radiocarbon dating is also problematic for much of the scriptures beginning with the age of the first man, Adam. Although there have been some good advances in calibrating the variables of the C14/C12 ratio there are some variables that have not been accounted for. For example, the marine effect of a universal flood could change the C14 to C12 ratio considerably and increase the apparent age by several thousand years. What may be more significant to America is that volcanic eruptions eject large amounts of carbon of geological origin into the air, which has no detectable C14. Living plants near extinct volcanoes can have apparent ages of up to 1,000 years. What effect did the cataclysmic eruptions at the time of the Savior have on the C14 ratio in America? I am no expert on radiocarbon dating, but what I am suggesting is that the science of it is not perfected to the point where it would overrule the scriptural text.
I think everyone’s overlooking the way this term has been commonly used. My grandparents grew up in Riverhead, NY, and I’ve been there. It’s not at the source or the mouth of the river. It’s about half way between the two, the first place inland from the bay where the river narrows enough to cross.
One of my sons lives in Auckland, NZ, where Riverhead is a suburb. We visit there about once a year. There, too, Riverhead is the first place where you can cross the river as it come in from the inlet of the bay.
There’s a pub in Oxford called “Head of the River.” It’s not anywhere near the source of the River Thames, and nowhere near the sea, but it’s at a crossing place that has been used for centuries.
There may be other examples, but in my view, the “head of the river” means an important place, which is usually the first place you can cross.
1 Ne makes this clear. Lehi looked for the source, but instead he saw the head. Sariah, Sam and Nephi were standing there because it was a crossing point; i.e., “they knew not wither they should go” because they had a choice: cross or not to cross.
That definition might help the Heartland confluence idea. The various definitions of the word tell us that we can’t make the final decision on the word alone. We need other information to help understand the geography. Even if the head is a crossing and has nothing to do with the source (though that is certainly an acceptable meaning), the actual geographic information must provide more context. The word alone can’t solve the question of flow–which is still a critical question.
There is another element that may further complicate this issue. The Plates of Nephi were written by Nephi, about 1,000 years before Mormon wrote about the head of the river Sidon. Mormon said the language had changed over that period of time. There were probably different Nephite words describing the head of the river Lehi saw and the head of the river Sidon.
I hesitate to add still another level of complexity to this issue, but Nephi also wrote that Red Sea was a fountain into which ran the river Laman.
“And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!” (1 Nephi 2:9).
A few chapters later in Nephi’s recording of Lehi’s dream he states that the “head of the fountain” was by a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.” (1 Nephi 8:20)
If the fountain is the sea then perhaps the “head of the fountain” would be where the river ran into it?
When I read Mr. Brandley’s blog post, that I thought that River Head (how the town was named originally) might reflect the many “river heads” (or similarly “rail heads”) used in the civil war as well as “rail heads” used in both WW1 and WW2. In all these cases, the “head” was a point of transition from river/rail transport to ground vehicles (whether animal drawn or motor vehicles). Sure enough, Riverhead, NY is a port.
That said, I really appreciate JN’s comment about a river head being a crossing. After all, 2 of the 5 references to the head of the river Sidon are about armies going there to cross. I could not figure out why armies that could cross the Sidon at some points would consider going to the head to cross in two places. The other 3 references to the head of the Sidon suggest a point on or near the boundary between the greater (my word) lands of Nephi and Zarahemla. A crossing might also explain the two references Alma 22:27,29 with “[by/at] the head of the river Sidon, [running] from the east [towards/to] the west.” Perhaps the boundary running east to west crossed the Sidon at a point that was a common and easy to cross the river. Certainly more food for thought. I lean to a north flowing river at least between Manti and Zarahemla, because Helaman indicated that it was “down” from Manti to Zarahemla.
I am not aware of any passage indicating that it “was “down” from Manti to Zarahemla.” Please provide the reference.
The reference is Alma 56:25 “Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah.”
The context is Helaman’s letter to Moroni, starts in Alma 56 and the options available to the Lamanites opposed to the Nephite forces with Helaman. In verse 14, Helaman lists four cities that had fallen to the Lamanites (Manti, Zeezrom, Cumeni, Antiparah). He is specifically talking about the Lamanite armies in the “land of Manti, or the city of Manti, and the city of Zeezrom, and the city of Cumeni, and the city of Antiparah.”
Helaman is definitely stating that for the Lamanites in the cities of Manti, Zeezrom, Cumeni, and Antiparah — one of several options that they dared not do was “march down against the city of Zarahemla.” There may be another way to look at it, but clearly Helaman is saying it is down to Zarahemla from Manti and the other cities taken by the Lamanites.
The full context follows:
9 But behold, here is one thing in which we may have great joy. For behold, in the *twenty and sixth year, I, Helaman, did march at the head of these two thousand young men to the city of Judea, to assist Antipus, whom ye had appointed a leader over the people of that part of the land.
10 And I did join my two thousand sons, (for they are worthy to be called sons) to the army of Antipus, in which strength Antipus did rejoice exceedingly; for behold, his army had been reduced by the Lamanites because their forces had slain a vast number of our men, for which cause we have to mourn.
11 Nevertheless, we may console ourselves in this point, that they have died in the cause of their country and of their God, yea, and they are happy.
12 And the Lamanites had also retained many prisoners, all of whom are chief captains, for none other have they spared alive. And we suppose that they are now at this time in the land of Nephi; it is so if they are not slain.
13 And now these are the cities of which the Lamanites have obtained possession by the shedding of the blood of so many of our valiant men;
14 The land of Manti, or the city of Manti, and the city of Zeezrom, and the city of Cumeni, and the city of Antiparah.
15 And these are the cities which they possessed when I arrived at the city of Judea; and I found Antipus and his men toiling with their might to fortify the city.
16 Yea, and they were depressed in body as well as in spirit, for they had fought valiantly by day and toiled by night to maintain their cities; and thus they had suffered great afflictions of every kind.
17 And now they were determined to conquer in this place or die; therefore you may well suppose that this little force which I brought with me, yea, those sons of mine, gave them great hopes and much joy.
18 And now it came to pass that when the Lamanites saw that Antipus had received a greater strength to his army, they were compelled by the orders of Ammoron to not come against the city of Judea, or against us, to battle.
19 And thus were we favored of the Lord; for had they come upon us in this our weakness they might have perhaps destroyed our little army; but thus were we preserved.
20 They were commanded by Ammoron to maintain those cities which they had taken. And thus ended the twenty and sixth year. And in the *commencement of the twenty and seventh year we had prepared our city and ourselves for defence.
21 Now we were desirous that the Lamanites should come upon us; for we were not desirous to make an attack upon them in their strongholds.
22 And it came to pass that we kept spies out round about, to watch the movements of the Lamanites, that they might not pass us by night nor by day to make an attack upon our other cities which were on the northward.
23 For we knew in those cities they were not sufficiently strong to meet them; therefore we were desirous, if they should pass by us, to fall upon them in their rear, and thus bring them up in the rear at the same time they were met in the front. We supposed that we could overpower them; but behold, we were disappointed in this our desire.
24 They durst not pass by us with their whole army, neither durst they with a part, lest they should not be sufficiently strong and they should fall.
25 Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah.
26 And thus, with their forces, they were determined to maintain those cities which they had taken.
In the cluster of cities the Lamanites held, Antiparah was near the sea (Alma 56:31-34) and it was there the Lamanites had their strongest and most numerous army. Manti was also by the narrow strip of wilderness that was by the sea (Alma 22:27). As one cannot go down from the sea the reference of “going down” must have been from Helaman’s position and perspective at the time. He was then in the city of Judea which would have been in the hills above the river on the west side.
A bit of a stretch to say that Antiparah was by the seashore. Helaman wrote that he was marching to appear as if he were heading to the city beyond Antiparah that was by the seashore. “And we were to march near the city of Antiparah, as if we were going to the city beyond, in the borders by the seashore.”(Alma 56:31) It isn’t clear how far that city is from the seashore. But, given that the Lamanites armies in those four cities would go down to Zarahemla and if perchance that didn’t apply to Antiparah, than it is even more of a case of applying to Manti.
I didn’t say it was “by the seashore.” I said it was “near the sea,”
JN, thanks for your post, as it added another possible dimension to our understanding. You said: “1 Ne makes this clear. Lehi looked for the source, but instead he saw the head.” Your addition of “instead” cannot be derived from the text itself.
The text states: “And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off.” My question for you is why you think that the source and the head cannot be the same? How do you derive from the text that the two are different? Based on your comments I see that the head could be a crossing point, but you seem to rule out that the head could be the source of the river.
Fair point, Loren. In a brief blog post, it’s difficult to explain everything.
In addition to the reasons I mentioned (i.e., the common usage of the term “head” for a river crossing), in Lehi’s dream, the “head” was “a little way off.” So close, in fact, that Sariah, Sam and Nephi were within shouting distance. They came to Lehi; Laman and Lemuel did not. The rod of iron was on Lehi’s side of the river, while the large and spacious building was on the other side. The whole dream is a metaphor for making choices; i.e., which side of the river do we seek? Which side do we stay on? This requires a crossing point, but the text doesn’t refer to a crossing or bridge–other than by referring to the head.
Defining the “head” as the source or mouth of the river eliminates the point of the dream, in my opinion. It introduces an element of determinism; i.e., people on each side of the river are stuck there (unless you want to infer they could circumvent the river completely by walking around the source–but then it is hardly the “great and terrible gulf” Nephi describes in 12:18).
Dictionary definitions are fine, but ultimately words derive their meaning from context and usage. I’ve shown the real-world usage of the term. In the context of the meaning of Lehi’s dream, I think the term “head” has to relate to choice; i.e., choosing to cross from one side of the river to the other.
I’m not convinced by the “confluence” idea, either. Here, Lehi speaks of a single river.
Consequently, I think we should expect Zarahemla to be at a point where it is possible to cross a major river, particular if it is the first crossing point inland from an ocean, sea, bay, or other large body of water–just as it is in the examples I gave. (Well, in the case of Oxford, it’s just a major crossing, not the first inland on the Thames, so “head” could be any major crossing point.) So Zarahemla is along a river somewhere. Poverty Point is highly unlikely.
To summarize, despite what the dictionary says, I think it makes no sense to define “head” as a source or outlet in terms of Lehi’s dream or the real world examples I’ve given, both of which are relevant to understanding the use of the term in the context of the River Sidon.
Thanks for your comments. A few things to consider.
1. Here is what Wikipedia says about Riverhead, NY:
“The town of Riverhead is in Suffolk County, New York, on the north shore of Long Island. The population was 33,506 at the 2010 census. The town is on the mouth of the Peconic River, for which the town is named.”
Looking at Google Earth, it does indeed appear to be located right at the mouth of the river. This would confirm what Theodore said.
2. For Riverhead, NZ, here is what the city’s Facebook page says:
“Riverhead is a small, historically predominantly working-class town located at the head of the Waitemata Harbour in the north-west of Auckland, New Zealand.” Again, Google Earth supports this claim.
3. The only other Riverhead that I was able to find was in Kent in the UK. Here is what Wikipedia says:
“The origin of the name of the village may lie in the Saxon word ‘rither’ meaning hill or deriving from the word meaning ‘cattle landing place’.” That makes sense since there does not appear to be a river close to the city.
My point is that it appears that in the case of Riverhead NY and NZ that the name was given because both towns are at the mouth or head of body of water. In the city in NZ you can see on Google Earth that the town is indeed situated at the head of the harbor.
So, in the case of NY the usage of the word would seem to support Theodore’s proposal (meaning the mouth or end of a river), whereas in NZ the usage seems to support the opposite (the beginning of a body of water). Neither name seems to support the usage as a crossing point.
Now, having said that, I would like to examine this verse from the Book of Mormon:
“Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked.” (Hel 3:29)
This verse tells us that we can lay hold upon “the word of God” which can lead us “in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf.” Mormon’s words here seem to be a clear reference to Lehi’s and Nephi’s vision. We know from Nephi that the rod of iron represents the word of God. The everlasting gulf seems to be the same as Nephi’s “great and a terrible gulf.”
Ammon also spoke of this gulf. He said that the Lord “hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls.” (Alma 26:20)
So, there definitely is a way to cross the gulf, and there appears to be a path or course with a rod of iron (word of God). I believe that this “crossing point” is deeply tied to the atonement of Christ. Perhaps a good name for this crossing point, or bridge, is Mercy, allowing us to cross the Gulf of Justice (1 Ne 12:18). Doctrinally speaking, we must all cross that bridge to gain salvation.
However, I am not convinced that the head of the river that Nephi spoke of is that bridge. We see from Riverhead NY and NZ that we cannot really apply the definition that you proposed earlier. And the dictionary definition also does not support it. But, I do agree that there must be a crossing point somewhere.
So, unless further evidence can be presented, I must support the head of the river in Lehi’s dream meaning the beginning, or with much less probability, the end of the river.
It’s a little surprising to see wikipedia cited for authority, but take another look at those maps. Both “riverheads” that I’m familiar with are located where the first bridge on the river is. I suppose you could say that the “mouth” of the river is where it can first be crossed, but that’s exactly my point. Towns develop where commerce is possible, usually along a waterway. In the case of a river, it’s the first place where the river can be crossed. Look at London, for example. The Thames is too wide until you get to London. Washington DC is the same. Riverhead NY is the same. True, the current boundaries extend along the Peconic river (but not all the way to Flanders Bay), but the old downtown was right where that first bridge is. Same in Riverhead NZ.
Your Helaman and Alma citations reinforce the point; i.e., we need a bridge over the gulf. It can be mercy in a philosophical sense, but in terms of the metaphor of Lehi’s dream, it has to be a crossing over to the path with the iron rod. The text doesn’t support an inference that the gulf was so narrow one could simply step over; there had to be a bridge.
In my view, you are completely twisting the point of Lehi’s dream to avoid the meaning of the head of a river, which as I’ve shown is a crossing point. That’s what makes the dream so powerful; i.e., people can cross both ways over the gulf of misery and woe, and they can fall into the dark water if they’re not careful. But they don’t get to walk all the way around it.
I suspect that your mind is already set regarding this matter, but I will give it a final go anyway. While I agree that Wikipedia is not a scholarly source, it is at least as good as word of mouth. BTW, do you have any scholarly sources for your opinion?
Having said that, you said:
“I would be interested if you can find any town or city that uses the term “head” that was not founded at a crossing point.”
First, that is a difficult task since all waterways need to be crossed in some way (bridge, boat, swimming, wading, etc). So, by your definition, any place a waterway is crossed is a head, although no ancient or modern English dictionary would agree with that definition. Following your logic, all one must do is find a bridge (or any method of crossing) anywhere close to a waterway and that makes it a “head.”
If you check the word “head” in the Oxford English Dictionary (www.oed.com) you will find that the word is never used as a crossing point for any body of water. However, you will find that this:
36. The uppermost or furthermost portion of a valley, cave, inlet, etc. Also: that end of a lake or other body of water at which a river or stream enters it. “Positive estuaries have a river or rivers emptying into them, usually at the head.”
37. The source or headwaters of a river or stream. “They came to a run of water, which they supposed to be the head of the Nepean river.”
Webster’s 1828 dictionary includes:
18. The principal source of a stream; as the head of the Nile.
30. The part most remote from the mouth or opening into the sea; as the head of a bay, gulf or creek.
But Webster makes no mention of any type of crossing in his definition.
While the Oxford American dictionary includes these definitions, it says nothing about a crossing point:
3.9 The source of a river or stream.
3.10 The end of a lake or inlet at which a river enters.
I could keep going but there would be no point to it. But, back to your request: “find any town or city that uses the term “head” that was not founded at a crossing point.”
Barrington Head, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now, before I begin, there is a bridge there today, but the place was named Barrington Head long before any bridge existed.
First, citing the less-than-scholarly Wikipedia, we read: “It [Barrington Head] refers to a general geographic area consisting of the region to the east of the head of the Barrington River (which flows into Barrington Bay).” The head of the Barrington River is actually the mouth of the river. Again, this would support Theodore’s premise.
Now for a real source – A History of Barrington Township and Vicinity, Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, 1604-1870.
Below are some quotes from this book prior to a bridge existing at the “head” of the harbor or bay. These citations support the idea that the “head” of Barrington Bay (or Harbour) being at the mouth of the river. In other words, the “head” of the bay is the beginning of it.
“There is a harbor, very good for vessels, and the head of it a little river which runs from a distance inland.” citation from an original French colonist from the 1700s.
“The young de la Tour also had a garden near his fort, of wheat and peas, which was not so well taken care of as that of the Recollet. The land is flat at the head of this bay.”
“Both the D’Entremont and the Micmac traditions agree that Pipegueniche is Barrington. It is not however, specifically Barrington Head or Harbor, which is Meustugek.”
“The reason for staying there, so far away from the head of the harbor where the old French houses had been destroyed and where Mrs. Archelaus Smith spent the winter in the log house, would be that from the South end of Sherose Island both the eastern and western entrances to the harbor were under observation, and vessels passing through might he hailed and boarded by the isolated settler.”
“The wooden chapel and the considerable settlement at the head of Barrington Harbor shared in the common destruction, including the house of Paul d’Entremont (another son of Jacques, Sr.) on a pleasant knoll at the mouth of Barrington River.”
Referring to a nearby harbor, we read: “In April, 1796, Wm. Andrews, a Scotch loyalist, was granted a tract of land at the head of Coquewit Harbor.”
There are many more citations, but these make the point. The “head” of the Barrington Habor (or bay) was at the mouth of the Barrington River. “Head” here refers to the beginning of the harbor or bay. Not only is this supported bu the citations, but it also agrees with any English dictionary definition that you can find.
In summary, the documentary evidence does not support your statement. As a side note, 1.5 miles inland from Barrington Head is a small town called Riverhead. Interestingly, it is not situated on a river (it is about a mile away from the Barrington River).
Just to clarify, my mind isn’t made up; I’m open to anything that makes sense and is factual. I’ve shown the two examples of towns named Riverhead that started at the first feasible crossing (it doesn’t have to be a bridge–a shallow area could work). I was interested in this because of the original comment about Riverhead NY, a place with which I’m familiar and was not as represented by the original comment or wikipedia. As you’ve pointed out, there are many definitions for “head” but here, we are trying to determine the location for a city (Zarahemla), aren’t we? My point is, cities are not founded at the “head” of the river in the sense you are using it, but at the first crossing place (as in the examples I gave, including London and DC). Or, we are trying to determine the meaning of “head” in Lehi’s dream, where people are making a decision about which way to go–which also, in the context of the river, means a crossing place.
Barrington Bay is an interesting example, but we’re not talking about the Bay of Sidon.
You might also want to consider Alma 50:33-34 and 51:29-30, and Helaman 1:28-30. There, the term “head” is used as a synonym for “meet.” Again, the connotation is a joining of the two groups, a meeting from two directions, exactly how the term is used in the examples I gave.
I don’t know how it can be any clearer, except maybe in Alma 56:25: “neither durst they cross the head of Sidon.”
This will be my final response to you on this thread. For the sake of clarity, I will only state a few things, and then we will just need to agree to disagree on the meaning of the word “head” in the Book of Mormon.
“My point is, cities are not founded at the “head” of the river in the sense you are using it, but at the first crossing place (as in the examples I gave, including London and DC).”
First, Neither the Book of Mormon nor anyone in this forum has claimed that the city of Zarahemla (or any other city) was located at the “head” of the River Sidon. The head of the River Sidon is spoken of only 5 times in the BoM, and never in proximity to Zarahemla. So, I am unsure how you got the impression that Theodore, I, or anyone else was arguing that point.
Second, You have provided no evidence that the cities named Riverhead were so named because they were a crossing point of the river. That is only your opinion. On the other hand, I have provided evidence, as you requested, that Barrington Head (and Springhead) were both so named because they were the beginning points of a harbor and spring, respectively. However, since the evidence about Barrington Head does not fit your preconceived views, you dismissed it out of hand by writing that it was “an interesting example, but we’re not talking about the Bay of Sidon.” You asked for the evidence and I provided it, and yet you still say that your mind isn’t made up.
In addition, any English dictionary that you might consult will support the definition of “head” as I have used it. Personal opinions, mine or yours, cannot trump definitional or documentary evidence to the contrary.
So, if you have anything other than your personal opinions or your own interpretation of verses from the Book of Mormon I will be happy to consider them. Otherwise, your opinions remain just that, and are of little value in my work to understand the scriptures.
Having said all this, I wish you only peace and not contention. I intend to remain friends while also differing in our understanding.
Fair enough. It has been a useful discussion. I thought Theodore was equating Zarahemla with Poverty Point, which is why I made that comment. I don’t know why you ignored the Book of Mormon references I provided, but I supposed down the road this issue may resurface.
All the best.
Poverty Point is about 250 miles north of where the Mississippi flows into the Gulf of Mexico, which is consistent with the text.
I forgot to post this is my last response. Searching similar names to Riverhead, I did find a Springhead, UK. Here is what Wikipedia says about its name:
“Springhead got its name from a building in the village called Springhead House. In the back garden of the house was a spring and they named Springhead after that house.”
Here is the link to the pub I mentioned.
I would be interested if you can find any town or city that uses the term “head” that was not founded at a crossing point.
You criticized my choice of Wikipedia but provide me a link to a pub as your sole source?
I only provided the link because I mentioned this location originally and you said you couldn’t find it (or that’s how I interpreted what you wrote).
I wanted to thank all who participated in the discussion about what a head of a river could mean. For me, it is pretty clear it could mean the source. And it could mean the mouth. And it could mean a crossing (a ford, a bridge, a place where boats can be put in the river on at least one side, if not both, and so on, as well as having terrain on each side of the river conducive to a crossing and also having a manageable current). And head could mean a place where one type of transport is replaced by another in a military context (river heads, rail heads, air heads) although rail and air would not be applicable to Book of Mormon. But, the concept of a place where one type of transport is changed to another could.
Birkenhead opposite Liverpool is long known as a place of a ferry crossing. Even the example in Nova Scotia fits the idea of the point being narrow enough for a crossing. Of course, the head of a bay or inlet is marked by a river flowing into it and that is often such a place where a crossing could occur). But that is usually consistent with a crossing.
Also the head of the river in Lehi’s vision does make a lot more sense as a crossing than as its source or its sink. I really like that concept in interpreting Lehi’s vision.
Unfortunately, I think there are those who will refuse to give the idea credence because it threatens their pet model of Book of Mormon lands. Personally, I don’t think it should threaten anybody’s view. But, it does make it harder to “prove” something if one insists that head has to mean one specific thing.
When all is said and done a “head” just means an important or the most important point.
Thanks for your thoughtful response to Theodore’s article. I appreciate that Theodore’s article was published by Interpreter, allowing all to carefully reconsider our positions.
The word “head” is used 8 times in the Book of Mormon with reference to bodies of water (always a river.) Five of those times refer to the Sidon. The other three times refer to the river in Lehi’s dream.
Here is the first mention in Lehi’s dream:
“And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit. And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go.” (1 Ne 8:13-14)
We notice that Lehi states, “And I looked to behold from whence it came, and I beheld the head thereof a little way off.” It seems to me that “from whence it came” and “the head thereof” are synonymous phrases. This would indicate that, at least in Lehi’s dream, the head of the river was also its source.
This idea seems to be confirmed in the following verses:
“And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood. And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.” (1 Ne 8:19-22)
In these verses we are told that the path “came along by the rod of iron,” and that the rod of iron “extended along the bank of the river.” In other words, both the rod and the path follow the course of the river. But, we are also told that the path “led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field.” In other words, the path seems to have its origin beyond the head of the fountain in a large field. If the “head of the fountain” were the mouth of the river, the path would have its beginnings in the sea rather than in a field since it extends beyond the head. Or, it would have to make an abrupt turn (at least 90 degrees) at the mouth of the river. The only logical way to interpret this usage is for the “head of the fountain” to be the source rather than the mouth of the river.
So, at least in the case of Lehi’s dream, the word “head” does refer to the source rather than the mouth of the river.
I agree with your analysis. I think this is the best argument for what Lehi and his descendants had in mind when they used the phrase “head of the river”.
Brandley makes the point that directions must be understood from the point of reference, not from an overall concept of a map. I fully agree and have noted where this makes a difference in the Mesoamerican directional system. ((See https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/from-the-east-to-the-west-the-problem-of-directions-in-the-book-of-mormon/#more-1928))
He also suggests that the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla are not separated by a narrow neck of land. That is also a point of agreement. I am not aware of any serious model that attempts to place the narrow neck between those two lands. It is north of Zarahemla. The idea that the “small neck” between the land northward and southward “can only refer to the isthmus of Panama” is a very old assumption, and nothing in Brandley’s analysis forces the text to support that assumption. It would, however, force the important part of the Sidon, Zarahemla, and the land of Nephi to be south of the Isthmus of Panama, and thereby absolutely preclude the Mississippi river as the Sidon.
The suggestion that the Delmarva Peninsula (Maryland) could be the narrow neck near which Bountiful was located cannot fit the geographic/social clues in the text. Bountiful is protecting the narrow neck from anyone leaving the land of Zarahemla and going north. If Bountiful were at the small neck of the Delmarva Peninsula, it would certainly do that, but only if the Book of Mormon took place only in that Peninsula. In that case, we not only can’t use the Mississippi as the Sidon, we have no real alternative.
If the rest of the Book of Mormon took place closer to the Mississippi, then a Bountiful near the Delmarva Peninsula has not possibility of controlling northerly movement along the Mississippi. So while the point that there is no narrow neck between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla is correct, the specifics presented cannot fit with either the geography or the human reasons given for the building of cities along the east coast in the Book of Mormon.
Brant, you wrote:
“The idea that the “small neck” between the land northward and southward “can only refer to the isthmus of Panama” is a very old assumption, and nothing in Brandley’s analysis forces the text to support that assumption. It would, however, force the important part of the Sidon, Zarahemla, and the land of Nephi to be south of the Isthmus of Panama, and thereby absolutely preclude the Mississippi river as the Sidon.”
You must have misunderstood this one. I wrote:
“This verse explains that the land of Nephi (all of the Lamanite territory) and the land of Zarahemla (all of the Nephite territory), together, were nearly surrounded by water, except for a small neck of land on the south of them that led to another land southward.”
It does not force anything in the Book of Mormon to be south of the small neck of land. The text does not mention anything pertaining to this land southward in Alma 22:32.
You also wrote:
“Bountiful is protecting the narrow neck from anyone leaving the land of Zarahemla and going north.”
I’m not sure where you get this idea? I think it is another misconception. The narrow pass is also not the same as the narrow neck of land even though they are in the same vicinity. Both of them are at the north end of the land of Bountiful, not the land of Zarahemla.
The Narrow Pass
The Blue Ridge Mountain Range forms a barrier between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the interior of the American Continent. From the Alabama River in the south there are no river valley passes through the Blue Ridge Mountains for 700 miles to the north. About fifty miles northwest of Washington D.C, and Chesapeake Bay “where the sea divides the land,” there is an unusual tectonic transect in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range at Harper’s Ferry that creates a narrow corridor through which the Potomac River flows to the sea.
In 68 BC, a Nephite by the name of Morianton, head of the city of Morianton, attempted to conquer the people of the land of Lehi. Both cities were by the east sea in the land of Bountiful. The people of the land of Lehi fled to the camp of Moroni near the city of Bountiful and plead for assistance. Morianton s’ fear of Moroni caused him to take his people and “flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of this land.” Moroni sent an army commanded by Teancum, with their supply camp, to head the people of Morianton and stop their flight into the land northward (Alma 50:29).
“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.” (Alma 50:34)
Mormon described a narrow pass which led from the sea into the land northward, which was the land of Desolation. This pass was near a place where there was a sea on the west and a sea on the east. Fifty miles from the corridor through the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Potomac flows into the Atlantic across the bay from the Delmarva Peninsula that has a sea on the west, and a sea on the east. It was near here where Teancum slew Morianton, defeated his army and took them all as prisoners back to the camp of Moroni (Alma 50:35). Two years later, in a major war with the Lamanites, Moroni sent orders to 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) Over 400 years later the situation was somewhat reversed, as the Nephites controlled the land Desolation and the Lamanites controlled the land Bountiful.
“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).
“And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward. And there we did place our armies, that we might stop the armies of the Lamanites, that they might not get possession of any of our lands; therefore we did fortify against them with all our force” (Mormon 3:5-6).
This narrow pass was a strategic place at that time, and it was in our day as well. During the American Civil War this pass was on the boundary between the Confederate and the Union Forces. Control of the pass changed hands eight times during the course of the war.
Brandley’s second point is: “2. The city of Lehi-Nephi is [not] the original city of Nephi.” I think there was an unintended omission in his heading, based on what the text says.
The first part of his argument is that the city of Nephi and the city of Lehi-Nephi are not the same. I would agree with him. There is nothing in the text that requires them to be the same, and the logic of the situation would seem to preclude them being the same. However, that does not necessarily lead to his conclusion: “After 400 years of war and persecution the city of Nephi and the city of Lehi-Nephi could have been a great distance apart.” That conclusion is not warranted from the text.
The city of Lehi-Nephi is created for the people of Zeniff who returned to the land of Nephi and presumably to the city of Nephi. They were given a land where one of the cities was Lehi-Nephi. It would be very unusual for the Lamanites who had their seat of power in the former city of Nephi to abandon the city and give it over to the people of Zeniff. It makes more historical sense for them to be given a place in the lands beholding to that city. Does that translate into a great distance? Not historically. Even major enemies in Mesoamerica lived only 3 days journey from each other, with the borders of their lands a day and a half journey for either. That doesn’t suggest massive distances. The ease with which the Lamanites mount attacks on the people of Zeniff suggest that the original city of Nephi and the city of Lehi-Nephi were not very far distant. Brandley wants a greater distance so he can stretch out the geography. It isn’t required by the text and isn’t typical of ancient practices. Even though I agree that there are two cities rather than one, I can’t see the text allowing the kind of distance Brandley intimates between the two.
One of the distance indicators is the journey of the rescue mission sent from Limhi in the city of Lehi-Nephi to Zarahemla. Brandley suggests that the distance traveled could be much greater if they only used a boat, which would be logical if they were to travel the river. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that they got lost. If Zarahemla is near the river Sidon, how do you miss it? The best geographical solution to this conundrum is Lawrence Poulsen’s suggestion that the headwaters of two rivers begin in the Cuchumatanes and that the rescue party followed the wrong river. ((See http://www.webring.org/l/rd?ring=mormonsites;id=2;url=http%3A%2F%2Fpoulsenll%2Eorg%2Fbom%2F)) That proposal not only fits with probable distances, but with the discovery of Jaredite lands as part of the journey. While the Mississippi does have the Adena as time-depth parallels to the Jaredites, they preceded the Hopewell rather than overlapping in time with them. The cultural data don’t fit with the time requirements in the Book of Mormon. While that is not strictly a geographic issue, it nevertheless is a requirement that must fit within the geography. The Mississippi doesn’t help the story make sense, but the Mesoamerican geography does.
Brant, you wrote:
“What doesn’t make sense is that they got lost. If Zarahemla is near the river Sidon, how do you miss it?”
You must have missed what I wrote: “The scouts may have come to the banks of the river Sidon above Zarahemla, built dugout canoes or a sailing raft and continued upstream.”
OK. The question isn’t how they built something to travel the river, but how they missed a city that appears to be fairly near the river. Are you suggesting that nothing of Zarahemla could be seen from the Sidon? I suppose that is possible, but seems somewhat unlikely–particularly since they were looking for Zarahemla.
If they came to the river 50 miles or so upstream from Zarahemla they would never know it was there. When they came back they would have left the river at the same place they entered it. Also, they thought they had found the people of Zarahemla, all dead.
Brant, you wrote:
“Even though I agree that there are two cities rather than one, I can’t see the text allowing the kind of distance Brandley intimates between the two.”
I answered that in the article:
“If the people of King Mosiah 1st travelled 600 miles in one migration fleeing from the Lamanites, their ancestors before them would probably have been driven over 1,000 miles from the original city of Nephi in several migrations over the 400 years.”
Have you missed the fact that the journey to Lehi Nephi was a return to the environs of the city of Lehi that they had left less than a generation before? Even if there were 600 miles from the City of Nephi to Zarahemla, Zeniff would have gone back those same 600 miles. That doesn’t take them farther away. Your extra 1,000 miles cannot be fit into the text, even accepting the first 600. This has nothing to do with your presumption that the city of Nephi might have moved. The story of Zeniff requires that he return to the land he came from.
I am confused about what you are saying. Perhaps I have not explained well enough what I am saying. Zeniff returned to the city of Lehi-Nephi, not the original city of Nephi. There is evidence in the text that the original city of Nephi was in Guatemala, perhaps Quiriguá. This would be over 1,000 miles further south of the Rio Grande.
Brant, I apologize for my slow thinking (perhaps it is old age?), but I just realized what your point of view is on the issue of the city Lehi-Nephi. You think that the original city of Nephi was also in the vicinity of Lehi-Nephi and there were three cities that Zeniff had, not just two. I think that the name of the city of Lehi-Nephi was changed to Nephi and it had nothing to do with the original city of Nephi, and it was nowhere near the people of Zeniff.
I do not believe that the text supports you view. The first time the name of the city Lehi-Nephi is mentioned is in Mosiah 7:1 where King Mosiah is concerned about the people who went back “to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi.” This would have therefore been the name of the city that his grandfather had fled. Notice that nothing is said concerning the city of Nephi. The land of Lehi-Nephi is mentioned twice more in the narrative of king Mosiah (Mos. 7:2 & 7:4). Then in Mosiah 7:21 we read:
“…therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about”
Notice the contract was for two cities and lands: the land and city of Lehi-Nephi and the land and city of Shilom. There is no mention of a third city or land of Nephi. The next time these cities are mentioned is in Mormon’s abridgement of the record of Zeniff.
“And I went in unto the king, and he covenanted with me that I might possess the land of Lehi-Nephi, and the land of Shilom. And he also commanded that his people should depart out of the land, and I and my people went into the land that we might possess it…And we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city, yea, even the walls of the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom.” (Mosiah 9:6 & 8)
Again, there were only two cities in the possession of King Zeniff. Thirteen years later there are still two cities but now the city of Lehi-Nephi is called the city of Nephi.
“For, in the thirteenth year of my reign in the land of Nephi, away on the south of the land of Shilom, when my people were watering and feeding their flocks, and tilling their lands, a numerous host of Lamanites came upon them and began to slay them, and to take off their flocks, and the corn of their fields. Yea, and it came to pass that they fled, all that were not overtaken, even into the city of Nephi, and did call upon me for protection.” (Mosiah 9:14-15)
Zeniff appears to still be living in the same city but now it is called the city of Nephi. The city of Lehi-Nephi is never mentioned again. They did not contract for three cities and there are never three cities mentioned together in that location. The most reasonable explanation is that over the period of thirteen years the people of Zeniff simple shortened the name of the city. Also, after 400 years of being driven by the Lamanites, it would be too close to have been the original city of Nephi.
Dr. Gardner, I appreciate your response about the Cities of Nephi and Lehi-Nephi.
In the risk of continuing the “myth,” I do think that the two are the same. The “City of Lehi-Nephi” only appears in Mosiah 7 (Ammon sent to find out what happened to those that were in the City of Lehi-Nephi–how would they in Zarahemla know it was this city and not the City of Nephi?) and Mosiah 9 which starts Zeniff’s account. However, both Mosiah 7 and 9 end up using “land of Nephi” and “land of Lehi-Nephi” as well as “city of Nephi” and “city of Lehi-Nephi” interchangeably. For the rest of the story of the reigns of Zeniff, Noah, and Limhi, it is always “land of Nephi” or “city of Nephi.”
Also, there is no evidence that the city of Nephi was the Lamanite capital in the days of Zeniff. The walls were worn down and Zeniff needed to build buildings in the city for his people (Mosiah 9:8). This is a time when the Lamanites were described a “lazy and idolatrous people” (Mosiah 9:12), something that I think colors some of our opinions of Lamanites later one, when they were more industrious.
Thus, I remain convinced that Lehi-Nephi and Nephi are in fact two names of the same city and the same land.
The city of Nephi became the Lamanite capital only after the time of the Zeniff-Noah-Limhi kingdom. The first instance of this is that the high king (Lamoni’s father) was there.
Theodore Brandley has offered some very specific analyses of geographic references in the Book of Mormon. So far, we have seen some reiteration of the conceptual divide of the believers in different theories, but no specific engagement with Brandley’s analysis. I submit that if he is correct in all of them, then those advocating for other geographies would have to reconsider. It should always be a question of evidence rather than defense of previously accepted positions.
Brandley and I disagree on the geography of the Book of Mormon, but we both owe it to ourselves and the LDS community to carefully understand the evidence. In that light, I’d like to begin by engaging the first of his misconceptions, which is the direction of flow for the River Sidon. In case some might not understand the importance of this discussion, it is really crucial if we are going to suggest a physical river as a candidate for the Sidon. For those advocating a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon, the Sidon should flow north, as do the two candidate rivers in that region. For others (Brandley among them) it should flow south, as does the Misssissippi—their candidate for the Sidon. If the text requires a north-flowing river, the Mississippi is automatically out. If it requires a south-flowing river, the Grijalva or Usumacinta don’t fit. It really is an important question. Therefore, it is important to know what Brandley’s analysis might support.
The crucial datum comes from Alma 22:27: “. . . through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon. . .” Where is the “head” of a river? Manti can be located south of Zarahemla. Therefore, if the origin is near Manti, then the river flows to the north. The other option is to locate the “head” at the confluence into the sea (Brandley’s option). That would flow south. So far, we have a problem in that a single word in the text is used with two opposite meanings.
So what does “head” mean? Brandley suggests that the use of the name of a town Riverhead at the confluence of the Peconic River and the Atlantic ocean demonstrates that it could mean the mouth of the river rather than the origin. Perhaps there are a few instances where we can find this meaning, but it is not the most common usage. The 1823 Webster’s dictionary provides 31 definitions for the noun “head.” Number 30 is “The part most remote from the mouth or opening into the sea; as the head of a bay, gulf or creek.” The intransitive verb is “to originate; to spring; to have its source, as a river.” ((As a side note, the Heartland model places Manti closer to the middle of the Mississippi rather than at the origin or mouth. The analysis of the word “head” in that model is based on the 23rd listed meaning, “body; conflux.” The use of the word conflux is then applied to where rivers come together. While that is an interesting way to redefine the word, it is counter to the recorded uses for the word “head” with reference to rivers.))
Linguistically, then, Brandley’s position is a slight possibility, but one that runs counter to the most common reading of the word. That is not fatal to his position because virtually all of the geographic information requires analysis rather than simple acceptance. The argument about the flow of the Sidon will not stand or fall on the definition of “head,” any more than any geography might stand or fall on any other specific reading. The real world geography of the Book of Mormon requires multiple data points. Resolving the flow of the Sidon requires more than one word. Brandley provides more information.
Here is what he says:
a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west (emphasis added)
From the above we find:
1. The narrow strip of wilderness ran east and west round about on the edge of the seashore
2. Zarahemla was north of the seashore and north of Manti (see also Alma 6:7, 17:1)
3. Manti was near the narrow strip of wilderness, that was by the sea
4. The head of the river Sidon was by the narrow strip of wilderness, that was by the sea
Conclusion: As rivers run to the sea, the river Sidon ran from Zarahemla south to Manti and through the east-west narrow strip of wilderness to the “head of the river Sidon” near the sea. There is a second witness from the text in Alma 50:11 confirming that the head of the river Sidon was by the sea:
What Brandley doesn’t supply is the point of reference for this geographic discussion. It is a definition of Lamanite land given from their location. Lamanite lands are south of Zarahemla and one always goes down to Zarahemla from the original land of Nephi, and conversely up from Zarahemla to the land of Nephi. If Manti is near what is usually called the mouth of the river, then we expect that Manti would be at a lower elevation than Zarahemla. In Alma 16:3, Alma inquires of the Lord and learns that the “Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti.” However, in another description, Captain Moroni “concealed [part of his army] in the west valley, on the west of the river Sidon, and so down into the borders of the land Manti” (Alma 43:32). Nevertheless, the land of Minon which is south of Zarahemla is “above the land of Zarahemla” (Alma 2:24). That may strengthen the idea that the Nephite lands south of Zarahemla were at a higher elevation—strongly suggesting a northerly flow for the Sidon.
Brandley’s point 1 says that we have a “narrow strip of wilderness [which] ran east and west round about on the edge of the edge of the seashore.” That is his reading, but not necessarily what the text says. It helps to have the whole verse:
And it came to pass that the 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, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided. (Alma 22:27)
This is description of the bounds of Lamanite lands to which a proclamation was sent. Some of those lands border the sea, and they are divided from Nephite lands to their north with the narrow strip of wilderness running from the east to the west. Manti and the “head” of the river Sidon are in the narrow strip of wilderness that runs from the east to the west, and that strip of wilderness is near the “borders of the seashore.” Does this tell us anything about the flow of the Sidon? Brandley suggests that because Manti is in the wilderness which is near the borders of the seashore, that it necessarily means that Manti would have been on or near the seashore, thereby being the “mouth/head” of the river Sidon. Although that is one way to read the text, it is sufficiently obscure in the text that we can’t find anything definitive.
The clearest example of this is to look at Sorenson’s proposed geography, which has the Cuchumatanes mountains as the east-west strip of wilderness. The land of Nephi (highland Guatemala) is geographically higher, but then one must go over the mountains and down into the valley of Zarahemla (Grijalva river basin). The region is near the Pacific seashore, which runs northwest/southeast along the western/southern border of the lands (depending on the way the reference is given, both are correct because of northwest/southeast shoreline). So Sorenson’s geography fits all of the constraints Brandley lists. None of these points can be used definitively to solve the Sidon flow problem. The use of the word “head” would normally suggest the south to north that Sorenson uses. Brandley’s use is possible, but because it is the less accepted reading of the word, would require a lot more evidence to support it. In this particular case, Brandley has not yet provided sufficient evidence that his reading should be preferred.
Are there other data that might help decide between the Grijalva and the Mississippi? Eventually it will be the entire weight of the evidence, which will include not only geography by archaeology/ethnohistory. However, there is an important geographical feature that must be located for the Sidon. Alma 2:27 speaks of a Nephite army crossing the Sidon. Although one might argue that this was done with some type of boat, the context doesn’t all for pausing to make them, and the nature of the warfare rather precludes the portage of that many boats just in case they might be needed. Thus there appears to be a requirement that there be a hill that could be Amnihu near a location in the Sidon that could be crossed by an army on foot. That location has to be south of Zarahemla and north of Manti. There is such a location on the Grijalva. ((John L. and Janet F. Hilton, “A Correlation of the Sidon River and the Lands of Manti and Zarahemla with the Southern End of Rio Grijalva (San Miguel),” 157–58.)) I have not heard anyone provide such a location for any geography that uses the Mississippi as the Sidon.
Thank you Brant for your thoughtful and fair analysis of my position on the flow of the river Sidon. Please allow me to make a few corrections:
1. “What Brandley doesn’t supply is the point of reference for this geographic discussion.”
The point of reference is my suggested location for Zarahemla at the archaeological site of Poverty Point, about 30 miles northeast of Vicksburg, Mississippi, which overlooks the current location of the river. On the west side of the Mississippi river, about two hundred miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, is a long narrow ridge rising about twenty-five feet above the flood plain, called Maçon Ridge (pronounced Mason). Anciently, this ridge was four miles west of the main channel of the Mississippi. The area between the ridge and the river would have been a lake at high water and a swamp during low water. There was a small channel of the river running next to the ridge that still exists today as Bayou Maçon. In the nineteenth century, steam-boats came up this bayou to pick up cotton bales from the plantations.
2. “Lamanite lands are south of Zarahemla”
This is partially correct. The Lamanite lands were also west of Zarahemla.
“Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla” Alma (22:28)
This puts the lands of the Lamanites southwest of Zarahemla and is consistent with the reference point of Poverty Point and the Mississippi river. The land of Nephi would be Mexico and Mesoamerica, which are southwest of Poverty Point.
3. Nevertheless, the land of Minon which is south of Zarahemla is “above the land of Zarahemla” (Alma 2:24).
A reading of the broader context of the above verse shows that the land of Minion was west of Zarahemla. The Amlicites had fled west across the river Sidon from the Valley of Gideon which was slightly south of Zarahemla. In the Mississippi model this would be the Big Black River Basin. Alma sent four spies after them who returned and reported that the Amlicites had joined with an army of the Lamanites, who were heading towards Zarahemla. The spies had followed the camp of the Amlicites to the land of Minon, which was “above the land of Zarahemla in the course of the land Nephi” (Alma 2:21-25). This places the “course of the land of Nephi” to the west of the river Sidon and Zarahemla. The flat terrain of the Mississippi valley rises west of the Quachita River so the land of Minon would be located on the west bank of the Quachita River. The Amlicites fled across the Sidon River heading west toward the Quachita, “in the course of the land of Nephi.” The land of Nephi being southwest of Zarahemla is consistent with the Mississippi model where the land of Nephi would be what is now Mexico and Mesoamerica.
4. “Captain Moroni “concealed [part of his army] in the west valley, on the west of the river Sidon, and so down into the borders of the land Manti” (Alma 43:32). That may strengthen the idea that the Nephite lands south of Zarahemla were at a higher elevation—strongly suggesting a northerly flow for the Sidon.”
What you are describing is the Battle of the Hill Riplah in which the Lamanites had allied with the Zoramites. They were not coming from Nephite lands but from the lands of Jershon and Antionam, which were east of the river Sidon. This terrain fits perfectly with the Tunica Hills on the east side of the lower Mississippi. I have written a complete description of this battle and the terrain on which it was fought, but it is too long for this post.
5. “Alma 2:27 speaks of a Nephite army crossing the Sidon. Although one might argue that this was done with some type of boat, the context doesn’t all for pausing to make them, and the nature of the warfare rather precludes the portage of that many boats just in case they might be needed. Thus there appears to be a requirement that there be a hill that could be Amnihu near a location in the Sidon that could be crossed by an army on foot.”
I grew up on a ranch in Western Canada with several miles of riverfront. As a boy, many times on hot summer days, my friends and I would find a dry, dead log along the riverbank, carry it into the river and use it for a float to paddle across, with our hands, to the other side. In the days before dams were built on the rivers, the banks were always full of dry drift-logs that had been deposited during the spring floods. There would have been pine logs along the banks of the lower Mississippi, which had been carried by floodwaters all the way from the mountains of Montana. As the armies approached a river, each squad of men could build a dugout canoe or lash together a raft in a couple of hours or less. If they didn’t have that much time they could find and carry a log to the river, climb on it and paddle across using their hands, or broad sticks, or green leafy branches. The Book of Mormon talks about journeying, and travelling, and crossing the river Sidon, but rarely specifies the means of transportation, except that they were prolific boat builders.
Placing Zarahemla at Poverty point would suggest Lamanite lands within a few hundred miles, not as far as Mexico. There is no way that an ancient army would have been able to generate supply routes through the American Southwest which lies between the two locations. Ancient warfare in the Americas was much closer. The largest known distances were for Teotihuacano and Aztec empires, which had conquered cities to use as bases of operation closer to the farter extents. No such connects work for Poverty Point. Poverty Point also gets most of the Adena too far away to be Jaredites, even with the other problems that prevent an Adena identification for the Jaredites.
As for finding/building rafts to cross the river, I am certain that small groups can do it easily. Moving an army of any size isn’t going to work very well, not to mention the difficulty of staying together to provide a fighting front at the far shore. As it was, that became a problem in the example.
Furthermore, Poverty Point becomes so far from your location of Bountiful in Maryland as to make the city’s defensive purpose completely unnecessary. Any invading army could easily travel north hundreds of miles away from Bountiful. It can’t control anything.
As I mentioned in endnote 4, the best indication of how far the Nephites would travel in one day can be calculated from Lehi’s three days of travel from the tip of the Red Sea to the river Laman (1 Nephi 2:5-6). George Potter, in his article A New Candidate in Arabia for the “Valley of Lemuel,” presents sound evidence for support of Maqna, Saudi Arabia, as the probable site where the River Laman empties into the Red Sea. This is a minimum of seventy-five miles of travel for Lehi in three days, or twenty-five miles per day. This was after they had already traveled 175 miles from Jerusalem. Zion’s Camp, made twenty-five to forty miles a day (HC 2:65), and US enlisted soldiers during the Indian Wars routinely did 40 miles per day. Alma’s party was fleeing for their lives and, “The Lord did strengthen them that the people of King Noah did not overtake them to destroy them” (Mosiah 23:2). The war parties of King Noah and the Lamanites, in hot pursuit, would have done about 40 miles per day. Alma and his band had a head start but would had to have travelled at least 30 miles per day to save their lives. Twenty-two days of travel, in two separate segments, at a rate of 30 miles per day, would put the city of Lehi-Nephi over 600 miles from Zarahemla. With the Mississippi as the river Sidon this puts the border of land of Nephi, at that time, on the Rio Grande, with the plains of Texas between them. This is reasonable and probable.
As for the land of Bountiful in this proposal, the complete explanation of it from the text is beyond the scope of this post and would require a separate article. Suffice it to say, the southern end of the land Bountiful is straight east of Zarahemla above present day Florida. The land of Bountiful comprises the Atlantic coastal plain running north from Florida to the Delmarva Peninsula. It was about the size of the state of California. It took the armies of Moroni almost a year to travel from Zarahemla to Bountiful (Alma 52:11, 15 & 18) so the distance is completely compatible with the text. The Jaredites inhabited the land north of Bountiful, and west on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains through the Central Plains.
Within seventy-five years of the founding of the United States of America US military forts dotted this continent. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was established in 1827 to patrol and protect settlers and wagon trains over the 900-mile Santa Fe Trail. Within twenty years of the founding of the Church, without the use of modern transportation, the Latter-Day Saints were shuttling back and forth from New York to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and then to the Salt Lake Valley and California. The Mormon Battalion, with women and children, marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego. By 1887, without the use of the railroad, the Saints had colonized as far south as Mexico and as far north as Western Canada. The first ward in Western Canada was organized as a unit of the Cache Valley, Utah, Stake. The stake president, Charles Ora Card, lived in the Canadian settlement for three years while administering the Cache Valley Stake, seven hundred miles to the south through the Rocky Mountains. He was also in regular attendance at general conferences in Salt Lake City. The continent size lands the Lamanites, Nephites and Jaredites settled over a period of more than 1,000 years is more reasonable than the settling of the United States over 200 years prior to the railroad. The vastness of the mainland of the North American continent removes the confinement mindset of Mesoamerica. We are talking about Nephites, who traveled about 3,000 miles through the desert, and then more than half way around the world by sea before they even got to America. Their descendants had a heritage of long distance travel. There is nothing in the text of the Book of Mormon that would restrict the Nephites from migrating from Costa Rica to Cumorah.
You said: “the best indication of how far the Nephites would travel in one day can be calculated from Lehi’s three days of travel from the tip of the Red Sea to the river Laman (1 Nephi 2:5-6). George Potter, in his article A New Candidate in Arabia for the “Valley of Lemuel,” presents sound evidence for support of Maqna, Saudi Arabia, as the probable site where the River Laman empties into the Red Sea. ”
A couple of points. Potter and Wellington’s identifications are interesting, but only one of the available suggestions, and Dr. Chadwick (BYU archaeologist) disagrees. Second, the Potter and Wellington path from Jerusalem to the Red Sea is the longest of the ancient roads–that inflates your numbers by accepting larger distances in the stated time.
Finally, the terrain always plays into time travel, and the probability of pack animals in the Old World (although not mentioned) would not have been available in the New World (in North America, there were no known pack animals in Book of Mormon times). Your time assumptions cannot be accepted as more accurate than the lesser estimates.
How long would it take a hostile war party in hot pursuit to catch a herd of hogs being driven to market with a half-day head start, not knowing they were being pursued? If Alma’s party only travelled 11 miles per day they would have been dead, and we would not be reading about them.
>>>Theodore Brandley: This was after they had already traveled 175 miles from Jerusalem.
>>>Brant A. Gardner: Second, the Potter and Wellington path from Jerusalem to the Red Sea is the longest of the ancient roads–that inflates your numbers by accepting larger distances in the stated time.
I was curious about this point. So, I looked up the lat-lons for Jerusalem and Aqaba and found that the great circle distance (absolute minimum) is 156.31 miles. And it is highly doubtful any route would be very close to that because terrain and other factors intervene to lengthen the route. From Jerusalem to the Red Sea, Aqaba would be the closest. So, the distance of 175 miles might be inflated, but it can’t be inflated all that much.
However, we don’t know how long it took Lehi’s family to get to Aqaba, nor how long they stayed there before pushing out into the wilderness. We don’t know if they were exhausted when they started the three day journey into the wilderness nor do we know if they were well rested and equipped. Thus, I don’t see the point raising this distance on either side of the argument. And it seems like splitting hairs over the length of the route, when it is both irrelevant to the discussion and at best is less than a 10% inflation, and probably a lot less.
Your 8 days + 13 days distance to Zarahemla is interesting, but that assumes Helem lies on the direct route to Zarahemla. This could be a triangle and the third leg could be a lot less than 21 days.
Helem doesn’t appear to be on the direct route from Nephi to Zarahemla (assuming that Ammon guiding Limhi’s people took the direct route). How far off that route, however, is unknown.
Zeniff, who had been a spy amongst the Lamanites and had been there previously, still got lost and wandered for “many days” between Zarahemla and the city of Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 9:1-4). Ammon and his party got lost in this distance and it took them 40 days to cover it (Mosiah 7:4), so the 21 days for Alma and his party seems reasonable. The Lord was helping them and was guiding them all the way to Zarahemla, and He knew the way, so if it was not an exact vector the deviation should not have been significant (see Mosiah 23:1-2; 24:21-25).
Alma left from the Waters of Mormon. Ammon with King Limhi’s people left from the city and “went round about the land of Shilom in the wilderness and bent their course towards the land of Zarahemla” (Mosiah 22:11). Both parties started from different locations and it appears that it was Ammon who took the indirect route.
Theodore, you have some confusion in your information. Ammon’s party wasn’t the one that was lost for 40 days. Limhi sent a party to find Zarahemla and never did. The 40 days cannot tell you much about Zarahemla, only that after 40 days they found the wrong thing. Sorenson speculates that they would have known they had gone too far, and that is possible, but the text only tells us that they never found Zarahemla.
Actually, 40 days for Ammon and his party is correct. This is stated twice in Mosiah 7:4,5.
It should also be noted that this time of 40 days is probably long given the references that they did not know the “course they should travel” (verse 4) and the references to their wondering. However, these were also a relatively small party of strong men as opposed to families taking all they could carry of their lives, including tents.
Showing fuller context:
Mosiah 7:2 And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi, to inquire concerning their brethren.
3 And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.
4 And now, they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander.
5 And when they had wandered forty days they came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom, and there they pitched their tents.
6 And Ammon took three of his brethren, and their names were Amaleki, Helem, and Hem, and they went down into the land of Nephi.
The party of 43 men that Limhi sent were lost for “many days” (Mosiah 8:7-8).
There aren’t that many distances in the Book of Mormon measured in days. Most are simply “many days.”
3 days (Red Sea to Valley of Lemuel/River of Laman; 1 Nephi 2:6)
4 days (Valley of Lemuel/River of Laman to Shazer; 1 Nephi 16:13)
40 days (Zarahemla to the hill north of Shilom; but mentions they did not know the course and they wandered; Mosiah 7:4-5)
8 days (Waters of Mormon in the land of Nephi or at least in the sphere of influence of King Noah to Helem; Mosiah 23:1-5)
all day (Helem to the valley of Alma; Mosiah 24:19-21)
12 days (valley of Alma to the land of Zarahemla; Mosiah 24:24-25)
3 days (Melek to Ammoniah; Alma 8:6)
1.5 days (Line between Bountiful and Desolation from the east to the west sea; Alma 22:32)
1 day (Fortified line between Bountiful and Desolation from the west sea to the east; Helaman 4:7)
9 mentions, not including some that seem clear to be at most a day and often less. 2 are in Arabia, so only 5 in the vicinity of the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla and 2 suggesting the length of the line between the lands of Bountiful and Desolation.
3 of the 5 around Nephi and Zarahemla have to do with one multi-leg journey. Apparently Alma the Elder took good records of the trip. 8 + 1 + 12 days from the land of Nephi (or from the waters of Mormon inside the area controlled by king Noah) to the land of Zarahemla, including an extended stop in Helem growing crops and possibly staying years. What I don’t know is the extent of the land of Zarahemla in Mosiah 24:25. Is this a local region surrounding the city of Zarahemla or is it the much larger land of Zarahemla consisting of Zarahemla’s sphere of influence? I don’t know. It could be telling us that it took Alma’s party, on three legs, 21 days to cross the wilderness between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla. Theodore makes a good point that the Lord led Alma’s party and that that might have been the straightest or most direct path; other paths being more circuitous. And we know from numerous references that a “narrow strip of wilderness” separated the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla. If all this is true–21 days to cross it, possibly as direct as possible–then it gives new meaning to the width of the narrow strip of wilderness.
But, when somebody says that a party travelled from the city of Nephi to the city of Zarahemla in 12 days–it does not say that anywhere in the Book of Mormon.
As Mike has pointed out the reference I provided (Mosiah 7:4) noted that this was Ammon and fifteen of his brothers and associates on the way to Lehi-Nephi when they got lost. I used the 40 days that it took them to find Lehi-Nephi only to demonstrate that it would be reasonable for a straight-line distance to be half of that.
It would have been difficult for the scouting party sent by Limhi to know how far they should go because their ancestors got lost coming there and wandered for “many days (Mosiah 9:1-4). With the Mississippi as the Sidon, the Limhi scouts would have been approaching the river from the southwest and must have reached it at a point north of Zarahemla and went upstream from there. By the time they would have been thinking about turning around they would be seeing the destruction of the Jaredites and they thought they were in the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 21:25-26). After that they would have kept going looking for survivors.
There are five recorded groups that got lost in the wilderness between Zarahemla and Lehi-Nephi. Zeniff wandered for many days (Mosiah 9:3-4), Ammon wandered for forty days trying to find Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 7:5), the scouts of Limhi looking for Zarahemla couldn’t find it (Mosiah 8:8), the Lamanite army pursuing Ammon and King Limhi’s people got lost and wandered many days (Mosiah 22:16), and the priests of Noah headed by Amulon could not find the land of Nephi (Mosiah 23:35).
This indicates that the wilderness between Zarahemla was large, trackless, and with no recognizable landmarks. There were obviously no mountains or river valleys to follow. The huge central plains of Texas fit well these conditions. During the Nephite period this area of Texas was a grassy savannah rather than the mesquite and brush we see today (The Handbook of Texas: Paleoenvironments). Navigating over this vast sea of grass would have been like sailing on an ocean without a compass or sextant. When they came to the top of a hill, all they would have seen on the horizon were other hills of grass, like waves on the sea. If they were only ten degrees off course, after four hundred miles they would miss their destination by sixty miles.
Brant asks and correctly answers, “Where is the ‘head’ of a river?”
This applies to Lehi’s Vision in which he describes “the head of the river” or “fountain” (1 Ne 8:14,17,20), as well as to the “head of the River Sidon” (Alma 22:27,29, 43:22, 50:11, 56:25). However, we might want to supplement Webster’s with ancient Near Eastern lore on this matter:
What does it mean, for example, when Lehi describes the River Laman running into “the fountain of the Red Sea,” near the “mouth thereof,” which he also describes as “the fountain of all righteousness”? (1 Ne 2:8-9)
The most famous dwelling-place of ʼEl in Canaanite conception was at Apheq(ah)/Aphaca/Afqa “Fountain,” the source of the Adonis River NE of Byblos. This is properly the “Source” or “Fountainheads of the Two Deeps” (ˁpq.thmtm in Ugaritic myth: ˁnt:V:15, 2Aqht:VI:48; cf. line 2 of the Amman Citadel Inscription, tymtn, which Albright translates as “the Two Depressions”) = tyamaten, tihamatayn, and which is the same as the Arabic lowland coastal at-Tihama where the River Laman is located, and Ugaritic tihamatem, tahamatum, all of which takes us back to Hebrew Tĕhôm, tohu, and Akkadian Tamtu, ti’amat, all of which have important biblical parallels:
ˁăpiqem yam ∥mayim rabbim 2 Samuel 22:16-17 ∥Psalm 18:16-17 “depths of the sea” ∥”many waters” (Dahood, Psalms I).
ˁynwt thwm Proverbs 8:27b-28 “sources (fountains) of the Deep (Abyss)” – after Landes.
ˁăpiq nĕḥlim Job 6:15 “source of wadis” (Pope; note the parallel with naḥal there).
mibeki neharot Genesis 7:11, Psalm 42:7-8 “source of the rivers”; cf. Ugaritic mbk.nhrm, which parallels ˁpq.thmtm.
mē tĕhôm rabbâ . . . maˁămaqēy-yām Isaiah 51:10 ∥2 Nephi 8:10, “waters of the Great Deep, . . the Depths of the Sea”;
In ancient Near Eastern cosmography, all sweet and brakish waters, fountains, and rivers had their origin in the elemental Great Deep.
This is important, because we have the interpretations provided by Nephi of the iron rod which leads to the fountain of living waters & tree of life (1 Ne 11:25), but also a fountain of filthy waters which are the depths of Hell, in which many are drowned (8:32, 12:16). In order to understand that correctly we must return to “heads” of rivers.
KJV Genesis 2:10 “And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.” ʼarbāˁâ rʼošîm
However, Ephraim Speiser translated Genesis 2:10 as “A river rises in Eden to water the garden; outside, it forms four separate branch streams,” explaining that “from there” in Hebrew means “beyond it, outside” (cf. 1 Samuel 10:3), i.e., “before reaching Eden, the river consists of four separate branches.” Thus, the plural “heads” “must refer to the upper course” – “well attested for the Akk. cognate rēšu,” Hayim Tawil adding that it means “head, beginning, source,” which is used in both Hebrew and Akkadian to refer to the source or beginning of a river or canal.
New Jerusalem Bible, Genesis 2:10 “A river flowed from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided to make four streams.” Note h, the Yahwist inserted the parentheses here showing the ancient “configuration of the world,” i.e., “to show that the great rivers which form the vital arteries of the four regions of the world have their origin in paradise.”
Realizing that this Paradise is on the Mount of God, Howard Wallace adds:
“. . . the rivers of Gen 2:10-14 need not form an interconnected system but could be simply independent, traditional, or famous waterways which in the writer’s cosmology are fed from the source that rises in the dwelling place of God.” Anchor Bible Dictionary II:283
Little wonder then that Larry Stager places Paradise at the Temple in Jerusalem, from which healing waters come forth and flow into the Dead Sea (Ezk 47).
Oddly enough, the late David Noel Freedman moved the discussion of such rivers to North America:
“. . . the Mississippi River in our country drains a vast basin from north to south, being fed by tributary rivers on both sides, e.g., the Ohio, itself the product of a vast tributary system flowing into the Mississippi from the East, while the mighty Missouri joins the Mississippi from the West. If we try to impose a real picture on the imagined one in the book of Genesis, we might come out in the following fashion: It may be that the flow of the biblical rivers from one source into many streams will be reversed and they will flow back into the main stream from which they came.”
while I don’t necessarily agree with his premise and believe that a mainly limited mesoamesoamerica setting fits best, I am glad he had the opportunity to share his work/thoughts. It is important to doubt our assumptions about all models so as to refine and improve them. I thank him for his passion, however, I hope that all can remember that the teachings and promises in the Book of Mormon is what actually matters.
Jeffrey Swanson asked the question which frequently arises, as to why snow is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon if the land of Desolation was in the northern portions of America? There are innumerous common things that are not mentioned in the Nephite experience such as, sweat, tides, mice, leaves, shoes or sandals, pots, pottery or clay. This is not evidence that they did not have or experience these things. Mormon was raised in the land northward and snow was probably a natural common occurrence to him, not requiring special mention in his work.
rameumptom asked why “we do not read of the Nephites or Lamanites using river craft – only vessels to voyage by sea.” The premise of the question is in error, as the text does not specify that the vessels were only for sea voyages.
“But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people…their shipping and their building of ships…cannot be contained in this work.” (Helaman 3:14)
Mormon states the following:
“And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.” (Mormon 1:6)
How did Mormon’s father carry him? I don’t think he means that his father carried him on his back. It is probable that he carried him in some kind of vessel as in the following verse:
“And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.” (1 Nephi 17:8)
The text never speaks of the Nephites walking anywhere. They always “journeyed” or “travelled,’ but it rarely states how. Their trip through the desert from Jerusalem does not mention camels but surely they traveled with camels, or how else could they have carried their tents?
I’m very glad that you have presented Brother Brandley’s specific thoughts on Book of Mormon geography. That and Brother Mark Wright’s recent piece in Interpreter help us all to understand the Heartland, or the mixed Mesoamerican & Heartland approach, rather than dismissing them out of hand.
An even more systematic presentation of the Heartland Model is made in my friend Rod Meldrum’s recent two-DVD set “The American Promised Land Covenant” (2014). Brother Meldrum provides four hours of a tightly argued and well-illustrated case for that Heartland Model, which we ought to fully understand — even as we consider competing models. It is always helpful and illuminating to place these various theories in the broadest possible context.
We should remember that our salvation does not depend on whether we accept or favor any of those competing geographical theories. There should also never be a hint of incivility in our discussions of those competing theories.
One rather questionable assumption that seems to be part of Theodore Brandley’s package of assumptions is that both peoples and place names marched from somewhere in Panama to Western New York. This and other assumptions do not seem at all helpful.
And talk about a heartland Book of Mormon geography is not helpful. The one who uses this slogan cannot locate the events described in the Book of Mormon on a map. And if Rodney Meldrum’s claims are even close to being correct, which highly doubtful, then Brandley speculation is bunk. He should see the so-called heartland speculation as a serious obstacle to his own notions. One reason is that Meldrum strives to make the Book of Mormon only take place within the current borders of the United States. This is his way of appealing to a partisan hunger for a kind of jingo geography.
I think these discussions are interesting, but I can not accept or entertain the Heartland theory. That the seriously wounded Coriantumr stumbled into the camp of the newly arrived Mulikites, after the battle at Ramah, makes the two Cumorah theory more likely. If the Nephites were living in the great Lakes region, I would expect to see the effects of snow on their migrations, planting and warfare. When I was a young teacher in C.E.S., I read Sorenson’s book on the ancient American setting for the Book of Mormon. I had to reappraise my understanding of Nephite geography. After allot of evaluation and study, I came to the conclusion that his conclusions had great merit. Now as I read the Book of Mormon text I am illuminated by Sorenson’s insights into indigenous people being in America when Lehi arrived and a limited Mesoamerican geography.
I too enjoyed Sorenson’s Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. I have bought multiple copies. It strikes me as the most advanced and thought through model out there. I sometimes refer back to it when reading accounts in the Book of Mormon to see how Sorenson’s model works.
That said, Heartland advocates claim the Jadeites arrived up the Saint Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes and arrived just after the battle and found him wounded. I don’t know, but at least some of the advocates have treated this objection.
As for two Cumorahs, I believe the Book of Mormon only had one. I can easily see it in Mexico or in Peru or in New York, for me the model is an open question and each model identifies where it sees Cumorah. We know that Mormon buried in Cumorah all the records except those given to Moroni to finish, and that the Nephites and the Jaredites at different times were destroyed near that hill, wherever it was. Those are the only clues I know of in the Book of Mormon for the location of the hill; thus we can only find it under assumptions that come from specific models.
Another issue I would have with this scenario, is why travel by land, when the Mississippi is the river Sidon? It makes more sense to travel by water to the north/south. Yet, we do not read of the Nephites or Lamanites using river craft – only vessels to voyage by sea.
And what is always (for me) the nail in the coffin for the Heartland Model is the numbers of people. Ether mentions millions of people dying in their wars. Yet, there is no evidence of that large of numbers of people dwelling in the Heartland area. The Mound Builders has cities in the thousands at best, and most of their “cities” were actually places to rendezvous for religious festivals. There is evidence of small skirmishes here and there, but there is no evidence of hundreds of thousands of deaths in any area, including the Hill Cumorah near Palmyra.
Next, there is no writing system or evidence of any ability to read. There was no large group that could have been called Lamanite or Nephite, but a bunch of small, scattered groups that were spread across the land, primarily in groups of 200 or less.
And I also think that while a flat land may allow for traveling 30 miles per day, we see that the Mormon Pioneers traveling across the Great Plains with wagons thought 20 miles per day to be a good day’s travel. In the Nez Perce War, where Chief Joseph led his people in flight from the US Army through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, they traveled 1170 miles in about 5 months. That is an average of 8 miles per day – while being pursued. Yes, they did stop along the way for a few days at a time, but it gives us a good idea of what can happen during a flight. In fact, we see that Alma and his people seemed to stop in the middle of their flight from King Noah’s army. This could suggest that Sorenson’s 11 miles per day is very possible.
Assumptions can be interesting, but should be supported by actual facts to strengthen the claims made, which I do not see in this article.
Whenever I consider geography in the Book of Mormon I always try to start my investigation with, “What would it be like to walk those distances and to walk over that geography?” That single question rules out a great many possible theories that have been thrown about. While it is mathematically possible to assume X number of miles per day and then arrive at a number for the maximum extent of the geography, what ever number is calculated must be tempered by the thought that actual people must walk those distances.
While a 600 mile extent is possible, given the geography over which the Nephites were supposed to cover those 600 miles there is very little reason why the Nephites should choose any particular direction. Other than major rivers there are very few geographical boundaries in the southern US that would prompt anyone to travel 600 miles in any particular direction. Their travel would be restricted only by rivers.
In Central America you have the additional constraint of mountains, canyons, valleys and forests that would prompt people who had to walk over the land to travel in particular ways. The basic geography would funnel movements of people and animals and thus restrict the extent to which anyone involved would be willing to travel.
Another major point to consider that was never mentioned in this article is the fact that certain directional cues are used many times in the BoM. When people and armies are moving about there are constant references to going “up” and “down” to certain cities. The basic bias many BoM geography models I have seen have is to assume that the “up” and “down” refer to cardinal directions. Mostly this is unintentional, but this goes back to the question, “What would the geography look like to someone who was walking over it as opposed to looking at a map?” Many who propose BoM geography models would respond “Yes, yes, we know all about that particular bias.” But when ever anyone proposes the Heartland model or any other comparable model it makes me wonder, “Have you ever actually walked over the land in the southern US? Because it is very, very flat.” Even the bumps are flat. While there may be ups and downs on a very local scale, but there are practically no major shifts up or down that would warrant the Nephites to talk about “going down to Zarahemla” or “going up to Nephi”. The only major elevation changes exist at the edge of the maximum extent of the proposed geography.
In this respect the Heartland model fails spectacularly.
So in order for the Heartland model to work it would need to explain why anyone would travel about 600 miles and then stop and found a city at any particular location when there are so many other locations that are practically identical along the way. A Mesoamerican model solves this problem even before it becomes a problem by using natural barriers like mountains, canyons, and valleys to prompt people to travel in certain ways and settle in particular locations. Unlike the Heartland model a Mesoamerican model solves the “up” and “down” issue by having on a local and regional level significant changes in elevation that are not present within several hundred miles of the Mississippi River delta.
I agree with you that that “up “ and “down: in the text of the Book of Mormon generally refers to elevation changes rather than directions. The Nephites went down into the land of Zarahemla as in Omni 1:13; Alma 27:5, 51:11, and went up out of the land of Zarahemla as in Mosiah 7:9 & Alma 26:9. This puts Zarahemla in the lowlands. The Mississippi river valley in the northern two thirds of Louisiana is only 10 to 30 feet above sea level and is flat as a table-top. It is only about 150 miles wide and is ranged with high hills on both the east and the west side of the valley, as one goes up into Texas or up into Mississippi.
That still fails the walking test. The “hills” in eastern Texas and Mississippi only rise to a lofty height of 300-400 feet above sea level. That means, on average a gentle rise of about 0.05% over a distance of 100-300 miles. If anyone was walking over that distance they would not count walking to a ring of hills 150 miles away as going “up”. In order for anything to be considered as going “up” or “down” while you are walking a grade of more than 1% is needed. Anything less is imperceptible and would not be referred to as going “up” or “down”.
Incorrect reasoning. These hills do not rise gradually but rise abruptly our of the valley floor.
Even with the sudden rise of the hills in Mississippi from the Mississippi River flood plain it still does not satisfy the walking test. There is no “going down” just, “the hills end” and then “it’s flat” as far as the eye can see. I would think that for something to be commonly understood to be “up” or “down” there must be a consistent change in elevation for between 20-50 farsees (one farsee is the distance that you can generally see varies by location but is generally somewhere between 500 yds to 2 miles). Nowhere in the southern US is that satisfied.
Most of this discussion reminds me of the efforts that some went through to “prove” that there were coins in the Americas before Columbus. In the end it was a useless discussion and all the arguments were moot because the BoM never actually mentions coins. The Heartland model reminds me of those arguments. They start with an assumption and then try to force the evidence or geography and the text to fit a mountain into a coin sized hole. It will never work. The geography doesn’t work. The text does not support it. Archaeology doesn’t support it. It fails the walking test (also do you have any idea just how big the Mississippi River is? It is not really a river that can be forded. And also just how often it would flood? No mention of that in the BoM.). And there are better candidates that don’t have any of those problems. So don’t force the text through a coin sized hole.
I’m not endorsing the Heartland model, but I have heard advocates claim that up and down refers to the directions rivers flow. The rivers could give up and down quite well. That could also be true elsewhere, but MesoAmerica and Peru do offer more pronounced elevation changes.
The place to begin is with the internal map that the Book of Mormon provides with a host of geographical clues. The best treatment of this issue is John Clark’s essay entitled “Revisiting ‘A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies,'” which was published in the Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011): 13-43. It is clearly a mistake to begin with a place and then try to force the Lehites into that location. Brandley does not seem to have engaged this essay.
Perhaps, but I have seen a wide variety of interpretations of Alma 22 and its myriad of pieces, all of which tend to more complicated that every account I have read trying to explain what it says.
I have repeatedly seen advocates of MesoAmerican, Heartland, and Peru models insert and delete words in Alma 22 to make it say what they want it to say. Perhaps useful, but when used to prove their models, tend to turn me off.
For the record, I enjoy all the theories and hope all continue. I find it amazing that people dedicating themselves to study particular areas throughout the Americas find lots of things to suggest Book of Mormon presence in their areas. I am content to let all continue to explore. But, I dislike the contention between advocates of different theories.