Chapter 36

Internal Map 2002

(Copyrightã 5 May 2002 by P. L. Simiskey)


Introduction. After four years of serious Book of Mormon geography study, I have come to realize that there is more information in the Book of Mormon about geography than first meets the eye. My earliest attempt at drawing an internal map from the Book of Mormon is shown in Chapter 12. I ended that attempt because I found an actual location that agreed with my concept of Zarahemla’s geography. I could no longer work on that map without being unduly influenced by the land I had found. It was only later that I came to realize that there was an entirely different way to deduce the shape of the land from the Book of Mormon. This new method is used here. The reader is right to question my objectivity in preparing this new map after already finding a location for Zarahemla. I have challenged similar practices by other scholars—who I believed to be more influenced by the atlas than by the Book of Mormon; so my approach here deserves the same skepticism. However, this chapter contains the only map that I have ever seen that pulls together all the elements of the text into a single, unified picture. If there is a better model, I would love to see it. My suggestion to the reader is to reserve judgement until reading the entire Book of Mormon with this chapter in mind.

Four Quarters. The concept of "quarters" is at the foundation of this 2002 internal map. I am not the first to explore this idea, but my interpretation may be unique. John Clark, for example, presents a diagram called "The Conceptualized Nephite World" which shows Zarahemla at the center and has a Melek quadrant to the west, Bountiful to the north, Moroni to the east and Manti to the south.

I read the Book of Mormon a little differently. It only mentions three quarters—the Bountiful quarter (Alma 52:9-10), the Manti quarter (Alma 56:1; 58:30), and the Zarahemla quarter (Alma 58:34). (Manti and Zarahemla are not mentioned by name, but they are clearly the areas referred to.) The fourth quarter is not mentioned; so to locate it, we must first put the other three quarters into their proper positions.

The obvious place to start is with the land around the city of Zarahemla. The reader is no doubt aware by now that the land of Manti (which borders on the south wilderness—see Alma 22:27) is south of the city of Zarahemla (see also Alma 17:1). Bountiful, on the other hand, borders on the east sea (Alma 27:22) and was the gateway to the northern parts of the land (see, for example, Helaman 1:23). That would put Bountiful in the northeast quadrant.

This leaves the southeast quadrant as the unnamed quarter. Taking a cue from Clark, we can call it the Moroni quarter. The city of Moroni was located by the east sea and bordered on the Lamanite lands to the south (Alma 50:13-14). Thus, we have the schematic of the greater land of Zarahemla shown in Figure 26-1.


The Land of Nephi. The Lamanites typically occupied the Land of Nephi—south of the Land of Zarahemla. This land was south of both the Manti quarter (Alma 22:27) and the Moroni quarter (Alma 50:13). The schematic with the Land of Nephi added is shown in Figure 26-2.

The Narrow Neck. Next we shall add the narrow neck, which occurs at the boundary between the Land of Bountiful and the Land Desolation (Alma 22:32). I have estimated this neck to be some 30 miles wide since it was "a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite (Alma 22:32)." (See Chapter 9, Distances.) Adding this neck distorts our idealized sketch with its symmetric "quarters" into a more meaningful shape. In fact, it was always apparent that the "land northward" must not have been directly north of the city of Zarahemla—or they would have used the term "north" rather than "northward." The Land Desolation was a part of the "land northward" (Alma 52:9); but there was a "land northward" beyond that—as can be seen by the fact that Hagoth built ships on the border between Bountiful and Desolation and sailed them into the "land northward" (Alma 63:5-7). Our new map is shown in Figure 26-3.

Wilderness, river and cities. We are now ready to fill in some familiar details—starting with the "narrow strip of wilderness" spoken of in Alma 22:27. This wilderness separated the greater land of Zarahemla from the greater land of Nephi and "ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore." That the wilderness wrapped around both coasts can be seen from the next two verses that contain the summary "thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites." Clearing these east and west wildernesses of Lamanites was a major focus of Moroni1 as he tried to secure the Land of Zarahemla. That the narrow strip of wilderness spoken of here is probably a range of hills or mountains is discussed further in Chapter 8, The wildernesses.

We can also add the river Sidon—which flows from south to north (see the Book of Mormon index) with its headwaters "running from the east toward the west" (Alma 22:27). The cities of Zarahemla (see Alma 2:26-27 and 6:7) and Manti (see Alma 43:31-32) lie on the west side of the river—with Manti to the south.

The city of Nephi was located in the highlands south of the "narrow strip of wilderness." The cities of Bountiful (Alma 27:22), Jershon, Antionum (Alma 31:3), and the Land of Siron (Alma 39:3) were east of Zarahemla—on the northern end of the East Wilderness. I show them in a line in Figure 26-4. It appears that Jershon was only occupied from about 76 BC (Alma 28:1,9) to 73 BC (Alma 35:13). Once the Ammonites moved to Melek, Jershon is never mentioned again. The people of Antionum—of Rameumptom fame (Alma 31:21)—formed an alliance with the Lamanites—except for a few converts who joined the people of Jershon. Neither Antionum nor the Land of Siron is mentioned again after the war starts. These last three locations are not shown on subsequent maps, and it is possible that other cities were established in their places—see Figure 26-5.

The reader may now compare the sketch in Figure 26-4 with the following verses in Alma 22:27-29:

More cities, the narrow pass, and the Hill Cumorah. A string of cities are mentioned along the east coast from Moroni on the south to Bountiful on the north. The order of these cities is not entirely clear, but they are placed in the order that Amalickiah took possession of them from the Nephites around 67 BC—namely, starting on the south—Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid, and Mulek (Alma 51:23-27). North of Mulek was the city of Bountiful (Alma 51:28-30). It is not known what the distances were between these cities, but we do know that Lehi and Morianton were close enough to have a land dispute and that Mulek was within a day’s march of Bountiful. John Clark in his review of Hauck’s Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon plausibly estimates a distance of 5 days’ travel from the city of Moroni to the city of Bountiful. At a rate of 20 miles per day, that would be 100 miles—a distance I consider quite reasonable.

The cities of Aaron, Nephihah, and Moroni (Alma 50:13-14) were located at the southern end of the east wilderness where Moroni established a new line of defense after driving the Lamanites out (Alma 50:7). The east wilderness was always difficult for the Nephites to defend—since it was readily accessible by the Lamanites who had lived there for years.

A "narrow pass" was located at the border between the Land of Bountiful and the Land Desolation (Mormon 3:5-6). This pass was of great strategic importance (Alma 52:9). During the final years of Nephite history, it became the dividing point between the Lamanites in the land southward and the Nephites in the land northward (Mormon 2:29). The fact that there was a narrow pass implies that there were hills or mountains on both sides. Therefore, I have extended the range along the east coast and added a short range along the west coast.

The Hill Cumorah is located in the Land Desolation. In fact, the Land Desolation was so named because of the great Jaredite destruction that took place there—not because it was barren of vegetation:

The Land Desolation was a limited area and did not include all of North America—as presumed by some. In Ether 7:6 we read that the Land of Moron—where the king of the Jaredites lived—was "near the land…Desolation" but farther northward. Since the land of Moron itself could not have been far from the narrow pass, the area available for the Land Desolation was limited. The City of Desolation was near the entrance to the narrow pass (Mormon 3:5-7) and surely not far from the Hill Cumorah were the final Jaredite battle took place—from which the city took its name. The closeness of the Hill Cumorah to the narrow pass may also be inferred from the account of the Limhi expedition (Mosiah 8:7-11). Figure 26-5 shows these additional features.

Figure 26-5 compares remarkably well with Daniel H. Ludlow’s map published in the Book of Mormon Institute Manual and reproduced here by permission of the author.

(Insert Ludlow map)

It should be noted that the border between the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla was not static. In Alma 22:27-29 we read that the border followed the "narrow strip of wilderness" which wrapped around the seas, and that the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites. Later, after Moroni1 drove the Lamanites out of the wilderness areas (Alma 50:7-11), we read that the boundary "did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west." Still later, after the Lamanites re-took the East Wilderness, the City of Mulek was again said to be in the Land of Nephi (Alma 53:6). Shortly thereafter, of course, Moroni1 drove the Lamanites back out and secured the East Wilderness a second time. This was not the end of the story, but it illustrates the problem that the Nephites had in maintaining the southern border of their land—especially in the coastal areas.

A surprising twist. There is an account in the Book of Mormon concerning a man named Morianton that appears to have little doctrinal significance but contains unique geographical information. At times I am persuaded that there is precisely the right amount of geographical information in the Book of Mormon to make it possible for us to locate Nephite lands. If so, it represents amazing economy on the part of Deity. Let’s take a look at this account in its entirety:

We do not know where Teancum was when he started this chase, but he must have gotten a later start than Morianton and therefore probably took a shorter route in order to intercept him. As for Morianton, his flight started "on the borders by the seashore," and he was headed "by the narrow pass which led by the sea." It is quite likely that his entire march was along the seashore. If that is the case, Teancum must have taken a different route—maybe up through the center of the land and through the narrow pass that led "down" into the land northward and then "over" to the seashore to cut Morianton off at the pass by the sea. The phrase "head them" implies that Teancum got in front of the people of Morianton rather than chase them down from behind.

I puzzled for a very long time over the phrase "by the sea, on the west and on the east." This reads like a very narrow pass indeed—between two seas in very close proximity. The only problem is, I can find no such place in Central America. I am aware of John Sorenson’s suggestion that this pass was "a ridge averaging a couple of miles wide and rising 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding country" running east-west through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. He states that "A great deal of land on either side of this ridge is flooded periodically, as much as 12 feet deep during the rainy season." I find this explanation, where floodwaters are called seas, quite unsatisfying—especially since the floodwaters are on the north and on the south of this proposed narrow pass.

Upon further reflection, I came to realize that the scripture did not say that there was one sea on the east and another on the west. Rather, it said there was a sea (singular) on the east and on the west. This realization brought a very different picture to mind. The sea must be north of the land with the narrow pass running parallel to it. This would place the sea "on the west and on the east" of the narrow pass. If that sea is the same one that was east of Zarahemla, we must have a coast line that goes from being oriented north-south on the south end to being east-west on the north end. Such a twist of the land would answer a number of questions concerning the geography of the Book of Mormon. For one thing, there is frequent reference to a "land northward," but never to a "land north." This leads us to think that the land veers off in one direction or the other—but which direction? Morianton’s story seems to indicate that it veers off to the west—which is not surprising, since that conforms to the general slant of the land in Central America.

Also, the most frequently mentioned "narrow pass" in the Book of Mormon slopes "down" into the land northward (Mormon 3:7) and "up" into the land southward (Mormon 4:1). A "narrow pass by the sea" would presumably be level—with the sea on one side and hills or mountains on the other. This would mean that there were two narrow passes leading into the land northward—causing the writer to use the phrase "narrow pass which led by the sea" in order to avoid confusing it with the other pass. These two passes are shown on the final map in Figure 26-6. As we shall see later, this interpretation will clarify other points relating to Book of Mormon geography as well.

We now see how Teancum could have gone up through the center of the land, crossed over the eastern hills and arrived at the "narrow pass by the sea" ahead of Morianton’s company—even though Morianton had a head start.

Confirmation based on Cumorah. If we study the characteristics given in the Book of Mormon for the location of the Hill Cumorah, we find the following:

The Hill Cumorah location in Figure 26-6 conforms to these three characteristics and gives another confirmation of the configuration shown here.

A river runs through it. Finally, there is significant evidence that a river runs through the central pass into the land northward. Consider the following points:

Clearly, the flow of this river was from the land Bountiful into the land northward—since the narrow pass goes "down" into the land northward. From there the river must cross the narrow neck into the west sea—where Hagoth launched his ships. This further confirms the idea that there are hills or mountains along the east coast—as mentioned above. The river also forms a logical boundary between Bountiful and Desolation as implied by Alma 63:5:

A river boundary could be expected, since every South and Central American country has a substantial portion of its borders that follow rivers; and when they don’t follow rivers, they typically follow mountains.

Conclusion. The shape of the land developed in this chapter is unique among Book of Mormon geographic models. And it seems that the north-south orientation of the narrow neck is the only configuration that meets all the geographic criteria of the Book of Mormon rather than an east-west orientation as we might have supposed. With figure 26-6 as a template, we have an important new tool for locating the Land of Zarahemla.

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