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:
And it came to pass that the [Lamanite] 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, 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 [of the Land of Nephi] 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.
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:
And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate. (Helaman 3:6)
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:
And it came to pass that in the commencement of the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges [about 68 BC], there would also have been peace among the people of Nephi had it not been for a contention which took place among them concerning the land of Lehi, and the land of Morianton, which joined upon the borders of Lehi; both of which were on the borders by the seashore. For behold, the people who possessed the land of Morianton did claim a part of the land of Lehi; therefore there began to be a warm contention between them, insomuch that the people of Morianton took up arms against their brethren, and they were determined by the sword to slay them. But behold, the people who possessed the land of Lehi fled to the camp of Moroni, and appealed unto him for assistance; for behold they were not in the wrong. And it came to pass that when the people of Morianton, who were led by a man whose name was Morianton, found that the people of Lehi had fled to the camp of Moroni, they were exceedingly fearful lest the army of Moroni should come upon them and destroy them. Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward. And behold, they would have carried this plan into effect, (which would have been a cause to have been lamented) but behold, Morianton being a man of much passion, therefore he was angry with one of his maid servants, and he fell upon her and beat her much. And it came to pass that she fled, and came over to the camp of Moroni, and told Moroni all things concerning the matter, and also concerning their intentions to flee into the land northward. Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni, feared that they would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty. Therefore Moroni sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward. 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. And it came to pass that the army which was sent by Moroni, which was led by a man whose name was Teancum, did meet the people of Morianton; and so stubborn were the people of Morianton, (being inspired by his wickedness and his flattering words) that a battle commenced between them, in the which Teancum did slay Morianton and defeat his army, and took them prisoners, and returned to the camp of Moroni. And thus ended the twenty and fourth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. And thus were the people of Morianton brought back. And upon their covenanting to keep the peace they were restored to the land of Morianton, and a union took place between them and the people of Lehi; and they were also restored to their lands. (Alma 50:25-34)
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:
There is a sea eastward from Cumorah. This fact is found in Ether 9:3 which speaks of Cumorah as "the place where the Nephites were destroyed."
"And the Lord warned Omer in a dream that he should depart out of the land; wherefore Omer departed out of the land with his family, and traveled many days, and came over and passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent, and also his sons and his daughters, and all his household, save it were Jared and his family."
One must cross hills or mountains near Cumorah in order to reach the sea. This is seen from the fact that Omer "came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward."
There is a sea northward from Cumorah. This fact is clear from the account in Ether 15:7-11:
"And when Coriantumr saw that he was about to fall he fled again before the people of Shiz. And it came to pass that he came to the waters of Ripliancum, which, by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all; wherefore, when they came to these waters they pitched their tents; and Shiz also pitched his tents near unto them; and therefore on the morrow they did come to battle. And it came to pass that they fought an exceedingly sore battle, in which Coriantumr was wounded again, and he fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that the armies of Coriantumr did press upon the armies of Shiz that they beat them, that they caused them to flee before them; and they did flee southward, and did pitch their tents in a place which was called Ogath. And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred."
Clearly, the Hill Ramah (called Cumorah by the Nephites) was southward from the waters of Ripliancum. The only question is, were the waters of Ripliancum the ocean? Since Moroni interprets this Jaredite word as meaning "large, or to exceed all," it is logical to assume that they were speaking of the ocean. (The Jaredites well understood just how large the ocean was, since they crossed it to get to the New World; surely they wouldn’t call some minor body of water "Ripliancum.")
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:
The land Desolation was said to be "a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains" (Mormon 6:4).
If the narrow neck was in Central America, as we suppose, a reliable "rule of thumb" is that every valley has a river in it.
After a great battle at the city of Desolation—located near the entrance to the narrow pass—the dead were "cast into the sea" (Mormon 3:7-8). Two similar instances of dead ending up "in the depths of the sea" were after battles near the city of Zarahemla (Alma 3:3) and near Manti (Alma 44:22). In both cases, the bodies were cast into the river Sidon and were carried to the sea. No doubt this is how the bodies got from the city of Desolation to the sea—since the city of Desolation was apparently not on the coast.
Hagoth launched ships into the west sea "on the borders of Bountiful" "by the narrow neck" (Alma 63:5). The easiest way to launch ships into the sea is from the mouth of a river, and a floating logs down a river is a good way to marshal timber for shipment (Helaman 3:10).
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:
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.
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.
Return to Library