We used the OED to articulate the meanings of the terms "tongue of land," "strip of land," and "isthmus" in the blog article "Romance Languages." We will now plumb the depths of the OED to shed more light on the key Nephite phrases:
- small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward Alma 22:32.
- narrow neck which led into the land northward Alma 63:5.
- by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land Ether 10:20.
We first note that a "neck" can also refer to a marine feature. Straits, sounds and inlets are sometimes called "necks of water," particularly if they are quite narrow. So the Book of Mormon usage "neck of land" is not redundant given its coastal nature.
Small Necks of Land
The obsolete word "halover" is a variant of "haul over" meaning portage where seafarers had to carry their boats from the ocean over a spit of land before they could launch them again in an inland waterway. Haulover Beach in North Miami, Florida is one place where this word persists. Beginning in 1697 (the Early Modern English era) an English privateer (pirate) and adventurer began publishing memoirs of his voyages and discoveries around the world. Because he was a keen observer and facile wordsmith, William Dampier's writings became very popular. Dampier describes a trip he took in 1676 along the coast of Tabasco. This image is from Captain William Dampier edited by John Masefield, Dampier's Voyages (London: E. Grant Richards, 1906) Vol. 2, pp. 214-5 displayed in Google Books.
|Captain William Dampier Voyages (1676)|
|Dampier's Small Neck of Land, Tabasco|
We propose Barra San Marcos on the Pacific coast of Chiapas as the narrow (small) neck of land in the Book of Mormon. It is also a coastal sandbar fronting a series of saltwater lagoons. Barra del Panteon and Barra San Marcos are nearly identical geographic features 270 air kilometers distant from each other in southern Mexico. One was described in Early Modern English as "a small neck of land." Another may be the feature described in an Early Modern English text (the Book of Mormon) as "a small neck of land."
Another Early Modern English usage of the term "small neck of land" comes from the ancient city of Tyre in modern Lebanon. Tyre is on a tiny peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean.
|Tyre, Lebanon on a Peninsula .5 km Wide|
"Betwixt" is archaic. The sense is "by twin" meaning a third entity (c) in close relationship with two other entities (a & b) where a & b share significant commonalities. So, for instance, in geographic usage a river or plain may lie between two cities. A fence or wall may lie between two farmer's fields. A mountain ridge may lie between two valleys. The word often conveys either a line of movement or communication between a & b, or an obstacle dividing a from b. In Early Modern English, c was adjunct to both a & b, not integral with either of them.
Alma 22:32 and 3 Nephi 3:23 describe the actual border between the land northward (Desolation) and the land southward (Bountiful) as a line. The narrow (small) neck of land was not this line. It was a coastal feature along the west sea in the vicinity of this line. Our correlation of the narrow (small) neck of land with a coastal sandbar fits this scenario nicely. The neck was not the land northward nor was it the land southward. It was separate from both these lands, but in line with them and a conduit of movement and communication between them.
Something is narrow when its breadth or width is small compared with its length. A long lane or street with houses or fields on either side is narrow. Egyptian settlement along the banks of the Nile is narrow. The northern arms of the Red Sea on either side of the Sinai Peninsula are narrow.
|Narrow Egyptian Settlement along the Nile, Narrow Arms of the Red Sea|
|Isthmus of Tehuantepec 211 km Long X 216 km Wide|
|Proposed Narrow Neck of Land 32 km long X 216 km wide|
|Barra San Marcos 52 km Long X 2 km Wide|