Sunday, December 25, 2011


All 7 references to the land of Sidom are in Alma chapter 15, set in the 10th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 81 BC). At that time, this territory was newly settled by the Nephites. We know that because:
  • The Nephite nation was experiencing rapid expansion in all directions in this general era Mosiah 27:6; Alma 22:29; Alma 50:18.
  • First Alma I and then his son, Alma II established churches throughout all the land of the Nephites beginning with 7 churches in the local land of Zarahemla and then expanding outward Mosiah 25:19; Mosiah 25:23Alma 6:8; Alma 8:11; Alma 16:21.
  • In his missionary journeys, Alma II performed two different labors - regulating or setting in order established churches Alma 6:4; Alma 8:1and setting up new churches Alma 15:17. The church at Sidom was new, first established by Alma II in the 10th year of the reign of the judges, implying a land recently brought under Nephite control. This further implies a land on the margins of Nephite territory at the time 1, a frontier settlement further away from the political center than Gideon or Ammonihah 2, and perhaps even further away than Melek 3 where Alma II began his missionary travels at the beginning of the year Alma 8:3. The church in Ammonihah certainly pre-dated the church Alma II founded in Sidom because some of the believers who were burned had testimonies prior to Alma & Amulek's teaching and they possessed sacred texts the Nehorites found opprobrious Alma 14:8. Since the city of Ammonihah was east of river Sidon (see the article entitled "Ammonihah" in this blog), we would expect Sidom to be either further east or north 4 of the apostate city. West makes no sense because Sidom was further away from the local land of Zarahemla than Ammonihah was. South is unlikely because Sidom does not appear in the record of the Lamanite army march from the ruins of Ammonihah back to the land of Nephi Alma 16:3. The land of Noah is the polity mentioned in that retreat Alma 49:12.
The Book of Mormon text makes additional details about the land of Sidom clear as well. The numbers 1-13 highlighted with aqua background are the criteria we will use to locate Sidom on the modern map.
  • The terminology "came out" Alma 15:1 implies that the city of Ammonihah was in a lowland depression 5.
  • Sidom must have been relatively close to the city of Ammonihah. We know this because the believers fled there as refugees immediately after suffering religious persecution in Amonihah Alma 15:1, and Zeezrom later preached in Melek Alma 31:6 which was precisely 3 days from Ammonihah Alma 8:6. At the same time, Sidom was far enough away that news of the martyrdom of their wives and children had not yet reached the surviving saints Alma 15:2 when Alma & Amulek shared the tragic details. An air distance in the neighborhood of 3 days travel  6 from the city of Ammonihah to the land of Sidom seems justified.
  • The local land of Zarahemla was "over" from the land of Sidom Alma 15:18, not up or down, implying roughly similar average elevations 7. The geographic feature one traveled over in this case was the river Sidon 8.
  • No single urban area dominates the land of Sidom. There is no mention of a city of Sidom, let alone a large city. This implies small settlements distributed throughout the land 9.
  • People lived in all the regions "round about" the land of Sidom Alma 15:14. Whereas Ammonihah had adjacent wilderness Alma 16:2, Sidom was surrounded by settled areas. 10
  • Alma II baptized Zeezrom in the land of Sidom Alma 15:2. Priests ordained by Alma II baptized many others. Alma 15:14. It is likely that a significant river is closely associated with the land of Sidom 11 because Alma II's pattern in Zarahemla, following his father's practice, was to baptize in the waters of river Sidon Alma 4:4.
  • After Zeezrom and his fellow believers were driven out of Ammonihah Alma 14:7 they went to neighboring Sidom Alma 15:1. After his miraculous healing Alma 15:11 at Sidom, Zeezrom began preaching there. When we next hear of Zeezrom, he is with Amulek in the land of Melek Alma 31:6. This implies transportation and communication links between the lands of Sidom and Melek. 12
  • The land of Sidom is mentioned in The Book of Mormon text in association with the local land of Zarahemla, the land of Ammonihah and the land of Melek, all of which have known relationships to the Nephite core. Nothing is ever mentioned further out or beyond Sidom. This implies that Sidom is on the margin of Nephite territory in its region, and that the land past Sidom was not under Nephite control 13.
Below is our candidate for the land of Sidom, east along the San Pedro River from our Ammonihah.
Proposed land of Sidom relative to lands of
Ammonihah, Noah & Melek
The larger context around our proposed land of Sidom:
Proposed land of Sidom relative to local lands of Zarahemla,
Nephi and key points in between
We will now test our candidate Sidom against the 11 textual requirements discussed above.

1. The Nephite nation, like polities throughout history, waxed and waned in different eras. See the article "Expansion of the Nephite Nation" in this blog for a series of maps that graphically depict territorial growth. The Lamanite nation was undergoing similar growth at the same time, advantaged by superior demographics Mosiah 25:3. The land of Sidom is mentioned for the first time in the text ca. 81 B.C. Alma 15:1. Our correlation locates it on the Nephite frontier at that time, a region newly under the political control of the government at Zarahemla.
Nephite territorial expansion
The white circle shows how far the Nephite nation had grown by 82 B.C. when Sidom is first mentioned in the text. Criterion 1 satisfied.

2. Our proposed correlation places Sidom upstream on the San Pedro River from Ammonihah which is itself upstream from Gideon.
Zarahemla, Gideon, Ammonihah and Sidom
along the San Pedro River
This relative placement of the lands fits well with the text. Criterion 2 satisfied.

3 4. Measuring the distance from the local land of Zarahemla, it is clear that our proposed Sidom is further  from the Nephite center than Melek is with its contextual relationship to Ammonihah.
Relative distances from Zarahemla to Melek & Sidom
This relative distance relationship is completely in harmony with the text. Criterion 3 satisfied. Our proposal for Sidom places it east of Ammonihah which also fits the text. Criterion 4 satisfied.

5. Zooming in on the lands of Ammonihah and Sidom, we are interested in the phrase "came out" that describes Alma & Amulek's travel away from Ammonihah. We place a terrain plane so all land lower than 50 meters elevation shows white.
Proposed city of Ammonihah in a lowland river valley
It is clear that in this part of Mesoamerica, the lower elevation lands are very close to the rivers. Our proposed city of Ammonihah, the site of El Hormiguero II, is right on the river at an elevation of 40 - 50 meters. A mere 2 kilometers south of the site, mountains rise to an elevation of 350 meters. One could follow the river from Ammonihah to Sidom, but that would be the long way around. Taking the shortest route slightly south of east, you would indeed "come out" of the lower river valley into the somewhat higher plains. The text and this terrain match beautifully. Criterion 5 satisfied.

6. Our best efforts at teasing out inferences from the text suggest that the city of Ammonihah and the land of Sidom are approximately the same distance from each other as are the city of Ammonihah and the land of Melek.Here is how well our proposed correlation matches that textual datum.
Distances from the city of  Ammonihah
to the lands of Melek & Sidom
Our rule of thumb metric for a day's travel comes from the analysis in the blog article entitled "Land Southward Travel Times." Based on that, we posit 45 air kilometers from the land of Melek to the city of Ammonihah Alma 8:6. The line from our proposed city of Ammonihah to our land of Sidom measures 46 air kilometers. Our correlation is certainly in the ballpark of textual reasonableness. Criterion 6 satisfied.

7. We have a quick way of calculating the rough average elevation of a proposed Book of Mormon land. We set a northeast to southwest and then a northwest to southeast transect and have Google Earth calculate the average elevations of each transect. Averaging the 2 averages then gives us a mean elevation for the surface area in question.
Calculating the average elevation of the land of Sidom
The results: our proposed land of Sidom averages 74 meters elevation. We have previously calculated the average elevation of our local land of Zarahemla at 53 meters. These two lands are at roughly similar elevations. Criterion 7 satisfied.

8. To travel from Sidom to the local land of Zarahemla, Alma and Amulek went "over" something Alma 15:18. We know from careful analysis of the text that in The Book of Mormon one goes over topographical landmarks such as mountains, rivers or seas. See the articles "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" point #21 and "Crossing Things" in this blog. Ammonihah was east of Sidon (see the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation) and Sidom was closely associated with Ammonihah. This implies that Sidom was also east of Sidon. Therefore, Alma and Amulek went over the river Sidon when they traveled from the land of Sidom to Zarahemla.
River Sidon (Usumacinta) in between the local land
of Zarahemla and the land of Sidon
This is one more example of the text and the map agreeing on the merest of details. Criterion 8 satisfied.

9, 10, 11. To get some idea of ancient settlement patterns, we overlay our map of Sidom with EAAMS data showing archaeological sites known to science. The white line extends the boundaries of our Sidom by approximately 10 kilometers on all sides except the western border with Ammonihah.
Archaeological sites in and around our proposed land of Sidom
5 sites lie within the borders of our proposed Sidom. All 5 are what the EAAMS project editors classify as rank 4 sites - bigger than a house mound or shell midden, but not major sites. This implies a relatively even distribution of population throughout the territory rather than one dominant urban area. Criterion 9 satisfied. Within the 10 kilometer zone around our Sidom, there are 17 known archaeological sites. Many people lived in the regions around our Sidom. (When The Book of Mormon uses the term "round about" it is describing a circular area or movement.) Criterion 10 satisfied. The relationship between our proposed land of Sidom and the San Pedro River, a major Usumacinta tributary, is obvious. Criterion 11 satisfied.
A side note: The site of El Peru (aka Waka) is in the area immediately around our proposed land of Sidom. Fire is Born and his Teotihuacan military entourage on January 8, A.D. 378 conquered El Peru as a staging ground for their assault on Tikal 8 days later. This history is recorded on the famous Stela 31 from Tikal. Tikal is 78 air kilometers east of El Peru.

12. The site of Pajaral in our proposed land of Sidom was part of the classic era polity known to modern Mayanists as Hix Witz (Jaguar Hill). During the Maya classic, Hix Witz and Yaxchilan had significant, sometimes violent relationships. Transportation and communication links between the two are a matter of ancient epigraphic record. Lintel 43 at Yaxchilan, for example, depicts Lady Mut Bahlam from Hix Witz.
Hix Witz - Yaxchilan relationship
Archaeology documents ancient relationships between the areas we identify as Melek and Sidom. Criterion 12 satisfied.

13. Q. What do you find if you continue up the San Pedro River eastward beyond our proposed land of Sidom? A. Tikal, Uaxactun, El Mirador, Nakbe - the super powers of the southern Maya lowlands in the preclassic era. I find no evidence in the text that the Nephites ever settled this area.
Area not under Nephite hegemony at their territorial apogee
The text mentions lands with a relationship to the local land of Zarahemla (Minon, Gideon, Mulek, Ammonihah, Sidom and it mentions lands whose geographic reference is the east sea (Jershon, Antionum, Siron) but the land between those two regions remains terra incognita in the Nephite record. I believe the area from Calakmul on the north to Tikal on the south was an 800 pound gorilla in the room that the Nephite nation avoided to the extent possible. If this is true, it is easy to understand why the text never mentions lands beyond Sidom. It also helps explain a number of other interesting nuances in the text that we will explore in future posts to this blog. Criterion 13 satisfied.
With 13 of 13 exegetical criteria satisfied, the area we identify as the land of Sidom fits The Book of Mormon text very well. See the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation" point #26 for a linked list of other mapped Book of Mormon toponyms.