Friday, November 9, 2012

Narrow and Small Things

This article will analyze all 17 occurrences of the word "narrow," all 10 occurrences of the word "strait" and all 50 occurrences of the word "small" in the Book of Mormon text in an attempt to deduce the meanings of those terms in Nephite usage.
1. 1 Nephi 8:20, 2 Nephi 31:18, and 2 Nephi 31:19 all describe a strait and narrow path that leads by a rod of iron along a river of water toward the tree of life. People press forward along this path, holding on to the rod of iron 1 Nephi 8:241 Nephi 8:30. In this context, the words "narrow" and "strait" connote a distance probably less than 5 meters wide.
2. Helaman 3:29 employs similar wording to describe a strait and narrow course leading across an awful gulf. The scriptural imagery suggests a foot bridge crossing a canyon, wide enough for a single pedestrian. In this context, the words "narrow" and "strait" connote a distance probably less than 5 meters wide.
3. 2 Nephi 9:41 introduces the idea of a gate one must go through to access a narrow way or path leading to the Lord and life. 2 Nephi 31:9 and 2 Nephi 33:9 use the words "narrowness" and "narrow" to describe the gate and the words "straitness" and "strait" to describe the path. The more common Book of Mormon usage reverses the word order so the gate is "strait" and the way is "narrow" Jacob 6:11, 3 Nephi 14:14, 3 Nephi 27:33. The gate and the way are restrictive enough that few people find them. In this context, the words "narrow" and "strait" connote a distance probably less than 5 meters wide.
4. 3 Nephi 14:13 and 3 Nephi 27:33 further clarify that "strait" is an antonym of "wide" and "narrow" is an antonym of "broad." A wide gate and a broad way can accommodate many people while a strait gate and a narrow way admit only a few. These texts are straightforward. The word "narrow" describes a distance on a human scale, something on the order of a few meters in width.

Other passages, though, expand our view. 1 Nephi 21:19-20 comes from the 49th chapter of Isaiah which describes the future gathering of the House of Israel following the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom ca. 720 B.C. When Joshua (from the tribe of Ephraim 1 Chronicles 7:27) allocated territory to the tribes following the Israelite conquest of Palestine, the house of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) complained that their lands west of Jordan were too small for their large populations Joshua 17:14. Joshua gave them the opportunity to acquire additional territory through military conquest Joshua 17:15. In this text the word "narrow" describes the trans-Jordan land originally allotted to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. This map of Palestine will help quantify the Josephites' complaint.
Map of Palestine with distances noted
Dan to Beersheba was the Biblical transect representing the entire north to south extension of the Israelite nation Judges 20:1 (and 9 other Old Testament references). This is a straight line (air) distance of 235 kilometers. The land originally granted to the tribes of Ephraim and one-half of Manasseh extended from Bethel in the south to the Plains (or Valley) of Jezreel in the north. This is a distance of 65 kilometers. The original land grant to this portion of the house of Joseph was west of Jordan, so a reasonable approximation of the size of their territory would be 70 kilometers X 70 kilometers or approximately 4,900 square kilometers. This is larger than the state of Rhode Island (4,002 square kilometers) and slightly smaller than Utah County, Utah (5,188 square kilometers). The sense of Joshua 17:15, then, is that the house of Joseph considered a land area of approximately 4,900 square kilometers insufficient ("too narrow") for 2 (actually 1.5) of the largest tribes of Israel. Isaiah 49 (1 Nephi 21) describes the glorious future return of the dispersed tribes of Israel. They will "inherit the desolate heritages" 1 Nephi 21:8 or in other words, re-inhabit the lands originally granted to them. Their numbers will be so great that like Ephraim and Manasseh of old, they will complain that their allotted lands are "too narrow" and "too strait" 1 Nephi 21:19-20 for their large populations. The original territory assigned by Joshua to all 13 (Joseph received a double portion Joshua 14:4) of the tribes of Israel on both sides of Jordan was on the order of 25,000 square kilometers. This is approximately the size of the state of Vermont (24,901 square kilometers) and somewhat larger than San Juan County, Utah (20,254 square kilometers). So, the sense of 1 Nephi 21:91-20 is that the returning house of Israel in the last days will find even the entire original land of Israel inadequate ("too narrow," "too strait") for their numbers.

There is a fundamental difference between the "narrow" and "strait" things discussed in points 1-4 above and the use of those terms in Isaiah 49 (1 Nephi 21) and Joshua 17. When the scriptures call a gate, path, way or course "narrow" or "strait" the words are simple adjectives describing an intrinsic characteristic of the nouns "gate", "path", "way" or "course." When the scriptures describe a geographic region as "too narrow" for a given large population, the word "too" is an adverb modifying the adjective "narrow" under a certain condition "by reason of the inhabitants" 1 Nephi 21:19. The same pattern holds in the next verse where the word "too" is an adverb modifying the adjective "strait" under a certain condition "for me" 1 Nephi 21:20 meaning for the entire returning house of Israel in the last days. Does the Book of Mormon or the Old Testament ever use the terms "narrow" or "strait" to describe an intrinsic characteristic of an extension of territory as large as the Holy Land or some region within it? No. On the contrary, after Joshua had destroyed dozens of the kingdoms whose lands the Israelites inherited, the Lord spoke to his prophet and described the regions still unconquered as "very much land" Joshua 13:1. The entire territory divided among the tribes of Israel is called variously:
  • "the country" Joshua 19:51 (and dozens of other references, variant reading "this country")
  • "all the land" Joshua 21:43 (and many other references, variant reading "all this land")
  • "the good land" Joshua 23:16 (and many other references, variant reading "this good land")
  • "the land" Judges 2:1 (and dozens of other references, variant reading "this land")
When the tribe of Dan conquered Laish and established their eponymous city in its place, they described the surrounding region as "a large land" Judges 18:10.

So, the sense of 1 Nephi 21:19-20 does not imply that the Israelites considered any portion of their territory in Palestine inherently "narrow" or "strait."

This concludes our analysis of the word "strait" in the Book of Mormon. We are ready to examine some very interesting things that are "narrow."

5. A narrow strip of wilderness Alma 22:27 ran from the sea east by the head of Sidon to the sea west dividing the greater land of Zarahemla on the north from the greater land of Nephi on the south. In a parallel text Alma 50:11, Mormon described this Nephite/Lamanite boundary as a "line" running from the west sea by the head of Sidon with the greater land of Nephi on the south and the greater land of Zarahemla on the north. In ca. 72 B.C., the Nephite city of Moroni was built just north of this line Alma 50:13. How wide might this narrow strip or line of wilderness have been? Wilderness by its very nature would be wider than any man-made feature such as a road or wall. A few kilometers seems reasonable. Could anything much wider than 5 kilometers qualify as intrinsically narrow? It could hardly be considered a line. The demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea is generally considered a "strip" rather than a "narrow strip." It is 4 kilometers wide running 250 kilometers from sea to sea with a line, the military demarcation line (MDL), running right down the middle. In the article "Land Southward Travel Times" in this blog, we analyze a number of known historical journeys to deduce a reasonable distance in straight line (air) kilometers for the standard Nephite measure one day's travel. Our resulting rule of thumb is 15 kilometers. If the narrow strip of wilderness averaged 5 kilometers in width a typical Nephite could cross it in one third of a day. That seems reasonable for a physio-graphic feature continental in scope. In this context, the  narrow strip of wilderness probably did not exceed 5 kilometers in width.          
6. A strategic narrow pass Alma 50:34; Alma 52:9; Mormon 3:5 led between the land southward and the land northward, at the border between the lands of Bountiful on the south and Desolation on the north. This pass led by the seacoast. It had salt water to the west and more salt water to the east. It was a small enough place that a Nephite army numbering in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, certainly not tens of thousands could secure it against Lamanite attack. When major battles were fought there near the end of the Nephite era, enemy dead were cast into the sea. It sounds like a place with saltwater lagoons or tidal flats where a spur from a coastal mountain range reaches almost to the water's edge. In order to fit these criteria, the narrow pass could not have been more than 1 or 2 kilometers wide at most, with a few dozen or hundreds of meters more likely.
7. A narrow neck of land Alma 63:5; Ether 10:20 led between the land southward and the land northward, at the border between the lands of Bountiful on the south and Desolation on the north. This narrow neck was on the west seacoast at a point where salt water created a division between stretches of dry land. Ocean-going vessels launched nearby. It sounds like a sand bar running along a seacoast fronting an inter-coastal waterway or a series of saltwater lagoons. How large are known necks of land? A cemetery in Taunton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, established in 1687, is called the "Neck of Land Cemetery." The neck refers to land between the Taunton and Mill (aka Little) Rivers. On this 1858 map, the cemetery is circled in red.
Neck of Land Cemetery, Taunton, Massachusetts
Locating the same area on Google Earth allows us to measure the width of this neck of land.
Closeup of Neck of Land Cemetery, Taunton, Massachusetts
Setting a ruler in Google Earth, we see that the distance between rivers across this neck is .22 kilometers or 220 meters.

North east of Joplin, Missouri is a small town named Neck City. Located near the point where Duval Creek and the North Fork of Spring River come close enough to form a neck of land, Neck City was once a mining boom town called "Hell's Neck."
Neck City, Missouri
The neck of land between 2 streams that gives Neck City its name is .62 kilometers or 620 meters wide.

A single river can also form a neck of land. In Halifax County, North Carolina, the Roanoke River makes a loop known locally as "the neck." The town of Scotland Neck derives its name from a group of Scottish immigrants who in 1722 settled near the neck of the Roanoke.
Scotland Neck, North Carolina
At the points indicated on the map, the neck of the Roanoke River is 8.29 kilometers wide.

In Herefordshire, UK, a meander in the Wye River creates a landform the British call a "neck of land."
Wye River Neck of Land, Herefordshire, UK
The distance across the base of this neck is .49 kilometers or 490 meters.

Highway 682 in Williamsburg, Virginia is called "Neck-o-Land Road." The neck in this case is land between 2 streams. Neck-o-Land Road is highlighted in red on the map below.
Neck-o-Land Road, Williamsburg, Virginia
This particular neck of land is 1.05 kilometers wide at the points indicated.

A peninsula jutting from Long Island, New York is called Great Neck. At its base a much smaller peninsula is called Little Neck. This image shows a ruler across Great Neck. Little Neck is circled in red.
Little Neck (in red) and Great Neck, New York
Little Neck is about 470 meters wide. Great Neck measures 3.13 kilometers at its narrowest point.

Virginia has 3 peninsulas traditionally called necks all bounded by Chesapeake Bay on the east. Northern Neck borders the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south. Middle Neck (Middle Peninsula) has the Rappahannock River on the north and the York River on the south. Southern Neck (Virginia Peninsula) lies between the York River on the north and the James River on the south. This image shows all 3 necks with a ruler measuring the width of Northern Neck.
Northern, Middle & Southern Necks, Virginia
At the points indicated on the ruler, Virginia's Northern Neck is 23 kilometers wide. At its narrowest point near George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Northern Neck is 7.5 kilometers wide.

The wetlands of coastal Georgia contain many tiny island landmasses called necks. We will focus on one in McIntosh County called Harris Neck.
Harris  Neck, Georgia
Harris Neck is 10 kilometers long and .75 kilometers wide at its narrowest point. Surrounded by swamps, it serves today as a National Wildlife Refuge. Notice the triangular shape on the north west corner. During WWII those were the runways of an active army airfield.

Crabtree Neck is a peninsula in Hancock County, Maine.
Crabtree Neck, Maine
At the points marked by the ruler, Crabtree Neck is 2.24 kilometers wide.

Delaware's two large inland bays, Rehoboth Bay on the north and Indian River Bay on the south, are separated by Long Neck, a peninsula that almost connects with the coastal beaches.
Long Neck, Delaware
Long Neck is 2.1 kilometers wide near the base.

Elk Neck, Maryland is a peninsula jutting into the northern part of Chesapeake bay.
Elk Neck, Maryland
Elk Neck is 7.83 kilometers wide at its base.

Devonport is a northern suburb, across Waitemata Harbor from Aukland, New Zealand. It used to be connected to the rest of the North Shore by a causeway called the "Narrow Neck." Narrow Neck Beach lay to the east and large mangrove swamps to the west. About 150 years ago, the locals drained the swamps  and reclaimed the land which today is a golf course. This image has a small ruler measuring the width of the causeway prior to reclamation.
Narrow Neck, New Zealand
The causeway that New Zealanders called their "Narrow Neck" was 110 meters wide before reclamation. The contemporary town of Narrow Neck was named after it.

Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania connects the Tasman Peninsula with the rest of the island.
Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania
Eaglehawk Neck is 110 meters wide.

A neck of land can also be created by political boundaries. The Siliguri Corridor is a stretch of land connecting India's north eastern states to the rest of the country. 22.90 kilometers wide, the corridor is bounded on the west by Nepal and on the east by Bangladesh. Contemporary Indians call it "Chicken's Neck."
Siliguri Corridor (Chicken's Neck), India
Pakistan also has its Chicken's Neck. The Akhnoor Dagger, commonly called Chicken's Neck, is a narrow strip of Pakistan plunging into Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Akhnoor Dagger (Chicken's Neck), Pakistan
Pakistan's neck of land measures 2.50 kilometers wide at the base.

Geographers call a neck of land connecting two larger landmasses an "isthmus." Our English word derives from the Greek isthmos meaning "neck." Was the Book of Mormon narrow neck of land an isthmus? Not necessarily. The examples above (and there are dozens of others we could have included such as Land's End in Cornwall, UK) show that landforms commonly called necks are formed by:
  • 2 streams of water running in close proximity to each other
  • Meanders in a single stream of water
  • Peninsulas jutting out from the mainland
  • Wave action building up sand bars along shore lines or in tidal flats
  • Political boundary making
  • Causeways or isthmuses connecting two land masses
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico has been identified so frequently over the years as the Book of Mormon's narrow neck of land that isthmuses deserve special attention. See the article entitled "Isthmuses" in this blog for relevant information about the Tehuantepec area and an analysis of 53 prominent isthmuses around the world. The result: Tehuantepec, at 216 kilometers, is the widest isthmus on earth. It is so large that some geographic authorities do not consider it an isthmus at all, but rather part of a continental landmass. The narrowest quartile of isthmuses in our study ranged in width from 40 meters to 250 meters. The second quartile ranged from 370 meters to the median width of 2.96 kilometers. The third quartile ranged from 3.75 to 12 kilometers in width. This means that three fourths of the 52 isthmuses in our sample were 12 kilometers wide or less and seven eighths were 30 kilometers wide or less. Where does this leave an isthmus 216 kilometers from sea to sea? In a class by itself. Off the charts. An outlier orders of magnitude removed from the median and the mean. Does the description "narrow neck of land" fit the Isthmus of Tehuantepec? No, for several reasons.
  • Scriptural use of the word "narrow" as an unmodified adjective in either the Book of Mormon or the Old Testament describing the objects gate, path, way, course, strip of wilderness, or pass reference sizes from a few meters to perhaps 5 kilometers in width. Anything wider than 5 kilometers begins to be problematic when the relevant passages are read in context. When the Nephites used the word "narrow" as an adjective, they were probably referring to something 5 kilometers wide or snaller.
  • We analyzed 15 known examples of land forms called a "neck." Our examples come from 6 different countries. Widths range from 110 meters to 23 kilometers. When English speakers use the word "neck" to describe a strip of land, they generally do not have in mind anything wider than 23 kilometers. In order to qualify as a "narrow neck of land" a neck should probably not exceed 5 kilometers in width.
  • Based on a sample of 53 isthmuses around the world, in order to qualify as a "narrow neck of land" an isthmus should probably not exceed the median width of 2.96 kilometers.  
8. A narrow passage Mormon 2:29 led between the land northward and the land southward, which means it was at the border between the lands of Bountiful on the south and Desolation on the north. This narrow passage may be the same geographic feature as the narrow pass referenced in point #6 above. Whether one considers it a unique land form or another name for the narrow pass, this feature probably did not exceed 1 or 2 kilometers in width with a few dozen or hundreds of meters more likely.

This concludes our look at every use of the word "narrow" in the Book of Mormon. We now have the delicious opportunity to examine what the Nephites meant by the word "small."

1. The voice of an angel 1 Nephi 17:45 and the voice of the Lord 3 Nephi 11:3 can both be small.
2. In the last days, the church of the Lamb of God will have small holdings and influence around the world 1 Nephi 14:12 compared with the much larger and more powerful church of the devil. If we take the official membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the end of 2011 (14,441,346 - Deseret News 2013 Church News Almanac) and divide it by the total population of the planet (7,074,189,326 - U.S. Census Bureau World Population Clock accessed March 23, 2013) we get the number .00204 or in other words 2/10ths of 1%.
3. The 16 transparent stones the brother of Jared held in his hands while he climbed to the top of Mount Shelem Ether 3:1 were small. They probably weighed less than 200 grams (.44 pounds) apiece.
4. The 8 Jaredite barges were small Ether 2:16. Each vessel was the length of a tree Ether 2:17 which probably means from 15 to 35 meters in length. Working with the family sizes given in the book of Ether: Brother of Jared 22 Ether 6:20; Jared 12 Ether 6:20; Friends of Jared and his brother 22 Ether 6:16 we infer that approximately 80 people crossed the ocean in the 8 Jaredite barges, or approximately 10 passengers per barge. Each vessel also carried animals and food stores Ether 6:4 adequate for a 344 day Ether 6:11 voyage .As a point of comparison, the ark of Noah was 300 cubits long Genesis 6:15 or approximately 135 meters. As a second point of comparison, Hagoth's ocean-going ship was exceedingly large and accommodated many passengers with their provisions Alma 63:5-6.
5. Isaiah said the Israelites had disregarded the prophets of God for so long they no longer considered their sins or disobedience a serious problem. It had become a small thing to them to weary (vex) the men God had sent among them 2 Nephi 17:13.
6. The Lord, quoting Isaiah 54, says that he abandoned Israel for a small moment 3 Nephi 22:7, but in the last days he will gather her again. If we take the abandonment of Israel as the ca. 720 B.C. date when the Assyrian destruction of the Northern Kingdom was complete and the gathering as the April 6, 1830 date when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally established on earth, then the "small moment" is about 2,550 years.
7. At the waters of Mormon near the city of Nephi, the young prophet Alma1 hid from King Noah's guards in a thicket of small trees Mosiah 18:5. These trees probably did not exceed 15 meters in height. Large trees in the Guatemalan rain forest canopy are typically 30 to 45 meters high.
8. The founding prophet, Nephi1 called the pointers in the Liahona where divine script appeared from time to time "small means" 1 Nephi 16:29. These minor interventions from God brought about great results. Alma2 took up the same theme when he commissioned his son, Helaman1, to be the Nephite record keeper. Minor miracles from God had kept and would keep the plates of brass and other Nephite metallic records bright and free from decay. By these small means Alma 37:6-7 great and important results would follow. Alma2 then reiterated that the miracles surrounding the Liahona were "small means" that wrought "marvelous works" Alma 37:41. One is reminded of Pres. Monson's remark that "the door of history turns on small hinges" ("Finishers Wanted," Ensign June, 1989).
9. Nephi1 made two set of plates for record keeping. The large plates containing secular history passed down through his own descendants who were the Nephite kings. The small plates containing spiritual matters passed down through his brother Jacob's descendants who were the Nephite priests. Jacob 1:1, Jarom 1:2 and Jarom 1:14 all describe the plates as small. The size of the plates probably does not refer to their physical dimensions, but rather to the number of plates bound together in a volume.
10. Nephite record keepers also described their own and other's writings as small. This was because a) Mormon's writings on his own plates were an abridgment of a much larger Nephite archive 3 Nephi 5:15; b) divine command limited how much from Nephi1's glorious visions could be committed to writing; c) the logistical difficulty of manufacturing and then engraving on plates limited how much could be recorded Jacob 4:2; d) Mormon was under a divine mandate to be concise Mormon 5:9; e) articulating feelings is inherently difficult Alma 26:16; f) any one man, even a prophet, will have limited written output Jacob 7:27; g) the  small plates, by design, were compact compared with Nephi1's large plates Words of Mormon 1:3.
11. "Great and small" is a phrase modifying and illustrating the comprehensive nature of "all things" taught by the risen Lord to the Nephites 3 Nephi 26:1. cf. 1 Samuel 30:19. "Both small and great" also describes all people who will stand before the judgment bar of Christ Mormon 9:13 in a theme repeated by the prophet Moroni Moroni 10:27 at the end of his writings.
12. When internal strife among the Nephites decreased somewhat in the 48th year of the reign of the judges (ca. 44 B.C.) "wars and contentions began to cease, in a small degree" Helaman 3:22.
13. The word "small" appears most frequently in Nephite writ describing a group of people, often in a military context.
  • Mosiah 11:16 In the days of King Noah, Lamanites slew small numbers of Nephites working their fields and tending their flocks. These "small numbers" of Nephite casualties were probably in the range of 5 to 25 people.
  • Mosiah 19:2 After a series of military encounters with the Lamanites, the forces of King Noah were small, having been reduced. They were probably in the range of 500 - 2,000 men at arms. A given population can only support a small percentage of their numbers in active military service at any point in time. One of the most heavily militarized societies the world has ever known, North Korea, has a population of 24,720,000 (CIA World Factbook). According to the U.S.State Department, the country has 1,210,000 active duty military personnel. That means 4.89% of North Koreans are in the armed forces as their full-time jobs, one of the highest ratios known in modern times. The number of people subject to King Noah must have been at least 20,000 and probably did not exceed 40,000. That estimate is based on several metrics: a) The original military expedition Zeniff was part of considered themselves powerful enough to destroy the Lamanite army Mosiah 9:1 in the land of Nephi; b) the population of Zeniff's colony must have been at minimum several thousand to have rebuilt both the city of Nephi and the city of Shilom Mosiah 9:8; c) in their first major battle with the  Lamanites, the Zeniff colony suffered 279 war dead and killed 3,043 of the enemy; d)  in their second major battle with the Lamanites, the Zeniff colony killed an even greater undetermined number of Lamanites Mosiah 10:20; e) by imposing a 20% tax on his subjects, King Noah was able to undertake ambitious public works Mosiah 11:8; f) About 450 of Noah's former subjects Mosiah 18:35 followed Almainto the wilderness. If Noah's subjects numbered 40,000 and Noah's standing army constituted 5% of the population of his kingdom, his "small" forces would have numbered about 2,000 soldiers.   
  • Mosiah 20:2 A small number of Lamanite maidens gathered together in the land of Shemlon to sing and dance. 24 of them were abducted by the wicked priests of King Noah Mosiah 20:5 and taken into the wilderness. Reading these verses in context, it is clear that the "small number" of young women was at least 24 (if the singing and dancing events being described happened on different days) and probably did not exceed 100 (if the events being described all happened on the same day).
  • Mosiah 21:25 King Limhi send a small expeditionary force into the wilderness to search for the land of Zarahemla. In this case, "small number of men" meant 43 Mosiah 8:7
  • Mosiah 28:1 says the four sons of Mosiah and a "small number" of friends approached King Mosiah2 asking permission to undertake a dangerous mission to the Lamanites. In Alma 20:2 we learn the names of 2 of the friends: Muloki and Ammah. Alma 21:13 says Aaron and a "certain number" of his brethren were cast into prison in the land of Middoni, while the remainder of his brethren escaped into surrounding regions. Based on these verses, we infer that the "small number" of Nephite missionaries headed by Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni was at least 20 and probably did not exceed 50.
  • Mosiah 29:29 In the Nephite republic instituted by Mosiah2 one of the governmental checks and balances allowed a small number of lower judges to unseat a higher judge who had not judged righteously according to the voice of the people. In this case, the "small number" was probably between 3 on the low end and 9 on the high end. Israelite tradition seated an odd number of judges in a Sanhedrin in order to avoid tie votes (Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin), a tradition that continues to this day in the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • Alma 46:33 Captain Moroni pursued the traitor Amalickiah and his armies into the wilderness south of Manti where most of them were apprehended and forcibly repatriated back to the greater land of Zarahemla. Unfortunately for the Nephites, Amalickiah himself and a small number of his men escaped further south to the land of Nephi where Amalickiah eventually became the Lamanite emperor Alma 47:35. In this case, Amalickiah's "small number" was probably at least 50 but fewer than 500 men.
  • Alma 52:22 Teancum with a small number of men decoyed the Lamanites out of the city of Mulek and led them on a high speed wild goose chase northward up the Nephite east coast. This allowed part of Moroni's larger army to re-occupy the city of Mulek. The number of men Teancum commanded on this special operation must have been at least a few hundred. Otherwise, the entire Lamanite army stationed in Mulek would not have given chase. How many fighters did the Lamanites have in Mulek? Probably a few thousand. They were defending a highly fortified city, and Captain Moroni's fortification design allowed a modest number of men to hold a city as long as they remained inside the defensive perimeter. Teancum's "small number" was likely between 300 and 1,000 men. Lehi's defensive garrison guarding the city of Bountiful probably numbered 2,000 to 3,000. Moroni's larger force was probably in the 10,000 to 20,000 range. This would have put total Nephite troop strength on the north eastern front at roughly 13,000 to 25,000 men. This seems reasonable given the number of men Helaman1 reported (6,000 to 16,000 see the article "Population Sizes & Casualty Counts" in this blog) in his various campaigns on the south western front.
  • Alma 52:27 When Teancum with Lamanites in hot pursuit reached almost to the city Bountiful, Lehi and a small army came south, joined Teancum's forces, and engaged the enemy. Lehi's "small army" was clearly larger than Teancum's "small number of men." A contemporary commander, Helaman1, considered 2,000 reinforcements to be a "small force" Alma 58:12. Applying the logic outlined in the discussion of Alma 52:22 above, Lehi's "small army" probably numbered between 2,000 and 3,000 troops. Did it take that many men to hold one of Captain Moroni's fortified cities against invasion? That is one of the most fascinating questions in all of Nephite military history. See the article "Captain Moroni in Space and Time" in this blog for a detailed discussion of Captain Moroni's military engineering genius and the false sense of security it gave the Nephites until they got experience holding one of their fortified cities against a vastly superior Lamanite force. Inside a fortified city, could a Nephite force of 500 hold off a Lamanite force of 10,000? That would be 1:20 leverage. Given Amalickiah's blitzkrieg from south to north up the Nephite east coast Alma 51:26, the 1:20 ratio seems excessive. 1:10 is more likely. Holding the city Bountiful was an all-important Nephite military objective during Captain Moroni's career. Lehi and his "small army" probably thought they were prepared for a worst case scenario - fending off a Lamanite invasion of 15, 20 or even 25,000 men. Lehi also enjoyed a qualitative advantage. Captain Moroni deployed his best troops in Bountiful Alma 51:31 which is why Alma 52:36 calls them "strong men."
  • Alma 55:6-7 reports the curious incident of Laman, one of the former Lamanite king's guards who fled  from the land of Nephi north into the land of Melek Alma 47:29 when Amalickiah assassinated his sovereign. 9 years later, Laman was a military leader fighting for the Nephites on the north eastern front when Captain Moroni selected him for a special operation. Laman took a small number of his men and they carried wine to the Lamanite guards standing watch over the city of Gid where many Nephite prisoners of war were incarcerated. Since the mission of Laman's small group was to interact with sentries on guard duty, they probably numbered about 10 or 20 men. Any fewer than 10 would have had difficulty transporting very much wine. Any more than 20 would probably have intimidated and frightened the guards.
  • Alma 58:1 In his lengthy epistle to his commanding officer, Captain Moroni, Helaman1 recounted Nephite military campaigns to defend Judea and re-take the cities of Antiparah, Cumeni and Manti. As the 29th year of the judges (ca. 63 B.C.) played out, Manti was the only Nephite city along the south western front still in Lamanite hands. Facing a vastly superior Lamanite force Alma 58:8, the Nephites hoped to decoy the enemy out of their fortified stronghold at Manti by parading small bands of fighting men as tempting targets past the city. Remembering similar Nephite tactics in other cities (Antiparah, Mulek) that had led them into traps, the Lamanites did not fall for the decoy. Like Teancum's "small number" of men at Mulek Alma 52:22,  Helaman1's "small bands" were probably between 300 and 1,000 men.
  • Alma 58:12 While plotting their strategy to re-take Manti, Helaman1 and the other Nephite commanders on the south western front received 2,000 reinforcements from the central government in the local land of Zarahemla Alma 58:8. This "small force" of 2,000 men gave the weary Nephite army a morale boost at a critical point in their long war.
  • Alma 58:16 The Nephite strategy to re-take Manti was to encamp their main army on the wilderness side of the city, with a small number of men hidden in two places just off the beaten path. When the Lamanites pursued the main Nephite army into the wilderness, the two small groups at their rear converged and overpowered first the Lamanite spies following their column and second the guards who had been left behind in the city of Manti. The "small number of men" with Gid were probably a force of 200 to 500 men. Ditto the "small number of men" with Teomner.
  • Alma 58:32 Helaman1 lamented to Captain Moroni that Nephite forces were stretched very thin, that their armies were small to maintain the large amount of territory then under Nephite control. Months earlier, before the siege of Cumeni, this same Helaman1 exulted that the main Nephite army in the south western front was strong Alma 57:6-8. The "strong" army numbered somewhat less than 16,000 men. See the blog article "Population Sizes and Casualty Counts" for the arithmetic behind the 16,000 count. The Nephites then suffered "great loss" in the battle for Cumeni Alma 57:23 and received 2,000 reinforcements Alma 58:8. So, the "small" army also numbered close to 16,000 men. Helaman1's descriptions of strong or small must be taken in context. A force of 16,000 was strong when compared with the hungry Lamanite defenders desperately trying to hold Cumeni. When Lamanite reinforcements arrived from Manti, the Nephite army was not so strong anymore. In fact, the Nephites nearly lost the battle for Cumeni Alma 57:18. With all the Lamanite forces in the south western quarter of the greater land of Zarahemla ammassed in and around the city of Manti, the Nephites' mere 16,000 men were clearly inadequate Alma 58:2 when confronting a foe that was "innumerable" Alma 58:8. After the Nephites liberated Manti, Lamanite military forces abandoned the south western front for a time Alma 58:30. This was the situation when Helaman1 wrote his lament to Captain Moroni. The Nephite military was responsible for defending Judea, Antiparah, the city beyond, Cumeni, Zeezrom and Manti along the southwestern flank of the greater land of  Zarahemla, plus all points north of that southern tier. If it required 2,000 men to defend a fortified city (see the discussion of Alma 52:27 above) then a force of 12,000 would be required just to hold those 6 named cities against an enemy onslaught that could happen practically at any time with little warning. Helaman1 was right. The Nephite army was stretched too thin. They simply lacked the manpower resources ca. 63 B.C. to adequately defend the vast expanse of territory they nominally controlled.
  • Alma 62:3 Captain Moroni ca. 62 B.C. was still engaged with the Lamanites along the east coast when he learned that the king men had reared their ugly heads again in the local land of Zarahemla, forcing the chief governor, Parhoran (critical text orthography) to set up a government in exile east of Sidon in the land of Gideon. Captain Moroni took a small number of men with him to Gideon, leaving most of his forces under the command of Lehi and Teancum along the eastern front. The number of troops Captain Moroni took with him to Gideon was probably between 200 and 500. Recruiting thousands along his line of march Alma 62:5, he arrived in Gideon with a sizable force and quickly restored legitimate government in the local land of Zarahemla. Notice how the ca. 62 B.C. operation was reversed from a similar expedition 5 years earlier. In the ca. 67 B.C. campaign, Captain Moroni took most of his army with him to put down the king men in the local land of Zarahemla Alma 51:17-18. This left the newly-constructed, fortified cities of Moroni, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek lightly defended Alma 51:23 and within a very short period of time all 6 cities fell into Lamanite hands Alma 51:26. (Note that Alma 51:26 contains a known error in the 1981 LDS text. See the article entitled "Scribal Error" in this blog. Royal Skousen has correctly emended this verse in his critical text to read "Moroni" in lieu of "Nephihah.")
  • Helaman 1:24 describes the rapid assault of Coriantumr and his Lamanites on the local land of Zarahemla and the most capital parts of the land. Captain Moronihah had the Nephite standing army deployed in the borders of the land. Coriantumr thus encountered light resistance as his forces cut down small bodies of men in the center of the land. In this context "small bodies" probably meant ad hoc neighborhood groups of 30 to 100 men.
  • 4 Nephi 1:20 A golden era of peace following the Savior's glorious appearance in the land Bountiful lasted approximately 200 years. Toward the end of that period, a small part of the people dissented away from the church and began to call themselves "Lamanites." This ominous development signaled the end of the Pax Cristiana that had prevailed for generations. How many were "a small part of the people?" Mormon said the unified Nephites and Lamanites had "multiplied" during the 200 years of harmony and prosperity until "they were spread upon all the face of the land ..." 4 Nephi 1:23. Taking the days of Captain Moroni (ca. 75 B.C. to 60 B.C.) as our benchmark (because the war chapters offer some demographic data to work with) we estimate total Nephite population at that time to be 600,000. That is based on 40,000 men at arms X 15 which assumes that 6.66% of the population was on active duty in the armed forces. The 40,000 count is an extrapolation based on the solid number of 16,000  Helaman1 reported as the Nephite troop strength along the south western front (see the blog article entitled "Population Sizes and Casualty Counts"). We estimate total Lamanite population in our benchmark era to be 1,800,000 based on Nephite scribal comments such as Jarom 1:6, Mosiah 25:3 and Helaman 4:25. So, we estimate total Nephite + Lamanite population at 2,400,000 ca. 60 B.C.  By ca. 200 A.D. the combined population was much higher, perhaps as high as 7,500,000, practically all of whom belonged to the church. So, the "small part of the people" who left the church and began calling themselves "Lamanites" were probably on the order of 20,000 to 50,000 people.
  • Ether 9:9 Nimrah, angry with his father, king Akish, gathered a small number of men and traveled to Ablom by the seashore where he joined forces with the exiled king Omer. This "small number" was probably on the order of 10 to 30.
14. The power of the Lord often looks small to people who lack spiritual discernment Ether 3:5.
15. Amulek was a man of no small reputation among his family, friends and neighbors in the city of Ammonihah Alma 10:4.
16. The Nephites had lands, cities, villages and small villages Alma 8:7. Lands were approximately analogous to modern counties. Cities probably had at least a few thousand inhabitants. Villages probably had at least a few hundred residents. Small villages probably had a few families. For a more comprehensive look at Nephite polities, see the article "Nephite Politcial Geography" in this blog.
17. Captain Moroni not only fortified Nephite cities. He also had the Nephites build small forts so his troops had multiple places to defend themselves against Lamanite attack Alma 48:8. These small forts were probably stockades or palisades designed to protect a few hundred people.
18. This exercise in ferreting meaning from Nephite usage of the term "small" provides background to help us understand Alma 22:32 that describes a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward. Is the small neck of land the same geographic feature as the narrow neck of land mentioned in Alma 63:5 and Ether 10:20? Yes. We know that because the same motifs appear in all 3 scriptural passages:
a) the narrow or small neck was located near the land northward/land southward boundary which is also the land Desolation/land Bountiful boundary; b) it was on the seacoast (2 of the 3 passages identify the sea as the West Sea); and c) it was a travel corridor for people going northward or southward. How large could the small neck of land have been? Based on our analysis of Nephite usage of the term "small," anything larger than 20 kilometers seems completely out of the question with 5 kilometers being a more likely upper limit. This is precisely in line with our analysis of the word "narrow" earlier in this article.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I have the pleasure of conversing with V. Garth Norman frequently. He is one of the most astute students of the Book of Mormon in our generation. He, along with many others, believes the narrow neck of land referenced in Alma 63:5Ether 10:20 and possibly Alma 22:32 is the entire Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. I do not believe the text supports that correlation. This article will place Tehuantepec in context among the isthmuses of the world to lay the foundation for relevant Book of Mormon exegesis.

Geographers identify the Isthmus of Tehuantepec as that land in Mexico between the 94th and 96th meridians of west longitude. Its surface area (including water) is 57,629 square kilometers. That is larger than any of the 9 smallest states in the U.S. and nearly the size of West Virginia.
  • 14.40 times larger than Rhode Island, 4,002 square kilometers
  • 8.94 times larger than Delaware, 6,447 square kilometers
  • 4.01 times larger than Connecticut, 14,357 square kilometers
  • 2.55 times larger than New Jersey, 22,588 square kilometers
  • 2.38 times larger than New Hampshire, 24,216 square kilometers
  • 2.31 times larger than Vermont, 24,901 square kilometers
  • 2.11 times larger than Massachusetts, 27,336 square kilometers
  • 2.04 times larger than Hawaii, 28,311 square kilometers
  • 1.79 times larger than Maryland, 32,133 square kilometers
  • 91.83% as large as West Virginia, 62,755 square kilometers
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is larger than dozens of countries on earth including Croatia (56,594 square kilometers), Denmark (43,094 square kilometers), Taiwan (36,193 squarer kilometers) or Israel (20,770 square kilometers). Placing a north-south transect at the narrowest point, the width of the isthmus between the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf of Campeche) and the Pacific Ocean (Gulf of Tehuantepec) is 216 kilometers. Placing an east-west transect between the 94th and 96th meridians of west longitude, the length of the isthmus is 211 kilometers. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as defined by geographers, is shown as a white polygon on the map below. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec in white, surface area 57,629 square kilometers
Parts of 4 Mexican states are included in the isthmus: Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tabasco and Chiapas. The name comes from the Oaxacan town of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec. The name "Tehuantepec" derives from the Nahuatl "tecuani-tepec" or "jaguar hill". Shortly before the Spanish conquest, the Aztecs conquered Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, but only after a prolonged siege battle. The locals fought ferociously from fortified positions on a prominent hill (summit 120 meters) east of the Tehuantepec River. This Google Earth view shows the hill just above the yellow line representing the Tehuantepec River, on the right hand side of the image with the modern town built up around it.
Modern town of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec showing jaguar hill
Because the natives fought like jaguars on their hill, the Aztecs named the place tecuani-tepec.

4 major river systems drained the isthmus during Book of Mormon times: the Papaloapan, Coatzacoalcos, Tehuantepec and Mezcalapa-Grijalva (today the Tonala). On the  map below, the Mezcalapa-Grijalva system (as it flowed in Book of Mormon times - see the article "Wandering River" in this blog) is in blue, the Usumacinta is in red, other rivers are in yellow, the continental divide is in white, and the trans-isthmian railroad is shown in magenta. It requires 302 kilometers of track for the railway to connect Salina Cruz, Oaxaca with Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. The railroad crosses the continental divide at Chivela Pass, altitude 224 meters.
Isthmian rivers, continental divide and railroad
Chivela Pass funnels prevailing winds, known as Tehuanos, from south to north. Occasionally, contrary winds blow through the pass in the opposite direction, from north to south, with such force that they have been known to sandblast paint from ships in the Gulf of Tehuantepec. The largest wind power project in Latin America is currently under development on the Oaxacan side of the isthmus. Elevations within the isthmus range from 2,500 meters to sea level. Five different climatic zones are present in this area. The following map shows the world standard Koppen climate classification system for Mexico.
Koppen climate map of Mexico showing five zones within the isthmus
In general, the southern side of the isthmus is much drier than the northern side. This is graphically shown in a NASA true color satellite image taken in April at the height of the dry season.
NASA Blue Marble image of the isthmian region in April
Satellite images of the earth's lights at night provide a good visual representation of relative population density. Notice that in the Tehuantepec region, both coasts are heavily populated while the interior Selva Zoque remains largely in its natural state.
NASA image of the earth's lights at night
This same pattern held true anciently. Plotting archaeological sites known to science from the EAAMS database, we find settlement activity on both coasts with a large blank spot in the middle.
Known archaeological sites
The point is that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a very large place with a great deal of physiographic and cultural diversity. How large is it? It is the widest isthmus on the planet (Panama is the longest). Geographers consider anything wider than Tehuantepec part of a continental land mass rather than an isthmus. Some geographers even consider Tehuantepec too wide to be classified as an isthmus. Here is a comprehensive, although not exhaustive, list of generally accepted isthmuses (aka isthmi) organized in ascending order by width at the narrowest point:
Isthmuses of the World
Isthmus Between and Width (km) Notes
Bruny Island, Tasmania North Bruny South Bruny 0.04
Olympia, Washington West Olympia East Olympia 0.04
Nahant, Massachusetts Nahant Masachusetts 0.06
Quetrihue, Argentina Quetrihue Peninsula Neuquen, Argentina 0.09
Mavis Grind, Shetland Islands North Mavine Peninsula Shetland 0.11
La Coupee, Sark, Channel Islands Little Sark Sark 0.12
Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania Tasman Peninsula Tasmania 0.14
Portland Beach, U.K. Portland Bill Dorset, England 0.16
Bardsey Island, U.K. North Bardsey South Bardsey 0.19
Derbyhaven, U.K. Langness Peninsula Isle of Man 0.20
Coronado, California Coronado Island California 0.25
Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Newfoundland Island of Miquelon Langlade Island 0.25
Sutton, Dublin, Ireland Howth Ireland 0.37
Cape Clear Island, Ireland Gathabawn Cape Clear 0.43
Kushimoto, Japan Cape Shiono-Misaki Honshu Island 0.47
Catalina Island, California Western Catalina Eastern Catalina  0.61
Munoz Gamero Peninsula, Chile Munoz Gamero Chile 0.80
Madison, Wisconsin Lake Mendota Lake Monona 0.93
Bolbs, Spain Gibraltar Spain 1.08
Potidea, Greece Kassandra Peninsula Greece 1.08
East Falkland Island Northern East Falkland Southern East Falkland 1.24
Sechelt, British Columbia Sechelt Peninsula Canada 1.25
Llondudno, Wales Great Orme Wales 1.29
Rongotai, New Zealand Miramar Peninsula North Island, N.Z. 1.31
Similk Beach, Washington Fidalgo Island Washington 1.75
Tarbert, Scotland Kintyre Peninsula Scotland 2.17
2.96 median
Auckland, New Zealand Northern Peninsula North Island, N.Z. 3.75
Seattle, Washington Puget Sound Lake Washington 4.00
Medanos, Venezuela Medanos Peninsula Venezuela 4.05
Summerside, Prince Edward Island Western P.E.I. Prince Edward Island 4.12
Carlos Ameghino, Argentina Valdes Peninsula Chubut, Argentina 5.07
Avalon, Newfoundland Avalon Peninsula Newfoundland 5.75
Corinth, Greece Peloponnese Peninsula Greece 5.80 etymological origin
Perekop, Crimea Crimea Ukraine 9.46
Westfjords, Iceland Westfjords Peninsula Iceland 9.47
Rhins of Galloway, Scotland Galloway Peninsula Scotland 9.60
Maui, Hawaii West Maui Maui 11.00
Quezon, Philippines Bicol Peninsula Luzon 12.00
Punta Arenas, Chile Brunswick Peninsula Chile 15.00
Rivas, Nicaragua Lake Nicaragua Pacific Ocean 18.00
20.20 mean
Ofqui, Chile Taitao Peninsula Chile 21.00
Chignecto, Nova Scotia Nova Scotia Canada 24.00
Adam's Bridge (former isthmus), India India Sri Lanka 29.00
Catanzaro, Italy Calabria Peninsula Italy 30.00
Kra Isthmus, Thailand Malay Peninsula Asia 43.00
Karelian Isthmus, Russia Gulf of Finland Lake Ladoga 46.00
Forth-Clyde, Scotland Scottish Highlands Central Lowlands 50.00
Panama Central America South America 57.00
Suez, Egypt Sinai Peninsula Egypt 122.00
Olonets, Russia Lake Onega Lake Ladoga 125.00
Onega, Russia Lake Onega White Sea 154.00
Tehuantepec, Mexico North America Central America 216.00
20.20 mean
2.96 median
If you want to play around with the data, you can download the Excel spreadsheet here by clicking on file, then download.

The word "isthmus" derives from the Greek "isthmos" meaning "neck". The use of the term in geography originated with the Isthmus of Corinth which is 5.80 kilometers wide at its narrowest point.
Isthmus of Corinth (Korinthos) in Greece
The Isthmus of Corinth joins the Peloponnese Peninsula to the Greek mainland. It is about 7.45 kilometers long and has a surface area of approximately 56 square kilometers. The modern Greek village of Isthmia is at the narrowest point of the isthmus.
Isthmus of Corinth closeup
The Isthmus of Paracas in Peru, 4.61 kilometers wide, is typical. The atypical Isthmus of Tehuantepec is 37 times wider (216 kilometers/5.80 kilometers) than the Isthmus of Corinth which defines the genre.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ammonihah Noah & Sidom all East of Sidon

On Thursday, August 2, 2012 I had a lengthy conversation with John L. Sorenson following his excellent presentation at the FAIR Conference about his forthcoming book, Mormon's Codex. I promised to send him an article demonstrating from the Book of Mormon that the associated Nephite polities Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom were all east of Sidon, not west of the river as most students of the text have assumed for more than 100 years. This is that article in PDF format: Ammonihah Noah & Sidom all East of Sidon. Since many browser-based PDF viewers lack functionality, you may wish to click on File and Download to read the PDF in a native viewer on your local machine.
Some of this material was presented at the 10th Annual BMAF Lands of the Book of Mormon Conference held at the Salt Lake Sheraton on Saturday, October 20, 2012. You can view that presentation in this YouTube video filmed and edited by Robert Starling. The first 13 minutes of the video deal with the Ammonihah East of Sidon issue. The final 47 minutes of the video show John W. (Jack) Welch and me presenting a history of Book of Mormon Studies in the 20th Century.
My intent with this material is to be provocative. I believe the Book of Mormon deserves to be taken seriously by much larger audiences worldwide. Demonstrating a verifiable New World setting after 182 years (1830 - 2012) would go a long way toward establishing the kind of credibility that would invite global interest in the book. Book of Mormon geography has been a fringe topic within LDS culture for generations, mired in ambiguity which has bred controversy. With the confluence of Royal Skousen's critical text, detailed historical-contextual exegesis from scholars such as Grant Hardy, and the unprecedented power and accessibility of Google Earth, significant progress toward a viable consensus map now seems possible. This article is an attempt to move the dial in that direction.
Ammonihah, Noah & Sidom all East of Sidon
For well over a century, almost all Book of Mormon geography models have located the associated Nephite polities Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom west of river Sidon. Here are a few examples, beginning with Jeremy Skidmore's artistic representation.
Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom, west of river Sidon, outlined in red
Joel Hardy originated this handy block diagram. Notice that he posits two cities of Aaron, one near Ammonihah and another east of the river near Nephihah and Moroni.
Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom, west of river Sidon, outlined in red
This useful image came from a presentation Steve Carr gave in 2008 at the 6th Annual BMAF Lands of the Book of Mormon Conference in Salt Lake City.
Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom, west of Sidon, outlined in red
John L. Sorenson's highly influential internal map has received wide distribution.
Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom, west of Sidon, outlined in red
P. Douglas Kiester is a dedicated student of the text with many innovative ideas. His Sidon is in northwestern Colombia just south of Panama.
Ammonihah, west of Sidon, outlined in red
The late Daniel H. Ludlow first created this internal map. Versions of it have been widely published in Church Educational System (CES) manuals.
Ammonihah, Noah and Sidom, west of Sidon, outlined in red
Joseph L. Allen is the dean of Book of Mormon tour guides. He and his son, Blake, published this map in 2008. Their Sidon is the Grijalva River in southern Mexico.
Ammonihah, west of Sidon, outlined in red
We could continue multiplying examples, but you get the idea.