Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bountiful - Context

Bountiful in the Old World had a number of salient characteristics:
Bountiful in the New World had all of these characteristics and more:
  • The Nephites named the land Bountiful Alma 22:29
  • After being forcibly driven from their homes by Lamanite invaders, the Nephites took refuge in Bountiful Helaman 4:6.
  • The text describes fruit Helaman 11:17 in Bountiful, the greater land of Zarahemla, and the greater land of Nephi, these three lands constituting "the whole face of the land" Helaman 11:18 both northward and southward Helaman 11:20 of the narrow strip of wilderness from the sea west to the sea east.
  • Honey is never mentioned in The Book of Mormon in a New World context. However, the study of Maya exchange patterns has identified honey as a significant commercial commodity in antiquity.
The most important Maya trade goods were animal hides, basalt, cacao, ceramics (pottery), cotton & textiles, feathers, fish, flint, forest products, honey, jade, obsidian, salt, shells, tobacco and tools such as manos and metates. This map shows some of the principal places of origin for major Maya trade goods.
Principal sources of major Maya trade goods
Note that one of the major centers of honey production in the Maya economy was the area around Chetumal Bay in present-day Quintana Roo. This area correlates well with The Book of Mormon land of Bountiful as subsequent blog posts will demonstrate.

Continuing the characteristics of New World Bountiful that correspond with Old World Bountiful:
  • Meat from game animals is attested in the text in both Jaredite Ether 10:21 and Nephite Alma 22:31 times.
  • Bountiful is explicitly described as wilderness Alma 22:31 implying limited human impact.
  • Hagoth's port was in Bountiful Alma 63:5. He built a small fleet of ships Alma 63:7 that carried people, provisions Alma 63:10 and construction grade timber Helaman 3:10 into the land northward.
  • Hagoth's port, obviously, was on the seacoast, in this case the west sea Alma 63:5 by the land Desolation. The land Bountiful also had an east seacoast which the text makes explicit through association with Jershon Alma 27:22 and the city of Mulek Alma 52:17, Alma 51:26. (Note that the city of Nephihah mentioned in Alma 51:26 is a known error in the 1981 LDS text. Royal Skousen emends the unsupportable "Nephihah" to read "Moroni". See the blog article "Scribal Error" for additional information about this and other known errors in the 1981 LDS text. Alma 51:32 describes military action in Bountiful on the east seacoast.  
  • The New World Bountiful was predominantly coastal lowland, but it included or bordered higher elevation territory. We know this because Bountiful which was southward Alma 22:31 bordered the land Desolation which was northward Alma 22:31 and both were by a narrow pass that connected the lands southward and northward. On the Desolation side of this narrow pass, one was already in the land northward so the pass led into the land southward Mormon 3:5. On the Bountiful side of this narrow pass, one was in the land southward so the pass led into the land northward Alma 50:34, Alma 52:9.When the Nephite nation was in its final throes, General Mormon gathered all his people together on the Desolation side of this narrow pass, bordering Bountiful Mormon 3:5. The Lamanites controlled the area southward of the pass Mormon 2:29 which included Bountiful. When the Lamanites were the aggressors, invading Nephite lands, they always came down in elevation Mormon 3:7, Mormon 4:17, Mormon 4:19 to engage the Nephites whose city and land Desolation were near the seacoast Mormon 3:8. On the other hand, when the Nephites went on the offensive contrary to prophetic direction, the text consistently describes them going up in elevation to Lamanite-held territory Mormon 3:10, Mormon 3:14, Mormon 4:1. Therefore, the land Bountiful included or bordered upland territory.
When we go looking for a place on the map that correlates with the textual description of the west seacoast Bountiful - Desolation border area outlined above, the isthmian Pacific coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas is a good fit. In that area, the Sierra Madre is a high mountainous region very close to any proposed land Bountiful. The map below shows the continental divide in white with a handful of elevations noted.
Elevations along the isthmian continental divide 
We find dramatic mountains near the proposed Bountiful in the Old World, and even more dramatic mountains near the proposed Bountiful in the New World.

Continuing our analysis of the ways New World Bountiful mirrors Old World Bountiful:
  • When Mormon described Nephite-held territory in the land southward at apogee ca. 65 B.C., Bountiful was on the northern frontier of Zarahemla's influence. Lands existed beyond Bountiful where Nephites and former Nephites resided, but they were so remote the Nephite record keepers pay them scant attention Alma 22:29, Alma 50:11, Alma 52:9. People left from Bountiful and were never heard from again Alma 63:8.
  • The greatest revelation in Book of Mormon lands - the personal appearance of the resurrected Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ - was received in Bountiful 3 Nephi 11:1-8.
  • Many ocean-going ships sailed from Hagoth's port in Bountiful Alma 63:5-10.
Bountiful in Oman and Bountiful in Mexico were both powerful symbols of peace and refuge amid exodus, symbolically linked by a number of shared motifs.

New World Bountiful was one of four land southward geographic entities that were continental (sea to sea) in scope. The others were the greater lands of Nephi and Zarahemla and the narrow strip of wilderness. Bountiful had spatial relationships with many other Book of Mormon geographic referents highlighted below in yellow.

Analysis of Alma 22. In this, his principal topographic passage, Mormon describes the Nephite and Lamanite nations as they existed geographically ca. 90 B.C., the time when Ammon was teaching King Lamoni in the land of Ishmael and his brother Aaron was teaching King Lamoni's father in the local land of Nephi. Nephite settlement along the east and west seacoasts of the greater land of Zarahemla had not yet begun in 90 B.C. By ca. 77 B.C. the  land of Jershon, associated with the east sea, appears for the first time in the text. That is followed by many other lands and cities in the ensuing years. By 65 B.C., the greater land of Zarahemla extended from coast to coast. See the blog article "Expansion of the Nephite Nation" for a series of maps showing the growth of the Nephite polity in their golden age.

Alma 22:27
  • Alma 22:27 the terms all the land, all his people and all his land refer to the greater land of Nephi, those cities and lands subject to King Lamoni's father who was the Lamanite emperor ca. 90 B.C.
  • Alma 22:27 the term all the regions round about also refers to the greater land of  Nephi. Round about in the text describes territory wrapping or people moving in a circular fashion. In this case, the regions round about were part of King Lamoni's father's domain encircling the local land of Nephi Alma 22:1, capital of the Lamanite empire.
  • Alma 22:27 the greater land of Nephi ran in a fairly straight line from the east sea to the west sea Alma 50:8. The east sea was also called the sea on the east and sea east. The west sea was also called the sea on the west and sea west.
  • Alma 22:27 the greater land of Zarahemla was north of the east-west narrow strip of wilderness. The greater land of Nephi was south of the narrow strip of wilderness. The narrow strip of wilderness, like the greater land of Nephi, ran from the east sea to the west sea.
  • Alma 22:27 the western edge of the narrow strip of wilderness curved, following the coastline of the west sea. This is the part of the narrow strip of wilderness that lay round about on the borders of the seashore
  • Alma 22:27 In the area where the narrow strip of wilderness curved, there was also some wilderness west of the greater land of Zarahemla. This wilderness was generally north of the narrow strip of wilderness like the greater land of Zarahemla was north of the narrow strip of wilderness. 
  • Alma 22:27 the narrow strip of wilderness running east-west through the borders of the land of Manti and by the head of river Sidon was the dividing line generally between Nephite held territory on the north and Lamanite lands on the south.
This one verse, Alma 22:27, is packed with so much spatial detail that many students of the text have difficulty following it without a map. Here is a proposed map showing the relationships. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Proposed Alma 22:27 correlation
When we suggest that the greater land of Zarahemla was south of Bountiful and north of the narrow strip of wilderness as the map above indicates, does this mean the Nephites from their capital city, Zarahemla, ruled all that vast territory? No. The Nephites established outposts with sizable pockets of wilderness between settled areas. So, for example, the map below is identical to the one above except the greater land of Zarahemla is limited to our proposed correlation of those populated lands & cities (not wilderness) mentioned in the text by 81 B.C. See the blog article "Expansion of the Nephite Nation" for a series of maps that plot Nephite growth as they approached apogee. The black circles indicate the Piedras Negras and Altar de Sacrificios areas where it is doubtful the Nephites ever had much more influence than a tense detente during times of peace and avoidance of the region during times of war. And, the circular yellow polygon represents the Mirador Basin area with Calakmul on the north and Tikal on the south. It is unlikely the Nephites had much influence of any kind in this heavily populated and culturally dynamic area.
Greater land of Zarahemla limited to settlements
mentioned in the text by 81 B.C.
There is a great deal of evidence in the text that Nephite "control" over their far-flung territory was tenuous and fleeting. Commander Helaman's lament to his military superior, Captain Moroni, is typical. In Alma 58:32 Helaman opines that Nephite power was weak vis-a-vis the amount of real estate they nominally occupied. Nephite leaders consistently attributed their military success to divine help Alma 49:28, Alma 56:56 because they were always demographically disadvantaged Mosiah 25:3. A well-known example from Mormon history will help illustrate the point. Brigham Young led the vanguard pioneer company from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Before he died in 1877, the American Moses + Joshua helped found over 400 settlements in what eventually became the states of California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and of course, Utah. This map shows the enormous geographic extent of outlying Mormon settlements begun during Brigham Young's lifetime (in the case of Manassa, Colorado, they actually started out in Pueblo).
Geographic distribution of Mormon settlements begun
during Brigham Young's lifetime
The white-shaded polygon on the map above has an area larger than 1 million square kilometers. (By way of comparison, the maximum extent of the Maya area in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador never exceeded 360,000 square kilometers.) Did the Mormons control that huge territory? Of course not, but Brigham's vision was grander still. The proposed state of Deseret (1849 - 1850) included all of what is today southern California, extended past Crater Lake, Oregon and covered an area larger than 1,230,000 square kilometers. At the time California was admitted to the union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850, the state population stood at 95,000. By Young's death in 1877, the population of California had exploded to approximately 800,000. In contrast, in 1850, according to the Deseret News 2012 Church Almanac there were fewer than 52,000 Latter-day Saints worldwide (many were in Europe). At Brigham Young's death in 1877, that number had grown to 115,000. So, while we admire the sheer audacity of the Utah church's geo-political ambition in the western U.S., in the end their territorial claims proved unsustainable because they lacked the manpower to exert more than marginal influence over the external events swirling around them. Something similar was going on with the Nephites in southern Mesoamerica in the late pre-classic. They bit off much more than they could chew and ultimately, their republic with settlements from sea to sea lasted only a few decades.
Two schools of thought exist among Book of Mormon students regarding the interpretation of Alma 22:27. Most people think the phrase "running from the east towards the west" refers to the same narrow strip of wilderness that is the principal subject of the verse. Others think it refers to the river Sidon. If the river is what Mormon intended, he is probably describing the great bend of the Chixoy which does in fact flow westward for about 25 air kilometers at this point in its course before turning generally northward.
Close up of proposed Manti - head of Sidon area
showing east to west river flow
Alma 22:28
  • Alma 22:28 Culturally benighted Lamanites lived in the wilderness on the west in the land of Nephi. This refers to wilderness by the west seacoast south of the narrow strip of wilderness included as part of the greater land of Nephi. 
  • Alma 22:28 Lamanites also lived in the wilderness west of the greater land of Zarahemla, by the west seacoast. Note the terminology distinction here. This wilderness was not part of the greater land of Zarahemla. In 90 B.C., the Nephites had not yet begun colonization of their east and west seacoasts.
  • Alma 22:28 The wilderness on the west in the land of Nephi was near the land of first inheritance where the Lehites settled immediately after making landfall in the New World. This land of first inheritance was a coastal region, part of the greater land of Nephi.
  • Alma 22:27-28 Four geographic referents formed a corridor along the west seacoast: 1) the land of first inheritance which was part of the greater land of Nephi, 2) the wilderness on the west in the greater land of Nephi, 3) the part of the narrow strip of wilderness that curved round about the borders of the west sea, and 4) the wilderness west of the greater land of Zarahemla.
This map shows the proposed correlation.
Proposed Alma 22:27-28 correlation
Alma 22:29
  • Alma 22:29 By ca. 90 B.C., the Nephites had begun their colonizing push eastward from their traditional homelands along the river Sidon. We know this because the text says they had driven the Lamanites all the way to the east by the seashore.
  • Alma 22:29 With Lamanites in the west sea corridor, all through the greater land of Nephi south of the narrow strip of wilderness, and also along the east sea, the Nephites were surrounded on 3 sides by their enemies.
This map shows what Mormon may have meant when he said the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites. It shows our placement of Nephite cities and lands mentioned in the text by ca. 81 B.C. The heavy black line represents areas inhabited by Lamanites in 90 B.C.
Nephites in greater Zarahemla nearly surrounded
by Lamanites ca. 90 B.C.
Note also the land not under Nephite control in the northern Peten and southern Campeche. It held large numbers of very powerful Lamanites (a Lamanite being any non-Nephite) in the 90 B.C. era. The black line juts into the ocean in Amatique Bay because in 90 B.C. the area that later (ca. 72 B.C.) became the city of Moroni Alma 50:13 had not yet fallen into the sea 3 Nephi 8:9.
  • Alma 22:29 With Lamanites on much of their perimeter, it is easy to understand why the Nephites were so jealous of all the northern parts of the land. This refers to the greater land of Zarahemla which lay north of the narrow strip of wilderness.
  • Alma 22:29 We like V. Garth Norman's suggestion that the head of the river Sidon is the confluence of the Salama with the Chixoy-Negro where they come together to form the Chixoy. The narrow strip of wilderness that runs from the east sea to the west sea is the wilderness at the head of the river Sidon.
  • Alma 22:29 the greater land of Zarahemla extended from the east to the west north of the narrow strip of wilderness. Note the precise language employed here. Greater Zarahemla at this time (ca. 90 B.C.) did not extend from the east sea to the west sea, just from  the east to the west in keeping with the general directional sweep introduced in Alma 22:27.
  • Alma 22:29 There are two possible interpretations of the area round about on the wilderness side on the north. Note that the critical text and the 1981 LDS text have very different punctuation in this phrase. The original Book of Mormon manuscript did not contain punctuation which causes some ambiguity when we connect dependent clauses with their referents. The wilderness side on the north may refer to the boundary between the greater land of Zarahemla and the areas not yet settled by Nephites west, south and east of Nephite territory. If that is correct, Mormon's concept of round about on the wilderness side on the north refers to Nephite territory north of the narrow strip of wilderness.
The black line on this map shows the correlation if Mormon is referring to the greater land of Zarahamla north of the narrow strip of wilderness surrounded in a circular fashion by non-Nephite wilderness.
One interpretation of greater Zarahemla's wilderness side
north of the narrow strip of wilderness
Another possible interpretation is that the wilderness side on the north is north of the inhabited parts of the greater land of Zarahemla itself. We know that wilderness lay immediately north and west of the local land of Zarahemla. See the blog article entitled "Hermounts." Our correlation puts the local land of Zarahemla in the higher ground south of the permanent flood plain in the Usumacinta delta. There is a distinct line between the higher elevations on the south that receive seasonal flooding near the rivers and lower elevations on the north that are year-round swamps. The black line on the map below shows what Mormon may have meant by wilderness side on the north.
Another interpretation of greater Zarahemla's wilderness side
north of the inhabited parts of Zarahemla itself 
  • Alma 22:29 In any event, the Nephites possessed the greater land of Zarahemla from the narrow strip of wilderness on the south to the land Bountiful on the north. 
Alma 22:30
  • Alma 22:30 The land Bountiful shared a border with the land Desolation.
  • Alma 22:30 In Nephite affairs ca. 90 B.C., the land Bountiful was on the northern frontier of their terra cognita. Beyond Bountiful, even further northward, lay the land Desolation where the once populous Jaredite nation had fallen. Like Bountiful, Desolation was a symbolic idea as well as a bounded extension of territory. The ancient bones Mormon refers to were mentioned in Mosiah 8:8 and Mosiah 21:26. The mention in Omni 1:22 comes from the small plates of Nephi which Mormon had not yet incorporated into his record when he was abridging the book of Alma.
  • Alma 22:30 the land which had been peopled and had been destroyed refers to a political entity that vanished rather than enduring terra firma.
  • Alma 22:30 The land Desolation where the Jaredite nation met its end was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, commonly known as Mulekites. Mulek and his ocean-going emigrant party made their first landing in Desolation Helaman 6:10.
Alma 22:31
  • Alma 22:31 After crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the Mulekites made landfall in the land northward but they didn't remain there very long. The land northward was also called the land on the northward, the land which was northward, the land north and simply the north.
  • Alma 22:31 The Mulekites, aka the people of Zarahemla, traveled southward from their first landing point up into the south wilderness. The word up means they rose in elevation. Their most likely route into the wilderness was to sail upstream on a large river in the same water craft they had used to cross the ocean.
  • Alma 22:31 The south wilderness where the Mulekites settled permanently was the land southward. The land southward was also called the land on the southward, the land south, and simply the south. 
  • Alma 22:31 The land Desolation, southernmost entity in the land northward, symbolically represented  and sometimes eponymously referred to the entire land northward. Another symbolic name for the land northward was Muloch (critical text orthography) Helaman 6:10. The land Bountiful, northernmost entity in the land southward, symbolically represented and sometimes eponymously referred to the entire land southward. Another symbolic name for the land southward was Lehi Helaman 6:10.
  • Alma 22:31 The land southward, aka south wilderness, had an abundance of game animals while the land northward in former times had supported large human populations Mosiah 8:8Ether 10:21.
Alma 22:32
  • Alma 22:32 Along the west seacoast, there was an east-west line between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation. We have previously established that the standard unit of measure for Nephite distance, one day's travel, was approximately 15 straight-line kilometers. See the blog article entitled "Land Southward Travel Times." This line between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation was 1.5 day's travel in length, about 22 - 23 air kilometers. 
  • Alma 22:32 The line between Bountiful on the south and Desolation on the north began at some unspecified point in the east and terminated at the west sea.
This map shows the area within Mesoamerica where the textual description of the east-west Bountiful-Desolation line makes sense. We have activated the Google Maps terrain layer and superimposed our plots of Mesoamerican rivers. Rivers traced in red form the Usumacinta drainage. Rivers traced in blue are part of the Mezcalapa-Grijalva drainage as that river ran in early Nephite times. (See the blog article "Wandering River" for clarification on this point.) All other river systems are traced in yellow. How adequate are our river data? Woefully incomplete. Our maps are still missing many important streams. Tracing rivers in Google Earth is very time-consuming. The rivers we do currently show on maps represent a time investment of several thousand hours. We have begun the lengthy process of mapping Mesoamerican river systems because we believe accurate maps of rivers and mountains are fundamental to viable Book of Mormon geographic correlations. On the map below, the black line represents the Sierra Madre continental divide in the isthmian region. The three straight red lines represent different possible 23 kilometer long east-west transects that may be close to what Mormon had in mind when he described a Bountiful-Desolation line 1.5 days long.
Proposed east-west lines in the Bountiful - Desolation border area
The western end of the line bounded the west sea. And what would the unspecified eastern terminus of this line have been? In our area of interest it would have been the steep Sierra Madre mountains as this close-up clearly shows.
23 kilometer long east-west lines running from the Sierra Madre
to the Mar Muerto on the west coast
  • Alma 22:32 The greater land of Nephi + the greater land of Zarahemla, representing the entire land southward, was largely coastal territory, nearly surrounded by water.
This map shows what Mormon may have been describing.
Land southward nearly surrounded by water
The red line perimeter around our proposed land southward consists of the Gulf of Mexico & Caribbean coastline at 2,383 kilometers, the Honduras & El Salvador border at 250 kilometers, the Pacific coastline at  980 kilometers, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec border at 195 kilometers. That is a total length of 3,808 kilometers, of which 3,363 kilometers or 88.31% is water and 445 kilometers or 11.69% is land. "Nearly surrounded by water" is a reasonably accurate way to describe this landmass. Does this imply that the Yucatan Peninsula figures in The Book of Mormon narrative? Quite possibly. We have a great deal more textual exegesis remaining before we can locate Bountiful and the lands north of Bountiful with a high degree of confidence.

  • Alma 22:32 A small neck of land lay between the land northward and the land southward.