Monday, September 15, 2014

OED on Necks of Land

Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language appeared just two years before the Book of Mormon. In the early 1980's as FARMS was beginning its contribution to Mormon scholarship, we were excited to see what we could learn about the meanings of Book of Mormon words and phrases from Webster's classic tome. Thirty years later we now know the earliest English version of the Nephite text has a much closer affinity with the older language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. See the blog article "Early Modern English." The indispensable dictionary for exegesis of Mormon's and Moroni's abridgments can only be the incomparable Oxford English Dictionary commonly called the OED. Textual scholars such as Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack use the OED extensively.

We used the OED to articulate the meanings of the terms "tongue of land," "strip of land," and "isthmus" in the blog article "Romance Languages." We will now plumb the depths of the OED to shed more light on the key Nephite phrases:
  • small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward Alma 22:32.
  • narrow neck which led into the land northward Alma 63:5.
  • by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land Ether 10:20.
Necks of Water
We first note that a "neck" can also refer to a marine feature. Straits, sounds and inlets are sometimes called "necks of water," particularly if they are quite narrow. So the Book of Mormon usage "neck of land" is not redundant given its coastal nature.

Small Necks of Land
The obsolete word "halover" is a variant of "haul over" meaning portage where seafarers had to carry their boats from the ocean over a spit of land before they could launch them again in an inland waterway. Haulover Beach in North Miami, Florida is one place where this word persists. Beginning in 1697 (the Early Modern English era) an English privateer (pirate) and adventurer began publishing memoirs of his voyages and discoveries around the world. Because he was a keen observer and facile wordsmith, William Dampier's writings became very popular. Dampier describes a trip he took in 1676 along the coast of Tabasco. This image is from Captain William Dampier edited by John Masefield, Dampier's Voyages (London: E. Grant Richards, 1906) Vol. 2, pp. 214-5 displayed in Google Books.
Captain William Dampier Voyages (1676)
Dampier's Halover is a coastal sandbar running between the Gulf of Campeche and Laguna Santana aka Laguna Machona and Laguna Redonda. This sandbar is what Dampier called a "small Neck of Land." It is .27 km wide at the point indicated.
Dampier's Small Neck of Land, Tabasco
On modern maps the sandbar is called Barra del Panteon with Barra Tupilco to the east and Barra de Santa Ana to the west. The sense of "haul over" persists on the map above in the Spanish word "arrastradero" which means "portage."

We propose Barra San Marcos on the Pacific coast of Chiapas as the narrow (small) neck of land in the Book of Mormon. It is also a coastal sandbar fronting a series of saltwater lagoons. Barra del Panteon and Barra San Marcos are nearly identical geographic features 270 air kilometers distant from each other in southern Mexico. One was described in Early Modern English as "a small neck of land." Another may be the feature described in an Early Modern English text (the Book of Mormon) as "a small neck of land."

Another Early Modern English usage of the term "small neck of land" comes from the ancient city of Tyre in modern Lebanon. Tyre is on a tiny peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean.
Tyre, Lebanon on a Peninsula .5 km Wide
Anglican clergyman Thomas Fuller published an Early Modern English book entitled The historie of the holy warre (Cambridge: T. Buck, 1639) where he described Tyre "tacked to the continent with a small neck of land."

"Betwixt" is archaic. The sense is "by twin" meaning a third entity (c) in close relationship with two other entities (a & b) where a & b share significant commonalities. So, for instance, in geographic usage a river or plain may lie between two cities. A fence or wall may lie between two farmer's fields. A mountain ridge may lie between two valleys. The word often conveys either a line of movement or communication between a & b, or an obstacle dividing a from b. In Early Modern English, c was adjunct to both a & b, not integral with either of them.

Alma 22:32 and 3 Nephi 3:23 describe the actual border between the land northward (Desolation) and the land southward (Bountiful) as a line. The narrow (small) neck of land was not this line. It was a coastal feature along the west sea in the vicinity of this line. Our correlation of the narrow (small) neck of land with a coastal sandbar fits this scenario nicely. The neck was not the  land northward nor was it the land southward. It was separate from both these lands, but in line with them and a conduit of movement and communication between them.

Something is narrow when its breadth or width is small compared with its length. A long lane or street with houses or fields on either side is narrow. Egyptian settlement along the banks of the Nile is narrow. The northern arms of the Red Sea on either side of the Sinai Peninsula are narrow.
Narrow Egyptian Settlement along the Nile, Narrow Arms of the Red Sea
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec as defined by geographers is not narrow. Its width exceeds its length.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec 211 km Long X 216 km Wide
The narrow neck of land as envisioned by John L. Sorenson, V. Garth Norman and many others is not narrow. Its width greatly exceeds its length. In the representation below, the width is 6.75 times greater than the length, the exact opposite of the OED definition of "narrow."
Proposed Narrow Neck of Land 32 km long X 216 km wide
Our proposed narrow neck of land, on the other hand, conforms precisely to the OED definition of "narrow"
Barra San Marcos 52 km Long X 2 km Wide
Narrow Land
In 1640 a farmer in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire was conveyed one "narrow land." At that time in England, fields were often divided into narrow strips. The example shown is .26 km wide.
Strips of Land around Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire
Narrow Necks of Land
"Halse" or "hals" was an old Scottish word for "neck." Hector Boece wrote his celebrated The History and Chronicles of Scotland in Latin in 1527. John Bellenden translated it into Scottish vernacular in 1536. Describing the region of Nidisdail (modern Nithsdale), Boece/Bellenden wrote "It beginnis with ane narow and strait hals, and incressis mair braid." In contemporary English we would render "It begins with one narrow and strait neck, and increases more broad." This 1726 map of Scotland shows the narrow southern neck of Nithisdale (Nithsdale), approximately 5 km wide.
Nithisdale (Nithsdale) in Southern Scotland
During the 1600's when the basic geography of the New World was beginning to be widely understood, the Isthmus of Darien aka Panama was called a "narrow neck of land" or similar. Panama is 52.77 km wide at its narrowest point and 900 km long on its Atlantic coastline from the Colombia border on the south to the Costa Rica border on the north. Panama clearly conforms to the OED definition of "narrow."
Isthmus of Panama 
"America is not unfitly resembled to an Hour-glasse, which hath a narrow neck of land ... betwixt the parts thereof." Thomas Fuller, The holy state, 1642

"America is ... divided by that Isthmus, or necke and narrow passage of Land at Darien, into two parts." Samuel Purchas, Purchas his pilgrimage, 1613

"Next is that necke or narrow extent of Land ... knitting the two great Peninsuls of the North and South America together." Samuel Purchas, Purchas his pilgrimage, 1613

Necks of Land
French maps from the 1600's were the first to name the Niagara Peninsula. The name comes from the Mohawk language and means "neck of land (between the lakes)." The Niagara Peninsula is 37.21 kilometers wide at its narrowest point.
Niagara Peninsula Surrounded by Water on Three Sides
In the late 1700's, a British naturalist called the narrow sandbar fronting Portland harbor a "neck of land." It is .18 km wide.
Neck of Land along the Dorset Coast
"On the neck of land joining Portland to Dorsetshire." William Withering, An Arrangement of British Plants..., 1796

In the late 1600's, the area between the Firth of Forth to the east and the Firth of Clyde to the west was called a "neck of land." This territory is 54.61 km wide on the line indicated.
Neck of Land across Central Scotland
"The Neck of Land between the two Fryths about Sterling and Glasco." William Temple, An Introduction to the History of England, (London: Richard and Ralph Simpson, 1699)

Kent Island in Chesapeake Bay was first colonized in 1631, the earliest European settlement in what is now Maryland. By 1640 about a dozen land patents had been granted on the island and surveyors were busy marking boundaries and certifying claims. Kent Island has three "necks of land" that appear on the modern map: Batts Neck, Cox Neck and Crab Alley Neck. Survey records from 1640 document many other necks of land. For example: "Laid out for Thomas Keyne the Neck of Land called hog penn Neck, lyeing between thcketty Creek on the North, hog pen Creek on the South Chesapeak Bay on the West and a Meridian line drawn from the head of Thicketty Creek, to the head of hog pen Creek on the East Containing 100 acres." Maryland Historical Magazine Vol. 5, 1910 "Land Notes, 1634 - 1665" We would classify Hog Pen Neck 1 fresh 2 fresh 3 salt using the system outlined in the blog article "Necks of Land."
The Northern Portion of Kent Island, Queen Anne's County, Maryland
Land Neck
"Land-neck" is an obsolete word meaning isthmus. "At the very entrance of the Isthmus, or land-necke." Florus, translated by Edmund Mary Bolton, The Roman Histories of Lucius Juluis Florus ..., 1619

"Neckland" is an obsolete word meaning a neck or narrow strip of land. "The Promontories and necklands which butt into the the Sea, what are they but solide creekes." George Hakewell, An Apologie of the power and providence of God, 1627

Led into
The sense of "lead in" or "lead into" is to conduct or guide along a path. Gates lead into courtyards. Anterooms lead into larger rooms. Footpaths lead into forests. "Passing from hence through the Sala Regia againe, I was led into the great roome hard by." Richard Lassels edited by Simon Wilson, The voyage of Italy, 1670.

"Led into" is used four times in a geographic context in the Book of Mormon.
  • Alma 52:9 the narrow pass led into the land northward.
  • Mormon 3:5 the narrow pass led into the land southward.
  • Alma 63:5 the narrow neck led into the land northward.
  • Mormon 2:29 the narrow passage led into the land southward.
All three features (narrow pass, neck & passage) were very near the actual border, the line between the lands southward and northward Alma 22:32, 3 Nephi 3:23. The narrow passage was right on the border Mormon 2:29. All three were distinctive enough to function in the role of independent gate or path leading into the much larger and more substantial lands northward and southward. This map shows our correlations,
Proposed Narrow (Small) Neck, Narrow Pass, Narrow Passage
and Bountiful/Desolation Border Line
We propose that:
  • the narrow (small) neck of land is Barra San Marcos. The black lines show the modern road traversing the length of the sandbar, intersecting at right angles with Cabeza de Toro road.
  • the narrow pass is the Mexican railroad grade shown as the purple line skirting around Cerro Bernal and Laguna de la Joya.
  • the narrow passage is the mountain pass at the Agua Dulce River where Mexican Federal Highway 200, shown in light blue, runs today.
  • the Bountiful.Desolation line is the red line that runs from a point high in the Sierra Madre westward to Mar Muerto. 
On the map above, the yellow lines are rivers emptying into the Pacific. The white line is the continental divide and the blue lines are rivers in the Mezcalapa - Grijalva drainage basin. Green pushpins represent geographic features mentioned in the text. Yellow pushpins are elevation markers.
These correlations fit the sense of "led into" brilliantly.
  • The narrow (small) neck route led only into the land northward.
  • The narrow pass, flanking a mountainous ridge that crosses over the Bountiful/Desolation line, can lead either northward or southward depending on one's location at the time. When the Nephites were in land Bountiful, the narrow pass led northward Alma 52:9. When the Nephites were in land Desolation, the narrow pass led southward Mormon 3:5.
  • The narrow passage was right on the Bountiful/Desolation border line, so movement could go either way. When the Nephites were in land Desolation, the narrow passage led southward Mormon 2:29.
The fact that three transportation corridors exist today (coast road, railroad, highway) through this area lends credibility to the Book of Mormon account of three geographic features providing access between the lands southward and northward.

We could constructively consult the OED for the terms "narrow pass" and "narrow passage" but our scope in this article is the narrow (small) neck of land.

A neck is a constriction, a pinch point. Vertebrates have necks. Bottles, flasks and jars have necks. To some degree, the words "neck" and "narrow" are redundant because most necks are longer than they are wide. Necks are usually associated with peninsulas that protrude like a head from a body. Isthmuses that connect two larger bodies are also called necks. The complex topography of the Crimean Peninsula, for instance, has several features that are called necks and/or isthmuses almost interchangeably."The upwold, or high level part of the neck [of the isthmus]." Alexander William Kinglake, The Invasion of Crimea, 1875. The narrowest part of a mountain pass can be called a neck. "Monsieur Medavi...was to advance towards the Neck of the Mountains at Ceurs." The London Gazette No. 4359/2, 1709.
Necks around Mount Hope Bay between Massachusetts & Rhode Island
"Mount-Hope, Pocasset and several other Necks of the best land in the Colony." William Hubbard, A narrative of the troubles with the Indians in New-England, 1677

The verb "divide" means to partition, cleave or cut into pieces. The narrow (small) neck of land was geographically proximate to a place where the sea divides the land Ether 10:20. This place could not have been an isthmus. An isthmus by definition is a place where the land divides the sea. This place must have been an inlet of the ocean or an outlet (mouth) where an inland saltwater lagoon breaches a sandbar. Along the Pacific coast of Oaxaca and Chiapas, the mouth of a lagoon is called a "boca" which is Spanish for "mouth." The map below shows three of these bocas, highlighted by white circles.
Boca de San Francisco, Boca del Mar Muerto & Boca del Cielo
The Boca del Mar Muerto is large enough (.56 kilometers wide) that ocean-going vessels transit it regularly. It divides the Barra San Marcos to the east from Barra de Tonala to the west in the land/sea/land pattern the text describes. Mar Muerto is home to the largest fishing fleet in southern Mexico.
Boca del Mar Muerto in Context
We propose that Boca del Mar Muerto at the northwestern end of Barra San Marcos and the southeastern end of Barra de Tonala is the place where the sea divides the land and one of the ports on the extreme eastern end of Mar Muerto is the place Hagoth built and launched his remarkable ships. For additional details supporting these correlations, see the blog article "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage."