Saturday, March 22, 2014


After escaping King Noah's army Mosiah 18:34 Almaand approximately 450 converts fled eight days' journey Mosiah 23:3 into the wilderness and founded the city and land of Helam named after Alma1's right hand man Mosiah 18:12. Careful reading allows us to identify ten characteristics, highlighted in aqua, that will help us locate Helam on the modern map. 1. Helam was a waypoint between the local land of Nephi and the local land of Zarahemla Mosiah 24:25. Helam will be in the general line of travel between Kaminaljuyu (our correlate for the city of Nephi) on the south and Boca del Cerro (our correlate for the border between the local land of Zarahemla and its southern wilderness) on the north. 2. From the point Alma1's group entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi, they traveled eight days to Helam Mosiah 23:3. Helam will be approximately 8 X 15 = 120 air kilometers (see the article "Land Southward Travel Times") north of the local land of Nephi wilderness border. 3. Natural characteristics of the Helam area should qualify as "beautiful and pleasant" Mosiah 23:4. 4. Something in the environment caused Mormon to describe Helam's water as "pure" Mosiah 23:4. 5. The ground around Helam will be arable Alma 23:5. 6. The description in Mosiah 24:20 suggests a long travel day. We will find a candidate for the valley of Alma approximately 20 air kilometers from the land of Helam in the general direction of Zarahemla. 7. The valley of Alma will be approximately 12 X 15 = 180 air kilometers from Boca del Cerro Mosiah 24:25. 8. The distance from the point the Lamanite army pursuing Limhi entered the wilderness to the land of Amulon Mosiah 23:31 and from there to the land of Helam Mosiah 23:25 will qualify as "many days" Mosiah 23:30 travel. 9. Characteristics of the territory between Helam and Nephi will explain how both the priests of Noah and a Lamanite army could get lost Mosiah 23:35. 10. There will be one logical way to travel efficiently between Helam and Nephi Mosiah 23:36-37.

Our candidate for the land of Helam is the area around the confluence of the Rio Las Mulas and the Arroyo del Cerro with the Icbolay in the northern part of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The modern town of San Benito is 7 kilometers west across the Icbolay. This map shows the location about 14 kilometers south of the east-west Mexico-Guatemala line.
Proposed Land of Helam on the Icbolay River
1. The map below shows a typical ancient route (in white) from highland Guatemala to the middle Usumacinta following first the Motagua, then the Salama, then the Cahabon, then the San Roman, and finally the Salinas which becomes the Usumacinta at the Pasion confluence. Our proposed land of Helam is 35 air kilometers from this route. Criterion #1 satisfied.
Typical Ancient Route (in white) from Highland
Guatemala to the Usumacinta Coastal Plain
2. Almaand his followers could have entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi from any number of points along the north bank of the Motagua River. This map shows circles with radii of 80 kilometers centered on 3 of those possible departure points.
120 Air Kilometer Circles Centered on Points
along the North Bank of the Motagua
As the various circles show, our candidate for Helam is very close to 120 air kilometers (8 days' journey) from the north bank of the Motagua River. Criterion #2 satisfied.

3. Our land of Helam has a number of characteristics many would find pleasant or beautiful. For example, within a radius of 6.5 air kilometers, there are 8 different streams of water: the very large Chixoy, the large Icbolay, and the smaller Las Mulas, Limon with tributary, Lachua and Arroyo del Cerro with tributary. Within that same radius, there are several small lakes. Elevations range from 135 meters along the rivers to hills over 600 meters high. Dense forests cover the higher elevations. A series of rapids on the Icbolay provide cascading whitewater. 8 contemporary villages with populations ranging from 25 to 600 lie within the bounds of our circle.
6.5 Air Kilometer Radius Circle Around Proposed Helam
With rivers and streams, lakes, 465 meters of vertical rise, forests and whitewater rapids, this area has features that could plausibly be called beautiful and pleasant. Criterion #3 satisfied.

4. Mormon's description of Helam's "pure water" has always seemed curious. Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize have hundreds if not thousands of streams of water. Would not most of them have been relatively pure in Book of Mormon times? D&C 121:33 comes to mind, "How long can rolling waters remain impure?" Observing the environment around our Helam, Mormon's word choice makes perfect sense. 15 air kilometers to the west is Laguna Lachua, a Guatemalan National Park. It is a large Karstic lake similar to the famous cenotes of Yucatan. Its waters have a sulphurous smell. The name "Lachua" comes from Q'eqchi' and means smelly or fetid water. 10 air kilometers northwest of our Helam is the famous Maya site Salinas de los Nueve Cerros. The site sits beside a large salt dome that has been worked for over 3,000 years. This was the only inland source of salt in the entire Maya region. A stream called Arroyo Salinas carries brackish, salty water from the salt dome to the Chixoy. This is the reason the big river is called the Salinas from the Mexico line to the Pasion confluence where it becomes the Usumacinta.
Laguna Lachua Sulphur Water and Salinas de los
Nueve Cerros Salt Water near Proposed Helam
With sulphur and salt water in close proximity, Mormon's description of Helam's pure water seems logical and apt. Criterion #4 satisfied. The ancient Maya categorized salty water very differently than potable water. See Lucia Henderson, Bodies Politic, Bodies in Stone, UT Austin, 2013, p. 320. Mormon uses the phrase "pure water" one other time in the text to describe the waters of Mormon Mosiah 18:5 which were also in a sylvan setting, associated with Almaand baptism. This makes it likely the term "multiply" in Mosiah 23:20 refers to religious conversions in addition to natural increase. Baptismal symbolism is also implied by the adjective "beautiful" applied uniquely to Mormon Mosiah 18:30 and Helam Mosiah 23:4, the only 2 places in the text to merit that appellation. This is certainly Mormon's way of indicating a relationship with and partial fulfillment of the prophecies in 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 12:21, Mosiah 15:15-18; and 3 Nephi 20:40 explicated by Abinadi.

5. Farming takes place today in the area we have identified as Helam, so obviously the ground is arable and supports crop production. This satellite image shows worked fields on the outskirts of settlement just as the text describes Mosiah 23:25.
Agriculture in the Proposed Land of Helam
Criterion #6 satisfied.

6.Precisely where our model predicts, we find a valley bounded by the 500+ meter Rubelsanto mountains to the south, 300+ meter hills to the east, a 200+ meter ridge to the northeast, the very large Chixoy River to the west and the large San Roman River to the east.
Proposed Valley of Alma Ringed by Highlands and Rivers
As this map shows, a 20 air kilometer distance from our land of Helam fits comfortably in the proposed valley of Alma.
20 Air Kilometers Land of Helam to Valley of Alma
Downstream on the Chixoy, our candidate valley of Alma is clearly in the line of tavel toward Zarahemla in the coastal plain. Criterion #6 satisfied.

7. Our valley of Alma is 186.74 air kilometers distant from Boca del Cerro, the point we identify as the southeast corner of the local land of Zarahemla. Our model predicts 180 air kilometers based on Mosiah 24:25.
186.74 Air Kilometers Valley of Alma to Local Land of Zarahemla
Criterion #7 satisfied.

8. Based on recent military activity in the area, the Lamanite army dispatched to pursue Limhi probably originated in the land of Shemlon Mosiah 10:7, 19:6. They probably entered the wilderness north of the Motagua. We correlate the land of Amulon with the dual ruins San Vicente and Setal on the Setal River, tributary of the Icbolay. A transect from the bank of the Motagua north of our proposed land of Shemlon to our proposed land of Amulon is 91 air kilometers in length. A second transect from Amulon to Helam is 47 air kilometers in lenth. 91 + 47 = 138 air kilometers.
138 Air Kilometers Shemlon to Amulon to Helam
138/15 = 9.2 which qualifies as "many days" to be lost in the wilderness. Criterion #8 satisfied.

9. It is not hard to imagine both the priests of Noah and the Lamanite army getting lost in the broken country between Nephi and Helam. There were 5 major obstacles to navigate around and through. First was the Sierra de las Minas mountain range rising to heights above 2,800 meters between the Motagua and the Polochic shown here in Google Maps Terrain View.
Sierra de las Minas between the Motagua on
the South and the Polochic on the North
Second was the Narrow Strip of Wilderness - a band of cliffs along the Polochic Fault - shown as a green line on the map below.
Narrow Strip of Wilderness Line of Cliffs (in green)
Third was the Sierra de Xucaneb mountain range rising to heights above 2,600 meters between the Polochic and the Cahabon. The westward extension jutting into the great bend of the Chixoy we correlate with Hill Riplah south of Manti.
Sierra de Xucaneb between the Polochic on the South
and the Cahabon on the North
Fourth was the broad series of east-west elevations knows as the Sierra de Chama north of the Cahabon rising to heights above 1,900 meters.
Sierra de Chama North of the Cahabon
Fifth was the crazy quilt of rivers flowing in every direction. On the map below, the rivers in red are part of the Usumacinta drainage basin. The rivers in yellow flow to the Caribbean. The black lines are river courses detected by satellite-sensed elevation analysis, most of which we have not yet traced into our database of southern Mesoamerican rivers.
Sierra de Chama Rivers and Streams
As further evidence of the difficult nature of the terrain around our proposed land of Amulon, consider the following image from an eye altitude approximately 23 kilometers above the earth.
Broken Country around Land of Amulon
The mountains and rivers are all oriented east-west. The destination, Nephi, is south southwest. Hundreds of small rounded hillocks and depressions dot the landscape. It is no wonder travelers could become disoriented. Criterion #9 satisfied.

10. A surefire route exists from Helam back to Nephi. It follows the very large Chixoy River to the valley south of Manti, then the Cahabon, back to the Chixoy by the head of Sidon, and then the Salama to the pass over the Sierra de las Minas. That gets you back in the Motagua drainage where the mountains and rivers are predictable and much easier to navigate. The part of the Chixoy outlined in black is  generally avoided even today because it is so rugged. Switching back and forth between the Chixoy and the Cahabon to get across the narrow strip of wilderness probably contributed to the Amulonites' and Lamanites' disorientation in the first place.
Reliable Route Helam to Nephi
Alma1 shared the key - following the right rivers - and everyone got safely home Mosiah 23:38. Criterion #10 satisifed.

Our candidate for Helam comfortably meets all 10 textual criteria.
Article updated April 26, 2016.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Test #6 Relative Distances

We have deduced a likely value for the Nephite standard unit of distance measure called "one days journey" Helaman 4:7. In the New World that value was probably close to 15 air or straight-line kilometers per day. See the article "Land Southward Travel Times." In the Old World, that distance was greater. Camel caravans plying the sands of Arabia routinely travel 25 - 40 air kilometers per day (Warren Aston reports that 20 - 25 miles per day is typical). In this article we will investigate all instances of the term "day" with variants used in a travel context. We have previously analyzed the likely meaning of the terms "near," "not far," and "far" in the text. See the article "Things Near and Far." In Nephite usage, "near" probably meant a distance not to exceed 5 air kilometers. Distances of 5 - 10 air kilometers were "not far," and distances of 10 - 200 air kilometers were probably considered routine, neither near nor far. Our study shows a distance in excess of 400 air kilometers would have been considered "far" in Nephite terminology. Our model was shown to be in complete accord with this understanding of the distances implied by these words. Our recent analysis of the term "by" in spatial contexts (see the article "By and By") led us to conclude two entities that were by each other would probably not have been more than 25 air kilometers distant, with a high likelihood they were immediately adjacent. After some modifications to our model to accommodate newly-acquired insights (we extended the land of Jershon to the seacoast to comply with our new understanding of Alma 27:22) our model is now 100% compatible with this interpretation.

Corroboration of our Old World metric comes from Aharon Shemesh of Bar-Ilan University in an article entitled " 'Three-Days' Journey from the Temple': The Use of this Expression in the Temple Scroll", Dead Sea Discoveries 6,2 (1999). He says one day's journey from Jerusalem was defined as Ayelet to the south, Akrabah to the north, Lod to the west, and the Jordan to the east. I have been unable to locate Ayelet, but the other locations can be plotted.
Places Anciently Considered One Day's Journey from Jerusalem
30 - 40 air kilometers was the distance the ancient Jewish scribes meant by one day's journey. Shemesh goes on to explain that three days' journey (90 - 120 air kilometers) was a routine distance in ancient Israel and only journeys considerably longer than three days were considered "far."

With this background, we are prepared to test our correlation against passages in the text where relative distance is either expressed or implied in terms of a day's travel.

1 Nephi 2:6 says Lehi and family traveled three days in the wilderness from the shores of the Red Sea to the valley of Lemuel. We correlate the shores of the Red Sea with the area around modern Aqaba, Jordan and follow George Potter's and Craig Thorsted's suggestion that the valley of Lemuel is a steep canyon about 2.5 air kilometers west of Tayyib al Ism, Saudi Arabia.
109 Air Kilometers from Shores of Red Sea to Valley of Lemuel
109/3 = 36.33 air kilometers per day which is feasible in the Near East.

1 Nephi 16:13 describes a four day journey from the valley of Lemuel to Shazer. Applying the same 36.33 air kilometer per day metric derived above, we locate Shazer along the 5 kilometer Saudi coastline between Wadi Maharish on the north and Wadi al Ghal on the south, about 15 air kilometers NW of modern Duba. The desert oasis Ra's Abu Sharirah is located precisely at this point.
146 Air Kilometers Valley of Lemuel to Shazer
1 Nephi 16:17 says the Lehites and Ishmaelites then traveled "many days" to the camp where Nephi broke his fine steel bow. Based on 1 Nephi 16:30 we site the camp of the broken bow at the foot of the most prominent mountain range along the coastal corridor between Duba on the north and Jeddah on the south. 2,279 meter Jabal Jar and 2,210 meter Jabal Radwa are peaks in this range. These mountains are home to the Nubian Ibex, a big game species still hunted today.
428 Air Kilometers from Shazer to Camp of the Broken Bow
428/36.33 = 11.78 days travel which fits the textual description of many days.

The next camp along the Arabian Red Sea coastal plain was Nahom in modern Yemen, "many days" south southeast 1 Nephi 16:33 of the camp of the broken bow. Nahom correlates well with Naham on the modern map, 51 air kilometers NE of the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.
1,179 Air Kilometers from Camp of the Broken Bow to Nahom
1,179/36.33 = 32.45 days, in line with what the Nephite text considers "many days" Mosiah 7:4.
At this point, it is appropriate to celebrate the astonishing accuracy of the Nephite scribes. We went to some trouble to analyze cardinal and ordinal directions in the text. See the article "Test #5 North, South, East and West." But, in that study we failed to properly note the subtle nuances of directionality in 1 Nephi 16:13-14, 33. The three legs of this long journey:
  • Valley of Lemuel to Shazer was "nearly a south-southeast direction." Our mapped azimuth is 147.93 degrees, only 9.57 degrees off true south-southeast (157.5 degrees). Nephi's description could hardly be more exact.
  • Shazer to Camp of the Broken Bow was "following the same direction." Our mapped azimuth is 140.91 degrees, only 7.02 degrees from the Valley of Lemuel to Shazer heading. Nephi's subsequent comment shows he observed even that minor difference.
  • Camp of the Broken Bow to Nahom followed "nearly the same course as in the beginning." In other words, the vector from Camp of the Broken Bow to Nahom was closer to the original Valley of Lemuel to Shazer heading (147.93) than was the second leg (140.91). Our mapped azimuth for the third leg is 144.95 degrees, only 2.98 degrees off the original Valley of Lemuel to Shazer metric. Nephi's description is strikingly precise.
The Lehite voyage from Bountiful in modern Oman to first nheritance in modern Chiapas or Guatemala consisted of three segments:
A typical path through the Indian Ocean, skirting the north of Australia and across the Pacific would have been about 25,000 kilometers in length or about 63% of the circumference of the earth.
25,012 Kilometer Proposed Lehi Ocean Voyage
1 nautical mile = 1 minute of longitudinal arc = approximately 1.852 kilometers at the equator. 1 knot = travel speed of 1 nautical mile per hour. A rule of thumb in the sailing world is that a typical ship under favorable wind can travel at a speed of 5 knots. 5 knots = approximately 9.26 kilometers per hour or 222.24 kilometers in a 24 hour day. If the Lehites averaged 5 knots on their circumnavigation, their voyage would have required 25,012/222.24 = 112.54 days. Factoring in the four days of tempest when they went backward, 120 days at sea seems like a reasonable estimate for their length of voyage. That easily fits the textual description of "many days" followed by another leg of "many days."    

2 Nephi 5:7-8 says the early Nephites journeyed "many days" from the land of first inheritance to the local land of Nephi. We correlate first inheritance with the coastal plain near the site of Izapa and Nephi with the area around Guatemala City.
 203 Air Kilometers from First Inheritance to Local Land of Nephi
203/15 = 13.53 days travel which qualifies as a journey of many days.

Mosiah chapter 7 tells the story of Ammon and 15 strong men who traveled from the local land of Zarahemla up into the wilderness Mosiah 7:3 and then up again from the wilderness to the local land of Nephi Mosiah 7:4. They wandered around disoriented for 40 days before finally arriving at the hill north of Shilom. What should have been about a 20 day trip based on air kilometers took twice as long. The circles on the map below represent quandary points, places where it would have been very easy for Ammon & company to take a wrong turn and get lost for a few days.
289 Air Kilometers from the Boca del Cerro Wilderness to the
Hill North of Shilom with Possible Detour Points Circled
This is a closeup of the Lacantun confluence.
Confluence of the Lacantun with the Upper Usumacinta
The Pasion Confluence.
Confluence of the Pasion with the Salinas to form the Usumacinta
And the Salama Confluence showing water backed up behind the Chixoy Dam.
Confluence of the Chixoy Negro with the Salama to form the Chixoy
This wild country could temporarily confuse travelers even today. The story of Ammon and his reconnaissance party is plausible given the terrain they traversed.

A more dramatic story of 43 strong men getting lost in the wilderness is told in Mosiah chapter 8. King Limhi's exploring party left the local land of Nephi bound for Zarahemla, but ended up at hill Ramah/Cumorah in the land northward. They were lost in the wilderness for "many days" Mosiah 8:8. This map shows the two known points on their epic journey.
664 Air Kilometers from Nephi to Ramah/Cumorah
We presume the Limhite explorers were not lost on their return trip back to Nephi, so the phrase "many days" applies to their outbound leg. 664/15 = 44.26 days, very close to the number the text explicitly calls "many" Mosiah 7:4.
I can't resist a little aside here. Even though first hand knowledge of the trail between Zarahemla and Nephi had been lost for two generations Mosiah 7:1, the people of Limhi almost certainly knew a few things about their former home:
  • approximate distance from Nephi to Zarahemla
  • general relationship to river Sidon
  • general relationship to the seacoast at the mouth of Sidon
  • approximate elevation of Zarahemla, whether it was in the highlands or the coastal plain
  • approximate distance from the fall line where the mountains give way to the coastal plain
  • approximate distance from Nephi through the mountains to the fall line
  • approximate direction northward from Nephi
When they finally returned to their homes in Nephi, everyone including King Limhi thought the exploring party had discovered the ruins of Zarahemla Mosiah 7:14, 21:26. This map shows our correlation for Zarahemla, Nueva Esperanza; the leading candidate for Zarahemla on the Grijalva, Santa Rosa; and the known end points of the Limhi explorers' journey.
374 Air Kilometers Nephi to Zarahemla Candidate on the Usumacinta
256 Air Kilometers Nephi to Zarahemla Candidate on the Grijalva
Comparing the two candidates for Zarahemla:
  • 664/374 = 1.78. If Zarahemla is Nueva Esperanza, the Limhi explorers overshot the correct distance by a factor of 1.78. 664/256 = 2.59. If Zarahemla is Santa Rosa, the Limhi explorers overshot the correct distance by a factor of 2.59. Would diligent Mosiah 8:8 men have overshot their goal by more than  a factor of 2.5? Our candidate on the Usumacinta better fits this criterion.
  • The Limhi explorers clearly left the mountains and traveled a considerable distance through the coastal plain. They were looking for Zarahemla in the lowlands toward the seacoast. Our candidate at 25 meters elevation in the piedmont zone, 76 air kilometers from salt water satisfies this criterion. Santa Rosa at 475 meters elevation in the Central Depression of Chiapas, surrounded by high mountains and more than 260 air kilometers from the Gulf Coast simply does not fit this textual scenario.
  • The Limhites' general line of travel (the wrong way to Zarahemla) closely paralleled the Grijalva for over 200 kilometers from the confluence of the Cuilco with the Selegua (the point geographers identify as the head of the Grijalva) to the great bend at the La Venta confluence. Clearly, the Grijalva is much more likely to have been the wrong river.
Zeniff and his followers spent "many days" wandering in the wilderness. This map shows a straight-line route from the wilderness south of the local land of Zarahemla to the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi.
296.14 Air Kilometers in the Wilderness between
Zarahemla on the North and Nephi on the South
296.14/15 = 19.74 days which certainly qualifies as many days.

When Ammon and his brethren helped King Limhi and his people escape from their Lamanite overlords, the group traveled in the wilderness for many days before reaching the land of Zarahemla Mosiah 22:13.This map shows a likely route of travel skirting around the land of Shilom through the wilderness of Mormon Mosiah 18:4, eastward down the Motagua, and then taking a sharp bend northward through the Salama Valley to the area around Coban, Alta Verapaz and from there down the Icbolay or San Roman (probably the San Roman because they did not pass through the land of Helam), Salinas, and Usumacinta to Boca del Cerro. We consider Boca del Cerro the spectacular interface point between the local land of Zarahemla on the north and the higher elevation wilderness on the south.
Limhi's Likely Route from Nephi to Zarahemla
325 Air Kilometers, 498 Trail Kilometers
325/15 = 21.66 which fits the text's description of many days in the wilderness.

The Lamanite army dispatched to pursue Limhi probably mustered from the land of Shemlon, source of other recent military activity Mosiah 10:7, 19:6. The wilderness north of Lamanite territory ca. 121 B.C. we think was north of the Motagua. The Lamanite pursuit force probably lost the people of Limhi's tracks Mosiah 22:16 somewhere in the Salama Valley. The black arc on the map below shows the approximate distance (30 air kilometers) the army would have traveled in 2 days' march.
30 Air Kilometer Arc from Lamanite Army Likely Muster Point
We next meet this Lamanite army Mosiah 23:30 in the land of Helam where Alma1 and his converts were busy making the jungle blossom as the rose. While wandering around lost for "many days" the Lamanites had come upon the priests of Noah newly-settled in the land of Amulon Mosiah 23:31. In one of the most curious plot twists in the Nephite narrative, neither the Lamanites nor the Amulonites knew the way back to Nephi Mosiah 23:35. The Amulonites had recently been night raiders preying on the people of Limhi in the land of Nephi Mosiah 21:21. Their transition from social parasites Mosiah 11:6 to farmers must have been jarring. They were only too happy to find new victims to exploit Mosiah 24:8. Based on Mosiah 24:1-2 we would expect Amulon to be more than a village. Based on Mosiah 18:35, 23:19 we would expect the population of the land of Helam to be on the order of 500 inhabitants. Our placement of the land of Helam is based on Mosiah 23:3. See the article "Helam." This map shows the straight-line distance from the north bank of the Motagua across from our land of Shemlon to our candidate for Amulon and then Helam. 91 + 47 = 138 air kilometers.
138 Air Kilometers Wilderness North of Shemlon to Amulon and Helam
138/15 = 9.2 days which qualifies as many days to be lost in the wilderness.

Mosiah 23:3 is one of the anchor points of Book of Mormon geography, the first leg of Alma1's tripartite journey from the local land of Nephi to the local land of Zarahemla. The 8 days' distance did not originate in Nephi proper. It was the distance the Nephites traveled after they entered the wilderness which we correlate with the Sierra de las Minas north of the Motagua River. The distance on the map below is 120.70 air kilometers from the north bank of the Motagua to our correlate for the land of Helam.
120.70 Air Kilometers in the Wilderness to Helam
The model predicts 8 X 15 = 120 air kilometers for this distance.

Mosiah 24:20 implies a long travel day as the Nephites fled to escape their captors. The distance on the map below is 20.03 air kilometers from our land of Helam to a point in the proposed valley of Alma.
20 Air Kilometers from Proposed Land of Helam to
Plausible Valley of Alma Downstream on the Sidon
20 air kilometers is in line with the distance we would expect for this transect.

The third leg of Alma1's journey was a 12 day trip from the valley of Alma to the local land of Zarahemla Mosiah 24:25. The model predicts a distance of 12 X 15 = 180 air kilometers. The measured straight-line distance between the two points shown below is 186.89 air kilometers, a reasonably good fit to the text.
186.89 Air Kilometers Valley of Alma to SE Corner
of the Local Land of Zarahemla
Alma 8:6 is another anchor point in the study of relative Nephite distances. This map shows our interpretation of the passage. See the articles "Ammonihah" and "Melek" for textual criteria under girding our correlations. 
City of Ammonihah 3 Days' Journey North of Land of Melek
45.03 Air Kilometers Distant
Our model predicts 3 X 15 = 45 air kilometers distance.

Alma chapter 8 describes Alma2's departure from Ammonihah, his travel toward the city of Aaron, and his angelic instruction to return to Ammonihah. We are not told how far the prophet traveled, but we do know he had "fasted many days" Alma 8:26 before Amulek provided hospitality. We correlate Ammonihah with the site of El Hormiguero II and Aaron with El Ceibal, both in Peten, Guatemala.
121 Air Kilometers from Ammonihah to Aaron
If Alma2 had traveled 2/3 of the way to Aaron before his special angel Alma 8:15 turned him around, his round-trip journey would have been 161 air kilometers long. 161/15 = 10.73 days travel which qualifies as a journey of many days.

The sons of Mosiah and their entourage journeyed "many days" in the wilderness to go up to the land of Nephi from the local land of Zarahemla Alma 17:9.
296.14 Air Kilometers Wilderness South of Zarahemla
to Wilderness North of Nephi
296.14/15 = 19.74 days which qualifies as many days.

Alma 22:32 says the boundary line between the land of Desolation on the north and the land of Bountiful on the south ran for a day and a half's journey from a point in the east to the west sea. Our model predicts 1.5 X 15 = 22.5 air kilometers. The use of the word "only" in this passage implies a modest distance.
23.02 Air Kilometers on the East-West Bountiful Desolation
Line from 522 Meters Elevation to Sea Level
Our map shows a very similar distance rising to an elevation of 522 meters up the slopes of the Sierra Madrea de Chiapas. The Nephites defended this line, trying to prevent Lamanite Alma 22:33, 52:9 or dissident Alma 50:34 incursion across it into the land northward. For detailed discussion of this highly strategic area, see the articles "The Narrow (Small) Neck of Land" and "The Narrow Pass and Narrow Passage." 

Helaman 4:7 describes a similar line further south, entirely contained within land Bountiful. According to our model this line should be about 15 kilometers from a point in the east to the west sea which at this point includes a saltwater lagoon behind a sandbar.
14.92 Air Kilometers from Salt Water to an Elevation of 516 Meters
From Laguna de la Joya to a point up the slopes of the Sierra Madre, 14.92 air kilometers is very close to our derived distance of one day's journey.

Ether 6:11 says the Jaredites were in their barges crossing the ocean for 344 grueling days. If the Jaredites crossed the north Pacific, their route would look something like the 2 images below.
Possible Jaredite Voyage from Origin
The origin point near Wenzhou in modern China was selected based on Ether 6:2. This is one of the few places along the entire Chinese coast with a 600+ meter peak seaside.
Possible Jaredite Voyage to Termination
This route is 13,658 kilometers long. 13,658/344 = 39.70 kilometers per day. The computerized drift model maintained by the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) at the University of Hawaii tracks debris crossing the Pacific driven by surface currents and winds. 40 kilometers per day is toward the high end of the range, but certainly not unheard of for debris riding high in the water with significant wind exposure. Ether 6:5 describes just such a condition. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake struck northeastern Japan, killing 18,000 people and causing a huge tsunami. According to the IPRC, buoyant debris from that tsunami first washed ashore in the continental U.S. 280 days later, lending credibility to our model of the Book of Mormon account.

The text uses the term "distance" three times. We illustrated our correlation for Alma 22:32 above. Alma 56:37 is quite interesting. This is a deliberate attempt on the part of Helaman1 to describe a distance greater than the standard Nephite unit of measure. The Nephite army marched for two full days and part of a third with hordes of the enemy in hot pursuit. After their feint was finished, they traveled in a relatively straight line northward. Their campsite on the first night was a "considerable distance" from the Lamanite bastion, Antiparah. This map shows our current correlation.
Helaman's First Campsite 23.69 Air Kilometers from Antiparah
If our deduced value for a routine Nephite travel day, 15 air kilometers, is correct, then 23.69 air kilometers in one day qualifies as a "considerable distance." Our estimate of the stripling warrior's first day's march from Judea, skirting Antiparah, toward the city beyond on the seashore, and then northward to their first campsite is 41.8 trail kilometers, definitely a considerable distance. An army of young men with adrenaline pumping will travel further in one day than an emigrant party. The terrain along the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas is flat, with many small rivers. Hostile military travel in excess of 40 trail kilometers per day for two days in a row would have been strenuous, but not unreasonable.

A region of lakes in Central Mexico fits the description in Helaman 3:4 and Alma 50:29. The eastern portion of this territory has many rivers, particularly in the Papaloapan Basin which we correlate with the waters of Ripliancum Ether 15:8 and the Tuxtla Mountains which we correlate with the land of Cumorah Mormon 6:4.
Region of Lakes and Rivers in Land Northward
In the ca. 46 B.C. time period Helaman 3:4 refers to, Teotihuacan was in ascendancy near modern Mexico City. Teotihuacan was by the shores of a system of 5 ancient lakes that together covered a surface area of approximately 1,450 square kilometers.
  • Lake Chalco in the southeast
  • Lake Xochimilco in the southwest (the small remaining lake area tourists visit today)
  • Lake Texcoco in the center
  • Lake Xaltocan in the northeast
  • Lake Zumpango in the northwest
A transect from the Bountiful Desolation line which was also the boundary between the lands northward and southward to modern Mexico City is 686.17 air kilometers long. That certainly qualifies as an "exceedingly great distance" in the Nephite world.

Summary. We previously analyzed all occurrences of the terms "near" and "far" used in a spatial context in the Book of Mormon. See the article "Things Near and Far." We also analyzed every instance of the word "by" used in a spatial context. See the article "By and By." We just illustrated all 22 uses of the word "day" as a Nephite unit of measure for distance. We then looked at all instances of the word "distance" in the text. Our model is reasonable, 100% consistent with textual usage of these terms. Any viable model of the Book of Mormon should show similar text to map consistency.

We have not yet examined all terms with distance implications. At some point we still need to look at all occurrences of the words "journey" and "march" with variants and refine our understanding of "many" and "exceeding."

Article last updated January 27, 2016

Thursday, March 13, 2014

By and By

In 1978 my wife and I lived in Somerville, Massachusetts where many of the locals had never ventured far from their home north of the Charles. One day we had a classic conversation with a neighbor.
"Where are you from?"
"Where's that?"
"By California."
"Oh, you're from the West are you? I have relatives in the West, in Chicago. Maybe you know them."
From a New England perspective in contemporary America, Utah is "by" California, but is it also "by" Illinois? We analyzed all occurrences of the term "near" in a geographic context in the Book of Mormon and concluded two points within about 5 air kilometers of each other would have been considered "near" in Nephite parlance. See the article "Things Near and Far." We will now attempt to quantify what the Nephites meant when they said a person, place or thing was "by" something else. This will take some time. In the pdf version of the raw 1981 LDS text available for download here, Adobe Reader finds 1,189 instances of the word "by." 109 of those instances have a geographic or at least spatial context. Netting out duplicates, we have 88 passages with discrete referents that were "by" one another.
Image A of Spreadsheet Analyzing All Occurrences
of the Word "by" in a Spatial Context in the Text
Image B of Spreadsheet Analyzing All Occurrences
of the Word "by" in a Spatial Context in the Text
Image C of Spreadsheet Analyzing All Occurrences
of the Word "by" in a Spatial Context in the Text
An unexpected pattern shows up in this data. In all cases, where Nephite authors used the word that came to be translated "by" in a spatial context, there was a perimeter, an edge, a littoral or what the Book of Mormon calls "borders." The dividing line could be between land and sea Alma 50:9, land and river Alma 43:51, or land and some other body of water Alma 17:34. It could divide flatter lands from a hill Mormon 6:2 or settled territory from wilderness Alma 8:3. The entrance or gate that divided a city from its environs Alma 49:18 was a place the term was used, as was the line separating private property from public commons Helaman 7:10. Two different groups of people in a standoff could be "by" each other Helaman 1:31 and a large land area was "by" its own borders Helaman 1:26. Sometimes the boundary was rectilinear Alma 50:13 although often it was curvilinear Alma 22:29 or circular Alma 47:14. The interface could even be multi-dimensional as when the Jaredite barges were submerged under the surface of the ocean Ether 6:7. A common theme in these passages is movement Mormon 5:5 or a path facilitating movement Alma 58:26.

Given the 100% positive correlation between the notion of a margin and the use of the word "by" in a spatial or geographic context in the text, it should not surprise us that estimated relative distances are modest. The referents in 49 of the 88 instances analyzed (55%) were probably within 200 meters of each other. The referents in 59 of the 88 instances analyzed (57%) were probably within 500 meters of each other. The referents in 78 of the 88 instances analyzed (88%) were probably within 5 air kilometers of each other. We estimate the maximum distance between entities "by" each other probably did not exceed 25 air kilometers.

The idea that any two entities the Nephites considered "by" each other were relatively proximate is supported when we look at some of the other prepositions the text uses in association with the term "borders" (the singular, "border," is not attested):
So, in the Nephite worldview, Utah would not have been "by" California. Utah would have been by both Nevada and Arizona, both of which would have been by California. Provo would not have been "by" Salt Lake City; although Provo would have been by Utah Lake, Salt Lake City would have been by the Great Salt Lake, and Utah County would have been by Salt Lake County.

Captain Moroni Epitaph

A Nephite carved stela erected in honor of Captain Moroni might read something like this:

Captain Moroni ca. 100 B.C. - ca. 56 B.C. was military commander-in-chief of the Nephite Republic when the nation achieved its territorial maximum. Perhaps more importantly, he was chief captain during the Nephite cultural zenith Alma 50:23. He was a patriot Alma 48:11-13, war hero with battle wounds Alma 52:35, motivator Alma 46:21, Christian Alma 46:18 and family man Alma 46:12. He was an able recruiter Alma 50:12, brilliant battlefield tactician Alma 43:53 and effective executive Alma 46:28. He was also an innovator Alma 49:8 whose creations (body armor, fortified cities) forever changed the nature of Nephite warfare Alma 49:11. He attracted superior leaders Alma 53:2, but invariably reserved the toughest assignments for himself Alma 52:11. His reputation provoked fear among the Lamanites Alma 62:31, although he was magnanimous in victory Alma 62:28. He was preceded by Zoram2 Alma 16:5 and succeeded by his son, Moronihah Alma 62:43. Appointed chief captain at the young age of 25 Alma 43:17, he led the nation's fighting forces for 15 years before retiring to his home in the city of Zarahemla Alma 62:42-43 where he enjoyed 4 peaceful years before his death at age 44.The pre-eminent Nephite historian, Mormon, considered Captain Moroni one of the greats Alma 48:17-18 and named his own son after him.

The article "Captain Moroni in Space and Time" details his illustrious military career.