These unique phrases [meaning in brackets] occur in the text listed in order of first attestation.
- 1 Nephi heading: the large waters [ocean]
- 1 Nephi 2:9 the waters of the river [Laman]
- 1 Nephi 4:2 the waters of the Red Sea [ocean]
- 1 Nephi 11:25 the fountain of living waters [Christ]
- 1 Nephi 11:25 which waters [Christ]
- 1 Nephi 13:10 many waters [Irreantum in 1 Nephi 17:5 ocean]
- 1 Nephi 13:12 the many waters [ocean]
- 1 Nephi 13:17 the waters [ocean]
- 1 Nephi 17:8 these waters [ocean]
- 1 Nephi 17:17 these great waters [ocean]
- 1 Nephi 20:1 the waters of Judah ["the waters of baptism" is not original, so has been removed in the Yale edition of the text, citing Isaiah 48:1. Most Biblical commentators interpret the "waters of Judah" as the progeny or the house of Judah citing Numbers 24:6,7; Deuteronomy 8:7; Deuteronomy 33:28; Psalms 68:26. Judah represented the entire house of Israel after the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom]
- 1 Nephi 20:21 the waters [flowing stream]
- 2 Nephi 4:20 the waters of the great deep [ocean]
- 2 Nephi 7:2 the waters [rivers]
- 2 Nephi 9:50 the waters [Christ, citing Isaigh 55:1]
- 2 Nephi 18:6 the waters of Shiloah [gentle brook symbolizing righteous governance citing Isaiah 8:6]
- 2 Nephi 18:7 the waters of the river [Assyrian army symbolized by a raging torrent citing Isaiah 8:7]
- Omni 1:16 the great waters [ocean]
- Mosiah 8:8 many waters [ambiguous, land of Ramah - Cumorah]
- Mosiah 18:8 the waters of Mormon [ambiguous, near the local lands of Nephi & Shilom]
- Alma 2:34 the waters of Sidon [river]
- Alma 5:34 the waters of life [Christ]
- Alma 7:15 the waters of baptism [Christian ordinance]
- Alma 17:26 the waters of Sebus [ambiguous, the Yale edition correctly changes the 1980 edition "water" to the plural "waters" to conform with the other 5 instances of this phrase]
- 3 Nephi 9:7 waters [ambiguous]
- 3 Nephi 22:9 the waters of Noah [universal flood]
- Mormon 6:4 many waters, rivers and fountains [ambiguous]
- Ether 2:2 the waters [ambiguous]
- Ether 15:8 the waters of Ripliancum [ambiguous, large or to exceed all]
- Ether 15:8 these waters [ambiguous, Ripliancum]
All unambiguous passages refer to either a) a salt water ocean b) a flowing stream or c) symbolic spirituality, life and healing. The OED confirms that during the Early Modern English era (see the blog article "Early Modern English") "waters" plural referred either to a) water moving in waves [the ocean], b) flowing water [rivers] or c) healing water from medicinal, thermal or therapeutic springs. In this case, the OED strikingly corroborates what we find in the text.
"Thy waye was in the see, and thy pathes in the great waters." Coverdale Bible, 1535. cf. Psalms 77:19 and Isaiah 43:16.
"the Waters of the Danube swelled so high as to break down the Bridge which the Enemy had made." Johann Peter Von Valcaren, A relation or diary of the siege of Vienna, 1684.
"Of whote bathes. Some waters that are generated and flowe out of vaynes of brymstone, are sensybly warme, and some very whott...These waters also being drying by nature, are wholsome for many infyrmities." William Fulke, A goodly gallerye with a most plesaunt prospect, 1563.
So, evidence from the text and the OED suggests the waters of Mormon, Sebus and Ripliancum are all streams or rivers as in Joshua 3:13. Fountains are generally considered springs as in Deuteronomy 8:7. The fountain mentioned in Mosiah 18:5 is almost certainly a spring feeding a flowing stream. Trees grow along stream beds as in Numbers 24:6 which explains the thicket near the water in Mosiah 18:5. The fountain/tree connection was part of the Nephite worldview 1 Nephi 11:25. The image of waters that flow and gush associated with the actions of a prophet is attested in the text 1 Nephi 20:21 citing Isaiah 48:21. River Jordan was the quintessential baptistery in the New Testament Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5. The most noted baptistery in the Book of Mormon is probably a flowing stream as well. In the land of Zarahemla, Alma1 probably baptized in the river Sidon as his son did decades later Alma 4:4. Alma1's baptisms in Zarahemla were expressly "after the manner" of his iconic baptisms earlier in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18.
Most LDS Mesoamericanists who deal with the Book of Mormon correlate the waters of Ripliancum with the extensive wetlands at the mouth of the Papaloapan River in Veracruz. Our analysis confirms this correlation as highly likely. In the image below, the Usumacinta system is in red, the Grijalva (with all of its distributaries from Book of Mormon times to the present) is in blue, and all other rivers are in yellow.
|Papaloapan Drainage Basin in Mexico|
|Mouth of the Papaloapan. Photo by Kirk Magleby, September, 2006|
|Stream Flows in and around the Tuxtla Mountains|
"It sounded...as it hadde bene the flushynge noyse of many waters." John Bale, The image of bothe churches, 1548 (estimated date)
"...the Lord, that is on high, is more of might by far than noise of many waters is, or great sea-billows are." Scotch Psalms, 1650 cf. Psalms 93:4.
"As the voyce off many waters, and as the voyce off stronge thondrynges." Tyndale Bible, 1526
We know the "waters of Sidon" refers to a large river. The "waters of Ripliancum" probably refers to a large river. The "many waters" in land Ramah-Cumorah probably refer to multiple rivers. This makes it likely the "waters of Mormon" refers to a flowing stream of water since as Royal Skousen frequently reminds us, the original text is very consistent in its usage patterns (See the Editor's Preface to the Yale Edition, page xxxix). In the 1981 LDS edition, Mosiah 18:8 reads "here are the waters of Mormon" which in modern English could potentially refer to any body of water. The Yale edition restores this phrase to its original "here is the waters of Mormon" which in Early Modern English implied a flowing stream.