Saturday, April 2, 2016

Big River

Many Book of Mormon students have the mistaken notion that the Nephites and Lamanites waded across river Sidon. This may stem from the iconic representations most of us have seen of the Mormon Pioneers crossing the Sweetwater. The American Fork Utah East Stake trekked at Martin's Cove, Wyoming in 2014. This is a photo of youth from our stake pushing and pulling their handcart through the stream. Notice the safety rope manned by a senior missionary couple.
Sweetwater River, Wyoming July 18, 2014
Photo by Kirk Magleby
The US Geological Survey reports long-term mean stream flow in the Sweetwater at 3 - 4 cubic meters per second. That is a tiny volume of water. The Sweetwater wouldn't qualify to be called a river in many parts of the world. The Sweetwater is tributary to the North Platte which flows through Wyoming at 20 - 35 cubic meters per second. At Fort Caspar, you can see a replica of the Mormon Ferry that helped people and wagons get across the North Platte. When Brigham Young's 1847 advance party reached what is today Casper, Wyoming, they stopped and built a ferry to cross the treacherous river. My great-great grandfather, Appleton Milo Harmon, helped build the crude watercraft and then stayed behind to operate it for a few months. The North Platte was dangerous and several thousand saints then en route to the Salt lake Valley needed to cross over the river at that point. Harmon ferried fellow Mormons across the river free of charge. Gentiles were charged a small toll.
LaRae Savage at the Mormon Ferry replica, Fort Caspar, Wyoming
August 31, 2014 photo by Kirk Magleby
When the Mormon Pioneers came to a 3 - 4 cubic meters per second stream they splashed through it. When they came to a 20 - 35 cubic meters per second river they built a raft & rope system and crossed over it.

In 1524 - 1526 Hernan Cortes led a military expedition overland from central Mexico to Honduras. His army crossed many large rivers en route. By the time Cortes arrived at a particular place, his native retinue had built a temporary bridge over every stream in their path. These bridges were so sturdy Spanish horses and cannon crossed over with relative ease. The Spanish were impressed how quickly the natives constructed, dis-assembled, and transported their structures which consisted of canoes lashed together several abreast with planks on top.

What did the Nephites and Lamanites do when they came to river Sidon? They crossed on rafts or canoes or floating bridges of some sort. Any river with sufficient stream flow to carry thousands of dead bodies to the sea Alma 3:3, Alma 44:22 is much too large for pedestrian fording. See the articles "Streamflow" and "Test #9 River Sidon" for background on dead bodies in rivers.

Some students of the text such as my friend, Bob Roylance, correlate the Pasion with Sidon. I was on the Pasion in December, 2015. We put in at Sayache, Peten and motored upstream about 25 river kilometers to the preclassic site of Ceibal, candidate for the Book of Mormon city of Aaron. The article "Takeshi Inomata" discusses Ceibal from an archaeological perspective. This map shows the area.
Sayache and Ceibal on the Pasion
This photo shows the Pasion between Sayache and Ceibal.
Pasion River near Ceibal December 30, 2015
Photo by Kirk Magleby
The river at this point is approximately 100 meters wide. Our captain had a sonar unit on board which showed depths in the 2 - 10 meters range. INSIVUMEH, the Guatemalan equivalent of USGS, reports 330 cubic meters per second long-term mean stream flow in this area. You don't wade the Pasion.

The January 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Map correlates Sidon with the much larger Usumacinta. This photo was taken near Tenosique, Tabasco.
Usumacinta River near Tenosique September 2006
Photo by Kirk Magleby
The river at this point is approximately 300 meters wide. It ranges from 5 to 20 meters deep. Mean stream flow exceeds 1.500 cubic meters per second. The canoe in the lower right hand corner of the photo above is one of dozens moored nearby. In 2006 I visited with several families who live along this section of the river. I asked if anyone ever tries to swim across. Laughter erupted at the absurdity of my question. During the months of peak runoff when the river is running high they only cross in motorized craft. Other months of the year they paddle across in small canoes. This is the largest river in Mesoamerica. You don't wade the Usumacinta.

Textual clues indicate watercraft crossings. The Jaredites crossed many waters in barges Ether 2:6 and then the great waters in vessels Ether 2:22, Ether 6:3. The Nephites crossed great waters in a ship 1 Nephi 17:17. Parallel terminology describes Nephites Alma 2:34 and then Lamanites Alma 43:40 crossing the waters of Sidon. Using Royal Skousen's "systematic phraseology" principle, similar language implies similar modus operandi when one is crossing waters. Mention of the sea in both narratives Alma 3:3, Alma 44:22 strengthens this correlation.

The text describes people going over Sidon Alma 6:7, Alma 16:7 but not through it. One went through enveloping mists 1 Nephi 8:24. The Israelites went through the Red Sea when Moses parted the waters 1 Nephi 4:2.

People are never in the midst of Sidon as they are in the midst of darkness Alma 5:7, fire Helaman 5:23, 3 Nephi 17:24, or the waves of the sea Ether 2:24.

The text indicates it took some time for an army to cross over the river. They were not bounding hordes spread out laterally along the banks and splashing across together Alma 2:27, Alma 2:35, Alma 43:35.

A discrete place on the riverbank was used for the efficient movement of Nephite troops and when that place became cluttered with dead Lamanite bodies, the Nephites cleared away the bodies rather than change to a new place Alma 2:34.

All of these verses fit better with watercraft or floating bridges than with pedestrian fording.