Monday, October 31, 2016

Ramah/Cumorah

On a certain hill, probably somewhere in Veracruz, Mexico, two nations met their demise through large-scale warfare. The Jaredites self-destructed in factional civil war ca. 220 B.C. The Nephites were annihilated by the Lamanites ca. A.D. 385. The hill was called "Ramah" Ether 15:11 which in Hebrew means "elevation, height." The hill was also called "Cumorah" Mormon 6:2-11 which may share an etymology with Hill Comron (Yale 2009 Critical Text orthography) Ether 14:28. Variant spellings of "Cumorah" in the Printer's Manuscript include "Camorah" and "Comorah." Several possible meanings for Cumorah have been proposed (see Book of Mormon Onomasticon, article "Cumorah") including:
  • hill
  • ruin mound or heap, piled-up corpses
  • priesthood, priest, priestess
  • desolate, God-destroyed place (if cognate with Gomorrah)
  • light arises
Ramah/Cumorah is geographically associated with hill Shim Ether 9:3, Mormon 1:3, Mormon 4:23 and the extensive waters of Ripliancum Ether 15:8. It is also described as "the place where the Nephites were destroyed" Ether 9:3. Cumorah was a land Mormon 6:2-4 as well as a hill. Limhi's exploring party Mosiah 8:7-11, Mosiah 21:25-26 visited the land of Cumorah within decades of the Jaredite destruction and returned to the city of Nephi bearing artifacts including Ether's 24 gold plates Ether 1:2 that were later abridged Ether 15:33 by Moroni. How do we know that only decades and not centuries elapsed from the Jaredite holocaust to the arrival of Limhi's 43 explorers? Because Limhi's men found human and animal bones Mosiah 8:8 in a state of decomposition Mosiah 21:26-27 but still recognizable as vertebrate remains. Exposed bones may last for decades, but not centuries in most environments. Complete skeletal decomposition can occur in as few as 10 - 15 years in warm, moist, shady, aerobic conditions.

A hill is something we may reasonably expect to find on a modern map. The text gives us enough information about Ramah/Cumorah to enable intelligent searching. These hills in Tamaulipas, Oaxaca, and Veracruz have been seriously studied and proposed as candidates:
Proposed Ramah/Cumorah Locations
As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.

An expedition led by the intrepid and indefatigable Warren Aston spent three weeks in this area in October - November, 2016. The three man team systematically explored each of the proposed Ramah/Cumorah candidates, analyzing it in light of relevant textual criteria. My proposed criteria are itemized 1 - 30 below.

Ramah/Cumorah is a hill, not a mountain. In the text, mountains and hills are of the same genre Helaman 12:9, 3 Nephi 4:1, but mountains are more massive 2 Nephi 4:25, 2 Nephi 12:2, 14. The Book of Mormon only once uses an adjective to modify "hill," and that sense is diminutive 2 Nephi 15:1. Mountains on the other hand are frequently modified with adjectives emphasizing their grandeur Helaman 14:23, 3 Nephi 8:10. The word "mountain" itself is even used as an adjective implying large size Ether 2:24, Ether 6:6. On the small end of the scale, a hill can be man-made 2 Nephi 17:25. So, Ramah/Cumorah has larger and higher mountains 1 in its environment.

Ramah/Cumorah is a singularity, as are the other nine named hills (Amnihu, Comron, Ephraim, Jerusalem, Manti, North of Shilom, Onidah, Riplah, Shim) in the text. "Mount" and "hill" are used similarly, almost interchangeably 2 Nephi 20:32. Four mounts are named (Antipas, Shelem, Sinai, Zion), Shelem being noteworthy for its elevation. Hills and mounts with names are always in the singular. Mountains, on the other hand, are often in the plural 1 Nephi 12:4, Jacob 4:6, Helaman 11:25. One mountain, Zerin, is named Ether 12:30 and it clearly was an isolate rather than a contiguous chain. Other discrete mountains are similarly referenced with singular pronouns Helaman 10:9, Helaman 12:17, 3 Nephi 8:10. This means Ramah/Cumorah is self-contained 2 rather than part of an extended mountain range.

Ramah/Cumorah was in the Nephite land northward 3 Mormon 2:29, Ether 1:1. This places it in a location prone to seismic and volcanic activity 4 3 Nephi 8:12.

Ramah/Cumorah is in a land with high average annual rainfall 5 Mormon 6:4. There are so many well-watered areas in southern Mexico that in order for waters, rivers, and fountains to be useful differentiators, Ramah/Cumorah must be near more arid territory 6.

Ramah/Cumorah was in a land that afforded the Nephites a potential advantage 7 over their enemies Mormon 6:4. That advantage was probably due to crop yields or access to other food resources such as fish or wild game. It may also have come from tactically favorable terrain or access to materials for armament fabrication. The advantage probably did not come from man-made fortifications which are not mentioned again in the text after the city of Desolation was abandoned ca. A.D. 362 Mormon 3:6.

Eastward from Ramah/Cumorah is a seacoast 8 Ether 9:3. From the hill to the sea one does not cross over any significant natural barriers 9 such as a mountain or river. This implies proximity to the sea 10.

Northward from Ramah/Cumorah is a relatively large body of water 11 the Nephites called Ripliancum Ether 15:8-11.

Ramah/Cumorah is large enough that 230,000 people could encamp around it for a period of up to four years Mormon 6:4. Allowing 25 square meters of space per person, that means a refugee camp with an area of 5,750,000 square meters or 575 hectares 12. The Nephites camped around about the hill. As we have noted elsewhere in the text Alma 48:8, Alma 62:34, the phrase "round about" implies circularity. The hill likely has a roughly circular shape 13. The fact that the people were living in tents at year end Mormon 6:5 implies a mild climate 14.

The names "Riplah" and Ripliancum" are probably linguistically related as the Book of Mormon Onomasticon suggests. Moroni himself defines "Ripliancum" as meaning "large, or to exceed all" Ether 15:8. This suggests that Riplah also may mean massive, abundant, or surpassing. See the blog article "Hill Riplah" where we correlate it with Cerro Pampache, the largest detached hill in highland Guatemala. Based on this etymology, it is likely that Ramah/Cumorah is significantly smaller 15 than Riplah.

The doomed Nephites had a clear view of approaching Lamanite armies Mormon 6:7. This means Ramah/Cumorah is surrounded by plains 16. The hill and surrounding plains are compact enough 17 that Lamanite armies could leave camp, travel to the dug-in Nephites, slaughter 230,000 people, and return to their camps within a single 24 hour period Mormon 6:11.

Ramah/Cumorah was high enough 18 and symmetrical enough 19 that from the summit Mormon and Moroni could view nearly a quarter of a million corpses spread across the entire field of battle Mormon 6:11-15.

Ramah/Cumorah was a significant landmark 20 known to both the Nephites and Lamanites Mormon 6:2-3.

Shim is a second hill, probably westward 21 from Ramah/Cumorah Ether 9:3. Some natural barrier 22 such as a mountain or river separated the two so travelers had to come over from one to the other.

The Nephites in their final decades retreated northward Mormon 2:3 and finally abandoned the land southward completely Mormon 2:29. It seems odd, then, that Nephite survivors of the final battle fled from Ramah/Cumorah southward where they were all promptly killed by Lamanites Mormon 6:15, Mormon 8:2. Why did the survivors not flee northward? Why did the entire Nephite nation not simply migrate en masse northward as many before them had done Alma 63:4, Helaman 3:3? Some force northward 23 from Ramah/Cumorah was so powerful and threatening that Nephite refugees preferred to flee southward and take their chances among Lamanites bent on their destruction Mormon 8:7.

Ca. 121 B.C., an exploring party left the city of Nephi, traveled to the Ramah/Cumorah area, found Ether's 24 gold plates, returned to Nephi with artifacts, and reported that they had found the ruins of the destroyed land of Zarahemla Mosiah 8:7-11, Mosiah 21:25-27. King Limhi did not doubt their report, which is one of the reasons he received Ammon so joyously Mosiah 7:14, Mosiah 21:24. Zeniff had made the round trip from Nephi to Zarahemla twice in sizable companies. Zeniff was a record-keeper Mosiah 25:5 as was his grandson, Limhi Mosiah 28:11. As Limhi's 43 explorers left Nephi bound for Zarahemla, they almost certainly had some idea about:
  • the general direction of travel from Nephi to Zarahemla
  • the approximate distance from Nephi to Zarahemla
  • the approximate elevation of Zarahemla relative to Nephi
  • Zarahemla's location west of river Sidon
  • Zarahemla's location relative to mountains, fall line, coastal plain, and the sea
The blog article "Test #8 Limhi Expedition" describes these relationships in some detail. For our present purposes, we deduce the following criteria for Ramah/Cumorah and its adjacent land of Cumorah:
  • it should be in the same general direction from Nephi 24 as Zarahemla.
  • its air distance from Nephi should be between .5X and 2X the Nephi - Zarahemla distance 25.
  • its elevation should be roughly similar to Zarahemla's 26.
  • it should be west of a large, north-flowing river 27.
  • it should be in a similar location as Zarahemla relative to mountains, fall line, coastal plain, and the sea 28.
Climate is the most likely reason the Zeniff colony made the irrational decision to return to Nephi shortly after escaping to Zarahemla for safety. See the blog article "Asking the Right Questions" question #12. See also the blog article "Water Fight on the River - Round Twelve" and the article "Test #9 River Sidon" point #37. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to expect that the Ramah/Cumorah area and Zarahemla have similar climates 29 very different from Nephi's.

Omer who was the fifth generation from Jared a) departed out of the land of Moron, b) traveled many days, c) came over a natural barrier such as a mountain or river, d) passed by hill Shim, e) came over another natural barrier to hill Ramah/Cumorah, then f) went eastward and settled on the seacoast at Ablom Ether 9:3. Moron was near land Desolation Ether 7:6 and up in elevation Ether 7:5. A viable candidate for the land of Moron must be many days travel from Ramah/Cumorah 30.
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After considering these 30 proposed criteria, I believe the correlate that best fits the text is 1,180 meter Cerro San Martin (not Volcan San Martin which is an active volcano) in the Tuxtlas of southern Veracruz. Cerro Vigia and Cerro Rabon are both candidates for hill Shim.
Cerro San Martin in Context
After hearing a report from Warren Aston's 2016 Ramah/Cumorah Expedition, I am encouraged that this correlation may bear scrutiny.
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1. We set a semi-opaque terrain plane at 700 meters. All points higher than that show through in natural color.
Tuxtlas with 700 Meter Terrain Plane
Cerro San Martin is clearly a hill with much higher and larger mountainous massifs in its immediate environment. Criterion 1 satisfied.

2. We lower the terrain plane to 300 meters and zoom in on Cerro San Martin.
Cerro San Martin with 300 Meter Terrain Plane
The hill is a discrete unit surrounded on all sides by plains. Criterion 2 satisfied.

3. We along with many other Book of Mormon mapmakers consider the main channel of the Coatzacoalcos a likely candidate for part of the land northward/land southward boundary.
Proposed Lands Northward/Southward Border Along the Coatzacoalcos
Cerro San Martin is in our Nephite land northward. Criterion 3 satisfied.

4. This map of volcanoes active in the Holocene Epoch (last 10,000 years) is from the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Project.
Mesoamerican Volcanoes Active in the Holocene
And this map of earthquakes in the last 116 years registering magnitudes 4.5 or higher is from USGS.
Significant Mesoamerican Earthquakes 1900-2016
Cerro San Martin is in an area that experiences both volcanism and seismic activity. Criterion 4 satisfied.

5, 6. These isobars showing average annual rainfall are from INEGI.
Average Annual Precipitation
Cerro San Martin averages over 4,000 millimeters of precipitation annually, making it one of the wettest places in Mexico. Only 60 air kilometers away is a much drier area that receives less than 1/3 that amount of rainfall. Criteria 5 & 6 satisfied.

7. Cerro San Martin is surrounded by rich cropland, grassland, and tropical forest. It is 5 km from the seacoast and 30 km from freshwater Lake Catemaco where more than 1,000 licensed commercial fisherman earn their livelihood casting small nets on its waters. Deer are plentiful in the region. Large quantities of snails are harvested commercially for food. This is a bountiful area with a potentially high carrying capacity.
Ecology of Eastern Tuxtlas
Military strategists could imagine many battle scenarios where the heavily fluted slopes of Cerro San Martin would offer high ground advantage to the defenders in combat.
Topography of Cerro San Martin, Google Maps Terrain Layer
Criterion 7 satisfied.

8. Five kilometers eastward from Cerro San Martin lies the Gulf of Mexico.
Eastward to the Sea
Criterion 8 satisfied.

9, 10. Zooming in, we find no natural barriers a traveler would have to cross over to go the short distance from Cerro San Martin to the sea.
Unobstructed Travel from the Hill to the Sea
Criteria 9 & 10 satisfied.

11. The Papaloapan is the second largest river in Mexico by discharge volume. Many Book of Mormon geographers, ourselves included, consider the extensive wetlands near its mouth to be the Waters of Ripliancum. They are the second largest wetlands in Mexico, and the largest in the territory we correlate with the Nephite land northward. This map shows our river network superimposed on an INEGI map of permanent bodies of water.
Proposed Waters of Ripliancum WNW from Cerro San Martin
Criterion 11 satisfied.

12. We superimpose a rough quadrangle with an area of 575 hectares on top of Cerro San Martin. Of course, the actual surface area of the hill is much greater due to folding, but this crude graphic shows that a hill the size of Cerro San Martin is in the ballpark of reasonableness for hosting a refugee camp with nearly a quarter of a million displaced persons.
575 Hectares Relative to Cerro San Martin
Criterion 12 satisfied.

13. Cerro San Martin is roughly circular in shape as this terrain plane set to 500 meters clearly shows.
Classic Conical Volcano
Criterion 13 satisfied.

14. Coatzacoalcos is a major city about 30 kilometers from Cerro San Martin. These are the average annual high and low temperatures for Coatzacoalcos as reported by World Weather Online.
Average High and Low Temperatures near Cerro San Martin
The coldest month is January whose average low is 19 Celsius or 66 Fahrenheit. Criterion 14 satisfied.

15. Cerro San Martin is 1,180 meters high and has an area of approximately 15 square kilometers.
Rough Outline of Cerro San Martin
Our correlate for hill Riplah is Cerro Pampache in Alta Verapaz, 2,060 meters high with an area of approximately 220 square kilometers. For more details on Cerro Pampache, see the article "Hill Riplah."
Rough Outline of Cerro Pampache
Our Ramah/Cumorah is much smaller than our Riplah. Criterion 15 satisfied.

16. Cerro San Martin is surrounded by level ground sloping outward as this topographical map shows.
Cerro San Martin and Environs
The clear sight lines Mormon describes are possible in this terrain. Criterion 16 satisfied.

17. If the invading Lamanite armies camped about where the towns of Pajapan and Tatahuicapan are today, they would have been 3 - 5 kilometers from the base of the hill.
Distance from Pajapan to Cerro San Martin
The scenario described in Mormon chapter 6 is viable in this location. Criterion 17 satisfied.

18, 19. From the 1,180 meter summit of Cerro San Martin, Mormon and Moroni would have had a clear view of the battlefield below. Concentric circles show the distance from the summit in 1 kilometer increments.
Field of Vision at 1, 2, 3, and 4 km from Summit
The same circles superimposed on aerial photography.
Field of Vision in 1 Kilometer Increments
Cerro San Martin is so symmetrical that the 1 km circle nearly follows the 800 meter elevation contour. The 2 km circle nearly follows the 600 meter elevation contour. The 3 km circle nearly follows the 400 meter elevation contour. And, the 4 km circle nearly follows the 200 meter elevation contour. Mormon's description of his view from the top works in this location. Criteria 18, 19 satisfied.

20. Cerro San Martin is the easternmost point in the Tuxtlas. It is the peak nearest the lower Coatzacoalcos. It is the Tuxtla summit closest to the ocean. It has over 900 meters of vertical rise from any point on its periphery. It stands apart.
Cerro San Martin in Topographical Context
When we zoom out, it stands out even more dramatically on the landscape because of the extensive coastal plains surrounding it.
Cerro San Martin in Larger Shaded Relief Context
This hill is unique enough to have been known to both Nephites and Lamanites. Criterion 20 satisfied.

21, 22. Our current proposal for hill Shim is Cerro Vigia, westernmost peak in the Tuxtlas. As this map shows, Cerro Vigia is westward from Cerro San Martin.
Proposed Hill Shim Westward from Proposed Ramah/Cumorah
A large lake, a significant mountain, and several rivers separate Cerro Vigia from Cerro San Martin. Criteria 21 & 22 satisfied.

23. If our correlation of Cerro San Martin with Ramah/Cumorah is correct, then the powerful threatening force northward was Teotihuacan.
Sites with Significant Teotihuacan Influence
How formidable was Teotihuacan? Between A.D. 378 and A.D. 381 Teotihuacan warlord Siyah K'ahk' (Fire is Born) acquired hegemony over El Peru, Tikal, Uaxactun, and Bejucal/El Zotz in the Maya lowlands. A few years later he shows up in inscriptions at Rio Azul and Palenque. The Teotihuacan capital in Central Mexico is 1,000 air kilometers WNW of these subjugated sites. Teotihuacan was the strongest power by far in Mesoamerica at the time of the Nephite demise. A major Teotihuacan trading center, Matacapan, was between Cerro Vigia and Cerro San Martin.
Matacapan - Teotihuacan Outpost
Archaeologists all over Mesoamerica are working hard trying to understand the scope and nature of Teotihucan influence in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. The Nephites were almost certainly influenced by the huge city to their northward. The rise of Matacapan may have been the reason Mormon felt the need to re-locate the Nephite archives from hill Shim to hill Cumorah Mormon 4:23. If Teotihuacan was allied with the Lamanites coming up from the land southward, the Nephites would have been surrounded, caught in a vise. The presence of Matacapan nearby would have been a potent reason for Nephite survivors to have fled southward from the final battle. Criterion 23 satisfied.

24. Our large-scale correlation, as it stood in January, 2016, is laid out in the blog article "Book of Mormon Lands Map January 2016." We had not analyzed Ramah/Cumorah at that time. We follow John L. Sorenson, Joseph L. Allen, and many others on Nephi as Kaminaljuyu. We follow V. Garth Norman on Zarahemla as Nueva Esperanza - Calatraba. According to this correlation, Zarahemla is at a heading of 339 degrees NNW from Nephi.
Proposed Direction Nephi to Zarahemla
Our proposed Ramah/Cumorah is at a heading of 313 degrees which is nearly due NW from Nephi.
Proposed Direction Nephi to Ramah/Cumorah
Criterion 24 satisfied.

25. Our proposed Zarahemla is 373 air kilometers from our Nephi. See direction image above. Our proposed Ramah/Cumorah is 604 air kilometers from our Nephi. See direction image above. In these correlations the air distance from Nephi to Ramah/Cumorah is 1.619 times the air distance from Nephi to Zarahemla. Criterion 25 satisfied.

26. As the images in #24 indicate, our Zarahemla is in the coastal plain at an elevation of 24 meters. Our Ramah/Cumorah is in the coastal plain at an elevation that rises gradually from sea level to the base of the hill at about 200 meters and then up the steep slopes to the summit.
Proposed Ramah/Cumorah in the Coastal Plain
Criterion 26 satisfied.

27. Our proposed Ramah/Cumorah is 36 air kilometers WNW from the large, north-flowing Coatzacoalcos.
Coatzacoalcos to Cerro San Martin
Criterion 27 satisfied.

28. To go from Nephi to Zarahemla in our proposed correlation, you go through the mountains, past the fall line, into the large coastal plain, and approach the sea. To go from Nephi to Ramah/Cumorah in our proposed correlation, you go through the mountains, past the fall line, into the large coastal plain, and approach the sea.
Relative Locations of Proposed Nephi, Zarahemla, & Ramah/Cumorah
Criterion 28 satisfied.

29. Our Zarahemla and the area around our Ramah/Cumorah are both in the climate zone known as Am Tropical Monsoon in the Koppen Climate Classification. This map is from INEGI, so it does not include Guatemala.
Climatic Zones in Southern Mexico
The Koppen Climate Classification for Guatemala City, on the other hand, is Cwb Oceanic Subtropical Highland. These two climates are very different with the subtropical highland generally considered superior for creature comfort. The people in Guatemala City justifiably brag about their "eternal spring." Criterion 29 satisfied.

30. We overlay a map of known Olmec sites on a topographic base with our river network and modern roads.
Sites with Known Olmec Influence
The area labeled "Olmec Oaxaca" that includes Monte Alban is over 300 kilometers from our hill Shim if you follow the Papaloapan through the Sierra Madre Oriental. Based on our standard distance measure (see the article "Land Southward Travel Times") central Oaxaca is "many days" from the Tuxtlas. To go eastward from the Tehuacan Valley one must "come over" the Sierra Madre. The Olmec sites in Oaxaca are in fact adjacent to our greater land Desolation.
Proposed Land Desolation by Olmec Sites in Oaxaca
We set a terrain plane at 1,550 meters elevation.
Oaxaca Olmec Sites Higher than 1,550 Meters
The Oaxaca Valley is definitely an upland. Criterion 30 with all sub-points satisfied.

For information about another research effort that also concluded Cerro San Martin is a high likelihood candidate for Ramah/Cumorah, see the article "Linguistic Cumorah."

Article last updated November 16, 2016