Friday, October 21, 2011

Plotting Alma

With some clarity around travel times and distances in The Book of Mormon (See the article "Land Southward Travel Times" in this blog), we are ready to look at one of the defining journeys in the text - the movement of Alma I and his converts from the Waters of Mormon (they actually left from the local lands of Nephi and Shilom) to the Land of Helam, then the Valley of Alma, and finally into the local land of Zarahemla. Fleeing King Noah's soldiers, Alma I and the church members who followed him fled 8 days into the wilderness Mosiah 23:3 where they discovered and founded the Land of Helam Mosiah 23:19. After being oppressed in their wilderness retreat by Amulon Mosiah 24:8 and the other priests of King Noah allied with the Lamanites, Alma I and his followers traveled one more long day Mosiah 24:20 to the Valley of Alma. From there, they traveled 12 more days Mosiah 24:25 to the local land of Zarahemla. Total travel time was 21 days or less, and in that time they went from a place not far from the City of Nephi in the Land of Nephi to at least the southern extreme of the Land of Zarahemla. 21 days travel, then, is a key metric helping us establish the distance from Nephi to Zarahemla. The wording in these Mosiah passages suggests that:
  • The 8 days' journey from the Waters of Mormon to the Land of Helam were actual travel days stated as a measure of distance rather than elapsed time. Rest days (Sabbath observance) were probably not included in that number.
  • The 1 day from the Land of Helam to the Valley of Alma was a very long, hard day.
  • The 12 days in the wilderness from the Valley of Alma to the Land of Zarahemla were elapsed chronological days rather than travel days. Alma's group may have only traveled 10 or 11 days during that period. 
  • The 12-day number measured the distance to the southern borders of the Land of Zarahemla. The City of Zarahamla was not on this southern boundary, but lay some distance farther north. Helaman 1:18 for example, indicates that the great City Zarahemla was centrally located within Nephite lands.  
Many people, smitten with the surpassing splendor of Lake Atitlan (Guatemalans are fond of calling it "the most beautiful lake in the world"), have suggested it as an attractive candidate for the  Waters of Mormon where Alma I preached and baptized. Following that suggestion, we have plotted 21 days' travel distances as concentric rings spaced 15 kilometers apart with the lovely town of Panajachel on the north shore of Lake Atitlan as the center point of the circles.
8 days to Helam in blue. 1 long day to the Valley of Alma in yellow.
12 days to the borders of the Land of Zarahemla in red.
We established previously that the 200 kilometer long middle Usumacinta River is the place most likely to contain the remains of the city of Zarahemla (See the article "Water Fight on the River - Round Two" in this blog). We overlay a representation of the middle Usumacinta on top of our map of Alma's travel days.
The middle Usumacinta River superimposed on
our image of Alma I's likely travel distances.
The Book of Mormon is true. It is a history by and about real people who lived and died in this land they knew intimately. When we finally do enough hard work and clear thinking to figure out the details of The Book of Mormon's New World setting, the pieces will fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Even though we used Panajachel in this illustration of Alma's likely travel distances, neither it nor any other place around the shores of Lake Atitlan were the waters of Mormon. The text is quite clear that Alma's converts lived in the local lands of Nephi (Lehi-Nephi was a politically correct term for Nephi used only during the time of Zeniff's colony) and Shilom Mosiah 9:6 but gathered once a week Mosiah 18:25 on the Sabbath Mosiah 18:23 in Mormon Mosiah 18:30 which was near (in the borders of) Nephi and Shilom Mosiah 18:31. If Nephi was in highland Guatemala near modern-day Guatemala City as we believe it was, Lake Atitlan is much too far away (minimum 61 air kilometers or about 4 day's travel) to fit the text. This illustration with Lake Atitlan as the point of departure is intended to show one method of calculating Nephite travel distances based on the derived standard metric of 15 air kilometers per day. See a more refined presentation in point #24 of the blog article "The Usumacinta/Sidon Correlation." A viable candidate for the land of Helam is illustrated in the blog article "Helam."