Tuesday, November 8, 2011

River Sidon South to North

Q. How do we know the river Sidon flowed south to north?

A1. Near the land of Zarahemla, the hill Amnihu Alma 2:15, 17 and the valley of Gideon Alma 6:7 were both east of the river Sidon. Near the city of Zarahemla, the river Sidon had a west bank Alma 2:34. These data points all imply a general north/south orientation for the river in that part of its course.

A2. Beyond (south of) the land of Manti, a south wilderness Alma 16:6, 7 lay east of the river Sidon. This implies a general north/south orientation for the river in that part of its course.

A3. Upstream from (south of) the land of Manti Alma 43:32, Captain Moroni placed part of the Nephite army west of the river Sidon Alma 43:27 and another part east of the river Sidon Alma 43:53. These data points imply a general north/south orientation for the river in that part of its course.

A4. One verse in the text has been interpreted to mean that the river Sidon flowed from east to west in part of its course. Alma 22:27 is ambiguous. It could mean that the river Sidon flowed from east to west at that point. Given the parallelistic nature of Mormon's phrasing, though, it is more likely that all the east to west references in Alma 22:27-29 refer to the narrow strip of wilderness that separated Nephite lands on the north from Lamanite lands on the south. A panel of textual scholars convened in 2016 agreed that the phrase "running from the east toward the west" in verse 27 refers to the narrow strip of wilderness, and not the river Sidon. See the blog article "Textual Progress." The text mentions several geographic entities or human activities either east or west of the river Sidon. The text never mentions entities or activities directly north or south of the Sidon. All of these data points reinforce the notion that the Sidon flowed in a general north/south direction over most of its length.

A5. The Nephite land of Manti was south of the land of Zarahemla Alma 17:1. The narrow strip of wilderness separated Nephites on the north from Lamanites on the south. The head of the river Sidon adjoined this narrow strip of wilderness, as did the borders of Manti Alma 22:27. The land of Manti was also near the head of the river Sidon Alma 43:22. From the head of the river Sidon, one went down in elevation to Zarahemla Alma 56:25. These data points indicate that the river Sidon flowed generally northward from Manti to Zarahemla.

A6. The greater land of Nephi was south of the greater land of Zarahemla Alma 50:7. An east/west dividing line separating the two lands ran by the head of the river Sidon Alma 50:11. To go from Zarahemla to Nephi, one went up in elevation Alma 2:24. Therefore, the river Sidon which bordered the land of Zarahemla Alma 2:15 flowed generally from south to north.

A7. The Mulekites made first landfall in the land northward Alma 22:30, then founded their capital, Zarahemla, in the land southward Mormon 1:6 along the Sidon Mormon 1:10. As the Mulekites traveled southward from the seacoast they went up in elevation Alma 22:31. This means the Sidon flowed downhill toward the north.

The northerly flow of the Sidon has been well-understood by careful Book of Mormon students for over a century. In his notes to the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, Orson Pratt said the river flowed northward, an observation that persisted in the indices to the 1920 edition prepared under the direction of James E. Talmage and the 1980 edition prepared under the direction of Bruce R. McConkie. The index to the 2013 edition omits this along with almost all other geographic implications. In his magnum opus published in 1899 (A Complete Concordance of the Book of Mormon), George Reynolds correlated the Sidon with the north-flowing Magdalena in modern Colombia. In his 1917 work Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 BC to 421 AD Louis Edward Hills correlated the Sidon with the north-flowing Usumacinta. The New World Archaeological Foundation's first season of field work in 1953 was near Huimanguillo, Tabasco west of the north-flowing Grijalva. Daniel H. Ludlow's internal reconstruction of Book of Mormon geography, distributed throughout the Church Educational System for decades, shows the Sidon flowing north to the sea. John E. Clark's article "Book of Mormon Geography" in the 1992 semi-official Encyclopedia of Mormonism includes the north-flowing Sidon as one of the few tenets of Book of Mormon geography unambiguously attested in the text. Even people who place the Book of Mormon in the northeastern US have their Sidon (e.g. the Genesee in western New York) flowing from south to north.

There is a disreputable school of thought in the Church that identifies the Sidon as the south-flowing Mississippi. Since the text explicitly contradicts this correlation, zealous peddlers resort to a ruse and deliberately mis-interpret Alma 43:25-32 to imply Captain Moroni went down from Jershon in the north to Manti in the south. This mis-reading is utter nonsense. These verses clearly say Captain Moroni and his troops went from their places of concealment on either side of the river south of Manti down to Manti itself, thus re-inforcing the fact that the Sidon flowed northward at this point in its course. The false notion that Jershon in verse 25 and the word "down" in verse 32 are topographically related is a flawed forced reading ("wrest" is the perjorative Book of Mormon term Alma 13:20, 41:1) as the 2016 panel of textual scholars confirmed. See the blog article "Textual Progress."

We established previously that the Usumacinta River is the viable candidate for The Book of Mormon's river Sidon. See the article "The River Sidon - Precis" in this blog. As we would expect, the Usumacinta flows generally from south to north.
Chixoy/Salinas/Usumacinta Flowing Northward to the Sea
Two points of interest: The mouth of the Usumacinta shown on the map above is the modern distributary San Pedro y San Pablo. This is where the main channel of the Usumacinta flowed in Book of Mormon times. See the blog article "Wandering River." The green path on the map above is the Cuilco/Chixoy/Polochic Fault, leading candidate for the narrow strip of wilderness mentioned in Alma 22:27. See the blog articles "The Narrow Strip of Wilderness" and "Ubiquitous Narrow Strip."

Q. How do we know the words "up" and "down" in the text describe rise and fall in elevation?

A. Most uses of the terms "up" and "down" in the text are figurative such as "up to battle" Alma 3:22 and "down to destruction" Alma 30:47. "Up" appears 71 times in a topographical context, "down" 74 times. Rise and fall in elevation are obvious in passages such as Alma 43:34 and 3 Nephi 4:1. See the blog article "Test #1 Ups and Downs."

Article last updated May 20, 2020