Saturday, March 22, 2014


After escaping King Noah's army Mosiah 18:34 Almaand approximately 450 converts fled eight days' journey Mosiah 23:3 into the wilderness and founded the city and land of Helam named after Alma1's right hand man Mosiah 18:12. Careful reading allows us to identify ten characteristics, highlighted in aqua, that will help us locate Helam on the modern map. 1. Helam was a waypoint between the local land of Nephi and the local land of Zarahemla Mosiah 24:25. Helam will be in the general line of travel between Kaminaljuyu (our correlate for the city of Nephi) on the south and Boca del Cerro (our correlate for the border between the local land of Zarahemla and its southern wilderness) on the north. 2. From the point Alma1's group entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi, they traveled eight days to Helam Mosiah 23:3. Helam will be approximately 8 X 15 = 120 air kilometers (see the article "Land Southward Travel Times") north of the local land of Nephi wilderness border. 3. Natural characteristics of the Helam area should qualify as "beautiful and pleasant" Mosiah 23:4. 4. Something in the environment caused Mormon to describe Helam's water as "pure" Mosiah 23:4. 5. The ground around Helam will be arable Alma 23:5. 6. The description in Mosiah 24:20 suggests a long travel day. We will find a candidate for the valley of Alma approximately 20 air kilometers from the land of Helam in the general direction of Zarahemla. 7. The valley of Alma will be approximately 12 X 15 = 180 air kilometers from Boca del Cerro Mosiah 24:25. 8. The distance from the point the Lamanite army pursuing Limhi entered the wilderness to the land of Amulon Mosiah 23:31 and from there to the land of Helam Mosiah 23:25 will qualify as "many days" Mosiah 23:30 travel. 9. Characteristics of the territory between Helam and Nephi will explain how both the priests of Noah and a Lamanite army could get lost Mosiah 23:35. 10. There will be one logical way to travel efficiently between Helam and Nephi Mosiah 23:36-37.

Our candidate for the land of Helam is the area around the confluence of the Rio Las Mulas and the Arroyo del Cerro with the Icbolay in the northern part of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. The modern town of San Benito is 7 kilometers west across the Icbolay. This map shows the location about 14 kilometers south of the east-west Mexico-Guatemala line.
Proposed Land of Helam on the Icbolay River
1. The map below shows a typical ancient route (in white) from highland Guatemala to the middle Usumacinta following first the Motagua, then the Salama, then the Cahabon, then the San Roman, and finally the Salinas which becomes the Usumacinta at the Pasion confluence. Our proposed land of Helam is 35 air kilometers from this route. Criterion #1 satisfied.
Typical Ancient Route (in white) from Highland
Guatemala to the Usumacinta Coastal Plain
2. Almaand his followers could have entered the wilderness north of the local land of Nephi from any number of points along the north bank of the Motagua River. This map shows circles with radii of 80 kilometers centered on 3 of those possible departure points.
120 Air Kilometer Circles Centered on Points
along the North Bank of the Motagua
As the various circles show, our candidate for Helam is very close to 120 air kilometers (8 days' journey) from the north bank of the Motagua River. Criterion #2 satisfied.

3. Our land of Helam has a number of characteristics many would find pleasant or beautiful. For example, within a radius of 6.5 air kilometers, there are 8 different streams of water: the very large Chixoy, the large Icbolay, and the smaller Las Mulas, Limon with tributary, Lachua and Arroyo del Cerro with tributary. Within that same radius, there are several small lakes. Elevations range from 135 meters along the rivers to hills over 600 meters high. Dense forests cover the higher elevations. A series of rapids on the Icbolay provide cascading whitewater. 8 contemporary villages with populations ranging from 25 to 600 lie within the bounds of our circle.
6.5 Air Kilometer Radius Circle Around Proposed Helam
With rivers and streams, lakes, 465 meters of vertical rise, forests and whitewater rapids, this area has features that could plausibly be called beautiful and pleasant. Criterion #3 satisfied.

4. Mormon's description of Helam's "pure water" has always seemed curious. Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize have hundreds if not thousands of streams of water. Would not most of them have been relatively pure in Book of Mormon times? D&C 121:33 comes to mind, "How long can rolling waters remain impure?" Observing the environment around our Helam, Mormon's word choice makes perfect sense. 15 air kilometers to the west is Laguna Lachua, a Guatemalan National Park. It is a large Karstic lake similar to the famous cenotes of Yucatan. Its waters have a sulphurous smell. The name "Lachua" comes from Q'eqchi' and means smelly or fetid water. 10 air kilometers northwest of our Helam is the famous Maya site Salinas de los Nueve Cerros. The site sits beside a large salt dome that has been worked for over 3,000 years. This was the only inland source of salt in the entire Maya region. A stream called Arroyo Salinas carries brackish, salty water from the salt dome to the Chixoy. This is the reason the big river is called the Salinas from the Mexico line to the Pasion confluence where it becomes the Usumacinta.
Laguna Lachua Sulphur Water and Salinas de los
Nueve Cerros Salt Water near Proposed Helam
With sulphur and salt water in close proximity, Mormon's description of Helam's pure water seems logical and apt. Criterion #4 satisfied. The ancient Maya categorized salty water very differently than potable water. See Lucia Henderson, Bodies Politic, Bodies in Stone, UT Austin, 2013, p. 320. Mormon uses the phrase "pure water" one other time in the text to describe the waters of Mormon Mosiah 18:5 which were also in a sylvan setting, associated with Almaand baptism. This makes it likely the term "multiply" in Mosiah 23:20 refers to religious conversions in addition to natural increase. Baptismal symbolism is also implied by the adjective "beautiful" applied uniquely to Mormon Mosiah 18:30 and Helam Mosiah 23:4, the only 2 places in the text to merit that appellation. This is certainly Mormon's way of indicating a relationship with and partial fulfillment of the prophecies in 1 Nephi 13:37; Mosiah 12:21, Mosiah 15:15-18; and 3 Nephi 20:40 explicated by Abinadi.

5. Farming takes place today in the area we have identified as Helam, so obviously the ground is arable and supports crop production. This satellite image shows worked fields on the outskirts of settlement just as the text describes Mosiah 23:25.
Agriculture in the Proposed Land of Helam
Criterion #6 satisfied.

6.Precisely where our model predicts, we find a valley bounded by the 500+ meter Rubelsanto mountains to the south, 300+ meter hills to the east, a 200+ meter ridge to the northeast, the very large Chixoy River to the west and the large San Roman River to the east.
Proposed Valley of Alma Ringed by Highlands and Rivers
As this map shows, a 20 air kilometer distance from our land of Helam fits comfortably in the proposed valley of Alma.
20 Air Kilometers Land of Helam to Valley of Alma
Downstream on the Chixoy, our candidate valley of Alma is clearly in the line of tavel toward Zarahemla in the coastal plain. Criterion #6 satisfied.

7. Our valley of Alma is 186.74 air kilometers distant from Boca del Cerro, the point we identify as the southeast corner of the local land of Zarahemla. Our model predicts 180 air kilometers based on Mosiah 24:25.
186.74 Air Kilometers Valley of Alma to Local Land of Zarahemla
Criterion #7 satisfied.

8. Based on recent military activity in the area, the Lamanite army dispatched to pursue Limhi probably originated in the land of Shemlon Mosiah 10:7, 19:6. They probably entered the wilderness north of the Motagua. We correlate the land of Amulon with the dual ruins San Vicente and Setal on the Setal River, tributary of the Icbolay. A transect from the bank of the Motagua north of our proposed land of Shemlon to our proposed land of Amulon is 91 air kilometers in length. A second transect from Amulon to Helam is 47 air kilometers in lenth. 91 + 47 = 138 air kilometers.
138 Air Kilometers Shemlon to Amulon to Helam
138/15 = 9.2 which qualifies as "many days" to be lost in the wilderness. Criterion #8 satisfied.

9. It is not hard to imagine both the priests of Noah and the Lamanite army getting lost in the broken country between Nephi and Helam. There were 5 major obstacles to navigate around and through. First was the Sierra de las Minas mountain range rising to heights above 2,800 meters between the Motagua and the Polochic shown here in Google Maps Terrain View.
Sierra de las Minas between the Motagua on
the South and the Polochic on the North
Second was the Narrow Strip of Wilderness - a band of cliffs along the Polochic Fault - shown as a green line on the map below.
Narrow Strip of Wilderness Line of Cliffs (in green)
Third was the Sierra de Xucaneb mountain range rising to heights above 2,600 meters between the Polochic and the Cahabon. The westward extension jutting into the great bend of the Chixoy we correlate with Hill Riplah south of Manti.
Sierra de Xucaneb between the Polochic on the South
and the Cahabon on the North
Fourth was the broad series of east-west elevations knows as the Sierra de Chama north of the Cahabon rising to heights above 1,900 meters.
Sierra de Chama North of the Cahabon
Fifth was the crazy quilt of rivers flowing in every direction. On the map below, the rivers in red are part of the Usumacinta drainage basin. The rivers in yellow flow to the Caribbean. The black lines are river courses detected by satellite-sensed elevation analysis, most of which we have not yet traced into our database of southern Mesoamerican rivers.
Sierra de Chama Rivers and Streams
As further evidence of the difficult nature of the terrain around our proposed land of Amulon, consider the following image from an eye altitude approximately 23 kilometers above the earth.
Broken Country around Land of Amulon
The mountains and rivers are all oriented east-west. The destination, Nephi, is south southwest. Hundreds of small rounded hillocks and depressions dot the landscape. It is no wonder travelers could become disoriented. Criterion #9 satisfied.

10. A surefire route exists from Helam back to Nephi. It follows the very large Chixoy River to the valley south of Manti, then the Cahabon, back to the Chixoy by the head of Sidon, and then the Salama to the pass over the Sierra de las Minas. That gets you back in the Motagua drainage where the mountains and rivers are predictable and much easier to navigate. The part of the Chixoy outlined in black is  generally avoided even today because it is so rugged. Switching back and forth between the Chixoy and the Cahabon to get across the narrow strip of wilderness probably contributed to the Amulonites' and Lamanites' disorientation in the first place.
Reliable Route Helam to Nephi
Alma1 shared the key - following the right rivers - and everyone got safely home Mosiah 23:38. Criterion #10 satisifed.

Our candidate for Helam comfortably meets all 10 textual criteria.
Article updated April 26, 2016.