Saturday, September 27, 2014

OED on Waters

This article explores the Book of Mormon text and the Oxford English Dictionary to shed light on the phrases "waters of Sidon," "waters of Sebus," "waters of Mormon," "waters of Ripliancum," etc. The text is unambiguous on Sidon - it is a large river Alma 2:34 that empties into the ocean Alma 3:3. Are the waters of Mormon also a river? Comparing Alma 4:4 with Alma 5:3 it is clear Alma2 was consciously mirroring his father's actions of the previous generation.

These unique phrases [meaning in brackets] occur in the text listed in order of first attestation.
These passages show the pervasive Book of Mormon characteristic of duality. Waters are either associated with life, peace, righteousness and deliverance or they connote death, peril, sin and captivity. All of these ideas are found commingled in the single verse 1 Nephi 4:2.

All unambiguous passages refer to either a) a salt water ocean b) a flowing stream or c) symbolic spirituality, life and healing. The OED confirms that during the Early Modern English era (see the blog article "Early Modern English") "waters" plural referred either to a) water moving in waves [the ocean], b) flowing water [rivers] or c) healing water from medicinal, thermal or therapeutic springs. In this case, the OED strikingly corroborates what we find in the text.

"Thy waye was in the see, and thy pathes in the great waters." Coverdale Bible, 1535. cf. Psalms 77:19 and Isaiah 43:16.

"the Waters of the Danube swelled so high as to break down the Bridge which the Enemy had made." Johann Peter Von Valcaren, A relation or diary of the siege of Vienna, 1684.

"Of whote bathes. Some waters that are generated and flowe out of vaynes of brymstone, are sensybly warme, and some very whott...These waters also being drying by nature, are wholsome for many infyrmities." William Fulke, A goodly gallerye with a most plesaunt prospect, 1563.

So, evidence from the text and the OED suggests the waters of Mormon, Sebus and Ripliancum are all streams or rivers as in Joshua 3:13. Fountains are generally considered springs as in Deuteronomy 8:7. The fountain mentioned in Mosiah 18:5 is almost certainly a spring feeding a flowing stream. Trees grow along stream beds as in Numbers 24:6 which explains the thicket near the water in Mosiah 18:5. The fountain/tree connection was part of the Nephite worldview 1 Nephi 11:25. The image of waters that flow and gush associated with the actions of a prophet is attested in the text 1 Nephi 20:21 citing Isaiah 48:21. River Jordan was the quintessential baptistery in the New Testament Matthew 3:6, Mark 1:5. The most noted baptistery in the Book of Mormon is probably a flowing stream as well. In the land of Zarahemla, Almaprobably baptized in the river Sidon as his son did decades later Alma 4:4. Alma1's baptisms in Zarahemla were expressly "after the manner" of his iconic baptisms earlier in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18.

Most LDS Mesoamericanists who deal with the Book of Mormon correlate the waters of Ripliancum with the extensive wetlands at the mouth of the Papaloapan River in Veracruz. Our analysis confirms this correlation as highly likely. In the image below, the Usumacinta system is in red, the Grijalva (with all of its distributaries from Book of Mormon times to the present) is in blue, and all other rivers are in yellow.
Papaloapan Drainage Basin in Mexico
The Papaloapan creates the second largest wetlands in Mexico, eclipsed only by the Usumacinta in Tabasco. Driving along Mexican Highway 180 from Veracruz through Alvarado and on to San Andres Tuxtla you pass 30 kilometers of open inland water and many more kilometers of marshlands and small lagoons. The description "large, or to exceed all" Ether 15:8 seems apt in this unusually well-watered area. This is a photo of the mouth of the Papaloapan taken in September, 2006. The river extends almost to the horizon in every direction.
Mouth of the  Papaloapan. Photo by Kirk Magleby, September, 2006
Mosiah 8:8 describes Ramah-Cumorah as a "land among many waters." Most LDS Mesoamericanists who include the Book of Mormon in their professional work correlate Ramah-Cumorah with the Tuxtla Mountains in southern Veracruz. Our analysis supports this correlation. This Google Earth image shows the Tuxtla Mountain region with watercourses. The yellow paths are rivers we have visually plotted in Google Earth (a very time consuming process). The black paths are calculated riverbeds derived from NASA satellite imagery elevation data.
Stream Flows in and around the Tuxtla Mountains
This area includes rivers tributary to both the Coatzacoalcos to the southeast and the Papaloapan to the northwest. At least 13 other sizable streams flow to the Gulf of Mexico from the slopes of the Tuxtla Mountains. Lake Catemaco is a prominent and beautiful water feature in this area, but the Nephite historians almost certainly had the many rivers in mind when they engraved the words that became the English "land among many waters." As we saw earlier with the general term "waters," the OED sense of meaning for the phrase "many waters" in the Early Modern English era was either flowing water or the ocean.

"It it hadde bene the flushynge noyse of many waters." John Bale, The image of bothe churches, 1548 (estimated date)

"...the Lord, that is on high, is more of might by far than noise of many waters is, or great sea-billows are." Scotch Psalms, 1650 cf. Psalms 93:4.

"As the voyce off many waters, and as the voyce off stronge thondrynges." Tyndale Bible, 1526
We know the "waters of Sidon" refers to a large river. The "waters of Ripliancum" probably refers to a large river. The "many waters" in land Ramah-Cumorah probably refer to multiple rivers. This makes it likely the "waters of Mormon" refers to a flowing stream of water since as Royal Skousen frequently reminds us, the original text is very consistent in its usage patterns (See the Editor's Preface to the Yale Edition, page xxxix). In the 1981 LDS edition, Mosiah 18:8 reads "here are the waters of Mormon" which in modern English could potentially refer to any body of water. The Yale edition restores this phrase to its original "here is the waters of Mormon" which in Early Modern English implied a flowing stream.