Alma 50

 

The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10


 

 

Alma 50:1 Moroni Did Not Stop Making Preparations for War:

 

     Some might misinterpret Moroni's actions ("[he] did not stop making preparations for war"--Alma 50:1) to represent the full embrace of military might. After all, when one reads these chapters of the Book of Mormon they are filled with military strategy and tactics. Hugh Nibley adds a tone of caution to this cultural view:

           What kind of religious book is this that goes on telling us who moved where and what forces go where? Why the purely technical side? Well, these are the games men play, and there's a purpose for putting them in here. Why these games? Is this to be the nature of our probation, waging battle? Back to Liddell Hart's statement on why we do it, we mentioned the three reasons before. He thought at first that wars were caused by economics. That has long been held by everybody in modern times. Then he decided the cause was psychological. Then he finally decided it all came down to certain individuals; certain ambitious individuals are the cause of war. This is the clear-cut pattern that emerges all through here [in the book of Alma], isn't it? Without those leaders such as Ammoron and Amalickiah, and for that matter without Moroni, you are not going to have these wars. But they go on all the time because of ambitious men. This is an interesting thing. Why should we be told this? Because we are in it deeper than ever before today. . . . John Adams, the second president of the United States, said, "Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws." . . . The supreme law that we should never violate is in Ether 8:19: "For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man."

            So what is this to us? Well, look where we stand today. I'm going to read you something from a military manual I have been reading, a very interesting manual. This is what we read here. This is since World War II. "In the last four decades since World War II the United States has participated in more wars, caused more casualties, and lavished more money on war and arms than in its entire history up until then. Between 1945 and 1975 was a period during which some 120 wars were recorded globally [that's the world we live in]. The United States participated directly in 27 wars and indirectly in 36 other wars. Even now, out of the 40 odd current [1988] wars raging over the Third World, the United States is involved in over one-quarter of them. If one was to judge its involvement on the basis of its arms supply, then involvement is even greater. For instance, out of the 41 countries at war today the United States is the major supplier of arms to 21 and the not-so-major supplier to 18 others [that just about covers them all]. . . . So what is this to us? As we are told in Matthew 26:52, he who takes up the sword shall perish by the sword. . . . [The Nephite nation was ultimately destroyed by the sword].

           There are four things that Joseph Smith deplored. He said you should never be guilty of four things, and they are what make up careers today. There are two a's and two c's. The first is to aspire. He said, an aspiring spirit is from the devil. Satan aspired and that was his fall. Don't aspire. Of course, that's our competitive spirit, to aspire to be number one, etc. The second is to accuse. Devil means accuser (Gk. diabolos). He's called "the accuser of his brethren." . . . [The third thing is] you should never contend. When the Lord comes to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, the first thing he says to them is "there shall be no disputations among you . . . he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil" (3 Nephi 11:28-29). . . . The last one is to coerce. . . . We give orders to everybody and back them up with force. We tell everybody what to do. So we coerce, we contend, we command--we do all these things. This is the atmosphere in which we live. . . .

           Only the Book of Mormon can get us out of this hole. That's the interesting thing; that's why we have it. . . . The world has no solution. The Book of Mormon is grim because our condition is grim. . . . [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 154-157]

 

Alma 50:1 Preparations for war . . . digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities (Illustration): Excavations at Becan, a Maya site in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula, provides the basis for this artist's reconstruction of the appearance of a dry moat and wall that dates back before the end of the Nephite era. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 133]

 

Alma 50:4 He Caused Towers to Be Erected:

 

     According to the report "Defensive Earthworks at Becan, Campeche, Mexico, Implications for Maya Warfare" by David L. Webster: "A series of low mounds . . . 1-3m high, lines the inner bank of the moat (ditch); in some places these are clearly seen to be the remains of structures." . . . "I suspect that a (wooden) palisade may well have existed but that all traces of it have been obliterated. About the only remaining evidence would be a line of post holes or soil discolorations along the outer edge of the embankment, but this is precisely where the most severe erosion has taken place." . . . "Defenders, possibly screened by a palisade, could have rained long-distance missiles on approaching enemies using spear throwers and slings. The cleared ground on the outside of the ditch would have left attackers with little protection, and their approach would have been easily spotted by observers on tall buildings (towers) such as Structure I, who could have directed reinforcements to threatened points." [Michael and June Hobby, Proofs of the Book of Mormon, p. 43]

 

Alma 50:4 He caused towers to be erected that overlooked those works of pickets . . .: Moroni had them dig deep ditches around their cities with heaps of earth topped by strong timbers and sharp pickets, and with towers from which they could cast stones. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3130] [See also the illustrations for Alma 49:2]

 

Alma 50:6 Strongholds Round about Every City in All the Land:

 

     In Alma 50:6, Mormon states that the Nephites prepared "strongholds round about every city in all the land." One might wonder whether the phrase "round about" refers to: (1) the nature of these fortifications (timber, picket fortifications that were built completely around "every city"); or (2) the building up of a national defensive perimeter ("round about every city in all the land"). Presumably this phrase means all the cities that the Nephites had control over; however, it is worth noting that eight years later (see Alma 53:3-4) Bountiful apparently had no such fortification, even though it was clearly a Nephite possession. Perhaps the meaning of "round about" in the original verse meant just those major cities positioned on the borders exposed to attack by the Lamanites; or perhaps Bountiful was not considered part of the land of Zarahemla or the "land" of the Nephites. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni Did Prepare Strongholds . . . about Every City in All the Land:

 

     According to Hunter and Ferguson, on his famous journey from Mexico City to Honduras in 1524-1525 A.D., Cortez passed through certain towns in what is now the state of Campeche of the Gulf Coast Maya area. Speaking of these towns, the following was written: "All villages mentioned were surrounded by a deep moat, a high stockade of cut poles, and defensive towers of wood." [Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and The Book of Mormon, p. 273]      

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni did prepare strongholds . . . about every city in all the land (Illustration): Defensive earthworks in Peten, Guatemala, and in Yucatan, Mexico. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 302] [See also the illustrations for Alma 49:13]

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni did prepare strongholds . . . about every city in all the land (Illustration): Table 1 Fortified and Defensive Sites by Period. Table 1 includes thirty-four regions of Mesoamerica in which more than two hundred specific places were fortified and over one hundred others were considered to have been sited with military defense in mind. The materials are drawn from over seventy-five publications. [John L. Sorenson, Fortifications in the Book of Mormon Account," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 427]

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni did prepare strongholds . . . about every city in all the land (Illustration): Table 2 Fortified and Defensive Sites by Period. Table 2 gives site counts according to ten chronological periods [of Mesoamerica]. [John L. Sorenson, Fortifications in the Book of Mormon Account," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 429]

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni did prepare strongholds . . . about every city in all the land (Illustration): Table 3 Periods of Appearance of Fortification Features. Table 3 summarizes what can be said about these Mesoamerican fortification sites. Abbreviations are for the periods designated in Table 2: E. Pr. = Early Pre-Classic, Pro. Cl. = Proto-Classsic, Ep. Cl. = Early Pre-Classic, Pro. Cl. = Proto-Classic, Ep. Cl. = Epi-Classic, and so on. Dates for the periods are also given in Table 2. [John L. Sorenson, Fortifications in the Book of Mormon Account," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 430]

 

Alm 50:6 Moroni did prepare strongholds...about every city in all the land (Illustration): Defensive earthworks in Peten, Guatamala, and in Yucatan, Mexico. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p 302]

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni Did Prepare Strongholds . . . Round About Every City in All the Land:

 

     Defensive walls around Nephite cities were not uncommon (see Alma 50:6). Jerry Ainsworth notes that according to local people in the area of Palenque, remains of a huge earthen wall--may miles in circumference--exist around the area to this day. One can see eroded parts of that wall stretching for miles along the highway between Emiliano Zapata and Villahermosa. From the sheer size of these remains, one could postulate that there may have existed a wall around that area as much as a hundred miles in circumference.

     The Spanish dictionary defines palenque as "a wooden barrier or stockade." A wooden barrier apparently at one time encircled the area of Palenque. A town in the same area, Palizada, has a similar name. Palizada means "a place fenced with sticks" or "a wall of timber." [Jerry L. Ainsworth, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni, pp. 108, 110]

 

Alma 50:6 Moroni did prepare strongholds . . . round about every city in all the land (Illustration): Defensive breastwork of timber, the type that surrounded the Book of Mormon city of Bountiful. Drawing by Terry Rutledge. [Jerry L. Ainsworth, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni, p. 108]

 

Alma 50:7 East Wilderness:

 

     As part of the fortification process, Moroni "caused that his armies should go forth into the east wilderness" (Alma 50:7). One might wonder how far the "east wilderness" mentioned in Alma 50:7 extended The boundaries of the land of Nephi already reached "even to the sea, on the east and on the west; and the land of Nephi was "divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west and round about on the borders of the seashore" (Alma 22:27). Was this east wilderness an extension of the narrow strip of wilderness? Did the "east wilderness" consist of mountains, jungle, or desert? Did the east wilderness extend to the sea, or just to the "borders of the seashore" as stated in Alma 50:9? What were the "borders of the seashore? How was the east wilderness originally populated with so many Lamanites (that had to be driven out) and still considered part of the land of Zarahemla?, or was it? In trying to define "borders of the seashore" we might refer back to when Lehi was in the borders "near and nearer" the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:5). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:7 South of the Land of Zarahemla:

 

     In Alma 50:7 it states that the Lamanites who were in the east wilderness were driven into their own lands, "which were south of the land of Zarahemla." The phrase "south of the land of Zarahemla" probably means south of the general land of Zarahemla with borders similar to that described in Alma 22:27, but with at least the eastern borders now apparently running in a "straight course from the east sea to the west" (Alma 50:8) rather than "round about on the borders of the seashsore" (Alma 22:27). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:1-6 Moroni Prepares Strongholds (20th Year)

           

Alma 50:7 Nephites Populate East Wilderness (20th Year)

 

Alma 50:8 A Straight Course from the East Sea to the West:

 

     The reader should note that in Alma 50:8, it does not say that the land of Nephi ran in "a straight course" from the east sea all the way to the west sea, although it might be generally comprehended that way in the reader's mind. In Alma 22:27 we find that the narrow strip of wilderness which separated the general land of Nephi and the general land of Zarahemla "ran from the sea east even to the sea west and round about on the borders of the seashore and the borders of the wilderness." What one has to define here is the meaning and ramifications of the word "straight."

     According to Daniel McKinlay and John Welch, going back to the 1829 manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, one finds that the word strait appears over twenty times in the Printer's Manuscript, but the spelling "straight" was never used there. When Joseph Smith said the word strai[gh]t, Oliver Cowdery apparently always preferred to spell it "s-t-r-a-i-t." The only known instance when Oliver Cowdery spelled the word s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t on the Original Manuscript was in Alma 50:8 ("the land of Nephi did run in a strai[gh]t course from the east sea to the west"), but even there he changed it to s-t-r-a-i-t when he copied it over for the printer. Oliver's spelling is understandable, since the dictionaries of the early nineteenth century, such as Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, show both spellings as being somewhat interchangeable. [Daniel McKinlay and John W. Welch, "Getting Things Strai[gh]t," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 260-261]

     In order to add to our understanding of the ramifications of the term "straight course," we need to gain some geographical perspective. During the preaching of the sons of Mosiah, Aaron left his brethren and was "led by the spirit to the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king which was over all the land" (Alma 22:1). Aaron preached to the king and by means of miraculous events the king was converted. The king then desired Aaron to preach to all his people, but he knew that the people would be greatly antagonistic towards Aaron and his brethren; therefore, he sent a proclamation to all his people granting safety to Aaron and those who preached with him. Mormon geographically embellished the incident as follows:

           And it came to pass that the (Lamanite) king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west--and thus were the Lamanites and Nephites divided.

           Now, the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness, and dwelt in tents; and they were spread through the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi; yea, and also on the west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore, and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers' first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.

           And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless, the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful. (Alma 22:27-29, italics added)

 

     Here in these verses, Mormon makes us aware that there were Lamanites living not only on the west of the land of Nephi and on the west of the land of Zarahemla, but "on the east by the seashore." The question we can then ask is, On the east of what land? the land of Zarahemla? the land of Nephi? or both? Mormon answers that question by saying, "And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites." In other words, in order for the Nephites to be "nearly surrounded by Lamanites," there had to be Lamanites living on the east of the land of Zarahemla in addition to those living on the east of the land of Nephi. Despite the fact that in verse 27 Mormon states that the Lamanite lands were separated from the general land of Zarahemla "by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west," the Nephites couldn't have been "nearly surrounded" if at this time there was a straight, unyielding southern border from sea to sea. This "narrow strip of wilderness" must have had some curvature to it. Mormon makes this point clear by stating in verse 27 that this "narrow strip of wilderness" ran "round about on the borders of the seashore." Mormon also states that the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness "on the west of the land of Zarahemla," as well as on the east (of the land of Zarahemla) "in the borders by the seashore." Thus, "idle" Lamanites wrapped around the land of Zarahemla both on the west coast and on the east coast.

     In Alma 50:11, Mormon informs us that the Lamanites had "strongholds" in the east wilderness, an area Mormon had already described in Alma 22:29 as being the wilderness "on the east (of the land of Zarahemla) and being inhabited by "the more idle part" of the Lamanites. In fortifying the land of Zarahemla, Moroni drove all these "idle" Lamanites out of the east wilderness, apparently southward, so that the Nephites came to possess all the land in the east wilderness north of a "straight course." Mormon makes it clear that the southern boundary of the general land of Zarahemla had changed on the east and on the west, at least in a practical way if not an official way, to the advantage of the Nephites. Instead of going "round about" it now ran in a "straight course," thereby preventing the Nephites from being "nearly surrounded" by Lamanites. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:8 Land of Nephi Runs a Straight Course (20th Year)

 

Alma 50:8 The Land of Nephi Did Run in a Straight Course from the East Sea to the West:

 

     According to John Sorenson, the great amount of interrelated information presented in this portion of the scripture [Alma 50--51] enables us to relate the record to the Nephite physical scene. All the places mentioned can be identified with plausible geographical scenes and archaeological sites. The reasons for settlement in those spots become apparent, and the logic of Amalickiah's campaign and of Moroni's defense are clarified.

     A line marking the limit of Mayan languages and culture runs through this east central area. This border apparently held at the time of the Spanish conquest, just as it had many centuries earlier in Classic times.19 Even in ancient Olmec days, sites of that culture fell on one side of this line.20 It seems that some sort of ecological boundary must separate the territory on either side of the line, inhibiting flows of population and culture across it. Whatever the cause, a narrow zone twenty or so miles wide does seem to have constituted a long-lasting ethnic frontier. The zone falls precisely where the Nephite-Lamanite boundary ["a straight course from the east sea to the west"--Alma 50:8] in the east sea sector fits in the geography.

     The geographical area of southern Mexico where the Nephite defenders stood against the Lamanites is now called the Chontalpa. Sluggish stream drainage leaves much of the flat land too wet to settle, but here and there higher spots on river levees or slight geological rises permit villages to exist.21 . . . Travel through the coastal area is limited to two or three well-established trails that run roughly northwest-southeast along the higher ground. Native warfare at the time of the Spanish Conquest was confined mostly to October through February. Food was then abundant, and the seasonal flooding had mostly abated. Along the coast lies a strip of overgrown old beach dunes up to a couple of miles wide. It is continuous enough to permit travel along it parallel to the beach and free from the swamps just inland, which hold the discomforts of sand, wind and insects.22

     The Chontalpa zone is bounded on one side by the Rio Seco. Until colonial Spanish times, the main stream of the Grijalva River reached the sea via the channel of the Seco, but then the high-leveed stream in one of its regular floods broke into a new outlet far to the east, where it now runs.23 The old course essentially followed the language and culture boundary mentioned above. As R. Gadacz notes, "Many of the rivers in Tabasco served as provincial boundaries."24 The river is a formidable enough barrier that it would have made a logical defense line for captain Moroni. The city of Moroni and the city of Nephihah were the key garrisons anchoring this neat "line of the possession of the Lamanites" (Alma 50:13). This geographical picture explains why the Nephite record never mentions the Sidon river on the east coast, because the stream itself constituted the frontier rather than being a feature that the Nephites had need to cross. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 245-246]

 

Alma 50:8 The land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west (Illustration): John Sorenson's Nephite region and boundary which could be defined as a "straight course from the east sea to the west" (the Chontalpa zone bounded on the one side by the Rio Seco). Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division , National Geographic Society, 1972.

 

Alma 50:8 The land of Nephi did run in a straight course (Illustration): The Mixe-Zoque/Maya Interaction Zone -- Map showing distribution of major culture areas in Mesoamerica as related to Izapa and a highly idealized zone of Mixe-Zoque/Maya interaction; in Preclassic times the zone of interaction may have curved closer to the Usumacinta River and its tributaries [Gareth W. Lowe, Thomas Lee, Jr, and Eduardo Martinez, Izapa: An Introduction to the Ruins and Monuments, p. 306]

 

Alma 50:8 And the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west (Illustration): Map 14. The boundary of the Land Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west. [Jerry L. Ainsworth, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni, p. 97]

 

Alma 50:11 Fortifying the Line between the Nephites and the Lamanites:

 

     In Alma 22:27-29, Mormon states that the more idle part of the Lamanites lived in the wilderness "on the west of the land of Zarahemla," as well as on the east (of the land of Zarahemla) "in the borders by the seashore." Thus, "idle" Lamanites wrapped around the land of Zarahemla both on the west coast and on the east coast; furthermore, the question of who had control of these lands which wrapped around Zarahemla might have been a matter of Nephite-Lamanite debate. In "fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites" (Alma 50:11), Moroni drove all these "idle" Lamanites out of the east wilderness, apparently southward, so that the Nephites came to possess all the land in the east wilderness north of a "straight course" (the Nephite-Lamanite "line"). We can reason that if the Lamanites (who were now in the land of Nephi) had held "strongholds" in the east wilderness, then from the Lamanite point of view, the east wilderness might have originally been part of the land of Nephi, or at the least a "no man's land" occupied by the "idle" Lamanites described in Alma 22:29. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:11 Strongholds of the Lamanites:

 

     In Alma 50, Moroni was attempting to fortify the land of Zarahemla against the Lamanites during a time of internal instability brought on by the king-men. One of these king-men named Amalickiah had previously fled to the land of Nephi and by treachery had become king over all the Lamanites. As king, his goal was to eventually "overpower the Nephites, and to bring them into bondage" (Alma 48:4). Both Amalickiah and Moroni saw that the eastern and western coastal areas surrounding the land of Zarahemla were critically important. Mormon writes:

           Thus Moroni did prepare strongholds against the coming of their enemies, round about every city in all the land.

           And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his armies should go forth into the east wilderness; yea, and they went forth and drove all the Lamanites who were in the east wilderness into their owns lands, which were south of the land of Zarahemla

           And the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west.

           And it came to pass that when Moroni had driven all the Lamanites out of the east wilderness, which was north of the lands of their own possessions, he caused that the inhabitants who were in the land of Zarahemla and in the land round about should go forth into the east wilderness, even to the borders by the seashore, and possess the land.

           And he also placed armies on the south, in the borders of their possessions, and caused them to erect fortifications that they might secure their armies and their people from the hands of their enemies.

           And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure. (Alma 50:6-11, italics added)

 

     In these verses, Mormon informs us that the Lamanites had "strongholds" in the east wilderness, an area Mormon had already described in Alma 22:29 as being the wilderness "on the east (of the land of Zarahemla) and being inhabited by "the more idle part" of the Lamanites. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:11 He Cut Off All the Strongholds of the Lamanites . . . on the West (of the Land of Zarahemla):

 

     In Alma 50:11 we learn that not only did Moroni cut off all the Lamanite strongholds on the east, but "on the west" of the land of Zarahemla." This was where "idle Lamanites lived who were considered part of the land of Nephi (Alma 22:28). Perhaps we can gain some insight into Moroni's strategy by looking at the geographical and cultural setting in Mesoamerica. According to the models of some major Mesoamerican geography models (Sorenson, Hauck, and Allen), this western area of fortification would involve the territory controlled or influenced by Izapa. It is interesting to note the cultural areas in Mesoamerica related to the Izapa culture. (see illustrated map). This area would involve the king's highway, a major trade route which followed along the Pacific coast of Mexico and Guatemala before turning northward to travel through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

     According to David Palmer, some of the most impressive fortifications that have been discovered were built at the site of Horcones (on the Pacific coastal corridor of southern Mexico). There is a very large hill about ten kilometers south of Tonala, which divides the coastal plain. Some of the mounds are visible from the stone road which leads up to the transmission tower. They are nestled on an escarpment about halfway up the slope. Other ruins can only be reached by climbing on foot. Engravings were found on some of the stones used in the road construction. This was due to utilization of stone from the ancient building platforms. In some cases the road was built directly over the top of the ancient road which connected causeways and fortifications on the hill . . . Horcones must have been an important factor in the Nephite strategy. It could have served as a key roadblock to any group (Lamanites) trying to reach the land northward from Guatemala. [David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 34] [See the commentary on the Lamanite invasion of Ammonihah in Alma 16]

 

Alma 50:11 From the West Sea Running by the Head of the River Sidon:

 

     In Alma 50:11, the phrase "from the west sea running by the head of the river Sidon" seems to describe the defensive line set up. Here we should expect some kind of physical setting that was defendable: mountains, rivers, passes, narrow borders by the sea, etc.

 

Alma 50:11 From the West Sea, Running by the Head of the River Sidon:

 

     John Sorenson writes:

           The Sierra Madre mountains form an all but impossible barrier to regular travel between the Pacific seacoast and the interior depression of Chiapas [Sorenson's proposed greater land of Zarahemla] all along it's southern extremity, with one noteworthy exception: a pass links the upper tributaries region of the Grijalva River [Sorenson's river Sidon] via the town of Motozintla to the wide, rich foothill and [Pacific] coastland strip known as the Soconusco. In the opposite direction from Motozintla, a narrow river valley leads the other way down toward the Grijalva,25 [and the interior depression of Chiapas] . . . and toward the Chicomuselo area, the proposed site for the city of Judea. . . . [Thus the location of the city of] Antiparah fits well near the site of Motozintla. . . .

     We see why [Antiparah would fit this scenario] by examining the Nephite recapture of Antiparah. Antipus and Helaman, the Nephite leaders on this front, used "a stratagem" to get the Lamanites to come out from within the city's defenses. They sent a small party past the place, teasing the Lamanites to pursue them. The group's destination was meant to be obvious by the route it took: "as if we were going to the city beyond, in the borders by the seashore" (Alma 56:30-31). So Antiparah lay in or near a pass on a route that led down toward the shore from Antiparah on the one hand and toward Zarahemla via Judea on the other. A band of men moving seaward within sight of a defense location in the river valley near Motozintla would obviously be headed over the nearby pass and down [to the Pacific coast] to Izapa or some other city in the Soconusco region. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 257-258, emphasis added]

 

     Izapa might qualify (both internally and externally) as "the city beyond, in the borders by the seashore" (Alma 56:31) because, at least in Sorenson's model, Izapa could well have been connected in some manner to Moroni's military strategy of about 72 B.C. in which he "cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites . . . on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon (Alma 50:11, emphasis added) The phrase, "from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon," correlates very well with Sorenson's statement about the possible real world military importance of Izapa's location. Sorenson says above: "a pass links the upper tributaries region of the Grijalva River [his proposed river Sidon] via the town of Motozintla to the wide, rich foothill and [Pacific] coastland strip known as the Soconusco [of which Izapa was a principle city]." Thus, according to Sorenson's Book of Mormon geographical theory, to defend Izapa was to defend not only the coastal travel route towards the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (the Narrow Neck of Land) and Veracruz (the Land Northward), but to defend coastal access to the headwaters of the Grijalva (Sidon) river, which in turn led down into the Chiapas depression (the Land of Zarahemla). This made the region of Izapa a key fortification point in the Nephite military strategy to prevent the Lamanites from "marching into the land northward" (Alma 52:2) that the Lamanites "should have power to harass [the Nephites in Zarahemla] on every side" (Alma 52:9). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:11 Moroni's Fortification Line (20th Year)

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:11 Moroni's Fortification Line (20th Year)

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:11 Moroni's Fortification Line (20th Year)--on the West

 

Alma 50:11 (Illustration) Nephites possess all the Land Northward of the Land Bountiful 20th year

 

Alma 50:11 All the Land Which Was Northward of the Land Bountiful:

 

     After describing the extent of Moroni's fortifications, Mormon apparently describes the extent of Nephite possessions: "the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure" (Alma 50:11). This phrase implies that at least some, if not "all," of the land northward was not only known to the Nephites, but "possessed." One might wonder how far north the term "all" implies. One might also wonder to what extent this meant Nephite political and cultural control.

     Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, the Nephites conveniently claimed the coastal area along the Gulf of Mexico as their territory, as apparently it had not been reoccupied (or controlled) to a great extent since the great Jaredite (Olmec) destruction. According to Joseph Allen, a good possibility also exists that sites like Monte Alban in the state of Oaxaca were controlled by the 1st century B.C. Nephites. Monte Alban manifests a minority civilization that gained control during this time period. Additionally, according to Allen's theory, the Nephites would have extended their influence into the Peten region and the country of Belize. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 63:4-5]

 

Alma 50:13 The City Moroni:

 

     The city of Moroni, which the Nephites established in the east wilderness (Alma 50:13) was "by the sea", which phrase is apparently said of no other city that was built at this time. Does this mean that the city of Moroni was situated right on the coast? In Alma 62:34 there is a puzzling reference; while the text talks about the borders of the land of Moroni, we find the phrase "borders by the wilderness on the east." One might wonder how the city of Moroni could be by the sea (east sea) and still have a "wilderness on the east"? Perhaps the reference point in this verse was the local land of Zarahemla, which point was quite a distance west of the city of Moroni. Thus, the phrase "by the sea" as used in Alma 50:13 would be used in a general sense (relatively "by the sea" in relation to the local land of Zarahemla), and the wilderness area east of Moroni might have been relatively small. We also might ask what the term "wilderness" is designating here? Is it mountains, desert, swampland? The reader should note that in the destruction at the time of Christ, Jesus stated: "that great city Moroni have I caused to be sunk in the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof to be drowned" (3 Nephi 9:4). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Alma 50:13 The City Moroni; and It Was by the East Sea:

 

     Moroni pressed on with his preparations for defense, clearing out straggler Lamanites along the coast and installing garrison cities, using colonists from the Zarahemla area (Alma 50:9-11). . . . The city of Moroni was practically on the coast (Alma 62:32; 3 Nephi 8:9), but Alma 62:34 suggests there may have been a little wilderness between it and the sea. . . .

     According to geographical theory of John Sorenson, everything said about the city of Moroni fits neatly if we suppose it was located near Laguna Mecoacan, through which the Grijalva/Sidon formerly emptied (by way of the Rio Seco). Alternatively, it might have been at or near the site of Tupilco a few miles farther along the coast. Sisson found in his archaeological reconnaissance of this area that in the Late Preclassic period, including the time when Moroni was fortifying that section, that "waxy-feeling" pottery characteristic of the Mayan area was distributed throughout the lowlands of Guatemala and southeastern Mexico right up to the eastern side of Laguna Mecoacan, and then stopped. Quite a different style existed beyond the lagoon and ethnic border.26 At the time of the conquest, too, a single "economic bloc," coinciding with the distribution of the Mayan languages, extended all the way from Honduras to this same ethnic limit.27 That distribution agrees with what appears to have been the realm of the lowland "Lamanites." . . . An archaeological site at nearby Tupilco in recent decades was washed into the sea by powerful storms on the Gulf, whose waves sometimes pound the shore.28 We are reminded that further in the Book of Mormon story, the city Moroni would "sink into the depths of the sea" at the time of the great storm marking the crucifixion of the Savior (3 Nephi 8:9). The city of Moroni's location at about this point on the coast would then fit the natural setting, although, of course, the original ruins went under the water 1,900 years ago, according to the Book of Mormon. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 244, 246-247]

 

Alma 50:13 The city Moroni (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for the city of Moroni (near Laguna Mecoacan. Alternatively, near the site of Tupilco. Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division , National Geographic Society, 1972.

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:13 The City of Lehi (20th Year)

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:13 The City of Moroni (20th Year)

 

Alma 50: 13-15 (Theory Map): The cities of Moroni, Aaron, Nephihh, and Lehi Sorenson

 

Alma 50:13 By the Line:

 

     It seems that the city of Moroni was strategically placed at the Nephite-Lamanite border "on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites" (Alma 50:13). In Alma 51:22, Moroni is the first city that the Lamanite king Amalickiah attacks in his invasion of the land of Zarahemla. Perhaps it was located near a natural boundary such as a river, a mountain pass, or a narrow passable land strip in swampy land?

     According to Joseph Allen, Mormon many times tends to locate a land in relationship to one direction or axis, and then locate it in reference to another direction or axis. Thus the city of Moroni was "by the east sea" (east-west direction = "x" axis), and "on the south by the line of the Lamanites" (north-south direction = "y" axis).

 

Alma 50:14 They Called the Name of the City, or the Land, Nephihah:

 

     In describing the areas which the Nephites established in the east wilderness, Mormon makes the statement, "they called the name of the city, or the land, Nephihah" (Alma 50:14). The word "city" might here be used as the equivalent of "land." Possibly the same thinking applies to "city" of Aaron and the "city" of Moroni, also mentioned here. If these areas were all related to military defense, the expanse of territory officially under their control could have been substantial, while not heavily populated. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:14 The City, or the land, Nephihah:

 

     Nephihah was the place that the Nephites fled to later when the city of Moroni was attacked by Amalickiah, (see Alma 51:22-27 for more details). Nephihah was a place of gathering from the conquered cities of Moroni, Lehi, Morianton, (see Alma 59:4-8 for more details). The Lamanites fled to the land of Moroni when the city of Nephihah was reconquered by Pahoran and Moroni coming from the (local) land of Zarahemla, (see Alma 62:14-26 for more details) Thus, Nephihah's location would perhaps be not only near, but somewhat equally convenient to each of these areas, otherwise why would they gather to Nephihah and not to another city?

     The city of Nephihah might have been located somewhat inland. In Alma 51:26 after listing the cities of Nephihah, Lehi, Morianton, Omner, Gid and Mulek; Mormon says that they all "were on the east borders by the seashore. The city of Aaron is conspicuously absent from this list of cities. However, in Alma 50:14, Nephihah is said to be "between the city of Moroni and the city of Aaron, joining the borders of Aaron and Moroni." For this reason we can possibly assume that the city of Aaron was somewhat near to the city of Nephihah. The only other place in the Book of Mormon where we read about a city called Aaron is in relation to Alma's missionary journey in the Land of Zarahemla. Alma left the city of Ammonihah and was going toward the city of Aaron. (Alma 8:13-14) The city of Ammonihah was three days travel on the north from the land of Melek, and the land of Melek was on the west of the local land of Zarahemla. Therefore, the city of Aaron may have been west of Nephihah, and Nephihah, being the first contact traveling eastward from the city of Aaron, might have been more inland than the other cities mentioned. [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Alma 50:14 They Called the Name of the City . . . Nephihah:

 

     According to the geographical theory of John Sorenson, the city of Nephihah (Alma 50:14), founded at the same time as the city of Moroni, is plausibly one of a cluster of sites of Late Preclassic date located by Sisson a few miles west of the Rio Seco frontier. The "plains" near Nephihah (Alma 62:18) would be part of the Chontalpa's extensive, anciently uncultivable, savanna grasslands. (Bernal Diaz described one of the earliest Spanish battles on the mainland just a little east of here. Thousands of native warriors waited to fight them on such a "plain" and this proved ideal terrain for the Spanish horses to maneuver.29 [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 247-248]

 

Alma 50:14 Nephihah (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for the city of Nephi (one of a cluster of sites a few miles west of the Rio Seco frontier. Part of the Chontalpa region.). Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division , National Geographic Society, 1972.

 

Alma 50:14 The City or Land of Nephihah (20th Year)

 

Alma 50:15 They Began . . . to Build Many Cities on the North:

 

     In Alma 50:13-14, Mormon notes the building of two cities in the east wilderness, the city of Moroni and the city of Nephihah. The reader should note that in the very next verse Mormon says, "And they also began in that same year to build many cities on the north . . ." (Alma 50:15). If I am interpreting that phrase correctly, then what Mormon is saying is that in addition to the cities of Moroni and Nephihah, which were in the east wilderness, which wilderness was on the north of the land of Zarahemla, that the Nephites built many other cities on the north of the land of Zarahemla in the east wilderness. If this interpretation is correct, then the east wilderness was on the very northeast section of the general land of Zarahemla.

     On the other hand, the phrase "on the north" might mean on the north of the cities of Moroni and Nephihah.

 

Alma 50:15 They Began . . . to Build Many Cities on the North . . . One in a Particular Manner . . . in the North by the Borders of the Seashore:

 

     Why did Mormon say that the city of Lehi was built "in a particular manner . . . in the north by the borders of the seashore" (Alma 50:15)? Was the city of Lehi built in a special way or in a special location from the other cities in the area? Was there a military purpose to the "particular manner" in which the city of Lehi was built? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:15 Lehi, Which Was in the North by the Borders of the Seashore:

 

     In Alma 51:26, the city of Lehi is included in a list of cities, "all of which were on the east borders by the seashore." The reader should notice that there is a distinction made here relating to geographical location. This verse doesn't say that Lehi was located in the borders of the seashore, but by the borders of the seashore. Furthermore, in Alma 50:25 it says that the land of Lehi and the land of Morianton, which joined upon the borders of Lehi were both "on the borders by the seashore." Therefore, we might ask the question, Does the phrase in Alma 50:15, "by the borders of the seashore" mean the same as the phrase "on the borders by the seashore"? And do these phrases mean the same as just plain "by the seashore," or "on the seashore?" [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:20 Inasmuch As They Shall Keep My Commandments They Shall Prosper in the Land:

 

     In Alma 50:20-21, Mormon repeats a covenant promise spoken to father Lehi by the Lord, and notes that it has been verified to the Nephites:

           Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And we see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi . . .

 

     The reader should note that this covenant promise is repeated throughout both the Small Plates and Mormon's abridgment (1 Nephi 4:14; 2 Nephi 1:20, 4:4; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7, 2:22, 2:31; Alma 9:13, 36:1, 37:13, 38:1, 48:25, 50:20).

     The reader should also note that a similar covenant promise was given to Moses:

           Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety. And the land shall yield her fruit, and ye shall eat your fill, and dwell therein in safety. (Leviticus 25:18-19)

[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:25 A Contention . . . concerning the Land of Lehi and the Land of Morianton:

 

     The cities of Lehi and Morianton were joined at their borders (Alma 50:25). Since the city of Lehi was "in the north" (Alma 50:15), then the city of Morianton was probably located near there also. Both were by the east seashore (Alma 51:26). If the sequence of cities listed in Alma 51:26 is chronological, as Amalickiah is taking cities along the coast, then the city of Morianton seems to have been north of the city of Lehi, and both of the cities appear to have been south of the cities of Omner, Gid and Mulek.

     Alma 50:26 says that the people of Morianton "did claim a part of the land of Lehi; therefore there began to be a warm contention between them." One might wonder why these two cities were fighting over a boundary line when the whole region of the east wilderness was just beginning to be settled? Were there limited resources? According to John Sorenson, if a local "land" included a territory of a size that farmers could go to their fields and return the same day after work, as is the case in many horticulture based societies, then a radius of five miles is logical. In this case of overlapping land use, the cities probably were less than ten miles apart. (Setting, p. 264)

     But still, why the unsolvable contention?

 

Alma 50:25 Morianton (Morionton)?:

 

     In 1999, the Zarahemla Research Foundation (RLDS) finished an exhaustive review of all known manuscripts and editions of the Book of Mormon in order to restore the text "to its purity." The result was the Restored Covenant Edition of the Book of Mormon. One of their "restorations" involves the geographical place name "Morianton" (Alma 50:25), which they have changed to read "Morionton." [Zarahemla Research Foundation, "Geography Concordance" in The Book of Mormon: Restored Covenant Edition, p. 1006]

     Note* This must be considered tentative subject to the verification of Royal Skousen, director of the Book of Mormon manuscript project, who will not comment at this time relative to such changes. [Personal communication, 11/22/1999]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:25 Cities of Lehi and Morianton (24th Year)

 

Alma 50:26 Morianton:

 

     According to John Sorenson, the passing down of Jaredite names like Morianton, Nehor, Korihor, and Coriantumr . . . and the transmission of maize already noted, further witness that Mulek's descendants had absorbed cultural and genetic elements from the Jaredite era. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting For the Book of Mormon, p. 214]

     According to Michael Hobby, the fact that the Mulekites were deeply involved in Jaredite culture is obvious . . . the fact that they spoke the Jaredite tongue is evidenced by their personal and city names, names of coinage, etc. One direct example is the name Morianton [Mulekite] in Alma 50:25-36. There is also a Morianton [Jaredite] mentioned in Ether 10:9-13.

     In all, as much as 30-40 percent of all Nephite/Mulekite names may have been Jaredite or contained one or more Jaredite elements. This could hardly have resulted from reading the record of a fallen people. [Michael M. Hobby, The Mulekite Connection, pp. 21-22]

     Thus, one might ask, Could the contention between the people of Lehi and the people of Morianton have had cultural and religious overtones? We get a clue from what Mormon has to say about the intentions of the people of Morianton when they attempted to flee northward:

           Now behold, the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather [chief commander] Moroni, feared that they [the people of the land northward] would hearken to the words of Morianton and unite with his people, and thus he [Morianton] would obtain possession of those parts of the land, which would lay a foundation for serious consequences among the people of Nephi, yea, which consequences would lead to the overthrow of their liberty. (Alma 50:32)

 

     The reader has to ponder if such "serious consequences" could result from just not having been allocated enough land to farm. I think the problem was a bit more complex, both culturally and religiously. One has to ponder the location of this story of Morianton (a Jaredite-Mulekite name) in the midst of political turmoil caused by the "king-men." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:27 The Camp of Moroni:

 

     Morianton beat one of his maid servants and she fled, and "came over to the camp of Moroni" (Alma 50:27). One might wonder where the "camp of Moroni" was located? From the list of cities in Alma 51:26 we might assume that the city of Morianton was north of the city of Lehi. Therefore, if the camp of Moroni was in the city of Moroni, Morianton's maid servant would have had to pass through the city of Lehi before reaching Moroni's camp. It seems strange that no mention is made of this.

     Another clue to the location of the "camp of Moroni" might be the apparent strength of the city of Nephihah. When Amalickiah swept up the coast conquering Nephite cities, he "would not suffer the Lamanites to go against the city of Nephihah to battle" (Alma 51:25). We might postulate that a factor in the Lamanite reluctance to attack Nephihah might have been the location of the camp of Moroni. If that camp was somewhat inland, and if it was near to the fortified center of Nephihah, this would be a reason that Amalickiah chose to forego a battle that would have split the direction of his attack, depleted his men, and considerably slowed his objective, which seems to have been to negotiate a way around the land of Zarahemla in order to reach the land northward (Alma 51:30). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:27 The Camp of Moroni:

 

     According to John Sorenson, the land of Jershon was located in the eastern lowlands somewhere between the land of Bountiful and Lamanite country. It was in the land of Jershon that the Nephite commander, Moroni, made his headquarters (or "camp") for the remainder of the war (Alma 50:27; compare Alma 50:31). (No city of Jershon is mentioned.) . . . [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 243]

 

Alma 50:28 Morianton (Morionton)?:

 

     In 1999, the Zarahemla Research Foundation (RLDS) finished an exhaustive review of all known manuscripts and editions of the Book of Mormon in order to restore the text "to its purity." The result was the Restored Covenant Edition of the Book of Mormon. One of their "restorations" involves the proper name "Morianton" (Alma 50:28), which they have changed to read "Morionton." [Zarahemla Research Foundation, "Selected Concordance" in The Book of Mormon: Restored Covenant Edition, p. 931]

     Note* This must be considered tentative subject to the verification of Royal Skousen, director of the Book of Mormon manuscript project, who will not comment at this time relative to such changes. [Personal communication, 11/22/1999]

 

Alma 50:29 Land Which Was Northward, Which Was Covered with Large Bodies of Water:

 

     In Alma 50:29 it says that Morianton desired to flee with his people to "the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward." According to David Palmer, two questions can be posed: (1) How far northward was it?, and (2) Was it the same area (New York) where some have theorized the land of Cumorah was located? A clue to the first question is in the next verse (Alma 50:30): "And behold, they would have carried this plan into effect, (which would have been a cause to have been lamented)." The question is, Why would it have been lamentable for that group of contentious people to exile themselves by several thousand miles from the land of the Nephites? It is unlikely that they would go so far as to cut off all kinship ties. That would have been advantageous to the Nephites. The insertion by Mormon suggests that they would still have been close enough to cause shifts in the strategic balance in the area of Bountiful. Otherwise, the Nephites would have said, "Good-bye! Good riddance," instead of sending a key army to head them off at the narrow pass.

     Concerning question #2: Were the bodies of water mentioned the same as those mentioned with respect to Cumorah (Mormon 6:4)? The text does not say. In a Mesoamerican setting, there are at least two possible areas this could have referred to. One was in the valley of Mexico, where there was a very large inland lake (Texcoco). The other area is a large region of lagoons forming the Papaloapan basin in Veracruz.

[David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 78]

     One also has to ask, Are the terms "land which was northward" and "land northward" synonymous?

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:15-24 Cities of Lehi and Morianton (24th Year)

 

Alma 50:25-31 People of Morianton Flee to the Land Northward (24th Year)

 

Alma 50:32 People Who Were in the Land Bountiful, or Rather Moroni:

 

     Does the phrase in Alma 50:32, "the people who were in the land Bountiful, or rather Moroni" represent a scribal mistake or is this just Mormon's way of saying that both the people of Bountiful and chief captain Moroni were afraid of this happening? Does the "land Bountiful" mean the general land next to the general land of Zarahemla or does it mean the local land of Bountiful that would have a city Bountiful in the center? Does this phrasing in Alma 50:32 mean that the cities of Lehi and Morianton were in the general land Bountiful? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:32 The People Who Were in the Land Bountiful, or Rather Moroni Feared:

 

     According to John Sorenson, Morianton envisioned taking over the territory beyond the narrow neck "covered with bodies of water" (Alma 50:29) and tried vainly to reach that area, which we have concluded would be in south-central Veracruz. Moroni feared that an alliance would be made between the people in that area ("the land northward"--Veracruz) and the people in the land Bountiful (Alma 50:32), probably located just on the other side of the Coatzacoalcos River. Joining those two regions into a single state would have revived the old territorial unit that the Gulf Coast Olmecs ["Jaredites"] had exploited so successfully centuries before. An ambitious man like Morianton (whose name was purely Jaredite, incidentally) must have seen potentials for building political power in the land of Desolation and beyond which could resurrect the old Olmec/Jaredite pattern. Others apparently saw similar possibilities. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 265] [See the commentaries on the king-men . . . Alma 51:1-21]

 

Alma 50:33 Moroni Sent an Army . . . to Head the People of Morianton:

 

     Jershon, the one Nephite center on the east that the Lamanites never even threatened, must have been well inland. The area around the archaeological site of San Miguel, Tabasco, would fit the geographical requirements for Jershon. . . . When Morianton and his people headed out of their city toward the land northward, they traveled by a trail different than Teancum did. He pursued them with an army on another route, intending to "head them" (Alma 50:33). The feasible trails and distances involved in Teancum's getting the word in Jershon of Morianton's flight and then pursuing him successfully work out comfortably with Jershon around San Miguel. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 248-249]

 

Alma 50:34 There They Did Head Them (by the Borders of the Land Desolation), by the Narrow Pass Which Led by the Sea into the Land Northward:

 

     Upon hearing of Morianton's flight toward the "land which was northward," Moroni "sent an army with their camp" (Alma 50:33), which army was led by "a man whose name was Teancum" (Alma 50:35), that they might "head the people of Morianton." Mormon then says:

           And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east. (Alma 50:34)

 

     According to Alma 22:29-34, there was "a small neck of land between the land northward [land Desolation?] and the land southward [land Bountiful?]." Thus, Morianton apparently traveled not only through the land of Bountiful, but near the "small neck of land." Was the "narrow pass" mentioned in Alma 50:34 the same as the "small neck" mentioned in Alma 22:29-34? Whatever the case, Alma 50:34 seems to imply that the "narrow pass" was very close to the border of the land Desolation.

     The reader should note that the city of Bountiful is not mentioned here or in Alma 52:9, where Teancum was sent orders to "fortify the land Bountiful and secure the narrow pass." In addition, much later on in Mormon's abridgement (in his own book of Mormon), he makes no mention of any land of Bountiful or city of Bountiful during the final Nephite retreat from Joshua" (which was "in the borders west by the seashore") to the "land of Jashon." Neither does Mormon mention the land or city of Bountiful in the Nephite movements from the land of Jashon to where Ammaron had deposited the records (hill Shim) and onward to the land which was called Shem. From that geographical setting, a treaty was struck wherein the "Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward" (Mormon 2:6,16,17,20,21,28,29). One might wonder how the Nephites were able to retreat towards the land northward from the land of Zarahemla without any mention of either the land of Bountiful or the city of Bountiful? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Alma 50:34 Narrow Pass Which Led by the Sea--on the West and on the East:

 

     In Alma 50:34 we find the phrase, "the narrow pass which led by the sea--on the west and on the east." This phrase allows several interpretations:

     (1) First, it may mean that the "narrow pass" runs in the middle of the "small neck," which neck, according to Alma 22:29-34, was "between the land northward [Desolation] and the land southward [Bountiful]," and the distance "on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea" was "a day and a half's journey for a Nephite." .

     (2) Second, the "narrow pass" might have been on one side (the right side) of the "small neck of land" which was between the land northward [Desolation] and the land southward [Bountiful]." Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, and according to the theory of John Sorenson, movement through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the Gulf of Mexico side of the divide is extremely difficult unless a narrow ridge of land is followed. According to David Palmer, movement through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the Gulf of Mexico side of the divide is extremely difficult unless the ridge running from Acayucan past Minatitlan is followed. Elsewhere the area is too swampy for travel. In fact, going back through time, it appears that there never have been trade routes crossing the isthmus in a true east-west direction except along that ridge and along the Pacific side. According to Zeitlin (1979:168), both the Pan American and Transisthmian highways . . . "closely parallel ancient paths of trade and communication." There are some Nephite-period ruins overlooking the road between Acayucan and Minatitlan. One such mound can be seen along the highway twenty-five kilometers from Acayucan. There are many such ruins which have never been documented due to inadequate archaeological surveys in this area of the lower Coatzacoalcos River basin. . . . It seems likely that the gravelly ridge crossing this swampy area [making a "sea--on the west and on the east"] and ending at the major ford on the Coatzacoalcos river could be associated with the narrow pass at which Teancum was able to stop the flight of the people of Morianton. . . . The "borders" of the different lands appear to have been rivers in many cases, which suggests that the encounter took place near the Coatzacoalcos River. [David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, pp. 31-32] [See the commentary on Alma; 52:9; Helaman 4:7; Alma 63:5; Mormon 3:5-7]

     Note* If the place where Teancum intercepted Morianton became famous and as it became populated, they named the city "Teancum"; then, the city Teancum (mentioned in final Nephite retreat--Mormon 4:3 in accordance with Mormon 3:5-7 which relates the battles just before the Nephite retreat to the city of Teancum) fits very nicely into a location "near Desolation" and near a "narrow pass," and could possibly "lay in the borders by the seashore" (east), "near the city Desolation."

     (3) The third point of view is a variation of the second point of view, meaning that (a) the "narrow pass" had to do with major travel and trade routes; (b) one "pass" led along the "sea-- . . . on the east" (Gulf Coast), but another "pass" also led by the "sea--on the west" (Pacific Coast).

     In Mormon 3:5-7, there is reference to the final Nephite battles, and the location of Mormon and his armies: "I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation to a city ["Desolation"--Mormon 3:7] which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward. . . And it came to pass that . . . the Lamanites did come down to the city of Desolation to battle against us. According to David Palmer, there are no elevated areas within a hundred kilometers of the gravelly ridge near the mouth of the Coatzalcoalcos on the eastern side. Palmer goes on to cite Alma 63:5, which talks about Hagoth, who built a ship "on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea by the narrow neck which led into the land northward." Thus, according to Palmer (Cumorah, p. 33) "it seems to me quite likely that this was a different pass" (on the west coast).

     (4) A fourth point of view might incorporate all of the above. The "narrow pass" could be the same as the "narrow passage" and the "small neck" A "narrow [trade] passage" could have run northward along the "sea--on the west," then moved "west--->east" as the "small neck of land" between the land Desolation and the land Bountiful, then turned northward as a "narrow pass" along the "sea-- . . . on the east."

[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:34 The Narrow Pass:

 

     A geographical question that keeps coming up as one reads the Book of Mormon is the nature and location of what is referred to as the "narrow passage" in Alma 50:34, the "narrow pass" in Alma 52:9, the "narrow passage" in Mormon 2:29, the "narrow pass" in Mormon 3:5, the "small neck of land" in Alma 22:32, and the "narrow neck of land" in Alma 63:5 and Ether 10:20.

     John Sorenson takes the position that it is apparent from these verses that the pass [passage] is not the same as the narrow [small] neck itself. Rather, it is some kind of specific feature within that neck area. Alma 50 tells how Teancum intercepted Morianton's fleeing group just as they both arrived at a very specific point, "the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east" (Alma 50:34). It is also clear that parties passed near the city Bountiful to gain access to this pass from the eastern seashore area (Alma 51:28-30; 52:9, 27; 53:3-4). Yet the city Bountiful goes unmentioned when the pass is approached from the direction of the west sea, as shown in Mormon 2:3-6, 16-17, and 29 to 4:23. (Perhaps the city was no longer inhabited by the fourth century A.D.)

     A solution is found by looking at fine-grained geographical details of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec area [Sorenson's proposed "small neck of land"]. An irregular sandstone and gravel formation appears as a ridge averaging a couple of miles wide and rising 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding country running west from the lower Coatzacoalcos River. It provides the only reliable year-round route from the isthmian/east coast area "northward" into central Veracruz.30 A great deal of the land on either side of this ridge is flooded periodically, as much as 12 feet deep in the rainy season.31 At times during that season the ridge pass would indeed lead "by the sea, on the west and on the east" (Alma 50:34), for the water in the flooded basins would be on both sides of the ridge and would have barred travel as effectively as the sea, with which the floodwaters were continuous. Even in the dry season, the lower terrain is choked with thorny brush, laced with lagoons, and rendered impractical as a customary route. This formation runs from near Minatitlan, the modern city on the Coatzacoalcos, west [Nephite "northward"] about 20 miles to Acayucan. From there the normal route leads farther west ["northward"] to the river crossing at San Juan, a key junction. The modern highway runs partly along this elevation to escape the boggy conditions on either side. Where it does so, it essentially follows the pre-European way that had been in use as the road of preference for thousands of years. (See Sorenson's map 13.)

     At the east end, the ridge begins at Paso Nuevo, the major ford over the Coatzacoalcos just below Minatitlan. East of the ford the standard route leads across plains and low hills into Tabasco. If, like Morianton (Alma 50:33-34), one came from the Tabascan plain, the ford and the ridge route would be viewed as the gateway to the land northward. Teancum's intercepting army barred the gate, probably right by the river crossing. And the city Bountiful, which must be nearby, should lie near the east [Nephite "southward"] bank of the river somewhere in the ten-mile stretch between the ford and the coast (compare Alma 50:32, 34; 51:28-30; 53:3-4; 3 Nephi 11:1; 19:10-12). [John L. Sorenson An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 42-44] [See Volume 2: Appendix B "Evaluating Book of Mormon Geography"] [See Geographical Theory Maps]

 

Alma 50:34 The narrow pass (Illustration): John Sorenson's proposed site for the narrow pass (near Minatitlan, the modern city on the Coatzacoalcos, west [Nephite "northward"] about 20 miles to Acayucan. From there the normal route leads farther west ["northward"] to the river crossing at San Juan, a key junction.). Archaeological Map of Middle America: Land of the Feathered Serpent. Produced by the Cartographic Division , National Geographic Society, 1972.

 

Alma 50:34 The Narrow Pass:

 

     On the suggestion of John L. Sorenson, a ten-day expedition was conducted between December 27, 1989 and January 6, 1990 to investigate the Gulf of Mexico side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. Dr. David A. Palmer was asked to head the expedition. He was assisted by Dr. Robert E. Fisher who did videotaping, and Elder Octaviano Tenorio, a regional representative of the LDS Church. A number of flights were made over the Isthmus area near the Gulf Coast. Part of those flights traveled over the area of Paso Nuevo and Minatitlan, cities on the eastern end of Sorenson's proposed "narrow pass" (see illustrations). [David A. Palmer, Robert E. Fisher, and Octaviano Tenorio, "Trip Report--Bountiful Expedition," submitted March 17, 1990, used by permission from the files of Robert E. Fisher and John L. Sorenson]

 

Alma 50:34 The narrow pass (Illustration): The Narrow Passage. Possible Mesoamerican location of the 'narrow pass" within the area of the narrow neck of land. [John L. Sorenson, Personal Collection, used by permission]

 

Alma 50:34 The narrow pass (Illustration): Map showing the modern-day highway route between Acayucan and Minatitlan (Sorenson's proposed "narrow pass") [David A. Palmer, Robert E. Fisher, and Octaviano Tenorio, "Trip Report--Bountiful Expedition," submitted March 17, 1990, used by permission from the files of Robert E. Fisher]

 

Alma 50:34 The narrow pass (Illustration): Video: View from the bridge over the Rio Coatzacoalcos River near Paso Nuevo. Flyover of area near Minatitlan and Paso Nuevo. [David A. Palmer, Robert E. Fisher, and Octaviano Tenorio, "Trip Report--Bountiful Expedition," submitted March 17, 1990, used by permission from the files of Robert E. Fisher]

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:32-36 Teancum Intercepts Morianton (24th Year)

 

Geographical Theory Map: Alma 50:34 The Narrow Pass (24th Year)

 

Alma 50: 34 ((Illustration) The Narrow Pass which led by the sea on the west and on the east.

 

Alma 50:38 [Nephihah] Had Refused Alma to Take Possession of Those Records:

 

     In Alma 50:38-39, Mormon notes that Nephihah "had filled the judgment-seat with perfect uprightness before God. Nevertheless, he had refused Alma to take possession of those records and those things which were esteemed by Alma and his fathers to be most sacred; therefore Alma had conferred them upon his son, Helaman."

     What is going on here? When and why did this happen? According to the text:

     (1) Alma stepped aside to preach, and appointed Nephihah chief-judge in the ninth year (Alma 4:20).      (2) Alma did not confer the records upon Helaman until after the seventeenth year had ended (Alma 35:12).

     (3) Alma was taken up by the spirit near the commencement of the nineteenth year (Alma 45 18).

     (4) Nephihah died in the twenty-fourth year (Alma 50:37, 40).

 

     In view of these chronological facts, Cleon Skousen says the following:

           We learn that when Alma knew he was about to terminate his mission in life, he had attempted to get the righteous Nephihah to be the custodian of the sacred library of the Nephites as well as the next historian of this people, but Nephihah had refused. This had compelled Alma to turn them over to his son, Helaman, even though he was very young for such a tremendous responsibility (Alma 36:3). [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 3134]

     We can guess from the data supplied above that one of the reasons that Nephihah turned Alma down might have been age or physical condition. Nephihah only lived six years after refusing to take the records. Perhaps he didn't believe that he would even live that long.

     Another reason might have to do with what Nephihah had originally sworn to be responsible for. We know that Nephihah had "filled the judgment-seat with perfect uprightness before God" (Alma 50:37). We also get an idea of the responsibilities he had sworn to uphold by the words in Alma 50:39:

           Behold, it came to pass that the son of Nephihah was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, in the stead of his father; yea, he was appointed chief judge and governor over the people, with an oath and sacred ordinance to judge righteously, and to keep the peace and the freedom of the people, and to grant unto them their sacred privileges to worship the Lord their God, yea, to support and maintain the cause of God all his days, and to bring the wicked to justice according to their crime.

 

     Therefore, the second reason why Nephihah refused to take care of the plates might have been that the responsibility for keeping the Nephite records wasn't part of what the chief-judge was originally sworn to do. Perhaps he felt it wise to maintain that separation between church and state. What is important to keep in mind is that this was probably an honest search by two righteous men for a correct way to maintain the Nephite records rather than a drastic dispute over power. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Alma 50:40 His Name Was Pahoran [Parhoron]:

 

     In Alma 50:37-40 we find that upon the death of Nephihah, the second chief judge, his son was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, "and his name was Pahoran." According to Royal Skousen, the correct spelling of the name should be Parhoron; the first four occurrences of this name [in the Original Manuscript] were spelled Parhoron (Alma 50:40, 52:2-3), not Pahoran (as it appears in the current text) or Parhoran (as it appears in Alma 51:7. [Royal Skousen, "Translating the Book of Mormon, Evidence from the Original Manuscript," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, p. 70]

 

Alma 50:39-40 The son of Nephihah [Pahoran] was appointed to fill the judgment-seat (Nephite Chief Priests) [Illustration]: Nephite Chief Priests. Adapted from [John W. Welch and Morgan A. Ashton, "Charting the Book of Mormon," Packet 1, F.A.R.M.S., 1997]

 

Alma 50:40 Pahoran (Pahoron)?:

 

     In 1999, the Zarahemla Research Foundation (RLDS) finished an exhaustive review of all known manuscripts and editions of the Book of Mormon in order to restore the text "to its purity." The result was the Restored Covenant Edition of the Book of Mormon. One of their "restorations" involves the proper name "Pahoran" (Alma 50:40), which they have changed to read "Pahoron." [Zarahemla Research Foundation, "Selected Concordance" in The Book of Mormon: Restored Covenant Edition, p. 940]

     Note* This must be considered tentative subject to the verification of Royal Skousen, director of the Book of Mormon manuscript project, who will not comment at this time relative to such changes. [Personal communication, 11/22/1999]

 

Alma 50:40 And Pahoran did fill the seat of his father (Illustration): Chart: [Helaman & Shiblon as High Priests and] "Pahoran as Chief Judge: Years 25-39 of the Reign of the Judges." [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #37]

 

Alma 50:40 Pahoran did fill the seat of his father (Illustration): Chart: Nephite Chief Priests. [John W. Welch and Morgan A. Ashton, "Charting the Book of Mormon," Packet 1, F.A.R.M.S.]