Mormon 3


Covenant Obedience Brings Peace -

 3 Nephi 11 -- Mormon 7      Disobedience Brings Destruction



Mormon 3:2 And I Did Cry unto This People, But It Was in Vain:


     There is a dilemma here, so let me explain. During the time period leading up to Mormon's life, we find that the Nephites became progressively more wicked. In fact, by the year A.D. 245, we find that "the more wicked part of the people did wax strong, and became exceedingly more numerous than were the people of God" (4 Nephi 1:40). By the year 301, "there were NONE that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus" (4 Nephi 1:45, emphasis added). (The reader should note here that the term "disciples" is only used in the Book of Mormon to specifically designate the twelve special witnesses of the Lord, and even more specifically the three who chose not to taste of death.) Moreover, during Mormon's lifetime, there are only two mentions of Mormon even trying to preach to the people:

     (1) The first time was when he was fifteen (about A.D. 326) when he was "visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus" (Mormon 1:15). Mormon notes that he endeavored to preach, but "my mouth was shut, and I was forbidden that I should preach unto them: for behold they had willfully rebelled against their God; and the beloved disciples were taken away out of the land, because of their iniquity" (Mormon 1:16). In this spiritual void Mormon records that "there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon ANY, because of their wickedness and unbelief" (Mormon 1:14, emphasis added).

     (2) The second time occurred between the years A.D 350 and 360. Mormon notes:

                 the Lord did say unto me: Cry unto this people--Repent ye, and come unto me, and be ye baptized, and build up again my church, and ye shall be spared. And I did cry unto this people, but it was in vain, and they did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance. And behold, they did harden their hearts against the Lord their God. (Mormon 3:2)


     Thus all the textual clues, if interpreted in an "absolute" manner, would seem to eliminate the possibility of an existing Church of Christ during Mormon's lifetime. Yet Mormon spoke his sermon as recorded in Moroni 7 not on repentance, but on faith, hope and charity "as he taught [the people] in the synagogue which they had built for the place of worship. Moreover, Mormon addressed them as his "beloved brethren" (Moroni 7:2), those "of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven" (Moroni 7:3). Furthermore, Mormon told these brethren that he was able to make this judgment "because of your peaceable walk with the children of men" (Moroni 7:4)--strange words from a military leader to an unrighteous and unrepentant mass of degenerate humanity absorbed in the horrors of war. Complicating this scenario are some additional comments found in an epistle of Mormon to Moroni (Moroni 8). It seems Mormon had to write Moroni concerning his son's "ministry" and the "disputations among [the people he was ministering to] concerning the baptism of your little children" (Moroni 8:1-5)--hardly a concern if there was no true Church or there were no righteous people to minister to or baptize into that Church. Thus the Book of Mormon reader is left to formulate a scenario that might give a plausible answer to the dilemma.

     For a plausible answer to this dilemma, the reader is referred to Appendix A ("The Chronological Setting for Moroni 7"). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Geographical Theory Map: Mormon 3:5-8 Lamanites Beaten Twice at Desolation 361 A.S.--362 A.S.


Mormon 3:5 A City Which Was in the Borders, by the Narrow Pass (City of Desolation):


     The city of Desolation was said to be "in the borders" of the land (Mormon 3:5). Mormon 3:6-7 speaks about placing armies there to prevent the Lamanites (on the south) from getting possession of any more Nephite land. If the city of Desolation was in the land of Desolation, it probably was located at the southward extremity of the land Desolation, which was also probably the southward extremity of the land northward. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Mormon 3:5 A City Which Was in the Borders, by the Narrow Pass (City of Desolation):


     In the year 360 A.S., Mormon caused that his people "should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward" (Mormon 3:5).

     According to John Sorenson's Mesoamerican theory, the city of Desolation would have been near the modern city of Minatitlan. Mormon 3:7 says that the Lamanites "did come down to the city of Desolation" to battle. The Lamanites apparently came out of highland Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico. The battle must have been at the ford across the Coatzacoalcos River, a dozen miles up from its mouth. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, p. 345]

     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. Modern roads are . . . not dissimilar from ancient trade routes. According to Zeitlin (1979:168), both the Pan American and trans-Isthmian highways" . . . closely parallel ancient paths of trade and communication." There are some Nephite-period ruins overlooking the road between Acayucan and Minatitlan. [David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 31]


Mormon 3:5 A City Which Was in the Borders, by the Narrow Pass (City of Desolation):


     According to Joseph Allen's Mesoamerican theory, the city of Desolation would be located where the present day city of Acayucan in the State of Veracruz is located. Acayucan is near the Olmec ruins of San Lorenzo.

     As you drive from Juchitan, Mexico north through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a distance of about 110 miles, you will arrive at Acayucan. . . . This road connecting the Gulf of Tehuantepec on the Pacific side and the Gulf of Mexico on the Atlantic side is the old Kings Highway. It is the most passable route from Central America to the northern part of Mexico. To cross into northern Mexico from the Tabasco-Campeche north side is very difficult because of the many river drainages and countless lagoons in that area. To travel directly east to west from Central America to northern Mexico is also very difficult because of the rugged mountain ranges separated by the narrow passage that goes between the two mountain ranges.

     The railroad tracks go the same south-north route from Juchitan to Acayucan. Acayucan is about 28 miles from the Gulf of Mexico on the eastward side. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, pp. 231-232] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Geographical Theory Map: Mormon 3:5 The Nephites Gather at Desolation (by the Narrow Pass) (361 A.S.--362 A.S.)


Mormon 3:5 The City of Desolation (Illustration): The proposed geographical locations at the A.D. 360 gathering (at Desolation) near the Narrow Neck of Land. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 348]


Mormon 3:5 The City of Desolation (Illustration): The proposed location of the A.D. 375 battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 348]


Mormon 3:5 The City of Desolation (Illustration): Map illustrating the Nephite cities of Angola, David, Joshua, and Jashon. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 395]


Mormon 3:5 A City which was in the borders, by the narrow pass (Illustration): Map #4 shows a number of the ruins which definitely date to the Nephite period located in the general area of these lagoons. The NWAF has reported many other sites without a description of their age. They also reported a number of sites dating to the early Classic time period which begins in A.D. 300. Such sites were not included because they might, but don't necessarily, go back to the time of Mormon. (Delagado, 1965) [David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, pp. 34, 256-257]


Mormon 3:6 Any of Our Lands:


     By defending a Nephite position by the narrow pass (Mormon 3:5), could Mormon hope to keep the Lamanites from conquering "any of our lands" (Mormon 3:6)--meaning that the Nephites could prevent the Lamanites from conquering anything that could be considered Nephite territory? Or does the phrase "any of our lands" simply go along with a "retreat" philosophy, meaning that if the Nephites were successful here, they would not give up any additional fortified Nephite lands. I feel that it is almost impossible to find anywhere on the whole North American-South American continent where a total blockade could be maintained; however, of the two plausible candidates (Panama and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec), the travel corridor through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec seems to be a more plausible candidate for such a blockade as described here. From ancient times, the swampy Panama isthmus has never been traversable by land for large groups. so the whole wartime retreat scenario would seem out of place. It would be difficult, also, in such flat Panama terrain for Lamanites to come "down" or for Nephites to go "up." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Mormon 3:7; 5:4]


Mormon 3:7 The Lamanites Did Come down to the City of Desolation to Battle:


     In Mormon 3:7, it says that "the Lamanites did come down to the city of Desolation to battle." According to David Palmer, in the Mesoamerican geographic model of John Sorenson, the city of Desolation is located at Minatitlan, Mexico near the Gulf of Mexico on the Coatzacoalcos River. That location is near his proposed "narrow pass" which is a gravelly ridge coming from the east through swampy terrain. However, close examination shows that there are no elevated areas within a hundred kilometers of this gravelly ridge near this location on the Coatzacoalcos River. In addition, John Sorenson himself notes (Setting, p. 43) that when his narrow pass (gravelly ridge) is approached from the direction of the west sea in the series of final battles of the Nephites (Mormon 2:3-6, 16-17, and 29 to 4:23), the city Bountiful goes unmentioned. His only comment regarding this problem is that "perhaps the city Bountiful was no longer inhabited by the fourth century A.D."

     As an alternative to Sorenson's proposed location for the city of Desolation, David Palmer goes on to say that by contrast (to Sorenson's location distant from any mountains), the Sierra Madre reaches close to the shoreline on the Pacific side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where a city located near the present town of Juchitan could control travel both towards the Tuxtlas (on the north) and towards the valley of Oaxaca (on the northwest). Could this not be the specific land of Desolation spoken of? If so, it would seem likely that the city Desolation was Laguna Zope, a very large center during both Jaredite and Nephite times. Laguna Zope is located 1 kilometer from Juchitan and straddles the Pan American Highway. It was in an exceptionally good location to benefit from trade through the isthmus. Notice that the text implies that the city of Desolation was near the seashore because "the city Teancum lay in the borders by the seashore, and it was also near the city Desolation." (Mormon 4:3)

     If the city Desolation was near the sea, then which sea was it near? This is suggested, though not definitively, by the almost identical wording of Mormon 3:5-7 and Alma 63:5:

     I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward (Mormon 3:5)

     And it came to pass that Hagoth . . . built an exceedingly large 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. (Alma 63:5)

     Either one of the two inland lagoons on the Pacific Ocean side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec would have been ideal launching points for such a vessel. [David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, p. 33]

     Note** Richard Hauck apparently agrees with a Pacific coastal location for the city of Desolation. [F. Richard Hauck, Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon, pp. 102-104] [See Geographical Theory Maps]


Mormon 3:7 The Lamanites Did Come Down:


     The phrase "the Lamanites did come down" (Mormon 3:7) might also give us some verification of the meaning of the terms "up" and "down" in the Book of Mormon. The Lamanites were south of the Nephites, thus they would have "come down" against the Nephites going northward. As people read a map, they normally use the word "down" to describe movement going southward from a certain point on the map. Therefore, because this verse doesn't fit with our normal manner of reading maps, we might be justified in assuming that the terms "down" and "up" refer to elevation in the Book of Mormon story. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

     John Sorenson notes that Mormon has not used a single "up", "down," or "over" in his own account to this point, so this use of the term "down" is probably meaningful here. [John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, p. 302]


Mormon 3:8 Their Dead Were Cast into the Sea:


     The phrase "their dead were cast into the sea" (Mormon 3:8) might imply that the battle site, and also the city of Desolation were either close to a sea or that they were located at a point on a river or other drainage into the sea such that it was close enough to be considered "the sea."

     According to John Sorenson's theory, if the location of the City of Desolation was on the Coatzacoalcos River (Setting, p. 345), then the dead "were cast into the sea" presumably by way of the Coatzacoalcos River which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. On the other hand, according to Palmer (Cumorah, p. 33) and Hauck (Deciphering, pp. 102-104), the location could have been by the west sea (Pacific) near Laguna Zope.


Mormon 3:10,14,16; 4:1 Up:


     Four times the word "up" is used to refer to the Nephites going against the Lamanites to battle (Mormon 3:10, 14, 16; 4:1). Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, the Nephite "narrow pass" might be located somewhere along the narrow travel corridor through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is mostly a lowland route from the Pacific coast on the south ("west") to the Gulf of Mexico coast on the north ("east"). If the Nephites were going "up" they might have been going into that wilderness (mountain) strip which was described in Alma 22:29 as going "round about on the wilderness side on the north [of Zarahemla] even until they [the Nephites at that time] came to the land which they called Bountiful." Putting this in a Mesoamerican setting, the Nephites would have been going up into a range of mountains which sweeps from the Pacific Coast towards the Gulf of Mexico and borders the coastal corridor through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Geographical Theory Map: Mormon 3:9--4:1 The Nephites Wage War (363 A.S.)


Mormon 3:16 I Stand As an Idle Witness to Manifest unto the World:


     Buoyed up by their successes against the Lamanites, and in spite of the pleading of Mormon to the contrary, the Nephites decided for the first time to "wage" war against the Lamanites. At this time, Mormon "utterly refused" to be their commander (Mormon 3:9-11). For the next 13 years he would "stand as an idle witness" against them (Mormon 3:16, 5:1).

     A careful reading of Mormon's comments for this time reveal that Mormon received a command from the Lord to carry a message to the world (Mormon 3:16-22, 5:8-24; 3 Nephi 5:8-18, 26:12). In fact, the first known chronological dating of the Lord's command to write the abridgment is found in Mormon's comments of the year 362 (Mormon 3:14-17). Thus, between 362 and 375 Mormon would use his time away from the military battles along with his knowledge of all the records at his disposal (Helaman 3:13-16; 3 Nephi 5:8-9) to craft a message that would be appropriate for our day (see Title Page). In 3 Nephi 5:11 we have a note by Mormon in which he says that he made the plates (presumably for the abridgment) "with mine own hands." Mormon might have made all of the plates that he would require for his abridgment during this time when he wasn't involved with military matters. [Alan C. Miner, The Chronology and Compilation of the Writings of Mormon and Moroni," p. 3]


Mormon 3:16 I Did Stand As an Idle Witness:


     In talking about Mormon's role in shaping the account of the Book of Mormon, Kevin and Shauna Christensen note a 1984 FARMS paper by Lisa Bolin Hawkins and Gordon Thomasson, "I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee: Survivor Witnesses in the Book of Mormon." It compares the editors of the Book of Mormon with a profile of those who survived the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet death camps and felt compelled to survive and bear witness. It turns out that Mormon and Moroni fit precisely the profile of a survivor witness. They describe violence because they do not want us to forget. The following is a summary of the similarities they cite between Mormon and Moroni and survivors in general:

     1. The will to remember and record anchors the survivor in the moral purpose of bearing witness, thus maintaining his own integrity in conscious contradiction of the savagery around him (Mormon 3:11-16; Moroni 9:6-25).

     2. It is instinctively felt, an involuntary outburst, born out of the horror that no one will be left (Mormon 6:17-22; 8:1-3).

     3. The task is often carried out despite great risks; often in secret by depositing the record in a secret archive (Mormon 6:6; 8:14).

     4. Survivors do not bear witness in order to inflict guilt or to rationalize their own survival. Their mission transcends guilt and their irrepressible urge to witness arises before any thought of guilt surfaces and at their initial stage of adjustment to extremity (Mormon 9:30-31; Moroni 9:3-6).

     5. They speak simply to tell, to describe, out of a common care for life and the future, realizing that we all live in a realm of mutual sacrifice (Mormon 4:17-22; 8:37-40; Moroni 7:45-48).

     6. Survival in this sense is a collective act; the survivor has pledged to see that the story is told (Mormon 3:16).

     7. The survivors speak to the whole world, as a firsthand eyewitness, one whose words cannot be ignored (Mormon 3:16-22; 9:30).

     8. They perceive that "out of horror . . . the truth will emerge and be made secure," that "good and evil are only clear in retrospect," for wisdom only comes at a terrible price. Thus, their mission is to display the "objective conditions of evil" Mormon 5:8-9; 9:31; Moroni 9, 10). 80


[Lisa Bolin Hawkins and Gordon Thomasson, "I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee: Survivor Witnesses in the Book of Mormon," F.A.R.M.S., 1984, as quoted in Kevin and Shauna Christensen, "Nephite Feminism Revisited: Thoughts on Carol Lynn Pearson's View of Women in the Book of Mormon," in FARMS Review of Books, Volume 10, Number 2, 1998, pp. 31-32].


Mormon 3:18 I [Mormon] write unto the ends of the earth (Illustration): Chart: Writings of Mormon. [John W. Welch and Morgan A. Ashton, "Charting the Book of Mormon," Packet 1, F.A.R.M.S.]