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CHOICE ABOVE ALL OTHER LANDS
Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources

 

Olive’s Near Cumorah Setting

 By Deduction and Best Fit

W. Vincent Coon, MS

“And it came to pass that when he had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south—A chosen land, and the land of liberty.” (Alma 46:17)

What can we conclude from LDS scripture and verifiable statements by Joseph Smith, about the location of the ancient covenant “land of liberty” described in the Book of Mormon?

Certainly there are keys in scripture identifying covenant lands. The “new covenant even the Book of Mormon” with its painstakingly engraved geographic details, was written with the house of Israel in mind. The placing of keys in scripture that logically outline covenant lands, is a service the LORD provides for his people Israel. This does not mean that scripture pinpoints the exact location of the city Zarahemla. But the general whereabouts of the principal lands of the Book of Mormon can be deduced from scripture in three steps!

Introduction - Promised Lands by Inland Seas:

Establishing the Book of Mormon’s setting by devotion to scripture should precede archaeological investigation of its sacred history.

Compared to rivers in his own country, Namaan the Syrian was not impressed with “the waters of Israel. (2 Kings 5:12) It is the sacred history of the Promised Land that makes its hills, mountains of renown and its brooks, notable rivers. There is enough written about the land in scripture to identify many sites by scriptural correlation alone; without needing to prove the setting, or its sacred history archaeologically. In other words, there is a kind of marriage between scripture and the covenants land which the covenant people in particular, have an interest in. Actually, the marriage is between the Land (including her people) and Deity. Scripture contains the contract. (Isaiah 62:4-5)

Though experts disagree on the extent to which the Bible should be regarded as history, religious and secular scholars of the Bible at least agree on the Bible’s general setting. Mainstream American History and Literature specialists place the literary setting for the Book of Mormon among the mysterious “Mound-builders” of Joseph Smith’s own country. Enough written interest exists from the 19th century on the topic of the “Mound-builders”, to constitute a unique American genre. (Robert Silverberg, “...and the mound-builders vanished from the earth”, American Heritage Magazine, June 1969, Volume 20, Issue 4; See also Roger G. Kennedy, HIDDEN CITIES – THE DISCOVERY AND LOSS OF ANCIENT NORTH AMERICAN CIVILIZATION, 1994, pp. 228-231)

Salvatore M. Trento, author of several books on North American relics , regards the Book of Mormon as "an astonishing tale that fits very well with the general outlook in the early 1800s on the American wilderness." Trento notes that, "As American Settlers pushed west into New York State and into the Ohio River Valley, they actually did see evidence of an ancient civilization..." Though discounting visions and angels, Trento nevertheless concludes that young Joseph Smith probably did find buried metal "tablets engraved with weird markings". "Joseph Smith probably uncovered something from another time, another culture," writes Trento, "and it changed him." Trento does not attribute Joseph's find to some singular ancient individual traveling thousands of miles from Central or South America. Trento notes that in the Northeast "There are dozens of reports over the past two hundred years of farmers finding buried stones with inscriptions...intriguingly, in other parts of eastern American, some unknown group of people left slabs of stone etched with a script used in ancient Mediterranean countries." (Salvatore M. Trento, FIELD GUIDE TO MYSTERIOUS PLACES OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA, pp. 240-244)

Establishing the Book of Mormon’s setting by meticulous attention to the text should precede archaeological investigation of its sacred history. Archaeology and the search for scriptural sounding names, is not the best way to go about finding a Promised Land. More than a few ancient peoples inscribed on metal and stone and worked in earth, timber and plaster-like cement (burnt limestone). (Leviticus 14:42, Isaiah 33:12) Mound Builders of North American made wattle and daub houses of cement and were accomplished artisans in wood, metal and stone. “Scriptural” sounding names turn up in diverse places. There are numerous place names in western New York and the Great Lakes area in general, that sound strikingly like Book of Mormon  names. "Oneida" for instance. (Alma 47:5) But care must be taken with scriptural sounding place names. Kish was an ancient Mesopotamian city. This does not mean that Saul’s father or uncle, both named Kish”, lived in Mesopotamia, or that the city had much to do with the Jaredite king.

The Bible makes demographic claims that are not easily proven archaeologically. (2 Samuel 24:9, 1 Chronicles 21:5) According to the Bible, more than a million people were led out of Egypt - bound for a relatively small Promised Land. (Numbers 1:45-47) Yet, population controversies do not keep biblical scholars from agreeing on the location of Canaan. Likewise, the Book of Mormon’s literary setting, does not require archaeological proof of its demographics.

Yes, there were a lot of people anciently in Central and South America, but there is no strong evidence that a large population matching the description of Nephite civilization, ever existed there. The general setting described in scripture should be established as much as possible by scripture. Central and South American settings are not better fits demographically than Joseph Smith's American Israelite setting among the Mound Builders. To try and locate the geography of the Book of Mormon by archaeology, including demographics and the occasional discovery of a scriptural sounding name, is to place the proverbial cart before the horse. In short, we should carefully attend to the text before we take up the pick and shovel. We should let the text tell us where to dig. After all, if we find evidence of synagogues, Hebrew writing, prayer shawls and copious Old Testament names in Poland, it doesn't prove that the site of ancient Hebron is nearby!

The Bible tells us that Solomon’s temple stood on Jerusalem’s Mt. Moriah. (2 Chronicles 3:1) Imagine dismissing this passage of scripture in favor of an alternate Middle Eastern site for the temple. We might come to dote and fawn on the relics of the Semitic Syrians, and wish we could attribute their artifacts to their Israelite neighbors. Setting our sights on impressive archaeological finds of the Levant, we may wish to claim the ‘Ain Dara temple of Northern Syria as Solomon’s. This temple is strikingly like descriptions of the Israelite temple. What is there in Israel that archaeologically proves Solomon was there any way – a tenth century B.C. wall? Certainly no archaeological proof has been found so far of the “magnifical” temple described in scripture. (1 Chronicles 22:5) Yet the Bible unapologetically directs us to where it stood. Has any documented excavation found Elijah’s altar at Carmel? Evidence of ancient winemaking has been found there, and Carmel” does mean “vineyard” or “garden-land”. But where is the archaeological proof that “all Israelwas called to gather there for a great theological showdown? (1 Kings 18:19) Fortunately, the Bible contains enough information to identify Carmel by the sea” without archaeology. (Jeremiah 46:18) Mt. Carmel and numerous other features of the Promised Land appear on Bible maps simply because they match so well the scriptural tradition.

The fact is, the location of the Book of Mormon land Cumorah is as established in LDS scripture as Carmel. (D&C 128:19-20) Cumorah, “in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4), is listed with other places of significance to the Restoration. The sacred sites listed in D&C 128:20 are relatively close to marshlands, rivers, waterfalls and the Finger Lakes of western New York. It was at the Smith family home in the land Cumorah, that the messenger Moroni announcing the restoration of the Gospel, “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni …declaring the fulfilment of the prophets – the book to be revealed.” (JS-H 1:36-41) Accounts by Joseph Smith’s Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer, indicate that Cumorah's approximate whereabouts was revealed by one or more divine personage. (The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Bookcraft, 1996, pg 107 n. 14; see also David Whitmer Interviews, edited by Lyndon W. Cook, Grandin Book, Orem, Utah, 1991, pp 13, 27)

The Book of Mormon is equated with the fullness of “the Gospel” and “the new covenant”. (1 Nephi 10:13-14, D&C 20:8-9; 84:57)

Smith Family Home

A reconstruction of the Smith family home in the land of Cumorah (D&C 128:20, JS-H 1:36-41)

 

Land of Many Waters

“…in a land of many waters…” - Map displayed at the LDS Church Visitor’s Center at Cumorah

LDS scripture contains in written form “the new covenant”. (D&C 84:57) “All covenants between God and man are part of the new and everlasting covenant. (D&C 22; 132:6-7)” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, New and Everlasting Covenant, pg. 530) It stands to reason that scripture and verifiable statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith would suffice to identify the general whereabouts of covenant lands. Covenant lands are part of "the new covenant" and the fullness of the Gospel contained in LDS scripture. The subject is not just about geography. A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties. Scripture contains keys enabling heirs to identify the covenant lands of their fathers. This is a service provided by the God of Israel to his people.

Not long after the Messiah personally ministered to the Nephite people, the good people of the church were found disputing with one another over a particular matter. The church leaders presumed that the answer was not revealed in scripture, and were “united in mighty prayer and fasting”, seeking revelation from God. “Jesus stood in the midst of them” and asked what it was they desired. The Savior was told concerning the public controversy, to which he responded “why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing? Have they not read the scriptures…?” (3 Nephi 27:1-5) This account can help us realize that there is a difference between admitting that we do not know or understanding something, and claiming that God has not revealed it. The Apostle Paul taught that “we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (1 Corinthians 13:9) The Lord’s meek servants will be the first to admit that they do not understand all that God has revealed in scripture. As important as it is to encourage unity and avoid embarrassment, it is also important not to offend the God of Israel by claiming he has not revealed a matter in scripture, when he has.

According to scripture, the principal lands of the Book of Mormon cannot be thousands of miles distant from  Cumorah. In seeking the Promised Land of the Book of Mormon there is no need to rely on extraneous works like John Lloyd Stephens’ Incidents of Travel in Central America. Early Latter-day Saints placed undue weight on Stephens’ 1841 bestseller, promoting it as an essential guide to Book of Mormon cities, despite the fact that Stephens’ himself was of the opinion that the Central American stone ruins which he and Frederick Catherwood documented were comparatively modern. (Incident of Travel in Central America, Vol. II, Chapter XXVI, “COMPARATIVE MODERN DATE OF RUINS”, pp. 442-443) This infatuation with stone ruins in Mesoamerican jungles has led to confusion and disappointment among the faithful.

The Book of Mormon was published more than a decade prior to Stephens’ bestseller. In 1832, the Lord in a revelation to Joseph Smith, warned the Saints not to persist in treating the Book of Mormon lightly. (D&C 84:54-57) “Cumorah” is mentioned in the Prophet’s September 6th, 1842 epistle to the church. This epistle deals mainly with the topic of baptism for the dead. Joseph previously announced this epistle as “the word of the Lord”. (D&C 127:10) The Prophet’s epistle has been canonized by the LDS Church as Doctrine Covenants section 128. Though early LDS leaders held diverse opinions on the geography of the Book of Mormon (not all of them espousing hemispheric settings), not one of them denied the location of Cumorah set forth in LDS scripture. (W. V. Coon, “How Exaggerated Settings for the Book of Mormon Came to Pass”)

But the practice of baptism for the dead is not recognized by the “Community of Christ” (formerly Reorganized LDS church) as doctrinally binding upon its members. (RLDS D&C 110; see also RLDS D&C 107) More than one 20th century RLDS writer came to dismiss the location of Cumorah given in Joseph Smith's September 6th, 1842 epistle on baptism for the dead. (LDS D&C 128) The original Cumorah was sacrificed to accommodate a Mesoamerican geography. RLDS writers L.E. Hills and J.F. Gunsolley are the earliest known proponents of Central American Cumorah theory. Thus, the “limited” Mesoamerican setting follows a later tradition that departs from the “Mound-builder” literary setting recognized by mainstream scholars.

Israelite coordinates:

Little Land of Israel

The little Land of Israel situating between west and east inland seas.

Though there is little archaeological evidence supporting the Bible’s demographic claims, the population densities in the land, according to scripture, were astonishing!  (2 Samuel 24:9, 1 Chronicles 21:5, 1 Nephi 21:18-19) Much Biblical history concentrates in this small land. The setting for the Book of Mormon is comparable in terms of size and demographics. The ultimate inheritance of Lehi’s posterity,  however, may not have been limited to the principal lands near the coast of the “west sea”. Book of Mormon south countries may have extended southward through open country; limited only by the seasonal requirements of the Law of Moses. (Mormon 6:15, D&C 75:8)

To begin, the lands of the Book of Mormon are oriented according to Israelite directions. These are the same directions represented in the Bible. The Semitic coordinate system is based on the perceived movements of the heavenly quarters. The lights in the firmament were not only seen as good for marking the passage of time; they also provided convenient signs for discerning direction. (Genesis 1:14) The notion that Book of Mormon peoples, who kept all of the commandments and ordinances of the Mosaic Law, would have used a different system for coordinating directions, is an embarrassingly gentile argument. Israelite East is in the general direction of sunrise. (Numbers 2:3) West is in the direction of sunset. (Joshua 1:4) If there is a sea in the direction of sunset, then it is acceptable to speak of west as seaward. If there is a desert to the south, then it is acceptable to speak of south as desert-ward. But it is sunrise that sets the compass in the Promised Land, and not one’s back to an arbitrary seacoast or a desert arbitrarily on the right-hand. To teach otherwise is to misrepresent how Israelite directions work.

The fact that proper Hebrew (biblical) directions are correctly translated in 1 Nephi 16:13; 17:1 and in the Book of Mormon’s Isaiah portions, is strong evidence that the coordinate system used throughout the English Book of Mormon is the biblical coordinate system. (“Israelite Compass”)

As in the Bible, “up” and “down” in the Book of Mormon indicate changes in elevation. (Zechariah 14:17, 1 Nephi 4:1)

There are notable similarities between The Book of Mormon setting in western New York and the limited biblical setting of the land of Israel:

Both settings locate in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, subject to seasons that are essentially in phase with each other. We may deduce this from the fact that it was the “first month” of the Israelite year in both the American Promised Land and in the land of Israel when the Savior gave up his life. (Helaman 14:20, 3 Nephi 8:5) The Nephite first month, in order to comply with the commandments of the LORD, must have been in sync with the Israelite first month. It is during the Israelite first month that the springtime Feast of Unleavened Bread is observed, commemorating the Passover. All Israel was commanded to observe this feast at the  same season and time year to year. (Exodus 12:1-2, 17-18; 13:10) To be obedient to the Law “in all things” (2 Nephi 5:10), the ritual synchrony between the New and the Old World had to be more than a matter of timing. The appropriate seasons and harvests had to also be in harmony.

Both the principal Book of Mormon setting and the Old World covenant land are relatively small and localized, but both have inheritance claims that extend beyond the limits of their tiny principal lands. There is nothing in scripture requiring Lehi’s inheritance to be confined to the land of Nephi by the shore of the “west sea”. (Alma 22:27-33) Lehi’s inheritance likely extended to the open “country southward” called “the south country” or “south countries” - land as far south as would still accommodate the seasonal ordinances of the Law of Moses. (Mormon 6:15; 8:2, D&C 75:8, 17) In these verses the Lord  uses the terms “south countries” or “south country” to describes country south of Amherst Ohio, that is, south of Lake Erie. Lake Erie is the best fit for the Book of Mormon's “west sea”. LDS scripture does not indicate, that the Promised Land of Lehi occupied the entire land mass of the Western Hemisphere. Prior to the introduction of the "new covenant", Lehi's inheritance would have been limited to lands compatible with keeping all of the ordinances of the Mosaic Law.

Both covenant lands feature east and west inland seas. In both lands, the eastward seas are smaller than the west sea. One of the eastward seas is actually named “the east sea”. (E.g. the Salt Sea is also called “the east sea”, Ezekiel 47:18, Joel 2:20; similarly Alma 50:8) The lands have rivers that are similar to each other: “Tzidon” (צִידוֹן) meaning “catchery” or “fishery” is translated Sidon in the Book of Mormon; following a King James Bible (KJV) convention. The river Sidon compares well with the river Kishon of northern Israel. The biblical Kishon brook flows northwest to the great inland sea, and is renowned for having swept away the dead of Sisera’s army. (Judges 5:21; compare with Alma 44:22) Both covenant lands have large inland bodies of water to the north, and mighty rivers southward.

In America, Jacob son of Lehi wrote:

“…the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea. But great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea; wherefore as it says isles, there must needs be more than this, and they are inhabited also by our brethren.” (2 Nephi 10:20-21)

Jacob here refers to “the isles of the sea” mentioned in Hebrew prophecy (e.g. Isaiah 11:11; 24:15; 42:10). The Hebrew word “iy” (אִי), translated “isle”, does not necessarily mean an island in the sense of a small landmass entirely surrounded by water. The Hebrew word means a coast or a habitable spot. (Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, אִי ,339, pg. 15)

Searching the words of Isaiah, we find that the prophet regards coastal countries as “isles”. (Isaiah 23:2, 6) The coast of Israel is an “isle” in the scriptural sense. (Isaiah 20:6)  When Isaiah speaks of “isles”, he definitely has an eye on coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. (Genesis 10:4-5)  The great inland sea of the Bible, with its many coasts, is distinct from the Ocean, but communicates with the Atlantic by way of a narrow strait.

The expression, “…the Lord has made the sea our path…” is rich in meaning. These words recall a verse from Hebrew scripture: “Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters…” (Psalm 77:19, KJV) The Hebrew word translated “path” is “sh’vil” (שְׁבִיל). This word literally means a track or passage-way (as if flowing along). A related word, pronounced “sh’bolet” can mean flowing stream. (Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, שְׁבִיל ,7640, pg. 987)

The Hebrew expression, “mayim rabim” (מַיִם רַבִּיִם), translated “great waters” or “many waters” doesn’t exclusively mean the Ocean. The expression also applies to inland waters including large rivers. (Jeremiah 41:12, 51:13, 36, Ezekiel 17:5, 8; 19:10) Nephi recounts in his introductory summary to the First Book of Nephi, that his family not only crossed “the large waters” to the American Promised Land; they crossed “large waters into the promised land”. (1 Nephi 1)

Jacob’s comment about the Lord making “the sea our path” could apply to Ocean currents, but it could also describe the experience of being divinely guided across a gulf or bay and up the flowing channel of a river. Lehi’s company could have perceived their voyage along an American water-way or passage as a continuation of their sea crossing. (Mosiah 10:13) They may have viewed the mouth of a major river as the Lord literally making the sea into a flowing “path”.

Mighty rivers can be called seas in Hebrew scripture. (Isaiah 19:5; 21:1, 27:1, Jeremiah 51:36, Nahum 3:8, Ezekiel 32:2; the scriptural references to “dragon” and “whale” may actually intend a crocodile) The experience of being guided by “Liahona” in a deliberate course across a gulf and up the strait and narrow waterways to their inheritance, may have so impressed the company of Lehi, that it reinforced a Nephite allegory: The Lord leading “the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf” to “land their souls...” (Helaman 3:29-30Church history gives an example of a similar voyage against the current into the promised land”: Wednesday, July 6, 1842 tells of an expedition of fifty brethren in sloop-rigged keel boats, headed a considerable distance up the Mississippi to procure timber for the Temple and Nauvoo House. (History of the Church, Volume 5, pg. 57)

Like the “isle” of Israel in the east, Jacob’s isle in America is a habitable land, bordered by inland seas, accessible from the Ocean.

"...upon an isle of the sea."

An exhibit on display at the Rochester Museum of Science, featuring a map of the locations of Seneca reservations in western New York following the treaty of Big Tree in 1791.  The native peoples of these reservations are identified in LDS scripture as the Lamanites. (D&C 32:1-2)

Names of waters and lands, and their relative directions - an important distinction:

As with the biblical “east sea” and “west sea” (translated, “utmost sea” in Joel 2:20, KJV), the proper nouns “east sea” and “west sea” in the Book of Mormon, actually name bodies of water. These Book of Mormon seas border limited territories and are not mentioned north of specific locations. (Alma 22:32; 50:13; 52:12) Because “west sea” is a name, the sea is called by its name even when the sea is approached from different directions; thus the expression “west sea, south”. Here, the name of the sea is followed by the adverb “south” directing towards a shore of the “west sea” from a northern location. (Alma 53:8, 22)

The expressions “sea, on the east”, “sea east”, “sea west”, “sea north”, “sea south” all require a frame of reference. The expression “sea east”, for example, consists of a noun followed by an adverb. These relative expressions do not name the seas they refer to. The expressions serve to indicate the direction to a body of water from a relative position. (Alma 22:27, Helaman 3:8) In each case, the scriptural reference frame needs to be determined in order to identify the body of water. Similar expressions are found in the Bible. (Joshua 18:14)

Just as the expression “sea east” does not name a body of water, the relative expressions “land northward” and “land southward” do not name Book of Mormon lands. The expression “land southward” for instance, is used to refer to lands south of the “small neck of land”. (Alma 22:32) In another instance, the expression is used to refer to lands south of the land Bountiful. (Helaman 4:5-8; 5:14-16) Similarly, the terms “land south” and “land north” (Helaman 6:7-10) refer to territories north and south of the “line” or “narrow strip of wilderness” which historically divided the Lamanites from the Nephites and Mulekites. We learn that the “land south” is named “Lehi” and the “land north” is named “Mulek”. (Alma 50:11)

The Promised Land of the Jaredites is the Promised Land of the Nephites. Both Book of Mormon peoples inherited lands in the prophetic “land of liberty”, blessed to become the United States of America. 

Washington's Crossing

A marker posted in western NY, just north of Indian Falls and the Onondaga Escarpment, not far from the narrow Batavia Moraine that passed through ancient Lake Tonawanda.

Source Articles - the following draw from LDS scripture and firsthand, verifiable statements by Joseph Smith. The Conclusions that follow are based on the Source Articles:

1. Joseph Smith published an editorial indicating that the Jaredites arrived in “the lake county of America...choice above all the land of the earth” in the vicinity of Lake Ontario. (Editorial on a chapter from Josiah Priest’s American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, T&S, June 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No. 16, pp. 818-820, signed “Ed” by editor Joseph Smith) In using the term “lake country”, Joseph uses precisely the same terminology used by Alexander von Humboldt, Josiah Priest, and A. Lapham in describing the Great Lakes region. These 18th and 19th century authorities concluded that the mound builders originally settled in the Great Lakes region of America, and eventually migrated as far south as Mexico. Joseph Smith appears to have held a similar viewpoint. (J. Priest, American Antiquities, pp. 192, 202; A. Lapham, Antiquities of Wisconsin (1855), Section 2, “ANCIENT WORKS AT AND IN THE VICINITY OF AZTALAN”)

Unsigned newspaper articles, speculating on the placement of Book of Mormon sites, are not reliable as sources for establishing the authentic setting for the Book of Mormon. Mainstream historians give little weight to these, and rightly so. Without an endorsing signature, stylometry analyses (e.g. word-print) alone cannot determining the extent to which Joseph Smith approved the versions edited and published by others.

2. We conclude from scripture that the Jaredites inherited a coast of Lake Iroquois (ancient Lake Ontario) that would become part of the United States of America - a land of liberty prophetically blessed to become “free from all other nations”. (Ether 1:1; 2:7-12; 9:20) The expression, “free from all other nations” implies that the nation would have no foreign ruler as head of state. The Promised Land of the Jaredites coincides with the Promised Land of the Mulekites and Nephites as a land of liberty choice “above all other lands”. In time, the land of Lehi's inheritance would be discovered by a man among the Gentiles. It is a fact that John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) not Christopher Columbus, is credited with the discovery of the North American continent.(Rodney Broome, Terra Incognita - The True Story of How America Got Its Name, 2001) Pilgrims would arrive upon this Promised Land seeking freedom from Old World oppression. Upon the land, a war of independence would be fought. The Gentiles upon this land would obtain their liberty with the help of God by successful revolution. No kings over the Gentiles would stand upon this land, distinguishing it from other countries, even in the Americas. Upon this land a mighty nation “above all other nations” would be lifted up “by the power of God”. By the Gentiles of this land, the native peoples would be “afflicted” and “scattered”. All this points to territory within the United Stated of America. (1 Nephi 13:12-20, 30, 2 Nephi 1:5-11; 10:10-14, 18-19, 3 Nephi 20:22, 27-28, D&C 10:49-51)


John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) is officially credited with the discovery of the North American continent.

The LDS Church  edition of the Standard Works, is careful not to specifically reference Christopher Columbus as the "man among the Gentiles" in Nephi's vision.  (1 Nephi 13:12-20) John Cabot fits well the context of Nephi's vision. Nephi saw the future land of his father's "inheritance" - a land in the temperate Northern Hemisphere, accommodating all seasonal requirements of the law of Moses. (2 Nephi 5:10) Nephi's vision goes on to describe pilgrims seeking freedom, the American War of Independence from Great Britain, and the rise of the United States of America, "lifted up by the power of God above all other nations".  (1 Nephi 13:30) Christopher Columbus discovered certain islands of the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Columbus eventually sailed along the coast of Central America. The notion that Columbus was the first European to discover the American continent is a myth.  John Cabot's discovery alone was sufficient to initiate European migration to North America. 

LDS scripture does not indicate that the Book of Mormon “land of promise” occupies the entire land mass of the Western Hemisphere. Moroni warns that “whatsoever nation” inhabits the “land of promise”, must serve God. (Ether 2:9-12) The word “nation” is singular in these passages. Whereas there are many nations in the Americas, the United States is one nation. Moreover, Moroni addresses “Gentiles” that would come to possess the land of the Book of Mormon. (Ether 2:11) The word “goyim” (גוׄיׅם) translated “Gentiles” (e.g. Isaiah 60:3) means those from the “nations”. Those from other nations (“Gentiles”) who would come to inhabit the Book of Mormon land of promise would come to inhabit one “nation…free from all other nations under heaven”. Not every country in the Americas is free from all other nations.  

3. The Mulekite landing and Jaredite settlements were in a “land northward” from the land Bountiful. (Alma 22:29-30; 50:11) The land of Bountiful is north of the land of Zarahemla. (Helaman 3:5-8) The lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful are bordered by a sea on the west named the west sea. The land northward, commencing at the land called Desolation by the Nephites, came into the land which was occupied by the Jaredites. (Alma 22:29-33; 46:17-22, Ether 7:5-6; 9:30-32; 10:20-21)

As the Nephite nation retreated “towards the north countries” before their enemies, the Nephite “lands of inheritance” were divided. The Nephites were given “all of the land northward”. (Mormon 2:28-29). A distant land northward features “large bodied of water and many rivers”. Seas are mentioned (not by name) in each of the cardinal directions bordering this land northward. (Helaman 3:8) The “land northward” or “north countries” comprise more than one country. Scripture does not indicate that all the “land northward” resides within the borders of the United States.

4. The Jaredite ruler Coriantumr progressed “eastward” from Moron to the hill Ramah in the land Cumorah, indicating that Cumorah (in a land of many waters), is eastward from the Jaredite seat of power at Moron, that is, eastward from the “narrow neck of land” in the land of Desolation (near Moron). (Ether 14:6-7, 26; 15:8-11; 10:20-21; Alma 22:32) Moreover, the overthrown Jaredite king Omer departed the land of Moron near Desolation (north of Zarahemla and Bountiful, Ether 7:5-6; 9:3) and “came over” (eastward on the plains, Ether 13:28-29; 14:15) near Cumorah, south of the great waters of Ripliancum, (Ether 15:8, 10-11, Mormon 6:5-6) and from there continued “eastward” to a seashore (the northern end of Cayuga Lake qualifies).

Scripture indicates that the American territory of the Jaredites (near Lake Ontario) was sufficiently localized that the scent of the dead permeated “all the face of the land”. (Ether 14:21-23)

5. Cumorah resides in “a land of many waters, rivers and fountains”. (Mormon 6:4) The general location of the land Cumorah is near the Finger Lakes of western NY - east of Lake Erie. (D&C 128:20) Several rivers are found at this local. A variety of inland bodies of water also existed near this location including Lake Iroquois/Ontario (the largest), the Finger Lakes, and an ancient shore (once an extension of Lake Iroquois) but now occupied by the Montezuma Marsh.

Montezuma Marsh, western NY

Map depicting the Montezuma Marsh - LDS Church Visitor’s Center at Cumorah

6. The Jaredite land “among many waters” in the general region of Cumorah, was so near to the land of Zarahemla, that travelers from the land of Nephi (south of Zarahemla) mistook the land of the Jaredites destruction for Zarahemla. (Mosiah 8:7-8; 21:25-26, Alma 22:27) Therefore the Land of Zarahemla cannot possibly be thousands or even many hundreds of miles distant from Cumorah.

LDS scripture does not say that the Book of Mormon land and city of Zarahemla reside in Iowa. (D&C 125:1-3) The Iowa “Zarahemla” was simply the name of a Mormon settlement built in the Nauvoo period. The Utah towns “Bountiful”, “Nephi”, and “Manti” etc. similarly serve to bring up the topic of the Book of Mormon when the origin of the curious names are inquired after.

7. Lehi’s company was directed so far northward in their American inheritance, that they encountered “driven snow”. Hence the non-biblical expression translated “whiteness of the driven snow”, which Nephi used to describe the Tree of Life to generations of his own people in the Promised Land. (1 Nephi 11:8; 19:1-3, 2 Nephi 5:28-32) This land of inheritance extends to and includes a place by the west sea. (Alma 22:28)

Considering the aged condition of Lehi and Sariah it stands to reason that the shore of the west sea was not a great distance from where Lehi’s company finally disembarked. They thus arrived by boat at a location, near the west sea. Smaller craft likely served them as the need for going ashore for freshwater and other supplies presented itself. These many necessary excursions, of course, would not come to occupy the available Nephite record. Lehi's company could have sailed and or rowed up the interconnected Mississippi, Ohio and Allegheny rivers; the same rivers which would become “mound builder” waterways for transport and trade. The Lord didn't just bring Mulek and Lehi to the American “promised land”, scripture records that he brought “Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.” (Helaman 6:10)

If Wilford Woodruff, in a skiff, could row against the current of the Mighty Mississippi to Nauvoo, while afflicted with a “Billious fever”, Lehi's party, divinely guided, could certainly have sailed and or rowed their way up the American Nile and Ohio River; despite whatever cataracts may or may not have posed a hindrance. (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, August 2, 1842, 2:185) From the Ohio, they could have found their way up the Allegheny and French Creek to within walking distance of the freshwater west sea - Lake Erie.

Alternately they could have sailed from the south along the Eastern Seaboard to Chesapeake Bay, and then to the mouth of the Susquehanna River. The western branch of the Susquehanna leads to lands and other water-ways near Lake Erie.

Inland Waterways from the Atlantic

Inland waterways from the Atlantic Ocean

 

Northern and Western Branches of the Susquehanna River

The Susquehanna River - an alternate way leading to lands near Lake Erie  

It is evident from scripture that “sea” and “sea shore” can refer to a freshwater lake and lakeshore. (Matthew 13:1-2; see Hebrew Matthew (B'sorot Matti) 13:1-2 and Numbers 34:11, Deuteronomy 3:17, Joshua 12:3, 13;27) There is nothing in the Book of Mormon indicating that the west sea is open ocean, and not an inland sea like the western sea of the Bible.

The “place of their fathers’ first inheritance” (Lamanite and Nephite) is “on the west in the land of Nephi. (Alma 22:28) It is important to distinguish between the land of Nephi which is the immediate environs of the city of Nephi (Lehi-Nephi), and the larger territory referred to by the Nephites as “the land of Nephi. The larger land of Nephi is the land which the Nephite people settled for centuries, prior to Lamanite occupation, and includes the land of their “fathers’ first inheritance”. (Mosiah 9:1, Alma 49:10; 50:11; 53:6; 54:6)    

The shore of the Book of Mormon west sea (west of both the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi) at least extends from the land of Nephi in the south to the borders of the lands Bountiful and Desolation in the north. (Alma 22:27-28, 32-33; 52:11-12; 53:8, 22; 63:5, Helaman 4:6-7; 11:20) Based on travel times between lands, we may estimate the west sea's shore length at greater than 70 miles. That is longer than any of the present day Finger Lakes. The minimum shore length assumes an average rate of travel of about 10 miles / day for a party of fleeing civilians, of all ages, with livestock and burdens. This gives us a minimum of 12 – 8 = 4 days journey (give or take a day) between the borders of the land Zarahemla and the environs of the land of Lehi-Nephi. (Mosiah 18:31-34; 23:1-3; 24:20, 25) This is based on the recorded journeys of 8 days from the environs of Lehi-Nephi to Helam, and 12 days from Helam to Zarahemla. Here the 12 day journey from the land of Helam is interpreted to include the first day mentioned in verse 20 of Mosiah 24. We may conclude that the minimum distance between the southern borders of Zarahemla and the environs of the city of Lehi-Nephi in the land of Nephi, is about 40 miles. The maximum estimated distance between these lands is of  course 8 + 1 + 12 = 21 days on foot (give or take a day), but there is a problem with this greater estimate:

The land of Helam is probably not northward, or in the direction of Zarahemla from Lehi-Nephi. Why? The Lamanite army who stumbled upon the land of Helam while trying to find the not too distant land of Nephi, had been in pursuit of the people of Limhi for only 2 days before “they could no longer follow their tracks; therefore they were lost in the wilderness.” (Mosiah 22:16; 23:30-35) The people of Limhi did not start out in the direction of Zarahemla but “bent their course towards the land of Zarahemla” after traveling “round about the land of Shilom”, in other words, they diverted the pursuing Lamanites, quite possibly by starting out in the opposite direction of their destination. (Mosiah 22:8-13) It is unlikely that the pursuing Lamanites marched due east or due west, otherwise they would have come to either the sea on the east or the west of the land of Nephi. (Alma 22:27-28) It is therefore most likely that Helam, a pleasant land of pure water”, is southward from the land of Lehi-Nephi, and that the actually distance between the lands of Lehi-Nephi and Zarahemla, is closer to the estimated 4 days on foot.

One doesn't have to travel far in woodlands to get lost and remain lost “many days”. Incidents of wandering “many days in the wilderness” do not give reliable metrics for determining the relative distances between Book of Mormon lands. (Mosiah 7:4-5) The children of Israel wandered many years in the wilderness before entering their relatively small Promised Land. This does not mean they wandered from Africa to China.

According to scripture, how far northward do the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful extend? Consider Helaman's 2 day march northward. He and his stripling warriors starting their march just north of the land of Nephi - in the southern borders of Nephite territory near the west sea. (Alma 53:22) Not all of their march was with speed. They did not march at night. (Alma 56:31, 36-42) An average marching speed of 15 miles / day over wooded and rough wilderness terrain, in an effort to conserve strength for hand to hand combat, is not unreasonable. Helaman had began his march on the borders of the land near the west sea, and ended his northward march not far from the land of Zarahemla; for he sent guarded Lamanite prisoners to the land of Zarahemla before returning to his previous position in the south, near the west sea. (Alma 56:57) We learn from Helaman's 2 day march, that the coast of the west sea runs at least 30 miles northward from the southern end of Nephite Territory. Helaman was able to march 2 days northward without running into  “the place where the sea divides the land” by the borders of Desolation. (Ether 10:20)

This tells us that the coast of the west sea, from Nephi in the south to Desolation in the north, is, at a minimum, 70 miles long.  Note that the Book of Mormon defines “a considerable distance” as less than a day's march in the wilderness. (Alma 56:36-38) An “exceedingly great distance” could reasonably be a couple of hundred miles or more on foot. (Helaman 3:4) Whether a day's travel is regarded in the Book of Mormon as “considerable”, “much”, “long” or “only the distance of a day ....”, depends on circumstance. (Alma 22:32)

Consistent with the relative small size of principal Book of Mormon lands, Helaman's speedy march from the southern highland of Manti (not far from the borders of the Lamanite held land of Nephi, Alma 22:27), came so near the land of Zarahemla in less than a day, that the pursuing Lamanites “were exceedingly afraid, lest there was a plan laid to lead them on to destruction...” (Alma 58:18-28) In these verse we find that a day's march in the wilderness is regarded as “having traveled much in the wilderness towards the land of Zarahemla...”

The land of Bountiful extends only a short distance northward beyond the borders of Zarahemla. In fact, Bountiful is not a great distance north of the borders of the land of Nephi. Bountiful in the north and the southern fortified cities near the east sea were very accessible to each other. (Alma 50:25-36; 51:26-31; 52:16-20, Helaman 5:14-16) The southeastern city of Mulek (near the east sea, and technically within the borders of the land of Nephi, Alma 53:6; 51:26, 52:17) appears to have been only a night’s march from the land of Bountiful. (Alma 52:18, 21-22) Jacob the Zoramite, with his Lamanite army,  approached and “came near the city of Bountiful” in less than a day's march from Mulek, that is, from the land of Nephi. The Lamanite army was surprised by Lehi's army near Bountiful, and retreated in fear “lest perhaps they should not obtain the city of Mulek ...for they were wearied because of their march... their long march.” (Alma 52:27-31)

There is absolutely no justification in LDS scripture for geographies that spread the principal lands of the Book of Mormon (i.e. Nephi, Zarahemla, Bountiful and Desolation) over the Western Hemisphere, or over the Eastern United States. Mound builder territories south of Lake Erie, occupying much of the Eastern United States, fit the “south countries” mentioned in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. (Mormon 6:15; 8:2, D&C 75:8, 17)

Lake Iroquois/Ontario, with its watery fenlands to the north of Cumorah, must be the Book of Mormon waters of Ripliancum.

Lake Ontario

 Lake Ontario at dusk

Conclusion 1, Waters of Ripliancum: By interpretation, Ripliancum is “large, or to exceed all”. (Ether 15:8) Lake Iroquois/Ontario, with its watery fenlands and channels constitutes the Book of Mormon waters of Ripliancum. It is the largest of inland bodies of water in the region of the Finger Lakes. Lake Ontario communicates with the Atlantic Ocean by way of the St. Lawrence sea channel. While the “first landing” of the Mulekites could have been on the Atlantic seaboard - “far northward”, formerly peopled by the Jaredites (Alma 22:30), the Mulekites were eventually guided inland. They weren't just brought across the Atlantic to America, they were “brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land...” (Omni 1:16) Likely they came inland by way of the St. Lawrence sea channel - Ripliancum's extension.

The Finger Lakes region matches the “land of many waters” where scriptural Cumorah resides. Consistent with scripture, the waters of Ripliancum (Lake Iroquois/Ontario) are north of Cumorah. The 1879 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon, correctly identifies the waters of Ripliancum as “Lake Ontario”. (See Book of Mormon - 1879 LDS Edition, Ether 15:8, footnote c, pg. 606)

The Book of Mormon west sea must be Lake Erie. The New York - Pennsylvania coast of Lake Erie is comparable in length to the Mediterranean seacoast of Israel. It is significant that the Book of Mormon never ties its west sea or east sea, to the “many waters”, “great waters”, or “the great deep” that Book of Mormon peoples voyaged across.

Lake Erie Sunset

Lake Erie - the West Sea

Conclusion 2, the West Sea: Scriptural Cumorah resides north and eastward from Lake Erie. The Jaredite land of Moron near Desolation was near Bountiful (north of Zarahemla). The principal lands of the Book of Mormon: Desolation, Bountiful, Zarahemla and Nephi were bordered locally by the west sea. These all are part of the Promised Land and reside within the boundaries of the United Stated of America. The coasts of Zarahemla could not have been many hundreds of miles from Cumorah’s “land of many waters”. We may conclude that the best candidate for the west sea is Lake Erie. Lake Erie, as the Book of Mormon west sea, is perfectly consistent with an eastward movement of Jaredite battles on what would become U.S. soil. These battles progressed from Moron (near Desolation) to Ramah (hill Cumorah) south of Ripliancum (Lake Ontario). (Ether 14:11, 26; 15:8, 10-11)

The New York and Pennsylvania coast of the west sea (Lake Erie) is comparable in length to the Mediterranean seacoast of Israel. None of the Finger Lakes qualify as the west sea. The “land of first inheritance” near the southern “seashore” of Lake Erie is consistent with Nephi’s reference to “driven snow”, an expression understood by his descendents. A boat can arrive near the shore of Lake Erie from the Gulf of Mexico, by sailing up the Mississippi, Ohio and Allegany rivers. That Lehi actually settled in the land of Nephi near the west sea, is supported by the fact that it is the place of the Lamanite’s “fathers’ first inheritance”. (Mosiah 10:13, Alma 22:27)

Early Mormon missionaries were sent by revelation to remnants of the house of Joseph, the Lamanites residing in the west. They visited “Indian encampments near the city of Buffalo”, western New York - near Lake Erie. (History of the Church, Volume 1, pp. 118-120)

Source Articles:

8. It was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite on the line Bountiful and the land of Desolation, from the east to the west sea. A “day” meaning a period of daylight. (Alma 56:38-40, Helaman 14:4) Additionally, the wilderness of Bountiful is at higher elevation than the land of Desolation to the north. (Alma 22:31-32, Mormon 3:7-8)

There is no firsthand statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith placing the Book of Mormon land of Desolation in Illinois. Levi Hancock’s autobiography claims a remark made by Joseph Smith to Sylvester Smith during the progress of Zion’s Camp (1834). The attributed statement does not assert that the land presided over by “Onedeges”, which “was called the land of desolation”, is identical to the land of Desolation named in the Book of Mormon. (Autobiography of Levi Hancock (1803-1882), Copied from his journal by Clara E. H. Lloyd, great-grand daughter, pg 27) The location of Zion’s campsite, in this alleged “land of desolation”, is southwest of what would become the Iowa Mormon community of “Zarahemla”. (D&C 125:3) These locals do not fit the Book of Mormon scenario. The Illinois "Desolation" site is east of Randolph County, Missouri (proposed as “Manti”, Stake of Zion to be built in the future). (See History of the Church, Volume 3, pp. 87, 144) None of these sites with Book of Mormon namesakes coordinate well with geographic details found in scripture. According to the Book of Mormon, the land of Desolation situates north of Zarahemla and Manti.

Though the Levi Hancock journal remark about “the land of desolation” carries little weight, because it is not a firsthand statement by Joseph Smith, the statement should nevertheless be viewed as more substantive than the Missouri  “Manti” and Iowa “Zarahemla” ideas promoted by “heartland setting” advocates.  (See W. W. Phelps' LAND OF DESOLATION)

9. A fortified line near the southern borders of the land of Bountiful, running from the west sea to the east, could be crossed by a Nephite in a single day. (Helaman 4:7) Apparently water was a natural barrier on the west and on the east of the land of Bountiful. (Alma 51:26-29, 32). The river Sidon, turning from its northward course toward an inland sea, could have formed part of the boundary between the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful. (Alma 44:22) The river Sidon may be taken into account in the description of the land of Zarahemla being “nearly surrounded by water”. (Alma 22:32) Sidon is never mentioned in the lands of Bountiful and Desolation to the north of Zarahemla. There is no indication that the breadth of the land Bountiful was only partially fortified. It is likely that the southern breadth of Bountiful is literally only a day’s distance across. (Helaman 4:5-7) Further north, the line between Bountiful and Desolation was a day and a half’s journey across. Thus, the entire breadth of the land Bountiful (and adjoining Nephite lands) is not very far inland from the west sea.

There was a sea on the east of the land of Zarahemla by the borders of the lands Bountiful and Jershon. (Alma 27:22) An eastward sea resided on the south by the land of Antionum (south of Jershon) which was also by the southern wilderness regions invaded by Lamanites. (Alma 31:3) The fortified lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful were sufficiently localized to besiege. (3 Nephi 3:21-25) In Nephite territory, a “considerable distance” could mean less than a day’s march in the wilderness - perhaps less than 20 miles. (Alma 56:36-38; 58:23)

10. The land and city of Manti and the head of the river Sidon was near an eastern body of water called “the east sea”. (Alma 22:27, 29; 50:8-11; 51:25-26; 59:5-6) Manti, near the borders of the land of Nephi, was southeast of Zarahemla city and was at higher elevation compared to the environs of Zarahemla. (Alma 16:6) Captain Moroni had fortified “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…” (Alma 50:11) In other words, Moroni fortified “the straight course from the east sea to the west.” (Alma 50:8) Moroni “did fortify and strengthen the land” by “erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies…” (Alma 48:8) The fortified Nephite lines therefore consisted of what the Bible calls “fenced cities” (Numbers 32:17, 36, Joshua 10:20; 19:35) and forts stationed at intervals along the borders. (Alma 49:13) The effectiveness of these fortified cities, holding the line, would have been greatly diminished if they were stationed too far apart. 

Manti may not have been more than a day’s march from Helaman’s position at Cumeni, one of the fortified cities stationed between Manti and west sea. Previous to this, Helaman was stationed a night’s march westward near the west sea. (Alma 53:8, 22; 56:1, 9, 13-14, 31; 57:7-8; 58:13-14) Cumeni was so near to Manti and other “retreats” and “strongholds” that Lamanite sorties could sally forth, attempting to lure Helaman out of the city of Cumeni. Manti could not have been far from the city of Nephihah. (Alma 59:5-7) The city of Nephihah was east of the head waters of Sidon, by the east sea and by the city of Moroni. (Alma 50:13-15, 51:22-26; 56:25) 

There is no verifiable statement by Joseph Smith placing the Book of Mormon Manti near Huntsville, Randolph County, Missouri (Stake of Zion). (George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon pg. 324; cites Andrew Jenson Hist. Rec., pg. 601) History of the Church records the progress of the Kirtland camp on September 25th, 1838 as follows:

A mile and a half west of Huntsville we crossed the east branch of Chariton, and one and a half miles west of the river we found Ira Ames and some other brethren near the place where the city of Manti is to be built, and encamped for the night on Dark creek, six miles from Huntsville.” (Taken from the camp’s daily journal, kept by Judge Elias Smith, History of the Church, Volume 3, pp.87, 144) 

The Prophet Joseph Smith did not ride out to meet the Kirtland camp until October 3, 1838. He and other brethren escorted the camp to Far West, Missouri where they stayed the night. (The Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 1, 1832-1839)

Seas bordered the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla on the east and on the west. A “narrow strip of wilderness” ran between the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla from the east sea to the west sea. (Alma 22:27; 27:14) Moroni fortified the wilderness “line” between the land of Zarahemla on the north, and the land of Nephi on the south. (50:8-11) This line is described as running “in a straight course” from the west sea, to the east “by the head of the river Sidon. (Alma 22:27) The land of Nephi in the south was predominantly at higher elevation compared to the land of Zarahemla. (Omni 1:13)

Looking south from the Cattaraugus River Corridor

 

Looking southward, the elevated land of Nephi in the distance, viewed from the “narrow strip of wilderness” - the east to west running Cattaraugus River Corridor

 

The Narrow Strip of Wilderness

    Zoar Valley Canyon in the Cattaraugus River Corridor, the “narrow strip of wilderness”

  

Cattaraugus River Corridor

Cattaraugus Creek flows to the west sea” along a wilderness corridor. The eastern end of the corridor is by the head of the northward flowing Buffalo Creek/River, north of present day Arcade. (Alma 22:27; 50:11)

 

Westward flowing Cattaraugus Creek

Cattaraugus River Corridor, recognized by secular authorities as the dividing line between two distinct ancient American cultures. (Olive, Phyllis, We are Israel; DVD)

According to scripture, the lands of Bountiful and Zarahemla run inland from the west sea (Lake Erie) less than two days journey.   

Conclusion 3, the Three Lines defining the breadths of the Lands Bountiful and Zarahemla:

(1) The “line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation” which was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey … from the east to the west sea”. The scriptural definition of “day” means a period of daylight (about 12 hours), and the English word “journey” comes from the Old French and Latin meaning “a day’s work or travel…(in the Middle Ages estimated at 20 miles)”. Of more significance are the biblical Hebrew words translated “journey” (KJV) in cases where “journey” is described in terms of a day’s or several days’ travel. These cases involve the same kind of expressions used in the Book of Mormon. Biblical examples are Genesis 30:36; 31:23, Exodus 3:18; 5:3, Numbers 11:31, 1 Kings 19:4, Jonah 3:3-4 etc. There are only two Hebrew terms used in these cases: The most common is “derekh” which literally means “to tread; by implication to walk….” (LDS Scriptures Advanced Study Guide on CD ROM) The second term is “halakh” which literally means walk. None of these expressions suggest running, riding or rowing. In these cases, the Hebrew words translated “journey” implies a path that takes so many days to walk. Thus the Bountiful line from the east to the west sea could be journeyed or walked in about 1.5 days or about 18 hours. By contrast the fittest athlete would literally have to run in order to cross the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the same amount of time – if humanly possible! There is no mention in Alma 22:32 of the Desolation / Bountiful line being fortified.

(2) The southern fortified line of Bountiful, being a day’s journey from “the west sea even unto the east ..”  The Nephites had been driven from the land of Zarahemla and from land “near the land of Bountiful... even into the land of Bountiful”. From Bountiful they fortified the southern line between them and the Lamanites. (Helaman 4:5-8) The relative expression “land southward” in this instance, refers to the land south of the fortified line. The defended “north country” (north of Zarahemla) includes Bountiful.

(3) Even farther south, the fortified “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…”, in other words, following the course of the narrow strip of wilderness “from the east sea to the west”. Scripture indicates this line may have taken about a 2 day journey.    

It is evident that the principal lands of the Book of Mormon from the narrow strip of wilderness in the south, to the line Bountiful in the north, extended from the west sea (Lake Erie) to the east, a journey of about two days or less for a Nephite. The east-west breadth of theses principal lands in could be less than 60 miles. The Finger Lakes are too far east from Lake Erie, for any one of them to be the east sea, or to account for any of the seashores near the lands of Bountiful, Jershon and Antionum.

Based solely on LDS scripture, we see that the Book of Mormon’s setting can be deduced - its sacred geography positioned and outlined! Early Saints got into trouble by searching first (over the entire Western Hemisphere) for a conspicuous “small neck of land”, or by trying to match Book of Mormon cities with the not so ancient ruins described in Stephens’ bestseller. It is more important to make certain that the general location and relative distances match scripture, and that the elevation of the land increases from north to south as described.

With the waters of Ripliancum and the west sea deduced (given the location of Cumorah), and with the inland breadths of the lands Bountiful and Zarahemla outlined, other features of the land are found matching scripture. A similar match exists between the land of Israel and the Bible. The Bible contains a contract between GOD and Israel. Truly, the principal lands of the Book of Mormon are as real as the Land of Israel – and as small! Scripture is clear on the fact that the Book of Mormon’s covenant land setting was never intended to remain an American mystery. Even “Gentiles” are to understand its general whereabouts. (Ether 2:9-12) Attention to, and acceptance of D&C 128:20, is key to locating the book’s principal lands. The principal lands of the Book of Mormon are comparable in more than one way to the Land of Israel.

To the south of principal Book of Mormon lands is the vast Heartland of American. This land is the south countries (south of Lake Erie) referred to in scripture. (D&C 75:8, Mormon 6:15)

Other Covenant Land features by Best Fit

Conclusion 4, natural linear features and the southward rise in elevation: The Onondaga Escarpment is a long running vertical relief, capped by “Onondaga Limestone”. The escarpment runs roughly east – west, and situates to the north of Lake Erie. (Natel, Heidi Harlene, Proglacial Sedimentology and Paleoecology of the Tonawanda Basin, Western New York: Implications for a Late Wisconsinian Progalcial Environment, Master’s Thesis, State University of New York, College at Onconta, figure 1a, pp. 2, 12)  The Onondaga Escarpment is seen as an abrupt rise in the landscape as one goes from the land north to the land south. The escarpment is a fitting candidate for the “line” between the northern land of Desolation and the more elevated, southern wilderness of Bountiful.

Further south, and at even greater elevation, is a second wilderness “line” - the Cattaraugus Narrow. This narrow wilderness feature runs from the east to the west sea (Lake Erie) a distance consistent with the estimated distance of the “straight course” between the land of Nephi and the lower, northern land of Zarahemla. The Cattaraugus Narrow is roughly 40 miles south of the Onondaga Escarpment. The land between the two linear features fits the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful.  The Cattaraugus Narrow matches the “narrow strip of wilderness”. Many of the battles between the Nephites and Lamanites concentrated on the coasts at the eastern and western ends of the narrow. (Alma 52:12-13) The narrow strip of wilderness included a river (the Cattaraugus) running along it.

Indian Falls

 Indian Falls, Tonawanda Creek spilling over a small portion of the Onondaga Escarpment

 Source Article:

11. Connecting the land northward (including Jaredite land on U.S. soil) with a land southward, the “small” or “narrow neck of land”, “pass” or “passage”, passed through a “sea” (singular) such that the waters of the sea were seen nearby “on the west and on the east” of the “narrow pass”. Addressing the relative size of the “narrow pass”, the Desolation / Bountiful border is described as a “line”, whereas the entrance to the “narrow pass”, “by” the Desolation / Bountiful border, is described as a “point”.

The narrow neck “by” the Desolation / Bountiful border is considerably smaller than the breadth of these lands. (Alma 63:5) The local land (singular) which “the sea” divided, is the land of Desolation north of Bountiful. (Alma 22:32; 50:34; 52:9; 63:5, Mormon 2:29; 3:5-7, Ether 10:20-21) We may interpret that “the narrow pass” is the same as “the narrow passage” and that the “small neck of land” is the same as “the narrow neck of land” and that the “narrow pass” and the “narrow neck” coincide. We may see the narrow pass as simply a passage on or within the narrow neck - running across a land dividing lake, such that water is found nearby on the west and on the east of the pass. This straightforward and unified interpretation is supported by the following passages:

"And they came from there up into the south wilderness.  Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.

And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." (Alma 22:31 - 32) 

"And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him 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)

"And it came to pass that Lib also did that which was good in the sight of the Lord.  And in the days of Lib the poisonous serpents were destroyed.  Wherefore they did go into the land southward, to hunt food for the people of the land, for the land was covered with animals of the forest.  And Lib also himself became a great hunter.

And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land.

And they did preserve the land southward for a wilderness, to get game.  And the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants." (Ether 10:19 - 21)

"Therefore Moroni sent an army, with their camp, to head the people of Morianton, to stop their flight into the land northward.

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 50:33 - 34)

"And he also sent orders unto him that he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side." (Alma 52:9)

"And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward.  And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward." (Mormon 2:29)

"And it came to pass that 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.

And there we did place our armies, that we might stop the armies of the Lamanites, that they might not get possession of any of our lands; therefore we did fortify against them with all our force.

And it came to pass that in the three hundred and sixty and first year the Lamanites did come down to the city of Desolation to battle against us; and it came to pass that in that year we did beat them, insomuch that they did return to their own lands again.

And in the three hundred and sixty and second year they did come down again to battle.  And we did beat them again, and did slay a great number of them, and their dead were cast into the sea." (Mormon 3:5 - 8)

The "way" into the "land southward" was small enough that it could be blocked by a poisonous serpent epidemic during a time of drought. (Ether 9:30-35, 10:19-21) The Book of Mormon does not say that the "small" or "narrow neck of land", "pass" or "passage" between the "land northward' and the "land southward", is a continental isthmus (e.g. Panama, at the Gulf of Honduras, or Tehuantepec). The scripture does not say that "the sea" (singular) "on the west and on the east" of the "narrow pass" are oceans!

Conclusion 5, the Narrow Pass and the Place Where the Sea Divides the Land: Ancient Lake Tonawanda penetrated the land of Desolation between the Lockport Escarpment to the north and the Onondaga Escarpment to the south. The ancient lake was an eastern extension of the Niagara River, carrying the waters of the west sea (Lake Erie). Remnants of this ancient lake still exist in western New York as marshlands. A narrow land bridge (the Batavia Moraine) passed thorough the lakebed, dividing the inland sea into western and eastern portions. The western portion of the intruding sea was an extension of the west sea (Lake Erie). The eastern portion was cut off from the waters of Lake Erie and became marshland. (Natel, Heidi Harlene, Proglacial Sedimentology and Paleoecology of the Tonawanda Basin, Western New York: Implications for a Late Wisconsinian Progalcial Environment, Master’s Thesis, State University of New York, College at Onconta, figure 1a, pg. 2. See also Leverette, Frank, Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, pp. 72, 688-690, PL. II, III)

With water on the west and on the east, the Batavia Moraine matches the Book of Mormon’s narrow pass, at the appropriate location, north of Bountiful. Lake Tonawanda matches perfectly the land dividing sea - the ancient extension of Lake Erie and the Niagara River, through which the narrow neck passed. The first geographic feature we should look for in placing the lands of the Book of Mormon should not be an isthmus! There are various isthmuses and moraines in the region of the Great Lakes. The best candidate for “the narrow neck of land” becomes clear after scripturally reconciling more pertinent though mundane geographic features.

The Batavia Moraine (narrow neck of land) continued on land as a raised ridge for some miles beyond ancient Lake Tonawanda. A great Jaredite city was built in the vicinity of “the land southward….by the narrow neck of land”, more specifically, “by the place where the sea divides the land”. (Ether 10:19-21)

A careful review of the last chapter in the Book of Alma shows that at least one of Hagoth’s ships was launched “by the narrow neck”. (Alma 63:4-8) It is not clear that this was the identical location from which the vessel set sail fully loaded with passengers and provisions. Whether or not the ship made more than one stop for passengers and cargo is also not known. It is possible that Hagoth’s “exceedingly larger ship” incorporated a broad raft-like hull or hulls. Such a design could more easily maintain a shallow draft in shallow waters. There is no indication in scripture that Hagoth was aboard any of the ships that were lost. There is no indication in scripture that all of the vessels which Hagoth built sailed northward.

Batavia Moraine, Ancient Lake Tonawanda

The truly narrow Batavia Moraine (in red) passing through ancient Lake Tonawanda. (Fig. 1, Natel, Heidi Harlene, Proglacial Sedimentology and Paleoecology of the Tonawanda Basin, Western New York: Implications for a Late Wisconsinian Progalcial Environment, Master’s Thesis, State University of New York, College at Onconta, figure 1a, pg. 2.)

  

Niagara River

The Mighty Niagara River roaring across the Niagara Isthmus between Lake Erie on the South and Lake Ontario to the North.

The river constitutes a natural boundary between the prophetic “choice land … free from all other nations” (Ether 2:12) and a country whose head of state is the Queen of England (Canada). The Jaredite and American Israelite Promised Land is to the east and south of this river. Book of Mormon peoples eventually “spread” into the Canadian “land northward”. (Helaman 3:8) 

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12. There is more than one eastern sea in the land of Israel: “the sea of Chinneroth [Sea of Galilee] on the east” and “the salt sea [Dead Sea] on the east”. (Joshua 12:3) Further east, the mighty Euphrates River is also described as a “yam” (יָם) or “sea”. (Jeremiah 51:35-36) These seas are significantly smaller in size compared to the Mediterranean Sea, or “the great sea westward [Hebrew: literally sea towards sunset]” which, though it is significantly larger, is nevertheless an inland sea. (Joshua 23:4) In the land of Israel, the more southern “salt sea” is alternately named “the east sea”. (Joel 2:20, Ezekiel 47:18)

The Book of Mormon does not indicate that every mention of a “sea” or “seashore” on the east of principal Book of Mormon lands, relates to the east sea.  The word lake is never used in the Book of Mormon to describe a body of water. Hebrew scripture calls a lakes or inland body of water a “sea”; whether fresh or saltwater. A mighty river can also qualify as a “sea”. (e.g. the Nile, Isaiah 19:5, Nahum 3:8) The Hebrew word translated “shore”, as in “sea shore” is “saphah”.  (Genesis 22:17) “Saphah” is also translated “bank” or “brink”, as in “brink of the river”. (Genesis 41:3, 2 Kings 2:13)

The most northern explicit reference to “the east sea” is near the city of Moroni. The land and city of Moroni was located on the southeastern borders of Nephite territory, near the land of Nephi. (Alma 50:13; 51:22) Other lands and cities are mentioned in the same general vicinity by “the seashore” (Alma 50:14-15, 25; 51:24-26; 52:22-23; 53:6), scripture implicitly indicates that these were built “on the eastern borders” by the shore of the east sea. (Alma 52:13) These fortified cites were positioned south of, but accessible to the city of Bountiful. (Helaman 4:5-8; 5:14-16)  Caution must be taken when interpreting various mentions of a “seashore”, “beach” or “sea”. (E.g. Alma 27:22; 50:29, 34; 51:32, Helaman 3:8; Ether 9:3) It is not clear that all of these relate to the body of water called the “east sea”. The 19th century definition of “beach” applies to the shore of a lake or large river. (Beach, Oxford English Dictionary) Geologist Frank Leverett notes the “beaches” of ancient inland bodies of water in western New York. (Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, PL. III)

The King James Bible (KJV) does not capitalize the proper noun “east sea”. There is no capitalization in Hebrew. The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, possibly at the discretion of the publisher, capitalizes “East Sea” and “West Sea”, but does not capitalize “sea east” and “sea west” because these expressions are not proper nouns. The latter indicate relative directions to seas using the adverbs “east” and “west”. (1830 ed. B of M, pp. 287-288, 363, 415 - compare to current edition. Alma 22:27, 32-33; 50:34, Helaman 4:7 respectively) Similar expressions calling out relative directions to seas are found in the Bible. (e.g. “the sea southward”, Joshua 18:14 and “the great sea westward”, Joshua 23:4) The 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon uses the expression West Sea, south” in which West Sea is capitalized because it is the name of the sea, but “south” is not capitalized because it is used as an adverb to tell direction. (1830 ed. B of M, pp 375, 377 - compare to current edition. Alma 53:8, 22) The current edition of the Book of Mormon matches more closely the KJV in not capitalizing the names “east sea” and “west sea”. There are some anomalies with the 1830 edition: The strange capitalization in, “…from the East to the West sea…” in the 1830 edition (pg. 288), in which “East” is capitalized but “sea” is not, is inconsistent with a later verse which reads, “…from the East Sea to the West…” found on page 363. In the latter case, “Sea” is also capitalized. On page 453, the 1830 edition reads all in lowercase, “…from the west to the east…” The current version of Alma 22:32 reads similar and does not require “east” to be mean east sea. This agrees with the Oliver Cowdery printer’s manuscript in which “east” is not capitalized in this passage. Thus, there is no clear scriptural indication that the east sea was on the east of Bountiful.

The following passages taken together indicate that the Book of Mormon east sea, near the headwaters of “the river Sidon” in the “south wilderness”, was possibly above sea level. In other words, the “east sea” may have simply been a lake in the southeast highlands near the eastern end of the “narrow strip of wilderness”. (Alma 16:6-7; 17:1; 22:27; 31:3 [consider with 43:22; 27:22]; 50:8, 11; 56:25 [consider with 51:22-26; 50:13-14]; 59:6-7)

Conclusion 6, the East Sea: The Ancient American “east sea” of the Book of Mormon was located east of the “straight course” or “line” dividing the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi. In other words, the “east sea” was located at the east of the Cattaraugus River Corridor (the narrow strip of wilderness), dividing the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla. This is the precise location of a watery valley in the Java Lake region. (Leverett, Frank, Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, pp. 210-213) Centuries ago this region of water fed the north flowing Tonawanda River, and supplied additional water to the Buffalo River.

A chain of other lakeshores (seashores) stemmed northward from this east sea along the Tonawanda Creek corridor. These lakes are now reduced to marshes. The Clarendon Linden Fault runs more or less parallel to the Tonawanda Creek corridor.

According to the Book of Mormon, the city of Moroni by the east sea was catastrophically inundated. (3 Nephi 8:9) The Tonawanda Creek corridor with its ancient lakes and fault line is analogues to the Jordan Rift Valley of Israel. The corridors are about the same distance inland from their respective west sea (Lake Erie in one case; the Mediterranean in the other). Both corridors held smaller eastern lakes (seas) interconnected by a river (Tonawanda Creek in one instance; the Jordan River in the other). Both have a fault line running along them (Clarendon-Linden Fault in one case, a continental plate boundary in the other). Both form a strategic eastern border to principal scriptural lands (Book of Mormon lands in one case, Bible lands in the other).

Onondaga Escarpment near Clarendon-Linden Fault

A portion of the Onondaga Limestone Scarp “…found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments…” along the Clarendon-Linden Fault. (Helaman 14:21-22) 

Identifying the Nephite east sea as the ancient Lake near the Buffalo Creek head waters, resolves a difficulty with the placement of the city of Mulek. Marching northward along the shore of the east sea, we would have encountered the fortified cities of Moroni, Nephihah, Aaron, Lehi, Morianton, Omner and Gid. (Alma 50:13-15, 25; 51:22-24) The fortified city of Mulek was located south “in the land of Nephi. (Alma 53:6) The cities captured by Amalakiah’s northward advance lists the city of Mulek after the city of Gid. (Alma 51:26-28; 55:26) How can that be? Moreover, traveling from the city Bountiful in the north, the missionary sons of Helaman (Lehi and Nephi) preached to the city of Gid and then to the city of Mulek. (Helaman 5:14-15)  This scriptural puzzle is resolved as soon as we realize that the east sea, like the east sea in the land of Israel, is not an ocean but a Lake. (Ezekiel 47:18)  

After capturing the city of Gid, the Lamanite army simply moved around to the other side of the Lake and captured the southern city of Mulek (which was technically in the land of Nephi) before advancing further north into Nephite territory.  There must have been a route from the city of Gid to the more southern city of Mulek. (Helaman 5:15) This route to Mulek (to the borders of the land of Nephi) likely went around the east side of the lake. Other Nephite cities situated on the western shore of the east sea - in Nephite territory.

Connected to the Nephite east sea, a chain of lakes (seas) existed along the course of the Tonawanda River, east of Jershon and Bountiful. (Alma 27:22) Geologists and Hydrologists refer to these as Lake Johnsonburg, Attica and Alexander.  These lakes have since vanished, but would certainly have been called “yamim”, “seas” by ancient Israelites.

There was a “sea on the east”, extending south of Letchworth Gorge. The northern end of this lake situated about 10 miles further east of the narrow strip of wilderness (Zoar Valley, Cattaraugus River Corridor). (Leverett, Frank, Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, pp. 201, 204, 206, 649) This “sea, on the east”, was the diminished remnant of ancient Lake Genesee, which bordered the land of Nephi on the east. Lake Genesee provided the water for carving “the Grand Canyon of the East” (Letchworth Gorge). The canyon and river constitute a formidable eastern boundary to principal Nephite lands. 

Anciently, there was even more water in the Finger Lakes many waters region than exists today. The many rivers and bodies of water that would have had to be crossed in order to invade the Nephite coast by way of the Finger Lakes region, would have arguably posed a greater obstacle than a sea! Coasts can be traversed by canoe flotillas. Land divided up by rivers, marshes and lakes force an invading army to either carry their boats with them or build new ones and or bridges each time they confront a watery obstacle. This would have given Nephite hilltops sentinels in the Finger Lakes region, time to kindle signal fires - apprising their main armies of an invasion.

Genesee River 

The northward flowing Genesee River on the eastern borders of Nephite and Lamanite lands.

A Lamanite army, intent on invading northern Nephite territories by way of the land of many waters (Finger Lakes region), would have to contend with the ancient Genesee and other watery obstacles. Nephite sentinels strategically positioned in the land of many waters could signal the presence of an invading army by lighting hilltop fires.

Ancient lake Genesee - a candidate for “the sea on the east ” of the land of Nephi, was south of present-day Portageville. (Alma 22:27)  Tornados, hurricanes and town inundating floods have afflicted the region in modern times.

 

Genesee River and Eastern Gorge

The Genesee River and Gorge, east of Nephite lands.

In the time of Alma the younger, the Lamanite armies were "hemmed in" at the southern Bountiful boarders by Nephite "guards" and "armies"; there being watery boundaries on the east of Nephite territory and on the west - "the west sea" (Lake Erie). Thus convenient access to more northern lands by way of the land Bountiful was denied the Lamanites. (Alma 22:33-34) Nephite "guards" and "armies" stationed outside Bountiful could have thwarted invading flotillas launched into "the west sea", or apprehended war parties attempting to invade the land of many waters, rivers and fountains.

  

Genesee River east of the land of Nephi

The Genesee River at the location of ancient Lake Genesee, east of the land of Nephi.

  

Seneca Council House

Restored Seneca Council House. (Alma 19:18)

  

Seneca Council House Marker

  

Attack by Sea

A long, fortified line spanning a continental isthmus will not block all possible routes of attack!

The borders of the true Book of Mormon land Bountiful are described as a "line" (Helaman 4:5-7), whereas the entrance to the "narrow pass" is describes as a "point" (Alma 52:9) with water "on the west, and on the east" (Alma 50:34) - not on the north and south as seen above!  

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13. Scripture consistently describes a general rise in elevation of the land south of Zarahemla. (Omni 1:13, 27-28, Words of Mormon 1:13, Mosiah 7:1-4, 9, 13; 8:2; 9:3; 28:1-9; 29:3, Alma 17:8; 26:7-9; 23; 27:5-9; 29:14; 49:10-11; 51:11-13; 53:10-12; 56:3; 57:15-16, 28-30; 62:7, Helaman 1:17; 4:5; 6:4) Scripture guides us to the conclusion that the river Sidon flows northward from its headwaters near Manti, in the south. (Alma 16:6-7, Alma 22:27, 43:22, 32, 35, 41-42; 50:11; 56:25) Relative to the land of Zarahemla, the head of the river Sidon situates near “the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti”. East of Zarahemla city, some distance north of Sidon's headwaters, the river is shallow enough to cross on foot, yet possesses enough flow to carry away human dead. Olive suggests that high river banks east of Zarahemla, where opposing armies met, may have necessitated the casting of the slain into the river - making room for other warriors to cross. (Alma 2:15; 26-27, 34-35; 4:4; 16:6-7; 3:3)

There is no indication in scripture that the river Sidon was a particularly mighty or impressive river. The Book of Mormon does not indicate that the river Sidon was used for shipping. Nephite shipping took place in the “west sea”. (Alma 63:5) Further south, and at higher elevation, the river at certain seasons was deep and swift enough to carry away human bodies (ostensibly bloated and made buoyant by decomposition, Alma 44:22). Not surprisingly, the river Sidon could also be crossed on foot near its elevated headwaters. (Alma 16:6-7)

The American river Sidon is analogues to the north flowing Kishon brook or river of northern Israel, which carried away the dead of Sisera’s army. (Judges 5:21) Both rivers flow northward out to a sea. The fact that the Book of Mormon does not give the names of any other ancient American rivers, speaks to the limited scope of fortified Nephite territory. (Mormon 1:10) There is no mention of the river Sidon north of the land of Zarahemla. The Hebrew word “nahal” (נַחַל) which can be translated “brook” or “river”, describes the Kishon river of Israel; and appropriately describes the Sidon river of Nephite America. (1 Kings 18:40) These brooks are notable though not mighty rivers. Current water levels are not necessarily an indication of their ancient flow, but are sufficient to meet scriptural requirements.

Kishon Brook

The river Kishon of Northern Israel – Judges 5:21

The southward rolling Mighty Mississippi River is a most unlikely candidate for the river Sidon. Identifying the Mississippi River as the Book of Mormon river Sidon, is analogues to confusing the Nile with Israel’s river Kishon.  Proponents of exaggerated heartland settings desperately seek to match the Mississippi with the river Sidon. One specious argument alleges that the meaning of the river’s “head” is uncertain in scripture. It is argued that in describing the “head of the river Sidon”, the divine translation does not afford sufficient information to determine what the term “head” actually means in this instance. 19th century English dictionaries on the other hand, plainly relate the head or head water of a river to the river’s source – the place where the river originates. A river’s “head” resides at higher elevation relative to the river’s main course or flow. The location of a river's source at higher elevation is why the source is called the head. (Oxford English Dictionary, HEAD: 16, 17) The source or head of the Nile, for example, is not the same as the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile at lower elevation.

 

Heartland setting advocates however, seek to gin an argument out of the fact that there is another 19th century usage of “head” meaning “conflux”. But the context of this usage has to do with a body. It is true that gathering fluids (conflux or confluence) in a body can be called a “head” - but the question needs to be asked whether this usage was generally extended to the confluence of rivers. Can it be shown that the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers was actually called the “head” of either river? Mound Builder authority Roger Kennedy does not refer to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as the head of either river. (Roger G. Kennedy, Hidden Cities - The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization, pg. 19) Where can we find a historical source calling the confluence of rivers the “head” of one or more river? Is there any historical source, for instance, calling the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile, the “head” of the Nile? Early Apostle Wilford Woodruff referred to the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri River as “the mouth of the Missouri River” not the head of the Mississippi. (Wilford Woodruff's Journal, August 2, 1842, 2:184, see also History of the Church, Volume 5, pg. 56)

 

Heartland setting advocates point to a footnote for Genesis 2:10 found in LDS scripture, and allege that here is scriptural precedence for defining any confluence of rivers as a “head”. On the topic of the four rivers joined in the vicinity of Eden, the footnote reads, HEB divided into four heads (branches). Consulting the Hebrew Bible and Lexicon, however, reveals that the word for branches does not exist in this verse. The actual Hebrew word used in Genesis 2:10, is “rashim” (רָאשִׁים), and it literally means “heads”. Why is the root word “rosh” which means “head”, “chief” or “first”, used in this verse? It’s because the verse is describing the source of each river at higher elevation - in other words, the high points from which each river flows. Water, of course, flows from its source at higher elevation (its “head”) to lower elevation! Therefore the source of a river delta can also be called the “head” of the delta. This “source” is at higher elevation than the branches of the delta. We would not properly call this the “head of the river”, but the “head of the river delta”. There is nothing in Hebrew Scripture justifying the generalization that any confluence of rivers can be termed a river’s “head”. Olive keenly observes that even the Book of Mormon patriarch Lehi defines the “head” of a river as its source “from which it [the river] came”. (1 Nephi 8:13-14)

 

When 19th Century writers mention the “head waters” of the Mississippi to what do they refer? In his work on the Mound Builders, George Bryce (1844 – 1931) repeatedly mentions the “head waters” of the Mississippi River. From the geography he describes, it is clear that he is not referring to the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. True to the definition of a river's “head”, Bryce is referring to the most northern origin or source of the Mississippi. (Bryce, George, The Mound Builders, see sections titled Mound Regions, The Toltecs, and Aztec Whirlwind of Conquest)

 

There is really no ambiguity in the meaning of the “head of the river Sidon” or the general direction of the river’s flow. (Alma 22:27, 29; 43:22; 50:11) The problem lies in trying to make the scriptural river fit a spurious setting. The “head of the river Sidon” refers to the source of the river - plain and simple! While scripture does not explicitly say that the river flows northward, we nevertheless know from scripture that the river flows northward because its headwaters situate in southern highlands. (Alma 16:6-7; 22:27) It’s not surprising that there is no mention of the river in the elevated land of Nephi, south of the river’s “head”. (Omni 1:12-13, Mosiah 7:1-2, Alma 50.8-9, 11; 56:25) The river Sidon does not flow through or past the elevated land of Nephi, south of its headwaters. It flows northward, passed the land of Zarahemla (Alma 2:15); and is never mentioned further north; possibly because, like the Kishon brook of Israel, the river turns out to sea before reaching more northern lands.

Conclusion 7, river Sidon: Buffalo Creek originates in the southern highlands of western New York, near the eastern end of the Cattaraugus River Corridor (the narrow strip of wilderness) not far from the shores of the east sea and ancient Lake Genesee (the  “sea, on the east” of the land of Nephi, Alma 22:27). The creek flows northwards before turning westward to Lake Erie (the west sea). Anciently, the river was supplied with more water in the southeastern highlands. The east sea (Java Lake / Gallagher swamp region), now reduced to several lakes and marshes, once fed the headwaters of Buffalo Creek. (Leverett, Frank, Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, pg. 210) Buffalo Creek is a match for the north flowing river Sidon. The southern boundary of the land Bountiful is logically located near where the Buffalo River turns toward Lake Erie. In the springtime, the waters of Buffalo Creek can range from two to six feet deep, sufficient for sweeping away bloated human carcasses.

Buffalo Creek near East Aurora NY

The river Sidon (Buffalo Creek with high banks near East Aurora)

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14. There are natural barriers to the north of Book of Mormon lands in the form of large bodies of water. (Helaman 3:3-4, 3 Nephi 4:23; 7:12, Alma 50:29) In the distant north resides a land that is bordered in all four cardinal directions by seas. (Helaman 3:8) A careful reading of Helaman 3:8 reveals that the Nephites spread out in the land southward, and then migrated northward where they spread out over the face of the “land northward”. It is important to realize that the frame of reference directing to the four seas, is in the “land northward”. The names of the seas are not mentioned in Helaman 3:8, only their relative directions. This distant northern land is beyond the borders of the land of Desolation. To the inhabitants of the “land southward”, “an exceedingly great distance”, on foot, could easily mean a few hundred miles. Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, “a considerable distance” is related to a day’s march in the wilderness. (Alma 56:36-38) Moderns may not think of Iraq (Babylon) as very distant from the State of Israel, but the Jewish King Hezekiah regarded Babylon as “a far country”. (2 Kings 20:14, Isaiah 39:3)

Captain Moroni “named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea, and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south—A chosen land, and the land of liberty.” (Alma 46:17) The reference frame implied in the expression, “south of the land of Desolation, is the Desolation / Bountiful line. (Alma 22:31-32) Captain Moroni’s first inclination appears to have been to name all of the lands populated by his people, as their land of liberty. But he is inspired to include even the land of Desolation “on the north”, which extends northward to the waters of Ripliancum (Lake Ontario), as well as “all of the land …on the south”. This may mean lands as far south as could accommodate the springtime ordinances of the Passover - the ancient Israelite celebration of deliverance from bondage. With the fulfillment of the Law of Moses, the blessings of the “land of promise” may have been extended to other lands previously precluded by the requirements of the Law. The land of Desolation is part of the Jaredite inheritance in a “land of promise” ordained to become free “from all other nations under heaven”. (Ether 2:12; 7:6)

Though the land of Desolation is north of lands populated by the Nephites in the days of Captain Moroni, it is nevertheless within the modern borders of the United States of America. There is nothing in scripture indicating that the more distant land northward surrounded by seas, must reside in the United States. Describing the full extent of this northern region as “the face of the whole earth” is consistent with expressions found in Hebrew scripture that refer to the full extent of local lands or regions. (Genesis 41:56, Exodus 10:14-15, 1 Samuel 30:16)

Conclusion 8, the Surrounding Seas of the Land Northward: Crossing beyond the Niagara River and traveling westward through the 20 mile wide isthmus between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, one arrives in a land where Lake Erie (the Nephite west sea) is on the south, Georgian Bay is to north, Lake Huron is on the west and Lake Ontario is east. Within and to the north of this region are “large bodies of water and many rivers” (Helaman 3:4)

A Distant Land Northward 

A distant land northward surrounded by seas

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15. There are several plains named in the American lands of the Book of Mormon. The plains of Heshlon and Agosh reside in the northern land of the Jaredites. (Ether 13:28; 14:15-26)  The plains of Nephihah (Alma 62:18-19), were in the vicinity of the Book of Mormon east sea. (Alma 51:26) Plains existed between the fortified city of Mulek (in the land of Nephi, Alma 53:6) and the city of Bountiful. (Alma 52:20) Nephi in vision beheld “the land of promise” and “plains of the earth…broken up” by earthquake. (1 Nephi 12:4) As mentioned, there is a geologic fault running near to Tonawanda Creek in western NY. More distant plains, not specifically identified in the Book of Mormon account, may also have been inhabited by the Nephites. The Prophet Joseph Smith referred to “plains of the Nephites” over which the men of Zion’s camp wandered. (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, pp. 344-346)  These plains are not the same as the Nephite plains by the east sea, or the coastal plains of the Jaredites adjacent to Cumorah.

Hills are mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon’s New World setting more frequently than mounts or mountains. Nephite lands are clearly hilly. (Alma 1:5; 2:15; 26:29; 32:4; 43:31)   “Antipas” is the only “mount” in the principal lands of the Book of Mormon mentioned by name. (Alma 47:7-10) Ostensibly it resides in or near the land of Nephi. Scripture informs us that the land of Nephi is at higher elevation compared to the hilly and flatter lands of the Nephite north. The Hebrew word “har” (הַר) is translated “mount”, “mountain” or “hill”. It can also describe a range of hills. The Hebrew word “giv'ah” (גִבְעָה) means “hill”, or “little hill” (hillock). The distinction  in scripture between a “hill” and a “mountain” is not always clear. (Psalm 104:18, Isaiah 2:14, 3 Nephi 8:10)

Conclusion 9, Plains: Extensive plains reside in western New York. Plains south of the shores of Lake Ontario (waters of Ripliancum) fit the plains mentioned in the Jaredite account. Plains in the vicinity of Tonawanda Creek qualify as the plains between the city of Mulek and the city of Bountiful. The fortified city of Mulek was near the narrow strip of wilderness (Cattaraugus River Corridor) and the east sea (region of Java Lake). There are hills and mountains south of the Cattaraugus. North of the Cattaraugus, the NY landscape transitions from hilly to more flat at lower elevations. This is consistent with descriptions of the terrain in the Book of Mormon.   

Flatland near Batavia (Bountiful)  

Plains near the land Bountiful (Batavia, NY)

Genuine Book of Mormon Country

“The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians…after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years, containing the word of God which was delivered unto them. By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendents from that Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them… (Signed) JOSEPH SMITH, JUN.” (D.H.C 1:312-316; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 17)

 

 

 

 

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