Book of Mormon Covenant Lands According to the Best Sources


Why Lake Erie, and not Lake Tonawanda, is the Western Terminus of the Land Bountiful


Reason 1Lake Tonawanda was in the Book of Mormon land Desolation. This ancient inland sea was near Bountiful, but did not form a shore of that land.

Scripture states:

31  And they came from there [Desolation] up into the south wilderness.  Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation, and the land on the southward was called Bountiful ... (Alma 22:31)

The Onondaga Limestone Formation and escarpment parallels the linear divide or “line which ran between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation.” (3 Nephi 3:23) Desolation is north of the escarpment, and at lower elevation than Bountiful. Bountiful resides on, and immediately south of the escarpment.

Portion of the Onondaga Escarpment;

Desolation on the north, and Bountiful “up” on the south of the linear escarpment. (Alma 22:31)

Unlike the fortified “line” of Bountiful on the south (Helaman 4:6-7), there is no mention of the “line” between Desolation and Bountiful being fortified in early Nephite times. (Alma 22:32) There is mention of a “sea” north of Bountiful, in the land Desolation (Lake Tonawanda, e.g. Mormon 3:7-8, Alma 50:34). But the sea on the west of Bountiful (west of all inhabited Bountiful) is clearly the one named “the west sea” (Alma 22:33). The northern end of Bountiful extends inland from the west sea, “only a day and a half’s journey” (Alma 22:32).

In her 2004 master’s thesis, geologist Heidi Natel explains that the “Tonawanda Basin lies between the (Middle) Devonian Onondaga Escarpment and the (Middle) Silurian Lockport Escarpment to the north (Figure 1.).” (pg. 12)

As the waters of ancient Lake Tonawanda receded, the Batavia Moraine became exposed as a small neck of land (Alma 22:32) called the narrow pass”. (Alma 50:34)

From Hebrew, the narrow pass can also be translated the narrow passage. (Mormon 2:29; see The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon, entry 4569, מעבר, pg. 721)

The narrow pass passed through Desolation’s sea - “between the land northward and the land southward”.

 Divided Narrow Neck

With the Batavia Moraine exposed as the “narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.” (Alma 50:34), the receded waters of Lake Tonawanda formed shorelines some distance north of the Onondaga Escarpment. In other words, the lake’s ancient shoreline in Nephite times was down in the land of Desolation. In fact, western Lake Tonawanda became bounded north of the Niagara Falls Moraine (Figure 1.) which is north of the Onondaga Escarpment (the natural boundary between the land of Desolation and the land of Bountiful). The Onondaga Lime Stone Escarpment is a little north of, and approximately parallel to I-90, shown in Figure 1 above.

Bountiful by Desolation by the Narrow Neck

Figure א. This map shows the authentic Book of Mormon setting featuring “the west sea” (Lake Erie), and the natural linear boundary between the lands of Desolation and Bountiful.


Batavia Moraine - narrow landbridge

Figure ב. The southern portion of the diagonal Batavia Moraine (tan) sits on the Onondaga Limestone Formation (light tan). From the Onondaga Formation, the Batavia Moraine extends northward, down into the land of Desolation, and then runs more or less parallel with, and within the divided Niagara Neck - as depicted in Figure 1. Tonawanda Creek is nearby, spilling over the Onondaga Escarpment at Indian Falls, just west of where the Batavia Moraine passed through the ancient inland sea.

Tonawanda Basin

 Holley Embayment and Batavia Moraine

 Tonawanda Basin and Batavia Moraine

Natel: Figures 2, 3 and 5 depict the Batavia Moraine and Prehistoric Lake Tonawanda’s shoreline (undiminished) – north of the Onondaga Limestone Escarpment.

Natel’s mollusk macrofossil study indicates that as Lake Tonawanda receded, and the exposed Batavia Moraine cut off the eastern waters of the lake from the more effluent western side, different aquatic species came to inhabit the more stagnant eastern end. (E.g. pg. 72, Figure 23.) This is proof positive that in later stages of the lake, there really and truly was a small neck of land that passed through, and divided the inland sea. Early 19th century maps of western NY, in fact, show that the moraine was used as a pass through the muck-lands.

One or more prominent 19th Century antiquarians speculated that the marshlands of Western NY were diminished remnants of what was once much larger waters. (Josiah Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, 1833 edition, pg. 352)

Prehistoric Lake Tonawanda

Prehistoric Lake Tonawanda may date back to ~12,000 years BP. As the waters receded, the exposed Batavia Moraine divided Lake Tonawanda into western and eastern portions. Curiously, the expression “narrow pass” does not appear explicitly in the abridged Book of Ether, record of the archaic Jaredites. If the moraine was not entirely inundated in Jaredite times, it may have been soggy, constricted, and at times impassable. During the dearth mentioned in Ether 9:30-31, the isthmus may have been completely exposed but rendered impassable due to “poisonous serpents”.

Lake Wainfleet and lake Tonawanda

Isthmuses exposed by the receding waters of Wainfleet Bog (west) and Lake Tonawanda (east). Adapted from a map by archaeologist William Ritchie, and provided by author Phyllis Olive.


Early 1800s map of western NY  

An enlarged portion of an 1804 map of western NY. Tonawanda Creek (represented in the map) flows northward over the Onondaga Escarpment at Indian Fallsinto the basin of what once held Lake Tonawanda. Note the pass (between the 13s) with wetlands on the west and on the east of it. Even in Joseph Smith’s days the Batavia Moraine was used as a pass through the marshy remnants of ancient Lake Tonawanda. The first colonial reference to Indian Falls near the Batavia Moraine, comes from an 1804 account of the destruction of scores of rattlesnakes near the falls. Apparently the local natives referred to Indian Falls as “The Place of Snakes”. This calls to mind the plague of “poisonous serpents” described in Ether 9:31-34.

“ ... by the narrow pass which led by the sea [singular] into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.” (Alma 50:34)


Phyllis Olive's 2019 Map

A Revised Book of Mormon Geography Map according to Phyllis Olive’s latest model.


Sunset over Lake Erie

Lake Erie – the Book of Mormon “west sea”:


Reason 2 – Lake Tonawanda was not west (towards sunset) with respect to all who inhabited Bountiful.

Scripture states:

33  And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea (Alma 22:33)

Scripture does not say “the Nephites inhabited … the land Bountiful … from the east almost to the west sea…” or that “the Nephites inhabited … the land Bountiful … from the east unto the nearly west-northwest sea…”

Proximal to the land Cumorah (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20), Lake Erie matches the Book of Mormon “west sea” splendidly. The Great Lake’s extent meets the requirements of scripture, and provides an analogue to the great western sea of the land of Israel, which is also an inland sea.

An inhabitant of the land Bountiful, and not just on the northern line, could travel west, and place one foot in “the west sea” while keeping the other foot planted on Bountiful’s western shore. Also, as explained, the borders of the land Bountiful (which reside “up” above the Onondaga Formation) did not extend to the receded edge of Lake Tonawanda. The diminished inland sea could not have been Bountiful’s western terminus. Bountiful came short of Lake Tonawanda. Lake Tonawanda was “the sea” that invaded nether Desolation. (Mormon 3:5-8) Lake Tonawanda (both parts) was simply among the “large bodies of water” found in “the land northward”. (Alma 50:29; 33-34)

The Bountiful “west sea” is in all likelihood the same “west sea” that forms the western coasts of Zarahemla and the more southern land of Nephi. (Alma 50:11; 52:11-12; 53:8, 22)

On Phyllis Olive’s revised Book of Mormon geography map (above), Lake Tonawanda (both parts) is clearly seen situated in what Phyllis labels the “Land Northward”. Here Phyllis treats the Book of Mormon expression “land northward” as if it were the name of a specific land, and not a relative designation that could be applied to any land northward from an arbitrary reference frame. In Alma 50:11 the reference frame is the dividing line “between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi”. From this reference frame, Zarahemla is in “the land northward”. From more northern reference frames, Zarahemla is “the land southward”. (Ether 9:31, Omni 1:22) One wonders why the same reference frame would not have been used to describe ancient Lake Tonawanda, as was used to describe the land that held the two-part lake. Why not refer to Lake Tonawanda as the sea northward?

In the reference frame of Alma 22:31 the land Bountiful is referred to as “the land on the southward”. In the reference frame of Helaman 4:5-8, however, “the land southward” refers to land south of Bountiful. The “land southward” in this case includes Zarahemla. Consider also 3 Nephi 3:23-24; 6:2.

Bountiful’s fortified southern line “... a day’s journey”, probably ran along a western part of Buffalo River, and then along part of its tributary, Cayuga Creek. This fortified line ran “from the west sea even unto the east”. (Helaman 4:7) The eastern terminus of the fortified line was likely the beaches of a lake or inland sea in the vicinity of what is now Tonawanda Creek. (Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 10, Tonawanda Valley, 32-34)

Near the mouth of Buffalo River (Book of Mormon river Sidon) the southern borders of the forested land of Bountiful were a short distance south from Desolation. Near this location, a ship could be built, and set sail into Lake Erie without being overpowered by the Niagara currents. (Alma 63:5-7)

The point is, the western terminus of the southern Bountiful line is also “the west sea”. The west sea, at the southwest edge of Bountiful, cannot possibly be Lake Tonawanda. Lake Tonawanda was north of Bountiful. (Alma 50:11, 29, 34)

Sister Olive’s reshuffling of the land Bountiful on her current map (above), does not justify naming Lake Tonawanda the “west sea” relative to Bountiful. Lake Tonawanda was “on the west and on the east” with respect to “the narrow pass”, within “the borders of the land Desolation” near Bountiful. (Alma 50:34)

Notwithstanding Olive’s best attempt to buttress a consolidated neck hypothesis, the Book of Mormon does not say that “the sea” that “the narrow pass” traversed, was called the west sea. Scripture says that it was “the narrow neck” that was by “the west sea”. (Alma 63:5) Why should we suppose that “the narrow pass” and “the narrow neck of land” are different things?

Scripture tells us that in the vicinity of “the narrow neck of land” there is a “place where the sea divides the land”. The archaic Jaredites “built a great city” near there. (Ether 10:20) Thus, “the narrow neck” most likely has something to do with the conspicuous Niagara Isthmus. Great Lake Erie clearly “divides the land” at the place where Lake Erie becomes the Niagara River. See Figure 1a, Figure א, and other maps above. With Buffalo River close by to the south, this makes an ideal location for a “great city” - in fact, there is one there today!

Recall that in Figure 1, a portion of the Batavia Moraine actually passes within the Niagara Isthmus. The word isthmus, by the way, means narrow neck. (OED) So in a way, “the narrow pass” (or rather the Batavia Moraine) and the divided Niagara Isthmus become one.

If, as Phyllis Olive has suggested, the site of the great Jaredite city mentioned in Ether 10:20 was near “the narrow pass” (the Batavia Moraine), the verse might more appropriately read, “And they built a great city by the narrow passage, by the place where the small neck of land divides the sea.”

Sister Olive has argued that Lake Tonawanda is the land dividing sea referred to in Ether 10:20. This ancient inland sea divided the land of Desolation. But all lakes divide land.  We should ask, what singular spot on the shore of a lake qualifies as the place where it divides the land?

The description, “... a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land”, seems to call out an address. The address consists of a pair of coordinates, or pieces of information: The first piece of information is “... by the narrow neck of land...” This could mean across from, or in sight of an isthmus. Secondly, the verse seems to call out a place where the sea divides land (singular), perhaps even dividing “the narrow neck of land” itself. If “the place where the sea divides the land” refers to where Great lake Erie first cuts into “the narrow neck of land” as a mighty river, or strait, this would be enough information to locate the great Jaredite city where Buffalo NY resides today. Buffalo is across from the Niagara Isthmus. Buffalo is also by the place where Great Lake Erie becomes the swift Niagara River cutting through the isthmus - the neck.

Mound-builder Warrior Beheading His Victim

A soapstone pipe from Spiro Mound, Oklahoma (13th-century CE), showing a warrior beheading his victim. (Thomas S. Garlinghouse, “Revisiting The Mound-Builder Controversy”) Consider 1 Nephi 4:10-18, and the analogy of two necks of land (isthmuses) named in the covenant land setting of the Book of Mormon: (1) a small neck of land, named the narrow pass, that divides a sea, and (2) a narrow neck of land that is divided by a sea. Both are near “the line Bountiful and the land Desolation” (Alma 22:32-33), but at opposite ends. One isthmus is found near the eastern start of the line, and the other is at the western end. The covenant land symbolism in this case may be compared to the symbolism of Mount Gerizim versus Mount Ebal in the biblical Promised Land setting. (Deuteronomy 11:26-29; 27:11-13; Devarim 11:29, Joshua 8:30-34) In the American Promised Land, the narrow pass may be seen to symbolize the blessing upon the land. (Alma 46:17-18) That the LORD prospers and protects the way of the righteous, as he did their fathers; making a path for them in the midst of the waters - cutting a covenant with them analogues to the narrow pass dividing the sea. The narrow neck on the other hand may be seen to symbolize the curse upon the wicked who inhabit the land. (3 Nephi 3:23-24) Should the people persist in wickedness, the God of the land will cut them off, as he has the western isthmus, part of which leads into a “land northward”. (2 Nephi 4:4, Alma 9:13; 45:15-16; 50:20-22)

Unlike “the narrow pass”, there is no indication in scripture that “the narrow neck” was a continuous, undivided isthmus that “led into the land southward”. (Mormon 2:29; 3:5, Alma 63:5) See Narrow Neck versus Narrow Pass Truth Table at the end of this article.

West of the Niagara River divide, “the narrow neck ... led into the land northward.” It was “by the narrow neck” that Hagoth launched his “exceedingly large ship … into the west sea”. (Alma 63:5) The mouth of Buffalo River (at the southwestern borders of Bountiful) can accommodate very large ships. It is an ideal location for a Nephite, Sidon-like seaport. There are two battleships and a submarine moored there today. A short distance north of this location is the divided Niagara Isthmus, with the Onondaga Limestone Escarpment forming the southern edge of the isthmus.

U.S.S. Croaker Large catamaran in the mouth of Buffalo River

Large catamaran launching out into Lake Erie

A large catamaran launches out into the "west sea" (Lake Erie) from the mouth of "Sidon" (Buffalo River), by the divided Niagara Isthmus - seen in the distance. (Alma 63:5)

The region of the city of Zarahemla was regarded by the Nephites as “the heart of their lands”, “the center”, or “most capital parts” of their lands. It stands to reason that the names of nearby inland seas would coordinate with the Nephite “center” or “heart”. (Alma 60:19)

From “the heart of their lands”, the names “east sea” and “west sea” make sense. Similarly “east sea” (the Salt Sea, Ezekiel 47:18, Joel 2:20, Zechariah 14:8, ZekharYah 14:8, Numbers 34:2-3) and “utmost sea”  (the Mediterranean, Devarim 34:2, Yo'El 2:20) are appropriately named relative to Jerusalem. The Hebrew words, “ha-yam ha-aharon” translated “the utmost sea” in the KJV, can actually be translated “the western sea” - west from Jerusalem and the land of Israel in general.

Relative to the Nephite “center”, Lake Tonawanda was just one of a number of “large bodies of water” in the north. (Alma 50:29) This is one of the reasons why “the waters of Ripliancum” (Lake Iroquois) north of the land Cumorah and the hill Ramah, are described as “large, or to exceed all”. (Ether 15:8-11) The waters of Ripliancum were larger than all the Finger Lakes and Lake Tonawanda, and yet Book of Mormon peoples must have understood that there was land northward beyond Ripliancum.

Reason 3Even though Lake Tonawanda was connected to Lake Erie, it is unlikely that Lake Tonawanda (north of Zarahemla) would have been called “the west sea”. 

The fact that the ancient inland sea is identified today by the name “Lake Tonawanda”, not Prehistoric Lake Erie, should prompt us to consider that even though the lake was contributed to by Lake Erie (via the Niagara River, as was ancient Lake Iroquois for that matter), it most likely would have been given its own name in former times. Names like north sea, or better yet, Desolation sea would have been appropriate, and consistent with how neighboring bodies of water were named relative to the Nephite “center of the land”. Besides, it’s difficult to determine how diminished Lake Tonawanda was by Nephite times. That is, it’s difficult to say for certain how connected Lake Tonawanda was to Lake Erie near Tonawanda’s shallower end. Tonawanda River (near “the narrow pass”) could have been a significant contributor to the shallow Lake in Nephite times. The Nephites must have had means of fording Tonawanda River to get to “the narrow pass”. Its possible that part of the palisade fortified city of Bountiful spanned both sides of a portion of the river, so that the city under siege would not be cut off from its water supply. (Alma 53:3-4) Today there is a small bridge spanning Tonawanda Creek in the town of Batavia.

Of course, the extreme eastern end of Lake Tonawanda was not connected to Lake Erie at all, and yet the Nephites seemed to have identified both the western and eastern parts of this inland sea as a single body of water divided by a small, pass-like moraine. The Nephites seemed to have regarded the two parts of Lake Tonawanda as the same “sea” (singular) - one part on the west, and one part on the east.

You will recall that scripture states that “the narrow pass .. led by the sea [singular, not seas] into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.” (Alma 50:34)

If it was the shallower end of Lake Tonawanda, just west of the narrow pass, that Hagoth launched his exceedingly large ship into, according to Olive’s interpretation of Alma 63:5, then why doesn't the scripture read, “... launched it forth into the sea west by the narrow pass ...”, instead of naming the sea and reading, “... launched it forth into the west sea by the narrow neck ...”?

Olive’s Lake Tonawanda launch site requires building the “exceedingly large ship on the borders of the land Bountiful”, above Lake Tonawanda, and then somehow getting the large vessel downhill into the shallows of Desolation’s inland sea.

It makes sense that the Nephites would have distinguished Lake Tonawanda with some name other than “the west sea” in order to avoid ambiguity with Great Lake Erie that formed the long, western coast of their principal lands?

Indeed, the simplest, most straightforward interpretation of scripture supports the conclusion that “the west sea”, on the western coast of Nephi and Zarahemla, is the same “west sea” that forms the western coast of the land Bountiful. This great body of water is consistently named “the west sea” throughout the Book of Mormon. The land Bountiful “north” of the Nephite “center of the land”, plainly shares Lake Erie’s coast with the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi.

The scriptural statement “... land southward which was called by the Nephites Zarahemla” is consistent with a point of view based in Bountiful or Desolation. Zarahemla is “southward” from Desolation and Bountiful. (Ether 9:31, Omni 1:22) But no large body of water in the land northward (which land was named Desolation by the Nephites) is explicitly named the west sea in the Book of Mormon. (Alma 50:29; 33-34) You will recall that the land below Indian Falls (The Place of Snakes) is Desolation. The land above Indian Falls is Bountiful. At the time of a great famine, man and beast wanted to escape serpent infested lands by fleeing southward. (Ether 9:30-35)

What about the expression “west sea, south”, that occurs once in scripture? (Alma 53:8) Does this expression represent a different, or more specialized name for Lake Erie - distinguishing it from Lake Tonawanda? In other words, can the expression “on the west sea, south” be construed to suggest that Lake Tonawanda was called “the west sea”, and Lake Erie “the west sea, south”?

Why wouldn't the Nephites have kept the title “the west sea” exclusively for the great western sea (analogues to the Western Sea of the land of Israel) and referred to Lake Tonawanda as the west sea, north? The short answer is, the Nephites did refer to Lake Erie as the “the west sea”. We don't know the name they gave Lake Tonawanda.

The same Book of Mormon chapter restates the meaning of the expression “…on the west sea, south”. The Book of Mormon explains that the expression means, “on the south by the west sea.” (Alma 53:22) Nothing more is suggested. The Book of Mormon name of Great Lake Erie is “the west sea”, but depending on where you are, you may be talking about a coast of the “the west sea” that is south of you.

Similar expressions are found in Hebrew scripture. Keep in mind there is no capitalization in Hebrew, and commas were not used anciently: See for example Numbers 34:3, Bemidbar 34:3 in Torah. Here the Hebrew expression “yam ha-melah qedemah” is translated “the salt sea eastward” (KJV). The scripture is not saying that the name of the Old World sea is “salt sea eastward”. The name of the sea is simply “yam ha-melah”; translated in English (with its reversed syntax) “the salt sea”, or “the Salt Sea” (if you wish to capitalize it and show that it is a name). The added expression, “eastward”, is just a relative direction based on a frame of reference given in scripture - that's all. The same is true for Bemidbar 34:11. The name of the sea is “yam kineret” (Sea of Galilee), not “Sea of Galilee East”. Likewise the name of the Mediterranean Sea in Joshua 23:4, Yehoshua 23:4 is “the Great Sea”, not “the great sea westward”. The Book of Mormon follows word constructions that are similar to those that appear in the Bible.

Here is how the name east sea or East Sea (if you whish to capitalize it) appears in Hebrew scripture:

הים הקדמוני

I have put the definite articles in blue so you can better understand the construct. Transliterated into English, the Hebrew name is pronounced:

ha-yam ha-qadmoni”

It literally means the sea the east (eastern), but it is translated “the east sea” (e.g. Ezekiel 47:18, YehezqEl 47:18, Joel 2:20, Yo'El 2:20).

Similarly, the west sea or West Sea appears in Hebrew scripture as

הים האחרון

Transliterated, and then directly translated this becomes

ha-yam ha-aharon” = the sea the west (western), but it can be interpreted to mean “the west sea” or “the Western Sea” (Devarim 34:2, Yo'El 2:20).

Now, contrast the above with how the terms “sea east” and “sea west” are expressed in Hebrew:

ים קדמה

This transliterates and then translates as “yam qed'mah” = “sea east (eastward)”. This relative designation is not a name. It tells the direction to a sea from some reference frame.

Similarly, sea west in Hebrew may be written:

ים מבוא השמש

This expression may be transliterated and then translated as “yam mevo ha-shemesh” = sea setting of the sun (west, westward) = “sea west”. This is also not a name of a body of water. It's a relative designation telling us where the sea is with respect to a reference frame that is subject to change.

The name, or proper noun “west sea” has the construct “west” (adjective) + “sea” (noun), whereas “sea west” or “sea south” is a noun (sea) followed by a direction (e.g. Helaman 3:8). Even if a definite article is placed in front of the noun, for instance, “sea” (ים) is replaced with “the sea” (הים), “the sea west” that results still doesn't qualify as the name of the sea. The Book of Mormon expression “the sea west” is just another way of saying “the sea … on the west” (Alma 22:27), or “the sea that is west”.

The expression “west sea, south” is a proper noun (West Sea) followed by an adverb - a direction (south). The expression “west sea, south” (Alma 53:8) is a way of referring to a southern coast of “the west sea”, relative in this case, to the Nephite center in the land Zarahemla. (Alma 53:22)

The Book of Mormon name of the body of water, we now call Lake Erie, is “the west sea”. This is consistently the case throughout the Book of Mormon, even when this inland sea, Lake Erie, is not mentioned by name, but referred to as “the sea south” (relative to a frame of reference in what is now Ontario, Canada, Helaman 3:8). The situation is analogues to describing the biblical “Western Sea”, also called “the Great Sea”, from a reference frame in Asia Minor. From Tarsus, for instance, Israel’s west sea could properly be referred to as “the sea south” or sea on the south.

Great Sea, Western Sea sea on the south relative to Tarsus

The biblical “west sea” (named in the covenant land of Israel) is “the sea south” relative to Tarsus in Asia Minor.

The Nephites also had a way of saying southeast, or southwest. See 1 Nephi 16:13. If, for some strange reason, they had wanted to distinguish Lake Erie by naming it the southwest sea, they would not have used words that translate “west sea, south”.

Relative to her relocated Bountiful, Lake Tonawanda in Phyllis Olive’s revised Book of Mormon geography, is better described as a sea on the north-northwest.

“the east sea”

From the King James Translation alone, the attentive Bible reader can tell that ancient Israelites referred to lakes as seas. The word lake is found nowhere in the KJV Old Testament. Even relatively small, inland bodies of water were called seas.

There are many inland seas (lakes) east of Lake Erie. In ancient times especially, the Finger Lakes region was truly “a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” - challenging for an invading force to penetrate. (Mormon 6:4) Invading war parties might have to carry canoes across a region covered by rivers and inland seas.

Publishing the views of naturalists of his day, Josiah Priest (a renowned contemporary of the Prophet Joseph Smith) stated that “the western lakes … Erie, Seneca, Cayuga, and many lesser ones, are the mere remnants of the great inland sea which once existed in this region”. (Priest, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West, “FURTHER REMARKS ON THE DRAINING OF THE WESTERN COUNTRY OF ITS ANCIENT LAKES”, 1833 edition, pg. 370)

Referring to the American Promised Land, Book of Mormon scripture states that “after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord…” (Ether 13:2)  - a land akin to Israel’s Old World inheritance:

7  For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; (Deuteronomy 8:7)

“How great a lapse of time took place from the subsiding of the flood of Noah”, till the bursting of barriers that held vast inland seas in America, Priest is unwilling to speculate. (A.A., 1833 edition, pg. 369) Suffice to say that Priest and others set forth the view in Joseph Smith’s time, that “the millions of mankind, with their multifarious works, covering the vales of all our rivers, many of which were once the bottoms of immense lakes, and where the tops of the tallest forests peer to the skies, or where the towering spires of many a Christian temple makes glad the heart of civi'ized man, and where the smoking chimnies of his widespread habitations - once sported the lake serpent…” (A.A., “DISAPPEARANCE OF MANY ANCIENT LAKES OF THE WEST, AND OF THE FORMATION OF SEA COAL”, 1833 edition, pg. 352)

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, to find that contemporaries of Joseph Smith recognized in the marshes north of Batavia the remains of an ancient inland sea; that local rivers, creeks, and wetlands had once been much larger bodies of water in ages past. Such an understanding was not beyond 19th century New Yorkers. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:23)

The geological facts are, that in the vicinity of a major NY fault, near what is now Tonawanda Creek, there are remnant beaches (Alma 51:32) of bygone lakes. (Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 10, Tonawanda Valley, 32-34) Geologist Frank Leverett, for instance, notes several “beaches” of former lakes in western New York. (Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, PL. III)

The Tonawanda Creek corridor running parallel to the Clarendon Linden Fault is somewhat analogues to the Jordan Rift Valley of the biblical Promised Land. But unlike the Old World Jordan, Tonawanda Creek flows northward. Long ago there was an inland sea or lake at the head of Tonawanda Creek in the Beaver Meadow, Gallagher Swamp, and Java Lake region. (Leverett, Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, pp. 210-213) This lake also fed the narrow Cattaraugus Creek corridor which like the torrent bed of the brook Qanah of the Bible, runs westward to a great western sea (Lake Erie, analogue of the Mediterranean Sea).

Further east, and south of the yawning Letchworth Gorge, was ancient Lake Genesee. (Leverett, Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins, pp. 201, 204, 206, 649)

In as much as the meaning of the Semitic name Jordan (Yarden) suggests a river, the dramatically descending Genesee River becomes a likely candidate for the Nephite river “Jordan”. This Nephite river is implied by the place-name mentioned in Mormon 5:3. So there are actually two Nephite rivers named in the localized American setting (one of them implied), and not just the river Sidon.

The river Sidon is never mentioned flowing through the lands of Bountiful and Desolation to the large waters of Ripliancum in the north. (Ether 15:8) Rather Sidon flows out to sea like the biblical river Kishon. Compare Judges 5:21, 1 Kings 18:40 with Alma 3:3; 44:22.

The Nephites were certainly familiar with the Old World river ha-Yarden (1 Nephi 10:9) and its appropriate meaning. In fact the Semitic names Jared (Yered) and Jordan (Yarden) come from the same root - yarad. It is appropriate therefore that the Nephite river “Jordan” flows down and through the northern lands of the Jaredites (Yeredim) to the large waters of Ripliancum (Lake Iroquois, with its fenlands and inland arms). In fact, the sea east of the land of Nephi (ancient Lake Genesee) could have been perceived by the Nephites as an analogue to “yam kineret”, what Gentiles call “the Sea of Galilee”, or “Lake of Gennesaret”. The Nephite river Jordan descended to and through ancient Lake Genesee. Lake Genesee is depicted on Phyllis Olive’s map above.

Here we have possible candidates for east inland seas in the authentic Book of Mormon setting. But which of these best fits the one the Book of Mormon calls “the east sea”?

The covenant land setting of the Bible should here be considered as a template for the Book of Mormon setting:

There is more than one eastern sea in the small Biblical Promised Land. (Numbers 34:11-12, Joshua 12:3; 13:27; 15:5, 12, 2 Chronicles 20:2) These bodies of water are connected. We should consider the possibility that as the great western sea (the Mediterranean) is much larger than the biblical eastern seas (lakes), so the Book of Mormon “west sea” (Great Lake Erie) could be considerably larger than the eastern seas (lakes) in the Book of Mormon setting. (Numbers 34:6, Joshua 1:4, Ether 9:3)

Of the interconnected eastern seas referred to in the Bible, one was actually called “the east sea”. (Ezekiel 47:18) The renowned inland sea is eastward with respect to Jerusalem. More commonly called “the salt sea” (or Dead Sea by Gentiles), this famous lake situates in the southeastern quarter of the land. (Numbers 34:3, Joel 2:20) Was the Book of Mormon  “east sea” also located in the southeastern quarter of Nephite territory?

There was a wilderness corridor between the Book of Mormon “east sea” and “the west sea”. 

From scripture we conclude that “the narrow strip of wilderness”, the “straight course” of the land of Nephi, which formed “the line between … the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi”, ran from “the east sea to the west [sea]”. That “west” means “west sea” in Alma 50:8, is clear from the following verses taken together:

27  And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided. (Alma 22:27)

8  And the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west. (Alma 50:8)

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

Thus, “to the west” definitely means to “the west [sea]” in Alma 50:8.

It's useful to know that more than one Hebrew word is translated “west”. Because the western coasts of Israel's inheritances are “unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun” (Joshua 1:4), one of the Hebrew words that can be translated “west” or “to the west”, literally means “seaward” or “to the sea”. For example: “toward the west” in 2 Nephi 21:14 (Isaiah 11:14) is really the Hebrew word יָמָה pronounced “yamah”. This word literally means “seaward” or “to the sea”. Thus we see that when translated into Hebrew, Alma 50:8 need not contain an ellipsis (i.e. omission of the word “sea”) after all. The Hebrew word translated “to the west” may literally mean “to the sea”, suggesting to the Israelite mind “unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast”. (Joshua 1:4)

Hebrew terms that are translated “east” relate to facing or standing before sunrise. Standing before an eastern body of water is not implied. (2 Nephi 12:6; 21:14, Isaiah 2:6; 11:14)

With these biblical facts in mind, we should be careful, not to generalize the apparent ellipsis in Alma 50:8, jumping to the conclusion that “from the east” means from “the east [sea]” in Alma 22:32-33:

32  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 …

33  And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea ... (Alma 22:32-33)

The “sea” (or lake) by the eastern borders of the land Bountiful is never actually called the east sea. (Alma 27:22) The Book of Mormon seems to deliberately avoid naming the eastern terminus of Bountiful “the east sea”, even when “the west sea” is mentioned first as the western terminus, that is, in reverse order from Alma 22:32-33. See Helaman 4:6-7 - curious!

Now contrast the apparent avoidance of the name “east sea” in connection with the eastern ends of Bountiful’s southern and northern lines, with the more southern “straight course” or “line ... between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi”: Here we find the seas named at both ends in different verses, that is, “from the east sea” and “from the west sea”. (Alma 50:8, 11)

It may be significant that the word “east” in Alma 22:32-33 is not capitalized in the Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript. The printer or typesetter, on the other hand, apparently interpreted that “east” meant “East [sea]”, and chose an uppercase “E” in the 1830 edition; imposing the idea that the East Sea bordered Bountiful. Fortunately more recent edition have restored the lowercase.

"from the east to the west Sea"

Printer’s Manuscript of a line from Alma 22:32 reads:  “from the east to the west Sea;”

"even from the east unto the west Sea"

Printer’s Manuscript of a line from Alma 22:33 reads: “even from the east unto the west Sea,”

Biblical Hebrew tends to not use ellipses, and there is no upper or lowercase in the ancient aleph-bet. If Hebrew writers mean “east sea” or “east side” they tend to be explicit. (See Yehoshua 12:3 (Josh. 12:3), YehezqEl 48:25 (Ezek. 48:25-28), Yo'El 2:20 (Joel 2:20)

Based on its explicit mention, it can only be determined that “the east sea” extended as far north as the city of Gid; which was one refuge in a string of fortified towns a short distance south of Bountiful. (Alma 50:13-15; 51:22-31; 53:6; 56:25; 59:5-8)

There could have been other interconnected lakes and beaches north of “the east sea” and closer to Bountiful. The fact that there was a “sea” near the eastern borders of Bountiful does not prove it was the one called “the east sea”.

So where exactly was the authentic “east sea” of the  Book of Mormon’? I favor the long ago lake in the Beaver Meadow, Gallagher Swamp region, in the hill country of western NY. Matching scripture, this elevated lake was just east of the headwaters of Buffalo River (the Book of Mormon river Sidon, Alma 56:25; 50:8-14).

The fortified city of Mulek (by the east sea, south, and technically in the land of Nephi, Alma 53:6) is listed after the city of Gid following a series of conquests from the south. (Alma 51:26) How can that be? Mulek is clearly listed after Gid coming from Bountiful! (Helaman 5:14-16) A simple explanation is that “the east sea” was just a lake. Whether you got to Gid coming from the south, or from the north, you could reach Mulek by traveling south on the other side of the lake.

East Sea Region

Beaver Meadow wetland exhibit – Rochester Museum of Science

Beginning at the most southern city in Nephite territory, the fenced cities near the shore of “the east sea” are:

The city of Moroni -  which is explicitly said to have been “by the east sea ... on the south by the line of possessions of the Lamanites [what the Nephites called the land of Nephi]”. (Alma 50:13)

Had the city of Mulek been on the same side of the lake as the city of Moroni, perhaps it would have been listed first (not last) in order of conquests from the south. (Alma 51:22-26)

The fact that the land and city of Moroni was “by the east sea” and yet had “wilderness on the east”, is consistent with the city and land of Moroni situating on the southern end of the lake. (Alma 62:34)

The city of Nephihah - which is said to have been positioned so that it joined both “the borders of Aaron and Moroni”. (Alma 50:14) It makes sense that the suburbs of all seven coastal towns were similarly joined, or nearly joined so that the inhabitants could readily flee a city to one nearby - which is exactly what happened! (Alma 51:24

The city of Nephihah was on the eastern side of the “head of Sidon” (headwaters of Buffalo River) across from the land of Manti. (Alma 56:25; 59:5-6) Therefore the “east sea” had to have been near the headwaters of Buffalo Creek/River (as is the Gallagher Swamp region). Did an ancient tributary of Sidon once flow from “the east sea”?

The city of Aaron (Alma 50:14)

The city of Lehi - “which was in the north by the borders of the seashore [implying the east sea].” (Alma 50:15)

The city of Morianton - which we know “joined upon the borders of Lehi; both of which were on the borders by the seashore [implying the east sea].” (Alma 50:25)

The city of Omner (Alma 51:26)

The city of Gid - “all of which [the before listed cities] were on the east borders by the seashore [implying the east sea; in the context of Moroni beingby the east sea].” (Alma 51:26-27)

The fenced city of Gid was likely stationed near the northern end of the lake, so that from there, an invading army from the south, or missionaries coming from the north could reach the southern stronghold of Mulek on the other side of the lake. (Alma 51:26, Helaman 5:14-16) Mulek was far enough south (near an extreme southern end of the lake) that it was considered to be “in the land of Nephi.” (Alma 53:6) In fact, Mulek may have been a Lamanite stronghold before is was taken by Nephite forces and renamed. (Alma 50:11)

So how big of a lake would the “the east sea” have needed to be in order to accommodate a series of seven fortified villages (what the Bible calls “fenced cities”; 2 Kings 18:13, 2 Chronicles 17:2) along its coast? To estimate an answer we need to know how big an Israelite fenced city was with its surrounding suburb? The Torah gives us an idea: From Numbers 35:4-5 we may generously assume 2000 cubits (about 17.5 inches/cubit) to be the distance along one side of a palisade city, having a suburb perimeter extending 1000 cubits beyond any wall. The entire distance across a Nephite city, including its suburbs end-to-end, therefore amounts to only (4000 cubits)(17.5 inches/cubit)(1 ft/12 inches)/(5,280 ft/mile) ≈ 1.1 miles.

All seven Nephite fortified towns could have hugged the shore of a lake that was less than 8 miles long - about the size of one of the smaller Finger Lakes. This means that from Gid you could walk (or march) perhaps less than 10 miles to Mulek (stationed southward in the land of Nephi). It should be clear to students of the Book of Mormon that the distance between Bountiful in the north, and Mulek (land of Nephi border) in the south is not very great - less than a night’s or a day’s march. (Alma 52:18-28) Exaggerated geography promoters (including Heartlanders ) - what are you thinking?


Scripture References

18 … they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla; for they had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the heart of their lands to attack that great city Zarahemla. (Helaman 1:18)

22 And now when Coriantumr saw that he was in possession of the city of Zarahemla, and saw that the Nephites had fled before them, and were slain, and were taken, and were cast into prison, and that he had obtained the possession of the strongest hold in all the land, his heart took courage insomuch that he was about to go forth against all the land.

23 And now he did not tarry in the land of Zarahemla, but he did march forth with a large army, even towards the city of Bountiful; for it was his determination to go forth and cut his way through with the sword, that he might obtain the north parts of the land.

24  And, supposing that their greatest strength was in the center of the land, therefore he did march forth, giving them no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies; and in this manner they did fall upon them and cut them down to the earth.

25  But behold, this march of Coriantumr through the center of the land gave Moronihah great advantage over them, notwithstanding the greatness of the number of the Nephites who were slain.

26  For behold, Moronihah had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the center of the land, but that they would attack the cities round about in the borders as they had hitherto done; therefore Moronihah had caused that their strong armies should maintain those parts round about by the borders.

27  But behold, the Lamanites were not frightened according to his desire, but they had come into the center of the land, and had taken the capital city which was the city of Zarahemla, and were marching through the most capital parts of the land, slaying the people with a great slaughter, both men, women, and children, taking possession of many cities and of many strongholds.

28  But when Moronihah had discovered this, he immediately sent forth Lehi with an army round about to head them before they should come to the land Bountiful.

29  And thus he did; and he did head them before they came to the land Bountiful, and gave unto them battle, insomuch that they began to retreat back towards the land Zarahemla.

30 And it came to pass that Moronihah did head them in their retreat, and did give unto them battle, insomuch that it became an exceedingly bloody battle; yea, many were slain, and among the number who were slain Coriantumr was also found.

31  And now, behold, the Lamanites could not retreat either way, neither on the north, nor on the south, nor on the east, nor on the west, for they were surrounded on every hand by the Nephites. (Helaman 1:22 - 31)

21  But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.

22  And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.

23  And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation. (3 Nephi 3:21 - 23)

32  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.

33  And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea, and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward. (Alma 22:32 - 33)

8  And the land of Nephi did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west. (Alma 50:8)

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

13 And it came to pass that the Nephites began the foundation of a city, and they called the name of the city Moroni; and it was by the east sea; and it was on the south by the line of the possessions of the Lamanites. (Alma 50:11, 13)

13  And thus he was endeavoring to harass the Nephites, and to draw away a part of their forces to that part of the land, while he had commanded those whom he had left to possess the cities which he had taken, that they should also harass the Nephites on the borders by the east sea, and should take possession of their lands as much as it was in their power, according to the power of their armies. (Alma 52:13)

11  And he also said unto him, I would come unto you, but behold, the Lamanites are upon us in the borders of the land by the west sea; and behold, I go against them, therefore I cannot come unto you.

12  Now, the king (Ammoron) had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and had made known unto the queen concerning the death of his brother, and had gathered together a large number of men, and had marched forth against the Nephites on the borders by the west sea.

13 And thus he was endeavoring to harass the Nephites, and to draw away a part of their forces to that part of the land, while he had commanded those whom he had left to possess the cities which he had taken, that they should also harass the Nephites on the borders by the east sea, and should take possession of their lands as much as it was in their power, according to the power of their armies. (Alma 52:11 - 13)

8  And now it came to pass that the armies of the Lamanites, on the west sea, south, while in the absence of Moroni on account of some intrigue amongst the Nephites, which caused dissensions amongst them, had gained some ground over the Nephites, yea, insomuch that they had obtained possession of a number of their cities in that part of the land. (Alma 53:8)

22  And now it came to pass that Helaman did march at the head of his two thousand stripling soldiers, to the support of the people in the borders of the land on the south by the west sea. (Alma 53:22)

5 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)

5 And in the fifty and seventh year they did come down against the Nephites to battle, and they did commence the work of death; yea, insomuch that in the fifty and eighth year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful.

6  And the Nephites and the armies of Moronihah were driven even into the land of Bountiful;

7 And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day's journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country.  (Helaman 4:5 - 7)


Narrow Neck versus Narrow Pass Truth Table

Scriptural, Geographic Constraints:

“narrow neck“:

narrow pass”:

By “the west sea”.

Yes, Alma 63:5


Associated with “the place where the sea divides the land.”

Yes, Ether 10:20


Only known to lead “into the land northward.”

Yes, Alma 63:5


Connects both “land northward” and “land southward”.


Yes, Alma 50:34; 52:9, Mormon 2:29; 3:5

By an unnamed body of water referred to as a “sea”.


Yes, Alma 50:34, Mormon 3:5-8

Waters of the unnamed “sea, on the west and on the east” of it.


Yes, Alma 50:34

Small enough in width to be described as a geographic “point”.


Yes, Alma 52:9



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