Don’t just squawk

Walk the Walk!

Sidon, East of Zarahemla

And the

Desolation - Bountiful Line

“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done?” (Joseph Smith - History 1:10)

The popularized Mesoamerican setting, and opposing Heartland “Book of Mormon geography” model are both scripturally unfit. Want proof? Ask a groupie from either camp to cross on foot their proposed “river Sidon”, east of where they allege the Book of Mormon land of Zarahemla was. Most importantly, ask them to please walk their “line Bountiful and the land Desolation - the distance described in the Book of Mormon that took only a day and a half to cross. (Alma 22:32) In short, nicely ask proponents to put their maps to the test by walking the walk. Say, “do it or Sheket!” - that's Hebrew for “Silence”, “Be still”; - nicer than saying “Shut up!”.

What is meant by "journey"?

In Israelite scripture, days journeyed means days walked, not ridden or rowed, or spirited away. See for example Jonah 3:3-4, where מַהֲלַךְ, which means “walk”, is translated “journey”. The Hebrew word דֶרֶךְ, meaning “tread, march”, is also translated “journey”. This word likewise implies a distance traveled on foot. See for example, Genesis 30:36, Numbers 11:31.  

The Oxford English Dictionary gives an early definition of “journey” as “A day’s travel ... usually estimated in the Middle Ages at 20 miles.”

Leather Hiking Sandals

The type of leather hiking sandals that I wore when I walked the line Bountiful. NO running shoes allowed in this competition. The scripture says " was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful ..." So no sprinting relays with athletes positioned at intervals along the proposed line.  I also wore leather sandals when I crossed the river Sidon on the east of Zarahemla.

In scripture, a “day” journeying means traveling on foot during a period of daylight. (e.g. Alma 56:40). So no traveling at night - that would be cheating - besides your muscles are going to be so sore at the end of the day that you will want to rest.

Proposed Central American Bountiful Line

Spurious Central American Model

The popularized Central American Model, drawing on unsigned early Mormon newspaper articles, which in fact entail exaggerated hemispheric geography, has fans believing that the wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the Book of Mormon’s “small neck of land”. Never mind that the Book of Mormon “narrow pass” (presumably within the “small neck”) had a sea (singular) “on the west and on the east”. (Alma 50:34) The alleged Mesoamerican Desolation – Bountiful line runs from the Gulf of Mexico north to the Pacific Ocean south - about 125 miles. Never mind that scripture says the line ran “from the east to the west sea”. You can, mull over Olmec and Mayan sites all you like, but let’s see a groupie cross Tehuantepec (yellow) in a day and a half - on foot! The most popular Mesoamerican settings place the entire Desolation - Bountiful line within the “narrow neck of land”. The actual Desolation - Bountiful borders were “by the narrow neck” - not within it. (Alma 63:5)

In Mesoamerican settings, either the Usamacinta or the Grijalva are argued to be the river Sidon that lies east of Zarahemla. Cross that too jaguar fan! (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon pg. 36. Note: Weingarten’s Beit Mikra article which Sorenson cites (footnote pg. 38) does not actually back up Sorenson’s skewed directions argument. I have my doubts that Sorenson actually read Weingarten’s “Beth Mikra” article - it’s in Modern Hebrew. I found a copy at the U of U Marriott Library, and got feedback on it from Hebrew professor Dr. Harris Lenowitz. I'm calling out Brother Sorenson on this!)

Proposed Heart Land Setting Bountiful Line

Exaggerated Heartland Model 

Above is a recent map of the competing Heartland Model. Hmmm! Why is the Land of Desolation missing from the map (it's not labeled)? Desolation should be north of Bountiful (Alma 22:31), but with “Bountiful” shown east of “Zarahemla” and “Manti” on the map (these lands should be south of Bountiful) who knows where “Desolation” will finally end up in this setting. I have added the yellow line and the question mark to call attention to what is missing.

I think someone is a little reluctant to place “Desolation” on the map; because no matter where they place it, it’s asking for trouble. Take a look at an earlier version of the Heartland setting. (See below - Wayne N. May, THIS LAND Only One Cumorah! Volume II, pg. 50-51) The model clearly has the “Land of Desolation” in Michigan and Ontario. Also note the incredibly wide, discontinuous “narrow pass” – wider than the Niagara Isthmus. Yet according to scripture “the narrow pass” entrance is so small, it’s described as a “point”. (Alma 52:9)  It’s also debatable whether the proposed pass has “the sea, on the west and on the east.” (Alma 50:34) Moreover, if the Niagara Isthmus is “the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20), then “the west sea” where Hagoth launched his “exceedingly large ship” has to be Lake Erie. (Alma 63:5) This means that “the land Bountiful” has to be in western NY (choice farm country in Joseph Smith’s boyhood state) not the sprawling, skewed region laid out in the Heartland Setting.

LDS scholar Ed Goble was the principal originator of the Heartland Model. Intellectual honesty drove Ed to become a sharp critic of his own work. In its formative period, Ed was the main man who put the model together. A few others contributed key pieces here or there. Ed finally abandoned the erroneous geography to another, who was determined to continue promoting it to Latter-day Saints. Ed has remained true to the position that at least Cumorah is correctly placed on the Heartland Setting map. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20) See Who Originated the Heartland Model?

Proto Heart Land Model

Early Heartland Model

The nascent Heartland model’s "Desolation - Bountiful line" is just under 200 miles. Try walking that in a day and a half! A revision of the Heartland model’s "Desolation - Bountiful line" (that came out after the first publication of this article) is also discussed in Who Originated the Heartland Model?

If Heartland setting proponents are going to place “Manti” in Missouri (based on Samuel Tyler’s Journal entry - 25 September, 1838) they should certainly feel obliged to place “Desolation” in Illinois, based on the Levi Hancock Journal. (Autobiography of Levi Hancock (1803-1882), copied from his journal by Clara E. H. Lloyd, great-grand daughter, pg. 27) The trouble is, these speculative geographic views contradict. The early Mormon journal entries are far from canonical, and definitely cannot be relied on for placing Book of Mormon lands. (See W. W. Phelps' LAND OF DESOLATION)

It’s time more realized that ancient Israelites coordinated directions based on the perceived movements of the heavens: East faces sunrise - מִּזְרָח. See for instance Joshua 11:3. The Heartland and Central American models are not only exaggerated in key places, the models are both so skewed in directions, that they fail Israelite coordinates and common sense.

In the Heartland Setting, the Iowa Mormon settlement with the namesake “Zarahemla”, is presumed to reside in the Book of Mormon land Zarahemla, even though scripture doesn't say this. (LDS Doctrine and Covenant 125:3) The passable river Sidon (on the east of Zarahemla) is therefore alleged to be the Mighty Mississippi - gulp!

Here we must insist on no swimming or snorkeling when crossing Old Man River. This part of the “Walk the Walk” contest should require getting wet, but not completely soaked. In the case of the Heartland Model, this would mean nothing short of walking on water!

Heartland advocates argue that there could have been a sandbar that the ancients crossed over on. Hmmm! Perhaps Heartland Model enthusiast will ask for an exception; allowing their contestant to paddle across in a canoe or on a raft; even though there is no scriptural justification for this. (Alma 2:15, 26-27, 34-35; 6:7) We should point out that the real river Sidon could be crossed on foot at more than one location - not just east of Zarahemla. Sidon, of course, could be crossed near its “head”.  (Alma 43:22; 43:40) This poses a problem for the Heartland Model which erroneously posits that the river’s “head” is a confluence with another great river downstream.

The fact is, Joseph Smith never taught that the Iowa Mormon settlement with the namesake “Zarahemla” was located in the Book of Mormon land of Zarahemla. This is why, after the Lord "let the name of Zarahemla be named upon" the Iowa settlement (March 1841), John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff felt free to publish the highly speculative “Zarahemla” at Quirigua idea (October 1842) - a notion which they apparently later abandoned in favor Orson Pratt’s  far-flung South American Zarahemla - published in the footnotes of the 1879 LDS edition of the Book of Mormon (see for instance Alma 22:31 footnote 2q).

This brings the topic and challenge around to South American setting opportunists. They too need to do more than squawk, selling media and tours to gullible Mormons. They too need to put their proposed river Sidon and Bountiful line to the test. Do it!

As for the American Heartland - Yes, Helaman 1:18 says that “the land of Zarahemla” was in “the heart of their [the Nephite's] lands”, but this doesn't mean in Iowa or “the heartland" according to modern American definition. Good grief pay attention! The land of Zarahemla was on the coast of the Book of Mormon “west sea”. (Alma 22:27-33) This is no small problem for the Heartland Model.

Its clear that the Heartland Model is mostly laid out wrong. Even so, the American Heartland is part of the Book of Mormon’s authentic literary setting. Part of what we now call the American Heartland, fits the Book of Mormon “south country” or “south countries”. (Mormon 6:15; 8:2) South of where? South of Amherst Ohio where Joseph Smith delivered the revelation contained in Doctrine and Covenants section 75. In other words, south of Lake Erie - the "west sea". (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 75:8, 17) The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants “south countries” are one and the same.

The American Heartland is definitely not where the Book of Mormon lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful are. These important lands are inland a short distance from the coast of “the west sea”. Sister Phyllis Olive, heeding scriptural details, got it right:

Proposed Near Cumorah Setting Bountiful Line

Textual Near Cumorah Setting

The Desolation – Bountiful line, according to Olive’s scripturally loyal Near Cumorah Setting, was a 35 to 40 mile span along a Native American trail above the Onondaga Escarpment, western NY. The line ran from the watery eastern borders of the land Bountiful (near present day Batavia) to “the west sea” (Lake Erie). See Why Lake Erie, and not Lake Tonawanda, is the Western Terminus of the Land Bountiful.

The eastern borders of Bountiful situated near the present day Tonawanda Creek bend. In ancient times a chain of lakes stood in the vicinity of the northward flowing creek. (Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 10, Tonawanda Valley, 32-34) One of these long, finger-like lakes formed the eastern borders of Bountiful. The belief that many North American rivers were once large inland seas or lakes was discussed in Joseph Smith’s day. (Josiah Priest, American Antiquities (1833 edition), pp. 360-367)

Even though Olive’s map labels the land of Desolation on the east of “a small neck of land” (the Batavia Moraine), Olive should be credited with proposing that Desolation is “the  land” (singular in Ether 10:20) divided by “the sea” (Lake Tonawanda, an extension of Lake Erie).

Shores of Desolation

“...on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation ...” - “...the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation”, running nearly parallel to the Onondaga Escarpment. (Alma 22:32-33, 3 Nephi 3:23)

Desolation’s shores ran from the east all the way to Niagara, northward of the natural Onondaga Escarpment line. The Onondaga Escarpment was therefore literally between Desolation on the north and the elevated land Bountiful  on the south. (3 Nephi 3:23) Thus, the shores of Desolation ran parallel to, but at lower elevation than the inhabited land of Bountiful. The wilderness of Bountiful is immediately southward and above the linear rise of the Onondaga dividing line. (Alma 22:31) According to scripture the Nephites inhabited the land Bountiful from “the east unto the west sea” (Lake Erie). Hence the description “the line Bountiful and the land Desolation”. (Alma 22:32-33)

Onondaga Formation

The linear Onondaga Limestone Formation

Linear Onondaga Escarpment

A more detailed depiction of the Onondaga Limestone Formation and Escarpment

Portion of the Onondaga Escarpment

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

Sidon river, east of Zarahemla, fits northward flowing Buffalo Creek. The creek flows northward and then turns westward out to “sea” as Buffalo River. The biblical equivalent of Sidon river is the brook Kishon - the northward flowing creek, that according to the Bible swept away dead enemies of Israel. (Judges 5:21, 1 Kings 18:40, KJV)

Kishon Brook

Israel’s northward flowing “river Kishon

Imagine that. The Book of Mormon’s authentic core setting in the general vicinity of the land Cumorah. We are talking about the one and only Cumorah designated in LDS scripture; convenient to the boyhood country of Joseph Smith. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)

Sadly, many Mormons are so conditioned by unscriptural geographic portrayals that they are dull to certain facts - even when read aloud directly from scripture. Take for instance the fact that a search party sent northward to find Zarahemla, arrived instead in the vicinity of a land among many waters (proximal to Cumorah). The search party thought they had found Zarahemla! Zarahemla cannot possibly be thousands or even hundreds of miles from Cumorah! (Mosiah 8:7-8; 21:25-26, Mormon 6:4)

Consider also the fact that a fortified line between the land of Zarahemla (on the south) and Bountiful (on the north) was only a day’s journey inland from the “west sea” to the eastern borders. (Helaman 4:5-7)

How about the fact that the minimum possible distance between the environs of the city of Lehi-Nephi and the land of Zarahemla was only 12 – 8 = 4 days on foot - if you knew the way! (Mosiah 23:2-3; 24:25)

Hello - it was little more than a night’s march northward from the elevated “course of the land of Nephi” down to Gideon which was east of the river Sidon (east of Zarahemla). (Alma 2:23-27; 50:7-8) Note that traveling between Gideon and Zarahemla required crossing the river Sidon - apparently on foot. (Alma 2:34; 6:7)

It was about a day’s wearisome march from the southern city of Mulek in the land of Nephi (Alma 53:6), to Bountiful in northern Nephite territory. (Alma 52:16-39)

These facts and others, show that the core setting of the Book of Mormon is geographically very compact (comparable in size to the Bible’s core setting), and must situate in the region of Cumorah.

Whence all the erroneous, exaggerated geographic notions? Sadly, they come from not paying enough attention to, or accepting scriptural details. In fact, the Lord once condemned the whole Church for treating the Book of Mormon lightly.  (LDS Doctrine and Covenant 84:54-59, Enos 1:10)

What does the Book of Mormon actually say about the river Sidon, and the Desolation - Bountiful Borders?

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

30 And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.

31 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.

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. (Alma 22:29 - 32)

Thus there was an eastern shore. This doesn’t have to mean an Ocean coast. It’s obvious from the KJV Bible, that Israelites called lakes, “seas”. In fact, the “east sea” of the Old World Promised Land is a lake. (Ezekiel 47:18, Joel 2:20)  

The head of the river Sidon was near the east to west running boundary dividing Lamanite and Nephite territories.

The Nephite land Bountiful etc. was “up” (at higher elevation) relative to the more northern land Desolation.

The line Bountiful was only a 1.5 day journey across – “from the east to the west sea”.

The west sea bordered the land of Bountiful on the west.

The small neck of land was between the land northward (Desolation) and the land southward (Bountiful etc.). The small neck of land was therefore near the 1.5 day Desolation - Bountiful line.

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)

27  …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)

Thus we see that the west to east dividing line between the land of Zarahemla (on the north) and the land of Nephi (to the south), ran from the west sea, passed the head of the river Sidon (by the borders of Manti), to the east wilderness which was near an eastern “sea” (body of water).

The coast of the west sea was on the west of Bountiful. The coast ran along the west of the land of Zarahemla, and along the west of the land of Nephi in the south.

25  Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah. (Alma 56:25)

26  …the city of Nephihah, …on the east borders by the seashore. (Alma 51:26)

7  Alma …in the city of Zarahemla, …went over upon the east of the river Sidon, into the valley of Gideon… (Alma 6:7)

1  Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla. (Alma 17:1)

6  …the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti.  And behold there shall ye meet them, on the east of the river Sidon…. (Alma 16:6)

22 …in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti... (Alma 43:22)

Thus we see that the city of Zarahemla was “down” (at lower elevation), and northward from a position near the dividing line between the land Zarahemla and the land of Nephi. From this position, the city of Nephihah (near the east sea) was “over” on the eastern side of “the head of Sidon”.

The head of the river Sidon (northward from the land of Nephi, and southward from Zarahemla) was “up” at higher elevation relative to Zarahemla. Sidon must therefore have flowed northward as it ran down along the east of Zarahemla.

Was the Desolation - Bountiful line also bordered on the east by water?

22 And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance. (Alma 27:22)

26 And thus he went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore.

27 And thus had the Lamanites obtained, by the cunning of Amalickiah, so many cities, by their numberless hosts, all of which were strongly fortified after the manner of the fortifications of Moroni; all of which afforded strongholds for the Lamanites.

28 And it came to pass that they marched to the borders of the land Bountiful, driving the Nephites before them and slaying many.

29 But it came to pass that they were met by Teancum, who had slain Morianton and had headed his people in his flight.

30 And it came to pass that he headed Amalickiah also, as he was marching forth with his numerous army that he might take possession of the land Bountiful, and also the land northward.

31 But behold he met with a disappointment by being repulsed by Teancum and his men, for they were great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites.

32 And it came to pass that they did harass them, insomuch that they did slay them even until it was dark.  And it came to pass that Teancum and his men did pitch their tents in the borders of the land Bountiful; and Amalickiah did pitch his tents in the borders on the beach by the seashore, and after this manner were they driven. (Alma 51:26 - 32)

Thus we see that the eastern borders of Bountiful were near an eastern shore, and there was at least one body of water on the east by the land Bountiful.

9 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)

Thus we see that the narrow pass was near the land Bountiful. The entrance to the narrow pass was described as a “point” (not a line), but was proximal to the 1.5 day Desolation – Bountiful “line”. Olive interprets "the narrow pass" and "the narrow neck" as referring to the same geographical feature.

5 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. (Mormon 3:5)

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)

Thus we see that the narrow neck and pass were by the Desolation - Bountiful borders. Scripture does not indicate that the Desolation - Bountiful borders were within the narrow neck (as represented in the Mesoamerican Tehuantepec Model).

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

Thus we see that the narrow pass near the Desolation - Bountiful line, passed through the bed of an inland “sea”. This “sea” (singular) situated on the west and on the east of the narrow pass. The narrow pass was so small that a single sea was at once perceived "on the west and on the east" of the entrance to the small land-bridge. The "small neck of land" passed though, and above the inland body of water. 


The east to west running Desolation - Bountiful line, extended from the east (likely from an ancient shore, river or watery barrier) to the shore of the “west sea” (Lake Erie, west and south of scriptural Cumorah). Notice that scripture does not say the “line” started from the body of water called the “east sea”. Scripture only says the “line” extended “from the east to the west sea”. Evincing Olive’s model, there really and truly was an ancient “beach” or “shore” (Alma 51:32) near the eastern borders of Batavia NY, in the general vicinity of Tonawanda Creek. (Bulletin of the Geological Society of America, Vol. 10, Tonawanda Valley, 32-34)

Students of the Book of Mormon should be careful not to presume that the body of water on the east of Bountiful was the same as “the east sea”. The “the east sea” situated in southeastern Nephite territory. In Olive’s model, the Nephite’s eastern seas were connected - not unlike Israel’s eastern seas. There is more than one “sea on the east” in the Old World Promised Land, (Joshua 12:3) but only the more southern “salt sea”, east of Jerusalem, is actually called “the east sea” in the Bible. (Joel 2:20, Ezekiel 47:18)

While It’s true that the typesetter for the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon capitalized “East” (implying “East Sea”) in the verse that reads “...from the East to the West sea...” (pg. 288; compare Alma 22:32), yet the Printer’s Manuscript has “east” and “west” in lowercase:

"from the east to the west Sea"

The Printer’s Manuscript reads “... from the east to the west Sea...

Somewhere near the Desolation - Bountiful line was a small neck of land - a pass or passage that passed through a “sea” (ancient Lake Tonawanda), such that water was seen on the west and on the east of the small isthmus (the Batavia Moraine).

Look at Sister Olive’s map of ancient western NY, and remember scripture places Cumorah in the Finger Lakes region of western NY. (LDS Doctrine and Covenants 128:20) In fact, scripture indicates that Cumorah was southward from the large waters called Ripliancum  (Ether 15:8-11 - Lake Iroquois/Ontario with its ancient fenlands), and eastward from the Jaredite seat of power near the land of Desolation and "the narrow pass". (Ether 7:5-6; 9:3; 14:6-7, 11, 26, Alma 22:30-32; 50:34; 52:9; Mormon 3:5)

The head of the river Sidon was near a narrow, east – west strip of wilderness (likely the Cattaraugus River Corridor) that divided the northern land of Zarahemla from the more elevated, southern land of Nephi - matching western NY.

Scripture tells us that the head of the river Sidon was “up” and southward, from the land of Zarahemla. Unlike the mighty southward rolling Mississippi, the Book of Mormon river Sidon flowed northward, on the east of the land of Zarahemla (just as Buffalo Creek does today, near East Aurora NY). In the case of western NY, “down” tends to be northward exactly as the Book of Mormon describes.

These covenant land features are all near scriptural Cumorah, not hundreds or thousands of miles away!

Yes, there is archaeological evidence that parallels the genuine literary settings of the Book of Mormon near Cumorah. There really were Native American earth and timber fortified towns and citadels in the region. There really were mass human burials in western NY - just as the Book of Mormon describes. Mastodons and metal objects really have been removed from local NY sites. But such evidence doesn’t prove scripture to be historical. What do you expect?

NY Mastodon

“...and there were elephants...” (Ether 9:19)

In his renowned work An Approach to the Book of Mormon, Dr. Hugh Nibley summarized the archaeological problem:

... Book of Mormon archaeologists have often been disappointed in the past because they have consistently looked for the wrong things... In view of the nature of their civilization one should not be puzzled if the Nephites left no ruins at all. People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear, and do not realize that the ancients almost never built of stone. Many a great civilization which has left a notable mark in history and literature has left behind not a single recognizable trace of itself. We must stop looking for the wrong things. (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley: Volume 6, Appendix, The Archaeological Problem, pg. 431)

The general literary setting of the Bible’s Promised Land is settled without compelling archaeological proof. Biblical archaeologists today, patiently dig for evidence to see if there really was, for instance, a King David in the 10th century BCE. If they don’t find a lot of hard evidence right away, this doesn’t change their idea of where the biblical Promised Land is located.

God’s ancient covenant people do not need to wait for archaeological vindication in order to identify their covenant lands by scripture. (3 Nephi 29:1)

It’s time for “Book of Mormon geography” squawkers to walk the walk! Do it or sheket!

I did! I actually put Phyllis Olive's Book of Mormon setting to the test: I crossed the river Sidon (Buffalo Creek) east of Zarahemla (East Aurora, NY), and I walked the line Bountiful along the Onondaga Escarpment in about a day and a half - just as scripture describes.

Batavia Moraine - narrow landbridge

From Frank Leverett's Glacial Formations and Drainage Features of the Erie and Ohio Basins

The Batavia Moraine (dark tan) passing diagonally through the bed of ancient Lake Tonawanda (a land dividing arm of Lake Erie) now reduced to swamp lands on the west and east of the narrow land-bridge or moraine. In the lower right-hand corner of the geological map, Tonawanda Creek bends westward before spilling over the Onondaga Escarpment at Indian Falls. The westward bend is near the proposed start of the east to west running Bountiful line. The Bountiful line runs above, and parallel to the escarpment. The escarpment is a natural dividing line between hilly highlands to the south and lower northern flatlands approaching the shores of Lake Ontario. (3 Nephi 3:23)

Here are GPS records of my journey:

First day walking the line Bountiful

First day - note time elapsed

First day - note walking speed

It being the first time that I had walked the line Bountiful, I pushed myself harder than I needed to and took less rests than a Nephite likely would have. The scripture does say "a day and a half's journey" not a day and a half's march. Though a Nephite probably would have covered more ground in the first day than 20 miles (O.E.D. definition of "journey"), I walked more than 34 miles - the longest distance I have ever walked in one day in my entire life. I anticipated that I would be in pain the next day so I wanted to cover as much ground as I could the first day - short of seriously hurting myself. At the end of the first day's walk I had blisters on both heels, galling elsewhere and muscle aches. I should have taken more rests. I didn't have to walk quite as far as I did the first day. As for the anomalous spike in the GPS record: If we were to interpret it as real, it would mean that after four hours of walking, somewhere out in the beautiful countryside, I was suddenly lifted up from the earth, a couple of hundred feet directly into the air and shortly thereafter returned to earth. I have no recollection of any such event.

Notice that the temperature dropped drastically shortly after I began my journey. A fog rolled in from the west and covered the land. I had to phone my wife to bring me a jacket.

Notice that the temperature rose thereafter to reach its maximum around midday. This is what Hebrew scripture means by "heat of the day". (1 Samuel 11:11) Its just another way of saying the hottest part of the day which typically occurs about midday.  There is nothing at all in this Hebrew expression which exclusively connotes a tropical climate. (Alma 51:33) I was fortunate that the day was a cool one. Western NY has hot humid days - occasionally even in the spring.

Truly a Bountiful Land

I was reminded by the countryside, that I was walking through a truly bountiful land

Second day - walking to the west sea

Second day - note time elapsed

Second day - note walking speed

On the second day of my journey, starting from where I left off the day before, I worked my way towards the "west sea" - Lake Erie. I journeyed though intimidating urban neighborhoods. Towards the end of my journey, I made more detours than I had the day before - in search of restrooms and pleasant places to stop and snack. I darted across crosswalks and intersections - hence the spikes in speed. I wasn't in as much pain as I thought I would be the second day.

Finally, I made it to the place where the Book of Mormon "river Sidon" (Buffalo River) flows into "the west sea" (Lake Erie) and walked about searching for my wife. It was the ancient "waters of Sidon" that carried so many slain warriors into "the sea". (Alma 3:3) How appropriate it is that a war memorial now stands on the northern bank were Buffalo River flows into Lake Erie.

Mouth of the river Sidon 

Mouth of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie beyond



Vincent Coon וִינְסֶנט כּוּן ּּ Copyright 2013, 2014

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