Mormon’s Geography
Time and Distance Tests
Robert A. Pate

Are we all reading the same book?  I just saw a list of 75 proposed Book of Mormon geography models on the FAIR web site.  There must be many more thousands who have tried and failed to solve the puzzle over the last 183 years.  As noted by FAIR, critics charge that what is known about ancient American archaeology is not consistent with the Book of Mormon account and sectarian critics often add the claim that the Bible has been "proven" true by archaeology, unlike the Book of Mormon.

Frankly, we are presenting a disgusting image to the non-Mormon world with all the academic infighting and unrealistic postulations -- to say nothing of the many who are using the “hunt” to get gain.  One Pied Piper in the marketplace positions the land Desolation in northern Canada.  While it may be a bit desolate, those poor Jaredites from Mesopotamia would think they died on the journey and went to hell.  Get real, save your money!
Mormon provided many clues, but they must be interpreted from Mormon’s perspective, not ours.  It appears that most seekers have fallen victim to misinterpretations of his clues.  Consider Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.  There are those of the true northwestern United States that would take offence at having their name applied to a suburb of Chicago.  Should the Yukon be the true Northwest Territories?  China has its own northwest Xinjiang region.

The point is that every country has its “Land Northward” – a name given by relative position at the time of naming that has no relevance to the global perspective that we enjoy today.  Mormon’s Land Northward was just up the Pacific Coast, where the Jaredites and Mulekites landed, and the Land Southward was just down the Pacific Coast, where Lehi landed – except that the land in between called Bountiful and/or Zarahemla was also called the Land Southward relative to the Land Northward which is in southern Mexico.  Are you getting the picture?

Throw away all evidence you carry of the modern world; put on your breechcloth and sandals; and step off the boat in the year 600 BC on the Pacific coast of Mesoamerica.  The tour guide will give his canned speech welcoming you to Mormon’s World.  After his speech, let reality sink in.

As many Book of Mormon geography “model developers” appear to scatter cities across continents with impunity, let us examine the “statements of fact” found in the Book of Mormon to try to understand the magnitude of the Nephite culture, the size of their topographic footprint, the years of occupancy, and projected populations.  Barefoot realism is possibly the greatest tool.

Nephi and his brothers built a ship with sails and steerage and set sail from the Arabian Peninsula.  They were driven by the wind toward the Promised Land (Nephi 18:8, 13, 22).  After sailing “many days” they arrived (1 Nephi 18:23).  All indications are that Lehi’s family arrived from the west and settled on the Pacific Coast of Mesoamerica.  No credible model developers are challenging this interpretation.   

Distances Between Nephi-1, Nephi-2, and Zarahemla

Arriving on shore they “went forth” a suitably short distance inland to pitch their tents, till the earth, and plant their seeds (1 Nephi 18:23-24).  No immediate extended inland journey is mentioned.  They probably would not have crossed the Sierra Madre mountain range without mentioning it.  Sure they could have crossed the mountains, but why?  They had already found a “garden of Eden.”  Apply some barefoot realism.

They did explore the wilderness around them (1 Nephi 18:24-25).  This area became the first land and city of Nephi.  We will call it Nephi-1, “the land of their first inheritance” (Mosiah 10:13).  The reference in Alma 22:28 gets even more specific, placing it by name near the west sea, “on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers' first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore.”
Jacob and Joseph were both born in the Arabian wilderness.  Just prior to Lehi’s death, he blessed his children and grandchildren.  The words to Jacob and Joseph sounded as if both were grown men, but Lehi specifically states, “behold (Joseph) thou art little”; wherefore harken unto the words of thy brother, Nephi” (2 Nephi 3:25).  Joseph had probably not reached his thirteen-year old growth spurt.  That would indicate that Lehi probably only lived about ten years in the Promised Land before his death.  Shortly after Lehi’s death, the Lord warned Nephi to flee (2 Nephi 5:5-8).  They “did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days” (2 Nephi 5:7).  Those who fled included: Nephi, Sam, Zoram, and their families -- as well as Jacob, Joseph, and at least two sisters with no families being mentioned for them.  They started a new land of Nephi (Nephi-2) -- later called Lehi-Nephi (2 Nephi 5:8, Mosiah 7:1).

The first chronological use of the name, Lehi-Nephi, is in Zennif’s account where he uses the land and city of Nephi and the land and city of Lehi-Nephi completely interchangeably in the same chapter (Mosiah 9).

There are two distinct lands and cities of Nephi: Nephi-1 near the west sea, where they first landed, and Nephi-2, many days journey inland.  Nephi-2 was probably on the eastern side of the Sierra Madre Mountains because during the many Nephite trips between Zarahemla and Nephi-2 the travelers were able to avoid the land of Nephi-1.  Recall Zeniff’s 43-man search party which arrived at the Cumorah-1 area, and returned, without finding Zarahemla (Mosiah 8:7-9).  Alma gives us the distance from Nephi-2 to Zarahemla as 21-days (Alma’s flight time as recorded in Mosiah 23:3, 24:20, and 24:25).  The demographics tell a very interesting story that permits the many smaller towns clustered around each of these two large city centers to be identified and classified relative to proximity to Nephi-1 or Nephi-2.

How long was Nephi’s group un-bothered by Laman and Lemuel?  In the new land of Nephi-2 they passed the thirtieth year since leaving Jerusalem living “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27-28).  By completion of the fortieth year they “had already had wars and contentions with their brethren” (2 Nephi 5:32).  Laman and Lemuel must have found the land of Nephi-2 and either relocated or repeatedly traveled for the “space of many days” to engage in the wars and conflicts.

When Nephi and his followers initially fled, who remained?  There was Laman, Lemuel, the two sons of Ishmael, and the families for all of them.  The two sons of Ishmael were married before departing the Jerusalem area and had families old enough to “rebel” against Nephi prior to joining Lehi at the “river Laman” (1 Nephi 7:6).  Later, Ishmael’s wife, one of her daughters, and one of her sons, joined in Nephi’s defense (1 Nephi 7:19).  The hatred Laman and Lemuel shared for Nephi possibly appears to be greater than the enmity between the two sons of Ishmael and Nephi.  There is no evidence to indicate that the sons of Ishmael ever traveled to the land of Nephi-2 for wars, but there is evidence that they stayed in the area of Nephi-1.

Recall that Lamoni was a descendant of Ishmael and was king over the land of Ishmael (Alma 17:21) and his father was the king over all the land of Nephi (Alma 18:9).  That would probably be only the land of Nephi-1.  Lamoni’s friend Antiomno was the king of Middoni (Alma 20:4).  Traveling down from Ishmael to Middoni, they met Lamoni’s father (Alma 20:7-8).  The missionary travels of the four sons of Mosiah give us the details.  Midian, Ishmael, Ani-Anti, Middoni, and Nephi-1 form the land of Nephi-1, governed by a descendant of Ishmael as the head king.  This land of Nephi-1 “did run in a straight course from the east sea to the west” (Alma 50:8).  The east sea was probably an inland lake (Güija, El Sallvador).  All of the land of Nephi-1 appears to be on the Pacific side of the mountains.

The land of Nephi-2 included: Nephi-2, Shilom, Shemlon, Shimnilom, Mormon, Jerusalem, Lemuel, and Amulon.  The land of Helam was eight days away, but may have been grouped with Nephi-2 (Mosiah 23:3).  The great city Jerusalem, adjoining the land of Mormon (waters of Mormon), was built by the Lamanites, the people of Amulon, and the Amalekites.

Royal Skousen has found discrepancies between the printers copy and the limited available pages of the original Book of Mormon translation manuscript (and other available copies) and is of the opinion that the “Amalekites” should be “Amlicites.”  With this correction, we know who Amlici was (Alma 2:1), but we know nothing of the origins of any Amalekites.  “Now, among those who joined the people of the Lord, there were none who were Amalekites (Amlicites) or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel” (Alma 24:29).  Where are the sons of Ishmael?

There is no mention of Ishmaelites in the land of Nephi-2.  There were multiple kings named Laman in this area (Mosiah 7:21, 24:3).  It appears that the Ishmaelites may have stayed in the greater area of Nephi-1.  Nephi-2 had a Lamanite king in the year 120 B.C. when Alma and his followers escaped and Nephi-1 had an Ishmaelite king in 90 B.C. when the sons of Mosiah started their mission.  It may be possible that the reigns of these two kings overlapped, but it is possibly more likely that Lamoni’s grandfather, also an Ishmaelite, was the king of Nephi-1 while a Laman was the king of Nephi-2.  Had Laman’s descendants been in charge, they probably would have changed the name from Nephi to something they found less offensive – as possibly was done switching Nephi-2 to Lehi-Nephi.  It does, however, appear to be quite clear in Alma 24:1-3 that the king over Nephi-1 was also the head king over the kings in Nephi-2.
The spatial relationship between Zarahemla and the land of Nephi-1 can be seen from the relationship of both to the land of Antionum.  “Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites.” (Alma 31:3)  Recall that Alma’s missionary crew went to the Zoramites in the land Antionum, which extended to the hill and/or possibly the land Onidah, and permitted Corianton to go among the Lamanite borders in the land of Siron chasing the harlot Isabel (Alma 39:3).  The land of Onidah (and probably the hill of the same name) is less than a day’s march from the city of Nephi-1 (Alma 47:31).  It would appear that the distance from Zarahemla to Nephi-1 would be roughly five to seven days travel.  The greater land Zarahemla was divided from the greater land Nephi-1 by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east (an inland sea) even to the sea west (Pacific Ocean) (Alma 22:27).

A travel rate is estimated at about 16 miles-per-day (comparable to the Utah pioneers).  Lemhi’s group and Alma’s group brought their flocks and herds (Mosiah 22:6, 24:18).  Twenty one days at 16 miles-per-day would be 336 miles.  In Mesoamerica they could not travel as the “crow flies” because of the mountainous terrain.  Ammon and his rescue party wandered for 40 days over the country that Alma and his fleeing believers traveled in 21 days.  The straight line distance between Nephi-2 (Lehi-Nephi) and Zarahemla probably would be about 200 miles.  Along the coastal plain the distance between Zarahemla and Nephi-1 would be approximately 90 miles “as the crow flies.”  The third side of the triangle, Nephi-1 to Nephi-2 required “the space of many days” and could be 150 or more miles “as the crow flies.”

The greater land Bountiful was also called Zarahemla and the greater land Zarahemla was called Bountiful (Alma 22:31).  The Mulekites landed in the land of Desolation (on the west coast – Pacific coast) and went up into Bountiful and founded the city of Zarahemla where “they had dwelt there from that time forth” (Omni 1:16).  We are looking for archaeological ruins that spanned the 1000 years of Nephite/Mulekite occupation and the approximately 1600 years of Jaredite occupation.  Again, there is no mention of crossing the Sierra Madre mountain range which is very rugged, not bountiful.  Those mountains are too steep to be habitable except on the piedmont and a few mountain valleys.  Search the Pacific coastline from Baja California to Nicaragua and you will find there is nothing to compare to the bountiful Pacific piedmont of Guatemala.

Hagoth built his ships in the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, by the narrow neck, and set sail into the west sea on the line where the sea divides the land northward from the land southward (Alma 63:5, Ether 10:20).  The length of the separating line was the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite from the east to the west sea (Alma 22:32).  This does not represent the distance from the city Bountiful to the city Desolation, but rather the length of the interface boundary line between the two “lands” formed by a water feature (sea divides the land – river/estuary).  The west end of this line is the west sea (Pacific Ocean) and the east end is the “north wilderness” (Alma 2:36, 22:27) above Zarahemla, Bountiful, and Desolation since they are all on the Pacific side of the continental divide.  This distance would be about 30 miles for an unencumbered Nephite in sandals on the coastal piedmont and plain.
The distance from city Bountiful to fortress Mulek was about 10 miles based on the Moroni, Teancum, and Lehi battle plan (Alma 52:19-27).  Fortress Mulek was near the “point” (Alma 51:9) where the narrow pass was; and, the city Lib and the city Desolation were on the other side.  The Jaredites did not have a city named Desolation – that name came from the Nephites.  The city the Nephites called Desolation was probably the city Lib founded.

The width of the land was about 30 miles – so what was the length of the land Bountiful/Zarahemla?  This was the “most capital parts of the land” (Helaman 1:27).  This was where they starved out the Gadianton robbers in the seven year siege (3 Nephi 3:23).  A land of a given name appears to be just the city of said name and the land which surrounds it until it approaches the adjacent cities.  Since the distance from Zarahemla to Lehi-Nephi (Nephi-2) is only about 200 miles maximum, it is postulated that the length of the land Bountiful/Zarahemla might be no more than 60 miles.

These findings, based solely on Book of Mormon “statements of fact,” severely constrain those model developers who would scatter cities across continents with impunity.  The appropriate constraints are: 1) the west sea coast (Pacific Coast) for the landing of the Mulekites and Lehites and for the departure of Hagoth, 2) the maximum dimension of the Nephite/Lamanite world of about 260 miles, and 3) the closeness of cities Bountiful, Mulek, and Desolation.  The fact that the Lamanite army from the southeast could take Mulek, at the northwest extreme of the land, means that the Lamanites could bypass all of Antionum, Zarahemla, and Bountiful by traveling around the north wilderness and dropping down into fortress Mulek.  The Nephites were indeed nearly surrounded by the Lamanites (Alma 22:28-30).

In the days of Nephi the son of Helaman (about 49 to 39 B.C.), it is stated: “And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east” (Helaman 3:8).  Today we would not use such grandiose terms to describe the population of such a small area.  The population of Guatemala today is just over 15 million.  The population of Guatemala City alone is 2.3 million.  Divide that 2.3 million by ten and put them in battle gear and you have the size of the Nephite army that dressed for battle on that fateful day in 385 A.D. at Cumorah.  The Strahov Stadium in the Czech Republic could seat that number.  There are 26,907,520 acres in Guatemala.  That would give each of the 230,000 Nephites a 117 acre farm.  That is hardly covering the face of the whole earth – to say nothing of the north, south, east, and west seas, where ever they might be.  The appropriate focus needs to be applied to find the Nephites lands, or you will miss them because of the smallness of their topographical footprint.  The blood of Lehi and Nephi has continued to scatter for the approximately 1600 years since Moroni closed the book of his father, Mormon.

The archaeologists are indeed telling the correct story relative to times of occupation of the various lands.  The model developers are not listening.  They often look beyond the mark, ignoring known major civilization centers and times of occupation.  The Cotzumalhuapa Culture, and its closest neighbors on the south coastal piedmont of Guatemala, is the only civilization with an archaeological footprint commensurate with Mormon’s story.


The length dimension from the city of Lehi-Nephi (Nephi-2) to the city Zarahemla is only about 200 miles “as the crow flies.”  Cities Desolation (Lib) and Bountiful are very close to the narrow neck and are approximately 15 miles apart.  Cities and lands Desolation, Bountiful, Zarahemla, and Nephi-1 are all on the west sea (Pacific Coast).

As intelligent Mormons, capable of reading and understanding the source, “hold to the mark” those who practice the craft of capitalizing (profiteering) on the chase. 




[About: Book]   [About: Author]   [Press Release]  

Professional Digital Services (PDS)Designed and maintained by Professional Digital Services, Inc.