Where is the “Narrow Neck of Land?”
By Robert A Pate
The search for the narrow “neck of land” suggests the need for an important paradigm shift. The relevant cities were first identified by name and then it was required to try to identify what was the “narrow neck of land” between them. The “cities” indicated the location of the “narrow neck of land” rather than the “narrow neck of land” indicating the location of the “cities”. The latter approach has not worked for the past 172 years. It is not an isthmus. This lone misconception has prevented the discovery of Mormon’s lands and cities for all the intervening years. In this case, the obvious translation was incorrect.
The Sumerian (Jaredite) dictionary does not have a word that distinguishes riverbank from seashore. A shore or a bank appears to apply to a river, lake, sea, or ocean. Thus, it appears that the term “seashore” in the Book of Mormon is a term applied to the bank of any large waterway. The Bible also refers to large rivers as seas (see Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates). In this regard, it is significant that the definition for the Sumerian word gú is “neck, nape, riverbank, side, edge”. Thus, it appears that the narrow neck of land referred to in Ether 10:20 may be nothing more than a riverbank.
We talk of the east coast and the west coast of the United States and there is no confusion. Our ease of communication and travel pulls us together. Mormon didn’t have that luxury. Thus, in order to get the proper meaning, references to east and west seas, etc., must be examined more closely from Mormon’s perspective, as much as possible.
The “Narrow Neck of Land” is a very small topographic feature that is identified with the crossing place from the land Bountiful on the southeast into the land of Desolation/Teancum in the northwest. Four terms are used in the Book of Mormon: the narrow neck of land, the narrow neck, the narrow pass, and the narrow passage. Each has qualifiers following, to help distinguish which of two locations is appropriate. In addition to the narrow bridge that crossed the Samalá River, there is a topographic feature up the canyon of interest. It is a very narrow passage with almost vertical walls about 200 feet straight up. Today the road is blasted into the mountain way above on the north side of the river (GPS 14.7357, -91.5169). Anciently this would have been a very defensible passage. From the highway above, it looks like there is room for only an eight foot wide path between the vertical wall on the north side and the river. This would be the “narrow passage which led into the land southward” (Mormon 2:29). Compare all the references:
Mormon 2:29 -- The Lamanites did give unto us the land northward (Bountiful), yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward (Bountiful). And we did give unto the Lamanites all the land southward (Zarahemla). No sea or Desolation is mentioned.
Alma 50:34 -- borders of the land Desolation, by the narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east. This refers to the Samalá River crossing. The land northward is Desolation and the land southward is Bountiful.
Alma 52:9 -- 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. This must refer to the narrow passage in the canyon between fortress Lehi on the north and fortress Mulek on the south.
Alma 63:5 – Hagoth….by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward. The land northward is Desolation and the land Southward is Bountiful.
Mormon 3:5 -- 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. This refers to the Samalá River crossing. The land northward is Lib/Desolation and the land southward is Bountiful.
Ether 10:20 -- Lib … built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. This refers to the river crossing where Desolation is divided from Bountiful by the Samalá River.
This narrow pass was a very strategic point. It is the historical crossing place of the Samalá River in the piedmont region and it is located between Santa Cruz Muluá (Mulek) and San Sebastián (Lib/Shem). It was where the fortress city Mulek was built. It is where there was a narrow wooden bridge across the Samalá River when the conqueror Pedro de Alvarado arrived. He called it “rio mal paso”because of the very bloody battle as they tried to cross. When the Spaniards arrived, there was a narrow wooden bridge spanning the Samalá River at this location. Spanish accounts would indicate that it was like a pontoon bridge with large logs tied together. It appears that the horses and cannons with all the troops crossed on the bridge, but only after a very bloody battle. There were many squadrons positioned to prevent the Spaniards from crossing the bridge. One horse was killed, one soldier was wounded in the face, and several had flesh wounds. Two of the soldiers died of their wounds and a great many of the natives were killed.
Today the village on the east, adjacent to the Samalá River crossing, is called by the Spanish name Santa Cruz Muluá – Muluá being short for Mukulicya in the Maya writings. The “narrow neck of land” was nothing more than the “narrow wooden bridge” across the Samalá River (14.5795, -91.6323). Our global perspective kept the Book of Mormon lands hidden for 172 years. It may have been a land bridge at one time that has now collapsed. When the Spaniards arrived it was a narrow wooden bridge.
The town of Mulek is today called Santa Crúz Muluá (GPS 14.5811, -91.6248). The fortress is closer to the river crossing. The “U” shaped fortress (GPS 14.57921, -91.62979) is still visible even from satellite images. You can find the above GPS coordinates on Google Map.
The ancient name that shows up in The Annals of the Cakchiquels is Mukulicya. Recinos translates it as “hidden water” (Recinos 1953, 60fn). Christenson’s Quiché dictionary would render it as “covered water”. Recinos’ translation states, “They went down to Mukulicya and Molomic-chée” (Recinos 1953, 60). This would incorrectly indicate two distinct places, with the capitalization and the coordinating conjunction “and”. The original handwritten Cakchiquel text is comma punctuated and has commas between lists of cities. The original text (of which the author has a copy from Ted E. Brewerton) does not have a comma or the coordinating conjunction “and” -- only mukulicya molomic chée. Thus, they were not two distinct places but only one. Recinos in a footnote states that molomic-chée means “trees together”. Going with Christenson’s “covered water” and Recinos’ “trees together” we have a “wooden bridge”. This location name, Mukulicya, in the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith Jr. as the fortress city Mulek. Today this village adjacent to the Samalá River crossing is called by the Spanish name Santa Cruz Muluá – Muluá being short for Mukulicya.
Christenson, Allen J. 1979. K’iche’ Dictionary. Unpublished manuscript, shared electronically in private communication. Affiliation, The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Available also at the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI) on INTERNET.
Recinos, Adrian. 1953. The Annals of The Cakchiquels. Translated from the Cakchiquel Maya by Adrian Recinos and Delia Goetz. First edition, fourth printing, 1974. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.