Sunday, February 27, 2011

Were There Really Four Seas Surrounding the Land of Promise?

The Land Southward was divided by a "narrow strip of wilderness" that ran from the "sea east" to the "sea west" (Alma 22:27). Nephites occupied the land to the north of this wilderness, and the Lamanites, occupied the land to the south of this wilderness. Sidon, the only river mentioned by name, ran northward between eastern and western wildernesses from headwaters in the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:29). The Sidon probably emptied into the east sea—based on the description of the east wilderness as a rather wide, coastal zone—but its mouth is nowhere specified.

Book of Mormon lands were longer from north to south than from east to west. They consisted of two land masses connecting a “narrow neck of land” flanked by an "east sea" and a "west sea" (Alma 22:27, 32). The land north of the narrow neck was known as the Land Northward and that to the south was the Land Southward (Alma 22:32). The Jaredites occupied the Land Northward and spent their entire time there, never coming south of the Narrow Neck of Land except to hunt for wild game (Omni 1:22; Ether 10:21). It is also probable that the portion of the land northward occupied by the Jaredites was smaller than the Nephite-Lamanite land southward.

It is also probable that the Nephites were not aware of the narrow neck of land, or that there was a Land Northward, until sometime after 200 B.C. (following Mosiah's arrival in Zarahemla). Up to this point, and probably for some years afterward, the Nephites were only aware of their Land Southward and of its division into two areas, the Land North and the Land South, and that Lehi was led into the Land South, where he landed, and the people of Zarahemla were in the Land North, which was where Mulek landed (Helaman 6:10, Omni 1:16).

The first mention of the land northward is about 121 B.C. when it was explored by Limhi's search party (Mosiah 8:8). It seems obvious that no Nephite had been to the land northward before this since the land of bones and ruined buildings had not previously been mentioned. The next reference is about 90 B.C. and this was a commentary by the abridger Mormon writing about 340 AD (Alma 22:31-2). Alma, writing about 55 B.C., describes a massive movement northward by ship (Alma 63:5-7), and two years later, by land (Alma 63:9). About eight years later, in 46 B.C., Helaman describes a massive movement of “an exceeding great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla” and went into the Land Northward “to inherit the land” (Helaman 3:3). This latter group of people went far northward, coming “to large bodies of water and many rivers” (Helaman 3:4), and “spread forth into all parts of the land” (Helaman 3:5) and they multiplied and spread out, 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).

According to Helaman, writing at the time of this movement and spreading out of the people in both the Land Southward and the Land Northward, he makes certain we would understand that the Land of Promise was inhabited from one end to the other, and from one sea to another. In naming all four seas that surrounded the island Jacob described (2 Nephi 10:20), Helaman gives us a clear picture of this ancient land in his day, as does Mormon later describing the period 200 years after the coming of Christ (4 Nephi 1:23).

Mormon, who was born in the Land Northward about 350 years after Helaman’s time and traveled into the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:6) writes about “the whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea” (Mormon 1:7). It was Mormon, injecting his words into Alma’s description of the land that said, “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 22:32).

This, then, shows that there was a Sea completely surrounding the entire Land Southward that reached the narrow neck of land, which ran from the West Sea (Alma 63:5), to the East Sea (Alma 50:34). This surrounding Sea also extended northward around the entire Land Northward (Helaman 3:8). Thus, the Land of Promise had four seas that surrounded the land, making it an island as Jacob said.

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