Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Effect of the Destruction in 3 Nephi

Some Mesoamerican theorists, including John L. Sorenson, try to limit the amount of destruction that was caused by the 3-hour earthquake listed in 3 Nephi, by saying that “Nothing about the pre-crucifixion geography seems to have puzzled them, the volume itself says that the changes at the Savior's death were mainly to the surface.” Others claim that there must not have been much damage by writing: “The catastrophe had changed the face of the land (3 Nephi 8:12), but a changed face apparently did not mean that most of the basic land forms and ecological conditions had been rendered unrecognizable.”

Generally, all these theorists claim that the damage to the Land of Promise as written about in 3 Nephi, was not sufficient as to cause Mormon not to identify pre- and post-period topography of the Land of Promise three centuries after the events. While Mormon obviously understood the topography after the damage caused by the 3-hour earthquake, etc., that does not mean the Land of Promise was not significantly changed by the destruction.

On the other hand, some argue that we cannot hope to attain clarity of the land because of the great destruction that took place at the time of the Savior’s crucifixion. They feel that that event so changed everything that what could be seen of the landscape in former times would not be recognizable afterward.

What seems to be misunderstood by theorists is that the changes mentioned could be both severe and yet understood within the topography after the destruction. Take, as an example, an event where if a devastating earthquake were to hit central Utah that caused a deep canyon to appear between Ogden and Salt Lake City, a tall mountain range to jut up where the lake now stands, the entire airport area to sink into the earth, a valley to appear where the eastern shelf now sits, and hills jut up randomly where the Avenues now are, with the city of Santaquin disappearing and a mountain appearing where it was, the city of Bountiful collapsing, and the city of Draper disappearing—though these changes would be severe, would someone not be able to tell where the Capitol building is, the temple site, where North Salt Lake is located, and South Jordan, etc? If the entire Wasatch Mountains from Provo to Bountiful collapsed into the earth and a great sea appeared in their place, it would not change the understanding of the land between that Wasatch area of today and the Great Salt Lake.

The point is, damage can be severe and completely alter a landscape to where many parts were unrecognizable, yet major areas could still be identified. Besides, over the three centuries after the destruction, all the cities that could be rebuilt were, the roads repaired, and the altered landscape became the common landscape and whatever existed previously would not be thought of as normal. To Mormon, having all the records before and after covering about 900 years of history in the Land of Promise prior to his birth, he would have been able to relate one geographical appearance with another. As an example, after the above fictitious destruction to Salt Lake, one would know there used to be mountains in the east border where now was a great sea—and one would know that there used to be a city in the former corner canyon area where now are very tall mountains, etc.

The fallacious idea that an historian would not know how to describe topographical conditions of the past as they related to his present—to know what was before and after the destruction if there had been any serious damage, is completely disingenuous.

Having been to New York City before and after the destruction of the Twin Towers has not altered my understanding of lower Manhattan. Even in movies, we talk about where the towers were once located, etc. People adjust to changes quite easily. But it does not change the fact that the impressively tall towers was once a major landmark and now they are gone.

The Lord himself is quoted as describing the terrible destruction caused in both the Land Southward and the Land Northward (3 Nephi 9:1-2), a destruction described in some detail by 3 Nephi 8:5--A destruction that was probably more severe than the leveling of Berlin during World War II, where entire cities and tall buildings were reduced to rubble, piles of brick, plaster, stucco, and rock were piled everywhere. No doubt, in many of the city areas of the Land of Promise, such as Zarahemla, such a sight was repeated (3 Nephi 8:15;9:3). Hills and valleys covered over numerous cities (3 Nephi 9:8), and scores of cities were sunk into the ground (3 Nephi 9:5,8), and many others covered over by the sea (3 Nephi 9:4,7).

Solid rocks, cliffsides, and other solid formations were broken up into fragments and the earth was left with severe cracks and seams upon all the face of the land (3 Nephi 8:18)—for this to have even been mentioned suggests to the severity of the damage to the appearance of the topography as described by “the face of the whole earth became deformed” (3 Nephi 8:17).

Whatever basis Mormon used to describe geographical settings before and after the destruction, is not known. However, both he and his son, Moroni, knew that certain Jaredite landmarks were the same ones the Nephites knew (Ether 7:6; 15:11), therefore, the records they had before them must have been quite complete in describing the geography of the Land of Promise, or inspiration testified to the locations.


  1. Why is it hard for people to understand that when you change the face of something, it changes the appearance of that thing. Take plastic surgery for example: people have their faces sliced up to purposely look different than they are. It is just the face, but the face has many underlying structures that are affected as well. So too with geography. If the face of the terrain is changed or altered it will look different, possibly even drastically different (and mountains becoming valleys, valleys becoming mountains, large bodies of water where cities used to be,are all examples of superficial changes that would alter the appearance of the terrain).

    Think of it like this: where i live, in SoCal, there used to be orange groves as far as the eye could see. But superficial changes (urban development) has altered the appearance of the landscape. In contrast, i have lived in the same place long enough to see stores/businesses change, but there change does not affect the landscape so much as a new store takes over where an old store (usually occupying the same space). The latter was not the ttpe of change described in the Book of Mormon.

    The changes that happened after the death of the Savior affected the terrain dramatically, but, like Del said, that doesn't mean people forget what it used to look like and that is something that is passed down in oral traditions (or in this case written down as well). Anyone who has ever lived in the same place long enough have, at some point, mentioned how their townn/city/region has changed so much from earlier times.

  2. Tyson: Thank you for your comment. What is interesting is that the longer one lives, the more changes one sees, and the more crystal clear your comment is to them. On the other hand, those who have not lived through much, have not seen much, yet are unaware that their views are so limited. It would be impossible for many of the old and original settlers of the outlying areas of Southern California, like Pico, Quintero, Navarro, Feliz, Figueroa, Verdugo, Rowland, etc., to recognize Southern California today, not only would they not recognize it, it would seem like a foreign country to them. Take a look at the main street of the original pueblo of L.A. Today, you have to have signs showing you where it is (near Union Station).