Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mormon’s Last Stand -- Is There a Reason Mormon Stopped Retreating?

Someone asked the other day about the fact that Mormon stopped retreating in 385 A.D., and gathered his Nephite army of some 230,000 troops to fight a final, last-ditch battled with a far superior Lamanite force that even Mormon knew would be the “last struggle of my people.” His query surrounded why Mormon just didn’t continue to retreat northward?
He wanted to know that if the land mass was the same in 385 A.D. as it is today, why did they not continue to flee from the Lamanites to the north, or to the east? Were they still landlocked by the surrounding sea? In Mormon 6:15, Mormon says there were a few who survived “who had escaped into the south countries,” but why go south back into the land of the Lamanites rather than north or east away from them? In Mormon 8:2 we read that the Nephites who escaped to the south were captured by the Lamanites and killed. Again, were they landlocked so there was no other means of escape?
Mormon retreated with his army to the Land of Cumorah where he hoped to gain some advantage over the Lamanites (Mormon 6:4), yet knew it would be the last struggle for the Nephites (Mormon 6:6)
This is a concern many have asked over the years of this blog since it doesn’t stand to reason that Mormon would stop and fight a battle he couldn’t win if there were alternatives. Consider that Mormon and the Nephites had been retreating for several years since Mormon was only 15 years of age and hostilities broke out in 326 A.D. During the next twenty-four years of constant wars, the Nephites were driven deeper into their lands to the north and retreated to the Land Northward where they they stopped the Lamanite advance with a stunning victory over 50,000 with their smaller army of 30,000 (Mormon 2:25). There they agreed to a treaty that divided their lands (Mormon 2:28) between the Land Northward and the land Southward.
Yet the wars continued after a ten year peace and went on for the next 25 years as Mormon first defended (Mormon 3:6-7), then retreated from the Land of Desolation (Mormon 4:19-20), losing battles (Mormon 4:21), and fleeing through towns and villages, taking the inhabitants with them (Mormon 4:22) as they retreated in haste. The Lamanites swept across the land, burning everything Nephite (Mormon 5:5) until the Nephites dug in for a time and stopped the Lamanite invasion (Mormon 5:6). In the end, however, the huge numbers of Lamanites succeeded in driving the Nephites (Mormon 5:7), who continually retreated (Mormon 6:1), until Mormon decided to make his last stand at Cumorah (Mormon 6:6), in a battle that Mormon knew “to be the last struggle of my people.” In fact, the greatness of the Lamanite numbers “filled every Nephite soul with terror” (Mormon 6:8) as the Lamanites approached Cumorah.
Certainly there was plenty of area in which to retreat to the north for Mormon’s army, with their women and children in a Mesoamerican land of promise, so why stand against a superior force and die when escape was available?
The inevitable question is: “Why didn’t Mormon and the Nephites continue to retreat northward with their families? Mesoamerican guru John L. Sorenson of BYU in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, claims the reason Mormon and the Nephites did not retreat further north (into Mexico, etc.) was because all the best lands were already taken and that they were not really familiar with that land. An odd comment, when most men would opt to save their families and themselves from certain death if a way was available, even if a retreat was not into the most desirable land area.
The problem lies in the Mesoamerican Theorist trying to answer this difficult question for them since their model land mass of Mesoamerica continues numerous land to the northward for thousands of miles through Mexico and into the United States (and Canada), and southward for thousand of miles (clear to the end of South America). With such a model, there is no logic in Mormon stopping to fight a battle he knew he could not win (Mormon 6:6), so the Theorists typically ignore the question, or come up with such a feeble answer as did Sorenson.
The same is true in all U.S. Land of Promise locations, i.e., Great Lakes (north into Canada); Western New York (north into Canada); eastern U.S. (north into Canada); Heartland (north into northern U.S.), Baja California (north into U.S.); Malay (north into Thailand, Myanmar and Asia). This is the reason none of these Theorists ever talk about this issue, because in all their models, an escape route existed—so why not take it? And no reasonable answer is possible for them. And if not Mormon and his generals, why not those who did escape going north, instead of south into the heart of the enemy lands?
The answer lies in the fact that Mormon had nowhere to go. Cumorah in the Land of Many Waters, considered the most northern area of the Land Northward (Alma 22:30), was as far as the Nephites could retreat. Beyond that area had been the Sea North, the Ripliancum Sea of the Jaredites, the boundary of the isle Jacob described (2 Nephi 10:20). Then, when the mountains came up “whose height is great” (Helaman 14:23), the land to the north and east were cut off with the mountain cordilleras that then blocked movement into the far northern lands, what Mormon called “the land which was northward” (Alma 63:4).
Top Left: The Occidental Cordillera (yellow area), Andean mountains 13,940 feet elevation, 750 miles long and 234 miles wide, covering 33.297 square miles, blocked all movement north from the Land of Promise into the Panamanian isthmus; Top Right: Puente de Occidente (Occidental Bridge) that crosses the raging Rio Cauca River (part of the Magdalena River), 140 miles in length running parallel with the Occidental Mountain range and uncrossable, especially by women and children; Bottom: The Western Occidental Cordillera blocking foot movement into Panama
Thus, in the Andean area, further movement north was not possible even after the Andes rose and the Panama Isthmus rose up connecting Central and South America, because the mountain chain across northern Colombia was impassable for a retreating army with women and children. Today, tunnels have been cut through these mountains to allow for northward movement into Panama. Also, Mormon could not go east because of the sheer height of the Andes (it wasn't until the late 19th century that movement across the mountains was made possible, though dangerous, with most later movement across the Andes done by airplane.
The tunel de occidente (Occidental Tunnel—tunnel through the Andean Occidental Cordillera), sometimes referred to as the Tunnel of the West that opened in 2006, is the Autovia (Autopista) and is about 3 miles long
Mormon and the Nephites were boxed into the Land Northward once they signed the treaty dividing their lands (Mormon 2:28). They no longer had access through the narrow pass into the Land Southward. As a result, when the conditions deteriorated so badly that a final battle was inevitable, Mormon chose the best battle ground location available to him, the Land of Cumorah (Mormon 6:2). In some way, he thought that land might allow him to gain an advantage over the Lamanites (Mormon 6:4), though he evidently knew it would not and it proved not to.
The Land Northward was no longer landlocked after the events in 3 Nephi, anymore than such would be today, except in 385 A.D., there were no roads, trails or paths over or through the mountains, and we have no knowledge of any Nephites having crossed that direction northward into Panama, and can only assume the mountains were a major if not impassable deterrent for anyone, especially women and children.
And obviously, the reason the Nephites who escaped went south was because there was nowhere else to go. East were the mountains "whose height is great," north were more of the mountains, west was the ocean—that left south, which would not be a successful direction since the south was totally controlled by the Lamanites, their hereditary enemy. However, an attempt at escape was certainly worth the chance to those who went in that direction, and more desirable than facing annihilation in a final battle--which is one of the reasons that makes Sorenson's "all the best land" theory a silly, if not desperate, comment.
Thus, once the Nephites were driven into the Land Northward, and Mormon signed a treaty with the Lamanites, a last stand for the Nephites was eventually inevitable. Mormon knew it, as did the Nephites themselves. One can only imagine the thoughts that went through the minds of warriors, women and children alike, as they stood, with nowhere to go, watching the coming of the huge Lamanite force. Mormon wrote that their souls were filled with terror from the sight.


  1. Del,

    I am happy to see a full explanation of this. Common sense dictates that you don't have to make stuff up for it to be true. We don't have to be "creative" to explain what happened. Take the obvious.. and that is usually the truth.

  2. Occam's Razor works everytime :)