Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Was the Shape and Size of Mormon's Small Neck of Land? – Part II

Continuing with the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) website article on Alma 22. When Mormon introduces a narrow pass or passage within the narrow neck of land that leads between the Land Northward and the Land Southward, we find an interesting corollary about this pass which was recorded in the 16th century by the Spanish conquistador and chronicler of Peru, Pedro de Cieza Leon. 
   “Huayna Capac was in Quito,” he wrote,“ with all his captains and veteran soldiers, when he received word that one of his armies he sent to conquer a neighbor had been routed and were in rapid retreat. He sent fast runners to stop the retreat and for his army to take high ground and wait for him to arrive. Huanyna Capac not wanting to tell his soldiers one of their armies had been defeated, merely said they were marching against an enemy.
The Inca, Huayna Capac, rode in his litter south to the narrow pass through the mountains, but once in the passage, he dismounted and walked for a day and a half at the head of his army
    “Once into the pass from Ecuador toward Peru, he got out of his litter, and marched in front of his army for a day and a half, and those who were retreating in great numbers, when they saw that the approaching army consisted of their own people, stopped on one side, while the pursuers began to attack them, and killed many. But Huayna Capac surrounded them on three sides, which amazed them not a little and even those who had been conquered, rallied and fought with such resolve that the ground was covered with dead. When the pursuers wished to retreat, they found the pass occupied, and so many were slain that very few remained alive except the prisoners, who were numerous. In honor of this great victory, Huayna Capac named the pass or corridor through the mountains after himself in honor of his great victory (taken from The Second Part of the Chronicle of Peru by Pedro de Cieza Leon (Antwerp 1554, translated by Clements R. Markham, 1883, London. p.214-215).
    Huayna Capac’s enemies had nowhere else to go—they were bottled up, the land was narrow, the pass was occupied, so there was no escape. This was the same condition Morianton found himself in when he tried to get through the pass when Teancum cut him off (Alma 50:34). This area was such a natural division between the lands, that it was chosen by the Lamanites and Nephites as the boundary between their two lands for the treaty they agreed to in 350 A.D. (Mormon 2:28).
    Thus, we can see the narrow neck of land Mormon describes was simply that—a “narrow” neck of land—that could be easily defended against an enemy attack, was basically a natural division of land, had the sea on the east and west, with a natural pass or passage through it. Obviously, the 144-mile wide Isthmus of Tehuantepec does not qualify for this ‘small” and “narrow” neck.
    Current definitions of the word “narrow,” suggest it to be “of small or limited width,” and “limited in area,” and “a part of little width, as a pass through mountains.” And from 1828, the definition is “A strait; a narrow passage through a mountain,” “of little breadth; not wide or broad; having little distance from side to side; as a narrow board; a narrow street; a narrow sea; a narrow hem or border,” “of little extent; very limited; as a narrow space,” ”near, within a small distance, close.” Webster also says of narrow: “It is only or chiefly applied to the surface of flat or level bodies.”
    Thus, when we look at a piece of land that is “narrow,” it should show some indication that it is narrower than that surrounding it, in fact, considerably narrower to meet Webster’s definition—a small distance, close from side to side, and certainly not wide or broad. One needs only look at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to see that these descriptions easily discount that area as a “narrow” area. And most importantly, for people from 600 B.C. to 420 A.D. able to recognize that it is a narrow neck of land for they would not have satellite images, aerial photography, global maps or charts. It would also have to be so designed to show land-bound people that the sea “divided” the land at that point (Ether 10:20), such as a very large bay or inlet cutting into most of the land’s width.
From great height, like this satellite photo, we can see that Mesoamerica does indent at what is called the Isthmus of Tehuantepec; however, from ground level, the indentation is so small, and covers 375 miles in the Bay of Campeche (north) and 250 miles in the Gulf of Tehuantepec (south), limiting anyone’s view of an indentation, let alone see that it was a “narrow” neck of land
    Consider this Mesoamerican coastline in the image above that shows the northern shore coastline of the Bay of Campeche from a non-aerial view and think of how it would appear to someone at ground level or low-lying hills along the coast. Would they see a slight indentation or a narrow neck? In addition, the distance between the two yellow X’s (below) is 225 miles. It would be impossible for anyone along this coast to recognize any indentation or any narrowing at all. Consequently, and once again, the Mesoamerican Theorists’ model of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec could not possibly have even been known as a “narrow neck of land” to the ground-based Nephites.
John Clark, a strong Mesoamerican advocate, has stated: “The Book of Mormon apparently specifies precise travel times for this area [the small neck and the narrow neck]. But the short distances involved (one to one-and-a-half days) cannot be squared with any known isthmus (without special conditions or travel rates being specified).” That is, his view states that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec does not qualify as the narrow neck of land “without special conditions or travel rates being specified.” So, in order to make Tehuantepec qualify, he, like other Mesoamericanists create “special conditions,” i.e., a way to make a 144-mile-wide isthmus qualify for a day and a half journey, by flattening out the terrain and removing any natural obstacles, and also, by “travel rates being specified,” which is done by increasing the distance one could travel in a day-and-a-half. It was John L. Sorenson who first suggested such a method of solving the dilemma of the width of Tehuantepec and Mormon’s day-and-a-half journey by introducing special runners, marathon records, ancient athletes, etc.
    After all, any distance and time can be justified if you change the natural parameters. Where Mormon says a Nephite, you change that to what a remarkable group of Zuni Indian’s have accomplished, or a marathon runner, or a world record holder has achieved. Obviously, as you increase the ability to cover the distance, you can widen that distance. However, it does not change the fact that Mormon gave us a simple parameter—the width of the narrow neck was what a Nephite could cover in a day-and-a-half journey. A journey is not a race, it is not an endurance factor, it is not a world record. It is simply a common man (Nephite) journeying (traveling) a distance in a day-and-a-half. How far could such a person travel in a day and a half? We don’t know directly that it was 18 hours (12 hours daylight, 12 hours darkness, 6 hours daylight), however, the word journey suggests a normal travel sequence. The 1828 dictionary defines “journey” as “the travel of a day; travel by land to any distance and for any time; passage from one place to another,” all of which suggests a normal journey, trip, travel of an individual from one place to another.
    Thus, we can only conclude that the narrow neck of land was, indeed narrow, and the width of it was the distance a normal person could cover in a day-and-a-half without looking for unusual circumstances.
(See the next post, “What Was the Shape and Size of Mormon's Small Neck of Land? – Part III,” for more information about the narrow neck of land and what Mormon meant when he wrote: “it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea”)


  1. Is the exact location of the narrow pass where Huayna Capac won his battle known today?

  2. No. There is a pass through this area today, however, and it might be the same; however, when the Andes rose, much of this area was changed.