Thursday, March 6, 2014

Could Nicaragua be the Narrow Neck of Land?

In the last two posts, we covered the numerous scriptures that illustrate the layout and design of the narrow neck of land as described by Mormon in the scriptural record, and shown how both the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mesoamerica and the Isthmus of Darien in Panama do not match the descriptions in the scriptural record. While those theorists who champion those areas would naturally not agree, all that is being done here is to show how these models do not match, or even come close to matching, Mormon’s descriptions. So let us turn to another Theory and model, that of Nicaragua and the Isthmus of Rivas.
The Isthmus of Rivas that leads north from La Cruz in Costa Rica to the northern area of Lake Nicaragua, a distance of about 110 miles in length
    James Warr said of this area he champions: Due to the topography of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the Isthmus of Rivas has been the natural and exclusive route of travel since pre-conquest times. It presents few barriers, and provides many amenities to the traveler. All land traffic, whether north or south is naturally funneled through this isthmus. It was the only terrestrial pre-Columbian trade route, was the route of the Spanish conquistadors, and continues to be the exclusive modern route with the Panamerican Highway following its gentle course.  It was also likely the exclusive route of ancient peoples during Book of Mormon times.” 
    Response: The problem with this is simply that while this isthmus has been the preferred route, it is not the only route from the south to the north. To the east of Lake of Nicaragua is a very wide land (that would be to the east of the their East Sea), which completely eliminates the idea of a narrow neck being a deterrent as Mormon described it. In addition, a land, especially a continuous land, to the east of the East Sea is never mentioned in the scriptural record, and is completely out of the question in any effort to locate a narrow neck of land. Consider, just south of Lake Nicaragua the width of the land is 150 miles across—and is the point where Morianton would have been headed to get through to the Land Northward (Alma 50:29). 
    This would be the area where Moroni sent Teancum at the head of an army to stop Morianton, with the assignment to head off Morianton before he got through to the Land Northward. Now, in a width of 150 miles, how would Teancum know where he could intercept Morianton? We are not talking about a modern system of roads and highways, but those roads, trails, and travel systems of 72 B.C.—Morianton could have taken any route, even though the Rivas Isthmus would have been the most "gentle" and easy way, it is not the only way. And, with entirely different points along 150-mile width, Morianton could have headed in numerous directions and there would be no way Teancum could have intercepted him as he did (Alma 50:34).
Though it is claimed the Isthmus of Rivas could easily be defended, it could just as easily be bypassed by attacking up the east side of the lake and avoiding the defensive line along the narrow neck of land that is about 100 miles across at the southern point
    In addition, to counter this point, James Warr claims that the San Juan River, running from the southeastern corner of Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean Sea was a deterrent for anyone to cross, thus keeping the eastern area free from Lamanite incursion. However, this river is placid, referred to as “the glassy black river,” which can easily be crossed in a simple canoe or raft, done daily by families and children today along much of its course.
Top: The San Juan River as seen from El Castillo fortress. Note how narrow and placid the river is at this point, where panga riverboats today drift down the river on the gentle current, and (Right:) Canoes being easily paddled across the San Juan
    The San Juan is also called El Desaguadero, meaning “the spillway” (natural drainage), and suggests a rather gentle, easy-going waterway, especially once past the shallow rapids around El Castillo. In fact, beyond San Juan del Norte, the river becomes shallow and narrower, where small boats today hit bottom and can get stuck in the shallow reaches of the sandy bottom and passengers have to get out and push the boat through this area.
Left: The heaviest rapids at El Castillo; Right: Passengers pushing the small travel boat off the sandy bottom where it was stuck
    In fact, the very lower reaches of the San Juan flow very slowly, at about 1 mile per hour, considered “barely moving at all” according to Ms Juana Argeñal Sandoval, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources of Nicaragua. Certainly, there is little about the San Juan River to deter an attacking force, of say dedicated and determined Lamanites, from crossing the river and moving to the east of Lake Nicaragua into Warr’s Land Northward. After all, though some areas of this eastern portion of Nicaragua are heavy jungle, much of it is not and as these images (below) show, could easily be crossed by an invading Lamanite army.
Images showing the land to the east of Lake Nicaragua. Note the ease of travel for an attacking army, where the terrain and topography would not be a deterrent
    In addition, according to Warr, “the narrow neck of land was flanked by a west sea and an east sea,” but his model’s east sea is Lake Nicaragua, and it is not a terminus of the eastern area of the Land of Nephi as an east sea is described in the scriptural record, nor does it have a seashore that borders on the Land of Nephi in the south along which the city of Moroni was built (Alma 50:13). In addition, as written earlier, there is no mention of land to the east of the east sea in the scriptural record, but in the Nicaragua model, there is a very large landmass about 110  miles that is part of the southern and northern land.
    Warr also says that the narrow neck of land should be located at a place where ‘the sea divides the land’ (Ether 10:20),” however, the seas, which he labels the East Sea (Caribbean Sea) and the West Sea (Pacific Ocean) do not separate any land here, nor is the land really separated other than a large lake being in the western side of the land at this point.
    Warr also states that the narrow neck of land “should have a separate feature called the ‘narrow pass’ which is narrower than the neck itself (Alma 50:34; 52:9),” but again, this is not the case with his Isthmus of Rivas, for it runs 110 miles in a general northerly-southerly direction with no restrictions on the travel through it, mostly being a flat, open plain on the Pacific side and mountainous on the side by Lake Nicaragua. In the mountain area, there is a pass discovered by Orville Childs in 1851 that runs east and west, opening an area 153-feet above sea level from the western open area of the isthmus toward the lake—this pass was the opening through which Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company connected the lake with the Pacific across the low hills of the narrow isthmus of Rivas. This route, by the way, was where an interoceanic canal, the Nicaragua Canal, was to be built before Panama was chosen as the site for the Panama Canal. The problem is, this pass runs east-west, not north-south, and does not qualify for the narrow pass as described by Mormon, which pass ran from the Land Southward to the Land Northward.
    Warr also states that this narrow neck “could be traversed in 1 to 1 1/2 days (this would make it approximately 20-30 miles wide (Alma 22:32; Hel.4:7).” This narrow neck is not a jungle, in fact it is described as a dry forest and listed as such by the Nicaraguan government. Typically, a dry forest would not hinder movement through it
Images of the terrain along the Isthmus of Rivas. Note the ease of movement over this land—there is no hindrance to crossing this isthmus
    At one point, described as “to the southwest, the lake is separated from the Pacific Ocean by a narrow land corridor, the Rivas Isthmus, which is 12 miles wide and covered mostly with dry forest. Averaging only one mile an hour, this area could be crossed in a single day, not a day-and-a-half, and more likely could be crossed in 8 hours at 1.5 miles per hour, a pace for a normal person. Again, this does not qualify for the narrow neck of land that Mormon describes, nor the day-and-a-half he tells us it would take a Nephite to cross (Alma 22:32).
While there are more comparisons that could be made, and much has been written elsewhere in this blog, the above points are listed merely to show that the Isthmus of Rivas could not be the narrow neck of land since it does not match Mormon’s description.

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