Friday, September 26, 2014

Changing the Land of Promise—The Effect of Rising Mountains - Part II

Continuing with our understanding of how the changes described in 3 Nephi affected the landscape of the Land of Promise and what that means to us today. As an example, the sudden appearance of tall mountains (Helaman 14:23) would create extreme moisture changes that would affect severe topography changes. Take the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, a 600-mile strip of land west of the Andes covering about 49,000 square miles that is the driest non-polar desert in the world, having received no significant rainfall since 1570 when records were kept. 
Top: Atacama Desert; Bottom: Just a few miles away, the Amazon Rain Forest
    Yet, on the east side of the Andes, only a couple of hundred miles away, is the Amazon rainforest—the largest rainforest on earth. Because air pressure and air temperature decrease with altitude, when the sudden rise of these mountains described in 3 Nephi occurred, air flowing over these new mountains was forced higher and higher, expanding, cooling, and condensing, causing more and more precipitation to fall on the windward (east) side of the mountain slope as clouds rose, became heavier, and were forced to dump their rain. At the same time, warm air dropped down the back side (west), sinking, warming and evaporating, stripping the moisture from the air resulting in a rain shadow effect for areas down wind from the mountain—the higher the mountain, the more pronounced the rain shadow is and the less likely rain will fall on the leeward side at all. With mountains “whose height is great” moisture on the leeward becomes nearly non-existent and a desert is formed—which increased over time with no rainfall at all and the desert increased in dryness until we see it today as the Atacama.
    However, this would have occurred in 34 A.D. and afterward, meaning that during Nephi’s trek northward to escape his brothers and the sons of Ishmael nearly 600 years earlier, they would have traveled through not a desert, but the typical landscape that existed along the coastal stretch prior to the rise of these mountains.
    In addition, when the existing mountains of the land collapsed, tumbling into valleys, whatever wind, clouds and precipitation that existed would have changed.  Obviously, for all this to have been a “sign” it had to have been quite noticeable to the inhabitants of the Land of Promise. When Samuel talked of a sign as to Christ’s  birth, he told the Nephites:
    And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day. Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; for ye shall know of the rising of the sun and also of its setting; therefore they shall know of a surety that there shall be two days and a night; nevertheless the night shall not be darkened; and it shall be the night before he is born. And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. And behold this is not all, there shall be many signs and wonders in heaven. And it shall come to pass that ye shall all be amazed, and wonder, insomuch that ye shall fall to the earth” (Helaman 14:3-7).
A stark mountain range that rises up out of a valley—such an event would have been so noticeable, no one could have denied its occurrence. “and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great”
    These “signs” would obviously have been clearly seen and understood by the Nephites when they occurred. And that was their purpose—to be seen and understood. Of this Samuel said that the intent of the signs was that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men” (Helaman 14:28).
    Consequently, when one of the signs of the Savior’s crucifixion was given, Samuel said, Yea, at the time that he shall yield up the ghost there shall be thunderings and lightnings for the space of many hours, and the earth shall shake and tremble; and the rocks which are upon the face of this earth, which are both above the earth and beneath, which ye know at this time are solid, or the more part of it is one solid mass, shall be broken up; Yea, they shall be rent in twain, and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments upon the face of the whole earth, yea, both above the earth and beneath. And behold, there shall be great tempests, and there shall be many mountains laid low, like unto a valley, and there shall be many places which are now called valleys which shall become mountains, whose height is great. And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate” (Helaman 14:21-24).
There are 101 peaks in the Andes that top out at 20,000 feet or more--they are by far the tallest mountains in the entire Western Hemisphere. They are certainly mountains "whose height is great"
    Again, the purpose of these “signs” was to insure that the people “might know and remember at the time of their coming that they had been made known unto them beforehand, to the intent that they might believe” (Helaman 16:5)
    And just as obviously, such a “sign” would not be of value if it was not a significant event, if it was one that could be attributed to some other, natural source. So when Samuel speaks of mountains rising out of flat ground and rising to such noticeable heights that they would be seen and undeniably understood to be mountains “whose height is great,” we need to believe that he knew what he was talking about--and that great height was, indeed, very high.
    We also have in Nephi, son of Lehi, a second witness to these events, when Nephi records them in his vision (1 Nephi 12:4). Thus we need to see a Land of Promise that has numerous mountains, “whose height is great” in our seeking the location of Lehi’s promised land. Not just one or two or three, but many mountains—a significant number of very tall mountains that would be seen over a large enough area for the Nephites to be well aware of their rising and existence in order to justify Samuel’s description that such a “sign” of these mountains rising up out of the ground to such heights as to show the Nephites of that time the Lord had truly “given up the ghost” and fulfilled his assignment to bring about the atonement and the resurrection.
    In addition, these mountains would not just be something seen by those in the city of Zarahemla, for Samuel, when he fled from the Nephites “as they went forth to lay their hands on him, behold, he did cast himself down from the wall, and did flee out of their lands, yea, even unto his own country, and began to preach and to prophesy among his own people. And behold, he was never heard of more among the Nephites” (Helaman 16:7-8, emphasis mine).
    In fact, we understand that this destruction and these “signs” occurred not only in the Land Southward (in the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Nephi), but also occurred in the Land of Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:1), as well as in the entire Land Northward (3 Nephi 8:12), where even greater events occurred. These events were so significant, and widely understood that after their occurrence, “there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place” (3 Nephi 11:1, emphasis mine).
    One can only wonder at the numerous changes that took place in the Land of Promise. Nephi tells us “And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed” (3 Nephi 8:17). Whatever the topography of the area today of where the Nephites settled, would undoubtedly be significantly different than prior to the cataclysmic changes that the destruction in 3 Nephi brought about. It is unlikely that where rivers, lakes, and valleys existed prior to the crucifixion, that they would be in the same location and along the same courses as before.
    As an example, the mighty Mississippi River, over geologic time, has experienced numerous large and small changes to its main course, as well as additions, deletions, and other changes among its numerous tributaries. The lower Mississippi River has used different pathways as its main channel to the Gulf of Mexico across the delta region through a natural process known as avulsion or delta switching, which is the process in sedimentary geology and fluvial geomorphology of rapid abandonment of a river channel and the formation of a new river channel. And this under normal circumstances. One can only wonder at what drastic changes rivers might have taken when mountains “tumbled into pieces” and valleys became mountains “whose height is great.”
Consider this mountain tumbling into pieces and filling up the canyon or valley below. Whatever might have existed in that valley would obviously be changed considerably after such an event
What would happen to this river if these mountains tumbled into pieces and fell into the canyon? Likely, other openings through these mountains would occur and the river would change course into these new openings, seeking a new path of least resistance
What if these mountains tumbled into pieces up around the headwaters of this river? Might not the river seek another route to the sea, perhaps in a completely different direction? Could even be down the opposite side of the headwaters
    The point is, claiming specific locations on a current map as the river Sidon, or the Waters of Mormon, or the hill Manti or Amnihu is likely going to be in error. There is simply no way to make such a claim not knowing what changes in the topography the events described in 3 Nephi had to the overall Land of Promise. That these changes were extensive is well recorded, that they covered the entire land is also well recorded.
(See the next post, “Changing Land of Promise—The Effect of Rising Mountains - Part III,” for more information on the changes wrought by the events described in 3 Nephi, and their effect on the Land of Promise before and after 34 A.D.)

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