Saturday, September 6, 2014

In Search of the Sidon River – Part III

There are few geographic locations in the Land of Promise mentioned as often as the Sidon River, and few that elicit such controversial opinions. Take Rod L. Meldrum’s attempt to make the north-flowing river Sidon the south-flowing Mississippi River in his Heartland model. In the previous two posts, we listed and responded to several of his comments as he tried to make his case.  Following are more of his comments with our responses: 
    Meldrum: There are several indicators of the size of the River Sidon of the Book of Mormon. First it is the only river named in the Book of Mormon and it is mentioned in 28 verses.  It was the primary river (system) within their lands.  It was large enough to accommodate "shipping" (Hel. 3:10) and for its "head" to be something to worry about Alma 56:24-25).”
The Sidon River had its source or “head” in the high elevations of the narrow strip of wilderness between the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Nephi (Alma 22:27)
    Response: First, whether it was the only river mentioned because of its size, or because it was the only river in the Land Southward is unknown. One might think there would be additional waterways, such as streams or creeks, but nothing else is mentioned, especially another large river. Second, whether or not it was the primary river (system) within their lands is also unknown. Third, while the Nephites were involved in shipping as stated in Helaman 3:14, we do not know if any of that shipping took place on a river. In the reference cited (Helaman 3:10), that shipping was likely by sea, since there is no indication that the river Sidon flowed as far north as the Land Northward where the timber in the cited verse was bound (“timber was exceedingly scarce in the and northward”). Fourth, Alma 56:24-25 is not about the head of the river Sidon, but the fact that the Lamanites: “durst not pass by us with their whole army, neither durst they with a part, lest they should not be sufficiently strong and they should fall. Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah. And thus, with their forces, they were determined to maintain those cities which they had taken” (Alma 56A:24-26) and not venture out where the Nephite could entrap them.
    As is typically the case with Meldrum’s interpretation of the scriptural record, none of his examples are accurate and do not show, as he claims, the size of the river Sidon. The one thing we know is that it flowed to the sea, and the current was strong enough and the depth deep enough for thousands of dead bodies to be carried along the river to the sea (Alma 44:21-22).
    Meldrum: “Furthermore, it is interesting that both the Nephites and the Lamanites used as a military stratagem attempts to trap each other's armies in the river crossing (Alma 2:26-27, 2:34-35, 16:6, 43:30-41).”
    Response: One of the troubles in such thinking is having a type of river in mind. The term “crossing the river” could mean 1) by foot through the river; 2) by bridge over a deep river; or 3) by a rope bridge high in the air over a narrow river running through a canyon. We simply do not know in each case the topography and to determine more from such events is fruitless.
Top: A flat-banked fordable river; Center: Non-fordable river between cliffs; Bottom: Left: Rope bridge over small, narrow river; Right: Larger, sturdier rope and wood plank bridge over wide and deep river
    Meldrum: “This strongly suggests that the river must have been very large, with only a limited number of locations in which the river could be crossed. Had it been a small river, it could have been crossed anywhere along its path, yet the Nephites knew precisely where the Lamanites would be obliged to cross, and therefore made preparations to attack them as they attempted to cross the river. This indicates that the river was too large to cross except at certain points.”
    Response: Once again, a previous mind-set keeps an individual from seeing more than he understands, closes the mind to other ideas, and limits the Theorist from a wider range of options. As an example,
Left: A narrow 17-foot wide, 12-foot deep river is crossed by this 19-foot rope bridge made from vine and wood taken from the forest; Center: a 66-foot rope bridge crosses a 15-foot wide river below; Right: A 25-foot wood plank and rope bridge over an 11-foot river where it passes underneath
    The point is, there are other explanations for the scriptural text. We simply do not know anything about the river Sidon in its wandering through the Land of Zarahemla, and it could have been strictly in high country, canyon areas, or flat ground. Speculating on its size is useless, though Meldrum is trying hard to make it into the Mississippi River of his model.
    Meldrum: “All of these strongly indicate that the River Sidon of the Book of Mormon was a very large and powerful river system with only a limited number of crossings and which presented a formidable deterrent to travel.”
Limited crossings could be bridges, fords at shallow areas, or any number of geographical points. Top: A ford across the shallowest part of a large river was sometimes the only route to the other side. Bottom: However, fords were also found across small or narrow rivers
    Response: It is difficult to draw any conclusions from the scriptural record regarding the size of the river Sidon. Some creeks and streams are sufficient to need crossing points, yet strong enough to hinder crossing just anywhere.
Even small streams sometimes need areas where they can be forded and groups of people can cross
    Once again, we do not know that the river Sidon “was a very large and powerful river system with only a limited number of crossings and which presented a formidable deterrent to travel.” Meldrum is trying to describe the Mississippi in his Heartland Model, but there is not enough information in the scriptural record to even speculate on the issue. There are, as has been pointed out, other reasons for the scriptural references and Mormon’s descriptions.
    The clear point here is that the river Sidon flowed northward, down out of the higher elevation in the narrow strip of wilderness that separarted the Lamanite lands from the Nephite lands.
Map of the Land Southward in the area of the narrow strip of wilderness. Yellow area is the wilderness strip shown separating the land of Nephi (south) from the land of Zarahemla (north) as Mormon describes (Alma 22:27) and how it runs "round about" along both sea coasts
    A narrow neck of land separated or divided the Land of Nephi in the south from the land of Zarahemla in the north (Alma 22:27), and that strip of wilderness ran from the sea east to the sea west, and round about on both coasts a little ways northward, creating the east wilderness and the west wilderness. Within the wilderness in between, sometimes referred to as the south wilderness (Alma 16:6) as well as the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:27), was the “head” (headwaters or beginning) of the river Sidon. This river flowed northward, since it ran by the land of Zarahemla (Alma 2:15), which was to the north.
    It is interesting that Rod L. Meldrom (and Bruce Porter) in a new book Prophecies and Promises, the Book of Mormon and the United States of America, states on (p21), “Scriptural research must be done without trying to redefine the words and statements in the scriptures for the purpose of any personal agenda. The Standard Works are the standards of truth and, therefore supersede any and every personal or hypothetical interpretation,” yet so blatantly misuses scripture to make his point.
    Originally, to maintain his Mississippi River being the river Sidon, Meldrum interpreted the word “head” in the scriptural record as being “source,” now he has changed it to mean “confluence,” but in either case he is wrong. The word means “source or beginning,” even in the scriptural record. So, even after all the writing Meldrum does to convince everyone that the “head” of a river is not its source, we find Nephi claiming it is: “And as I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also, I beheld a river of water; and it ran along, and it was near the tree of which I was partaking the fruit. And I looked to behold from whence it came; and I saw the head thereof a little way off; and at the head thereof I beheld your mother Sariah, and Sam, and Nephi; and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go” (1 Nephi 8:13-14, emphasis mine).
(See the next post, “In Search of the Sidon River – Part IV,” for more of Meldrum’s fanciful explanations as he tries to change the flow of the river Sidon and make it the Mississippi River)

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