Monday, September 8, 2014

In Search of the Sidon River – Part V

There are few geographic locations in the Land of Promise mentioned as often as the Sidon River, and few that elicit such controversial opinions. Another writer who misquotes or reads into the scriptures more than what is there regarding this, and makes errors based on a pre-conceived Mesoamerican model, is Joe V. Anderson (left), in his BMAF review of Wayne N. May’s “This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation” on the River Sidon. His comments:
    1. That the river Sidon had its headwaters high up in the mountains of the narrow strip of mountainous wilderness (Alma 2:27; 56:25; 3Nephi 4:1)…
    First, the scriptures cited do not say “high up.” The Sidon was at a higher elevation than the land of Zarahemla since it flowed or ran by the land (Alma 2:15) to the north away from its head in the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:27), but we do not know how high up that might have been, or even if it was as high in elevation as the city of Nephi. Second, in the Alma 2:27 citing, the Nephites were not in the mountains at this time, they were in the Valley of Gideon (Alma 2:26), east of Zarahemla (Alma 6:7), and since the Amlicites and Lamanites had crossed the river Sidon and fell upon the Nephites, all three groups were not in the hills or mountains. Third, there is no reference in 3 Nephi of the river Sidon. This river is mentioned 22 times in the scriptural record, but only in Alma.
    2. That the city of Zarahemla was north of, and “by” (meaning near) the narrow strip of mountainous wilderness, (Alma 22:27).
Response: Again, the scriptural record does not say that. In locating the Land of Zarahemla, not the city, the scriptural record states: “which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla” (Alma 22:27, emphasis mine). That is, the land of Zarahemla ran from the sea east to the sea west as did this narrow strip of wilderness, which was on the north (of the Land of Nephi) by the land of Zarahemla. Thus, the entire length of the land of Zarahemla was near to the wilderness strip. Where the city was located is not stated, and cannot be determined from this cited reference.
    3. That the city of Nephi was south of, and within eyesight of, that wilderness. Omni 1:13: “…and they departed out of the land [of Nephi] into the wilderness…”
    Response: Omni 1:13 does not suggest anything was within “eyesite.” The term “into the wilderness” is a Hebrew idiom used to describe any travel. According to the Shalom Center (the Spiritual roots and prophetic voice in Jewish life), the Hebrew word for wilderness is “Midbar,” which means “the place without speech,” that is it is place of silence from which all speech all meaning is born. According to the Ancient Hebrew Research Center, the root word of Midbar or Midvar is davar, meaning “a place of perfectly ordered arrangement,” where nature is in harmony and balance. Thus, in the silence of the wilderness, the skills of deep listening are refined and one listens to God’s voice as it speaks directly through the miracles of Nature. And we cultivate enough spaciousness and silence so that the “still small voice” within can be discerned and followed. It is a place of solitude and refinement, or learning and development. Before Lehi and his family reached Bountiful and sailed to the Land of Promise, they were tried and strengthened in the wilderness.
Top: The area outside Jerusalem in the time of Solomon, about 200 years before Lehi left. Note the extensive farms and farmland of the adjacent area; Bottom: The Rub’ al Khali desert, (the Empty Quarter) through which the Lehi family passed and of which Nephi wrote: “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:1)
    Nephi uses “wilderness” in 1 Nephi 2:2, to describe his family’s journey, but there is no reason to believe their home was on the edge of the wilderness, but that “the wilderness” was their path to a final destination.
    The same is said of the City of Ephraim, which is located near the wilderness, 14 miles northeast of Jerusalem  (Jesus and his disciples retreated there when threatened by the chief priests and Pharisees [John 11:54]).
However, as an “idiom” it has a more general meaning in Hebrew and to the Jew—whenever someone is taking a trip (in Nephite times that would be by foot), it was a process. “Into the wilderness” meant they were “going on a trip” so to speak, and it might be some distance to get actually into “the wilderness” as meant by midbar. By way of example, the distance from Jerusalem to the wadi Aqabah, then to the area of Ezion-Geber situated on the northern shore of the Gulf of Aqaba, the eastern arm of the Red Sea, and then to the area where they camped in the “Valley of Lemuel” near the “River of Laban.” Where was the actual “wilderness”? When I leave my home to travel to Salt Lake City, I drive on several streets to reach the 15 Freeway, which is my “path” to my destination. The Freeway is not within eyesight of my home, or even close. We need to be careful how we read a scripture and not attach meaning to it that does not exist and may not have been intended.
    3 cont: “…and Mosiah 11:13 state: [up] to the hill north of Shilom [their place or resort]…through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla”…
    Response: The Land of Shilom was adjacent to the city (and land) of Nephi, with the Land of Shemlon beyond that. There is no mention of wilderness, only that at one time when the Nephites occupied the city of Nephi, they had built a resort (fort) up on the hill overlooking the land of Shilom (see Alma 48:8 for resort meaning fort). Consequently, there is no suggestion of the narrow strip of wilderness being within eyesight of the city of Nephi or the city of Shilom. After all, king Noah built a “very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom” (Mosiah 11:12).
    3 cont: “…About 80 years later Ammon and 15 rescuers could see the cities of Shilom and Nephi from the hill north of Shilom (Mosiah 7:6-7, and 21).”
    Response: There is no suggestion that Ammon could see the city of Nephi from the hilltop overlooking the land of Shilom. When he and two of his brethren went down into the land of Shilom (within the greater Land of Nephi), there is no mention of the city of Nephi (Mosiah 7:5-7).
    4. Can you imagine Alma and his 30,000+ soldiers crossing the Mississippi River on foot in the middle of the winter [This event occurred during the last quarter of the Nephite year (Alma 3:20-26)], at or near Saint Louis and that first day fighting [or] the Nephites traveling and fighting approximately 15 miles from the crossing of the river Sidon to Gideon where they stayed the night. Then picture them rushing back the next morning to the Mississippi and crossing it only to be trapped in the water on the west side of the Mississippi by innumerable Amlicite and almost naked Lamanite warriors who had marched northerly from Minon down to the crossing of the Mississippi (Sidon)? Impossible!"
    Response: In reading a little earlier than this citing, when the fighting was over, the Nephites returned to their homes, and “so many of their fields of grain were destroyed, for they were trodden down by the hosts of men” (Alma 3:2). This suggests this war was in the planting crop-growing season prior to harvest. If we use the Biblical Hebrew calendar, the last quarter would be between mid-December and mid-March, which would allow for winter wheat crop, which is planted in mid-August through October – so grain would have been in the ground by December to March (harvest is April through May). However, not for corn which appears to be the main Nephite crop (April through November), or for barley (grown only in Kansas and Nebraska in the mid-west), and over by end of July.
    As for Mesoamerica, Anderson’s Land of Promise model of choice, barley and wheat do not grow in tropical climates anyway, so that is a mute question. As for corn, it is planted in the months of February and March, just before the rainy season and harvested around October and November—making this incompatible with the scriptural record.
However, there is another issue here, and that is wars in antiquity were not fought in the winter. Rains, mud, etc., made for great difficulties in moving thousands of men into fighting positions and strategies. Napoleon learned this in his winter Russian campaign in more modern times, as did Hitler in his winter attack on the Soviet Union in the middle of the last century. In fact, in the scriptural record, there is ample suggestion that the Lamanites came down to fight in the spring or early summer and retreated back to their lands in the fall or before winter, for they are noted as always returning to their own lands after battles.
    This leaves one place where both fighting in the last quarter of the year and where planting and harvesting dates are compatible with the scriptural record, and that is in Andean Peru, where their summer is the opposite of ours in the north and the planting season is Spring (September, October and November) through Fall (April to June).
    Thus, it is easy to see, that when a Mesoamericanist evaluates a Heartland model of the Land of Promise, his pre-determined attitudes get in the way of an accurate evaluation based upon the scriptural record. And totally ignores how the record verifies the Andean Peru location for the Nephite lands.

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