Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Search of the Sidon River – Part VI

There are few geographic locations in the Land of Promise mentioned as often as the Sidon River, and few that elicit such controversial opinions. However, perhaps the most ridiculous claim by a Theorist is that of Phyllis Carol Olive who writes about the River Sidon in her Welcome to Book of Mormon Lands of Western New York, “The Near Cumorah Setting,” and claims that the Buffalo Creek is the river Sidon.
The shallow Buffalo Creek where it runs northward for 16 miles between its headwaters and Elma, New York. Note its size and shallow depth of just two feet. Would it have been possible to dump thousands of bodies into this river and have them float down to the sea? 
    Just to set the record straight in the very beginning, Buffalo Creek begins at 42º35’38” N, 78º28’15”W in Wales and Java hills, a remote area of western New York referred to as Java Center, not far from the conjunction of Curiers-Sardinia (1/2 mile northeast off Olean Rd [Hwy 16]) and Miller Ave (405), at an elevation of 1450 feet, about 20 miles east of its mouth at Buffalo, New York, in Lake Erie, at an elevation of 570 feet.
    Now here is the important part, it runs only 16 ½ miles northward from this source, until it reaches Elma, New York, then runs due west for about 20 miles. In other words, Buffalo creek runs 16 ½ miles north, and 20 miles west. This means Olive’s river Sidon drops only 880 feet in its entire length of only about 37 miles as the crow flies, or 43 miles in length with its winding.
    That means, in the scriptural record, the “head” of the river Sidon can only be 16 miles to the south of the city of Zarahemla. Sixteen miles is hardly a secure distance for Zarahemla to feel safe from Lamanite attack as Moroni stated in his angry letter to Pahoran, the Chief Judge, leading him to write: “Or is it that ye have neglected us because ye are in the heart of our country and ye are surrounded by security, that ye do not cause food to be sent unto us, and also men to strengthen our armies?” (Alma 60:19), or later, Moroni’s son, Moronihah, “had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the center of the land, but that they would attack the cities round about in the borders as they had hitherto done; therefore Moronihah had caused that their strong armies should maintain those parts round about by the borders” (Helaman 1:26).
    However, that is not the full picture. Buffalo Creek actually runs north for less than four miles, to where it parallels Highway 78 as it bends westward, running northwest for the next six miles, before winding due west about a mile east of Elma, New York, which is about 12 miles east of Lake Erie, where the river then winds northwest along the lake for about two miles before emptying into Erie.
Red Line: Buffalo Creek; Dark Blue Line: Cayuga Creek; Light Blue Line: Caszenovia Creek—from this confluence, the Buffalo Creek becomes (yellow line) the Buffalo River, a three mile long river to Buffalo and Lake Erie, running west and northwest. Buffalo Creek, runs north and northwest for 16 miles, then due west for 12 miles 
    Buffalo Creek becomes Buffalo River where the three tributaries, Cayuga Creek, Buffalo Creek and Cazenovia Creek merge, approximately eight miles from Lake Erie. Today, the river is maintained by the U.S. Corps of Engineers who dredges it to a depth of 22 feet; however, the actual river, with its very low hydraulic gradient, causes an estuarine-like character and is only three feet deep where it enters the town of Elma. That is, the normal shallowness of the river, and earlier tributary creeks, created a hydraulic shallow and near-level gradient flow uncharacteristic of the river Sidon. Even today, the Buffalo River has a NCDENR Class C designation (secondary recreation—wading and boating—fishing, etc.), but is not large or deep enough to be used for commercial, shipping, or other such activity.
    Olive tries to make her Buffalo Creek appear as a river when she states: “In fact, in the Bible Encyclopedia we learn that many of the streams in Palestine commonly referred to as rivers would be called brooks in other countries.” While that may be true, we have a specific set of words in English (Joseph Smith’s translation did not involve Hebrew, but Reformed Egyptian to English) that set standards for “brook” and “river” etc.
    Olive goes on: “It maintains that “the commonest Hebrew word for brook is Nachal, which is also used for river and for valley.” Thus, it is no surprise to learn that the Hebrews who first colonized Zarahemla named their chief waterway a river, especially since it ultimately swells into a full blown river just before it empties into Lake Erie.
An interesting part of Hebrew, for those who want to try and define words, the Hebrew Lexicon defines nachal (pronounced naww-hall) as “to acquire, to get as a possession, inherit possess, to divide the land for a possession,” and has nothing to do with a waterway, whether “brook” or “river.” It is used 57 times in this manner in the Old Testament in 16 different books, from Exodus to Zehcariah; however, in Strong’s Concordance, nachal (pronounced hakh’al) means a torrent, wady, stream (rare), or brook. But not a river. In Judges it is used as “a torrent of rushing water in a narrow channel,” in Deuteronomy “mountain torrent,” in Micah “torrents of oil (like honey and curd in Job), in Samuel “torrents of worthlessness,”in Psalm “water bursting from rock,” in Genesis “needing water,” in Job “wild, remote ravine.” There seems to be a preponderance of meaning toward “wadi,” like a dry stream bed, and also for “valley;” while in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, it means “brook,” flood,” “river,” “stream,” and “valley.”
    In Easton’s Bible Dictionary, the word brook also means torrent: 1) Applied to small streams, as the Arnon, Jabbok, etc. Isaiah 15:7 speaks of the "brook of the willows," probably the Wadi-el-Asha; 2) It is also applied to winter torrents (Job 6:15; Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:4, 47), and to the torrent-bed or wady as well as to the torrent itself (Numbers 13:23; 1 Kings 17:3); 3) In Isaiah 19:7 the river Nile is meant, as rendered in the Revised Version.
    A Wadi is a dry river valley, stream bed that is dry most of the year (except in the event of heavy rains). It is the Arabic term (wad) traditionally referring to a valley. In some cases, it may refer to an ephemeral (temporary) riverbed that contains water only during times of heavy rain, or simply an intermittent stream. The word is often translated as Oued, which is applied to all rivers, including regular ones. In English, wadi would be arroyo (creek), wash, canyon, coulee, gulch, gully, and even alluvial desert. Basically, it means a valley or drainage zone.
Top: Wadi Paran in the Negev; Center: Oued Tissint; Bottom: Oued Bousselam 
    In modern Hebrew, the word for “river” is na-har (pronounced “nah-hahr”). Peleg, from the verbal root palag, means “to split,” as in a tributary stream that is “split” off from the main river. There are other examples, but the point is, deciding that a Hebrew word has a singular meaning is generally in error. Unlike English, Hebrew words have numerous meanings and can be used in many different ways.
    But the issue here is not whether the scriptural record is based upon Hebrew, but that it is based on Reformed Egyptian (1 Nephi 1:2; Mormon 9:32), and Joseph Smith’s translation of that into English. It should also be kept in mind, that while the Nephites spoke Hebrew, the record was not in Hebrew, and that their Hebrew had changed over the centuries of its use (Mormon 9:33), and that only Nephi as a writer of the sacred record, spoke the original Hebrew from Jerusalem, and perhaps Jacob, who grew up in the presence of Lehi and his brothers (but not in Jerusalem), who all spoke Hebrew originally. However, as Nephi said, he did not teach the Nephites “many things concerning the manner of the Jews; for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations (2 Nephi 25:2).

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