Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Jaredite Direction of Travel – Part I – The Unlikely and Impassable Routes

When the Brother of Jared approached the Lord in mighty prayer asking for their language not to be confounded (Ether 1:37), then again asking where they should go (Ether 1:41), the Lord said to him: 
    “Go to and gather together thy flocks, both male and female, of every kind; and also of the seed of the earth of every kind; and thy families; and also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families. And when thou hast done this thou shalt go at the head of them down into the valley which is northward. And there will I meet thee, and I will go before thee into a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth” (Ether 1:41-42).
    Somewhere around the Euphrates or Tigris Rivers close enough to Babylon to know what was going on there but not close enough to be forced to take part in the Tower’s construction, would have been the Jaredite homeland. When the Lord commanded the Brother of Jared to gather flocks and meet him “down in the valley which is northward,” he, Jared, and their twenty-two friends (Ether 6:16) traveled northward from their homeland. This area of Mesopotamia is extremely flat, and today there are no valleys to be seen, nor is there any lower elevations that would be down—in fact, moving up the area of the two rivers the land moves upward.
The flat region between the rivers northward of Babylon
    Since this area of Mesopotamia is basically flat to the north of Babylon and northward of the area of the Jaredite homeland (which is today referred to as Lower Mesopotamia), finding a valley in which the Lord appeared to the Jaredites, which would be at a lower elevation is a rather simple fete since only one place qualifies for these three critera: 1) northward, 2) valley, and 3) lower elevation.
    Just such an area existed anciently. Situated 75 miles north of Baghdad and lying between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, it was located at the northern end of the Tharthar Valley, in what was anciently referred to as the Wadi Tharthar.
The Garaa Depression in Iraq, much like the Tharthar Depression looked like anciently in the Valley of Tharthar; Top: Note the slope downward from the level plain to the top right; Bottom: A dam that is being constructed in the Garaa Depression so it can eventually be filled with water
    Anciently, this area was a large 1050-square-mile depression, between 130 and 262 feet deep. Geologically, it is referred to as the Tharthar Depression and one of the largest closed depressions in Iraq.
    According to Varoujan K. Sissakian of Iraq Geology and Mining, this depression lies in the Mesopotamia Foredeep, between two flat plains (Al-Jazira and Mesopotamia), which is believed to have been formed mainly by karstification due to dissolving of gypsum rocks of the Fatha Formation, and probably from collapse or solution doline, of multi origin, very likely during or after the Flood. Its age is placed at the beginning period of man and obviously was existent in the time of the Jaredites.
    Several small streams flowed into this valley anciently, which is deeper at the eastern end where wetlands once existed, home to numerous animals, birds and fish.
    This depression was changed into an artificial reservoir in 1956 to collect the over flooded water of the Tigris River during flood seasons, especially to protect Baghdad, and became known as Lake Tharthar (Buhayrat ath-Therthar), and though a reservoir, is considered to be the largest lake in Iraq. Today, the Tigris and Euphratres Rivers link the reservoir by means of artificial canals with the inlet canal (Tharthar Canal) from the Tigris River regulated by Samarra Dam.
Top: The man-made Lake Thartar; Bottom: The man-made feeder channels that lead from the Tigris River into Lake Thartar. Note the extremely flat land around this entire area
    At the time the Jaredites visited it, there would have been a water or wetlands to the north of the valley, which now would be the northern end of the lake, which area, according to Abu Al-Fida’a, filled from the Khabour River near the present location of Zakho in northwest Iraq. In fact, the Tharthar Valley had several streams and rivers that ran through it anciently. Numerous animals, birds and fish would have been available to them in this depression.
On a modern map, it looks like a hop, skip and a jump to travel from (light yellow area) Mesopotamia to (red arrow) the Caspian Sea (blue area upper right) as Hugh Nibley and others have suggested
    There has been much speculation written about the route the Jaredites took from the Valley of Nimrod, north of their homeland, to the land of promise the Lord had prepared for them (Ether 2:7).
    Hugh Nibley was the first to suggest the jaredites traveled northward from the Valley of Nimrod to the Caspian Sea, a distance of abut 400 miles, and then from there he claimed they crossed the Steppes eastward toward China and eventually to the Pacific Ocean. However, such a trek from Mesopotamia to the Caspian, while looking easily accomplished on a modern map, would have been near impossible because of the mountain ranges between these two points. In fact, once understanding the topography of the location of the Valley of Nimrod, there is only one practical direction the men, women, children and animals of the Jaredite party could have gone.
Green cross: the area of the Valley of Nimrod, which was north of Babylon and the Jaredite homeland, where the Lord met the Jaredites; To the west (yellow arrow) was the Syrian Desert, a vast, waterless wasteland; to the East (white arrow) were the impassable Zagros Mountains, and to the north were the 15,000 square miles of Bakhtiari Mountains
    To the West is the Syrian Desert (Badiyat Ash-sham), an arid wasteland that extends over much of northern Saudi Arabia, eastern Jordan, southern Syria, and western Iraq. Largely covered by lava flows, it formed a nearly impenetrable barrier between the Levant and Mesopotamia at the time of the Jaredites.
The 200,000 square-mile Syrian desert (Bādiyat Ash-shām), part of the Al-Hamad, it is a combination of steppe and true desert that is very rocky and flat, running between the Orontes River in the west and the Euphrates River in the east
    This desert runs along a flat plateau and receives less than five inches of rain per year, with inselbergs—an isolated hill or mountain that rises abruptly—towering more than 3000 feet in height. It is filled with enclosed depressions, sometimes of karstic origin, with the only vegetation widely-spaced, and very few wells. Today it has several major motor routes and oil pipelines, but in the time of the Jaredites, it was considered inhospitable and impassable.
The An Nafud Desert running to the west of Mesopotamia and south of the Syrian Desert, basically form one continuous desert from almost the Mediterranean to the Rub’ al Khali along the northern border of Oman in the far south
    To the south, and west of the Gulf is the 25,000-square-mile An Nafud Desert, occupying a great oval depression, running 180 miles long and 140 miles wide. The Nefud is an erg, or sand sea, covered with wind-swept sand and little or no vegetative cover. This area is downwind of the Arabian desert and is also inhospitable, known for its gigantic sand dunes, some reaching over one hundred feet high. During the time of the Jaredites, and for millennia afterward, this desert was considered a barrier to travel and quite impassable.
When Hugh Nibley said the Jaredites went north to the Caspian Sea (white and yellow arrows), he might not have realized that to do this, a passage through the Zagros Mountains and then the Elburz Mountains would have been required. For men, women, children and animals of every kind, this would have been an impossible route. Before the advent of modern transportation with roads and railroads, passing through these mountains would have proven disastrous, yet Nibley chose it and untold Theorists have used his route for the Jaredites ever since--a route not even local tribesmen travel
    Mountain ranges dominating the western Iranian area (Persia), running from the Straits of Hormuz to Iraq, include the Zargos Mountains, which stretch south and west from the borders of Turkey and Russia to the Persian Gulf, and are Iran’s largest mountain range. The mountains consist of numerous folded, parallel ranges and create an imposing natural barrier between Mesopotamia and the Caspian Sea. Some of the additional ranges are the Bakhtiari (Bakhtiyari) Mountains, a continuation of the Zagros, which run to the southwest along eastern Mesopotamia.
The Zagros Mountains, 932-miles long, 150-miles wide vertical rises and tall peaks reaching 12,000 to 14,921-feet, with permanent snow cover form a natural barrier running northwest and southeast between Mesopotamia and the Caspian Sea. Completely enclosed rivers flowing through the range’s western face are strong and perennial creating a near impassable barrier to north south movement
    Beyond the Zargos, to the northeast are the Elburz (Alborz) Mountains, which extend for almost 620 miles along Iran's northern border between the Zargos and the Caspian Sea. The Central Elburz is 250 miles long and reaches a width of 75 miles. These jagged mountains average over 9,000 feet, with the highest point being Mt. Damavand, a dormant volcano, at 18,602 feet. Only two passes provide north-south movement, at about 15,00 feet, though through different ridges, lower passes exist for shorter distances. Hyrcanian tigers, leopards, wolves and lynx were numerous, as were bears, wild boars, Ibex (wild goats), and mouflon (wild sheep). Much of the Elburz is uninhabited, even today, and the movement of goods is accomplished only by pack animals.
    Far to the northwest are the Taurus Mountains, a rugged chain extending across southern Turkey to its borders with Iraq and Iran. The highest point (Mt. Ararat) is located in the Eastern Taurus range. This extinct volcano is 16,583 feet high, with the Koroglu and Ponic ranges stretching along the Black Sea coast of northern Turkey.
    As mentioned earlier, all of the routes out of the area of the Valley of Nimrod except one would have been highly unlikely for nearly anyone, but for the Jaredite men, women, children and animals, nigh impossible.
(See the next post, “Jaredite Direction of Travel – Part II,” for the only possible route away from the Valley of Nimrod and where the Jaredites could have gone)

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