Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nibley: Another Look at His Jaredite Route

Continuing with the two routes to be considered for the Jaredites from the last post. The first—the route through Arabia to the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean beyond, was covered in the last post. Here we look at the second route, this one first submitted by Hugh Nibley—a route east across Asia. 
    As previously stated, it covers four distinct areas of march—1) from Mesopotamia northward through almost impassable mountains, 2) across the utterly flat, sea-level Steppes eastward, 3) up over the eastern nearly impassable mountains, and 4) across the Gobi desert, and down to the coast of China.
    Nibley’s route is the most popular belief among Book of Mormon scholars, and currently found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, stating Nibley’s belief that the Jaredites were “from the warring steppes of Asia issuing forth from the well-known dispersion center of the great migrations in western Asia and moved across the central plains, crossing the shallow seas (left over from the last ice age) in barges and… reaching the great sea.”
Nibley’s route covers crossing either the Caucasus or Zagros Mountains from the Babylon area in Mesopotamia to start out, then finishing crossing the Atlai Mountains in Mongolia/China on the way to the Pacific Ocean
    First of all, it should be kept in mind that the Jaredites were not from the Steppes where Nibley places them—the closest part of the steppes for an eastward journey to Mesopotamia is across the entire country of Iran about eleven hundred miles (about 1600 miles to the center of the steppe region). This means that Hugh Nibley in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism places the Jaredites over a thousand miles to the northeast from the region of the Tower of Babel where the Book of Ether places them (Ether 1:33).
    Nor do we see any indication from the scriptural record that they were of the “warring tribes of that area.” In fact, at the time of the Jaredites, we are told in Moses writing that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1), and as they journeyed from the east, "they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there” (Genesis 11:2). Moses goes on to write that “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).
    Moses goes on to say that the Lord saw what they were doing and claimed that in their working together as one people, that “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do,” and decided to confound their language, and “scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth”  (Genesis 11:6-8). We need to keep in mind that the Jaredites, at this time, were 24 different families, evidently surrounding the spiritual leadership of the Brother of Jared and the charismatic leadership of Jared, which came “with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people” (Ether 1:33).
With the Jaredites in the area of Babylon, or leaving the Valley of Nimrod (Tharthar), any movement to the Steppes area would require a considerable distance through and over a series of mountains that have restricted traffic/migration for millennia. Note the solid mass of mountains to the northwest, north, and northeast of Mesopotamia and the home of the Jaredites
    Nibley claims they crossed the Caspian Sea by boat, which means to get to the south or west of the Caspian they would have had to cross the Alborz and Caucasus Mountains. To better understand this idea, the Alborz Mountains run along the western and entire southern coast of the Caspian Sea and merges into the Aladagh Mountains to the north. To get to the west coast of the Caspian, the Jaredites would have had to cross the Taylish Mountains, which extend along the coast from the Alborz. To get to the south coast of the Caspian, the Jaredites would have had to cross the Alborz Mountains, which includes Mount Damavand, the highest mountain in Iran and the entire Middle East.
Top: The Alborz Mountain range as seen from Tehran, both to the south of the Caspian, and along the path the Jaredites would have had to travel to get to the Caspian Sea as Nibley claims; Bottom: Beyond the first range is a series of additional ranges to cross. Note the valleys run cross-wise of the line of travel, meaning the Jaredites had to climb up and down several ranges to get beyond the mountains
    These Alborz Mountains form a barrier between the south Caspian and the Iranian plateau, and the Jaredies would have had to cross snow-capped mountains ranging from 8,200 to 11,500 feet in height, with peaks reaching over 18,000 feet, across a depth of as much as 80 miles. These mountains anciently had Hyrcanian tigers, leopards and lynx along with wild boar, deer, sheep, and ibex.
    When discussing crossing such mountains, it is not that it cannot be done, many experienced mountain climbers have crossed these mountains in the past; however, when discussing the Jaredites, we need to keep in mind they were traveling with men, women, children, babies, flocks of animals, swarms of bees, and barrels of fish. In addition, though climbers have achieve this route, population movement through these mountains was restricted for millennia.
    Once reaching the Steppes, about a 600 mile journey to the west of the Caspian and about 1000 miles to the east of the Caspian, the Jaredites would have broken out onto the utterly flat Asian Steppes crossing what is today the sub-tropical desert of Turkmenistan, originally Turkmenia, (“stan,” an ancient Persian suffix meaning “place of,” “homeland,” or “country”—thus, Turkmanistan means “homeland of the Turkmen or Turkmania,” one of the Turkic states, with “Turkic” dating back to Turcae/Tyrcae people around the Sea of Azov--northeast of the Black Sea--to the Atlai Mountains).
    Turkmenistan is an area of flat-to-rolling sandy desert with dunes rising to mountains in the south, and low mountains beyond along the border with Iran. Their path would have been through the low-lying desolate, great Garagum or Karakum (Black Sand) desert, which occupies over 80% of the country, and then onto the eastern plateau before reaching present day Uzbekistan.
The Karakum Desert along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea extends into and covers most of Turkmenistan, is both a landscape of salt flats and sand dunes as well as a vertical wall of sand where the ancient sea once flowed far to the east, no doubt cut during the Flood
    In the mid-fifteenth century, the Silk Road caravan route crossed through this area. It might be interesting to know, that when the Silk Road reached the Black Sea, though a southern route into Mesopotamia and Turkey would have been desirable, it took a much further route north around the Black Sea rather than try to penetrate these mountains Hugh Nibley would have the Jaredites cross. In fact, even with modern technology, an extremely circuitous route was found to be more profitable even today that such a route through the mountains was so difficult, saving some 229 million Euros for various difficulties in road transportation rather than try to build the road through these mountains.
    It is, after all, one thing to look at a map and trace a line where you want to go, but something else entirely when confronted with the actual topography and terrain that exists in those areas.
    Naturally, across the Steppes would have been the easier part of this journey, though as one two-man team recently said about barely surviving after crossing these Steppes by horseback in 2013, “It was an incredibly hard two months for us, especially towards the end of the journey when we were walking up to 20 miles a day in the searing heat. We couldn’t carry that much food with us, so as a result we didn’t eat very much--at points we must have been surviving on less than 800 calories a day. Without a doubt, walking in the heat was the hardest part of the expedition. At its peak it was around 45°C [113º F] and trying to do anything in those temperatures was energy sapping in the extreme.”
    These treeless Steppes cover an area stretching from the western borders of Hungary to the eastern borders of Mongolia, including the area of western Russia and the Ukraine. This huge area runs east and west between the Siberian Plain on the north and the Turanian Plain on the south, from the Black Sea on the west, north above the Caspian and Aral seas to the mountains and plateau of Mongolia in the east.
Top: Takir (Takyr), in the Karakim Desert, a type of relief found along the deserts that stretch eastward from the Caspian Sea; Bottom: the Takir in the desert of Uzbekistan; both of these areas are along the route Nibley projects for the Jaredites to have traveled
    This route croses these deserts, which are dry in the extreme, as well as south of the Aral Sea through Turan and east across the southern Uzbekistan toward Aydara Lake and on into the highly mountainous terrain of Kyrgyzstan following the Silk Road through the Tien Shan Mountains and through a series of valleys and basins and walnut forests, with many tall peaks, glaciers and high-altitude lakes.
    No more difficult route could be imagined today, let along in 2100 B.C. with women, children, babies, animals of every kind, swarms of bees and barrels of fish. About one hundred and fifty people in all making this trip anciently through land later camel caravans of hardy men struggled for months.
(See the next post, “Nibley: Another Look at His Jaredite Route, Part II,” for the continuation of Nibley’s eatward journey claim for the Jaredite trek to the great sea)

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