Saturday, September 19, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “A Narrow Neck of Land”?

Is the Narrow Neck a Mountain Pass? 
    In an article posted April 28, 2013 on “Mesoamerica’s Narrow Neck of Land,” regarding a comment and reference to James Warr’s so-called Nicaraguan Land of Promise, and following exchange on the subject between Warr and a reader, recently (May 2015) on this blog, and another more recent, with the following three comments were made, which we are posting below and in the following three posts, along with our responses:
1. “It surprises me that no one seems to understand that the narrow neck is not necessarily an isthmus but a mountain pass through the narrow wilderness (mountain range) that runs east and west separating the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla."
    Perhaps we should look at words a little different than we often do. Mesoamericanists, from the very beginning, were taken with the ruins found in Central America, namely, an area of Middle America referred to as Mesoamerica today, roughly from about Mexico City southward into Yucatan, Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras.
When Joseph Smith was given this two-volume book set in 1843, about two or three years after John L. Stephens (accompanied by artist Frederick Catherwood) made his two trips (1839 and 1841) through Central America, which yielded the first solid information on the culture of the Maya Indians, they were taken with the obvious connection between the recently published Book of Mormon (1830) containing the Nephi Nation and the Jaredite kingdom of the Western Hemisphere and these ruins. Latter-day Saint, from Joseph Smith downward, were taken with the obvious—the apparent evidence of these Book of Mormon cultures in the Western Hemisphere.
    Few looked beyond the obvious.
The first thing that struck the readers was the isthmus or narrowing of the land around Tehuantepec, making it a quick “match” in their minds. The fact that the land ran east and west and not north and south had little impact at first, nor did the fact that this narrowing of the land would not even have been noticeable to people in B.C. times without satellite or aerial photos—they were excited at the ruins and “obvious” connection. Mesoamerica had to be the Land of Promise! Hardly anyone has ever looked back from that point to check to see if there were other locations to compare Mesoamerica against (The ruins of Andean South America would not be "discovered" for many decades at that time, and few real geographical scholars of the area truly existed.
For the first time, Church members were exposed to the ruins of Central America and saw, first hand, actual drawings of an ancient civilization they considered “Nephite” in the Americasthe race was then on to find Lehi's landing spot, the city of Zarahemla, etc.
    Upon further investigation of Mormon’s geographical insertions into the record, and a more accurate understanding of the actual lay of the land in Mesoamerica, it eventually became obvious to many Latter-day saints that there were some obvious difficulties with this area as the Land of Promise described in the Book of Mormon. As a result, people like Hugh Nibley and John L. Sorenson, with the best of intentions of trying to prove the connection between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon, went out of their way to try and make that connection. However, their very best efforts did little but cloud the issue and in many cases, turn members off the geographical setting of the scriptural record and in all too many cases, give unnecessary fodder and ammunition to critics of the work.
    It is not just that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec does not fit the descriptions of the small or narrow neck of land, or the narrow pass or passage that runs through it, or the two seas on either side of it, the narrow neck of land was more important as a stop-gap, choke-point, or bottleneck as Mormon describes it.
There is no way an isthmus 144-miles across, with mountains, passes, swamp land, open fields, coastal lands, etc., could be considered a means of keeping an enemy from moving through it at one of several ingress points into the Land Northward. From a military view, it would be a nightmare to defend this area
    From his military view, Mormon makes sure we understand that the narrow neck of land was all that lay between the Lamanites or a defecting Nephite force and the control of the Land Northward, which as their history unfolded, was the last stand area for the entire Nephite Nation.
    Lose that narrow neck, which connected the Land Southward to the Land Northward (Alma 22:32)…
    Lose that narrow pass or passage that ran within that narrow neck, providing the only egress and ingress between these two lands (compare the narrow pass of Alma 50:34 and Alma 52:9 that led into the Land Northward and the narrow pass of Mormon 2:29 and Mormon 3:5 which led into the Land Southward)…
    Lose the only means of getting from the Land Southward to the Land Northward through this narrow pass or passage with Morianton’s, the king-men, and the Lamanite attempts to get to the Land Norhtward, and the Enemy would be on both the south and north of the Nephite Nation, creating a near impossible defensive position.
Captain Moroni’s run to block Morianton’s bid to reach the Land Northward through the narrow pass within the narrow neck of land would have proved fatal to the Nephites had the defector achieved his nefarious plan    
     Mormon saw the importance of this at an early stage, and said, “therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about. Now this was wisdom in the Nephites—as the Lamanites were an enemy to them, they would not suffer their afflictions on every hand, and also that they might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desire” (Alma 22:34), which is exactly what Mormon and the Nephite people were forced to do toward the end of the conflict in 350 A.D., when the treaty between them and the Lamanites was enacted (Mormon 2:28).
    It was, from the time of that treaty forward, only a matter of time until the Nephites were wiped out. What he understood early on and wrote about (Alma 22:34), was that the Nephites had been wise in their controlling the land north of the narrow strip of wilderness that separated the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla, and hemming the Lamanites in the south. From a military viewpoint, once that advantage was gone (when the Nephites were driven back into the Land Northward and the treaty was signed), there was no longer an advantage and, unless the Lord stepped in and provide some miracle for them, it would eventually spell their doom.
    Yet, no matter how much he cried for their repentance, Mormon was unable to increase their spirituality and reduce their evil nature, and eventually, their grace was gone both spirutally and temporally (Mormon 2:15) and the advantage fell to the Lamanites.
    It was all about that narrow neck of land and the narrow passage through it as you wrote. When theorists go around writing about this distance or that length, about a narrow neck here and a narrow passage there, they miss the entire point of the narrow neck of land and its key importance to the future safety and security to the Nephites as a nation.
    To Mormon, “in their wisdom” meaning two things: 1) The repentance of their sins and their constant improving spiritually, and
2) Their constant vigilance against an unrepentant enemy whose only delight seemed to go to war against the Nephites.
    If they lost that pass and neck of land, they would lose their advantage over the Lamanites. It was important—very important—that they understood that. Mormon even makes a comment about this (Alma 22:34).
In a similar concept during the Vietnam War between Lt. Colonel Harold “Hal” Moore of a U.S. combat cavalry (helicopter) regiment and the Vietnam Regular Army of Lt. Col. Nguyen Huu An, the latter commanding 4000 regular combat-ready troops compared to the tiny U.S. force that totaled only 395 men. In a desperate moment where the U.S. forces were in danger of being overrun and Moore killed or captured early in the battle at la Drang Valley—an area about the size of a football field—Moore’s top aid, Sergeant Major Basil Plumley, who had been with him in World War II and Korea, turns to Moore to encourage him to take better care of himself and says, “If you go down, we all go down.” Plumley knew and understood the importance of Moore’s military genius and command of men, and knew if the Colonel was killed they did not stand a chance against the overwhelming odds.
    The Prophet Mormon as a military commander all his life, well understood that if the Nephites lost the advantage of the narrow neck with its narrow passage between the two lands, they would go down before the Lamanites—as later events proved him correct.
    This narrow neck of land between the Land Southward and the Land Northward was a critical area, one that meant the future freedom or captivity (death) of the Nephites. When theorists write about it as though it held little importance, and merely needed to meet a few physical conditions that could be inserted where needed, it is clear they have no understanding of why Mormon wrote about the parts of the Land of Promise he did, why he described certain physical, geographical settings as he did, and why their location within the Land of Promise is both critically important and absolutely necessary to fit exactly as Mormon described them.
    Consequently, we find in other places additional information about this small or narrow neck, about the narrow pass or passage, and where they would have been in relationship to one another.


  1. Del,

    I'll reminded of this line from Groucho Marx:

    "...east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb..."

  2. There was only one Groucho Marx, a unique individual--unless you include Yogi Bera.