Saturday, November 21, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “The Line Which was Between the Land“?

Continuing with the meaning of words and statements as found in the scriptural record, and how simple statements are often overlooked for specific meaning and content that would enable the reader to better understand what the writer was conveying. As an example, let’s take a look at the above statement.  
In 17 A.D., Lachoneus (left), the Governor of the Nephite government, was faced with a choice of how to deal with the Gadianton Robbers who were threatening to attack the Nephites if Lachoneus did not surrender the government to Giddianhi, the leader of the Robbers.
    At the time, the Robbers were using the age-old justification that Nephi (Sam and the others) had stolen the birthright from Laman and Lemuel more than 590 years earlier, and wanted the Nephites to turn over the “right of government” to them and join them in their “secret works, and become their brethren” and be like the Robbers (3 Nephi 3:7).
     There were those among the Nephite leaders who were so angry they wanted to attack the Robbers in their mountain strongholds (3 Nephi 3:20); However, Lachoneus and his chief Captain, a righteous man named Gidgiddoni was well aware of the truth of the matter and not taken in by Giddianhi. They also well knew that the Lord had forbidden the Nephites from starting a war and withstood the pressure of many of the people. Instead “he sent a proclamation throughout all the land among all the Nephites to gather themselves to an area in the center of the land” (3 Nephi 3:23). He best understood how to deal with this ridiculous offer of the Robbers.
    Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place” (3 Nephi 3:13)
    It would be 346 years later that the Nephites would fall prey to such an aggressive nature and launch an attack against the Lamamnites in their wilderness strongholds (Mormon 3:14), a strategy that eventually spelled their doom and led to their complete annihilation.
    Like Mormon later, Lachoneus and Gidgiddoni knew that such a tactic would lead to the destruction of the Nephites and adopted an allternate plan—something Mormon was unable to do with the later, more evil Nephites whose “day of grace was passed with them” (Mormon 2:15)
    And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies” (3 Nephi 3:22).
    It is interesting in this next verse, two ideas are introduced here that seldom gain any coverage at all by theorists in their designs of the Land of Promise.
    “And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation” (3 Nephi 3:23, emphasis mine).
    Let’s look at these two important, but brief, statements:
Left: There was a (White Arrow) land (yellow circle) located between the Land of Bountiful and the Land of Zarahemla that is not named, but large enough to be singled out in more than one scriptural account; Right: Where the Nephites gathered “in the center of the land” to defend themselves against the Robbers
1. There was a separate land between the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Bountiful, a land not mentioned in Mormon’s earlier outline (Alma 22:28-29), and not given a name anywhere in the scriptural record.
    We see this land referenced again in Helaman 4:5. “And in the fifty and seventh year they did come down against the Nephites to battle, and they did commence the work of death; yea, insomuch that in the fifty and eighth year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful.”
    There is a land mentioned to the south of the Land of Bountiful, but we have no way of knowing if this is the same land or a separate land. This reference is found in Alma 27:22. “And it came to pass that the voice of the people came, saying: Behold, we will give up the land of Jershon, which is on the east by the sea, which joins the land Bountiful, which is on the south of the land Bountiful; and this land Jershon is the land which we will give unto our brethren for an inheritance.”
    Consequently, there is an unknown and unnamed land between Zarahemla and Bountiful. As Mormon writes: “And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation” (3 Nephi 3:23)
The line or border between the land Northward and the Land Southward, or the Land of Desolation and the Land of Bountiful. This line divided these two major divisions of the lands and may have been the passage mentioned by Mormon that ran through this narrow neck
2. And also, there was a distinct “line” between the Land of Bountiful and the Land Desolation.
    And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea” (Alma 22:32). That is, this line, or border, divided the land to the north (Desolation) from the land to the south (Bountiful).
    Noah Webster defines such a line as “an extension, limit; a border.” This is the same meaning Mormon uses with the term “line” in Alma 50:11,13, and also in Helaman 4:7. So Mormon was describing a northern limit to the Land Southward, a line between the land Southward and the Land Northward, a boundary line, separating these two lands, or their subsequent named lands, a line between the Land of Bountiful on the south and the Land of Desolation on the north.
    This border between these two lands, out of necessity of Mormon’s description, would have run from the east to the west, from the east sea to the west sea (Alma 50:34), running across the narrow neck for a distance that it would take a Nephite to journey in a day and a half, or a distance of about 25 to 30 miles.
    Like all boundary lines, this line separated not only the Land Southward from the Land Northward (or the Land of Bountiful and the Land of Desolation), but it also separated the Nephites and the Lamannites after the treaty (Mormon 2:28-29), in 350 A.D.
    It is always interesting that we find scholars writing about the scriptural record, designing maps, naming lands, etc., and in reality we do not know even if we have a knowledge of all the lands involved. And certainly, there is much disagreement over the words Mormon used. This line, or border, becomes very important when we start designing the narrow neck of land and claiming its shape, size, and purpose. At least from this, we can see that there was some type of specific “line” that separated these two lands—a separation that Mormon earlier describes as keeping the Land Southward from being completely surrounded by water (Alma 22:32).


  1. I've read that a "line" anciently was often a river, especially on a map--for obvious reasons. I appreciate the use of Noah Webster's original dictionary, but I don't think it's the only legitimate resource--nor necessarily always the best resource, especially when we keep in mind that much of the language of the BOM is early modern English (roughly King James era) which clearly predates 1828. So i think we have to be somewhat cautious when using that dictionary. It'a nor always the right tool for the job. The OED is another good resource.

  2. I disagree with you on this point. Daniel Webster states in his dictionary intro that he felt inspired to collect and publish this dictionary, which was at the same time as Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. Webster's stated purpose was to capture the language used in America--the New England States where he lived--which to him was representative of American usage of the English language at the time. In addition, whatever the language used in New England at the time was the same language that would have been known and used by the people living there--which includes the Smith family. As for the King James language, Joseph loved the sound of the bible language and used it in the overall sense of the scriptural record he translated, such as "thou," "thee," etc., found in that work--but the daily language used to describe and clarify was the language of his day (The Lord speaks to us in our own language), and in looking up the meaning of the words he used we can find what meaning he understood in his translation and said to the scribe. I find it remarkable that these two events of such unique magnitude took place at basically the same time--a translation of an ancient scriptural record and the creation of the first ever American usage of the English language in that translation. Before you come to a conclusion on this matter, I would suggest you read Webster's introductory information (it's lengthy) of how his dictionary came about and his religious feeling about his work and the words and examples he used for their explanation, which in large part, was based on the Bible.

  3. I base my opinion on the actual findings of the Critical Text Project of the Book of Mormon recently completed by Royal Skousen, not on Joseph's "love" of King James language.

    Scientifically speaking, much of the language in the BOM *formerly* attributed to Joseph's New England dialect is now known to actually be perfect early modern English from the 15th-18th century and was completely defunct and out of usage well before Joseph's time. These findings are some of the most startling and paradigm-altering to come from the critical text project. Some others include the evidence for strict control over the translation process--meaning that it now looks like Joseph's own ability and vocabulary had little--if any--impact over the translation process. Joseph called the process "translation," but it would be better described in our current vocabulary as "transmission."

    The Webster story and history are certainly compelling, but they are not the be-all end-all. As i stated in my last post, it is one of the important tools, but it doesn't stand alone.

    I would suggest that anyone who conducts Book of Mormon research, or engages in BOM research commentary, familiarize him-/herself with the critical text project and its findings. Failure to do so means that any and all conclusions are simply based on incomplete data and possibly false assumptions.

    Food for thought and FYI.

  4. An answer to this will appear in a future series of posts--it is far too long and involved to to merely state in a few paragraphs. Being familiar with the Critical Text Project, there is much to understand about how that information is interpreted--like any research, the results are interpretive and not all interpretations by academics are consistent with the information available.

    As for Joseph Smith's love for the King James language, that merely colored certain types of words which were not in use during Joseph's day, but he used in order to keep the Biblical address of "thee" and "thou" etc. The words themselves, though it is claimed and you elude to it was outdated by Joseph's time, is incorrect. This is why I suggest you read (not browse) Webster's 1828 dictionary in which is included an introductory 27 pages about the dictionary and Webster's interest and purpose, plus a three page Preface by Webster, and a 74-page Introduction to the English language as viewed and understood by Webster at the time. Also, as can be seen from his definitions and meanings of every word, a vast assortment of American usage, as well as British, French, Scandinavian, etc., of ancient writers dating back to at least 1300 and as recent as the 1800s of Webster's time showing the origin, development, and meanings of the words from the beginning onward, and the fact that each of these words were in use during Webster's time or were shown to no longer be extant, as well as an understanding of words that did not exist in Joseph Smith's time, such as "island" etc. Not knowing what Royal Skousen, a professor of linguistics, knows about this part of the language that Webster so clearly and easily provides for us of Joseph's day, I can only say that in some cases the Critical Text Project diverges erroneously according to the one man considered to be the greatest expert of his day about the English language as it was known in New England in the early 1800s. (The value of Skousen's work on his project is not in the way you are using it, but in the way scribal record evolved and accomplished)

  5. Wonder Boy...We have worked out a response date for your comments here regarding the Critical Tex Project. We had originally intended to publish it in a post closer to the final date of the work's final publication after seeing the full text, but since it will run well over 4000 pages, we decided to post this now in case others are concerned about its earlier views on the Internet and if they have the same take and questions you raise. At the moment (November 26), this will appear in seven days posts on this blog, which should be December 2. It is a series in 9 parts and addresses, I believe all the questions you raise with examples of Skousen's claims regarding words, meanings, etc. If, after the full nine series (which should end on December 10) has been completed and posted, you have questions or comments, please let us know.

  6. I miscounted. There are actually 10 posts in the series and will appear from December 2 through the 11th, regarding Skousen's Critical Text Project.