Monday, March 21, 2016

Where Are the Cities of Shemlon, Amulon and Shilom?—Part II

Continuing from the last post regarding the placement of these three areas within the Land of Promise. In the last post, we ended in the midst of a discussion about Shemlon. 
    Now there was a place in Shemlon, where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry” (Mosiah 20:1)
    Based on research by Robert Smith, John Welch, and Gordon Thomasson, just as the month of February means Valentine's Day (and sometimes Bachelors' Leap Year Day) to many Americans, the fifteenth of Av had significance to the ancient Israelites. On that day in the fifth month of the Israelite calendar (which fell originally on midsummer's day), the maidens of Israel would gather to dance. This was, among other things, a "matrimonial holiday for youth."
Lamanite daughters dancing in Shemlon. Evidently this place in which they gathered was a customary one at an outlying shrine or sacred spot, and probably was on the outskirts of the settlement where it could be observed from the wilderness where the priests hid, since they took the women from there and carried them directly into the wilderness (Mosiah 20:5) to make their escape
    The ancient holiday is described by Abraham P. Bloch, who concludes that this unnamed holiday was of very early origin, dating back to Moses according to one rabbi. In those days, the festival was primarily a matrimonial holiday, very much like the Jewish Lag Ba'Omer of springtime. Following the conclusion of their summer chores in the fields, youths would turn their attention to "bride-hunting," and the dance of the maidens was "designed to meet that end." The dancing took place outside a temple city—during the period of the Judges, the dances were in the fields outside Shiloh. During later times they were at Jerusalem. After the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, the holiday took on a much different character. It became the festival of wood-gathering and of offerings of wood for the altar of the temple.
There the priests found the young women, hid themselves and watched, and sprang out of their hiding places, taking the young women into the wilderness (Mosiah 20:2-5). The Hebrew idiom translated "lying in wait" usually connotes premeditation and planning, implying that the priests may well have known of this place and the custom for young women to be there. Indeed, the young women apparently became the priests' wives willingly enough; at least we find no indication that any of them tried to escape, and all of them later pled with their brothers and fathers not to kill their husbands (see Mosiah 23:33) when a Lamanite war party stumbled on them.
    This suggests that the Lamanite daughters had gathered to dance in celebration of a vestige of the preexilic Israelite festival of the fifteenth of Av. Is that how the priests of Noah knew where to go and when to be there? Is that why the young women accepted the priests as husbands? After all, they would have been dancing to attract husbands. (Robert F. Smith, John W. Welch, and Gordon C. Thomasson, "Dancing Maidens and the Fifteenth of Av," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 139-141).
    Now that they had women for wives, the priests needed a place to hide and build themselves a city. So which way did the priests of Noah go when they carried the Lamanite maidens "into the wilderness" (Mosiah 20:5)? And how far would they have to go before they felt safe enough from both the Nephites and the Lamanites? A good guess is that they would have had to travel beyond the borders of the general land of Nephi, yet not into the land of Zarahemla—this means that they problem went a little north into the narrow strip of wilderness., which divided the two lands (Alma 22:27). Possibly beyond the land of Helam because the priests of Amulon and the Lamanites were trying to return to Shemlon when they stumbled upon Alma and his followers in the land of Helam (Mosiah 23:35). The priests of Noah might have been located away from the route of both Ammon and Limhi, who traveled the route from Zarahemla to Lehi-Nephi without any mention of encountering the priests of Noah (also known as the brethren of Amulon—Mosiah 24:4).
    If the priests of Noah traveled any significant distance from Lehi-Nephi, we are faced with a chronological and geographical problem. At the time of Ammon's arrival in the year 480, at the very end of Limhi's reign, Mormon makes the following commentary: "Now the people of Limhi kept together in a body as much as it was possible, and secured their grain and their flocks; and the king himself did not trust his person without the walls of the city, unless he took his guards with him.
"And he caused that his people should watch the land round about, that by some means they might take those priests that fled into the wilderness, who had stolen the daughters of the Lamanites, and that had caused such a great destruction to come upon them. For they were desirous to take them that they might punish them; for they had come into the land of Nephi by night, and carried off their grain and many of their precious things; therefore they laid wait for them.” (Mosiah 21:18-21)
    So what were the priests after?
    To build a city, they would need equipment, tools, metal, etc. To subsist on their own, they would need seeds, grain, food, and domesticated animals. Obviously, the priests entered the Nephite city at night for “they had come into the land of Nephi by night, and carried off their grain and many of their precious things” (Mosiah 21:21). Evidently this went on for the two years of peace  (Mosiah 19:29) between the Lamanites and the people of Limhi.
    Where were the priests during those two years? Evidently, seeking out a place to live and trying to build a place to settle down and make it comfortable and livable for their future wives and famiies. Evidently, finding such an area, they came into the Nephite lands at night, stole seeds and grain, and many of their precious things, which evidently included stone-cutting equipment and other building tools, for we do not hear again of them except later when they are in their city of Amulon, which they had to have built in some back, out of the way area for their safety and isolation.
This leads us to Machu Picchu. It is obviously isolated—the Spanish never found it; In 1911 Hiram Bigham stumbled on it looking for something else; the standard trail trip of today takes four or five days from Ollantaytambo (the closest ancient site); and it takes three hours to hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu from its base. Obviously, in Nephite times it would have been about as isolated an area as the priests could have found where they were not actually in either Nephite or Lamanite territory and not likely to encounter people from either group.
First of all, it is over desolate, mountainous areas that did not have paths or roads in the time of kings Noah and Limhi.
Mostly straight up, requiring walking up the mountain without aid of steps (the later roads that were built), just from the base of the mountain at Machu Picchu is three hours, and more without steps.
1905 elevation map showing Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu; from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is a three hour climb on foot over the ancient stepped road—4 or more hours without aid of the steps
(See the next post, “Where Are the Cities of Shemlon, Amulon and Shilom?—Part III,” to continue with the daughters of the Lamanites and where the priests of Noah took them)


  1. I have a Book of Mormon commentary written by Robert J. Smith. Not the Robert F. of BYU fame but a different Robert Smith and a Hebrew scholar. In commenting about Machu Picchu he wrote the follow:

    "The priests of Noah and their captured Lamanite wives could not return to Nephi so they traveled almost directly north from Shemlon. About fifty miles north of Cuzco and above the Urubamba River, there is a now famous ruin called Machu Picchu. This city was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, whose work I cited earlier. When he discovered it he thought it was the lost Inca City which all historians had referred to as Vilcabamba the Old, and some historians and archaeologists still believe it is. One tradition says that Vilcabamba the Old was the place where teachers of idolatry and the masters of evil lived. (Blair Niles, Peruvian Pageant, p. 192). This tradition certainly fits this place as the city established by these evil priests."


  2. Very interesting. I am not familiar with this but intend to look into it. Thank you.

  3. Ira. Perhaps you could give me some additional information about the book, complete title, publisher, year published, etc. I cannot find anything on a Robert J.Smith. Thank you.