Friday, March 10, 2017

More on the Narrow Neck

There has been so much controversy over the narrow or small neck of land that Mormon writes about, we thought we would try and clarify a very important point regarding the Mesoamericanists’ claim to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec as a narrow neck. First of all, before GPS, satellite photos or aerial observation and photography, any narrow neck written about by Mormon or any other recorders of the Book of Mormon had to have been observable and understood throughout the B.C. period of the Nephite occupation of the Land of Promise. 
    We have also written numerous times that the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is not observable at eye level in any way today as a narrow neck of land or even an isthmus standing on one sea shore or the other. To point this out to the early mariners and explorers who visited this land, let us take a look at a map drawn in 1736 by observations of the seashore on both sides of the isthmus to see what they saw in the mid-18th century well over a hundred years before anyone thought to claim this area in central America was an isthmus.
Map of Central America and the West Indies in 1736 when the Isthmus of Tehuantepec was unknown and unnoticed. Note: Left image shows a near straight coastline between the arrows, with not gentle bend in the shore as we known today exists; Right image shows this even more that to the map makers and mariners of the day, before land measurements and aerial photography, the coastline was more or less straight through this area, i.e., no one considered this an isthmus or especially a narrow neck of land

    Take a look at the area to the left (west) of Yucatan. It was drawn pretty much as a straight coastline with no perceptible cut in as we now know from satellite photos and aerial photography. In fact, the caption under the map states: “These rivers almost meet, both of them are Navigable, and all the Cannon and Stores for Acapulco are Carryed from the North to the South Sea by them." Note that the seas are referred to in 1736 as “north” and “south.” That is, at this point in time, the Gulf of Mexico was considered to the north of the this area (Tehuantepec) and the Pacific Ocean considered to the south--which should cancel out all the rhetoric of John L. Sorenson's attempt to tell us that this was considered by natives as being north and south lands, for it was not as early as 1736 by the Europeans who discovered this area and drew maps of it, especially after lengthy contact with the native peoples for some 200 years.
Map of Central America and the Gulf of Mexico in 1851, accompanying a report from the Treasury Department to the Senate by Israel E. Andrews per the resolution to the Senate of March 8,1851.Again, the area of Tehuantepec is hardly noted as a isthmus and not shown to be particularly narrow 

    Even in 1851, when the area had been measured and foot traffic had been over the Chivela Pass from north to south—an area simply known as the Tehuantepec Route. Note the curvature, especially on the Gulf side is relatively unknown, making this area hard to consider an isthmus. In fact, the term Tehuantepec was derived from the Nahuatl term tecuani-tepec, meaning “jaguar hill.”
Map of Central America in 1853, again showing little indication of an isthmus before aerial views were known, and based solely on eye level observation 

    Another map showing no indication of an isthmus in the Tehuantepec area. You can walk along both shorelines even today and if you do not know where you are, you would not think of this area as an isthmus because shoreline moves so gradually it cannot be seen as an indentation, just a gradual curvature. How would it have been possible for people of Mormon’s day to know that this was a Small Neck of Land (Alma 22:32) or a Narrow Neck of Land (Alma 63:5). In fact, even today, looking at a map, you cannot justify Mormon’s description of a “small” or “narrow” neck at this point. What is small about Tehuantepec? What is narrow about it? Unless you see the land from a great height (aerial) or from space (satellite) you would never know this was a narrow neck of land. If Mesoamericanists would simply be honest with themselves and the rest of us—they would look at this through normal human vision and not rose-colored glasses and have to admit this area does not meet Mormon’s description.
    Whether or not the Land of Promise is shaped like an hourglass yet remains to be seen. However, there is no question from Mormon's descriptions that we are dealing with two large land masses connected by a neck of land that is wide enough to be crossed in a day and a half by a normal individual (Alma 22:32), and contains the narrow passage leading from the Land Southward into the Land Northward that is flanked on either side by a sea, with the Land Southward nearly surrounded by water except for the narrow neck of land. This is shown by Mormon’s statement: “narrow neck which led into the land northward” (Alma 63:5) and the “narrow pass which led into the land northward” (Alma 52:9), as well as the statement: “narrow pass which led by the sea into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east” (Alma 50:34). Mormon also tells that this pass led into the Land Southward: “the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward” (Mormon 2:29), and “at the land Desolation, to a city which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward” (Mormon 3:5).
Geologists tell us that in times past, South America was mostly under water except for the western Andean shelf (shown in green) and the two Shields to the east (also shown in green) with a huge sea to the east of the western "island"

We can also add that during the time of the Nephites this land was an island in the midst of the sea over which they sailed. We can also add that the Jaredites, or at least Moroni in his abridgement, refers to the “narrow neck” as well: “they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land” (Ether 10:20).
    While many theorists consider this narrow neck of land the key to locating the Land of Promise, it would appear that when Nephi’s ship left the southern shore of the Arabian Peninsula, where the winds and ocean currents took his vessel would be the most important issue to follow since Nephi tells us his ship was “driven forth before the wind” (1 Nephi 18:8,9), meaning that his was basically a drift voyage and his ship went where the winds and currents took it. Therefore, to know where Nephi's ship went, we need only to know where the winds and currents would have taken it, since it had no motive power besides the wind and currents.
    The problem with such thinking is that it is so far outside the box of the Mesoamerican dominated theorizing by those interested in finding the Land of Promise, that it is seldom, if ever, even given a thought. Yet, Thor Heyerdahl’s voyage in Kon-Tiki showed that a vessel driven forth before the wind was subject to the path the winds and sea currents took and completely dependent upon them for course and destination. To think otherwise is to claim Nephi did not know what he was talking about—which is as unacceptable an evaluation of his remarks as one can get.
    Thus, to find where Lehi landed, we need only follow the path of those ocean currents and the wind and see where a landing along that path would have been achieved to find the descriptions of the landing site Nephi left us (1 Nephi 18:23-25).
A 1902 map shows the area of Tehuantepec, and labels it the Isthmus of Tehuantepec

    There is no question that this narrowing area between the Gulf of Compeche and the Gulf of Tehuantepec is the narrowest point not only in Mesoamerica, but in all of Central America north of Panama; however, it is difficult to see that it would be called a “neck” of land. It is merely a slight narrowing of land. It is difficult, if not impossible, to see how Mormon or other Nephites would have considered this a “neck of land,” rather than simply a narrow point in the land.
    In 1828, before the Book of Mormon was published, the word “neck” in relation to land was defined as: “A long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury. 
In both photos the Red Arrow points to the narrow neck between Boston and Roxbury to show what is meant by the definition of “Narrow Neck of Land” 

    As pointed out by Noah Webster in 1828 as a definition of a “narrow neck of land.” Compare this with the images above of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which in no way resembles the definition of a “narrow neck” as described by both Mormon and Moroni in their two abridgements.
    It is about time we start realizing what Mormon tells us in the scriptural record how the geographical setting he describes fits together to allow us to see the correct and accurate design of the Land of Promise. We need to stop listening to people who claim they are "experts" oln a subject like this and study the scriptural record for ourselves and use our own common sense and the Spirit to understand what was intended when the record was written.


  1. In Sorenson's book "Mormon's map", he actually starts by drawing an internal map based on the scriptures. He does not try to tie this to any modern map. His internal map appears to match the scriptures quite well, and interestingly, it also matches the south american model. It is only when he tries to tie it to central america that he decides to flip the directions and stray from his scripture based internal map. To justify this, he references that some other cultures use different ways to determine direction sometimes- but does not use any scriptures that I recall- to justify the change. I think because some descendants of Lehi went north in Hagoth's ships and settled central america and built buildings we can see today, it is easy to think that central america may be the book of mormon lands. But deeper study shows otherwise.

  2. Well said, David. That is exactly right, and it is not just Sorenson, but all other Mesoamericanists tend to follow that example thought some disagree with the directional labeling of it