First of all, we need to understand what the writer, Mormon, was trying to get across to his future reader. The answer to this seems clear at first glance. He inserts an explanation into Alma’s record for the sole purpose of explaining to his reader how the land was configured and separated between the Nephites and the Lamanites.
In this particular insertion that begins in vs. 27, which starts out with Alma’s comment: “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land, who were in all the regions round about…”
At this point, Mormon, either is inspired to insert an explanation of where exactly this Land of Nephi was located, or he felt within himself that the reader would benefit from knowing how the land was separated at this point between the Lamanite lands, over which the high king presided, and what was Nephite lands. It should be understood at this point that Mormon was near the end of his life, all the events he writes about in his own book, the book of Mormon, have already happened up to the invitation to the Lamanite king to allow the Nephites to gather so they could safely arrive at Cumorah for a final battle (Mormon 6:2). By this time, which would have been just prior to 384 A.D., he was intimately acquainted with all the territory of the Nephites, and at least that area that separated the Nephites and the Lamanites. It is doubtful he knew much about the lands deeper in the Land of Nephi than just along the border, i.e., the narrow strip of wilderness.
In any event, he felt that the reader should have a good grasp on the location of these two forces to better appreciate what was about to take place. So he includes the latter part of vs. 27 through vs. 34, before “returning again to the account of Ammon and Aaaron, Omner and Himni, and their brethren” (Alma 22:35).
Thus, Mormon writes that the land of the King of the Lamanites, and the land throughout which he sent his proclamation, bordered on the north at a narrow strip of wilderness, that ran from the Sea East to the Sea West and separated the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla. To clarify this point, we can look at the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language to give us an idea of the meaning of “wilderness,” since people seem to have a difference of opinion about such, i.e., Nibley says it is a desert, Sorenson says it is a mountain, etc. Webster claims the meaning in Joseph Smith's time is: “a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide barren plain.”
In fact, the idea of a wilderness is basically “a tract of unoccupied land,” for it is applied to deserts, mountains, open plains, forests, etc. The one thing it is not applied to is a river, which is Jonathan Neville’s interpretation so he can use the Ohio River to separate his two lands on his map. The main point is that it is land, almost any kind of land, so long as it is not occupied by permanent dwellings or people who improve the land, such as farming.
Now, once again, the main point is to understand what Mormon is trying to tell us. He is not so interested in our understanding what the land was like as he was in our understanding the layout or placement of that land. So in the next several verses, he describes several points showing us where these lands were located one from another.
Vs. 27 is meant to show where and how “the Lamanties and the Nephites were divided.”
Vs. 28 is meant to tell us that the more idle part of the Lamanite people were scattered along the west borders and the seashore where this narrow strip of wilderness covered, and also places the land of First Inheritance on the west, “along by the seashore.”
Vs. 29 is meant to tell us these idle Lamanites were also along the east seashore, but that the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering this narrow strip of wilderness, even as far northward as the Land of Bountiful.
Vs. 30 is meant to tell us that northward of Bountiful was the land of Desolation, which ran northward so far it came to the land where the Jaredites were destroyed.
Vs. 31 is meant to reinforce our understanding of that far northern land, which the Nephites at this point in time, had not yet occupied. And that the animals in the Land Southward had come from that Land Northward.
Vs. 32 is meant to tell us that a narrow neck of land separated the Land Northward from the Land Southward, and that the Land Southward was surrounded by water except at this narrow neck. The importance of this statement is that it verifies Jacob’s statement of being on an island, Helaman’s statement that there were four seas surrounding the Land of Promise, and that there was a Sea South that was south of the Land Southward.
Vs. 33 is meant to tell us that by this time the Nephites had completely occupied and settled the Land of Bountiful and the entire land north of the narrow strip of land was controlled by the Nephites, and that the Lamanites were “hemmed in” within the Land Southward south of the narrow strip of land.
Vs. 34 is meant to tell us the Lamanites could not obtain any of the land to the north of the narrow strip of land (other than along the seashore in the wilderness), and that it was wisdom in the Nephites to keep the Lamanites to the south. And that the Land Northward was reserved for a land or area (country) in which the Nephites could escape into if they ever needed to do so.
The way Alma's insertion would have appeared after being translated by Joseph Smith. Note there are no sentence verse breaks, no paragraph breaks, just straight sentencing , which gives a clearer understanding of the message Mormon provided
Herein lies the problem with theorists. In order to validate the width of their own narrow neck, Sorenson tries to tell us about Mojave Indians covering 99 miles in a single day; or Nicaragua theorist who talks about covering his 12 mile width in a day and a half. But the point of understanding Mormon’s writing, we have to understand what he is trying to convey. And in this case, the distance or width of the narrow neck of land. To use some unusual circumstance, riding a horse not mentioned, an athlete, long-distance runner, or other special person is neither implied nor warranted, though some theorists want to include such to justify their wider neck.
As an example, Mesoamerican theorist Ted Dee Stoddard (left), Professor Emeritus of Management Communication in the Brigham Young University Marriott school of Management, has stated in an attempt to validate his narrow neck as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec: “As pointed out previously, the confusion in Alma 22:32 is caused partly by the punctuation and the versification. If the punctuation were different and if Orson Pratt had split verse 32 into two verses, as he should have, the confusion would likely be lessened:
1. “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.”
2. “And thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.”
He continues: "That punctuation and that versification force readers to reach closure legitimately at the end of the first sentence and then open a new door in the mind for storage of information about the second sentence. Nothing is contained anywhere in the Book of Mormon that dictates how narrow or how wide the narrow neck of land must be. The best that can be deduced from the Book of Mormon itself is that the narrow neck of land is undoubtedly an isthmus. The issue then becomes one of finding a suitable narrow neck—in Mesoamerica. The only isthmus—and hence the only narrow neck of land—in geographical Mesoamerica is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec."
Now, let’s look at the #1 sentence above he wants us to change in the scriptural record.
• “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.”
Since Mormon is writing to a future reader, who he would have known would not know the land, which is shown by his insertion of explanation of where the lands were located in Alma 22, why would he pick an unknown place somewhere to the east as a starting point of a measurement he is giving to his future reader? Does that make any sense? We need to use a little bit of common sense here. The only thing he knows his future reader would know lies in the east is the Sea East—he has given us no other eastern landmark within the narrow neck of land
Did Mormon have a specific place in mind? If not, then why make the statement at all. What difference does it make it someone can walk from some unknown point in the east to the West Sea?
However, in understanding Mormon’s purpose, we recognize that he is trying to convey a distance, therefore, if that distance is hidden, such as from some point in the east to the Sea West (what point in the east?), then why even mention it, since it would not make any sense to us in conveying a distance. The only possible reason for the statement is that Mormon is describing to us the width of the narrow neck of land that he just introduced to us as existing between the two major land masses; therefore, the meaning would have been how wide the narrow neck of land was—and that means a measurement from a known eastern landmark to the West Sea. What landmark? The only one he has given us is the East Sea. So his comment is that the width of the narrow neck, from the East Sea to the West Sea was the distance a Nephite could walk in a day and a half. That would be around 30 miles.