Tuesday, February 13, 2018

City of Zarahemla, Land of Zarahemla and the River Sidon – Part I

In order for most theorists to try and fit these three places into their pre-determined models, we find them coming up with interesting ideas about the distance between the city of Zarahemla and the river Sidon. Some place the city right on the banks of the river, others place it very close to the river. 
    As John L. Sorenson, in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, on page 152, states: “The Rivjalva River (Rio de Chiapas), which flows through this broad valley, is the only plausible candidate for the river Sidon. Along the west bank of the river must lie the former city of Zarahemla.” Joseph L. Allen, in an article entitled “The Grijalva River and the River Sidon,” states similarly, ”The most prominent river in the Book of Mormon is the river Sidon. The city of Zarahemla was built along its banks… From the headwaters, the river flowed downhill toward Zarahemla” (Joseph L. Allen and Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute, LLC, 2011).
Joe V. Andersen, in his “Can the Mississippi River be the River Sidon?” shows a map placing Zarahemla basically along the west bank of the River Sidon

However, this is not what Mormon tells us about the location of the river Sidon in relation to the city of Zarahemla. In the scriptural record, Mormon states: “And it came to pass that the Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla, and there they began to make war with the Nephites.” (Alma 2:15, emphasis added). Now, the word “by” in 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, meant “near, close,” so when Mormon writes “the river Sidon, which ran by the land of Zarahemla,” we understand that the river Sidon ran “by,” or “near” or “close” to the eastern borders of the Land of Zarahemla.
    Stated differently, Mormon’s meaning was simply that the “river Sidon, which ran near (or close) to the land of Zarahemla.” In fact, Mormon later tells us that the Waters of Sidon were in the borders of Zarahemla, or the land borders of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:10), which would have been to the east of the city itself.
    This is very different from the city of Zarahemla being on the banks of the river Sidon which many theorists try to tell us. This, then obviously eliminates Sorenson, Allen, and Andersen’s placement of Zarahemla in their models as well as their river Sidon.
    We also learn from Mormon that on the east of the river Sidon was the Valley of Gideon along with the city of Gideon (Alma 6:7); and also that the head of the river Sidon, or its source, was in the narrow strip of wilderness dividing the Land of Nephi on the south from the Land of Zarahemla on the north, or more accurately, where the narrow strip of wilderness divided the Nephites from the Lamanites—we learn this from Mormon:
“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, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided” (Alma 22:27, emphasis added).
    This is further pointed out when Mormon wrote: “And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon—the Nephites possessing all the land northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure” (Alma 50:11, emphasis added).
    This also points out that the head or source of the river Sidon was in this narrow strip of wilderness that separated the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla, meaning the source of the river was south of Zarahemla—thus, the river, to flow past the borders of the Land of Zarahemla had to have flowed northward!
    This, then eliminates the heartland model and all those theorists who use the Mississippi River (which flows southward) as the River Sidon. This also eliminates Sorenson’s speculation that “The Book of Mormon strongly implies that the settlement region immediately dependent on the city of Zarahemla was located up and down the river [Sidon] and concentrated on the west bank” (page 152).
    As mentioned earlier, this also shows the erroneous speculation of Joseph L. Allen on his blog page “Book of Mormon Tours and Research Institute,” who begins his explanation of the River Sidon as: “The most prominent river in the Book of Mormon is the river Sidon. The city of Zarahemla was built along its banks.”
    In another of Allen’s speculations, he writes: “The name Sidon was undoubtedly a name given by people of Zarahemla, also referred to as the Mulekites, to the major river that ran through the land of Zarahemla in the new world.”
We know the head of the river is in the narrow strip of wilderness, and that the  river ran by the land of Zarahemla, meaning along or near its border with the land of Gideon

Again, the river “ran by” not “through” the Land of Zarahemla. A seemingly unimportant factor, but in reality quite important, since running through would mean the river could be anywhere in the land of Zarahemla, but running by the land suggests it is near or along the border of the land of Zarahemla, which gives us a clearer picture of where that river flowed.
    How Allen arrives at this is purely speculation, but before getting into that, consider that when Mosiah discovered Zarahemla (the Mulekites), Mosiah led a small group of Nephites who had left the City of Nephi in the Land of Nephi at a time when the Nephites were extremely wicked. How many Mosiah led is not stated or inferred, but it must not have been too large of a number because prior to that the Nephites had suffered through many “seasons of serious war and bloodshed” (Omni 1:3), and been reduced to a much lesser number overall as “the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed” (Omni 1:5), and did spare the righteous that they should not perish (Omni 1:7). Whatever this number, and the righteous are always a smaller number than the wicked, they were half the size of the Mulekites they discovered.
(See the next post, “City of Zarahemla, Land of Zarahemla and the River Sidon – Part II,” for more on the relationship, if any, of the River Sidon in the land of Promise with the Phoenician town by that name)


  1. Maybe you've mentioned it before, but it seems that the Reserva Paisajistica Nor Yauyos-Cochas is a pretty good speculative "head of the river Sidon" area, in terms of its location and abundance of springs (fountains) and water features. The area may not drain how it did pre-cataclysm, but you'd think the general water source would still be located in about the same spot? But that's just me spending far too much time on Google Earth. Search it on Google and click on "images" for some extremely beautiful waterscapes.

  2. The Rio Canete is a beautiful river, fast flowing through the steep canyon walls and tranquil in the lower stretches, with headwaters in one of the most startling high Andean landscapes anywhere, and certainly well worth seeing and visiting, especially with its stepped waterfalls, numerous lagoons and class 5 rapids. Absolutely awesome. Its headwaters are to the east of Pachacamac (Lima) about a hundred and twenty miles, and about twenty to thirty miles west of Huancaya (at its source), placing it in the area of the strip of wilderness between Pachacamac (Zarahemla) and Cuzco (Nephi), which placement seems to match that of the scriptural record. However, today though the river begins to flow northward, in a short distance it curves and bends and flows southwestward past Huancaya and continues in that direction to the Pacific, but who can say where it flowed before the rise of the Andes to their present height. It is interesting that though the river flows very fast and through numerous rapids around its source area, making crossing impossible, in late July it drops in depth and speed and would have been easy to cross at that point which the scriptural record claims the Lamanites would have done except they feared the placement of the Nephite troops at the time.