Thursday, April 5, 2018

Importance of the Nephite Narrow Pass – Part I

Of the few landmarks in the Land of Promise that deserve some additional attention because of its strategic importance, it is the narrow pass or passage Mormon describes when Moroni sent his chief captain, Tancum, to stop the defector Morianton from gaining the Land Northward.
Moroni sent Teancum to stop the defector Morianton and his people from reaching the Land Northward

After the event, Teancum writes Moroni to later report, saying they “did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the 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, emphasis added). Moroni then sent orders to Teancum after his successful defense of this Pass, saying that: “he should fortify the land Bountiful, and secure the narrow pass which led into the land northward, lest the Lamanites should obtain that point and should have power to harass them on every side” (Alma 52:9, emphasis added).
    To Moroni, this Pass was critical in the overall defense of the Nephite nation. In fact, Mormon tells us that the Nephites, in guarding this area, that: “this was wisdom in the Nephites -- as the Lamanites were an enemy to them, they would not suffer their afflictions on every hand, and also that they might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desires” (Alma 22:34). And it was to this country they retreated during the last final battles that eventually drove them into the Land Northward where they worked out a treaty in 350 A.D. with the Lamanites “in which we did get the lands of our inheritance divided” (Mormon 2:28), taking all the and north of this narrow pass and the Lamanites all the land to the south (Mormon 2:29).
    Hindering the study of the importance of this Pass is the fact that to modern man, a Pass might not seem that important since recent and current equipment, such as helicopters, tanks, and heavy artillery, can usually find ways around such minimal choke points—as when Hitler shocked Europe and all the French generals and leaders as he bypassed the famed Maginot Line to the West, after a year of bombardment to no avail of the eastern end Ouvrager Schoenenbourg fortification.
Famed Maginot Line held against repeated German attacks for a year; the British and French armies in the west along the Belgium border held back the German advances. But the “impassable” Ardennes Forest turned out to be the Achilles Heel of the Allied defenses of France, leaving a small passage undefended through the thickly forested trees, spelled disaster for British, French and Belgium forces

With all its strength and elaborate concrete design, thought to secure the France-German border, Hitler simply took his tanks through Belgium’s previously thought nearly impassable Ardennes forest just beyond the western end of the Line into France, resulting in the debacle at Dunkirk.
    However, before modern military technology, such chokepoints and especially narrow passes or passages could spell the difference between losing and winning a battle or an entire war. As an example, throughout history there have been numerous battles fought and waged involving the defending and taking of passes which blocked normal troop movement from one area to another. The ability or failure to hold such passes has resulted in massive changes in battles and the resultant outcome of entire wars.
    When the Greeks were unable to hold the narrow Pass at Kleisoura in western Macedonia in 1941, the German army overran the open terrain beyond resulting in losing the territory occupied by the main Allied defensive line.
    At Teutoburg Pass on the northern slope of the Wiehen Hills between Kalkriese and a large area of wetland to its north in Lower Saxony, Germany, an alliance of Germanic tribes ambushed and decisively destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries in 9 A.D.
Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees along the border between France and Spain

The Battle of Roncevaux Pass in the Pyrenees in 778 A.D. saw a small Basque tribal force defeating a much larger contingent of Charlemagne’s Frankish army in the narrow pass, from which the famed The Song of Roland poem resulted.
    In the narrow Tegyra Pass, the Ancient Greek Theban and Spartan forces were locked in a pitch battle with the Thebans, fighting four times their number, yet succeeded in defeating the Spartans.
    When Greece was part of the Roman Empire in the third-century A.D., a battle at Thermopylae Pass took place when a huge Gothic army in battle columns was repelled by Marianus leading a small Greek force.
    However, the most memorable fight at a narrow pass or passage was in 480 B.C. at Thermopylae. In this narrow pass, 7,000 Greeks stood off an overwhelming force of 80,000 Persians.
    It seems quite clear that battles that have taken place in narrow passes rarely did so with forces evenly manned-typically one side heavily outnumbered the other, yet victory or success generally went to the force the smaller number that occupied the Pass.
    The battle at Thermopylae (meaning “hot gates” for the hot sulfur springs, and the three “gates” for the three areas where the land narrows), which took place along the Malian (Malus) Gulf in the Aegean Sea. The shoreline of this area was larger along the Pass, which extended the “horseshoe of Maliakos” to Anticyra at the ancient mouth of the Spercheios River. This resulted in the ground area even more narrow than it is today, which is currently so changed it is hard to recognize—just under 50 feet made up this connection to the mainland of southern Greece, the path the Persian army had to take to reach the Greek Attica Peninsula and Athens, then the Peloponnese beyond, with Sparta and Laconia.
    At the time, the Persians and Greeks had been at war for a generation and after suffering a defeat at Marathon, the Persians under Xerxes (“Ruler of Heroes”) had in mind to march on Greece from the Hellespont with 150,000 combat soldiers and a massive fleet of twelve hundred warships. After passing through northern and central Greece almost unopposed, the army planned to head southward, capture and burn Athens, and drive into the Peloponnese to destroy the enemy’s resistance, making Greece a Persian province.
    In doing so, Xerxes had marched his army through the northern regions of Greece in Thrace and Macedonia and past Mount Olympus into Thessaly. He then led them into Central Greece, through Phthia, the legendary homeland of Achilles, and into Malis, where myth had it that Hercules spent his last years.
    The situation in Greece in June of 480 B.C. was fast becoming desperate, however, bickering and distrust among the various city-states led to only about three dozen rallying to the cause of defense. Most of Greece either supported the invaders or sat on the sidelines.
    While the Greeks had the advantage of knowing the terrain of their homeland, their knowledge of the area in the north was limited. Still, it was better to stop the Persians there than at the gates of Athens.
    Thus, the Greek plan was to block the Persians along the narrow Pass at Thermopylae, where the ground around the Pass (which is not exactly a Pass between high cliffs, but a passage along the coast that lies between high forested limestone mountains running down to the sea, leaving only a narrow marshy area along the coast—the coastal floodplain of the Spercheios River) was a flat stretch of land between areas of higher ground at either length (West Gate and East Gate) on a road that led to Thebes and Athens, the latter being 93 miles distant.
All that is left of the Middle Gate Wall that once held the Persian advance while the Spartans stood off Xerxes' Immortals who flooded this narrow passage

The pass had also been fortified by the local people of Phocis (Phokians) who built a defensive wall running from the so-called Middle Gate to the sea. The wall was in a state of ruin at the time of the battle, but the Spartans repaired it the best they could under the circumstances, and there made their stand across this 49-foot wide gap, or passage, with a sheer cliff protecting their left flank and the sea on their right. The 80,000-man Persian forces reaching Thermopylae tried to get through this passage, yet had no advantage over the small 7,000 Greek forces, including the famed 300 Spartan force defending this Middle Gate area, after two days of unsuccessful attempts to advance.
    Had it not been for a Greek traitor from Trachis seeking a financial reward from the Persians, the narrowness of the passage might have proven impossible for the Persians to broach the Greek defenses. However, the Persians were led from the West Gate up through the “impassable” mountains (or so the Greeks thought) over a steep, narrow, and hard-to-follow mountain track called the Anopaia path, around to the road between the Middle and East gates behind the Greek southern flank, completely surrounding the defenders.
    This well-documented event in history should tell us something about the importance of the narrow pass through the narrow neck of land from the Land Southward into the Land Northward. Here, Moroni sent his trusted leader Teancum to stop Morianton before the latter reached the Pass and escaped into the Land Northward (Alma 50:32-33).
    When Teancum reached this northern area, we find find that he arrived ahead of Morianton’s forces, where a serious and desperate battle took place between them. But the advantage was clearly Teancum’s seasoned Nephite Army with their backs to the Pass and Morianton and his people were repulsed. There Teancum killed the defector and defeated the rabble army (Alma 50:35).
    It is interesting how so many theorists want to claim this “narrow pass” was something it was not, that it was different from what Mormon describes it and the Nephite experiences proclaim it to have been.
(See the next post, “Importance of the Nephite Narrow Pass – Part II,” to see how this pass or passage played an important role in the Land of Promise evidently completely lost on many theorists)

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