Saturday, April 28, 2018

Theorist’s View of Mississippi River as the West Sea

One of the many theorists who insist on placing a map of Book of Mormon Lands within North America and the U.S. heartland, is Jonathan Neville, who seems to ignore important issues regarding the scriptural record. Take, for instance, his labeling and placing of the West Sea as the Mississippi River.
    About his book, Moroni’s America, Tim Ballard, author of The Lincoln Hypothesis and The American Covenant, writes: “Finally, a complete, honest and faithful look at Book of Mormon geography that deals with all the tough questions…a definite game changer.” Yet, the really tough questions, at least for Neville, is how on earth is the Mississippi to be considered the West Sea? After all, the West Sea was not a river, but the border of the Land of Promise in the west, it was part of that sea that nearly surrounded the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla (Alma 22:32), and from which the entire Land of Nephi stretched, from the West Sea to the East Sea (Alma 22:27); it was the western boundary of the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 22:27); and it was the sea into which Hagoth launched his “exceedingly large ships” (Alma 63:5).
The Mississippi in 1782, a narrow and shallow river, requiring flat-bottomed boats and paddle wheelers to navigate

Yet, according to all scientists on the matter, including Potamologists within the field of Geology, even though a river is obviously formed when water streams and tributaries join together to grow bigger and bigger, as more and more streams and tributaries combine along the route, according to the studies in Potamology, which is the study of rivers, the ancient Mississippi was never anything but a rather narrow river, stretching at most a mile or so wide, though its course was always moving from geologic activity.
    In fact, the Mississippi is regarded as being like a shifting snake, twisting to find its easiest way down to the Gulf. These shifts, which have occurred about every thousand years or so, especially in the lower parts of the river, do so through a process known as Avulsion, or delta switching. This occurs when the river flow is slow, the sedimentation clogs the river channel and it eventually finds another channel.
    It should be kept in mind that the reason sediment builds up that changes the flow of a river is that the river is so shallow, that as sediment (silt, sand and clay that falls out of the current and settles on the bottom of a river) flows downriver, its shallow bottom becomes even more shallow as more and more sediment falls to the bottom. This, in turn, causes shifts in the direction of the river’s flow until enough sediment builds up, the river course is changed completely.
    In fact, the extreme shallowness of the river forced a unique ship construction to use the river in the early days of the river’s development and that was the extremely shallow draft of the Mississippi riverboats, with their flat bottoms, and the pilot house so high up and so far forward to allow the Captain to see the river far enough forward to steer his vessel around sandbars and other debris in the river. For theorists to think that Lehi sailed up that river, with its shallow depth and numerous rapids is simply without merit and foolish in the light of the reality of the river.
    In addition, this build-up of deposition from the river resulted in the formation of an individual deltaic lobe that pushed out into the sea. An example of a deltaic lobe is the bird's-foot delta of the Mississippi; however, this process is by no means ‘historic’ (i.e. ‘over’) – from the 1950s onward, the U.S. government has worked on the Old River Control Structure, meant to prevent the Mississippi from switching to the Atchafalaya River channel.
    Upon first discovery, Hernando de Soto, called it the Rio de Espiritu Santo (‘Holy Ghost River’) and later called by French explorers Cavelier de la Salle and de Tonty, the Rivière Colbert, because of its ghost-like, changing beds.
The Fisk map of all the various channels or river beds the Mississippi River has had over its entire history. The river never widened and never deepened, only changed its course because of avulsion

In a report for the Army Corps of Engineers, Harold Norman Fisk’s maps of the historical traces of the Mississippi River are an amazing surprise, showing the river’s history since ancient times in fifteen maps, stretching from southern Illinois to southern Louisiana.  At no time was the river larger than its present size—only that it continued to move about, creating muddy sediment beds many miles wide across a large swatch of land. At no time would the water course have been considered a deep river, let alone a sea.
    Fisk, who held a Geology Ph.D from the University of Cincinnati, served for 16 years as a consultant to the Mississippi River Commission (1948–1964), joined the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he conducted research on the geology of 750 square miles of the Lower Mississippi Valley in 1940, showing abandoned courses of the Mississippi. In June 1941 he conducted a geological investigation of the LMV over a period of 2 years with a staff of four Ph.D geologists studying the ancient beds. The success of the original 2-year project was so great that Fisk and his staff continued to study LMV for five more years.
    He also served as Professor of Geology at Louisiana State University, leaving in 1948 to become Chief of the Geologic Research Section of the Humble Oil and Refining Company in Houston, Texas, who permitted Fisk to continue as consultant to MRC and the U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station at no cost to MRC. After attaining international recognition, Fisk died in Houston at the age of 56 in 1964. Rufus J. LeBlanc in Engineering Geology stated: “The world lost one of its finest geologists.”
Top: The Mississippi, as shown passing Memphis, Tennessee, in 1740, is and always has been a narrow and shallow, slow-moving river; Bottom: Mississippi River passing Memphis  in 2000

Fisk's work provided a three-dimensional pattern of occurrence and composition of sediments in the alluvial valley and deltaic plain of the lower Mississippi River. He also interpreted the processes by which the sediments were deposited and the relevance of tectonism in their history. These data provide site characterizations that are basic for all major categories of engineering.
    Famed engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ellis L. Krinitzsky, speaking of Fisk’s contributions, said, “His work has found applications in better methods for control of the river, stabilizing its banks, locating sources of aggregate for concrete, management of groundwater, maintenance of wetlands, and generally for more reliable, timely and economical evaluations in selecting optimum site locations and determining foundation conditions.”
    Since then, work in the Lower Mississippi Valley (LMV) has expanded enormously and continues to be greatly indebted to formative interpretations by Fisk.
    The point of all of this is simply that according to Fisk, whose credentials are beyond reproof, the Mississippi was not a lake, sea, or huge and vast river or body of water. It was always a river, much like it is today, nor was it much deeper at any point, which is why its bed changed so often. In fact, at its beginning at Lake Itasca, it is between 20 and 30 feet wide, passes quickly through the 11-mile wide Lake Winnibigoshish (“filthy water”) near Bena, in north central Minnesota in the Chippewa National Forest, and is about two miles wide at Lake Pepin, just south of Minneapolis. At the confluence of the Missouri River, it is almost a mile wide, in Iowa, because of the dams and locks, it is three miles wide, but anciently would have been far less.
    Its deepest point is between Governor Nicholis Wharf and Algiers Point in New Orleans because of Corps of Engineers dredging, which is a continual requirement since the river carries an average of 436,000 tons of sediment each day. Over the course of a year, it moves an average of 159 million tons of sediment. Averages have ranged from 1,576,000 tons per day in 1951 to 219,000 in 1988.
Red Circle: The Sea East; Red Arrow: Width of the Land of Nephi

Yet, Neville insists on claiming his own map fits the scriptural record, and Tim Ballard (see earlier) claims Neville “deals with all the tough questions,” but the very simple statement by Mormon, is completely ignored in his map. After all, Mormon is not vague when he says: “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” (Alma 22:27). And no matter how one may argue the matter, the Susquehanna River is not the Sea East, besides, Neville’s map shows his East Sea several miles north of the eastern boundary of the Land of Nephi.
    The point is, looking at a map and placing locations upon it that seem to work out is not the same as operating in the real world where ships have to go where they are able, or were able, in order to reach certain locations. Shallow rivers do not allow for deep-sea ocean vessels, like the one Nephi built and launched into the ocean to sail thousands of miles across oceans to the Western Hemisphere from the Arabian Peninsula. In addition, rivers that appear on maps do not always go where one thinks they do. The Mississippi as well as the St. Lawrence rivers were simply not navigable very far from the ocean, yet unlearned theorists continue to claim Lehi sailed up these rivers to the interior of the Heartland or to the Great Lakes—both of which would have been impossible in 600 B.C. by the type of ship Nephi built to carry him across the deep oceans.
    Saying Lehi sailed somewhere is not the same as Lehi being able to sail there. And placing lands in an area and labeling them is not the same as land locations that agree with the scriptural record and Mormon’s descriptions. Claiming Lehi and Nephi did something that is provably impossible for the time is not only inaccurate and misleading, it does a considerable disservice to the reputation of the Book of Mormon and the credibility of the scriptural record.
    If one is going to make claims of what the Book of Mormon states and means, one has to understand the meaning of ancient Hebrew that would have been used by the Hebrew-speaking and Hebrew-writing Nephi and Mormon in their writing as well as understand the language of Joseph Smith’s day in 1829 when he translated these ancient writings. Using a modern Oxford dictionary developed by British-English-speaking people of today to define words written in 1829 by a New England farm boy is hardly consistent with the language he would have known in 1829 New England America. And looking at a modern map is again inconsistent with the geography of lands beginning 2600 years ago (from 600 B.C. to 400 A.D.)
    As an example, numerous theorists beginning with Hugh Nibley onward have made claims that the word “wilderness,” which appears hundreds of times in the Book of Mormon, meant “desert” or it meant “mountains,” however, in 1829 in Joseph Smith’s day, it meant “a tract of land or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings,” which means any type of land that was unoccupied.
The Wilderness of Judea containing miles and miles of desolate land with deep ravines, rocky terrain, barren grades and stony slopes with scant vegetation

While it is true that in the Bible, it generally applied to deserts, such as the Judean Wilderness, or the Rub ‘al Khali (Empty Quarter), the largest sand desert in the world, which Lehi crossed when leaving the borders of the Red Sea and turning “nearly eastward” (1 Nephi 17:1), it would not necessarily have meant “desert” in the Land of Promise—but at all times it meant “an unoccupied area of land,” that was “uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings.” Today, it generally means a wide barren plain, wasteland, bush or bush country, or wild country.
Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest in Idaho—a wilderness preserve under the National Wilderness Preservation Act
In the U.S. it specifically means a forest, though the National Wilderness Preservation Act in the U.S. incorporates thousands of areas, such as the Cedar Mountain Wilderness south of the Great Salt Lake or the Cottonwood Forest Wilderness in Zion National Park, Nez Perce National Forest, Bitterroot National Forest, Clearwater National Forest, and the Wasatch National Forest in Utah and Idaho.


  1. The absurdity of the Heartland model never ceases to amaze me.

  2. Nor does the staunch belief and unbending support of it by its believers never cease to amaze me, especially in light of all the contrary descriptions by Mormon.

  3. Oh come on now Del & iterry. We can't put the blame on the this Theorist. It is after all the fault of the Nephites. They can't tell the difference between a river and a sea!!

  4. I agree fully that the language of the Book of Mormon is best defined by Webster's 1828 dictionary of American English. There is another issue however. And that is that the Book of Mormon should be compatible with the use and usage of words found in the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible does it talk about a river as if it is a sea. Nowhere in the Bible is East redefined by some means to actually mean South. Yet, in the Bible as we have it today, it calls a lake "the Sea of Galilee". So if it were not for other statements, one could consider lakes for the four seas spoken of in the Book of Mormon. But since is says the land Southward was "nearly surrounded by water" except for the narrow neck of land connecting it to the land Northward, it clearly does not sound like any of these seas were lakes.