Saturday, August 18, 2018

What Was the Narrow Strip of Wilderness? And Where Was it? – Part I

There are several wildernesses mentioned in the scriptural record, but the one that perhaps is the most strategically placed is the one referred to by Mormon as “the narrow strip of wilderness” (Alma 22:27) when describing the layout of the entire Land of Promise.
    This narrow strip of wilderness appears elsewhere in the scriptural record. As an example, it was the wilderness at the head of the river Sidon (Alma 22:29); the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla (Alma 27:14); it is referred to as the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, as well as (the line) between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi (Alma 50:11); the line of the possessions of the Lamanaites (Alma 50:13); it is also referred to when “those Lamanites were more angry because they had slain their brethren; therefore they swore vengeance upon the Nephites; and they did no more attempt to slay the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi at that time. But they took their armies and went over into the borders of the land of Zarahemla, and fell upon the people who were in the land of Ammonihah, and destroyed them (Alma 24:12, emphasis added); and also in “they gathered together all their people, yea, all the people of the Lord, and did gather together all their flocks and herds, and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla, and came over near the borders of the land” (Alma 27:14).
    None of this suggests that the entire narrow strip was crossable, or even enterable, it does suggest that there were places where crossings were possible as well as large enough for an entire people (size unknown) could settle while Ammon went to the city of Zarahemla to ask them to allow this large body of Lamanite converts to settle within Nephite lands.
    In fact, at no time in the scriptural record is there any description of what was within the narrow strip of wilderness, though the term suggests it was unoccupied and undeveloped by humans. Yet, with nothing to go on in the way of explanation, some theorists have claimed the narrow strip of wilderness that separated the Land of Nephi from the Land of Zarahemla, and ran between these two lands from the East Sea to the West Sea (Alma 22:27) was a mountain range.
    While running from sea to sea south of the Land of Zarahemla, this wilderness strip was also south of border cities such as Manti, Mormon, Lehi and Nephihah to name only a few.
Mountains suggested to be the narrow strip of wilderness according to the website “Book of Mormon Places,” and article: “Which One is the Narrow Strip of Wilderness?”

Some theorists, like M. George, a follower of Mesoamericanist Joseph L. Allen, in his website “Book of Mormon Places,” claims the narrow neck was a series of Mountains, running from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, where the Cuchumatanes, Chama, Santa Cruz, Chuacus, and las Mina sierras run into the Sierra Madre north of Guatemala City (Mesoamericanists’ City of Nephi) across the land, leaving a narrow strip running north and south past this strip of wilderness.
    The trouble is, with this image view shown above, these mountains are not a deterrent to the movement of an ancient army moving on foot with spears, bows and arrows. On the other hand, while there were some paths or ways through the area, since the Lamanites continually crossed over into Nephite lands, the strip was not impenetrable; however, those crossings most likely were only in certain areas, and well may have been limited to a handful of paths or even less, suggesting it was not penetrable throughout its length, but formed a type of impenetrable or uncrossable barrier.
    While Mormon’s insertion into the writings of Alma in the scriptural record do not suggest what type of topography existed in the narrow strip, the fact that it is described as a wilderness suggests that it was not occupied, that is, no one lived within its boundaries and no improvements or settlements had been constructed there.
Warr’s model in Costa Rica of the Narrow Strip of Wilderness, i.e., the Talamanca Mountain Chain
Theorist James Lee Warr, in his “A New Model for Book of Mormon Geography,” suggests that the topography was the Talamancan Mountain chain in Costa Rica south of San Jose, rising from about 6,000 feet elevation to as high as 11,000 feet at the summit, which he claims creates an impenetrable and impassable rainforest with its mass of trees, vines and undergrowth. He also mentions that there were four or five paths though these mountains.
But the point is, these mountains, despite his claim, do not run east to west, and do not run from sea to sea as Mormon points out. In fact, this mountain range runs parallel to both coasts, and forms the backbone, or north-south mountain ranges in the country.
Note that this mountain chain runs northwest to southeast, paralleling both coasts, and does not run east to west nor from sea to sea as Mormon describes (Alma 22:27)

However, in speaking of his location for the City of Zarahemla (near the present city of Turrialba where there are numerous ancient ruins, including La Zoila, La Morca, and La Isabel), Warr claims that “to the immediate south is the formidable barrier of the Talamancan Cordillera, which viewed from the Zarahemla area would appear as a straight line of mountains,” however, it is not an appearance that Mormon describes, but a factual run of the narrow strip of wilderness from the East Sea to the West Sea (Alma 22:27).
Warr places his city of Zarahemla to the east of San Jose, near a city called Turrialba with the west valley to the west, mountains to the south and northwest

While on James Warr’s model for a moment, it might be of interest to note his comment: “It is proposed that the local Land of Zarahemla was located in Costa Rica in the Upper Reventazon Valley. This is to be distinguished from the greater Land of Zarahemla which included all Nephite lands between the land of Nephi and the land of Desolation” (emphasis added). Now, if the Land of Zarahemla extended as far north as the land of Desolation, then where is the Land of Bountiful, an equally discussed major land area, in fact as equally mentioned as the Land of Desolation (Alma 22:29-30, 31,32,33); and what about Mormon placing an unnamed land (3 Nephi 3:23) between the Land of Zarahemla and the Land of Bountiful? In the case of the Land of Bountiful, it was not only a major land area, but included small city-lands within it, as did the Land of Zarahemla, the Land of Nephi, etc.
    To call one area the Land of Zarahemla and another, extended area, the “Greater” Land of Zarahemla, is simply misleading, especially when the word or suggestion of a Greater Land of Zarahemla does not exist in the scriptural record. While it is true that Mormon sometimes bypasses mention of these other lands, such as his being taken from the Land Northward to the land of Zarahemla by his father (Mormon 1:6), or when “an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land” (Helaman 3:3).
    The point of all of this, as it always is, that theorists, whether well-known or insignificant, do not consider matching their comments, opinions, or beliefs with the actual scriptural references that show their inaccuracies and questionable reasoning.
    As to the narrow strip of wilderness, its configuration is described as being large enough to accommodate the people of Ammon (the Lamanite converts called the Anti Nephi Lehies), where they nearly crossed the entire strip of wilderness, coming over near the boarders of the land (Alma 27:14), that is the north border of the wilderness strip near the Land of Zarahemla, where “Ammon said unto them: Behold, I and my brethren will go forth into the land of Zarahemla” (Alma 27:15).
    At the same time, this narrow strip was “narrow” enough to be so labeled, which meant in 1828, “Of little breadth; not wide or broad; having little distance from side to side; as a narrow board; a narrow street; a narrow sea; a narrow hem or border. It is only or chiefly applied to the surface of flat or level bodies” and “Of little extent; very limited; as a narrow space or compass.” Obviously, this area had properties that made it a natural line of defense for the Nephites who placed fortifications at key points along its northern edge (Alma 50:10-11).
    So what might it have looked like?
(See the next post, “What Was the Narrow Strip of Wilderness? And Where Was it? – Part II,” to see suggested views of the Narrow Strip of Wilderness and where it was located)

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