Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Where Were the Waters of Mormon?

“All this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer” (Mosiah 18:30)
Left: Mormon in background listening intently to Abinadi’s testimony of Christ; Right: Later Alma converts and baptizes 400 at the Waters of Mormon
After Alma’s conversion listening to Abinadi in the councils of King Noah, he went about preaching privately among the people so his works would not become known to the king (Mosiah 18:3). Alma must have changed the place of his meetings during this time, for the people began to assemble in an area called Mormon, an area so named by the king (Mosiah 18:4). The location was evidently in the borders of the Land of Nephi and perhaps the narrow strip of wilderness that ran from sea to sea across the Land Southward, which had at times and season been infested with wild beasts (Mosiah 18:4).
The author of this verse is the prophet Mormon who is abridging the writings of Alma, and for a moment waxes eloquently about this area. Some historians believe that the term “place” in this sense means the same as land, or the land of Mormon; however, the term Place of Mormon is used three times—if it were called the Land of Mormon or meant the same thing, that term surely would have been used in at least one of these three areas by Mormon. Yet, it is Mormon himself who calls it a land when he first introduces himself about 175 years later: “And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression” (3 Nephi 5:12). However, Mormon also tells us his father was named Mormon (Mormon 1:5), which is a strange combination unless Mormon’s father was also named after the Land of Mormon where Alma established the first church—which might tell us a little about Mormon’s ancestry and the strength of character among his forbears, which allowed him at age 15 to have the faith and desire to know Jesus and preach against evil (Mormon 1:15-17), and at 16 for the Nephites to appoint him their military eader (Mormon 2:1-2).
Very probably, this area, which would not have been very large not to have been given the formal name land, was probably just called Mormon, and included a small area, like a pond, a forest, and evidently not occupied other than by wild animals. The fact that later an area named Hermounts is introduced that had ravenous beasts, might suggest these in Mormon were not man-eating wild animals, but merely wild—in fact, the term “infested” suggests “to trouble greatly, to disturb, to annoy,” which sounds less like dangerous, and more like pesty and annoying. And since the king called the area Mormon, perhaps the term at the time was a derogatory one.
In any event, the area of Mormon was on the borders of the Land of Nephi, near a “forest,” might also suggest that from its root word the original meaning in all languages of “expressing distance from cities and civilization,” and “expressing departure or wandering,” well fits his melancholy expression in verse 30.
This is also suggested when Mormon describes the area as being a thicket of small trees, which is an area of “a wood or collection of trees or shrubs closely set,” which is not descriptive of a forest. And since this place or area was not called the Land of Mormon at the time, but later grown in size and scope, perhaps the best term would be the one Mormon uses—the Place of Mormon, and not try to make it something more than it was in terms of size and importance.
At the time of Alma, the place was evidently unsettled and insignificant, though it had a fountain of pure water where Alma spent his time, and hid himself during the day in the thicket when the king’s army came to search for him. It is not likely that when Alma said, “Here are the waters of Mormon,” when his converts wanted to be baptized (Mosiah 18:8), that he was referring to a large lake as Mesoamerican Theorists claim, such as their Lago de Atitlan, which could not be “searched daily” by the king’s men (Mosiah 18:5), nor would any activity around it not be visible from numerous vantage points. Hardly an area of secret or of hiding described by Mormon.
Lake Atitlan, Mesoamerican Theorists’ Waters of Mormon, a large 80-square-mile lake in Panajachel, Guatemala
Obviously, this area or Place of Mormon would not have been far from the City of Nephi, “in the borders of the land,” Mormon tells us. The City of Nephi, of course, was in the Land of Nephi, a term that may have had both smaller and larger dimensions, depending on its use. For when Ammon “came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom…he took three of his brethren…and went down into the land of Nephi” (Mosiah 7:5-6). Yet the Land of Nephi stretched from the west sea to the east sea (Alma 22:27; 50:8), with all the land south of the narrow strip of wilderness was the Land of Nephi (Alma 27:14), and Lamoni’s father was king over all the land except for the land of Ishmael (Alma 22:1). Yet, there were other lands within the greater Land of Nephi, such as the land of Middoni (Alma 20:4), land of Jerusalem (Alma 36:29), land of first inheritance, where Lehi landed (Alma 54:12), etc.
It was probably into this narrow strip of wilderness that Alma led his 450 converts after being apprised of the king’s army approaching (Mosiah 18:34)
It is interesting that when Mormon was about eleven his father “carried him” into the Land Southward from their home in the Land Northward. They went as far as the Land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:6); however, whether his father intended to visit the Land of Mormon near the City of Nephi is not known, and a war broke out between the Lamanites and Nephites that year (Mormon 1:8) and further travel might have been restricted. On the other hand, the Lord may have directed Mormon’s father to take him to Zarahemla, where his future as a leader of the people and prophet was to be realized.
In any event, it stands to reason that the Place of Mormon (or Land of Mormon) was located within a day or two travel of the City of Nephi, on the outskirts of the Land, or where it bordered with a wilderness, no doubt the narrow strip of wilderness described by Mormon, and possibly one of the reasons why he knew so much about the topography of this area.

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