John L. Sorenson’s 1985 book “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon” is widely regarded by the LDS academic community as being the most influential book ever published in relation to the physical geography of the Book of Mormon. With his ideas of Book of Mormon geography being so widely regarded, presented below is a comparison of Sorenson’s geographical requirements to our model’s lands. In the future we may do a similar comparison to his most recent book “Mormon’s Codex”, but his influential 1985 publication seemed to us to be the best place to start.
I would like to note that I am not fond of spending too much time being critical of other people’s ideas and models. You will find very little criticism of such things on this website, and I hope to keep it that way. On the other hand, since the comparison below is comparing Sorenson’s internal model to our external model, it is necessary to not only point out that some things are different, but also to explain why I see those things differently than Sorenson. I do not do this to disparage his work, only to explain mine in comparison.
I also want to note that I am limiting this particular review to geographic information in particular. I do not address other important topics like writing systems, climate, architecture, DNA, and so forth. Information on these topics can be found in other articles that we have published. The comparison below is limited to comparing Sorenson’s internal geographical assertions to our external Book of Mormon geography in the Baja Peninsula and the North American Southwest. The page references following the Sorenson quotes refer to the 1996 reprint of Sorenson’s 1985 book “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon”.
Sorenson Describes General Hourglass Shape of Book of Mormon Lands:
|Sorenson’s Assertion||Does Our Baja Model Match?||Our Model in Comparison|
|“The most obvious requirement…a ‘narrow neck of land’ or isthmus separated a ‘land northward’ from a ‘land southward,’ in the general shape of an hourglass” p6||Yes||
Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Alma 22:32 tells us that the land southward was ‘nearly surrounded by water,’ but no clear statements are made about the relation of the land northward to adjacent seas.” p6||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“the land southward had two main divisions: the land of Nephi in the far south, then to its north the land of Zarahemla, which stretched so far that it nearly reached the neck of land.” p6||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The southerly portion of the isthmus itself was termed the land of Bountiful. Immediately to the north of Bountiful at the narrow neck was the land Desolation.” p6||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Not far northward from Desolation was the Jaredites’ first major settlement area, the land of Moron (Ether 7:6).” p6||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Northward from Desolation along the east coast lay a wet land (Alma 50:29; Ether 15:8-11)” p6||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“North of Moron and from Nephi south, the situation remains hazy; but in between, the overall relationships–land northward/isthmus/land of Zarahemla/land of Nephi–are beyond dispute” p6-7||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|Sorenson’s Assertion||Does Our Baja Model Match?||Our Model in Comparison|
|“More helpful is the journey of Alma and his converts…They left the waters of Mormon, a place probably no more than a couple of days from the city of Nephi, and made it to Zarahemla in 21 days (Mosiah 18:1-7; 23:1-3; 24:20, 25). The party included women, children, and “flocks.” How fast could they have traveled?” [At this point Sorenson spends several paragraphs comparing travel speeds of LDS pioneers, to documented travels within Meso-America, to Mojave Indians traveing 100 miles a day, etc.] …Sorenson continues “If we assume that Alma’s people and animals went at ordinary speeds, they might plausibly have traveled at a rate of around 11 miles a day. From the waters of Mormon where Alma’s party started, Zarahemla would then be 21 days or 231 miles of actual travel at 11 miles per day. Helam, the land to which Alma fled, seems to have been off the main route, which might have been a little shorter (subsequent travelers did not go through it; compare Mosiah 23:30, 35).” p8-9||No||
While Sorenson’s evaluation of travel speeds makes some good points, it is faulty and incomplete in three respects:
While Sorenson correctly recognizes the importance of considering the traveling speed of Alma’s party, he underestimates their potential speed.
|“the text makes clear that part of the journey was through mountainous wilderness (where the headwaters of the river Sidon were located – Alma 16:6; 22:27; 27:14)”. p9||Yes/No||
Our model matches Sorenson’s assertion that Alma’s party’s traversed mountainous areas during their journey. The difference between our model and Sorenson’s interpretation here relates to whether this mountainous area is where the headwaters of the river Sidon was located like he states.
The Rio San Ignacio is the River Sidon in our model and it’s drainage basin does indeed have headwaters in this mountainous area, but the Rio San Ignacio is now largely dry in that upland area and the river currently begins flowing from aquifer-fed springs near our model’s location for the city of Zarahemla.
While it’s possible that the headwaters of the Rio San Ignacio began in the mountains during Book of Mormon times, we are not aware of any current evidence supporting that idea other than the probability that the peninsula experienced a much wetter climate during Book of Mormon times.
Another possibility, which is the possibility that we currently show in our model, is the possibility that the large plateau south of the current Rio San Ignacio might have been the land of Manti. This would mean that although the land of Manti was south of Zarahemla and “up” (as in altitude) from Zarahemla just like the text requires, it is also downstream of Zarahemla. This possibility does not seem like the most likely possibility based upon the internal description, but it is still a possibility that completely matches every reference in the Book of Mormon text.
|[Continuing with the description of Alma’s party’s journey through mountainous terrain]…”over a crooked route with which Alma’s party was unfamiliar” p9||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The location termed the waters of Mormon was up to a couple of days away from the city of Nephi (Mosiah 18:4-7, 30-34; 23:1).”||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|So the actual trail or road mileage between Zarahemla and Nephi, the two dominant early cities, must have been on the order of 250 miles, assuming an 11-mile-per-day rate of travel. Given the twists and turns a real route would likely follow in such terrain, the distance as the crow flies would be more like 180.” p10||Yes/No||
As noted above, Sorenson’s evaluation fails to take into account three important pieces of information, all of which tend to lead to an underestimation of the minimum traveling speed of Alma’s party, which is the basis of Sorenson’s distance estimates in this and other assertions. Our model shows a distance of 300 miles between Nephi and Zarahemla as opposed to Sorenson’s 180 miles.
Another possibility is that the Baja model presented on the achoiceland.com website is correct in its location of the City of Nephi and our model is incorrect. This would place the city of Nephi almost precisely 180 miles from Zarahemla. This would mean that Sorenson was very accurate in his estimate and that his estimate matches a Baja model exactly.
|“Using the distance between Nephi and Zarahemla as a tentative standard” p10||Difficult to say.||
Sorenson is here asserting that the speed of travel of Alma’s group should be the standard used to measure other distances. As you will see below, Sorenson’s distances commonly match our model very well. This makes a lot of sense because Sorenson’s travel speed estimates are based on estimations of “normal” rates of travel, whereas the flight of Alma’s group involved being “strengthened of the Lord” and staying ahead of a pursuing army.
Complicating the applicability of Sorenson’s travel speeds to our model is the fact that Sorenson is very inconsistent in how he applies his own standard travel speeds, especially when it comes to the 1.5-day journey across the “narrow neck of land”. At his estimated “11-mile-per-day” travel speed the narrow neck would be 16.5 miles wide, but the external geography he presents later in his book shows the narrow neck to be the isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is orders of magnitude wider than 16.5 miles. The result is that he chooses to apply different rates of travel and choose different meanings for the term “day’s travel” based upon whether circumstances seem to fit his external model. One has to wonder if he would feel the need to make the same arguments if the isthmus of Tehuantepec were 16.5 miles wide.
|“The city of Zarahemla was said by Moroni to be in the “heart” or “center” of the land of Zarahemla (Alma 60:1, 19, 22; Helaman 1:17-18, 22-32). Yet Zarahemla was not very far from the edge of Lamanite lands.” p10||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“the city of Zarahemla might be somewhat south of the land’s geographical center, though still conceptually in “the heart” of it” p10||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“between Zarahemla and Bountiful, which was still farther north (Helaman 1:27-28), lay “the most capital parts of the land.”||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|Referring to “the most capital parts of the land” mentioned above, Sorenson goes on to say “This important zone seems to have been along the river Sidon, which flowed northward from Zarahemla (Alma 22:27-33; 2:15).” p10-12||No||We can see no basis for this statement from Sorenson. The river Sidon is not ever mentioned in relation to any location north of Zarahemla. Although Sorenson’s statement here tends to fit his external model, it is simply unfounded based on internal evidence and should not be included in his internal evaluation of the text.|
|“we get the impression that the capital city was nearer to the Lamanite border than was the population focus of the greater land of Zarahemla” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“In late B.C. times a continuous wilderness strip separated Nephite Zarahemla from Lamanite territory.” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“at least during the events recorded in the books of Mosiah and Alma, the city of Nephi (also called Lehi-Nephi) was some distance from the “narrow strip of wilderness” proper.” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|Continuing to refer to the distance between Lehi-Nephi and the “narrow strip of wilderness”, Sorenson goes on to say “On the Lamanite side of the border zone considerable wilderness space seems to have separated the city of Nephi from the transition strip” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“No mention is ever made of travel southward from the city of Nephi, so it must have been near the southern limit of what the Nephites recognized as the greater land of Nephi (Alma 22:28).” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“it seems reasonable to divide our tentative mileage figures this way: on the order of 180 airline miles overall separated the city of Nephi from the city of Zarahemla;” p12||Yes/No||See above regarding difference between our model’s location for the city of Nephi compared to the achoiceland.com website’s location for the city of Nephi.|
|“About a hundred miles of this distance was from Nephi to the midpoint of the “narrow strip of wilderness” (Alma 22:27); then it was 80 miles from that point down to the city of Zarahemla itself. Though only estimates, these distances and relationships are as carefully derived and true to the Nephite record as present information allows.” p12||No||Sorenson’s justification for making an attempt to identify the midpoint, and by implication the width, of the “narrow strip of wilderness” is unclear. While he does make sure that we know he’s only making estimates, even an estimate should be based on some sort of information. No basis for the estimate is presented and we know of no basis for estimating the dimensions of the “narrow strip of wildernesss”.|
|“Northward, beyond the borders of the land of Zarahemla, lay an unnamed “land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The land of Bountiful as a whole seems to have been quite narrow.” p12||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“How far apart were Zarahemla and Bountiful? If the former city lay slightly south of geographical center, as argued above, it might have been around 100 miles from there to the north border of the greater land to which the name Zarahemla was applied in Alma’s day (Alma 5:1, 6:7; 8:1-3,6,11-12; 16:1-15; 28:1).” p13||No||The statement “it might have been around 100 miles” is not very definitive. In our model the distance from the City of Zarahemla to the north border of the greater land of Zarahemla is roughly 42 miles.|
|“If we add the unnamed “land between” and also the narrow land of Bountiful, 80 miles more should be ample distance to the northern limit of the land southward.” p13||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The “land of first inheritance” would be at the extreme southward limit, but we cannot be certain of its relation to Nephi or its environs, except that the former was coastal and the latter upland territory.” p13||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|Sorenson next reviews the distances already presented above, then using the distance from the City of Nephi to the northern limit of the land southward he tells us: “the total length of the land southward, where most of the Book of Mormon story took place, ought not to be much greater nor much less than 360 miles.” p13||Yes||
Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely. From the City of Nephi in our model to the northern limit of the “land southward” (as Sorenson uses the term) is 386 miles, which is certainly not “much greater nor much less than 360”, just like Sorenson estimates.
This is an intriguing correlation between Sorenson’s estimates and our model. As mentioned above, several measurements inside this “land southward” differ significantly from what he estimates, but the sum of those differences ends up working out almost precisely to his overall estimate.
This symmetry in overall scale means that the supporting statements that Sorenson provides next also apply as perfectly to our model as it does to his: “It may be helpful, conditioned as we are to the great distances we can cover by air and automobile, to remember that Palestine from Dan to Beersheba was only 150 miles long and less than half that wide, yet 95 percent of Old Testament events took place within that tiny space. In that perspective, the estimated scale we have arrived at for the Nephite scene seems reasonable.” p13
|“From Nephi to Zarahemla, on a direct line, was about 180 miles. Twice that distance would have taken them to the “line” (Alma 22:32, logically a river) separating Bountiful from Desolation, the beginning of the land northward.” p14||No||See above for discussions of the distances Sorenson mentions. In regards to this statement, there is nothing in the Book of Mormon text to support his statement that the “line” separating Bountiful from Desolation was “logically a river”. The text gives us no reason to think that the line was a river. We can speculate that because Sorenson recognizes this line as probably being a lowland area, he automatically associates it with a drainage area. We do agree on that point, but not all drainages are rivers, so to assert that it is a ‘river’ is inappropriate and leads the reader to search for a feature that didn’t necessarily exist.|
|Speaking of the men that Limhi sent to find Zarahemla, Sorenson attempts to put an upper limit on how far they might have traveled by saying “Surely diligent men such as the king would have sent on this mission would not have pressed on much farther [than twice as far as the distance between the city of Nephi and the city of Zarahemla].” p14||Yes…but we strenuously object to his supporting arguments.||
While (as described above) the distance between Nephi and Zarahemla in our model is significantly farther than Sorenson’s estimates, it turns out the “land of many waters” that Limhi’s party discovered in our model is almost precisely twice the distance between Nephi and Zarahemla in our model.
We tend to think this is a coincidence because we disagree wholeheartedly with Sorenson’s supposition that the word “diligent” means people that would give up before reaching their objective. As far as Limhi’s “diligent” men were concerned, their mission was the only hope for the freedom of their people. They had no doubt that Zarahemla existed, so why would they give up before finding it?
Indeed, Limhi’s search party ended up searching far beyond Zarahemla and not giving up until they thought they had achieved their objective. They found the destroyed remains of the Jaredites, but they thought it was the destroyed remains of the people in Zarahemla. It wasn’t until they thought they had found Zarahemla that they stopped searching. It had nothing to do with their distance estimates or the idea that they had simply searched too far like Sorenson implies.
|Continuing with his statement above regarding the diligence (or lack thereof) of Limhi’s search party, Sorenson continues: “So it is unreasonable that the battleground of the Jaredites where Limhi’s explorers ended up would have been more than 100 miles into the land northward from the “line” at the neck. The hill Ramah…was the same hill as Nephite Cumorah (Ether 15:11)…the total distance from the city of Nephi to the last battlefield at Ramah or Cumorah is unlikely to have been more than 450, or perhaps 500 miles. Keep in mind that these figures are reasonable estimates…any increase in the dimensions would make the story of Limhi’s explorers more difficult to handle. The hill Ramah/Cumorah seems, then, to have been within 100 miles of the narrow neck of land” p14-15||No||His “100 miles” estimate finds its basis in his previous statements regarding travel speed and scale which we have already addressed above as being under-informed. It should come as no surprise that since our model has broader applicable basis distances that it also has broader applicable dependent distances such as this. As it turns out, although the exact distance is different between his estimate and our model, it is still different by almost exactly the same scale as those previous differences.|
|“The final Jaredite wars all took place in the land northward within a territory small enough that Ether could observe most of the action while moving around only short distances from his cave base…A hundred miles from Moron to the hill Ramah would probably accommodate all these facts.” p15||Yes||The hill Ramah (Cumorah) in our model is less than 100 miles from Moron like Sorenson describes. Also, within the 100-mile radius from Cumorah there are several very tall peaks that overlook large landscapes below.|
|“Confirmation of the close proximity of Ramah to Moron lies in the account about King Omer…Withdrawing from Moron under threat from a rival, he traveled with his family “many days” to find refuge by the east sea” p16||No||Sorenson is factually inaccurate in regards to King Omer ruling in Moron. Omer ruled in Nimrod, not Moron, therefore his journey is not relevant to the distance between Ramah/Cumorah and Moron.|
|Recounting the Book of Mormon’s account of the Nephites and Lamanites gathering together and being besieged by the Gadianton Robbers, Sorenson states “Clearly the record deals with an overall area only hundreds of miles in dimension.” p16||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Limhi’s explorers could pass through [the narrow neck of land] without even realizing that it was an isthmus. (Remember that upon their return they supposed they had been in the land southward all the time.)”||No||The text does not tell us whether or not they thought they were passing through an isthmus, in fact, considering the storyline up until that point in the text, we have no reason to believe that Limhi’s people were even aware that there was a narrow neck of land existing north of Zarahemla, nor do we know that the lands between Nephi and Zarahemla were sufficiently wide that they too wouldn’t feel like an isthums, albeit wider than the narrow neck.|
|“Of course, we don’t know how long the “day’s travel” might have been. References given earlier illustrate how wide a range of distances might be meant by this term. Interpretations of the expression could also vary…”||No||
Earlier in the text, Sorenson told us that he would be “Using the distance between Nephi and Zarahemla as a tentative standard” to inform us of distances based on the time spent on the journey. This would mean that Sorenson’s narrow neck would be just 16.5 miles wide, which wouldn’t fit his chosen real-world isthmus.
Sorenson abandons his normal unit of measurement and chooses to rely very strongly on his assertion that Limhi’s party couldn’t possibly have perceived that they were traveling through a narrow neck and as a result he comes to the conclusion that the 1.5-day journey across the narrow neck means something between 50 and 144 miles, calling something between 75 to 125 miles “a plausible compromise”.
The narrow neck of land in our model is 43 miles, which is below Sorenson’s minimum of 50 miles.
|“it was about a regular days’ march for soldiers from Mulek to Bountiful–say nearly 25 miles” p18||No||This is an interesting observation by Sorenson and he may be correct, meaning that we might update our location for Mulek to reflect a location farther to the north. Moving the model’s location for Mulek seems possible without significantly disrupting other model locations, but we will want to evaluate it thoroughly before committing to the new location.|
|“the piece of coastline [meaning the coastline associated with Morianton, Lehi, Nephihah, and Moroni] involved that day could not have been more than 30 miles long” p18||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely. This coastline is ~20-25 miles long in our model.|
|“the distance from Bountiful on the north end to Moroni on the southerly extreme of the east coast cannot plausibly extend much more than 85 miles” p19||No||The distance from our current location for the city Bountiful to Moroni is 95 miles, which is close to Sorenson’s estimate. It’s possible that the 95 miles in our model could be considered to be not “much more than” 85 miles. Alternatively, if our model’s location for Bountiful was moved to another possibly-viable location to the east, it would be almost precisely 85 miles to Moroni. This is a point that should be researched better in regards to our own Baja model.|
|“The Book of Mormon text really does require that the east coast of concern to the Nephites be much shorter than the west”||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely, and seems very insightful considering the shoreline (including the Vizcaino peninsula) to the west of Zarahemla in the Baja model compared to its “much shorter” east coast.|
|“At the same time, “the borders of the east sea shore” as the Nephite writers called this coastal zone, had to be a sizable piece of territory…”||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“we can tell that the land southward as a whole was not nearly as wide as it was long”||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“a string of cities stretched west to east across the land north of Zarahemla: Ammonihah, Aaron, Nephihah, Moroni. These four places ranging across most of the land southward might have taken up 150 miles, but that is about the limit. The distance coast to coast on this transect probably did not exceed 200 miles.” p21||Yes||
Matches Sorenson’s conclusions for size, but there are errors and unfounded assumptions in his logic. First, although he is correct in stating that Ammonihah, like Melek, existed along the western periphery of Nephite territory, he incorrectly assumes that Ammonihah was just as close to the west sea as Melek. The error here is the assumption that coastlines are straight and don’t vary significantly in width as one travels north or south. Not only is this assumption unjustified, it is contradicted by his earlier statement that the Nephites’ west coast must be longer than its east coast. The latter statement recognizes the need for differences in the size of coastlines while the former asserts that there is no difference and that Ammonihah is as close to the west sea as Melek.
Secondly, Sorenson states that Moroni is on a line north of Zarahemla even though the text expressly states that the city of Moroni existed on the southern extreme of the border between the Nephites and the Lamanites during Alma’s time.
|“The city of Nephi was evidently not very far from the coast” p21||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“the immediately adjacent west coastal strip was counted part of the land of Nephi (Alma 22:28–“in the land of Nephi”)” p21||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The size and shape of the land Northward are also obscure” p22||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely. We find little in the text to tell us about the extents of the land Northward. This makes sense in our model because any group exiting the peninsula would not likely travel to the extends of the land they enter when they exit the peninsula, meaning all of North America.|
|“We can suppose that [Moron] was not very distant from the sea” p22||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|The land Northward in the critical Jaredite area seems unlikely to have been over a couple hundred miles in width.” p22||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely. It should be remembered here that we are talking about the “critical Jaredite area”, not the whole land Northward, therefore the statement fits our model nicely.|
|Sorenson’s Assertion||Does Our Baja Model Match?||Our Model in Comparison|
|“The recordkeepers consistently wrote about going “up,” “down,” or “over.” …This information allows us to draw a neat picture of relative elevations” p23||Yes||We agree with Sorenson that this information refers to relative elevations and is taken into account in our model.|
|“A dominant feature is the major river, the Sidon” p23||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely. Our model only has one river that could be considered major, just like Sorenson’s interpretation supposes.|
|“Sidon, which flowed down out of the mountains that separated the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla.” p23||Yes/No||As mentioned previously, there are two candidate locations for the headwaters of our model’s river Sidon. The river presently originates from large springs near our model’s “Zarahemla”, but its drainage basin includes the mountains to the south that match Sorenson’s description well. This southward extension of the drainage basin is currently relatively dry except during and after storms. If the climate of Baja received more precipitation during Nephite times or if springs in these southerly mountains used to provide water to the river during Nephite times, then our model matches Sorenson’s description of Sidon quite well. Otherwise, our model still matches the requirements of the text, but not Sorenson’s interpretation.|
|“This river [Sidon] ran “by” the local land of Zarahemla, which lay mainly on the stream’s west (Alma 2:15).” p23||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The only populated part of Nephite lands surely on the east of the river is the Valley of Gideon (Alma 6:7).” p23||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Since travelers had to go “up” to Gideon, and since there was a “hill Amnihu” just across the river from the city of Zarahemla extensive but gentle enough to accommodate a large battle, the Sidon basin must have slanted up more sharply on the east side than on the west” p23||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“We also know that the river must have been fairly long. Its origin was deep in the wilderness above the highest Nephite city on the river, Manti (Alma 16:6). Zarahemla was downstream.” p23||Yes/No||
As mentioned above, there are two candidate locations for the headwaters of Sidon in our model. If the headwaters originated in the mountains to the south then our model matches this description by Sorenson. Since we have addressed this possibility above, we won’t spend more time on it now.
On the other hand, this seems an appropriate place to discuss one of the major disagreements between our model and Sorenson’s description. In fact, this is one of the major disagreements between our model and practically every internal model of Book of Mormon lands. We assert that the text does not require a north-flowing river Sidon.
The idea that Sidon flows north is founded in logical arguments related to the position and elevation of Manti. We know from numerous references that travelers leaving Zarahemla towards Manti traveled south. We also know from those references that they traveled “up” to Manti to get there. The logical conclusion is that Manti was south of Zarahemla and was uphill from Zarahemla. We agree with the logic of this argument. A north-flowing Sidon seems likely, but as you will see below, it is not the only possibility.
Where our model differs from Sorenson and others is not in the direction or elevation to Manti from Zarahemla. It has to do with whether or not Sidon ran past Manti before Zarahemla or whether it ran past Zarahemla before Manti.
At first glance, the answer seems obvious: Since Sidon clearly ran past both cities, and since Manti is “up” from Zarahemla, it must have run by Manti first. What must be recognized here is that the phrase “must have run by Manti first” should be rephrased to say “probably ran by Manti first”. We say “probably” because there is another very viable possibility.
It should be remembered that Sorenson’s description of Zarahemla (see above) noted that the elevation on one side of the river was significantly higher than on the other side: “the Sidon basin must have slanted up more sharply on the east side than on the west” (p23). He also noted that Zarahemla “lay mainly on the stream’s west” (p23). This recognition of the potential for high elevation right next to a river is important.
In our model, the river Sidon (modern Rio San Ignacio) flows largely southwest from Zarahemla towards the Pacific Ocean. This river trajectory means that by traveling south from Zarahemla towards Manti means crossing from the western Zarahemla to the eastern elevated land that Sorenson notes. Along the Rio San Ignacio (river Sidon) in Baja, there is a large, elevated plateau that we identify as the land of Manti. It is south of Zarahemla just like the text requires, and it borders Sidon just like the text requires, but it is actually downstream from Zarahemla. While this is a surprising configuration, it meets the requirements of the text perfectly, but not Sorenson’s interpretation.
It should be noted just how easily a proponent of a Baja model could choose to make the model more appealing to LDS scholars by ignoring this real-world land configuration and agreeing that Manti must have been upstream from Zarahemla. As mentioned before, a north-flowing Sidon could be easily argued to be a strength of a Baja model since there are good reasons to believe the area’s climate experienced significantly more precipitation during Nephite times. The problem with abandoning the “downstream Manti” philosophy is that it requires us to abandon an alternative scenario that is 100% in agreement with the Book of Mormon textual requirements for Sidon, Zarahemla, and Manti, and which meets these textual requirements without relying on a wetter prehistoric climate.
As we’ve stated before, the very fact that the land configuration that exists around the Rio San Ignacio exists at all proves that it is possible that the river Sidon did not flow towards the north.
|“The city of Sidom was still farther north” p23-25||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Sidom was…probably on the river” p25||No||There is simply no basis for this statement. Sorenson tries to substantiate it by pointing out that Sidom was the name of a Phoenician port and therefore “the place by implication was a shipping point on the river [Sidon]”. This phonetic association with a Phoenician port does not constitute evidence that Sidon flowed northward through Nephite lands nor that the Nephite city of Sidom was in any way associated with the river Sidon.|
|“The stream [Sidon] must have flowed through Nephite territory at least a couple of hundred miles before it emptied into the sea” p25||No||This is unsubstantiated speculation on Sorenson’s part. There is no internal evidence in the text to support this.|
|“[Sidon] could be crossed on foot with a little difficulty, at one point and presumably during the drier part of the year” p25||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely, although we don’t know why he presumes it was during the drier part of the year.|
|“Part of Nephite territory included hard-to-enter wilderness” p25||No||The mistake Sorenson makes here is that he associates the wildernesses mentioned in the verses with the mountains mentioned in the verses, but the verses never call the mountains “wildernesses”. It repeatedly speaks of “mountains and wilderness” areas, not “mountain wildernesses”. The mountains do sound hard-to-enter based on the text, but there is no such indication for the wildernesses.|
|“Part of Nephite territory included….wilderness adjacent to settled areas”||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Part of Nephite territory included….wilderness adjacent to settled areas (3 Nephi 1:27; 2:17; 4:1-13), leading us to expect that a portion of the river’s route lay through inhospitable hill country.”||No||While Zarahamla is associated with the “narrow strip” of wilderness to its south, the text does not ever associate Sidon with “inhospitable hill country”.|
|“In any case, the city of Zarahemla was at an intermediate elevation, “up” from the coast (Alma 22:31) but “down” from Nephi (Alma 22:31; Helaman 1:17).” p25||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The river Sidon likely emptied into the east, not the west, sea…” p25||No||There is simply no association of Sidon with either the east or west seas in particular. While this idea of Sidon flowing into the east sea does seem to support Sorenson’s external model, it is not substantiated by the text of the Book of Mormon.|
|“No mention at all is made of where the Sidon emptied into the sea” p25||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Such a river [Sidon] must have had a considerable mouth.” p25||No||Nowhere in Sorenson’s internal description of Book of Mormon lands does he establish that the river Sidon is sizeable enough to have “a considerable mouth”. On the other hand, he does recognize that Sidon was small enough that it “could be crossed on foot with a little difficulty, at one point and presumably during the drier part of the year”. The presumption of “the drier part of the year” supports Sorenson’s external model, but is unsubstantiated. There is no basis for asserting that Sidon had “a considerable mouth”.|
|“the “land of first inheritance” was on the west coast” p25||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Nephi led his band to higher elevation; they fled to the interior highlands (2 Nephi 5:7-8; compare Alma 22:28).” p25||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The coastal land of first inheritance was south of, but continuous on the northward as a strip paralleling, the greater land of Zarahemla. That strip ran all the way to the isthmus (Alma 22:27-29).” p26||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The west wilderness also consisted of a range of uninhabited mountains paralleling the coastal zone, for groups had to cross over the wilderness either by one pass (near Antiparah in the south–Alma 56:31-40) or another on the north (Alma 25:2).” p26||Yes/No||Our model agrees with the interpretation of “over” meaning passing a higher elevation, but not all higher elevations are ranges of “mountains”. Our model shows many large plateaus that are higher than the surrounding elevations that must be passed over, so our model agrees with the spirit of Sorenson’s argument here, but he takes it too far. His assertion that the higher elevations are mountain ranges supports his external model, but this western mountain range of his is not required by the text of the Book of Mormon.|
|“Naturally the streams on the eastward side of this range would have run down into the Sidon” p26||No||Since the mountain range referenced here is not required by the text (see above), there is no reason to require any eastward drainage like this statement asserts.|
|“Melek was adjacent to the western wilderness and thus was probably at the margin of cultivable land in the basin (Alma 8:3-5)” p26||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“[Melek’s] position was conveniently accessible from Zarahemla city (verse 3; compare Alma 35:13-14; 45:18)” p26||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“[Melek] was sheltered from the coast by a band of mountain wilderness on the west” p26||No||See discussion of this incorrect western mountain range above.|
|“The city Bountiful was near sea level…near the east coast at the isthmus” p26||Yes||Somewhat matches Sorenson’s interpretation. Perhaps his arguments here indicate that we should identify Bountiful closer to or at Bahai de Los Angeles than the more-inland location where we currently suggest it existed.|
|“the land [at the isthmus] must have been relatively low lying most of the way across” p26||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Northward was the land of Cumorah, either a subdivision of Desolation or a continuation of it. It contained at least one “hill” (Ramah/Cumorah), high enough that the handful of Nephite survivors who climbed it hid successfully from their massed enemies who were at its base (Mormon 6:6, 11).” p26-27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The Jaredites’ hill Comnor and two valleys were nearby [Cumorah/Ramah] (Ether 14:26-28)” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“the hill Shim may have been located in the same [Cumorah/Ramah] region (Ether 9:3; Mormon 4:23).” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“the final battles were fought in or adjacent to a hilly sector, which was, in a larger perspective, “in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains” (Mormon 6:4).” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“[a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains] implies a wet climate” p27||No||It only implies waters, rivers, and fountains, all of which can flow into an area above and/or under ground. A wet climate is a possibility, but is not the only reasonable possibility.|
|“drainage eastward from the uplands, which included Jaredite Moron” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“This wet territory must have been the same general area referred to by Morianton as lands “covered with large bodies of water” that he coveted.” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“[This wet territory] had the potential to be formed into a bloc or alliance with nearby Bountiful (Alma 50:29, 32)” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“Jaredites consistently wrote of their older lands being “up” in relation to the east sea zone” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“The lowlands, however, seem to have become the more populous and important by the time of the Jaredite downfall” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|
|“the land northward consisted of at least two parts: lowland eastern and highland western portions. The latter contained the Jaredite capital Moron–although no city of Moron is ever mentioned–within the “land of their first inheritance” (Ether 7:5, 16-17).” p27||Yes||Matches Sorenson’s interpretation precisely.|