The revealed text

The revealed text
The light of revelation at the Whitmer farm where Joseph and Oliver worked upstairs to finish translating the Book of Mormon

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Lesson 8: O How Great the Goodness of Our God

At first glance, you might think that 2 Nephi 9-10 has nothing to do with Book of Mormon geography, right? The lesson rightly focuses on the Savior's Atonement. No need for supplemental materials on that topic.

Here are some things to consider.

2 Nephi 9:41 says "the way for man is narrow." Compare that to other passages in the text that refer to narrow places, such as a narrow strip of wilderness, a narrow neck, a narrow neck of land, etc. Then consider various proposed maps of Book of Mormon geography and see how they interpret the term "narrow." The obvious anomaly is a "narrow neck of land" that is over 100 miles wide.

2 Nephi 9:53 says, "he has promised unto us that our seed shall not utterly be destroyed, according to the flesh, but that he would preserve them; and in future generations they shall become a righteous branch unto the house of Israel." Where do the scriptures say the descendants of Lehi live? Hint: See D&C 28, 30 and 32.

What land qualifies as the fulfillment of the following prophecy?

2 Nephi 10:10 But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land.

 11 And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.

 12 And I will fortify this land against all other nations.


Last week I said I'd discuss 2 Nephi 5 later. Here are some of the main points, taken from chapter 11 of Moroni's America:

2 Nephi 5:5-7

In Chapter 4, Lehi dies. Then, in chapter 5, Nephi separates from the Lamanites.

the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me. Wherefore, I, Nephi, did take my family, and … all those who would go with me…  And we did … journey in the wilderness for the space of many days. And after we had journeyed for the space of many days we did pitch our tents. (2 Nephi 5:5-7)

These verses don’t tell us much about where Nephi went, other than “into the wilderness.” He gives no directions or specific distances.

However, he gives an interesting clue. It was only after “we had journeyed for the space of many days” that “we did pitch our tents.” This seems surprising. Nephi specified that they took their tents with them. Why did they wait until after they had journeyed for many days to pitch them?

One possibility is that the tents were semi-permanent; i.e., not the kind of thing they would set up for one night’s sleep. Maybe the tents were big and complex and would take a long time to set up or take down. Another possibility is that they were on the run from the Lamanites and could not stop, but that seems unlikely over “many days.”

A third possibility that I find persuasive is that they were traveling by boat and simply stayed on the boats until they reached their destination.

It is common knowledge that ancient people tended to travel on or along rivers and waterways. This is particularly true where vegetation is dense and only the rivers offer a clear pathway. Rivers have the added advantage of a definite location. You can navigate them easily, provided you don’t get lost by following the wrong tributary.

The people in Nephi’s group would have been familiar with boats; after all, Nephi had built the ship on which they had all crossed the ocean, and indigenous people were familiar with the rivers. Although Sidon is the only river named in the text, other rivers are mentioned. Mormon explains that his work could not contain even “a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people… and their shipping and their building of ships.” (Helaman 3:14) It seems unlikely that all of this activity took place on one river, and only after hundreds of years of history (the time period which Helaman covers).

Taking these factors into consideration, it would be surprising if Nephi and his people did not use boats to travel through the wilderness in the new world, particularly after he had been warned to put distance between him and his brothers. Dense vegetation covers Georgia and Alabama. Had he hacked a trail through the forest, his brothers could easily follow.

With these assumptions, I looked at maps to see what routes Nephi could have taken for his escape. Later in the text we learn that Nephi ascended to a higher elevation; the City of Nephi is always up from the place of their fathers’ first inheritance. The highest locations in the area are in the Appalachian Mountains, such as in eastern Tennessee.

I found a river that leads from the coast to the mountains, which I consider a plausible candidate for Nephi’s route to the land of Nephi.

Figure 15 is a proposed map with rivers displayed in white. The arrows depict Nephi’s route.

Figure 15 - Nephi's escape

2 Nephi 5:20-21

Once he had established his people in the new area, Nephi reflected on what had happened.

Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord…. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint. (2 Nephi 5:20-21)

Hearts like flint. This is a surprising metaphor. Something must have triggered Nephi to compare his brothers’ hearts to flint. No other scriptural passage makes this analogy (Later, Jacob quotes Isaiah, who uses flint in two passages, but neither of these relate to Nephi’s metaphor. See 2 Nephi 7:7 and 15:28).

What made Nephi think of flint?

It turns out that the river in Georgia that I propose Nephi followed is named Flint River. The name comes from the abundance of flint in that riverbed, a source that has supplied Native Americans in the region for hundreds of years. Of course I’m not saying Nephi named this river, but had Nephi followed any other riverbed in the area, he may not have come across an abundance of high-quality flint and would have thought up a different metaphor to describe his brothers.

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