Zarahemla - Local Setting

Local Setting

The Book of Mormon consistently describes the land of Zarahemla and its adjoining lands as localized. The name of only one "river" is given in the New World Book of Mormon setting. The northward flowing river Sidon, east of the city of Zarahemla, is described as originating in highlands to the southeast. According to the Book of Mormon, the river Sidon ultimately flows into a “sea”. The river Sidon is never mentioned in lands north of Zarahemla. Identifying the fishery river Sidon is crucial to locating the land of Zarahemla. The Book of Mormon does not indicate that the river Sidon was an impressively large or mighty river. In Book of Mormon antiquity, the river Sidon was shallow enough to cross on foot, yet deep and swift enough to carry away semi-buoyant human carcasses.

The borderline between the lands of “Bountiful” and “Desolation” (north of the land of Zarahemla) is described as “only the distance of a day and a half’s journey” from east to west. The Book of Mormon narrative consistently uses “up” and “down” in describing relative elevation differences between its proximal lands. The lands of Desolation, Bountiful, Zarahemla and Nephi are so localized that, elevation steadily rises as one travels southward from the land of Desolation, up to the wilderness of Bountiful, and from there, further south through the land of Zarahemla to the land of Nephi. According to the Book of Mormon, a journey from the southern land of Nephi “down” to the land of Zarahemla could be covered on foot in under 21 days.

The book of Alma in the Book of Mormon describes the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi as flanked on the east and on the west by bodies of water called seas. Curiously, the term “lake” is never used in the Book of Mormon to describe a body of water. The use of the word “sea” in the Book of Mormon and in the Bible does not mean Ocean in every instance. One Book of Mormon verse definitely refers to an inland body of water, as a “sea”. The Mediterranean Sea, Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea are essentially inland bodies of water bordering the land of Canaan. More than one author recognizes a parallel between New World seas mentioned in the Book of Mormon and the seas bordering the Promised Land of the Bible.

Between the lands of Zarahemla and Nephi “a narrow strip of wilderness” runs east and west dividing Nephite territories on the north and Lamanite lands to the south. This strip of wilderness is not the same as the “small” or “narrow neck of land” north of Zarahemla. The “narrow pass” having water “on the west and on the east” connects with “the land northward”, that is, with lands north of Zarahemla and Bountiful.

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