THE ORIGINS OF ANCIENT AMERICANS
Chapter 22 of Alma contains many geographical references that have been wrested for more than a century by people who are sure they know the answers concerning Book of Mormon geography. And these theories were predated by the scientific community’s equally dubious claims.
The Archaeological “Party Line”
The party line concerning how the Americas became populated came from the National Geographic Society. It says this: “When did people first find their way to the Americas? We can only be sure that it was toward the end of the Ice Age (or Pleistocene) when massive ice sheets covered much of North America. . . . To get to the Americas [they] had to journey across the area where the Bering Strait is now located. Here the shallow ocean floor was exposed for many thousands of years before and after the last glacial maximum around 21,000 years ago.” And if anybody dared challenge this idea, they were put down and mocked by those who were supposedly more educated: “Toward the end of the nineteenth century, [there arose] ‘many absurd theories and notions promulgated by authors ignorant of their subject and writing only to strike the popular mind and pocket.’”
The Many Faces of Ancient Americans
Archaeological artifacts of people who either visited or came to the Western Hemisphere before Columbus, show that a broad diversity of nations found their way to the Americas over time. They did not all cross the Bering Straights. The following table lists the archaeological evidence found thus far: (location, date found or calculated).[one_half spacing=”yes” last=”no” center_content=”no” hide_on_mobile=”no” background_color=”#222222″ background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” background_position=”left top” link=”” hover_type=”none” border_position=”all” border_size=”0px” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” padding=”15px” margin_top=”10px” margin_bottom=”10px” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ animation_offset=”” class=”” id=””]
- Adamic peoples (8500–3000 BC)
- Olmecs (Jaredites) (2500 BC)
- Mayans (Lehites) (600 BC)
- Zapotecs (Mulekites) (500 BC)
- Hebrews (Veracruz, 250 AD)
- Mauritanians (No.America, 100 AD)
- Mongolians (Veracruz, 250 AD)
- Asians (Veracruz, 250 AD)
- Indonesians (Veracruz, 250 AD)
- Mediterraneans (Veracruz, 250 AD)
- Assyrians (Ecuador) (1100 BC-100 AD)
- Phoenicians (Ecuador) (1100 BC-100 AD)
- Africans (Oaxaca, 800 AD)
- Toltecs & Aztecs (Mexico, 1000 AD)
- Incas (Peru, 1400 AD)
Jerry L. Ainsworth said: “It is well documented that many groups of people traveled to the American continent over several millennia. Archaeologists have found evidence of cultures, landings, and writings unrelated to the Book of Mormon.” Many of these findings have been ignored and/or suppressed by traditional archaeologists because they do not fit the “party line.”
BOOK OF MORMON GEOGRAPHY
Some Cautions about Book of Mormon Geography
Party lines have also emerged within the Church—three of them that compete vigorously with each other, sometimes using unkind and un-called-for rhetoric. As for what part of America—North America, Central America (Mesoamerica), or South America—the only official statements that have been made by Church authorities say that we do not know.
Among scholars and members there are proponents for all three of these theories, and every one of them has a quote or two from an Apostle or prophet in support of their claims. What are we to make of such contradictory statements by general authorities and scholars on this topic? The only logical conclusion is that what they are telling us when they make these statements is their opinion (to which they are entitled), but their statements on this topic are not doctrine. If the answer to this question is revealed in the future, we will hear it from the heads of the Church in an official manner. But this has not yet happened, and until it does we should not teach our opinions as if they were doctrine.
Another thing we must remember is that, “The Book of Mormon is not a history of the entire American Continent, nor a complete history of any part of it.” It is, instead, a partial religious history of one particular group of people who inhabited the American continent. Joseph L. Allen said: “It would be a mistake to assume that the only people who ever lived in the Americas or who lived in Mesoamerica were all descendants of Lehi.”
Things We Know from Alma 22
A west coast landing: We assume that when Lehi’s family left the land Bountiful in Arabia, they sailed eastward across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. We assume this because Mormon describes the area inhabited by most of the Lamanites in 77 BC as “the wilderness on the west, in the land of Nephi . . . west of the land of Zarahemla, in the borders by the seashore . . . in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance” (Alma 22:28). This would seem to suggest a west coast landing.
A relatively small area: The land of Nephi (on the South) was only approximately 250 miles away from the land of Zarahemla (on the North). Nearly all Book of Mormon events took place in this very restricted space. It took only 31 days to travel by foot from the Land of Nephi to Zarahemla. This makes the Book of Mormon lands about 250 miles from north to south. Other clues in the book show that it was also 250 miles wide, except at the narrow neck of land.
Nephite and Lamanite Lands
The Lamanites occupied an area south of the land of Zarahemla, from the sea east to the west. These Lamanite areas were divided from Nephite lands by borders of mountainous wilderness (v. 27). Nephite lands (Zarahemla and Bountiful) were at a lower elevation than the south wilderness and the land of Nephi, which are described as being “up” from there.
Lamanites also occupied the area west of the land of Zarahemla, by the seashore. Their areas of habitation in their own lands extended all the way to the west seashore, which was the place where Lehi landed originally (v. 28). Lamanites also lived to the east of the land of Zarahemla, near the seashore in what was called the land of Bountiful. Thus, the Nephites were nearly surrounded by Lamanites living to their west, south, and east (v. 29).
To the north of the land of Zarahemla was the land of Desolation, so-called because it was the area where the Jaredites first landed and where they were eventually utterly destroyed (v. 30). The Jaredites migrated southward into the land of Bountiful, so-called because of the many animals that migrated there for its plentiful food (v. 31). The land northward (Desolation) was divided from the land southward (Bountiful) by “a small neck of land” and “it was only the distance of a day and half’s journey” from “the line Bountiful and the land Desolation” (v. 32).
Daniel H. Ludlow constructed a useful map of Book of Mormon lands, taking care not to make it look like any of today’s geography. He graciously granted me permission to use his map, so long as I never represented it as having reference to North, South, or Mesoamerica. Its sole purpose is to show the relative positions of the various Book of Mormon cities and lands.
THE ANTI-NEPHI-LEHIES ARE CONVERTED
A Proclamation by the King of the Lamanites
The king of the Lamanites issued a proclamation to his people after his conversion, prohibiting anyone from interfering with or persecuting the sons of Mosiah as they went forth preaching the gospel (Alma 23:1–3).
Thousands of Lamanites were converted to the gospel, not a single one of which ever fell away (Alma 23:4–7). Converted Lamanites were blessed “to be a very industrious people; . . . and the curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:8–18).
Evidence of Their True Conversion
Sometimes when such numbers of converts are obtained one might question the depth of their conversion. In modern times, we have large numbers of inactive members in those parts of the world where large numbers of converts have been made. This was not true of the Lamanite converts who were taught by the sons of Mosiah.
- They “were converted unto the Lord”, not just attracted by the personalities of missionaries, the influence of friends,
or the appeal of social programs (Alma 23:6).
- They “were desirous . . . that they might be distinguished from their brethren”. (Alma 23:16–18; Alma 27:27–30)
The precise meaning of the name Anti-Nephi-Lehies is not known (vv. 16–17), but the Semitic meaning is ‘in the face of’ or ‘facing,’ like one would face a mirror, and by extension either ‘one who opposes’ or ‘one who imitates.’ Thus the term ‘Anti-Nephi-Lehies’ might refer to those who imitate the teachings of the descendants of Nephi and Lehi. Later they began to be called “Ammonites,” after the leader of the Nephite missionaries who had converted them (Alma 27:26). Still later, their children referred to themselves as “Nephites” (Alma 53:16).
They refused to ever again take up arms against anyone (Alma 24:6–10, 23). They had previously been guilty of murder but now, because of sacred covenants, refused to kill again—even in what might normally be considered justifiable self-defense. (Alma 24:16–27; Alma 27:2–3, 23–24, 27–30). “They took their swords . . . and they did bury them up deep in the earth” (Alma 24:12–17). They considered them “weapons of rebellion” and never again wanted to use them. It is significant that they buried their weapons rather than simply promising not to use them (Alma 23:7; 24:11–13).
SEEKING SAFETY AMONG THE NEPHITES
A Proposed Refuge in Zarahemla
Ammon and his brethren urged the Anti-Nephi-Lehies to go to the land of Zarahemla, where the Nephites lived (Alma 27:1–5). The king was reluctant to take his people to Zarahemla because he feared the Nephites would see them as enemies and destroy them (Alma 27:6–10). But the king was persuaded to go to Zarahemla by a revelation from God (Alma 27:11–14).
When Ammon asked the people of Zarahemla to admit the Anti-Nephi-Lehies into their land, the Nephites gave them the land of Jershon in the east, near the land of Bountiful. They were thereafter called the people of Ammon or Ammonites (Alma 27:20–26). The word “Jershon” is taken from the Hebrew language, and means “the land of the expelled, or of the strangers” (v. 22). Although the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (Ammonites) were under covenant not to bear arms, they contributed to support the Nephite armies that protected them (v. 24).
A Great Tragedy in Jershon
After the people of Ammon were settled in the land of Jershon, they were attacked by Lamanite armies that followed them into the wilderness. The Anti-Nephi-Lehies faced very difficult circumstances, including their own certain death, when they would not take up arms to defend themselves (Alma 24:1–2; Alma 27:1–3).
When the unconverted Lamanites saw that their brethren would die rather than defend themselves their hearts were “swollen with mercy” and many of them threw down their own weapons rather than kill them. More attackers were converted that day than the number of Anti-Nephi-Lehies who had died (Alma 24:20–27).
Although the Lamanites were eventually defeated, many Ammonites as well as Nephites died in this war (Alma 28:1–3). There was great mourning and solemnity because of these deaths (Alma 28:4–6). Some mourners feared for the salvation of their dead, while others rejoiced in the certain salvation of their dead loved ones (Alma 28:11–12). The Lord expects us to weep for the loss of those that die, but more especially for those that have no hope of a glorious resurrection (D&C 42:45).
AMMON AND ALMA REJOICE
Ammon’s Feelings about Their Success
Ammon spoke about the “marvelous light of God” (Alma 26:1–4). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “Whenever the gospel is on earth, it is the true light. (1 John 2:8). Those who accept the gospel of Christ are thus called ‘out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ (1 Pet. 2:9; Alma 26:3, 15). Paul was sent to the Gentiles, ‘To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light’ (Acts 26:18), ‘the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, . . . the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.’ (2 Cor. 4:4–6). Those who accept the gospel have their souls ‘illuminated by the light of the everlasting word.’ (Alma 5:7). Our Lord ‘brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.’ (2 Tim. 1:10).”
Ammon also spoke of the “sheaves” of missionary work. The word sheaves means quantities of stalks and heads of grain bound together. He reflected on the blessings that have come to those “gathered” in (Alma 26:5–7).
Aaron rebuked Ammon for boasting (Alma 26:10–12). He was concerned that Ammon’s expressions of joy “doth carry thee away unto boasting” (v. 10). But Ammon explained his intent. “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God” (v. 11). He knew his place in the process. Ammon was rejoicing over God’s miraculous deliverance of so many people from their otherwise certain destruction. Ammon recognized that men are instruments in God’s hands in doing the Lord’s work. It is God’s power alone that brings conversion (Alma 26:13–15).
Despite the great prejudice of the Nephites toward the Lamanites, the gospel proved to be more effective than all the weapons the Nephites possessed (Alma 26:23–26). Pure charity for the Lamanites, plus patience and trust in the Lord, brought a good outcome from a difficult situation (Alma 26:27–30).
Alma’s Feelings about Their Success
We read here about the reunion of Alma and the sons of Mosiah (compare Alma 17:1–2). Notice how many times Mormon uses the word “joy” to describe feelings of those involved (Alma 27:16–19). Alma felt joy on meeting the sons of Mosiah after fourteen years of separation, but his joy was like that felt by Ammon, for he did not rejoice in his own successes alone, but also in those of his friends (v. 16). Ammon felt so much joy that it exhausted his strength, and he fell to the earth (v. 17). Aaron, Omner, and Himni also felt this joy, but it “was not that to exceed their strength” (v. 19). In our own day, the Lord has taught concerning the great joy that comes from bringing a soul unto Christ (D&C 18:15–16).
“O That I Were an Angel”
Alma then utters the famous soliloquy concerning his desire to have the voice of an angel so that he could convert all men. But then he admits that this may be a sinful wish because God allots to all men as much as “he seeth fit that they should have” (v. 8).
Ammon also rejoiced in being an instrument in the hands of God (Alma 29:9–16). And he also rejoiced that their conversion was permanent, “that they may go no more out” (v. 17). Converts must not only be made; they must be retained. President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “The greatest tragedy in the Church . . . is the loss of those who join the Church and then fall away. With very few exceptions it need not happen.”
PROPHECIES AND PROMISES FULFILLED
During this same time period, the Lord’s prophecies of the destruction of Ammonihah were fulfilled (Alma 25:1–2; Alma 8:16). Events developed naturally which led to this destruction (Alma 25:3–2; Mosiah 17:15–20).
The converted Lamanites believed in the coming of Christ. They kept the Law of Moses until the Savior completed his mission in mortality, and through observance of this law, they looked forward to the coming of Christ. The law served as a type (or representation) of Christ and his mission (Alma 25:13–16; Mosiah 13:27–33).
God fulfilled all his promises to the sons of Mosiah. Mormon says here that God had “verified his word unto [the sons of Mosiah] in every particular” (Alma 25:17; Mosiah 28:7). The Lord had told King Mosiah that many would believe his sons’ teachings and that He would deliver them “out of the hands of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:7). For the fulfillment of these promises see Alma 17:4, 35–39; 19:22–23; 26:1–4.
God Always Keeps His Promises
We learn from this lesson that God will redeem any willing soul who turns to Him, whatever their former state of wickedness. His primary interest is in saving His children, not destroying them. And we should join him in this saving work with same charitable attitude.[tagline_box backgroundcolor=”white” shadow=”no” shadowopacity=”0.1″ border=”0px” bordercolor=”” highlightposition=”top” content_alignment=”left” link=”” linktarget=”_self” modal=”” button_size=”” button_shape=”” button_type=”” buttoncolor=”” button=”” title=”Notes” description=”” margin_top=”25px” margin_bottom=”” animation_type=”0″ animation_direction=”down” animation_speed=”0.1″ animation_offset=”” class=”” id=””]
- George R. Milner, The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America, 22, 15–16.
- The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni , 42–43.
- William E. Berrett, The Restored Church , 62.
- Sacred Sites: Searching for Book of Mormon Lands , 12.
- Eldin Ricks, Book of Mormon Study Guide, 63; quoted in A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon , 209.
- Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 144–145.
- Regional Representatives’ Seminar, April 3, 1987.