North American Book of Mormon Geography: The River Sidon

By Theodore Brandley

Thanks to everyone who has participated in this discussion thus far. Your input is respected and appreciated. The purpose of this series of articles is to open a forum for the proponents of the two major North American theories on Book of Mormon geography and to explore a possible connection between them. Although there are some theories that are beyond the scope of these articles, most who have participated seem to agree that the narrative in the Promised Land occurred on the Continent of North America. I think all participants would agree that Moroni hid the plates from which The Book of Mormon was translated, and that he later revealed to Joseph Smith the hiding place of those plates to be in a hill near Palmyra, New York.

The dominant geographical feature in The Book of Mormon is the River Sidon. It is the only named river and is mentioned twenty-eight times in the text. It may be said that the River Sidon is the Nile of The Book of Mormon. If the river Sidon can be correctly identified then all other geographical locations should flow from it (pun intended). It is first mentioned in connection with the land of Zarahemla (Alma 2:15). The land of Zarahemla was established by the party of Mulek, son of King Zedekiah of Jerusalem, when the Lord led them across the sea. “And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth” (Helaman 6:10, 8:21; Omni 1:15-16). The Phoenicians are the only people at the time known to have the capability of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. The Greek Historian Herodotus, recorded that the Phoenicians sailed from the Arabian Gulf Coast of Egypt in 600 BC, and in two years circumnavigated Africa.1) It is interesting that the Mulek Party journeyed through the wilderness prior to crossing the great waters. It is probable that they fled from Jerusalem across the Sinai to Egypt where they bought passage on a Phoenician ship. That it was probably Phoenicians who first sailed up the Book of Mormon river is substantiated by the name Sidon. It was probably a Phoenician captain from the home port of Sidon who first sailed up the river and so named it.

The head of the river Sidon was south of Zarahemla near Manti and the narrow strip of wilderness (Alma 6:7; Alma 17:1; Alma 22:27). It has been traditionally assumed that the head of the river Sidon was the “head waters” of the river and therefore its source in the highlands. This would mean that the river ran from south to north. However, a study of the context reveals that the “head of the river Sidon” is not its source. Dr. Hugh Nibley is the only one I am aware of to make note of this. Speaking extemporaneously about the head of the river Sidon mentioned in Alma 22:27 he said, “If that’s the head of the river, I suppose it’s the source of the river. Well, it may be the head of the river where it empties. Sidon goes the other way, I think.”2

Consider the text Dr. Nibley was referring to in Alma 22:27:

a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the river Sidon, running from the east towards the west (emphasis added)

From the above we find:

  1. The narrow strip of wilderness ran east and west round about on the edge of the seashore
  2. Zarahemla was north of the seashore and north of Manti (see also Alma 6:7, 17:1)
  3. Manti was near the narrow strip of wilderness, that was by the sea
  4. The head of the river Sidon was by the narrow strip of wilderness, that was by the sea

 Conclusion: As rivers run to the sea, the river Sidon ran from Zarahemla south to Manti and through the east-west narrow strip of wilderness to the “head of the river Sidon” near the sea. There is a second witness from the text in Alma 50:11 confirming that the head of the river Sidon was by the sea:

And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west, fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon (emphasis added)

As rivers run to the sea, the river Sidon therefore flowed from Zarahemla south to the “head of the river Sidon” and into the sea. That the Sidon actually ran to the sea is confirmed when we read that after a major battle the dead bodies that were thrown into the river Sidon near Zarahemla were carried into the sea (Alma 2:15, 3:3). Incidentally, the Sidon, River entry in the LDS Index To The Triple Combination used to read, “most prominent river in Nephite territory, runs north to sea.” The new 2013 Index now reads, “most prominent river in Nephite territory.” In the LDS Index, the Sidon no longer runs north.

In a recent Interpreter article and presentation3 Stanford Carmack makes a compelling case for the Book of Mormon being translated into Early Modern English of the 16th and 17th Centuries. A search of the phrase, “head of the river” in the library, Early English Books Online (EEBO), reveals that to a seaman in that time period it meant the mouth of the river, rather than its source. This agrees with the context of the Book of Mormon, which indicates that the “head of the river Sidon” was the mouth of the river.


  1. In 1631 Captain Luke Foxe searched the west shores of Hudson Bay for a northwest passage to the Orient, following the attempt of Sir Thomas Button 18 years earlier. In August, Captain Fox entered the mouth of the Nelson River to find wood for repairs to his ship and food for his crew. He wrote:

“In the mouth of Port Nelson at first comming of the tyde…This day we consulted and consented to goe, into Port Nelson, for these reasons following.

1 Considering what hazzard wee had vndergone, for want of our Pinnace, she being made ready for setting vp, yet for the losse of time, we were content to hazard it, having •i• so faire weather, as I was loath, but to make good vse thereof.

2 The wind was contrary to go Southwards, and like to be bad weather.

3 The Pinnace could not be set up in the Ship as I desired.

4 I hoped to have some intelligence by the Salvages, and to search the head of the River of which I did know nothing from Sir Tho. Button.

5 I was in great hope to get a Maine yard, amongst so many trees, as also some refreshing, fresh water and fire wood, and to rummidge the Ship, and to see her on ground, and to make her cleane or to repaire what else she wanted, as Ballast, or else what.”4 (sic, emphasis added)

As the source of the Nelson River was 400 miles upstream in Lake Winnipeg, and not navigable with deep draft ocean going vessels, his reference to “the head of the river” could only mean its mouth where it emptied into the Hudson Bay.

  1. Admiral Sir Richard Hawkins on his voyage along the Atlantic Coast of South America in 1593 makes this interesting entry into his log:


“The 18. of December, wee set sayle the wind at North-east, and directed our course for the Straites of Magalianes. The twenty two of this moneth, at the going too of the Sunne, we descryed a Por∣tingall ship, and gaue her chase, and comming within hayling of her, shee rendred her selfe, without any resistance, shee was of an hundred Tuns bound for Angola to load Negroes, to be carried and sold in the River of Plate; It is a trade of great profit, & much vsed, for that the Negroes are carried from the head of the river of Plate, to Patosi, to labour in the Mynes. It is a bad Negro, who is not worth there fiue or six hundreth peeces, every peece of tenne Ryals, which they receiue in Ryals of Plate, for there is no other Marchan∣dize in those partes. Some haue told me, that of late they haue found out the trade, and benefit of Cochanillia, but the River suffe∣reth not vessels of burthen; for if they drawe aboue eight or seaven foote water, they cannot goe further; then the mouth of the Ri∣ver, and the first habitation is aboue a hundred and twenty leagues vp, whereunto many Barkes trade yearely, and carry all kinde of Marchandize serving for Patosi and Paraquay; the money which is thence returned, is distributed in all the Coast of Brasill.”5 (sic, emphasis added)

From the head of the River Plate (Rio de la Plata) the slaves were transported up the river to Patosi in Bolivia to work in the silver mines. As Admiral Hawkins pointed out, the river was too shallow for ocean going vessels, and he equates the mouth of the river with the head of the river.

  1. In the 1700 English translation of the Greek Historian, Diodorus the Sicilian, we read:

“The Eighth of this King’s Race, call’d after the Name of his Father Ʋchoreus, built Memphis, the most Famous City of Egypt. For he chose the most convenient Place for it in all the Country, where Nile divides it self into several Branches, and makes that part of the Country call’d Delta, so nam’d from the shape of the Greek Letter Delta, which it resembles. The City being thus conveniently si∣tuated at the Head of the River, commands all the Shipping that sail up it.”6 (sic, emphasis added)

Memphis was located at the mouth of the Nile where it fans out to form the Nile River Delta.


Researching the EEBO reveals that in those days, for people on land “the head of the river” usually meant the source of the river as it does today. However, in all references from a seaman’s perspective, it meant the mouth of the river. This is consistent with the text of The Book of Mormon. To a sea captain, the proper Early English term for the mouth of the Sidon would be “the head of the river Sidon.”

The dominant geographical feature in The Book Of Mormon is the river Sidon. Likewise, the dominant geographical feature in North America, east of the Rocky Mountains, is the Mississippi River system. The Mississippi River System drains most of the North American Continent between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. The Ohio/Allegheny branch of the Mississippi River system runs to within one hundred miles of Palmyra, New York. Rivers were the continental highways of the ancients. Rivers were their principle trade routes. Their settlements and cities were established on the banks of the rivers. Rivers also provided food and a water supply for the communities. Steep river-banks were often used for natural protection from enemy attacks. The Nephites were particularly a shipping and boating civilization. This heritage started with Nephi and their journey across the ocean, and Helaman tells us that more than five hundred years later they were still a ship-building and a shipping people (Helaman 3:10-14). The Mississippi links the hill where Moroni revealed the Gold Plates with Mesoamerica. The Mississippi River may be the link that ties together truths in the Mesoamerica and the Northeastern America theories. I therefore propose the hypothesis that the Mississippi is the river Sidon.

As with any hypothesis it must be thoroughly tested and I invite all of you to assist me with this. You can begin by critiquing what I have written above. I will then follow up by suggesting matches of other major Book of Mormon areas and features in the text to the North American geography to see if they will all fit. I believe that the result will link the main competing theories of Book of Mormon geography.

  1. Phoenician History: The Phoenician Ship Expedition, (12 May 2016 

  2. Hugh Nibley, Teachings of The Book of Mormon–Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988—1990, Provo: FARMS, p.143 

  3. Stanford Carmack, The Implications of Past-Tense Syntax in the Book of Mormon, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 119-186 

  4. Title: North-vvest Fox, or, Fox from the North-west passage. By Captaine Luke Foxe of Kingstone vpon Hull, capt. and pylot for the voyage, in his Majesties Pinnace the Charles. Printed by his Majesties command.

    Author: Foxe, Luke, 1586-1635.

    Publication Info: London : Printed by B. Alsop and Tho. Favvcet, dwelling in Grubstreet [for M. Sparke], 1635.

    Collection: Early English Books Online 

  5. Title: The observations of Sir Richard Havvkins Knight, in his voiage into the South Sea. Anno Domini 1593.

    Author: Hawkins, Richard, Sir, 1562?-1622.

    Publication Info: London : Printed by I[ohn] D[awson] for Iohn Iaggard, and are to be sold at his shop at the Hand and Starre in Fleete-streete, neere the Temple Gate, 1622.

    Collection: Early English Books Online 

  6. THE Historical Library OF Diodorus the Sicilian. BOOK I. > THE SECOND PART OF THE FIRST BOOK OF Diodorus the Sicilian. > CHAP. IV.

    Publication Info: London : Printed by Edw. Jones for Awnsham and John Churchill … and Edw. Castle …, 1700.

    Collection: Early English Books Online 

54 thoughts on “North American Book of Mormon Geography: The River Sidon

    • Good question. Being a shipping and seafaring people the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico link Mesoamerica and New York by boat. More significantly, as I will demonstrate in subsequent installments, it links them by land from the lower Mississippi.

      • The Tennessee River flows both Northward into the Mississippi as well as predominantly east to west.

        The wilderness area and mountains of the Smokie Mountain Foothills are also worth following up on.

        Alabama itself was a sea at one time perhaps floods made it look like it still was.

        This area also has artifacts dating life in the region back far longer than the time mentioned by the Mormon’s.

        Perhaps the maps were out of date…

        The Smokies Stretch from Pigeon Forge to the Little Tennessee River a major tributary into the Tennessee.

        Was it the Sidon?

        • The Book of Mormon only mentions the name of one river, the Sidon. Therefore, it is probable that all of the Sidon tributaries would have been considered as part of the Sidon. As emphasized in the above article, the “Head of the River Sidon” was where it flowed into the sea, therefore, the Land of Zarahemla would have been on the lower Mississippi.

          The only geographical mountains mentioned in the Nephite Record were where the Gadianton Robbers dwelt. In the Mississippi scenario this would have been the Blue Ridge Mountains, of which the Smokies are a subset.

  1. Theodore:

    I think you have made a good case that “head” could have more than one meaning. We have head/mouth of a river and head/source. I think both are viable and therefore neither are conclusive. We are stuck looking for more data.

    Looking at the data, if we accept head/mouth, then the Sidon flows to the south and has a mouth into another body of water (it can’t just go underground, that wouldn’t fit the usage). Alma 43:20 and 43:32 provide more details that will have to be true when you find a south-flowing candidate for the river.

    It will need to empty toward the east. The Lamanites in Antionum are attempting to reach the Sidon, and they are on the east side. The are attempting to go to the head/mouth, so that body of water will need to eastward. Alma 32:32 also tells us that the Sidon is in a valley, and with the requirement that it is always down from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla, it would seem that this is a mountainous range forming the southern valley wall.

    I’ll be interested to see what you have found that fits those descriptions.

  2. I need to make a slight correction regarding the Phoenicians circumnavigation of Africa, starting in 600 BC. I wrote that they did it in two years. Herodotus recorded that it took two years to go from the Egyptian port in the Gulf of Arabia (Red Sea) to the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and another year to return to Egypt, for total of three years. (see: )

    This was done by a fleet of ships built for this purpose under the orders of King Necho II of Egypt. Mulek, son of King Zedekiah, would have been well aware of this accomplishment. To get beyond the clutches of Nebuchadnezzar it would have been the most obvious thing for Mulek to escape to Egypt and hire or purchase one or more of these Phoenician ships.

  3. I am not a Book of Mormon scholar, just a regular reader. So I am not aware of recent scholarship that seems to favor the one-Cumorah theory. For some time now I have liked the the two-Cumorah theory on the basis that after a while, King Limhi’s search party would have thought they had gone far enough to find Zeniff’s group. It seems rather incredible to me that they would have gone on a round trip of thousands of miles without questioning whether they were on the right track. But it is true that “many days” could have meant the time taken on such a long trip. And the land of many waters could indeed have been the area of the Great Lakes. Joseph Smith’s declaration of finding the remains of Zelph is consistent with that. So I can go along with the one-Cumorah theory, although grudgingly.
    On the other hand I cannot accept the idea that the river Sidon is the Mississippi. Simply note that Alma 43 speaks of multiple crossings of the river. The Mississippi is huge at its mouth. Even as far north as Nauvoo it was a major challenge to get across. I suppose one could make a case that the crossings might have been done by boat, but that really strains credibility. And how is the mouth of the river close to a narrow neck of land? Furthermore, the head of the river as described in the scripture seems to be a well-defined place, whereas the mouth of the Mississippi is not defined at all, being lost among the huge area of the delta. The crossers would have been totally confused in that immense area.

    • Kent,

      Regarding your question about the mouth of the river not being well defined, It think they would be referring to what we call the the Mississippi Delta. It is large but the it defines the area and everyone knows where it is.

  4. Kent,

    The river crossing is a common question and I am pleased that you asked. As mentioned in the text, the Nephites were a shipping and ship-building people (Helaman 3:10,14). In the southern US archaeologists have determined that most of the river craft were dugout canoes of various sizes. Before our rivers were dammed, dead trees would have floated down the Mississippi at flood time all the way from the Rocky Mountains. The shores of the lower Mississippi would have been littered with drift logs from which to make these canoes. It would take a squad of men only a few hours to make a canoe with their axes, large enough to take them all across the river. Sailing rafts were also common and can be quickly lashed together.

    Your question about the distance travelled by the scouts of King Limhi is also very pertinent and I will deal with that in an upcoming article on the Land of Nephi.

    Thanks for your comments

    • Kent,

      I missed addressing your question about how the mouth of the Mississippi could be close to a narrow neck of land?

      I am not aware of any passage in the text that places the Sidon close to the narrow neck of land.

    • It’s funny you should mention Helaman 3:10 as evidence of a shipbuilding people because it’s also evidence of a north-flowing Sidon.

      “And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.”

      The simplest way to read this is that the land northward didn’t have timber, so it was shipped to them from the land southward via the north-flowing Sidon. A south-flowing Sidon would have required the northward settlers to find a timber in a land even farther northward (in which case, why even mention this as it doesn’t affect the main cultural body), or to float the timber upstream (extremely unlikely).

      • Another good question. The way to ship logs upstream is to lash them together and make a sailing raft out of them. Sailing rafts were common in Ancient America.
        When sailing or paddling upstream on a large river there is very little current closer to the banks and on the insides of the curves. Skillful sailors could tack up stream just like they tack upwind.

        • Theodore, while you have an explanation for how it might have been done, there is no evidence that anyone did that. There is evidence that lumber did flow from north to south into Nauvoo–so the more modern Saints followed Emerson’s suggestion that it was better to go north for wood.

          The explanation misses the thrust of Emerson’s argument, which is that it is completely illogical unless there were no lumber to the north–which is clearly not the case now or in history.

          • Timber was very scarce in the land Northward. That is why they called it Desolation (Helaman 3:6).

            “And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.” (Helaman 3:10)

          • But not in the north of the Mississippi. I know what the Book of Mormon says. The Saints went to Wisconsin for lumber, as I remember. You are making Emerson’s point. If the Mississippi were the Sidon, they should have gone north for lumber, not south. The fact that you agree that the Book of Mormon says there wasn’t lumber north for the Sidon, and we know that there was for the Mississippi, rather makes the case against the Mississippi being the Sidon.

          • Brant, I am sorry but I cannot follow your reasoning. With the Mississippi as the Sidon then the Midwest and the area around the Great Lakes is the land Northward or the land of Desolation. This was the area where there were no trees. It was called Desolation because all the timber had been destroyed during the wars (Helaman 3:3-6). These new settlers had just come up the river Sidon from Zarahemla. As they were a shipping and ship building people it would have been the natural and easiest thing for them to import timber from the land of Zarahemla, where there were many to do the work, rather than the settlers go further north across the Great Lakes to find it.

          • Theodore, you have described the Book of Mormon, but not the known history of that region. I am not suggesting that your reading of the Book of Mormon is incorrect, but rather than suggestion that there was a historical period when those great forests were so denuded that buildings were ever built of cement. To my knowledge, those forests have been there through Book of Mormon times. To my knowledge, there are no homes built there of cement because there were no trees. The Book of Mormon text is correct, but the upper Mississippi does not match the text’s description.

      • How would we know today if there was a period between 200 and 50 AD when there was deforestation in that area, or cement houses for that matter? Cement crumbles to dust over time, especially in wetter climates. Your speculation that it was not so does not constitute evidence that would contradict the Upper Mississippi and Great Lakes area as being the Land of Desolation.

        • Archaeologists use pollen counts in soil samples to know what the vegetation was like at different periods. That is how they know that, while Tikal in Guatemala is now covered in jungle, at its height there wasn’t a tree to be seen. So, yes, there are ways of knowing, and no one has ever found any suggestion that there was massive deforestation in the upper sections of the Mississippi. As for cement, it certainly might crumble, but cultures leave remains. Even the homes totally built of wood, which has vanished, leave the postholes to show where they were. One of the archaeological problems of assigning Book of Mormon peoples anywhere along the Mississippi during Book of Mormon times is that there is no evidence of the complex political structures required by the Book of Mormon. No modern archaeologist of whom I am aware suggests that there was more than a headman, or maybe chief-level government.

          So, we have no evidence of deforestation. We have no evidence that cement was ever used, let alone because there were no trees. We have no evidence of archaeological populations that match the Book of Mormon descriptions of political hegemonies (let alone the Lamanite king over kings). Please understand that it is you who are speculating a deforestation for which there is no evidence, not me. I am not speculating at all, but rather discussing what is actually known about the region.

          • Jon L. Gibson, preeminent archaeologist at Poverty Point, wrote these words at the end of his booklet, “Poverty Point: A Terminal Archaic Culture of the Lower Mississippi Valley:”

            “The preceding view of Poverty Point is a patchwork of facts, hypotheses, guesses, and speculations. Many equally sound interpretations can be drawn from the same data. This is the nature of archaeology. Trying to describe an extinct culture, especially its social and political organizations and its religion by means of artifacts is not an exact science.”

            Archeological interpretation is founded on “hypotheses, guesses and speculations.” The above may not be your speculations but they are someone’s. Basing your geographical interpretation of the Book of Mormon on past or even current archaeological interpretation is like basing your acceptance of the doctrines of the Book of Mormon on past or current Mainstream Christian Theology. In both cases you will probably bypass much of the truth.

          • If you are suggesting that it is OK to completely ignore archaeology because archaeologists acknowledge their limitations, we really have no way to converse. For all that they must guess, there is a lot that they know pretty well–and dating and pollen samples are among them. As for whether the archaeologists are correct about social complexity, they have done enough work to know the outlines of the places where the Hopewell lived, and they don’t fit with the settlement densities/patterns required for more complex government. I admit that I am skeptical of any correlation to the Book of Mormon that requires that I first dismiss modern archaeologist and everything they have learned, and then accept that what is found must relate to the Book of Mormon–else the theory wouldn’t be correct. Not strong enough stuff for me.

          • As for the Hopewell Civilization, the size, complexity and extensive area of the mounds are far greater than a kinship society could accomplish. As archeologist Jon L Gibson also stated about the mounds at Poverty Point:

            “we detect a level of organization that seems to exceed that which is possible through simple kinship…there were building plans to draw up, labor to organize and supervise, food to provide while work was going on, and a large camp to run. Overarching all this was the motivation for, and the overall direction of, construction…Millions of hours of labor were invested. The earthworks were not haphazard piles of dirt but carefully laid-out features, constructed according to a master design no matter how rough the terrain along their path. The point is that somebody decided to build the earthworks. Somebody planned them. Somebody convinced people to work on them. It was this somebody (leadership) and the circumstances that spawned such leadership that made [this] different from usual kinship-based societies.”

            Archaeological opinions change with time and new thinking. We should therefore not exclude, on current archaeological thought alone, where the text takes us. Garth Norman gave us an example of this in his recent Interpreter commnent:

            “I have no quarrel with Nephite and Lamanite migrations and trade influences by land and sea being in eastern North America, and South America, before and after the Nephite destruction at Cumorah. There is abundant archaeological evidence accumulating for such influence.”

            This is a change from previous thinking of an isolated and limited Mesoamerican society. I don’t know what accumulating evidence he is referring to but it is probably reinterpretation of older artifact findings.

          • Poverty Point isn’t Hopewell, it preceeds Hopewell, and most of the Book of Mormon. It still doesn’t rise to kingship/state level (though of course, it is so early that it is irrelevant to most of the Book of Mormon).

            As for the Hopewell, I have not found a single archaeologist who suggests a state or kingship level culture. Cooperation certainly, not there are no indications of more complex cultures. That ancient civilizations could organize and create large earthen structures is certain. That they required complex political structures to do it does not follow–nor is supported by any other evidence. The archaeologists are looking at more than the mounds.

            Garth is correct that there was likely Mesoamerican influence moving north up the Mississippi after the Book of Mormon. Cahokia seems to be pretty good evidence. The evidence, however, is a northerly flow of cultural content, not from north to south.

          • Brant, you said:

            “Poverty Point isn’t Hopewell, it preceeds Hopewell, and most of the Book of Mormon.”

            And that is the main point over which we disagree and the point over which you refused to post any more of my articles and discuss why I disagree.

        • Notice that Garth said, “before and after the Nephite destruction at Cumorah,” not “after the Book of Mormon. I have no problem with the culture moving mostly north. That coincides with the Laminates constantly driving the Nephites northward. I suspect that it is mostly Lamanite culture that we are seeing moving north.

  5. One potentially fatal flaw that will need to be addressed in this model is the fact that the land of Nephi is higher in elevation than Zarahemla. Furthermore, the text strongly suggests that the shortest route between Nephi and Zarahemla is the narrow strip of wilderness near Manti and the head of the river Sidon, which would put the head waters uphill. As such, the Sidon can’t empty into the sea through the narrow strip of wilderness because water only runs downhill. Perhaps one can conceive of a topography that accounts for this, but it would have to be very contorted in order to fit the description in the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, such a rugged topography would almost certainly be an impossible fit for the flat contours of the area surrounding the Mississippi delta.

    Another issue is by putting Manti by the sea (either the east or the west) you no longer have the Nehpite lands surrounded by Lamanites on 3 sides. If Manti is by the east sea, then how does Amalekiah invade the coastal cities on the way to Bountiful without going through Manti? If Manti is on the west sea coast, then how did they invade at the city of Ammonihah?

    While the post does a good job to establish the plausibility of “head” to mean the mouth of a river, it has yet to be demonstrated how a southward flowing river Sidon can fit the other descriptions in the Book of Mormon. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this model and how it accounts for these apparent discrepancies.

    • Emerson,

      Thank you for your comments and questions.

      The terrain rises about 300 feet on both sides of the Lower Mississippi Valley. The course to the Land of Nephi was west and south of the River Sidon (see Alma 2:15-24; 22:28; Helaman 6:10). This course would go across the vast wilderness of Central Texas to the Rio Grande. I propose that everything south of the Rio Grande to Panama was the Land of Nephi.

      All of your questions and many others would have been dealt with and open for discussion except Brant Gardner took exception to something in the next article of the series and refuses to publish any more of them.

      • Sorry to hear that there won’t be future posts, but I do appreciate your willingness to engage here. While I definitely favor Sorenson’s model, I also think it’s important to critically examine all other possible models.

        Frankly, I don’t find the elevation change of 300 ft to be adequate to explain the BoM language. Delta z alone does not make one think in terms of up or down. Rather slope is the critical factor. A small hill of 100 ft could be considered up, but a slow incline of 1000 ft could be imperceptible. The Mississippi delta is not a highly contoured area and no one would think of traversing Louisiana (LA) in terms of up or down.

        Your claim is further complicated when you assert that the Land of Nephi is beyond the Rio Grande. Perhaps one can find local hills in LA that you can go up and down, but there is no way anyone would go up from LA to Mexico or down from Mexico to LA.

        Distance is also a major issue. It took Alma’s group 20 days to travel from the Waters of Mormon to Zarahemla, making the maximum distance you could travel about 200 linear miles. The shortest distance from the Mississippi to the Rio Grande is over 500 miles. It’s far to great to be fit the text of the BoM.

  6. The lower Mississippi Valley is barely above sea level, so unless you are coming from the sea you would always go down to Zarahemala.

    Sorenson’s estimation of 200 miles for Alma’s journey is based on how far you can drive a fat hog to market through the mountains (An Ancient American Setting for the Book Of Mormon p. 8). This is totally unrealistic for Alma’s journey as they were fleeing for their lives on both legs of their journey and the Lord did strengthen them that their pursuers could not catch them (Mosiah 23:2). War parties in hot pursuit would easily make about 40 or 50 miles per day. Alma’s party both times had a head start so they could have evaded them at 35 miles per day. Zion’s camp travelled between 25 and 40 miles each day. 35 miles per day for 20 days would be more than enough to go from the Rio Grande to the Mississippi.

    • War parties can go 40 to 50 miles/day for several days? That would be jogging speed for 8 hours, while carrying your gear and food. I find that hard to swallow. Roman armies moved 22 miles/day. Zion’s camp travelled 575 miles in 30 days, or 20 miles/day. Perhaps, because they were strengthened by the Lord, in this case we can consider a faster rate of travel, but generally using anything more than 20 miles/day to establish distances in the BoM seems implausible.

      Have you traveled the Mississippi valley? It simply doesn’t match the description you’re trying to apply. According to your model, the delta would be the lowest point, then Zarahemla, then back to Manti, then the southern wilderness, even though both Manti and the southern wilderness are both associated with the head of the river Sidon. There is nowhere in Louisiana where that would work.

      • Perhaps the best indication of how far the Nephites would normally travel in one day can be calculated from Lehi’s three days of travel from the tip of the Red Sea to the river Laman (1 Nephi 2:5-6). George Potter, in his article A New Candidate in Arabia for the “Valley of Lemuel,” presents sound evidence for support of Maqna, Saudi Arabia, as the probable site where the River Laman empties into the Red Sea. This is a minimum of seventy-five miles of travel for Lehi in three days, or twenty-five miles per day. This was after they had already traveled 175 miles from Jerusalem.

        As for Zion’s camp the numbers you gave must have been average including stops for Sundays and for gathering food etc. Here are some excerpts from their journals:

        Monday, May 11.—We left Richfield, traveled about thirty-five miles, (HC 2:65)

        On the 17th of May we crossed the state line of Ohio, and encamped for the Sabbath just within the limits of Indiana, having traveled about forty miles that day. (HC 2:68)

        Monday, May, 19.—We traveled thirty-one miles and encamped in Franklin township, Henry county, in the beech woods. (HC 2:69)

        Tuesday, May 20.—We encamped near Greenfield, having traveled about twenty-five miles, some part of the way being so bad I walked over the tops of my boots in mud, helping to pull through the wagons with ropes. (HC 2:69)

        Even when walking through mud over the tops of their boots they still made 25 miles.

        US enlisted soldiers during the Indian Wars routinely did 40 miles per day. There is a book about this by Don Rickey entitled, “Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay.”

        Forced marches such as hot pursuit or fleeing for their lives were not accomplished by necessarily traveling faster but by traveling longer hours. Fleeing 30 miles per day in two segments for a total of 20 days would be 600 miles which would be very reasonable and is just the distance from the Mississippi to the Rio Grande.

  7. There are further problems with this model. After the Lamanites launched a surprise attack on Ammonihah and Noah, the Lord told Alma where to head them off:

    “And it came to pass that Alma inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And Alma returned and said unto them: Behold, the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of the land of Manti. And behold there shall ye meet them, on the east of the river Sidon, and there the Lord will deliver unto thee thy brethren who have been taken captive by the Lamanites.”

    First, we have the river Sidon itself placed both south and up, which directly contradicts your model. Secondly, if we are to assume that the land of Nephi is southwest (in Mexico), then there it makes no sense for the retreating Lamanites to try to cross the Sidon, which would take them farther away from their lands.

  8. I fail to see how Alma 22:27 indicates that the head of the river Sidon was near the sea, but even if it was, that does not necessarily mean that it was its mouth. Consider a river that is sourced in a narrow, north/south-oriented mountain range along the west coast that then curves inland and toward the eastern coast. Such a river could certainly have its headwaters (source) be within a half-day’s walk of the sea, but due to being on the opposite slope, it runs into other valleys until it empties somewhere far to the north of the mountains. I don’t know if such terrain exists. My point is to shed some insight into an explanation with fewer assumptions (keeping in mind Occam’s Razor).

  9. Hey guys promise not to laugh but what if the river sidon was a combination of the mississippi river and the amazon river? I know the amazon runs more east west but we also know that the earth underwent severe transformation at the time of Christ’s death. What if the entire americas looked different such as possibly being one large mass different than it looks now. Besides the three groups that are mentioned in the book of mormon coming to the americas (mulekites’nephites and jaredites) little was known about the americas and there arent exactly any maps we can refer to dating back that long. I know that theory still leaves the “narrow strip of land” to be determined but like i said. What if the land was significantly different in those times. Also it wouldnt be too unreasonable to think that all the sidon river references in the book were just the narrator referring to a big river. It just seemed that so much of the activity and settlement took place in both north and south america so it begs the possibility that the land may have looked different. Be easy on the replies im just throwin the idea out there. Im definitely not calling it fact.

    • Nick,

      Such major changes in the Western Hemisphere at Christ’s Crucificion were possible, but Mormon, who personally travelled the land from Zarahemla to the Narrow Neck, to Cumorah, was the one who primarily gave us the geography, and he wrote it about 400 years after those cataclysmic events. His geographical insert in Alma 22 is confirmation that he wanted us to know where the events occurred. He saw us, new about us and wrote the book for us. He would not have missled us.

    • Hi Nick Barth,
      Not laughing here, but here are a few reasons why this couldn’t have been the case:
      1) Even after the change in the land, the river Sidon likely had no changes to its direction. Mormon mentions a war that started “in the borders of Zarahemla, by the waters of Sidon” (Mormon 1:10). If the course of a river that large had done a 180-degree turn, that probably would have been mentioned, but the above reference is the only one to the river following 3 Nephi 8.
      2) A close archaeological study of the text in the Book of Mormon reveals that Lehi’s descendants most likely lived in a very small region, and not taking an entire continent or two. Therefore, the River Sidon would have been a major river in their region, but not one that extended as far as the Mississippi or the Amazon, let alone the two of them combined.
      3) Although the text says there was a lot changes to the land at the death of Christ, these changes could easily have been very localized changes that didn’t change the shape of the continent. Indeed, geologically speaking, it is impossible for the situation you proposed to have occurred. The plates move far too slowly and there is geologic evidence that the continents are in the same shape and configuration now as they were even 10,000 years ago (except for the presence of now melted glaciers). And if such a scenario HAD happened, there would be geologic evidence of it, but there isn’t. The vast changes the occurred at the time of Christ’s death were likely caused by deformation of the ground surface from the earthquake, landslides and lahars from a volcanic eruption, ashfall and perhaps even lava flows from an eruption, and a localized tsunami. Jerry D. Grover has done a thorough job explaining the geology of these events in his book “The Geology of the Book of Mormon” (

      I applaud you for thinking outside the box. None of this is meant to belittle you, only to collaborate.

      • Brandon,

        Regarding your comment 2:

        The conclusion of a confined BoM geography is based on several false assumptions. First, that Alma’s party only travelled 11 miles per day while fleeing for their lives, rather than 30 to 40. Second, that the city of Lehi-Nephi was the same city as the original City of Nephi. There are several other false assumptions beyond the scope of this comment, and actually there are several statements and situations in the text which require a vast expanse of territory.

        • I would be interested in reviewing these statements and the interpretation that led to the conclusion of requiring “vast territory”. In my own research, it seems evident to me that the area wouldn’t require more than 1000 miles from Nephi to Desolation.

          • Brandon,

            I apologize for being so long getting back to you on this point, as I have been traveling.

            The only good distance measure we have in the Book of Mormon in the Americas is the party of Alma, twice fleeing for their lives with armies in hot pursuit, for a total of twenty two days. Joseph smith and Zion’s Camp on a rescue mission traveled between 25 and 40 miles per day. Alma’s party fleeing for their lives would have done at least 30 miles per day for a total of about 600 miles, just between the city of Lehi-Nephi (not the original city of Nephi) and Zarahemla.

            Helaman, son of Helaman described how a great many people migrated from Zarahemla to the land northward. He states, “They did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers” (Helaman 3:3-4). As the previous 600 miles to get to Zarahemla was not mentioned as a great distance, the distance from Zarahemla to the “large bodies of water” could have been twice that distance. These totals could easily stretch from the Rio Grande to New York.

            It took Captain Moroni the most part of a year to move a portion of his army through friendly territory from Zarahemla to Bountiful (Alma 52:11, 15, 18). This has to be more than 500 miles, which at an ancient army pace of 15 miles per day would only take 33 days.

            Later, Helaman wrote a lengthy epistle from the war theatre near the west sea to Captain Moroni near the east sea. Helaman’s epistle described the battle situation over a period of four years (Alma 56:1, 9). If the distance between them had only been two or three hundred miles, runners could have kept them in regular communication. The fact that these military officers only communicated about the conduct of the war once in those four years is further evidence that there was a great distance between them.

            Mormon wrote that in AD 375, “from this time forth did the Nephites gain no power over the Lamanites, but began to be swept off by them even as dew before the sun” (Mormon 4:16-18). This final rout lasted ten years and culminated at Cumorah (Mormon 6:5). A military rout lasting ten years speaks of a vast territory. A similar situation occurred previously amongst the Jaredites. When the armies of Coriantumr and Shiz faced off at Ramah (Cumorah) for their final battle, they paused in their fighting to gather their survivors. It took them four years to gather their people for battle (Ether 15:14), indicating a very large territory from which they were gathered.

            The Nephites and the Jaredites coexisted on this continent for 400 years without contact. That would be highly improbable in a limited area.

            The Angel Moroni’s statement to Joseph Smith in Upstate New York, that the Nephites were the former inhabitants of “this continent,” is substantiated throughout the pages of The Book Of Mormon.

      • Good discussion, Brandon. Of course, the Book of Mormon never mentions volcanoes (or jungles, stone pyramids, Mayans, etc.). Jerry has done some good work but volcanoes have nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. All the destruction in 3 Nephi has geological and actual historical precedent in the Mississippi River corridor.

        • By Occam’s Razor, the most likely scenario for the changes in 3 Nephi 8 are due to a volcanic eruption couples with an earthquake. I’ve read the Hearthland models and there are far too many glaring holes. For one thing, the Mississippi flows south and the Sidon very clearly flows north. Also, the lack of mention of volcanoes, jungles, pyramids, etc. is hardly evidence against tropical models.

        • JN, the idea that the features can be explained by historical precedent in the Mississippi River corridor is an interesting argument, and one presented by non-specialists; in particular, non-geologists. On the other hand. Jerry Grover, as a geologist, examined that proposition and found that it could not explain the phenomena.

          So we return to differences of opinion. The question on all such should be whether or not we can find appropriate data to back up our opinion. Although Jerry’s book focuses on Mesoamerica as a test case (which fits even better than was expected), you seem to have missed his presentation in a different conference you attended which specifically examined the Mississippi River hypothesis for geographic plausibility.

          To my knowledge, there are at least three geologists who have looked at the Book of Mormon evidence according to their understanding of geology. Each has independently indicated that a volcanic event was a central feature. On the other hand, I am unaware of any geologist who supports your suggestion that events from history along the Mississippi might be a suggestion. To my knowledge, Jerry is the only one who has specifically examined the hypothesis you are suggesting, but he did look at it with an open mind, and looked at whether or not the data fit the Book of Mormon descriptions–including causing the particular aftermath events. He indicated that it simply does not fit. Certain elements are similar, but even those that are similar differ in important ways from the text’s descriptions.

          • I like Jerry and his work a lot, but he makes assumptions when he interprets the text. It’s axiomatic that if you accept his assumptions, you accept his conclusions.

            He starts his analysis by claiming that “the first criteria that must be met for any model is the inclusion of an active volcano.” Then he writes, “The active volcano requirement essentially eliminates all Book of Mormon!geologic models located in the central or eastern United States, Baja California, and any area in Central America south of Costa Rica from being viable models as a location for the Book of Mormon.”

            Except the text never mentions volcanoes.

            Any time you add a “requirement” that is not in the text, you can put the Book of Mormon wherever you want. That’s how we end up with people looking for Cumorah in southern Mexico, etc.

            The U.S. Geological Service has extensive material on the New Madrid, Missouri, geology. Everything actually mentioned in the text has been documented there, both historically and as projections into the future.

          • It is certainly true that everyone begins with certain assumptions. You do as well, as do I. However, the scientific method requires that we be open to other assumptions, and my point in discussing Jerry Grover was the he has more recently specifically examined the Mississippi hypothesis. He began by accepting it as possible, and then looked at whether the actual geology would support those events as those creating the Book of Mormon descriptions. There were several reasons why he discovered that they did not, including issues of distance and time. I honestly do not remember the specifics.

            You have an interesting assumption that the information on the New Madrid event explains everything in the text. Jerry Grover also examined that information specifically, and concluded that it did not. It is not unusual for those of us who are not geologist to miss important issues in the discussion of reported geological events–but we must expect that those with training will see the things that we gloss over, not having that expertise.

          • JN,
            I’ve read and studied the New Madrid Fault and the earthquake swarm of 1811-1812. I am a geologist and I teach a course on natural disasters at BYU-Idaho. But you’re claim that all of the disasters recorded in 3 Nephi 8-10 are accounted for in the New Madrid area is false. For example, the city of Moroni, which the Lord called a “great city” was “sunk in the depths of the sea” (3 Ne. 9:4). What sea is close to New Madrid, Missouri? Another “great city”, Moronihah, was buried in the earth. I know of sand volcanoes in New Madrid, but these are not large enough to bury an entire city. And what of the three days of darkness. The only account I can find of darkness (which is not in any USGS source) speculates on something called “earthquake smog” (an unscientific and speculative term) doesn’t mention how long it lasted.

          • I don’t see a way to reply to Brant and Brandon–apparently the thread is too long for a reply button below their responses–but Jerry’s requirement of volcanic action is purely his interpretation of the text. It’s the assumption all his work is based on. And the text never even mentions volcanoes.
            Brandon, I’d be happy to go through this again and respond to all your questions, but I’ve done that many times previously in my blogs and books. In the past, Interpreter hasn’t let me include links, so you can email me at

    • Another thing to consider. The text says the “face of the land” was changed, which implies a surface change. That’s what we get when rivers change course, as the Mississippi has many times throughout history. The original capital of Illinois is now in Missouri, for example.

      Also, not only did Mormon and Moroni understand the geography preceding 3 Nephi, but so did Joseph Smith. When he crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, he said he was crossing “the plains of the Nephites.” Mormon wrote about these plains in Alma 52 and 62, well before the destruction in 3 Nephi. They have not moved since the days of Alma.

      Plus, Cumorah was the same for the Jaredites, the Nephites, and Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

      • To completely alter the entire course of the river takes more than just a surface damage. Lava flows have blocked dozens of rivers that were barely moved out of their course for a few miles before resuming it again downstream. To alter millions of years of river evolution would require raising new mountain ranges and leveling others. And that would leave obvious geologic evidence that does not exist. The Mississippi River does meander, but that is not the same thing. We don’t have any first-hand accounts of Joseph Smith himself actually making any sort of prophetic declaration that the US Heartland are Nephite lands. It is 2nd and 3rd hand at best, and may completely have been his opinion. Such comments should not be used as hard evidence for any model. Finally, the Hill Cumorah in New York was only named Cumorah in commemoration of what was buried there, but there is absolutely no evidence in the Book of Mormon itself that the New York Cumorah is the same as the Nephite Cumorah.

        • Hi Brandon. These comment exchanges are necessarily brief, so I have to assume you have read and rejected what Oliver Cowdery said in Letter VII, part of the series of eight letters about Church history which Joseph helped write and specifically endorsed on at least 3 occasions. I know it’s popular among Mesoamerican proponents to say Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York, but I think they knew what they were talking about for all the reasons I’ve explained elsewhere. We can agree to disagree on this point, but I think it’s important that we’re all clear on what it is we are accepting and what we are rejecting.

          • I have indeed read the letter and there is nothing within that convinces me that Oliver Cowdery “knew what he was talking about”. Your assumption is that if he stated it, it must be true. But he was not the prophet. And Joseph Smith has even said, “a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such”. Can you prove to me that he was acting as prophet when saying the NY Cumorah is the same as the Nephite Cumorah?

            Also consider this: Moroni says that he had to flee lest he be captured by the Lamanites. They won the battle at Cumorah, effectively occupying it and probably all/most of the country round about. So why and how would Moroni have sneaked deep into hostile territory, to the top of a hill that very well might have been an outpost, to bury the plates?

          • Brandon, again, there’s no reply button below your comment so I hope this goes through. You can google lettervii and find my blog that answers all your question and more.

            Or email me at lostzarahemla at gmail and I’d be happy to go through all of this.

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