600 Part Puzzle: Piecing the Geography Together
The Book of Mormon provides a consistent narrative on the geography of Book of Mormon. Events describe over 170 features including 15 lands, 47 cities, seas, wildernesses, a river, an isthmus, distances and other geographic details interweave through the narrative with precision across time.
Learn about the rules for making a Book of Mormon map through our article.
Top 10 Map Features:
(download a different top 10 chart)
Narrow Neck between...
...the Land Northward and the Land Southward.
Sea East and Sea West on each side of the two lands above.
A river (River Sidon) that flows northward.
City of Zarahemla located adjacent to river Sidon in a river basin & surrounded by significant development and fortifications.
City of Nephi in highlands.
A Narrow Strip of Wilderness, mountains, running east to west between the Land & City of Zarahemla and the Land & City of Nephi - all within the Land Southward.
City of Bountiful north of the City of Zarahelma near narrow neck.
Cumorah (Ramah) along East Sea coast.
Land of First Inheritance at the southern & western most point of known features along the west coast.
Do you want to go deeper? Review all geographic names from the start of the Book of Mormon until the end with this scripture chart. Access an alphabetical order chart here.
John Sorenson's Internal Map:
1. Narrow Neck of Land
And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. (Ether 10:20)
An isthmus, or narrow neck of land, lays between the Land Northward and the Land Southward. The Sea East and Sea West flank either side of the lands. The Narrow Neck width is 75 to 125 miles wide based upon the following textual details:
There was a narrow pass within the Narrow Neck as the natural military route between the Lands Northward and Southward. (see Alma 50:34; Alma 52:9; Mormon 2:29; Mormon 3:5)
The Nephites fortified a line along the narrow pass, which was a day's journey for a Nephite soldier across the fortification from the west sea towards the east. (Helaman 4:7)
The line was a natural barrier, most likely along the perimeter edge, between the Land of Bountiful in the south and the Land of Desolation in the North. (3 Nephi 3:23)
1.5 days journey for a Nephite soldier '...on the line (perimeter edge of) Bountiful and the Land Desolation, from the east to the west sea.' This does not mean from the east sea to the west. The City Bountiful was within 1 days march down to the east sea (Alma 52:17-22). The Book of Mormon never says the Narrow Neck was a 1.5 day journey from the East Sea to the West Sea.
Heading from the sea east to the west: <1 day march from the sea east to the City Bountiful + X [unknown distance, but cities in the text are often central to the land, so another <1 day journey to the other side is reasonable] between the City Bountiful and the easternmost edge of the fortified line + 1-1.5 days from the east of the line to the west sea = 2-3 days minimum from the sea east to the sea west.
King Limhi sends an expedition of 43 'most diligent' explorers to find the City of Zarahemla (see Mosiah 8:7-8). They travel north, miss Zarahemla completely and go into the Land Desolation, in the Land Northward, through the Narrow Neck without realizing their error. For the entire expedition to cross through the Narrow Neck unknowingly requires the isthmus to have substantial size.
With all of the contextual clues combined, the narrow neck width should be a 2-3 day soldier journey or 75 to 125 miles coast to coast. Building out the dimension requires putting the puzzle together of the geography from east to west and understanding all relevant details within the stories themselves.
2. Lands Northward & Southward
And the Lamanites did give unto us the land northward, yea, even to the narrow passage which led into the land southward. And we did give the Lamanites all the land southward. Mormon 2:29
The Land Northward (see Helaman 3:3-13) included the Land Desolation. It was called the Land Desolation for the deserted cities from a prior civilization (Jaredites - see Alma 22:30). It was the primary staging ground for major final battles of both the Jaredites and Nephites.
All the Jaredite events occur within the Land Northward (see Ether 10:19-26). Hill Ramah/Cumorah was located in the Land Northward (see Mormon 6:2-6). The Nephites spend tremendous military effort protecting access into the Land Northward (for fear of being surrounded) and final loss of that protection serves the military downfall of the Nephite culture core.
The Land Southward included, from southwest to northeast, the Land of First Inheritance up to the Land Nephi, down to the Land Zarahemla, down to the Land Bountiful along the narrow neck of land and the Land Desolation in the Land Northward. Most Nephite and Lamanite written events occur in the Land Southward. The Land Southward included the River Sidon and the entire land was nearly surrounded by water (see Alma 22:32).
3. Sea East & Sea West
The sea east is mentioned 6 times and the sea west 12 times. These are the massive bodies of water referenced across the text in every land. The River Sidon carried bodies out into the sea likely implying a river mouth into the ocean.
Only once, a 'sea north' and 'sea south' get mentioned in the middle of a description of great population expansion:
And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east. Helaman 3:8
This isolated reference likely does not mean a different coastline, but population expansion north and south both sides of the Sea East and Sea West coastlines. They would have coastlines running north and south meaning population expanded up and down and everywhere in between.
4. River Sidon
The headwaters of the River Sidon were in the mountainous narrow strip of wilderness (see Alma 43:22) south of the Land of Zarahemla. Zarahemla was adjacent in the river basin and the River Sidon flows right through the heart of the Land of Zarahemla. The river flows to the seacoast (see Alma 3:3), but east coast or west coast is unknown.
The River Sidon meanders northward because Mormon pinpoints locations to the east or west of its banks (see Alma 2:15-17; Alma 6:7 for references east of Sidon) )(see Alma 8:3; Alma 43:27, 32 & 53 for references west of Sidon). The headwaters, or formation, of the River Sidon starts in the mountains of the Narrow Strip of Wilderness (see Alma 22:29; 43:22).
The Law of Gravity provides the rules for our conclusion: the River Sidon must flow northward.
5. City of Zarahemla
The Nephites fled and traveled north from the mountainous wilderness and settle with the Mulekites in the established City of Zarahemla. It remained fortified during the time of Captain Moroni and had at least one gate (see Helaman 7:10).
Zarahemla eventually falls to Lamanites (see Helaman chapter 4) and the Nephites retreat to the City of Bountiful. Just a few years later, Zarahemla burned at the crucifixion, but was rebuilt (see 3 Nephi 8:8, 24; 9:3; 4 Nephi 1:8). It was 180 straight miles from the City of Nephi and 80-100 miles from the narrow strip of wilderness.
6. City of Nephi
The primary city for Nephi's descendants for hundreds of years. It was abandoned by the Nephites when King Mosiah moves the people down into the land of Zarahemla (see Omni 1:12-14).
The city stood in the heartland of Lamanite territory (see Alma 23:11). The city is located in a mountainous region, at the very least highlands. Besides the actual Land of First Inheritance, this city is in the most southern and western part of the internal map.
7. Narrow Strip of Wilderness
...which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by 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—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided. - Alma 22:27
The south wilderness or narrow strip of wilderness runs across the entire Land Southward and remains the critical barrier between Nephites in the northern part and Lamanites in the southern part of the Land Southward.
The headwaters of the River Sidon starts in the wilderness (see Alma 43:22) and the elevation from Zarahemla is always 'up' suggesting a coast to coast strip of mountains. This also accounts for the natural divide between the two people.
8. City of Bountiful
The City Bountiful was located inside the Land Bountiful within the northern most tip of the Land Southward. The east sea remained under a single days journey from the city (see Alma 52).
The Land of Bountiful bordered the Land of Desolation along a fortified line which protected Nephites from enemies passing through the narrow neck (see Alma 22). The City and Land of Bountiful was lower in elevation and northeast from the City and Land of Zarahemla.
9. Hill Cumorah / Ramah
Alongside the Land Cumorah in the Land Northward, the hill sat within the surrounding East Sea coastal plains:
...came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore... Ether 9:3
The hill in New York where Joseph Smith found the gold plates is not Hill Cumorah from the Book of Mormon, as demonstrated from an internal map. Mormon 6:6 describes Hill Cumorah containing all the plates from the library Mormon used to compile his final record. Mormon did bury all the plates in Hill Cumorah, except for the plates of the Book of Mormon.
From the internal map alone, Hill Cumorah must be in a location of coastal plains, near an eastern ocean seashore, a single days journey from a large body of water, at a location where Nephites could flee a battle scene into the Land Southward. This is not the State of New York.
10. Land of First Inheritance
...and on the west in the land of Nephi, in the place of their fathers’ first inheritance, and thus bordering along by the seashore... Alma 22:28
Here Mormon outlines the Land of First Inheritance on the coastline of Sea West, west of the Land of Nephi, at the southwestern most point of Book of Mormon events.
That's our top 10 list of major geographic features from the Book of Mormon. Hundreds of additional features interweave providing the framework for mapping from the inside out. Review our handy rule book for making the internal map here.
Again, for more detail, review all geographic names from the start of the Book of Mormon until the end with this scripture chart. Access an alphabetical order chart here.
Next steps: Use the Book of Mormon text for a list of required cultural, archaeological and geological rules for any real world setting of the Book of Mormon. Once completed, we will take both our:
Inside map &...
...cultural, archaeological and geological rule book to...
...create a working model for a real world map for Book of Mormon events.
EASY MAP ACCESS FOR FURTHER STUDY:
Virtual Scriptures Map (BYU): Interactive map currently available for download. A terrific tool to follow the stories, travel and wars of the Book of Mormon with an inside map that is both comprehensive and follows the story chapter by chapter.
Internal Map (Book of Mormon Central): Inside map of Book of Mormon focused on the major features. This is also interactive, you can click on features of the map for more details and references.
Internal Map Commentary and Diagrams (Independent): Research and website from Restoration Branch scholar Aric Turner including internal maps and commentary on all feature
ARTICLES FOR FURTHER STUDY (SOURCE DOWNLOADS):
Anderson, Joe V & Stoddard, Ted Dee (2015) 'Interpreting “Mormon’s Geographical Map” via Alma 22:27–35 and Alma 50:1–36'. Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum http://bmaf.org/node/568
Clark, John E. (1989) "A Key for Evaluating Nephite Geographies," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1989–2011: Vol. 1 : No. 1 , Article 7.
Clark, John E. (2011) "Revisiting “A Key for Evaluating Book of Mormon Geographies”,"Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 1989–2011: Vol. 23 : No. 1 , Article 4.
Gardner, Brant. “An Exploration in Critical Methodology: Critiquing a Critique,” FARMS Review (2004) 16:2, 173–223.
William J. Hamblin, “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies v2:1 (Provo: FARMS, 1993)
Hamblin, William J. "Directions in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Nephite Language" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992)
Spackman, Randall P., “Interpreting Book of Mormon Geography,” FARMS Review 15, no. 1 (2003): 29.
Sorenson, John. "A Day and a Half's Journey for a Nephite," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992)
RECOMMENDED BOOK READINGS (SOURCES)
John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events:A Source Book, rev. ed. (Provo, UT: F.A.R.M.S., 1990, 1992)
John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Map (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000)