by John Tvedtnes
Question: The mention of “highways” in the Book of Mormon is anachronistic (Helaman 7:10; 14:24; 3 Nephi 6:8; 8:13). The first roads in America were constructed after colonization of the New World by Europeans.
Answer: Though the term “highway” has come to denote in our time well-paved roads for automobile and truck traffic, its use predates the modern era. Indeed, the term is used 25 times in the King James version (KJV) of the Bible, which was translated nearly four centuries before the invention of the automobile. Unlike our modern use of the word, in these scriptures it can refer to trails or paths used for foot or animal traffic, though they may refer to improved roads. Some of the highways mentioned in 3 Nephi were destroyed and broken up at the time of Christ‘s death (3 Nephi 8:13), so they may not have been recognized by European colonists.
Extensive networks of excellent roadways are well known throughout Central and South America, some of which date well into Book of Mormon times. One hard-surfaced highway in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico was in place ca. 300 BC, and another at Cerros in Belize another was in use between 150 and 50 BC. Roads or “highways” seem to have been known to Pre-Columbian North Americans in certain regions. One recent scholar has discovered what appears to have been a 60 mile long roadway that joined Hopewell ceremonial centers at Newark, Ohio, and Chillicothe. A much smaller network of roadways spanned the Anasazi region of the American Southwest. One scholar wrote that Mayan “roads were built in Yucatan that embodied all [the] sound principles of road making . . . The thoroughness and good engineering of their construction rival the famous roads of the Roman empire or of present day highways. In ancient times Chichen Itza and all the great and lesser cities of the Yucatan peninsula, were linked by a network of smooth, hard-surfaced highways . . . this land . . . once had the best roads on earth.”
Comment by a reader: "Having walked many muddy roads in Central America, I can attest that an economically advanced culture would have to develop roads that can stand up to cows and horses, and not become a mud hole at the first sign of rain for the economy to have any chance of becoming as large or dynamic as what is described in the Book Of Mormon."
P. Douglas Kiester, MD
Professor of Orthopaedics