14. Where Are the “South Countries” Spoken of by Mormon?
14. Where Are the “South Countries” Spoken of by Mormon?
Copyright © 2015 by Jerry L. Ainsworth
A number of Book of Mormon analysts have concluded that the land of Cumorah may be adjacent to the narrow neck of land (the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) and that Cerro Vigia may be the hill Cumorah where the final battle of the Nephites and Lamanites was fought.
I believe this view is inconsistent with the history of the Book of Mormon.
The Land Northward
Let me first define the two terms “land northward” and “land southward.” Land northward, as used in the Book of Mormon, refers to the land that begins immediately north of the narrow neck (sometimes referred to as Desolation) and extends northwest, presumably until it reaches the “north countries.”
And it came to pass that in the three hundred and twenty and seventh year the Lamanites did come upon us with exceedingly great power, insomuch that they did frighten my armies; therefore they would not fight, and they began to retreat towards the north countries. (Mormon 2:3; emphasis added)And now I, Moroni, proceed to give an account of those ancient inhabitants who were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country. (Ether 1:1; emphasis added)
The Land Southward
Land southward describes the land that begins immediately south of the narrow neck and extends in a southeastward direction. The northern boundary of this land southward is the line that separates Desolation from Bountiful.
And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward. (Alma 22:32)
The South Countries
I feel certain that the term land southward refers to an area different from the “south countries” described by Mormon:
And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each; yea, even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me, and also a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites. (Mormon 6:15; emphasis added)
Had these terms referred to the same location, Mormon would not have used two separate terms. He was an excellent historian and would not have made such a confusing word choice. He used two separate terms because the “land southward” and the “south countries” are two separate places.
So read, Mormon 6:15 says that between the place where this final battle took place (the land of Cumorah) and the land Desolation/narrow neck, there is enough room for at least two “south countries.” (The term “countries” could refer to more than two countries, but the plural term means there were at least two.)
Location of Cerro Vigia
Now, here is the problem. Cerro Vigia is only sixty miles north of the narrow neck— perhaps too small an area in which to fit two or possibly more south countries.
Faced with this problem, the analysts described above argue that the terms “south countries” and “land southward” are used interchangeably to describe the same area south of the narrow neck. I am certain that was not intended by Mormon.
Moroni was confronted with the same challenge. Like his father, Moroni uses the term “land southward” four times when referring to the lands south of Desolation (the narrow neck). Yet when he describes the same event as his father, the escape of a few Nephites, he says the following:
And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites until they were all destroyed. (Mormon 8:2; emphasis added)
Moroni differs from his father in this description. Mormon refers to this area where some Nephites had escaped as the “south countries,” whereas Moroni calls the area as the “country southward.” But neither of these two historians refers to the destination of escaping Nephites as the “land southward,” which was the area clearly understood by them to be the land that was southward of the narrow neck.
One thing is for certain. These “south countries” were located south—or southward (that is, southeast)—of the land of Cumorah and yet north of the narrow neck. If the land of Cumorah is around Cerro Vigia, there is little space for two or more countries between it and the narrow neck to the south.
What Is a “Country”?
Webster’s Dictionary defines country as “A large tract of land distinguished by a unique culture.”
This definition indicates that one of the characteristics that qualifies a tract of land to be referred to as a country is a group of people living there who have developed a unique culture. Were this not the case with the “south countries,” Mormon would have referred to the land as the “south wilderness,” which, in Book of Mormon terms, means where there are no cities and no unique culture.
Why the Difference in Descriptions?
Mormon was around seventy-five years old when writing his account, whereas Moroni was around forty. Mormon had been keeping and writing the Nephite records for about fifty years, whereas Moroni, at the age of around thirty-five, had just begun as the record keeper.
I am, therefore, inclined to give more credence to Mormon’s account than to Moroni’s. In addition, Moroni had not as yet accessed the records of Ether and had therefore not seen the whole history of this planet (see Ether 3:25; 4:4). That happened later when Moroni translated and abridged the information in the plates of Ether.
The important point is that Mormon’s reference to “countries” south of Cumorah but north of the narrow neck indicates there were such countries.
Why Schedule the Final Battle near Population Centers?
One last point about this issue should be mentioned. If there were countries south and/or southeast of the land of Cumorah and if Cumorah is but a few miles from the narrow neck, then Mormon scheduled the battle adjacent to at least two (possibly more) existing populated countries.
And I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle. (Mormon 6:2)
This seems a little odd, if not politically unacceptable by local rulers (perhaps those of Tres Zapotes, thirty miles from Cerro Vigia). And Mormon’s description of the site of the final battle says nothing of local cities:
And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites. (Mormon 6:4)
Escaping Nephites Would Not Flee to the Land Southward
There is an additional reason I believe these two different terms refer to two separate lands. If they are one and the same (i.e., the south countries and the land southward), then these Nephites would have escaped into the lands totally occupied and controlled by the Lamanites. Mormon had given these lands to the Lamanites by treaty in AD 350, some thirty-five years earlier (see Mormon 2:28–29).
As a pure point of logic, during a war, soldiers do not escape by running to the country they are at war with. They can dissent over to the enemy’s lands—but not escape. And Mormon mentions both groups of people: “a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had dissented over unto the Lamanites” (Mormon 6:15; emphasis added).
Cumorah Is Distant from the Narrow Neck
If I am correct in this interpretation of these statements by Mormon and Moroni and if there are “countries” in between the land of Cumorah and the narrow neck, the outcome places the land of Cumorah a considerable distance from the narrow neck. If this analysis is correct, the hill Cumorah cannot be Cerro Vigia, a hill only sixty miles from the narrow neck of land.
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