Notes on the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands
The most logical place to look for information regarding Book of Mormon geography is the Book of Mormon text itself. Let us consider several facts taken from the text of the Book of Mormon that apply to the Book of Mormon lands. What are the major divisions of the lands of the Book of Mormon, and what are some of their prominent topographical features?
The Book of Mormon lands generally are divided into two parts. There is a "land northward" and a "land southward," and the two are divided by a "narrow neck of land." The land southward has two main divisions: the "land of Nephi" to the south and the "land of Zarahemla" in the north. The land of Zarahemla stretches northward until it reaches the narrow neck of land. Within these major lands are other subdivisions or "lands." The southerly portion of the narrow neck itself, which is also the northern-most portion of the land of Zarahemla is the "land of Bountiful." The land of Bountiful itself seems to be quite narrow since Alma 22:31-33 describes it mostly as a zone that runs across the narrow neck of land.
The lands of the Book of Mormon have their own capital cities which are called by the same name. For example, the city of Nephi (or Lehi-Nephi) is the capital of the land of Nephi, and the city of Zarahemla is the capital of the land of Zarahemla.
The land and city of Nephi are located in upland territory (2 Nephi 5:7-8, Alma 22:28). The city of Zarahemla is at an intermediate elevation, "up" from the eastern lowland coast (Alma 22:31) but "down" from the land of Nephi (Alma 22:31; Helaman 2:17).
A continuous strip of wilderness separates Zarahemla from the land of Nephi. This strip of wilderness stretches from the sea east to the sea west and even partially surrounds the land of Zarahemla. This results in an additional west wilderness between the land of Zarahemla and the west sea. This west wilderness is called the Wilderness of Hermounts.
The landing site of Lehi and his family or "the place of the fathers' first inheritance" (Alma 22:28) is also called the "land of Ishmael" and is on the west coast and to the south of the land of Nephi.
Immediately to the north of the narrow neck is the "land of Desolation" or the "land Desolation." Desolation is the last great battle field of both the Jaredite and the Nephite nations, and in Book of Mormon times it was strewn with bones and rusting weapons. North of the land of Desolation is the Jaredite's first major settlement, the land of Moron (Ether 7:6). North from Desolation along the eastern coast is a wet land called Ripliancum (Alma 50:29; Ether 15:8-11). A "line" (Alma 22:32), logically a river, separated the land Bountiful from Desolation.
The river Sidon flows down from the mountains or wilderness that separate the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla. Its headwaters are located near the city of Manti, a Nephite city located in or near the wilderness in the south of the land of Zarahemla (Alma 16:6). The river then flows northward and runs "by" the city of Zarahemla which is located on the streams west (Alma 22:27-33; Alma 2:15). The only populated part of the Nephite lands on the east side of the river is the valley of Gideon (Alma 6:7). The city of Sidom is still farther north and probably on the river (Alma 15:14). No mention is made of where the river Sidon empties into the sea, even though such a river must have had a considerable mouth. Considering the shortness of the Nephite-held sections of the east coast, the river likely reaches the sea at or beyond the limit of Nephite possessions (to the south), where they would have had no reason to mention it.
A lowland west coastal strip runs all the way from the land of "first inheritance" to the isthmus or narrow neck of land (Alma 22:27-29). The "west wilderness" of Zarahemla likely consists of this coastal strip plus a range of uninhabited mountains paralleling the coastal strip. Groups had to cross "over" the wilderness or mountains either by one pass-near Antiparah on the south-(Alma 55:31-40) or another on the north near Ammonihah (Alma 25:2).
Melek is adjacent to the west wilderness, on the wilderness's east side, and conveniently accessible from the city of Zarahemla ( Alma 8:3, compare Alma 35:13-14; Alma 45:18). It is sheltered from the coast by the band of mountain wilderness on the west. For this reason the people of Ammon were placed in Melek to protect them from Lamanite reprisals (Alma 35:13). Melek was never attacked by Lamanites, who at least twice slipped past along the coast to attack Ammonihah farther north. Ammonihah was located just inland from the northern pass through the mountains that ran parallel to the west coast (Alma 25:1-2; Alma 49:1-25) and was thus vulnerable to attack.
How large is the land of the Book of Mormon story?
It seems possible to go to the text of the Book of Mormon and draw some useful information on this point. For example, when the sons of Mosiah departed on their mission from Zarahemla they traveled south to the land of Nephi. They "knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi." Consequently, the trip took them some forty days (Mosiah 7:4).
Another, perhaps more useful, example was that of Alma the convert priest from the court of King Noah. He was converted by the preaching of the prophet Abinadi and departed the city of Nephi to travel to a place called Mormon. This distance is probably not more than about two days travel (Mosiah 18:4-7; Mosiah 18:30-34; Mosiah 23:1). In Mormon Alma baptized in the "waters of Mormon" which are near the forest of Mormon. When finally forced out of this area they traveled first to the land Helam which is a trip of about eight days. After living in Helam for a time they were again forced out of their homes, and they traveled back to Zarahemla, the trip taking some thirteen days (Mosiah 18:1-7, Mosiah 23:1-3, Mosiah 24:20; Mosiah 24:25). Thus, the total time for the group to travel from the city of Nephi to the city of Zarahemla was twenty-two or twenty-three days. It seems reasonable to assume that they averaged, as they traveled, not more than ten or eleven miles per day since they traveled with women, children, and "flocks." One might therefore assume that the distance between the city of Nephi and the city of Zarahemla is somewhere near two hundred and fifty miles by land or perhaps as little as one hundred and eighty miles "as the crow flies." By using some similar reasoning and by taking some license, one might estimate that the distance between the city of Zarahemla and the narrow neck of land is another one hundred and eighty miles. Thus the total length of the land southward, where most of the Book of Mormon took place, is more or less three hundred and sixty miles.
One interesting story that gives us considerable information regarding the dimensions of the lands of the Book of Mormon story is that of an exploring party sent out from the city of Nephi at the time of King Limhi (Mosiah 8:7-8). This exploring party was given the charge of looking for the city of Zarahemla. They sought the help of those in Zarahemla in obtaining their escape from Lamanite captivity in the land of Nephi. Apparently the route of this exploring party bypassed Zarahemla and took them through the "narrow neck of land" without their even realizing it. Instead of arriving in Zarahemla, they came to the land Desolation, the final battle ground of the Jaredites. Here they found ruins and a set of twenty-four gold plates left by the last Jaredite prophet, Ether (Ether 15:33, Mosiah 21:25-27). Sorrowfully, the explorers returned to their home in the land of Nephi to report to King Limhi, mistakenly, that the remains they had found must have been those of Zarahemla destroyed. We are not told the duration of this expedition, but it is assumed they would have known approximately how long it had taken their fathers to travel from Zarahemla to Nephi only eighty years earlier. By the time they had traveled, say, twice as far as the expected distance to Zarahemla, they must have wondered about their position and probably would not have gone much farther.
Also using some deduction and inference, we might estimate that the hill called "Ramah" (in Jaredite times) or "Cumorah" (in Nephite times) is about one hundred miles north of the narrow neck of land. It is probably another one hundred miles from the hill Cumorah to the Jaredite land of Moron.
The narrow neck of land itself is likely between 75 and 125 miles across.
The distance from the west to the east coasts, judging by the travels of the military forces of captain Moroni and Helaman and his stripling warriors probably does not exceed two-hundred miles.
The land of Moron, the Jaredite center in the highlands, was settled by the Jaredites soon after they landed (Ether 6:13; Ether 7:5; Ether 7:16-17; Ether 7:20). It was not very distant from the sea. The land northward is also unlikely to have been over two- hundred miles wide.
It would seem likely that the entire Book of Mormon story, then, took place in an area probably not larger than two hundred by six hundred miles.
What about the Hill Cumorah? Isn't it located in New York?
Regarding the hill Ramah/Cumorah, it is high enough and large enough that the handful of Nephite survivors who climbed it were able to hide successfully from their massed enemies who were at his base (Mormon 6:6; Mormon 6:11). The Jaredite hill Comnor and two valleys are near by (Ether 14:26-28), and the hill Shim may have been located in the same region (Ether 9:3; Mormon 4:23). Thus, the final battles were fought in or adjacent to a hilly sector.
The Book of Mormon makes clear that the demise of both Jaredites and Nephites takes place near the narrow neck of land. Thus the scripture itself rules out the idea that the Nephites perished near Palmyra, New York.
Is it important or helpful to speculate as to the very location of Book of Mormon lands?
The question of exactly where the Book of Mormon story took place is an interesting one and has long been discussed by capable and knowledgeable scholars in the Church. Today a central American location is most widely accepted. If the reader has any interest in this topic, I would recommend Dr. John L. Sorenson's book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. It is published by Deseret Book Company and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. Having an interest in the specific geographical location of the Book of Mormon is certainly not vital in gaining an understanding of the book and its saving principles.