Posted: Jun, 4, 2010
Claims have been made that the Sidon River of the Book of Mormon could not have been the Mississippi River as proposed by the Heartland Model geography. These claims have rested primarily on certain assumptions about what is indicated by the Book of Mormon text itself. It is critical to examine all the facts before an understanding can be reached.
Below are the major criticisms of the Heartland Model's proposal of the Mississippi River being the ancient River Sidon of the Book of Mormon:
1. The index in the Book of Mormon states that the Sidon River flowed north to a sea, but the Mississippi River flows south to the Gulf of Mexico and therefore could not have been the Sidon River of the Book of Mormon.
2. The Sidon River could be crossed on foot but the Mississippi River is much to wide and deep to do so.
3. The Sidon River had banks upon which wars took place and no such banks exist on the Mississippi River.
Did the Sidon River flow north?
The Book of Mormon index indicates the Sidon River flows north into a sea, is this correct? Yes and No. Yes, the index in the Book of Mormon does state that the Sidon River is the "most prominent river in Nephite territory, runs north to sea". However, nowhere does the text of the Book of Mormon definitively state the direction of flow of the Sidon River, therefore it must be deduced from alternative sources of information.
The index was written by Bruce R. McConkie, and is not considered to be holy writ, as evidenced by brother McConkie's introduction to the Book of Mormon recently being changed as mentioned in the DVD(s). This change corrects the introduction page of The Book of Mormon to indicate the Lamanites are "among" the ancestry of the American Indians, rather than the "principal'" ancestors of them.
What we do know is that the river ran either north or south as it had east and west banks. Alma 2:15, 2:17, 6:7, 16:7, 43:53 and 49.16 specify an east bank or side of the river, and Alma 8:3, 43:27, 43.32, 43.53 indicate a western side or bank. The Book of Mormon also indicates that shipping of lumber was being accomplished (see BoM Helaman 3:10) potentially indicating a navigable river (indicating a river without natural barriers to boat travel such as falls, etc). The proposed river in this geography model fits beautifully into both of these criterions.
What is the "Head" of a river?
Alma 22:29 does indicate that the head of the Sidon river was in the north as it states "the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness, at the head of the river Sidon, ..." This is completely congruent with the proposed geography outlined in the presentation and DVD(s). If the place of first landing was the Gulf Coast of North America and the proposed location for Zarahemla (according to the Heartland Model) is across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, IL (named by the Lord "Zarahemla" D&C125.3) then certainly the 'head' was in the northern parts of the land.
The Book of Mormon textual references to the River Sidon works very well in this geography, once a more complete understanding of what the 'head' of the river Sidon might mean. As regarding the Sidon River there is a very simple explanation that lies in the definition of 'head' of a river.
In Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary, the reference dictionary in Joseph Smiths time, the word 'head' as relating to a river is defined thus.
'Head, 18. The principal source of a stream; as the head of the Nile.' http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,head .
While this is one definition, there is also another equally valid definition relating to rivers which is less well known but very important to a more complete understanding.
Description 23. states 'Conflux'.
To be sure exactly what 'Conflux' means, this same dictionary defines it as;
CONFLUX, n. [L. See Confluence.] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,conflux
1. A flowing together; a meeting of two or more currents of a fluid.
Again in this same dictionary the word ‘confluence’ is defined as follows:
CONFLUENCE, n. [L., to flow. See Flow.] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,confluence
1. A flowing together; the meeting or junction of two or more streams of water, or other fluid; also, the place of meeting; as the confluence of the Tigris and the Frat, or of the Ohio and Mississippi.
So the 'head' of the Sidon river of the Book of Mormon has two possible definitions, one at the commencement of a stream or river and one which is defined as the location where two branches or tributaries of a river meet, or their confluence. Which definition did the Book of Mormon authors and translator mean and is there a scriptural basis for the idea of the 'head' of a river being a junction of two or more rivers? In the Old Testament in Genesis 2:10 it states, "And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads." (see also PoGP Moses 3:10 reference note b) There is a reference note b at 'parted' in the LDS King James Version of the Bible which reads "HEB (Hebrew) - divided into four heads (branches)" clearly indicating that the 'heads' of each of these four rivers were at the junction of two or more rivers.
A second scriptural basis for understanding that the word "head" could designate a "junction" can be had from several passages wherein attempts are made to cut off or "head" something (an army or flocks) at a certain junction. Such occurrences can be found in Alma 17:32, 46:32, 50:33-34, 51:29-30, and Hel. 1:28-30.
Therefore, there is scriptural evidence to support the use of 'head' of a river as where two or more rivers join, making this a perfectly legitimate choice among alternative definitions. This also provides further insight into Alma 56:24-25 which reads, "They durst not pass by us with their whole army, neither durst they with a part, lest they should not be sufficiently strong and they should fall. Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over to the city of Nephihah." It is understandable that the Lamanite army would be afraid to battle the Nephite army, or go against the Nephite capital city Zarahemla, but why would crossing a river at its "head" or source (presumably a stream) cause such consternation? The simple answer could be that the "head" was a junction of two rivers, thereby making it a fearfully difficult and dangerous point to attempt a crossing.
We can only speculate as to which of the two definitions were meant by the Book of Mormon authors. But it appears that each definition is valid. This being the case, it cannot be said with confidence that the river Sidon flowed north. It could have been flowing in either direction. Therefore, the Mississippi River, based on this criterion, is a valid alternative to be considered to be the Book of Mormon's "River Sidon."
What Geographical indicators exist in the Book of Mormon?
Manti is southward from Gideon and Zarahemla. Gideon was located just across the river Sidon within a few hours travel from Zarahemla (Alma 2; 6:7–8 ) and was much closer to Zarahemla than was Manti. It follows then that the general direction from Zarahemla to Manti was 'southward,' the same as it was from 'Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti' (Alma 17:1).
Manti was near the 'head of the river Sidon' (Alma 22:27, 43:22). By using the first definition (the principle source of a stream), if Manti was where the Sidon river began, and it flowed past Zarahemla to the north (Manti was south of Zarahemla), then it stands to reason that the river flowed northward.
However if the second or confluence definition is used, Manti would have been at a junction of two rivers, which means that the river flowed past Zarahemla and then on down to the junction (head) at Manti, which would thereby indicate a southerly flow from Zarahemla (a main branch of the river) down to the confluence.
According to Alma 31:3 the land of Antionum was east of the land of Zarahemla and Jershon was to the north of Antionum, all of which were north of the land of Manti which was to the south (Alma 16:6). In Alma chapter 43 the Lamanites were in the land of Antionum preparing to attack the Nephites who were in the land of Jershon to the north. The Lamanites determine not to fight the Nephites and turn away to the south toward the land of Manti. Alma 43:32 records that the Nephite army under Moroni went 'down into the borders of the land Manti' from their previous position in the land of Jershon and south towards the hill Riplah. If the Lamanites began in Antionum to the north, and they were traveling south as indicated, and they also went 'down' in elevation while doing so, then any river in that location would of necessity have to be flowing southward toward Manti. Rivers flow 'down' in elevation, which clearly indicates that the Sidon River must have been flowing to the south.
To reiterate, the Lamanites withdrew from the Nephite cities around Jershon. Jershon was located on the east side their lands, by a sea (thought to be Lake Michigan, see Alma 27:22), which was also north of the land of Antionum (Alma 31:3). This indicates that they left from Jershon (Alma 43:18) in the north and began traveling south through Antionum. Then they 'took their journey round about in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti' (Alma 43:22) which was south and 'down.'
The head of the river Sidon, and also the south border of the land of Manti, were integral parts of the borderline that separated the Nephites and the Lamanites (Alma 22).
The land of Manti was:
a) located by the head of the river Sidon (Alma 22:27);
b) southward from the land of Gideon (Alma 17:1);
c) near the south wilderness which was on the east side of the river Sidon when coming from the city of Zarahemla (Alma 16:7); and
d) on the west side of the river Sidon when approaching from the wilderness to the east (Alma 43:32).
The land of Manti fits well in the area northwest of the confluence or "head" of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers at what is now St. Louis. Using the confluence definition could then explain the seemingly nonsensical placing of Manti on BOTH sides of the Sidon in the references above. Assuming that the Book of Mormon's River Sidon references the entire Mississippi River System with all of its tributaries, reference C could be referring to their travels from Zarahemla, on the west of the Mississippi river (eastern branch of Sidon), west toward Manti, which was east of the Missouri River (the western branch of the Sidon), and on to the Missouri river from the east. Reference D would refer to crossing the Sidon (Mississippi river branch) from the east into the land of Manti.
Thus it would have been located between two branches of the ancient river Sidon, explaining how Manti could have been considered to have been paradoxically on both sides of the Sidon. This is especially intriguing when considering that the city of Manti (not necessarily the Land of Manti), as apparently claimed by The Prophet Joseph while on the Kirtland Camp and as recorded in the Millennial Star, vol. 16, p296 and the Journal of Samuel D. Tyler, Sept. 25, 1838, filed in the Church Historians office, may well have been near present-day Huntsville, MO . Huntsville is northwest of St. Louis, near Moberly, MO.
Both are branches of the Mississippi river system that was the primary system used by the Hopewell mound building civilization that flourished in the correct archaeological time frame to be the Nephites and most likely designated by them the Sidon River (system). This same civilization built their cities and fortifications in the same manner outlined by Moroni in the Book of Mormon. These same ancient people had DNA lineages (haplogroup X) that are associated with the Druze population in the Levant area (Israel) and the majority of Jewish populations around the world, including the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Libyan, Tunisian, Moroccan, Iranian and Iraqi Jews. The descendants of these people are the very tribes that Joseph Smith sent the first missionaries 'unto the Lamanites.' These very tribes today harbor these same Jewish genetic markers.
Could the Mississippi River be crossed on foot, and are its banks sufficient to allow battles to be held on them?
Remember that the Mississippi today is much wider and deeper than it was in the days before dams, locks and levies, making it still a large river, but much more shallow. In fact, the river at Nauvoo was actually shallow enough to cross on foot! This area was called the Des Moines rapids and riverboats had to off-load their cargo to pass these rapids prior to the building of locks/dams across the river. The Des Moines Rapids are known historically to have been less than 2.6 feet deep, making this the first location upstream from the Gulf of Mexico where the mighty Mississippi could be crossed on foot! Certainly this would make this area a strategic location for any ancient civilization, as access to both sides of the river was easily attainable. This location also had broad river banks from seasonal floods that would subsequently return back into its channel that would allow mighty battles to be fought literally on the banks of the river as stated in the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to note that the bluff north of Nauvoo, IL is litered with ancient burial mounds, some 80 or more in extent. That this was the site of ancient battles of the Hopewell mound builders is unquestionable. Zelph, the "white Lamanite" warrior, was buried in a mound little more than an hour away to the southeast, along the Illinois River.
Watch the video clip about the strategic importance of this location in ancient North America by clicking on the VIDEO GALLERY and watching "Zarahemla near Nauvoo?"
A navigable river suitable for shipping of goods?
The Book of Mormon also indicates that shipping of lumber was being accomplished (see BoM Helaman 3:10) potentially indicating a navigable river or a river without natural barriers to boat (canoe?) travel such as falls.
"10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping. (Book of Mormon | Helaman 3:10)"
It is interesting to note that during construction of the Nauvoo Temple the wooden beams from which the temple structure was built had to be brought down the Mississippi river from Wisconsin to the North. The Mississippi River as the Sidon River in this proposed geography model fits beautifully into both of these criterions. How navigable are the proposed rivers in Mesoamerica, such as the Grijalva River in Guatemala, for shipping? How could there have been a lack of timber in a dense tropical rain forest / jungle as is the case for proposed sites in Mesoamerica? The text requires that upriver from where they were building their homes and cities (the entire area being the "land northward") there were forests with abundant wood. Their cities downriver were lacking trees, thus creating the need for importing timber to build their homes. Where in Mesoamerica does such an arrangement exist? Do any of the proposed rivers in Mesoamerican theories provide evidence of lands devoid of timber downriver from a heavily forested area...on the same river?
We also know that the Sidon river emptied into a 'sea' as indicated by Alma 3:3 and 44:22, which as discussed in the DVD presentation could mean any large body of water (fresh or salt...i.e. "Sea of Galilee" is a small freshwater lake, while the Dead Sea is a small salt water lake, and yet the Mediterranian Sea is a large salt water ocean). Again this fits with this proposed geography. It should be clear that any body of water could have been called a 'sea' by those coming from the Middle East. This includes the Great Lakes, which are orders of magnitude larger than their Middle Eastern counterparts.
To recap: The Sidon River in the Book of Mormon flowed past Zarahemla southward and 'down' toward Manti which was at the head or confluence. From this description, Sidon would have flowed in a southerly direction. The 'headwaters' could refer to the confluence of the present-day Missouri and Mississippi rivers (or another ancient tributary of the present day Mississippi). When you see how this fits beautifully into the geography as proposed by the Heartland Model, it is both logical and powerful evidence in support of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and its possible location in the Heartland of the Promised Land of America.
For more information please see disk #5 of the 5 DVD series, Book of Mormon E vidence by Rod L. Meldrum available at www.BookofMormonEvidence.org at the bookstore.