Aug 2, 2010

Route of the Jaredites

There has been a lot of speculation about the route that the Jaredites followed as they left Babel and traveled to the Americas.  Some suggest that they traveled westward, eventually crossing the Atlantic ocean, and thence to their homeland in the New World.  Others think that they migrated eastward, crossing Asia, and then the Pacific, to arrive at the Promised Land.  One researcher (George Potter) even thinks that they journeyed southward, crossing Saudi Arabia to the Indian Ocean, and thence eastward across the Pacific.  So, as with other areas of Book of Mormon geography, there seems to be a lot of confusion.  
In my opinion, the best study on the Jaredites and their migration was done by the scholar Hugh Nibley in his work Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites.  In this treatise He seems to favor the eastern route across the steppes of Central Asia.  He notes:

Whether the party moved east or west from the valley of Nimrod is not a major issue, though a number of things favor an eastern course.  For one thing, there is the great length of the journey: "for this many years we have been in the wilderness" (Ether 3:3); such a situation calls not only for vast expanses to wander in, but a terrain favorable to cattle-raising nomads and a region "in which there never had man been," conditions to which the Asiatic rather than the European areas conform. But most revealing is the report that "the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land, while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind" (Ether 6:8). Now whether the Jaredites sailed from eastern or western shores, they would necessarily have to cross the ocean between the thirtieth and sixtieth parallels north, where the prevailing winds are westerly right around the world. Since the cause of these winds is tied up with the revolution of the earth and the relative coolness of the polar regions, it may be assumed that the same winds prevailed in Jared's time as in ours. Of course, one cannot be too dogmatic on such a point, for weather has changed through the ages, and freak storms do occur; yet the extreme steadiness of the wind strongly suggests prevailing westerlies and a North Pacific crossing, since it would have meant a headwind all the way had the voyagers attempted the Atlantic. The length of the sea journey, 344 days, tells us nothing, since the vessels, though driven before the wind, apparently did not use sails: the almost perpetual hurricane conditions would have made sails impossible even if they had had them. But the fact that the party spent almost a year on the water even with the winds behind them certainly suggests the Pacific, and recalls many tales of Chinese junks that through the centuries have been driven helplessly before the wind to end up after a year or so at sea stranded on the beaches of our West Coast.  Then too, we must not forget that a mountain of "exceeding height" stood near the point of Jaredite embarkation (Ether 3:1), and that there is no such mountain on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, as there are at many points on the Asiatic shore (page 181.)

As he has observed there are a number of factors which suggest the eastern, Asiatic route.  These include (1) the length of the journey, (2) the geography, (3) the prevailing eastward winds, (4) the favorable Pacific currents, and (5) the mountainous terrain of eastern Asia.

1) The journey of the Jaredites was long.  We don't have any definite information on the actual length of the journey, other than the ocean crossing, which was 344 days.  In addition, after their arrival at the sea Jared notes that their trip had taken a long time for he says "for these many years we have been in the wilderness" (Ether 3:3).  Finally, after arriving on the coast, they lived there in tents for a period of four years.  So we can account for a minimum of five years that we know of, but the journey was probably much, much longer when we factor in "these many years."

There are some traditions of the descendants of the Jaredites which speak of this journey to the New World.  Lorenzo Boturini, speaking of the ancestral Indians [or Jaredites], tells us "they traveled for a long time in Asia…going from one place to another and carrying with them seeds, particularly of corn, chili, and beans, and in each region they cut down the forests [cleared the land] and prepared farm land [or sowing fields], and perhaps leaving behind the aged and weary that they might populate those lands; and so they walked that with time th ey were nearing America, and at last they entered and set foot on their continent."  P. 126.  Note that he speaks of clearing land and planting crops (at least a year long project for each season), and of leaving behind colonies of the aged and infirm.  

Fernando Alva Ixtlilxochitl relates that the ancestral Indians (who I believe were the Jaredites) "came to these parts [Mexico], having first crossed large lands and seas, living in caves and undergoing great hardships, until they came to this land, which they found good and fertile for their habitation.  And they say that they traveled for 104 years through different parts of the world until they arrived at Huehue Tlapallan [or the New World], their country, which happened in [the year] ce Tecpatl, for it had been 520 years since the Deluge had taken place, which are five ages."  This account allots 104 years to the journey which seems like an unreasonable length of time, but it is within the realm of possibility as many contemporaries of Jared were long lived, some living as long as 250 years.  

2) The geography favors an Asian route.  They traveled for many years in a virgin unpopulated wilderness. We read "the Lord commanded them that they should ago forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been (Ether 2:5)."  They had to cross many bodies of water (i.e. " they did travel in the wilderness, and did build barges, in which they did cross many waters [2:6])."  Nibley points out that following the flood there would have been huge residual lakes in central Asia

3) The prevailing winds are always eastward due to the rotation of the earth.  These winds would not have necessarily affected land travel, although it is easier to travel with the wind at your back.  But they would have been crucial to the ocean voyage.  Facing a head wind, the barges would never have been able to float to the New World.   

4) The Pacific currents are favorable for drifting from the Asian coast to the American one.  Nibley mentions Japanese junks which periodically are washed up on the Pacific US coast.  This is a regularly occurring phenomena as the Japanese current flows like a river bordering the west coast.  On the other hand, the Atlantic currents are contrary to a westward voyage from Europe as they flow northeastward.  To catch a westward flowing current, the barges would have had to float south almost to the equator before the current would carry them westward.  

5) The Pacific Asian coast has many mountains which would match that described in Ether 3:1.  We read: 

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, went forth unto the amount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did cmolten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount.  

I do not know of any mountains of exceeding height on the European Atlantic coast, but there are a number on the Asiatic one.  My favorite candidate would be Mount Laoshan.  It is on the Pacific coast near Qingdao, China and rises 3716 feet above the near by sea.  It is traditionally regarded as a holy mountain and was the birthplace of Taoism. 

One additional factor can be considered.  If we accept the early Indian cultures of Mesoamerica to be roughly equivalent to the Jaredite culture, then the earliest settlements in Mesoamerica should be on the shores where the Jaredite barges landed.   According to archaeological studies, the earliest sites are located along the Pacific coasts of Southern Mexico and Guatemala.