Sep 1, 2011

The Limhi Expedition

An interesting account is given in the book of Mosiah regarding the Limhi expedition.  In about 121 BC this group was sent out by king Limhi to find the land of Zarahemla. The people in the land of Nephi were in bondage to the Lamanites and seeking a way to relieve this oppresion. The people of Limhi were Nephites who had emigrated to the city of Nephi three generations earlier.  Now they only wanted to escape and rejoin the main body of the Nephites in Zarahemla.
King Limhi sent a party of 43 men to look for the city of Zarahemla and hopefully secure the assistance of those people in escaping from their bondage. The group traveled northward but were lost in the wilderness which dominated the early Nephite lands except for Zarahemla. They pushed on in their quest until they had passed completely through the Nephite homeland and arrived in the former Jaredite lands. 
When they returned to the land of Nephi they brought back some souvenirs.  Among the bones of the slaughtered Jaredites, they had found old rusted swords and brass armor.  But more importantly they had found twenty four gold plates covered with strange engravings-the writings of the prophet Ether. Upon their return they reported on their discoveries, and the destruction that had come upon the inhabitants of the northland. The group originally thought that they had discovered the remains of a destroyed Zarahemla.
We read Limhi's account of the expedition in Mosiah chapter 8 (A second shorter version is also given in Mos. 21:25-28).

Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.
And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates.

This expedition can give us some clues about Book of Mormon geography. The party traveled from the land of Nephi northward for “many days”-probably a long distance. They were lost in the “wilderness” until they reached the former Jaredite lands. To get to the Jaredite lands from the land of Nephi, they would have had to pass through the Lamanite lands, the greater land of Zarahemla (or Nephite lands), and through the “narrow neck of land” separating the land of Bountiful from the land of Desolation.
None of them would have been familiar with any of this geography as they had been born and raised in the city of Nephi. The only knowledge they would have had of the northern lands would have been tales passed down from their grandparents. Even the Nephites at Zarahemla didn't have much, if any, knowledge about the “narrow neck of land” and the land of Desolation at this point in time.
So they passed northward through the “narrow neck” until they reached the southern-most Jaredite lands and viewed the genocidal destruction all around them. This southern most Jaredite territory would have been the city of Lib, built near the “narrow neck”, at the place where the “sea divides the land (Ether 10:20).” they may have even penetrated as far as the city of Moron (the Jaredite capitol), but I am convinced that they did not go as far as Cumorah, the place of the last Jaredite battle, as some have suggested.
It is probable that the final Jaredite wars commenced in or near the capitol of Moron. While they were still in the first phase of this last war, two million men, plus their wives and children were killed, and their bodies left to rot on the ground (Ether 14:21-23; 15:2). So we can assume that the description given by the Limhi party would have fit these original battlegrounds near Moron.
According to my model of Book of Mormon geography, the land of Nephi would have been in western Panama, the “narrow neck of land” in western Nicaragua, and the land of Desolation in northwestern Nicaragua. If this model is correct, the Limhi party would have traveled northward from western Panama, traversed Costa Rica, and passed through the Isthmus of Rivas (or the “narrow neck”), until they arrived at the southern Jaredite lands near present day Managua.
Others have criticized this portion of my theory, pointing out that the Isthmus of Rivas is much too narrow. They argue that the Limhi party would have known that they had reached the “narrow neck.” By seeing oceans on both sides of the isthmus, they would have known that they were too far north and would have turned back.
For example, John Clark, in his review of my theory (in Searching for Book of Mormon Lands in Middle America, FARMS Review:  V. 16, #2, p. 1-54), and arguing for John Sorenson's Tehuantepic theory, says that, “the narrow neck had to be wide enough that people on the ground such as Limhi's group could pass through it without realizing it. This would have been nigh impossible for the Rivas Isthmus, given its narrow width, long length, and the advantageous viewing conditions from its crest.”
Obviously Clark has never been to the Isthmus of Rivas. One can travel from Penas Blancas on the Costa Rican border, clear to Chinandega in northwestern Nicaragua without ever seeing the Pacific Ocean. This is due to the coastal range of mountains which border the Pacific side of Nicaragua. If the Limhi party had climbed one the of peaks in this coastal range, they would have been able to see the pacific, but there is no reason to suppose that they did as this is completely out of the normal route of travel and would have involved considerably more effort. All the roads and ancient trails follow the interior gentle plain which borders the two lakes of Nicaragua.
Even if they had observed the Pacific and realized that they were passing throught the “narrow neck” would it have made any difference? I don't believe so because as I pointed out earlier, the northern geography was completely unknown to them. They were lost in the wilderness and had no idea where they were at the time. The “narrow neck” wasn't even mentioned or recognized in the Book of Mormon until about 100 BC, and these references were made by Mormon writing cerca 350 AD.
So, what do we learn from the Limhi expedition?
That the lands between the city of Nephi and the Jaredite lands were mostly wilderness at this time.  For the most part, they were not settled or inhabited until one reached the Jaredite lands which had been extensively occupied.  .
There were still abundant evidences of the last war and its destructive aftermath in the Jaredite lands visited by the expedition.
The bones of the dead had not had sufficient time to completely disintegrate, the swords were not completely rusted away although the hilts (probably made of wood) had disintegrated, the brass (probably bronze) breastplates were sound and had not had time to corrode.  These facts can give us a way to measure the number of years since the Jaredite demise.  
The Jaredite area visited by the expedition was in a "land of many waters" (ie lakes, rivers, seas, springs, etc.).  The expedition members were awed by the size of the previous population commenting that it was as large as they imagined that the "hosts of Israel" had been.  
The Jaredites had a knowledge of metallurgy and could work gold, iron and copper, and could produce brass (or bronze).
Forty three men were considered a "small number" (Mos. 21:25).  This can give us a rough measure of population.