Oct 14, 2011

The Gadianton Siege

In 3 Nephi chapters 3 and 4 there is a very interesting account of how the Nephites defeated the secret society of Gadianton, a large, organized group of robbers and thieves which was threatening their destruction. The chief judge ordered the mobilization of the entire Nephite nation, moving them out of their homes, their cities, and away from their farm lands. Their possessions were left deserted for the robbers. Their leaders took them to a place near the land northward where they could all be in one body and defend themselves against the robbers. They had gathered enough food to last the group for seven years.
The robbers initially rejoiced in their supposed victory and moved down from their mountain retreats to take possession of the deserted lands and cities. But they were disappointed in their plans as the Nephites had left no possessions of any worth, and had harvested and removed all their crops. The land was barren and the robbers were deprived of their accustomed plunder. They had no means to subsist.
The only course left for them was to attack the Nephites in their northern retreat. But when they attempted this they were beaten back. They returned to their wilderness, but were running out of wild game to subsist on. Once again they attack the Nephites, but this time only to form a blockade around them, supposing that they could starve them out of their fortifications. They placed them under siege. Ironically, they were the ones that were being besieged as the Nephites had a great store of food and they had none.
Soon they gave up and attempted to flee into the land of Desoation to the north. But the Nephites learned of their plan and cut them off in the night, surrounding and defeating their armies and preventing their invasion of the north country.
This presents an interesting approach in dealing with secret combinations, however, I have always been puzzled by the location of the event. The scripture tells us that the place “was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation (3 Ne. 3:23).” Where could this possibly be located in the Book of Mormon lands?
We are given three clues or coordinates: 1. It was in the land of Zarahemla; 2. A land which was between the land of Zarahemla and the land Bountiful (ie the border between them); and 3. It extended to the line (or border) between the land of Bountiful and the land of Desolation. Combining these criteria, we should have a location which was in the land of Zarahemla, on the border of Zarahemla and Bountiful, and which extended to the border between Bountiful and Desolation.
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This description can be very confusing if we use the standard model for Book of Mormon geography. The land of Zarahemla should not extend to, or be anywhere near, the land of Desolation. The land of Zarahemla is assumed to be south of the land of Bountiful, and Bountiful is sandwiched in between Zarahemla and Desolation. How can a location in Zarahemla be adjacent to the border of Bountiful and Desolation.
I believe my model of the geography of the Book of Mormon solves this problem. In my model, the land of Bountiful includes all the watersheds of the river systems which flow into the San Juan River on the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. These drainages are large to the east and narrow to the west, until the last river system (the Sapoa River) forms a narrow corridor to the Pacific coast. At this point my proposed land of Bountiful borders the greater land of Zarahemla which forms an apex at the border of the land of Desolation.
It may be argued that the land of Bountiful was part of the greater land of Zarahemla, not separate from it. This would make it difficult to understand this portion of Nephite history. For example, it doesn't make much sense to talk about the border of the state of Utah with the United States. But refering to the border of Mexico with the Untited States is much more descriptive.
Perhaps Bountiful and Zarahemla were regarded as two separate lands and Bountiful was no longer seen as being a portion of the greater land of Zarahemla. The view of Bountiful as part of the land of Zarahemla seems prevelent in the earlier portion of the Book of Mormon. However, Mormon, writing much later, seems to view Bountiful as a separate land, apart from Zarahemla (for example see Alma 22:29-31, Hel. 4:5-8; 5:14-16). This separate view of the two lands makes more sense in evaluating this account of the Nephite/Gadianton war.
Another unexplained issue in Nephite history is their determined zeal in keeping their enemies from gaining a foothold in the land northward. Why was this so important if the Lamanites bordered them on the south, and the Gadiantons infiltrated their mountains? Mormon comments on this in Alma 22:33-34: “ And it came to pass that the Nephites had inhabited the land Bountiful, even from the east unto the west sea, and thus the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward. Therefore the Lamanites could have no more possessions only in the land of Nephi, and the wilderness round about. Now this was wisdom in the Nephites—as the Lamanites were an enemy to them, they would not suffer their afflictions on every hand, and also that they might have a country whither they might flee, according to their desires.”
So, logically, the Nephites didn't want to have to defend against their enemies on two fronts. They also wanted to maintain the only access to the north country in case they should need to retreat there some day.
But archaeology has revealed another possible reason why the narrow neck was so critical. The Isthmus of Rivas (which I maintain was the Book of Mormon narrow neck of land) has been the corridor and trade route between lower Central America and Mesoamaerica throughout history. Those who controlled it had a distinct trade advantage. It is possible that the Nephites derived substantial income from their control of this critical resource.
A historical example: in about 700 AD the Nicaro, an Aztec affiliated tribe from Mexico, had to leave their homeland and fled to Nicaragua. They drove out the Chorotega people, who where occupying the Isthmus of Rivas, and took possession of this valuable real estate. They were still there when the Spanish arrived. I believe that they derived great power and revenue from their control of the isthmus.
In the account of the Nephite/Gadianton war, the Nephites were initially forbiden to attack the Gadiantons, and were only allowed to defend themselves. Yet when the Gadiantons attempted to escape to the north countries, the Nephites were allowed to attack them and prevent them from occupying this area. Apparently the Lord felt that it was important to preserve the land northward for future Nephite expansion or retreat.
But I have strayed far from my original purpose of defining the location of the Nephite stronghold on the borders of Zarahemla, Bountiful and Desolation. In my model, this would have been at or near the modern city of La Cruz, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. This location is at the headwaters of the Sapoa River at the northern end of a long plateau that borders the Pacific coast.
Archaeologically, there are a number of clustered sites in this immediate area dating to the Bichrome cultural period. This period is dated to 300 BC to 300 AD, which ties in with this event in Book of Mormon history. One site in particular, Las Pilas, has been a source of artifacts for many years, and has yielded many fine specimens which tie in with the culture of the Atlantic watershed of Costa Rica. I have suggested that the people of the Atlantic watershed of Costa Rica were of Nephite origin.