Mar 22, 2012

 The Waters of Mormon

All this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer.  Mos. 18:30

The author of this verse is the prophet Mormon who is abridging the historical records of the Nephites.  Here he waxes lyrical in his description of the Waters of Mormon.  It is as though he has an emotional connection with the place, and perhaps he does.  After all, Mormon's father was named after this place, and the same name was bestowed on the son (3 Ne. 5:12; Morm. 1:5) .  There must have been good reason for them to preserve this name.  

Mormon seems to have been born at the transition period from an open society, where all groups intermixed and commerced freely among themselves, to one where the Nephite and the Lamanite groups became enemies and were segregated again.  
He probably was familiar with the land of Mormon, either from having been there himself, or from information from his father.  His father took him from the land northward to the land southward when he was about 10, but they apparently only went as far south as Zarahemla.  Whether he went any farther south than Zarahemla is not mentioned.  The wars between the Nephites and Lamanites commenced again at this time so it may not have been possible for him to travel farther south.  

How important are the Waters of Mormon to us in our search for Book of Mormon geography?  They are one of the key indicators for locating the specific geography of Book of Mormon lands.  Geographical landmarks, such as the Narrow Neck of Land, and the Waters of Mormon, are especially helpful (if the geography has not changed in the intervening centuries) because if they can be identified they can lock in the location.   
This place is mentioned in relation to the Land of Nephi, and its location would assist in identifying that land.  The waters are part of what must have been the Land of Mormon, although this land is only mentioned obliquely in the account.  The Land of Mormon was part of, or adjoining the Land of Nephi, and was also adjacent to the Land of Jerusalem. 
Las Lagunas
The first mention we have of this place in the Book of Mormon is in the account of Mosiah.  Here Mormon records the conversion of Alma, one of King Noah's wicked priests, as a result of the preaching of the prophet Abinadi.  Abinadi is later killed by Noah because he refuses to recant his testimony of Christ.  Alma intervenes on Abinadi's behalf, but is himself almost killed by Noah as a result.  He escapes to the wilderness of Mormon, from where he preaches clandestinely to the people.  A number of the Nephites are converted and join Alma at the Waters of Mormon.  We read:
And as many as would hear his word he did teach.  And he taught them privately, that it might not come to the knowledge of the king.  And many did believe his words.
And it came to pass that as many as did believe him did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.
Now, there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the daytime from the searches of the king.
And it came to pass that as many as believed him went thither to hear his words.
And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma.  Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him.  And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people … what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord? … And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts ,,,  And ... he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God (Mos. 18:3-10, 16).
Later we read:
And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, …  And these things were done in the borders of the land, that they might not come to the knowledge of the king.  But behold, it came to pass that the king, having discovered a movement among the people, sent his servants to watch them. Therefore on the day that they were assembling themselves together to hear the word of the Lord they were discovered unto the king ... therefore [the king] sent his army to destroy them.  And it came to pass that Alma and the people of the Lord were apprised of the coming of the king's army; therefore they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness.  And they were in number about four hundred and fifty souls (Mos. 18:30-35).
From this we learn that:
The place was named after a king named Mormon (probably a Nephite king who lived before the time of Mosiah.  (This king was probably the discoverer of the place as the Nephites customarily named places after their first discoverer or founder (Alma 8:7).
It was in the borders or frontier of the land of Nephi.
It was a wilderness area away from the populated city.
Being a wilderness, it had been and was at times, inhabited by wild beasts.  
Included in the Land of Mormon there was a fountain or source of pure water.  
Near the fountain was a thicket or forest of small trees where Alma could conceal himself.  
It was probably near the city of Nephi within reach of Noah's search parties.  
We later learn that it was also near a city named Jerusalem which was established later.
How far were the Waters of Mormon from the city of Nephi?  Probably at least a half a days journey (5-10 miles) from Nephi.  It seems as though the people are only going for a day or two at the most.  We don't get the impression that it was an extended journey.  
When Noah sends his army to destroy Alma and his people, they escape from Mormon and flee into the wilderness.  This is the last time that we have knowledge of the Nephites being at this place.  But the place Mormon is mentioned several times latter in the account.  For example about 40 years later Alma relates the story of the conversion of his father while preaching to the Nephites.  He states:
I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God, he having power and authority from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon (Alma 5:3).
Again, in relating the account of Ammon and his brothers, Mormon tells us:
Now when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, behold Aaron took his journey towards the land which was called by the Lamanites, Jerusalem, calling it after the land of their fathers' nativity; and it was away joining the borders of Mormon.  Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem (Alma 21:1-2).
Finally, Mormon gives us a little biographical information.  In third Nephi chapter 5 he tells us: 
I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression (verse 12).
He also tells us that his father was named Mormon as well (Morm. 1:5).
Going back to the scriptures, what do they mean by a fountain of water?  What would have been the meaning to Joseph Smith?  Looking up fountain in the 1828 Webster's Dictionary we find the following definition as it applies to a flow or body of water:
FOUNT'AIN, n. [L. fons.]
1. A spring, or source of water; properly, a spring or issuing of water from the earth. This word accords in sense with well, in our mother tongue; but we now distinguish the, applying fountain to a natural spring of water, and well to an artificial pit of water, issuing from the interior of the earth.
2. A small basin of springing water.
3. A jet; a spouting of water; an artificial spring.
4. The head or source of a river.

Las Lagunas
Now that we have this background, I would like to suggest that two small lakes in Panama are the original Waters of Mormon.  This fits in with my theory of Book of Mormon geography.  These beautiful lakes are several miles west of the city of Volcan in western Panam.  They are spring fed lakes, of volcanic origin which are 3950 feet above sea level, in an area of tropical savanna.  They cover an area of 76 acres and are surrounded by a low ring of adjacent hills, concealing their presence from anyone not familiar with the area.  The water is a constant 75 degrees and is replenished by volcanic springs.  The immediate area has a wet season from May through December, during which it receives an average of 110 inches of rainfall.  There is a pronounced dry season from January thru April.  There is an abundance of bird life, and the area has been declared a protected area called the Las Lagunas Wetlands by the Panamanian government.  Much of the surrounding area has been cleared for agricultural purposes, but on the south side there is still an old growth forest with tall trees and dense vegetation.  
Lake Atitlan souce Wikipedia
Some have concluded that Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is the original Waters of Mormon.  I have several arguments against this designation, even if the geography were correct, and I do not believe it is.  First the lake is much too large to match the description given in the Book of Mormon.  The Waters of Mormon seem to be a small, local site, not a large regional feature.  Secondly, it is too far from Kaminaljuyu, the site in Guatemala which has been designated by many of the proponents of that theory as the City of Nephi.  The ruins of Kaminaljuyu are on the outskirts of present day Guatemala City, and Lake Atitlan is about 40 miles away from these ruins, or about 3-4 days travel on foot.