How far apart from each other are the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla? Isn’t there some where in the Book of Mormon that gives that information? Yes and no. There is only one definitive time frame of travel that most everyone builds a geographic model around.In the book of Moshiah chapters 23-24 we read that it took Alma and his converts 21 days to travel from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla? That would keep the geography within a 400 mile radius. However if everything is built upon that 21 day time frame, there are a lot of other issues and challenges to overcome. Let’s list a few.
- Moshiah took all of the people that would listen to the word of the Lord and left the land of Nephi-Lehi and were led through the wilderness until they discovered the people of Zarahemla. (Omni 13-15) This was somewhere between 279 to 130 BC; let’s say 200 BC. That is a 390 years of populattion growth in the land of Nephi before they discovered the people of Zarhemla, the Mulekites. Muleck traveled from Jerusalem arriving in the the Americas about 587 BC, and they had dwelt there from that time forth.(Omni 1:15-16) In other words, the people of Mulek stayed where they landed, became very numerous, had wars and contentions between themselves. Yet, Moshiah living in the land of Nephi had never discovered them for 390 years! Does that history fit within a 21 day model? My assumption is that it does not. The assumption I choose is the obvious one, the land of Nephi and Zarahemla were far apart. How far, I don’t know. Certainly beyond 21 days.
- During the time of king Benjamin, a large number of people wanted to go back to inherit the land of Nephi-Lehi. They journeyed into the wilderness and were not heard of for maybe 80 years. Then about 124 BC king Moshiah, son of king Benjamin, at the request of the people in Zarahemla, sends Ammon and 15 others to find out what happened to them. (Moshiah 7:1-7) And “they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness…therefore they wondered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wonder.” First, they didn’t know the way or the course to travel. Second, if you are wondering, they were nearly lost. Should I put them only 21 days apart? I choose the obvious assumption, the land of Nephi and Zarahemla are far apart.
- When king Limhi was desperate to get his people out of the oppression of the Lamanites in the land of Nephi, he sent 43 people into the wilderness that they might find the land of Zarahemla. (Moshiah 8:7-8) They were lost in the wilderness for many days having never found Zarahemla. If you have to go find something, it must mean it’s lost and you have no idea where it is. They returned having traveled to the land where the Jaredites dwelt. That was north of Bountiful and north of the land of Desolation. I mean they went a long way. Granted, maybe they were supposed to get lost to find the record of Ether. But certainly if a city and population of Zarahemla is so far away you have to look to find it, I wouldn’t assume it isn’t within a 21 days travel.
- Finally, when Ammon brought the people of Lemhi back to Zarahemla they went round about the land of Shilom and then bent their course toward the land of Zarahemla. (Moshiah 22:11) Now if Shilom is right in between the land of Nephi and Zarahemla, they would go round about and then continue on. However, if you bend your course left or right there must be a reason you can’t travel in a straight line. Something was in the way, something in between the two lands. Now that would make sense why it takes so long to find your way from Zarahemla to Nephi. If you are traveling to or from and have to go around something and then have to make a turn toward Zarahemla, it would be easy to miss the turn or misjudge when to turn.
So you might ask, “Ok Geography Guy, how do you reconcile the 21 days Alma traveled to reach the land of Zarahemla?” Here is my assumption. If there was something in between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla, there must have been two routes to travel, one shorter than the other. So why didn’t they all take the shorter route? I don’t know. One assumption would be they didn’t want to. And why would that be? Well, remember when Alma left the his home and priestly court, he went to a placed called Mormon. Why there? How could he hide himself and still receive converts without knowledge of King Noah. Perhaps its because it was a “land having been infested, by times or at seasons, by wild beasts.” (Moshiah 18:4) Yes, he did hid himself in a “thicket of small trees” from the searches of the king. But I assume there must be another reason other than a small thicket of tress, and wild beasts would certainly be one. Especially if you are superstitious or fearful. Before Alma left, didn’t Abinidi prophesy to Noah that this generation of people would be “slain and…the wild beasts shall devour their flesh.” (Moshiah 8:21) So Alma traveled only eight days from the area called Mormon and founded a village, Helam and began to build buildings. He must have felt 8 days was safe for his 450 people. He must have felt he had traveled far enough to be out of the reach of the king. And how far is eight days? I don’t know. No further than 100-130 miles, say from Ogden to Nephi, Utah. And how did Alma feel safe if the region was infested with wild beasts? Maybe the same reason Daniel felt safe in the lion’s den. (Daniel 6:22)
Back to when Limhi fled the land of Nephi with Ammon. The armies of the Lamanites followed them and became lost in the wilderness for many days when they stumbled upon the priests of king Noah who had stolen the daughters of the Lamanites. Amulon was the leader of those priests and won favor with the Lamanites. They joined together and began searching for the land of Nephi when they stumbled upon Alma and the village of Helam. Remember this was only eight days from where Alama had been hiding. This must have been a dense forested wilderness, but not to dense that Alma and his people couldn’t travel. Perhaps it was a mountainous region and difficult to travel. But not to difficult for Alma and his people to travel. When Amulon and his Lamanite band found the people of Alama and the village of Helam, they lied and said they would leave them in peace if Alma would would show them the way back to the Land of Nephi and the city of Shilom. And Alma does it. How does he know and these other “brethren” of his do not? I don’t know, he probably made a map. As to weather he lead them or gave them the map, we don’t know.
Bottom line; I know Alma traveled 21 days from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla. However, this wasn’t to the city of Zarahemla. Perhaps they got to the boarder of the land. Now days, boarders are rivers, ridges or some other land feature. Maybe the boarders of the land of Zarahemla was guarded by Nephites. That would make sense. Once within the guarded boarder, they were home free.
All I know is that you have Alma’s travel on one hand making it in 21 days and on the other hand the rest of these other wondering groups trying to find Zarahemla or the land of Nephi and could not. It leads me to believe there are two routes and something in between that would require that scenario.