If there were, how can we account for that on today’s map? This is a hard question and it’s also an easy question to answer.
In many ways the main lands and cities remained the same. The city of Zarahemla was destroyed. “And the city of Zarahemla did take fire.” (3 Ne 8:8) “And the city Zarahemla have I burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof.” (3 Ne 9:3) However, after the Nephites and Lamanites became one people, the city of Zarahemla was rebuilt. (4 Ne 1:8) The temple where Christ appeared was in the city Bountiful. When the storms, earthquakes and calamity ended, the people were “round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful.” (3 Ne 11:1) So the city and the land Bountiful remained.
What remained were the capital city of Zarahemla (Hel 1:27) and the central city of Bountiful, being in the center of the land. These represented the core of the Nephite territory. (Hel 1:23-24) The land of Desolation is mentioned after the coming of Christ, however the land of Nephi is never mentioned again. It played a main role in Book of Mormon geography. The land of Nephi was mentioned or referred to 41 times before the advent of the Savior’s appearance, but not once after.
Fortunately, we can read what happened. In 3 Ne 9:7 “the city of Jerusalem and the inhabitants thereof; and waters have I caused to come up in the stead thereof.” Remember, the city of Jerusalem was where Aaron and his brethren went to preach to the Lamanites in the land of Nephi. (Alma 21:1-4) It also boarded the land of Mormon. The land of Mormon is where Alma taught his converts who came from the city of Nephi. The city of Nephi is where king Noah had built a temple where Abinidi preached. (Mosiah 18:4) So did the land of Nephi sink? I don’t know but the city of Jerusalem did and I suppose the land of Jerusalem went with the city. Not like a sinkhole in Florida. I could also assume, even though it doesn’t say, that the land of Mormon, next to the land of Jerusalem, and the city of Nephi very close to the land of Mormon went down with them. I say that because of the very reason the Lord buried them in the water. Those people were wicked and would not be redeemed.
There is circumstantial evidence for the disappearance of the land of Nephi. The Lord led the righteous people out from the land of Nephi on five different occasions before some or all of the land of Nephi sank into the sea.
- In the book of Omni verse 13, “Mosiah being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken to the voice of the Lord.” They were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.” This was between 279 and 130 B.C.
- Then there was the experience of Alma, one of the priests of king Noah. Alma believed the preaching and prophesies of Abinidi to Noah and his priestly court. Alma repented and started a following of converts who came from the city of Nephi to a land called Mormon. After the king discovered them, they traveled 8 days and built a village called Helam. When the Lord told Alma “Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land.” they fled. Traveling twelve more days they reached the land of Zarahemla. (Moshiah 24: 18-25) This was between 135 and 121 B. C. This was 100+ years after Mosiah had brought the righteous people from the land of Nephi.
- Next we have king Limhi and his people. After fulfilling the prophesies of Abinidi, they were led out of the land of Nephi by Ammon. This is the Ammon and 15 others that king Mosiah sent to find Limhi and his people. And they “did depart by night into the wilderness…and bent their course towards the land of Zarahemla, and after many days in the wilderness they arrived in the land of Zarahemla.” (Mosiah 22:11-13) This was between 145 and 121 B.C. We don’t know if Alma got to Zarahemla before Limhi but they were probably not far apart. It must have been quit a reunion.
- Ammon (a different one) and his brethren had their conversion with Alma the younger. Afterward, they went to the land of Nephi to see if they could “impart the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites.” (Mosiah 28:1) After a fourteen-year mission with many converts, they were told “Get this people out of this land, that they perish not. And they gathered together all their people, all the people of the Lord…and departed out of the land, and came into the wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla.” (Alma 27:11-14) This left the Lamanites who would not heed the word and the Nephites who had dissented from the land of Zarahemla. Now it is between years 90 to 77 B.C.
- The sons of Heleman, Nephi and Lehi, traveled from the land of Zarahemla to the land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites, “they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring unto the people round about” (Hel 5:50). They had much success, “the Lamanites, the more part of them, became a righteous people…” (Hel 6:1). Many of those Lamanites did come down into the Land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people the manner of their conversion. (Hel 6:4) Now it’s 29 BC.
Over a period of 200 years, on five different occasions, the Lord brought those who were willing to follow the teaching of the gospel, out from the land of Nephi. Some 60 years later the land of Nephi sank into the sea. This is when the “…the whole face of the land was changed…and thus the face of the whole earth became deformed.” (3 Ne 8:17).
If you go to the website www.bookofmormongeography.net, you can find a few underwater evidences of civilization. I’m sure there are more that have not been discovered. It should not be unbelievable to consider a land sinking into the sea when you read in Moses 7:14. “There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea.”
Lets go back to the question. What geographic changes occurred just before the appearance of Jesus Christ? The answer is most of the geography didn’t change, but some did. How do you account for them on today’s map? Whatever map you use, it should account for the changes that occurred, for “there were many great and notable cities were sunk.” (3 Ne 8:14)