I always find the events and the travels in the land of Nephi confusing and hard to understand. When Nephi left his brothers Laman and Lemuel, it says “We did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days.” (2 Ne 5:7) I’m sure that this was not long after Lehi’s death in the land of their first inheritance.For Nephi to travel many days was far enough to, relative to the size of these two groups, keep a buffer of safety. What we call today a “demilitarized zone.” But at the same time Nephi “did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us.” (2 Ne 5:14) Nephi knew that whatever distance he traveled, there would come a day that contention to the point of a sword would happen.
All of that makes sense to me. When they first arrived at their new home, “my people would that we should call the name of the Nephi; wherefore we did call it Nephi.” Thereafter, this land was the home base for the Nephites.
Nephi did “teach my people to build building…and I Nephi, did build a temple; and did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon.” (2 Ne 5:16) Now we see that the Nephites went from a nomadic style life to a more settled and grounded life.
Many years later, Mosiah led all those that would listen to the teachings of the Lord, out of the land of Nephi and found the people of Zarahemla instead of the land of Zarahemla. “Mosiah…being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi…and depart out of the land…into the wilderness.” (Omni 13) Perhaps 80 years later, a man by the name Zeniff travels to the land of Nephi to inherit the land of his fathers. (Mosiah 9:3) They did, “after many days’ wondering in the wilderness we did pitch our tents in the place where our brethren were slain.” Zeniff had been there more than once before but couldn’t retrace his steps. Didn’t anyone make a map? Didn’t anyone have a compass? Did no one have an understanding of how to read the stars? Or was it because they “were smitten with famine and sore afflictions for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.” (Mosh 9:3)
To summarize the next segment of events, Zeniff makes a covenant with the king of the Lamanites, Laman to possess the land of Lehi-Nephi and the land of Shilom. The Lamanites leave and Zeniff moves in. They begin to build buildings “and to repair the walls of the city of Nephi-Lehi and the city of Shilom.” (Mosh 9:8) In the 13th year of Zeniff’s reign, the Lamanites, “away on the south of the land of Shilom…came upon them and began to slay them.” (Mosh 9:14) We could assume the Lamanites lived south in the land of Shemlon. After being beaten in that war, 22 years later the son of king Laman, inspires the Lamanites to come into the north of Shilom upon Zeniff and his people. Did that mean the Lamanites lived north of Shilom? I don’t think so. More than likely they came in on the opposite side where the Nephite defenses were not as strong as the south side. I think I understand that part of the land of Nephi.
Here’s the part that throws me. Zeniff’s son, Noah takes over kingship. He is wicked and the prophet Abinidi preaches repentance. Alma is converted and teaches his converts in a land not far from the city of Nephi, where Noah and his priestly court reside. When Alma is discovered they travel 8 days into the wilderness. Noah’s armies are sent to find them but loose the trail and went home. How is that? I think I could track a group of 450 people for 8 days!
Let’s keep going. King Noah is burned at the stake, and his priests escape with their lives. Later, while living out in the wilderness, but still close enough that they would come into the city by night, stealing grain and other precious things. (Mosh 21:21) Even though guards were set around the city to catch them, they went undetected. How is that? There must have been something about the land or wilderness or both that would keep them undiscovered.
Now here’s a real perplexing bit of geography. King Limhi while living in the land of Nephi, in a desperate attempt to escape the Lamanites does what anyone would. He tries to find the land of Zarahemla and get help. This is the city his grandfather came from. He sends out 43 people to do just that. They become lost and travel many miles and days coming back with rusted swords, telling of ruined buildings and of a land covered with the bones of a people who once lived there but were destroyed for whatever reason.
Here’s the kicker, Limhi supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla! Now think, the 43 traveled many miles became lost. They had no idea where to look for the land of Zarahemla, just went out looking. I don’t understand that unless the two lands were very far apart. Next, they thought the evidence brought back and witness of the 43 people was the people of Zarahemla. How could that be? Zeniff left Zarahemla some 80 years before. Only conclusion I have is that Limhi knew of no other people or civilization. He had only one plausible answer, this was from Zarahemla. How could it be otherwise? Nevertheless, the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were not that close.
Next puzzle. There was a place in Shemlon, (Lamanite land) “where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry.” (Mosh 20:1) Those priests had “came forth out of their secret places” and kidnapped 24 daughters. Perhaps that’s why Limhi and his guards couldn’t find them because they were living secretly in the land of the Lamanites. What Nephite is going wondering in that land looking for a few priests?
Let’s go back to Alma. He and his people traveled 8 days and establish a village called Helam, which was is a pleasant place and planted crops and built buildings. This is another part I don’t understand. He felt safe enough that in just eight days, to build a village away from the armies of the king? And he was proven right. For when Noah’s son Limhi and his people escaped from the oppression of the Lamanites many years later, the armies of the Lamanites lost the trail after two days and became lost. They didn’t go home, they were lost. There must have been something about the land or geography that caused that.
The rest of the story is this. While this Lamanite army is lost, they run across the priests of Noah with the 24 Lamanite daughters who had become their wives. Now, facing the Lamanite armies, these kidnapped daughters are pleading for mercy and the lives of their husbands. I don’t really understand this. Kidnapped from their family and friends, the daughters are pleading for their husbands who are living in “secret places” in the wilderness. That tells you something of the lives of the Lamanites girls at home. The Lamanite army allows Amulon; head of these priests, to join them and even gave them leadership. Together these two groups are trying to find their way back home. How is that? The priests have been sneaking into the land of Shilom or the city of Nephi, and stealing grain and precious things. And yet they are now lost? How could they not know the way?
In the process they come across the people of Alma in the town of Helam. If you remember, this is only 8 days from the city of Nephi. In such close proximity, the Lamanites and the priests can’t find their way home! This is what confuses me. Am I the only one? They promise Alma freedom if he will show them the way home. Alma really has no choice, so he easily shows them the way. How did he know and they didn’t? Did he make a map? Why? He wasn’t going back there. There must have been something about the land or geography that allowed that.
After the Lord has allowed affliction in the lives of Alma and his people, they are allowed to escape and in thirteen days, arrive in Zarahemla. Now given all the times it took different groups of people “many days” wondering in the wilderness between the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla, I’m having a hard time putting those two together, i.e., 21 day vs. many days. There must have been something about the terrain or geography that created that difference.
My assumption is that there was something in between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi that created a long but safer way to travel and a short but dangerous journey. What would that something be? It had to be something immoveable, perhaps a mountain range or inland sea. If we could see that layout it would clear up a lot of questions.