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Desolate and Desolation


all have different and distinct meanings in the Book of Mormon

Definitions rendered in Webster's Dictionary.

DESOLATE - Devoid of habitation


Rendered devoid of habitation

My interpretation of these definitions is that the term DESOLATE primarily refers to places which were inhabited, and then deserted, or abandoned and rendered desolate. Indeed, a close reading of the use of this term in the Book of Mormon, appears to be just that, cities, lands, etc, that were once inhabited and then abandoned, rendering the locations desolate.

The state of rendering desolate
The state of being desolate
A wasteland

My interpretation of this definition, especially as used in the Book of Mormon, is that the term is used to describe one specific area that has been rendered Desolate - therefore being used in an active, not a descriptive way. In other words the term is used to describe the results of a specific incident, as in the case of The Desolation of Nehors. The term "desolation of," is used only once in the Book of Mormon, and that is in reference to the Desolation of Nehors.

This term, especially as used in the Book of Mormon, refers to a land that is unfit for human habitation, a wasteland. As a comparison, the term Wilderness, as used in the Book of Mormon, refers to a land devoid of cities - more than likely by treaty. While the term Land Desolation refers to a land that was such a wasteland, that it rendered the building of cities impractical, if not impossible. One is without cities by choice, the other, without cities because of the uninviting conditions of the land itself.

When the Book of Mormon is read closely, it is discovered that such terms as "Land," "Land of," etc, are used with a specific intent. For example we do not read "The Land of Wilderness" in the BOM, for a simple reason. It was an area that people chose to designate as lands where cities were not to be built - while the Land Desolation, designates an existing condition, just as the Land Bountiful is descriptive of that land. They didn't give these lands proper names, they gave them names that described the condition(s) of the land.

You will notice it is not called the Land of Bountiful, or the Land of Desolation, as is the case with the Land of Zarahemla. The term Bountiful describes the land itself, while Land of Zarahemla tells us the name of the person for whom the land was named, not a description of the land. These incidentals are fairly consistent in the Book of Mormon. This is why the term Land of Desolation, with one exception, is not used, as the name is not referring to anything other than the land itself, it is a land that is unfit for human habitation, a wasteland.

There are many such similar names in the U.S.A. A few examples are such states/areas as Arizona, (the arid zone), or Colorado, (the area that is the color dark red).

To support this concept, I will present a number, but not all of the scriptures that support what I just wrote, as at some point, writing all the scriptures becomes redundant.

2 Nephi 16:11 - Then said I: Lord, how long? And he said: Until the cities be wasted without inhabitation, and the houses without a man, and the land be utterly desolate.

Helaman 3:5
Yea, and even they did spread forth unto all parts of the land, (northward), into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

This account is of some Nephites migrating from their lands into the land northward. It appears that parts of the land northward (not all), had been rendered desolate, because all the timber had been used by the earlier Jaredite civilization.

Helaman 3:6
And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate. (You will notice it was not called Desolation.)

My understanding of this scripture is that Helaman qualifies his use of the term Desolate. First he states that no part of the land was actually desolate, only to the degree that some parts no longer had trees. Therefore, for those areas, the term, desolate was used. He further qualifies this by saying that because of the destruction of the people who had inhabited this land, (The Jaredites) the land was called desolate, (not Desolation). More on this later, as it is clear that there were other people who lived in this area that were not part of the Jaredite culture, and they were still living there during the time Helaman is writing this - which is why he qualifies his remarks.

Helaman 14:24
And many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate.

These are a few scriptural examples showing how places both in the land Southward, and/or the Land Northward were rendered desolate for a variety of reasons, such as the destruction of timber, earthquakes, war and simple abandonment. It is not identifying these places as the Land Desolation - only cities and areas that had become desolate.

Location of the Desolate area(s)

Helaman 3:4-6 indicates that in the land northward, a number of places were rendered desolate because all the timber was cut down, causing Jaredite cultures to leave the land, after which they were all killed in war. These two characters thus led to a few portions of the land northward being referred to as Desolate. (see map 1-A)

Alma 16:9
And thus ended the eleventh year of the judges, the Lamanites having been driven out of the land and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city which they said God could not destroy, because of it's greatness.

Alma 16:10
But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.

Alma 16:11
Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate.

This one verse is the singular case where the term Desolation is used to describe a place other than the Land Desolation, and this was in the Land of Zarahemla, not the land Northward. It appears the reason for the use of this term, is there simple is no other way to say or write , " was called the Desolation of Nehors;..., especially given the reality that this place was desolate for many years. But this location should not be confused with the Land Desolation, as the two are referred to as being desolate for two separate reasons. The area of Ammonihah, was referred to as desolation, because of the stench of bodies of those followers of Nehor, "for many years." This rendered the area uninhabitable, while the Land Desolation was called this because it was a wasteland and therefore inherently uninhabitable. Plus, they are referred to very differently. In the case of the city of Ammonihah, after the burying of the dead and laying waste to the land, it is referred to as the Desolation OF Nehors. In other words, it is desolate because of Nehor and his followers. It was made desolate, while the Land Desolation was not made that way by anyone, it was inherently Desolate because of its physical conditions.

Location of the Desolation of Nehors

Alma 16:11 states that the Desolation of Nehors was at the same location as the city/land of Ammonihah.

Alma 8:6 states that Ammonihah was accessed by going north of the land of Melek and a three day walk from that same land.

Alma 8:3 indicates that the land of Melek is west of the River Sidon, and implies you must go over a mountain range to reach it, (viz. "...Alma ... took his journey over into the land of Melek, on the west side of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness).

Alma 25:2 places Ammonihah by the borders of Zarahemla.

The City of Ammonihah was destroyed in 81bc (see Alma 16:9) and rebuilt ten years later in 72bc, (see Alma 49:3). When looking for such an ancient city, one should look for one that was destroyed and rebuilt in that time period, which eliminates some popular candidates for Ammonihah, such as Tikal. I know of no archaeological evidence that such large Maya cities were destroyed during this time period.

These scriptures appear to place the Desolation of Nehors west of the River Sidon, at the base of the East wilderness, and close to the northern border of Zarahemla. See map

# 1- A for my best guess as to the location of this desolate land.

Land Desolation

Alma 22:29
And also there were many Lamanites on the east by the seashore, whither the Nephites had driven them. And thus the Nephites were nearly surrounded by the Lamanites; nevertheless the Nephites had taken possession of all the northern parts of the land bordering on the wilderness side, at the head of the river Sidon, from the east to the west, round about on the wilderness side; on the north, even until they came to the land which they called Bountiful.

Alma 22:30
And it bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.

You'll notice that this scripture indicates that the Land Desolation began outside the land of the Jaredites, (south of it), and then "came into the land which had been peopled and destroyed,..." (land of the Jaredites). This implies to me that the land Desolation was different from the land of the Jaredites, except at that area where it "came into the land" of the Jaredites. The scripture states that Desolation came into the Jaredite lands, not over it, or was the same as it. In as much as the Jaredites chose not to take their culture south of the narrow neck, it seems plausible that this land Alma is referring to begins in the area of the narrow neck.

Alma 22:31
And they came from there up into the south wilderness. Thus the land on the northward was called Desolation and the land on the southward was called Bountiful, it being the wilderness which is filled with all manner of wild animals of every kind, a part of which had come from the land northward for food.

Alma 22:32
And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a narrow neck of land between the land northward and the land southward.

There was a "line" that separated the land Desolation from the land Bountiful, and it took a Nephite a day and a half to walk that line. There are remarkable segments of this scripture. First it is one of only two places in the Book of Mormon in which lands, territories, etc, were said to have been separated by a line. Assumedly all other lands were separated by geographical markers, such as rivers, mountain ranges, valleys, etc. Secondly, it took a Nephite a day and a half to walk that line. Most authorities place a range of 35-50 miles that could be walked in a day and a half. (More on this later.)

Alma 46:17
And it came to pass that when he had poured out his soul to God, he named all the land which was south of the land Desolation, yea and in fine, all the land, both on the north and on the south - A chosen land, and the land of liberty.

In this scripture, Captain Moroni named all the lands which were south of the land Desolation as a "choice," land. I assume the reason he did not include the land Desolation as part of that naming, is that it was not a choice land. And if Webster's dictionary is correct, (Desolation means wasteland), certainly Captain Moroni would have been justified in this designation. This indicates to me that immediately south of that line that separated Desolation and Bountiful, was a choice land. Indeed, that is why it was called Bountiful. Any lands that were not actually Bountiful, (easy to grow food, etc.) would fall outside this naming from Captain Moroni. Certainly he would not have named a wasteland as a "choice land."

Alma 50:34
And it came to pass that they did not head them until they had come to the borders of the land Desolation; and there they did head them, by the narrow pass which lead into the land northward, yea, by the sea, on the west and on the east.

The narrow pass that leads from the land Southward into the land Northward, was very close to, if not part of the land Desolation, and was by the sea.

3 Nephi 3:23
And the land which was appointed was the land 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.

Once again, we are told that the demarcation between Bountiful and the land Desolation was a line.

Mormon 3:5
And it came to pass that I did cause my people that they should gather themselves together at the land Desolation, to a city, which was in the borders, by the narrow pass which led into the land southward.

There was a strategically located city in the borders, by the narrow pass in the land Desolation. As a rule, the term "in the borders," in scripture refers to foothills, that transition from a flat land to the foothills of a mountain range. This city is later designated as the city Desolation.

Mormon 3:7
And it came to pass that in the three hundred and sixty and first year the Lamanites did come down to the city of Desolation to battle against us; and it came to pass that in that year we did beat them, insomuch that they did return to their own lands again.

When the Lamanites came to war against the Nephites, who were in the land Desolation, including the city with the same name - they came "down," assumedly from the land of Nephi, to the land Desolation. Desolation must therefore be in the lowlands, as was the city by the same name.

Mormon 4:1
And now it came to pass that in the three hundred and sixty and third year the Nephites did go up with their armies to battle against the Lamanites, out of the land Desolation.

This is almost the reverse of what was said in Mormon 3:7. The Nephites, who were in the land Desolation, had to go up to where the Lamanites were, once again indicating the land Desolation was in a low area, while the land of Nephi,(where the Lamanites lived) was in the tops of the mountains. Most authors on this subject consider those mountains to be the highlands of Guatemala, and/or the mountain ranges around the Central Depression of Mexico. Mormon 4:2 And it came to pass that the armies of the Nephites were driven back again to the land of Desolation. And while they were yet weary, a fresh army of the Lamanites did come upon them; and they had a sore battle, insomuch that the Lamanites did take possession of the city Desolation, and did slay many of the Nephites, and did take many prisoners.

Once again the city Desolation appears to have been in this lowland area called Desolation. We know how low, because in Mormon 4:3 we are told the city Teancum was near the city Desolation, and was also in the borders by the seashore. In Mormon 4:6, the Lamanites went from the city Desolation to the city Teancum, yet did not have to go up or down to get there.

As an aside you will notice that Teancum is referred to as "the City Teancum" not the city OF Teancum. This implies two things. First that this city was not named after Teancum the soldier, other wise it would have been called the city of Teancum. Secondly, since I have concluded that Te-ancum means on the coast of the ocean, we can assume that Teancum the soldier was either born/raised in this city, or at least in a city on the coast.

Mormon 4:19
And it came to pass that the Lamanites did come down against the city Desolation; and there was an exceedingly sore battle fought in the land Desolation, in the which they did beat the Nephites.

Ether 7:6
Now the land Moron, where the king dwelt, was near the land which is called Desolation by the Nephites.

There are two things of note about this scripture. First it was the "land" of Moron that was near the land Desolation, not the city of Moron. I therefore assume the land of Moron was close, (as Moroni states), but not all the way to the land Desolation. A number of authors on this topic consider the ancient city of Monte Alban to be the city of Moron. However, the Book of Mormon never mentions a city by that name, only a land Moron. Many of us consider the ancient city of Monte Alban, to be a city that was located in the land Moron. That ancient site is located in the city and state of Oaxaca, which is adjacent to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which many people view as part of the land Desolation.

Location of the Land Desolation

The land Desolation was located between the Land Bountiful and the Land Northward.

It consisted of the narrow neck, as well as a segment that was swampy or marsh land. A segment of the marshy-land, on the Gulf side, extended so far into the land northward, that it reached the land of Cumorah. (see Alma 29:30) See Map 1-A


From the scriptures, definitions and explanations given above, I believe the following conclusions are justified:

1. There is a clear distinction between areas in the Book of Mormon that were rendered desolate, and the land Desolation itself.

2. There are clearly cities and lands, both in the land northward, and in the land southward, that were rendered Desolate, by way of war, catastrophic events, etc, and these are different from the land Desolation.

3. The land Desolation was in a low area, as both Nephites and Lamanites went down to it, and up from it.

4. The land Desolation was a priori Desolate, uninhabitable - not rendered that way by humans.

5. The land Desolation was adjacent to the land Bountiful, (on the southward side) and was separated by a line. This line was around 35 miles long, give or take 10 miles.

6. On the other side of the land Desolation, (the northward side), the land Moron was very close.

7. A portion of the land Desolation extended into the land northward far enough to be close to the borders of the land of Cumorah, (assumedly on the Gulf side).

8. Excluding this portion of desolation that extended into the land northward, the main segment of the land Desolation was in an area close to sea level.

9. The *city Desolation was in the borders of the land Desolation, on the northward side and was also an area that people went down to, an area also very close to sea level.


Up to this point, I have used scripture and a dictionary to define and delineate the Land Desolation. I am now going to add a few pieces of historical information that appear to coincide what these conclusions.

1. My avocation is the study of the Maya, and was so for over ten years before I made a connection between that culture and the Book of Mormon. Because of that interest, I have attended most Maya conferences for the past twenty-five years. One of the pieces of information about the Maya, that I learned early on, was that for a very long period of time, including the time period of the Book of Mormon, the Maya migrated from the highlands of Guatemala, toward the lands we now call southern Mexico and Belize.

There appears to have been an arbitrary line where the Maya migration stopped, and did not cross, for around 1,000 years. To this date, no one has ever explained to me, (at the conferences), why the growth of the Maya culture stopped at this fairly straight line. That ancient line did not follow any natural geographical lines, but started at the Pacific Ocean, ran on a straight line toward the north, finally turning slightly toward the east.

That is the line that the officials of Mexico decided to accept as the line that currently separates the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca. That demarcation of two states is essentially the ancient line at which the Maya civilization ended, (during Book of Mormon times). I have always accepted that line as the line the Book of Mormon talks about, which separated Desolation and Bountiful. If I am correct, then it is entirely possible that the line that Alma 22:30 talks about, is the same line as this line of demarcation between the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico.

2. On the northward side of the Isthmus was the area with the ancient name of Tlapalco, which means swamp, or wasteland - another way of saying Desolation. After the conquest of the Spaniards, they separated this area into two separate states, Vera Cruz and Tabasco. It would be very easy to view this area of Tlapalco, now the states of Vera Cruz and Tabasco as part of Desolation, especially since the Vera Cruz segment does extend into the land I view as the land Northward. That state extends up to, and past the city of Vera Cruz. (see attached map)

Alma 22:30 states that the land Desolation extended "so far northward, that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla..."

If Cerro Vejia is in the land of Cumorah, and the area where the men of king Lemhi discovered the Jaredite bones, which Alma 22:30 is talking about, then this hardly qualifies for the statement "so far northward." But if this scripture is talking about the ancient land of Tlapalco, (swamp or wasteland), which is now known as the state of Vera Cruz, then it does extend "far northward," as Alma states. This is one of the reasons I place the land of Cumorah much further northwest than Cerro Vejia.

With this additional information, it becomes increasingly easy to define the boundaries of Bountiful, Desolation, land Northward and the land of Cumorah. The land Desolation was indeed the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, except for that part that extended up into the land northward, the state now known as Vera Cruz.

Note - This should generate at least one question. Why would the Spaniards separate the area of Tlapalco into two separate states, Vera Cruz and Tabasco. The reason is that the area now known as Vera Cruz was not as inundated with water, was not as swampy as the Tabasco area. Therefore they divided Tlapalco into two separate states. The name/term Tabasco carries the same meaning as it initially had when named Tlapalco, marshy or swamp land. Even today, this is one of the areas of Mexico most inundated with water, most marshy and swampy.

During the time period of October 26 to November 3, 2007, it rained continuously in the state of Tabasco. The excessive water caused all the dams and levees to break, and the land returned to its ancient condition, which was a Hugh marshland, mostly under water. During this ten-day period of time, more people were displaced in the state of Tabasco than all the people displaced from New Orleans, during the hurricane Katrina.

*In 2005 when Esteban and I were looking for the narrow pass, which I'm fairly certain we found, we discovered a city that is close to the end of that narrow pass, and adjacent to the ancient highway that lead into the land northward. Currently that route in Oaxaca, Mexico, is known as highway 190.

The name of this city is Guiengola, and is up on the side of a hill, directly on the north side of the ancient highway, with a number of protective walls. This city was so strategically located that it was easy to restrict or prevent passage into the land northward, or if need be, in the opposite direction. When the Aztecs were conquering all contiguous cities, including the Maya, they came down this ancient highway, where the Maya intercepted and fought them at this narrow passage, (not to be confused with the narrow pass). At this location, the ancient route is very narrow, due to steep mountains. Located there, is the fortified city of Guiengola on the north side of the route, now known as highway 190. The Aztec fought the Maya for six months at this very narrow area, and were never able to prevail. This fortified city played an essential role in that conflict between the Aztecs and the Maya. It is this reason that the Aztecs never conquered the Maya past the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as they could never get past Guiengola.

I believe this city, with its strategic location, along the highway leading from Desolation into the land northward, is an ideal candidate for the City Desolation.

Map # 2-A

For those who accept Mesoamerica as the lands of the Book of Mormon, there are two rivers that are offered as candidates for the River Sidon. They are the Grijalva river, which runs through the Central Basin, and also the Usumacinta, which runs through the Peten and Usumacinta basins, being the partial border between Mexico and Guatemala. See map 2-A

Once the Mesoamerica theory of Book of Mormon lands emerged, most of those who promoted the theory accepted the Grijalva River as the River Sidon. I believe that was done mainly because there had been more explorations along that river than along the Usumacinta. However, once archaeologists began to explore lands around the Usumacinta River, large and impressive cities and cultures were discovered.

These discoveries led some people to theorize that the Usumacinta river was Sidon, and not the Grijalva. I was one of the first to propose this alternate river, the Usumacinta, in print.

Since and during that time, I have attended most of the Maya conferences, where their culture is explored and reported on annually, primarily at the Universities of Texas and Pennsylvania. The information reported at these conferences reinforced my view that the Usumacinta was the river Sidon. I am therefore going to share the scriptures that I believe support that view, as well as the archaeological evidence, as reported at the Maya conferences.


Helaman 1:27 indicates that the City of Zarahemla was in the center of the land.

See map 2-A

Alma 6:7 indicates that the City of Zarahemla was west of the river Sidon

See map 2-A

Information from Maya conferences

During the thirty years I have attended the annual Maya conferences, these are the major points reported, as they relate to the river the Maya traveled :

1. The Maya civilization appears to have appeared around 600bc in the highlands of Guatemala, where they built a number of cities, one of the major ones being Kaminaljuyu. Archaeologists call this civilization the Highland Maya.

2. Three to four hundred years later some of the Highland Maya began to migrate from the highlands of Guatemala to the lowlands of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico. That migration continued for many years, after which a culture emerge referred to as the lowland Maya.

3. These two groups of people then warred with each other for hundreds of years. It is my belief that the highland Maya were essentially the Lamanites, while the lowland Maya were the Nephites.

4. One of the earliest explorers of these lands, Sylvanus Morley, called the river these people migrated down, the "Highway of the Maya." That highway was the Usumacinta river.

5. During the many years I have attended the annual Maya conferences, it has been consistently reported that the Maya migrated down the Usumacinta river, not the Grijalva, which is one of the major reasons I viewed the Usumacinta to be the river Sidon.

6. At the 2007 Maya conference at the University of Texas nine world-class archaeologists reported on this time period of the migration from the highlands, to the lowlands. Every one of those reports stated that the migration was down the Usumacinta.

7. I spoke to two of these archaeologists personally and asked them directly who migrated down the Grijalva. They both gave the same answer, and I'll quote Mary Ellen Miller of Yale University. "Jerry, no one migrated down the Grijalva river. You have asked us this before, and the answer is still the same. The migration from the highlands of Guatemala was down the Usumacinta, not the Grijalva."

8. I then asked Mary Ellen if there was any migration at all on the Grijalva, and she told me, "Yes, the Olmec migrated partially up it, but no one migrated down it." It is for this reason that I initially concluded the Usumacinta river was the river Sidon.

9. At the same 2007 University of Texas Maya conference, as well as the 2007 Maya conference at the University of Pennsylvania, these following discoveries were reported. They are now identifying numerous Maya cities in the Usumacinta basin that were abandoned in 350ad, with the people moving across the Isthums of Tehuantepec, (Narrow Neck), into the land northward. Once abandoned, their arch-enemies, the highland Maya, then came down the Usumacinta and occupied these abandoned cities.

10. Mormon 2:28-29 states that in 350ad Mormon moved the Nephites from their cities in Zarahemla, across the narrow neck, into the land northward.

There are other reasons I believe the Usumacinta river is the river Sidon, but these should suffice.