An Exceeding Great Many Went Forth Unto the Land Northward an Exceedingly Great Distance and Came to Large Bodies of Water

Alan C. Miner

If we refer to the Mesoamerican map, what places would qualify according to the description given? According to Joseph Allen, from 150 B.C. to A.D. 750, the ceremonial center of Teotihuacan, in the Valley of Mexico flourished. Nephite immigrants may have moved into the Valley of Mexico beginning about 50 BC. Tradition reports that Teotihuacan was really a religious center. Also, the increase in population during this period was caused, in large part, by people who migrated to the valley and then settled in the city of Teotihuacan. Cement was utilized extensively in the construction of buildings and roadways. The temple of the Sun was built between 150 B.C. - A.D. 200, virtually as it stands today. The "bodies of water" and "many rivers" may refer to the lakes in the Mexico Valley. Three shallow lakes remained on the valley floor at the time of the Conquest of Mexico. Mexico City was literally built on a lake. If people migrated inland to the Mexico Valley, they most likely would have traveled the Veracruz route, which would have required them to cross many rivers, including the massive Papaloapan River system along the Gulf of Mexico. The distance from Chiapas (Zarahemla) to Mexico City is about 600 miles. Even today, in the Mexico Valley, most of the buildings are built out of cement. Lumber is very scarce. The type of lumber that is grown in the mountains around the Valley of Mexico is not of the size and quality of that grown in North America. Helaman 3:8 seems to imply that the people "spread" "from the land southward to the land northward, which might imply many people stopping off at various points short of the "exceeding great distance" traveled in Helaman 3:4. Helaman 3:13-15 talks about "many records kept of the proceedings of this people" which seems to imply a certain knowledge or communication which might limit the distance traveled. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, pp. 97-107] [See the commentary on 3 Nephi 4:23; 7:12]

“Many Inhabitants Who Had Before Inherited the Land”

According to Hugh Nibley, Latter-day Saints are disturbed when we read that remains much older than the Book of Mormon are found on the continent. Well, of course they are. We assume that everything that's found is either Nephite or Jaredite. But read Helaman 3:4-5 where he says, "And they did travel to an exceeding great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers. Yea, and even they did spread into all parts of the land, into whatever parts had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land." A very interesting thing. There were lots of people there before them. They'd wiped out all the timber, and when they wipe it out, it stays that way.

The noncommittal term "the former inhabitants of the land," and the failure to mention Jaredites, even by way of speculation, make it clear the new pioneers had no idea who those people might have been, only that they had been there a long time--long enough to clean out the forest--and also that they had filled the land. They were very numerous. They were not Lamanites, for Lamanites were contemporary savages, not a lost civilization.

Although in a different time period, yet in a similar manner, it is interesting to note that neither the Aztecs of the 16th century nor their predecessors, the Toltecs, knew anything at all about the people of Teotihuacan. They knew only the ruins of a fabulous city. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 4, pp. 238, 235]

According to Hugh Nibley, until recently, most all scholars have clung to a simplistic and naive doctrine that everything that ever came to the Western Hemisphere entered by way of the Bering Strait. This was one man's idea, and they still cling to it. That was the famous anthropologist Hrdlicka, who came to Harvard and started working on this. He devoted his whole life to proving a passage along the Alaska land bridge, the Bering Strait. It's shallow there, and when the ocean goes down you can cross--people have. Well, there's no objection to their coming in that way at all. The Hopis call that "coming in by the back door." They were aware of that tradition, [but they don't represent all the people] . . .

Anguiano says (Mexico antes do los Aztecas), "there are among the Indians Mongoloids, . . . Negroids. . . . [There certainly are] Southern European types [many of them], . . . giants [Semitic types, Mediterranean types], pygmies [Venezuela and Brazil]. Many anthropologists consider it impossible that all these types be traced to a single Bering Strait route from Asia. South American skulls and dialects both have strong Oceanian resemblances and indicate a Pacific crossing."

The famous Edward Seler says: The two main native traditions have the ancestors coming from the east by sea and from the west by sea. They all agree that their ancestors came in boats. Well, if they keep saying that, shouldn't we pay some attention to their traditions? No! no! [the scholars say], they all crossed the land bridge across Alaska there. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 4, pp. 238-239]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary