“It Was Called Desolate”

Brant Gardner

Mormon defines desolation as not inherent in the land but rather because of the “greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land.” Mormon uses this definition of desolation fairly consistently, for example, in Alma 16:11, after the Lamanites have razed Ammonihah: “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.”

The land formerly controlled by the Jaredites (the Gulf Coast area by the Isthmus of Tehuantepec) is also called “Desolation,” and for the same reasons: “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” (Alma 22:30.) For Mormon, “desolation” was land where the people had previously been destroyed, even if there were currently people in that land. Mormon tells us that the only thing missing was trees, not people: “no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber.”

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5