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Please join us for our online class of "Sick at Sidom" on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 7:00 pm. Click on the Home page for more information.



By Dr. Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen



     The ruins of Chiapa de Corzo are located in the lower Grijalva valley, also called the Central Chiapas Depression, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. The size of the Chiapas depression (land of Zarahemla) from the proposed cities of Ammonihah (Jiquipilas) to Manti (Ciudad Cuauhtemoc) is comparable in size to the ancient land of Israel from the cities of Dan to Beersheba. It is as if someone took a giant bulldozer and scooped the dirt out of the center of the land of Chiapas, casting it up on both sides to create a long valley 150 miles long by 30 miles wide. You can literally superimpose the ancient land of Israel over the Chiapas depression map as they are geographically the same size. In this scenario, just like the city of Jerusalem is located in the center of the land of Israel, so is the city of Zarahemla (Santa Rosa) located in the center of the land of Chiapas. The Grijalva river that runs through the depression has four constructed dams along its path, the Malpaso, the Chicoasén (the tallest dam in North America), the Angostura, and the Peñitas dams. Electricity generated from the dams provides service for a good portion of the country of Mexico.

     In our opinion, the history and geography of the central depression of the state of Chiapas is so essential to our understanding of Book of Mormon history and geography, that any geographical model that does not include Chiapas would severely lack a balanced concept of Book of Mormon geography. The state of Chiapas is about two-thirds of the size as the country of Guatemala. Its inclusion within the country of Mexico was not officially recognized by Guatemala until 1895. Both Chiapas and Guatemala are Maya. They are of the same indigenous groups. The discovery of the Miraflores style and workmanship of pottery originating from Lake Atitlan and Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala dating from the second century BC at Santa Rosa verifies an emigration relationship from the city of Nephi and the waters of Mormon to the land of Zarahemla. Chiapas has a higher ratio of indigenous people than any other state in Mexico.

     While in Chiapas, a great adventure is to take a boat ride on the Grijalva River through the majestic Sumidero Canyon. A visit to the archaeological zone of Chiapa de Corzo and the Regional Museum of Chiapas at Tuxtla Gutierrez is a must.  An amazing zoo featuring animals indigenous to the state, an evening at the Marimba park, a visit to the LDS Temple, and a trip to San Cristobal de las Casas are just a few of the many attractions offered to the visitor who travels to the beautiful state of Chiapas.

Chiapa de Corzo

     The ruins of Chiapa de Corzo, located along the banks of the Grijalva River near the cemetery of the city by the same name, are highly significant in relation to the Book of Mormon. Chiapa de Corzo is situated on the opposite side of the river from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital city of the state of Chiapas. Like Kaminaljuyu, Tikal, and Izapa, which all have identifiable language markers on stone, so does Chiapa de Corzo, who presents its own credentials in the form of engraved stones. Stela 24 at Chiapa de Corzo manifests a date of 36 BC.

     In 2010 a tomb was discovered at Chiapa de Corzo dating between 700 and 400 BC. Researchers from Mexico and the USA are studying the jade ornaments, amber, pearls, pyrite and shells, Olmec style spoons and pendants, among other materials found at the Zoque culture Chiapas de Corzo Tomb 1, which dates to 700 BCE, in order to understand the trade routes in the region 2,700 years ago. The cache being studied has jade from Guatemala, amber from the Chiapa de Corzo region, obsidian and pyrite mirrors from the highlands of Chiapas, and hematite from Oaxaca. The pyramid containing the tomb was in use from 900 BCE to 600 CE. The male found in the tomb was between 50-60 years old. There was an infant sacrifice in the tomb, and a male of 18 years of age. A woman was buried in a neighboring chamber. The male had bracelets and a necklace with jade from many areas. The amber jewelry the woman is wearing is the oldest designed amber ever found in Mesoamerica, dating to 700 BCE.

     The old name of Chiapa de Corzo is “Zactun” (pronounced ‘sock TOON’), which means “white stone” or “limestone,” has an abundance of white limestone that is immediately detected as you take the scenic boat ride on the Grijalva River or see the cut rock along the highways.

Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

            If Kaminaljuyu/Guatemala City and the surrounding area is the land of Nephi and if the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is the narrow neck of land, then the land of Zarahemla has to fit somewhere in between. Substantial evidence exists for the land of Zarahemla and the central depression valley of Chiapas to be one and the same. The names of Hermounts, Sidon, and Sidom, all three Book of Mormon names, have been identified in the ancient history and geography of Chiapas, Mexico.

     We may get some clues about the land of Zarahemla by studying the archaeological history of the ancient city of Chiapa de Corzo, the ancient migratory routes from Guatemala to Chiapas, the traditional recorded history of the state of Chiapas, and parallel studies surrounding a narrow strip of wilderness and a narrow neck of land.

     It was Joseph Smith, who was born in 1805, that stated that the Nephites lived near the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. And it was John Lloyd Stephens, also born in 1805, who wrote that a massive east-west narrow mountain range, a term identifiable in the Book of Mormon as the narrow strip of wilderness, is “a barrier fit to separate worlds.”

The New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF)

     For more than a half a century the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has funded archaeological research in Chiapas.  It was initially started by attorney and Church member, Thomas Stuart Ferguson.  For thirty years of its continued existence, Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and subsequent president of the Church was its managing director. Two sites where archaeological research and excavation have been carried out by the NWAF are Izapa and Chiapa de Corzo.

Book of Mormon Geographical Implications

     From a Book of Mormon perspective, we know that the land of Zarahemla was north of the land of Nephi. We also know that the land of Nephi was higher in elevation than the land of Zarahemla. Most importantly, we know from a geological reference that the land of Nephi was separated from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness or a narrow mountain range that ran from the sea east to the sea west. Also, it is of great importance to understand that both the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were located in the land southward, meaning southward of a narrow neck of land which has been identified by most Latter-day Saint Mesoamerican geographers as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

     Finally, the distance in travel time from the city of Nephi to the borders of the land of Zarahemla is estimated to be less than 30 days. Based on an average of eight miles a day, that makes the distance from Nephi to Zarahemla no more than 240 miles, the same distance as from Guatemala City to the borders of Chiapas. If we are correct that the migratory route from Guatemala to Chiapas over the Cuchumatanes mountain range is the same as the migratory route of the Nephites, we can then trace the footsteps of eleven Nephite migrations or journeys either from Nephi to Zarahemla or from Zarahemla to Nephi.

Book of Mormon Language Implications

     1. The River Sidon is a major river in the Book of Mormon which means “fish waters.” The old name of the Grijalva River that runs through the Chiapas depression is also called “fish waters.” Some students of Book of Mormon geography still propose the Usumacinta River, a river about eighty miles to the east of and parallel to the Grijalva River, as the river Sidon. Several reasons disqualify the Usumacinta River from being the river Sidon, among which are: (1) the lack of population settlements along its path at the time required in the Book of Mormon, and (2) the absence of a viable candidate for the wilderness of Hermounts. Other reasons for labeling the Grijalva River as the River Sidon are associated with other geographical statements summarized below.

     2. The day and a half journey is a twelve-mile fortification line or wall extending from the mountains by Tonala, Chiapas (from the east to west sea) to the Pacific Ocean by the town of Paredon.  Paredon means “a big wall.” In essence, this fortification barrier enabled the armies of the Nephites to hem the Lamanites in on the south so that they could have no more possession on the north.  It was like an immigration check point to keep the Lamanites, (1) from getting into the land of Zarahemla via the coastal route, and (2) from going into the land northward through the isthmus or the narrow neck of land (Alma 22:33-34).

     3. The land of Zarahemla was located southward of the narrow neck of land. The definition of an isthmus is “a narrow neck of land that divides two larger land masses.” Any movement into the land northward required traveling directly north through the narrow pass located within the Isthmus itself. The land of Zarahemla was located between the narrow neck of land (the Isthmus of Tehuantepec), and the narrow strip of wilderness (Los Cuchumatanes).

     4. The city name of Sidom, where Alma blessed Zeezrom, has the same meaning as Zactun, the old Maya name of Chiapa de Corzo. Both Sidom and Zactun mean white or limestone. There are literally hundreds of sites in the Grijalva valley dating to Book of Mormon times. But it is Chiapa de Corzo, with its language marker showing the date of 36 BC, which helps us understand a crucial event in the Book of Mormon. This is the time that the Nephites lost control of the land of Zarahemla to the Lamanites (Helaman 4:4-6). This is the same date that the Nephites changed their religious headquarters from the city of Zarahemla to the city of Bountiful.

     5. The wilderness of Hermounts is located west and north of Zarahemla (Alma 2:37) and means “wilderness of wild beasts,” with the beautiful and ferocious Jaguar being the most feared wild and ravenous beast in Chiapas. The wilderness of Tehuantepec is located west and north of the Chiapas Depression and means, “wilderness of wild beasts.” The “land southward” where the Jaredites hunted wild animals also appears to be the same area as the wilderness of Hermounts which adds credibility to this hypothesis (see Ether 10:21).

     It is doubtful that all of the above linguistic similarities are just coincidental.

Types and Shadows: Vultures of the Air

     A scripture which is common to all of the standard works of the Church has to do with “fowls of the air” or “eagles” or “vultures.” Today there is a vulture refuge in the area of the wilderness of Tehuantepec (Hermounts). In fact, you cannot travel along the Grijalva River without seeing vultures.  There is even a town en route from Tuxtla Gutierrez to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec called Ocozocoautla, which means the “village of vultures and serpents.”

     When Mormon states that the Lamanites and the Amlicites were “slain and driven” and they were “scattered on the west and on the north” and were “devoured by those beasts,” and “vultures of the air” and “their bones have been found, and have been heaped upon the earth, (Alma 2:37-38) he is simply prophesying about our day.

     Their bones, or carcasses (meaning their history), have been heaped up and recorded in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The story of their lives tells of how God’s people have been slain and driven and scattered and devoured by wild beasts (evil people). The Prophet Joseph Smith clarified the meaning of this prophecy as follows:

“Behold, wheresoever the carcass is, there shall the eagles be gathered together; so likewise shall mine elect be gathered from the four quarters of the earth.”  (Joseph Smith – Matthew 1:27).

     We, as a remnant of Jacob, have been gathered and, like vultures, have been able to feast upon the words which have been given to us as a gift from those of old.

The Church in Tuxtla Gutierrez (Two Deacons)

     It has been a modern miracle to watch the growth of the Church in Chiapas. As we contemplate that the native people of Chiapas were left in darkness from the time that Alma preached the gospel to the people of Ammonihah at 74 BC, and from the time the Nephites were driven out of Sidom (Chiapa de Corzo) at 36 BC, and were left in darkness from the time the Nephites were driven completely out of the land of Zarahemla at AD 350, it is heartrending. But then, when we realize that just a few short years ago, a new generation of missionaries entered into the village of Chiapa de Corzo (Sidom), a city that had been without the Priesthood of God for more than 1,600 years, the feelings are poignant indeed.

     A few years ago, there were two deacons who passed the sacrament at a ward in Tuxtla Gutierrez. The experience was like going back in time to when both the Jaredites and Nephites met on common ground in the land of Zarahemla. This time, one deacon, large and robust, having the features of the large Olmec heads that have been discovered, and the other deacon, a youngster of slight build with facial features of a Mayan that looked like he just came off the walls at Palenque, offered up the sacraments of the Lord’s atonement to members of the Church.  Stakes of the church, a mission, and a temple all bear witness of the fulfilling of prophecy of the gathering of the Remnant of Jacob in these latter days.

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