4. Is the Lamanite City of Jerusalem Sunk in Lake Atitlan?
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4. Is the Lamanite City of Jerusalem Sunk in Lake Atitlan?
Copyright © 2015 by Jerry L. Ainsworth
The idea that the city of Jerusalem was adjacent to the waters of Mormon (which I believe is Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan) appears in John Sorenson’s book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pages 223–25.
I don’t know if the idea originated with Dr. Sorenson, but his was the earliest reference I could find. Dr. Sorenson is well respected as a Book of Mormon researcher, and his writings carry a great deal of credibility. He cites Alma for this proposition:
Now when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, behold Aaron took his journey towards the land which was called by the Lamanites, Jerusalem, calling it after the land of their fathers’ nativity; and it was away joining the borders of Mormon.
Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem. (Alma 21:1–2; emphasis added)
Land of Jerusalem vs. the City of Jerusalem
I read Alma 21:1–2 differently than Dr. Sorenson. The land of Jerusalem bordered Mormon, not the city of Jerusalem. Indeed, verse 2 does not even say that the city of Jerusalem was located within the land of Jerusalem, though I think that is a reasonable assumption.
I think that the city of New York is located in the state of New York, especially if the passage describing the city of New York occurs immediately following a discussion of the state of New York.
In its very last sentence, Alma 21:1 indicates that the land of Jerusalem “joins the border of Mormon.” Presumably, Dr. Sorenson and others believe that the border being referred to is the borders of the waters of Mormon rather than the borders of the land of Mormon—if they believe Jerusalem was located near the edge of Lake Atitlan, the waters of Mormon.
I went through the Book of Mormon searching the term “borders of” to see if it was ever used in relationship to water or if it was used exclusively in reference to lands.
Alma 5:3 clearly distinguishes between the land of Mormon and the waters of Mormon. To me, the waters of Mormon and the forest of Mormon were logically smaller segments of the larger land of Mormon.
Meaning of “the Borders of”
The term “borders of,” as used in the Book of Mormon, refers to tracts of land near a boundary, which may or may not be close to a body of water. The Book of Mormon contains sixty-two uses of “borders of” in reference to Book of Mormon lands. I offer two examples:
And it came to pass that Zoram and his sons crossed over the river Sidon with their armies, and marched away beyond the borders of Manti into the south wilderness, which was on the east side of the river Sidon. (Alma 16:7; emphasis added)
But they took their armies and went over into the borders of the land of Zarahemla, and fell upon the people who were in the land of Ammonihah, and destroyed them. (Alma 25:2; emphasis added)
Usually, the Book of Mormon authors write “borders of the land Manti” (or some other city or land), but sometimes they omit the term “land,” referring directly to the name of a specific city or land. The two scriptures I offer above are typical of this difference. Alma 16:7 refers to the borders of Manti, whereas Alma 25:2 refers to the borders of the land of Zarahemla.
When referring to the boundaries of water, the Book of Mormon, as a rule, uses the term “borders by,” not “borders of.” I give two of the sixteen examples from the Book of Mormon:
And thus he went on, taking possession of many cities, the city of Nephihah, and the city of Lehi, and the city of Morianton, and the city of Omner, and the city of Gid, and the city of Mulek, all of which were on the east borders by the seashore. (Alma 51:26; emphasis added))
Now, the king (Ammoron) had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and had made known unto the queen concerning the death of his brother, and had gathered together a large number of men, and had marched forth against the Nephites on the borders by the west sea. (Alma 52:12; emphasis added)
This is a very laborious way of showing that Alma 21:1 is not referring to the borders of the waters of Mormon but rather to the borders of the land of Mormon. Indeed, if the waters of Mormon were in the land of Mormon, it would be extremely tricky (to say the least) to have the borders of the land of Jerusalem join the borders of the waters of Mormon. For those who have been to Lake Atitlan, they can appreciate how the surrounding volcanoes would make such a possibility very unlikely.
Jerusalem Is Some Distance from the Waters of Mormon
I conclude the following about Alma 21:1–2:
The Book of Mormon stipulates that the city of Jerusalem was located within the land of Jerusalem.
The borders of the land of Jerusalem joined the borders of the land of Mormon.
The waters of Mormon were located some place inside the land of Mormon.
Therefore, the city of Jerusalem is a significant distance from the waters of Mormon and thus cannot be a candidate for a city that is located under those waters.
Are Onihah and Mocum Sunk in Lake Atitlan?
In 3 Nephi 9:7, the Savior mentions Onihah and Mocum as cities that might conceivably be located under the waters of Mormon. However, for the following reasons, I have my doubts about that scenario also.
Although several Latter-day Saint writers, guides, and commentators make the claim, no one has cited any evidence for this proposition. I have spoken with many Maya archaeologists about this issue, and none believe that such a city exists.
A number of ceramic artifacts have been retrieved from Lake Atitlan. This is a topic with which I have some experience because as long as twenty years ago, I observed some of the ceramic artifacts being retrieved from the lake.
They appeared to have been thrown into the lake by the early Spaniards who considered them to be pagan in nature. All appeared to have been created in the Postclassic Period—around AD 1300.
I do not know where the Book of Mormon City of Jerusalem is located. I think it is in the land of Jerusalem, and I know that this land joins the borders of the land of Mormon. If I knew where the ancient borders of the land of Mormon were, that knowledge would help, but I don’t.
Alma 21:1 does, however, give us a small clue via the wording that the land of Jerusalem was “away” from where Ammon was at the time. From this sparse clue, I have always assumed the land of Jerusalem was adjacent to the eastern border of the land of Mormon, but the Book of Mormon gives us very little to go on.
One Nephite City Can Be Found under Water
Although I do not think that any Book of Mormon city can be found under the waters of Lake Atitlan (waters of Mormon), I do believe that one city mentioned in 3 Nephi 8–9 has been sunk under water and can still be seen it its sunken state. It is the great city of Moroni, an ancient Maya city that is under water off the coast of Belize at a place called Cerros.
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