|A comparison of the river Sidon, as referenced in the Book of Mormon,
to the Grijalva River found in Chiapas, Mexico.
Although the narrow (small) neck is only mentioned three times in the Book of Mormon, it has been the
primary focus of attempts to define the geographic location of the Book of Mormon lands. This narrow focus
has resulted in numerous possible locations being proposed with, in many cases, little attention to whether
surrounding geography is consistent with the text of the Book of Mormon. The river Sidon , however, occurs
37 times in 28 different verses with accompanying directional and geographic information related to at least
six different geographical locations. Using satellite maps, a 3D satellite mapping program and the text of the
Book of Mormon, the geography of the Americas was analyzed in an attempt to find unique areas that
correlate with the textual descriptions of the river Sidon. The following comparison with the Grijalva River is
the result of that investigation.
First, let us consider rivers in general. By their nature, with few exceptions, rivers seldom run in a straight line.
They twist and turn and sometimes loop back on themselves. They have multiple tributaries. In most cases
they eventually empty into an ocean. Those that begin west of the continental divide, empty into the Pacific
Ocean or a connecting sea. Those beginning east of the divide, empty into the Atlantic Ocean or a connecting
sea. They have sections that run slow while other parts run fast and may be filled with rapids. In other words,
as we consider the river Sidon as depicted in the Book of Mormon, we should keep in mind the nature of
rivers and not expect it to run in only one direction as many Book of Mormon geographies have assumed.
Figure 1 Satellite map showing the two major rivers marked with blue lines.
First let us describe the Grijalva River. (See figure 1) This river has its source in the Sierra Los
Cuchumatanes. The mountains reach heights of over 12,000 feet (3,800 m) and the peaks extend in an east-
west axis across the northwestern section of Guatemala, near the town of Huehuetenango. This range of
mountains stretch in a narrow band from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Caribbean sea in the east.
There are three major tributaries in these mountains that form the source (head) of the Grijalva river. All three
have beginings within a 25 mile radius of each other. All three tributaries begin in the east and flow westward
with significant portions running on an true east-west axis. The major tributary starts just north of San Marcos,
Guatemala. It runs north for about 25 miles and then turn due west into a 25 mile long canyon. Leaving that
canyon it again turns north where it enters another canyon. After leaving the canyon it enters the Grijalva River
Valley where it joins the other two tributaries to form the Grijalva River.
The river then runs in a northwesterly direction through the Grijalva River Valley with occasional northerly
portions for about 60 miles where it abruptly turns north returning to a northwesterly direction after about 20
miles. Along the river as it flows through the valley there are numerous twists and turns which result in short
sections where the river runs on a north-south axis for short distances as long as several kilometers. (see:
Archeological Exploration of the Upper Grijalva River, Chiapas, Mexico by Gareth W. Lowe in Papers of the
New World Archeological Foundation No. 2).
Figure 2 North-south sections of the Grijalva River in the central part of the Grijalva River Valley.
This part of the river is now covered by an artificial lake created by building damns to generate hydroelectric
power. After passing Chiapa de Corzo, it passes through the Sumidero Canyon and eventually flows
northward to where it joins the delta of the Usamacinta River shortly before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
During Book of Mormon times it followed the channel of what is known today as El Rio Seco as explained in
the following reference.
"Sometime, probably in the Late Classic Period as the climate grew wetter, the Grijalva River overflowed its
banks and made a drastic shift in its channel just upstream of the present-day city of Cárdenas. Turning
sharply eastward, it abandoned its older, more direct route to the Gulf and spilled into the vast swampy plain
where the immense Río Usumacinta and its myriad tributaries all come together." (http://www.dartmouth.
Now, let us examine the scriptural references to the river Sidon found in the Book of Mormon. I will examine
them in an order relative to their correlation with the Grijalva River, rather than their scriptural order, beginning
at the source and finishing where the river Sidon empties into the sea.
The Source or Head of the river Sidon
Figure 3. Map showing the sources, head, of the Grijalva River in the narrow strip of mountains, Sierra Los
Cuchumatanes, that stretch from the sea east to the sea west.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 22:27)
And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were
in all his land, who were in all the regions round about, which was bordering even to the sea, on the east and
on the west, and which was divided from the land of Zarahemla by a narrow strip of wilderness, which ran from
the sea east even to the sea west, and round about on the borders of the seashore, and the borders of the
wilderness which was on the north by the land of Zarahemla, through the borders of Manti, by the head of the
river Sidon, running from the east towards the west—and thus were the Lamanites and the Nephites divided.
(Book of Mormon | 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, 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.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 50:11)
And thus he cut off all the strongholds of the Lamanites in the east wilderness, yea, and also on the west,
fortifying the line between the Nephites and the Lamanites, between the land of Zarahemla and the land of
Nephi, from the west sea, running by the head of the river Sidon—the Nephites possessing all the land
northward, yea, even all the land which was northward of the land Bountiful, according to their pleasure.
These verses describe the head of the river Sidon located in a narrow stretch of mountains that stretch from
the sea east to the sea west. Its head or source runs east to west at least in part since in the following
scripture it mentions a south-north segment at the head (see Figure 3). This description is identical to that
found for the Grijalva River.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 16:6)
And it came to pass that Alma inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And Alma returned and said unto
them: Behold, the Lamanites will cross the river Sidon in the south wilderness, away up beyond the borders of
the land of Manti. And behold there shall ye meet them, on the east of the river Sidon, and there the Lord will
deliver unto thee thy brethren who have been taken captive by the Lamanites.
Alma tells Zoram that he will be able to intercept the Lamanites at a location east of the Sidon in the southern
wilderness. This implies a north south segment of the river somewhere near its head. The principle tributary of
the Grijalva River starts out in a south to north segment. Just before it turns sharply to the west and enters a
narrow canyon there is an open area on the east side of the river that is easily accessed from the Grijalva
river valley. This area appears to match the area described by Alma.
Figure 4. Map showing the path taken by Zoram in red and the path taken by the Lamanites in violet.
The river Sidon in the land of Manti
(Book of Mormon | Alma 16:7)
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.
Zoram and his group cross over the river Sidon, probably near where it joins with the two minor tributaries,
(see Figure 3). They probably crossed to the east side of the river Sidon in the land of Manti and then traveled
further into the wilderness till they reached the segment of the river Sidon near its source where it again runs
south to north. This is the same wilderness that ran from the east sea to the west sea and separated the
Nephite and Lamanite territories from each other. See previous discussion about the source or head of the
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:22)
Behold, now it came to pass that they durst not come against the Nephites in the borders of Jershon;
therefore they departed out of the land of Antionum into the wilderness, and took their journey round about in
the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti and take
possession of the land; for they did not suppose that the armies of Moroni would know whither they had gone.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:27)
And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his army should be secreted in the valley which was near the
bank of the river Sidon, which was on the west of the river Sidon in the wilderness.
Alma had sent messengers to General Moroni telling him that the Lamanite army was going to try to sneak
into the land of Manti by way of the south wilderness by way of the head of the river Sidon. The Grijalva River
exits from the Sierra Los Cuchumatanes flowing in a south to north direction and then travels northerly to join
the two smaller tributaries. Satellite maps show the presence of two valleys, one on each side of the river, just
before it exits the mountains. The valley on the west opens into the main valley near the western bank of the
river as described in the Book of Mormon (Alma 43:27,32 and 41 See Figure 3). The valley on the east opens
onto the west bank of the river on the west end and into the main valley on the east end. It is on the south of a
small hill (Riplah) as described in Alma 43:31
Figure 5. Site of the battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites in the borders of the wilderness in the
land of Manti.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:32)
And the remainder he concealed in the west valley, on the west of the river Sidon, and so down into the
borders of the land Manti.
See Figure 3.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:35)
And as the Lamanites had passed the hill Riplah, and came into the valley, and began to cross the river
Sidon, the army which was concealed on the south of the hill, which was led by a man whose name was Lehi,
and he led his army forth and encircled the Lamanites about on the east in their rear.
Seeing the Lamanites pass on the north, Lehi leaves by the east end of the valley where he lay hidden and
attacks the Lamanites from the rear.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:39)
And it came to pass that the Lamanites became frightened, because of the great destruction among them,
even until they began to flee towards the river Sidon.
The Lamanites flee westward in order to cross the river Sidon.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:40)
And they were pursued by Lehi and his men; and they were driven by Lehi into the waters of Sidon, and they
crossed the waters of Sidon. And Lehi retained his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon that they should
The Lamanites cross over the river to the west bank. Lehi, knowing the location of Moroni's army remains on
the east bank with his men.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:41)
And it came to pass that Moroni and his army met the Lamanites in the valley, on the other side of the river
Sidon, and began to fall upon them and to slay them.
Moroni sallies forth from his valley and falls upon the Lamanites.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:50)
And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power; and in that selfsame hour that they cried unto the
Lord for their freedom, the Lamanites began to flee before them; and they fled even to the waters of Sidon.
The Lamaites flee back to the river Sidon only to find Lehi waiting for them on the other side.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:51)
Now, the Lamanites were more numerous, yea, by more than double the number of the Nephites;
nevertheless, they were driven insomuch that they were gathered together in one body in the valley, upon the
bank by the river Sidon.
The Lamanites were forced to gather on the bank of the river, presumably on the west bank since there is no
mention of them crossing back over the river.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 43:53)
Therefore when Zerahemnah saw the men of Lehi on the east of the river Sidon, and the armies of Moroni on
the west of the river Sidon, that they were encircled about by the Nephites, they were struck with terror.
The Lamanites are surrounded and eventually destroyed. The geography of the Grijalva river, at this location,
correlates quite well with the description of the valleys, the river Sidon and the battle as described in the Book
(Book of Mormon | Alma 49:16)
And behold, Moroni had appointed Lehi to be chief captain over the men of that city; and it was that same
Lehi who fought with the Lamanites in the valley on the east of the river Sidon.
The battle is remembered in conjunction with the appointment of Lehi as chief captain.
(Book of Mormon | Mormon 1:10)
And it came to pass that the war began to be among them in the borders of Zarahemla, by the waters of
Since the location of the battle described in Alma 43:26-44:23 took place near the borders of the Lamanite
territory in the south, this is probably the same location where the final battles began described by Mormon in
The river Sidon in the land of Zarahemla
(Book of Mormon | Alma 2:27)
And behold, as they were crossing the river Sidon, the Lamanites and the Amlicites, being as numerous
almost, as it were, as the sands of the sea, came upon them to destroy them.
The Nephite army is rushing to the City of Zarahemla, fearing that the combined Lamanite-Amlici army will get
there ahead of them. They therefore probably picked a fordable area as near as possible to the city. I
personally do not think that this is the same segment as that found east of the hill Amnihu. My choice is an
area just downriver to the west of the city of Zarahemla which was on the other side of the river from where
they had been fighting the day before. See Figure 2.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 2:34)
And thus he cleared the ground, or rather the bank, which was on the west of the river Sidon, throwing the
bodies of the Lamanites who had been slain into the waters of Sidon, that thereby his people might have
room to cross and contend with the Lamanites and the Amlicites on the west side of the river Sidon.
This verse mentions and emphasizes a west bank with no indication of the directionality of the river itself. The
simplest assumption is that it runs north-south, however it may have been a place in the river where it slowed
down and changed directions making it an easy place to cross. Such a place exists on the Grijalva River just
down river from Santa Rosa where one of the tributaries dumps into the Grijalva River. The emphasis on the
west bank may have been due to its location relative to the city rather than to its relationship to the direction of
the flow of the river.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 2:35)
And it came to pass that when they had all crossed the river Sidon that the Lamanites and the Amlicites
began to flee before them, notwithstanding they were so numerous that they could not be numbered.
After crossing the river, as described in verses following verse 35, the Nephites drove the Lamanite-Amlici
army west and north till they lost them in the wilderness of Hermounts. Hermounts corresponds to the area of
Barrancas on the east side of the pass through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. See figure 6.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 4:4)
And they began to establish the church more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and
were joined to the church of God; yea, they were baptized by the hand of Alma, who had been consecrated
the high priest over the people of the church, by the hand of his father Alma.
This verse simply indicates that the river Sidon was used to perform baptisms.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 56:25)
Neither durst they march down against the city of Zarahemla; neither durst they cross the head of Sidon, over
to the city of Nephihah.
This verse is part of the description of the Son's of Helaman's campaign against the Lamanites in the land of
Manti. It relates the possibility of the Lamanites, who were entrenched in several cities, not being permitted to
abandon the area and return to the Land of Nephihah by the back route that went over the mountains by way
of the head of the river Sidon.
The river Sidon east of the hill Amnihu
(Book of Mormon Alma 2:15)
And it came to pass that the Amlicites came upon the hill Amnihu, which was east of the river Sidon, which ran
by the land of Zarahemla, and there they began to make war with the Nephites.
The hill Amnihu is east of the river Sidon suggesting a north-south orientation of at least one segment of the
river Sidon. In this verse the river Sidon, or at least this segment runs by not through the land of Zarahemla.
This suggests that this segment is a limiting border to the main part of the land of Zarahemla rather than the
part that is in the principle parts of the land. This corresponds to the part of Grijalva River just after it makes a
sharp turn northward headed for Chiapa de Corzo.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 2:17)
And they began to slay the Amlicites upon the hill east of Sidon. And the Amlicites did contend with the
Nephites with g reat strength, insomuch that many of the Nephites did fall before the Amlicites.
Here again the hill being east of the river Sidon is emphasized
(Book of Mormon | Alma 6:7)
And now it came to pass that when Alma had made these regulations he departed from them, yea, from the
church which was in the city of Zarahemla, and went over upon the east of the river Sidon, into the valley of
Gideon, there having been a city built, which was called the city of Gideon, which was in the valley that was
called Gideon, being called after the man who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword.
Alma leaves the city of Zarahemla and goes to a city in the valley of Gideon which is located east of the river
Sidon. This refers to the same segment of the river mentioned with reference to the hill Amnihu since it is the
location where Alma camped his army after battling with the Amlicites near the hill Amnihu.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 8:3)
And it came to pass in the commencement of the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of
Nephi, that Alma departed from thence and took his journey over into the land of Melek, on the west of the
river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness.
The land of Melek is located west of the river Sidon near the western wilderness. No information is given
about which segment of the river is referenced. It was probably west and south of Chiapa de Corzo near the
mountain range which seperated the Grijalva River Valley from the Pacific Ocean.
The mouth of the river Sidon
(Book of Mormon | Alma 3:3)
And now as many of the Lamanites and the Amlicites who had been slain upon the bank of the river Sidon
were cast into the waters of Sidon; and behold their bones are in the depths of the sea, and they are many.
(Book of Mormon | Alma 44:22)
And it came to pass that they did cast their dead into the waters of Sidon, and they have gone forth and are
buried in the depths of the sea.
These verses indicate that the Nephites were aware that the Sidon emptied into the sea. No mention is made
to indicate which sea. This was probably because this sea was outside the area controlled by either the
nephites or the Lamanites at this time. If true, this would indicate that this sea is different from either the west
or east seas since both of these seas are later mentioned as part of the Nephite -Lamanite controlled area. It
is probably the same sea referenced in the book of Ether since we are told that the people of Zarahemla
came up to the land of Zarahemla from the area occupied at one time by the Jaredites. It may also be the
basis of the poetic statement that the Nephites filled the land from the sea west to the sea east and from the
sea south to the sea north.
From its source in the Sierra Los Cuchumatanes mountains to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, the Grijalva
river matches the descriptions of the river Sidon found in the text of the Book of Mormon. Although the Grijalva
River runs south to north over most of its course, it has segments that run East to West (Alma 22:27) and
other segments which run southeast to northwest (not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Mormon). It is a
twisty mountain river with many turns, some quite sharp, and would certainly have been able to carry the
bodies cast into it out to the sea Alma 3:3 and Alma 44:22. The Usamacinta , however, from its source that
runs from west to east and south to north (See Figure 1) does not appear to match. In addition the
Usamacinta runs for most of its course through the lowlands emptying into an area of extended floodlands
near the Gulf of Mexico making it too slow to be able to carry bodies out to sea.