Monday, May 14, 2018

The Case for Mesoamerica

Mormonism is full of urban (and rural) legends. A person's belief leads to action which triggers a reaction on the part of others which can create positive reinforcement for one's belief that starts the perpetual cycle all over again. Untrue beliefs get propagated in Mormon culture because our leadership model is hierarchical (as it must be in a Kingdom D&C 65) and we tend not to question authority. Hugh Nibley's famous quip in his 1983 Commencement address "Leaders and Managers" was, "we do not question things at the BYU."

One Mormon legend is that Lehi landed in what today is the country of Chile. While I was serving my mission in Peru 1972 - 1974 that belief was pervasive among the Saints. Positive reinforcement over the years had come from such authorities as Spencer W. Kimball, Mark E. Peterson, and Bruce R. McConkie who repeated the legend over the pulpit during visits to South America as a means of relating to their local audience. This legend is dubious at best. See the article "Did Lehi Land in Chile?" in the Book of Mormon Central Archive.

The missionary copies of the Book of Mormon we sold or gave away in the early 1970's included photos of Machu Picchu (which we now know was constructed ca. AD 1450) and then Elder, soon to be President Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Camilla, standing inside a "baptismal font" in the Pachacamac ruins. On preparation day we missionaries went to Pachacamac and took pictures of ourselves by that same structure that did resemble a modern LDS squarish baptismal font.
Spencer W. & Camilla Kimball visiting Pachacamac on the outskirts of Lima, Peru
In 1975 I was in New York City on a research project and a well-educated fellow asked me at Church if I was one of those "naive people who think every hole in the ground is a baptismal font."

A couple of days before Christmas, 1974, I visited John L. Sorenson in the American Fork, UT home he built while I was in the mission field. In about five minutes he convinced me that the New World portions of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize). More than forty years later, scientific advances have made his logic even more compelling.

Size.  Book of Mormon travel times, expressed in days, limit how large or small the Nephite known world could possibly have been. Most serious students of the text are comfortable with a Nephite world having a maximum extent in the 1,000 kilometer range. Mesoamerica is right in this sweet spot. The distance from Kaminaljuyú (candidate for the southern city of Nephi) to Teotihuacan (candidate for Jacobugath in the extreme north) is 1,044 air kilometers. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
1,044 Air Kilometers Kaminaljuyú to Teotihuacan
Orientation. Dozens of references in the text describe Book of Mormon lands oriented generally in a northward/southward direction. Plotting the continental divide (in red) from Alaska to Chile shows that the principal landmass in the Western Hemisphere oriented generally northward/southward as opposed to north/south is Middle America.
Middle America Oriented Generally Northward/Southward
 Geography. The text consistently mentions an East Sea and a West Sea in the Land Southward, with a major river running through the center of the land between both coasts and the whole nearly surrounded by water. Mesoamerica explicitly fits this description.
Southern Mesoamerica with the Usumacinta River in Red
 Topography. The Book of Mormon describes mountains, hills, and valleys with significant elevation differences between them. Mesoamerica has highly varied landforms with elevations ranging from sea level to 5,600 meters.

Climate. The Book of Mormon describes armies going to battle dressed in loin cloths around the new year Alma 43:4, 20. Mesoamerica's tropical climate works well with this narrative.

Geology. Earth scientists who study the Book of Mormon generally conclude that the natural disasters described in the text are best accounted for by a combination of seismic and volcanic activity. Mesoamerica is a land of both earthquakes and volcanoes.
Smithsonian  Database of Volcanoes Active in the Holocene (last 10,000 years)
Demography. The Nephite/Jaredite text describes dense populations in the millions Ether 15:2. Mesoamerica had  dense populations in the millions during Book of Mormon times. For dramatic recent corroboration, see the blog article "LiDAR."

Civilization. The Book of Mormon unambiguously describes what cultural anthropologists call "state level society" aka high civilization. See the blog article entitled "State Level Society." In the Western Hemisphere, only Mesoamerica achieved this degree of cultural sophistication during Book of Mormon times.

Literacy. The Book of Mormon clearly describes widespread literacy Mosiah 2:8 with multiple writing systems. In the Americas, only Mesoamerica had widespread literacy with multiple scripts in use during Book of Mormon times.
Drawing of La Mojarra Stela 1 from Veracruz, Mexico
Original is in the Museo de Antropología, Xalapa
The Inscription Includes the Dates AD 143 and AD 156
Architecture. The Nephites built with stone Alma 48:8 and cement Helaman 3:7, 9, 11, materials that tend to preserve well in archaeological contexts. Stone and cement as building materials are attested in Mesoamerican archaeology. See the blog article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

Chronology. The Book of Mormon chronicles events from ca. 2,300 BC to AD 421. Plausible Mesoamerican settings are attested archaeologically in those time frames. Some of the temporal correspondences are striking as in the blog article "75 BC."

Metallurgy in Book of Mormon times is well attested in the Andes. Seeds from the Levant or Arabia would thrive in Baja California. Some statements by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries do refer to the modern United States of America. Some Book of Mormon passages can be interpreted to lend support to an "intimate" aka small-scale geographic model. Viewed comprehensively, though, the preponderance of contextual clues in the Book of Mormon text favor a Mesoamerican setting which is why most LDS scholars today look for correlations in that area.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, the premiere source for Book of Mormon enrichment material  in English and Spanish

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Baptist Preacher Lynn Ridenhour

On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, I heard Dr. Lynn Ridenhour give a remarkable presentation in the Salt Lake 21st Ward Meetinghouse at the corner of K Street and 1st Avenue. He was being hosted by my friend, Boyd Tuttle, owner of Digital Legend Press. He was introduced by Dr. Keith J. Wilson of the BYU Ancient Scripture faculty. Pastor Lynn is a natural story teller with a quick wit.
Lynn Ridenhour, Baptist Preacher
Ridenhour was in Utah for the debut of his latest book entitled Sir, That's a Book of Mormon! published by Digital Legend.
Ridenhour's 2018 Book
He also presented at the FIRM Foundation Expo in Layton later that week. Ridenhour came to the attention of Latter-day Saints in a major way when he was featured in the excellent BYUtv documentary A New Day for the Book of Mormon that aired on KSL TV in between General Conference sessions on Sunday, October 5, 2014. I reviewed the documentary in a 2014 blog article entitled "A New Day for the Book of Mormon."
Opening Image from Superb BYUtv Documentary
Ridenhour grew up in Belle, Missouri, studied for the ministry at William Jewell College in Liberty (where Joseph smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail), and currently resides in Lake Tapawingo, a suburb of Independence. He holds a PhD from the University of Iowa. He was on the faculty of Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) in Lynchburg, VA. He has pastored various Baptist churches in Louisiana, Illinois, and Missouri. He currently runs Building Bridges Ministries which is part of Manna Ministries in Blue Springs, Missouri. Ridenhour is an ordained Southern Baptist preacher who considers himself Charismatic Baptist. He has endeared himself to Latter-day Saints because he believes both the Book of Mormon and the Bible to be the inspired word of God.

Ridenhour dined in the Lion House as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley's guest in 2005. He spoke to the BYU religion faculty in 2008. He has been part of the Book of Mormon in Zion Conference held annually since 2014 in Independence. He gained his testimony of the Book of Mormon in 1985 through a noteworthy series of miraculous events.

Dr. Ridenhour is a student of religious awakenings such as William J. Seymour's 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles that spawned the modern Pentecostal movement with approximately 300 million adherents worldwide.
April 18, 1906 LA Times Article about the Azusa Street Revival
He himself was part of the Charismatic Renewal that swept through Catholicism and mainline Protestantism in the 1960's and '70's. He likes to remind Protestant audiences that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries experienced significant outpourings of the Spirit in the early days of the Church, signs that God was at work in their lives.

Pastor Lynn has made it his life's work to build bridges of understanding between people of many different faith traditions. He longs for the day when Protestants no longer spew virulent anti-Mormon diatribes from their theological seminaries and counter cult ministries. His favorite Book of Mormon passage is 4 Nephi 1:15-17 that speaks of profound peace and unity through Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

BMC 2018

Tuesday, April 7, 1829 was the day Oliver Cowdery began writing for Joseph Smith as the Prophet's scribe in Harmony, Pennsylvania. We celebrated this historic day by convening the BMC 2018 Book of Mormon Conference on Saturday, April 7, 2018 in the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. It was the 15th annual Book of Mormon Conference sponsored by Book of Mormon Central (BMC) or Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) which merged into BMC in 2016.
BMC 2018 Book of Mormon Conference Flyer
570 people attended the all-day event and heard 10 presentations by outstanding Book of Mormon scholars including:
  • BMC editor Nicole Shepard, Spanish digital media publisher Benji Monroy, and researcher/writer Jonathon Riley who reviewed the past year of BMC accomplishments
  • BMC researcher/writer Matt Roper and statistician Paul Fields who shared the light the science of stylometry sheds on the Book of Mormon as composite literature 
  • BYU Ancient Scripture faculty member Mark Wright who discussed Mesoamerican ecology and cosmology that show up in the Book of Mormon text
  • LDS product manager Rob Jex who gave a sneak preview of the upcoming LDS Book of Mormon videos
  • LDS author and educator John Bytheway who explored the Book of Mormon through the lens of gardens and gardeners
  • BMC researcher/writer Neal Rappleye, product manager Jasmin Gimenez, and archivist  Jared Riddick who presented a workshop on how to study the scriptures using BMC resources
  • BYU Law faculty member John W. Welch who discussed the significance of April 7th in the historical sequence of events leading up to the miraculous Book of Mormon translation
  • BYU Church History faculty member Gerrit Dirkmaat who explained little-known details about multiple printers Joseph Smith approached hoping they would print the Book of Mormon
  • BYU Ancient Scripture faculty member Jo Ann Seely who illustrated and described life in Jerusalem in Lehi's day
  • BYU Ancient Scripture faculty member Tyler Griffin who showed the impressive internal consistency one finds in the study of several hundred Book of Mormon geographic referents
BMC 2018 Crowd Listening to Matt Roper and Paul Fields
Photo Courtesy Deseret News
Attendees also got to experience the world of the Book of Mormon via:
  • a set of doubled, witnessed, and sealed ancient Roman metal plates
  • replica Roman crucifixion nails
  • replicas of the golden plates, urim and thummim, breastplate, Liahona, and sword of Laban
  • replicas of the wooden box Joseph used to store the plates, and Joseph and Hyrum's death masks
  • a wonderful art gallery
  • a Bedouin goat-hair tent
  • virtual reality displays of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and Herod's Temple
  • virtual reality displays of stylometric patterns employed by Book of Mormon authors
  • a replica of E.B. Grandin's printing press
  • a replica of the breastplate worn by the High Priest in ancient Israel
Brent Bird Examining Dave Baird's
Replica of the Golden Plates
Photo Courtesy Deseret News
Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask received the 2018 Father Lehi and Mother Sariah Award for lifetime service to the Book of Mormon and the posterity of Lehi and Sariah. Recipients of this award include:
  • 2003 Dale T. Tingey
  • 2005 Juan O'Donnell
  • 2006 Bruce W. Warren
  • 2007 Elder Robert E. and Sister Helen Wells
  • 2008 Elder Ted E. and Sister Dorothy Brewerton
  • 2009 John L. and Helen Sorenson
  • 2010 Hugh W. (posthumous) and Phyllis Nibley
  • 2011 Joesph L. and Rhoda Allen
  • 2012 F. Richard and Laura Hauck
  • 2013 V. Garth and Cheryl Norman
  • 2014 Stephen L. (posthumous) and Ruth Carr
  • 2016 Richard K. and Helen Miner
  • 2017 John W. and Jeannie Welch
  • 2018 Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask 
Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask at BMC 2018
Photo Courtesy Deseret News
Media coverage included a great article by Trent Toone that appeared in the digital Deseret News on Monday, April 9 and in the print edition (Mormon Times) on Thursday, April 12.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Gerrit Walter Gong

The Saturday Morning Session of the April 2018 General Conference just concluded. Along with millions of others, I had the distinct privilege of sustaining not just Russel Marion Nelson, Sr. as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator but also Gerrit Walter Gong and Ulisses Soares as new Apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve. I have been friends with Elder Gong since we entered BYU together in 1971 and know something of his sterling character. Cream rises. A finer man does not walk the earth. We as Latter-day Saints will be blessed to have such a capable, gentle servant helping direct the affairs of the Kingdom and bearing witness of our risen Lord in all the world.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, LDS Newsroom
Biologically Elder Gong is Chinese. Culturally he is a Californian who grew up in Palo Alto, hiked the Sierra Nevada, attended BYU, served a mission in Taiwan, and then read at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Professionally he is a diplomat. He was the number two man in the US Embassy in Beijing when the Tienanmen Square uprising broke out in 1989. He headed the Asia Desk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS. He ran BYU's Office of Planning and Assessment under President Cecil O. Samuelson. As a General Authority he was President of the Asia Area, then one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy.

Elder Gong's father, Walter A. Gong (1922 - 2000), earned a Ph.D. from Stanford and taught science at San Jose State. Gerrit de Jong Jr. (1892 - 1978) for whom the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU is named, was a family friend and mentor. The "Gerrit Walter" in Elder Gong's name honors both men. Elder Gong's younger brother, Brian, has made an East Coast-based career in education assessment. His younger sister, Marguerite Hancock, left a career at Stanford and helps direct the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Just before Christmas, 1971, Gerrit and Brian joined my American Fork High School friend, Bruce McDaniel, and myself on a trip up American Fork Canyon to see the snow. We got my car stuck in the high country and it took us several hours of tough work to free the vehicle. It was almost midnight when we finally returned to Bruce's home in Alpine. Gerrit and Brian's parents, Walter and Jean, had been nervously waiting at the McDaniel home since 10:00 pm. Bro. Gong was not at all interested in our tale of heroic adventure. He grilled his sons on why they had broken their promise to be home by 8:30 pm. It was clear a promise to parents in the Gong home was a matter of some import.
 
In early 1972, Gerrit Gong, Paul Cox, about a dozen others, and myself had the pleasure of meeting Elder Gordon B. Hinckley (1910 - 2008) in an intimate setting on BYU campus. As the gathering ended, Gerrit, Paul, and I walked with Elder Hinckley, then an Apostle, to his car [a Rambler Ambassador purchased in honor of Mitt's father, George W. Romney (1907 - 1995)] in the parking lot. We remarked on the singularity of our experience being in the presence of one of the Lord's anointed.

A few weeks later Gerrit asked if he could come to work with me on a Saturday. I installed finish hardware in newly-constructed residential housing units in north Utah County. Although a highly-productive and disciplined scholar, he had never worked for wages at a typical job and was anxious for that experience. I helped him install shower and closet rods, medicine cabinets, doorstops, and door handles. At the end of a fun day together, I gave him a normal day's pay in cash. We went caving together and participated in some of the hi jinks (showing off for older coeds) that were routine at BYU in the early '70's.  

In mid 1972, Gerrit, Paul, and I had finished our freshman year at the Y and were contemplating missions. We took Bruce McDaniel and spent two weeks on Washington's Olympic Peninsula backpacking through the temperate rain forest and hiking the wilderness beach. One day amid glorious natural splendor we never got out of our sleeping bags. The four of us spent all day reading the Book of Mormon and discussing our philosophies of life. We took a box of missionary copies of the Book of Mormon on that trip and handed them out to people we met along the way including fellow campers, toll booth attendants, and a family in Port Angeles, WA who put us up for the night after we damaged our vehicle helping evacuate an injured Boy Scout. Elder Gong and Paul Cox spoke at my missionary farewell and the four of us all went on to terrific missions - Bruce in Missouri, Paul in Samoa (Paul's incredible experience was described in a lengthy article in Southwest Airline's September, 2016 in flight magazine), Gerrit in Taiwan, and myself in Peru.

After returning home, Elder Gong gave a number of fireside presentations about his mission and his new-found appreciation for ancient Chinese culture. His mission was not easy because he looked Chinese but was not a native speaker. His presentations centered around the concept of "filial piety" or honor for one's forebears. Ancestry was also the subject of his memorable first talk in General Conference as a newly-called General Authority in October, 2010.

I hosted Gerrit, his mother, and his sister at a performance of American Fork's Pageant of the Arts, a local adaptation of Laguna Beach's famed Pageant of the Masters that was a cultural icon in Utah County during the 1970's and '80's.

Gerrit Gong is an avid photographer and seasoned negotiator. Both skills came in handy as he helped me purchase the Pentax camera I took on my mission. In early 1976 he spent a weekend in Vernal, UT taking Shannon's and my pre-wedding photos. On the way home he was driving my yellow VW bug and we slid on an icy spot in Daniel's Canyon which nearly sent us hurtling headlong down the embankment into Daniel's Creek below. After that scare, we pulled off to the side of the road and offered a prayer thanking our Father in Heaven for protecting us. Elder Gong took our wedding photos on the Salt Lake Temple grounds and the candids at our reception that evening.
Shannon and Kirk by my VW Bug
1976 Photo by Elder Gerrit W. Gong
Elder Gong married Susan Lindsay, daughter of Richard P. (1926 - 2010) and Marian Lindsay, in 1980. We enjoyed their reception in the Lion House on Temple Square. Susan's father served in the Second Quorum of Seventy from 1989 - 1994. Susan's brother, Bruce, was a popular news anchor on KSL TV before his 2012 call to preside over the Australia Perth Mission. Gerrit and Susan have four accomplished children.

I visited Gongs and went to church with them while they were living in McLean, VA. We had lunch together at BYU while he was serving on Pres. Samuelson's staff. Shannon and I spent an evening with Elder and Sister Gong just after his call to the First Quorum of Seventy while they were still living in the Abraham O. Smoot (1815 - 1895) farm home on the Provo bench. In 2011 while I was serving as Bishop of the BYU 172nd Ward, Elder and Sister Gong visited us and spent the three hours getting to know the wonderful married couples in our ward. He asks probing questions and listens with genuine interest. He is probably the most cerebral of the General Authorities (Ph.D. from Oxford) but he does not wear his formidable intellectual prowess on his lapel and he respects everyone around him regardless of their station in life.    

Cream rises. A finer man does not walk the earth. We as LDS will be blessed through Elder Gong's apostolic ministry. And Pres. Nelson, no stranger to the Chinese people, could hardly have a better right hand man on all matters Asian.

For a similar 2015 take on Elder Gong, see the blog article "New Apostles."

- Kirk Magleby, volunteer Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, the premiere source for reliable Book of Mormon enrichment material in English and Spanish.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Best Evidences Video to Date

The Book of Mormon Central YouTube Channel called "BMC Studios" has some terrific videos highlighting powerful evidences of Book of Mormon authenticity. The video on internal complexity posted today may be the best yet. Kwaku El, a promising young LDS actor, goes through a long list of impressive literary and contextual features with such rapid-fire delivery one gets the feeling he or she is only seeing the tip of the iceberg, which is literally correct. This video introduces some of the great work LDS scholars have done since the early 1950's and the sum of the parts is simply exhilarating, portending very good things to come as many of these topics will receive fuller treatment from the talented Book of Mormon Central video team in the future.




The blog article entitled "Watch: Evidence of the Book of Mormon: Internal Complexity" lists 108 linked sources in 27 topical categories for those who wish to go behind the scenes and understand this material in some depth.

If you liked this video, here is another of my recent favorites: "The Knot at the End of My Faith Rope" posted in the original Book of Mormon Central YouTube Channel.

- Kirk Magleby, volunteer executive director of Book of Mormon Central, the premiere source for reliable Book of Mormon enrichment material in English and Spanish.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Experience the Book of Mormon at BMC 2018

On Saturday, April 7, 2018 perhaps the finest Book of Mormon Conference ever produced will be held at the Utah Valley Convention Center on Center Street in Provo, Utah. Approximately 500 attendees will use all five senses to engage the Nephite sacred text in profound new ways at an event entitled "Experience the Book of Mormon." As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Book of Mormon Central Conference 2018
The $35 registration fee ($25 for students and CES employees) includes lunch. Register here.
More information here.

At the conference, the winners of the BMC 2018 art contest will be announced and some of their pieces will be on display. The Father Lehi and Mother Sariah Award this year will be given to Emeritus General Authority Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask. Both served in the Central American Mission. After a career in CES, they presided over the Spain Barcelona Mission, served in the Second Quorum of Seventy, and presided over the Guatemala City Temple 2009 - 2012 when it was among the busiest in the Church.
Elder and Sister Mask LDS Church News Photo
Elder and Sister Mask have been life-long students and teachers of the Book of Mormon as well as caring ministers to the posterity of Lehi and Sariah.

Every wonder what Lehi's tent in the Arabian wilderness was like? You will have the chance to go inside a genuine Bedouin goat hair tent from the Middle East that is probably very similar to the one Lehi would have used.

Curious about the new videos on the Book of Mormon the Church will be releasing soon? Rob Jex who is part of the Church production team will give us all a sneak preview.

What would happen if a world-class comic book artist drew a graphic novel edition of the Book of Mormon? Come find out.

Want to own an 1830 edition but don't have the $100k or more it would take to purchase one from a rare book dealer? You can take home a copy of the remarkable replica "Palmyra Edition" that for most of us is a very good approximation of the original.

Come be fed temporally and spiritually. Is there a better way to spend the Saturday after General Conference than immersed in the Book of Mormon?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Faith Rope Knot

In my opinion, every person in the Church would do well to watch this 1 minute 29 second video: How the Book of Mormon Can Save Testimonies.



In the video, Lynn McMurray, former Mission President in Tonga and former Bishop in a YSA ward, shares a powerful object lesson about one role the Book of Mormon plays in our faith lives.

- Kirk Magleby, volunteer executive director of Book of Mormon Central, the premiere source for reliable Book of Mormon enrichment material in English and Spanish.