Friday, December 15, 2017

Museum of the Bible

Jasmin Gimenez, Daniel Smith, and I were privileged to spend Thursday, December 7, and Friday, December 8, 2017 in the breath-taking new Museum of the Bible (MOTB) just off the mall in Washington D.C. There are many great museums in the world (several in D.C.) and I have been to quite a number of them. I have experienced 7 of the top 10 most visited museums in the world (numbers are 2016 visits) including:
In addition, I have enjoyed visits to other notable institutions including:
I have spent rich, full days exploring the treasures showcased in these significant cultural repositories, and I have returned to some of them for subsequent visits in later years. Only once, though, have I spent two consecutive days in a single museum, and that was last week in the MOTB. I appreciated every minute and will return the next time I am in D.C. Our nation's capital, despite its seeming political dysfunction, is now a more attractive destination. I consider myself something of a museum aficionado, but I am currently a dues-paying member of only one museum on the planet - the MOTB three blocks from the U.S. Capitol. What is so special about the MOTB besides the delicious Near Eastern food served on the 6th floor Manna Restaurant? It is not the lavish architecture, although that is stunning. It is not the ubiquitous technology, although that is captivating. It is not the vast collection, although that is monumental. What I profoundly love at the MOTB is the spirit, the mission, the sheer joy of the place. These are people who read, live, and celebrate the Bible. This brand-new world-class facility is just the impressive infrastructure inviting visitors to engage the living Word John 1:1. This is more than a museum. I felt like I had come home.
Popular Souvenir
Our Book of Mormon Central delegation went to Washington D.C. to learn from experts so we can more effectively share the Book of Mormon with the world. The MOTB is not preachy or judgmental. It honors scholarship but communicates in the vernacular. It exudes quality but invites hands-on participation. It showcases the history, narrative, and impact of the Bible but eschews interpretation. That brilliant approach avoids divisiveness and simply lets the Book speak for itself.

Prominent MOTB partners include the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Vatican Library and Museums, and the Ets Haim Jewish Library in Amsterdam, all of which currently have traveling exhibits in the facility 2 blocks from the Smithsonian's popular National Museum of Air and Space.

The MOTB was originally planned for Dallas. Its headquarters are actually in Oklahoma City where founding family Steve and Jackie Green reside. Travelling exhibits of parts of the Green collection of Biblical artifacts began in 2011.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Holocaust Survivors in the Book of Mormon

Upon entering the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, visitors pass a stark black marble wall with the single engraved phrase "You Are My Witnesses" from Isaiah 43:10.
Entrance to US Holocaust Memorial Museum
It is a stunning architectural reminder of the holocaust mantra "Never Again."

Holocaust survivors lived in an evil parallel universe and they carry deep psychological wounds from the horrors they experienced. Psycho therapists group these terrible emotional scars under the classification "Holocaust Survivor Syndrome." Among the characteristics holocaust survivors exhibit are:
  • Death imprint. Extreme anxiety about death. Recurring mental images of violence and death.
  • Death guilt. Uncertainty. Aimlessness. Wondering why one survived when others did not.
  • Psychic numbing. Insensitivity or diminished ability to feel.
  • Suspicion and distrust. Foreboding sense that everything, even life itself, is an illusion.
  • Witness imperative. A sense of mission to bear witness to future generations.
The deep and abiding impulse to testify of one's experience helps a holocaust survivor create some personal sense of a moral and rational universe. See Dori Laub and Andreas Hamburger, editors, Psychoanalysis and Holocaust Testimony: Unwanted Memories of Social Trauma (London and New York: Routledge, 2017) and Sandra Williams, "The Impact of the Holocaust on Survivors and Their Children," written while she was a student of Judaic Studies at the University of Central Florida.

The Nephites experienced a holocaust and many evidences of "Holocaust Survivor Syndrome" show through in Mormon's and Moroni's words.
  • Death imprint. Mormon 4:11 "... the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people ..." Mormon 5:8 "... such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes ..." and Mormon 6:7 "... that awful fear of death ..." 
  • Death guilt. Mormon 8:3-5 "... whether they will slay me I know not." "... whither I go it mattereth not." "... I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not."
  • Psychic numbing. Mormon 3:12 "... the hardness of their hearts" Moroni 9:5 "they have lost their love, one towards another ..." and Moroni 9:20 "... they are without principle, and past feeling ..."
  • Suspicion and distrust. Mormon 1:18,19 "the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery... " "... sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics ..." and Mormon 2:10 "... no man could keep that which was his own ..."
  • Witness imperative. Mormon 3:16 "... I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard ..." and Moroni 9:22 "... to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction ..."
The Book of Mormon can be profitably read from dozens of perspectives. In this case, trauma psychology helps us better understand its authors and their powerful messages.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Gareth Lowe's Maps

John L. Sorenson's 1992 The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book pp. 115-119 includes Book of Mormon maps and commentary by Gareth W. Lowe (1922-2004). Who was Gareth Lowe? He ran the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) from 1959 to 1987. He and John L. Sorenson were fellow graduate students at BYU in the early 1950's. They worked together in the first (privately funded) NWAF field season in Tabasco in 1953. Lowe went back down to Mexico with the second (Church funded) NWAF field season in 1955 and never left. He was one of a handful of LDS Mesoamericanists who rose to the highest levels in the profession (others that come to mind are John E. Clark, Allen J. Christenson, and Richard D. Hansen). Lowe was the world's expert on Chiapas in his day. He was one of the top dirt archaeologists in the world and an indispensable source on pre-classic southern Mesoamerica. See the blog article "Zarahemla ca. 1955" for more information about Gareth Lowe and some of his renowned colleagues. Lowe's daughter, Lynneth Lowe Negron, is a leading archaeologist in Mexico today.
Classic 1968 Photo of Gareth W. Lowe 
Even though the Church invested millions of dollars in NWAF over the years and important Church leaders such as Howard W. Hunter chaired its board, the professional staffers seldom mentioned the Book of Mormon. Many were not members of the Church.

For years Gareth Lowe and John Sorenson were a formidable tag team - Lowe in Mexico and Arizona directing a first-rate archaeological enterprise, Sorenson in Utah and California analyzing, synthesizing, and interpreting field reports with an eye to Book of Mormon implications.
About Half of the NWAF Field Reports
The photo above shows my personal collection of the NWAF Papers series. I have been collecting these for years and still lack many titles. This series represents Gareth W. Lowe's life's work.

So, where did Gareth Lowe think the Book of Mormon took place?

In July, 1960, he envisioned the setting in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala with the Ulua as the Sidon and Cumorah in southern Belize.

By October, 1960, he had changed his mind. He imagined the setting in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico with the Usumacinta as the Sidon and Cumorah in the Tuxtlas of southern Veracruz. The narrow neck he correlated with sand bars along the Tabasco coast. Tonala, Chiapas was his boundary between the lands northward and southward. The city of Zarahemla he placed in the vicinity of Tonina, Chiapas.

In 1960, Lowe was thinking out of the box in three important ways. 1) He may have been the first to suggest coastal sandbars (a peninsula rather than an isthmus) as the narrow (small) neck of land. 2) He was considering the Olmec culture core boundary as the dividing line between lands northward and southward which makes considerable sense since the two land designations originated with the Jaredites. 3) He was envisioning Zarahemla considerably downstream on the Sidon rather than just beyond the headwaters region.

By the early 1970's, Lowe re-thought his correlation and shared his most complete Book of Mormon map. He was the first to propose some correlations I previously thought were original with F. Richard Hauck whose Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon appeared in 1988.
  • Lowe envisioned the narrow (small) neck of land as the coastal sandbar seaside from Tonala, Chiapas. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar, and I agree. This is a crucial point. See the blog article "Red Herrings."
  • He thought the Bountiful/Desolation border which was also the land southward/northward border skirted around Tonala, Chiapas on the Pacific side and La Venta, Tabasco on the Gulf of Mexico side. This located all of the Olmec heartland in the land northward. Javier Tovar and I agree.
  • His hill Cumorah was in the Tuxtla mountains of southern Veracruz. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar, and I agree, as do most of the contemporary Mesoamericanists studying the Book of Mormon including John Sorenson.
  • Lowe correlated the Sidon with the Mezcalapa/Grijalva. Sorenson and the Allens agree.
  • Lowe placed the city of Zarahemla at the site of Santa Cruz, Chiapas. I believe he was the first to propose this correlation which I find more convincing than Sorenson's Santa Rosa further upstream.
  • He put the narrow pass near his narrow neck on the Pacific coast at the site of Los Horcones where Cerro Bernal forces the trans isthmian railroad almost into the ocean. Lowe was convinced this was the most naturally defensible place along any coastline in southern Mesoamerica and a point at which the Nephites could have controlled northward movement along the relatively narrow Pacific coastal plain. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar, and I agree.
  • Ammonihah he located at Chiapa de Corzo, east of the big river. V. Garth Norman came to this same conclusion in 1966, that Ammonihah was east rather than west of Sidon. Javier Tovar and I agree. This is another crucial point. See the article "Red Herrings."
  • Moroni's fortified line referenced in Alma 50:10,11 Lowe envisioned as a straight east-west line connecting Pijijiapan with La Libertad, Chiapas and beyond. Most interpreters equate this with the narrow strip of wilderness mentioned in Alma 22:27. Almost all current Book of Mormon Mesoamericanists agree with Lowe in principle, although many of them would locate the line further south along the Polochic Fault or the Sierra de las Minas.
  • Lowe identified the head of Sidon as the point geographers consider the head of the Mezcalapa/Grijalva - the confluence of the Cuilco with the Selegua. This idea that the head of the big river is a confluence of tributaries is gaining increased support among modern Book of Mormon mapmakers. Garth Norman, Javier Tovar, and I agree with the concept even though we think the Usumacinta is the stronger candidate river.
  • Lowe correlated Mar Muerto with the sea west and Laguna de la Joya with the component of that sea that was east mentioned in Alma 50:34. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar and I are in basic agreement even though we differ slightly on the details.
When a generally accepted map finally brings order to the chaos currently surrounding the Book of Mormon geographic context, I believe some of Gareth Lowe's ideas will prove to have been prescient.
Gareth Lowe's 1970's Book of Mormon Map
Like Joe and Blake Allen, Lowe was comfortable with the archaeology of the Central Depression of Chiapas, but insistent on cardinal directionality.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

How Many were Many and Few?

The article "Test #6 Relative Distances" explains why we need to understand the Nephite meaning of our English word "many." I am patiently working through John L. Sorenson's foundational series of Book of Mormon geography works (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon 1985 415 pages, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book 1992 revised edition 415 pages, Mormon's Map 2000 158 pages, and Mormon's Codex 2013 826 pages), appreciating his prodigious effort while documenting his myriad inconsistencies. 2 Nephi 5:7 says Nephi and his followers traveled many days in the wilderness to get from the coastal land of first inheritance to the city of Nephi. How far would that have been?

One day's travel in Nephite parlance was probably about 15 air kilometers. See the article "Land Southward Travel Times" referenced frequently in this blog. But, how many were many days? Contemporary English speakers would not call 2 days "many." What about 3, 4, or 5 days?

The problem for Book of Mormon interpretation is on the low end of the range. It is clear from the text that on the high end "many" can refer to dozens 1 Nephi 13:1, hundreds 3 Nephi 7:4, thousands Ether 10:17, tens of thousands Helaman 3:5, or even millions Mosiah 14:12.

Helaman 6:32 tells us that a little over 1 year (67th year of the reign of the judges) was considered not many years.
Helaman 11:26 tells us that 2 years (79th and 80th years of the reign of the judges) were considered not many years.
Helaman 4:26 tells us that 3 years (57th through 59th years of the reign of the judges) were considered not many years.
Helaman 7:6 tells us that 3 years (67th through 69th years of the reign of the judges) were considered not many years.
Helaman 14:21, 26 coupled with 3 Nephi 8:19 tell us that at least 3 and likely a little more were considered many hours.
Words of Mormon 1:2 tells us that approximately 3.8 were considered many hundred years.
Helaman 8:18 tells us that approximately 4 were considered a great many thousand years from Adam until Jesus Christ. This curious phrase "a great many thousand" also shows up in 3 Nephi 3:24 where it refers to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people.
Helaman 1:3-4 tells us that 4 or more were considered many sons.
Jacob 4:4 and Jacob 7:7 tell us that approximately 5.4 were considered many hundred years.
Alma 51:26 tells us that 6 were considered many cities. (Note: this verse is one of the few known scribal errors in the text. Inland "Nephihah" should be coastal "Moroni." See Alma 51:25.
Alma 16:11 coupled with Alma 49:2-3 tell us that 7-9 were considered many years.
1 Nephi 17:4 tells us that 8 were considered many years.
Mosiah 10:3 tells us that 22 were considered many years.
Mosiah 7:4 tells us that 40 were considered many days.

These remarkably consistent data show that 3 or less of something would generally not have been considered "many" while 4 or more of something could definitely have been called "many" in Nephite usage. So "many days" travel was 4 or more days travel which equates to a minimum of about 60 air kilometers.

So, to answer the initial question, we would expect the land of first inheritance to be at least 60 air kilometers distant from the city of Nephi (Kaminaljuyú is the most widely-proposed candidate).
60 Air Kilometer Radius around Kaminaljuyú
This means any place along the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Guatemala, or El Salvador likely fits the "many days" criteria.

When Almaleft Ammonihah traveling toward Aaron, his guardian angel intercepted him and told him to rejoice and return to the apostate city Alma 8:16,17. Alma began fasting (rejoicing D&C 59:13,14), turned around, and traveled back to Ammonihah. His return trip took "many days" Alma 8:26, Alma 10:7. This means that Ammonihah and Aaron are probably more than 60 air kilometers distant from each other.
57 Air Kilometers Ammonihah to Aaron (Sorenson Correlation)
This means the Sorenson correlation probably locates these two cities too close together to comfortably fit the text.
"Many" contrasts with "few" in Alma 26:31. How many were few?

 3 Nephi 6:3-4, 9-10, and 16 tell us that 3 were considered a few years.
Zeezrom asked Amulek 8 questions Alma 11:21-38 which he considered a few questions Alma 11:21.
3 Nephi 8:19 tells us that 8 plus a few others such as Mary Whitmer were considered a few witnesses of the plates Moroni delivered to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Mosiah 20:5 tells us that 24 were considered few Lamanite daughters.
A stock phrase in the Book of Mormon is "many waters" referring generally to the ocean 1 Nephi 13:10-13, 1 Nephi 17:5, Ether 2:6. The land of Ramah/Cumorah which was among many waters Mosiah 8:8 could be partially surrounded by ocean or the phrase "many waters" could also have meant inland bodies of water which is the likely sense of Mormon 6:4. Either way, our candidate for Ramah/Cumorah fits the text.
Tuxtlas Showing Surface Water
The Tuxtlas jut into the ocean so they are "among many waters." The green icons (from INEGI) on the map above represent surface water which is relatively abundant in the rainy Tuxtlas. This region certainly qualifies as a "land of many (surface) waters" or a "land of the ocean."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Peopling the Americas

For decades we Mormons walked around with an inferiority complex. The Book of Mormon says three groups of ancient immigrants came to the New World across the open ocean in boats. Conventional wisdom held that the first Americans walked across the Bering land bridge during the most recent ice age, then stopped coming when the glaciers receded, sea levels rose, and salt water inundated what had been a convenient terrestrial highway. Native Americans, so the theory went, were snugly ensconced in their private hemisphere free from any significant outside cultural influence until Columbus came along with his guns and smallpox virus and began to wreak havoc on the natives. Because we Mormons believed the Book of Mormon story, we were "diffusionists," a term that carried pejorative baggage with most anthropologists. "Isolationists" aka "independent inventionists" carried the day for generations because the idea of autochthonous development stroked nationalist egos and provided a tidy, continental-scale laboratory for validating Darwin's theory of evolution. Americanists since John Wesley Powell (1834 - 1902) who founded the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian in 1879 have vigorously denounced evidence of ancient Old World influence in the Americas as crackpot archaeology on the lunatic fringe, unworthy of real scientists.

For many years the diffusionist camp was a rag-tag army of laymen with the occasional rebel scientist or academic willing to go rogue and oppose mainstream thought. Not anymore. There has been a literal sea change of scholarly opinion and it is no longer politically incorrect for Americanists to talk about ancient sea voyages between the hemispheres. The "kelp highway" (marine navigation along the Pacific Coast) is now generally recognized as the principal way the first Americans arrived in the New World from Asia because we have abundant evidence of human occupation in the western hemisphere before the last glacial maximum and subsequent sea rise.

Peer-reviewed academic journals are ranked based on their "impact factor." Nature founded in 1869 is the most prestigious journal in the world with 53,000 subscribers and a 2016 impact factor of 40.137. Science founded in 1880 is the next most prestigious with 130,000 subscribers and a 2016 impact factor of 37.205. The November 3, 2017 issue of Science has an article entitled "Finding the First Americans" written by:
The article says Asian sea voyages to the Americas pre-date the Clovis people who specialists believe walked across the Bering land bridge. According to the article, this new understanding is a "dramatic intellectual turnabout."
November 3, 2017 Edition of Science
This map shows Clovis and pre-Clovis sites around the Pacific rim.
Peopling the Americas - Early Sites, Science Vol. 358, Issue 6363
This is not validation of the Jaredite, Lehite or Mulekite voyages, but since people were coming to the Americas 15,000 years ago in boats, the Book of Mormon ocean-going voyage narrative is now plausible and in step with mainstream scientific opinion rather than quirky and problematic. See the article "Ancient Ocean Crossings."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mesoamerican MTC Mural

On Friday, October 13, 2017, Pres. Henry B. Eyring dedicated two new six story buildings known as "T3" and "T4" at the Provo MTC. These magnificent structures, the finest the Missionary Department has ever built, have been carefully designed to help missionaries train, study, and meditate in beautiful, light, airy, peaceful, uplifting surroundings. The architecture and furnishings in these new buildings are as attractive as you are likely to see in any LDS temple. Among the most impressive interior features are "disciple spaces" featuring life-size, back-lit, photo-realistic murals that depict outstanding missionaries from history. Multiple copies of this particular mural showing the four sons of Mosiah about to enter a Lamanite city are on display throughout the buildings. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Stunning MTC Mural of the Four Sons of Mosiah
Photograph by LDS Church News
The scene portrays the land of Nephi with stepped pyramids, in a tropical or sub-tropical setting with palm trees and low-latitude shrubs, beside a lake, surrounded by spectacular, densely-forested mountains.
Another Copy of Back-lit Photo Mural Depicting the Land of Nephi
Photograph by LDS Church News
Zooming in shows a scene very much like the ancient valley of Guatemala where we (and many others) think the city of Nephi was located.
Representation of the Land of Nephi Set in Mesoamerica
Photograph by John W. Welch
Tropical Kaminaljuyú (KJ), our candidate for the city of Nephi, was built on Lake Miraflores and is surrounded by imposing, densely-forested volcanoes. See the article "Kaminaljuyu" for dozens of correspondences between KJ and the Book of Mormon text. These parallels are convincing enough that KJ is on our list of outstanding archaeological evidences. See the article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."
Scene Similar to Kaminaljuyú on Display in Provo MTC Mural
Photograph by John W. Welch
All nine contemporary Mesoamerican correlations of which I am aware (Joe & Blake Allen, Ric Hauck & Joe Andersen, Kirk Magleby & Javier Tovar, Elder Clate W. Mask, Jr., Garth Norman, Bob Roylance & Richard Terry, Shelby Saberon & Mark Wright, John L. Sorenson, Aric Turner) place the city of Nephi within 85 air kilometers of Kaminaljuyú in the Guatemalan highlands.
Proposed Locations for the City of Nephi
It is gratifying to know that hundreds of thousands of missionaries entering the field in coming years will leave the MTC with a striking mental image derived from the best current LDS and Restoration Branch (formerly RLDS) scholarship on Book of Mormon lands.
Missionaries Studying in New Provo MTC
Photograph by LDS Church News
Kudos to the Missionary Department.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Flocks and Herds

The Book of Mormon uses some variant of the term "flocks and herds" 23 times e.g. 2 Nephi 5:11, Mosiah 21:16, Helaman 6:12, Ether 10:12. Up to this point, evidence of ancient domesticated animal husbandry besides the dogs and rabbits that were commonly kept for meat has been sparse. That may be changing. The Mirador Basin LiDAR mapping project has produced images of what Richard Hansen calls a network of roads, canals, and corrals or animal pens.
Mirador LiDAR Image Showing Likely Animal Pens
Hansen said that the "sophisticated system of corrals is evidence that meat production in the Mirador Basin may have existed on an industrial level." This intriguing possibility will almost certainly be the topic of some graduate student's dissertation. Dozens of universities from around the world collaborate on the massive Mirador Basin Project investigating the cradle of Maya civilization.
Widely-circulated Artist's Rendering of El Mirador ca. 100 BC
More information about Hansen and El Mirador can be found in the articles "Roads and Highways" and "Hansen and Coe."