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."

Roads and Highways

The Book of Mormon describes roads 3 Nephi 6:8 and highways Helaman 7:10, 14:24, 3 Nephi 8:13 about the time of Christ. We now have spectacular evidence of roads and highways in Mesoamerica about the time of Christ.
Mirador LiDAR Image
LiDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. This remote sensing technology uses a small plane that flies in a grid pattern over a target area. The plane carries laser equipment that fires 560,000 bursts per second and builds a massive point cloud of data. Hours of processing on a supercomputer then render a topographic image that can help a researcher identify man-made objects buried beneath a jungle canopy or other ground cover. Combining 2D and 3D images creates highly accurate maps of otherwise hidden features. LiDAR is very expensive. In Guatemala's Mirador Basin, Richard Hansen used 38 hours of flying time and surveyed 700 square kilometers at a cost in excess of $500,000. Because it can show archaeologists exactly where to dig, hopefully before looters destroy a new site, LiDAR is a coveted technology in the profession.

Mirador Basin Causeway from the Air
Hansen is a BYU graduate who got his PhD at UCLA. 34 universities from several countries currently collaborate on his massive Mirador Basin Project which has an annual budget in the $2 - 3 million range. It may be the largest archaeology project on earth. I visited El Mirador in January, 2016. I went in via helicopter. The alternative was a 3 day hike or mule ride from the nearest town with a road. Today El Mirador is remote. At the time of Christ, though, it was a busy center connected to neighboring sites via an extensive network of limestone roads (called sacbes in Mayan).

Hansen's survey revealed 240 kilometers of roadways connecting 17 different ancient communities. Up to 40 meters wide, 6 meters thick, and 38 kilometers long, these massive public works projects linked the 200,000 - 250,000 people living in El Mirador with the estimated 1 million people in the surrounding areas. The earliest roads were built ca. 600 BC. The latest were built ca. AD 100. El Mirador achieved apogee ca. 90 BC and was abandoned ca. AD 150. See this Smithsonian article published February 3, 2017.

This poorly-done but informative YouTube video shows Hansen atop one of the Mirador roadways.

Ancient feedlots or stockyards may also have existed at El Mirador. See the article "Flocks and Herds."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Top 10 Literary and Linguistic Evidences for the Book of Mormon

In an article begun in May, 2017, I summarized the ten archaeological evidences for the Book of Mormon I find most convincing. This article will summarize ten literary and linguistic evidences for the Book of Mormon that strike me as compelling.

1. Chiasmus. Ancient literary traditions in largely oral cultures used narrative structures as mnemonic devices in their texts. One of the best known is chiasmus, aka reverse parallelism, associated primarily with Semitic texts and in recent decades widely recognized throughout both the Old and New Testaments. . In a chiasm, narrative motifs build up to a climactic center, then repeat themselves in reverse order in the second half of the pericope. A good example is Mosiah 5:10-12. This beautiful six-element chiasm, the first one recognized in the Book of Mormon in modern times, was discovered by Jack Welch in the early morning hours of August 16, 1967 while he was serving as an LDS missionary in Regensburg, Germany:
A whosoever will not take upon him the name of Christ
      B must be called by some other name;
            C therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
                  D And I would that ye should remember also,
                        E that this is the name ...that never should be blotted out,
                              F except it be through transgression;
                              F therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
                         E that the name be not blotted out of your hearts
                  D ...I would that ye should remember to retain the name ...
            C that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
      B but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called
A and also, the name by which he shall call you.
There are dozens of impressive chiasms in the Book of Mormon, including the masterful Alma 36 which may be the most elegant chiastic structuring of any passage known from any ancient literature.
See the article entitled "Recent Book of Mormon News" for links to excellent videos shown during and resulting from the remarkable Chiasmus Jubilee held on BYU Campus on August 16, 2017. The Jubilee followed the first-ever academic conference on chiasmus where eminent scholars from Jewish, Catholic, Evangelical, and Latter-day Saint faith traditions presented their research.

2. Paronomasia. Ancient writers were masters of puns and other plays on words deployed for rhetorical effect. In recent years, many profound examples have been found in the Book of Mormon. Matthew Bowen, a member of the BYU-Hawaii Religion faculty, has led this scholarly endeavor, publishing several influential articles in Interpreter. See for example "Father Is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the Name Abish in Alma 19:16 and its Narrative Context." Here are some examples of naming word play I find particularly insightful:
  • Alma in Hebrew means "youth." When Almais first introduced in Mosiah 17:2, he is described as "a young man."
  • Alma can also carry the connotation "hidden" and in Mosiah 18:5 he explicitly hides from King Noah's troops.
  • Noah in Hebrew means "rest" with the pejorative connotation "lazy." Mosiah 11:6 accuses Noah and his priests of laziness.
  • Jershon in Hebrew means "inherit." The first time Jershon is mentioned in the text the land is given to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi for their inheritance Alma 27:22-24.
These gems are just the tip of the iceberg. More are being discovered all the time. According to Taylor Halverson and Brad Wilcox, such plays on words demonstrate the "brilliant literary sophistication" of the Book of Mormon authors. See "The Surprising Meanings Behind 'Enos' and 'Noah': Insights into Book of Mormon Names."

3. Early Modern English. Through the diligent efforts of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, we now know that the language of the earliest Book of Mormon translation was closer to the Early Modern English spoken when Shakespeare was a youth than the Jacksonian American English codified in the 1828 Websters Dictionary. See the articles "Early Modern English" and "English in the Book of Mormon." Without help from an external (divine) source, a mono-linguist simply cannot dictate a long (268,000 words) and complex text over the course of approximately 65 working days in a language that neither his mother nor his father nor their mothers nor their fathers spoke.

4. Stylometry. Computerized statistical tests run against blocks of text can often distinguish the words of Author A from the writings of Author B. Authors have writing styles that consciously or sub-consciously pervade their work. Many such tests run by different teams over decades demonstrate with high degrees of confidence that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple authors whose varied styles differ in statistically significant ways. The work that launched this area of inquiry was published by Wayne A. Larsen, Tim Layton, and Alvin C. Rencher. See "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints" in BYU Studies 20:3, Spring, 1980. Layton, a friend of mine, is currently serving as Mission President in California, Bakersfield.

John L. Hilton, a physicist who taught at UC Berkeley and worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, took up the challenge of verifying the Larsen, Layton, Rencher results using improved statistical techniques. He worked for years with an interfaith team of colleagues in the East Bay area. In the end, they not only verified but strengthened the 1980 results. See "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship" in Noel B. Reynolds, editor, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited (Provo: FARMS, 1997).

The current standard-bearer in this area is Paul J. Fields, a statistical analyst who holds a PhD from Penn State. See Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and G. Bruce Schaalje, "Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon" in Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 2012.

5. Intertextuality. Book of Mormon authors had access to a version of the Hebrew Bible contained on the plates of brass 1 Nephi 5:10-13. When the Savior visited the Nephites in land Bountiful after his resurrection, he shared additional scriptures with them 3 Nephi 23:6 which were recorded in official national annals. Therefore, it should not be too surprising that Book of Mormon writers quote, allude to, echo, and expand upon biblical passages. The Book of Mormon is remarkable for the sheer volume of intertextual references, and for the creative, meaningful ways the Nephite record weaves the two texts together. David J. Larsen is an Old Testament scholar who holds a PhD from the University of St Andrews (Scotland). His 104 page "Overview of the Use of Biblical Psalms in the Book of Mormon Text" is currently in private circulation. Larsen has identified 60 instances of intertextuality between the Book of Mormon and the Psalms, many of which also interweave phrases and concepts from additional sources such as Proverbs, 2 Samuel, and Ezekiel.

Some "Royal Psalms" extol David. The writers on the small plates (Nephi and Jacob) tend to avoid them and seem influenced by the Deuteronomistic reforms that had recently been introduced in the Jerusalem of Lehi's day. Psalms generally attributed to the exilic or post-exilic period in Judaism are far less frequently referenced in the Book of Mormon than earlier compositions, as we would expect.

6. Semitic and Egyptian Influences in Mesoamerican Languages. Brian Stubbs is a noted linguist, one of the world's experts on the Uto-Aztecan language family which includes Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In his 2015 Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo: Grover Publications), Stubbs finds hundreds of cognates as well as syntax, morphology, and pattern shifts over time that all point to Semitic contributions into Uto-Aztecan at about the Book of Mormon time period. My Jewish-LDS philologist friend, Adan Rocha of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, corroborates Stubbs via somewhat different methodology. Robert F. Smith extends Stubbs by showing Semitic and Egyptian influences in the Otomanguean language family which includes Oaxacan Mixtec and Zapotec. See Sawi-Zaa 2016 Version 3.

7. Internal Consistency. The Book of Mormon is large and complicated with many plot twists, flashbacks, and literary genre changes. Specialists have studied it for decades using the tools of various disciplines. Most diligent students come away with a profound appreciation for its integrity and constancy bordering on predictability. The Book of Mormon has a high, even astonishing degree of internal consistency. Nibley, Welch, Sorenson, Skousen, the Hardys, the Rosenvalls - people who know this text very well - have all commented on its steady uniformity and dependable rationality. It demonstrates strong editing for conformity to persistent organizing principles.

My own work has dealt largely with geography and potential correlations between the text and the real world. Across several hundred phrases with geographic implications, I have found only a handful of irreconcilable passages. See the article "Scribal Error." I seldom compose a single page without an egregious faux pas. The Book of Mormon's near perfection is simply breathtaking. I have no problem accepting Joseph Smith's description of the Nephite text as "the most correct of any book on earth."

8. Source Complexity. When we first organized Book of Mormon Central in 2015, one of our first projects was what we call the "Book of Mormon Redaction Chart." It continues to be a popular, albeit large and therefore slow to download, item in our archive. When we display this impressive chart in a public setting, people spend minutes poring over the details. Most are unaware of the subtle complexity behind the multiple sources that all came together to form our current Book of Mormon. See the excellent article by John L. Sorenson entitled "Mormon's Sources" in Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, 20/2 2011.

9. Plan Under-girding the Book of Ether. Beginning with Ether descended from Coriantor in Ether 1:6, the Book of Ether lists a 30 person genealogy in reverse chronological order ending with Orihah son of Jared in Ether 1:32. Ether 1:33 then begins a history in precisely the opposite order that introduces each person starting with Jared and goes through the list one-by-one ending with Ether in Ether 11:23. Many historical details and plot elements intervene, but the author (Ether) and abridger (Moroni) stay true to this meticulous master plan throughout the book. Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #235 has some great graphics illustrating this 30 element scrupulous backwards then forwards pattern.

10. Parallelisms. Words in a sentence convey meaning, but words organized into parallelistic literary structures add balance and rhythm, elevating mere prose into great literature, even poetry. The repetition of words and forms inherent in parallelisms can facilitate the smooth flow of ideas and make passages more persuasive. Parallelisms abound in the Book of Mormon, a divinely-commissioned work designed to convince "Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations." Title Page of the Book of Mormon.

Parallelistic literary devices in the Book of Mormon include synonymous, antithetical, repetitive numerical, and circular repetitive forms. See Donald W. Parry, "Research and Perspectives: Hebrew Literary Patterns in the Book of Mormon" in Ensign, October, 1989. Parallelisms are so pervasive in the text that people have published entire re-formatted editions of the Book of Mormon highlighting the structures they see:

  • Wade Brown, The God-Inspired Language of the Book of Mormon: Structuring and Commentary (Clackamas, OR: Rainbow, 1988).
  • Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992). 
  • Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2007).
  • Alan C. Miner is currently preparing a multi-volume work with extensive textual apparatus to highlight parallelisms.
--
The Book of Mormon is miraculous, beautiful, and true. This Book of Mormon Central blog article introducing the second evidence video in a planned series highlights some of its remarkable sophistication.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Ear Ornaments

The Book of Mormon mentions "ear-rings" 2 Nephi 13:20 in an Isaiah citation. The text uses the word "heavy" to describe ears 2 Nephi 16:10, also in a passage from Isaiah. The Book of Mormon associates some variant of the word "open" with ears as in 1 Nephi 20:82 Nephi 7:5Mosiah 2:9, and 3 Nephi 11:5.

Elites throughout Mesoamerican history wore circular ear spools aka ear flares or ear plugs that literally opened ear lobes, made ears heavy, and could easily be described as ear-rings.

La Venta Offering 4 now in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico
Notice that all these Olmec figurines from ca. 800 BC are wearing ear spools.

Copan Stela A in the Museo de Esculturas, Copan, Honduras
Photo by Kirk Magleby December 28, 2015
Copan Stela A depicts Waxaklajun Ub'aah K'awiil (18 Rabbit), the 13th ruler, wearing large ear spools. This stela was dedicated on Maya Long Count date 9.14.19.8.12 (January 30, AD 731).

Mixtec Ear Spools
These greenstone (jadeite) ear spools from Oaxaca ca. AD 1200 are in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Similar artifacts are found throughout Mesoamerica in almost all time horizons. See, for example, Thomas A. Lee, Jr. "The Artifacts of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico," Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 26 (Provo: BYU-NWAF, 1969) page 191.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Flammable Books

The Book of Mormon describes writing on flammable materials in the city of Ammonihah ca. 82 BC Alma 14:8. Our current correlation places the city of Ammonihah at the site of El Hormiguero II in the NW corner of Peten, Guatemala. Writing on plaster coated amate bark-paper (from Ficus [fig] or Morus [mulberry] trees) is attested archaeologically from two southern Mesoamerican sites in early to middle classic time horizons.

1. Two congealed codex fragments were recovered from Mounds 9 (burial 22) and 10 (burial 30) at Mirador, Chiapas. Both date to the Laguna-Nuti phase (AD 300 - 500).
Deteriorated Codices from Mirador, Chiapas
Pierre Agrinier, Mounds 9 and 10 at Mirador, Chiapas, Mexico, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 39 (Provo: BYU NWAF, 1975). These fragments are now in the custody of INAH in Mexico City.

2. Fragments of a congealed codex were recovered from structure A-1, pyramid C, burial A6 at Uaxactun, Peten, Guatemala. The burial dates to AD 400 - 600. Structure A-1 itself was begun in the late Pre-classic (AD 1 - 250).
Deteriorated Codex from Uaxactun, Peten
Nicholas P. Carter and Jeffrey Dobereiner, Multispectral imaging of an Early Classic Maya codex fragment from Uaxactun, Guatemala, Antiquity, 90 351 2016. The Uaxactun fragments are now in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard. These fragments had 2 different plaster layers applied, the only known attestation of the early Maya scribal practice of erasure and re-inscription on codices. Resurfacing and repainting on murals is well-attested. Writing on plaster overlaid gourds is known from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cerén, El Salvador (volcanic ash fall covered an entire village, leaving unusually well-preserved remains a la Pompeii); Baking Pot, Belize; and a royal tomb at El Zotz, Peten, Guatemala dating to AD 300 - 400.  

All codex fragments and some of the gourds were found in mortuary contexts. See for example the Uaxactun image in the blog article "Partake of the Fruit." The Book of Mormon explicitly correlates words and death Mosiah 17:20.
Relative Locations of Referenced Sites
Some depictions of bark-paper codices on stone, painted ceramic vessels, and murals are much earlier than these decayed fragments. See, for example, the Olmec bound screen-fold codex illustrated in the article Cylinder Seals. Mayan epigraphic inscriptions reference 'paper' or 'books' (hu'n) and 'writers' (aj tz'ib).

Many Classic Maya depictions of scribes at work painting codices have survived. Here is one example:
Justin Kerr Rollout Photograph of Maya Vase K1185
The figure on the right is carving a mask. The figure on the left is the maize god as a scribe with a paint pot in his left hand, a brush in his right, and a bark paper folded codex on the ground in front of him.

Article updated on November 8, 2017.