Saturday, June 27, 2020

Destroying History

Communication channels these days bring news of mobs toppling statues, trying to destroy history they find opprobrious. I am reminded of the Taliban who in March, 2001, blew up statues of Guatama Buddha in the Bamyan Valley, Hazarajat, Afghanistan. The monumental Bamyan Buddhas were carved in the 6th century AD directly into sandstone cliffs and had been the centerpieces of a pilgrimage site for more than 1,400 years.
The Larger of the Bamyan Buddhas pre-Taliban
Zealots justified wanton destruction of history and culture for political ends.
Bamyan Buddha in Rubble post-Taliban
This attempt to sanitize history and eradicate culture is as old as the human race. We see it in the Book of Mormon. Enos, ca. 480 BC, reported that the Lamanites in and around the city of Nephi wished to destroy Nephite records, Nephite people, and "the traditions of our fathers" Enos 1:14. Why? The Lamanites harbored hatred toward the Nephites Enos 1:20. Mormon, ca. AD 385, went to considerable effort to preserve sacred Nephite records because he knew the Lamanites would destroy them Mormon 6:6. Why? Again, because of Lamanite hatred toward the Nephites Moroni 1:2.

We see similar destruction of history via monument defacement in the Mesoamerican archaeological record. Chalchuapa Monument 1 dated from 100 BC to AD 200 was deliberately defaced. Muriel Porter Weaver, The Aztecs, Maya, and their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica, Third Edition (Abingdon: Routledge, 1993) chapter 4, The Southeastern Highlands. Many stelae at Tikal suffered what the original excavators from the University of Pennsylvania called "mutilation." Linton Satherwaite, "The Problem of Abnormal Stela Placements at Tikal and Elsewhere," The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Tikal Reports 1-4, 1958. Maya monuments were defaced with regularity. Andrew K. Scherer and Charles Golden, "War in the West", Andrew K. Scherer and John Verano, editors, Embattled Bodies, Embattled Places (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2014), p. 60.

Guatemala Guatemala Guatemala

Today I was transcribing the special episode on Book of Mormon geography from Taylor Halverson and Tyler Griffin's excellent Come Follow Me Insights show on the Book of Mormon Central YouTube channel:

29 minutes into the video, Tyler makes the important point that the Nephites used the term "Zarahemla" in multiple ways. It was their capital city 3 Nephi 9:3, a lesser land (city state, region) Alma 62:6, and their greater land (nation) Alma 50:7. Ditto the term "Nephi" which was a capital city Alma 47:31, a lesser land Alma 47:20, and a greater land Alma 50:8, 11.

Two countries on earth today follow this naming convention where their capital city, leading region (state, department), and nation all carry the same name: Guatemala, Guatemala, Guatemala and Mexico, Mexico, Mexico. See the blog article "Light from Guatemala" for maps.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Money in Ancient America

The Book of Mormon describes an advanced market economy with:
  1. Chief markets Helaman 7:10
  2. Many merchants, lawyers, and officers 3 Nephi 6:11
  3. Written records that facilitated trade Mosiah 24:6
  4. Riches gained through trade Mosiah 24:7
  5. Taxes imposed by the central government Mosiah11:3, Ether 10:5
  6. Money as a store of value Alma 1:5, Helaman 7:5, 9:20
  7. Precious metal tokens as standardized exchange currency Alma 11:13-19
  8. Value of currency tokens tied to fixed measures of agricultural commodities Alma 11:7,15
  9. Judges paid hourly wages Alma 11:1
  10. Debt collection via legal process Alma 11:2
  11. Free trade zones over wide areas Helaman 6:8
  12. Forced tribute payments Mosiah 7:15
We now know that the ancient Maya had an advanced market economy with many of these same characteristics. An important article entitled "Imagining a Complex Maya Political Economy: Counting Tokens and Currencies in Image, Text and the Archaeological Record" by David A. Freidel, Marilyn A. Masson, & Michelle Rich was published in Cambridge Archaeological Journal, Volume 27, Issue 1 (February, 2017) pp. 29-54. The article discusses a number of points interesting to serious students of the Nephite text. The number in aqua at the end of each point indicates which Book of Mormon characteristic from the list above it resembles or corroborates.
  • P. 29 Accounting practices have a long history of use in ancient Mesoamerica. 3
  • P. 29 Currencies have a long history of use in ancient Mesoamerica. 6
  • P. 29 Some Mesoamericans were literate and numerate. 3
  • P. 29 Mesoamerican socieites had authorities. 2
  • P. 29 Potential accounting devices (counting sticks and tokens) have been discovered.
  • P. 29 Standardized objects made from marine shells were likely used as money. 6
  • P. 29 Tribute payments were widespread throughout Mesoamerica 12
  • P. 29 It is now understood that the Maya had marketplaces 1
  • P. 29 The Maya used currencies as media of exchange 7
  • P. 29 References to ancient Maya merchants have been identified 2
  • P. 29 Trade zones were extensive 11
  • P. 30 The Maya used currency to measure debt 10
  • P. 30 The Maya employed scribal accountants 2
  • P. 30 In the Maya monetary system, tokens represented key commodities 8
  • P. 31 Marine shells, cacao beans, and woven cloth all served as currencies 6
  • P. 32 Book keepers recorded numbers on written leaves, tally scrolls, or books 3
  • P. 32 Shells carved to look like cacao beans represented the real commodity 8
  • P. 33 Exchanges included vessels filled with corn tamales 8
  • P. 37 Artistic portrayals depict writing tablet and stylus combinations in transactional contexts 3
  • P. 42 Units of money had standardized values 7
  • P. 42 Metal bells and axes were used as money 7
  • P. 44 Effigies depict conspicuous displays of wealth 4
  • P. 45 40,000 cacao beans was a large tribute payment 12
  • P. 47 Greenstone and metal were both used as money 7
Anthropologists have discovered analogues in the ancient Maya world for ten of the twelve market characteristics described in the Nephite text.
Carved Shell Tokens from El Perú-Waká Burial 37
Photo by Juan Carlos Meléndez 
Objects known to have been used as stores of value and currencies for exchange among the ancient Maya:
Cacao Beans, Copper Bells, Carved Shell Beads
A scene depicting commerce or tribute and bookkeeping:
K2914 Photograph by Justin Kerr
Another scene depicting commerce or tribute and bookkeeping:

K625 Photograph by Justin Kerr
This is the famous depiction of God L, patron deity of merchants, at Cacaxtla.
The Figure's Backrack, Held up by a Pole, is Full of Trade Goods
Photo by Kirk Magleby, January 29, 2020
This from the Tarlton Law Library, UT Austin, Article entitled "Maya Property and Commercial Law:" The Maya did have a currency system, and used cacao beans, gold, copper bells, jade, and oyster shell beads as forms of money.

The use of marine shells as currency has considerable time depth in Mesoamerica. Richard Hansen in October, 2015 said sea shells were being used as money as early as 1,000 - 800 BC in the Mirador Basin. He further said sea shells as a form of currency show up in Cahal Pech, Belize during this same time period. See the blog article "Hansen and Coe."

The precontact Achi Maya at Rabinal used cacao beans as a medium of exchange as well as "q'ana pwaq" meaning "yellow money" or gold, and "saki pwaq" meaning "white money" or silver. Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice, translated by Dennis Tedlock (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003) pp. 49, 295.

Some have suggested that the Ilmenite iron ore beads depicted in the blog article "Olmec Iron" may have been used as currency.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Mesoamerican Chronological Alignment with Book of Mormon Events

This article is a work in process documenting remarkable temporal concordance between Mesoamerican events known to science and historical events recorded in the Book of Mormon.
  • Ceramics first appear in the archaeological record in Oaxaca/Puebla ca. 2,000 BC. See the blog article "Early Settlement Sequence." The Book of Mormon describes the Jaredites in an upland land of Moron early in their history Ether 7:5-6.
  • Ceramics show up in the Olmec heartland (Veracruz/Tabasco) ca. 1,500 BC. See the same blog article "Early Settlement Sequence." The Book of Mormon describes Jaredite movement out of Moron into coastal lowlands midway through their history Ether 9:3.
  • Ca. 1,000 BC maize cultivation in the Maya lowlands became much more productive which led to urbanization and ceremonial architecture. This is the beginning of the middle Pre-classic when Maya centers such as Ceibal, Cuello, Blackman Eddy, Nakbe, and Cahal Pech began. See the blog article Takeshi Inomata. We can now add Aguada Fénix to this list of sites in the Maya area that began ca. 1,000 BC. See Takeshi Inomata, et al., "Monumental architecture at Aguada Fénix and the rise of Maya civilization," Nature (2020) June 3, 2020. This is close to the time when virgin land was no longer available in the land northward (Ether 10:21) and Jaredites first began traveling into the land southward to exploit its rich resources Ether 10:19.
  • Ca. 550 BC the formerly Olmec Izapa experienced an influx of new artistic and cultural influences that created the vibrant monumental art the site is known for today. This is just when Laman and Lemuel were establishing what would become Lamanite civilization in the land of first inheritance. See the blog article "Izapa."
  • The eastern portion of the Olmec heartland declined ca. 400 - 350 BC, and the capital, La Venta, was abandoned. See Richard A. Diehl, The Olmecs: America's First Civilization, (London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004) p. 82. This correlates well with the Jaredite demise. Coriantumr, lone survivor of the Jaredite civil war, spent nine moons with the people of Zarahemla prior to the arrival of Mosiah I who discovered the Mulekite capital ca. 200 BC Omni 1:21.
  • Ca. 100 BC imposing Teotihuacan began its rise to prominence and some of its early inhabitants came from the Maya area of southern Mesoamerica. See George Cowgill, "State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico" in Annual Review of Anthropology, 26 (1) (1997) pp. 129-161. Teotihuacan was a cosmopolitan society with people from Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz, and the Maya world. The Tetitla murals are in a Maya-like style. Edwin Roman in a presentation at the VII Convención Mundial de la Arqueología Maya, Antigua, Guatemala, February 15, 2019. Ca. 55 BC the Book of Mormon describes the first of many large-scale Nephite migrations into the land northward Alma 63:4.
  • Takeshi Inomata and associates, in their Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project (CPAP), discovered large-scale defensive structures that were built ca. 75 BC. This is precisely the time Captain Moroni was fortifying Nephite cities through greater Zarahemla. See the blog article "75 BC."
  • Popocatépetl between Puebla and the Valley of Mexico and Tacaná on the Mexico/Guatemala line both erupted ca. AD 30. See the blog article "Volcanic Eruptions Near the Time of Christ." The Book of Mormon describes regional destruction in the lands southward and northward at the Savior's death 3 Nephi 8:11-12.
  • Takeshi Inomata and associates identified an upheaval and decline they call the "Preclassie Pan-regional collapse" ca. AD 125 - 175. El Mirador is the type site for this Preclassic collapse. See Inomata, et al., "High-precision radiocarbon dating of political collapse and dynastic origins at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala" in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 114 (6) (February 7, 2017) pp. 1293-1298. This is precisely the time when Lamanites appear again in the Nephite record 4 Nephi 1:20 after the great period of peace that followed the Savior's appearance in land Bountiful. At a presentation he gave in Antigua, Guatemala on February 15, 2019, Edwin Roman said in the pre-classic collapse populations fell, emigrants left, there were droughts, and territorial conflicts began to disturb former tranquility.
  • On January 16, AD 378, Teotihuacan military emmisary Siyaj K'ak' presided over the death of the king of Tikal. Eventually he installed a new ruler loyal to Central Mexico and ushered in a new political order in the Maya lowlands that lasted 150+ years until the first Tikal-Calakmul war began in AD 537. This is the famous "entrada" recorded on El Peru Stela 15, Tikal Stela 31, Bejucal Stela 3, and Naachtun Stela 24, among others. This precisely matches the time Mormon was preparing the Nephites for the final battle at Ramah/Cumorah where they were annihilated by a combined army of Lamanites and Gadianton Robbers. See the blog article "Robbers and Lamanites."
  • The Maya were building defensive walls in the early Classic (AD 250 - 500). By AD 500 warfare was nearly continuous with shifting alliances. Edwin Roman, presentation at VII Convención Mundial de la Arqueología Maya, Antigua, Guatemala, February 15, 2019. In the preclassic (500 BC - AD 100) settlement in the Buenavista Valley was in the lowlands around Laguna Palmár. In the classic (AD 250 - 850) settlements moved up in the hills. People were worried about defense. The presence of Teotihuacan (ca. AD 378) coincided with a change from peace to war. Stephen Houston, "Recovering a Lost World," lecture given at BYU October 28, 2019. Ca. AD 330 Mormon said there was blood and carnage spread throughout all the face of the land, and it was one complete revolution Mormon 2:8. Ca. AD 401 Moroni said the Lamanites were at war one with another, and the whole face of the land was one continual round of murder and bloodshed, and no one knew the end of the war Mormon 8:8. Ca. AD 410 Moroni said Lamanite wars were exceedingly fierce among themselves Moroni 1:2.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Zeroing in on Cumorah

Mosiah 8:8 adds an additional element to the list of textual criteria that will help us identify the land of Cumorah. The land where we will find hill Ramah/Cumorah was not just a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains Mormon 6:4. (The term "many waters" as used by Book of Mormon authors refers to salt water ocean as in 1 Nephi 17:5 and Psalm 93:4. See the blog article "Many Waters.") The place where the Jaredites destroyed themselves in civil war and where the combined forces of the Lamanites and Gadianton Robbers Mormon 2:27-28; 8:9 massacred the hapless Nephites in egregious ethnic cleansing (Ramah = Cumorah per Ether 15:11) was a land among many waters Mosiah 8:8.

The OED says "among" derives from crowd or assemblage and means "surrounded by" locally. Thus, Columbus was among the Gentiles 1 Nephi 13:12 before he embarked on his epic voyage of discovery in 1492. Adam and Eve hid among the trees in the Garden of Eden Genesis 3:8 (which reads "among" rather than "amongst" in the 1535 Coverdale Bible). Ether 9:3 tells us there was a seacoast due east of hill Ramah/Cumorah. Mosiah 8:8's use of the word "among" tells us salt water ocean surrounds the land of Cumorah on more than one side.

The Book of Mormon geographic correlation that passed a strict audit with a perfect score of 100% (see the blog article "Auditing Book of Mormon Geography Models") places the land of Cumorah in the Tuxtla Mountain region of southern Veracruz where it is literally surrounded by salt water on two sides.
Land of Cumorah Among Many (Salt) Waters
Another geographic detail emerges from a close reading of the phrases "north country," "north countries," "south countries," and "country southward." The Jaredites established polities the prophet Moroni called "the north countries" Ether 9:35. These north countries were not on the extreme north because other countries lay round about (north of) them Ether 9:35. Mormon hid the 24 plates of Ether in hill Ramah/Cumorah Mormon 6:6. Moroni abridged the 24 plates of Ether after he returned to the Nephite repository in hill Ramah/Cumorah following the final battle. Moroni called Ramah/Cumorah "this north country" Ether 1:1. It was one of the "north countries" toward which the Nephites retreated when the Lamanites drove them out of the central Sidon corridor in the greater land of Zarahemla Mormon 2:3. It was the same "north country" the Nephites kept the Lamanites south of  ca. 34 BC with a fortified line in land Bountiful described in Helaman 4:7. Just prior to the final battle, a few Nephites had escaped from Ramah/Cumorah to the "south countries" Mormon 6:15. After the final battle, the few Nephites who had escaped into the "country southward" were hunted down by the Lamanites and killed Mormon 8:2. Moroni was the lone Nephite survivor. All of this movement between north and south countries under battle or refugee conditions implies geographic proximity. Ramah/Cumorah must have been a modest distance from the country southward. In the map above hill Ramah/Cumorah (proposed correlation: San Martin Pajapan) is 150 air kilometers from the proposed land Desolation/Bountiful border on the modern Tabasco/Chiapas line and 270 air kilometers from the proposed land Desolation/Bountiful border on the west sea near the modern Oaxaca/Chiapas line.

After studying the textual relationships mentioned above, I concluded that the land of Cumorah may have extended further east than the Coatzacoalcos River, so I moved the proposed eastern boundary to the modern Tonalá, ancient Grijalva rivers. This is the modern Veracruz/Tabasco boundary.

For 30 other detailed textual criteria this correlation satisfies, see the blog article "Ramah/Cumorah." For an independent corroboration of this correlation, see the blog article "Linguistic Cumorah."

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID-19 Death Rates by State

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University publishes COVID-19 cases and deaths by state. This is their data as of July 2, 2020. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
COVID-19 Cases and Death Rates by State
If you are infected with the virus, how likely are you to die? Where you live makes a big difference. Death rates range from .76% in Utah to 9.27% in Connecticut. In other words, if infected, you are 12 times more likely to die from COVID-19 if you live in Connecticut than in Utah. The national average is 4.70% and the global average is 4.80%. Only 3 states have death rates less than 1.30%: Utah, Arkansas, and Wyoming. Arkansas is highly rural. Wyoming has a small population in addition to being quite rural. Utah is a special case. It is highly urbanized (just behind Rhode Island and Massachusetts).
States with Low COVID-19 Death Rates
These factors make Utah unique:
  • Utah has the lowest median age (31) of any US state. This is because Utah families have more children than families in other states. The median household size (3.13) in Utah is the highest in the nation.
  • Utah has excellent health care infrastructure. It consistently ranks among the best states in the country for the quality and timliness of health care services delivered.
  • Utah state, county, and municipal governments are highly efficient compared with their counterparts nationally. Utahns by and large trust their local government officials and comply with directives.
  • Utah's poverty rate is relatively low.
  • 66.32% of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which promulgates healthy lifetyles and a strong sense of community. And that metric understates the Church's broad influence in the state because it does not count anyone under 8 years of age.
Frequently the national media publishes "beauty pageant" data ranking the US states for this, that, or the other criteria. Over the years, I have been intrigued to notice how often Utah ranks #1 or near the top for the good stuff and #50 or near the bottom for the bad. When the Internet was fairly new, I published a website called "ProUtah." It was a lot of work and after a couple of years, I gave it up, but in that time I compiled more than 100 examples of Utah's relative superiority to the other 49 states. A handful of contrary examples surfaced, so I quickly put up a sister site named "ConUtah," but overall the trend was strongly favorable toward the Beehive State. My motive, of course, was to see if I could demonstrate empirically that the Latter-day Saint belief system and lifestyle lead to desirable outcomes. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Matthew 7:20. This statistical approach to comparative religion, using Utah as a convenient proxy for membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, seemed to me to validate the promise in Mosiah 2:41 that adherence to God's commandments brings temporal and spiritual blessings.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

New Church Symbol - Book of Mormon Connection

We are all indebted to Mesoamericanist and BYU faculty member Mark Alan Wright for this remarkable insight. He published it in his 2014 Axes Mundi article in Interpreter and shared it with those of us on his 2015 tour of Guatemala.
Mark Wright with Tikal Temple I in Background
Book of Mormon Central published it as part of KnoWhy #211 that came out in October, 2016.

When the Savior appeared to his apostles in the Old World after his resurrection, they were shown first the nail prints in his hands and second the wound in his side. We see this order in John 20:20, 25, 27. The version in Luke 24:39, 40 mentions only his hands and his feet. His followers in Judea, familiar with Roman execution by crucifixion, would have focused primarily on the prints of the nails in his hands and his feet.

When the Savior appeared to his disciples and others gathered at the Temple in land Bountiful about a year after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, he showed them his wounded body, but this time the order of the sacrificial symbols was reversed. The Nephites were invited to first thrust their hands into his side and second feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet 3 Nephi 11:14, 15. In Mesoamerica, where human sacrifice was often by heart extraction, people would have focused primarily on the wound in his side.

The resurrected Savior bore physical sacrificial symbols meaningful to both his Old and New World followers. He explicitly told the Nephites these symbols would convince them he was "the God of the whole earth" 3 Nephi 11:14.

The magnificent new Church symbol, derived from Bertel Thorvaldsen's Christus statue in the Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen and McRay Magleby's 1995 logo design, shows both the wound in the Savior's side and the prints of the nails in his hands and feet.
New Church Symbol
Representing the Risen Lord
Atop a Cornerstone
It is a fitting symbol for "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" D&C 1:30.
Mark Wright's 2015 Guatemala Tour helped inform the very interesting blog articles entitled "Book of Mormon Lands Map 2016," "Sea Divides the Land," and "Kaminaljuyu."