Friday, November 27, 2015


Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S. Two of our children, in from Minneapolis and Los Angeles, celebrated with us. We spent time with my mother-in-law who is feeling the effects of her 86 wonderful years. We visited my brother who entertained 44 guests in his new home. We are thankful for our eternal, family. We began by offering prayers in all the languages spoken by the six people around our table - German, Spanish, Russian, French and English. We are thankful for the Church's missionary program and for educational opportunities. Our meal was splendid. We are thankful for adequate nutrition. We ended by singing the 1927 song "Bless This House" written by Helen Taylor (UK) and composed by May Brahe (Australia). We are thankful for a happy home and for the role music plays in our lives. Our other children shared reports of their celebrations in Houston and Chicago. I spent two hours on Skype with a terrific Book of Mormon scholar who lives in the Australian outback. The connection was so clear I could hear his young children playing in the background. We are grateful for the blessings of technology, for the Book of Mormon, and for the bond the Gospel creates among the worldwide fellowship of Saints. We saw photographs from our son's recent visit to one of our ancestral homelands just south of Copenhagen's Kastrup Airport. We are thankful for things which are at home and things which are abroad as D&C 88:79 says.

George Washington proclaimed that a "Day of Thanksgiving" be held on November 26, 1789. His words sound like something from Captain Moroni. "...A day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness." "...The service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us." - George Washington, October 1789.

The Book of Mormon uses the term "thanksgiving" six times.
  • In 2 Nephi 8:3 (citing Isaiah 51:3) the term is associated with the redemption of Zion and the return of the House of Israel in the latter days.
  • Alma 19:14 describes the great missionary Ammon in the court of King Lamoni.
  • Ammon himself used the term in his exultation at the conclusion of his mission Alma 26:37.
  • Amulek used the term in his preaching to the Zoramites in the land of Antionum Alma 34:38.
  • Mormon used the term to describe his hero, Captain Moroni Alma 48:12.
  • The term is used to describe the Nephites' reaction to the calming voice of the resurrected Savior following the vast destruction at His crucifixion 3 Nephi 10:10.
George Washington associated thanksgiving with prayer to God in gratitude for divine providence. This is precisely how Book of Mormon prophet/authors employed the term.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


The October 2015 National Geographic magazine contains an intriguing article entitled "Lure of the Lost City" by Douglas Preston with photographs by Dave Yoder. Airborne LIDAR remote sensing has located large ancient urban complexes previously unknown to science in a remote part of Honduras near its border with Nicaragua. The Mosquitia area is approximately 100 air kilometers from the Honduran town of Catacamas.
National Geographic Map of Mosquitia Area
Ground reconnaissance has verified the existence of large sites, but intense field work and excavation are still needed to establish dates and cultural relationships. The Mosquitia area is about 300 air kilometers distant from the traditional eastern boundary of Maya civilization which roughly follows the Ulua River. This Maya boundary has often been used to demarcate the eastern and southern limits of Mesoamerican high culture which many Book of Mormon scholars in turn have equated with the Lehite land southward border. Cultural remains from eastern Honduras and Nicaragua are generally regarded as significantly less advanced than those coming from western Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. If evidence of high culture or strong Maya affinities are found at Mosquitia sites, our maps of southern Mesoamerica may have to be re-drawn.
Maya Region and Newly-Discovered Mosquitia Area
Garth Norman has made the keen observation that if Mosquitia turns out to have occupation layers dating to Book of Mormon times, our notion of the land southward nearly surrounded by water Alma 22:32 may have to move further south into the narrower parts of Central America.
One Interpretation of the Land Southward Nearly Surrounded by Water
Many students of the Nephite text will be following developments in the Mosquitia area with interest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Deuteronomy in the Book of Mormon

On November 18, 2015, I attended a lecture by Prof. David Rolph Seely entitled "Deuteronomy in the Book of Mormon" sponsored by BYU's Ancient Law Foundations Association (ALFA). This was an expanded version of a presentation Seely will give next week at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) annual conference in Atlanta. Seely is on the ancient scripture faculty at BYU. His PhD is in biblical studies and Hebrew from the University of Michigan where he studied under renowned biblical scholar David Noel Freedman (1922-2008). Seely has worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He co-edited the 2004 Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem (Maxwell Institute) with Jo Ann Seely and Jack Welch. He co-authored the 2007 Solomon's Temple: Myth and History (Thames and Hudson) with Bill Hamblin.

Lehi had first-hand experience with Josiah's reforms. The book of the law referenced in 2 Kings 22:8 was some form of Deuteronomy. The Book of Mormon has many examples of Deuteronomic language, themes, and laws. The Book of Mormon is steeped in King James Version (KJV) language. Mark Twain observed that the Book of Mormon has the quaint and old-fashioned structure of the KJV. The Book of Mormon contains 21 chapters - 478 verses - of Isaiah. On intertextuality between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Seely referenced Philip Barlow's 2013 Mormons and the Bible (Oxford) and the anti-Mormon Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormon.which emphasizes passages from Isaiah and Exodus. Nick Frederick has found 670 New Testament quotations in the Book of Mormon. (For my notes on a presentation Nick Frederick gave in March, 2015, see the article "English in the Book of Mormon"). BH Roberts in his 1907 2 volume Defense of the Faith and the Saints was beginning to address the issues of biblical intertextuality. Biblical quotations generally follow KJV language.

Seely then mentioned the two schools of thought regarding translation methodology: A) Joseph read word-for-word from text displayed in the seer stone (Royal Skousen) and B) Joseph dictated an open rendering of thoughts in his own words (Brant Gardner). Seely favors Skousen because the literal rendering theory has a great deal of evidence to support it.

Seely shared two humorous anecdotes:
A) When he first hired on at BYU, the department chair asked him never to use the term "cult." It is such a useful word in the study of ancient religion that Seely has used it as often as possible since that day. B) Seely once visited Jerald and Sandra Tanner at their Lighthouse Ministry home office in Salt Lake. A little barking dog greeted him furiously at the door. Sandra said, "Our dog has been trained to bite Mormons."

Critics of the Book of Mormon generally raise two issues regarding biblical intertextuality. A) Joseph Smith simply plagiarized the Bible, and B) Joseph copied from the Bible so clumsily that the Book of Mormon is full of anachronisms. Possible answers include A) Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon share certain ancient texts in common, B) The Book of Mormon is fiction or divine fiction, and C) The Book of Mormon is a mixture of ancient texts and modern inspired expansions from Joseph Smith. Seely sees both the Book of Mormon and the book of Deuteronomy descending from common ancient sources.

Characteristics of both the book of Deuteronomy and the Book of Mormon:
  • Ancient authorship
  • Lost, hidden, buried for centuries
  • Re-discovery led to covenant renewal
  • Re-discovery led to centralization of cult
  • Re-discovery led to religious reforms
  • Covenant renewal ceremonies
  • Sacrifices at temples
  • Prophet authors speak as voices from the dust
  • Authors expected their text to transform the world
  • Book with a mission
  • Authors wrote for their own time and the future
  • Recitation of past history
  • Emphasis on the Exodus motif
  • Blessings and curses
  • Prophecies
  • Messiah
  • Ultimate destruction
  • Authoritative copy of the law (in the case of the Book of Mormon, the law was on the Plates of Brass) used to measure the people
  • Self-referential literature
The story of King Josiah and the discovery of the book of the law is in 2 Kings 22 - 23. The discovery was in 622 BC, within Lehi's lifetime. The book, or Torah, was delivered to King Josiah. As the king read, Moses was literally speaking to him from the dust. Josiah recognized his nation's apostasy and immediately instituted reforms. He led a covenant renewal ceremony and repaired the temple.

The Plates of Brass contained the five books of Moses 1 Nephi 5:11. Therefore, the Pentateuch was in the canon by 600 BC. This contradicts the documentary hypothesis which sees part of Deuteronomy as exilic or post-exilic. The documentary hypothesis sees sources J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), J-E, D (Deuteronomist), R (Redactors) and P (Priestly)  all coming together to form the Torah. Moses wrote Deuteronomy on Mt. Nebo, then placed the book of the law in the ark of the covenant.

Seely showed an image of the Warka Vase from Mesopotamia which includes a depiction of itself. This is an example of self-referential art.
Warka Vase with Representation of Itself Highlighted in Red
Deuteronomy is an example of self-referential literature. The Book of Mormon is a book about itself as a book.

If you read the opening of the Book of Mormon carefully, you realize Nephi wrote these lines about 30 years after 600 BC. He began his narrative by recounting past history. Noel Reynolds showed in a Journal of Book of Mormon Studies JBMS article that both Lehi and Nephi are types of Moses.

Dueteronomic words, phrases and allusions in the Book of Mormon include:
Joshua is part of Deuteronomic history. "Remember" is a central theme of Deuteronomy as it is in the Book of Mormon Mosiah 4:30, Helaman 5:6. Noel Reynolds found 14 themes from Dueteronomy in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon sounds Deuteronomic in many places due to the language but also because of thematic clustering. Lehi, Nephi and Abinadi are all Moses figures. Deuteronomy 12-26 is a lengthy legal document. Deuteronomic law is theoretical. The Book of Mormon documents actual legal cases. There are more than 100 discrete laws in Deuteronomy. After reading Deuteronomy, Josiah centralized the cult at the Temple of Jerusalem. Lehi did not follow all of Josiah's reforms. In the Book of Mormon we see serial temples at Nephi, then Zarahemla, and finally at Bountiful. There is documentary evidence that certain Mosaic laws were only obligatory within a distance of 3 day's journey from the Temple at Jerusalem. The Jewish diaspora built other temples such as the one at Elephantine in upper Egypt.
Known Jewish Temples at Jerusalem and Elepantine
Deuteronomy means copy of the law, not 2nd law. Many laws were humanitarian, having to do with the manumission of slaves and lending to the poor.
Q & A
Paul Hoskisson asked about the practice of law in the Book of Mormon, versus the legal theory recorded in Deuteronomy. Is there evidence that the law recorded in Deuteronomy was actually practiced? Jack Welch responded with a handful of examples from ancient Near Eastern sources.
Kirk Magleby asked if the discrete end of the law of Moses recorded so explicitly in the Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 15:5 was foreshadowed in the text of Deuteronomy. Seely thought not.
Dana Pike asked why Jesus in the NT quotes primarily from Deuteronomy while the Book of Mormon quotes primarily from Isaiah? The question was left unanswered.
Stephen Smoot asked about the documentary source criticism that divides Deuteronomy into two sections, one pre-exilic and the other exilic or even post-exilic. Seely responded that the D (Deuteronomic) and P (Priestly) sources are combined in the Book of Mormon. Seely said he would like to know if any part of the book of Leviticus shows up in the Book of Mormon. Jack Welch cited a passage from Leviticus in Mosiah. The 2003 book Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible by David E. Bokovoy and John A. Tvedtnes (Heritage) shows that themes and theme clusters may be even more significant than shared language.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Dean's Tax

There was a time when a donor could give money to BYU and expect most of it would support some pet project. That doesn't happen much anymore. The university administration is anxious to build up their endowment. Annual college rankings place a lot of emphasis on the size of an institution's endowment. In the US, Harvard leads the pack with a $36 billion fund, followed by the University of Texas at $25, Yale at $24, and Stanford and Princeton at $21 billion each. Even lesser-known schools such as Bowdoin, Grinnell and Swarthmore have billion dollar endowment funds. BYU's fund is much smaller, but growing, and current university policy reserves a high percentage of many donations to grow the endowment.

So, for instance, I belong to a family who recently donated $3 million to BYU. We were feted with a lovely luncheon and heard a rousing speech from the dean. Then we found out how much good this generous gift would accomplish in 2015 - it would provide four students with half-tuition scholarships. BYU tuition for LDS students in 2014 - 2015 was $2,500, so the 2015 beneficiaries received a total of $5,000 in value from a $3 million fund. That is a yield rate less than 2/10 of 1%. Donors have a colloquial name for this huge amount that gets siphoned off from a bequest to fund the endowment. They call it the "dean's tax." Growing the BYU endowment is a laudable goal, but industry-standard overhead metrics typical of charity ranking services (e.g. Charity Navigator, GuideStar) make BYU look terrible because of it. This harsh reality makes it unlikely that donations to BYU will fund expensive Book of Mormon projects in the future. Work like FARMS did in the 1980's and 90's will probably have to be done off-campus.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Apologetics or Mormon Studies?

I attended a panel discussion at Utah Valley University on November 6, 2015 entitled "Faith, Reason, and the Critical Study of Mormon Apologetics." My notes:

Moderator: Blair G. Van Dyke. PhD BYU 1997. Teaches philosophy & religious studies at UVU, is on the faculty of the Orem Institute of Religion. Co-editor of a forthcoming book on Mormon Apologetics (Kofford, 2016). Heads the Mormon Chapter, Foundation for Religious Diplomacy.

Brian D. Birch. PhD Claremont 1998. Director of Religious Studies Program & Director of the Center for the Study of Ethics at UVU. Co-editor Perspectives on Mormon Theology series (Kofford). Senior Research Fellow, Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. Author of a forthcoming book entitled Mormonism Among Christian Theologies (Oxford).

Ralph C. Hancock. PhD Harvard. J. Reuben Clark Fellow at BYU. American and French political history, the history of political thought. Editor, America, the West and Liberal Education (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999). Co-editor with Gary Lambert, The Legacy of the French Revolution. Author, Calvin and the Foundations of Modern Politics (Cornell, 1989). Director, John Adams Center for the Study of Faith, Philosophy and Public Affairs, BYU.

Brian M. Hauglid. Director, Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. Senior Research Fellow, Maxwell Institute. Associate Professor, Ancient Scripture, BYU. Co-editor with Robin Scott Jensen, Abraham and Egyptian Papers (Joseph Smith Papers Project, vol. 4 in the Revelations and Translations Series, 2018). Co-author with Terryl Givens A Cultural History of the Pearl of Great Price (Oxford). Author, A Textual History of the Book of Abraham(2011).

Benjamin E. Park.  PhD Cambridge. American cultural and political history. 4 articles have won awards from the Mormon History Association. Post doctoral fellow, Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, U of Missouri. Associate Editor, Mormon Studies Review.

Julie M. Smith.  MA Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley). Board member, Mormon Theology Seminar. Steering Committee, BYU New Testament Commentary. Author, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark in progress. Author, Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. Book Review Editor and Blogger, Times and Seasons.
Brian Hauglid. The shift from FARMS to the Maxwell Institute is part of a broad shift at BYU from apologetics to academics. Apologetics is the rational defense of faith. The persistence of questions and external attacks makes it imperative that faith must be defended rationally.  Hauglid based most of his presentation on the book Five Views on Apologetics edited by Steven B. Cowan (Zondervan, 2000). Apologetics, done well, can bolster faith, aid evangelism, refute objections, and defend against attacks. Defensive apologetics are reactionary. Offensive apologetics are positive – they offer evidence for the existence of God or the authenticity of a text. Cowan’s 5 types of apologetics are:
1)      Classical, a combination of natural philosophy and evidence
2)      Evidential, theism and Christ’s resurrection are common themes
3)      Cumulative case, this is neither inductive nor deductive, but a series of briefs supporting a theory as an explanation of selected data. C.S. Lewis used this method
4)      Pre-suppositional assumes the existence of certain truths and builds arguments based on that foundation
5)      Reformed epistemology assumes evidence is not required
No matter which apologetic form we are using, we should avoid humiliating our enemies, warring, using emotionally charged rhetoric, or castigating others no matter how opprobrious we find them. He advocated being empathetic and showing academic humility, in cooperation with other scholars, the majority of whom will not be of our faith. He painted a picture of the academy as an ideal bastion of civil discourse and mutual respect where everyone plays nice in the sandbox and where irony and satire have no place.  We should do relational apologetics – striving for mutual affirmation on both sides. We should do good work, but "we just feel like there needs to be a change in the way we do apologetics." We should be collegial with scholars outside of BYU. Apologists generally preach to the choir and publish in-house.

Ralph Hancock. Apologists defend beliefs using arguments. Modern scholars bifurcate the truth into secular and religious. They assume secular truth can be investigated and defended rationally. They relegate religious truth into a metaphysical world of mysticism and irrationality. By definition, most scholars assume religious truths and personal experiences with faith are indefensible. In reality, truth is unitary. Faith and reason are two sides of a single whole. Hancock referenced Arthur Henry King’s observation on Joseph Smith’s First Vision account in the Pearl of Great Price – it has the ring of truth. Most people on earth today believe faith and miracles are reasonable. Irony and satire do have a place in negative apologetics because the antagonists attacking our faith are so humorless. Tone and style vary greatly in effective apologetics. Humility is over-rated. The academy is not nearly as civil and tidy as idealists would have you believe. Straight forwardness is a better goal than humility in apologetics which by its very nature is advocacy literature.

Brian Birch. Examples of sea changes in modern Mormonism include the B.H. Roberts debates with Joseph Fielding Smith over evolution, the new history advocated by Leonard J. Arrington and Eugene England, and the Maxwell Institute shift away from apologetics to Mormon Studies which is generally concerned with history, including reception history, and theology. Birch applauds the shift because it tones down the debate over truth claims and makes it more comfortable for him to interact with scholars not of our faith. Mormonism has many more potentially contentious issues than mainstream Christianity. Mormonism is more thoroughly suffused with revelatory discourse. Satire and irony should be non-existent. Humility has been lacking over the years in Mormon apologetics and it is necessary in the academy. The ideal Mormon apologist would be humble, able to receive criticism, and willing to change based on that criticism.

Julie Smith. Apologetics are necessary as long as there are missionaries teaching investigators, 14 year olds going to Seminary for the first time, and members doing Google searches. Regardless of personal desire to retreat from the messiness and clamor, apologetics will never go away. The only question is whether they will be done well. Apologetics are like fire – necessary but dangerous. Some of the risks of apologetics done poorly are:
·         Fossilized mindsets
·         Women victimized as collateral damage in the debates
·         People alienating themselves from the church as they discover defects in previously-held apologetic arguments
·         Cultural truth being substituted for doctrine
Smith advocates inclusive, high-quality apologetics. Not everything can be rationally explained. Faith allows for awe and wonder. We should avoid incivility. Weak apologetics injure Church doctrine. Smith likes lists with multiple explanatory options. “We don’t know” is OK as one of the options. The Bible is the new frontier in Mormon apologetics.  We have a lot to say about the Bible. We should not abandon apologetics. Rather, we should raise the bar and hasten the work in Mormon apologetics. FARMS did top-notch work. The Maxwell Institute is still doing apologetics at some level, although the word itself and the idea behind it have fallen out of favor. Smith then gave 3 examples of what she considers high quality Mormon apologetics:
1)      Lynne Hilton Wilson, “The Confusing Case of Zacharias”
2)      Mark Wright and Brant Gardner, “The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy”
3)      Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism”
Faith and reason are and always have been yoked. We should strive for civility and non-Mormon peer review. Good apologetics inoculates against the betrayal narrative “I was never taught that.” Apologetics should be multi-layered, letting the reader decide which arguments have more explanatory power. The Gospel of Mark is a good example of apologetics done well. Mark shows Jesus Christ with mortal limitations. If even the Savior of mankind was limited by his mortality, how much more should we cut Joseph Smith some slack? The scriptures are not mystical, divine objects to be venerated for their own sakes. They are texts to be analyzed and understood.  We should do pre-emptive apologetics so young Mormons reverence the awe but do not grow up with unrealistic expectations.  

Ben Park. Apologetics, done right, is good for both the academy and religious institutions as long as a wall separates them. Park likes the Jeffersonian concept of a wall separating church and state. The new Mormon history is a good example. Mormon Studies is emerging as a viable field of inquiry. We see Mormon Studies programs at Claremont and the University of Virginia in addition to the Utah schools. Programs are emerging at USC and the Graduate Theological Union. This is a wonderful development because it provides employment for scholars of Mormonism. Mormon Studies is now integrated in academics. In the long run, this will be good for Mormon apologetics. There are virtually no jobs for Mormon apologists while there are many options for Mormon Studies scholars. Graduate students cannot advance in academic careers doing apologetics.  These practical reasons alone explain the FARMS to Maxwell Institute shift.  Continuing with the wall metaphor, there should be a wall between Mormon Studies and apologetics.  We should exude positivism as we tell the great story of Mormonism.

My observations:
Utah State, the University of Utah, and now UVU are all doing Mormon Studies. The Maxwell Institute is moving rapidly in that direction, trying to relegate its apologetic FARMS' roots into an object of historical curiosity rather than a living, breathing current enterprise. I asked Brian Hauglid after the formal presentation "Is there a place on BYU campus for the kind of work FARMS used to do?" He replied that FAIR Mormon and Interpreter Foundation are both doing that kind of work. I reminded him that both of these are independent, off-campus entities and repeated my question, "Is there a place at BYU for an organization like FARMS in its heyday?" "Well," he replied, "We're doing what we can." I took that for a no.

I find it pathetically ironic that my tithing dollars support an institution where the kind of swash-buckling defender of the faith tradition practiced by the Pratt brothers, B.H. Roberts, Hugh W. Nibley, John L. Sorenson, John W. Welch, and Daniel C. Peterson is no longer welcome. It should come as no surprise, though, to anyone familiar with contemporary academic trends. Since WWII, ideas of universal truth, Judeo-Christian values, and even right and wrong have been supplanted on most college campuses with vague notions that diversity and tolerance are the highest virtues. Most academics worship at the altar of pluralism and decry exceptionalism whether Western European - American or Christian - Mormon. Joseph Smith's testimony that the Book of Mormon is a revelation from God and the most correct of any book on earth is a tough sell in today's climate of moral relativism. Why can't we just all get along and play nice in the sandbox? Being Unitarian or B'nai B'rith is much less stressful than knocking on doors or street contacting.

The publish or perish incentives at most universities today, including BYU, practically guarantee that young LDS scholars will treat the Book of Mormon in a watered-down, non-controversial way if they deal with it at all. Traditional defender of the faith approaches are academic suicide in most departments if one's career goal is a coveted tenure-track faculty position in a mainstream institution.

Straight-up Book of Mormon Studies of the apologetic FARMS variety will continue, although much of the leadership and institutional support will come from independent organizations such as FAIR Mormon, Interpreter Foundation, and the newly-created Book of Mormon Central.

Many have asked why FARMS, which began in 1979 as a private non-profit in southern California, allowed itself to be acquired by BYU. Some key reasons included:
  • By the late 1990's, over 100 BYU faculty members were participating in FARMS projects in some way. The FARMS/BYU connection ran deep. FARMS was increasingly being drawn into the sometimes byzantine world of BYU departmental politics.
  • FARMS was raising quite a bit of money. LDS Philanthropies was anxious that those donations channel through them.
  • FARMS owned property adjacent to campus that figured in BYU's master plan. The BYU Life Sciences Building, completed in 2014, sits where the FARMS office used to be.
  • Merrill J. Bateman was inaugurated President of BYU in 1996. One year later Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley invited FARMS to become part of the university and voila, several of Pres. Bateman's problems were solved with a phone call.
An excellent treatise extolling apologetics is Dan Peterson's classic "An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics."

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan

Brian D. Stubbs' long-awaited book is now available. Entitled Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan, this 436 page tour de force published by Jerry D. Grover, Jr. in Provo goes far beyond cognate pairs in its analysis of comparative linguistics between the Ancient Near East and the Americas. Grover's website explains how to purchase a copy.
Brian Stubbs' Latest Book
See the article "Uto-Aztecan" for additional context.

This is a photo of Stubbs, recently retired as a professor of English and linguistics.
Brian D. Stubbs, Semiticist and Uto-Aztecanist

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hansen and Coe

On Friday, October 16th, 2015, I attended lectures by Dr. Richard Hansen, University of Utah, and Dr. Michael Coe, Yale. The event was the first biannual Mesoamerican Talks Conference sponsored by the U of U Department of Anthropology.

The conference was subtitled "A Tribute to Dr. Michael Coe, Yale University." [Comments in brackets about potential Book of Mormon connections did not originate with either Hansen or Coe,]

Hansen's presentation was very similar to the one he gave at the Library of Congress in April, 2014. You can watch a video of that presentation here. If you download the transcript, beware that it is machine-generated and therefore riddled with errors. A portion of Hansen's presentation is abstracted in the article "Founding Civilizations." Hansen did his undergraduate work at BYU, received his PhD from UCLA, and was a Fulbright Scholar in Guatemala. He heads the massive Mirador Basin Project (a consortium of 62 universities) and has authored more than 300 academic publications. Hansen is probably the top field archaeologist working in Mesoamerica today.

Some points in Hansen's lecture I found interesting:
  • All remains recovered by the Mirador Basin Project are processed at a lab in Guatemala City.
  • The site of El Mirador is 50 trail kilometers (36 air kilometers) from the nearest supply depot at Carmelitas. You get to El Mirador by helicopter or by walking for 3 days. [This is yet one more data point supporting our deduced value for the Book of Mormon standard unit of measure "one day's travel." See the article "Land Southward Travel Times."]
This map shows the locations of El Mirador and the closest town with a road.
El Mirador 36 air kilometers from Carmelitas
More points from Richard Hansen:
  • The Mirador - Calakmul Basin contains 51 sites mapped so far. Results from a recent LIDAR survey (38 hours in the air, 700 square kilometers analyzed) are just now coming in, so that number will undoubtedly increase.
  • Corn was being grown in the basin as early as 2,600 BC. We know that from pollen samples found in lake sediment cores. 
  • El Mirador, the largest site in the basin, began ca. 1,000 BC, reached apogee ca. 300 BC, and was abandoned ca. AD 150.
  • A temple with a roof comb was erected in the basin during the 720 - 600 BC time frame.
  • From 1,000 BC to 800 BC sea shells were being used as money. Sea shells as a form of currency also show up in Cahal Pech, Belize during this same time period.
This map shows El Mirador and Cahal Pech in context.
El Mirador, Peten and Cahal Pech, Cayo
Additional points made by Richard Hansen:
  • Olmec sites were generally aligned N/S. Early Maya sites were usually oriented E/W.
  • Sites in the basin have clear site alignments oriented to solstice and equinox points on the horizon. [This is yet one more corroboration of our proposed Book of Mormon directionality system described in the article "Test #5 North South East and West."]
  • El Mirador has 52 square kilometers of monumental architecture connected by causeways. This makes it the largest city in the Americas, larger even than Teotihuacan. For a size comparison of many ancient American sites, see the article "Site Sizes."
  • A typical causeway in the basin, called sacbe in Mayan, was 40 to 50 meters wide.
  • The late pre-classic moat around Tintal was 10 times larger than the widely-publicized one around Becan. The Tintal moat was 40 meters wide and 10 meters deep. El Mirador also had a moat around it.
This map shows the three sites protected by moats.
Becan, El Mirador & Tintal all Surrounded by Moats
[The Book of Mormon describes multiple cities protected by encircling ditches Alma 49:18, Alma 53:3-4.]

Hansen said the largest structure at El Mirador, Danta, is built on a base 600 meters wide. The pyramid itself is 320 meters wide and 76 meters tall. It's volume is 2,800,000 cubic meters. This makes it the largest pyramid in the world by volume and the tallest in the Americas.
Michael D. Coe, 86 years old, is generally regarded as the pre-eminent living Mesoamericanist. He pioneered the multi-disciplinary approach to antiquities. I have enjoyed his books for decades, so it was a pleasure to finally visit with the man and shake his hand. Some points from Coe's presentation I found interesting:
  • The Ancient Maya by Sylvanus Morley is still the best book on the subject.
  • The Olmec flourished from 1,400 BC to 400 BC.
  • San Lorenzo was destroyed 900 BC and power shifted to La Venta.
  • There were Maya living in a barrio in Teotihuacan.
  • Teotihuacan was an urban civilization with planned avenues.
  • The population of Teotihuacan at apogee was much larger than Tenochtitlan at contact.
  • During the AD 350 - 450 era, people from Teotihuacan were all over the Maya area.
  • The Teotihuacan warrior was an anonymous cultural icon, not an individual portrayal.
  • The Teotihuacanos did not venerate their rulers like the Maya did.
  • Teotihuacan collapsed AD 600.
  • The noted Tikal ball court marker is in Teotihuacan style except for the Maya glyphs.
This is an image of the aforementioned Tikal ball court marker.
Tikal Ball Court Marker with Glyphs on the Shaft
Coe continued:
  • The mural from Uaxactun structure B-XIII depicts a Maya lord and Teotihuacan warrior.
  • A mural from La Sufricaya shows Teotihuacan warriors.
  • We find Teotihuacan influence from northern Yucatan to the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. Ergo, Teotihuacan was an empire.
Michael Coe prides himself on being something of an iconoclast among his peers. He gently chided his fellow Mesoamericanists for being reluctant to recognize Teotihuacan's status as an empire. He analogized that the Maya in Teotihuacan were like the Greeks in Rome. The presence of erudite Greeks in the imperial capital did not detract from Rome's status as an empire.

This map shows sites with known Teotihuacan presence.
Teotihuacan Influenced Sites
[Whether or not there were true empires in pre-contact Mesoamerica is an important question relevant to the Book of Mormon. The Nephite text describes multiple kings Alma 17:21, Alma 20:4 subject to an overlord king Alma 20:8 which means the Lamanites ca. 90 BC met the classic criteria for empire.]

There is much more archaeological evidence for the Teotihuacan empire than for the better-known Aztec empire. Anthropologists have no problem accepting the Aztec empire because it is described in historical sources, even though it is thinly-attested archaeologically. The Aztecs maintained a military garrison in the Soconusco, which they called Xoconochco, to protect their sources of cacao. The name Xoconochco in Nahuatl refers to chocolate.
Aztec Empire at Contact including Xoconochco Garrison
Xoconochco was approximately 800 air kilometers distant from the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
Xoconochco Remote from Tenochtitlan
[The Nephites also maintained a remote military garrison on their west sea to protect a strategic travel route Alma 22:33. In our correlation, this Nephite outpost was just north of the Soconusco about 300 air kilometers distant from Zarahemla.]
Proposed Nephite Military Garrison Remote from Zarahemla
Coe then launched into a discussion of one of his favorite topics - chocolate. He and his late wife authored the best-selling "The True History of Chocolate" now in its 3rd edition.
  • ka-ka-w(a) is Mayan for cacao.
  • Chocolate is a complex substance containing theobromine & phenethylamine.
  • Traces of these chemicals can be detected in ancient pots and jars.
  • Barra pottery vessels from the Mokara culture of the pre-Olmec Soconusco held chocolate.
  • The Soconusco was the ancient home of chocolate made from fermenting cacao.
  • Uaxactun burial A22 had chocolate in Teotihuacan-style pottery.
  • Cacao was used as money and appears on many tribute lists.
  • Cacao was anciently associated with marriage. Chocolate had prestige value.
Many Maya vases are signed. Maya rulers were venerated by name. This hyper individualism is unique in the New World. The Maya depicted real people in their art. They had supreme interest in their leaders as individuals. The Moche in Peru are the only other culture with this kind of interest in portraiture. [The Book of Mormon also demonstrates cultural focus on leaders as individuals Alma 46:16-18,]

Heather Hurst is the greatest archaeological artist of all time. This image from one of the murals at San Bartolo illustrates her work.
San Bartolo, Peten Mural Re-Drawn by Heather Hurst
In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the Pueblo Bonito apartment complex yielded cylindrical vases with chocolate residue. Patricia Crown, archaeologist with the University of New Mexico, made this discovery. Hohokam pottery from Snaketown (near modern Chandler, AZ) held chocolate. The Pima and Papago are modern Hohokam. Turquoise from north was traded for cacao, scarlet macaw feathers, and copper bells from the south. AD 900 is when turquoise first appears in the archaeological record in Mesoamerica. In the post-classic, turquoise was even more valued than jade. The Aztec pochteca traders got as far north as New Mexico. Dorothy Washburn from the University of Pennsylvania has found traces of chocolate near Canyonlands National Park, Utah that dates to ca. AD 770. Chocolate has been found at Cahokia, Illinois and other post-classic Mississippian culture sites in North America.
Sites with Ancient Chocolate Residues
This means cacao in post-classic times was being traded as far away as 3,000 air kilometers distant from its origin in the Soconusco. Other indications of contact between Mesoamerica and North America in post-classic times:
  • Snaketown had a ball court with rubber balls.
  • Many copper bells from western Mexico have been found in Hohokam sites.
  • Maya vase K578 shows God N emerging from a snail shell. Snaketown has a similar motif.
This is Justin Kerr's photograph of vase K578.
God N Emerging from Snail Shell
The Maya carved pyrite mirrors. Similar carved mirrors have been found at Snaketown.

Coe said the Toltec Empire flourished from AD 900 - 1200. It had a presence in Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas. Major centers were Tula, Hidalgo and Chichen Itza, Yucatan.
Toltec and Toltec-Influenced Sites
Don Forsyth of the BYU Anthropology faculty spoke with me after Coe's lecture. Don is not entirely convinced the Toltecs made it to Chiapa de Corzo.

The North American Mississippian culture is post-classic. These people built temple pyramids in a style reminiscent of Mesoamerica. Cahokia is the largest site. It dates to AD 1050 - 1200.

Metallurgy went from South America to Central America before it reached Mesoamerica. Cast gold objects from Panama were thrown into the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza.

Coe has spent considerable time studying the Angkor aka Khmer culture from Cambodia. Angkor Wat is the most famous site from this area. Coe is convinced there was cultural contact between Southeast Asia and the Maya.
Image of Angkor Wat in modern Cambodia
The Maya were the only real literary civilization in the New World. [This is an important point for Book of Mormon connections because both Nephites Mosiah 29:4 and Lamanites Mosiah 24:6-7 were highly literate.]

Coe and the late William T. Sanders of Penn State were good friends. They were classmates at Harvard. Bill Sanders was one of five archaeologists who worked with NWAF in its first field season in Tabasco in 1953. [See the article "Zarahemla ca. 1955" for the Book of Mormon interest.]

The Maya are the only civilization in the New World that historians of science are interested in. Paul Kirchhof invented the name Mesoamerica.

Cacaxtla was an intrusion from the Maya area into central Mexico. Pochteca traders with their large carry packs are shown. God L, the wealthy trader deity, is prominent in the iconography of the site. There is a writing system from Xochicalco. God L and the maize god are both represented, both associated with cacao.

Black and red was an Aztec phrase meaning "east." [Chapter 4 in Stephen C. Compton's important Exodus Lost, entitled "Black Land Red Land," shows evidence that this Aztec idiom originated in Egypt.] The Aztecs had a great deal of Maya influence in their culture.

Coe shared a metric I have also heard elsewhere - that 16 city states co-existed in the northern Maya lowlands and 31 were in the southern Maya lowlands. [The Book of Mormon mentions 31 named and described lesser lands. It names 4 continental-scale greater lands. It names a total of 33 greater and lesser lands. Other lands are alluded to in the text but neither described nor named. Some Book of Mormon lands functioned as classic city states with a central city controlling the land round about Mosiah 7:21, Mosiah 23:25, Alma 43:25.]
This ends the data presented by Hansen and Coe.
We can map the approximate extent of contiguous Maya territory (354,325 square kilometers) which consisted of the northern lowlands in the Yucatan Peninsula (approx. 117,120 sq. km), the southern lowlands (approx. 151,782 sq. km), and the highlands (approx. 85,423 sq. km).
Maya Territory with Approximate Land Areas 
One of the characteristics of Maya land use patterns was that they left relatively lightly-settled wild areas in between city states. We see this same pattern of wilderness adjoining developed areas in the Book of Mormon Alma 8:3, Alma 16:2-3, Alma 58:13. Focusing on the southern lowlands, if we assume a 50/50 relationship between lightly-settled and developed city state land areas, the approximate mean extent of a Maya city state in the region was 151,782 square kilometers divided by 2 and then divided again by 31 which equals 2,448 square kilometers. This compares very favorably with our estimated mean extent of Book of Mormon lesser land areas. See the article "Test #7 Land Areas."