Saturday, October 3, 2015

Capacity Temples

I was interested in Elder Hugo Montoya's story in the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference about a brother who was turned away from one of our temples because the facility had reached its daily capacity limit. Since most of Elder Montoya's ministry has been in Mexico, I assume he was referring to one of our twelve temples currently operating in that land. It reminded me of remarks I heard from Elder Clate Mask, former President of the Guatemala City Temple. During his three year presidency it was operating at 125% of capacity - the busiest temple in the church by that measure.

There is a nefarious faction within the church that mocks the faithful Saints in Mexico and Guatemala by casting aspersions on their countries. We should celebrate the posterity of Lehi coming to know the covenants of the Lord in large numbers as the Title Page of the Book of Mormon promises they will.

According to the World Bank, the U.S. has a land area of 9,147.420, Canada has 9,093,510, Mexico has 1,943,950, and Guatemala has 107,160 square kilometers. According to,, the U.S. currently has 71 operating temples, Canada has 7, Mexico has 12, and Guatemala has 2. On the basis of operating temple density per square kilometer, this is how the four countries rank:

  1. Guatemala: 1 temple per 53,580 square kilometers
  2. U.S. 1 temple per 128,837 square kilometers
  3. Mexico: 1 temple per 161,996 square kilometers
  4. Canada: 1 temple per 1,299,073 square kilometers
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. had an estimated population in July, 2014 of 318,892,103; Mexico had 120,286,655; Canada had 34,834,841, and Guatemala had 14,647,083. On the basis of operating temple per person, this is how the four countries rank:
  1. U.S.: 1 temple per 4,491,438 people
  2. Canada: 1 temple per 4,976,496 people
  3. Guatemala: 1 temple per 7,323,542 people
  4. Mexico: 1 temple per 10,023,888 people
According to, the U.S. at the end of 2014 had 6,466,267 members of the church. Mexico had 1,368,475, Guatemala had 255,505 and Canada had 192,299. The four countries ranked by percentage of their population in the church are:
  1. U.S.: 2.02% belong to the church
  2. Guatemala: 1.74% belong to the church
  3. Mexico: 1.14% belong to the church
  4. Canada: .055% belong to the church
Another interesting way to run the numbers brings in the length of time the church has had missionaries in a country. This is a measure of receptivity to the gospel in that country. Missionary work began in the U.S. in 1830 and has continued for 186 years. Missionary work also began in Canada in 1830 and has continued for the same 186 years. Missionary work began in Mexico in 1875 and has continued for 141 years. Missionary work only began in Guatemala in 1947 and has continued for 69 years. The four countries ranked by percent of population baptized per year are:
  1. Guatemala: 1.74%/69 years = .025% baptized per year
  2. U.S.: 2.02%/186 years = .011% baptized per year
  3. Mexico: 1.14%/141 years = .008% baptized per year
  4. Canada: .055%/186 years = .003% baptized per year

Friday, October 2, 2015

New Apostles

Article updated September 3, 2015.

Tomorrow is a continuation of the 185th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is widely expected that three new Apostles will be called to the Quorum of the Twelve to fill vacancies left by the passing of Elders L. Tom Perry, Boyd K. Packer, and Richard G. Scott.

A great call would be Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the First Quorum of the Seventy, currently serving as President of the Asia Area headquartered in Hong Kong. The W. in his name stands for Walter, his father's name. Walter A. Gong was a Professor of Natural Science at San Jose State University. Gerrit grew up in Palo Alto, California. He was named after Gerrit de Jong Jr., first Dean of the College of Fine Arts at BYU. Gerrit de Jong is the person for whom the de Jong Concert Hall on BYU campus is named.

Gerrit Gong attended BYU as a Joseph Fielding Smith Scholar. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Tennis is his sport. His early career was with the U.S. State Department. He was working in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square uprising in June, 1989. He was later head of the Asia Desk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. For several years he was an Assistant to the President of BYU, in charge of long range planning for the university. He served as Stake President of one of the BYU stakes. He was called to the First Quorum of Seventy in 2010.

From time to time, the Apostles bring in outside specialists to share their expertise and keep the brethren informed on a wide variety of topics. J. Ward Moody, for example, of the BYU Physics Department, was brought in to teach them about astronomy. One of Elder Gong's early assignments as a Seventy was to identify and arrange for these outside experts to advise the Twelve.

Gerrit is married to Susan Lindsay whose brother is Bruce Lindsay, long-time news anchor at KSL Television and recently released President of the Australia Perth Mission.

Other terrific calls would be Elder L. Whitney Clayton, a California attorney currently serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, or Elder Kim B. Clark, former Dean of Harvard Business School, former President of BYU-Idaho, and currently Commissioner of Church Education.

The brethren who were called include Elder Ronald A. Rasband, former President and COO of Huntsman Chemical, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, co-founder and former COO of Icon Health and Fitness, world's largest manufacturer of exercise equipment, and Elder Dale G. Renlund who did his medical residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, the top-rated medical school in the U.S. My wife and I spent a year living in Baltimore County. While there, a number of impressive young couples come into our ward and the husband announced something like this: "I'll be going to Hopkins, so you won't see me. You may see my wife from time to time and she may be able to accept a calling." The creme de la creme of LDS medical students go to Johns Hopkins. It was axiomatic in the Baltimore area wards that these magnificent young people would be essentially unavailable for Church service. During his five years at Hopkins, Elder Renlund served three years as a Bishop, took care of his wife who developed ovarian cancer, and was the primary caregiver for their young daughter while his wife was indisposed. During his medical practice, he served as a Stake President and Area Seventy. When he was called to the First Quorum of Seventy in 2009, his wife left her law career. They spent the next six years in Africa. These are incredible people.  

What does this have to do with the Book of Mormon? The risen Lord called twelve disciples to be his special witnesses in the New World. They were exceptional men 3 Nephi 19:4, 4 Nephi 1:5. In the world of Prophets and Apostles, cream rises.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Xoc Chiapas

In 1968 the BYU New World Archaeological Foundation NWAF worked at the Olmec outlier site of Xoc SE of Ocosingo, Chiapas. The principal attraction of the site was a 2 meter high bas relief figure carved into the face of a rock. When the BYU team returned for another field season four years later, a looter had removed the carved figure with a chain saw and the vandalized rock face was bare. See Susanna Ekholm-Miller, "The Olmec Rock Carving at Xoc, Chiapas, Mexico" in Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 32, BYU NWAF (Provo: 1973). Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in the Maya lowlands where most monuments are carved into soft limestone.

Fortunately in this case, the original carving (cut into four pieces for easier transport) recently showed up in France where it was handed over to Mexican authorities who plan to repatriate the important work of Olmec art. This map shows the location of Xoc 190 air kilometers SE of the Olmec Heartland along the Gulf Coast.
Known Olmec Sites with Xoc shown SE of Ocosingo
This photo shows the rock carving in situ prior to defacement.
Olmec Stone Carving ca. 900 BC
And this is an artist's rendering from Mike Ruggeri's fine collection of Olmec images.
Rendering of Olmec Stone Carving from Xoc, Chiapas
Some Mesoamericanists think the figure is a priest, others a warrior. He wears an elaborate headdress adorned with avian motifs.

Xoc is one of only a handful of Olmec sites known from the Usumacinta drainage basin which is typically considered Maya territory.This relative paucity of Olmec sites is one of the many reasons I believe the Usumacinta is a stronger candidate for river Sidon than the Grijalva. See the article "The Usumacinta/Sidion Correlation." The Olmec sculptor who carved the Xoc rock face was probably a long way from his homeland just as Coriantumr was a long way from his native land when he carved the large stone stela none of his hosts could read that is mentioned in Omni 1:20-22.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Lehi in Arabia

I just watched an excellent new DVD by Warren Aston and his son, Chad, entitled "Lehi in Arabia: The Search for Nephi's Bountiful."
Warren Aston's New Video
This 75 minute documentary describes and illustrates Aston's 30 year independent research odyssey throughout the Arabian Peninsula, particularly in Yemen and Oman. It is full of rich details such as photographs of inscribed metal plates found in the region. I highly recommend this video which ships from Provo, Utah. You can order it on Aston's website Narrator Scot Proctor of Meridian Magazine says in the introduction "This is the story of the most widely accepted physical evidence that supports the Book of Mormon." After watching the video, one is left with the impression that these Book of Mormon locations are known:
  • Jerusalem
  • Red Sea
  • Valley of Lemuel - Tayyib Al Ism in the Mazhafah Mountains of NW Saudi Arabia
  • Nahom - Nehem Tribal Area in the Nehem Hills of Yemen
  • Old World Bountiful - Khor Kharfot at the mouth of Wadi Sayq in SW Oman
Warren Aston, a native of New Zealand now living in Brisbane, Australia, is a father of 6 who has systematically explored southern Arabia on several research expeditions and numerous trips as a tour guide. This is a timeline of Aston's adventurous story:
  • 1763 Carsten Niebuhr created a map as part of a royal Danish expedition to Arabia Felix. This map shows the location of NEHHM in modern Yemen.
  • 1976 Lynn & Hope Hilton with photographer Gerald Silver explored Saudi Arabia and Oman. Their two-part article "In Search of Lehi's Trail" appeared in the September & October, 1976 Ensign. They identified Salalah in the Dhofar region of southern Oman as a possible Bountiful.
  • 1978 In the October Ensign BYU Professor Ross Christensen suggested that Niebuhr's NEHHM was a better fit for Nahom than the Hilton's proposed Al Qunfudhah, Saudi Arabia.
  • 1984 Warren Aston read Christensen's 1978 Yemeni suggestion and promptly traveled to Yemen to check it out. Aston was the first LDS explorer/researcher to visit the Nehem Tribal area. He found the name NHM on other old maps and ancient monuments.
  • 1987 Aston traveled to southern Arabia and began searching for Bountiful along the Yemeni and Omani coasts. He found the Bountiful - Salalah correlation unpersuasive.
  • 1988 Aston continued his reconnaissance, this time comparing Bountiful candidates against 12 scriptural criteria. Khor Rori at first looked promising, but the correlation failed to stand up under scrutiny.
  • 1989 Aston again visited Oman and happened upon Khor Kharfot which seemed to meet most of his criteria.
  • 1993 With support from FARMS, Aston led a research expedition to Khor Kharfot. Noel Reynolds accompanied him on that trip. Expedition members were convinced this could be Bountiful.
  • 2000 On September 12, Warren Aston, Lynn Hilton and Gregory Witt became the first LDS explorers/researchers to see the recently excavated altars at Marib bearing the name NHM. German archaeologists had dated the Marib temple ruins from 700 to 900 BC.
  • 2001 The February issue of the Ensign published an article describing the altars in Yemen as "the first archaeological find that supports a Book of Mormon place name other than Jerusalem or the Red Sea."
  • 2009 Aston led another research expedition to Khor Kharfot. All 12 scriptural criteria were validated. Expedition members were convinced this was Bountiful.
  • 2010 Aston led yet another expedition to Khor Kharfot.
There have been other expeditions to Khor Kharfot as well. Rick Hauck, a Mesoamerican archaeologist, did research in the area in 2014.

This map shows key places Warren Aston has investigated.
Places of Interest - Lehi in Arabia 
This photo shows Warren Aston with one of the altars bearing the inscription NHM.
Warren Aston, Temple of Marib, Yemen, September, 2000
And this is a landscape of Khor Kharfot.
Warren Aston's Old World Bountiful in Dhofar Region, Oman

Friday, September 18, 2015

Blank Spots on the Map

I am reading a terrific book by Mary Ellen Miller, Sterling Professor of the History of Art at Yale and former Dean of Yale College. Miller is a highly respected Mesoamericanist. Her book with Linda Schele, The Blood of Kings (1986) is a classic. My current read, The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec published by Thames & Hudson, has gone through five editions since it first appeared in 1986. I am reading the fifth edition published in 2012. I met Miller at a Maya Conference in Los Angeles in April. See the article "Light from L.A." She is a vivacious, engaging speaker as well as a first rate scholar. In 288 pages Miller takes her readers through the panorama of high civilization in Mesoamerica by focusing on art and architecture. 250 illustrations show the splendor of Olmec, Late Formative (Lehite time period), Teotihuacan, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Pacific Coast of Guatemala, Maya, Toltec and Aztec accomplishments. Miller illustrates the greatest achievements of these cultures, their most noted works of art, the high water marks of their civilizations.

She includes a map of all the sites referenced in her text:
Sites Mentioned by Mary Ellen Miller in 2012
It should be obvious that the large blank spots on this map are relative cultural backwaters, places where the art and architecture did not reach the level of sophistication Miller finds impressive. It is interesting that Miller only shows four rivers: The Coatzacoalcos in the Olmec heartland, the Motagua draining the Maya highlands, the Pasion which is tributary to the Usumacinta, and the Usumacinta which is the quintessential Maya river. The Grijalva does not appear on her map because she found so little of note along its banks. Except for one mention of an early long count date on epi-Olmec stela 2 at Chiapa de Corzo, Miller does not treat anything from the Grijalva drainage basin and no art or architecture from the area appears in any of her illustrations. The Grijalva River and its tributaries are a large blank spot on her map because the ruins found there tend to be minor and pedestrian. Even the Chiapa stela 2 mention may not survive in future editions of Miller's book. For some time, the 36 BC date from Chiapa de Corzo has been widely acknowledged as the earliest long count date yet discovered in Mesoamerica. Some scholars are now interpreting a weathered date on Takalik Abaj stela 2 as 236 BC. A stone block text recently discovered at San Bartolo could have a long count date as early as 295 BC. Garth Norman interprets a date on Izapa stela 12 as correlating with 176 BC.

In 1974, while serving my mission in Peru, I began corresponding with Elder Milton R. Hunter of the Seventy. Elder Hunter was the point man among the brethren for all things Book of Mormon, a role he had been assigned by Pres. David O. McKay. I shared with him some of the interesting things my companions and I were finding as we visited college professors, archaeological sites, and libraries on our preparation days. Elder Hunter got rather excited and arranged for me to remain in Peru for two extra months at the end of my mission so I could do full-time research. He explained that he was very disappointed with the research results coming out of Mesoamerica. The BYU New World Archaeological Foundation had been digging in Chiapas for 20 years at that point, and they had not found much of anything Elder Hunter deemed compelling. His attitude of disenchantment was shared by Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Dee F. Green, and others whose enthusiasm for Book of Mormon archaeology waned as NWAF kept uncovering unspectacular sites. NWAF at that time was excavating primarily in the Grijalva drainage basin, the large blank spot in the middle of Mary Miller's map.

This raises an important question. What are we likely to find when we finally locate Nephite and Lamanite remains? Should we be looking for a Quirigua if not a Copan or a Palenque? Or is Sorenson's small and relatively plain Santa Rosa as much as we should expect? In other words, did the Nephites and Lamanites participate in Mesoamerican high civilization or were they cultural underachievers?

If the Nephite city of Nephi was Kaminaljuyu as many LDS Mesoamericanists believe, then they were right in the thick of high culture in the region for several hundred years. Kaminaljuyu is on Miller's map. It is on everyone's map because it had fine art, advanced architecture, a substantial encircling wall, long distance trade relations, strong ties with Teotihuacan, etc. 2 of Miller's 250 illustrations are from Kaminaljuyu.

Ca. 200 BC when Mosiahled the Nephites through the wilderness to join the Mulekites in Zarahemla, did the Nephites lose their sophistication and go into cultural decline? No. The text describes a progressive, expansive, literate society Helaman 3:14-15 with widespread access to luxury goods Alma 4:6 and a thriving professional class Alma 11:20. The text further describes Nephite society as generally more advanced than Lamanite culture Alma 43:19-21, Alma 49:5.

Does it follow then that the Nephites were located along the Grijalva where the ruins are so small and simple they failed to impress Elder Milton R. Hunter in 1974 or Mary Ellen Miller in 2012? No. The Mulekite-Nephite capital was probably not located in a large blank spot on Miller's map.

Now, things get very interesting. Pinpoint correspondences are generally less impressive than broad patterns because widespread models result from many individual data points. This is a copy of Mary Miller's map with the large blank spots along the Grijalva River outlined in red.
Blank Spots in Tabasco - Chiapas and Chiapas - NW Guatemala
And this is a copy of the Book of Mormon map elaborated since 2011 on this blog. It too has large blank spots along the Grijalva River where our correlation of Nephite and Lamanite geography finds nothing noteworthy enough to get mentioned in the text.
Blank Spots in Tabasco - Chiapas and Chiapas - NW Guatemala
Very similar blank spots are found on the maps proposed by V. Garth Norman and F. Richard Hauck - Joe V. Andersen. Aric Turner's blank spots are not as large, but he still shows almost nothing happening along the banks of the Grijalva.

I return to the question: "Were the Nephites and Lamanites in the Mesoamerican cultural mainstream or were they in the backwater?" The way I read the text they were in the mainstream which makes it unlikely their most important settlements were in large blank spots on the map.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, a publication of the Neal A. Mawell Institute at BYU, just published vol. 24. This annual publication will appear again in the spring of 2016. The editorial board consists of Brian Hauglid, Mark Wright and Joseph Spencer. Kerry Hull's article entitled "War Banners: A Mesoamerican Context for the Title of Liberty" I found particularly interesting.

It is great to see this important organ focused again on the Book of Mormon and re-vitalized.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Elder Ballard on Scholarship

In the Utah South Area Stake Conference broadcast originating from the Marriott Center this morning, Elder M. Russell Ballard shared this wise counsel:
  • Ask questions. Allow others to ask questions. Don't assume a person is faithless because they are wrestling with tough and persistent questions. It was a difficult question that led the Prophet Joseph to the grove.
  • Priesthood leaders, help members in your stewardship find satisfying answers to their questions. Seek faithful scholars who can provide context for our scriptures and our history.
  • The Church is committed to transparency. The Joseph Smith Papers project is one example. The Gospel Topics Essays on are another.
  • "... be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you..." 1 Peter 3:15
  • Since you have been blessed with learning and some measure of prosperity, do not mock or ridicule weak or poorly-educated members of the Church. Many of those living in less fortunate circumstances around the world are valiant, faithful latter-day Saints.
Elder Ballard has wide experience in the developing nations of the world. The Ballard Center, part of BYU's Marriott School, is named after him.