Tuesday, October 23, 2018

5 Year Prophecies

In the book The Ancient Future of the Itza: The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin written by unknown Maya scribes over centuries and translated and annotated by Munro  S. Edmonson, Austin: University of Texas Press: 1982, we find a significant correspondence with the Book of Mormon. Munro Sterling Edmonson (1924 - 2002) was a Mayanist on the faculty of the Middle American Research Institute (MARI) at Tulane. He is best known for a highly-acclaimed translation of the Popol Vuh published in 1971 that was the best available until BYU's Alan  Christenson came out with his superior translation in 2003. There are many books of Chilam Balam known by the Yucatecan city of their provenance (Chumayel, Mani, Teabo, etc.) and they share many characteristics as divinatory almanacs tied to the cyclical Maya calendar. They are sometimes called "prophetic history" because they contain both predictions for the coming katun (7,200 day or 20 year cycle) and a history of the past katun. Important elements in the books of Chilam Balam are where was the seat of government, who was the ruler, and what were the major events that took place during a given katun? All of this sounds very like what we read in the Book of Mormon.
Cover of Edmonson with Drawing of Mayapan
by Tatiana Proskouriakoff
There is one parallel that caught my attention. In his introduction, Edmonson says the predictions were usually given 5 years before the beginning of a katun (The Ancient Future of the Itza, p. xii).  We have a very nice example of a five year prophecy by Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 14:2.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Quality Book of Mormon Scholarship

In my volunteer role as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central (BMC), I get proposals frequently from aspiring scholars seeking collaboration or support. BMC's mission is to build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. We accomplish our mission with quality scholarship. Shoddy work does not endure. We like Pres. Dallin H. Oaks' comment at a FARMS banquet decades ago "a bad argument is worse than no argument at all." The Book of Mormon deserves our best effort. This is how I evaluate proposals:
  1. Quality people. Are credentialed specialists working in their area of expertise? Most good science and history come from well-trained, experienced people working in their discipline.
  2. Quality sources. Are the authorities credentialed specialists working in their area? Are the publications peer-reviewed? Have the citations been source-checked for accuracy, completeness, and appropriate context? Are the sources up to date? Scholarship that stands the test of time is source critical.
  3. Quality thesis. Is the proposal disprovable? Relevant? Important? Falsifiable hypotheses can be scientifically tested with reproducible results. Relevant proposals matter enough to secure resources. Important studies advance the state of the art.
  4. Quality data. Have sites been ground-truthed and competently studied? Are artifacts provenanced? Do texts have verifiable transmission histories? Are key data points statistically significant? The Book of Mormon is already such a controversial proposition that trying to support it with fakes and outliers does great harm.
  5. Quality exegesis. How closely is the proposal tied to the text? Are referenced passages abundant? Explicit? Vague, subjective textual links create ambiguity.
  6. Quality tone. Is the proponent respectful to peers? Responsible with the data? Conspiracy theories seldom hold. Over-claiming is a huge red flag.
  7. Quality presentation. Is the proposal well edited? Well illustrated? In today's digital world, high production values engage audiences. 
Quality Sources: High Impact Journals
At BMC, we strive to publish quality content.
Quality Data: Within Two Standard Deviations of the Mean

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Dead Prophets

Throughout history, most people have found it easier to follow dead prophets than God's living oracles. You can proof text (selectively cherry pick), misunderstand, or re-arrange the words of a dead prophet and he will never chastise you for misquoting him. Over time, powerful traditions build up around a dead prophet because large numbers of people are only exposed to the proof texted, misconstrued, or re-contextualized version of his words. People believe these traditions and think they understand the prophet behind the facade. Honest historians come along who challenge these time-honored traditions and people cry foul. How dare modern intellectuals revise the cozy folklore that has built up around a dead prophet of God? A living prophet comes along who makes some procedural changes, clarifies points, or teaches something more in step with modern thought and people cringe. How dare the current prophet question the mythology that has built up around one of his dead predecessors?

The children of Israel struggled to follow Moses, but by the time Christ came along, Moses was canonized and the Creator of the Universe had to deal with entrenched Moses mythology because most found it easier to follow the dead prophet than the living bread and water John 7:19, 22-23; John 9:28-293 Nephi 15:2, 4, 8. By the time Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805 - 1844) walked the earth, people called him a heretic and blasphemer.
Joseph Smith, Jr. by Bathsheba W. Smith (1822 - 1910)
Sketched in Nauvoo, IL ca. 1843
His contemporaries "knew" what a prophet was supposed to be like, and the very human Joseph did not fit their mental mold. In 2018 we have people who lionize Joseph Smith, proof texting, misrepresenting, and re-formatting his message to suit their pet notions. Honest historians publish the Joseph Smith Papers and Saints, causing reactionaries among us to conjure up conspiracy theories to explain why certain content was or was not included in these official sources. There are people who liberally quote Joseph Fielding Smith (1876 - 1972) while they all but ignore the more international, culturally nuanced, scientifically sound teachings of Spencer Woolley Kimball (1895 - 1985), Howard William Hunter (1907 - 1995), Gordon Bitner Hinckley (1910 - 2008), Thomas Spencer Monson (1927 - 2018), and Russell Marion Nelson, Sr. It has always been so. Following a dead prophet does not require one to be humble, obedient, or thoughtful. People in their hubris can selectively quote, misinterpret, and re-package a dead prophet to fit their pre-conceived ideas of who, what, where, or how they think he should have been.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Ground-Truthed LiDAR

In early February, 2018, I published a blog article entitled "LiDAR" analyzing explosive new data corroborating the Book of Mormon account. Later that month, Takeshi Inomata & six associates published an article describing a major LiDAR survey of 470 square kilometers surrounding the important site of Ceibal on the great bend of the Pasión. Takeshi Inomata, Daniela Triadan, Flory Pinzón, Melissa Burham, José Luis Ranchos, Kazuo Ayoyama, Tsuyoshi Haraguchi, "Archaeological application of airborne LiDAR to examine social changes in the Ceibal region of the Maya lowlands," Plos One, February 21, 2018. Since Ceibal has been excavated more comprehensively than perhaps any other Maya site, and since he has published more Carbon 14 dates for Ceibal than we have from any other Maya site, Inomata's data serves as a major benchmark other archaeologists use to calibrate and validate their own data.
470 Square Kilometer LiDAR Survey Area around Ceibal
Inomata, et al. February 21, 2018
The Inomata, et al. article is important because it advances a methodology for reconciling the data from LiDAR surveys with published archaeological results through surface sampling, test pitting, and boots-on the-ground reconnaissance (what archaeologists call ground-truthing) throughout the LiDAR survey area. LiDAR can report false positives (what looks like an ancient structure is actually a natural feature or a modern construct) and false negatives (what looks like a blank spot is actually an ancient structure). LiDAR provides an image of topographic features in situ at the moment of survey. Inomata's methodology helps LiDAR data shed light on a region's settlement patterns over time.

On September 28, 2018, the prestigious journal Science carried a major research article authored by 18 eminent archaeologists. The LiDAR surveys we were all excited about in February have now been ground-truthed and validated with Inomata's Ceibal data. Tentative phrasing such as "possibly" has been replaced with "unambiguously." The LiDAR data National Geographic reported in its February 6th television special ("Lost Treasures of the Maya Snake Kings") is for real. If anything, the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative (PLI) may have under reported ancient structures by as much as 15%.

This is the new article: Marcelo A. Canuto, Francisco Estrada-Belli, Thomas G. Garrison, Stephen D. Houston, Mary Jane Acuña, Milan Kovác, Damien Marken, Philippe Nondédéo, Luke Auld-Thomas, Cyril Castanet, David Chatelain, Carlos R. Chiriboga, Tomás Drápela, Tibor Lieskovsky, Alexandre Tokovinine, Antonin Velasquez, Juan C. Fernández-Diaz, Ramesh Shrestha, "Ancient lowland Maya complexity as revealed by airborne laser scanning of northern Guatemala," Science September 28, 2018, vol. 361, issue 6409, beginning on p. 1355. The large research article is summarized in a short review: Anabel Ford, Sherman Horn, "Above and below the Maya forest," Science September 28, 2018, vol. 361, issue 6409, pp. 1313-1314.

The PLI surveyed 10 blocks of territory in Guatemala's northern Peten.
LiDAR Surveyed Areas within the Central Maya Lowlands
Canuto, et al., September 28, 2018
What we learn from the Canuto, et al. article:
  • The lowland Maya flourished from 1,000 BC to AD 1500 (European contact). The later portions of the Book of Mormon fit comfortably in this time horizon. Three of the ten survey blocks contain large numbers of structures that were abandoned in the late preclassic (before AD 250). This dating corresponds well with the Nephite record. 
  • The Maya are known for sophisticated writing, art, architecture, astronomy, and mathematics. The Book of Mormon describes this level of cultural attainment Helaman 3:15.
  • The Maya achieved substantial ancient population. The best estimates are 7 - 11 million people in the 95,000 square kilometers of the central Maya lowlands at apogee (AD 650 - 800). The central Maya lowlands constitute about 27% of the entire Maya area (approximately 350,000 square kilometers). Book of Mormon demography is on this order of magnitude Mosiah 8:8.
  • The Maya built "complex previously unrecognized landscape modifications at a grand scale." This corresponds well with the Book of Mormon's own description of its built environment Mormon 1:7.
  • Across the survey area of 2,144 square kilometers, structure density averages 29 per square kilometer. This implies a population density of 80 - 120 persons per square kilometer. 35 modern nations have population densities in this range including Honduras (80), Greece (82), Iraq (88), Spain (92), Egypt (97), Costa Rica (98), Turkey (103), Austria (105), and Portugal (112). All 10 of the PLI survey blocks were in Guatemala which has a modern population density of 158 persons per square kilometer.
  • This population was distributed across rural, periurban, and urban zones, precisely as the Book of Mormon describes Mormon 5:5.
  • The Maya practiced intensive agriculture to sustain their massive populations. The Book of Mormon describes productive agriculture yielding surpluses Alma 1:29.
  • Archaeologists were surprised to find extensive agricultural fields in low-lying wetlands. This implies a high degree of centralized social control. The Book of Mormon explicitly talks about centralized social control Alma 50:9.
  • The PLI survey found approximately 106 kilometers of causeways within and between urban centers. Many date to preclassic (Book of Mormon) times. Most were 10 to 20 meters in width. The widest causeway surveyed, at Tikal, was 80 meters wide. The Book of Mormon describes roads and highways 3 Nephi 6:8, 8:13.
  • "Sizable defensive features" imply "large-scale conflict." This sounds like a paraphrase of the Book of Mormon Mormon 8:8.
  • The Maya had a complex economy based on agriculture and trade. Ditto the economy described in the Book of Mormon 4 Nephi 1:46.
  • The more than 60,000 structures identified in the PLI survey required a heavy labor investment. The Book of Mormon describes public works built with heavy labor investments Alma 55:25.
  • Structures identified in the PLI survey include multiple types of buildings, fortifications, upland and wetland agricultural features, causeways, canals, and reservoirs. This is similar to Book of Mormon verbiage. Helaman 3:9.
  • The PLI survey found ancient landscape features even in flood-prone, poorly drained areas. The Book of Mormon describes population density increasing to such an extent that the people eventually built up even their least desirable land areas Helaman 11:20.
  • Man-made water channels are found throughout the Maya area. One example, at Tintal, is 2.5 kilometers long. The Book of Mormon mentions ditches being dug Alma 53:3.
  • Stone walls as long as 1 kilometer have been discovered. The Book of Mormon explicitly mentions walls of stone Alma 48:8.
  • Archaeologists have found evidence of cultivated fields, orchards, and household gardens. The Book of Mormon describes farmers raising grain and fruit as well as pastoralists raising animals Enos 1:21.
  • The PLI survey implies agricultural land dedicated to fiber production. The Book of Mormon describes cloth production Mosiah 10:5.
  • Portions of the PLI survey blocks remained in old growth forests. Forests are mentioned in the Nephite text Enos 1:3.
  • Portions of the PLI survey blocks contained relatively few structures of any kind. Archaeologists called them "vacant." The Book of Mormon describes tracts of wilderness adjoining settled lands Omni 1:12.
  • Maya cities had dependent hinterlands. The Book of Mormon describes these periurban edges as "the land round about" Mosiah 23:25.
  • Some Maya urbanizations were formidable. The center of El Perú-Waka' had a density of 1,100 structures per square kilometer. Tikal extended over at least 76 square kilometers. The Tikal palace had a man-made reservoir that held 31,000 cubic meters (8 million gallons) of water.  The Book of Mormon mentions great cities 3 Nephi 9:3-5 and implies a high level of urbane sophistication Helaman 3:14.
The Book of Mormon describes warfare in considerable detail per Nephi's original instructions to his posterity 1 Nephi 9:4. The PLI survey provides more information than we have ever had before about defensive structures in the Maya area. Now things get very interesting.
  1. The Maya built five different types of defensive fortifications that show up on LiDAR. Two of them (landscape ditch and rampart, hilltop ditch and rampart) are precisely the kind of fortifications the Book of Mormon describes Alma 49:18. A third (stone wall) is also attested in the Nephite text Alma 48:8.
  2. The PLI survey found 31 instances of defended areas in the 2,144 square kilometers they mapped. This high fortification density was entirely unexpected, but it fits comfortably into Captain Moroni's world Alma 50:1,6. Ubiquitous defensive structures, previously known only from the Book of Mormon, are now attested archaeologically.
  3. Some parts of Maya cities were more heavily fortified than others. The Book of Mormon explicitly says cities had stronger and weaker areas Alma 48:5.
  4. Some Maya cities were more heavily fortified than others. The Book of Mormon describes precisely this situation Alma 49:14-15.
  5. We have known about fortified Maya cities since the 1960's when reports on Becan and Tikal were published. The PLI survey showed that the Maya also built small military forts designed for brief stays remote from urban cores. Scholars did not see this coming, but it is exactly what the Book of Mormon describes. Archaeologists call these isolated structures "refuges" and five of them are identified in the Canuto, et al. article (RS028, Turca East, Kanalna North, Kanalna South, and El Achiotal Peninsula. The Book of Mormon calls them "small forts" and "places of resort" Alma 48:5, 8; 52:6. A defensive structure built primarily for military use, previously known only from the Book of Mormon, is now attested archaeologically.
The 2016 PLI survey, now ground-truthed, demonstrates monumental Maya engineering, architecture, and construction on a much grander scale than previously thought. World class archaeological data now vindicates many Book of Mormon passages.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Exec. Director of Book of Mormon Central (BMC), a publicly-supported non-profit that builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. BMC currently publishes in English and Spanish.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Seven Terrific Book of Mormon Videos

A new video starring Kelsey Edwards debuted today on Book of Mormon Central's BMC Studios YouTube channel.

Entitled "Evidences of the Book of Mormon: Hebraisms," this video is the fifth in the Book of Mormon Central evidences series. Previous videos in this series include Evidences of the Book of Mormon: Complexity starring Kwaku El,

Evidences of the Book of Mormon: Plates,

Evidences of the Book of Mormon: Translation,

and Evidences of the Book of Mormon: Nahom, all starring Stephen Smoot.

At the end of the latest video on Hebraisms, a user can click on links to two very good KnoWhy videos: Is It Possible That a Single Author Wrote the Book of Mormon? KnoWhy #399,

and What Can Stylometry Tell Us about Book of Mormon Authorship? KnoWhy #389.

Together, these seven videos present powerful evidence that the Book of Mormon:
The world is full of questions. Book of Mormon Central is providing well-researched, well-written, well-illustrated answers. Book of Mormon Central's mission is to build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. We take seriously the divine injunction to seek diligently out of the best books learning, even by study and also by faith D&C 88:118 and D&C 109:7, 14.

Six of the seven videos are available on the Book of Mormon Central en  Español YouTube channel:
Kelsey Edwards is a young Latter-day Saint actress who has played roles in several films. Kwaku El is a young Latter-day Saint actor best known for his comedy. Stephen O. Smoot is a brilliant young Latter-day Saint scholar with many publications to his credit. Stephen and Kwaku have appeared together several times on Three Mormons produced by the outstanding More Good Foundation.

Many people and groups produce Book of Mormon videos. What really separates the men from the boys is their degree of scholarly rigor. Go to this Book of Mormon Central blog post and click on "References" to see Book of Mormon Central's bona fides for the Hebraisms video thanks to the great work of another brilliant young Latter-day Saint scholar, Ryan Dahle.

How good are these videos? Elder Larry Y. Wilson, Executive Director of the Temple Department, thought our complexity video deserved to be on the lds.org homepage so every member of the Church could see it. That is unlikely, of course, but as of September 20, 2018 these videos have earned over 185,000 views in English and 230,000 in Spanish. These are relatively modest numbers, but our skills are improving and this material will have a long digital life.

We hope videos such as these help fulfill Pres. Ezra Taft Benson's vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon. We believe videos such as these help parents and educators fulfill Elder M. Russell Ballard's injunction in his important address "The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century." Shortly after Elder Ballard's talk on February 26, 2016, lds.org began linking to Book of Mormon Central as a trusted independent voice supporting the mission of the Church:
Elder Kevin W. Pearson speaking at FAIR 2018 told everyone to use material from FAIRMormon, Interpreter, and Book of Mormon Central, as well as to support these groups by donating time and money. The Church can't do this for itself, he said. Trusted, independent voices are essential. Elder Pearson's talk was important enough it was featured on the lds.org homepage for over a month.

Some early feedback on the new Hebraisms video:
  • "Please keep making these videos. They are amazing." Delvis
  • "Inspiring! Enlightening! Solid! Wow! I'm floored! And ... the animation was cool." Katie
  • "Very cool." Tory
  • "This is a great video, very informative and the narrator is easy to listen to, I subscribed to hear more like this." Christine
  • "This video is incredible! Thank you very much for sharing!" Eduardo
  • "Thank you for making these! Especially loved learning about and it came to pass!" Sylvia
A handful of people with Jewish backgrounds have joined the Church largely because of the Book of Mormon. This comment is from one of them: "My father is Jewish and mother Chilean (including some Lamanite). I found Christ through reading the Book of Mormon. I love your video and the vast amount of research to make such a brief summary of such an extensive topic. Please continue to share these." Gregorio. You can read his moving story here.

As is typical, hardened anti-Mormons swarmed around this video and began attacking it and us (Book of Mormon Central) almost immediately. We take their vitriol in stride. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Matthew 5: 11,12.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Ammonihah's South Entrance

Dennis and Barbara Tedlock describe contemporary Highland Maya Day Keeper rituals performed in cities such as Momostenango at entrances situated in the four cardinal directions from the center of town. K'ich'e ritual specialists venerate sacred mountains and lakes north, south, east and west of their towns and on appointed days they travel to these outlying mountains and/or lakes, perform rituals, then return to monuments erected at one of the four town gates oriented toward that particular directional geographic feature. So, if it is the right day for a Day Keeper to visit the north mountain, he will travel through the north city gate, burn his incense, leave his offering, and perform his chants at the north mountain shrine, then return and finish his ritual at the north city entrance. Weeks or months later he will perform similar rituals at the east mountain and east entrance to the city, then later the south, and so on. See Dennis Tedlock, Breath on the Mirror: Mythic Voices and Visions of the Living Maya (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1997) and Barbara Tedlock, Time and the Highland Maya, Revised Edition (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1992).

Gabrielle Vail and Christine Hernández believe passages in the Dresden Codex refer to these directional rituals. Vail and Hernández, Re-Creating Primordial Time: Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Post classic Maya Codices (Bolulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013), p. 106. While reading Vail and Hernández, it occurred to me that the passage in Alma 8:18 may allude to this Mesoamerican pattern of building city entrances in each of the four cardinal directions. In the Book of Mormon, Alma II returns to apostate Ammonihah via the south entrance. The context of the passage indicates the south gate was not the only entrance into or out of the city.
Our Candidate for Ammonihah with Uplands to the South
In another indication that Book of Mormon cities may have been following Mesoamerican practice, Alma 62:21 indicates that Nephihah had an east entrance. The same chapter says the city of Nephihah had a west wall (Alma 62:22), although no entrance or gate in that direction is mentioned. It is possible a river flowed west of Nephihah which would have helped mask the sound of Captain Moroni and his men scaling and descending the west wall.
Our Candidate for Nephihah in Topographical Context
In any event, these passages describing Ammonihah and Nephihah suggest that Book of Mormon cities were laid out, like their Mesoamerican countparts, in directional quadrants.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Primordial Flood

Book of Mormon peoples knew about Noah and the great flood. 3 Nephi 22:9 cites Isaiah 54:9 saying that Noah's deluge was a one-time event that will never be repeated. In Ether 6:7 Moroni compares the construction of the Jaredite barges with Noah's ark. Alma 10:22 talks about an ancient destruction of the earth by water as an archetype of an expected future destruction by famine, pestilence, and the sword.

When did Noah's flood destroy the earth? Some biblicists are comfortable with a 3,000 BC date which corresponds nicely with the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. Ancient Near Eastern culture hero Gilgamesh is clearly cognate with biblical Noah in Genesis chapters 6 - 8.

A Maya universal flood story has come down to us from Diego de Landa in his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, and the Popol Vuh. All of these sources are post contact which means they could reflect European (biblical) influence.

However, a universal flood story is portrayed on page 74 of the famed Dresden Codex which is unambiguously pre-columbian.
Flood Scene Page 74, Dresden Codex
The Dresden, one of four ancient Maya codices that survived the Spanish Inquisition, dates no later than AD 1,345. It is generally thought to be a copy of a native book originally composed ca. AD 900 - 1,000. Page 74 shows water flowing from the mouth of a sky crocodile and two eclipse glyphs hanging from his underside. Below the saurian are figures of the goddess Chak Chel pouring water from a jar and God L holding a spear. The Maya conceived of this flood as a total destruction of the previous world.

And when does the best contemporary scholarship date the primordial flood event pictured in the Dresden? About 5,000 years ago just before the creation of the current world age on 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u (August 11, 3,114 BC). See Gabrielle Vail and Christine Hernández, Re-Creating Primordial Time: Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Postclassic Maya Codices (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2013), particularly chapter 5.

The Maya, like other ancient Mesoamericans, perceived the universal flood as a one-time event that would not be repeated, although they expected the current world age to be destroyed at some future date by other means (wind, earthquake, fire, etc.)