Tuesday, October 21, 2014

BMAF 2014

The 12th Annual Book of Mormon Lands Conference sponsored by the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) was held on Saturday, October 18, 2014 at the Salt Lake Sheraton. Robert Starling chaired this year's conference.

Geologist and paleontologist Wade E, Miller gave the first presentation on dealing with alleged faunal anachronisms in the text. Miller has advanced degrees from the University of Arizona and UC Berkeley. He has been on the faculty at Fullerton College, Santa Ana College and BYU. Author of more than 80 scientific papers, he has been a paleontology and geology advisor to many institutions and governmental agencies throughout the western U.S. and Mexico. Retired from BYU, he is now a research associate with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County where he is one of the experts classifying and cataloging the millions of bones recovered from the tar pits at Rancho La Brea. He travels into Mexico frequently to collect fossils and ancient skeletal remains. One of the defining moments in his career was a presentation to LDS young single adults in Italy where many of our young people were going away to college and losing their testimonies. That led to his publication of Creation of the Earth for Man: Views of an LDS Geologist and Science and the Book of Mormon: Cureloms, Cumoms, Horses & More, both in 2010. Miller and Matt Roper are co-authors of the excellent 2014 article "Animals in the Book of Mormon: Challenges and Perspectives" published in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. Miller gave several examples of animals, long thought to be extinct, that have been found still living in unexpected habitats. He used this as a backdrop to explain the process of extinction which can proceed slowly over centuries or millenia. He discussed over 100 species indigenous to North America that are candidates for the animals mentioned in the text. Some items that stood out:
  • The geology and paleontology implied in the text fit Mesoamerica. They do not fit the much more stable situation in northeastern North America. Volcanism is often accompanied by fierce lightning and suffocating particulate emissions. Plate tectonics and volcanism explain the destructions recorded in 3 Nephi. Both the Cocos Plate and the Caribbean Plate cross Mesoamerica, making it one of the most active seismic and volcanic zones in the world.
  • Cement is found at Teotihuacan and Tula, Hidalgo. The notion that people in the land northward built with cement because they had no trees is untenable. They may have lacked trees suitable for timber, but they must have had wood they could burn.  A great deal of fuel is consumed in the process of burning limestone to create cement.
  • 4 Nephi 1:24 says the people had all manner of fine pearls. Miller showed a photograph of a lovely string of pearls from Mexico. Gem-grade pearls are found in tropical and some sub-tropical waters. Pearls do form in cold waters, but they are small and unattractive. This is another indication the text is set in Mesoamerica.
  • Very little gold exists naturally in the northeastern U.S. Industrial scale gold mining is well-attested in ancient Mesoamerica.
  • Rancho La Brea had horses whose remains date to A.D. 1300. Many dry bones cannot be dated. Collagen in a bone is necessary for radiocarbon dating.
  • Pre-columbian bos taurus cattle remains have been found in Yucatan caves.
  • Pre-columbian euceratherium (shrub ox) remains have been found in Mexico. 
  • The woodland musk ox is now known from ancient Mesoamerica.
  • Peccaries could be the swine mentioned in the text.
  • The true goat oreamnos harringtoni was in Mesoamerica.
  • Red brocket deer, rocky mountain sheep and columbian mammoths were all in Mexico.
  • Mammoths were elephants of the order proboscidea. Mammoth remains have now been found as late as 2,000 B.C.
  • The American mastodon was in Mesoamerica.
  • Antilocapra, the goat deer, is known from Mesoamerica.
  • Llamas have been found at Rancho La Brea. They may have been the very useful cureloms and cumoms mentioned in the text.
  • Equs, the horse, originated in North America. Pre-columbian horse and ass remains have recently been discovered in Carlsbad, CA.
  • Some animals in the Jaredite record that are not mentioned in Nephite times (elephants, cureloms, cumoms in Ether 9:19) probably went extinct before the Nephites encountered them.
When he ventured outside his field and dabbled in archaeology, Miller was a little too speculative for my tastes. When he displayed a slide of Copan stela B with a figure that could be an elephant, Mark A. Wright responded that Mayanists generally interpret the image as a macaw with its long beak. Within his area of expertise, though, Miller was the most articulate and convincing presenter I have ever heard discuss Book of Mormon fauna.
Miller's 2010 Book
Scott Hoyt gave the next presentation on the Andean Viracocha and other white, bearded god figures known from Peruvian and Mesoamerican ethnohistory. Hoyt is a retired attorney who practiced with Gibson Dunn in Los Angeles and Dallas. He now divides his time between homes in Dallas, Texas and Midway, Utah. He served a mission to Peru and his book entitled Two Years of Eternity is one of the best first-person mission memoirs currently available. (Full-disclosure: Scott and I [Kirk Magleby] were zone leaders together in Arequipa.) He began his presentation with a headline published in the Lima newspaper La Prensa "Estuvo Cristo en el Peru?" "Was Christ in Peru?" leading to an article by Franklin Pease, one of Peru's foremost authorities on pre-columbian ethnohistory. Drawing on sources such as Pedro Cieza de Leon, Juan de Betanzos, Cristobal de Molina and Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, Hoyt drew relationships between legends of an ancient white, bearded god who visited the Andes, the Guatemalan Popol Vuh recently corroborated by murals and friezes unearthed at the Peten sites El Mirador and San Bartolo, the various books of Chilam Balam from Yucatan and the Book of Mormon account in 3 Nephi. Some interesting points:
  • The ancient American creator god organized pre-existing matter, contra the Catholic conception of creation ex-nihilo. The Popol Vuh, for example, characterizes the creator as dominator of chaos.
  • Viracocha had two helpers as he created the earth. The Popol Vuh describes three creator gods.
  • Viracocha's visit to Peru was preceded by massive destruction as in 3 Nephi 8.
  • Some indigenous iconography such as the portada del sol in Tiahuanaco depicts a weeping god. 3 Nephi 17:21-22.describes the Savior weeping.
  • Viracocha was the source of both light and heat, the power behind the sun. This is the same advanced conception of God described in D&C 88:7-13.
  • The principal Andean deity figure is often called the "staff god." The staffs are serpents he holds in both hands, often with feathers or other avian characteristics. The feathered serpent image famous from the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan is mirrored all over the Andes from Chavin to Inca times. 1 Nephi 17:41 describes fiery, flying serpents as does 2 Nephi 24:29.
  • A large face with full beard carved into the mountainside opposite the ruins of Ollantaytambo represents Viracocha. Granaries as a headdress atop the figure represent the rays of the sun.
  • A gold statue of Viracocha stood four feet tall in the Coricancha, Cuzco's main temple.
  • A 30 foot high statue of Viracocha was in the largest Inca structure, the 300+ foot long Temple of Viracocha at Raqchi. Adherents traversed zig zag passages to reach the effigy.
Viracocha image carved into the mountain at Ollantaytambo
Look for an article by Scott Hoyt in an upcoming issue of BYU Studies.
John L. Lund's keynote address was a tour through the law of Moses as practiced by pre-exilic Israel, the Book of Mormon peoples, and the Jews in exile influenced first by Babylonian ideas and then by Persian Zoroastrianism. The law of Moses is a very significant part of Book of Mormon life from 1 Nephi 1:1 through 3 Nephi 15:4. The Nephites practiced this law very differently than their counterparts in Jerusalem after their return from exile because the Nephite version of the scriptures on the brass plates was pristine while the Jewish version of the scriptures after their sojourn in Babylon was contaminated with other ideas. Jesus, the Messiah, is both a lion and a lamb. He was the lamb sacrificed to effect the Atonement in His first coming. He will be the lion destroying evil and ruling the world in His second coming. After their exile, the Jews expected a political Savior, the Messiah in His lion aspect. Some noteworthy ideas:
  • There are no references to the lion of the second coming during Old Testament times in the Book of Mormon. The only mention of this symbolism comes after the Savior's resurrection. 3 Nephi 20:16, 3 Nephi 21;12, Mormon 5:24.
  • In the Hebrew Old Testament, on the other hand, the lion of the second coming appeared hundreds of years before the meridian of time Micah 5:8.
  • The lamb - atonement relationship is centered on Isaiah 53.
  • 4 animal images of Christ are the eagle, serpent, lion and lamb. (Editor's note: Most ancient cultures worldwide associated their deities with apex predators.)
  • After their Babylonian captivity, the Jews expected their Messiah to be a lion who would deliver them from their political enemies. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, portrays the future Messiah as a lamb. 1 Nephi 10:10.
  • Lund identifies the 7 dispensations as Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter and Joseph Smith. All except Moses had the Melchizedek Priesthood widely available. All except Peter and Joseph Smith offered animal sacrifices in anticipation of the sacrifice of the Lamb.
  • The law of Moses is the glass half full. You still have faith, repentance, baptism, etc. The law of Christ is the full glass.
  • Jews in the pre-Christian era practiced philos, brotherly love. John 13:34 enjoins them to practice agape or charity, the higher form of Christ-like love.
  • Charity, the highest form of love, is found in the Book of Mormon during the law of Moses era 2 Nephi 26:30.
  • The Jewish calendar began in the spring. Lund thinks the Nephite calendar also began in the spring.
  • The phrase "God delivers X into your hands" appears 192 times in the Old Testament, 152 times in the Book of Mormon.
  • Lund really likes John W. Welch's book The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon. It is one of the finest books ever written about the Book of Mormon. It summarizes 30 years of research and writing by Welch and his law students. Most people read the Nephite text and fail to note the many subtle references it contains to Biblical law.
  • The Persian Cyrus was a Messiah figure to the exilic Jews.
  • The Book of Esther promotes the idea of a political Savior. It contains 190 references to Kings of Persia, none to God. The Essenes had no use for the Book of Esther. It is not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The 2014 Father Lehi and Mother Sariah award was given to Ruth Fetzer Carr and posthumously to her late husband, Stephen Lamoni Carr. Dr. Carr, a retired pediatrician, had a life-long love for the Book of Mormon, ornithology, trains, history and the Boy Scouts of America. He was one of the founders of the Heber Creeper historic railroad and one of the founders of BMAF. He was serving as President of BMAF at the time of his death in January, 2014. Steve authored 3 articles posted on this blog: "The East Seacoast Cities of the Nephites," "All References to Narrow, Small, Neck, Pass and Passage," and "Other Peoples in the Promised Land." He authored the following internal reconstruction of Book of Mormon places a number of years ago.
Steve Carr's Internal Model
Steve's insights and wisdom continue to inform this effort. He was not a man of many words. Doug Christensen, current President of BMAF, paid him this high compliment: "His was the steady, quiet voice of reason. He never spoke frivolously or out of anger."

Past BMAF Father Lehi Award Recipients
2003 Dale T. Tingey
2005 Juan O'Donnell
2006 Bruce W. Warren

Past BMAF Father Lehi & Mother Sariah Award Recipients
2007 Robert E. & Helen Wells
2008 Ted E. & Dorothy Brewerton
2009 John L. & Helen Sorenson
2010 Hugh W. (posthumous) & Phyllis Nibley
2011 Joseph L. & Rhoda Allen
2012 F. Richard & Laura Hauck
2013 V. Garth & Cheryl Norman
2014 Stephen L. (posthumous) & Ruth Carr
During lunch, Garth & Cheryl Norman showed a video about their participation in sacred Maya rituals in Guatemala and Mexico in 2010. The Maya Conservancy organized a tour of six archaeological sites where a dozen Maya scholars and about the same number of Maya priests and elders came together and performed fire ceremonies based on the 260 day ritual calendar and the cardinal directions. You can view the five minute Maya Conservancy video record of these ceremonies here.
I was the next speaker. I presented a methodology for solving the Book of Mormon geography problem using the 2009 Yale edition to answer the question What does the text say?; the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to answer the question What did this word or phrase mean in Early Modern English? and Google Earth to build and test correlation models. Assumptions provide an interpretive framework for textual exegesis. Criteria based on those assumptions itemize points any viable correlation should exhibit for a Book of Mormon place. I demonstrated the methodology with 16 assumptions about the text and 30 criteria for the narrow (small) neck of land. I tested two correlations 1) the Sorenson/Norman/Allen model where the narrow (small) neck of land is the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and 2) the Hauck/Andersen/Magleby model where the narrow (small) neck of land is Barra San Marcos on the coast of Chiapas near Tonala. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec correlation satisfies 10 of 30 textual + lexical criteria for a 33% score. The Barra San Marcos correlation satisfies 30 of 30 criteria for 100%. I managed my allotted time poorly, so did not present any of the other 300+ criteria that have been developed to date or the 7 tests any viable correlation should pass. I was unable to go over the geographic features in the text whose correlations have proven convincing enough to make them candidates for consensus. I likewise had to skip 7 independent corroborations of the narrow (small) neck of land - Barra San Marcos correlation. I concluded with the idea that the Yale Edition, the OED and Google Earth enable reproducible results, and science advances based on reproducible results. This gives me hope we can solve the Book of Mormon geography conundrum soon. My 9 page lecture notes are here. My 91 slide powerpoint that partially illustrates the notes is here. The numbers in the upper right hand corner of each powerpoint slide correlate with the points and sub-points in the lecture notes.
Unfortunately, I was so busy visiting with people after my presentation I did not hear much of Michael R. Ash's talk on the multiple meanings of historicity as it applies to the Book of Mormon. Ash is a talented and highly articulate defender of the faith.
Neal Rappleye is a young scholar with a bright future. He gave a fine presentation on three different methodological approaches to Book of Mormon geography: 1) prophetic priority, 2) anthropological priority, and 3) geographic priority. Writers who give priority to prophetic evidence pay particular attention to statements by Joseph Smith and his associates, and prophecies in the text. Authors who give priority to anthropological evidence start with antiquities, cultures and sites and build correlations around them. Geographic priority means creating a hypothetical internal model from relationships in the text and then fitting that model to the real world map. Rappleye chose three authors (all of whose initials are "J.L.") to illustrate the different approaches.
  1. John L. Lund in his Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: Is This the Place? starts with the Prophet Joseph's 1823 - 1827 visions of Nephite civilization that were vindicated when he received a copy of Stevens and Catherwood's 1841 Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan from John M. Bernhisel in New York. Lund and most other scholars believe the many statements in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons proposing a Mesoamerican setting for the Nephite text resulted from Joseph Smith's aha moments as he looked at Catherwood's remarkable drawings and recognized the cultures he had seen in vision.
  2. Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen in Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon dive right into the archaeology and line up textual evidences they believe support their correlation. These are brethren who have crisscrossed the highways and byways of Mesoamerica for decades as tour guides to thousands in their travel business. They focus on dates of occupation, trade routes, linguistics, and physical site characteristics with lavish illustrations that help readers visualize how particular ruins might correlate with the text. For the Allens, a dearth of sites from a particular time period is conclusive evidence Nephites never lived in that region.
  3. John L. Sorenson takes the high road and creates an internal model in his Mormon's Map which he deftly overlays on Mesoamerica (with some sleight of hand regarding directionality) in his incomparable Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book. John incorporates prophetic evidence and extensive information about sites and their relationships, but his primary focus is always on the text and its explicit or implied nuances of geographic and cultural details.
Interesting people at the conference included Larry R. Stay and his wife, Joyce, recently returned from presiding over the Guatemala City South Mission and David Torres, former Guatemala City North Mission President and his wife, Maria. Sister Torres currently serves on the General Relief Society Board. Shirley R. Heater made the trip to Utah again from her home in Missouri. She is one of the foremost Book of Mormon scholars in the Restoration Branch movement split from the former RLDS Church. Heater edits the quarterly newsletter Quetzal Codex. She is working on a review of John L. Sorenson's Mormon's Codex. Other scholars in the room included Steve Densley, Jr., Vice President of FairMormon; Brant A. Gardner, author of the very important Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon series; and Mark A. Wright, member of the BYU Ancient Scripture faculty and author of the highly recommended "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography" presented at the 2013 FairMormon Conference.

Elders Ted E. Brewerton and Merrill C. Oaks were both in attendance with their wives. These brethren have been stalwart supporters of rigorous Book of Mormon research for decades. Jim Hawker came up to me and shared the exciting information that speleothems (cave formations such as stalagmites) are proxies of ancient climate changes. He has followed research in Mexico and Belize that may help us identify the drought described in Helaman 11 in the depositional layers laid down over centuries in Mesoamerican limestone caves.
At the BMAF board meeting following the conference, Joe V. Andersen suggested it is time to convene a research group tasked with achieving consensus on a Book of Mormon New World geographic correlation. Joe's idea was accepted and work is now underway toward that laudable goal.