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 lehiinarabia.com. 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, contacted Jack Welch to see if anyone had followed up on Christensen's idea, found that no one had, 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 (near Salalah) at first looked promising, but the correlation failed to hold 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 900 to 700 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. Ric Hauck, a Mesoamerican archaeologist, did research in the area in 2014 and 2015.

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 lds.org 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.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Greg Welch on Chiasmus

Greg Welch, son of John W. (Jack) and Jeannie Welch, has just posted an excellent YouTube video entitled "The Amazing True Story of How Chiasmus was Discovered in The Book of Mormon." I highly recommend this production which runs for 10 minutes and 9 seconds. Greg has included a number of engaging visuals that I have never seen before in any previous presentation.

The story of this modern-day miracle deserves to be widely known. Some details that resonate with me:
  • Jack served in the South German Mission under Pres. Orville C. Gunther (1912 - 2007). Gunther was my Bishop in the American Fork 12th Ward when he received his call to be a Mission President. Six years after returning from Germany, Orville and Betha Gunther began serving as President and Matron of the Provo Temple. Gunther for many years was Chairman of the Bank of American Fork. His autobiography entitled Ideals and Sacred Things, self-published in 2000, occupies an honored place in my library. Jack was in the missionary choir that sang at Gunther's funeral. Pres. Thomas S. Monson, for whom Germany is a very special place, was the concluding speaker at the funeral.
  • Jack's reviewer for his landmark 1969 BYU Studies article entitled "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon" was Truman G. Madsen. Jack did not find this out until he had been General Editor of BYU Studies for many years. 
  • Jack's second LDS-oriented publication on chiasmus was in the February, 1972 New Era edited by Brian Kelly. Kelly was the one who first introduced me to the discovery. He was the instructor in the American Fork 12th Ward Elder's Quorum I attended before I moved to Provo to begin my freshman year at BYU. Kelly came into quorum meeting one Sunday waving a copy of BYU Studies and announcing, "You won't believe what's in the Book of Mormon."
  • The copy of the German Das Buch Mormon that Jack was reading on the morning of August 16, 1967 had an image of Izapa Stela 5 on the dust jacket. Orville Gunther explained to me that the German saints love scientific and scholarly approaches to the Book of Mormon. The most avid followers of FARMS publications outside the US during the 1980's and '90's were in Germany. One day Jack was in the Minneapolis airport. A German brother approached him, "Are you brother Welch?" When Jack responded affirmatively, the man proceeded to tell him about the LDS group in Chemnitz (formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt) who had shared their copies of the precious FARMS Newsletter in a kind of lending library. Jack asked how FARMS materials got past the East German censors. "We believe they saw 'FARMS' on the masthead and assumed it was an agricultural publication." Story told by John W. Welch at the inaugural Book of Mormon Central staff meeting on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 in Springville, Utah.     
The day after I returned home from my mission to Peru in December, 1974, I visited Orville Gunther at his home near what is now the Mount Timpanogos Temple. The American Fork 12th Ward had been divided during my absence and we were both now members of the American Fork 14th Ward. He recounted the story of Jack's discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon from his perspective as Mission President. He then suggested I visit with a very erudite man - John L. Sorenson - who had just built a new home in the 14th Ward. John welcomed me cordially and we discussed the Book of Mormon for a couple of hours. The modern era of Book of Mormon studies began in 1980 when John L. Sorenson and John W. Welch began to collaborate under the FARMS aegis. I was the FARMS business manager in those early days.

This is off-topic, but I can't resist telling another story. I shared this with Jack and the Book of Mormon Central employees at our aforementioned staff meeting. One of Pres. Monson's cherished stories is about the General Handbook of Instructions. At Spencer W. Kimball's suggestion, then Elder Monson memorized large portions of the newly-updated Handbook, traveled into East Germany, and proceeded to type up a copy from memory for the Saints behind the Iron Curtain to use. It was forbidden at the time for the Church to send literature directly into the German Democratic Republic. After he was about 30 pages into his arduous task, Elder Monson stood up to stretch. He noticed a copy of the recently-printed Handbook in German on the shelf in the room. Heidi S. Swinton in her biography of Thomas S. Monson entitled To the Rescue concludes her retelling of the story "How a Handbook came to be in East Germany, no one would say." I know exactly how the Handbook got into the then-Communist country. Orville Gunther told me all about it with an impish grin on his face. After he was released as Mission President, Orville (with Betha frequently accompanying him) made a number of trips into East Germany. A wealthy man with a passion for fine machinery, he went to the Mercedes Benz factory in Stuttgart and had them build him a custom vehicle with a false floor. He loaded the car with copies of the German Book of Mormon, lesson manuals, and other important works including the Handbook. When he came to the border, Gunther chatted up the guards and suggested they take his car for a spin. They drove crummy little Trabants if they had a car at all, so Gunther's invitation was irresistible.
Postcard from Berlin showing East German Trabant (Trabi) Autos 
After each guard had his turn behind the wheel of the Benz, they waved Orville on through without inspecting his vehicle. Gunther pulled this stunt several times with the same results, supplying a number of East German branches with precious Church literature.