Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Art and Iconography 1

Texts shed the most light on the ancient world. They reconstruct to a small degree the words and word patterns that fell from the lips of the people who lived and died in that world. The next most important source of information from antiquity is art and iconography. Graphical and symbolic representations give us a visual picture of ancient life and belief systems. Artifacts offer the fewest insights. They are often quotidian rather than elite. Much of what they tell us comes from context which is frequently uncontrolled or even unknown. Important questions such as occurrence frequency and spatial distribution depend on large enough sample sizes to achieve statistical significance. Function is often ambiguous. Recall the famous quip among archaeologists that "if you don't know what something was used for, call it a ritual object."

Given the fragmentary nature of archaeological data, find frequencies are in inverse proportion to importance. In the Maya world, for example, we have millions of artifacts, tens of thousands of art objects, and only a few thousand texts. Those same ratios are typical of ancient high cultures worldwide.

The Book of Mormon is a text. It sheds vast light on the ancient world. It reconstructs to a small degree the words and word patterns that fell from the lips of remarkable people such as Nephi, Alma, Helaman, Mormon, and Moroni. Some articles on this blog have productively compared it with other ancient texts. See for example:
Notable for it absence on the list above is Popol Vuh, generally recognized as the most important ancient Maya text currently available. Stay tuned. One of the reasons Popol Vuh is so highly regarded is that echoes of and references to its creation myth are found widely throughout Mesoamerica. See the article "Iconographic Corroboration of Quichean Texts."

In the last 40 years, decipherment of written Mayan has advanced rapidly. Fundamental resources in this effort have been the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions (CMHI) at Harvard and Justin Kerr's database of rollout photography. Epigraphers' ability to read Maya texts has enabled art historians to interpret carved monuments, painted pottery, sculpted figurines, etc. with increasing confidence.

This series of articles will not compare the Book of Mormon text with other texts. It will compare the Book of Mormon text with the second most important category of ancient data - artistic and iconographic images. You can read a National Geographic article or you can look at the images and read the captions. This presentation is like the latter.

Sources for the images are listed in order of first publication.

1973 V. Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture Part 1: Album, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation No. 30 (Provo, UT: BYU NWAF)

1976 V. Garth Norman, Izapa Sculpture Part 2: Text, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation No. 30 (Provo, UT: BYU NWAF)

1986 Lee Allen Parsons, The Origins of Maya Art: Monumental Stone Sculpture of Kaminaljuyui, Guatemala, and the Southern Pacific Coast, Studies in Pre-Columbian Art & Archaeology No. 28 (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection)

2006 Julia Guernsey, Ritual & Power in Stone: The Performance of Rulership in Mesoamerican Izapan Style Art (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press)

2010 Julia Guernsey, John E. Clark, Barbara Arroyo, editors, The Place of Stone Monuments: Context, Use, and Meaning in Mesoamerica's Preclassic Transition (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection)

2012 V. Garth Norman, Izapa Sacred Space: Sculpture Calendar Codex (American Fork, UT: ARCON, Inc.)

2013 Lucia Ross Henderson, Bodies Politic, Bodies in Stone: Imagery of the Human and the Divine in the Sculpture of Late Preclassic Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala (PhD dissertation, UT Austin). Dozens of parallels between the Book of Mormon and Henderson's excellent description of ancient life are in the article "Kaminaljuyu."

1 Nephi 10:8 Shoes had latchets which are thongs or laces.
Shoes with Latchets Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 67
Henderson 2013 p. 621
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2 Nephi 9:26 Breath symbolized life and resurrection.
Breath Bead Symbolizing Life and Resurrection by Nose
Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 10
Parsons 1986 Fig. 175 
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2 Nephi 13:21 Some people wore nose ornaments.
Nose Ornament Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 24
Henderson 2013 p. 612
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2 Nephi 17:20 In the genetic population from which Book of Mormon peoples migrated men grew full beards.
Heavily Bearded Figure Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 8
Henderson 2013 Fig. 25 b
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Enos 1:20 Lamanites wore a short skin girdle about their loins.
Girdle Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 65
Henderson 2013 p. 619
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Enos 1:20 Weapons included axes and clubs Mosiah 9:16.
Ax or Club Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 24
Henderson 2013 p. 612
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Mosiah 2:3 Nephites made burnt offerings in a sacral context.
Burnt Offerings on Incensarios Izapa Stela 24
Norman 1973 plate 40
Another representation.
Burnt Offering on Bound Altar
Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 169
Henderson 2013 p. 648
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Mosiah 8:10 Book of Mormon peoples wore breastplates in battle.
Breastplate Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 54
Henderson 2013 Fig. 13 e
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Mosiah 17:13 Abinadi was bound, his skin was scourged (the Yale 2009 text reads "scorched") with burning faggots, and this excruciating torture resulted in his death.
Torture by Faggots
Figurine from Campeche
Henderson 2013 Fig. 29 a-b 
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Mosiah 27:6 Nephites conceived of their world as divided into four quarters, each oriented to one of the cardinal directions.

Quatrefoil Denoting Spatial Directionality
La Blanca Monument 3
Henderson 2013 Fig. 150 d 
Alma 17:20 Captives were bound.
Bound Captive Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 65
Henderson 2013 p. 619
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Alma 47:23 A hand gesture had symbolic meaning.
Hand Gesture Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 65
Henderson 2013 p. 619
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Alma 60:7 Rulers sat on thrones.
Ruler Sitting on Throne Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 65
Henderson 2013 p. 619

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Helaman 11:13 Rain is under divine control.
Rain Gods Pouring Water out of Vessels Madrid Codex p. 27
Henderson 2013 Fig. 85
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Mormon 4:14 Lamanites sacrificed Nephite children.
Baby in Offering Bowl Justin Kerr #K4384
Henderson 2013 Fig. 40 b
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Mormon 9:32 Nephites wrote using Egyptian-like characters.
Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 10 Lower Text
Henderson 2013 Fig. 10 g
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Ether 2:2 Jaredites carried fish in a vessel.
Fish Carried in a Vessel Tikal Temple I Carved Bone
Drawing by John Montgomery
Guernsey, Clark, Arroyo 2010 p. 210 
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Ether 2:24 Wind emanates from the mouth of God.
Animate Wind Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 14
Henderson 2013 Fig. 146 b
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Ether 6:10 Jaredites encountered whales on their transoceanic journey.
Whale Depiction Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 10 Upper Text
Henderson 2013 Fig. 9 d
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Ether 9:5 Akish decapitated his father-in-law, Jared, in a violent coup.
Severed Head in Offering Bowl Justin Kerr #K759
Henderson 2013 Fig. 34 a
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Ether 14:28 Trumpets were used by military forces at the time of the Jaredite collapse.
Wind Instrument Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 75
Henderson 2013 Fig. 21
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This theme is continued in the article "Art and Iconography 2."