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.)

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Elder Pearson at FAIR 2018

The FAIRMormon 2018 Conference was held August 1 - 3 at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo. This three-day conference drew 450 participants who attended in person and another 470 who watched the event remotely over live streaming. Book of Mormon Central (BMC) was a conference sponsor. I volunteer as Executive Director of BMC and this article highlights our involvement.

On Wednesday, Lynne Hilton Wilson gave a masterful presentation on women in the New Testament, laying a foundation for understanding Peter and Paul's sometimes contradictory statements in the King James Version. Lynne co-founded BMC along with John W. (Jack) Welch.

Right after Lynne's presentation, oohs and aahs filled the hall as BMC's Nicole Shepard and Jasmin Rappleye unveiled Robert Pack's breathtaking new painting of Mary Whitmer being shown the plates by Moroni. She was the first of the June, 1829 witnesses. On Thursday, BMC's KnoWhy article #455 entitled "What Does Mary Whitmer Teach Us About Enduring Trials?" showcased this wonderful new addition to the corpus of Book of Mormon art. Bob Pack was the artist who painted the portrait of Jack Welch with Paul Gaechter that we unveiled at the Chiasmus Jubilee celebration on August 16, 2017 at BYU. The blog article entitled "Recent Book of Mormon News" includes an image of that painting. I presented the new Mary Whitmer painting to Lynne as a token of our appreciation for her founding role in our organization. Many people asked for prints and those will be available soon through Altus Fine Art in American Fork. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Book of Mormon Central People around the New Mary Whitmer Painting
L to R Standing: Tyson Yapias, Jonathon Riley, Jasmin Rappleye, Lynne Wilson
L ro R Standing: Robert Pack, Jack Welch, Stephen Smoot, Israel Gonzalez
L ro R Kneeling: Robert Starling, Neal Rappleye, Noe Correa, Trace Mayer
L ro R Kneeling: Kirk Magleby, Matt Cutler, Zander Sturgill

Photo by Michael R. Ash August 3, 2018
Wednesday evening, Jack Welch and I from BMC met with Scott Gordon and John Lynch from FAIR along with Lindsay Hadley, Stephen H. Smoot, Dick Gordon, Bob Babcock, Tyler Perry, and Trace Mayer who are advisers to Mormon Voices, the association of BMC with FAIRMormon and Interpreter Foundation.

The lead presenter on Thursday was Sara Riley who gave a terrific presentation on Exodus narrative elements found throughout Mosiah 11-18. Dozens of cell phones were snapping photos of her Powerpoint slides as she showed layer upon layer of coincident literary motifs between the two texts. Sara is married to Jonathon Riley, one of BMC's researcher/writers.

Ever popular Brad Wilcox gave an insightful presentation on grace as it is understood in Protestant and LDS thought. He gave several shout outs to BMC that generally mirrored his sentiments in one of our YouTube videos from August, 2016.

Friday opened with Wade Miller talking about paleontology. He is the world's expert on the animals in the Book of Mormon and his current research interest centers on horses. The blog article "Horses" gives more information about his work. BMC has sponsored Wade's expeditions for the last couple of years. He showed a photo of myself, Matt Roper, and Daniel Smith in Coahuila in April, 2018 filming a team of Mexican paleontologists who were bringing a new horse bone out of the ground.

Elder Kevin W. Pearson, General Authority Seventy, talked about the need for all of us to advance the Church's mission through digital outreach. He formerly headed the Missionary Department and currently serves on the Communication Services Committee and Strengthening Church Members Committee. He was assigned to speak at FAIR 2018 by M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve and he told the audience he was speaking on behalf of the Church.
Elder Kevin W. Pearson at FAIR, August 3, 2018
Photo from LDS Church News
Elder Pearson had everyone's attention as he showed a graphic of the 7.6 billion people currently on planet Earth, then indicated that 6.6 billion of them have never even heard of the Church. Of the 1 billion who do know we exist, more than half have a negative impression of us. He characterized the amount of missionary work to be done as enormous and lauded Mormon Voices: BMC, FAIRMormon, and Interpreter Foundation, for helping the Church accomplish its mission. Elder Pearson said people should get behind these independent groups as volunteers and donors as well as do their part as individuals to spread the good news of the restored gospel worldwide.

I enjoyed lunch on Friday with cryptocurrency thought leader, Trace Mayer, a couple of his friends, and prolific author Jonathan Neville. Jonathan and I agree on 90% of contemporary Book of Mormon studies. We are diametrically opposed on the other 10% (geography) but we remain friends.

FAIR 2018 was the 20th anniversary of the annual FAIR Conference. Dan Peterson was the closing speaker as he has been in each of the previous 19 years. Dan, chairman of Interpreter Foundation, reiterated the importance of the work BMC, FAIRMormon, and Interpreter are doing to help people discover their way into truth through study and faith D&C 109:7, 14.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Torches

The Book of Mormon explicitly says the Nephites used candles, torches, and wood for light 3 Nephi 8:21. Evidence of ancient American candles is not yet well-established, although wax was known. Metal smiths used the lost wax technique to cast intricate patterns in jewelry as in this exceptional piece from Monte Alban.
Gold Pectoral on Display in the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca
Torches are well-attested. This is an image of a lit torch atop a reptile eye symbol with a bar and two dots representing the number 7.
Drawing from Piedra Labrada (Veracruz) Stela 1 
Piedra Labrada is 8 kilometers north of Cerro San Martin Pajapan, our proposal for Hill Ramah/Cumorah. See the blog article "Ramah Cumorah."

In this roll-out photo by Justin Kerr, a Maya vase from Chama shows God L holding a torch. Chama we correlate with Nephite Manti. See the blog article "Manti."
K702, Vase in the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC
Another Maya vase shows deities holding torches emitting stylized flames.
K5363, Vase in the Duke University Museum of Art, Durham, NC
The Codex Mendoza (aka Mendocino) was painted ca. 1541. It depicts Aztec history and descriptions of daily life. This image shows bride's maids carrying split pine torches to an Aztec wedding.
Wedding Scene from Codex Mendoza in the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Many other depictions of pre-Columbian torches fueled by pine resin and wooden split pine staves are known and could be shown. This small Book of Mormon detail is amply attested in Mesoamerican art and iconography.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Lehite Temples

Six LDS Temples were dedicated in 1983, all by President Gordon B. Hinckley who at that time was Second Counselor in the First Presidency serving with Presidents Spencer W. Kimball and Marion G. Romney.
Temples Dedicated in 1983
The dedication dates were:
  • Atlanta, Georgia June 1, 1983 The Book of Mormon did not figure in the dedicatory prayer.
  • Apia, Samoa August 5, 1983 Pres. Hinckley in the prayer quoted the Prophet Jacob 2 Nephi 10:21 describing the isles of the sea.
  • Nuku'alofa, Tonga August 9, 1983 Pres. Hinckley in the dedicatory prayer said the Book of Mormon was a "record of the forebears of the people of Tonga."
  • Santiago, Chile September 15, 1983 Pres. Hinckley did not explicitly mention the Book of Mormon in the dedicatory prayer, but he referred to "this great continent of South America which is part of the land of Zion."  
  • Pape'ete, Tahiti October 27, 1983 Pres. Hinckley in the prayer twice alluded to the fundamental Book of Mormon promise that obedience yields prosperity 1 Nephi 2:20 (among others).  
  • Mexico City, Mexico December 2, 1983 Pres. Hinckley in the dedicatory prayer said that most of the Saints in Mexico and Central America "have in their veins the blood of Father Lehi."
As part of his talk in the Mexico City temple, Pres. Hinckley said "Six new temples have been dedicated this year. These were unplanned in terms of particular prophecy but most of these temples have been built to serve descendants of Lehi ... I believe the Lord has touched His prophet [Spencer W. Kimball] to bring into play those processes by which He is remembering ancient covenants concerning descendants of Lehi."
Gerry Avant, LDS Church News History Revisited, published June 22, 2018.

See also "Father Lehi in the Mexico City Temple."

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Father Lehi in the Mexico City Temple

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency with Pres. Spencer W. Kimball and Pres. Marion G. Romney, dedicated the Mexico City Temple in multiple sessions on December 2 and 3, 1983. The Mexico City Temple was designed with Maya architectural motifs such as the basket weave pattern reminiscent of Uxmal and other famous Maya sites.
Pres. Gordon B. and Sis. Marjorie P. Hinckley
at the Dedication of the Mexico City Temple

December 3, 1983 Photo by Gerry Avant
In the dedicatory prayer, Pres. Hinckley said these memorable words: "Bless Thy saints in this great land and those from other lands who will use this temple. Most have in their veins the blood of Father Lehi. Thou hast kept Thine ancient promise. Many thousands 'that walked in darkness have seen a great light.' " (2 Nephi 19:2 quoting Isaiah 9:2)

At one point in the dedicatory service, Pres. Hinckley spoke to Father Lehi who was present in the room. This is how Gerry Avant, long-time editor of the LDS Church News, remembered the incident:

"President Hinckley spoke with a quivering voice as he testified that souls 'from the other side of the veil' were present ... President Hinckley then named specifically ... Brigham Young, who sent missionaries to the country. He stated the names of several of the missionaries and the first mission president. He named the first Mexican who was baptized and pronounced the names of several others who had occupied a place in the history of the Church in Mexico."

Sister Avant continued, "President Hinckley had been speaking several minutes. He paused and explained that there was another person from the other side of the veil he had not mentioned. In a strong voice filled with emotion and joy, President Hinckley exclaimed, 'Welcome, Father Lehi! Oh, how your heart must rejoice!' "

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

King from 10 BC

At the site of Uaxactun, Peten, Guatemala, Slovak archaeologists have uncovered an anthropomorphic scepter or ceremonial blood letter bearing the image of a king. The artifact, reported in the February 2016 edition of Mexicon, dates to ca. 10 BC.
Uaxactun Cache Objects Dating to About the Time of Christ
The object is carved from dark green stone and includes 23 finely incised pre-classic glyphs. These glyphs are some of the earliest known writing in the Maya lowlands.
Artist's Rendering of Scepter or Blood Letter
26 Centimeters (about 10 inches) High
The pointed shaft is not sharp enough to have functioned effectively as a perforator, but the concave cavity on the back of the figure's head probably functioned like a spoon to hold the king's own blood offered as a sacrifice on behalf of his people. The cultural practice of auto-sacrifice, described in Alma 34:11, was widespread among Mesoamerican royalty.

The scepter or blood letter was part of a ritual cache oriented to the cardinal directions. The cache included a ceremonial celt or axe, a jade bead, and a zoomorphic figurine in an offering bowl. The jade bead represented life and resurrection. See the blog article "Partake of the Fruit."

The scepter or blood letter shows little Olmec influence in contrast to earlier artifacts from Uaxactun. Its writing is clearly antecedent to the well-known later Classic Maya script. Its imagery includes avian, serpent, and lightning symbolism.

Three of the 23 incised glyphs are the "bearded old man" glyph (viejo barbudo) known from other late Preclassic inscriptions.
3 Instances of the "Bearded Old Man" Glyph
Bearded figures are relatively more frequent in Preclassic (prior to AD 250) than in later times. For context, see point #10 in the article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Case for Mesoamerica

Mormonism is full of urban (and rural) legends. A person's belief leads to action which triggers a reaction on the part of others which can create positive reinforcement for one's belief that starts the perpetual cycle all over again. Untrue beliefs get propagated in Mormon culture because our leadership model is hierarchical (as it must be in a Kingdom D&C 65) and we tend not to question authority. Hugh Nibley's famous quip in his 1983 Commencement address "Leaders and Managers" was, "we do not question things at the BYU."

One Mormon legend is that Lehi landed in what today is the country of Chile. While I was serving my mission in Peru 1972 - 1974 that belief was pervasive among the Saints. Positive reinforcement over the years had come from such authorities as Spencer W. Kimball, Mark E. Peterson, and Bruce R. McConkie who repeated the legend over the pulpit during visits to South America as a means of relating to their local audience. This legend is dubious at best. See the article "Did Lehi Land in Chile?" in the Book of Mormon Central Archive and the blog article "Prophets Human and Inspired."

The missionary copies of the Book of Mormon we sold or gave away in the early 1970's included photos of Machu Picchu (which we now know was constructed ca. AD 1450) and a person we thought was Elder Spencer W. Kimball standing with his wife, Camilla, inside a "baptismal font" in the Pachacamac ruins outside Lima. It turns out the couple was actually former Argentine and Uruguayan Mission President Frederick S. Williams and his wife, Corraine.
Frederick S. & Corraine Williams at Pachacamac, Photo by Elder Milton R. Hunter
On preparation day we missionaries went to Pachacamac and took pictures of ourselves by that same structure that did resemble a modern LDS squarish baptismal font. In 1975 I was in New York City on a research project and a well-educated fellow asked me at Church if I was one of those "naive people who think every hole in the ground is a baptismal font."

A couple of days before Christmas, 1974, I visited John L. Sorenson in the American Fork, UT home he built while I was in the mission field. In about five minutes he convinced me that the New World portions of the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize). More than forty years later, scientific advances have made his logic even more compelling.

Size.  Book of Mormon travel times, expressed in days, limit how large or small the Nephite known world could possibly have been. Most serious students of the text are comfortable with a Nephite world having a maximum extent in the 1,000 kilometer range. Mesoamerica is right in this sweet spot. The distance from Kaminaljuyú (candidate for the southern city of Nephi) to Teotihuacan (candidate for Jacobugath in the extreme north) is 1,044 air kilometers. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
1,044 Air Kilometers Kaminaljuyú to Teotihuacan
Orientation. Dozens of references in the text describe Book of Mormon lands oriented generally in a northward/southward direction. Plotting the continental divide (in red) from Alaska to Chile shows that the principal landmass in the Western Hemisphere oriented generally northward/southward as opposed to north/south is Middle America.
Middle America Oriented Generally Northward/Southward
 Geography. The text consistently mentions an East Sea and a West Sea in the Land Southward, with a major river running through the center of the land between both coasts and the whole nearly surrounded by water. Mesoamerica explicitly fits this description.
Southern Mesoamerica with the Usumacinta River in Red
 Topography. The Book of Mormon describes mountains, hills, and valleys with significant elevation differences between them. Mesoamerica has highly varied landforms with elevations ranging from sea level to 5,600 meters (18,370 feet).

Climate. The Book of Mormon describes armies going to battle dressed in loin cloths around the new year Alma 43:4, 20. Mesoamerica's tropical climate works well with this narrative.

Geology. Earth scientists who study the Book of Mormon generally conclude that the natural disasters described in the text are best accounted for by a combination of seismic and volcanic activity. Mesoamerica is a land of both earthquakes and volcanoes.
Smithsonian  Database of Volcanoes Active in the Holocene (last 10,000 years)
Demography. The Nephite/Jaredite text describes dense populations in the millions Ether 15:2. Mesoamerica had  dense populations in the millions during Book of Mormon times. For dramatic recent corroboration, see the blog article "LiDAR."

Civilization. The Book of Mormon unambiguously describes what cultural anthropologists call "state level society" aka high civilization. See the blog article entitled "State Level Society." In the Western Hemisphere, only Mesoamerica achieved this degree of cultural sophistication during Book of Mormon times.

Literacy. The Book of Mormon clearly describes widespread literacy Mosiah 2:8 with multiple writing systems. In the Americas, only Mesoamerica had widespread literacy with multiple scripts in use during Book of Mormon times.
Drawing of La Mojarra Stela 1 from Veracruz, Mexico
Original is in the Museo de Antropología, Xalapa
The Inscription Includes the Dates AD 143 and AD 156
Architecture. The Nephites built with stone Alma 48:8 and cement Helaman 3:7, 9, 11, materials that tend to preserve well in archaeological contexts. Stone and cement as building materials are attested in Mesoamerican archaeology. See the blog article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."

Chronology. The Book of Mormon chronicles events from ca. 2,300 BC to AD 421. Plausible Mesoamerican settings are attested archaeologically in those time frames. Some of the temporal correspondences are striking as in the blog article "75 BC."

Metallurgy in Book of Mormon times is well attested in the Andean region. Seeds from the Levant or Arabia would thrive in Baja California. Some statements by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries do refer to the young United States of America as it existed in the 1830's and early 1840's. Scattered Book of Mormon passages can be interpreted to lend support to an "intimate" aka small-scale geographic model. Viewed comprehensively, though, the preponderance of contextual clues in the Book of Mormon favor a Mesoamerican setting which is why most LDS scholars today look for correlations in that area.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, the premiere source for Book of Mormon enrichment material  in English and Spanish

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Baptist Preacher Lynn Ridenhour

On Wednesday, April 4, 2018, I heard Dr. Lynn Ridenhour give a remarkable presentation in the Salt Lake 21st Ward Meetinghouse at the corner of K Street and 1st Avenue. He was being hosted by my friend, Boyd Tuttle, owner of Digital Legend Press. He was introduced by Dr. Keith J. Wilson of the BYU Ancient Scripture faculty. Pastor Lynn is a natural story teller with a quick wit.
Lynn Ridenhour, Baptist Preacher
Ridenhour was in Utah for the debut of his latest book entitled Sir, That's a Book of Mormon! published by Digital Legend.
Ridenhour's 2018 Book
He also presented at the FIRM Foundation Expo in Layton later that week. Ridenhour came to the attention of Latter-day Saints in a major way when he was featured in the excellent BYUtv documentary A New Day for the Book of Mormon that aired on KSL TV in between General Conference sessions on Sunday, October 5, 2014. I reviewed the documentary in a 2014 blog article entitled "A New Day for the Book of Mormon."
Opening Image from Superb BYUtv Documentary
Ridenhour grew up in Belle, Missouri, studied for the ministry at William Jewell College in Liberty (where Joseph smith was incarcerated in Liberty Jail), and currently resides in Lake Tapawingo, a suburb of Independence. He holds a PhD from the University of Iowa. He was on the faculty of Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College (now Liberty University) in Lynchburg, VA. He has pastored various Baptist churches in Louisiana, Illinois, and Missouri. He currently runs Building Bridges Ministries which is part of Manna Ministries in Blue Springs, Missouri. Ridenhour is an ordained Southern Baptist preacher who considers himself Charismatic Baptist. He has endeared himself to Latter-day Saints because he believes both the Book of Mormon and the Bible to be the inspired word of God.

Ridenhour dined in the Lion House as Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley's guest in 2005. He spoke to the BYU religion faculty in 2008. He has been part of the Book of Mormon in Zion Conference held annually since 2014 in Independence. He gained his testimony of the Book of Mormon in 1985 through a noteworthy series of miraculous events.

Dr. Ridenhour is a student of religious awakenings such as William J. Seymour's 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles that spawned the modern Pentecostal movement with approximately 300 million adherents worldwide.
April 18, 1906 LA Times Article about the Azusa Street Revival
He himself was part of the Charismatic Renewal that swept through Catholicism and mainline Protestantism in the 1960's and '70's. He likes to remind Protestant audiences that Joseph Smith and his contemporaries experienced significant outpourings of the Spirit in the early days of the Church, signs that God was at work in their lives.

Pastor Lynn has made it his life's work to build bridges of understanding between people of many different faith traditions. He longs for the day when Protestants no longer spew virulent anti-Mormon diatribes from their theological seminaries and counter cult ministries. His favorite Book of Mormon passage is 4 Nephi 1:15-17 that speaks of profound peace and unity through Jesus Christ.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

BMC 2018

Tuesday, April 7, 1829 was the day Oliver Cowdery began writing for Joseph Smith as the Prophet's scribe in Harmony, Pennsylvania. We celebrated this historic day by convening the BMC 2018 Book of Mormon Conference on Saturday, April 7, 2018 in the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. It was the 15th annual Book of Mormon Conference sponsored by Book of Mormon Central (BMC) or Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) which merged into BMC in 2016.
BMC 2018 Book of Mormon Conference Flyer
570 people attended the all-day event and heard 10 presentations by outstanding Book of Mormon scholars including:
  • BMC editor Nicole Shepard, Spanish digital media publisher Benji Monroy, and researcher/writer Jonathon Riley who reviewed the past year of BMC accomplishments
  • BMC researcher/writer Matt Roper and statistician Paul Fields who shared the light the science of stylometry sheds on the Book of Mormon as composite literature 
  • BYU Ancient Scripture faculty member Mark Wright who discussed Mesoamerican ecology and cosmology that show up in the Book of Mormon text
  • LDS product manager Rob Jex who gave a sneak preview of the upcoming LDS Book of Mormon videos
  • LDS author and educator John Bytheway who explored the Book of Mormon through the lens of gardens and gardeners
  • BMC researcher/writer Neal Rappleye, product manager Jasmin Gimenez, and archivist  Jared Riddick who presented a workshop on how to study the scriptures using BMC resources
  • BYU Law faculty member John W. Welch who discussed the significance of April 7th in the historical sequence of events leading up to the miraculous Book of Mormon translation
  • BYU Church History faculty member Gerrit Dirkmaat who explained little-known details about multiple printers Joseph Smith approached hoping they would print the Book of Mormon
  • BYU Ancient Scripture faculty member Jo Ann Seely who illustrated and described life in Jerusalem in Lehi's day
  • BYU Ancient Scripture faculty member Tyler Griffin who showed the impressive internal consistency one finds in the study of several hundred Book of Mormon geographic referents
BMC 2018 Crowd Listening to Matt Roper and Paul Fields
Photo Courtesy Deseret News
Attendees also got to experience the world of the Book of Mormon via:
  • a set of doubled, witnessed, and sealed ancient Roman metal plates
  • replica Roman crucifixion nails
  • replicas of the golden plates, urim and thummim, breastplate, Liahona, and sword of Laban
  • replicas of the wooden box Joseph used to store the plates, and Joseph and Hyrum's death masks
  • a wonderful art gallery
  • a Bedouin goat-hair tent
  • virtual reality displays of the Tabernacle in the wilderness and Herod's Temple
  • virtual reality displays of stylometric patterns employed by Book of Mormon authors
  • a replica of E.B. Grandin's printing press
  • a replica of the breastplate worn by the High Priest in ancient Israel
Brent Bird Examining Dave Baird's
Replica of the Golden Plates
Photo Courtesy Deseret News
Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask received the 2018 Father Lehi and Mother Sariah Award for lifetime service to the Book of Mormon and the posterity of Lehi and Sariah. Recipients of this award include:
  • 2003 Dale T. Tingey
  • 2005 Juan O'Donnell
  • 2006 Bruce W. Warren
  • 2007 Elder Robert E. and Sister Helen Wells
  • 2008 Elder Ted E. and Sister Dorothy Brewerton
  • 2009 John L. and Helen Sorenson
  • 2010 Hugh W. (posthumous) and Phyllis Nibley
  • 2011 Joesph L. and Rhoda Allen
  • 2012 F. Richard and Laura Hauck
  • 2013 V. Garth and Cheryl Norman
  • 2014 Stephen L. (posthumous) and Ruth Carr
  • 2016 Richard K. and Helen Miner
  • 2017 John W. and Jeannie Welch
  • 2018 Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask 
Elder Clate W. and Sister Carol Mask at BMC 2018
Photo Courtesy Deseret News
Media coverage included a great article by Trent Toone that appeared in the digital Deseret News on Monday, April 9 and in the print edition (Mormon Times) on Thursday, April 12.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Gerrit Walter Gong

The Saturday Morning Session of the April 2018 General Conference just concluded. Along with millions of others, I had the distinct privilege of sustaining not just Russel Marion Nelson, Sr. as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator but also Gerrit Walter Gong and Ulisses Soares as new Apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve. I have been friends with Elder Gong since we entered BYU together in 1971 and know something of his sterling character. Cream rises. A finer man does not walk the earth. We as Latter-day Saints will be blessed to have such a capable, gentle servant helping direct the affairs of the Kingdom and bearing witness of our risen Lord in all the world.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong, LDS Newsroom
Biologically Elder Gong is Chinese. Culturally he is a Californian who grew up in Palo Alto, hiked the Sierra Nevada, attended BYU, served a mission in Taiwan, and then read at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Professionally he is a diplomat. He was the number two man in the US Embassy in Beijing when the Tienanmen Square uprising broke out in 1989. He headed the Asia Desk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS. He ran BYU's Office of Planning and Assessment under President Cecil O. Samuelson. As a General Authority he was President of the Asia Area, then one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy.

Elder Gong's father, Walter A. Gong (1922 - 2000), earned a Ph.D. from Stanford and taught science at San Jose State. Gerrit de Jong Jr. (1892 - 1978) for whom the de Jong Concert Hall at BYU is named, was a family friend and mentor. The "Gerrit Walter" in Elder Gong's name honors both men. Elder Gong's younger brother, Brian, has made an East Coast-based career in education assessment. His younger sister, Marguerite Hancock, left a career at Stanford and helps direct the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Just before Christmas, 1971, Gerrit and Brian joined my American Fork High School friend, Bruce McDaniel, and myself on a trip up American Fork Canyon to see the snow. We got my car stuck in the high country and it took us several hours of tough work to free the vehicle. It was almost midnight when we finally returned to Bruce's home in Alpine. Gerrit and Brian's parents, Walter and Jean, had been nervously waiting at the McDaniel home since 10:00 pm. Bro. Gong was not at all interested in our tale of heroic adventure. He grilled his sons on why they had broken their promise to be home by 8:30 pm. It was clear a promise to parents in the Gong home was a matter of some import.
 
In early 1972, Gerrit Gong, Paul Cox, about a dozen others, and myself had the pleasure of meeting Elder Gordon B. Hinckley (1910 - 2008) in an intimate setting on BYU campus. As the gathering ended, Gerrit, Paul, and I walked with Elder Hinckley, then an Apostle, to his car [a Rambler Ambassador purchased in honor of Mitt's father, George W. Romney (1907 - 1995)] in the parking lot. We remarked on the singularity of our experience being in the presence of one of the Lord's anointed.

A few weeks later Gerrit asked if he could come to work with me on a Saturday. I installed finish hardware in newly-constructed residential housing units in north Utah County. Although a highly-productive and disciplined scholar, he had never worked for wages at a typical job and was anxious for that experience. I helped him install shower and closet rods, medicine cabinets, doorstops, and door handles. At the end of a fun day together, I gave him a normal day's pay in cash. We went caving together and participated in some of the hi jinks (showing off for older coeds) that were routine at BYU in the early '70's.  

In mid 1972, Gerrit, Paul, and I had finished our freshman year at the Y and were contemplating missions. We took Bruce McDaniel and spent two weeks on Washington's Olympic Peninsula backpacking through the temperate rain forest and hiking the wilderness beach. One day amid glorious natural splendor we never got out of our sleeping bags. The four of us spent all day reading the Book of Mormon and discussing our philosophies of life. We took a box of missionary copies of the Book of Mormon on that trip and handed them out to people we met along the way including fellow campers, toll booth attendants, and a family in Port Angeles, WA who put us up for the night after we damaged our vehicle helping evacuate an injured Boy Scout. Elder Gong and Paul Cox spoke at my missionary farewell and the four of us all went on to terrific missions - Bruce in Missouri, Paul in Samoa (Paul's incredible experience was described in a lengthy article in Southwest Airline's September, 2016 in flight magazine), Gerrit in Taiwan, and myself in Peru.

After returning home, Elder Gong gave a number of fireside presentations about his mission and his new-found appreciation for ancient Chinese culture. His mission was not easy because he looked Chinese but was not a native speaker. His presentations centered around the concept of "filial piety" or honor for one's forebears. Ancestry was also the subject of his memorable first talk in General Conference as a newly-called General Authority in October, 2010.

I hosted Gerrit, his mother, and his sister at a performance of American Fork's Pageant of the Arts, a local adaptation of Laguna Beach's famed Pageant of the Masters that was a cultural icon in Utah County during the 1970's and '80's.

Gerrit Gong is an avid photographer and seasoned negotiator. Both skills came in handy as he helped me purchase the Pentax camera I took on my mission. In early 1976 he spent a weekend in Vernal, UT taking Shannon's and my pre-wedding photos. On the way home he was driving my yellow VW bug and we slid on an icy spot in Daniel's Canyon which nearly sent us hurtling headlong down the embankment into Daniel's Creek below. After that scare, we pulled off to the side of the road and offered a prayer thanking our Father in Heaven for protecting us. Elder Gong took our wedding photos on the Salt Lake Temple grounds and the candids at our reception that evening.
Shannon and Kirk by my VW Bug
1976 Photo by Elder Gerrit W. Gong
Elder Gong married Susan Lindsay, daughter of Richard P. (1926 - 2010) and Marian Lindsay, in 1980. We enjoyed their reception in the Lion House on Temple Square. Susan's father served in the Second Quorum of Seventy from 1989 - 1994. Susan's brother, Bruce, was a popular news anchor on KSL TV before his 2012 call to preside over the Australia Perth Mission. Gerrit and Susan have four accomplished children.

I visited Gongs and went to church with them while they were living in McLean, VA. We had lunch together at BYU while he was serving on Pres. Samuelson's staff. Shannon and I spent an evening with Elder and Sister Gong just after his call to the First Quorum of Seventy while they were still living in the Abraham O. Smoot (1815 - 1895) farm home on the Provo bench. In 2011 while I was serving as Bishop of the BYU 172nd Ward, Elder and Sister Gong visited us and spent the three hours getting to know the wonderful married couples in our ward. He asks probing questions and listens with genuine interest. He is probably the most cerebral of the General Authorities (Ph.D. from Oxford) but he does not wear his formidable intellectual prowess on his lapel and he respects everyone around him regardless of their station in life.    

Cream rises. A finer man does not walk the earth. We as LDS will be blessed through Elder Gong's apostolic ministry. And Pres. Nelson, no stranger to the Chinese people, could hardly have a better right hand man on all matters Asian.

For a similar 2015 take on Elder Gong, see the blog article "New Apostles."

- Kirk Magleby, volunteer Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, the premiere source for reliable Book of Mormon enrichment material in English and Spanish.