Sunday, April 28, 2019

Komkom Vase

A shattered royal drinking vessel discovered in 2015 at Baking Pot, Belize bears a long Mayan inscription that originally consisted of 202 glyph blocks, about 60% of which are extant after reconstruction.
Komkom Vase Dedicated AD 812 
Baking Pot is on the Belize River.
Baking Pot, Belize in Context
A critical text of this important inscription was recently published - Christophe Helmke, Julie A. Hoggarth, Jaime J. Awe, A Reading of the Komkom Vase Discovered at Baking Pot, Belize (San Francisco: Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, 2018) 144 pp. Helmke is at the University of Copenhagen, Hoggarth at Baylor, and Awe at Northern Arizona. The fact that they published a critical text only 3 years after the vase's discovery is a credit to the authors and a result of the remarkable worldwide collaboration among contemporary Mayanists.

The vessel was owned by the king of Komkom, an unidentified site probably on the Belize River and allied with the more powerful Naranjo to the west. The text was copied from an earlier historical record, almost certainly painted on bark paper. The text on Naranjo Stela 12, dedicated AD 800, ultimately derives from that same earlier historical source. Naranjo Stela 12 and the Komkom vase describe the same military engagements with Yaxha and Tikal, but from the different perspectives of Naranjo and its junior partner, Komkom. The military action took place between February and September, AD 799.

The Komkom vase text has a number of interesting similarities with the much earlier Book of Mormon.
  • Komkom p. 22 The vase text has calendrical, historical narrative, and parentage components. The Book of Mormon establishes chronology, recites historical narrative, and declares lineage relationships Alma 63:15-17.
  • Komkom p. 30 cites our friend, Kerry Hull of the BYU religion faculty, because the vase text uses the elegant poetic form difrasismo or "diphrastic kenning" where dual extremes imply a larger whole. Hull has pointed out several examples of this poetic form in the Nephite record including 2 Nephi 10:16, 2 Nephi 26:33, and Alma 11:44. Komkom p. 39 says difrasismo has endured virtually unchanged as a poetic form in Mayan literature for two millenia.
  • Komkom p. 32 describes the title "five headdresses" applied to elite women. The phrase is known from inscriptions at half a dozen Maya sites.
This is Linda Schele's drawing of the Palace Tablet, Palenque.
K'inich K'an Joy Chitam Flanked by his Parents
All three figures wear elaborate headdresses. Lady Tz'akbu Ajaw to the right is wearing at least three headdresses. K'inich Janaab Pakal to the left is holding a headdress.

These are Linda Schele's drawings of various headdresses:
Headdresses from Palenque, Machaquila, Yaxchilan, and Piedras Negras
The Book of Mormon calls tall headdresses "high heads." 2 Nephi 28:14 talks about prideful people who wear stiff necks and high heads. Jacob 2:13 explicitly says prideful people wear stiff necks and high heads because they can afford costly apparel. Some Mesoamerican headdresses were so heavy and cumbersome the wearers used a back rack with a vertical pole or lattice to hold everything up. Back racks with vertical support may be the "stiff necks" Nephi and Jacob refer to.
  • Komkom p. 34 analyzes the linguistics of the title "eastern 28 chief" attested from the sites of Dos Pilas, Machaquila, Ixkun, Naranjo, and Caracol. All of these sites where the term has been found (now including Baking Pot) are in the central (Usumacinta) or eastern (Maya Mountains) sector of the Maya world. This is precisely where many Book of Mormon modelers place "the east wilderness" mentioned in Alma chapters 25 and 50 and "the east by the seashore" in Alma 22:29. The "eastern 28" part of the Maya title is likely a late Classic regional grouping of polities.
This  map shows sites where the title "eastern 28 chief" is found, the Maya Mountains in brown overlay, and plausible correlates for the Book of Mormon "east."
Sites where "East" is Attested with Possible Book of Mormon Correlates
The blockbuster discovery that the Book of Mormon "east sea" may now be corroborated in ancient Mayan inscriptions is discussed in the 2016 article "Smoking Gun." More information about the region the Maya considered "the east" is in the 2018 article "Maya Place Names." Alexandre Tokovinine, author of the very important 2013 monograph Place and Identity in Classic Maya Narratives and world's leading expert on Maya toponyms, really likes the new Helmke, Hoggarth, Awe, Komkom Vase book per his favorable Amazon review.
  • Komkom p. 36-37 The Mayan verb ch'ahb describes a devotional act such as fasting or doing penance. The meaning "let blood" originally proposed in Linda Schele's era is no longer considered viable. The Book of Mormon mentions fasting in a devotional context dozens of times, e.g. Alma 45:1, Helaman 3:35.
  • Komkom p. 41 describes a military campaign in AD 696 where enemy structures were set ablaze. The Book of Mormon describes a military campaign ca. AD 379 where villages and towns were burned with fire Mormon 5:5. Komkom p. 56 describes another burning of an opponent's home town in a martial context. Komkom pp. 70, 75 mention yet others. 
  • Komkom p. 42-43 cites Mayan texts that describe Motul de San Jose and Yaxha as being west of Naranjo and the Baking Pot area as east of it.
This map shows the four sites generally in a west-east alignment.
Motul & Yaxha West of Naranjo, Baking Pot East of It
The late Classic Maya used a system of solar-based directional cardinality similar to our own. Their meaning of "west" and "east" nearly matched our modern usage of those terms.

  • Komkom p. 50 says particular forests had names in the Maya world. The Book of Mormon has a named forest Mosiah 18:30.
  • Komkom p. 51 talks about a conquering army scattering the bones of an enemy king. The Book of Mormon mentions scattered bones Omni 1:22.
  • Komkom p. 52 mentions the construction of paved roads in AD 588. The Book of Mormon describes the construction of paved roads ca. AD 29 3 Nephi 6:8. Komkom p. 62 talks about "four-breadth roadways," a term found also at Naranjo and Caracol. Maya highway widths were classified by standard units of measure. The Book of Mormon implies different sized roadways when it mentions both "roads" and "highways" in 3 Nephi 6:8.
  • Komkom p. 52 cites the phrase "it is set in order" which recalls the wording of Alma 8:1 where Alma "established the order" of the church in Gideon.
  • Komkom p. 52 says the sociopolitical relationship between the site of Naranjo and some of its neighbors was stable for 220 years. The Book of Mormon describes similar periods of stability Jarom 1:5.
  • Komkom p. 53 describes the Mayan word for "bee." Ether 2:3 describes the Jaredite word for "honey bee."
  • KomKom p. 55 note 18 says the term "large waters" used throughout Mesoamerica refers to a river. This may have significant implications for Book of Mormon geography. The terms "waters of Sidon" and "river Sidon" are used interchangeably in the text Alma 43:40. Alma baptized in the waters of Sidon Alma 4:4 just like his father had baptized in the waters of Mormon Mosiah 25:18. The waters of Mormon may be a river just like the waters of Sidon are a river. Ditto the waters of Sebus Alma 19:20-21 and the waters of Ripliancum which are explicitly called "large" Ether 15:8.
  • Komkom p. 58 says the sites of Yaxha (Yaxa'), Mopan (Monpaan), Motul (Mutu'l), and Laguna la Blanca (Sakha') carry names that have remained largely unchanged since late Classic times. It is well known in historical linguistic circles that toponyms are remarkably resistant to change. This gives us hope that more Book of Mormon toponyms (in addition to "east sea" and "the east" discussed above) may be found as Maya decipherment advances.
  • Komkom p. 62 describes a regal title translated as "he of nine lands." The most prominent political organization mentioned in the Nephite text is "land" and some rulers had dominion over multiple lands Alma 22:1.
  • Komkom p. 64 outlines a chiastic structure. The Book of Mormon contains dozens of chiastic structures such as Mosiah 5:10-12.
  • Komkom p. 65 discusses deity impersonation where a human donned regalia and acted like a particular god. The Mayan phrase for this behavior is rendered "it is his/her image in the state of being like a god." Alma alluded to this practice when he asked his followers in the city of Zarahemla if they had received the image of God engraved in their countenance Alma 5:14,19.
  • Komkom p. 66 talks about a captured king who was killed with a torch. In the Book of Mormon, King Noah suffered death by fire Mosiah 19:20.
  • Komkom p. 71 tells about a king who ascended a mountain to evade military pressure. The Book of Mormon tells a similar story about Lehonti atop Mount Antipas Alma 47:10. Komkom p. 86 discusses the idea of people fleeing and taking refuge in an elevated place. This is exactly what happened when Mosiah 1 led the Nephites from the land of Nephi down to the land of Zarahemla. The large group took temporary refuge en route on the hill north of Shilom Mosiah 11:13.
  • Komkom p. 73 describes the practice of giving a youth a different name after he matured and began to fulfill his adult role in society. Paranomasia (pun names) are one implementation that Matthew Bowen has found throughout the Book of Mormon. See his "Name as Key-Word, Collected Essays on Onomastic Wordplay."
  • Komkom p. 74 discusses the Mayan adverb uhtiiy which means "it happened." The Book of Mormon variant is the ubiquitous "It came to pass" e.g. Alma 47:2-3.
  • Komkom p. 76 says the ancient Maya measured distance by a day's walk. The Book of Mormon peoples measured distance by a day's journey Alma 8:6.
  • Komkom p. 82 says many localities mentioned in ancient Mayan texts cannot be identified on the modern map. It should not surprise us that many localities mentioned in the Book of Mormon have not yet been identified on the modern map.
  • Komkom p. 84 talks about historical annals, records kept year by year. Large parts of the Book of Mormon such as Helaman 11:21-24 are abridgments from historical annals.