Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Mesoamerican Chronological Alignment with Book of Mormon Events

This article is a work in process documenting remarkable temporal concordance between Mesoamerican events known to science and historical events recorded in the Book of Mormon.
  • Ceramics first appear in the archaeological record in Oaxaca/Puebla ca. 2,000 BC. See the blog article "Early Settlement Sequence." The Book of Mormon describes the Jaredites in an upland land of Moron early in their history Ether 7:5-6.
  • Ceramics show up in the Olmec heartland (Veracruz/Tabasco) ca. 1,500 BC. See the same blog article "Early Settlement Sequence." The Book of Mormon describes Jaredite movement out of Moron into coastal lowlands midway through their history Ether 9:3.
  • Ca. 550 BC the formerly Olmec Izapa experienced an influx of new artistic and cultural influences that created the vibrant monumental art the site is known for today. This is just when Laman and Lemuel were establishing what would become Lamanite civilization in the land of first inheritance. See the blog article "Izapa."
  • The eastern portion of the Olmec heartland declined ca. 400 - 350 BC, and the capital, La Venta, was abandoned. See Richard A. Diehl, The Olmecs: America's First Civilization, (London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004) p. 82. This correlates well with the Jaredite demise. Coriantumr, lone survivor of the Jaredite civil war, spent nine moons with the people of Zarahemla prior to the arrival of Mosiah I who discovered the Mulekite capital ca. 200 BC Omni 1:21.
  • Ca. 100 BC imposing Teotihuacan began its rise to prominence and some of its early inhabitants came from the Maya area of southern Mesoamerica. See George Cowgill, "State and Society at Teotihuacan, Mexico" in Annual Review of Anthropology, 26 (1) (1997) pp. 129-161. Ca. 55 BC the Book of Mormon describes the first of many large-scale Nephite migrations into the land northward Alma 63:4.
  • Takeshi Inomata and associates, in their Ceibal-Petexbatun Archaeological Project (CPAP), discovered large-scale defensive structures that were built ca. 75 BC. This is precisely the time Captain Moroni was fortifying Nephite cities through greater Zarahemla. See the blog article "75 BC."
  • Popocatépetl between Puebla and the Valley of Mexico and Tacaná on the Mexico/Guatemala line both erupted ca. AD 30. See the blog article "Volcanic Eruptions Near the Time of Christ." The Book of Mormon describes regional destruction in the lands southward and northward at the Savior's death 3 Nephi 8:11-12.
  • Takeshi Inomata and associates identified an upheaval and decline they call the "Preclassie Pan-regional collapse" ca. AD 125 - 175. El Mirador is the type site for this Preclassic collapse. See Inomata, et al., "High-precision radiocarbon dating of political collapse and dynastic origins at the Maya site of Ceibal, Guatemala" in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 114 (6) (February 7, 2017) pp. 1293-1298. This is precisely the time when Lamanites appear again in the Nephite record 4 Nephi 1:20 after the great period of peace that followed the Savior's appearance in land Bountiful.
  • On January 16, AD 378, Teotihuacan military emmisary Siyaj K'ak' presided over the death of the king of Tikal. Eventually he installed a new ruler loyal to Central Mexico and ushered in a new political order in the Maya lowlands that lasted 150+ years until the first Tikal-Calakmul war began in AD 537. This is the famous "entrada" recorded on El Peru Stela 15, Tikal Stela 31, and Naachtun Stela 24, among others. This precisely matches the time Mormon was preparing the Nephites for the final battle at Ramah/Cumorah where they were annihilated by a combined army of Lamanites and Gadianton Robbers. See the blog article "Robbers and Lamanites."

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Zeroing in on Cumorah

Mosiah 8:8 adds an additional element to the list of textual criteria that will help us identify the land of Cumorah. The land where we will find hill Ramah/Cumorah was not just a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains Mormon 6:4. (The term "many waters" as used by Book of Mormon authors refers to salt water ocean as in 1 Nephi 17:5 and Psalm 93:4. See the blog article "Many Waters.") The place where the Jaredites destroyed themselves in civil war and where the combined forces of the Lamanites and Gadianton Robbers Mormon 2:27-28; 8:9 massacred the hapless Nephites in egregious ethnic cleansing (Ramah = Cumorah per Ether 15:11) was a land among many waters Mosiah 8:8.

The OED says "among" derives from crowd or assemblage and means "surrounded by" locally. Thus, Columbus was among the Gentiles 1 Nephi 13:12 before he embarked on his epic voyage of discovery in 1492. Adam and Eve hid among the trees in the Garden of Eden Genesis 3:8 (which reads "among" rather than "amongst" in the 1535 Coverdale Bible). Ether 9:3 tells us there was a seacoast due east of hill Ramah/Cumorah. Mosiah 8:8's use of the word "among" tells us salt water ocean surrounds the land of Cumorah on more than one side.

The Book of Mormon geographic correlation that passed a strict audit with a perfect score of 100% (see the blog article "Auditing Book of Mormon Geography Models") places the land of Cumorah in the Tuxtla Mountain region of southern Veracruz where it is literally surrounded by salt water on two sides.
Land of Cumorah Among Many (Salt) Waters
Another geographic detail emerges from a close reading of the phrases "north country," "north countries," "south countries," and "country southward." The Jaredites established polities the prophet Moroni called "the north countries" Ether 9:35. These north countries were not on the extreme north because other countries lay round about (north of) them Ether 9:35. Mormon hid the 24 plates of Ether in hill Ramah/Cumorah Mormon 6:6. Moroni abridged the 24 plates of Ether after he returned to the Nephite repository in hill Ramah/Cumorah following the final battle. Moroni called Ramah/Cumorah "this north country" Ether 1:1. It was one of the "north countries" toward which the Nephites retreated when the Lamanites drove them out of the central Sidon corridor in the greater land of Zarahemla Mormon 2:3. It was the same "north country" the Nephites kept the Lamanites south of  ca. 34 BC with a fortified line in land Bountiful described in Helaman 4:7. Just prior to the final battle, a few Nephites had escaped from Ramah/Cumorah to the "south countries" Mormon 6:15. After the final battle, the few Nephites who had escaped into the "country southward" were hunted down by the Lamanites and killed Mormon 8:2. Moroni was the lone Nephite survivor. All of this movement between north and south countries under battle or refugee conditions implies geographic proximity. Ramah/Cumorah must have been a modest distance from the country southward. In the map above hill Ramah/Cumorah (proposed correlation: San Martin Pajapan) is 150 air kilometers from the proposed land Desolation/Bountiful border on the modern Tabasco/Chiapas line and 270 air kilometers from the proposed land Desolation/Bountiful border on the west sea near the modern Oaxaca/Chiapas line.

After studying the textual relationships mentioned above, I concluded that the land of Cumorah may have extended further east than the Coatzacoalcos River, so I moved the proposed eastern boundary to the modern Tonalá, ancient Grijalva rivers. This is the modern Veracruz/Tabasco boundary.

For 30 other detailed textual criteria this correlation satisfies, see the blog article "Ramah/Cumorah." For an independent corroboration of this correlation, see the blog article "Linguistic Cumorah."

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

COVID-19 Death Rates by State

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University publishes COVID-19 cases and deaths by state. This is their data as of May 28, 2020. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
COVID-19 Cases, Deaths, Death Rates by State
If you are infected with the virus, how likely are you to die? Where you live makes a big difference. Death rates range from 1.15% in South Dakota to 9.59% in Michigan. In other words, if infected, you are 8 times more likely to die from COVID-19 if you live in Michigan than in South Dakota. The national average is 5.91% and the global average is 6.03%. Only 4 states have death rates less than 1.65%: South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. Wyoming and South Dakota are understandable. Both have relatively small populations and many of their citizens live in rural areas. Nebraska is more characteristic of the nation as a whole. Utah is a special case. Its population is mid-sized (between Iowa [2.70%] and Connecticut [9.21%]) and it is highly urbanized (just behind Rhode Island [4.56%] and Massachusetts [6.95%]).
States with Low COVID-19 Death Rates
I find it fascinating that a swath of contiguous territory from Utah to the Missouri River would be so lightly affected by the pandemic.
States with Low COVID-19 Death Rates in Red
These factors make Utah unique:
  • Utah has the lowest median age (31) of any US state. This is because Utah families have more children than families in other states. The median household size (3.13) in Utah is the highest in the nation.
  • Utah has excellent health care infrastructure. It consistently ranks among the best states in the country for the quality and timliness of health care services delivered.
  • Utah state, county, and municipal governments are highly efficient compared with their counterparts nationally. Utahns by and large trust their local government officials and comply with directives.
  • Utah's poverty rate is relatively low.
  • 66.32% of Utahns are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which promulgates healthy lifetyles and a strong sense of community. And that metric understates the Church's broad influence in the state because it does not count anyone under 8 years of age.
Frequently the national media publishes "beauty pageant" data ranking the US states for this, that, or the other criteria. Over the years, I have been intrigued to notice how often Utah ranks #1 or near the top for the good stuff and #50 or near the bottom for the bad. When the Internet was fairly new, I published a website called "ProUtah." It was a lot of work and after a couple of years, I gave it up, but in that time I compiled more than 100 examples of Utah's relative superiority to the other 49 states. A handful of contrary examples surfaced, so I quickly put up a sister site named "ConUtah," but overall the trend was strongly favorable toward the Beehive State. My motive, of course, was to see if I could demonstrate empirically that the Latter-day Saint belief system and lifestyle lead to desirable outcomes. "By their fruits ye shall know them." Matthew 7:20. This statistical approach to comparative religion, using Utah as a convenient proxy for membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, seemed to me to validate the promise in Mosiah 2:41 that adherence to God's commandments brings temporal and spiritual blessings.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

New Church Symbol - Book of Mormon Connection

We are all indebted to Mesoamericanist and BYU faculty member Mark Alan Wright for this remarkable insight. He published it in his 2014 Axes Mundi article in Interpreter and shared it with those of us on his 2015 tour of Guatemala.
Mark Wright with Tikal Temple I in Background
Book of Mormon Central published it as part of KnoWhy #211 that came out in October, 2016.

When the Savior appeared to his apostles in the Old World after his resurrection, they were shown first the nail prints in his hands and second the wound in his side. We see this order in John 20:20, 25, 27. The version in Luke 24:39, 40 mentions only his hands and his feet. His followers in Judea, familiar with Roman execution by crucifixion, would have focused primarily on the prints of the nails in his hands and his feet.

When the Savior appeared to his disciples and others gathered at the Temple in land Bountiful about a year after his death and resurrection in Jerusalem, he showed them his wounded body, but this time the order of the sacrificial symbols was reversed. The Nephites were invited to first thrust their hands into his side and second feel the prints of the nails in his hands and feet 3 Nephi 11:14, 15. In Mesoamerica, where human sacrifice was often by heart extraction, people would have focused primarily on the wound in his side.

The resurrected Savior bore physical sacrificial symbols meaningful to both his Old and New World followers. He explicitly told the Nephites these symbols would convince them he was "the God of the whole earth" 3 Nephi 11:14.

The magnificent new Church symbol, derived from Bertel Thorvaldsen's Christus statue in the Church of Our Lady, Copenhagen and McRay Magleby's 1995 logo design, shows both the wound in the Savior's side and the prints of the nails in his hands and feet.
New Church Symbol
Representing the Risen Lord
Atop a Cornerstone
It is a fitting symbol for "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth" D&C 1:30.
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Mark Wright's 2015 Guatemala Tour helped inform the very interesting blog articles entitled "Book of Mormon Lands Map 2016," "Sea Divides the Land," and "Kaminaljuyu."

One Aspect of President Nelson's Hinge Point

While in Rome for the dedication of the Rome Temple in March, 2019, Pres. Russell M. Nelson said this particular temple is "a hinge point in the history of the Church." https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/president-nelson-calls-rome-temple-dedication-a-hinge-point-in-church-history?lang=eng
The prophet then added "Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace."

This prophetic observation was repeated by Church News in their 2019 year end recap. https://www.thechurchnews.com/leaders-and-ministry/2019-12-27/president-nelson-rome-hinge-point-church-history-170654

Then, as the prophet gave his 2020 New Year's admonition, he asked all members to share the Gospel and prepare to celebrate the bi-centennial of the First Vision in April General Conference. He added "The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church and your part is vital." https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/president-nelson-extends-important-invitation-to-all-latter-day-saints-in-2020?lang=eng

In one important way, 2019 was a literal hinge point in the history of the Church. The rate of Church membership growth increased in 2019 after 6 years of steady decline. Here are the numbers. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Church Membership Growth 1975 - 2019
And here is the graph showing the literal hinge point in 2019.
Church Membership Growth Rate 1975 - 2019
Under the inspired leadership of Pres. Nelson, we as a Church experienced not only growth but an increase in our growth rate in 2019.

The prophet asked us all to act because our part is vital. With talented and dedicated associates, I volunteer as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central. From 2016 - 2019 we achieved 152k followers on Facebook, 4.7 million views on YouTube, 2.8 million listens on Soundcloud and iTunes, and 8.7 million pageviews on websites. These results are from our English and Spanish initiatives combined. With the alignment of Come Follow Me and our stellar Book of Mormon content, all of these numbers are up dramatically in 2020. We have become a principal go to place in the Church for answers to hard questions about the Book of Mormon and now the Pearl of Great Price as well. We are going to work hard doing our small part to help the upward trajectory of the hinge continue.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Herschel Pedersen (1929 - 2020)

My friend and mentor, Herschel Noel Pedersen, died April 1, 2020 at age 91. He was a giant of a man who kindled a spiritual flame inside me that has never dimmed. I was privileged to grow up in the American Fork 12th Ward where Herschel was a larger-than-life hometown hero. A better missionary I have never known. Herschel was fearless and disarmingly self-effacing. He talked the talk and walked the walk with a flair for public speaking that kept audiences spellbound. Miracles large and small hovered around him. His work ethic was legendary. In his prime, his recall was nearly photographic. He read all four standard works multiple times each year and could quote chapter and verse for hours. Herschel was a champion basketball player, a champion steelworker, a champion storyteller, a champion patriarch, a champion Latter-day Saint.
Herschel and Shirley Pedersen
Story #1. American Fork Canyon. When I was young the local seventies proselytized out of staters camping in American Fork Canyon. We looked for interesting license plates and visited with folks, giving them a loaf of homemade bread or a plate of cookies and a copy of the Book of Mormon. When I first heard about this outreach, I was appalled. How dare we Latter-day Saints impose our beliefs on unsuspecting tourists who just happen to be spending part of their vacation in our gorgeous canyon? Herschel persuaded me to be his junior companion. One evening with him visiting around campfires was all it took. We had incredible experiences getting to know amazing sons and daughters of God. Herschel had a knack for asking deep, probing questions such as "Do you know anyone who has actually seen an angel?" I went up the canyon with him many times. It felt a little odd giving copies of the Book of Mormon to campers who were holding a can of Coors in the other hand, but we always left smiling. Herschel endeared himself to his new friends swapping hunting, fishing, or sports stories before bearing his testimony. When I landed in the mission field at age 19, sharing the Gospel was perfectly natural. Peru was a cake walk. I had been a "canyon missionary" with a pro.

Story #2. John Sagers. John was a fellow graduate, American Fork High School, class of '71. He was a bright, handsome, talented young man and a good friend. We had played football together all through junior high and high school. John's family were Episcopalians so he got to drink real wine in their version of the Sacrament. John's dad was the superintendent of the training school, now the Utah State Developmental Center, and they lived in a stately home on the campus grounds. John was dating Ann Richards, a Latter-day Saint girl who got him thinking about the Church. The summer after our high school graduation, he worked alongside DR Gardner and the two of them talked religion. DR gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and John began to read. His parents wouldn't allow the book in their home, so he hid it inside a plastic bag under a lilac bush near the training school ampitheater. He would read for an hour or so every day after work before returning home. Late one evening, I visited him and all he wanted to talk about was the Book of Mormon. I suggested we visit Herschel. It was after 11 pm when we knocked on Herschel's door and he welcomed us in his pajamas. For about two hours light and spirit and joy filled the Pedersen dining room so powerfully that a couple of high school football buddies couldn't hold back the tears. John went home that night with a spiritual flame inside that never dimmed. He died a few days later on August 5, 1971, in a tragic automobile accident on I-15 in Salt Lake County.

Story #3. Patriarch. Blaine Durrant is Herschel's grandson. Blaine and Caroline were our next-door neighbors for several years. Blaine told me this story. A few years ago, before Herschel and Shirley moved from their home on 850 East, Herschel gathered his posterity together and gave every one of them a father's, grandfather's, or great-grandfather's blessing. His family was so large the process took two days, but he wanted to do what Adam D&C 107:53-56, Jacob (Israel) Genesis chapters 48 and 49, and Lehi 2 Nephi 4:12 had done. He had been a young missionary in Denmark, a bishop, a Regional Representative of the Twelve, a mission president in New Zealand, a senior missionary in Denmark, and a counselor in the Mount Timpanogos Temple Presidency. He was a Temple sealer. Visions and blessings and the scriptures had been his daily fare for decades, but this was special. These were the members of his and Shirley's eternal family. Some of the blessings were prophetic. Some were wake up calls. All were profoundly personal and insightful. Things were communicated spiritually to Herschel acting in his office as patriarch that he could not possibly have known beforehand. It was a sacred revelatory experience none of his family members will ever forget. Herschel kindled many spiritual flames that will never dim.

The year before we all left on our missions, DR Gardner, Paul Terry, Claire  Rinehart, John Lambert, Bruce McDaniel, and I met almost every Sunday night with Herschel around his dining room table for an informal mission prep. Sometimes Shirley would bring out cardboard boxes full of press clippings from his basketball days. Sometimes he would regale us with stories of his Korean War experience playing volleyball all over Japan on some high-ranking general's personal team. He told great stories about courting Shirley and the little dramas of raising a large family. Occasionally, his wife would chime in, "Husband (she always called him "husband"), that's not true!" Herschel was not above a little hyperbole now and again for dramatic effect. Stories from "the plant" (Geneva Steel) were legion and often heart-wrenching. Preaching the Gospel daily to a tough bunch of steelworkers was a dicey proposition. One evening, Herschel inquired about our dates. We were all freshmen at BYU. I volunteered that I wanted to ask out Sharmon Oaks whose father, Dallin, was the new President of BYU, but I was scared to call her. He said in his big booming voice, "That's a problem we can solve!" He picked up the phone, dialed the Oaks residence, asked for Sharmon, and announced, "We have a problem and you're part of it," then handed me the phone.    

American Fork will never be the same without Herschel Pedersen, but oh what glory now attends this great man.
Herschel as a Foreman at Geneva Steel
For a fascinating story about Herschel's constructive role in a curious Book of Mormon plot, see the blog article "Frauds and Hoaxes."
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This from DR Gardner: What a blessing to have known Herschel. My testimony received a huge kick start stitting around his table on the Sundays of 1971. He performed the marriage for both of my daughters.
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This from Claire Rinehart: I have been recording memories of my youth and I recently wrote thoughts about John Sagers, where I mentioned Herschel. I will need to record more thoughts about him since this message has brought a flood of good memories.
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This from Deseret News sportswriter Dick Harmon: https://www.deseret.com/2020/4/3/21206947/herschel-pederson-byu-lds-mormon-missionary-danish-basketball-death-american-fork
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Herschel's Eulogy: http://warenski.com/wpstaging/2020/04/03/herschel-n-pedersen/