Monday, June 10, 2019

1921 Book of Mormon Geography Hearings

In April, 1928 General Conference, Pres. Anthony W. Ivins (1852 - 1934) of the First Presidency discussed Hill Cumorah. The Church had just purchased Hill Cumorah from the Pliny T. Sexton (1840 - 1924) estate a few weeks before. Pres. Ivins reported on that land acquisition and then waxed poetic about the ancient battles that supposedly had been fought on and around that hill. In 1928, practically every Latter-day Saint in the world thought the final Jaredite and Nephite battles took place on the same glacial drumlin in western New York where Moroni buried the plates. An alternative view with a battle site in Mexico and Moroni traveling during his 35 years of solitude was beginning to take root in Reorganization circles following the 1917 publication of Louis Edward Hills’ influential Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 BC to 421 AD in Independence, MO. A similar discussion would not take place among Latter-day Saint scholars until Hugh W. Nibley (1910 - 2005), M. Wells Jakeman (1910-1998), Thomas Stuart Ferguson (1915 - 1983), and Milton R. Hunter (1902-1975) met at Berkeley in the 1930’s. So, Pres. Ivins in 1928 was voicing what essentially everyone in the Church believed at that time.
Pres. Anthony W. Ivins from Washington County Historical Society
But, where did Pres. Ivins think most of the Book of Mormon took place? On Monday, January 24, 1921, then Apostle Anthony W. Ivins reported to the “Book of Mormon committee” chaired by fellow Apostle James E. Talmage (1862-1933). The Book of Mormon committee had overseen the successful publication of the 1920 edition and due to great interest around the Church, decided to convene a series of Book of Mormon geography hearings. Those hearings were held on Friday, January 21 through Monday, January 24, 1921. Three people presented their views:
  • Joel E. Ricks (1858 - 1944), author of maps and booklets popular throughout the Church, advocated for the land southward in northern South America and the land northward in Central America. A college professor in Logan, he had spent many summers travelling throughout Latin America.
  • Willard Young (1852 - 1936), Brigham’s son who attended West Point, favored a location in Honduras and Guatemala. He was an engineer who had worked on construction projects in Mexico and Central America.
  • Anthony W. Ivins of the Quorum of the Twelve thought the setting was Mexico and Yucatan. He served his second mission in Mexico City and helped establish the Mormon colonies in northern Chihuahua. His son, Antoine R. Ivins (1881 - 1967), presided over the Mexico Mission and was a member of the Seventy.  
That was it. Those were the only three theories considered by the Book of Mormon committee in January, 1921. No official conclusion was reached. Some of the best minds in the Church in that era envisioned Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica with the final battles in upstate New York. It would be a few more years before close reading of the text convinced a growing consensus of Latter-day Saint scholars that the lands being described by Mormon and Moroni could not have exceeded 1,000 kilometers in maximum extent which precludes New York in most models.

See James E. Talmage Journals, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University: MSS 229, Box 6, Folder 2, Journal 24.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Auditing Book of Mormon Geography Models

Several years ago, Jack Welch challenged me to devise a methodology to reasonably evaluate multiple Book of Mormon geography models no matter their setting. It has taken years of work and involved dozens of people, but we now have an audit tool, an Excel spreadsheet, that can be easily configured to accommodate a variety of different assumptions about the text.

The only a priori assumption the audit procedure makes is that the Nephite text is consistent. Since virtually every scholar who has ever analyzed the text has come to this conclusion, we are on solid ground with a presumption of consistency.

The audit looks at every occurrence in the text of these key terms:
  • up & down
  • north, south, east & west with variants (northward, southward, south south east, etc.)
  • day's journey
  • cross over
Every one of these key terms involves a from and to relationship between two locations on the Book of Mormon map. It turns out that 229 potentially different locations (some modelers conflate locations which is fine) are required to pass 246 tests.

The audit allows each modeler a great deal of flexibility in the way they interpret the text based on their assumptions. It measures completeness, internal consistency, and degree of fit to the text.
Audit Template Created by Lynn McMurray and LaMar Layton
The first model was audited last night, June 6, 2019. With a robust audit procedure in place, I now predict rapid progress. There is no time to waste. Many BYU professors, even on the religion faculty, do not believe the Book of Mormon is historical.

June 11,  2019 Second audit completed today in Puebla, Mexico. Results agreed with the 6/6 audit.

June 18, 2019 Third audit completed today in Arizona. Results agreed with the 6/6 audit.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Many Waters

I had Jeff Faulkner from Phoenix in my office today. His study of the Nephite text convinces him the phrase "many waters" means salt water ocean. I took a look at the term "waters" back in 2014 in the article entitled "OED on Waters." Jeff's interpretation is certainly within the pale of possibilities.
National Geographic Photo of an Ocean Wave
"Many waters" is one of the few terms actually defined by the editor in the text itself. 1 Nephi 17:5 is explicit. Irreantum or many waters refers to the sea. The Book of Mormon Onomasticon entry for "Irreantum" gives possible Semitic and Egyptian etymologies for this word.

1 Nephi 13:10, 12-13, 29 is equally explicit. The term "many waters" in these verses refers to the Atlantic Ocean which separates Europe from the Americas.

1 Nephi 14:11-12 is unmistakable. The great and abominable church is a global institution whose dominion extends from sea to sea. "Many waters" in this context means the world's salt water oceans. See the blog article "What is the Great and Abominable Church?" for insights into this nexus of evil.

Ether 2:6 is clear. Jaredites crossed "many waters" in barges which were sometimes submerged beneath the waves of the sea Ether 6:7.

The term "many waters" occurs 11 times in the text. The 9 instances described above all refer to one or more salt water oceans. What does that imply for the other two instances? The text of the Book of Mormon is so consistent in its usage patterns Royal Skousen coined the term "systematic phraseology" to describe its orderly repetition. The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), Editor's Preface p. xlv. Every time we see the phrase "many waters" in the text it likely refers to a salt water ocean. This means we should look for hill Ramah/Cumorah seaside.

Mosiah 8:8 says the land of Cumorah was located "among many waters" and Mormon 6:4 says Cumorah was a "land of many waters..." That probably means Cumorah had a salt water coastline. The fact that Ablom by the seashore is due east of hill Ramah/Cumorah Ether 9:3 strengthens this marine interpretation.

In 2016 and 2017, Warren Aston spent months in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala on multiple trips exploring many of the candidates that have been seriously proposed for hill Ramah/Cumorah. After looking carefully at more than half a dozen hills, he narrowed the list to two: Cerro Vigía and Cerro San Martín Pajapan, both in southern Veracruz. In my mind, 1,160 meter Pajapan is the stronger candidate. See the article Ramah/Cumorah. If the "many waters" phrase in Mormon 6:4 really does refer to the open ocean, then Pajapan is almost certainly hill Cumorah.
The Summit of San Martín Pajapan is 7 Air Kilometers from Salt Water
The NE slopes of Pajapan are ancient volcanic lava flows that extend right to the water's edge. The red arrow in the image below points to one of these lava flows jutting into the ocean.
Lava Flow from Eye Distance of 13 KM. Flowing Streams in Yellow
 And this is what that lava flow looks like from just offshore.
Ancient Lava Flow with San Martín Pajapan in the Background
Photo by Kirk Magleby, February, 2017 
The Olmec (and Aztecs) considered this particular hill the site of earth's original creation. According to Linda Schele, Complex C (The Great Pyramid) at La Venta was built as a model of San Martín Pajapan. San Martín Pajapan Monument 1, now in Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, was set atop the hill ca. 1,000 BC (the article "Linguistic Cumorah" includes a photo). This particular hill is clearly among and in a land of many (sea) waters.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Las Vegas Odds

The father/son team of Bruce and Brian Dale, both PhD engineers, published a sensational 110 page article in Interpreter on May 3, 2019 that uses Bayesian statistical analysis to demonstrate a) the Book of Mormon is historical and b) it is set in ancient Mesoamerica.

Bruce Dale, Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering, Michigan State
Brian Dale, BioMedical Engineer, Siemens
Joseph Smith: The World's Greatest Guesser - Highly Recommended
The Dales analyzed 137 statements of fact from Michael D. Coe and Stephen D. Houston, The Maya (Ninth Edition), Thames & Hudson (2015), a gold standard reference work on ancient Mesoamerica.
Current, Authoritative Scholarly Source
They compared and contrasted these 137 statements of fact with corresponding statements of fact in the Book of Mormon.
Nephite Text - An Ancient American Codex
They found 131 points of agreement and 6 points of disagreement between The Maya and the Book of Mormon. Running the math, this works out to odds of billions upon billions to one that the Book of Mormon peoples shared common political, cultural/social, religious, military/warfare, physical/geographical, and technological/miscellaneous characteristics with the ancient Maya.

The smart folks at Interpreter (Dan Peterson, Allen Wyatt, Brant Gardner) anticipated a blockbuster, so they kept this article in peer review for over a year where it was polished by both Mesoamericanists and statisticians. When the provocative piece was finally published a month ago, reactions were fast and furious. Anti-Mormons masquerading behind pen names went ballistic trying to do damage control. Hyper skeptical cultural Mormons went nuts trying to invent counter explanations. True believers like me cheered loudly and long to see our favorite book so convincingly vindicated. The Dales managed the comment parade with aplomb. What is not to like about a genuine intellectual free-for-all with eternal salvific overtones?

And the comments, 300+ and counting, just keep comping. This is the most heavily commented article Interpreter has ever published. A response has just been posted (agrees with the conclusion, disagrees with the statistical methodology). This is a terrific article that will have a lasting impact on Book of Mormon studies. At 110 pages with appendices, footnotes, logic, and math, it is not for the faint of heart, but it is well worth the effort.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

PreColumbian Honey Bees

We previously noted evidence that beekeeping and honey production were important economic activities in ancient Mesoamerica. See the articles "Titulo de Totonicapan" and "Komkom Vase". A scholarly article recently came to our attention that shows images of ancient Maya beehives and provides interesting details about Mesoamerican beekeeping.

Jaroslaw Zralka (Jagiellonian University, Kraków), Laura Sotelo (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Christophe Helmke (University of Copenhagen), and Wieslaw Koszkul (Jagiellonian University, Kraków) wrote "The discovery of a beehive and the identification of apiaries among the ancient Maya" published in Latin American Antiquity 29(3) (June, 2018) pp. 514-531. The page numbers that follow are from this article.

514 A ceramic beehive was discovered in a dedicatory cache at Nakum, Peten, Guatemala by Polish archaeologists who worked the site from 2006 - 2016. The artifact dates to the late Preclassic (ca. 100 BC - AD 250/300).
Nakum, Guatemala in Context
515 Nakum was first settled in the middle Preclassic 1,000 - 700 BC.

518 A photo of the beehive fashioned in pottery to look like a hollow log with ceramic end caps made to look like mud plaster and a single bee hole.
Ancient Maya Beehive from Nakum
Now in the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Guatemala City

520 Cozumel Island was an important center of native American beekeeping and honey production at European conquest. This censer figurine from Cozumel shows a bee-like "diving god" holding honeycomb cells in his hands. Two beehives similar to the Nakum example flank the sides of the censer.
Post-classic Figurine, Drawing by Christophe Helmke
Now in Museo Palacio Cantón, Mérida
 Another figurine, also from Cozumel, shows a deity wearing a miniature beehive as a necklace.
Post-Classic Figurine, Drawing by Christophe Helmke
Now in National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
520 The article illustrates another ancient Maya iconographic portrayal of a cylindrical beehive.

521 kaab was one of the variant names for "bee" in Mayan languages.

521 Species of stingless bees endemic to the New World include Geotrigona acapulconis, Melipona beecheii, Partamona bilineata, and Tetragonisca angustula. All 4 species were domesticated by the ancient Maya and other Mesoamericans.

521 Ceramic jars and bottle gourds were also used as beehives in ancient Mexico and Guatemala.

522 There is evidence of large-scale intensive farming of stingless bees in the Yucatan Peninsula in precolumbian times.

524 Diego de Landa (1524 - 1579) and Tomás López Medel (1520 - 1582) both described the extensive honey industry that existed among the ancient Maya at European contact.

524 The Madrid Codex discusses beekeeping on pp. 103 - 112. This section is often called the "Beekeeping Almanac."

525 Maya deities associated with beekeeping according to the Madrid Codex include Itzamnaj, Cháak, and Yax Báalam. Goddess I is depicted as a beekeeper.

525 The Mayan difrasismos or diphrastic kennings uk'-we' "drink-eat" meaning "feasting" and yax-k'an "green-yellow" or "unripe-ripe" meaning "abundance" are associated with bees and honey. This may be significant. The Book of Mormon associates honey with feasting 2 Nephi 17:22, 2 Nephi 26:25 in the sense of a land flowing with milk and honey. Honey is explicitly associated with the abundance of land Bountiful 1 Nephi 17:5 which in the Spanish edition of the Book of Mormon is called "Abundancia."
Difrasismo for Abundance, Madrid Codex, p. 110 Middle Register
526 The Madrid Codex, generally dated ca. AD 1450, depicts many bees with cylindrical beehives that resemble the Nakum example.
Bee Image from Madrid Codex, p. 103
527 In Mayan languages, the same word means "bee" and "honey." The Book of Mormon explicitly uses the term "honey bee" Ether 2:3.

Bees, honey, and beekeeping are mentioned in the Book of Mormon in both Jaredite and Nephite contexts. Bees, honey, and beekeeping are now attested archaeologically in the Peten at Nakum during Nephite times. Nakum was originally settled in the Jaredite era.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The River

The Book of Mormon mentions only one river, the Sidon, by name, and it is referenced more than 25 times (e.g. Alma 3:3). Almost all references call it "the river Sidon" (e.g. Alma 6:7). There is one reference, though, where Mormon called the Sidon simply "the river" (Alma 43:52). All of these conditions (uniquely named, frequently mentioned, generically named), point to a singular river that dominated its landscape. Most contemporary Book of Mormon modelers (myself included) correlate the Sidon with the mighty Usumacinta, the largest river in Mesoamerica.
Main Channel of the Chixoy, Salinas, and Usumacinta
I recently found confirmation that the Chontal Maya called the Usumacinta Xocolha which can simply mean "the river." Ronald L. Canter, "Rivers Among the Ruins: The Usumacinta" in PARI Journal, Vol. VII, No. 3, Winter 2007.

This is the third geographic reference in the Nephite text where we have a precise correlate in Mayan. The other two are the "east sea" (see the blog article "Smoking Gun") and "the east" (see the blog article "Maya Place Names"). 

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 kab which is 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.