Sunday, February 17, 2019

What is the Great and Abominable Church?

Nephi saw in vision a great and abominable church 1 Nephi 13:6. It goes by many names in scripture:
Babylon, Illustration (colorized) from Martin Luther's 1534 Translation of the Bible
The Kings of the Earth are Coming to do Business
No single institution is the great and abominable church. It is a global system of exploitation, survival of the fittest, the dog-eat-dog world where the law of the jungle rules, the strong oppress the weak, and Master Mahan murders to get gain Moses 5:29-31. Korihor described the system well Alma 30:17. This is why an angel taught Nephi the entire world can be divided into only two churches - the church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil 1 Nephi 14:10. And what characteristic is diagnostic of the church of the Lamb of God? Love Moroni 7:48John 13:35.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Book of Mormon Geography 101

This article introduces basic Book of Mormon geography based on the February, 2019 version of the Magleby-Tovar Book of Mormon Map. Kirk Magleby lives in Utah. Javier Tovar lives in Hidalgo. This map successfully passed 11 stringent tests designed to evaluate degree of fit to the text. See the articles in this blog entitled "Test #1 Ups and Downs" through "Test #11 The Big Picture."

1. Authority. The primary source for evidence about the real-world location of Book of Mormon events is the text itself. Written by eye-witnesses and translated by the gift and power of God, the Book of Mormon is the most divine object most of us will ever hold in our mortal hands. The Lord could have revealed the location to Joseph Smith, but He did not just as He has not to any Prophet since. See the Church's January, 2019 Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography. I know people who personally guided modern-day Apostles and Prophets on visits to ancient American archaeological sites such as Izapa, Tikal and Teotihuacan. I have read modern-day Apostles and Prophets' marginalia in books they once owned such as Popol Vuh. The brethren who have dealt with it have not considered the matter settled, but have wrestled with the geography issue just like the rest of us.

2. Setting. Based on close reading, most modern Book of Mormon scholars (Sperry [1895 - 1977], Nibley [1910 - 2005], Ludlow [1924 - 2009], Sorenson, Welch, Skousen, Givens, Hardy) are persuaded Mesoamerica best fits the text. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Mesoamerica with Major River Systems
Why Mesoamerica? See the article "The Case for Mesoamerica."

3. Voyages. Jaredites ca. 2,300 BC, Mulekites ca. 595 BC., Lehites ca. 590 BC.
Proposed Jaredite, Lehite, and Mulekite Sea Voyages 
Most students of the text accept a Lehite  landfall on the Pacific coast based on Alma 22:28 and a Mulekite  landfall on the Atlantic coast based on Alma 22:30 and Omni 1:16. Whether the Jaredites crossed the Atlantic or Pacific is ambiguous in the text. A Pacific crossing correlates well with the length of time it takes for Asian debris to wash up on North American shores. See the articles "Test #6 Relative Distances" and "Tracking the Jaredites." An Atlantic crossing is too short for the 344 days at sea reported in Ether 6:11. Columbus in 1492 crossed from Spain to the Canary Islands in 6 days, and from the Canaries to the Bahamas in 42 days. In 2018, Bryce Carlson from Cincinnati set a new world's record for a solo row across the Atlantic. He did it in 38 days, shattering the previous record of 53 days set in 2016. The Ocean Rowing Society is the official adjudicating body of solo rows across the Atlantic. My friend, Richard Jones of Midvale, Utah, rowed across the Atlantic in 2000-2001 in a homemade 27-foot boat he named "The Brother of Jared."

4. Marine environment. The Nephites were conscious of their proximity to salt water. The article  "Smoking Gun" shows how frequently aquatic terms occur in the text. According to 2 Nephi 10:20-21 they believed their promised land was an isle of the sea. Alma 22:32 says the greater lands of Zarahemla and Nephi (most of what the Jaredites and Nephites called the "land southward") was nearly surrounded by water. Mesoamerican cultures often perceived themselves surrounded by bodies of water in the four cardinal directions. See the article "Quichean Directionality" for examples. The Nephites perceived themselves surrounded by oceans in the four cardinal directions Helaman 3:8.
Likely Land Southward Nearly Surrounded by Water
Seas in the Four Cardinal Directions
The map circle above roughly corresponds to our correlation of the Jaredite and Nephite "land southward." No point in this circle is more than 250 air kilometers (155 air miles) from salt water.

5. Orientation. The Book of Mormon uses the term "land southward" 14 times and "land northward" 30 times. We assume a "northward" heading is not as close to true north as a "north" azimuth would be. So, we expect the major Book of Mormon lands to be oriented either northwesterly or northeasterly.
Plausible Lands Northward & Southward Oriented NW to SE
The straight line on the map above runs due NW to SE. It precisely follows the Pacific coastline of Chiapas. The Chiapas coastal plain was a major travel corridor anciently as it is today. The NW SE orientation of the Chiapas coast is probably the origin of the Book of Mormon terms land "northward" and "southward."

6. Size. The Book of Mormon term "day's journey" is most likely a Nephite standard unit of distance measure. See the articles "Textual Progress" and "Land Southward Travel Times" for context. Plotting all instances of a "day's journey" (Test #6 Relative Distances), the terms "near" and "far" (Things Near and Far), the term "by" (By and By), the terms "narrow" and "small" (Narrow and Small Things), and the terms "many" and "few" (How Many were Many and Few?) we can deduce plausible minimum and maximum values for the the size of the Nephite known world. It turns out to be 750 to 1,500 air kilometers or 500 to 1,000 air miles. Other careful students of Book of Mormon geography such as Jesse Alvin Washburn (1873-1951), his son, Jesse Nile Washburn (1901 - 1986), and John L. Sorenson have arrived at similar numbers.
Likely Maximum Extent of the Nephite Known World
Beyond the Mexico City area on the northward or the Ulua River in Honduras on the southward was probably terra incognita in the Nephite worldview.

7. Polity sizes. The Book of Mormon uses almost 20 different terms to describe settlements or occupied areas - what contemporary archaeologists call the "built environment." See the article "Nephite Political Geography." The most important political units by far were cities and lands. Many Nephite lands are described as a capital city with surrounding agricultural or wilderness territory Mosiah 7:21Mosiah 23:25, Alma 43:25Alma 58:13. In other words, the Nephites often organized themselves in an alliance of defensible city states like the Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Britons, Maya, etc. Ancient city states were not randomly spread across landscapes. Most averaged 2,000 to 3,000 square kilometers in surface area for good reason. See the article "Test #7 Land Areas." A polity smaller than 2,000 square kilometers may struggle to maintain a military force strong enough to defend itself against larger neighbors. A city state much larger than 3,000 square kilometers may be vulnerable to attack on the periphery because its militia would have difficulty mustering and marching to remote hot spots quickly enough to respond to threats. See Alma 16:3 for an example of an army unable to deploy in time to prevent devastation. Exceptions existed, of course, but in general the surface areas of ancient city states tended to average about 2,500 square kilometers because of immutable factors such as the distance an army could march in one day.
36 Proposed Book of Mormon Lands
The map above shows possibilities for 3 exceptional lands (Moron, Desolation, Bountiful) that are near-continental in scope and clearly not city states. Greater Zarahemla and Greater Nephi, omitted to avoid clutter, were also much larger than mere city states. The other 33 proposed lands could have been city states. They average 2,362 square kilometers in land area - right in the sweet spot of city states known from antiquity. Viable Book of Mormon maps will have reasonable land sizes.

8. Wilderness. Jaredite, Nephite, and Lamanite territories were not contiguously settled. Embedded wilderness was everywhere present. The term "wilderness" occurs over 200 times in the text. Its does not mean absence of humans. The Lamanites built strongholds in the wilderness Alma 50:11. It may be associated with mountains as in Helaman 11:31, but wilderness in Nephite parlance could also refer to a coastal plain as in 1 Nephi 16:14. Wild beasts lived in the wilderness 1 Nephi 7:16, Alma 2:37, Ether 10:21.
Possible Wildernesses
Wilderness was an untamed place outside of political control. See the article "A Note about Wilderness." For a discussion of the very interesting wilderness of Hermounts, see the article "Hermounts."

9. Narrow strip of wilderness. The land southward contained land Bountiful and the greater lands of Zarahemla and Nephi. A narrow strip of wilderness separated greater Nephi on the south from greater Zarahemla on the north Alma 22:27.
Likely Narrow Strip of Wilderness Separating Nephites & Lamanites
We (along with many others) correlate the narrow strip of wilderness with the Polochic Fault, the interaction zone between the North American Tectonic Plate to the north and the Caribbean Tectonic Plate to the south. See the articles "The Narrow Strip of Wilderness" and "Ubiquitous Narrow Strip."

10. Natural features. Besides polities and wilderness, the text describes geo-physical features of the landscape such as hills, mountains, waters, valleys, a river, a harbor, etc.
Naturally-Occurring Landforms & Geo-Physical Features
with Suggested Book of Mormon Correlations 
For details, see these representative articles:

11. The big picture. The text explicitly names four continental-scale entities that ran from sea east to sea west: land Bountiful, greater Zarahemla, narrow strip of wilderness, and greater Nephi. See the article "Test #11 The Big Picture." The Sidon corridor where Zarahemla was located was in the center Helaman 1:24-27 or heart Helaman 1:18 of Nephite lands. River Sidon ran generally from south to north. See the article "River Sidon South to North." North of greater Zarahemla was land Bountiful Alma 22:29 and north of land Bountiful was the north parts of the land Helaman 1:23.
Proposed Major Relationships
Coriantumr in Helaman 1 was trying to surround the Nephites who vigorously protected land Bountiful so they always had an escape route Alma 22:34. Amalickiah had invaded the east coast Alma 51:26 and ultimately failed. His brother, Ammoron, had invaded the west coast Alma 52:12 and ultimately failed. Now in Helaman 1, the Lamanites were invading via the central Sidon corridor. They ultimately failed, but their next invasion in Helaman 4 drove the Nephites completely out of greater Zarahemla into land Bountiful.

12. Strings of settlements. Before Utah achieved statehood in 1896, the Latter-day Saints settled colonies from Alberta, Canada to Chihuahua, Mexico and from California to Colorado. This was a vast area over 2 million square kilometers in extent. But, the entire membership of the Church in 1896 was only 241,000 and some of them were overseas. Latter-day Saints were spread very thinly over a large territory in strings of settlements set among large numbers of other people. Ultimately, the Latter-day Saints effectively controlled only the state of Utah (219,890 square kilometers) and over time even that society became increasingly pluralistic. The Nephites under Captain Moroni founded settlements from Judea on the west coast to Moroni on the east coast with Manti in the middle. On our map, greater Zarahemla ca. 60 BC had a surface area of 138,000 square kilometers, about the size of the state of Arkansas. Some idea of Nephite populations can be deduced from data in the article "Population Sizes & Casualty Counts." Ancient populations are notoriously difficult to estimate. See the article "Prophecy Fulfilled 010" for insights. Applying pessimistic demographic assumptions, the Nephites ca. 60 BC numbered at least 750,000. More optimistic assumptions could push that number to 1 - 2 million. 
Possible Strings of Nephite Settlements
The Nephites were spread very thinly Alma 58:32 across this large territory in strings of allied settlements set among large numbers of other people. Ultimately, they lacked the manpower to defend such a huge area and by ca. 34 BC the Nephites lost control of greater Zarahemla Helaman 4:5.

13. Sovereignty. The Nephites did not exercise exclusive sovereignty over their territory the way a modern state does. Nephites co-existed in their promised land with king-men Alma 62:6 and other dissenters Alma 8:17, Lamanites Helaman 5:16, Gadianton robbers Helaman 7:4, etc.  

14. Nephite capitals. The Nephites helped settle the land of first inheritance 1 Nephi 18:23 and lived there until Lehi I died. They then founded their highland capital, Nephi, 2 Nephi 5:8 which they occupied from ca. 588 BC until ca. 200 BC. Mosiah I led the Nephites into lowland Zarahemla Omni 1:13 where they joined with the numerically superior Mulekites. Zarahemla remained the Nephite capital until ca. 62 BC when an insurrection of king-men forced chief judge Parhoron (critical text orthography) to set up a government in exile across the Sidon in the land of Gideon Alma 61:5. The following year, with the help of Captain Moroni, the Nephite government was restored to the city of Zarahemla Alma 62:8. A Lamanite invasion ca. 34 BC forced the Nephites out of greater Zarahemla into land Bountiful Helaman 4:6. The Nephites regained Zarahemla via military action by ca. 31 BC Helaman 4:10. Zarahemla was burned ca. AD 33 3 Nephi 8:8 and rebuilt within two decades 4 Nephi 1:8. The final war of Nephite extermination began ca. AD 322 in the lesser land of Zarahemla Mormon 1:10. From there the Nephites followed Mormon in a gradual retreat to Angola Mormon 2:4 followed by David Mormon 2:5 and then Joshua by the west sea Mormon 2:6. From there they went into the land northward to the land of Jashon Mormon 2:16 and finally to Shem Mormon 2:20. Shem was the northernmost Nephite capital, a fortified gathering place. From Shem the Nephites mounted a counter offensive resulting in a treaty Mormon 2:28 giving them temporary respite in the land northward. Mormon then focused Nephite effort on extraordinary fortifications in the city of Desolation Mormon 3:5. The Nephites were driven to the nearby city Teancum Mormon 4:3. They retook the city of Desolation briefly Mormon 4:8 only to lose Mormon 4:13, 14 and then regain Mormon 4:15 both Teancum and Desolation. The Lamanites with massive manpower drove the Nephites to Boaz Mormon 4:20 and then to Jordan Mormon 5:3. The Nephites made their last stand at hill Cumorah Mormon 6:2.
Plausible Nephite Capitals
The Nephites changed their capital 20 times in the 975 years from ca. 590 BC to AD 385. This is the story of a beleaguered minority forced from their homes frequently at sword-point.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

124 Prophecies Fulfilled

Book of Mormon Central published KnoWhy #498 today and it is phenomenal. Entitled "How Does Prophecy Shape the Book of Mormon's Content and Structure?" this outstanding essay written by Ryan Dahle of Salmon, ID details 124 prophecies in the text whose fulfillment is explicitly recorded elsewhere in the Nephite record.

For instance, 1 Nephi 1:4 records a prophecy that Jerusalem will be destroyed and this prophecy gets repeated five additional times in the text. The first report of fulfillment came soon after the prophecy itself. Once his family was in the New World, Lehi announced that he had seen the destruction of Jerusalem in vision 2 Nephi 1:4 although some among the patriarch's posterity were inclined to disbelieve him 2 Nephi 4:13.

Nephi, through prophetic vision, also came to understand that Jerusalem had been destroyed and many of the Jews had been taken captive into Babylon 2 Nephi 25:10. He knew that not all of his family believed him 2 Nephi 32:7.

Undeniable proof that Jerusalem had been destroyed came when Mosiah I came down to Zarahemla from the city of Nephi and discovered the Mulekites ca. 200 BC Omni 1:15. Nephi II made this proof explicit when he called the people of Zarahemla to repentance from his garden tower Helaman 8:21.

As he compiled his book, Mormon made it abundantly clear that prophecies get fulfilled. We can trust inspired prophets. God keeps His promises. It is clear to most readers that the Book of Mormon places high value on prophetic content. When we discussed a potential KnoWhy on internal prophecies, I thought we might find 25 or 30 instances of prophecies fulfilled later in the text. Ryan found 124 examples and there are undoubtedly more. We have been reading it carefully for years and the Book of Mormon continues to surprise, excite, and impress us.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Challenge the Book of Mormon Makes to the World

In a talk given at BYU in 1955, Elder Hugh B. Brown (1883 - 1975, his middle name was also Brown), then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, laid the foundation for what would later be called
Elder, then Pres. Hugh B. Brown in His Later Years
"The Challenge the Book of Mormon Makes to the World." This is a list of 30 or more characteristics (multiple versions exist as people have tweaked and shared it over the years) a work must have to be like the Book of Mormon. The challenge is for you or anyone to write a comparable book:
  • You will be in your early 20's with limited formal education.
  • You can do no research of any kind.
  • You must dictate 269,000 words to a scribe in about 65 working days.
  • Your cannot go back and edit your first draft.
  • You must get hundreds of historical and cultural details right that science will confirm over time.
  • Your book will remain in print continuously and be translated into more than 100 languages.
  • Over 1 million people will donate years of their lives to publicize your book worldwide.
  • and 23 other stringent requirements... The full list is here.
This long list of 30+ features is impressive because the Book of Mormon is beautiful, miraculous, and true. Historical forgery is impossible. The Book of Mormon continues to resonate with many people on multiple levels. The primary institution resulting from the Book of Mormon odyssey, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is world-class in dozens of ways.

Hugh Nibley (1910 - 2005) issued a version of this challenge to his BYU students year after year.
Hugh W. Nibley Who Taught at BYU from 1946 until 1994
"Write a history of ancient Tibet. Why Tibet? Because you likely know as much or more about ancient Tibet than Joseph Smith or anyone else in 1829 knew about ancient America." No one ever took Nibley up on his challenge. Of course no mere author could produce an equivalent book. The Book of Mormon is the most divine object most of us will ever hold in our mortal hands.

In 1966, Grace Guymon Jones first read a copy of "The Challenge" and decided she would do something with it someday. In 1990, her professor husband, Milt, was on Sabbatical in New Zealand. Her children were adults and she had time on her hands. She began collecting source materials and writing.
Grace Guymon Jones Received a BYU Emeritus Award in 2001
27 years later, when she was 88, she had a manuscript in circulation that was nearing publication quality. I worked with her for a few months, heavily editing and ghost-writing some sections. Her son, Milt Jr., did the same. By early 2018 she was sourcing images and working with a layout artist. In December, 2018, her website went live and her book was selling on Amazon. Grace was 90 years old.
Important New Book
This 340 page book has an introduction by Milt Jones, Jr. and 30 chapters, one for each of the 30 requirements on Grace's list. Her writing style is more folksy than scholarly, although her sources are well-documented with 926 end notes. Her text is enlivened with dozens of photos and illustrations from very good artists. In these pages you will find a faithful retelling of the Joseph Smith story, some of the best current Book of Mormon scholarship, an insightful look at many aspects of the contemporary Church, and above all lots of stories. Sister Jones has been collecting stories for decades from the Church News, Ensign, published books, and her own contacts in the places she and her husband have lived around the world. The result is a compilation of Book of Mormon human interest stories at their finest. I highly recommend this book.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. Book of Mormon Central currently publishes in English and Spanish.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Why Only Male Authors in the Book of Mormon?

Many gifted writers are female as J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series demonstrates.
J. K. Rowling's Ubiquitous Boy Wizard
In Joseph Smith's America (1805 - 1844), women were recognized authors. The first book published in the English colonies was a collection of poems by Anne Bradstreet (1612 - 1672) entitled The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America that appeared in 1650. English America's first best-seller was Charlotte Temple first published in 1790.
1814 New York Edition of Charlotte Temple
It was written by Susanna Rowson (1762 - 1824) who came to Massachusetts from England at the age of 5. Charlotte Temple remained the most successful book in English American literature until Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896) published Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852. Briton Jane Austen (1775 - 1817), largely unheralded in her lifetime, achieved enormous posthumous fame as the author of the very popular Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Joseph Smith's Bible contained the books of Ruth and Esther. We don't know for sure who wrote either book, but their presence in the Old Testament tells us something about the role of women in ancient storytelling.

So, why, when we read the Book of Mormon, do we find all its authors are men?
  • Nephi
  • Lehi
  • Isaiah
  • Jacob
  • Enos
  • Jarom
  • Omni
  • Amaron
  • Chemish
  • Abinadom
  • Amaleki
  • Mormon
  • King Benjamin
  • King Limhi
  • Zeniff
  • Alma
  • Captain Moroni
  • Helaman
  • Giddianhi
  • Parhoron (Critical Text orthography)
  • Ether
  • Moroni
The foregoing list is not exhaustive, but it is exclusively male. Women such as Sariah 1 Nephi 5:2 and King Lamoni's wife Alma 19:29 are quoted briefly very occasionally, but female authorship is not attested in the text. If the Book of Mormon was written in Mesoamerica as most Latter-day Saint and Community of Christ (Restoration Branch) scholars believe, the reason is straightforward.

One of the best sources for late-breaking news from the exciting world of Maya Decipherment is a blog named simply "Maya Decipherment" authored by David Stuart, Stephen Houston, Simon Martin, Marc Zender, and other luminaries. In a June 28, 2018 post entitled "What Writing Looks Like," Stephen Houston, formerly at BYU, currently at Brown, discusses glyphs on textiles. Even though weaving in the Maya world was typically done by women, "Yet there is also overwhelming evidence that the scribes and literate sculptors were men." For authority, Houston cites his article "Crafting Credit: Authorship among Classic Maya Painters and Sculptors" in Cathy L. Costin, editor, Making Value, Making Meaning: Techné in the Pre-Columbian World (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2016) pp. 391-431.
The Hero Twins as Scribes, Drawn from Justin Kerr Number K344
In another publication, Houston observed "there is no evidence that women painted pots with legible writing." Stephen Houston, The Gifted Passage: Young Men in Classic Maya Art and Text (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014) p. 5.

In the Mesoamerican world the Book of Mormon likely came from, only men were authors.

A related topic is discussed in Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #391 published December 19, 2017 in English "Why Are So Few Women  Mentioned in the Book of  Mormon?" This KnoWhy was published July 10, 2018 in Spanish.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world.

Friday, January 4, 2019


A beautiful blog post by Jasmin Gimenez captures the essence of veil symbolism in the Temple and on a bride's wedding day. Recently married herself, Jasmin draws on scholarship by Lynne Wilson and deep insights from scriptures such as Ether 3 to help us understand the Temple more clearly from a woman's perspective. Highly recommended.
Lace Cathedral Length Veil from the UK
My brother, Alfred Magleby, spent many years as a diplomat in Islamic countries where his wife, Hiromi, wore a face veil in public. I asked her once if she did not feel belittled or demeaned by what I regarded as a suppression of her natural right to self expression. On the contrary, she replied, she felt liberated and empowered wearing her veil and most of the Muslim women she talked with felt similarly. Being inside rather than outside the veil is a powerful symbol of proximity to God.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Names Evidence Antiquity

Book of Mormon Central just published the sixth video in its stellar Evidences series. This new production analyzes Book of Mormon names with interesting origins in ancient Semitic and/or Egyptian languages.

The blog article entitled "Watch: Five Evidences for Book of Mormon Names" has a long list of references documenting the copious scholarship behind this video.

The five other superb videos in the Book of Mormon Central Evidences series are all available on the BMC Studios YouTube Channel. Elder Larry Y. Wilson of the Seventy saw the Complexity video and thought it was so good it should be featured on the homepage so every Church member could see it. These are the highest quality Book of Mormon evidence videos ever produced. They deserve a wide audience. The first one was published in June, 2017 and in the intervening year and a half they have garnered over 500,000 views in English and Spanish. Videos with this much animation are costly to produce. Dozens more videos in this series are possible if funding materializes.