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 then Elder, soon to be President Spencer W. Kimball and his wife, Camilla, standing inside a "baptismal font" in the Pachacamac ruins. 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.
Spencer W. & Camilla Kimball visiting Pachacamac on the outskirts of Lima, Peru
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.