Friday, April 29, 2016

Smoking Gun

An impressive book provides smoking gun evidence to help us resolve the Book of Mormon New World correlation conundrum.
Smoking Gun: Scientific Evidence Highly
Favoring a Particular Theory

Shutterstock Licensed Image
The book is entitled Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea. It was co-published in 2010 by Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) and Yale University Press. Editors are Daniel Finamore of PEM and Stephen D. Houston of Brown University. Houston was on the BYU Anthropology Faculty for a number of years earlier in his career. Like David Stuart, he is a Macarthur Fellow, recipient of a so-called "genius grant."
Significant Book on the Maya and the Sea
The book accompanied a major museum exhibition displayed at PEM (Salem, MA) and the Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, TX) in 2010 followed by the Saint Louis Art Museum (St. Louis, MO) in 2011. Contributors to the volume are a veritable who's who of contemporary Maya scholars. Pieces in the exhibit came from major museums in Europe and the Americas. Page numbers in this article refer to Fiery Pool unless otherwise indicated.

No place in the ancient Maya world was more than 260 kilometers (160 miles) from the open ocean.
Circle with 258 Kilometer Radius
The sea was a much larger presence in daily life and thought among the Maya than has heretofore been recognized. Fiery Pool was revisionist - it precipitated a revolution of sorts in our understanding of the Maya marine worldview (p. 6).

The sea loomed large in the daily life and thought of the Nephites. This list ranks various ecological features by the number of verses in the text that mention them. Features where at least some of the passages refer to the sea are highlighted in yellow.
  • 212 wilderness
  • 123 water & waters
  • 81 sea
  • 68 borders
  • 43 mountain
  • 41 river
  • 36 valley
  • 34 hill
  • 30 depths
  • 24 seashore
  • 19 mount
  • 13 forest
  • 11 isle & isles
  • 9 waves
  • 8 deep (as a noun)
  • 8 plain (as a noun)
  • 3 islands
  • 3 thicket
  • 2 shore
  • 2 whale
  • 2 grass
  • 1 beach
  • 1 grove
This smoking gun evidence says Book of Mormon lands are in a location - such as Mesoamerica - where the culture exhibits strong maritime influence.
The Maya believed some of their ancestors originally came from across the sea (p. 15). The Book of Mormon chronicles 3 migrations that originally came from across the sea 1 Nephi 18:23, Omni 1:15,
Ether 6:12.

In their Popol Vuh, the K'iche' Maya say that their ancestors came from "across the sea." K'iche' scholar Allen Christenson believes the sea they refer to may be the Bay of Chetumal which matches the geography of their legendary migration route.
The Maya believed they were surrounded by the sea (p. 15). Mormon wrote that the land southward was nearly surrounded by water Alma 22:32. If you trace the coastline and land bridges of the land mass east of the Coatzacoalcos and west of the Ulua (rougthly the area inside the circle on the map below) 88% of the littoral is salt water ocean and 12% is dry land.
Maya Area Nearly Surrounded by Water
This smoking gun evidence says Book of Mormon lands are in a place - such as Mesoamerica - where most horizons look seaward.
The Maya conceived of the earth as a turtle or crocodile floating on the sea (pp. 210-112).
Kaminaljuyu Sculpture 2, the Earth Crocodile
Drawings by Lucia Henderson
The Book of Mormon peoples envisioned themselves inhabiting an isle of the sea 2 Nephi 10:21.

This smoking gun evidence says Book of Mormon lands are in a watery environment - such as Mesoamerica - with coastal characteristics.
The Maya identified four seas, one in each of the four cardinal directions (pp. 15, 204, 212-213).
The Nephites identified four seas, one in each of the four cardinal directions Helaman 3:8.
Seas North, South, East & West According to the
January, 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Map
This smoking gun evidence contradicts those who interpret some of the seas in Helaman 3:8 as metaphorical rather than actual bodies of water. For more on bodies of water in each of the four cardinal directions, see the article "Quichean Directionality."
Now things get really interesting. The Maya and other ancient Mesoamericans were unequivocal in their identification of the east sea - it was the Caribbean along the coasts of Guatemala, Belize, and Quintana Roo - the sea from which the sun rises. This is the sea called the fiery pool because of its solar association.This is the sea whose color was red, the eastern color. This is the sea that symbolized fertility and abundance because the Maya believed rain came from the east (pp. 204, 212, 214-215).

This smoking gun evidence favors maps by Ric Hauck, Joe and Blake Allen, Shelby Saberon, Elder Clate Mask, Jr., and Kirk Magleby (this blog), all of whom correlate the east sea with the Caribbean. It casts serious doubt on maps by Garth Norman and Aric Turner, both of whom wrap the east sea up around the Yucatan Peninsula and down into the Gulf of Mexico. It all but eliminates John Sorenson's model which correlates the east sea with the western portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

See the article "Maya Place Names" for another Book of Mormon toponym ("the east by the seashore" of Alma 22:29) that now has an ancient Maya counterpart.
The Maya viewed the world as divided into four quarters oriented to the cardinal and intercardinal points (pp. 204, 212-213).
Cardinal and Intercardinal Points
Here are three Maya depictions of this quadripartite concept from Fiery Pool p. 213.
Earth Turtles Divided into Four Quarters
From left to right, these images are from the Book of the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, Mayapan, and Kaminaljuyu. All drawings by Karl A. Taube.

The Book of Mormon mentions quarters of the land fourteen times e.g. Alma 52:10.

This smoking gun evidence favors maps by Ric Hauck, Joe and Blake Allen, Aric Turner, Garth Norman, Shelby Saberon, Elder Clate Mask, Jr., and Kirk Magleby (this blog), all of whom correlate the directions north, south, east and west in the Book of Mormon with the solar-derived cardinal directions. It repudiates John Sorenson's much-maligned attempt to skew the cardinal directions. In the words of Mark Wright, an accomplished Mesoamericanist on the BYU Religion Faculty, "Rio Azul Tomb 12 is determinant." His mentor, Karl Taube, in Fiery Pool agrees (p. 204). Rio Azul Tomb 12 on its four walls displays the Maya glyphs for the four directions all in their correct orientation.
Article by Kirk Magleby who volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, world's premiere source of reliable Book of Mormon contextual material in English and Spanish.

Article updated January 22, 2018

Monday, April 11, 2016

Obsidian Trade Patterns

Mark Golitko and Gary Feinman are affiliated with the Field Museum in Chicago. They have a long-time interest in obsidian (volcanic glass) because it was widely traded throughout Mesoamerica, there are a limited number of sources, and individual specimens can be chemically traced back to their source. This allows the creation of accurate, although not necessarily comprehensive trade maps. Golitko and Feinman recently published an article entitled "Procurement and Distribution of Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican Obsidian 900 BC - AD 1520: a Social Network Analysis" in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory (2015) 22:206-247. This is the first time a pan-Mesoamerica map of obsidian trade patterns based on statistically significant sample sizes has been attempted. Actually, the article has 6 maps by time period:
  • Middle Preclassic (900 - 300 BC) This was the end of the Jaredites and the beginning of the Nephites, Mulekites and Lamanites.
  • Late Preclassic (250 BC - AD 250) Most of the Book of Mormon narrative occurred during this era.
  • Early to Middle Classic (AD 300 - 600) This was the end of the Nephites and the fluorescence of the Lamanites, Teotihuacan apogee.
  • Late Classic (AD 600 - 900) Maya fluorescence.
  • Early Postclassic (AD 900 - 1200) Widespread collapse, Toltec resurgence.
  • Late Postclassic (AD 1200 - 1520) Aztec empire.
These maps are based on large data sets derived from hundreds of individual archaeological investigations, so the data is difficult to impugn. There is bias toward sites that have had lithic analysis performed, but almost everyone nowadays does lithics when they dig a site. The fascinating results generally corroborate the January 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Map.

This is the Golitko/Feinman map of obsidian sources.
Mesoamerican Obsidian Outcroppings
And this is their map of trading activity in the Middle Preclassic (900 - 300 BC) with the proposed city of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu - See the article "Kaminaljuyu") #1, John L. Sorenson's proposed Zarahemla (Santa Rosa) #2, and Garth Norman's proposed Zarahemla (Nueva Esperanza - Calatraba) #3 identified. Darker lines represent stronger trading relationships.
Mesoamerican Obsidian Trade 900 - 300 BC
Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) #1
Sorenson's Zarahemla (Santa Rosa) #2
Norman's Zarahemla (Nueva Esperanza - Calatraba) #3
  • People were trading between points hundreds of kilometers distant from each other.
  • The Isthmus of Tehuantepec was a cultural boundary.
  • Olmec influence was stronger in the Mezcalapa - Grijalva drainage basin than in the Usumacinta basin.
  • People moved between highland Guatemala and the Maya lowlands via the Salama Valley and the Pasion River drainage.
  • The Pacific coast of Chiapas (Soconusco) was a very active trade corridor.
  • The Tuxtla Mountains region was important.
These are likely Book of Mormon implications:
  • Movement between the proposed land of first inheritance along the Pacific coast of Chiapas and the proposed land of Nephi in highland Guatemala is well attested.
  • The proposed land northward/land southward boundary along the Coatzacoalcos works well with this data.  
  • The isolation narrative where the Nephites in Nephi and the Mulekites in Zarahemla were unaware of each other's existence during this time period works for Norman's Zarahemla. It is contradicted by the data for Sorenson's Zarahemla.
  • The Coriantumr as a stranger narrative where no one among the Mulekites could read his stone stela during this time period works to some extent for Norman's Zarahemla. It is contradicted by the data for Sorenson's Zarahemla.
  • The Jaredites fought their final battle in the Tuxtla Mountain region near the end of this time period.
Based on Middle Preclassic obsidian trade patterns, Norman's candidate could have been Zarahemla. Sorenson's candidate is highly unlikely to have been Zarahemla. (Parenthetically, Hauck's candidate, Salinas de los Nueve Cerros, is simply out of the question.)

Moving on to the Late Preclassic (250 BC - AD 250) the map looks very different.
Mesoamerican Obsidian Trade 250 BC - AD 250
  • The Olmec were gone.
  • The Mezcalapa - Grijalva drainage had become marginalized into a hinterland. Not much happening along the Gulf Coast or Yucatan.
  • Highland Guatemala continued strong ties with the Maya lowlands including the Caribbean coast.
  • The Pacific coast of Chiapas (Soconosco) was still an active trade corridor.
  • Kaminaljuyu had declined in importance.
  • The Maya west around Palenque had come on strong.
  • Most of the action was east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
  • Major activity between the Usumacinta and the Caribbean.
Likely Book of Mormon implications:
  • The Jaredites were gone.
  • The Mezcalapa - Grijalva drainage, the Gulf Coast, and Yucatan were big blank spots on the map according to the January 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Model.
  • Travel and communication between the greater land of Nephi (highland Guatemala) and the greater land of Zarahemla (southern Maya lowlands) had become routine.
  • Lamanites in large numbers lived in former Nephite lands in the land southward.
  • Zarahemla (Palenque region) rose in importance.
  • The Nephites, Mulekites and Lamanites were beginning to settle the land northward, but most of the action was still in the land southward.
  • Settlements were located from the central Sidon corridor to the east sea. 
Norman's Zarahemla fits beautifully in this scenario. Sorenson's Zarahemla does not fit at all. (Hauck's Zarahemla is a poor fit.)

The Early to Middle Classic map looks like this:
Mesoamerican Obsidian Trade AD 300 - 600
  • The Maya were ascending toward apogee.
  • The Valley of Oaxaca was coming on strong.
  • Teotihuacan was an influence across the entire region.
  • The upper Mezcalapa - Grijalva was experiencing a resurgence, although the middle and lower reaches of the drainage system remained a hinterland.
  • Still not much along the Gulf Coast or in Yucatan.
  • The Tuxtla Mountains area had become important again.
  • The Pacific coast of Chiapas remained a major communication route.
  • The area around Los Horcones became strategic.
Likely Book of Mormon implications:
  • The Nephites established a significant presence in the city of Desolation (Los Horcones - Tonala area).
  • From there they went to the land of Cumorah (Tuxtla Mountains area).
  • The Nephites could not flee northward past Cumorah because Teotihuacan blocked their escape. They were caught in a vise.
  • Major blank spots on the Nephite map were the Gulf Coast and Yucatan.
Any of the three possible Zarahemlas would fit the data during this time period.
Conclusion: Norman's proposed Zarahemla is the only location that fits the obsidian trade pattern data well in all three time periods. The January 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Map uses Norman's Zarahemla. This data strongly corroborates our proposed Book of Mormon map at many points and on many levels.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


On this day in history, Sunday, April 5, 1829, Oliver Cowdery met Joseph Smith for the first time. The place was Harmony (modern Oakland), Pennsylvania. The most intense portion of the translation miracle was about to unfold beginning with our current Book of Mosiah.
Oliver Cowdery as an Attorney in the 1840's
Image from the Library of Congress
The dynamic duo of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack have been rapidly strengthening their theory of divine tight control over the Book of Mormon translation process. In their view, Joseph read words that appeared in the seer stone and was not at liberty to articulate thoughts in his own vernacular. Brant Gardner continues to advocate a theory of loose control that gives Joseph much more leeway to express thoughts in his own words. Jack Welch, Dan Peterson, and other Book of Mormon scholars are now lining up firmly behind Skousen/Carmack as the six eye witness accounts of the translation process become more widely known and as evidence for Early Modern English in the 1829 text continues to accumulate.

The loose control theory has been convenient for scholars because it gives them freedom to interpret and even manipulate the text to suit their purposes. One of the arguments the loose control camp makes is that the title page calls Joseph Smith the translator of the record and in order to be a translator in the modern sense he must have freedom to express translated meaning in his own vocabulary. This suggests an interesting question. The word "translate" appears in the Book of Mormon. How did Nephite record keepers describe the translation process?

King Limhi semantically linked the phrase "interpret languages" Mosiah 8;6 with the word "translate" Mosiah 8:11. Therefore, the instrument called "interpreters" in the text Mosiah 8:13, Alma 37:21 could also have been called "translators." The same interpreters possessed by Mosiah2,
Alma2, and Helaman1 were delivered by Moroni to Joseph Smith Ether 4:5. Moroni equates the process of interpretation with the instrument Ether 4:5.

And what did the ancient Nephite prophets do to interpret or translate? They looked which is why they were called seers Mosiah 8:13. Was the translation done through natural means? No. It was a miracle, a high gift from God Mosiah 8:14 and the person possessing the gift was a revelator Mosiah 8:16. Mosiah 8 is clearly intertextual with D&C 107:92 and D&C 124:125 which refer to Joseph Smith.

The Book of Mormon says the interpreters were two stones which performed the work of translation Mosiah 28:13. So, it is not surprising that the text also mentions Joseph Smith's seer stone Alma 37:23 which shone forth in the darkness of the prophet's hat.

The Book of Mormon sense of the word "translate" is to change from one state to another via supernatural power as in Ether 15:34. Joseph translated using the gift and power of god Title Page just as Mosiah1 had done Omni 1:20 approximately 2,000 years earlier. They both looked into a stone or stones and perceived divinely rendered words - i.e. tight control.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Conference Art #LDSconf

Book of Mormon Central tried an experiment during the recently completed General Conference. As speakers quoted from or made significant mention of the Book of Mormon we posted a meme on Facebook and Twitter using the #LDSconf hashtag. We missed some, but ended up with 17 memes. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.

Mary R. Durham, Saturday morning session.
3 Nephi 26
Kevin R. Duncan, Saturday morning session a.
Jacob 3:1
Kevin R. Duncan, Saturday morning session b.
Alma 18:32
Dale G. Renlund, Saturday morning session.
1 Nephi 1:20, 1 Nephi 8:8
Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session a.
Mosiah 18:8,9
Ronald A. Rasband, Saturday afternoon session b.
1 Nephi 8, Jacob 1:17, 1 Nephi 8:12 et al.
Jairo Mazzarardi, Saturday afternoon session.
Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith
David A. Bednar, Saturday afternoon session.
Mosiah 4:11
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Priesthood session.
4 Nephi 1
Bonnie L. Oscarson, Sunday morning session a.
1 Nephi 8
Bonnie L. Oscarson, Sunday morning session b.
1 Nephi 8
W. Christopher Waddell, Sunday morning session.
1 Nephi 2:13 et al.
Gerrit W. Gong, Sunday afternoon session a.
2 Nephi 29:14
Gerrit W. Gong, Sunday afternoon session b.
T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding V, 1943
Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session a.
2 Nephi 2:11
Dallin H. Oaks, Sunday afternoon session b.
2 Nephi 28:20-22
Jeffrey R. Holland, Sunday afternoon session.
Alma 36:18
And finally, these are the hands of a lovely Beehive from Grantsville, Utah.
Smile from 2 Nephi 9:39
Photo by Ryan Magleby, April 3, 2016
The last five words of this verse are:
  • Spiritually
  • Minded
  • Is
  • Life
  • Eternal

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Big River

Many Book of Mormon students have the mistaken notion that the Nephites and Lamanites waded across river Sidon. This may stem from the iconic representations most of us have seen of the Mormon Pioneers crossing the Sweetwater. The American Fork Utah East Stake trekked at Martin's Cove, Wyoming in 2014. This is a photo of youth from our stake pushing and pulling their handcart through the stream. Notice the safety rope manned by a senior missionary couple.
Sweetwater River, Wyoming July 18, 2014
Photo by Kirk Magleby
The US Geological Survey reports long-term mean stream flow in the Sweetwater at 3 - 4 cubic meters per second. That is a tiny volume of water. The Sweetwater wouldn't qualify to be called a river in many parts of the world. The Sweetwater is tributary to the North Platte which flows through Wyoming at 20 - 35 cubic meters per second. At Fort Caspar, you can see a replica of the Mormon Ferry that helped people and wagons get across the North Platte. When Brigham Young's 1847 advance party reached what is today Casper, Wyoming, they stopped and built a ferry to cross the treacherous river. My great-great grandfather, Appleton Milo Harmon, helped build the crude watercraft and then stayed behind to operate it for a few months. The North Platte was dangerous and several thousand saints then en route to the Salt lake Valley needed to cross over the river at that point. Harmon ferried fellow Mormons across the river free of charge. Gentiles were charged a small toll.
LaRae Savage at the Mormon Ferry replica, Fort Caspar, Wyoming
August 31, 2014 photo by Kirk Magleby
When the Mormon Pioneers came to a 3 - 4 cubic meters per second stream they splashed through it. When they came to a 20 - 35 cubic meters per second river they built a raft & rope system and crossed over it.

In 1524 - 1526 Hernan Cortes led a military expedition overland from central Mexico to Honduras. His army crossed many large rivers en route. By the time Cortes arrived at a particular place, his native retinue had built a temporary bridge over every stream in their path. These bridges were so sturdy Spanish horses and cannon crossed over with relative ease. The Spanish were impressed how quickly the natives constructed, dis-assembled, and transported their structures which consisted of canoes lashed together several abreast with planks on top.

What did the Nephites and Lamanites do when they came to river Sidon? They crossed on rafts or canoes or floating bridges of some sort. Any river with sufficient stream flow to carry thousands of dead bodies to the sea Alma 3:3, Alma 44:22 is much too large for pedestrian fording. See the articles "Streamflow" and "Test #9 River Sidon" for background on dead bodies in rivers.

Some students of the text such as my friend, Bob Roylance, correlate the Pasion with Sidon. I was on the Pasion in December, 2015. We put in at Sayache, Peten and motored upstream about 25 river kilometers to the preclassic site of Ceibal, candidate for the Book of Mormon city of Aaron. The article "Takeshi Inomata" discusses Ceibal from an archaeological perspective. This map shows the area.
Sayache and Ceibal on the Pasion
This photo shows the Pasion between Sayache and Ceibal.
Pasion River near Ceibal December 30, 2015
Photo by Kirk Magleby
The river at this point is approximately 100 meters wide. Our captain had a sonar unit on board which showed depths in the 2 - 10 meters range. INSIVUMEH, the Guatemalan equivalent of USGS, reports 330 cubic meters per second long-term mean stream flow in this area. You don't wade the Pasion.

The January 2016 Book of Mormon Lands Map correlates Sidon with the much larger Usumacinta. This photo was taken near Tenosique, Tabasco.
Usumacinta River near Tenosique September 2006
Photo by Kirk Magleby
The river at this point is approximately 300 meters wide. It ranges from 5 to 20 meters deep. Mean stream flow exceeds 1.500 cubic meters per second. The canoe in the lower right hand corner of the photo above is one of dozens moored nearby. In 2006 I visited with several families who live along this section of the river. I asked if anyone ever tries to swim across. Laughter erupted at the absurdity of my question. During the months of peak runoff when the river is running high they only cross in motorized craft. Other months of the year they paddle across in small canoes. This is the largest river in Mesoamerica. You don't wade the Usumacinta.

Textual clues indicate watercraft crossings. The Jaredites crossed many waters in barges Ether 2:6 and then the great waters in vessels Ether 2:22, Ether 6:3. The Nephites crossed great waters in a ship 1 Nephi 17:17. Parallel terminology describes Nephites Alma 2:34 and then Lamanites Alma 43:40 crossing the waters of Sidon. Using Royal Skousen's "systematic phraseology" principle, similar language implies similar modus operandi when one is crossing waters. Mention of the sea in both narratives Alma 3:3, Alma 44:22 strengthens this correlation.

The text describes people going over Sidon Alma 6:7, Alma 16:7 but not through it. One went through enveloping mists 1 Nephi 8:24. The Israelites went through the Red Sea when Moses parted the waters 1 Nephi 4:2.

People are never in the midst of Sidon as they are in the midst of darkness Alma 5:7, fire Helaman 5:23, 3 Nephi 17:24, or the waves of the sea Ether 2:24.

The text indicates it took some time for an army to cross over the river. They were not bounding hordes spread out laterally along the banks and splashing across together Alma 2:27, Alma 2:35, Alma 43:35.

A discrete place on the riverbank was used for the efficient movement of Nephite troops and when that place became cluttered with dead Lamanite bodies, the Nephites cleared away the bodies rather than change to a new place Alma 2:34.

All of these verses fit better with watercraft or floating bridges than with pedestrian fording.