Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Frauds and Hoaxes

In the latter 1970's, I spent three years as Dr. Paul R. Cheesman's research assistant. During that time, his office was ground zero for most things Book of Mormon within the Church. One day we got word that President Kimball's office had a set of metal plates purported to be the brass plates of Laban mentioned in the Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 3:3. They arrived in our office a few days later and it fell to me to determine if they were authentic or not. One look told me they were modern fakes, but I gave them the benefit of every doubt. They came with a wild story attached.

A family, recently baptized in England, had supposedly inherited the plates from a mysterious ancestor who had discovered them in a cave in Peru in the 1800's. The Mission President in England thought they were genuine ancient artifacts because the family appeared to have altruistic motives. He arranged for the plates to be shipped to Salt Lake. Dr. Cheesman, who was a big fan of metal plates, thought they might be genuine ancient artifacts because they were shiny and 1 Nephi 5:19 says the brass plates of Laban would never be dimmed by time.

I cataloged all the characters engraved on the plates and compared them with character sets from known ancient languages. The number of correlates were trivial. I plotted the frequency of character repetition and compared that with examples from known ancient languages. The repetition pattern was less random than I would have expected. My friend, Herschel Pedersen, helped me get one of the plates tested by the metallurgy lab at Geneva Steel. They determined it was cold rolled brass plate manufactured in Birmingham, England between 1920 and World War II. They further determined that the markings were engraved by someone hammering on the plates with a tempered steel cold chisel.

As I was writing my report, the English donor family visited us. They had met Pres. Kimball and been feted for a few days in Salt Lake before coming to BYU where the hospitality continued. I got to spend a couple of hours with them asking questions about the supposed expedition to Peru. They showed me a letter purportedly from their explorer ancestor describing other artifacts still in the Peruvian cave, including more engraved metal plates. The letter referenced a secret map identifying the location of the treasure. They gave me a "urim and thummin" which they had tried unsuccessfully to give to Pres. Kimball. It was a costume jewelry necklace that included a couple of large glass balls. It was obvious the family hoped I would get excited about the other artifacts reportedly still hidden in Peru. My report predicted that upon their return to England, they would ask for money to mount a new Peruvian expedition.

They returned to England and sure enough, asked for a large yacht and funds to finance several years of South American travel because they had just "found" the surreptitious treasure map. Of course the Church denied their request since their motive now unmasked the fraud. The family immediately went inactive. I hope they enjoyed their all expense paid trip to Utah.

Unfortunately, we saw many other cases of fakery during my years with Dr. Cheesman. Some came from Mexico, others from all over the U.S. All had a price tag attached. Many came with the tantalizing promise that there were more "artifacts" where these had come from, but only the person requesting funds knew where to find them. The dark art of forging "antiquities" to dupe gullible Mormons was alive and well in the 1970's.

Joseph Smith had to deal with similar nonsense. See the August, 1981 Ensign article by Stanley B. Kimball entitled "Kinderhook Plates Brought to Joseph Smith Appear to Be a Nineteenth-Century Hoax."

Because the Book of Mormon is often considered a forgery by those who do not know it well, we as Latter-day Saints should be fastidious to avoid frauds and hoaxes as we deal with questions of its historicity.

These "artifacts" and many others of similar ilk are known fakes:
  • Davenport Tablets in the collection of the Putnam Museum in Davenport, IA.
  • Grave Creek Stone. The original has been lost. The characters were copied from a book published in Madrid, Spain in 1752.
  • Las Lunas Decalogue Stone, aka Las Lunas Mystery Stone about 56 kilometers south of Albuquerque, NM. An Albuquerque newspaper published a photo of the stone slab before it was engraved.
  • Newark Holy Stones, aka Decalogue Stone on display in the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coshocton, OH.
  • Soper-Savage collection aka Michigan relics currently in the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing, MI and in private collections.
How do we know these controversial "antiquities" are forgeries? They are out of context. Genuine artifacts relate to their surroundings in discernible, reproducible ways. Frauds do not fit their environment. An excellent book was published by Bob Bennett, former US Senator from Utah, in 2009. Entitled Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon, it analyzes famous forgery cases, detailing the techniques used by forensic law enforcement officers to distinguish frauds from genuine documents. Bennett's methodology is germane to any discussion of one-off eccentric "relics" that enter into the Book of Mormon conversation.

Unfortunately, Mormons with more zeal than knowledge (Hugh Nibley's phrase) sometimes promote fake antiquities as they talk about the Book of Mormon. That is the reason the Lord tells us to seek wisdom "out of the best books" D&C 88:118 through disciplined learning. Articles, periodicals, books, and other media divide into these categories:
  • Junk science. Speculation by non specialists.
  • Pseudo science. Arguments by people working outside their field of expertise.
  • Science. Work done by trained specialists in their chosen discipline which is then reproduced by peers in the same discipline.
Since the 1970's, my radar screen is always on the lookout for junk science. It has no useful place in Book of Mormon studies. In the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "a bad argument is worse than no argument at all." People who promote forged "antiquities" do much more harm than good. Eventually the naive people who believe them suffer a betrayal narrative.

What is the common denominator behind frauds and hoaxes? Money. The Newark Holy Stones generated revenue as "curiosities" in the nineteenth century and more than 150 years later people are still going to Coshocton, OH and paying good money to see them in a private museum. How many magazines, books and documentaries promoting the Las Lunas Decalogue Stone have been sold? The Soper-Savage "discoveries" generated a cash flow to the perpetrators for decades.

While I am on the subject of lies, it is not helpful to the cause of the Book of Mormon around the world to have for-profit enterprises masquerading as non-profits. The LDS Church is a genuine non-profit that goes to great lengths to separate its commercial business holdings in for-profit legal silos. BYU and BYU Studies are non-profit. FARMS was non-profit. FAIRMormon, Interpreter Foundation, and Book of Mormon Central are all legitimate non-profit charitable institutions. People who register .org domains or use the term "foundation" when in reality they are for-profit corporations or LLC's are being disingenuous and doing a dis-service to the body of believers. The Book of Mormon deserves better.

Characteristics of movements promoting frauds and hoaxes:
  • Proof texting. This is the practice of spot reading material, focusing only on the parts that support a pre-conceived notion.
  • Obsolete citations. Archaeology, with good reason, favors the most recent reports because science is continually improving.
  • Uncredentialed sources. Many lay people dabbling in technical disciplines lack the background necessary to be source critical.
  • Isolates and eccentrics. Artifacts that do not fit cultural patterns known to science are always dubious. Items of unknown or questionable provenience are less useful than material found in situ under controlled conditions.
  • Conspiracy theories. People who allege widespread conspiratorial data suppression are often outsiders with limited understanding of how academic or scientific organizations work. Departments, institutions, and entire disciplines do have biases, but academic freedom is the norm and paradigm-shifting interpretations are often celebrated.
  • Sales hype. Truth can be understated. Frauds are typically oversold.
  • Profit motive. The age-old adage "follow the money" applies. Sensationalism sells. Think P.T. Barnum, the master of celebrated hoaxes. "Every crowd has a silver lining" and "There's a sucker born every minute." In the world of frauds and hoaxes, something is always for sale - a magazine subscription, a book or DVD, a replica, an event ticket. The Book of Mormon emphatically condemns priestcraft Alma 1:12, 16 and invites all to come "without money and without price" 2 Nephi 9:50, 2 Nephi 26:25Alma 1:20.
So, if you see people telling only one side of a story, citing old sources, relying heavily on non-professionals, promoting items that do not fit known cultural patterns, talking about data being systematically suppressed, and making a sales pitch, the story they are peddling is likely bogus.

In the fall of 1954, Milton R. Hunter (1902 - 1975) took Sidney B. Sperry (1895 - 1977), Hugh W. Nibley (1910 - 2005), John L. Sorenson, and Welby W. Ricks (1918 - 2013) to visit the Las Lunas Stone south of Albuquerque. Sperry and Nibley pronounced it a fake based on the Hebrew inscription. Sorenson pronounced it a fake based on the ambient archaeology. As the group was leaving, Ricks overheard the two locals who had arranged the visit talking. One asked the other, "Do you think they bought it?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

State Level Society

Anthropologists use criteria to distinguish tribal societies from more sophisticated civilizations that reach state level. These criteria include:
  • Social stratification. Tribal societies develop a chiefly elite who outrank commoners. State level societies have complex social class hierarchies, each with different access to resources. Alma 51:83 Nephi 6:12.
  • Dense populations. Tribal societies settle extensively across their ecosystems. State level societies support intensive populations. Omni 1:17, Ether 7:11
  • Urbanization. Tribal societies build hamlets and villages with occasional towns at particularly favorable sites such as the confluence of two rivers. State level societies build large, well-organized cities and city states. Mosiah 27:6, Helaman 7:22.
  • Food surpluses. Tribal societies subsist on hunting, agriculture, and extractive industries. State level societies produce surplus food that gets re-distributed to urban centers. Alma 1:29, Helaman 6:12.
  • Labor specialization. People in tribal societies tend to work in homogeneous occupations closely tied to nature. State level societies produce artisans Mosiah 11:10, lawyers Alma 10:15, merchants 3 Nephi 6:11, etc. who work in a wide variety of vocations.
  • Centralized government. Tribal societies organize along kinship lines. State level societies develop formal ruling institutions Alma 11:2 where shared ideologies Mosiah 29:39 allow elites to control power Mosiah 29:2.
  • Controlled trade. Tribal societies engage in long-distance trade of exotic goods. In state level societies, elites control trading networks to maximize their wealth Ether 10:22.
  • Public works. Tribal societies erect stones and heap up dirt. State level societies build monumental architecture such as palaces Mosiah 11:9, pyramids Mosiah 11:12, temples Alma 16:13, roads 3 Nephi 6:8, markets Helaman 7:10, etc.
  • Written records. Tribal societies communicate verbally and with ideograms or mnemonic devices. State level societies use writing systems Mosiah 28:11, develop widespread literacy Alma 46:19, and maintain record archives Jarom 1:14, Helaman 3:15.
  • Symbolic art. Tribal societies produce naturalistic art. State level societies portray symbol complexes representing abstract or theological ideas 1 Nephi 11:7-11, Alma 32:28.
  • Intellectual disciplines. Tribal societies orally transmit traditional wisdom. State level societies develop organized branches of knowledge such as biology Alma 46:40, physics Helaman 12:15, mathematics Alma 11:5-19, etc.
  • Standing armies. Tribal societies muster attackers or defenders based on perceived vulnerabilities or threats. State level societies maintain a professional military apparatus Alma 2:13Alma 62:43.
  • Organized religion. Tribal societies have shamans, councils, and localized rituals. State level societies develop a priestly class overseeing religious institutions Mosiah 25:21-23, Alma 6:1.
One word commonly associated with tribal societies is "tradition." One word commonly associated with state level societies is "command." Nephite writers often associated Lamanites with traditions as in Mosiah 1:5, Alma 9:16, and Helaman 15:4. Nephite writers often associated Nephites and deity with commands as in Alma 5:61, Helaman 14:9 and 3 Nephi 23:13. Another word commonly associated with tribal societies is "identity." A word commonly associated with state level societies is "institution."

As they increase in complexity, tribes become chiefdoms and states become empires.
The Book of Mormon unequivocally describes state level society, as well as the precise moment when complex Nephite government degenerated into tribalism 3 Nephi 7:2-4.

A useful summary of  tribal societies and states in our modern world was written by David Ronfeldt in 2006. Entitled "In Search of How Societies Work: Tribes, the First and Forever Form," it was published as a working paper by the Rand Corporation's Pardee Center. In light of Ronfeldt's analysis, the Book of Mormon is stunningly accurate in its portrayal of tribal social dynamics:
  • Page 1 The tribal form is based on kinship. 3 Nephi 7:2.
  • Page 17 External depredation causes societies to tribalize. 3 Nephi 7:6.
  • Page 20 Evil influences spread quickly through tribal societies. 3 Nephi 7:7-8.
  • Page 35 Tribes form alliances with other tribes. 3 Nephi 7:14.
  • Page 42 Tribes severely divide and separate members from non-members. 3 Nephi 7:2.
  • Page 43 Tribes have difficulty addressing problems of power. 3 Nephi 7:18.
  • Page 46 Tribes appoint a chief. 3 Nephi 7:3.
  • Page 46 In tribal societies, war is never far away. 3 Nephi 7:14.
  • Page 46 Tribal chieftains exercise centralized authority. 3 Nephi 7:14.
  • Page 61 Failed states degrade into tribes. 3 Nephi 7:2.
  • Page 71 Tribes enforce very strict rules. 3 Nephi 7:14.
Two images illustrate the stark difference between tribal and state level societies. The first comes from the remarkable Ohio History Connection Museum in Columbus. It is a collage of Hopewell artifacts assembled for a 2014 exhibition entitled "Top Ten Masterpieces of the Hopewell Culture."
Outstanding Hopewell Artifacts
The artifacts portray a raptor's talons, bear, heron, bird in flight, human head, and wheel design. The wheel is symbolic. See the article "Four Sides, Four Quarters, and a Center." The other pieces are art drawn from nature. No qualified anthropologist on the planet would describe the society that created these objects as a state. This assemblage is diagnostically characteristic of tribalism.

Now compare the Hopewell collection with an image from the Museo del Sitio at Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico.
Palenque Glyphs
Anthropologists worldwide recognize that classic lowland Maya society achieved state level.

State level society cannot be created out of whole cloth, not can it be explained away. A society either has it or it doesn't. State level societies leave unmistakable traces that scientists recognize. No North American culture known to science achieved state level society during Book of Mormon times. Several Mesoamerican cultures achieved state level societies during Book of Mormon times. John L. Sorenson succinctly summed up the situation: "Only one area in ancient America had cities and books: Mesoamerica." Mormon's Codex p. 21.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Four Sides, Four Quarters, and a Center

The Book of Mormon describes its world as having four sides aligned with the four cardinal directions Mosiah 27:6, 3 Nephi 1:17. It also describes its world as having four quarters Alma 43:26Alma 52:10. The Nephites described their focal point as the heart Helaman 1:18 or center Helaman 1:25-27 of their land. Furthermore, they perceived themselves inhabiting a single isle of the sea 2 Nephi 10:20-21 nearly surrounded by water Alma 22:32 with salt water on every side Helaman 3:8. For more context see the blog articles "Test #5 North South East and West" and "Smoking Gun."
For examples of the widespread Mesoamerican notion of a spatial quincunx, see the article "Light from LA" points 6 and 43.

A beautiful portrayal of this worldview was found at Masada where a replica hangs in the Visitor Center.
Replica of Mosaic, Masada, Israel Photo by Kirk Magleby June 20, 2016
This wall hanging shows four sides, four quarters, and a center all surrounded by water.

Corresponding depictions are found throughout the Americas. This is a museum replica of the well-known Inca Chakana.
Chakana from Museo Larco, Lima, Peru in Kirk Magleby's Collection
A very similar version of this symbol is on the Lanzon at the Temple of Chavin. It is attested in Andean art from Chavin  through Inca times (2nd millennium BC - European contact).

The same idea is expressed on the striking Hopewell Wheel displayed in the Ohio History Connection Museum in Columbus.
Hopewell Copper Wheel First Millennium AD
As we would expect, this worldview was widely portrayed throughout Mesoamerica. This is a pre-columbian representation thought to have originated in Veracruz.
Codex Fejervary-Mayer now in the World Museum, Liverpool, England

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Art and Iconography 4

This post is a continuation of the material developed in the articles "Art and Iconography 1," "Art and Iconography 2," and "Art and Iconography 3." V. Garth Norman, the active Latter-day Saint Mesoamericanist most experienced at Izapa, contributed to this article.

The tree of life as a type of Christ and a tree as a symbol of the house of Israel are important themes in the Book of Mormon. This article will explore the complex iconography of Izapa Stela 5 and compare it with details in Popol Vuh, the Book of Mormon, and other ancient artistic portrayals. First, though, since Izapa Stela 5 has been controversial within Book of Mormon studies circles, we need to document the accuracy of our images.
Izapa Stela 5
1941 Matthew W Stirling Expedition Photo
The original of the image above is a large format black and white print of a photo taken on the 1941 Matthew W. Stirling National Geographic - Smithsonian expedition that examined Stela 5 in situ in the Izapa Group A plaza associated with Altar 36. The large stone had only been dug out of the ground in 1939 and in this photo was not yet severely eroded through weathering as it is today. Stirling himself gave this print to BYU Professor M. Wells Jakeman in 1961 and it lay in his (Jakeman's) files for decades. Notice the crease marks where the paper was folded. When Jakeman died in 1998, his papers passed to V. Garth Norman and Bruce W. Warren of Ancient America Foundation (AAF), successor to Jakeman's Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA). I (Kirk Magleby) took this digital image of the print at Garth Norman's home in American Fork, Utah on May 24, 2011. I used it once before in the blog article entitled "V Garth Norman in Mexico City."
Stirling's Note Explaining his Gift to Jakeman
This is the image Stirling published in 1943.
Izapa Stela 5
Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 138 Plate 52
This is the NWAF image with tracing Garth Norman published in 1973.
Izapa Stela 5
New World Archaeological Foundation Paper No. 30 Part 1 Plate 10
And this is an RTI (Reflective Transformation Imaging) photo Jason Jones made in 2012 as part of the Izapa 3D digital imaging project. See the article "Imaging Izapa." This advanced visualization technique confirms the accuracy of the NWAF 1973 drawings.
Izapa Stela 5 RTI Image
Norman, Izapa Sacred Space: Sculpture Calendar Codex p. 272
For context on the seriously flawed 1999 Clark, Moreno "new artistic rendering" of Izapa Stela 5 see the articles "V Garth Norman in Mexico City," and especially "Partake of the Fruit." This article will follow the mainstream Stirling - Norman - Jones imagery and eschew the aberrant Clark, Moreno "re-interpretation." Izapa specialist Julia Guernsey took the same approach. See her 2006 Ritual & Power in Stone: The Performance of Rulership in Mesoamerican Izapan Style Art (Austin: University of Texas Press) fig. 1.3.

Current scholarship dates Izapa Stela 5 to ca. 300 BC.

Popol Vuh imagery. After their deaths in Xibalba, the Hero Twins' bones were ground up and scattered along a river. The boys resurrected as catfish before their apotheosis which transformed Hunahpu into the sun and Xbalanque into the moon. Twin terrestrial fish are facing up, each with a fruit of the tree in their mouth. After divinization they are looking down from the sky panel as gods often do in Mesoamerican pre-classic sculpted scenes. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Twin Fish Before and After Apotheosis
Lehi 1 Nephi 8:10, Nephi 1 Nephi 11:8, Isaiah 2 Nephi 16:13, Jacob Jacob 4:6, Zenos Jacob 5:3, Mormon Mosiah 18:5, Alma Alma 5:62, Ammon Alma 26:36, Jesus Christ 3 Nephi 14:18, and Moroni Ether 2:17 all mention trees. The word "tree" occurs 119 times in the text.
A Central Tree Dominates the Scene on Izapa Stela 5
This sacral tree connects heaven and earth. Its roots are in the ground panel and its branches reach into the sky panel. Nephi associates the tree with God 1 Nephi 11:25 who explicitly reigns in the heavens above and the earth beneath  Mosiah 4:9.

The Book of Mormon describes the tree of life 1 Nephi 8:10 and the tree representing Israel Jacob 5:8 as fruit-bearing.
Fruit in the Tree
Some people partook of the fruit of the tree 1 Nephi 8:16.
Figure Holding Fruit of the Tree
Others did not partake of the fruit of the tree 1 Nephi 8:35.
Figure without Fruit
Mockers pointed fingers toward people partaking of the fruit 1 Nephi 8:27.
Person Pointing Fingers toward Figure Partaking of the Fruit
The tree symbolizing the House of Israel was extensively grafted 1 Nephi 10:14Jacob 5:8.
Grafts in the Tree
The tree represented the house of Israel 1 Nephi 10:12 with its twelve tribes 1 Nephi 12:9.
Twelve Tree Roots
Isaiah associated clouds with rain 2 Nephi 15:6.
Cloud with Rain
A fountain of water was associated with the tree 1 Nephi 8:201 Nephi 11:25 and with the river 1 Nephi 12:16.
Source of River Water
Lehi and Nephi saw a river of water running near the tree 1 Nephi 8:131 Nephi 12:16.
River of Water Running Near the Tree
A similar water motif adorns a stone basin on display in the Israel Museum.
Stone Basin, Israel Museum
Photo by Kirk Magleby, June 22, 2016
The Book of Mormon describes water under the earth Mosiah 13:12 as a river representing the depths of hell 1 Nephi 12:16.
River of Water Flowing under the Ground Panel
In Lehi's and Nephi's visions, some of the people associated with the tree were blinded 1 Nephi 12:17 by a mist of darkness 1 Nephi 8:23.
Hood over Head of Blinded Person
The text describes people catching hold, clinging 1 Nephi 8:24 and feeling their way 1 Nephi 8:31.
Person Clinging, Feeling their Way
Both Lehi 1 Nephi 8:5-6 and Nephi 1 Nephi 11:21 were guided to the tree by angelic ministrants.
Winged Divine Beings Attending the Tree
Tree of Life depictions from the ancient Near East also show dual supernatural beings.
Stylized Date Palm Tree of Life Flanked by Winged Genies
Calah (Nimrud) Assyria 883-859 BC Alabaster, Reign of Ashurnasirpal II
Israel Museum, Photo by Kirk Magleby June 22, 2016
After beholding the tree, Nephi was instructed to bear witness of deity 1 Nephi 11:7.
Deity's Foot Connected to Priest's Mouth via Reverse Speech Scroll
Nephi wrote about his father's vision of the tree 1 Nephi 8:30.
Priest Holding a Brush, Chisel, or Stylus in Left Hand
Nephi engraved his record on plates 1 Nephi 9:2.
Plate or Tablet
Nephi founded a kingly dynasty Jacob 1:11.
Parasol or Canopy, Ancient Mesoamerican Royal Emblem
A similar parasol or canopy symbol represented royalty in the ancient Near East.
Bronze Coin of King Agrippa I Minted in Jerusalem ca. 42 AD
Jerusalem Archaeological Park, Photo by Kirk Magleby June 23, 2016 
Royal parasol over the head of Shalmaneser III of Assyria. Shalmaneser III reigned immediately after Ashurnasirpal II referenced above.
Black Obelisk, ca. 841 BC, British Museum
This is a well-known classic Maya example of a broken parasol in a captive's right hand as he is dominated by Bird Jaguar IV. 
Yaxchilan Lintel 16 from Structure 21 ca. AD 752
A strait (the Yale 2009 text reads "straight") and narrow path led by the head of the fountain and to the tree 1 Nephi 8:20-22.
Path Leading from the Fountain to the Tree
The path also led by a rod of iron 1 Nephi 8:20 which extended along the bank of the river and led to the tree 1 Nephi 8:19.
Rod a) by Path, b) along River, c) Leading to the Tree
Lehi offered sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord 1 Nephi 2:7, 1 Nephi 5:9, 1 Nephi 7:22.
Aged Priest Tends Flaming Altar or Incensario
Isaiah associated flaming fire and smoke with deity 2 Nephi 14:5.
Flaming Fire and Smoke Rising from Altar or Incensario
Alma taught the curious notion that humans and trees can grow together Alma 32:42. For more on this topic, see the article "Anthropomorphic Trees."
Human/Tree Fusion
Isaiah talked about a rod or branch symbolic of the Savior growing from a tree stem or roots 2 Nephi 21:1.
Rod or Branch Extending from Tree Trunk 
In the Book of Mormon, deity is described with avian characteristics 2 Nephi 4:25, 2 Nephi 25:13, 3 Nephi 10:4-6, 3 Nephi 25:2.
Supernatural Beings with Bird Beaks and Wings
The Book of Mormon explicitly mentions six mortals associated with the tree of life: Sariah, Lehi, Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, and Sam 1 Nephi 8:14-17.
Six Humans Seated on the Ground Panel 
In Lehi's dream narrative, two antagonists are disinterested in the tree and its fruit 1 Nephi 8:35-36.
Two Humans Facing Away with Backs to the Tree
The Book of Mormon records significant discourses by both Lehi and Nephi 2 Nephi 1:1.
Index Finger Gesture, Ancient Mesoamerican Speech Symbol
Lucia Henderson in her dissertation entitled "Bodies Politic, Bodies in Stone: Imagery of the Human and the Divine in the Sculpture of Late Preclassic Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala, UT Austin, 2013" discusses this pointed finger gesture on pages 215, 216. Scholars such as Julia Guernsey, Karl Taube, William Saturno, and David Stuart describe it as a convention denoting approbation, speech and discourse. This is what the motif looks like on Kaminaljuyu Monument 65.
Index Finger Gesture, Enthroned Rulers, Kaminaljuyu Monument 65
Museo Miraflores, Guatemala City, Photo by Kirk Magleby, December 27, 2015
The Book of Mormon describes girdles about loins 2 Nephi 15:27, 2 Nephi 21:5.
Girdles about Loins
We see a similar girdle or sash about the loins of Jehu, King of Israel.
Black Obelisk, ca. 841 BC, British Museum
Other similarities between Stela 5 and the Black Obelisk are obvious. For example, fringed garments as in Numbers 15:38-39, Deuteronomy 22:12.
Fringed Garments
Fringed apparel from ancient Israel.
Black Obelisk, ca. 841 BC, British Museum
We also see similar headgear consistent with Leviticus 10:6, Leviticus 21:10.
Conical Hats on Aged Priest and Acolyte
Conical Hat on Jehu, King of Israel.
Black Obelisk, ca. 841 BC, British Museum
Finally, the forward swept beards are similar cf. 2 Nephi 17:20.
Forward Swept Beard on Aged Priest
Forward swept beard on Jehu, King of Israel.
Black Obelisk, ca. 841 BC, British Museum
Additional insights into the complex symbolism on Izapa Stela 5 are found in the articles "Partake of the Fruit" and "Mesoamerican Speech Gesture."