Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Linguistic Cumorah

David Richins has a degree in linguistics from BYU. He has lived most of his life in Ohio. He authors a fascinating blog on Mormon topics entitled "The Lunch is Free" which is a nod to a famous essay by Hugh Nibley entitled "Work We Must, But the Lunch is Free." I find Richins' work on Book of Mormon etymologies insightful and highly creative. He corroborates and extends the impressive work Robert F. Smith, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Stephen D. Ricks, and John Gee have done in their Book of Mormon Onomasticon. Richins delights at finding wordplay in the text as does Matthew L. Bowen whose prolific contributions in Interpreter are defining a new sub-discipline within Book of Mormon Studies (see for example "Father  is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the Name Abish in Alma 19:16 and its Narrative Context" and "Onomastic Wordplay on Joseph and Benjamin and Gezera Shawa in the Book of Mormon").

I planned on joining Warren Aston and his 2016 Ramah/Cumorah Expedition for the Tuxtlas portion of their exploration. Then a family tragedy struck and I stayed home. Wishing to contribute to the effort, I wrote the article Ramah/Cumorah which was of some use to the team in the field. I concluded in that article that Cerro San Martin was the most likely candidate for hill Ramah/Cumorah.
Possible Hill Ramah/Cumorah in the Tuxtlas of Southern Veracruz
Aston emailed me upon his return to Brisbane and indicated that locals call the hill San Martin Pajapan. Searching on that name led me to this remarkable article David Richins posted on September 5, 2016 "Fire Within, The True Meaning of Cumorah." Through methodical and far-reaching linguistic analysis, Richins comes to the same conclusion that San Martin Pajapan is a likely candidate for Ramah/Cumorah. Our efforts were entirely independent and our methods highly dissimilar, but we both ended up in the same place. Perhaps we are on to something.

The Olmecs revered San Martin Pajapan as the place of original creation, a notion that persisted through Aztec times as documented in Bernardino de Sahagun's "La Historia Universal de las Cosas de Nueva Espana" now commonly called the "Florentine Codex" because the best preserved original is in the Laurentian Library in Florence. From ca. 1,000 BC to AD 1968 San Martin Pajapan Monument 1 stood atop the summit with a cache of jade objects buried directly beneath it.
San Martin Pajapan Monument 1, Museo de Antropologia de Xalapa
This colossal effigy depicts the rain god in an elaborate headdress raising a world tree. The sculpture stands 1.4 meters high and weighs more than a ton. Iconongraphy includes crosses representing the four cardinal directions, four quarters of the earth, and the center (see the article entitled "Four Sides, Four Quarters, and a Center") and an early depiction of the bird/serpent motif best known from later images of the Central Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl.

The three most important Olmec sites: San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes are precisely equi-distant from San Martin Pajapan.
Three Key Olmec Sites Relative to San Martin Pajapan
On a clear day, one can see San Martin Pajapan from San Lorenzo. Not so from La Venta which has no mountains visible on its horizon. So, the later Olmecs who built La Venta created an artificial mountain, a pyramid with fluted sides consciously imitating the conical shape of dormant volcano San Martin Pajapan.
Linda Schele's Drawing of  La Venta's Artificial Mountain,
an Effigy of San Martin Pajapan
A transect between Tres Zapotes and La Venta bisects both Cerro Vigia and Cerro San Martin Pajapan. San Lorenzo is roughly at right angles to this transect.
Tres Zapotes to La Venta & San Martin to San Lorenzo Transects
We have suggested that Cerro Vigia may be hill Shim and the Teotihuacan colony Matacapan may have played a major role in the final Nephite battle scenario (see the article Ramah/Cumorah). If our correlations are correct, they help explain these textual questions:
  • Why did Mormon move the Nephite record archive from hill Shim to hill Cumorah against Ammaron's explicit command to leave the repository where he hid it Mormon 1:4? With the alliance between Matacapan & Teotihuacan, the Nephites no longer controlled the area around hill Shim.
  • Why did Mormon believe the Nephite records would be more secure in hill Cumorah Mormon 6:6? Cumorah was widely revered as a sacred place, unlikely to be disturbed. San Martin Pajapan Monument 1 stood for nearly 3,000 years before modern archaeologists removed it to the museum in Xalapa.
  • Why did Mormon choose Cumorah as the place for the final battle Mormon 6:2? Stories of the Jaredite demise could have been motivational to his people and de-motivational to the Lamanites. Some Lamanites may have refused to fight in a place many regarded as holy.   
Cerro San Martin, aka San Martin Pajapan, was a very important place to the Olmec. Ramah/Cumorah was highly significant in Jaredite and later Nephite affairs. Further research is warranted. Here is a photo of San Martin Pajapan Warren Aston took on his recent Ramah/Cumorah 2016 expedition.
San Martin Pajapan in Southern Veracruz
Photo by Warren P. Aston
And this is an aerial view from the Gulf of Campeche coast.
San Martin Pajapan From the Air Looking West
The Santa Marta aka Martha Mountains are faintly visible in background.

View of the San Martin Pajapan summit.
Heavily Fluted Ridges Rising to the Summit of San Martin Pajapan
Notes about this area:
  • Cerro Vigia was the source of some of the boulders the Olmecs used to carve their colossal statues, including stone heads. Another source was Cerro Mono Blanco 24 kilometers east of Cerro Vigia and 3 kilometers NNW of the town of Catemaco.
  • Cerro Mono Blanco is strongly associated with witchcraft in contemporary Mexico. Mormon decried occult practices Mormon 1:19, Mormon 2:10.
  • At least 40 extinct volcanoes in the Tuxtlas have crater lakes. There are many springs and some spectacular waterfalls. These may be part of the many waters Mormon described Mosiah 8:8, Mormon 6:4.
  • The natives hunt, fish, and farm. The presence of all three forms of subsistence may have been part of the advantage Mormon hoped to achieve in the area Mormon 6:4
  • These volcanic mountains are full of caves. Ether's cavity of a rock Ether 13:13-22 may have been a lava tube or collapsed lava tube.
  • Many natives are herbal healers recalling Alma 46:40.
  • Natives gather honey on the slopes of San Martin Pajapan. The Book of Mormon mentions honey among the Jaredites Ether 2:3.
  • Natives fear a bad wind as in Mosiah 7:31.
  • The four cardinal directions are central to the local worldview as they were in the Book of Mormon Mosiah 27:6.
 Article updated November 28, 2016.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Prophets Human and Inspired

My wife and I just saw James Arrington's farewell performance of his acclaimed one-man show "Here's Brother Brigham." Arrington donned the beard and stove pipe hat for 40 years. He and his wife have accepted a call to serve as senior missionaries and will be leaving soon for Nashville, TN.

I love Brigham (1801 - 1877) as I love Joseph (1805 - 1844). I revere them as Prophets of God. I have also studied their lives in sufficient detail to realize they were highly imperfect human beings, like the rest of us. Prophets, like the Church they lead, are partly human and partly inspired. If you fail to see the divine inspiration, you miss the awe. If you fail to see the humanity, you have unrealistic expectations. The person who reasonably balances this humanity and inspiration in their mind can weather the storms of life with their testimony intact.

Brigham chewed tobacco much of his life, used colorful language, and practiced racism. He married 55 women, divorced 10 of them, and only publicly acknowledged 16 wives. He also helped convert thousands, led 70,000 emigrants west, founded 350 settlements, established many institutions that are thriving today, and built up a Church that now spans the globe. Joseph's temporal pursuits usually ended badly but he produced more pages of sacred writ than any Prophet in the Bible. Brigham's gifts as a seer and revelator were limited but a more successful administrator would be hard to find. Joseph and Brigham were both partly human and partly inspired.

Joseph Fielding Smith (1876 - 1972) was a prolific author although his outdated material is seldom referenced in the contemporary Church. His rigid orthodoxy and arch conservatism would make him a pariah in today's world. His famous statement that man would never travel to the moon was brought up in the 1970 press conference when he became President of the Church a mere six months after Apollo 11. "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?" was his terse reply. I can't imagine Joseph Smith, Jr. ever uttering those words. See the blog article "Joseph Smith in One Question." Joseph Fielding Smith was partly human and partly inspired.

So how much credence should we give a statement attributed to a partly human and partly inspired Prophet? South American mission records contain statements by Apostles (Spencer W. Kimball (1895 - 1985), for instance) who later became the Prophet saying Lehi landed in Chile at 30 degrees south latitude. It is human nature to travel and say something about the place you are visiting to please your audience. Those brethren who over the years repeated the old myth about the Lehites landing in Chile were partly human and partly inspired. Perpetuating a false tradition over the pulpit was part of their human nature. See the article "The Case for Mesoamerica."

Joseph Fielding Smith in 1939 expressed his opinion that the Jaredite Ramah/Nephite Cumorah was in upstate New York. Rigidly orthodox and archly conservative, he espoused the "one Cumorah" theory in the wake of liberal new ideas coming up from BYU. Was Smith perpetuating a false tradition as part of his human nature? I believe he was (see the article Ramah/Cumorah), although I revere Joseph Fielding Smith as a Prophet who held the keys of the Kingdom of God on the earth for 2 1/2 years from 1970 - 1972. David O, McKay (1873 - 1970) had been the larger-than-life Prophet of my youth. I was hiking through Zion's Narrows in 1971 when I received a witness from the Spirit that Joseph Fielding Smith was indeed a Prophet of the Most High. As I participated in the Provo Temple dedication in 1972, the Spirit bore witness to me that the dedicatory prayer authored by Joseph Fielding Smith and read by Harold B. Lee (1899 - 1973) was divinely inspired. I have no problem with Joseph Fielding Smith or any Prophet being partly human and partly inspired.

I own a limited edition print of this painting entitled "Sacred Fire" by Jon McNaughton.
Latter-day Prophets of the Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries
in Period Scout Uniforms Surrounding Lord Baden Powell 
My great aunt told me stories about visits with Heber J. Grant (1856 - 1945). My grandfather was Ezra Taft Benson's (1899 - 1994) scoutmaster in Franklin County, Idaho. Some of my mother's family were students of Harold B. Lee in Weston and Oxford, Idaho. Part of my youth was spent in Thatcher, Arizona where Spencer W. Kimball was an insurance salesman and real estate broker. I entered BYU in 1971 as a Joseph Fielding Smith scholar. I have met Thomas S. Monson in various settings including airports and funerals over the years. I walked with Gordon B. Hinckley (1910 - 2008) back to his car (a Rambler Ambassador) in a BYU parking lot after he visited with a few of us on campus. These are great men, Prophets of God, partly human and partly inspired. Their private opinions about the Book of Mormon are significantly less authoritative than the text itself. The Prophets who authored the Book of Mormon were also partly human and partly inspired, but they lived in the areas and were eye-witnesses to the events they described. They also expressed themselves under divine mandate 3 Nephi 23:13. 3 Nephi 26:12, Ether 4:5 and received inspiration appropriate to their stewardships Mormon 3:20.

As Taylor Halverson reminded me, "Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but nobody believes it. Mormons say the Prophet is fallible, but nobody believes it."