Friday, December 15, 2017

Museum of the Bible

Jasmin Gimenez, Daniel Smith, and I were privileged to spend Thursday, December 7, and Friday, December 8, 2017 in the breath-taking new Museum of the Bible (MOTB) just off the mall in Washington D.C. There are many great museums (several in D.C.) and I have been to quite a number of them. I have experienced 7 of the top 10 most visited museums in the world (numbers are 2016 visits) including:
In addition, I have enjoyed visits to other notable institutions including:
I have spent rich, full days exploring the treasures showcased in these significant cultural repositories, and I have returned to some of them for subsequent visits in later years. Only once, though, have I spent two consecutive days in a single museum, and that was last week in the MOTB. I appreciated every minute and will return the next time I am in D.C. Our nation's capital, despite its seeming political dysfunction, is now an even more attractive travel destination. I consider myself something of a museum aficionado, but I am currently a dues-paying member of only one museum on the planet - the MOTB three blocks from the U.S. Capitol. What is so special about the MOTB besides the delicious Near Eastern food served on the 6th floor Manna Restaurant? It is not the lavish architecture, although that is stunning. It is not the ubiquitous technology, although that is captivating. It is not the vast collection, although that is monumental. What I profoundly love at the MOTB is the spirit, the mission, the sheer joy of the place. These are people who read, live, and celebrate the Bible. This brand-new world-class facility is just the impressive infrastructure inviting visitors to engage the living Word John 1:1. This is much more than a museum. I felt like I had come home.
Popular Souvenir
Our Book of Mormon Central delegation went to Washington D.C. to learn from experts so we can more effectively share the Book of Mormon with the world. The MOTB is not preachy or judgmental. It honors scholarship but communicates in the vernacular. It exudes quality but invites hands-on participation. It showcases the history, narrative, and impact of the Bible but eschews interpretation. This brilliant approach avoids divisiveness and simply lets the Book speak eloquently for itself.

Prominent MOTB partners include Israel Antiquities AuthorityVatican Library and Museums, and Ets Haim Jewish Library in Amsterdam, all of whom currently have traveling exhibits in the facility 2 blocks from the Smithsonian's popular National Museum of Air and Space. Museum President Cary Summers has significant theme park experience and serves as CEO of the splendid Nazareth Village in Israel.

The MOTB was originally planned for Dallas. New York City was also briefly considered. Its headquarters are actually in Oklahoma City where founding family Steve and Jackie Green (owners of Hobby Lobby) reside. Parts of the Green collection of Biblical artifacts traveled the US beginning in 2011 before going to the Vatican in 2012 and Havana, Cuba in 2014. The Washington D.C. property atop the Federal Center SW Metro station was acquired in 2012 and the museum opened to the public on Friday, November 17, 2017.

Insightful design is everywhere in the MOTB, beginning with the logo which artfully combines the letters "B" and "M" into a visual representation of Moses' tablets from Sinai and an open book.

Exterior Entrance Logo
The capitalized "Bible" emphasizes primacy.

The MOTB grand entrance features Genesis 1 from the 1454 - 1455 Gutenberg Bible in Latin on massive brass plates that cost $3 million. The plates flank a 32 foot high art glass panel from Germany representing the Bodmer Papyri with Psalms 19 etched in Greek. One of the MOTB treasures is a Bodmer Papyri fragment containing the 19th Psalm. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Front Entrance and Vestibule
Stepping off the sidewalk into the museum one literally engages the words of the Bible.

A small touch illustrates the immaculate attention to detail one finds throughout the MOTB. On Monday, December 11, 2017, my wife, Shannon, and I were privileged to tour the new T3 and T4 buildings at the Provo Missionary Training Center (see the article "Mesoamerican MTC Mural)." They are among the finest structures the LDS Church has ever built. They feature grand staircases flanked by translucent glass. As I walked up the stairs, I thought to myself "These are almost identical to the stairs in the MOTB" where I had been three days before. Except for one thing. The glass panels adorning the MOTB stairs are etched with a vine design reminiscent of the beautiful illuminated Bible manuscripts lovingly painted by monks and nuns in the Middle Ages.
Fourth Floor Stairway with Art Glass Panels
This kind of delicious embellishment doesn't just happen when an architect interacts with a building committee. It only happens when a design goes through an iterative process of refinement with multiple inputs supported by an almost open-ended budget. 

The MOTB integrates immersive themed environments with impeccable contemporary scholarship. That is no easy task. How do you make first-rate academics interesting, popular, even fun? We at Book of Mormon Central strive to answer that question every day. To create engaging guest experiences, MOTB leadership utilized the services of:
The result is part museum, part experiential theater, part interactive video game, part theme park adventure, part movie studio tour, and part historical re-enactment with actors in period dress.
History of the Bible Meets Indiana Jones
My colleagues were as anxious as I was to return to the MOTB for a second day. There were many more exhibits we wanted to experience, and some we wanted to see a second time.

The MOTB is grounded in reputable scholarship. Wandering through the exhibits, one sees influence from Oxford, Cambridge, Hebrew, Duke, Baylor, Pepperdine, Trinity Western, and Bob Jones Universities among many others. A "scholars initiative" was created early in the museum development process to do original research on artifacts in the collection. One result is the book Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection published in 2016 by Brill. The three editors are Immanuel Tov (PhD 1974, Hebrew University), Kipp Davis (PhD 2009, University of Manchester), and Robert Duke (PhD 2006 UCLA). While we were at the museum, Hershel Shanks was also there consulting with the content and curatorial staffs. Shanks founded the Biblical Archaeology Society and is editor emeritus of the noted Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR).

One exciting new museum project that came out of the scholars initiative is a working archaeological site - Tel Shimron about 8 kilometers west of Nazareth on the edge of northern Israel's Jezreel Valley.
Relative Location of Tel Shimron
The site was occupied over a 5,000 year span. It is mentioned in Joshua 19:15 as part of the land allotted to the tribe of Zebulun. Scholars estimate the site will be a viable dig for 25 years. The team heading up the excavation worked together previously at Ashkelon. Directors include Daniel Master (PhD Harvard), Mario Martin (PhD University of Vienna), and Adam Aja (PhD Harvard).

Does the MOTB try to prove the Bible's historicity? Not really. It does display replica artifacts that attest the Bible's historical accuracy such as the Tel Dan Stele referencing David as a monarch.
Replica of Tel Dan Stele Mentioning the House of David
The original of this artifact, dated to ca. 870 BC, is in the Israel Museum. The MOTB does not hit you over the head with hard-sell advocacy. It is clear to visitors that the MOTB assumes the Bible is authentic ancient history, but artifact descriptions are appropriately nuanced, scholarly protocols are followed, and the text is genuinely respected even with its ambiguities and apparent contradictions.

A note about MOTB replicas. They are about as good as science and technology can make them. At lunch on our first day in the museum, Daniel Smith exulted "The Isaiah Scroll replica is actually sewn with thread!" The replica on display in the Israel Museum is a photographic reproduction showing only an image of thread.

There were obvious LDS visitors in the museum the two days we were there - people wearing BYU sweatshirts and the like. These are some of the LDS connections we noted:
  • Bethany Jensen works at museum headquarters in Oklahoma City. She graduated from BYU's Ancient Near Eastern Studies program with an archaeology emphasis. A classmate of Jasmin Gimenez, Bethany graciously facilitated our meeting with Seth Pollinger, Director of Museum Content, and members of his staff.
  • A 1979 LDS Bible (King James Version) is on display on the 4th floor. This is the edition largely prepared by Ellis Rasmussen and his students working under the direction of Elder Bruce R. McConkie and the Church's Scripture Publication Committee. With only minor subsequent revisions in 2013, this is the English language Bible we use in the Church today.
  • An 1867 Plano, IL edition of the Joseph Smith Translation (JST, aka "Inspired Version") published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now Community of Christ) is also on display on the 4th floor. The JST manuscript remained in Emma's possession after Joseph Smith Jr.'s martyrdom in 1844. The Reorganized Church, active since 1852, began operating under Joseph Smith III's leadership in 1860.
  • The original of Arnold Friberg's "The Prayer at Valley Forge" is on display on the 2nd Floor. An armed guard stands watch about 5 feet away from this majestic piece. Prints of this work are common, but it was a thrill for me to finally see the large-format original.
As part of our visit, we were privileged to speak with Seth Pollinger, Director of Museum Content, Kristina Buss, Content Assistant, and Ilena Madraso, Exhibit Coordinator. Pollinger holds a PhD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. They were genuinely interested in feedback from an LDS perspective and we shared some observations:
  • In general, we were beyond impressed. This is probably the finest museum on the planet in 2017. We expected a little sloppiness here and there - some mis-characterizations, over-claiming, obsolete scholarship. We found none. We expected immersive learning experiences. The MOTB exceeded our expectations. All three of us were enthusiastic bordering on ecstatic about our two-day experience. We highly recommend the MOTB.
  • At the point where the Bible in America exhibit begins with Columbus and Saint Augustine, FL, we would have liked to have seen a little more content from Latin America. For example, by the 1540's portions of the Bible were already translated into the K'iche language of highland Guatemala.
  • The museum displays a copy of the Reina Valera Bible. It was almost as influential in the Hispanic world as the King James was in English. We suggested they might want to use the terrific video the Church produced about the fascinating history of the Reina Valera.
  • Where the museum treats Julia Ward Howe and her "Battle Hymn of the Republic" we would have liked to have heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing their signature song. Ditto the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah." Wouldn't that be fun - MoTab in the MOTB?
  • The MOTB is fairly superficial when it comes to the Temples of Solomon and Herod. The Academy for Temple Studies, combining resources from USU, BYU, and USC together with Margaret Barker's UK group, could possibly be of assistance in this area.
  • The Bible gives short shrift to women and the MOTB reflects that. We suggested they may want to take a look at Julie Smith's upcoming volume on the Gospel of Mark in the BYU New Testament Commentary series as one example of the excellent work being done by LDS female biblical scholars highlighting feminine issues and perspectives in the text.
  • We suggested signage linking Arnold Friberg and Cecile B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments." Friberg's artwork is all through the movie. We also let Seth and his team know about the Cecile B. DeMille archive at BYU.
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are promised, but not yet much in evidence in the museum. We showed one example of the good work being done by the BYU Virtual Scriptures group in association with 4th Wall.
  • We would have liked to have walked out of the museum with suggestions for further engagement - web sites, curricula, quality videos, etc.  
  How much has all this cost? The MOTB has raised about $700 million to date and plans to raise another $300 million by 2019. Admission to the museum is free, although they are not shy about suggesting donations. Every museum memorializes major donors. The MOTB also has a "million name wall" where donors at all levels are recognized in microscopic calligraphy with an accompanying digital index.

This 3D model of the museum is helpful for context.

After two days on site, I greatly appreciated the MOTB. Returning home, I read Cary Summers' Lifting Up the Bible: The Story Behind Museum of the Bible. My appreciation grew. 
2017 Worthy Publication 
I then read Steve & Jackie Green's This Dangerous Book. My appreciation grew even more.
2017 Zondervan Publication
The Museum of the Bible is directly fulfilling the prophecy in 1 Nephi 13:19-20. Much of the controversy that has dominated mainstream media coverage is unfounded. This is an "innovative global educational institution" whose mission is to "invite people to engage with the Bible." I hope we as Latter-day Saints get excited to "experience the Book that shapes history."

One vignette was choice. The MOTB has a marvelous exhibit on biblical translations. An older fellow in a wheel chair asked if they had the Bible in Hdi, a language spoken in Cameroon and Nigeria. He explained that his daughter had helped translate the Bible into Hdi. A docent pulled the Hdi Bible down from a shelf and handed it to him. A tear streamed down his cheek as he opened the book and saw his daughter's name in the acknowledgements. Those of us nearby broke out in spontaneous applause.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Holocaust Survivors in the Book of Mormon

Upon entering the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, visitors pass a stark black marble wall with the single engraved phrase "You Are My Witnesses" from Isaiah 43:10.
Entrance to US Holocaust Memorial Museum
It is a stunning architectural reminder of the holocaust mantra "Never Again."

Holocaust survivors lived in an evil parallel universe and they carry deep psychological wounds from the horrors they experienced. Psycho therapists group these terrible emotional scars under the classification "Holocaust Survivor Syndrome." Among the characteristics holocaust survivors exhibit are:
  • Death imprint. Extreme anxiety about death. Recurring mental images of violence and death.
  • Death guilt. Uncertainty. Aimlessness. Wondering why one survived when others did not.
  • Psychic numbing. Insensitivity or diminished ability to feel.
  • Suspicion and distrust. Foreboding sense that everything, even life itself, is an illusion.
  • Witness imperative. A sense of mission to bear witness to future generations.
The deep and abiding impulse to testify of one's experience helps a holocaust survivor create some personal sense of a moral and rational universe. See Dori Laub and Andreas Hamburger, editors, Psychoanalysis and Holocaust Testimony: Unwanted Memories of Social Trauma (London and New York: Routledge, 2017) and Sandra Williams, "The Impact of the Holocaust on Survivors and Their Children," written in 1993 while she was a student of Judaic Studies at the University of Central Florida.

The Nephites experienced a holocaust and many evidences of "Holocaust Survivor Syndrome" show through in Mormon's and Moroni's words.
  • Death imprint. Mormon 4:11 "... the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people ..." Mormon 5:8 "... such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes ..." and Mormon 6:7 "... that awful fear of death ..." 
  • Death guilt. Mormon 8:3-5 "... whether they will slay me I know not." "... whither I go it mattereth not." "... I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not."
  • Psychic numbing. Mormon 3:12 "... the hardness of their hearts" Moroni 9:5 "they have lost their love, one towards another ..." and Moroni 9:20 "... they are without principle, and past feeling ..."
  • Suspicion and distrust. Mormon 1:18,19 "the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery... " "... sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics ..." and Mormon 2:10 "... no man could keep that which was his own ..."
  • Witness imperative. Mormon 3:16 "... I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard ..." and Moroni 9:22 "... to witness the return of his people unto him, or their utter destruction ..."
The Book of Mormon can be profitably read from dozens of perspectives. In this case, trauma psychology helps us better understand its authors and their powerful messages.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Gareth Lowe's Maps

John L. Sorenson's 1992 The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book pp. 115-119 includes Book of Mormon maps and commentary by Gareth W. Lowe (1922-2004). Who was Gareth Lowe? He ran the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) from 1959 to 1987. He and John L. Sorenson were fellow graduate students at BYU in the early 1950's. They worked together in the first (privately funded) NWAF field season in Tabasco in 1953. Lowe went back down to Mexico with the second (Church funded) NWAF field season in 1955 and never left. He was one of a handful of Latter-day Saint Mesoamericanists who rose to the highest levels in the profession (others who come to mind are John E. Clark, Allen J. Christenson, and Richard D. Hansen). Lowe was the world's expert on Chiapas in his day. He was one of the top dirt archaeologists in the world and an indispensable source on pre-classic southern Mesoamerica. See the blog article "Zarahemla ca. 1955" for more information about Gareth Lowe and some of his renowned colleagues. Lowe's daughter, Lynneth Lowe Negron, is a leading archaeologist in Mexico today.
Classic 1968 Photo of Gareth W. Lowe 
Even though the Church invested millions of dollars in NWAF over the years and important Church leaders such as Howard W. Hunter chaired its board, the professional staffers seldom mentioned the Book of Mormon. Many were not members of the Church.

For years Gareth Lowe and John Sorenson were a formidable tag team - Lowe in Mexico and Arizona directing a first-rate archaeological enterprise, Sorenson in Utah and California analyzing, synthesizing, and interpreting field reports with an eye to Book of Mormon implications.
About Half of the NWAF Field Reports
The photo above shows my personal collection of the NWAF Papers series. I have been collecting these for years and still lack many titles. This series represents Gareth W. Lowe's life's work.

So, where did Gareth Lowe think the Book of Mormon took place?

In July, 1960, he envisioned the setting in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala with the Ulua as the Sidon and Cumorah in southern Belize.

By October, 1960, he had changed his mind. He imagined the setting in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico with the Usumacinta as the Sidon and Cumorah in the Tuxtlas of southern Veracruz. The narrow neck he correlated with sand bars along the Tabasco coast. Tonala, Chiapas was his boundary between the lands northward and southward. The city of Zarahemla he placed in the vicinity of Tonina, Chiapas.

In 1960, Lowe was thinking out of the box in three important ways. 1) He may have been the first to suggest coastal sandbars (a peninsula rather than an isthmus) as the narrow (small) neck of land. 2) He was considering the Olmec culture core boundary as the dividing line between lands northward and southward which makes considerable sense since the two land designations originated with the Jaredites. 3) He was envisioning Zarahemla considerably downstream on the Sidon rather than just beyond the headwaters region.

By the early 1970's, Lowe re-thought his correlation and shared his most complete Book of Mormon map. He was the first to propose some correlations I previously thought were original with F. Richard Hauck whose Deciphering the Geography of the Book of Mormon appeared in 1988.
  • Lowe envisioned the narrow (small) neck of land as the coastal sandbar seaside from Tonala, Chiapas. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar, and I agree. This is a crucial point. See the blog article "Red Herrings."
  • He thought the Bountiful/Desolation border which was also the land southward/northward border skirted around Tonala, Chiapas on the Pacific side and La Venta, Tabasco on the Gulf of Mexico side. This located all of the Olmec heartland in the land northward. Javier Tovar and I agree.
  • His hill Cumorah was in the Tuxtla mountains of southern Veracruz. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar, and I agree, as do most of the contemporary Mesoamericanists studying the Book of Mormon including John Sorenson.
  • Lowe correlated the Sidon with the Mezcalapa/Grijalva. Sorenson and the Allens agree.
  • Lowe placed the city of Zarahemla at the site of Santa Cruz, Chiapas. I believe he was the first to propose this correlation which I find more convincing than Sorenson's Santa Rosa further upstream.
  • He put the narrow pass near his narrow neck on the Pacific coast at the site of Los Horcones where Cerro Bernal forces the trans isthmian railroad almost into the ocean. Lowe was convinced this was the most naturally defensible place along any coastline in southern Mesoamerica and a point at which the Nephites could have controlled northward movement along the relatively narrow Pacific coastal plain. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar, and I agree.
  • Ammonihah he located at Chiapa de Corzo, east of the big river. V. Garth Norman came to this same conclusion in 1966, that Ammonihah was east rather than west of Sidon. Javier Tovar and I agree. This is another crucial point. See the article "Red Herrings."
  • Moroni's fortified line referenced in Alma 50:10,11 Lowe envisioned as a straight east-west line connecting Pijijiapan with La Libertad, Chiapas and beyond. Most interpreters equate this with the narrow strip of wilderness mentioned in Alma 22:27. Almost all current Book of Mormon Mesoamericanists agree with Lowe in principle, although many of them would locate the line further south along the Polochic Fault or the Sierra de las Minas.
  • Lowe identified the head of Sidon as the point geographers consider the head of the Mezcalapa/Grijalva - the confluence of the Cuilco with the Selegua. This idea that the head of the big river is a confluence of tributaries is gaining increased support among modern Book of Mormon mapmakers. Garth Norman, Javier Tovar, and I agree with the concept even though we think the Usumacinta is the stronger candidate river.
  • Lowe correlated Mar Muerto with the sea west and Laguna de la Joya with the component of that sea that was east mentioned in Alma 50:34. Ric Hauck, Joe V. Andersen, Javier Tovar and I are in basic agreement even though we differ slightly on the details.
When a generally accepted map finally brings order to the chaos currently surrounding the Book of Mormon geographic context, I believe some of Gareth Lowe's ideas will prove to have been prescient.
Gareth Lowe's 1970's Book of Mormon Map
Like Joe and Blake Allen, Lowe was comfortable with the archaeology of the Central Depression of Chiapas, but insistent on cardinal directionality.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

How Many were Many and Few?

The article "Test #6 Relative Distances" explains why we need to understand the Nephite meaning of our English word "many." I am patiently working through John L. Sorenson's foundational series of Book of Mormon geography works (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon 1985 415 pages, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book 1992 revised edition 415 pages, Mormon's Map 2000 158 pages, and Mormon's Codex 2013 826 pages), appreciating his prodigious effort while documenting his myriad inconsistencies. 2 Nephi 5:7 says Nephi and his followers traveled many days in the wilderness to get from the coastal land of first inheritance to the city of Nephi. How far would that have been?

One day's travel in Nephite parlance was probably about 15 air kilometers. See the article "Land Southward Travel Times" referenced frequently in this blog. But, how many were many days? Contemporary English speakers would not call 2 days "many." What about 3, 4, or 5 days?

The problem for Book of Mormon interpretation is on the low end of the range. It is clear from the text that on the high end "many" can refer to dozens 1 Nephi 13:1, hundreds 3 Nephi 7:4, thousands Ether 10:17, tens of thousands Helaman 3:5, or even millions Mosiah 14:12.

Helaman 6:32 tells us that a little over 1 year (67th year of the reign of the judges) was considered not many years.
Helaman 11:26 tells us that 2 years (79th and 80th years of the reign of the judges) were considered not many years.
Helaman 4:26 tells us that 3 years (57th through 59th years of the reign of the judges) were considered not many years.
Helaman 7:6 tells us that 3 years (67th through 69th years of the reign of the judges) were considered not many years.
Helaman 14:21, 26 coupled with 3 Nephi 8:19 tell us that at least 3 and likely a little more were considered many hours.
Words of Mormon 1:2 tells us that approximately 3.8 were considered many hundred years.
Helaman 8:18 tells us that approximately 4 were considered a great many thousand years from Adam until Jesus Christ. This curious phrase "a great many thousand" also shows up in 3 Nephi 3:24 where it refers to tens if not hundreds of thousands of people.
Helaman 1:3-4 tells us that 4 or more were considered many sons.
Jacob 4:4 and Jacob 7:7 tell us that approximately 5.4 were considered many hundred years.
Alma 51:26 tells us that 6 were considered many cities. (Note: this verse is one of the few known scribal errors in the text. Inland "Nephihah" should be coastal "Moroni." See Alma 51:25.
Alma 16:11 coupled with Alma 49:2-3 tell us that 7-9 were considered many years.
1 Nephi 17:4 tells us that 8 were considered many years.
Mosiah 10:3 tells us that 22 were considered many years.
Mosiah 7:4 tells us that 40 were considered many days.

These remarkably consistent data show that 3 or less of something would generally not have been considered "many" while 4 or more of something could definitely have been called "many" in Nephite usage. So "many days" travel was 4 or more days travel which equates to a minimum of about 60 air kilometers.

So, to answer the initial question, we would expect the land of first inheritance to be at least 60 air kilometers distant from the city of Nephi (Kaminaljuyú is the most widely-proposed candidate).
60 Air Kilometer Radius around Kaminaljuyú
This means any place along the Pacific coast of Chiapas, Guatemala, or El Salvador likely fits the "many days" criteria.

When Almaleft Ammonihah traveling toward Aaron, his guardian angel intercepted him and told him to rejoice and return to the apostate city Alma 8:16,17. Alma began fasting (rejoicing D&C 59:13,14), turned around, and traveled back to Ammonihah. His return trip took "many days" Alma 8:26, Alma 10:7. This means that Ammonihah and Aaron are probably more than 60 air kilometers distant from each other.
57 Air Kilometers Ammonihah to Aaron (Sorenson Correlation)
This means the Sorenson correlation probably locates these two cities too close together to comfortably fit the text.
"Many" contrasts with "few" in Alma 26:31. How many were few?

 3 Nephi 6:3-4, 9-10, and 16 tell us that 3 were considered a few years.
Zeezrom asked Amulek 8 questions Alma 11:21-38 which he considered a few questions Alma 11:21.
3 Nephi 8:19 tells us that 8 plus a few others such as Mary Whitmer were considered a few witnesses of the plates Moroni delivered to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Mosiah 20:5 tells us that 24 were considered few Lamanite daughters.
A stock phrase in the Book of Mormon is "many waters" referring generally to the ocean 1 Nephi 13:10-13, 1 Nephi 17:5, Ether 2:6. The land of Ramah/Cumorah which was among many waters Mosiah 8:8 could be partially surrounded by ocean or the phrase "many waters" could also have meant inland bodies of water which is the likely sense of Mormon 6:4. Either way, our candidate for Ramah/Cumorah fits the text.
Tuxtlas Showing Surface Water
The Tuxtlas jut into the ocean so they are "among many waters." The green icons (from INEGI) on the map above represent surface water which is relatively abundant in the rainy Tuxtlas. This region certainly qualifies as a "land of many (surface) waters" or a "land of the ocean."

Monday, November 6, 2017

Peopling the Americas

For decades we Mormons walked around with an inferiority complex. The Book of Mormon says three groups of ancient immigrants came to the New World across the open ocean in boats. Conventional wisdom held that the first Americans walked across the Bering land bridge during the most recent ice age, then stopped coming when the glaciers receded, sea levels rose, and salt water inundated what had been a convenient terrestrial highway. Native Americans, so the theory went, were snugly ensconced in their private hemisphere free from any significant outside cultural influence until Columbus came along with his guns and smallpox virus and began to wreak havoc on the natives. Because we Mormons believed the Book of Mormon story, we were "diffusionists," a term that carried pejorative baggage with most anthropologists. "Isolationists" aka "independent inventionists" carried the day for generations because the idea of autochthonous development stroked nationalist egos and provided a tidy, continental-scale laboratory for validating Darwin's theory of evolution. Americanists since John Wesley Powell (1834 - 1902) who founded the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian in 1879 have vigorously denounced evidence of ancient Old World influence in the Americas as crackpot archaeology on the lunatic fringe, unworthy of real scientists.

For many years the diffusionist camp was a rag-tag army of laymen with the occasional rebel scientist or academic willing to go rogue and oppose mainstream thought. Not anymore. There has been a literal sea change of scholarly opinion and it is no longer politically incorrect for Americanists to talk about ancient sea voyages between the hemispheres. The "kelp highway" (marine navigation along the Pacific Coast) is now generally recognized as the principal way the first Americans arrived in the New World from Asia because we have abundant evidence of human occupation in the western hemisphere before the last glacial maximum and subsequent sea rise.

Peer-reviewed academic journals are ranked based on their "impact factor." Nature founded in 1869 is the most prestigious journal in the world with 53,000 subscribers and a 2016 impact factor of 40.137. Science founded in 1880 is the next most prestigious with 130,000 subscribers and a 2016 impact factor of 37.205. The November 3, 2017 issue of Science has an article entitled "Finding the First Americans" written by:
The article says Asian sea voyages to the Americas pre-date the Clovis people who specialists believe walked across the Bering land bridge. According to the article, this new understanding is a "dramatic intellectual turnabout."
November 3, 2017 Edition of Science
This map shows Clovis and pre-Clovis sites around the Pacific rim.
Peopling the Americas - Early Sites, Science Vol. 358, Issue 6363
This is not validation of the Jaredite, Lehite or Mulekite voyages, but since people were coming to the Americas 15,000 years ago in boats, the Book of Mormon ocean-going voyage narrative is now plausible and in step with mainstream scientific opinion rather than quirky and problematic. See the article "Ancient Ocean Crossings."

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mesoamerican MTC Mural

On Friday, October 13, 2017, Pres. Henry B. Eyring dedicated two new six story buildings known as "T3" and "T4" at the Provo MTC. These magnificent structures, the finest the Missionary Department has ever built, have been carefully designed to help missionaries train, study, and meditate in beautiful, light, airy, peaceful, uplifting surroundings. The architecture and furnishings in these new buildings are as attractive as you are likely to see in any LDS temple. Among the most impressive interior features are "disciple spaces" featuring life-size, back-lit, photo-realistic murals that depict outstanding missionaries from history. Multiple copies of this particular mural showing the four sons of Mosiah about to enter a Lamanite city are on display throughout the buildings. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Stunning MTC Mural of the Four Sons of Mosiah
Photograph by LDS Church News
The scene portrays the land of Nephi with stepped pyramids, in a tropical or sub-tropical setting with palm trees and low-latitude shrubs, beside a lake, surrounded by spectacular, densely-forested mountains.
Another Copy of Back-lit Photo Mural Depicting the Land of Nephi
Photograph by LDS Church News
Zooming in shows a scene very much like the ancient valley of Guatemala where we (and many others) think the city of Nephi was located.
Representation of the Land of Nephi Set in Mesoamerica
Photograph by John W. Welch
Tropical Kaminaljuyú (KJ), our candidate for the city of Nephi, was built on Lake Miraflores and is surrounded by imposing, densely-forested volcanoes. See the article "Kaminaljuyu" for dozens of correspondences between KJ and the Book of Mormon text. These parallels are convincing enough that KJ is on our list of outstanding archaeological evidences. See the article "Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon."
Scene Similar to Kaminaljuyú on Display in Provo MTC Mural
Photograph by John W. Welch
All nine contemporary Mesoamerican correlations of which I am aware (Joe & Blake Allen, Ric Hauck & Joe Andersen, Kirk Magleby & Javier Tovar, Elder Clate W. Mask, Jr., Garth Norman, Bob Roylance & Richard Terry, Shelby Saberon & Mark Wright, John L. Sorenson, Aric Turner) place the city of Nephi within 85 air kilometers of Kaminaljuyú in the Guatemalan highlands.
Proposed Locations for the City of Nephi
It is gratifying to know that hundreds of thousands of missionaries entering the field in coming years will leave the MTC with a striking mental image derived from the best current LDS and Restoration Branch (formerly RLDS) scholarship on Book of Mormon lands.
Missionaries Studying in New Provo MTC
Photograph by LDS Church News
Kudos to the Missionary Department.
Several Copies of this Mural are in both T3 and T4
Photograph by Kirk Magleby
Other stunning new MTC murals include the brother of Jared:
Sixteen Stones, Photograph by Kirk Magleby
Moses' vision of the cosmos:
Moses on Sinai, Photographa by Kirk Magleby
and Nephi returning to Jerusalem:
"I will go and to the things which the Lord hath commanded"
Photograph by Kirk Magleby
Our missionaries in the Provo MTC are surrounded by beautiful, motivational art.

Article updated on December 16, 2017.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Flocks and Herds

The Book of Mormon uses some variant of the term "flocks and herds" 23 times e.g. 2 Nephi 5:11, Mosiah 21:16, Helaman 6:12, Ether 10:12. Up to this point, evidence of ancient domesticated animal husbandry besides the dogs and rabbits that were commonly kept for meat has been sparse. That may be changing. The Mirador Basin LiDAR mapping project has produced images of what Richard Hansen calls a network of roads, canals, and corrals or animal pens.
Mirador LiDAR Image Showing Likely Animal Pens
Hansen said that the "sophisticated system of corrals is evidence that meat production in the Mirador Basin may have existed on an industrial level." This intriguing possibility will almost certainly be the topic of some graduate student's dissertation. Dozens of universities from around the world collaborate on the massive Mirador Basin Project investigating the cradle of Maya civilization.
Widely-circulated Artist's Rendering of El Mirador ca. 100 BC
More information about Hansen and El Mirador can be found in the articles "Roads and Highways" and "Hansen and Coe."

Roads and Highways

The Book of Mormon describes roads 3 Nephi 6:8 and highways Helaman 7:10, 14:24, 3 Nephi 8:13 about the time of Christ. We now have spectacular evidence of roads and highways in Mesoamerica about the time of Christ.
Maya Lowlands LiDAR Image
LiDAR is an acronym for Light Detection and Ranging. This remote sensing technology uses a small plane that flies in a grid pattern over a target area. The plane carries laser equipment that fires 560,000 bursts per second and builds a massive point cloud of data. Hours of processing on a supercomputer then render a topographic image that can help a researcher identify man-made objects buried beneath a jungle canopy or other ground cover. Combining 2D and 3D images creates highly accurate maps of otherwise hidden features. LiDAR is very expensive. Near Guatemala's Mirador Basin, Richard Hansen used 38 hours of flying time and surveyed 700 square kilometers at a cost in excess of $500,000. Because it can show archaeologists exactly where to dig, hopefully before looters destroy a new site, LiDAR is a coveted technology in the profession.

Causeway Near the Mirador Basin from the Air
Hansen is a BYU graduate who got his PhD at UCLA. More than 60 universities from several countries currently collaborate on his massive Mirador Basin Project which has an annual budget in the $2 - 3 million range. It may be the largest archaeology project on earth. I visited El Mirador in January, 2016. I went in via helicopter. The alternative was a 3 day hike or mule ride from the nearest town with a road. Today El Mirador is remote. At the time of Christ, though, it was a busy center connected to neighboring sites via an extensive network of limestone roads (called sacbes in Mayan).

Hansen's survey revealed 240 kilometers of roadways connecting 17 different ancient communities. Up to 40 meters wide, 6 meters thick, and 38 kilometers long, these massive public works projects linked the 200,000 - 250,000 people living in El Mirador with the estimated 1 million people in the surrounding areas. The earliest roads were built ca. 600 BC. The latest were built ca. AD 100. El Mirador achieved apogee ca. 90 BC and was abandoned ca. AD 150. See this Smithsonian article published February 3, 2017.

This poorly-done but informative YouTube video shows Hansen atop one of the Mirador Basin roadways.

Ancient feedlots or stockyards may also have existed near El Mirador. See the article "Flocks and Herds."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Top 10 Literary and Linguistic Evidences for the Book of Mormon

In an article begun in May, 2017, I summarized the ten archaeological evidences for the Book of Mormon I find most convincing. This article will summarize ten literary and linguistic evidences for the Book of Mormon that strike me as compelling.

1. Chiasmus. Ancient literary traditions in largely oral cultures used narrative structures as mnemonic devices in their texts. One of the best known is chiasmus, aka reverse parallelism, associated primarily with Semitic texts and in recent decades widely recognized throughout both the Old and New Testaments. . In a chiasm, narrative motifs build up to a climactic center, then repeat themselves in reverse order in the second half of the pericope. A good example is Mosiah 5:10-12. This beautiful six-element chiasm, the first one recognized in the Book of Mormon in modern times, was discovered by Jack Welch in the early morning hours of August 16, 1967 while he was serving as an LDS missionary in Regensburg, Germany:
A whosoever will not take upon him the name of Christ
      B must be called by some other name;
            C therefore, he findeth himself on the left hand of God.
                  D And I would that ye should remember also,
                        E that this is the name ...that never should be blotted out,
                              F except it be through transgression;
                              F therefore, take heed that ye do not transgress,
                         E that the name be not blotted out of your hearts
                  D ...I would that ye should remember to retain the name ...
            C that ye are not found on the left hand of God,
      B but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called
A and also, the name by which he shall call you.
There are dozens of impressive chiasms in the Book of Mormon, including the masterful Alma 36 which may be the most elegant chiastic structuring of any passage known from any ancient literature.

See the article entitled "Recent Book of Mormon News" for links to excellent videos shown during and resulting from the remarkable Chiasmus Jubilee held on BYU Campus on August 16, 2017. The Jubilee followed the first-ever academic conference on chiasmus where eminent scholars from Jewish, Catholic, Evangelical, and Latter-day Saint faith traditions presented their research.

2. Paronomasia. Ancient writers were masters of puns and other plays on words deployed for rhetorical effect. In recent years, many profound examples have been found in the Book of Mormon. Matthew Bowen, a member of the BYU-Hawaii Religion faculty, has led this scholarly endeavor, publishing several influential articles in Interpreter. See for example "Father Is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the Name Abish in Alma 19:16 and its Narrative Context." Here are some examples of naming word play I find particularly insightful:
  • Alma in Hebrew means "youth." When Almais first introduced in Mosiah 17:2, he is described as "a young man."
  • Alma can also carry the connotation "hidden" and in Mosiah 18:5 he explicitly hides from King Noah's troops.
  • Noah in Hebrew means "rest" with the pejorative connotation "lazy." Mosiah 11:6 accuses Noah and his priests of laziness.
  • Jershon in Hebrew means "inherit." The first time Jershon is mentioned in the text the land is given to the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi for their inheritance Alma 27:22-24.
These gems are just the tip of the iceberg. More are being discovered all the time. According to Taylor Halverson and Brad Wilcox, such plays on words demonstrate the "brilliant literary sophistication" of the Book of Mormon authors. See "The Surprising Meanings Behind 'Enos' and 'Noah': Insights into Book of Mormon Names."

3. Early Modern English. Through the diligent efforts of Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, we now know that the language of the earliest Book of Mormon translation was closer to the Early Modern English spoken when Shakespeare was a youth than the Jacksonian American English codified in the 1828 Websters Dictionary. See the articles "Early Modern English" and "English in the Book of Mormon." Without help from an external (divine) source, a mono-linguist simply cannot dictate a long (268,000 words) and complex text over the course of approximately 65 working days in a language that neither his mother nor his father nor their mothers nor their fathers spoke.

4. Stylometry. Computerized statistical tests run against blocks of text can often distinguish the words of Author A from the writings of Author B. Authors have writing styles that consciously or sub-consciously pervade their work. Many such tests run by different teams over decades demonstrate with high degrees of confidence that the Book of Mormon was written by multiple authors whose varied styles differ in statistically significant ways. The work that launched this area of inquiry was published by Wayne A. Larsen, Tim Layton, and Alvin C. Rencher. See "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon? An Analysis of Wordprints" in BYU Studies 20:3, Spring, 1980. Layton, a friend of mine, is currently serving as Mission President in California, Bakersfield.

John L. Hilton, a physicist who taught at UC Berkeley and worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, took up the challenge of verifying the Larsen, Layton, Rencher results using improved statistical techniques. He worked for years with an interfaith team of colleagues in the East Bay area. In the end, they not only verified but strengthened the 1980 results. See "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship" in Noel B. Reynolds, editor, Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited (Provo: FARMS, 1997).

The current standard-bearer in this area is Paul J. Fields, a statistical analyst who holds a PhD from Penn State. See Matthew Roper, Paul J. Fields, and G. Bruce Schaalje, "Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon" in Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21/1 2012.

See Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy #389 "What Can Stylometry Tell Us about Book of Mormon Authorship?"

5. Intertextuality. Book of Mormon authors had access to a version of the Hebrew Bible contained on the plates of brass 1 Nephi 5:10-13. When the Savior visited the Nephites in land Bountiful after his resurrection, he shared additional scriptures with them 3 Nephi 23:6 which were recorded in official national annals. Therefore, it should not be too surprising that Book of Mormon writers quote, allude to, echo, and expand upon biblical passages. The Book of Mormon is remarkable for the sheer volume of intertextual references, and for the creative, meaningful ways the Nephite record weaves the two texts together. David J. Larsen is an Old Testament scholar who holds a PhD from the University of St Andrews (Scotland). His 104 page "Overview of the Use of Biblical Psalms in the Book of Mormon Text" is currently in private circulation. Larsen has identified 60 instances of intertextuality between the Book of Mormon and the Psalms, many of which also interweave phrases and concepts from additional sources such as Proverbs, 2 Samuel, and Ezekiel.

Some "Royal Psalms" extol David. The writers on the small plates (Nephi and Jacob) tend to avoid them and seem influenced by the Deuteronomistic reforms that had recently been introduced in the Jerusalem of Lehi's day. Psalms generally attributed to the exilic or post-exilic period in Judaism are far less frequently referenced in the Book of Mormon than earlier compositions, as we would expect.

6. Semitic and Egyptian Influences in Mesoamerican Languages. Brian Stubbs is a noted linguist, one of the world's experts on the Uto-Aztecan language family which includes Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. In his 2015 Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (Provo: Grover Publications), Stubbs finds hundreds of cognates as well as syntax, morphology, and pattern shifts over time that all point to Semitic contributions into Uto-Aztecan at about the Book of Mormon time period. My Jewish-LDS philologist friend, Adan Rocha of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, corroborates Stubbs via somewhat different methodology. Robert F. Smith extends Stubbs by showing Semitic and Egyptian influences in the Otomanguean language family which includes Oaxacan Mixtec and Zapotec. See Sawi-Zaa 2016 Version 3.

7. Internal Consistency. The Book of Mormon is large and complicated with many plot twists, flashbacks, and literary genre changes. Specialists have studied it for decades using the tools of various disciplines. Most diligent students come away with a profound appreciation for its integrity and constancy bordering on predictability. The Book of Mormon has a high, even astonishing degree of internal consistency. Nibley, Welch, Sorenson, Skousen, the Hardys, the Rosenvalls - people who know this text very well - have all commented on its steady uniformity and dependable rationality. It demonstrates strong editing for conformity to persistent organizing principles.

My own work has dealt largely with geography and potential correlations between the text and the real world. Across several hundred phrases with geographic implications, I have found only a handful of irreconcilable passages. See the article "Scribal Error." I seldom compose a single page without an egregious faux pas. The Book of Mormon's near perfection is simply breathtaking. I have no problem accepting Joseph Smith's description of the Nephite text as "the most correct of any book on earth."

8. Source Complexity. When we first organized Book of Mormon Central in 2015, one of our first projects was what we call the "Book of Mormon Redaction Chart." It continues to be a popular, albeit large and therefore slow to download, item in our archive. When we display this impressive chart in a public setting, people spend minutes poring over the details. Most are unaware of the subtle complexity behind the multiple sources that all came together to form our current Book of Mormon. See the excellent article by John L. Sorenson entitled "Mormon's Sources" in Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, 20/2 2011.

9. Plan Under-girding the Book of Ether. Beginning with Ether descended from Coriantor in Ether 1:6, the Book of Ether lists a 30 person genealogy in reverse chronological order ending with Orihah son of Jared in Ether 1:32. Ether 1:33 then begins a history in precisely the opposite order that introduces each person starting with Jared and goes through the list one-by-one ending with Ether in Ether 11:23. Many historical details and plot elements intervene, but the author (Ether) and abridger (Moroni) stay true to this meticulous master plan throughout the book. Book of Mormon Central's KnoWhy #235 has some great graphics illustrating this 30 element scrupulous backwards then forwards pattern.

10. Parallelisms. Words in a sentence convey meaning, but words organized into parallelistic literary structures add balance and rhythm, elevating mere prose into great literature, even poetry. The repetition of words and forms inherent in parallelisms can facilitate the smooth flow of ideas and make passages more persuasive. Parallelisms abound in the Book of Mormon, a divinely-commissioned work designed to convince "Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations." Title Page of the Book of Mormon.

Parallelistic literary devices in the Book of Mormon include synonymous, antithetical, repetitive numerical, and circular repetitive forms. See Donald W. Parry, "Research and Perspectives: Hebrew Literary Patterns in the Book of Mormon" in Ensign, October, 1989. Parallelisms are so pervasive in the text that people have published entire re-formatted editions of the Book of Mormon highlighting the structures they see:

  • Wade Brown, The God-Inspired Language of the Book of Mormon: Structuring and Commentary (Clackamas, OR: Rainbow, 1988).
  • Donald W. Parry, The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1992). 
  • Donald W. Parry, Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, UT: Maxwell Institute, 2007).
  • Alan C. Miner is currently preparing a multi-volume work with extensive textual apparatus to highlight parallelisms.
The Book of Mormon is miraculous, beautiful, and true. This Book of Mormon Central blog article introducing the second evidence video in a planned series highlights some of its remarkable sophistication.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Ear Ornaments

The Book of Mormon mentions "ear-rings" 2 Nephi 13:20 in an Isaiah citation. The text uses the word "heavy" to describe ears 2 Nephi 16:10, also in a passage from Isaiah. The Book of Mormon associates some variant of the word "open" with ears as in 1 Nephi 20:82 Nephi 7:5Mosiah 2:9, and 3 Nephi 11:5.

Elites throughout Mesoamerican history wore circular ear spools aka ear flares or ear plugs that literally opened ear lobes, made ears heavy, and could easily be described as ear-rings.

La Venta Offering 4 now in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico
Notice that all these Olmec figurines from ca. 800 BC are wearing ear spools.

Copan Stela A in the Museo de Esculturas, Copan, Honduras
Photo by Kirk Magleby December 28, 2015
Copan Stela A depicts Waxaklajun Ub'aah K'awiil (18 Rabbit), the 13th ruler, wearing large ear spools. This stela was dedicated on Maya Long Count date (January 30, AD 731).

Mixtec Ear Spools
These greenstone (jadeite) ear spools from Oaxaca ca. AD 1200 are in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Similar artifacts are found throughout Mesoamerica in almost all time horizons. See, for example, Thomas A. Lee, Jr. "The Artifacts of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico," Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 26 (Provo: BYU-NWAF, 1969) page 191.