Friday, February 16, 2018

Trample Under Feet

It has come to my attention that Kerry Hull, one of two outstanding Mesoamericanists on the BYU Religion faculty (Mark Wright is the other), presented on this topic in early 2017. Anyone interested would be well-advised to consult Hull for further information. He is a first-rate scholar with wonderful insights into both ancient Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. 

I was looking at the figure on the obverse of the Leiden plaque aka Leiden plate who is standing beside a bound captive when it occurred to me that the Book of Mormon phrase "trample under feet" may be reflecting the Mesoamerican cultural tradition of lords humiliating victims by treading on them.
Leiden Plaque Incised Jadeite
This artifact was unearthed in 1834 in a post-classic burial mound near the mouth of the Motagua River in Guatemala. It is now in the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, Netherlands. The glyph text on the reverse celebrates the accession of a king, probably in Tikal, on September 17, AD 320. This was just a few years before Mormon, age 15, took command of the Nephite armies Mormon 2:1-2.

The Book of Mormon uses a variant of the expression "trample under feet" 11 times. It must have been a relatively common term among the Nephites and their contemporaries. In contrast, the Old and New Testaments each use the phrase only once. Nephi was concerned enough about the meaning of the idiom that he defined it in 1 Nephi 19:7 as not heeding the counsels of the one being trampled underfoot. 1 Nephi chapter 19 is at the very beginning of Nephite history and literary tradition in the New World. Nephi may have sensed the need to define this expression because he saw the metaphor being used explicitly to depict dominance and subservience throughout the Mesoamerica of his day.

The relevant passages:
  • Psalms 91:13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. This psalm is generally understood to refer to the future Messiah.
  • Matthew 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
  • 1 Nephi 19:7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet.
  • 1 Nephi 19:7 Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet;
  • 1 Nephi 19:7 I say trample under their feet, but I would speak in other words - they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.
  • Alma 5:53 ... can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet;
  • Alma 60:33 Ye know that ye do transgress the laws of God, and ye do know that ye do trample them under your feet.
  • Helaman 4:22 ... they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people;
  • Helaman 6:31 ... they had become exceedingly wicked; yea, the more part of them had turned out of the way of righteousness, and did trample under their feet the commandments of God,
  • Helaman 6:39 ... they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor, and the meek, and the humble followers of God.
  • Helaman 12:2 ... they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One - 
  • 3 Nephi 14:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
  • Related is Mormon 5:6 ... they did tread the people of the Nephites under their feet.
  • Possibly related is 2 Nephi 26:20 ... that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor.
The relatively high frequency of trampling verbiage in the Nephite text may be related to the abundance of trampling imagery in Mesoamerican art and iconography. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Kaminaljuy├║ Sculpture 173
Drawing by Lucia Henderson
Kaminaljuy├║ (KJ) Sculpture 173 (Lucia Henderson's nomenclature) depicts a bejeweled human holding a double headed serpent in one hand while standing on one of the creature's two heads.

Izapa Stela 25 from V. Garth Norman
Izapa Stela 25 shows Hunahpu, one of the hero twins, pushing down the earth monster's snout with his foot.

Coba Stela 20 Site Drawing
In this image from Coba, Quintana Roo, a victorious ruler stands on the backs of two war captives. Coba stelae 1 & 4 show similar scenes of elites trampling prisoners under their feet.

Xultun Stela 5
In this image from Xultun, Peten, a victor tramples a hapless war captive.
Dos Pilas Stela 16
This image from Dos Pilas shows the same thing - victor trampling captive.

Naranjo Stela 30 Drawing by Ian Graham
Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions
Naranjo Stela 24 depicts a similar scene with an elite person treading on a captive.

We could duplicate these examples many times over. Tonina Monument 147 (bottom portion) for example is a striking image. Powerful individuals are often portrayed in Maya art treading or trampling on a hapless victim. This Mesoamerican cultural practice is a possible explanation for the frequent occurrence of the phrase "trample under feet" in the Book of Mormon. It may be the reason Nephi defined the term when he used it in 1 Nephi 19:7.

Naranjo Stela 14 shows a victor stepping on his victim's head with his foot, a literal grinding upon the face of the poor as 2 Nephi 26:20 describes.
Naranjo Stela 14
Cacaxtla has an entire stairway archaeologists call the "captive stair" where images of humiliated captives were meant to be tread upon.

Now things get really interesting. 3 of the Book of Mormon passages listed above describe men trampling God under their feet. Maya iconography shows a young man trampling a god.
Codex-Style Vase Likely from the Area around El Peru Waka, Peten
In this scene, old god L lies prostrate on his back, humiliated. A hunchback removes the god's elaborate hat while a young lord steps on his chest. This image is from Francis Robicsek and Donald Hales, The Maya Book of the Dead (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Art Museum, 1981). Justin Kerr labels this vase K1560.

Alfred Marston Tozzer rendered the Mayan term unaktantik "trample under foot."
Alfred M. Tozzer, A Comparative Study of the Mayas and the Lacandones, Archaeological Institute of America, Report of the Fellow in American Archaeology 1902 - 1905 (New York: Macmillan, 1907) pp. 172-176. 

Article by Kirk Magleby, volunteer Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central, worlds premiere source of reliable Book of Mormon contextual material in English and Spanish.