Sunday, March 22, 2020

Base Dates

The Book of Mormon has several hundred chronological references. Accurate timekeeping was very important to the Nephites as Mormon explicitly states in 3 Nephi 8:1-2.

Point #1. We should find Book of Mormon lands in a part of the ancient world where accurate timekeeping over centuries was important.

The Book of Mormon has a number of base dates aka zero dates which anchor elapsed time sequences measured in years from a beginning point. 1 Nephi 10:4 dates the coming of Jesus Christ six hundred years after Lehi left Jerusalem. Mosiah 29:44 establishes the transition from Nephite kingship to judges as a new base date. 3 Nephi 3:1 uses the birth of Jesus Christ as a base date just as we do today with our BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini - year of our Lord) conventions. 3 Nephi 2:4-8 is a very interesting passage, a kind of nexus that brings all three historical dating systems together in context. Verses 4 and 5 continue the count based on the reign of the judges that began in Mosiah 29:44. It was important to Mormon to document the fact that Nephite central government endured 100 years because about 20 years later it would be gone 3 Nephi 7:23 Nephi 2:6 correlates this point in time (ca. AD 9) with the original base date of Lehi's departure from Jerusalem. 3 Nephi 2:7 then introduces the new system of long range time measurement based on the birth of Jesus Christ that was the Nephite standard throughout the remainder of their history.

These three systems of long range time measured from a base date are pervasive in the text:
1. Lehi left Jerusalem (mentioned 10 times), 1 Nephi 10:4; 19:8; 2 Nephi 5:28; 25:19; Jacob 1:1; Enos 1:25; Mosiah 6:4; 29:46; 3 Nephi 1:1; 2:6.

2. Reign of the judges (mentioned 97 times), Mosiah 29:44; Alma 1:1, 2, 33; 3:25, 27; 4:1, 5, 6, 9, 10, 20; 8:2, 3; 10:6; 14:23; 15:19; 16:1, 12, 21; 28:7, 9; 30: 2, 4, 5; 35:12, 13; 43:3; 44:24; 45:2, 20; 46:37; 48:2; 49:29; 50:1, 17, 23, 24, 25, 35; 51: 1, 12, 37; 52:1, 14, 15, 18, 23, 35; 56:1; 57:5; 59:1; 62:11, 12, 39, 52; 63:1, 3, 4, 10, 16; Helaman 1:1. 13, 14, 34; 2:1, 12; 3:1, 18, 22, 23, 32, 33, 37; 4:4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 17, 18; 6:1, 15, 32, 41; 7:1; 10:19; 11:1, 24, 29, 35; 16:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 24.

3. Coming of Jesus Christ (mentioned 5 times), 3 Nephi 3:1; 4 Nephi 4:21; Mormon 3:4; 8:6; Moroni 10:1.

In addition, the text contains hundreds of instances of simple year counts implicit within one of these three systems. Jarom 1:5 (two hundred years from Lehi's departure), Helaman 11:36 (eighty second, eighty third, and eighty fourth years of the reign of the judges), and 4 Nephi 1:14 (seventy first, seventy second, seventy ninth, and one hundredth year from the coming of Christ) are examples.

Point #2. We should find Book of Mormon lands in a part of the ancient world where long range time was counted from a base or zero date.

Many have commented on the high frequency of year counts in the Book of Mormon that are multiples of 20. Six hundred (1 Nephi 10:4; 19:8; 2 Nephi 25:19; 3 Nephi 1:1), four hundred twenty (Moroni 10:1), four hundred (Alma 45:10; Helaman 13:5, 9; Mormon 8:6), three hundred sixty (Mormon 3:4), three hundred twenty (Omni 1:5, 4 Nephi 1:48), two hundred (Jarom 1:5; 4 Nephi 1:22) and one hundred (3 Nephi 2:5; 4 Nephi 1:14) are examples.

There are also instances in the text highlighting year counts that are multiples of 5. 3 Nephi 5:7-8 shows that year counts (annals) were typical but twenty five years held special significance in the record-keeping process. Jacob 1:1, Helaman 14:2, and 4 Nephi 1:47 are other passages emphasizing five year units.

Point #3. We should find Book of Mormon lands in a part of the ancient world where 5 and 20 year units were significant in long range time measurement.

In addition to historical time, the Book of Mormon frequently refers to the creation or foundation of the world as an epic event from the distant past that was the spiritual and temporal beginning of life on earth:
1. The creation (mentioned 12 times), 1 Nephi 5:11; 2 Nephi 1:10; 2:12, 13; 6:3; 11:7; Mosiah 28:17; Alma 18:36;. 22:12, 13; Ether 1:3; Moroni 10:3.

2. The foundation of the world (mentioned 22 times), 1 Nephi 10:18; 2 Nephi 9:18; 27:10; Mosiah 4:6, 7; 15:19; 18:13; Alma 12:25, 30; 13:3, 5, 7; 18:39; 22:13; 42:26; Helaman 5:47; 3 Nephi 1:14; Ether 3:14; 4:15, 15, 19; Moroni 8:12.

3. Adam as the first man (mentioned 25 times), 1 Nephi 5:11; 2 Nephi 2:19, 22, 25; 9:21; Mosiah 3:11, 16, 19, 26; 4:7; 28:17; Alma 12:22, 23; 18:36; 22:12; 27:13; 40:18; 42:5; Helaman 14:16; Mormon 3:20; 9:12; Ether 1:3, 4; Moroni 8:8; 10:3.

Point #4. We should find Book of Mormon lands in a part of the ancient world where the creation was a significant event in the popular worldview.

Anthropologists refer to metaphysical events such as the creation as being in "mythological time." The Book of Mormon bridges "mythological time" and historical time. The Nephite text explicitly associates the creation with human actors and historical events. Alma I linked Helam's mortal life with the foundation of the world in Mosiah 18:13. When Ammon taught King Lamoni, he began at the creation of the world and then brought things forward to Lamoni's day Alma 18:36-38. We see a similar pattern in Alma 22:12-15 when Aaron taught Lamoni's father. Moroni exhorted us to remember things that have happened from the creation of Adam down to our own time Moroni 10:3.
Omni 1:20-22 is similar. Ca. 300 BC, Coriantumr engraved his history on a stela, linking himself to first parents who came from the tower of Babel far back in "mythological time."

Point #5. We should find Book of Mormon lands in a part of the ancient world where humans in historical time were linked back to heroic events in "mythological time."

The Book of Mormon in two places describes ancient records similar to the biblical book of Genesis. The Jaredites posessed knowledge of the creation of the world, Adam, and events down to the time of the tower of Babel (Ether 1:3). The plates of brass contained the five books of Moses (1 Nephi 5:11).

Point #6. We should find Book of Mormon lands in a part of the ancient world where vestiges of the Genesis creation account were preserved.

If the Book of Mormon took place in the Maya area, all six points (among many others) are amply attested.

Point #1. Accurate timekeeping over centuries was important.
"Like no other people in history, the ancient Maya were obsessed by the study of time. Their sages framed its cycles with tireless exactitude. Yet their preoccupation with time was not limited to calendrics; it was a central trait in their evolving culture." Miguel León-Portilla, Time and Reality in the Thought of the Maya, Second Edition, (Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988) Volume 190 in The Civilization of the American Indian Series, back cover.
1988 Book on Maya Timekeeping
Point #2. Long range time was counted from a base or zero date.
The Maya long count began on August 11, 3114 BC (GMT Correlation). That was the date 4 Ahau 8 Kumk'u, the creation date of the current world age. This base or zero date is found in many Maya texts including the tablet from the Temple of the Cross at Palenque. This is my 2015 photograph of the base date on Quirigua Stela C.
Quirigua Stela C East Side with Annotations
Point #3. 5 and 20 year units were significant in long range time measurement.
The famous Maya bar and dot notation was a vigesimal (base 20) numeral system. Just as our modern decimal (base 10) system counts from 0 - 9 in the first (ones) position, then starts over with 1 in the second (tens)position and 0 in the first (ones) position, the Maya counted from 0 - 19 in the first (ones) position, then started over with 1 in the second (twenties) position and 0 in the first (ones) position. One day they called a kin and twenty days they called a uinal. Eighteen uinals (360 kins/days) they called a tun which approximated a solar year (365.24219 days). Twenty tuns (7,200 kins/days) they called a katun and twenty katuns (144,000 kins/days or 400 tuns) we call a baktun (we don't know the original Maya name).  
Maya numerals 0 - 19 with a dot for 1 and a bar for 5
Point #4. The creation was a significant event in the popular worldview.
Creation texts such as the Popol Vuh were "the doctrine which they first imbibed with their mother's milk, and that all of them knew it almost by heart." Allen J. Christenson, Popol Vuh The Sacred Book of the Maya, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007) Translator's Preface, quoting Francisco Ximénez (1666-1729). We see creation myth imagery at Izapa (ca. 400 BC), El Mirador (ca. 200 BC), and San Bartolo (ca. 200 BC). Creation iconography is widespread throughout the classic period (AD 250 - 900). Justin Kerr, for example, documents hundreds of examples in his famed MayaVase photographic archive.
Popol Vuh 2007 University of Oklahoma Edition
Point #5. Humans in historical time were linked back to heroic events in "mythological time."
"The opening chapters of the Popol Vuh describe the creation of all things as if it were occuring in the immediate present ..." and "The story-teller invites the listener to imagine the setting of his tale, and nearly always tells the story as if it were happening right then, even if it happened in the distant or mythic past." Allen J. Christenson, Popol Vuh, Translator's Preface. Ancient hieroglyphic texts have a "device apparently used by the Maya to link historical events with the mythological origins of the world, namely by means of extremely Long Counts involving coefficients of '13' at and beyond the baktuns position." Jorge L. Orejel, "A Parallel Long-Reckoning Between the Chilam Balam of Chumayel and a Hieroglyphic Inscription from Yaxchilán," Research Reports on Ancient Maya Writing No. 63, Boundary End Archaeology Research Center, October 29, 2019, shared on David Stuart's Maya Decipherment blog. This device can be seen on Step VII of the Hieroglyphic Stairs in Structure 33 at Yaxchilán where eight coefficients of "13" precede the baktuns position. Several inscriptions from Cobá also have long strings of "13" preceding the baktuns position. If taken literally, these long count dates would indicate a time trillions of years in the past. Epigraphers interpret them as a literary way of expressing the completion of many higher-order cycles since the beginning of time. In the Yaxchilán example, ruler Bird Jaguar staged a ball game on (October 15, AD 744) and used the literary device to set his actions in "the realm of sacred behavior within a time frame that approached infinity." Linda Schele and Mary E. Miller, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art, (Fort Worth: Kimbell Art Museum, 1986) p. 249. This image is from the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions (CMHI), Peabody Museum, Harvard.
Right Side, Stair VII, Structure 33, Yaxchilán showing long count date
Point #6. Vestiges of the Genesis creation account are preserved.
Genesis 2:2-3 famously says God created the world in seven days, the seventh being a day of rest. The Chilam Balam of Chumayel (Roys 1967 translation) says "seven was the count of the creation of the world." The Edmonson 1986 translation says "seven is the count of the dawn." According to Jorge Orejel "dawn can then be equated with the creation of the world." Orejel says the phrase under consideration could be rendered "the seventh time during its dawn is the count of its dawn" or "seven steps above 13 times 8,000 after its dawn is the count of its dawn." In the image above, the eight glyphs on the top left all have the number 13 depicted as two bars and three dots. The one on the lower right is in what epigraphers call the pictun (8,000 tuns/years) position and there are seven more coefficients of "13" in higher orders to the left of it. Orejel links this with the Chilam Balam of Chumayel expression that actions happened "for the seventh time" prior to the final dawn of the most recent creation. The Maya envisioned multiple destruction/creation cycles preceding the current world age.

Genesis 1:7 says God made the firmament (Heaven) which divided waters under the firmament from waters above the firmament. The Chilam Balam of Chumayel says water in the sky fell on the earth and destroyed it prior to the current creation. During the creative process, the sky was "lifted up" to its current position above the earth. Linda Schele in the 1987 Notebooks for Maya Hieroglyphic Writing Workshops at Texas interpreted wak chanal as "the beginning of time, 4 ahau 8 kumk'u, when the sky was lifted up."

Genesis 1:2 says darkness prevailed at first. The Popol Vuh (all citations are from Christenson 2007) says "All lies placid and silent in the darkness, in the night."

Genesis 1:2 describes primordial waters. The Popol Vuh says "Only the expanse of the water, only the tranquil sea lies alone."

Genesis 2:10-14 describes four rivers flowing in different directions to four lands. The Popol Vuh says "Thus were established the four corners, the four sides" and "four divisions."

Genesis 1:1 indicates the two fundamental entities created were heaven and earth. The Popol Vuh agrees, calling them "all the sky and earth" and "the womb of sky and the womb of earth."

Genesis 1:1-8 describes the primordial elements before dry land appeared. The Popol Vuh says "the face of the earth has not yet appeared."

Genesis 1:9 describes a gathering process as part of creation. The Popol Vuh describes a time when "There is not yet anything gathered together." Later the surface of the earth was "gathered and become level."

Genesis 1:3 famously says God spoke and the elements obeyed. The actual operative agent of creation was the divine word. The Popol Vuh says "These, then, are the first words, the first speech" and "Then came his word" followed by "Merely their word brought about the creation of it."

Genesis 1:1 highlights God who existed before the creation. The Popol Vuh features "the Framer and the Shaper, Sovereign and Quetzal Serpent" who existed before the creation.

Genesis 1:3 describes the creation of light. The Popol Vuh says "they conceived light and life" and "a dawn for everyone."

Genesis 1:16 describes the two great lights, the sun and the moon. The Popol Vuh tells an elaborate tale about Hunahpu and Xbalanque apotheosizing into the sun and the moon.
Hunahpu Transformed into Kinich Ahau, the Sun God
Three Cheek Spots are Diagnostic of this Deity
Tzakol Censer, Uaxactun Area
Genesis describes the creation of plants (1:11-12) followed by animals (1:24-25) and finally humans (1:27). The Popol Vuh describes the creation of "cypress groves and pine forests to cover the face of the earth" followed by "the deer and the birds" and other animals and finally humans from mud, wood, and then corn.

In the Genesis account, Eve is tempted by the fruit of a tree, brings death into the world, is able to have children, and gets banished from the Garden of Eden. In the Popol Vuh, Maiden Lady Blood aka Xquic is tempted by the fruit of a calabash tree, becomes pregnant, is sentenced to death, and gets banished from Xibalba.

Genesis 6:1 says humans began to multiply on the face of the earth. The Popol Vuh says the wooden people "began to multiply, bearing daughters and sons."

Genesis 6:5 says humans became wicked, thinking only of evil. The Popol Vuh says the wooden people "did not remember their Framer or their Shaper" and lacked purpose.

Genesis 6:6 says God regretted creating humans. The Popol Vuh has the Framer and the Shaper saying "we have made a mistake."

Genesis 7:21 says God cleansed the earth with a flood and all terrestrial animal life died. The Popol Vuh says "A flood was planned by Heart of Sky" and "they were killed in the flood." See the blog article "Primordial Flood."

Genesis 11:6-7 says humans became too powerful and needed to be restrained. The Popol Vuh says "It is a mistake that they have become like gods." In Genesis, tongues were confounded at the Tower of Babel. In the Maya story, people's eyesight and cognitive abilities were restricted.

This is merely a sampling of the narrative motifs that could be compared. There are enough similarities between the Genesis account of the creation and the Chilam Balam of Chumayel that many have assumed Colonial Christian influence on the Maya text. Jorge Orejel points out parallelism between the Yucatec record and an 8th century AD inscription from Yaxchilán that he believes "documents the survival of Classic Maya beliefs in Colonial texts."
Chumayel, Yucatan 430 Air Kilometers Distant from Yaxchilán, Chiapas
There are enough similarities between the Genesis account of the creation and the Popol Vuh that many have assumed Colonial Christian influence on the Maya creation story.
Hunahpu with his Blowgun, Early Classic Maya Double Vase
Note the Three Cheek Spots. K3150 in the Justin Kerr Database 
Over time, however, dozens of event depictions discovered in pre-conquest art and iconography have re-inforced the Popol Vuh's reputation as an authentic and very pervasive pre-columbian text.

Article by Kirk Magleby who volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which helps build enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to people everywhere.