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 the ten literary and linguistic evidences for the Book of Mormon I find most 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.

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, significant 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.   

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 AntropologĂ­a, 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.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Flammable Books

The Book of Mormon describes writing on flammable materials in the city of Ammonihah ca. 82 BC Alma 14:8. Our current correlation places the city of Ammonihah at the site of El Hormiguero II in the NW corner of Peten, Guatemala. Writing on plaster coated amate bark-paper (from Ficus [fig] or Morus [mulberry] trees) is attested archaeologically from two southern Mesoamerican sites in early to middle classic time horizons.

1. Two congealed codex fragments were recovered from Mounds 9 (burial 22) and 10 (burial 30) at Mirador, Chiapas. Both date to the Laguna-Nuti phase (AD 300 - 500).
Deteriorated Codices from Mirador, Chiapas
Pierre Agrinier, Mounds 9 and 10 at Mirador, Chiapas, Mexico, Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, Number 39 (Provo: BYU NWAF, 1975). These fragments are now in the custody of INAH in Mexico City.

2. Fragments of a congealed codex were recovered from structure A-1, pyramid C, burial A6 at Uaxactun, Peten, Guatemala. The burial dates to AD 400 - 600. Structure A-1 itself was begun in the late Pre-classic (AD 1 - 250).
Deteriorated Codex from Uaxactun, Peten
Nicholas P. Carter and Jeffrey Dobereiner, Multispectral imaging of an Early Classic Maya codex fragment from Uaxactun, Guatemala, Antiquity, 90 351 2016. The Uaxactun fragments are now in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard. These fragments had 2 different plaster layers applied, the only known attestation of the early Maya scribal practice of erasure and re-inscription on codices. Resurfacing and repainting on murals is well-attested. Writing on plaster overlaid gourds is known from the UNESCO World Heritage site of CerĂ©n, El Salvador (volcanic ash fall covered an entire village, leaving unusually well-preserved remains a la Pompeii); Baking Pot, Belize; and a royal tomb at El Zotz, Peten, Guatemala dating to AD 300 - 400.  

All codex fragments and some of the gourds were found in mortuary contexts. See for example the Uaxactun image in the blog article "Partake of the Fruit." The Book of Mormon explicitly correlates words and death Mosiah 17:20.
Relative Locations of Referenced Sites
Some depictions of bark-paper codices on stone, painted ceramic vessels, and murals are much earlier than these decayed fragments. See, for example, the Olmec bound screen-fold codex illustrated in the article Cylinder Seals. Mayan epigraphic inscriptions reference 'paper' or 'books' (hu'n) and 'writers' (aj tz'ib).

Friday, October 6, 2017

Cylinder Seals

The Book of Mormon uses some form of the word "seal" more than two dozen times. Writings are sealed to come forth unadulterated at a later date 1 Nephi 14:26, 2 Nephi 26:17. Writings are sealed to keep them hidden from unworthy readers 2 Nephi 27:7-8. Writings are sealed to place them in divine hands for safekeeping 2 Nephi 30:3. Things are sealed or bound and then later loosed 2 Nephi 30:17. Prophets seal their words as testimony that will be used later in court proceedings 2 Nephi 33:15. Righteous people can be sealed to God Mosiah 5:15. Martyrdom seals the truthfulness of a prophet's words Mosiah 17:20. Wicked people can be sealed to Satan Alma 34:35. Priesthood power can seal things reciprocally on earth and in heaven Helaman 10:7. Authors personally sealed epistles delivered to political rivals. 3 Nephi 3:5. Accompanying objects could be sealed along with writings Ether 3:22-23. Writings, Interpretation of writings, and holy objects could all be sealed together Ether 4:5. Sealing physical objects was a caching, archival or repository function Ether 5:1. Sealing was an act of completion or finality Moroni 10:2.

The act of sealing something, particularly writing, was important enough in the Nephite worldview that it would not be surprising to find seals in the Mesoamerican archaeological record, and we do. This collection of roller stamps or cylinder seals is housed in the Snite Museum on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The seals were used to make impressions in plastic materials such as wax or clay, and to ink patterns on paper, skin or fabric. Most of these seals came from a single cache at the Olmec site of Las Bocas, Puebla.
Olmec Cylinder Seal with Net Design, Unknown Provenience
This seal has an image of the sun god in profile.
Olmec Roller Seal from Las Bocas, Puebla ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
This seal shows the stylized earth monster.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Pubela, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with floral motif.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with serpent and Venus symbols.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with net and serrated panel.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with flaming eyebrow motif.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with opposed paws design.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with waves and checkerboard motif.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with serrated lines and squares.
Late Classic Veracruz Roller Seal, ca. AD 600 - 900
Seal with harpy eagle symbolism.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with triangles and arcs.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Seal with stylized toads.
Olmec Roller Seal, Las Bocas, Puebla, ca. 1,500 - 1,000 BC
Even more germane to the Book of Mormon is this ceramic bowl depicting a bound, tied, or sealed screen-fold codex.
Olmec Earthenware Pot, Tlapacoya, Mexico, Mexico
Ayotla Phase, ca. 1,500 - 1,300 BC
This map shows the locations of Las Bocas, Puebla and Tlapacoya, Estado de Mexico.
Locations of Tlapacoya and Las Bocas
Cylinder Seals were used extensively in Mesopotamia where nearly every elite person carried one around their neck or attached to their arm. In that culture, a seal was used much like a person's signature nowadays. Some cylinder seals had handles like a rolling pin. Others had concave surfaces on either end for holding between one's fingers. Most were hollow in the center so a stick or cord could be inserted as an axle. In Mesoamerica, cylinder seals are known from Yucatan, Patzcuaro (Michoacan), Xochimilco (Mexico City), and Tlatilco (Mexico City). Tim Tucker, working for BYU's New World Archaeological Foundation, excavated a cache of cylinder seals inside a stone box at Chiapa de Corzo. See Thomas A. Lee, The Artifacts of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico (Provo: BYU New World Archaeological Foundation Paper #26, 1969). Other cylinder seals have been found at Tres Zapotes, La Venta, and Kaminaljuyu.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Ancient Ocean Crossings

I just finished reading an excellent new 508 page book by Stephen C. Jett entitled Ocean Crossings: Reconsidering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017.
Important New Book
Jett is an emeritus professor of geography, textiles, and clothing at the University of California, Davis. He holds a PhD in geography from Johns Hopkins. He is the founding editor of Pre-Colombiana: A Journal of Long-Distance Contacts.

Jett acknowledges the pioneering work of his friend, John L. Sorenson (BYU emeritus), and Sorenson's collaborators, Martin H. Raish (BYU Idaho) and Carl L. Johannessen (University of Oregon emeritus).

Diffusionist literature is often scientifically shallow. Not this volume. Jett is source critical, balanced, and logical. This work is clearly a capstone to a lifetime of careful scholarship. The bibliography runs for 60 pages. The author lines up many standard isolationist arguments and knocks them over like pins in a bowling alley. Along the way, his erudition and common-sense practicality seldom fail to impress. His command of nautical terminology and the details of vessel design is extraordinary.

A 2012 blog article describes a most interesting book by Stephen C. Compton entitled Exodus Lost. Compton marshals dozens of evidences to demonstrate a cultural connection between the Olmec of southern Mexico and the Hyksos who ruled Egypt between 1650 and 1550 BC.

Two 2015 blog articles talk about the important book from Brian D. Stubbs entitled Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan. The article "Uto-Aztecan" introduces Stubbs' thesis and the article "Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan" shows the book.

Compton's 2011 book, Stubbs' 2015 book, and now Jett's 2017 book combine to offer compelling evidence from multiple disciplines that ancient cultural contacts occurred between the Old World and the New.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Recent Book of Mormon News

July 19, 2017 an important new edition of the Book of Mormon began appearing on bookstore shelves. Entitled A New Approach to Studying The Book of Mormon, this edition organizes the text episodically into 214 events. Every word appears just as it does in the LDS 2013 edition, but in a re-formatted structure that honors narrative boundaries rather than dividing the text up as Orson Pratt did when he published the 1879 edition with our modern chapter and verse designations. So, for instance, Jacob's extended olive tree metaphor (event 36) includes all of Jacob chapters 4, 5, and 6. This edition also highlights quoted passages typographically and shows narrators, speakers, locations, and dates in the margins. Click here for an animated demo.
Re-formatted Edition of the Book of Mormon
The result is aesthetically pleasing and intuitive reading. An advanced binding system allows this paperback book to lay flat on a reading surface. The father son team of Lynn and Dave Rosenvall (The Olive Leaf Foundation) have been pre-eminent scriptural scholars for decades. They wrote the original Gospel Library Scriptures app (now distributed and maintained by the Church) most of us use regularly on our mobile devices. They are also the force behind the highly original and very thoughtful Baja model of Book of Mormon geography.
August 16, 2017 was the 50th anniversary of Jack Welch's discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon and we had quite a celebration.
Robert Pack Painting of Paul Gaechter and Jack Welch in Innsbruck in 1968
Click here to watch the entire 2 hour program held in the JSB Auditorium on BYU Campus.
Click here for Jack's son Greg's clever 10 minute video of the discovery.
Click here for Book of Mormon Central's moving 8 minute video of the discovery narrated by Jack himself.
Click here for Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's brilliant closing remarks entitled "The Greatness of the Evidence."
September 1, 2017 The first 137 Book of Mormon Central KnoWhys, published as a handsomely-illustrated book by Covenant Communications, began appearing on bookstore shelves.
Knowing Why by Book of Mormon Central
September 23, 2017 was going to be Book of Mormon Central's first-ever conference in Mexico City. Nearly 1,500 people had registered. Then a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Mexico on September 19, killing 363 people in Oaxaca, Puebla, the state of Mexico, Morelos, Guerrero, and Mexico City. While Brant Gardner and I (Kirk Magleby) were in the air en route, the government of Mexico City declared 3 days of mourning and banned large public gatherings. We re-grouped, helped serve earthquake victims, trained our staff, and visited the sites of Cholula, Tula Hidalgo, and Teotihuacan.
Book of Mormon Central Visit to Tetitla Compound, Teotihuacan September 23, 2017
In the back row from L to R are Javier Tovar of Atotonilco de Tula, Hgo; Adan Rocha of San Luis Potosi, SLP; and Benjamin Monroy of Salt Lake City, UT. To the left is Noe Correa of Eagle Mountain, UT. In the front row from L to R are Jesus Inda of San Quintin, BC; Brant Gardner of Albuquerque, NM; and Kirk Magleby of American Fork, UT.

The Mexico City conference is re-scheduled for November 18, 2017.
September 20, 2017 the LDS Church acquired the printer's manuscript from the Community of Christ (known as the RLDS Church from 1872 until the year 2000) for $35 million. The sale price set a new world record for a manuscript. The Book of Mormon is not as important today in Community of Christ affairs as it was in previous generations. It continues to be a vital part of religious life in many Restoration Branch congregations who have dissociated themselves from the Community of Christ.
Printer's Manuscript of 1 Nephi Chapter 1
September 30, 2017 Pres. Russell M. Nelson gave a great talk about the Book of Mormon in the Saturday afternoon session of LDS General Conference. "The full power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is contained in the Book of Mormon. Period."
October 1, 2017 Elder Tad R. Callister gave a terrific talk about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon in the Sunday afternoon session of LDS General Conference. "This book is the one weight on the scales of truth that exceeds the combined weight of all the critics' arguments."
Warren Aston will travel soon to the Hill Cumorah in New York with a geologist. They will attempt to shed light on the stone box that Moroni built ca. AD 421 to hold the plates.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon

A friend recently shared a story about a young man in his ward. The student graduated from high school and enrolled at Utah State University in Logan. Midway through his freshman year at college, he announced to his parents that he was leaving the Church because "there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon." I decided to compile a list of the 10 evidences I find most convincing. A few months ago, I received an email from John L. Sorenson who asked that I share some of his thoughts on the subject. Citing salient points from his 2013 magnum opus, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book, John concludes that those who maintain there is no archaeological evidence for Mormonism's keystone scripture "remain ignorant of the actual situation." This article derives from my experience, John's thoughts, and Book of Mormon Central's superb KnoWhy series, the first 137 of which are now available in a new book from Covenant Communications entitled Knowing Why.

1. The Book of Mormon mentions Mulek (Yale 2009 Muloch), son of Zedekiah (ca. 618 - 587 BC), King of Judah deposed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon Helaman 6:10, 8:21. A variant of the name Mulek as royal son is now attested in Levantine archaeology from a clay seal dating from the time of Zedekiah. See KnoWhy #103 published May 19, 2016.
Clay Seal Excavated in Jerusalem in the 1980's
2. The Book of Mormon mentions a pre-existing place called Nahom on the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula. Ishmael was buried at Nahom 1 Nephi 16:34, his family mourned there 1 Nephi 16:35, and Lehi's party changed direction at that place and traveled almost due east 1 Nephi 17:1 until they came to Bountiful 1 Nephi 17:5 by the sea. A place called Nihm/Naham does exist on the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula in modern Yemen. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Naham Tribal Area between Sana'a and Marib in Yemen 
Naham is home to the largest ancient cemetery in Arabia. The Semitic root of the term implies sorrow or mourning. The name in this geographic area is attested from Lehi's era.
My friend, Warren Aston, pointing out the name NHM on an altar that pre-dates Lehi
And, travelling almost due east from the Naham Tribal Area brings one to Khor Khofot, the one place on the south Arabian coast that meets all of the Book of Mormon criteria for Bountiful.
Nearly Eastward from the Naham Tribal Area to Likely Bountiful
See KnoWhy #19 published January 26, 2016.
See also this great new YouTube video published June 17, 2017.

3. The Book of Mormon says Lehi and his family used an amalgamation of Hebrew and Egyptian language elements 1 Nephi 1:2. A similar compound system was in use 1,000 years later at the end of the Nephite era Mormon 9:32-33. We now know that a form of Egyptian script known as Palestinian Hieratic was in use by Hebrew-speaking Judean scribes in Lehi's day. Nearly 200 examples of this Hebrew/Egyptian amalgam have been found.
Ostracon from Tel Arad ca. 597 BC with Both
Hebrew and Egyptian Language Elements
See KnoWhy #4 published January 5, 2016.

4. The Book of Mormon says the people of Zarahemla (commonly called Mulekites) sailed across the sea from the ancient Near East ca. 588 BC and made landfall in the land northward, then settled permanently in a sparsely-populated part of the land southward Alma 22:30-31, Omni 1:15-16. This means they must have sailed past the Olmec capital, La Venta, which was going strong in 588 BC. The presence of Jewish/Phoenician seafarers in what is today Tabasco, Mexico would have been sensational news to the Olmec and we have good evidence that they memorialized the inter-cultural encounter in stone on La Venta Stela 3 excavated in 1943 by Matthew W. Stirling and Philip Drucker. This sculpture is generally dated ca. 600 - 550 BC and is sometimes euphemistically called the "Uncle Sam Stela."
La Venta Stela 3 in 1943, Then Newly-Excavated
Drucker said "... the principal figures on this monument represent a meeting of Olmec and non-Olmec personages." Philip Drucker, "On the Nature of Olmec Polity" in The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling, Elizabeth P. Benson, Editor, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1981, p. 44. He goes on to say that La Venta Monuments 13 and 19 also depict non-Olmec foreigners arriving at the site.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff called the person on the right "... a bearded man with a conspicuously aquiline nose." She called the figure a "bearded visitor" and a "bearded stranger." She said "... these figures represent two racially distinct groups of people." Tatiana Proskouriakoff, "Olmec and Maya Art: Problems of Their Stylistic Relation" in Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec October 28th and 29th, 1967, Elizabeth P. Benson, Editor, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968, p. 122

This map shows La Venta with Mulek's likely sea voyage route.
Mulek's Likely Route in White Passing by La Venta
5. The Book of Mormon describes the first Nephite capital, the city of Nephi, in some detail. As John L. Sorenson and others have pointed out, the site of Kaminaljuyu (KJ) within the confines of modern Guatemala City matches the textual description of the city of Nephi remarkably well on point after point. The article "Kaminaljuyu" analyzes the latest scholarship on KJ from Lucia Ross Henderson (PhD, UT Austin, 2013) and finds more than 100 points of tangency between descriptions in her doctoral dissertation and the Nephite record. The article "Art and Iconography I" illustrates several sculpted scenes from KJ with direct textual corollaries in the Book of Mormon. Among the Nephi/KJ correspondences I find compelling are:
  • In every reference to the city of Nephi one goes up to approach the city and down to travel away from it (See the article "Test #1 Ups and Downs"). KJ is on the very summit of the continental divide. King Noah could view multiple surrounding lands from a prominence in the ceremonial precinct of his capital Mosiah 11:12, Mosiah 19:6.
  • The only point mentioned in the text at an elevation higher than the city of Nephi is a hill north of Shilom Mosiah 7:5-6 which is generally northward (toward Zarahemla Mosiah 11:13) from the city. A plausible candidate hill (Cerro Tuncaj) exists.
Proposed City of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) with candidate hill north of Shilom:
Kaminaljuyu in Topographical Context
More correspondences:
  • The city of Nephi was the principal urban area in its region Alma 47:20. Ditto KJ.
  • A sister city, Shilom, was very close to Nephi Mosiah 9:8 generally in a northward direction (toward Zarahemla Mosiah 22:11). KJ was closely affiliated with the site of Naranjo 3 kilometers to the north.
  • The institution of kingship was established in Nephi 2 Nephi 5:18, 2 Nephi 6:2, Mosiah 11:8-9. KJ clearly had kings. By ca. 500 BC state-level societies in highland Guatemala had begun organizing around kings (Brant A. Gardner, personal communication).
  • Nephi had a wall around it Mosiah 9:8 that deteriorated over time. A team of  Japanese archaeologists discovered a sizable (25 foot high) wall around KJ made primarily of clay (John L. Sorenson, personal communication.)
6. Ca. 72 BC after a spectacular victory in the fortified city of Noah Alma 49:23 Captain Moroni began a massive public works project to fortify every city in greater Zarahemla Alma 50:1. This kind of large-scale earth movement should show up in the archaeological record and it does. See the article "75 BC" for documentation on fortifications in the area we correlate with greater Zarahemla that date precisely to Captain Moroni's time period. 

7. Helaman 3:3-5 describes a large migration into the land northward ca. 46 BC. People migrated an unusually long distance to a land less heavily forested than greater Zarahemla where lakes were an important feature of the landscape. Alma 50:29 ca. 67 BC presaged this migration. This kind of large-scale movement of people from distant lands should show up in the archaeological record and it does. The first century BC is precisely when Teotihuacan in Central Mexico began its ascent based on in migration from many parts of southern Mesoamerica. Tens of thousands of people were involved. Teotihuacan is over 770 air kilometers distant from our proposed city of Zarahemla, a number that is consistent with the Book of Mormon terminology "exceedingly great distance" (see the article "Things Near and Far" for context on relative distances in the text).
Teotihacan 772 Air Kilometers from Proposed Zarahemla
Nasa's Blue Marble imagery shows the true color of the earth's surface in different months of the year. This is the image for April, the height of the Mesoamerican dry season.
Earth Surface Colors in April
Central Mexico is far less forested than southern Mesoamerica.

Anciently, a band of lakes stretched through Central Mexico from Chapala in Jalisco to Catemaco in Veracruz.
Ancient Band of Lakes in Central Mexico
Both Teotihuacan and Cholula were originally built on the shores of large lakes. Now, of course, this is the most heavily populated part of Mexico and most of the lakes have been drained or pumped dry. Archaeology shows that in the first century BC large numbers of people migrated from southern Mesoamerica into Central Mexico, a less forested area with many large lakes.

8. Ancient cement can last for thousands of years, so the widespread use of cement in the land northward described in Helaman 3:7 and subsequent verses should show up in the archaeological record, and it does.
Tetitla, Teotihuacan photo taken by Kirk Magleby September 23, 2017
Architectural cement as a primary building material is attested throughout Central Mexico in the Book of Mormon time period. See KnoWhy #174 published August 26, 2016.

9. The Lamanites were the Nephites' quintessential nemesis for a thousand years, but as the Nephite nation was in the throes of extinction, another formidable foe appeared on the scene. The Nephites at the end were fighting a two-front war, against not only the Lamanites but also the Gadianton robbers Mormon 2:8, 27-28. The Gadiantons built a powerful city far to the north 3 Nephi 7:11-13, 9:9. At the final battle, the Nephites were caught in a vise between the Lamanites coming up from the south and the Lamanite  allies, the Gadiantons, who controlled the far north. Many serious Book of Mormon scholars believe the final battle took place in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Veracruz. And what do we see in the archaeology of this area precisely at the time the Nephites were destroyed? We see an assertive Teotihuacan as a dominant force allying itself with others all over Mesoamerica. The Book of Mormon description fits remarkably well into this world.
Sites with Teotihuacan Influence ca. AD 380
Pushpins on this map show our correlation of Nephite sites mentioned in the final war narrative, caught between Teotihuacan-allied Lamanites to the south and east and Teothihacan with its allies in the north and west. And when was this Teotihuacan expansion taking place? The famous Stela 31 at Tikal dates the "entrada" of Teotihuacan forces to AD 378, contemporary with the final battle described in Mormon chapter 6.
Tikal Stela 31 Front
El Peru Stela 15, Naachtun Stela 24, and the Tikal Marcador all document the entrada of 378.

10. Beards. In 1979, I authored a paper entitled "A Survey of Mesoamerican Bearded Figures" which was later published as a FARMS preliminary report. It keeps showing up, most recently in Stephen C. Jett's excellent Ancient Ocean Crossings: Re-considering the Case for Contacts with the Pre-Columbian Americas (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2017).

At European contact, almost all native Americans were beardless or had scant facial hair. The earliest Spaniards argued that this beardlessness showed the natives were not real men, did not possess souls, and could therefore be enslaved with impunity (in explicit fulfillment of Mormon 5:9).

In the archaeological record, in contrast, bearded human portrayals are quite common in pre-classic and proto-classic (Book of Mormon) times, tapering off somewhat in the late classic and then becoming much less common in the post-classic. In my 1979 study, I looked at nearly 200 examples of beards in art. F. David Lee in his 2008 "The Bearded Ones: A Context for Bearded Populations in Mesoamerica" analyzed 554 examples. I have visited dozens of museums throughout Mesoamerica. Rarely do I not find at least one bearded figure on display in any given museum.

Bearded Figure from Tres Zapotes Excavated by Matthew Stirling
The Book of Mormon describes immigrants coming from the Old World to the New who eventually suffered genetic bottlenecks as war decimated their populations and destroyed their polities. This narrative is explicitly consistent with the portrayal of bearded human figures we see from Mesoamerican archaeology.

Article last updated October 1, 2017.