In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seven Tribes, Caves and Boats, Do these Mesoamerican Oral Histories Trace Back to the Book of Mormon?

In the Book of Mormon there are seven groups or tribes that formed with the original group that came from Jerusalem. The first mention of these tribes is 544BC when Lehi is acting as Jacob of old pronouncing blessings upon his entire household. These tribes or “ites” remained the central structure even after political collapse and the instatement of a tribal structure almost 700 years later (4 Nephi 1:37-38). In Jacob 1:13 it states,

Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

Now within these seven tribes an important piece of their oral history was their genealogy This is made evident by the prophet Mormon who makes it known that he is a direct descendent of Lehi of old and a Nephite. There are many other evidences of the importance of genealogy or tribe relationship found in the pages of the Book of Mormon. The last reference to these tribes is in Mormon 1:8 about 322 AD as the final scenes of war were wrapping up between the Nephites and Lamanites.
According to Diane E. Wirth in her article “Seven Primordial Tribes” this genealogy continued to be important to Mesoamerican culture. Traditions passed orally from one generation to another spoke of seven primordial tribes who were their ancestors. These legends can be found in Mesoamerican stelae, murals, monuments, carvings and codices. Many Spanish clergy who recorded some of the oral history of the natives spoke of the seven tribes as well. One was Bernardo de Sahagun. He learned that they would also correlate caves and boats with these seven ancestral tribes. He suggested that these tribes crossed the waters in search of terrestrial paradise. He wrote:

Concerning the origin of these peoples, the report that old men [of central Mexico] give is that they came by sea…in some wooden boats...But it is conjectured by a report found among all these natives that they came from seven caves, and that these seven caves are the seven ships or galleys in which the first settlers of this land came…[Bernardino de Sahagun, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana, Introduccion al Pri Libro, Mexico, 1946, cited in Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, by Milton R. Hunter( Sa city: Deseret Book Company, 1972),44].

These seven ancestral groups could actually be speaking about the voyage of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon. We know that the Jaredites traveled in 8 barges one being filled with fish according to Ether 2:2 this would leave 7 remaining barges. Dr. Jerry Ainsworth gives a speculative theory that according to the History of Mexico the seven families or tribes from the “Great Tower” came from Chicomoztoc, which means seven families in seven caves. He states that these people were the Jaredites and that they landed at Tampico Mexico which is a land that is commonly associated with the Olmec civilization which many LDS scholars assume is the Jaredite civilization. From here they sailed upstream on one of the seven rivers in the Tampico area to a mountain which he associated with Mt. Zerin in the Book of Mormon. From this mountain with all 8 barges and 7 families he fulfilled another commandment that may have been associated with the 8th barge full of fish. He was able to restock the fresh water fish on this continent. He was able to do this through his complete faith by moving Mt. Zerin to the Mexico continental divide because from that location it would be much easier to restock the rivers with the fish. To correlate with this theory he states there is a mountain range about fifty miles inland from the Gulf coast, where the Jaredites landed. In fact the History of Mexico states that these early inhabitants, upon landing at Tampico, took their boats up the Panuco River to a place called Altamera, (high lookout), which is about twenty miles up this river. This theory at least offers a reason for the eighth barge full of fish and for the brother of Jared to move Mt. Zerin which we know he did according to Ether 12:30. It also suggests that the seven tribes, caves, or boats referred to earlier may be speaking of the Jaredites rather than the seven groups that formed out of Lehi’s blessed posterity.

According to Frank Waters author of “Book of the Hopi”, the Hopi’s first lived in seven puesivi, or caves. From there they migrated northward, establishing their people and villages in accordance with the names of the “caves or womb-caverns” [Frank Waters, Mexico Mystique (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1975), 168-170]. The Hopi were once part of this great complex civilization but eventually migrated northward. There are still many traces of the pre-Columbian culture still within the Hopi today. They still practice many religious rituals observed by the Aztecs and state that the Mayans, Aztec, and Toltec’s are Hopi’s who failed to complete their fourfold migrations. I like Frank Waters believe this may be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The Popul Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Quiche’ Maya in Yucatan also states that the Maya ancestors originated in seven womb-caves or ravines, left Tulan Pa Civan, and crossed the sea on stones placed in a row-similar to the steppingstones by which the Hopis crossed the sea. The Codex Vaticanus, which pictures four previous “worlds,” and the Codes Telleriano-Remensis, containing a chronology of Aztec history from 1197 to 1592 A.D. both name the seven migrating clans and state that they originated from the seven caves in Aztlan.

As has been pointed out by Diane E Wirth, Dr. Jerry Ainsworth, and Frank Waters these traditions of seven families, tribes, boats and caves are deeply rooted in Pre-Columbian oral history but do they refer to the same long held traditions of seven lineages and boats and families in the Book of Mormon? All we can do is speculate but we do know that after the Book of Mormon times these oral traditions were commonly used among the natives for many centuries.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Jaredite Barges, Noah's Ark, and the Book of Mormon's Brilliance

So the information for this blog post has been found on a few other blogs and websites, but as far as I have been able to research I am pretty confident that we've all gotten it from the same source. It is originally from Michael Ash's article out of Mormon Times entitled,"Ventilators and Illuminators in Noah's Ark and Jardite Barges". This article shows how the story of the Jaredites shared by Ether gives us added insights and understanding into the Bible story of Noah and his ark.

Jared and his brother most commonly referred to as "The Brother of Jared" or also known by modern day revelation as Mahonri Moriancumer were commanded to build 8 barges to be able to be lead to a promised land during the confounding of the tongues (or languages) at the Tower Babel. According to the description given by Ether these were patterned after Noah's Ark, (Ether 6:7) and were "tight like unto a dish," peaked at both ends an had holes that could be unplugged to allow ventilation. (Ether 2:17,20)

Because the story of Noah's Ark or the equivalent is found so commonly in ancient literature it could have easily been known to the Jaredites. There are also some traditions about the ark that are not found in the Bible. Dr. Hugh Nibley shares some of the oddities with us. He noted that the ark or deluge boat was peaked at both ends forming a "crescent shape" like the Jaredite barges. The word "ark" originally meant "a box" such as a "chest or coffin-that covered with a lid". He also noted that the Bible never mentions that the ark had sails, so like (Ether 6:5-9) it was probably driven by furious winds and took on a submarine like nature often being completely submerged by water and violent waves during their voyage.

The Jaredite barges had ventilation holes, the ark had not only one door that could be shut but at least one "nappashu" which is translated as "air-hole" or "window" but means "breather or ventilator" and was not an ordinary window. The brother of Jared was worried about lighting or illuminating the insides of these barges and took the matter to the Lord, who told him that windows would break and that he couldn't start a fire in the barges so he left the matter at the brother of Jareds hands. The brother of Jared returned to the Lord after climbing a mountain and moltening 16 transparent stones, wherein he asked the Lord to touch them so they would shine in the barges.

Now this story of shining stones has caused a lot of laughs from critics of the Book of Mormon but we'll see that the story actually fits in very well with ancient lore. According to the Palestine Talmud the ark was illuminated by a miraculous light-giving stone. This precious stone supposedly glowed for 12 months inside the ark and would dim during the day so that Noah knew if it was day or night outside. The above information was not available to Joseph Smith. As Hugh Nibley explains, of the four copies of the Palestine Talmud that mention the arks shining stones, two appeared 30 years after Joseph had already translated the Book of Mormon. When the Book of Mormon was translated there was not a single version of the Palestine Talmud available in any modern language.

Another name for this precious stone or gem was "Moonfriend" or "Jalakanta" which interprets as, "that which causes the waters to part." Thus this gem or stone had the power to allow the possessors to pass through waters safely. The ark was also called a "bright house" or "moon-boat" because it was crescent shaped and wandered through space for 12 months. Also because it was illuminated by a miraculous light. While the Ancient Babylonian texts, tell us that the deluge-boat had a window or nappashu, the window in Genesis comes from the Hebrew "tsohar", which also translates as "shiner" or "illuminator". The Book of Mormon gives us these added insights and contain a fuller version with the ideas that the barges had a ventilator as well as an illuminator a design apparently shared by Noah's ark.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Possible Insights on the sailing route of Lehi and Nephi's Ship

While recently attending a Book of Mormon Evidence Conference that was put on by the FIRM Foundation which included presentations from Rod Meldrum and Wayne N. May and a few others, I was impressed by some of the findings in particular of one of Rod Meldrum’s presentations entitled, “The Phoenicia Expedition: New Evidence for Lehi’s Ocean Voyage”. Although it is known that I support a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, I do think that there is sufficient evidence for a Heartland” or North American setting that as sincere seekers for additional truths from the Book of Mormon we need to take an investigative look at all perspectives.
In this presentation Meldrum used a recent expedition put on by Philip Beale and his crew of Mariners who took the time to build a replica of an ancient Phoenician Ship that would date back to 600BC. They would then attempt to sail from Syria down the east coast of Africa and around the Horn of Africa and back up the west coast of Africa through the Straights of Gibralter and through the Mediterranean and back into Lebanon and Syria. Basically sailing all the way around Africa.
The crew made this trip in just shy of a year (two weeks shy). They did have to add a few extras to make their ship a bit more safe to sail and living conditions easier for the team of mariners such as a small engine that made it easier for going into and coming out of docking areas (instead of manually paddling) and an oven for cooking food and a navigational system to be able to track the journey for research purposes. The thing that I found most interesting in this journey was the route they sailed. When heading down the east coast of Africa and then sailing around the Horn or Mozambique area they found themselves in an ocean current that helped them start back up towards the west coast of Africa instead of keeping them along the coast of Africa it took them in a north western direction. Although they tried to fight against it for a few days they eventually had to ride it out. It actually lead them right past Central American and towards the Florida Coast.

I find this particularly interesting because it has been a common thought that Lehi and his family landed somewhere on the west coast of South or Central America. This would have meant that they sailed in an eastward direction and would have been sailing against ocean currents. Even if this had been during an El Nino type of season it would have pushed then in a southerly direction. With this said we are able to get some very insightful information on Nephi and Lehi's boat from the Book of Mormon. In 1 Nephi chapter 18 we learn how Nephi's ship was made. Nephi said,

"and we did work the timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship. Now I Nephi did not work the timbers after the manner of which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men: but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me: wherefore, it was not after the manner of men."

So basically we know that the Lord completely guided Nephi in the process of building the ship so there is a possibility that it was nothing like manner of ships that were being built in Nephi's day. The best sea farers in Nephi's day were the Phoenicians who would have been in the same vicinity of Nephi's youth in Jerusalem. They are the ancestors of modern day Palestinians. What we are to understand about the manner of ship Nephi built is still up for speculation. We don't know if it was built in a manner that required them to have to follow the ocean currents or if the curious workman ship allowed a keel which would have allowed Nephi and his family and friends to have tacked against the wind allowing them a better ability to move and reguardless of the ocean current. This keel technology was not in use at Nephi's time with the Phoenicians but the Lord works in mysterious ways.

I submit this evidence as an added idea for the route which Nephi and Lehi's boat could have traveled to the Western Hemisphere. This route works as a landing spot for both those who support the Mesoamerican setting or Heartland North American setting because it literally sails right by one into the other. I have included a video link that is directly off of the website of the Phoenician Expedition that shows some of the building of the ship. As you can see it would have been quite the undertaking. Maybe we can cut Laman and Lemuel a little bit of slack as far as the murmuring is concerned. The video is one of 8 clips on the expedition so feel free to watch them all if you would like. I would recommend at least the first two. For more information on the Phoenician Expedition check out their website at Of course these travel routes are all speculation and there is evidence that they may have sailed to the Pacific coast which is the more common theory. I just add this post in support of Rod Meldrums evidence that it is at least possible for a vessel constructed in the like manner of 600BC to make it via the Atlantic coast route no matter which geographic location best suites you.

for the video click below:

Part 1
Part 2

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Were the multiple races depicted in ancient Mayan murals descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites?

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I have always been under the impression (as far as I can remember) that the Book of Mormon in large part took place in Central America. When I was much younger, I thought they started in Central America and worked their way up to New York for the final battle toward the end of the book. I figured with all the running around and wars they would have been moving a lot. But I connected the Mayan cities with Book of Mormon cities. So, technically I had a hemispheric view, but only because I thought Cumorah was in New York. Of course, I knew nothing of Mormon scholarship or Mayan cities beyond their pictures. All I knew was that the Mayan pictures looked a lot like the cities in the Living Scriptures VHS. With this said I did pay attention to the ancient artwork that I was able to view as an artist myself. I recall wondering to myself what went through the minds of these ancient Mesoamerican artists when they were creating these stela carvings and murals. One point of interest that stuck out to me when observing these murals was the various races and nationalities depicted in them. I recently came across an article written by Milton R. Hunter entitled “Dark People of Ancient America”. That focuses on some of the ancient murals found in Bonampak, Chichen Itza, Teotihuacan and Uaxactun. I find it interesting that we have murals showing a white raced people coexisting (maybe not peacefully) with the bronze skinned Mayans and occasionally even a few representations of black people as well.

San Bartolo Murals
The Bonampak murals depict what the artist himself more than likely would have witnessed or observed in his day to day life. One can’t help but ask, then who are these white and dark people being depicted in these murals?

My conclusion follows the opinion of Milton R. Hunters that these white and bronze skinned people are descendents of both the Nephite and Lamanite races, which are described in the Book of Mormon. The book of Mormon speaks of light and dark skinned race having occupied the some portion of the Western Hemisphere from 600BC to 400AD which is actually within the 300-600AD range in which the Bonampak paintings were suggestively created.

The Bonampak Murals are just one portion of Mesoamerican murals that are known to exist. The walls of the Temple of Warriors in Chichen Itza Yucatan which according to archaeologists was painted approximately 1,000 AD also show murals of a white people in bondage to a darker skinned people. This could be the case for what was happening at the time the art took place since we know that at the conclusion of the Book of Mormon the group known as “the Nephites” were almost completely wiped out due to warfare. But when we take into consideration that after the Saviors visit to the America’s in 3rd Nephi the Nephites and Lamanites co-mingled with each other to the point there were no more Lamanites or Nephites and later the names Nephites and Lamanites were reborn based off of a belief rather than on an actual race or nationality. Furthermore Moroni stated that the Lamanites put to death any Nephites that will not deny the Lord Jesus Christ, so I feel it’s safe to assume there were those Nephites who were willing to deny the Savior and were then permitted to continue to exist in society. Either way the white raced group would have existed beyond the end of the Book of Mormon.

Teotihuacan Murals of mixed races
These types of murals are also found in Teotihuacan associated with another mural that closely depicts the tree of life found in Lehi’s dream (this will be another post for another day). Another is found at Uaxactun (Wash-ack-toon) Guatemala along with Mayan ceramics (a vase) showing white and dark people at Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. These murals supply valid evidence that white people persisted in ancient America throughout the decades following the close of the Book of Mormon period; otherwise the ancient artists would have had no valid reason for depicting such peoples in their paintings. Thus it is my opinion that the Nephites are at least partially accountable for the white peoples who inhabited the Americas between the dates of 421AD and 1492AD.

I also wanted to note that Milton R. Hunter eventually became one of the leading scholars to suggest a North American setting for the Book of Mormon as well up on learning of the ruins of the Mound Builders. Although I don't agree with his conclusion and I am adamant that he came to his conclusion to early and with too little information.  I wanted to post one more picture to this blog post that was suggested to me by Mark Cheney in the comment section.  It is from building 1 at Calakmul and it seems to show some sort of peaceful existence among people of different ethnic origins.  This is reminiscent of 4th Nephi when there were no more Nephites or Lamanites per se.  Just people with all things in common.

Calakmul Bldg. 1