In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mesoamerican Cultural Correlations in the Book of Mormon: Coronation Ceremonies and Human Sacrifice

San Bartolo Mural Coronation ceremony 100 bc
This post is going to be going over some Book of Mormon cultural ties that seem to have also taken place in Mayan temples and rituals. These ties were recently pointed out along with others in the Temple on Mount Zion Conference held in honor of the late Matthew Brown in a talk given by Mark Alan Wright entitled, “Axes Mundi: A Comparative Analysis of Nephite and Mesoamerican Temple and Ritual Complexes”. In this talk Mark points out numerous cultural ceremonial ties held by both the Nephites and certain cultures in Mesoamerica. He shows that the just of what we know as the plan of salvation can be seen in certain murals and teachings held in Mesoamerica,  his main focus of murals were those of San Bartolo to be particular but similarities can be seen on other murals as well. I am only going to be covering a few of the cultural ties held between the two groups but for a more in-depth look I will leave the link to the youtube video of the actual presentation given by Mark Alan Wright and highly suggest watching.

The first correlation that I would like to discuss is that of how a coronation was handled at the time of the San Bartolo murals which date back to 100 b.c.(this is during the Nephite timeframe 600 b.c- 400 a.d.) and more than likely earlier. In the murals it depicts a coronation ceremony that shows a newly crowned king receiving the objects that are given to new royalty at coronation as he sits atop an erected platform or tower. This platform appears to be wooden or something that would have been rather easily constructed. This echoes the crowning of the King Mosiah by his aging father King Benjamin found in Mosiah 2:7 which states,

"For the multitude being so great that king Benjamin could not teach them all within the walls of the temple, therefore he caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them." 

And the receiving of royal objects is found in Mosiah 1:16 when King Benjamin gives his son Mosiah the plates of brass and the plates of Nephi as well as the sword of Laban and the Liahona. Thus the murals show that indeed the coronation of King Mosiah does fit into a similar Mesoamerican cultural setting.

San Bartolo Mural Beast, Human, and foul sacrifice 100 bc
The next cultural perspective that Mark has pointed out was that of sacrifice. In Alma 34:10 we have Amulek preaching unto the apostate Zoramites. He is attesting to the need for the atonement of Christ and in doing so he rehearses the need for a great and last sacrifice and declares that it is not a sacrifice of beast, foul or human sacrifice but an infinite and eternal sacrifice. It is the non qualifying sacrifices that add cultural context. As can be seen again in the San Bartolo murals the sacrifice of all three non-qualifying sacrifice subjects…namely beasts, fouls and a form of human sacrifice are shown. This would add credence as to why Amulek would be preaching to an apostate group that the type of sacrifice they  would regularly offer would not suffice. Mark then points out that this same cultural context can be found in the 3 Nephi setting known as the sermon at the temple when Christ appeared the Nephite and Lamanites.

One of the first things that Christ did upon appearing to his apostles in Jerusalem was to allow them to feel the prints in his hands and feet. These were signs that those who were familiar with sacrifice in that area would recognize, especially those who knew the Jesus personally. In the new world Christ did the same
thing by allowing the Nephite/Lamanite population to come forth feel the prints in his hands and feet but his wording also adds one more important cultural context that would be the sign of sacrifice that those in new world (Mesoamerica) would recognize. He stated, “Come forth and thrust your hands into my side” and then followed with “and feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet” (3 Nephi 11:14). It was common among many cultures in Mesoamerica to do human sacrifice.

Aztec Art portraying Human Sacrifice
The manner of human sacrifice among the Aztecs was stretching the sacrificial victim while still alive across an altar with a people holding his arms and legs. Using an obsidian bladed knife a priest would cut a slit below the rib cage on the side and thrust his hand into the body and pull out the still beating heart and hold it up as sacrifice to the heathen God. There are multiple Aztec pictures of these types of sacrifices along with stories from many of the Spanish conquistadors who actually witnessed these sacrifices. Bernal Diaz del Castillo is the classic source of information about mass sacrifice by the Aztecs. A literate soldier in Cortes' company, Diaz claimed to have witnessed such a ritual. "We looked over toward the Great Pyramids and watched as [the Aztecs] ... dragged [our comrades] up the steps and prepared to sacrifice them," he wrote in his Historia Verdadera de la Conquista de la Nueva Espana (The True History of the Conquest of New Spain), published posthumously in 1632. "After they danced, they placed our comrades face up atop square, narrow stones erected for the sacrifices. Then, with obsidian knives, they sawed their breasts open, pulled out their still-beating hearts, and offered these to their idols." Thus the phrase "thrust your hands into my side" works as a sign or cue to those Nephites that indeed this was the Jesus Christ whom their prophets had preached would visit after his infinite sacrifice.

My personal conclusion of the following contextual events that Mark touched on is that the Mesoamerican setting does add meaning and insight and allows for a better understanding of the above mentioned scenarios. As I mentioned briefly above Mark Alan Wright touches much more on these scenarios and many others in his talk I have linked below.

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