In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ancient Mesoamerican Political Titles and Leadership Succession and the Book of Mormon

Nephi about to slay King Laban
This blog post is based off of a few insights from John Sorenson's book, "Mormons Codex" that I found rather interesting.  They are parallels that coincide very well with the way that leadership was titled and leadership succession took place in ancient Mesoamerica (Maya and Aztec) and in the Book of Mormon among the Nephites and Lamanites.  The first parallel custom noted by Sorenson is in regards to the formal title of early nephrite kings of which Dr. Sorenson states,

"One of the things a king inherited was a formal title.  According to Quiche Maya tradition, their "first lord" was a man who had six sons.  He "engendered Keh Nay and five other sons, who were provided by this king as governors.  Hence until the Spaniards came the kings had this name [title] of Keh Nay because it is like [the title of many kings] 'Caesars' among the natives."

The Nephite account tells us that Lehi had six sons.  One of them Nephi became king of the Nephite faction of the immigrant population.  After "Nephi began to be old...he anointed a man [presumably a son] to be a king and ruler over his people" (Jacob 1:9).  His people being desirous to retain in remembrance his name, "the succeeding kings" were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth according to the reigns of the kings; and thus they were called by the people, let them be of whatever name they would" (v.11).  Because of how far they are chronologically, the two instances (Quiche and Nephite) of the same practice are unlikely to be historically connected, but the parallel custom of giving a personal name as a royal title is at least extremely interesting."

The next insight Dr. Sorenson offered is in regards to the succession of leadership in which he advised, "People who are uninformed about the varied patterns of ancient royal succession might suppose that the right to kingship always passed from father to son, but other arrangements were sometimes preferred.  For instance, among the Quiche Maya, "the inheritance of titles usually passed from father to oldest son.  [but] if the older son was not fit to succeed, a brother of the ruler might inherit the office."  For the Chontal Maya of the Gulf Coast, "when a ruler died, he was succeeded by his brothers in turn, if any, before his oldest son succeeded."  The same practice prevailed among the Mexica (Aztecs) and elsewhere in Mesoamerica.

The Nephite pattern was similar: "Pacumeni was appointed, according to the voice of the people, to be a chief judge and governor over the people, to reign in the stead of his [deceased] brother Pahoran; and it was according to his right" (Helaman 1:13).  Seezoram killed his brother, presumably so he could succeed to his brother's office (9:6).  The custom was similar among the Lamanites: in the one case recorded in the Book of Mormon, when Amalickiah, the Nephite defector who had usurped rule over the Lamanites, was killed. "the brother of Amalickiah was appointed king over the people" (Alma 52:3).

So as Dr. Sorenson pointed out we have correlations between the ancient Mesoamerican political layout and that of the Nephite and Lamanite societies in the Book of Mormon.  The more these correspondences are brought to light the easier it will be to see the Book of Mormon in the light of a Mesoamerican setting.  The more we understand the people of the Book of Mormon in their cultural setting the better we can understand the covenants and promises contained therein.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Unfolding of the Scriptures

So this post is from the above video that was recently posted on the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum Facebook page.  Its a video of Dr. John Lund speaking about the Dresden Codex and an interesting little insight about how the Mexican codices work in comparison to some of Alma's wording on unfolding the scriptures in the Book of Mormon.  Another insight John Sorenson noted is that "The book of Alma relates an account of book burning.  At the city of Ammonihah, women and children adherent to the church that Alma headed were "cast into the fire" to be burned alive , and their oppressors, who were leaders of the rival religious order of Nehors, "also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire" (Alma 14:8).  From this incident we learn,

1. Multiple sacred records were possessed by lay worshippers
2. Records were combustible, that is, they were of similar material and that documents in everyday circulation were written on paper.

The ancient Pre-Columbian Mayan records known as a codex or codices fit the above description.  They were written in Maya hieroglyphic script on Mesoamerican bark cloth, made from the inner bark of certain trees.  The "paper" was known by the Nahautl word "amalt" and was named by the Mayas "huun".  Most of these books were destroyed in fires in the 16th century by the Conquistadors and Spanish priests.  Bishop Diego de Landa in July of 1562 wrote: "We found a large number of books in these characters and , as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." These codices in all likelihood contained the history, traditions, myths and stories, all of which has been lost except what was contained in four remaining codices.  About the loss of these codices and Mayan history archaeologist and anthropologist Michael D. Coe stated, "Our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrims Progress)."

Mesoamerican Codices
Although its a sad loss there seems to be an insight into the workings of these codices and the way the prophet Alma worded his use of Nephite records or scriptures in Alma 12:1 which states, "Now Alma, seeing that the words of Amulek had silenced Zeezrom, for he beheld that Amulek had caught him in his lying and deceiving to destroy him, and seeing that he began to tremble under a consciousness of his guilt, he opened his mouth and began to speak unto him, and to establish the words of Amulek, and to explain the things beyond, or to unfold the scriptures beyond that which Amulek had done."

These ancient codices folded like an accordion so when they were closed they would be compact for carrying or for storage but if someone wanted to read the full history, story, or myth contained in the codex they would have to unfold the codex.  With that said we may have Alma giving us an insight into the setting of the Book of Mormon unknowingly with his wording.  I would like to add a side note, that when this insight started getting some attention Brant Gardner Book of Mormon scholar who has an M.A. in Anthropology advised a word of caution noting that, although the correlation with the word "unfold" is a cool correlation, it wasn't consistent enough in the scriptures (meaning it is only used this once) so since this isn't a foreign English idiom it may not be the most useful connection.