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.

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