In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

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.


  1. Wow. Thanks for bringing on going scholarship on the BofM to our attention.

    1. Thanks for reading. It will be interesting to get the remaining portions of the Book of Mormon and see if the phrase "unfold" is more commonly used....I truly cannot wait!