Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Great Opportunity Revisited

A gorgeous view of Lake Atitlan, one of the many beautiful places
you can visit and learn about with Dr. Mark Wright
Back in April, I posted some information about an LDS tour of Mesoamerica, which will have a Book of Mormon theme, of course. As I said then, this is a great opportunity because Dr. Mark Wright, of BYU, is one of the very best scholars of both the Book of Mormon and of Mesoamerica.

Back in April, I lamented that my circumstances would not allow me to go. Alas, circumstances change, and mine have changed in a big way. I may talk more about that at another time. For now, the point is now I can go on this trip, and I could not be more excited! Again, like I said in April, it is nice to read, and to think, and to write about all of this stuff. And pictures really help make it come alive. But there just is nothing like actually being there. So I am excited and grateful to have this opportunity.

But I am not writing this to brag. Rather, registration for the trip is closing soon and I want to encourage anybody who can come to jump in before it too late. In addition to Mark, at least two others (neither of which is me) who have spent decades studying the Book of Mormon from a Mesoamerican perspective will be there. And another friend of mine, Stephen Smoot, who has lots of insights into the Book of Mormon from an ancient Near Eastern perspective, will also be going. I am truly the least of all these, but I’ll be there, for what that might be worth to you.

Truly this is an opportunity not to be missed. There will be a veritable treasure trove of insights into the Book of Mormon waiting to be opened in late night hotel lobbies and bus rides.

Once again, details on the tour are available here.

For more information on Mark Wright, see here and here.

I honestly don’t think an opportunity this good will come around terribly often. If you have any interest at all in going to Mesoamerica, the time is now!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Proposed Anthology/Handbook on Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon

Central Plaza of Palenque
I recently realized that at present, there is no anthology (collection of papers) or “handbook” that focuses completely or even mostly focuses on the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. Most anthologies on the Book of Mormon, have largely focused on the Old World connections. Take, for example, Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, which consists of contributions from scholars with training in the ancient Near East largely talking about “hits” from the ancient Near Eastern geography, archaeology, culture, and linguistics. There is one paper by John L. Sorenson who is tackling the ancient American setting all by himself and having to provide a full summary of such hits in one paper.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

“Facts are Stubborn Things”: The Mesoamerican Reawakening

A classic image of Captain Moroni,
titled "Come Forth," by Walter Rane
Jonathan Neville has a tendency to write very poor intellectual history that tends to be more speculative than anything else. His post yesterday (September 14, 2015) about the “death spiral” that the Mesoamerican theory is currently going down is a classic case in point. “Every week now,” Neville declares, “we have more evidence that the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is in a death spiral.” While much could be said about this post, I am going to just focus on one point in his trajectory that literally made me laugh out loud.
Eighth, the Mesoamerican theory has been gradually eased out of FARMS, the Maxwell Institute, and even BYU. Church curriculum has gradually de-emphasized the Mesoamerican setting.
The timing for such a statement could not have been worse. Just today, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute officially released the latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. All one needs to do is to look at the Table of Contents (which has been publicly available since September 9) to see why this makes Neville’s statement so humorous. Notice the title of the article by Kerry Hull: “War Banners: A Mesoamerican Context for the Title of Liberty.” Joseph Spencer, an associate editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, introduces the piece as follows:
Kerry Hull follows Berkey with “War Banners,” a study of Captain Moroni’s title of liberty in light of Mesoamerican practices. Mobilizing a wealth of information—linguistic, literary, cultural, and historical—Hull argues that the story of the title of liberty fits comfortably into an ancient Mesoamerican setting. He presents ample illustrations from a variety of ancient American cultures to show the widespread use of banners in war practices. By bringing together such resources, Hull shows that the Mesoamerican context helps to clarify and to illuminate the narrative of the Book of Mormon. Hull’s work is representative of a new generation of scholars of Mesoamerica who have turned their attention to the Book of Mormon using more recent scholarship to show how rich and rewarding it can be to read Nephite scripture in light of ancient American archaeology.
Doesn’t really sound like an “easing out” of Mesoamerican studies, now does it?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book of Mormon Geography in Neville-Nevilleland

Jonathan Neville is an advocate of the Book of Mormon Heartland model who has been generating an endless array of polemical posts against Mesoamericanists, including me, on 2 different blogs. Like other Heartlanders, he has adopted an unfortunate mode of discourse which blames Mesomaricanists for damaging faith and even misleading the Church. Also like most Heartlanders, he has never produced a detailed study of Book of Mormon geography. Despite that, he has confidently asserted,
It turns out that if you put Cumorah in New York and Zarahemla in Iowa, the geographical references in the text fit nicely. The archaeology, anthropology, and geology also match up with the seas, the narrow strip of wilderness, going up and down, the narrow neck, etc..

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What the Seer Stone!?! Or, Revelation and Culture

Yep, this is the rock everyone is talking about
For most Mormons, unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve been seeing a lot of one on your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Maybe you shrugged your shoulders and scrolled down. Or maybe you totally freaked out. Most, I suspect, are mildly surprised, somewhat curious, and perhaps a little unsettled, but nothing you can’t get over. While not really “hidden” (as some would have it), it is true that we have not really talked much about it as Latter-day Saints. It has not played any real role in our social memory—that is, in the stories about who we are as a community, which we share and perpetuate as a community—so it is understandably unfamiliar to us. Those who dig a little deeper might find that there was a lot of this kind of thing in the early years of the Church. From not simply a historical, but an anthropological perspective, there is really nothing surprising about that the fact that as a community, we have only remembered the things we deemed important and forgot the rest. Still, finding that Joseph Smith’s story of an angel and gold plates can be told—as it most certainly was in Joseph’s early years—in a way that makes it seem indistinguishable from the popular folklore of the day can be a little discomforting.