Skip to main content

“When the Land and the Stones, and the Books Tell the Story So Plain”: Quiriguá

Structure at the top of the tower at Quirigua
Late last night, I finally arrived in Guatemala after being delayed in Dallas for the weekend. This morning, Stephen Smoot and I joined up with our tour group, and from there went to Quiriguá, some Classic Maya ruins dating from approximately the 5th–9th centuries AD. This, of course, means that it is post Book of Mormon. Despite this, however, there is an interesting Latter-day Saint connection to Quiriguá.

The Site history at Quirigua, talking about John Lloyd Stephens
Quiriguá was one of the sites visited by explorer and author John Lloyd Stephens and artist Fredrick Catherwood, and described in their 1841 volume Incidents of Travel in Central American, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which caught the attention of several early Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, in 1842. Although some are eager to distance the Prophet Joseph Smith from all this, he was almost certainly among those who were fascinated by these findings. An editorial which ran in the October 1, 1842 Times and Seasons, during Joseph’s tenure as editor, suggested that Quiriguá was a Book of Mormon city.
We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon.
The authorship of this and a handful of other editorials is disputed by some, but the best evidence points to Joseph Smith as the author.

A lakam-tuun, lit. large stone
Of course, at the time the actual dating of Quiriguá and other sites were not yet known. Although we now know that Quiriguá is post-Book of Mormon, Matthew Roper has explained why Joseph Smith and early Latter-day Saints might have seen a similarity between the ruins discussed by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood, and Book of Mormon cities, Quiriguá and Zarahemla in particular.
A lakam-tuun, from a side with
Mayan hieroglyphs


In particular, the mention of “a large stone brought … with engravings on it” (Omni 1:20) found at Zarahemla caught the attention of the Times and Seasons editor.
It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it, as Mosiah said.
Such “large stones,” or lakam-tuun (from Mayan, lit. large stone) are of course found throughout Mesoamerican ruins. However, the tallest are here, at Quiriguá.
Me, next to one of the tallest
lakam-tuun at Quirigua

Despite knowing it is not directly related to the Book of Mormon, it was fun seeing the ruins of Quiriguá and standing next to the largest known lakam-tuun in all of Mesoamerica. The role it played in early LDS thought—and very likely Joseph Smith’s own thinking about the Book of Mormon—makes it a significant site for Latter-day Saints and the intellectual history of Book of Mormon geography and archaeology. 

Comments

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Nephite History in Context 1: Jerusalem Chronicle

Editor’s Note: This is the first contribution to my new series Nephite History in Context: Artifacts, Inscriptions, and Texts Relevant to the Book of Mormon. Check out the really cool (and official, citable) PDF version here. To learn more about this series, read the introduction here. To find other posts in the series, see here
Jerusalem Chronicle (ABC 5/BM 21946)
Background
The so-called “Babylonian Chronicles” are an important collection of brief historical reports from Mesopotamia, found in Iraq in the late-19th century.1 They are written on clay tablets in Akkadian using cuneiform script, and cover much of the first millennium BC, although several tablets are missing or severely damaged, leaving gaps in the record. One tablet, colloquially known as the “Jerusalem Chronicle” (ABC 5/BM 21946),2 provides brief annal-like reports of the early reign of Nebuchadrezzar II (biblical Nebuchadnezzar), including mention of his invasion of Jerusalem.
Biblical sources report that King Jehoiac…

Nephite History in Context 2a: Apocryphon of Jeremiah

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of the second contribution to my new series Nephite History in Context: Artifacts, Inscriptions, and Texts Relevant to the Book of Mormon. Check out the really cool (and official, citable) PDF version here. To learn more about this series, read the introduction here. To find other posts in the series, see here
Apocryphon of Jeremiah (4Q385a)
Background
Between 1947 and 1956, a few well preserved scrolls and tens of thousands of broken fragments were found scattered across eleven different caves along the northwest shores of the Dead Sea near Qumran. Now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are arguably the most significant discovery ever made for the study of the Bible and the origins of Judaism and Christianity. Among the writings found are the earliest copies of nearly every Old Testament book, many of the known apocryphal and pseudepigraphic works, and several other texts discovered for the first time at Qumran. Altogether, more than 900 differe…

The 15 “Best Books” to Read BEFORE Having a Faith Crisis

Elder M. Russell Ballard recently stressed that it is important for Gospel educators to be well-informed on controversial topics, not only by studying the scriptures and Church materials, but also by reading “the best LDS scholarship available.” I personally think it is imperative in today’s world for every Latter-day Saint—not just Gospel educators—to make an effort to be informed on both controversial issues as well as knowing reliable faith-building information as well.
(Given that Elder Ballard’s CES address was published to general Church membership in the Ensign, I think it’s safe to say that Church leadership also feels this way.)
An important step in the process of getting informed is reading the 11 Gospel Topic essays and getting familiar with their contents. But what’s next? How can a person learn more about these and other topics? What are the “best books” (D&C 88:118) or “the best LDS scholarship available”?
Here are 15 suggestions.
1. Michael R. Ash, Shaken Faith S…