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Was the Mayan Tun a “Year”?

LDS Mesoamerican scholars John L. Sorenson, John E. Clark, Brant A. Gardner, and Mark Alan Wright have all discussed various ways Nephite years might actually be 360-day tuns of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar.[1] In his article on dating the death of Jesus Christ, ancient Near Eastern archaeologist Jeffrey R. Chadwick disputed this suggestion. Chadwick asserted, “There is no indication that the Maya thought of their tun count as a ‘year,’” and that “[Michael D.] Coe does not refer to the tun as a ‘year’ anywhere in his discussion of the Mayan calendar system.”[2]

Designation, Demonstration, and Confirmation: Nephi and the Three-Stage Process of Gaining Power in Israel

While reading in Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville, KY: Westminister/John Knox Press, 2003) last night, I came across some interesting remarks about the process by which Saul came to power. According to Long, et al. (Long is the primary author of the chapter on the early monarchy), “the process by which leaders in early Israel came to power seems to have entailed three stages: designation, demonstration, and confirmation” (p. 210). Long, et al. are drawing the work of Baruch Halpern here, which I have not read (though I have read other things by Halpern, and I find him to be a rather good scholar).
Long, et al. further explained, “First, an individual would be designated by some means for a particular role. Next, the new designee would be expected to demonstrate his status and his prowess by engaging in some feat of arms or military action. Finally, having thus distinguished himself and come to public attention, the design…

King Noah and Maya Kingship

I’ve recently enjoyed reading about the expeditions and adventures of John Lloyd Stephens and Fredrick Catherwood in the recently published Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya (William Morrow, 2016), by William Carlson. The narrative of their travels in Central America is interrupted three times; first, for a brief biography of Stephens; second, for a brief biography of Catherwood; and finally, for an overview what is now known about the Maya. It is during this third excursus that Carlson describes Maya Kingship as follows: For the ruling classes, especially the kings, a great deal is known because of the record left in Maya art and hieroglyphs. We know the holy lords lived polygamous lives surrounded by wives and courtiers in royal palaces. They sat on thrones covered with jaguar pelts, commanding their subjects, dispensing justice, greeting emissaries, royal allies, and foreign merchants. In…

Warfare and the Book of Mormon: A Bibliography

For most Latter-day Saints attending Gospel Doctrine, the infamous “war chapters” are approaching (or some have perhaps already begun to cover them in Sunday School). There is, unfortunately, only two lessons dealing with the war chapters, and those do not even cover all of the war chapters.
So, if you are interested in spending more than just two weeks on the topic and taking an in-depth look at warfare in the Book of Mormon, I’ve put together the following bibliography. This is not a comprehensive bibliography, but represents some of the major resources me and my colleagues at Book of Mormon Central drew upon while writing KnoWhys on the war chapters, which will be coming out in the coming weeks. Some additional resources I found after we finished those KnoWhys are also included in this list.
I have included more than just books specifically on warfare in the Book of Mormon, but also books on warfare in the ancient Near East and pre-Columbian America (mostly Mesoamerica), so those in…

“The Dominant Narrative is Not True”: Some Thoughts on Recent Remarks by Richard Bushman

The following is making its rounds on Facebook (from this video): Questioner: In your view do you see room in Mormonism for several narratives of a religious experience or do you think that in order for the Church to remain strong they would have to hold to that dominant narrative?
Richard Bushman: I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that's what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change. As I have seen this quote flash across my Facebook news feed and thought about how to make sense of it, I have been reminded of the short essay response questions I would often have on tests or assignments in college or even high school. It would not be uncommon for these questions to be built around a quote from an important schola…

KnoWhy’s By the Numbers: The First 6 Months

Last Friday, Book of Mormon Central closed out its sixth month of KnoWhy publication, cranking out 133 KnoWhys (each between 2–3 pages long) in that time. Each KnoWhy explores a specific detail in the Book of Mormon, drawing on the vast body of scholarship already available on the Book of Mormon, as well as scholarship on the Bible, the ancient Near East, and pre-Columbian America, etc., to shed light on the text in various ways.
Altogether, in the first six months, Book of Mormon Central drew from 657 different publications from 398 different authors, 141 of whom are non-Mormons (that is 35% of all authors cited, slightly more than one-third). That comes out to an average of about 5 (4.94) sources used per KnoWhy, from almost 3 (2.99) different authors each, including at least 1 (1.06) non-Mormon each time. The number of different publications per author cited is less than two (1.65).
Of those nearly 400 authors, only 13 (including 1 non-Mormon) have been cited in at least 10 KnoW…

Unpublished Book by John L. Sorenson Now Available Online

Whether critics of the LDS faith know it or not, John L. Sorenson’s work on transoceanic voyaging in pre-Columbian times has garnered considerable respect among at least some non-LDS scholars. His publications on the subject span across six decades, and appear in a variety of peer-reviewed and academic publications, such as El México Antigo, New England Antiquities Research Association Newsletter, Man Across the Sea: Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts (published by the University of Texas Press), Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (published by the University of Hawai’i), and Sino-Platonic Papers (published by the University of Pennsylvania).
He has co-published a 2-volume annotated bibliography of the literature on pre-Columbian contacts, which received some positive reviews. He also co-wrote (with a non-Mormon scholar) World Trade and Biological Exchange before 1492, detailing all the biological evidence for transoceanic contact before Columbus. In a letter thanking Sorenso…

Ward FHE Presentation: “Put Away Childish Things”—Changing How the World Sees the Book of Mormon

This last Monday, I gave a presentation at my YSA Family Home Evening on evidence for the Book of Mormon. Though I have spoken to my friends in the ward several times about my work with Book of Mormon Central, I took the opportunity to introduce Book of Mormon Central to them as resource, and specifically explained what KnoWhys are, since I was going to be drawing extensively from the KnoWhys for my presentation.
As you can tell by my title, I focused on using research to change the way we see and read the Book of Mormon. I used the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11 as a paradigm: When I was child, I spake as child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. My reason for using this passage was because in my experience, many who experience a faith crisis over archaeology and the Book of Mormon never developed mature ways of reading the text. While they don’t do this consciously, they tend to read the book like a fair…

17 General Conference-Book of Mormon Memes

General Conference has once again come and gone. That, of course, means that we are only just beginning in terms of pondering and applying the abundance of counsel given to us as Latter-day Saints. As usual, there were a number of inspiring and motivating messages that were shared. And Church leaders frequently drew upon the Book of Mormon to teach important principles.
Given that memes have become such a large part of our social media culture, it is no surprise that memes have also become a common way to consume and share General Conference.  The Book of Mormon Central staff churned out 17 memes during the conference that highlight different instances where the Book of Mormon was used in General Conference.
Though these were posted in as timely a manner as possible on the Book of Mormon Central Facebook page, and I plastered my own Facebook wall with them (sorry to all my friends who got sick of me over this weekend), I thought I would collect them and post them here.

Hopefully th…

Names and Meaning, Part 2: Zoram Revisited

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a blog post about the Book of Mormon Onomasticon project, and it became a pretty popular post, even being featured on Real Clear Religion. In that post, I used the name Zoram as a case study on how the meaning of names can shed light on the text. The etymology I used there was Ṣûrām or*Ṣûrʿām, “their rock” or “rock of the people” and suggested that the narrative in 1 Nephi 4 lends itself to a wordplay with Zoram.
At the time, I noted that Zoram is first introduced into the narrative simply as the “servant of Laban” (1 Nephi 4:20, 31, 33), and that it’s not until taking an oath wherein he is promised his freedom that he is called by his name (1 Nephi 4:35). At the time, I suggested this could be a deliberate literary device intended to suggest that with the oath he became Zoram, a “rock,” steadfast and true to his oath.

Want to KnoWhy? Book of Mormon Central, Month 2

On Monday Book of Mormon Central finished its second month of KnoWhy publications—and instantly started on month 3 the very next day. In February, 21 KnoWhys were published, covering a number of topics worthy of interest to Latter-day students of the Book of Mormon. As previously mentioned, each KnoWhy is about some particular detail in the Book of Mormon and at least one reason why that detail is, or should be, interesting, relevant, or applicable. It’s about knowing why Lehi blessed his sons, or Jacob spoke at the temple, or Nephi selected the Isaiah passages he did. Etc., etc. You can read about the reasoning behind this name at Why KnoWhy, if you would like. Here are all 21 KnoWhys published in February.

Mormon Lent, Day 8

This is yesterdays, which I just finished. Stephen and Jasmin were on time with theirs. The passage is Romans 5:14–15:
Stephen (from Greek): But death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who did not sin after the manner of Adam’s disobedience (who is a type of things to come). But not like a trespass; rather in the manner of grace. For if by one trespass many die, even more so is the grace of God and the gift in the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, afforded to many. Jasmin (also from Greek): But death ruled from Adam until Moses even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of the one who was to come. But not as the trespass, so also is the grace. For if by the trespass of the one many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift in grace of the one man Jesus Christ abound unto the many. Neal (from Latin):
But death ruled from Adam through Moses, even among them who have not sinned in similitude of Adam’s transgression, who …

Mormon Lent, Day 7

Stephen was the only one to remember yesterday, but he remembered too late for Jasmin and me, apparently. But we still all three translated Joel 2:1–2:
Stephen (from Hebrew): Blow a trumpet in Zion! Sound an alarm in my holy mountain! All of the inhabitants of the land shall tremble, for the day of Yahweh approaches; it is near! A day of darkness and gloom, of clouds and thick darkness. Like twilight spread out over the mountains, a people great and terrible! None have been like them from the days of yore, nor indeed again after them, generation to generation. Jasmin (from Greek): Sound the war trumpet in Zion! Herald in my holy mountain!
And all who dwell on the earth will dissolve, Because the day of the Lord approaches, even very near. A day of darkness and darkness A day of cloud and fog. As dawn will pour out upon the hills, a people great and strong. There has not been from the beginning one like it, And after it there shall not be again, Even until the years into generations of…

The Book of Mormon, Historicity, and Implications

Over at Rational Faiths, Paul Barker has recently posted a blog post ruminating on what he considers to be the moral implications of a historical Book of Mormon. “What if The Book of Mormon was true?,” he asks. “And by true I’m talking about what if the events described in the book actually happened from conception to translation.” This is certainly an interesting question, that has been asked by many, and explored from different angels. Barker specifically wants to ask about moral matters. “If the events of The Book of Mormon actually took place what are the moral implications? Let’s say it was historically true that there was an actual group called the Nephites and Lamanites—what do the contents of the book say about God and his relationship with his children?”
While there is much to be said about Barker’s thoughts on this, I am not going to go very far into it. But given the topic of the blog post, I was struck by this oddly self-defeating declaration toward the beginning: Histori…

Mormon Lent, Day 6

Today we did Ezekiel 18:21:
Stephen (from Hebrew): If a wicked man will turn from all of his sins which he has done, and keeps all of my statutes, and does justly and rightly, surely he will live; he will not perish. Jasmin (from Greek): And if the unlawful man turns away from all his unlawful deeds which he did, and keeps all my commandments, and does righteously and compassionately, then living, he will live, and he will not die. Neal (from Latin):
If, however, the godless will show penance of all his sins which he has worked, and will keep my precepts collectively, and will produce [good] judgment and justice, he shall certainly live; he shall not die. I think I was too mechanical in my Latin translation this time, but it gets the job done.

Mormon Lent, Day 5

Today for Lent, our passage was Matthew 6:5–6:
Stephen (from Greek): Whenever you go to pray, do not be as the hypocrites; for they relish to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, all so that they can be seen of others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. For your Father who sees you in secret will give back to you. Jasmin (also from Greek): And when you pray, you will not be as the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the squares, so that they are seen by men. Truthfully I say to you, they receive in full their wage. But you, when you pray, enter into your inner chamber, and having shut your door, pray to your father who is in secret. And your father who sees in secret will recompense you. Neal (from Latin): And when you pray, be not like the hypocrites who are fond of praying in the synagogues and in…

Mormon Lent, Day 4

We did not get all the translations in until pretty late last night, but we did each get it done. Yesterday was 1 Peter 5:6:
Stephen (from Greek): Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may raise you all up in due time. Jasmin (also from Greek): Lower yourselves, therefore, under the powerful hand of God, so that he may raise [you] up in the proper time. Neal (from Latin): Humble yourselves, therefore, under the potent hand of God, so that he may exalt you in the time of visitation. Just a note with regard to the Latin. On Facebook, I have “Humble yourself,” but after seeing both Jasmin and Stephen use the plural yourselves, I went back to double check, and sure enough the Latin humiliāminī is indeed in the second-person plural imperative. So I have corrected that here.
I also suspect that vīsitātiōnis (“of visitation”) probably has some sort of implied meaning of “proper” or “due,” and that I rendered the phrase overly literally. But I am not immersed in…

Mormon Lent, Day 3

For Day 3 of Lent, we have translated Mark 1:12–13:
Stephen (from Greek): Then immediately the Spirit drove [Jesus] into the wilderness. He was tested by Satan for forty days in the wilderness, all the while with wild beasts, as angels ministered to him.
Jasmin (a better translation from Greek): And immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tested by Satan. And he was with the beasts, and the angels attended to him. Neal (from Latin):
And at once the Spirit expelled him into the desert. And he was in the desert for XL days and XL nights, being tempted of Satan, and he was with the beasts, and angels attended to him.   I found this straightforward narrative much easier to translate than the last two.

Mormon Lent, Day 2

Today, for Day 2 of Lent, we translated Isaiah 58:6–7.
Stephen (from Hebrew): Is this not the fast which I choose? To loose the bonds of iniquity, to untie the straps of the yoke, to let free the oppressed, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, to cover the naked when you see them, and not hide yourself from your own kinsmen? Jasmin (from Greek): Is not this the fasting I chose, says the Lord, Loose all unjust binds, Part asunder the difficult ties of violent covenants. Send forth in release those who have been shattered, and Tear asunder all unjust contracts. Break your bread for those who hunger, and bring into your home the homeless beggar. If you see someone naked, cover him, and do not disdain the house of your seed. Neal (from Latin):
Is this not rather the fast which I have chosen? Unloose bindings of ungodliness, dissolve suppressing bundles, free them who are broken, and break off every burden. Break …

Mormon Lent, Day 1

Yesterday, me and several friends went to Mass for Ash Wednesday. In the Catholic Church and some other Christian denominations, this marks the commencement of Lent, a 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday. It is meant to help you prepare mentally and spiritually for Easter through prayer, repentance, fasting, etc. As a group of Mormons looking to observe Lent is a small way, Stephen Smoot, Jasmin Gimenez, and I decided to translate a Lent-themed passage each day from the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Yesterday, our passage was Joel 2:12–13. Here are the translations:

Afrikaans and Isaiah: Translating the KJV Book of Mormon Chapters

A couple years ago, a faith promoting rumor circulated about Felix Mijnhard, a non-LDS scholar who translated the Book of Mormon into Afrikaans. As the story goes, he felt the English in the text was too awkward, and had difficulty translating from it. So he looked for a source language to translate it back into and found it was a natural fit with Egyptian.

Do You KnoWhy? Book of Mormon Central, Month 1

Book of Mormon Central officially launched on January 1, 2016, and with the publication of KnoWhy 22 yesterday, BMC completed its first month’s publication cycle.  Each KnoWhy is about some particular detail in the Book of Mormon—all but the first 2 this month, on something in 1 Nephi—and at least one reason why that detail is, or should be, interesting. Hence, it is about knowing why Joseph Smith was martyred, or Nephi wrote in Egyptian, or Lehi compares his sons to a valley and river. So on and so forth. You can read about the reasoning behind this name at Why KnoWhy, if you would like. Here, I simply present all 22 of the KnoWhys published in this last month.

“A Fountain of Pure Water”: Lake Atitlán

After several days visiting various ruins and ancient cities, we spent our final day in Guatemala soaking in the natural beauty of Lake Atitlán! In some ways, I was more excited about visiting this place than I was about many of the ruins. For one thing, it is a very plausible candidate for the Waters of Mormon, a designation I strongly favor. But beyond any Book of Mormon connection, I had heard and read in many different sources that this was one of the most beautiful places in the world. And now, having been there, I must agree. This place was absolutely gorgeous!

"Look Over All the Land Round About": El Mirador!

Not all the sites out here are easy to get to. Some are very remote and isolated. El Mirador is one of those sites. There are two ways to get there. One is by foot—a two-day trek 40+ miles through the jungle. While this could have been a great way to better understand the Book of Mormon and their tendency to get lost in the wilderness, we opted for the other route: flying in on a helicopter!

The Land of Blue/Green Water: Yaxha

Kicked off 2016 by going to Yaxha, the third largest city known in the region. The thing about Yaxha is that it has a lengthy occupation history and was already a large site during the Early Pre-Classic, with construction of some buildings beginning in the 8th century BC. From about the 4th century BC to 3rd century AD, Yaxha (meaning “blue/green water”) was the largest city in the Petén, though it didn’t reach its peak size until the Early Classic (ca. AD 250–600). It was eclipsed in size around AD 600, but continued to be dominant and had continuous occupation into the 9th century AD, before being abandoned. Like Tikal and other sites in the region, it shows influence from Teotihuacan starting around the 4th century.

Tikal, AD 378, and Book of Mormon Warfare

Each day of this trip just keeps getting better and better! To close out 2015, we went to Tikal, one of the most famous and recognizable sites in Mesoamerica. Tikal is massive! At it’s peak, it had a population of about 125,000–150,000 people. It is also one of the more excavated sites in the region (though still only about 20% of it has been excavated), and is home to some of the largest structures known in ancient Mesoamerican. In fact, Temple IV, standing at 231 feet, is the tallest pyramid thus far discovered in Mesoamerica.