Skip to main content

Tikal, AD 378, and Book of Mormon Warfare

View from atop Temple IV, looking toward Temples I, II, and V
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.

Pyramid in the Lost World Complex
Tikal, like most other sites, is a Pre-Classic site that was largely built over during the Classic era. Earliest evidence of settlement in the area dates back to the 10th century BC, and ceramics found from around 7th–6th century BC. The earliest structures so far uncovered and excavated at the site are from about 500–300 BC. These include the so-called “lost world” complex, which includes two large pyramids. Most of the structures at the site, however, are much later. At least, the layers now visible come from the much later Classic era construction. This includes the extensive works at the Central Plaza.
The North Acropolis, Temple II,
and Temple I, all part of the Central Plaza

Temple V
As is clear, Tikal dates back into Book of Mormon times. Since I favor Rio Grijalva as the River Sidon, I don’t personally think it is directly involved in any Book of Mormon events. Since its history is concurrent with Book of Mormon timeframes, however, it can shed light on the history and culture within which Book of Mormon peoples participate.

For example, the Book of Mormon describes a massive war taking place in the late 4th century AD. The war was so extensive that an entire culture group—the Nephites, of course, was eliminated. In recent years, evidence of widespread warfare throughout Mesoamerica during the late 4th century has emerged. Some of that evidence is found here at Tikal, where inscriptions indicated that in AD 378 Siyah K’ak’, a general from Teotihuacan invaded Tikal and killed Chak Tok Ich’aak, then the king at Tikal.

If I recall correctly, this Lakam-Tuun mentions
the Teotihuacan general who invaded Tikal
Teotihuacan is in Central Mexico, a long ways away from Tikal, indicating wide reaching influence, likely through military conquest. Teotihuacan was a militarized city-state which thrived on conquest. With the arrival of Teotihuacanos also came a new culture of war—one which focused more on the complete destruction of the enemy. The final battles of the Nephites and Lamanites fit well within this wider context of conquest and warfare. Furthermore, Moroni’s report of continued warfare amongst sub-groups of those he considered Lamanites is consistent with the persistence of this war culture for centuries to come in Mesoamerica.

Me, atop Temple II, with Temple I in the background
Tikal is an incredible site, offering stunning ruins and breathtaking views from the top of some of the greatest pyramids throughout the region. I could not help but feel that my time there was much too limited. There is so much more to explore there, which we did not have time for. Sitting atop Temple IV and taking it all in was a surreal experience. I just couldn’t believe I was really there. It was the perfect way to spend my New Year’s Eve, reflecting upon the incredible year I have had and the miracles that got me through it. I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for me! 


  1. I find it interesting how the date of the Entrada of 378 AD fits* with the dates of the final Nephite battles (*depending on which calendar you use). But I see no problem with Tikal or other related sites being part of later BoM events. With either Grijalva or Usumacinta as Sidon the BoM still indicates that Zarahemla was not the center of power after the 1st century. Most of the battles fought by Mormon were over the city of Desolation. Zarahemla and many other previously important cities are not even mentioned, either as being captured or fought over. So with the Grijalva as Sidon the cities of the low lands may still have been important for late Nephite events.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

“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…

New Paper on Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Joseph M. Spencer, an adjunct professor at the BYU religion department, recently published a paper in the non-LDS peer review journal Relegere: Studies in Religion and Reception, titled, “Isaiah 52 in the Book of Mormon: Note’s on Isaiah’s Reception History.” Spencer is a young scholar who is doing exciting stuff on the Book of Mormon from a theological perspective.
The paper is described as follows in the abstract: Despite increasing recognition of the importance of Mormonism to American religion, little attention has been given to the novel uses of Isaiah in foundational Mormon texts. This paper crosses two lines of inquiry: the study of American religion, with an eye to the role played in it by Mormonism, and the study of Isaiah’s reception history. It looks at the use of Isa 52:7–10 in the Book of Mormon, arguing that the volume exhibits four irreducibly distinct approaches to the interpretation of Isaiah, the interrelations among which are explicitly meant to speak to nineteent…