Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Fresh Perspective on Cahokia Mounds: Mayans in Our Midst?

Cahokia Mounds Aerial Illustration

Since I visited Cahokia Mounds in 2012, I've been fascinated by many parallels between what I witnessed as a missionary in Guatemala and as a tourist in the Yucatan and what I saw at Cahokia. Check out this article on Cahokia Mounds. It goes into how the Cahokia civilization just up and abandoned their urban project, and for a lot of the same reasons for which Mayan civilizations abandoned their urban centers and lifestyles.
Sacred meetings and ceremonies – the city’s purpose – took place on the plazas and in buildings inside the palisade. “There was a belief that what went on on Earth also went on in the spirit world, and vice versa,” says James Brown, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Northwestern University. “So once you went inside these sacred protocols, everything had to be very precise.”
Further, the article states,
...it appears the Mississippians may have conducted ritual human sacrifices, judging by what appears to be hundreds of people, mostly young women, buried in these mass graves. Some were likely strangled; others possibly died of bloodletting. Four men were found with their heads and hands cut off; another burial pit had mostly males who had been clubbed to death.
Did post-Book of Mormon era Yucatecan Mayans travel northward across the Gulf of Mexico, or along its Western coast, to the Mississippi river and influence or even directly establish the Mississippian cultures, urban centers, and places and methods of worship and sacrifice?

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I'm leaving the church...

The following is my attempt to put into context...a wider context than is currently available in the public debate...about what it means when a person joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I do not mean it as a trivialization of the struggles of those who choose to later leave the Church of Christ. I mean it only as a way of linking back to the principles taught in the Book of Mormon and to provide more sure footing for those who are thinking about running away from the faith they once embraced. The arms you're running into by fleeing the Church of Christ are not arms that will love you. They are not arms that will save you. Please stay. If you've left us, please come back.

I'm leaving the church...the church of the devil.

There. I've said it. I feel much better now. For years I've been suffering in silence, not knowing whether my stance on that church's definition of morality would put me in a bad light with its members. I knew their beliefs and they didn't know mine. But it's finally out in the open, and I feel better for saying it.

I will teach openly that the doctrines of that church are completely false. They were based on a lie by a person who sought to become God. He claimed to have authority and that he would save everyone, but that was also a lie. He had no such power, even though he claims to this very day, by twisting scripture, to be able to achieve a false form of collective salvation.

I know that I'll be excommunicated from the church of the devil for my belief that that church is in error. I'm 100% fine with that. The truth is, it always has been in error. I know that the high priests of that church will come after me and put me into disciplinary councils to shame and even force me into continuing to follow their perverse doctrines, but I will not comply.

I will shout from the rooftops how wrong it is to believe in gay marriage and its opening the door to purposely denying children the love of both a father and a mother in the bonds of eternal marriage. I will teach that the "fluidity of sex and gender" (as that church defines it) is a false doctrine. I will actively fight against the moral relativism its adherents seek to promulgate. I will not fall victim to its rites and ordinances of earth worship, committing murder to get gain, pornography, abortion on demand for purposes of convenience, gossip, drug use, and adoration of celebrity, among many, many other sins, none of which are new under the sun.

Many will tell me I'm a fool for leaving that church. I guess I can't blame them. That church offers many enticing things: sex without consequence, murder without reprimand, hate sanctioned by a politically correct ideology, disobedience to parents, maligning of good men and women, and enmity toward commandments of God and toward His Christ.

Indeed, the church of the devil has taught me many things against Christ. In my disciplinary council, which will go on and on and on for the rest of my life until that blessed day when I return to my Heavenly Father, I'll be told the following:

I make no apologies for my stance. It's been a long time coming and the world deserves to hear of an alternative lifestyle to what it has accepted all these centuries. The world deserves to know that the church of the devil will not be standing when Christ comes.

When that day comes, the existence of my God will no longer be denied. In the meantime, I will have a voice and my voice will be in service of my God, the one and only True God of Israel.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Yes, There Is Such A Thing As Reformed Egyptian

Some who have approached the Book of Mormon with the assumption that an ancient Israelite text could only be written in Hebrew have found the notion of reformed Egyptian to be a stumbling block in accepting the Book of Mormon's claims to be scripture.

However, many samples of a form of shorthand script based on Egyptian hieratic script have been found to be used in and around Israel, by Israelites, dating back to the time Lehi left Jerusalem (600 BC).

BookOfMormonCentral.org publishes regular KnoWhy articles to dig deeper into Book of Mormon topics. Today's KnoWhy explains the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni's claim to be writing in "reformed Egyptian". Nephi also mentioned using a form of writing based on Egyptian writing when he said, "Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians."

Here are three of seven points mentioned in the KnoWhy article, just to whet your appetite. I strongly recommend you visit the newly-launched BookOfMormonCentral.org to really dig into the Book of Mormon text and research.

First, Israelite texts at the time of Lehi employed numbers and signs from an ancient Egyptian script called hieratic.1  There are over 200 samples of hieratic found in the regions of Israel and Judah.2 
Second, LDS scholars John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks3 collected examples of texts written in a Hebrew-related language being transcribed in hieratic Egyptian dating to 600 years before Lehi.4 They also shared an example of Psalms 20:2–6 written in Aramaic translation using Egyptian characters. This example dates to about 400 years after Lehi’s time.5 
Third, archaeologists have also found Egyptian hieratic writing on broken pieces of pots from an Israelite city dating to Lehi’s time. As scholars explain, “the text … is written in a combination of Egyptian hieratic and Hebrew characters but can be read entirely as Egyptian.”6
See Did Ancient Israelites Write In Egyptian? for more!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge Parallels in the Popol Vuh and the Book of Mormon

One of my favorite topics to talk about with regards to the Book of Mormon is the Popol Vuh. The Popol Vuh is to the ancient Mayan people what the various gold plates that were compiled to make the Book of Mormon were to the ancient Nephites. Both are a history of the people. The word "Popol Vuh" literally translates to mean "the people's book" or "book of the council".

As I was digging through some old materials stored on my Google Drive, I stumbled upon a PDF of an article once published by AncientAmerica.org. As I can no longer find the article or the PDF on that site, I've decided to take the liberty of publishing it here on AmericanTestament.com.

The article briefly summarizes some tantalizingly similar parallels between a "tree of life" or "tree of knowledge" mentioned in the Popol Vuh and the same as mentioned in the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

The Ancient America Foundation (AAF) is pleased to present AAF Notes: a series of research articles by scholars of Book of Mormon culture and history and reviewed by AAF editors. Visit our Web site: http://www.ancientamerica.org 

Parallels in the Popol Vuh and the Book of Mormon Relative to the "Tree of Life" and the "Forbidden Tree" 

By V. Garth Norman 

There are distinctive parallels in the Popal [sic] Vuh to the tree of Life and the forbidden tree that are reflective of these trees from the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of the fall from the Genesis tree of life and the forbidden tree (2 Nephi 2:15-20; 42: 2, 7). There are subtle references to the same doctrine taught in story form in the Popol Vuh, Part 11, Chapter 3, that includes both tree symbols. Experts on the Popol Vuh are generally agreed, after much study, that the Popal Vuh is a genuine pre-Columbian sacred book of the Quiche Maya that was not composed around Biblical passages by the Indians, as some have supposed, to gain influence with the Spaniards. We can consider the Book of Mormon book of Nephi as the potential original resource record, because the Quiche chronicler knew there was an ancient book "no longer to be seen" from which his compilation of the Popol Vuh had originated (Recinos 1950: 79).

First, an ancient related source contemporary with the Book of Mormon has been observed on Izapa Stela 2, dating to about 200 B.C. In my Izapa Sculpture work (Norman 1976: 94) I compare the Calabash (gourd) tree on Stela 2 with the Popol Vuh "tree of life." I believe there is a direct connection between these two sources. Two figures that appear to be offspring (fruit) of the Stela 2 tree compare to the hero twins, the first ancestors of the Quiche, who were sired when their mother, Xquic, partook of the forbidden gourd tree. They compare to Eve's first two sons born after she partook of the forbidden tree.

Other elements of this tree, which others have compared to the Book of Mormon tree of life that imparted eternal life, are the beauty of the tree with its sweet white fruit, and renewed life through the maiden partaking of its fruit. Careful examination of the details reveals that this gourd tree is closer to the "forbidden tree of knowledge of good and evil," and another tree represents the tree of life.

The maiden does not seem to have had knowledge that life would come from the tree (through her offspring) until after the fact. The fruit of the gourd tree is not described in the Popol Vuh text as being either beautiful or white. The maiden says, "Is it not wonderful to see how it is covered with fruit" which "must be very good?" Her wonderment was that the previously barren tree had become fruitful, not that it was beautiful. An assumption of beauty equating with white fruit can be made from the skull bone of Hun-Hunahpu placed in its branches being naturally white and the fruit matching the skull. In reality, the gourd is green, and only after losing its husk does the dried gourd pod take a beige color that resembles the skull. The skull of Hun Hunahpu hidden in the tree lamented that it had no flesh, because "the flesh is all which gives . . . a handsome appearance," and after death, "men are frightened by their bones." So any whiteness in this context implies a bone fear of death, not beauty, joy, and life. Tedlock's Popol Vuh translation (page 114, footnote on page 274) observes that the reference to desirable, delicious fruit has to be metaphorical because the gourd is not edible, but the mystery is unsolved. Does it survive from an original tree of life or forbidden fruit account in the Book of Mormon?

An implied Book of Mormon tree of life correspondence is really nearer to Eve's encounter with the Genesis "tree of knowledge of good and evil" than to the tree of life. Adam and Eve were forbidden to partake of the fruit in consequence of death, and when Eve partook, they were cast out to the earth where they became mortal, had children, and became subject to death. They also had two sons, Cain and Abel, who became locked in a life-death struggle that introduced the ultimate evil of murder as part of the fall that had to be overcome by the redemption of Christ. This compares to the ancestral twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque of the Popol Vuh, who were locked in a life-death struggle with their two elder brothers. Because of their abusiveness, the two elder brothers were changed through sorcery into animals that resembled monkeys and went off and lived in the forest (Part II, Chapter 5). This compares to the elder brothers Laman and Lemuel who became cursed because of their rebellion and began living primitive life styles in the forest (2 Nephi 5:21, 24). In this, we appear to have a Genesis account mixed with the original ancestors from Lehi's first four sons in the Book of Mormon.

The inhabitants of Xibalba were forbidden to approach the gourd tree, and the maiden in anticipation of partaking of its fruit said: "Must I die, shall I be lost, if I pick one of this fruit?" It was enticing, but a fear of death lingered from the skull that hung in this forbidden tree. I prefer this translation from Recinos rather than Tedlock's translation, who felt this passage makes more sense if it refers to the fruit dying and being wasted rather than the maiden.

The real tree of life in the Popol Vuh myth was not the Calabash but another tree. Upon her partaking of the Calabash, a judgment of death by sacrifice was pronounced upon the maiden, but she escaped death through the mediation of a "tree of light" that glowed when it provided red sap as a substitute for her blood and heart for a sacrifice in her behalf so that she could be exiled to the earth and live. The tree is identified as the Chuh Cakche, a large tree the Mexicans called Ezauahuitl, "tree of blood," also identified in Chiapas, and in Guatemala where it is called Pilix and Cancante that is also distinguished for its white leaves and stems. Is not this white "tree of light" a direct reflection from the Book of Mormon tree of life?

An important point of correspondence, according to Mormon theology, is the condition that the human race would not have been propagated without Adam and Eve being exiled to the earth after partaking of the forbidden tree's fruit. Also, consequence of death that came with mortality was overcome through the atoning blood sacrifice of Christ as mediator in their behalf. And we learn from the Book of Mormon that the tree of life that ensured eternal life was the symbolic embodiment of Christ as the Redeemer through his atoning sacrifice (I Nephi 11).

These interesting parallels are not proof of a Book of Mormon connection, but they are good evidence for a Popol Vuh origin for those who accept highland Guatemala as the land of Nephi where Nephi compiled his book contained in the Book of Mormon after arriving in the promised land in the sixth century B.C. (see 1 Nephi 19).


Norman,V. Garth. Izapa Sculpture; Part 2 Text. Papers of the New World Archaeological Foundation, No. 30. Provo. 1976.

Recinos, Adrian. Popol Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Ancient Quiche Maya. English version by D. Goetz and S. G. Morley from Spanish translation by Adrian Recinos. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1950.

Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh; A Definitive Edition of the Maya Book of the Dawn of Life, and the Glories of God and Kings. Simon and Schuster, New York. 1985.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Baptist Minister Believes in The Book of Mormon

No, you didn't read that headline incorrectly.

Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, a Baptist minister from Kansas City, Missouri (yes, Missouri), gave an interview on the Book of Mormon for BYU TV that will either make you very, very angry (if you're an anti-Mormon, and especially an anti-Mormon Baptist), or very, very hopeful (if you're tired of being harangued by anti-Mormon Baptists with tired, overdone, unquestioned talking points they can't wait to use on you).

My favorite quote from the video, then I'll let you get on with watching it.

"I did not find one thing that contradicted the Bible. In fact, sometimes I tell my Baptist buddies the Book of Mormon is more Baptist than the Baptist hymnal."

Is the Pisóm C'ak'al representative of the sword of Laban and gold plates?

From time to time, I like to refer to research that points to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In this post, I will introduce you to corroborating evidences that I believe are key to understanding the book.

In "Mayan Glyph for Engraver/Scribe: Zoram Left His Mark" by Dr. Robert A. Pate (author of Mapping The Book Of Mormon), you can read about the relationship of the fall of the ancient Mayan civilization and the effect it had on their once meticulously recorded history. The Spaniards, in their zeal to convert the Maya, destroyed an entire library of historical documents. Precious little remains of that trove, but what does remain stands out in bold relief.

When I was in Guatemala as a missionary in 1993-1995, an Elder I knew came into possession of a copy of the Title of the Lords of Totonicapan. I saw it in his hand one day and I asked him what it was. He told me that a member of the Church there had given it to him as a gift. Thumbing through it, I was stopped in my tracks by one particular passage, written by ancient Quiché Mayans, which Dr. Pate quotes in his book:
These tribes came from the other part of the sea, from the East, from Pa-Tulan, Pa-Civan. They came from where the sun rises, descendants of Israel, of the same language and the same customs…When they rose from Pa-Tulán, Pa-Civán, the first leader was Balam-Qitse, by unanimous vote, and then the great father Nacxit gave them a present called Girón-Gagal [Pisóm C'ak'al in the book I read].
I immediately ran to the photocopy machine in the mission office and began copying every page.

Why was I so excited? You see, earlier in my mission I had bought a "Cliff's Notes" version of the Popol Vuh (Book of the Council), which is a history also written the Quiché people. I had just gotten the hang of Spanish and was curious to see if I could get through a book that was written entirely in Spanish (besides my scriptures).

This Elder had a copy of something similar and complementary to the Popol Vuh. The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan, however, had a focus on telling the straight history of wars and successions of kings and what events and totems gave them the right to rule. The word "title" in its name is to denote that it is a deed to the lands it describes in its texts.

In the Book of Mormon, we learn that the children of Lehi, when arriving in the Americas, had with them the sword of Laban (the sword of a wicked man Nephi was commanded by God to slay so he could obtain a copy of God's word preserved on brass plates), the Liahona (a sort of compass or direction-finding device or artifact), and various plates of metal (brass and gold) upon which they wrote scripture, prophecies and family records.

So that these records and artifacts could be used as a way to remind Nephi's people of their origins and their duty to God to be righteous to be preserved in the land, the commandment was given multiple times in the Book of Mormon to pass them along to subsequent generations. This "package" of items was treated as a sacred collection and was given only to those who made an oath or strict promise to protect it and pass it along as God commanded and to whom He commanded.

When I read that passage about the Pisóm C'ak'al, my mind immediately considered the possibility that the Pisóm C'ak'al was this same set of artifacts. Or, if it wasn't that exact collection, it was at least a symbolic replacement for what it used to be. The notion that a symbolic turnover of a sacred or glorious package was part of the Mayan culture indicated to me that there was at least something to study here.

FARMS (now the Maxwell Institute), published an article (PDF, 1.2 MB) entitled "Cumorah’s Cave" by Cameron J. Packer in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (13/1–2 (2004): 50–57, 170–71) about eyewitness accounts of what Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and other early LDS Church leaders saw at Cumorah. Several of these descriptions could be seen as fitting the specification of a "glorious package".

At the conclusion of the JBMS article, we read:
It is apparent that several of the early brethren viewed Joseph’s receiving the plates at the hill as the beginning of a war between good and evil. The unsheathed sword may therefore have been a sign that the struggle that began at Cumorah was still going on and that with the completed translation of the plates, the side of righteousness had just gained a powerful weapon in the war against evil—the Book of Mormon. It seems very fitting that the Lord, also known as the “man of war” (Exodus 15:3), would want Joseph Smith and others to know that this mortal experience is indeed a war and that He will conquer the enemies of righteousness. This may have reassured the Saints that divine help was on their side. Within the context of then-current events, namely, severe persecution of the fledgling church, the sword served as an effective teaching tool to emphasize that the Lord’s side would be victorious despite the apparent overwhelming odds against it.
This almost exactly fits the pattern in the Popol Vuh and The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan of handing down a sacred story and a sacred artifact to a subsequent generation in order to cement that generation's claim to being a holy or chosen people meant to fight to keep their inheritance.

To me, this is another concrete evidence that the stories of the Book of Mormon are based on historical fact and not upon some "fanciful tale told by a young religious charlatan" as non-Mormons and anti-Mormons have supposed.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

BookofMormonCentral.org soon to launch!

This is very, very exciting.

Book of Mormon Central is on the verge of publishing a new online study tool. The aim of the tool is to provide a comprehensive, one-stop shop for Book of Mormon research and scholarship.

According to the Book of Mormon apologetics blog Studio et Quoque Fide, here are the things the archive and tools are going to include:
  1. With the cooperation of other research institutions and publishers (such as Interpreter, the Religious Studies Center, BYU Studies, etc.), we are building what we hope will become a comprehensive online research archive featuring all things published on the Book of Mormon. Close to 1000 items are already in the archive, and more are being added all the time. Everything in the archive will be available for free.
  2. Using a Wiki platform, we are planning to put together Study Notes on various Book of Mormon topics. These will be encyclopedia-like entries, and the Study Notes wiki will, essentially be a free online Book of Mormon encyclopedia.
  3. An interactive online edition of the Book of Mormon text, with annotations from the Study Notes and archived materials will be available, with links back in the archive and the full Study Note entries. This will provide Book of Mormon readers with direct and instant access to the latest and most relevant information in historical, geographical, textual, cultural, theological, and linguistic analysis, as well charts, graphs, and other visuals.
  4. To help all of the great research on the Book of Mormon circulate more widely, we plan to frequently publish short, popular 1–3 page summaries focused on one specific insight into the Book of Mormon. These will be called KnoWhys, because they will not only aim to provide something new to know, but also explain why it is significant. Ultimately, it is about knowing why the Book of Mormon deserves out time, effort, and devotion. We hope to have several of these coming out each week. These will be widely shared and promoted on social media using custom memes and videos to help further get the main point across in a simple, popular format.
Of particular interest to me is the KnoWhy section, coming in January 2016, which as of this writing seems to be a section devoted to expanding on themes of the Book of Mormon that correlate with ancient literature and biblical and Book of Mormon hermeneutics and exegesis.

And, those who have a recollection of the early days of my blog will recognize one Book of Mormon Central contributor, a certain Stephen O. Smoot! Before serving his mission, he contributed a great many erudite and well-written articles here on American Testament under a different profile. I'm glad to see that he's part of Book of Mormon Central, as well as many other scholarly endeavors, and I'm looking forward to quoting and linking to his articles there!

BookofMormonCentral.org Home Page

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Scientists Expand Archaeology Via Satellites

From time to time, I see arguments against the Book of Mormon that go something like this: 

"Scientists and archaeologists already know everything there is to know about ancient cultures and have excavated everything. There is no possibility of anything corroborating the Book of Mormon's claims." 

That is a gross over-generalization, but I don't have the time or patience to re-create them all.

Speaking of gross over-generalizations, here's proof that such statements are just that.

Archaeologists now use LiDAR, which is a remote
sensing technology that measures distance
by illuminating a target with a laser
and analyzing the reflected light.

Pioneer in Satellite Archaeology Wins Million-Dollar Prize 

"With each new batch of images, it becomes increasingly clear that archaeologists have vastly underestimated the size and scale of past human settlements. “What we’re finding is that everywhere you look there are sites,” says Parcak. “Massive sites are turning out to be many times bigger and more complex than we ever imagined.” Parcak estimates that less than 1 percent of ancient Egypt has been discovered and excavated."
Another hole in this over-generalization is that it ignores the effects of looting, not only in our time but over the centuries that preceded us. Who knows how many precious evidences of Israelites in America and the remnants of scattered tribes elsewhere have been stolen, destroyed, or redistributed out of their historical context so that we'll never know where they came from? The article talks about this as well.
"Satellite images have also revealed the accelerating scale of looting at sites around the world—particularly in Egypt, where civil order broke down during the revolution in 2011. According to Parcak, images made from space can be used to track the destruction of archeological sites and could be part of a coordinated effort to reverse the tide of looting and illegal antiquities trafficking."
But, satellite images won't be enough.
"Of course any discoveries made by these high-flying cameras will still need to be confirmed by archeologists working on the ground with trowels and sifting screens. The notion that there will always be a place for old-fashioned digging and discovery is one that Parcak finds comforting."
Book of Mormon naysayers lack imagination and initiative. They like to point at the library or university and say "those guys said they have the answers, so I don't need to know anything else". People like Parcak are the complete opposite of that, and thank goodness God has placed them on Earth.
“After teaching and working in the lab most of the year, I really need to get out in the field,” she says. “If my dirt-to-blood ratio gets below a certain threshold, I go completely bonkers.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The possible science behind lighting Jaredite barges

A common critique leveled at the Book of Mormon has to do with the story of the Jaredites and their migration to the New World. In particular, the claim is made that the Jaredites (whom critics presume to be just a few years past the stone age) lighting their barges with glowing stones is scientifically ridiculous.

What I love about studying Book of Mormon apologetics is that, without fail, new evidence comes to light regularly to "confound the wise".

See "The Bologna Stone Was A Mystery For 400 Years".

"Copper ions, denuded of two electrons each, were sprinkled through the baryte. When exposed to light, they would absorb energy, and then slowly emit it over multiple days." (emphasis added)

If you've read the Jaredite account, you know that the Lord asked the Brother of Jared to come up with his own solution to the barge lighting problem. It is entirely possible that the Jaredites were technologically advanced enough to know how to make a similar material. The process is repeatable.