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Thursday, December 24, 2015

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 The Spaniards, in their zeal to convert the Maya, destroyed an entire library of historical documents.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.