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 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

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.

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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 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! 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.