Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Infancy of Mesoamerican Studies

In a recent post, I discussed the fortifications described in the Book of Mormon and compared them to some of the remnants of similar fortifications in Mesoamerica. I noted that scholars had long thought that the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica were thought to be peaceful, but that recent evidence has shown that they faced numerous wars, consistent with Book of Mormon descriptions. One person denounced this statement as unsubstantiated rubbish. While I provided a lot of documentation in that post, I didn't provide much on the old paradigm of the peaceful Mayan people, thinking that this was pretty well known. For those of you who may not realize how wrong past scholars have been, and how recent our knowledge of Mesoamerican warfare is, here is a helpful reminder from the Smithsonian Magazine, July 2004:
For much of the 20th century, Maya experts followed the lead of Carnegie Institution of Washington archaeologist J. Eric Thompson, who argued that the Maya were peaceful philosophers and extraordinary observers of celestial events content to ponder the nature of time and the cosmos. Thompson, who died in 1975, theorized that Tikal and other sites were virtually unpopulated "ceremonial centers" where priests studied planets and stars and the mysteries of the calendar. It was a beautiful vision-but nearly all wrong.

When, in the 1960s, the hieroglyphs-the most sophisticated writing system created in the New World-were at last beginning to be deciphered, a new picture of these people emerged. Mayan art and writing, it turned out, contained stories of battles, sacrificial offerings and torture. Far from being peaceful, the Maya were warriors, their kings vainglorious despots. Maya cities were not merely ceremonial; instead, they were a patchwork of feudal fiefdoms bent on conquest and living in constant fear of attack.
If scholars were ignorant of the most basic aspects of Mayan life until recent years, it should come as no surprise that much still remains poorly understood. Other paradigms may yet be shaken. A critical problem is that nearly all of the written documents from the ancient literary peoples of Mesoamerica were destroyed by the Spaniards. It sickens me to read of Friar Diego de Landa burning the books of the Mayan people because they were felt to be evil. Michael D. Coe laments that "our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim's Progress)." (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 4th ed., 1987, p. 161.)

A knowledge of ancient Mesoamerica - the region many of us LDS folks see as the epicenter of Book of Mormon lands - is still in its infancy. Archaeological research is decades behind work in Israel and the Middle East in general. Documents are rare. Digs are hindered by many factors, not the least of which have been political chaos. And scholars have only recently figured out the most basic aspects of ancient life in Mesoamerica, such as the fact that they faced many wars and indeed had to spend a lot of time making weapons and fortifications, including some in Book of Mormon style. So for those of you who think a clear knowledge of Mesoamerican warfare, fortifications, and human sacrifice would have been readily available to Joseph Smith to include in his vain little attempt at plagiarism, think again.

Please note that non-LDS Mesoamerican scholars ARE NOT coming out in support of the Book of Mormon. It's utter silliness to them and provides no compelling reason to believe to anyone who will not read it seriously and ponder. But to those who will look and understand what it really says and does not say, there are increasing grounds for accepting its plausibility, and the impossibility that Joseph Smith just made it up based on what was known in 1830.

84 comments:

AlexG said...

The charge that I personally love is cement. A hundred or so years ago it was utterly ludicrous to even think that there could be any fortifications or buildings erected with a 'cement' technology. Even at the turn of the XX century, many left the Church because of this. Now it has been shown that a form of cement technology was known before the arrival of Spaniards.

This might not prove a definitive 'smoking gun' for the Book of Mormon, but I wonder, if in 20 or 30 years, when studies about Mesoamerican have advance a bit, if there could be more about some of the claims current critics love to revel in.

As an afterthought, I would sumbit the following story that appeared in the BBC news website. Was Mesoamerica a peaceful and tranquil place. Hardly. But I was taught in school that Mayans were quite peaceful. This was back in the mid 1980's.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

Wow, Smithsonian Magazine! Now that’s authoritative! Couldn’t you find anything in USA Today?

Eric Thompson was a lovable old duffer out of the “King Kong” days of archaeology. My own proficiency in Mayan studies is from the linguistic side—I can’t resist a good ergative—and Eric scored no points there.

Jeff has his Mormon-tinted glasses on again and misses the point. Thompson’s unscientific and romantic musings were an anomaly. More to the point, in the days of that ol’ faker Joe Smith it was taken for granted that the whole lot of American Indians were coarse savages—there was none of this new agey “wisdom of the Native Americans” nonsense then! The BoM’s picture of warlike American peoples fit the contemporary mindset quite well. The fact that many years later there were a few eccentrics who unsuccessfully challenged this view is really immaterial.

Infancy of Mesoamerican studies? Hardly.

As for Alex G, it sounds like he went to the same school as Gilligan!

AlexG said...

Now that's nice RfP. Please dont say that you are feminist. It just kills the spirit of true feminism. As for poet... well, its dire.

My sources include the National Anthropology and History Institute and the works of several leading archaelogical authorities in Mexico. Wrong? Maybe. I do not defend what was researched in the 50's and still taught in the 80's. It only shows that there has been new knowledge added on to it.

ltbugaf said...

"Wow, Smithsonian Magazine! Now that’s authoritative!"

Of course, we all should have realized that radicalfeminist poet is the one and only authoritative source on this matter--far above those monkey-brained fools at the Smithsonian Institution. We should all simply sit back and watch in awe as radicalfeminist poet teaches truths. Yet, no matter how hard we try, there's no way our puny Mormon brains will ever grasp them. Sigh. It is so hard to look at the Olympian heights of rfp's intellect and know we can never match them.

Amour said...

People. Just ignore the RadicalFeministPoet. She is only posting to distract everyone from the point of Jeff's messages and ruffle feathers. Don't give her the satistfaction. It will be much more annoying to her if you ignore her idol rantings. Seriously. Much like a child throwing a tantrum to get what they want - if you ignore the fit, eventually they will learn that through their negative behavior no satisfaction will come.

Daniel Peterson said...

Mormanity, do you ever ban posters who do nothing but sneer, mock, and disrupt?

You should seriously consider doing it in this instance. How many threads will this blathering poseur attempt to destroy?

Mike Parker said...

Radicalfeministpoet: "...in the days of that ol' faker Joe Smith it was taken for granted that the whole lot of American Indians were coarse savages—there was none of this new agey 'wisdom of the Native Americans' nonsense then!"

Which is all the more interesting because the Book of Mormon portrays ancient Americans as having complex political and social organizations, cities, organized strategic warfare, and a written language ... which doesn't sound at all like the "coarse savages" of ol' Joe Smith's day.

Anonymous said...

OK, everybody put their fingers in their ears and Hummmmmmmmm. That should drown out the sound of the critic. Don't read her sneering words either. That sneering person. Jealous is she of what we have. Say no to the contention she has brought among us. It is of the devil. Someone block her as she has no right to mock us. Mock not less ye be mocked. Ye of little mock shall be blessed.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

Book of Mormon portrays ancient Americans as having complex political and social organizations, cities, organized strategic warfare, and a written language
That's right. They even rode horses, didn't they? Or tapirs, or llamas, or something.

Though it's not up to me, I would encourage Jeff not to ban Amour, as Dan Peterson has so ungraciously demanded. Though we may not agree with his viewpoints, the way to open an ignorant person's mind is not to shut him off or ignore him. Someone else suggested we should all act in a more Christ-like manner, and I would encourage Dan to behave this way to Amour.

BTW, Smithsonian magazine is a popular (ie, for the masses) journal whose articles are provided by non-specialist freelancers, not by Smithsonian Institution staff. I've known some of them, like Pico Iyer, who spent a year or so at Harvard (not Yale!) in the 1980s. Jeff could tell us more, since he's spilled considerable ink trying to refute Smithsonian statements on the BoM.

Mike Parker said...

Please note that Radicalfeministpoet has confirmed her vast expertise and objective, scholarly position by completely ignoring my last argument and instead replying with a sarcastic dodge that betrays her ignorance of what the Book of Mormon claims.

Sad, but telling.

Walker said...

I have yet to see a solid argument from RfP. Like good ole' Tom Paine (yes, the American lover) s/he appears to be far more effective at criticizing otherse than s/he is at building her own case. Just like the other critics--no explanation, just trash talk. Trash talk and Mesoamerica don't exactly mix. It's like we've playing Mesoamerican basketball with college dudes from the "B" team (cocky, but incompetent) Doh! I said "dude." There goes my claim to cultural superiority--along with my saying "doh." And I appealed to basketball--how heathen of me.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

I will try and indulge PM, but perhaps I’d better bring it down a grade level or two. Jeff makes several claims, among which are:

1) Mesoamerican studies are in their infancy.
2) Everyone used to think the Mayans were peaceful.
3) Joe Smith described a tumultuous, violent pre-Columbian period—therefore his knowledge was miraculous.
4) Joe Smith displayed a “clear knowledge” of “Mesoamerican warfare, fortifications, and human sacrifice”.

To which I respond:

1) Balderdash. Westerners became aware of the old Mayan sites, for instance, over 150 years ago. And of course, the Aztec empire a powerful force at the time of the Spanish conquest.
2) More balderdash. Eric Thompson was an anomaly; the novelty of his claims was what made them so intriguing. Unfortunately, that’s often the way to get noticed in academia. But Eric wasn’t much better at social anthropology than he was at phonetics.
3) Nothing miraculous at all here. The common view of American Indians in the 1800s was that they were warlike savages. I’m referring to their ethical, not their material culture, of course: that relatively advanced native cultures had existed (eg, the Aztecs) was common knowledge, and it was also known that the conquistadors had been seeking legendary cities like El Dorado. There's hardly anything surprising in Smith inventing stories that merely reflected the contemporary image of Indians.
4) There’s nothing clear about it. To the impartial investigator, alleged correspondences between the BoM and Mayans et al are fanciful and forced—less credible than the fevered musings of Erich von Däniken.

Personally I have no particular wish to disabuse individual Mormons of their delusions. You can believe the moon’s made of green cheese, for all I care, or that God and Mrs God live next door to the planet / star Kobol. What’s fascinating to me is how much intellectual energy people can spend propping up a faulty edifice:

To save appeerances, how gird the Sphear
With Centric and Eccentric scribl'd o're,
Cycle and Epicycle, Orb in Orb


(Next you'll be telling me that the Iraqis are grateful for the American invasion.)

Anonymous said...

You can believe the moon’s made of green cheese

There you go being silly again. The only cheese that is green is moldy cheese, and everyone knows there's no mold on the moon.

BTW, compared to most of the rest of the world, mesoamerican archaelogy is certainly in it's infancy. Infancy, in this case is a relative term, so please keep balderdash, scrabble, and yahtzee to yourself.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

I don’t mind the anonymity; it’s the orthography I find offensive. Spelling the third person neuter pronoun with an apostrophe is an utter abomination. Where are the howls of protest from Dan Peterson et al now?

Relative? Champollion translated the Rosetta hieroglyphs in the 1820s. Ventris deciphered Linear A in the 1950s; Linear B and the Phaistos disc are as yet unread. So is the Indus Valley script (which was unknown before the 1920s!). All these are from civilisations far older and more advanced than the Mayan, yet we can do much more with the Mayan glyphs, nearly all (nine tenths or so) of which are comprehensible. Furthermore, for diachronic comparison we have modern Mayans around today—one of the fellows I studies with at Hahvahd years ago was John Watanabe, who’s done extensive fieldwork there.

Still, this is all something of a red herring. Smith was unlikely to have known about the Maya, but everyone knew about the Aztec cities—heck, Vivaldi composed an opera about Montezuma in the 1700s! (If any of you ever make it to the east coast of the US, you should try and go to an opera, before Dubbya bans them.)

me said...

Mike, it might be cause your question is based on fiction. I don't know but maybe she just doesn't take fantasy literature all that serious.

You all seem to devote a lot of time and energy to this world of hidden stone boxes and miracle glasses that translate non-existent languages.

Isn't there something fact based you would rather be studying? All of you sheep put together might be able to actually accomplish something if you put as much energy into it as you do to this.

Shawn said...

Dang… Dubbya’s gonna ban operas? Ahh, no big loss. There are loads of other things to do here on the enlightened east coast.

Of course, I was hoping he’d deport radical feminist poets first. Tons of places they’d be more appreciated. Hey you mentioned Iraq, why not be proactive and repatriate? Oh yeah, I forgot… you and your army of anonymous trolls have the job of spending loads of intellectual energy laughing at the heathen from your “great and spacious building” of wisdom.

Anyway, Jeff… Thanks for your posts and the time you spend working on this blog. And thank you to those (myself excluded, of course) who are able to submit posts that do not smack of mockery.

In response to ME's post...
What haven't we accomplished? Living 10 years longer than the general public? A successful lay ministry building one of the fastest growing Churches? The ability to modivate 50,000 people each year to pay their own way and serve Christ? How about actually convincing people to change their lives, not just on Sundays? If you want to make the world a better place, shouldn't you start with you and your family? Alcoholism, STD's, rape, wars, and the disrespect of women are all a direct result of decisions made outside the gospel of Christ, wouldn't you agree?

Rad Girl said...

Ooh! I was posting as "me" on the other thread. The "me" here isn't me! Hey, Me! Get your own name. I'm offically changing mine to Rad Girl.

Anonymous said...

Mormons... all concerned with family and service... how stupid! yeah, now that i think of it, maybe the mormons have the wrong priorities. They should all stop the healthy living, family oreintation, and service others crap and lead lives of selfishness and indulgence- thats fulfilling. Now thats doing something!

I totally respect those who ridicule others ideas, thoughts, and beliefs without having any knowledge of them or their beliefs. Brilliant! Thats doing something.

Walker said...

Anon @7:36--

Inflammatory, provocative, and worthy of severe criticism.

But funny! I like it.

Mormanity said...

Rad, I object to your mischaracterization of my argument. You paraphrase me as follows:

1) Mesoamerican studies are in their infancy.
2) Everyone used to think the Mayans were peaceful.
3) Joe Smith described a tumultuous, violent pre-Columbian period—therefore his knowledge was miraculous.
4) Joe Smith displayed a “clear knowledge” of “Mesoamerican warfare, fortifications, and human sacrifice”.


1. You got this one right - that is what I said. And it's still true. Read Michael Coe and note how much we still don't know. The Mayans were one of several peoples in ancient Mesoamerica - some remain largely unknown. The amount of work that has been done in Mesoamerica is FAR LESS than in Israel or many other places in the Middle East.

2. I did not say "everyone." But I am quite surprised that you do not recognize that the "peaceful Mayans" paradigm was a widely touted one, at least for a period of time. The fact that it had a loud, dogmatic, and now discredited proponent does not change the facts: the extensive warfare in ancient Mesoamerica was not immediately obvious based on the evidence available in the first half of this century.

3. I did not say that a miracle was needed to say that wars occurred ini the ancient Americas. My argument was that the parallels between Mesoamerica and Book of Mormon features - things like patterns of warfare, raised earthen walls with palisades around cities (not to mention temples, gardens, chief markets, highways, various officers, and other elements of advanced civilizations) - were not something that could easily be derived from common knowledge, and represent a potential argument for plausibility of the text.

4. I did not say that Joseph Smith had a "clear knowledge" of anything. Rather, I question those who think he could have had such knowledge of Mesoamerica based on available information in his day. In fact, our modern knowledge of the ancient Americas is still unclear in many areas, though it is clear that they did have many wars, human sacrifice, political and priestly officers, complex trade systems, temples, gardens, multiple markets, highways, and many other elements not particularly well represented among the Native Americans Joseph Smith might have encountered in New York.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "infancy," see this passage from a book review in the Canadian Journal of History:

"Somewhat less familiar will be the author's insistence on including all the original Nahuatl and the additional remarks this sometimes requires. This inclusion is necessary because the adequate translation and interpretation of early Nahuatl texts is still in its infancy and further advances are to be expected. Nonetheless I must add that the author is among the literal handful of scholars in the world who are adept enough at the language and knowledgeable enough about the corpus to do this sort of work. I am familiar with much of the ecclesiastical and civil Nahuatl corpus and I am impressed with the breadth and variety of sources she includes."

Mormons aren't the only ones who might use the word "infancy" to describe at least some aspects of Mesoamerican studies.

ltbugaf said...

"...everyone knew about the Aztec cities—heck, Vivaldi composed an opera about Montezuma in the 1700s!"

And to think, all this time I never knew Joseph Smith had been reading and attending Vivaldi operas in his childhood! (Heck, I never even knew he could speak Italian.) I hope you'll provide a list of all the performances that came through the villages of Manchester and Palmyra.

Anonymous said...

Please note that non-LDS Mesoamerican scholars ARE NOT coming out in support of the Book of Mormon.

Why not? There is so much evidence that they would be fools not to see it.

It's utter silliness to them and provides no compelling reason to believe to anyone who will not read it seriously and ponder.

Silliness? You mean the I can run and hop over fences with 100 lbs of gold under my arm part? Or the part about the gold plates can only be seen by who God chooses or they will be smitten down, but wait, they have to be kept safe from thieves cause God will not smite them down part?
OHH, Got it. The scholars are not seriously reading it and pondering it. If they did, well then, fill up the font man.

But to those who will look and understand what it really says and does not say, there are increasing grounds for accepting its plausibility, and the impossibility that Joseph Smith just made it up based on what was known in 1830.

Ohh so you got to know what it really says? That makes perfect sense now. All those scholars are not reading it seriously, not pondering it seriously, and do not know what it REALLY says. So therefore, they are not supporting the BOM. Always good to post all those escape clauses Jeff.

Thanks Jeff, like I told some other sheep. I come for the stories, you are one entertaining fellow. You da man!

Oh and since it ticks off some of the other posters, I will just post as anonymous. They really hate it when I do that, they start with the name calling. You know how they get? It's all this, I love Jesus, but you are a troll and a coward. boo hoo

Walker said...

The scholars are not seriously reading it and pondering it.

Nor are you, my friend. When you do, we might be able to have an interesting discussion, whether you believe the BOM or not. Good luck in your endeavor to find truth (which I hope you are honestly seeking).

Daniel Peterson said...

I suspect that the obsessive and supercilious "poet" (now turned anonymous in order to maximize irritation) has had a more substantial connection with the Church than merely an occasional encounter, a few years back, with "pimply-faced" missionaries during the period when the "poet" allegedly served as the chief ornament of Harvard University and as North America's sole claim to culture.

On one level, of course, the self-proclaimed "poet's" posts represent nothing more than a shallow pastiche of wearisome insults and childish put-downs. (We should be grateful, I suspect, that we haven't been subjected to any of the poetry allegedly emitted by the "poet.") On another level, though, it's pretty obvious that the "poet" has too extensive an acquaintance with Mormon beliefs, practices, and culture -- superficial though the "poet's" grasp of such things indisputably appears -- for it to be the result merely of a passing interest. Plainly, along with the "poet's" manifestly obsessive urge to pester Latter-day Saints, that points to some more substantial involvement (presumably past) with the Church. This is the same sort of thing that is on constant display on certain ex-Mormon message boards. It's dreary and pathetic there, too.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

Apologies for not replying sooner, the cares and worries of this world have kept me rather busy today.

Though not usually succeptablle to flattery, Dan P’s post made me smile. I am indeed guilty of knowing a great deal about Mormonism, but my guilt extends to many more subjects besides; in fact, I doubt there is anything I don’t know. I understand there is a feeling among Mormons that ex-Mormons have an unpleasant habit of pestering them, which may be the case, and really isn’t that surprising—aren’t these ex-Mormons merely practicing the same persistence they were taught to use when on their “mission”?—but as I’ve said before, I find this phenomenon isn’t restricted to Mormonism. Trawl around the web for a few minutes and you’ll find all sorts of sites run by ex-Catholics for Christ, ex-Baptists for the Pope, ex-Mohammedans for atheism—in fact, sites by ex-everything,except perhaps ex-Jews, but most of them are functionally no longer Jews already. A word of friendly advice from someone who admires your use of language: it’s usually not worth one’s time to speculate on the background or motives of people who post on the internet. It’s far more profitable to consider what’s being said on its own merits rather than worry about who’s saying it.

Turning to our host: Jeff politely objects to my characterisation of his argument. Objection overruled. My responses:

1. As, anonymous-1 pointed out, use of the metaphor “infancy” here is relative. There are reasons that more is known about the archaeology of Palestine (to use the extreme example Jeff offers): civilisations there has been more advanced , have existed longer, and have contributed more to the world than in Mesoamerica. Other peoples and tribes have vanished, some no doubt without a trace: that is the case not only in Mesoamerica, everywhere else intheworld as well (including Europe).
But the word “infancy” is a loaded term: it implies that there is a lot more to come. Barring the discovery of some Guatemalan Qumran, the fact is there may not be much left to discover. The hope among Mormons, it appears, is that should new findings come to light, among them will be stunning corroborations of what most rational people view as an idiosyncratic work of historical fiction. Jeff’s use of the word ‘paradigm’ is instructive; though we may curse Kuhn for turning a perfectly good linguistic term into a cliché, the fact is Mormons will be tripping over themselves to seize upon anything dug up in the jungle and force it into their preconceived construct of a time that never was.

2-3. Jeff did not say “that a miracle was needed to say that wars occurred ini the ancient Americas”, but he did imply it was miraculous that the BoM should tell of such things. But was it? What society has ever existed that has not frequently engaged in war (excepting those have been unable because they were held subject by a stronger power)? A peaceful society: that would be miraculous—but it would also make for a poor story, and even the prolix J Smith would have had trouble spinning a yarn about one. (The “peaceful Mayan” hypothesis, which I’m sure you will admit postdated Smith, gained notice precisely because it was so unnatural.)

That Smith wrote about “temples, gardens, chief markets, highways, various officers, and other elements of advanced civilization” is not at all surprising: that they existed in America was not only common knowledge in the 19th century but had been part of folklore since the time of the conquistadors. And of course they existed in Europe, Asia and Africa for ages. Burroughs used his imagination in a similar way on Mars; Haggard, in Africa.

4. The assumption here seems to be that unless Smith had supernatural revelation, he would have assumed all Indians were like the ones in NY and refrained allowing his imagination to suggest anything further. Why? Apart from the fact that the Aztecs and Incas were well known from historic times, Smith would have had a poor imagination indeed (and we know that he did not!) if he had been unable to dream up a few temples and gardens.

The history of the rest of the Americas was of keen interest in the US in Smith’s day. Even those of no education could not have been unaware that there had once been (comparatively speaking) moderately advanced civilisations to the south. No one has ever claimed WH Prescott’s works were received to so much acclaim for their novelty: quite the contrary, theywere met with such enthusiasm because they addressed a subject that already fascinated ordinary Americans.

Ltbugaf’s ejaculation puzzles me. Does he really think that ordinary Americans were unaware of the civilisations that had greeted the Spaniards? Smith would not have had to understand Italian to know about them—though with his seer stone, that would hardly have presented a problem—because such knowledge was common currency. Are Mormons actually unaware of this?

Or perhaps is he suggesting that Joe Smith was unique in that, unlike any other freeman, he was completely unfamiliar with such basic andcommon knowledge? We hear a similar plea from Mohammedans when they insist that their prophet was so unlettered that he couldn’t possibly have made up the Koran. It’s unconvincing there too (and, unless God is really messing with our minds, then at least one of those men couldn’t have been as stupid as his adherents claim). But we know more about Smith’s times than Mohammed’s, and we know what Americans knew in the 1800s.

It occurs to me that it would require less energy (and save considerable face) if Mormons would begin to describe the BoM not as a literal history of divine origin, but rather an imperfect attempt by humankind to reach God, or vice versa, full of speculation and historical errors—something along the lines modern liberal Christians might describe the old Testament. Is there any movement along these lines?

Bookslinger said...

The "poet" sounds like Natalie Collins to me. The snarky factor is similar. Not saying it is her, just sounds like her.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Parker said...

To lighten the mood, and with apologies to Radicalfeministpoet and Douglas Adams:

Vogon poetry is of course, the third worst in the universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their poet master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in My Armpit One Midsummer Morning" four of his audience died of internal haemorrhaging and the president of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off. Grunthos was reported to have been "disappointed" by the poem's reception, and was about to embark on a reading of his 12-book epic entitled "My Favourite Bathtime Gurgles" when his own major intestine, in a desperate attempt to save humanity, leapt straight up through his neck and throttled his brain. The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator, Radicalfeministpoet, in the destruction of the planet Earth. Vogon poetry is mild by comparison.

Samuel said...

And of course, the point must be made that whatever Joseph Smith's knowledge or education (which is shown to be of a low level in a more concrete manner than the claims of Muhammad's illiteracy in my opinion), he still got it amazingly right, from the geography (internally consistent and matchable to the real world), weather, and the timing of cultures in Mesoamerica. The 450 AD treaty which gave the Lamanites dominion over the entire land southward matches exactly to the rise of the Maya in the region. Sure was stupid of JS to date the BoM I guess.

"in fact, I doubt there is anything I don’t know"

How wonderful for you. I would, however, mention that the BoM never mentions people riding horses, which you claimed in an earlier post. So there is one thing you didn't know (I suspect there are more.)

And of course, the precedent of naming new animals after animals one is familiar with is common in history. For example, calling the manatee a sea cow or a hippo a river horse (I would argue that the tapirs of Central America look more like horses than hippos do.)

I love how RFP claims the Europeans are so much smarter than us because they have history all around them yet she studied in the United States. Obviously, since we are a bunch of ninnies, our schools must be full of them as well. The brilliant Europeans are too smart to be swayed by silly spiritualism. No, they have simply been swayed (and invented) fascism, socialism, communism, while we poor stupid Americans have to suffer through living in the greatest and freest country in the world. Poor us.

And on a personal note, my brother is serving with the Marines in Iraq and sent back some pictures of the poor oppressed Iraqis smiling ear to ear with my brother and his friends. Yes they are obviously upset that we are making their country a safe democracy where they will be able to live their life how they want.

Walker said...

Apparently, the discussion/rantings of RFP are continuing to be fed. Might as well jump back in for good measure.

I would hope, RFP, that you know you will be ineffective at learning how Mormons prop up a supposedly false intellectual edifice if you yourself continually avoid (or at best, distort) the arguments they make. We'll keep disagreeing with you (of course, due to my Red State ignorance), you'll keep calling us benighted fools, and you will be still left ignorant on your question. If you wish to engage an audience with a different premise (esp. when the audience on that blog seems to outnumber you), I would recommend actually engaging their arguments rather than dismissing. That's what they teach at our backwoods universities; perhaps they do it differently at Harvard.

Might I suggest that mere interest in a topic does not make one capable of producing 500 pages on it? I very much enjoy learning about the Hmong people of Northern Laos--however, even after extensive interviews and secondary research, I am far from prepared to write a full narrative of their history. When you say such knowledge was common currency, you exaggerate. Knowing about some stories, like many modern Americans know about the Revolution, is less than sufficient to prepare them to write a novel on the topic, esp. in under 3 months. Never mind that you have convince 8 men that you actually have plates or 3 men that they saw an angel and the plates (remember, they must never deny the testimony, even when they deny the testator).

It’s far more profitable to consider what’s being said on its own merits rather than worry about who’s saying it.

Hopefully, you see the irony in this comment. You might want to consider what this backcountry bumpkin is saying rather dwelling on his supposed bumpkiness.

Sealegs said...

I challenge RFP to create a book synonomous to the BoM in under three months... and without EVER re-reading a single sentence. It must be PERFECT the first time around. And please feel free to convince those around you that you are inspired.

ITS EASY!! c'mon...

Anonymous said...

I challenge RFP to create a book synonomous to the BoM in under three months...

Create a book. How about if she just writes one? Synonomous to the BoM? Like all the fairytale stuff?
in under three months? But she can use her years of story telling experience. I mean, to be fair and all you know.


and without EVER re-reading a single sentence. It must be PERFECT the first time around.

PERFECT in all CAPS, WOW! Uh, boy someone has never read all the changes that book has gone through. And, I don't mean all the typos. Although, "the most perfect book" shouldn't have any typos. The most perfect book should not have had so many word changes either. Unless the Lord messed up. Oops

And please feel free to convince those around you that you are inspired.

All those around you that you are inspired? Uhm, I don't think JS convinced all around him that he was inspired. Seems to me that he got run out of a lot of places because people did NOT believe him.
But you go ahead and re-write mormon history so that it fits your fairytale view of the world.
And if you are challenging people, I challenge you to go out and find yourself a seer stone. Just look around on the beach and find a pretty rock and tell everybody it can help you find buried gold. Make sure you get paid to do it, and are never successful. Make sure your father in law sues you for your claims too. To be fair and all.

Anonymous said...

RfP, you're a really angry person. relax. breath. it will be okay.

Samuel said...

"Unless the Lord messed up. Oops"

Um, just a couple of corrections. The BoM was not called "the most perfect book." It was called "the most correct book." Pretty crucial difference. Most of the changes were made because of errors of the typesetter, or to make something more clear, or to actually make something sound more "English." It turns out that many of those passages were originally written in a way that was more Hebraic in structure, but which sounded disjointed in English and thus were changed. Such as Alma 46:19 changed from "waving the rent of his garment in the air" to "waving the rent part of his garment in the air" although the first was good sentence structure in Hebrew.

And anyone who tries to explain that the BoM was faked must explain the 11 witnesses never recanting their testimonies. I have yet to see someone do that.

Mormanity said...

I disagree, Bookslinger. Natalie has a different style, IMHO. Comments from both remain welcome here. I would encourage all parties to avoid inflammatory remarks and avoid getting too worked up. Disagreeing is OK, but we must still be able to hold hands and sing Kumbaya afterwards. So let me be clear with this WARNING: If there are any serious incidents of uncivil behavior in anyones comments, I may choose to retaliate at any time by posting especially dull comments on my favorite stock picks, my views on precious metals investing (silver!), my views on patent law, or perhaps a poem or two. You've been warned.

The real question for the moment is what could Joseph have been expected to have known about Mesoamerica in 1830 - and why try to describe that?

NateT said...

Ah the holes in logic and flippancy (oh not to mention rudeness). Why do you try to convince each other when no one will be convinced?

Oh and the "linguist" talking about what was commonly known about Mesoamerica without any supporting evidence is particularly good. It sounds like someone is bending to make a historical argument, sort of like what s/he was accusing others of.

Stephen said...

virtually unpopulated "ceremonial centers" that was what I was taught, and it seemed strange to me.

BTW, the discussion at FMH about trolls kind of deserves a link here ;)

Radicalfeministpoet said...

I had no idea who Natalie Collins is, but I found her rather interesting blog. Clearly she has an axe to grind that I have not, but then she has the misfortune to live in Utah, USA, whilst I am blest to dwell near Canterbury, where folke longen to goon on pylgrimages. She is also an ex-Mormon, whereas to me it’s a passing concern.

Although this string of posts ostensibly deals with the maturity of Mesoamerican studies, or lack thereof, which is what I’ve been responding to, people have continually begged me to somehow “disprove” Mormonism. I repeat: I have no particular wish to do so, but if you wish to demonstrate Mormonism is fraudulent, you will find it any easy enough task. Similarly, I must politely decline Sealeg’s invitation to produce a BoM-like book within 3 months: if I failed, it would testify merely to my lack of discipline, which is no news to me, and if I succeeded (even through the subterfuge of writing it out and hiding it in my hat), it would prove only that I have too much time on my hands.

However, I am surprised—no, astounded—that people here profess to be unaware that the existence of relatively advanced civilisations in Central and South America was common knowledge to early 19th century Americans. Put baldly, there is no excuse for this ignorance. On her blog, Natalie said that the Mormon “church” wasn’t honest with its members, and if it has indeed taught you that Joe Smith couldn’t have known about such matters, then Natalie must be right. Has it done so? Or did this strange misconception of your own history come from somewhere else?

So we hear Walker insisting, “When you say such knowledge was common currency, you exaggerate.” Likewise, Nate T stubbornly denounces “talking about what was commonly known about Mesoamerica without any supporting evidence.” I hardly thought it was necessary to marshal evidence to support the obvious. Americans don’t know much about the world, else they would not be re-creating Vietnam in Iraq, but non-Mormon Americans at least know a little bit about their own country. Why don’t you?

Fortunately, I am not only the smartest person I have ever met, but also the kindest, and I have spent a half hour or so finding evidence that should satisfy them. Why they didn’t do it themselves, I have no idea. An afternoon in a university library—a real university, not some cow college in one of those dreadful rectangular western states—or the NYC or Boston Public libraries would turn up lots more.

But first, I had actually expected someone to complain that I mentioned Prescott’s history of the Incas and the Aztecs, since they were published after the BoM. Though no one did, I will respond anyway. The point of course is that these histories, which set the tone for American historiography for at least the next 100 years (and which you can probably read for yourself at the Gutenberg Project), did not introduce American readers to these peoples, but rather explored a topic which was already of burning interest to them—all the while trashing Catholicism and those nasty Spaniards, of course, who represented America’s rival in the western hemisphere. (I recall there is an interesting discussion of this in Jenny Franchot’s Roads to Rome. The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism , if you’re interested.) The matter of indigenous civilisations was already one that fascinated them.

Thus we read in an article published in 1827 (click HERE to read it all), “The very names of Mexico, Peru, awaken a crowd of high associations, speaking to us of splendid empires, raised into greatness but to fall before the daring achievements of a handful of heroes, and after centuries of servitude, now once more enjoying a nobler independence than when swayed by the sceptre of Manco Capac, or Montezuma. ” Similarly, an 1825 article (click HERE) says of Peru and Mexico that “Unlike the rest of America, these two populous nations were formed into powerful organised stats, analogous in many respect to what Europeans had been accustomed to see at home.” This is how 19th century Americans were used to thinking of those once great nations.

Don’t forget that Montezuma was something of a folk-hero to Americans, largely again because they despised the Catholic Spaniards and their heirs. The tensions that would ultimately lead to the wars of annexation with Mexico and later with Spain were mounting rapidly in the years preceding the BoM. Montezuma’s name was a very familiar one: notice, for instance, that in this pre-BoM article from the North American Review (click HERE to view), from 1826, the author casually refers to him in passing without, without feeling the slightest need for further explanation or elaboration.

Ltbugaf wondered whether Vivaldi’s opera Montezuma ever played in Palmyra. Although I can’t say whether Vivaldi was a household name in that peaceful little hamlet, it should be clear that Montezuma’s was. In fact, there is even a town called “Montezuma” less than 40 miles from Palmyra. Though not officially incorporated till the 1850s, it was a well known place name as it stood on a major canal route (you can find it attested in a 1822 publication HERE.) If anyone should care to include it on their pilgrimage itinerary, HERE’s the directions.

How can people not know all this? Surely Dan Peterson, who can use words like “pastiche”, must know something about the common intellectual currency of the time when his religion was invented? There is such a thing as wilful ignorance.

On a related note, please remember that Americans at the time of Smith were also keenly interested in the primaeval origins of their country, an obsession that one author parodied in an article which he begins by noting that “the first peopling of America, and many other questions connected with the early history of this country, have engaged the attention and industry of many learned men, who after the most laborious investigation, have displayed a vast variety of opinions, and come at last to the most opposite conclusions on the subject.” I hesitate to offer it to you, for though it fairly drips with irony, I fear this would be lost on our respected visitors to this blog, except perhaps for Dan P who may dismiss it as a pastiche of leaden attempts at wit. Nevertheless, HERE it is. Note that in this essay, the author offers as a reliable history of the Americas not the BoM (which hadn’t been written yet), but Spencer’s Faerie Queen.


To change the subject, and perhaps wander off topic a little: Walker and Samuel believe that because witnesses other than Smith claim to have seen an angel, or golden plates, or John the Baptist, we’re bound to believe the whole cockamamie story is legit. If this were the only such instance of such phenomena in history, they might be on to something. It’s not. Apparitions, even to multiple witnesses, do not really seem all that uncommon. Among Christians, Mary, aka the BVM, is probably the most common visitor, usually solo but occasionally with a posse. Fatima was reported less than 100 years ago, and Medjugorje within recent memory. (Use Google for details.) Marian apparitions aren’t exclusively catholic affairs; HERE’s you can read how she appeared, or at least appeared to appear, to loads of Copts and Mohammedans. (It’s true that as a rule, Protestants don’t see such things, or if they do they don’t like to mention it to anyone. But many televangelists are fond of telling us the Lawd spoke to them. Perhaps they have eyes but see not.) And of course, we haven’t even begun to consider the Hindoo or the heathen Chinee, who have also been visited by an incredible menagerie of otherworldly creatures. So Mormons certainly don’t have a monopoly on apparitions; in fact, they’re rather outnumbered.

Now it’s certainly easier to dismiss the vision of a single witness as a hallucination, but, unless we discover the Wizard of Oz crouching behind the curtain, multiply witnessed events are more troublesome. (HERE’s an interesting scientific discussion of apparitions from 1855.) Is there such a thing as mass, or at least, group, psychosis? Are these experiences natural or supernatural? If the latter, are the visitors who they represent to be, or are they playing some sort of practical joke? I’ve never been on the receiving end of one, so I suppose it’s not for me to say. But what makes l’affaire Smith so dodgy is that he was a con artist to begin with. At least if I told you I saw an angel, you could trust me.

Samuel said...

"I repeat: I have no particular wish to do so, but if you wish to demonstrate Mormonism is fraudulent, you will find it any easy enough task."

Why not? Not that much of a challenge? I would think it would be especially easy for someone like you who has a (self-admitted) gargantuan intellect and vast understanding of the world (and more of an understanding of America than Americans.) Yet you have never undertaken this "easy" task. I wonder why. With your abilities, surely you could enlighten us and prove within a few sentences how it is that the religion is fraudulent. I have yet to see anyone do so, but they have mostly been stupid Americans. I would cherish the opportunity to hear from the enlightened shores of England (where my ancestors came from; obviously they were too stupid to live in such a place.) If my religion is fraudulent, I would love to know; I could use the 10% of my income I stupidly give to them and the 20 or so hours I spend a month in its service and in the service of others. I look forward to hearing from you.

I hope you can sleep at night knowing your beloved Harvard saw fit to admit such a benighted individual as "dubya" (and as a graduate student at that!)

Shawn said...

RadFeministPoet (RFP): Whew! That was a read!

Something for me has clicked and I’m actually starting to like you. No, I do not think you’re kind (not even close), know everything, nor do I trust you (even if you came out and said you saw an angel), but you’re effort is amusing.

Just to make sure I grasp your current argument, you’re claiming Joseph Smith had used readily accessible material or common knowledge of pre-Columbian history. You claim Montezuma was a household name. Wouldn’t Quetzalcoatl also then be a household name and the year of One Reed prophesy? Why do you suppose JS didn’t engage that common knowledge in his dodgy “l’affaire”? Seems too tempting to me to refer to the “commonly known cultures” but not the myth of Quetzalcoatl return? Regardless of the argument of whether or not there were pre-Hispanic beliefs in Q’s return, Spanish documents perpetuated the concept of a benevolent god of virgin birth who would one day return from the east. My ignorant American junior high school (on the enlightened east coast and before I had ever heard of Mormons) even went as far to show pictures of Quetzalcoatl that look strikingly like Christ. How did JS not fall into that trap, eh?

Regarding your circular argument that Mesoamerican are not / but they are in their “infancy” because there’s not much more to find out, I think I’ll just sit back and keep enjoying the little things that, as Jeff says, keep “increasing grounds for accepting [the BOMs] plausibility, and the impossibility that Joseph Smith just made it up based on what was known in 1830.” Sorry, I’m not smart enough to see past that…

To Jeff, Walker, Daniel, Ltbugaf, Rad Girl (previously know as “me”) and the many others who keep contributing despite the discussion-destroying mockery of anonymous trolls and poets, THANK YOU for your thoughts. My sarcastic side tells me I am a smarter sheep already. Maybe one day I’ll know about everything, just like RFP, and will be able to authoritatively make blanket statements such as “To Europeans, the idea…” or “Americans don’t know”, etc, etc…


Oh, and if you are investigating the Church, I’d like to state the obvious… Faith cannot not be rationalized through argument. Go to the source (i.e. pray about it).

As stated earlier, some lost their faith at the turn of the century because concrete is mentioned, but has only recently been validated, in the Book of Mormon. Guess I should be careful of that statement in case concrete REALLY was common knowledge like Montezuma back in the 1820s! People who call themselves “kind” but openly mock and insult the religion of others have an agenda. I saw a professor of Hebrew studies on the Discovery Channel once who was just as “kind” as RFP. He stated that there were many wild dogs in the days of Jesus. Therefore, he surmised Jesus was not resurrected, but probably had His body dragged off by ravenous dogs after the crucifixion. I’m sure he wasn’t trying to get personal (or maybe he was… you can’t tell with these intellectuals) but needless to say, I was so offended, I turned off the TV. I heard nothing of anything else he had to say. I never figured out if his agenda was just to be on TV or to insult Christians.

Which brings up a point. RFP: how do you expect to get points across with your insults and mockery? You stated in one of your earlier blah, blah, blah posts that we should refrain from analyzing the poster but only look at the message.

In any presentation, you must know your audience – that’s what I was taught. The primary audience here is religious people who believe the LDS Church. From the extensive mockery in your collection of posts (which I will concede includes insults to most other religions), I’ve gathered the following…

A) You’re not an intellectual, you only play one on TV
B) You’ve taken offense to something or someone related to Mormonism, and therefore have an ax to grind
C) You are an intellectual and you view us as ignorant “sheep”
D) You have a sense of humor that other’s don’t get
E) You are an intellectual and you’ve been conditioned to believe that pecking-order positioning (i.e. respect) involves extensive ridicule of those within the discussion sphere

I hope you work on your desire to mock and insult. If A, B, C, or E are true, I could really care less about what you have to say. It is nice of Jeff, though, to continue to allow your input.

Oh, BTW, as an American “who doesn’t know much about the world”, I like my ignorant views of the world. Considering half of all pregnancies in Europe end in an abortion, their history will probably be rewritten by us wilfully ignorant Mormons and the “Mohammedans” (you’re word not mine). I have nothing against Europeans and made many friends during the three years I lived in London. But I don’t think some of the “answers” the EU has proposed to solve the problems of the world are any better than American ideas.

JMB said...

Personal to RFP: Your words about being the smartest and kindest person you know really touched my heart and I grieve for you. Poor dear, you must be so very lonely up there.

Samuel said...

Great post, Shawn. Makes me wonder how a rustic and uneducated Joseph Smith (and the rest of America the stupid) knew so much about the world around him (to include the Incas and Aztecs, both cultures extremely post-BoM period, by the way) and Mesoamerican and South American history while modern Americans are so ignorant of both the world and the history of it. What happened to us? I guess the distance from enlightened Europe kills brain cells and lowers IQ. Of course that doesn't describe the Orient.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

That Aztecs and Inca civilisations reached their zenith much later than some imaginary “BoM period” is really beside the point. It was precviously charged that the marvellous Mr Smith could not possibly have had the imagination to invent stories of advanced civilisations in the Americas unless the idea had somehow been previously introduced to him. (We may briefly pause here to wonder why that should be the case: other authors have dreamed up such societies on as unlikely places as the moon, or in the centre of the earth.) It was further alleged that Smith could not possibly have heard of the existence of complex indigenous societies (!), and a number of people scoffed when I pointed out that familiarity with the Aztecs was hardly esoteric in the early 19th century, but common everyday knowledge. In response to which I demonstrated that the popular press in the 1820s took such knowledge for granted, and (furthermore) that Smith lived near a town called Montezuma. This does not really constitute knowing “so much about the world around him… and Mesoamerican and South American history”; it’s just basic ordinary knowledge, like knowing what the capital of Canada is, or who wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Smith was crude, rustic and uneducated, as Sam points out, but I never said that he was stupid, any more than I ever said Dubbya was stupid. No, I would call them both evil geniuses; but I would urge you to consider whether their followers might not be stupid, or gullible, or both. Sam also asks the interesting question of why modern Americans know so little. I suspect the main reasons are that they watch too much television and they don’t read enough. Look again at the articles I linked in my previous post, and compare them to the level of writing in, say, The Meridian.

Shawn, who at least knows how to turn off his television, wants to know why Smith didn’t feature Quetzalcoatl in his fiction. You may as well ask why Dickens never wrote about Prester John: perhaps he’d never heard of him, perhaps he didn’t care to. Was the name Quetzalcoatl as famous as Montezuma’s, he wonders? I would hazard a guess it wasn’t, but again, a trip to a decent library would answer the question for him. For what it’s worth, I recall seeing Quetzalcoatl mentioned in a scholary (archaeology) journal from about 1850, but I doubt he pops up all the time in the popular press the way I have shown Monty does. I’m not sure what to make of Shawn’s announcement that he once saw a picture of this feathery Aztec deity that looked like Christ. For my part, I confess that I have no idea what Christ looks like.

Although there may just possibly be one or two readers, having seen the evidence I so magnanimously provided in my previous post, who are willing to admit they were wrong to imagine that people in upstate New York couldn’t possibly have heard of the great indigenous civilisations in their hemisphere, and who might further reflect that such knowledge in any case is hardly necessary for a work of imaginative fiction, I know too much about human nature to suppose that mass apostasy will ensue here. Rather, I expect the sort of behaviour displayed by those eminent professors who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope. On the other hand, if someone dug up an umbrella and pack of chewing gum in Bonampak, would not elated cheers rise to the heavens to celebrate this undisputable “proof” of the BoM? Which I suggest is the reason so many here are eager to believe that Mesoamerican studies are really in their “infancy”…any day that really big find is going to turn up.

Shawn said...

OK, you urged, I've considered... and nope, I don't think Smith's followers are "stupid, or gullible, or both".

:)

Have a nice day, though! (now where's that darn telescope...)

Anonymous said...

Shawn, I have to echo what Samuel said. Great post. I love the part best where you describe your TV watching. I can just imagine the contortions in your face as you listened to that professor of Hebrew studies. Pure comedy. I almost fell off my chair laughing.
"but you're effort is amusing." Stop giving her ammunition if you don't want her to post about American's intelligence.

Walker said...

RfP

My friend, if Joseph Smith was an evil genius, then he was one who encouraged people to love and care for one another, to form a community of faith. Of course, this begs the question: how can an evil genius help people to GENUINELY love their neighbor? I am interested in your answer. Or maybe I'll just blame Nietzsche or Hegel. They've always made particularly good scapegoats.

"Although there may just possibly be one or two readers, having seen the evidence I so magnanimously provided in my previous post, who are willing to admit they were wrong to imagine that people in upstate New York couldn’t possibly have heard of the great indigenous civilisations in their hemisphere"

Speaking for myself, I've never said such a thing. Case in point of mischaracterization.

"On a related note, please remember that Americans at the time of Smith were also keenly interested in the primaeval origins of their country...Don’t forget that Montezuma was something of a folk-hero to Americans"

Sure they were. I'm interested in the Hmong people (and speak their language). I'm interested in George Washington. I am, however, not equipped to approach write a novel in two-three months about it.

"if it has indeed taught you that Joe Smith couldn’t have known about such matters, then Natalie must be right. Has it done so?"

Nope.

"But first, I had actually expected someone to complain that I mentioned Prescott’s history of the Incas and the Aztecs, since they were published after the BoM. Though no one did, I will respond anyway."

Fancy that. Sounds like you're more interested in hearing your own answers than you are in providing those asked of you. You're a sneaky one..."

"(HERE’s an interesting scientific discussion of apparitions from 1855.)"

We have Smith the con, Smith the evil genius, and now Smith, the manipulator of light waves and the controller of the unseen world. If he can do that, I don't care who he is--he's awesome. Maybe that's how convinced 8 men that they hefted metal plates (?). Maybe I could use this so my professors always see an "A" on my examinations...

Bottom line: Joseph Smith knew about violent ancient civilizations. Good to add to Jeopardy fact book. After all, everyone knows that once you learn this, your testimony is shot (eyes rolling).

And in the end, it really makes no difference to me whether we are in the infancy of Mesoamerican studies or not. The BOM is a Near-Eastern text anyway, written by educated members of the elite who were trained more thoroughly in the Near Eastern culture than in Mesoamerican culture.

Good luck in your search of truth and/or meaning RfP. Whether Mormon, anti, or other, I always wish that upon all--cuz' existentialism really has been a painfully dull approach to life.

Mormanity said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mormanity said...

There were people who had seen Mesomerica and many who had heart of Montezuma and so forth, but knowledge of true civilization in Mesoamerica was not common knowledge among the masses in 1830. In spite of some books and journals that give hints, the idea of great ancient civilized societies in the Americas was not common knowledge in frontier America. Many people, including the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, thought that Native Americans across the hemisphere had been "savages." Knowledge of the advanced nature of ancient Mesoamerican civilization did not become widely appreciated until the 1840s, in spite of hints from the works of von Humboldt and others.

While the basic idea of impressive ancient societies in Mesoamerica was not unavailable in 1830, there is no evidence that what was available to Joseph Smith cold have been of any help in fabricating the Book of Mormon. What was there within his grasp to guide an effort focused on ancient Mesoamerica? And why consider that region at all? The reality is that Mesoamerica was not the focus of Joseph Smith's thoughts, at least not until he learned of newly available information about that part of the world that came out AFTER publication of the Book of Mormon. John L. Sorenson gives important insight on this issue in his article, "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record," in By Study and Also by Faith (Vol. 1, John M. Lundquist and Stephen R. Ricks, eds., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990, p. 395):

{begin quote}
There was one brief episode in Nauvoo when Nephite geography received new attention. A phenomenally popular book by John Lloyd Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (New York, 1841), came into the possession of Church leaders in Nauvoo in 1842. It constituted the first body of information of any substance from which they, together with most people in the English-speaking world, could learn about some of the most spectacular ruins in Mesoamerica. The Saints' newspaper, the Times and Seasons, published long excerpts from the book. Apostle Orson Pratt later recalled, "Most of the discoveries made by Catherwood and Stephens were original ... [i.e.] had not been described by previous travelers" [Millennial Star, Vol. 11, No. 8, 15 April 1849, p. 116]. Stephens's biographer confirms Pratt's recollection: "The acceptance of an 'Indian civilization' demanded, to an American living in 1839 [when the first edition of Stephens appeared in England], an entire reorientation, for to him, an Indian was one of those barbaric, tepee dwellers against whom wars were constantly waged.... Nor did one ever think of calling the other [e.g., Mesoamerican] indigenous inhabitants of the continent 'civilized.' In the universally accepted opinion [of that day], they were like their North American counterparts -- savages" [Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen, Maya Explorer: The Life of John Lloyd Stephens, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948, p. 75]. Enthusiastic comments published at Nauvoo showed that the Church's leaders, including Joseph Smith, were immensely stimulated by the new information. Within a few weeks of the first notice, they announced they had just discovered, by reading Stephens's book, that the Nephites' prime homeland must have been in Central, not South, America. [See Times and Seasons, Vol. 3, No. 22, 15 Sept. 1842, pp. 921-922. Later, the October 1st issue indicated that the editors had learned another important fact relating to the Book of Mormon from studying Stephens' work, namely, that "Central America, or Guatimala [sic]" was where the city of Zarahemla had been. Maps of Guatemala in that day tended to show Chiapas in southern Mexico as part of Guatemala, according to Sorenson.] An implication was that South America might not have been involved to a major degree, or perhaps not at all. (Also implicit was the point that the old interpretation was not considered by them to have come by revelation.)
{end quote}

The leaders of the Church did not know the geographical details of the Book of Mormon when it was published, but were glad to learn of new discoveries of ancient civilizations that seemed consistent with the civilizations described in the Book of Mormon--a consistency that has been greatly strengthened since. It appeared that new information was leading them to revise their previous deductions--not revelations--about the scope of the Book of Mormon. But that flash of insight would fade and for decades the general membership of the Church would think of the Book of Mormon as dealing with the entire New World. But careful reading of the text clearly demands a limited geography, and Mesoamerica is the prime candidate.

Critics say that it would have been obvious for Joseph to write about large cities and civilization in the ancient Americas. But the civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are a world apart from the tribes Joseph might have known of in New York. In fact, when the Book of Mormon was published, the idea of ancient advanced civilizations on this continent was so utterly foreign that the witnesses of the Book of Mormon expected it to be rejected by the people. David Whitmer, in an 1883 interview with James H. Hart, said: "When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book."
(Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook, reprinted in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews: A restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991), p. 76, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, p. xxvi.)

While the published works of Stephens would begin to educate the world about the grandeur of ancient civilization on this continent, Joseph Smith and the witnesses did not yet know that. Where would Joseph obtain information to generate parallels between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica--the cities, temples, priests, kings, markets, highways, classes of society, literacy, patterns of warfare (including guerilla warfare), the existence of secret societies, the evil of human sacrifice, and so forth--that are so untypical of the Native Americans that Joseph could have known?

See "Joseph's Knowledge of Mesoamerica."

Samuel said...

Besides the fact that even if Joseph knew about the advanced civilizations existing in the 14-16th centuries, how could he have known there would be one equally advanced civilization fitting the period of the Book of Mormon? I mean he dated the civilizations and bestowed on them advanced knowledge. This whole fact could have been easily disproved if no civilization of such sophistication was found through archaeology to the period of the BoM. Unfortunately for the critics, we can match up BoM cultures pretty well with cultures that have been discovered. Lamanites with Maya for example. I do not understand how knowledge of the Incas or Aztecs would automatically presuppose knowledge of another earlier sophisticated group. Like knowing about the Romans gives one knowledge about the Etruscans. That dog don't hunt.

Logan Aggie said...

Clearly this conversation belongs to Jeff and RFP... the rest of you buffoons are not even paying attention to what she is saying. Some of your responses to her posts show that either you did not read it closely enough, didn't care what she said or simply didn't understand. You should not be ridiculed for being none too bright and I think that RFP holds her tongue on this point remarkably well. But, since I am not her, I can call you all a bunch of baboons. You've been called sheep enough. You graduated to Baboon when RFP proved that Smith had access to enough mesoamerican history to concoct all his mumbo jumbo and yet you cling selfrighteously to all these Mormon lies.

"But look at our good works!" You always cry. Been there, done that. Not impressed. Your church leeches money out of idiots and buys shopping malls. Dolts. Retards Baboons.

Jeff, baby, RFP has wiped the floor with you. You would like to baffle them with bull -- well, consider your bull cleaned up and piled on a plate before your hungry eyes.

She may be no poet, but RFP is my hero. I love you! Please please please come back here. I will come back regularly. I will read this blog more than I love to watch Southpark just to watch you wipe the floor with these morons. Ahh, it was breathtaking and lovely...

Daniel Peterson said...

The reputation of Utah State University and its "Aggies" has just taken a serious hit . . . Probably undeserved, though. I have friends in the Department of Philosophy there, and I know for a fact that rational argumentation is taught in Logan. Name-calling doesn't substitute for reasoning, evidence, and analysis in Cache Valley any more than it does at Radfeminpot's Harvard.

Samuel said...

Again, the possibility that JS might have known about societies of Mesoamerica a thousand years after the BoM period lends nothing to the idea that the BoM gives consistent geographical, cultural, and social descriptions of the cultures that actually existed in Mesoamerica during the BoM period, which knowledge of the Aztecs and Incas could not have given.

I am an Aggie of Texas A&M, by the way.

Walker said...

"But look at our good works!" You always cry. Been there, done that. Not impressed. Your church leeches money out of idiots and buys shopping malls. Dolts. Retards Baboons."

Would have to concur w/ Dan on the quality of this argument. If your sole judgment of our church is on our financial practices (buildings on BYU campus aren't even built with tithing--certainly not malls), then you have a serious case of myopia.

"RFP has wiped the floor with you. You would like to baffle them with bull -- well, consider your bull cleaned up and piled on a plate before your hungry eyes."

Beautfiul. At best, RFP proved that Joseph had heard of and perhaps was interested in mesoamerica. Simply knowing about something does not translate (no pun intended) into the ability to create something new from it (even if EVERY idea in the BOM was hackneyed, the ability to synthesize it into a new narrative is of itself a tremendous accomplishment). Also, considering Jeff provided evidence to counter her claims about knowledge of mesoamerica in the 19th century, I fail to see any veracity in your argument.

In sum, if she won any kind of victory, it was on a front so insignificant that it was negotiable (read my previous post for more info). Since she was unwilling to extend her questioning into the more fundamental questions about Mormonism's intellectual soundness, it becames quite difficult to carry on reasonable discourse.

In sum, if buffoonery means not rolling over in the face of inferior argumentation and being willing to analyze one's fundamental assumptions (something RFP refused to do, in spite of his/her Harvard training), I am happy to concede my buffoon status. After all, we all know that one's Mormoness is, by defintion, idiocy and that Mormons are inherently incapable of defending their own position (?!).

You sadden me, Logan. We don't expect you to be a Mormon (I don't anyway). I do expect level-headed debate rather than demagoguery. In the second part, you have failed to convince me that you are anything more than a fire-spitting critic who cares more about rhetoric than truth.

logan aggie said...

Walker,

So... it looks like this is your central claim in that last post directed to me:

"Simply knowing about something does not translate (no pun intended) into the ability to create something new from it (even if EVERY idea in the BOM was hackneyed, the ability to synthesize it into a new narrative is of itself a tremendous accomplishment)."

It is idiocy like this that makes it impossible to argue rastionally with Mormons.

Please allow me to direct your attention to another great writer of fiction from history: William Shakespeare. Never having been to Egypt, Venice or even France William Shakespeare created plausible histories that were indeed "something new" -- I dare say that not even you will say that there is so much similarity between Petrarch and Shakespeare to deny the latter as having created something "new" from the former.

So... much like RFP, I have shown you "evidence" that you are in fact mistaken.

But you will fall to your knees. And you will pray... and guess what, God will answer you... you want to know why... because he loves you... you might ask him anything you like -- for instance: Is Coke better than Pepsi? And you will feel the same "burning in your chest" that you feel when you ask him "Is this church true?"

I've tried it and you should too. Just because you get a "feeling" when you pray is certainly no proof of the veracity of Smith's poppycock... it simple means that God cares.

But, to return to my initial point: Yup, Smith could have made them up... and RFP's point: He did make them up.

Samuel said...

"Shakespeare created plausible histories that were indeed "something new""

Okay, seriously this is crazy. We (or at least I) am saying that JS, even if knew about the Incas or Aztecs, could not have placed the same cultural sophistication on a period a thousand years earlier without serious consequence if found to be without foundation.

Of course, it has been proven that there were indeed cultures of such sophistication in the BoM period (even though archaelogists did not realize just how sophisticated until many years after the BoM was published.) These findings validate the writings in the BoM; it does not destroy them.

As far as Shakespeare goes, he did not create factual accounts, like the BoM is claimed to be. He took many legendary accounts, historical accounts, and creative license to create his works. While his works may be "plausible," they are full of anachronisms that exist because he took incorrect facts of the cultures he was writing about or placed his own culture onto the cultures of an earlier day. For example, Hector mentions Aristotle in Troilus and Cressida. The cutesy scene in Henry V where Henry tries to woo Catherine in terrible French is incorrect; Henry spoke fluent French (and Shakespeare surely knew that.)

"it simple means that God cares."

Yes, nice to know he cares about us enough to let us be led astray by false feelings so that we are eternally damned. For most people, it is not simply (or not even) a "burning in the chest" as has been said several times on this blog.

I know the BoM is true. I didn't experience the "burning." I simply experienced absolute knowledge that suffused my entire body. I read it, pondered it, prayed about it, studied it, etc. And then gained the undeniable knowledge that it is true.

Anonymous said...

Walker:
Yes, nice to know he cares about us enough to let us be led astray by false feelings so that we are eternally damned. For most people, it is not simply (or not even) a "burning in the chest" as has been said several times on this blog.

I know the BoM is true. I didn't experience the "burning." I simply experienced absolute knowledge that suffused my entire body. I read it, pondered it, prayed about it, studied it, etc. And then gained the undeniable knowledge that it is true.

So, to all those people of other religions that get that burning in the chest feeling you say what? They get it just like you do. They feel they are receiving answers just like you are. They are getting a confirmation of JC just like you are. But wait, why would they get that if their church were not 'true'?
You said, "Yes, nice to know he cares about us enough to let us be led astray by false feelings so that we are eternally damned." I don't get it, they really are getting those feelings? Are they being led astray by those feelings? Are those feelings a testament to the truth they are hearing? What say you? Because I have heard from many LDS that these people of other religions get that feeling because the sprit is testifying to the truth that they are hearing, yet, it might not be the full truth. So, that would mean, they are being led astray by those feelings. Would it not?

Samuel said...

It was actually me, not Walker that made that post.

"So, to all those people of other religions that get that burning in the chest feeling you say what? They get it just like you do. They feel they are receiving answers just like you are. They are getting a confirmation of JC just like you are. But wait, why would they get that if their church were not 'true'?"

Because Jesus Christ is true. However, you mention 2 different things. Jesus Christ and the person's church. Obviously, one could pray for a personal belief in Jesus Christ and receive it. That says nothing about whether the person's church is true or not.

I can only speak to my experience. I was raised Episcopalian and never recall anyone saying "pray to get an answer if the Church is true." I think it was just assumed everyone believed it. I have had a testimony of Jesus for as long as I can remember, though I doubt it came from personal study, reflection, and prayer. I have always "known" him to be the son of God and our savior.

What I said was that I prayed for a witness of the BoM, not Jesus. I received it, and joined the Church largely based on that witness.

I would also hasten to mention that most Churches that I know of "dismiss" the idea of the "burning in the chest" and the whole idea of this as "subjective faith," not to be trusted. Although how one can prove Jesus Christ is the son of God and our Saviour, and that he rose from the dead objectively I do not know.

Walker said...

"It is idiocy like this that makes it impossible to argue rastionally with Mormons...I have shown you "evidence" that you are in fact mistaken."

Unfortunately for your argument, your entire Shakespeare example is bust, a red herring (perhaps you put "evidence" in quotations. For one, Shakespeare was, I would dare say, a little more literate than Joseph Smith (exaggeration of the day by Walker). Additionally, Shakespeare had library sources slightly more vast than Joseph podunk Palmyra and Manchester outposts. Joseph never became a member of the library society (standard procedure for the Palmyra and Manchester libraries). His mother claimed he never read books even. The most he could have known about mesoamerica was the folk stories running around about Montezuma, which, at best, smacked of the savagery caricature rather than that of a literate society. As far your Shakespeare examples, let's look at Shakespeare's sources, which, while he did not go to these places, had pretty effective scholarship to make up for it:

Egypt: You've already been kind enough to point out the Plutarch connection. Shakespeare also had lives of the Caesars at his disposal.

Venice: The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) (that is assuming the absurd speculation about Marlowe's and Shakespeare's sameness is just that--absurd).

France: Oddly, Shakespeare's sources for his France settings weren't even French. Rather, they were from the Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland by Raphael Holinshed.

And just for good measure, we have Othello, from Hecatommithi (One Hundred Tales) by Giovanni Battista Giraldi, published in Italy in 1566.

Whatever you wish to say about Shakespeare's synthesizing ability, you cannot compare it to Joseph's. Shakespeare had classical histories and great works at his fingertips. Joseph was doing well to even crack open Charles Darwain. Different settings, different methods, different issues.

"But you will fall to your knees. And you will pray... and guess what, God will answer you... you want to know why... because he loves you... you might ask him anything you like -- for instance: Is Coke better than Pepsi? And you will feel the same "burning in your chest" that you feel when you ask him "Is this church true?"

FYI, I never brought the issue of prayer or even spiritual experiences in my post. Your caricature of my beliefs is not only ridiculous but offensive. Also, it's odd that you should be so presumptious as to know how I know what I know and by what process I know it. Since you apparently have made up your mind about how I have my knowledge, why should I enlighten you about it? (William McAdoo noted that it is "impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument). If this is the level that you must descend to in order to win, I'm afraid you're only winning against yourself.

Also, I normally try to avoid passing judgments on people's personal lives (esp. folks whom I know strictly through letters on a screen). You would do well to consider the same.

Walker said...

Just a note:

I just checked the Palmyra library catalogue. I found a stunner--we've all been deceived! Look at this entry:

Priest, Josiah. American antiquities, and discoveries in the West: being an exhibition of the evidence that an ancient population of partially civilized nations, differing entirely from those of the present Indians, peopled America, many centuries before its discovery by Columbus. And inquiries into their origin, with a copious description of many of their stupendous works, now in ruins. With conjectures concerning what may have become of them. Compiled from travels, authentic sources, and the researches of Antiquarian Societies. 3d ed. Albany: Hoffman and White. 1833

1833? Darn. It was a nice try though.

Logan Aggie said...

I'm not paying close enough attention to detetrmine if I am conversing with Walker or Samuel -- not particularly concerned because you all believe the same lies anyway, right? I mean, what does it matter which Mormon you talk to -- there is no individual experience of a love a Jesus -- there is simply the mindless parroting of lies.

One of you said something interesting about the Episcopals not being overly concerned with parroting back the line "I know this church is true" to one another. Here... here! Yes -- now that's a good observation young SamuelWalker -- now you are coming to your senses.

How you can still sit through testimony meeting without the bile rising in your throat is beyond me. The parade of toddlers up to the podium having an "authority" whisper exactly what they are supposed to say into their ear. Now... now... don't take umbrage. We have all seen it. The difference between you and I is that I have seen through it.

They are all just whispering into your ears and you are parroting it back. I am surprised that you are a convert because you seem like you have more sense than that. The poor dolts who are born into the lie have an excuse. Sadly you do not.

Will I be chastised for speaking to your personally? Will I be called rude and insolent? Ignorant?

Yes.

In my carrying the message of freedom I have been called worse.

All of you, except for an anonymous poster, seems to have ignored my appeal for you to pray which is better coke or pepsi -- you know what, I bet you will feel a knowledge infuse your body from head to foot like electricity... ooh, was that how you described your delusion? Try it with the coke or pepsi? Werstechire or A1? Swensons or Baskin Robins? It doesn't matter. You will feel something. It will be up to you to decide not to tithe to pepsi or coke or whichever it is though.

Walker said...

Well, Logan Aggie, if the best you can tell me is that I'm parroting back lies (lies that tell me to love Jesus, to love others, and to endure the troubles of life faithfully with a hope in Christ), I'm afraid I prefer my "so-called" lies to your truth.

In fact, I would love to share with you some of things I have learned, cuz I'll tell you, I don't sit around in church talking about Bill Shakespeare's sources or even about how heavy Smith's gold plates were. However, your outright hostility to good things prevents me sharing them with you. Conversely, I've felt nothing ennobling while listening to you, nor have I seen anything which builds my faith in Jesus--something which my faith certainly helps have. Nothing you have said is has told me that I am somehow better than this so-called "poppycock."

And I actually try to avoid drinking carbonated beverages--they're not good for my health generally.

So if I've been rude, I would ask you to forgive me. Sometimes I allow the heat of the battle to take over. Whatever faith you are, keep it up. Great good can be done no matter what faith its done from.

Samuel said...

I certainly am sorry as well if I caused any insult and would ask forgiveness. That being said, I really do not see the benefit of continuing the conversation; obviously anything I say will be construed as the "mindless parroting of lies." Against logic and intelligent discourse like that, there really is no answer.

ltbugaf said...

Aggie: Even though I'm a Mormon, and therefore completely incapable of rational thought or saying anything that hasn't been whispered in my ear, I'm still curious about a few things:

1. By what process do you have an "individual experience of a love a Jesus"?

2. By what process do you have a knowledge that "God cares"?

3. Did you achieve the above through prayer?

4. Did you receive an answer to prayer? If so, how?

5. Were these answers different from the answer you received when you prayed about soft drinks? Were they different from the answers you received about steak sauce? If so, how?

David said...

As a supporting point of interest regarding the infancy of knowledge of ancient Mesoamerica.
Pushing Back Mayan Origins - Vanderbilt University

Samuel said...

Cool article David...thanks for sharing it.

Samuel said...

Here is one I happened to see today when signing on to Yahoo.

"Oldest Maya Mural Uncovered in Guatemala (AP)"
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/maya_mural

Very interesting.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

I’ve been busy with other things but have returned from time to time to admire the eloquence of my recent posts. Unfortunately, a plethora of unsolicited and (honesty compels me to add) inferior blatherings have been appended to my own. Being an incorrigibly benevolent soul, I cannot help but responds to them. I must briefly step away from our featured topic of Mesoamerica to respond to a question from Walker, who writes, “if Joseph Smith was an evil genius, then he was one who encouraged people to love and care for one another, to form a community of faith. ...[H]ow can an evil genius help people to GENUINELY love their neighbor?”

The curious implication seems to be that someone who is a scoundrel or a blackguard himself (note the masculine gender) could not encourage other people to love and care for one another, nor “form a community of faith”. Alexander VI né Borgia, probably the most dissolute of scoundrels ever to have been elected pope, or Henry VIII, the serial wife-killer whose marital machinations precipitated the founding of the Church of England, do not detract from the undisputable good that individuals and institutions from their communions have brought to the world. Of course, one might argue that the moral depravity practiced and preached by early Mormon leaders—polygamy, for instance, or blood atonement—poisoned the moral standards of their followers. (Certainly most of the world is less impressed with the benaviour of Mormons than Mormons are themselves.) Nevertheless, whatever their personal depravities, when Smith, Young et al preached an ethic higher than they themselves practiced, they had the potential to exert some positive influence on the moral lives of their followers, despite themselves.

Let’s return to our topic of Mesoamerica now. As we do so, recall that I made the prediction that demonstrating that average Americans knew all about the great aboriginal civilisations would not lead to mass apostasy here. That prediction has come true, which should confirm beyond any doubt that I am a prophet. Though I have been repeatedly challenged to “disprove” Mormonism, I repeat that I have no desire to do so. As we prophets say, “Such a thing would be like unto the shooting of fish, even such fish as are in a barrel, for lo, the fish that do dwell in barrels, it is most exceedingly easy to shoot them” (note the chiasmus). Rather, I come here to marvel at the mental constructs human beings are able to devise in support even of the most outlandish propositions. We owe Jeff particular thanks, for he has opened up the extraordinary workings of his mind to us on his web pages.

Where were we—oh yes, Mesoamerica. Walker continues, “in the end, it really makes no difference to me whether we are in the infancy of Mesoamerican studies or not.” He is to be congratulated on this point, and we should not be distracted by the tomfoolery of the remainder of his paragraph. We know a lot about the Maya, we may even learn some little bit more, when the 10% of codices yet undeciphered are decoded, but what is to be avoided is the naïve, desperate hope that some stunning “proof” of the BoM lies waiting in the warm loam of the Guatemalan jungle.

I’ve been thinking about the obvious reluctance of (some) Mormons to admit that the existence of materially if not ethically advanced American civilisations was common knowledge in J Smith’s day. I say “some”, for people like Walker appear to have the honesty to make admissions like this: “Bottom line: Joseph Smith knew about violent ancient civilizations.” Now, no one denies that lots of folks before o’l Joe (foolishly) proposed a Hebrew origin for American aborigines (do they?). So why this reluctance to concede that people in the 1820s knew about the Aztecs and Incas, and knew as well that they had advanced predecessors? Walker has said that his church never fed him this particular “Smith-was-really-ignorant” line, nor can I imagine that in any official capacity it would have tried to do so—there’s too much evidence to the contrary (then again, that never stopped them before…). But I wonder whether Mormon apparatchiks have made it a policy to disseminate this story unofficially? Can all Mormons here assure me that they’ve never been taught this? Why does Jeff, unofficial apologist that he is, spend so much energy preaching it? Why does the article he links erroneously report this?

I’m amazed at the energy and effort such Mormon apologists expend trying to hold up this house of cards. Even if J Smith was so ignorant that he really knew nothing about these civilisations, we know he had imagination enough to concoct the BoM ex nihilo. Anyone who could “translate” the fraudulent Kinderhook plates, or the funerary papyrus of the “Book of Abraham”, surely has the creative genius to make up the BoM too?

I must first try and convey the emotion I experienced when I read Jeff’s post of 10 December. It was a new feeling to me—I, who in my long years have probably experienced more than any other living being now alive—and I do not think it has a name. I will have to describe it through an anecdote. Imagine, if you will, that you have fallen into conversation with some old-fashioned, eccentric rustic you chanced to meet. His manner of speech is strange, he sees connections where none should be seen, and fails to see those that are obvious. While conversing, he happens to let slip his singular opinion that cows are possessed of the gift of flight—in a word, that they have wings. Smiling, you lead him to a nearby pasture, and show him a cow. “Behold,” you say—for you are a prophet, like me—“there is a cow, and a cow is there. She hath horns, and a hide which in colour doth dun be and eke as white as snow in divers places, and yea, she has udders likewise, even so doth she have them. But wings hath she none, for there are no wings upon her.” Then you show him another cow, and another, and another, until you have shown him an entire herd of cows, and then more herds besides. And after this prodigious work of cow-showing, you turn benevolently to him whom you have shewn the cows, and ask, “What then think’st thou?” (or “think ye”, if like JS you haven’t quite got your pronominal number strai[gh]t), and he answers quietly, “I know cows have wings.”

This is how I felt after I read Jeff’s post.

Let us examine what he wrote, painful though that exercise might be. Notwithstanding documentary evidence in the popular press of the 1820s that such knowledge was common place, Jeff tells us that “knowledge of true civilization in Mesoamerica was not common knowledge among the masses in 1830. In spite of some books and journals that give hints [re-read, if you will, the sources I linked in my previous post, and tell me if these were “hints” –RFP], the idea of great ancient civilized societies in the Americas was not common knowledge in frontier America” But wait! Unlike our bovine delusionist, Jeff does not merely gaze at evidence and not see it, he offers evidence of his own, in the form of—a seminal work of American social history? The chef d’oeuvre of a prominent Jacksonian scholar? No, something better—a Mormon apologist, published by the highly regarded Deseret Book!

In fact, what Jef provides us with is a case study of why Mormon “scholarship” is held in such low regard in the real world. There are many reasons for this, of course, but let us focus on the primary one at hand. I’m referring, of course, to the unbalanced handling of source material: instead of critically assessing all the evidence available, Sorensen selects sources that support his beliefs and (it is hard to imagine otherwise) wilfullly suppresses those that do not. He offers not one primary source that would suggest that Americans in the 1820s were unaware of great American Indian civilisations—such as some hypothetical article from The American Ignoramus that might have started, “As we all know, all Injuns are savages, and none have ever built great cities, temples, or palaces.” Though primary sources testifying that such knowledge was commonplace are thick on the ground—I have offered several—Sorensen pointedly ignores them. The only primary source he alludes to is Stephens’s travelogue of Yucatan, published several years afterthe BoM, which doesn’t itself address the question at all. Which brings us to another reason Mormon “scholarship” is as oxymoronic as “military intelligence,” for the way that tidbit is woven into the text is a case study in the art of deception.

It is possible to arrange in succession sentences which, when considered in isolation, may be defended as truthful, but when arranged in a particular way amount to a falsehood. This is what Sorenson has done here. First, examine the following sentence: It [Stephens’s 1841 book] constituted the first body of information of any substance from which they, together with most people in the English-speaking world, could learn about some of the most spectacular ruins in Mesoamerica. The casual reader—and there wil be many—may miss the significance of the words “some of”. Read it with, and without, those words, for their presence makes greatly changes the meaning. But let us be charitable, and attribute this to careless or skilless writing. Is the sentence true? Strictly speaking, yes. Stephens’s 1841 book, and the similar one that followed in 1843, were immensely popular, and he did report what must have been new discoveries. We can readily conceded that some of Stephens’s discoveries were indeed new; other Mayan sites had been visited before (these are summarised in a review of Stpehens’s 1843 book HERE), but despite the publication of one of these accounts in English in 1822, it is unlikely that most Americans were aware of them.

But what of the quote from von Hagen’s biography of Stephens? That it does not “confirm Pratt’s recollection,” at least not the recollection quoted, we may atribute to sloppy writing. It is the content that should give us pause. Assuming he is quoted accurately (von Hagen’s attempt at biography is one of the few books I don’t own), and that Sorensen hasn’t played fast and loose with brackets and diaeresis, the assertion quoted is just plain wrong. Everyone who has read the posts on this thread knows this, for I have magnanimously provided uncontrovertable proof that it is wrong. Here is the von Hagen quote again: “Nor did one ever think of calling the other [e.g., Mesoamerican] indigenous inhabitants of the continent 'civilized.' In the universally accepted opinion [of that day], they were like their North American counterparts – savages.” Now compare that to the links in my previous post, or, if you prefer to anouther one from an article published in 1825: At the time of the conquest it is well known, that Mexico was a city of great extent and splendor. Read the whole thing HERE. Not “as only few people know,” or “it will come as a surprise to many”, but “it is well known”.

Why, if Sorensen wanted to make a comment on what Americans knew about Mesoamerican civilisations, would he quote a secondary source that is clearly erroneous, instead of examining primary sources? Or, since it seems inconceivable that he did not examine primary sources, perhaps we should ask why he did not divulge what he must, or certainly should, have known. Keep in mind that von Hagen was an explorer and a travel writer; he was not an authority on the social history of the post-Revolutionary US. Though this was not his only foray into biography, most of his published work are essentially travel guides to Middle and South American archaeological sites, published over a century after the BoM. Like many would-be biographers, he has wandered far from his area of expertise and run aground on the shoal of history. Perhaps we can forgive von Hagen one instance of sloppy scholarship, but can we do the same for Sorenson? To a Mormon, if not to von Hagen, the social and intellectual condition of 1820s North America should be a period of immense interest. How could he get it so wrong—unless, to put it plainly, he got it wrong on purpose?

This is in fact the climax of the paragraph; the rest of it is pure denouement, with the self-styled “Saints” buzzing with excitement as they redraw their maps. Nowhere does Sorensen have the audacity to claim that these Mormons, or Smith, were unaware that great indigenous civilisations had existed in America, but by structuring his narrative this way he clearly and strongly gives that impression, all real evidence to the contrary.

How many wingless cows do you people have to see?

Walker said...

Oy vey, RfP. I'm afraid my schedule does not permit a full examination of all your claims. The irony is that such an examination is not necessary to show the total irrelevance of the argument. It proves nothing other than that some folks in America in 1830 actually thought there was civilization in southern Mexico, an assertion that hardly affects the veracity of the BOM. I thank you for providing evidence to prove this element, but it fails in your plight (which, by now, seems obvious, despite your claims to the contrary) to discredit Mormonism.

Your long post appears (to me--I could be wrong) summable into one sentence: Joseph Smith knew some things about ancient civilizations ergo (the ergo being the whopper) the Book of Mormon was a 19th century production, a non sequiter if I ever saw one. Criticizing Joseph's King James' grammar is hardly relevant, as that langauge was simply the production layer of his translating activities (we wouldn't be expecting to translate into Southern jive, would we?--there's also some recent scholarship out that indicates the Book of Mormon grammar is more reminscient of the 1500s than of the 1800s--more information forthcoming).

Additionally, your critique of Sorenson is hardly compelling, as it boils down to he said/he said scholarship. Many more questions remain to be asked about von Hagel's sources. Was he speaking of a certain geographical area that was ignorant of the topic? Was the 1825 article speaking strictly of the scholarly elite? Given the mass popularity of Stephens work, I would tend to believe that von Hagel was far more interested in what the mass populous believed about the Americas. Additionally, by "well known" I would ask, how much expertise does that really entail? Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac is well known (though false) as is his chopping down of a cherry tree (though also false). Everyone knows about Pocohantas nowadays, even before Disney's atrocity in depicting her (though even without it, people don't understand her role). Historical memory has a terrible tendency to warp and distort, especially in the era of Jacksonian politics, when Joseph was writing the BOM. Furthermore, the BOM's depictions of native civilizations are far too complex and specific to simply be written off as 'common knowledge' (deals with Nephite racism, depicts the Lamanites as both savages and saints, claims the use of cement in the Americas, the use of Egyptian names as attested by non-Mormon scholars, and so on).

Finally, if the BOM was so believable in the times of Joseph Smith, why wasn't it believed more widely? WHy didn't it sell like Stephens work later sold? Perhaps because they thought it was a lot of hooey.

Bottom line: I don't really care how much was known about Mesoamerica in 1830 (though I still believe it was not enough to create a 500 page book theological history by a barely literate farmer, who didn't read any of these things which you cite). Knowledge was known by word of mouth at best, which as life in singles ward tells me, is not very detailed or reliable.

Walker said...

Excuse the typo, RfP--It was, of course, von Hagen--not Von Hagel, though I do quite like reading Hegel with a bagel in the morning :)

Radicalfeministpoet said...

your critique of Sorenson is hardly compelling, as it boils down to he said/he said scholarship
Not in the least. Sorensen declined to mention the masses instances in the pre-1830s popular press that should dispel any doubt that ordinary people knew about ancient American civilisations. Instead, he found a secondary source, written by someone who was not even an authority on the period, who apparently made an off-the-cuff remark on the matter which was wrong, as the primary documentation you have seen makes clear. I say “apparently”, because I have not bought a copy of von Hagen’s bio (second-hand copies are available) to check the quotation, and the presence of brackets and diaeresis does make one suspicious. Keep in mind too that “Montezuma” was a common place name, found ont only in NY (quite close to Palmyra!) but in numerous other states.

Finally, if the BOM was so believable in the times of Joseph Smith, why wasn't it believed more widely?
I don’t find the work in the least believable, nor did people then.

there's also some recent scholarship out that indicates the Book of Mormon grammar is more reminscient of the 1500s than of the 1800s
Smith clearly mimicked the diction of the KJV, with (as Twain observed) choloroform-like results. The result is mock Elizabethan. What is even more interesting from the point of discourse analysis are the “mistakes” (ie, dialectical characteristics of northeast American speech) that were removed from the first editions, such as the use of “a” before the present participle, an archaism that does not belong in the KJV.
The one aspect of the BoM that would make it “believable” to a generation weaned on the KJV is this mock-Elizabethan diction. To Americans of that era, and perhaps even to the English, God would talk that way, or if you like, inspire scripture to be written that way. But most Christians the world over have never use the KJV and find its mimicry here entirely bizarre.

Your long post appears … summable into one sentence: Joseph Smith knew some things about ancient civilizations ergo … the Book of Mormon was a 19th century production
Not exactly. Both clauses are true, but as Walker point out, one does not depend on the other. My interest in this thread is on the first clause. Walker seems unique among Mormon visitors here in (reluctantly) admitting that it was common knowledge in Smith’s day that relatively advanced civilisations had existed in the Americas. Others, notably our host Jeff, have bent over backwards trying to prove against all reason and evidence that this was not the case. My question is: why? As Walker seems to suggest, even if Smith did know of these things (which surely he must have done), it doesn’t mean some hitherto unheard of angel didn’t bring him a hitherto unheard of book (published in a hitherto unheard of fashion). Why pretend otherwise, as Jeff and Sorensen spend so much effort doing?

Consider this: everyone knows that attempts to link the American Indians to the 10 Lost Tribes were commonplace before and after Smith, though by his day they were dismissed by academics. Why isn’t the same energy expended trying to prove that this was really an original idea of Smith’s? It’s just as untenable as the notion he didn’t know about Aztecs and Incas.

There is a larger question here. Mormons seem to have a high opinion of their own moral standards, but it may or may not come as a surprise to you that that view is not generally shared by others. In particular, Mormons are not known for their honesty—the “milk before meat” issue is but one of many examples. Mormons seem to be particularly adept at lying to themselves and each other: the prime example being over the authenticity of the BoM itself, but, for a less “hot button” topic, Sorenson’s dissimulation over the knowledge of indigenous civilisations will do nicely. I repeat: how could Sorenson not known of the mass of evidence out there on the subject? Yet he remained silent. This unfortunately is typical of what passes for Mormon “scholarship”.

For the record, I don’t believe I said I had no wish to “discredit Mormonism”, for it is impossible to discuss it without doing so. I merely said I couldn’t care less whether or not you are Mormons. Unlike some of the silly evangelical types who must visit here (who follow an American religion that is almost as bizarre as Mormonism), I don’t think you’re going to hell, or to some outer darkness if you prefer, for being Mormon. No doubt you will all feel very silly after death, but so will a lot of other people. What intereste me is the process by which peole delude themselves, and if it is necessarily linked to the arrested moral development that seems so characteristric of Mormons in general.

Walker said...

Oy vey. Fellow bloggers, I only write this so you can hear my word on RfP's misrepresentation of my words.

RfP--
My "concession" of Joseph's knowledge is merely conjectural, a supposition: IF Joseph knew of these things, THEN they're still irrelevant. I question how much a farm boy would know of scholarly articles (would a fellow w/o a tv know much about Iraq?) It is practically unlearnable without some kind of record on Joseph's library usage (which usage, incidentally, has been documented as nihl). The key of RfP's note is the word "knew OF these things." Precisely what I say, but now it's construed as meaning "common knowledge in Smith’s day that relatively advanced civilisations had existed in the Americas." Not only that, but considering you yourself have mentioned how much Joseph's work reflected the times, I wonder why the people wouldn't "find the work the least believable." If the topic of Mesoamerica was so fascinating to the common folks, the BOM should have fit the bill perfectly.

To top it off, the "popular press" was the press for the literate. Was Joseph subsribed to these newspapers/journals? Was Joseph even very literate? As he was not (in both cases--documentation abounds), I don't really care who else knew about this stuff. The protean nature of this, the reddest of all herrings, is enough to entirely dissuade me from giving any intellectual credence to what seems to be the parroting of an uninformed skeptic.

With that, I am happily bowing out. Normally, I would be quite willing to discuss such eternal and pressing questions as Joseph's dabbling in Egyptian grammar and the sociology of mass visions. But as I said, RfP's gone mainstream anti on us, killing any novelty the arguments once had. He's obviously not up on the response Mormon scholars have to these issues or he wouldn't be asking the questions as though they were some curveball that makes the poor Mormon ignoramuses squirm (then again, their Mormoness requires that their responses be mere sheep babble, just like the ones they see running in their backyard--after all, they're all from red states anyway ;)

Samuel said...

"Why isn’t the same energy expended trying to prove that this was really an original idea of Smith’s?"

Because Joseph Smith never claimed that the Indians were descendents of the lost tribes of Israel. In fact, the BoM goes against the strain of early 19th century thinking in this area. Lehi and his descendents were not of the 10 tribes, they were of Manessah.

It would be easier if you get your facts straight before posting.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

Samuel appears unaware that prophets are as prone to use synechdoche as they are chiasmus. Mannasseh was one of the 10 lost tribes. He seems to imply that the idea that any of these tribes went to America was “the strain of early 19th century thinking in this area;” in fact, it was an eccentric if oft-invented view, not representative of general belief, and rejected by intelligent people of the time. (I believe I could link documentary evidence to demonstrate this as well, but there really isn’t any point in doing this for people who know cows have wings.) Smith’s conjecture in the BoM, therefore, was part and parcel of this imaginative theory of the Injun origins.

It is a common ploy for people who do not like what they have said to claim they have been misrepresented. No Mormon here has rushed to Walker’s support when he admitted (conjectured, if you prefer) that Smith, like everyone else in Palmyra, knew that Aztecs and Incas once ruled in Mexico and Peru. This was part of the America myth, and the cruelty of the Spanish conquerors of the 16th century was a common theme in whipping up anti-Spanish feeling in the 19th. (It was seldom mentioned that the aborigines actually survived in the Latin colonies, but were virtually annihilated by the north Americans). You would not have to go to the library to hear about this; you’d get it from any 5-cent streetcorner politician.

Walker outdoes himself when he claims that Smith was not “very” literate. He was versed, as most 19th century protestants were, in the KJV Bible, and he had a gift for narrative and storytelling. We are, I suppose, to conclude that being uneducated is equivalent to being stupid. It is not. Again, we’ve heard the same argument from Mohammedans for their scripture, and they both can’t be true, unless God’s seriously messing with our minds. Walker also mistakes the links I have provided as “scholarly articles”. They were not. These were articles from the mainstream press, and the most important point they document is not that ancient American civilisations were being written about, but that (to quote one of them) their grandeur “was well known.” Not “known to but a few”, but “well known.”

Walker wants to know why most of Smith’s contemporaries did not find the BoM believable. There are many reasons, and the ones that come to mind he has no doubt heard before. The notion that American aborigines came from Israel, while not original, was gernerally rejected. The provenance of the BoM is extremely suspect. The revelator was of untrustworthy moral character. I do not mention the pseudo-Elizabethan diction here, because I’m not settled on what his contemporaries, many of whom only knew the KJV, would have reacted to this.

I am accused of “going mainstream”, which apparently is some sort of sin in Mormon circles. I am sure criticism of Mormonism is a very established industry, and the answers of Mormon apoligists, though not well-reasoned, at least seem well rehearsed. I have no paarticular interest in hearing either side. But I remain curious on the questions which so far everyone has avoided answering: why do Mormons seem to be willing to admit that Snmith must have known that others had proposed an Israelite (or Mannassehic, to placate Samuel) origin for the American Indians, but are so unwilling to defy the evidence that he also must have been known that was not an original idea of Smith’s, but they bend over backwards to deny the onvious fact that the existence of advanced civilisations was “well known”? Walker denied that his church taught him this line, but it seems surprisingly ingrained.

Although I am drifting off the topic of Mesoamerica now, the larger point that I raised has also gone unanswered. Mormons do not have a reputation for being terribly honest. That may be uncomfortable, but it is in fact the a widespread perception. My devastating critique of Sorensen could be applied to any number of articles I’ve browsed on FARMS or Jeff’s pages. The “milk before meat”strategy of door-to-door proselytisers is another manifestation of this. Hinkley’s unwillingness to admit to the ‘God-once-man/man-someday-gods’ in the US national media is another. My developing thesis is this: first, that Mormons are willing to deceive others because they have been so successful in deceving themselves, and second, that the lack of honesty, which is part of a larger lack of developed moral sensibility among Mormons, stems in fact from the low moral character of the founders of the sect such as Smith and Young.

ltbugaf said...

That's an awful lot of words for a simple dodge-and-change-the-subject. Try to work on that verbosity.

Radicalfeministpoet said...

Verbosity? Have you looked at the BoM lately? (If you haven't, hurry up--you've only got 2 weeks left to slog through it!)

ltbugaf said...

Yes, as a matter of fact I have looked at it lately. And no matter how much false and hateful bile you vomit forth on this page, I will continue to do so.

Mormanity said...

I think RFP mistakes "well known" with "commonly known among the masses." Many in academia and in highly educated circles may have been well aware of some basics of Mesoamerican civilization. After all, von Humboldt wrote extensively about this before the Book of Mormon came out. (Having studied von Humboldt, though, I believe there is no hint of a connection between the information he provided and the Book of Mormon.) But did the common people understand this? If so, one would expect LDS apologists from day one to be discussing the connection between the Book of Mormon and ancient Mayan and Aztec cities, including their use of cement and other details provided in the Book of Mormon. But such connections do not appear to have been made until after Stephens' popular book. The knowledge of the masses, the popular understanding, including the discernible level of understanding among early Latter-day Saints, regarding Mesoamerica does not support the idea that Joseph was just drawing upon common knowledge. Yes, a portion, only a portion, of the Mesoamerican-friendly info in the Book of Mormon could have been obtained from what was "well known" in academic circles, if Joseph had such connections and used them. But there is no hint that he nor the Witnesses nor other early Latter-day Saints saw anything "obvious" in what was being written, or even saw a connection to Mesoamerica per se at first.

What is particularly telling is this, as I provided above: David Whitmer, in an 1883 interview with James H. Hart, said, "When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book." (Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook.)

That's significant.

Mormanity said...

RFP, thanks for pointing me to the helpful 1841 review of Stephens' book. I think it's a review worth reading to better understand what was common knowledge in that day. The source is The North American Review, Vol. 53, 1841, published by James Monroe and Company, Boston, available online through the Making of America section of the Cornell University Library.

The review begins on page 479 of the publication. Near the beginning of the review, on page 480, we have this comment regarding the ancient Mesoamericans and "the riddle of their history":

The recent discoveries in Central America have attracted a new attention to these questions. The time for constructing a theory is not yet. The materials are still too scanty. But they are accumulating in great richness; and to no part of the world does the historical inquirer look with a more intense interest, than to that country, lately as little thought of as if it did not exist, now known to be so fruitful in marvels.

Now look at page 489:

It would be all but incredible, if it were not now shown to be certainly true, that in the wilds of Central America are found vast architectural piles, with complicated decorations chiselled in hard stone, which, different as is their style, might without extravagance be called worthy of the best eras of European art. The "vast buildings or terraces, and pyramidal structures, grand and in good preservation, richly ornamented," struck Mr. Stephens on his first approach, as "in picturesque effect almost equal to the ruins of Thebes."

Stephens is quoted on page 490 as he describes the experience of looking out over one of the ancient cities:

There is no rudeness or barbarity in the design or proportions; on the contrary, the while wears an air of architectural symmetry and grandeur; and as the stranger ascends the steps and casts a bewildered eye along its open and desolate doors, it is hard to believe that he sees before him the work of a race in whose epitaph, as written by historians, they are called ignorant of art, and said to have perished in the rudeness of savage life.

Stephens is challenging the day's common knowledge of Native Americans, showing that the architectural evidence points to an ancient people who were not rude savages or barbarians.

Also see page 491 and page 492, where we read an amusing illustration of the ignorance of the day. The reviewer quotes a passage from a competitor's journal that argues for the ignorance of learned men and the British public by pointing out how some allegedly new discoveries were previously documented by others (". . . we can adduce an extraordinary instance of the ignorance prevailing among literary and scientific men in general, of the immense sources of information from which they have been excluded by the voluminous pedantry employed upon the subject. . . . This circumstance is alone sufficient to show that the subject is, unlike Egyptian antiquities, comparatively new to the reading British public."), but the reviewer then points out that this is in fact a serious error and that Stephens' report of Copan appears to be the first - all of which only strengthens the case for the lack of widespread knowledge about Mesoamerica in that era, even among the learned.

Among the reading public and even among many those of advanced learning, Mesoamerica was something largely ignored before Stephens' work. It was not a hot topic with abundant information among the masses. The idea that ancient Americans were rude savages apparently still prevailed. Stephens' popular work was driving a paradigm shift.

Anonymous said...

Well there you have it, everyone thought they were savages. Joseph and his looking glass didn't see it that way, so, the BOM is true.
With so many truths coming to light, I am sure there won't be so many people running for the doors at LDS churches anymore.
Wait stop! Please don't go. Oh, guess they got offended. They must have had weak testimonies.

Blake Ostler said...

Radical Feminist said: "Although I am drifting off the topic of Mesoamerica now, the larger point that I raised has also gone unanswered. Mormons do not have a reputation for being terribly honest. That may be uncomfortable, but it is in fact the a widespread perception. My devastating critique of Sorensen could be applied to any number of articles I’ve browsed on FARMS or Jeff’s pages. The “milk before meat”strategy of door-to-door proselytisers is another manifestation of this. Hinkley’s unwillingness to admit to the ‘God-once-man/man-someday-gods’ in the US national media is another. My developing thesis is this: first, that Mormons are willing to deceive others because they have been so successful in deceving themselves, and second, that the lack of honesty, which is part of a larger lack of developed moral sensibility among Mormons, stems in fact from the low moral character of the founders of the sect such as Smith and Young."

RFP, this type of ad hominem is so outrageous that I won't let it pass. It is the kind of things that justifies mobs and denying basic human rights. This kind of discourse is simple slander based on nothing but your own judgmental attitudes. Watch carefully, for with the judgment you have judged you have already been judged.

Perhaps in your self-proclaimed superiority you could see clear to treat others as people having a right to be treated with respect and kindness. Your self-asserted superiority is laughable and tragic.

Hinckley BTW was right on. In the end, we LDS claim to know so little about the Father's prior mortal status that his statement happens to be an accurate assessment in my view.

If you're so honest (unlike we dishonest LDS), then use your real name. Let me expose what you say here to the academic community to see if you can pass the test of public approval that you claim is so hard on Mormons. I would love to show what you have posted widely and to those who engage in the honest and worthy discussion of peers. I would like to show it at the next meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers so that we can discuss the kinds of tactics and antics that you engage in here. So give me your name, fess up to what you claim, and let's have at it.

Frankly, your self-proclaimed "devestating crtique of Sorenson" is the worst I've seen, and I don't even agree with Sorenson. It's time to get real -- give me your name and let me expose you for who and what you really are. Let's make you stand in the light of day in the shadow of the supercilious insults and outright hatred you spew here so easily.

Mormanity said...

Having seen several recent searches for "radicalfemininstpoet" bringing someone to this post today - perhaps the great RadFemPoet herself observing references to her mighty name - I am tempted to openly wonder why the rationalist light from RFP's flame suddenly flickered into oblivion. Did she grow bored - or unwilling to respond to the last couple of challenges above?

RFP? Hello?

Willoughby said...

RFP said:

"1) Balderdash. Westerners became aware of the old Mayan sites, for instance, over 150 years ago."

The Book of Mormon was published more than 170 years ago. You just proved the point of the article.

JGW

Mormanity said...

The link David provided to the Vanderbuilt site on Preclassic Mayan Revelations is indeed a good example of how Mesoamerican studies are in their infancy, relative to Old World studies. That site requires clicking on an additional "continue" link to get to the intended destination. You can see some reformatted versions of the desired target page by going to a page of text with figures at the end or a PDF file of the text only (plus additional text).

Below is an excerpt from the article, which shows how a very recent find using advanced tools dramatically pushes back the timeline of the rise of priest-kings among the Mayan and associated advanced in society. Frankly, I think earlier timeline makes the rise of Mayan civilization more compatible with what one might infer from the Book of Mormon regarding the Lamanites and others - primarily in the sense that the rise of Classic Mayan elements may no longer be "too late" to have any relevance to the Book of Mormon text.

Archaeologists generally divide the Maya civilization into three main time periods: Preclassic from about 2000 B.C. to A.D. 250; Classic from A.D. 250 to A.D. 900; and Postclassic from A.D. 900 to A.D. 1521. During the Preclassic period, the Maya are characterized as having an unsophisticated, farming culture organized into tribes and headed by chieftains. The classic period is dated from the advent of Maya writing and is characterized by the development of priest-kings who presided over city-states with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. During this time the total Maya population may have topped one million. Internecine warfare among the city states finally led to the civilization's collapse. Although certain power centers like Chichén Itzá survived the collapse, Maya cities were in general decline when the Spanish arrived and ultimately brought the native civilization to a violent end.

The discoveries at Cival indicate that the Maya had developed the sophisticated culture and many of the features, including priest-kings and city-states, attributed to the Classic period at least 500 years earlier than previously thought. "We are witnessing the development of dynastic rituals at an unexpectedly early date," says Estrada-Belli.

One of the most convincing pieces of evidence is the discovery of a stone monolith, or stela, at Cival bearing the portrait of a king. Such stelae are fairly common during the Classic period, but Estrada-Belli's team has dated the pillar to at least 300 B.C., making it the first monolith of the type that has been discovered in the Preclassic.

The development of priest-kings was important because they used their god-like powers to build major metropolises, control the large populations that inhabited them and commission large construction projects, including pyramids and large stone temple complexes. So the evidence for the early development of the priest-king system goes hand-in-hand with Estrada-Belli's determination that Cival was much larger than previously thought.

Cival is located deep in the tropical rainforest, making it difficult to get to and to study. When Harvard archaeologist Ian Graham first mapped the site in the 1980's, the jungle concealed all but a few of the largest stone buildings and pyramids so he categorized it as a minor site.

Estrada-Belli, however, was able to get a more accurate survey of the site using satellite imagery. The aerial images revealed that the ruins sprawl over an area of four square miles and gave the archaeologists exact coordinates for individual structures that they have been able to locate using GPS navigation technology. These techniques have allowed them to determine that the city originally had five pyramids and three large plazas and to estimate that at its height in 150 B.C. the city supported a population of about 10,000.

Satellite navigation also allowed the archaeologists to determine that the city's central, ceremonial complex had an important astronomical orientation. The central axis of the main plaza points directly at the location on the eastern horizon where the sun rises at the equinox. Lines drawn from the western pyramid to two of the other buildings also line up with sunrise at winter and summer solstice.

The city was abandoned in mysterious circumstances shortly after A.D. 100 and never reoccupied. That means the older structures and artifacts are much easier for the archaeologists to find and study. Because the Maya had a habit of putting new buildings directly on top of older structures, Preclassic remains are few and far between at sites like Homul and Tikal that were occupied during the Classic period.

The El Mirador site, also in Guatemala, is a Preclassic site similar to Cival, but even bigger. El Mirador boasts of a pyramid that rivals in size those in Egypt and once held an estimated population of 100,000. Excavations there have also found evidence of a highly developed culture.

"In the past El Mirador has been largely dismissed as an anomaly," says Francisco-Belli. "But, when combined with what we have found at Cival, it seems clear that an entire network of city-states existed at this time and they were probably competing with each other in the same way that the city-states did during the Classic and Postclassic periods." In fact, the label of "preclassic" may turn out to be a misnomer for the period of 500 B.C. to 200 A.D., he adds.