Is the Book of Mormon a Mesoamerican Chronicle?
By V. Garth Norman
The Ancient America Foundation (AAF) is pleased to present AAF Notes: a series of research articles by scholars of Book of Mormon culture and history and reviewed by AAF editors. Visit our website. This Research Note is an excerpt from Norman’s forthcoming publication, “Book of Mormon ? Mesoamerican Historic Geography; a Study Map with a Comprehensive Annotated Scriptural Gazetteer.”
The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is a historic religious record from antiquity written by prophet scribes that chronicles religious history, doctrine, and covenant teachings with Jehovah-Christ. It spans about 3,000 years, covering the rise and fall of two ancient American civilizations, the Jaredites and the Nephites, from about 2500 B.C. to A.D. 400 with ancestral roots in the Middle East.
Like the Bible, it contains lengthy religious texts along with historic events that illustrate religious teachings. That it is a significant history, is stated in Mormon’s abridgement taken from the Large Plates of Nephi (1 Nephi 1: 16-17; 9:2-4; 19:1), which were “occupied mostly by a secular history of the peoples concerned” (see Book of Mormon Introduction).
The more detailed history contained in the books of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman covers half the Book of Mormon volume during a 125-year period before Christ. The histories of wars and other movements in these three books have extensive geographic details related to real places that should be identifiable when all of the data are brought together and examined in the right locations.
The Book of Mormon genuineness as a Mesoamerican chronicle can be compared to the Popol Vuh, sacred book of the Quiche Maya of Guatemala. Scholars for a long time thought the Popol Vuh was partly fiction from Colonial period influences of the Bible, especially in its creation account, but it is widely accepted today as an authentic pre-Columbian text. Its historic claims coincide with known geography, archaeology, and ethnohistory.
Roots of some of its religious myths have been found in pictographic hieroglyphic writing on ancient Maya vessels and on Izapa stone sculptures dating back before Christ, and most recently in a Late Preclassic (ca 100 B.C.) Maya temple mural uncovered in the jungle ruins of San Bartolo, Guatemala.
Similar successes are developing from Book of Mormon research yet to be recognized. The Book of Mormon itself reported to be a complex historic record deserves serious investigation, as much as the Popol Vuh, especially considering its claimed historic reality from ancient America and its foundational belief by the rapidly growing Mormon world religion. World wide distribution of the Book of Mormon has exceeded 115,000,000.
The need for more serious attention to Book of Mormon history is also reflected in growing public interest on the world stage in special editions of the Book of Mormon being published in 2003 by the University of Chicago press, and in 2004 by Doubleday. Mormon Studies academic programs are developing at several universities, including the Claremont Graduate School, University of Arizona, and University of Utah.
Oxford’s 2002 landmark publication, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a new World Religion, by Terry L. Givens is another major contribution. Alfred A. Knopf’s 2005 publication, Joseph Smith; Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman is another recent commendable work.
These publications and numerous other scholarly studies cited by these authors sustain the legitimacy of Joseph Smith’s work. Ongoing work by various research organizations continues to advance cultural history study of the Book of Mormon, including AAF, FARMS, and the Nephi Project. Research is progressing beyond the long history of apologetic debates to serious investigations of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity as a Mesoamerican chronicle with Middle Eastern roots.
We have studied around, over, and under the Book of Mormon as history for many years. Progress now warrants more intensive historicity investigations that rest on a solid geographic setting that can potentially be confirmed with scientific research testing.
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