Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Language of the Nephites – Part I

Mesoamericanists make a big deal out of the fact that the ancients in the area of their model had a written language, therefore being the only indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere dating to Book of Mormon times with writing, ergo, they had to have been the original Nephites.
Mesoamerican scripts deciphered to date are a combination of logographic and syllabic values. They are often called hieroglyphs due to the iconic shapes of many of the glyphs. Five or six scripts have been documented in Mesoamerica, with the best documented and deciphered writing system, and the most widely known, being the classic Maya script (left)—a script that used logograms (grapheme, the smallest meaningful unit of language) complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.
    According to Michael D. Coe (Breaking the Maya Code, 1992), Mayan writing was originally called "hieroglyphics" or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance they thought reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, which by the way, the Mayan writing system is not at all related.
    Nor can we find any similarity between the Maya Script and any other familiar language, especially Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian as Joseph Smith drew the characters on the sheet delivered to Professor Anthon.
The characters drawn by Joseph Smith from the plates that Martin Harris took to New York to show Columbia Professor Charles Anthon
Mesoamericanists, of course, claim that the only place in the New World where a written phonetic writing system was in use—at precisely the same time that the Book of Mormon was written—was in Mesoamerica; however, this is not entirely true. While only about 3% of sites in South America have been uncovered, at least five indications of pre-Inca writing has so far been found:
1. Fuente Magna bowl found near Lake Titicaca, with carved cuneiform script in the proto-Sumarian language believed to have been written sometime after 2500 B.C. (Sumaria is in Mesopotamia where the Jaredites originated);
2. The Paraiba (Parahybe) Stone inscription discovered in January, 1874, claimed to be Phoenician, though closely related to Hebrew.
The Paraiba inscription. As a similar script to Hebrew, could possibly be the “altered Hebrew” mentioned by Moroni (Mormon 9:32). Also note its similarity to the characters above in the Anthon script or Reformed Egyptian
3. The so-called “Gate of the Sun,” at Tiahuanaco, near Lake Titicaca. These glyphs, more like Maya Script, has never been translated, if indeed it is a language. Many scholars believe it to be part of an astrological observatory.
The famous Gate at Tiahuanaco, and the glyphs found on it and nearby stela, showing a surprising similarity with that glyphs of the Maya Script
4. The Pusharo Glyphs found in the remote Peruvian Amazon, which to date have not been interpreted.
The Pusharo petroglyphs
5. There is also the Rongorongo language found on Easter Island, which the earliest natives encountered there claimed came from the mainland of Peru with their ancestors.
Carvings at Chavin, whether a language or design has yet to be determined
    In addition, there are numerous carvings on stone all over Peru and Ecuador, perhaps the most famous found at Chavin, that at the present are not seen as writing, but then, originally neither was the Maya script thought to be writing, but mere design.
Petroglyphs found all over Peru and Ecuador
Petroglyphs are engravings made on a rock surface. By pecking with a hammerstone, or cutting with a sharp stone knife, native South American peoples who were otherwise without written symbols utilized geometric forms in graphic expression. South American petroglyphs are divided geographically and stylistically into four separate groups: Patagonian; Ando-Peruvian; Colombian-Venezuelan; and Brazilian (Boman 1908; Rouse 1949).
    Patagonian petroglyphs consist of simplistic figures such as footprints of birds, animals, human beings, human hands, and concentric circles and squares. Those of the Colombian-Venezuelan group include human or animal figures, always without details of clothing or ornament, with those from the eastern slopes of the Colombian, more resembling Amazonian types, showing human faces and possible supernatural beings emphasized through simple, repeated curvilinear or swirling. Brazilian petroglyphs feature schematic representations of fish, animals, and human beings, as well as common designs of faces, circles, and the spiral. Ando-Peruvian petroglyphs, by contrast, employ the most complicated designs of all, with frequent representations of birds, animals (including felines and llamas), and human beings. The gigantic Nazca figures in southern Peru represent the Ando-Peruvian style.
    As for actual writing, it should be kept in mind that all the records kept by the Nephites, and they were many (Helaman 3:15), were in the possession of Mormon and hidden up in the hill Cumorah, other than the few plates he gave to his son (Mormon 6:6). There were “many records kept of the proceedings of this people, which are particular and very large concerning them” (Helaman 3:13), which were “handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites” (Helaman 3:16).
We are told throughout the scriptural text that the Lamanites would destroy any Nephite writings they found—as did the Spaniards centuries later burn Mayan, Aztec and Inca writings and records. Unless writings were inscribed on rock, such as the Mayan glyphs, nothing survived of these writings to be found in South or Central America. In addition, a goodly portion of these records are evidently still located in the hill Cumorah. As Heber C. Kimball said, “How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts,” (Journal of Discourses, September 1856); or Brigham Young added, “We went [into] a Cave in the Hill Comorah with Oliver Cowdry and deposited those plates upon a table or shelf. In that room were deposited a large amount of gold plates containing sacred records, and Joseph Smith said that it contained tons of choice treasures and records.” In fact, Brigham Young claimed in that cave-room were “more plates than probably many wagon loads; under a table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and they were piled up in the corners and along the walls” (Journal of Discourses, June 1877).
    No wonder nothing of the written Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian was ever found—it should not be a mystery, but completely understandable given the hatred of the Lamanites toward the Nephites and anything Nephite. In addition, after the Nephites were destroyed, the Lamanites and Robbers were involved in one continual round of bloodshed during an extensive civil war. In the Land of Promise, there should be very little left to suggest a Nephite presence, and little is found other than those stone buildings too large to destroy that later served some purpose of the surviving Lamanite tribes.
(See the next post, “The Language of the Nephites – Part II,” for more on the absence of writing in the Land of Promise)

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