Saturday, July 2, 2016

Why Would Nephites Build Burial Mounds? - Part II

Continuing with the Heartland Theory model to see if the burial mounds in the eastern and southern United States could possibly have been Nephite. It is interesting that while the Mounds in the United States are somewhat representative of burial mounds found around the world, there are no mounds in the location from which the Nephites and their ancestors came and nothing in the modern or ancient world to tie these two together.
Anciently in the Middle East, sepulchers were small, stone buildings, or enclosures cut out of the rock, with a central room, typically with stone shelves cut in the walls on which the bodies werfe laid
    In the Book of Mormon, the term sepulcher is used regarding the burial facilities of the Nephites. According to the 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language, a sepulcher is “A grave; a tomb; the place in which a dead body of a human being is interred, or a place destined for that purpose. Among the Jews sepulchers were often excavations in rocks.” We also find the definition: “a small room or monument, cut in rock or built of stone, in which a dead person is laid or buried.”
    Since earliest times in the Middle East and Mesopotamia, from which the Hebrews originated after the Flood, burials were conducted in a specific manner. According to the halakha (the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived form the Written and Oral Torah) Jews were not permitted burial inside the city, except in the case of their kings, and under the command to bury or entomb their dead the same day of death and could not keep a corpse overnight. This included criminals (Deuteronomy 21:22:23), and for mourning to be no longer than seven days—the “shiva” (from “shiv’ah” meaning “seven”), a period of seven days’ formal mourning for the dead, beginning immediately after the funeral (“levaya,” literally “accompanying”). As the people of Jabesh-Gilead fasted seven days (I Samuel 31:13), though the period could be extended as after the death of Aaron (Numbers 20:28-29) and Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8) or shortened (Ecclesiastes 38:17).
    This ritual is referred to as “sitting the shive,” and immediately after burial people assume the “halakhic” status of “avel” meaning “mourner,” and lasts for seven days during which family members, dressed in the “keriah,” an outer garment, which they wore to the funeral, traditionally gather in one home and receive visitors (the funeral day, i.e., day of death, is counted one of the seven days).
Top: Ancient Jewish sepulchers carved out of the rock in the Kidron Valley just beyond the walls of Jerusalem; Bottom Left: Entrance to the tomb of the Sanhedrin, a monument tomb with numerous sarcophagi inside, called tombs of the kings; Bottom Right: Tomb of the more common kind, cut in a rock with a circular stone rolled away form the entrance
    In addition, the Jews built tombs and monuments, such as those found in the Kidron Valley, just to the south of Jerusalem’s walls, which included the tradition as the “tombs of Absolalom, Zechariah and St. James, and were all the tombs of members of the aristocratic, priestly family.”
    There are no burial mounds in all of the Middle East, anciently Jewish and Hebrew dead were not put into the ground, but into a room (sepulcher) until the bones had disintegrated, where they were then placed in a box and stored elsewhere. In fact, it was customary during the first three days of death, to keep the tomb open for the relatives to visit the grave to see whether the dead had come to life again, which led to the use of spices, and liquid myrtles and aloes, with sweet odors and diverse kinds of spices burned to dispel the odor. In fact, anciently coffins were not used at all, and the bodies were carried on a bed or bier.
The burial of Sarah. In ancient Israel, and the rest of the Middle East, tombs and catacombs cut into rock, usually with a small central room with recesses for bodies, were  homes for the dead. They held the body until it decomposed, then the bones were stored in a central pit or an ossuary (bone box)
    To the ancient Hebrew, to die was "to be gathered unto his people" and "to lie with his fathers" to be buried in the grave of his father and mother was his fondest expectation. Thus the cave of Makpelah became the family sepulcher of the Patriarchs. 
    The kings were buried in a family sepulcher. These sepulchers were either dug in the ground in the neighborhood of the family dwelling or hewn out of the rock, often during one's lifetime. In the one case, stone buildings in the shape of houses or cupolas, after Phenician custom called "the soul" or "bird-house”; in the other case, either were selected, or the rocks were so excavated as to furnish compartments or galleries with as many vaults ("kokim") at the three sides as the family required. Into these vaults the corpse could be horizontally moved, the stone rolled upon the entrance forming the cover or door, while the porch on the fourth side was large enough to afford room for the bier and the visitors. While the kings claimed the privilege of being buried in the Holy City and so near the Temple as to provoke the protest of the prophet, the rule was that the burial-place should be at least fifty cubits distant from the city; but it was often placed in a garden, with flowers planted around. In those old family sepulchers of Palestine the interment did not take place immediately, but the body was left in the sepulchral chamber for some time until it was reduced to a mere skeleton, and then the bones were collected anew, wrapped in linen clothes, tied closely together like mummies, and then solemnly interred.
Consequently, noting about mound building can be found in the burial process, which was highly disciplined among the Jews, under the Law of Moses, can be found to tie together these two ideas of mounds and Nephite heritage. That a people build mounds in North America and around the world is one thing, but that Hebrews and Jews had a very specific code of “burying” the dead cannot be denied—and burial mounds played no part in that.
    So the question is asked once again. What causes anyone to think that the Nephites would have chosen to bury their dead in mounds of earth, sometimes large enough to bury communities, when it was considered “evil” and “disrespectful” to the dead to mix their bones with those of anyone other than their immediate family?
    As for the Hopewell, Adean and Mississippi cultures who are credited with building the mounds in North America, they were certainly not Nephites for that would have violated the Law of Moses under which the Nephites originally lived (2 Nephi 5:10) until about 34 A.D. (3 Nephi 9:17).
    As for the Mound Builders, a few thousand years ago it is assumed that people moved into northern Minnesota and southern Canada. Little is known about these ancient people because there is, of course, no written evidence and most or all of their organic artifacts have long since disintegrated.
    About 2,200 years ago, their descendants or others who moved there later, built burial mounds along the Rainy River at the confluence of the Big Fork on the Minnesota-Ontario border near International Falls, Minnesota. The lives of these people too are shrouded in mystery.
    According to archaeologist and director of the Koochiching County Historical Society Edgar Oerichbauer, “They’ve been gone for years, we don’t even know who they are—there’s no way to associate a known historical group to the mound builders.” Scholars speculate that the people would gather at the mound yearly, bringing with them the bodies of those who’d died during the year, and bury them in the mound--an act that would have violagted the Law of Moses under which the Nephites lived
    A Minnesota Grand Forks Herald newspaper article quoted from a 2007 report of the Minnesota Historical Society that the Minnesota Legislature, which said, "Indigenous peoples from the region converged on this spot where the great sturgeon spawned. Here they set up camps to trade, socialize, feast and conduct ceremonies. And here they buried their dead.”
    Grand Mound, Manitou Mound (across the river in Canada), and three other mounds in the area were built by people now called the Laurel Indians, who lived in the area beginning around 200 B.C. The Blackduck people later used the site, until about 1400 A.D. The largest of the five mounds is Grand Mound, which stands 25 feet tall, 100 feet wide and 140 feet long.
Who they were, we have no record. That Nephites and Lamanites existed in North America from their travels from Andean Peru into Central- and MesoAmerica via Hagoth’s ships (Alma 63:6,8), and then later by moving northward into North America can be attested by the existence of Lamanites throughout the Americas, and by Joseph Smith’s comments about Zelph and Onandagus (the latter being a name of a county in New York state as well as the name of a tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy that once occupied the area (John Mohawk, "Origins of Iroquois Political Thought," Northeast Indian Quarterly 3, Summer 1986, pp16–20).
(See the next post, “Why Would Nephites Build Burial Mounds? - Part III,” to see if the Nephites buried their dead in burial mounds)

1 comment:

  1. Any information on population totals in the north? I suspect these groups in southern Canada, and Minnesota were quite small.