Saturday, February 24, 2018

What Keeps the Idea of Mesoamerica Floating? – Part II

Continuing with the three criteria that Joseph L. Allen uses to support his claim that Mesoamerica is the Land of Promise. In the previous post, we discussed the first two.
We continue here with the third one: 3) The oral traditions, the cultural patterns, and the written history of Mesoamerica contain many interesting parallels with the writings in the Book of Mormon.
    Let’s take “oral traditions.” The last Nephite, Moroni, ended his known writing in 421 A.D. The last Nephites as a people ended in the final battle at Cumorah in 385 A.D. The Spanish arrived in 1519 and by August 13, 1521, when a coalition army of Spanish forces and native Tlaxcalan warriors led by Hernán Cortés and Xicotencatl the Younger captured the emperor Cuauhtemoc and Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire fell in Mexico, and by the mid-1500s, the Maya lands were conquered. So for a period of about 1165 years, Allen is claiming that native tribes occupying the area known today as Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize), kept alive the oral traditions of the Nephites. Since the Lamanites, evidently the precursors of the Aztec (also known as the Mexica), hated everything Nephite, fought for a thousand years to destroy them and finally did, what would cause them to keep any oral traditions of the Nephites alive for over the next thousand years?
    And what of the cultural patterns of the Nephite? What would prompt the Lamanites to keep anything Nephite alive and well for a thousand years? And who and why was it kept alive before the Aztec, who did not come to power until around 1248 A.D.? Even by 1300, the Aztec were still a small tribe—knowing how to cultivate the land, but fierce warriors who were inspired by their war god Hultzlopochtl.
Black rectangle: Land of Promsie; RedCircle: The location of the Aztec Empire; Yellow Line: The division between the Land Northward and the Land Southward. The Aztecs, after wandering for some time, finally settled on an unoccupied island in what is now the area of Mexico City, which as can be seen from the above map, was in the Land Northward of the Mesoamerican Land of Promise model

Through this early era, the Aztecs were vagrants, continually trying to find a territory to occupy, eventually locating themselves on a marshy unoccupied island and establishing Tenochtitlan. What would have prompted the Aztecs, or the various small city states that occupied Aztec land between 1150 and 1248, to keep alive anything that might have survived the previous 750 years? And what would have survived? We cannot say Lamanite “oral traditions” for we have no written indication in the Book of Mormon as to what traditions the Lamanites upheld—only that they lived in tents, wore breechcloths, lived off wild beasts, etc., which is a style that has marked the “Indian” throughout the Western Hemisphere for the past two thousand years, and hated their rival Nephites because they felt the Nephite ancestors had “stolen” the birthright that the Lamanites claimed was theirs?
    The point is, we do not know anything other than what was Nephite, and it is written that the Lamanites would not have maintained anything Nephite. So it would not be possible to find any “oral traditions” in the Lamanite descendants that would have been Nephite.
    The “cultural patterns” certainly would not have been Nephite, and frankly, we have no idea what the Lamanite cultural patterns were, since we have no record of the Lamanites in any manner other than the sketchy comments made regarding them—but nothing about their living style (other than the lazy ones in tents in the wilderness), and that they basically were non-productive, wishing to live off the produce of others. So in all reality, there is no way we could come up with any “cultural patterns” of the Lamanites that would have carried over into Aztec times when the Spanish arrived.
    As for the “written history,” we can readily see in the scriptural record that the Lamanites had little use for writing and were illiterate until around the last century B.C. when Ammon taught them the Nephite language and they used the skill to trade and make money.
However, after the separation following the two hundred years of peace subsequent to the Savior’s appearance to the Nephites, the Lamanites reverted to their original life style and spent the next 150 years warring with the Nephites until they wiped them out completely. During that 150 years, and the following 50 years or more, the Lamanites were embroiled in a war and then a civil war, that would have taken all their time and energy. To believe they would have retained an interest in writing is not realistic and though at some point in the future they took up writing, with pictures in hieroglyphic blocks in an unknown pattern, there is no way this can be stretched to suggest that it was a constant carryover from the Nephite era.
    As to the dissimilarities, it should be noted that the Aztec were polytheistic, like the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, having and worshipping many different gods—they were not monotheistic like the Nephites. The Aztec, different from the Greeks, did not have gods that were related to one another, and there was no hierarchy among them. the Aztecs incorporated the beliefs, ceremonies, and deities of earlier religions. Some of the deities were the patron deities of social, political, or economic groups; some were tribal deities. “Even individual people might have their own special divine patrons, usually the deity associated with the day of their birth” (Brian Fagan, The Aztecs, Freeman & Co., 1984).
    Another of these many differences is that, according to Michael Coe and Rex Koontz (Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, Thames & Hudson, 2008), the Aztec gods, especially Huitzilipochtli demanded human sacrifice, and another, Tialoc, who demanded the sacrifice of small children on mountain tops to bring rain at the end of the dry season (it was said, the more the children cried, the more rain that fell). In fact, it should be pointed out that human sacrifice was found throughout Mesoamerica and that the practice pre-dates the Aztec arrival in the Valley of Mexico. The Aztec, however, carried out human sacrifice at an unprecedented level—for example, in 1487 the Aztecs reported that they sacrificed 84,400 prisoners over the course of four days. There are some who feel that this is an exaggerated figure, but it is evident that the Aztec sacrificed lots of people and that the world did not end during their reign.
    However, the most striking difference between Book of Mormon and the Aztec in religious matters is that the Aztec gods were bisexual, a combination of the male and female. Still, other than myth and legend, not much is known of Mexico’s history before the rise of the various rival city states following the fall of the Toltec empire beginning in 1150 A.D. Certainly there can be no connection between these three areas upon which Allen so blithely bases his Mesoamerican model.
    It is also quite interesting that the concept of working with metal to fashion ornaments and tools did not originate in Mesoamerica but seems to have diffused into the region sometime in the seventh century from the south—coastal Ecuador, or Peru. Metal working seems to have diffused initially into West Mexico through maritime trade. According to Dorothy Hosler, writing in The Oxford Companion to Archaeology: “These maritime traders primarily transmitted technical knowledge, although they sometimes traded artifacts, which were then copied using local materials.” From West Mexico, metalworking diffused to the east and was present in the Valley of Mexico by the eleventh century. By the time the Aztecs rose to power in the Valley of Mexico (the highlands plateau situated in the area now occupied by Mexico City, and is surrounded by volcanoes and mountains) in the fourteenth century, metalworking was well-established among the Mesoamerican civilizations. The technology of alloying tin or lead with copper was unknown in the Valley of Mexico, so the Aztec metalworkers worked with soft, lustrous metals such as copper, gold, and silver. It is interesting to know that none of these metals were found in the Valley of Mexico and had to be imported from distant areas.
    Another dissimilarity was in the fact that the Aztec maintained their empire through hard power: through an efficient and well-led army which was constantly waging war. Aztec culture gloried in warfare and warriors with all Aztec men participating in war: even the nobility, the priests, and the merchants fought in the battles. Through valor on the battlefield, commoners could raise their social status and obtain great wealth. Death in battle was regarded as a glorious sacrifice to the war god Huitzilopochtli, and Aztec warriors were dedicated to die in battle.
    Compare this to the Nephite crede: “Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives. And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger; And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity” (Alma 48:14-16).
    The point being, that when Allen tries to use the oral traditions, the cultural patterns, and the written history of Mesoamerica to show similarities with the Book of Mormon, he needs to spend a little more time in looking for similarities, rather than dissimilarities. However, one cannot help but wonder what similarities actually exist between Mesoamerica and the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon. Certainly, nothing on the scale of what Allen suggests. So the question is again, what keeps Mesoamerica floating as a viable model for the Land of Promise of the Book of Mormon?
    There seems to be very little to float such an idea, let alone defend it with pitiful ideas that cannot survive any scrutiny at all.

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