Monday, November 2, 2020

One Theorist’s View of Mesoamerica – Part I


The theory that started it all, and was so far off from the scriptural record, is the Mesoamerican model. This came about when, in 1938—eight years before the BYU Depart­ment of Archaeology was founded—the first Latter-day Saint ever to earn the doctorate in the field of archae­ology (combined with ancient history) graduated from the University of California at Berkeley.

His name was M. Wells Jakeman and his dissertation was entitled, The Maya States of Yucatan, 441-1545. Jakeman brought this background to BYU to form the first Archaeology Department, which he chaired. From that time onward, archaeology at BYU centered on the Maya as the people of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise.

It should be noted that while the Maya are claimed to have existed from 1800 BC to 200 AD. they were actually much later, and as evidence shows, did not actually reach their peak until 600 AD, declining thereafter and disappearing completing by 900 AD.

During their existence, the Maya Empire, centered in the tropical lowlands of what is now Guatemala, excelling at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left behind an astonishing amount of impressive architecture and symbolic artwork. Most of the great stone cities of the Maya were abandoned by A.D. 900, however, and since the 19th century scholars have debated what might have caused this dramatic decline (Amanda Onion, Missy Sullivan and Matt Mullen, History Editors, Maya, A&E Television Networks, October 29, 2009).

In light of this, we look at Joseph L. Allen’s theory of the Maya being the Nephites of the Book of Mormon. The first thing noted is that the dates do not overlap—the Nephites were totally destroyed in 385 AD, over 500 years after the Nephite destruction (Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, S.A. Publishers, 1989).

Some of Allen’s erroneous ideas can be shown below:

(Page 69) “The post Book of Mormon Classic Maya culture, with its surrounding neighbors, including North and South America, may also be categorized as Lamanites.  After all, the term "Lamanite" became somewhat of a catch-all term in the Book of Mormon, as in Jacob's 544 BC statement ‘I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi’ shows” (Jacob 1:14).

It is interesting how Allen and other LDS Mesoamerican scholars like to use a scripture out of context to make their point. In this case, Jacob was not referring to just anyone as Allen would like us to think, but referring to those peoples who had aligned themselves against Nephi and Sam from the very beginning and were part of the original Lehi Colony!  Even a cursory glance at the scripture Allen quotes, and the one before it, shows what the writer meant in describing the people in the Land of Promise at the time of Nephi's death—“Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites, but I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings” (Jacob 1:3-4).

First of all, it should be kept in mind that after Nephi's lengthy reign as ruler and teacher over his people (2 Nephi 5:19), Jacob, a much younger brother, is thrust into the spiritual leadership role (Jacob 1:1), while Nephi's own lineage was assigned the ruling responsibility (Jacob 1:11). Thus, Jacob was setting the stage for his own record which he was now writing.  He tells us in the very beginning that he is going to call certain groups Nephites and certain groups Lamanites. So who were those groups?

1) Nephites - descendants of Nephi

2) Sam – descendants of Sam (Nephi's brother), who were always called Nephites

3) Jacobites – descendants of Jacob (Nephi's brother)

4) Josephites – descendants of Joseph (Nephi's brother)

5) Zoramites – descendants of Zoram, Laban's servant who Nephi brought out of Jerusalem with him (1 Nephi 4:35,38).

6) Mulekites – descendants of Mulek

7) Lamanites who became Nephites – Such as the converted Lamanites, or people of Ammon.

These seven groups had from the beginning aligned themselves into one major group (followers of the Lord, Lehi, and Nephi).  From this point onward, they were called Nephites by all of the prophets engraving on the plates.  The other four groups were:

8) Lamanites - descendants of Laman (Nephi's oldest brother)

9) Lemuelites - descendants of Lemuel (Nephi's older brother)

10) Ishmaelites - descendants of the two sons of Ishmael, whom Nephi and his brothers convinced should join them in the wilderness and whose sisters they took to wife.

11) Nephite dissenters who joined the Lamanites and fought against the Nephites.

From the beginning, these latter four groups were opposed to Nephi's leadership, Lehi taking them out of Jerusalem and to another land, and to the Lord in general.  Thus, their descendants all opposed the Nephites and were the scourge of the Nephite nation for 1000 years. 

Alma, nearly 500 years later makes the same distinction about the Lamanites, saying: “Amalickiah obtained the kingdom; yea, he was acknowledged king throughout all the land, among all the people of the Lamanites, who were composed of the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites, and all the dissenters of the Nephites, from the reign of Nephi down to the present time (Alma 47:35).

The Lord calls his 12 disciples on the American continent--Nephi is circled

About 250 years after Alma, Nephi, the son of Nephi and one of the Savior's 12 Disciples makes this same point: “That they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle (4 Nephi 1:38). 

Mormon, in abridging the record and adding his own writings around 380 AD, stated the same distinction about the Nephites and Lamanites:  “In this year there began to be a war between the Nephites, who consisted of the Nephites and the Jacobites and the Josephites and the Zoramites; and this war was between the Nephites, and the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites.  Now the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites were called Lamanites, and the two parties were Nephites and Lamanites” (Mormon 1:8,9). 

Finally, the Lord himself used the same distinction in talking to Joseph Smith: “And to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers—And this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations” (D&C 3:17-18).  It is obvious that the names of Nephites and Lamanites were specifically used to determine two groups whose progenitors is clearly and frequently mentioned in scripture.  This, however, does not deter Allen from making the following statement: The term Lamanite during Book of Mormon times may have had the same connotation that the term Gentile has in Latter-day Saint vocabulary today.  All who are not Mormons are Gentiles.  Hence, all who were not Nephites were Lamanites. Certainly, no one else than a Mesoamerican scholar could possibly stretch the terms Nephites or Lamanites to include numerous  other people in order to fit their pre-determined models.

Lamanites from warrior to peaceful man


• (Page 69) “In the Latter-day Saint culture of today, the meaning of the term "Lamanite" has almost been reversed.  People who are native to the Americas, who have accepted the gospel and have been baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are called Lamanites...the term "Lamanite"...can also refer to all native Americans, not just to baptized members.

individuals who are native to North, Central and South America are all referred to as Lamanites. The exception to this is if their ancestry is not truly Lamanite, i.e., dating back to the early development of the Americas (from 400 AD to the coming of the Spanish  conquerors). 

It matters little whether or not they are members of the Church.  What matters is their ancestry. American Indians, of all the Americas, are considered to be of Lamanite descent. To better understand this, Nephi tells us that in his vision (1 Nephi 11:8) he saw his seed (Nephites) gathered together to do battle with the seed of his brethren, meaning Laman and Lemuel (1 Nephi 12:1) and the seed of his brethren were victorious (1 Nephi 12:20), that the seed of his brethren (Lamanites) went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land, there were numerous wars among them for many generations (1 Nephi 12:21), that they were a dark-skinned people (1 Nephi 12:23), that Gentiles would eventually come to the land of promise and scatter the Lamanites (1 Nephi 13:14) and that these Gentiles, who would inherit the land of promise, were white, like the Nephites had been (1 Nephi 13:15). Why the theroist wants to confuse the reader by suggesting the term Lamanite means something different to members of the Church today than it did in Book of Mormon times is not known, unless he is merely trying to suggest that the term Lamanite can and should be used to describe a numerous amount of people, civilizations, and nations that may have existed in Mesoamerica, but certainly not in the Land of Promise—Lehi's Isle of Promise.

However, there is no question that the people of Central America from Christ's time onward to the invasion of the Spaniards, were descendants of Lehi. The early builders of Mesoamerica were Nephites, the latter inhabitants of Mesoamerica were Lamanites. In time, after the Europeans arrived, many Lamanites intermingled with Europeans giving us numerous mixed peoples today. However, in South America there are still significant numbers of the original Lamanite blood. Peru has 14.1 million (25%); Bolivia 7.2 million (41%); Chile 2 million (4.6%) and Ecuador about 1 million (6.8%).

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