Monday, June 11, 2012

Beware of the Experts—They Often Have an Axe to Grind Part I

Max Wells Jakeman (1910 – 1998) was the founder of the department of archaeology at Brigham Young University, and an early member of the advisory board of the New World Archaeology Foundation  (NWAF). Jakeman has been described as "the father of Book of Mormon archaeology."

Jakeman received his Ph.D. from the University of California Berkeley where he wrote his doctoral dissertation based on a combination of archaeological evidence and Spanish documents relating to the history of the Yucatan. Jakeman believed that archaeology must be grounded in a firm understanding of documents, and he did not see archaeology as a sub-discipline of anthropology.

While at Berkeley, Jakeman, along with Thomas Stuart Ferguson developed the theory that the Book of Mormon Land of Promise was located in Mesoamerica, and together formed the Itzan Society—an organization focusing on the study of archaeology in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. When he came to BYU, he implemented that belief into the original archaeology and anthropology curriculum at BYU, and ever since that is what has been taught in the schools of Archaeology and Anthropology at the “Y".

In 1946 Elder John A. Widtsoe organized the Department of Archaeology at BYU and brought in Dr. Wells Jakeman, as the chairman of the newly formed department. Jakeman worked to teach archaeology in the framework of "historical archaeology," that is, archaeology based on a close connection with historical documents. These historical documents, however, were not the Book of Mormon. At BYU, Jakeman pursued his limited geographical approach and further proposed that the history of the Book of Mormon took place in the area of Mesoamerica. (Ferguson later made 25 trips to Mexico between 1946 and 1983 before he died. Jakeman was chairman at BYU from 1946 to 1960, and wrote “The Origin and History of the Mayans."

The University Archaeological Society was organized in BYU's Department of Archaeology by Jakeman in 1949. It published a newsletter and held annual symposiums. In 1967 its name was changed to the Society for Early Historic Archaeology. It split off from BYU in 1979 and afterward began a slow decline until ceasing in 1990. Its functions were earlier replaced by the New World Archaeology Foundation, and later by the Foundation for Archaeological Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which had Jakeman’s protégé, John L. Sorenson, as the first Director, with Department Chairs M. Wells Jakeman, Ross Christensen, Merlin G. Meyers, John L. Sorenson, and Donald W. Forsyth.

Jakeman was closely associated with Izapa Stela 5, one of a number of large, carved stelae found in the ancient Mesoamerican site of Izapa in the Soconisco region of Chiaas, Mexico, along the present-day Guatemalan border. These stelae date from roughly 300 B.C. to 50 B.C., although some argue for dates as late as 250 A.D.

Also known as the "Tree of Life" stone, the complex religious imagery of Izapa Stela 5 has led to different theories and speculations concerning its subject matter, particularly those involving Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. Though discovered and documented first in the 1930s, the stone is particularly noteworthy because of the controversy created by the proposition advanced Jakeman in 1953 that the stone was a record of the Book of Mormon tree of life vision. As early as Dec. 5, 1959, Dr. Jakeman said: "Incidentally we have here in the Izapa carving, in view of this conclusion, the first actual portrayal of a Book of Mormon event, and the first actual recording of Book of Mormon names, yet discovered on an ancient monument of the New World." Careful research, however, shows that this article cannot be used as evidence for the Book of Mormon. Nor has Jakeman actually translated any Book of Mormon name from "Stela 5," but has only symbolically interpreted some elements on the stone.

Mainstream Mesoamerican scholars do not support linking Izapa Stela 5 to the Bible, the Book of Mormon, or an "out of Africa" theory. For example, Julia Guernsey Kappelman, author of a definitive work on Izapan culture, finds that Jakeman's research "belies an obvious religious agenda that ignored Izapa Stela 5's heritage."

Jakeman, it should be remembered, is the originator of the Mesoamerican Theory of the Book of Mormon Land of Promise, and has taught at BYU almost all of the current leading Mesoamerican theorists. One of his early converts was John L. Sorenson, later to  become the head of Anthropology at BYU.

(See the next post, “Beware of the Experts—They Often Have an Axe to Grind Part II,” to see Sorenson’s standing and how he sees the Book of Mormon Land of Promise in his recent 2011 presentation “Mormon’s Sources,” paper presented at the Second Biennial Willes Center Book of Mormon Lecture at the BYU Hinckley Center Assembly Hall)           

No comments:

Post a Comment