Excerpt from Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon:
Edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch
Some statements in the Book of Mormon about ancient Near Eastern lands, concepts, and activities might have
been incorporated into the Nephite text because a nineteenth-century writer, such as Joseph Smith Jr. or Sidney Rigdon, knew
about ancient lifeways through reading the Bible or secular sources accessible before 1830. But once the Book of Mormon story
claims to be taking place in an American setting, such an argument makes no sense, for nobody knew enough by 1830 to get so
many facts right. At point after point the scripture accurately reflects the culture and history of ancient Mesoamerica (southern
Mexico and northern Central America). Where did such information come from if not through Joseph in the manner he claimed?
Literally no person in Joseph Smith's day knew or could have known enough facts about exotic Central America to depict the
subtle and accurate picture of ancient life that we find as background for the Book of Mormon. In this paper a look at a dozen
or so characteristics of Mesoamerican civilization that are mirrored in the Book of Mormon will illustrate why this question
Joseph Smith could not have known in 1830 from published books or his contemporaries that an ancient
civilization had existed anywhere in the Americas. To all settlers of the western New York frontier, an "Indian" was just
a savage. If young Joseph took his ideas for the Book of Mormon from his neighbors and their cultural milieu, as many critics
maintain, we would expect him to have rather similar notions of America's indigenous peoples. Yet the Book of Mormon characterizes
itself as a record from a real civilization (which included not only "the Nephites" but also "the Lamanites," as shown by
Mosiah 24:1–7 and Alma 21:2). New York frontier dwellers did not attribute civilization to the native American peoples
they knew anything about. Joseph Smith himself was surprised to learn in 1842 from reading the sensational book by John Lloyd
Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (published
in 1839), that there had once been a spectacular ancient civilization in Central America and that, at least in superficial
terms, it agreed with the cultural pattern characterized in the Book of Mormon.
In the early nineteenth century, knowledge
of the geography, history, and cultures of most of the world, and particularly of the Western Hemisphere, was very limited
on the U.S. frontier and only somewhat better in the cities along the eastern seaboard.1 Orson Pratt, an early leader in the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is accurate in his recollection in 1849 that "no one will dispute the fact that
the existence of antique remains in different parts of America was known long before Mr. Smith was born. But every well-informed
person knows that . . . most of the discoveries made by Catherwood and Stephens were original—that most of the forty-four
cities described by [Stephens's book] had not been described by previous travelers."2 Stephens's biographer makes the same
point: "The acceptance of an 'Indian civilization' demanded, to an American living in 1839, an entire reorientation, for to
him, an Indian was one of those barbaric, tepee dwellers against whom wars were constantly waged. . . . Nor did one ever think
of calling the other indigenous inhabitants of the continent [e.g., of Central America] 'civilized.' In the universally accepted
opinion [of that day], they were like their North American counterparts—savages."3 So Joseph Smith was surprised when,
in 1842 in Nauvoo, he and his associates read Stephens's book. A comment in the Times and
Seasons, the newspaper that Smith edited, clearly reflects that fact: "Mr. Stephens' great developments of antiquities
are made bare to the eyes of all . . . by reading the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. . . . Who could have
dreamed that twelve years could have developed such incontrovertible testimony to the Book of Mormon?"4
The Land of Bountiful, in the Book of Mormon, found?
The Book of Mormon tells of a land of "Bountiful," a fertile place on the Arabian Peninsula where Nephi built the ship
that carried Lehi's group to the New World. In Joseph Smith's day, and for more than a century after, it seemed impossible
that such a place could exist in seemingly barren Arabia. However, a beautiful, wooded valley that fits Nephi's description
of the place in detail has recently been identified on the remote southern coast of the country of Oman.The fertile site that
Lehi and his family called "Bountiful" was "prepared of the Lord" (1 Nephi 17:5). It marked both the end of their 2000-mile
trek across the Arabian Peninsula and their departure point to the New World.
For many decades the writings of Hugh Nibley, first published in the Improvement Era in 1950, represented the only
work by a Latter-day Saint scholar on the Old World setting in which the Book of Mormon account begins. Nibley drew upon a
handful of early writings that described life in Arabia, including an account of a visit to Oman early this century by the
English explorer Bertram Thomas.
Thomas's enthusiastic description of the fertility of the area near the regional capital Salalah, in the south of the country,
made it seem likely to Nibley that this was the place that Nephi had written about two and a half millennia earlier.In the
early 1970s Jay Todd, the managing editor of the Ensign, initiated a visit to the general areas where the Book of Mormon
story began. He invited Lynn and Hope Hilton, who had extensive experience in the Middle East, to go to the Arabian Peninsula
on behalf of the Ensign. Traveling with their daughter and with photographer Gerald W. Silver early in 1976, the Hiltons
became the first Latter-day Saints to journey through western Saudi Arabia and, very briefly, southern Oman, examining possible
routes that Lehi and his family may have used. What they saw and photographed established that parts of the southern coast
of Oman had many of the features described by Nephi. Civil unrest in Oman continued to keep the country isolated,
however, and another eleven years would pass before LDS researchers again visited southern Oman.
In 1987 [Warren P. Aston] visited the area for several days and made a more extensive examination of the Salalah
area. That visit made it apparent that while Salalah met most of the requirements for Bountiful, as described in the Book
of Mormon, the most important of these requirements—the natural vegetation, large trees, and fresh water—were
found only several miles inland, separated from the ocean by an arid coastal plain. Yet the Book of Mormon description makes
it appear that Nephi's Bountiful, where Lehi's group lived while they built and launched their ship, was right on the coast.
Ruins of city ports dating to the first millennium BC showed that the coastline has not changed
appreciably in thousands of years in the Salalah area, so these necessary elements were unlikely to have been any closer to
the coast anciently. Those facts made it less likely that Salalah could qualify as a candidate for Bountiful, and a report
that large trees were to be found on the coastline farther west near the Yemen border made it obvious that we needed to examine
other sites before the matter was settled.
In 1988 [Warren P. Aston] began a four-year program of exploration, visiting in stages the remote coastal areas
of Oman to the west of Salalah and also the entire eastern coastline of neighboring Yemen, which stretches more than 700 miles
down to Aden at the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula. This unprecedented land survey gave us basic information
on the entire region and established, to our satisfaction, that no serious Bountiful candidates were to be found outside the
southern Dhofar region of Oman. The survey also revealed that the most fertile places along this coastline lay within a small,
little-known region of Oman backed by the Qamar mountains near the Yemen border.
Unlike Salalah, this small region had places where extensive natural vegetation, including sizable trees, was found on
the coast itself. This fertility is apparently due to the existence of small narrow valleys that funnel the annual monsoon
rains inland, creating well-watered valleys. We soon discovered that here, as nowhere else, all the factors that Nephi mentioned
were found in one place. Our interest soon focused on the greenest portion of this small region, the bay of Khor
Kharfot ("Fort Inlet" or "Fort Port"). This unique spot is so isolated that even today it is almost unknown in other parts
of Oman. It lies at the end of a long, narrow ravine, the Wadi Sayq ("River Valley"), that provides the only access from the
interior desert to the coast through the Qamar mountains.
In April and September 1993, two teams of specialists, including a geologist and an archaeologist, jointly sponsored by
FARMS and Brigham Young University, visited Khor Kharfot for further examination. One of their first findings was that the
place had once been a sheltered sea inlet until sometime in the last few hundred years when a beach was formed that closed
off the bay. They also identified several distinct areas of ruins, indicating intermittent settlement at Kharfot over the
centuries. What appear to be the oldest of these ruins were found on the small, flat western plateau overlooking the bay,
but we will not know more about the ruins without excavation.
Writing on Metal Plates:
The concept of ancient civilizations writing on golden plates was absolutely laughable in 1830, but now is not only
well established as an ancient practice
, but as a particularly significant ancient practice in the Middle East in the era of 600 B.C.--especially for religious documents.
Most significant, perhaps, is the ancient practice of "scriptorio"--putting the title page at the END of the book, something
which is a hallmark of ancient writings on plates from the Middle East, and which is also strong evidence of authenticity
for the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have known of "scriptorio" when he translated the gold plates and noted that
the title page was at the end, on the last page. For details on this important external evidence, see my page on "Metal Plates and the Book of Mormon"
, taken from a FARMS Update (in compliance with their "fair use" policy). Also see my Book of Mormon "Nugget," "Hiding Sacred Records like the Golden Plates: A Well Established Ancient Practice
," and my LDSFAQ page on Metals in the Book of Mormon
Did you know that there was an ancient book of gold plates discovered?! See the BBN News article from May 26, 2003, "Unique Book Goes on Display." This volume of gold plates, bound with gold rings at the side as was the Book of Mormon plates, comes from the ancient
Etruscans, who had origins in the Middle East (Turkey) and were wiped out by the Romans in the 4th century B.C. Also see the
related story from May 23, 2003, "World's Only Etruscan Gold Book Added to Bulgaria's Archeology Treasures."
Contrary to anti-Mormon claims, DNA evidence does not refute the Book of Mormon.There are genes found in Native Americans
that are also found in Jews, including mitochondrial DNA haplotype X (found among some Israelis and Europeans) and a Y chromosome
haplotype called "1C". These genes can also be found in Asia, and so don't prove that people from the Middle East came to
the Americas--but that possibility most certainly is NOT excluded by the DNA evidence. Other data may point more directly
to Middle Eastern origins for some of the many genes in the Americas, including an analysis of ancient skulls from the Americas
and HLA genes. But even without the discovery of such evidence or of the possibly relevant DNA haplotypes, a proper understanding
of what the Book of Mormon actually says and what the scientific data actually say rapidly leads one to the conclusion that
the DNA-based attacks on the Book of Mormon are without merit. The scientific data may challenge some popular misinterpretations
of the Book of Mormon, but they do not challenge the text itself. For details, see "Does DNA evidence refute the Book of Mormon?"
In spite of the popular "Asia only" paradigm for Native American origins, evidence for ancient transoceanic contact exists
and the Bering Strait theory appears to be unable to explain the origins of all ancient Americans.
For more information on this issure please visit this website.
Jesus appearing to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon = Quetzalcoatl?
Legends about Quetzalcoatl from Mexico and Central America bring forward tantalizing resemblances to aspects of the life
and New World ministry of Jesus Christ. In the past, some leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints occasionally
drew attention to certain of those similarities. Among those mentioned in post-Spanish conquest manuscripts were that Quetzalcoatl
was the Creator, that he was born of a virgin, that he was a god of the air and earth (in his manifestation as the Feathered
Serpent), that he was white and bearded, that he came from heaven and was associated with the planet Venus, that he raised
the dead, and that he promised to return. The full picture, however, is extremely complex. In light of ancient sources and
modern studies that have appeared in recent decades, some proposed links between Jesus Christ and Quetzalcoatl remain quite
plausible while others are now questionable. This article examines and sets into a helpful context possible links that may
derive from, or be related to, the Nephites' knowledge of and teaching about the Savior.
The Primary Sources
Documentary sources for pre-Columbian beliefs vary in nature and value. The only truly ancient texts are inscriptions in
Mayan hieroglyphs, which scholars finally are able to decipher in whole or in part.We may glean some information from these
writings pertaining to Maya beliefs about the creation. Current interpretations of the iconography (artistic expressions)
found in Mexico are beginning to make valuable contributions to our understanding of Quetzalcoatl and the mythology associated
with him, an understanding that did not exist even a few years ago. Useful information about Quetzalcoatl is also found in
native records known as codices. These screenfolded pictorial books date to both before and after the Spanish conquest of
Latin America. The bulk of the Quetzalcoatl legends come from colonialperiod translations of the codices into Spanish and
transcriptions of the codices in the native tongues. The later Mexican records, a third set of sources, are the most inconsistent
but must be considered in any discussion of Quetzalcoatl. Because Catholic clergy and missionaries wrote most of the postconquest
manuscripts, dating chiefly from the 16th century, any review of that material must exhibit caution, for as H. B. Nicholson
advises, "anything that has come down to us through the intermediation of early friars must always be critically examined
for possible Christian influence." There is a very simple reason for such skepticism.
Spanish chroniclers, desiring to please adherents of both Christianity and the religion of the indigenous natives, emphasized
the powerful symbolic continuity between the Catholic and Mesoamerican belief systems. They did this by frequently combining
myth and history from pre-Hispanic times. Such manipulation was even a native tradition in Mesoamerica. Kings caused historical
records to be manipulated in order to strengthen and authenticate their legitimacy to rule their people. Because of these
practices, scholars are sometimes in a quandary as to what is historical and what is mythological. Some post-conquest stories
clearly rest on Christian embellishment. For example, an account of a language that was no longer understood, akin to the
episode of the Tower of Babel, appears in the Popol Vuh of the Quiché Maya, who live in the Guatemalan highlands. A story
about parting waters, also mentioned in the Popol Vuh, is comparable to Moses' dividing the sea; and the writers of the Título
de Totonicapán attest that they came from "the other part of the sea, from Civán-Tulán, bordering on Babylonia." Referring
to the latter source, Allen Christenson notes that "most of the scriptural material [of the writings of Totonicpán] was taken
directly from a Christian tract, the Theologia Indorum, written in 1553 by a Spanish priest named Domingo de Vico."
Thus, apparent references in Mesoamerican texts to events known from the Bible cannot always be taken seriously. On the other
hand, although some accounts from ancient America may sound overtly Christian, we should not dismiss them entirely for exhibiting
such missionary influence. In fact, these manuscripts sometimes report the same events that are recorded in other documents
from Mesoamerica. Because it is highly doubtful that such correspondence is coincidental or that Catholic friars contacted
one another as they related nearly identical information from different cultures in separate regions and from various time
frames, such accounts may be authentic and thus warrant serious consideration. In this discussion we will concern ourselves
with those aspects of Quetzalcoatl that some LDS authors suggest are related to Christ. This will include accounts about the
ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, whose history is often confused with that of his god, Quetzalcoatl. The Maize God of the Maya
is also important to this analysis because characteristics of this supernatural entity may also relate to the life of the
Quetzalcoatl and the Maya Maize God
To identify our principal characters, we begin with the Mexican deity Quetzalcoatl, whose name means "Feathered Serpent".
Farther east the Yucatec Maya name for this god is Kukulcan, which has the same interpretation. Several ancient leaders who
worshipped Quetzalcoatl/ Kukulcan took upon themselves this appellation, much as Muslims today add Mohammed to their
names. The most prolific form of ancient Mesoamerican writing observable today is the Mayan language in hieroglyphic inscriptions.
A name tied to Kukulcan was discovered on a Late Classic pot (AD 600–800) from Uaxactun, Guatemala, that mentions a
date corresponding to 25 December 256 BC and applies the name to the current ruler. In fact, it was common Maya practice to
associate the current king with another ruler from the past, perhaps even from an earlier mythological time. As already mentioned,
this custom was prevalent among the Maya in order to strengthen their ruler's legitimacy to reign. Associating the current
king with a highly revered ancestor accomplished this goal. The importance of this inscribed pot found in Guatemala is that
it contains a shortened version of the name of the earlier ruler—?Kukulcan. Thus the name Kukulcan refers to
a much earlier king than the Mexican Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, who lived sometime between AD 700 and 1000. Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl,
a Toltec ruler, is the most popular of the culture heroes noted in colonial literature. Apparently, the name Quetzalcoatl,
or Kukulcan, enjoyed a long duration in Mesoamerica, whether it referred to rulers, high priests, or the god himself.
The Maize God is the other deity with which we are concerned in this study. This mythological, supernatural figure is called
by various names among the Maya, depending on the locale, but the most prominent names are Hun Nal Ye and Hun Hunahpu. In
terms of a general time frame, the Maize God is referred to in iconography and other texts before the conquest, as well as
in the Popol Vuh after Spanish contact. References in the Popol Vuh likely go back to earlier hieroglyphic sources. Without going into a detailed explanation, we simply note that the Maize God is intrinsically
involved with later creation mythologies of central Mexico and the Mixtec people of Oaxaca, where Quetzalcoatl stories abound.While
the Popol Vuh does not mention Hun Hunahpu as being one and the same with the Maize God, a codex-style polychrome bowl from
the Late Classic period clarifies his identify. In the scene portrayed on the bowl, Hun Nal Ye, the Maya Maize God, resurrects
from a split tortoise shell representing the earth. His sons, the Hero Twins, are depicted at his left and right and are identified
as Hun Hunahpu's sons: Hunahpu, written as Hun Ahau, and Xbalanque, written as Yax Balam. To
understand Hun Hunahpu's identification as the Maize God in Guatemala, we need to retell some of the story surrounding him.
In the Popol Vuh, Hunahpu and Xbalanque defeat the evil lords of the Underworld who have killed their father, Hun Hunahpu.
After avenging their father's death, the Twins are responsible for his subsequent rebirth. Hun Hunahpu is then resurrected
from the earth, which is often portrayed as a turtle carapace. Therefore, this vessel, which visually demonstrates the same
story told in the Popol Vuh hundreds of years later, clearly establishes Hun Nal Ye and Hun Hunahpu as the same person. In
the Popol Vuh we see readily the Twins' association with maize. Hunahpu and Xbalanque instruct their grandmother that if the
corn planted in her house dies, they die; but if it lives, they will remain alive. According to the story, after they defeat
the Lords of Death in the Underworld, the Hero Twins are reborn; that is, the maize remained alive in their grandmother's
house.We conclude that both the father, Hun Hunahpu, and his sons, particularly his namesake Hunahpu, are related to maize
and may be designated as maize gods. Importantly, David H. Kelley presents additional evidence from the Popol Vuh that Hun
Hunahpu and the Maize God are one and the same. The importance of including the Maize
God with his differing appellations in this study is significant. We will see that the Maize God functions as a sacrificial
god who dies and resurrects and who also plays an important role in the creation and therefore is reminiscent of the roles
of Christ as Savior and Creator.
The available Mesoamerican sources dealing with the creation follow in chronological order. Pre-Columbian Mayan hieroglyphic
texts found in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico, and Quirigua, Guatemala, disclose a role for the Maya Maize God in the creation.
Polychrome vessels and plates also testify to the Maize God's participation at this pristine time. In addition, pictorial
codices drawn before the conquest deal with Quetzalcoatl's role in the creation. Concerning other documents, most scholars
agree that the Quiché Maya's Popol Vuh is the least corrupted text written after the conquest. It also repeats stories of
the Maize God that coincide with Quetzalcoatl creation myths from Mexico. The Maya accounts corroborate the acts of creation
in a somewhat different manner because they were recorded by another culture, but they still present a pan-Mesoamerican mythological
paradigm. Finally, we possess legends in 16th-century manuscripts declaring Quetzalcoatl as the Creator. These declarations
are discussed in a later section of this paper pertaining to plausible pre-Hispanic beliefs recorded after the conquest. On
the whole, scholars view stories concerned with the god Quetzalcoatl and his involvement in the creation as exhibiting the
least amount of Christian influence. Referring to colonial period manuscripts,Michel Graulich found that "careful reconstruction
and analysis of the myths dealing with the first phase of the creation of the world . . . all [show] variations on a single
theme. Comparative analysis also suggests that the oftensuspected Christian influence is minor and points to the unity of
Mesoamerican thought" on Quetzalcoatl as Creator. At Palenque, inscriptions inform us
that Hun Nal Ye, the Maize God, raised the sky in one phase of creation from the primordial sea. This happened when he positioned
the World Tree (or Tree of Life) at the center axis of the cosmos. Speaking to this theme, Kent Reilly explained that Mayanists
now believe the creation involved bloodletting by First Father, another name for Hun Nal Ye, which blood fertilized sacred
space, causing maize to spring forth. The sprouting maize served as an axis mundi, or World Tree, lifting the sky off
the earth and allowing light to enter creation. One further connection exists between the Maize God and creation. The god
Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl was born on the day 9 Ik (9 Wind), and the Maya Maize God is associated with this day in 3409 BC, a point
in mythological history. Some scholars associate these two deities as near equivalents not only because they were associated
with the same day but because they participated in similar creation events. In the pre-Columbian Mixtec Vienna Codex,
Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl is shown raising up the sky. A variation of this theme appears in a post-conquest text wherein Quetzalcoatl
is described as metamorphosing into an enormous tree. Then he and another deity push up the sky with their tree forms. An
identifying feature of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl is a projecting, red avian snout. Through this beaklike device he blew wind, air,
and the breath of life, which was his primary role. This strange-looking anthropomorphic deity can be traced from the time
of the conquest back to the pre-Classic era. A terracotta pot sculpted with the face of Ehecatl was found at Izapa, Chiapas,Mexico,
and dates to the first or second century BC. However, we do not know whether this particular image bears the same creative
connotation that Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl possessed 1,700 years later. Because wind precedes rain, Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl is associated
with life-giving rains. In other words, the title of Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl designated him as a god of life, even the Creator.
The Bread of Life
Both Quetzalcoatl and the Maya Maize God are responsible for bringing maize to humankind, maize being the most important
staple in Mesoamerica. According to legend, Quetzalcoatl transformed himself into an ant in order to retrieve seeds from the
Mountain of Sustenance, where maize is kept. Ceramics portray the resurrected Maize God bringing maize to the surface of the
earth from the Mountain of Sustenance. These kernels served as food and were believed to be the substance from which humans
Sacrificed for Humankind
A story of how Quetzalcoatl saved humankind appears in the post-conquest Leyenda de los Soles (Legend of the Suns).
This deity descended to the Underworld to shed his blood onto the bones of the deceased so that they would live again. The
entire legend, with all its strange details, sounds pagan to the Christian world, but Latter-day Saints hear echoes of the
saving work of Jesus Christ among departed spirits. To summarize, Quetzalcoatl goes to the Underworld to retrieve human bones
after a great flood destroyed his world and its people, people who were subsequently transformed into fish but were considered
"the ancestors." An old goddess grinds the bones of these ancestors like maize and places the flourlike meal in a container.
Quetzalcoatl performs a bloodletting ritual in which he drips the sacrificial blood onto the ground bones, giving them the
potential for life. The present race of humans beings is believed to be descended from those who were reborn from their deceased
state. In an illustration in the Borgia Codex, Quetzalcoatl appears as the god of breath and air, Ehecatl, and sits
back-to-back with the God of Death. It has been suggested by some LDS scholars that this illustration represents the above
story. The skeleton lives because it contains a living heart hanging from its rib cage. As noted previously, the Maize God,
or First Father, gave his blood and thereby caused maize to be reborn from seed.Maize is intrinsically involved with man because
the Maya believed man to be made of maize. As with the above story of Quetzalcoatl, fish were also associated with maize.
For example, in the Popol Vuh, the Hero Twins' bones were ground like maize, thrown into a river, turned into fish, and eventually
The Tree and Resurrection
A World Tree (Tree of Life) is also significant to this scenario. To the Maya, the World Tree is a motif of resurrection
and life and has been for over 2,000 years. In Maya myth the Lords of Death hang the decapitated head of Hun Hunahpu on a
nonbearing tree, after which it bears fruit. When his sons defeat those denizens of the Underworld, the Maize God Hun Hunahpu
is resurrected. In the human realm, Pakal, the great Maya king of Palenque, is buried in a magnificent sarcophagus deep within
the Temple of Inscriptions. The carving on the lid of the sarcophagus depicts Pakal as the young Maize God, with the Tree
of Life springing from his body in resurrection (compare Alma 32:28–41). This is Mesoamerica's most famous and remarkable
story in stone, carved approximately 800 years before the Popol Vuh was set in cursive writing after the arrival of the Spanish.
Much of this ideology had already existed for many centuries in Mesoamerica.
Deity, Light, and the Sun
A Catholic friar named Juan de Cordova wrote the following account while working among the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca,Mexico.
Quoting them, he recorded:
On the date we call Tecpatl a great light came from the northeastern sky. It glowed for four days in the sky,
then lowered itself to the rock . . . in the Valle [Valley] in Oaxaca. From the light there came a great, very powerful being,
who stood on the very top of the rock and glowed like the sun in the sky. . . . Then he spoke, his voice was like thunder,
booming across the valley.
Allen Christenson brought to my attention that the above story may be related to the account in the Popol Vuh of the first
dawn, which describes the light as a man. Dennis Tedlock's translation follows:
The sun was like a person when he revealed himself. His face was hot, so he dried out the face of the earth.
Before the sun came up it was soggy, and the face of the earth was muddy before the sun came up. And when the sun had risen
just a short distance he was like a person, and his heat was unbearable. Since he revealed himself only when he was born,
it is only his reflection that now remains. As they put it in the ancient text, "The visible sun is not the real one."
These citations illustrate that a being of intense light, comparable to the sun, made a deep impression on the natives
of the New World. It is no wonder that these ancient people related this personage to the living sun. Any early association
of Quetzalcoatl with the sun is a bit obscure. However, we should consider a story in post-Columbian literature. The god Nanahuatzin,
an aspect of Quetzalcoatl, became the sun. This ulcerated, sickly being jumped into a fire pit after a ritual fast, resulting
in his emergence as Tonatiuh, the sun god of the Aztecs. Here we see aspects of death and life, dark and light woven together.
Importantly, Nanahuatzin combines the facets of immortality and light in himself.We should also consider that he sacrificed
himself for the well-being of humankind. The Maize God, as well as Quetzalcoatl's counterpart, Nanahuatzin, are solar gods.
To further substantiate this connection between the Mexican god Quetzalcoatl and the Maya Maize God, we may look to a story
in the Popol Vuh wherein the Hero Twins, sons of the Maize God, go to the Underworld to play a ball game with the Lords of
Death. These demons of the Underworld trick and decapitate one of them, Hunahpu. Later in the story, like Nanahuatzin, the
Twins jump into a fire pit, an act that leads eventually to Hunahpu's resurrection as the sun. Regarding the conclusion of
this story, Raphaël Girard explained:
Hunahpu rises triumphant and ascends to the heavens, symbolizing at one and the same time the appearance of
dawn and the shoot of maize breaking through from the Underworld onto the earth's surface, where it is crowned by a crest
of green leaves, identified with the magnificent feather headdress of the young Solar deity.
The ball of
the ball game was considered Hunahpu's head, as well as the life-giving sun. In art, the ball sometimes is portrayed with
a skull inside it, denoting this tradition. Played throughout Mesoamerica, this ball game exhibited rich cosmic and mythological
Association with Christ: The Questionable and the Plausible
The Spanish texts were written 1,500 years after Christ visited the people of the Book of Mormon. By AD 200 the growth
of the seeds of apostasy were well under way (see 4 Nephi 1:24–26), indicating an interim of 1,300 years between the
distortion of the gospel and the writing of the post-conquest Spanish texts. Consequently, in approaching possible links between
Christ and Quetzalcoatl, scholars need to be careful in determining which sections of the post-conquest manuscripts contain
pre-Hispanic traditions. In contrast, pre-conquest traditions are more well defined and therefore preserve people's beliefs
more accurately. We will examine specific problems and perhaps find some solutions to questions about possible connections
between the Savior, Quetzalcoatl, and the Maya Maize God.
Colonial sources referring to the deified ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl often cause confusion about the god Quetzalcoatl
and Jesus Christ. Characteristics of this ruler are that he was born of a virgin, that he promised to return, that he had
an association with the planet Venus (the Morning and Evening Star), and that his emblem was the Feathered Serpent (presumably
connected to the nonfeathered, brazen serpent raised by Moses to heal the Israelites). We notice that there is certainly more
than one human named Quetzalcoatl, and maybe even more than one Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, and that later chroniclers amalgamated
them into one historical person. This perception arises from the varied dates assigned to Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's life in
the postconquest manuscripts. The repetition of histories by Mesoamerican natives, a practice tied to their concept of time
as cyclical rather than linear, does not make for an easy study of this ruler. Unraveling these tales simply cannot be done
with accuracy. Even so, we attempt to tell the story of this revered legendary hero, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. To some extent,
the records fuse Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's life and deeds with those of his god, Quetzalcoatl. Nicholson comments on this fusion
that "a certain degree of 'mythification' of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl almost certainly occurred, . . . as well as some assimilation
to the deity whose particular protagonist he was credited with being." Therefore, it is extremely important for researchers
to look at the surrounding content and context of these various colonial manuscripts when determining which portion of the
account is referring to the deity Quetzalcoatl and which is giving a historical narrative of the famed culture hero Topiltzin
Quetzalcoatl. We will begin with the "virgin birth" myth. There is no account in the pre- or post-conquest texts that says
Quetzalcoatl or the Maize God experienced a miraculous virgin birth. However, Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's illustrious life began
with his "virgin birth," which story is garnished with a biblical overlay throughout but obviously mixed with historical places
and events. A strong supernaturalistic flavor pervades the whole account, especially regarding this culture hero's mother,
Chimalman, who received an annunciation from a heavenly messenger sent down by the creator god. Because both the Book of Mormon
and the New Testament testify that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, it is tempting for a Latter-day Saint to see ties between
this trait and that found in the story of these 16th-century manuscripts. But we must be cautious. We come to the second point,
that of the return. Nowhere in these colonial-period texts do we find the god Quetzalcoatl declaring that he would someday
return. However, the historical narrative of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's life states that he said that he would
return to his people. Since confusion has developed among scholars over the "returning myth," I suggest that we look to one
of two possible answers: (1) this ruler actually said he would return, or (2) his people's oral traditions held that their
god Quetzalcoatl said that he would return and incorporated this part of the tradition into their mortal leader's history.
Clearly, there is no definitive answer as to what actually occurred, and researchers can only make guesses in their conclusions.
It is certain, of course, that this myth is pre-Hispanic. However, it is telling that King Motecuhzoma believed that Cortés
was the returning Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, who emulated the personification of his god Quetzalcoatl. The worship of Quetzalcoatl
underwent a resurgence with the birth of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. As a result, a clear-cut distinction cannot be drawn between
the ruler and the god, as noted above. The Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl saga includes stories of drunkenness, fornication, and murder.
Nevertheless, this ruler was regarded as a deity by his followers, as was true of some kings in Mesoamerica. Therefore, we
face a smoky screen of mythological, historical, and Christian influence throughout these legends that tie mortal Topiltzin
Quetzalcoatl to the god Quetzalcoatl. The third element has to do with the planet Venus. Toward the end of Mesoamerican history,
Quetzalcoatl is shown in pre-Columbian pictorial codices as associated with this planet. Quetzalcoatl himself is not linked
to Venus in any written text, yet the history of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, as recorded in colonial literature, shows this ruler's
association with Venus. David Carrasco has noted that "a Topiltzin-Morning Star cult was celebrated in Cholula, suggesting
that a fusion of the culture hero and deity Ehécatl [an aspect of Quetzalcoatl] and Morning Star developed." These legends
state that upon Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl's death and cremation, he rose to heaven and became the Morning Star. This is how this
culture hero became resurrected, deified, and connected to Venus. Fourth, a more prominent symbol of Quetzalcoatl is the Feathered
Serpent. As we shall see, this figure also ties into the Venus ideology. The Feathered Serpent may exist in artistic motifs
as early as the Olmec civilization, whose culture some Latter-day Saints equate with the Jaredites. A rock sculpture, Monument
19 from La Venta, Tabasco (circa 900–400 BC), portrays a rattlesnake with an avian beak and feather crest. Two quetzal
birds are also carved on this Olmec monument from the Middle Formative period. Taking into consideration that the Jaredites
never knew the story of the brazen serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole about 1250 BC, we need to question the assumption
that the Olmec version of the Feathered Serpent has something to do with Christ. The snakes that attacked the Israelites are
referred to as "fiery serpents." There is no mention that Moses' brass serpent represented a flying serpent or a serpent with
feathers. Would the Olmec people have equated this avian-reptile with the Messiah, as some propose? There is no solid empirical
evidence that the Feathered Serpent represented Christ before he visited the New World. In this connection, it was the Nephites
who brought this story from the Old World. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Monument 19 was carved late in the
La Venta sequence, circa 400 BC If by chance any remaining Jaredites heard this famous Hebrew incident from Mosaic traditions
brought by Lehi's family or the Mulekites, the Olmecs/Jaredites could have portrayed the serpent raised on a pole. But this
is not the case. According to the Book of Mormon, it was not until 22 BC that Nephite teachers made the connection that Moses
lifted up the brazen serpent as a type of Christ. Of course, the Nephites may have made the connection earlier, but we do
not possess an earlier reference at the present time. Therefore, we cannot be sure that the Feathered Serpent had anything
to do with Jesus Christ during Jaredite times. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that Nephites adopted the symbol
of the Feathered Serpent after the coming of Christ. We may rationalize that the quetzal bird represents heaven and the serpent
represents earth. Christ is both a god (from heaven) and a mortal man (from earth). We do not know all the names that the
peoples of the Book of Mormon gave to Christ, even though he may have been called Quetzalcoatl, the "Feathered Serpent," at
a later date. In a related vein, iconographers now know that the artistic expression of the god Quetzalcoatl is strongly linked
to militarism. If this deity originally referred to Christ, its nature quickly changed, for around AD 200 the symbolism of
the Feathered Serpent came to denote power, sacrifice, and war. Archaeological findings within the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl
(Temple of the Feathered Serpent) at Teotihuacán depict this scenario all too clearly. Starting with excavations in the 1980s,
approximately 200 human victims of dedicatory sacrifices have been found under the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. In later
years many of the plumed-serpent motifs were combined with images of soldiers and implements of war. Feathered-serpent columns
at both Tula Hidalgo and Chichen Itza display sacrificial altars in front of them. At the latter site, panels depict feathered
serpents with warriors coming out of their mouths. A very graphic illustration of Quetzalcoatl in his animal guise as the
Feathered Serpent appears in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. Here he devours a male victim whose body has wounds. The
Feathered Serpent's tail includes a sacrificial knife. To the Aztecs, death through ritual sacrifice was necessary for a continued
existence or rebirth of all things. This would include the era when the Feathered Serpent and images of Venus were vehicles
propagating the cult of Quetzalcoatl through military conquest and the founding of new dynasties. Post-conquest literature
records nothing about Venus that is benevolent or what we would expect if Christ was related in any way to this aspect of
Quetzalcoatl.45 The iconography of the Feathered Serpent and Venus appears at an early
date at Teotihuacán with a clear message of warfare and sacrifice. A bowl from this site portrays the Feathered Serpent with
several stars. Beneath the serpent's body are four blood-dripping hearts. This is another example of the association of the
Feathered Serpent, Venus, and sacrifice (in this case, the sacrifice of prisoners of war). An explanation of the Feathered
Serpent as a representative of Venus is in order. This fabled serpent is a combination of a god of warfare and blood sacrifice
as well as water and fertility. Carlson observed, "The Venus cult was concerned with the symbolic transformation of blood
into water and fertility through the ritual execution of captives." This is a running theme found throughout ancient Mesoamerica,
for worshippers truly believed that through death (and sacrifice) comes life. In a roundabout way, this may form a parallel
to Christ's atoning blood, which is for the benefit of all humankind. However, apostasy destroyed any true meaning of sacrifice
among these ancient people. The Venus sign of Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan pictured over a shell is a direct reference to war.
In fact, epigraphers dub this hieroglyph "Star Wars." The doctrinal shift that led to the sacrifice of war captives and others
no doubt started at the beginning of the apostasy that swept through Mesoamerica about AD 200 (compare Moroni 9:7–8),
eventually causing the spiritual downfall of those Nephites and Lamanites who denied Christ after his visit to their ancestors.
In fact, Esther Pasztory has contemplated the idea that the Ciudadela, the compound where the Temple of the Feathered Serpent
was constructed about AD 150–200, seems to be the architectural representation of a major change in the social and political
structure of Teotihuacán, particularly in its militaristic orientation and perhaps in a new dynastic lineage. This striking
innovation would certainly coincide with the apostasy as recorded in the Book of Mormon. There is another issue that needs
clarifying with regard to the role of the Feathered Serpent.We have already noted that at about AD 200 the people of Teotihuacán
associated the Feathered Serpent with Venus. But Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, the creation god who raises the sky, had nothing to
do with these two symbols at that early time. Raúl Velázquez remarks that "there are no identifying ties that connect them
to one another. Nevertheless, as of the beginning of the postclassical period (AD 900–1000), these three beings begin
to mesh until they are melded in the multifaceted character Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl." Hence, there seem to be accurate
traditions about the god Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl until Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl incorporated this god's attributes into his personality,
attributes that are mentioned in the postconquest manuscripts.
Many of the symbols associated with Christ also belong to Quetzalcoatl and the Maize God, symbols that may appear both
in pre-Columbian art motifs and in some later colonial literatures that do not seem to be Christian interpolations. Thus it
is quite possible that features of the god Quetzalcoatl may be derived, in part, from Mesoamericans' remembrance of Christ's
visit to the Americas. Those parts that fit the native traditions are these: a deity playing a role in the creation, "raising
the sky"; a deity associated with the bread of life (a correspondence to maize); a deity assisting the dead; a deity shedding
blood to save mankind; a deity dying on a tree (the Maize God's head hung in a tree); a deity resurrecting and being responsible
for the rebirth of the deceased; and a personage of light57 who is associated with the
sun. We have already reviewed some of these attributes, and others are self-explanatory. There are further interesting aspects
to explore. For example, other Christians equate some of the elements of the Maize God with Jesus Christ. In fact, the Maya
of today find a strong association between their old god, the Maize God, and their new Christian god. A Catholic priest, Father
Rother, wanted an ancient Maya symbol to represent God's aspect as the "bread of life" on the pulpit of a church in Santiago
Atitlán, in Guatemala. Perhaps significantly, he chose the image of the Maya Maize God in lieu of an image of the Savior.
Bracketing mythological elements in the colonial manuscript Leyenda de los Soles, one glimpses a possible original
understanding of Christ's sacrifice, his descent to the spirit world, and his promise to resurrect all people. Although this
account apparently refers to those who died before the flood, this aspect may have been introduced after natives lost their
understanding of the gospel. The writing of Juan de Cordova regarding the light that emanated from a powerful man, and the
account in the Popol Vuh of the sun's being like a person may stem from Christ's visit to the Americas. These two stories
do not appear to be Christian manipulations and are in keeping with Christ's visit to Book of Mormon peoples. Although 3 Nephi
11:10–11 does not specifically say that the Lord descended from the clouds as a personage with light emanating from
his being, it is plausible that he did. After all, he wore "a white robe" and, on the second day of his visit, radiated a
brilliant light to his 12 disciples (see 3 Nephi 11:8; 19:25, 30). There may also be an answer to the feathered-serpent motif
that is so prevalent in Mesoamerica. If the Feathered Serpent was once considered benevolent and not malevolent, this would
explain the apostate situation from an LDS point of view. The Feathered Serpent's association with war and sacrifice would
then be a secondary manifestation. And this may well be the case. In addition, it is known that when warriors conquered their
enemy in pre-Hispanic times, they sometimes adopted the god of the vanquished people.64
Is it possible this is what happened to the feathered-serpent symbol? We cannot be certain, but it stands as a possibility.
One more source pertaining to the Feathered Serpent is found in the Popol Vuh, wherein the Feathered Serpent is one of the
creator gods in the view of the Quiché Maya. This supernatural deity is known as Gucumatz (Quetzal Bird Serpent) and is in
no way related to war and sacrifice, only to creation. The Popol Vuh mentions this supernatural personality briefly, although
his role is crucial in the creation. His creative actions, however, are not performed alone—he is one of several gods
who are involved in the emergence of the earth from the primordial waters, sowing seeds of plants, and populating the earth
with people. This matches the ancient teaching that the Savior participated with the Father and others in the creative process
(see Moses 2:1, 26; Abraham 4:1). Despite discrepancies among Quetzalcoatl myths in colonial sources and the fairly good mythology
and symbolism in pre-Columbian inscriptions and iconography, we are left with several crucial points about Quetzalcoatl and
the Maya Maize God that apply to Christ's premortal state, his mission on earth, and his role in the hereafter. Are there
plausible links? Yes. Are there significant differences? Again, yes. This review should help us to see a complex picture of
continuities and discontinuities between Quetzalcoatl and the Savior. Because parts of the picture are rather faint, there
is a need for caution in our studies when we approach the intriguing and mysterious figures of Quetzalcoatl and the Maya Maize
God and attempt to draw connections between them and the resurrected Jesus.
Writing in reformed Egyptian?:
One of the most common attacks against the Book of Mormon focuses on the use of "Reformed Egyptian" as the writing system
for the golden plates (Mormon 9:32-34). It is alleged that the no self-respecting Israelite would ever use Egyptian to write
sacred scripture, and it is alleged that no such language as "Reformed Egyptian" has ever existed. These arguments are typified
in the anti-Mormon book, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism
by "Dr." John Ankerberg and "Dr.
Dr." John Weldon (neither one of which appears to have a legitimate Ph.D.):
"Mormonism has never explained how godly Jews [sic] of A.D. 400
allegedly knew Egyptian, nor why they would have written their sacred records entirely in the language of their pagan, idolatrous
enemies" (p. 284). "How likely is it that the allegedly Jewish [sic] Nephites would have used the Egyptian language to write
their sacred scriptures? Their strong antipathy to the Egyptians and their culture makes this difficult to accept. When modern
Jews copy their scripture, they use Hebrew. They do not use Egyptian or Arabic, the language of their historic enemies" (pp.
294-95). "[N]o such language [as reformed Egyptian] exists and Egyptologists declare this unequivocally" (p. 294).
and Weldon are wrong on several counts--grossly wrong, as shown by Daniel C. Peterson in a noteworthy book review in Review
of Books on the Book of Mormon
, Vol. 5, 1993, pp. 43-45 (available online
). Several modified or "reformed" Egyptian scripts are well known, including forms called Demotic and Hieratic. "Reformed
Egyptian" is clearly an appropriate generic term for those writing systems. However, the "Reformed Egyptian" used by the Nephites
is described as a language system unique to them (Mormon 9:32-34), having evolved with their culture over a 1,000-year period.
It was apparently used for sacred writings, and should have been almost wholly lost with the destruction of Nephite civilization.
How can we expect Egyptologists, with typically no training in Central American matters, to know whether such a language ever
existed there? Daniel Paterson gives further analysis (Peterson, pp. 44-45):
[W]ho says that the Nephites wrote in Egyptian? That is certainly
one possibility, but several scholars (e.g., Sidney Sperry, John Sorenson, and John Tvedtnes) suggest, rather, that the language
of the Nephites was Hebrew, written in Egyptian characters. The practice of representing one language in a script commonly
associated with another language is very common. Yiddish, for instance, which is basically a form of German, is routinely
written in Hebrew characters. Swahili can be written in either Roman or Arabic scripts. Judeo-Arabic, as written for instance
by Moses Maimonides, was medieval Hebrew written with Arabic letters. In fact, almost any textbook of colloquial Arabic or
Chinese or Japanese aimed at Western learners will use the Latin alphabet to represent those languages. Language and script
are essentially independent. Turkish, which used to be written in a modified Arabic script, has been written in Latin letters
in the Republic of Turkey since the 1920s. However, in the areas of the old Soviet Union, it is now usually written in Cyrillic
(Russian) characters. Likewise, perhaps the major difference between Hindi and Urdu may be the mere fact that the former uses
a Devanagari writing system, while the latter uses a modified Arabo-Persian script. So this phenomenon of changing the script
with which one writes a language is by no means unusual.
But we need not speak only in theoretical terms. We have, in fact, an ancient illustration that comes remarkably
close to the Book of Mormon itself. Papyrus Amherst 63, a text from the second century B.C., seems to offer something very
much like "reformed Egyptian." It is a papyrus scroll that contains Aramaic texts written in a demotic Egyptian script.
(Aramaic is a language closely related to Hebrew. of the Old Testament book of Daniel is written in Aramaic, and it was the
spoken language of Jesus and his apostles. Incidentally, however, a Christian form of the language, Syriac, came to use an
alphabet related to Arabic--again illustrating the independence of script and tongue.) Interestingly, one of the items found
on Papyrus Amherst 63 is a version of Psalm 20:2-6. Ankerberg and Weldon wonder why "godly Jews [sic] . . . would have written
their sacred records entirely in the language of their pagan, idolatrous enemies." Perhaps they should ask them some day,
for godly Jews most certainly did (see "Language and Script in the Book of Mormon," Insights: An Ancient Window, March 1992,
By the way, Peterson gives a footnote on Ankerberg's claim about Jews exclusively using
The statement "When modern Jews copy their scripture, they use Hebrew.
They do not use Egyptian or Arabic, the language of their historic enemies" is quite an astonishing display of ignorance.
Since the Egyptian language has been dead for centuries, it is hardly remarkable that modern Jews do not read the Bible in
Egyptian. On the other hand, "the first and most important rendering [of the Old Testament] from Hebrew [into Arabic] was
made by Sa'adya the Ga'on, a learned Jew who was head of the rabbinic school at Sura in Babylon (died 942)" (George A. Buttrick,
ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [hereafter IDB], 4 vols. and supplement [Nashville: Abingdon,
1962-1976], 4:758b). Thus, Jews have indeed translated the Bible into "Arabic, the language of their historic enemies." They
also have translated it into the language of their "historic enemies" the Greeks (IDB 4:750b on the Septuagint)
and Aramaeans (IDB 1:185-93; 4:749-50, on the Aramaic Targums).
More information and
relevant examples are given in the article, "Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters
" by John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies
, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996, and also
the excellent FARMS article "Reformed Egyptian
" by William Hamblin. And for fun, be sure to see the site, Ancient Scripts
--a marvelous collection of information on scripts of the ancient world.
The FARMS publication, Insights, in Feb. 1998 reported on presentations at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion
(AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), held Nov. 1997 in San Francisco. Non-LDS scholar Nili S. Fox discussed
the development of Egyptian hieratic numerals used in Hebrew texts by Israelites during the ninth through seventh centuries
B.C. Fox noted that the Israelite scribes were acquainted with the Egyptian writing system and that there was a longer history
of ties between Egypt and both Judah and Israel than previously thought. Hebrews using an Egyptian writing system? The idea
is a lot more plausible today that it was in Joseph Smith's time. The anti-Mormon critics who dismiss the possibility ("Jews
hated the Egyptians, their former slavemasters, and would never think of using anything from Egyptian culture!") continue
to stand on a foundation of sand, and the sand is shifting again.
The land of Nahom, in the Book of Mormon, found?:
A recently discovered carved altar from the southwest Arabian peninsula provides dramatic new evidence for locating "the
place that was called Nahom," referred to by Nephi in his narrative. Nahom was the location where Nephi's father-in-law, Ishmael,
was buried (see 1 Nephi 16:34). The quest to pin down where that place might actually be in the vast desert wilderness of
Arabia has raised issues for readers of the Nephite record that remain unsettled. Some LDS scholars have sought for years
to identify where Nahom was located in order to understand the social and geographical circumstances of Lehi's trek through
arid Arabia and grasp more fully what happened to the Lehite party as they sojourned there. Hugh Nibley and others since him
have observed that the passive phrasing, "the place that was called Nahom" (emphasis added), connotes that the name
had already been conferred on that area by local inhabitants before Lehi's clan arrived. Unlike the case of "the Valley of
Lemuel," father Lehi did not coin his own name for this spot. Other people were already there and the little party had to
cope with their presence. It has even been argued that the family faced serious economic and social dependency upon local
inhabitants during and after their stay at Nahom. The first children of the recently married couples probably were born in
this area (see 1 Nephi 16:7; 17:1), and it may have been the birthplace of Jacob, Nephi's brother.
Moreover, the party apparently stayed there for some time. When the travelers resumed the journey from Nahom, their route
turned "nearly eastward" (1 Nephi 17:1). That course took them to the shore of the sea—"Irreantum" they called it—that
bounded the land they named Bountiful. Why did they pause at Nahom? Other travelers covered the entire distance of that trip
from Jerusalem to the coast of the Indian Ocean in a matter of months, rather than in eight years (see 1 Nephi 17:4). Was
this place a kind of "Winter Quarters"—a respite that allowed them to recover from the shock of the first long leg of
their journey while they prepared for the last, grimmest portion? One of the challenges facing LDS researchers has been determining
where such a place might have been located. They have sought evidence in ancient sources of information that there was a spot,
and a population, that was called Nahom.
The first confirmation came twenty years ago, when the late Ross T. Christensen, an archaeology professor at BYU,
discovered a place named "Nehhm" on an eighteenth-century map drawn by the famous German explorer Carsten Niebuhr. Presumably,
the name Nahom was spelled with the same three consonants, N-H-M, assuring those knowledgeable in Semitic languages that "Nahom"
could well be related to "Nehhm." In Hebrew, the combination of these three consonants points to a root word that can mean
"comfort" or "compassion." (The meanings are different in the Old South Arabian language.) The reason Nephi mentioned this
name while remaining silent about any other place names encountered on their trip (with the possible exception of Shazer)
was likely because he considered that the existing name of the spot, "comfort" in his language, was evidence of the hand of
the Lord over them, although Ishmael's own family (including Nephi's wife) seems not to have been at all positive (see 1 Nephi
Warren and Michaela Aston have been the most persistent in following the lead offered by Christensen. In their book, they
have drawn together references to a number of Arabic sources that predate the work of Niebuhr by several centuries. These
Arab authors, Ibn al-Kalbi and al-Hamdani, refer variously to a pagan god known as Nuhum (Ibn al-Kalbi), a tribal ancestor
named Nuham (Ibn al-Kalbi), and a region and a tribe called Nihm (al-Hamdani), all in southwest Arabia. Even so, these references
come from the pens of individuals who lived in the ninth and tenth centuries AD, 1,400 or more
years after Lehi's party passed through the area. In reaching their conclusions, the Astons assumed that there was a continuity
of such terms in that region for 1½ millennia because others had assumed it. After all, there is still a tribe and an area
called Nihm to this day. Of course, the assumption was open to challenge, particularly because the earlier Greco-Roman authors
who wrote about Arabia did not mention anything about a region or a tribe by the name of Nihm or Nehem.
But that has now changed. A German archaeological team under the leadership of Burkhard Vogt has been
excavating the Baran temple in Marib, the ancient capital of the Sabaean kingdom that lies about 70 miles due east of modern
San‘a, the capital of Yemen. (It is likely that the queen of Sheba began her journey to visit King Solomon from Marib.)
Among the artifacts uncovered at the temple, the excavators turned up an inscribed altar that they date to the seventh or
sixth centuries BC, generally the time of Lehi and his family. A certain "Bi‘athar, son
of Saw�ad, son of Naw‘an, the Nihmite" donated the altar to the temple. The altar has been part of a traveling
exhibit of artifacts from ancient Yemen that appeared first in Paris and has most recently been shown in Vienna.
The inscribed reference to the tribe of Nihm on this altar is the earliest known mention of this name, or a variant of
it. It predates by almost 1,500 years the Arabic sources cited by the Astons which refer to such a term. Moreover, the inscription
establishes that a tribe by this name had produced a person of means who could donate a finely carved altar to the temple.
Although we cannot determine that at that time there was a place called Nihm or Nehem, it is reasonable to surmise
that the tribe gave its name to the region where it dwelt, evidently a few dozen miles north of modern Sana, in the highlands
that rise to the north of Wadi Jawf. Was it this name that Nephi rendered Nahom in his record? Very probable.
For more Book of Mormon evidences, you can visit these websites: