Mesoamerican Archaeology & the Book of Mormon - Article 2: Additional Insights Concerning the Book of Mormon
Now of course, that initial exposure to archaeology did not immediately make me an archaeologist any more than did reading the Book of Mormon and looking at a map of the New World make me qualified to explain the setting of the Book of Mormon. Geography and archaeology are disciplines. They are called disciplines for good reason; diligent effort and personal discipline are needed to master the basics concerning the various methods and theories used in these studies.
Furthermore, although the Lord promises to give us knowledge, I do not believe that He will give us any enlightenment if we have not prepared ourselves to receive that knowledge. Contrary to the thoughts of many individuals seeking the fast track to knowledge concerning the setting and peoples of the Book of Mormon, knowledge of this sort is very precious and can only be received through paying whatever price the Lord requires; that price is always founded on two personal principals: discipline and preparation. The Lord does not make exceptions to these principles, neither in His work, nor in His life, nor in how His priesthood is prepared and functions. If He does not make exceptions, how can we as mere mortals presume that we can sidestep these principles?
My personal understanding and appreciation of the Book of Mormon is based on years of reading and pondering its text but also on years of analytical analysis concerning its geography followed up by intensive field research using the tools acquired from archaeology, geography, and my limited military experience. I do not pretend to have all the answers concerning the setting and peoples of the Book of Mormon, but I do have a variety of insights that are completely compatible with the information stated in that text.
My first and primary insight pertains to the Book of Mormon and its geography. This book was never prepared as geography, but rather as an incomplete history of several lineages as represented by specific individuals and their relationship with their God. This history is loosely draped on a background that includes complex geographical connections among many specific places where the events of the book unfolded.
In the late 1970’s, when I first applied geographic theory to analyze these complex geographic relationships, I was entranced by the complete consistency that I discovered among all of the places that could be linked into networks. Such consistency exists only in an actual and truthful document. It cannot be manufactured, not in the way in which the Book of Mormon came forth. Certainly, a gifted writer, like J. R. R. Tolkien, can take years to carefully generate The Lord of the Rings, a geographically and culturally consistent narrative that is strictly fiction; it can be done, but it requires a massive amount of time and diligence. Joseph Smith just did not have the time to generate the text of the Book of Mormon; according to Elder Maxwell the actual translation of the plates was accomplished in about 65 days. Furthermore, according to the historic record, his education in 1829, at the time of the translation, was woefully inadequate to have accomplished such a feat on his own.
Thus, Joseph’s inadequacies, the short period of time wherein the actual translation occurred, and the complete consistency of the geographic references in the text all demonstrate the authenticity of the book. It was neither copied from another lost or forgotten manuscript associated with the early 18th Century, nor was it a conjured experience. Had Joseph Smith developed the book completely from his imagination, its geographic consistency would be both forced and incomplete.
To me this means that the Book of Mormon is a viable and truthful account of several ancient cultures that resided on the American Continent. This is my most fundamental knowledge concerning the Book of Mormon. Knowing that this much is true, I can readily accept as true and valid all of the historic narrative and religious instruction as elaborated in the text. When I apply thought and prayer to the precepts, principles, and ordinances taught in the book, my appreciations for its validity and importance to mankind are amply rewarded by the Spirit, just as Moroni promises in Moroni 10:4.
Confusion & Contention in the Ranks
The consistency that I found among the geographical references contained in the Book of Mormon absolutely compliments the consistency that results from correlating those places to specific terrain, rivers, trail systems and settlement localities in Mesoamerica.
However, this complete consistency is in stark contrast with the confusion that currently swirls among many Latter-day Saints as they seek an understanding of the Book of Mormon’s basic geographical references.
Many conflicting ideas currently clutter our perceptions of the Book of Mormon—ideas offering separate and diverse solutions to its setting and peoples. There are the New England and Midwestern States advocates, the various Mesoamerican advocates, the South American advocates, those who view the entire Western Hemisphere as the setting of the book, and those individuals that favor various isles of the sea, or the Baja Peninsula, or Alaska, or Panama, or whatever.
I have no doubt that all these offerings are made in good faith by individuals that have abiding testimonies in the validity of the Book of Mormon and of Joseph Smith’s witness of its advent. However, the problem presented by such a plethora of ideas is two-fold: (1) every one of these proposals cannot all be true; there can only be one true solution; and (2) our foes, on both sides of the veil, rejoice when they see the confusion and contention that abounds in our ranks.
So what can I conclude from the present proliferation of all this confusion? This is a test; it always has been a test. Furthermore, I also believe that the time for this testing, at least on the subject of Book of Mormon geography, is fast drawing to a close.
Mesoamerica is the only Viable Setting for the Book of Mormon
The only possible location where events of the Book of Mormon occurred was within Central America, specifically the region of eastern ancient Mesoamerica, which comprises Guatemala, southeastern Mexico, and Belize. This is because it is the only locality in the world that meets the geographic and cultural criteria as specifically stated in the Book of Mormon. I can state this without equivocation because of years of analytical experience and field testing in Guatemala and Mexico.
In addition to the consistency of the text and of the setting, there is a second compelling witness that this area of Mesoamerica was the homeland of the Jaredite, Nephite, and Lamanite people: it is the central location where the restoration of the Lord’s covenant promises are being reestablished among the remnant of His ancient peoples of the Book of Mormon. Here, in this region of Central America we can observe vast numbers of indigenous Maya peoples that have hearkened to the testimony of our missionaries and have come down out of the surrounding mountains to make covenants in the Guatemala City Temple. They are Maya, but they also have a remnant of the blood of their Nephite and Jaredite forefathers and when the honest in heart among them hear the Gospel, they respond.
Nephi spoke of this restoration of covenant blessings in 1 Nephi 22:5-12 wherein—citing the prophecies of Isaiah—he prophesies that his descendents and the descendents of the Lamanites would lose their knowledge of the Gospel and become scattered and later gathered together by the Gentiles. He states in verses 8 and 12 the following:
“And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed…. Wherefore he will bring them out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.”
Can a similar experience be identified among native indigenous peoples in the variety of alternative North American locations for the setting of the Book of Mormon? For example, has such an experience been documented in the New England States, or the Midwestern States? No, it has not. And now, this day, is the time when our temples are situated within those regions of the United States; this is the time when it should be happening if the indigenous peoples of those regions are truly descendents of Lehi and Ishmael. Where is the flow of indigenous peoples into those temples for the renewing the ancient and promised covenants made to their forefathers?
Thus we see that not only do the New England and Midwestern regions of the United States fail to meet the geographic and cultural criteria of the homeland of the Book of Mormon peoples, they also lack any corresponding evidence that the indigenous peoples residing in those regions are recognizing their descent from Lehi—that they too are of the blood of Israel and thus are flocking to the temples to receive their long-awaited inheritance.
In the months ahead, through the good graces of Meridian Magazine, shutters that have been closed to us will be opened exposing views of wonderful and amazing landscapes and peoples once associated with that book. As we open these shuttered windows and look out we will see ancient temples in Mesoamerica that were modeled on Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, just as Nephi claims in 2 Nephi 5:16; we will see that correlations also exist matching the sacred layout within those ancient temples with celestial movements in the heavens, and why such a correlation exists; we will see aspects of the archaeology and geography of ancient Nephite and Jaredite sites–specific localities relevant to events described in the Book of Mormon; we will see landscapes where specific battles were fought, how the troops were deployed and how the enemies were defeated.
These views will be provided as excerpts and highlights drawn from various articles that have been prepared for future publication in their entire format. Right now, my time is divided into three difficult agendas: directing our excavations in the central highlands of Guatemala, my on-going research concerning Book of Mormon themes, and in preparing these articles to enhance public understanding and hopefully correct some of the confusion that exists among the Latter-day Saints pertaining to the setting of the book.
My involvement in this work is dedicated to providing a modern understanding and appreciation of two ancient statements, scriptures that really demonstrate the explicit purpose behind what will be shown through these windows, so long shuttered:
“And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.” Moses 6:63
“… all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a supreme Creator” Alma 30:44
As these scriptures so aptly state, the reflection of the Savior, the great Architect of our worlds and peoples, is visible if you will look carefully through the windows.