Book of Mormon Parallels vs Book of Mormon Convergences
For years, parallels have been drawn between The Book of Mormon and ancient cultures as evidence of the historicity of The Book of Mormon. Parallels have been drawn from the Old World, Mesoamerica in the New World, Book of Mormon rituals, dress, etc… with The Book of Mormon, that when looked at together makes a strong case for its divine authenticity. Recently, however, instead of putting emphasis on parallels between The Book of Mormon and ancient American cultures, scholars have taken it one step further and begun to put more focus on convergences and The Book of Mormon.
Brant Gardner first began this journey in 2006 when he presented a paper at the FAIR conference titled “Defenders of the Book: Surveying the New World Evidence for Book of Mormon Historicity.”1 Lawrence Poulsen continued the work on Book of Mormon convergences and reported his findings in his 2008 FAIR Conference presentation “Book of Mormon Geography.”2
A convergence is described as “Whenever the two sources or ‘witnesses’ [text and archaeology] happen to converge in their testimony, a historical ‘datum’ (or given) may be said to have been established beyond reasonable doubt. To ignore or to deny the implications of such convergent testimony is irresponsible scholarship, since it impeaches the testimony of one witness without reasonable cause by suppressing other vital evidence.” 3
A convergence is not only a parallel between two items, but a correlation between text, time, culture, and sometimes even geography, that converge together and testify of the same thing. It is the connecting of dots from hints found in The Book of Mormon and with archaeology until a masterful picture begins to emerge from the text. A convergence stands on its own and is a more complex, powerful witness of the authenticity of the text than a simple parallel.
An example of a convergence can be found in the text concerning Hermounts. Hermounts is mentioned in Alma 2:37-38 and reads “Yea, they were met on every hand, and slain and driven, until they were scattered on the west, and on the north, until they had reached the wilderness, which was called Hermounts; and it was that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts.” “And it came to pass that many died in the wilderness of their wounds, and were devoured by those beasts and also the vultures of the air; and their bones have been found, and have been heaped up on the earth.”
Hugh Nibley made the connection between Hermounts in The Book of Mormon and Egypt when he wrote:
“Now where does the word Hermounts come from? This is certainly not a Latin word. It's not a Greek word, a Hebrew word, or a Semitic word. Where was it? It was the land on the borders that was infested at times by wild beasts, at certain seasons of the year. It was way up in the borders. They went way up there. So it is the Egyptian word hr-Mntw, obviously. Month or Monthis was the Egyptian Pan; he was the god of wild places, wild animals, and the wild country. Hr-Mntw was the outmost part of Egypt where the land was sometimes visited by lions and crocodiles and things like that. It was under cultivation, but it was a place that was in danger from animals. They called it hr-Mntw because it was Month's country, wild animal country.”4
A connection can also be made between Mesoamerica and The Book of Mormon. Hermounts was a place that was overrun with wild beasts, Mormon even believed it necessary to add “ravenous beasts”. Tehuantepec would seem to fit this description nicely, as the Nahuatl word for Tehuantepec literally means “hill of the Jaguar”, or hill of the wild beast. Lawrence Poulsen writes “The almost exact correlation in meaning for Tehuantepec and Hermounts suggests that the wilderness of Tehuantepec is an ideal candidate for the Book of Mormon wilderness of Hermounts.”5 Another interesting point is that the jaguars, or “wild beasts” of Tehuantepec were known to be more ravenous than other jaguars. There is a legend about the hill which Tehuantepec is built contained “Jaguars of a particularly bloodthirsty type infested the hill, killing and terrorizing the inhabitants.”6 It would make sense that Mormon made it a point to say that this area was “infested by wild and ravenous beasts” and “devoured” human flesh, if in fact, it was the same area. Hermounts is an interesting parallel that provides some insight as to the origin of the name, and possible reason it was given that name. But alone this insight cannot be used as a strong evidence of The Book of Mormon unlike a convergence would.
Another example can be found in Alma 25. The story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, as described by Brant Gardner, is one that doesn’t make much sense in the present form. But, when viewed through the lens of Mesoamerican culture, makes perfect sense. In this story, we have a group of people who converted to the Lord and then, because of their new religion, covenanted no longer to commit “murder” and buried their weapons of war in the ground. Later, the Lamanites attacked the city in an effort to destroy the king and “place another in his stead.”7 The Anti-Nephi-Lehies would not take up their arms they buried in the earth to defend themselves, and in consequence, many were slaughtered. The Lamanites were angry and redirected their warpath to the city of Ammonihah, which was a three days journey. It would seem to me that no matter how mad you were, you’d calm down after hiking through the jungles for three days, but they continued to Ammonihah and took captives. It is interesting that this is the only place in The Book of Mormon where it is specifically mentioned that the Lamanites took captives.8 Usually the Lamanites destroy the city or place it under a tribute system.
When looked at in a Mesoamerican culture, this story makes perfect sense. Why did the Anti-Nephi-Lehies bury their weapons? There is a Mesoamerican tradition of caching goods you have given to the gods, when you make a commitment to the gods, you bury the offering in the earth. Most of the time when you cached an item in Mesoamerica, you broke it first. So they broke the weapons and buried them. Why didn’t they dig them up? They were broken. They were symbolically broken as a witness you were giving them over to God.9 In regards to the Lamanites, Brant Gardner relates:“As part of the coronation of a new king in Mesoamerica “the king went to war to take captives for use in sacrificial rituals.”
The attacking Lamanites had dethroned Lamoni’s brother (King Anti-Nephi-Lehi) and must install a new king. For this particular ritual they needed sacrificial victims who have been taken in battle. The pacifism of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies had denied the right kind of captives; hence, the Lamanites had to find someone who would actually fight back and therefore, they set their sights on Ammonihah. But why Ammonihah?
Martin and Grube help us understand why the sneak attack on an unsuspecting Ammonihah would have been attractive to the Mesoamerican mind:
|“Like many a Maya ruler, Bird Jaguar’s mystique was closely bound to his image as an indomitable warrior. His favorite military titles, ‘He of 20 Captives’ and ‘Master of Aj Uk,’ were seldom absent for his name phrase and much space was devoted to his various campaigns. Yet a modern understanding of these texts shows just how lowly most of these victims were. He made immense capital out of minor successes and Yaxchilan’s reputation was a ‘conquest state’ only reflects how beguiling his efforts have proved.”|
The Lamanites were not full of blood lust as Mormon suggests. They were in dire need of war captives to make their coronation ceremony valid. To get them with as little risk as possible, they did what Bird Jaguar would later do—they looked for easy victims. Ammonihah looked like a quick easy conquest—far enough away to be unsuspecting.”10
Convergences bring The Book of Mormon, archaeology, and Mesoamerican culture together as one and are a stronger evidence than a simple parallel. What is more interesting is the work that has been previously published which includes geography in the convergence. By adding the geography factor, we can place The Book of Mormon events on a physical map, which interestingly enough, fits into a Mesoamerican topography very well.
If we begin to look for more convergences between the text, archaeology, geography, and anthropology, we will be able to strengthen the case of The Book of Mormon and successfully place it in a physical geography, and continue building the case for a Mesoamerican setting.11
3 William Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know it? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001) pg. 107
4. Teachings of the Book of Mormon, lecture 44, p. 242. He also wrote “Hermounts in The Book of Mormon is the wild country of the borderlands, the hunting grounds, “that part of the wilderness which was infested by wild and ravenous beasts” (Alma 2:37). The equivalent of such a district in Egypt is Hermonthis, the land of Month, the Egyptian Pan—the god of wild places and things. Hermounts and Hermonthis are close enough to satisfy the most exacting philogist. The Egyptian Month of Hermonthis was an extremely popular figure in Lehi’s day, to judge by the great frequency with which his name occurs in composition of proper names in various forms:Montu, Mendes, Menti, etc; it is the Book of Mormon Manti, next to Ammon the commonest name element in the Nephite onomasticon.” (Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967), 192)
5. Dr. Poulsen adds “A line drawn from this wilderness to the headwaters of the Grijalva River intersects with the Grijalva River near the ruins of Santa Rosa and never comes near the Usamacinta River except at its headwaters. The probable identification of Tehuantepec with Hermounts gives strong support to Sorenson's identification of the Grijalva River as the Book of Mormon river Sidon.” (The light is better over here” Lawrence Poulsen, FARMS Review 19:2 pg
6. Miguel Covarrubias, Mexico south: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, (Routledge, 1986) pg. 153
7. Alma 24:20.
8. Alma 16:3-6.
9. Taken from a recent fireside given by Brant Gardner and published on FAIR’s Youtube site. Part 1 of 6 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooSo4gUlXH0&feature=PlayList&p=91823FC24C... Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on The Book of Mormon, (Greg Koffard Books, Salt Lake City, 2007) 4:358; Shirley Boteler Mock, “Prelude,” in “The Sowing and the Dawning: Termination, Dedication, and Transformation in the Archaeological and Ethnographical Record of Mesoamerica, edited by Shirley Boteler Mock (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998), 5.
10. Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on The Book of Mormon, (Greg Koffard Books, Salt Lake City, 2007) pg 4:367
11 For more convergences: http://bomgeography.poulsenll.org/tales.html