ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION 2005
Transcript of the September 2005 BMAF Conference held at the Red Lion Hotel
Panel Discussion and Answers to Questions from Attendees
Richard Gordon, Moderator: We are going to take some time now and answer questions that have been generated over the last two days.
Question – Are there known connections or ties between the peoples of the Book of Mormon and the peoples of the same time period in South America, outside the range of Mesoamerica?
Answer – Alan Miner. An individual (the identity is lost on the DVD) knows the language and customs, but early in his life he was somehow gifted with early manuscripts of the chroniclers. He became infatuated with them, many of which were not printed in the chroniclers’ time. In fact, they were shelved. Everything had to go back to Spain to be reviewed by at least one royal counsel and often many more for content. Anything that put Spain and the conquistadores in a bad light were shelved. Some of these manuscripts never saw the light of day. And some not for 200-300 years. In the last 30 years, these manuscripts are starting to come forth. This individual went back to the University of Texas after he retired from the CIA to do a Master’s program, but couldn’t find anyone of his advisors who could help or teach him about the chroniclers. He had an open book to write. He’s been translating from the original Spanish these early manuscripts, and he has published a book recently, called Voices from the Dust. It’s worth reading; it opens the doors to South America. We’ve been focused so long on Mesoamerica that in some ways we’ve forgotten South America. The reverse was true in the early days of the Church – they focused on South America, and Mesoamerica was forgotten. He found that whenever a high civilization was found in Mesoamerica, a similar high civilization was found in South America. In fact, there are materials found in Teotihuacán that come from South America, so trade was established. There was communication going on.
Answer – Garth Norman. That question has another underlying question. If the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, what about all the other Indian peoples in South America and North America that Joseph Smith said are Lamanites? So, they may all be related. Where we get hung up is when we start thinking in terms of pure-blood descendants. There certainly was communication and trade between numerous and varied groups. I’ve recently found a Mesoamerican calendar in petroglyphs here in Utah. Archaeologists find that Mesoamerican connections are clearly found in the Moundbuilders back east. But, there were a lot of different peoples with a lot of different languages. So, don’t think in terms of pure-blood, but think of how you are related to the House of Israel, through the seed of Joseph.
Answer – Elder Wells. Just as the Book of Mormon is a record of the descendants of Father Lehi, Mulekites, and Jaredites, it also says that others have been brought, but also been brought by the Lord, so I don’t think there is any problem with having other parallels outside the Book of Mormon, which are the work of the Lord, as well; and the Savior undoubtedly appeared to all of them, because all of the tribes in deep South America have the tradition of the return of the white God. And, we spent seven years in Paraguay. The Guaraní language, according to a report published by a non-LDS person in Paraguay, that the first mission president then published, shows about 40 principal words in the Guaraní Indian language that are identical, phonetically, to the ancient Egyptian language. The key words are father, mother, son, moon, fire, water, fish, birds, etc., and the Guaraní tradition is that they descent from two brothers who came across the ocean; and at one time both were righteous but at one point, one group became less righteous and the other group were destroyed by them. So, there are some definite parallels, and we keep finding them. Geographically I don’t think they are descendants of Lehi, but are other parallel civilizations.
Answer – Elder Brewerton. This is true. I have texts from Indians from Alberta, Canada, clear down to Venezuela, and all in between, that have similar traditions.
Answer – Neil Steede. I am probably the only one here who has done excavations in South America, and particularly in Tiahuanaco, there is a testimony of the equivalent of Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl (Christ), that is just amazing. There is evidence that what these gentlemen have just said is correct. It may not be geographically the Book of Mormon in that sense, but is definitely tied in and Christ did visit everywhere.
Q – Why do they call the hill in New York Cumorah when it was most likely in Tehuantepec? How did Moroni get there, and what sites in North America did Moroni visit?
A – Neil Steede. I think that people in the early Church began naming the hill in New York as Cumorah because plates were found in it, and there was some confusion as to exactly what happened. We know that after the abridgment was finished, Moroni runs northward. I believe that Moroni went either from the hill (Coxca) that I believe is Cumorah or from the Tuxtla area, and he went to the coast, up the coast to New Orleans, Louisiana, went up the Mississippi, then up the Ohio River and its tributaries to within ten miles of Palmyra, New York. That’s the route I think he took.
A – Bruce Yerman. I was once given a challenge to find where Joseph Smith called the hill Cumorah. I can’t find it, because he called it, the hill near his home. In 1550 there was an English shipwreck off of Tampico in the Gulf of Mexico, just north of the area in Mesoamerica where the hill Cumorah is. One passenger, John Ingram, walked for 300 days, basically along the route that Neil just suggested, and wound up in western New York, his destination. If he could do that in 300 days, we know from Emma Smith, that Moroni had his abridgment that weighed between 40 and 50 pounds, that he could easily have carried with him.
A – Garth Norman. I think that there is another possibility, and that is that Moroni didn’t have to take them up to New York as a mortal, but a resurrected being placing them where the Smith family was living. I know that’s not a popular way of thinking, but there is evidence that Moroni was very, very busy abridging the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon for quite a few years, and may not have taken the plates on his long trek.
A – Richard Gordon. If you check your ward libraries, you’ll probably find a video done by some LDS scholars about this very question. They said there were three possibilities: 1- He took them there as a mortal. 2- He put them there as a resurrected person. 3- We just don’t know.
A- Alan Miner. First of all, I have quite a lengthy list of authoritative statements from the early part of the Church, in which they did name the hill Cumorah. You can’t get around that. Lucy Mack Smith, when she wrote her biography of Joseph Smith, refers to Cumorah. One of those references is not found in her later editions, but one of them is. That edition has been modified because it had other things that Brigham Young didn’t particularly agree with. So that edition has been modified from what she first wrote. But, there is no question that the authorities of the Church have never gone contrary to that. They have always supported the authoritative statements. Jerry Ainsworth, in his research for his book, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni (which is worth reading), dug into some early documented sources, which traced the travels of Moroni. I also have them documented.
Q – Is there any of the panel who think that the New York hill is where Mormon kept the plates until he translated them? (No one answered in the affirmative.) Is there anyone here who doesn’t think that Mesoamerica is where the events of the Book of Mormon occurred? (No answers.) I think that settles it for our group.
Moderator – We will try to put on BMAF’s website, BMAF.org, the websites of each of our speakers so that participants can gain access to more information from a specific speaker. The proceedings of this conference will also be available on DVD sometime after the conference is concluded.
Q – What is a wadi?
A – George Potter. It is basically a desert valley or where a river has gone through, like a streambed.
Q – What are some differences in the interpretation of Quetzalcoatl?
A – Diane Wirth. It is necessary to define which individual is referred to as Quetzalcoatl. There were many men by that name, as I explained earlier. Some of them had personal histories that certainly didn’t relate them to Christ. Even as early as 150 – 200 A.D., there were human sacrifices to Quetzalcoatl, which was certainly not what the original Quetzal- coatl or Christ taught. That was the time when the Apostasy was setting in. From that time on, the image of the Feathered Serpent was connected with sacrifice and war. The original idea of Quetzalcoatl as the Creator associates him definitely with Christ.
A – Elder Brewerton. There were countless Indian chiefs, politicians, kings, and emperors who have adopted that name because of the prestigious nature of the name. But the one that is talked about the most, the one that I mentioned as Topiltzín Quetzalcoatl. We know the dates of his birth and death, he died in 895 A.D. If you read the books of John Beierhorst and H. B. Nicholson (both texts I have), which are considered unsurpassed in the field in which they are written, they make it very clear that all those kings, emperors, etc., that took that name, some go back to that Quetzalcoatl of the 800’s A.D., but that they copied the original Quetzalcoatl of centuries earlier. In the text by President John Taylor in 1882, called Mediation and Atonement, on page 201, that I paraphrased earlier, he makes it very clear that "the parallels between the original Quetzalcoatl and Jesus Christ, when he came here to the Americas, are so similar that I conclude they are one and the same."
Q – Please comment on the massive immigration from Latin America in relation to the Lord’s plan.
A – Elder Brewerton. The baptism rate in the British Isles was important early on because the Lord wanted them to strengthen the Church. Some 70,000 joined the Church, crossed the ocean, and crossed the plains. Even then, 6000 of them died in the process. Then, toward the end of the 20th century, the authorities made it clear that they didn’t want any more gathering this way, and started establishing stakes in all parts of the world. I can’t comment on the illegals that are coming to the U.S. because it could go both ways. I do know that those with the blood of Lehi have an inclination and a propensity to believe, and the Church does not hesitate to baptize illegals in the U.S.
A – Elder Wells. Someone asked President Romney, speaking of the days of Pancho Villa, how did he get along with those bad Mexicans? And he said, "I never met a bad Mexican. Desperate, yes, but not bad." The people across the border, risking their lives, are desperate. I don’t judge them. I personally think we should have more strict control of our borders, but I think we should be more generous in our immigration policies and make it possible for qualified people to come and work. As far as the Lamanites are concerned, 3 Nephi to me says that it will be the Lamanites that will build the New Jerusalem. I don’t know why they will be the ones to build the New Jerusalem, but it says to me that we, the Gentiles (the Gringo, Anglo LDS), will be able to help them if we are worthy. President Wilford Woodruff said that they will have that blessing; they will be building the New Jerusalem. In fact, he said that we, the Gringos, might as well go to hell and be damned for what we are supposed to do to help the Lamanites – lifting them up in our arms and putting them on our shoulders.
Q – Please relate the differentiating factors that would cause North America to thrive and prosper versus those that restrain Latin America from growth and prospering over approximately the same time period.
A – Elder Wells. Most of the Latin American countries did adopt the U.S. Constitution. But they did not adopt our legal system; they followed the Napoleonic code where you are guilty until proven innocent. And they have not followed the ‘case precedent’ where you follow what previous judges have ruled on in similar matters. They have a propensity toward dictatorships and toward ‘rule of man,’ and the last man you talk to is always right, and you never know quite what’s going on. They do not have the legal stability, the economic stability, the political stability; they have not protected the rights of minorities in religion or social circumstances the way they need to, in order to have the free economy that we have in the United States. However, I see things getting better in Latin America. I lived through the period of the dictators. There aren’t any of those types of dictators any more. Even Pinochet of Chile was a great blessing to his country. He overthrew the communists very harshly. I do think they will prosper in time. I think they have a blessing on the Lamanites. So far, the pure Lamanites are not joining the Church, nor are the pure Spaniards in large numbers. It’s the Mestizo who are. The Lord is taking the best of the Lamanite characteristics and putting them with the best characteristics of the Spaniards and Portuguese, as the allegory of the olive tree suggests. The pure Spaniard was strong enough to throw of seven centuries of Muslim occupation. The Muslims were never able to change the Spaniards from the Catholic religion or their language. There was something of steel in the spines of the Spaniards. Then they turned to the Americas and put all of that energy into colonization here. So, you get those qualities added to the spiritual qualities of the Lamanites and you get people joining the Church who are tremendously strong and good and competent; and they will arise and accomplish great things in time.
Q – Does Coxca and its surrounding area large enough to support the Nephite warriors and their families who would have lived there at that time?
A – Neil Steede. The immediate battlefield there is between 10 and 15 miles square, but the area around could support large armies for short periods of time, although not for a long time. So, it is feasible.
Q – Could you explain the process of how the Mayan glyphs are translated, and do you know of certainty what they mean?
A – Diane Wirth. I personally don’t know what they mean because I’m not an epigrapher, a translator. I do know that the glyphs are phonetic. I’ve heard it said that it is comparable to ancient Chinese. It’s a very difficult language. When you look at a glyph, sometimes you’ll see it in another place but only half of a glyph, but it means the same thing. The certainty of the interpretation of the glyphs is increasing every year. At present, 75-80% of glyphs are translatable. There are some new glyphs that have been recently found in San Bartolo, Guatemala, that date to about 300 B.C., and this is very exciting.
A – Garth Norman. The translation is a very difficult and long process. The success in translating Mayan glyphs has been in finding the key to the alphabet. In our language, we have 26 letters in the alphabet, that when put together makes us pretty confident that we can see a word and know what it means. But with them, they have a kind of alphabetic/phonetic system in which you can’t be sure. In my presentation, I was not dealing with this type of system, but rather with a logographic system that is common in Mayan, as well. It’s translatable, but not phonetically; and you also find it in ancient Egyptian writing. When you understand the symbol and the context, then you can have a relative degree of confidence in the translation, but it takes a lot of work. What I’ve been doing is pioneering, and we have quite a ways to go before we can be absolutely certain.
A – From a specialist in the audience. While we can translate 80% of the glyphs, we still don’t know in many occasions what they mean. We can come up with a perfectly clear translation of a glyph phonetically and not know what it means, because we don’t have a dictionary or cultural background to tell us what it actually means. We need a picture to know what it means for sure. It is still a very difficult art.
A – Garth Norman. With absolute certainty, we know what the dates are. The numeral system is clear. Linda Schele, an art historian and Mayan translator, made an observation by saying, "I think we’re just beginning to understand the glyphs. The deeper understanding of them will come through deciphering the meaning that is symbolic in the glyphs. In my work, I don’t use a linguistic approach, but a symbolic one. Eventually, we may see the two come together and have a far greater confidence in interpretations.
Q – Would you comment on the things to be seen in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, particularly as they may be related to the Book of Mormon?
A – Bruce Yerman. In the Mayan section of the Museum, we went through with one of the professors of the university there. He said everything that has been said here yesterday and today. He said that early Mayan glyphs were pictures. Then the Mayans evolved into making the glyphs take phonetic sounds; then they seemed to deteriorate in their ability to write as the Mayan culture went from the Classic to the Post-classic. So, it’s even harder for these scholars to read what’s been written because of the deterioration of the ability of the Mayans to be able to write. It is interesting, though, to realize that there is no punctuation in Mayan glyphs, although there are symbols of ‘stop’ and ‘start.’ We also know there was no punctuation in the Book of Mormon, which is some form of Reformed Egyptian or Mesoamerican writing.
A – Neil Steede. I’ve done retranslations of a lot of Schele’s work, not that they’re good enough for publication, but I worked intimately with a lot of glyphs, and a lot of them are very easily misread. Having some personal experience in it, translating the glyphs is tough.
Q – Is it reasonable to assume that Lehi hired the sea crews to take the trip to the Americas?
A – George Potter. Both Richard Wellington and I came to the conclusion that what Severin did, when building the replica of his ship and sailing it to China, he hired a crew of eight Omani sailors as the core of his crew. When he tried to train the crew he had with him, they could handle ropes and things, but they were hobby-sailors, and he needed real sailors to handle the ship when they encountered a storm. He gave credit several times to those Omani sailors for saving the ship. We felt that Lehi did use a crew of professionals and probably did take Omani sailors.
Q – If the Book of Mormon is the most perfect book ever written, do you feel that the geography needs to be as true as the doctrine – referring to such things as compass directions, distances, etc.?
A – Neil Steede. I do think that compass directions and mileage has to be as they say. I have physically walked a lot of the places, such as the day-and-a-half across the Isthmus, and so forth, to make sure it could be done. From the way that I believe, the way the book was translated, I think those things remain faithful to what they are. I look at Book of Mormon archaeology, although I have tremendous disagreement with several people here, I have found that we have come to similar conclusion. There are areas where we differ very widely, and that’s going to happen until we have a clear understanding of the very language that has been referred to earlier.
A – George Potter. We have to understand that language, technology, and the surface of the earth are not constant. They have been continually moving and changing since the time the Book of Mormon was written, including the concept of north, east, south, west, and the shifting of tectonic earth plates. So, don’t take the authors of the Book of Mormon out the context of their period.
A – Garth Norman. I have to disagree with George on one point. We know that the shifting has taken place, but there is no evidence that it has shifted in historic times over the last 5000 years to any significance. We have confirmed that in the archaeological ruins of Mesoamerica through astronomy. The astronomical orientations back over 2000 years is exactly the same as it is today. So, we’re in the heart of Book of Mormon times there. Locally, earthquakes and seismic upheavals could be significant. East has always been east; west has always been west; north and south have likewise always been the same, based upon the movements of the sun, the moon, the stars, and the North Star. So cultural differences and directions, I don’t think are significant in Book of Mormon times.
Elder Wells. I want to thank the founding members of the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum for your inspiration to create this Book of Mormon lands conference. I’m tremendously impressed; I thing this is the best conference we’ve had yet. I appreciate all the presenters and the things we’ve all learned.