The Importance of Locating the Jaredites
The Importance of Locating the Jaredites
Copyright © 2015 by Ted Dee Stoddard and Doug Christensen
We definitely have our opinions about the Olmec and the Maya and the geographic and cultural relationships between the two cultures. Though separated in both time and distance, when equated with Book of Mormon civilizations, the Olmec become very instructive.
First, if we believe in radiocarbon dating, which we do, we think we have to pay attention to the Olmec by comparing them with the Jaredites. That equating then leads us to the territory of the Olmec, which must also equate to the territory of the Jaredites if they are, indeed, the same people as the Olmec (or if not the same, they are neighbors or in some manner shared cultures). The “heartland” of the Olmec is the crescent-shaped territory of Mexico that is largely in the states of Veracruz and Tabasco in connection with the Gulf of Mexico.
Bottom line: We need to “pay attention” to Veracruz and Tabasco because fundamentally, if we’ve found where the Jaredites lived, we shouldn’t have any difficulty finding the territory of “the Lehites.” In fact, the following statement might have merit: “Show us where the Jaredites lived, and we’ll then authoritatively be able to show you where the Nephites lived and hence where the New World lands of the Book of Mormon were located.”
Second, in our study of the Olmec, we must not only learn about their civilization in the Olmec “heartland” territory but also learn about their civilization in what the Olmec scholars call the “hinterlands.”
Third, our study of the Olmec must also include information about those called the “Epi-Olmec” who obviously are Olmec but who were not involved in the activities that all but totally decimated the heartland Olmec at essentially the same time as the demise of the Jaredites.
Fourth, we now realize that the Book of Mormon contains information about only two of the Jaredite families—Ether and his brother. However, historical accounts from Mexico, such as that of the Mexican historian Ixtlilxochitl, point out that “several” families originally came from the “great tower” and populated the New World territory of Mesoamerica.
Fifth, we now know that the civilization the modern world calls the Maya preceded the arrival of Lehi in the New World. Who are these original Maya who lived in Mesoamerica before Lehi arrived and who also potentially lived in the same Mesoamerican territory known as the Book of Mormon land southward? Answer: They were probably either spinoffs from the Olmec immigrants, or they were other groups of people who came to the New World but who are not accounted for or mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
Sixth, we’re biased about the Maya and their connections to the Lamanites and the Nephites, and we recognize that fact. We’re biased for several reasons—but especially because of the influence of Dr. Allen Christenson of Brigham Young University and his teachings on the history and culture of the Maya. (Dr. Christenson is the author of Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya.)
The Nephites probably lived right in the heart of the highland Maya civilization in the land southward until Mosiah and his people pulled up stakes and left. Why did they leave? Answer: Probably to get away—to “really” get away—from the Maya of the land southward. The Nephites referred to those Maya as “Lamanites” because all the “other guys” living around the Nephites were referred to as “Lamanites.” Many were undoubtedly descendants of Lehi and his followers, but many also were probably what we call today “Maya.”
Question: How did Mosiah and his people “get away” from the Maya? Answer: They probably went to territory that was not controlled by the Maya. Where is that territory? Michael Coe and Stephen Houston unknowingly answer that question via their map on page 12 of their ninth-edition book, The Maya. When we read Coe and Houston’s book1. (and every Book of Mormon aficionado should read it), we find the following map early in the book:
As that map shows via the dotted line on the west, Maya territory during Book of Mormon times did not extend into the central depression of Mexico along the Grijalva River. We propose that a good candidate for the city and land of Zarahemla might have been somewhere in that central depression area—clearly out of Maya territory, or some other area not occupied by them.
Question: Can the Nephites be equated with the Maya? Answer: No. However, for over three hundred years, the Nephites lived “among” the Maya in the land of Nephi. And we believe that the land of Nephi was squarely in the middle of Maya territory in highland Guatemala. That is the only logical territory that was “up” in elevation from the land of first inheritance along the Pacific coast. Therefore, the cultures of the Nephites and the Maya undoubtedly influenced each other in many, many ways.
Question: Can the Lamanites be equated with the Maya? Answer: Perhaps—depending on the time period and the circumstances. Again, according to the Book of Mormon account of the Nephites, “all the other guys” of New World Book of Mormon territory, including the Maya, were referred to as “Lamanites” by the Nephites. We now know from the Mesoamerica historical record that the Lamanites, from the beginning, lived among the Maya. We suspect that, at some point, their cultures literally merged.2 And we suspect that Nephi foresaw that happening because of a statement in 1 Nephi 13: “The Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren” (1 Nephi 13:30; emphasis added).
Question: Were all the Jaredites killed off at the hill Ramah battle? Answer: No. How can we so authoritatively answer that way? First, the historical record of Mesoamerica now overwhelmingly talks about the people of the “hinterlands” of the Olmec as well as the “Olmec surviving people” now referred to as the “Epi-Olmec.” Second King Limhi himself talks about Jaredite civilization survivors. Referring to the plates found by the Limhi expedition, King Limhi said, “I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed” (Mosiah 8:12; emphasis added).
Proponents of any legitimate, valid model for New World Book of Mormon geography should be able to find archaeological and cultural evidence that dates to the appropriate time period and that supports the presence of a civilization that equates to the Jaredites. Therefore, in attempting to locate the New World lands of the Nephites, analysts should initially “put into the mix” an attempt to locate the territory of the Jaredites. If they can find the territory of the Jaredites, they will have no difficulty finding the overall territory of the Nephites and therefore of the Book of Mormon. The Olmec seem to equate very well with the Jaredites—probably supporting Mesoamerica unequivocally as the New World location of all lands and events of the Book of Mormon. To the proponents of any other model for Book of Mormon geography, we say, “Show us valid evidence of the Jaredites in your model, and we’ll quickly evaluate the potential legitimacy of your model.”
1. Michael D. Coe and Stephen Houston, The Maya, 9th ed. (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2015).
2. See Mark Wright and Brant Gardner, “The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy,” http://www.bmaf.org/articles/cultural_context_nephite_apostasy__wright_gardner.