Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Those Who Disappear

The Book of Mormon tells of several prophets and leaders who prophesy, give counsel, entrust valuable records and other sacred objects to their sons, and then depart out of the land without ever being seen again (Alma 45:1-19; 3 Nephi 1:2-3; 2:9). Alma entrusted the Nephite records to his son Helaman (Alma 37:1-47), and then prophesied of the future destruction of the Nephites as a people (Alma 45:9-14). "And when he had done this he departed out of the land of Zarahemla, as if to go into the land of Melek. And it came to pass that he was never heard of more; as to his death or burial we know not of. Behold, this we know, that he was a righteous man" (Alma 45:18-19). In his recent book, Mormon’s Codex, John Sorenson notes a similar pattern found in Mesoamerican lore. Among the Quiche Maya, “some of the most important rulers were said to have disappeared without leaving notice whether or not they `tasted death.’” (Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book. Salt Lake City: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Deseret Book, 2013, 471-72. Sorenson is citing the work of Robert M. Carmack, The Quiche Maya of Utatlan. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981, 149).

Although Sorenson does not cite specific examples for this pattern, one is found in the Mayan Popol Vuh, which recounts the departure of the founding tribal ancestors Balam Quitze, Balam Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui Balam. According to this account these leaders first gave counsel and instruction to their sons, charged them to remember them and gave them a sacred bundle. Then, though they were not sick or ill, they departed.

This, then, was their counsel when they disappeared there atop the mountain Hacavitz. They were not buried by their wives, nor their children. Neither was their disappearance clear when they vanished. But their counsel was clear . . . . Thus were the deaths of our four grandfathers and fathers when they disappeared, when they left their sons there on top of the mountain Hacavitz. (Allen J. Christenson, ed. and trans., Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. New York and Winchester: O Books, 2003), 253-55, emphasis added).

Nezahualpilla King of Tezcoco (Wikipedia Commons)

Diego Duran in his History of the Indies of New Spain tells how Nezahualpilli, one of the last kings of Tezcoco visited Motecuhzoma before his death and foretold the destruction of the Aztec empire. Like Alma in the Book of Mormon, the old king foretold the future destruction of their people.

O powerful and great lord! I do not wish to trouble your peaceful spirit, but the obligation I have to serve you forces me to reveal a strange and bewildering thing that I have been permitted to to see by the Lord of the Heavens, of Night and Day, and of Wind, something that is to happen in your time.

You must be on your guard, you must be warned, because I have discovered that in a very few years our cities will be ravaged and destroyed. We and our children shall be killed, our subjects humbled. Of all these things you must not doubt. . . . Before many days have passed you will see signs in the sky that will appear as an omen of what I am saying. But do not be cast down because of these things, since one cannot turn one’s face from that which must be. One consolation is that I shall not see these calamities and afflictions because my days are numbered
  (Doris Heyden, ed. and trans., The History of the Indies of New Spain By Fray Diego Duran (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994, 452).

According to most historical sources the old king died not long before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. One source, however, the Codex Chimalpahin, tells a different story.

1515, Ten Reed. At this time Necahualpiltzintli [Nezahualpilli], ruler of Texcoco died. He had ruled for twenty-four years. And when it is all added up, he lived on earth fifty-two years. But although it has thus been put forth that Necahualpiltzintli died, it is not true that he died. He was just gone; he just disappeared. It is not known where he went, although all the ancestors knew and said that it was said that he went into a cave near Mount Tetzcotzin as soon as he first knew that the Spaniards were coming here to New Spain; that they would spread out, that they would be rulers yet. For the aforesaid Necahualpiltzintli knew it well. He was a great sorcerer and a wise man. 1516, Eleven Flint. At this time the Lord Cacamatzin was installed as ruler of Texcoco. He was the son of Necahualpiltzintli, who had just disappeared.

(Arthur J. O. Anderson Susan Schroeder, eds. and trans., Codex Chimalpahin: Society and Politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlateleco, Texcoco, Culhuacan, and Other Nahua Altepetl in Central Mexico. The Nahuatl and Spanish annals and accounts collected and recorded by don Domingo de San Anton Munon Chimalpahin Quauhtlehuanitzin. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997, 2:37, emphasis added).

While I strongly doubt that the King of Tezcoco was translated, the pattern found in some Mesoamerican literature is an interesting one. Make of it what you will.

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