Wednesday, August 26, 2020

"Do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us?" Mulek and the people of Zarahemla

Nebuchadrezzar has Zedekiah's children killed before his eyes (Francois Xaview Fabre)
When Nephi the son of Helaman prophesied to his people in the land of Zarahemla he appealed to various prophets already known to them in support of his testimony of Christ (Helaman 8:11-23). Warning them of imminent destruction if they did not repent, he reminded them that Jeremiah, a contemporary of Lehi, had foretold the destruction of Jerusalem.

And now will you dispute that Jerusalem was destroyed? Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain, all except it were Mulek? Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us, and they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem? (Helaman 8:21).

According to the biblical account, when king Zedekiah of Judah attempted to escape the siege of the Babylonians shortly before its destruction he was captured and then taken before Nebuchadrezzar. "And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon" (2 Kings 25:7). It is only through the Book of Mormon that we learn that one of Zedekiah's sons escaped, while all the others sons were killed.

Our current text of the Book of Mormon, being only an abridgment from records possessed by the Nephites, provides little information about Mulek and the people of Zarahemla beyond a few verses (Omni 1:13-19; Mosiah 7:3; 25:1-4; Alma 22:30; Helaman 1:15; 6:10; 8:21). As early as 1887, one Latter-day Saint suggested that some of Mulek's people may have been polygamists who intermarried with native American women who were already present in the land of promise when they arrived. "Probably these aborigines mothers were more numerous and influential, than their Hebrew husbands" helping to account for how their Hebrew language became confounded so quickly (Anonymous, Plain Facts for Students of the Book of Mormon with a Map of the Promised Land. 1887, 4).

In his recent book, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon's Missing Stories, Don Bradley, does an excellent job of teasing out potential clues from the text and secondary historical sources, as to the contents of the now lost Book of Lehi. While I do not necessarily agree with all of his interpretations and conclusions, the reader and future researchers will find a wealth of useful and interesting information to explore and consider.

In relation to the origin of the Mulekites or people of Zarahemla, the following 1856 report of Emer Harris, the brother of Martin Harris, may be of interest. Emer presumably gleaned this information from his brother who acted as a scribe for Joseph Smith during the translation of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon in Harmony Pennsylvania in 1828.

Now I will tell you of the history of those that were lost. When the king from Jerusalem [Zedekiah] had his eyes put out but his son Muleck with some others of the royal family hid themselves, and on coming out of their hiding place they found 4 females of the royal family who also had hid themselves from the wrath of the king, they were married together, there being 4 males and 4 females---they were found in this country in the south part. When they were found, they had become a small tribe.

(Report of Emer Harris, "General Minutes, April 6, 1856, Provo Utah Central Stake"; spelling and punctuation updated for clarity, in Don Bradley, The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon's Missing Stories. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2019, 259).

For general information on the Mulekites see this article and video from Book of Mormon Central, Why Should Readers Pay Close Attention to the Mulekites? John Sorenson's 1990 overview "The Mulekites" is also still very useful. It may be of interest to some that the name Mulek may be attested in recently recovered artifacts from before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Nephi Son of Helaman: A Prophet Like Moses

The prophet Moses was often seen as the ideal prophet in Israelite history. Biblical writers often portrayed subsequent Israelite leaders as prophets like Moses in a way that invites comparison and can highlight their legitimacy and the importance of their activities and teachings. Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, and of course Jesus, are all portrayed in language which casts them as prophets “like unto Moses” in the tradition of Deuteronomy 18:18-19. One notable example of this pattern can be seen in the story of Elijah who, “smote the waters” of the Jordan River, “and they were divided hither and thither” so that he “went over on dry ground” (2 Kings 2:8, 14). This miracle recalled the parting of the Red Sea and showed that the power of God was with Elijah and Elisha as it had been with Moses (Exodus 14:21-22; 2 Kings 2:8, 14).

Moses with the Ten Commandments (Phillipe de Champaigne)
Nephite Prophets like Moses

Latter-day Saints have discussed a similar pattern in the Book of Mormon where Nephite prophets like Lehi, Nephi, Abinadi or Alma are likened to Moses  (See further reading below). According to David Seely

While the Book of Mormon, like the New Testament, specifically identifies the future prophet like Moses as Christ, it also develops the idea that the institution of prophecy that continued in Israel included other future prophets like Moses. Similar to the Deuteronomistic History, the Book of Mormon records the continuation of the institution of prophecy in its history and in several cases specifically portrays prophets with characteristics of Moses (Seely, 372).

The ministry of Nephi the son of Helaman is described in many ways that show him to be a righteous prophet like Moses. Nephi prophesied that destruction was imminent if the Nephites did not repent. Having hardened their hearts against the Lord, like Pharaoh, the wicked judges challenged him to provide evidence for the truth of his words, Nephi reminded his audience of Moses.

Behold my brethren, have ye not read that God gave power unto one man even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red Sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites, who were our fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up? (Helaman 8:11).

Nephi reasoned that “if God gave unto this man such power” as was evident from their own scriptural heritage, they should not dispute God’s ability to reveal their pending destruction if they did not repent (Helaman 8:12). The Lord’s power at the Red Sea, manifested through Moses was a precedent and a sign to the people in support Nephi’s prophetic claims. The comparison of the prophet Nephi to Moses is reinforced by various facets of the narrative in the book of Helaman.

Pharaoh's Army Engulfed by the Red Sea (Frank Arthur Bridgman)

Unjustly Accused of a Crime

When the Israelites were in bondage to the Egyptians, Moses killed an oppressive Egyptian official who was abusing a fellow Israelite and hid the body in the sand. After the crime became known, Moses fled Egypt for his life (Exodus 2:11-15). The account in Helaman also involved a killing, the murder of the wicked Nephite Chief Judge, who was part of the oppressive Gadianton faction. Nephi, however, was innocent and made no attempt to flee. Initially hidden, the identity of the murderer was miraculously revealed by God. The Lord later commends Nephi for his faithfulness. “And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments” (Helaman 10:5).

Nephi’s deliverance and the Red Sea Miracle

After the Lord revealed the murder of the Chief Judge, leaders of the Gadianton party accused Nephi of complicity in the crime, putting his own life in danger. Nephi then provided a miraculous prophetic sign in which the true murderer was confronted, confessed, and Nephi was fully vindicated. In the aftermath of his acquittal, his former accusers were left in confusion, and like the waters of the Red Sea, were divided among themselves. “And it came to pass that there arose a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them (Helaman 10:1). The allusion to the miracle at the Red Sea is further reinforced by the use of the words "hither and thither" which Nephi had previously used to describe that event.

Power to Smite the People Like Moses’ Power to Smite Egypt

After his miraculous deliverance from the wicked judges, the Lord gives Nephi an endowment of power.

Behold I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. . . . And behold if ye shall say that God shall smite this people, it shall come to pass (Helaman 10:6, 10).

The Lord gave Moses power to smite Egypt and its people with plague and pestilence (Exodus 3:20; 7:17; 8:2, 16; 9:15; 12:12-13, 23), and also gave him power to “smite” the waters of the Red Sea (Helaman 8:11). When the Lord commands Nephi to go forth again and warn to the people to repent, he prophesies that they will be “smitten even unto destruction” (10:14), but the people continue to “harden their hearts” like Pharaoh (Exodus 8:15). When they try to apprehend him, Nephi is “taken by the Spirit and conveyed out of the midst of them.” His enemies and former accusers are “divided against themselves,” and descend into a maelstrom of contention and bloodshed (Helaman 10:18). The wicked Nephites, like the chaotic waters of the sea, can be smitten or divided according to God’s will and power.

A Famine Delivers the Repentant from Destruction

Hoping to deliver his people from the escalating bloodshed Nephi uses his Moses-like power to ask the Lord to send a famine to stop the destruction by the sword (Helaman 11:4-5). In an interesting variation on the Red Sea miracle in which the Lord provided “dry ground” (Exodus 14:16, 21-22) for the escape of his people, “the earth was smitten that it was dry” in order to bring the people of Nephi to the path repentance and salvation (Helaman 11:6).

The People Plead with Their Leaders to Listen to the Prophet

When the more wicked Nephites perish, the residue are led to repent. Like the Egyptians who plead with Pharaoh to listen to Moses and let Israel go lest “we be all dead men” (Exodus 12:33), the Nephites “began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders” to ask Nephi to cry unto the Lord to turn away the famine so they will not be destroyed. Nephi does so and the people are spared (Helaman 11:8-17). Moses is the first prophet to be called a “man of God” (Deuteronomy 33:1), a title subsequently used of other biblical prophets. “He is presented as the prototype of the Jewish man of God, of the future religious leaders" (Teeple, The Mosaic Eschatological Prophet, 32). Following their deliverance from the famine, the Nephites considered Nephi to be “a great prophet, and a man of God, having great authority given unto him by God” (Helaman 11:18).

 Nephi Resolves Controversies Like Moses

Nephi, a former Chief Judge of the Nephites warned the Nephites about the corruptness of the law under the rule of unrighteous judges (Helaman 8:3). When new contentions arose after the famine, Nephi and his brother Lehi, like Moses and his brother Aaron, were able to receive divine guidance. “But it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi, and many of their brethren who knew concerning the true points of doctrine, having many revelations daily, therefore they did preach unto the people, insomuch that they did put an end to their strife” (Helaman 11:23). Moses was an inspired lawgiver who received many revelations from God to govern the people. “The main function of Moses in the history of Israel was to mediate the law" (Jackson, 123). Nephi, in contrast to the wicked judges, performs a similar function in Helaman.

Nephi was falsely accused of the murder of the Chief Judge
Unrepentant Nephites Dismiss Miracles Like Pharaoh and the Egyptians

When the Lord, through Moses, smote Egypt with plagues, signs and wonders, Pharaoh promised to release the Israelites from bondage, but soon went back on his word once the wonders ceased. Similarly, the Nephites repented in times difficulty, but then quickly returned to their wicked ways (Helaman 11:34-37). As the signs of Christ’s coming appeared with greater frequency, the Nephites, like the Egyptians did “harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them” (Helaman 16:13-15). “And notwithstanding the signs and wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land” (Helaman 16:23)

Nephi’s Departure Like the Departure of Moses

In the biblical account, Moses did not join the Israelites when they crossed into the land of promise. He departed and was assumed to be dead or buried by God, although “no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6). The Nephites knew of a non-biblical tradition that “the Lord took Moses unto himself” (Alma 45:19). Like Moses and Alma, Nephi, the son of Helaman did not remain with the people of Nephi after his ministry, but “departed out of the land, and wither he went, no man knoweth” (3 Nephi 1:3). The Lord was with Nephi as he had been with Moses and previous Nephite prophets (Helaman 8:23). By evoking the events and language of the Red Sea deliverance, the narrative in Helaman also teaches that the God who led Israel through Moses to salvation was still present and would lead his people to safety and happiness if they would let him.

Learning from Nephi's Experience

The account of Nephi in the Book of Helaman shows us how the word of God can provide guidance and protection. Nephi was able to see and explain how the teachings of former prophets pointed his people to Christ (Helaman 8:11-23). Those who followed Nephi’s counsel were able to act in faith and receive their own testimony that Nephi was truly a prophet of God (Helaman 9:1-5, 18). 

As with the Lord’s people anciently, Latter-day Saints have also been blessed with prophets who receive commandments and revelations for the Church “even as Moses” (D&C 28:2; 107:91-92). The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds the keys to minister all the blessings of the Gospel in our day including the sealing power to bless families. Like Nephi and other prophets in the Book of Mormon, modern apostles and prophets testify of the Savior and point us to Christ.

Nephi, as a prophet like Moses, had the spirit of revelation. This enabled him to know the Lord’s will for this day and time. This gift also gave him comfort, guidance, and protection when confronted with evil. Each of us needs to seek and cultivate the spirit of revelation as we negotiate complex and even dangerous situations in our own lives. The scriptures and the teachings of living prophets and apostles today can “divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across the everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked” (Helaman 3:29). The Lord taught the prophet the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery

Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost which shall com upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. And now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground. Therefore, this is thy gift; apply unto it, and blessed art thou, for it shall deliver you out of the hands of your enemies, when, if it were not so, they would slay you and bring your soul to destruction (D&C 8:2-4).

The Holy Ghost can not only alert us to dangers, but prepare us for the opportunity to participate in the Lord’s work of gathering Israel and the Lord’s return. President Russell M. Nelson has taught

Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.

President Russell M. Nelson
Sometimes even the difficult experiences and trials we pass through can prove to be a path of deliverance if we will remain humble, follow the counsel of current Church leaders, repent, and turn to God for support and guidance.

But lift up thine rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea (Exodus 14:16).

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them  on their right hand, and on their left (Exodus 14:21-22).
[Elijah repeated the miracle of the Red Sea at the Jordan river] and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8; see also verse 14).
And it came to pass that there was a division among the people, insomuch that they divided hither and thither, and went their ways, leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them (Helaman 10:1).

But behold, the power of God was with him, and they could not take him to cast him into prison, for he was taken by the Spirit and conveyed away out of the midst of them (Helaman 10:16).

And there began to be contentions insomuch that they were divided against themselves, and began to slay one another with the sword (Helaman 10:18).
And I shall harden the hearts of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:17).  
He hardened his heart and hearkened not unto them (Exodus 8:15).

Now behold, notwithstanding the great miracle which Nephi had done in telling them concerning the murder of the chief judge, they did harden their hearts and did not hearken unto the words of the Lord (Helaman 10:13).
[Elijah repeating the miracle of the Red Sea at the Jordan river] smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8).
[Nephi teaches his people] God gave power unto one man, even Moses, to smite upon the waters of the Red sea, and they parted hither and thither, insomuch that the Israelites who were out fathers, came through upon dry ground, and the waters closed upon the armies of the Egyptians and swallowed them up (Helaman 8:11).
Ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine (Helaman 10:6)
For the earth was smitten that it was dry (Helaman 11:6)
Intreat the Lord (Exodus 8:8. See also 8:9, 29-30; 9:28; 10:17-18).
And the Egyptians were urgent upon the people, that they might send out of the land in haste; for they said, We be all dead men (Exodus 12:33).

And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi . . .cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled (Helaman 11:8).
Moreover the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh ‘s servants, and in the sight of the people (Exodus 11:3).
Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 33:1)
We know that thou art a man of God (Helaman 11:8).
And they did no more seek to destroy Nephi, but they did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God (Helaman 11:18).
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt (Exodus 7:3).
When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you (Exodus 7:9).
Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts, all save it were the most believing part of them (Helaman 16:15).
And notwithstanding the signs and wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land (Helaman 16:23).
But no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day (Deuteronomy 34:6).
Then he departed out of the land, and wither he went, no man knoweth (3 Nephi 1:3).

Further Reading

Dale C. Allison, The New Moses: A Mathean Typology (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1993),

S. Kent Brown, “The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 30/3 (Summer 1990): 111-126.

Havilah Dharmraj, A Prophet Like Moses? A Narrative Theological Reading of the Elijah Stories (Wipf & Stock, 2011).

Bernard S. Jackson, "The Prophet and the Law in Early Judaism and the New Testament," Cordozo Studies in Law and Literature 4/2 (Autumn 1992): 123-166.

Mark Leuchter, “Samuel: A Prophet Like Moses or A Priest Like Moses?” Mignon R. Jacobs and Raymond F. Person, eds., Israelite Prophecy and the Deuteronomistic  History: Portrait, Reality, and the Formation of a History (SBL Press, 2014), 147-168.

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44, No. 2 (2005): 5-23;

Noel Reynolds, “Lehi as Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, No. 2 (2000): 26-35, 81-82;

David R. Seely, “`A Prophet Like Moses’: (Deuteronomy 18:15-18) in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” In Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson, eds., “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch (Orem, Utah: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 372-373;

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Israelite Background of Moses Typology in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies 44/2 (2005): 5-23;

Noel B. Reynolds, “Lehi and Moses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 26-35, 81-82;

David R. Seely, “`A Prophet Like Moses’: (Deuteronomy 18:15-18) in the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” In Paul Y. Hoskisson and Daniel C. Peterson, eds., “To Seek the Law of the Lord”: Essays in Honor of John W. Welch (Orem, Utah: Interpreter Foundation, 2017), 372-373.

Howard M. Teeple, The Mosaic Eschatological Prophet (Society of Biblical Literature: 1957).

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Swine and Peccary: Shift Happens

Wild Pig
The earliest reference to swine in the Book of Mormon text is among the Jaredites, where they are said to have been useful for food (Ether 9:18). Later, swine are mentioned, but never said to have been eaten by the Nephites who lived under the law of Moses (at least in times of righteousness). Of course, after the coming of Christ, there would presumably have been no prohibition against eating foods forbidden under the earlier law. These later references to swine are proverbial and entirely negative. The wicked among the Nephites are said to have returned from righteousness to wickedness "like the sow to her wallowing in the mire" (3 Nephi 7:8). Jesus' warning to his disciples in the Americas parallels that in Matthew's Gospel, "neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (3 Nephi 13:6).

If the Jaredites brought Old World species of swine to the land of promise no archaeological evidence for this has be identified thus far. Some readers of the Book of Mormon have suggested that Old World migrants applied the term swine or its equivalent to other species they found upon their arrival. One very good candidate for the swine mentioned in the Book of Mormon is the American peccary.

Wild Pigs (Texas) These are descended from pigs introduced in Post-Columbian times
This naming practice, known as loan-shift, is familiar to scholars who study ancient cultures and their interactions (Lawrence B. Kiddle, "Spanish and Portuguese Cattle Terms in Amerindian Languages," in Herbert J. Izzo, ed., Italic and Romance: Linguistic Studies in Honor of Ernst Puigram. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1980, 273-74).

Collared Peccary or Javelina (Saltillo Mexico)

Recently, some critics of the Book of Mormon have scoffed at the idea that migrants from the Old World  to the new may have applied names they were familiar with new animals they encountered. Such criticisms are uninformed.

Shift happens.

Peccaries are not true pigs in terms of modern scientific classification, but they resemble them greatly in both appearance and behavior. The Spanish Conquistadors, explorers, and historians considered them pigs. Lyle Sowls observed:

When one travels within range of the peccaries, one hears references to “wild pigs” or “wild hogs.” In Spanish-speaking countries these are “los puercos,” “los cerdos,” or “los cochinos,” while in Portuguese-speaking countries the country people talk of “porcos.” German settlers in South America refer to “the schwein.” All of these names have been given to peccaries by people who first knew domestic hogs and equated them with peccaries in the New World (The Peccaries. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1984, 1).

Collared Peccary or Javelina (Saltillo Mexico)

Two known species of peccary that can be found throughout Central, and South America are the white lipped peccary and the smaller javelina or white-collared variety. Both of these species are at home in the tropical regions of the Tuxtlas Mountains of Mexico which some Latter-day Saints have suggested may have once been inhabited by the Jaredites. In his abridgment of the Jaredite record Moroni refers to "all manner of . . . swine" (Ether 9:18) suggesting that for the Jaredites at least there may have been more than one kind.

Collared Peccary or Javelina (Saltillo Mexico)

White-lipped Peccary

The collared peccary is known to live in herds of up to 20--30 animals. It has "characteristically hog-like jowls, protruding snout, thick neck, and delicate skinny legs. Gray to black hair covers its heavy-set body, with longer stiffer hairs cresting the spine. A collar of pale hair rings the neck. Like pigs, it grunts, or when frightened makes a doggish bark . . . They roll in the mud or dust to cool and clean off (Victoria Schlesinger, Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001, 157-58).

One interesting characteristic of the peccary is the pungent musk gland it has on its back. This enables it to emit an unpleasant odor when provoked. Once killed, it is necessary to remove this glad from the carcass or the musk will render the meat inedible. If this is done, however, the problem is is eliminated

In spite of their gentle appearance, wild javelinas can be fierce when they feel threatened or cornered. One observer in northern Mexico observed, "Many dogs are killed by Peccaries, being torn open or gashed by their long, sharp-edged canine teeth. When about to attack, the Peccary lowers its head, champs its teeth, and advances sideways with its mouth open and under jaw turned to one side, ready for an upward lunge to rip up its enemy" (A. Starker Leopold, Wildlife of Mexico. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959, 497). One thinks of the Savior's words "lest they turn again and rend you"!

White-lipped Peccary
The White-lipped peccary behaves much like the Collared Peccary, but favors swampy regions with thick vegetation. "This animal is more gregarious than the collared peccary, and hundreds of individuals may travel or wallow together; when this occurs, the low rumbling noise made can be heard for almost a kilometer" (Brian D. Dillon, "Meatless Maya? Ethnoarchaeological Implications for Ancient Subsistence," Journal of New World Archaeology 7 [1988]: 63). Both species are also omnivorous like domestic hogs. 

Peccaries, as an important source of meat in ancient Mesoamerican were likely hunted and eaten from at least Olmec times (1200-400 BC). They were also valued for their hides.In recent recent decades, however, some scholars have become convinced that peccaries may have sometimes been tamed and husbanded for use. According to Sowls, "the collared peccary tames quickly if removed from the mother and handled at an early age. This readiness to taming has been described by many writers" (Sowls, 105). Dillon, based on ethnographic evidence, concluded that the taming of peccary was likely a Pre-Columbian practice and that these and other animals may have been kept in stone enclosures which have been identified at some Maya sites (Dillon, 64). Kitty Emery thinks that both white-tailed deer and peccaries were husbanded by the Maya for food and other uses and finds support for this in analysis from soil samples (Kitty Emery, "Fauna," in Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster, eds., Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. London and New York: Routledge, 2010, 257).

Given its resemblance to wild pigs in its appearance and behavior, as well as its usefulness as resource for food and other commodities, it requires no stretch of credulity to see peccaries as an appropriate fit for the swine mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

White-lipped Peccary

Monday, August 17, 2020

Was Aminadab a Zoramite?

Nephi and Lehi Encircled By A Pillar of Fire (Ronald Crosby)

One of the more remarkable narratives in the Book of Mormon is found in Helaman chapter 5. A group of Lamanites and Nephite dissenters are miraculously prevented from killing the prophets Nephi and Lehi in a dark prison. Then in a merciful reversal, these persecutors find redemption from their own personal darkness and prisons when they choose to repent and are converted to Christ.

In a key element of the conversion story, the apostate Aminadab (whose Hebrew name means "my brother is willing" or "my people is willing," reminds his fellow dissenters and Lamanites that Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom had once taught them faith in Christ (Helaman 5:41). Although it is possible that those three prophets served  as missionaries on other occasions, the only time when the text names all three preaching together was during the mission to the Zoramites (Alma 31:5-6).

Shortly after that mission, the Zoramites, many of whom remained unconverted, "became Lamanites" (Alma 43:4). Assuming that some of the dissenters in the prison had personally heard these prophets preach to the Zoramites, several elements of the prison narrative would have both evoked and graphically reinforced those earlier teachings. Indeed, this possible connection is strengthened by the parallel themes and language in both narratives.


In his words to the dissenting Zoramites years before, Amulek warned that if they procrastinated the day of their repentance, there would come a "night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed" (Alma 34:33). Regarding the prison account, the record states that the would-be attackers were quickly "overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them" (Helaman 5:28). So profound was the fear generated by this darkness that they were unable to harm Nephi and Lehi and unable to even move. "And it came to pass that the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them; yea, and also they were unmovable because of the feat which did come upon them" (Helaman 5:34). These descriptions may have reminded them of the language previously used by Amulek.

Encircled About

Alma taught Zeezrom, who accompanied Alma on his mission to the Zoramites, that it is the devil who seeks to "encircle you about with his chains, that he might chain you down to everlasting destruction, according to the power of his captivity" (Alma 12:6). And Amulek taught the Zoramites that when the wicked repent, the Lord "encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice" (Alma 34:16). Employing similar imagery, the account in Helaman states that while in the prison, Nephi and Lehi were "encircled about" by a protective fire that literally separated them from their persecutors, who in contrast were surrounded by darkness (Helaman 5:23-25, 28). It is only after the Lamanites began to pray and to repent that they were "encircled about" by the same protective fire (Helaman 5:42-44). Much as Amulek had taught, the now-repentant Lamanites were included in the circle of mercy and safety.

Look and Live

Alma taught the Zoramites about the bronze serpent that Moses raised up as a "type" in the wilderness, "that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live" (Alma 33:19). He also urged the Zoramites to "cast about [their] eyes" in order that they might begin to have faith in Christ (Alma 33:21-22). The prison narrative in Helaman echoes this concept of "look and live." The dissenter Aminadab "turned him about" and saw the faces of Nephi and Lehi within the pillar of fire (Helaman 5:36). "And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi" (Helaman 5:37).

Faith and Repentance

Furthermore, in urging the Zoramites to cry unto God for all of their needs, Amulek said, "Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance. . . . Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save" (Alma 34:17-18). Similarly, when the Lamanites asked what they must do in order to remove the awful cloud of darkness that surrounded them, Aminadab explained, "You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you" (Helaman 5:41).

We cannot say what had once led Aminadab to leave the Church of Christ, but the possibility that he and at least some of his associates were Zoramites, who had personally heard Alma, Amulek, and Zeezrom preach to them is of interest. That important mission occurred 44 years earlier, suggesting that these dissenters were somewhat advanced in age at the time of their prison wake up call. Though long forgotten, a series of unexpected events led them to remember what they had once heard in their youth, but subsequently ignored or rejected.

The Gospel message of mercy extends to the old as well as the young (Alma 5:49). Unforeseen circumstances may provide moments of clarity, and opportunity to return to the Good Shepherd, though he will never force us to believe and repent (Alma 42:27). Lost faith may be rekindled in the warmth of God's love and forgotten lessons can be remembered and obeyed. The God of miracles can work the unexpected, and when his people, like Aminadab, are willing, the Lord can confirm the words of his servants in mercy as well as in judgment.

Monday, August 10, 2020

"Irrefutable" and "Enormously Impressive": Michael Coe on the Diffusionist Work of John L. Sorenson

Michael D. Coe
When I first attended BYU as an undergrad in 1988-1989 I had the opportunity to work as a research assistant with Professor John L. Sorenson in helping update an edition of his Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans: An Annotated Bibliography. This was my first real introduction to the subject which has often been a topic of controversy among American historians and anthropologists, as well as Mesoamerican scholars. In fact, many scholars have in the past dismissed the subject as the domain of the kooky and badly misinformed. In the past several decades Sorenson's bibliography and subsequent publications, along with those of other careful diffusionists, have been helpful in sifting the kooky and poorly documented from the more sound and solid evidences of Pre-Columbian contact between the Old World and the New.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to hear Professor Michael Coe speak at a conference of the world's leading Maya scholars at Brigham Young University. Although none of the scholars who spoke had the slightest interest in discussing the Book of Mormon, which they properly and politely explained in the introduction, I very much enjoyed the display of insight and learning that was shared. In his remarks, for example, Professor Coe discussed, among other things, Mesoamerican codices (or books). He stated his belief that in Olmec times (1200-400 BC) there must have been thousands of such codices which have not survived.

In 2006 Professor Sorenson and Carl Johannessen published an essay summarizing key findings from the last few decades of research on the issue of diffusion ("Biological Evidence for Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages," in Victor Mair, ed., Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World (Honolulu: University Of Hawaii Press, 2006, 238-97). A popular Summary of this article was published for a Latter-day Saint audience in "Ancient Voyages Across the Ocean to America: From `Impossible' to `Certain,' Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 4-17, 124-25.

After reading the article from the 2006 publication, Professor Coe, who was very interested and pleased with the article, wrote to Professor Sorenson. His letter, dated October 12, 2006, and shared with Dr. Sorenson's permission, reads as follows.

Dear John,

I'm enormously impressed with erudition and research that's gone into your "Biological Evidence of Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages." I think this is the best thing you've ever done!

As you know, I've long been interested in the possibility of contact across the Pacific, and having immersed myself in Southeast & South Asia culture during the past 15 years, I'm more than ever convinced that there were such contacts. Your lone essay is right up there with Paul Tolstoy's 1963 paper on barkbeaters & paper-making on both sides of the Pacific.

With best wishes.

Michael Coe letter to John Sorenson October 12, 2006

In 2009, Professors Sorenson and Johannessen published a detailed and lengthy monograph on the subject entitled, World Trade and Biological Exchanges Before 1492 (New York: iUniverse, 2009).

Sorenson sent a complementary copy to Professor Coe who wrote back, thanking John for the book. In an email to John Sorenson dated February 5, 2010 Professor Coe wrote the following.

Dear John,

Many, many thanks for sending me your "World Trade and Biological Exchanges" book. It's an enormously impressive piece of scholarship. I'm really pleased that you've included discussion of nasty pests like hookworm in this compilation.

So much of this evidence, I think, is irrefutable, such as the 1300-1400 AD presence of Polynesian chickens in Chile, or the sweet potatoes story, or the early Chinese peanuts.

If I had another life, I'd devote much of it to proving the interlace between the religions and cosmologies of Southeast and South Asia, and those of Mesoamerica. Unfortunately, I've reached the age of 80, so that's unlikely to happen.

With all best wishes,


John L. Sorenson

For Further Reading:

John L. Sorenson, "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record," in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), 391-521.

John L. Sorenson, "An Open Letter to Michael Coe," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 1 (2012): 91-109.

Brice E. Dale and Brian Dale, "Joseph Smith: The World's Greatest Guesser (A Bayesian Statisitcal Analysis of Possible Correspondences Between the Book of Mormon and The Maya," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 32 (2019): 77-189.

"There is no archaeological evidence for . . ."

Kenneth Kitchen is Personal and Brunner Professor Emeritus of Egyptology and Honorary Research Fellow at the School of Archaeology, Classics and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool, England. He has published many books and articles relating to Egypt, the Bible, and the Ancient Near East.

Two of these publications which I have read and enjoyed are Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago: Inter-varsity Press, 1966), and his more recent work, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003). The later book is quite thorough in addressing many of the controversies surrounding the archaeology of the Bible and is not for the casual reader, however, the interested student of the archaeological background of the Bible will be well rewarded.

Speaking from his position of experience as a well established Biblical scholar in the field Kitchen stated the following:

“In the field of history, whether it be the patriarchs, or David or anyone else, we are repeatedly told that no extra-biblical occurrences of this or that individual have been found, so their historicity is to be dismissed or treated as doubtful, regardless of all other indications. No such wrong criterion is applied elsewhere – why here? Absence of evidence is not, and should not be confounded with, evidence of absence. The same criticism is to be leveled at the abuse of this concept in archaeology: the syndrome: `we did not find it, so it never existed!’ instead of the more proper formulation: `evidence is currently lacking; we may have missed it or it may have left no trace’; particularly when 5 percent or less of a mound is dug, leaving 95 percent or more untouched, unknown, and so, not in evidence.” (Kenneth A. Kitchen, "New directions in Biblical archaeology: historical and Biblical aspects," in Biblical Archaeology Today, 1990. Proceedings of the Second International Congress on Biblical Archaeology, Jerusalem, June-July 1990. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, and The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities).

If we are truly seeking understanding, how we phrase issues and questions about the Book of Mormon is just as important. As with the Bible, instead of saying, for example, "there was no metal money in ancient America," we should say, rather, "evidence for this is currently lacking; we may have missed it or it may have left no trace."

Monday, August 3, 2020

Scimitars or "Cimeters" in the Book of Mormon and Precolumbian Times

Curved Blade from the Codex Borgia (Wikipedia Commons)

One of the weapons often mentioned in the war chapters of the Book of Mormon is the cimeter or scimitar. This was basically a sword with a sharp curved blade (Enos 1:20; Mosiah 9:16; 10:8; Alma 2:12; 43:37; 44:8; 59:2; Helaman 1:14). There is evidence that this was a significant weapon in the ancient Near East as early as 4000 years ago. A similar weapon made of a curved piece of hard wood with sharp flint or obsidian blades inset into the sides seems to have been known in ancient Mesoamerica as well. Monuments from Mexico and Guatemala, dating to the time of the Book of Mormon, show examples of this weapon. They indicate that curved knives and swords in various forms had a long and bloody history in ancient America. Book of Mormon Central has an excellent article with an accompanying video on this "Why Does the Book of Mormon Mention Cimeters?"

For more on the Scimitar see Ancient Near Eastern Scimitars, Mesoamerican Scimitars, and Scimitars in Book of Mormon Times.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Departure of Alma and Traditions about the Death of Moses

Alma counseling Helaman before his departure (
After years of diligent service preaching the Gospel among the people of Nephi, the prophet Alma counseled with his sons, prophesied about the future, and blessed the Church.

And when Alma 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; and the saying went abroad in the church that he was taken up by the Spirit, or buried by the hand of the Lord, even as Moses. But behold, the scriptures saith the Lord took Moses unto himself; and we suppose that he has also received Alma in the spirit, unto himself; therefore, for this cause we know nothing concerning his death and burial (Alma 45:18-19).

The reference to Moses being buried by the hand of the Lord is seemingly a reference to the account in Deuteronomy which reads

So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day (Deuteronomy 34:5-6).

The Book of Mormon passage is interesting because it suggests that while the Nephites were aware of the tradition that Moses was buried by the hand of the Lord, they had additional information from their scriptural heritage which indicated that Moses was “taken up” by the Spirit and that the Lord “took Moses unto himself.”

Alexandre Cabanel, The Death of Moses (Wikipedia Commons)
The enigmatic passage in Deuteronomy about the death of Moses gave rise to numerous Jewish and Samaritan stories in late antiquity. These stories have been the object of research by many scholars during the last century. "The death of Moses," writes Samuel Loewenstamm in one important study, "occupied the mind of apocryphal and midrashic writers unceasingly. They never tired of seeking new and innovative ways to understand it" (Samuel Loewenstamm, "The Death of Moses" in George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jr., ed., Studies on the Testament of Moses, Scholars Press, 1976, 185). In some of these tales Moses dies, but only after he is shown a vision of the future. In others, he cleverly evades the efforts of the angel of death to take his life, only to die later in peace to be buried by God or other heavenly beings. Other traditions focus on Moses ascent upon the mount.  "A combination of the midrashim which deny Moses' death with reports of his disappearance in a cloud and his subsequent death leads to a reconstruction of a tradition in which Moses approached God ascending a mountain and was exalted from there to heaven by the cloud of Divine Glory (Loewenstamm, 198).

In the Jewish text Pseudo-Philo which dates to the first century the Lord tells Moses that he will glorify and bury him in peace.

And when Moses heard this, he was filled with understanding and his appearance became glorious; and he died in glory according to the word of the Lord, and he buried him as he promised him. And the angels mourned at his death, and the lightnings and the torches and the arrows went all together before him . . . .And he buried him with his own hands on a high place and in the light of all the world (Pseudo-Philo 19:16, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1985, 2:328).

Another example and somewhat more elaborate version of this tradition can be found in the Samaritan Memar Marqah.

How great the hour at which the great prophet Moses stood on the top of Mount Nebo, and all the heavenly angels were doing him honour there. His Lord exalted him and He unveiled the light of his eyes and showed him the four quarters of the world. Great was the joy that was in Moses' heart when He revealed to him the sequel to the Day of Vengeance, so that he did not fear death. Great was the joy that abode in Moses' heart when he saw the angels standing about him, on his right and on his left, behind and before him. The great Glory took him by his right hand, embracing him and walking before him . . . . He turned his face toward Mount Gerizim and lay down on the ground, looking straight in front of him. God made a sleep to fall upon him and his soul departed without difficulty without him knowing (John Macdonald, Memar Marqah: The Teaching of Marqah, 2:206).

In this Samaritan text Moses is received up in glory on the mount in the presence of God and angels, but does not escape death, although it is sweet to him.

Perhaps the best known non-biblical account of Moses' death is that of Josephus who wrote at the end of the first century.

Now as soon as they were come to the mountain called Abarim (which is a very high mountain, situated over against Jericho and one that affords, to such as are upon it, a prospect of the greater part of the excellent land of Canaan), he dismissed the senate: and as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear lest they should venture to say that, because of this extraordinary virtue, he went to God. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 8, verse 48,  William Whiston Translation).

James Purvis thought it likely that "Josephus and Marqah were both dependent upon a common old Palestinian story of the death of Moses, Each told the story in his own way, with Marqah and the other Samaritan writers glorifying Moses to a greater degree than did Josephus" ("Samaritan Traditions on the Death of Moses" in Studies on the Testament of Moses, 110).

Josephus adds details not found in Deuteronomy, such as Moses being received into a cloud on the mount, but denied that Moses escaped death, a view with which he is apparently familiar, but denies. Examples of this alternative view can be found in other Jewish writings such as Philo of Alexandria (On the Life of Moses II:288-291). and some rabbinical sources which held that "Moses never died" (b. Sota 13b), and that in fact he "continues to minister above" (Sifre Deut 357 and Midrash Tannaim 224). It appears that "the two beliefs existed side by side in Judaism. The majority of the Jewish writers followed the biblical account and believed that Moses had died, but others accepted the belief in his bodily translation to heaven to remain there until his return to earth when the times were fulfilled" (Howard M Teeple, The Mosaic Eschatological Prophet. Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1957, 42; see also C. Houtman, "Moses" in Karel van der Toorn, ed., Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden: Brill, 1999, 596).

The Samaritan Book of Joshua was translated into Arabic in medieval times, but is believed to be based upon a Hebrew original and Samaritan sources that can be traced to the Hellenistic period. It contains similarities to the Memar Marqah mentioned above, but also has significant details not found there. Moses' tearful farewell is described as he ascends the mountain.

They began to cry aloud and wail and weep; and after a space of time he commanded them to be quiet and to sit down. Then he departed, walking slowly up the ascent of the mountain unto which God had ordered him to ascend, and with him were Yusha, the son of Nun, and el'Azar the imam, and the assembly of the leaders who were bidding him farewell and weeping at the approach of his separation from them and clinging to him. And when the farewells were prolonged with them, and night drew near, a pillar of divine fire descended and separated between them and their master-peace be upon him--and no one knows what happened to him after this, even unto this time.

The account goes on to say that after this time, "his dealings were directly with his Lord and His angels." This account is notable in that while it tells of Moses' disappearance the prophet is never said to have died.

Angeli Giuseppe, Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot of Fire (Wikipedia Commons)

The persistence of two divergent traditions following the compilation of the Hebrew Scriptures (one where Moses died and another where he did not) has led some scholars to wonder if the roots of the tradition of Moses' translation do not derive from earlier sources which we no longer have. Loewenstamm views the passage in Deuteronomy 34:5-6 as "a toning down" or polemic against a tradition of Moses' translation already known to the biblical writer ("The Death of Moses" 198).

The prophet Elijah who ascended into heaven without tasting death (2 Kings 2:11) is portrayed as a prophet like Moses throughout the Book of Kings. The Elijah account, as many have observed, seems to have been written in such a way as to invite a comparison between the two prophets. It is noteworthy that the place of Elijah's translation is in the same general region as Moses' departure on the other side of Jordan, opposite Jericho (Deuteronomy 34:1; 2 Kings 2:5-6). According to Dale Alison, "It is not impossible that one or more contributors to Kings knew the tradition to which Deuteronomy may already be a counter, that Moses never died" (The New Moses: A Matthean Typology. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1993, 42).

Gustav Dore', Elijah Taken Up into Heaven (Wikipedia Commons)

Yair Zakovitch also thinks that the account in Kings points to an older and original tradition of the translation of Moses indirectly through the account of Elijah."The tradition of Elijah's ascent to heaven also borrows from the Mosaic narratives: not from the written version of Moses' death found in Deuteronomy 34, but from an earlier stratum of the tradition." He thinks that "the original story of Moses' ascent has disappeared, but its light still shines through in the Elijah story" (
"And You Shall Tell Your Son . . ." The Concept pf the Exodus in the Bible (Hebrew University, Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1991, 73-74, 79). Elijah, who parted the waters of the Jordan “hither and thither” as Moses did the Red Sea, was taken up by the Spirit (“the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up” 2 Kings 2:16). This is not indicated in the text of Deuteronomy but it is said of Elijah who is portrayed in Kings as a new Moses. Zakovitch sees here an indirect reference to an earlier Moses tradition, known to the writers of Deuteronomy and Kings in which the prophet of the Exodus did not die, but was "taken up" by the Spirit.

A tradition that Moses was taken up by the Spirit was also known to the Nephites who were descendants of the house of Joseph through Manasseh (1 Nephi 6:2; Alma 10:1-3; 3 Nephi 5:20-23). Members of the Church in Helaman's day concluded that Alma, a prophet like Moses, had been translated in a similar manner. Their scriptures also indicated that the Lord took Moses unto himself, a description that is also missing from our current bibles (Alma 45:19). If these were derived from the plates of brass, which contained history, genealogy, and prophecies from their Josephite ancestors (1 Nephi 5:10-19; 3 Nephi 10:16-17), it would make sense that variations or fragments of that tradition might be found in later versions of the Moses story. Indeed, it appears that a tradition in which Moses was taken to God in the Spirit, glorified, but did not die, was had among Samaritans who claim a similar northern heritage.

[For more on Alma's departure and Mesoamerica see this earlier post].