Thursday, August 06, 2009

Where are the Nephites?

Many critics of the Book of Mormon complain that if the book is true, there should be evidence of the people described in the book. The book describes battles involving hundreds of thousands of people, and an advanced economic, linguistic and religious culture. So, on the surface you would expect to find evidence of this culture all over. But that is not the whole story.

The Book of Mormon is an ethnocentric book. That is, the authors didn't think it important to tell you the details of the majority culture and events around them because in their view, those details didn't matter. The people of God have never been the majority. But from the text we are given enough small details here and there to get a sense for the geopolitical position the Nephites were in.

When the Nephites arrived in America, they were not the only people here. In fact, it appears they are an ethnic minority. From the beginning of their expansion in the New World, we see the Lehites separate into the Nephites and Lamanites, and we get the impression that Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael adopt the hunting-gathering, and bloodthirsty culture of the indigenous peoples already there. It is also apparent that the Lamanites intermarry with the indigenous peoples. And it seems from the beginning that the Lamanites always had a numerical advantage over the Nephites, but the Nephites held the technological and spiritual advantage over the Lamanites.

But then we see the learning, agriculture, and technological advances of the Nephites adopted by the Lamanites. We see cultural and religious decenters from the Nephites leave to live among the Lamanites. And then by the end of the Book of Mormon we see a technically advanced and barbaric apocalyto-like Lamanite culture wage a war of ethnic cleansing and genocide against the Nephites until they become extinct and disappear completely from the New World.

So, seeing how the ethnic minority Nephites were the victims of genocide, it is not surprising that archaeologists have a hard time finding remnants of the Nephite civilization among the conquering apocalypto-like Maya. So, while we don't see direct evidence of Nephite cities and monuments, we do see a series of geographic, historical, and demographic correlations and convergences in meso-America with the Book of Mormon.

Here are a few details that interesting in the Book of Mormon:
1. Ammon cuts off arms of the Lamanite attackers with his sword and those arms are brought to the king as trophies. Typical western swords are used to pierce the chest or abdomen and not necessarily to decapitate or sever limbs from the body. However, in Maya culture the obsidian war club is designed for just such a purpose. It is a common sight in Maya art to see a warrior depicted with a shrunken head of a great advasary hanging like a pendant from a necklace.

2. The Anti-Nephi-Lehi's feel great guilt for participation in the Lamanite culture, they consider a burial of their swords a significant gesture, demonstrating that they have forsaken that culture. So, their particular swords must be a ritually important part of the culture they are forsaking. And they also say they wish that their swords not be stained with blood any more. A steel sword could never be stained by blood, but a ritual maya obsidian war club would stain.

3. When Ammon asks the king of the Lamanites if he believes in God, Ammon explains that God lives in heaven and the king says he does not know what "heaven" means. Then Ammon explains that heaven is above the Earth and that God lives there with His angels and looks down on all the children of men. The significance of this detail is that the Maya believed that all their gods lived under the Earth.

4.Sherem is a man that was said to have lived "among" the Nephites. That is an unusual thing to say instead of naming him either a Nephite or a Lamanite. The account in Jacob then goes on to stress that Sherem had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people. Well if he were a Nephite, then he would have automatically had a perfect knowledge of the language. The only reasonable conclusion here is that Sherem was not a Nephite or Lamanite and Nephite was a second language.

5.When the Lamanites go against the Anti-Lehi-Nephi's, the Anti-Lehi-Nephi's do not fight but prostrate themselves before the attacking Lamanites and submit to death instead of defending themselves before their unconverted brothers. In response to this submission, many additional Lamanites become converted, but the rest decide to go to the neighboring city of Ammonihah to destroy it and take prisoners. Now, why go to all the bother of attacking Ammonihah? That is because to install a king after a battle requires human sacrifice according to Maya culture. So, it makes sense that the Lamanites would have to attack another city and obtain captives from them to fulfill the ritual requirements of their religion.


Morgan Deane said...

Good points Broz. I would add that there is internal evidence that the Nephites were vastly outnumbered. When they combined with the Mulekites it says that the Nephites were the smaller group. And then it says that the combined Nephite and Mulekite population were still only half as big as the Lamanites. Thus the record keepers of the Nephites were a small ruling class, of a smaller population group, within a much bigger population. Mosiah 25:2-3

I should also add that more accepted historical works have this problem. If you read the Greek historians like Heradotus and Thuycdides you would conclude that Greek culture was the epitomy of the world due to their ethnocentric records. But the Persians were the true world power and center of culture at this time and the Greeks were considered a backwater. Only we have the written Greek records and not the other, so much of our history is skewed. (Its also skewed because as Westerners we need to know the history of our culture, but thats another matter)

Thanks for the post. You make excellent points as usual that will fall on deaf ears.

Anonymous said...

I find that this is very interesting. Most people think "White people that lived in america back then?" and laugh about it.
Yet they have found caucasian remains that date back to when the nephites were here.

I think that there were tribes of who were the ancestors of today's central and south americans, but they lived since they were greater in number. You have to speculate that ultimately all the nephites were vanquished due to their minority (excluding the Three).

Anonymous said...

Where is the evidence for caucasian remains dating to that period to be found? (link)