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Changes In Maya Civilization And Nephite Destruction


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The August 2007 issue of National Geographic has a very interesting article on the Maya called "The Maya Glory and Ruin." (pages 68-109) The article consists of three parts and has some beautiful photos. According to the article, in recent years our ability to decipher some of the Mayan glyphs and writings has improved. The article talks about some of this newly understood information.

According to National Geographic, in the January of 378 A.D. a warlord named Fire is Born is recorded as having arrived among the Maya in the city of Waka. He was sent from Teotihuacan (north of the Maya lands). He was a foreign envoy from the great powerful civilization to the north. He is mentioned in many of the carvings left by the Maya after 378 A.D. It seems that his arrival coincided with a significant change in the Maya civilization. He did this by taking over, with his soldiers, a number of Mayan cities and managed to somehow bring a bunch of individual city-states together into a unified civilization. The previous rulers were sacrificed, and their monuments and records were all destroyed. Fire is Bornâ??s plan was to conquer Mayan cities and eliminate rivals. After taking over the first cities, he raised more troops to take over the rest. He wiped out the old rulers and initiated a new era of civilization among the Maya.

I found the date 378 A.D. intriguing. I wondered what the Book of Mormon recorded as happening at that time, since it is very near the time that the Nephite civilization was about to be completely obliterated. Here is what I found. According to the Book of Mormon, in the period of 364 to 375 A.D., Mormon notes battles between the â??Lamanitesâ? and the â??Nephitesâ? in which they were somewhat evenly matched. The Lamanites won battles and the Nephites won battles, but neither group seemed to be on the verge of wiping the other out. Now, check out what happens in the year 375 A.D. â?? Mormon 4:16-18

â??And the Lamanites did not come again against the Nephites until the three hundred and seventy and fifth year. And in this year they did come down against the Nephites with all their powers; and they were not numbered because of the greatness of their number. And from this time forth did the Nephites gain no power over the Lamanites, but began to be swept off by them even as a dew before the sun.â?

It seems that the year 375 A.D. was the real beginning of the end for the Nephites. Thereâ??s a bit more. Hereâ??s what National Geographic says:

â??But the most poignant testimony to [Fire is Bornâ??s] empire-building comes from Uaxactun, just 12 miles from Tikal. There a mural shows a Maya nobleman giving homage to a warrior in Teotihuacan regaliaâ??perhaps one of Fire is Bornâ??s troops. A stela depicting a similar warrior guards a tomb where archaeologists found the remains of two women, one pregnant, a child and an infant. Freidel and others have concluded that these were the remains of Uaxactunâ??s royal family, slain by Tikalâ??s forces. The king, presumably, was taken to Tikal and sacrificed there.â?

Fire is Born sacrificed the women and children of the royal families of the cities that he took over. So what does the Book of Mormon say? If we read further in Mormon 21-22:

â??And when they had come the second time, the Nephites were driven and slaughtered with an exceedingly great slaughter; their women and their children were again sacrificed unto idols. And it came to pass that the Nephites did again flee from before them, taking all the inhabitants with them, both in towns and villages.â?

According to the Book of Mormon, during the period of 375 A.D. to 380 A.D., Mormon decided to once again lead the Nephites in battle. He had sworn that he would not do so again, but he could see that they were in big trouble. Hereâ??s the situation in the Book of Mormon in 379 A.D. (Mormon 5:5):

â??But it came to pass that whatsoever lands we had passed by, and the inhabitants thereof were not gathered in, were destroyed by the Lamanites, and their towns, and villages, and cities were burned with fire; and thus three hundred and seventy and nine years passed away.â?

The Lamanites were on a rampage, destroying everything that existed before. It was the end of civilization as the Nephites knew it. A new civilization was going to replace them.

National Geographic states:

â??Fire is Born appears to have dropped whatever pretense he had assumed as a goodwill ambassador. His forces destroyed most of Tikalâ??s existing monumentsâ??stelae put in place by 14 earlier rulers of Tikal. A new era had begun, and later monuments celebrated the victors.â?

Of course, it proves nothing, but looking for correlations is always entertaining.

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Ancient inscriptions give the date as January 8, 378, and the stranger's name as Fire Is Born. He arrived in Waka, in present-day Guatemala, as an envoy from a great power in the highlands of Mexico. In the coming decades, his name would appear on monuments all across the territory of the Maya, the jungle civilization of Mesoamerica. And in his wake, the Maya reached an apogee that lasted five centuries.

First, what do they mean by "apogee"? Dictionary definition is "the farthest or highest point". So this article is saying that after Fire is Born's arrival on the scene in 378, Mayan civilization reached it's "farthest or highest point" that lasted for 500 years (or until ~900AD). How does this compare with the Book of Mormon's version of events?

This thread is a good example of the different approaches believers and non-believes take towards Book of Mormon evidences. Apparently, believers read this article, see the date "378AD" and ooh and ahhh over how closely it matches up.

Non-believers read the article and ask where the Book of Mormon is in all this. Where is the infusion of Christian religion with mass conversions and divisions into warring factions around 600BC? Where is the complete homogenization of religion to local but universal Christianity with 200 years of peace starting in 33AD?

If the detail of Mayan history in this article is accurate, then it could be a harbinger of worse things to come for Book of Mormon believers. As long as there was little information about the history of that area, believers could paint a broad picture of Book of Mormon history across the region, with little chance of being contradicted. But as names, dates, events and culture come into focus, it will become more and more obvious that the culture "in the ruins" isn't the same as the culture "in the book". That will leave only a few course of action for those who are committed to maintaining their belief.

First, they can continue to cherry-pick their data to find "parallels" that mesh with their understanding of the Book of Mormon. If the data (be it names, places, culture or events) is sliced thin enough, it can always be made to fit. As long as believers can discount the alternate, Lehite-free understanding of Mesoamerican history as being ignorant or ill-informed (i.e. "Non-LDS researchers ignore the Book of Mormon because they're biased, not because there's no proof."), they'll be OK.

The second option is to shrink the Book of Mormon. As long as apologists can shrink the scope of the Book to a sufficiently small size, the claims of the book can avoid bumping into any uncomfortable alternate theories regarding the people and events of the region. If the people in the Book of Mormon could actually just be a small subset of the population, with the events playing out in the background of the larger ("gentile") picture, then it would be expected that there wouldn't be any evidence. Fire is Born might be the headline grabber for National Geographic, but if you just look a little to the left, you'll find that he had a general named Moroni who didn't quite make it into the historical record. Thus, we'd find Book of Mormon characters interspersed through the record like an ancient Forrest Gump, poking their heads into frame at every significant event, but never quite meriting the spotlight on their own.

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First, what do they mean by "apogee"? Dictionary definition is "the farthest or highest point". So this article is saying that after Fire is Born's arrival on the scene in 378, Mayan civilization reached it's "farthest or highest point" that lasted for 500 years (or until ~900AD). How does this compare with the Book of Mormon's version of events?

Biggest thing I see critics do is read to much into what the actuall text says. I dont care to really debate this thought. Just a thought.

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This thread is a good example of the different approaches believers and non-believes take towards Book of Mormon evidences. Apparently, believers read this article, see the date "378AD" and ooh and ahhh over how closely it matches up.

I think the OP was rightly cautious in making the point that this wasn't strong 'evidence' for the BoM. I think it is interesting that if you took the year 378 AD and go to wikipedia and looked at a completely different civilization, The Roman Empire, one would find an interesting parallel as well, the Battle of Adrianople in which two-thirds of the army of Roman emperor Valens was wiped out. Interestingly enough the article states-"the battle is often considered the start of the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century". I think the moral of the story is coincidences are not the exception, they are the rule.

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I don't see that any solid claims are being made, but both Latter-day Saints and non should be taking note of things like this. Critics are sure further research will reveal incompatibilities while Latter-day Saints can roll with it whichever way it comes down. No one for certain has identified Book of Mormon geography, though I remain convinced that we're in the right place in Mesoamerica. The situation here also seems to fit in many interesting ways. The Book of Mormon does not contain the name of the commander-in-chief of the Lamanite forces; neither did Fire is Born allow any of the remaining histories of his enemies to survive.

After the Nephite Destruction, it appears that the Lamanite faction became a great power. The Book of Mormon makes no mention of the Lamanite empire following the demise of the Nephites. In the Nephite lands, Mormon was from the far north and was likely born into an important family. Fire Is Born also is from the northern regions of his lands. This information should be inserted into the BoM geographical models to see if more can be learned.

Again, critics are betting heavily against the Book of Mormon. It's had some lucky shots in the past, but over the next few decades, they say, Mormons must be ready to meet their defeat. Mormons, on the other hand, say, "Bring it on. Just what will you do if Joseph Smith's spate of 'good luck' continues?"

As a Latter-day Saint, I don't fear history. I'm looking forward to bigger and better things.

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The interesting thing about the Maya numbering system is not necessarily how they kept track of notable dynasties, but how we have tried to decipher them. What I find really interesting as Mormons is that we look at the deciphered dates and try to put book of mormon stories with the dates. The problem of coarse is that Both the Nephites and Jaredites used biblical references when calculating time. The deciphered glyphs on the other hand do not go off of biblical events but instead go off of a start date of 3112 bc or something like that. I firmly believe that our decipherment of their start and end dates is in gross error.

I also believe that the Mayan civilization was the Jaredite civilization as only a highly developed and numerous society could establish such grand works over a vast area. The Nephites upon finding the lost extinct civilization wondered at the monumentous buildings of every kind upon the face of allthe land. Sounds like the Nephites came up from the Colombia area and into the Ucatan and found the Mayan ruins.

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Fire is Born might be the headline grabber for National Geographic, but if you just look a little to the left, you'll find that he had a general named Moroni who didn't quite make it into the historical record. Thus, we'd find Book of Mormon characters interspersed through the record like an ancient Forrest Gump, poking their heads into frame at every significant event, but never quite meriting the spotlight on their own.

Hmmm...point of clarification. I don't believe that Fire is Born as an individual had anything to do with the BoM. Fire is Born's arrival is apparently a catalyst for a major change in the Maya civilization which unified them and brought their civilization to new cultural heights. He brought the influence of Teotihuacan . I'm not sure why anyone would think that he was a BoM character?? Or that he associated with any BoM characters? If he had any interaction with them at all, he probably had them exterminated.

Ooooh.....Ahhhh.....not! Just an interesting comparison and food for discussion, nothing more.

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Hmmm...point of clarification. I don't believe that Fire is Born as an individual had anything to do with the BoM. Fire is Born's arrival is apparently a catalyst for a major change in the Maya civilization which unified them and brought their civilization to new cultural heights. He brought the influence of Teotihuacan . I'm not sure why anyone would think that he was a BoM character?? Or that he associated with any BoM characters? If he had any interaction with them at all, he probably had them exterminated.

Ooooh.....Ahhhh.....not! Just an interesting comparison and food for discussion, nothing more.

Wouldn't that be cool if the arrival of the Lehites had been a similarly noted catalyst for change in the existing civilizations....

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Wouldn't that be cool if the arrival of the Lehites had been a similarly noted catalyst for change in the existing civilizations....

You're right that the rise of the Classic Mayan period (200-900 AD) doesn't quite match up with the Book of Mormon chronology. I'm sorry, but from all that is known about the Mayan civilization, it doesn't look at all like it had anything to do with the Nephites and Lamanites. Of course, not all the discovering has been done, so things could change.

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Wouldn't that be cool if the arrival of the Lehites had been a similarly noted catalyst for change in the existing civilizations....

Classic Maya civilization arose after BoM times, so there isn't really any question about Classic Maya having anything to do with BoM culture in my mind. The Pre-Classic Maya fall within the BoM timeframe.

With regard to the possibility of there having been a catalyst for change among the early, Pre-classic Maya, there has been some speculation as to what changed them from dispersed farmers into city builders. Apparently, something spurred them into developing culture. Michael Coe in his book The Maya (6th edition, 2002) said, "One of the most persistent [theories] holds that the previously undistinguished Maya came under the influence of travelers from shores as distant as the China coast" (p. 57), "[t]he possibility of some trans-Pacific influence on Mesoamerican cultures cannot, however, be so easily dismissed," and that "Asian intellectuals may have established some sort of contact with their Mesoamerican counterparts by the end of the Preclassic." (p. 57) I don't think that Dr. Coe himself believes any of these theories, and he certainly doesn't accept any BoM related theories, but he makes note of the existence of some of the theories in his book.

As far as the Lehites arrival being recorded...well, the only ones that most likely would have recorded it would have been the Lehites themselves. I'm not expecting anything new to pop up in that department...beyond the BoM itself.

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As far as the Lehites arrival being recorded...well, the only ones that most likely would have recorded it would have been the Lehites themselves. I'm not expecting anything new to pop up in that department...beyond the BoM itself.

I think you are correct here. after all the very article this thread is based on talks about how the new rulers destroyed former records.

Isnt it interesting that the time and place the Book of Mormon should take place if it were true is the same area where there are absolutely no records because of people destroying previous records?

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I think you are correct here. after all the very article this thread is based on talks about how the new rulers destroyed former records.

This is the normal progress of conquest.

"History is always written by the victors." In order to do this the old history must be modified or destroyed. It is usually easier to just destroy the records. However if, as in Egypt, they are chiseled in stone, then the record must be modified. This was done at leasst once in Egypt and probably many times in different places. In the Americas the procedure was to deface or break up the old monuments and erect new ones to replace them.

When the Spanish conquered Mexico, they built churchs on top of the Aztic ritual sites. One of the big problems with the archaeology in Mexico City is that much of the ruins are beneath current religious buildings. The pre-columbians were no different. They built their pyramids on top of the conquered groups pyramids and then when they were conquered someone else built on top of theirs.

It was not just important for the conquerors to destroy structures and buildings, the written record needed to be destroyed so that the conquered people could be subjugated and taught the customs of the winners. One of the great tragedies of the Spanish conquest was the almost complete destruction of all written records.

It is no wonder that Mormon not only moved all the Nephite records to a new location unknown to apostates as well as Lamanites but also gave the abridgement to Moroni and told him to bury it in a separate place. He knew what would happen if he did not.

Mornon6:6

And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.

Any records that were not hidden in the Hill Cumorah or given to Moroni were in all probability destroyed.

Larry P

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Well, the area we're discussing is the area believed by most LDS scholars to be the land of the Book of Mormon. If the Mayans weren't the remnant of the Lamanites, then Mormons have a real problem with this region as the two would not likely coexist. I'm fairly sure we're not talking about the New York area where Moroni fled, nor do I know how far the Lamanites would have followed him. At one point, he expresses fear that the Lamanites might get him, and I'd always thought that was when he was near New York. Either he was closer to Mesoamerica or those Lamanites were persistent.

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