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An Open Question for Mesoamerican scholars


Ron Beron

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I was reading some materials the other day about the 2012 cycle ending coming up and it made a lot of references to the Mayan concept of cycles. Apparently they had a huge belief in small, medium, large and really large cycles of time. Is there anything in the Book of Mormon that speaks to a "cycle of time"?

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Wow that would be cool if we could find it. bump

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Wow that would be cool if we could find it. bump

Before we get all worked up about the significance of any reference to cycles we should pause to notice that essentially all ancient cultures have grounded notions of time in natural cycles (lunar or solar), and indeed all modern notions of time measurment are grounded in cycles from the atomic to the planetary. I am not sure what grand conclusion one would like to draw in case a reference to cycles of time is found in the BoM. Perhaps it is already there. If so, would it be remarkable?

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Before we get all worked up about the significance of any reference to cycles we should pause to notice that essentially all ancient cultures have grounded notions of time in natural cycles (lunar or solar), and indeed all modern notions of time measurment are grounded in cycles from the atomic to the planetary. I am not sure what grand conclusion one would like to draw in case a reference to cycles of time is found in the BoM. Perhaps it is already there. If so, would it be remarkable?

Thanks for the expectation that the BOM would have such references and be from an ancient culture.

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Moro. 8: 18

For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.

Alma 37:

12 And it may suffice if I only say they are preserved for a wise purpose, which purpose is known unto God; for he doth counsel in wisdom over all his works, and his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.

Alma 13: 7, 29

This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things

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I was reading some materials the other day about the 2012 cycle ending coming up and it made a lot of references to the Mayan concept of cycles. Apparently they had a huge belief in small, medium, large and really large cycles of time. Is there anything in the Book of Mormon that speaks to a "cycle of time"?

Unfortunately, the cycles of time is a modern way of describing their calendar. I doubt that they understood it in the same way we describe it. Cycles of time are quite common in ancient culture, they just aren't marked by as many cyclical calendar events. The ancients assumed that history repeated itself--not a bad assumption if you understand that the sun repeats itself in the same patterns over and over and that stars shift in the same patterns.

Modern calendars are also "cyclical." January always comes around on a year cycle, and we even celebrate centennials, sesquicentennials, etc.

The structure of the Book of Mormon tells me that they understood history as a repeating cycle, but there isn't much said about a repeating calendar, just as we don't describe our calendar in those terms.

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The Classic period Maya had a number of calendrical cycles, but as Brant stated, they probably didn't obsess about them as cycles any more than we think of our own repeating cycles of days and months and years. Recent scholars have openly acknowledged that past Maya archaeologists were often more obsessed with time reckoning than the ancient Maya themselves were.

One of their primary cycles was the 260 day cycle that combined 13 numbers with 20 named days (like we cycle the numbers 1-30 with seven named days) that roughly approximates 9 months. Modern scholars have nicknamed it tzolk'in since we don't know the ancient name for this cycle. I think this cycle may be attested to in Omni 1:21 when it states that Coriantumr dwelt with the people of Zarahemla for "nine moons", which is a fitting translation since there is no English equivalent. What they were saying was "Coriantumr dwelt with the people of Zarahemla for one cycle of the Sacred Round". It is the only time a moon count is used in the Book of Mormon.

The most important Maya cycle was the katun, or period of twenty years. They would celebrate half-katuns of 10 years and quarter katuns of five years, called "hotun". Rulers would typically erect monuments every five years to celebrate the "Period Ending", or even "prophesy" five years in advance that on such-and-such a date the hotun would end and a new cycle would begin. I believe the hotun cycle is attested in Helaman 14:2 when Samuel the Lamanite prophecies that Christ would be born in five years with wonders in heaven given as a sign, which ushered in a new period of Nephite history; indeed, they even began to reckon time from the time the sign was given.

Many others have pointed out that the baktun, or 400 year cycle, is attested to several times in the Book of Mormon (Alma 45:10; Helaman 13:5,9; Mormon 8:6). I think the baktun and the katun are both attested to in Moroni 10:1 when Moroni states that "more than four hundred and twenty years have passed away since the sign was given of the coming of Christ". What I find most interesting in this verse is that he specifically says he wants his brethren the Lamanites to know that it had been four hundred and twenty years, because that number would carry much more meaning to the Lamanites than it would to the Gentiles. The Maya "Long Count" records the elapsed number of periods of 400 years + periods of 20 years + years + periods of 20 days + days since the "creation" day of 13 August 3114 BC (although it's unclear exactly what happened on that day; the accounts differ from site to site). Moroni is basically giving an abbreviated Long Count date of 1.1 (1 period of 400 years + 1 period of 20 years).

I believe the cycles are there for those that are willing to see them.

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I believe the cycles are there for those that are willing to see them.

It all just a coincidence, just ask Tarski.

Some one was arguing that the word baktun was a made up word. But I think it more interesting that, from what I understand, that what baktun represents (4oo years) is a real term. Thanks for your insights. This has been most interesting. I always wonder about the 9 moons spoken off earlier in the BoM and the 420 years that Moroni used.

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Not what you are looking for, but the BOM talks about the cycle of wealth, then pride, then destruction, then humility.

Thanks for that, but you are right I am looking less for social cycles and more for chronological ones.

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Unfortunately, the cycles of time is a modern way of describing their calendar. I doubt that they understood it in the same way we describe it. Cycles of time are quite common in ancient culture, they just aren't marked by as many cyclical calendar events. The ancients assumed that history repeated itself--not a bad assumption if you understand that the sun repeats itself in the same patterns over and over and that stars shift in the same patterns.

Modern calendars are also "cyclical." January always comes around on a year cycle, and we even celebrate centennials, sesquicentennials, etc.

The structure of the Book of Mormon tells me that they understood history as a repeating cycle, but there isn't much said about a repeating calendar, just as we don't describe our calendar in those terms.

It somewhat reminds me of the Buddhist and Hindu cycles of time which show a cyclical continuation of our universe. In a way don't we also see the universe as cyclical beginning with the "Big Bang" and progressing to the inevitable return to center?

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Some one was arguing that the word baktun was a made up word. But I think it more interesting that, from what I understand, that what baktun represents (4oo years) is a real term. Thanks for your insights. This has been most interesting. I always wonder about the 9 moons spoken off earlier in the BoM and the 420 years that Moroni used.

It's true; baktun is a word that modern scholars made up to refer to the 400 year cycle before we knew the phonetic reading of the ancient glyph. We now know that it is read "pik" or "pih". Katun is also a made up word (or a misapplied word, really); the ancient name for the 20 year period is winikhaab, which literally means twenty (winik) and years (haab).

Speaking of the haab year, that was their 360+5 day solar cycle, which was comprised of 18 named months that cycled with the numbers 1-20, with 5 unnamed days tacked on at the end. I believe this cycle is attested to in the Book of Mormon as well. The storms and signs of Christ's death began on the 4th day of the 1st month of the 34th year (3 Nephi 8:5), but Christ didn't actually descend until the "ending" of the 34th year (3 Nephi 10:18). In ancient Maya calendrics, the last day of the year was specifically called the "ending" (tzutz); Christ apparently descended exactly 360 days after the start of the destruction, marking the one-year anniversary of the signs of his death. But that's just a big coincidence too, I suppose.

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It somewhat reminds me of the Buddhist and Hindu cycles of time which show a cyclical continuation of our universe. In a way don't we also see the universe as cyclical beginning with the "Big Bang" and progressing to the inevitable return to center?

I see this cycle, if it is one, as a potentially important way of looking at the King Follette Discourse and as a way to harmonize science with the notion that "God had a father".

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People spend too much time looking at the end of the current cycle. Doesn't it stand to reason that if 2012 is significant, shouldn't the beginning, or first, cycle be significant in any way? Calendars have beginnings and they have ends. I have a calendar that begins in January 2010 and ends in March 2011. Spooky, huh? What's going to happen in April? Does everything end? Or do they sell me a new calendar?

Someone please let me know before next March. I'm very worried.

.

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Cycles or no cycles, I think it would be great if we could just generate ANY scholarship that would bring even minimal passing interest to a potential credibility in BOM historcity from any academic group outside the Church. Just can't begin to respond to those questions which seem to becoming more and more frequent!

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Cycles or no cycles, I think it would be great if we could just generate ANY scholarship that would bring even minimal passing interest to a potential credibility in BOM historcity from any academic group outside the Church. Just can't begin to respond to those questions which seem to becoming more and more frequent!

If we're unable to generate even minimal passing interest, where are those questions coming from which seem to you to be becoming more and more frequent?

From where I sit, it seems to me that we're better now at answering questions about the Book of Mormon than we've ever been, and that we're likely to continue to improve. I feel pretty positive about the general trajectory.

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Cycles or no cycles, I think it would be great if we could just generate ANY scholarship that would bring even minimal passing interest to a potential credibility in BOM historcity from any academic group outside the Church. Just can't begin to respond to those questions which seem to becoming more and more frequent!

So if it is produced by some one that is LDS then it is suspicious? And what questions are those the are becomming more and more frequent that need to be responded to?

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Thanks for the expectation that the BOM would have such references and be from an ancient culture.

lol

Yes the author of the BoM was indeed attempting to pass it off as the record of an ancient culture. He was clever enough to assume that there would be wars and that there would be a sun and moon and that people wouldn't be driving cars (but not clever enough to avoid horses and steel swords).

I guess you didn't get the point.

For there to notions of cycles with regard to measurment of time would be unsurprising either way. It is likewise unsurprising that the BoM has people eating food and going to war---fiction or not.

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If we're unable to generate even minimal passing interest, where are those questions coming from which seem to you to be becoming more and more frequent?

Perhaps we have different audiences between Provo and Texas. Without question most all my non-Mormon encounterances are quite savy to the fact this BOM history is no where to be found in academic arenas. Why? (is the question I always get)

From where I sit, it seems to me that we're better now at answering questions about the Book of Mormon than we've ever been, and that we're likely to continue to improve. I feel pretty positive about the general trajectory.

So what does that really mean? Were we so bad for so long that we are just now finding a remote light of hope? If so, what is that hope and how

can we objectively measure it in the academic community? Where, and with whom, are we starting to generate secular interest in the claim

of BOM historicity? I would love to demonstrate where LDS scholars have convinced their non-LDS peers that the BOM history is worthy of

consideration or interest in the secular academic history! Could you provide

the demonstration of this secular interest for me? Much appreciated!

Thanks.

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Perhaps we have different audiences between Provo and Texas. Without question most all my non-Mormon encounterances are quite savy to the fact this BOM history is no where to be found in academic arenas. Why? (is the question I always get)

It seems to me that we've been over this territory a few times, but I'll try again.

Accepting the Book of Mormon would entail accepting the story of its recovery, which entails certain very specific claims of modern religious experience. Secularists are leery of such claims, committed non-Mormon religionists by and large reject them up front, and and secular academic institutions (e.g., universities and scholarly associations) steer clear of them (for a number of pretty good reasons).

So I don't see any particular reason to expect that the Book of Mormon would be getting serious attention from the public at large, let alone from academia.

Do the claims of Mormonism strike most of our contemporaries as implausible and even ridiculous at first blush? Yes. Of course. Just as the claims of Christianity itself struck the sophisticates of the first-through-third-century Greco-Roman world as implausible and even ridiculous. The Platonic Academy at Athens didn't exactly fall all over itself to teach "Christ, and him crucified," which was, to such people, foolishness and a stumbling block. When Justinian finally shut the Academy down in A.D. 526, the vast majority of his empire were Christian, but the Academy was still resolutely pagan.

So what does that really mean? Were we so bad for so long that we are just now finding a remote light of hope?

It means that academic study of the ancient world (both in the Americas and elsewhere) has come a long way since 1830, as has the Church, which was, until fairly recently, quite small, relatively poor, largely confined to the Great Basin, and heavily rural.

Hugh Nibley began writing only about sixty years ago. What is now called the Maxwell Institute is only about thirty years old, and first began publishing things only about 1984.

If so, what is that hope and how can we objectively measure it in the academic community?

I have no idea whatsoever what it would mean to "measure [hope] in the academic community."

Where, and with whom, are we starting to generate secular interest in the claim

of BOM historicity?

I would suggest that Oxford University Press's publication of, first, Terryl Givens's By the Hand of Mormon, and, now, of Grant Hardy's Understanding the Book of Mormon, and Yale University Press's publication of Royal Skousen's The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, and the University of Illinois Press's publication of Professor Hardy's The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition, are all harbingers of good things to come.

I would love to demonstrate where LDS scholars have convinced their non-LDS peers that the BOM history is worthy of consideration or interest in the secular academic history! Could you provide the demonstration of this secular interest for me?

Almost certainly not to your satisfaction.

This is important to me, of course, but it's not, by a long shot, the highest thing on my list of priorities. To me, whether the arguments and the evidence are any good or not has precisely nothing to do with any kind of popularity contest among scholars of the Quattrocento or some sort of poll of rural sociologists. On the whole, non-LDS scholars haven't paid any attention to believing scholarship on the Book of Mormon. They don't even know that it exists. So their apparent failure to be impressed with it means, on the whole, precisely nothing.

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For there to [be] notions of cycles with regard to measurment of time would be unsurprising either way. It is likewise unsurprising that the BoM has people eating food and going to war---fiction or not.

But it is surprising that the cycle of 260 days that is unique to Mesoamerica (and unknown in Joseph Smith's day) seems to be alluded to in Omni, that the Maya solar year of 360 days + 5 unlucky days is demonstrated in 3 Nephi 8 and 10, that the 5 year cycle known as a hotun seems to have been cited by Samuel the Lamanite in Helaman 14, the cycle of 20 years is hinted at by Moroni, and the big cycle of 400 years is repeatedly mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Even the seven day week mentioned in Mosiah 13 is attested to among the ancient Maya. Virtually all of the major Maya cycles of time are evidenced in the Book of Mormon. These cycles do not match those of other cultures, ancient or modern. This isn't a matter of "Hey, they both had calendars!". There are multiple points of correspondence between the cycles of time reckoned by the ancient Maya and those recorded in the Book of Mormon.

FWIW, I've shared these thoughts on Maya/Book of Mormon calendrics in private conversations with a couple of my non-LDS Mesoamericanist colleagues, and they had no qualms with any of it, and actually found it quite interesting.

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------

FWIW, I've shared these thoughts on Maya/Book of Mormon calendrics in private conversations with a couple of my non-LDS Mesoamericanist colleagues, and they had no qualms with any of it, and actually found it quite interesting.

But then they can't be real scholars, because real non-LDS scholars are not interested in Book of Mormon scholarship.

Glenn

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