Blog Post #15: Farewell to 2015 and to Dr. Michael Coe
This is my final post for 2015. I want to finish dealing with Dr. Michael Coe’s book The Maya. Actually I want to finish with Dr. Coe altogether. 🙂
As I said in Blog #13, Dr. Coe criticized the Book of Mormon as having little to do with the early Indian cultures on this continent, “in spite of much wishful thinking”…as he puts it. Apparently those who believe the Book of Mormon is a historical record, as I definitely do, are guilty of wishful thinking.
Unfortunately, Dr. Coe does not seem to have actually read the Book of Mormon, something that is essential if he wants to have an informed opinion. Instead, he has just given us his prejudices, in other words, his opinions without facts. If Dr. Coe had taken the trouble to actually read the Book of Mormon, he might have found a number of points of agreement between his book The Maya and the Book of Mormon.
Well, as I said earlier, I am a helpful guy. So I did the necessary work for Dr. Coe. I did the work he should have done for his opinions to be taken seriously. I read his book carefully and I compared it with the Book of Mormon.
In Blog #13 I briefly listed and discussed a number of points of agreement, or correspondences, between the Book of Mormon and Dr. Coe’s book, but only up to page 107 of his book. For continuity, I have repeated those points (1-21) below under the ten major headings used in Blog #13, but not my earlier discussion of each point.
In this blog, I want to cover the pages of his book after pg. 107. In these pages, some new correspondences with the Book of Mormon have emerged. These are listed under Points 22-46 below and are briefly discussed. Also, some previous correspondences are repeated again in Dr. Coe’s book after pg. 107. These are also listed under each major point (1-46).
Please note that I am not trying to “prove” that the Maya are directly connected with the Nephites or Lamanites. I don’t know if that is true one way or the other. All that I am trying to show is that the Book of Mormon is at home in Mesoamerica, culturally, politically and geographically. That is, the Book of Mormon fits well in this particular area of the world—and nowhere else in the world that I am aware of.
Again, all page citations are from the 9th edition of his book. The correspondences are in bold italics. Here are the relevant quotations from Dr. Coe’s book, (all of them in italics and underlined):
- Points: 1) hieroglyphic writing, 2) books, 3) complex calendar, 4) highly specialized markets and 5) a complex pantheistic religion. Page 13 “All the Mesoamerican Indians shared a number of traits which were more or less peculiar to them and absent or rare elsewhere in the New World: hieroglyphic writing, books… a complex calendar,…highly specialized markets, …a highly complex pantheistic religion.” Also on page 146 we read in Dr. Coe’s book about “a bustling marketplace”. On page 233, “…highland Guatemalan markets were “great and celebrated and very rich””
- Points: 6) Severe droughts and 7) Domesticated bees 17 and 19 and 32. “…in bad years there may be severe droughts” “early Colonial chronicles speak much of famines in Yucatan before the arrival of the Spaniards” severe drought AD 200-300 in Maya lowlands (Belize and Yucatan) Pg. 19—the Yucatan produced “honey, salt and slaves”. See also pg. 231 “As he still does today, the Maya farmer raised the native stingless bees.”
- Points: 8) Populations in the millions Pg 22 “lowlands could have been far more densely populated by the Classic Maya (era of time—after 250 AD to 800 AD) 2-3 million to 8-10 million (Bruce’s note: Maya civilization collapsed in the 9th century AD)
- Points: 9 The Lehite colony could have come by sea. Pg 41 “”the very first Americans may well have taken a maritime route.” See also pg. 224, the legends of the Kaqchikel Maya state “From the setting sun we came [Bruce’s note, that is, from the west, the direction from which the Lehite colony came], from Tula, from beyond the sea; and it was at Tula that arriving we were brought forth…”
- Points: 10) Steep decline of the Olmecs coincides with Jaredite decline. 11) A key purpose of writing is to record the reigns of the kings. Pg. 61: “As the Olmec civilization went into a steep decline, c. 400 BC rapid changes took place in the Maya area.” …”Concurrently we see in this epoch the beginnings of Maya hieroglyphic writing and the calendar, perhaps to record the doings of the kings and dynasties.”
- Points: 12) Presence of cities, 13) Existence of temples, 14) Existence of large scale public works, 15) Existence of writing/record keeping (repeats Point 1), 16) Accurate keeping of time. Pg. 63 defining civilization “Cities are one criterion.” “state institutions, large-scale public works, temple buildings,..” “some form of record keeping” “…more or less accurate means of keeping time.” “These traits are known to have developed (Bruce’s note: developed for the Maya) in the Late Preclassic period.” (300 BC-250 AD).
- Points: 17) Decline of civilization, 18) Change in the dominant religion Pg. 80-81 Kaminaljuyu was a great Mayan city/area in highland Guatemala near present-day Guatemala City and it was a pre-eminent city for the Maya in their Late Preclassic period. Speaking of Kaminaljuyu, Dr. Coe writes: “its star began to sink by the second and third centuries AD, and most of it was left in ruins at the close of the late Preclassic.” “…indicating that there was a change in popular cults.”
- Point 19) Foreign rulers ruled over people Pg 103 “An elite class consisting of central Mexican foreigners, and the local nobility with whom they had marriage ties, could have ruled over a captive population of largely Maya descent.”
- Point 20) Human sacrifice Pg 104 “The lords of highland Guatemala had their tombs accompanied by up to three people sacrificed for the occasion (generally children or adolescents).”
- Point 21) Volcanic eruption buries a village 107 Ceren, a small village in western El Salvador was buried by the eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano.
New points starting at Page 107.
- Points: 22) Large movements of people, 23) Elite classes had foreign spouses pg 109 “What is clear is that, far more than once thought, people moved about in the Early Classic period: [that is, between 600 BC and 250 BC]…including the introduction of foreign brides for elites.” In the Book of Mormon, people also move around a great deal. We especially see this trend as many, many Nephite dissenters go up and join the Lamanites. But it works the other way also. Recall how the people of Ammon came down and became part of the Nephite nation. Later, large numbers of Lamanite warriors, sick of the war, go over and join the people of Ammon. Further recall how king Lamoni offered one of his daughters in marriage to Ammon. Amalickiah, a Nephite dissenter with a small band of Nephite followers, succeeds in taking over the Lamanite nation and is recognized as king by the Lamanites. He then marries the previous king’s wife. So, yes, the Book of Mormon people move around a great deal and at the higher ranks, at least, there was intermarriage between the Lamanites and Nephites.
- Point 24: Large defensive earthworks around cities. 122. “… Becan in the Chenes region…was completely surrounded by massive defensive earthenworks between the second and fourth centuries AD. In Blog #11 “Digging Deep Ditches” I described how huge earthen works were instituted by Moroni to protect the badly outnumbered Nephites. Mormon, also a general, was obviously impressed by these defenses and described them several times in the last half of the book of Alma. Dr. Coe could hardly have missed the this correspondence between his book and the Book of Mormon…if he had actually read the Book of Mormon
- Point 25: Existence of roads. 126 “…building complexes interconnected by causeways, known to the Classic Maya as sakbih, “white roads.” Page 163: “There are more than sixteen of these (masonry causeways, or “white roads”). [One road] continues west from Coba… for no less than 62 miles.” Also see pg. 182 and 242. So the Maya built roads—not a common practice among ancient cultures, including the various Indian cultures. I am not aware of any North American Indians who built roads, but the Maya did. So did the Book of Mormon peoples. See 3 Nephi 6:8 and 3 Nephi 8:13.
- Point 26: Even if your ancestors had lived in the area for hundreds of years, you could still get badly lost. 139 “Lost and starving among the swampy bajos and thorny forests of northern Guatemala they (Father Avendano and his companions in AD 1695) came across…” Pg. 219 “Safe in the fastness of an almost impenetrable wilderness [in northern Guatemala.] So in parts of Mesoamerica you can get lost and starve even if your people have been in the area for more than a hundred years, as the Spaniards had been. In the Book of Mormon, whole armies could get lost. According to Mosiah 23:30 “Now the armies of the Lamanites, which had followed after the people of king Limhi, had been lost in the wilderness for many days” See also Mosiah 8:8, 21:25, 22:16 for other mentions of people getting lost who presumably had been in the region for a long time. The Book of Mormon refers to wilderness a total of 212 times. Sounds like very rough, heavily wooded country, probably swampy also. (Swamps make it difficult to go in straight lines…so one is always getting turned around.) So from Father Avendano’s experience, we see why the Book of Mormon might well describe multiple experiences of getting lost.
- Points 27: Continuing warfare among a group of people and repetition of Point 6: Existence of droughts. Pg. 175 “Most Maya archaelogists now agree that three factors were paramount in the downfall (of Maya civilization”): endemic internecine warfare, overpopulation and drought.” …”Warfare seems to have become a real problem earlier than the other two.’ Pg. 236 “The Maya were obsessed with war.” As mentioned above in #2, droughts were a feature of Book of Mormon life. “Endemic” means a continuing, persistent condition commonly found in a certain area or among a certain people. “Internecine” means struggle within a group or people. So what Dr. Coe means is that the Maya were always warring among themselves…until their civilization disappeared. As the curtain rings down on the Book of Mormon, this is exactly the situation we find “And behold also, the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war.” (Mormon 8:8)
- Point 28: “Darts” used in warfare. Pg. 175 “Taneko found 217 projectile points; almost all were of flint, and had been used on darts propelled by atlatls—mute testimony to a final battle sealing the city’s death.” The Book of Mormon tells us specifically that “darts” were used in Mesoamerican warfare. (Jarom 1:8)
- Points 29) Deforestation, 30) Protection of trees, 31) Trade in timber: Pg. 176 “The botanists conclude, with one caveat, that the Tikal Maya had largely demolished the tall monsoon forest by the 740s. The caveat is this: in AD 810, sapodilla was again the species of choice, but beam widths (i.e the size of the timbers) were far smaller than they had once been. Apparently Tikal’s rulers had set aside protected groves of their favorite trees or managed to import it from some distance…” Points 32) and 33) Northward migrations and buildings of cement. In Helaman Chapter 3, the Book of Mormon speaks of a great northward migration of both Nephites and Lamanites and also about deforestation, subsequent protection of trees and trade in timber. Here is the quotation:
“And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers. Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land. And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate. And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell. And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east. And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings. And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping. And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.”
So we have widespread deforestation described in the Book of Mormon, setting aside of protected areas for timber to grow up and the importation of timber into this area, just as Dr. Coe describes for the Maya.
Mayan civilization peaked in about AD 800 and then declined rapidly. The northward migration mentioned above in Helaman Chapter 3 occurred almost 900 years earlier, so it could not have been the migration that coincided with the decline of the Mayan civilization. The point I wish to make is that specifically northward migrations did occur, as stated in the Book of Mormon, Pg. 177. “Early Colonial chronicles in Yukateko speak of a “Great Descent” and “Lesser Descent” implying two mighty streams of refugees heading north from the abandoned cities into Yucatan.
Joseph Smith says specifically that this migrant group of people in the north, who did not have easy access to wood, became very expert in working of cement. Anyone who has read about or visited the pyramids and ball courts and other structures of the Maya will testify that they indeed were experts in working with cement.
As a chemical engineer, this point intrigues me. I am going to read up on the cement-working abilities of Mesoamericans, and blog about it some day. But for right now, all I want to do is point out, very strongly, that the Native Americans Joseph Smith knew of emphatically did not work in cement. They had houses of hides or wood. But not cement. If Joseph were making up the Book of Mormon, why would he refer to houses of cement? That is another very specific detail that adds weight to Joseph’s prophetic credentials.
- Point 34) Light and dark skin colors. Color figures in the center of Coe’s book, Figures xv and xvi. These figures definitely show two different groups of people, one with darker skins and the other with lighter-colored skins. One group is obviously dominated by the other. The Book of Mormon emphatically condemns racism (eg, Jacob 3:9) but acknowledges the existence of darker and lighter-skinned people. Coe’s book shows at least one example of the existence of such different skin colors.
- Point 35) Use of quilted armor Pg. 210 “Left arms were protected by quilted padding…” See also pg 236 “footsoldiers wore cuirasses (breastplate and backplate) of quilted cotton. Coe’s book does not speak much about the quilted armor used by the Maya, but they did use such armor, as did the Aztecs. Another book (“Aztec Warfare” by Ross Hassig, University of Oklahoma Press, 1988) on page 88 states that “Quilted cotton armor was a common element of battle attire in Mesoamerica…was so thick that neither an arrow nor an atlatl dart could penetrate it.”
The Book of Mormon mentions thick clothing as another military innovation of Moroni (Alma 43:19): “And when the armies of the Lamanites saw that the people of Nephi, or that Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing“
So I pause to ask the reader a question: have you ever heard of thick clothing as armor? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Would you have put this in the Book of Mormon if you were making it up? But this cotton armor was so superior to the Spaniards’ own armor that they used this Mesoamerican armor whenever they could.
Would you have made up that silly story about thick clothing as armor if you were Joseph Smith? The only armor Joseph Smith might have been aware of was the typical metal armor worn before the invention of guns. For me, this is another big point for the Book of Mormon. This something that sounds silly initially…thick clothing as armor… then sounds more reasonable on closer inspection, and finally turns out to be actually what was done in Mesoamerican warfare.
- Point 36) Higher kings ruled over subordinate kings. Pg. 216 “The wily K’uk’ulkan II populated his city with provincial rulers and their families, thus ensuring dominion over much of the [Yucatan] peninsula.” See also pg. 236 and pg. 274-275. See Alma Chapters 17 and 20. Lamoni is the king over the land of Ishmael. He and the king of the land of Middoni (whose name is Antiomno) are subject to the rule of Lamoni’s father, who is king over all the land of Nephi.
- Point 37) The Maya used parallelisms in their writing, like the Hebrews and like the Book of Mormon. Pg. 229. See an excerpt from one of the books of Chilam Balam, a sacred book of the Maya. I will return to Hebrew poetic parallelisms, including chiasmus, in a later blog, but apparently both the Popol Vuh and the Chilam Balam, also use such literary structures.
- Point 38) The Maya had a baptismal rite. Pg. 233 “The Spanish Fathers were quite astounded that the Maya had a baptismal rite. So did the Book of Mormon peoples have a baptismal rite, from very early in their history (2 Nephi Chapter 31) right up to the very end (Moroni Chapters 6 and 8). I think we should be astounded, too, that this rite of baptism was found in Mesoamerica—something the Book of Mormon explicitly states.
- Point 39) The ruling structure was a class society with an hereditary elite, or “nobility”. Pg. 234 “The ancient Maya realm was no theocracy or primitive democracy, but a class society with political power strongly concentrated in the hands of an hereditary elite.” This is the same ruling structure we can find in the Book of Mormon, particularly among the Lamanites and the degenerate portion of the Nephites. See Alma Chapter 51 for the most direct mention of this structure among the Nephites. The “king-men” were those of “high birth” (verse 8) who wanted to rule over the rest of the people. However, even when the Nephites were ruled “by the voice of the people” (Alma 10:19), following the political reforms of King Mosiah, the office of chief judge, an elected position, often descended from father to son (eg, Alma to his son Alma, Pahoran to his son Pahoran, etc). Obviously, there was a de facto hereditary elite even during a time of popular elections.
- Point 40) Lineage (genealogy) mattered a lot. Pg. 235 “…both kinds [maternal and paternal] of lineage were strictly ranked; and to be able to trace one’s genealogy in both lines was an important matter, for there were strongly demarcated classes. At the top were the nobles (“almahen”, meaning “he whose descent is known on both sides.”…at the bottom were the slaves…”) In the Book of Mormon, Mormon tells us that he is a pure descendant of Lehi (3 Nephi 5:20). As anyone who does genealogical research will tell you, it is a really big deal to be able to trace your family back almost 1000 years, as Mormon was able to do. Amulek began his sermon to the Ammonihahites by telling them (apparently to establish his credibility) that he was a descendant of Giddonah who was the son of Ishmael who was a descendant of Aminadi (Alma 10:2)–who had done a considerable miracle.
- Point 41) There was slavery. 19, pg. 235 (above) and pg. 236 “cacao groves worked by slaves” There are many other mentions of slavery in Coe’s book. This may not be a particularly strong correspondence because, sadly, human beings have frequently enslaved other human beings. Alma 27:8-9 mentions that king Mosiah had abolished slavery among the Nephites but it was clearly present among the Lamanites. But the presence of slavery clarifies the otherwise confusing (to me at least) story of Ammon at the waters of Sebus. The servants of Lamoni who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus (see Alma Chapters 17-19) were afraid of being executed by the Lamoni. So why didn’t they defend themselves and the flocks against the robbers? Because they were either slaves or of such a sharply lower class that they could not strike a person of higher class. Ammon was the son of the Nephite king—and it was obviously known that he was a king’s son (which is why Lamoni thought a political marriage between his daughter and the son of the Nephite king would be a good idea). So Ammon could fight back, but the Lamanite servants could not.
- Point 42) The land had abundant gold and silver and the people used both metals. See pages 22, 60, 179, 194, 212, 215, 219, etc. of Dr. Coe’s book. Nephi tells us that gold and silver were in great abundance (2 Nephi 5:15) and right from the beginning the Lehite colony “began to search much gold and silver” (Jacob 1:16) as did the Jaredites before them (Ether 10:23). The Nephites used gold and silver as money (Alma Chapter 11). Use of gold and silver is characteristic of the Maya and the Inca, as well as many other cultures in Mesoamerica, where both metals are abundant. But it is not characteristic of the tribes of North America with whom Joseph Smith was familiar.
- Point 43) Use of stone boxes to contain books. Pg. 239 “A few probable coffers exist for books, including the recent find of a lidded limestone box from Hun Nal Ye cave in Guatemala.” The Book of Mormon does not mention stone boxes, but Joseph Smith tells us that the plates were buried in the ground, contained in a box formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement (see blog post #3).
- Point 44) Corn is the first or primary grain. Pg. 242. “This crop (maize or corn) is so fundamental today that its cultivation and consumption define what it means to be Maya.” In Mosiah 9:9 and 9:14 and also in Mosiah 7:22, corn is mentioned first among other grains, before wheat and barley, just like a good Mesoamerican would do. Corn first, everything else second.
- Point 45) The priests were responsible for keeping the calendar including days, months and years. “ pg. 243. Maya priests….list of duties…among them “the years, months and days…they also kept the all-important genealogies.” Compare this with the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi Chap. 8 verse 5 “And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.” This was part of a record kept by the priest Nephi, the son of Helaman, who also knew his descent as a son of another Helaman, who was a son of Alma, who was a son of another Alma.
- Point 46) Four hundred years would have been a significant number. Pg. 259. The Maya numbering systems is based on twenty, rather than ten. (Ten fingers plus ten toes equals twenty—if you live in a tropical climate you can see your toes more easily. 🙂) “The first and lowest place has a value of one; the next above it the value of twenty; then 400…” The Maya called any set of 20 things a baktun and a set of 400 years would have been a baktun of baktuns…a significant number. So it may also be important that Helaman 13: 5 and 9 both refer to 400 years as the prophesied time of the destruction of the Nephite nation.
- Point 47) Maya spiritual leaders use a crystal as a part of prophecy. Pgs. 296 and 297. “[The “hmeen”] or “he who does or understands things”—that is, the shaman…still play an important role in divination and prophecy, using their crystals to scry the future.” “The rite begins after hmeen has consulted his zaztun or crystal.” The parallel here with the “interpreters” and the men called “seers” in Book of Mormon is obvious (to anyone who has actually read the Book of Mormon). Speaking of king Mosiah who was a “seer”, in Mosiah Chapter 28 we find that Mosiah “took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi; And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed. And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow. Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages; And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people; And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.”
Okay, that’s it. There are probably more correspondences in Coe’s book that I missed. You are welcome to read it and find some for yourself.
But forty seven is a nice prime number and it is a good place to stop. There are many specific correspondences between Dr. Coe’s book and Book of Mormon, some of them quite unusual or rare (eg, writing, thick clothing as armor, bee keeping, stone boxes for holding books, defensive earthworks, seers and seer stones, roads, a complex calendar, a continuing state of war, etc.) are more than enough to show that the Book of Mormon is very much at home in Mesoamerica, contrary to the opinions of Dr. Coe.
It is not wishful thinking on the part of those who believe the Book of Mormon; rather it is sloppy thinking and shoddy scholarship on the part of Dr. Coe.
It is painfully obvious that Dr. Coe has not read the Book of Mormon, at least not carefully. His position as a prominent Maya archaeologist does not give him the authority to opine on a book that he has not taken the trouble to read.
Dr. John L. Sorenson has written a lengthy book called Mormon’s Codex. His book details more than 400 correspondences between the Book of Mormon and what we know of conditions in Mesoamerica. I have already dealt with the amazingly-detailed correspondence between the defensive earthworks described in the Book of Mormon and the description given by Hernan Cortes and the other Spanish conquistadores. Someday I will write a blog with additional selected correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica that are described in Dr. Sorenson’s book.
Thus Latter-day Saints are fully justified in being politely and respectfully aggressive in their defense of the Book of Mormon as an authentic Mesoamerican artifact. It is Dr. Coe who has not justified his position. Shame on his sloppy and arrogant “scholarship” as it concerns the Book of Mormon.
So I bid both Dr. Coe and 2015 farewell. On to more worthy opponents of the Book of Mormon…if they can be found.