Back to Lands of the Book of Mormon
The following is gleaned from Joseph Allen's Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon finds a logical, geographical setting in the area known as Mesoamerica - southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. Unlike the Bible, where the name of Jerusalem and its location has been known for millennium, no direct correlation between present day archaeological sites in Mesoamerica, and the Book of Mormon has been established. Archaeologist have yet to find a text name that says, "Welcome to the city of Zarahemla" or "The city of Nephi - 15 miles ahead." Nevertheless, when taken as a whole, the references in the Book of Mormon relating to directions, distances, city locations, rivers, mountain ranges, seas and other large bodies of water, coastal plains, mountain passes, and specific references to tropical heat, a narrow neck of land, wet lands, battles and troop movements, help to establish a high degree of correlation between the regions of southern Mexico, and Guatemala, and the story outline in the Book of Mormon. In other words, using the same references, it would be hard to show an archaeological and cultural relationship between the Book of Mormon and the Rocky Mountains (USA) or the mid-west (USA), or anywhere in Canada or the lands of South America, at the time periods required (600 BC - 400 AD).
|Click to enlarge photo
Garth Norman's drawing of the Tree-of-Life from Stele 5 located at the archaeological site of Izapa on the Mexico/Guatemala border
One of the most significant cultural relationships between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica may be the archaeological ruins of Izapa, with its renowned "Tree-of-Life Stone" that carries the designation of Stela 5. The carvings on the 15 ton stone are proposed as a representation of Lehi's Dream as found in I Nephi 8. (Jakeman 1952) Strategically located on the Pacific Coast, Izapa sits at the crossroads of the Americas. Because of its location, the terrain and topography dictate that all traffic moving north and south between the Land Northward and the Land Southward, in fact between North and South American have to pass through the region of Izapa. It was the land of the ancient trade routes. The early Olmecs opened this trade route as they began expanding their culture between Veracruz and the coastal regions of Guatemala. The Maya used it as did the latter Aztecs.
It may be the area where Lehi first landed, and/or it may be the Nephite City of Judea that was involved in critical Nephi/Lamanite battles during the first century BC (Hauck 1988:8) It was to the city of Judea that Helaman led his 2,000 young warriors:
From 1961-1965, the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF) conducted field excavations at this site. A report made by the field director had this to say about Izapa:
The uniqueness of Izapa stems from its large assemblage of carved stone sculptures centered around open plazas. Garth Norman who conducted extensive investigations of the stone monuments during the 1961-1965 excavations writes in his monograph:
Lehi's dream as recorded in I Nephi 8:11-12 depicts a Tree-of-Life which is a reference to the atonement of Christ. The interpretation of the dream is given by Nephi his son. The basic elements of the vision and the interpretation given by Nephi is as follows:
The interpretation as given by Nephi is as follows:
To summarize, Lehi has had a vision dealing specifically with his family in regards to their relationship with God and his son Jesus Christ. Lehi works his way to the Tree of Life and partakes of the fruit, which he finds to be most desirable. He wants his family to partake of the fruit also, and invites them to come and join him. To do so, they must set their feet in the strait and narrow path, and grab hold of the iron rod, (which is a way of saying keep the commandments and follow gospel principles), so as not to loose their way when they encounter the mists of darkness - worldly temptations. Should they let go of the rod of iron, they may wander into forbidden paths and be lost or stumble into the river of filthy waters and lose their life. The iron rod and the strait and narrow path are the only sure way of arriving at the Tree-of-Life. He calls, but only part of his family responds, and comes to him. (It's the story of the love of God, and the atonement of Christ, of those who endure to the end, and eventually inherit eternal life, the same type of life that God enjoys.) Though the story is of one man and his family, in its duality, it represents the whole family of man and their journey through life.
There are some 80 carved monuments scattered around the site of Izapa, the most famous being Stele 5. The narrative portrayed on the surface of the stone is quite complex, and proved to be a tremendous challenge to Norman as he struggled to unravel its message. Were it not for the Book of Mormon, and the narrative relating to Lehi's vision of the Tree-of-Life, and the astute observations of archaeologists who were familiar with both the story and the discovery of the carved stone, it's doubted that any meaningful understanding of the individual motifs engraved in the stone would have emerged. When the first archaeologists visited the site in the late 30's, it was initially described as a market scene. In describing the narrative on the stone, Norman said:
Bruce Warren and Tom Ferguson summarize their feelings about the monument's narrative when they wrote:
In a nutshell, the narrative carved on the stone appears to represent a family as it progresses through life and their relationship to a Tree-of-Life, which is the same story and interpretation presented in Lehi's dream. An analysis of the individual carved motifs is presented below. This analysis is gleaned from the writings of Garth Norman, Wells Jakeman and Joseph Allen.
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