"Third, for years the Mesoamericanists have propped up their theory with the hope that someday, somewhere, archaeologists would uncover something related to the Book of Mormon. That has never happened. Now they resort to finding generic and illusory "correspondences" and they adjust the text itself to find hidden Mayan symbolism and meaning."
Someone pointed out to me that the latest publication out of the Maxwell Institute includes yet another fine example. I don't want to start peer reviews of that publication; anyone can read these things and see the problems. But since some claim that this publication repudiates my point about the Meosamerican death spiral, I figured I probably should address it just this once.
First, let me explain what I mean. An illusory correspondence is a similarity between cultures that might appear to be a specific link that has evidentiary value, but in fact it is merely a feature common to most human cultures.
Here's how it works.
1. The Nephites did thing A.
2. The Mayans also did thing A.
3. Therefore, the Nephites were Mayans.
Here's an example.
1. The Nephites planted seeds and they grew.
[In 1 Nephi 18:24, Nephi says "And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth... And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance."]
2. The Mayans planted seeds and they grew.
[For support, cite any number of observations by Spanish priests, depictions on murals and stellae, and the latest findings of archaeologists.]
3. Therefore, the Nephites were Mayans.
(Note: this one may have been used by Mesoamericanists before, but if so, I haven't seen it.)
In case the fallacy isn't obvious, I'll just point out that most human cultures (with some exceptions such as hunter/gatherer societies) also feature forms of agriculture. Claiming the Nephites were Mayans because both cultures planted seeds is a claim based on what I call an illusory correspondence.
I put the ellipses in the scripture for a reason. The omitted words are "which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem." This tends to contradict the Mesoamerican link because there are not a lot of crops that grow in both Mesoamerica and Jerusalem. (One I've seen mentioned is almonds; there are probably more that I'm not taking the time to recheck, but I'm sure someone will find them to claim I'm wrong about this.) The point here is that these illusory correspondences usually skip right over the point that the text contradicts a Mesoamerican setting.
Now, back to the Maxwell Institute. The paper is in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015) and is titled "War Banners: A Mesoamerican Context for the Title of Liberty," by Kerry Hull. It is available at this link.
[To be clear, I'm not being critical of Hull. I wish the article was as anonymous as the ones in the Times and Seasons so I could assess it without people thinking I was being critical of the author. I find this article enjoyable and informative; I just think it's assertion of a correspondence to the Nephites isn't supported by the evidence, as I'll show.]
Hull introduces his article with this: "In this study I place the title of liberty within a Mesoamerican context to show numerous correspondences to what we know of battle standards in Mesoamerica. Through an analysis of battle standards in the iconography and epigraphy of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, I argue that the title of liberty fits comfortably in both form and function in this well-established warfare tradition. Moreover, I present specific linguistic, literary, and cultural correlations between ancient and colonial Maya texts to the language and style of Alma 46 in describing the title of liberty, strongly suggestive of a common cultural origin."
This is what the Mesoamerican theory has become; placing the text into a Mesoamerican culture to find "correspondences." One could drop the text into just about any culture and make it fit. I'm wondering what ancient culture never thought of a flag or banner. Apparently there is a photo of a metal flag from Iran dating to around 3,000 B.C., for example.
As Hull acknowledges, "Old World patterns in the title of liberty ritual certainly are present." Here, he refers to Moroni's allusion to the Biblical Jacob and Joseph. "Moroni explicitly links the rending of the coat of Joseph who was sold into Egypt to Moroni’s rending of his garment." This, as Hull notes, is definitely an Old World pattern.
Instead of accepting the text on its face--i.e., Moroni appealing to Hebrew people familiar with the Biblical stories--Hull infers a Mesoamerican text.
These are two successive sentences: "Connecting his experience to that of Jacob’s likely legitimized the act in the eyes of the people—precisely what Moroni needed to help convince many who were not at all eager to enter into a covenant to fight and defend. Linking the Jacob narrative to their current situation by means of a banner was an especially erudite choice by Moroni, for banners in ancient Mesoamerica were “highly charged objects that were seen as emblematic of the polity or political division of the group”3 and were therefore ideal for marshaling support."
Think about this. Hull claims Moroni was acting in a Mayan context using Mayan customs, motivating Mayan people by appealing to their affinity to Jacob and Joseph. Moroni is telling a Mayan army that they "are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces."
In my view, the text says Moroni was invoking Hebrew precedent, not Mayan precedent. To fit the text, the Mayans to whom Moroni was appealing would have had to be fully conversant with the coat of Joseph and associated Hebrew stories; otherwise Moroni's recitation would be perplexing at best.
I read the article but I didn't see any evidence of Mayan iconography that describes Joseph's coat.
Bottom line: If Moroni was operating in a Mayan culture, he would have invoked a Mayan precedent instead of the Hebrew one. Instead of Joseph's coat, the text would have Moroni invoking a Mayan legend.
This illusory correspondence is typical of what the Mesoamericanists have been producing lately. Like John Sorenson's book Mormon's Codex, these arguments demonstrate not only that the Book of Mormon doesn't fit Mesoamerica, but that it can't fit. What Mayans would be motivated by--let alone understand--Moroni's invocation of Jacob and Joseph? And why would he be telling these Mayans they were descended from Jacob and Joseph?
This leads to another line of argument I won't discuss beyond mentioning it. There is irony in a Mesoamericanist citing Alma 46:24-26, when Mesoamericanists usually insist that the "remnant of the seed of Jacob" were fully absorbed into Mayan culture and DNA.
But maybe it's not irony. Based on this article, maybe the Mesoamericanists have gone from claiming that Lehi's tiny group disappeared, to now claiming that the Mayans to whom Moroni was speaking were Hebrew descendants of Jacob and Joseph. IOW, Lehi's descendants dominated the Mayan culture and DNA instead of the other way around, at least when Moroni was running things. That's an interesting new twist.