Apr 4, 2011

Some Criteria for Testing the Indian Histories

I have earlier discussed the Indian legends that mention the Jaredite origins of the Mesoamerican Indians. Here I would like to consider criteria that would tend to corroborate the veracity of those legends. Anthropologists and historians have tended to ignore these native traditions without much serious consideration. They have off-handedly rejected them as being tainted by early Catholic teachings. But I suggest that they are indeed the product of long held beliefs, passed down for many generations, predating the Spanish conquest by at least a thousand years.
How can such traditions be validated? I would like to consider a number of criteria which could be used to show whether the stories were the product of Catholic imitators, or the long-held legends of the pre-conquest natives. I have developed the following criteria to assist in this process. Can the legends be shown to be pre-hispanic? Are they evident among widely dispersed groups, in different locations, among different tribes and in different languages? Were they written by native scribes or first hand observers? Have the stories been given pre-conquest dates? Do the people or places mentioned have pre-hispanic Indian names? Do the histories contain additional details-details which are not contained in Biblical records, or details that would not have been taught by the Catholic priests? Are the related events and histories corraborated by accounts in the Book of Mormon?
Let us analyze each of these criteria individually.
  1. Can the records be shown to be pre-hispanic? Obviously, if the record pre-dates the Catholic influence, it would have to be valid. For example the Borgia, Laud, Cospi, Fejervary-Mayer and Zouche-Nuttall codices are all considered to be pre-hispanic documents. The Popul Vuh was purportedly re-written to duplicate a pre-conquest history which had been lost or destroyed. Lorenzo Boturini, a prominent early historian, claims to have found many original documents upon which he based his history.
  2. Is there evidence of identical widely dispersed histories. If native scribes, or post-conquest historians, altered the legends to conform to Catholic and Biblical teachings, this would have been an individual act. They would not have been uniform and would have varied from individual to individual, and from tribe to tribe. If widely dispersed groups were recording or relating uniform histories, or closely similar events, it would tend to prove the veracity of those stories.
  3. Accounts by first generation Indian scribes. The first generation scribes would have been less tainted by Catholic tradition than later ones. If so, we can assume that first generation scribes would have been more accurate. In addition the scribes were orginally taught to repeat the legends word for word from memory. Errors were not tolerated.
  4. Accounts by early unbiased European observers. While many of the clergy were hostile to native traditions and energetically destroyed all in their power, many early Europeans were sympathetic to the natives and sought diligently to save or record their histories. A certain amount of trust in their accounts is warranted.
  5. Are the events given long count calendar dates. The native people of Mesoamerica used a dating system which specialists have named the Long Count Calendar. The starting date for this calendar has been calculated to have been 3114 BC. If long count calendar dates are given in the histories it would tend to validate them. Why would scribes make up a date for an event? And if different scribes used the same, or very similar, dates it would again show their accuracy. For example, various Aztec histories give similar dates for the flood, the dispersion of tongues, and the arrival of the Babylonian emigrants in the Americas, all in long count dates.
  6. Do the histories include Nahua names for places or people. As in all histories, the pre-conquest Indians named events, people and places in their accounts. If these things had been given names in the original stories, and the names carried over past the conquest, this would argue for a pre-conquest origin.
  7. Do the histories include additional details amplifying the Catholic tradition or Biblical account. If additional details are included in the Indian histories they would either have been invented (in which case they would be false), or the accounts would be true. Many of the Indian legends contain many more details than the Biblical accounts that they are assumed to copy. A good example is their claimed origin in Babylon at the time of the confusion of tongues. The Biblical account is a brief nine verses in length with very few details to flesh out the skeleton. On the other hand, the Indian legends give a name and date to the place, specify the length of the journey, mention colonization along the way, and refer to sabatical seasons spent raising crops.
  8. Do the legends contain events, places, or histories that can be correlated with similar facts in the Book of Mormon. Of course most non LDS investigators will not accept this last criterion, but there is no reason in the world why believers in the Nephite history should not use this additional resource to identify truth in the Indian histories. Accepting the truth of the book, as we do, we can recognize the kernals of truth passed down through the generations by the native historians. The Book of Mormon provides us with specific details of many of the events which are only alluded to in the Indian legends. An entire book could be devoted to exploring these correlations. Perhaps it is worth doing if the Good Lord grants me time.

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