Apr 19, 2012

Nephite Writing and Maya Glyphs

Those advocating the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography insist that there must be evidence of a written script in the ancient lands of the Nephites.  In this way they arbitrarily dismiss any location that has no such evidence, and champion the Mesoamerican one because of the Maya script found there.  However, I think their reasoning is in error.
Several reasons lead me to this conclusion.  The Mayan glyphs are often chiseled into stone.  The Nephites never wrote on stone.  The Mayan glyphs are completely different than the script written on the Anthon Transcript, which is an accurate sample of Nephite Reformed Egyptian.  Lastly, there should be no surviving Nephite records other than those written on metal plates.  Let me explain these conclusions.  (I have discussed this issue in an earlier blog.)
It appears that the Nephites, while being aware of the practice of inscribing stone, did not write any of their records on stone. I infer this from the following scripture found in Jacob 4:1‑4.
"Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers—now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents. For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us."
Sample Egyptian Heiratic
No where in this scripture, or in the rest of the Book of Mormon, is there mention of Nephite writing on stone. The Nephite records were written on metal plates, or on perishable materials such as skins, bark paper, etc. Only those records which were engraven on metal plates were expected to survive. All their other records (i.e. the common everyday writings which were in regular use) would have decayed like any other organic material within a relatively short time. Thus we can expect to find no Nephite writings other than those written upon plates and hidden away, not left in the open on public display. In other words, there will be little evidence of their written language until some of those hidden records are discover or revealed.  Our Book of Mormon came from one such source.  

Anthon Transcipt

The Nephite records were written in an abreviated script called Reformed Egyptian (Ether 12:23-25). This writing may have been similar to, or derived from, ancient Egyptian scripts such as the demotic or heiratic. The reformed Egyptian had been passed down and altered by the Nephites for a thousand years, so had evolved over time into something different from the original.
This writing was probably similar to that found on the Anthon Transcript (1). This small document is supposed to be the original, or a copy, of the paper Martin Harris took to various scholars to assure himself that the Book of Mormon text was indeed ancient and authentic. Joseph Smith had copied the characters from the original gold plates at Martin's request.  The writing on the Anton Transcript is completely unlike any of the Mayan script.  
Maya Script
On the other hand, the Jaredites, and their descendants, did write on stone as the following scripture illustrates.  "And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons. It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward." (Omni 1:20‑22.)
This stone appears to have been very similar to the stelae, or stone monuments, found at many archeological sites in Mesoamerica. It was written in a language foreign to the Nephites, and had to be translated with the aid of the Urim and Thumim. We could reasonably expect to find other examples of the Jaredite stone engravings, as it was likely a common practice with them.

(1) The so called "Anthon Transcript" has been discussed, and a translation attempted, by Jerry Grover and can be found at https://archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/translation-%E2%80%9Ccaractors%E2%80%9D-document


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  2. There were periods when the stone carvers might have been converts, and numbered among the Nephites. (4 Nephi 1:17)