Parallels between the Book of Mormon Nephites/Lamanites and the Maya Civilization

Parallels between the Book of Mormon Nephites/Lamanites
and the Maya Civilization
by Ted Dee Stoddard, PhD

Those who believe the Book of Mormon is true and who have diligently read a comprehensive, reputable book about the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica are typically very impressed with the geographic, historical, and cultural correlations between the Nephites/Lamanites of the Book of Mormon and the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica. For example, the following statement is made in The Ancient Maya:

The early inhabitants of the Pacific coast established some of the first settled communities in the Maya area. Archaeological evidence from this region demonstrates that these people, the precocious and innovative southern Maya, provided an important foundation for what was to become Maya civilization. Living along the coastal plain and in the adjacent highlands, they were blessed with a rich supply of natural resources. (Sylvanus G. Morley and George W. Brainerd, The Ancient Maya, rev. Robert J. Sharer, 4th ed. [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983], 61; emphasis added)

Using my Mesoamerica Model for Book of Mormon geography, I could paraphrase the third sentence of that quotation as follows: “Living along the coastal plain in the land of first inheritance (Izapa) and in the adjacent highlands of the land of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu), the Preclassic Lamanites and Nephites were blessed with a rich supply of natural resources.”

Here is one example that reaches out and begs us to look for other parallels between the Nephites/Lamanites and the Maya. Here are a few other statements from The Ancient Maya (pages 61–71) that are almost electrifying in suggesting such correlations to the knowledgeable reader:

· The Middle Preclassic period (ca. 1000–400 BC) was marked by the Olmec presence in the southern Maya area.

· The subsequent Late Preclassic (ca. 400 BC to AD 100) saw the emergence of a southern Maya civilization, ancestral in many respects to the later Classic-period civilization in the lowlands.

· The end of the Preclassic era, often referred to as the Protoclassic period (ca. AD 100–250), marks an apparent decline of the southern Maya and the ascent of the Lowland Maya to the north.

· The Preclassic era marked the emergence of the first complex societies in Mesoamerica.

· It is now apparent that by the beginning of the Late Preclassic, Olmec presence in the Maya area ceased.

· It is . . . no accident that the earliest examples of Maya hieroglyphic writing and sculptural style are found at Late Preclassic southern Maya centers.

· It is these southern Maya centers that displayed the evidences of the flowering of Maya civilization several centuries before the rise of the Classic lowland sites.

· Kaminaljuyu . . . appears to have been the most powerful Late Preclassic site in the southern region, if not the entire Maya area.

· The Late Preclassic southern Maya were fully literate, possessing a developed hieroglyphic writing system that included zero-date calendrical notation.

· The archaeological evidence shows that the southern Maya area was the setting for the emergence of civilization during the Late Preclassic.

Hundreds and hundreds of such parallels between the Maya of Mesoamerica and the Nephites/Lamanites of the Book of Mormon suggest the following question and answer:

Question: Was Mormon a Maya?

Answer: Let us reason together. About 90 percent of all the entire New World archaeological ruins that date to the Nephite Book of Mormon time period are located in Mesoamerica. That Mesoamerican territory is unequivocally Maya territory, and that Maya territory, in my Mesoamerica Model for Book of Mormon geography, is in the land southward. And, from the Book of Mormon, we know that about two-thirds of the Nephite history took place in the land southward, which is strictly Maya territory throughout the history of Mesoamerica.

From the visit of the Savior to Book of Mormon peoples following His resurrection until about AD 200, there were no “manner of –ites” among Book of Mormon peoples. They were all one people living mostly in the land southward, which, in my Mesoamerica Model, is east and southward from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. That land-southward territory is and always has been Maya territory. If the Mesoamerican people living in the land southward during the last two hundred years of the Maya Preclassic Period were all one people and if there were no “manner of –ites” among the people, they were probably all Maya. Because of their religious beliefs, somewhere around AD 200, the Nephites again designated themselves as “Nephites” and everyone else as “Lamanites.”

In the ensuing years following AD 200 as the Maya Classic Period got underway, some Nephites became Lamanites, and some Lamanites became Nephites. Thus, they were no longer “one people,” but they were still “the same people”—distinguished mainly by their religious beliefs. In preparation for the last great battle at Cumorah, all the people chose between the Nephites and the Lamanites and took sides for the battle accordingly. Before the battle at Cumorah, the Nephites, most of whom had lived in the land southward for almost a thousand years, moved to the land northward. There they were joined by other Nephites who were already living in the land northward and who continued to believe in Nephite traditions. During and after the battle at Cumorah, the Lamanites killed every Nephite who would not deny the religious beliefs of the Nephites and who would not join the Lamanites in the aftermath of the battle by denying Christ.

Thus, from this logical reasoning process, Mormon and the Nephites were Maya. In a similar vein, Jewish people who are Americans living in America are still Jews. With that reasoning in mind, we can logically use the terms “Nephite Maya” and “Lamanite Maya” in identifying the Nephites and Lamanites as participants in the great Maya civilization in the Book of Mormon land southward of Mesoamerica.
That may or may not mean that the Nephites and Lamanites were the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, but Nephites and Lamanites were certainly major participants in that civilization. Accordingly, we should expect to find numerous parallels between the archaeological and historical Maya cultures of Mesoamerica and the Nephite and Lamanite cultures of the Book of Mormon.

Stoddard, Ted Dee