SANDY — Since 1955, John L. Sorenson has been exploring the relationship between the Book of Mormon and the anthropology of Mesoamerica (southern Mexico and northern Central America).
Since the publication of his 1985 book, "An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon," he has been regarded as arguably the leading exponent for the theory that the book's narrative took place within a limited geographic setting. This contrasts with the traditional understanding of many LDS Church members over the years that the events described in the book transpired throughout North and South America.
Sorenson, emeritus professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, is on the verge of publishing a new book, "Mormon's Codex," which he describes as his "last major work intended to convey what (he has) learned over (his) more than 60 years of professional study of this matter."
He described the book, due out early next year, at the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) on Aug. 2. Though not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FAIR is dedicated to defending the church against the arguments of critics.
Sorenson said that in his forthcoming book, he identifies 420 "correspondences" between the Book of Mormon and what scholars understand regarding Mesoamerican civilizations.
In doing so, he drew upon a research model employed by William Dever in a 2003 book titled "What Did the Biblical Writers Know, and When Did They Know It?"
"His book successfully redeems the status of the Old Testament as a broadly reliable history," Sorenson said. "He documents by reference to concrete archaeological finds that important (although not necessarily all) historical facts asserted by the scripture are correct."
Similarly, Sorenson has correlated Mesoamerican archaeology with Book of Mormon content.
His method was to determine what area best corresponds with the apparent "mental map" Mormon had in mind when abridging the Nephite record known today as the Book of Mormon. In previous works, he settled on this: "The Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico is the narrow neck of land of the Nephites, the highlands of southern Guatemala contained the land of Nephi, the basin of the Grijalva river and adjacent areas in extreme southern Mexico is the land of Zarahemla, and areas immediately north and west of the isthmus are the land northward. This, then, defines the area where it makes sense to look for correspondences between the Book of Mormon and the archaeological/cultural record."
In his conference address, Sorenson gave a sampling of those 420 correspondences, including these:
— "According to the book a 'narrow pass' connected the land northward with the land southward at a strategic point within the narrow neck. A minor elevation a number of miles long occurs in the geology of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec that provides a 'pass' over which ancient (and modern) communication links run northward and southward above annual flood waters."
— "Many uses of written documents are known from Mesoamerica. At least 14 of those uses are represented or are referred to in the Nephite record: for example, records of contemporary events, letters of correspondence, adventures of individual heroes or villains, and genealogies."
— "Sociopolitical factions anxious to gain power and privilege were endemic in Book of Mormon societies. Their jostling caused most of the sociopolitical stress the scripture reports. Mesoamerican factionalism was equally pronounced and disruptive."
— "The one Jaredite mention of 'elephants' (only in the third millennium B.C.) corresponds with paleontological discoveries of mastodons that are known to have survived in certain environments in North America as late as 2000 B.C. and maybe beyond, long past the supposed date of extinction of those animals."
— "Sacred 'towers' were constructed by the Nephites that were similar to Mesoamerican 'towers' or pyramidal substructures, all such constructions having had a primarily religious purpose. Moreover the one instance, in the book of Helaman, when a private tower structure was used as a site for prayer and religious discourse has Mesoamerican parallels."
— "The model for Nephite 'temples' was specifically the 'temple of Solomon,' which featured two non-structural pillars that stood at the sides of the door of the temple. Some Mesoamerican 'temples' display similar structurally unnecessary pillars."
— "Central to ancient governance (in both the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican sources) was the idea that kings (or at lesser levels, lords or nobles) were divinely designated (or were themselves considered divine) rulers with powers conferred on them 'by right.' (This was contrary to New England where the Book of Mormon was first published.)"
—In both the Book of Mormon and some Mesoamerican societies, "a new (younger) king was sometimes installed before the death of the previous ruler, who then served out his lifespan as 'emeritus' king."
— "Warfare was of major significance in the culture history of both Mesoamerica and Book of Mormon peoples. Recognition of its significance represents a major change in archaeological thought in recent decades; that area's war practices now align more directly with those described in Mormon's book."
— "A complex of 380 cultural patterns having to do with religion and ideology were present both in the civilization of the ancient Near East in the second and first millennia B.C. and in Mesoamerican civilization. The large number and arbitrary nature of those features is such that they can only be explained by calling upon transoceanic voyaging, plausibly including voyages reported in the Book of Mormon."
Sorenson concludes that the Book of Mormon exhibits what one could expect of a document produced in the context of ancient Mesoamerican civilization.
"It is not rational to suppose that mere coincidence can account for similarities of this magnitude," he declared. "The parallels are too striking and too sweeping to allow that casual explanation."
A transcript of Sorenson's presentation can be found on the FAIR website, www.fairlds.org.