Journal Looks at Enigmatic Tree of Life Stone
In the early 1950s archaeologist M. Wells Jakeman claimed that a carved stone monument unearthed in Izapa, Mexico, in 1941 depicted Lehi's vision of the tree of life as reported in the Book of Mormon. As is true for any archaeological find, the accuracy of that initial assessment of the stone dubbed Izapa Stela 5 will either stand or begin to fall in light of further evidence and study, though a definitive determination regarding the stela may simply not be possible.
The latest issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (vol. 8, no. 1) features two articles that offer the latest thinking on the enigmatic Stela 5. Stewart W. Brewer carefully lays out the history of this stela and catalogs the evidence for and against Jakeman's claim. Brewer's survey also reports on other interpretations, both LDS and non-LDS, concluding with an introduction to the newest drawing of Stela 5 commissioned by the BYU New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF).
John E. Clark, director of the NWAF, takes up the story of the first publication of the new drawing of Stela 5 by NWAF illustrator Ayáx Moreno. Clark describes the importance of Izapa in Mesoamerican culture and history and explains how the drawing was made. In a fascinating study of Stela 5, Clark draws parallels with known Mesoamerican artistic symbols determined by recent scholarship and examines the possibility of Old World connections, looking at specific claims made by Jakeman. He concludes that there is probably no direct connection between the stela and Lehi's dream.
The informative articles by Brewer and Clark are by no means the end of the story on Stela 5, but they demonstrate that by incorporating recent scholarship on Mesoamerican art and symbolism, the new drawing brings us nearer to understanding the intended message of that stela.
This issue of the Journal introduces a new series dealing with cultural interpretations of the Book of Mormon. Louis C. Midgley, in "A Singular Reading: The Maori and the Book of Mormon," draws on his experiences as a missionary in New Zealand to explain the Maori reaction to the Book of Mormon. Matthew Roper continues the theme of Mesoamerican parallels with his thorough and entertaining treatise on swords and cimeters in the Book of Mormon. With the help of a magnificent mural by famed artist Diego Rivera, Bruce H. Yerman explains the link between Ammon and the Mesoamerican custom of smiting off arms. Marilyn Arnold, in "Unlocking the Sacred Text," shows how to go beyond a superficial reading of the Book of Mormon to find a text that "almost magically expands to meet [one's] increased ability to comprehend it." The last feature article is a photo essay by George C. Potter titled "A New Candidate in Arabia for the "Valley of Lemuel.""
The New Light department illuminates issues concerning the so-called Lehi's Cave near Jerusalem, the location of Book of Mormon Nahom, the Anthon transcript, and more on the name Alma. Book of Mormon Answers explores sacrificial offerings among the Nephites. James P. Bell is the featured book-recommending "librarian" for this issue, and Out of the Dust responds to the recent spate of reports about a Jaredite barge found beneath Lake Michigan and also covers excavations in Piedras Negras, the unearthing of a bronze sword in Texas, and a possible Asiatic origin of the Na-Dene (Navajo-related) languages.
Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, combines the FARMS Research Updates of the 1990s with similarly concise research notes from the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, much as Reexploring the Book of Mormon did at the beginning of the 1990s in presenting the FARMS Research Updates of the 1980s. The result is a handy collection of insightful studies that will help readers better understand and appreciate many interesting aspects of the Book of Mormon. Available in August.
King Benjamin's Speech Made Simple, edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, is a popular abridgment of the expansive volume King Benjamin's Speech: "That Ye May Learn Wisdom", published by FARMS in 1998. Prepared now with the general reader in mind, this streamlined version presents the essential contents of the original volume. In 11 stimulating studies, the authors examine Benjamin's classic speech from many fascinating angles. Available in August.
Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Classroom Instruction, first bound edition, by John W. Welch and J. Gregory Welch, improves previous charts and graphs visually, more than doubles their number, and adds explanations of them. This collection of more than 175 visual aids includes maps, diagrams, chronologies, flowcharts, tables, bar graphs, pie charts, and many other effective schematics on Book of Mormon topics such as the history and structure of the record, Jesus Christ, religion, law, culture, war, and geography. Available in August.