Over the years, the Popol Vuh has received considerable attention among LDS scholars as the best source of authentic ancient American history and religion outside the Book of Mormon. The new translation of the Popol Vuh,1 complete with extensive introduction and the original Maya text in parallel columns, invites further comparison between this Mesoamerican source and LDS scriptures.
A major purpose of this new translation is to demonstrate that its K'iche' authors utilized a number of poetic constructions that have previously gone unnoticed. Among the most important of these is chiasmus, a literary device found in many ancient cultural settings, including the cultures of the Book of Mormon.
The Popol Vuh contains many other traditions and concepts that are generally found only in cultures familiar with the Hebrew Bible. Christenson cites many parallels between the Popol Vuh's cosmogenic tales and passages from the Bible and the Book of Abraham. These include the understanding that the creation was carried out by distinct gods, the beginning in primordial chaos, the creation of animals in the same three classes, man's first home being a paradisiacal land located in the east, and the destruction of the initial race of man by a great flood.2
Readers may also recognize in the Popol Vuh dim recollections of doctrines once taught in the New World by cultures associated with the Book of Mormon. One example comes from the Popol Vuh's account of the journey of the K'iche' progenitors from Tulan-Zuiva. In their travels, they carried sacred records, especially the writings of Tulan, which contained a description of the creation of the sky and the earth, prophecies of their great lords, and the generations of their forefathers (compare 1 Nephi 5:1014). The hardship of their journey, the embarkation from a fertile land to cross a great sea, and their arrival in a new homeland are also reminiscent of the travels of Lehi's group.
The Book of Mormon states that Lehi's unified company divided into seven main lineage groups soon after arriving in the promised land (Jacob 1:13). Similarly, most major Meso-american cultural groups claim ancestry from seven major lineage groups. In the Popol Vuh, the K'iche' ancestors are said to have emerged from seven caves or canyons, representing the origin of the seven main royal families in highland Guatemala. Also, as was the case with the Mulekites, the people mentioned in the Popol Vuh changed their language after crossing the sea to establish a new homeland.
The central focus of the histories of both the K'iche' and the Nephite/Lamanite people was the appearance of a glorious man whose birth and appearance in the sky are associated with a great light, as brilliant as the sun, that dispels the darkness. Moreover, the death of a god associated with a cross-shaped tree of life was a powerful motif in Mesoamerican theology. In the Popol Vuh, the god One Hunahpu descended into the underworld, where he was sacrificed by the lords of death and hung in a dead gourd tree, which immediately sprang to life and bore a white fruit said to be "truly delicious."3
Interesting echoes such as these invite closer examination. The new translation of the Popol Vuh now makes these points accessible to a broad reading audience in the full context of the mythic sections of this pre-Columbian Maya text.
Based on research by Allen J. Christenson