Evidence #94 | September 19, 2020

Large Engraved Stones

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The “large stone … with engravings on it” mentioned in the book of Omni contains several parallels with ancient Mesoamerican stelae.
Stone of Corianumr by James Fullmer.

After the people of King Mosiah united with the people of Zarahemla, “there was a large stone brought unto [Mosiah] with engravings on it” (Omni 1:20). This stone “gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people” (v. 21). In particular, it “spake a few words concerning his fathers” and how “his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people” (v. 22). The writings on this monument summarized a portion of Jaredite history, a record of which can be found in the book of Ether, which identifies Coriantumr as the last Jaredite king (see Ether 12:1).1 

The large stone brought to King Mosiah has several parallels with the many ancient stone monuments called stelae (singular, stela) that have been discovered throughout Mesoamerica. These monuments were called lakam-tuun by the Maya, which literally means “large stone.”2 Most stelae were meant to memorialize a king and his accomplishments.3 Mesoamerican art historians Maline D. Werness-Rude and Kaylee R. Spencer have noted that stelae “most often depict the visages of a king” and that “stelae must be seen … as historical records of past activities.” They added,

Inscriptions carved on the sides and often the backs of the sculptures specifically anchor the ruler’s actions within time and space. They also often name particular gods and ancestors …. Both text and iconography create parallels between the sitter’s actions and those of past kings and queens—ancestors whose activities other stelae … recount.4

The origin of this practice in Mesoamerica began with the Olmec,5 a society that was closely contemporary with the Jaredites.6 By 400 BC stelae typically focused on a king or ruler, depicting him as a warrior, providing a record of his actions, and listing off the ruler’s ancestors.7 

Conclusion

As summarized in the following chart, the “large stone” spoken of in Omni 1:20–22 shares several features with these ancient Mesoamerican stelae, showing that this detail of the text fits comfortably in an ancient American setting.

Topic

The “Large Stone” in Omni 1

Stelae in Ancient Mesoamerica

Stone Monuments

A stone monument “with engravings on it” was brought to King Mosiah (v. 20).

Many engraved stone monuments called stelae have been discovered throughout ancient Mesoamerica.

“Large Stone”

This monument was specifically called a “large stone” (v. 20).

The ancient Mayan word for these monuments can be translated literally as “large stone.”

Royal Monuments

The large stone “gave an account of one Coriantumr” who was a king among the Jaredites (v. 21).

Mesoamerican stelae typically depict kings or other elite members of ancient societies.

Historical and Ancestral Information

The large stone also contained historical information about Coriantumr’s “fathers” and the origin story of his people (v. 22).

Mesoamerican stelae often contain information about the actions or accomplishments of rulers, as well as information about their ancestors.

Kings Depicted as Warriors

Although the text doesn’t mention that the large stone depicted Coriantumr as a warrior, readers learn from Ether’s record that “Coriantumr … studied, himself, in all the arts of war” (Ether 13:16).

Mesoamerican stelae often depicted rulers as warriors.

Time and Place

The date of the large stone’s creation is uncertain, but it was most likely engraved sometime during Coriantumr’s reign as a king, which, as one scholar has proposed, plausibly took place sometime between 580 and 400 BC.8

It appears that the Mesoamerican practice of erecting stelae originated with the Olmec. The Olmec society closely correlates in both time and (according to some geography theories) in place with the Jaredite civilization, of which Coriantumr was the last recorded king.9 In addition, by around 400 BC, examples of stelae among the Maya began to feature the specific types of information found on the large stone brought to King Mosiah.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why was Coriantumr’s Record Engraved on a ‘Large Stone’? (Omni 1:20),” KnoWhy 77 (April 13, 2016).

Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007–2008), 3:64–65.

Daniel Johnson, Jared Cooper, and Derek Glasser, An LDS Guide to Mesoamerica (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2008), 55–59 (sidebar).

John L. Sorenson, “The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Codex,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1996), 412–418.

Omni 1:20–22Ether 12:1Ether 13:16

Omni 1:20–22

Ether 12:1

Ether 13:16

  • 1 Readers can be confident that this Coriantumr is indeed the last king mentioned in the book of Ether because it was prophesied that Coriantumr would “live to see the fulfilling of the prophecies which had been spoken concerning another people receiving the land for their inheritance” and that he would “receive a burial by them” (Ether 13:21). This prophecy nicely matches the description in Omni of Coriantumr dwelling among the Mulekites.
  • 2 See Kerry M. Hull, “War Banners: A Mesoamerican Context for the Title of Liberty,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015): 108–109. Hull explained, “While possibly merely coincidental, that the precise designation of ‘large stone’ for a carved monument with writing on it would be given in the Book of Mormon as well as in myriads of ancient Maya texts is further indication of a shared cultural and linguistic origin.” (pp. 16–17). Hull credited Mark Wright with first noticing this parallel in a 2006 Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum Conference (see p. 117).
  • 3 See Mary Miller and Karl Taube, An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya (New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1993), 157: “Mesoamerican peoples erected prismatic stone slabs called stelas or stelae to celebrate the reigns and ritual passages of the ruling elite, and usually of the supreme ruler himself.”
  • 4 Maline D. Werness-Rude and Kaylee R. Spencer, “Imagery, Architecture, and Activity in the Maya World: An Introduction,” in Maya Imagery, Architecture, and Activity: Space and Spatial Analysis in Art History, ed. Maline D. Werness-Rude and Kaylee R. Spencer (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2015), 46. Also note their rendering of lakam tuun as “big stone” on p. 45.
  • 5 See Miller and Taube, An Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, 157: “The impetus to erect stelae first came in the Middle Formative (900–300 BC) among the Olmec, when efforts to record history also developed. Stelae at La Venta depict historical rulers attired in regalia that symbolized and reinforce the office and power of an early king.”
  • 6 See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does the Book of Mormon Include the Rise and Fall of Two Nations? (Ether 11:20–21),” KnoWhy 245 (December 5, 2016).
  • 7 Robert J. Sharer and Loa P. Traxler, The Ancient Maya, 6th edition (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006), 182–183. For a comprehensive analysis of parentage statements found on ancient Maya stelae, see Daniel Moroni Stewart, “Parentage Statements and Paired Stelae: Signs of Dynastic Succession for the Classic Maya,” (Master’s Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2008). The data for this study “consists of 2473 monuments that come from 253 different sites within the Maya area” (p. 10). 
  • 8 See John L. Sorenson, “The Years of the Jaredites,” FARMS Preliminary Reports (1969), 4–5. Sorenson felt that “the most likely date for the end of the Jaredite people falls not earlier, and not much later, than 580 B.C.” (p. 5).
  • 9 See John E. Clark, “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 2 (2005): 48; Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 406.
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