Evidence #134 | January 6, 2021

Translated Beings

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Mesoamerican traditions about important leaders who disappeared without tasting death are similar to accounts of such occurrences found in the Book of Mormon.

Mysterious Disappearances in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon tells of several prophets and leaders who prophesied, gave counsel, entrusted valuable records and other sacred objects to their sons, and then departed out of the land without ever being seen again (Alma 45:1–19; 3 Nephi 1:2–3; 2:9).

Alma instructing his son Helaman before his disappearance. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Mysterious Disappearances in Mesoamerica

John Sorenson has drawn attention to similar accounts found in Mesoamerican sources.1 Maya historian Robert Carmack noted that the Quiche Maya of highland Guatemala held that “some of the most important rulers were said to have disappeared without leaving notice whether or not they ‘tasted death.’”2 One example is  found in the Popol Vuh, which recounts the departure of the founding tribal ancestors Balam Quitze, Balam Acab, Mahucutah, and Iqui Balam. According to this account, these leaders first gave counsel and instruction to their sons, charged them to remember them, and gave them a sacred bundle. Then, though they were not sick or ill, they departed.3

This, then, was their counsel when they disappeared there atop the mountain Hacavitz. They were not buried by their wives, nor their children. Neither was their disappearance clear when they vanished. But their counsel was clear. … Thus were the deaths of our four grandfathers and fathers when they disappeared, when they left their sons there on top of the mountain Hacavitz.4

Prophetic Warnings of Future Calamities

 The Emperor Moctezuma, from The Discover and Conquest of the New World (1892).

Shortly before his departure and disappearance, the prophet Alma visited his son Helaman to give him counsel. He prophesied that four hundred years from the time of Christ the Nephites would dwindle in unbelief, would be visited with wars, pestilences, famines, and bloodshed, and would be destroyed as a people (Alma 45:9–12). Then, after blessing his son and the Church, he departed and was never seen again by the people of Nephi (Alma 45:15–19). The account of Alma’s departure is similar to accounts that describe Nezahualpilli, the king of Tetzcoco, who was an ally of the Aztec king Motecuhzoma.

Diego Duran in his History of the Indies of New Spain tells how Nezahualpilli visited Motecuhzoma before the former’s death and foretold the destruction of the Aztec empire. Like Alma in the Book of Mormon, Nezahualpilli foretold the future destruction of their people.

O powerful and great lord! I do not wish to trouble your peaceful spirit, but the obligation I have to serve you forces me to reveal a strong and bewildering thing that I have been permitted to see by the Lord of the Heavens, of Night and Day, and of Wind, something that is to happen in your time.

You must be on your guard, you must be warned, because I have discovered that in a very few years our cities will be ravaged and destroyed. We and our children shall be killed, our subjects humbled. Of all these things you must not doubt. … Before many days have passed you will see signs in the sky that will appear as an omen of what I am saying. But do not be cast down because of these things, since one cannot turn one’s face from that which must be. One consolation is that I shall not see these calamities and afflictions because my days are numbered.5

Nezahualpilli.

According to most sources, Nezahualpilli died not long before the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. One source, however, the Codex Chimalpahin, tells a different story. It records that this king reigned until the year 1515.

At this time Necahualpiltzintli [Nezahualpilli], ruler of Texcoco died. He had ruled for twenty-four years. And when it is all added up, he lived on earth fifty-two years. But although it has thus been put forth that Necahualpiltzintli died, it is not true that he died. He was just gone; he just disappeared. It is not known where he went, although all the ancestors knew and said that it was said that he went into a cave near Mount Tetzcotzin as soon as he first knew that the Spaniards were coming here to New Spain; that they would spread out, that they would be rulers yet. For the aforesaid Necahualpiltzintli knew it well. He was a great sorcerer and a wise man …. At this time the Lord Cacamatzin was installed as ruler of Texcoco. He was the son of Necahualpiltzintli, who had just disappeared.6

Conclusion

Because the traditions described in the Popol Vuh and Aztec sources recount events that allegedly took place long after the time of the Book of Mormon, it is uncertain what (if any) relationship they may have with the peoples and cultures described in the Nephite record. It is possible that the similarities in these stories reflect a shared cultural pattern or perhaps even cultural influence in one direction or the other.7 Whatever the connection may be, these traditions demonstrate that the accounts in the Book of Mormon of men not tasting death are not out of place in a Mesoamerican setting.

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 470–472.

Alma 45:9–14Alma 45:18–193 Nephi 1:2–33 Nephi 2:9

Alma 45:9–14

Alma 45:18–19

3 Nephi 1:2–3

3 Nephi 2:9

  • 1 John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 471–472.
  • 2 Robert M. Carmack, The Quiche Maya of Utatlan (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981), 149.
  • 3 Allen J. Christensen, ed. and trans., The Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya (New York, NY: O Books, 2003), 253–255.
  • 4 Christensen, The Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya, 255.
  • 5 Diego Duran, The History of the Indies of New Spain, ed. and trans. Doris Heyden (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 452.
  • 6 Arthur J. O. Anderson and Susan Schroeder, eds. and trans., Codex Chimalpahin: Society and Politics in Mexico Tenochtitlan, Tlateleco, Texcoco, Culhuacan, and other Nahua Altepetl in Central Mexico (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), 2:37. Emphasis added.
  • 7 For instance, if it were expected in ancient Mesoamerica that wise rulers might disappear without a trace or without tasting of death, then God may have facilitated such circumstances (as recounted in the Book of Mormon) in an effort to communicate to the people in their own language and culture. This possibility, of course, works under the assumption that the primary events recounted in the Book of Mormon most likely took place in a Mesoamerican setting. For similar possibilities of divine communication or intervention that was possibly shaped by or adapted for Mesoamerican cultural contexts, see Mark Alan Wright, “Nephite Daykeepers: Ritual Specialists in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon,” in Ancient Temple Worship: Proceedings of the Expound Symposium, 14 May 2011, ed. Matthew B. Brown, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Stephen D. Ricks, and John S. Thompson (Salt Lake City and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and Interpreter Foundation, 2014), 252–253; Brant A. Gardner and Mark Alan Wright, “The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scaholarship 1 (2012): 25–55. On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that the true accounts of men not tasting death found in the Book of Mormon may have had some sort of influence on surrounding cultures, by either introducing or reinforcing such narratives.
Culture
Traditions
Translation in Mesoamerica
Book of Mormon

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