Evidence #101 | September 19, 2020

Wine and Vineyards

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The “wine” mentioned in the Book of Mormon could refer to a variety of fermented fruit beverages that were used in pre-Columbian America, and “vineyards” could refer to any of the cultivated land used to grow these fruits.
The most popular fermented drink in modern times is pulque, made from fermented juice of the agave plant. In central Mexico its use was very ancient, although other wines were also made. John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 45.

On a number of occasions, the Book of Mormon mentions that wine was used and that vineyards were grown in the New World.1 Because a wide variety of wines are “made from fermented grapes or other fruits,”2  it is impossible to be certain what kind of drink the text is referring to, beyond assuming it is a fermented fruit juice. Furthermore, the Hebrew word for “vineyard” can mean an olive orchard as well as a grape vineyard, so the terms wine and vineyard are likely broader in meaning than modern English readers might think.3

Alcoholic beverages were made from a variety of fruits in the Americas before Columbus. These include bananas, pineapple, and agave, among others. Natives also used palm sap and tree bark with honey to make alcoholic beverages. All of these were called “wine” by the Spaniards who first mentioned them in their writings. Spanish sources also spoke of “vineyards” of agave plants.4

The Book of Mormon itself never actually mentions grapes, but it does mention “wine-presses” (only once, Mosiah 11:15),5 perhaps indicating grape-based wine. American species of grapes were known to grow in the Gulf Coast and Yucatan areas, and some Natives in northern Mexico reportedly made red wine from native grapes.6

Vineyard at Chateau DeFay, near Guatemala City. Image via bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com.

There is no question that grapes and vineyards can grow in a number of areas throughout North and South America, including near Guatemala City where the Chateau DeFay winery and vineyards were established in 2008.7 There is also some evidence that the Old World grape was known and used for winemaking at one site in Chiapas, Mexico dating to between the first centuries BC and AD. John L. Sorenson explained:

Our understanding of wine in ancient Mesoamerica was enhanced 30 years ago when Martínez M. excavated a site of Late Pre-Classic date (first centuries BC and AD) beside the Grijalva River in Chiapas …. There he carefully recovered and studied all traces of plant remains. He found seeds of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape known in Europe, from which he concluded that the fruit had been used to manufacture wine equivalent to that of the Old World.8

Without more information, it is impossible to be certain what beverage the Book of Mormon is referring to when it mentions “wine” in New World contexts. It may be that “wine” was simply a catch-all term for any of the abovementioned fermented beverages and that many, if not all, of them were known and used by Book of Mormon peoples.

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 307–308.

Kirk Magleby, “King Noah’s Wine,” Book of Mormon Resources, November 12, 2011, online at bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com.

1 Nephi 4:7 Mosiah 11:14Mosiah 22:7, 10 Alma 28:14Alma 55:8–11, 13, 30, 32 3 Nephi 18:1–3, 8 3 Nephi 20:5–8 Moroni 5:1–2 Moroni 6:6

1 Nephi 4:7 

Mosiah 11:14

Mosiah 22:7, 10 

Alma 28:14

Alma 55:8–11, 13, 30, 32 

3 Nephi 18:1–3, 8 

3 Nephi 20:5–8 

Moroni 5:1–2 

Moroni 6:6

  • 1 See 1 Nephi 4:7Mosiah 22:7, 10Alma 55:8–11, 13, 30, 323 Nephi 18:1–3, 820:5–8Moroni 5:1–2Moroni 6:6.
  • 2 Wikipedia, s.v., “Wine,” online at Wikipedia.org (accessed April 5, 2016).
  • 3 See John A. Tvedtnes, “Vineyard or Olive Orchard,” in The Allegory of the Olive Tree: The Olive, the Bible, and Jacob 5, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 477–483. Outside of Old World writings of Isaiah (in 2 Nephi 13 and 15), and Zenos (in Jacob 5), vineyards are only mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon, namely in Mosiah 11:14 (regarding Noah’s novel expansion) and Alma 28:14 (in the metaphor “to labor in the vineyards of the Lord”).
  • 4 See John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 307. Sorenson uses “maguey” when talking about agave.
  • 5 Note that 2 Nephi 15:1–10, which also mentions vineyards, is actually a quotation from Isaiah 5 and is therefore not describing wine in a New World context.
  • 6 Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 307.
  • 7 Kirk Magleby, “King Noah’s Wine,” Book of Mormon Resources, November 12, 2011, (accessed March 23, 2020). Several different models place the land of Nephi in this area. See Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 131–133; V. Garth Norman, Book of Mormon–Mesoamerican Geography: History Study Map (American Fork, UT: ARCON and the Ancient America Foundation, 2008), 31 (no. 48); Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, revised edition (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2011), 404–405.
  • 8 Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, 307–308. Sorenson is citing Alejandro C. Martínez Muriel, “Don Martín, Chiapas: Inferencias económico-sociales de una comunidad arqueológica” (thesis, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1978), 102ff., 125.
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