Thursday, July 30, 2015

The One Dynasty Wonder

For those of you that don't know, Phillip Jenkins, an Evangelical scholar  from Baylor University and William Hamblin from FARMS and BYU have been exchanging messages in a long debate. Even before that started Jenkins started several threads that essentially parroted anti Mormon talking points against the Book of Mormon. I've stayed out of the debate for a few reasons. Their arguments have reached about 30 blog posts each, and thats not including the posts from Jenkins that had over 500 comments and replies.  To use a technical term, Jenkins is a total dick and anybody basically familiar with the Book of Mormon can see the flaws in his arguments, but he refuses to read evidence which supports the text because he says there is none.

In the course of providing evidence Hamblin asked Jenkins if he would accept a name from the Book of Mormon that is also seen in the Mayan kings lists. Hamblin showed that the Jaredite king Akish is is listed on the king list of Palenque as U-Kix.

Jenkins of course discounted this and so did many of the critics following this debate. In response, a poster named Runtu argued that Akish was a one dynasty wonder that couldn't possibly have been cited thousands of years later.   He details how Akish was not in the king list in Ether 1, and chapters 8 and 9 show how Akish rebelled against Omer, and did fairly well for a bit. But eventually Omer regained the kingdom. Thus this is a rather "problematic" comparison.

Since I was only sort of following the argument I didn't come up with a response, until I read it again on Mormon Dialogue, and noticed how Akish is the first to introduce secret combinations in the text. My answer discussed the role that role that Gadianton Robbers played in history, the nature of "history" in the Book of Mormon, and the role of historical memory.

I don't include much of the words of my interlocutor but you do have the link where the discussion took place. Mainly he ignored my arguments, which is why its repeated twice, and made the ridiculous assertion that my argument isn't supported by the text.  I'm amazed at critics that superficially read the text based on faulty, unexamined assumptions, (and the person on Mormon dialogue didn't even come up with the argument),but then they ignore interpretations that offer in depth analysis based on a thorough knowledge of history and historical methods. And yet I'm the apologist crank for doing so.  

Since it originated on a discussion board, it isn't as polished or organized as it normally is, but was a remarkably fun and I think pretty good impromptu analysis of the text that critics fail to do.

I might consider how much we don't know about the Jaredite Civil Wars, and the place of rulers in the historical memories of the people who came after them. The account of the Jaredite destruction for example, actually follows Coriantumr when he isn't in power, Ether 13:23-24, 14:7.  The Book of Ether almost completely ignores the ruler in power at the time except for his battles with Coriantumr. It seems like a good choice considering Ether's purpose in describing the fulfillment of the Lord's prophecy to Coriantumr. But its makes for rather strange history compared to what we are used to and see in other historical accounts.

Might I tentatively suggest, that if Akish is really the same as U-Kix, then its possible we don't have the entire history of Akish and the reason why he is important to Mayans a thousand year later. It might have something to do with the secret combinations he introduced, which were also active during the Jaredite denouement, Ether 13:25, 14:8, and of course active through much of Nephite history as well. The Gadianton Robbers were even a political power during the end of Nephite history, to the point that the Nephites concluded a treaty with them and ceded territory. Mormon 2:28. So you can see traces of Akish's influence over a long period if you count Gadianton Robbers.   Critics might argue this is a very weak post hoc explanation. I would say in return, that the evidence which matters is the Akish- U-kix connection.  And the rest is the educated filling in the blanks that historians normally do when they only get a couple pieces in a 1000 year puzzle. 

Thanks for the response.  I thought I made myself pretty clear in a variety of ways. I was pretty clear the the Book of Ether was written with a specific purpose, which didn't include a history of Akish.  I showed specific verses which detailed how much of the last few chapters for example focused on Coriantumr and were not a typical dynastic history. And you could show the same thing with the rest of the book as a message about the rise and fall of the Jaredites, not the influence of Akish. Moreover, I talked about the Gadianton Robbers, which you seem to think is a rather paltry connection.  The band Akish formed was enough to fight for the kingdom. The bands at the end of the Jaredite nation were enough to support an incredibly bloody and long lasting civil war.  The ones in the middle of Nephite history were enough to almost cause their entire destruction. (See 3 Nephi 3 and 4.)  And they were strong enough to force the Nephites into ceding their ancestral lands at the end of Nephite history. Thats pretty much covers every period of the BoM.  Imagine how much information we might have if the Nephites weren't specifically forbidden to talk about it! Alma 37:29. You can also make the case, as I do in my second chapter of my book, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents, that the Gaidanton Robbers were ethnic others. As such they would be specifically excluded from a lineage history of Nephites and the ethnic chauvinism that every ancient writers possessed. So in case I wasn't clear enough, I think you can make an argument, gleaned on whats included and specifically excluded in the text, using a keen analysis that historians make upon texts, that there is much more to Akish than a one generation "dynasty." In fact, there is a certain degree of importance and longevity that would be worth including in a king history...

There is a also a great deal about historical memory we don't know.  Besides kind of knowing the Kings name, what do we know about U-Kix of Palenque and why was he important to them  1500 years later?  Just like the Jaredites influenced the Nephites, I'm not going to summarize the literature that says so, but you can look at things items of continuity such as place and people names, the Olmecs also influenced the Mayans. The 1500 year later argument isn't even serious for me.  Lots of groups have founding myths that are based upon historical people, or semi historical people with mythical elements, or what historians believe are completely mythical people.  For example, Sargon the Great and the Yellow Emperor are two figures that go so far back in time they are semi mythical or the details incredibly spotty and debated. Sargon's name actually meant "the true king" so its possible he was invoked by leaders thousands of years later not because his dynasty lasted uninterrupted,  but because he would add legitimacy to current rulers. There is a robust history about nobles changing genealogies to gain legitimacy. Any usurping king could easily manipulate his king list to include, if we accept my reassessment of Ether, somebody like Akish.

Several times I expressed the tentative nature of my ideas, but this makes perfect sense to me. From the lack of any substantial history about Palenque before the classic period, as well as the limited history of the Book of Ether, I thought this was reasonable, albeit tentative and speculative suggestion based on the BoM, what I know about historical documents and memory, and Mayan history. To be extra clear, this means I think Akish is more important than you suggest, there is more continuity between Jaredites and Nephites and Olmec Maya than given, and plenty of space for him in Mayan historical memory.


John Kammeyer said...

While we are at it: The first Olmec settlements in Yucatan came around 1000 BC, so we are told. The Jaredites kept the "land southward" as a hunting preserve, and then (Ether 10) opened it up to settlement. This would seem to solidly date Ether 10 to about 1000 BC. The Jaredite kings Kish and Akish, and the Olmec Ut-Kish-Kan all seem to occur within a couple of generations of each other.

Morgan Deane said...

Good comment. Thanks.