Book Review: Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book

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Title: Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American BookMormon's Codex
Author: John L. Sorenson
Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Nonfiction
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: 826 pages
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13: 978-1609073992
List Price: $59.99 (currently available from FairMormon bookstore for $50.99)

Reviewed by Trevor Holyoak

John L. Sorenson has been studying the relationship of the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica for over 60 years. He received an MA in archaeology from BYU and a PhD in anthropology from UCLA. His best known book prior to this was “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” published in 1985.

“Mormon’s Codex” is the culmination of his studies. It begins with a Foreword by Terryl Givens and then has three main sections followed by an appendix. At the center of the book are colorful maps and photographs of places and artifacts. There are also black and white photos interspersed throughout the text.

Part 1 is called “Orientation.” It introduces the Book of Mormon and its orgins and tells us about problems with archaeology. One way archaeologists have been able to base the Bible in reality is through finding convergences where the text agrees with archaeological findings. This book investigates the same type of convergences between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. This is not easy, because “only a fraction of the material that was left behind by ancient peoples has been preserved and is waiting to be found” (page 11). There is also the problem that only a fraction of what has been discovered has been excavated, and only a fraction of the items found have been studied and published. In spite of this, there is a tendency among archaeologists to “speak as if their data were complete and their inferences were facts” (page 12).

Sorenson lists key places from the Book of Mormon text and then places them on the map. He has found that a limited Mesoamerican geography is the best fit, specifically around Guatemala. He has gone as far as to identify plausible locations for many places, such as the narrow neck of land, the east and west seas, the river Sidon, the city of Nephi, and the final Nephite and Jaredite battleground (this is the only Jaredite place that he is very certain about). He concludes that the text of the Book of Mormon fits this area so well that it only could have been produced by people living in that place and time.

The histories of the Jaredites and Nephites are laid out, followed by a parallel history of Mesoamerica. It is also pointed out that there is a limited amount of history to go on from the Book of Mormon (three centuries are covered in a mere four pages, for instance).

Part 2 covers “Correspondences by Topic.” It first lays out geographical correspondences, such as distances and characteristics of the land. This is where a possible site for Jerusalem is first mentioned, a submerged city called Samabaj that was discovered recently in Lake Atitlan.

Evidence for transoceanic voyages is laid out, with a list of some of the plants that have been found in both hemispheres. This is followed by a similar list of diseases, as well as a discussion of languages, records, and writing systems. Also covered are human biology, political economy, society, population and distribution, material culture, government and political processes, warfare, knowledge systems, and ideology and religion.

Part 3 has “Correspondences from Archaeology and History.” I found this part to be the most interesting. It is split up into four time periods: before 600 BC, between 600 and 1 BC, between AD 1 and 200, and between AD 200 and 400. One of the things discussed is the apparent absence of fortifications, since they are a common part of the war chapters. There have actually been more found than is commonly recognized. Sorenson has tabulated 75 named sites that date before AD 400. (It hasn’t been published because the project kept expanding.) He tells how it took generations of work at Tikal before they realized an embankment was actually a wall. It took over 30 years to trace the miles of wall found, and it may not yet be fully revealed.

A possible location for Bountiful has been identified, based on geography, but it has not yet been studied, so Sorenson still considers such correspondence to be premature. However, Santa Rosa is a good candidate for Zarahemla, all the way down to evidence of destruction from the right time period preceding Christ’s visit in 3rd Nephi. In fact, corresponding evidence such as volcanic ash has been found in the same time period in many places in the area. This also includes the city of Jerusalem being covered with water as mentioned previously. In addition, there is evidence of significant cultural and religious
upheaval at that time which corresponds with the Book of Mormon text.

Sorenson explains how the codex (the plates) may have been transported to New York from Mesoamerica by relating the story of English sailors who trekked 3,000 miles from Mexico to Nova Scotia in 1589 over a period of nine months. And near the end of the 20th century, an adventurer named David Ingram walked 4,000 miles from Maine to Tampico in 11 months.

In the appendix, Sorenson explains how he has modified his views of the Jaredites since the publication of “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.” He now sets them in Veracruz, with the three main lands in Jalapa, Cordoba, and Tuxtepec. And he has changed his mind to an Atlantic Ocean crossing instead of the North Pacific. However, he notes that all this still remains tentative.

I would have preferred if the book were laid out a bit differently – he tends to explain Book of Mormon history and Mesoamerican history separately and then gives a summary conclusion. He explains that “to recapitulate detailed parallels would be tedious; an alert reader can identify further general and specific correspondences” (page 665). While this may be the case, I believe it would better suit the purpose of the book to combine the parallel information, pointing out correspondences in more detail as it goes. On the other hand, I appreciate that in places where the evidence is weak or still lacking, he is quick to point it out.

This book is a treasure trove of information about New World archaeology and how it may relate to the Book of Mormon. It probably won’t convince critics (although it will be harder for them to say there is no evidence), but as a believer in the Book of Mormon as scripture and as real history, it helped me better visualize the events and people it contains. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in physical evidence for the Book of Mormon and placing it on the map.

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