Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Mormon's Codex

Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book by John Sorenson is the culmination of his lifetime of research into the Book of Mormon. Sorenson uses the correspondence methodology, used by Biblical scholars like William Dever, to place the Book of Mormon into Mesoamerican history. (7) Using extensive, and some would say, exhaustive, research Sorenson has admirably succeeded in his goal.

Paradigms don’t change in a day, but I find it hard to believe that many of the academic articles of faith concerning Mesoamerica remain after this.  For example, Sorenson summarizes and then caps previous research concerning pre Columbian contact with plants, diseases, and oceanic travel that make it hard for anybody to question the occurrence of diffusionist events.

His book is divided into three sections.  The first details his methodologically paradigms. These include such things as where to look for correspondences.  This was one hundred pages that went by surprisingly fast; and a preliminary review of that section is found here: http://www.studioetquoquefide.com/2013/09/welcome-to-orientation-mormons-codex.html

The second section examines correspondences by topic.  And the third part examines correspondences from archaeology and history.  While this reviewer has read the entire book, with a specialty in military history I will focus on chapter 18 and the warfare correspondences listed therein. I will highlight the material that caught my eye, the way it interacts with my research, and humbly, a few points he may have missed.     

Finding Evidence of Battles

As I said here, evidence for battles is notoriously hard to find.  I even mentioned the Battle of Hasting in previous discussions.  So I nodded vigorously when Sorenson quoted Dr. William Rathje’s description of archaeologists digging at Hastings, one of the most studied battles in history, and finding a few teeth instead of the trove of weapon and armor. (383, fn 9) Of course this won’t stop critics from leveling the same charge to dig at Cumorah for an easily findable cache of weapons and armor, but it reinforces the idea that this book is a must read for those that wish to study the Book of Mormon.

War Chiefs

 Sorenson described how the Yuctan Maya called their local chiefs batabs, which the Spanish translated as Capitan, or Captain in English. (395)  The term nacom is translated as war chief. (395-396) There were many words that Smith could have used for leadership positions, but captain and chief captain seemed particularly poignant based on these Mayan terms. 


Sorenson described how the Quiche rulers of highland Guatamela conceptualized their soldiers as “sons.” (396) This is very interesting and something I noted in preliminary research in two other places. The Chinese also used familial conceptualization.  In their case it was designed to instill discipline in raw troops. In Confucian society each member of society had a duty to abide by the proper forms of conduct (li). So a ruler had to be a good ruler, a father a good father, a son a good son, and so on. So calling recruits sons would instill the same sense of obedience they likely learned growing up, and would enhance the authority of a new commander.  Abiding by the proper forms of conduct also induced greater power in the soldiers.

Finally, the military theorists that advocated these policies lived during the Warring States period. Armies increased in size, so this was an additional attempt to instill discipline in armies that were growing bigger.  Since this is the first period in Nephite history that recorded multiple armies in multiple theatres, it would make since that new soldiers, and a new commander, would adopt a father son relationship. So I think Sorenson touched upon something that is far stronger than he realized.


I’ve discussed numbers in several places. Sorenson repeated a few of the points I made concerning the unreliable and often inflated numbers.  But he added important evidence from several Mesoamerian groups that could form large armies.  The Quiche force that fought the Spanish numbered about 232,000. (397) Almost exactly the amount listed by Mormon.  The Aztecs raised 400,000 for a routine campaign.  Another Aztec army reprorted 700,000 men.  The one I enjoyed the most was a Tultec war that witnessed 5,600,000 deaths. (398) I enjoyed reading this numbers a great deal, as I’ve often argued that ancient realms could field and kill large numbers and even millions of people, and I plan on incorporating this evidence into my discussion of numbers in the future.

Prearranged Battle

The Mayans often scheduled their battles according to anticipated astronomical phenomena. The final battle would have been 1000 years after a significant date like the arrival of Lehi in the New World.  Sorenon also cited the prearranged battle with the Amlicites. I touched upon the Amlicite example; though I added a thought that perhaps it was prearranged only because the rival cities were close to one another similar to Richmond and Washington during the U.S. Civil War, and there was little other strategy besides attacking the opposing capital that made guessing about this battle rather easy. 

Camp Followers

Sorenson discussed the camp followers that normally accompany an army using Alma 56:28 among other verses.  (420) Alma 56:28 talked about supplied being delivered for soldiers and their families, which inspired a paper and now book chapter.  So I agree, but there are more implications than Sorenson listed. Since they didn’t carry armor and weapons they could carry more food and provide much needed logistical support.  Bringing along their women and families increased the moral of soldiers.  Moroni also invoked a support of their wives and families in the title of liberty, so this could have been a psychological prop for the soldiers. If the Nephites were defeated their families in the nearby city would be the first to die so it would inspire them to fight harder.

I also suggested that this could have been a military colony.  Some critics have argued that the war chapters represent an anachronistic standing army, but this could be an attempt to move soldiers into the area on a long term basis without keeping them active. As a military colony they would have gone back to farming with their families around the city when the war ended, but would be available for additional duty pending renewed conflict. So the presence of wives and children could mean a great deal more than simply telling us about the organization of the army. 

Battle Standard

Sorenson discussed a battle standard attached to an army’s leader.  But surprisingly he only spends a short paragraph on this. (421)  David Freidel described how Mayan armies also used a battle standard.[1] Friedel described it as a standard that represented and was infused with the power of deity. So in addition to an army losing because of the death of their war chief, the perceived loss of divine favor would also compel their retreat. On top of that, some monuments in Mesoamerica were ritually destroyed upon defeat, with some figures actually having holes in the back where standards could be placed when they were thrown down.[2] (Compare to Alma 51:20)


Sorenson’s research displayed impressive depth and scope, and I couldn’t help but remember the quote about critics losing the battle without knowing it. Sorenson also called this a “benchmark for future researchers.” (xvii)  So in many cases his benchmarks validated the research I had already done, and left the door open for me to dig deeper using my specialized knowledge of military history.  I’m grateful to have additional research and sources which enhance my study and I highly recommend his book for those that wish to study the Book of Mormon. 


[1] David Friedel,  "May Warfare: Myth and Reality." California State East Bay University Resources. http://maya.csuhayward.edu/yaxuna/papershome.html (accessed January 2008,). This link no longer works.  
[2] Golden, Charles, “The Politics of Warfare in the Usumacinata Basin: La Pasadita and the Realm of the Bird Jaguar.” In Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare, edited by Travis Stanton Kathryn Brown, 293-301. Balitmore: Little Field Publishing, 2003.(43) My research notes are a bit unclear, I will continue to look at this one.