August 7, 2008

Mark Alan Wright: Deification

Divine Inheritance and the Glorious Afterlife in the Book of Mormon and Ancient Mesoamerica

My notes on the topic are rather sparse, as I want to avoid misinterpreting his thoughts. His presentation is full of images and translations which need to be examined on their own. These notes only show a few of his thoughts which I caught during the paper.

Deification, or the belief that humans can become gods is taught in the Book of Mormon and must be put into its cultural context.

As we search for evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica we need to keep in mind our own cultural assumptions about God. Wright showed various pictures of how artists have depicted Christ, different almong cultures. We must try to think of God as Nephi did, rather than assume he pictures Him exactly how we do.

What does it mean to be God?
Philosophical view of an omni-present, -potent, -etc. whereas Mesoamericans saw God differently.

Gods or deities are "supernatural sentient beings that appear in sacred narrative." (Karl Taube, The Major Gods of Ancient Yucatan, p.8).

Using Mesoamerican views, the Nephites had a deity complex of Father, Son, Holy Ghost, three separate beings in one unified godhead. It does not present modalism. Interestingly, Satan would also qualify under a Mesoamerican complex as a deity. Serpent, ruler of underworld, trickster, church founder, covenant giver, father. He shares a core cluster of features with Christ's role. This plays into the concept of opposition in all things.

Wright showed an image of Mesoamerican art depicting a god presented in different aspects, seemingly surrounded by "concourses of angels."

Mesoamericans also had local triads, a "trinity" of gods, if you will. Very few gods have been classified by name from the classic period of Mesoamerica. Due to their belief in a localized triad of deity, the Nephites would have fit well in the context of Mesoamerican tribal deities.

Wright talks about the sites that have been excavated in Mesoamerica are still very preliminary. Archeology in Mesoamerica is still very young, thus caution should be taken.

How does one become a god? 
According to classic Maya, the first step in being deified involved becoming king, or enthroned. Enthronement rituals enabled a king to become a god after death. These rituals did not only confer a political office, but were thought to confer something sacred upon the recipient; making them divine. Some scholars believe it merely makes them more sacred or holy, whereas others believe it made them fully god on earth. Either way, they were expected to resurrect and become deified celestial beings like the sun god. Even then, they maintain their current form, etc, though they become radiant like the sun. Several rulers from the same site could become gods, without replacing their god.

The Book of Mormon has much regarding kingship. Wright argues that comparing the kingship of the BoM people is more fruitful or accurate if comparing to Mesoamerican views instead of old world views as has been done by BoM scholars.

The beliefs and practices concerning kingship and the afterlife in the BoM place it comfortably within Mesoamerican culture. In this paper he focuses mostly upon kingship in King Benjamin's sermon.

This would explain why Benjamin explicitly cautions his audience in thinking he is "more than a man" (see Mosiah 2:10). A very similar statement is made by an Aztec king. (Not that KB was an Aztec, but that the concept is similar.)

King Lamoni's people saw Ammon as perhaps the great Spirit. (He was a descendant of the king.)

Some kings would do body piercing, dripping blood ontp paper, which would then be burned to send it to god in behalf of his people. Blood is considered the most sacred of substance to the Maya. They would offer it to the god who would in turn bless their crops, etc. This is similar to the verse in Alma which explicitly says that the great atonement would not be a human sacrifice. (See Alma 32:10). Also, King Benjamin taught that the heavenly king had a power in blood that would save the people. His people then ask him that the blood be applied to them to save them from their sins (Mosiah 4:2). This covenant took place at a temple. Among the Maya, temple complexes were designed with public performances in mind. A king stood at the top and could be heard by those surrounding it. Temple was a place of instruction and public functions, whereas more private rituals were performed in-doors so to speak.

Wright then showed the San Bartolo murals at the Las Pinturas Temple. They are from about 100 B.C. They depict creation, sacrifice, and then an anointed king in separate pictures. These murals were depicted on walls in order, around the wall. LDS temple rituals incorporate similar details. This concept in the Book of Mormon is not systematically drawn out at any point in the text, though elements of it are interspersed throughout.

Wright also showed a Mayan text involving the enthronement of a king before he was born.

The anointing of a new king began with a private ceremony where he was set apart, then presented in a public venue, just as is depicted in the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 1. One carving depicts a long-deceased, and now deified ruler passing on the rulership to a new king. Claiming descent from a deified ancestor, then, gave him right to rule. The Book of Mormon people's kings often traced their own genealogy to previous people usually from the original party from Jerusalem. Even Nephi traces his back to Joseph of Egypt. In Ether the Jaredites always trace their genealogy back as evidence of rulership rights, etc.

Benjamin declared that all of king Benjamin's people were children of God now through covenant. This represented, then, enthronement of the people, invited into the divine lineage, and thus, expected to be deified in the next life.

As children of the kingdom, we are joint-heirs with Christ. We are said to be sat with Him in the throne, inheriting all the Father hath. Among the classic Maya, the term for "seated" referring to an office are used, along with the concept of ascension and deification; as the Book of Mormon uses the concept of "sitting down" with the forefathers on thrones of glory.

In Mesoamerica, a divine birthright with rituals designed to make people kings and queens, would lead the the righteous "shining forth" in the kingdom of God.

3 comments:

Mark Wright said...

Excellent summary of my presentation - thank you. I didn't bother to take notes on any of the presentations the second day because I realized your notes would be far better than mine. I'm just going to print them out and put them in my notebook.

Traci and I are totally looking forward to hanging out with you and Kristen. I'll be out of town for a few weeks - we'll give you a jingle when I get back.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Let us know, we'll be waiting to hear from you guys. email me your email address, btw. LifeOnaPlate @ Gmail.com

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