Book of Mormon Nuggets

Supplementing Jeff Lindsay's Book of Mormon Evidences page.

Nugget #14:
Mesoamerican Traditions of Darkness and Seismic Events when Christ Died: Consistent with the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon records a number of unusual and dramatic events that occurred in the New World at the time when Christ was crucified in the Old World, which concurred with a time of great wickedness in Book of Mormon lands. In 3 Nephi 8, we read that a great storm arose accompanied with seismic events and apparent volcanic activity resulting in thick, tangible, suffocating "mists of darkness" (apparently volcanic ash) for three days, making it impossible to light and maintain fire:

10 And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain.
11 And there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward.
12 But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth;
13 And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough.
14 And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate.
15 And there were some cities which remained; but the damage thereof was exceedingly great, and there were many in them who were slain.
16 And there were some who were carried away in the whirlwind; and whither they went no man knoweth, save they know that they were carried away.
17 And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth.
18 And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.
19 And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease - for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours - and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land.
20 And it came to pass that there was thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness;
21 And there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all;
22 And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.23 And it came to pass that it did last for the space of three days that there was no light seen; and there was great mourning and howling and weeping among all the people continually; yea, great were the groanings of the people, because of the darkness and the great destruction which had come upon them.
On my Book of Mormon Evidences page, I have already noted the extensive evidence that Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica were the scene of intense volcanic activity corresponding (within the accuracy of radiocarbon dating) to the time of the death of Christ - a remarkable confirmation of the Book of Mormon that no one could have known about in 1830. In addition, there may also be confirmation of some of the events in 3 Nephi 8 from Mesoamerican traditions. In writings that were not yet printed in Joseph Smith's day and only recently translated into English, Mariano Veytia (1720-1778; full name: Mariano Fernandez de Echevarria y Veytia) recorded what he learned from native Mexicans and their records (primarily calendars) about their ancient history. His writings are now available in Ancient America Rediscovered, translated by Ronda Cunningham, compiled by Donald W. Hemingway and W. David Hemingway (Springville, Utah: Bonneville Books, 2000).

Some will dismiss Veytia because he was convinced that ancient Mexicans knew of Christ and His Gospel, and he points to numerous parallels that skeptics might challenge. For example, he was convinced that the original Quetzalcoatl was so clearly associated with Christian concepts that he presumed Quetzalcoatl must have been the apostle Thomas who somehow came to the New World. Some will dismiss this as wishful thinking by Spaniards who strived too hard to find Biblical parallels in New World beliefs. But regardless of how well Veytia understood ancient Quetzalcoatl legends, I am intrigued by his comments on natural phenomena that the ancient Mexicans apparently experienced at the time of the death of Christ. The excerpt below comes from pages 148 and 149 of Ancient America Rediscovered:

These natives indicate another singular event in their histories with great exactness, which later served them as a fixed era for their chronological calculations. They say that 166 years after the correction of their calendar, at the beginning of the year that was indicated with the hieroglyph of the House in the number ten, being a full moon, the sun was eclipsed at midday, the solar body being totally covered, such that the earth became darkened so much that the stars appeared and it seemed like night, and at the same time an earthquake was felt as horrible as they had ever experienced, because the stones crashing against one another were broken into pieces, and the earth opened up in many parts. Confused and bewildered, they believed that the end of the third age of the world had already arrived, which, according to the predictions of their wise men in Huehuetlapallan, should end in strong earthquakes, in whose violence many living people would perish, and mankind would suffer the third calamity; but the earthquake ceasing entirely and the sun once again being uncovered perfectly, everyone was found to be whole, without any living persons having perished, and this caused them such great wonder that they noted it in their histories with singular care.

Following these calculations, and adjusted to the comparison of the tables, this event should be placed in the year 4066 of the world, which was indicated with this character as can be seen in the tables, and precisely 166 years after the adjustment of the calendar; and because of the circumstances surrounding this eclipse and earthquake, it was impossible for it to be any other than that which was observed at the death of Jesus Christ Our Lord, having suffered it in the thirty-third year of his age, and so it seems that the incarnation of the Word should be placed in the year 4034 of the world, which the Indians indicated with the same hieroglyph of the House in the number 4, and I have noted it that way in the tables, and with this calculation following the chronological order that they observed, counting the years from one memorable event to another with the assignment of the hieroglyph of the year in which they fell, I have been able to coordinate it perfectly with our years in the year 1519, in which Cortez landed at Veracruz, as will be seen in the discourse of this history.

There are clearly some differences relative to the Book of Mormon record, for Veytia records that the darkness was due to an eclipse, not mists of darkness, and also states that no one died (though there may have been Book of Mormon cities and places that were spared from casualties). Nevertheless, the account of darkness, intense earthquakes, the breaking of stones, and the opening up of the earth at the time of the death of Christ corresponds favorably with the Book of Mormon record.

I do not know how accurately Veytia has conveyed what he learned from Native Americans in Mexico or whether those legends had been tainted with imported doctrines, but I'm not aware of any clear reason to dismiss Veytia at this point. Further documentation is needed to better resolve this issue, but most of the documentation has been destroyed. It is tragic that only four Mesoamerican books survived out of the many thousands that the Mayans and others had when the Spaniards arrived. The wanton destruction of so many records by the superstitious Spaniards was a terrible loss.

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Created: Feb. 15, 2003
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