Paralleled Speech: Hoisting and Planting

The following was taken, almost verbatim, from Kerry Hull ' s new piece in JBMS

Moroni traveled throughout the Nephite land, setting up the title of liberty in each town or city. The physical presence of the title of liberty in each location in which it was temporarily erected would have served to further inspire people to their cause as well as to serve as an overt symbol of the covenant they were being asked to enter into: “And it came to pass also, that he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land, which was possessed by the Nephites; and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites” (Alma 46:36).

Within the seemingly benign historical narrative of this verse one of the more remarkable links to ancient Mesoamerican societies in the context of the title of liberty is found. The core underlying structure of the verse is parallelistic, forming a synonymous couplet: “he caused the title of liberty to be hoisted upon every tower which was in all the land . . . and thus Moroni planted the standard of liberty among the Nephites.” 

 The paired terms that compose the focal action described in the verse are the synonyms hoisted and planted. Several points here are noteworthy. First, the verb to plant in reference to a banner finds immediate confirmation in ancient Maya texts. As noted before, the word for stela is lakam-tuun, which translates either as “large stone” or “banner stone.” 

 One of the more commonly encountered verbal phrases in Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions is “u-tz’apaw u-lakam-tuun” (he planted his banner stone/large stone).

The verb tz’ap, first deciphered by Nikolai Grube in 1990, means “to sow (corn), to plant,” “to erect,” or “to hoist,” stemming from the agricultural action of spearing the ground with a planting stick (fig. 10a). Moroni’s use of planted with the title/standard of liberty banner then is another remarkable correspondence with the setting up of banners and stelae in ancient Mesoamerican practice.

What is even more significant, however, is that the exact synonymous couplet used by Moroni is also documented in several Maya hieroglyphic texts, both cases in reference to the erection of stelae or “banner stones.” On Stela A at the site of Copán in Honduras, the initial verbal phrase after the calendrical notations is written as: uhti tz’ap-tuun wa’wan it came to pass the stone [stela] planting, it was raised. (fig. 10b) 

The root of the second verb in the couplet is wa’, a positional verb meaning “standing upright,” “stood up,” or “raised” in numerous Mayan languages. The very same couplet also appears on Stela H at Copán, also referring to an action related to the stela itself: “tz’apiiy wa’wan” (planting, it was raised) (fig. 10c). The presence in the Book of Mormon of the precise terminology and couplet structure associated with the erection of banner stones in Late Classic Maya society is extraordinary. There are yet further direct linguistic links between lakam and the text of the Book of Mormon. 

After the people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah were united, a curious carved stone was presented to Mosiah: “And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God” (Omni 1:20). 

The seemingly uninspiring description of the monument as simply a “large stone” may actually be significant. As noted above, for the ancient Maya the word for “stela” was lakam-tuun, literally translated as “large stone.” While possibly merely coincidental, that the precise designation of “large stone” for a carved monument with writing on it would be given in the Book of Mormon as well as in myriads of ancient Maya texts is further indication of a shared cultural and linguistic origin.