The Jaredites as Olmec

Whenever the two sources or “witnesses” happen to converge in their testimony, a historical “datum” (or given) may be said to have been established beyond reasonable doubt. To ignore or to deny the implications of such convergent testimony is irresponsible scholarship, since it impeaches the testimony of one witness without reasonable cause by suppressing other vital evidence. (What Did The Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know It?; William Dever, 2001, pg. 107)

Unlike the Nephites, we don't have a start date or an end date for the Jaredites, in the Book of Mormon, thus we don't have a firm chronology with which to compare with archeology. Past proposals for a beginning date or end date for Ether's lineage history have tended to be too eager to see a connection between the Jaredites and Olmec or too hesitant, my own included.

Any attempt to create a Jaredite chronology must begin with the king list provided by Moroni, in Ether 1; archeology should only be reffered to at the very end. The following king list also represents the Prophet Ether's patrilineal line: 


Now we need the proper interpretive lens with which to read the king list, within the context of the Book of Mormon. Just as scholars of the Hebrew Bible study contemporary Ugaritic and Akkadian texts, to get a better understanding of the Hebrew Bible and it's sources, we need the correct general area of the Americas, to find a similiar corrective lens when reading the Book of Mormon.

As it stands, Mesoamerica is the best place to find such a lens. Mesoamerica has two things that North, South and Insular America lack, for the times mention in the Book of Mormon: literature and the right population density. As John E. Clarke reminds us:

Could millions of people have lived in the area proposed as Book of Mormon lands? Yes, and they did. Mesoamerica is the only area in the Americas that sustained the high population densities mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and for the times specified.

When reconstructing a Jaredite chronology, we are essentially dealing with time thus mesoamerican systems of time keeping and notions of history come into play. The Book of Ether was written by Moroni, the last of the Nephite prophet-historians, based on Mosiah II's translation of the found Jaredite plates. So we should look at how Moroni and other Nephites looked at and measured time, through a Mesoamerican lens.

According to Mark Alan Wright, "one of the intriguing features of the Book of Mormon is the use of the baktun, or 400 year cycle, as it is attested several times in the text (Alma 45:10Helaman 13:5,9Mormon 8:6). It also appears that the baktun and the katun are both attested in Moroni 10:1, when Moroni states that "more than four hundred and twenty years have passed away since the sign was given of the coming of Christ". What's most interesting in this verse is that Moroni specifically says he wants his brethren the Lamanites to know that it had been four hundred and twenty years, because that number would carry much more meaning to the Lamanites than it would to the Gentiles"(message board).

The Maya "Long Count" records the elapsed number of periods of 400 years + periods of 20 years + years + periods of 20 days + days since the "creation" day of 13 August 3114 BC (although it's unclear exactly what happened on that day; the accounts differ from site to site). Moroni is basically giving an abbreviated Long Count date of 1.1 (1 period of 400 years + 1 period of 20 years). In her book, The Indian Christ, the Indian King: The Historical Substrate of Mayan Myth and Ritual, Victoria R. Bricker has noted the following regarding the cyclical view of time:

The Maya believed that history was repetitive, that the events in one cycle would be repeated in all successive cycles as they had been repeating since time immemorial. Therefore, the calendar could be used to predict events in the future (i.e.. in succeeding cycles), and the people had no control over their fate.  

This cyclical repetition of history is illustrated in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel(Roys 1933), which records the count of the katuns since the first settlement was established at Chichen Itza. Below is the historical account for each Katun 8 Ahau in one chronicle. 

The First Katun 8 Ahau
It was in 8 Ahau
    That Chitchen Itza was destroyed.
Thirteen fold of the katun[256 years] had passed
    When Chakanputun began;
They were in their homes
    For that katun period

The Second Katun 8 Ahau
It was in 8 Ahau
    That the people of Chakanputun were destroyed
By the Itza people.

The Third Katun 8 Ahau
It was in 8 Ahau
   That the Itza people were destroyed
In their homes again
    Because of the treachery of the Hunac Ceel
... .

I have called these katun chronicles “history” but Coe(1966: 117) calls them “prophecies” pointing out that “prophecy and history are almost inextricably entwined in these documents that sometimes read like revelation”(1966: 117-118). Archaeologists have been unable to correlate the Katun 8 Ahau events with the archaeology of Chichen Itza(Tozzer 1957). 

It may well be that whether or not an event predicted for a future Katun 8 Ahau occurred then, the Maya recorded it as having taken place during that katun in order to fulfill the requirements of their cyclical view of history. This would make the katun chronicles of the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel myth rather than history. 

On the other hand, there is some evidence that the Maya intervened in history and made events conform to their prophecies. The conquest of the last Itza capital at Tayasal reffered to in the quote from Roys(1933:136113) above is a case in point. The Itza had resited several attempts to convert them to Christianity on the grounds that the time prophesied for this to take place had not yet arrived. 

At the end of 1695, the Itza sent word of their willingness to be converted. A new Katun 8 Ahau began in 1697, the year that the Itza were finally conquered by the Spaniards(see chapter 2). This suggests that the Katun 8 Ahau “prophecies” may well be historically accurate and that the Itza actually did abandon their capital every 256 years. 

As ancient Mesoamericans, the Nephites and Lamanites appear to have the same basic cyclical view of history, where the type of events that occur one year are expected to be repeated when the date of that year is repeated. As part of a personal conversation, Mark Alan Wright shared with me the following repetition:

Omni 1:4-5
And now I, Amaron, write the things whatsoever I write, which are few, in the book of my father.
Behold, it came to pass that *three hundred and twenty years had passed away, and the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed.

4 Nephi 1:48
 And it came to pass that when *three hundred and twenty years had passed awayAmmaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.

Notes on Jesus, Nephites & Time
The material in the following two paragraphs was first demonstrated by John L. Sorenson. The Gospel of Matthew says Jesus was born during the reign of King Herod. King Herod died in 4 BCE; which means Jesus, assuming Matthew is right, was born sometime before 4 BCE. The Book of Mormon says that Jesus was born 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, "at the commencement of the" first year of Zedekiah's reign. The first year of Zedekiah's reign was in 597 BC.

Calendar prophecies about the Nephite destruction were based on a 400 year cycle, the baktun. Alma and Samuel the Lamanite made these prophecies and Moroni records their fullfillment. If we count 600 years as being 600 tuns then the Book of Mormon puts Jesus's birth at around 5 BCE. This would also put the Jaredite collapse at 399 BCE, the Nephite collapse at 389 CE and the writing of Moroni 10:1 at 409 CE.

The Three Genocidal Events
The Nephites meet their final demise in 389 AD(Mormon 8), four hundred tuns after Christ's birth. 

This would explain why the day before the first day of the next baktun cycle was the  "day set apart by the unbelievers" to kill, all the believers in Christ, effectively wiping out a people, as had happened four hundred years later, with the Nephites(3 Nephi 1:9).

But the planned destruction doesn't happen, instead we get a day and a night and a day with continual daylight, as had been prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite. This miracle left the would be genocidal mob in shock and unable to carry out their murderous plans.

And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; ... (3 Nephi 1:16).

From the view of the Long Count, that particular day, for the killing of an entire subculture, coupled with prophecy of Nephite collapse, would make the most sense if a similiar genocidal event had happened 400 years/tuns prior, in or around 399 BCE. The only other account of a genocidal event recorded in the Book of Mormon is that of the Jaredites, in the concluding chapters of Ether; thus the best candidate we have for an end date for the Jaredite history is 399 BCE. A basic cycle of history in the Book of Mormon thus looks like this:

The Nephite calendar round revolved around cycles of genocide and destruction. One 400 year cycle, or baktun, started following the Jaredite collapse. This baktun ended with the attempted genocide of "the Christians", which was averted by a divine intervention. The second Nephite baktun began after this attempted genocide and ended with the destruction of the Nephites.

Counting Backwards
With a date for Jaredite collapse, we are now free to count backward in time but by how many intervals? The Jaredites, whose history is recorded in Ether's lineage history,  practiced ultimogeniture, the practice of the youngest son inheriting everything, a practice with exists in modern Mesoamerica and may be of pre-Hispanic origin. Jaredite kings were unusually long lived, fertile and almost certainly polygamists; the lineage founder, Jared, had 31 sons and daughters. As Mark Wright has noted:

Keep in mind that the Nephite record keepers were from the ruling lineage, and anciently elites tended to have longer life spans because they had access to better quality food and they didn't wear their lives out with physically taxing work the way non-elites did. We only have data for both the birth dates and death dates of 17 Classic period Maya rulers, and their average age at death is 64.7 years. Some of the longest lived Maya kings were Itzamnaaj B'alam II of Yaxchilan was between 94.8 and 98.5 years old when he died, Calakmul's king Yukno'om the Great lived to be 85, Chan Imix K'awiil of Copan was about 83 when he died, a ruler of El Cayo named Chak Lakamtuun lived to 82, K'inich Janaab' Pakal from Palenque was 80, Aj Wosal of Naranjo was at least 78, and K'an Joy Chitam (also from Palenque) lived until he was 74.

With an end date in mind and a rough estimate of years per royal generation, we get the following results for Jaredite dates, followed by the current chronology for Olmec apogee and decline:

Jaredite Dates
2350 BC: Jaredites land in New World.
1310 BC: King Lib builds a "great city" by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land(Ether 10:19-21).
855 BC: Civil war "and contentions in all the land, and also many famines and pestilences, insomuch that there was a great destruction, such an one as never had been known upon the face of the earth"; the king, Shiblom, is killed and his son, Seth, lives out his days in captivity(Ether 11:4-9).
400 BC: End of the Jaredites.

Olmec Dates
2500-1500BC:The first farming villages in Mesoamerica appear. Settlers raise maize, chili peppers, squash and cotton.
1500-1200BC:Olmec build San Lorenzo; fully developed Olmec culture, represented typically by gigantic basalt sculptures fashioned in a distinctive style.
1100BC:By this time, La Venta becomes a major Olmec site.
900BC:The Olmec site of San Lorenzo is destroyed. Olmec monuments are attacked, defaced and buried.
400BC:The Olmec site of La Venta is destroyed.

This paradigm has four convergances, all four of which are productive. The Jaredites are said to have arrived in the New World, from Mesopotamia, during the building of "the great tower". The start date of 2350 BC fits with the building of the first ziggurats in the Early Dynastic(2900-2350). The Olmec abandonment of La Venta and the Jaredite collapse is also convergant.

More importantly, Lib builds his "great city" on the narrow neck of land, where the sea divides the land, at the same time the Olmecs build San Lorenzo, on the Strait of Tehuantepec, near the Coatzacualcos River. Also, the great pestilences and civil war, in the days of Shiblom, happened at the same time San Lorenzo was abandoned, with it's monuments defaced and buried. This is a productive convergance, where archeology possibly illuminates details of the Book of Ether. San Lorenzo is a candidate for the "great city" of Lib.

The Jaredite collapse coinciding with the abandonment of La Venta also explains why Coriantumr would head south-ward to Zarahemla, or, as Sorenson proposes, the Central Depression of the Grajalva river basin. Cities in the Central Depression had trade relations with La Venta and their inhabitants had Olmec heritage. Coriantumr would have known about these cities and naturally sought refuge there. 

It seems to me, that the Book of Ether and Olmec archeology are telling the same story. This is not to say that the Olmec are the Jaredites but rather that the Jaredites were Olmec. No, this can't be proven with certainty. As far as I know, we don't know the name of one Olmec. We don't even know what they called themselves.

Finally, none of this "proves" the Book of Mormon is true or that Joseph Smith Jr. is a Prophet of God. What this demonstrates is that the Olmec are a candidate for being the Jaredite host culture and that San Lorenzo is a candidate for the city of Lib. Do with that what you will.


  1. An excellent summary, Pedro. And I was charmed by the chiastic arrangement here, with scribes Amaron and Ammaron (Omni 5, IV Nephi 48) equidistant from the birth of Christ in 5 B.C., further evenly flanked by the demise of both Jaredites and Nephites.

    However, I'd like to call your attention to a couple of instances of "descendant" instead of "son" in the Jaredite genealogy. That may be indicative of something more than one generation, so that we are left without a sound sequence. I always opt for the much more likely suggestion (made first by John Sorenson) that the Jaredite and Olmec sequence begins in 3114 B.C. (nearly same as start of Hindu Kaliyuga) I further place the Great Tower (migdal temple) in the late 4th millennium B.C. in north Mesopotamia.

    1. I had read the suggestion that "descendant" could skew the genealogy. We have the same genealogy twice in Ether, one list descending from Jared and the other ascending from Ether. They match, and the second list doesn't allow the ambiguous "descendant" to skip generations in the first.

      Marking the departure according to a presumed date of a tower in the Old World makes so many assumptions that it continues to skew the results. We have to make a major assumption about how the text correlates with time--in order to see how the text correlates with time. That makes the entire effort circular.

      I looked at the other end of the timeline to see if we could discern the ending date of this particular lineage. It is directly related to the appearance of Coriantumr in Zarahemla. While that is also without a particular date, there are some hints that I believe places it not that long after the founding of the city--and that the city might not have been established for very long before Mosiah arrives. That puts a date closer to 250 BC than the 400 BC, which I suspect is used only because archaeologists used it for the fall of the Olmec (but not including the epi-Olmec, which I suspect much better defines the people of Zarahemla).


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