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The Long Count and Nephite Folk Religion


In his book Did God Have a Wife, William Dever reminds us that there has always been a difference between "book religion" and "folk religion". The Bible is essentially a "revisionist history", with Deuteronomist historians projecting their own religious sensibilities unto the history of their forefathers. The Bible doesn't describe religion as it was, rather as how they thought it should have been. Real Israelite religion consisted of the things the Deuteronomist historians condemned.

The Book of Mormon is an ancient book, written by the Prophet Mormon in the early 400's AD. Mormon was writing about a culture and religion that existed hundreds of years in his past. I suspect that Mormon shared similar limitations and weaknesses with the writers of the Bible. He was part of what had usually been an ethnic and religious minority.

Like the Deuteronomists, he described the history and religion of his forefathers in very idealistic ways. What the Book of Mormon teaches is the Nephite "book religion". What it condemns is the Nephite "folk religion". By seeing what Nephite prophets condemned, we can see what Nephite folk religion actually looked like...

Nephite Folk Religion Included...
divine kingship(Mosiah 2:10)
polytheism(Alma 11:26-29,35)
magic(Mormon 2:10Mormon 1:19)
human sacrifice(Mormon 4:21Alma 34:10)
animal sacrifice(Alma 34:11)
blood letting(Alma 34:11)
idols(Helaman 6:31Alma 7:6) 2:10)
priestly caste(Mosiah 11:14Alma 30:27)
burying treasure unto God(Alma 24:19Helaman 13:19).

Nephite Folk Religion Lacked...
the Law of Moses(Mosiah 12:37)
an atoning messiah doctrine(4 Nephi 1:29Jacob 7:9Alma 30:12Alma31:21)

From the above lists we can see why we shouldn't look for Crown Heights in Mesoamerica. The Bible is an ancient book with some non-historical aspects. Biblical writers painted an idealized portrait of what they thought religion should have looked like; the same is true for the Book of Mormon.


The Long Count and Folk Religion 
Like Nephite folk religion, ancient mesoamerican religion featured divine kingship, polytheism, magic, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, blood letting, idols, priestly castes and burying objects for religious purposes. Mesoamerican religion also featured the Long Count and a cyclical view of history.

In four of my last five posts, I have argued for a Nephite familiarity and use of the Long Count and it's consequently cyclical view of history. However, I believe that such was an aspect of Nephite folk religion and not Nephite book religion.

Nephi, Mormon and Moroni spell out what the Nephite book religion was: Christianity, with a strong emphasis on Israelite identity and the Abrahamic covenant. If so then why so much Mesoamerican folk religion? An analogue to the Nephite situation might be the Christianity of the modern mesoamericans, who still speak the indigenous languages.

The modern Maya are also Christian, Roman Catholic; but traditional pre-Columbian religious practices and attitudes can still be seen among them today. Another analog might be the Mormon practices of praying over food, "bless these doughnuts for the health of our bodies", sitting in pews, dressing in our Sunday best, kneeling in prayer with eyes closed and hands clasped etc. None of these practices can be found in Mormon book religion, the scriptures, but they can be traced to precedents in the surrounding culture.

Conclusion
Mormon, as an ancient prophet-historian would have similar weaknesses as the historians who composed the histories in the Bible. Nephite religions, like Israelite religion, and society were far more complex than Mormon makes them out to be. He and his line of prophet-historians were an ethnic and religious minority thus they did not represent the majority Nephite view, a mesoamerican view which included the Long Count and a cyclical view of history.

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