Book of Mormon/Archaeology/Izapa Stela 5

Interpretations of Izapa Stella 5 as a possible representation of Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life


Question: Does Izapa Stela 5 depict Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon?

Extreme caution should be used in invoking Izapa Stela 5 as evidence for the Book of Mormon's historicity

Some Church authors have used Izapa Stela 5 as evidence for the Book of Mormon. However, at present, extreme caution should be used in invoking Izapa Stela 5 as evidence for the Book of Mormon's historicity.

Advances in our understanding of Mesoamerican art and iconography have led most LDS researchers with knowledge of the relevant disciplines to be very skeptical about a direct link between the stela and the Book of Mormon.

The history of the stela in LDS thought and writing is available here. We note that while some LDS members embraced this connection, other scholars (such as Hugh Nibley and John L. Sorenson) disagreed with its use even during this idea's "heyday."

A more accurate drawing of the stela has also tempered the initial enthusiasm for this concept

Nibley and Sorenson's view seems to have predominated over time; FairMormon has not seen any LDS author with a background in Mesoamerican studies raise this as a "point" for the Book of Mormon recently. A more accurate drawing of the stela has also tempered the initial enthusiasm for this concept.


Stewart W. Brewer (1999): "Professor M. Wells Jakeman...claimed that the scene carved in bas-relief on the stone was a representation of Lehi's vision of the tree of life"

Stewart W. Brewer, "The History of an Idea: The Scene on Stela 5 from Izapa, Mexico, as a Representation of Lehi's Vision of the Tree of Life," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8:1:

In 1941 Matthew W. Stirling of the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C., conducted preliminary archaeological investigations at the site of Izapa in Chiapas, near Mexico's southern border with Guatemala.1 During his work there, Stirling unearthed a large carved stone monument which he labeled Stela 5. Nearly a decade later, Professor M. Wells Jakeman, founder and chairman of the Department of Archaeology at Brigham Young University, claimed that the scene carved in bas-relief on the stone was a representation of Lehi's vision of the tree of life as reported in the Book of Mormon.2

Since that time Latter-day Saints have either accepted or rejected Jakeman's proposal to varying degrees. Many have enthusiastically accepted his conclusions, while others believe that his claim lay somewhere between tenuous and outrageous. Notwithstanding criticisms from the beginning, Jakeman's thesis gained widespread support in succeeding years from lay people and some scholars. This article presents a historical sketch of the reactions by Latter-day Saints and others to this claim about Stela 5 and discusses some of the historical implications of acceptance or rejection of Jakeman's theory. —(Click here to continue) [1]


John E. Clark (1999): "My purpose here is to present the latest drawing of this monument, to discuss how this drawing was made, and to suggest its implications for the Lehi hypothesis"

John E. Clark, "A New Artistic Rendering of Izapa Stela 5: A Step toward Improved Interpretation," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8:1 (1999):

For the past 46 years, the carved stone monument known as Izapa Stela 5 from southernmost Mexico has been discussed as a possible depiction of Lehi's dream reported in 1 Nephi 8. From this the stela has come to be known in some Latter-day Saint circles as the "Lehi stone." My purpose here is to present the latest drawing of this monument, to discuss how this drawing was made, and to suggest its implications for the Lehi hypothesis. This brief article is not meant to be the final word on the matter. In fact, I will avoid talking about most of the technical details and only highlight the most significant features of the scene on the stone in order to assess the implications of recent study. —(Click here to continue) [2]


Notes

  1. Stewart W. Brewer, "The History of an Idea: The Scene on Stela 5 from Izapa, Mexico, as a Representation of Lehi's Vision of the Tree of Life," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8:1 (1999)
  2. John E. Clark, "A New Artistic Rendering of Izapa Stela 5: A Step toward Improved Interpretation," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8:1 (1999).