Comparison of Early Yucatan Observations And Book of Mormon Claims

Friar Diego de Landa was one of the first Europeans on the American continent, and as the top destroyer of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization has a unique insight on the culture that has been long extinct. Friar Landa ordered the destruction of thousands of sacred writings, artifacts, and effectively wiped out the civilization's religion and way of life.

It would make sense for Landa to justify his actions by portraying Spain as the bringer of long-lost Christianity to a forgotten branch of Israel, lost since apostasized. Indeed, Landa appears to do this, often drawing distinct comparison between their way of life and Christian rites. He never attempts to portray the Indians anything more than depraved primitives, however, and justifies his inhuman genocide by comparing himself to Israel who destroyed Jericho at God's command.

Friar Landa’s diary Yucatan Before and After the Conquest was only recently brought to light and translated into English. In 1830, Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon, which he purported to be a record of ancient American Indians that had sailed from Jerusalem to the American continent. Smith's book bears some striking resemblances to Landa's record, not the least of which is baptism, claims of origins from the Jews, and details of priestly orders.

Here I present quotes from both works that appear to correlate unexpected historical observation about the American people and the people alleged in the Book of Mormon:

Diary of Friar LandaBook of Mormon
Prophecy of the Conquistadors
"As the Mexican people had signs and prophecies of the coming of the Spaniards and the end of their power and religion, so also did those of Yucatan some years before they were conquered... An Indian named Ah-cambal (a spiritual leader of the people)…told publicly that they would soon be ruled by a foreign race who would preach a God and the virtue of a wood which in their tongue he called vahom-che, meaning a tree lifted up..." (19)" the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed... they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive-tree, into the true olive-tree." (1Ne. 15:13-16)
Origin of American peoples from the East
"Some old men of Yucatan say that they have heard from their ancestors that this country was peopled by a certain race who came from the East, whom God delivered by opening for them twelve roads through the sea. If this is true, all the inhabitants of the Indies must be of Jewish descent..." (8)"Yea, the more part of all the [12] tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea" (1Ne. 22: 4)
"...after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land... we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem." (1 Ne. 18:23-24)
City planning and wine vineyards
"Before the Spanish subdued the country, the Indians lived together in well ordered communities… in the center of the town were the temples, with beautiful plazas, and around the temples stood the houses of the chiefs and the priests, and next those of the leading men. Closest to these came the houses of those who were wealthiest and most esteemed, and at the borders of the town were the houses of the common people... their plantations were set out in the trees for making wine." (26)"And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon;" (2 Ne. 5:16) See the biblical description for how Hebrew cities were arranged around the temple.
"And it came to pass that [King Noah] planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance;" (Mos. 11:15)
Confusion over whether Yucatan is an island
"Yucatan Is not an island, nor a point entering the sea, as some thought, but mainland." (1) emphasis mine"...we have been led to a better land, for the Lord has made the sea our path, and we are upon an isle of the sea.” (2 Ne. 10:20)
"Baptism is... with a word meaning to be born anew or a second time, the same as the Latin renascer. Thus in the language of Yucatan sihil means ‘to be born anew’ or a second time but only however in composition, thus caput-sihil means to be reborn [the specific term for bapitsm is distinct from caput-cuxtal, ‘to come to life a second time’- note from the author]. It’s origins have been unable to learn, but it is something they have always used and for which they have such devotion that no one fails to receive it; they had such reverence for it that those guilty of sins, or those who knew they were about to sin, were obliged to confess to the priest, in order to receive it; and they had such faith in it that in no manner did they ever take it a second time. They believed that in receiving it they acquired a predisposition to good conduct and habits, protection against being harmed by devils in their earthly affairs, and that through it and living a good life they would attain a beatitude hereafter which, like that of Mahomet, consisted of eating and drinking." (42-43)"Ye must repent and be born again... He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost." (2 Ne. 31:11-12)
"...blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized... by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst." (Alma 32:16,42)
"...they came forth and did confess their sins and were baptized unto repentance..." (Hel. 5:17)
"They have the custom of assisting one who delivers a message by responding with a cadence of the voice, a sort of aspirate in the throat as if to say ‘it is well’ or‘be is so’" (39)"And thus it is. Amen." (1 Ne. 9: 6, 14: 30, 22: 31, Hel. 12: 26, see also Alma 6: 8, 7: 27, 3 Ne. 5: 26, Ether 4: 19) Mormon congregations say in union 'Amen' at the end of a sermon.
Succession of Priests & Teachers
"The people of Yucatan were as attentive to matters of religion as of government, and had a High Priest… He was succeeded in office by his son or closest kin. In him lay the key to their sciences, to which they most devoted themselves… He and his disciples appointed the priests for the towns, examining them in their sciences, and ceremonies, put on their charge the affairs of their office, and the setting of a good example to the people, he provided their books (scripture) and sent them forth. They in turn attended to the service of the temples, teaching their sciences they taught here… the administering of their sacraments, the omens of the days, their methods of divination and prophecies events, remedies for sicknesses, antiquities, and the art of reading and writing." (12-13)"And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto [High Priest] Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church... every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma." (Mos. 25:19-21)
Confessing sins to avoid sickness
"The Yucatecans naturally knew when they had done something wrong, and they believed that death, disease, and torments would come on them because of evildoing, and sin, and thus they had the custom of confessing to their priests when such was the case. In this way, when for sickness or other cause they found themselves in danger of death, they made confession of their sins… the sins of which they commonly accused themselves were theft, homicide of the flesh, and false testimony." (83)"...Zeezrom lay sick at Sidom, with a burning fever, which was caused by the great tribulations of his mind on account of his wickedness... and his many other sins, did harrow up his mind until it did become exceedingly sore, having no deliverance; therefore he began to be scorched with a burning heat...
And it came to pass that they went immediately, obeying the message which he had sent unto them; and they went in unto the house unto Zeezrom; and they found him upon his bed, sick, being very low with a burning fever; and his mind also was aexceedingly• sore because of his iniquities; and when he saw them he stretched forth his hand, and besought them that they would heal him.” (Alma 15: 3-5)
"Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell. Wo unto the murderer who deliberately killeth, for he shall die. Wo unto them who commit whoredoms, for they shall be thrust down to hell." (2 Nephi 9:34-38)
Punishment for sins and adultery
"They had laws against delinquents which they executed rigorously, such as against an adulterer, whom they turned over to the injured party that he might either put him to death by throwing a great stone upon his head… For the adulteress there was no penalty save the infamy, which was very serious thing to them. One who ravished a maiden was stoned to death." (162)"But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished.” (Alma 30: 10)
See the rules on stoning in the Bible, and Jacob 2:28-35 regarding mercy for women.
Polygamy oulawed
"The Yucatan never took more than one single wife, although in other places they frequently took a number together." (42)"Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord....for there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none." (Jacob 2: 24,27)
Name of nation "Home"
"...he met certain Indian fisherfolk whom he asked what country this was, and who answered Catoch, which means ‘our houses, our homeland,’for which reason he gave that name to the cape. When he asked by signs how the land was theirs, they replied Ci uthan, meaning ‘they say it." (2)"Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church: And they were doing that which they felt was the aduty which they owed to their God." (Alma 43:45-46)
Divorce frowned upon
"Even though divorce was so common and familiar a thing, the old people and those of better customs condemned it, and there were many who never had but a single wife; nor did they ever marry one bearing their own name on the father’s side, for this was considered a very bad thing. Equally wrong was it held that a man should marry his sister in law, the widow of a brother." (41)"It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery." (3 Ne. 12: 31-32 )
Increase in divorce
"In olden times they married at the age of twenty, but now at that of twelve or thirteen. For this reason they divorce more easily because they marry without love and ignorant of a married life and the duties of married people; and if their parents could not persuade them to return to their wives, they hunted them another and others and others." (41)"And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them... [later] they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness." (4 Nephi 1:11, 27)
Importance of geneology
"They make much of knowledge of the origins of their lineages, especially if they come from one of the houses of Mayapan; this they learn from their priests, it being one of their sciences, and they boast much about one of their lineage who has distinguished himself. The name of the father is transmitted to his son, but not to his daughters" (40)"I am the son of Mormon, and my father was a descendant of Nephi." (Mormon 8:13) The Hebrew people commonly kept their lineage sacred and handed their name down to their son, especially in the Book of Mormon.
Preparation for child baptism
"Their custom of preparing for baptism was as follows: the Indian women raised the children to the age of three… the priest proceeded in the purification of the house, expelling the demon… They asked the largest [children] whether they had done anything bad, or obscene conduct, and if any had done so they confessed them and separated them from the others, and began to bless the children with long prayers… went to the children and menaced each one with a bone on the forehead (Lehi, the father of the Nephi/Lamanite people, means bone of the forehead) nine times. After this, he wet the bone in a jar of water he carried, and with it anointed them on the forehead, the face, and between the fingers of their hands and the bones of their feet… after this the priest rose, removed the white cloths from their heads, as well as others they wore suspended from the shoulders containing a few feathers… The fiesta then ended with long eating and drinking; and this fiesta was called em-ku, which means, ‘the descent of the god." (45)See common Mormon baptism and temple rites. Child baptism was condemned in the Book of Mormon, showing that it was practiced among those people:
"And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption." (Moroni 8:20)