2 Nephi 17
A Covenant Plan of Salvation
2 Nephi 17 (Isaiah Text & Commentary):
(Compare Isaiah 7)
Note** The kingdom of northern Israel (Ephraim) had formed an alliance with Syria for their mutual strength and protection against the empire of Assyria. When Judah refused to join the alliance, the kings of these two countries threatened to subjugate Judah -- see 2 Kings 15:36-338; 16:1-6. The following might be helpful:
King Country Capital
Ahaz Judah Jerusalem
Rezin Syria Damascus
Pekah Ephraim (Israel) Samaria
Salvation Cannot Be Found in Worldly Alliances
Trust in God
1 And it came to pass in the days of AHAZ the son of JOTHAM, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah (King #1), that REZIN, king of Syria (King #2), and PEKAH the son of REMALIAH, king of Israel2 (King #3), went up toward Jerusalem to war against it, but could not prevail against it (that is, they weren't victorious, but they did kill 120,000 men of Judah and take 200,000 captives in one day -- see 2 Chronicles 28:6-15).
2 And it was told the HOUSE OF DAVID (or the royalty at Jerusalem), saying: Syria is confederate (or has joined in an alliance) with Ephraim (a synonym for the northern 10 tribes). And his (Ahaz's) heart was moved (or shaken), and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind (that is, the people of Judah were also trembling with fear).
3 Then said the Lord unto Isaiah: Go forth now to meet Ahaz (the king of Judah living in Jerusalem), thou and SHEARJASHUB (meaning "the remnant shall return") thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool (which supplied living waters to the city of Jerusalem) in the highway of the fuller's field (where stained garments were bleached white) (Additionally, because this was also where the women did their laundry; symbolically, king Ahaz might have been viewed as "hiding behind the women's skirts" -- or as a coward);
4 And say unto him (or unto king Ahaz): Take heed, and be quiet (that is, Relax!); fear not, neither be faint-hearted for (or be afraid because of) the two tails of these smoking firebrands (or these burning pieces of wood which have the potential to ignite a huge fire -- symbolically meaning Syria and northern Israel), [fear not] for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah (or Pekah) (That is, don't worry about these continued threats from Syria and northern Israel; they think they are "hot stuff" but they are just "smoke").
5 Because Syria, Ephraim (northern Israel), and the son of Remaliah (Pekah - northern Israel's king), have taken evil counsel (or are plotting) against thee, saying:
6 Let us go up against Judah and vex it (or afflict it), and let us make a breach therein for us (or break down the walls and enter into the capital city), and set a king in the midst of it (or set up our own puppet king in Jerusalem), yea, the SON OF TABEAL.
7 Thus saith the Lord God: It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass (that is, the plot will fail, so don't worry about it, Ahaz).
8 For the head (or capital city) of Syria is Damascus, and the head (or leader) of Damascus, Rezin; and within three score and five years (or within 65 years) shall Ephraim (or the ten tribes of northern Israel) be broken that it be not a people (or in essence, within 65 years the Ten Tribes or northern Israel will be scattered and lost).
9 And the head (or capital city) of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head (or leader) of Samaria is Remaliah's son (Pekah). If ye (that is, Ahaz and his people, the tribe of Judah) will not believe surely ye shall not be established (or in other words if you don't have faith in what I say you will not be saved by the Lord's power -- see Isaiah 7, footnote 9b).
The Lord Gives a Sign unto Ahaz to Validate Isaiah
Christ (Immanuel) Will Be Born of a Virgin
10 Moreover, the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying:
11 Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God [to assure you that the Lord is speaking to you]; ask it either in the depths, or in the heights above (that is, ask anything you want).
12 But Ahaz said: I will not ask, neither will I tempt (or test) the Lord. [But contrary to his pious words, and contrary to the prophet's counsel, Ahaz is already secretly depending on Assyria for help].
13 And he (Isaiah) said: Hear ye now, O house of David (or the rulers of Judah--note that Ahaz and Isaiah might even have been within sight of the royal tombs of the former kings--the descendants of David); is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also (or in other words, It is no big thing for you to try my patience, but will you try the patience of God)?
14 Therefore (because you reject the word of the Lord through a prophet), the Lord himself shall give you a sign--Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name IMMANUEL (literally "God with us") (In other words, the day will come when the Savior--the literal "Son of David" will be born).
15 Butter and honey (or foods available to the poor at times) shall he eat (meaning that Christ, instead of being born into the royal luxury of Ahaz, would experience the common lot and frailties of this life), that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good.
The Lord Curses Ahaz for Choosing Evil
Israel Shall Become Desolate
16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good (that is, in as many years as it takes for a child to be old enough to know good from evil -- in just a few years), the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings (that is, both Syria and the Northern 10 Tribes will be taken by Assyria; see Isaiah 8:4, 2 Nephi 17:17).
17 The Lord shall bring upon thee (Ahaz), and upon thy people (Judah), and upon thy father's house (the house of Israel), days that have not come from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah (that is, not since the northern 10 ten tribes split from Judah and Benjamin in about 975 B.C.), the king of Assyria [will be the Lord's instrument].
18 And it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall hiss for (or signal, or call for) the fly (which symbolizes plagues, troubles, etc.) that is in the uttermost part of Egypt (that is, you will have troubles that remind you of the plagues in Egypt), and for the bee (which stings) that is in the land of Assyria (or in essence, the Assyrians will come like flies and bees to deliver a stinging plague).
19 And they shall come, and shall rest all of them in the desolate valleys, and in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes (or in other words, your enemies will be everywhere, they will over-run your land).
20 In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired (that is, you will be shaved as slaves are -- for humiliation, sanitation, and identification, and Assyria will be "hired" to do this to Judah), by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet; and it shall also consume the beard (or in other words, Assyria will enslave you completely, or will conquer you completely).
21 And it shall come to pass in that day (or after the above-mentioned devastation), a man shall nourish a young cow and two sheep (meaning that despite the total devastation to the flocks and herds of the people of Judah caused by this destruction, the animals will still outnumber the survivors of Judah);
22 And it shall come to pass, for the abundance of milk they (or the few remaining domestic animals) shall give he shall eat butter; for butter and honey shall every one eat that is left in the land (or in other words, a few animals will be able to supply all of the survivors well).
23 And it shall come to pass in that day, every place shall be [reverted back to it's wilderness state], where there were a thousand vines at a thousand silverlings (that is, where there used to be cultivated vineyards worth a thousand Persian silver coins), which [vineyards] shall be for briers and thorns (that is, the once prize vineyards will become overgrown with weeds -- symbolic of apostasy).
24 With arrows and with bows shall men come thither, because all the land shall become briers and thorns (that is, previously cultivated land will become wild and overgrown such that hunters will hunt wild beasts there).
25 And all hills that shall be digged with the mattock (or to all the hills that were once cultivated with the hoe), there shall not [anyone] come thither [because of] the fear of briers and thorns; but it shall be for the sending forth (or pasturing) of oxen, and the treading of lesser cattle (sheep or goats) (In essence, your once cultivated lands will revert to their wild state -- apostasy).
[Alan C. Miner, Step by Step through the Book of Mormon: The Covenant Story, Vol. 2. Adapted from David J. Ridges, Isaiah Made Easier / The Book of Revelation Made Easier, 1994]
2 Nephi 17:1-7 (The Assyrian Empire) [Illustration]: Syria Pays Tribute to Tiglath Pileser III. Chart: Highlights of the Assyrian Empire during the Ministry of the Prophet Isaiah and Later. [Donald W. Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, p. 28]
2 Nephi 17:1 Syria:
In the English Old Testament, the term "Syria" or "Syrians" merely denotes Aramaeans. Historically, ancient Syria existed as a political unit only during the period of the Hellenistic Seleucid Monarchy, founded by Seleucus I (312-281 B.C.). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 3, p. 1237]
The association of the earliest "Aramaeans" with the east and northeast is evident in Genesis 10:22-23, where Aram, Elam and Assyria occur together--a mark of very early date.
Shortly after 770 B.C., Syria of the Aramaean kingdom of Damascus came under the overlordship of Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 14:28). Still later, perhaps after Jeroboam II's death in 753 B.C., a king Rezin appeared in Damascus and menaced Judah as Israel's ally, even conquering Transjordan; but Ahaz of Judah appealed to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria, who then in 732 B.C. defeated and slew Rezin (2 Kings 16:5-9; deporting the unhappy Aramaeans to Qir, ironically their ancient homeland, as prophesied by Amos (1:4-5). Other Aramaean kingdoms are rarely mentioned in Scripture; however Sennacherib in 701 B.C. mocked Hezekiah over the impotence of the kings and gods of Arpad, Hamath, Gozan, Harran, Rezeph and the "children of Eden in Telassar: (2 Kings 18:34; 19:12-13). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 1, pp. 88-91]
2 Nephi 17:1 Syria (Illustration): Centers of Aramaean settlement. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 1, p. 91]
2 Nephi 17:1 Israel:
Up to this point, all of the previous references to the term "Israel" in the Book of Mormon have been related to the full "house of Israel," or the full nation of Israel with all its twelve tribes (see for example 1 Nephi 5:9, 10:12, 12:9; 2 Nephi 6:5, 9:1). However, here in 2 Nephi 17:1 the term "Israel" refers to the Northern Kingdom, that is the ten tribes other than Judah and Benjamin (who comprised the Southern Kingdom), and its lands, which were located north of those lands belonging to Judah and Benjamin.
After the death of Solomon, the tribes of Israel split into two kingdoms--the Northern kingdom of Israel, which renounced its allegiance to the throne of David, and the Southern kingdom of Judah, consisting of the tribal territories of Judah and Benjamin, over which the descendants of David and Solomon continued to reign in their capital at Jerusalem.
Jeroboam, the founder of the separate monarchy of the Northern kingdom, elevated the two ancient sanctuaries of Dan (in the far north) and Bethel (near the frontier with Judah) to the status of national shrines. In both of these golden bull-calves provided the visible pedestals for Yahweh's invisible throne (the function fulfilled by golden cherubs in the Jerusalem Temple). Omri (about 880 B.C.) founded a new capital for the Northern kingdom at Samaria.
About 745 B.C., Tiglath-pileser III became king of Assyria and inaugurated a campaign of imperial conquest which in less than a quarter of a century brought an end to the existence of the kingdom of Israel and to the independence of the kingdom of Judah. Menahem of Israel (about 745-737 B.C.) paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser, but an anti-Assyrian policy was pursued by Pekah (about 736-732 B.C.), who allied himself for this purpose with Damascus. Tiglath-pileser took Damascus, abolished the monarchy and transformed the territory into an Assyrian province; the northern and Transjordanian regions of Israel were detached and made into Assyrian provinces. The upper strata of the populations of these areas were deported and replaced by immigrants from other parts of the Assyrian empire. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, pp. 709-711] [See the commentary on the man "Israel"--1 Nephi 5:9, and the larger "Israel" of all the twelve tribes--1 Nephi 12:9]
2 Nephi 17:1 Israel (Illustration): The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. [LDS Bible, Map 9, 1979 Edition]
2 Nephi 17:2 Ephraim:
The region in central west Palestine that fell to Ephraim. The region is mainly relatively high hill-country with better rainfall than Judaea and some good soils. The term "Ephraim" also was used to denote the Northern kingdom separate from Judah and Benjamin (Isaiah 7:2; 2 Nephi 17:2).
The sick Jacob acknowledged the two sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:5), blessing Ephraim with his right hand and Manasseh with his left (Genesis 48:13-14), thus signifying that Ephraim would become the greater people (v. 19).
Joshua the son of Nun, was descended from Ephraim (Numbers 13:8). He was chosen with Eleazar the priest to divide the land (Numbers 34:17). Ephraim is also included in the blessing of Moses. Under the valiant leadership of Joshua, Ephraim with the other tribes received its inheritance, which is described in Joshua 16.
From the beginning the tribe of Ephraim occupied a position of prestige and significance. The prestige of Ephraim kept it from looking with favor upon Judah. After the death of Saul, Abner, Saul's captain, made Eshbaal king over the northern tribes, including Ephraim. Judah followed David (2 Samuel 2:8ff.), and after Eshbaal's death the northern tribes invited David to become their king, but later David learned that Israel followed after Absalom. The northern tribes never did desire to yield to David's reign, but David grew continually greater and stronger. Under Solomon the Southern kingdom reached the pinnacle of splendor and prosperity. Nevertheless, even at this time, there was discontent in the north (1 Kings 11:26ff.).
Rehoboam's folly provided the necessary pretext, and the north revolted, renouncing all claim to the promises made to David (1 Kings 12;16). Nevertheless, God continued to send his prophets to the Northern kingdom, and one of the characteristics of the Messianic kingdom is to be the healing of the tragic schism introduced by Jeroboam the son of Nebat (cf. Hosea 1:11; Isaiah 11:13). Even when exile has overtaken the Southern as well as the Northern kingdom, Ephraim retains a special place: "I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born" (Jeremiah 31:9). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, pp. 462-464] [See 2 Nephi 21:13]
2 Nephi 17:2 Ephraim (Illustration): (1) The hilly lands allotted to Ephraim, in central west Palestine. (2) The mountains of Ephraim. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, p. 464]
2 Nephi 17:2 Ephraim (Illustration): The tribes of Israel. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, p. 1594]
2 Nephi 17:3 The conduit of the upper pool (Illustration): The Gihon Spring at the entrance of Hezekiah's Tunnel, Jerusalem. The Gihon Spring flows from a natural cave on the west side of the valley of Kidron, south of where Solomon's temple once stood. In the Old Testament period, the spring was the chief source of water for Jerusalem's inhabitants. Solomon was anointed king near the spring in a sacred ceremony. Perhaps other kings were anointed here as well. From this spring King Hezekiah's engineers ran a tunnel under the city to safeguard Jerusalem's water supply from the invading Assyrians. The Gihon Spring is likely the "upper pool" mentioned by Isaiah. Photograph by Arnold H. Green. [Donald W. Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, p. 9]
2 Nephi 17:8 Damascus:
The capital city of Syria (Isaiah 7:8) situated east of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and overshadowed in the southwest by Mt. Hermon . The district is famous for its orchards and gardens, being irrigated by the clear Abana (modern Barada) and adjacent Pharpar rivers, which compared favorably with the slower, muddy Jordan (2 Kings 5:12) and Euphrates rivers (Isaiah 8:5-8). It is a natural communications center, linking the caravan route to the Mediterranean coast (about 100 kilometers to the west) through Tyre (Ezekiel 27:18) to Egypt with the tracks east across the desert to Assyria and Babylonia, south to Arabia, and north to Aleppo. The city was of special importance as head of an Aramaean (Syrian) state in the 10th-8th centuries B.C.
Under king Rezin, Syria oppressed Judah (2 Kings 16:6), but was a vassal of Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria. Soon thereafter, Rezin revolted, captured Elath and took many Judaeans captive to Damascus (2 Chronicles 28:5). Ahaz of Judah thereupon appealed for help to Assyria who responded by launching a series of punitive raids in 734-732 B.C., which culminated in the capture of Damascus, as prophesied by Isaiah (17:1) and Amos (1:4-5), and the death of Rezin. The spoiling of the city (Isaiah 8:4), the deportation of its inhabitants to Kir (Qir) (2 Kings 16:9), and its destruction were cited as an object lesson to Judah (Isaiah 10:9).
In return for this assistance Ahaz was summoned to pay tribute to the Assyrian king at Damascus, where he saw and copied the altar (2 Kings 16:10-12) which led to the worship of Syrian deities within the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 28:23). Damascus was reduced to a subsidiary city within the Assyrian province of Hamath and henceforth lost its political, but not completely its economic, influence (cf. Ezekiel 27:18). Judaean merchants continued to reside in the city, and the border of Damascus was considered the boundary of the ideal Jewish state (Ezekiel 47:16-18, 48:1). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, pp. 355-357] [See 2 Nephi 20:9]
2 Nephi 17:8 For the head of Syria is Damascus . . . and the head of Ephraim is Samaria (Illustration): The kingdoms of Israel and Syria attack Judah. Artist: Tom Child. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 112]
2 Nephi 17:8 Within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people (Illustration): Map: Campaigns of Salmaneser V. and Sargon II (Isaiah 20). Adapted from Macmillan Bible Atlas, 149. Assyria, the enemy of Israel, had embarked on a ruthless campaign to expand its borders. Isaiah's specific prophecy that in "threescore and five years" Ephraim, or the northern kingdom of Israel, would no longer be a kingdom or a nation was fulfilled. Ephraim fell in 721 B.C., midway through Isaiah's ministry. King Sargon II of Assyria deported most of Ephraim's citizens, some of the ten tribes of Israel, to the north countries (see 2 Kings 17:5-6). Photograph by Biblical Archaeological Review Mesop 4-085 Erich Lessing/Art Resource, N.Y. [Donald W. Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, p. 10]
2 Nephi 17:9 Samaria:
The name of the Northern Israelite capital and of the territory surrounding it. It was located on a hill 11 kilometers northwest of Shechem commanding the main trade routes through the Esdraelon plain.
King Menahem preserved the city from attack by paying tribute to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria (2 Kings 15:17-20). Menahem's son Pekah, however, drew the Assyrian army back again by his attack on Judah, then a vassal-ally of Assyria.
Sargon II, a new king of Assyria, initiated a scheme of mass deportation for the whole area. According to his annals, Sargon carried off 27,270 captives, and the effect was to terminate the existence of the Northern kingdom of Israel as a homogeneous and independent state. The exiles were despatched to places in Syria, Assyria and Babylonia and replaced by colonists from other disturbed parts of the Assyrian empire (2 Kings 17:24). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 3, pp. 1375-1376 ] [See 2 Nephi 20:9]
2 Nephi 17:9 Samaria (Illustration): The location of Samaria. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 3, p. 1572 ]
2 Nephi 17:9 Samaria (Illustration): The Tribes of Israel. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary , Vol. 3, p. 1594]
2 Nephi 17:14 A Virgin Shall Conceive:
According to Cleon Skousen, it is interesting that certain theological scholars in some of the modern churches have suggested that the word "virgin" (Isaiah 7:15; 2 Nephi 17:14) be changed to "A young woman of marriageable age." What they are trying to say is that they believe Mary was a sinner. They believe the miracle of the virgin birth was invented to cover up her shame. But this will not do. How ridiculous it would have sounded to Ahaz if Isaiah had said, "Behold, a young woman of marriageable age shall conceive and bring forth a son . . ."! What kind of a sign would that be? It would be no miracle at all. The Book of Mormon uses the word "virgin" in the correct, original sense. Interestingly enough, the Septuagint version of Isaiah (written around 260 B.C., and therefore constituting the oldest Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the word "virgin" just as the Book of Mormon does. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol 1, p. 1300]
2 Nephi 17:14-16 A Virgin Shall Conceive, and Bear a Son, and Shall Call His Name Immanuel:
Critics say the fulfillment of this prophecy had to be in the days of Isaiah. Latter-day Saint scholars have appropriately responded to the questions raised, adding strength to the messianic witness of the prophecy. Among these is the excellent explanation offered by Dr Sidney B. Sperry:
"Now if Immanuel of verse 14 is the Messiah, the Savior, what is his connection with the "child" of verses 15 and 16? Many Jewish commentators, not to mention some non-Jewish ones, think that the "virgin" or "young woman" of verse 14 may be a woman of Judah, and that her son, a boy whom she called Immanuel, does not refer to the Christ. Personally, I am inclined to accept Immanuel as a reference to the Savior, and especially in the light of [Isaiah 8:8], where Judah is referred to as Immanuel's land. The allusion to Immanuel suggests that the land of Judah (about which Ahaz was concerned) had a great destiny to fulfill, and hence that it was not about to be destroyed by Syria and Ephraim. Verses 15 and 16 of [Isaiah 7] simply make our Lord's infancy a symbolical representation of a short-lived nature of the threat to Judah. (Book of Mormon Commentary, p. 199; see also Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, pp. 143-145; Great Are the Works of Isaiah, pp. 56-59)
Monte Nyman adds this insightful comment: "The point was that, even if Ahaz rejected the counsel and advice of Jehovah through his prophet, and even if Ahaz led his people into captivity, the Lord Immanuel would still come as had been prophesied." (Great Are the Works of Isaiah, p. 58)
[ Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr., Isaiah Plain & Simple, pp. 69-70]
2 Nephi 17:14 A virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Illustration): The Birth of Christ. Isaiah saw in vision the birth of Jesus Christ. Artist: Robert T. Barrett. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 113]
2 Nephi 17:18 The Lord shall hiss . . . for the bee (Illustration): A tradition relates that bee-keepers of the ancient Near East called their bees by a whistle or hiss. The bees would then gather at their hives, usually made of clay or baskets. This tradition may have been known to those who heard Isaiah prophesy that the Lord would whistle for the fly and the bee. Photograph by Tana and Mac Graham. [Donald W. Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, p. 26]
2 Nephi 17:18 Egypt (Illustration): Map: Egypt at the Time of Isaiah. [Donald W. Parry, Visualizing Isaiah, p. 27]
2 Nephi 17:18 Assyria:
The name of the ancient country whose inhabitants were called Assyrians. It lay in the upper Mesopotamian plain, bounded on the west by the Syrian desert, on the south by the Jebel Hamrin and Babylonia, and on the north and east by the Urartian (Armenian) and Persian hills. The most fertile and densely populated part of Assyria lay east of the central river Tigris.
Assyria, which is always carefully distinguished from Babylonia, stands for the world power whose invasions of Israel and Judah were divinely permitted, though later it too suffered destruction for its godlessness. There are frequent references to the land (Isaiah 7:18; Hosea 11:5) and to the kings of Assyria (Isaiah 8:4; 2 Kings 15-19). [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, pp. 135-144] [See 2 Nephi 21:11]
2 Nephi 17:18 Assyria (Illustration): Assyria and surrounding regions. [Tyndale House, The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1, p. 142]
2 Nephi 17:20 The Beard:
In the writings of Isaiah, reference is made to a beard (2 Nephi 17:20), which was part of the Semitic culture. According to Diane Wirth, Indians do not grow beards--this is a genetic fact. Either the men have no beards or they have only a few sparse hairs. The rest of their bodies have much less hair than do American Caucasians. So how are the numerous sculptures, the stone bas reliefs, the terracotta portraits of bearded Indians explained? Are they true "Indians," as these early Americans were called?
Kirk Magleby has done a statistical analysis of more than 230 bearded figures in Mesoamerica and found a remarkably even distribution of them throughout this area. Although bearded figures date from all time periods of the pre-Conquest era, Magleby found that they were more frequent during Book of Mormon times. This coincides quite well to the period called pre-Classic by archaeologists approximately 2300 B.C. to A.D. 300. By the time of the Aztecs, conquered by the Spanish in A.D. 1521, such portrayals of the beard were relatively rare. (Magleby, A Survey of Mesoamerican Bearded Figures, F.A.R.M.S.).
Several Mexican codices depict leaders with appended false beards, apparently an important feature of the elite. The Indians took pride in their ancestral heritage and false beards were symbolic of greatness and royalty. This was not unlike men of the Jewish culture in the Old World who considered a man's beard a sign of dignity and honor. . . . An obvious decline in the number of bearded figures took place at the close of the pre-Classic period, precisely when the Nephite civilization collapsed [circa A.D. 385]. According to Alexander von Wuthenau, "I began an intensified study of pre-Columbian terracotta heads . . . what I was looking for were typical "Indian" heads. It was not long, however, before I discovered that in the early, lower levels these "genuine Indians" were not to be found. The earliest figures encountered were those with Mongoloid characteristics, and . . . all kinds of white people, especially Semitic types with and without beards . . . What is considered to be genuine Indian only developed, so far as I am able to judge on the strength of these terracotta representations, in early and middle Classic times, and probably derived from earlier types. [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, pp. 29,32]
2 Nephi 17:20 The beard (Illustration): Bearded man, incense burner from Maya zone at Iximche, near Chimaltenango, Guatemala. Reproduced from Discoveries of the Truth by Diane E. Wirth, 1978. (Photo courtesy of Musee de l'Homme, Paris.) [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 30]
2 Nephi 17:20 The beard (Illustration): A bearded figure from the Rio Balsas, Guerrero, Mexico (Neg. #274381, courtesy Dept. Library Services, American Museum of Natural History.) [Diane E. Wirth, A Challenge to the Critics, p. 30]