3 Nephi 2

 

The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10


 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites Began to Reckon Their Time from This Period When the Sign Was Given:

 

     According to Warren and Ferguson, if Lehi and his companions left Jerusalem in 597 B.C., and 600 years later the Savior was born in Bethlehem, then the Savior's birth should be in A.D. 2 or 3. However, the Savior was born while Herod the Great was still alive. Herod died according to some scholars in 4 B.C. At first glance it appears there is an error in the Book of Mormon, when it states that 600 years are involved from the first year of King Zedekiah to the birth of Christ. Jay H. Huber, in his article, "Lehi's 600 Year Prophecy and the Birth of Christ," demonstrates that the Nephite years might have been 360 days in length and not 365.2422 days. Huber initiated his research on a suggestion from Dr. John L. Sorenson that a Nephite year could have been a tun year in the Maya Long Count Calendar. A tun year consisted of 360 days.

     According to the Nephite record, the Nephites used the birth of Christ as a new and additional zero point from which to count the years (3 Nephi 2:7-8) . . . The Mesoamericans adjusted their calendar in A.D. 6 when a mass planetary conjunction occurred. A mass planetary conjunction occurs when the five visible (to the human eye) planets arise on the eastern horizon at the same time: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This phenomenon occurs every 179-180 years. Nine years back from A.D. 6 is 4 B.C., the year suggested by some as the birth of Christ. [Bruce W. Warren and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America, pp. 67-68] [See Appendix A--Chronology]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites Began to Reckon Their Time from This Period When the Sign Was Given, or from the Coming of Christ:

 

     In 3 Nephi 2:6-8 we find the following:

           And six hundred and nine years had passed away since Lehi left Jerusalem. And nine years had passed away from the time when the sign was given, which was spoken of by the prophets, that Christ should come into the world. Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ; therefore, nine years had passed away.

 

     Not only did the Nephites calendar time, but they built their calendar around a singular event--the coming of Christ. Thus, the Book of Mormon student might ask, Would any Mesoamerican calendars testify of Christ? If they do it might be linked to a singular character--Quetzalcoatl, the great white god of Mesoamerica. The acts associated with his life lead one to believe that this god Quetzalcoatl might also be the god we call Jesus Christ. If so, then by understanding the Mesoamerican calendar dates which celebrate the birth and death of Quetzalcoatl, the Book of Mormon student might gain some understanding about the birthdate and deathdate of Christ as stated in the Book of Mormon. However, because there are many systems and many variations to those systems, it is important for the Book of Mormon student to first gain a simple overview into their workings.

 

Mesoamerican Calendars:

     Mesoamericans used multiple systems to calendar time, yet a couple of "year" systems seemed to dominate: a 365-day "Vague Solar" year (or what I will refer to as the civil calendar), and a 260-day "Sacred Almanac" (or what I will refer to as the ritual calendar year). As one can quickly tell, as the years began to roll by, communicating just what specific 365-day calendar cycle, or what specific 260-day calendar cycle one was referring to, and coordinating these times became increasingly difficult. The Mesoamerican answer to this dilemma was the "long count" calendar." This "long count" calendar marked time from a beginning point of Mesoamerican history; that is, it chronicled continuous days from that beginning. Thus, the 365-day civil calendar and the 260-day ritual calendar could always be linked to the "long count" calendar to help communicate just when a talked about event really occurred in their chronological history. With this "long count" calendar, Mesoamerican history could also be extrapolated backwards in time or projected forward in time. Thus, in understanding significant Mesoamerican dates, one needs to know the workings of these major calendar systems: the 365-day civil year calendar, the 260-day ritual calendar, and the "long count" calendar.

 

Mesoamerican 52-Year Calendar Round:

     As can easily be ascertained, the 365-day civil calendar, and the 260-day ritual calendar did not match up at the end of their first year. Thus, the Mesoamerican priest-astronomers also used a "calendar round," which represented the time necessary for the 365-day calendar and the 260-day calendar to once again become synchronized. The "calendar round" amounted to 52 years, or 52 times 365 days = 18,980 days, which is also equal to exactly 73 cycles of 260 days. Thus, in 52 years both the 365-day civil calendar and the 260-day ritual calendar would synchronize once again. This synchronization is called the Mesoamerican 52-year calendar round. To the Mesoamericans, this was a time of great significance because it meant starting anew.

 

Mesoamerican "Major" Calendar Round:

     Although the Mesoamerican priests chose to give their civil calendar year 365 days, they would ultimately have to harmonize it with the true astronomical movements of the earth in relation to the sun. Modern astronomy calculates the true "solar" length of the year during the Mesoamerican civilizations at 365.24232545 days.93 It didn't take too long for the priest-astronomers of Mesoamerica to realize that if they compared their 365-day civil calendar with a known astronomical event (the spring equinox for example) that their calendar system did not continually harmonize with the event. In other words, if we suppose that the 365-day civil calendar system's new year (which happened once every 365 days) began on the spring equinox (which happened once every 365.24 days), then on the first day of each successive year, the spring equinox would be further and further out of sync. In point of fact, the Mesoamerican priests calculated that a 365-day civil calendar year that had begun on the spring equinox would not fall again on the spring equinox until 1508 more 365-day civil calendars had come and gone. Thus, a "major" calendar round occurred for every 1508 cycles of the 365-day calendar. This also would amount to 1507 true solar years. In other words, 1,508 years of 365 days = 550,420 days, which is also equal to 1,507 solar years of 365.24 days.94 Thus, the true solar year and the 365-day civil calendar would synchronize once every 1507 solar years, or once every 1508 civil calendar years.

     Having made these calculations, let's not forget about the 260-day ritual calendar. The reader should remember that the 365-day civil calendar and the 260-day ritual calendar synchronized every 52 years. By dividing 550,420 days by 260, we come out with the number 2117. This means that once every 1508 civil calendar years, and once every 2,117 ritual calendar years, and once every 1507 solar calendar years, all three calendars were synchronized. This synchronization I will call the Mesoamerican "major" calendar round.

 

Mesoamerican Calendaring (Numbers-Names):

     The Mesoamerican calendars were set up like intermeshed gears constantly in contact with each other but revolving in their own cycle of named and numbered days, months, and years.

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): Calendar, Astronomy, and Astrology. This sketch uses meshed gears to show how separately running calendar cycles combined to determine the changing designations of the days in the Maya calendar. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life, p. 164]

 

      The 260-day calendar was composed of 2 "gears." The first gear had 13 numbered days. The second gear had 20 named days. With these gears running in parallel, there was a different and distinct number-name for every day in the 260-day year (Example: 1 Ben).

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): Table 1: New Calendar [Bruce W. Warren, Ancient America Foundation Newsletter, No 3 December 1994, pp. 8-9]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): The 260-day Sacred Almanac (Ritual Calendar). Adapted from Fig 6. The Trecenas of the Day Count. [Munro S. Edmonson, The Book of the Year: Middle American Calendrical Systems, 1988, p. 15]

 

     The 365-day calendar was composed of 2 "gears." The first gear had 18 named months. The second gear had 20 numbered days. To this was added 5 "dead" days which were attributed to another "month." Just like the 260-day calendar, with these gears running in parallel, there was a different and distinct number-name for every day in the 365-day year (Example: 6 Mak).

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): The 365-day Calendar. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Collection]

 

     As the reader might guess, names and numbers reoccurred in patterns. By examining these patterns, one might determine if an event was significant to not just the 365-day calendar system, but the 260-day ritual calendar system as well. The Long-Count calendar helped mark those patterns by recording the days from a "beginning point" (which correlates with our calendar date of August 13, 3114 B.C.). But instead of recording those days with a "decimal" based number like we do (units of 10), they basically used a number with units of 20. They represented these numbers with symbols (see illustration). Thus, the Mesoamerican long-count number "17.13" represents 17 times 20 (or 340 days) plus 13 days (out of possible 20), which totals 353 days. In addition to this total number of days from a "beginning point,", the Long-Count calendar helped mark patterns by (a) giving the 260-day number-name; and (b) giving the 365-day number-name.

     For an example of how these calendars were interrelated on Mesoamerican artifacts, I will illustrate how a modern (Gregorian calendar) date would have been interpreted from the symbols on a Mesoamerican artifact or codice. The date I will illustrate is Thursday, 6 April 1 B.C. Once again, although this date would be recorded on a monument or other artifact using symbols, it would be read as follows: 7.17.17.17.13. 1 Ben 6 Mak. That recorded date can be broken down as follows.

 

     7.17.17.17.13: (Analysis of the number 7.17.17.17.13 starting at the number on the right and working left)

 

     24 hours was called a Kin.                        Thus: 13 = 13 Kin = 13 days

     20 Kin represented 1 Uinal.                        Thus: 17 = 17 Uinal, or 17 times 20 = 340 days

     18 Uinal represented 1 Tun or 360 days.            Thus: 17 = 17 Tun, or 17 times 360 = 6,120 days

     20 Tun represented 1 Katun or 7,200 days.            Thus: 17 = 17 Katun or 17 times 7,200 = 122,400 days      

     20 Katun represented 1 Baktun or 144,000 days.      Thus: 7 = 7 Baktun or 7 times 7,200 days = 1,008,000 days

 

     Total: 13 + 340 + 6,120 + 122,400 + 1,008,000 = 1,236,873 days from the "beginning point" (10 August 3114 B.C)

 

     Sacred Almanac (260-day) calendar: 1 Ben

 

     Vague Solar (365-day) calendar: 6 Mak

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): Long Count Calendar: 7.17.17.17.13 1 Ben 6 Mak [Alan C. Miner, Personal Collection]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): Long Count Symbols (7.17.17.17.13). The Maya utilized a system of bars and dots counting to 20. For example: 1 dot = 1 and 1 bar = 5. With this method, they could utilize the symbols of Baktun, Katun, Tun, Uinal and Kin, represented below. [Adapted from Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, pp. 16-18]

 

Quetzalcoatl (Christ) Birthdate:

      At the beginning of each calendar round, Mesoamerican priests had the people begin life anew. At times, temples were torn down and new ones constructed on top of the old ones. Interestingly, the Aztecs rebuilt their temple to Quetzalcoatl (their god of rebirth and resurrection) in A.D. 150795 That means that if: (1) the temple to Quetzalcoatl was built to commemorate his birthday; and (2) the temple of Quetzalcoatl was built to commemorate a new major calendar round; then Quetzalcoatl was born in the year 1 B.C.

 

     Two scholars, with no awareness of a possible connection of Christ's 1 B.C. birthdate, have independently determined that a Mixtec calendar had its point of origin on the Calendar Round date of 1 Ben 6 Mak--Thursday, April 6, 1 B.C.96

 

     With this number-name date in mind, it is most significant that artifacts or codices from central Mexico which bear this symbol ( "1 Ben," --translated into English as "1 Reed" ), use it in conjunction with the year of the birth of Quetzalcoatl97 (see illustration). From this, the god Quetzalcoatl is assumed to have been born in the year "1 Reed" (or "1 Ben").98

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): Fig. 10a: Ce Acatl (1 Reed) Quetzalcoatl from a stone box of the Toltec horizon (A.D. 1000). Fig. 10b: Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl from a rock-carving near Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico (the Early Postclassic capital of the Toltecs. [Bruce W. Warren and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America, p. 14]

 

     Two scholars have recently examined the dating of the Messiah's birth. John C. Lefgren (April Sixth, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980) places the Messiah's birth in Bethlehem on Thursday, 6 April, in 1 B.C. John P. Pratt, who holds a Ph.D. in astronomy, has recently reached the same conclusion. (See "The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836." Parts 1 and 2. Ensign, June and July 1985: 59-68; 55-64.)

 

     In summary, considering all the data presented, and if our hypotheses are correct, then Quetlzalcoatl's (Christ's) birth in the year 1 Reed would have occurred on Thursday, 6 April 1 B.C., which marked the beginning of a major Mesoamerican calendar round. To corroborate that date we would turn to the Mesoamerican Long-Count calendar.

 

     In 1987, Dennis O. Clawson was examining the Olmec-Maya Long Count calendar of Mesoamerica to see how the proposed birthdate of Christ (Thursday, 6 April 1 B.C.) would be recorded. To his delight, the date was 7.17.17.17.13 1 Ben 6 Mak. As mentioned before, the 6 Mak portion of this date is the New Year's Day of a Mixtec calendar,99 the 1 Ben portion is associated with the birth of Quetzalcoatl, and the long-count date represents the beginning of a major calendar round. [Bruce Warren, Personal Communication]

 

     An indirect proof of this birthdate for Quetzalcoatl (Christ) is the temple at Chichen Itza. On the doorway of the El Castillo temple at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico, there is a carved and bearded figure representing Quetzalcoatl. Beginning with the spring equinox, the sun casts a shadow through the door and down the front steps of the temple. This shadow takes on the appearance of a serpent slowly descending until the serpent head rests at the bottom marker on April 6. Although this temple was built in the tenth century in celebration of their ruler Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl, it already has been noted that because of the circumstances of his birth, this ruler took upon himself the name of the legendary god Quetzalcoatl. Thus, the type and shadow of this temple perhaps extends back beyond the tenth century to the other Mesoamerican god of rebirth, resurrection, and life. As a further type and shadow pointing to this ancient god, if one were to extend the serpent shadow forward in the same direction it has moved down the steps, the shadow would lead to their sacred well, (or "living waters").

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): Figure 11: The bearded Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl or Kulkulcan from the doorway of the El Castillo temple at Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico (tenth century A.D. [Bruce W. Warren and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America, p. 15]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): The body of a serpent seems to descend the north stairs of the Maya Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza, Mexico, at sunset on spring and fall equinoxes. Perhaps the stepped pyramid was deliberately oriented so the shadow cast by its northwest corner would create the phenomenon, which today attracts thousands of viewers. The Maya may have considered this a sacred appearance of Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent. [John B. Carlson, "America's Ancient Skywatchers," in National Geographic, Vol. 177, No. 3, March 1990, p. 88]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): After 91 days elapsed beginning on September 22, we have the date of the winter solstice (December 21) when the darkness period is the longest in the year, in which the Earth performs its translation movement with respect to the Sun. In accordance with the Mayan calendar, that date is the nineteenth day in the eighth month, Mool. On December 21 (the winter solstice) the Pyramid of Kukulcan gets light on the WESTERN and SOUTHERN sides, while the northern and eastern sides are in the shadow, this being the day with the longest darkness period in the year. This phenomenon can be observed between 4:30 and 4:45 in the afternoon, indicating the translation movement of our planet around the Sun. [????, p. 29]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): After the winter solstice, then comes the spring equinox on March 21; that is when the SEVEN TRIANGLES of Light and Shadow are projected on the north face of the Pyramid. On April 6, EIGHT triangles of Light and Shadow are observed on the northern side of the Pyramid, between 5:00 and 5:30 in the afternoon, plus the lighted head of the serpent that makes up the NINTH one. This phenomenon is the fullness of the effect of Light and Shadow that is observed on the Pyramid of Kukulcan, at Chichen Itza, during the equinoctial process. [????, . . . . . . . .p. 28]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): In the summer solstice, the following can be observed: When the Sun rises, between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning (and it reaches the ideal height) it projects its light on the northern and eastern sides, while the western and southern sides remain in shadows. The Mayas correlated the count of days between equinox and solstice with the number of steps on one side of the Pyramid (91). Thus beginning on March 21, and counting 91 days, one arrives at the first day in the month of Kuun-Ku (equivalent to June 21--the summer solstice--in the present calendar). On this day (the summer solstice) the NORTHERN and EASTERN sides of the Pyramid are lighted, this being the day with the longest daylight period in the year. This phenomenon can be observed between 7:00 and 7:30 in the morning, indicating the translation movement of the Earth regarding the Sun. [?????/, p. 29]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): To astronomers of ancient American cultures (map) the sun traveled around the earth. Observing its shifting rise on the horizon, they were able to mark time and predict the future. Thus someone looking east from the Maya site of Uxmal could create a 365-day calendar by noting the swing of sunrise from spring equinox (usually March 20) to first zenith passage some 60 days alter, to summer solstice on June 21, the sun's farthest northern reach. Moving south, the sun again hits the zenith, then the fall equinox (September 23), before its southern extreme, winter solstice (December 22). These maximum excursions laid out earth space into four parts.

     The Maya based a 584-day ritual calendar on an idealized cycle of the planet Venus: After a 236-day appearance as the morning star, shown here, it disappears for 90 days before shining in the west as the evening star for 250 days. Eight days later it is in the east again. Not until the 16th century--in Europe--would astronomers realize that the earth revolves around the sun (small diagram). Because of the 231/2-degree tilt of its axis, the earth has seasons, which are reversed in Northern and Southern Hemispheres--the June solstice signaling summer in the north and winter in the south. [John B. Carlson, "America's Ancient Skywatchers," in National Geographic, Vol. 177, No. 3, March 1990, p. 89.]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ (Illustration): The Castillo at Chichen Itza with the spring equinox shadow (drawing by Kathryn Reese-Taylor). This temple sat at the center of time as well as space. The axis that run through the northwest and southwest corners of this pyramid are oriented toward the rising point of the sun at the summer solstice and its setting point at the winter solstice. This declaration of the four corners as solstitial points makes the pyramid a massive sun dial for the solar year.

     The balustrades along the four stairways descend in the shape of enormous Feathered Serpents, their mouths gaping at the bottom of the stairs. Cutting across the dominant four-part pattern, the main doorway of the outer temple on the summit is on the northern side, and the sanctum sanctorum of the temple on the summit opens only to the north. The northern stairway is clearly the principal sacred path: on the evenings of the vernal and autumnal equinox, the stepped terraces of this pyramid cast triangular shadows across the northeast balustrade wall, manifesting a serpentlike diamond pattern of the rattlesnake this sculpture represents. [Linda Schele, , , . . . . .Maya Cosmos, p. 156]

 

3 Nephi 2:8 The Nephites Began to Reckon Their Time . . . from the Coming of Christ:

 

     Terrance Szink notes that in a way reminiscent of evil Haman's actions in the book of Esther, the wicked among the Book of Mormon people set a day for the death of the believers if the sign accompanying the birth of Jesus ("that day and that night and that day which should be as one day"--3 Nephi 1:8) were not fulfilled. . . . The night that the sign was given there was an astonishment throughout all the land. So overwhelming was the power of this sign that for the time being "the more part of the people did believe, and were converted unto the Lord" (3 Nephi 1:22). Though their conversion may have been genuine at that time, it did not last long. The passing of only three years found most of the people "hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and [they] began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen." (3 Nephi 2:1.)

     On the surface it is difficult to see how the people could fall so quickly after being converted (see Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies, p. 286). As mentioned above, the conversion was the result of an outward sign and required no work on the part of the people. They had seen the sign but, for the most part, they did not sustain their faith.

     It is ironic, however, that although they did not believe the sign, "the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ." (3 Nephi 2:8) They had previously marked time from when Lehi and his family had left Jerusalem and later from the start of the reign of the judges. This is perhaps analogous to the situation in the western world where time is also calculated from the birth of Christ and yet a great number of people do not believe in Jesus as the Son of God. [Terrence L. Szink, "A Just and a True Record," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, pp. 126-128]

 

3 Nephi 2:15 Their Skin Became White Like unto the Nephites:

 

     In 3 Nephi 2:14-15 it says:

           . . . those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.

 

     According to Hugh Nibley, here's a nice note on race again. If you were a Lamanite who had joined the Nephites, you were now called a Nephite. Did they change their complexion and become white overnight? No, it's a cultural thing. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, p. 276]