Where Did Lehi Land in the Promised Land?
Source: Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon (Unpublished)
By Alan C. Miner
"Where Was the Land of First Inheritance?" in Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall 1992,
Editor's Note: The reader should be aware that
evidences from Izapa cited in this article
as the Land of First Inheritance would be equally applicable for commemoration in any
Nephite temple center. Alternative Book of Mormon cites that have been proposed for Izapa are the land of Judea or the City by the Sea. Some scholars weigh the evidences in favor of El Salvador as the land of First Inheritance where Lehi landed. This
alternative will be addressed in a future AAF research note.
1 Nephi 18:23 We Did Arrive at the Promised Land (Landing Site):
Although many landing sites have been proposed for Lehi's group, some of the most logical ones are located along the shores of the western coast of Mesoamerica. According to books written by both Richard Hauck and Joseph Allen, Lehi might have landed at or near the shores of Izapa, an archaeological site near the city of Tapachula on the border of Guatemala and Mexico. Garth Norman calls Izapa the most important center on the Pacific Coast from 600 B.C. to A.D. 400, serving both as a civil and a religious center (Norman 1976, Part II:1).
Are there evidences at Izapa that suggest that it could be the Land of First Inheritance? While such evidences would not necessarily prove a First Inheritance identity for Izapa, they would certainly add credence to the prospect.
1. Migration Origin from across the Sea (Stela 67 -- Lehi's Boat):
According to Garth Norman, one might expect Lehi's epic journey by boat across the western sea to be commemorated on a monument at Lehi's land of First Inheritance. Stela 67 could depict the origin tradition of the first ancestors of the Cakchiquel Maya Indians, "from the west, . . . from across the sea," that could relate back to Lehi's journey. A bearded man wearing a priest-king mask sits in a boat and holds scepters in his outstretched hands that resemble the Egyptian anke "life" scepter. Could this be Lehi? An umbilical cord issuing up from his abdomen relates to the origin of life or birth genesis of the original ancestors theme, as does the rainbow with a sun or conch crest that surrounds him. An inverted slanting boat above suggests a horizon sunset or sunrise as depicted in Maya hieroglyphics. A god mask in the water panel has a kin (sun) cross on its head. The two masks that flank the water panel suggest the horizon lands of the rising and setting sun beyond the seas. Beneath the boat, fish and water waves move from left to right, which is directionally from west to east on various Izapa carvings. This is consistent with Lehi's coming across the western sea. Finally, it is curious that the wave water scroll is inverted beneath the water panel. This indicates that the boat is traveling from the underworld sea beyond the horizon, as similarly portrayed by Egyptian barks (ships). In this case, could the underworld be Lehi's Near Eastern homeland halfway around the world? [Garth Norman, "Where Was the Land of First Inheritance?" in Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall, 1992, p. 17]
2. Calendar Origin (Stela 12 -- 597 B.C.):
What about the date of origin at Izapa? According to Garth Norman, archaeological beginnings at Izapa date back to about 1600 B.C., but construction of the main temple center with its stone monuments was initiated at 300 B.C. This temple construction dates to the early developmental period of Nephite civilization. I [Garth Norman] have deciphered a new year's commemorative date on Izapa Stela 12 of 1 Imix 4 Pop as autumn equinox 176 B.C. A distance number dating to 421 years earlier in the base panel extends back to 597 B.C., in the true solar year. The year 597 B.C. may be an important date relating to Lehi's exodus from Jerusalem. The Nephite calendar probably started with the Hebrew civil new year at the autumn equinox 597 B.C. Lehi departed during the first year of the reign of Zedekiah. According to the Babylonian chronicles, Zedekiah was inaugurated king at the spring equinox Babylonian new year in 597 B.C. Further research appears to connect this date at Izapa directly to the first ancestors' migration origin on Stela 5. [Garth Norman],
Stela 12, Chiapas, Mexico; could mark the beginning of the Nephite calendar, 597 B.C. [Garth Norman, "Where Was the Land of First Inheritance?" in Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall 1992, p. 18]
3. Near Eastern Cultural Roots (The Cubit):
There appear to be Near Eastern cultural roots at Izapa. According to Garth Norman, this subject needs a separate lengthy treatment, but one recent discovery stands out dramatically. I [Garth Norman] reported on this in the December, 1984 Newsletter and Proceedings of the S.E.H.A., item 158.7, "The Cubit in Ancient Mesoamerica? A possible Near Eastern Parallel." (This research has also been reported at several professional archaeology symposiums and a detailed monograph is in progress.)
During field research in 1984 at Izapa and at the Mexico National Museum, I succeeded in confirming the first Mesoamerican standard unit of measure, a 495mm unit (19.5 inches), which is precisely equal to the famous Royal Babylonian cubit that remained in use in the Near East for over 2,000 years. Its earliest origin has been traced to a statue of king Gudea who reigned at Lagash in Mesopotamia about 2000 B.C. I first deciphered the unit on Izapa sculpture and subsequently confirmed it through measurements on many other carvings at other sites. My findings included identifying the forearms (cubit) as the basis of the standard measure, and also discovering an Izapan cubit measuring rod. Among various circumstantial evidences of near Eastern origins in Mesoamerica, I consider this standard of measure discovery as virtual proof.
Archaeologist Garth Norman measuring the cubit at Quirigua, Guatemala. [Garth Norman, "Where Was the Land of First Inheritance?" in Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall 1992, p. 16]
4. Religious Themes (Stela 5 and Monument 21):
Most all the stelas that are located in Izapa portray a religious theme, as if Izapa was always considered a religious center. According to Bruce W. Warren, we have two stone monuments that would tend to place the "land of first inheritance" in the area of the Soconusco coast along the border between Chiapas, Mexico, and Guatemala (near Izapa). These monuments are Stela 5 with a scene of origins as illustrated by 12 or 13 roots at the base of the "Tree of Life," and Monument No. 21 at Bilbao, Guatemala, with a scene of origins for seven lineages or tribes. [Bruce W. Warren as quoted in Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall 1992, p. 7]
) Stela 5 at Izapa, Chiapas, Mexico, illustrates 12 or 13 branches, as highlighted. Dates to 176 B.C. [Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall 1992, p. 7]
Prontispiece, Monument 21, Bilbao, Guatemala. The highlighted portions illustrate seven tribes or lineages. The word for flint(a) in Hebrew is Zoram. Monument dates to A.D. 500. [Joseph L. Allen ed., The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Fall 1992, p. 8] [See Jacob 1:13]
5. Geographical Location:
Izapa is on the major trail of the ancient trade route between Teotihuacan near Mexico City and Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala City. . .] [Clate Mask, "New Insights into an Old Problem: The Land of Bountiful," p. 2, unpublished]
6. Scriptural Evidence ("Land of First Inheritance" -- Alma 22:28):
Mosiah 10:12 and Alma 22:28 indicate that the place of the Lamanites' first inheritance (Lehi's landing site) was along the seashore west and in what by then (over 400 years after Lehi's landing) was considered the general land of Nephi. Izapa fits this orientation.