Star Trek Fan Theory: The Nephites were part of the Obsidian Order

Yup. You heard it. That’s right. Book of Mormon tribes were part of the Obsidian Order. All the sci-fi, fantasy, and religion worlds are coming together and it’s more than I can handle.

Except. It’s not as likely that the Nephites were involved in the Obsidian Order of the Star Trek universe, as much as the Obsidian Order of Mayan priesthood.

What is the Obsidian Order?

The Obsidian Order is a newly discovered class of Mayan priesthood. These guys were labeled as Taaj or “obsidian” because they were heavily involved in Mayan ritual such as blood-letting and sacrifice. These lovely and wholesome family activities often required the use of obsidian blades.[1]

Human-Sacrific-in-Mayan-Codex

Members of the obsidian order weren’t strictly “priests,” but rather special agents of the state. They helped officiate sacrifices and holiday rituals, they wrote texts, and they calculated astronomical sciences.[2] They also transmitted specialized knowledge, serving advisory roles in the king’s court and to the youth.[3]

The Discovery of the Obsidian Order

A brand new article from the Cambridge journal Ancient Mesoamerica has brought the Obsidian Order to light for the first time, based off of newly discovered murals in Xultun, Guatemala. These new murals drastically increased our understanding of priesthood in ancient Mesoamerica.

Up until recently, much of the discussion around Mayan religion was centered around shamanism, a largely un-centralized and un-bureaucratic system. However, these new murals add to our understanding of a more structured priesthood organization within Mayan religion.

The Details of the Murals

These murals were found in structure 10K2 of the Los Sabios group at the site of Xultun. The Los Sabios group is a non-royal, but certainly elite, residence within the main temple complex. Whoever lived in this residence was wealthy and elite, and probably a member of the Mayan priesthood.

los-sabios

The murals are wrapped all around the 4 walls in the 10K2 room. Here’s a drawing of the murals:

Untitled-1

What you’re looking at is a depiction of the ruler of Xultun in the center (labeled “Niche”), flanked on both sides by sitting figures. Several of these figures are labeled Taaj or “obsidian,” indicating that they’re part of this distinct order of priesthood.[4]

Here’s an image of the main panel on the north wall in color:

north-wall

The guy on the right is the ruler of Xultan, Yax We’net Chan K’inich, and then the guy kneeling to his left is labeled as Itz’in Taaj, or a junior member of the obsidian order.[5]

What does any of this have to do with Star Trek?

Nothing. They share the same name of their specialized intelligence society

What does any of this have to do with the Book of Mormon?

Quite a bit.

Organization of Priests

alma_the_younger_ordaining_priests
Alma the Younger Ordaining Priests, Jody Livingston via Book of Mormon Central

Like I said above, up until recently, most people thought of Mayan religion as consisting only of Shamans. This doesn’t gel too well with the Book of Mormon, since we know they talk about a complex system of priestly orders.

  • Mosiah 23:16-18 mentions high priests, priests, and teachers.
  • Alma 4:7 talks of teachers, priests, and elders.
  • Alma 13:6 talks of the priesthood being an “order” of God

Now that we know that Mayan society did have a structured system of religious leaders, the Book of Mormon’s system of priests makes all the more sense.

The Old Testament never talks about these supplementary offices of priesthood such as teachers and elders. Ancient Israelite priesthood mainly centered around a tribe of priests, with a presiding high priest. You would expect the Nephite civilization to follow the ancient Israelite priestly structure. However, what we see instead, is that by the 2nd century B.C.E., the Nephites had begun to adopt similar priesthood structures that later also find place in the New Testament.

Context for King Noah’s Court

abinadi-before-king-noah-39651-mobile
Abinadi Before King Noah, Arnold Friberg via lds.org

Remember, how I mentioned above how the members of this obsidian order served courtly roles in addition to religious ones? The story of King Noah’s court makes a lot more sense when you consider its cultural milieu.

Ancient Israelite priests largely served within the temple and for only the temple. We don’t have any attestation that your average run-of-the-mill priest would serve as an adviser in the King’s court. Yet, here in Mosiah 12:7, King Noah seeks to prosecute Abinadi by gathering his priests “together that he might hold a council with them what he should do with him.”

The idea of using your priests as an advisory board doesn’t necessarily fit an Old Testament context, but it certainly fits a mesoamerican one.

We already have indications that King Noah was exhibiting lavish traits of Mayan kingship that prophets like Abinadi clearly condemned. King Noah in his wickedness is more keen to adopt the traditions of surrounding cultures than to remain true to Israelite religion. It may very well be, that another example of King Noah’s wickedness is in calling false priests to serve in his court. After all, we never hear of priests in royal courts ever again in the Book of Mormon.

Well there you have it

The discovery of this “obsidian” order in Mayan priesthood is brand new, cutting-edge. The Book of Mormon fits this mesoamerican priestly setting perfectly. Once again, the Book of Mormon shows us that it just gets better with age.


Notes

[1] William Saturno, Franco D. Rossi, David Stuart, and Heather Hurst, “A Maya Curia Regis: Evidence for a Hierarchical Specialist Order at Xultun, Guatemala,” Ancient Mesoamerica First View (2017): 8.

[2] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 1.

[3] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 2.

[4] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 3–4.

[5] Saturno, “A Maya Curia Regis,” 5.

Advertisements

New Video on Book of Mormon Evidence

So I work for Book of Mormon Central and I love the Book of Mormon. You should check out our website!

We just came out with this amazing new video on Nahom, and how it provides archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. And this is the blog post I wrote for them:

This video is part of a new and exciting video initiative by Book of Mormon Central. This particular video has brought together what we know about the Book of Mormon place of “Nahom.” As it turns out, archaeologists have been able to find and positively identify Nahom in southern Arabia. The site at Nahom even dates back to Lehi’s time period. Stephen Smoot at Book of Mormon Central walks viewers through the discovery of Nahom and what it means for Book of Mormon evidence.

For a little background, Nahom is mentioned only once in the Book of Mormon, in 1 Nephi 16:34, during Lehi’s journey to the promised land:

And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.

When Ishmael passed away on their journey, Nephi implied that the place where they buried Ishmael already had a name. If the place was called Nahom back in Lehi’s time, you’d expect to be able to find it in the archaeological record, and that’s exactly what we find in southern Arabia, along Lehi’s trail.

An altar from Nehem with the inscription “NHM”

In southwestern Arabia, one can find a small settlement called Nehem. At first, people were unsure if “Nehem” could really be the same place as “Nahom” mentioned in the Book of Mormon. However, in 1997, German archaeologists discovered an altar that dated back to Lehi’s time, with an inscription containing the name “NHM.”

This site in southwestern Arabia not only is supported by the archaeological record, but it fits perfectly into Nephi’s story. Nehem was one of the largest burial places in ancient southwestern Arabia, making it the perfect location for Ishmael’s burial. After Lehi and his group left Nahom 1 Nephi 17:1 tells us that:

we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth

As it turns out, if you travel east from Nehem you’ll end up right on the coast, at a location that perfectly fits Nephi’s description of Bountiful.

The discovery of Nahom may be one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have for the Book of Mormon, but it is far from being the only one. Time and time again, the Book of Mormon has proven true to its claims.

For more information, be sure to read our KnoWhy article on Nahom!