The Book of Mormon has received tremendous scrutiny as a religious text. But the religions in the Book of Mormon have received little attention. In addition to the normative prophetic religion in the Book of Mormon, reflected by its authors, there are marginal and dissident sects. When these sects, their beliefs, and their practices are given a close reading, they reveal the complex religious interplay between Nephite culture and indigenous Mesoamerican religious cultures. And what the Book of Mormon tells us of dissident and marginal groups displays elements of indigenous Mesoamerican, and particularly Maya, religion.
This book will examine what the Book of Mormon reveals about the interaction of prophetic, Judaic religion and dissident, syncretic religion in the conflict between Abinadi and the priests of Noah, in the rise of the order of Nehor (including among the Amalekites), and in the survival of "Great Spirit" religion among Lamoni's people.
To compare religions in the Book of Mormon with Mesoamerican religions requires detailed knowledge of both. Many readers will bring a fair amount of background knowledge about the Book of Mormon's narrative and teachings. But as most will bring little knowledge of Maya myth and ritual, the latter will be described in some detail.
We will begin by looking at the setting of story of Abinadi and by examining the syncretic Mayan-Judaic religion of king Noah and his priests and the prophecies Abinadi made against Noah and his priests. We will then turn to a detailed examination of certain Maya rituals, such as the rituals surrounding the New Year and the deer-man sacrifice. This will then allow us to compare details from the Book of Mormon with Maya ritual, revealing how Abinadi's prophecies played on their ritual context, how Abinadi's preaching would have offended Mayan religious sensibilities, and how Abinadi's murder fit into the Maya culture of human sacrifice.
Among the insights these comparisons will reveal are the Maya calendar in use during Abinadi's life, the Maya year in which Abinadi was killed, the specific sacrificial practices to which Abinadi was subjected, and how the Maya- Judaic syncretic religion of the priests of Noah was eventually abandoned for full-blown Maya religion.
We will next examine what the Book of Mormon discloses about another dissident religion, the order of Nehor, demonstrating how the order of Nehor has essentially nothing in common with the normative Judaic religion of the Nephite prophets and is, in fact, an indigenous religion secondarily adopted by Nephites. Comparing the Book of Mormon's descriptions of the order of Nehor with Maya religion of the time and place will enable us to identify it with a specific Maya worship system. In conjunction with this discussion we will also explore the mysterious origin of the Amalekites, a group that partially practiced the Nehor religion.
Lastly, we will also examine the "Great Spirit" religion among Lamoni's people, offering evidence from the text that this was a survival of Nephite religion among Lamanites with a measure of Nephite ancestry.