Mayan Glyph for Engraver/Scribe
Zoram Left His Mark
By Robert A. Pate
Zoram appeared in the Book of Mormon to be a mere servant to Laban. Some recent findings may show that he was possibly more. Seats and food on Nephi’s ship were possibly quite limited. Nephi’s initial desire relative to Zoram was stated thus, “Now we were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us.” (1 Nephi 4:36) There certainly was wisdom in Nephi’s words and actions, and it is very likely Zoram was needed to meet some additional objective known unto the Lord. Very recently the dedicated and brilliant epigraphers who helped break the Maya code have possibly discovered the Lord’s reason for selecting Zoram to accompany Nephi and the family of Lehi into the desert. In this article several obscure facts are pulled together that possibly relate to Zoram and the service he may have provided to Nephi.
The writings of the Maya and the publications of the Maya epigraphers who have scrutinized the jungle offerings and turned stone again into understanding will be compared with the story line from the Book of Mormon. It is the Book of Mormon which provides the framework and gives meaning and completeness to the otherwise unrelated bits of knowledge.
The end of the Classic Maya civilization was a long drawn out process as Linda Schele describes it. (Schele 1990, 381-2) They had many years to contemplate the demise. Slowly they abandoned literacy, they abandoned their temples, and they abandoned many of their cities. No more tribute was paid, no more temples were built, and no more wars were fought. Despotic kings took turns killing neighboring kings and capturing their kingdoms. The end slowly arrived as the Maya peoples rebelled against this lifestyle. The people refused to continue paying tribute, building temples, and fighting wars for despotic kings and instead just melted back into the jungle to enjoy the simple life raising corn on their milpas (small farms). While the core of the Maya possibly were quite literate at the termination of the Classic Era, the continuation of the written language was possibly limited to but a few by the Terminal Classic and Post Classic eras. For many years there were wandering tribesmen. Finally, the last recorded events are about 1441 AD when Mayapan was finally abandoned after an attack by the Xiu tribe and the Maya were scattered in the region. By 1500 AD European smallpox was raging through the Yucatan. The Quiché established an empire centered at the ancient Hill Qumarkah in the Guatemala highlands around 1470 AD and Pedro Alvarado arrived to burn and destroy them in 1524 AD. When the Spanish conquistadores and Catholic clergy arrived, thousands of written volumes were still in existence and still understood. Bishop Diego de Landa called the records “superstitions and lies of the devil” (Christenson 2000, 6) and burned all the records he could find. It is clear that the old writings were still understood because Landa wrote the Spanish alphabet in Maya characters. This alphabet was misunderstood for centuries by scholars who thought it was a Maya alphabet.
The Spaniards caused the loss of the written Maya language. It remained lost for several centuries. Only after many decades of study did the Maya epigraphers realize that the Mayan carved in stone was the same as the Mayan still spoken in the area. After the epigraphers recognized the phonetic/syllabic nature of the language and started getting a few of the sounds correct using Landa’s alphabet, and what other clues they could find, the natives recognized the sounds and filled in many of the blanks using their native spoken Maya tongue. Ch’ol and Yucatec are the principal dialects of the Maya languages down in the lowlands where most of the Maya glyphs have been found, but it appears that Cholan is the principal language engraved in stone.
The Spaniards taught their written and spoken language to the natives. Some bright individuals after learning the Spanish language started writing their native history and theology in their native language using the Spanish alphabet. These scribes became known as the chroniclers. Centuries later their tomes surfaced and were translated by scholars. Three of these tomes are now available: Popal Vuh, originally written in Quiché Mayan; Annals of the Cakchiquels, originally written in Cakchiquel Mayan; and Title of the Lords of Totonicapan, originally written in Quiché Mayan. All three of these chronicles came from the highlands of Guatemala. Apart from Mayan, evidence of written languages in the Americas is very limited, but there are several undeciphered scripts scattered around. The Nahua used pictographic sketches as mnemonic aids to recite history. And there is the Andean knot code used for accounting known as quipu in the native dialects. Since most of the written evidence is from the civilizations of Central America, we should look to the Nahua, Zapotecs, and Maya roots for any possible ties to the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately the Lenca language is lost. The Lenca, like the Maya and Nahua, spread over large domains in both space and time.
The Nephites had a very literate society and centralized civilization for 1000 years, while earlier the Jaredites occupied the same lands and had similar attributes for possibly another 1500 years. Could a footprint this large in time be washed away without a trace? Certainly not! Have we overlooked the obvious? Two rules are most helpful. First, believe the Book of Mormon; and second, believe what the natives tell you. This is a puzzle to be solved. The solution does not belong to the archaeologists alone, not to the anthropologists alone, not even to the epigraphers alone, not to the molecular biologists who are tracking the DNA of the human family, and not even to the Book of Mormon scholars alone. Anyone who is too proud to admit evidence from each of these camps will be boxed out of the complete solution space and meet with failure in trying to unravel the past.
What have the natives said of their origins? The Title of the Lords of Totonicapán was apparently written in 1554 in the Quiché language using Spanish characters. In 1834 the Catholic Father Dionisio José Chonay was commissioned to translate the original document into Spanish and it was added to the court’s register of public instruments. In 1860 Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg came across the translation, and recognizing its value, made a copy, which he used in his work. This copy, after his death, was acquired by Alphonse Pinart and later passed to Comte de Charencey who translated it and published it in French and Spanish. This material was later collected and published by E. Renault de Broise at Alencon in 1885. Elder Ted E. Brewerton was so gracious as to provide the author with a copy of this document (and also a copy of The Annals of the Cakchiquels in its original hand written Cakchiquel dialect). The whereabouts of the original Quiché text is unknown. Recinos made his translation from Chonay’s translation (Recinos 1953, 163-165).
The original transmittal letter for the translation was signed by Dionisio José Chonay. In it, he said: “Translation of the attached manuscript, written in the Quiché language by those who signed it in the year 1554, in accordance with the tradition held by their ancestors.” He then goes on to provide this very interesting comment:
This manuscript consists of thirty-one quarto pages; but translation of the first pages is omitted because they are on the creation of the world, of Adam, the Earthly Paradise in which Eve was deceived not by a serpent but by Lucifer himself, as an Angel of Light. It deals with the posterity of Adam, following in every respect the same order as in Genesis and the sacred books as far as the captivity of Babylonia. The manuscript assumes that the three great Quiché nations with which it particularly deals are descendants of the Ten Tribes of the Kingdom of Israel, whom Shalmaneser reduced to perpetual captivity and who, finding themselves on the border of Assyria, resolved to emigrate. (Recinos 1953, 163-164, 166)
Thus, Chonay left some rather interesting testimony that these people were descendants of Israel. Even the last significant events with Shalmaneser (king from 727-722 BC) hit close to Lehi’s departure time, and the fact that the history ends with their captivity in Babylon is right on the money. The strongest part of the evidence that he was not perpetrating a fraud is found in his comment about Eve being deceived not by a serpent but by Lucifer himself, as an Angel of Light. This was contrary to the dogma of the day, and was later clarified to the world by Joseph Smith. There are many who reject the post-Conquest writings because they are full of interpolations from the Catholic Church. As Diane Wirth challenged, “Show me one Mayan hieroglyphic inscription that testifies of these things.” (Wirth 2003, personal communication)
In the chronicle, Title of the Lords of Totonicapán, the early inhabitants of Mesoamerica describe their origin as follows:
These tribes came from the other part of the sea, from the East, from Pa-Tulan, Pa-Civan. They came from where the sun rises, descendants of Israel, of the same language and the same customs…When they rose from Pa-Tulán, Pa-Civán, the first leader was Balam-Qitse, by unanimous vote, and then the great father Nacxit gave them a present called Girón-Gagal (Goetz 1953, 170).
Some think that “descendants of Israel” in this quotation came from overzealous Christian scribes wanting to identify the Lost Ten Tribes. But take note of the departure place and the gift that they were given. The scribes did not know anything about the Liahona in 1554. They even signed an attestation stating:
Now on the twenty-eighth of September of 1554 we sign this attestation in which we have written that which by tradition our ancestors told us, who came from the other part of the sea, from Civán-Tulán, bordering on Babylonia (Goetz 1953, 194).
So the natives said they came from across the sea from Pa-Tulán. This name is written many different ways: Tulán, Tulum, Tullum, and Tula for example. And, there are many places with these names in the Americas. The English dictionary states that our word “tules” comes through American Spanish from the Nahua (Aztecs) and means “reeds or bulrushes.” The word actually came through the Quiché Maya from a much more distant source as we shall see. The roots are from the Sumerian language (land of Sumer or Shinar or Babylonia). Túl is a noun meaning “lowland” and lum is a verb meaning “to grow luxuriantly; to be fertile, productive; to make productive; to bear fruit.” Together they mean “productive lowland,” just as it does in Nahuatl. The Hebrew form of this word would be Canaan. When Moses led the children of Israel out of captivity, Canaan was their destination as a Promised Land, not Jerusalem. Thus it would appear that the Native Americans did not refer back to their homeland as the general land of Jerusalem but rather as the general land of Canaan, and even for this they used the Jaredite (Sumerian) name Túl-lum rather than the Hebrew Canaan.
The natives of Mesoamerica said they came from across the sea near Babylonia from a land Pa-Tulán. The Book of Mormon states that Lehi’s family came from Jerusalem. If there is a connection with the Book of Mormon, it would appear that Tulán to the natives and Jerusalem to Lehi’s descendants must be the same general place.
What else do the natives say of Tulán? In The Annals of the Cakchiquels they state, “And setting out, we arrived at the gates of Tulán. Only a bat guarded the gates of Tulán. And there we were engendered and given birth; and we paid the tribute in the darkness and in the night, oh, our sons!” (Recinos 1953, 47) These four short phrases sound vaguely familiar and may be related to Nephi’s return to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates.
Since the ancients originally left Tulán where they were born, as the third phrase states, the first statement, “And setting out, we arrived at the gates of Tulán.” must refer to a return visit. On the return visit, the fourth phrase states that they paid tribute and that said tribute was paid in the darkness of night. It is the second phrase about only a bat guarding the gate of Tulán that is possibly most curious.
Consider now Lehi’s charge from the Lord to have the sons return to Jerusalem for the Brass Plates of Laban as recorded in 1 Nephi, Chapters 3 and 4. The boys approached Laban about the plates and were rebuffed. They next attempted to buy the plates with their gold and silver. They had to flee for their lives leaving their treasure. On the third attempt a drunken Laban was lying in the street. After dispatching Laban, Nephi went to the treasury where Zoram retrieved the Brass Plates. If these two accounts are referring to the same events, then the second attempt, paying tribute, would have been conducted in the darkness of night and on the third attempt Zoram would be the “bat” mentioned in the legend.
Continuing with the legends written in The Annals of the Cakchiquels, what else can we learn about this “bat” that guarded the gates at Tulán? Returning to the south coast of Guatemala we find two branches of the Maya, the Tzutuhil (also written Zotzil) and the Cakchiquel which reside there as neighbors and historically they have been affiliated. Recinos, in his translation of The Annals of the Cakchiquels, provides the following footnote about the “bat” that guarded the gates of Tulán:
Zotz, the bat, is the symbol of the Cakchiquel race, whose totemic name was zotzil. The king of that nation later received the title of Ahop-Zotzil, that is, lord of the mat, or chief of the zotzils. (Recinos 1953, 47)
The Tzutuhil branch of the Maya are on the Costa Sur of Guatemala and the Tzotzil branch of the Maya reside in Chiapas, Mexico. The root of both names is zotz the Maya word for “bat” and the two tribes are no doubt of the same lineage. If there is a Book of Mormon connection, then Zoram, the father of the Zoramites, would appear to be Zotz the father of the Zotzils.
The chroniclers write extensively of the original seven tribes. Diane E. Wirth expands on this as she describes the meaning of Stela 21 from Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala (Wirth 1986, 124-130). On the large stone the seven tribal heads are carved in a U shaped boat. She suggests that the seven tribes are Laman, Lemuel, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, Zoram, and Ishmael. Scholars have yet to put names to the seven heads in the boat carved in stone on Stela 21 except for one, and that one just happens to be Zotz the “bat.” The Tzutuhils lived in a country named Malah (Recenos 1953, 184). The “h” is silent in Spanish. Could this land be a short form of Za-ra-he-mala?
The compelling evidence that Zotz the “bat” is Zoram comes from The Annals of the Cakchiquels and Michael D. Coe’s excellent book, Breaking the Maya Code. We are all aware that artists like to sign their paintings. What about the Maya, did they sign their work? Coe mentions that throughout much of human prehistory and history artists rarely signed their names to their work. He cites Joseph Alsop who made it clear that prior to the Greeks, only in ancient Egypt do we find signed works, and these rare example have only architects’ signatures.
In the larger context of the world history of art . . . a signature on a work of art must be seen as a deeply symbolic act. By signing, the artist says, in effect, “I made this and I have a right to put my name on it, because what I make is a bit different from what others have made or will make.” (Alsop 1982, 181)
Apart from the modern world (where even motel art is signed), the widespread use of signatures has generally been confined to only five art traditions: the Greco-Roman world, China, Japan, the Islamic world, and Europe from the Renaissance onwards.
That the Classic Maya were an exception to this rule began to be apparent from David Stuart’s reading of dzib compounds on the clay vessels; the word means both “writing” and “painting,” the Maya not distinguishing these perhaps because both are executed with a brush pen (there is evidence that the monumental texts were originally laid out on the stones as ink drawings, as in ancient Egypt). Ah dzib is “he of the writing,” in other words “scribe.”
U dzib, “his writing (or painting),” was revealed by David to occupy two positions in the Primary Standard Sequence. The first was Barbara’s “surface treatment” section; David proved that this alternated with a compound in which syllabic yu preceded Landa’s lu and a bat head. If the pot and its texts were painted, u dzib appeared; if it was carved or incised, “lu-Bat” was the appropriate compound. It was obvious that one compound referred to painting, while the other – still unread – had to do with carving. (Coe 1992, 249)
Coe goes on to say that the lu-Bat glyph was followed by the name of the painter or engraver and that these painters and engravers were artists and learned ones and they belonged to the very highest stratum of Maya society. (Coe 1992, 250) Figure 1 shows the lu-Bat glyph and Figure 2 shows eight examples of its use followed by the name of the engravers.
The attempted logic flows as follows: If Tulán is Jerusalem, then, it might be possible that Zotz the “bat” is Zoram. Zoram was employed by Laban and had at least some responsibility to care for the Brass Plates. The fact that the Zotz glyph means, “he that knows the engraving,” closes the loop between the Zotz at the end of the Maya eras and the original Zotz that was at Tulán/Jerusalem, who would be Zoram. This logic loop would be strengthened if Zoram were more than just a servant and if Zotz the “bat” were more than just a guard at Tulán. There are three additional pieces of information that do just this.
First, The Keeper of the Mats: Zotz of the Cakchiquels (and Tzutzuls) was the title for their king – Ahop-Zotzil, and the name meant, “lord of the mats” or “keeper of the mats.” Would these mats be floor mats, would they be sleeping mats, or would they even be the royal mats that the kings sat upon. Certainly there is nothing regal about the first two types of mats. The third type, the royal mats that the kings sat upon, would not apply since each king would have his own mats and one king would not be singled out to be the called the keeper of the mats. Could it refer to the whitewashed fibrous mats the Maya used for books similar to the old world papyrus made from reeds? The keeper of the mats would thus be the one who kept the books or records. This sounds more like Zoram’s task for Laban.
Second, The Reading of the “Bat” Glyph: The glyph, lu-Bat, which Coe says is “still unread,” is shown below. By “still unread” he means that the phonetic values have not been put together into a word that is recognizable in the Ch’ol Maya language. They know that the glyph means “he of the engraving,” but they do not know how this was conveyed in Cholan
Figure 1. Coe’s lu-Bat glyph, which means “he that knows the engraving.”
Figure 2. Eight examples of Maya “lu-Bat” glyph for engraver followed by engraver’s name found on Stela 31, El Perú, Guatemala, as presented by Michael Coe. (Coe 1992, 251)
The affix on the left of the bat head is Thompson’s glyph T-61 and it has the phonetic value of the syllable yu. This syllable does not appear as a lone word in the Ch’ol dictionary. The closest form that would make sense in light of Coe’s comments would be the third person form of the verb “to know,” which is yuji. The bat head is zotz, which means bat in Quiché and Cakchiquel – similar to sutz in Chorti and suts in Ch’ol. The verb tzoc' means to sculpt or carve (stone) in Quiché Mayan. The affix on the right below the ear of the bat is Thompson’s glyph numbered T-568c and its phonetic value is the syllable lu.
The l and r usage is interesting. The l and the r are often interchangeable in the various branches of the Maya language. Some will use the l where others use the r. It may be like Chinese and Japanese, where the l and r sounds are almost identical. Some sections of China distinguish between the two sounds and some do not. For this reason they have difficulty with the l and r sounds when learning English. You have heard the mocking line in the movies, “rots of ruck” for “lots of luck.” Even in Hawaii some say aloha while others say aroha. Even the Ch’ol dictionary lists the Spanish word for sugar, azúcar, and then gives the Cholanized form of the word as asucal with the terminal r being replaced by an l. The r does not appear in the Nahuatl language, nor in many of the northern Maya dialects such as Cholan. Both r and l are in the Quiché, Cakchiquel, and Chortí dialects. This means that the lu affixed glyph may be ru in other dialects. Coe’s lu-Bat glyph that means, “he who knows engraving,” may be exactly Zoram. We have the Zo from Zotz and the ru from lu to give us Zorum for Zoram, with the terminal m yet not accounted for.
Another characteristic of at least some of the Maya dialects is the interchangeability of the m and the n. In Guatemala for example, their most famous national hero is Tecum, as in Te-an-cum with the middle an missing. This name is written in several forms which include: Tecum, Tecun, Tecum Umam, and Tecun Uman. The Uman on the end means both grandson and grandfather in the Quiché and Mam dialects of Mayan. The exact spelling of these names depends on the particular orthographic representation used by the particular author. This might indicate that in attempting to correlate Zoram’s name with the lu-Bat glyph, one needs to consider also the possible interchangeability of the m and the n.
The yu affix on the left of the bat head is rather similar to the ma affix, but the two appear to be distinct in the literature. All of the m type affixes were reviewed and there appears to be no correlation with the lu-Bat glyph. A review of the n type affixes was possibly more productive. The ni syllable may be related directly to the Ch’ol and Chortí word ni’ which means “nose.” In the literature the lu-Bat glyph is said to be a representation of the vampire bat (desmodus rotundas). A careful examination of many vampire bat pictures shows that the nose on the lu-Bat glyph is disproportionately large. This exaggeration may be the key to the meaning, as the glyph for the ni syllable is a rather featureless head with a very large nose. Also, there is a leaf nose bat in the area that might be more anatomically correct, it having a nose as long as its head. The nose exaggeration would be the syllable ni, but in the name Zoram only the consonant sound of n or m is required. It appears from the tabulated Maya glyphs and their syllabic values that the syllables are formed by a consonant and a vowel. When only a consonant is required the full syllable is engraved and the vowel is just known to be truncated. Coe mentions the consonant-vowel (CV) syllabic structure and indicates that the final vowel of CV-CV combinations sometimes remains silent in syllabic writing (Coe1992, 149). Thus, in the literature for example the n consonant alone would be written not as the syllable ni but as n(i) to indicate that the i sound is truncated or remains silent.
Figure 3. Possible reading of Coe’s lu-Bat glyph with phonetic values Zo-lu-n in Cholan and Zo-ru-m in the Guatemalan highland dialects.
Is it possible that we have just provided the translation for the lu-Bat glyph, or was the approach too parochial? Time will tell.
Third, The Meaning of Zoram: A quick check of the Sumerian (Jaredite) dictionary yielded yet another surprise. The verb “to write” is sar and the word for “clay” (tablets) is im (also imi and em). Thus, “to write on clay tablets” would be sar-im, or with the nominative inserted -- sar-ra-im. Now compare Zoram with Sarim or Saraim. Phonetically they are close enough. The Zoram would be a cognate of Sarim. And now we know from the Maya that they both have to do with engraving or writing or recording history. This looks like yet another example in the Book of Mormon of the personal name being applied after-the-fact and describing what the individual did or his mission in life. It is also another example of the Jaredite language infusion into the Book of Mormon.
It would appear that Zoram was not just a servant, but that he did indeed have responsibility for engraving. These three points just mentioned significantly strengthen the proof and tighten the logic. To imply that Zoram may have taught Nephi some of the skills required for preserving sacred records on metal plates does not diminish Nephi’s contribution. Why would not Nephi give Zoram some credit? Why was father Lehi so proud of his descending from Joseph who was sold into Egypt and yet not say beans about Ishmael’s ancestors? John L. Sorenson gives us the answer: “A lineage history is a partial record of historical events, emphasizing what happened to one group of people, phrased in the recorders’ ethnocentric terms.” (Sorensen 2003, 17)
Michael Coe’s masterful book describing how the Maya code was cracked is really two parallel commentaries: first, is the sequential advances that led to the discovery of the interpretation of the stones; and second, is the study of the personalities involved in the process – many of whom were every bit as hard as the stones. Many would state their opinions and defend them to their death. As Coe states relating to the Rosetta Stone, Athanasius Kircher (1602-80) was the Jesuit priest whose ideas about the nature of Egyptian writing held up its decipherment for more than a century (Coe 1992, 81). Likewise, Sir J. Eric S. Thompson, armed with his stubbornness, aggressiveness to do battle in print, and the strength of his personality, personally held up the breaking of the Maya code for forty long years. The infighting between the dirt archaeologists, the anthropologists, the linguists, and the epigraphers was classic academia. Fortunately the epigraphers won the funding contest, as it was they who cracked the code. The real progress was made by the more humble, yet bright, individuals who were willing to work with others while holding fast to correct ideas and continuing to pecking away at the misconceptions of the establishment. Almost invariably, in the interim, the establishment is wrong in such protracted paths of discovery. Often, making new, correct discoveries is much less difficult than is purging the misconceptions from the minds of the establishment.
Moroni delivered to Joseph Smith a truly fantastic puzzle. What a challenge to fit together the faint tracks left by the Nephites in the sands of time. Solving puzzles is not limited to but a few select individuals. Puzzles are child’s play. There are only two requirements: first, it must fit; and second, it must add to the completeness of the picture. Rejecting the picture on the box makes the solution much more difficult as the dirt archaeologists and the anthropologists have demonstrated for 173 years. An ironic thing about this puzzle is that it is already assembled in the Book of Mormon. The tierra firma copy of this puzzle just has a little dust and Spanish moss on it and needs only to be found, not assembled. But all too often the picture on the box, the Book of Mormon, has too much dust on it also.
Yes, Zoram definitely left his mark. It appears that Zoram was not just a mere servant of the indulgent Laban, but he was the engraver. He was the one who knew the technology, the language, and the art to record the sacred records. Zoram’s name was synonymous with engraver to the end of the Late Classic Maya era and now it surfaces again. Was it any accident that the Lord found passage for Zoram on Nephi’s boat?
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