Question: Why was human sacrifice occurring in Mesoamerica during 4 Nephi time period of peace and righteousness?

Table of Contents

Question: Why was human sacrifice occurring in Mesoamerica during 4 Nephi time period of peace and righteousness?

The Nephites and their civilization were almost certainly a minority in the New World

Some critics have pointed out that there was human sacrifice taking place in Mesoamerica during the period during which Christ's visit resulted in great peace and righteousness among Book of Mormon peoples. The argument is that Christ destroyed all the wicked cities (3 Ne 8-9) and left the more righteous part of the people. He established his church, which stood up a society of common good and peace that prospered greatly and multiplied across the continents. But there are archeological evidence suggesting the biggest cities practiced human sacrifice and polytheism during the time of great peace.

The Nephites and their civilization were almost certainly a minority in the New World—they were not the dominant civilization in the hemisphere or even in their more local area.

It is not true that righteous Nephites would have been he only ones living in the area, or that they were sufficiently large to have covered the entire area

The "problem" upon which this question is based is the assumption that the peace mentioned in 4 Nephi 1: must have covered "all" Mesoamericans or inhabitants of the entire hemisphere. Only in that case would there be a conflict between Nephite peace and Mesoamerican practice.

From the standpoint of Mesoamerican practice, it is correct that there is no indication of any break in their devotion to human sacrifice and that this practice covered different peoples and the whole of the region known as Mesoamerica.

It is not true, however, that righteous Nephites would have been he only ones living in the area, or that they were sufficiently large to have covered the entire area. The story of the righteous Nephites begins with, and doesn't expand much farther than, the city of Bountiful. That is one location and based on typical sizes for Mesoamerican cities, perhaps 30-40,000 people in the city and surrounding lands. Expand that to even several more cities in the same area and you still have a minority population. The text of the Book of Mormon does not support the idea that the peace covered every person living in Mesoamerica. By that logic, it should have also covered the entire hemisphere, which it certainly did not.

The answer, then, is in the way people use "all." It typically means "everybody we are immediately aware of." It was not unusual for ancient peoples to speak of "all" the world, but mean only a small portion of it. Jesus tells his disciples to "go ye into all the owrld, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:5). They didn't, at least not literally (neither "all the world" or every "creature").

Note that in the Book of Mormon (4 Nephi 1:2) the people were "all converted" to the gospel in the 36th year. That would have been a remarkable effort to travel and preach through all of Mesoamerica in that year. Of course, verse 1 tells us that this just pertained to the "lands round about" Bountiful. Now, of course, we have the problem of defining "lands round about," but there is nothing in the Book of Mormon that suggests that we should see them as anything but quite limited (in this case, probably lands pertaining to nearby cities).


Notes