LDS scholars claim that the setting for the Book of Mormon is in Mesoamerica. There have been inumerable articles and many books dedicated to this subject. FARMS even released a DVD which explores the issue called “Journey of Faith: The New World”.
If Lehi & Co., were indeed just a small group that intermingled into the known society then in a period of a thousand years it seems reasonable that the records would reflect at least something of the culture.
To me the fact that the BoM doesn’t seem to reflect the culture and society in Mesoamerica is a difficulty one.
Where are the jaguars? The corn God? The armadillo? The monkeys? The thatched roof homes? The Calendars? The cocoa beans? The ball games? The jade? The Obsidian? The feathers? The squash? The chile peppers? The breadnut? The limestone? The salt trade? The pottery? The animal masks? The avocado? Basket making? Temple pyramids? Wall paintings? Plazas? The fishing trade? The bark paper? etc. etc. etc. etc. etc…..
It just seems TO ME, there would be something to reflect the culture of the Maya.
This complication does not exist solely for Book of Mormon studies. It is also, appropriately, an issue in Jewish archaeology.
In their synagogues Jews of the first centuries in the Christian era were quite willing to use a large number of Greco-Roman decorations and symbols. Some scholars, like Goodenough, see in such symbols signals of a more mystical Judaism. Others assume that that Jewish leaders had no choice but to use ateliers who offered, as a matter of course, pagan decorations and symbols. Or, in terms of interaction, Jews were willing to utlize the decorations and symbols of their non-Jewish neighbors. By so doing they indicated their active participation in the Greco-Roman culture. But none of these symbols became a part of the Jewish iconic conversation. In that sense, by the first two centuries of the Christin era Juduaism had developed a firm symbolic identity. It could accept and utilize pagan symbolic material, but did not incoproarte it.
Graydon F. Snyder Inculturation of the Jesus Tradition, 1999, 92
There is also this quote from the same book:
A nearly complete list of symbols used by Jews through the sixth century shows ninety-seven decorations and symbols of which only the etrog lulab, menorah, and shofar became consistent signs of Jewish identity. For the most part the remaining ninety-three symbols come from either the general Hellenistic culture (zodiac signs, garlands) or, occasionally, come from Jewish life (the Torah shrine).
Snyder, Inculturation of the Jesus Tradition, 13.
We can feel comfortable knowing that there is Jewish precedent for our conclusions that despite the fact that the Lehites immersed themselves in Mesoamerican culture (rendering archaeological identification a near impossibility) we still find relatively few Mesoamerican iconographic references in the text of the Book of Mormon.
There certainly are some however, and those are significant. See the Mesoamerican section of my “Book of Mormon Evidences” page. Also, check out this video from FAIR which describes Divine Kingship in Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon.
A nod to Brant Gardner for presenting this information on MADB.