Hamblin 19: Place Names (Emblem Glyphs)

Hamblin 19: Place Names (Emblem Glyphs) June 29, 2015

There are around 50 Maya emblem glyphs found in Classic Maya inscriptions. (Of course more could be discovered.)  They are symbolic of a city-state or land, generally attached to the title Maya ajaw (pronounced aha), meaning lord/king  Some of these cities are known from glyphs alone; their precise location is unknown.  Some are logographic (purely symbolic), others have a phonetic component.  Several emblem glyphs seem to be mythical.  Perhaps half a dozen are attested before 400 AD (end of Book of Mormon civilization).  The pronunciation of many of these is unknown, and for many others is uncertain.  These fifty emblem glyphs are our only source of place names (toponyms) for Book of Mormon times.  This compares with thousands of toponyms found in ancient Near Eastern sources.  

It should also be noted that place names change through time.  This occurs in the Book of Mormon, (Ether 6:83, Hill Ramah to Hill Cumorah).  Classic examples are Byzantium to Constantinople to Istanbul or Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina to Quds.  Changes in place names usually occurs in times of major political or cultural upheaval.  The pronunciation of emblem glyphs also undoubtedly varied between dialects, through time, and with non-Maya languages.  It is also not uncommon for different cultures to have different toponyms (place names) or ethnonyms (ethnic names) for the same place or people.  The Greeks, for example, gave Greek names to all Egyptian cities (e.g. The Egyptian iwnw was called Heliopolis by the Greeks—there is no phonetic relationship.)   An example is the English ethnonym German:  German = Deutch, allemand, Italian = tedesco; Russian = nemetskiy; Finnish = Saksa; medieval Hebrew = Ashkenaz; Lithuanian = Vokiškai.   Note that a linguist with fragmentary data like we have form the Maya would have absolutely no way to know that all of these names refer to the precisely the same German people.  It is very likely that the peoples the Nephites called Lamanites did not use that name for themselves.  

So given the extraordinarily sparse and ambiguous data we possess, it is very difficult to try to identify Book of Mormon place names through inscriptional Maya emblem glyphs—our only source of contemporary data.  Jenkins maintains that this fact is somehow evidence against the historicity of the Book of Mormon.  It is not.  I maintain, rather, that the lack of data means that no significant conclusion can be drawn regarding Book of Mormon place names.  Lack of data is not data.  Without data, the question cannot be examined or answered in any meaningful way.  The Book of Mormon doesn’t fail the test, because there is insufficient evidence to undertake a test.  There is no test to fail.  If we had hundreds, or better thousands of Preclassic toponyms, a significant examination could be undertaken.  But we don’t.  Note that the problem in this regard is methodological, epistemological and hermeneutical, exactly as I said.  It is not about “objective evidence.”  

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