Allen Christenson Fireside

Last night I attended a fireside in my ward put on by Allen Christenson. As some of you may know already, he studies the Maya. He has a done a translation of the Popol Vuh and his daughter, Elise Soukup, wrote an article in Newsweek on the Mormons awhile back.
When I got there Dr. Christenson talked about how loud howler monkeys were. Then he moved on to his missionary experiences in Guatemala in 1976, which started with extracting dead bodies from an earthquake zone.

He talked about how Maya eat maize every meal and it is much like the sacrament in that they are partaking of a divine substance that turns them into “the true people.” When Christenson meets new Maya  and they learn he speaks the language they ask him what he does he eat. After nine months of eating corn, you can be accepted as one of the true people. This ties in with creation stories about how the gods created men from corn.

Christenson talked about Maya  baptism which is reserved for Maya  priest initiation after an apprenticeship. He has gone through this ritual. His slides had some art and hieroglyphics that covered the creation story.The gods met in council and in there was just darkness, sky, and water to begin with. Showed a picture of a dragon opening his mouth and a god emerging with a paintbrush in hand to paint creations into existence. Initially man could see as far as gods, so the gods caused a fog or mist (like a foggy mirror) to limit man’s sight. Occasionally this fog is lifted and then prophecy can occur.

He presented a little about Mayan number systems and December 21, 2012. No need to panic, it is just the end of a calendar cycle.

There was a brief discussion about Meso-America being the right geography and that the Maya  were separate from the Nephites but probably greeted Lehi when he got off the boat. Someone asked if that was in the scriptures and the response was that it could be found in the Book of Christenson. He talked about how farmers (such as the Nephites) should have been more numerous than the Lamanite hunter-gatherers.  Hence it is likely that Lamanites needed to inter-marry with Maya  to achieve superior population growth. He said that Maya  have Asiatic DNA but that is not a problem for a Lehite incursion.

Dr. Chistenson talked about the impact of the Spanish conquest and missionary work. The Spaniards were fascinated with the Christian parallels, but ultimately decided much of it was a Satanic counterfeit (to justify slaughter and slavery). Now there are about 10 million Maya. They are mostly Catholic but have retained much of their indigenous beliefs (their Catholicism sometimes deviates from what the Pope teaches). There has been good Mormon missionary success. Christenson estimates 90-95% of their traditional beliefs are compatible with Mormonism. The Maya  people invented tobacco though. Christenson like their Day of the Dead memorials compared to our Halloween. Christenson has 1000s of names, some stretching back in the BCs that violate Church  genealogy software’s 4 digit date formats. Can’t do temple work yet because direct descendants have to be identified first.

Dr. Christenson talked about his work translating  temple ceremonies to the Mayan language. He was on a committee and weren’t quite satisfied with one concept’s translation, but sent it forward for approval by another committee chaired by Ezra Taft Benson. This was a puzzle because apparently this approval committee had no language experts. Yet it came back with that concept’s translation circled and disapproved. Greatly humbled, Brother Christenson and his group soon figured out a much better translation.

He then talked about rounding up the most literate Maya  and flying them to Salt Lake to do some voice work. They came in during a January 1995 (if I recall correctly) snow storm and the Maya  were unfamiliar with snow. These adults could read Spanish fine, but reading Mayan is much harder. There was about 3-4 days of practice reading and 4 days of sound recording. The practice reading sessions went poorly and they only could get through 1/3 or so the first day. Things did not progress very rapidly and Dr. Christenson began to think that they should try it again with another group a few years later. The first day of recording in the temple went badly and wasn’t working out even with the best native speaker. On a subsequent day’s recording that speaker started doing exceptionally. When asked what was the difference, the man said he prayed and admitted that he wasn’t good enough to be voice for his people for several generations and that he had asked God to speak through him.

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About Keller

I was a BYU baby while my parents finished up their advanced degrees in psychology. I have lived in some interesting places growing up: near the Lagoon at Layton; in an old polygamist house in Manti with an upper-story door that opened to the middle of a roof; in Rigby,Idaho, the self-proclaimed birthplace of television; then over to Sweet, a small town north of Boise near some fun river rapids; then for my high school years in Lund (named after a counselor in the First Presidency), Nevada; and full circle back to Utah County for college. Currently I work as an electrical engineering in the defense and space industry in Salt Lake City. I have served in a single's ward elder's quorum presidency and as a hymn book coordinator. I also served a mission in the Bible Belt (Oklahoma City) and to prepare I became an avid reader of FARMS publications. This has lead me to become a volunteer for FAIR as way of furthering my apologetic interests and helping those struggling with tough issues to find useful information. I have also started an interfaith blog to dialog with Catholics and practice "holy envy." I like blogging on historical topics and doing genealogical research.

6 thoughts on “Allen Christenson Fireside

  1. Keller, this is cool!

    I especially like: “Initially man could see as far as gods, so the gods caused a fog or mist (like a foggy mirror) to limit man’s sight. Occasionally this fog is lifted and then prophecy can occur.”

    I have spent a lot of time in Guatemala. I would have loved to have been at this fireside.

  2. Christenson’s genealogy problem has gotten me thinking. Using population models, one can estimate the number of generations back that guarantees that all living members of a population are descended from every member of that past generation. In other words, after a sufficient time lapse, it can be mathematically approved that if an individual has any living descendants, then all living are descendants.

    One formula to calculate that generation is ~1.8*log2(n) where n is the living population. For 10 million Mayan I calculate that only 42 generations are required so taking 30 years per generation, a Mayan living 1260 years ago or before 750 AD should be an ancestor.

    That model assumes zero population growth, random marriages, and no geographic isolation. I am trying to study if other models produce a much different result.

  3. Pingback: Moods Of Nature: Fireside Reflections : Spank me today!

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