Journal of Book of Mormon Studies


Book of Mormon as Literature, Nephi, Modern Church, Scripture Study


Stela 5, a large stone monument discovered in 1941 in Izapa, Mexico, was identified a decade later by M. Wells Jakeman as a bas-relief of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. Scholars and laymen alike have both accepted and scoffed at this theory. This article provides a historical sketch of reactions to this claim and discusses some of the implications of accepting or rejecting Jakeman’s theory. Jakeman was the first to publish an LDS interpretation of Stela 5; later V. Garth Norman proposed a different interpretation based on a series of high-quality photographs of the monument. Suzanne Miles, a non-Mormon, postulated that Izapa Stela 5 presented a “fantastic visual myth,” and Gareth W. Lowe proposed that Stela 5 presents an original creation myth. Further criticisms and responses ensued over the years.