Hidden Mountain &
The Los Lunas Mystery Stone
The Los Lunas Mystery Stone is a large boulder on the side of Hidden Mountain, near Los Lunas, New Mexico that bears an ancient inscription carved into a flat panel in the rock. The Decalogue stone, as this has become to be known, is located on a 400 foot high mesa in Hidden Mountain, New Mexico, near Los Lunas, about 35 miles south of Albuquerque. It is also known as the Los Lunas Inscription.
The inscription is interpreted to be an abridged version of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments in a form of Paleo-Hebrew. The tetragrammaton YHWH, or “Yahweh,” is written four times throughout the inscription. The stone is controversial in that some claim the inscription is Pre-Columbian, and therefore proof of early Semitic contact with the Americas.
The first recorded mention of the stone is in 1933, when professor Frank Hibben, an archaeologist from the University of New Mexico, saw it. Hibben was led to the stone by an unnamed Indian guide who claimed to have found it as a boy in the 1880s. The 1880s date of discovery is important to those who believe that the stone was inscribed by a lost tribe of Israel. However, Florencio Chavez, a former Los Lunas resident, reported being shown the rock by his grandfather, Simon Serna. Serna was born in 1829 and his father had claimed to seen the rock in 1800.
The Paleo-Hebrew script is practically identical to the Phoenician script, which was known at the time, thus not precluding the possibility of fraud. One argument against the stone’s antiquity is its apparent use of modern Hebrew punctuation, though amateur epigrapher Barry Fell argued that the punctuation is consistent with antiquity. Other researchers dismiss the inscription based on the numerous stylistic and grammatical errors that appear in the inscription.
In 1948, William H. McCart an Albuquerque resident took an interest in the rock and sent photographs to Dr. Robert H. Pfeiffer of the Semitic Museum at Harvard University. But in doing so, in order to get a better picture, he purposely scratched out the natural patina over the inscription thus effectively destroying the most valuable information & context on the stone! Dr. Hibben had stated first hand to an archaeologist friend of mine in the 1960’s that he did see not only patina covering the inscription in the 1930’s but also lichen growing on the stone! What a tragedy that this important information was removed by an amature wanting to get photographs.
In 1949, Dr. Pfeiffer made a first known translation of the strange writing. Being an authority on the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible) he concluded that the inscription was a copy of the Ten Commandments. He thought that the inscription was written in the Phoenician, the Moabite, and the Greek languages. Indeed, some local native American Indians, as a result of his work, have been referring to this rock as the Phoenician Inscription Rock. Professor Pfeiffer never stated at that time whom he thought carved the message. Many locals have been calling this site the “Ten Commandments Rock” ever since. Further speculation involved the authorship of that rock inscription. Some even considered it to be an inscription from a member of one of the lost tribes of Israel.
However, Robert L. Pfeiffers translation has not remained unchallenged. Notably two translators rejected the idea that the rock inscription had something to do with the Ten Commandments. In 1964, Robert L. LaFollete wrote a translation which resulted in a travelers story carved on the rock using Phoenician as well as some Hebrew, Cyrillic and Etruscan letters. LaFollete translated this story in English as well as in the Navajo language. Dixie L. Perkins published another translation in 1979. This time under the assumption that the writer was of Greek origin and that he was using old-Greek and Phoenician letters. Perkins translation, too, challenges the Ten Commandment version, again resulting in another travelers story. (1) However, Mrs Perkins stated in her foreword to her translation that she only studied Latin and Greek, not however Hebrew. It remains clear that Dr. Pfeiffer’s translation is the correct one and has been verified by other scholars.
The writings on the Los Lunas stone use a combination of Samaritan and Greek letters. Greek? That’s interesting. The Book of Mormon says nothing about Greek. The Greeks didn’t conquer Palestine until more than 200 years after Lehi and Mulek left Jerusalem. But the language of the stone uses good Greek grammar, and makes Samaritan mistakes that would be natural grammatical mistakes for a person of Greek learning, and unthinkable for a Hebrew. But what of the language? The particular combination of characters matches perfectly a Samaritan-Greek dialect that has been discovered in Alexandria. Doesn’t this mean the person who wrote it was most likely not a Hebrew? No, on the contrary. It could be a Phoenician influence.
Other Phoenician and old-Hebrew inscription samples
Another way to narrow down the problem of the age is to compare the Los Lunas inscription with other Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew inscription samples from the Mediterranean Middle East. In general, if the Los Lunas inscription is old-Hebrew, it is no younger than 600 B.C.E. because after that old-Hebrew came to be gradually replaced by the square-Hebrew alphabet. The old-Hebrew and Phoenician characters used to be almost identical from 1100 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E. Thereafter, mainly the Phoenicians continued to use this old alphabet, until their Mediterranean colonies were destroyed by the Romans during the Punic wars of the 2nd century B.C.E. As mentioned in the Epigraphy section, the closest matching Phoenician or paleo-Hebrew writing samples are those from the Eshmunazar Sarcophagus (4th century B.C.E.) or those of the Bar Rakab Inscription and the Nerab Stelae.
What about Mormon Influence?
There is further speculation involving the authorship of the rock inscription. There are some that claim that the stone was carved by someone in the Mormon Battalion as they may have passed through that area. It is claimed that some of the members of the Mormon Battalion participated in the school of the prophets where ancient Semitic languages were studied. The stone could have been just the etchings of a bored solider, which would explain some of the typos and errors in the text. Others have expressed the thought that perhaps some Mormons may have carved this message in an attempt to support their views of an ancient pre-Columbian semitic history in North America. However, a simple research on Mormon Web sites reveals absolutely nothing about this rock inscription. It is not used by their church as a proof for the existence of ancient Nephites in America. For a certainty it is not written in so-called “reformed Egyptian” language.
The overwhelming number of Phoenician and Greek letters and words found in Los Lunas are more of a direct link to Old World (Bronze Age) employ. Again, though there are some dating overlaps seen between Los Lunas and Mormon Brigade, from the 1840’s to the end of the 1850’s, the concentration was on the Great Utah Basin and their early establishment in the area. Finally, I do not see a strong connection in the Mystery Stone and the Mormon community for the simple reason, there is not the faintest hint to any Christian Confession. The Mormon faith, nor any of the array of Christian denominations; especially, of early American age would omit such an opportunity for Christological profession. In addition, no names of individuals mentioned in the Book of Mormon have every been found in ancient inscriptions.
Nevertheless, the Mormons examined the stone in the 1950’s to see if it was theirs. They sent out the Archaeological Society of Brigham Young University from Provo, Utah. The Mormon team critically examined the stone and in 1954 published an article which concluded the inscription was quite recent because of the lack of patina in the letters. Consequently, they dismissed it altogether. I had one person email me who was interested in the Los Lunas Mystery Stone. He stated that he was Mormon & had been so all of his life. He had never heard of the stone within the Mormon community and was intrigued by those claiming that it was of Mormon influence. He personally visited the site & concluded that this indeed had nothing to do with the Mormons- independently verifying the 1950’s expedition!
In the Mormon community, I would love to see someone pursue that; someone like the wonderful scholarship provided by Dr. Brian Stubbs. What Dr. Stubbs has contributed to is the awesome connection between Hebrew consonal roots (and Hebrew plural construction) to languages of both ancient America; especially Indian languages squarely in the Los Lunas matrix. Another scholarly contribution in this area of Hebrew root connections and Ancient Americas is David Deal’s work in Mayan syllabary and words.
There is no evidence that supports the existence of the Nephites in Mormon archaeology. FARMS, a scholarly group associated with BYU, has no scholarship dealing with the site and does not make any evidentiary use of it. The stone is simply not connected to Mormon influence. The connection between the Stone and the Mormon community is circumstantial from both an alphabetical and historical perspectives.
“It can be stated definitely that there is no connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the Book of Mormon. There is no correspondence whatever between archeological sites and cultures as revealed by scientific investigations and as recorded in the Book of Mormon, hence the book cannot be regarded as having any historical value from the standpoint of the aboriginal peoples of the New World.” F.H.H. Roberts, Jr, Smithsonian Institution, 1951
The first step in deciphering the Los Lunas Inscription was to identify the letters. Native American Indians in the New Mexico area never developed a character-based alphabet. They were mainly carving petroglyphs on rock surfaces. These are quite different and are more like little pictographic drawings than writings. The inscription itself was done in old-Hebrew or Phoenician letters, as can be seen from the following (to the right) character chart:
Many modern scholars now seem to agree that the rock inscription is indeed an abridged version of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. Among others, these include: Cline 1982 (2), Deal 1992 (3), Stonebreaker 1982 (4), Underwood 1982 (5), Cyrus Gordon 1995 (6), and Skupin 1989 (7). In 1996, Prof James D. Tabor of the Dept. of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina, Charlotte, interviewed Professor Frank Hibben who is a local historian and retired archaeologist from the University of New Mexico. Hibben is convinced that the inscription is ancient and thus authentic. He also stated in the interview that he first saw the text in 1933. (see Tabor 1996: An Ancient Hebrew Inscription in New Mexico: Fact or Fraud” (8), see also J.Huston McCulloch 1997: “The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone”. (9)
Dr. Cyrus Gordon, a historian of ancient Near Eastern civilizations, has promoted the idea that such people’s reached the New World for the past several decades. The historical and archaeological evidence is not unimpressive and has been well documented by Barry Fell in his major study entitled “America B.C.” (10)
Is there a Crypto-Jewish Connection?
The history of the Jews in New Mexico began in 1519 with the arrival of Conversos, often called Marranos or “Crypto-Jews,” referring to those Jews forcibly converted to Catholicism and that then became subject to the Spanish Inquisition. Given the long history of crypto-Judaism in Spain, it seems logical to consider the question whether there is a connection between the native New Mexicans and those of the 15th-16th century Iberia. In the 1490’s, Spain & Portugal began the forced conversion of Jews which became increasingly violent. Approximately 100,000 Jews converted at the point of the sword. This resulted in about one-third of converts; but insincere converts at that. A significant portion of these so-called converts continued to practice the ancestral Jewish faith illegally & in secret. Another 100,000 refused & were killed, while another 100,000 escaped. (11) What started as a campaign for religious conformity evolved into the establishment of racial and ethnic discrimination. At the end of the 14th century began the expulsion of the Jews driving them into Germany, Russia and Central, South, & North America.
The timing of Columbus’s expedition, which coincides with the expulsion of the Jews, begs the question whether Columbus himself was a Jew. What we do know is that at least one of these converts can be found among the crew of Columbus first voyage to the New World. His name was Luis de Torres and was specifically recruited because of his knowledge of Hebrew. (12)
During the colonial period (1521–1821), a number of Jews came to Mexico especially during the period of the Iberian Union (1580–1640), when Spain and Portugal were ruled by the same monarch. That political circumstance allowed freer movement by Portuguese crypto-Jewish merchants into Spanish America. When the Portuguese regained their independence from Spain in 1640, Portuguese merchants in New Spain were prosecuted by the Mexican Inquisition. When the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico was replaced with religious toleration during the nineteenth-century Liberal reform, Jews could openly immigrate to Mexico. They came from Europe and later from the crumbling Ottoman Empire, including Syria, until the first half of the 20th century. Later during periods of persecution by the Mexican Inquisition in 1591, crypto-Jews migrated to frontier areas of northern New Spain to look for safe haven elsewhere.
So the question remains. Were there any Jews living in New Mexico under Spanish rule? Rabbi Floyd S. Fierman, a dedicated investigator of Jewish history in the Southwest US, faced this question in 1960. He turned to France V. Scholes, a leading historian of colonial New Mexico. Fierman reported the Scholes’s view that “there appears, in fact, to be very little positive evidence regarding Jews in 17th century New Mexico and Arizona.” (13) The only circumstantial evidence for the first Anglo-Jew in New Mexico seems to be a person named Paul Levi, presumably of French background, who lived in Spanish colonial Santa Fe as early as 1773.
There is abundant evidence however for the migration & settlement of German Jews in the 18th century; specifically between 1840-1860. One estimated places 15,000 Jews in the US in 1840 but only about 16 of them on the census in New Mexico by 1850. However, the census was probably incomplete & thus would not accurately reflect the correct number. By 1860, a figure of 43 were numbered. The census for Los Lunas was very small showing only 12-16 residents there including one Moses Sachs. A survey by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1877 estimated the total number of Jews in the US at 190,000 and assumed that the great majority came from Germany. (14) What is known currently is that German-Jewish immigrants made up the entire Jewish population of New Mexico in 1850. (15) Jews still only accounted for only two-tenths of one percent in 1860 with New Mexico ranked at the bottom of the population census. Clearly, Jews did not come to New Mexico in large numbers before the Civil War.
The main residence of the Jewish community centered around Santa Fe in 1860 with the census reflecting other areas such as Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Taos, & Los Lunas. One district in Santa Fe even became known as “Little Jerusalem”. It is clear that the German-Jews in New Mexico did not hide their Jewishness nor seek to forget it although prior to 1860 there is no evidence or sign of public religious expression or that they sought to follow the Mosaic Law. The first clear indication that they had not abandon their belief systems & customs was in 1860. An article written in The American Israelite in 1881 recalled the first “Yom Kippur” held at Santa Fe at the home of Levi Spiegelberg in 1860. One family who migrated to New Mexico from Old Mexico in the late 1890’s and with a clear memory of their Jewish traditions, closed their curtains every Shabbat & still lit candles to Moses as a saint. Eventually with its continued growth, the first bar mitzvah ceremony in New Mexico took place in Santa Fe in 1876 and the first synagogue was built in Las Vegas, NM in 1886- the Temple Montefiore.
After several expedtions to Hidden Mountain, researching the libraries in Santa Fe, the University of New Mexico in Alburqueque and at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, I have discovered complelling evidence the Los Lunas Mystery Stone was made by the Crypto-Jews migrating out of Germany from 1840-1860.
Hidden Mt. may have reminded them of Mt. Sinai and therefore they depicted the abridged version of the Ten Commandments written in poor Paleo-Hebrew (ancient Hebrew) grammar in remembrance of the Mosaic Law in addition to writing the The Tetragrammaton on the summit- the name of God in Judaism and Christianity. The four letters, written and read from right to left in Hebrew transliterated as YHWH.
Dixie L. Perkins, “The Meaning of the New Mexico Mystery Stone”, Sun Publishing Company, Albuquerque 1979
Donald Cline, “The Los Lunas Stone”, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 10 (1982 part 10)
David Allen Deal, “Discovery of Ancient America”, Kherem La Yah Press, Irvine CA, first published in 1984. 1999 3rd Edition available from David Deal (email@example.com).
Jay Stonebreaker, “A Decipherment of the Los Lunas Decalogue Inscription”, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 18 (1989)
L. Lyle Underwood, “The Los Lunas Inscription”, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 10 (1982, part 1)
Cyrus Gordon, “Diffusion of Near East Culture in Antiquity and in Byzantine Times”, Orient 30-31, 1995
Michael Skupin, “The Los Lunas Errata”, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 18 (1989)
James D. Tabor, “An Ancient Hebrew Inscription in New Mexico: Fact or Fraud”, United Israel Bulletin Vol. 52, Summer 1997
J.Huston McCulloch “The Los Lunas Decalogue Stone”, 1997, firstname.lastname@example.org
Fell, Barry; “Ancient Punctuation and the Los Lunas Text,” Epigraphic Society, Occasional Publications, 13:35, 1985.
Hordes, Stanley, “To the End of the Earth”, 2005, Columbia University Press, New York. pg. 18
Ibid. pg 25
Tobias, Henry, “A History of the Jews in New Mexico”, 1990, University of New Mexico Press, Albuqueque. pg. 7
Ibid. pgs. 27- 28
Ibid. pg. 29
To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico
New Mexico's Crypto-Jews: Image and Memory
#DECALOGUE STONE #Los Lunas INSCRIPTION #New Mexico #PALEO-HEBREW #HEBREW #HIDDEN MOUNTAIN #MYSTERY MOUNTAIN #ANCIENT PLACES #ARCHEOLOGY