The Use of Mayan Scripture in the Americas’ First Christian Theology

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  • 1 George Mason University, Department of Religious Studies, 4400 University Drive, 3F1, USA

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This study examines the work of the Dominican Friar Domingo de Vico, specifically his theology of or for the “Indians,” the Theologia Indorum, written originally in K’iche’ Maya in 1553–1554. While scholarship in recent decades has focused on the first post-contact writings by autochthonous Americans, particularly the Popol Wuj, or Mayan “Council Book,” and the early impact of Hispano-Catholicism, little attention has been paid to the influence of indigenous religion on colonial Christianity. Therefore, this study critically examines the first use of Mayan myths in Christian literature for a more nuanced understanding of the mutual dynamics between missionaries and the missionized as well as the distinctions between missionary translation strategies in the early formative decades of first contact.

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  • 7

    See Akkeren 2010:4 and Acuña 1985:281. According to Ruud van Akkeren the earlier date is more widely mentioned but not formally documented in popular literature. However, René Acuña arrives at the later date in order to place Vico in school at a more plausible age by 1544. I agree with Akkeren and Acuña that 1519 is more likely.

  • 8

    See Ciudad Suárez 1996:29–31 and Blom and La Torre 1973:429–526. While often mistakenly identified as the first bishop of Chiapas, Las Casas actually succeeded Juan de Arteaga y Avendaño, who was ordained the first bishop of Ciudad Real de Chiapas on February 15, 1541 and died shortly afterwards on September 8, 1541. Las Casas was appointed bishop on December 19, 1543, ordained bishop on March 30, 1544, and served until September 11, 1550.

  • 10

    See Remesal 1966, 2:196–198, 292–298, 312; and Recinos 1953:140 n. 281. Also, see the letter to the Audiencia de los Confines from Dominicans of May 14, 1556, as cited in Bredt-Kriszat and Holl 1997:176.

  • 11

    See Sapper 1906:375, 377; and Stoll 1906:388, 390. While identified in the Princeton University Library catalogue as a Q’eqchi’ Maya manuscript, this Poqomchi’ document appears to be the same “Iulihii titulo quetacque natirta” of August 14, 1565 (Garrett-Gates Mesoamerican Manuscript 242).

  • 13

    See Acuña 1985:19, 1989, 1992:137; and Remesal 1966, 2:297. Remesal most likely used Viana as his source, hence the similarity. Rather than reconstructing the text based on the various surviving manuscripts, Acuña relies on Remesal but also Ximénez. See Acuña 1985:283 regarding the overall structure and contents of Vico’s theology.

  • 16

    Anleo 2002:47 n. 26. The K’iche’ word kohlem (or kojlem in the Unified Alphabet of the Academy of Mayan Languages of Guatemala) appears to mean “essence;” see Brinton 1884:373. However, kojlem does not appear in contemporary K’iche’.

  • 22

    See Brody 1988:55–62; England 1994:105–108; Norman 1983:109–121; Restall 1997:267; and Tedlock 1983:213–230. This textual structure not only appears in formal highland Mayan speech but also with weaving patterns or etz’ab’alil. In addition to merismus, or antonymic synecdoches, ten different types of parallelism have been identified within formal K’iche’ rhetoric that contribute to not only couplets, tercets, and quatrains but also sextets and longer parallel series often for larger chiastic structures; see Christenson 2003:44–51. While outside the scope of this article, the Mayan use of parallelism described here can readily be differentiated from and contrasted with modern scholarly analysis of parallelism in Jewish scripture; see Kugel 1981:1–95.

  • 34

    Luis Cáncer, O.P. ca. 1560. While it exceeds the scope of this article, in this respect I disagree with Ennio Bossú’s conclusion that Vico wrote this text. However, for his position, see Bossú 1986. For my comparative analysis between this text and the Theologia Indorum, see Sparks 2011:417–474.

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