Wine and Honey in Mesoamerica

Tonight while looking through Friar Diego de Landa’s writings about his experiences in Mesoamerica during the Conquest, I found an interesting observation:

The Indians are very dissolute in drinking and becoming intoxicated, and many ills follow their excesses this way. . . . Their wine they make of honey and water and the root of a certain tree they grow for the purpose. . . .(

It’s just an interesting tidbit given that some anti-Mormons have criticized the Book of Mormon for its references to wine and to honey bees, stating that these things were not known in the Americas before Europeans brought them. While the bees issue is rather silly since the text only mentions them in an Old World context, it is nevertheless interesting to see de Landa providing his first-person observation of a wine made in part from honey as a significant part of Native American culture in Mesoamerica.

The quote comes from page 35 of Friar Diego de Landa, Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, translated by William Gates (New York: Dover Books, 1978), originally published as Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan, 1566, first published in English in 1937 as Publication No. 20 of the Maya Society, Baltimore.

Nov. 26 update: It’s a tangential issue, but one reader sent me a note about the recent excavation of an ancient beer brewery in Peru. Corn and berries were apparently used in the brew. For those of you interested in the role of alcohol in the ancient Americas, this may be quite interesting.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

25 thoughts on “Wine and Honey in Mesoamerica

  1. Another interesting thing. Before Cortes landed in Mexico, there were several alcoholic bevrages that were consummed by the natives. From the magüeyes they extracted agua miel or honey water that was later on fermented to make pulque. It is highly intoxicating, by the way. Could that be considered as wine? I do not know.

  2. As a sidenote, the Hebrew word for honey refers not only to bee honey, but to the sweet sticky substance made by boiling down figs or grape juice.

    Hebrew had several words that get translated as wine. Some probably refer to grape-wine and others just to intoxicating drink.

  3. To honestly address this, we have to deal with Mosiah 11:15

    “And it came to pass that he [king Noah] planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.”

    So whatever this wine was made from, it was cultivated in vineyards and pressed out. Does anything meet this qualification besides grapes?

  4. “Does anything meet this qualification besides grapes?”

    Well you can make wine out of nearly any kind of berry. Not sure if this answers your question…ie, if they grow on vines and are pressed out for example. I don’t know the answer to that part.

  5. But of course, the term “vineyards” is used elsewhere in the Book of Mormon to refer to the place where olives are grown. (This is consistent with some ancient near-eastern use of the terms for “vineyard.”) Olives don’t grow on vines at all. So we need not require that the “vineyards” that Noah had planted contained vines, but only that they were growing places for whatever he used to produce “wine.”

  6. There are other beverages that can be alcoholic, such as tepache that might have other components than grapes. I do not know what sort of vineyards they had in the Book of Mormon times, or the wine presses. When more knowledge becomes available about the Mesoamerican culture, we might be able to know what those terms could refer to. But for now, this issue seems like the man who left the Church at the turn of the 20th century because it was ridiculous to think that there were ‘cement’ constructions in the Americas.

  7. “…because it was ridiculous to think that there were ‘cement’ constructions in the Americas.”

    Yea, those evidences seem to be forgotten don’t they? As the RfM and anti-Mormon people preach about the ‘anachronisms’ present in the BoM, they just drop the ones that get proven correct and move on.

    I mean some people might claim that since Mayan cement was not made in the same way that we make cement, it is not really the same thing and the word is wrong.

    I think the same issue with swords can be made. Funny enough just the other night we went over to the house of a co-worker of my wife’s. Her boyfriend (and soon to be husband) is a very wealthy attorney. His house is huge and he has like a $30,000 Ford engine sitting in the garage that he tinkers with as a hobby. Anyway, his game room is enormous, surround sound theatre (one wall is the screen), big projector, etc. Anyhow, one wall is taken up with all these weapons, like swords and spears etc. I pointed out one that looked interesting and he said yes that is my Mayan sword. He then said the name of it in Mayan (no idea what that is). But to give me a point of reference he called it something I would understand. He had actually sharpened it since it had come dull and said that it was as sharp if not sharper than any other one he has.

    This one is the biggest loser the RfM crowd has in my opinion. The Spanish consistently called the Mayan weapons swords just as the BoM does. It frankly had all the elements of a sword (to my untrained eye) although it didnt have a hilt guard. But if there is an object with a handle and a cutting edge but it is made of wood and obsidian that disqualifies it for the name of sword?

    Sorry for the random train of thought, this is what I was thinking on the way home.

  8. Hey, when I was a little girl (aka tomboy) and I made a wooden thingy that I called a sword, that puppy was a SWORD. So, for myself, I see no reason at all that the BoM people couldn’t have had swords, whatever the material. I mean, what would it matter? If it was used as a sword (walks like a duck, quacks like a duck)it oughta be a sword. Results would be the same. (I’ll bet if you got poked with one of those obsidian-edged jobs, it sure would smart, huh?)

    In any case, I believe those BoM fighting folks were every bit as smart then as little kids are now at creating weapons of destruction, though I personally never destructed anyone. Honest!

  9. Granny:

    We have before us a paragon of provinicialism. Thanks for your astounding insight into how one betrays his/her own naivete.

    After, if you can’t disprove something, you should mock it well!

  10. Walker, I’m afraid you misunderstood.
    Mostly I betrayed my weakness in the ability to express myself accurately, and in attempting a bit of humor. I most certainly was not trying to disprove the BofM, only trying to express my view of the futility of anti-folks trying to make a good case against the BofM by focusing on swords, for pete’s sake, and how silly it sounds for them to fuss about it. My intent was to show that a sword doesn’t have to be the shiny object we picture today. The BoM folks undoubtedly had a vast array of “weapons of mass destruction,” (they certainly destroyed a lot of “masses!”) and what does it matter if their swords don’t match our concept of a sword? It seems so silly to keep harping on it. I was interested in Samuel’s description of his friend’s collection, and that brought to mind my youthful antics. Sorry if I misled you.
    I have a total, profound testimony of the the Gospel and the Book of Mormon, and I don’t care what their “swords” looked like; if they utilized a willow stick to smack somebody, and called it a sword, that’s fine with me. This sword issue seems such a silly thing to use to try to discredit the Book, when there’s so much to gain by addressing real issues.

  11. Sorry Granny. My mistake. Much of the sarcastic humor on this blog is directed at Mormons so I switched on siege mentality.

    I would certainly agree as to futility of the sword argument. If the Book of Mormon were truly false, as you know, FAR larger issues should be in question. Rather, critics have to start playing word games with swords and horses when, in fact, the name of a thing has relatively little to do with its historical concreteness.

    Again, my apologies.

  12. Mistake understood–apology accepted.
    Thanks for writing.
    P.S. If I’m ever in need of someone to lead a siege, I hope I can call on you! ;>

  13. Oh Yeah Granny, gotta watch it with the sarcastic humor on this site. Although, come to think of it, much of the sarcastic humor on this board comes from Dan and Jeff. Huh? Oh, my mistake. Sarcastic humor is only acceptable if it is directed at anyone that brings up a dissenting view.
    Feel free to stand back and watch us give each other group hugs while we agree with each other’s posts and how clever we are.

  14. Anon: “…and watch us give each other group hugs while we agree with each other’s posts and how clever we are.”

    Kind of like how they do it on the RfM board.

  15. Anon:

    If you will notice, the sarcasm you note is only in response to the first jabs by critics. Whether or not you think such rhetorical revenge is justified, it is nevertheless not as simple as an “evil Mormons-honest Galileo” caricature.

  16. Oh the old “he started it first” argument.
    OK, if that is the way you see it.
    Do you note any sarcasm in today’s (Nov 19th)post by Jeff?
    Do you not think that Dan’s posts just drip with sarcasm?
    As to the anon at 9:51,
    You are not fooling anyone.

  17. Anonymous: I was about to say how happy I am that you’ve hijacked this thread and turned it into a referendum on who’s the most sarcastic. But of course, that would be sarcastic of me. So here I am at my most forthright: Please stop. You’re engaging in ad hominem attacks on a collateral issue rather than discussing the actual topic of the thread. If you’re having a lot of trouble remembering what that was, read the original post.

  18. Looks like somone needs to look up ad hominem.
    Oh wait, they are on a collateral issue. Well that explains it all.

    Notice: Please keep all ad hominem attacks focused on the topic of the post.

    Thanks someone that has an unpronouncable name.

  19. Oy vey. Sorry all. I should have ignored the sarcastic comment to begin with (shaking head at the insansity of it all)

  20. Anonymous at 3:30:

    I’ll type this slowly so you don’t get confused.

    Raving about someone’s sarcasm = personal attacks = ad hominem.

    Sarcasm = not the topic of the post = collateral issue.

  21. Im doin a history project and im 15. did the ancient mayans have plastics? if so what did they use them for? thx

  22. If you go to, The Backyard Professor does a set of videos entitled, "Book of Mormon, Archaeology & Metals Part 5" in a series of several.

    He is reading from a Mayan publication from modern day NON LDS scholars/archaeologists and he says the name of the obsidian/wood sword. apparently the design is so wicked, it was much sharper than the steel sort of the Eastern hemisphere. Was well known for chopping off limbs with one swing. Anyways the word in the book is "MAKA WHITTLE" I am not sure how it is spelled, but that is what the video points out.

    Maka Whittle is the Mayan Sword dating back to the days of the book of Mormon, ANOTHER TESTAMENT of Jesus Christ.

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