LDS Church members are taught that the Book of Mormon (BOM) is scripture, as well as a true record of the inhabitants of the Americas from about 2200 BC to 420 AD. Although it serves primarily as a religious text, it is to be interpreted literally as being an actual, historical record of the inhabitants of the ancient Americas. Some Latter-day Saints believe that there is some archeological evidence supporting the BOM, many know there is little or no evidence and continue to believe in the book's authenticity despite these challenges. Critics cite numerous problems with the text that indicate it is of more modern origin such as anachronisms, DNA evidence, lack of archeological evidence, linguistic problems, etc.
From the introduction to the BOM: "It is a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel." Members are encouraged to focus on the spiritual value of the BOM instead of the historical aspects. On July 29, 1978, the Deseret News published an article in the Church News section (p. 16) that actively discouraged members from studying the historicity of the Book of Mormon because such efforts would prove "fruitless", that differing theories regarding Book of Mormon geography would "undermine faith" and that any theories put forth by scholars were nothing more than "personal speculations".
LDS critics maintain that the BOM is a work of fiction created in the 19th century. Critics do not accept that the BOM relates a real history of real people who came to America that were steel-smelting, chariot-driving, Christ-worshipping, temple-building people multipyling into millions, yet left absolutely no trace of their existence. No archeological, linguistic, DNA or any other evidence of Hebrew culture in the Americas has ever been found to support the BOM. The book also contains numerous anachronisms like horses, elephants, wheat, barley, steel, silk, etc., that scientists say didn't exist in the Americas during BOM times.
The Book of Mormon is a true record of the inhabitants of the Americas from about 2200 BC to 420 AD. Although it serves primarily as a religious text, it is to be interpreted literally as being an actual, historical record of the inhabitants of the ancient Americas.
The Book of Mormon may have undergone some minor changes but these consist primarily of spelling or grammatical alterations and don't affect the overall meaning of the text.
Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."
Latter-day Saints are repeatedly encouraged to rely on a witness of the spirit (i.e. Holy Ghost) to personally authenticate the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Given this repeated encouragement from general and local leaders of reliance on supernatural manifestations over testable claims, it is not surprising that many faithful Latter-Day Saints (including many of us that contributed to this website) were or continue to be seemingly unfazed by the many criticisms directed at the Book of Mormon by Mormon and non-Mormon archaeologists and historians.
Unfortunately many faithful LDS members, by virtue of the admonition of their leaders (mentioned above), are virtually unaware of the many perplexing and genuine problems contained in the Book of Mormon text and as a result, are usually unable to effectively dialogue with critics without resorting to faith-based claims in supernatural manifestations (i.e. testimony) which really carry no authoritative weight for the many dedicated experts in the fields of archaeology, history, linguistics, genetics, etc.
MormonThink (MT) has compiled some of the most compelling arguments we could find from both critics and defenders of the Church. The following sections of this webpage provide details of several of the critics' arguments of the BOM and then responses from the LDS Church, apologists and true-believing members.
Notice the horse in this LDS depiction of the Stripling Warriors from the Book of Mormon. Scientists say that the modern-day horse did not exist in the Americas during BOM times. It is universally accepted among mainstream archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians that there is no evidence of the existence of a pre-Columbian horse, excepting the long-extinct species.
Horses are mentioned fourteen times in the Book of Mormon, and are portrayed as an integral part of the cultures described. There is no evidence that horses existed on the American continent during the 2500-3000 year history of the Book of Mormon (2500 B.C. - 400 A.D.) Horses evolved in North America, but became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene.). Horses did not reappear in the Americas until the Spaniards brought them from Europe. They were brought to the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus in 1493, and to the American continent by Cortés in 1519.
1. Scientists just haven't found the evidence yet.
2. The horse mentioned in the BOM isn't really a horse.
And the Neal A. Maxwell Institute is incorrect, they have found evidence of horses used by the Huns:
The second apologist argument that the horses described in the BOM were really deer or tapirs is absolutely ridiculous. Joseph Smith knew what a horse was and certainly the 'most correct book on earth' wouldn't mistranslate deer for horse 14 times. Can you imagine a tapir pulling the chariots as described in the Book of Mormon? Joseph managed tocome up with proper nouns like Curelom and Cumom and Ziff, Senine...but he couldn't get the real name for whatever he substituted horse for?
FAIR suggests that "early Nephites may have labeled deer "horses." Since the early Nephites came from Jerusalem, they of course would know what a horse was so this apologetic argument makes no sense.
Occasionally LDS members and even LDS apologists like Daniel Peterson talk of some evidence found of modern-day horses in America, but these are well-known hoaxes such as the Spencer Lake Hoax when an archeological student buried a horse skull at an archeological dig. FAIR actually made a video in which they cite the Spencer Lake horse as evidence of horses in BOM times. FAIR has now put this disclaimer about their video:
It’s much more likely that the radiocarbon dating is simply off another 65 years and that the horse was brought by the Spanish in 1769. OR, it’s quite possible that the Spanish brought horses before those missions were founded. Why would anyone think that no one could have brought a horse to California before 1769 since even Columbus brought horses with him on his second voyage to the Americas in 1493?
What seems more likely – their radiocarbon dating is off a few years or that horses ran wild in the Americas during BofM times and no other trace has ever been found of them? How could every other horse skeleton, every bridle, every saddle, every depiction of horses and every memory of people using horses totally vanish and leave absolutely no trace?
Perhaps the best, most comprehensive discussion of the horse problem in the BOM can be found in this essay : http://www.mormonmesoamerica.com/horses.htm (An archived backup of this webpage is here).
The author provides over-whelming evidence to show how the use of the word 'horse' in the BOM is a very serious problem to the credibility of the BOM. All of the apologists' arguments are evaluated in detail. To summarize this section, here are the “if….then” questions that need to be evaluated in context:
It seems clear that each of these proposals is highly unlikely, and fails to fit within the context of not only what we know about ancient Mesoamerica, but what we know about the history of other peoples in other parts of the world, as well.
Scientists just haven't found the evidence yet.
Some scholars have suggested that the elephant (mammoth or mastodon) lived later than hitherto believed. Ludwell Johnson, in an article entitled “Men and Elephants in America” published in Scientific Monthly, wrote that
If the elephants had died off at least 3000 years ago, they would still have been well within range of the Jaredite era. And as noted above, some evidence indicates that the elephant may have survived in limited numbers for centuries later. http://www.mormonfortress.com/elph1.html
His expertise was Civil War economics; not elephants or horses, present day or pre-columbian.
Naming a publication "Scientific" doesn't make it so.
LDS apologists will search and search until they find someone that will support their claims, whether they are really qualified or not as shown above. The fact is the vast majority of non-Mormon scientists support the views of the critics as that is where the critics get their information from in the first place - the general scientific community. Regarding the elephants cited by the apologists, first off all scientists agree that elephants did not exist in the Americas, however Mastodons, which are not elephants, did exist in stone-age times. Giving Joseph Smith some latitude here and equating elephants with mastodons, here's what one of the most respected scientific organizations in the world, the National Geographic Society says:
So although Mastodons (once again not elephants) lived in the Americas, they died out several thousands of years before the Jaredites even came to the Americas.
Elephants are only present in Jaredite times in the Book of Mormon. Both mastodons and gomphotheres are elephant-like creatures that are plausible candidates. (FAIR)
This could be an elephant. Certainly that interpretation can easily be made. To us it looks like an elephant. It's not complete and detailed enough for a positive identification. One problem is that the scientific community seems to ignore this depiction. We can find no archeologist that states this is an elephant (sometimes Alpheus Hyatt Verrill is cited as endorsing this but he is an author, illustrator, naturalist, explorer and science fiction writer of the 20s and 30s but not an archeologist). The website this originally is taken from is http://www.delange.org/Copan1/Copan1.htm The caption under the stone carving says
Many LDS faithful (and some outside the church) say the above drawing depicts an elephant. Many critics (including those outside of the LDS context) say this depicts a form of parrot known as a Macaw. Many of us objective writers at MormonThink initially sided with the LDS faithful as this drawing looks a lot more like an elephant than it does a parrot. As there is no other evidence to support the existence of elephants in the Americas during BOM times, such as tusks or very clear, complete carvings, we decided to investigate it further:
Critics maintain the drawing looks like an elephant because it is an extrapolation from a damaged original. The original stone carving had corner pieces broken off of it which made the parrot unrecognizable and what is left somewhat resembles an elephant head. It looks to me like the person who made the sketch decided the macaw tails looked like elephant's trunks, and his imagination filled in the parts that are missing.
"It's a macaw, and the rendering done in the original post is not very accurate.
Here's a quick little lesson on Maya iconographic conventions so you know how to tell it's a parrot:
1. The dots/beading around the eye. Look at the photo of the parrot. The pattern of skin around the eye was depicted as dots or beads by the ancient Maya, which you can see in the clearer examples I've attached. Unfortunately, in the poorly done drawing in the original post, the artist did not complete the beading, but instead made it kind of look like a pile of grapes on top of and below a weird little ear.
2. A macaw's top beak is lined with black on the bottom, and the shading gives the allusion of a little hook towards the top of the beak on the inside (see the photo). The drawing in the original post represents the shading by the crosshatched ovals towards the bottom of the supposed elephant trunk. Cross-hatching was the Maya way of showing that something was black. The little hook or protrusion on the inside toward the top is because of the black shading; the artist basically drew the little hook correctly.
3. The Maya almost always indicated a Macaw by a little curl coming up from the neck, which you can also see in all of the examples I've provided as well as the drawing in the original post.
Although the elephant image is not so apparent in the glyphs, you still can see the trunk and many similarities to the sculpture which resemble the elephant.
None of those sculptures or drawings look anywhere close to the ones that others think are elephants. Most people will think that the Stela 5 figures are elephants, especially if they do not know where they are to be found, than macaws.
The following stone carving is where the picture comes from. You can see that the top corner pieces are broken off - that is why what remains appears to be an elephant.
From the close-up, it's easy to see the damage to the top of the stone.
Although the Macaw explanation explains the images presented above, there may be evidence of pottery found after BOM times (900 A.D.) that might also require an explanation. We present this just for information purposes even though this is not presented as evidence of elephants during BOM times and we only saw it on one obscure non-LDS related website. Perhaps the following answer to this mystery is something that explains why there are no remains of elephants in America yet there may be images of elephants (yet we cannot find any other well-documented images except the one we explained above). The website http://www.world-mysteries.com/gw_kearsley.htm postulates that the knowledge of the Elephant god made its way from India through Africa to South America and was incorporated into the ancient Mayan culture.
A ritual vessel from the Classic Maya showing what appears to be an elephant deity depicting reasonably faithfully, probably from a mariner's description from Buddhist or Hindu India, this special deity as Ganesa - the god of protection and luck in ventures. [...] Yalloch, Guatemala, Late Classic, 600-900 A.D.
The key here is that this depiction (on the pottery) is of an Indian elephant deity and not an elephant roaming the wilds of America. If the author of the above piece is correct, then the knowledge of the elephant god from India came from the Old World but the actual animal did not.
Editor Summary Comment on Elephants: If the first elephant image at the beginning of this section is truly a depiction of a real, living elephant that the Mayans saw, and if it was really made before Columbus arrived, then we have to ask why there isn't any drawings or carvings of complete elephants, elephant figures, ivory carvings, etc. The Mayans made thousands of detailed carvings of other animals they had contact with such as jaguars and monkeys so why can't we find any concrete evidence of elephants other than this obscure depiction? Equally curious is why this drawing isn't used by the apologists at FAIR and FARMS. The LDS apologists likely know that the macaw explanation is accepted by serious archeologists (such as Michael Coe. They may also suspect it is not credible like the numerous ancient American horse hoaxes that have been circulated and Daniel Peterson of FARMS use to endorse.
Note: The above depiction is found at http://www.the-book-of-mormon.com/photo-proofs.html. Perhaps the reason other more credible LDS apologists like FARMS and FAIR don't cite this drawing is that this site also uses as proof of the BOM some things that are known hoaxes such as the Los Lunas Inscription (10 commandments hoax) that this site accepts as proof of Hebrews in ancient America. [backup archived copy of Los Lunas].
The following is a neutral summary of cattle and cows by wikipedia (as of May 20, 2010):
There are six references to cattle made in the Book of Mormon, including verbiage suggesting they were domesticated. There has been no evidence recovered that Old World cattle (members of the genus Bos) inhabited the New World prior to European contact in the sixteenth century AD.
Apologists argue that the term "cattle" may be more generic that suggesting members of the genus Bos, and may have referred to bison, mountain goats, llamas, or other American species. According to the Book of Mormon, varieties of "cattle" (including goats and sheep) could be found in ancient America. Without these the Nephites could not have kept the Law of Moses, as directed
LDS Apologists note that the word "cattle" may refer to the ancestor of the American bison, Bison antiquus (of the sub family Bovinae). Bison antiquus, sometimes called the ancient bison, was the most common large herbivore of the North American continent for over ten thousand years, and is a direct ancestor of the living American bison.
However, no species of bison is known to have been domesticated as the "cattle" in the Book of Mormon are suggested to have been. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that the only large mammal to be domesticated in the Americas was the llama; no species of goats, deer, sheep, or other "cattle" were domesticated before the arrival of the Europeans to the continent. Apologists counter that the wording in the Book of Mormon does not require the "cattle" to have been domesticated in the strictest sense.
1. See for example Ether 9:18
2. For example, Enos in the Book of Mormon tells that the Nephites raised “flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind...” - Enos 1:21, see also 2 Nephi 17:25
3. 1 Nephi 18:25, Mosiah 2:3, 3 Nephi 28:22
4.  (archived copy)
5. Diamond 1999, pp. 165, 167, 168
The following is a neutral summary of goats by wikipedia (as of June 1, 2010):
Goats are mentioned three times in the Book of Mormon placing them among the Nephites and the Jaredites. In two of the verses, "goats" are distinguished from "wild goats" indicating that there were at least two varieties, one of them possibly domesticated, or tamed.
Domesticated goats are not native to the Americas, having been domesticated in pre-historic times on the Eurasian continent. Domestic goats were introduced on the American continent upon the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, 1000 years after the conclusion of the Book of Mormon, and nearly 2000 years after they are last mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The mountain goat is indigenous to North America, but it has never been domesticated, and is known for being very aggressive.
Matthew Roper, a FARMS writer, discussed the topic of goats in, Deer as "Goat" and Pre-Columbian Domesticate. He noted that when early Spanish explorers visited the southeastern United States they found native Americans herding tame deer. Quoting an early historian of Spain, Peter Martyr d'Anghiera, recorded:
"In all these regions they visited, the Spaniards noticed herds of deer similar to our herds of cattle. These deer bring forth and nourish their young in the houses of the natives. During the daytime they wander freely through the woods in search of their food, and in the evening they come back to their little ones, who have been cared for, allowing themselves to be shut up in the courtyards and even to be milked, when they have suckled their fawns. The only milk the natives know is that of the does, from which they make cheese."
Mr Roper also noted early Spanish colonists called native Mesoamerican brocket deer goats. He quotes, "Friar Diego de Landa noted, 'There are wild goats which the Indians call yuc.'" He quoted another friar in the late 16th century, "in Yucatán 'there are in that province ... great numbers of deer, and small goats'".
1. 1 Ne. 18: 25, Enos 1: 21, Ether 9: 18
2. John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah (1969, Yale University Press)
Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2000, Westminster John Knox Press)
Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (1977, Oxford)
3. Deer as "Goat" and Pre-Columbian Domesticate Matthew Roper
The following is a neutral summary of swine by wikipedia (as of August 5, 2010):
Swine are referred to twice in the Book of Mormon, and the narrative of the Book of Mormon suggests that the swine were domesticated. There have not been any remains, references, artwork, tools, or any other evidence suggesting that swine were ever present in the pre-entrada New World.
Apologists note that Peccaries (also known as Javelinas), which bear a superficial resemblance to pigs, have been present in South America since prehistoric times. LDS authors advocating the original mound builder setting for the Book of Mormon have similarly suggested North American peccaries (also called “wild pigs”) as the “swine” of the Jaredites.
Critics rebut that peccaries have never been domesticated.
1. Ether 9:8
2. Ether 9:17-18
3. Gongora, J., and C. Moran. 2005. "Nuclear and mitochondrial evolutionary analyses of Collared, White-lipped, and Chacoan peccaries (Tayassuidae)." Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution; 34: 181-189.
4. ”peccary”, The New Columbia Encyclopedia
5. Phyllis Carol Olive, Lost Lands of the Book of Mormon, 83
6. "Nor were there any animals [in the Americas] which could be domesticated for food or milk...the peccary, or American hog, is irreclaimable in its love of freedom." - Brinton, quoted in Roberts, B.H. Studies of the Book of Mormon, Second Edition. Signature Books. Salt Lake City. Edited by Brigham D. Madsen. 1992. pp. 102-103
The honey bee is not native to North America; it was introduced from Europe for honey production in the early 1600s. Subspecies were introduced from Italy in 1859, and later from Spain, Portugal and elsewhere.
Reference: Science Daily
Book of Mormon Crops
The following is a neutral summary of barley and wheat by wikipedia (as of August 18, 2010):
Grains are mentioned twenty-eight times in the Book of Mormon, including barley and wheat. The introduction of domesticated modern barley and wheat to the New World was made by Europeans sometime after 1492, many centuries after the time in which the Book of Mormon is set.
FARMS apologist Robert Bennett offered two possible explanations for this anachronism:
"Research on this matter supports two possible explanations. First, the terms barley and wheat, as used in the Book of Mormon, may refer to certain other New World crop plants that were given Old World designations; and second, the terms may refer to genuine varieties of New World barley and wheat," states Mr Benett of the Maxwell Institute. "For example, the Spanish called the fruit of the prickly pear cactus a "fig," and emigrants from England called maize "corn," an English term referring to grains in general. A similar practice may have been employed when Book of Mormon people encountered New World plant species for the first time."
Apologist Robert R. Bennett of FARMS postulates that references to "barley" could refer to Hordeum pusillum, also known as "Little Barley", a species of grass native to the Americas. The seeds are edible, and this plant was part of the Pre-Columbian Eastern Agricultural Complex of cultivated plants used by Native Americans. Hordeum pusillum was unknown in Mesoamerica, where there is no evidence of pre-Columbian barley cultivation, but evidence exists that this plant was domesticated in North America in the Woodland periods contemporary with mound builder societies (early centuries A.D.). He states that this information “should caution readers of the Book of Mormon not to quickly dismiss references to pre-Columbian wheat as anachronistic.”.
Additionally, apologists[who?] also note that the Norse, after reaching North America, claimed to have found what they called “self-sown wheat”.
Additionally, apologists[who?] postulate that references to "barley" and "wheat" could be generic terms for grains such as chia, a grain that was used by the Aztecs.
Critics rebut these claims, rejecting the notion that Hordeum pusillum was the "barley" that Joseph Smith referred to in the Book of Mormon. They also note that the earliest mention of barley in the Book of Mormon dates to 121 B.C. which is several hundred years prior to cultivation of Hordeum pusillum in North America, and the arrival of the Norse.
1. Barley and Wheat in the Book Mormon". Featured Papers (Maxwell Institute). http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=transcripts&id=126. Retrieved 2007-01-19.
2. Barley and Wheat in the Book Mormon Robert R. Bennett Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute.
3. Bennett cites, Nancy B. Asch and David L. Asch, “Archeobotany,” in Deer Track: A Late Woodland Village in the Mississippi Valley, ed. Charles R. McGimsey and Michael D. Conner (Kampsville, Ill. Center for American Archaeology, 1985), 44, pg. 78
4. Robert R. Bennett, “Barley and Wheat in the Book Mormon”, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute.
5. Commenting on the Norse sagas: Dorothy Duncan, Canadians at Table, pp. 23-24; See also “Leif Ericsson”, The New Columbia Encyclopedia
6. Chia Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs Richard Ayerza, Jr.; Wayne Coates 215 pp.
8. Mosiah 7:22
The problem of Barley in the BOM and the apologetic response is discussed in Jim Whitefield's book The Mormon Delusion in the section discussing Nephite coins.
Taken from a Book of Mormon critic's viewpoint:
When Joseph Smith concocted the Book of Mormon, he just assumed that the ancient Amerindians had the same kind of agriculture as that which he knew in upstate New York. Consequently, he had his ancient characters growing wheat, barley, corn, and flax, and planting vineyards for wine, and being able to understand the symbolism of the olive and trees. Now, of course, Smith was right about the corn - that is, maize. But is there anyone of Smith's day who had not heard of "Indian corn," or did not know that corn had come from the Indians? What Smith did not know, however, was that corn was but one of three staple crops raised by the Indians of Central America - the region in which the discovery of ruined civilizations had triggered enormous amounts of speculation in the time of Smith's youth. The other two major crops were squash and beans. These were supplemented by such things as avocados, amaranth, etc. You can search all you want in the Book of Mormon, but you won't find any mention, apart from corn, of the crops actually raised in ancient America. Incidentally, we have numerous cases where these crops have been preserved in archaeological sites and are easily identifiable.
What does archaeology tell us of the presence or absence of the crops Smith claimed were the staples of ancient America? No remains of wheat or domesticated barley have ever been found. In fact, the one possible pre-Columbian specimen of barley discovered at a site in Arizona [not a Book of Mormon location anyway per apologists] is of a species different from the species of domesticated barley allegedly brought from the Near East. And what of flax? No dice, again. Fortunately for lovers of truth, the Mormon apologists cannot simply say we haven't been looking in the right place, or that the remains of these plants have all perished with the passage of time. The reason for our good fortune is the fact that these domestic plants are all flowering plants. As such, they produce pollen - in great abundance. If the Mormonic civilizations had been growing these crops for even a few decades - let alone the thousands of years allegedly chronicled by the Book of Mormon - every soil coring taken in Central America should show traces of wheat, barley, and flax pollen. Pollen is one of the most indestructible natural objects known.
An example of the type of research that shows Book of Mormon agriculture to be nineteenth century fantasy is David J. Rue's 1987 paper in Nature titled "Early Agriculture and Early Postclassic Maya Occupation in Western Honduras." By studying soil corings from Lake Yojoa and Petapida Swamp, both in western Honduras, Rue was able to reconstruct the agricultural history of the area from a time 4770 years before the present up to modem times. He could tell from pollen when the region was forested, when the forest was cut and burned for agriculture, what crops were grown and for how long. Although he found clear records of pollen from corn (maize) and amaranth - two Amerindian staples - he makes no mention of wheat, barley, or flax pollen. Perhaps the LDS Church would like to pay him to go through his cores again, looking more carefully for the mythical motes that should be in them if the Book of Mormon be true!
(Cultural artifacts or circumstances mentioned in the Book of Mormon that have not been discovered or verified in any ancient American archaeological expedition or historical investigation in the last 200 years.)
- Silk (Alma 1:29)
- Chariots (Alma 18:9)
- Seven day week (Mosiah 13:18) (not known to Ancient Americans)
- Cimeters (Old-World two-handed steel blade) Mosiah 9:16 (and other verses)
- Visit of post-mortal Christ in the pre-Columbian New World (Elder Mark E. Peterson and Elder Ted E. Brewerton attempt to parallel the Book of Mormon narrative to the Quetzalcoatl (or feathered serpent) legend).
- Land kept from the knowledge of 'other nations' (2 Nephi 1:8)
Comments on the LDS apologist explanations
The MormonThink editors are not going to chase down every one of these anachronisms. The point is there are simply too many anachronisms in the Book of Mormon to ignore and the LDS apologists will always come up with some sort of answer to explain how these anachronisms do not entirely necessarily discredit the Book of Mormon. There may be explanations that makes sense for some of these but it's difficult to believe that they all can be explained away. Here is a typical full analysis of one of these additional anachronisms we received from a critic - the use of the word compass in the BOM. We do this to show the reader how adequate or inadequate their explanations can be for anachronisms in the BOM.
Compass - FAIR explanation
Critics charge that the description of the Liahona as a "compass" is anachronistic because the magnetic compass was not known in 600 B.C.
Alma2 explained why the director the Lord gave to Lehi was called the Liahona:
- ...I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or director — or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a compass; and the Lord prepared it (Alma 37:38).
Believing it was called a compass because it pointed the direction for Lehi to travel is the fault of the modern reader, not the Book of Mormon.
- As a verb, the word "compass" occurs frequently in the King James Version of the Bible; and it generally suggests the idea of surrounding or encircling something.
- A third common situation in the KJV is the use of the phrase "to fetch a compass" (e.g., Numbers 34:5; Joshua 15:3; Acts 28:13), which if not recognized as a verbal phrase could be wrongly seen as presenting "compass" as a noun.
In every case, it is clear that, at least in Jacobean England, the word was regularly treated as meaning either a round object, or something which moved in a curved fashion.
Further evidence of the archaic meaning of the word comes from a study of the rather lengthy listing for the word in the Oxford English Dictionary. It includes definition 5.b.:
Anything circular in shape, e.g. the globe, the horizon; also, a circlet or ring.
FAIR's Conclusion: To use the word compass as a name for a round or curved object is well attested in both the King James Version of the Bible and the Oxford English Dictionary. The Book of Mormon refers to the Liahona as "a compass" not because it anachronistically pointed the way to travel, but because it was a perfectly round object.
Critic's Response: Note the following verses from the BOM concerning Lehi's trip [emphasis added]:
10 And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morning, and went forth to the tent door, to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one POINTED THE WAY WITHER WE SHOULD GO INTO THE WILDERNESS.
30 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the mountain, according to the DIRECTIONS which were given upon the ball.
Now followed by:
Alma 37:38 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the thing which our fathers call a ball, or DIRECTOR—or our fathers called it Liahona, which is, being interpreted, a COMPASS; and the Lord prepared it.
The Book of Mormon explicitly states that the "Liahona", was a DIRECTOR, it was certainly used by Lehi's party to DIRECT them in the wilderness, and Alma the younger even made more clarification of its nature by calling it a DIRECTOR and COMPASS -- this is an anachronism because the COMPASS which DIRECTED one's course wasn't invented yet for many centuries.
FAIR grasps at straws by stating “In every case, it is clear that, at least in Jacobean England, the word was regularly treated as meaning either a round object, or something which moved in a curved fashion. “
We do not live in Jacobean England nor did Joseph Smith nor the Nephites.
Also notice how the FAIR apologists blame you for taking "director" to mean "director". The FAIR apologists are the same people that make "horse" mean "tapir" and "steel" somehow they make into wooden clubs with obsidian (volcanic glass) chunks all stuck into it called "macahuitl", and Nephite coinage means anything other than gold & silver monetary units, and Lehi & company conquered another race and interbred with them without being mentioned in the Book of Mormon at all in an attempt to cloud and detract from the real problem regarding Native American DNA, and there's a second Hill Cumorah on the grassy knoll.....and a whole litany of things that should be plain and precious from the most correct book on earth.
Editor Comment: We'll let the reader decide whether the apologists or the critics' arguments make the most sense.
More critical analysis and LDS apologist responses can be found on wikipedia and other various sites to discuss some of the culture, metallurgy and linguistic anachronisms that the contributors of this site haven't fully yet analyzed.
wikipedia Book of Mormon Anachronisms
Coinage wasn't really invented until after Lehi left Jerusalem. Furthermore, no evidence of any coins, which would have been very numerous, have ever been found which could be attributed to the Nephite monetary system.
Here's an excellent analysis on the Book of Mormon currency by Jim Whitefield. Please read this well-researched and informative essay:
http://www.themormondelusion.com/page_1232377887281.html (An archived backup of this webpage is here)
Apologist response: Apologists are adamant to state that the BOM does not specifically say the word coins except in the chapter heading added by the church later for clarity. From FAIR's website:
Critics claim that Book of Mormon references to Nephite coins is an anachronism, as coins were not used either in ancient America or Israel during Lehi's day. However, the word "coins" was only added to the chapter heading of Alma 11 much later, and the text of the Book of Mormon itself does not mention coins. The pieces of gold and silver described in Alma 11:1-20 are not coins, but a surprisingly sophisticated system of weights and measures that is entirely consistent with Mesoamerican proto-monetary practices.
MT response: Although Jim Whitefield's essay discusses the use of coins in great detail, we'd just like to add the following common sense items: The Church added the word coins starting in 1920 to the chapter summaries in order to clarify what the text of the chapter was about. Why would they use the word 'coins'? It was obvious to the Church (and anyone else reading the text) that the text of the BOM was referring to coins and a monetary system. Do you think that the Church just casually adds words to their sacred scriptures specifically for the purpose of summarizing and clarifying the text without being pretty confident they are doing so correctly?
Noted General Authority and Assistant Church Historian B.H. Roberts also believed the BOM referenced coins:
“we have also a number of names of Nephite coins and the names of fractional values of coins…” Roberts ‘explains’ the coinage system and their relative values and then states “there is stated a system of relative values in these coins that bears evidence of its being genuine”. (A New Witness for God. 3:145. Italics added).
Just as it was very obvious to the Church editors and to B.H. Roberts that those passages were referring to coins and stated as such, it was also very obvious to famed apologist Hugh Nibley when he made his famous Book of Mormon challenge. Here is item # 8 [emphasis added]:
You must describe their religious, economic, political, and social cultures and institutions. Cover every phase of their society, including the names of their coins.
So even famed LDS historians B.H. Roberts and Hugh Nibley knew that the Book of Mormon was referring to coins in the text. Who should be believed - The Church, the Book of Mormon, Hugh Nibley & B.H. Roberts or the apologists at FAIR?
The BOM has Christ replacing the King James Bible coin "farthing" with the Nephite coin "senine".
26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
3 Nephi 12:26
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison can ye pay even one senine? Verily, verily, I say unto you, Nay.
A farthling is a coin so it would make sense that the Nephite word senine substituted for farthing is also a coin.
Editor comment: Even if the BOM was referring to a monetary system using coins without imprinting on them such as uniform weights as argued by FAIR, that does not solve the problem as no weights made of silver and gold have ever been found that could possibly be considered as part of the Nephite weights and measures system used for centuries by millions of Nephites. See Jim Whitfield's study on Nephite Coins for a comprehensive analysis of the problem and his detailed response to FAIR's assertions.
Book of Mormon Geography Questions from Critics
- Why is it that numerous LDS books and papers describe proposed Book of Mormon locations for cities and the "narrow neck of land"?No city has been identified as being Nephite, Lamanite, Jaredite, etc. For example, Zarahemla was occupied for hundreds of years, but we still don't have any real evidence of it ever existing. The Book of Mormon describes a time period from 2000 BC to 400 AD and millions of people. No city they occupied has yet to be found.
- Why didn't any of the place names from the Book of Mormon still exist when Columbus arrived?
- Where was the Hill Cumorah? Was it in New York or Central America? If it was in Central America, why hasn't it been found? If it was in New York, how did they move that quickly and where are all the remains?
- Why don't significant gaps exist in the archeological record of Mesoamerica if these "missing" people existed?
- Did the Book of Mormon take place outside of Mesoamerica? The History of the Church records an incident from June, 1834 in which Joseph Smith identified a skeleton found in an Indian burial mound in Illinois: "... the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph ... who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains." (HOC 1904 ed., II: 79-80). NOTE: MormonThink has completed an essay on Zelph that goes into detail about the story of Zelph and its implications on the BOM historicity.
- Why don't [non-Mormon] archeologists theorize Hebrew or Egyptian linkages or influences in Mesoamerica?
National Geographic recently rebroadcast a documentary called 'America before Columbus'. This documentary did not mention Mormons at all but gives remarkable insights to the lands mentioned in the Book of Mormon. An overview of the show from their website:
"History books traditionally depict the pre-Columbus Americas as a pristine wilderness where small native villages lived in harmony with nature. But scientific evidence tells a very different story: When Columbus stepped ashore in 1492, millions of people were already living there. America wasn't exactly a "New World," but a very old one whose inhabitants had built a vast infrastructure of cities, orchards, canals and causeways."
Based on their overview of the show, we initially thought this may actually support the Book of Mormon, however the documentary goes into great detail discussing all the new animals and plants that were introduced to the Americas by the Europeans starting in 1492. These include modern-day horses, cattle, oxen, goats, sheep, pigs, European honeybees, wheat and barley.
However, according to the Book of Mormon, all of these animals and plants existed in abundance in the Americas when the Nephites and Lamanites lived as they were brought there by Lehi and his family around 600 B.C. So how can scientists say that none of these animals and plants existed in America when the scriptures clearly report they did? Either the BOM or all of these scientists must be in error.
The National Geographic Society is one of the most respected scientific organizations in the world. Their goal is to educate people about our planet, its history and help protect it for future generations. We ask the viewer of this documentary to honestly think about which is more likely - all of the evidence of these animals and plants vanished and scientists are completely mistaken about what was in the Americas or perhaps the Book of Mormon is not historical?
Knowledge of the Wheel?
The origin of the wheel is unknown, but once it was invented, knowledge of the wheel spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean and Asian world. Wheeled vehicles made the movement of goods much easier. The earliest known examples of wheels are from Mesopotamia and date from about 3500 to 3000 BC. The cart or wagon, pulled by humans or animals, was the first wheeled vehicle.
Lehi and his party obviously had knowledge of the wheel. The Book of Mormon uses the term chariot many times (and in many different time periods) which shows that the BOM peoples used the concept of the wheel. Some example of this are:
2 Ne. 12: 7
7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.
Alma 18: 9
9 And they said unto him: Behold, he is feeding thy horses. Now the king had commanded his servants, previous to the time of the watering of their flocks, that they should prepare his horses and chariots, and conduct him forth to the land of Nephi; for there had been a great feast appointed at the land of Nephi, by the father of Lamoni, who was king over all the land.
Alma 18: 10
10 Now when king Lamoni heard that Ammon was preparing his horses and his chariots he was more astonished, because of the faithfulness of Ammon, saying: Surely there has not been any servant among all my servants that has been so faithful as this man; for even he doth remember all my commandments to execute them.
Alma 18: 12
12 And it came to pass that when Ammon had made ready the horses and the chariots for the king and his servants, he went in unto the king, and he saw that the countenance of the king was changed; therefore he was about to return out of his presence.
Alma 20: 6
6 Now when Lamoni had heard this he caused that his servants should make ready his horses and his chariots.
3 Ne. 3: 22
22 And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.
3 Ne. 21: 14
14 Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots;
So what happened to the wheel?
Archaeology says that wheels were not used for travel in Pre-Columbian America. The knowledge of the wheel for transportation may have been in existence but seems to be limited to the use in toys. If the Nephites and Lamanites used chariots, why wouldn't this extremely valuable idea continue to be used by the descendants of the Ancient Americans?
If Lehi's descendants did use a wheel, there would be evidence of wheels in the Americas before Columbus. Technology spreads quickly, especially an innovative one like the wheel.
Even the use of wheels in toys is suspect. Some LDS apologists have pointed to the discovery of wheeled toys left in tombs. However, several researchers, including W. H. Holmes of the Bureau of American Ethnology suspect that the toys were introduced into the tombs after the arrival of Europeans on the continent. He stated:
"Charnay obtained from an ancient cemetery at Tenenepanco, Mexico, a number of toy chariots of terra cotta, presumably buried with the body of a child, some of which retained their wheels. The possibility that these toys are of a post-discovery manufacture must be taken into account, especially since mention is made of the discovery of brass bells in the same cemetery with the toys." (emphasis in original). Reference: wikipedia (on May 14, 2010)
Precolumbianwheels.com (archived copy)
Exmormon Board: Horses and wheel discussion
ETHNIC DIVERSITY IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS
Guns, germs and steel
LDS Apologist Response
Two different questions are at issue: (1) Could the ancient Americans have known about the wheel but lost the knowledge? (2) Must a chariot have wheels?
Could the ancient Americans have known about the wheel but lost the knowledge?
Over fifty clay “toys” or miniatures with axles and wheels have been uncovered in ancient America. Such miniatures (which most likely were not “toys” but had religious significance) most certainly exhibit knowledge of the wheel and its uses. Full-sized wooden wheels most likely would have deteriorated through time. Of the tens of thousands of chariots mentioned in the Bible, not a single chariot fragment has ever been unearthed in the Holy Land.
Some American cultures—after the wheel was introduced by the Spanish—refused to use the wheel because of it’s religious symbolism associated with the Sun. For hundreds of years others did not take advantage of the Spanish-introduced wheel because it was not practical in the Mesoamerican jungle terrain.
Must a chariot have wheels?
In Maya battle imagery, for instance, the king rides into battle on a litter or cloth covered framework between two parallel bars. Since the Book of Mormon never hints at riding or mounting a chariot (and since it is never mentioned in a military context), we cannot confidently conclude what such a “chariot” was. Some biblical passages referring to “chariots” can also be translated as a “portable couch” or “human-born ‘sedan’ chair.” The Talmud even uses the term (translated “chariot” in English) for a nuptial bed.
Critic's Response: This web site does not specifically 'defend' the Bible, but certainly evidence of chariots has been found throughout the Old World:
Fig. 4 Wheel found in La Tène (Vouga 1923)
Chariots are also found in pictorial form, including northern Italian grave monuments as, for example, the famous Paduan Stele (Frey 1968; see Fig. 5), on "Celtic" coinage (Furger-Gunti 1993: 214), and on late Hallstatt and Early La Tène sheet metal vessels (Frey 1962), as, for example, the Vace situla (Frey and Lucke 1962; see Fig. 6).
|Fig. 5 Stele from Padua, Italy (Frey 1968)
||Fig. 6 Situla Vace. Slovenia (Frey and Luce 1962)
No one seems to doubt that chariots were used in the Old World but no non-Mormon scholar believes that chariots (or any wheeled vehicle) were used anywhere in the New World before Columbus.
If the Nephites and Lamanites used the wheel for transportation in the form of chariots, then they wouldn't have simply stopped using them for "religious symbolism associated with the Sun" as proposed by the apologists. Why on earth would the heathen Lamanites care about offending some 'Sun god' by using a wheel when they didn't care about offending the 'real God' by breaking his commandments continually? If the Lamanites, Nephites or any other peoples used the wheel for any length of time, they would not have simply abandoned its use for any reason.
Must a chariot have wheels?
The argument put forth by the apologists that the chariots spoken of in the Book of Mormon were wheel-less vehicles is absurd. In every instance that the word chariot is mentioned in the BOM, it is used in conjunction with the word 'horse'. See above
for the pairing of 'horses and chariots'. In the BOM, horses and chariots go together like 'bows and arrows'. It should be obvious that chariots used in conjunction with horses mean just what you would think it would mean; horses pulling the chariots.
Despite some LDS member's claims, there appears to be no existing archeological evidence which directly supports the Book of Mormon. There are scholars within the church that will point to a few scattered indirect parallels within existing Old World and Ancient American history and archaeology in an attempt to lend credence to the possibility that such a civilization existed. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that the entire Book of Mormon narrative occurred within a very limited geographical location in Central America and therefore would be virtually undetectable by means of modern research. Unfortunately for these scholars, this theory (and the different variations of it that exist) directly contradicts nearly a century and a half of past statements by high-ranking church leaders, past prophets, the Book of Mormon text, the Doctrine and Covenants (which specifically identifies North American Natives as Lamanites) and even Joseph Smith himself. If one is to accept any variation of this 'limited geography theory', one must completely disregard the LDS church's current and past declarations on the matter and basically stand in direct opposition to current and past church teachings.
During the early 1980s, reports circulated in LDS culture that the Book of Mormon was being used by the Smithsonian to guide primary archaeological research. This rumor was brought to the attention of Smithsonian directors who, in 1996, sent a form letter to inquiring parties stating that the Smithsonian did not use the Book of Mormon to guide any research, and included a list of specific reasons Smithsonian archaeologists considered the Book of Mormon historically unlikely.
An example of the problems facing the Book of Mormon from an archaeological standpoint is found in 2 Nephi 5:16 where Nephi writes that his people constructed a temple "like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine." Where is this temple? There are ruins from a myriad of other non-Book of Mormon peoples that have survived for thousands of years. The Book of Mormon never records the destruction of this temple and therefore it should be fairly easy to locate a temple "like unto the temple of Solomon" which, according to the biblical narrative, took many years and many thousands of workmen to build (though Nephi's original colonizing party could not have numbered more than 30-40 in totality at the time he records the construction of the temple).
In a broader context, where are the cities that archeologically, geographically and historically correspond with the Book of Mormon text? To date, there have been none discovered. There are a plethora of speculative theories from LDS scholars and lay members but there has yet to be a genuine verifiable discovery of a city or group of cities anywhere in the Americas that match the characteristics and time period given in the Book of Mormon.
In fact, Apostle Dallin H. Oaks has actively discouraged members from speculating on the location of Book of Mormon Lands or artifacts and instead favors the standard missionary approach for determining the book's veracity. In an interview with Steve Benson (grandson of the late Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson), Oaks affirmed this approach in an attempt to assuage both Steve's and his wife Mary Ann's concerns regarding Book of Mormon historicity.
Here are a few excerpts from that discussion as recorded by Steve Benson [emphasis added]:
Mary Ann began by explaining to [Dallin] Oaks and [Neil] Maxwell that she was sincerely trying to do what the Church had admonished its members to do: namely, study the scriptures. She informed them that the more she examined Mormonism's scriptural texts, the more she found contradictions between The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine and Covenants. Mary Ann informed the two apostles that she was having a difficult time reconciling those contradictions. Therefore, she said, she decided to undertake her own personal study of The Book of Mormon--but from another point of view.
She took out a well-used, paperback copy of The Book of Mormon and showed Oaks and Maxwell what she had done with it. Opening the book and thumbing through its pages, she demonstrated to them how she, in Seminary scripture study cross-referencing style, had color-coded the text.
Oaks told Mary Ann, "Well, you know, as you've thumbed through your book, it only appears to me that 5% of your book has been marked, so I would say don't throw out the 95% because of the 5%... He continued, "It's like being married to our wives. I'm sure there's more than 5% of me that my wife finds disagreement with, but she puts up with it anyway. It's kind of like being married to The Book of Mormon. Don't let your doubts keep you out of the mainstream."
Oaks offered me some counsel of his own. "You ought to go through The Book of Mormon," he said, "and color in all the differences and emphasize the unique and special teachings of The Book of Mormon that don't have any similarities to other sources." (However, Mary Ann's point for being at the meeting in the first place, as she herself said, was not to talk about or debate differences between The Book of Mormon and Spalding texts; rather, she wanted to get answers regarding their similarities in areas of story lines, exact wording, etc).
Maxwell also defended The Book of Mormon as a divinely-translated, authentic ancient document based, he claimed, on the speed and method of its translation.
After Oaks and Maxwell presented their respective defenses, Mary Ann again asked them how she should deal with the things she had found in her own Book of Mormon. At this point, Oaks and Maxwell said that the jury was still out. Maxwell asserted that the Lord will leave The Book of Mormon to the very last, before providing definitive proof of its truthfulness. In the meantime, he said, "we will have opposition in this externally." [Emphasis added]
Maxwell again insisted that external authentication of The Book of Mormon would be left "until the last," but that the Lord will no longer let critics of the Church "slam-dunk" The Book of Mormon.
Be that as it may, Oaks acknowledged that F.A.R.M.S. sometimes gets "hyperactive" in trying to prove that The Book of Mormon is true. He said he becomes concerned when F.A.R.M.S. "stops making shields and starts turning out swords," because, he said, "you cannot prove The Book of Mormon out of the realm of faith." Accepting The Book of Mormon, Oaks said, was ultimately a matter of faith. [Emphasis added]
Nonetheless, Maxwell interjected to say, "We're grateful for F.A.R.M.S., though, because they protect us on the flank." Maxwell told us that F.A.R.M.S., in fact, had been given the express mission of not letting the Church become outflanked.
Oaks and Maxwell, in their final assessment of evidentiary proof concerning The Book of Mormon, admitted to us that the arguments for and against the book were "equal," with neither side being able to prove whether The Book of Mormon was true or untrue. In the ultimate analysis, they told us, The Book of Mormon had to be accepted on faith.
I responded by telling them that I was attempting to examine both sides of the question and was not convinced that the pro-Book of Mormon side had the advantage. To the contrary, I told them that I was inclined to believe the advantage lay with the book's critics. I said that because I did not regard the evidence on The Book of Mormon to be equally balanced, I therefore did not believe I was obligated to accept it on faith. I also expressed the view that if, in fact, there was an evidentiary advantage to one side or the other, that should then allow for the person doing the investigating to make a decision as to Book of Mormon veracity--outside the realm of faith.
Oaks responded by again saying there was no evidence proving or disproving The Book of Mormon. He placed his right hand over his heart and said, "I get this knot, this warm feeling right here, and that is what I go on." Oaks told us that he had a conviction that The Book of Mormon was "true." He said that feeling of truthfulness came from a "personal witness."
Oak's position as recorded by Benson can be understood in greater context when we examine the account of Thomas Stuart Ferguson; President of the New World Archaeological Foundation, the only LDS Church-sponsored organization to ever be commissioned with the task of attempting to prove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon outside the subjective supernatural realm of faith-based testimony. His efforts and the efforts of his foundation ended in failure and the Church has since ceased to sponsor archaeological expeditions to verify its keystone document's authenticity.
The following are excerpts from and article by Jerald and Sandra Tanner printed in the 'Salt Lake City Messenger' published by Utah Lighthouse Ministries:
Thomas Stuart Ferguson was born in "Pocatello, Idaho, on 21 May 1915." (The Messiah in Ancient America, 1987, p. 248) He "received degrees in political science and law from the University of California and practiced law in Orinda, California." (Ibid.) Mr. Ferguson also worked with the F.B.I., but his first love seemed to be trying to prove the Book of Mormon through the study of Mesoamerican archaeology. In 1983, J. Willard Marriott wrote a letter in which he commented concerning Ferguson's dedication to establishing an archaeological base for the Book of Mormon: "'We spent several months together in Mexico looking at the ruins and studying the Book of Mormon archaeology. I have never known anyone who was more devoted to that kind of research than was Tom. I remember when he was with the F.B.I., he would arise at 4:30 or 5:00 AM and read the Book of Mormon and information he could find pertaining to it'" (Ibid., p. 250) His wife, Ester, recalled that "during their courtship that she was sometimes piqued by his passion for the Book of Mormon and once complained to her mother, 'I think I'm going out with the Book of Mormon.'... Throughout their married life she staunchly supported her husband's efforts." (p. 250)
On page 251-52 of The Messiah in Ancient America, we read that "Tom Ferguson first approached the President of Brigham Young University, Howard S. McDonald, about establishing a Department of Archaeology.... Tom Ferguson was able to convince officials of BYU of the benefit to the University of having such a department....
"The new Department of Archaeology (now Anthropology) sponsored its first field trip in 1948 to western Campeche, a state in southeastern Mexico .... Tom Ferguson... participated in that first of many expeditions..."
Mr. Ferguson devoted a great deal of his life trying to prove the Book of Mormon by archaeology and was considered by the Mormon people as a great defender of the faith. He wrote at least three books on the subject. His book, One Fold and One Shepherd, was recommended to one of the authors of this work (Jerald) as containing the ultimate case for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. On the jacket of that book, we find this information about Ferguson: "Thomas Stuart Ferguson, 47, President of the New World Archaeological Foundation, is a distinguished student of the earliest high civilizations of the New World. He, with Dr. A.V. Kidder, dean of Central American archaeologists, first planned the New World Archaeological Foundation in 1952.... He raised $225,000 for the field work, incorporated the Foundation (being an attorney), assisted in the initial explorations in Central America and Mexico and has actively directed the affairs of the Foundation since its inception."
From all that we can learn, Thomas Stuart Ferguson was a dedicated believer in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon at the time he founded the New World Archaeology Foundation. He really believed that archaeology would prove the Book of Mormon. In a letter dated April 23, 1952, Mr. Ferguson said the "the archaeological data now available is entirely inadequate" for testing the Book of Mormon. He predicted, however, that the "next ten years of excavations in Mexico and Guatemala should enable us to make the archaeological tests." For a number of years he was very excited about the progress of the work and seemed certain that the Book of Mormon would be vindicated soon. In his book, One Fold and One Shepherd, p. 263, he stated: "The important thing now is to continue the digging at an accelerated pace in order to find more inscriptions dating to Book-of-Mormon times. Eventually we should find decipherable inscriptions... referring to some unique person, place or event in the Book of Mormon." In 1962 Mr. Ferguson said that "Powerful evidences sustaining the book are accumulating"
Although many important archaeological discoveries were made, the evidence he had desired to find to support the Book of Mormon did not turn up. In response to a letter Hal Hougey wrote in 1972 which reminded him that he had predicted in 1961 that Book of Mormon cities would be found within 10 years, Mr. Ferguson sadly wrote: "Ten years have passed... I sincerely anticipated that Book-of-Mormon cities would be positively identified within 10 years--and time has proved me wrong in my anticipation." (Letter dated June 5, 1972)
At first it had all seemed so simple; since the Book of Mormon told when the Nephites were in Mesoamerica, all one had to do was find archaeological sites that dated to the period and the Book of Mormon would be established by the evidence. The fact that archaeological research failed to provide the confirmation which Mr. Ferguson expected to find must have weighed very heavily on his mind. The most serious blow to Ferguson's faith, however, came just after Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri were rediscovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This collection, which had been lost for many years, contained the very papyrus from which Joseph Smith "translated" the Book of Abraham. The Book of Abraham is published in the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of the Mormon Church.
After Mr. Ferguson obtained photographs of the papyrus fragments, he consulted Professors Lutz and Lesko of the University of California. Both these Egyptologists agreed that the papyrus Joseph Smith claimed was the Book of Abraham was in reality the Book of Breathings, an Egyptian funerary text made for a man by the name of Hor (Horus). Ferguson learned that this papyrus had nothing at all to do with the patriarch Abraham or his religion. It was in its entirety a pagan text filled with the names of Egyptian gods and goddesses.
Thomas Stuart Ferguson was shaken to the core by this discovery. When the church's noted apologist, Dr. Hugh Nibley, began defending the Book of Abraham, he wrote a letter to another member of the church in which he stated:
"The attempts, including Nibley's, to explain away and dodge the trap into which Joseph Smith fell when he had the audacity to translate the Chandler texts, and keep the original Egyptian texts around, are absurd, in my view....
"My views are not for publication or spreading abroad. I am like you--maintaining membership because of the many fine things the Church offers. But facts speak for themselves. I offered the data available to my Stake Pres. recently and he walked away without it--saying he didn't want to read it. They can hardly excommunicate [sic] us when they won't look at the evidence.
"Of course the dodge as to the Book of Abraham must be: 'WE DON'T HAVE THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT FROM WHICH THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM WAS TRANSLATED. I conclude that we do have it and have translations of it." (Letter by Thomas Stuart Ferguson, dated March 13, 1971)
FERGUSON VISITS THE TANNERS
The first indication we had that Mr. Ferguson was losing his faith in Mormonism was just after Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri were rediscovered. In 1968 he wrote us a letter saying that we were "doing a great thing--getting out some truth on the Book of Abraham." This was a significant statement since we were presenting evidence that the Book of Abraham was not a correct translation of the papyri. Later we heard a rumor that he had given up Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham, but this hardly prepared us for his visit on December 2, 1970. At that time, Mr. Ferguson told us frankly that he had not only given up the Book of Abraham, but that he had come to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was not a prophet and that Mormonism was not true. Ferguson felt that our work was important and that it should be subsidized. He told us that he had spent twenty-five years trying to prove Mormonism, but had finally come to the conclusion that all his work in this regard had been in vain. He said that his training in law had taught him how to weigh evidence and that the case against Joseph Smith was absolutely devastating and could not be explained away.
Ferguson found himself faced with a dilemma, for the Mormon Church had just given him a large grant ($100,000 or more) to carry on the archaeological research of the New World Archaeological Foundation. He felt, however, that this foundation was doing legitimate archaeological work, and therefore he intended to continue the research. He realized that the organization he had founded to establish the authenticity of-the Book of Mormon was now actually disproving the Book of Mormon by its failure to turn up anything concerning a Christian culture existing in Mesoamerica prior to the time of Columbus.
A few months after Thomas Stuart Ferguson revealed to us that he had come to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon was a spurious production, he wrote us a letter in which he said: "I think I will be in SLC in June--and if so, I'll call on you again. I enjoyed my visit with you.... I certainly admire you for the battle you are waging--virtually single handed." (Letter dated March 13, 1971) On a number of occasions when people wrote to him, Mr. Ferguson recommended that they read our publications on Mormonism.
Unfortunately, Thomas Stewart Ferguson seems to have had a very difficult time communicating his loss of faith to those he was close to. He told us, for instance, that he did not dare tell one of his sons the truth about the Book of Mormon because the shock would cause him too much emotional trauma. He felt that he may have to put the matter off until the situation changed. While he no longer believed in the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, he continued to attend the Mormon Church.
In a letter to James Still, dated Dec. 3, 1979, Mr. Ferguson frankly stated: "I lost faith in Joseph Smith as one having a pipeline to deity--and have decided that there has never been a pipeline to deity--with any man." Since he had many friends and members of his family in Mormonism and apparently felt comfortable there, he decided to remain in the church. In the same letter Ferguson stated that he still attended Mormon meetings, "sing in the choir and enjoy my friendships in the Church. In my opinion it is the best fraternity that has come to my attention..." With regard to the origin of the Book of Mormon, Mr. Ferguson wrote: "...I give Joseph Smith credit as an innovator and as a smart fellow.... I think that Joseph Smith may have had Ixtlilxochitl and View of the Hebrews from which to work."
Even before our meeting with Mr. Ferguson in 1970, some Mormon scholars were beginning to face the truth with regard to Book of Mormon archaeology. Dee F. Green, who had worked with Ferguson's New World Archaeological Foundation, was one of the first to openly criticize "Book of Mormon archaeology." His criticism is very significant because he was at one time deeply involved in archaeological work at the Mormon Church's Brigham Young University. In 1958-61 he served as editor of the University Archaeological Society Newsletter. In his article, published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Dee Green made it plain that archaeological evidence did not prove the Book of Mormon:
'The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists. Titles on books full of archaeological half-truths, dilettanti on the peripheries of American archaeology calling themselves Book of Mormon archaeologists regardless of their education, and a Department of Archaeology at BYU devoted to the production of Book of Mormon archaeologists do not insure that Book of Mormon archaeology really exists. If one is to study Book of Mormon archaeology, then one must have a corpus of data with which to deal. We do not. The Book of Mormon is really there so one can have Book of Mormon studies, and archaeology is really there so one can study archaeology, but the two are not wed. At least they are not wed in reality since no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography. Biblical archaeology can be studied because we do know where Jerusalem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location for that matter) were or are. It would seem then that a concentration on geography should be the first order of business, but we have already seen that twenty years of such an approach has left us empty-handed." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1969, pp. 76-78)
In 1975 Thomas Stuart Ferguson finally mustered up his courage and prepared a 29-page paper in response to papers written by Mormon apologists John Sorenson and Garth Norman. It was entitled, Written Symposium on Book-of-Mormon Geography: Response of Thomas S. Ferguson to the Norman & Sorenson Papers. In this response, p. 4, Mr. Ferguson wrote: 'With all of these great efforts, it cannot be established factually that anyone, from Joseph Smith to the present day, has put his finger on a single point of terrain that was a Book-of-Mormon geographical place. And the hemisphere has been pretty well checked out by competent people. Thousands of sites have been excavated." Ferguson pointed out in his paper that the text of the Book of Mormon makes it very clear that certain items should be found in archaeological excavations and that these items are not present in the sites proposed. He noted, for instance, that "Thousands of archaeological holes in the area proposed have given us not a fragment of evidence of the presence of the plants mentioned in the Book of Mormon..." (p. 7) On page 29 he concluded by saying: "I'm afraid that up to this point, I must agree with Dee Green, who has told us that to date there is no Book-of-Mormon geography. I, for one, would be happy if Dee were wrong."
In a letter to Mr. & Mrs. H. W. Lawrence, dated Feb. 20, 1976, Thomas Stuart Ferguson made very plain the reason why there is "no Book-of-Mormon geography":
"Herewith is a copy of my recent (1975) paper on Book of Mormon matters.... It was one of several presented in a written symposium on Book of Mormon geography [sic]. (My thesis is that Book of Mormon geography involves a lot more than playing with topography and terrain.) The real implication of the paper is that you can't set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere--because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archeology. I should say --what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book."
Although he had written a paper criticizing Book of Mormon archaeology, Thomas Stuart Ferguson felt that it was generally best for those who doubted the faith to keep their "mouth shut." In a letter written Feb. 9, 1976, he gave this advice:
"...Mormonism is probably the best conceived myth-fraternity to which one can belong... Joseph Smith tried so hard he put himself out on a limb with the Book of Abraham, and also with the Book of Mormon. He can be refuted--but why bother... It would be like wiping out placebos in medicine, and that would make no sense when they do lots of good....
"Why not say the right things and keep your membership in the great fraternity, enjoying the good things you like and discarding the ones you can't swallow (and keeping your mouth shut)? Hypocritical? Maybe.... thousands of members have done, and are doing, what I suggest you consider doing. Silence is golden--etc.... So why try to be heroic and fight the myths--the Mormon one or any other that does more good than ill?
"Perhaps you and I have been spoofed by Joseph Smith. Now that we have the inside dope--why not spoof a little back and stay aboard? Please consider this letter confidential--for obvious reasons. I want to stay aboard the good ship, Mormonism --for various reasons that I think valid. First, several of my dearly loved family members want desperately to believe and do believe it and they each need it. It does them far more good than harm. Belonging, with my eyes wide open is actually fun, less expensive than formerly, and no strain at all.... I never get up and bear testimony... You might give my suggestions a trial run --and if you find you have to burn all the bridges between yourselves and the Church, then go ahead and ask for excommunication. (The day will probably come -- but it is far off--when the leadership of the Church will change the excommunication rules and delete as grounds non-belief in the 2 books mentioned and in Joseph Smith as a prophet etc... but if you wait for that day, you probably will have died. It is a long way off-- tithing would drop too much for one thing.... "
Editor comment: The original editor of this section of MormonThink declared to his current bishop that he does not believe the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham or that Joseph Smith was a prophet and has not been subjected to disciplinary council or excommunication proceedings and is, in fact, assisting in the Primary organization in his ward. It would appear that Ferguson's statement above was prophetic in its own right.
Thomas Stuart Ferguson's One Fold and One Shepherd, contained a long list of "cultural elements common to both Bible lands and Mesoamerica." (pp. 57-72) Mormon archaeologist Dee Green felt that Ferguson's "list of 298 traits... are at times so generalized that the list could just as well prove that Book of Mormon people wound up in Southeast Asia." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1969, p. 74) Ferguson, of course, later came to conclude that the items that were mentioned in the Book of Mormon which were not found by archaeologists far outweighed the cultural parallels.
Whatever the case may be, we cannot help but sympathize with men like Thomas Stuart Ferguson and B. H. Roberts (see Mormonism -- Shadow or Reality, pp. 96D-96G) who labored for many years to prove the Book of Mormon true and then found out that their faith was based on erroneous assumptions. It would have been very difficult for these men to have made a public statement repudiating the Book of Mormon. They would have been considered traitors to the church who allowed themselves to come under the power of the Devil. Nevertheless, when we consider the consequences of remaining silent, we cannot help but feel that both these men made a drastic mistake when they failed to stand up for the truth.
In 1973, Michael Coe, one of the best known authorities on archaeology of the New World, wrote an article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. In this article he addressed the issue in a very forthright manner:
"Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples.... Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group....
"The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has even shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere." (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 41, 42 & 46)
Although some LDS members believe that the scientific community supports the plausibility of the Book of Mormon, the reality is that the BOM is rejected by the general scientific community.
"Archeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere's past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon." Statement by the National Geographic Society
"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
"There is an inherent improbability in specific items that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon as having been brought to the New World by...Nephites. Among these are the horse, the chariot, wheat, barley, and [true] metallurgy. The picture of this hemisphere...presented in the book has little to do with the early Indian cultures as we know them." Michael Coe, archeologist at Yale University. Source: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4043
A faith-promoting rumor surfaces from time to time that the Smithsonian Institution sometimes uses the Book of Mormon as a guide to archaeological research in the Americas. Many faith-promoting rumors are stories that are not verifiable, but the rumor about Smithsonian use of the Book of Mormon contains some element of truth. The organization did issue a statement about how it uses the Book of Mormon in legitimate research.
Faithful Mormons may find the content of the letter disappointing, but the Book of Mormon has never been used by the Smithsonian as a research tool and the statement addresses the most common questions the institution receives.
Information from the
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution Washington, D.C. 20560
Your recent inquiry concerning the Smithsonian Institution's alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology.
The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide.The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect. Accurate information about the Smithsonian's position is contained in the enclosed Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon, which was prepared to respond to the numerous inquiries that the Smithsonian receives on this topic.
Because the Smithsonian regards the unauthorized use of its name to disseminate inaccurate information as unlawful, we would appreciate your assistance in providing us with the names of any individuals who are misusing the Smithsonian's name. Please address any correspondence to:
Public Information Officer
Department of Anthropology
National Museum of Natural History
Smithsonian Institution, MRC 112
Washington, DC 20560
THE DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
STATEMENT REGARDING THE BOOK OF MORMON
1. The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archaeologists see no direct connection between the archaeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.
2. The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central, and northeastern Asia. Archaeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of the present Indians came into the New World--probably over a land bridge known to have existed in the Bering Strait region during the last Ice Age--in a continuing series of small migrations beginning from about 25,000 to 30,000 years ago.
3. Present evidence indicates that the first people to reach this continent from the East were the Norsemen, who briefly visited the northeastern part of North America around 1000 A.D. and then settled in Greenland. There is no evidence to show that they reached Mexico or Central America.
4. None of the principal Old World domesticated food plants or animals (except the dog) occurred in the New World in pre- Columbian times. This is one of the main lines of evidence supporting the scientific premise that contacts with Old World civilizations, if they occurred, were of very little significance for the development of American Indian civilizations. American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, or camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time the early big game hunters traveled across the Americas.)
5. Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre- Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron.
6. There is a possibility that the spread of cultural traits across the Pacific to Mesoamerica and the northwestern coast of South America began several hundred years before the Christian era. However, any such inter-hemispheric contacts appear to have been the results of accidental voyages originating in eastern and southern Asia. It is by no means certain that even such contacts occurred with the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, or other peoples of Western Asia and the Near East.
7. No reputable Egyptologist or other specialist on Old World archeology, and no expert on New World prehistory, has discovered or confirmed any relationship between archeological remains in Mexico and archeological remains in Egypt.
8. Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared in newspapers, magazines and sensational books. None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars. No inscriptions using Old World forms of writing have been shown to have occurred in any part of the Americas before 1492 except for a few Norse rune stones which have been found in Greenland.
9. There are copies of the Book of Mormon in the library of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.
Follow-up on the Smithsonian Letter
Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon
by Sharon Lindbloom
Late in 1998 the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS - an LDS research group operating under the umbrella of the LDS Church) included a sidebar in their Journal of Book of Mormon Studies titled "Smithsonian Statement on the Book of Mormon Revised" (volume 7, number 1, 1998, p. 77). The article began,
For many years the Smithsonian Institution has given out a routine response to questions posed to them about their view of the relation between the Book of Mormon and scientific studies of ancient American civilizations. Statements in their handout pointed out what somebody at the Institution claimed were contradictions between the text of the scripture and what scientists claim about New World cultures.
Continuing, the article mentioned that LDS anthropologist John Sorenson critiqued the Smithsonian statement in 1982, pointing out the "errors of fact and logic" which it allegedly contained. In 1995 Dr. Sorenson revised his critique and, according to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, recommended that the Smithsonian "completely modify their statement to bring it up-to-date scientifically."
FARMS noted that it's officers later spoke with a Smithsonian representative who indicated a willingness to make changes. More recently there has been some question from certain members of Congress about whether it is appropriate for a government agency to take a stand regarding a religious book.
According to FARMS, in March of 1998 the Director of Communications at the Smithsonian Institution began using a two paragraph response to "queries about the Book of Mormon" (see below) which basically states that the Smithsonian does not use the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide.
After reading the FARMS article I was curious about the absence of the reasons the Smithsonian did not use the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide. The previous statement offered by the Smithsonian had listed several specific points of contention between science and Book of Mormon claims (among them the physical type of the American Indian; the Book of Mormon's anachronistic assertions of New World pre-Colombian use of Old World metals, domesticated food plants, animals, and other items; the absence of any confirmed relationship between the archeological remains in Mexico and remains in Egypt; the absence of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew, and other Old World writings in the New World).
Therefore, I wrote to the Smithsonian to inquire about the new statement and their reasons for the changes. Following is the text of my letter to the Smithsonian Institution; following that is the text of the letter I received in response.
3 February 1999
Public Information Officer
Department of Anthropology
National Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC 20560
Dear Sir or Madam:
It has come to my attention that the Smithsonian Institution has issued a new "Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon." I would appreciate it very much if you would provide me a copy of this Statement using the enclosed pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelope.
I would also like to know what has precipitated the necessity of a new Statement. Is there anything in the Smithsonian Institution's previous "Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon" (the copy I have is designated SIL-76 1988) which has been proven inaccurate by subsequent research? If so, would you please instruct me on what those inaccuracies may be?
Thank you very much for your help and kind attention to my inquiry.
(Signed) Sharon A. Lindbloom
9 February 1999
Dear Ms. Lindbloom:
Thank you for your letter. We still stand by our former statement on the Book of Mormon. It was a decision of the Smithsonian's central Office of Public Affairs to simplify the statement to respond to general questions regarding the Smithsonian's use of the Book of Mormon. Below is the statement we presently distribute for these general inquiries.
Your recent inquiry concerning the Smithsonian Institution's alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in the Smithsonian's Department of Anthropology.
The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archeological research and any information that you may have received to the contrary is incorrect.
I hope I have answered your question.
(Signed) Ann Kaupp, Head
Anthropology Outreach Office
National Museum of Natural History
LDS apologists (some of them anyway) admit the lack of archeological evidence substantiating the BOM:
"...faith in the scriptures—whether the Bible or the Book of Mormon—must rest upon something other than scholarly consensus and archaeological evidence... Ultimately, God will reveal what is true in such matters and we must trust him for our answers." The Newsletter of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), 1997-OCT
"As long as Mormons generally are willing to be fooled by (and pay for) the uninformed, uncritical drivel about archaeology and the scriptures which predominates, the few L.D.S. experts are reluctant even to be identified with the topic." J.L. Sorenson, Brigham Young University, 1966
"The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists…. If one is to study Book of Mormon archaeology, then one must have a corpus of data with which to deal. We do not. The Book of Mormon is really there so one can have Book of Mormon studies, and archaeology is really there so one can study archaeology, but the two are not wed. At least they are not wed in reality since no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography. Biblical archaeology can be studied because we do know where Jerusalem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location for that matter) were or are. It would seem then that a concentration on geography should be the first order of business, but we have already seen that twenty years of such an approach has left us empty-handed."
- Dee F. Green, Mormon archaeologist, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1969, pp. 77-78
The LDS prophets are not optimistic about finding archaeological evidence supporting the BOM:
"It is the personal opinion of the writer that the Lord does not intend that the Book of Mormon, at least at the present time, shall be proved true by any archaeological findings. They day may come when such will be the case, but not now. The Book of Mormon is itself a witness of the truth, and the promise has been given most solemnly that any person who will read it with a prayerful heart may receive the abiding testimony of its truth.”
- Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1998, v. 2, p. 196
There is an interest by Latter-day Saints to visit 'Book of Mormon lands' and consequently a business has emerged which takes people to various places in Central and South America to some places that certain church members believe that the peoples of the BOM lived.
Many of the tours cite various ruins as possible BOM locations, even though the ruins are of known civilizations like the Aztecs, Mayans, etc. We've been told by someone who recently got back from one of these tours that the church has instructed the tour guides to stop identifying these locations as BOM locations. Apparently the governments of these lands were not happy having a 'made-up' history being told about their ancient historical sites.
LDS apologists often suggest that Book of Mormon archeology is ignored by the general scientific community citing that non-Mormon archeologists don't look for evidence of the Book of Mormon and therefore don't find any evidence. There is a non-Mormon archeologist, Dr. Michael Coe who has been writing about Book of Mormon archeology since he was asked to write an article on the subject for Dialogue Magazine in 1973.
Dr. Michael Coe is the Charles J. MacCurdy professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University and curator emeritus of the Division of Anthropology at the school’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is an expert on the Maya, who inhabited the same part of Mexico and Central American where most current Mormon scholars say the events of the Book of Mormon took place.
Coe was asked to write his first article on Mormon archeology in 1973 by Dialogue Magazine. In the article he states:
"The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere."
Reference: 1972 Dialogue Magazine, backup archive copy here.
DR. Coe was also interviewed by PBS for the 2007 documentary The Mormons. Coe's interview.
Dr. Michael Coe did a fascinating 3-part podcast interview with John Dehlin for mormonstories. In this interview, Coe discusses the challenges facing Mormon archaeologists attempting to prove the historical truth of their central scripture and his own views on Joseph Smith. Michael Coe podcast interview.
More on Michael Coe.
Compilation of opinions from professors
A current, young LDS member sought further knowledge about what the scientific community thought about whether the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham could be historically plausible. This is from a post on Reddit from August 11, 2013:
From mid-July to now I have been working pretty hard on this compilation. It was not until a few weeks ago that I decided I would post my compilation on Reddit. I then had to re-email the professors who had already responded, and I had given thanks, asking their permission to post their names and responses online. Out of the 25 who responded, fourteen have allowed me to share their names and words. I even had a professor email me their phone number saying they wished to speak over the phone. He generously gave me an hour of his time and I greatly appreciate it. First, I want to thank all of the professors who took the time to respond to my inquiries. Their responses were generous, kind, and above all enlightening. The expertise of the professors was in one (or more) of the following three categories: Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica Archaeology
Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica Anthropology Egyptology
Second, I will share the email I sent to the Mesoamerica professors.
Here is the letter to the Egyptology professors.
I usually added something to the letter that was specific to the receiver like their work in a specific country, or their particular field of work.
I have a few remarks before I give the names and responses of the professors. I am aware that the Ex-Mormon subreddit had a post in the past where three professors from UCLA responded to questions about the Book of Abraham and a BYU professor who made a YouTube video regarding the Book of Abraham. I also recall that the title of the thread was “Peer Review is a B****.” I also know that FAIR gave a very detailed response to this post, its title, and the professors who responded. Although my post is much more thorough I want to make the following statements:
- To FAIR: I welcome any response you wish to give. Perhaps I went wrong somewhere in my research that you wish to point out or you want to make a post just to say hello to me… I encourage any response. I hope your post will be just as professional and will refrain from the very ad-hominem attacks that I discourage as well.
- I want to thank the Ex-Mormon subreddit. The truth is that I made this post on a special date. A year ago from tomorrow, I told my bishop, who is a man I highly respect, I would not be attending church anymore. Today I will be sharing this information with not just you, Ex-Mormons, but also my bishop. I am going to print out a packet with this information and show him how far I have come in the past year. I went from a kid who knew next to nothing about the church and its history to a man who reads philosophy and theology books in his free time, along with emailing professors about their opinions on matters that relate to their expertise. I will never forget the week I told my bishop I would stop attending. I made a post on this subreddit titled “Talk with Bishop” and received over twenty responses, all of which offered words of help and hope. Thank you, Ex-Mormon subreddit, for taking the time to help guys like me.
- Finally, my real name is Zachary. I chose my username, caglessbird, from a quote by Alejandro Jodorowski. “Birds born in a cage think flying is an illness.”
Without further ado:
Many LDS believers and apologists respond to the critic's assertion's of no archeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon with a claim that a location mentioned in the Book of Mormon has been found, but not in America, but rather one of the locations Lehi and his party traveled through after leaving Jerusalem.
From wikipedia (March '09):
Nahom is a place referenced in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 16:34) as one of the stops on the Old World segment of Lehi's journey. This location is referred to as the place where Ishmael is laid to rest. It was also at this location that the path of Lehi's journey changed from a southern to an eastern direction before continuing toward the coast and the land (1 Nephi 17:1) Bountiful. (See Archaeology and the Book of Mormon.)
Some archaeologists believe that they have located the site of Nahom as a settlement and tribal area known anciently and still today as NHM. Critics doubt the link between Nahom and NHM, as well as having other criticisms.
LDS scholars have proposed locations for Nahom based on archaeological evidences. Others give reasons for which the proposed locations do not match the archaeological evidences and descriptions given in the Book of Mormon.
In short, a stone was found in Yemen with the inscription NHM which some LDS believe means Nahom, a city mentioned in the Book of Mormon when Lehi was still in the Old World before coming to America.
The LDS argument supporting this site as Nahom is found on the FAIR web site.
FAIR's conclusion is as follows:
By describing in such precise detail a fertile Arabian coastal location, as well as the route to get there from Jerusalem (complete with directions and even a place-name en route), Joseph Smith put his prophetic credibility very much on the line. Could this young, untraveled farmer in rural New York somehow have known about a fertile site on the coast of Arabia? Could a map or some writing other than the Nephite record have been a source for him? The answer is a clear no. Long after the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon, maps of Arabia continued to show the eastern coastline and interior as unknown, unexplored territory. In fact, until the advent of satellite mapping in recent decades, even quite modern maps have misplaced toponyms and ignored or distorted major features of the terrain.
There is simply no way that Joseph could have obtained enough information about Arabia to fabricate more than a minute fraction of the voyage described in First Nephi.
There are many criticisms against this proposed theory. We present 3 totally different approaches to answering the LDS apologists.
From Seanie (link no longer available) and Wikipedia:
1. The "match proves nothing since it's not really a match"
Hebrew doesn't have vowels, so the Hebrew name NHM (nun-chet-men) could be transliterated to Nahom. But since we don't know what vowels were supposed to be used, any other vowel permutation is equally likely: Nahum, Niham, Noham, Nuhim, Nuham and so on (25 different combinations are possible in fact, 30 if the second vowel is left out completely). So to appeal to the inscription "NHM" as proving the location "Nahom" is really unfounded. In any case, this is not the first time LDS explorers have tried to match a location with the place Nahom. If it is so easy to locate, why the continued list of contenders? After all, in Biblical geography, we know there is one Jericho (located), one Babylon (located), one Nazareth (located), and so on. Mormons can't even positively locate one supposed town from the Book of Mormon.
Some have said that the link between Nahom (or Nehhm, as spelled in Niebuhr's work) and NHM is invalid because the vowels between the names Nahom and Nehhm do not match (Tanner & Tanner 1996, p. 183). Others indicate that modern vowel variance is to be expected because Hebrew does not have written vowels. The current pronunciation of the location and tribal area is said to be Nihm rather than Nahom. Some critics state that the time from Ishmael's death to now is not long enough to account for the change in pronunciation (Vogel 2004, p. 609), although scholars indicate that historical variation in root pronunciation (possibly due to Arabic influence) may allow for this change (Barney 2003).
Editor Comment: Some MT reviewers don't think that the argument about the differing vowels is a valid criticism. In Hebrew and the Semitic languages generally, the vowels shift all the time, in the same word, depending on how the word is being used. It's similar to how the vowels alternate in some English words from the same root (sing, sang, sung, song), except that in Hebrew it's in almost ALL words.
Also, it is not an accurate statement to say that the vowels in a Semitic word would not change over the course of two thousand years (from Lehi's time to the present name of the Arabian tribe). In all languages, it is the vowels which shift and change most easily, moreso than consonants, and they can do so in a couple of generations.
2. The only existing pronunciation for NHM is NOT nahom!
To make matters worse for the LDS apologists, the only evidence we have for the correct vowel-substitution/pronunciation of NHM is the extant pronunciation: "Nihm". Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely a tribal place name changed its pronunciation. Remember the inscription is most probably a tribal name, not merely a location. Are we to suppose the pronunciation was changed from Nahom to Nihm? This is an assumption that we simply cannot make without forcing the evidence.
3. What about the "but 'nahom' means to be sorry and the altar was found near a cemetery" claim?
nahom: a Hebrew word (Strong's 5162) which means "to be sorry, to console oneself, to repent, to regret, to comfort or to be comforted."
According to this argument, the correct name of "NHM" must be "Nahom" because the place is found near a cemetery and the word "nahom" means "to be sorry".
There are a number of problems with this suggestion. For one thing, if the consonants "NHM" are pronounced as written, it should be pronounced with the H as hard, not soft (this is what we find in "nahom" to be sorry"). So the sound would be like "ch" as in Scottish "loch" and we should expect to read of a Book of Mormon placename of "Nachom, not "Nahom." The Book of Mormon placename doesn't fit the Hebrew word "to be sorry".
In any case, why should we expect this tribe to call itself after an ancient cemetery? The presence of an cemetery nearby is irrelevant, as most, if not all, other tribes had cemeteries too.
4. What of the claim that the proposed location for "Bountiful" pinpoints Nahom?
Several locations with names somewhat like "Nahom" are to be found in the Arabian Peninsula. Given the fact that Arabia is a Semitic-language area bordering the lands of the Bible, this should come as no surprise. The work of the Hiltons and others in finding these locations only serves to show the imprecision of the Book of Mormon description. After all, if the detail is so good, why the to propose several candidate sites? This is clearly not the case with Biblical archaeology, which, as has been shown, has one location for Jericho, one location for other Old Testament towns, cities, rivers, and mountains. Not so with the Book of Mormon. Why not? The simple fact of the matter is, the Book of Mormon description is general enough to be worthless. The location of Nahom is nothing more than shooting arrows, then drawing the target.
5. NHM too populated for a sneaky trek.
Lehi and his family had been commanded by God not to light fires. Why would this commandment be given? There would have to be a good reason, as they could not cook their meat, and would thereby violate the Torah. Was it supposed to be a secretive trek? If so, why would they go to the populated location of NHM? This doesn't make sense.
6. Ishmael irrelevance:
Lindsay mentions that Ishmael, one of the companions of Lehi on the trip, died at Nahom, and that there was "considerable mourning at Nahom." Why would the NHM tribe name themselves after a passing-through traveler who died there centuries later? This likewise makes no sense.
7. Grammatical issue:
Even if it were derived from "NHM", the word "Nahom" cannot be shown to be an independent word. In other words, it could be the case that the placename was "Nah" and the -om part is merely a suffix. This point further militates against an identification of "NHM" with a placename called "Nahom."
In the message board discussion referenced above, David Wright notes an error on the part of LDS apologist John Tvedtnes. Tvedtnes, in his article "Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon," associates Nahom with Hebrew n-kh-m, but errs when he suggests that Nehhem in Yemen is the same root. Nehhem has a soft "h" but NHM has a hard "h" as in Scottish "loch" as we saw earlier. Since the two roots (n-h ans n-ch) differ, there is no point in making an association between them, and in fact it is wrong to do so.
8. Book of Mormon derivation of words: no fixed method, all have separate origins. Inexplicable.
Another point to consider is the inconsistent and unverifiable etymology of Book of Mormon words. How is "Nahom" explicable in terms of the general etymology of Book of Mormon placenames? As noted in the comments on the board links above, there are a number of curious Book of Mormon place names whose derivations are given. Examples include: "Irreantum" = "many waters" (1 Ne. 17:5), "Rabbanah" = "powerful or great king" (Alma 18:13), "Rameumptom" = "the holy stand" (Alma 31:21), "Liahona" = "a compass" (Alma 37:38), "deseret" = "a honey bee" (Ether 2:3), "Ripliancum" = "large, or to exceed all" (Ether 15:8). The point of the matter is, do these words have Old World roots? Do they have further derivatives in New World usage? One would expect the they should have, but nothing to support this expectation has been forthcoming. Instead, LDS scholars provide separate theories for each Book of Mormon place name. In contrast, when studying the Bible, the place names are derived from Hebrew or a local dialect. Again we see that the Book of Mormon cannot stand up to professional linguistic analysis.
This inability to withstand professional scrutiny simply isn't good enough. It is clear the Book of Mormon place names can't establish any sort of validity through etymological or linguistical analysis. And there is a very good reason for this. The book is a phony.
9. Exodus 15:22-27 indicates the existence of oases in the desert. Smith would have known this. Bountiful is the oasis mentioned in 1 Nephi 17:5. The fact that Smith mentions an oasis in the Book of Mormon therefore proves nothing.
The Book of Mormon does not explicitly mention contact with outsiders during Lehi's journey.
It has been suggested that Joseph Smith simply created the name Nahom as a variant of the Biblical names Naham (1 Chron. 4:19), Nehum (Ne. 7:7) and Nahum (Na. 1:1), although this fails to account for the plausible placement of the actual location of NHM relative to the description of character Lehi's purported journey in the Book of Mormon story.
Summary from wikipedia:
Known criticisms include the following (Vogel 2004, p. 609):
- The fact that the Book of Mormon does not explicitly mention contact with outsiders during Lehi's journey.
- It is suggested that there is no evidence dating NHM before A.D. 600.
- It is suggested that the pronunciation of NHM is unknown and may not relate to Nahom at all.
- It has been suggested that Joseph Smith simply created the name Nahom as a variant of the Biblical names Naham (1 Chron. 4:19), Nehum (Ne. 7:7) and Nahum (Na. 1:1).
Critic #1's Conclusion
The Nahom case provides evidence, not of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, but of the willingness of LDS scholars to look anywhere in their despair to find a shred of validation for their erroneous beliefs. The "NHM" inscription is the most important piece of geographical "evidence" Mormons have for their claims. The refutation of this inscription in regard to the Book of Mormon placename "Nahom" shows once again that there is no archaeological support from Mormonism, and no amount of appealing to "plausibility" will alter that fact. As mentioned at the top of this article, the "NHM" find is a classic example of the fallacy of irrelevant proof.
From exmormon critic Randy Jordan:
In his book By The Hand of Mormon, Mormon apologist Teryl Givens writes of the ancient altars found in Yemen carved with the letters "NHM":
"These altars may thus be said to constitute the first actual archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon."
Here's why Givens' statement actually hurts the BOM's case: At that part of the BOM storyline, the Lehites have left Jerusalem and are on their way to the promised land. There are only a few dozen people in the party at most. This carving is in the general area of where the Lehite party supposedly traveled through, and dates from the general time frame. So far, so good. Sounds reasonable.
OK, here's the problem: The BOM storyline goes on to say that the Lehites eventually make it to the promised land (the American continent, of course), and they grow into a mighty nation of hundreds of thousands of people, occupying the land for a thousand years (not to mention the preceding Jaredites, who allegedly arrived circa 2500 B.C. and grew to number in the millions.) The Lehites divide, and war against each other.
The BOM gives very specific details about its characters' culture, religion, politics, flora and fauna, etc. The BOM people speak/write Hebrew and some form of Egyptian. They worship the Old Testament God, follow the law of Moses, and even preach and worship Christ both before and after His ministry.
They train horses and use them to pull chariots as Old World people did. They develop metalworking skills and smelt "swords of finest steel" and other metal tools and weaponry.
They grow into a population as vast "as the sands of the sea" and build great cities which "cover the land with buildings from sea to sea." Early in the 5th century A.D., the wicked Lamanite faction battle and eliminate the entire opposing Nephite nation which numbers more than 300,000.
Now, here's the problem: if the "NHM" carving truly was "BOM evidence"---and if the BOM storyline as I've outlined here were true---then scholars should be able to find A MILLION TIMES MORE ITEMS OF PHYSICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE BOM CULTURE SOMEWHERE IN THE AMERICAS THAN THE SINGLE STONE CARVING IN YEMEN.
Numerous artifacts of that Christ-worshipping, horse-training, Hebrew-writing, steel sword-making culture should be scattered all over the region in which LDS apologists claim the BOM took place (Central America.) But of course, there aren't any. None, zip, nada. Apologists cite tantalizing "possible evidence" such as a few horse bones, meteoric iron ornaments, the Bat Creek stone, etc. They propose excuses for lack of evidence such as "Maybe the horses were deer" etc. But they cannot show a single, unambiguous, confirmed item of physical evidence to show that the BOM occurred anywhere in the Americas.
And that's why Teryl Given's admission is so damning to the BOM's case: If, in his view, the "NHM" carving is the *first* item of evidence for the BOM's historicity ever discovered---after 170+ years of looking for some---then it's safe to say that no artifacts will *ever* be found in the Americas, where the evidence should be thousands of times more likely to be found.
The obvious conclusion being that the BOM is not authentic.
If the LDS apologists can believe that that the NHM evidence is too significant to be just a coincidence, then how do we justify the fact that many names in the BOM seem to correspond to maps of the local region that Joseph grew up in indicating that he just made up the names in the BOM.
In Search of Book of Mormon Geography
Below is the modern Map of the area of Smith's Youth
The Book of Mormon is supposed to be a history of real people living in a real place. For the first 150 years of Mormonism's existence, everyone thought it was a story about a people who left the Middle East and came to South or Central America, and who fought wars clear up into New York state where their history was hidden in a hillside, inscribed on gold plates. Joseph Smith, in 1830, translated those plates, he said, by "the gift and power of God," into 1611 English from "Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics." Or so the story goes.
However, one needs to look no further than New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio to find the setting of the Book of Mormon. Whoever pieced the Book of Mormon together had a land in mind which was very similar to the Northeast United States and Southeast Canada.
My friend, the late Vernal Holley, originally published these maps in his book Book of Mormon Authorship: A Closer Look in the early 1980s. I was fascinated with them then and remain so today. Basically, the two maps compare a "proposed map" constructed by Vernal from the internal descriptions of the Book of Mormon and comments, over the years by Latter-day Saint scholars, with a map showing actual place names on maps of the area around Palmyra, New York, where the Book of Mormon originally was published. Vernal gave me permission to put the whole book on line. I just need the time to do that. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this.
The first map is the "proposed map," constructed from internal comparisons in the Book of Mormon.
Throughout the Book of Mormon we read of such features as "The Narrow Neck of Land" which was a days and a half's journey (roughly 30 miles) separating two great seas. We read much of the Hill Onidah, the Hill Ramah, and the city of the City of Angola—all place names in the land of Joseph Smith's youth. We read, in the Book of Mormon of the Land of Desolation named for a warrior named Teancum who helped General Moroni fight in the Land of Desolation. In Smith's era, an Indian Chief named Tecumseh fought and died near the narrow neck of land helping the British in the War of 1812. Today the Canadian city Techumseh (near the narrow neck of land) is named after him. We see the Book of Mormon city Kishkumen located near an area named, on modern maps, as Kiskiminetas. There are more than two dozen Book of Mormon names that are the same as or nearly the same as modern geographical locations. See below
Book of Mormon place names compared to actual Northeast US/Southeast Canada place names
Canadian locations are marked with an asterisk and
appear in the Book of Mormon as lying in "The Land Northward"
ACTUAL PLACE NAMES
Land of Midian
BOM PLACE NAMES
Alma, Valley of
Noah, Land of
Ripliancum, Waters of
Land of Midian
Copyright 1989, 1992 by Vernal Holley Used by permission.
Further information on this subject
LDS apologists think that only coincidences in their favor are more than coincidences. There are of course many other coincidences with more substance behind them such as the parallels between the View of The Hebrews and the Book of Mormon for example that they summarily dismiss as just a coincidence because those coincidences are damaging to the Joseph Smith story.
For more insight on why LDS apologists coincidences are not really evidence of the Book of Mormon, please see these comments by RFM poster Baura on Coincidences
Editor's comments: It's interesting and kind of exciting to think that archeologists have actually found a real place mentioned in the Book of Mormon. But the evidence supporting these claims is very weak and requires a lot of imagination to justify it. We have a few observations not mentioned above. The LDS apologists promoting the theory all reference other Mormon works. So they are using Mormon sources to back a Mormon hypothesis. Also, the stone with the NHM on it doesn't say that it is the name of the place. It could mean anything - a person's name for example.
Also, from wikipedia:
Early references to NHM
The name NHM denotes both a tribal region and a location in the southern part of Arabia (Brown 2001). In 1763 a German surveyor and mapmaker named Carsten Niebuhr produced a map which contained the place name "Nehhm" at a location approximately twenty-five miles northeast of the Yemen capital Sana'a (Aston & Aston 1994, p. 5). In 1792 Robert Heron published a two-volume translation of Niebuhr’s first work titled Niebuhr’s Travels through Arabia and Other Countries in the East Brown 2001. There is no evidence, however, that Joseph Smith had access to these materials before the publication of the Book of Mormon. Likewise, there is also no evidence that he or one of his acquaintances did not have access to these sources. (Roper 1997).
NOTE: FAIR states that "A number of ancient maps, for example, show a location — in this same spot in Arabia — that went by the name of Nehem (other maps spell the location as Nihm, Nehem, and even Naham, but they all refer to the same geographical location in southern Arabia). While a few of these maps may have been available to scholars in Joseph's day, it is highly unlikely that they were available to Joseph Smith." Reference: mormontimes
This FAIR Link mentions Niebuhr's and d'Anville's books. It also says that neither were at Dartmouth when Joseph was a boy, nor were they available in Manchester, New York in the lending library.
Now for the rest of the story. Allegheny College in Meadville Pennsylvania is about 50 miles from Harmony. Its library began through donations from private individuals. In 1824, Thomas Jefferson wrote that he hoped his University of Virginia could someday possess the richness of Allegheny's library.
In the Allegheny's collection were both books that apologists claim were not available to Joseph Smith. Here is an 1823 catalog:
D'Anville's book on ancient geography is on page 18
Niebuhr is on page 44
Both books were fifty miles away from where the translation was being done.
So if the BOM is not historical, it is quite possible that the author(s) of the Book of Mormon did in fact see Nahom, or some variation of the name, on some map or book that was available during Joseph's time. Also, critics point out that like many other Book of Mormon names, Joseph may have simply used biblical words as his roots and simply changed a vowel or consonant to make a word that sounded different.
NAHAM, 1 Chronicles 14:19,
NAHUM, Nahum 1:1-3
NEHUM, Nehemiah 7:7
Some critics contend that since there is Book of Nahum in the Old Testament, it is much more likely that he simply changed the U to an O to suit his purpose. Even changing the A to an O in Naham is second place on the list.
Source: wikipedia (March '09)
Further info: http://www.mrm.org/nhm
Pro-LDS: Neal A. Maxwell Institute: Lehi's Trail: From the Valley of Lemuel to Nephi's Harbor
The Book of Mormon is not supported by any linguistic evidence
The Book of Mormon is further undermined by the fact that there is no evidence of a Semitic/hieroglyphic/demotic hybrid script (called Reformed Egyptian in the text) or a spoken Hebrew dialect ever being used by pre or post-Columbian natives of North or South America. To the contrary, the current body of evidence indicates that there were many different spoken and written languages utilized among the various peoples of Ancient America that have no resemblance to Hebrew or Egyptian texts or languages.
This proliferation of language variants among existing Native tribes undermines the Book of Mormon claim of a single language used for the entire Book of Mormon people. Language does evolve; but not at such an unprecedented rate as to leave such a scattering of textual and vocal variants (all with no resemblance to the Book of Mormon 'mother tongue') within such a short period of time (less than 2000 years from the end of the Book of Mormon narrative to the present).
In fact, the text of the Book of Mormon indicates that the peoples within the narrative took great care to preserve their language from evolving or fracturing into different dialects. In 1st Nephi, Nephi is commanded to get the brass plates from Jerusalem to preserve "unto our children the language of our fathers" (1 Nephi 3:19). Later in the text, the Nephite nation encounters a second group of Hebrew migrants and finds that their "language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them". As a result, Mosiah (the Nephite leader) found it necessary that they should be taught in his (Nephite - Hebrew) language (Omni 1:17-18). For the duration of the Book of Mormon narrative, there is no indication that the principle narrative groups ever deviated from their language of origin (spoken or written) for 1000 years.
How then do we account for the thousands of languages that were spoken in North and South America prior to first contact with Europeans in the early 11th century?
How can a civilization on the scale described in the Book of Mormon maintain linguistic homogeneity for 1000 years and then splinter into thousands of varying and demonstrably unrelated languages in the next 1000 years?
Due to the physical absence of the gold plates, there is no body of Ancient American evidence with which to compare Joseph Smith's claim that Ancient Americans used a Hebrew/Egyptian hybrid language. The only evidence in existence is the 'Anthon Transcript' which (according to Smith and his associates) was taken to Professor Charles Anthon for a certificate of authenticity. For more information regarding this episode see 'The Anthon Visit' below.
The are significant linguistic problems in the LDS scriptures, especially with the Book of Mormon. Richard Packham is one of the most knowledgeable critics of the LDS Church. He has a vast knowledge of languages and linguistics. That, coupled with his knowledge of the LDS Church and it's detailed history, gives Richard perhaps a unique perspective of the linguistic problems in Mormonism that very few members know the extent of.
Please see this insightful essay by Richard Packham:
A LINGUIST LOOKS AT MORMONISM (An archived backup of this webpage is here).
Richard Packham also gave a presentation on the linguistic problems of Mormonism at the 2009 Ex-Mormon Conference in SLC. It was very insightful and attended by several writers of the MormonThink website. Video of a presentation based on this material is available here:
Joseph Smith claimed that an angel directed him to a local hill (later named Cumorah) where there was a "book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this [American] continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He [the angel] also said that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; Also, that there were two stones in silver bows-and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim-deposited with the plates." The book of Mormon identifies the Hill Cumorah as the location for huge cataclysmic battles between warring civilizations resulting in over two million casualties (Mormon 6, Ether 15:11, Ether 15:2). Approximately 230,000 Nephites and Lamanites were slain there in the 5th century AD and some 2 Million Jaredites were killed there in approximately 600 BC.
Ether 15:2 He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.
In addition to the Book of Mormon scriptures that identify the Hill Cumorah with the huge battles, early and current LDS leaders have repeatedly identified the hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon as the same Hill Cumorah from which Joseph Smith retrieved the gold plates in Upstate New York.
"The great and last battle, in which several hundred thousand Nephites perished was on the hill Cumorah, the same hill from which the plates were taken by Joseph Smith, the boy about whom I spoke to you the other evening." (Talk given by Apostle Orson Pratt, Feb. 11, 1872 Journal of Discourses Vol. 14, pg. 331)
"Thirty-six years prior to this time his nation was destroyed in what we term the State of New York, around about a hill, called by that people the Hill of Cumorah, when many hundreds of thousands of the Nephites-men, women and children, fell, during the greatest battle that they had had with the Lamanites." (Talk given by Apostle Orson Pratt, Aug. 25, 1878 Journal of Discourses Vol. 20, pg. 62)
"Finally, they became so utterly wicked, so fully ripened for destruction, that one branch of the nation, called the Nephites, gathered their entire people around the hill Cumorah, in the State of New York , in Ontario County; and the Lamanites, the opposite army, gathered by millions in the same region. The two nations were four years in gathering their forces, during which no fighting took place; but at the end of that time, having marshalled all their hosts, the fighting commenced, the Lamanites coming upon the Nephites, and destroying all of them, except a very few, who had previously deserted over to the Lamanites." (Talk given by Apostle Orson Pratt, April 6, 1874 Journal of Discourses Vol. 17, pg. 24)
"The hill, which was known by one division of the ancient peoples as Cumorah, by another as Ramah, is situated near Palmyra in the State of New York ." (Apostle James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith , chapter 14)
"It is known that the Hill Cumorah where the Nephites were destroyed is the hill where the Jaredites were also destroyed. This hill was known to the Jaredites as Rama. It was approximately near to the waters of Ripliancum, which the Book of Ether says, "by interpretation, is large, or to exceed all." Mormon adds: "And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents round about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites."
"It must be conceded that this description fits perfectly the land of Cumorah in New York, as it has been known since the visitation of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith, for the hill is in the proximity of the Great Lakes and also in the land of many rivers and fountains. Moreover, the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation , Vol.3, Bookcraft, 1956, p.232-43.) Note: This quote was also given in the old Book of Mormon Institute Manual on page 461 (48-17).
"In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the "hill Cumorah." On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago-events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation...
[Note: About 20 paragraphs later this speaker says the following]
"This second civilization to which I refer, the Nephites , flourished in America between 600 B.C. and A.D. 400. Their civilization came to an end for the same reason, at the same place, and in the same manner as did the Jaredites'" (Talk given by President Marion G. Romney in General Conference, October 4, 1975, Ensign Nov. 1975 pg. 35)
"Both the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations fought their final great wars of extinction at and near the Hill Cumorah (or Ramah as the Jaredites termed it), which hill is located between Palmyra and Manchester in the western part of the State of New York.
"Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and many of the early brethren, who were familiar with all the circumstances attending the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in this dispensation, have left us a pointed testimony as to the identity and location of Cumorah or Ramah."(Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, page 174-175, Bookcraft 1966)
"This time it will have to do with so important a matter as a war of extinction of two peoples, the Nephites and the Jaredites, on the self same battle site, with the same 'hill' marking the axis of military movements. By the Nephites this 'hill' was called the 'Hill Cumorah,' by the Jaredites the 'Hill Ramah'; it was that same 'hill,' in which the Nephite records were deposited by Mormon and Moroni, and from which Joseph Smith obtained the Book of Mormon, therefore the 'Mormon Hill,' of today-since the coming forth of the Book of Mormon-near Palmyra, New York. (B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.277)
I do not believe that we should give credence to the highly speculative theories about Book of Mormon geography.
I do not believe that there were two Hill Cumorahs, one in Central America and the other one up in New York, for the convenience of the Prophet Joseph Smith, so that the poor boy would not have to walk clear to Central America to get the gold plates. (Apostle Mark E. Petersen, “A Work of Conversion,” General Conference address, in Messages of Inspiration - SLC: Deseret Book Co., 1957), pp. 98-106.)
He had lived in America some fifteen hundred years ago and was the sole survivor of his people in a series of tragic battles which took many lives.... Moroni’s father was commander of the armies of this ancient people, known as Nephites. His name was Mormon. The war of which we speak took place here in America some four hundred years after Christ.
As the fighting neared its end, Mormon gathered the remnant of his forces about a hill which they called Cumorah, located in what is now the western part of the state of New York.
Their enemies, known as Lamanites, came against them on this hill. ...
Then he spoke of other leaders serving with him in the Nephite army, all of whom had fallen with the forces under their command. He accounted for about a quarter of a million Nephite soldiers killed in that final encounter at Cumorah. ... When finished with the record, Moroni was to hide it up in that same Hill Cumorah which was their battlefield. (Apostle Mark E. Peterson, The Last Words of Moroni, Ensign, Nov., 1978, pg 57)
This essay on BYU's website called "Where is the Hill Cumorah?" [archived copy here] makes it very clear that the Hill Cumorah spoken of in the Book of Mormon is in New York and not in Central or South America. The essay is a compilation of Joseph Fielding Smith's Doctrines of Salvation by Bruce R. McConkie.
From LDS.org [as of 2/22/13] defines Hill Cumorah as the following:
See also Book of Mormon; Moroni, Son of Mormon; Smith, Joseph, Jr..
A small hill located in western New York, United States of America. Here an ancient prophet named Moroni hid the gold plates containing some of the records of the Nephite and Jaredite nations. Joseph Smith was directed to this hill in 1827 by the resurrected Moroni to get these plates and translate a portion of them. This translation is the Book of Mormon.
Nephites gathered at Cumorah, Morm. 6:2–4
Cumorah was in a land of many waters, Morm. 6:4
Mormon hid the records in the Hill Cumorah, Morm. 6:6
All but twenty and four Nephites were slain at Cumorah, Morm. 6:11
We hear glad tidings from Cumorah, D&C 128:20
Joseph Smith took plates from the Hill Cumorah, Joseph Smith—H 1:42, 50–54, 59
Also, as recently as 1990, the First Presidency of the LDS church has affirmed that the Hill Cumorah is, in fact, in Upstate New York. (See image below)
Per the Book of Mormon, about 230,000 people perished in the Nephite-Lamanite battles at Cumorah and about 2 million Jaredites were also killed there. Those are staggering numbers. Many LDS apologists realize that there would be evidence of such mass extinction, even thousands of years later and for this reason, and others, they propose that there was another Hill Cumorah, in which the battles were fought, that is distinct from the Hill Cumorah from which Joseph uncovered the plates.
One problem of this theory is that the battles where 2.2 million people died must have happened somewhere. And nowhere in the Americas (or anywhere in the world for that matter) has evidence of battles of that magnitude ever been found. So if the BOM took place in Central America, as many LDS apologists believe, then why hasn't evidence of this mass extinction been found in Mexico or other claimed locations for the BOM?
Just to compare how big these battles were, the entire American Civil War claimed the lives of a total 620,000 soldiers over a 4-year period (the largest single battle of the Civil War, Gettysburg, had less than 50,000 casualties). The BOM battles attributed to Cumorah had over 3 times as many casualties and in a much more localized area and in a much shorter time frame as the entire American Civil War. Yet no evidence remains of the steel swords, armor, bones, chariots, etc. that were reportedly used by the BOM peoples. Nor are there any Indian records, save the BOM, that tell of such a cataclysmic slaughter.
Some faithful members argue that it's hard to find evidence of battles long ago, even large ones. That is not supported by the evidence. Remains of ancient battles continue to be found throughout the world. For example, the remains of a Roman legion was found in Germany in 2008 that took place hundreds of years before the battles at Hill Cumorah with the Nephites:
German archaeologists have located a Roman-era battlefield and retrieved more than 600 artifacts, most of them weapons, in what they are calling "the find of a century".
The weapons located in an area measuring 1.5 by 0.5 kilometers near the town of Northeim in northern Germany, about 50 kilometers south of Hanover, include spearheads with DNA traces on them and arrows made from wood that originated in northern Africa.
Evidently the Romans and Germans fought a bloody battle in the third century AD, said archaeologist Petra Lönne. Some 1,000 Roman legionnaires may have been involved in the fight.
Intriguingly, the find includes more than 300 iron projectiles that were fired by powerful Roman torsion weapons known as scorpions (scorpio), which could catapult heavy darts with a high velocity and deadly accuracy. It had a range of 300 and was portrayed in the opening battle scene of the Hollywood movie "Gladiator."
"The bolts were found densely clustered," said archaeologist Henning Hassmann.
Historians say the discovery of the battlefield is so significant because it appears to refute the assumption that the Romans withdrew from Germania after their defeat by an alliance of Germanic tribes at the battle of the Teutoburg forest in 9 AD.
Many of the weapons found are in good condition and they prove that Roman armies were still engaging in major military operations far north of the Alps at a time when the Roman Empire was in terminal decline.
Note that the German archeologists estimate that there were 1,000 Roman soldiers. Assuming that the other side also had about 1,000 soldiers, that's 2,000 soldiers and they found over 600 artifacts. The Nephite/Lamanite battles had 230,000 casualties at Cumorah and the Jaredite battles had 2 Million casualties at Cumorah. Yet, no artifacts were found anywhere (not even outside of Cumorah) for these 2.2 Million people from the BOM, yet over 600 artifacts were found for just 2,000 ancient European warriors?
Additionally, several nominal and prominent early church members indicated that not only were the gold plates (from which the Book of Mormon was purportedly translated) buried at the Hill Cumorah, but that there was an entire cave of records and artifacts inside the hill itself. Here are a few select quotes to illustrate this incredible claim:
"I lived right in the country where the plates were found from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and I know a great many things pertaining to that country. I believe I will take the liberty to tell you of another circumstance that will be as marvelous as anything can be. This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls." (Brigham Young Journal of Discourses, Vol. 19:38)
"Attended meeting a discourse from W. W. Phelps. He related a story told him by Hyrum Smith which was as follows: Joseph, Hyrum, Cowdery & Whitmere went to the hill Cormorah. As they were walking up the hill, a door opened and they walked into a room about 16 ft square. In that room was an angel and a trunk. On that trunk lay a book of Mormon & gold plates, Laban's sword, Aaron's brestplate." (William Horne Dame Diary, 14 January 1855)
"In response to a Brother Mills's statement about the handcart pioneers, Heber C. Kimball said: How does it compare with the vision that Joseph and others had, when they went into a cave in the hill Cumorah, and saw more records than ten men could carry? There were books piled up on tables, book upon book. Those records this people will yet have, if they accept of the Book of Mormon and observe its precepts, and keep the commandments." (Heber C. Kimball, Journal of Discourses, 28 September 1856)
"President [Heber C.] Kimball talked familiarly to the brethren about Father Smith, [Oliver] Cowdery, and others walking into the hill Cumorah and seeing records upon records piled upon table[s,] they walked from cell to cell and saw the records that were piled up." (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 5 May 1867)
"President Young said in relation to Joseph Smith returning the Plates of the Book of Mormon that He did not return them to the box from wh[ence?] He had received [them]. But He went [into] a Cave in the Hill Comoro with Oliver Cowdry & deposited those plates upon a table or shelf. In that room were deposited a large amount of gold plates Containing sacred records & when they first visited that Room the sword of Laban was Hanging upon the wall & when they last visited it the sword was drawn from the scabbard and [laid?] upon a table and a Messenger who was the keeper of the room informed them that that sword would never be returned to its scabbard until the Kingdom of God was established upon the Earth & until it reigned triumphant over Every Enemy. Joseph Smith said that Cave contained tons of Choice Treasures & records." (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 11 December 1869)
Although not a member of the church, Elizabeth Kane lived in St. George, Utah, and entertained the company of Brigham Young. She recorded the following discussion:
"asked where the plates were now, and saw in a moment from the expression of the countenances around that I had blundered. But I was answered that they were in a cave; that Oliver Cowdery though now an apostate would not deny that he had seen them. He had been to the cave. ... Brigham Young's tone was so solemn that I listened bewildered like a child to the evening witch stories of its nurse.
Brigham Young said that when Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were in the cave this third time, they could see its contents more distinctly than before...... It was about fifteen feet high and round its sides were ranged boxes of treasure. In the centre was a large stone table empty before, but now piled with similar gold plates, some of which lay scattered on the floor beneath. Formerly the sword of Laban hung on the walls sheathed, but it was now unsheathed and lying across the plates on the table; and One that was with them said it was never to be sheathed until the reign of Righteousness upon the earth." (Elizabeth Kane Journal, 15 January 1873)
A southern Utah Saint, Jesse Nathaniel Smith, heard Brigham Young speak in Cedar City, Utah, and recorded:
" heard him [Brigham Young] at an evening meeting in Cedar City describe an apartment in the Hill Cumorah that some of the brethren had been permitted to enter. He said there was great wealth in the room in sacred implements, vestments, arms, precious metals and precious stones, more than a six-mule team could draw." Jesse Nathaniel Smith Journal, February 1874)
"It was likewise stated to me by David Whitmer in the year 1877 that Oliver Cowdery told him that the Prophet Joseph and himself had seen this room and that it was filled with treasure, and on a table therein were the breastplate and the sword of Laban, as well as the portion of gold plates not yet translated, and that these plates were bound by three small gold rings, and would also be translated, as was the first portion in the days of Joseph. When they are translated much useful information will be brought to light. But till that day arrives, no Rochester adventurers shall ever see them or the treasures, although science and mineral rods testify that they are there." (Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, 1877)
In an interview with P. Wilhelm Poulson, David Whitmer gave another account of the cave:
[Poulson]: Where are the plates now?
[Whitmer]: In a cave, where the angel has hidden them up till the time arrives when the plates, which are sealed, shall be translated. God will yet raise up a mighty one, who shall do his work till it is finished and Jesus comes again.
[Poulson]: Where is that cave?
[Whitmer]: In the State of New York.
[Poulson]: In the Hill of Comorah?
[Whitmer]: No, but not far away from that place.
(David Whitmer, Deseret Evening News, 16 August 1878)
"But the grand repository of all the numerous records of the ancient nations of the western continent, was located in another department of the hill, and its contents put under the charge of holy angels, until the day should come for them to be transferred to the sacred temple of Zion." (Orson Pratt, The Contributor, September 1882)
Editor comment: It is apparent from the existing records that many of the early church leaders viewed the cave experience as a legitimate event, whether an actual physical experience or a visionary one.
President Hinckley seemed to believe that Moroni actually walked at the Hill Cumorah some 1,500 years ago as stated in the BOM. At a dedication on Hill Cumorah, Hinckley stated:
What a glorious and wonderful thing took place here, right here at this hill. I am . . . glad to be back and walk this ground where Moroni walked so very, very long ago."
Reference: Church News, Published: Saturday, July 6, 2002
From the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly FARMS) (emphasis added):
President George Q. Cannon in 1887 wrote an editorial appearing in the Juvenile Instructor, which called for some caution relative to Book of Mormon geography and noted that there "is considerable anxiety manifested [among Latter-day Saints] to identify the sites of the ancient cities of the Nephites and to locate the exact spots where the stirring scenes described in the Book of Mormon were enacted." Cannon then declared that there are only "a few points which can be identified." The "hill known as Cumorah among the Nephites," he wrote, "and as Ramah among the Jaredites, is a spot which we are now familiar with, it being the place where Moroni concealed the records of his father, and to which the Prophet Joseph was directed by his angel guide." (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies)
Several years ago, I was attending the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, New York. I was at the local LDS visitor's center and asked one of the sister missionaries what evidence has been uncovered around Hill Cumorah from the large battles that took place there as described in the BOM. She said that she heard that a farmer once found a strange-looking pot that he didn't know what it is. I was like 'there were unbelievably large battles fought here where 2.2 million people died and that's it - a farmer claims to have found a pot'?
I also remember looking around the Hill Cumorah and we were talking about the cave containing wagon loads of records that Brigham Young said were hidden in the hill. One of the members just shook his head and said 'well if the Lord doesn't want you to find the cave or the remains of the Nephite warriors, he can prevent you from finding them'.
Here's an account of another member's quest to find evidence of battles at the Hill Cumorah: Letter to Syracuse.
CritIc's comment: Let's see if I have this right:
OPTION 1: If I believe in the Limited Geography Theory and multiple Hill Cumorahs, then God tells Moroni to bury the plates in MesoAmerica, then magically moves them to upstate NY and re-buries them.
OPTION 2: I believe in only one Hill Cumorah and that's where Moroni buried the plates. Then, somehow, all evidence of the massive battles and nearby civilizations disappear.
The church has historically taught that the Hill Cumorah in NY is the same Hill Cumorah mentioned in the BOM. Most members today still believe that (some do not and most LDS apologists do not believe that either despite the numerous examples provided above that show the leaders of the church preaching it).
Unfortunately, despite the Church's official position, there has been no discovery to date of any evidence on or surrounding the Hill Cumorah that would lend plausibility to the accounts of huge climatic battles involving millions of people and armaments of steel, or stone, or an underground repository of additional records or artifacts. The current leaders of the LDS Church - are at the very least - aware of the lack of evidence supporting their claims regarding the hill (The Church owns the property upon which the Hill Cumorah resides) and yet they still support the tacit acceptance of these amazing claims for their membership.
As an example, the Church sponsors the production of the popular annual "Hill Cumorah Pageant" which utilizes live actors and outdoor special effects to 'reenact' events from the Book of Mormon that purportedly occurred at the Hill Cumorah. Given the lack of supporting evidence for the Church's position on this matter, it seems rather problematic that it [the Church] would encourage its members to accept these claims as factual when in fact, the demonstrable falsity of said claims would give any reasonable person pause. To put it simply, nothing happened on the Hill Cumorah. It is simply a hill, nothing more.
DNA disproves that the Lamanites are the principal ancestors of the Indians.
With the advances in modern science, biologists have made remarkable progress in tracing human migratory patterns based on identifiable gene markers contained within mitochondrial DNA. Of particular interest to Americans (and to Latter-day Saints) was the origin of Native Americans - long hypothesized to have migrated from Asia over the Bearing Strait several thousand years ago. This widely accepted theory contradicts the Book of Mormon's hypothesis that American Natives are the descendants of Semitic migrants who arrived here approximately 590 BCE Presently, DNA evidence indicates Native Americans descended from Asia, not Israel as the church teaches. Asian migrants have populated this continent for over 50,000 years. The thousands of DNA samples from every known tribe of Native Americans indicate an Asiatic rather than Semitic origin and give greater support to the theory of a prehistoric Asiatic migration across the Bearing Strait.
The most common defense proffered by Mormon apologists in this case is that the Book of Mormon does not offer a testable hypothesis. In fact, in 2005, noted Mormon historian Richard L. Bushman went so far as to say that the American continent was not even the definite location of the Book of Mormon peoples. He writes:
"The Book of Mormon deposited its people on some unknown shore -- not even definitely identified as America -- and had them live out their history in a remote place in a distant time." - Richard Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, p. 97
*Note: Perhaps then, to assuage any confusion over the seeming lack of evidence to demonstrate the Book of Mormon's historicity, the opening line to 1st Nephi Chapter 1 should be changed from:
"I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents."
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."
Other common defenses include 'genetic drift', 'swamp effect' and 'bottleneck effect' upon the initial migrant population of the Book of Mormon. In every case, the apologist response has not been to provide a cohesive hypothesis regarding the current DNA evidence, but has focused rather upon further pushing the text outside the realm of scientific provability; a position in which they are more than content to leave it, though their theories run counter to 170 years of Church teachings on the subject.
In an effort to demonstrate the falsity of the apologist's approach, molecular biologist and former Mormon bishop Simon G. Southerton has written a comprehensive article in response to critical LDS apologist reviews of his book: 'Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church'. Below are a few brief excerpts from that article. We encourage the readers of this site to follow the link to the Signature Books web site and read the article in its entirety for further understanding on this important subject.
"For 175 years the leaders and general membership of the Mormon Church have believed American Indians and Polynesians are descended from Israelites based on their understanding of the Book of Mormon. We now know from DNA studies that the ancestors of these native peoples were essentially all derived from Asia. Latter-day Saint apologists have claimed the DNA research has "little or no bearing on the question of Book of Mormon historicity" and that it is all a "contrived controversy," blown out of all proportion by critics with another agenda.1 Apologetic attempts to hose down the problem rely entirely on sweeping reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon narrative that reduce the Lehite and Mulekite colonization to a minor incursion in an as yet unknown corner of the Americas.2
The following are some of the most frequently advanced arguments from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) related to DNA and the Book of Mormon. I have concluded that it would be best to summarize my responses in an equally succinct manner.
1. The Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis.
Some LDS scientists argue that the Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis and that, since other scientists are not testing the Book of Mormon directly, the data collected by non-Mormon scientists is irrelevant to the origin of Book of Mormon people. As of March 2006, 8,223 American Indians have been DNA tested in scientific experiments aimed at discovering where their founding ancestors came from. About 99.5% of their maternal DNA lineages are most closely related to Asian DNA. Most LDS adherents believe, and all the LDS prophets have taught, that Israelites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. LDS beliefs about American Indian ancestry fall squarely into the scientific field of anthropology. Molecular anthropologists are uncovering evidence that is directly relevant to LDS beliefs in this area.
2. Mitochondrial DNA only tells us about one ancestral line out of many. If we go back ten generations, it only tells us about 1 in 1,024 of our ancestors. If we go back another ten generations, it only tells us about one in over a million of our ancestors.
Virtually all mitochondrial lineages found throughout the world can be grouped into less than twenty-five major family groups represented by letters A, H, X, and so on. In the case of the American Indians, essentially all of their mitochondrial lineages fall into one of five major families: A, B, C, D, or X, none of which were derived from a recent migration from Israel. Even those mitochondrial lineages that end up in males and are not passed on to the next generation came from the same five sources.
3. We don't know enough about the genetic background of Book of Mormon peoples.
We know that Lehi and Mulek were members of two different Israelite tribes. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that both the Lehites and Mulekites were Israelites. We know a considerable amount about the DNA lineages of living people whose ancestors were Israelites reaching back 2600 years ago. Israelite DNA lineages belong to the same family groups found in European populations: the H, I, J, K, N, T, U, V, W, and X groups.
.LDS apologists have already conceded that DNA research has revealed that American Indians are essentially all descended from Asian ancestors.
4. The X lineage could be evidence for Israelite ancestry.
.In order for the X lineage to be considered possible evidence of Lamanite DNA, apologists need to explain away the following facts:
Amerindian DNA lineages belonging to the X family are at least as diverse as the lineages belonging to the A, B, C, and D lineage families, meaning they have been present in the New World for about as long.
The X lineage occurs at a frequency of 8 percent in Canadian tribes and 3 percent in tribes from the United States. To date, the X lineage has not been found in Central or South America, where the three major New World civilizations are located. The vast majority of apologists consider Mesoamerica to be the only plausible setting for the Book of Mormon narrative because of the Book of Mormon's description of major populations living in complex and literate cultures.
There is evidence that X-lineage DNA has been isolated from ancient remains that pre-date the Jaredite and Lehite time period by thousands of years.
Amerindian X lineages are distantly related to X lineages found in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. They are estimated to have separated from these populations over 30,000 years ago-no later than 17,600 years ago.
5. Does the Q lineage family provide a link between ancient Israelites and Native Americans?
No. The Q (Y-chromosome) haplotype is prominent among the Kets (93.7 percent) and Selkups (66.4 percent) of Siberia and among Native Americans (over 80 percent). Lineage Q also appears in European Jews (5 percent), but is rare in the Middle East. Scientists suspect its presence among European (Ashkenazi) Jewry is by way of the Khazar people who converted to Judaism in the eighth century. The Native American Q lineage is a unique form known as Q3, a lineage which is absent in European and Jewish populations.
6. The mitochondrial DNA lineages tell us nothing about the male lineages.
This is correct, but Y-chromosome studies among Native Americans show very strong links to Asia (>85%), as do studies among Polynesians (>90%). There is a much higher presence of lineages that are of European or African origin, but this is not surprising given that males, beginning with Spanish explorers, dominated the early European conquest of the Americas and Polynesia.
7. The wives of the early Book of Mormon colonists (Sariah and others) may have been Asian since their ancestry is not specifically mentioned, and they could have brought the A, B, C, D, and X lineages to the Americas.
It is exceedingly unlikely that Asians carrying Asian lineages traveled to Israel to intermarry with the ancestors of the Lehites and Mulekites. If this did occur, we would expect to see (but do not see) Asian lineages among Middle Eastern populations. The amount of DNA variation found in each of the five American Indian female DNA lineage families indicates that they have been present in the Americas for at least 15,000 years, possibly longer. This predates the existence of Israel by many thousands of years.
8. DNA testing of modern individuals often fails to detect all previous genetic lineages due to lineage extinction. Israelite DNA would have been swamped out in the New World due to the bottleneck effect, genetic drift, and other technical problems which would prevent us from detecting Israelite genes.
The argument that Lamanite DNA may have gone extinct strains reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon to breaking point. In this reinvention of Lamanite destiny, the Book of Mormon people are reduced to an insignificant side show in American history, so insignificant that we would find it hard to detect their genes today. The Book of Mormon plainly states that the descendants of the Lehites and Mulekites. formed substantial populations that were ruled over by Lehi's descendants. Are we to believe that these populations were largely comprised of American Indians who swamped out the Israelite genes yet didn't assume any significant influence in these civilizations?
.Nephi saw a vision of the New World in about 600 BC in which he saw that his "seed" and "the seed of [his] brethren" had multiplied until they did "number as many as the sand of the sea" (1 Nephi. 12:1). Numerous passages throughout the Book of Mormon detail the fulfillment of this prophecy. In 588 BC the Lehite populations were prospering "exceedingly" and "multiplying" in the land (2 Nephi. 5:13), and by 399 BC they had "multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land" (Jarom 1:8). When the descendants of Mulek join the Nephites, we are informed, they are "exceedingly numerous" (Omni 1:17). By about 124 BC, there were so many people in the Book of Mormon civilizations, they could not number them because they had "multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land" (Mosiah 2:2). By about 46 BC, they had spread until they "covered the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east (Hel. 3:8).
9. The arguments of the critics rely mostly on the non-doctrinal "principal ancestors" statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon
Several LDS apologists have claimed that the critic's case against the Book of Mormon relies almost entirely on the non-doctrinal statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. This is not the case. The introductory statement in the Book of Mormon enjoys widespread doctrinal and prophetic support, as several critics of Book of Mormon historicity have documented.
In fact, the many statements from church leaders and revelations of Joseph Smith include the following doctrinal pronouncements:
"We also bare testimony that the 'Indians' (so called) of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel; as is now made manifest by the discovery and revelation of their ancient oracles and records." -"Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "Apr. 1845.
"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The principal nation of the second race fell into battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country." -Joseph Smith to John Wentworth, editor, Chicago Democrat, 1842.
"He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang..." -Joseph Smith-History 1:34
"And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites." -Doctrine and Covenants 28:9
"And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites." -Doctrine and Covenants 28:14
"And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites." -Doctrine and Covenants 32:2
"And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites." -Doctrine and Covenants 54:8
The belief that Native Americans throughout North, Central, and South America, as well as Polynesia, are the descendants of the Lamanites is not simply based on one unofficial statement in the introduction to the Book of Mormon. This belief is deeply embedded in the LDS Church and has had a major influence on the way the church has interacted with native peoples in the Americas and the Pacific for well over a century. .Many Native American and Polynesian members of the church have received patriarchal blessings in which they have been told they belong to the tribe of Manasseh, the same tribe as Lehi. It is not simply a matter of an "overbelief" in a non-doctrinal portion of the modern edition of the Book of Mormon. It is a belief that is deeply entrenched in the church with strong doctrinal foundations in scripture and prophetic authority.
10. Other people could have lived in ancient America concurrently with Book of Mormon peoples.
The fact that FARMS apologists felt it necessary to propose that other people could have lived concurrently with Book of Mormon people is evidence enough that the Book of Mormon is silent about them. Virtually nobody outside of the apologetic community appears to have read the Book of Mormon carefully enough to notice reference to the hoards of other people apologists claim are mentioned in the text. American Indians not only could, they in fact did live in ancient America between 2000 BC and AD 400, and they did live in the Americas for at least 10,000 years prior to that time period. What is unclear is whether Book of Mormon people existed at all, and all reliable evidence to date provides no concrete support for their existence.
Many General Authorities have written about how no one was in the Americas before the BOM people. Here's remarks from Apostles Jeffrey R. Holland (A Promised Land, The Ensign, June 1976) [emphasis added]:
“Holy scripture records that “after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof.” (Ether 13:2.) Such a special place needed now to be kept apart from other regions, free from the indiscriminate traveler as well as the soldier of fortune. To guarantee such sanctity the very surface of the earth was rent. In response to God’s decree, the great continents separated and the ocean rushed in to surround them. The promised place was set apart. Without habitation it waited for the fulfillment of God’s special purposes.
With care and selectivity, the Lord began almost at once to repeople the promised land. The Jaredites came first, with stories of the great flood fresh in their memories and the Lord’s solemn declaration ringing in their ears: “Whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fullness of his wrath should come upon them.” (Ether 2:8.)
A Promised Land
By Jeffrey R. Holland
Pre-existing people cause addition problems
It's easy for apologists at FARMS to suggest things like some who have cited scientific articles that suggest humans came across the Bering Straights over 14,000 years ago. However, they don't acknowledge that this causes additional problems for the LDS Church. For one, since the Church teaches that Adam was the first human and was born around 4000 - 5000 BC, how could other humans have existed some 10,000 years before the first man was even created by God?
Also, if any people existed in America before the Jaredites, they would have been wiped out in the Global Flood as discussed by Elder Holland and as mentioned in the Book of Mormon ( Ether 13:2).
11. When God cursed American Indians and changed their skin color, as reported in the Book of Mormon, God could have changed their DNA as well.
If so, why would God change the DNA so it matched Asian DNA? Latter-day Saints have already offended Blacks and the Native Americans. Is it necessary to offend Asians now, as well?
12. We don't yet know enough about the earliest colonization of the Americas. Evidence points to Australians, Japanese, or even Europeans existing alongside the first Siberian colonists.
There is debate among scientists about the early colonization of the Americas, but there are some important facts upon which all agree. Scientists concur that the Siberian migration, which began in excess of 14,000 years ago, accounts for all or essentially all of the ancestors of the American Indians. There is currently no genetic evidence to support the arrival of any other people in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.
13. The Lamanite population may have been severely reduced during the disease epidemics that accompanied European colonization.
American Indian populations were decimated by the introduction of diseases that had been present in European populations for centuries and for which they had acquired a measure of immunity. American Indians lacked immunity to these diseases and it has been estimated that as much as 90 percent of New World native populations were wiped out in disease epidemics. If there had been a Lamanite population present in the New World, there is no reason to believe it would have been more or less susceptible to these diseases than neighboring American Indians who had been present in the Americas for in excess of 15,000 years. Consequently, the disease epidemics are unlikely to have had any impact on our ability to detect a Lamanite presence. They can't be detected now and their proportional presence would have to be assumed to be approximately the same now as prior to the arrival of Columbus.
14. Science can never provide a final answer to a religious question.
The Book of Mormon raises questions about the ancestry of American Indians by the claims it makes. Many of these are historical claims and are not exclusively religious. Many Mormons have a firm belief that Native Americans are largely descended from Israelites as a consequence of believing the Book of Mormon. Feeling-based beliefs are far less reliable than Mormons would care to admit, and science has proven that these beliefs have no basis in fact.
People have been waiting for 175 years for credible scientific evidence of any description to support the historical claims of the Book of Mormon. How long do we need to wait to prove we are patient? With each passing year, new information sheds more light on the colonization of the Americas, and with each year we find the claims of the Book of Mormon being shrunk by LDS apologists.
15. We have no "chain of custody" proving a link between the lab results and the point of DNA collection
John Butler recently claimed that the DNA results produced in population genetics research are unreliable because no chain of custody procedures were followed. Accredited DNA testing facilities are required by law to follow chain of custody documentation procedures to ensure results will be legally admissible-accepted by courts and other government agencies. Chain of custody requires that:
Samples are collected by an impartial third party such as a clinic or laboratory.
The individuals tested are positively identified by checking government-issued identifications, and they are photographed and fingerprinted for records.
The samples are carefully tracked and matched to each test participant throughout the entire DNA testing process.
Butler appears to be confusing forensic applications of DNA technology with its use in human population genetics. When greater than 99.6 percent of the DNA lineages of Native Americans most closely resemble DNA lineages found among Asians, this is compelling evidence that they have a common ancestor: evidence sufficiently compelling to convince even LDS apologists."
In addition to all of this, the clearest refutation of the recent apologetic effort to marginalize the Book of Mormon peoples to such a restrictive geographic region for the purposes of deflecting the criticisms relative to DNA studies comes from the Church itself. In an 1845 proclamation, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles stated the following [emphasis added]:
"A Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: To all the Kings of the world; to the President of the United States of America; To the Governors of the several states and to the Rulers and Peoples of all nations."
"We testify that the foregoing doctrine is the doctrine or gospel of Jesus Christ, in its fullness; and that it is the only true, everlasting, and unchangeable gospel; and the only plan revealed on earth whereby man can be saved."
"We also bear testimony that the "Indians" (so called) of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel , as is now made manifest by the discovery and revelation of their ancient oracles and records.
"And that they are about to be fathered, civilized, and made one nation in this glorious land.
"They will also come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and of the fullness of the gospel; and they will embrace it, and become a righteous branch of the house of Israel."
Scan of the original publication of "Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," (1845). See pp 2-3. PDF. http://archive.org/download/proclamationoftw01unse/proclamationoftw01unse.pdf
This position was affirmed in April of 1971 by [then] apostle Spencer W. Kimball at a Lamanite Youth Conference:
"You are of royal blood, the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Lehi."
"With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea."
Most faithful Latter-day Saints regard official Church proclamations and declarations from apostles and prophets as scripture or revelation directly given from God to his chosen leaders. Given that the proclamation and the statement by Elder Kimball clearly designate that the natives "of North and South America are a remnant of the tribes of Israel", that said proclamation was endorsed by the standing Quorum of Twelve Apostles at the time of its publication, and that Elder Kimball's remarks were later into a July 1971 Ensign article, "Of Royal Blood", there should be little question in the minds of faithful Latter-Day Saints regarding the identity of the peoples of the Book of Mormon.
In fact, in the same Ensign issue noted above, Elder Kimball's remarks are prefaced by "The Lamanites (Introduction)" which states the following:
"Most members of the Church know that the Lamanites, who consist of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific, are a people with a special heritage. They are also a people with special problems in relation to contemporary society."
And in the face of such certain declarations, it becomes all the more difficult to reconcile the incredible claims of the Book of Mormon and it's proponents with the growing scientific data that stands in stark opposition to those claims.
These comments by Simon Southerton pretty much summarize the issue:
“Ten centuries ago a handful of Norse sailors slipped into Newfoundland, established small colonies, traded with local natives, then sailed back into the fog of history.In spite of the small scale of their settlements and the brevity of their stay, unequivocal evidence of their presence has been found. Just six centuries earlier the Book of Mormon tells us, a climactic battle between fair-skinned Nephites and dark-skinned Lamanites ended a millennial dominion by a literate, Christian, Bronze Age civilization with a population numbering in the millions. Decades of serious and honest scholarship have failed to uncover credible evidence that these Book of Mormon civilizations ever existed.No Semitic languages, no Israelites speaking these languages, no swords or steel to make them. They remain a great civilization vanished without a trace, the people along with their genes” (Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church, 2004)
Of further interest
Mormonstories episode 348/349: Simon Southerton, DNA, Lamanites and the Book of Mormon
Simon Southerton on FAIR Apologetics
The sleight of hand of all the FAIR DNA apologetics is that it depends on testimony-shattering reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon history and the arrogant dismissal of 180 years of prophetic declarations.
New Book of Mormon history:
Dismissing prophetic statements:
- The Lehites met and fully integrated with New World civilizations soon after their arrival
- American Indian’s handed control of their civilizations with minimal resistance to a band of displaced Hebrews
- The term Lamanite is largely a cultural term (the baddies)
- The genetic Lamanites have essentially been wiped out or lost
- Book of Mormon civilizations were located in Mesoamerica, not North America
- There are two Hill Cumorah’s where the gold plates were stored. One in Mesoamerica mentioned in Book of Mormon and one in New York, mistakenly thought to be the Book of Mormon Cumorah by every Mormon prophet who has ever lived and virtually all Mormons
- The narrow (1 1/2 day walk) neck of land is the not so narrow Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico
- Moroni carried the 60-80lb gold plates from Mexico to New York so that the plates were conveniently located for Joseph Smith.
- Anything Joseph Smith said that connects North America with the Book of Mormon civilizations (Zelph etc.) is just his opinion
- When God refers to Indians in the Western United States as Lamanites in the D&C, it is Joseph Smith’s personal opinion influencing scripture
- Anything any prophet said that implies there are millions of Lamanites across North and South America is just personal opinion and not doctrine
This is all done with the assurance that the Brethren are right behind them and that their employment by the church is secure. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
And faithful Mormons are expected to swallow all this without the slightest thought that they are being sold another lie to cover the original lie.
Apologist Sleight Of Hand, post by Simon Southerton, Aug 11, 2009
More from Simon Southerton
Some interesting reading on Simon's blog:
A House Divided - Book of Mormon Apologetics in the 21st Century
Where are the Lamanites in Mesoamerica?
Rodney Meldrum: Cherry picking the X lineage
The Book of Mormon is purportedly a record of two great civilizations that lived on the American continent spanning a period of over 2600 years from approximately 2200 B.C.E. to 400 C.E. During this time period, the text of the Book of Mormon describes vast civilizations springing up from extremely small colonization parties. While most people have no problem accepting the fact that whole civilizations can start with a few dozen colonists, most people do question the speed at which the Book of Mormon text has these groups multiply. Mike Norton has put together some illuminating comments regarding this internal problem with the Book of Mormon text as it relates to population growth rates. The following information was provided by Ex-Mormon critic Mike Norton:
Are these numbers even possible?
Terms such as "multitude," "numerous," "exceedingly great," "innumerable," and "as the sands of the sea" are tossed about in the Book of Mormon quite frequently in an effort to impress upon the reader how many people were present for any number of events, usually battles or mass religious conversions. However, nowhere in the Book of Mormon is a complete census reported. Perhaps the closest we come to a complete accounting of the population of the people written about in the Book of Mormon is at the very beginning.
The Book of Mormon mentions two pioneering groups as forerunners of the Nephite and Lamanite nations: the peoples of Lehi and Mulek. I do not include the Jaredites because they became extinct (except for Coriantumr) and failed to contribute to Nephite-Lamanite colonizations (Ether 15:12-34).
When Lehi's group sailed from the Old World in about 591 B.C.E., it consisted of the following men: Lehi; his sons Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph; Zoram; and the two unnamed sons of Ishmael (1 Nephi. 7:6; 16:7). Ishmael himself died before they began their ocean voyage (16:34). Because of female anonymity in the Book of Mormon, we know the name of only one of the seafaring women: Lehi's wife Sariah (1 Nephi. 2:5). But we are told that Ishmael's five daughters also made the trip as the wives of Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, and Zoram. Finally, Ishmael's wife and the families of Ishmael's two sons-as well as an ambiguous reference to Nephi's "sisters"-formed Lehi's band (1 Nephi. 18:9; 2 Nephi. 5:6).
Some of this group were relatively old with grown children of their own (Lehi, Sariah, and Ishmael's wife). Others, at least Jacob and Joseph, were born "in the wilderness" following Lehi's exodus from Jerusalem but prior to the ocean voyage and thus were very young (1 Nephi. 18:7, 19; 2 Nephi. 2:1; 3:1, 25). There were apparently other small children, perhaps the "family" or children of the sons of Ishmael and the children of Laman and Lemuel (1 Nephi. 7:6; 2 Nephi. 4:3, 8-9). It is unlikely there were other passengers on Lehi's vessel. Jacob, Joseph, and other children were too young to have wives.
Lehi's group apparently consisted of at least seventeen and as many as nineteen adults. Jacob and Joseph could not have had spouses until their nieces or the daughters of Ishmael's sons reached marriageable age. It is also important that Lehi, Sariah, and Ishmael's wife were elderly or spouseless or both and therefore probably not capable of reproduction. Thus we are told of only fourteen emigrants capable of reproduction when they arrived in the New World: Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Zoram, the two sons of Ishmael, and the wives of each.
We have little information on Mulek's colonists. They left Jerusalem a few years after Lehi's group, when Zedekiah was taken captive, and eventually became "very numerous" before joining the Nephites (Omni 1:14-19; Mosiah 25:12-13). The only specific population information is for 120 B.C.E. At that time the Mulekites reportedly outnumbered the Nephites, but both groups combined totaled less than half the size of the Lamanite population (Mosiah 25:2-30).
Although Mulek's group began multiplying in the New World shortly after Lehi's, both events may be considered effectively simultaneous. If we assume a roughly equal reproductive rate for the Mulek and Lehi populations, the size of Mulek's original reproductively capable group must have been less than half that of Lehi's emigrants given the information about the comparative size of the two populations in 120 B.C.E. This means there were probably fewer than seven members of Mulek's group capable of reproduction. Certainly there may have been additional voyagers who were not producing off-spring-the elderly, young, and/or unmarried.
From these two small clusters of pioneering emigrants came the population growth which resulted in the Nephite and Lamanite nations. That story comprises most of the Book of Mormon.
Population growth during this pre-agricultural period was virtually nonexistent, roughly .0001 percent per year or less. This is an established fact that can easily be confirmed. (Parsons, Jack. Population versus Liberty. London: Pemberton, 1971, 33; Miller, G. Tyler. Living in the Environment. 4th Ed. Belmont, MA: Belmont, 1985, 88-91; Ehrlich, Paul R., and Anne H. Ehrlich. Population Resources Environment. 2d ed. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1970, 6)
Starvation and severe malnutrition were the rule rather than the exception. Cities were virtually out of the question; people roamed in small bands to follow the food supply. Because our hunting/gathering ancestors had no reliable medicines, no inoculations, no climate control, no rapid transportation, and no modern hygiene, infant mortality was extremely high. Life for those who survived infancy was difficult, dirty, and short. As a result, the earth's population increased with glacier-like slowness through all but the last 1 or 2 percent of humankind's existence on the planet.
However, when one takes a close look at the numbers given in the Book of Mormon, we see figures that would have to be supported by unheard of annual growth rates.
Consider the battle in 187 B.C.E. in which 3,043 Lamanites and 279 of Zeniff's people were slain in a single day and night (Mosiah 9:18-19). Obviously the total Book of Mormon population at that time was much larger than 3,322 because numerous warriors were left alive after the battle as were women and male noncombatants. But even to produce a total population as large as the fatality figures for this one day would have required an average annual growth rate of 1.2 percent during the preceding four centuries. To put this in perspective, a growth rate of 1.2 percent was never achieved on a global basis or in the industrialized regions of the world as a whole until C.E. 1950-60 and was not reached in the developing regions as a whole until the 1930's (Bogue, Donald J. Principles of Demography. New York: Wiley and Sons, 1969, pg. 48-49). The Nephite-Lehite rate is thirty times the rate that existed in the world as a whole during the same era. Moreover if, as is far more likely, the total population in 187 B.C.E. was in excess of 35,000, it would have taken an average annual growth rate of 1.8 percent to multiply the original thirty pioneers to that level at that time. This is a rate that has never been reached in the industrialized world and has only been achieved in the world overall since 1950 (see table below).
Average Percent Annual Global Growth Rates
(according to source)
(Sources: United Nations. The Determinants and Consequences of Population Trends. Vol. 1. New York: United Nations, 1973; Smith, Robert L. The Ecology of Man: An Ecosystem Approach. 2d Ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1972; Ehrlich, Paul R., and Anne H. Ehrlich. Population Resources Environment. 2d ed. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1970; Hauser, Philip M. Population Perspectives. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1960; Bogue, Donald J. Principles of Demography. New York: Wiley and Sons, 1969)
A second example only confirms the problems associated with Book of Mormon population figures. For the Amlicite-Nephite war of 87 B.C.E., Alma 2:17-19 reports a total of 19,094 fatalities. On the basis of these figures John Sorenson, a professor of anthropology at Brigham Young University, estimated the total Nephite-Lamanite population to be over 600,000 at that time (about 200,000 Nephites-Amlicites and over 400,000 Lamanites). For an original band of thirty reproductive individuals in 590 B.C.E. to proliferate even to 19,094 by 87 B.C.E. would require an average annual growth rate of 1.3 percent sustained over the span of five centuries. To reach the 600,000 level Sorenson determined to have existed at that point, the growth rate would have had to be 2 percent, again maintained for five centuries. This is a level never reached on a global scale until C.E. 1960 and fifty times the actual world rate of the pre-industrial epoch. It is a rate that, even when attained, can only persist briefly.
Less specific information from the scriptures also produce some startling results when viewed in the light of even the most generous population growth. For example, Nephites and Lamanites had already waged wars against one another by 560 B.C.E. (2 Nephi. 5:34). Even if the original colonists had been multiplying at the unheard-of-rate of 2 percent annually, the total number of reproductive-age Nephite and Lamanite men and women alive in 560 B.C.E. would have been a mere fifty-five. If half of those fifty-five people were women and some of the males were too old, too young, or too infirm to fight or were occupied with agriculture or other tasks, then the total number of combatants on both sides in these "wars" must have been fewer than twenty.
Similarly, between 588 and 570 B.C.E., Nephi and his people constructed a replica of Solomon's temple (2 Nephi. 5:16). By 570 B.C.E., the total reproductive-age Nephite-Lamanite population would have been forty-five people, even at the C.E. 1960 growth rate of 2 percent. If about half of these were Nephites, fewer than two dozen people-including people busy with farming or hunting, infirm persons, and pregnant women-were available to build a structure that required thousands of skilled workers and a great deal of time in the Old World.
These last two issues were noted as long ago as 1887 by M. T. Lamb. Without benefit of modern demographic methods, he saw serious problems with the rapid growth and major accomplishments of the Nephites and Lamanites at such an early stage in their colonizing efforts. Although his writings bear scant evidence of objectivity, he identified significant problems which have been overlooked by many others. Lamb commented on the improbability of their early division into two nations complete with kings, success in subduing the forests, becoming wealthy in flocks and herds, constructing buildings, and working in wood and metals.
If the Lehi-Mulek groups reproduced at the .04 percent average annual rate which prevailed in the world as a whole during their era, they would have numbered only fifty-four individuals in C.E. 390, 980 years after they landed. Keep in mind that population growth by modern standards was virtually nonexistent during those thousands of years between the invention of agriculture and the dawning of the industrial period. It took well over a thousand years for the world's population to double during that era. This seems counter-intuitive to us who have known nothing but the population explosion during our lifetime, but the evidence is clear. Rapid population growth is a recent phenomenon.
Another way of viewing the same principle is to note what would have happened had the thirty people of Lehi-Mulek multiplied at 2 percent annually. Those thirty individuals would have exploded into 9,756,500,000 people by the time of the Nephites' destruction in C.E. 390-almost double the total population of the planet earth today. Such a rate of growth has only existed very recently and only for very short spans of time. It cannot continue for long.
In his "Speculations on Book of Mormon Populations," Vern Elefson (1984) briefly discussed population figures contained in the Book of Mormon, and then reverse-engineered them to estimate the growth rate that must have prevailed for those figures to be reached. His "best guess" was an average annual rate of increase of 1.5 percent. Although he admitted that this is a high rate of population growth, particularly compared to a global rate of increase of less than .3 percent prior to C.E. 1650, he accepted it because of his preconceived assumption that the Book of Mormon is a true record of real people and events. His only explanation for the accelerated explosion of Nephite-Lamanite numbers is the supposedly salutary effects of abundant space and natural resources and absence of other disease-carrying people. However, the Book of Mormon itself provides ample reasons for believing that the uninhabited wilderness encountered by the ocean voyagers was anything but an ideal breeding ground for humans, especially given the warlike proclivities of the immigrants.
Even the most unbiased person must look at the facts and numbers that history and demographics provide and come to the undeniable conclusion that the numbers just don't add up. One can prove the Book of Mormon wrong by using a simple $1.99 calculator and a few books on world demographics. Sadly, even in the light of such obvious facts, some of the best and brightest and most sincere people the world has to offer have fallen for the lies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This should come as no surprise to students of the Bible. The Savior himself warned us this would happen when he said,
"For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect."--Matt. 24:24
(Note: A vast majority of the information on this page (including extensive quotes) is from the book New Approaches to the Book of Mormon by Brent Metcalfe. All of the information on this page from that book is taken from the essay titled Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes by John C. Kunich. Although none of the comments on this page are in quotation marks, in would be safe to say that 99% of the information on this page was taken directly from the essay by Mr. Kunich, in most cases, word for word. )
Possibly the most obvious implausibility in the Book of Mormon is the account in the Book of Ether concerning the construction of eight (8) submersible sailing vessels in approximately 2200 B.C.E. Beyond the incredulity of such a vessel being constructed in this time period are the particulars of these vessels and the problems that one would encounter if s/he were to attempt to replicate the same process as outlined in the Book of Mormon text. Richard Packham refers to an article by Dr. Kent Ponder who asked some very poignant questions regarding this oddity within the Book of Mormon text.
Many say that religious faith and reason are essentially incompatible -- that theological faith and sensible reason function as largely separate modes of mental and emotional behavior. LDS people, though, very often say that the Mormon faith is unusually reasonable and sensible.
Is it? As a test, let's consider the Jaredites and their ocean-going barges, described in Ether of the Book of Mormon. If you've read it, did you do it with the "eye of faith," or with the "eye of reason" (and common sense)? The LDS eye of faith normally reads this account unfazed. But what if we read it with the eye of reason and common sense? What if we read it as if we were jury members evaluating a witness's testimony? Shall we give it a try?
First, calmly think about what your own planning would entail if you were told that you and some friends would have to hand-build small, submersible boats in which you and your family would be taking a year-long ocean voyage, accompanied by flocks and herds of animals. Would you want to be confined to the inside of a small submersible boat for a year without planning how to care for and live with flocks and herds of animals on board, and related supplies -- for over eleven months?
I don't know how acquainted you are with construction engineering, especially forms of shipbuilding. While I lived in Annapolis, Maryland (teaching at the US Naval Academy), I visited shipbuilding companies and studied the history of various historical shipbuilding techniques. I've also looked into Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki and Ra construction as well as whaling ships at Mystic Seaport, the ex-whaling town in Connecticut, and so on. Ocean-going craft must be carefully designed and strongly built.
As we pay close attention to Ether 2 and 6 in the Book of Mormon, we need to keep in mind that the Jaredite ships are described as built following the direct personal instructions of God himself. The LDS church has always taught that the Lord of the Jaredites' Old Testament times was Jehovah, the same deity described as having created the earth and all of the plants and animals, employing all the intelligent planning and management that that necessarily implies.
In Ether 2, note the order of procedure:
FIRST, for a water voyage prior to the ocean crossing itself, the Lord had instructed Jared and his brother to build boats in which, according to the account, their families and friends "did cross many waters," (2:6) carrying with them "seeds of every kind," flocks ("male and female, of every kind"), "fowls of the air", "swarms of bees," and "fish of the waters." (2:1-3) According to the account, this boat trip was accomplished successfully.
NEXT, four years later, the Lord again ordered the men to build similar boats "after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built" (2:16), this time for an ocean crossing of nearly one year's duration. These boats, similar to the ones built four years earlier, are described as "small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water" (2:16), with structural integrity such that they were "exceeding tight," top and bottom, entirely leak proof and air-tight ("tight like unto a dish") (2:17) because they were going to be "many times buried in the depths of the sea" (6:6) by "mountain waves" (2:24) during many violent storms. To be both (a) light ("like a fowl upon the water"), and (b) able to carry flocks and herds with food supplies for a year, the construction would obviously have to be carefully planned and organized because of the known challenges of combining lightness with strength (which still applies: boats, airplanes, bicycles and helmets, race cars, even suitcases, etc.).
Following the Lord's specifications, the workmen built each boat with just one tight-fitting door, and no window or other opening. Construction of all eight boats was completed, per the Lord's personal instructions ("I have made the barges according as thou [the Lord] hast directed me." 2:18).
NEXT, the Brother of Jared looked at the finished boats and wondered for the first time, Whoa! How will we breathe in these things? Specifically, quoting him: "... I have made the barges as thou hast directed me. And behold, O Lord, we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish." (2:19) It was only then, that is, that he noticed that the boats were air-tight. (He also noticed they were totally dark inside: "O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer?" (2:19)
Now let's pause to consider: How do the eyes of faith and reason interpret this account? The LDS eye of faith typically accepts the story unfazed. But consider the following "Eye of Reason and Common Sense" questions:
1. Is it reasonable that men smart enough to build such watertight and airtight boats, following divine instructions, would do all the planning, material gathering and construction, and finish all eight before the question of breathing and seeing occurred to any of them? At that time (Tower of Babel period), working with hand tools, such a large project would have required at least months of labor. How could they not have noticed this problem for months? Remember that these shipbuilders were experienced. They had already built very similar people/animal/cargo-carrying boats just four years earlier.
2. Stated most succinctly, how could shipbuilders build eight air-tight boats without noticing that they were air-tight?
Visualize men walking around inside boats "tight like unto a dish," with only one door that was to be kept closed at sea. Can you imagine them finishing all of the inside walls on all eight boats before noticing that it's suffocating in there?
3. And what about seeing? Is it sensible that the workmen could have finished all eight interiors without noticing that there was insufficient light to see -- no windows? How could they have worked inside without seeing?
When asked about the light problem, note that the Lord answered with a question: "What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces." (2:23)
4. "Dashed in pieces?" Dashable (shatterable) windows were not invented until thousands of years later, by a different civilization. How would Jared's brother have been able to understand the Lord's reply? Why would a deity have said something that would have had no meaning for Jared's brother?
5. How many boats would you have to finish before noticing no air and no light? Could you finish all eight boats before that dawned on you? Especially if you had built several similar boats and traveled in one of them four years earlier?
6. Is it sensible to finish even one before noticing? Do you know any carpenter who would do that?
7. Would the Lord himself not think of the need to breathe and to see, and then wait until the end to be asked about these life-or-death issues?
8. Would a person of common sense build even a mountain cabin, finishing all walls inside and out, before thinking to make a window hole, without thinking about breathing and seeing inside?
9. Is it sensible that all of these shipbuilders, described as previously experienced in carrying flocks and herds of animals inside of boats, waited until the end to realize, Oh, wait! We forgot that our animals will need to breathe in here. And we need to see in order to feed them and clean up.
Despite the common-sense requirements of structural integrity of ships that will be on the ocean carrying flocks and herds of animals and their feed for a year, all boats are finished, and then, as an afterthought, holes are hacked into that finished structure, one in the top and one in the bottom (because when it flops upside down in stormy seas, the bottom becomes the top).(2:20)
10. Wouldn't the Lord think that the sensible time to plan and build windows for air and light was during construction, not waiting to hack holes after finishing all boats, as a "whoops!" reaction? Would a sensible deity or human do that?
11. Is this not similar to teaching a work crew how to build automobiles for an extremely long trip without mentioning steering? Then, AFTER all the cars are built, the chief builder asks, "We have built all of the cars exactly as you have directed, but how shall we steer, for the wheels and axles are built so that they do not turn?" And the master planner replies, "Well, you can just make a hole in the dashboard and stick in a steering wheel. Then, when you need to steer, just turn the wheel."
12. Is it fair to ask how this differs from the following? Mormon elders, after following the Lord's exact instructions on building and painting the Celestial Room in the Salt Lake Temple, discovering that they've painted themselves into a remote corner, pray, "We have done as thou hast instructed us, oh Lord, but thy instructions have resulted in our painting ourselves into a corner." What would you think if the answer were, "Behold, ye shall make a hole in the granite temple wall, and after ye have escaped, ye shall stop the hole."
Does the following improve the faith/reason problem, or worsen it?
"When thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air." (2:20)
13. If you were taking your family on a car trip, would you tell them, "Wait until you notice you're suffering for lack of air, THEN open the window." Isn't it the case that people who need air often don't notice it until too late, because oxygen shortage has caused them to pass out? Don't we read that people who suffocate often don't know it's happening? Pilots at altitude undergoing oxygen deprivation experience the same hazard. Their awareness drops below the level needed to know they lack "air."
14. How is the Jaredite level of planning and knowledge different from that of men described in current news articles, who carelessly suffocate illegal aliens by transporting them in unventilated trucks? (And that problem occurs in just a few days, not a year.)
If we ask ourselves whether the following is sensibly reasonable, what is the answer?.
"They did lay snares and catch fowls of the air." (Also see 6:4: "fowl that they should carry with them") Birds are the first animals to die from inadequate oxygen, canaries in coal mines being a famous example.
15. How were the birds to notify Jared that they "suffered for air?"
For the reasoning person, it gets worse.
People and animals obviously keep breathing at night, while sleeping.
16. What if they "suffer for air" while everyone is asleep? Is that a good time to need to "unstop the hole?"
17. Did the Jaredites have "Hole Unstoppers" on guard while everyone else slept? Did the unstopper continually check to be sure that sleeping people and animals, especially birds, were still breathing?
How well does the eye of reason and common sense fare with the following problem?
" ... unstop the hole ... " Also, "thou shalt make a hole in the top and also in the bottom." (2:20) Note that it says the hole, that is, a hole, as in one hole. (The hole at the bottom clearly doesn't count except when the ship flops upside down in high seas.) Now picture in your mind traveling with flocks of flatulent sheep and herds of flatulent goats and cattle) in a boat with ONE functioning air hole.
18. What about air movement for ventilation?
19. How would air enter and exit the same single hole supplying the entire barge/boat?
There's a related problem: Air doesn't readily enter a closed space. Why not? Because the space is already full of air -- In the Jaredites' case, warmer, body-heated air that exerts greater-than-outside pressure thus resisting incoming air. People taking car-trips with kids partially open at least two windows for air movement.
20. In these Jaredite boats, reported as designed by the highest divine intelligence, why is there no cross ventilation for three hundred and forty-four days? The eye of reason tries to visualize people and animals struggling to vent their body gases and heat through just one hole.
Now let's apply the eye of reason to general animal care:
21. How much does even one goat, sheep or cow eat in a year?
These are grazing animal, but they can't graze on the ocean; and they don't eat fish. Their grasses and grains have to be stored on board. A goat eats 2 - 3 pounds/day. Even a pony eats about 8 pounds/day. Let's sensibly use 3 pounds X 344 days. That's 1,032 pounds of feed per animal. That's a lot of bulky weight to lash down to prevent it crashing around when the ships roll, and even flip upside down.
22. How do you fit 1,000 pounds of feed per animal in the small boats, along with people, flocks and herds of animals, and birds?
23. And how about carrying a year's supply of drinking water for each person and animal? They couldn't drink ocean water, and in boats of the type described they couldn't gather significant rain water. How could they load and carry sufficient fresh water?
Even the most illiterate people have learned how important ventilation is for food items, especially without refrigeration. People and animals exhale moisture with every breath. The numerous animals couldn't be taken outside to urinate and defecate. Such a year-long, high-moisture, low-ventilation environment breeds bacteria, yeast, fungus and molds, and rots food.
24. So, what about food spoilage?
Could it get worse?
The voyagers are reported to have sung praises to the Lord day and night. (6:9)
25. How likely does day-and-night singing and praising seem after months of close confinement in small boats with urinating, defecating, flatulent flocks, herds and fowls, with only one air hole per drum-tight boat?
Could it get worse?
Ether describes heavy seas (" ... they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them" 6:6). So these boats were crashing around under water, occasionally flipping upside down (thus the need for a hole in the bottom which could be opened as an air hole when the boat flopped over).
26. Can you visualize adults, children, flocks and herds, rocking, tossing and flipping over, traveling that way for a year? Could you ride for 344 days and nights with your children on a boat, repeatedly buried in the depths of the sea with flocks and herds crashing over each other, with urine-soaked "litter box" material spilling into their food as the ship flopped upside down?
27. How would you pour all the urine and feces out of one hole -- for a year?
Could reason and common sense be additionally battered?
" ... fierceness of the wind ... the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind." (6:6 - 8) This testifies to three major factors: (a) wind force, (b) wind constancy, (c) wind direction. "And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water."
28. If the wind was (a) constant, (b) strong, (c) always toward the promised land, how could this force require 344 days?
But wait! Could the shape of the boats, the front and back "ends thereof were peaked" (2:17), have presented insufficient flat surface at the back for the wind to blow against, causing the trip to last longer?
29. But then why would an intelligent divine designer choose such an inefficient shape?
Could it get worse for the sensible eye of reason?.
" ... terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind." (6:6)
30. Beyond the fact that a tempest is not caused by a fierce wind, but rather IS a fierce wind, why would an intelligent deity think that so much wrenchingly violent motion, even overturning stored goods, animals, their bedding and feed, be an intelligent thing to do?
31. Wouldn't an exhorbitant amount of water in the flocks' and herds' drinking containers be lost as the boats pitched, rolled and flipped over?
32. How did the Jaredites mop and dry this constant sloshing spillage for a year?
33. How could they have carried enough fresh water to offset the constant sloshing spillage?
34. Could you keep your family food and belongings together with that kind of flailing around?
Were the people and animals secured by ropes (analogous to seatbelts)? Today, even seatbelted people in slow-speed vehicle rollovers are often seriously injured. But at least their vehicles then stop. Ocean storms, though, last for hours or days. The Jaredites and their animals would have been thrown around (a) many times longer and (b) in a vastly larger interior than in a car rollover. The sliding and falling collisions of people, animals, food and water supplies would often have gone on for hours or days at a time. And if tied down, in a rollover they'd have been left hanging from the ceiling.
The food supplies, and especially the water supplies, would have had to be lashed down to prevent lethally crushing slides into people and animals.
35. But then, when the boat turned upside down, how did the people access the food and water, which would now be secured to the ceiling?
36. How would the Jaredites have been able to prevent or deal with orthopedic injuries and concussions as animals and people crashed into each other?
37. When the boats were upside down, did the people and animals just walk around on what had been the ceiling, outside of pens?
"And thus they were driven forth, three hundred and forty and four days upon the water. And they did land upon the shore of the promised land." (6:11,12) That is, the account directly implies that all the boats landed at approximately the same time.
38. Is it sensible that after 344 days of such violent tossing and sloshing, the boats would have arrived on essentially the same day? How could eight ocean-going vessels tossed by violent storms maintain near-identical speeds, remaining near each other over such an extremely long time period?
39. Would the "eye of reason" perceive the ocean trip in Ether to be a fitting example of famed LDS general authority and historian Elder B.H. Roberts' notable assessment of the Book of Mormon "as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency " ? (Studies of the Book of Mormon, p. 251)
The eye of faith apparently does not perceive the Jaredite ocean voyage to be a nutty fictitious story.
40. How does the eye of sensible reason see it?
It seems to me that all 40 of the above questions are honestly, fairly and sensibly stated.
Another implausible claim in the Book of Mormon is the Nephite construction of a temple which is purportedly patterned after the temple of Solomon (see 2 Nephi 5:16). The first problem is that there are no physical remains of any structure remotely resembling a temple like Solomon's anywhere on the American continent. The second problem is the sheer impossibility of a colony the size of Nephi's constructing such an edifice so soon after arriving in the America's.
Below is an artist's depiction of Solomon's temple:
According to the Old Testament accounts, Solomon's temple was approximately 20 stories high, required the oversight of over 3,000 officials, over 180,000 workmen and took over 7 years to build. How is it possible, then, that a small band of colonists (no more than 50 in number) could construct a temple like Solomon's temple within 30, 50 or even 100 years of their arrival? Exmormon.org founder Eric Kettunen asked these same questions as he was delving into the metallurgy claims of the Book of Mormon:
In 2 Nephi 5:5 Nephi and his family and friends separate from the Lamanites 12 years after landing in the Americas. They quickly develop a complex metallurgical culture that other civilizations in history required centuries to create. Here are the cast of characters:
*Nephi and family - wife and possibly a possibly some children
*Zoram and his family - wife and possibly some children
*Sam and his family - again a family
*Jacob - a young man or boy
*Joseph - an even younger man or boy
*Others of Nephi's sisters - perhaps as many as 3-4 women.
*"and all those who would go with me". That could at best be a few of Ishmael's family. So let's give some credit here to 4 more men, 4 more women and a few more children even though these extra people are never mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
These total to (again these are HIGHER estimates than the story allows):
Mormons could argue for slightly different numbers of people, but for the sake of the story it really does not matter.The numbers are small, very small. A few Mormons have written me and the highest number given me is 500 people. That 500 people could already exist as Nephites is a great leap of faith in Nephite procreation.
Now from the Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 5:14-16 "14.) And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords... 15.) And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. 16.) And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon..."
I have both a BS and MS in metallurgical engineering, so I think I can speak with some authority here.
How likely is it that 8 men, 15 children and 10 women, who just fled into the wilderness, would be able to do the following? Just for fun, is this any more plausible with a society of 500 people, most of them children?
Steel making - this is complex all by itself - mixing iron with carbon
Iron mining and manufacturing - the production of elemental iron from iron ore
Coal mining - coal is required in the production of iron and is refined into coke
Limestone mining - limestone is also required
Tin or zinc mining - depending on the definition of "brass"
Refining and manufacturing of tin or zinc since they do not occur in an elemental state in nature
Roasting - to eliminate sulfur in copper, silver and some iron ores
Complex furnaces - to have reduction atmospheres to produce the metals
Mining tools - where did the hardened tools come from to start with?
Prospecting - how did they know how to identify ores?
Complex wood working - a small replica of Solomon's temple
How could a few people run a complex metallurgical culture in the wilderness and at the same time make shelters, get food and just plain survive? This is only a few years after coming to the American continent by boat. Some LDS apologists refer to meteoric iron as the raw material Nephites had used. This is quite unlikely as there is no archeological evidence that meteoric iron fragments were used beyond simple ornamental items like crude mirrors or decorations. The meteoric iron would have to be melted then mixed with correct percentages of carbon to make steel. That is as a complex of a technology as producing elemental iron, so which ever way you look at it, the possibility is incredibly remote that steel was manufactured.
Let us look at more claims.
They were working with copper!!
This requires roasting (remove the sulfides with oxygen) and a completely different set of metallurgical processes than steel making. Native copper, which requires no processing, is quite rare. If Nephi were referring to native copper, there would have been no need to "train" in it as it is already in its elemental state and easily workable. Some LDS apologists have written me saying that the Nephites went all the way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to get their copper. They traveled thousands of miles for some metal? Mormons can not have it both ways. LDS scholars claim Nephites lived in only a very small geographical area of South America. To also claim they traveled thousands of miles to do their mining is grossly straining credibility
They developed brass!! They had to learn how to make alloys with copper. They would have had to then develop zinc and/or tin mines with these metallic elements each requiring different metallurgical processes to extract the metals from the ore. How bizarre can the story get? It gets worse....
They were working with precious ores. This adds gold and silver mining to the list and different metallurgical methods again are required for processing the ore.
This was all done with 8 men, 10 women and 15 or so children. How could I have ever believed it? But it gets even worse yet....
They then went and built a temple like Solomon's. Solomon's Temple was built by, according to the Bible, 180,000 men over a period of 7 years. Since Nephi would have been familiar with what that temple was like. How could he possibly even imagine that 8 men and 10 women, along with running their mining and manufacturing industries, build a temple that could be compared to it?
We could go on about the self contradictory statements in the verses like precious ores being in abundance and then not being there in the very next verse [2 Nephi 5:14-16]. The story is so absurd that it alone should keep a rational person from believing in the Book of Mormon.
And to top it off, no archeological evidence supports mining activity, which leaves indestructible evidence, during the Book of Mormon period in Central America where nearly all LDS apologists claim the Book of Mormon peoples lived. What is more likely - a handful of people developed an unprecedented and "yet to be discovered" complex metallurgical society or that the Book of Mormon is a fairy tale?
King James Bible
Evidence Joseph used the King James Bible instead of ancient Nephite plates when quoting Old Testament
[From: The Bible in the Book of Mormon (1999), by Curt van den Heuvel]
It is an undeniable fact that the Book of Mormon quotes the Bible. This fact is acknowledged in the Book itself, in such phrases as '...now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words.' (II Nephi 11:2). The Book of Mormon contains extensive quotes from Isaiah - some twenty-two chapters of the prophet are found in the Book, in many cases quoted verbatim from the King James Version.
What is less well known is that the Book of Mormon makes a large number of unacknowledged Biblical quotes. These quotes appear as part and parcel of the narrative of the Book, and are quoted by different authors at different times. It is these quotes that are of interest, because they reveal something about the origin of the Book of Mormon.
This article will look at the various ways in which the author of the Book of Mormon made use of the Bible in his text.
The Scope of the Problem
As already noted, there is a large amount of acknowledged, quoted material in the Book of Mormon. These include the prophets Isaiah and Malachi from the Old Testament, and the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) from the New.
It can also be shown that the Book of Mormon contains an extraordinary number of unacknowledged Biblical quotes. The exact number is difficult to pin down, for a variety of reasons, but can safely be said to exceed several hundred. The New Testament is by far the most fruitful source of these quotes. Of the twenty-six books of the New Testament, twenty of them are represented by one or more quotes in the Book of Mormon. The Old Testament also furnished a small number of unacknowledged quotes. Among these are quotes from Genesis, Exodus, Job, Micah, Hosea and Psalms.
Of the acknowledged quotes, Isaiah furnishes the largest amount of material. In general, this material is quoted almost verbatim from the King James Version. Some passages, however, do show a fairly substantial amount of reworking. For example, Smith embroidered on Isaiah 29:11,12 to transform the text into a 'prophecy' of the Anthon affair. (II Nephi 27:15 and following).
The changes that were made to the text are illuminating. In general, most of the changes occur in the italicized portions of the King James Version (which the King James Translators employed to indicate that the translation is not original to the text). Smith either dropped or modified the italicized phrases. In some cases, the changes made to the text result in impossible readings. For example, II Nephi 19:1 adds the phrase 'red sea' to Isaiah 9:1, which makes no sense in the geographical context.
In several cases, the Book of Mormon follows King James Version translation errors. In the verse just cited, for example, Isaiah 9:1 should read 'honor' in the place of 'grievously afflict'. The Book of Mormon makes the same mistake.
Two chapters of the prophet Malachi are quoted by Jesus in III Nephi 24 and following. The quote is almost verbatim from the King James Version, with some minor variations.
The Book of Mormon also puts the Sermon on the Mount into the mouth of Jesus in III Nephi 12:3 and following. Again, the quote is almost verbatim from the King James Version, with a few more substantial changes, possibly to remove anachronistic references (although the author did not completely succeed in this endeavor.)
There are a few short unacknowledged quotes from the Old Testament. Jesus quoted Micah, verbatim from the King James Version, in III Nephi 20:16 and following. Allusions to Psalm 51 show up in several Book of Mormon passages, and the Decalogue is quoted from Exodus in Mosiah 12 and 13.
Of particular interest are quotes that appear long before their sources were written. These include several hundred New Testament quotes and allusions, as well as one Old Testament anachronism. Malachi 4:1-2 is quoted or alluded to several times in First and Second Nephi. (See I Nephi 22:15 and II Nephi 26:4, for example). The problem is that Lehi and his family supposedly left Jerusalem before the Babylonian conquest - Malachi, however, was a post-exilic prophet.
A few examples of anachronistic New Testament quotes would be Matthew 3:10 quoted in Alma 5:52, I Corinthians 15:53 quoted in Mosiah 16:10 and Romans 8:6 in II Nephi 9:39.
Words and phrases used only in a KJV context
There are a fairly large number of words that appear only in a King James context. The implication here is that these words are the result of biblical quotations, and are not simply a coincidental part of the author's vocabulary.
A few examples - the word 'manifestation' (or its plural) is used in I Corinthians 12:7, in the phrase '...the manifestation of the Spirit...'. This verse (and a number of surrounding verses) is quoted in Moroni 10:8. This, in itself, is not an anachronistic quote, since Moroni lived long after the establishment of the New Testament canon (although it is a little unclear how these New Testament quotes managed to cross the continental divide.) However, we find that every time the word 'manifestation' is used in the Book of Mormon, regardless of context, author or time, it appears in the phrase 'manifestation of the Spirit'. This can hardly be ascribed to coincidence.
As another example, the word 'bitterness' appears in Acts 8:23, in the phrase '...the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.' We find that every time the word 'bitterness' is used in the Book of Mormon, it appears in the phrase 'gall of bitterness', again regardless of context or author. (Even more significant, the word, in all but one instance, also occurs with the phrase 'bonds of iniquity'.)
A final example: every time the word 'intents' is used in the Book of Mormon, it appears in the phrase 'thoughts and intents of the heart', as in Hebrews 4:12.
This writer has listed close to one hundred such words and phrases, which always, or almost always, appear in the Book of Mormon in a KJV context.
There are 17 full chapters from the Book of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah. In a close comparison of chapter 53 of Isaiah and the 14th chapter of Mosiah one will find that all the italicized words in Isaiah are word for word copied in Mosiah. Those italicized words were added by the King James translators in 1611 for clarification and easier reading in English. How does the LDS Church explain their presence if Joseph Smith didn't copy out of the Bible?
New Testament Paraphrases of Old Testament Verses
The New Testament contains a very large number of references to the Old Testament. Often, we find that the New Testament quote differs from its Old Testament source, for one of two reasons - either the writer paraphrased the text in order to make a point, or the writer was quoting from one of the ancient versions, usually the Greek Septuagint, which differs markedly from the (Masoretic) Hebrew Old Testament.
On a number of occasions, the Book of Mormon quotes a New Testament paraphrase of an Old Testament passage. One of the most glaring examples of this phenomenon is found in I Nephi 22:20. The text claims that this verse is a quotation from the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy 18:15,19 to be precise. However, the actual quote in the Book of Mormon is much closer to Acts 3:22,23, which is a paraphrase of the Deuteronomic passage.
One more example: Alma 5:57 contains a reference to II Corinthians 6:17, which is actually a paraphrased quotation from Isaiah 52:11.
On a number of occasions, we find that when the Book of Mormon quotes a Biblical passage, other quotations from the same passage are clustered near the original quotation. The implication here is that the author of the Book of Mormon read the phrase in the Bible, and either unconsciously or consciously worked the surrounding phrases into the text.
For example, I Nephi 22:15 contains an anachronistic quote of Malachi 4:1. However, we find that verse 24 of the same passage contains a reference to 'calves of the stall', a quotation from Malachi 4:2. II Nephi 26:4 also contains a reference to Malachi 4:1, as does verse 6 of the same passage. Verse 9 of the passage contains a reference to Malachi 4:2, as does the preceding chapter, II Nephi 25:13.
A second example: Mosiah 16:7-10 contains references to three consecutive verses of I Corinthians 15 (verses 53 to 55), the famous chapter on the Resurrection of the body.
Jesus quotes the Epistles
Third Nephi records the visit of Jesus to the Americas, after his resurrection. Jesus delivers a number of sermons, most of which are found in the New Testament gospels. On a number of occasions, however, Jesus seems to quote from other New Testament books, before the books themselves were written.
In III Nephi 20:23-26, Jesus quotes a sermon that Peter had yet to deliver at Pentecost, recorded in Acts 3:22-26.
In III Nephi 18:29, Jesus quotes a line that Paul had not yet written, in I Corinthians 11:29, with regard to the Eucharist.
A final example: In III Nephi 28:8, Jesus quotes I Corinthians 15:52-53 with regard to the Resurrection.
Not only does the Book of Mormon contain a large number of unacknowledged quotes, but it appears that in several cases, a Biblical passage inspired a Book of Mormon narrative.
One of the most interesting examples of this phenomenon is found in Alma 18 and 19, the story of King Lamoni's healing. The story bears a rough resemblance to the narrative of the raising of Lazarus in John 12. What is most striking, however, is the number of words and phrases in the Book of Mormon passage that seem to come from John, such as 'stinketh' (Alma 19:5), 'sleepeth' (Alma 19:8), 'he shall rise again' (Alma 19:8) and 'believest thou this?' ( Alma 19:9).
Other Book of Mormon scenes that seem to have been inspired by the Bible: The conversion of Alma in Mosiah 27:10-24 and the story of Paul's conversion in Acts 9:1-18; Alma and Amulek's escape from prison in Alma 14 compared with Paul and Silas' rescue from prison in Acts 16; Jared's daughter dancing for Akish in Ether 8 and Salome dancing for Herod in Matthew 14.
Fatigue in the Book of Mormon
Fatigue is a literary phenomenon that sometimes occurs when one author is heavily dependent on another. It produces small errors of continuity and detail, which result from the latter author omitting structural details while modifying the source.
As an example, consider the story of the healing of the paralytic in Luke 5. The gospel records that there were so many people in the house, that the friends of the patient were forced to let him down through the roof.
Luke 5:19 And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus.
The problem is that Luke has failed to mention that Jesus is in a house.
Luke 5:17 And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
What has happened here is that the author of Luke, in using Mark 2 for his source, has forgotten that he did not set the story in a house, creating a minor aberration in the flow of the narrative when he finds that he has need of a housetop.
Can we find similar examples of fatigue in the Book of Mormon? There are at least two candidates.
As noted in the previous section, Alma 18 and 19 contains a story which is very similar to the resurrection of Lazarus as recorded in John 11. The most obvious difference is the fact that whereas Lazarus had died, and had been dead for some time, King Lamoni was in a deep sleep (possibly comatose). Strangely enough, however, after informing his wife that the King is simply asleep, the prophet Ammon goes on to claim that he "...shall rise again" (19:8). This seems a rather curious phrase to use of someone who was merely asleep, especially when we consider that both times the phrase is used elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (Alma 33:22 and Helaman 14:20), it refers to a resurrection from the dead.
Could it be that in copying his source (the gospel of John), Smith used a phrase that made sense in John's narrative ("...Thy brother shall rise again..." in John 11:23), but not in the Book of Mormon story?
A second example concerns the parable of the Vineyard, as recorded in Jacob 5. This is a long parable which casts the nation Israel in the metaphorical role of an Olive tree in a vineyard.
Jacob 5:3 For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.
The parable appears to be drawn from two biblical sources - the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5, and Paul's discussion of the relation of the Gentiles to the Jews in Romans 11. The problem for the author of the Book of Mormon is that Isaiah and Paul used slightly different metaphors - Isaiah that of a vineyard, and Paul an Olive tree. It is thus quite significant that halfway through the parable, Zenos appears to forget that he is using an Olive tree as his metaphor, and begins to use the whole vineyard as his focus.
Jacob 5:41 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?
Significantly, the break appears at the same point that the Book of Mormon quotes a passage from Isaiah:
Isaiah 5:4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
From this point on, the prophet Zenos refers exclusively to the "fruit of the vineyard", apparently forgetting that vineyards yield grapes, not olives.
Curt van den Heuvel
Naturally, Mormon scholars have long been aware of the problem, and have come up with several theories to account for the phenomenon.
In his monumental apologetic work New Witnesses for God, the noted Mormon scholar B. H. Roberts addressed the question of protracted KJV quotes in the Book of Mormon. Quoting then president Joseph Fielding Smith, Roberts wrote the following:
"When Joseph Smith saw that the Nephite record was quoting the prophecies of Isaiah, of Malachi, or the words of the Savior, he took the English Bible and compared these passages as far as they paralleled each other, and finding that in substance, they were alike, he adopted our English translation; and hence, we have the sameness to which you refer."
The problem that naturally accompanies this explanation should be obvious. If the Book of Mormon plates did indeed contain an ancient version of Isaiah, it should stand to reason that this version would be textually superior to that contained in the King James Version. The latter used a Hebrew text which, at the time that the KJV was produced, dated from no earlier than the ninth century AD. If Smith was able to translate the rest of the non-Biblical passages of the Book of Mormon with apparent consummate ease, why did he suddenly abandon his divine gift in favor of a text that could not hope to be any more accurate?
Further, as we have seen, the Isaiah text of the Book of Mormon often reflects the problems and shortcomings of the King James Version. This should not have been the case, if, as President Smith alleged "...except for those differences indicated in the Nephite original ...here and there made the Book of Mormon version of passages superior in sense and clearness."
Indeed, President Smith has raised a suspicious point: if Smith had access to an English Bible as he was translating the Book of Mormon, what was there to prevent him from simply copying large portions of the work into his own narrative? This, after all, is precisely the allegation of the skeptic.
Another theory, popularized by Hugh Nibley, states that the Holy Spirit of God gives the same words to all his prophets. Again, there are several problems with this theory. Firstly, it presupposes that one believes in such a thing as Divine inspiration, which is by no means an established fact. An appeal to this theory, then, basically amounts to a circular argument.
Of further interest:
The word "Lucifer" in Isaiah 14:12 presents a minor problem to mainstream Christianity. It becomes a much larger problem to Bible literalists, and becomes a huge obstacle for the claims of Mormonism John J. Robinson in A Pilgrim's Path, pp. 47-48 explains:
"Lucifer makes his appearance in the fourteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, at the twelfth verse, and nowhere else: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!"
The first problem is that Lucifer is a Latin name. So how did it find its way into a Hebrew manuscript, written before there was a Roman language? To find the answer, I consulted a scholar at the library of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. What Hebrew name, I asked, was Satan given in this chapter of Isaiah, which describes the angel who fell to become the ruler of hell?
The answer was a surprise. In the original Hebrew text, the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah is not about a fallen angel, but about a fallen Babylonian king, who during his lifetime had persecuted the children of Israel. It contains no mention of Satan, either by name or reference. The Hebrew scholar could only speculate that some early Christian scribes, writing in the Latin tongue used by the Church, had decided for themselves that they wanted the story to be about a fallen angel, a creature not even mentioned in the original Hebrew text, and to whom they gave the name "Lucifer."
Why Lucifer? In Roman astronomy, Lucifer was the name given to the morning star (the star we now know by another Roman name, Venus). The morning star appears in the heavens just before dawn, heralding the rising sun. The name derives from the Latin term lucem ferre, bringer, or bearer, of light." In the Hebrew text the expression used to describe the Babylonian king before his death is Helal, son of Shahar, which can best be translated as "Day star, son of the Dawn." The name evokes the golden glitter of a proud king's dress and court (much as his personal splendor earned for King Louis XIV of France the appellation, "The Sun King").
The scholars authorized by ... King James I to translate the Bible into current English did not use the original Hebrew texts, but used versions translated ... largely by St. Jerome in the fourth century. Jerome had mistranslated the Hebraic metaphor, "Day star, son of the Dawn," as "Lucifer," and over the centuries a metamorphosis took place. Lucifer the morning star became a disobedient angel, cast out of heaven to rule eternally in hell. Theologians, writers, and poets interwove the myth with the doctrine of the Fall, and in Christian tradition Lucifer is now the same as Satan, the Devil, and --- ironically --- the Prince of Darkness.
So "Lucifer" is nothing more than an ancient Latin name for the morning star, the bringer of light. That can be confusing for Christians who identify Christ himself as the morning star, a term used as a central theme in many Christian sermons. Jesus refers to himself as the morning star in Revelation 22:16: "I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star."
And so there are those who do not read beyond the King James version of the Bible, who say 'Lucifer is Satan: so says the Word of God'...."
Henry Neufeld (a Christian who comments on Biblical sticky issues) went on to say,
"this passage is often related to Satan, and a similar thought is expressed in Luke 10:18 by Jesus, that was not its first meaning. It's primary meaning is given in Isaiah 14:4 which says that when Israel is restored they will "take up this taunt against the king of Babylon..." Verse 12 is a part of this taunt song. This passage refers first to the fall of that earthly king...
How does the confusion in translating this verse arise? The Hebrew of this passage reads: "heleyl, ben shachar" which can be literally translated "shining one, son of dawn." This phrase means, again literally, the planet Venus when it appears as a morning star. In the Septuagint, a 3rd century BC translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, it is translated as "heosphoros" which also means Venus as a morning star.
How did the translation "lucifer" arise? This word comes from Jerome's Latin Vulgate. Was Jerome in error? Not at all. In Latin at the time, "lucifer" actually meant Venus as a morning star. Isaiah is using this metaphor for a bright light, though not the greatest light to illustrate the apparent power of the Babylonian king which then faded."
Therefore, Lucifer wasn't equated with Satan until after Jerome. Jerome wasn't in error. Later Christians (and Mormons) were in equating "Lucifer" with "Satan".
So why is this a problem to Christians? Christians now generally believe that Satan (or the Devil or Lucifer who they equate with Satan) is a being who has always existed (or who was created at or near the "beginning"). Therefore, they also think that the 'prophets' of the Old Testament believed in this creature. The Isaiah scripture is used as proof (and has been used as such for hundreds of years now). As Elaine Pagels explains though, the concept of Satan has evolved over the years and the early Bible writers didn't believe in or teach such a doctrine.
The irony for those who believe that "Lucifer" refers to Satan is that the same title ('morning star' or 'light-bearer') is used to refer to Jesus, in 2 Peter 1:19, where the Greek text has exactly the same term: 'phos-phoros' 'light-bearer.' This is also the term used for Jesus in Revelation 22:16.
So why is Lucifer a far bigger problem to Mormons? Mormons claim that an ancient record (the Book of Mormon) was written beginning in about 600 BC, and the author in 600 BC supposedly copied Isaiah in Isaiah's original words. When Joseph Smith pretended to translate the supposed 'ancient record', he included the Lucifer verse in the Book of Mormon. Obviously he wasn't copying what Isaiah actually wrote. He was copying the King James Version of the Bible. Another book of LDS scripture, the Doctrine & Covenants, furthers this problem in 76:26 when it affirms the false Christian doctrine that "Lucifer" means Satan. This incorrect doctrine also spread into a third set of Mormon scriptures, the Pearl of Great Price, which describes a war in heaven based, in part, on Joseph Smith's incorrect interpretation of the word "Lucifer" which only appears in Isaiah.
Nature of God
One of the problems for readers of the Book of Mormon is the seeming contradictory stance that the book takes on the nature of God, the God Head and the Trinity relative to current Mormon theology. The current edition of the Book of Mormon makes no mention of God and Christ as separate, resurrected, exalted physical men but rather takes a much more Trinitarian approach to defining the physical nature of God. In the 1830 (1st edition) of the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees a vision in which he is shown the birth of Jesus. On page 25 of this 1st edition he is expressly informed by an angel that the "virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the God, after the manner of the flesh" and that Jesus is "Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father!" These passages fit perfectly with the rest of the 1830 narrative (particularly the book of Mosiah) which speaks of Jesus as the son of God and also God the Eternal Father. This Trinitarian view was quite common during Joseph Smith's early years in New York and Ohio and was even the common accepted belief among early church members. However, in the current version of the Book of Mormon text, these passages (1st Nephi 11: 18, 21) have been altered to read as follows: "the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh" (1 Nephi 11:18) and "the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!" (1 Nephi 11:21). This leaves the student of Mormon history with at least two problems:
1: Why do the declarations regarding the nature of the Godhead change over time in the Book of Mormon and other church literature (Lectures on Faith, differing accounts of the first vision, etc.)?
2: According to Mormon doctrine, the Book of Mormon is the "most correct of any book on earth." Why would a book that is deemed most correct according to revelation need correcting? Furthermore, why would a book that is deemed most correct be completely silent with regards to current Mormon doctrine regarding the nature of divinity? Interestingly enough, these changes follow the same evolutionary process as Joseph's Changing first vision narratives - starting with a private forgiveness epiphany involving a singular Jesus in 1823 and changing over time into a literal visitation in 1820 by two distinct personages in a waking vision in a grove of trees (For more information regarding the changing nature of the first vision, see: First Vision).
In a 1980 Sunstone article: "The Reconstruction of Mormon Doctrine: From Joseph Smith to Progressive Theology", Thomas G. Alexander attempts to track these changes in the nature and concept of God in the LDS Church over the last 180 years. Below are some excerpts from his article:
Perhaps the main barrier to understanding the development of Mormon theology is an underlying assumption by most Church members that there is a cumulative unity of doctrine. Mormons seem to believe that particular doctrines develop consistently, that ideas build on each other in hierarchical fashion. As a result, older revelations are interpreted by referring to current doctrinal positions. Thus, most members would suppose that a scripture or statement at any point in time has resulted from such orderly change. While this type of exegesis or interpretation may produce systematic theology and while it may satisfy those trying to understand and internalize current doctrine, it is bad history since it leaves an unwarranted impression of continuity and consistency.
Historians have long recognized the importance of the Nauvoo experience in the formulation of distinctive Latter-day Saint doctrines. What is not so apparent is that before about 1835 the LDS doctrines on God and man were quite close to those of contemporary Protestant denominations.
Of course the problem of understanding doctrine at particular times consists not only in determining what was disseminated but also in pinpointing how contemporary members perceived such beliefs. Diaries of Church leaders would be most helpful. Currently available evidence indicates that members of the First Presidency, particularly Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Frederick G. Williams, and Sidney Rigdon were the principal persons involved in doctrinal development prior to 1835. Unfortunately, the only available diary from among that group is Joseph Smith's, which has been edited and published as History of the Church.
Church publications from this period are important sources of doctrine and doctrinal commentary, given the lack of diaries. After the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, the Church supported The Evening and the Morning Star in Independence (June 1832-July 1833) and Kirtland (December 1833-September 1834). In October 1834, the Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, October 1834-September 1837) replaced the Star. Both monthlies published expositions on doctrine, letters from Church members, revelations, minutes of conferences, and other items of interest. William W. Phelps published a collection of Joseph Smith's revelations in the 1833 Book of Commandments, but destruction of the press and most copies left the Star and Messenger virtually the only sources of these revelations until 1835. In that year, the Doctrine and Covenants, which included the Lectures on Faith and presented both revelation and doctrinal exposition, was published.
The doctrines of God and man revealed in these sources were not greatly different from those of some of the religious denominations of the time. Marvin Hill has argued that the Mormon doctrine of man in New York contained elements of both Calvinism and Arminianism, though tending toward the latter. The following evidence shows that it was much closer to the moderate Arminian position, particularly in rejecting the Calvinist emphasis on absolute and unconditional predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, and absolute perseverance of the elect. It will further demonstrate that the doctrine of God preached and believed before 1835 was essentially trinitarian, with God the Father seen as an absolute personage of Spirit, Jesus Christ as a personage of tabernacle, and the Holy Ghost as an impersonal spiritual member of the Godhead.
The Book of Mormon tended to define God as an absolute personage of spirit who, clothed in flesh, revealed himself in Jesus Christ (Abinidi's sermon to King Noah in Mosiah chapters 13-14 is a good example). The first issue of the Evening and Morning Star published a similar description of God, the "Articles and Covenants of the Church of Christ," which was the Church's first statement of faith and practice. With some additions, the "Articles" became section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The "Articles," which according to correspondence in the Star was used with the Book of Mormon in proselytizing, indicated that "there is a God in heaven who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting, the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth and all things which are in them." The Messenger and Advocate published numbers 5 and 6 of the Lectures on Faith, which defined the "Father" as "the only supreme governor, an independent being, in whom all fullness and perfection dwells; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life." In a letter published in the Messenger and Advocate, Warren A. Cowdery argues that "we have proven to the satisfaction of every intelligent being, that there is a great first cause, prime mover, self-existent, independent and all wise being whom we call God... immutable in his purposes and unchangeable in his nature."
Joseph Smith's 1832 account of the First Vision spoke only of one personage and did not make the explicit separation of God and Christ found in the 1838 version. The Book of Mormon declared that Mary "is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh," which as James Allen and Richard Howard have pointed out was changed in 1837 to "mother of the Son of God." Abinidi's sermon in the Book of Mormon explored the relationship between God and Christ: "God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son-The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the Father and Son-And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth." (Mosiah 15:1-4.)
The Lectures on Faith differentiated between the Father and Son somewhat more explicitly, but even they did not define a materialistic, tritheistic Godhead. In announcing the publication of the Doctrine and Covenants which included the Lectures on Faith, the Messenger and Advocate commented editorially that it trusted the volume would give "the churches abroad ... a perfect understanding of the doctrine believed by this society." The Lectures declared that "there are two personages who constitute the great matchless, governing and supreme power over all things-by whom all things were created and made." They are "the Father being a personage of spirit," and "the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man war, formed after his likeness, and in his image." The "Articles and Covenants" called the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost "one God" rather than the Godhead, a term which Mormons generally use today to separate themselves from Trinitarians.
The doctrine of the Holy Ghost presented in these early sources is even more striking compared to the point of view defended in our time. The Lectures on Faith defined the Holy Ghost as the mind of the Father and the Son, a member of the Godhead, but not a personage, who binds the Father and Son together. This view of the Holy Ghost reinforced Trinitarian doctrine by explaining how personal beings like the Father and Son become one God through the noncorporeal presence of a shared mind.
As Marvin Hill and Timothy Smith have argued, much of the doctrine that early investigators found in Mormonism was similar to contemporary Protestant churches. The section on the nature of God in the "Articles and Covenants," now Doctrine and Covenants 20:17-28, was similar to the creeds of other churches. In fact, what is now verses 23 and 24 is similar to passages in the Apostle's Creed.
... between 1842 and 1844 Joseph Smith spoke on and published doctrines such as the plurality of gods, the tangibility of God's body, the distinct separation of God and Christ, the potential of man to become and function as a god, the explicit rejection of ex nihilo creation, and the materiality of everything including spirit. These ideas were perhaps most clearly stated in the King Follett discourse of April 1844.
Because doctrine and practice changed as the result of new revelation and exegesis, some members who had been converted under the doctrines of the early 1830s left the Church. John Corrill exhibited disappointment rather than rancor and defended the Church against outside attack, but left because of the introduction of doctrine which he thought contradicted those of the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
It seems clear that certain ideas which developed between 1832 and 1844 were internalized after 1835 and accepted by the Latter-day Saints. This was particularly true of the material anthropomorphism of God and Jesus Christ, advanced perfectionism as elaborated in the doctrine of eternal progression, and the potential godhood of man.
Between 1845 and 1890, however, certain doctrines were proposed which were later rejected or modified. In an address to rulers of the world in 1845, for instance, the Council of the Twelve wrote of the "great Eloheem Jehovah" as though the two names were synonymous, indicating that the identification of Jehovah with Christ had little meaning to contemporaries. In addition, Brigham Young preached that Adam was not only the first man, but that he was the god of this world. Acceptance of the King Follett doctrine would have granted the possibility of Adam being a god, but the idea that he was god of this world conflicted with the later Jehovah-Christ doctrine. Doctrines such as those preached by Orson Pratt, harking back to the Lectures on Faith and emphasizing the absolute nature of God, and Amasa Lyman, stressing radical perfectionism which denied the necessity of Christ's atonement, were variously questioned by the First Presidency and Twelve. In Lyman's case, his beliefs, contributed to his excommunication.
The newer and older doctrines thus coexisted, and all competed with novel positions spelled out by various Church leaders. The Lectures on Faith continued to appear as part of the Doctrine and Covenants in a section entitled "Doctrine and Covenants," as distinguished from the "Covenants and Commandments" which constitute the current Doctrine and Covenants. The Pearl of Great Price containing the Book of Abraham was published in England in 1851 as a missionary tract and was accepted as authoritative in 1880. The earliest versions of Parley P. Pratt's Key to the Science of Theology and Brigham H. Roberts's The Gospel both emphasized an omnipresent, nonpersonal Holy Ghost, though Pratt's emphasis was radically materialistic and Roberts's more allegorical. Both were elaborating ideas addressed in the King Follett sermon. Such fluidity of doctrine, unusual from a twentieth-century perspective, characterized the nineteenth-century Church.
By 1890 the doctrines preached in the Church combined what would seem today both familiar and strange. Yet, between 1890 and 1925 these doctrines were reconstructed principally on the basis of works by three European immigrants, James E. Talmage, Brigham H. Roberts, and John A. Widtsoe. Widtsoe and Talmage did much of their writing before they became Apostles, but Roberts served as a member of the First Council of the Seventy during the entire period.
Perhaps the most important doctrine addressed was the doctrine of the Godhead, which was reconstructed beginning in 1893 and 1894. During that year James E. Talmage, president of Latter-day Saints University and later president and professor of geology at the University of Utah, gave a series of lectures on the Articles of Faith to the theological class of LDSU. In the fall of 1898 the First Presidency asked him to rewrite the lectures and present them for approval as an exposition of Church doctrines. In the process, Talmage reconsidered and reconstructed the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. In response to questions raised by Talmage's lectures, George Q. Cannon, "commenting on the ambiguity existing in our printed works concerning the nature or character of the Holy Ghost, expressed his opinion that the Holy Ghost was in reality a person, in the image of the other members of the Godhead-a man in form and figure; and that what we often speak of as the Holy Ghost is in reality but the power or influence of the spirit." The First Presidency on that occasion, however, "deemed it wise to say as little as possible on this as on other disputed subjects."
The impact of the Articles of Faith on doctrinal exposition within the Church seems to have been enormous. Some doctrinal works like B. H. Roberts's 1888 volume The Gospel were quite allegorical on the nature of God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost. In the 1901 edition, after the publication of the Articles of Faith, Roberts explicitly revised his view of the Godhead, modifying his discussion and incorporating Talmage's more literal interpretation of the Holy Ghost.
By 1900 it was impossible to consider the doctrines of God and man without dealing with evolution. Darwin's Origin of Species had been in print for four decades, and scientific advances together with changing attitudes had introduced many secular-rational ideas. James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe had confronted these ideas as they studied at universities in the United States and abroad. As early as 1881 Talmage had resolved to "do good among the young," possibly by lecturing on the "harmony between geology and the Bible." In 1898 Talmage urged George Q. Cannon to have the General Authorities give, careful, and perhaps official consideration to the scientific questions on which there is at least a strong appearance of antagonism with religious creeds." Cannon agreed, and Talmage recorded a number of interviews with the First Presidency on the subject. In a February 1900 article Talmage argued that science and religion had to be reconciled since "faith is not blind submission, passive obedience, with no effort at thought or reason. Faith, if worthy of its name, rests upon truth; and truth is the foundation of science."
Even though the publications of Talmage, Roberts, and Widtsoe had established the Church's basic doctrines of the Godhead, members and nonmembers were still confused. In 1911, George F. Richards spoke in the Tabernacle on the nature of God. Afterward, a member challenged him, arguing that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were one God rather than three distinct beings. Richards disagreed and cited scriptural references including Joseph Smith's first vision.
In February 1912, detractors confronted elders in the Central States Mission with the Adam-God theory. In a letter to President Samuel O. Bennion, the First Presidency argued that Brigham Young did not mean to say that Adam was God, and at a special priesthood meeting during the April 1912 general conference, they presented and secured approval for a declaration that Mormons worship God the Father, not Adam.
Reconsideration of the doctrine of God and the ambiguity in discourse and printed works over the relationship between God the Father and Jesus Christ pointed to the need for an authoritative statement on the nature and mission of Christ.
Official statements were required to canonize doctrines on the Father and the Son, ideas which were elaborated by the progressive theologians. A clarification was particularly necessary because of the ambiguity in the scriptures and in authoritative statements about the unity of the Father and the Son, the role of Jesus Christ as Father, and the roles of the Father and Son in creation. A statement for the Church membership prepared by the First Presidency and the Twelve, apparently first drafted by Talmage, was published in 1916. The statement made clear the separate corporeal nature of the two beings and delineated their roles in the creation of the earth and their continued relationships with this creation. The statement was congruent with the King Follett discourse and the work of Talmage, Widtsoe, and Roberts.
This elaboration, together with the revised doctrine of the Holy Ghost, made necessary the revision and redefinition of work previously used.
The clarification of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost and the relationship between the three members of the Godhead also made necessary the revision of the Lectures on Faith. A meeting of the Twelve and First Presidency in November 1917 considered the question of the lectures, particularly lecture five. At that time, they agreed to append a footnote in the next edition. This proved unnecessary when the First Presidency appointed a committee consisting of George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, James E. Talmage, and Melvin J. Ballard to review and revise the entire Doctrine and Covenants. The initial reason for the committee was the worn condition of the printer's plates and the discrepancies which existed between the current edition and Roberts's edition of the History of the Church.
Revision continued through July and August 1921, and the Church printed the new edition in late 1921. The committee proposed to delete the Lectures on Faith on the grounds that they were "lessons prepared for use in the School of the Elders, conducted in Kirtland, Ohio, during the winter of 1834-35; but they were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons." How the committee came to this conclusion is uncertain. The general conference of the Church in April 1835 had accepted the entire volume, including the Lectures, not simply the portion entitled "Covenants and Commandments," as authoritative and binding upon Church members. What seems certain, however, is that the interpretive exegesis of 1916 based upon the reconstructed doctrine of the Godhead had superseded the Lectures.
If the 1916 statement essentially resolved the Latter-day Saint doctrine of God along the lines suggested by Talmage, Widtsoe, and Roberts, the work of these three men, while suggesting a doctrine of man, did not lead to a similar authoritative statement, except on the question of the relation of the creation to natural selection. Still, the work of these progressive theologians provided a framework for understanding man which went relatively unchallenged until the recent development of Mormon neo-orthodoxy.
Most correct book?
Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion." However, there have been numerous revisions of the text, the first occurring in 1837 and instituted by Joseph Smith himself. The original Book of Mormon was printed in novel format (without the current chapter and versification that gives it its 'Bible' look) and included many spelling and grammatical errors (far too numerous to list in this web page). Probably the most thorough examination into this phenomenon was documented by Jerald and Sandra Tanner.
While a significant portion of these errors (spelling and punctuation) can be easily overlooked as incidental to the copious process of transcribing dictation and manually setting print type in early 19th century America, an equally significant portion of the anomalous instances point to an obvious limited discipline of proper grammar (this is not referring to the appearances of Semitic inverted parallelisms in the text - discussed in a later section). While most Mormons will readily insist that Joseph Smith was an unschooled farm boy and that therein lies the miracle of it all, this assertion still doesn't solve the problem presented by the fact that the dictation process for the book of Mormon involved Joseph speaking aloud a series of words that appeared in the seer stone, the scribe writing the words down and reading the words back to him, and Joseph then pronouncing the words dictated (reportedly by divine revelation) to be "written".
If the source for the text of the Book of Mormon was channeled through such an otherworldly medium and painstakingly double-checked at each dictation pause, why would there be a need for repeated revisions over the last 150 years beyond the obvious spelling and punctuation corrections that would naturally occur through the re-editing process? One would presume that text which was supposedly divinely communicated via visual format through the seer stone and then repeated twice prior to acceptance would be sufficient to ensure the accuracy of the words being conveyed via divine communication.
Probably the most important example of revision can be found in the book of 1st Nephi 11:18, 21. This incident was discussed in the previous section Nature of God in the BOM. Here is an abbreviated example of some of the changes and revisions:
|Original 1830 Text
||Current, Altered Text
1 Nephi 3, p. 25* And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
*The 1830 text did not have verse divisions.
||1 Nephi 11:18 And he said unto me, Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God.
1 Nephi 3, p. 25 And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, even the Eternal Father!
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||1 Nephi 11:21 And the angel said unto me, behold the Lamb of God, even the Son of the Eternal Father!
1 Nephi 3, p. 26 And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||1 Nephi 11:32 And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he
was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God, was judged of the world.
1 Nephi 3, p. 32 These last records ... shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||1 Nephi 13:40 These last records ...shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father and the Savior of the world.
Other Changes to the Book of Mormon. A variety of other changes have been made that also alter the meaning of the text.
|Original 1830 Text
Alma 15, p. 303 yea, I know that he alloteth unto men , yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||Alma 29:4yea, I know that he alloteth unto men,
|yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills
NOTE: Later editions from at least 1840 to 1980 deleted without explanation these eight words. LDS leaders re-inserted the omitted words into all editions since 1981.
It is possible Joseph Smith deleted this portion of the verse because it conflicted with a revelation he claimed to receive in 1831 found in Doctrine & Covenants 56:4,5 "Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good; and all of this upon the heads of the rebellious, saith the Lord. Wherefore, I revoke the commandment which was given unto my servants ..."
Mosiah 9, p. 200... King Benjamin had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings.
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||Mosiah 21:28... King Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings.
Ether 1, p. 546... and for this cause did King Benjamin keep them...
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
Ether 4:1... and for this cause did King Mosiah keep them...
NOTE: According to Book of Mormon chronology, King Benjamin was already dead when these events took place. Apparently LDS leaders changed the name to Mosiah to eliminate the mistake.
2 Nephi 8, p. 87... and the mean man boweth down, and the great man humbleth himself not...
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||2 Nephi 12:9... and the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not...
1 Nephi 5, p. 52... O house of Jacob, which are called out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the Lord...
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
||1 Nephi 20:1... O house of Jacob, which are called out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, which swear by the name of the Lord...
2 Nephi 12, p. 117... and many generations shall not pass away among them,
save they shall be a white and a delightsome people.
[View the 1830 Book of Mormon text.]
2 Nephi 30:6 (1840 edition)... and many generations shall
not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.
(Later editions until 1981) white and delightsome
(1981 to current edition) pure and delightsome
|NOTE: Before 1978 dark-skinned males were not allowed to hold positions of priesthood authority within the LDS Church. Today Mormon scriptures continue to teach that dark skin is a curse from God and a sign of His displeasure (See 1 Nephi 12:23; 2 Nephi 5:21; Alma 3:6). Brigham Young, second president and prophet of the LDS church referred to those with dark skin as being "cursed with a s[k]in of blackness" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 11, p. 272).
Grammatical, Spelling and Syntactical Changes. As stated earlier, the Mormon church has made many changes to the Book of Mormon in order to correct Joseph's poor grammar and spelling. This should not have been necessary, however, given the manner in which Joseph is supposed to have produced this book. According to testimony, Joseph Smith gave his scribe a word-for-word dictation of what he read off a special seer stone that he had placed in his hat. (This seer stone would later be referred to by the Old Testament name of Urim and Thummim.) The fact that Joseph simply dictated the words he read on the stone was supposed to prove that the Book of Mormon came from God and not Joseph. This view was taught by Joseph F. Smith, 6th President of the Mormon church. On Saturday, February 25, 1881, Oliver B. Huntington recorded in his journal:
I went to Provo to a quarterly Stake Conference. Heard Joseph F. Smith describe the manner of translating the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith the Prophet and Seer, which was as follows as near as I can recollect the substance of his description. Joseph did not render the writing on the gold plates into the English language in his own style of language as many people believe. But every word and every letter was given him by the gift and power of God. So it is the work of God and not of Joseph Smith, and it was done in this way . The Lord caused each word spelled as it is in the book to appear on the stones in short sentences or words, and when Joseph had uttered the sentence or word before him and the scribe had written it properly, that sentence would disappear and another appear. And if there was a word wrongly written or even a letter incorrect the writing on the stone would remain there. (Journal of Oliver B. Huntington, p. 168 of typed copy at the Utah State Historical Society)
For more details on this subject and quotes from the eyewitnesses, see the article, Translation or Clairvoyance. 1
While the following short sampling of changes do not affect the meaning of the text, they do reveal the human origin of the book.
- Improper use of "was" in 1830 edition later changed to "were"
- "... Adam and Eve, which was our first parents ..." [p. 15]
- "... the bands which was upon my wrists ..." [p. 49]
- "... the priests was not to depend ..." [p. 193]
- "... they was angry with me ..." [p. 248]
- "... there was no wild beasts ..." [p. 460]
- Improper use of "is" in the 1830 edition later changed to "are"
- "... the words which is expedient ..." [p. 67]
- "... But great is the promises of the Lord ..." [p. 85]
- "... And whoredoms is an abomination ..." [p. 127]
- "... here is our weapons of war ..." [p. 346]
- Improper use of "a" in the 1830 edition later deleted from text
- "... As I was a journeying ..." [p. 249]
- "... he found Muloki a preaching ..." [p. 284]
- "... had been a preparing the minds ..." [p. 358]
- "... Moroni was a coming against them [p. 403]
- Improper or slang word usage in 1830 edition deleted, correct words inserted in later editions
- "Behold the Scriptures are before you; if ye will arrest them, it shall be to your own destruction." [p. 260] The word "arrest" is now changed to "wrest" [Alma 13:20].
- "... they were exceeding fraid ..." [pp. 354, 392, 415]. The phrase "exceeding fraid" is now changed to "exceedingly afraid" [Alma 47:2; 58:24; Helaman 4:3].
- "... my soul was wrecked with eternal torment ..." [p. 214]. The word "wrecked" is now changed to "racked" [Mosiah 27:29].
For a complete list of the changes and revisions, see: http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/3913intro.htm
Aside from the changes and revisions to the text there are the ever present problems of historicity that are discussed on several previous sections of this web site. For the LDS Church to maintain the claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book from either a theological or historic standpoint is deceptively misleading at best. Perhaps, in light of the obvious problems this claim presents, faithful adherents and skeptics alike could benefit from a more metaphorical interpretation of the text; understanding it as a medium of expressing fundamental socio-religious issues that were common in early 19th century America and still worth consideration today.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like many new religious movements in frontier 19th century America, grappled with the social and religious concerns of its time. One particular issue that continues to stir controversy in LDS history is the issue of race. While the current church is making significant efforts to distance itself from some of its more blatantly racist positions of the past 170 years, there is still the underlying fundamental problem of God's position on race as presented in the Book of Mormon.
While these positions may have been par for the course for many locals in white frontier America 170 years ago, one must pause when one considers that the positions advocated in the Book of Mormon are accepted as God-given, inspired scripture among Latter-day Saints and, therefore, reflect Gods absolute position on the subject of skin color. One must question why God would so perfectly reflect the bigoted and horrifically racist tenets of unenlightened frontier America and then miraculously change his position 170 years later as per the words of current Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, as stated in his April, 2006 General Conference Priesthood session address:
"Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.
Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?
Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.
Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children."
For any believer in the Biblical God, this radical turn about of position would smack of glaring inconsistency and thus render God a changeable god - something that virtually no existing Bible based religion can accept as even remotely tenable. For those that are secularly inclined, this is a clear example of a man-made institution adapting to the circumstances of its social/political environment and evolving to ensure its survival.
Possibly the most unbelievable doctrine to come from the racist passages in the Book of Mormon was the absurd notion that Native Americans, upon exposition and acceptance of the restored Mormon gospel would literally become white skinned. Here are a few citations that illustrate this oddly preserved relic of the Church's racist past:
Second Nephi; Chapter 5, Verse 21:
21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
Alma; Chapter 3, Verse 6:
6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.
Third Nephi; Chapter 2, Verses 12, 14-15:
12 Therefore, all the Lamanites who had become converted unto the Lord did unite with their brethren, the Nephites.
14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;
15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;
As strange as this all may seem, this doctrine was not only tacitly accepted by many members of the church, but even taught by various past church prophets including Spencer W. Kimball:
"I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today as against that of only fifteen years ago. Truly the scales of darkness are falling from their eyes, and they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people....
The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos;...The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.
At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl...was several shades lighter than her parents...There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.
The day of the Lamanites has come....today the dark clouds are dissipating." (Improvement Era, December 1960. pages 922-23)
And even institutionalized as an action program in the 1950's and 60's as the "Lamanite Placement Program." This program enabled underprivileged children from Native American reservations to be placed with a select group of Latter-day Saint families for the purposes of education and gospel instruction - in effect, it was a rather late manifestation of the age old practice from early American antiquity of "Christianizing" American Indians - something that white invaders and settlers had been doing since the Spanish Conquistadors first encountered the Native Americans centuries ago.
It should be noted that while it is possible for one's skin to become several "shades" lighter, it is, in fact, not caused by divine intervention as a consequence of accepting Mormon doctrine but by simply spending more time in a milder climate prone to longer winter seasons. Many of these Native American youth were relocated from reservations in the southwestern U.S. (considered by many as a harsh desert environment) and placed in northern Utah homes where a considerably milder climate prevails. It is quite reasonable to expect that as many of these youth transitioned from the harsh climate and conditions of the reservation to the more sedentary and climate controlled environment of their northern counterparts, that their skin would react to the change in climate - similar to any individual who spends considerable time outdoors and gets a tan, only to see that tan fade away as they 'bundle up' for the winter months.
It seems that at one point the Church was aware of the possible difficulties that this doctrine could cause for them publicly and among the rank and file membership. In 1981, the LDS Church issued a new edition of the Book of Mormon. While this has been common practice since the beginning of Mormonism, this edition made one key change in order to 'tone down' the obvious racist overtones in the text.
Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson of Mormon Research Ministry briefly comment on the changes to the text and the resultant implications:
Until 1981 2 Nephi 30:6 in the Book of Mormon taught that dark-skinned Lamanites (Indians) would eventually experience a change in the color of their skin should they embrace the Book of Mormon. This passage of Mormon scripture read:
"...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
However, in 1981, the LDS Church decided to change "the most correct book on earth" and switched the word "white" with the word "pure." Some Mormons insist that this was a clarification since the word was never meant to refer to a person with dark skin pigmentation who would magically turn white based upon a conversion to the Mormon gospel; rather, it is claimed that the change referred to a cleaner state of heart. This assumption is definitely not supported in the Book of Mormon since 2 Nephi 5:21 says,
"And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, and they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."
Furthermore, we find another reference to a change in skin color in 3 Nephi 2:15. This passage reads:
"And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites."
That the context refers to skin color is verified by a number of LDS leaders including Joseph Smith. Mormon author George D. Smith notes that Joseph Smith was given a revelation which foretold of a day when intermarriage with the Lamanites would produce a white and delightsome posterity. George Smith wrote, "This unpublished 17 July 1831 revelation was described three decades later in an 1861 letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young quoting Joseph Smith: `It is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity, may become white, delightsome and just.' In the 8 December 1831 Ohio Star, Ezra Booth wrote of a revelation directing Mormon elders to marry with the `natives'" (Sunstone, November 1993, footnote #5, pg. 52).
Second LDS President Brigham Young stated in 1859, "You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, e, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation ...When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people" (Journal of Discourses 7:336).
It has also been taught in Mormonism that opposite repercussions could result when a white man abandoned his Mormon faith. For instance, the "Juvenile Instructor" (26:635) reads,
"From this it is very clear that the mark which was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness, and there can be no doubt that this was the mark that Cain himself received; in fact, it has been noticed in our day that men who have lost the spirit of the Lord, and from whom his blessings have been withdrawn, have turned dark to such an extend as to excite the comments of all who have known them."
In 1857, Brigham Young declared that apostates would "become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil" (Journal of Discourse 5:332).
Next, the "Observer Telegraph" article of November 18, 1830:
"They [the Mormons] are now on their way to the Western Indians, for whose benefit the new Revelation was especially designed. The Indians, as fast as they are converted are to become white men."
This shows that the idea that Indians were to literally turn "white" upon their conversion to Mormonism was known about very early--enough to have made it into a newspaper by late 1830. That means that the idea had to have come from the earliest of Mormons. That refutes the modern Mormon apologetic line that the "turning white and delghtsome" is only figurative, and the modern BOM change to "pure and delightsome" was a departure from the original assertion of a literal skin color change.
However, aside from the almost comedic nature of this folklore, there is an incredibly disturbing undercurrent of blatant racial intolerance stemming from this doctrine and those who promulgate it: It is the horribly offensive notion that skin color is somehow in indicator of personal righteousness (i.e. goodness and worthiness) and that God arbitrarily 'curses' certain of his children with variation to 'mark' them so as to not contaminate the 'master race'. It would seem that the Mormon God is incredibly bigoted and contradictive if this were his position. In fact, this position runs directly counter to the 2nd Article of Faith of Mormonism which states:
"We believe that men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression."
If this truly is one of the 13 primary theological tenets of the LDS faith, why then are the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon punished for their parents sins? To take this a step further, since the LDS Church taught that African Americans were under a similar curse, why were they punished for the sins of their ancestors when the 2nd article of faith clearly refutes the idea?
Finally, a reading of the Book of Mormon citations and comments from past church leaders above seems to betray a very narrow view with regard to the concept of beauty. Indeed, it seems, according to Mormon scriptures, that anyone who happens to not be Caucasian in origin and skin pigmentation is "dark", "filthy", "loathsome" or "not enticing". This is a highly toxic and counter-intuitive worldview that represents some of the lowest levels of moral depravity that humanity has ever descended into; the segregation, categorization and condemnation of another human being because of the color of his/her skin.
In the 21st century, it is inconceivable that any rational person could subscribe to such destructive views regarding the natural beauty and diversity inherent in humanity from which we may (should we aspire to do so) weave an incredibly rich cultural tapestry - inclusive of all and exclusive of none.
BOM lacks doctrine
The Book of Mormon lacks real 'Mormon' doctrine
While Joseph Smith declared that the Book of Mormon was "the keystone of our religion" and that the book contains a "fullness of the everlasting gospel", it is interesting to note that the doctrine presented in the Book of Mormon bears little resemblance to contemporary Mormonism. In an internet conversation, one individual jokingly stated that following the doctrine of the Book of Mormon would "make [you] a good Methodist". An investigation of the doctrinal postulates put forth in the Book of Mormon vs. the doctrinal claims of the modern, Utah-based LDS Church clearly indicates that there is a great disconnect between the two. Among the more notable differences are:
- Trinitarian monotheism in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:18-21[1830 edition], Mosiah 15:1-5, Alma 11:44, 2 Nephi 31:21, Mormon 7:7, ) vs. trilateral polytheism in the modern church (D&C 130:22, Gordon B. Hinckley, March 1998 Liahona, Gordon B. Hinckley, July 2006 Ensign, D&C 132:17-20, 37, Abraham 4, Abraham 5).
- Condemnation of polygamy - with the exception of raising up righteous seed (Jacob 2:23-30) vs. mandatory eternal polygamy for all who are given the law (D&C 132:1-5,32-37).
- Baptism not required for those who never had a chance to hear the gospel (Moroni 8:22-24) vs. baptism required for all who ever lived on the earth (D&C 128:18).
- Purpose of temples in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 2: 1, 5-7, Jacob 2:2, 11) vs. the purpose of temples in the modern church (D&C 138: 48, 54).
- Non-corporeal nature of God in the Book of Mormon (Alma 18: 2-5, 11, 18, 26, 28, Alma 22: 9-11, 15, corroborated in the Lectures on Faith; Lecture Fifth - http://www.centerplace.org/hs/dc/lec-005.htm) vs. the corporeal nature of God in the modern church (D&C 130: 22).
Aside from introducing the notion of not baptizing little children, many faithful Latter-day Saints will claim that doctrines particular to the Modern LDS Church were not revealed to the Book of Mormon peoples. Still others will claim that many of the modern doctrines can be conceptually inferred in the text. While there may be some merit to these viewpoints (arising from potential merit of examining spiritual writings outside of a strictly literal context), it begs the question: how can the Book of Mormon contain the fullness of the gospel when it is silent (or even contradictory in some cases) regarding, what many consider, basic bedrock doctrinal tenets of Mormonism. Would it not be more honest to problem that the Book of Mormon contains an 'elementary', 'early' or 'introductory' gospel rather than inaccurately claiming a 'fullness' of said gospel?
JS's real achievement wasn't the BOM; it was the church he established. Without the church, I doubt the BOM would still be read by anyone. Moreover, the BOM didn't even stand the test of time during JS's own life time, because his revelation quickly moved beyond the BOM. Today, the book is revered more as a symbol of the restoration, than for its contents. Dan Vogel
The Anthon Visit
This incident in the history of Mormonism is of particular interest for both the faithful and the skeptical because it involves the only know sample of "Reformed Egyptian" (the language that the Book of Mormon text indicates it was written in - see Book of Mormon, Book of Moroni 9:32) ever to have been reviewed/authenticated or (in view of contradicting evidence) repudiated in LDS history.
While LDS Church members as a whole regard a witness of the Holy Ghost (Spirit) as the primary anchor of their faith (or any of its various tenets), they are usually quite willing and eager to accept secular affirmations of their bedrock claims - hence, the existence of institutions like the Neil A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly F.A.R.M.S.) and F.A.I.R (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) whose primary objective is to find contemporary secular corollaries with the foundational claims of Mormonism.
Hence, the Anthon incident (summarized below) is a valuable account in the minds of many Latter-Day Saints in validating the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
In 1887, David Whitmer said that he had in his possession "the original paper containing characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took [upon recommendation from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill - vice-president of Rutgers Medical College] to Charles Anthon (a Columbia college linguist and classicist) of New York, for him to read." The sample, currently owned by the Community of Christ, is alleged to have been copied by Smith from the Golden Plates.
According to an account attributed to [Martin] Harris by [Joseph] Smith, Anthon "stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct."
Joseph went on to say that "Mr. Anthon called me [Harris] back, and asked me how the young man [Smith] found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.
He then said to me, 'let me see that certificate.' I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, 'I cannot read a sealed book.' I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation."
Many Mormons view this account as a direct fulfillment of a prophesy in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament (Isaiah 29:11). Indeed, the account, as recalled by Joseph Smith seems to deliberately corroborate the text of Isaiah. Interestingly enough, Professor Anthon told a markedly different version of this incident when relating it to personal acquaintances in writing. The following letter was written by Anthon in 1834 in response to an inquiry by Mr. E. D. Howe of Painesville, Ohio:
New York, Feb. 17, 1834
Dear Sir -
I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be "reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics" is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A "gold book," consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of "gold spectacles"!.
The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the "golden book," the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles. On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calender given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but "Egyptian Hieroglyphics." Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the "curse of God" would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the "curse of God" upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.
I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics.
Yours respectfully, CHAS. ANTHON.
Dr. Stanley B. Kimball, professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville has speculated on the validity of Anthon's and Harris's claims in BYU Studies, Volume 10 pages 325-352 (1970) and offers this thoughtful analysis [emphasis added]: (note: this is from the SHIELDS web site which is a faithful LDS apologetic organization).
In 1828 the main centers of learning were, of course, all in "the East." There were five such centers--Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania (or what was later called by that name), and Columbia College (now Columbia University.) Since the science of Egyptology did not exist in 1828 there were no Egyptologists. The only scholars in the world acquainted to any degree with the Egyptian language would have been those in the field of classical studies. In those days, classicists did not limit themselves strictly to Greek and Roman studies, but studied most of the other ancient civilizations as well.
The chief classical scholars in the United States in 1828 were Edward Robinson, George Ticknor, Edward Everett, and George Bancroft at Harvard; James L. Kingsley and T.D. Woolsey at Yale; and Anthon at Columbia. Robinson and Woolsey, however, were in Europe in 1828; Ticknor was at that time primarily interested in the Romance languages; and Everett was in politics after 1826. Of the remaining practicing classicists in the East during 1828, Anthon was the best known. It seems certain then that anyone qualified to advise Harris properly would have recommended him to Anthon.
How valid was the testimony of Anthon and Mitchill respecting the transcription and translation of ancient Nephite-Egyptian records? According to Martin Harris, Dr. Anthon said that "the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian." Dr. Mitchill is reported to have "sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said." It is important that we realize that even though the statement of Martin Harris is now contained in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith was only reporting what Martin Harris said happened and was not necessarily vouching for what Dr. Anthon and Dr. Mitchill reputedly had said.
There are at least three possible interpretations of the Martin Harris statement regarding his visit with Dr.'s Anthon and Mitchill:
The first is that Martin Harris fabricated the whole story. But this is hardly tenable. He was skeptical in the first place--that is why he went to New York City; and he certainly had nothing to gain by falsifying evidence to support the almost fantastic story of the impoverished and persecuted Prophet. If Martin Harris was thinking about making money from the Book of Mormon, it was not necessary for him to have gone to the trouble and expense of visiting New York City.
The second is that Dr.'s Anthon and Mitchill made up their stories, or at least pretended knowledge that they did not have. This is, unfortunately, not too difficult to believe. The learned are prone to pontificate. Anthon's interest in the matter may have gone deeper. Did he wish to share some of the wealth and fame that exploitation of the golden plates might bring? This is possible, for the Book of Mormon itself says, "... And the learned shall say: Bring hither the book, and I will read them. And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will they say this, and not for the glory of God."
However, a third interpretation, that Anthon and Mitchill merely recognized the characters as some form of Egyptian and so stated this, I believe, is most probable. Many books had been published by 1828 containing facsimiles of Egyptian characters and Anthon and Mitchill could easily have been acquainted with at least the appearance of the various styles of Egyptian writing. Whatever they said respecting the correctness of the translations cannot be taken too seriously. Even a reincarnated Egyptian could not have translated the characters because the "reformed Egyptian" had been so changed that "none other people knoweth our language." It is entirely possible, of course, that they said nothing at all about the translation, but only remarked that the transcription was correct, for in 1828 neither Anthon, Mitchill (nor anyone else in the world for that matter) had seen much translated from the Egyptian. It is not difficult to understand how a man of Harris' background could have mistaken transcription for translation. Perhaps Harris was so intent on fulfilling a scriptural prophecy that he heard only what he wanted to hear. Certainly any notion that he had been an instrument in God's hands in fulfilling prophecy would have helped convince him that he should sell his farm and finance the publication of the Book of Mormon.
Such is the story of the Harris-Anthon-Mitchill encounter. In spite of the limited ability of Anthon and Mitchill (or anyone else in the world at that time) to pronounce judgment on the transcription, and despite the ridicule of Anthon regarding the story of angels and the destruction of Anthon's certificate, Harris was sufficiently convinced to go into debt and devote his full time to the support of the young prophet. As soon as possible, probably in April, Harris went to Harmony and served as Joseph's scribe until June 14, 1828.
As far as the official account (published in 1842 as noted above) of what transpired, it must be carefully noted again that Joseph Smith is not vouching for what Harris said; he is simply reporting what Harris told him. Since there were no witnesses to the event, we have only the many statements of Martin Harris and two statements from Anthon to go on.
That the event took place pretty much as Harris reported it is substantiated by Anthon's previously cited letters to Howe and Coit. Much has been made of the fact, however, that these two letters, which are very critical of the Mormons, insist that "the paper contained anything else but Egyptian Hieroglyphics," and they are widely quoted by anti-Mormon writers. Why should Harris' story be accepted above that of the professor? One good reason is that the two letters contain glaring inconsistencies. Aside from Anthon's acknowledged brilliance, the sources reveal him as also a rather crochety bachelor, a petty taskmaster with no outside interest, and a man of no religious association. The two letters were not written by the detached scholar, but by an uncritical, emotional man trying to rid himself of any connection with people he did not and could not understand*.
As far as the truthfulness of the Harris statements concerning what occurred, we have no evidence whatsoever beyond his character. Richard L. Anderson has done extensive research on Harris' life in Palmyra and has proved that "none of his towns-men exceeded his established reputation as a responsible and honest individual," and that during his "almost 40 years' residence in Palmyra he was admired for his integrity...... " (for more information regarding the Book of Mormon witnesses, see: The Witnesses)
*Note: A similar accusation could be leveled at Martin Harris for having an emotionally vested interest in taking part in fulfilling a prophecy and allowing his personal convictions and aspirations to cloud his judgment of the whole event - resulting in contradictory accounts from the opposing parties.
A few more insights from Dr. Kimball regarding the existing Anthon Transcript now in possession of the Community of Christ (former RLDS) Church:
The RLDS transcript was given to the Church in 1903 by the heirs of David Whitmer, fifteen years after his death in 1888. The first account of Whitmer's possession of this document was made by Edward Stevenson (later a member of the First Presidency of Seventies) who visited Whitmer in 1871 and made a copy of the document. Later, the March 25, 1881, edition of the Richmond (Missouri) Conservator reported that Whitmer had the original transcript, a claim which Whitmer made again in 1887 when he wrote, "I have in my possession the original paper containing some of the characters transcribed from one of the golden plates, which paper Martin Harris took to Professor Anthon of New York... ." In 1884 a committee of the RLDS Church conversed with Whitmer and were shown the transcript. Unfortunately we lack any further information regarding how, when, or why Whitmer acquired this document. Though inconclusive, it is of interest to note that Martin Harris neither confirmed nor denied Whitmer's claim.
Reasoning by analogy we can surmise a little about the transcript from the wandering of one of the two manuscript copies of the Book of Mormon translation. As protection against loss or theft while it was being printed, Joseph Smith had Oliver Cowdery make a copy of the translation, which copy Cowdery later kept in his possession. (Joseph Smith placed the original translation in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in October 1841, where it was subsequently nearly destroyed by water.) After the death of Cowdery in March 1850, his copy of the translation went to his friend and fellow-witness, David Whitmer. (In 1903 his heirs sold it to the RLDS Church where it remains to this day). For many years, Whitmer believed that his copy of the translation was the original. In 1878, however, Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith proved to him that he really had the Cowdery copy. This is important, for if Whitmer was mistaken about his copy of the Book of Mormon translation, it is equally possible that he was mistaken about the originality of the "Anthon transcript" he claimed to have.
Obscurity of Sources
Since we know nothing about how Whitmer acquired his copy of the transcript, we are free to assume that perhaps Martin Harris felt that the transcript ought to be kept together with the Cowdery copy of the Book of Mormon translation and at some time, gave the transcript either to Cowdery or to Whitmer. There is no evidence that he gave it back to Joseph Smith to be deposited in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House. There is always the possibility too, that what eventually came into Whitmer's hand was the alleged second copy, or even a copy of a copy.
One interesting, and possibly very meaningful, detail about the RLDS transcript is the word "Charactors" written across the top. Four students of early Church history, R.C. Webb, Ariel Crowley, Dean Jessee of the LDS Church Historian's Office, and the anti-Mormon writer, I. Woodbridge Riley, think that this word is in the hand of Joseph Smith. If so, the authenticity of the RLDS transcript would be strengthened greatly.
For the time being, however, we must face the conclusion that the three primary sources of the "Anthon transcript"-the 1844 placard, the 1844 newspaper story, and the RLDS transcript--are all equally obscure. Until we learn more about the origin of any of them, we are in no position to say definitely that any of them is original, a near contemporary copy of the original, or a spurious invention to give credence to the Book of Mormon story.
Circumstantial evidence, however, including the fact that there is a high degree of similarity of the characters on the three sources, suggests that all three are at least closely related to the unknown original, and new information about one will aid in our understanding of the others.
At the very least, the Anthon incident must be considered in a much broader context that a simple scholastic attestation to the validity of Joseph's translation. Since there was no substantive body of scholarly knowledge concerning any of the various dialects of hieroglyphic, demotic, or hieratic Egyptian dialects from with which to compare the original Anthon transcript and any purported translation to, the Anthon incident represents, at best, two competing testimonials regarding a document that cannot be adequately substantiated and, at worst, another indication that there is currently no compelling evidence that establishes the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document. While the truth regarding the Anthon incident probably lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, the available evidence seems to indicate that the characters on the surviving transcript bear very little, if any relation to any Egyptian dialect. Consider the Anthon transcript below compared to samples of Egyptian writing:
Anthon Transcript (Community of Christ [RLDS] Church)
Hieratic script, 11th Dynasty (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Papyrus Joseph Smith 1, Breathing Permit of Hor, approx 1st century C.E. (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints historical archive - see: Book of Abraham)
As can bee seen from the above samples, whatever 'resemblance' the Anthon Transcript bears to real Egyptian documents is greatly diminished by the numerous dissimilarities. As Dr. Kimball so effectively stated: "Many books had been published by 1828 containing facsimiles of Egyptian characters and Anthon and Mitchill could easily have been acquainted with at least the appearance of the various styles of Egyptian writing. Whatever they said respecting the correctness of the translations cannot be taken too seriously."
The glaring questions that remain are these:
- How could Anthon (or anyone for that matter) pronounce a correct translation through conventional methodology when no such methodology existed?
- Why is the existing Anthon Transcript not subjected to scholarly translation efforts to verify its authenticity?
While there may be plausible answers to the first question - which, oddly enough, dilute the efficacy of the original account as a faith-promoting narrative, the silence in response to the second question is absolutely deafening. Like the issues surrounding the Book of Abraham (see: Book of Abraham), the attempts (such as Dr. Kimball's above) to push the available evidence out of the realm of scientific scrutiny are indicative of the true lack of compelling evidence to substantiate the purportedly 'testable' claims of Mormonism in general and the Anthon Transcript in particular.
As the Anthon story is still taught as a faith-promoting event in Sunday School (I personally observed it taught in Gospel doctrine in March of 2008), we should summarize the major issues known about this event.
Perhaps LDS make too much of the 'sealed book' parallel between what's said in Isaiah and what Martin Harris related that Charles Anthon said. Martin's account is that he informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that he was forbidden to bring them. Anthon replied, 'I cannot read a sealed book.'
In Isaiah 29: 9-13 it says:
9 ¶ Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink.
10 For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.
11 And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:
12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.
13 ¶ Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Is Anthon's response really a fulfillment of prophecy? By reading just Isaiah, it doesn't seem that this is an actual, specific future event about a specific man thousands of years in the future that Isaiah is prophesying about, but rather an analogy about how mankind is ignoring the words of God and that the words of God are as good as a sealed book unless you unseal them and read them and follow the words written.
The Bible also talks about sealed books in Daniel 12:4,9 and Revelations 5:1-5, 9; 6:1 but it's obviously not referring to the Book of Mormon in those passages so no one knows for sure what exactly Isaiah is talking about when he mentions a sealed book. The following links show other Christian interpretations of the Isaiah passages:
Many Muslims believe that these passages in Isaiah are referring to Muhammad and nothing to do with Martin Harris or Charles Anthon.
It's not really much of a stretch for Anthon to say that he couldn't read a sealed book in response to Martin saying that he had a sealed book. What would you say if someone asked you to look at a sealed book? Also of what real relevance is the sealed portion anyway? The entire Book of Mormon came from the unsealed portion of the plates, as well as the characters that were copied, so why even bother mentioning a sealed portion? The sealed portion has virtually no relevance in the LDS Church. The temple ordinances and every other important revelation needed by God's children to return the heaven has been revealed already so what necessary, additional scripture could there really be? The sealed portion would likely be more history, and much like the published Book of Mormon, have very little doctrine.
Why is there a sealed portion anyway as it was never translated and never will be? Critics contend that it would make sense that if 2/3 of the book were sealed, Joseph would not need to make individual plates for most of his prop. He could have a solid block of tin or iron or some other metal that would give his plates a lot of weight but only make a few plates on top with engravings on them to be felt through a cloth or briefly shown to the witnesses.
Joseph Smith's Interpretation of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon
There is an excellent article in Dialogue Magazine by David P. Wright that discusses how Joseph interpreted the words of Isaiah. The article is in Dialogue, Volume 31, Number 4, Winter 1998, Pages 181-206. Pages 200 through 204 have one of the best discussions on the supposed Charles Anthon fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy and considered by many LDS historians to be the definitive guide on the Charles Anthon issue.
Link to Dialogue: http://content.lib.utah.edu/
How could professor Anthon validate the translation?
How could professor Anthon (or anyone else on the planet) translate or be able to verify a translation of an unknown language? Reformed Egyptian couldn't even be deciphered today. Mormon 9:34 states "none other people knoweth our language". Charles Anthon was a professor of classical studies, with Greek and Latin expertise, and certainly not an Egyptologist. As Dr. Kimball above said "Since the science of Egyptology did not exist in 1828 there were no Egyptologists." It's probably true that Anthon had seen published Egyptian characters and even knew of some of ongoing work overseas in trying to decipher Egyptian. But even if he knew a lot about Egyptology, the question remains how could he verify 'Reformed Egyptian'? Even if Anthon actually said the translation by Joseph was correct, his statement would be meaningless.
Is the document referred to as "The Anthon Transcript" actually from the Book of Mormon plates?
Although the "Anthon Transcript" document is probably not the original, it almost certainly represents characters either copied from the plates in Joseph Smith's possession or copied from the document carried by Harris. Twice in late 1844, after the Prophet's martyrdom, portions of these symbols were again published as characters that Joseph Smith had copied from the gold plates. Characters appeared in the December 21 issue of the Mormon newspaper The Prophet. Also, in 1844 the Latter-day Saints published a broadside with the title "Stick of Joseph" which contained supposed characters copied from the plates. The characters are basically the same as those from the Anthon transcript.
And again in 1980, The LDS Church printed an edition of The Book of Mormon that featured the same characters from the Anthon Transcript on the front and back covers of a Book of Mormon made with gold covers to simulate what the gold plates may have looked like. So it's obvious that the LDS Church believes that those characters are real or else why would they put those same, exact characters on the cover of their most important scripture? (note: the photo below is from one of these 1980 editions in our possession).
1980 edition of the Book of Mormon with gold front and back covers with markings similar to the Anthon Transcript characters believed to be copies of actual Reformed Egyptian taken from the gold plates.
What do modern-day scholars make of the Anthon Transcript?
All the nonLDS scholars, that have looked at the characters on the Anthon Transcript, have said it is gibberish and don't give it any further thought. They basically state the same thing that Anthon said 'It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways.' Klaus Baer, Egyptologist at the University of Chicago, called the characters of the "Caractors" document nothing but "doodlings."
What do the LDS scholars say? Some Mormons have attempted to decipher the "Caractors" document but, according to Mormon apologist John Gee, "the corpus is not large enough to render decipherment feasible." Nevertheless, various LDS scholars and one RLDS scholar, have made the attempt, including Ariel L. Crowley, Blair Bryant, and Stan and Polly Johnson. No credible translations have been made of the Anthon transcript. Obviously if modern-day scholars can't decipher it, then how could professor Anthon in 1828?
Analysis by a scholar
One scholar noted remarkable similarities between many characters from the Anthon manuscript and a form of Latin shorthand called Tironian notes.
The column on the left is made up of characters from the "Anthon transcript, The column on the right contains Tironian notes, the Latin shorthand upon which early modern shorthand was based.
It should be noted that some enthusiastic LDS have found correlations with some of the characters with some form of Egyptian. In these cases, it should be noted that these are likely just random coincidences as the translation of the characters into words don't line up with anything in the Book of Mormon. Now if any scholars said that the characters translate into 'I Nephi being born of goodly parents' then we would have something.
Also many of the characters just translate to a letter and not a phrase. The Anthon characters are not exactly compact. If the entire Book of Mormon was written with characters from the Anthon characters, the plates needed to make a 500 page book would be enormous and many times bigger than the plates as described. Take in mind, you have to subtract from the plates the 2/3 of the BOM that was sealed and any plates that may have had the lost 116 pages on them so the less than 1/3 of the plates that were left would have to contain the entire 500+ page Book of Mormon. Using characters like the Anthon characters seems very unlikely to even be possible unless they were microscopically engraved.
More importantly, since any of this supposed correlation between the Anthon characters and real Egyptian characters is completely ignored by the more prominent LDS scholars like Egyptologist John Gee, it shows that these correlations are not really very significant despite some claims by a small handful of overly zealous LDS members trying to prove the BOM true using the Anthon characters.
Why doesn't this document get more scholarly attention?
In this age of computer-assisted research, we are baffled as to why cryptographic studies have not yielded results in this area. This document could very well prove that the Book of Mormon is truly an ancient, historical book but yet it is never talked about by the Church and LDS scholars largely ignore it. We can't help but ask why. The reasons seem to be the same as with the Book of Abraham papyri. The scholarly translation of these documents damage Joseph Smith's translating ability claims rather than strengthen them. LDS apologist and Egyptologist John Gee immediately dismisses any attempts at translating the Anthon transcript as not feasible given the small amount of characters. That's a shocking attitude to take for a document that could help prove the BOM true. Also, the document has some 175 characters so that's enough to work with and not just ignore. It's much more likely that LDS scholars don't want the Anthon transcript to get any attention as nonLDS scholars have denounced it as gibberish and nothing at all related to any real ancient American or Egyptian languages.
At the very least, the story of Martin Harris' dealings with Charles Anthon should not continue to be taught as a faith-promoting event in church.
Most people do not believe that the Book of Mormon is divine scripture. However, that doesn't stop many people from appreciating the BOM as a work of fiction, whether it be inspired or uninspired.
The RLDS Church (now called Community of Christ) makes it optional to believe in the historicity of the BOM. In 1986 and 2007, the RLDS church attempted to pass a resolution to affirm the Book of Mormon. Both times this was struck down. They acknowledged that "our members hold very diverse views concerning their understanding and use of the Book of Mormon". Unlike the LDS church, "the Book for Mormon is not to be used as a test of fellowship or membership in the [RLDS] church".
However, many RLDS and some nonmembers appreciate the BOM as a book that has many allegories and life lessons that can be of value, even though they don't believe the BOM to be an actual historic account of peoples that inhabited the Americas.
Here's a link to an article for those interested in reading the Book of Mormon as an inspiring work while bracketing the question of its historicity. The approach in this article "allows doctrinal and spiritual aspects of the text to be fully explored ... using the techniques developed in the study of narrative," while sidestepping the debates about its author and its production.
Viewing Joseph's Stories as Myths
"One Face of the Hero" shows a method of approaching the stories about Joseph Smith, and the stories he produced, as powerful religious narrative, or, as Joseph Campbell would have said, "myths." This approach brackets the question of whether or not the stories actually happened, and instead focuses on their meaning and inspiration.
One Face of the Hero - In Search of the Mythological Joseph Smith (PDF file)
More Book of Mormon Difficulties
The link to the following BOM essay addresses 14 specific difficulties that the author has identified as problematic to the Book of Mormon being of ancient origin.
1. Future Events in the Past Tense.
2. Pre-1830 vs. Post-1830 Prophetic Accuracy.
3. Internal Inconsistencies and Improbabilities.
4. Dating Inconsistencies.
5. Literalistic Acceptance of the Joshua Account, the Flood, and Moses' Division of the Red Sea.
6. The Ages of the Patriarchs.
7. Questionably Rapid Social Change.
8. Rapid Change in Lamanite Skin Color.
9. Limited Plates and the English Language.
10. Compositional Analysis and the Manner of the Book of Mormon's Translation.
11. Parallels in Phraseology Suggesting a Single Author.
12. Nineteenth-Century American Phraseology.
13. Recent Efforts to Harmonize the Book of Mormon with Mesoamerican Archeology.
14. Recent Efforts to Account for 19th Century Theology in the Book of Mormon.
Link to BOM Essay: Book_of_Mormon_Problems.pdf
About the Author: The author is currently a member of the LDS Church but has allowed MormonThink to publish the essay under a pen name to avoid any difficulties that might arise for his family as they are all respected members of the Church.
The author started to study Mormon foundations over 35 years ago from the perspective of supporting church claims not refuting them. What he found, however, has altered his opinion as to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
He sent his research to several LDS apologists for their comments. Some of the apologists were very interested and freely discussed the issues while others casually dismissed them.
Six sources used
Six sources Joseph Smith may have used in composing the Book of Mormon
Many critics claim that the majority of the Book of Mormon can be accounted for in various texts that were available in Joseph Smith's time. The following comes from former CES educator Grant Palmer:
Seventy-five percent of the content of the book is accounted for by Joseph Smith’s use of six, nineteenth-century sources of which he was very familiar. Twenty-five percent came from the Bible and another twenty-five percent came from the Methodist religion. The remaining twenty-five percent came from three other sources. Most of this evidence is detailed in, An Insiders View of Mormon Origins, chapters 2-4. In this format, I will go through the books of the Book of Mormon chronologically showing how these six sources were used by Smith.
The story line for the Book of Mormon probably came from Ethan Smith’s, 1823 New York novel, View of the Hebrews (Elder B. H. Roberts, president of the First Council of Seventy after making an extensive study of the book concluded there was “a great probability” the Smith’s had a close encounter with View of the Hebrews). The book told of a small colony of Israelites that left a European city about 600 BC. With difficulty they crossed the ocean and arrived in the Americas. They divided into two classes, an industrious and an idle group and engaged in many long wars. The gospel was preached and a Christ figure was emphasized throughout the book. Finally, the barbaric division utterly exterminated the civilized one.
• 1, 2 Nephi:
Bible passages dominate the text in these two books. Over one-half of the chapters in 2 Nephi alone are from the Bible. Smith’s source was a 1769 KJV edition, or later printing. We know this because the Book of Mormon contains the specific errors of that Bible translation. (In 1 Nephi, two 1811 dreams of Smith Sr. are clearly seen in Lehi’s first dream and Lehi’s tree of life dream. A number of other Smith family biographical facts were used by Joseph in the Book of Mormon).
• Jacob, Enos, Mosiah, Alma 1-42:
These books are dominated by evangelical Methodist Camp Meeting, terms, practices, patterns and doctrines of which Smith was so familiar. The eleven main Book of Mormon preachers between Jacob and Alma II reflect in every way, what one would expect to find when making a study of the Second Great Awakening preachers of Smith’s era.
• Alma 43-63:
These war chapters reflect the war strategies of the American Indian Wars and the War of 1812, especially the British/Indian fighting strategies used against the American soldiers in the War of 1812. Smith heard his relatives and neighbors recount stories of these wars.
For some of this evidence, see Mercy Otis Warren’s 1805 book, History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution; and David Ramsey’s 1789 book, History of the American Revolution.
• Helaman; 3 Nephi 1-7:
The text in these (“Gadianton”) chapters reveal strong influences from the anti-Masonic terms/rhetoric/methodology/practice/fears and sentiment reported during the presidential election of 1828-29. They flooded the newspapers (the Smith’s subscribed to a newspaper) and the talk of the day. Andrew Jackson was a Mason, and the papers had a field day speculating on what Jackson would do to the Executive and Judicial branches of government if elected. Many of these anti-Masonic terms, concepts and predictions, are seen in this section of the Book of Mormon.
• 3 Nephi 11-28:
Again, Bible passages dominate this section of the BOM, specifically a 1769 edition or later printing of the KJV, including it errors. Of the 490 verses in these chapters, 246, or fifty percent contain recognizable KJV quotations or phrases.
This book is Joseph Smith’s essay on the central message of the Book of Mormon. The first half of Ether describes what happens to the Jaredites when they follow Christ and the second half explains what happens when they don’t. In many ways Ether is a miniature Book of Mormon story of the Nephites and Lamanites, including the extreme annihilation of both the Jaredites and Nephites down to the last man.
It is more persuasive that Joseph Smith’s used these six, nineteenth century sources for composing the Book of Mormon than that the book came from ancient plates and were delivered to him by an angel. While it is compelling that seventy-five percent of the book came from these six sources, F.A.R.M.S, located on the BYU campus, dwells on the unknown twenty-five percent. They argue that the book must have come from an ancient source because this material cannot (yet?) be identified in Smith’s era. However, for the apologists to make an ancient case for the book they convincingly need to explain why three quarters of the book’s content is in Smith’s local culture and well known to him.
Response by the Church
We regret that we could not find a comprehensive, official response to all of the critic's arguments discussed in detail in any church publication or web site. However several articles can be found on the Church web site that address some of the critic's issues, although most do not cover all of the problems for each issue as mentioned by the critics contributing to the MormonThink web site. Further information can be obtained by using the search function on the Church's Official web site.
Most of the apologetic responses to the critic's comments have already been discussed in each of the above sections or links were provided in the references portion in the above sections. The following responses have not been discussed above but have been suggested to us by various believing LDS:
True believer's response
One of the literary features of the Book of Mormon that is often lauded by faithful Mormons as evidence of the book's authenticity is the appearance of Chiasmus. Chiasmus is a writing style that was commonly used in Semitic languages that incorporates the use of 'inverted parallelisms'. A simple example of this style can be illustrated by giving each idea or subject in a sentence or paragraph a sequential assignment and then, once a repeating subject is discovered, tracking the appearance of the same subjects repeating in reverse order through the end of the sentence or paragraph like this: A-B-C-D-E-e'-d'-c'-b'-a'. Of course the pattern can take on enormous complexity if there are multiple subjects, actions, thoughts, entreaties, or theses in a single paragraph but the pattern is still rather simple to detect. We have provided a simple diagrammatic example below:
A: Opening declaration
B: Main subject(s)
C: Action items(s)
c': Action item(s) - possibly repeated for emphasis, etc.
b': Main subject(s)
a': Closing summary referencing opening declaration
The claim by faithful church members is that no one in early 19th century America was aware of Chiasmus and therefore the Book of Mormon must be an authentic ancient document since Joseph Smith was obviously unaware and untrained in its use in Semitic writing structure.
Reference: BYU Studies
There are several problems with the assumption of Book of Mormon authenticity based upon the evidence of Chiasmus within the text. First of all, to state that no one was aware of Chiasmus in early 19th century America is, at the very least, inaccurate. Noted Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn provides compelling evidence that Chiasmus was known about and being studied in Joseph Smith's time (See: Quinn - Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Signature Books). Additionally, to claim that Chiasmus is direct evidence for the Semitic authenticity of any document is very misleading. Such a claim discounts the powerful effect of cultural and literary transmission of this particular writing style to the general populace by constant exposure to readily available texts such as the Bible and the Apocrypha - both of which contain many examples of Chiasmus and with which Joseph Smith was intimately familiar with from a very young age.
Furthermore, examples of Chiasmus can be observed in obviously unrelated texts. For example:
A: Hickory dickory dock
B: The mouse ran
C: up the clock
c': The clock struck one
b': The mouse ran down
a': Hickory dickory dock
I doubt that there are many readers of this web page that would recklessly presume that the poem "Hickory Dickory Dock" (first published in 1744) is of ancient Semitic origin.
A more humorous example of contemporary Chiasmus was cited by a former church member on an Internet discussion forum recently that effectively demonstrates how prevalent Chiasmus is, even in contemporary literary composition:
A member writes:
"Hello friends, I am sure this topic has been debated before but I am really curious as to how antis have explained the discovery of chiasmus in the book of Mormon. I don't see how they could rationally explain it away and I was wondering what excuses they give. This may have all been debated but I am new to this board and don't see how this doesn't authenticate the book of Mormon very strongly. Cheers."
The former member responded with the following:
A Hello friends,
B I am sure this
C topic has been debated
D before but I am really curious
E as to how antis have explained the discovery of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.
e' I don't see how they could rationally explain it away
d' and I was wondering what excuses they give.
c' This may have all been debated
b' but I am new to this board and don't see how this doesn't authenticate the book of mormon very strongly.
That's how we anti's explain it.
James Strang and Chiasmus in his writings
James Strang was one of the leaders of the church that tried to be the successor to Joseph. He attracted many thousands of followers initially but his following dwindled quickly. He claimed to have uncovered additional scripture from ancient plates buried in the ground similar to the Book of Mormon. The scripture he revealed was called the Book of the Law of the Lord. Amazingly, this book is also riddled with chiasmus. Now how could that be if it wasn't really an ancient work? Obviously if James Strang could use chiasmus in Joseph's day (whether conscientiously or unconscientiously) , so could Joseph or anyone else.
Also, as the Holy Bible has chiasmus, how extraordinary would it really be for someone that studied the Bible and tried to emulate the Bible to also have chiasmus in any publication they wrote? This would likely happen either by accident or design. If someone wanted to make another Bible, a golden Bible, it would likely resemble it in form, language and structure. This would be the case if the author was Joseph Smith or others such as Sidney Rigdon or Solomon Spalding.
For additional information, see: http://www.lds-mormon.com/chiasm.shtml
More critic's arguments on chiasmus:
Richard Packham on Chiasmus
#2 What about the witnesses?
True believer's response
We have the eyewitness testimony of 11 witnesses to the Book of Mormon who testified that they did indeed see and handle the gold plates. They were men of impeccable character who never denied their testimony of this fact.
Reference: Universal comment by true believers and LDS apologists. FAIR web site
Please see The Witnesses for an in-depth review of the issues surrounding the Book of Mormon witnesses to see why the witnesses' testimonies are not really as convincing as initially presented by the church, once you examine all the details and circumstances surrounding their testimonies.
#3 What about the Indian Ruins throughout North, Central and South America?
True believer's response
We have mountains of evidence that people lived on the American continent, including advanced civilizations, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, during the time period covered in the text. Surely this is proof enough that Joseph Smith didn't make the whole thing up.
Reference: Discussions with many LDS believers and what many of the the contributors of the MT website were taught and believed growing up in the church.
While there have been numerous civilizations that have lived on the American continent before, during and after the time of the Book of Mormon narrative, there is no archaeological, anthropological or linguistic evidence to demonstrate that a pre-Columbian, white Jewish, 'pre-Christian Christian', steel smelting, horse/cattle/ox/sheep herding civilization ever lived on the American continent during the time period suggested by the Book of Mormon. Additionally, the fact that natives have inhabited the Americas for over 15,000 years and are of Asiatic descent refutes the primary Book of Mormon tenet that the American continent was "kept hidden" or "preserved" specifically by God for his chosen group(s) of people. Nor were these civilizations wiped out in a global flood as the Great Flood is taught as a historical event in the BOM and other LDS scriptures. Please see the contents portion of this section of the website to review these issues in more detail.
#4 What if God changed the Lamanite DNA when he changed the color of their skin - resulting in the absence of Israelite DNA in Native Americans?
True believer's response
Surely a change on the magnitude of skin color for an entire race of people would necessitate biological alterations at the molecular level. With God, all things are possible and he often works through natural means to accomplish his purposes. It would be natural to expect that Lamanite DNA would not resemble Israelite DNA since God altered their very biology when he changed their skin color.
Why would a rational God go to such trouble to alter Lamanite DNA to resemble Asian DNA? Additionally, why can we find traces of Israelite DNA in locations where Israelites have been known to migrate and intermingle such as the Lemba tribe in South Africa? The Lemba are a native tribe in Africa that claimed they were descendants from Jews, because they have a tradition that they were led out of Judea by a man named "Buba."
The problem was, several groups around the world practice Judaic rites or claim to be descended from Biblical tribes without having any ancestral Jewish connection. And there is no "Buba" character in the records of Jewish history.
Did Buba (like Lehi) lead his family out of Judea, or was it just a made-up story? Were the Lemba people descendants from Jews or not?
It turns out that DNA evidence proved that the Lemba were indeed Jews.
The Lemba descended from Jews more than two thousands years ago and mixed with a sub continent of Africa, yet we can find the small founder from the Jewish line. This also shows the fallacy of apologists that claim the Nephite's DNA would have been diluted over the years so it couldn't be detected.
There are many examples of insignificant migrations across thousands of miles of land and sea that can be traced by DNA gene mapping thousands of years in the past; why not the Lamanites or the Nephites? Also, many of the Native American tribes, identified as Lamanites by past church leaders, have histories that predate the Book of Mormon narrative by thousands of years - even predating the creation of Adam and Eve. How can these points be true and the Book of Mormon's claims also be true? If the Book of Mormon was written to "convince the Lamanites that Jesus is the Christ" and there is no way to identify who the Lamanites are, then the Book of Mormon fails its own mission statement and could potentially be considered a false prophecy.
NOTE: The most common arguments by LDS apologists on the DNA problem have already been discussed in the DNA section above. Please visit the FAIR web site for further information on apologetic responses to the DNA issue.
True believer's response
How can you just dismiss Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon when there are several things which he couldn't have know about such as the NHM location, Chiasmus, stone boxes and metal plates, etc.? How could Joseph Smith have known that? Was it just a lucky guess? How many lucky guesses does he get before we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt?Reference: LDS member writing to MormonThink.
Those things have been explained above, but here's further evidence that Joseph has done nothing miraculous. I want you for a minute to step back and consider the prophecies of Nostradamus. Believers in Nostradamus claim that there is an extraordinary amount of evidence to indicate that Nostradamus made a startling number of predictions that came true. There seems to be uncanny references to Napoleon, Hitler, historical events like the French revolution, etc.
It’s truly amazing the prophecies that this man came up with. Many books and documentaries have been made about this and millions of people believe he must have had some special power to come up with these predictions. Both the German and U.S. governments even used his predictions for propaganda weapons during World War 2.
So let me substitute Nostradamus for Joseph Smith in your questions above.
“how could Nostradamus have known that?Was it just a lucky guess?How many lucky guesses does he get before we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt?
Was Nostradamus a prophet? I don’t think so. If he was then we really need to rethink what a prophet is. Of course they had a similar prophesying technique. Nostradamus gazed into a bowl of water whereas Joseph gazed into a stone.
Joseph Smith’s few writings about things he maybe couldn’t have known are certainly no more miraculous than Nostradamus. However you explain Nostradamus’ predications – whether they be amazing coincidences, radical interpretations from those that want to believe, information from God or from Satan or tapping into some other dimension we don’t understand – we can explain the far less impressive things from Joseph Smith, that some hardcore true believing Mormons find too "fantastic" to attribute to a man without divine guidance, in the same way.
LDS defender and author, Monte Benson wrote MT:
My book is titled The World Peace Prophecies: the Unification of Science, Religion, and Humanity. It deals with how the unification of science and religion will bring world peace. Most of it deals with biblical archaeology, but Chapter 14 deals with Book of Mormon archaeology. There is now excellent evidence for the Book of Mormon that most if not all anti-Mormons are unaware of.
"If you want proof that the Book of Mormon is supported by archaeology, read Chapter 14 of my book:": http://www.angelfire.com/planet/scienceandreligion/Chapter_14.pdf
Book is available at: http://www.angelfire.com/planet/scienceandreligion/worldpeace/
Note: The author has many interesting theories and evidence that supports various supernatural phenomena in the other chapters of his book.
#7 Opposing BOM theories are both correct
The January 2012 issue of Meridian Magazine had an article called "Mesoamerican Model or Heartland Model: Must Only One of Them Be Right?". The author claims that by merging both the Northeastern American and Mesoamerican models of the Book of Mormon history, there is a lot of evidence supporting the BOM. The author cites the following as evidence:
soil samples which support deaths of multitudes around the Hill Cumorah scientifically discovered by James E. Talmage;[ii] ancient Hebrew writing on the Bat Creek Stone with strong scientific support which says “To the Judeans”;[iii] positive similarities between Egyptian hieroglyphics and Native American written languages;[iv] evidences of a lengthy period of peace beginning at the time of Christ as shown in burials;[v] migratory beasts (bison); earthwork walls and places of defense built exactly as the Book of Mormon describes;[vi] the use of metal breastplates and head plates as described in the Book of Mormon;[vii] an amazing earthen structure made in the shape of a middle eastern olive oil lamp with a menorah;[viii] metalworking;[ix] unique pre-Columbian mitochondrial DNA from northeastern Native Americans of a type (Haplogroup X2) that is most strongly found in the Near East (specifically in Druze populations in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan) which indicates that the Near East is the geographic origin for the DNA type;[x] ancient copper pits that were mined; etc., etc., etc.
This is a very poor faith-promoting article filled with erroneous information designed to mislead readers who don't look closer at the evidence. For example, she cites the Bat Creek Stone as evidence of Hebrews in America. The Bat Creek Stone is considered a fraud by virtually all of the scientific community. Please read THE BAT CREEK FRAUD: A FINAL STATEMENT. Even the apologists at FAIR disavow the Bat Creek Stone. From FAIR's website:
A forged item can tell us nothing about ancient America in general, or the Book of Mormon in particular. Any current source that uses the Bat Creek Stone as evidence should be treated with caution; its author(s) are not using the most up-to-date information. At the very least, it is premature to rely on the Bat Creek Stone as evidence of anything related to ancient America. http://en.fairmormon.org/Forgeries_related_to_Mormonism/Bat_Creek_Stone
Likewise there is no soil samples evidence discovered by James E. Talmage. Duane Dahlem did an exhaustive search trying to find evidence that Talmage ever did a scientific analysis of the soil samples at Cumorah and found no evidence of it. Read "Wayne May Distorts Facts about Hill Cumorah" He concludes:
It seems to me that if Wayne May truly desired to be accurate, honest, and not deceptive that he would simply have a reputable university or qualified scientist, do a "real" "extensive soil analysis" of the Hill Cumorah in New York and the surrounding area and corroborate his highly speculative and erroneous conclusions.
That certainly makes sense. If James Talmage at 20 years old actually found some scientific evidence in the soil, then why hasn't a real geologist done a similar study with modern geological testing techniques and found evidence to back up this extraordinary claim? The hill hasn't gone anywhere!
The apologetics in this article are very poor. The rest of the 'evidence' is also riddled with problems such as DNA evidence shows that the Indians are not of Hebrew descent and not pro-BOM evidence as claimed in the article. Unfortunately many faithful Latter-day Saints will read this article and accept it all at face value and perpetuate the myth that there is significant scientific evidence of the Book of Mormon people.
Ending summary by critics
The Book of Mormon can best be understood when viewed as a product of 19th century religious innovation, set in the context of speculative frontier Native American lore. The book's religious themes were the common issues being debated in Joseph Smith's time in frontier America and the text is reflective of this burgeoning of religious ingenuity.
The Book of Mormon has no doctrinal highlights that could be considered 'breakthroughs' and in fact, the text is not reflective of the Modern LDS Church from a doctrinal standpoint. Rather, the text borrows heavily from the King James Bible, has many textual and thematic parallels with 19th century itinerant preaching that was rampant in Joseph Smith's area, and burdened with pedantic writing style, polarized (one-dimensional) characters and repetitive simplistic plots and themes.
The Book's historical claims have not withstood the rigorous scrutiny of the archaeological, biological, historical and linguistic disciplines and continued study of the history of ancient America further establishes the implausibility of the claims of the Book of Mormon. Further more, for a purportedly pre-Christian text, the book is entirely too Christian. The text repeatedly has main characters quoting New Testament passages and citing details about the story of Christ long before the time of Jesus or the writing of the New Testament with such specificity and clarity as to betray knowledge after the fact - knowledge available to Joseph Smith through the King James Bible.
The above items are just a fraction of the problems with the BOM. There are so many other things not mentioned on this site such as how You find "Aaron" and "Levi" in the Book of Ether, but the Jaredites did not speak Hebrew - their language was not "confounded" and they left the Tower speaking, presumably, "pure Adamic" around 2200 BC. But the Hebrew language did not develop until several centuries later.
The manner in which the text was dictated belies the book's folk magic roots and cannot be considered a translated text in the conventional sense of the term. The manner by which the book came about can best be described as dictated, divined or, as some critics suggest, a product of the collaborative efforts of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon.
As with any religious text, the Book of Mormon can be accepted as the founding document of the faith(s) that espouse it, but neither its claims, nor the claims of its proponents should be taken at literal face value given the existing understanding of ancient American history. It is, at best, religious fiction and, at worst, a fraud.
Critic debates Apologist
Here is a summary of the BOM by Richard Packham that was to be used as a first response to a proposed debate on the BOM entitled "Is the Book of Mormon an authentic ancient history of ancient American peoples, or a work of 19th century religious fiction?" [archived backup here]
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
As members of the church, despite our misgivings, we are all partial to consideration of the Book of Mormon, the themes within its text, and its place in Mormonism as a palpable symbol of the faith. We cannot simply dismiss the criticisms leveled against it without exposing our own arrogance and ignorance regarding the critical points of controversy surrounding the book.
When we read the text or handle the book, there is the recurring impression of Smith's struggle; struggle to make sense of the senselessness around him, struggle to define himself in a family nearly torn apart by tragedy, rough frontier living and religious heterodoxy, and struggle to rise above the meager circumstances of his origins.
While we cannot accept the Book of Mormon story as literally historical; we can, in a sense, accept the book as a somewhat symbolic embodiment of 'the American story' - the creation of a unique but "familiar" vision of manifest destiny, wars waged to protect the "liberties" of patriots, democracies created to secure the sanctity of these liberties, and the overarching struggle of good and evil - all roughly woven together within the framework of an American Christian apocalypse.
Whatever the Book of Mormon may or may not be, one cannot possibly obtain a thorough understanding of Joseph Smith, Early Mormonism, or the modern Mormon cultural world view without a serious and objective examination of this thoroughly American text.
Sunstone Book of Mormon Debates
Mapping Book of Mormon Historicity Debates
Sunstone is engaged in a project that attempts to present a summary of all the arguments by each side on several LDS issues. They are perhaps uniquely qualified to do this without bias. We whole-heartedly support their efforts. They have thus far completed the Historicity of the Book of Mormon discussion and three other sections. We encourage all sincere truthseekers to study what they have come up with so far. Mormon Mapping
Supporting the critics
Supporting the church
There's a well-done lecture by William Wilson recorded at the Southern Utah Post Mormon group on “How Apologetics and Apostasy are Working Together in the Church". William Wilson is an anthropologist and discusses the BOM problems and some of the apologetic responses. More on William Wilson.
Mormon Expression Podcast # 115
Dr. Coe, mormonstories podcast #168).
Mormonstories episode 348/349: Simon Southerton, DNA, Lamanites and the Book of Mormon