Is the Book of Mormon historically true?
someone on a.r.m wrote:
The central question is, Do we have any reason, besides the faulty reasoning of Moroni 10:3-5, to believe that the Book of Mormon is an historically accurate ancient document? Perhaps a better way to phrase the question is, Was Michael Coe correct to say:
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excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early immigrants to our hemisphere.
This post approaches those questions by an argument advanced by a Mormon apologist (MA) several weeks back.
I acknowledge that in a few places I address religious claims, which I usually try to avoid.
(premise) MA claimed that priests destroyed those documents necessary to identify Nephite remains. Thus we are not able to identify Nephite cities, and for this we should blame those priests, not the Book of Mormon.
(1) ** How do we know the content of these alleged documents if they were destroyed? ** See also (5).
(1a) How do we know these alleged documents existed?
(2) Why did those priests destroy these alleged documents? What motive would they have for doing so?
(3) If they destroyed these alleged documents because they supposedly identified Nephite cities, why would that prompt the priests to destroy them? From their point of view, there was no Book of Mormon or Latter Day Saint religion for them to suppress. ** People do not attempt to suppress something if they are not aware of its existence. This is an extraordinarily important point which has ramifications elsewhere. ** When people do things, they usually do them for a reason. What reason did the priests have to do destroy these alleged documents?
(3a) This point (3) also relates to the Mormon doctrine of the Complete Apostacy and the alleged corruption of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament texts. How and why would the Jewish scribes have deleted distinctively Mormon doctrines? What motivated them to turn against these doctrines and to expunge them from their scriptures? What motivated them to turn against these doctrines and to change their scriptures in order to reflect an entirely different theological framework? The same questions apply to the early church during the time period in which the New Testament documents were written. See (4). Of what advantage was it for them to abandon and suppress distinctively Mormon doctrine?
(3a’) If the Brighamite branch of the LDS church–that is, the Mormon church based in Salt Lake City, Utah–is a restoration of the original apostolic church, then clearly the original apostolic church must have been almost identical–or at least similar–to Brighamite Mormonism in its structure, beliefs, and practices. Why is there no textual evidence that a distinctively Mormon church ever existed in the early history of Christianity? If a distinctively Mormon church was suppressed by apostates, then why is there no textual evidence for a distinctively Mormon church even among heterodox or heretical movements of the first few centuries C.E.? Even if there are occasional parallels–and superficial ones at that–between Brighamite Mormonism and certain figures in early church history–orthodox, heterodox, or heretic–there is no known group with a pattern of clear parallels to Brighamite Mormonism, there is no identifiable group with a distinctively Mormon theological framework. If certain early works that were not included in the canon constitute evidence for the suppression of distinctive Mormon doctrines, why have those works not been included in the Brighamite Mormon canon of scripture?
(3a”) If God could not prevent the apostacy of the original church, why would he be able to prevent the apostacy of the Brighamite Mormon church? If living prophets are necessary to prevent apostacy, then why was the original church–which everyone agrees had prophets–unable to prevent apostacy? If living prophets are a critical feature of Brighamite Mormonism, why do Mormons frequently dismiss the claims of their living prophets as mere opinion or speculation, particularly when challenged on those claims? It is an undeniable and well documented fact that a large part of Brighamite Mormon theology and practice has evolved over time from the beginning of the career of Joseph Smith to the present. If the doctrine of ongoing revelation is crucial to Brighamite Mormonism, why have the last few living prophets offered virtually nothing in the way of revelation? Why have they been unable to obtain revelation on such critical matters as the location of Nephite remains, the translation of the Anthon transcript, the nature of reformed Egyptian, the murderous intent and deceit of Mark Hofmann, and so on? If revelation is only obtained for significant doctrinal matters, why did Joseph Smith routinely receive revelation concerning mundane matters such as selling property, the size of a plot of land, and so on?
(3b) The Book of Mormon itself presumes the validity of the Hebrew prophets and reflects an ardently monotheistic outlook. If Lehi relied upon Second Isaiah–who was the first and strongest proponent of true monotheism in the Hebrew Bible–and quotes Isaiah passages that are virtually identical to those found in the King James Version of the Old Testament, then with such examples the Book of Mormon itself clearly implies that the Jews neither corrupted the text nor the theology of the Hebrew Bible. The same applies to every prophecy concerning Jesus in the Book of Mormon and the accounts concerning Jesus in 3 Nephi. If the Book of Mormon agrees with the New Testament concerning the words and deeds of Jesus, and if it adds no new words or deeds that do not have New Testament parallels, then the Book of Mormon itself implies that the text and the theology of the New Testament are virtually uncorrupted. If the text and the theology of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament are so corrupt, then why do conservative Mormon apologists frequently presume the reliability and integrity of the Bible in their arguments?
(3c) There is little argument with the idea that Israelite theology evolved over time. If the precursors of the Israelites were indeed polytheists who believed that JHWH had consorts with whom he had sex and produced spirit children–this is nonsense, but let us grant it for the sake of argument–but later developed the idea that JHWH was the one true God who created the world and had no consorts, then why does Brighamite Mormonism seek a return to those ancient beliefs rather than the beliefs that Israel developed by the time of the Babylonian Exile (practical monotheism) and afterwards (true monotheism)? Why does Brighamite Mormonism seek a return to beliefs and practices that had certainly been abandoned by the time of Lehi because of the Deuteronomic reforms of Josiah? If revelation is progressive–that is, the people of God learn more about God and his ways over time–then why is Brighamite Mormonism deliberately regressive? See (3b).
(4) If some but not all ancient New World texts were destroyed, why did the priests destroy only those texts that identified Nephite cities? Why did they single out these documents for destruction and not others? What sort of documents did they not destroy? If those documents referred to pagan New World culture rather than a Christian New World culture, why would those priests destroy the Christian but not the pagan documents? If the priests destroyed these alleged documents without understanding their contents, we are asked to believe that–by accident!–only documents that did not identify Nephite cities were spared. If the priests first had the contents of these documents explained to them by the natives, see (5).
(5) If these alleged documents identified Nephite cities, who produced those documents? If the Lamanites and Nephites destroyed each other, then who was left to produce those documents? If Lamanite survivors produced these alleged documents–or even if those documents were produced before the final Lamanite-Nephite wars–then why do no natives remember the traditions from which the alleged documents were produced? In the Middle East, ancient place names often survive–albeit altered somewhat over the centuries–in local tradition. This is true even for sites where a city buried under a tell was destroyed centuries ago. There is such a thing as collective memory, and the collective memory of Middle East peoples often helps us locate and identify ancient sites. Why does the collective memory of Native Americans not help us to locate and identify Nephite remains?
(6) If the natives forgot these traditions, then why did MA once argue that arriving Spaniards commented that the natives displayed what they perceived to be Christian beliefs? How could the natives supposedly remember caputchill and baptism and great white gods but not remember the Nephite cities?
(6a) If the priests destroyed documents that would enable us to identify Nephite cities, then is MA implying that we have indeed found Nephite cities but are unable to identify them? If so, then (7) and following.
(6b) If the priests destroyed documents that would enable us to locate Nephite cities, then is MA implying that we cannot identifiy Nephite cities because we have not yet found any? If so, then (15) and following.
(7) Even if the priests destroyed these alleged documents, were they able to find and destroy Nephite documents that were still buried throughout Central America? If some of the sites only unearthed in the past two centuries were in fact Nephite cities, how were those priests able to get to those sites before modern archeologists in order to destroy the Nephite records? If they were not able to do so, why have Mesoamericanists not found other Nephite records like those that the priests supposedly destroyed?
(8) If the priests were able to enter every Nephite site and destroy the historical records therein, did they also destroy other kinds of records? Did they destroy the writing on the walls, on stelae, on objects of art? What sort of written records from ancient New World cultures did survive? Why did the priests not destroy those records?
(8a) Why are these alleged documents necessary to identify sites? Usually what provides definitive identification of a site is some record found at the site itself.
(8b) Even when such positive identification is lacking, it is often possible to identify a site on the basis of information discovered elsewhere. For example, you exacavate a site which has a record that reads, And the brave soldiers of our city journeyed 2 days northward in order to battle the vile inhabitants of city z. If you find a city 2 days north of that site, it is probably city z. If the new site matches other references to city z at the first and other sites, that increases the certainty of the identification. I am fully aware that such identifications are subject to modification in light of subsequent discoveries.
(9) Even if the priests destroyed the alleged documents, why do none of the remaining records enable us to identify Nephite cities? If at some point in history, a small group of people were able to destroy all but a handful of Egyptian papyri, would we be unable to identify ancient Egyptian sites, would we know nothing about Egyptian society and culture? If at some point in history, a small group of people were able to pulverize all but a handful of cuneiform tablets, would we be unable to identify Mesopotamian sites, would we know nothing about Mesopotamian societies and cultures? The wall reliefs at Nineveh were quite sufficient to identify the site. Why do remaining New World records tell us nothing about Nephite cities, Nephite society, Nephite religion as described in the Book of Mormon?
(10) Even if a small group of people were able to destroy Egyptian or Akkadian inscriptions on walls, stelae, and objects of art, would we even then know nothing about Egyptian or Mesopotamian society and culture? Not only did the priests not destroy New World records on walls, stelae, objects of art–they also neglected to destroy all reliefs, sculptures, and objects of art. Why–in New World art, iconography, and sculpture–do we find virtually no representations of Nephite culture and technology as described in the Book of Mormon? In almost every way, ancient New World art paints a radically different picture from what we find in the Book of Mormon. Even if one posits that Nephite chariots have somehow escaped discovery, why do they not appear in any New World artistic representations? Even if one posits that one day we will stumble across Nephite cows, why are these animals absent from New World art work? Do wall art and sculpture portray ancient New World cultures as Christian or pagan? Does all art work found in the New World–even from different times and places–portray cultures like what we find in the Book of Mormon, or unlike what we find in the Book of Mormon?
(10a) If the alleged historical documents were destroyed, would that imply that we cannot identify anything as Nephite as described in the Book of Mormon? If a text were destroyed that said, Hazor is that tell over there! that would not cause Hazor and everything in it to disappear from the earth. The existence of a site does not depend upon documents which refer to the site.
(11) If the gap between New World evidence and descriptions of the Book of Mormon is to be explained by problems in the language of the Book of Mormon, then of what relevance is New World evidence if there is no reliable connection between Book of Mormon terms and their New World referents? This particular argument, popular among FARMS apologists, is itself frought with problems, which have been dealt with at length before and elsewhere. Suffice it for the moment to ask, What are the contexts within which such unreliable terms occur? How are such terms referred to throughout the Book of Mormon? One example will suffice. If the Book of Mormon says that swords were made of metal, that swords were kept in sheaths, that swords shine, that the techniques of sword making were passed down from generation to generation–do such contexts in which the word sword occurs in the Book of Mormon match with such theories as what Hamblin offers? Does the wooden macuahuitl club with embedded obsidian flakes match the contexts in which the word sword occurs in the Book of Mormon?
(12) Were these alleged historical documents made of gold? Did the priests destroy them in order to melt them down for their gold? If so, see (1) and (5). If these alleged documents were made of gold, then why have other Nephite documents made of gold never been found, since gold lasts so well? If only these alleged documents were made of gold, why were all the Nephite records yet unearthed made only of perishable materials? If all the Nephite records yet unearthed were made only of perishable materials, why did only these records disintigrate, but other objects made from similar materials did not disintigrate? See also (8) and (9). If ancient records of New World peoples have been found, if ancient records of Old World peoples have been found, then why have we found no ancient records of the Nephites?
(13) If some claim that Nephite documents have indeed been found, are they referring to gold disks from the cenote at Chichen Itaz? If so, where is the writing on these disks? If one identifies some of the designs as writing, why do these designs bear no resemblence to Canaanite script, Egyptian script, or the characters on the Anthon transcript? And no, I do not mean the Hofmann forgery Anthon page, I mean the one that is still considered authentic. Does anyone know how to read this alleged writing? If not, then how would anyone have been able to read the alleged historical documents that would identify Nephite cities?
(15) If none of the sites so far excavated are the Nephite cities to which the alleged documents referred, then how is it that Nephite cities have gone undiscovered but the cities of other New World cultures (some older than the supposed Nephites and Jaredites) have been found and excavated?
(15a) There are those who argue that the Nephites were so few or occupied such a limited area that it is unlikely that we would find them. See (16) and following. If that is the case, then why did Joseph Smith and subsequent prophet-presidents of the Brighamite Mormon church clearly understand the Book of Mormon to be literally true–that is, that refugees from Jerusalem came to a land where no other peoples lived, they multiplied and built vast civilizations that covered the entire continent, and these civilizations destroyed each other in bloody wars, and the Native Americans are descendants of these people? See (3a”). The Book of Mormon itself makes these claims.
(15b) There are those who argue that some alleged Hebrew inscriptions found in the Americas are authentic. If such tiny and isolated finds–for example, the Bat Creek inscription from a grave in TN–can be stumbled upon and found, then why can we not find the Nephites even if they were few and occupied a small area? If we could find the remains of a small band of Vikings that made it to Newfoundland, if we could find fragments of a skeleton of an early hominid in East Africa–then why can we not find Nephite remains even if they were few and occupied a small area?
(15c) If the Nephites were few and occupied a small area, then how and why did they avoid influencing native peoples genetically, linguistically, culturally, and technologically? See (16) and following.
(16) If all Nephite cities were buried or hidden, were their agricultural products also buried or hidden? When people grow crops, pollens and seeds do not remain only at that specific location. The site itself might one day be buried, but the pollens and seeds will appear elsewhere. If the pollens and seeds of Nephite crops were not buried along with the cities, then why have these pollens and seeds not been found, even in lake dredgings, even in core samples covering 4700 years? I exclude corn, which the Book of Mormon does mention 3 times, although the KJV also uses the word corn to describe wheat–and since apologists often argue that Joseph Smith used the KJV to guide his translation, how do we know that corn in the Book of Mormon means corn and not wheat?
(17) If the pollens and seeds of Nephite crops mentioned in the Book of Mormon have not been found anywhere in the New World, is it because they disintegrated over time? If so, why did pollens and seeds for these crops disintegrate but the pollens and seeds of New World crops did not? Why have Nephite agricultural products not been found, but New World agricultural products have been found? See also (10).
(18) If all sites so far excavated in the New World are not the Nephite cities, then why do so many traditionalist LDS scholars attempt to relate the Book of Mormon to various New World remains? For example, Why attempt to assert that the Izapa Stela 5 is the Tree of Life seen by Lehi if it is not a Nephite artifact? Why claim that the Nephite swords were really macuahuitls if macuahuitls are not Nephite artifacts?
(18a) There are those that argue that while we cannot find the Nephites themselves, we can infer their presence on the basis of their alleged influence upon native New World peoples. The comments of LDS writer Martin Raish are instructive on this point:
Many LDS writers provide what I call shopping lists to prove their points. They assemble rather impressive- looking lists of words, customs, and architectural features which are found both in the Old World and the New. The longer the list, of course, the greater the “proof.” Unfortunately such an approach is rarely of any real value. A major reason for this is that the items mentioned are simply too vague. For example, one author listed the following cultural similarities as indicicative of contact between the Near East and Mexico: “counting of time,” “curing their sick,” “mourning for [their] dead,” “sun worship,” and the “[use of] ceramic[s].” I can think of hardly any culture in the world that has not become involved in these practices at one time or another. To be meaningful, such a list must cite a _complex_ system of keeping time or a _unique_ manner of mourning the dead which is found _only_ in the two cultures in question.
“All That Glitters: Uncovering Fool’s Gold in Book of Mormon Archeology,” Sunstone 6.1 (1981), p. 13 (emphasis in original). Such attempts also assume _a priori_ the conclusion that is in dispute, namely that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document and is historically accurate. Such attempts also concede the lack of evidence for the Nephites themselves.
(19) If such remains are Nephite artifacts that have been displaced from their original locations–that is, they were found at non Nephite sites–then how did that happen? If New World peoples plundered Nephite cities, then why do we still lack archeological, textual, and iconographic evidence that corresponds to the Nephites as described in the Book of Mormon? If New World peoples plundered Nephite cities, then why did they not also carry away Nephite documents? If New World peoples knew of such sites, why do they not refer to them in their own textual records?
(20) If New World peoples plundered Nephite cities, did they have relations with the Nephites? If so, why did they not mention them? See (19). If so, why does the Book of Mormon not mention relations with these New World peoples? Why did they not make any use of Nephite agriculture and technology? Why does the Book of Mormon nowhere imply that the Nephites were influenced by the culture, technology, or agriculture of these invisible New World civilizations? If the Egyptians influenced Israel, if the Mesopotamians influenced Israel, then why did native New World cultures not leave their mark upon the Nephites as described in the Book of Mormon? The Book of Mormon nowhere mentions jaguars, llamas, squash, or other distinctive features of New World civilizations.
(20a) If the Book of Mormon does not mention distinctive features of New World cultures because the Book of Mormon is a loose translation, how does that adequately explain the problem? What evidence do we have–such as metal plates inscribed with reformed Egyptian, or early manuscripts of the Book of Mormon in the original language(s)–that the Book of Mormon is a translation at all? If the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, how and why did God provide or allow Joseph Smith to produce a loose translation that is so misleading and confusing with respect to linguistic-historical-cultural-technological details? If the Book of Mormon does not render such details in accurate English in order to make the narrative easier to comprehend, why does it not use clarifying phrases–found elsewhere in the Book of Mormon–for such details? If the Book of Mormon translation avoids confusing terminology, then why does it elsewhere employ neologisms with no known referents, such as cureloms and cumoms? Why substitute horses for deer, swords for clubs, but not x or y for cureloms and cumoms?
(20b) If the Nephites abandoned their Old World agriculture and technology shortly after arrival, then why does the Book of Mormon not mention the crops and technologies that took their place? Besides, many of these things are mentioned over the course of the Book of Mormon narrative, not just at the beginning. We can read the Book of Mormon for ourselves, thank you. Such an argument contradicts the type of argument discussed in (20a). Either we are dealing with loose translations or we are dealing with the abandonment of Old World culture–both explanations are not possible.
(21) If Nephite cities were destroyed by cataclysm–war, earthquakes, whatever one posits–were all Nephite cities destroyed? If some Nephite cities were not destroyed, why have we not found them? If we have found some of these Nephite cities, then see (7) of my previous post and following. If we have not found these remaining Nephite cities, then see (15) and following. If Nephite cities and remains were destroyed, why were other cities and remains not similarly destroyed? Does an earthquake choose its targets?
(22) If we have not found Nephite cities because they were destroyed–however they were destroyed–then how exactly does that explain the inability of Mesoamericanists to find them? When an earthquake strikes a building in an ancient city, and the roof collapses and the walls fall in–does the foundation disappear, do the stones or other building materials disappear, does everything trapped within the building when it collapsed disappear? When a build is destroyed in a military conflict–does the foundation disappear, do the stones or other building materials disappear, does everything trapped within the building disappear? It is frequently the case in excavations in the Middle East that remains are preserved precisely because a site or a building was destroyed- -the building collapses, but everything inside the building is trapped and preserved to a remarkable degree. It is often the case that when a site is not destroyed that remains are obscured or erased by subsequent habitation levels. See also (25) and following.
(23) If destroyed Nephite cities were subsequently covered over through natural processes, then why have we been able to locate and excavate the remains of other New World cultures?
(24) If the peculiar conditions of the New World environment(s) explain why we have not found Nephite cities, then how exactly do these differences in environment explain our inability to find Nephite cities? It is necessary to draw a logical connection between the premise and the conclusion. If these peculiar conditions explain our inability to find Nephite cities, why do those same peculiar conditions not prevent us from finding and understanding other New World cultures? How do those peculiar conditions cause stone and other building materials to disappear completely, gold and other metal writing surfaces to disappear completely, ceramic remains to disappear completely, organic remains to disappear completely, and so on? Why have those peculiar conditions not erased all trace of other New World cultures? See also (18). If New World conditions destroyed certain perishable remains, what did these conditions not destroy? What do those remains tell us?
(25) If all traces of destroyed Nephite cities were eliminated by non environmental factors, was it because other New World cultures plundered utterly the Nephite cities? Did they carry away absolutely every last stone, piece of pottery, piece of writing, stash of carbonized seeds? If they did, why have we not found these plundered Nephite remains in other New World sites? Why were these other New World sites not similarly plundered to the point of ceasing to exist? See also (19) and (20).
(26) If Nephite remains were only partly destroyed to the point of ceasing to exist, what happened to those remains that did not cease to exist? If what we have found in New World sites are Nephite remains, then why do they not correspond to what the Book of Mormon says about the Nephites? See also (10) and following. If only Nephite remains that match what the Book of Mormon are what were somehow destroyed utterly, then how exactly did only those remains that do not match the Book of Mormon survive? Compare (4). For example, the Nephites herded sheep and tapir, they raised figs and avocados. Are we being asked to believe that Nephite sheep and fig remains have vanished from the earth, but Nephite tapir and avocado remains survived?
(27) If we have simply not had enough time to find Nephite remains, why have we had enough time to find the remains of other New World cultures? See also (15b).
(27a) If we have not found Nephite remains because they were a small population in an isolated area, why have we found the remains of other small populations living in isolated areas? If the Bat Creek inscription is authentic–I do not think it is, but let us suppose it is, just for the sake of argument–then that implies that a tiny group that died out quickly could still leave behind remains in a cold and moist environment. So why would a large group that became a large civilization such as that described in the Book of Mormon not leave behind anything for archeologists to find? See also (15b).
(27b) If Nephite remains exist but have not been found yet, why does the Brighamite church not spend even a small percentage of its considerable annual earnings to find those remains? Why was the church so reluctant to sponsor LDS sponsored archeological work when first approached by Thomas Ferguson? Why has the church apparently abandoned its search for hard evidence of the Nephites and instead is spending most of its money on the armchair argumentation of FARMS? The job of FARMS is not to find evidence but to invent arguments in the absence of evidence.
(28) If traditionalist LDS apologists did not already possess their faith conviction(s)–that is, if they did not supposedly possess the Holy Spirit, if they did not already know certain things on the basis of a Moroni 10:3-5 sign from God–would their arguments make sense to anyone else, including themselves? If their arguments cannot make sense to people who do not already possess their faith conviction(s), then why do they bother offering such arguments? If they offer their arguments in the belief that they do make sense, then are those who lack their faith conviction(s) able to see correctly without the faith conviction(s)? If so, then are they able to see correctly without the faith conviction(s) when they disagree with those traditionalist apologists? How do we explain the phenomenon of those who share their faith conviction(s) but disagree with their arguments?
(28′) There are those that argue that the lack of historical- textual evidence to vindicate the Book of Mormon is irrelevant, since the truth of the Book of Mormon is revealed directly by God (Moroni 10:3-5). Such an argument concedes the lack of said evidence. Moreover, why do some people pray about the Book of Mormon and receive a positive answer and some do not receive a positive answer? It is one thing to ask God to confirm something for which there is some reason and evidence, it is another to ask God to confirm something which is contradicted by reason and evidence. How can you tell the difference between a positive answer from God and a positive answer that is manufactured by oneself? If God revealed to you the truthfulness of something that is contradicted by all available reason and evidence, would you have any reason(s) to question the validity of that revelation?
(28a) If when people disagree with traditionalist apologists it is because they do not understand their writings, is that because these apologists cannot write clearly enough for others to understand? See (28). If it is because such critics lack the Spirit, then why do others who supposedly possess the Spirit–dissident Mormons–also disagree with these apologists? How precisely does the Spirit enable or hinder the accurate understanding of scholarly issues?
(28b) If the findings of FARMS and other apologists stand up to scrutiny by the scholarly community, why are they conspicuously absent from meetings of the scholarly community such as SBL, AOS, AAR, ASOR, and so on? They are members of some of these organizations–I checked this myself, I am a member and have the directories–but they never present papers at conferences and meetings of these groups. Critics sometimes present at Sunstone conferences, but why do apologists avoid non-LDS conferences? (29) Why is it that those who do not possess the _a priori_ conviction that the Book of Mormon is true consistently arrive at radically different conclusions on the historical and archeological issues? It would appear that Michael Coe–see introduction–is right.