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Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Christian Watchman and Its Misguided Jab at Bountiful in the Book of Mormon

One of the earliest criticisms of the Book of Mormon anticipates some of the most recent. For example, a modern critic writing for Faith Promoting Rumor finds it improbable that an ancient place like Bountiful, a rare green treasure among the vast deserts of Arabia, could possibly have been uninhabited as Nephi's record implies (details of the criticism and my response are in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Map, Part 2" as well as Parts 1 and 3). 

Obviously, a place with fresh water, abundant fruit, etc., would attract a large population, right? This argument does not require the benefits of recent scholarship from someone with an advanced degree from Harvard, for it was one of the earliest recorded objections to the content of the Book of Mormon. Just a few months after the Book of Mormon was published, a writer under the name of "Gimel" wrote a critical review of the Book of Mormon for The Christian Watchman, vol. 12, no. 40 (1831). One of his most specific and pointed arguments against it involved the implausibility of a place like Bountiful existing, especially an uninhabited place like that:
To believe the book of Mormon, we must suppose that these emigrants traversed almost the whole length of the Arabian Gulf … and that they discovered a country almost equal to paradise, where no body else can find any thing but a sandy, barren desert.
Kudos to Book of Mormon Central for their recent article on Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula that called this 1831 criticism to my attention. You can see images of the original article on a page from a BYU collection of early materials related to the Book of Mormon.




Yes, a place like Bountiful has long been thought to be implausible, and the idea such a place, if it existed in Arabia, could remain uninhabited seems wildly implausible -- or rather, I should say seemed implausible, until the day that a weary Warren Aston and his 14-year-old daughter made a surprising discovery of a verdant, green, and surprisingly uninhabited spot on the east coast of Oman. As described in Warren's brilliant DVD, Lehi in Arabia, they set foot there at what seemed like an unpromising spot at the suggestion of Warren's daughter as he was about to give up after a long day of cruising in a small boat along the coast of Oman. 

He had been looking for potential Bountiful candidates that fit Nephi's description of being nearly due east from the recently identified ancient candidate for Nahom. No candidate they had looked at in previous work met the 12 criteria he had extracted through careful analysis of Nephi's writings. He felt there had to be something better and, using his own finances, began searching. 

When he yielded to his daughter's suggestion to stop and explore one last spot, it was only after getting out of the boat that they were able to see over the natural sand bar that blocked a view of the very plush parts of Khor Kharfot from the view of travelers on the sea. 

Further investigation would show why the miraculously green mouth of the long wadi known as Wadi Sayq has been relatively uninhabited over the centuries: it hidden by the terrain around it, making it hard to recognize as anything special from the sea and making access by land very difficult unless you know which wadi to descend about 25 miles inland. It truly is a miraculous gem, almost as if designed to be uninhabited in preparation for a prophet and his family one one of the greatest treks in the scriptures.

The miracle of the Nahom discoveries, including hard archaeological evidence confirming the existence of the NHM tribe in the right region and time to support the plausibility of Nephi's record, is now being treated by some critics as a simple matter of Joseph plagiarizing the account by noticing the name Nehhem on a rare European map, in spite of the improbability of having ever seen it. But the hard evidence for a plausible Bountiful candidate, indeed, an uninhabited Bountiful candidate, almost exactly "due east" of Nahom, and accessible from inland as described, and meeting all other criteria one can extract from the Book of Mormon text, is a matter that is not so easily dismissed as the inevitable result of getting a brief glimpse at somebody's map. 

There is no Bountiful to be plucked on those maps. What scholars might have known of Felix Arabia (south of Nahom) was not adequate to guide Joseph's placement and description of Bountiful. If the critics cannot do better than simply remind us why a place like Bountiful is not likely to be uninhabited, when the leading candidate for Bountiful, drenched in layers of surprising plausibility, is still to this day largely uninhabited in spite of fresh water, fruit, etc., then they are not really engaged in a meaningful debate of the evidence. May the discussion of Book of Mormon evidence do more to consider the strengths of the evidence for plausibility rather than repeat ancient criticisms that have been thoroughly addressed. 

The account of Lehi's trek through the Arabian Peninsula was downright laughable in 1830. Today it is one of the most interesting strengths of the Book of Mormon in terms of evidence for plausibility. How things have changed!

72 comments:

Quantumleap42 said...

Look at the goal posts and watch them move! I'm sure someone will still argue that it was common knowledge in the 1820's that this place existed.

Anonymous said...

Have things really changed so much?

We know there were at least 10 maps showing "Nehem" or "Nehhm" published between 1751 and 1814. For those of us benighted souls lacking a faith commitment to the ancientness of the Book of Mormon, it's not hard to see one of these maps as the source of Nahom. And the same maps clearly show coastal settlements and streams east of Nehem, so the location of Bountiful hardly needs a miraculous explanation either.

I understand that if one already believes, then the maps look like confirmation of the BoM's historicity. To the rest of us, they confirm just the opposite. Believers will be quick to say that such maps were rare in 1820s New York; to the rest of us, the BoM's geography of Nahom/Bountiful is itself evidence that one of these maps was a source for the book.

The geography of Nahom and Bountiful reinforces you in your belief, even as it reinforces me in mine. It doesn't do a whit to settle the debate. In this sense, at least, times haven't really changed.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what I like to call The Nahom, Bountiful, and Valley of Lemuel Triangle is a miraculous bit of evidence. While it can't ultimately prove the Book of Mormon's truthfulness, it's a stunning geographic correspondence that informs the reader and gives life to the narrative. And, as such, it can be a force for strengthening one's faith.


Jack

Jeff Lindsay said...

Take the best map you can find and let's assume Joseph could study it for weeks and bring in some experts on geography and cartology to help him. Now explain how he or anyone in that day could have come up with the strengths of Nephi's description based on that map. Explain how so much that was laughable to the experts until recently could be achieved, such as describing the River Laman and Valley of Lemuel, then giving reasonable directions to a place with a tribal name that would be verified as ancient and existing in Lehi's day (while also nailing a great Hebraic wordplay on the name Nahom -- not Nehhm or Nehem) -- and then giving plausible directions (nearly due east) to reach place said to be impossible until it was found. Show us the details of how the map could have been used, and why, if he had the map, he didn't use it for all the other information it could provide, only plucking an obscure place name? And can you explain how any of the little lines from dry wadis could lead him to correctly imagine a plush place like Bountiful that the experts have been mocking for decades? A dozen cirteria successfully met, while the elite still question whether such a place could exist as an uninhabited location, when in fact its unique terrain keeps it uninhabited today? It is beyond the pale that all this could have been done by experts in Joseph's day, much less by Joseph glancing at an imagined map.

I suppose your response to all the Hebraic word plays is the same: they could have been obtained from existing books on Hebrew, with sufficient study and academic resources, so what's the big deal? What's the big deal about a farm boy doing all this by dictating for hours on end while looking into a hat far from libraries and maps and university resources, at a pace that few skilled in writing or translation can match today. Bountiful? Nahom? River Laman? Plausible details, Hebraic wordplays -- piece of cake. But is that plausible?

Anonymous said...

Jeff, as I've explained before, Nephi's descriptions are anything but precise. Just imagine trying to actually find your way around by using them! And the Hebraisms, when not produced by imitating the structures in the King James Bible, are products of chance, poor methodology, and the will to believe. None of these supposed evidences even come close to outweighing the overwhelming evidence of 19th-century authorship of the Mormon scriptures, such as their preoccupation with 19th-C theological controveries, their 19th-C view of Native American origins, their 19th-C racialist theories, etc.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

"dictating for hours on end while looking into a hat far from libraries and maps and university resources, at a pace that few skilled in writing or translation can match today."

That's not so impressive if you consider he had 4 years of prep before dictating his text. It may have been in his head or written down but there is documented evidence of Joseph sharing "Book of Mormon stories" years before dictating the book. Plenty of time to iron out some basic details. It wasn't created out of the blue.

As for 19th century themes, don't forget
1) fear of secret societies (anti-masonic party)
2) the concept of America as a "promised land" reserved for the righteous

Another interesting note is the anti-semitic language evident.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know chapter and verse in the Book of Mormon that mentions Bountiful being due east of Nahom. All I've been able to find is that they wandered 8 years in the wilderness before coming upon the land they called Bountiful.

Anonymous said...

1 Nephi 17:1

Jack

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:08 writes, I'm curious to know chapter and verse in the Book of Mormon that mentions Bountiful being due east of Nahom.

It starts in 1 Nephi 17:1. For the record, here's the Book of Mormon's entire itinerary for Lehi’s Old World journey. (Because of Blogger's character limit, I'll break this up into two comments.)

I contend that, with only a brief look at one of the several maps extant in Joseph Smith's day, one can see the Red Sea coastline trending south-southeast, and spot the place labeled Nehem (which sounds like biblical Nahom), and see that east from Nehem are small watercourses and villages on the Arabian Sea coast.

Jeff says that Smith could only have compose this description by studying a map "for weeks and bring[ing] in some experts on geography and cartology to help him."

Jeff finds the descriptions below so precise as to allow us to recreate Lehi's journey and demonstrate its historicity. I think the account's use of phrases like "many days" and "eight years" makes that sort of thing impossible. Mormanity readers may look at the maps and judge for themselves.

How to Get to Bountiful

Stage 1--Jerusalem to the Valley of Lemuel. Proceed from Jerusalem to somewhere near the shore of the Red Sea, then travel three days to a river that empties into the Red Sea:

1 Nephi 2:4 And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness….

5 And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.

6 And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.

7 And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.

8 And it came to pass that he called the name of the river, Laman, and it emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof.

9 And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!

To be continued

-- OK

Anonymous said...

How to Get to Bountiful, continued from above:

Stage 2--Valley of Lemuel to Nahom. Proceed for many days south-southeast, staying near the Red Sea, to Shazer, then continue for an unspecified number of days south-southeast, then proceed for many days in an unspecified direction to Nahom:

1 Nephi 2: 12 And it came to pass that we did take our tents and depart into the wilderness, across the river Laman….

13 And it came to pass that we traveled for the space of four days, nearly a south-southeast direction, and we did pitch our tents again; and we did call the name of the place Shazer.

14 And it came to pass that we did take our bows and our arrows, and go forth into the wilderness to slay food for our families; and after we had slain food for our families we did return again to our families in the wilderness, to the place of Shazer. And we did go forth again in the wilderness, following the same direction, keeping in the most fertile parts of the wilderness, which were in the borders near the Red Sea.

15 And it came to pass that we did travel for the space of many days, slaying food by the way, with our bows and our arrows and our stones and our slings.

16 And we did follow the directions of the ball, which led us in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.

17 And after we had traveled for the space of many days, we did pitch our tents for the space of a time, that we might again rest ourselves and obtain food for our families….

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….

33 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, traveling nearly the same course as in the beginning; and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time.

34 And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.

Stage 3--Nahom to Bountiful. Proceed eastward for eight years to a habitable spot on the coast with a mountain nearby:

1 Nephi 17:1 And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. And we did travel and wade through much affliction in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness….

4 And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness.

5 And we did come to the land which we called Bountiful, because of its much fruit and also wild honey; and all these things were prepared of the Lord that we might not perish. And we beheld the sea, which we called Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.

6 And it came to pass that we did pitch our tents by the seashore; and notwithstanding we had suffered many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all, we were exceedingly rejoiced when we came to the seashore; and we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.

That's it. I don't find anything in this description of Lehi's journey that could not have been gotten from a brief perusal of the maps extant in Joseph Smith's day. But as I said above, readers may look at the maps and decide for themselves.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Thanks for link, Anon. Those are beautiful maps.

Mormography said...

If this is your standard of strength/weakness and getting things right/wrong, then the weaknesses and things wrong with the story are so colossal, you have essentially admitted it is a fraud.

Anonymous said...

Anon,

There are several things that still would've required some guess work. The nearly due east direction from Nehem to a precise location that fits Bountiful in *every* detail. An overall environment where they might have sustained themselves indefinitely, including fresh water and fruit trees -- plus plenty of timber for building a boat. A harbor of sorts that would've facilitated an easy boat launch. Wild honey. The right kinds of Ore. A cliff from which Nephi might have been cast into the sea. Etc.

There are other details having to do with the Valley of Lemuel, Shazer, and Nahom that, with a close reading of the text, seem to be rather remarkable coincidences if they were merely culled from the maps in question.

Jack

Anonymous said...

So when does the excavation of this site begin? A desert climate with a settlement that included a smelter and a shipyard is likely to have a lifetime of archaeological study.

Quantumleap42 said...

A permit for an archaeological dig was granted by the Omani government last year. It should happen sometime soon (hopefully).

http://ldsmag.com/major-announcement-omanis-grant-permission-to-dig-at-nephis-bountiful/

Anonymous said...

Jack, the "details" you mention are all commonplaces. The Nehem maps all show named settlements or villages, as well as at least one river and several bays or coves, on the coastline east of Nehem.

And tell me, what village doesn't have a reliable source of fresh water? What village doesn't have fruit trees? What village doesn't have wild honey? Bees are found pretty much everywhere there are flowering plants, and wherever you find a bee, you know the honey is not far away.

For Joseph Smith to describe these commonplaces requires no actual local knowledge. It's about as hard as my "guessing" that in some village somewhere in Africa the people will have gardens and a source of fuel for cooking-fires. Of course they will. I don't have to go to Africa to know this. I certainly don't need to be a prophet of God to know it.

As for the iron ore, I'm no mineralogist, but I do know iron is one of the most common elements of the earth's crust.

I don't have time to look into this right now, but the Wikipedia entry on Bountiful has someone (no doubt an LDS apologist) saying "Iron in the form of specular hematite is available in the Marbat plain, within a few days' hike to the east of Khor Kharfot.”

So then, what’s "a few days' hike"? If we agree that a decent day on foot covers at least twenty miles, or let's say 15 miles as the crow flies, and that a "few" days means at least three days, then we should be asking, "What are the odds of a very common mineral being found within an area of more than 6,000 square miles?

Do the math.

Is that really so impressive? Nope. The "details" of Lehi's journey could easily have sprung from the imagination of a 19th-century American storyteller like Joseph Smith.

What would have been impressive would be for him to have told us that Bountiful possessed something not so utterly commonplace, something whose description would have required some actual local knowledge. But as always, Joseph Smith fails to give us such details. He gives us only that which could be found on the maps (the name Nehem and the general geography of the Arabian peninsula) or plucked from the common fund of human knowledge (the idea that villages have water, fruit trees, etc.).

-- OK

Anonymous said...

I think you still have to assume that Joseph did some pretty good guess work. None of those maps indicate that there was a tropical paradise on the east coast of Arabia. And certainly, none of them indicate that such a paradise would've been located almost due east of Nehem. But, even so, if Joseph *had* seen a map a got some inspiration from it wouldn't change my belief in the Book of Mormon ;>)

Jack

Anonymous said...

Jack, the words "much fruit and also wild honey" do not equal "tropical paradise."

This sort of rhetorical inflation is typical of LDS apologetics. As is a complete misunderstanding of how creative writers actually use sources.

But, even so, if Joseph *had* seen a map a got some inspiration from it wouldn't change my belief in the Book of Mormon.

No doubt. I understand the power of faith and religious experience. I understand that Jack and Jeff and Q42 will believe, just as the Catholic and the Muslim and the Hindu and the Heaven's Gater and the Scientologist will believe. But faith is no excuse for torturing the evidence.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

I see how, perhaps, I was stepping beyond the description provided by the text. But, even so, when you see a picture of Khor Kharfot that's what it looks like: a paradise (at least comparatively speaking). Also, "much fruit" growing spontaneously is indicative of paradise in theological terms. To Lehi and his family it was paradise, not only because they were delivered from the harsh wilderness, but, also, because they arrived at that particular location in proper sequence according to the exodus pattern.

"But faith is no excuse for torturing the evidence."

Agreed. On the other hand, a lack of faith should be no excuse for not admitting evidence when, but for the supernatural nature of the artifact, the evidence in question would be evidence indeed.

Jack

Anonymous said...

Meh !

coltakashi said...

If geographical knowledge about details of the Arabian Peninsula were so easily available to Joseph Smith in 1829, how did his contemporaries and neighbors not point to them? The cited article that began the blog post demonstrates total ignorance about any well-watered, fruitful area in Arabia. Since Joseph had as little education as anyone in upstate New York, and was working to support his family rather than attending a university where he could study under anyone familiar with the Middle East, where did he get this knowledge of Arabia that none of his neighbors had?

The wadis in Arabia do not generally have any sustained water flow, because they have no sustained precipitation. They are intermittent and ephemeral streams. Anyone familiar with geography would know that there is no reason to assume that the land at the mouth of a desert wadi would have retained water enough to sustain year round plant growth at any substantial level, unless the intermittent flows were dammed and accumulated by great human effort (as they were in Yemen).

What makes these coastal oasis areas in Oman green is the retention of Indian Ocean monsoon rains in the rock of the coastal cliffs. It then feeds sustained springs and seeps that water the plants and trees. This is not something that Joseph or his neighbors appeared to know. None of them knew anything about desert hydrology.

A BYU geologist located two surface deposits of iron ore in the vicinity of Khor Kharfot. They are the only reported deposits of this kind in the Arabian Peninsula, and were unknown before this modern discovery. That means that Joseph could not have known about them. They also happen to be ores from which iron can be smelted at relatively low temperatures. The presence of molecular iron compounds in the soil does not mean you can make iron tools. The iron has to be accessible for smelting.

I don't see how modern skeptics can make a plausible case that Joseph Smith knew all of these facts. There is no evidence in documents or from personal statements by his contemporaries that THEY knew these facts, or that Joseph was likely to have learned them from a source other than the Book of Mormon. Even when he attracted the attention of scholars like Charles Anthon, they did not think of making an argument that Joseph was well read and intelligent in 1829. Joseph tried to overcome his ignorance as he carried out his mission, but he did not produce the Book of Mormon after 15 years of study, but before he did any of that.

Everything Before Us said...

Jack,

I don't think anyone is not admitting evidence. I think the evidence submitted, while not without merit, is still too little too late. Way too little. It's great something may have been found on the Arabian Peninsula, but the Book of Mormon is primarily an American book. And it fails to capture any sense of what life was really like for Native Americans. Mormons scholars can't even agree in which part of the Western Hemisphere it took place. Great Lakes? Central America? South America? Mexico?

And there are even strong arguments being made, geographically, for places as far flung as Africa and the Malay Peninsula. This is obvious evidence that the very vague geographical descriptions in the Book can be applied to many different locations on the globe.

On top of all that, we have Moroni calling "infant baptism" an "abomination" and a "solemn mockery" which also happens to be the VERY SAME WORDS some Protestants were using to describe it in the early 1800s. And we have Christian doctrines popping up in it that were developed in Medieval Europe.

Here is another little interesting tidbit. In Nephi's vision, he sees Mary, the mother of the Son of God "after the manner of the flesh."

In 19th Century Christian discourse, the expression "after the manner of the flesh" was used to distinguish between carnal sexual intercourse and immaculate conception. Mary, it would be written, was the mother of the Son of God "NOT after the manner of the flesh."

Yet...here we have the Book of Mormon clearly refuting that, stating just the opposite. If you understand Christian terminology of the time of the BoM's publication, you will actually see that the Book of Mormon declares that the virgin birth was NOT a virgin birth at all. Makes sense in light of what Brigham Young and others would later teach about the immaculate conception.

Mazel said...

To reply to Coltakashi, point by point:

If geographical knowledge about details of the Arabian Peninsula were so easily available to Joseph Smith in 1829, how did his contemporaries and neighbors not point to them?

Who knows? Who cares? We can't draw any conclusions from the fact that Joseph's earliest detractors didn't call him out on every single one of his sources.

Joseph had as little education as anyone in upstate New York, and was working to support his family rather than attending a university where he could study under anyone familiar with the Middle East, where did he get this knowledge of Arabia that none of his neighbors had?

The limited knowledge of Arabia --- it's not "detailed" knowledge by any stretch of the imagination --- found in the BoM would not have required university-level study, but only a brief persual of one of the maps extant at the time.

Anyone familiar with geography would know that there is no reason to assume that the land at the mouth of a desert wadi would have retained water enough to sustain year round plant growth at any substantial level, unless the intermittent flows were dammed and accumulated by great human effort (as they were in Yemen).... This is not something that Joseph or his neighbors appeared to know. None of them knew anything about desert hydrology.

So what? When a map indicates named human habitations, one's most natural assumption is that the place has a year-round supply of water. One would only think that such habitations depended on dams if one had the very kind of detailed knowledge that Joseph lacked. Your argument undermines itself.

The question is whether Joseph could plausibly have written the text of Lehi's journey on the basis of common knowledge plus what he saw on an extant map of Arabia. From the maps one sees the south-southeast trend of the Red Sea coastline, the name of Nehem, and the presence east of Nehem of named villages; common knowledge tells us that where there's a village, there's year-round water, fruit trees, and honeybees. All this talk of monsoon rains and hydrology is just so much smoke.

A BYU geologist located two surface deposits of iron ore in the vicinity of Khor Kharfot. They are the only reported deposits of this kind in the Arabian Peninsula....

First of all, apologists are not all agreed that Khor Kharfot is the site of Bountiful. Second, the text doesn't specify that the ore is iron ore. Third, iron is extremely common. Fourth, the presence of iron will generally only be reported in cases where the deposits are large enough to support large-scale, potentially profitable mining; ergo, the lack of "reported deposits" in Arabia does not at all mean there are not smaller deposits scattered all over the place. It means only that economically significant deposits are rare, not that iron itself is rare.

Fifth, what do you mean by "in the vicinity of Khor Kharfot"? If you mean "within a few days' hiking distance," then you also mean "within an area of many thousands of square miles," which does not sound nearly so impressive. Who knows what the distance might have been? The text itself says merely "that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore." For all we know, it could have been a couple hundred miles away, which is to say that, somewhere within an area of more than a million square miles, Nephi found enough iron to make a few tools. Not very impressive.

As I keep saying: there's nothing in the Book of Mormon that could not have been written in the 1820s by a modestly educated raconteur like Joseph Smith, and there is much that ties the book directly to its own time and place. To those not already theologically committed to thinking otherwise, it's obviously a 19th-century book.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

EBU,

Your response is a bit of a wild ride with regard to a single data point: Bountiful. But, even so, let me just say that the vast majority of LDS Book of Mormon scholars support the Mesoamerican model. Sure, there are differences in opinion with regard to the details. But, generally, they believe Southern Mexico and Guatemala to be Book of Mormon country.

Re: Infant baptism -- I have no qualm with concurrent colloquialisms finding their way into Joseph Smith's translation. In fact, it'd be rather odd if they didn't. And, as a matter of interest, I, personally, believe that Mormon was condemning those who should have known better. These were likely Christians whom he may have taught himself, not a completely different sect.

Re: The Virgin Birth -- I think you're reaching. Scripturally, we have nothing that suggests anything specific about sexual relations. Certainly there have been theories set forth by some, including past authorities. But, those ideas are not binding upon us as is the Canon.

Jack

Anonymous said...

Mazel,

While going through the rigors of primary, secondary, and college education, were you ever taught that there was a little patch of green country on the eastern coast of Arabia?

Jack

Anonymous said...

No.

Why do you ask?

-- OK

Jeff Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Jeff, can you give me the citation info?

-- OK

Mormography said...

The straw-grasping Nahom tidbit creates a contradictory standard that decimates the Mormon hypothesis. It represents full retreat of a religion that now struggles to retain its own proselytizers.

Jeff Lindsay said...

It would be appropriate to recall that the Arabian Peninsula is generally a desert whose distinguishing feature is its lack of rivers. Critics were mocking the idea of the River Laman right up iluntil recent years until a surprising candidate was discovered. Ditto for Bountiful.

OK, thank you for the input but please bear in mind that Bountiful was not a village and appears to have been uninhabited. It is the combination of rare greenness and the lack of a town or village that has made Bountiful seem hopelessly implausible to modern literati unfamiliar with the actual field work showing the evidence that such a place appears to exist in the right spot and remains uninhabited. OK, I hope you will take a genuine look at what Aston has published, including a peer-reviewed article, so that you can see why from our perspective it is an impressive find. Telling us that villages typically have water and fruit somewhat misses the point. Really, the description of Bountiful is not readily explained by glimpsing a map.

Anonymous said...

"OK, thank you for the input but please bear in mind that Bountiful was not a village and appears to have been uninhabited."

That's not what the folks who are asking for funding for an excavation said:

"What was clear is that though it is totally unoccupied now, at least two waves of people have lived in this small area in the past and have left their archaeology behind as mute witnesses that they were here."

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter whether Khor Kharfot is or was ever the site of a village. It doesn't even matter whether Bountiful was inhabited when Lehi's group is said to have arrived there.

What matters is how the maps extant in Joseph's time/place could plausibly have shaped his imagination and thus served as a source for his writing. Those maps indicate that, in the 1700s, there were named coastal villages east of Nehem, and thus as a matter of utterly unremarkable inference they also suggest that there were places on the coast east of Nehem with water, fruit trees, honey, and a view of the sea.

While we're on the topic of human habitation --- let us all remember how slippery the Church has been on this topic. First the world was to believe that the entire precolumbian Western Hemisphere was wholly uninhabited save for the Jaredites and the Nephites/Lamanites. Native Americans were seen collectively, all of them, as descendants of the Lamanites. This was not just a minor point of doctrine; it was one of themajor selling points of Joseph's new religion: the Book of Mormon explained the origins of the Native Americans. This was an important question in his day. The book also explained why we find sophisticated Native American ruins indicative of a civilized past, but only "savage" Indians in the present. This belief was the rationale for aggressively proselytizing the Indians, for telling adopted Native American kids that their skin would get lighter, etc.

But now, in light of the DNA evidence, we are to believe that the Nephites and Lamanites were merely a small minority of people living amongst much larger groups of Native Americans --- groups that, rather strangely, are never named in the BoM, which in this regard is utterly unlike the Bible with its Egyptians, Canaanites, Moabites, etc., etc., etc. (One wonders, has the Church ever said anything like this? --- Hey there, Native Americans, it looks like all that stuff we've been telling you for the last 150 years about your Lamanite ancestry was wrong. Our bad. Sorry about giving you a totally bogus account of your own heritage! Sorry too about all that "white and delightsome" nonsense. Oops! But even though Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson, etc. were totally mistaken about this core element of their own scriptures, you can still trust today's prophets not to lead you astray.)

Seriously, Jeff, I understand how exciting this stuff must look from your perspective. I'm just describing how unexciting (and occasionally silly) it looks from my own.

But if you give me a citation for Aston's peer-reviewed article on Bountiful I'll try to get a copy and read it, and then report back.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Another thought in regards to the above statement is that Lehi's entrance to the Americas would have been relatively recent, biologically speaking. It is extremely likely that they would have been carrying diseases with them--diseases that when Columbus and the Spanish showed up, the native population had no immunity to and were decimated. Shouldn't there have been some immunity passed down, whether genetically directly from Lehi's family, or tangentially from infections passed on from Lehi's family?

Quantumleap42 said...

Anonymous,

Just a note on the diseases. The most deadly diseases transferred in the Columbian Exchange were smallpox (which did 80-90% of the damage), bubonic plague, measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis, and cholera.

Smallpox has been found in Egyptian mummies dating to more than 1000 BC, but it only reached plague proportions in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, and that started in Greece.

Bubonic plague came from East Asia but only made its way west at the end of the middle ages with the Mongols.

Measles first appeared in either the 2nd or 5th century AD.

Scarlet fever may have been around since the 5th century BC in Greece, but that has not been confirmed.

Typhoid has been around a while but first appeared as a plague in the 5th century BC in Greece.

Typhus first appeared in the middle ages.

Cholera originated in the 5th century BC in India.

Most of those are too new to have been carried over by a group of people leaving the Middle East in the 6th century BC.

Tuberculosis is the only possible candidate. It has been found in Egyptian mummies and is mentioned in the Bible. But it has also been found in the genetic material on Andean mummies. So maybe the Nephites or Mulekites brought tuberculosis over.

Anonymous said...

"...thus as a matter of utterly unremarkable inference they also suggest that there were places on the coast east of Nehem with water, fruit trees, honey, and a view of the sea."

And enough timber to build a sizable boat? No. Joseph would've had to've been a naive boob to imagine that such a place existed in those days -- and that's exactly how his critics saw him back then. And, on top of that, to imagine that such a place would be found at those precise coordinates is just beyond plausibility.

Jack

Lane Wolfley said...

Love this site, interesting stuff.

I quit believing in BOM historicity decades ago, but I stay up on the literature because this all fun stuff. One thing to consider, is that you can't smelt iron ore without making a permanent record on the earth. In the old days you would have made a cone of rocks with heat at the bottom, and smelted the ore, and collected the iron out of it as it melted. It was very inefficient, so much so, that they still re-smelt pre-industrial slag when they can. So, if Nephi really did "molten" ore, there would be clear evidence for it.

This whole line of research strikes me as a day late and a dollar short. BOM says that ores all over the Americas were being processed over the centuries, but the record is clear that not a single tailing or slag has ever been found. If the New World has no smoking gun, it's even more unlikely anything was fired from the Old World.

Anonymous said...

Two things to consider, Jack:

(1) It doesn't take that much timber to build a single ship. We're not talking about an armada here.

(2) Based on the photos I've seen published, the timber at Khor Kharfot looks pretty poor for shipbuilding. (For examples, see here, here, and here.) I'm no shipwright, but the wood of the palm and the fig tree just doesn't seem like the kind of lumber one wants for an oceangoing vessel. (American shipbuilders much preferred long, straight-grained boards from New England's old-growth white pines.) On the other hand, if palm trees and fig trees are good sources for shipbuilding, your argument falls apart anyway, since if there are any trees at all that people immediately associate with the Middle East, it's the palm and the fig.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Also, Jack, I don't understand your reference to "precise coordinates." The Book of Mormon doesn't give us precise coordinates. It says only that "we traveled nearly eastward" from Nahom. And if one looks at the maps "nearly eastward" from Nehem to the coast, one sees named villages (Dafar, Merbal, Hafsek, etc.) as well as at least one river (the Prim).

The persistent rhetorical inflation of LDS apologetics (by which, e.g., "nearly eastward" becomes "precise coordinates") undermines its credibility.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

OK,

Yeah, I can be a little hyperbolic in my speech. But, really, bring up Google Earth and scan the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula. You will discover that there is no other location that even comes close to fulfilling the requirements of Bountiful except along that relatively small stretch that is more or less due east of Nehem.

Lane Wolfley,

Be careful. You may find yourself running up against a long list of formerly implausible Book of Mormon claims that have since been proven to be true. And the list keeps getting longer.


Jack

Anonymous said...

Jack writes, But, really, bring up Google Earth and scan the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula. You will discover that there is no other location that even comes close to fulfilling the requirements of Bountiful except along that relatively small stretch that is more or less due east of Nehem.

Well, sure. But look at the maps. They show the same thing. They show a river and several villages east of Nehem, with nothing comparable for several hundred miles on either side.

Remember, the question is not whether the description matches the landscape, but whether we can trace that match back to the extant maps. And we can.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Okay, OK, I can see where one can make a case for Joseph getting inspiration from a map. But, you still have to acknowledge that there's some interesting coincidences happening. Every other river indicated along the coastline has nothing near the greenery that we find in Khor Kharfot (which is a little south of the spot you pointed out). So that turns out to be a very happy guess for Joseph--not to mention all of the details he gets right that pertain to that particular type of geography. So, one has to ask, why did Joseph chose to go directly east from Nahom, in his narrative, instead of continuing south or heading a little northeast to other possible candidates for Bountiful where rivers were emptying into the sea? We're left to wonder at the uncanny coincidence of his choice of "due east" which leads to the *only* plausible location for Bountiful.

Mormography said...

Anonymous -

Yawnnnn ... "you still have to acknowledge that there's some interesting coincidences happening." Your need for religious validation does not demand we abandon intellectual integrity.

The Nahom tidbit has been thoroughly rebutted without rejoinder. For a decade Mormanity has been unable to explain numerous contradictions with regards to his Nahom position. Case closed.

You can not have your cake and eat it too. You cannot say Joseph Smith potentially got something right in the Middle the East, but ignore Joseph Smith getting the Western Hemisphere utterly, utterly wrong.

Everything Before Us said...

So, one has to ask, why did Joseph chose to go directly east from Nahom, in his narrative, instead of continuing south or heading a little northeast to other possible candidates for Bountiful

Well...that is kind of exactly what the Book of Mormon says. Nephi and party headed "nearly eastward."

Anonymous said...

... why did Joseph chose to go directly east ...

Looking at the old maps, I'd say there were two other obvious choices for continuing Lehi's mythical journey: either south, toward present-day Aden, or somewhat north of east to somewhere around present-day Muscat.

But of course had Joseph chosen either of these, we'd no doubt be hearing apologists today telling us something like this: Aden is the perfect location for constructing and launching a ship. Famed today for its location on one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.... The absence of the necessary lumber in the city today does not mean the area was not wooded in ancient times....

Now, what would have been really impressive would have been for Joseph to describe, not just some generic fruit trees, these trees.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

"You can not have your cake and eat it too."

Sure I can. In fact, I'm craving one of those big Costco cakes with thick frosting and pudding between the layers.

"You cannot say Joseph Smith potentially got something right in the Middle East, but ignore Joseph Smith getting the Western Hemisphere utterly, utterly wrong."

I don't say that. I say that he got both right.

Jack

Anonymous said...

EBU,

We're talking hypotheticals. *If* JS used a map there's still the interesting coincidence that he chose to have his "characters" travel east (as opposed to other directions) and land them at a location that fulfills the requirements for his "fictional" Bountiful in the real world.

Jack

Anonymous said...

OK: "Looking at the old maps, I'd say there were two other obvious choices for continuing Lehi's mythical journey: either south, toward present-day Aden, or somewhat north of east to somewhere around present-day Muscat."

Yeah, those were the two directions that I suggested as possible alternatives. But, the fact is, he *didn't* choose to go to those locations, but, instead, chose to go to the *only* location that matches his description of Bountiful in the real world.

As for apologists defending other locations had JS chosen them: That's a little cynical for my tastes -- especially in light of the fact that, in this particular argument, there's absolutely no need to fudge any of the details were one inclined to do so.

Jack

Anonymous said...

I think I've worn this thread pretty thin. I'm done.

Jack

Anonymous said...

Okay, Jack. But you've got to admit those are some awesome trees.

-- OK

Mormography said...

Jack - "I don't say that. I say that he got both right."

Not even the LDS Church or Mormanity agree with you. Both have conceded the BoM narrative is not useful for understanding the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere.

Anonymous said...

Quite right, Mormography. It's just one example of the way the Church has been very slowly, very cautiously, walking back its claims.

Think of it as an eternal progression: As the LDS Church is, the Community of Christ once was; as the Community of Christ is, the LDS Church may be.

-- OK

Mormography said...

OK - That is awesome. Sums up this blog. -Mormography

Anonymous said...

Ok. I think you're right on the money. It seems the church can see that scholarship is catching up to them and they can read the "writing on the plates." It appears they are laying the groundwork to distance themselves from the pure historicity of the BoM much as they have been forced to do with the book of Abraham. I was surprised to see them admit on their website that "The veracity and value of the book of Abraham cannot be settled by scholarly debate concerning the book’s translation and historicity.". I expect we'll eventually see a similar official publication about the BoM at some point.

Quantumleap42 said...

The Church has been "forced" to distance themselves from the historicity of the Book of Abraham? Really, anonymous commenter on the internet, if that is the case they are hiding it really well.

"Evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record."

From the same Gospel Topics essay that you quoted. Try reading the entire thing and make the case that the Church is downplaying the historicity of the Book of Abraham. We make the same claim we always make, the value of the Book of Abraham, the Bible, the Book of Mormon and even the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture are not established by scholarly debate.

Mormography said...

Scholarly individuals would agree, to generically value a thing is not a debatable item. It is valued, merely because it is valued. To assign a specific type of value, such historicity or translation, however, is a different matter.

I cannot speak for anonymous, but I just read the essay. It clearly downplayed the historical value of the facsimiles and downplayed the value of the word translate.

Anonymous said...

"Evidence suggests that elements of the book of Abraham fit comfortably in the ancient world and supports the claim that the book of Abraham is an authentic record.

Evidence suggests.... [evidence] supports.... This is a far cry from the straightforward, unequivocal claim that The book of Abraham is an authentic record. I think "distancing from," as opposed to "repudiating" or somesuch, is a fair way to describe what's going on.

I think the end-result of this very gradual process we're seeing --- a process that includes the change of "the principal ancestors" to "among the principal ancestors," and more recently the changes at the Maxwell Institute --- will be a church in which belief in the historicity of the BoM and BoA will be optional. The Church will not take any official position on the issue, much as today it refuses to wade in on so many other questions, such as the competing theories of BoM geography. The Church is no longer even willing to say where the original Hill Cumorah is located.

FAIR wades in where the Church fears to tread.

In a sense, belief in historicity already is optional. There are plenty of members in perfectly good standing who see these texts as inspired, but written by Joseph. They're pretty quiet about it, of course, but I think that will change, albeit very slowly.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

QuantumLeap

I've read the entire thing several times. How do you think I knew where to find the quote? The article includes many distancing statements, not just the one I quoted which does it most clearly.

As for forced, I would say yes:

"Mormon and non-Mormon Egyptologists agree that the characters on the fragments do not match the translation given in the book of Abraham."

Probably the most interesting acrobatic act in the essay is this quote:

"Illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure."

So we've learned that it doesn't matter what's actually written on the papyri, what matters is what came from them. What then is their importance?

Anonymous said...

Also, it is a short step from this:

"Illustrations with no clear connection to Abraham anciently could, by revelation, shed light on the life and teachings of this prophetic figure."

to something such as "it doesn't matter if Nephi or Lehi actually existed, what's important is the essential gospel truths the Book of Mormon contains and clarifies."

Anonymous said...

Short step ..... You might say one little quantum leap ..... Enough of those and you have a completely different religion .... You might say after about 42 of them..... -Mormography

Anonymous said...

You've already got a much different religion than you had earlier. So many changes...:

Speaking in tongues? Gone.

Cuckoo milliennial enthusiasm? Gone.

Polygamy? Gone.

Adam-God theory? Gone.

Blacks as descendants of Cain? Gone.

Catholic Church as "Church of the Devil"? Gone.

Indians as Lamanites? Gone.

Book of Abraham as literal translation of papyri? Going fast....

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Religions change over time, often radically, and it's really no big deal.

I mean, is it a big deal that Jews no longer sacrifice animals to Jahweh?

Anonymous said...

I would argue that the testimony meeting of today is much different than it was at the inception. It was meant to be a time for imparting personal spiritual knowledge to others--people shared revelations, prophesied, spoke in tongues, etc. It was a much more pentacostal experience. Today it is meant to be a recitation of the basic tenets of the religion: church is true, Jesus, Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, current prophet. Straying outside of this, though tolerated, is looked down upon by leadership and isn't considered "pure testimony."

Mormography said...

Anonymous -"Religions change over time, often radically, and it's really no big deal."

It is a major deal in the context of the Mormon hypothesis. Your argument suggests Mormonism is no different than any other religion, the opposite of the Mormon hypothesis.

Anonymous said...

Nah. Lots of religions consider themselves the One True Faith. And they all change in response to changing social conditions. Mormonism is no different in this regard.

Mormography said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mormography said...

Anonymous -

I think I get it now. Your position is: The Mormon Religion is a fraud, but all religions are, so it is no big deal.

Anonymous said...

I would say that all religions are mistaken in various ways. But fraud is not the right term, because one doesn't generally see fraudulent intent (L. Ron Hubbard excepted).

Mormography said...

I see. Good intentions pave a path somewhere …

If I was to play your semantics game, I would point out that L. Ron Hubbard is a person, not a religion. I am seeing the disconnect, we went from talking about a hypothesis to a religion to a person. You went from a false hypothesis is no big deal, to the descendants of a religion mean well, regardless of the religion’s genesis. We could go on all day …

You are obviously new here. Per Mormanity, the plates are either what they claim or a fraud. The Mormon foundational hypothesis is not near as kind as your “mistaken” descriptor. All other religions are abominable, drawing near to God with their lips and far with their hearts, and in the employ of Satan.

Yes, all religious founders offered solutions to societal strive and challenges. As you point out, some of those leaders led the solutions with little temporal return for themselves. Joseph Smith, David Koresh, and L. Ron Hubbard do not fit into this group.

Anonymous said...

Per Mormanity, the plates are either what they claim or a fraud.

But of course we both know Jeff is wrong. This is a classic false dichotomy.

The plates obviously never existed. But Joseph might have sincerely believed they did. He might even have sincerely believed that the covered boxes he showed others contained the plates, in some mystical way. Remember, we're talking here about a religion that has long taught people that a long dead man-god to be somehow "present" in a cracker. If one can sincerely believe that, what can't one sincerely believe?

My own sense is that Joseph and his early followers were so deep down the rabbit hole of the magic worldview that they might well have sincerely confused the various figments of their imagination with reality. And there's no doubt they often did so in ways that fed their own egos. It might even be that their egos fed their visions. It seems entirely possible to me that the brain of an egotist such as Joseph might have manufactured visions that conveniently placed him at the center of the Christian mythos. We know very little about how the mind works, but we know enough, I think, to say such things are possible.

Joseph was wrong, yes. Crazy in a sense, yes, and crazy in a self-serving way. But again, "fraud" doesn't seem the right word.

And yes, I understand that the LDS Church feels very differently about all this. The Church is wrong. When I say that Joseph was not a fraud, I'm not at all agreeing with the Church that he was a prophet.

Mormography said...

Anonymous -

"plates obviously never existed." ???

Very few critical historians agree with you. Most all agree some sort metallic sheets existed, they only debate the nature of them.

As far as a false dichotomy goes, you could argue someone planted the plates (ala kinderhook plates) during the Stowell treasure hunting then the person died before revealing the trick.

There is truth to your sense of sincerely-believing-a-figment-of-the-imagination, but that alone does not explain the historical record. The 116 lost pages, existence of metallic item referred to as book, and other items demonstrate more than imagination.

Either way you need to educate your self some more before anyone can help you make sense of your senses.

Anonymous said...

By "the plates," of course, I meant "the plates" as understood by faithful Mormons --- not just any plates, but genuinely ancient plates, inscribed with "Reformed Egyptian" characters, etc.

You know, the plates, as I said. And those plates, as you and I and other critics agree, never existed. I'm not sure why you chose to interpret my comment as you did.

I really think that at this point, the secular attempt to understand Joseph Smith and the origins of Mormonism will depend less on filling out the historical record and more on understanding the human mind. We need more psychology, cognitive science, etc. And we need to stop treating Joseph as sui generis and treat him instead as part of the larger phenomenon of self-proclaimed seers/visionaries/prophets and followers. Such study might well explain how even seemingly fraudulent machinations such as "the 116 lost pages, existence of metallic item referred to as book, and other items" can be understood as something other than fraud.

To you and me, some of Inquisition's tortures seem unspeakably sadistic. But the Grand Inquisitor might have been so far down his particular religious rabbithole that he sincerely considered them acts of love, much as the Church no doubt considers its own, comparatively bland, excommunication efforts to be "Courts of Love."

My thinking is not based on unfamiliarity with Church history, which I know quite well. It's based on my sense of just how strange the human mind can be.

Mormography said...

NO doubt about it. So strange in fact, it can make things like fraud none existent.