Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Evidence At Last: The Many Aspects of John Lloyd Stephens' Work That Strengthened Mormons in the 1840s

A delightful trend in modern Book of Mormon criticism today is to scour books, articles, and maps for information that hypothetically could have aided Joseph Smith in fabricating many of the interesting details of the Book of Mormon. Whether it's Nahom and Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula and the many other Arabian evidences for the plausibility of Lehi's trail, the ancient practice of writing on metal plates, the many correspondences between the Book of Mormon setting and ancient Mesoamerica including the existence of ancient written records, temples, roadways, and buildings of cement, or textual issues like chiasmus and Hebraisms, there is a concerted effort, now aided with advanced computer searching across tens of thousands of documents, to find bits and pieces of numerous scattered "smoking guns" to create the case that the book is simply a product of Joseph's environment. I find this delightful and perhaps a little ironic because many of the apparent Book of Mormon strengths for which related modern sources are being sought began as Book of Mormon weaknesses. This is readily evident for language issues such as the silliness of Alma as a man's name, now verified as an ancient Jewish man's name, or the horrific blunder (now known to be a perfectly appropriate Hebraic expression) of Moroni waving the rent of his garment (repaired later to be the rent part of his garment). But many other early weaknesses are now strengths to be undermined.

Recently we have discussed some of the interesting broad archeological issues noted by Dr. John E. Clark, which raised the issue of whether knowledge of ancient advanced civilizations in the America was actually common knowledge or not. Evidence that it was not common knowledge, in my opinion, is the great surprise caused by the 1841 publication of John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1841). It was a surprise to many educated people but especially to the Mormons, who now had evidence at last to confront some of the arguments being levied against the Book of Mormon. In the discussion of the value and originality of Stephens' work, the critics often view the significance of his work for Mormons as merely establishing that there were ancient civilizations in the Americas -- something that a number of other people had written about without creating widespread interest and awareness among citizens of the United States. But in fact, Stephens' work did far more than that. Understanding the correspondences between Stephens' report and the claims of the Book of Mormon helps remind us that the evidence from the Americas pertaining to the Book of Mormon is much more than just "yes, there was an ancient civilization." It reminds us that if Joseph Smith was the source of the Book of Mormon, his luck or his success in research about the Americas went far beyond just being right about the existence of ancient civilization.

First of all is the issue of geography. The Book of Mormon describes ancient civilizations with written records that were in a relatively small area (no, a hemispheric model advocated by some early Mormons simply does not fit the travel distances given in the text) with a narrow neck of land surrounded by oceans. Using the internal geographical references in the Book of Mormon, one can construct a highly self-consistent map (this alone is quite surprising if the book is Joseph's crude fabrication dictated from a hat). With that internal map,  we can then ask the question: can this map possibly fit anywhere in the New World? Latter-day Saint scholars familiar with the geographical issues have a fairly broad consensus that Mesoamerica, right around the region explored by Stephens, is the only potentially plausible location for the internal map of the Book of Mormon to have any hope of overlaying real geography. It is a place with a narrow neck of land, oceans, at least one excellent candidate for the River Sidon that flows north for at least part of its run, a place where battles fought in winter are not fought waist-deep in snow but in a climate where warriors can still be weary in "the heat of the day," etc. What is amazing is that the only place where the geography might line up with reality is also the only place where ancient peoples kept written records. It is a place unlike Joseph's environment where ancient temples and roads were built. It is the only place where the geology also lines up, with active volcanoes and earthquake faults in the time frame required for the apparent volcanic and seismic activity we encounter in 3 Nephi. Those details aren't found in Stephens or other sources Joseph could have seen. Nor is one other important correspondence between Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon: the rise and dating of two major civilizations or clusters of civilizations. Below is a figure from Dr. Clark's "Archaeological Trends and Book of Mormon Origins," BYU Studies, vol. 44, no. 4 (2005) which compares the cities of the Jaredites and the Nephites with the general time frame of the Olmecs and Mayans in Mesoamerica. He is not arguing that the Nephites or Lamanites were Mayan, but that the rise and fall of major civilizations in Mesoamerica (which included many sister groups) provides an environment and time frame which could accommodate the major groups of the Book of Mormon.

The rise and fall of two civilizations is an important issue which I don't think Joseph could have snatched from sources in his day. In this, the Book of Mormon merits credit for a further correspondence with Mesoamerica, even to the point of implicit carryover from the first civilization to the second, as occurred in Mesoamerica and as is found in shared names between Jaredites and Nephites, especially Nephite dissenters or rebels. It appears that the total destruction Ether saw was the total destruction of two armies, while some Jaredites escaped and were around to influence later cultures after the Nephites moved in.

Back to Stephens' work, Joseph Smith had a shift in his thinking about Book of Mormon geography when he encountered it. He said that we would do well to compare the cities of the Book of Mormon to those explored and discussed by Stephens. He then saw Mesoamerica as the likely place for Book of Mormon happenings in the New World, as is carefully explained by Matthew Roper in "John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon" (Interpreter, 2016). Roper then discusses further contributions of Stephens to the issue of Book of Mormon evidence of plausibility. Roper shows how Stephens' publication also gave Mormons evidence related to Book of Mormon plausibility on the following topics, though not all of the following issues were discussed as being of interest in that era:
  • The use of cement and other materials
  • The building of temples. Nephi says his temple was patterned after King Solomon's (2 Nephi 5:16). Stephens wrote that "The genii who attended on King Solomon seem to have been the artists."
  • Palaces (e.g., compare the "specious palace" of King Noah to the Quiche or Palenque palace described by Stephens. 
  • The place of the judgement seat in the Book of Mormon, perhaps comparable to the tribunals of justice mentioned by Stephens. 
  • Walls and towers
  • Astronomical structures and competency
  • Ornamented buildings
  • Altars and idols
  • Buildings ruined by earthquakes
  • Near nakedness
  • Ancient writing 
  • Elephants (Stephens mentioned finds of mastodon bones and "elephantine-like figures" on some buildings, though he felt they couldn't be elephants since everyone knew then that they had never been in the Americas)
  • Some details of weaponry and armor 
  • Great destructions
As previously noted, the idea that ancient Native Americans had written records was still hard to accept for many. Many viewed the glyphs as symbols related to astronomy rather than a versatile written language. It would take decades for the nature of ancient Mesoamerican writing to become widely known. Meanwhile, in spite of Stephens' immensely helpful publication, critics would continue to attack the Book of Mormon unnecessarily on issues such as the existence of ancient writing systems.

Roper notes that one critic in 1839 wrote, "According to Mormon, these native Americans could read, and write, … but when that country first became known to Europeans, the inhabitants knew no more about letters than a four-legged animal knows the rules of logic; and not a scrap of writing was to be found." An 1840 critical publication claimed that there was not "even so much as a shadow or proof, that the sciences of reading and writing [and other evidences of advanced culture mentioned in the Book of Mormon] were ever known here."

Some of the items listed above are mentioned in some much less well known sources that may not have been known to LDS people before Stephens created so much interest in this area. Some such as nakedness or the use of specific weapons and armor could happen in a variety of places, But the abundance of correspondences in Mesoamerica, not just from geography alone, makes the impact of Stephens' work much more interesting than merely showing/confirming that ancient civilizations once were here. There are many surprising details -- especially if you dig into the 800 or so correspondences compiled by John L. Sorenson in his remarkable Mormon's Codex, some of which are interesting examples of Book of Mormon weaknesses that are becoming interesting strengths, though yes, puzzles and problems remain. Just not as many as we faced in the 1830s. Some things that were laughable then are much less ridiculous today.


Everything Before Us said...

Were Mesoamericans scalping each other? Joseph Smith conveniently records the first known incident of a scalping in the Book of Mormon. He then goes on to record how this trend caught on and became rather commonplace among the Lamanites.

Joseph Smith was riffing on Eastern Woodland Indian themes. At the end of the Book of Mormon, he even explains how the two main civilizations devolved into tribes and small warring factions, which was the state of affairs among the Eastern Woodland Indians when the Europeans found them. The Lamanites, after killing off the Nephites, then started killing off each other.

And let's not forget about the loin cloths....

From these three examples (scalping, factions, and loin cloths) it is clear to me that Joseph Smith set out to explain the origins of the Eastern Woodland Indians, the lore of which would've been most fascinated to people who were living in the Eastern Woodlands.

Joseph Smith was writing a "Just So Stories"-style book to explain the origins of common Eastern Woodland Indians cultural points.

If the Book of Mormon is true...I seriously believe the only reasonable location for the Nephite lands is the Northeast/Great Lakes region.

The Book of Mormon calls the "promised land a "land of liberty."

You cannot really call Central/South America "lands of liberty." When Joseph Smith wrote "lands of liberty" into the Book of Mormon, he wasn't imagining anything other than the United States. I think this is obvious

Anonymous said...

Geologically speaking, the cataclysmic events recorded in 3rd Nephi were relatively recent. Shouldn't there be geological evidence of such destruction? Has anyone provided this type of confirming evidence? There should be a lake or pond in the region where mud samples can be drilled to display all of the ash that fell that was thick enough to blot out all light for 3 days.

Also, if your position is that Nephites and Lamanites were living in and among the other active ancient civilizations in a relatively confined geographical area, an event such as is described in 3rd Nephi should be corroborated outside of the BoM, either in pictures or "written records." Someone else surely would have remarked on it.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, I don't understand. It seems to me that this post only makes sense if the Olmec and Mayan civilizations in Clark's chart were in fact the civilizations of the Book of Mormon.

Unfortunately, we know they were not the same, and that causes some fatal problems. See Native American DNA, not even remotely Israelite. See also Mesoamerican Hieroglyphics, not even remotely Egyptian.

And if the Jaredite/Nephite civilizations are not the Olmec/Maya civilizations, what's the point of all these lengthy debates about what Americans knew about Olmec/Maya civilizations and when they knew it?

Well, maybe I'm misunderstanding you, Jeff, so let me ask you to clarify.

Are you saying:

(A) That the Jaredite/Nephite and Olmec/Maya civilizations were the exact same civilizations?


(B) That the Jaredite/Nephite civilizations were much smaller minority populations that inhabited the same area as the Olmecs/Mayans, and whose rise and fall, a la Clark's chart, just happened to coincide with the rise and fall of the much larger Olmec/Maya civilizations?

Which is it, (A) or (B)?

-- OK

Anonymous said...

I guess I should clarify that I'm interested in Jeff's position here, not Clark's.

Also, I should add that this is one of the parts of the post that doesn't make sense to me: the claim that Clark is not arguing that the Nephites or Lamanites were Mayan, but that the rise and fall of major civilizations in Mesoamerica (which included many sister groups) provides an environment and time frame which could accommodate the major groups of the Book of Mormon.

I see absolutely no reason why "the major groups of the Book of Mormon" would need to be "accommodated" by any other contemporaneous civilizations.

I see no reason whatsoever why "the major groups of the Book of Mormon" could not have risen and fallen completely on their own, on an otherwise unpeopled continent---which is, of course, precisely how all of Mormondom saw the situation from 1830 right on up to the appearance of the recent DNA studies.

But again, Jeff, perhaps you can clarify. Why would "the major groups of the Book of Mormon" need to be "accommodated" by other contemporaneous civilizations?

-- OK

Kevin Rex and Family said...

It's been a while since I read one of your posts, Jeff, and my curiosity is still piqued as to how you would answer the questions of why the God of the Book of Mormon, same God doctrinally as the Old Testament professes, is such an angry and mean person, cursing people with dark skin? Why spend so much time in finding minutiae evidence of a book that is so evidently adding credence to the Old Testament God of Anger? Do you believe that God is such a man as to curse the Native Americans with dark skin because they were, at one time according to the Book of Mormon, wicked, even though they later became "more righteous" than their brethren, the Nephites? Does such a God even warrant our worship? Curious, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Good questions, K. R. It also seems a little too convenient that God would have the same skin-color prejudices as 19th-century white Americans.

Talk about men creating God in their own image....

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jeff. It all lines up beautifully, egregious non sequiturs in the comments section notwithstanding.


Neal Rappleye said...

Hey Jeff,

We did a KnoWhy on the two-civilizations point at Book of Mormon Central:


You will notice there we have an adaptation of John Clark's timeline-graphic that I think you find is a little more visually appealing that the black and white version you used. You are welcome to our graphic if you would like:


Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Ah, so there it is, on the KnoWhy linked above:

It would be a mistake to assume that the Jaredites are the Olmec and that the Nephites/Lamanites are the Maya. Rather, the consistency in their cycles of civilization suggests that Jaredite and Nephite history could have unfolded within the broader context of Mesoamerican history.

Yes, thanks actual research in archaeology, genetics, and linguistics, we know it would definitely be a mistake to equate the fictional BoM civilizations with the real Mesoamerican civilizations.

But thanks to the inventiveness of the apologist, we need not worry! True, the archaeology doesn't give us any evidence for Book of Mormon civilizations, but it does give us evidence for a "broader context" within which "Jaredite and Nephite history could have unfolded"!

This, my friends, though expressed in a rhetoric of victory, is in fact a retreat.

Consider that not so long ago, Mesoamerican ruins simply were Jaredite/Nephite ruins. (See Book of Mormon Lands, Tours of.)

Not so long ago, those ruins were straightforward evidence for the Book of Mormon.

Now, however, those very same ruins are evidence for a context for the Book of Mormon.

Maybe soon, as we continue to learn more actual facts about Mesoamerica, the apologists will confidently assert that, while there's no evidence for a context for the Book of Mormon, there's evidence for a context for a setting for the Book of Mormon.

"Ancient Book of Mormon Studies" will become more and more like the Kremlinology of yore: the study of a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

As for that Mesoamerican timeline, I see several obvious problems:

(1) The close fit between Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican cities looks far too neat. Without knowing exactly what kind of "context" the Mayans might have provided for the Nephites, with no sense of the actual relations between the two peoples---aside from the fact that the Nephites must have been a small enough minority for their DNA to have disappeared from the gene pool---there's no reason to suppose the two timelines would match so closely. In the real world, beware the data that fits too perfectly. Visual rhetoric is neat and easy. Real history is messy and hard.

(2) It looks to me like an awful lot of argumentative work is being done by the shadings on the left. The beginnings of the Jaredites would be shrouded in mystery, I suppose, the Tower of Babel story being an obvious etiological myth and all, but the same is not true of the Olmecs.

(3) The apologetics timeline is extremely simplified. It bears little resemblance to other Mesoamerican history timelines one finds online, such as this one. I'm guessing that, during the simplification process, someone had their apologetic thumb on the scale.

(4) There's also the complete lack of any concrete references in the Book of Mormon to preexisting American civilizations. FWIW, this to my mind remains the single biggest obstacle to the current Mesoamerican theory. The usual explanations for this absence (so strikingly different from the Bible!) are frankly embarrassing. The idea that Nephites would comprise a minority population amid much larger civilizations and never once mention those civilizations, never have alliances with or wars against them, nor even have names for them, is just idiotic. The much more logical explanation is that Joseph Smith thought of the Jaredites and Nephites as being the sole occupants of a land reserved for them---precisely as the book says.

Aside from these objections, however, I am duly impressed.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

'Can't win for losin'. Either the evidence is too neat or not neat enough.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Jack, the apologists can't win because they're trying to find real locations for fictional places. They might as well try to conduct archaeological research on Tolkien's Middle Earth or locate The Simpsons' Springfield on a map.

As an exercise, perhaps you should try to make Book of Mormon events fit onto this timeline instead of the patently tendentious one concocted by the apologists. Let us know how that goes.

-- OK

Rockg said...

Thank you for your work and research. :-)

greatbam said...

OK..posts wikipedia as his authoritative source which people need to conform to lol.

"Trying to find real locations.."

And critics are still trying to give a decent explanation of Nahom. From what I have read critics have developed a whole series of fiction themselves to give their explanation of how Joseph Smith got that right.

Anonymous said...

... critics are still trying to give a decent explanation of Nahom.

For those of us in the reality-based community, there's a very simple and perfectly plausible explanation: Joseph Smith (or Oliver Cowdery or some other collaborator) saw an Arabian map.

Problem solved.

-- OK

Mormography said...

Marcus Norton -

OK linked to wikiMEDIA, which merely hosts free content, not wikipedia.

What ever your explanation for Moroni/Cumorah, it is the decent critics' explanation for Nahom. In Mormanity's Chris Johnson criticism, all parties concede that Nahom is the apologist strongest evidence. Of course, this fact works against the critics. Chris Johnson only noted that to even take Nahom seriously, some sort of baseline needs to be created. Despite Mormanity's ridiculing of Johnson, Johnson demonstrated how to one might go about creating a baseline by attacking an old critical argument.

Hawkeye said...

I'll leave archaeology in Mesoamerica for another time. It is a 1% shot in the dark at this time, so that's no help to anyone, except for what's been found so far which is pretty interesting.

Genetics? Please quote for me the findings of a population geneticist who has compared the genetic material of ancient Israel with Mesoamerican natives and showed that it conclusively proves no Middle Eastern incursion of 30-50 occurred. (For extra credit, show the genetic material of Vikings in America among Amerind peoples of the Northeast. They left their red and blonde hair with blue eyes everywhere else - it surely was the same in Vineland).

Also, please cite a linguist who have shown how fewer than 10 languages expanded into hundreds of sometime unrelated languages, and dozens of unrelated language groups and is willing to say that there were no other sources of ancient linguistics in the Americas as a whole.

Be sure to give the full citations. You're making many assertions here with no backup. You're welcome to your own opinions but not your own facts.

Waiting patiently...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Hawkeye, but the burden of proof is on you guys.

There are plenty of faithful LDS archaeologists, linguists, and geneticists. Perhaps you should be asking them to get on it.

-- OK

Joseph said...

@ OK and Anonymous Re: racism in the Book of Mormon

I would say that what one sees is a matter of perspective.

Ahmad Corbitt formerly the churches representative at the UN and currently serving as president of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission wrote an essay on this topic in which he said:

"the Book of Mormon is, in my view, the most racially and ethnically unifying book on the earth."https://history.lds.org/article/personal-essay-on-race-and-the-priesthood-he-denieth-none?lang=eng

On the topic of the "curse" he said this:
"Church members and others should beware, as I warned the couple who came to talk with me, of a tactic some use to try to discredit the Book of Mormon. They cherry-pick isolated Book of Mormon references that, out of context, sound negative, even offensive, to us today. One example is the ancient description of Laman’s people as having “a skin of blackness” so “that they might not be enticing” to the Nephites. Admittedly, these expressions collide with current sensibilities and speech. But they should not distract readers from the grand, eternal perspectives and purposes I’m convinced the Lord intended for the Book of Mormon. Rather, they should serve as reminders of these perspectives and purposes. Readers of this scriptural record should keep in mind that these words reflect the cultural perceptions and customs of ancient people in response to an unusual color change in their family.

Perhaps the Lamanites, who usually avoided the Nephites except to do battle against them, saw the color difference between the two peoples in completely opposite terms. Who knows? What’s important is that the early Nephite writers’ reactions to the darkness of the Lamanites’ skin is of no significance to us in our day. Obviously, Church leaders do not hold up the Book of Mormon as an authority on the science of racial origins or as a standard for human attractiveness. I believe that like Paul’s statements about women who wore braided hair or spoke in church, the significance of Nephite descriptions of the Lamanites’ skin is merely historical, not doctrinal.

While these descriptions of the Lamanites’ skin color change are not doctrinally significant in my view, they do add important context. They highlight cultural challenges that existed for Book of Mormon peoples, foreshadowing challenges that humanity faces today. It is impressive that such references can ultimately enable the book to communicate such a timely, urgent, and global message of unity and harmony across race and ethnicity. Thus, the Lord’s overarching message of peace eclipses the cultural ethnocentricities of the book’s ancient writers and modern-day readers.34 For me, it is inspiring to read the Book of Mormon and to be reminded, by the references to skin color, that a loving Heavenly Father is using the book to guide the human family to greater unity and peace."

Happy said...

So incredibly obvious. I have a hard time believing that the LDS scholars aren't taking this theory more seriously.

Anonymous said...

Joseph, it's not simply that the racism in the Book of Mormon "collide[s] with current sensibilities." It's that they also coincide with the sensibilities of Joseph Smith's day. The idea is not so much that the Book of Mormon contains offensive racial ideas, but that the book's racial ideas provide yet another reason to believe it a 19th-century creation. (Ditto, by the way, for the silly Hamitic Theory in the Book of Abraham.)

Also, of course, the Lamanite's didn't simply have a "skin of blackness"; God gave them a skin of blackness. So either---

(1) The Mormon God himself has some offensive ideas about race, or

(2) Nephi had some racist ideas that he incorrectly attributed to God. And if the ancient prophets could make such a mistake about black skin color, it suggests to me that today's prophets might be making similar mistakes about, say, homosexuality. You know, absolving themselves of their own prejudices by saying they are God's will.

-- OK

Jeff Lindsay said...

OK reminds us of what he has previously and openly acknowledged to be his agenda in criticizing the Book of Mormon and the Church: he abhors the Church for its position on same-sex marriage and thus feels compelled to undermine anything that might lend credibility to LDS claims, especially the Book of Mormon.

With that agenda, it is easier for me to see why interesting evidences are whittled down to nothing and that he endlessly insists that no non-LDS scholars see any merit in such evidence, in spite of things like Margaret Barker's remarks on the pre-exilic content she sees in the Book of Mormon and some non-LDS recognition of the impressive chiasmic content in the Book of Mormon. None of that can exist or meet his requirements.

The Arabian evidence is continually reduced to a point on a rare map that no LDS person noticed until 1978, as far as we can tell, leaving so much of the interesting details unexplained. There's nothing there, folks--not because of sound scholarly consideration, but because of one man's anger at the Church.

I am sorry about your anger, OK, and yes, I know it is possible to have a passionate, angry agenda and still make salient, insightful points. But they may not be as consistent with reality as you claim, especially the reality of evidences supporting the ancient origins of Lehi's Trail.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Has the reality-based community addressed the numerous difficulties and utter lack of explanatory power in the over-confident assumption that Joseph must have used a map to pluck a random minor name off a map? A name that would later have the good fortune of 3 archaeological finds showing that the NHM name was prominent in Lehi's day? Did the map then also show that going due east was not only a plausible way to reach a bizarrely good candidate for Bountiful, but would also be a plausible way to avoid the Empty Quarter slightly north and more hopeless dessert to the south, avoiding impassable barriers and aligning with a higher rainfall route that could be survived? And did the map help Joseph come up with the Hebraic wordplay on Nahom? Which map? How was it used? Why was only one obscure name taken and then ignored if it was meant to add plausibility? Explanatory power should be high when a theory is sound, but your map theory explains so little.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you are misrepresenting the nature of our argument and the role of the Arabian map within it.

Your side says this:

Nahom etc. demonstrates the historicity of the Book of Mormon because there's no way Joseph could have come up with the details using his own 19th-century knowledge.

If I want to refute this kind of claim, all I need to do is dispatch with the "no way" part. That's all I need to do! All I need to do is to show that there actually was a plausible way Joseph could have come up with it naturalistically, without revelation. And doing that is easy: we know that maps showing Nehem and suggesting the general directions of the journey were extant in the American northeast in the 1820s, so it's quite plausible to think Joseph or an associate could have seen one.

Given the basic structure of our disagreement, I don't need to show anything more than this plausibility. I don't need to demonstrate how, where, or when Joseph might have seen such a map. I don't need to produce evidence that he saw it. I merely need to show that he plausibly could have seen it, and that's enough to refute the particular kind of argument you have been making. (Of course, by decontextualizing my claim about the map, by detaching it from the larger argument of which it is a part, you can very conveniently befuddle your readers, and perhaps even yourself.)

Do you really not understand this, Jeff?

-- OK

Jeff Lindsay said...

I apologize for any sloppy language of that nature and agree in part with your point. The proper argument is NOT to say there is NO WAY that Joseph could have fabricated the Book of Mormon since good intellectual resources could account for a few things and chance account for the rest. Frankly, a very lucky monkey typing randomly could have given us the account of Lehi's Train including the Egyptian and Hebrew word plays on the word rod and other terms, the white fruit of the tree of life and other elements that impressed Margaret Barker, and the location of the River Laman and Bountiful. But the real issue, which I hope you will understand, is that such possibilities need to be weighed in terms of probability and plausibility. If the nearest useful map was 200 miles away as far we can tell, was it probable that he saw it? If he saw it, is it plausible that he would ignore info that could add plausibility to his account and instead pluck off a minor name from Yemen? Is it probable that such a name from a modern map would later be shown to have been in the right area in Lehis day? Is it plausible that Joseph would then pick a direction away from Felix Arabia and have the random good fortune of picking a due east direction that long after would be shown to be shockingly plausible, landing Nephi into the wadi that provides the only reasonable inland access to the miraculous spot Bountiful meeting numerous criteria not disclosed even on typical modern maps? Sure, a monkey or a farm boy could do this with lots of luck, but would any map in Joseph's day make it reasobably plausible? Probability, plausibility. If you have a plausible explanation for fabricating Lehi's Trail, tell us how it was done.

Hawkeye said...

No, I didn't make this assertion:

"Yes, thanks actual research in archaeology, genetics, and linguistics, we know it would definitely be a mistake to equate the fictional BoM civilizations with the real Mesoamerican civilizations."

You did. This is what critics like you do, make what appear to be on the surface completely reasonable statements that once the thin vernier is removed are completely false.

Interestingly, you use the nearly the same tactic as a guy named Sherem. He also boldly prevaricated with seemingly reasonable facts.

But once again, produce facts you claim exist or move on.

Anonymous said...

Hawkeye, the existence in the American northeast of Arabian maps showing Nehem has already been established. Are you denying his?

Jeff, you're now inflating Joseph's fuzzy description of Lehi's journey into some marvel of precision and detail that is simply not there in the text. We've already been through this. Here's what is actually present in that description that Joseph could easily have gotten from a quick perusal of a map:

-- From Jerusalem to the Red Sea, one proceeds south-southwest for what looks like a matter of days.

-- The Red Sea coast trends south-southeast for hundreds of miles; there are many mountains and occasional rivers emptying into the sea.

-- If after some time one heads inland, one finds a place called Nehem or Nehm or Nehhm, which seems suspiciously close to the Bible's Nahom.

-- East of Nehem are habitable locations on the coast with streams and named habitations, hence trees and bees.

These details can all be sourced to the map. Since this is pretty much all the details that are actually in the text, the apologists naturally need to invent some new "details" using their usual exegetical hocus-pocus---new pseudo-details such as your putative wordplay.

Jeff, you write, If the nearest useful map was 200 miles away as far we can tell, was it probable that he saw it? This question shows that you didn't understand my argument, or are stubbornly ignoring it.

You write, If he saw it, is it plausible that he would ignore info that could add plausibility to his account and instead pluck off a minor name from Yemen? This question betrays some stunningly silly assumptions about the way the creative human imagination works, of how source material finds its way into stories. My position is essentially that Joseph was a creative and imaginative writer, not that he was some exceedingly cunning genius consciously trying to put together the perfect con.

LDS apologetics is just a hot mess, Jeff. It's no wonder that even your very best apologists can't get their arguments published outside their own intellectual ghetto. (To its credit, BYU and the Maxwell Institute recently made the courageous decision to exit that ghetto.)

Again: there's nothing in the Book of Mormon that could not have been written by ordinary human beings, without divine assistance, with Joseph's level of education in Joseph's time and place. Nothing.

And there's a great deal in it that simply could not have been written in Book of Mormon times by expatriate-Israelites-turned-ancient-Americans.

This is still the overwhelming consensus of the non-Mormon world, and of a growing part of the Mormon world as well. Remember, you're not disagreeing just with me, but with a growing number of Mormons as well.

Take away the blinders of faith, and the Book of Mormon is obviously a 19th-century American work that caught on among 19th-century American Christians because of the way it integrated their beloved nation into their beloved sacred story. For Joseph to have created such a book, and then found a successful church upon it, is a truly remarkable achievement that is actually diminished by people like you who insist on wrapping that achievement up in spiritualist mumbo-jumbo.

How odd that I should understand your own prophet so much more clearly than you do. How odd that I, who consider Joseph to have been in many ways a scoundrel, actually have a more realistic and better founded admiration for him than you. But hey, some wonderful things happen when you put away childish things.

If I may end on a note of eternal progression, here are a couple of Lorenzo Snowisms:

As the FLDS Church is, the LDS Church once was. As the LDS Church is, the FLDS Church may be.


As the LDS Church is, the Church of Christ once was. As the Church of Christ is, the LDS Church may be.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Which is more plausible, that Joseph used information that was available in his day (whether personally finding it or from someone who had seen the map), or that an angel appeared to him, showed him where to find a stone box that had been buried for centuries containing plates written in a language no one knows or has ever heard of, provides a way to interpret said language (which is ignored for the most part in the translation), then removes the plates from off the face of the earth?

Anonymous said...


Or in other words, the map was 200 miles away--supernatural intervention must be the best explanation.

Anonymous said...

Um, no. Joseph saw some other map. Duh.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

LDS apologetics has rather spectacularly failed to persuade non-Mormon scholars. And more and more they are failing to persuade even Mormon scholars. (See Maxwell Institute, Repudiation of FAIR by.)

Is this because:

(1) The entire non-Mormon world, and an increasing part of the Mormon world, is blind, illogical, stupid, or engaged in some massive Satanic conspiracy to thwart the truth?; or

(2) The apologists just don't have the goods?

Which seems more likely?

-- OK

everything before us said...

I understand the lack of vowels in written Hebrew, but Nahom is not Nehem. Are there any maps or other types of resources besides the BoM that uses the spelling Nahom rather than Nehem?

Hawkeye said...

"Hawkeye, the existence in the American northeast of Arabian maps showing Nehem has already been established. Are you denying his?"

That wasn't the question I asked. I'll reinsert it here. Answer the QUESTION:

"I'll leave archaeology in Mesoamerica for another time. It is a 1% shot in the dark at this time, so that's no help to anyone, except for what's been found so far which is pretty interesting.

"Genetics? Please quote for me the findings of a population geneticist who has compared the genetic material of ancient Israel with Mesoamerican natives and showed that it conclusively proves no Middle Eastern incursion of 30-50 occurred. (For extra credit, show the genetic material of Vikings in America among Amerind peoples of the Northeast. They left their red and blonde hair with blue eyes everywhere else - it surely was the same in Vineland).

"Also, please cite a linguist who have shown how fewer than 10 languages expanded into hundreds of sometime unrelated languages, and dozens of unrelated language groups and is willing to say that there were no other sources of ancient linguistics in the Americas as a whole.

"Be sure to give the full citations. You're making many assertions here with no backup. You're welcome to your own opinions but not your own facts."

You aren't answering because you haven't told the truth. Go ahead and make my day - tell us the deep secret sources that you spoke of above. You're not so brazen when confronted with the truth.

As do most anti's you merely ignore the established facts, make up your own, then off you go on your merry way. Obviously, scholarship isn't your forte.

Jeff is quite the gentleman and is treating you with more respect than you deserve presently. I would ask for the same from you to him and the rest.

Anonymous said...

You aren't answering because you haven't told the truth....

My answers: Burden of proof is on you, Russell's Teapot, thanks for playing, goodbye.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

This article adds some perspective to the perceived lack of evidence:



James Anglin said...

I think it's only fair and only reasonable to call this Nahom/Nehem thing a piece of evidence in favor of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. If you go by the fraud theory, the apparent agreement is somewhat surprising. If you go by the revelation theory, it's not surprising at all. Bayesian inference awards points for this to the revelation theory. That's what it [i]means[/i] to have evidence for your theory, that your theory makes the observations less surprising than other theories do.

I am still not going to convert to Mormonism, however. Evidence is not proof; far from it. Evidence exists for many false theories. For instance, I may offer the theory that I myself have psychic powers to predict dice scores. If I roll enough dice, I will eventually have some strings of luck with my guesses, and those lucky guesses, in themselves, will be evidence for my powers. If I'm shrewd enough to try my strings of guesses and rolls in front of many separate audiences, there will eventually be an audience that sees something pretty uncanny. They'll see evidence for my psychic powers and it will be real evidence.

Those few people who happen to be there for my luckiest performance won't be aware that they are cherry picking. They nonetheless will be; that's the problem. You can't just focus on the one best piece of evidence and let the rest fade from thought. You have to consider all of the data and see which theory makes the whole package of all of it less surprising.

The degree of surprise in Nahom is real but modest. It's less surprising than the disappearance without trace of a vast ancient American civilization. It's less surprising than the appearance of an angel with golden plates. And although NHM might be impressive if it were the first thing anyone trying to test the Book of Moron had ever investigated, as the best piece of evidence that has been found in nearly two hundred years of searching, it's disappointing.

Mormography said...

Hawkeye –

I am little confused. Why do you believe OK is required to answer your questions and provide full citations, but you are not?

“You're making many assertions here” attacking long held cherished believes as being based on error.

Please provide a full BoM citation stating that a “Middle Eastern incursion of 30-50 occurred” in an already heavy populated land they intermarried with.

Jonathan A. Cavender said...

So I'm admittedly a little late to the party, but one thing has always struck me alt those who claim racism in the Book of Mormon precisely matches the racism of Joseph's day (other than that Joseph expressly broke from the racism of his day). And that is this:

Why, then, does the sexism of the Book of Mormon not match the sexism of Joseph's day?

Women are almost invisible. Nephi didn't name his own wife, even when she saved his life. Unlike the literature of the day, the Book of Mormon has a view of women far more consistent with the latent prejudices of the ancient writers than a writer in the 1800s.

To me, the racism and sexism in the Book of Mormon are best explained as a part of the culture the Book was written in. This racism and sexism are not both part of Joseph Smith's culture (if he wrote it, there would have been sexism to our modern sensibilities but it would have manifest very differently). They appear to be consistent with the culture the book purports to be written in.

Jonathan A. Cavender said...

Also, OK, you are misapplying the burden of proof. You say that the party making an affirmative claim bears the burden of providing evidence. And yet, you are making affirmative claims while claiming you carry no burden.

Saying the Book of Mormon hasn't been proven to you to be a historical document? That requires no evidence.

Saying that the Book of Mormon is untrue? Affirmative claim, which requires evidence (not just the fallacy of argument from ignorance). Claiming that Joseph saw a map? Affirmative claim, which requires evidence. The Book of Mormon is obviously a work of the 19th century? Affirmative claim, which requires evidence. And so on.

All too often I see those citing the teapot simultaneously pointing at teapots of their own.

Anonymous said...

Jack, there's a glaring problem with Dan Peterson's claim that LDS apologists are "patiently engaged in amassing a cumulative case that will show the Book of Mormon is congruent with what mainstream scholarship is disclosing."

The problem is that they're not "amassing" their case in the venues of "mainstream scholarship." Instead, they've created an alternative pseudo-scholarly universe (consisting of FAIR, the Interpreter, their own conferences) to serve as an insulated venue, safe from the criticism of non-LDS scholars.

As long as they continue to operate solely in this little intellectual ghetto, one has to wonder just what their cumulative case will show, and just whom it will show it to. Eventually they will no doubt manage to amass a huge amount of work, but because that work so studiously avoids peer review, it will impress no one outside of the faith.

But of course that is presumably the purpose: not to present evidence to the world at large, but to inoculate believers against mainstream scholarship by offering them a faith-friendly pseudo-scholarship in its place. That doesn't seem wholly honest to me, nor even fair to the believer, but maybe that's just me. Maybe believers don't mind being sold a bill of goods.

Anyway, I'm personally trying to figure out just how Peterson and his ilk will show that the existence of a bunch of expatriate Hebrew-speaking Israelites in 500 BC Mesoamerica, talking about 19th-century Protestant-American theological issues, in the language of the revival and the camp-meeting, is "congruent with what mainstream scholarship is disclosing." They've certainly got their work cut out for them.

-- OK

Anonymous said...


You've got a lot of supposition going there, bro--especially as it relates to the supposed sinister motives of the individuals involved. I'd advise you to walk in their moccasins for a mile or two before you make such baseless charges. And don't forget that the intellectual "ghetto" they operate in is lined with almost too many PhDs to count.

As to your claim that they're not making their case in the mainstream venues of scholarship--I'll ask you one question: Name one expert in the Book of Mormon *and* Mesoamerican Archaeology -- and I mean expert of the PhD variety -- that is *not* LDS.

And there you have it. That's why this kind of work rarely finds its way into "prestigious" journals. Because the real experts are LDS. And until there are non-LDS scholars out there who can match them in their expertise in both archaeology AND the Book of Mormon the LDS experts will, ironically, be dismissed as so many biased boobs.


Hawkeye said...

This is the statement of fact that he made:

Yes, thanks actual research in archaeology, genetics, and linguistics, we know it would definitely be a mistake to equate the fictional BoM civilizations with the real Mesoamerican civilizations.

He made specific accusations citing specific types of information that will prove the Book of Mormon a fabrication. That would be quite a statement except it is completely false. None of it exists. Anywhere.

Anti-Mormon critics very glibly cite these data and those who aren't versed in it will say "Well, that must be true so the Book of Mormon isn't."

That is a lie and he knows it. If not he'd simply go to Wikipedia, highlight, copy, paste, and publish. But he can because it doesn't exist!

Mormography said...

Hawkeye -

I see so he is required to cite, but you are not.

Anti-Intellectual Mormons, such as yourself, very glibly cite new BoM interpretation and those who aren't versed in it will say "Well, that must be true so the BoM is".

You made specific accusations citing specific types of information that will defend the BoM (whatever that means). That is a lie and you know it. If not, you'd simply copy and paste verses. But you can't because they don't exist!

Anonymous said...

Mormography, I suspect that Hawkeye knows as well as we do that the actual, peer-reviewed research in archaeology, genetics, and linguistics does not support the existence of ancient Israelites-turned-revivalist-Christians in the New World.

All of the top apologists know this. That's why, as Dan Peterson says in his Deseret News article, they are trying to "show the Book of Mormon is congruent with what mainstream scholarship is disclosing," instead of pointing us to peer-reviewed scholarship that supports the Book of Mormon directly (or, heaven forbid, publishing such articles themselves). All they are now doing, according to Peterson's article---which is actually a cleverly disguised admission of defeat---is to show that the BoM could be ancient, not that it actually isancient. Now that they know the actual research does not support the BoM, they're trying to show that the research does not completely rule the BoM out. As I've said before, this is quite a retreat.

These days, they're essentially telling the faithful, We now admit that what we said in the past is wrong. We no longer think the actual peer-reviewed research provides a reason for you to believe. But it's not a reason to disbelieve, either, because belief is still "congruent with" the actual research.

The Church leadeship also knows this. That's why the current "official" theory is that the BoM peoples were historically just a small subset of the overall Native American population, a minority small enough that its archaeological, genetic, and linguistic traces have conveniently become just as inaccessible to secular researchers as the gold plates. This latest "among the ancestors of the Native Americans" move was made by the Church because the Church agrees with me rather than Hawkeye on this issue. (How ironic is that?)

It's also, of course, the same trick that Joseph Smith used when he said some angel took the gold plates away. It removes yet more of the material-historical foundations of the faith from the prying eye of rational appraisal.

It's a very smart move, actually, since it places the appraisal of faith where it belongs, in the province of faith. It undercuts the need for "Book of Mormon archaeology" "Ancient Book of Mormon Studies," and, if the Church's recent revamping of the Maxwell Institute is any indication, it may signal the eventual disappearance of those particular embarrassments.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Name one expert in the Book of Mormon *and* Mesoamerican Archaeology -- and I mean expert of the PhD variety -- that is *not* LDS.

Why does this matter? Does your religious affiliation preclude you from publishing in a peer reviewed journal? Does it qualify you to do so? Why does being or not being LDS have anything to do with publishing solid, consistent, fact based research regardless of what it shows? If your research methods and presentation of arguments are sound, your religious affiliation doesn't enter into it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:33: Well said. But hey, maybe Jack can clarify just what sort of BoM-supporting evidence it is that Book of Mormon scholars would recognize and other scholars would not.

If Jack can't clarify that, perhaps he can explain why his rule applies only to the Book of Mormon and not other ancient texts. I mean, we see competent peer-reviewed research about the archaeology and linguistics of ancient Israel getting published all the time researchers who are secular and who are religious, who are Bible scholars and who are not Bible scholars. Why is it possible for all these people to publish their work in mainstream academia, but not Stanford Carmack or Brian Stubbs or Dan Peterson?

Of course, I would say that the difference between the Bible and the Book of Mormon is that the Bible really is an ancient text, produced by ancient peoples, and the Book of Mormon is not. But perhaps Jack has a better explanation, one that can convince us he's not just giving an ad hoc excuse for the failure of LDS apologetics.

-- OK

Mormography said...

OK –

Yep. Hawkeye is convicted of a double standard probably derived from self-hate.

The flame is now completely separated from the candle. The BoM is no longer the keystone of the religion. The events in it could just as well occurred on another planet. Tapir Dan is the man just out of time to share his answers, and now I see he does not have time to know all his assertions have been debunk. To him the BoM simply feels ancient, so it must be.

Of course, if it is ancient or not, if it came from another planet or not, has little to do with Mormonism. The BoM implies religious authority comes from belief in scripture (hence the importance of the brass plates), not an artificially approved chain of laying on of hands.

I once met a hippie with a hippie book mapping Nephite settlements that formed the shape of doves viewed from space. The hippie believed in Nephites and everything else lovey dovey.

I have met Mormons who would joke they would be first to hold the banner at the end of world/millennia. What banner? The one that says the Mormon’s were right. Now Mormons are saying they their banner will be drowned out by every other group holding a similar banner. They will all right.

Anonymous said...

Don't let's be silly, OK. If the Book of Mormon were merely a cultural artifact discovered by a little boy exploring caverns in upstate New York, and the only similarity its text had to the real BoM were details having to do with cultural and geographical inferences--then the evidence amassed by LDS scholars would be considered evidence, indeed.

The real obstacle to Book of Mormon scholarship gaining traction in respectable scholarly venues is the supernatural narrative of its coming forth and that found within its pages.


Anonymous said...

So, mainstream scholarship cannot validate the historicity of the Book of Mormon because there's a "supernatural narrative of its coming forth and that found within its pages." Got it, Jack.

The problem is that biblical scholarship also operates under the exact same kind of handicap (if that's the right word). There are plenty of Christian and Jewish sects that think of the Bible the exact same way orthodox Mormons think of the BoM, that consider the Bible to be the Word of God, delivered miraculously at Mount Sinai by God himself, directly from his godly lips to Moses's prophetic ear.

And yet, oddly enough, this does not in the least impede believing Christians and Jews from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Editors of those journals do not censor the work of religious scholars merely because those scholars are religious.

True, their apologetics work doesn't get published, because it doesn't conform to the methodological norms of genuine scholarship. But these faithful scholars do publish a lot of other work that adds to the case for the basic historicity of the Bible. Not so with the BoM.

Mainstream scholarship has no problem whatsoever with the ancientness of the Bible---only with the ancientness of the Book of Mormon.

Why is that? What's the difference between Biblical Studies and Ancient Book of Mormon Studies? Is it that the mainstream scholarly world rejects the work of Mormon scholars, merely because they're Mormon, even though it doesn't reject the work of Christian/Jewish scholars merely because they're Christian/Jewish? Are mainstream journal editors all prejudiced against Mormons, and only Mormons? Is the whole world against you, and only you?

You already know what I think the difference is: the Bible is ancient and the Book of Mormon is not.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

That's not what I'm saying at all. The Bible has a more visible cultural/archaeological continuity from the past to the present than the Book of Mormon has. And, so, respectable journals can wrestle with biblical questions having to do specifically with culture, history and other scientific disciplines without being tied to its supernatural claims. The problem with the Book of Mormon is that scholars have no cultural/archaeological stopgap wherein they poke around without being tied to the its supernatural claims. So, if an archaeologist finds a plaque that says "Welcome to Zarahemla" then that piece of evidence will inevitably lead to the conclusion that there were, indeed, angels and golden plates. However, since no respectable scholar is going to touch that narrative with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole, the quest for reliable physical BoM evidence is cut off before it even begins.


Anonymous said...

That's a ridiculous assumption. Are you saying they would be forced to believe in Mormonism if research showed a connection between Hebrews and American Indians? The reason they won't accept critical, documented scholarship is because they would be forced to believe in the BoM?

The issue here is that most apologetic scholarship requires a willful suspension of disbelief and, at that point, the research changes from scholarship to fiction.

There have been scholars throughout academic history who have dramatically changed the way the status quo has thought about things by publishing solid, peer reviewed research. Are you saying Mormon academics are afraid to do so? Does their fear come from lack of scholarly evidence? The inability to enter the academic discourse? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying, Jack---a "Welcome to Zarahemla" artifact would strongly validate the religion's supernatural claims and be pretty tough for non-Mormon academia to swallow. I agree. But two things:

(1) You have no such artifact. And if actually having the artifact doesn't matter to the argument---if your argument is compelling merely by virtue of its form, so to speak, then the Scientologist could pose exactly the same hypothetical about the discovery of a radioactive stele commemorating the fate of the spirit beings nuked by Xenu. (The the closest thing you do have to such an artifact (NHM) is a gun that, because of the absence of vowels, the fuzziness of the BoM itinerary, and the existence of the maps, is not smoking.)

If an archaeologist finds a plaque that says "Welcome to Zarahemla".... Well, if an archivist found a signed letter in Joseph's handwriting telling Oliver Cowdery about his plans to make money by starting a new church, then I would win. And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

(2) Scholarship rarely proceeds by way of such spectacular and unambiguous discoveries. What is much more likely is that, if in fact BoM peoples were genuinely ancient Mesoamerican peoples, the evidence for that genuineness would turn up piecemeal, a bit here, a bit there, in pieces that are individually not a shock or threat to non-Mormon worldviews---and thus could be (a) easily divorced from their LDS implications, and (b) written up in a secular way and published in peer-reviewed journals. If the apologists could gradually build such discoveries up into a solid body of peer-reviewed work, the way most scholars do, they would be laying a much more convincing groundwork for eventually making the complete case the apologists ultimately want to make.

But they're not doing that. Instead they are instead "amassing" their evidence solely in the cloistered precincts of FAIR and the Interpreter. This makes no sense---unless, of course, they just don't have anything, even of this modest sort, that can get through peer review, and so tehy've contented themselves with simply convincing the already faithful.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

anon & OK,

My use of the Zarahemla plaque was only to indicate that BoM doesn't leave much wiggle room for a secular (only) approach to its claims. The BoMs main purpose is to call its readers to repentance--and that's why the narrative of its origins is so important.

But, even so, as you say, OK:

"... if in fact BoM peoples were genuinely ancient Mesoamerican peoples, the evidence for that genuineness would turn up piecemeal, a bit here, a bit there, in pieces that are individually not a shock or threat to non-Mormon worldviews---and thus could be (a) easily divorced from their LDS implications, and (b) written up in a secular way and published in peer-reviewed journals."

The evidence for the BoM *is* turning up piecemeal--tons of it. But it is typically the LDS who view the evidence as genuine for the precise reason that they, first, accept the narrative of its coming forth. The secular world won't do that--put the horse before the cart, as it were. And, so, they simply won't see the evidence because they're not looking for it.


Anonymous said...

If its main purpose is to call people to repentance why does it contain so much historical baggage?

Also, if the evidence is showing up (tons of it) why is none of it being published as secular research? Either the book is historical in nature or it's not. One shouldn't need faith to recognize solid proof of histriocity.

Anonymous said...

"If its main purpose is to call people to repentance why does it contain so much historical baggage?"

So that we can see how God works in the lives of real people--that's what makes it such a powerful witness. If it were not so, it would be like the Savior issuing forth His word without ever being born to earth and walking the dusty roads of mortality with us.

"Also, if the evidence is showing up (tons of it) why is none of it being published as secular research?"

Because the Book of Mormon, in order to be taken seriously, demands that the reader accepts its own explanation as to its origins--which origins are highly supernatural. Therefore, one is not likely to take *any* of its content seriously -- historical or otherwise -- if one cannot accept the reality of angels and gold plates.


Anonymous said...

Because the Book of Mormon, in order to be taken seriously, demands that the reader accepts its own explanation as to its origins....

I hear you, Jack, but I still have to say---not necessarily. It's also possible to take the Book of Mormon seriously without accepting its own account of itself. And I'm not just talking about secular scholars who take the book seriously as a fascinating and influential product of 19th-century American religious culture. There are also a fair and probably growing number of Mormons who no longer believe in the reality of the gold plates but nonetheless take it seriously for its theology, its role in driving their own history and shaping their own community, and so on.

A literalist belief in the antiquity of the Book of Mormon is not required to be Mormon. It's just one way of being Mormon.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

That would be a tiny minority who believe the BoM to be inspired fiction. And I'm fine with that--because what's most important is that we live by its precepts. Proving its historicity would be down a notch or two in importance. But, even so, the Book of Mormon does call the reader to accept it as an inspired document. So, if the best you can do is accept it as inspired fiction then come along, brother, and rejoice with us in the supernal witness of Christ that is the Book of Mormon.

Anonymous said...

Whoops. That last comment is by Jack

James Anglin said...

@Jonathan A. Cavender:

You argue that male 19th century writers merely believed that women should be subservient, and so the fact that they are not just subservient in the Book of Mormon, but downright non-existent, is evidence of that the Book was written in the even more sexist culture of ancient times. But actual ancient texts like the Bible mention quite a few women.

What kind of book fails to mention women at all? A work of fiction by a man.

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? A book or film passes the Bechdel test if, at any point in the entire piece, two named female characters have a conversation about anything other than a man. It's an extremely low bar. Even a thoroughly sexist book can pass the test. And yet it's shocking how few famous works of art pass this minimal test.

A book or movie that failed the gender-reversed Bechdel test—no two men never talk to each other except about women—would be immediately ridiculous. But you can easily fail the actual Bechdel test without even noticing. Being written by a woman is no guarantee that a work will pass the Bechdel test either, in fact. Only one of the Harry Potter movies passes it, for example.

Anything based on actual life, however indirectly and in whatever culture, will have to acknowledge, at least here and there, that female humans exist. Women disappear all the time, though, in fiction.

Anonymous said...

Jack, just refreshed my memory. Among its stated purposes is:

"to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever."

It is intended as a historical as well as religious document. That's where the baggage comes in. . .

Mazel said...

Jonathan and James, the paucity of women in the Book of Mormon always struck me as reflecting some personal weakness in Joseph Smith's imagination---his personal sexism, going beyond that of his culture. Yes, the Israelite writers certainly managed to write some strong women characters who (unlike the BoM's Sarai) are key pleayers in some of the Bible's many stories: Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Tamar, Bathsheba, Ruth and Naomi, Esther and Vashti, etc. In the Bible, even the unnamed women are often crucial to the story (e.g., the Levite's concubine, whose namelessness makes a kind of feminist sense to the extent that it underscores her powerlessness).

Nineteenth-century American male writers range on this score from bad (Melville) to so-so (Cooper) to good (Hawthorne's Hester Prynne). But note how this range can be at least partly explained by the social realities behind each of these authors' works. In a novel like Moby-Dick, set almost entirely on a whaling ship, one would expect to find few or no women characters because women were generally not found on real whaling ships. In a novel like Last of the Mohicans, set in the colonial wilderness during a time of war, one again finds that the number of women characters (the Colonel's daughters Cora and Alice, plus a few Indian women) is reasonably consistent with that real-world frontier setting. And in The Scarlet Letter, set in a Puritan town, one finds both the number of women and their importance as actors in the plot to be greater---consistent with the more urban, domestic nature of real towns.

But in the Book of Mormon we do not find this kind of coherence between the book's representations of women and its purported settings. To me, that suggests that the Book of Mormon, unlike the Bible and unlike my three American examples, is not rooted in any actual ancient social reality, which in turn suggests that not only is it fiction, but it is a very thin and socially disjointed fiction. The social reality of the Bible's ancient Israelite cultures oozes out of every pore of that genuinely ancient, genuinely Israelite book. What oozes out of every pore of the Book of Mormon is not some quasi-Israelite ancient Mesoamerican culture, but rather the culture of 19th-century frontier American Protestant revivalism, seen through the prism of sexism (Joseph’s own, as well as that of his time).

Joseph was capable of imagining the basics of his plot---the arrival of Israelites in ancient America, plus their conversions and apostasies and wars---but he was not capable of imagining a believable ancient society for his characters to live in. Of course, the Book of Mormon's author would not have had to imagine that ancient world at all if he or she actually lived in it.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:34, I'm glad you called our attention to the BoM's stated purpose of "show[ing] unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever."

There are so many fascinating things about the Book of Mormon, and among them is the book's front matter. In the 1981 edition I'm looking at right now, that front matter includes the bit quoted in preceding paragraph---a description of the book's purpose and its putative provenance, written in the faux-KJV voice of the rest of the book (only with a fluency and concision that stands in stark contrast to the clumsy bagginess of the main text).

It also includes the "Introduction," written in the voice of a 20th-century believer and containing the famous challenge to read the book and "then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth."

Then come the three testimonies: of the eight witnesses, the three witnesses, and of Joseph Smith. Then comes "A Brief Explanation of The Book of Mormon," written in what appears to be an imitation of the source criticism of the Bible, followed by portraits of Jesus and Joseph, and then those technically wonderful but nonetheless totally campy paintings.

Even after all this, the editors of this edition apparently felt readers still shouldn't be trusted to start in on the actual narrative on their own, because next comes the weird headnote to The First Book of Nephi: His Reign and Ministry.

I say "weird" in part because of this headnote's uneven voice which mixes up modern verb endings with a lot of archaic -eth endings, and in part because the note ends with the first-person utterance I, Nephi, wrote this record even though the rest of it repeatedly refers to Nephi in the third person.

And still readers are deemed not ready to start in on the story; before they can do that they encounter one more headnote, this time for Chapter One, which in addition to summarizing the coming content adds an estimate of the historical timeframe.

To me, all of this editorial apparatus suggests, among other things, a deep and long-running institutional insecurity about the main text. It's as if Joseph himself (as well as any collaborators) doubted the persuasive power of his own writing and thus sought to buttress it with a bunch of extraneous witnessing and such. Ditto for the insecurity of the later Church authorities who added the newer notes and the powerful visual rhetoric.

There's much else that can and will be said about the Book of Mormon when it comes to be taken seriously by literary critics. I've just given a taste here. Sadly, very few competent critics (even Mormon ones) actually do take the book seriously as critics. The one noteable exception is Michael Austin, a Church member in good standing (and a contributor to By Common Consent) whose work IMHO puts the apologists and Deseret News-style commentators to shame. To my way of thinking, the apologists take their faith in the book seriously, but they don't take the book itself seriously.

Anyone interested in getting off the hamster wheel of LDS apologetics and reading Austin's smart, perceptive, and original criticism of the BoM can find it here.

-- OK

Anonymous said...


Those who truly take the Book of Mormon seriously will strive to live by its precepts. No amount of literary criticism can make up the difference for failing to do so.


Anonymous said...

There's more than one way to take a book seriously, Jack.

-- OK

Hawkeye said...

If I had it with me (I'm on a commuter bus in Maryland going to DC) I'd post post a matrix that has the major objections to the BoM - those answered and those still outstanding. I'll see if I can dig it up when I get home tonight.

Hawkeye said...

As a retired Special Forces clandestine operator I appreciate the narrative, especially the insurgency portions. It is a masterful telling of a government that is besieged by an enemy that is at first unconventional, then converts to conventional warfare. It is incredibly nuanced and rich. As an intelligence professional I appreciate how the leadership uses intelligence on the battlefield. As a former battlefield commander I appreciate the problems stated in the narrative for communications, logistics, morale, and governmental leadership and political relationships. The layman won't pick up on these things but to the educated military mind it is masterful. It's hardly baggage.

Hawkeye said...

People will believe what they will, but the vast majority, millions of Latter-day Saints, have a firm testimony of the BoM.

Hawkeye said...

Get the largest history of WW2 you can find, start at page one and don't stop until you get to the endnotes. See if it passes the test.

Hawkeye said...

Actually, the English language form in the BoM well predates the KJV. Also, the clumsiness of the language owes to Hebraisms with an Egyptian idiom or two thrown in.

Mazel said...

Hawkeye, given your interests and knowledge "as a retired Special Forces clandestine operator," you might really appreciate The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. What emerges in Robert Alter's translation and comments is not just one of the world's greatest literary masterpieces, but an incredible story of the rise and fall of a military and political leader from courageous warrior to king to murderer to something like a mafia chieftain. The David story is rich in detail, nuanced, and powerfully written. In the character of Joab it gives us a striking portrait of a savvy military professional shrewdly finding his way through thickets of family feud and political intrigue---an old topic that has once again, it seems, become new.

-- OK

Anonymous said...

The premise that any two people can derive the same abstract map from the BoM text is a fallacy, to begin with. The "consensus" map is based on a "consensus" of assumptions centered in Mesoamerica, not anything required by the text.

The Stephens books became popular because of the illustrations. Alexander von Humboldt had explored Latin America from 1799-1804 and became famous worldwide because of his lectures and publications. He met with President Jefferson in 1804 and reported on the boundaries of the Louisiana purchase, etc. He wrote about racial issues, the Mayan calendar system, etc.

Besides, Joseph Smith showed zero interest in the Stephens books or anything having to do with Central America. Some of his contemporaries did, but Joseph focused exclusively on North America.

Everything Before Us said...

Those who truly take the Book of Mormon seriously will strive to live by its precepts

Except the LDS church.

Anonymous said...


Every LDS I know -- without exception -- who takes the BoM seriously strives, in some measure, to live by its precepts. Maybe you're talking about the church as an institution--I don't know. And if you are, I have no idea what you're talking about. But, this much I know: The LDS church teaches its adherents to take the BoM seriously.


Anonymous said...

Just gonna chime in here, I'm a new anonymous commenter on this post.
I'm a lifelong Mormon, so is my spouse. We don't believe the Book of Mormon anymore. It's nonsense. We still go to church, we still present as Mormons, still pay tithing ... but that book is not true. All it took was reading actual details of the contemporary history, and not the twisted logic of modern apologists. The firsthand account of Martin Harris's wife, the mountains of contemporary sources that are too similar in their descriptions of Joseph's character, the reliable record of Joseph Smith Sr selling blessings and telling the story of the Tree of Life long before Joseph Jr recorded it as "scripture", the serial fabrications made up by Joseph as the story developed (see the church's OWN ESSAY on the first vision), and so much more. All of this adds up to a story more plausible than angels and caves and orbs and plates (which just so happens to be suspiciously similar to contemporary Masonic lore).
The real story of the birth of the Book of Mormon is simple, if you only strip away the LDS indoctrination: Joseph and others colluded to construct the book from various sources, stories, and local folktales in an attempt to cash in on the zeitgeist. Nothing could be easier to believe.
And so my spouse and I wait for our exit. We're not dedicating any more time or effort or stress to the LDS church anymore, and it's a wonderful feeling. The mental gymnastics, the persecution complex, and the overwhelming guilt have all washed away. I no longer have to worry about how I'll convince her to let me have multiple wives in heaven so we can qualify for the highest degree of heaven. And I no longer have to strain at doctrinal gnats looking in vain for evidence that simply isn't there.
Anyway, see you in the temple!

Hawkeye said...

Wow. You can look your bishop and Stake Presidency in the eye and answer "yes" to those questions? Or are you just an anti who wants to make it look like members are leaving in droves? Either way you seem to have a problem with integrity. I feel for you.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @10:01 AM, 2/27/2017 seems to make up stuff with the bald assertion that Joseph paid no attention to Stephens. Joseph paid a great deal of attention and in his role as editor of Times and Seasons issued many articles discussing it. He showed that his thinking about geography shifted as a result. This is detailed in a variety of works especially one of the main ones I have cited: Matthew Roper's John Bernhisel’s Gift to a Prophet: Incidents of Travel in Central America and the Book of Mormon.

Humboldt did meet Jefferson, but it took much effort on Humboldt's part to secure the meeting with the man he deeply admired. Jefferson apparently was not aware of him before this. According to an essay about their meeting, "Jefferson, for his part, had no reason to know" Humboldt. But when he learned of Humboldt's find of a mastodon and of his many common interests, including the possibility of politically useful information about Mexico relative to the Louisiana purchase, dinner was arranged. Humboldt charmed many of the elite in Washington, but the issue of ruins in Mesoamerica doesn't appear to have been a significant factor in his chats, at least not with Jefferson. But it could have been discussed but just not mentioned in the report I read. See Gerhard Casper, "A Young Man from “ultima Thule” Visits Jefferson: Alexander von Humboldt in Philadelphia and Washington," the Henry LaBarre Jayne Lecture,
Autumn Meeting of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, 14 November 2009, at http://fsi.stanford.edu/events/a_young_man_from_ultima_thule_visits_jefferson_alexander_von_humboldt_in_philadelphia_and_washington/.

Everything Before Us said...

Maybe you're talking about the church as an institution--I don't know. And if you are, I have no idea what you're talking about.

Right, the institutional church is what I am talking about. Adorning its temples with luxury, despite the warnings in the BoM, and also claiming the doctrine of Christ is more than just repentance and baptism by adding onto it more and more and more elaborate ritual, a practice that is said to be evil in the BoM.

"And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. ...And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil."

Everything Before Us said...

anon 2:35

It's nonsense. We still go to church, we still present as Mormons, still pay tithing...

Sorry to hear that your bold declaration of liberation from the false Mormon religion is just what you tell yourself and others so that you can avoid the reality, which is that you are still obviously under the influence of the cult programming. When you experience true liberation from Mormonism, you'll stop "presenting" as a Mormon.

You can't experience the true exhilaration of liberty when you are still inside the mental cage. It is on the mental level that Mormonism really takes control.

Everything Before Us said...

Lent starts tomorrow. I have decided that this year I will finally give up participating in discussions about Mormonism online. Adieu.

Anonymous said...

Western elitism at its best. Or lives are so abundant that the weight of religious conviction is heavier than the weight of temporal suffering. And, so, we feel liberated rather than hopeless at being disconnect from God.


Anonymous said...

"And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil."

So everything else that Jesus taught in 3rd Nephi came of evil?


Mormography said...

Hawkeye - You accusing others of difficulties with integrity is the pot calling the kettle black.

everything before us said...

Oh Jack...

Our lives are so abundant that the weight of religious conviction is heavier than the weight of temporal suffering. And, so, we feel liberated rather than hopeless at being disconnect from God.

One doesn't become disconnected from God just because one leaves the LDS Church. You do realize that the vast majority of the world's population is not Mormon. For every single Latter-Day Saint, there are almost 500 people out there who aren't affiliated with the church. I never felt a disconnection from God when I left the church. I felt a real connection for the first time in my life. A real connection. In fact, it was this real connection that actually lead me out of the church.

And frankly, you are not aware of what level of temporal comfort I currently enjoy. You are making assumptions, as active faithful Mormons do, about the type of people who leave the church. And you are mistaking Christian liberty for something else called "license." Martin Luther dealt with this accusation. And Paul did, too, actually. Why do you think they both had to deal with this accusation? Because in every generation there will be those who fall prey to the basic human propensity toward what Paul called ethelothreskeia, or "will-worship" as King James's translators rendered it. A modern translation would be "self-imposed worship." Read Colossians 2.

It is very easy for otherwise good and righteous people who does not possess Christian liberty to see those who enjoy Christian liberty and simply not understand it. It is human nature not to understand it.

Religion is human. Christianity, practiced as a religion, is better than no Christianity at all, but it is not the Christianity that saves. I suspect that at the pearly gates there will be many people who find out that they were already saved, without their dietary laws, without their signs and tokens, without their robes, without their garments. They are lucky. Upset a bit that they wasted their lives following an unnecessary religious code, but lucky that despite their religious code, they still found that personal connection with Christ.
There will be others who will approach the gates thinking their religious code will get them through, only to be turned away.

Anonymous said...

Remember, it was Christ who showed us the way--and part of following Him requires that we perform the outward aspects of the gospel, as He did, such as being baptized and partaking of the sacrament and whatnot. Following Him also requires that we be willing to do the difficult, as need be, to bring our lives into conformity with the will of the Father as He did--to take up our own cross, as it were.

All faithful LDS are on the road to becoming more loving creatures. But we must remember that we can never be fully motivated by God's love without being willing to do what He asks of us. If we love God we will keep His commandments. And! We will love one another. Those are the two hallmarks of true discipleship according to Jesus.


Everything Before Us said...

If we love God we will keep His commandments.

Ah...but that is where it gets tricky. Because you obey "his" commandments as delivered through Joseph Smith. For you, it all starts there. You know...with the man who claims to have been commanded by God, on threat of death, to take on other wives...

Anonymous said...

Hurry up lent...

Anonymous said...

"Ah...but that is where it gets tricky."

Yes, and it gets even trickier if we adjust the rest of your comment thusly:

Because you obey "his" commandments as delivered through Abraham. For you, it all starts there. You know...with the man who claims to have been commanded by God to offer up his son, Isaac...


Anonymous said...

How dare you question my integrity? As a Mormon, I was raised NOT to tell the whole, unvarnished truth. Not in interviews if I wanted the "carrots" being held before me. Not in dealings with the opposite sex. Not in my own personal emotions. I was taught to "fake it till I make it." Well, I never made it, and I never will. I don't want to.
As for integrity, Joseph Smith didn't have it, so why should I? He lied to multiple women, lied when he claimed his church believed in obeying and honoring the laws the land, and countless other documented instances. There's no denying he told lies to get his way with women and others under his power.

And as for mental freedom: I fully realize I'm not there yet. But I will be someday. "May the bridges I burn light the path for those who come after."

Everything Before Us said...

Because you obey "his" commandments as delivered through Abraham. For you, it all starts there. You know...with the man who claims to have been commanded by God to offer up his son, Isaac...

First of all, that is probably just a Semitic tall-tale. Like those we tell about Paul Bunyan. It has something profound to teach us, but we shouldn't read it literally.

Secondly, no...I don't follow the commandment as delivered through Abraham. Abraham was counted righteous through his faith before he was given the law. Being a Gentile as I am, I too am counted righteous through faith. I too am of the seed of Abraham through faith. Not through law. The law was given on account of unrighteousness. It was a schoolmaster to bring the Jews to Christ. But now that the Son, born under the law, has come and fulfilled the law, we are no longer in need of a schoolmaster. There is no law that can bring about righteousness. The law works wrath.

While I was indeed circumcised as an infant, that had more to do with common medical procedures of the day rather than anything related to a covenant.

I try to follow the commandment delivered to me directly from God. In these days, he will put his law into our hearts and write them on our minds. In the old days, God spoke through his prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken through the Son.

You should pick up your Bible again maybe. Give it a good read.

Everything Before Us said...

As for integrity, Joseph Smith didn't have it, so why should I?

So you still follow him then?

Anonymous said...

I could've sworn lent was longer than 10 hours, but what do I know. Oh well, it was a nice half of a day.

Everything Before Us said...

Lent officially starts today, Ash Wednesday. So, I am giving myself unto this evening after the Ash Wednesday service. Then, you'll never hear from me again. Ever. I will have finally moved on, like those warrior ghosts in The Return of the King. I will be set free.

You'll miss me. You know it. So be careful what you wish for.

So, you have until 7 pm tonight. Ask me anything you want for the teacher must soon depart from among you.

Anonymous said...

And you think Mormons are arrogant.

everything before us said...

Oh come on...there was humor there. It made me laugh anyway.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh... you were being funny... It can be hard to tell when a comment carries the same condescending tone as all your other comments

everything before us said...

Aw shucks...I'm going to miss you guys.

Anonymous said...


Good luck as you move on to other adventures.

As to reading the Bible--The last time I read it Jesus had chosen twelve Apostles. Paul had given counsel to the saints as to why the church was founded on apostles and prophets. IMO, we have not reached the perfect day yet and are, therefore, still in need of inspired oracles to help us navigate the winds of doctrine. I certainly agree that God speaks to us personally. However, it is only through process of time that we become perfect in the knowledge of God. We, therefore, will need the counsel and guidance of the Lord's servants to check us along the way until we have reached to full measure and stature of the Savior.


Mormography said...

Jack -

The Lord's servant EBU has indeed given you "counsel and guidance" to check you along the way.

Anonymous said...


While I lack knowledge and, therefore, need further counsel to guide me along, I do know enough to discern, most of the time, when those who claim to be the Lord's servants are not anointed.


Mormography said...

Jack - The Lord is no a respecter persons.

everything before us said...

The last words from EBU:

Jack, you have a rather high (and inaccurate) assessment of your powers of discernment. For some reason, you reject my Bible-based message, but accept the counsel of men like this:

Harold B. Lee: "This privilege of obtaining a mortal body on this earth is seemingly so priceless that those in the spirit world, even though unfaithful or not valient, were undoubtedly permitted to take mortal bodies although under penalty of racial or physical or nationalistic limitations...."

John A. Widtsoe: "… since birth control roots in a species of selfishness, the spiritual life of the user of contraceptives is also weakened. Women seem to become more masculine in thought and action..."

Brigham Young: "When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world. He is MICHAEL, the Archangel, the ANCIENT OF DAYS! about whom holy men have written and spoken – He is our FATHER and our GOD, and the only God with whom WE have to do. Every man upon the earth, professing Christians or non-professing, must hear it, and will know it sooner or later!"

Joseph Fielding Smith: "It is true that the negro race is barred from holding the Priesthood, and this has always been the case. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this doctrine, and it was made known to him, although we know of no such statement in any revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, Book of Mormon, or the Bible."

Now...you can go ahead and post quotes by Luther, Calvin, Anselm of Canterbury, St. Augustine, and even the Bishop of the Wyoming Episcopal Diocese and the Priest of my local parish if you want. Put them all up here. Post them in the hundreds!

There is a big difference: These men never claimed to be Prophets, Seers, or Revelators. The Mouthpieces of God! I am free to pick and choose, therefore, from their words.

You don't really have this freedom, unfortunately. And if you claim that you do, your relationship with your Prophets, Seers, and Revelators is, in any practical sense, exactly the same as my relationship with Luther, Calvin, and my Priest. In other words, your Prophets, Seers, and Revelators are not Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.

You either take all of their advice, or you admit that these Prophets are really just false prophets who cannot be consistently relied upon to give sound, divine counsel.

I follow Christ. The relationship is unmediated by any mortal man. Your relationship is mediated by mortals. That's a sorry position to be in. You change the verse: There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, and one mediator between Christ and man: Thomas S. Monson.

You are in a cult.

And that goes for all of you.


Maya said...

Curse of dark skinn. A good, rigious person no matter skinn color shines (you ever noticed that). When the person becomes angry his "skinn" (actually the whole person) canges to not shinning which means it darkens. To shine is usually thought to be a light which usually is considered to be "white"... black light dont usually shine it consumes. In other words those who deny the gospel turn off their shime to all consuming darknes=blackness. This has nothing to do with the color of skinn, but it probably was the only way the person writting about it could think of describing it. What else would you call a light that covers you totally than white skinn? I seen this white skinn on many black people, the beautiful shine of it... that has nothing to do with skinn color.

Bexrex said...

Many examples of warriors scalping prisoners exist in Mayan frescoes. Factions exist everywhere. Loincloths???

Steph said...


I will miss your tolerance and love.

Slade J said...

In Guatemala they have an entire city buried in water. I honestly have no idea about how long ago the city existed so I don't know if it's proof, but that's something to look up.