2. The Clock Struck Nine: Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon
Anachronism – [uh-nak-ruh-niz-uh m – noun]
Something or someone not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier or later time:
A practical approach to confirm the authenticity of ancient or historical writings is the identification of anachronisms found in it.
Anachronisms are chronological errors, and they might include mention of events that might not have occurred during the period under discussion. These errors can also include names, locations, tools, languages, and so on that did not exist or were unknown at the time the historical document was written.
For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 5, Shakespeare has Juliet utter, “The clock struck nine when I did send the nurse.”
Romeo and Juliet is, however, set in the 1300s, well before the invention of the first mechanical pendulum clock. This is an anachronism.
It was an error, similar to one made in the motion picture Spartacus, where the film editor failed to notice some of the slaves were sporting wristwatches.
Now, ‘The Bard of Avon’was not trying to fool anyone, and a slave wearing a wristwatch at a time contemporaneous with Christ is hilarious. However, when we put serious writing through the test of anachronism, and it comes up short, it may indicate fraud and deception. The Book of Mormon does not fare well when put to the anachronism test.
The following are just a few examples:
The Book of Mormon cites horses fourteen times. However, not only is there no evidence that horses existed in North or South America during the time of its writing (2500 BC– 400 AD), there is considerable compelling scientific evidence that horses became extinct by the end of the Pleistocene era (2.5 million–12,000 years ago). Horses only reappear in the Americas when the Spaniards brought them from Europe in about 1519.
Elephants are mentioned in (Ether 9:19) swinging their trunks for the Jaredites (2500 BC). But again, fossil records show that they became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago).
Chariots are mentioned numerous times in the Book of Mormon (Alma 18:9-10, 12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22), yet again, there is no archeological evidence to support the use of wheeled vehicles in the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. They would be of little use considering there were no horses to pull them.
Ether 9:18 refers to cattle, but here again, there is no evidence that Old World domesticated cattle inhabited New World before European contact.
Likewise iron and steel cited several times (1 Nephi 16:18, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Ether 7:9) is a problem as there is no evidence of hardened steel being present in pre-Columbian America.
The Book of Mormon also refers to “swords,” stating that “the blades thereof were cankered with rust” (Mosiah 8:11) relating to the Jaredites’ final battlefield where some 250,000 warriors perished. But again, no such battlefield, no such soldiers, and no such weapons have ever been found.
2 Nephi 5:14-15 reads: “And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords… And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.”
How is it possible that a small group of ‘immigrants,’ likely no more than 50 in number, managed to do all of the following.
Make Steel – a complicated process of mixing iron with carbon.
Mine Iron Ore – and extract elemental iron from that iron ore.
Mine Coal – and refine it into coke as required in the production of iron.
Mine Limestone – a necessary ingredient necessary for the production of steel.
Locate and mine copper.
Mine tin and zinc – for the production of “brass.”
Refine this tin or zinc which does not appear in an elemental state.
Prospect for gold.
Locate and extract silver.
Roast to eliminate sulfur as required in the production of both copper and silver.
Smelt and flux all of these metals.
Construct furnaces – to produce these metals.
Manufacture hardened mining tools.
Develop expertise in prospecting – locating and identifying ores.
What an intrepid and industrious little band.
Mining, smelting, refining, roasting, all leave indestructible and robust evidence, yet in the Northeastern United States or in Central America, no evidence of a sophisticated metallurgical society has ever been unearthed.
Six times silk is spoken of in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:7,8, Alma 1:29, Alma 4:6, Ether 9:17, Ether 10:24). Silk, of course, is a product of the Orient and unknown in the pre-Columbian Americas.
The word, ‘compass’ (Alma 37:38), is dated at 73 B.C. in the Book of Mormon, even though, this instrument was not invented until the twelfth century.
Alma 11 is also problematic in that it mentions a monetary system based on weights of precious metals and strongly implies the use of coins.
However, recognizing the anachronistic problem of new world coins showing up before the time of Christ, the Church made yet another change to the ‘most correct book in the world,’ removing the reference to ‘coinage’, from the introduction of Alma 11.
Before the change the introduction read:
“Judges and their compensation—Nephite coins and measures—Zeezrom confounded by Amulek…”
The introduction’s reference to “Nephite coins and measures,” was written by committee allthough James Talmage and later Bruce McConkie are give special credit.
I guess we are now to believe that this was just sloppy work on their part even through Talmage’s biographer for one, James P. Harris, noted that Talmage “was customarily meticulous, making sure there were no errors or omissions.”
As well, regardless of the Church’s willingness to throw Talmage, McConkie, Et al. under the bus, the introductions and footnotes were certainly approved by the LDS First Presidency.
We have, of course, never found any evidence of the Alma 11 monetary system nor have any coins ever been unearthed – not a seon, shum, limnah, amnor, senums or ezrom. In fact not a single onti!
The Church’s position now is that the seon, shum, limnah, etc. were not coins even through their reference as ‘pieces of their gold,’ and pieces ‘of their silver,’ would suggest the opposite. LDS apologists now take the narrow view that these pieces of metal of particular weights and values are not coins because they were not minted or inscribed.
Their mention in the Book of Mormon certainly indicates however they were used as coins.
“And the judge received for his wages according to his time–a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold; and this is according to the law which was given. Now, these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value.”
(see Alma 11:1–19)
For many decades Alma 11 has been understood by members to speak of coins. B.H. Roberts, a LDS Seventy and church historian, wrote, “In addition to these words we have also a number of names of Nephite coins and the names of fractional values of coins…” Brother Roberts continues his uses of the term “coins.””we have no means of obtaining specifically the value of these coinsin modern terms,” and, “there is stated a system of relative values in these coinsthat bears evidence of its being genuine” (A New Witness for God, 3:145).
In the 1979 Book of Mormon Student Manual (Religion 121-122) it asks students “how valuable were the Nephite pieces of money?” Showing that “pieces” meant “coins,” the manual presents a chart to show “the relative value of silver and gold coins under the system set up by Mosiah.”
The difficulty, of course, does not lie in a lack of Nephite coins being unearthed, It lies in Smith’s suggestion that such coins existed in the first place.
So Alma 11 paints the church and her apologists into a corner. Either it presents more artifacts that have never been confirmed by archaeology or it is yet another of the many anachronisms found in Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon.
The word “Bible,” denotes a canon of scripture (2 Nephi 29:3, 4, 6 and 10) and is also problematic. The word ‘Bible,’ is the Anglicization of the Greek word ‘Biblia,’ which means book. The problem here is that Greek wasn’t spoken in Israel until long after Lehi’s supposed emigration to the Americas in about 600 BC.
2 Nephi 31:13 references the “Holy Ghost,” but, the word “ghost” did not come into parlance until hundreds of years after it was inscribed in the Book of Mormon.
Likewise, the word, “epistle” (3 Nephi 3:5) is a transliteration of the Greek word ‘epistolos,’ and again would have been unknown by Book of Mormon peoples. Ditto, the fifteen mentions of the Nephite city of ‘Judea’ (Alma 56:9). Judea is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Judah, and again out of place. The same thing is true for the Greek word Timothy (3 Nephi 19:4) derived from Timotheus.
The name ‘Isabel’ (Alma 39:3) given to a harlot, first appeared in France and Italy in the middle ages. Again, wrong time, wrong place.
Six times, we find the abbreviation “&c” (and so forth), a convention peculiar to the nineteenth century in the Book of Mormon – never used before, never used after.
The words “alpha” and “omega” appear in 3 Nephi 9:18. These are, of course, the English spellings of the Greek words found in the Book of Revelations in the Bible.
As the Book of Mormon was not recorded in Greek, why do we find these words? The most obvious answer is that Smith simply copied them from the King James version of the Bible.
There are numerous instances where the Smith uses words that were not relevant to his time but peculiar to the English spoken in the early 1600s. “Prayest,” “durst,” “thou,” “thee,” “thy,” “thine,” “hast,” “doth,” “knoweth,” “hearest,” “cometh,” and “thirsteth.” Did God select these words for the Book of Mormon? No, it demonstrates the writer’s exposure to King James terminology.
One must ask, why would the Book of Mormon be translated into King James/Elizabethan English in the first place? This language was neither spoken in 1830 America nor in the day of Mormon, Moroni, et.al.?
Does God speak Elizabethan English or was this a cunning ploy Smith used to give his writing greater gravitas and also make the numerous passages he plagiarized from the King James version of the Bible fit in more seamlessly?
Scores of passages in the Book of Mormon, either in part or whole, verbatim or paraphrased, have been taken directly from the King James version of the Bible. Some researchers have estimated that as much as 4% can be traced to this English translation.
And perhaps the most egregious error Smith made throughout the Book of Mormon was the use of the word “Christ.” He uses it as though it was the surname of the Lord Jesus. However, as any seminarian can tell you, the word “Christ” is the Anglicization of the Greek word ‘Christos,’ meaning the anointed or chosen one (the equivalent of the Hebrew word Mashiach, or Messiah.)
Much is made of the appearance of the word ‘adieu,’ (Jacob 7:27) because it is so obviously and ridiculously out of place.
It is not then surprising that non-Mormon archeologists and scholars have concluded that the Book of Mormon’s many anachronisms, let alone its subject matter, clearly reveals a 19th-century origin, leading to the inescapable and indisputable conclusion that it is a work of fiction composed during Joseph Smith’s time, nothing more.
The Problem of the Wheel
There is also the problem of the wheel. The wheel would have been known to Lehi, et.al., as it was in use in Mesopotamia from before 3,000 BC. Simple machines using the wheel, such as the cart or wagon, pulled by humans or animals made the transport of goods much easier.
As I have mentioned already, the Book of Mormon uses the term chariot repeatedly, which shows that the Nephites and Lamanites understood and utilized the concept of the wheel (Alma 18:9-10, 12, 3 Ne. 3:22, Alma 20:6, 3 Ne. 21: 14).
The problem is that archaeologists tell us that the wheel was never used in Pre- Columbian America. Knowledge of the wheel may have existed, but limited, but it appears that it was limited to children’s toys.
If the Nephites and Lamanites used the wheel, why wouldn’t this valuable technology continue to be used by the descendants of these ancient Americans?
If Lehi’s descendants used the wheel, there would be evidence in the Americas before Columbus as technology spreads quickly, particularly something like the wheel, one of the most significant innovations of all time.
One might argue that ancient Americans may have known about the wheel but lost the knowledge; however, that too is a stretch as is the suggestion by a few intrepid apologists, that Book of Mormon chariots did not have wheels, but were dragged by horses (or tapirs).
As you are no doubt aware, Occam’s Razor (also Ockham’s Razor) or sometimes the “Law of Parsimony,” is a philosophical problem-solving principle first attributed to William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher.
His ‘law’ can be interpreted as, ‘from among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.’ It is the most likely to be true or at least the most correct – until proven otherwise. It is the same principle taught in medical school, “when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras!”
If you accept chariots without wheels, it is analogous to hearing hoofbeats and thinking unicorns!
FairMormon produced the attractive chart below in which they attempt to show those anachronisms within the Book of Mormon that has now been ‘confirmed.’
No supporting evidence or references are provided.
This chart is intended to show how many things believed to be anachronistic in 1842 have now been proven to have existed in the Americas in Book of Mormon times.
The problem is the information it contains is bogus. For example, in the 2005 iteration, it lists Hebrew language, brass plates, swords (steel and otherwise) as confirmed.
When were these things confirmed and by whom?
I am also curious as to why horses are listed as ‘indeterminate.’ Perhaps this refers to the tapir nonsense!
Let me assure you that the Hebrew language, brass plates, swords (steel and otherwise) have NEVER been discovered FairMormon’s chart notwithstanding. Just another blatant example of FairMormon’s dishonesty, in behalf of the LDS Church.
If the LDS Church has what this chart says they do, would they not be trumpeting all these ‘important discoveries’ across their media and beyond?
It also lists as ‘indeterminate’ horses, goats, large armies and the language that no one has ever heard of – ‘reformed Egyptian script.’
Where is the evidence that backs any of these classifications?
I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be snarky, but it makes one wonder what universe the apologist who created this chart is living in. Where is the evidence for any of these assertions?
Many professional linguists would love to know more about the discovery of the Hebrew language in the America’s that this chart confirms. Somehow every non-Mormon linguist seems to have missed this ground-breaking find!
Believe me, the discovery of the Hebrew language in ancient America is not a subject for debate. It is well established that there has NEVER been any discoveries whatsoever.
Is horse listed as indeterminate because someone at BYU floated the idea that Book of Mormon horses were tapirs or deer?
I have a spread on the North Saskatchewan river up in Canada, on which roam many deer. Let me assure you by my years of directly observing the temperament of deer; it is beyond absurd to suggest that you could ride them!
FairMormon also disputes my assertion that silk did not exist in ancient America.
They use as their expert John L. Sorenson, the Church’s ‘go to’ archaeologist/scholar/ apologist.
“Linen and silk are textiles mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Alma 4:6). Neither fabric as we now know them was found in Mesoamerica at the coming of the Spaniards. The problem might be no more than linguistic. The redoubtable Bernal Diaz, who served with Cortez in the initial wave of conquest, described native Mexican garments made of “henequen which is like linen.” The fiber of the maguey plant, from which henequen was manufactured, closely resembles the flax fiber used to make European linen. Several kinds of “silk,” too, were reported by the conquerors. One kind was of thread spun from the fine hair on the bellies of rabbits…”
OK, so according to Sorenson they didn’t exist, it was all just a big misunderstanding, a matter of labels – semantics. When the Book of Mormon says linen it means henequen, silk isn’t silk its hair from the bellies of rabbits, barley is hordeum, a species of grass native to the Americas. By horse, the Mormon writers meant tapir, by cattle they meant buffalo, and when they use the word pig this is really code for the chic, a ‘wonderfully active, small dog, with a snout like a sucking pig.’
FairMormon also states:“When they say “directly” support, they typically mean that they are looking for a direct corroboration, such as the presence of the name “Nephi” or “Zarahemla” in association with ancient American archaeological data.”
First, I am not sure who ‘they’ are but if ‘they‘ are archaeologists I doubt they are looking road signs when they speak of “direct corroboration.”
I would suggest that direct corroboration would be the discovery of evidence of the places, animals or technology that match the Book of Mormon claims. The skeletal remains of an elephant would be an example of direct corroboration, one piece of armor or a sword from the many battles involving millions of people would be direct corroboration. Locating a coin with Nephi’s smiling face on it would be direct corroboration.
None of that, of course, is offered rather FairMormon provides yet another quote by Sorenson, this time without any citation:
“Without even considering smelted iron, we find that peoples in Mesoamerica exploited iron minerals from early times. Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca sites from some of the thirty-six ore exposures located near or in the valley. These were carried to a workshop section within the site of San Jose Mogote as early as 1200 B.C. There they were crafted into mirrors by sticking the fragments onto prepared mirror backs and polishing the surface highly. These objects, clearly of high value, were traded at considerable distances.”
I can understand why Sorenson starts with, ‘Without even considering smelted iron,’ as there is none to consider. Instead he talks about lumps of meteoric minerals fashioned into primitive mirrors as being proof of iron or steel.
FairMormon again trumpets the discovery of wild barley in Arizona. While I would like to have seen peer-reviewed articles, this is something that the reader might want to investigate further as it certainly refutes the crtics who say that barley did not exist in the Americas.
The December 1983 issue of the magazine Science 83 reported the discovery in Phoenix, Arizona, by professional archaeologists of what they supposed to be pre-Columbian barley. That same month, F.A.R.M.S. carried a preliminary notice of the discovery.
Mosiah 9:9 lists barley among several crops that were cultivated by the Nephites in the land of Nephi, and Alma 11:7 singles out barley as the primary grain into which silver and gold were converted in the Nephite system of weights and measures.1
In an blog article entitled, ‘Barley Found in the New World.‘ by Raymond C. Treat he heralds this find, “This discovery constitutes one of the most important archaeological breakthroughs ever in support of the Book of Mormon. If this identification of barley is valid, and it appears to be, it will cause a major shift in the thinking of New World archaeologists, a shift which will be a giant step toward the ever growing physical validation of Book of Mormon history.”
Mr. Treat may be a little too enthusiastic, keep in mind that a few grains of a wild barley in Arizona does not parallel the domesticated variety taken from the Holy Land to the Americas and used to feed millions of people, but when you are grasping at straws a few grains of wild barley become the Holy Grail.
There is a pre-Columbian city located on the Yucatan Peninsula called Tulúm which is often included in LDS tour packages and identified as a Book of Mormon site. The tour guides describe it as ‘possibly’ one place mentioned in the Book of Mormon and make a big fuss over the depiction of the “Descending God,” which the guides often tell their Mormon tourists represents Jesus Christ visiting the Book of Mormon people.
The problem is that extensive archaeological research conducted at Tulúm has shown that the time is all wrong. “All structural and ceramic evidence at Tulúm, and its corpus of murals and reliefs, date from the Middle and Late Postclassic (AD 1200-1520) period.”
Athena Review Vol. 2, No. 1, “Maya sites in Quintana Roo: Tulúm.”
As well, the suggestion that the ‘Descending God’ image is a depiction of Jesus Christ has been dismissed as nonsense by reputable scholarly authorities. The ‘Descending God’ is a representation of the bee god Ah Muzencab based on the apparent antennae and insect-like torso. Jesus with antennae, really FairMormon?
The Mayans, Incas and the Olmec’s built complex societies, with temples and fortifications but these cultures and ‘civilizations’ just don’t fit with Book of Mormon peoples. They were pagans, they had their own language and it certainly did not have Hebrew cum Christian roots.
There is just no archaeological evidence of the Jaredite people or the Nephites described in the Book of Mormon that is accepted by mainstream archaeologists.
The Jaredite civilization in the American covenant land is said to have been destroyed as the result of a civil war near the time that Lehi’s party arrived in the New World (approximately 590 BC). The Olmec civilization, on the other hand, flourished in Mesoamerica during the Pre-classic period (1200 BC to about 400 BC).
Although the Olmec civilization ended suddenly and for reasons that are not yet clear, there are indications that some of the Olmec people survived and interacted with other cultures.”
Likewise, no Central or South American civilization is recognized to correlate with the Nephites of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon makes no mention of Lamanites or Nephites erecting impressive works of hewn stone as did the Maya or various South American peoples.
“While ‘walls of stone,’ are mentioned in Alma 48:7 there is no suggestion they were constructed of hewn stone. The remnants of massive wall piles of stone made by mound builder societies are known to exist in the eastern United States.”
I am troubled also by the fact that while the Church knows full well, that the Mayans, Aztecs, etc. just don’t fit with the Book of Mormon peoples, they allow this confusion to persist.
Generations of Mormon ‘amateur archaeologists,’ have written books containing photographs of ancient ruins and artifacts advancing the claim that they prove that the Book of Mormon is true. Their findings, however, can be summarized simply as – wrong time, wrong place, wrong people!
Sadly, the Church has knowingly provided and possibly still does supply its young missionaries with archaeological slides of Mayan temples and ruins, which can mislead investigators.
A slide or picture of a Mayan temple has nothing more to do with the Book of Mormon story than a photo of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
Please, remember the 13th Article of Faith. This needs to stop.
2 “An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon,” 1984.
3 Robert Wane Hope, “Ten Years Of Middle American Archaeology.”
4 John L. Sorenson, Metals, and Metallurgy Relating to the book of Mormon Text, FARMS, Provo, 1992.
5 Del Dowdell Who Really Settled Mesoamerica.