The Truth Will Set You Free
1. Why is there an entire absence of any archaeological or anthropological evidence of the civilizations, cultures and great populations spoken of in the Book of Mormon?
To me, this is one of the most central yet troubling issues, and for that reason, I have tried to come at it from every angle.
If the Book of Mormon is just a 19th-century fiction, then how can we believe that Joseph Smith was anything more than a very intelligent but cunning false prophet? A charlatan, a beguiler and a fraud.
Disturbingly, every legitimate non-Mormon anthropologist and archaeologist and even the odd brave Mormon archaeologist has declared that there is nothing whatever to support the existence of the civilizations discussed in the Book of Mormon.
During the 2600 years that the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites supposedly occupied the Americas, they somehow left not so much as a coin, an inscription, or an ancient tool, let alone any weapons of war. In Ether, we are told that two million men, women, and children died in one battle.
Ether 15:2 “He saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children.”
Just to put this hyperbolic number in perspective, during the entire Civil War 620,000 men were killed over four years. During ALL of the Second World War America suffered 418,500 civilian and military deaths.
On June 6, 1944, D-Day, the First U.S. Army, saw 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing, and 6,603 wounded, the U.S. VII Corps showed 22,119 casualties including 2,811 killed and 5,665 missing, Canadian forces at Juno Beach sustained 946 casualties, of whom 335 were listed as killed. No British figures were published, but estimates run at about 2,500 to 3,000 killed or wounded. Each of these lives mattered, and God bless the brave men who sacrificed so much for us. 4,000 to 9,000 of President Uchtdorf’s fellow countrymen had to die on that day as well.
But D-day pales compared to the story Joseph Smith weaves of two million perishing in one battle. That is twenty D-Days’ and if it happened makes it the bloodiest battle of all time.
Even now if you spend a day beach-combing the shores of Normandy – Omaha, Utah or Juno beaches and their environs you will surely find a bullet or chinstrap or something else.
Yet no swords, shields, armor, helmets, boots, chariots or other artifacts, vestiges or remains have ever been uncovered from this great Book of Mormon battle. Three times as many people who perished in the Civil War in a much shorter time and within a much smaller geographical area and yet nothing.
Zero, zilch, zip, nada!
The Book of Mormon talks about large cities and fortifications in ‘all quarters of the land,’ many of these major cities encircled by moats or trenches.
Where can we find any evidence of these?
The Book of Mormon talks about a Nephi temple patterned after the great Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, a structure that took seven years and 180,000 men to build.
Where can we find evidence of this “exceedingly fine” structure?
The Book of Mormon talks about the cities of Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, Kiskumen, and Zarahemla and it talks about civilizations.
Where can we find evidence of any of these?
As I write this, it has been 187 years since Joseph Smith produced the Book of Mormon and 526 years since the discovery and European colonization of the Americas. The Mormon Church has expended millions of dollars searching for something, anything to corroborate or affirm the Book of Mormon narrative but have come up empty-handed. Even BYU professor and LDS scholar Dee Green had to confess, “No Book of Mormon location is known regarding modern topography.”
“The Book of Mormon is a piece of 19th-century fiction,” says Thomas Murphy, an Archaeologist, and lifelong Mormon who calls himself a ‘Latterday skeptic.’ “And that means that we have to acknowledge sometimes Joseph Smith lied.”
In contrast, there are more than 25,000 separate concrete, evidentiary indicators supporting the Holy Bible including biblical empires, cities, sites, artifacts, weapons, coins and much more. I have several minor ones in my home.
Here are a few examples of the more significant finds:
The Existence of the Hittites. You recall that Genesis 23 reports that Abraham buried Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah, which he purchased from Ephron the Hittite.
The Moabite Stone. A three-foot stone slab referenced in Second Kings–Mesha, the King of Moab, rebelled against the King of Israel following the death of Ahab.
Shishak’s Invasion of Judah. Commemorated in hieroglyphic wall carvings on the Temple of Amon at Thebes spoken of in First Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 12.
The Burial Plaque of King Uzziah. Discovered on the Mount of Olives, reading: “Here, the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah, were brought. 2 Chronicles 26 records his ‘sin.’”
The Sennacherib Prism. This cuneiform on a hexagonal, 15-inch baked clay prism found at the Assyrian capital of Nineveh describes Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah in 701 BC in which it claims that the Assyrian King shut Hezekiah inside Jerusalem “like a caged bird.” The prophet Isaiah told Hezekiah that God would protect Judah and Jerusalem against Sennacherib (2 Chron. 32; Isa. 36–37). Assyrian records confirm this as well.
There have also been many Biblical Cities attested to archaeologically, including Jericho, Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, and many others have been excavated. I could go on and on, but I think the point has been made that there is considerable archaeological evidence supporting the Holy Bible. In contrast, the Book of Mormon has nothing to support it. Not an inscription, not a temple, not a house, not a sword, not so much as a single coin.
While a few early 20th century Mormon scholars have pointed to some archaeological findings consistent with the Book of Mormon story, relating to Mayan, Inca or Olmec ruins, every non-Mormon archaeologist that has examined these ‘discoveries’ has discounted their import. There is simply no substantiation, and/or the time-line is wrong.
As the following references will attest, leading unbiased – that is, non- LDS archaeologists and anthropologists maintain that the Book of Mormon is purely a work of 19th-century fiction and nothing more, not an actual history of a real people.
They argue that millions of chariot-driving, Christ-worshipping, steel-smelting, horse-riding, wheel-using people occupying the Americas for more than two thousand years, could not have happened without leaving some trace of their existence.
Think of it, to suggest that millions of people lived and died without a single trace steps into Atlantis territory.
It is like saying that the people of England which numbered 1.5 million in 1000 A.D. (less than were killed in one BOM battle) occupied that land for hundreds of years without leaving a shred of evidence to prove their existence.
Can any rational human being, no matter how strong their ‘testimony,’ believe this is remotely possible? Anyone who has visited that great country has seen real evidence of Britain’s medieval cities, her churches, the ruins of her castles, bridges, and fortifications. Her art, literature and language. We have evidence of the Angles invasion, we know about the Black Death, the War of the Roses and The Peasants’ Revolt, we know who was on the throne and we have uncovered evidence of their wars and battles. There is ample evidence of the reality of a great civilization. going back far more than a millennium.
No matter how comforting the avowals of one’s leaders, do we not have to use the gift of intelligence that the good Lord has given us to seek the truth? Take courage, if you need it, from the few honest Mormon anthropologists who have had the courage to say so:
“It appears that the Book of Mormon had no place in the New World whatsoever … [It] just doesn’t seem to fit anything … in anthropology [or] history…. It seems misplaced.” 1
“What I would say to you is there is no archaeological proof of the Book of Mormon. You can look all you want. And there’s been a lot of speculation about it. There’ve been books written by Mormon scholars saying that “this event took place here” or “this event took place here.” But that’s entirely speculative. There is absolutely no archaeological evidence that you can tie directly to events that took place.” 2
“Herewith is a copy of my recent (1975) paper on Book of Mormon geography [sic]. (My thesis is that Book of Mormon geography involves a lot more than playing with topography and terrain.) The real implication of the paper is that you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere – because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archeology, I should say – what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book.” 3
The above quote was from Thomas Stuart Ferguson, a faithful member of the Church who, although not a professional archaeologist, was the recipient of a grant of more than $100,000 from the Mormon Church to carry on the archaeological research.
Non-Mormon anthropologists have also commented:
“So far as is known to the writer, no non-Mormon archaeologist at present is using the Book of Mormon as a guide in archaeological research. Nor [do] any non-Mormon archaeologists hold that the American Indians are descendants of the Jews, or that Christianity was known in America in the first century of our era…” 4
“Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true,…nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.” 5
I am old enough I can remember back in the 1980s, hearing within Church circles that the prestigious Smithsonian Institute was using the Book of Mormon as a guide in its leading archaeological research.
This ridiculous rumor was brought to the attention of Smithsonian directors who, in 1996, sent a form letter to ‘inquiring minds’ stating that the Smithsonian did not use the Book of Mormon to guide any research, and included a list of specific reasons Smithsonian archaeologists considered the Book of Mormon itself nonsense.
“The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.”
They go on, “The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern. central, and northeastern Asia. Archeological evidence indicates that the ancestors of the present Indians came into the New World – probably over a land bridge known to have existed in the Bering Strait region during the last Ice Age – in a continuing series of small migrations beginning from about 25,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Present evidence indicates that the first people to reach this continent from the East were the Norsemen who briefly visited the northeastern part of North America around A.D. 1000 and then settled in Greenland. There is nothing to show that they reached Mexico or Central America.
American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492. (Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C. at the time when the early big game hunters spread across the Americas.)
Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron.
No reputable Egyptologist or other expert on Old World archaeology, and no expert on New World prehistory has discovered or confirmed any relationship between archeological remains in Mexico and archeological remains in Egypt .” 6
Likewise, the National Geographic Society distanced itself from the Book of Mormon by responding to queries they received as they did below:
“January 11, 1990
Dear Mr. Larson:
Thank you for writing to the National Geographic Society.
The Society has never used the Book of Mormon to locate archaeological sites, and we do not believe that any of the places named in the Book of Mormon can be placed geographically by the evidence of archaeology. So far as we know, there is no archaeological evidence to verify the history of early peoples of the Western Hemisphere as presented in the Book of Mormon. I hope you will find this information useful.
Comments from Renown Archeologists and Anthropologists
The following statements were made in response to a letter a very bright 17-year-old boy named Zachary, sent to leaders in the fields of pre-Columbian archaeology, pre-Columbian anthropology, and Egyptology. Zachery asked for their opinions on the claims made in the Book of Mormon. Here are a few of their responses Zachary received:
“Zachary—I’m not familiar with the book of Mormon in detail, but from what you indicated about its contents it is totally made up (there is absolutely no evidence for any of this) not to mention implicitly racist because it seems to imply that Native Americans lacked the ability to build civilization without help from “Lamanites.
With Regards, Rich Blanton” 7
… I don’t feel that I am belittling your religion if I say that all historical and archaeological evidence contradicts the Book of Mormon’s stories of the peopling of the Americas and the early history of Native American societies. The Book of Mormon is a work of faith, and naturally has credibility to the faithful, but it has no historical basis, any more than the Book of Genesis is a historically or scientifically accurate version of the origin of the earth and human beings, however much it, or the Book of Mormon, may serve as a moral guide to believers. And I’m sure you can understand why people might be uncomfortable directly contradicting the teachings of what has become a very well-established religious movement.
The Americas were peopled by immigrants from Asia probably 15,000 years ago (give or take some thousands; archaeologists still haven’t quite figured this out). This is borne out by archaeology as well as genetic evidence (DNA, blood types, and other factors). Their descendants settled throughout the entire New World.
Complex, urban civilizations developed in Mexico and Central America in isolation from the rest of the world, out of the accumulated knowledge of people who lived there for thousands of years, domesticated corn, and other food crops, and learned very well how to live in those environments. Languages of the New World bear no relationship to Hebrew. Ever since Europeans became aware of Native Americans, there have been various attempts to identify them with the so-called “Ten Lost Tribes of Israel” mentioned in the Old Testament. So, we might say that Joseph Smith’s version was in some degree a variation on this old theme…” 8
David Carrasco – Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard Divinity School
I see you are deeply interested in the history of Mexico as it relates to the Book of Mormon. I respect the Mormon religion and have been to Salt Lake City to see the Mormon monuments and displays.
The Book of Mormon is a book of faith and storytelling and not history. Historically it is inaccurate. If we go on archaeological evidence, there is no basis for what the Book of Mormon teaches, as you summarize it below. There is no record of the arrival of anyone from Jerusalem.
Here’s another point. People of faith believe what they want to believe about the authenticity of their own religion. Some Catholics believed that St. Tomas, one of Jesus Christ’s disciples migrated to Mexico after the crucifixion and preached in Mexico. This is because they found some parallels between Aztec and Maya religion and the Bible. But there is not one single fact, datum, object, word that supports either the Mormon view or the Catholic view…” 9
Professor in the Anthropology Department
at the University at Albany,
Brigham H. Roberts (March 13, 1857 – September 27, 1933) was a General Authority in the Mormon Church, a historian, politician, and polygamist.
He published a six-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also wrote Studies of the Book of Mormon which was published posthumously, in which he concluded that there was no linguistic evidence found among the Native American peoples supporting the Book of Mormon narrative. Roberts showed that the diverse language stocks and dialects would not have had enough time to develop from a single language dating from just A.D. 400.He notes: “The facts … developed up to this point seem to be that:
- There is a large number of separate language stocks in America that show little relationship to each other.
- It would take a long time—much longer than that recognized as “historic times”—to develop these dialects and stocks where the development is conceived of as arising from a common source of origin—some primitive language.
- There is no connection between the American languages and the language of any people of the Old World.
- New World languages appear to be indigenous to the New World.
- The time limits named in the Book of Mormon—which represents the people of America as speaking and writing one language down to as late a period as 400 A.D.—is not sufficient to allow for these divergences into the American language stocks and their dialects. 10
While Roberts seemingly maintained his belief in the Mormon Church. In “Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study,” written in response to a series of questions to him by Church President Heber J. Grant, he confessed that he had no answers for some of the difficulties.
Interestingly in his text entitled, “A Book of Mormon Study,” Roberts compared the Book of Mormon to the earlier-published View of the Hebrews, written by Ethan Smith, and found significant similarities between them.
Roberts wrote “A Parallel,” a condensed version of his larger study, which demonstrated eighteen points of similarity between the two books, and in which he entertained the very real possibility that the creative Joseph Smith might very well have written the Book of Mormon without any divine assistance.
His study, as one might imagine, did anything but endear him to Church leaders and it has now been shown that Roberts withheld some of his evidence and discoveries from the general authorities of his day because of their resistance to hearing anything that did not support the Church’s narrative.
As Richard and Joan Ostling have discovered, Roberts declared that the validity of the Mormon Church must “stand or fall” on the truth of Joseph Smith’s claim that the Book of Mormon was the historic record of an ancient people inscribed on gold plates.
They also found that he predicted, rather prophetically, that if the Church’s leadership does not address the problems with its origins and the many anachronisms found within the Book of Mormon, these difficulties would eventually undermine “the faith of the youth of the Church.
It is interesting that as I write this book in 2017, more than 95 years since Roberts did his analysis, the Church has yet to address these things.
Nevertheless, when Googling ‘Archaeological Evidence and the Book of Mormon,’ one cannot help but be impressed by the success of FairMormon’s web optimization.
In addressing the absence of any archaeological or anthropological evidence of the Book of Mormon these apologists make the following statement:
“The Book of Mormon mentions cities, trade, warfare, towers, and the use of armor–all of which did exist in the ancient Americas–yet their existence has not convinced critics that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text.” 14
Hold on; ‘…which did exist in the ancient Americas,” I must have missed something.
I am anxious to learn more about these discovered ‘cities’ that FairMormon mentions and view the evidence of the ‘warfare’, ‘towers’ and ‘armor.’
Perhaps FairMormon has also found evidence of the skeletal remains of the ‘millions of soldiers’ who reportedly died in battle!
But alas, they have not provided any specifics, let alone any evidence.
They do a lot of dancing, around epigraphic and iconographic evidence, but they do not provided anything worthwhile and have not assailed in any way the myriad statements made by legitimate archaeologists that, “There is absolutely no arch aeological proof of the Book of Mormon.”
FairMormon makes statements such as “There is plenty of supporting evidence that anthropologically ties the Book of Mormon to ancient America,” but they never get to providing examples of what those ties are.
This is one of their favorite dishonest apologetic techniques, and sadly many fall for it.
I understand the Church’s dilemma, but deception and sophistry doesn’t cut it. We need to be honest with one another. The assertion that there is, “plenty of supporting evidence,” is just not true. The only ‘archaeologists’ who might make such a claim are trying to weave straw into gold down at BYU!
If the evidence does exist, in the words of Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady,
“Don’t talk at all – Show Me!”
Joseph Fielding Smith put an even more bizarre explanation out there. He suggested that the reason we can’t find any archaeological evidence of the Book of Mormon is that God is hiding it!
“It is the opinion of the writer that the Lord does not intend that the Book of Mormon, at least at present, shall be proved true by any archaeological findings. The day may come when such will be the case, but not now. The Book of Mormon is itself a witness of the truth, and the promise has been given most solemnly that any person who will read it with a prayerful heart may receive the abiding testimony of its truth.” 15
I would contend that if the Church had even one item – a coin, a sword, a Hebrew inscription, they would be crowing about it.
Rather they produce pablum like this:
“Those who make claims that there is no archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon are right in one respect–we don’t know where the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon are located. Such information may yet be discovered, but not discovering it is just as likely given the lack of cultural continuity and toponyms, as well as the epigraphic and iconographic uncertainties. To dismiss the Book of Mormon on archaeological grounds is short-sighted, as continuing discoveries provide ever more evidence that is consistent with the book. Archaeology is not a dead science, and it continues to make new inroads that are applicable to Book of Mormon studies.”
I have highlighted three false and misleading statements in just this one paragraph:
Continuing Discoveries – There have been NO discoveries continuing or otherwise.
Think not? Next time you visit the LDS Church History Museum in Salt Lake City, ask the lovely young woman behind the information desk on what floor are the Nephi artifacts located?
Ever more evidence that is consistent with the book – Again, forgive me, but I have to call bullshit here. Before you can say ‘ever more’ you must have some. That’s the way things work. Again, they have been none.
Continue to make new inroads – An inroad is defined as an advance or penetration. What advances or permeations have Mormon archeologists made?
This type of hit and run unsubstantiated evidentiary blether on FairMormon’s part is meaningless, and solely intended to mislead people and should be recognized as such.
In the February 2001 edition of the Ensign magazine. A short article entitled, “Book of Mormon Linked to Site in Yemen” covers the story of a rock (alter?) found in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula which the article states had the word ‘Nahom’ inscribed on it.
This was touted as a momentous discovery as the name is associated with Lehi’s journey as recorded in the Book of Mormon. (1 Nephi 16:34) which reads, “And it came to pass that Ishmael died, and was buried in the place which was called Nahom.”
The Ensign article goes on to say that professional archaeologists have dated it to at least 700 B.C., so the timing fits.
First, the author of the article was a little zealous. The stone or alter did not have Nahom inscribed on it, but just the three consonants NHM.
Nevertheless, since vowels are not used in Hebrew writing, Nahom is a distinct possibility.
It is also important to note that Nihm is believed to be a tribal name, rather than a place name, and that the three consonants could have a variety of spellings when vowels are inserted – NiHM, NaHaM, NaHM, NeHeM, etc. Nevertheless it is reasonable to surmise that the tribe gave its name to the region where they lived.
This is interesting and may be significant, but it hardly a slam dunk. John Hamer, who has written on several topics related to the LDS history, does not share the Ensign’s enthusiasm:
“Although some apologists have described the odds of this Nahom/Nihm/”NHM” correlation as “astronomical,” it hardly even rises to the level of notable coincidence. The Book of Mormon derives its names from a book that has Semitic sources, i.e., the King James Bible. Many of the names in the Book of Mormon are just plucked directly from the Bible, e.g., “Lehi” (Judges 25:9), Laban (Gen. 24-30), Lemuel (Prov. 31:1-9). Other names, however, use the Bible as their inspiration with alterations, e.g., “Jarom” (“Joram” 2 Sam. 8:10), “Omni” (“Omri” 1 Kings 16:16), “Nehor” (“Nahor” Gen. 11:22). “Nahom” easily fits into the latter category: “Nahum” is actually a book of Old Testament…”
I find it curious that Lehi and the gang were erecting inscribed monuments while crossing Arabia but seem to have given up that practice entirely upon reaching America.
It would be much more impressive if we were to uncover a monument (or anything else) with a Hebrew inscription on it this side of the ocean.
FairMormon responded to my on-line comments on the dearth of any archaeological or anthropological evidence by accusing me of providing propaganda or spin. They state:
“Simply repeating assertions by ex-Mormons and critics of the Church that there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon does not make their assertions true. Those that look for such evidence can find it.”
I don’t see how questioning why, during the past six hundred years, we have not found any archaeological, anthropological or linguistic evidence to support the BOM narrative can be characterized as ‘propaganda or spin.’
I presented many comments from noted experts – Mormon and non-Mormon alike to substantiate my assertions.
FairMormon says, “Repeating the assertions that there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon does not make the assertion true,”
Agreed, but also it does not make it false, and while FairMormon may be tired of hearing it, it remains an important question needing to be addressed which, to date certainly has not.
And here we go again, “Those that look for such evidence can find it.”
Please FairMormon, unless this is some kind of ecclesiastical scavenger hunt, show us where we can find this ‘evidence!’
I would submit that FairMormon’s failure to provide any meaningful affirmative evidence, must lead any reasonable person to conclude that they have none.
Rather than throwing out assertions like, “there is much evidence ,” just present that evidence so we can test it.
FairMormon also suggests that it is the questioner’s lack of knowledge about a very specialized academic area that is the problem. They say:
“Some people might suggest that finding the existence of horses or chariots would constitute proof for the Book of Mormon. This is doubtful. Finding such items would merely demonstrate that such things existed in the ancient New World, and while such discoveries may be consistent with the Book of Mormon, they hardly amount to ‘proof.”
Okay, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. Consistency is better than nothing. At the present time. as FairMormon knows, not only is there no evidence, there is also no consistency.
They also imply that if you are not an archaeologist you are likely too ignorant to grasp the sublime subtleties of that science.
This desperate apologist then goes on to do a little dance around epigraphic and iconographic evidence which might be relevant if there were either. FairMormon’s intent here is just to obscure, to muddy the waters.
FairMormon in a shocking display of their ignorance of logic and philosophy move next to that old chestnut, “The absence of evidence does not equal evidence of absence.” .
This cute little saying negates the importance of evidence with a negative value. A null result is equivalent to evidence of absence and can be used to deduce or infer the non-existence or non-presence of something.
If, for example, a physician during exploratory surgery does not find a malignant tumor or any malignant cells within a patient, this represents a null result (finding nothing) and is evidence of the absence of cancer, even though the surgeon did not actually detected anything per se. Such inductive reasoning is important in the world of science and our understanding of reality.
Unsubstantiated claims and statements such as, “Newer archaeological finds are generally consistent with the Book of Mormon record even if we are unable (as yet) to know the exact location of Book of Mormon cities,” are meaningless absent affirmative examples of such.
Where are these, “Newer archaeological finds?” It is all a mist. There is no substance to FairMormon’s statements.
Come on FairMormon, I have shown you mine, now show me yours!
FairMormon next attacks my comments relating to the lack of archaeological, anthropological or linguistic evidence by stating:
“Why would a non-Mormon archaeologist, anthropologist or linguist have any interest in searching for any evidence proving the Book of Mormon? It should be obvious that any archaeologist, anthropologist or linguist interested in the subject would themselves be Mormon.”
I am sorry, but that is a ridiculous statement.
By FairMormon’s reasoning then ‘it should be obvious’ that any historian interested in the Third Reich must be a Nazi or anyone studying serial killers would themselves be one.
If it were not for the fact that these boys at FairMormon are teetotalers, I would accuse them of being drunk when they penned that piece of brilliant apologetics!
Archaeologists, anthropologists or linguists need not be searching for evidence proving nor disproving the Book of Mormon authenticity. The fact is that their broad research has not discovered any evidence consistent with, or in even in a tangential way supportive of, the Book of Mormon narrative.
Most non-Mormon archaeologists, anthropologists, and linguists likely haven’t given a moment’s thought to the Book of Mormon or its claims because it is irrelevant to their real and serious work. Nevertheless, as my research has shown, those who have been asked if they have come across anything even remotely supportive or consistent with it, have responded they have not.
FairMormon in their paranoid mindset just do not get it, these scholars don’t have any theological ax to grind. Their agenda is neither to defend or to attack the Book of Mormon. They are looking at data, and these data simply do not fit with Smith’s Book of Mormon story.
It seems to me that, if anything, this lends an extra level of credibility to their work.
FairMormon also takes umbrage with my reference to the work of Thomas Stuart Ferguson, a faithful member of the Church who was honest enough to write, ‘you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down
anywhere – because it is fictional.’
Their concern, it would seem, is that Ferguson never studied archaeology at a professional level. They quote John Sorenson, a BYU ‘archaeologist’ to make their point:
“As John Sorensen (sic), who worked with Ferguson, recalled:
[Stan] Larson implies that Ferguson was one of the “scholars and intellectuals in the Church” and that “his study” was conducted along the lines of reliable scholarship in the “field of archaeology.” Those of us with personal experience with Ferguson and his thinking knew differently. He held an undergraduate law degree but never studied archaeology or related disciplines at a professional level…”
“Ferguson was never an expert on archaeology and the Book of Mormon (let alone on the book of Abraham, about which his knowledge was superficial). He was not one whose careful “study” led him to see greater[,] light, light that would free him from Latter-day Saint dogma, as Larson represents. Instead[,] he was just a layman, initially enthusiastic and hopeful but eventually trapped by his unjustified expectations, flawed logic, limited information, perhaps offended pride, and lack of faith in the tedious research that real scholarship requires. The negative arguments he used against the Latter-day Saint scriptures in his last years display all these weaknesses.”
There is no need to throw Brother Ferguson under the bus.
I never said that he was an archaeologist, but rather just that ‘Thomas Stuart Ferguson, a faithful member of the Church, in 1952 single-handedly founded the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF).’
Nevertheless, the Church obviously saw some value in his work insofar as they funded it – twice. NWAF received $15,000 from the First Presidency in 1953, with the strict provision, that there was to be absolutely no publicity. In 1955 the First Presidency pledged another $200,000 to NWAF to sponsor four additional years of fieldwork.
$200K in the 1950’s was a lot of tithing dollars!
If the point that FairMormon is trying to make is that because Thomas Ferguson, was not ‘a professional archaeologist’ his work lacks credibility, let me quote from an article written by LDS apologist Dan Peterson who confirms, that while Ferguson himself was not an archaeologist, NWAF was staffed by professional archaeologists:
“Several relevant facts stand out from this bare-bones recital of the earliest history of the New World Archaeological Foundation. First, non–Latter-day (sic) Saint archaeologists were prominent—in fact, dominant—from the beginning, not only in choosing central Chiapas as the geographical focus of its excavations…”
On the New World Archaeological Foundation
Daniel C. Peterson FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 221–33. Second,
Second, FairMormon’s choice of John Sorenson, as the ‘ respected archaeologist’ to make their point is unwise.
In a blistering review of Sorenson’s lack of scholarship and dishonest referencing, author and Mormon bishop Del Dowdell commented on the stuff Sorenson has published in several Mormon publications:
“John L. Sorenson, in his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, writes (p278) “The earliest piece so far probably dates to around the first century B.C. It is a bit of copper sheathing found on top of an altar at Cuicuilco in the Valley of Mexico.
However, a search of his reference and allied articles turns up no such piece. “…there is a singular mention of copper, such as copper rattles found in Mexico dated to the Post-classic period, which is after 1000 A.D. “
Sorenson also wrote:
“There have proved to be several hundred such specimens dating from 400 B.C. to AD 900, 153 of which were excavated by professional archaeologists,” referencing, you guessed it, his own work.
John L. Sorenson, Metals and Metallurgy
Relating to the Book of Mormon Text, FARMS, Provo, 1992.
It is amazing that Sorenson’s most quoted reference is himself. Not just that, he is almost always the only referenced source regarding his theories on Book of Mormon metallurgy in Mesoamerica.
As an example, in an article: ‘Metals and Weapons in the Book of Mormon: Mormon Answers to Frequently Asked Questions’ Sorenson references himself 27 times as the source material for information regarding metals in Mesoamerica.
“Since Sorenson is neither a metallurgist nor one who has searched ancient sites and digs looking for artifacts and evidence of metal in the ancient Americas, there is no possible way he should be the source material for “proof” that metallurgy existed in the ancient Americas. Such ludicrous sourcing and citing are neither scholarly nor helpful, and it certainly is not suggestive to critics of the Church and the Book of Mormon that any written material with such referencing is either accurate or honest.”
Del Dowdell, Who Really Settle Mesoamerica
I had expressed caution previously regarding the level and quality of scholarship at BYU, at least in the fields of archaeology and anthropology.
As professor emeritus of anthropology at Brigham Young University, for well over 50 years, Sorenson had immersed himself in every aspect of Book of Mormon life and culture, yet I cannot locate ONE article by Sorenson published in the big three, peer-reviewed, scholarly journals on anthropology or archaeology in the United States. Not in the American Journal of Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association or the Archaeological Institute of America.
Let me repeat that, in 50 years a professor of archaeology not a single peer-reviewed article. That should tell you something.
BYU is ranked so low in Archaeology that it does not even appear on the 2016 World University Ranking of Faculties of Archaeology.
The BYU archaeology department also has the unique and dubious distinction of having its excavation license revoked by the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry for violating the information sharing agreement that allowed BYU to conduct their work in the first place and also for disseminating inaccurate findings.
The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry took exception to BYU team leader Kerry Muhlstein’s, claim that, “We are fairly certain we have over a million burials within this cemetery. It’s large, and it’s dense,”
Not only did Muhlstein grossly exaggerate the numbers of what he supposedly found, but the Ministry had to explain to this BYU ‘archaeologist’ what a mummy is, as not one of the ‘millions‘ Muhlstein claimed to have discovered was, in fact, even a mummy!
Youssef Khalifa, the head of the Ancient Egypt Department, said: “What [BYU] published in the newspaper is not true, A mummy by definition to begin with means a complete mummified body and there is only one mummy found at the site of Fag el-Gamous in 1980, [and not by BYU] which is at the Egyptian Museum since then,” he added,
before describing the bodies at the site as “only poor skeletons and plenty of bones, some of which are wrapped in textiles.”
Dan Peterson is perhaps the most well-known Mormon apologist today, and like Thomas Ferguson, he is not an archaeologist, not that this fact has stopped him from writing about things archaeological. Mormon historian and scholar Dan Vogel shared his thoughts after reading Peterson’s FairMormon’s mean-spirited, ad hominem filled response to Jeremy Runnells CES Letter:
“Peterson is a polemicist, not a scholar of early Mormonism. While you have merely listed your objections, he didn’t do much different by countering with an apologetic bibliography. However, the nature of your letter implies that you considered the apologetic and rejected it. Your purpose as I see it was to list the problems, not defend them against the apologists. Each issue would require a pretty hefty essay to resolve Peterson’s complaint.
Ironically, Peterson’s Ensign article listing confirmations for the Book of Abraham ignores the problems and therefore is guilty of the same shortcoming Peterson sees in your paper. I find his critique silly in the extreme. It makes no sense to criticize a summary list as being too simple when that is the purpose.”
I agree, as FairMormon’s choice of ”experts” well demonstrates, we must be careful who we look to for knowledge and enlightenment.
In that regard, generations of Mormons, amateur ‘archaeologists,’ have written books containing photographs of ancient ruins, artifacts advancing the claim that these things 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, to mislead investigators.
A slide or picture of a Mayan temple has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon story than a photo of the Great Temple of Giza.
If you are familiar with the Mormon Church’s apologetic history, you will recognize that FairMormon’s arguments here are remarkably similar to, and I would suggest lifted directly from, a 1993 article which appeared on the now-defunct FARMS site written by William J. Hamblin. This piece, entitled: “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon. ” is often quoted by Mormon apologists.
In it Hamlin writes:
“Most anti-Mormon attacks on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon suffer from several severe logical flaws. The authors are inadequately informed about Latter-day Saint history, doctrine, and scripture; they have not read the text of the Book of Mormon carefully; they distort both what the text of the Book of Mormon says and the variety of Latter-day Saint interpretations of the text; they attempt to make all Latter-day Saint scholars responsible for the private opinions of some Latter-day Saint authors or General Authorities; and they frequently argue solely from the authority of selected authors or scholars, rather than providing evidence, analysis, and argumentation to support their case. They seldom advance the discussion by dealing with current Latter-day Saint thinking on the matter, being content instead to rely on an ad nauseam repetition of anti-Mormon arguments, many of which have been around—and have had adequate Latter-day Saint responses—for over a century.”
I agree with Hamlin on a few of his observations. However, I think he is guilty of some of the same ‘anti-Mormon’ flaws he criticizes. However, because of the apologetic resilience of Hamlin’s arguments for why we have a total absence of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, I feel I must comment.
Hamlin never defines what an ‘anti-Mormon’ is, but by the context in which he uses the term I would suggests we could substitute the word ‘non- Mormon.’
He expresses the view that, “they (anti-Mormons) frequently argue solely from the authority of selected authors or scholars, rather than providing evidence, analysis, and argumentation to support their case.”
I agree with Hamlin on a few of his observations, however, I think he is guilty of some of the same ‘anti-Mormon’ flaws he criticizes.
Nevertheless, because of the apologetic resilience of Hamlin’s arguments for why we have a total absence of archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon, I feel I must comment.
Hamlin never defines what an ‘anti-Mormon‘ is, but by the context in which he uses the term I would suggests we could substitute the word ‘non-Mormon.’
He expresses the view that, “they (anti-Mormons) frequently argue solely from the authority of selected authors or scholars, rather than providing evidence, analysis, and argumentation to support their case.”
I agree with him that critics must provide “evidence, analysis and argumentation” to support their case. In my experience most do.
Certainly, in this ‘A Letter to an Apostle ,’ I have included the opinions of the most distinguished leaders in the field of archaeology and anthropology. As well I have presented the comments by several LDS scholars.
Hamlin, however, takes particular offense with those who compare ‘the present state of knowledge about ancient Nephite sites with the state of knowledge about biblical sites.’
This is a valid point and I will even stipulate to Hamlin report that, “Only 55 per cent (sic) of the place names mentioned in the Bible have been identified” and that we have not yet identified the location of Mt. Sinai or as he says the precise, “route taken by the Israelites in the Exodus.”
Certainly. There is much that archaeology remains to discover about the historicity of the Bible.
But Mr. Hamlin ignores the fact that a great deal has been found.
As I have noted there are tens of thousands of archaeological finds that support the Bible including many biblical empires, cities, sites, artifacts, weapons, coins and much more.
Specifically, I mentioned the seven-foot black diorite stele, discovered at Susa containing the Code of Hammurabi, the Moabite Stone, the Burial Plaque of King Uzziah, and the Sennacherib Prism.
Archaeologists have also found the The Cylinder of Cyrus the Great and the Hezekiah’s Siloam Tunnel Inscription.
King Hezekiah of Judah ruled from 721 to 686 BC. Fearing a siege by the Assyrian king, he preserved Jerusalem’s water supply by cutting a tunnel through 1,750 feet of solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls as mentioned in 2 Kings 20 and 2 Chron. 32. A Herculean feat.
I have spoken of the discovery of the cities of Haran, Hazor, Dan, Megiddo, Corinth, Capernaum, Shechem, Samaria, Shiloh, Gezer, Gibeah, Beth Shemesh, Beth Shean, Beersheba, Lachish, as well as proof of the Shishak invasion of Judah and the existence of the Hittites.
Coins mentioned in the Bible have been found in abundance such as the widow’s mite or denarius which I hold in my hand:
Perhaps the greatest single discovery confirming the Bible’s historicity was the Dead Sea Scrolls.
First discovered by Bedouins in the caves of Kiryit Qumran in 1947.
Excavations initially led by Roland de Vaux. discovered some 800 documents in tens of thousands of fragments. Written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
They contain biblical, apocryphal works, prayers as well as legal texts and sectarian documents.
Biblical archaeologists have also unearthed a stratum of burnt material containing the remains of The Walls of Jericho, which were destroyed either by an earthquake or a siege.
Many fields of study span the Bible and history; from archaeology and astronomy to linguistics and comparative literature.
Israel’s enemies have also been well documented are solidly historical.
In short, the historicity of the Bible is not in question.
The Holy Bible has been corroborated historically, geographically, archaeologically, and linguistically and both its translation and transmission have been verified by literally thousands of ancient manuscripts.
The fact that Jesus repeatedly quoted the Old Testament with confidence and without any suggestion that it was corrupt should be reason enough for us to accept it as the word of God. The New Testament has also been proven to be unchanged and undefiled since it was given to us by God.
Hamlin’s position might have more traction if he could also state that, “55 percent of the place names mentioned in the Book of Mormon have been identified,” or even 25%, even 1%! Hamlin ignores. this disparity between the Bible and the Book of Mormon altogether
And as if the hole Hamlin is digging is not deep enough, he then quotes Yohanan Aharoni, a scholar of some note. “In the final analysis the most certain identifications [of biblical place names] are still those dependent upon preservation of the ancient name, albeit with careful examination of written sources and archaeological data. Out of the approximately 475 place names mentioned in the Bible, only about 262 have been identified with any degree of certainty…”
If 262 cities or places in the Book of Mormon had been ‘identified with any degree of certainty…’ we might witness Russell Nelson doing an Irish jig on the dome of the Tabernacle!
Hamlin then goes on to discuss how ‘Pre-Classic Mesoamerican inscriptions are relatively rare.’ Now there is an understatement. The word should be non-existent.
To illustrate the complication of Mesoamerican toponyms being translated between languages rather than transliterated phonetically, he uses a chronologically irrelevant Aztec language illustration:
“Thus, “in Nahuatl [Aztec] . . . ‘Hill of the Bird’ is Tototepec (tototl = bird + tepetl = hill) and ‘Hill of the Jaguar’ is Ocelotepec (ocelotl + tepetl). . . . ‘Hill of the Bird’ in Mixtec would be Yucu Dzaa, from yucu (hill) + dzaa (bird); ‘Hill of the Jaguar’ in Zapotec would be Tani Guebeche, from tani (hill) + guebeche (fierce carnivore).”
Aztec culture was a Mesoamerican culture that flourished in central Mexico in the post-classic period from 1300 to 1521 A.D., far beyond Book of Mormon times. Again, irrelevant and immaterial.
Next, he tells us what we all already know that there is not an official Latter-day Saint position on the geography of the Book of Mormon.
Hamlin also condemns ‘anti-Mormons’ (read as all who question), who claim that all Native Americans are genetically descended from the Lamanites. His criticism is somewhat justified, but I think he should cut people a little slack here as they have certainly been sent mixed messages by the Church leaders and the Book of Mormon itself.
The fly page of the Book of Mormon speaks of ‘The principal ancestors of the American Indians’, and a little further in, it tells us:
“… and it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations ; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.“ (2 Nephi 1:8.) Also, we have the words of those who one might think would know:
“We, therefore, cast a glance southward into old Mexico and through the great countries beyond — down through Central America and South America, where there are millions and millions of Lamanites, direct descendants of Father Lehi.”
Elder Andrew Jenson, Conference Report October 1921, p.120
“About twenty-five centuries ago, a hardy group left the comforts of a great city, crossed a desert, braved an ocean, and came to the shores of this, their promised land. There were two large families, those of Lehi and Ishmael, who in a couple of centuries numbered hundreds of millions of people on these two American continents.”
Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 601
Hamlin tackles anachronisms briefly making the point that barley has been found in Arizona, not the domesticate European type, but barley none the less.
He is on shakier ground however when he states that Book of Mormon animals may have become extinct and that, ‘possible horse remains have been found in various locations in Mesoamerica,’ using, who else, John L. Sorenson again as his source.
Hamlin then attacks Dr. Michael Coe, a renowned non-Mormon scholar who has said:
“There is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.”
Hamlin then tells us what Dr. Coe was really trying to say here, “that all of the archaeological evidence known to him can be adequately interpreted and accounted for based on the assumption that there were no Nephites.” Mr. Hamlin does not seem to understand that ‘learned‘ scholars talk to one another and their published articles are open to peer review.
We don’t need to put words in Michael Coe’s mouth; he expressed himself very clearly. When Dr. Coe says, “there is not one professionally trained archaeologist,’ he is speaking as a knowledgeable insider. I think Hamlin’s discounting of Coe’s statement, by implying that ‘well that’s just one man’s opinion,” is a slight to the scores of serious scientists dedicated to unearthing the truth.
Hamlin also suggests that Dr. Coe’s research findings would be different if he were to assume that Nephites did exist, runs in the face of the scientific method, that Hamlin seems not to be familiar with. The starting point is not assumptions and conclusions; those come later after the data has been studied and examined.
Hamlin finally ends with a question:
“Why do non-Mormon scholars reject the Book of Mormon?” Which he then goes on to answer himself:
First, acceptance of the historicity of the Book of Mormon logically necessitates recognition of Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims. Thus, any scholar who eventually came to accept the historicity of the Book of Mormon would be logically compelled to become a Latter-day Saint.’
Is Hamlin really implying that there is some unstated conspiracy among scholars to avoid the siren call of the Book of Mormon, for if they were to taste its sweet nectar of truth they would all become Mormons.
Now that is pushing a cognizant dissident proposition to the limit, but he continues.
Next, he bemoans the fact that, ‘most non-Mormons do not take the Book of Mormon seriously enough even to read it, let alone give it the careful study required to make an informed judgment.’
Is he suggesting that professional archaeologists and anthropologists should let whatever internal evidence they find within the Book of Mormon, or some new found ‘testimony’ of it, predetermine their research findings?
There is a term for what Hamlin is proposing, and that term is ‘confirmation bias,’ but then as his article well illustrates, this is one area in which Hamlin is an expert!
I would suggest that a reasonable person would agree that FairMormon’s rebuttal to what I have written here earns them an ‘F.’
Therefore, President Uchtdorf I stand by the fact that there is no evidence that any legitimate non-Mormon archaeologist could point to that supports the validity of the Book of Mormon. None, die Nonen!
1 Dr. Ray Metheny, Professor of Anthropology, BYU, Address at the Sixth Annual Sunstone Theological Symposium, Salt Lake City, 8/25/84.
2 Dr. David Johnson, Professor of Anthropology, BYU.
3 Thomas Stuart Ferguson, in a letter to Mr. & Mrs. H. W. Lawrence, dated Feb. 1976.
4 Ulster Archaeological Society, Newsletter, No. 64, Jan 30, 1960, P.3
5 Michael Coe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 42.
6 Department of Anthropology National Museum of Natural History Smithsonian Institution
Washington, DC 2056
7 Richard Blanton – Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University, Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan
8 David Carrasco – Professor of the Study of Latin America at Harvard Divinity School,
9 Louise Burkhart – Professor in the Anthropology Department at the University at Albany,
10 Brigham D. Madsen, ed., B. H. Roberts: Studies of the Book of Mormon, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
11 Richard and Joan Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and Promise Harpers, 1999), 276.
12 Coe 2002, p. 13 An Outsider’s View of Mormon Archeology May, Wayne N., This Land – One Cumorah, pp. 61–68
13 May, Wayne N., This Land – One Cumorah, pp. 61–68
14 https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/ Book_of_Mormon/Archaeology
15 Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 1998, v. 2, p. 196
16 John Clark, “Debating the Foundations of Mormonism: Archaeology and the Book of Mormon”, presentation at the 2005 FAIR Apologetics Conference (August 2005).
17 On the New World Archaeological Foundation Daniel C. Peterson FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 221–33.
18 John L. Sorenson, Metals, and Metallurgy Relating to the book of Mormon Text, FARMS, Provo, 1992.
19 Del Dowdell Who Really Settled Mesoamerica.
20 B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century 1, Brigham Young University Press, Vol. 1, 1965, pg. 75
21 B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, p.277
On the next page we will examine the problem of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon: