We’re continuing our conversation with David Rosenvall. He’s the guy who came up with who came up with the idea that the Book of Mormon lands may have occurred in the Baja Peninsula. We’ll also discuss some other issues with the Book of Mormon. Are there two Hill Cumorahs? What about steel swords? We’ll talk about that in this conversation….
In this episode we’re going to talk about the thorniest of all topics when it comes to the Book of Mormon: DNA.
This fellow, Richard Hansen, has done much to uncover long-lost Mayan civilizations. Read the article here.
As a grad student, Hansen made a significant contribution:
“The gigantic El Mirador complex had first been discovered in 1926, and it was assumed that owing to its sheer size and elaborate layout, it represented yet another classic-period city like Tikal, only in worse condition.
But while excavating a chamber in the bottom level of a structure at El Mirador known as the Jaguar Paw Temple (the jungle cat had totemic significance for the Maya), the 26-year-old Hansen came across fragments of polished-red pottery, undisturbed for centuries, that could only be preclassic in origin. “That ceramic was only produced in the Mirador Basin, and I was the first one who identified that,” he says.
It was a startling moment of revisionism: It meant that the entire El Mirador agglomeration dated at least five centuries earlier than anyone had thought, to a period that began before the time of Christ, and that the preclassic Maya, rather than being primitive forerunners of a more elaborate classic civilization, had built far bigger and produced an even more complex and powerful political and social organization than their medieval successors—until they, like their successors, precipitously abandoned their massive settlements during the middle of the second century. “
Hansen’s freedom from the strictures of academia also helped him become one of the very first archaeologists to exploit a brand-new technology that has been to Mayanists of the second decade of the 21st century what carbon-dating was to the Mayanists of the 1950s: light detection and ranging, or LiDAR. The technology—using airborne lasers to “map” the topography of a given area digitally, revealing the natural peaks and valleys, as well as manmade structures, beneath the dense jungle canopies that otherwise mask them—had been used for decades by NASA to create digital maps of planet surfaces.
A few videos, highlighting previously unappreciated pre-classic (1200 years ago) developments in Guatemala:
Read the entire article above. It shares the history of LDS-supported projects in the area.
The current consensus is that horses died off in the Americas around 10,000 years ago. Horses, scholars believe, were only reintroduced by Columbus to the Carribbean in 1493, and by Cortez to the continent over two decades later in 1819.
In other words, critics claim that the Book of Mormon is a fraud, since horses — mentioned in the Book of Mormon — couldn’t have lived here at the time of the Nephites.
However, don’t forget that many critical claims against the Book of Mormon have disappeared as new evidence is uncovered. For example, early critics (around 1830) scoffed at the idea of metal plates and stone boxes. Since that time many examples of metal plates and stone boxes have arisen.
So, it’s prudent to exercise patience and restraint when questions arise.
Back to horses. This was reported recently in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
Horse remnants we’re dated to 50 years before the Spanish arrived in Southern California.
“The finds are significant because native North American horses were thought to have been extinct more than 10,000 years ago, and the remains are older than the recorded conquests by the Spanish, who reintroduced horses to the New World.”
A few videos about horses in Pre-Columbian America:
Michael Ash, among other things, shares that at least 2 non-LDS scholars believe that smaller horses weren’t extinct in the Americas before Columbus.
Couple thoughts about translation:
Did Joseph mean horse when he dictated “horse” to Oliver? Maybe. Maybe not. Joseph likely had never heard of tapirs, llamas, or other large animals — known to exist in the Americas — when translating the Book of Mormon.
Horse may have been the only related word Joseph knew. Joseph, after all, only used words with which he was familiar.
When the Greeks first saw a hippopotamus in the Nile they called the animal a “river” horse. They had no name for such an animal. Would you consider a hippo a horse that’s in the river? Not really, but the Greeks just grabbed the best name they could think of.
A Baird’s tapir, currently the largest land animal in Mesoamerica, is called a “jungle” horse by indigenous people. Mayan people called the Spanish horses by the same name they previously applied to tapirs.
Further, showing how names are sometimes inexact, the Baird’s tapir is called an ante-burro by people in the Oaxaca-Vera Cruz area.
Further, horses were discovered in North America (by the French and other explorers) in modern-day Texas, Missouri, and elsewhere in the 1680s.
The Kiowa and Pawnee Native American tribes had horses before 1600. A report about horses arises in 1567 from the Sonora Valley. Before the Spanish arrived to those areas, and therefore their horses could have spread.
More videos on the topic:
Daniel Johnson talks about wheeled vehicles, horses, and other related issues:
Horses with riders are found on petroglyphs in Southern Utah.
The first carvings at the Newspaper Rock site were made around 2,000 years ago, left by people from the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures.
In Navajo, the rock is called “Tse’ Hone'” which translates to a rock that tells a story.
The petroglyphs were carved by Native Americans during both the prehistoric and historic periods. There are over 650 rock art designs.
The drawings on the rock are of different animals, human figures, and symbols. These carvings include pictures of deer, buffalo, and pronghorn antelope.
Some glyphs depict riders on horses, while other images depict past events like in a newspaper. While precisely dating the rock carvings has been difficult, repatination of surface minerals reveals their relative ages.
The reason for the large concentration of the petroglyphs is unclear.”
BYU Geology professor Wade Miller’s comments at the 2009 FAIR MORMON conference about the petroglyphs (photo above):
“I took this photograph last year of Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in southeastern Utah. I thought it was interesting to see all the animals depicted – including sheep and goats. Certainly they were here at the same time as man.
In talking to Bureau of Land Management archaeologists about these Petroglyphs, they said while it wasn’t possible to date them, they nevertheless were made over many centuries. You can see that there is a man on a horse as one of the figures.
They (BLM personnel) would say that this shows it was after the time of Columbus since horses weren’t here before this time. But this leads to a circular reasoning.
Some of the petroglyphs are very faint, and it’s assumed that these are much older ones. This picture also shows some of the kinds of animals that the people of the time were familiar with. They include sheep and goats, possible both domesticated and wild types.”
LDS critics often claim “all reputable” scientists or scholars say this or that in relation to the LDS Church. Broad, sweeping claims. Often lots of bravado and bluster.
Absolutely no evidence for this. Absolutely no evidence for that.
Is it true? Science checkmated the LDS Church?
How could it be true when more and more faithful Latter-day Saints are doing Science. The very Science the critics claim disproves the LDS Church.
Science is simply a method to understand truth. Mormons are good geologists, statisticians, chemists, and are distinguished in every field of Science. How Mormons interpret data for their personal lives is unique. So is the way in which life-long agnostics interpret non-scientific data.
Experiments on bacterial genetics, plant growth, and other topics won’t prove or disprove God. Won’t prove or disprove the Book of Abraham. Nor the Book of Mormon. Or a long list of issues.
Science answers how. Faith answers why.
To repeat, has Science check mated the LDS Church?
Quick summary: Nope.
Longer summary: evaluate each specific critical claim in context. When all relevant data is on the table “all scientists” don’t tend to agree and/or the argument is often itself flawed with biases.
Let’s first consider what “all scientists” believe. Scientists, like most academics, tend to be very secular.
Many, many non-believers. Do non-believers believe in the Book of Mormon?
Moreover, the individual critic frequently herself lacks a fundamental understanding of Science and how exactly Science would perform an experiment to unequivocally illuminate the question under discussion.
To unequivocally prove the LDS Church, the Book of Mormon, or other topic is obviously false — contrary to many critics’ belief system — turns out to be quite challenging. In fact, it’s impossible.
For example, a critic might say that no self-respecting scientist believes major battles with steel swords and wheeled, horse-driven chariots took place in Palmyra, NY around 400 AD. And further, no archaeologists have found lots of steel blades, metal armor, and wheels in the ground.
Book of Mormon defeated in a single swipe? Nope!
This is an example of a straw man. I and every LDS scientist would agree. Yet, there’s more nuance to this situation than you may initially appreciate.
1) Joseph never called the hill near his home the Hill Cumorah. That belief — that the hill where Joseph got the plates was the same site as the final Nephite battle — sprung up long after Joseph Smith passed away, as folks hypothesized where the Book of Mormon took place. It didn’t help that well-meaning Church leaders latched onto the idea.
The final Nephite and Jaredite battles likely happened in Mesoamerica — near where the entire narrative occurred. Moroni wandered northward for decades. 36 years total. A trek from Mesoamerica to NY can be accomplished by a fit person in around a year.
2) Nephi mentioned the fine steel of his bow and the Sword of Laban. Both of these could have been made with technology of the time. The Book of Mormon text doesn’t otherwise mention steel swords.
Dr. Wade Miller discusses iron, steel, swords, the Bible, and the Book of Mormon.
4) No archaeologists have excavated the Hill Cumorah. Farmers have plowed the field, but no organized excavations have been undertaken.
I’d be suprised if anything were found, but the point still remains that nobody has done the research to rule out presence of metal Nephite objects.
So, when aspecific example is given by critics — and not simply exaggerated generalizations — the Book of Mormon typically stands on reliable evidence. Sure, questions still exist, but critics’ sweeping claims are nearly always uninformed and imprecise.
The same thing applies with claims toward the Lehites and DNA. When one looks at all the evidence — and not simply listens to critics’ absolute and usually unsupported statements — the picture becomes clearer.
Watch Ugo Perego and Michael Whiting dispel common misconceptions. These two scientists are leaders in the field of genetics, and see no conflict between their science and the Book of Mormon narrative.
Another scientist, Dr. Keith A. Crandall, converted to the LDS Church. He discusses DNA and the Book of Mormon below:
A larger point should be emphasized: how does one prove the Book of Mormon? How does one disprove the Book of Mormon? I’ll argue one can do neither.
To say there’s not a shred of evidence for the Book of Mormon historicity is a mischaracterization. Haven’t we — that is, LDS and non-LDS scholars — found things in Mesoamerica and elsewhere that are in sync with the narrative of the Book of Mormon? Yep!
Critics used to say say steel wasn’t known till 100s of years after Lehi. And they mocked Joseph and the Book of Mormon for that. That’s clearly no longer believed. We could list item after Book of Mormon item (silk, swine, iron, etc) that is no longer a mismatch or an anachromism.
See trends below:
I like the trend:
Surely, not everything matches and much work remains. But to say there’s no evidence is untrue. To prove or disprove is not possible. To find supporting evidence is possible and is under way. A complete fraud wouldn’t be expected to get so many matches.
LDS scientists are the ones (no surprise!) who are interested in finding support for the Book of Mormon. Other scientists typically don’t care or are perhaps mildly opposed to such ventures and findings. Again, no surprise.
Do atheist, Catholic, evangelical, or other scholars, who find wheat (or other disputed item in the Book of Mormon) in Guatemala, refuse to admit wheat was in the area? No.
They’re scholars doing scholarly work. They publish their findings, regardless of implication.
Does finding wheat in Mexico change non-Mormon opinion of the LDS Church? The Book of Mormon? Probably not in the least.
Does wheat in Guatemala (if found) absolutely prove the Book of Mormon? No. Evidence for? Absolutely.
So, let’s allow scientists — Mormon and non-Mormon — to do their jobs: Science. And publish all findings.
The truth will take care of itself. I expect more and more evidence will be uncovered to support the Book of Mormon.
Some worry about what Isaiah is doing in the Book of Mormon. After reading and watching lots of videos I have confidence that Isaiah was written by 1 person. Isaiah. Many recent scholars think the multiple-Isaiah theory is an embarrassment to scholarship.
Steven Smoot and the 3 Mormons give a good introduction:
Jeff at Latter-day Saints Q & A shares his perspectives:
Another young Latter-day Saint provides answers:
Kwaku shares good evidence, among other things, of the match between the Dead Sea Scrolls Isaiah scroll and the Book of Mormon sections of Isaiah:
The premier non-LDS commentary on “Second” Isaiah (The Anchor Bible, Volume 20) says there is insufficient evidence from wordprint analysis that Isaiah was written by anything other than a single author.
We also have a new model, proposed by Avraham Gileadi, which shows that Isaiah contains a far more profound and sophisticated literary paradigm, if we accept that it is a unitary work. No wonder this new unitary theory, which just happens to get around a traditional objection to the Book of Mormon, is gaining ground.
Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible says Isaiah 48-55 is based on liturgy that predated Lehi, even if it was written after he allegedly left Jerusalem. The Book of Mormon has 47-55. Hang tight before you throw your arms up in despair.
For those who aren’t familiar with the ECB:
“Written by world-class Bible scholars, the ECB encapsulates in nontechnical language the best of modern scholarship on the sixty-six biblical books plus the Apocrypha. The only one-volume Bible commentary to cover all the texts (even including 1 Enoch) regarded by one or more Christian churches as canonical, the ECB provides reader-friendly treatments and succinct summaries of each section of the text that will be valuable to scholars, students and general readers alike.”
“One of the major flashpoints in academic biblical studies in the past 125 years has centered on the authorship and dating of the book of Isaiah. Beginning in the late 1800s, some scholars suggested that this book may have been written by multiple people over a period of centuries, a view that contrasts with the traditional one that the entire book of Isaiah was written in the eighth century BC by the Judean prophet Isaiah ben Amoz.
Because for many conservative scholars the latter position is the only one that respects the divine inspiration of the text, and because they also believe that this position is endorsed by Jesus in the New Testament, the differing conclusions of mainstream and conservative scholars regarding the authorship and dating of the book of Isaiah have long served to divide these groups.
Bind Up the Testimonya collection of essays from a colloquium held at Wheaton College in 2013brings together a variety of evangelical responses to this issue. Although a few of the essays arrive at conservative conclusions regarding the authorship and dating of the book of Isaiah, most of them attempt to chart new, more nuanced directions for thinking on this subject, and suggest that careful attention to the (complicated) compositional history of the book of Isaiah need not be a hindranceand can, in fact, be a helpto Christians who understand the book of Isaiah as divinely inspired Scripture that has spoken to Gods people throughout the ages and that continues to speak to them today.
Is historical accuracy an indispensable part of the Bible’s storyline, or is Scripture only concerned with theological truths? As progressive evangelicals threaten to reduce the Bible’s jurisdiction by undermining its historical claims, every Christian who cares about the integrity of Scripture must be prepared to answer this question.
Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? offers a firm defense of Scripture’s legitimacy and the theological implications of modern and postmodern approaches that teach otherwise. In this timely and timeless collection of essays, scholars from diverse areas of expertise lend strong arguments in support of the doctrine of inerrancy. Contributors explore how the specific challenges of history, authenticity, and authority are answered in the text of the Old and New Testaments as well as how the Bible is corroborated by philosophy and archaeology.
“In The Vision of All, Joseph Spencer draws on the best of biblical and Latter-day Saint scholarship to make sense of the so-called -Isaiah chapters- in the first two books of the Book of Mormon. Arguing that Isaiah lies at the very heart of Nephi’s project, Spencer insists on demystifying the writings of Isaiah while nonetheless refusing to pretend that Isaiah is in any way easy to grasp.
Presented as a series of down-to-earth lectures, The Vision of All outlines a comprehensive answer to the question of why Nephi was interested in Isaiah in the first place. Along the way, the book presents both a general approach to reading Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and a set of specific tactics for making sense of Isaiah’s writings. For anyone interested in understanding what Isaiah is doing in the Book of Mormon, this is the place to start.”
“The results of this research bear witness that the book of Isaiah has a literary unity characteristic of a single author. These results, therefore, confirm the claims made in the Book of Mormon and the New Testament by later prophets and by the Savior that Isaiah was the author of the book bearing his name.”
In addition, Paul Fields shared his insight at a recent conference on this topic: Stylometry and the Book of Isaiah. A few paragraphs from the conference about Isaiah in the Bible:
“There have been a few stylometric studies over the years starting with the earliest that I am aware of in 1970. To interpret the results, it is important to realize that none of the studies can establish that there was more than one writer of the text. Although there is evidence of more than one writing style in the text, factors other than the identity of the author must be considered.
“More than one style does not necessarily indicate multiple ‘hands hold the pen.’ The same author can express himself or herself differently when writing at different times, to different audiences, on different topics, or for different purposes. So, the presence of multiple writing styles cannot be asserted as indicating multiple people as authors of a text.
“Also, unlike the Book of Mormon which had one translator (Joseph Smith) who had one scribe (Oliver Cowdery), the Bible has gone through innumerable hands over the last 2000 years. It has been translated and retranslated by translators after translators, and written and rewritten by scribes after scribes. While we can show that the modest changes to the text of the Book of Mormon have not made a meaningful difference in the writing styles in the Book of Mormon, we cannot show that to be the case for the Bible. In fact, it should actually be surprising if only one writing style was found in a Biblical text.
“There have been studies showing that the original author’s ‘wordprint’ comes through the translation process to a certain extent, the original author’s style as evident in the translated text is still affected by the translator’s style. Further, we have shown that the “scribe effect” — the extent to which a scribe’s wordprint can be detected in a dictated text — can range from a trivial amount (10-15%) to a large amount (70-80%). Consequently, the accumulated effect of a sequence of translators and a sequence of multiple scribes (copyists) will result in substantial changes to the writing styles in a text, even if the translator effect and the scribe effect are small for each step in the sequence.
“Finally, stylometric studies must be conducted in the context of established historical facts that set the framework for the analyses and their interpretation. The results of stylometric studies can provide evidence for our against a research conjecture that is founded on historical and biographical information external to the stylometric analyses. Proceeding in the opposite direction by just ‘fishing around’ for different writing styles in a text and then trying to assert historicity or identity based on the results is an excellent way to arrive at nonsense conclusions or at least non-scientific conclusions.
“In sum, whatever someone wants to assert about the number of people who were ‘Isaiah,’ that assertion must be based on evidence other than stylometric evidence.”
“As long ago as 1984, L. La Mar Adams in “A Scientific Analysis of Isaiah Authorship” which was one of the first scientific approaches to the multiple Isaiah theory wrote, “The disputed authorship of Isaiah is one of the most popular textual biblical issues and appears to be the father of all Old Testament authorship problems of the same nature.”
“The majority of biblical scholars divide the book of Isaiah into multiple authorship. The problem of identifying authorship for the book and parts of the book is known as the “Isaiah problem,”3 or what we are calling the “Multiple Isaiah Theory Problem.”
Adams explained, “A few years ago, our group of thirty-five specialists in Semitic languages, statistics, and computer science at Brigham Young University devised a literary style analysis to test the claims of these biblical scholars. This study, which spanned several years, in the end used more than 300 computer programs, analyzed several hundred stylistic variables, and obtained more than 4800 statistical comparisons.
“…The results of the study were conclusive: there is a unique authorship style throughout the various sections of Isaiah. The rates of usage for the elements of this particular style are more consistent within the book of Isaiah, regardless of the section, than in any other book in the study. This statistical evidence led us to a single conclusion: based on style alone, the book of Isaiah definitely appears to be the work of one man. The two parts of Isaiah most often claimed to have been written by different authors, chapters 1–39 and 40–66, were found to be more similar to each other in style than to any of the other eleven Old Testament books examined.”4
Royal Skousen understands the Book of Mormon text better than anyone alive.
Watch the last few minutes of this video from Royal Skousen. Evidence for an inspired use of Isaiah (and not copied from a nearby copy):
witnesses never reported Joseph used a Bible from a nearby shelf
no evidence Joseph had access to the Bible, though the printer did
Joseph spelled out the proper names when encountered for the first time in the Book of Mormon
biblical names were often misspelled in the Book of Mormon manuscripts; these biblical names wouldn’t have been misspelled if Joseph and Oliver had checked the nearby King James version of the Bible
Of the 478 verses in the Book of Mormon quoted from the book of Isaiah, 201 agree with the King James reading while 207 show variations. Some 58 are paraphrased and 11 others are variants and/or paraphrases. It is to the variants that we will give our attention here…
Tvedtnes compares many verses between the Book of Mormon and Isaiah. I’ll only share this (many others are found in the link above) one: Isaiah 2:16 compared with 2 Nephi 12:16:
KJV: “And upon all the ships of Tarshish”
BM: “And upon all the ships of the sea, and upon all the ships of Tarshish”
Here, BM adds a line not found in KJV. Interestingly, LXX reads “And upon every ship of the sea, and upon all views of pleasant ships,” with the last part paralleling KJV/BM “and upon all pleasant pictures.” The Greek talassa, “sea,” resembles the word Tarshish. But both the Targum and the Vulgate have “sea” with LXX instead of Tarshish.
The matter is a very complex one, for which a complete discussion cannot be included here. BM appears to have included the versions of both MT and LXX/T/V. MT could have dropped the nearly identical second line by haplography…
“It has long been my contention that the best scientific evidence for the Book of Mormon is not archaeological or historical in nature, as important as these may be, but rather linguistic. This is because we have before us a printed text which can be subjected to linguistic analysis and comparison with the language spoken in the kingdom of Judah at the time of Lehi.
One of the more remarkable linguistic evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a translation from an ancient text lies in the Isaiah variants found in it. The examples given here, though sketchy, are presented to offer some of that evidence to all those who seriously inquire after the origins of the Book of Mormon.”
This guy, Terry Sheets, (the Backyard Professor) starts to discuss the KJV around 6:49. Till then, he comments on the power of reasoning and study. Terry first explains the KJV relies more on the Bishops’ Bible (translated in 1568) much than on a direct translation from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.
The KJV translators were instructed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to modify the wording of the Bishops’s Bible only when its meaning varied from the meaning of the Greek NT and Hebrew OT texts. The Bishops’ Bible was itself a revision of the Great Bible (1539).
A few versions of the Bible rest between the Great Bible and the William Tyndale’s first English Bible. Tyndale translated this version from 1526-1531 directly from Greek and Hebrew texts. Tyndale retained some of John Wycliffe’s wording from the late 14th Century.
The KJV style set the standard from scriptural language of Joseph’s day. Others, not just Joseph, followed this practice of using King James type language.
Nearly 100 years after the Book of Mormon was translated, Robert H Charles, the translator of biblical texts, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament”, made it a point to imitate the language and style of the KJV of the Bible in his magnum opus.
He did so for several reasons, including this obvious one: The KJV was the most common version read in the English-speaking world.
Jewish scholar, Theodore Gaster, intermixed KJV and modern English in his translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls (originally written in ancient Hebrew). The DSSs was not in English. Yet, Gaster translated this ancient language into KJ English. Just like Joseph did.
Shon Hopkin discusses Abinadi in the Book of Mormon, including the KJV variants (variants discussed around 34:00 mark):
“Doubts as to the literary unity of the book of Isaiah are fairly recent. The late nineteenth century saw a division of Isaiah into three parts by critics, who
categorized only 262 of the 1292 verses as the genuine product of Isaiah.
These critics deny the prediction element of prophecy and highlight different literary forms and theological ideas. The Book of Mormon attributes two of these three sections to Isaiah by quotation; ancient scriptures as well give no hint of a division. Christ and the apostles themselves attribute the book to Isaiah.
Internal evidences of the unity of the book include imagery, repetition, expressions peculiar to Isaiah, and song. Changes in style can be attributed to mood. The differences between the Book of Mormon and the King James Version support the authenticity and literary unity of Isaiah.”
Another discussion on Mormon Miscellaneous about the Book of Mormon translation, including these topics:
Hebrew, Greek, and Hierglyphics
King James Version compared with the Book of Mormon
2 Nephi 22:2 vs KJV Isaiah 12:2 vs Hebrew
JS statements “translated by the gift and power of God”
KJV Isaiah 7:14 contrasted with Hebrew & LXX (Septuagint) & Book of Mormon
More insights from the Backyard Professor:
Many differences exist between the KJV of Isaiah and Joseph’s translation. In some cases, Joseph’s translation is closer to the earlier manuscripts. That is, the Book of Mormon Isaiah verses are closer to the Greek OT Septuagint (from 3rd Century BC) and the Hebrew Masoretic texts.
Scholarly speculation, based on the changes in the language within the later chapters of Isaiah, gave rise to the multiple-author theory.
Cyrus lived 200 years after Lehi and was mentioned in Isaiah. This name and other Isaiah issues may just as well be later substitutions. All we have are probabilities and possibilities. This was not uncommon.
The Backyard Professor has a total of 6 videos on this topic.
Joseph’s translation process of the Book of Mormon was miraculous, including the Isaiah chapters. Nearly 1/2 of the verses differ from the JST.
Elder Oaks presented this above-linked paper in 1993 at a FARMs conference and had it published again in 2001.
Opening key points:
The issue of the historicity of the Book of Mormon highlights the difference between those who rely solely on scholarship and those who rely on revelation, faith, and scholarship.
Those who rely solely on scholarship reject revelation and focus on a limited number of issues. But they can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon through their secular evidence and methods.
On the other hand, those who rely on a combination of revelation, faith, and scholarship can see and understand all of the complex issues of the Book of Mormon record, and it is only through that combination that the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon can be answered.
In this message I have offered some thoughts on matters relating to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
1. On this subject, as on so many others involving our faith and theology, it is important to rely on faith and revelation as well as scholarship.
2. I am convinced that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
3. Those who deny the historicity of the Book of Mormon have the difficult task of trying to prove a negative. They also have the awkward duty of explaining how they can dismiss the Book of Mormon as a fable while still praising some of its contents.
4. We know from the Bible that Jesus taught His apostles that in the important matter of His own identity and mission they were “blessed” for relying on the witness of revelation (“the things that be of God”), and it is offensive to Him for them to act upon worldly values and reasoning (“the things . . . that be of men”) (Matt. 16:23).
5. Those scholars who rely on faith and revelation as well as scholarship, and who assume the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, must endure ridicule from those who disdain these things of God.
6. I have also illustrated that not all scholars disdain the value of religious belief and the legitimacy of the supernatural when applied to theological truth. Some even criticize the “intellectual provincialism” of those who apply the methods of historical criticism to the Book of Mormon.
I testify of Jesus Christ, whom we serve, whose Church this is. I invoke his blessings upon you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
“Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon, though he did translate it, so that his voice is present when we read, including the flaws in his language and understanding.
Those who wrote the original were also fallible human beings who will reveal their culture and their assumptions just as surely as the writers of I Love Lucy did.
But unlike the writers of that TV show, the prophets wrote and translated under the direction of the Lord, out of love for us. It’s well worth finding out who these men were, the culture from which they wrote, how it’s different from ours, and how it’s also very much the same.”
Before getting into the specific evidences, please consider Brant Gardner presentation as it discusses Mormon as editor of the Book of Mormon. He didn’t simply abridge or chop the volume down from lots to less. Mormon was active, intentional, and selective in his process. He was completing his duty as a national scribe.
Brant shares evidence of Mormon having an outline of his work in advance, before he completed the abridging process at age 57 near the Hill Shim. He got the full collection of plates around the 367th year at age 56. He chronicled for 22 years on the large plates of Nephi.
For 13 years Mormon read and digested the collection of plates, preparing an outline or draft. He wrote the Book by at least 379 (58 years old) and completed writing in 385. He died between AD 385 and 391, by which time Moroni is writing.
Chapter Head notes: synoptic headnotes for Helaman and 3 Nephi. Mormon wrote them prior to their chapters.
Most head notes are in the beginning of named books. 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Jacob had head notes. Appear at every book Mormon edited, but Mosiah. The lost 116 pages included at least the first chapter of Mosiah, which book now lacks a head note. Mormon didn’t edit Mormon, Ether, or Moroni — 3 books which lack headnotes.
Mormon had a clear plan in advance and wrote a summary in advance. He wrote his own text (Mormon), as he progressed and approached his death.
Brant also points out that books change names, only as changes occur in political lines. That is, when Mormon sees a newly seeded ruler.
Please also consider this presentation on Book of Mormon “hits.”
Historicity is defined as the historical actuality of persons and events, meaning the quality of being part of history as opposed to being a historical myth, legend, or fiction.
Critics have long cried out that this or that animal and plant — mentioned in the Book of Mormon — was never in the Americas. Critics claim Joseph’s creative mind made it all up . We disagree and will describe the evidence in support of Book of Mormon historicity.
Or that a certain plant or animal was introduced after Columbus, but not before. Over time, more and more evidence has accumulated in favor of the Book of Mormon account.
If Joseph had created the book out of thin air, how did he possibly get more than a few things right?
As an uneducated farm boy how did he even create a coherent narrative with 100s of internally consistent correspondences that actually match much — not just 1-2 things — in Mesoamerica?
Martin Tanner at KSL in Salt Lake City is a good place to start. Martin discusses the archaeological challenges associated with the Bible and the Book of Mormon. He spends most of this podcast discussing Mesoamerica and Book of Mormon evidences.
Matt Roper discusses previous claims — once considered “howlers” or slam dunks against the Book of Mormon. Current scholarship has rejected many previous, critical claims and greatly strengthened the claims in support of the Book of Mormon.
Robert Boylan’s insight about authentic names in the Book of Mormon:
FAIR Mormon reports on Geology, Archaeology, and Mesoamerican history.
Jeff Lindsay responds here to controversy surrounding previous Book of Mormon historicity statements by the Smithsonian.
More from Jeff Lindsay on criticisms related to wheat, barley, figs, grapes, bees, chicken, turkeys, swine, oxen, horses, elephants and more.
An LDS critic interviewed famed Mesoamericanist, Dr. Michael Coe, about Book of Mormon evidence. There was more than 1 issue with that interview.
Perhaps the newest evidence supporting the Book of Mormon relates to language:
Linguist Brian Stubbs discusses some of his findings of both Hebrew and Egyptian — the two languages mentioned in The Book of Mormon — in the languages of the Native Indians in his 2006 FAIR Conference address.
Another conference with Brian Stubbs in 4/2016:
Brian Stubbs and the linguistic connection at the 2016 FAIR conference:
The Nephites could have set up their first established city in the Guatamalan Highlands.
Brant Gardner, John Sorenson, and others share insight into the use of metals in the Book of Mormon:
Alternate hypothesis that fits with history in Mesoamerica.
Watch the rest of these related Book of Mormon videos here.
Jeff at Latter-day Saint Q & A shares his insights:
Wade Miller spent his career at BYU as a professor of Paleontology and Geology. He discusses more specific (and in the past controversial) topics below:
I just ordered Dr. Miller’s book (see below):
Nephi stated that Laban’s sword was of the “most precious steel”. That makes no sense in a 19th century context, but perfect sense in the Bronze Age.
Daggers, axes and jewelry made from rare iron during the Bronze Age are literally out of this world, according to new research finding that ancient artisans crafted these metal artifacts with iron from outer space carried to Earth by meteorites.
Horses in Pre-Columbian America:
More on horses:
Daniel Johnson in his 2010 Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum:
Coins weren’t used. Instead, weights were.
Dr. Clark discusses the topic for the first 35 minutes of this video:
Progress from 1842 to 2005. Screenshots from Dr. Clark’s presentation above:
Matthew Roper is currently a Research Scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He received a B.A. in History and a M.A. in Sociology from Brigham Young University.
Joseph Smith gave a wide variety of opinions about the location of the Book of Mormon peoples. You can read about his many views here.
In 1842, for the first time, Joseph considered Mesoamerica after reading a very popular book by John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.
1 OCT. 1842: ZARAHEMLA “STOOD UPON THIS LAND” OF CENTRAL AMERICA
NOTE: Page 942 of this issue of the Times and Seasons states: “The Times and Seasons, Is edited, printed and published about the first fifteenth of every month, on the corner of Water and Bain Streets, Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, by JOSEPH SMITH.”
[W]e have found another important fact relating to the truth of the Book of Mormon. Central America, or Guatimala [Guatemala], is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south.-The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land as will be seen from the following words in the book of Alma…
It is certainly a good thing for the excellency and veracity, of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon, that the ruins of Zarahemla have been found where the Nephites left them: and that a large stone with engravings upon it as Mosiah said; and a ‘large round stone, with the sides sculptured in hieroglyphics,’ as Mr. Stephens has published, is also among the left remembrances of the, (to him,) lost and unknown.
We are not going to declare positively that the ruins of Quirigua are those of Zarahemla, but when the land and the stones, and the books tell the story so plain, we are of opinion, that it would require more proof than the Jews could bring to prove the disciples stole the body of Jesus from the tomb, to prove that the ruins of the city in question, are not one of those referred to in the Book of Mormon…
It will not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens’ ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: light cleaves to light, and facts are supported by facts.(emphasis added)
LDS Truth Claims relative to the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica: