Historicity of the Book of Mormon

Historicity of the Book of Mormon

The question of whether the Book of Mormon is an actual historical work or a work of fiction has long been a source of contention between members of the Latter Day Saint movement and non-LDS. For many Mormons, Book of Mormon historicity is a matter of faith. For non-LDS, on the other hand, its historicity is not accepted, and specific claims made in the Book of Mormon have been questioned from a number of different perspectives.

Contents of the book

The Book of Mormon tells of the people of Jared, consisting of several families from the Tower of Babel, who migrated to America from the Old World before Abraham's time; a group including Lehi's family who migrated to America from Jerusalem around 600 BC; and the people of Mulek who migrated to America from Jerusalem sometime later. According to the text, these civilizations rose and fall from about 2500 BC to around 400 AD.Sacred Sites: Searching for Book of Mormon Lands. by Joseph L. Allen Published: October 2003]

Latter Day Saint views

The dominant and widely accepted view among Latter Day Saints is that the Book of Mormon is a true and accurate account of these ancient American civilizations whose religious history it documents. Joseph Smith, Jr., who most LDS members believe translated the work, stated, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” [ From the lds|Book of Mormon: Introduction|bm/introduction] Unresolved issues of the book's historicity and the lack of supporting archaeological evidence have led some adherents to adopt the position that the Book of Mormon may have been the creation of Joseph Smith, but that it was nevertheless divinely inspired. [Grant H. Palmer. 2002. "An Insider's View of Mormon Origins". Salt Lake City, Signature Books.
Brent Lee Metcalfe, ed. 1993. "New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology". Salt Lake City: Signature Books.
] Between these two LDS views is the view stated by some church leaders that the Book of Mormon is a divine work of a spiritual nature, written in ancient America, but that its purpose is to teach of Christ; not to be used as a guide for history, geology, archaeology, or anthropology. [See, for example, James E. Faust, [http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/2004.htm/ensign%20january%202004.htm/first%20presidency%20message%20the%20keystone%20of%20our%20religion.htm?fn=document-frame.htm$f=templates$3.0 “The Keystone of Our Religion,”] Ensign, January 2004, 3]

Archaeology

Discussion regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon often focuses on archaeological issues, some of which relate to the large size and the long time span of Book of Mormon civilizations. The contemporary Mormon view is that these civilizations rose and fell in the area known as Mesoamerica.. Civilizations of their magnitude and duration would be expected to leave extensive archaeological records.

Several Mesoamerican civilizations did, in fact, exist in the time period covered by the Book of Mormon, such as the Olmec, Zapotec, and Maya. The Olmec and Zapotec civilizations developed a writing system that may have served as the model for the later Mayan writing system, which became highly developed. The Maya developed a complex calendar and were advanced in astronomy and mathematics. [Martha J. Macri. 1996. "Maya and Other Mesoamerican Scripts," "The World's Writing Systems". Ed. Peter T. Daniels and William Bright. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pages 172-182.
Henry Rogers. 2005. "Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach". Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
] These civilizations have been extensively studied; many significant differences and few similarities to the descriptions in the Book of Mormon have been found.

The Book of Mormon mentions several animals, plants, and technologies that are currently believed not to have existed in pre-Columbian America. [ [http://www.irr.org/mit/bomarch2.html Does Archaeology Support the Book of Mormon] ] These include asses, cattle, milk, horses, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, elephants, [http://www.whatismormonism.com/ What is Mormonism? | Book of Mormon Origin | Theology ] ] wheat, barley, [Moses 7:22] figs, [3 Nephi 14:16] grapes, [2 Nephi 15:2] silk, [1 Nephi 14:7] steel, [1 Nephi 4:9] bellows, brass, breast plates, chains, copper, iron, mining ore, plows, swords, scimitars, and chariots [ Alma 18:9] . The Smithsonian Institute has stated that "none of the principal food plants and domestic animals of the Old World (except the dog) were present in the New World before Columbus." [cite web|title=Smithsonian Institution statement on the Book of Mormon|author=missingauthor|url=http://www.irr.org/mit/smithson.html]

Adherents of the LDS movement are mixed in response to these criticisms. Some point to what they claim is evidence for the presence of these items and locations. [Reexploring the Book of Mormon, John Welch, Editor] Others invoke the limited geography model, regarding the events of the Book of Mormon as taking place in such a geographically limited area that no evidence should be expected. Some counter that the words used in the Book of Mormon refer not to the animals, plants and technologies that they do presently but to other similar items that did exist at the time. [ [http://www.allaboutmormons.com/Questions/book_mormon_mentions_horses_elephants_ENG_79.php The Book of Mormon mentions horses, elephants, cattle, swine] ] [See [http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/display-print.php?table=transcripts&id=129 Horses in the Book of Mormon] by Robert R. Bennett under "Naming by Analogy"] The position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the book itself states that the historicity of the book is not important and the focus should be on its spiritual message instead. [http://www.mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/the-restoration-of-truth/the-book-of-mormon] [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_ne/6] [ [http://www.mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/basic-beliefs/the-restoration-of-truth/the-book-of-mormon] The Restoration of The Book of Mormon. www.mormon.org] [1 Nephi 6 [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_ne/6] ]

LDS-funded archaeology

In 1955 Thomas Ferguson, an LDS member and founder of the "New World Archaeological Foundation", with five years of funding from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began to dig throughout Mesoamerica for evidence of the veracity of the Book of Mormon claims. In a 1961 newsletter Ferguson predicted that although nothing had been found, the Book of Mormon cities would be found within 10 years. In 1972, Christian scholar Hal Hougey wrote Ferguson questioning the progress given the stated timetable in which the cities would be found. [Harold H. Hougey, Letter to Thomas Stuart Ferguson, 20 May 1972, University of Utah as quoted in Stan Larson, "The Odyssey of Thomas Stuart Ferguson", ', Spring 1990, p. 76] Replying to Hougey as well as secular and non-secular requests, Ferguson wrote in a letter dated June 5, 1972: "Ten years have passed... I had sincerely hoped that Book-of-Mormon cities would be positively identified within 10 years — and time has proved me wrong in my anticipation." [Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Letter to Harold H. Hougey, 5 June 1972, University of Utah as quoted in Stan Larson, "The Odyssey of Thomas Stuart Ferguson", ', Spring 1990, p. 76]

During the period of 1959-1961, NWAF colleague Dee Green was editor of the "BYU Archaeological Society Newsletter" and had an article from it published in the summer of 1969 edition of ', pp 76-78 in which he acknowledged that the NWAF findings did not back up the veracity of the Book of Mormon claims. After this article and another six years of fruitless search, Thomas Ferguson published a 29 page paper in 1975 entitled "Written Symposium on Book-of-Mormon Geography: Response of Thomas S. Ferguson to the Norman & Sorenson Papers". The full text will be omitted here, but he summed it up on page 29: "I'm afraid that up to this point, I must agree with Dee Green, who has told us that to date there is no Book-of-Mormon geography...". In referring to his own paper, Ferguson wrote a 20 February 1976 letter to Mr & Mrs H.W. Lawrence in which he stated: "...The real implication of the paper is that you can't set the 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." [Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Letter to Mr. and Mrs. Harold W. Lawrence, 20 February 1976b, University of Utah as quoted in Stan Larson, "The Odyssey of Thomas Stuart Ferguson", ', Spring 1990, p. 79. See [http://www.utlm.org/images/ferguson/bomnevermeetdirtarcheology.gifimage copy of the letter] ]

The archaeological investigations of NWAF-sponsored projects have contributed towards the documentation and understanding of pre-Columbian societies, particularly in Mesoamerica. Currently BYU maintains 86 documents on the work of the NWAF at the [http://www.lib.byu.edu/dlib/spc/nwaf/ BYU NWAF website] and these documents are used outside both BYU and the LDS church by researchers.

Linguistics

An additional criticism concerns linguistics. The Nephites and the Lamanites initially spoke in Hebrew (600 BC), and might have spoken a modified Semitic language up to at least AD 400, where the Book of Mormon stops. [Linguistics and the Book of Mormon] The introductory paragraph to the Book of Mormon also states that the Lamanites were the "principal ancestors of the American Indians". However, no Semitic language is spoken natively in the Americas today and there is no evidence that any Native American language has been influenced by any Semitic language at any point in its history. Most historical linguists who specialize in the languages of Native America are in agreement that the languages of Native America cannot be proven to be related to each other within the last 8000-10,000 years, let alone within the last 1000. [Lyle Campbell. 1997. "American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America". Oxford University Press.
Ives Goddard. 1996. "Introduction," "Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 17, Languages". Ed. Ives Goddard. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
Marianne Mithun. 1999. "The Languages of Native North America". Cambridge University Press.
] A common counterargument is that the Book of Mormon mentions contact with other civilizations [lds|Omni|omni|1|12|18, lds|Mosiah|mosiah|24|1|4] with their own non-Semitic languages that might have influenced or supplanted any Semitic language being spoken. In addition, an introductory heading added to the "Book of Mormon" in 1981 states that the peoples mentioned therein are the "primary" ancestors of the Native Americans; it does not conclude that they are the "sole" ancestors. [The original 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon does not make this claim.]

Historical anachronisms

Jeremiah in prison

In the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi laments that the prophet Jeremiah has been cast into prison [1 Nephi 7:14] , sometime before the 8th year of the reign of Zedekiah. [The Book of Mormon dates this comment between 600 B.C. and 592 B.C. (see the heading to 1 Nephi chapter 7), with the first year of the reign of Zedekiah being dated to 600 B.C.] However, according to the Bible, Jeremiah was not imprisoned until the 10th year of the reign of Zedekiah. [Jeremiah 32:1-2]

Quoting Isaiah

Book of Mormon prophets in the Americas quote Isaiah chapters 40 - 66 after having left the Jerusalem area around 600 B.C. However, these chapters were written during the Babylonian captivity sometime between 586 B.C. and 538 B.C. (between 14 and 82 years after it could have been known to Lehi and his family).

Apologists claim that by some other means Isaiah's words must have been also recorded on the brass plates, which Lehi took with him.Fact|date=August 2008

imilarities with King James Bible

The book claims that Nephi quoted the prophet Isaiah from the "Brass Plates" which were brought with them out of Jerusalem. Additionally, the footnotes and chapter headings of modern editions of the book acknowledge this and encourage readers to compare Isaiah and 2 Nephi. As such, Nephi should not contain any translation errors that occur in the King James Bible, which it does. One example is the word Lucifer which is of Latin origin and appears in both the Book of Mormon and Mormon temple ceremonies. [http://www.lds-mormon.com/lucifer.shtml]

Charles Anthon

Martin Harris, an early acquaintance of Joseph Smith, claimed to have carried a sample of writing taken from the Book of Mormon to Charles Anthon who, according to Harris, was able to translate the writings. Martin Harris wrote:

I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.

He then said to me, "Let me see that certificate." I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them. He replied, "I cannot read a sealed book." I left him and went to Dr. Mitchell, who sanctioned what Professor Anthon had said respecting both the characters and the translation. [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/js_h/1/64-65#64 Martin Harris's account of the circumstances.]

Anthon's version, as related in a letter written to one of his colleagues in 1834, contradicts Martin Harris' telling:

The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be "reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics" is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax. When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account:...

... On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues...

... I have frequently conversed with my friends on the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but "Egyptian Hieroglyphics." Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him... [Letter from Charles Anthon to E. D. Howe, 17 February 1834, as printed in B. H. Roberts, ed., A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Provo, Utah: BYU Press, 1965), 1:100–101.]

Population genetics

The Book of Mormon tells of the people of Jared, consisting of several families from the Tower of Babel, who migrated to America from the Old World before Abraham's time; a group including Lehi's family who migrated to America from Jerusalem around 600 BC; and another group (the people of Mulek) who migrated to America from Jerusalem about 8 years later. Although The Book of Mormon makes no overt assertions regarding the migration or non-migration of other groups to America, an introductory paragraph added to the 1981 edition identifies the Lamanites as the "principal ancestors of the American Indians." [See the [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bm/introduction Introduction] to the Book of Mormon]

Many people have examined existing genetic data in order to determine its relationship to the people described in the Book of Mormon. Several studies have been performed in which DNA from modern indigenous Americans has been examined in an attempt to determine Native American origins. Several authors have published works that suggest that current studies of genetic anthropology using DNA evidence do not provide support for the Book of Mormon. To date there have been no DNA studies which link any Native American group with any group in West Asia. [One of the more vocal challengers to the DNA vs. The Book of Mormon issue is [http://www.rickross.com/reference/mormon/mormon95.html Dr. Thomas W. Murphy] .] [Harvnb|Southerton|2004] LDS researchers claim that it is not valid to use genetics to attempt to prove or disprove the historicity of the Book of Mormon, citing a lack of source genes and the improbability of tracing Israelite DNA even if present. [Geneticists have noted the difficulties in using genetics in this area for a variety of reasons. Some of these are our lack of knowledge concerning Sariah's descent (or others' in Lehi's party), have access to DNA from this period (600 BC Israel), or know what other groups would have intermarried with these groups (or in what numbers). For more information see cite journal| last =Whiting| first =Michael F| title =DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective| journal =Journal of Book of Mormon Studies| volume =12| issue =1| pages =24–35| publisher =Maxwell Institute| date =2003| url =http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=311%20Michael%20F.%20Whiting| accessdate =2007-01-19 ] [Not having the ancient Israelite gene for comparison and the inability for DNA testing to link some Jewish groups that are known to be related, see cite journal| last=Butler| first=John M| journal=FARMS Review| volume=18| issue=1| title=Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research| year=2006| pages=101–108| publisher=Maxwell Institute| url=http://www.farmsresearch.com/display.php?table=review&id=601| accessdate=2007-01-19.]

mithsonian Institution statement on the Book of Mormon

The Smithsonian Institution issues a standard reply to requests for their opinion regarding the Book of Mormon as an archaeological or scientific guide. [cite web|title=Smithsonian Institution statement on the Book of Mormon|author=missingauthor|url=http://www.irr.org/mit/smithsonian.html] In brief the statement denies any evidence for pre-Columbian contact between Old and New Worlds: "Certainly there was no contact with the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews or other peoples of Western Asia or the Near East." In 1998, the Smithsonian began issuing a shorter letter without detailed response (which is found in the first letter) and limited its comment to briefly deny any use of the Book of Mormon as an archaeological guide by the institution. [cite web|title=The Smithsonian Institution's 1996"Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon"|author=Jeff Lindsay|url=http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/smithsonian.shtml#update]

Limited GeographyModel

Since the time of its publication, most Latter Day Saints have viewed and explained the Book of Mormon as a comprehensive history of all Native Americans; [Harvnb|Mauss|2003] this understanding of the Book of Mormon is referred to as the "hemispheric model." However, other Latter Day Saints believe that the hemispheric model is an assumption not supported by a close reading of the text. B.H. Roberts states the inadequacy of the hemispheric model in "Studies of the Book of Mormon":

[C] ould the people of Mulek and of Lehi...part of the time numbering and occupying the land at least from Yucatan to Cumorah...live and move and have their being in the land of America and not come in contact with other races and tribes of men, if such existed in the New World within Book of Mormon times? To make this seem possible the area occupied by the Nephites and Lamanites would have to be extremely limited, much more limited, I fear, than the Book of Mormon would admit our assuming. [Harvnb|Roberts|1985|p=93]

The locations of the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon have not been identified to date. Several groups of Mormon scholars and apologists, including the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), have proposed that the city Zarahemla is located somewhere within Central America because of the description given in lds|Alma|alma|22|27 as a narrow neck of land bordering sea on the west and on the east. This approach, often referred to as the "Limited Geography Model," argues for a more limited view of the Book of Mormon, suggesting that the book is a history of only a small group of Native Americans in Central America. This theory has been gaining substantial support among LDS scholars since the mid-1980s because it more accurately represents the descriptions given within the text itself. For instance, the populations and civilizations described in the Book of Mormon were likely too small (only a few millions) to fill entire continents; moreover, there is much evidence that one common assumption of the past—that Book of Mormon civilizations were alone in America—is probably incorrect. Most LDS authors hold the belief that the Book of Mormon events took place within a limited region in Mesoamerica, and that others were present on the continent at the time of Lehi's arrival. [Harvnb|Smith|1997|p=264] This geographical and population model was formally published in the official church magazine, "The Ensign", in a two-part series published in September and October 1984. [cite journal| last =Sorenson| first =John L| authorlink =John L. Sorenson| title =Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture (Part 1)| journal =Ensign| pages =27| publisher =Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints| date =September 1984| url =http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=c4f105481ae6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1| accessdate =2008-08-12 cite journal| last =Sorenson| first =John L| authorlink =John L. Sorenson| title =Digging into the Book of Mormon:Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture (Part 2)| journal =Ensign| publisher =Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints| date =October 1984| url =http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=c3c205481ae6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1|accessdate=2008-08-12] This was followed by a book on the subject by LDS anthropologist John L. Sorenson in 1985. [Harvnb|Sorenson|1985]

Notes

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authorlink=Simon G. Southerton
title =Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church
publisher =Signature Books
year=2004
place =Salt Lake City
id=ISBN 1-56085-181-3
.
*Harvard reference
last=Spaulding
first=Solomon
authorlink=Solomon Spaulding
title=Manuscript Found: The Complete Original "Spaulding" Manuscript
editor-last=Reeve
editor-first=Rex C
year=1996
url=http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/u?/rsc,13807
publisher=Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University
place=Provo, Utah
.
*Harvard reference
Surname=Tvedtnes
Given=John A
authorlink=John A. Tvedtnes
title= Isaiah Variants in the Book of Mormon
journal=Featured Papers
publisher=Maxwell Institute
place=Provo, Utah
year=1984
url=http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?id=2&table=transcripts
accessdate=2007-04-16
.
*Harvard reference
last=Vogel
first=Dan
authorlink=Dan Vogel
title=
year=2004
place=Salt Lake City
publisher=Signature Books
id=ISBN 1-56085-179-1
.

External links

* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1640773288196586414 Archaeology and the Bible (Google video)]
* [http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5358813362888703041 Book of Mormon Geography, Old World (Google video)]
* [http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/u?/rsc,2349 "Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures"] , a book by BYU's Religious Studies Center


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