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Book of Mormon Evidences discusses some of the factors that suggest the Book of Mormon may be an ancient document. Contrary to the claims of our critics, there are impressive findings that make it difficult to explain away the Book of Mormon as a nineteenth-century fraud from Joseph Smith. Such evidence is not "proof" but represents indications of plausibility that demand further attention. This page presents a sampling of Book of Mormon evidence, further supplemented by my collection of Book of Mormon Nuggets. It is maintained by Jeff Lindsay, a Book of Mormon aficionado, who takes full responsibility for the statements and opinions offered on this page. This page is neither sponsored nor endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see the official LDS Web Site).
This page is the work of Jeff Lindsay of Appleton, Wisconsin (now living in Shanghai, China since 2011). I served an LDS mission in the Switzerland Zurich mission and have held a variety of Church callings. However, don't blame the Church for any errors here: I write, ramble, and stumble on my own.
Not that it matters, but I have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from BYU, I'm registered U.S. patent agent, I love science, inventing, photography, writing and learning. Professionally, I have been in academia and corporate research and development, have many technical publications and patent, and have been active in IP and innovation strategy.
I'm the lead author of a new book from John Wiley & Sons: Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar. See the related blog, InnovationFatigue.com. I'm working on a book on LDS apologetics (and a science fiction novel plus a bizarre spoof on terrorism, just to warn you). But who cares? None of that really matters, especially when it comes to religion. Do your own diligence and don't rely on alleged authority from others.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous Book of Mormon issues have been discussed there. Also see the Neal Maxwell Institute, FAIRLDS.org, SHIELDS, the Book of Mormon articles at BYU Studies, Mormonism Researched and The Backyard Professor.)
You can order a free Book of Mormon at Mormon.org.
Parts of this page are translated into Spanish: see Evidencias del Libro de Mormon by Marco Royo.
Much more to come...
I assume that you are already familiar with what the Book of Mormon is. If not, please see my Introduction to Book of Mormon.
The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince the world that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord and Redeemer. It was written by prophets anciently, preserved, and translated in our era by the power of God as a tool to bring souls to Christ. Intellectual evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity is an issue worthy of careful consideration. However, intellectual evidences on their own do not change lives and bring souls to Christ--that requires a spiritual witness through the power of the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, intellectual evidences can be valuable in opening minds and strengthening one's spiritual testimony of the truth. I am greatly impressed with the evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity, especially factors that seemed like laughable mistakes in 1830 that now have become powerful witnesses that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be -- an authentic ancient document that Joseph Smith DID NOT write. He translated it through the power of God.
While I have much to say below about some of the impressive Old World finds related to the Book of Mormon, we are still in our infancy in understanding the geography of the New World setting for the Book of Mormon, but there is a consensus among many LDS scholars now that the most plausible settiing for the Book of Mormon in the New World is a small region, not the entire hemisphere, and that region is set in Mesoamerica, the area covering part of sourthern Mexico, Guatemala, and nearby regions. Mesoamerica fits in many ways. For those interested in understanding the geography debates and the growing evidence in this area, here are some resources to consider:
This section is based largely on the book In the Footsteps of Lehi by Warren P. Aston and Michaela K. Aston (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Comp., 1994). Also see the article, "The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi's Bountiful" by Warren P. Aston, and see Chapter 13 of Reexploring the Book of Mormon, as cited above.
Recent Updates: The Debate Around Arabian Locations. Valuable information on the plausibility of Nephi's journey through Arabia is provided in the new book by George Potter and Richard Wellington, Lehi in the Wilderness (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2003), which is a highly significant work, even if some of the specific sites identified end up being surpassed by other candidates. Yes, there is a healthy debate going on over which sites are the most likely sites for several scene in the Book of Mormon. As part of the healthy quest for understanding among LDS thinkers, there have been criticisms offered against some of the proposed sites identified by Potter and Wellington. The contrarian side is found in "The Wrong Place for Lehi's Trail and the Valley of Lemuel" by Jeffrey R. Chadwick (FARMS Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2005). Potter and Wellington remain in the strong position of having done actual fieldwork in Arabia, and Chadwick's proposed candidate for the Valley of Lemuel seems problematic in comparison, being a dry, barren valley without the river of water Potter and Wellington have found. But he does score some important points. Further clarity came when Kent Brown reviewed candidates for the Valley of Lemuel. Wadi Tayyib al-Ism proposed by George Potter based on his field work stands as the most plausible candidate.
Modern critics with far more education and knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula than Joseph Smith ever had have scoffed at the Book of Mormon's description of the impressive Valley of Lemuel with its "river, continually running" into the Red Sea (1 Nephi 2:9-10). "Everyone knows" that there are no such rivers - yet a highly plausible candidate for exactly such a place exists. (The story repeats itself with the place Bountiful - mockery at the preposterous, uneducated fabrication of Joseph Smith, followed by relative silence in the face of impressive evidence that such a place may be plausible after all.) Now if the Book of Mormon were completely fabricated based on what Joseph could glean about the world from upstate New York in the late 1820s, would we now have the luxury of discussing which actual wadi in Arabia best matches the textual details for the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman? Or would we be discussing the impressive merits of one candidate for Bountiful versus another, as we see below, when "everyone knows" (until recently!) that no such place could possibly exist? It should give one pause, at least.
Related video content includes George Potter and Richard Wellington giving a 2003 presentation on their work, Lehi in the "Wilderness: 81 New Evidences" (part 1). Also see Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6. There are points one can take issue with, but the scope of their on-site work demands attention and serious consideration.
|Overview: The Book of Mormon describes an ancient journey through the Arabian peninsula with plausible details such as directions, a verified ancient place name, geographical details, and the description of an unexpected place called Bountiful that now also appears to be verified. These details could not have been fabricated based on what was known in 1830--even modern "general knowledge" of the Arabian peninsula would not allow a typical educated adult to provide the confirmed details in the Book of Mormon. The only plausible explanation for this is that the author of First Nephi, the book containing the account of the ancient Arabian trek, actually made that trek. The most logical candidate for authorship of First Nephi is Nephi, not Joseph Smith.|
The Book of Mormon begins in a well-known location, Jerusalem, in 600 B.C. The book of First Nephi, the first book in the volume, describes the actions of Lehi and his family in leaving Jerusalem before its destruction, following the counsel of the Lord, and wandering through the wilderness for several years before embarking on a transoceanic voyage to somewhere in or near Central America. Several hints are found in the text that provide information about the journey through the Arabian Peninsula--information which proves to provide powerful evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Following the exodus of Lehi and his group from Jerusalem, they passed near the Red Sea, traveled "south-southeast" (1 Nephi 16:13), roughly parallel to the Red Sea or near its borders (1 Nephi 2:5, 1 Nephi 16:14), until they reached Nahom (1 Nephi 16:34), where Ishmael was buried. (Ishmael was the father of a family that fled Jerusalem with Lehi's family, whose daughters became wives to Lehi's sons.) There was considerable mourning at Nahom. After a while, they traveled eastward (1 Nephi 17:1) until they reached a place they called Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:5) on the coast of the Arabian peninsula, described as rich, green garden spot with trees, abundant fruit, water, honey, and a mountain. At this wonderful site they stayed at least long enough to construct a ship from the abundant timber. Metal obtained from ore was also used to make tools.
The description of Lehi's journey through the desert has been attacked in anti-Mormon literature. Finding a garden spot on the coast of the Arabian peninsula was laughable and was laughed at in the 1800s, because nobody knew of a place that could come anywhere close to being a candidate for Lehi's Bountiful. Indeed, recent anti-Mormon books continue to mock the possibility of a place like Bountiful existing. "The Arabian desert does not have luscious garden spots: Joseph Smith blew it. Case closed." Today we are in a much better position to assess Lehi's journey. It comes as no surprise to me that the journey described in the Book of Mormon now has substantial support behind it.
Enjoy these scenes from the coast of Oman, used with kind permission from the official site for the Ministry of Information of the Sultanate of Oman, Magneto (that's right: it's dot "om", not "com"). The original, larger photos are in their beautiful photogallery. To access it, go to their site and click on "gallery" and then "tourism," and then click through their photos. Amazing views! Also see the photogallery at ExploreOman.com, and my post on Oman photos at my blog, Mormanity.
|After rain in Dhofar, near a candidate site for Bountiful (Wadi Sayq). Note the trees.||A view in Salalah, another candidate region for Bountiful in Oman.|
First, an analysis of the ways of the desert Arabs shows remarkable consistency with the actions taken by Lehi's group and with the language and metaphors used by Lehi as he spoke to his family while traveling in the desert (well covered in Hugh Nibley's Lehi in the Desert). His general path along the Red Sea also follows what are now known to correspond with the ancient frankincense trails in Arabia, which were major trade routes. (See an online map at Latter-day.com of the proposed route, or a group of maps at NephiProject.com. Also see K.C. Kern's satellite map showing the locations of Nahom and Bountiful at BookofMormonOnline.net.) And, as discussed elsewhere on this page, an excellent candidate location has been found for the Valley of Lemuel and the River of Laman--so excellent and amazing, that critics will be ignoring this issue for years to come.
But thanks to the explorations of the Astons in Yemen and Oman, and more recently the work of George Potter (the force behind the Nephi Project--see www.nephiproject.com), we now know much more. As the Astons show in their book, the many details of Lehi's journey in the Book of Mormon can be given solid plausibility based on modern discoveries. For example, the Astons show that there is indeed an ancient site called Nehem that is south-southeast of Jerusalem which was on the frankincense trail and has an ancient tradition of being a place for burial and mourning. Ancient tombs are still abundant in that area. The name Nehem/Nahom ("nhm"--which can also be rendered "Nihm") is a rare place name--with the only known site in the Arabian peninsula being at a place consistent with the Book of Mormon account. Along with detailed documentation and references, the Astons' book includes a photograph of the 1976 Royal Geographical Society map--apparently from the University of Sana'a in Yemen--showing Nehem as a significant burial site in the right place to agree with the Book of Mormon description of Nahom. The existence of this site was not known to LDS scholars until a few years ago and certainly could not have been known to Joseph Smith. (By the way, the Semitic name Nahom can refer to mourning and consolation, and may also refer to groaning and complaining, giving it special significance in Nephi's account. See 1 Nephi 16:35.)
Some critics have argued that references to Nahom/Nehem/Nihm in writing could be traced no earlier than about 900 A.D., not to 600 B.C. That argument lost it basis with a recent discovery of an artifact dating to the sixth or seventh century B.C. bearing the tribal name of "Nihm." S. Kent Brown describes the find (note that I have simply left out several Semitic markings in the names below that I cannot type with ANSI characters):
"A German archaeological team under the leadership of Burkard Vogt has been excavating the Baran temple in Marib, the ancient capital of the Sabaean kingdom that lies about 70 miles due east of modern Sana, the capital of Yemen. (It is likely that the queen of Sheba began her journey to visit King Solomon from Marib.) Among the artifacts uncovered at the temple, the excavators turned up an inscribed altar that they date to the seventh or sixth centuries B.C., generally the time of Lehi and his family. A certain "Biathar, son of Sawad, son of Nawan, the Nihmite" donated the altar to the temple. the altar has been part of a traveling exhibit of artifacts from ancient Yemen...."
(S. Kent Brown, "'The Place That Was Called Nahom': New Light from Ancient Yemen," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999, pp. 66-68; also see "Nahom and the 'Eastward' Turn" at the Maxwell Institute.)
Impressive evidence from three inscriptions on ancient altars from Yemen has been discussed by S. Kent Brown (see "On NAHOM/NHM"), who notes that inscriptions from ancient altars in Yemen soundly demonstrate the existence of the name "NHM" in a time and place consistent with Nephi's account of the place Nahom. See also my Book of Mormon Nugget #15, "More Support for the Place Nahom", "The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi's Bountiful" by Warren P. Aston, "Nahom and the 'Eastward' Turn" at the Maxwell Institute, and S. Kent Brown, "'The Place That was Called Nahom': New Light from Ancient Yemen," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 66-68, as well as Warren P. Aston, "Newly Found Altars from Nahom," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 56-61). The previous link is to the PDF version of the article, which is a must-read. (The HTML version without the photos is here.) There is simply no question that "Nahom" in the Book of Mormon now has solid support--a direct hit in terms of Book of Mormon evidence.
Thus, there is ancient evidence referring to the tribe of Nihm, a member of which was wealthy enough to donate an altar to a temple. The reference cited above shows a picture of the finely carved, beautiful altar. The reference to the tribe of Nihm doesn't prove the existence of a place by the same name. But as S. Kent Brown puts it, "it is reasonable to surmise that the tribe gave its name to the region where it dwelt, evidently a few dozen miles north of modern Sana, in the highlands that rise to the north of Wadi Jawf. Was it this name that Nephi rendered Nahom in the record? Very probably." (ibid.)
As one travels south-southeast of Jerusalem along the major trunk of the ancient Arabian trade route, the route branches east toward the southeastern coast at only point: in the Jawf valley (Wadi Jawf) just a few miles from Nehem. From thence the eastern branch of the trade route goes toward the ancient port of Qana--modern Bir Ali--on the Hadhramaut coast, where most of the incense was shipped. This eastern branch was the major route--the pathways to the south were less used.
Now if Nehem is the Book of Mormon site Nahom, then is there a Bountiful to the east of it on the coast? Amazingly, we have the luxury of two excellent candidate sites that are roughly due east of Nehem on the Oman coast. The Astons propose Wadi Sayq as the best candidate for Bountiful, and it impressively fits the criteria that one can derive from the Book of Mormon. It is a most unusual seashore site which appears to meets virtually every criterion for the site Bountiful in the Book of Mormon. George Potter and Timothy Sedor in their new video, "Following the Words of Nephi: The Land Bountiful," propose the area of Salalah and the nearby ancient port of Khor Rori as the general site for Bountiful (to order the video, see George Potter's site, www.nephiproject.com). It meets many of the criteria that Wadi Sayq does, if we allow Bountiful to include a harbor two or three miles away from an area rich in tropical fruit (the port Khor Rori and the lush regions of Salalah aren't all within a stone's throw of each other, but are close enough).
The Astons make an impressive case and clearly show that the book of First Nephi could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith. Their candidate site of Wadi Sayq appears to offer almost all that we could hope for in terms of marvelous, even stunning evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. Their work is further supplemented by the photographic work of Maurine and Scot Proctor, reported in the article, "Where Did Nephi Build the Ship?" from Meridian Magazine, Sept. 30, 2000. The Proctors provide some additional details beyond the work of the Astons that show the plausibility of the Wadi Sayq location. The NephiProject.com site also provides a page of maps, including a map showing a proposed route for Lehi's trail with a candidate for the Valley of Lemuel, as well as Nahom/Nehem and an alternative good candidate for Bountiful not far from the one proposed by the Astons. Also see "Where Did Nephi Build His Ship?" by Rex Jensen at Latter-day.com, discussing additional tentative evidence for Wadi Sayq as a candidate for the Bountiful site from which Nephi sailed. Also see "Where Did Nephi Build the Ship?" by Scot and Maurine Proctor. As for the challenge of sailing from Bountiful to the New World, see "Is This the Wind that Blew Nephi to the Americas?" by Warren Aston. The weather phenomenon known as El Niña could have done the trick, perhaps.
The proposal of George Potter seems rather convincing at first, but Wadi Sayq may still be the superior candidate. See the Mormanity blog post, "Warren Aston on the Superiority of Khor Kharfot as a Candidate for Bountiful." Also see "Finding Nephi's Bountiful in the Real World" by Warren P. Aston, where he offers some arguments against the Khor Rori site, and see the blog for Discover Nephi's Bountiful. Based on the video, Salalah appears to offer much more in the way of fruit and timber than does Wadi Sayq, but this may be due to recent irrigation. Khor Rori does provide a good harbor with an ancient tradition of ship building, but there is no evidence that ship building skills were there anywhere close to Nephi's time. Wadi Sayq, on the other hand, offers an inlet that anciently may have been quite suitable for launching a ship. At Khor Rori, Potter argues that Nephi could have learned the art of ship building, could have learned how to outfit and operate a ship, could have learned how to train a crew, could have done practice runs in the harbor so his family could see that it was a good ship, could have used existing moorings and literally had his family do down into the ship, and so forth. But Wadi Sayq has all the elements of Nephi's story--the mountain, the trees, the place to build a ship--all close together.
Both Wadi Sayq and Khor Rori fit the description of being nearly due east of Nehem, as the Book of Mormon requires (1 Nephi 17:1). But the path to Wadi Sayq better fits Nephi's description of nearly due east from Nahom, while more zig-zags are needed to reach Khor Rori. Regarding the other Book of Mormon criteria for the place Bountiful, the Astons list the following, along with several others:
Wadi Sayq appears to be the most compelling fit. The mountain for Khor Rori/Salalah, for example, isn't really close enough and overlooking the depths of the sea as the mountain at Wadi Sayq. Both sites are relatively close, within a journey of about two days on foot. Ore has been found at both sites, though it had not been found at Wadi Sayq when the Astons published their findings in 1994. (A 1995 FARMS-sponsored geological expedition has tentatively confirmed that ore does exist at Wadi Sayq which may have been suitable for use as described in the Book of Mormon; and on July 12, 2000, BYU's Daily Universe reported that Dr. Ron Harris of the Department of Geology had found abundant and usable iron ore at nearby Dhofar.) Wadi Sayq offers the largest body of coastal fresh water on the Arabian peninsula, with a beautiful freshwater lagoon, visible on the color photo on the dust jacket of the book "In Lehi's Footsteps." Wadi Sayq has dates, honey, and several species of trees, such as the sycamore fig and tamarind, that may be suitable for ship building. Both sites have coastal areas ideal for an encampment on the seashore, and it is accessible from the interior desert.
In the Aston's book, you'll see trees, greenery, mountains, cliffs, etc., that bring Bountiful to life. While there are two interesting candidates, I strongly favor Wadi Sayq. Warren Aston in e-mail from Oct. 2000 told me that those who have been to both sites agree that Wadi Sayq/Khor Kharfot is the superior location. But the very fact that anything remotely close to a plausible candidate exists is in stark contrast to the oft-repeated claims of critics of the Book of Mormon. Critics, how can you explain this?
An official Web site from the Sultanate of Oman now provides a photogallery with some beautiful photos that show some of the remarkable scenes from the Omani coast, including some of the lush, green vegetation and large trees that occur near candidate sites for Bountiful (Dhofar near Wadi Sayq, and the sites of Salalah and Khor Rori). You can also see the harsh desert. The site is Omanet.om. After going there, click on "gallery" and then "tourism," and click through their photos. Beautiful.
Incidentally, the recent discovery of iron ore suitable for tool making using wood-fired furnaces in the region of Bountiful is a far more impressive find than one might realize, for there are very few places in the Arabian Peninsula that have such ore, according to geology professor Ron Harris in his fascinating article, "Geologists Discover Iron Ore in the Region of Nephi's Bountiful" in Meridian Magazine at LDSmag.com. His article discusses the significance of the find and confirms that the iron ore near the area can be converted to workable metal using wood-fired technology.
Here is a brief quote from the Astons' book, page 29:
By describing in such precise detail a fertile Arabian coastal location, as well as the route to get there from Jerusalem (complete with directions and even a place-name en route), Joseph Smith put his prophetic credibility very much on the line. Could this young, untraveled farmer in rural New York somehow have known about a fertile site on the coast of Arabia? Could a map or some writing other than the Nephite record have been a source for him? The answer is a clear no. Long after the 1830 publication of the Book of Mormon, maps of Arabia continued to show the eastern coastline and interior as unknown, unexplored territory. In fact, until the advent of satellite mapping in recent decades, even quite modern maps have misplaced toponyms and ignored or distorted major features of the terrain.
There is simply no way that Joseph could have obtained enough information about Arabia to fabricate more than a minute fraction of the voyage described in First Nephi. This is demonstrated in the survey of information available prior to 1830 provided by Eugene England in "Through the Arabian Desert to a Bountiful Land: Could Joseph Smith Have Known the Way?," in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Evidences of Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1982), pp. 143-156. Also see S. Kent Brown's excellent response to critics who have challenged the significance of finds in the Arabian Peninsula dealing with the place Nahom. His article, "On NAHOM/NHM," is posted on The Nephi Project.
It is true that the name "Nehhem" or "Nehem" appear on a couple of maps of Arabia produced in Europe before the Book of Mormon was published (see In the Footsteps of Lehi, pp. 14-17). Danish explorer Carsten Niebuhr prepared a map in 1763 and published a book in 1792, that was translated into English and published in England, dealing with the Arabian Peninsula (his book is available online). You can see Niebuhr's map and other old maps of Arabia at Mapping Arabia. (Click on "view slideshow" to see various maps, and then go to the 13th thumbnail for Niebuhr's map, where you can zoom in to see the details. Note that it would have been essentially useless to someone trying to fabricate the Book of Mormon - there is no hint that any of the limited information on that map made it into the Book of Mormon.) Also of interest is a French map produced by Rigobert Bonne around 1780, which shows "Nehem" on the map (see related old maps of Arabia by searching for "Arabia" in the maps at Portsmouthbookshop.com. In fact, Jim Gee has completed an extensive study on maps of Arabia (for best results, see the PDF version of Gee's article) and found the most expensive maps from the finest printing houses in Europe between 1751 and 1814 often showed Nehem, though many maps did not. (See "The Nahom Maps" by Jim Gee, Journal of the Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 40-57, 2008).
I am not aware of any evidence that these maps were accessible to Joseph Smith. Even if he did gain access to them and to all the writings available on Arabia, the sketchy information would not have enabled anyone to fabricate the details of Nephi's accurate description of travel through the Peninsula and the discovery of Bountiful. For example, it appears that none of the sources that Western scholars might have used in Joseph Smith's day would have informed them about the plausibility of a due east turn at Nahom to reach the place Bountiful (see S. Kent Brown's article. Say, here's a fun challenge: give all the maps at the Mapping Arabia site to a friend and ask him or her to construct a plausible path from Jerusalem to a fruitful place on the ocean for an ancient group of travelers. See what they can come up with, and compare it to reality and the Book of Mormon.
The Arabian peninsula evidence for Book of Mormon authenticity is fascinating, though many will still dismiss it. If I asked you to write about a journey across Tasmania or through Bhutan or some other place about which you knew little, could you possibly describe a journey and its course in a way that would gain credibility with time? Is there any chance that you could even describe a reasonable general direction to travel? Could you pick a route that would later comply with routes used by others in the area? Could you name a site and over a century later have others find a map with a similar name at that place? Could you describe an unusual place that seems entirely out of line with what little you and others knew about the area, only to have others later discover an excellent candidate for that location in a place entirely consistent with the course you describe? To me, this is one of literally hundreds of "mundane" confirmations of the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document.
The only logical explanation for the account of Lehi's journey is that it was written by people who traveled through the Arabian peninsula, and that means Joseph Smith did not write it. We are talking about a real ancient document that speaks to us from the dust (Isaiah 29) and confirms that Jesus is the Christ.
I highly recommend the Astons' book. Its detailed treatment, the extensive documentation, the careful consideration of numerous issues, including ocean currents for the ocean voyage eastward, for example, and the personal description of the Astons' adventures make this an outstanding resource and a truly enjoyable book to read. And most of the information is relevant even if Wadi Sayq is not the actual Bountiful of Nephi.
I have asked many critics of the Book of Mormon to explain how Joseph Smith could have fabricated something so "laughable" yet so amazingly accurate as the place Bountiful and the burial place Nahom. No one so far has attempted a serious explanation. Recently, though, the Tanners have attempted to undermine the Astons' work by suggesting that Mormon scholars are contradicting themselves (Jerald and Sandra Tanner, Answering Mormon Scholars, Salt Lake City: Utah Lighthouse Ministry, 1996, reviewed by Matthew Roper in "Unanswered Mormon Scholars," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, pp. 87-145; for more information on the amazingly weak response of the "best" anti-Mormons to the Arabian Peninsula evidence of authenticity, see Scott Pierson's page on the Tanners' response--which also features a useful map and other supporting information). Citing the earlier and now outdated work of the Hiltons, who proposed an alternative site for Nahom before the exciting discoveries of Nehem and Wadi Sayq, the Tanners make much of the Hiltons having proposed a different place than the site Nehem. Since the two sites are 350 miles away, we are supposed to shake our heads and dismiss both due to the apparent contradiction (p. 181). Such arguments are utterly irrelevant, for the earlier tentative work of the Hiltons has been entirely superseded by more recent discoveries.
Amazingly, the Tanners go on to suggest that the ancient burial site Nehem or Nehhm, as one source misspells it, is an utterly unacceptable candidate for Nahom, since "only three of the five letters in Nehhm agree with the spelling Nahom. The second letter in Nehhm is e rather than a, and the fourth letter is h instead of o. The variant spellings of Nehem, Nehm, Nihm, Nahm, and Naham do not really help to solve the problem" (p. 183). But surely the Tanners know the deceitfulness of their argument. Surely they have encountered enough basic Biblical (and LDS) commentary to know that it is the consonants and not the vowels that carry the meaning in Semitic languages, including Hebrew and Arabic. If nothing else, surely the Tanners have read that Jehovah in Hebrew is really YHWH, at which point typical commentaries explain the fluidity of vowels and the primacy of consonants in written Hebrew. The crucial fact is that the root of Nehhm/Nehem/Nahom is NHM, and that this word can be spelled in a variety of ways and may even be pronounced in a variety of ways, yet still has the same root meaning (mourning, murmuring, sorrow, etc.). To argue about differences in vowels, in the face of remarkable evidence of congruence of Nahom and Nehem (= NHM, an extremely rare place name), seems rather silly. (For related information, see "On NAHOM/NHM" by S. Kent Brown; see also "'The Place That Was Called Nahom': New Light from Ancient Yemen" and "Nahom and the 'Eastward' Turn" at FARMS.)
The Tanners try to explain away the correctness of the routes described in the Book of Mormon by suggesting that some books in the 1830s did speak of a fertile region in southern Arabia. That argument can't even come close to explaining the direct hit on Nahom, which is not mentioned in any known sources available in 1830. The sources the Tanners refer to, the works of Jedidiah Morse, speak of Arabia Felix, a fruitful place, on the eastern shore of the Red Sea, in the southwestern part of the Arabian peninsula. Morse indicates that the rest of the Arabian peninsula was barren. Even if Joseph Smith had access to his works (anti-Mormon critics are retroactively creating an ever growing library for the farm boy Joseph!), that would do nothing to explain how Joseph Smith could successfully locate Bountiful on the southeastern shore of the Arabian peninsula, far away from the Red Sea. Nahom, near the southwestern part of the peninsula, was far from a Bountiful-like place, but was a place of sorrow and mourning and severe hunger (1 Nephi 16:39).
S. Kent Brown provides information about what was available from ancient writers about Arabia and the incense trail in his article, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail" in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. D.W. Parry, D.C. Peterson, and J.W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), pp. 55-125, with pages 69-76 and 118-119 being especially relevant. As of 1830, for example, neither the Manchester library nor the Dartmouth College library had any classical or contemporary works dealing in any detail with Arabia (ibid., p. 75). Even if Joseph had been a voracious bookworm with a huge library at hand, there is simply no way he could have generated the accurate details in the Book of Mormon based on what was available in print in the 1820s.
Brown's article also adds many other dimensions to our appreciation of the Book of Mormon, showing that the Dhofar region of southern Oman has the features described in 1 Nephi, including the honey mentioned in 1 Nephi 17:5.
If the Book of Mormon is to be explained away, it won't do to simply deal with the weakest evidences for authenticity and the incompletely answered questions. The strongest evidences must also be considered. I consider the "direct hits" in the Arabian Peninsula to be among the strongest intellectual evidences for authenticity, though many more continue to emerge. Theories that make the Book of Mormon to be a mere product of nineteenth century knowledge are immediately undermined by consideration of the Arabian Peninsula evidences (along with chiasmus, Hebraisms, metal plates and scriptorio, warfare in the Book of Mormon, and many other issues).
Some critics have charged that Joseph could have found a book describing the Arabian peninsula that also had a map with the name Nehem on it. There is absolutely no support for this concept. While obscure works had been published in Europe with a map showing Nehem, as far as we can tell it was not available anywhere near Joseph Smith in his day. A good discussion on this topic and other topics relating to Nahom is found in a message attributed to S. Kent Brown posted Feb. 23, 2000 in the ZLMB discussion group at pub26.ezboard.com (no longer available):
And even if a library nearby had such a book, we know that Joseph was not a bookworm, but was a poor farmboy largely engaged in manual labor prior to the Restoration. Of his family situation, Joseph said that "it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructid in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements" (D. C. Jessee, Editor, Papers of Joseph Smith , vol. 1, p. 5). His mother also affirmed that he was "much less inclined to the perusal of books than any of the rest of our children" (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by P. Nibley , p. 82). I find it interesting that the critics charge that Joseph was so ignorant and uneducated that he would not know that the birthplace of Jesus Christ was Bethlehem, while on the other hand they claim that Joseph was so well versed in the books of the world and the Bible that he could plagiarize and integrate from many sources to create a fraud so clever that it can fool highly educated people to this day with such subtleties as chiasmus, the correct locations for Nahom and Bountiful, and many other aspects that demand respect. But the fact is, they still have no remotely plausible explanation for how Joseph could have fabricated First Nephi.
2006 Update on Lehi in the Wilderness by George Potter and Richard Wellington
George Potter and Richard Wellington's recent book, Lehi in the Wilderness (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2003) provides many interesting insights into Book of Mormon issues in the Arabian Peninsula, but it suffers from some flaws. The authors offer tantalizing finds, but in spite of their field work and abundant photographs and maps, they may have made some serious errors at the beginning of the path they identify. While their candidate for the Valley of Lemuel and the River Laman seem impressive, there is a good case that it is too far from the shores of the Red Sea and that the path required to reach it is implausible, as is discussed in the review, "The Wrong Place for Lehi's Trail and the Valley of Lemuel" by Jeffrey R. Chadwick (FARMS Review, Vol. 17, No. 2, 2005). Chadwick proposes that Bir Marsha, a place easily accessed from the coast of the Red Sea and not distant from Potter's candidate, may be more suitable for the Valley of Lemuel, though there may be several other good choices. As for the River Laman, Chadwick believes that it only need have been a wadi flowing with water at the time of Lehi's sermon to his sons, and that it need not flow continuously. Lehi said that it ran continuously to the Red Sea, not that it flowed continuously, and this can be fulfilled by a path for a wadi that goes into the Red Sea, regardless of how often the path has flowing water.
Around the region of Nahom, the authors are on more solid ground. I am also intrigued with their discussion of the place Shazer that corresponds to a specific location along the ancient incense trails, as does Nahom. Numerous details of the journey described in the Book of Mormon are consistent with the terrain and the ways of ancient voyagers through the Arabian Peninsula. Potter and Wellington provide a wealth of information that adds insight to Lehi's travels and to the circumstances of his group at various stages of their long sojourn.
The authors then trace Lehi's probable path from Nahom eastward to the coast of Oman, and offer an interesting but possibly incorrect candidate for the place Bountiful (see "Warren Aston on the Superiority of Khor Kharfot as a Candidate for Bountiful"). Here they depart from the much publicized Wadi Sayq as a candidate for Bountiful, preferring instead the region of Dhofar about 60 miles to the north, and specifically the port region of Khor Rori. Even if some parts of their analysis are wrong, the general information about the Arabian Peninsula strengthens the case for the plausibility of First Nephi in the Book of Mormon. Regardless of which of two good candidates is selected for Bountiful, there are many factors that support the hypothesis that the record in First Nephi is an authentic ancient Semitic record crafted by someone who actually made an ancient journey from Jerusalem to the eastern coast of Oman. In spite of some possibly serious errors, Potter and Wellington's book is a valuable contribution to understanding the Book of Mormon. The book is available at NephiProject.com. Also see my Book of Mormon Nugget, "The Place Shazer" and Rex Jensen's "Where Did Nephi Build His Ship?"
2013 Update on Khor Kharfot
Take a look at Warren P. Aston's article in the March 2013 issue of Wildlife Middle East (vol. 6, no. 4, March 2013). Warren's article, "Arabia's Hidden Valley: A Unique Habitat in Dhofar Captures Arabia's Past," does not mention the Book of Mormon or LDS issues, but the site he treats in his secular article is a leading candidate for ancient Bountiful. The article includes photos of the Khor Kharfot site at the mouth of Wadi Sayq, and also discusses biodiversity in this region. Photos of native figs and dates are included, as are some photos of the large freshwater lagoon that would have been a big part of why a weary band of travelers might call that spot Bountiful. Knowledge of the biodiversity there helps us better appreciate what Lehi and Nephi may have found, though some things have certainly changed since 600 B.C.
Also see FAIRMormon.org's page on Book of Mormon geography in the Old World for a good overview of the development of proposed routes for Lehi's group through the Arabian Peninsula.
While the once-frequent jabs at Nephi's tale of finding Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula have lost their punch with the discovery of a remarkable and hard-to-ignore candidate for Bountiful in Oman, other aspects of Nephi's story continue to draw anti-Mormon fire. One of the most prominent targets is the Valley of Lemuel and the River of Laman. Anti-Mormons recently have been proclaiming that no such river exists--a "slam-dunk" argument against the entire Book of Mormon. The attack is based on the following verses from 1 Nephi chapter 2:
2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness....
4 And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness....
5 And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.
6 And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.
7 And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.
8 And it came to pass that he called the name of the river, Laman, and it emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof.
9 And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!
10 And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!
The critics chuckle that there are NO RIVERS flowing into the Red Sea, at least not anything that could be said to be "continually" flowing. Sure, a few wadis might get a momentary trickle during a rainstorm, but nothing that could be the basis for Lehi's lecture to Laman. Yet the Book of Mormon has Lehi and his family stopping in an impressive valley with a river that continually (year round?) flows into the Red Sea. Slam dunk for the antis? No way!
An excellent candidate location for the River of Laman and the Valley of Lemuel has been found in an entirely plausible location. Photographic evidence and other documentation is provided in George D. Potter's article, "A New Candidate in Arabia for the Valley of Lemuel," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999, pp. 54-63. (That's a PDF file. The HTML version without photos is also available.) Potter reports that in looking for a well in Arabia, about 8 miles north of Maqna on the Gulf of Aqaba, he stumbled across a magnificent narrow canyon that ended in a palm-lined cove on the coast of the Red Sea. The canyon actually has a small stream that flows continually, throughout the entire year, and is surrounded by very tall mountain walls. This valley is known as Wadi Tayyib al-Ism ("Valley of the Good Name"). I've received permission from author George Potter to display two relevant photos that he kindly sent me:
|The River Laman||The Valley Cove|
|A 35 minute video, Discovering the Valley of Lemuel, filmed entirely on location, can be ordered.
Other photos from the video on the Valley of Lemuel and other photos of interest from the Arabian Peninsula are shown in a photogallery at NephiProject.com. (While some of the findings reported in various videos at NephiProject.com may be somewhat speculative, I am particularly impressed with the work done regarding the Valley of Lemuel.)
To really understand the strength of this evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon, I recommend the video mentioned above. Further information is provided at The Nephi Project. It shows, for example, that following Nephi's directions almost inevitably would lead one to encounter the oasis and the spring that is the source of the "River Laman" at the beginning of the Valley of Lemuel, and that this is just where the Book of Mormon says it is. It is there--and no one in the Americas knew of it in Joseph Smith's day. Few experts know of it in this day. But it is there, an incredibly rare perennial stream in Arabia. After seeing the video, one can understand why Lehi would have been impressed with the setting and would have referred to the valley as a symbol of strength and firmness. The video also shows the grains, dates, and other edible plants available in the area, along with clear evidence that the stream flow all year round. The video also shows pottery fragments and remnants of possible altars dating to the first millennium B.C. that have been found there, adding to the plausibility of the Book of Mormon account. (The video is not highly professional, but presents the evidence clearly and is definitely worth owning.)
Could Potter's small stream, shallow and just a few feet wide, at most, qualify as a river? In the published article, Potter notes that there are several Hebrew words which could qualify as the "river" of 1 Nephi 2, most of which refer to any running stream. They could also refer to seasonal waterways, such as the "River of Egypt," which is Wadi El-Arish, a wadi that fills only after storms (see Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, Vol. 2, p. 321, 378). Or it can refer to large rivers like the Euphrates. The small stream found by Potter keeps vegetation green and healthy even when there has been no rain for months. It flows continuously, in spite of being reduced in volume by pumping upstream for use at a coast guard post and by many motor-driven pumps in the area tapping into the aquifer that is the source of the spring. In fact, it appears that the stream once had much greater flow, for there is heavy erosion of the lower canyon walls and water-laid calcite deposits on the valley floor that can be as wide as 15 to 20 feet, much wider than the stream. The river currently descends into rocky rubble as it approaches the Red Sea. According to Dr. Wes Garner, a retired geologist from King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia, movement of the continental plates has caused the canyon to rise significantly since Lehi's time--the rocky place where the stream disappears as it approaches the Red Sea was previously submerged. Lehi probably would have faced a larger river that visibly flowed into the Red Sea.
The shady canyon and the stream of fresh water, originating from a spring, would have provided welcome relief to the travelers and undoubtedly would have been a place where the voyagers would camp and recharge. They may have stayed here long enough to learn that the river really does flow continuously, though they may have inferred that based on the green vegetation supported by the river.
How about the location? The Book of Mormon text appears to say that Lehi and his family traveled for three days in the wilderness after the reached the Red Sea (after "he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea"). Is the candidate for the Valley of Lemuel in a reasonable location to match the text? Yes--it's 70 miles south of Aqaba--that's the land distance that must be traveled by foot (or by camel), not the distance along a straight line. That's a plausible but challenging distance on foot for three days travel, and a piece of cake by camel.
Potter provides photos, a map, and detailed directions on how to get there. More remains to be learned about this amazing site--but it must be regarded as another powerful and verifiable piece of evidence supporting the plausibility of the Book of Mormon. An anti-Mormon laughingstock has become one more piece of evidence for them to ignore. Meanwhile, skeptical anti-Mormons are encouraged to head off to Arabia as quickly as possible to see for themselves. (And, for a refreshing change of pace, be sure to try a little anti-Muslim evangelizing while there.) Others wishing more information are encouraged to purchase the video.
Most of the arguments against the Book of Mormon are arguments of silence. According to the critics, since something in the Book of Mormon has not (yet) been found, it must not exist, making the book false. But these arguments of silence have a tendency of crumbling before the voice of data. Modern ignorance about remote places and ancient peoples continues to erode, leaving the foundation of the Book of Mormon exposed as a solid fortress rising above the plains of doubt. Oh, yes--we're just in the infancy of knowledge here. Almost none of the likely candidates for Book of Mormon sites in Mesoamerica have been carefully excavated. Many more discoveries await us--be patient! For now, though, consider John Sorenson's latest work, Mormon's Codex, to be published in 2012. See the text from his presentation, "Reading Mormon's Codex" from the FAIR 2012 Conference.
Absolutely laughable in 1830, now not only well established as an ancient practice, but as a particularly significant ancient practice in the Middle East in the era of 600 B.C.--especially for religious documents. Most significant, perhaps, is the ancient practice of "scriptorio"--putting the title page at the END of the book, something which is a hallmark of ancient writings on plates from the Middle East, and which is also strong evidence of authenticity for the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have known of "scriptorio" when he translated the gold plates and noted that the title page was at the end, on the last page. For details on this important external evidence, see my page on "Metal Plates and the Book of Mormon", taken from a FARMS Update (in compliance with their "fair use" policy). Also see my Book of Mormon "Nugget," "Hiding Sacred Records like the Golden Plates: A Well Established Ancient Practice," and my LDSFAQ page on Metals in the Book of Mormon. It's interesting to see the critics moving away from mocking the very concept of writing on metal places to now saying that it was obvious and Joseph could easily have come up with that idea on his own (see the related Mormanity post or Book of Mormon Nugget #25.
2003 Update: Ancient book of gold plates discovered! See the BBN News article from May 26, 2003, "Unique Book Goes on Display." This volume of gold plates, bound with gold rings at the side as was the Book of Mormon plates, comes from the ancient Etruscans, who had origins in the Middle East (Turkey) and were wiped out by the Romans in the 4th century B.C. Also see the related story from May 23, 2003, "World's Only Etruscan Gold Book Added to Bulgaria's Archeology Treasures."
Where did Joseph Smith get the idea of ancient records on metal plates hidden in a stone box that was buried in the earth? Critics mocked this for decades--until many other examples of ancient records preserved on plates or in stone boxes were found. In our day, scholars know that there is a vast ancient tradition pertaining to preserving sacred records by concealing them for some future time. Some of this evidence is brought together lucidly in John A. Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2000). Also see my Book of Mormon "Nugget," "Hiding Sacred Records like the Golden Plates: A Well Established Ancient Practice." It turns out that this practice of concealing records "is most prominent in the ancient Near East, the land from which the Book of Mormon people emigrated to the New World. The practice of concealing records in stone boxes is also well attested in the ancient world and was still being practice in Moroni's day. And the use of metal for preserving sacred records is also attested, particularly in the ancient Near East. Joseph Smith could not have known all of this (though some basic concepts were known before 1830 - see "Those Implausible Plates" at Mormanity for a discussion), and his early critics had no clue either (and many modern critics still remain blissfully unaware of the extensive discoveries in this area). How, then, if the Book of Mormon is a forgery, did Joseph manage to be so lucky as to make up a story that fits ancient patterns so well?
The way covenants were made in the ancient Middle East are much different than the way we do treaties or contracts today. It was only a few decades ago that scholars, after studying newly translated documents from the ancient Hittites and others, began to piece together a common pattern found, at least partially, in many ancient covenants, including Old Testament covenants.
My appreciation of the ancient covenant patterns found in part of the Book of Mormon actually came after recognizing the significance of these patterns in the LDS Temple concept. This began by reading two books by modern scholars dealing with ancient religious practices and symbols. The book I found most helpful was Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985) by Jon D. Levenson, a Jewish scholar now at Harvard. Also of great value to me was Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane, transl. W. R. Trask, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959). Eliade helped me to see the Temple from the ancient perspective of sacred space, to recognize its meaning and symbolism as the cosmic mountain, an axis that connects the underworld, the living, and the heavens and that provides orientation and directions for our journey in mortality. The significance of altars, of ritual drama, of the emphasis on the Creation, and many other ancient aspects of the modern LDS Temple became much clearer and profound after reading Eliade. But Levenson's book was most valuable. On page after page, I encountered evidence that ancient Temple practices - covenant making, symbols, meanings - had been restored in a pure and powerful way in the modern LDS Temple. One of the most exciting discoveries was that the typical ancient form of covenant making had been restored. This ancient pattern for making a covenant between God and man or a king and his subjects is known as the "covenant formulary" and includes six major steps, though many ancient examples may only have a subset of the six:
I won't get into the fascinating relationship to LDS temples here, but I will note that these patterns can be found as well in the temple-related sermon of King Benjamin in Mosiah 1-6, an episode where Benjamin speaks from the Nephite temple and brings his people into a covenant to follow Christ, the promised Messiah. For details, please see Stephen D. Ricks, "The Treaty/Covenant Pattern in King Benjamin's Address (Mosiah 1- 6)," BYU Studies, vol. 24, Spring 1984, pp. 151-62. Also see Stephen Ricks, "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," in King Benjamin's Speech, ed. John Welch and Stephen Ricks, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998, pp. 233-275. Also see my related post on Mormanity.
I don't think the elements of the ancient covenant formula can be pieced together just by being familiar with the King James text, though one identified by scholars with the help of other ancient documents from the Middle East, we can see it in the Bible. To me, the ancient elements of King Benjamin's speech as well as the LDS temple cannot be explained by Joseph just absorbing and regurgitating what he was exposed to, whether it was the KJV text, Masonry, or all the scholarship of local libraries and newspapers. I find King Benjamin's speech to be remarkable interesting, and hope you'll look at it carefully. There's a whole online book on the topic that I highly recommend, the previously mentioned King Benjamin's Speech, edited by Welch and Ricks.
Contrary to anti-Mormon claims, DNA evidence does not refute the Book of Mormon. The issue requires more analysis than I wish to fit on this page, so I have a separate lengthy page on the issue at http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/DNA.shtml. (I am happy to report that the Nov. 16, 2003 version of that essay that I converted to a PDF file has been posted on the LDS.org Web site at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/assets/pdf/Jeff_Lindsay_DNA.pdf--also see other resources on this topic on the LDS.org "DNA and the Book of Mormon" page.)
In my article, I point out that there are genes found in Native Americans that are also found in Jews, including mitochondrial DNA haplotype X (found among some Israelis and Europeans) and a Y chromosome haplotype called "1C". These genes can also be found in Asia, and so don't prove that people from the Middle East came to the Americas--but that possibility most certainly is NOT excluded by the DNA evidence. Other data may point more directly to Middle Eastern origins for some of the many genes in the Americas, including an analysis of ancient skulls from the Americas and HLA genes. But even without the discovery of such evidence or of the possibly relevant DNA haplotypes, a proper understanding of what the Book of Mormon actually says and what the scientific data actually say rapidly leads one to the conclusion that the DNA-based attacks on the Book of Mormon are without merit. The scientific data may challenge some popular misinterpretations of the Book of Mormon, but they do not challenge the text itself. For details, see "Does DNA evidence refute the Book of Mormon?"
In spite of the popular "Asia only" paradigm for Native American origins, evidence for ancient transoceanic contact exists and the Bering Strait theory appears to be unable to explain the origins of all ancient Americans. I discuss transoceanic contact and the Bering Strait in my page on the Smithsonian Institution's 1996 Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon.
One of the most common attacks against the Book of Mormon focuses on the use of "Reformed Egyptian" as the writing system for the golden plates (Mormon 9:32-34). It is alleged that the no self-respecting Israelite would ever use Egyptian to write sacred scripture, and it is alleged that no such language as "Reformed Egyptian" has ever existed. These arguments are typified in the anti-Mormon book, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism by "Dr." John Ankerberg and "Dr. Dr." John Weldon (neither one of which appears to have a legitimate Ph.D.):
"Mormonism has never explained how godly Jews [sic] of A.D. 400 allegedly knew Egyptian, nor why they would have written their sacred records entirely in the language of their pagan, idolatrous enemies" (p. 284). "How likely is it that the allegedly Jewish [sic] Nephites would have used the Egyptian language to write their sacred scriptures? Their strong antipathy to the Egyptians and their culture makes this difficult to accept. When modern Jews copy their scripture, they use Hebrew. They do not use Egyptian or Arabic, the language of their historic enemies" (pp. 294-95). "[N]o such language [as reformed Egyptian] exists and Egyptologists declare this unequivocally" (p. 294).
Ankerberg and Weldon are wrong on several counts--grossly wrong, as shown by Daniel C. Peterson in a noteworthy book review in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5, 1993, pp. 43-45 (available online). Several modified or "reformed" Egyptian scripts are well known, including forms called Demotic and Hieratic. "Reformed Egyptian" is clearly an appropriate generic term for those writing systems. However, the "Reformed Egyptian" used by the Nephites is described as a language system unique to them (Mormon 9:32-34), having evolved with their culture over a 1,000-year period. It was apparently used for sacred writings, and should have been almost wholly lost with the destruction of Nephite civilization. How can we expect Egyptologists, with typically no training in Central American matters, to know whether such a language ever existed there? Daniel Paterson gives further analysis (Peterson, pp. 44-45):
[W]ho says that the Nephites wrote in Egyptian? That is certainly one possibility, but several scholars (e.g., Sidney Sperry, John Sorenson, and John Tvedtnes) suggest, rather, that the language of the Nephites was Hebrew, written in Egyptian characters. The practice of representing one language in a script commonly associated with another language is very common. Yiddish, for instance, which is basically a form of German, is routinely written in Hebrew characters. Swahili can be written in either Roman or Arabic scripts. Judeo-Arabic, as written for instance by Moses Maimonides, was medieval Hebrew written with Arabic letters. In fact, almost any textbook of colloquial Arabic or Chinese or Japanese aimed at Western learners will use the Latin alphabet to represent those languages. Language and script are essentially independent. Turkish, which used to be written in a modified Arabic script, has been written in Latin letters in the Republic of Turkey since the 1920s. However, in the areas of the old Soviet Union, it is now usually written in Cyrillic (Russian) characters. Likewise, perhaps the major difference between Hindi and Urdu may be the mere fact that the former uses a Devanagari writing system, while the latter uses a modified Arabo-Persian script. So this phenomenon of changing the script with which one writes a language is by no means unusual.
But we need not speak only in theoretical terms. We have, in fact, an ancient illustration that comes remarkably close to the Book of Mormon itself. Papyrus Amherst 63, a text from the second century B.C., seems to offer something very much like "reformed Egyptian." It is a papyrus scroll that contains Aramaic texts written in a demotic Egyptian script. (Aramaic is a language closely related to Hebrew. of the Old Testament book of Daniel is written in Aramaic, and it was the spoken language of Jesus and his apostles. Incidentally, however, a Christian form of the language, Syriac, came to use an alphabet related to Arabic--again illustrating the independence of script and tongue.) Interestingly, one of the items found on Papyrus Amherst 63 is a version of Psalm 20:2-6. Ankerberg and Weldon wonder why "godly Jews [sic] . . . would have written their sacred records entirely in the language of their pagan, idolatrous enemies." Perhaps they should ask them some day, for godly Jews most certainly did (see "Language and Script in the Book of Mormon," Insights: An Ancient Window, March 1992, p. 2).
By the way, Peterson gives a footnote on Ankerberg's claim about Jews exclusively using Hebrew:
The statement "When modern Jews copy their scripture, they use Hebrew. They do not use Egyptian or Arabic, the language of their historic enemies" is quite an astonishing display of ignorance. Since the Egyptian language has been dead for centuries, it is hardly remarkable that modern Jews do not read the Bible in Egyptian. On the other hand, "the first and most important rendering [of the Old Testament] from Hebrew [into Arabic] was made by Sa'adya the Ga'on, a learned Jew who was head of the rabbinic school at Sura in Babylon (died 942)" (George A. Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible [hereafter IDB], 4 vols. and supplement [Nashville: Abingdon, 1962-1976], 4:758b). Thus, Jews have indeed translated the Bible into "Arabic, the language of their historic enemies." They also have translated it into the language of their "historic enemies" the Greeks (IDB 4:750b on the Septuagint) and Aramaeans (IDB 1:185-93; 4:749-50, on the Aramaic Targums).
More information and relevant examples are given in the article, "Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters" by John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996, and also the excellent FARMS article "Reformed Egyptian" by William Hamblin. And for fun, be sure to see the site, Ancient Scripts--a marvelous collection of information on scripts of the ancient world.
Update: The FARMS publication, Insights, in Feb. 1998 reported on presentations at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL), held Nov. 1997 in San Francisco. Non-LDS scholar Nili S. Fox discussed the development of Egyptian hieratic numerals used in Hebrew texts by Israelites during the ninth through seventh centuries B.C. Fox noted that the Israelite scribes were acquainted with the Egyptian writing system and that there was a longer history of ties between Egypt and both Judah and Israel than previously thought. Hebrews using an Egyptian writing system? The idea is a lot more plausible today that it was in Joseph Smith's time. The anti-Mormon critics who dismiss the possibility ("Jews hated the Egyptians, their former slavemasters, and would never think of using anything from Egyptian culture!") continue to stand on a foundation of sand, and the sand is shifting again.
2004 Update: Recently, an ancient seal was discovered in Jerusalem bearing the title, "Malkiyahu the son of the king." This may very well be a seal from the Mulek, the son of King Zedekiah. This is entirely plausible based on what we know of ancient Israel and the information in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Details of this discovery are provided by Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2003, pp. 72-83, available online in HTML or PDF (use the PDF version to see the seal and the Hebrew characters), provided by the Maxwell Institute.
Though the entire article should be read carefully to appreciate the possible significance of the find, here are the concluding remarks of Chadwick:
So was Mulek the "Malkiyahu the son of the king" mentioned in Jeremiah 38:6? Nothing in the Bible or the Book of Mormon negates this identification. And the evidence rehearsed above lends significant support to it. The m-l-k basis of both Hebrew names is clear, and the case of Berekhyahu/Baruch demonstrates that there is theoretical precedent for a person being called both Malkiyahu and Mulek--the one a longer, more formal version of the name with a theophoric yahu element [an ending based on an abbreviation of the divine name, YHWH], and the other a shorter form lacking that element but featuring a different vowel vocalization. Malkiyahu/Mulek would not have been killed by the Babylonians before Zedekiah's eyes, as were his brothers (all younger than himself), because as the king's oldest son and heir to the throne, he was likely sent to Egypt by his father well before the fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the royal family. Whether Mulek was sent to Egypt as a royal messenger or ambassador or in an effort to ensure his safety, it is unlikely that he could have taken all of his possessions with him to Egypt. Other men in Judah with the ben hamelek title are known to have possessed multiple stamp seals, and if Malkiyahu/Mulek did also it would have been easy for him to have left one behind. Some 2,570 years or so later, that seal was found by someone digging in Jerusalem and was surreptitiously sold. The stamp seal of "Malkiyahu son of the king" now in the London collection of Shlomo Moussaieff seems to be authentic. In answer to the question posed at the outset of this article--and the significance of this can hardly be overstated--it is quite possible that an archaeological artifact of a Book of Mormon personality has been identified. It appears that the seal of Mulek has been found.
A long-ridiculed "anachronism" in Book of Mormon is the reference in Helaman 3:9-11 to cement work among some of the ancient inhabitants of this continent in the 1st century B.C. At this time, many Nephite people moved into the north lands (probably southern Mexico). Trees were very scarce there, apparently because of environmental irresponsibility among a previous, fallen civilization (I refer to the "Jaredites," probably correlated with the Olmecs). While taking care to protect and nurture trees for the future, the Nephites used other materials to build their cities. Buildings made from cement are specifically mentioned. For decades, this seemed like a mistake.
There is near consensus among LDS scholars that Mesoamerica (e.g., the region now occupied by southern Mexico, Guatemala, etc.) is the best candidate for the New World setting of the Book of Mormon. In this paradigm, Book of Mormon lands are viewed as having a limited geographic scope--a few hundred miles of north to south extent versus a continental scope. One version of this model is impressively explained in John Sorenson's book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985) and in David Palmer's In Search of Cumorah (Springville, Utah: Horizon Publishers, 1981). Mesoamerica fits the general setting required for the Book of Mormon in many ways such as providing a region with an ancient tradition of written language, the existence of ancient temple building, many of the elements of civilization described in the Book of Mormon, ancient practices of warfare and fortification, implications regarding climate, the presence of volcanism, etc.
However, there is a recently popularized alternate theory that puts Book of Mormon events in the Great Lakes region of the United States. This fails on numerous counts such as the lack of a history of written language in the region, but has been buttressed by drawing upon alleged statements of Joseph Smith and other Church leaders that supposedly show they were "revealing" divine information about Book of Mormon geography. Such claims are highly misleading. In fact, there is support from statements of Joseph Smith and other leaders for Mesoamerica as a candidate for Book of Mormon geography in the New World that should immediately rebut any claims that Mesoamerica has been ruled out by divine revelation. In 1842, after receiving a copy of John Lloyd Stevens' work, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, Joseph Smith was impressed with the detailed new knowledge about ancient civilization in the New World, and saw in these works supporting evidence for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon. Joseph wrote in a letter that this book about ancient Mesoamerica "supports the testimony of the Book of Mormon." He also said we would do well to compare the lands described by Stevens with those of the Book of Mormon. See "Joseph Smith, John Lloyd Stephens, and the Times and Seasons" by David C. Handy (Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, 2010)--an important resource in understanding the fallacy of the arguments used in buttressing the weak Great Lakes theory based on claims to revelation about the topic of Book of Mormon geography. I recommend reading David Handy's article on this topic. Its purpose is not to prove any one model for Book of Mormon geography, but to disprove the irresponsible claim that revelation has ruled out Mesoamerica.
For more information, see the FAIRLDS reviews of Rodney Meldrum's DVD, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography (Meldrum is a key promoter of the so-called Heartland model). Also see Gregory Smith's review, "Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA." Also see "A Brief History of the Limited Geographic View of the Book of Mormon" by John Tvedtnes, Meridian Magazine, April 2009. Be sure to see look at John Sorenson's latest work, Mormon's Codex, when it comes out in 2012. For now you can see a preview of his arguments in his presentation, "Reading Mormon's Codex" from the FAIR 2012 Conference.
Other useful resources:
"That does not affect my faith one particle. I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart." I also said to him, "If my children do not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will." He said, "Well, what is the good of talking with a fool like that?" (April 1929 Conference Report, p. 128 ff.)
President Grant's statement was prophetic. Today, tourists to Mesoamerica can find ancient cement work in abundance at Teotihuacan (which is clearly "in the land north" according to modern models for Book of Mormon geography). Mesoamerican cement was being used at least by the first century B.C. (David A. Palmer, In Search of Cumorah, Horizon Publishers, Bountiful, UT, 1981, p. 121). Palmer shows a photograph of cement used to surface a temple at the Chiapa de Corzo site. Palmer also cites Monte Alban, which is south of Teotihuacan but still in the "land north," as another example of ancient cement work. Several examples of cement work use tiny volcanic stones (0.5 to 2 mm diameter) mixed with clay and lime to produce the cement. Cement was also used in the ancient city of Kaminaljuyu (modern Guatemala City).
Mesoamerican work with cement involved more than merely applying a veneer to buildings. Important structural elements were made with cement, and the use of cement in Mesoamerica dates to about the time when the Book of Mormon reports its development (46 B.C.). John Welch provides further data in his article, "A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions" in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. D.W. Parry, D.C. Peterson, and J.W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), pp. 372-374:
No one in the nineteenth century could have known that cement, in fact, was extensively used in Mesoamerica beginning largely at this time, the middle of the first century B.C.
One of the most notable uses of cement is in the temple complex at Teotihuacan, north of present-day Mexico City. According to David S. Hyman, the structural use of cement appears suddenly in the archaeological record. And yet its earliest sample "is a fully developed product." The cement floor slabs at this site "were remarkably high in structural quality." Although exposed to the elements for nearly two thousand years, they still "exceed many present-day building code requirements."  This is consistent with the Book of Mormon record, which treats this invention as an important new development involving great skill and becoming something of a sensation.
After this important technological breakthrough, cement was used at many sites in the Valley of Mexico and in the Maya regions of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, which very well may have been close to the Nephite heartlands. Cement was used in the later construction of buildings at such sites as Cerro de Texcotzingo, Tula, Palenque, Tikal, Copan, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza. Further, the use of cement is "a Maya habit, absent from non-Maya examples of corbelled vaulting from the southeastern United States to southern South America." 
Mesoamerican cement was almost exclusively lime cement. The limestone was purified on a "cylindrical pile of timber, which requires a vast amount of labor to cut and considerable skill to construct in such a way that combustion of the stone and wood is complete and a minimum of impurities remains in the product."  The fact that very little carbon is found in this cement once again "attests to the ability of these ancient peoples." 
John Sorenson has further noted the expert sophistication in the use of cement at El Tajin, east of Mexico City, in the centuries following Book of Mormon times. Cement roofs covered sizable areas: "Sometimes the builders filled a room with stones and mud, smoothed the surface on top to receive the concrete, then removed the interior fill when the [slab] on top had dried." 
Footnotes for the above passage:
1. See Matthew G. Wells and John W. Welch, "Concrete Evidence for the Book of Mormon," Insights (May 1991): 2.
2. David S. Hyman, A Study of the Calcareous Cements in Prehispanic Mesoamerican Building Construction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1970), ii, sec. 6, p. 7.
3. George Kubler, The Art and Architecture of Ancient America, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Penguin, 1975), 201, emphasis added.
4. Tatiana Proskouriakoff, An Album of Maya Architecture (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963), xv.
5. Hyman, A Study of the Calcareous Cements, sec. 6, p. 5.
6. John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon," Ensign, October 1984, 19.
A question arises about the use of wood in the production of cement. If timber was so scarce in the area where cement was made, as the Book of Mormon indicates (Helaman 3:6,7), then how could the locals make cement? I have previously suggested that making cement does not require high-quality timber suitable for making buildings, but merely material that can burn. There can be a shortage of high-quality trees yet plenty of flammable material that can support cement making. However, based on what scholars have learned about the region in southern Mexico where cement was used anciently, it appears that the deforestation problem mentioned in the Book of Mormon was at least partly caused by the high demand for wood to support the manufacture of cement. On this interesting topic, Brant Gardner has an excellent essay on Helaman chapter 3 and the issue of cement manufacture that shows some of the scholarly support for the issue of deforestation and cement making in a region that fits the Book of Mormon's description, with the suggestion that Mormon in Helaman 3 was describing the land as he knew it after 300 A.D., and not at the time when cement making was first started there.
As to the possible importance of Teotihuacan itself, consider the following tentative suggestion from Michael J. Preece (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol.3, 1991, p.38):
The Book of Mormon text often speaks of a mysterious land. It may be referred to as the "land which was northward" (Alma 63:4) or simply the "land northward" (Alma 63:5-8, 10; Helaman 3:3-4, 7, 10-11). In another place it is referred to as the "northernmost part of the land" (3 Nephi 7:12). It is possible that this land is in the same location as the "great city of Jacobugath" (3 Nephi 9:9). Dr. Allen suggests that this mysterious land might be the ancient city of Teotihuacan, built in the valley of Mexico, near where Mexico City lies today.... The ancient culture which inhabited this city had its beginnings about 150 B.C. and fell about A.D. 750. The circumstantial evidence that Teotihuacan may indeed have been the "land northward" includes the fact that between 55 B.C. and A.D. 29, the Book of Mormon mentions several migrations into this land where large bodies of water were found. This is the same period when Teotihuacan was experiencing a high growth rate. The valley of Mexico contained many lakes, and in fact Mexico City is built on a dry lake bed. The Book of Mormon speaks of the people in the land northward building houses out of cement because timber was scarce in the land (Helaman 3:7, 10-11). The archaeological site of Teotihuacan contains many buildings made of cement, and timber is indeed scarce in the valley of Mexico...."
On a related note, the Book of Mormon speaks of highways and roads (3 Nephi 6:8; 8:13). Some LDS people have pointed to the discovery of cement roads among the Incas as supporting evidence, but the Inca empire was too far south to fit into a modern understanding of Book of Mormon geography. However, lime-surfaced causeways (called sacbes) have been discovered in Central America, some dating to Book of Mormon times. Researchers at Tulane University found one from near 300 B.C. (E. Wyllys Andrews V et al., "Komchen: An Early Maya Community in Northwest Yucatan," presented at the 1981 meeting of the Sociedad Mexicana de Antropologia, San Cristobal, Chiapas, p. 15, as cited by J. Sorenson, Ensign, Oct. 1984, p. 18). Another in Belize was used between 50 B.C. and 150 A.D. (Andrews, "Dzibilchaltun," in Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. J.A. Sabloff, vol. 1, Archaeology, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1981, p. 322, as cited by Sorenson, 1984, p. 23). South of Mexico City are about two miles of ancient paved roads(American Antiquity, Vol. 45, 1980, p. 623), while one roadway in Yucatan is over 50 miles long (A. Bustillos Carillo, "El Sacbe de los Mayas: Caminos Blancos de los Mayas, Base de su Vida Social y Religion," 2nd ed., B. Costa-Amic Editorial, Mexico, 1974, p. 23, as cited by Sorenson, 1984, p. 18). As we learn more about these ancient roadways and their uses, we hope to understand more about Book of Mormon peoples and their lives. In any case, the mention of cement work and roadways in the Book of Mormon appears plausible today, but was implausible to experts of the past.
By the way, the ancient adobe pueblos that existed in Mexico as well as the US Southwest could also qualify as "cement" houses. The word "adobe" was not commonly used in Joseph Smith's day, was not in the 1830 Webster's Dictionary, and did not appear in print in English until 1834 (B. Stubbs, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1996, p. 39). If Joseph did not have that word in his vocabulary, the word "cement" in the Book of Mormon could also include adobe. Perhaps the adobe builders were linked to Book of Mormon peoples.
A FARMS publication online also discusses cement in the Book of Mormon.
A recent discovery is that ancient Middle Eastern poetry--including the Bible--often used a poetical form called chiasmus, a form of parallelism in which key ideas are structured in a mirror image reflective form such as A,B,C,C',B',A'. Some of the most powerful and beautiful examples of this ancient form are found in the Book of Mormon (first discovered in 1967 by John Welch). The importance of chiasmus in ancient Semitic writings has only been recognized in this century, and still today very few educated people have ever heard of it. Its strong presence in the Book of Mormon is evidence that its writers possessed an ancient Semitic literary tradition, as the Book of Mormon claims, and (in my opinion) single-handedly refutes the claim that the Book of Mormon is the product of a 19th century writer (though there are numerous other factors that refute such a claim). Alma 36 is a classic example. For details--fascinating evidence that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient document--see my "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon" page and see, for example, the classic 1969 article by John Welch that announced this discovery (here is a direct link to the PDF for the Welch's article). Also see "A Masterpiece: Alma 36" by John Welch.
Jacob chapter 5 in the Book of Mormon offers a detailed description of practices regarding the cultivation of olive trees. Jacob explains that the lengthy passage is taken from a Jewish text by Zenos that was among the sacred writings available on the brass plates that Lehi brought with him from Jerusalem. Information about olive trees in the text agrees well with what is known of ancient olive cultivation in ways that seem far beyond what Joseph Smith could have known. For details, see the Book of Mormon Nugget, Olive Trees and the Book of Mormon (April 2008).
The Book of Mormon does not say that the Nephites raised olives, however. For more information on the issue of plants and animals in the Book of Mormon, see my LDS FAQ page on that topic.
A fascinating issue on climate is the seasons of war described in the Book of Mormon, mostly between Alma 9 and Alma 47. Several examples provide specific months and days of the battle (e.g., Alma 16:1). Many others indicate the general time of year (e.g., Alma 44:22-24). In over 30 places, war action is described as taking place near the end or beginning of the year. Sorenson has compiled information from the text about the month of the year various military skirmishes are mentioned. Almost all occur between the 11th and 3rd months, with a small number reported in the 4th, 5th, and 10th months, and none mentioned in the 6th through 9th months. Why this pattern? Well, the text also makes reference to cultivation of food a number of times in the 4th through 9th months. The problem of getting food to the troops is mentioned as a concern mainly in the twelfth through 2nd months. Thus it seems that the harvest may have been in months 10 through 12. (Summary: Nephite cultivation of fields: months 4-9; main harvest: months 10-12; time of warfare: mainly months 11-3).
Now several insights arise:
But how do Nephite months correspond to ours? In Mesoamerica, May though September is the best time for growing crops (heat and moisture available). October through April is fairly dry. We also know that before Columbus, military campaigns in Central America occurred mainly between late October and February (again, farmers were then free of agricultural duties and food could be gathered--or captured). Likewise, soggy land from heavy rains was now drier and more passable (and made living in tents easier). These considerations lead Sorenson and others to conclude that the Nephite year may have begun in late December, perhaps with the winter solstice (Dec. 21/22), as did many other ancient peoples.
Now here comes an intriguing insight which bodes poorly for the theory that Joseph Smith made the Book of Mormon up. A significant battle scene (one in which the long-term survival of the Nephite nation might have been at stake) is described in Alma 51 at the end of the year--ca. December. After heavy fighting and major marches, both sides were very tired because of their "labors and heat of the day." This takes place on the east coast, "in the borders on the beach by the seashore" (Alma 51:32). At this season, the rain-swollen rivers have subsided, but the east region (Isthmus of Tehuantepec area) is still rather wet, low, and hot. The hottest weather was still months away, but down on the coast it was hot and muggy enough to contribute to the fatigue of the rapidly traveling troops.
Alma 51 shows that the land of the Book of Mormon peoples was not a cold, snow-covered place in winter, as upstate New York was for young Joseph Smith. If he made up the book based on what he knew, he would have had fighting occur in the summer, not during winter. The internal consistency of many passages dealing with war during the proper season of war for Mesoamerica is also remarkable--and has not been noted or recognized until the last decade or so. Though it is a minor point in the text, the geographical and climatic information provided fits and makes sense. It must be considered as one of the many "mundane" but powerful evidences for authenticity.
There are many aspects of ancient warfare in the Book of Mormon that show strong evidences of authenticity. Interesting parallels occur in recent discoveries about the widespread nature of war in ancient Mesoamerica and especially the use of fortifications in the Late Pre-Classic and Proto-Classic periods (corresponding with Book of Mormon times). The several types of fortifications described in the Book of Mormon have been found in Mesoamerica dating to the appropriate era. Especially interesting is the recently discovered use of earthen mounds or walls coupled with timber work on top, much as described in Alma 50: 1-6. This topic is discussed more fully in John Sorenson's article, "Fortifications in the Book of Mormon Account Compared with Mesoamerican Fortifications" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, Deseret Book, SLC, UT, 1990--a book that abounds with other fascinating insights and evidences related to the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient document. Other insights in this volume deal with the nature of guerrilla warfare and the Gadianton robbers, the use of weapons in the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica, military organization and strategy in the ancient world, legal aspects of war, and more. Highly recommended for serious students of the Book of Mormon.
It is worth noting that Mesoamerican culture and Mayan culture in particular was once viewed by the "experts" as being overwhelmingly peaceful. In their view, the extensive warfare depicted in the Book of Mormon was out of place. In recent years that view has been radically altered. As Michael Coe now explains, "The Maya were obsessed with war. The Annals of the Cakchiquels and the Popol Vuh speak of little but intertribal conflict among the highlanders, while the sixteen states of Yucatan were constantly battling with each other over boundaries and lineage honor" (Michael D. Coe, The Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 4th ed., 1987, p. 160).
Exciting and fairly recent discoveries in Mesoamerica which have caused a complete paradigm shift in the thinking of scholars. Until recently, experts believed ancient Central America and southern Mexico (Mesoamerica) to have been a peaceful, tranquil place during the times that the Book of Mormon speaks of frequent, large-scale wars. Now it is known that warfare was relatively common. Further, the discoveries of ancient fortifications that fueled the paradigm shift are remarkably consistent with descriptions of fortifications given in the Book of Mormon. Together, the evidence about ancient warfare and fortifications in Mesoamerica strengthens the case for the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as an ancient text. For details, see my Mesoamerican Fortifications page.
Critics continue to mock the awkward grammar of the Book of Mormon and the many changes that had to be made in later editions to correct problems of punctuation and grammar. In so doing, they call attention to what are actually strong signs of authenticity. Yes, punctuation was a problem in the original manuscript because it was dictated (translated) without punctuation. Punctuation had to be added and then further corrected. That sounds crazy for anyone composing an English document--but ancient Hebrew and other Semitic languages were written without punctuation, and a relatively direct translation would likewise not have punctuation in it.
As for the grammar, there certainly were many strange and awkward structures in the original manuscript that needed improvement. For example, instead of the normal "if ... then ..." construction, the Book of Mormon had a multiple phrases with "if ... and ...." such as "if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, and he shall manifest the truth of it unto you" (Moroni 10:4, 1830 edition). That's completely unacceptable English--but it's very good Hebrew, known as the Hebraic conditional (see "Hebraic Conditionals in the Book of Mormon," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), pp. 201-203). Another example is 1 Nephi 17:50, which Joseph initially translated as "if he should command me that I should say unto this water be thou earth, and it shall be earth." When Oliver Cowdery prepared the printer's manuscript from the original manuscript, he deleted the word and to improve the English. Thirteen other examples printed in the 1830 edition were later changed by Joseph Smith for the 1837 edition, including Moroni 10:4 (ibid., p. 202). Examination of the text and the original and printer's manuscripts suggests that this was no simple scribal error, and Joseph's own dialect of English did not include this awkward construction, nor does the King James Bible provide language that would motivated a forger to include Hebraic conditionals. So why do they occur in the original Book of Mormon? Is any explanation more plausible than a somewhat literal translation of the Hebraic conditional from a Semitic text?
There are dozens of examples of expressions and grammatical structures in the 1830 Book of Mormon, many of which survive in the current printing, that are unusual or awkward in English but are natural and proper in Hebrew. The simplest explanation is that the text was dictated as a translation from an ancient Semitic document. Critics have been unable to explain away these and many other signs of authenticity (Edward Ashment tried, as discussed by John Gee in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 51-120, esp. pp. 88-91.) It's much easier to just mock the poor grammar and punctuation, or scream about the many minor changes that were needed to make the Book of Mormon text more properly comply to basic standards of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (Please don't let them know about the many textual problems in the surviving Hebrew and Greek manuscripts for the Bible--we need your help to keep their bubble intact.)
An outstanding article on the topic of Semitic influence in the Book of Mormon text is John A. Tvedtnes, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon: A Preliminary Survey," BYU Studies, Vol. 11, no. 1 (Autumn 1970), pp. 50-61; see also John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon," in John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds., Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), pp. 77-91. Tvedtnes shows that strong evidences of Hebraic language show through Joseph Smith's translation. It makes no sense if the book were a fraud. Also of value is Richard Grant's page, "Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, and a short article, Hebrew Writing Styles and Idioms by Russell Anderson. The language of the Book of Mormon cannot be explained as the English of Joseph Smith or the King James English of the Bible. It's more Semitic than either. (See also Book of Mormon Authorship by D. Brent Anderson in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Enallage in the Book of Mormon" by Kevin L. Barney, and some info from John Tvedtnes in an Ensign magazine.)
Hebraic word pairs (words commonly used together in parallel structures) represent an important device in Hebrew poetry that was only recognized by scholars long after Joseph Smith's day, but such pairs are found abundantly in the Book of Mormon in ways that conform with Hebraic use. See Kevin Barney's impressive article, "Poetic Diction and Parallel Word Pairs in the Book of Mormon" published by the Maxwell Institute, 1997. This is a must-read for those interested in the issue of vestiges of Hebraic language structures (Hebraisms) in the Book of Mormon. More recently, see James T. Duke, The Literary Masterpiece Called the Book of Mormon (Cedar Fort, Springville, UT, 2004). Chapter 13, "Word Pairs and Distinctive Word Combinations" builds upon Barney's work. See also his shorter article, "Word Pairs and Distinctive Combinations in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 32-41, 2003. (The link is to a PDF file; there is also an HTML version without the important tables of word pairs.) Duke provides extensive helpful background information and many new insights. For a collection of other resources on Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon, see FAIRMormon: Book of Mormon/Evidences/Poetic forms.
A recent contribution to the topic of Hebraic influence in the Book of Mormon and among Book of Mormon peoples is the work of Brian D. Stubbs, one of the few linguists working with Uto-Aztecan languages (covering the US Southwest down to southern Mexico). He wrote a ground-breaking article, "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49 (a PDF version is also available), which makes serious, systematic comparisons of ancient Hebrew words and forms to those of Uto-Aztecan languages. Stubbs is among a small handful of people who know both Semitic languages and Uto-Aztecan languages. Most linguists dealing with the Book of Mormon have approached it with backgrounds rich in Semitic languages but lacking in New World languages. Stubbs' pioneering work opens the door for further studies, pointing to some interesting possibilities. (You can also see Brian Stubbs lecturing in a video presentation on this topic.)
Among his tentative conclusions, Stubbs finds that Uto-Aztecan "as a language family exhibits more similarities with Hebrew than could be attributed to coincidence; nevertheless, that Hebrew element is obviously mixed with other language elements very different from Hebrew." While no UA [Uto-Aztecan] language shows the same level of derivation from Hebrew as Spanish does from Latin, there are still many traces of similarity suggesting some degree of contact or derivation. Over 1,000 similarities have been derived, enough to merit further investigation. Examples of similarities include the plural suffix "-im" in Northwest Semitic (the branch to which Hebrew belongs), and "-ima" in many UA languages; the passive prefix "ni-" in Northwest Semitic and the prefix "na-" in UA; Northwest Semitic "yasab" as the perfect form of the verb to sit or to dwell, compared to "yasipa" in UA; "adam" meaning man in Hebrew compared to "otam" in UA; Hebrew "katpa" for shoulder, compared to "kotpa" in UA; ya-'amin for "he believes" in Hebrew compared to "yawamin" in a northern UA language; etc. Stubbs' article delves into 100 of the over 1,000 areas of similarity. It is technical but worth the read.
In addition to examining Uto-Aztecan languages, Stubbs has another worthwhile article from the perspective of a linguist in "A Lengthier Treatment of Length," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1996, pp. 82-97 (also available as a PDF file to better display the information). He responds to Edward Ashment's attack on the Book of Mormon which claims the long, awkward sentences found in so many Book of Mormon verses are much different than the short, concise sentences found in the Old Testament, supposedly showing that the Book of Mormon was not derived from Hebrew. Stubbs shows that the short sentences alleged to be characteristic of Biblical Hebrew may be characteristic of the King James translation of the Old Testament, but are not characteristic of the actual Hebrew. In fact, numerous sentence structures in the Book of Mormon show much more in common with genuine Hebraic sentences than with the English of the King James Bible or with the English of Joseph Smith's day.
Many Book of Mormon verses have series of verbals introducing clauses, such as: "Zeniff . . . he being over-zealous, . . . therefore being deceived by . . . King Laman, who having entered into a treaty . . . and having yielded up [various cities], . . . ." (Mosiah 7:21-22). This type of structure is an ideal way of translating the typical Hebrew hal-clause (or circumstantial clause), which Stubbs discusses in detail. Many English sentences in the Book of Mormon that an English editor would tear apart are perfectly acceptable Hebrew structures, appearing to be fairly literal translations. The King James translation loses much of the literal flavor of such passages, but they are present in the original Hebrew. Thus, we have the interesting situation of the Book of Mormon being more Hebraic in its use of complex sentences that the King James Bible--which not only strengthens the claim the Book of Mormon was derived from a Semitic text, but further undermines the long untenable claim that the Book of Mormon can be explained away as a derivative of the King James text.
The complex sentence structures of the Book of Mormon not only correspond with those of Hebrew, Arabic, and Egyptian, but also resonate with the structures of many Native American languages. Stubbs concludes:
In light of patterns inherent to Hebrew, Arabic, Egyptian, and many Native American languages, the copious presence of certain long, awkward structures in the Book of Mormon, in my opinion, speaks much more for the text's authenticity than would a lack. The lengths of awkward English might be deemed by some as poor grammar or weakness in writing (Ether 12:23-26,40); but as a linguist and student of Semitic and Native American languages, I find these lengthy structures to be quite intriguing, significant, and reassuring."
Very few Mayan documents survived the ravages of the Spanish Conquest, but some brave Mayans did record and preserve a sacred text based on an earlier sacred book in their tradition. The text that has survived, the Popol Vuh, is one that should be considered when we ponder the Book of Mormon. In my Mormanity blog post of Aug. 8, 2012, "'You Make Them Live Again by Speaking Their Words': The Popol Vuh and Respect for Ancient Scripture," I refer to Dr. Allen J. Christenson's recent translation of the ancient Popol Voh, a sacred text from the Mayan people. The translation was published in 2003 and electronically in 2007. It is entitled POPOL VUH: Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People (Mesoweb Publications, 2007), available at "http://www.personal.psu.edu/abl128/PopolVu/PopolVuh.pdf" and also at "http://www.mesoweb.com/publications/Christenson/PopolVuh.pdf." Dr. Christenson is LDS. Some of his comments in his preface might be especially interesting to LDS audiences, though they should be interesting to all readers.
The Popol Voh has often been of interest to LDS people if only for the fact that it reminds us that some ancient Native Americans prized the written word and kept texts that described the Creation and other important events. It also reminds us that traditions not just of writing but of sacred scripture and prophecy were had in Mesoamerica.
In considering where in the Americas the Book of Mormon might have taken place, one of the many factors pointing to Mesoamerica is the existence of ancient writing there. Established traditions of advanced writing systems flourished anciently in that region. Christensen (p. 23) observes that the Mayans had an advanced writing system combining phonetic and logographic elements capable of writing any word that could be spoken (p. 23):
The Mayans apparently had thousands of texts when the Spaniards came. One of the greatest tragedies of history was the wanton destruction of Mayan records by the Spanish, wiping out almost all their writings, including sacred texts (p. 23):
Las Casas was particularly impressed by the fact that the Maya could write "everything they desired." The Maya were, in fact, the only people in the New World who had a writing system at the time of the Spanish conquest which had this capability.
Only four lowland Maya codices are known to have escaped these purges. We can only add our own laments to those of the Maya over the irretrievable loss of a people's literary heritage. Of the many hieroglyphic books that once existed in the highlands, including the Precolumbian version of the Popol Vuh, not a single one is known to have survived.
A Scared Book from Across the Sea?
A few things of special interest to LDS readers crop up in the Popol Vuh. On page 23, Christenson writes:
In the preamble to the Popol Vuh, its Quiché authors wrote that the contents were based on an ancient book from across the sea (p. 64). In a later passage, the source of these writings is identified as Tulan, which they located across the sea to the east (p. 259), apparently a reference to the Maya lowlands of the Yucat·n Peninsula. The Quiché lords held these "writings of Tulan" in great reverence and consulted them often (p. 287).
I cannot help but wonder if that land across the sea to the east, the source of the sacred book that the ancients used to consult often, might have been a little further east than Yucatan. Say, perhaps, Jerusalem? Well, that's just hopeful speculation for now, so I'll have to settle for the Yucatan.
Scripture and Sacred Stones as Instruments of Vision
Another interesting little gem, so to speak, comes from pages 24-25:
The fact that the contents of the original Popol Vuh predated the Spanish conquest gave them an aura of mystery and power. Its authors referred to the ancient book upon which the Popol Vuh was based as an ilb'al, meaning "instrument of sight or vision" (p. 64; lines 51-52).
The word is used today to refer to the clear quartz crystals that Quiché priests use in divinatory ceremonies. It may also be used to refer to magnifying glasses or spectacles, by which things may be seen more clearly. Thus the rulers of the Quichés consulted the Popol Vuh in times of national distress as a means of seeing the future:They knew if there would be war. It was clear before their faces. They saw if there would be death, if there would be hunger. They surely knew if there would be strife. There was an instrument of sight. There was a book. Popol Vuh was their name for it. (p. 287)
LDS readers might recall the discourse in Alma 37 (and elsewhere in LDS scripture) that links the special interpreters, the stone, with the revelatory gift of seeing or prophecy and with translation of scripture. Also related is the topic of the Urim and Thummim or also the seerstone, tools used to help a seer see. Interesting, in my opinion.
Beware: The Redundant and Repetitive Text Is, Uh, Repetitive and Redundant
One of the most common complaints against the Book of Mormon can also be fairly lodged against the Popol Voh. Christenson explains the "problem" with the Popol Voh on page 34:
Yet the beauty of Quiché poetry may sound awkward and repetitive when translated into European languages. Some translators in the past have ignored or failed to recognize the poetic nature of the Popol Vuh, particularly its use of parallelism, and have tried to improve its seemingly purposeless redundancy by eliminating words, phrases, and even whole sections of text which they deemed unnecessary. While this unquestionably helps to make the story flow more smoothly, in keeping with our modern taste for linear plot structure, it detracts from the character of Quiché high literature. Welch points out that "in many ancient contexts, repetition and even redundancy appear to represent the rule rather than the exception" (Welch 1981, 12).
Yes, he's quoting John Welch of chiasmus fame. And yes, chiasmus is one of the forms of parallellism found in the Popol Vuh (see pp. 37-39 of the Introduction), as in the Book of Mormon, and in ancient Hebraic Poetry. Cool.
Anyway, I am grateful for the beautiful translation and respectful introductory comments that Professor Christenson has offered, and thank him for his service to the Quiche people. By helping to preserve and share the words of the ancients, he has helped them to live again for their descendants and for us. I hope you'll read at least some of the Popol Voh and be grateful for the miracle of its preservation. I hope you'll be even more grateful for the miracle of the preserved text of the Book of Mormon, a sacred text from ancient writers who saw our day and speak to us now as a voice from the dust.
The Book of Mormon introduces roughly 200 new names not found in the Bible. Many of these have been found to have genuine Semitic parallels in ancient times. Take, for example, the name Alma. Alma was the name of two male prophets in the Book of Mormon (a father and a son). This name has been one of the most commonly attacked features of the Book of Mormon, for Alma is a female Latin name (though some of the handful of people that carried this name in Joseph's day were actually male, as one can find searching genealogical records). Critics have assumed that Joseph simply borrowed Alma from the term "alma mater," ignorant of its gender. The Tanner's suggest that Joseph borrowed it from the name Shalmaneser in the Old Testament. As usual, they overlook an important fact that has been discussed in LDS writings for decades. In 1961, a prominent scholar in Israel, Professor Yigael Yadin, discovered an ancient document that proved to be a land deed from the time of the Bar Kokhba rebellion in Palestine (ca. 131 A.D.). Prof. Yadin translated one of the names as "Alma the son of Judah."(See Bar Kokhba by Yigael Yadin, Random House, New York, 1971, p. 176; and Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, pp. 281-82.) Alma proves to not only be a genuine Semitic name, but is a name of a Hebraic man. While this is well after Lehi's time, the name Alma has also been found in much more ancient documents from tablets from Ebla in modern Syria in 1975, dating to around 2200 B.C. (see Terrence L.Szink, "New Light: Further Evidence of a Semitic Alma," J. of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999). Finding the male name Alma in a record about descendants early Hebrews now must be viewed not as a reason for mocking the Book of Mormon, but as a reason to take it seriously.
As is often the case in the Book of Mormon, there's more than meets the eye of the casual reader. One of the most fascinating things about the purportedly ancient text with Semitic origins is that many elements in it make more sense and gain new layers of meaning when we import information from the ancient world that was not available to Joseph Smith when he whipped out this masterpiece. Regarding the name "Alma," the way that name is introduced and used in the text reflects possible Hebraic wordplays on the name. That's the gist of Matthew Bowen's recent note at the Maxwell Institute, "'And He Was a Young Man': The Literary Preservation of Alma's Autobiographical Wordplay." See also my related post on Mormanity, as well as "Nephites with Jaredite Names" in Hugh Nibley's classic book, The World of the Jaredites and also Michael Ash's "Nephite names find a 'home' in Middle East."
Another novel Book of Mormon name is Sariah, the wife of Lehi who lived in Jerusalem in 600 B.C. Scholars did not know that Sariah was an authentic ancient Hebrew name for a woman until long after the time of Joseph Smith. Jeffrey R. Chadwick explains in "Sariah in the Elephantine Papyri," J. of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 2., No. 2, 1993, pp. 197-201 (the citation is from p. 196):
The conjectural Hebrew spelling of Sariah would be s'ryh and would be pronounced something like Sar-yah. The skeptic might suggest that this name was an invention of Joseph Smith, since Sariah does not appear in the Bible as a female personal name. However, in a significant historical parallel to the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew name Sariah, spelled sryh, has been identified in a reconstructed form as the name of a Jewish woman living at Elephantine in Upper Egypt during the fifth century B.C.
The reference to Sariah of Elephantine is found in Aramaic Papyrus #22 (also called Cowley #22 or C-22) and appears in Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. [Arthur E. Cowley, ed. and trans. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1923), p. 67]. Although the language of the documents is Aramaic, A. E. Cowley specifies that the names are in fact Hebrew [ibid., xv]. Line 4 of C-22 lists the personal name sry[h br]t hws 'br hrmn [ibid., 67]. The probable vocalization is Sariah barat Hoshea' bar Harman, and the text means "Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of Harman." Cowley had to reconstruct part of the text, supplying the final h of Sariah and the initial b-r of barat, but the spacing is adequate, and the comparative context of the papyrus leaves little doubt that the reconstruction is accurate. The extant final t of barat assures us that the person was a daughter, not a son, and, after the letters b-r are supplied, there is only room for one additional letter--the final h of Sariah.
The Elephantine papyri were discovered about 70 years after the Book of Mormon was published. (Incidentally, the Elephantine papyri reveal that Jews living at Elephantine in Egypt built themselves a temple similar to but smaller than the temple of Solomon, just as Nephi's people did after reaching the New World. Many Book of Mormon critics say that real Israelites would never have thought of building another temple elsewhere, but that's simply not the case. For details, see my Book of Mormon Nugget page, "Lessons from the Elephantine Papyri Regarding the Book of Mormon and LDS Temples.")
The name of Sariah's husband, Lehi, has been criticized as a clumsy abuse of a biblical place name that was not an authentic Hebrew name for men. However, recent discoveries have created a strong case for Lehi as an authentic ancient Hebrew name after all. See my post at Mormanity, "New Evidence for the Authenticity of Lehi as an Ancient Semitic Male Name" and Jeffrey R. Chadwick's article, "Lehi in the Samaria Papyri and on an Ostracon from the Shore of the Red Sea."
Consider also the prominent name Mosiah, which is the name of a book within the Book of Mormon and the name of two great kings, a father and his grandson. This name does not occur in English translations of the Bible. The Tanners suggest that Joseph Smith made it up by combining Moses + Isaiah. A much better explanation exists! And this explanation gives profound insights into the Book of Mormon. John Sawyer, a non-LDS biblical scholar, published an article in 1965 called "What Was a Mosi'a?"(Vetus Testamentum, 15: 475-86, 1965). A summary of his article and a discussion of its important implications for the Book of Mormon are provided by Matthew Roper in his review of The Truth about Mormonism: A Former Adherent Analyzes the LDS Faith (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4, 1992, pp. 199-202). "Mosi'a" does occur in the Hebrew scriptures, but is never transliterated as such in modern English translations of the Bible. Sawyer found that the word is used in a characteristic manner to describe a "victor" or "savior" or "deliverer" appointed by God, to deliver oppressed people from injustice. The term designated a unique class or office in ancient Israel and could even be applied to God himself (the ultimate Deliverer). Sawyer noted that the deliverance of a Mosi'a is often achieved by nonviolent means. The Mosi'a is an "advocate" who strives for justice. As Sawyer explains, "The main idea is intervening and contending on behalf of the right." (Ibid., 482)
Significantly, Sawyer noted that, "Final victory means the coming of mosi'im to rule like judges over Israel. The people will once again possess their own property and justice will be the foundation of the Kingdom of the Lord."
The Book of Mormon name or title "Mosiah" is quite similar to "mosi'a". John Welch has noted that mosi'a, when coupled with the theophoric element "iah," would mean "the Lord is a mosi'a." (See John W. Welch, "What Was a 'Mosiah'?" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 105-7.)
Those familiar with the accounts in the Book of Mosiah and the works of both of the men called King Mosiah will note the fascinating parallels between Sawyer's description and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mosiah is about deliverance of oppressed people by mighty rulers appointed by God, often achieving deliverance with nonviolent means. These heroes in the Book of Mormon include Benjamin, Zeniff, Alma, Gideon, Ammon, Mosiah II, and the sons of Mosiah. Nowhere else are there so many accounts of deliverance in the classical manner of the ancient "mosi'a". Many of the deliverers are kings or chief priests. The sons of Mosiah would later go on to help save (deliver) many thousands of Lamanites. The Book of Mosiah also describes how King Mosiah did away with kings and instituted a system of elected judges over the people. The basic message of the book is not that humans can deliver oppressed and afflicted peoples, but that the Lord God is the true deliverer (Mosiah 11:23; 24:21; 25:16). One may well wonder if the name Mosiah is really a title that was given to two great kings who delivered their people. In any case, it is hard to believe that such an appropriate ancient name/title could have been guessed by chance.
Those interested in Book of Mormon names should consider the impressive discovery of the Lachish Letters from roughly Judea at roughly the time of Lehi and Jeremiah. These vitally important documents score many points for Book of Mormon authenticity, including strong support for some Book of Mormon names. For details, see my "Book of Mormon Nugget," Book of Mormon Names and the Lachish Letters.
More information on names is found in a paper accepted for presentation to an international body of scholars at the Thirteenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, held in Jerusalem, August 2001. The paper by John A. Tvedtnes is entitled "Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon," which I recommend. A related article by John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, "Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions," (available online in PDF or HTML formats) was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2000, pp. 41-51. Extensive evidence is offered from ancient Hebraic sources to support Book of Mormon names that critics have long criticized. In addition to Alma and Sariah, already discussed above, Tvedtnes shows that ancient Hebrew inscriptions provide support for the authenticity and Hebraic origin of the following Book of Mormon names: Aha, Ammonihah, Chemish, Hagoth, Himni, Isabel, Jarom, Josh, Luram, Mathoni, Mathonihah, Muloki, and Sam, none of which are found in English Bibles. Support is also provided for the name Gilgal, which does occur as a place name in the Bible and Book of Mormon, but is also a man's name in the latter. That name has also been verified as a man's name from an ostracon (pottery fragment) dating to the eight century B.C. (Y. Aharoni, Arad Inscriptions, Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1981, p. 10, as cited by Tvedtnes et al.).
Further support for the name "Aha" comes from a recent discovery reported in a news item, "Bronze Arrowheads and the Name Aha" in J. of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1999, p. 83. There we learn that the May/June 1999 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (pp. 42-43) has an article by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr. of Johns Hopkins University that reports the discovery of three bronze arrowheads from the eleventh century B.C. bearing Hebrew inscriptions, one of which was inscribed with a steel instrument (yes, critics, steel as in use there long before Laban got his steel sword!), according to Dr. R. Thomas Chase of the Freer Gallery of Art, a division of the Smithsonian Institution and an authority on ancient bronze artifacts. He discovered that "the inscription had been incised with a steel [emphasized in the original] engraving tool." The name "Aha" that occurs in one of the inscriptions, which McCarter translates as "The arrowhead of 'Aha' son of 'Ashtart.'" This appears to be the same as the name mentioned in the Book of Mormon in Alma 16:5, where we read of two sons of Zoram, chief captain of the Nephite army, whose names were Lehi and Aha. Thus we have evidence authenticating another ancient Hebrew name found in the Book of Mormon but not the Bible. (2005 Update: there was also an early Egyptian king named Aha. See the April 2005 issue of National Geographic, as I discuss in a post about Aha on my blog, Mormanity.)
The name "sheum" appears in Mosiah 9:9 as a foodstuff in a list of grains. Matthew Roper explains that sheum "is a perfectly good Akkadian cereal name . . . dating to the third millennium B.C., which in ancient Assyria referred to wheat, but in other regions of the Near East could be applied to other grains" ("Unanswered Mormon Scholars," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, p. 120). Roper notes that this word was not known to scholars until at least 1857, long after the book of Mormon had been published. How did Joseph Smith make up this ancient word from the Near East and properly treat it as a grain?
Roper also notes that the Book of Mormon name "Jershon" is linked to a Hebrew root meaning "to inherit." In Alma 27:22, the land of Jershon is given to converted Lamanites "for an inheritance." At the time the Book of Mormon was translated, Joseph would not have known that Jershon is associated with "inheritance" in Hebrew. Just another amazingly lucky guess? (For Jershon, Cumorah, and Zarahemla, see "The Hebrew Origin of Some Book of Mormon Place Names" by Stephen D. Ricks, and John A. Tvedtnes in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1997, pp. 255-59. See also a discussion of Book of Mormon names by Russell Anderson. Dozens of other Book of Mormon names have been treated by Nibley (see his book Since Cumorah, for example) and other authors.
The name "Irreantum," said to mean many waters (1 Nephi 17:5), was the name the Nephites called the ocean when they arrived at the shores of southeastern Arabia, apparently at Wadi Sayq. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks called this very same ocean Errythraen. That name can be found in the Apocrypha, but if that was the source of the idea, why the great difference in spelling? Based on pre-Islamic South Semitic, a reasonable (though uncertain) hypothesis for its origin is "irre-an" (meaning "watering") plus the root "-tm" or "-tum," adding the sense of "wholeness" or "completeness." The combination "irre-an-tum" can convey the meaning of "watering of abundance" or, as the Book of Mormon puts it, "many waters." Such a South Semitic construction from the region Lehi's group traversed makes sense as an introduced foreign word in the Hebrew text. For detail, see Paul Hoskisson (with Brian Hauglid and John Gee), "Irreantum," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 11, 2002, pp. 90-93.
Let's also consider the word "Liahona," used to describe the unusual spherical compass or director that was miraculously given to Lehi to guide him through the Arabian peninsula, apparently telling them not only which way to travel but when to travel or stop as well. The non-LDS Rabbi Yosef ben Yehuda notes that Liahona was probably coined by the Nephites but represents very good Hebrew (e-mail from Dec. 1997). Liohona (lamed-yud-hey-vav-nun-alef in Hebrew), is related to known Hebrew words, as Rabbi Yosef explained:
These related roots fit the meaning of Liahona quite well.
One interesting name is Lamoni, a Lamanite king. That name is very close to one of the very few ancient Mesoamerican city names that have been preserved: Lamanai. You can learn more about the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai in a Youtube video. You might also enjoy the video that refers to the ancient Mayan city Pan cha'lib', which literally means "Bountiful." This may be a coincidence, but it's possible that the city was named after the ancient New World place called Bountiful in the Book of Mormon (which may have been named after the Old World Bountiful discussed above). Watch the text call-outs on the video in the first couple of minutes. The video is a re-enactment of an ancient ritual related to one that told of a warrier who visited Bountiful (Pan cha'lib').
Two Jaredite names are mentioned in a post at Mormanity. The Jaredite name Kish is discussed by Bruce Warren in an article at LDSMag.com suggesting that there is evidence of this name being used in Mesoamerica. Warren interprets some carved glyphs as "King Kish_U-Kish Kan," an ancient king of the Olmec culture, that can be translated as "he of the feathered serpent." While looking up some information on the well established Mesoamerican name Xul, known both among the Olmecs and the Mayans (a relatively common name, still in use, as I understand - it was also the name of a Mayan month), I found it is also preceded by the term "Kan" meaning "serpent" in another person's name from Palenque, as shown on the page http://www.jaguar-sun.com/glossary.html or at a page from the Colorado School of Mines. Xul is pronounced as "Shule" and may correspond with the Jaredite name Shule in the Book of Mormon. For more on Jaredite names in Mesoamerica, see "Surviving Jaredite Names in Mesoamerica" by Bruce Warren. (2012 update: As Daniel Johnson points out in "Names and Mayan Glyphs," the case for Warren's find of the Book of Mormon name Kish is not so straightforward. Warren may be right, but there's another way to read the glyph.)
The authenticity of Book of Mormon names has begun to make a serious impression on non-LDS scholars. As far back as 1966, before many of the most exciting discoveries about Book of Mormon names were made, Near Eastern scholar William F. Albright, though not a believer in the Book of Mormon, wrote a letter in response to an anti-Mormon critic, noting that Joseph Smith probably could not have learned Egyptian from scholars of his day, yet included some authentic Egyptian names in the Book of Mormon. "It is all the more surprising that there are two Egyptian names, Paanch[i] and Pahor[an] which appear in the Book of Mormon in close connection with a reference to the original language being 'Reformed Egyptian.'" (William F. Albright to Grant S. Heward, Baltimore, Maryland, July 25, 1966, as cited by Tvedtnes, 2001.) He then implied that Joseph Smith might have been some kind of "religious genius." Given today's impressive and growing list of authentic Semitic names in the Book of Mormon, it's doubtful that the "religious genius" theory can survive. Joseph Smith was not a religious Einstein--he was a largely unschooled Prophet of God.
There are many other Book of Mormon names that appear to be authentic ancient Semitic names. It's interesting that tentative links to Mesoamerican names are also beginning to appear. An understanding of ancient Mesoamerica is many years behind our knowledge of the ancient Hebrews, of course - stay patient and stay tuned.
With 500 pages of detailed text to work with, it is surprising to see that critics of the Book of Mormon tend to focus their attacks on only a few tiny spots of the text. I think no spot has received more vigorous attacks than Alma 7:10, which contains a prophecy of Alma about the birth of Christ. This passage makes the enormous "blunder" of placing Christ's birth in the land of Jerusalem, rather than in Bethlehem. Not only does everybody know that Christ was born in Bethlehem, but everybody knows that Jerusalem is a city, not a land. In fact, the phrase "land of Jerusalem," which is used dozens of times in the Book of Mormon, is never used in the Bible. Critics have long concluded that this odd usage is proof that Joseph Smith was making things up. They further conclude that the blunder about Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem as the birth place of Christ is further evidence for fraud.
As with most attacks on the Book of Mormon, an apparent weakness has become tremendous evidence for authenticity with advances in scholarship about the ancient world. The Dead Sea Scrolls and other recently discovered ancient documents from Israel confirm that the phrase "land of Jerusalem" was an authentic term used to describe the area around Jerusalem--an area that includes nearby Bethlehem. The documentation for this fascinating finding is provided in a F.A.R.M.S. update entitled Revisiting the Land of Jerusalem via the Dead Sea Scrolls, available as a page on this site with my additional comments. That page was updated Feb. 27, 2001, with even further Dead Sea Scroll evidence. Two non-LDS scholars, Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, discuss an example of the phrase "land of Jerusalem" in the Dead Sea Scrolls in a passage discussing the time of the prophet Jeremiah. They write that the use of this term "greatly enhances the sense of historicity of the whole, since Judah or 'Yehud' (the name of the area on coins from the Persian period) by this time consisted of little more than Jerusalem and its immediate environs" (The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1992, p. 57, referring to a passage translated on p. 58). Jeremiah's time overlapped with Lehi's time, and in that time, what was latter called Judah or the land of Judah could appropriately be called "the land of Jerusalem," a term that "greatly enhances the sense of historicity of the whole" when used in a document linked to Jeremiah's time. Should not the same be said of the Book of Mormon? Lehi and his people left "the land of Jerusalem" in Jeremiah's day. With the Dead Sea Scrolls before us, we now know it would be perfectly logical for them to refer to the place where Christ would be born as "the land of Jerusalem." Use of that term was utterly illogical for Joseph Smith, who published the Book of Mormon over a century before the Dead Sea Scrolls were even discovered.
Certainly Joseph Smith knew that Christ was born in Bethlehem--he was familiar with much of the Bible and had heard the story of Christ's birth numerous times. If he were making the Book of Mormon up, why on earth would he make such a terrible blunder, placing Christ's birth in Jerusalem? Far from a blunder, the use of the term "land of Jerusalem" in the Book of Mormon is consistent with usage in the Dead Sea Scrolls and can now be viewed as powerful evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Indeed, it adds greatly to "the sense of historicity" of the book.
By the way, critics need to know that their arguments used against Alma 7:10 would equally well condemn the Bible, for 2 Kings 14:20 also speaks of the City of David (Bethlehem) as being "at Jerusalem." But in spite of this and in spite of the heavy evidence for authenticity provided by the phrase "land of Jerusalem," the absurd attack on Alma 7:10 remains as one of the most used weapons in the anti-Mormon arsenal against the Book of Mormon, right up there with the equally silly attack on the word "adieu" (reviewed, with other popular arguments, on my LDSFAQ page of Alleged Problems in the Book of Mormon. After nearly 170 years of attacking, one would think that the critics could muster much better arguments by now.
The Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi describes a great disaster that swept over Book of Mormon lands at the time that Christ was crucified in the Old World. This destruction overthrew evil rulers and rocked a society that had become wicked, yet had some righteous people in its midst. The description of the destruction is detailed, mentioning great storms, earthquakes, and risings and sinkings of the land. A terrible storm brought violent wind and whirlwinds, accompanied by unprecedented lightning and thunder. The face of the land was changed and what was once solid rock now was cracked in some places. The violent activity lasted about three hours. Afterwards, a "thick darkness" was present which could be "felt." "Vapor of smoke and darkness" choked or suffocated some, and thick "mists of darkness" prevented fires being lit for three days. Many cities had been destroyed by burning (six burned cities are named), by sinking into the ocean (the city of Moroni, near the coast), by being covered with earth, or, in the case of Jerusalem, by being covered with rising "waters". (Some cities remained, and basic geographical reference points were unchanged, so the great deformation of the land was largely superficial.)
The details about the destruction make excellent sense if volcanic activity was involved. Volcanic ash and fumes can result in thick, tangible, moist mists which can kill people, shut out light for days, and prevent the lighting of fires. (Those who experienced the Mount St. Helens eruption in the United States know about some of this.) Strong volcanic activity can also be accompanied by seismic activity and shifting of earth by either lava flows, ash deposits, mudslides or landslides, and the raising and lowering of portions of the land and by changes in the water levels of nearby lakes. Joseph Smith never experienced a volcano, but the Book of Mormon description is remarkably consistent with modern knowledge of volcanic activity.
Given that the Book of Mormon appears to be describing volcanic activity around 33 A.D. or so, we have an important and readily verified physical detail of great value in assessing the merits of any proposed geography for the Book of Mormon: the Book of Mormon--if it is true history--took place in a region where major volcanic activity occurred around 33 A.D. Is there any place on this continent where something like the destruction mentioned in the Book of Mormon could have occurred? The answer is YES.
Not only is there a location in the Americas where significant volcanic and probably seismic activity occurred near the time specific in the Book of Mormon, but it occurred in the only plausible location for the Book of Mormon based on many other considerations--Mesoamerica. Major lava flows in that area have been dated to about 75 A.D. plus or minus 50 years (one non-LDS scholar, Payson Sheets, said it was at "about the time of Christ"), making the Book of Mormon account entirely plausible. Some of the lava flows from this time buried Mesoamerican cities, such as the city at Cuicuilco in the Valley of Mexico (see Sorenson, p. 320, for a photo). In the area of Chiapas, which may be the land of Zarahemla, according to John Sorenson (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon), important buildings in the major centers there, Santa Rosa and Chiapa de Corzo, were burned around 50 A.D. plus or minus a few decades (Sorenson, p. 128).
Sorenson writes about the plausibility of the great catastrophe in terms of a proposed Mesoamerican setting (Sorenson, pp. 320-322):
These facts in the Book of Mormon should fit the Mesoamerican scene. The same types of natural destructive forces at work in the 3 Nephi account should be familiar in southern Mexico and thereabouts. After all, it was the intensity of nature's rampage that impressed the Nephite recorder, not the novelty of the phenomena (3 Nephi 8:5, 7). All these kinds of destruction evidently had happened before in the land, but never with such terrifying effect. Not surprisingly, the sorts of natural forces unleashed in that fateful three hours are familiar on the Mesoamerican scene.
That area lies in a zone of intense earthquake activity-the edge of the Pacific basin, along which periodic violent quakes are a fact of life [Manuel Maldonado-Koerdell, "Geohistory and Paleogeography of Middle America," Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. Robert Wauchope, Austin: University of Texas Press, Vol. 1, 1964, pp. 22-26; Robert C. West, "Surface Configuration and Associated Geology of Middle America," ibid., pp. 42-58, 75-78]. Scores of volcanoes are scattered along this particular zone of instability from north-central Mexico to Nicaragua. Many of them have been active within historical times [Felix W. McBryde, Cultural and Historical Geography of Southwest Guatemala, Smithsonian Institution, Institute of Social Anthropology, Publications, Vol. 4, 1947, p. 6]. Antigua, the former capital city of Guatemala, was utterly destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 and hit heavily again in 1917. The great damage done in Guatemala in 1976 by another series of earthquakes is typical of many previous experiences. Traditions and the presence of hieroglyphic signs signifying earthquakes demonstrate the profound effect they had on the pre-Columbian peoples [Maldonado-Koerdell, Geohistory, p. 26].
A description of the eruption of Conseguina volcano in Nicaragua in 1835 hints at the terror and destruction that resulted from the powerful disaster at the time of Christ. A dense cloud first rose above the cone, and within a couple of hours it "enveloped everything in the greatest darkness, so that the nearest objects were imperceptible." Fear-struck wild animals blundered into settlements, adding to the terror. Then came quakes, "a perpetual undulation." Volcanic ash began to fall, like "fine powder-like flour." The thunder and lightning "continued the whole night and the following day." Dust thrown up into the atmosphere combined with heat from the volcano to trigger the storms. Still later the worst tremor of all hit, strong enough to throw people to the ground. Darkness again came on and this time lasted forty-three hours [Payson D. Sheets, "An Ancient Natural Disaster," Expedition, 13 (Fall 1971): 27]. These conditions, multiplied in both intensity and territory covered, sound much like 3 Nephi.
In chapter 3, citations were made to scientific literature reporting evidence of volcanism right around the time of Christ. Probably the most spectacular was in El Salvador. Archaeologist and geologist Payson Sheets has worked to clarify the date and extent of the eruption there at "about the time of Christ." One volcano apparently devastated a 3,000-square mile area; ash falls up to 40 feet deep buried settlement after settlement.
Sorenson goes on to explain, with ample documentation, how more recent historical accounts of volcanic activity in Central America and southern Mexico are also consistent with Book of Mormon descriptions of great thunderings, storms that are triggered by or accompany volcanism, associated mudflows or ash deposits, etc. Of special interest is the reported fate of the city of Jerusalem (the New World Nephite city), which Sorenson's analysis of Book of Mormon geography places in Guatemala on the shore of Lake Atitlan. Sorensen writes:
The level of this lake has fluctuated as much as 40 feet due to subterranean shifts in the volcanic material that plugs its exit, according to geologists [McBryde, Cultural and Historical Geography, pp. 132, 168, 179-80; Samuel K. Lothrop, in Atitlan, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Papers, 444 (1933), p. 83, reported waterworn potsherds from the site of Chuitinamit well above the water level of that time; these can only be explained by extensive fluctuations]. Earthquakes and eruptions could have stirred the base of the lake to make water "come up in the stead" of Jerusalem (3 Nephi 9:7). The nearby land or valley of Middoni, today probably the location of Antigua, former capital of Guatemala, has been fiercely shaken many times [Maldonado-Koerdell, Geohistory, pp. 25-26]. The entire fault system and volcanic chain extending through highland El Salvador, Guatemala, and Chiapas [Robert C. West and John P. Augelli, Middle America: Its Lands and Peoples, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1976), p. 35] must have been involved simultaneously to create the vast havoc described in the scripture. Other volcanic- and earthquake-prone areas lie in a northern system in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Mexico. (Sorenson, pp. 322-323)
Sorenson concludes (p. 323):
Unquestionably the kinds of natural forces that produced the devastation reported in 3 Nephi are thoroughly characteristic of Mesoamerica. Nothing is surprising about the story except the scale. That was unprecedented. Our archaeological sources, meanwhile, provide us with some hints that a landmark disaster did in fact occur around the time of Christ. As years go on, we may learn more about it.
Another good review of the volcanic evidence related to the Book of Mormon is available online at the FARMS Website in an article by Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars," FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, pp. 87-145. The section of this lengthy article relating to volcanoes is found on pages 112-114, from which the following excerpt is taken:
M. T. Lamb [a prominent anti-Mormon who mentored the Tanners] called the disaster described in 3 Nephi 8-9 one of the most "foolish and physically impossible" stories ever described.57 Recent Book of Mormon scholarship, however, suggests that all the elements of this event can be reasonably explained and best understood in the context of an ancient Mesoamerican volcanic disaster.58
Bruce Warren has discussed evidence for volcanic activity in Mesoamerica around the time of Christ.59 Archaeology provides evidence for such volcanic activity in the Valley of Mexico, where the volcano Xitle is believed to have erupted anciently, covering much of the southern portion of the valley.60 Cummings, the archaeologist who originally excavated at Cuicuilco, believed that Xitle erupted around 2860 B.C.61 Based on more recent evidence, scholars now know that this disaster occurred nearly 2,000 years ago.62 At that time the site of Copilco was buried under more than thirty feet of lava, as was much of the nearby site of Cuicuilco. Archaeological evidence from the sites indicates that the lava flow was preceded by a heavy rainfall of ash.63 Both of these sites are located on the southwestern end of the Valley of Mexico. About thirty miles northeast is the massive site of Teotihuacan. There a layer of volcanic ash, apparently blown from that eruption, covers structures from the Tzacualli phase (A.D. 1-150). Carbon-14 tests of material directly below the ash layer yielded a date of A.D. 30 ± 80.64
Additional evidence for volcanic activity in Mesoamerica near the time of Christ can be found further south in the Tuxtlas region of southern Veracruz, a region many Latter-day Saint scholars associate with the Book of Mormon "land northward." In the 1940s archaeologists Matthew Stirling and Phillip Drucker found that a heavy layer of ash covered what appeared to be Late Preclassic pottery and other material at the site of Tres Zapotes. Michael Coe notes that while this pottery has "strong continuities with the Middle Preclassic, . . . in general most resemblances lie with other Late Preclassic phases of Mesoamerica, such as Chicanel of the lowland Maya area, Chiapa IV and V at Chiapa de Corzo, and terminal Preclassic manifestations in the Valley of Mexico. Olmec and other Middle Preclassic phenomena are either absent or very weak."65 Coe then notes that "the famous Stela C," found directly below the ash layer in question, "if read in the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation, would read 31 B.C., exactly within the period with which we are concerned."66 If Coe's argument holds, then this would place the San Martin eruption some time after 31 B.C.
Archaeologist Payson Sheets has published evidence for several major volcanic eruptions further south in El Salvador over several millennia. One of these probably occurred during the late second century A.D. While this is much later than the event described in 3 Nephi, other evidence of earlier volcanic activity in this region has been found. In 1955 Muriel Porter described several sites in El Salvador that were covered by thirty to sixty-five feet of volcanic ash around the time of Christ.67 In a more recent work Sheets has published additional evidence for a lesser volcanic eruption in the region of Costa Rica "about the time of Christ."68 While such evidence is very tentative and preliminary in nature, it does lend plausibility to the account of the destruction in 3 Nephi.
References Cited by Roper:
57 M. T. Lamb, The Golden Bible, or, the Book of Mormon: Is It from God? (New York: Ward & Drummond, 1887), 83.
58 John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, op. cit., 318-23; Russell H. Ball, "An Hypothesis Concerning the Three Days of Darkness among the Nephites," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 107-23; John A. Tvedtnes, "Historical Parallels to the Destruction at the Time of the Crucifixion," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3/1 (1994): 170-86; James L. Baer, "The Third Nephi Disaster: A Geological View," Dialogue 19/1 (1986): 129-32; Bart J. Kowallis, "In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist's View of the Great Destruction in Third Nephi," forthcoming in BYU Studies.
59 Bruce Warren and Thomas S. Ferguson, The Messiah in Ancient America (Provo, Utah: Book of Mormon Research Foundation, 1987), 40-4. [Roper thanks Bruce Warren for providing him with several key sources on this issue.]
60 Byron Cummings, "Cuicuilco and the Archaic Culture of Mexico," University of Arizona Bulletin (Social Science) 4/8 (15 November 1933): 8-12.
61 Ibid., 14.
62 Copilco-Cuicuilco: Official Guide del Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (Mexico: Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, 1959), 8, 11-2.
63 Ibid., 12, 18. See also Paul B. Sears, "Pollen Profiles and Culture Horizons in the Basin of Mexico," in The Civilizations of Ancient America: Selected Papers of the XXIXth International Congress of Americanists, ed. Sol Tax (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 57.
64 René Millon and James Bennyhoff, "A Long Architectural Sequence at Teotihuacan," American Antiquity 26/4 (April 1961): 519.
65 Michael D. Coe, "Archaeological Synthesis of Southern Veracruz and Tabasco," in Archaeology of Southern Mesoamerica, part 2, ed. Gordon R. Willey, Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 3 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), 694.
66 Ibid., 696.
67 Muriel N. Porter, "Material Preclasico de San Salvador," Sobretiro de "Communicaciones" del Instituto Tropical de Investigaciones Científicas de la Universidad de El Salvador 4/3-4 (July-December 1955): 105-14.
68 Payson D. Sheets and Brian R. McKee, eds., Archaeology, Volcanism, and Remote Sensing in the Arenal Region, Costa Rica (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 318.
On Dr. Paul Wallace's page of publications at the University of Oregon's site, please note that the titles of two of the papers indicate that Xitle erupted 2000 years B.P. (before the present):
However, the date of 2000 years B.P. for the Xitle volcano is challenged by a couple of recent publications discussed at the end of the page http://www.intersurf.com/~chalcedony/FOG11.html, one of which says that radiocarbon dating suggests that Xitle erupted "1670 years BP, some 300 years later than previously thought." I have not yet seen the studies and don't know how they affect the above statements on volcanism and the Book of Mormon, but please recall that Xitle is not the only volcanic eruption that LDS writers have tentatively linked to the description in Third Nephi.
For further information about ancient volcanic activity in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Mexico, see the article, "When Day Turned into Night" from the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 10, no. 2 (2001), pp. 66–67.
Also of interest, a page on Teotihuacan suggests that some of its early inhabitants may have com from further south in Mexico as a result of the Xitle volcano, "which caused major devastation and forced the survivors in the region to seek a new place to settle." Teotihuacan is believed to be in the land north of Zarahemla and the narrow neck of land, a place where cement construction became popular, according to Helaman 3.
The dramatic catastrophes in the New World that attended the crucifixion of Christ were prophesied 600 years before by Nephi in 1 Nephi 12: 2-6:
4 And it came to pass that I saw a mist of darkness on the face of the land of promise; and I saw lightnings, and I heard thunderings, and earthquakes, and all manner of tumultuous noises; and I saw the earth and the rocks, that they rent; and I saw mountains tumbling into pieces; and I saw the plains of the earth, that they were broken up; and I saw many cities that they were sunk; and I saw many that they were burned with fire; and I saw many that did tumble to the earth, because of the quaking thereof.
5 And it came to pass after I saw these things, I saw the vapor of darkness, that it passed from off the face of the earth; and behold, I saw multitudes who had not fallen because of the great and terrible judgments of the Lord.
6 And I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven; and he came down and showed himself unto them.
Unknown to Joseph Smith and still unknown to most LDS people, it appears that Nephi was not the only ancient prophet who knew of the dramatic upheavals in nature that would accompany the crucifixion of Christ. And Nephi was not the only prophet who gave detailed prophecies about the mission and life of Christ. An ancient document, the Book of the Rolls (available in Margaret D. Gibson, Apocrypha Arabica, London: Clay and Sons, 1901), contains a remarkable prophecy said to be from Adam that correlates well with the Book of Mormon. The Book of the Rolls is a pseudepigraphic work known only from an Arabic version, attributed to Clement, a disciple of the apostle Peter. According to John A. Tvedtnes in his research note, "Knowledge of Christ to Come," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 159-161, the Book of the Rolls "reflects the same tradition found in other ancient Christian works about the earliest generations of mankind. . . ." In this document, Adam is told that Christ would come to earth and be born of a virgin named Mary. Christ, long before his mortal birth, tells Adam,
"I will come down to thee, and in thy house will I dwell and with thy body will I be clothed. . . . i will fast forty days; . . . I will receive baptism; . . . I will be lifted up on the cross; . . . I will endure lies; . . . I will be beaten with the whip; . . . I will taste vinegar; . . . my hands will be nailed; . . . I will be pierced with a spear; . . . I will thunder in the height; . . . I will darken the sun; . . . I will cleave the rocks; . . . after three days, which I have spent in the grave, I will raise up the body which I took from thee."
(Book of the Rolls in Gibson, f.100b-101a, p. 16)
The details about thundering, darkening the sun, and cleaving the rocks are reported prominently in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 14:20-22; 3 Nephi 8:17-20; and 1 Nephi 12:4). The Bible briefly mentions three hours of darkness and says that the earth quaked and the rocks rent (Matt. 27), but makes no mention of thundering. The ancient Book of the Rolls lends plausibility to detailed prophecies of Christ in the Book of Mormon and is consistent with the prophecy of Nephi about violent manifestations in nature at the time Christ was crucified. It doesn't prove anything about the Book of Mormon, but is fascinating nonetheless.
According to Mariano Veytia (1720-1778), a Spaniard who was born in Mexico and became familiar with Mexican legends and calendars, Mexican legends also told of darkness and intense earthquakes at a time that corresponded with the Christ's death. I quote from Veytia on my "Book of Mormon Nugget" page, "Mesoamerican Traditions of Darkness and Seismic Events when Christ Died."
For an interesting comparison between the apparently volcanic destruction described in the Book of Mormon and an ancient Egyptian text describing the results of a volcano (including the inability to light a torch), see John Gee's article, "Another Note on the Three Days of Darkness" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1997), pp. 235-244.
Update: Ice Core Data Support Volcanic Activity Near 33 A.D.
Benjamin R. Jordan, who is completing a Ph.D. at the University of Rhode Island involving research on volcanic ash layers in Central America, has published an article examining evidence for ancient volcanic activity around the time of the death of Christ. The article, "Volcanic Destruction in the Book of Mormon: Possible Evidence from Ice Cores," was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, 2003, pp. 78-87 (see the PDF version for best results. Examining reputable, peer-reviewed publications of ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica, Jordan shows that there are spikes in sulfate content that are consistent with significant volcanic activity around the time of the death of Christ. "There is evidence for large eruptions, within the margin of error, for the period of A.D. 30 to 40." Ice cores and the Book of Mormon: cool evidence, eh? And deep.
Helaman 7:10 in the Book of Mormon speaks of the prophet and religious leader Nephi, a descendant of the original Nephi who crossed the ocean, praying out loud on a tower in his garden "which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla." In 1830 and even in much of this century, the idea of ancient Americans having urban gardens, multiple markets (implied by the existence of a "a chief market"), highways, and personal towers seemed out of place. Recent discoveries now show that Helaman 7:10 is entirely plausible. Chapter 68 of Reexploring the Book of Mormon, (ed. John Welch, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, pp. 236-237) explains:
The "tower" might easily refer to pyramidal mounds, some built and used by families and lineage leaders for religious ceremonies, and which were referred to by the Spanish conquerors as "towers." Highways too are now well known in Mesoamerica during Book of Mormon times. But what evidence is there of gardens and chief markets in ancient Mesoamerican cities?
Gardens. For decades the prevailing view was that cities with high-density populations did not exist at all in Mesoamerica. In the last twenty years, however, intensive work at places like Teotihuacan and Monte Alban have demonstrated unquestionably that cities in the modern sense were indeed known during the Book of Mormon times.
Indeed, in at least some of those cities, garden areas were cultivated immediately adjacent to single habitation complexes. At the archaeological site of El Tajin near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico east of Mexico City are the remains of a city that occupied at least five square kilometers at its maximum period, probably between A.D. 600-900. At that time, the houses of its middle-class people were surrounded by gardens and fruit trees. Likewise, the famous city of Tula, north of the capital of Mexico, was even larger, up to fourteen square kilometers around A.D. 1000-1100, and gardened houselots were common there too.
Chief Markets. No one knowledgeable of pre-Columbian Mexico has had any doubt that markets were found in all sizeable settlements. Cortez and his fellows were amazed by the market in Tlatelolco in the Valley of Mexico, by its diversity of goods, and by the complexity of its organization. Yet until recently, only little attention has been given to the fact that a number of these cities had multiple markets.
The evidence, however, seems quite clear. Blanton and Kowalewski, for example, have noted that Monte Alban had both a chief market and subsidiary ones. For Teotihuacan, Rene Millon identifies one location as "the principal marketplace" and suggests that other markets existed for special products, such as kitchen wares. George Cowgill, the other leading expert on Teotihuacan, concurs. The Krotsers point out the same phenomenon at El Tajin. Meanwhile Edward Calnek's reexamination of documentary evidence on the organization of the Aztec capital, Tenochititlan, has established that each major sector of the city had its own market, in addition to the giant central one. Apparently Zarahemla was no different.
These things once seemed problematic in the book of Helaman's casual description of Nephi's neighborhood. They turn out instead to have substance beyond what was known only a few years ago.
Regarding gardens, Michael D. Coe in The Maya (4th edition, London: Thames and Hudson, 1987, p. 156) states:
Every Maya household had its own kitchen garden in which vegetables and fruit trees were raised, and fruit groves were scattered near settlements as well. Papaya, avocado, custard apple, sapodilla, and the breadnut tree were all cultivated. . . .
The idea of Nephi having his own garden in an urban setting now makes a lot of sense.
Regarding the chief market concept, one scholarly publication notes that "the high development of the market as an institution and the rise of specialized merchants is distinctively Mesoamerican," and "markets were emphasized in native Mesoamerica as they are today" (Gordon R. Willey, Gordon F. Elkholm, and René F. Millon, "The Patterns of Farming Life and Civilization," in Handbook of Middle American Indians (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964), 1:461-62, as cited in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne, Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999, p. 197). Another said, "Around the major market are a series of market places" which "specialize in a given produce or commodity and . . . carry a reduced selection of the goods available in the central market" (Manning Nash, "Indian Economies," in Handbook of Middle American Indians, 6:87, in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, p. 198). Others observed that "the most important economic institution of the ancient Maya was the centralized market" (S.G. Morley and G.W. Brainerd, The Ancient Maya, 4th ed. (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1983), p. 249, as cited in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, p. 198).
The Native Americans that Joseph would have known of could not have provided him with knowledge of central markets that were once on this continent. Could Joseph Smith have guessed in 1829 that ancient inhabitants of this continent once had central markets and many other complex social and economic features of advanced civilizations? Could he have known of ancient Mesoamerican features like urban gardens, highways, towers, temples, fortified cities, record keeping, and so forth? Knowledge of Mesoamerican civilization in Joseph's day was minuscule (see, for example, "What Could Joseph Smith Have Known about Mesoamerica?"). If he had made up the Book of Mormon based on what he knew or guessed, there would be nothing left to defend after a couple of decades from publication. Instead, the Book of Mormon initially seemed hopelessly ridiculous, talking about ancient natives in advanced civilizations, so unlike those that were known in Joseph Smith's setting, but advances in knowledge increasingly lend plausibility to the Book of Mormon in an ancient Mesoamerican setting in ways that rule out Joseph Smith as the author.
Mesoamerican temples had an entrance with two pillars standing in the front on either side of the doorway and they bore no weight. They were just standing pillars that ended in a top. That's exactly the same as for the Temple of Solomon, where there were two pillars and their names are given in the account about the construction of that temple. The form of the temple in Mesoamerica--what are thought to be temples, anyway--... is similar to descriptions of the Temple of Solomon. The emphasis at the Temple of Solomon was not on the structure, that is the enclosed space inside. Worshipers did not go inside. A priest occasionally went inside, but the large majority operated, carried on their sacrifices, did their worship outside in the court. The Mormon equivalent would be that you'd hold meetings on Temple Square but not inside a tabernacle or the temple. That is exactly the case also with the Mesoamerican temples. Sacrifices were made on altars that look very Jewish ... and those were in front of temples; those were near temples. And many of the concepts that the Spaniards reported associated with the temples ... the idea of multiple heavens, communication with heaven, sacrifice, the occasions for sacrifice, [etc.] ... is similar in Mesoamerica as in the Near East.
Many scholars have noted the parallels between Old World structures and the temples of Mesoamerica, including the emphasis on the four cardinal points, the step-like structures similar to ancient pyramids, the significance of sacrifice, etc. The pure worship of Nephi and others of his descendants was quickly perverted by the Lamanites or others in the land, and little of Nephite worship is likely to have survived the destruction of the Nephites in 400 A.D. Nevertheless, evidences for a remote link to Old World practices and the Jewish temple concept can be found in Mesoamerica, which is Book of Mormon territory.
On Rabbi Yosef's now defunct "Jewishness of the Book of Mormon" maillist, an inquirer wondered if the mention of Laban's "treasury" in First Nephi made sense in the Hebrew and in ancient Israel. According to the Book of Mormon, the treasury was where Laban kept sacred records. Rabbi Yosef's e-mail of April 27, 1998 explains that it makes excellent sense, being "exactly in keeping with the culture and language." "Treasury" in Hebrew is "genizah," a word also used for a room in ancient synagogues where scrolls were stored. By way of support, Rabbi Yosef explained:
The early "Church Father" Epiphanius, in his Panarion, section 30, relates the story of a Jew named Josephus (Yosef) who became a believer in Messiah after reading Hebrew copies of Acts and John which he found in a "genizah" (treasury) in Tiberias, Israel (Epiphanius; Panarion 30:3, 6). You may also have heard of an archaeological find known as the "Cairo Genizah", in which such an ancient store room of scrolls was found in the remains of an ancient synagogue.
How many New York farmboys would have known about an ancient Jewish practice of storing sacred records in a "treasury"? This is just one of many dozens of subtleties in the text pointing to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon text.
The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has had a major impact on Bible studies. It has changed many views about religion in ancient Palestine and has given credibility to many Book of Mormon claims. The idea of finding New Testament concepts and practices such as baptism in Old Testament times is no longer ridiculous. LDS scholars have been very active in promoting research into the Dead Sea Scrolls and have been an important part of the academic community dealing with the texts.
Fascinating insight into the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Book of Mormon and LDS religion in general is offered by two non-LDS writers, Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, who presented a paper at the 1997 Evangelical Theological Society Far West Annual Meeting, April 25, 1997. They warned the evangelical community about the impressive efforts of LDS scholars. Their article, "Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?" (later published in Trinity Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 179-205), is one of the most intriguing non-LDS articles I've ever encountered from critics of the Church. (One of several copies of it on the Web can be found at ComeToZarahemla.org.) It warns that anti-LDS writers have ignored the significant work of respected LDS scholars who are providing "robust defenses" of the LDS faith. In preparing their paper, Mosser and Owen did something that few critics have done: they have actually read a wide variety of LDS scholarly writings. Their article notes the many apparent evidences that LDS scholars have uncovered which, according to the LDS perspective (not that of Mosser and Owen), give plausibility to the Book of Mormon as an ancient Semitic text. Chiasmus is just one of many evidences mentioned. Speaking in particular of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient Jewish texts, they write the following (footnotes have been renumbered):
Mormons have taken a keen interest in the scrolls for several reasons. Foremost among these, they want to support a portrait of early Christianity which is firmly rooted in apocalyptic Judaism.... Nibley feels that there is a line of continuity between the desert sectarians represented by Lehi and his family (cf. 1 Nephi 2), the community at Qumran, earliest Christianity, and second-century gnosticism. The argument being put forth is not that the Qumran Essenes were proto-Mormons, but simply that Mormonism has more in common with the apocalyptic belief system represented at Qumran than with that of Hellenized Christianity. Nibley continues: "Now with the discovery and admission of the existence of typical New Testament expressions, doctrines, and ordinances well before the time of Christ, the one effective argument against the Book of Mormon collapses."(1) Elsewhere he points to ten parallels between the Qumran literature and the Book of Mormon....
Nibley is not alone in pointing out parallels between the Qumran texts and Mormon scripture. William J. Hamblin complains that "the critics [of Mormonism] have never explained why we find close linguistic and literary parallels between the figure Mahujah in Dead Sea Scrolls Aramaic fragments and the Book of Enoch and Mahijah questioning Enoch in the book of Moses (Moses 6:40)."(2) ... Stephen E. Robinson points to numerous similarities between the Qumran community and the Latter-day Saints. He notes that the Qumranites wrote important information on metal, they believed in baptism(s) by immersion,(3) their community was led by a council of twelve men with three governing priests, they had sacred meals of bread and wine administered by priests,(4) and they believed in continuing revelation through a prophetic leader. He writes, "All of this leads to the conclusion that in many ways the Essenes may have been closer to the [Mormon] gospel than other Jewish sects."(5) As with defenses of the Book of Mormon, more examples could be listed. In light of the growing participation of LDS scholars in Scrolls research we can be sure that many more will be brought to our attention....
Footnotes cited above:
2. William J. Hamblin, "An Apologist for the Critics: Brent Lee Metcalfe's Assumptions and Methodologies," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 6 no. 1 (1994):484-485. Hamblin is referring to the Book of the Giants fragments 4Q203, 4Q530, and 6Q8. For an extended discussion of this and other parallels, see Hugh W. Nibley, "Churches in the Wilderness," in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978):155-86.
Mosser and Owen go on to discuss other Jewish writings (the pseudepigrapha) that have more specific similarities with LDS scriptures. These writings are used to LDS scholars to establish an ancient milieu for the Book of Mormon. Among several examples, they cite work of Stephen E. Robinson on the Narrative of Zosimus (or History of the Rechabites) "which contains an interesting tradition about Jews leaving Jerusalem in Jeremiah's time, and traveling across the ocean to a land of promise."
There are impressive parallels between LDS scriptures and ancient Semitic writings that were generally unknown in Joseph Smith's day. Mosser and Owen explain that Latter-day Saints are not the only ones who have noticed this:
LDS writers are not alone in noting various parallels between these ancient texts and Mormon literature. James H. Charlesworth, in a lecture delivered at Brigham Young University entitled, "Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha and the Book of Mormon," points to what he describes as "important parallels . . . that deserve careful examination." He cites examples from 2 Baruch, 4 Ezra, Psalms of Solomon and the Testament of Adam.(1) If the world's leading authority on ancient pseudepigraphal writings thinks such examples deserve "careful examination," it might be wise for evangelicals to do some examining. [italics in the original] ... Yale's Harold Bloom is perplexed as how to explain the many parallels between Joseph Smith's writings and ancient apocalyptic, pseudepigraphal, and kabbalistic literature. He writes, "Smith's religious genius always manifested itself though what might be termed his charismatic accuracy, his sure sense of relevance that governed biblical and Mormon parallels. I can only attribute his genius or daemon his uncanny recovery of elements in ancient Jewish theurgy that had ceased to be available either to normative Judaism or to Christianity, and that had survived only in esoteric traditions unlikely to have touched Smith directly."(2)
Footnotes cited above:
1. James H. Charlesworth, "Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha and the Book of Mormon," in Reflections on Mormonism: Judeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978), 99-137. Non-LDS biblical scholars Jacob Milgrom, David Noel Freedman, W.D. Davies and Krister Stendahl also contributed to this volume.
The case for the Book of Mormon as an authentic ancient text is becoming strong enough to attract the notice of thoughtful evangelical critics of the Church. We look forward to further discoveries! After all, we already know what the answer will be, for our knowledge of the TRUTH of the Book of Mormon is not based on what scholars say, but on what the Spirit shows those who read it sincerely and pray. But learning about the impressive evidences for the Book of Mormon helps us better appreciate the book--and makes life even more fun.
Further analysis based on the paper of Mosser and Owen has been provided by Justin Hart in "Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It," in Meridian Magazine (ldsmag.com), an article in five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
While critics continue to chant their mantra, "No evidence, no evidence...," faithfully ignoring the impressive Book of Mormon evidence from the Old World, there are quite a few things from the New World that merit attention. The best work on geography of the Book of Mormon puts its setting in a small area in Mesoamerica (southern Mexico, Guatemala), and that is where we can expect to find the most relevant evidence. I've already mentioned evidence concerning fortifications, gardens, and temples above. But look at the many other things that we know about this region that fit in with the Book of Mormon (some of which are discussed in An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon by John L. Sorenson, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1985): it's the only place in the New World with a long tradition of written language, as the Book of Mormon would require; it's a place where significant cities suddenly sprung up, consistent with the concept of an immigration from a city-building people and roughly consistent with the times of the Jaredite and Nephite/Lamanite eras; it's a place that anciently was filled with kings and kingdoms, wars and politics, trade and merchants, religious disputes and philosophical inquiry, all consistent with the cultural milieu presented in the Book of Mormon.
Consider, for example, the cultural implications of 3 Nephi 6:10-12:
10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
If Joseph Smith were describing what he knew of Native American culture in the frontier of upstate New York, why would he introduce such foreign ideas into his text? Attributing merchants, officers, lawyers, costly learning, and so forth to ancient Americans was outlandish if he were using his own knowledge of the natives in the land. But these verses accurately describe aspects of Mesoamerican society. Was this just a lucky guess? It certainly wasn't common knowledge in 1830.
Just another example of many, the political systems described in the Book of Mormon point to a hierarchy of cities as the organizing factor in Nephite and Lamanite government (see Brant A. Gardner, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2001, pp. 44-45, reviewing John L. Sorenson, Nephite Culture and Society, Salt Lake City: New Sage Books, 1997). We even see Lamanite kings in cities being subject to higher kings. As Gardner suggests, if Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon using what he knew, one might expect to see a federal system of government or divisions between city, county, state. Instead, we encounter a system based on a hierarchy of cities--just as we find in ancient Mesoamerica.
Mesoamerica is also a place with legends of a Great White God who visited the people anciently and promised to return, just as the Book of Mormon reports. And it's a place that had legends of ancient emigrations by boat. For example, a native American prince in the 1500s named Ixtlilxochitl wrote:
"Those who possessed this new world in this third age were the Ulmecas and Xicalanas; and according to what is found in their histories, they came in ships or barques from the east to the land of Pontochan from which they began to settle." (Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando de Alva "Obras Historicas," Editora Nacional, S.A. Mexico, 2 vols., 1950, p. 19, as cited by John K. Wise, "Clouds Without Water, Zeal Without Knowledge," Journal of Mormon Apologetics, Vol. 1, 1999, pp. 116-140.)
That fits reasonably well with the Book of Mormon description of the Jaredites, who came from the old world in enclosed barges or boats, at a time that fits in well with the rise of the Olmec civilization.
Cortez reported that the Aztec king Montezuma, at the first meeting of white men with the natives of Texcoco, said:
"For a long time and by means of our writings, we have possessed a knowledge, transmitted from our ancestors, that neither I nor any of us who inhabit this land are of native origin. We are foreigners and came here from very remote parts. We possess information that our lineage was led to this land by a lord to whom we all owed allegiance. He afterward left this [land] for his native country ... but we have ever believed that his descendants would surely come here to subjugate this land and us who are, by rights, their servants. Because of what you say concerning the region whence you came, which is where the sun rises ... we believe and hold as certain that he must be our rightful lord...." (Nuttal, Zelia, "Some Unsolved Problems in Mexican Archaeology," American Anthropologist, XIII, 1, 133-149, 1906, p. 135, as cited by Wise, op. cit., p. 129.)
Bernardino de Sahagun, a Spanish priest in the 1500s, after extensive study of Aztec and Mayan records (most of which the Spaniards burned), wrote:
It has been innumerable years since the first settlers arrived in these parts of New Spain which is almost another world, and they came in ships by sea, landing at the port which is to the north." (Bernardino de Sahagun, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana, S.A. Mexico, 3 vols., 946, II, 306, as cited by Wise, op. cit., p. 129.)
Though one must be cautious to sort the authentic from the questionable when it comes to reports of ancient legends among the native inhabitants of the Americas, there are numerous accounts that appear to have derived from the ancient visit of Christ to the Americas, as reported in the Book of Mormon. Legends from Mesoamerica seem particularly interesting in this regard. The Mayan practice of baptism encountered by the Spaniards, for example, has numerous parallels with baptism as taught by Christ and His prophets in the Book of Mormon. See Diego de Landa, Relación de las cosas de Yucatan, 1566, translated by William Gates and published as Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, New York: Dover Books, 1978, pp. 42-45, which I quote and discuss in more detail on my LDSFAQ page of Questions about LDS Baptism. This rite was associated with confession to a priest, purity, being born again, doing away with sins, gaining access to a better afterlife, and was called by a name meaning "the descent of the god." Combine that with early legends of the Great White God or related figures who were said to have visited peoples in Mesoamerica, and we've got something worth pondering.
In fact, on the basis of numerous legends among native peoples, one non-LDS writer became convinced that Christ was once in the Americas and compiled these accounts in a book, He Walked the Americas, Amherst, Wisconsin: Amherst Press, 1963. A few excerpts from the book are available on the Web. L. Taylor Hansen apparently had Masters Degrees in Archaeology, Anthropology and Geology from Stanford University and spent significant time with Native Americans to better understand their traditions and legends. The book is still in print and maybe available at your local library.
Though remnants of some inspired practices such as baptism may have persisted in Mesoamerica, there were many forms of evil among the ancient Book of Mormon peoples whose Mesoamerican remnants are more easily discovered. For example, the Book of Mormon describes human sacrifice as practice of some of the most corrupt groups--an evil which is widely attested in ancient Mesoamerica, including the concept of sacrificing blood (alluded to in Alma 34:11, as if it were a known cultural practice). "Secret combinations"--particularly secret mafia-like societies for gaining power and wealth--are described in detail in Ether 8 and other portions of the Book of Mormon, and are also attested in Mesoamerican culture. Indeed, the details given agree remarkably well with what is known of such secret societies from modern scholarship and criminal investigations. Cultural practices, the structure of society, the types of buildings and cities, patterns of warfare, roads and cement, patterns of trade, gardens and markets, etc., mentioned in the Book of Mormon can be found in ancient Mesoamerica, a place that must have been largely unknown to Joseph Smith when the Book of Mormon was translated.
Many other interesting details in the Book of Mormon find support in what is now known about ancient Mesoamerica. One example involves the story of Ammon who fought and literally disarmed bandits, whose arms were presented to the king as proof of the battle. Details are available in the article, "Ammon and the Mesoamerican Custom of Smiting off Arms," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1999.
The abundance of precious metals and jewels in Mesoamerica also fit nicely with the text of the Book of Mormon, making it at least a clear winner over other models of Book of Mormon geography based on North American locations. See "Geology and The Book of Mormon" by Tyler Livingston on the FAIR Blog (Oct. 2010). The combination of gold, silver, and other metals and jewels, coupled with other requirements of the text such as an ancient tradition of using written language, seismic and volcanic activity, and other factors add up to make Mesoamerica a plausible and interesting candidate for the geography of the Book of Mormon.
For more information, see Brant Gardner's A Social History of the Nephites and see the forthcoming work of John Sorenson, Mormon's Codex, which will contain extensive information on the Mesoamerican setting of the Book of Mormon. For now see the text from his presentation, "Reading Mormon's Codex" from the FAIR 2012 Conference.
Joseph Smith and his peers almost certainly did not know about the great civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica when the Book of Mormon was published. In fact, the idea of ancient advanced civilizations on this continent was so utterly foreign at the time that the witnesses of the Book of Mormon worried that it would be rejected for that reason. David Whitmer, in an 1883 interview with James H. Hart, said:
When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.
(Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook, reprinted in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews: A restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991), p. 76, as cited by Daniel C. Peterson, FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1997, p. xxvi.)
For more information on just how little was known about Mesoamerica in 1830, see my "Book of Mormon Nugget" on Joseph's Knowledge of Mesoamerica and "Joseph Smith and the Beginning of Book of Mormon Archaeology" at AncientAmerica.org. Also see "The Book of Mormon and the Writings of Alexander von Humboldt." For extra credit, see my satirical skit, "One Day in the Life of Joseph Smith, Translator Extraordinaire of the Book of Mormon."
In case after case, we find laughable "errors" in the Book of Mormon become entirely plausible or even become impressive "bull's eyes" in light of modern scholarship. The issue of "coins" in the Book of Mormon represents such a case. Chapter 11 of Alma in the Book of Mormon has long been attacked by critics for discussing Nephite coins, when there is no evidence that coins were used in the New World before the time of Columbus. But the actual text does not mention coins or imply their use, but speaks of various measures--apparently weights--of gold and silver and their equivalents in grain. (The modern chapter heading for Alma 11 in the 1981 printing of the Book of Mormon refers to Nephite "coinage," but that is an unjustified assumption.)
In a surprising development, it has been shown that the sophisticated system of weights mentioned in Alma 11, a system that was standardized under King Mosiah around 100 B.C., precisely fits an Egyptian system that Nephi and Lehi could have brought with them into the New World. John Welch presents the evidence in "Weighing and measuring in the Worlds of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 37-47 (1999). Welch finds several parallels with ancient systems of weights and measures from the Old World that put the Book of Mormon system squarely in an ancient context:
Ancient kings typically implemented their economic progress by means of official decrees. In this light it is interesting that King Mosiah's statute contains similarities to other ancient law codes antecedent to the Nephite system. For example, similarities appear almost effortlessly in the law code of Eshnunna, which was compiled about 1800 b.c. in a Babylonian city by that name that lay approximately 50 miles northeast of Baghdad in modern Iraq. In fact the similarities are rather striking. First of all, the opening lines in the law code of Eshnunna set out an important equivalency that becomes the basis for commerce: "one kor of barley is equal to one shekel of silver." A similar conversion between silver and barley was also used among the Hittites. Perhaps it is coincidental, but the law of Mosiah begins with a comparable ratio of value stated in similar phraseology: "a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold, . . . and either for a measure of barley" (Alma 11:3, 7).
Welch finds other parallels that should at least raise the eyebrows of those seeking to understand, including the relationship between the fractional system of the Nephite and Old World fractions, with possible relationships to the use of fractions among the Mayans. There are also relationships between some Old World names and Book of Mormon names for units. The parallel I found most intriguing, though, involves the relative values of Nephite measures and those of an ancient Egyptian system:
Although the Egyptian system bears certain similarities to that of the Nephites--both are binary, both have six defined measures, and both feature an additional whole amount which is the sum of lesser parts--the two systems were not absolutely identical. Such an observation agrees, of course, with Mormon's own recognition that his people had "altered their reckoning and their measure" from generation to generation (Alma 11:4). However, the relative gradation of units found in the Egyptian New Kingdom and among Nephites of Alma's day match exactly, as is developed further on table 6 [of Welch's article]. In other words, if one assumes that Nephite gold "limnah" (Alma 11:5-10) is cognate with or related to the ancient Mesopotamian and Hebrew common "light" mina-weight (or maneh) of about 17.6 oz, then all of the Nephite measures can immediately be interpreted as exact multiples of the Egyptian New Kingdom and Late Egyptian period qdt or kite-weight of 0.31 oz (very close to the Old Babylonian 0.3 oz ... "shekel"). Beginning with Nephite "leah" (Alma 11:17) as the smallest known Nephite weight, we can then match every one of the Egyptian grain-measure fractions noted in the preceding paragraph with a Nephite weight, pairing the Nephite "leah" with the Egyptian kite-weight that represents one. The correspondence is systematic and remarkable, and appears to be an alteration from the Hebrew seqel-standard of 50 shekels to a mina. Such an adaptation or reorientation of the Israelite system may already have been in process in Lehi's time, judging from the frequent appearance of hieratic Egyptian numerals on Hebrew shekel weights in the contemporary kingdom of Judah. The Nephite standard thus implies a theoretical 56 leahs (shekels?) to the limnah (mina?).
Welch, in his typical style, provides extensive references to scholarly literature for his findings.
One of the most interesting developments in the Book of Mormon has been the application of computerized statistical techniques to compare subtle but measurable details in the writing styles of authors to distinguish one author from another. This statistical technique is normally called "stylometry" but the term "wordprint" has often been used, as if the unique aspects of one's writings can define a stylistic fingerprint of sort. Given the variably in how people write depending on subject matter and other factors, a precise measurable fingerprint is a pipe dream, but statistical analysis can nevertheless help to differentiate authors and test hypotheses, when certain conditions can be met (e.g., large blocks of text available, etc.). The field of stylometry has been somewhat controversial but has become a useful and interesting tool in some cases. However, it can be easily misapplied, so much caution is required and careful defining and testing of assumptions. Sloppy techniques can easily give any desired result.
An excellent introduction to the issue of Book of Mormon "wordprint" analysis is found in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997). A chapter on wordprint (stylometry) analysis of the Book of Mormon is "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship" by Dr. John L. Hilton. Also see John Hilton, "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship," BYU Studies, vol. 30 (Summer 1990): 89-108. Hilton's work has significant merit and deserves a little more attention in the Church, in my opinion. Hilton appears to have been extremely thorough. He concludes:
By using a new wordprint measuring methodology which has been verified, we show that it is statistically indefensible to propose Joseph Smith or Oliver Cowdery or Solomon Spaulding as the author of the 30,000 words from the Book of Mormon manuscript texts attributed to Nephi and Alma. Additionally these two Book of Mormon writers have wordprints unique to themselves and measure statistically independent from each other in the same fashion that other uncontested authors do. Therefore, the Book of Mormon measures multiauthored, with authorship consistent to its own internal claims. These results are obtained even though the writings of Nephi and Alma were "translated" by Joseph Smith. We also described control studies of modern language academic translations where, in practice, a single translator can consistently preserve the unique wordprints of the several original authors he has translated.
Since publication of Hilton's study, there have been efforts to refute his conclusions and show that Joseph Smith or Sidney Rigdon may have been the authors of the Book of Mormon. For details on what these authors did and what serious errors affect their work, and for the latest contribution on wordprint analysis, see "Stylometric Analyses of the Book of Mormon: A Short History" by G. Bruce Schaalje, Matthew Roper, and Paul Fields, Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, vol. 21, no. 1 (2012), pp. 28-45. There is strong evidence that Joseph Smith was not the author of the Book of Mormon, and neither was Sidney Rigdon nor Oliver Cowdery. Who then, was the author? Why, Somebody Else, of course. Or several somebodies.
Related posts on Mormanity:
One of the fascinating things about the Book of Mormon is its manner of production. Detailed analysis of the original manuscript by Royal Skousen and others shows extensive evidence that the text really was produced by a steady stream of dictation to scribes. And that dictated text, as it fell from Joseph's lips, was "smarter" than Joseph, meaning that it was more Hebraic and more self-consistent than it would be after he reviewed and edited the text. For example, due to errors made by scribes, it appears that the Amlicites of Alma chapter 3 became written as "Amalekites" later in the text, and this error persisted through Joseph's editing. The scribal errors that led to this mistake, arising from the challenges of writing and spelling spoken foreign names, are natural and understandable. Now correcting "Amalekites" back to Amlicites greatly enhances the internal consistency of the Book of Mormon. The foreshadowing in Alma 3 with the Amlicites now makes sense, and the rise of the hardened Amalekites later in the text is not so confusing. It's one of many cases where the dictated text was "smarter" than the men who edited and printed it. See "Alma's Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites" by J. Christopher Conkling. For the detailed scholarship of Royal Skousen, see "Toward a Critical Edition of the Book of Mormon" by Royal Skousen and also "Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon."
Supplementary evidences will also be provided as "Book of Mormon Nuggets." Current offerings:
My answers to common questions about Book of Mormon evidence--including archaeological disputes, geography, and a brief mention of DNA studies. It's one of my LDSFAQ pages. Other related LDSFAQ pages include Questions About Alleged Problems in the Text, Questions About Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon, Questions about Plagiarism (was it based on works of Ethan Smith, Shakespeare, the King James Bible, or perhaps even Tolkien?), Questions About Changes in the Book of Mormon, and Questions About Metals in the Book of Mormon.
My Turn--tough questions I'd like to ask of our critics for a change.
Book of Mormon Nuggets - my compilation of tidbits and gems supporting this page.
Introduction to the Book of Mormon--my page.
2 Nephi 12 and the Septuagint: Evidence for Fraud or Authenticity in the Book of Mormon?--my work from July 2001, including the tentative discovery of paired tricola in the Book of Mormon as another authentic Hebrew poetical form that Joseph would have been unlikely to fabricate--after all, it wasn't recognized yet in his day.
The Remnant of Joseph--A FARMS publication showing that usage of this phrase provides textual evidence for authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
The Arabian Bountiful Discovered? Evidence for Nephi's Bountiful by Warren P. Aston. This is related to chapter one of the remarkable book, In the Footsteps of Lehi by Warren P. Aston and Michaela K. Aston (Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1994). This confirmed ancient location and place name matches the Book of Mormon text remarkably well. The burden is on the critics to explain how Joseph Smith could possibly have fabricated the account about Nahom and the journey in the Arabian peninsula described in First Nephi. Forget your gripes about the word "adieu" or your offense at the use of King James language. Here's a specific place and a confirmed place name that adds irresistible credibility to First Nephi. Critics, the ball is in your court and--oops! You missed. Another ace for Joseph Smith.
Evidences of the Book of Mormon--by Daniel C. Peterson.
Joseph's Prophecy of Moses and Aaron--a short article by John Tvedtnes showing that other ancient texts support the Book of Mormon's citation of a prophecy from the ancient prophet Joseph about the future coming of Moses and Aaron. (See 2 Nephi 3:9-10,17.)
Kerry A. Shirts' "Mormonism Researched" Pages--back at last! One of my favorite LDS writers is back online, featuring loads of great research on the LDS scriptures and related topics.
Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum-lots of information on Book of Mormon geography. Excellent resource.
Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Contacts: The Present State of the Evidence by Stephen C. Jett, presented at the NEARA ABC Plus Ten conference, Waltham, Massachusetts, 2002, formerly at NEARA.org (New England Antiquities Research Association), now archived.
Too Good To Be True: Questionable Archaeology and the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner. Good rebuttal of a "faith promoting" stories based on fraudulent artifacts to support particular theories for Book of Mormon geography (e.g., a geography based in North America).
Ancient American--this magazine explores the archaeology of the Americas before Columbus, frequently offering evidence for transoceanic contact from the Old World. One recent issue (Vol. 4, No. 30), for example, has a cover story about a recent find in Illinois showing that Hebrews were on this continent 2000 years ago.
The Tanners' Response (??) to the Arabian Geography in the Book of Mormon --Scott Pierson's valuable page on a topic that's got the critics nervous.
Mormonsites.org - a Book of Mormon resource devoted to understanding the significance of certain New World sites. This Website explores reasons for considering a Mesoamerican site, Cerro Vejia, as a candidate for the Hill Cumorah, for example. Includes many essays from Jerry Ainsworth.
The Sultanate of Oman: Ministry of Information-- includes a photogallery with some beautiful photos that show some of the remarkable scenes related to candidates for Bountiful. Thanks to Omanet.om for this helpful site!
Response to the Smithsonian Institution's 1996 Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon--Deals with the many sloppy statements made by a department at the normally quite reputable Smithsonian Institution--but made without the benefit of adequate scholarship about either Mesoamerica or the Book of Mormon. The Smithsonian Statement is embarrassingly out of date and needs significant revision. Many issues are covered, including transoceanic voyaging and allegedly missing items such as silk.
Curse of the Cocaine Mummies--transcript of the 1997 Discovery Channel documentary showing strong evidence of ancient transoceanic trade between the Old and New Worlds.
Where Did Nephi Build the Ship?"--an excellent article by Maurine and Scot Proctor about their journey to Wadi Sayq, a possible location for Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula. Includes new photographs.
Arabia and The Book of Mormon--Cooper Johnson's excellent article at FAIRLDS.org, reviewing a presentation by S. Kent Brown.
Latter-day Saints and the Covenant Framework of the Gospel:
An Ancient Perspective Restored--one of my recent pages that gives some insight into the ancient origins of the Book of Mormon.
Ancient Scripts--A marvelous collection of information on scripts of the ancient world. Be sure to look at the page on Mesoamerican Scripts. (There were about 15 different scripts in use in Mesoamerica, many known only from a single inscription.) The recently discovered Mesoamerican La Mojarra Script from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a reminder of how little we know about Mesoamerica and how fast our understanding is changing!
Where Did Nephi Build His Ship? - by Rex Jensen, an article at Latter-day.com, illustrating additional evidence supporting Wadi Sayq as a candidate for the Bountiful site from which Nephi sailed.
John Sorenson's book, Mormon's Codex, will contain extensive information on the Mesoamerican setting of the Book of Mormon. See the text from his presentation, "Reading Mormon's Codex" from the FAIR 2012 Conference.
Some Archaeological Outliers--a site with photos and information on the Bat Creek Stone (apparently written in an old Hebrew script) and other finds that challenge standard paradigms of archaeology. (Be sure to look at the potential evidence for pre-Columbian maize in India. Transoceanic contact, anyone?) I discuss the significant Bat Creek inscription on my page about the Smithsonian Institution's 1996 Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon.
The Newark, Ohio Decalogue Stone and Keystone Interesting but controversial: are these stones with ancient Hebrew writing further evidence of ancient Jewish contact with the New World? The author provides helpful analysis of the finds.
Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard L. Anderson.
"Once More: The Horse" by John L. Sorenson. Explores the issue of horses in the Book of Mormon.
Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It? - the famous 1997 presentation by two evangelicals warning about the strong intellectual position being developed by Mormon apologists. Further analysis based on the paper of Mosser and Owen has been provided by Justin Hart in "Winning the Battle and Not Knowing It," in Meridian Magazine (ldsmag.com), an article in five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.
An Introduction to the Church - by Jeff Lindsay.
Mounting Evidence for the Book of Mormon--an article in the Ensign by Daniel C. Peterson.
Ancient Mesoamerican Civilizations -- a great resource by Kevin L. Callahan.
Book of Mormon articles from BYU Studies - scholarly articles on fascinating topics like chiasmus and more.
Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity,--this amazing book by Barry Bickmore is now available online at FAIRLDS.org. It contains extensive and fascinating evidence from the writings of early Christianity that support the doctrines of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
The Golden Era of Mesoamerica--archived article by Steven Jones, showing interesting Mesoamerican parallels with 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon.
Quetzalcoatl, the Maya Maize God, and Jesus Christ--Diane Wirth's detailed analysis of the possible connections between Quetzalcoatl and Jesus Christ in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2002, also available in PDF format.
LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls, a video program from BYU TV exploring what scholars have to say about the impact of the Book of Mormon on LDS viewpoints. Also see "The Book of Mormon and the Dead Sea Scrolls" by Stephen Ricks. Finally, there is an archived collection of chapters from or related to the book, LDS Perspectives on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Nephi Project--evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon from the Arabian Peninsula, documented in videos.
Book of Mormon Language--useful discussion the languages that may have been used by Book of Mormon writers, including a short discussion of Hebraisms.
On NAHOM/NHM by S. Kent Brown.
Hebraisms in the Book of Mormon--Richard Grant's useful compilation of information on Hebraic language structures that survived the translation process, providing added evidence that the Book of Mormon had ancient Semitic roots that Joseph Smith could not have fabricated.
Hebrew Names in the Book of Mormon--a scholarly paper presented by John Tvedtnes to an international body of scholars in Jerusalem, 2001.
Simile Curses in the Ancient Near East, Old Testament, and Book of Mormon by Mark J. Morrise.
Mormanity - my new LDS blog.
Enallage in the Book of Mormon by Kevin L. Barney - exploring another Hebraic feature of the Book of Mormon text.
Jewish Festivals in the Book of Mormon by Kerry Shirts.
AncientAmerica.org - dedicated to exploring relationships between ancient America and the Book of Mormon.
Surviving Jaredite Names in Mesoamerica - an article by Bruce Warren.
"What is the Significance of Zelph in the Study of Book of Mormon Geography?" - an important essay by Ken Godfrey on a story that has caused unjustified confusion over Book of Mormon geography. Understand what we actually know and don't know from this unusual incident.
"What's In a Name?" - a review of a questionable pro-LDS effort to explain Book of Mormon names. While correcting the errors or others, the review provides useful insights into the issue of names in the Book of Mormon.
About my logo at the top of this page (my amateur design): The stone box is from ancient Mexico. The Mayan codex, the bearded Mesoamerican statue and the Mesoamerican panel were photographed in Mexico City's National Anthropology Museum by Jeff Lindsay, March 2006. The volcano image is the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl and comes from the public images of the US government, from the USGS Cascades Observatory. The section showing Nahom and Bountiful comes from a US satellite image of the Arabian Peninsula that I have recolored, drawn upon, and labeled.
"Was Joseph Smith Guilty of Plagiarism?" by John Tvedtnes.
Brant Gardner's massive and scholarly Multidimensional Commentary of the Book of Mormon (archived) is one of the best resources for digging into the text and better appreciating the power of this book. Also a great resource for preparing lessons. You can also buy the books at Amazon, starting with Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, First Nephi.
"Arabia's Hidden Valley: A Unique Habitat in Dhofar Captures Arabia's Past" by Warren P. Aston in the March 2013 issue of Wildlife Middle East, a secular article offering photos and other information about this leading candidate for ancient Bountiful. The homepage for the newsletter is http://www.wmenews.com/newsletters.php.
The Nauvoo Times--Orson Scott Card's online LDS magazine supported by a mix of LDS writers, including yours truly.
Curator: Jeff Lindsay , Contact:
Last Updated: May 5, 2013