Book of Mormon Evidences, Part 3 presents further evidence supporting the Book of Mormon as an ancient document. This page is a continuation of Book of Mormon Evidences, Part One and Part Two. 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 collection 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.
Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous Book of Mormon issues have been discussed there. Also see Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, the Neal Maxwell Institute, FairMormon.org, etc.
You can order a free Book of Mormon at ComeuntoChrist.org.
Parts of Jeff Lindsay's Book of Mormon Evidences material has been translated into Spanish: see Evidencias del Libro de Mormon by Marco Royo.
Much more to come. More can be found in Part One, including the dramatic evidence from the Arabian Peninsula for Book of Mormon plausibility. Also see Part Two which has evidence from Book of Mormon poetry (chiasmus), cement, olive culture, wars in winter, etc.
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. John L. Sorenson in "Nephi's Garden and Chief Market," Chapter 68 of Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John Welch (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 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 worship system 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.
The Book of Mormon indicates that the brass plates, which Nephi needed to obtain from a powerful but wicked man, Laban, were stored in Laban's "treasury" (1 Nephi 4:20-24). Normally we would think of a library as the place to store written records. It turns out that storing written records in a "treasury" is an authentic concept from the ancient Near East. See John A. Tvedtnes, "Books in the Treasury," chapter 9 in The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: "Out of Darkness Unto Light" (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2000), 155–166. Tvedtnes explains:
Ezra 5:17-6:2 speaks of a "treasure house" containing written records. The Aramaic word rendered "treasure" in this passage is ginzayyd, from the root meaning "to keep, hide" in both Hebrew and Aramaic. In Esther 3:9 and 4:7, the Hebrew word of the same origin is used to denote a treasury where money is kept. Also from this root is the Mishnaic Hebrew word g'niznh, denoting a repository for worn synagogue scrolls, and gannaz, meaning "archivist," or one in charge of records....
Epiphanius (died A.D. 403) reported that Jewish converts to Christianity told him that the Gospel of John, as translated from Greek into Hebrew, was found in the Jewish “treasuries” at Tiberias, where it was secretly kept along with a copy of the Acts of the Apostles as translated from Greek into Hebrew (see Panarion 1.2.3,6, 7-9; 4,1 [this should be denoted as section 30, not 2]). One of his informants was a Josephus of Tiberias. This Josephus went to the "gazophylacium" there which was sealed -- "gaza" means "treasure" in Hebrew. As many had different notions about this treasury because of its seal, Josephus plucked up the courage to open it unobserved -- and found no money, but books money could not buy. Browsing through them he found the Gospel of John, translated from Greek to Hebrew, as I said, and the Acts of the Apostles....
I found the account of Epiphanius in English in The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book I (Sections 1-46), 2nd ed., translated by Frank Williams, vol. 63 of Einar Thomassen and Johannes van Oort, eds., Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), section 30 at 3,8 to 4,1 on p. 133 (available at Gnosis.study):
3,8 But some may already have replied that the Gospel of John too, translated from Greek to Hebrew, is in the Jewish treasuries, I mean the treasuries at Tiberias, and is stored there secretly, as certain Jewish converts have described to me in detail. (9) And not only that, but it is said that the book of the Acts of the Apostles, also translated from Greek to Hebrew, is there in the treasuries, so that the Jews who have read it, the ones who told me about it, have been converted to Christ from this.
4,1 One of them was Josephus -- not the ancient Josephus, the author and chronicler, but Josephus of Tiberias....
Also consider the "Cairo Genizah," an ancient store room of scrolls found in the remains of an ancient synagogue. Ancient Jews did keep sacred writings in a "treasury," as we find in the Book of Mormon. 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 with several follow-on 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: An Ancient American Book, 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." Also see "A Survey of Pre-1830 Historical Sources Relating to the Book of Mormon" by David Palmer.
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.
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 by John Tvestnes showing that usage of the phrase "remnant of Joseph" 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.
Joseph's Prophecy of Moses and Aaron by John Tvedtnes in Insights, 21/1 (2001):2-3. This short article shows 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.)
Book of Mormon Resources, a blog by Kirk Magleby explores many cutting-edge topics related to the Book of Mormon. Magleby also provides excellent geographical information, with detailed maps and analysis of satellite images, in support of Mesoamerica as the setting of the Book of Mormon, but challenging the details proposed by Dr. John Sorenson. Relying on related work of Richard Hauck and others, Magleby argues that we do not need to rotate the north-south axis as Sorenson does, and seeks to resolve several other problems. Two major differences of interest: (1) are that Magleby sees the "narrow neck of land" not as an isthmus but as a narrow passable region along the western coast that served as the major pathway connecting the north and south regions of Book of Mormon lands, and (2) Magleby sees the Usamacinta River as the River Sidon, in contrast to the nearby Grijalva River which is Sorenson's choice. These two differences lead to many differences in identifying specific sites, but of course, both are in Mesoamerica.English in the Book of Mormon by Kirk Magleby. I am not yet ready to call a winner and need to study these issues much more. Further data and investigation from candidate sites will also be helpful.
Speaking of Book of Mormon geography, the Poulsen Model is one that may help resolve some of the weaknesses of Sorenson's model while still keeping major features such as the River Grijalva, which has several merits over the Usamacinta River candidate for Sidon.
"Kaqchikel Chronicles" - Kirk Magleby's discussion of numerous interesting parallels to the Book of Mormon found in The Kaqchikel Chronicles: The Definitive Edition, with translation and exegesis by Judith M. Maxwell and Robert M. Hill II (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). That book is a 771 page compilation of mytho-historical narratives from highland Guatemala. The largest text in the collection, the Xajil Chronicle aka Anales de los Xahil, was written in Kaqchikel, a Mayan dialect, using Latin characters by Francisco Hernandez Arana Xajila in 1571. He was copying from an earlier indigenous and probably pictorial source no longer extant. A Spanish translation of Anales de los Xahil at Google Books is available. One important parallel not mentioned by Magleby occurs on the opening pages at the bottom of page 3 and top of page 4, as mentioned in my next note below.
Warren Aston, "Did the Nephites Remember Bountiful?" in Meridian Magazine, 2011. A somewhat speculative exploration of possible links between Mesoamerican lore and the place Bountiful in the Arabian Peninsula, with a focus on the Mayan name Tulan. For more on the Tulan/Bountiful connection, see "Tulan Means Bountiful" by Edwin W. Wooley. Among other things, these articles refer to a statement from early Mesoamericans encountered by the Spaniards suggesting that they had a tradition of an ancient transoceanic voyage that began "from the Place of Abundance." See pages 3 & 4 of Anales de los Xahil at Google Books (in Spanish).
Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum-lots of information on Book of Mormon geography. Excellent resource.
Special report on Royal Skousen's Critical Text Project - an issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies in 2002 dedicated to reports on a monumental work of scholarship to help us better understand the original manuscripts of the Book of Mormon translation, from which we can learn a great deal.
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.
Finding Cumorah of the Final Battles - a Book of Mormon page devoted to understanding the significance of a Mesoamerican site, Cerro Vejia, as a candidate for the Hill Cumorah, for example. 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.
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 FairMormon.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.
"A Surprise in Alma 7:11" from my Mormanity blog. This verse cites a concept from Isaiah 55:3, but doesn't use the language of the KJV or the Septuagint. Rather, it accurately reflects what the Hebrew of the Masoretic text says. Interesting. See Thomas Wayment's "The Hebrew Text of Alma 7:11" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005).
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: An Ancient American Book, contains extensive information on the Mesoamerican setting of the Book of Mormon. See the text from his presentation, "Reading Mormon's Codex" from the FairMormon 2012 Conference.
Elden Watson's Book of Mormon Translation Timeline - a tool for better understanding the translation of the Book of Mormon and its relation to LDS history. This includes a discussion of the reasons for understanding that the small plates of Nephi with the books of 1 Nephi through Omni were translated at the end of the Book of Mormon translation process, not right after the 116 pages were lost. The "Small Plates Last Theory" is useful in understanding several details of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, though it's an advanced topic and probably of no interest to people just beginning to explore the Book of Mormon.
An important contribution relevant to the Book of Mormon is Brian Stubbs' work exploring Hebrew and Egyptian elements in Uto-Aztecan languages. See his 2015 overview, "Excerpts from the 400-page book Exploring the Explanatory Power of Egyptian and Semitic in Uto-Aztecan." Stubbs provides compelling evidence that Semitic influence has occurred. His earlier preliminary work includes "Looking Over vs. Overlooking Native American Languages: Let's Void the Void," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 1-49. Also see Videos of Brian Stubbs lecturing on linguistic parallels between ancient Hebrew and the Uto-Aztecan language family in the Americas.
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.
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 with several follow-on 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.
Robert F. Smith, "The Preposterous Book of Mormon: A Singular Advantage," lecture, August 8, 2014, at the annual FAIRMORMON Conference, Provo, Utah. This contains details about the relationship of the weights and measures in Alma 11 to those of ancient Israel and Egypt in ways that Joseph SMith could not have fabricated based on what was known in that day. He also touches upon a mountain of additional evidences, all with good footnotes. A very valuable paper from a careful scholar.
Ancient Mesoamerican Civilizations -- a great resource by Kevin L. Callahan.
Barry Bickmore, Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity (Ben Lomand, CA: Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, 1999, available at Amazon.com). 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."Viracocha: Christ among the Ancient Peruvians?" - an article from Scott Hoyt in BYU Studies (vol. 54, no. 1, 2015) that explores the possibility that an ancient Peruvian legend could refer to a visit from the Messiah to that people.
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.
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.
The Book of Mormon Onomasticon - an extensive tool from BYU showing possible ancient language connections for Book of Mormon names.
Simile Curses in the Ancient Near East, Old Testament, and Book of Mormon by Mark J. Morrise.
Arise From the Dust (formerly Mormanity) - my Latter-day Saint blog.
Enallage in the Book of Mormon by Kevin L. Barney - exploring another Hebraic feature of the Book of Mormon text.
Discussion of a sunken Mesoamerican city that could correspond with a Book of Mormon city. A related video in Spanish discusses the city Samabaj/Sambaj under Lake Atitlan. Also see "Underwater Archaeology and the Book of Mormon in Sorenson's Mormon's Codex by Matthew Roper (Sept. 2013) and John Sorenson's article on "The Submergence of the City of Jerusalem in the Land of Nephi." A scholarly report on the find is also available in Spanish. Wikipedia's article on Lake Atitlan reports that "Several Mayan archaeological sites have been found at the lake. Sambaj, located approximately 55 feet below the current lake level, appears to be from at least the pre-classic period. There are remains of multiple groups of buildings, including one particular group of large buildings that are believed to be the city center. A second site, Chiutinamit, where the remains of a city were found, was discovered by local fishermen who "noticed what appeared to be a city underwater." During consequent investigations, pottery shards were recovered from the site by divers, which enabled the dating of the site to the late pre-classic period (600 B.C. - 250 A.D.)." Interesting.
Jewish Festivals in the Book of Mormon by Kerry Shirts.
"The Book of Mormon - Artifact or Artifice?" by Orson Scott Card at the Nauvoo Times.
Kirk Magleby, "The Nephite System of Currency in Alma 11 and Connections to Ancient America," Book of Mormon Central, June 11, 2020. This article examines how what was once widely viewed as a weakness -- the Nephite monetary system with its alleged mention of "coins" in Alma 11 (actually a mention of a standardized weights and measures system, not anachronistic coins) -- actually may be a strength of the Book of Mormon, as it accurately portrays ancient economic systems with details that may match some known details of ancient Mesoamerican culture.
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.
"Mirador - Lost City of the Mayans" - good reminder of how little we know about Mesoamerica and how much remains unexplored.
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 https://www.wmenews.com/newsletters.php.
Travels in Araboa: The Search for Khor Khofot Wadi - blog post with great photos from a visit to Wadi Sayq.
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: Jan. 4, 2022