Saturday, March 20, 2010

Diffusionistic Fantasies III
The Mormon Story

Moroni giving Joseph Smith the Golden plates

And I did teach my people that they should build buildings, and that they should work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass,and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.
(The Book of Mormon, Second Book of Nephi, ch. 4. v.21)

Thus does the Book of Mormon describe the use of metals by the Nephities settling in the Americas. Now the Nephities were supposed to have settled in North America. The problem is that use of any of those metals is not evident in Mesoamerica at the time of the alleged Israelite migration to the New World. Although the use of copper eventually developed in South America and eventually spread to Mesoamerica, the use of steel and iron never did develop anywhere in the pre-Columbian Americas.1

The Book of Mormon is the sacred text of the Mormon faith, supposedly revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith in the 1830s when he allegedly translated the golden plates of the prophet Moroni, which were subsequently, allegedly, taken into heaven. The document allegedly describes the settlement and tribulations of various peoples who settled the Americas before Christ. The main story describes the history of the sons of Lehi in the Americas. Supposedly c. 600 B.C.E., Lehi and his sons immigrated to the New World. There they settled down and flourished. They did swiftly divide into two groups named after different sons of Lehi, Nephites and Lamanites, who were often at war with each other. The basic position is that the Nephites are the good guys and the Lamanites the bad guys. Both groups were preceded in the Americas by the Jaredites who had arrived shortly after the scattering at the tower of Babel, (c. 2800 B.C.E.). Shortly before the Lehi and his son arrived the Jaredites were whipped out in a massive war. Other groups also crossed into the Americas according to the Book of Mormon from the Old World.2

There is not surprisingly a massive literature about the “authenticity” of the document and in the end it seems to be a very dubious document. The Book of Mormon’s spiritual value aside it seems to tell us nothing useful or real about the pre-Columbian past of the Americas and so is disregarded by the overwhelming majority of modern day researchers with the exception of Mormons, (Latter Day Saints or L.D.S.).3

Now in many respects the Book of Mormon is a hyper-diffusionistic tale. It postulates fairly recent and dramatic migrations from the Old World to the New World, and in fact in visions massive significant recent demographic diffusion of Old World populations in fairly recent pre-Columbian times. Further the Book of Mormon gives fairly detailed descriptions of the life and ways of these people in the New World. How well does the descriptions in The Book of Mormon compare to the current state of Archaeological knowledge? The short answer is that they do not stand up at all. The Archaeological evidence conflicts in so many ways with The Book of Mormon as to effectively preclude it as a source for the pre-Columbian Americas.4

Let us examine several components of the descriptions given by the Book of Mormon about life in the Ancient Americas. I gave at the beginnings of this post a quote which describes the Nephites using and making brass, steel, copper and gold and silver. That would allegedly be c. 600-500 B.C.E. Well for the time period in question those metals were NOT being used in Mesoamerica. Certainly the references to metal swords do not help the veracity of the Book of Mormon account, neither does the references to plows. In fact it appears that metal use and the technology to make and cast such objects spread from South America to Mesoamerica c. 600-1000 C.E., more than 1000 years later.5

It could be objected that Joseph Smith’s account does not take place in Mesoamerica. And this would be apparently correct. After all Smith found the Book of Mormon at the hill Cumorah in New York State. And on and near the hill Cumorah was supposed to have taken place the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites. The problem is that there is little to nothing in the area of the modern day United States to show any sign of the high cultures described in the Book of Mormon so it appears that the place for these events has to be moved south in order for them to have any semblance of reality. It appears likely that Joseph Smith was heavily influence by various writers about the then mysterious Mound builders and may have constructed a religious fantasy around them.6

A quick go through of the Book of Mormon reveals why it cannot be taken seriously as a account of actual history, although its spiritual value is another matter.

Let us take for example the plant life recorded in the Book of Mormon. In the Book Of Mormon we find mentions of barley, figs, grapes and wheat:

And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.
(The Book of Mormon, Book of Mosiah, ch. 6. v.12)

Of course pre-Columbian wheat has never been found in the Americas, and barley, grapes and figs never seem to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica. There is some indication that a type of barley may have been domesticated in the area of the lower 48 states and of course there were wild grapes in parts of North America. However these crops seem not to have been used at all in Mesoamerica. In fact it appears that Joseph Smith’s account seems to be remarkably clueless about the agricultural richness of the New World. The agriculture described seems to be nothing more than the agriculture of the Old Testament. It is interesting that tomatoes and chili peppers are absent from agriculture in the Book of Mormon. Neas and sheum are largely inexplicable although some characterize sheum as a barley like grain, which doesn’t help matters. As for the mention of corn the fact is the Bible uses the term corn to refer to wheat, barley and oats and given the obvious Old Testament attributes of the Book of Mormon it is more than likely Joseph Smith’s account is NOT referring to maize.7

Since actual pre-Columbian agricultural plants is largely absent from the Book of Mormon, what about animal life? Here we have perhaps the most glaring examples of contradiction with the facts.

The Book of Mormon, refers to donkeys, or asses, cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, oxen and horses. What all those creatures have in common is that they were either never in the pre-Columbian New World or they had been gone from the New World for more than 8,000 years before the alleged events of the Book of Mormon.8

And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance,

And the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses, and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years,
(The Book of Mormon, Third Book of Nephi, ch. 2. v. 29-30, 44)

Well all of the above does not describe the pre-Columbian Americas at all. The peoples of the Americas did NOT have cattle, horses and chariots, in fact aside from toys did not use the wheel at all. Of course the total absence of horses, cattle etc, from pre-Columbian sites is quite conclusive. Joseph Smith is once again creating his image of the ancient New World as a copy of the Old Testament.9

The above isn’t helped by the occasional mention of Elephants in the Book of Mormon.

And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants, and cureloms, and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants, and cureloms, and cumoms.
(The Book of Mormon, Book of Ether, ch. 4. v.21)

The above is supposedly from the period c. 2300 B.C.E., from a record that predates the arrival of Lehi and his sons. The problem is that although Mammoths and Mastodons had existed in the New World by 7,000 B.C.E., they were long extinct and therefore not available to be used by the Jaredites when they allegedly arrived c. 2800 B.C.E.10

According to the Book of Mormon when the Nephites and Lamanites arrived:

And it came to pass that we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness, that there were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow, and the ox, and the ass, and the horse, and the goat, and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals, which were for the use of men.
(the Book of Mormon, First Book of Nephi, ch. 5. v.216)

As mentioned before there were cows, Oxen, asses (donkeys), horses to be found in the Americas at the time of the alleged arrival of Lehi’s sons. Certainly one would think that such an abundance of these animals would show up in archaeological digs. They do not, so it appears that as an historical source the Book of Mormon is dubious.11

Finally the reformed Egyptian that the Book of Mormon was allegedly written in has never turned up in the Americas.12

With the above problems does it even have to be mentioned that both genetic studies and linguistic studies provide no evidence for the Book of Mormon has an historical document.13

The Book of Mormon remains an example of man’s perennial search for spiritual truth but there is no basis for considering it an historical document and plenty of evidence indicating it is not. Of course the Book of Mormon is a powerful indicator of what we would expect to find in the New World had moderate to extreme diffusion actually happened from the Old to the New World. Since those effects as outlined in the Book of Mormon are not evidenced we can conclude that such a level of diffusion did not happen.

All quotes from the Book of Mormon come from 1990 Independence Edition, Independence MO, which can be found at Here.

1. Larson, Stan, Quest for the Gold Plates, Freethinker Press, Herriman UT, 2004, pp. 195-204, See also in same book Ferguson, Thomas Stuart, Thomas Stuart Ferguson on Book of Mormon Archaeology, pp. 235-268, at pp. 246-257. For further references to metallurgy in the New World see my two postings about Thor Heyerdahl.

2. Williams, Stephen, Fantastic Archaeology, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1991, pp. 158-167, Davies, Nigel, Voyageurs to the New World, William morrow and Co. Inc, New York, 1979, pp. 141-144, Wauchope, Robert, Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962, pp. 59-61, The Book of Mormon, Wikipedia, Here.

3. IBID, and Larson, pp. 175-234.

4. IBID.

5. Footnote 1. Larson and Ferguson also give lists of metal references in the Book of Mormon.

6. Larson, pp. 175-178, Williams, 158-167, Davies, pp. 141-144, Wauchope, pp. 59-61, Criticism of the Book of Mormon, Wikipedia Here, Williams pp. 165-166. An example of Modern Mormons placing the events of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica is Sorenson, John L., An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City UT, 1985.

7. Larson, pp. 179-181, Ferguson, pp. 238-239.

8. Larson, pp. 182-194, Ferguson, pp. 240-246, Ferguson also gives an extensive list of references to those animals in the Book of Mormon.

9. IBID, Ferguson, pp. 264-266, Williams, pp. 158-167, Wauchope, pp. 74-77, 87, 91. Davies between pp. 178-179 has a picture of a Mexican wheeled toy.

10. Larson, pp. 184-188, Ferguson, p. 245. For an overview of the ice age extinction of animals in the New World, which includes the horse and elephant, see Meltzer, David J., First Peoples in a New World, University of California Press, Los Angles, 2009, pp. 239-280.

11. Larson, pp. 182-194, Ferguson, pp. 240-246.

12. Larson, pp. 204-210, Ferguson, pp. 257-264. See overview volumes like Katz, Friedrich, Ancient American Civilizations, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1969, and Leonard, Jonathan Norton, Ancient America, Time Incorporated, New York, 1967, for the failure to find any of the alleged Reformed Egyptian that was allegedly used in the New World see Reformed Egyptian Wikipedia, Here.

13. See Criticism of the Book of Mormon, and Linguistics and the Book of Mormon, Wikipedia Here, for an analysis that although it tries very hard to be neutral does convoy just how doubtful the Book of Mormon is, and Genetics and the Book of Mormon Wikipedia Here, this article also strives very hard for neutrality but once again it is clear that Genetic studies provide little to no support for the Book of Mormon. Both essays bend over backwards to be ‘fair” to the Book of Mormon it is sometimes more than a little silly. See also Meltzer, pp. 183-207.

Pierre Cloutier

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