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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: A "Burning in the Bosom"? What's That?

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This is the last article in a series of posts to represent my responses to those criticisms.   

Criticism: Getting a "testimony" or a "burning in the bosom" about the Book of Mormon or even the Bible goes directly against the Bible. 1 John 4:1 says "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." Besides, isn't "burning" something people do in Hell?


Response: Isn't it contradictory to say "do not ask God for an answer about scripture from His Spirit when you should just take it at face value" only to then quote a scripture which explicitly commands us to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God"? I don't follow this logic. And why would 1 John 4:1 conflict with James 1:5-6 and other scriptures which say "ask and ye shall receive" and "knock and it shall be opened to you"? Which doctrine, then, is true? Do we ask God for spiritual wisdom, or dare we not? If God is love, why would He reprimand His children for asking a question? Do we only ask Him for temporal knowledge and blessings and not spiritual knowledge and blessings?


Rather than accuse the Mormons of inventing what anti-Mormons consider to be Satanic-sounding "burning in the bosom" language, they should check the Bible first, particularly Luke 24:15-32.

Not every instance of "burning" in scripture is symbolic of or originates from Satan. If that were true, then the "burning bush" and "pillar of fire" stories of the Book of Exodus certainly need some revision or re-translation. Same with Elijah's duel with the priests of Baal and his miracle of calling down fire to consume the altar. Oh, and Elijah's chariot of fire would certainly be Satanic. Who ever heard of a flying chariot of fire carrying someone to heaven?


Do you see what I mean? Anything can be twisted to make it sound strange or wrong, even when it isn't.


I invite you to accept Moroni's simple promise.
Moroni 10:3-5
 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: DNA Evidence

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.   


Criticism: DNA evidence conclusively shows that claims by Mormons that Lamanites are descendants of Israel are false.


Response: Inconclusive at best. Read all your opposition's research, then synthesize with your own research and form your conclusion. Start with Book of Mormon: Criticism - DNA and then go to DNA and the Book of Mormon for even more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: The Hill Cumorah's Location

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.   


Criticism: If the evidence points to Mesoamerica as the location of Book of Mormon history, then the final battle at the Hill Cumorah couldn't have happened in the state of New York. It's too far away!

Response: That one, in retrospect, has baffled some LDS folks as well. When the theory of pan-American Nephite and Lamanite societies persisted, it made perfect sense that the battle and where Moroni buried the plates were one and the same. One thing that didn't make sense was the the manner in which Moroni had wandered after the Nephite genocide. He was a Nephite and the Lamanites killed every Nephite they saw, so he naturally had to "get outta Dodge" indefinitely. Why, then, would he risk a) returning to the battle site and being killed before even having a chance to bury the plates and b) having the plates discovered and destroyed by Lamanites (who, the Book of Mormon states, had a keen interest in erasing Nephite claims to their territories, and thus the very records from Nephite history, just as pharaohs did to each other in Egypt).

That pan-American theory wasn't held by everyone, though. We do have an editorial in the Times and Seasons, from the pen of Joseph Smith:
Central America, or Guatimala [the whole of what we now call Central America was then known as Guatemala], is situated north of the Isthmus of Darien [Panama] and once embraced several hundred miles of territory from north to south. The city of Zarahemla, burnt at the crucifixion of the Savior, and rebuilt afterwards, stood upon this land.
When the Mesoamerican model was proposed by Mormon scholars in the latter half of the 20th century, it started to make more sense. One very strong clue is that there are multiple descriptions in the Book of Mormon of travels between areas near the battlefield hill Cumorah (a.k.a. Ramah) that are decidedly Mesoamerican in context and do not support a 3,000 mile detour north to present-day New York and back. Rather, those on-foot journeys happen in a matter of a few days.

So, it seems more likely that Moroni really "got outta Dodge" by going so far north, and that is consistent with his own description of having to wander "whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life" because the Lamanites "put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ". It also makes sense in terms of God seeing far enough ahead to know that the plates would lay completely undiscovered and undisturbed in an area so relatively sparsely populated for so long until Europeans began to homestead there.

Another clue, when you read more closely, is that Moroni never actually claims to have returned to the battle site, nor does he claim to be burying the final plates in a hill called Cumorah. He just says he's "sealing up these records" (Moroni 10:2). However, Moroni's father, Mormon, does hide his set of plates and other records in the hill Cumorah near the battlefield Cumorah (Mormon 6:6). Because Mormon, before he dies, says he hid all the records "save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni", there is no evidence to suggest that Moroni's set of final plates, the ones he would turn over to Joseph over 1400 years later were hid in the same hill. Those are all interpretations that were overlaid on that narrative by those of us reading it in _our_ day.  We members of the LDS Church and other commentators gave the name "Cumorah" to the hill where Joseph found the plates under our own assumption that it was the very same Cumorah, near the battlefield, in which Mormon had hid his records. Moroni never wrote that his own hiding place was called "Cumorah", nor claimed to have buried it in the same place as the battle.

This, of course, is a common misunderstanding about the book by "Witnessers". Newcomers to the Book of Mormon (especially those who've never actually read it) can't be blamed for repeating it since it is difficult sometimes, even for faithful and knowlegable members of the church, to separate LDS lore from what our texts actually say. And it all fits perfectly with Hugh Nibley's pointed analysis and observation that people love to attack the Book of Mormon by first attributing to it something that it does not actually say, then attacking those points.

For more extensive commentary and analysis on the Cumorah subject, see

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Gold and other metals

Pre-Columbian Gold Artifact
There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.  


Criticism: Pre-Columbian Americans didn't have or use gold or other precious metals.

Response: Simply untrue. Excavations at Zaculeu, and many other sites, have turned up metalwork. Also found at Zaculeu was tumbaga, which is a gold/copper alloy that, when worked into thin sheets, almost perfectly matches the description of the metal the gold plates were made of and is excellent for engraving and was, in fact, used extensively in pre-Columbian America for making religious objects meant to be preserved for ages.

Given that none of this knowledge was available to him at the time, is it just Joseph Smith's lucky guess that Moroni would use tumbaga-like metal plates, made of non-corrosive and microbe-resistant metal with a low melting point that is easily pounded and shaped into thin, foil-like leaves for engraving?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Swords, Honey Bees, Elephants, Horses, and Silk

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms. 


Criticism: Where are the swords? And, honey bees (Jaredite "deseret") weren't found in the Americas until Europeans brought them! Where are the elephants? Where were the horses?  Silk from silkworms...no such thing then in the Americas either!

Response: In the Popol Vuh, their god, Tohil, reminds the warriors of wasps and bumblebees they could put inside gourds and use to surprise their enemies by breaking the gourds full of bees and wasps on their enemies shields and swords, thus angering the bees (who would think that the enemy was the person whose sword just broke their gourd) and driving their enemies away.

Read more at Plants and Animals in the Book of Mormon: Possible Solutions to Apparent Problems

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Fortified Cities in Mesoamerica

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of postss represent my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: Where are the fortified cities?

Response: I've seen several fortified cities, well, the ruins of them anyways. Just go on any Mexican (see: Becan) or Guatemalan ruins tour and you'll see plenty of fortifications, or what is left of them.

For example, I visited the ruins of Zacaleu, which dates back to between AD 250–600 and is just outside of Huehuetenango in Guatemala. The very first thing that impressed me about it was the defensive earthworks in the form of a gigantic moat dug around the entire complex. It was definitely not a natural formation for that area and it would have been a formidable obstacle to invaders. The entire site was also once fortified with walls. It was so impenetrable that it caused Spanish conquistador Gonzalo de Alvarado y Chávez to need to lay siege to it for months, having to wait for its occupants to starve to death.

Bishop Las Casas, when in Mesoamerica, reported in his Apologéitca Historia that he saw "towns enclosed by very deep moats...with marvelous buildings of stone masonry of which I saw many." In that one statement, he described both the earthworks AND the masonry (which inevitably involves some kind of cement).

The Popol Vuh describes the palisades, much like what we find in the Book of Mormon:
...having talked together, they built a wall at the edge of the town and enclosed it with boards and thorns. Then they made figures in the form of men, and put them in rows on the wall, armed them with shields and arrows and adorned them, putting metal crowns on their heads. These they put on the simple wooden figures, they adorned them with the metal which they had taken from the tribes on the road and with them they decorated the figures.

They made a moat around the town, and then they asked advice of Tohil [their god]: 'Shall they kill us? Shall they overcome us?' their hearts said to Tohil [prayer for revelatory guidance before a battle being a common theme of the Book of Mormon]. 
See The Popol Vuh, pg. 157.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Mesoamerican Languages and Cultures

The Olmec heartland, showing the location of E...
There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: There is no evidence for the sudden appearance of written language or change of language in Mesoamerica that coincides with the Book of Mormon.

Response: One of the biggest puzzles about the Olmecs that remains unsolved to this very day is where they came from and how they developed written language and art so immediately. The Book of Mormon offers at least a partial explanation for this question in the story of the Jaredites. The estimated timeline of the arrival and decline of the Jaredites and the carbon-dated development of the Olmec civilization are an uncanny match.

Further, there are numerous articles that address the "disappearance" of the Olmec and the Maya by contending that Mayans are really a later instance of Olmec culture, just as the people of the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Honduras are considered the "lost Mayans" today. They never really went anywhere. Their culture just shifted to a new paradigm and continued.  See Takalik Abaj for a textbook example of this (I've visited the outskirts of this site. It's amazing!).

See Ancient City Found in Mexico; Shows Olmec Influence for more about the huge amount we have yet to discover in Mesoamerica (and that is being lost to development every waking moment) and about the Olmec influences on the later Mayan cultures.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Reformed Egyptian

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: There is no such language as "Reformed Egyptian".

Response: Reformed egyptian isn't a language. It's a system of writing. There were three basic forms of Egyptian writing: the original hieroglyphic, a Greek variant that developed later called hieratic, and a third form in use around 700 BC called demotic. The latter two represent a shorthand form of hieroglyphic, each symbol standing for a concept rather than a lone consonant or vowel, allowing a scribe to compress a large amount of ideas into a small space. For more background on these systems of writing relative to Book of Mormon scholarship, study Two Notes on Egyptian Script by John Gee and Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters by Stephen D. Ricks, and John A. Tvedtnes.

Just like I can go to this web site, type in any word, phrase, or sentence, and get its approximate phonetic spelling in Egyptian hieroglyphics, if I had a similar decoding/encoding system for Reformed Egyptian, I could do the very same thing with translating Hebrew sounds and concepts to a hieratic or (more likely) a demotic writing form.

Is it Joseph Smith's lucky guess that such a writing system would be perfect for engraving a book as large as the Book of Mormon onto plates of metal that would be difficult to produce, carry, and preserve, in large quantities as opposed to "longhand" script like Hebrew?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: The Book of Mormon Translation Process

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: Someone writing a book quickly does not imply divine intervention.

Response: Read Did Joseph REALLY translate the Book of Mormon? for a clearer picture of just how remarkable an accomplishment the translation of the Book of Mormon is. There is a lot of research into this topic, all the way down to tracking down every shred of original Book of Mormon manuscript. The conclusions of that study are noted in the post. Compare all the research in the sources (there is much more out there) and it should be clear that Joseph Smith simply couldn't have accomplished the miracle of the Book of Mormon without Divine Help.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Criticisms and Responses: Bible vs. Book of Mormon Archeaology

There are various primary criticisms that tend to be hurled at the Book of Mormon, but which have been addressed many times. One need only use Google to dredge them up, but similarly, Google can be used to find the counter-arguments. More people ought to do the latter when they see the former. This series of posts represents my responses to those criticisms.

Criticism: The Bible is archaeologically verifiable, so that means it's true without question. The Book of Mormon isn't archaeologically verifiable, so that means it's false.

Response: Read The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and the Archaeology Question which illustrates and summarizes the fallacy of archaeological verification = theological verification arguments. The first comment at the end is a good one as well as the huge number of archaeology and evidence-of-authenticity articles linked in the footnotes.

Neither the Bible or the Book of Mormon have ever claimed to be primarily texts that can be physically verifiable by physical evidences. Both have the cause of converting people to the Gospel, not proving or disproving this or that archeaological or anthropological theory.

The fact that historical places of the Bible have been more adequately preserved while the Book of Mormon's have not is not evidence that the Book of Mormon is false. Lots of civilizations and their records have been lost to history. I'm sure there are plenty of subcultures in, say, Mongolia or China or Indonesia that we'll never know about because of the tendency of time and human activity to erase those evidences.

Central America is quite well regarded by archaeologists as a place where evidence of past civilizations is in rapid decay because of three factors: 1) climate (jungle rot being a key result), 2) foliage (huge trees with enormous root systems that overtake and pulverize mounds of rock placed by humans), and 3) human activity (later cultures overtaking and erasing the history of earlier cultures).

Here are some well-known examples of these three factors:
  1. Anything carbon-based or organic (i.e. that isn't rock) will either disintegrate in a few months to a few years, or it will grow. With the exception of gold, this is true of metal as well. Iron or copper implements will simply cease to exist in a couple hundred years due to high humidity, heavy rain, and acidic soils. The iron and copper weapons that were preserved in Mesoamerica were the extreme exceptions or were found in more arid areas.
  2. Guatemalans erect high fences by simply cutting the limb off of a tree, sticking the newly cut ends of the limbs into the highly fertile ground, and then waiting a year. That's how quickly foliage can grow there. Huge rainforest trees have massive root systems that hold the soil together, but also displace any solid objects in their path of growth.
  3. Pyramids built by earlier Mayan and pre-Mayan inhabitants were "repurposed" and built upon to create ever larger pyramids. In fact, a very familiar sounding name is given to some ruins in Belize that features this "stacking". The name the city's ancient inhabitants gave it was Lamanai (Lam'an'ain), which is identical to the Hebrew pronunciation for Laman (minus the suffix). We have only uncovered a few of these but there are many more out there we've not yet explored. In each one we've explored, we've been astonished at the amount of knowledge about preveious cultures through inscriptions and other evidences hidden in the layers.
I have personally witnessed the effects all three of the above phenomena. I saw #2 and #3 in the then-recently discovered Abaj Takalik dig near Coatepeque, Guatemala. In terms of uncovered ruins, I've personally seen dozens of pyramid-shaped mounds, and hiked on a few, that were completely out of character with the surrounding landscape. They were absolutely human-made but were covered by tons of earth and vegetation all around before the trees covering them were cut down as cattle farmers took over the area in recent history.

The conditions under which the Nephites were exterminated in 420 A.D., with Lamanites spitefully and simultaneously erasing every part of Nephite culture and history, then what is the likelihood that we would find a remnant of their culture nearly 1600 years later? Don't forget also that zealous Spanish missionaries destroyed all but four Mayan codices. We're lucky to have what we have about ancient Mayans and their evidences more closely align with the decline of the Lamanites after the Nephite genocide.