Showing posts with label book of mormon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book of mormon. Show all posts

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Evidence of Book of Mormon Historical Accuracy

One of the most persistent "faith-destroying rumors" (as I like to call them) about Book of Mormon archaeology is that we ought to have found much more "proof" (the real word is evidence) of the historicity of the Book of Mormon through archaeological discoveries by now.

Given that I am a big proponent of the well-established theory of Mesoamerica being the core of Book of Mormon civilizations and events, I'm sharing some insights from a recent article by National Geographic regarding the literally groundbreaking technology of LiDAR in the core of Classic Mayan civilization (ca. 250-900 AD), which is being used to revolutionize archaeological discoveries in our time. I'm going to do so in the context of the accusations made against Book of Mormon historicity claims.

CLAIM: "The scale of civilization as narrated in the Book of Mormon has never been discovered in Mesoamerica."

NEW EVIDENCE: “'Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,' said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. 'With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.'”

CLAIM: "No evidence has ever been found that Mayan civilizations as a candidate for Book of Mormon civilizations ever built transportation or urban infrastructure at the scale claimed by the Book of Mormon."

NEW EVIDENCE: "Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs."

CLAIM: "Nothing has ever been found in Mesoamerica to correlate with the idea that Book of Mormon civilizations had massive, decades-long wars involving defensive earthworks and large cities."

NEW EVIDENCE: "Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. 'Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,' said Garrison. 'It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.'"

To put all of this in even more perspective, this initial LiDAR survey covered a mere 800 square miles of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala. Imagine what else we don't know and how much bigger the population and infrastructure scale could be with further LiDAR studies!

Further, what we see under the forest canopy is what remains of the 250-900 A.D. civilizations that build on top of prior structures. That puts what we know right at the end of the peak of Nephite/Lamanite interactions. The evidence we're looking for to cover the period of the first Nephite arrival (591-589 B.C.) and, further back, the Jaredite arrival (approximately the 3rd Millennium B.C.), is subject to discovery only after we've spent decades digging through the layers of the Classic and Post-Classic Maya remnants, if it can even be found at all after being looted/repurposed/decomposed.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  those who claim archaeology will never uncover evidences of Book of Mormon historicity are simply not patient enough and/or don't have an understanding of how archaeology is a long-haul activity that often involves more uncertainty and questions the more discoveries are made. It is simply naive to think that one can sally forth into the jungles, dig a little bit, and find direct, clear, irrefutable proof of the existence of Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites. Too many confounding factors are possible through the complexities of time, the elements, and intermingling civilizations for that to be a possibility. Instead, we must take our time and carefully sift through data to find correlations that amount to a preponderance of evidence. We're far too early in our nascent understanding of Mesoamerican archaeology for that to have borne the kind of fruit that anti-Book of Mormon critics suppose should have been found by now.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Fresh Perspective on Cahokia Mounds: Mayans in Our Midst?

Cahokia Mounds Aerial Illustration

Since I visited Cahokia Mounds in 2012, I've been fascinated by many parallels between what I witnessed as a missionary in Guatemala and as a tourist in the Yucatan and what I saw at Cahokia. Check out this article on Cahokia Mounds. It goes into how the Cahokia civilization just up and abandoned their urban project, and for a lot of the same reasons for which Mayan civilizations abandoned their urban centers and lifestyles.
Sacred meetings and ceremonies – the city’s purpose – took place on the plazas and in buildings inside the palisade. “There was a belief that what went on on Earth also went on in the spirit world, and vice versa,” says James Brown, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Northwestern University. “So once you went inside these sacred protocols, everything had to be very precise.”
Further, the article states,
...it appears the Mississippians may have conducted ritual human sacrifices, judging by what appears to be hundreds of people, mostly young women, buried in these mass graves. Some were likely strangled; others possibly died of bloodletting. Four men were found with their heads and hands cut off; another burial pit had mostly males who had been clubbed to death.
Did post-Book of Mormon era Yucatecan Mayans travel northward across the Gulf of Mexico, or along its Western coast, to the Mississippi river and influence or even directly establish the Mississippian cultures, urban centers, and places and methods of worship and sacrifice?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Baptist Minister Believes in The Book of Mormon

No, you didn't read that headline incorrectly.

Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, a Baptist minister from Kansas City, Missouri (yes, Missouri), gave an interview on the Book of Mormon for BYU TV that will either make you very, very angry (if you're an anti-Mormon, and especially an anti-Mormon Baptist), or very, very hopeful (if you're tired of being harangued by anti-Mormon Baptists with tired, overdone, unquestioned talking points they can't wait to use on you).

My favorite quote from the video, then I'll let you get on with watching it.

"I did not find one thing that contradicted the Bible. In fact, sometimes I tell my Baptist buddies the Book of Mormon is more Baptist than the Baptist hymnal."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Book of Mormon Challenges: Elephants in America?

Could it be there were elephants in ancient America?

Key quote from the article:
While the jury is still out, there are a number of North American Indian traditions which recount legends of giant stiff-legged beasts which would never lie down, had a big head and large leaf-like ears, round footprints, forward-bending knees, and had a fifth appendage coming out of its head.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Book of Mormon Challenges: Pre-Columbian horses?

What about "horses" mentioned in the Book of Mormon?

Key quote from the article:
There are at least two possible resolutions to the “horse” problem in the Book of Mormon: (1) definitions were expanded to include new meanings and (2) horses were present but their remains have not been found.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book of Mormon Challenges: Why anachronisms?

Why are there anachronisms in the Book of Mormon?

Key quote from the article:
The Book of Mormon has frequently been charged with containing numerous anachronistic items including certain animals, plants, metals, textiles, and weapons. In all instances, however, there is the possibility that (a) such things were once in the Americas but the evidence has either disappeared or has not yet been found, or (b) Book of Mormon labels are based on the re-labeling of New World items with familiar Old World labels. To claim that things did not exist because they have not been found is to commit the logical fallacy of arguing from ignorance or silence. According to a famous and generally accepted archaeological dictum, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Book of Mormon Challenges: Taken from other manuscripts?

From Book of Mormon 1: Taken from other manuscripts?

Key quote from the article:
Even many years later, after Rigdon had apostatized from the Church, he denied ever having seen the Book of Mormon until it was introduced to him by the Mormon missionary Parley P. Pratt. Somehow the Spalding manuscript was lost and then resurfaced in 1884 in a pile of papers belonging to a man who had bought Howe’s business. Examining Spalding’s actual novel proved that the Mormons had been right all along; any similarities between the manuscript and the Book of Mormon were superficial.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why hasn't more compelling archaeological evidence surfaced of the Book of Mormon?

I get this question occasionally (not usually in a sincere way, and usually from folks who are trying to "catch me" in my words). The answer is that there is already a lot of archaeological evidence out there, but it has not been correlated to Book of Mormon texts by "mainstream" science. Secular scientists have no real compelling reason to examine Book of Mormon claims in light of accumulated archaeological findings because, well, the Book of Mormon is a spiritual text. They just don't see a need to delve into that relationship. They certainly cannot publish it and expect to have a career within the secular scientific community. The two are like oil and water.

That's why voices like mine and other faithful LDS apologists and scholars are necessary to the search for this knowledge through our interpretation of secular findings. And it's an important question to answer because the Book of Mormon has time and time again been proven to show that its origins can only have one of two explanations: either it is the most ingenious fraud ever concocted by one man (remarkable in itself), or it is the very word of God to people in the ancient Americas, recorded by the same.

Of course, I am irrevocably convinced of the latter explanation, with or without archaeological evidences, because the Holy Ghost has testified to me of its truth.

But one big reason we don't have more compelling physical evidences stands out in my mind. It has to do with the encroachment of modern civilization on the ancient remnants of American ruins.

It started with the Conquistadores, who brought Catholic missionaries with them who sought to bring the light of Gospel knowledge and salvation to whomever they could find. Their intentions, noble or not, were tarnished by their overzealous efforts to stamp out any remnant of pagan beliefs among the native Aztecs and Mayans. All but a few precious codices of the Mesoamerican people were burned to ashes and lost forever. Some oral traditions were later written down, several of which have astonishing parallels to and are riddled with motifs of Bible traditions. Some missionaries were intrigued by these stories and wrote them down to preserve them for study. Others, however, stopped at nothing to erase them from the collective conscious of the people they encountered. Even if that did lead to genuine faith in Jesus Christ among the natives, it was a crime against humanity to have censored all of that valuable history and those intricate origin stories.

An excavator destroys the main
structure at an archaeological
site in Caye Caulker, Belize. The
material excavated was used
for highway road bed fill.
As for artifacts, take, for example, this frustratingly tragic story from Caye Caulker, Belize. For convenience, here are the relevant quotes from the article:

Today we learned that a major Mayan Monument had been bulldozed for roadfill aggregate. 7news went to Orange Walk District, near the northern district boundary to find out that Noh Mul – or at least a large part of it – is no more. It’s a stunning development – and Jules Vasquez reports.
To give a broader sense of context – the site known as Noh Mul or “Big Hill” is scattered over a wide area about 12 square miles – and is estimated to have been home to 40,000 people between 500 and 250 BC. There are about 81 separate buildings – all on private property. But the one that has been destroyed is the namesake, the Big Hill – as it was the ceremonial center and main structure. 
"...this was around maybe 250bc and it would have been part of the ceremonial precinct, this would have been probably a public building or a building where the Nobels or the High Priest would have occupied. This building would have been probably the focal point. These mounds you are seeing around here and another group over there – they might have had connectivity between ceremonial administrative religious function here. This was sort of the epi-center of this settlement."
"Like a huge palace or building or a huge temple it would have had many rooms in there, multi-layered rooms so you have rooms for people living and you would also had several tombs in there of the people who lived in this area here."
"Belize is 8,867 square miles of jungle. We are only around 16 personell in the department. We can’t be in the Chiquibul and at the same time being at La Milpa. We applaud whoever can help us. It is our herritage and we all have to chip in and when things like this happen – it affects all of us."

I'm sickened that this happens. I also know it's inevitable and that God has a plan to eventually reveal to us what was lost. But, I can't help but wonder in dismay at who knows how many pages of scholarship this site could have generated. Its main center of worship, and likely "library" of useful cultural knowledge, is wastefully and tragically gone.

There are thousands more sites just like Noh Mul in Mexico and Central America that are in similar danger. I just hope that enough young people, especially LDS youth, will get into the field of archaeology, and enough concerned (and wealthy) individuals and governments will come together to help save what knowledge we have left.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What the Book of Mormon Doesn't Say

Book Of Mormon Scriptures
Book Of Mormon Scriptures (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking Mormons believe the Book of Mormon teaches everything there is to know about Jesus. I'm not sure how this myth got started, but it's certainly not something taught in LDS Sunday School or any other curriculum of the Church. Therefore, there's no reason for anyone outside of the Church to believe it either. 

Ironically, the Bible is also often held up against the Book of Mormon as a complete and perfect standard of all knowledge about everything...everything...about Jesus, even to the point that nothing more can or should be written. 

But that belief contradicts John 21:25, which says:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

The simple mathematical fact is that no one book can contain everything a person said or did. Any biographer can tell you this with 100% certainty. It's simply impossible for mortal ears and eyes to convert to writing the sheer volume of all events and speech in even one person's life. We were not meant to look at any work of scripture, Bible or Book of Mormon, as a universal compendium of everything there is to know about a person or events or even doctrine! 

Rather, the highlights and key events and doctrines in the lives and speech of the prophets and of Jesus Christ are recorded in these books as a way to unify truth into one great whole. 

More knowledge will be given to us later, if we can show that we're willing to believe and obey what we've already been given.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Mormon included a statement by Nephi's younger brother, Jacob, about the fact that not everything the people of Nephi did could be recorded in one book, or even in many books.

And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.

Indeed, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon affirm that there are other nations that had been touched by Gospel teachings. Those experiences were recorded.

Jesus Carrying a Lost Lamb

And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.
 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
The following instances in the Book of Mormon show where more is mentioned or said that was not actually written, or that was or is 
yet to be written, or that was written and was subsequently lost (the 116 translated pages that Martin Harris lost) or not included (material that Mormon simply summarized or just didn't include in his abridgment), or that was written and we just don't know about it yet.

And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.
And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.

And after this manner of language did my father prophesy and speak unto my brethren, and also many more things which I do not write in this book; for I have written as many of them as were expedient for me in mine other book.

And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.
But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.
And also others who have been, to them hath he shown all things, and they have written them; and they are sealed up to come forth in their purity, according to the truth which is in the Lamb, in the own due time of the Lord, unto the house of Israel.
And I, Nephi, heard and bear record, that the name of the apostle of the Lamb was John, according to the word of the angel.
And behold, I, Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard; wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me; and I have written but a small part of the things which I saw.
For I, Nephi, was constrained to speak unto them, according to his word; for I had spoken many things unto them, and also my father, before his death; many of which sayings are written upon mine other plates; for a more history part are written upon mine other plates.

And now, Jacob spake many more things to my people at that time; nevertheless only these things have I caused to be written, for the things which I have written sufficeth me.

Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
And as these plates are small, and as these things are written for the intent of the benefit of our brethren the Lamanites, wherefore, it must needs be that I write a little; but I shall not write the things of my prophesying, nor of my revelations. For what could I write more than my fathers have written? For have not they revealed the plan of salvation? I say unto you, Yea; and this sufficeth me.

And it came to pass that Amulek went and stood forth, and began to preach unto them also. And now the words of Amulek are not all written, nevertheless a part of his words are written in this book.

And it came to pass that these were the words which Helaman taught to his sons; yea, he did teach them many things which are not written, and also many things which are written.

And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things;
 And only a few have I written, because of my weakness in writing.
And he did minister many things unto them; and all of them cannot be written, and a part of them would not suffice, therefore they are not written in this book. And Nephi did minister with power and with great authority.

For behold, out of the books which have been written, and which shall be written, shall this people be judged, for by them shall their works be known unto men.

Wherefore the Lord hath commanded me to write them; and I have written them. And he commanded me that I should seal them up; and he also hath commanded that I should seal up the interpretation thereof; wherefore I have sealed up the interpreters, according to the commandment of the Lord.

Wherefore, I write a few more things, contrary to that which I had supposed; for I had supposed not to have written any more; but I write a few more things, that perhaps they may be of worth unto my brethren, the Lamanites, in some future day, according to the will of the Lord.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LDS Online Scripture Study Resources

This post actually serves two purposes: I'm using it to write a talk for giving at church this Sunday, and I'm writing it for those who need a comprehensive guide to how to get started using LDS online scripture study resources.

Quadruple combination opened to the Book of Is...
Image via Wikipedia
A few years back, I had a strong desire to re-read the Book of Mormon. I got a copy of the book that missionaries typically hand out to people, the one with the navy blue softcover, and, using a highlighter and a pencil, wrote many notes in the margins and highlighted at least one verse on every page. My intent was to then use this as a master copy for marking up additional copies to hand out to acquaintances on trains, in airports, or people I knew personally who would enjoy reading a copy of the book "annotated" by someone who believes its message.

That study effort inspired me to create my blog, so I could create positive exposure to people searching for Book of Mormon keywords online.

When the Church began to publish study tools like the ones I'm about to describe, I saw it as an opportunity to move my master copy notes to a new, permanent, online home, and thus make this process even easier. I "rejoiced exceedingly". :)

Let's start with a look at the Study Notebook.

Study Notebook

Picture of the inside of a Moleskine ruled not...
Image via Wikipedia
For those used to paper scriptures, the Study Notebook (notebook.lds.org) supplements, or even can replace, the notes you take in a physical notebook, in your scripture margins, or both. It's up to you how you combine and use everything. The online Study Notebook is simply another tool for helping you better understand the scriptures.

The Study Notebook is also secure. All of your information is "scrambled" or "encrypted" when it travels to and from the LDS.org servers and absolutely nothing is stored on your machine's hard drive. Just like all our membership and temple records, all your notes and journal entries will be stored, securely and confidentially, on the Church's computer systems. Nobody else online will see what you've written or highlighted or bookmarked. It's for you alone to have a permanent record for yourself of your progress and discoveries.

To use the Study Notebook, you need to first log in at LDS.org on your computer at home, at work, or at the library.

To log in, your Membership Number is required. Just ask your ward clerk for that number and, from the Sign In page, click the Register for an LDS Account link. Fill in your details, click the link in the confirmation email that is sent to your email account, and then go back to LDS.org to sign in with your new username and password.

The Share and Save bar that now appears at the bottom of the screen allows you to highlight, annotate content, write notes, and save media from any scripture, magazine article, conference address, or lesson on LDS.org. You may add tags and specify a notebook to save them to. You may then arrange them in the Study Notebook application to prepare lessons and talks, keep a journal, or to study the gospel.

To start, just browse to any Ensign article or scripture you wish to highlight, tag, or take notes on. A great example is Elder D. Todd Christofferson's excellent article "How to Study the Book of Mormon". Select text in the article or scripture with your cursor or use the buttons in the Share and Save bar for other media.

Once you've selected some text, a menu will pop up offering different highlighting colors, and button for underlining text, and an Add Note/Tag link. Clicking these will do the functions they describe, coloring or underlining the selected text, or adding a note.

In the Add Note dialog, you can choose a specific notebook, or create a brand new notebook just for this topic. For example, if the scripture is about charity, you could create a charity notebook to make notes about charity, in its own little notebook online, wherever you feel inspired to do so.

Also in the Add Note dialog, you can write tags or keywords to describe the theme of the note you're writing. This comes in handy later when you want to browse your notes based on topics as you remember them.

If you make a mistake and want to delete a notebook, just click the little trash can icon and it's gone.

On the Share and Save bar, you can click Share to share the item via email or social media.

You can also click Bookmark to save the article in LDS.org so you can easily return to it later.

If, while reading, you feel inspired to make a Journal Entry, there's a button for that, too, complete with tagging and notebook selection.

Sometimes you'll want to turn off highlighting and note-taking editors to better focus your reading , you won't be presented with the highlighting options. Just uncheck the Study Mode checkbox and those highlighting features will be temporarily disabled.

Reviewing the Study Notebook

When you're ready to review your notes all in one place, just click the Open Notebook link on the Share and Save bar at the bottom of the page.

On the page that appears, down the left you will see a list of your no
tebooks, types of study activities (bookmarks, highlights, journal entries), and a list of tags you've created. The numbers next to types and tags indicate how many of each you've made.

In the content area of the Study Notebook has summary list with text excerpts of all the study items you've created. Clicking a study item makes it display in full in the big content area to the right. Here you can edit, save, print, or delete the full item even further.

Anytime you need help, just click the Help link at the bottom right of the Study Notebook and you'll get a list of guided tutorials.

Mobile Devices

The Church has produced a suite of mobile device applications so that you can study anywhere and at any time. The Study Notebook features mentioned above are mostly available via the Gospel Library app. All highlights, cross-references, and tags you create using the Gospel Library app will synchronize with the notebook.lds.org site and vice versa.

At mobile.lds.org you will find the following apps:
  • Bible Videos - Read about Jesus and His teachings, explore biblical environments, watch scripture-based videos and photo slideshows, and discover interesting facts about biblical accounts. Bible videos are available only on Apple's mobile devices, such as the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.
  • Gospel Library - Download and study the scriptures, general conference addresses, Sunday manuals, and other Church content. Gospel Library allows you to search, bookmark, annotate, link, and highlight content. The Gospel Library app is currently available for Android, Apple, Blackberry, and webOS devices.
  • Mormon Channel - Listen to Mormon Channel, the Church's 24-hour-a-day audio station featuring gospel-oriented programs, music, and interviews, as well as scriptures, general conference, and Church magazines. The Mormon Channel app is available for Android, Apple, Blackberry, and webOS.
  • LDS Tools - Download ward and stake directory information to your phone, as well as scheduled ward events from the Church's new calendaring system. You can use the LDS Tools app on Android, Apple, and Blackberry devices.
  • Scripture Mastery - This app, available for Apple devices only at this time, will help you memorize scripture mastery verses as well as the Articles of Faith.
  • LDS Youth - Get the latest content from youth.lds.org on your Android and Apple mobile devices.
  • LDS Music - Browse and search the Hymns and Children's Songbook, view the words and sheet music, and listen to hymns and songs on your Apple devices.
  • Ensign - Browse a tablet edition of the November 2011 Ensign on Android and Apple devices.


Of course, we can't forget the old standby online scriptures at scriptures.lds.org, which have been on LDS.org since at least 2002. The electronic text and audio recordings of the scriptures are now available at LDS.org and for mobile devices in many languages and are in process in many others. In addition to online reading and listening, you can also download and use the audio, ePub, and PDF files offline. The Church’s latest online scriptures site also facilitates easy sharing of passages and personal notes with others via e-mail and social media tools. The scriptures at LDS.org are currently available in 21 languages; mobile device applications are available in approximately 10 languages, depending on the platform.

The LDS Scripture Citation Index at scriptures.byu.edu, and which is also available for mobile devices, is my absolute favorite way of searching for quotes from prophets about certain passages of scripture. Developed by two BYU teachers, this tool allows you to select a verse of scripture and then see a list of all the times it has been referred to, directly or indirectly, in every written speech known to the Church.

For example, suppose you want to know who has cited 1 Nephi 3:7 in general conference. Click on the Book of Mormon link at the left side of the screen and scroll down to 1 Nephi 3; there you’ll find the answer.

Conference Talks

It has been fun watching the development of the availability of conference talks at LDS.org. When the conference section of LDS.org first came online, it used to be that you'd have to wait a week or more for speeches to be posted. But now, through the Church's streamlining of the translation and publication process, you can get the text and multimedia of conference talks on the same day they are given, often during the following session. I highly recommend much use of conference.lds.org in preparation of talks and lessons...as well as catching up on the talks you missed when you fell asleep on Conference weekend.

Blogs and Social Media

I hope that you actively seek out these resources as you study and share the scriptures with your friends online. Also consider using traditional blogs, like I am doing here, as a way to publicly convey your feelings about various scriptures. Blogs can be a powerful means of transmitting and testifying of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon. Through conversations you'll have on your blog posts with your readers, you'll be able to clarify doctrine and resolve doubts and misconceptions about our faith. Some will be cantankerous and will not be convinced or persuaded. That is okay. At least they're being exposed to what we really believe, and that is enough. The Lord will do the rest when that person is ready to soften his or her heart.

Getting Started

The Church has published a series of Getting Started guides. Post any questions in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them.

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.