Thursday, July 9, 2009

Response to Comments

From time to time, someone will comment on a post about items that a) are too involved to answer in a couple of paragraphs and b) merit being expounded in a post of their own.

This answer is from a comment thread on "Lehi and the Throne Theophany in 1 Nephi". The source comment related to the foregoing is found here.

You have mentioned some of the very things about which I wish to write multiple posts. Keep watching the blog for these, particularly about the purported contents of destroyed codices and those that were preserved, such as the Title of the Lords of Totonicapan and the Popol Vuh. Those are two works with which I'm the most familiar. I have both read and had them explained to me by indigenous Guatemalans who were direct descendants of the people from which these records arose. I will also do more reading of the other sources you mention. I've heard of them, but haven't had the chance to read through them.

As for your other items:

1) No Temple of Solomon replica evidence found...

If you asked a Muslim in Jerusalem about the location of Solomon's temple, you'd get a very different answer than if you asked an orthodox Jew.

Most moderate Muslims would admit that there was, of course, a Temple of Solomon but wouldn't be inclined to say exactly where. Moderate Jews will point to the temple mount and say "over there".

Casting this similarly archaeologically-based argument into a fundamentalist, Muslim, anti-Jewish mold, as a general corollary to the present fundamentalist, Evangelical, anti-Mormon stance it represents, the Muslim critic would deny the existence of Solomon's Temple at all, blaming it on some type of Zionist conspiracy to rule the world on false pretenses.

In fact, very few, if any, archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land have escaped scrutiny, dispute, discrediting, followed by validation, more dispute, ad nauseum. None have unanimously agreed on whether anything found to-date is 100% authentic or traced to the correct time period. Christians fight with the Jews, Jews fight with the Muslims, and the Muslims fight with the Jews and Christians as to whether something found validates a religious claim and, indeed, outlines territory, possessions, or even God's truth.

In other words, absence of the preservation of a particular Nephite temple is not evidence of its non-preservation (it may yet be found, and indications are that Solomonic temple layouts already have been found in multiple pre-Columbian temple ruins). That is, unless that non-preservation is all one is inclined to see through one's favored theological lens. Further, in such a mindset, one could be informed of evidence as it comes to light, but still only be satisfied with a whole and complete proof (probably nothing less than a photo of Solomon or Nephi standing in front of its outer wall, holding a sign saying "My name is Solomon/Nephi. This is the temple. I built it.") rather than the fragmentary bits and pieces that, by the very nature of antiquity, multiple conquests, cultural and literal genocides, and the erasing effects of universal entropy, are more likely to be the norm.

More about the true role and discipline of archaeology as it relates to BoM and Biblical studies is found here.

2) No text or fragments we can trace to the BoM...

Simply. Not. True. There are vast amounts of Old World texts that have come to light since the Qumran scrolls which correlate in such striking ways to BoM narrative, culture, and literature that it indeed becomes impossible to explain the existence of the BoM as Joseph Smith's own contrivance. There were simply too many things undiscovered in Joseph's time that today reveal what he could not have known on his own were he its sole author and not its God-inspired translator.

See "The Lachish Letters: Archaeological Bullseye for the Book of Mormon" for another set in addition to that which we already provide on this site in numerous instances and which other apologists, amateur and expert alike, provide in their texts and blogs. As for in the Americas, just wait until you see what I have to say about the Popol Vuh, the Title, and the various oral and cultural traditions of Mesoamerican people that indicate they once had possession of religious ideas dating from 600 BC and onward (in the case of the Nephites) and even earlier (in the case of the Jaredites). We were only able to translate Mayan texts as late as the mid-1990s! The linguistic and literary fruits of that breakthrough are only beginning to be realized, yet we have already found so much in terms of place and people names that corresponds to Semitic and Egyptian names.

3) Was there only one set of plates? If so, how did millions read the scriptures?

These questions are based on a foundationless premise that we would actually know, somehow, that millions of people read scriptures in the Americas in the same manner as we (incorrectly) presume, expect, hope or romanticize common, everyday people did in the Middle East.

There were multiple copies of plates, as far as we can tell from the text itself, both in analysis and from the narrative. Assuming that the BoM writers duplicated and disseminated their written works to the general populace (a phenomenon for which there is absolutely zero narrative support in the BoM itself nor in anything Joseph Smith ever said), they would have had to do so more economically than on metal plates. They would have necessarily written their copies on animal skins or parchment of some kind.

While we have found whole and fragmentary Mayan codices that served such a purpose, for allegedly "millions of people" to have read BoM writings as they were developing through time, there indeed would have had to have been a massive codex publishing industry, not to mention a 20th century-style editorial process and a few computerized printing presses, to carry this out. Such a thing never existed in the ancient Middle East, so why would anyone expect it in the ancient Americas, especially from a culture that came from the ancient Middle East?

Works of scripture were perpetuated in the ancient Middle East by deliberate and controlled hand-copying of scrolls, which eventually amounted to accumulations of certain amounts of scrolls at various times in history, but never in amounts such that "millions of people" had everyday access to them. Indeed, it's common knowledge today that copies of the Torah were kept in a special vault and carefully handled so as to ensure they wouldn't have to be copied too frequently to perpetuate them.

Yet, today, even in the Middle East, after all that's been dug up there over the centuries since the Crusades and earlier, and continues to be dug up, we don't find nearly the amount of preserved scrolls we might expect under this assumption. Why is that? I can tell you why. Multiple conquests and the general entropy that exists as part of the human condition. Just as it takes extraordinarily coincidential circumstances of mud, temperature, pressure, and a long period of time undisturbed for a dinosaur fossil to have been preserved, we necessarily require much more diligence and deliberateness for comparatively fragile papyrus or animal skin texts to stay around for that long. Only writings inscribed on metal plates, carved in stone, painted on walls, or carefully preserved via clay tablet engravings, survived the ravaging elements of the ages. Such attempts at preservation do not lend themselves well to mass production of literature for the general populace to have had then and especially not for us to have an abundance of their remnants now.

Next, compare the environmental climates of the two worlds. One, completely arid and dry, the other, so hot, humid, and wet that I've literally seen dead sticks come back to life when planted in the ground. Having grown up in a library as the son of a librarian in a dry, desert town in Southern Utah, I can tell you that the climate of Mesoamerica, at all times, is a special collections archivist's nightmare. When I visited the museum of Mayan artifacts housed in the relatively drier climate of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, I was astonished at how raggedy and spoiled even things only 100 years old had become as compared to how they must have appeared when new.

How could one then expect millions of people, living over two millenia ago, to have successfully preserved their copies of the scriptures to meet such astonishing requirements for credible evidence. It is a wild goose chase to expect to find it. It simply would not--could not--exist without the kinds of technology we have today to preserve perishables. And in perpetuity for over 2,000 years at that! So, we have to turn to other clues that pre-Columbian people left behind and that their descendants continue to perpetuate today.

4) If we did not have the BoM today, is there any independent evidence that we would even know of the "Nephites"? What does "Nephi" mean anyhow?


  1. Lots to comment on. I'll do one at a time.

    #1 Temple Replica

    Didn't find the link a compelling case for a distince Hebrew influence in New World temples, anymore than a comparison based on similarities that could be made with ancienct Chinese pyramids. That's what happens when start with a desired outcome and then go looking to make it fit while ignoring the inconsistencies. I would have liked to have seen citations from independant reputable archaeologists for the statement in the link "Many scholars have noted the parallels between Old World structures and the temples of Mesoamerica", which paints an awfully broad stroke. I think bringing up a potential lack of consensus between EV's and LDS is premature before we even establish a site for the new world replica. Muslim revisionist history doesn't change the fact that most reputable historians and archaeologist consider the temple rebuilt by Herod and destroyed by the Romans stood at the Temple Mount. The ancient text of Ezra makes it clear the second temple is the rebuilding of Solomon's. At least we can discuss an actual temple with visible remains at a precise location. The link "Arch. Evidence and the BoM" goes to great lengths to reinforce the difficulties of corroborating the BoM with N.W. archaeology. It's odd that on one hand we can glean and distinguish the peoples, cultures, writing systems, religions, governments, political organization, and reconstruct a chronology and historical record from this challenging archaeology--yet on the other hand we have the BoM, which if authentic would be THE most exuastive and authoratative historical record on ancient Mesoamerica, (so we have a chronology and historal record in place) yet we have to throw up a big asterik when trying to reconcille the narrative with the historical record we've gleaned from the archaeological record. Authentic historical texts generally provide explanation to the arch. record, (i.e. we can look to the book of Jacob for an explanation as to why the Jericho wall ruins show evidence of collapse, etc.) yet it seems we have to force the arch. record to fit the BoM narrative, which can be awkward (i.e. asserting Hebrew influence in MesoA. archetecture). I'm at a loss trying to find independant reputable archaeologists who regard the BoM as an authentic ancient MesoA. record.
    .. TBC...

  2. #2
    Going forward would you be able to post bullet points on the finer arguments, such as with the Lachish letters. I've found most of the links provided are very lengthy and wordy and I have to read through lots of hypothesis and explanations before landing on anything of substance to work with. I would like to see your conclusions on the new world codices.

    I think your opening answer "These questions are based on a FOUNDATIONLESS premise..." is frustrating and lacks consistent reasoning.

    I hadnt made the argument that millions in the Middle East had copies of the scriptures. However there isnt debate that we have multiple copies of biblical texts.

    That we can expect parallels in Qumran and BoM peoples; expect Hebrew architecture in New World temples; expect BoM peoples to build synagogues, hold baptisms; ordain disciples and prophets; expect 'Hebraisms' in the BoM; expect Old World metal plates to serve as evidence of New World practices, etc., etc. yet it is 'gaulling' that we should expect copies of holy BoM scripture... is intellectually dishonest. When the BoM itself speaks of preserving, believing and reading the scriptures (40+ times), then it's not unreasonable to assume that somewhere (inscribed on stone?) we would have text unique to the BoM. Instead excuses are made as to the climate of Central America (if that is indeed the location of the BoM narrative). I reject the notion that the humidity is the culprit. The mean humidity of CA is 83%, the mean humidity of the Negev desert is 64%. Did they leave there writings out in the rain? What all did the Spaniards burn they couldnt preserve their writings. That some codices survived (and an abundance of structure inscriptions) serves as evidence that text should and has been preserved.

  3. We do have inscribed on stone text that relates to the Book of Mormon. The glyph in this picture translates as "it happened" or "it came to pass".

    The glyph appears with the same scope of frequency as a structural marker in Mayan inscriptions as it does in the Book of Mormon. Read more about that glyph here:

    I'm sorry the Book of Mormon is not meeting your particular criteria for "proof". Although, I'm not as surprised as you are that it does not because, having read it, it makes no such claim. While it contains the fullness of Christ's Gospel, its authors took great pains to state that it is not meant as a secular but a spiritual history and therefore will be absent the details needed to reconstruct Nephite and Lamanite society as might be expected of the Bible. Its compilers (Mormon and Moroni) knew their civilization was at an end and their culture and way of life about to be erased, so what point would there have been in describing the location of Nephi's temple (if it indeed still existed by 421 A.D.). If Solomon's temple was destroyed and later Herod's temple was destroyed (after only about 70 years since its construction), then why would Nephi's temple have escaped a similar fate?

    Additionally, the thing the Bible has going for it archaeologically speaking is continuity of its core culture, the Jews. The Book of Mormon ends in the complete and utter genocide of its core culture, the Nephites. Their culture was completely subsumed by Lamanite culture and all the resultant trappings (writing, architecture, etc.) Conditions of archaeology between the Book of Mormon and the Bible simply are not comparable. WE don't make that claim, so I'm not sure where others expect it. We only claim that there are similarities in the remnants of Mayan culture, which is a far cry from being able to point to the Temple Mount and say "It was there." I will grant you that. But it is just as intellectually dishonest to say "Welp, the evidence doesn't fit my prejudice for what I think ought to exist, so I guess I can throw out the book altogether."

    Do read it and you'll see what I mean.

  4. Interesting stuff, but I wish there was a way to say it plainer. Sorry if that makes me sound like a dummy, but often when I read apologist stuff, there's such a cavalcade of words and citations, I'm not sure of what's being said. Even the scholarly book that first made me question Mormonism, James Kugel's How to Read the Bible, made difficult concepts easy to understand. I feel like a lot of times, FARMS just wants to tire people with words.

  5. Misanthropic: There is a way to say it plainer. The Book of Mormon is true scripture. But me saying that means nothing to anyone but myself. YOU have to gain your own testimony of it by a) reading the book and b) having a conversation with your Father in Heaven about it. There are no more plainer words than that.

    People who don't read or refuse to acknowledge what the Book of Mormon's actual message is are the ones who demand, through a multiplicity of words, the kinds of proof that it simply doesn't offer. We can't let those criticisms go unanswered, so we have to answer back as best we can with the information we have on hand.

    But it still remains that the Book of Mormon, like all scripture, including the Bible, was always meant to be a spiritual book, understood by the light of faith, not archaeology or anthropology or anything else.


We are happy to discuss any and every topic and question. We will give wide berth to a variety of opinions and ideas. The only thing we ask is that you return the favor by respecting our right to believe as we do and by not issuing lengthy, inflammatory diatribes meant to shock and confuse anyone not familiar with LDS teachings. They can certainly get that elsewhere. :)