Please review this explanation on the purpose for this section before reading the information here.
DNA and Archaeological evidence
Science is getting pretty good at DNA mapping a population and determining where they came from, how different populations mixed together and such. Native Americans can trace their DNA back to Asians who traveled across the Bering Strait through Alaska and down across the North and South America, not earlier than 15,000 BC. Their languages can be traced in the same way. The BOM seems to suggests a first group of Israelites (Jaredites) came circa 2,000 BC to an unoccupied land, rose to a huge civilization, and then died out within about 1500 years. The second group, Lehites, came in 600 BC separated into two groups Nephites and Lamanites grew to huge civilizations. The Nephites were killed off in 400 AD, while the Lamanites lived on, with the BOM suggesting they are the Native Americans existing in North and South America when European settlers came to colonize America. Israelite DNA, language, and culture should be evident in the archaeological record with traces found in the modern world. Yet it is missing.
This is mentioned in my CES Letter review. An anachronism is a mismatch of time and setting with the facts of a story. A story about an astronaut set in 1870 in Africa would be anachronistic, because space travel was not invented yet. Examples of Book of Mormon anachronisms are: horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goat, elephants, steel, barley, wheat, chariots, silk, and usage of coins. Most of these were introduced by the Old World to the New World after Columbus. With each decade that passes, science and archeology gets a better and better picture of what life was like in ancient America, and it looks less and less like the Book of Mormon. In addition to stuff being in the Book of Mormon that shouldn’t, we have a lack of important aspects of Mesoamerican (we typically isolate Mesoamerica in this because Mesoamerica is deemed to be the most likely civilization in Ancient America that could correlate with Book of Mormon people) items that it should have such as bison, deer, cougar, maize, squash, and beans. Looking at the big picture, the biggest problem here is that generally the Book of Mormon civilizations are much more advanced than they should be. Wheat and barley are domesticated crops. Horses and oxen are domesticated animals. Democratic form of government, steel, plows, chariots. These are byproducts of advanced civilizations. The Old World had these advancements in Bible times in ancient times. But they are out of place in an ancient American setting.
It’s unlikely that Nephi would have known a Reformed Egyptian writing system and even more unlikely that he would have opted for that over Hebrew, but not impossible. Moroni says they used Reformed Egyptian instead of Hebrew because it was a more efficient and concise writing system, and they needed to conserve space on the plates. Hebrew would have been both easier to write and more concise. Before the Rosetta Stone translation, it was widely assumed that Egyptian writing was more efficient. This all fits together when you combine the GAEL project where Joseph extrapolated long sentences out of one Egyptian hieroglyphic.
Huge battles with no remains
Both the Jaredites and the Nephites had huge battle scenes with unprecedented number of deaths, at the same location, the Hill Cumorah. The Jaredite final battle had nearly two million deaths. The final battle of the Nephites, the Nephites lost over 200,000. In both battles, steel swords and armor were used. Bones, swords, and other archeological evidence should have been found. Both these battles would rank at the top of human history for most deaths at a battle scene, with the Jaredite final battle likely ranking as the bloodiest battle in human history. On this B.H. Roberts, the apostle who analyzed the Book of Mormon from an intellectual perspective and came away very troubled, wrote:
Is all this sober history inspired written and true, representing things that actually happened? Or is it a wonder-tale of an immature mind, unconscious of what a test he is laying on human credulity when asking men to accept his narrative as solemn history?
Lack of Jesus Christ Myths
The visit of Jesus to the Nephites is the pinnacle event in the Book of Mormon. Before it is, is mass destruction and death, leaving only the believers. Following it, is four generations of peace and unity. Yet there are no references to Jesus or these historical events anywhere in the collection of Mesoamerican artifacts, writings, and oral myths.
The very existence of gold plates is unlikely. There are very few instances of writing on plates in the history of mankind. None of them would amount to more than a few printed pages. In the Book of Mormon, we have the gold plates the Book of Mormon prophets wrote which was given the Joseph. We also have the plates of Brass, which contained the Old Testament writings previous to Nephi. No other metal plates containing Old Testament writings have been found or even been referenced to or thought to have existed by any modern academics. We also have the Jaredite plates. These three would rank as (by far) the most detailed metal plate writing in human history. Of these, the Brass plates are the most remarkable, as it’s doubtful that the books identified as contained in the Brass Plates ever existed in the same collection at that point of history, yet alone printed on metal plates.
LDS Apologist Answers
Some LDS accept these facts and have a nuanced view of Book of Mormon origins. Most LDS hold to a literal view and there has been a large amount of scholarly work to combat these facts and defend the Book of Mormon as a literal ancient American record. Most of the counter evidence discussed on this page is addressed through two theories.
Limited Geography Theory
The Limited Geography Theory is an explanation of the Book of Mormon that is used to explain some of the evidence, such as lack of BOM DNA and archaeological evidence. This view of the BOM has now moved from the scholars and now accepted by and large by the mainstream church. See the change in 2006 to the title page of the BOM changing “the principal ancestors of the American Indians” to “among the ancestors of the American Indians”. This theory accepts the scientific fact that America was populated by Asians 15,000 BC. When Nephi landed, America was already populated with millions of natives. The Lehites mixed with the native population, so all Israelite DNA became diluted and now can’t be identified. Their language and culture was quickly dumped as they absorbed into this bigger population, and we should never expect to find any evidence of them.
I think this works for some people not for others. It doesn’t work for me for these reasons:
- Never once are these other people ever referenced in the Book of Mormon. In fact, many references seem to oppose this theory. Ammon lists all the cities in the land, and all are ruled by Lamanites, who identify themselves as literal descendants of Lehi. Moroni says they are still speaking Hebrew. The best example from the text the LGT’ers use is Sherem, a weak example requiring a series of unnecessary assumptions.
- The intersection of the Jaredites and Nephites. The Jaredites were a huge civilization numbering in the millions and they overlapped with the Lehites for approximately 100 years, yet they never came in contact with each other. For 400 years after the destruction of the Jaredites, their land was left vacated and unexplored. Around 100 BC, the Nephites went North and discovered their land, with descriptions of bones and rusting swords.
- The visit of Jesus and the prior destruction of non-believers and subsequent four generations of a righteousness, homogeneous people with no possibility of mixing of outside populations.
- Joseph believed the Hill Cumorah he received the gold plates was the same as the one in the Book of Mormon, he referred to Native Americans as Lamanites, he identified Zelph as a Nephite, buried in Missouri, he identified the Kinderhook plates as buried with a Jaredite. and the Doctrine of Covenants, just as much a part of the LDS canon as the Book of Mormon, defines Lamanites and Lamanite territory numerous times.
- The context of the entire Book of Mormon is that Nephi knows that his people are going to die out, but that his brother’s people, the Lamanites will survive, and the purpose of their writing is to eventually preach and convert those people back to the fold. The history and future of America is spelled out clearly in the Book of Mormon, ie preserved for Jaredites and Nephites, then Lamanites kill off Nephites, then Columbus comes and America is colonized for the purpose of the gospel being restored and the Book of Mormon coming forth.
In response, the LDS Apologists would tell me I’m reading the text too rigidly or that the LGT can properly explain these questions. These debates will likely go on for a long time.
Loose Translation Theory
Scholars argue over whether the translation of the BOM was a loose or tight translation. Tight translation would be that God gave Joseph the precise text to use in the Book of Mormon. And loose translation would be that God gave Joseph the meaning in his mind and then Joseph used his own words to convey the meaning. If you allow for a loose translation, then you can explain some of these anachronisms. There can be multiple levels of this. For example, let’s look at the story of Ammon serving King Lamoni by preparing his horse and chariots. We know this is anachronistic.
- Maybe King Lamoni had a collection of horse-like animals (such as tapirs or deer) that Joseph didn’t recognize easily, and Joseph substituted the word horse.
- Maybe the revelation God shared with Joseph as he came to that section of the gold plates was that Ammon served King Lamoni. Joseph might have extrapolated everything related to preparing the horse and chariots as something in Joseph’s mind that someone might serve a king by doing.
By the loose translation theory, it makes sense to see King James Bible so often in the BOM because Joseph thought oh yes, I recognize this, I’ll just put in the KJV for this. Some LDS scholars, to avoid all the historical problems are moving to a view that the Book of Mormon is midrash, and the doctrines and religious aspects of it are inspired by God, but the historical narrative should be ignored and maybe was made up by Joseph to facilitate the religious ideas and doctrine, like the book of Job.
Challenges to this theory:
- We’re told the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on the face of the earth, with the distinguishing characteristic that it was translated correctly where the Bible we assume has some incorrect translation. Counter. The doctrine is perfect not the historical narrative which is not important.
- It makes intuitive sense that if the Book of Mormon is so important, and the BOM prophets went to such great pain to maintain the gold plates, that the translation of it would be important to get exact. Counter. The gold plates were necessary for Joseph to understand the weight of his calling as prophet of the restoration not so much to preserve content which God can easily convey.
- The translation process implies a direct translation from God. Joseph put his head in the hat to block out light, looked into the seerstone and saw English text, which he repeated to the scribe, even spelling out names letter by letter. Counter. Why can’t it the translation be tight at times and loose at times?
How do informed LDS members view this information?
churchistrue.com sacramental paradigm view:
Scripture is seen as metaphorical. Faith is an expression of loyalty, devotion, worship and doctrinal alignment but not necessarily a belief in the factual accuracy of scripture or historical religious origins. Challenges to scriptural historical events are not damaging to faith. I don’t believe the Book of Mormon is an actual record of events describing Ancient America. I believe the power and importance of the Book of Mormon as scripture is in the teachings and the spirit that comes through reading and studying it and implementing its teachings in one’s life.
Literal believing LDS view:
There are satisfying answers to all the Book of Mormon evidences. There are also some powerful evidences for the Book of Mormon, including important correlations from the Book of Mormon text to Mesoamerica and Hebrew language and customs. But ultimately God requires faith, and is most likely making it intentionally difficult to prove the Book of Mormon is true, secularly.
Nuanced LDS view:
The actual reality lies somewhere in between the two above views. Some view non-literally. Some view literally, but with nuance to the understanding of the Book of Mormon that makes sense of the evidences against it. Some view the Book of Mormon as a 19th century work, brought forth in the mind of Joseph Smith the prophet, which he had a right to do as a prophet of God, sort of like Biblical midrash.
Shared view by all LDS:
The Book of Mormon is the word of God. Through it we can come unto Christ. It is the keystone of our religion.