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 suggest 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 and separated into two groups Nephites and Lamanites that grew to huge civilizations. The Nephites were killed off about 400 AD, while the Lamanites lived on, with the BOM suggesting their ancestors were the Native Americans existing in North and South America when European settlers came to colonize America. If that were true, Israelite DNA, language, and culture would be evident in the archaeological record. Yet it is missing.
This is mentioned in my CES Letter review. An anachronism is a mismatch of time or place with the facts of a story. A story about an astronaut set in 1870 would be anachronistic. 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, scientists and historians get a better picture of what life was like in ancient America, and it looks less and less like the Book of Mormon. In addition to things being in the Book of Mormon that shouldn’t, there also is 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 the New World lagged behind. 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.
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 ranking as the bloodiest battle in human 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 a 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 concept of writing on metal plates is not impossible. There are a handful of instances of human beings writing on metal plates. But none of them are extensive as the three sets of plates described in the Book of Mormon. We have 1) the Gold Plates the Book of Mormon prophets wrote which was given the Joseph, which produce over 500 pages of printed material + the lost 116 pages + the sealed portion. We also have 2) 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. Academics don’t even believe those Old Testament books even existed together in the same collection at that point in time. We also have 3) the Jaredite plates. These perhaps would be the greatest discovery of all, since the age would make them not only the oldest metal plates found but among the oldest writings ever discovered on any material.
All three of these metal plates would rank among the oldest metal plates ever found and by far, ie by 10 times or more the metal plates with the most writing ever found in human history.
LDS Apologist Answers
LDS Scholars with a belief in BOM historicity have spent a lot of time working out theories to defend the BOM. There are a couple important arguments to understand.
Limited Geography — Mixing Populations Theory
The Limited Geography — Mixing Populations Theory is a view of the BOM that goes something like this. Lehites came to America where there was already a preexisting people. They interacted with these people and intermarried and absorbed into their society. Israelite language, customs, etc were lost and the Native American (likely Mesoamerican) culture was adopted. The terms “Lamanite” and “Nephite” became political terms more than familial tribes denoting blood relatives.
This theory is somewhat satisfactory to account for the lack of Israelite DNA, language, and cultural evidences. This theory has been around for more than 100 years in some form, but was first emphasized in the 1980’s, and has become popular among many members and church leaders within the last 20 years. 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”.
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. Loose translation would be that God gave Joseph the meaning in his mind or influenced him in a more general way, and then Joseph used his own words to convey the meaning.
A more extreme version of this would be the Expansion Model. This theory asserts that Joseph took an ancient text and expanded it greatly. ie he might have added entire chapters himself or dramatically expanded some of the stories. This theory does well to explain many of the anachronisms, both in terms of the things like horses and steel and the KJV Bible and 19th century phrases and Christian concepts.
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.