Sunday, July 31, 2016

Frauds and Hoaxes

The other day I read a blog post about frauds and hoaxes related to the Book of Mormon. It made me think about what frauds and hoaxes have been most influential regarding the Book of Mormon. Maybe there is a potential to reach a consensus on this point.

The article mentioned the Kinderhook plates, the Newark holy stones (including the Decalogue Stone), the Las Lunas Decalogue Stone, and the Soper-Savage Michigan relics.

The article suggested a test for knowing these controversial "antiquities" are forgeries; i.e., they are out of context. "Genuine artifacts relate to their surroundings in discernible, reproducible ways."


Isn't that the argument made by those who claim the Book of Mormon itself is a fraud? Certainly Joseph's account of the plates is not one that "relates to its surroundings in discernible, reproducible ways." At least, I'm not aware of other ancient metal plates discovered in New York that relate a sacred history. Nor, if the Book of Mormon events took place in Central America, does the text relate to its surroundings.

Of course, the text is not out of context if the hill where it was deposited--the Hill Cumorah in New York--is the site of the final battles it describes.

The four items that the article alleges are frauds and hoaxes are of minor significance, at best. I don't know of any theory of Book of Mormon geography that relies on them.

In my view, there are far more devastating hoaxes that need to be carefully scrutinized. These have diverted tremendous resources, including millions of dollars and untold man-hours of research, writing, publication, and reading.

The anonymous article in the Oct. 1, 1842, Times and Seasons that claimed Zarahemla was in Quirigua may be the biggest hoax of all. I'm not aware of anyone today who thinks Quirigua could possibly qualify as Zarahemla. The ruins cited in the editorial post-date Book of Mormon time frames, as Stephens, the author of the books, mentioned. Related to that are two anonymous articles dated Sept. 15, 1842, that also claim these ruins date to Book of Mormon times. It is difficult to think of a hoax that has caused more confusion than these anonymous articles. They led directly to the development of the two-Cumorah theory, a theory that an Apostle has specifically said causes members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

Another hoax was the Izapa Stella 5, which, while an authentic artifact, was linked to the Book of Mormon for decades. LDS people have purchased replicas, framed them on the walls of their homes, etc. Mormon critics have long said Izapa Stella 5 has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon. Finally, within the last couple of years, at least one LDS expert on the topic has reached the same conclusion. When viewed in the context of the other Stellae at Izapa, it is apparent that #5 has nothing to do with the Book of Mormon.

Much more could be written about the problem of frauds and hoaxes, but maybe this line of analysis will help clear the air among those who study Book of Mormon geography and we can set aside problematic claims going forward.


  1. The out-of-context argument is perfectly circular. "Why are they hoaxes? Because they don't belong here. Why don't they belong here? Because they are hoaxes." It's not a very good argument and ultimately anti-scientific.

    To explain what I mean, consider the much better argument put forward by Richard B. Stamps who dismissed the Michigan relics *because* they were produced using technology to which he understood native peoples lacked access. For instance, he dismissed the swords, which were smelted, on the belief that the various groups of mound builders lacked the ability to perform that type of advanced metallurgy.

    When the article was published, that was a solid conclusion. More recently we've discovered that the Mann Hopewell (near Evansville, Indiana) had smelting. So, that basis for the conclusion is no longer solid. But that's fine -- Because now we can reexamine the metal instruments and determine if there is another objective basis on which to question their authenticity, or not. And if not, then not. That's how science is supposed to work.

    The problem with the "out-of-context" argument is that it begins with the conclusion, and so derails this whole process. It does not follow the evidence; it dictates what evidence will be considered.

  2. Oh, crud, I thought the Izapa Stella 5 (so that's what it's called) that my parents brought us back from their BofM cruise -- I told them that they took the wrong trip :) -- showed that the Tree of Life vision WAS in Mesoamerica! I feel deceived. :o And I definitely have to agree about those articles in the Times and Seasons!!! Genuine artifacts MAY relate to their surroundings in discernible, reproducible ways. Sounds more accurate to me. Who gets to decide these things anyway?!

  3. There's an old saying that "the answers you get depend on the questions you ask." In this case, the "answer" was an extensive state-level society in Mesoamerica that includes massive stone pyramids, cities, written records everywhere, etc. To get that answer, you have to frame a question by reading into the Book of Mormon an extensive state-level society with each of these features.
    But if you read the Book of Mormon first, you realize that the "state-level" society described actually existed for only about 100 years, among a minority population that was in a state of war and political revolution before disintegrating into tribes. Ultimately, the remnants of the state-level society were completely annihilated by the tribal society.
    Once again, what the Book of Mormon describes we find in North America, not in Central or South America.