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.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Agreeing to disagree

Questions about Book of Mormon geography are a means to an end. There is broad agreement on the ultimate objective of focusing on the Book of Mormon itself, in the sense of reading and applying its principles and teachings. For many of us, the geography and historicity issues improve our understanding of the text. These issues help many people dig into the text for themselves to find answers.

Although it would be great if everyone involved with Book of Mormon historicity and geography issues could reach agreement about the major issues, that seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. Instead, I think we can agree to disagree about a few basic issues.

One explanation of the phrase: The phrases "agree to disagree" or "agreeing to disagree" refer to "the resolution of a conflict (usually a debate or quarrel) whereby all parties tolerate but do not accept the opposing position(s)."

Agreements to disagree can result from different perspectives, as the cartoons illustrate. Walking around to the other side--a metaphor for seeing another person's perspective--can clarify the source of a disagreement. We may prefer the perspective we start with, but at least we understand why the other person sees things the way he/she does.

People tend to think evidence will resolve disagreements. Sometimes it does, but many times it does not. Economists disagree about the meaning of the same statistics they are all using. Although each juror has heard the exact same presentations about the evidence, juries often can't reach an agreement. Sports fans disagree about calls made during a game, even when they all watch the same replay.

Another component of disagreement is summarized in a question posed by Ray Dalio in his famous Principles statement: "How much do you let what you wish to be true stand in the way of seeing what is really true?" I posted an example of this regarding tribal vs state-level society, in which the article manipulated the Book of Mormon text and the archaeological evidence to support a long-held and pre-determined conclusion that the text and the archaeology support the Mesoamerican theory. The text and the archaeology actually support the opposite conclusion.

One philosopher who has examined the question of why people can't agree concludes, "A multi-model understanding tells us that such differences may make conversion unlikely. Once we give up on conversion, we may look for those mutually beneficial accommodations that are possible even when models differ."

That's the kind of approach I hope everyone can take.


Here are a few issues that I've already agreed to disagree with others about.

Hill Cumorah. Because I accept Letter VII, I think there is only one Hill Cumorah and it is in New York. Others don't accept Letter VII and claim there are two Cumorahs, the one in New York being merely the place where Moroni deposited his plates, the other (where Mormon deposited the Nephite records) being somewhere else (Baja, Meso, Peru, etc.).

Book of Mormon terminology. Everyone likes to claim they are relying on the text, but of course they mean they are relying on their interpretation of the text. For example, I think terms such as narrow neck, narrow neck of land, small neck of land, narrow pass, narrow passage, and narrow strip of wilderness refer to different features. Others think they refer to the same thing, which leads to the common hourglass shape of many abstract and proposed Book of Mormon maps.

Anonymous Times and Seasons articles. I think the anonymous Times and Seasons articles that linked Zarahemla to Quirigua were not written or approved by Joseph Smith. Others disagree. I think these articles were the genesis of the Mesoamerican theory of geography. Others disagree with that, too.

There are many more, of course, but we can probably narrow it down to a dozen or so.

One thing that makes agreement to disagree so difficult in a gospel context is we all presumably have an objective of finding the truth. We're used to thinking "The truth shall make you free," and "truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come."

I've had people tell me they are very uncomfortable with the idea of multiple views about Book of Mormon geography. That approach seems analogous to the approach to fiction generally; i.e., as long as we're imagining a setting, no one's imagination can be excluded from consideration.

I agree with those concerns, which is one reason why I think the New York Cumorah is so important.

But I think we need to let each individual make his/her own choice on each of these areas in which we agree to disagree. This is healthy, not only because it respects agency, but because it encourages individuals to dive into the text and decide for themselves.

A decision-tree exercise would help people navigate the issues. People who haven't considered these issues before, or who are bewildered by them, or who sense a state of cognitive dissonance, could find the process rewarding.

To make an informed choice, people must have access to information. This is why I consider the decades-long embargo on North American geography ideas to be counterproductive. I realize people are touchy about this subject, but ignoring the fact that major LDS publications (scholarly and popular books, articles, and web pages) have promoted the Mesoamerican theory to the exclusion of alternatives doesn't help. It's time to get real about this.

It is understandable, but not excusable, that the so-called consensus about the Mesoamerican theory has become the de facto standard. So far as I know, there is not a single editor of an LDS publication--not even a member of an editorial board--who accepts the North American setting. Mesoamerican ideas permeate CES faculty, including BYU. This has nothing to do with the merits, either. It's a result of a collective Groupthink approach to the topic, and it contradicts the Church's official policy of neutrality.

Most LDS people alive today have been raised with the Mesoamerican mindset. It permeates Church curriculum through the artwork. Editions of the Book of Mormon are still being published with Arnold Friberg's Mesoamerican paintings in them. People who accept the Mesoamerican model don't seem to realize how offensive the two-Cumorah theory is to thousands of members of the Church. The shorthand way to put it is that these faithful members agree with Joseph Fielding Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

More examples: every one of the affiliates of Book of Mormon Central promotes the Mesoamerican setting and opposes alternatives. I've specifically addressed BMAF and FairMormon as examples.

Consequently, members and investigators who are interested in these issues are presented with only one point of view: the Mesoamerican setting. When that doesn't work for them, they either leave (or stop seeing the missionaries) or they enter the state of cognitive dissonance that gnaws at them. Some people can live with cognitive dissonance, but others resolve it by eventually leaving, or finding an alternative that makes sense to them--such as the North American setting.

I realize some people think that offering alternative geography theories will create its own cognitive dissonance for people. Many people just want answers, without having to think much about it. Maybe most people. They think, "Why should I study this if the scholars can't even agree?"

That's why it would be ideal if all LDS scholars could agree on a setting that integrates all the known facts from Church history, the text itself, and the sciences. But until that point, openly acknowledging the agreements to disagree is far preferable to pretending there is only one legitimate setting because the scholars have reached a consensus about it.

There is a risk of replicating the Pharisees vs. Sadducees scenario. Awareness of that risk mitigates the likelihood of it becoming a reality.

What I propose is a set of points upon which we can agree to disagree. Each side explains its perspective on the points. Book of Mormon Central would be the host for the comparisons. To remain an affiliate, every organization would have to adopt a respectful approach towards non-Mesoamerican models. Individuals could continue to advocate one or another approach, but the editorial process would include representatives from other points of view to assure accuracy of published material when it purports to characterize the positions of alternative points of view.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

State level society and the Book of Mormon

De Soto discovers the Mississippi
The other day I read an insightful article that contrasted state level society with tribal society. This is a helpful analysis and offers the potential to help reach consensus about Book of Mormon geography. However, the article made a couple of mistakes that cause confusion.

The basic thesis of the article follows this logic:

1. Societies progress over time, starting with a tribal society and progressing into a state-level society.
2. These levels of society can be demonstrated by archaeological evidence.
3. The Book of Mormon describes state-level society, with some regression into tribal society described in 3 Nephi.
4. Archaeological evidence shows tribal societies in North America and state-level societies in Mesoamerica.
5. Therefore, the Book of Mormon must have taken place in Mesoamerica.

It seems to me the article misreads Book of Mormon history and also ignores archaeological evidence from North America that contradicts its conclusion.

1. The Book of Mormon describes mostly tribal or chiefdom societies, except for an interlude of a Nephite state-level society from about 84 B.C. to about 30 A.D. This state-level society was constantly weakened by wars and iniquity. The Lamanite adversaries (much larger tribal or chiefdom societies) were obsessed with destroying Nephite society and accomplished their goals in around 385 A.D. Consequently, according to the text, we should be looking for an area where tribal societies dominated, with little if any evidence of the state-level society surviving the wars and catastrophes.

2. Archaeology shows monumental architecture in North America--sophisticated and massive mound structures--that survived from the Nephite era to the present day and match the descriptions in the text. It doesn't show evidence of writing, abstract thinking (apart from geometry and astronomy), sophisticated art, etc., all of which would be targets of Lamanite destruction.

3. Archaeology also shows extensive stonework, temples, and engravings on monuments in Mesoamerica--indicia of widespread state-level societies--that are never mentioned in the text.

As a result, consideration of tribal, chiefdom, and state-level societies helps to understand how the North American setting fits the text.

Here are some of my thoughts that I submit for consideration. In my view, the state vs tribal analysis supports the North American setting.

The basic premise of the article is that there is archaeological evidence of state-level society in Mesoamerica but no evidence of state-level society in North America.

The article cites a paper by David Ronfeldt titled "In Search of How Societies Work." That paper is based on a theory of social evolution. "This paper is the latest in a string of efforts to develop a theoretical framework about social evolution, based on how people and their societies use four major forms of organization: tribes, hierarchical institutions, markets, and networks."

The article includes two lists, one of characteristics of state-level society, the other of tribal society, each accompanied by scriptural citations to the Book of Mormon. There is a photo of Hopewell artifacts, which the article claims was "diagnostically characteristic of tribalism." This is followed by a photo of Mayan hieroglyphs from Palenque, accompanied by the observation that "classic lowland Maya society achieved state level."

The article concludes, "State level societies leave unmistakable traces that scientists recognize. No North American culture known to science achieved state level society during Book of Mormon times. Several Mesoamerican cultures achieved state level societies during Book of Mormon times. John L. Sorenson succinctly summed up the situation: "Only one area in ancient America had cities and books: Mesoamerica." Mormon's Codex p. 21."

Before introducing the list of tribal characteristics, all drawn from 3 Nephi, the article observes that "The Book of Mormon unequivocally describes state level society, as well as the precise moment when complex Nephite government degenerated into tribalism 3 Nephi 7:2-4."

The Ronfeldt article discusses such regression.


"The tribal form remains not only an essential basis for the functioning of complex
societies but also the natural fallback option if the other TIMN forms falter or fail. Then
it again becomes the primal form of organization and behavior. People revert to it as a
sensible way to regroup and protect themselves under dire conditions—perhaps to start
rebuilding a society, or just to regress into a violent, recidivist rage against outsiders."

Book of Mormon history starts with a tribe (Lehi's family) leaving a state (Jerusalem) that faced imminent destruction. Once in the Promised Land, Lehi's tribe divides into smaller tribes. The text implies that indigenous peoples are incorporated into Nephite and Lamanite society; at no time do the Nephites adopt an indigenous culture (but the Lamanites may have). Instead, the Nephites observe the law of Moses strictly. Nephite society becomes more sophisticated, while Lamanite society remains more primitive or tribal.

The article observes that "One word commonly associated with tribal societies is "tradition." One word commonly associated with state level societies is "command." Nephite writers often associated Lamanites with traditions as in Mosiah 1:5, Alma 9:16, and Helaman 15:4. Nephite writers often associated Nephites and deity with commands as in Alma 5:61, Helaman 14:9 and 3 Nephi 23:13. Another word commonly associated with tribal societies is "identity." A word commonly associated with state level societies is 'institution.'"

This all makes sense. Essentially, Lamanites were tribal; Nephites had a state-level society (for about 150 years, albeit severely disrupted by warfare and internal disruption, until the destruction in 3 Nephi; it's not clear what kind of society they had after that).

The Book of Mormon text emphasizes throughout that the Lamanites were far larger in population and, ultimately, destroyed the Nephite society. (Nephite society was also smaller than the larger society of Zarahemla, which exhibited none of the characteristics of state-level society; i.e., no writing, no cities, no organized religion, etc.) Consequently, throughout the Book of Mormon, tribal societies dominated in terms of population and territory. To find the setting for the Book of Mormon, we need to find a place where there is relatively little evidence of state-level society. Plus, any evidence of a state-level society would have to survive 1) the massive destruction described in 3 Nephi and 2) the determined and aggressive effort by the Lamanites to destroy any vestiges of Nephite society, including written records.

That's exactly what we find in North America. And, as the article points out, it's exactly what we don't find in Mesoamerica.

The article itemizes these criteria for state-level society:

Anthropologists use criteria to distinguish tribal societies from more sophisticated civilizations that reach state level. These criteria include:
  • Social stratification. Tribal societies develop a chiefly elite who outrank commoners. State level societies have complex social class hierarchies, each with different access to resources. Alma 51:83 Nephi 6:12.
  • Dense populations. Tribal societies settle extensively across their ecosystems. State level societies support intensive populations. Omni 1:17Ether 7:11
  • Urbanization. Tribal societies build hamlets and villages with occasional towns at particularly favorable sites such as the confluence of two rivers. State level societies build large, well-organized cities and city states. Mosiah 27:6Helaman 7:22.
  • Food surpluses. Tribal societies subsist on hunting, agriculture, and extractive industries. State level societies produce surplus food that gets re-distributed to urban centers. Alma 1:29Helaman 6:12.
  • Labor specialization. People in tribal societies tend to work in homogeneous occupations closely tied to nature. State level societies produce artisans Mosiah 11:10, lawyers Alma 10:15, merchants 3 Nephi 6:11, etc. who work in a wide variety of vocations.
  • Centralized government. Tribal societies organize along kinship lines. State level societies develop formal ruling institutions Alma 11:2 where shared ideologies Mosiah 29:39 allow elites to control power Mosiah 29:2.
  • Controlled trade. Tribal societies engage in long-distance trade of exotic goods. In state level societies, elites control trading networks to maximize their wealth Ether 10:22.
  • Public works. Tribal societies erect stones and heap up dirt. State level societies build monumental architecture such as palaces Mosiah 11:9, pyramids Mosiah 11:12, temples Alma 16:3, roads 3 Nephi 6:8, markets Helaman 7:10, etc.
  • Written records. Tribal societies communicate verbally and with ideograms. State level societies use writing systems Mosiah 28:11, develop widespread literacy Alma 46:19, and maintain record archives Jarom 1:14Helaman 3:15.
  • Symbolic art. Tribal societies produce naturalistic art. State level societies portray symbol complexes representing abstract or theological ideas 1 Nephi 11:7-11Alma 32:28.
  • Intellectual disciplines. Tribal societies orally transmit traditional wisdom. State level societies develop organized branches of knowledge such as biology Alma 46:40, physics Helaman 12:15, mathematics Alma 11:5-19, etc.
  • Standing armies. Tribal societies muster attackers or defenders based on perceived vulnerabilities or threats. State level societies maintain a professional military apparatus Alma 2:13Alma 62:43.
  • Organized religion. Tribal societies have shamans, councils, and localized rituals. State level societies develop a priestly class overseeing religious institutions Mosiah 25:21-23Alma 6:1.

I didn't see a citation for these criteria, but the distinction between state-level and tribal societies is not binary. The sharp distinction implied by the article obscures the fluid reality of social development.

Ronfeldt notes an intermediate transitional stage of chiefdom. "Many anthropologists view the chiefdom as a distinct type of society that lies between the tribe and the early state. But in the TIMN framework, the chiefdom is a transition in which the tribal form is suffused and combined with the hierarchical form, yet the hierarchical form is still far from taking hold.... Chiefdoms could undertake activities that tribes could not, such as building public works and monuments, making larger weapon systems (e.g., long canoes), storing part of a harvest in a central granary, collecting tributes and taxes, organizing large ceremonies, arranging trade deals with outsiders, forming up for war, and making treaties. And as chiefdoms did so, the tribal propensity for egalitarian reciprocity gave way to a new
emphasis on inegalitarian redistribution; indeed, the shift from reciprocity to redistribution is a key theme in the literature on chiefdoms."

Furthermore, Ronfeldt observes that "the most vigorous debates I have encountered concern the transition from tribes, to chiefdoms, to states. The major explanatory factors that scholars repeatedly posit for this transition are increases in population, in economic production, in local and long distance
trade, in warfare and conquest, and in social stratification. All these increases generate impulses and opportunities for central coordination and control, and thus for the emergence of specialized administrative and bureaucratic hierarchies—i.e., for the rise of the +I form."

Chiefdom seems an apt description of Nephite society, although the Nephites used a system of elected judges instead of chiefs. "Secular and sacred roles also remained fused in this phase," Ronfeldt explains. When Alma resigned the judgment seat (Alma 4:16-18), this may have marked a turn toward a state-level society. But it didn't last long. Alma resigned about 84 BC. By 73 BC. Amalickiah sought to be king (or chief), with considerable support. The conflict between king-men and freemen reflects the difficult transition from chiefdom to state-level societies. The wars, the Gadiantons, and other problems caused continual turmoil. It wasn't until around 30 B.C. that the people began to prosper, but the prosperity was short-lived.

I won't take the time to go through each criteria, but one example shows how well the criteria match the text and the ancient North American cultures.

Let's say tribal societies "erect stones and heap up dirt," while state level societies "build monumental architecture." Where do we find a society that erects stones? Not in North America--and not in the Book of Mormon. Mesoamerican societies are characterized by erected stones.

Where do we find societies that "heap up dirt?" In Alma 2:38, bones are "heaped up on the earth." In Alma 16:11, "their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth and they were covered with a shallow covering." In Alma 28:11, "the bodies of many thousands are moldering in heaps upon the face of the earth." General Moroni caused that his armies "should commence in digging up heaps of earth round about all the cities." All of these heaps are common in North America.

In addition, General Moroni's army "had cast up dirt round about to shield them from the arrows and the stones of the Lamanites." (Alma 49:2). "They cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers." (Alma 53:4). This is such an apt description of Hopewell fortifications that the Book of Mormon has been accused of relating commonly known aspects of moundbuilder culture.

What about monumental architecture?

"Monumental architecture, to archaeologists anyway, refers to large man-made structures of stone or earth. These generally are used as public buildings or spaces, such as pyramids, large tombs, large mounds (but not single burials), plazas, platform mounds, temples, standing stones, and the like. The defining characteristic of monumental architecture is typically its public nature--the fact that the structure or space was built by lots of people for lots of people to look at or share in the use of, whether the labor was coerced or consensual."

The largest geometric earthwork complex in the world is in Newark, Ohio. "Enormous enclosures connected by walled roadways were spread across more than four square miles. This was the most spectacular of many such earthworks, concentrated along the tributaries of the Ohio River, marking the people’s beliefs, rituals, and sense of community."

"In 1982, professors Ray Hively and Robert Horn of Earlham College in Indiana discovered that the Hopewell builders aligned these earthworks to the complicated cycle of risings and settings of the moon. They recovered a remarkable wealth of indigenous knowledge relating to geometry and astronomy encoded in the design of these earthworks. The Octagon Earthworks, in particular, are aligned to the four moonrises and four moonsets that mark the limits of a complicated 18.6-year-long cycle."

By any definition, these earthworks are monumental in scale and sophistication.

The scriptural citations in the article regarding a state-level society are important. The palace referred to in Mosiah 11:9 was made of wood: "And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things." The Book of Mormon never describes the use of stone for constructing buildings. Stone was used as a weapon and, in one occasion, to build walls. Instead, people used wood for construction (and in a particular case, cement). To find a setting for the Book of Mormon, we need to look for a culture that used wood, not stone, for construction.

The pyramids referred to in Mosiah 11:12 don't show up in my version of the text. That verse refers to a high tower built near the temple. My search engine doesn't find the term "pyramid" anywhere in the text. Consequently, we would not expect to find pyramids in an area where the Book of Mormon took place.

Temples are mentioned in many place in the text. Alma 16:13 explains that temples, sanctuaries and synagogues were built after the manner of the Jews. The Jews never built pyramids.

Roads are a good indicator of advanced civilization. 3 Nephi 6:8 explains "And there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place." How many of these highways survived the destruction is unclear. Samuel prophesied that "many highways shall be broken up, and many cities shall become desolate." (Hel. 14:24). And, in fact, "the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough." (3 Ne. 8:13).

Helaman 7:10 is the only reference to a market in the entire text. This was the "chief market" in the city of Zarahemla. We infer there were other markets because this was the "chief" one, and because "there were many merchants in the land," (3 Ne. 6:11), but of course even tribal societies have extensive trade networks, which requires some form of market and merchant. Chiefdoms would have more sophisticated trade systems.


Let's get back to the basic premise of the article; i.e., that there is archaeological evidence of state-level society in Mesoamerica but no evidence of state-level society in North America.

This is really a question of expectations vs. reality.

If we accept what the Book of Mormon text says, we have a large population of tribal-level people (Lamanites throughout, people of Zarahemla for hundreds of years) contrasted with a small population (the Nephites) that achieves a chiefdom/state-level society for about 130 years (following Mosiah's discovery of the people of Zarahemla).

The state-level society survives a devastating war to prosper for a few years before the government is overtaken by Gadianton robbers. Once the robbers are defeated, old cities were repaired and roads built. But soon the government collapses and the people divide into tribes. Then the destruction in 3 Nephi 8 occurs. "Many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth... and there were some cities which remained, but the damage thereof was exceedingly great."

Assuming there was evidence of state-level society that survived the wars and tribalism, what evidence would have survived this destruction? The scripture says the destruction was intended in part to hide the abominations of the people, which implies obliteration of the society, including its art and culture.

4 Nephi 1:7-8 explains that the Nephites rebuilt the burned cities (another indication that they used wood, not stone, for construction), but not the cities that were sunk. After a period of peace during which little is known about the form of government, the society returned to tribalism (verses 36-7). Wickedness prevailed, to the point that Ammaron hid up the sacred records.

Society continued to degenerate to the point that Mormon says "it was one complete revolution throughout all the face of the land." (Mormon 2:8). Mormon was unable to describe "the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people." Towns, villages and cities were again burned throughout the land. Implements of war are the only man-made objects mentioned in the text.

Throughout the text, from Enos until Mormon, the Lamanites sought to destroy the records. That's why Mormon hid them in the hill Cumorah (Morm. 6:6).

Finally, of course, the tribal Lamanites prevailed. Nephite culture, to the extent it was state-level at all, was annihilated.

In summary, the Book of Mormon describes a minority population that achieved what could be deemed a state-level society for about 150 years that was characterized by intense warfare and conflict. Even after the wars, the Nephite society was destroyed three times; first by the Gadianton robbers, second by the destruction preceding Christ's appearance, and third by the final wars with the Lamanites.

What aspects of this brief state-level society could be expected to endure these repeated devastations?

The cities, towns, and villages were burned by the Lamanites, who were determined to wipe out every aspect of Nephite culture possible, including writing. The one thing the Lamanites would be unable (in a practical sense) to destroy was earthworks. These don't burn and they're difficult to destroy.

And that's what we find in North America.

The Book of Mormon does not describe an enduring state-level society. It explicitly rejects the idea of a preserved written history, in stone or otherwise. Archaeological evidence of an enduring state-level society would contradict the text.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Wonderful artwork

KnoWhy #144 reminded me of the wonderful artwork by Walter Rane. There's an online exhibit here:

I like Rane's style overall, but more importantly, Rane's work helps to facilitate a consensus about Book of Mormon geography because it is not so specifically set in Mesoamerica as most of the other artwork on Rane's work will have enduring relevance and usefulness as a result.

His painting of Enos is one of my favorites, along with Ether's Cavity and King Benjamin's address (although that one still has an anachronistic pagan Mayan temple in the background, it is fairly well obscured).

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Another missed opportunity: KnoWhy #136

I haven't intended this blog to focus just on KnoWhys from Book of Mormon Central, but with so many things going on, I am only taking the time to comment about missed opportunities that are especially unfortunate.

KnoWhy #136 asks, "Why Did Alma Wish To Speak “With The Trump Of God”? It's a wonderful KnoWhy about the jubilee year, the sabbatical years, and the trumpet of the jubilee.

They include this depiction of a man blowing a horn. Then they write, "In the land of Israel, the trumpets would probably have been rams horns,10 but other kinds of horns could have been used,11 and some scholars have argued that loud shouting could also suffice.12"

Let's think about that a moment. Alma wants to "speak with the trump of God" and he's supposed to really mean that he wants to shout loudly? Seriously?

Now, look at the footnotes.

(Okay, you probably don't want to read them, so I put them at the bottom of this post. I'll summarize them first.

Note 10 points out that "trumpets" means "the horn of the ram" or "trumpets of rams." Good.

Note 11 gives a list of alternatives to ram horns that include horns of antelope, ibex, oryx, and other goad species. We're still good.

Even "trumpets of hammered metal" are okay. So far, so good.

Except you don't have those items in Mesoamerica, so instead we get a list of references to people in Mesoamerica using conch shells! I'm not kidding. Read the footnote yourself if you don't believe me. So now we're supposed to think Alma is observing Israelite sabbatical years, including the jubilee year, but when he refers to the "trump of God" he means a conch shell, not a ram's horn.

Not so good.

Note 12 tries to say we shouldn't worry about horns anyway, because Alma equates "the trump of God" with "a voice to shake the earth" even "the voice of thunder."

Copper horn from Hopewell Culture
National Historic Park, Ohio
Here's the missed opportunity. They forgot to mention, or even cite in the footnotes, an actual goat horn made of copper discovered in an ancient burial mound right in Ohio.

Let's review.

The KnoWhy explains how the Nephites were observing Israelite traditions, the law of Moses, etc.

Then the KnoWhy explains that Hebrews in the land of Israel would have used rams horns as part of the celebration.

But then we learn that horns of other animals could be used. Even metal horns were mentioned in the Apocrypha. Okay, so substitutes were possible.

If we look at the North American setting, we find exactly what we would expect of a Hebrew culture; i.e., a metal horn that's a replica of a mountain goat (or other horned animal), exactly as the KnoWhy taught us.

So far, so good.

Except the KnoWhy never once mentions this! 

Instead, it focuses solely on Mesoamerica. In order to "see Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon," the KnoWhy proposes that Alma was referring to a conch shell, or a trumpet made of wood, clay or gourd.

My copy of the Book of Mormon mentions these species this many times:

Goats - 6
Conch - 0

Alma 14:29 even compares the people who fled from Alma himself to goats!

Apparently, 15 chapters later in Alma 29, Alma has forgotten all about goats and instead wants to blow a conch shell.

I know, I'm having a little fun with this, but seriously, why would a neutral web page overlook direct evidence that corroborates the Hebrew culture in Ancient America in favor of an attempt to portray Alma blowing a conch shell? I think we all know the answer to that.

And we should be glad they didn't hire an artist to depict Alma blowing a conch shell.

But I don't think there's any excuse for missing opportunities such as this.

All I ask is for a little common-sense neutrality and inclusion of alternative perspectives. 


The footnotes:

10. Wright, “Jubilee, Year of,” 1025 explained, “yôbēl or qeren hayyôbēl, ‘the horn of the ram’ or šôperôt hayyôbelîm, ‘trumpets of rams’ are expressions used for trumpets (e.g., Exod 19:13; Josh 6:4–8, 13).”

11. There would seem to have been no reason why other types of horns, or perhaps even conch shells, could not have been used. Horns of antelope, ibex, oryx, and other goat species have also been used. See Jeremy Montagu, The Shofar: Its History and Use (New York, NY: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), passim. Sirach 50:16, in the Apocrypha, even describes the use of “trumpets of hammered metal” (NRSV), illustrating that trumpets need not be made from the horns of an animal. Trumpets were also used in Mesoamerican rituals, where they were commonly made from the conch shell, though they were also sometimes “made of wood, clay, or gourd.” Anna Stacy, “Of the Same Stuff as Gods: Musical Instruments among the Classic Maya,” Colligate Journal of Anthropology 2 (May 2014), online at Jogre Perez de Lara, The Cultures of Ancient Mexico: Photographs from the Natural Museum of Anthropology, images 115, 148, 150, 151, 152, 153, 154 show conch trumpets from Mexico dated to the Late Preclassic/Early Classic period. The Kimball Art Museum has a conch trumpet from the Central Lowland Maya area dated to AD 250–400, online at Conch trumpets can also be seen in Classic Maya vases, such as K3247 and K4336, online at Also see John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 178–179.

12. According to David J. Larsen, “Angels Among Us: The Use of Old Testament Passages as Inspiration for Temple Themes in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 5 (2013): 101, “In the biblical texts, the teru’ah is a shout or a trumpet blast, usually given in the context of a temple ritual on a festival day, such as the Feast of Trumpets or the Day of Atonement.” David J. Larsen, “From Dust to Exalted Crown: Royal and Temple Themes Common to the Psalms and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Temple Insights: Proceedings of the Interpreter Matthew B. Brown Memorial Conference—“The Temple on Mount Zion,” 22 September 2012, ed. William J. Hamblin and David Rolph Seely (Salt Lake and Orem, UT: Eborn Books and Interpreter Foundation, 2014), 151 noted that yom teruah means “day of shouting/trumpet blasts.” This nuance may be reflected in Alma’s words, where he equates the “trump of God” with “a voice to shake the earth,” even “the voice of thunder” (Alma 29:1–2).