Friday, 7 September 2012

Book of Mormon Archaeology-The Compelling Argument

The Book of Mormon Lands Conference will be held this year on October 20th at the Salt Lake City Sheraton (parking at rear though no word about a helipad; sorry Mitt)

I am so looking forward to it. There are scholars, educators, an artist, and they have an archaeo-astronomer (a discipline so new it isn’t even in my spell-checker).

Some fellow is bringing along his magnum opus and I for one cannot wait to see that. There are explorers (one of them even looks a bit like Indiana Jones) and there’s a bloke billed as a motivational speaker. No doubt he will be needed by day’s end to help any with nagging doubts, unanswered questions or any thoughts of asking for a refund.

Some might say that looking for Book of Mormon lands is rather like seeking out Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, Lewis’s Narnia or Swift’s Lilliput. Well, the cynics needn’t be so quick to judge according to one of my correspondents. Reading his comments you can’t help but think there must be great lumps of BOM archaeology lying around, tantalisingly close, just waiting to be found. Hmm, sound familiar? In any event, this is his,

Compelling Argument

Archaeological data from the ancient Near East and the Americas have been used both to support and to discredit the Book of Mormon. Many scholars see no support for the Book of Mormon in the archaeological records, since no one has found any inscriptional evidence for, or material remains that can be tied directly to, any of the persons, places, or things mentioned in the book (Smithsonian Institution).

Several types of indirect archaeological evidence…have been used in support of the Book of Mormon. For example, John L. Sorenson and M. Wells Jakeman tentatively identified the Olmec (2000-600 B.C.) and Late Pre-Classic Maya (300 B.C.-A.D. 250) cultures in Central America with the jaredite (sic) and nephite (sic) cultures, based on correspondences between periods of cultural development in these areas and the pattern of cultural change in the Book of Mormon.

Likewise, parallels between cultural traits of the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica perhaps indicate transoceanic contacts between the two regions. Among these are such minor secondary traits as horned incense burners, models of house types, wheel-made pottery, cement, the true arch, and the use of stone boxes. All of these may, however, represent independent inventions.

Stronger evidence for contacts may be found in the tree of life motif, a common religious theme, on Stela 5 from Izapa in Chiapas, Mexico. Jakeman, in 1959, studied Stela 5 in detail and concluded that it represented the sons of a legendary ancestral couple absorbing and perhaps recording their knowledge of a munificent Tree of Life. This can be compared favorably to the account of Lehi's vision in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne. 8).

The presence of a bearded white deity, Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan, in the pantheon of the Aztec, Toltec, and Maya has also been advanced as indirect evidence of Christ's visit to the New World. The deity is represented as a feathered serpent, and elements of his worship may have similarities to those associated with Christ's Atonement.

Recent work by LDS professional archaeologists such as Ray Matheny at El Mirador and by the New World Archaeological Foundation in Chiapas has been directed toward an understanding of the factors that led to the development of complex societies in Mesoamerica in general. Under C. Wilfred Griggs, a team of Brigham Young University scholars has sponsored excavations in Egypt, and other LDS archaeologists have been involved in projects in Israel and Jordan.

Another area of archaeological investigation is in LDS history. Dale Berge's excavations at Nauvoo; the Whitmer farm in New York; the early Mormon settlement of Goshen (Utah); the Utah mining town of Mercur; and, most recently, Camp Floyd, the headquarters of Johnston's army in Utah, have provided information about the economic and social interactions between early Mormon and non-Mormon communities.”

Come now. You’re impressed. Didn’t know there was so much in it did you? Feeling foolish now aren’t you? Maybe you should sign up for this day conference, let me know how it goes. I won’t be there of course. 4,000 miles is a stretch even for something this compelling.

not a shard

On the other hand, notwithstanding this apparent cornucopia of BOM scholarship, the subject of Book of Mormon archaeology is still fraught with difficulties for the Mormon apologist. I would repeat the second paragraph in the “compelling argument”,

“…scholars see no support for the Book of Mormon in the archaeological records, since no one has found any inscriptional evidence for, or material remains that can be tied directly to, any of the persons, places, or things mentioned in the book.”

By their own admission, not a city, not a town or village, not a building, not a wall, or a stone, not a pot, not a shard,not a coin, not a hair grip, not a spear, or a sword, not an arrowhead, not a language, not a dialect, not a syllable, not a record, not a page or a portion of a text remains from a people group said to have lived, thrived, built large cities, raised huge armies, fought great battles, won and lost wars, traded, travelled, taught and preached and put a high premium on record keeping between 600BC and 400AD.

Mormons will argue that “after all this is ancient history.” But, while this 800-year period does come at the end of what is generally recognised as “Ancient History” (from the earliest known civilisations – c15,000BC - to the fall of the roman Empire – 456AD) it is still pretty recent history and readily accessible to modern historians. When we look at the world in that time period we can be confident of the following because it is established by historical research;

  • c600BC Development in present day Mexico of Zapotec pictograph writing.
  • Upanishads texts of Hinduism compiled in India
  • Mayan ;people start construction of the city of Tikal in modern Guatemala
  • c575BC Etruscan engineers dig the Cloaca Maxima sewer in Rome
  • c563BC Birth of Siddhartha Gautama (d483BC) – the Buddha
  • c550BC Methods for mass producing cast iron invented in China
  • c500BC First Chinese coins manufactured, in the shape of miniature tools
  • Emergence of Paracas culture in s Peru
  • c430BC Earliest known woven wool carpet buried with a Scythian chief in s Siberia
  • c425BC Greek philosopher Democritus (460-370BC) theorises atoms
  • c400BC Start of Nazca culture in Coastal s Peru
  • c300BC Maya build cities in the lowland region of Peten in Guatemala
  • Museum and Great Library founded at Alexandria
  • c200BC Emergence of the Zapotec state in present-day Mexico

I believe you get the picture. Any serious historian will tell you that a civilisation cannot disappear with no trace. The above list is evidence of the fact and confirms our confident knowledge of other parts of the world and the Americas in the main period in question from the BOM.

So, given the evidence, or lack of it, how do these “scholars” make their living, keep their audience and credibility, sound so compelling – to some at least? In the next post I sound a word of caution and we will lift out a few key points from the “compelling argument” so you will see how it is done. Perhaps you should delay your rush to find Zarahemla until you take a closer look.

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