Religious Archaeology and Evidence

Mormon Heretic apologetics, Bible, book of mormon, christianity, Early Christianity, faith, historicity, Mormon, science 68 Comments

I’d like to discuss both Biblical and Book of Mormon archaeology.  Most people believe the Bible is on solid archaeological footing, but that isn’t actually true.  Many books have questionable authorship, and many places remain unidentified.  In a previous post, I discussed Questions about the Exodus: there isn’t a shred of evidence that it actually happened.  During Passover celebrations in 2001, Rabbi David Wolpe created international headlines in Israel by proclaiming to his Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, “the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.”

I’ve been listening to a podcast from Yale University discussing the Bible.  There are definite similarities between the Babylonian story of  Gilgamesh and the stories of Adam and Noah.  Some people, such as Bishop Rick, have said

I think it is accurate to state that the flood story in the bible is both myth and a forgery. It is obviously a myth for reasons too numerous to mention here, but it is also copied from other cultures/religions, thus making it a forgery.

It could very well be a myth.  While some scholars believe the story is a myth, National Geographic put together a documentary called “In Search for Noah’s Flood”.  They discuss various flood stories, and make the case that a large, localized flood must have influenced these various cultures to write of this flood.  While there is no proof of a flood, it seems like a plausible explanation.

Recently I discussed a couple of sites in the Dead Sea region that some people believe are the sites of Sodom and Gomorrah.  While some people love to claim the Bible is actually a collection of myths, Dr. Carole Fontaine of the Andover Newton Theological School said, “Archeologists often find themselves hooted and hollered out of town, when they first suggest things like, ‘I’ve found Troy, or look, we’ve found Sodom and Gomorrah.’  But history has shown that in fact, the more you dig, the more you find.  It’s amazing how accurate the Bible sometimes turns out to be.”

Speaking of hooting and hollering, John Hamer recently recorded a famous comment regarding Book of Mormon archaeology.  He said,

The scholarly consensus on the alleged antiquity of the Book of Mormon was expressed way back in 1973 in Dialogue by Michael D. Coe, among the foremost Mayanist scholars, who wrote: “As far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the historicity of The Book of Mormon, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group”

The best Book of mormon archaeological site seems to be Nahom.  I’ve previously blogged about Nahom, and Daniel C. Peterson called it a “bulls eye”.  In the video called Journey of Faith (distributed by FAIR), a few BYU scholars state,

Daniel C. Peterson, Professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic, BYU, “The finding of Nahom strikes me as just a tremendously significant discovery.”

Noel B Reynolds, director of FARMS, BYU, “The gazetteers of Joseph Smith’s day listed no such place.”

Peterson, “What it really is, is a kind of prediction by the Book of Mormon, or something that we ought to find.”

William J Hamblin, Professor of Middle Eastern History, BYU, “Now the chances of finding that exact name from the exact time, in that exact place, by random chance, are just astronomical.”

Peterson, “And to find it in the right location, at the right time, is a really striking bulls eye for the book and there are those who say the book has no archeological substantiation. That’s a spectacular substantiation right there, it seems to me.  Something that would have been unexpected. It’s so unlikely that Joseph Smith could have woven into his story on his own.”

Hamblin, “The Book of Mormon has text, has made a complex prediction and modern archeology actually confirms that prediction.”

Peterson, “It’s a direct bulls-eye, as precise as you could wish it to be.”

I don’t think non-Mormon scholars are as impressed with the site as Peterson, but non-Bible believing scholars aren’t impressed with Sodom and Gomorrah either.  So, must we always believe that lack of evidence argues against historicity of the Bible or Book or Mormon, or is there reason to believe that some of these stories that scholars call myths, forgeries, or pious frauds really might have some historical use?  Is it true that “the more you dig, the more you find?”

Comments

comments

Comments 68

  1. Re ‘the more you dig’:

    I wonder whether there is a sense in which archaeological evidence fits a normal distribution, i.e. the more you dig the more you confirm the norm.

    In addition, I think the difficulty of archaeology and the bible concerns the way that the authors and redactors have used contemporary (to them) references, sites and concerns to illustrate the position that they have assumed. Hence trying to unpack how these texts have been assembled will be a major problem in trying to assign archaeological dates or evidence to them.

    btw, Ronan Head gives an excellent presentation on Biblical Archaeology.

  2. I learned Biblical Archaeology digging in Israel. I was caught off guard recently when one of the schools I attended (a Baptist and Evangelical school) published a pro-Book of Mormon article! Really! Reading this blog, then that article is like reading opposite worlds collide. Have you heard of a Baptist journal publishing a pro-Book of Mormon article?

  3. “Now the chances of finding that exact name [Nahom] from the exact time, in that exact place, by random chance, are just astronomical.”

    My father’s an astronomer. He tells me scientists like probabilities to be calculated with slightly more precision than just “astronomical.”

    I know LDS apologists love parallels, and they’re great at finding them. The next step is to harness the parallel-finding to some rigorous statistical analysis, trying to actually quantify the odds of Joseph Smith coming up with “Nahom” on his own.

    We need the actual probability, so we can compare it to the probabilities of the other possible scenarios. Such as, for example, “Joseph learns, from an annotated Bible or first- or second-hand from a moderately learned preacher, that the Old Testament prophet Nahum’s name connotes means ‘comforter,’ and decides to use a variant on this name for the place where Ishmael’s mourning family sought comfort from their grief over their patriarch’s passing.”

    The odds of the latter scenario, I’ve just calculated through a proprietary algorithm as 1 in 10.

  4. As an interesting counterpoint to the no-evidence claims:

    “Signs of what could be a previously unknown ancient civilisation are emerging from beneath the felled trees of the Amazon. Some 260 giant avenues, ditches and enclosures have been spotted from the air in a region straddling Brazil’s border with Bolivia.” – New Scientist

    “In his landmark collection Leaves of Grass, famed poet Walt Whitman wrote of a “strange huge meteor-procession” in such vivid detail that scholars have debated the possible inspiration for decades.

    Now, a team of astronomers from Texas State University-San Marcos has applied its unique brand of forensic astronomy to the question, rediscovering one of the most famous celestial events of Whitman’s day–one that inspired both Whitman and famed landscape painter Frederic Church–yet became inexplicably forgotten by modern times.” – Texas State University article

    “… a 30-foot length of a wood-hulled vessel had been discovered about 20 to 30 feet below street level on the World Trade Center site, the first such large-scale archaeological find along the Manhattan waterfront since 1982, when an 18th-century cargo ship came to light at 175 Water Street.” – New York Times

    I have links to the articles, but I am not sure how to link in the post, sorry.

    I find it very interesting that so much remains to be discovered, and sometimes rediscovered. I am certainly less than convinced by general no-evidence claims.

  5. More compelling than the external evidence for the Book of Mormon is the internal evidence for the Book of Mormon. Finding ancient cultures in the Book of Mormon has been much easier than finding the Book of Mormon in ancient cultures. That is to be expected.

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    Thomas, your proprietary algorithm calculates a completely different probability than Daniel Peterson describes. Let’s use your 1/10 for each of the things that Peterson cites: (1) exact name [Nahom] .1 (2) exact time .1 (3) in the exact place .1. Now assuming statistical independence (a reasonable assumption), we get (.1)(.1)(.1) = .001, or 1 in 1000. That’s not bad my friend. Perhaps not astronomical, but still pretty darn impressive. If I were playing roulette and had a 1/1000 chance of winning, I think I’d pass up that bet. (Then again, as a statistician, I’ve never been much of a gambler.)

    Now the question is whether your proprietary algorithm accurately predicts the odds. What if it is more like 1/100 instead of 1/10? Now it becomes even more impressive.

  7. #6 (“Let’s use your 1/10 for each of the things that Peterson cites: (1) exact name [Nahom] .1 (2) exact time .1 (3) in the exact place .1. Now assuming statistical independence (a reasonable assumption), we get (.1)(.1)(.1) = .001, or 1 in 1000. That’s not bad my friend.”)

    I think we gamble when we attempt to assign specific numerical likelihoods in this manner. All it will take is one obscure children’s book from Joseph Smith’s immediate culture, one 1820s newspaper article, one heretofore unnoticed Bible dictionary quoting Carsten Niebuhr or those who came after him (describing Nehhm, near Sana, before 1829), and the odds will be shot all to goodness-gracious. I find an average of one fresh and interesting new Mormon parallel source every couple of weeks, and I am only one researcher. The jury is still out.

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  9. The old world findings are exciting, but the quoted enthusiasm is a bit over stated. The letters NHM were found carved into stone in lower Saudi Arabia near the Red Sea. As I understand it, NHM is thought to be a tribal name, not necessarily a place name. There is a semi-suitable Wadi directly East of where NHM was found as a possible location for Bountiful. That’s it. If fits nicely into our Book of Mormon narrative, but I withhold my enthusiasm until this evidence gains traction in a secular peer reviewed publication. The Book of Mormon, as a secular history, would be the most astounding document is secular American studies ever known if it’s historicity were supported by evidence. Until we see Book of Mormon scholarship accepted by and spread into a secular forum, I withhold my exuberance over perceived evidence.

  10. I also withhold my enthusiasm. The probability of rolling 4 sixes in a game of Yahtzee may be 1/1296, but you have to account for how many rolls you get.

    How many rolls do you get to find one that matches the BofM NHM? I can’t really say how many place names there are in the area and time period that would count as a hit.

  11. I think the analogy between the “history” of the BoM and the “history” of the Bible is a little misleading. The Bible is a collection of books written over centuries based on centuries’ old telling of stories passed through oral tradition. It’s not a great leap to acknowledge that (a) it is unlikely these stories represent, or are even supposed to represent actual occurrences and (b) it is likely that there is some historical truth to them and “close” archeological evidence will exist to support he genesis of these stories.

    The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, was presented by an individual claiming to have been given the book through supernatural means. One can draw no conclusions as to the veracity of the stories therein without first accepting the claims of the individual.

    To illustrate using your example of Sodom vs. Nahom. The evidence indicating a city that my have been Sodom is easier to digest because no one questions that this story was indeed told for centuries and was indeed written down by someone. That there may be some truth to the story is highly believable, even likely. Nahom, on the other hand, would need far more evidence to a non-believer. In the case of Sodom, the bible is evidence (not necessarily high quality, but evidence nonetheless) of the potential for such a city to exist – so when you add archeological evidence, you increase the likelihood of existence.

    Without belief in JS Jr first, the fact that the BoM discusses a city named Nahom offers no objective evidence of its existence – so any archeological evidence would have to stand on its own.

  12. @MH
    I love your posts! While I am interested in BoM archaeology, it is lower on my priority lists right now. Since I stopped viewing everything through the “BoM is historical” lens, I think it’s pretty hard to convince anyone (non-believer) that the BoM is historical via archaeology. I think it relies very heavily on apologist enthusiasm and fun hypothetical statistics that impress.

    I’ve read through a fair amount of Jeff Lindsay’s website (whom I respect) and I can’t help but feel less than impressed. As a PhD (in an unrelated field) student I unfortunately get the opportunity to read through lots of paper submissions for various journals (part of the peer review process). The apologists take on BoM archaeology reminds me of one of those paper submissions in which it feels as if the authors are claiming to have solved the world’s problems and yet there’s a strange feeling I have of “but wait, I know of many better ways to solve that particular problem, so really you haven’t found anything. And while your paper has lots of fancy charts and graphs, and neat mathematical equations, your solution hardly does what it says it does, or it at least ignores a whole mountain of other cases.”

    However, I do want to mention what I think is a problem (though I confess I have not read much into BoM archaeology). It seems to me that most of the work done in BoM and Biblical archaeology is done by believers (since they believe they’ll find something). How many “impartial” archaeologists for the BoM or the Bible are there? 1, 2, 10 maybe? Does that mean anything? I think it does. But what would we expect from archaeologists who have an unquestioning loyalty to their goal of proving their book? I don’t want to cast doubt on all the good scientific work done by the likes of John Sorenson, I just think there needs to be more divested scholarship looking at the issues and evidence.

  13. chicken, one issue I have with you comment is the fact that sodom was around 3000 years ago. if we wait another 3000 years, then the bom may seem plausible as well based strictly on the fact that we have been telling stories about lehi and laman for 3000 years.

    jmb, when I look at biblical archaeology, there are no ‘unbiased’ archaeologists (just like the bom). I really like william dever of the university of arizona because he seems pretty unbiased to me, but even he allows that the story of samson could be based in fact because of a philistine vase that shows a man standing between 2 pillars. it could represent the fantastic story of samson collapsing a philistine temple. yet I think most scholars question whether a person could really collapse a building. the story bears more resemblance to hercules than fact, yet there are some biblical apologists that say the story could be plausible.

    I think that mormons are so used to defending the bom, that we aren’t even aware of similar criticisms about the bible. after all, evangelicals aren’t going to volunteer unflattering info about the bible, and it is easy for both mormons and evangelicals to write off atheists.

  14. I know that citing something via FAIR is pretty much anathema around here, but I think this makes an important point:

    … Dr. John Clark of the New World Archaeological Foundation has compiled a list of sixty items mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The list includes items such as “steel swords,” “barley,” “cement,” “thrones,” and literacy. In 1842, only eight (or 13.3%) of those sixty items were confirmed by archaeological evidence. Thus, in the mid-nineteenth century, archaeology provided little support for the claims made by the Book of Mormon. In fact, the Book of Mormon text ran counter to both expert and popular ideas about ancient America in the early 1800s.
    As the efforts of archaeology have shed light on the ancient New World, we find in 2005 that forty-five of those sixty items (75%) have been confirmed. Thirty-five of the items (58%) have been definitively confirmed by archaeological evidence and ten items (17%) have received possible—tentative, yet not fully verified—confirmation.

    Link

    That’s a decent trend line.
    Essentially, the best available evidence is never perfect evidence, it is merely “best available.” When scholars and scientists mistake “best” evidence for “perfect” evidence they overstate their own knowledge in a kind of hubris, not seeing what they don’t know, and giving too much weight for what they think they do know. (Rhetorially) Just ask “experts” in geocentric astronomy, biologic spontaneous generation, or phrenology.

  15. MH: “chicken, one issue I have with you comment is the fact that sodom was around 3000 years ago. if we wait another 3000 years, then the bom may seem plausible as well based strictly on the fact that we have been telling stories about lehi and laman for 3000 years.”

    It’s not that Sodom has been talked about – its about the chicken and the egg. What I mean is, Bible stories were stories passed down for generations and then written down. The discussions about the BoM are not a result of stories and experiences, they are a result of an individual writing the stories down first, beginning a discussion. Under the former, the experiences and stories beget a writing evidencing the experiences and stories, under the latter, a writing begat stories, evidencing only what we choose to believe.

  16. n, thanks for your comment. I think it well illustrates the idea that ‘the more you dig, the more you find.’ there are far too many that seem to have closed the book on future discoveries, and think that the current lack of evidence is evidence of lack.

    chicken, I agree that this is a bit of a chicken or egg argument. but I think the main concept remains. can a bible or bom believer convince a non-bible/bom believer that his position is correct (and vice versa)? I think the answer is ‘no.’ bible and bom believers have a supposition of historicity. non believers have a supposition of non historicity. therin lies a problem-conflicting assumptions. I don’t know of a way around that. for example, if you believe noah’s flood is a myth, is there any amount of evidence that can change your mind?

  17. #7: “Let’s use your 1/10 for each of the things that Peterson cites: (1) exact name [Nahom] .1 (2) exact time .1 (3) in the exact place .1. Now assuming statistical independence (a reasonable assumption), we get (.1)(.1)(.1) = .001, or 1 in 1000. That’s not bad my friend.”

    The 1/10 odds were of the alternative scenario I hypothesized (Joseph Smith uses a variant on the known-to-him Semitic name name “Nahum” (“comforter”), whose meaning he reasonably could have learned from his Bible-infused culture, in connection with an event — the death of a beloved family member — where comfort is typically sought. The “proprietary algorithm” consists of me pulling the number out of a hat.

    Re: Peterson’s description of the “exact name” of Nahom and the “exact place,” we don’t have either. We have three letters — NHM — which may “Nahom”, or it may be Nihm or Nahm or Nuhum or any other variation. Not quite “exact.” As for “exact place,” we have — southern Arabia. A big bulls-eye, especially given Lehi’s party’s literally years of wandering.

    So: What are the odds of a Semitic placename existing somewhere in the Semitic-occupied territory in which Joseph Smith set the Book of Mormon, that has some potential similarity to a placename that might be invented by someone who was trying to invent Semitic-sounding placenames, with the Bible and potentially Biblical commentary or others’ knowledge as a reference?

    Probably not quite as “astronomical” as some people would have you think. Factor in the number of place names in the Book of Mormon (how many are there, anyway?) and you increase the odds of a hit with each such “die roll.”

    If “NHM” is evidence that the Book of Mormon is a record of activities in the Old World, because of a passable resemblance of a Book of Mormon placename to an Old World placename, then why is not the Hill Onidah (cf. “Oneida,” a New York State Indian tribe) evidence that it is the product of contemporary upstate New York? As long as we’re calculating odds, what are the chances of an Indian tribe in Joseph’s neighborhood sharing a name with a place in (presumably) Mesoamerica? I’m not aware of any connection between the Iroquoian language group and any of the Mesoamerican language families.

    If “NHM” is the crown jewel of apologetics, that’s not a good sign.

  18. #15: “As the efforts of archaeology have shed light on the ancient New World, we find in 2005 that forty-five of those sixty items (75%) have been confirmed. Thirty-five of the items (58%) have been definitively confirmed by archaeological evidence and ten items (17%) have received possible—tentative, yet not fully verified—confirmation.”

    I’d like to see the definition of “confirmed” used here. I’ve seen apologists get excited about a Mesoamerican quarry of ochre (a reddish iron-containing pigment), as if it helped confirm the Book of Mormon’s reference to use of iron and steel metal. There’s a fair gap between a bunch of half-naked tribesmen smearing reddish ochre on their faces, and a blacksmith making a steel sword.

  19. MH – I think you are talking apples and oranges. Everyone “believes” in the Bible – ie. that the Bible is a series of writings complied over centuries about the faith journey of multiple people over that time. Some of taken this to the extreme and view that, through divine intervention, the Bible is literally the Word of God and miraculous historical, others don’t. But no one disputes the history of the Book itself and how it was written and compiled.

    The BoM, on the other hand, is the opposite. This a book where even the most ardent believer acknowledges that it was a newly found document claiming to be written by particular individuals of particular historial facts. If you believe JS Jr’s story, then you can start comparing the tales of the BoM with the tales of the Bible and applying archeological and historical references. But that’s a big leap. Most of us will deny the divinity of any religious tome not of our own religion (ie. most Christians don’t believe in the divinity of Muhammed notwithstanding a perfectly good book attesting to that fact).

    What you are noting is that one cannot convince someone else of something supernatural if they do not believe. I agree. But the very existence of the BoM “relies” on the supernatural event. Not so with the Bible. As such, if archeological evidence suggests, even peripherally, the existence of the city of Sodom – even a skeptic may say “sure, maybe such a city did exist, that would explain the oral tradition involving the city that was recorded by ancient people.” But if you have archeological evidence that suggests the city of Nahom exists, most objective observers would assume their was an alternatiev explanation, as there is no long-standing and multi-generational historical tradition, merely a book that is admittedly in existence by supernatural means.

  20. “for example, if you believe noah’s flood is a myth, is there any amount of evidence that can change your mind?”

    Sure. A worldwide flood layer dated prior to 2000 BC. It doesn’t exist. Although absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence, where evidence should reasonably likely have been left, then yes, absence of evidence that ought to be there is evidence of absence.

    Alternatively, you could present geological evidence that the continents were virtually flat in antediluvian times, and Mt. Ararat was a molehill, such that you could possibly have enough water in the atmosphere to raise sea levels enough to actually drown people (as opposed to making the wicked mildly annoyed at sloshing around ankle-deep floodwater for forty days) without having to posit an atmospheric pressure similar to Venus’s, which would have cooked and imploded Noah and his fellows.

    So there is evidence that could change my mind re: Noah. It’s just that the best evidence is that we’re extremely unlikely ever to find it, and so the best working hypothesis is that Noah’s flood is a myth.

  21. #20: “But no one disputes the history of the Book itself and how it was written and compiled.”

    Well, yes and no. It’s possible, and much argued over, that the Book of Deuteronomy was invented out of whole cloth by religious partisans long after its supposed writing by Moses, similar to how critics of the Book of Mormon suggest Joseph may have done with the Book of Mormon.

  22. THOMAS: “So there is evidence that could change my mind re: Noah. It’s just that the best evidence is that we’re extremely unlikely ever to find it, and so the best working hypothesis is that Noah’s flood is a myth.”

    Well said. And again, we are talking about evidence of stories withing the Bible, where the BOM itslef (as opposed to its contents) requires substantial evidence of its supernatural origins. So while stories of even some books of the Bible must overcome “the best working hypothesis” it is the BoM itself which, absent extraordinary evidence, will be presumed mythical by non-believers.

    This is why archeological “proofs” fall so far short from convincing objective reviewers of the BoM’s authenticity.

  23. D’Anville’s 1751 map of Asia and Niebuhr’s 1771 map of Yemen are the basis for most of the accurate maps of Arabia from 1751 to 1814. With D’Anville’s indisputable reputation for accuracy and with Niebuhr’s firsthand experience and use of scientific instruments, in addition to the difficulty in mapping Arabia, most reputable cartographers relied on D’Anville and Niebhur in publishing maps of Arabia. Bonne, Cary, Darton, and Thomson, however, all seemed to have their own sources for information on Arabia and Nehem.
    Of course, not all maps of Arabia between the years 1751 and 1814 recorded the location of Nahom. In fact, it is generally found only on the finest and most expensive maps created by the best cartographers and published by the finest printers. In my searches I found countless maps of Arabia with no reference to Nahom or anything like it. Thus, it is somewhat amazing that the first modern map of the Arabian Peninsula, created by D’Anville in 1751, did record the location of this often ignored or unrecognized district. Furthermore, that same map inspired the Danes to send an expedition to the region to fill in the missing information, and the only survivor was the cartographer, Carsten Niebuhr. Not only did he engrave a place called Nahom on his map but he also gave us more details of the area in his journal. (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=17&num=1&id=464)

    Sorry folks, but according to Mr. James Gee at the Maxwell Institute, Nahom was on many maps by 1814. In his article linked above he lists at least five publishers that had maps showing the location of Nahom in English. To say that Joseph Smith couldn’t have known about this location in 1825 when maps published as early as 1751 had it marked is really just wishful thinking. While I agree that there is no evidence that he knew about the place, there is also no evidence that he didn’t know. According to the good folks at FAIR; “Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack…”

  24. RE: #15 {“John Clark of the New World Archaeological Foundation has compiled a list of sixty items mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The list includes items such as “steel swords,” “barley,” “cement,” “thrones,” and literacy. In 1842, only eight (or 13.3%) of those sixty items were confirmed by archaeological evidence. Thus, in the mid-nineteenth century, archaeology provided little support for the claims made by the Book of Mormon. In fact, the Book of Mormon text ran counter to both expert and popular ideas about ancient America in the early 1800s.”}

    Not really so, in many instances. To take steel swords, the first example above, they were quite dramatically described in the James Macpherson’s Ossian poems beginning in the mid-1700s (and very widely published and accepted throughout Europe and America). Cement was certainly a part of young Joseph Smith’s world, used to construct the Erie Canal. Another of Dr. Clark’s claims I have seen is his notion that the idea of a King (Benjamin) working with his own hands would have seemed unlikely to someone of Joseph Smith’s time: most certainly not the case. Such things are readily available in the nineteenth century culture, but to know about them, one has to want to find them.

    Regarding the easily-accessed names of Naham and Nahum -and many others for the Book of Mormon, the following .pdf document may be of interest to some readers . . .

    http://www.rickgrunder.com/parallels/mp453.pdf

  25. Chicken #20, “But the very existence of the BoM “relies” on the supernatural event. Not so with the Bible” Yes, Chicken, but there are some very supernatural events–primarily in the Book of Genesis that all rely on supernatural events. Your point that “the Bible is a series of writings complied over centuries about the faith journey of multiple people over that time” will be similar to the Book of Mormon in 3000 years.

    Thomas, I think most Biblical apologists assume the flood was a large localized flood, rather than a worldwide flood as I mentioned about the National Geographic special in the OP. Certainly it would be easier to find a localized flood than a worldwide flood. Your point about Deuteronomy is well taken. I’ve been planning to write on that for quite some time, but I haven’t had enough time to research it good enough to put a post together. It’s been called a “pious fraud” just like the Book of Mormon.

    Doug, welcome back. It’s been a while, and we’re sparring about Nahom again. If Emma states that Joseph didn’t know there were walls around Jerusalem, how did he have a chance to look at these expensive maps?

    Rick, your points are well taken, but my question to Doug applies to you as well.

  26. MH – you’re not understanding me and it’s probably because I’m not being clear. I’m not talking about events recorded in, or stories recounted. Yes the bible contains stories of supernatural, but the telling, collecting and writing of those stories was done by very natural means. The BoM, even if it contained nothing more than recipes would still be more suspect as the actual discovery and writing of the BoM is supernatural.

    I can disregard the supernatural stories of the Bible as myth, exagerration, etc. and still believe the Bible is a record of the stories and spiritual journey of the people who wrote it – I may also believe that other stories contain truth.. If I similarly disregard the supernatural with respect to the BoM, then it means JS Jr. is fraudulent. If that is the case, I don’t even get to whether Nahom exists or whether cows can cross the ocean in a clam shell.

  27. @MH
    There’s one other issue I’d like to weigh in on with regards to archaeology and the BoM and Bible. Suppose you were an independent, impartial observer, and were interested in the historicity of the BoM. You ask where it supposedly took place. You ask where Joseph Smith said it took place. A large group of believing scholars have a whole mess of evidence, statistics, quotes, etc. that go some way in convincing you that it happened somewhere in Central America. But you then learn there is an entirely other crowd of believing scholars who also have a whole mess of evidence, statistics, quotes, etc. that it happened in North America near the Northeast. Now what?

    My point is that the apologists themselves do not even have a cohesive cogent argument for a single theory. Rather, there’s a whole mess of theories, even amongst believers. How are we supposed to convince non-members, or doubting members about the historicity of a book when we can’t even agree on the evidence amongst believers? They would have a much better argument if they all backed a single theory. But the fact that there are a myriad theories is evidence that there isn’t that much convincing evidence!

    My experience is that most members sort of tacitly believe that the events of the BoM took place in Central America somewhere. They haven’t really investigated, but that’s what they would loosely claim to a non-member. Yet, there is no official church position, no internal agreement among non-believing scholars, or even believing scholars.

  28. ok chicken, I see your distinction, but I must confess that it seems a bit of splitting hairs to me. at least you’re consistent in calling both the bible and bom as myth. quite often, most bible believers are willing to call the bom myth, but bristle at calling the bible myth.

  29. jmb, you points are well taken. it would be nice to have a single, unified theory. but I am not bothered by all the theories, because the brainstorming is a good, necessary process. if we put all our eggs in one basket, we may miss something important.

    multiple geography theories are not without precedent. there are at least 13 theories that I am aware of detailing the route of the exodus. there are several locations for mount sinai. my personal belief is that mt sinai is located at jebel-musa in saudi arabia. scholars hotly contest these locations, but nearly everyone agrees that the traditional mt sinai is incorrect.

    I think all the bom geography theories are similar to the exodus/sinai debate. I don’t know if you remember my malay post (311 comments), but that theory removes nearly all anachronisms that american theories have. of course it has its own problems as well.

  30. I quite like Chicken’s point. The Bible has more “truth,” as it were (at least to a non-Mormon), from the get-go because it has been with us for years and because it is couched in familiar mythological tales that have been woven into a well known book. So even if you believe it’s all myth, the archeology has a chance of having a shred of truth just because myths generally have some scrap of truth. Hence, it’s not hard to buy into a potential site for Sodom even if the actual facts surrounding the city are not even close to what’s in the OT.

    The BoM, OTOH, is not a collection of myths (at least that’s not the claim). It’s origin is supernatural to begin with, not based on myths. It’s not as if Mormon handed down some book or oral tradition to his progenitors who perhaps wrote it down or rewrote it, changed, and/or modified it eventually falling into the hands of JS. No, the entire story begins with an angel and gold plates buried in a hill. There’s a major discontinuity between what allegedly happened with the Nephites and when the book came into existence as we know it. It’s a “new” myth, story, civilization, etc. that originated with Joseph (even if you believe it’s historical, the BoM, as we know it in English, originated with Joseph). So when archeology is presented as evidence it is easy to postulate an alternative explanation as there is no agreed upon mythology about this civilization.

    To the independent scholar, to use the BoM as a guide to the civilization in Central America is to concede the supernatural events and belive Joseph Smith. On the contrary, for the Bible archeologists, he/she need not believe the bible to be historical and still find evidence of a city mentioned therein.

  31. Re MH

    jmb, you points are well taken. it would be nice to have a single, unified theory. but I am not bothered by all the theories, because the brainstorming is a good, necessary process. if we put all our eggs in one basket, we may miss something important.

    Oh, I absolutely agree with you. I’m not personally bothered by the many theories either. I’m just saying that to the non-believer it is hard to make a convincing argument about the historical nature of the BoM (of which we are so sure) when there is not even an internally consistent theory about the historical nature of it.

  32. I am going to disagree with jmb and chicken about the bible not being supernatural in origin. there was no bible prior to moses. he received the original scripture-the 10 commandments by the finger of the lord. surely this is just as fantastic as the gold plates. then they wrote the story of moses life with the plagues etc. then moses had the fantastic story of adam and eve revealed to him.

    I did a post about a recent book (published by oxford I believe) asking if moses plagiarized hammurabi’s code. if moses were contemporary and joseph smith were ancient, I think we would have just as many questions about the supernatural events of moses as we do the gold plates.

  33. MH: “quite often, most bible believers are willing to call the bom myth, but bristle at calling the bible myth.”

    I agree – but I don’t think it’s splitting hairs. The Bible is NOT a myth – it CONTAINS mythical stories. If you don’t believe in the supernatural at all – you would still beleive the bible exists and contains stories told for ages – but you wouldn’t beleive anything about the BoM.

    And this is how it relates to archeology. Archeologists might use the Bible as clues to what archeological finds mean or even evidence to search for archeological items – because the Bible, is in fact, ancient stories and therefore at least theoretically points to ancient places and events – even if oune discounts entirely supernatural claims. But, if one discounts supernatural claims, then one would not use the BoM as evidence of historical fact or relate archeological evidence to BoM claims.

    In an unsensitive analogy, if one does not believe in the supernatural in general, or JS Jr’s claims specifically, one would consdier the BoM to be entirely fictional – just like, say the Chronicles of Narnia. If one were to discover through archeological means, an ancient site with 4 thrones and statues of giant lions – one would not consider that this was a an indication that this was Narnia – any more than the finding of a plaque with NHM upon it would indicate the existence of a fictional place.

    With the BoM – belief must come first. Everything else hinges upon that. With the Bible, belief is optional – because everyone understands it is a work containing ancient writings – not so with the BoM.

  34. I am going to disagree with jmb and chicken about the bible not being supernatural in origin. there was no bible prior to moses. he received the original scripture-the 10 commandments by the finger of the lord. surely this is just as fantastic as the gold plates. then they wrote the story of moses life with the plagues etc. then moses had the fantastic story of adam and eve revealed to him.

    But you’re not suggesting that ALL of the Bible is supernatural in origin? And that’s the difference. The whole of the BoM is in the supernatural-origin camp. Perhaps there was no bible prior to moses, but there were, in fact, numerous myths about deluges, myths about God creating man and woman, etc. Besides, Moses didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai and write about it. There is considerable doubt as to the authorship and chronology of the pentateuch, which COULD mean it is also CONTAINS myth.

    I don’t think any of this discredits the archeology or anything. It’s just easy to see why there would be non believing bible archeologists who still try to fit their findings with the Bible (to some degree) and why there would likely be no such non believing BoM archeologists.

    Maybe I’m not seeing Chicken’s argument either, I dunno.

  35. Mh – you’re even assuming there was such a person as Moses – he could be made up out of wholecloth. Nontheless, ancients kept record of their spiritual journey. Eventually these were written down and, more recently compiled into the old Testament. Again though, your only talking about particular portions of the bible and, more to the point, particular things IN the Bible. THe Bible itself was not pulled from a tree or dug from the gound. It was compiled from anceint records.

    JMB275 – so you think non-believers would consider the archeological find similar to Narnia proof of the historicity of C.S. Lewis’ books? Would you condone further searchers for additional archeological proofs? Of course not – because we know the Narnia books are fiction. Non-believers similarly know the BoM is ficition.

  36. Re Chicken

    JMB275 – so you think non-believers would consider the archeological find similar to Narnia proof of the historicity of C.S. Lewis’ books? Would you condone further searchers for additional archeological proofs? Of course not – because we know the Narnia books are fiction. Non-believers similarly know the BoM is ficition.

    Hmmm, you should read my comments again. I’m agreeing with you.

  37. chicken, I still think you’re looking at this too narrow. the book of mormon is more like the book of genesis than the entire bible. (perhaps we could include the bible up until the time of jeremiah, since the archaeological data prior to david/solomon is scant.

    now, assuming that mosos (or perhaps baruch) was the first to write down oral traditions into the bible, then the bible can be considered a collected of myths. there is little, if any proof of biblical archaeology prior to 700 bc (some may push that back to 1100 bc). after 700 bc, we do seem to have some evidence. so the origins of the bible can be considered just as supernatural as the bom.

    now the bible post 700 bc is more like the d&c period of mormonism. we can find proof of locations of independence, slc, manti, just as we find jericho, jerusalem, and armageddon. 3000 years from now, archaeologists may confirm slc as a headquarters, and may discover lds and rlds versions of d&c. perhaps they may never discover the garden of eden or the city of zarahemla-perhaps they will find zarahemla in malaysia. bom archaeology is infantile compared to the 3000 years of the bible, or at least the past 2700 years.

  38. “If Emma states that Joseph didn’t know there were walls around Jerusalem, how did he have a chance to look at these expensive maps?”

    Assumes Emma and/or Joseph didn’t make that episode up, in an early effort to bolster the “Joseph was so ignorant, he couldn’t possibly have invented the Book of Mormon himself” argument.

    Given that Joseph Smith was clearly very familiar with the Bible, I find it hard to believe he didn’t know Jerusalem had walls. The walls of Jerusalem are referenced throughout the Old Testament. They’re mentioned conspicuously in the passages that describe the destruction of Jerusalem during Zedekiah’s reign by the Babylonians, an episode which frames the whole beginning of the Book of Mormon story. (See 2 Kings 25:10: “And all the army of the Chaldees, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down the walls of Jerusalem round about”; cf. Jeremiah 52:14 (almost identical language.)

  39. #42 — Emma or Joseph. And yes, most likely. I find it impossible to believe that Joseph Smith, who was clearly familiar with the King James Bible even if it’s not clear when he first read it through, could possibly have overlooked all the biblical references to Jerusalem’s walls.

    Alternatively, even if Emma were accurately relating a conversation that actually took place, there’s no reason why Joseph couldn’t have had a gap in his knowledge about Jerusalem’s city infrastructure, and still had access to a map. NHM is a weak reed.

  40. MH: “so the origins of the bible can be considered just as supernatural as the bom.”

    No. The origins of the bible is that people wrote down oral tradition and long-told stories. The origins of the BoM is that a young man claims to have been given the book by an angel. If all Genesis discussed was supernatural fantasy and all the BoM discussed were 100% proven facts, the origin of the former would be natural and the latter would be supernatural.

    If one were to disregard the supernatural – one would look at the writings of Genesis and disregard them as fantasy – one would not even look at the BoM as they would disregard it as fantasy ab initio. That’s the difference.

  41. chicken, I still don’t think you’re looking at time here. if the bom was 3000 years ago and genesis was 200 years ago, we would have 3000 years of oral history of the bom. genesis would have no such history, and would be seen just as unreliable as you view the bom today.

  42. RE: #26 {“Rick, your points are well taken, but my question to Doug applies to you as well. [If Emma states that Joseph didn’t know there were walls around Jerusalem, how did he have a chance to look at these expensive maps?]”

    I agree that Joseph Smith would not likely have seen the more expensive maps. But here, we must begin to espouse a more sophisticated philosophy of cultural background if we are ever to transcend the somewhat adolescent stage of Mormon historiography whenever it explores parallels. Specific parallel sources (like the above expensive maps) are not so much candidates of particular borrowing, as they are indicators of a general, broad and available culture.

    I was somewhat troubled – maybe amused – by a wholly unimaginative approach offered on this topic by S. Kent Brown in his article, “New Light from Arabia on Lehi’s Trail” in Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson and John W. Welch, eds., Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon. (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS], [2002]), 55-125.

    Dr. Brown there reviewed published sources of Joseph Smith’s time that mentioned or discussed the NHM region in southern Arabia, or showed it on maps. He rendered a valuable service by summarizing such works he had located (Brown, 72-75). But since his focus was entirely faith-promoting, calculated to minimize potential significance to Joseph Smith’s environment, Brown became as mathematical as some commenters on the present post here, and suggested that information from pre-1829 sources could not have reached Joseph Smith unless Joseph personally read those actual books –and then only at one of two specified libraries, named in the article, near which Joseph lived when he was a boy or a young man. Dr. Brown went to considerable effort to demonstrate that those libraries did not have Niebuhr’s work (Brown 2002, 69-75).

    I will stipulate readily that Joseph Smith probably seldom thought of visiting Dartmouth College’s library when he was ten years old, even though it was only an hour’s walk from home. And, I probably have even less confidence than might Dr. Brown, that Joseph Smith likely spent any time patronizing the Manchester, New York membership lending library. But to ask the wrong questions (or to limit potential sources so) is as bad as to erect a straw man, and it gets us no closer to responsible history than if we were to hide our heads in the sand. As I wrote in my own work . . .

    History has given us an “American Prophet” who needs to be explained in terms of divine revelation, rational synthesis, or something in between. It really does not matter whether Joseph Smith actually read any specific manuscript or book, because an entire culture is on display. We are scarcely dealing here with issues of pointed study or conscious borrowing. No single one of these writings was essential to the work of Joseph Smith, and this Bibliographic Source hangs upon no individual concept – upon no particular text. It is, rather, the very existence of the Mormon parallels which these sources display – in such great number, distribution, and uncanny resemblance to the literary, doctrinal and social structures which Joseph formed – which may command our attention.

    These ideas crept through the culture not only by being read, but through more subtle and often indefinable processes which occurred in art, singing, gossip, storytelling, preaching and praying, and through other aspects of a particularly active system of oral tradition which had to flourish then even more powerfully than in today’s mass-media-communicated world. And, as is still the case today, the appearance of an idea in written and printed sources generally suggested the presence of that idea already circulating orally somewhere – if not everywhere – in the environment. The books and papers which I analyze in this Bibliographic Source were thus no more causes than they were indicators: not necessarily contributing directly to the mind of Joseph Smith, but standing as evidence that the thoughts which he proclaimed were waiting in the air. These works do not presume that “Joseph Smith once read us,” so much as they insist that “we were already there.” [Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source (Lafayette, NY: Rick Grunder – Books, 2008), 37-38]

  43. interesting quote rick. I should check out your book.

    it seems to me that we have 2 versions of joseph smith: (1) a dumb guy with a 3rd grade education that translated only by the power of god, or (2)a man with an encyclopedic mind that remembers small details of solomon spaulding’s manuscript, niehbur’s maps, etc. even if we assume that joseph never saw niehbur’s map but simply heard about it, it seems to me that we must say that joseph had a photographic memory to remember all these details, yet miss important facts such as jesus born at jerusalem.

    while I am comfortable believing that joseph was no dummy, I am not comfortable believing he had a photographic memory either. it seems to me that if joseph did remember nhm, he must lean toward photographic memory. yet I see real problems with that line of reasoning as well.

  44. There may come a day when the ramblings of some 1990s teenager about life in outer space may appear fantastically prevenient – to future readers who have little understanding of popular culture of an earlier era. That which to us is esoteric data was often common to people of earlier times. And perhaps most importantly, if the burden of discovering all these things devolves upon us, it was never the burden of Joseph Smith. Whatever he saw and liked may have entered his writings. The Arabian place names that never struck him as interesting would not make it into the Book of Mormon.

  45. I still think it’s more likely that Joseph might have used a variant on the Old Testament name “Nahum” (“comforter”) to describe the place where Ishmael died, and his family sought comfort in their mourning, than that Joseph saw “Nehm” on an old map.

    The point is that there are plausible naturalistic explanations (we’ve covered at least two here) for the coincidence of “NHM” and “Nahom.” It’s just not the slam-dunk evidence it’s cracked up to be.

  46. but thomas, then it makes joseph smith as a genius like dan brown of da vinci code fame. dan compiled all this religious information into a book, but it took him years to put his book together. joseph smith is doing the same thing in a few months, and doesn’t seem to have the benefits of google like brown does. is it really that plausible that joseph got it all right with egyptian names pahoran and paanchi, while figuring out nhm too? at the same time he makes anachronisms with horses, chariots, and silk. this genius title seems to have some big problems, all while joseph is writing a book of theology.

  47. Many people conclude that, since we haven’t found it all, Joseph Smith could not have found it either, except through revelation. They emphasize Joseph as an educationally-deprived lad chosen to restore the gospel. They add that no one, in fact, could have found the words and power of Mormonism without the help of God. Such a conclusion is convincing to the convinced – fully relevant, satisfying and final – IF one presumes the final product before the fact: supposing, in advance of the process, no possible “correct” development but Mormonism as it finally turned out, as we have known it in its various stages, complete with only the “Mormon” elements discerned or blended successfully out of a vast and confusing world.

    If this sounds just right, it is a dangerous back-door defense that falls apart the moment one sees we are dealing with a farm boy whom the twentieth century never knew. Not a genius, but one derived from a culture that was surprisingly rich, varied and available. There was so much there from which to choose, and indeed, as you note (#50), Joseph did not necessarily get it all right.

  48. MH, an anecdote:

    My last semester at BYU, I took a Shakespeare class for the fun of it. The class consisted of 3 guys and something like 17 women. This being the BYU English department, these women had what passes in Provo for a feminist streak. I was amazed to learn just how many modern feminist themes Will Shakespeare had salted away in his plays.

    The point is that people who go looking for useful parallels in a text, will usually find them.

    Coincidences are more statistically likely than people might expect; in fact, the more proper names you collect, the more likely there will be a remarkable coincidence between one of them and an utterly unconnected one. Like Onidah/Oneida, for instance, if you want to think Joseph didn’t get the former from the latter. If a culture or a history or a landscape is described broadly enough, there’s plenty of room for people to come in afterwards and identify specific details that fit within the broad scope of the writing.

    And no, Joseph wouldn’t have to be a “genius” to use “Nahom/Nahum” for a place of mourning. Mildly clever, at most.

    “joseph smith is doing the same thing in a few months”

    Ignores the fact that the Book of Mormon project was in progress for three whole years, if you count the project start date back when he started work with Martin Harris. The famous “three months” consists of the final draft produced with Oliver Cowdery.

    As a comparison. I once wrote the World’s Greatest Revolutionary War screenplay. The project dribbled on in outline form, coming together in my mind and partly on paper, over a period of three years — and then I finally buckled down and wrote out the last 4/5 in the course of two months, while simultaneously working a regular job. I suspect that a person reading it will find some parallels, and also some disparities, between what I wrote, and the history and geography of the Hudson River Valley setting (which I’ve never visited, and did precious little research on). If there are parallels, it won’t mean I was inspired.

  49. When Harold Bloom calls Joseph Smith an “authentic religious genius”, he ascribes to Joseph an almost incomprehensible ability to craft religious history and theology in ways that others cannot. A genius of any kind has a mind that operates in ways that normal people cannot fathom. That is why we call them geniuses. If JS was indeed such a genius, to compare JS to Dan Brown is silly. Not all authors practice their craft in the same way, and almost certainly JS didn’t research and write the book of mormon the way that we might suppose a historical novelist would write a story.

    I believe that JS was a religious genius in the same category as Muhammad, Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Jesus, or maybe even someone like Paramahansa Yogananda. These individuals were able to draw upon existing spiritual traditions around them and produce something new and compelling, and which spoke truth to the souls of those who listened to them or read their words. Whether what any of these spiritual geniuses said is, in fact, “truth” cannot be ultimately verified theologically (you cannot prove or disprove God’s existence, for example). In terms of relating historical or scientifically-verifiable facts, all religious genius will fall short because doing so isn’t really the point: these are not individuals who apply the scientific method or modern historical research methodologies to their messages. If we take Jesus’ word, for example, that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds, then we have to reclassify all the many thousands (millions?) of other plant seeds that are, in fact, smaller than a mustard seed, or else make Jesus either a liar or an ignoramus. In the end, if you get caught up on whether the seed is in fact the smallest, or whether Jesus really did in fact use a mustard seed as an object lesson (or if someone else writing the story down many decades after which supposed lesson was purported to have taken place just put words in Jesus’ mouth), you miss the message which might actually convey some truth or wisdom that could be beneficial to you in your life: that having just a little bit of faith gets you far in God’s kingdom.

    I’m in the camp that can’t really accept NHM as “proof” of Lehi’s existence any more than Joseph Smith’s public denials of polygamy were “proof” that he never entered its practice. Fact is, there are tons of references to names, places, and things in the Book of Mormon that one would expect to be easily corroborated by hundreds of years of collecting artifactual evidence in the Americas, but that are simply not there. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of 19th-century American-Protestant-influenced religious theology packed into the Book of Mormon, forcing the reader who believes in the book’s historicity to accept that ancient peoples 2,600 years ago had advanced understanding of Christian theology and doctrine, even though there exists no evidences of such understanding among any of the world’s contemporary inhabitants of the ancient world, even among the records we have that come from the Jews. Joseph either took extreme liberties with the text of the golden plates, or made huge theological mistakes in his “translation” of them, or else made the whole thing up (possibly with the help of friends and associates). That the Book of Mormon is as cohesive a narrative as it is testifies not to its historical truth, imo, as the religious genius of its creator.

    Still, getting caught up in questions of historicity and authenticity really dillutes the power of some of the words written in the Book of Mormon. Just as the Bible contains lots of stories and writings that get largely skipped over because they no longer represent the theological sensibilities of the modern reader, we _can_ pick and choose which portions of the Book of Mormon speak “truth” to our modern souls without getting caught up in the angst of a black-or-white, all-or-nothing dichotomy. I used to think that religion had to be all true or all suspect, but now I’m just happy when I find messages that ring “true” to me, and feel grateful that they actually speak to me among all the other stuff that is out there. That’s a net positive, imo.

  50. Here, here, SteveS (#53). My personal favorite passage in the Book of Mormon is found in modern 2 Nephi 2:25, “Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” When asked to write a completely middle-of-the-road introduction to Octavo Corporation’s digitized version of the 1830 Book of Mormon in the 1990s, one of my paragraphs went like this . . .

    There were works of equally imposing claim, of course, even in nineteenth-century America, and it would be unproductive to insist that this book is entirely unique. Indeed, much of the Book of Mormon speaks not merely from its own era, but indeed from its own decade and the very counties from which it emerged. This I have verified over the years in hundreds of texts examined and transcribed from the immediate world and culture of Joseph Smith. So when I point out that the Book of Mormon also has its exceptional moments, readers of all persuasions may allow that surprises wait between its leaves.

  51. “To the independent scholar, to use the BoM as a guide to the civilization in Central America is to concede the supernatural events and belive Joseph Smith. On the contrary, for the Bible archeologists, he/she need not believe the bible to be historical and still find evidence of a city mentioned therein.”

    But to me, coming from a physics background, that is the most interesting part of the Book of Mormon historicity question. I agree with BTC that the belief has to come first before one bothers to ask whether the historicity is worth pursuing (JMB can probably write a Bayesian about how different priors make historicity tests valuable or not!).

    But once I have the belief in the Book of Mormon as a motivator, I immediately see, just as BTC does, that you can’t “domesticate” it into a theory of scripture like modern scientific believers have adopted for the Bible. There’s then no separation between the natural and the supernatural that permits the notion of non-overlapping magisteria. The supernatural must be accepted by a believer, or (my preference) the notion of the natural must be expanded so the activity of God in history is in-your-face.

    That question is even more important, IMO, than trying to extract individual messages from the scriptures themselves. You make more progress when you can unify theories than when you are dealing with each idea separately. And the differences between revelation (or religious genius) as seen in the BofM and the Bible provide a really good arena for testing more general theories of scripture.

    Rick Grunder:

    I like your ideas of the pervasiveness of notions in a society as the raw materials for religious genius. But there’s a trap; it’s easier to see the sources of a prophet’s inspiration after the fact. All the materials were present for Einstein to think of relativity well before he did so. There are thousands of people today who understand relativity better than Einstein ever did. But few of those thousands could make the inspirational leap themselves.

  52. #54 Rick, I recently finished reading your recent mammoth volume. I also have a copy of your much earlier print book. I think it would have been better titled “Mormon Parallelomania”. Your list of parallels reminds me quite frankly of the kinds of lists produced by the parallel-hunters of the 19th and 20th centuries. The kind of endeavor that Alexander Lindey in his book _Plagiarism and Originality_ described as follows:

    “Whether the virtues of parallels outweigh the vices is open to debate. The fact remains that the vices are considerable.
    1. Any method of comparison which lists and underscores similarities and suppresses or minimizes differences is necessarily misleading.
    2. Parallels are too readily susceptible of manipulation. Superficial resemblances may be made to appear as of the essence.
    3. Parallel-hunters do not, as a rule, set out to be truthful and impartial. They are hell-bent on proving a point.
    4. Parallel-hunting is predicated on the use of lowest common denominators. Virtually all literature, even the most original, can be reduced to such terms, and thereby shown to be unoriginal. So viewed, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper plagiarizes Dickens’ David Copperfield. Both deal with England, both describe the slums of London, both see their hero exalted beyond his original station. To regard any two books in this light, however, is to ignore every factor that differentiates one man’s thoughts, reactions and literary expression from another’s.
    5. Parallel columns operate piecemeal. They wrench phrases and passages out of context. A product of the imagination is indivisible. It depends on totality of effect. To remove details from their setting is to falsify them.
    6. Parallels fail to indicate the proportion which the purportedly borrowed material bears to the sum total of the source, or to the whole of the new work. Without such information a just appraisal is impossible.
    7. The practitioners of the technique resort too often to sleight of hand. They employ language, not to record facts or to describe things accurately, but as props in a rhetorical hocus-pocus which, by describing different things in identical words, appears to make them magically alike.
    8. A double-column analysis is a dissection. An autopsy will reveal a great deal about a cadaver, but very little about the spirit of the man who once inhabited it.
    9. Most parallels rest on the assumption that if two successive things are similar, the second one was copied from the first. This assumption disregards all the other possible causes of similarity.

    Whatever his vices or virtues, the parallel-hunter is a hardy species. He is destined, as someone had said, to persist until Judgment Day, when he will doubtless find resemblances in the very warrant that consigns him to the nether regions”

    This isn’t to say, of course, that LDS apologists haven’t engaged in their fair share of the abuse of parallels – but, your mammoth work is not the kind of evidence that you put it forward to be. Parallels themselves are relatively meaningless. They don’t tell us much at all. It is the differences that allow for meaningful and interesting discussion. While some of your parallels are certainly of interest and worth considering, the compilation as a whole is fatally flawed.

    Ben McGuire

  53. MH,

    I have been absent for quite some time. Thanks for the welcome back!

    I really don’t have much to add to the discussion as others have covered what I would have posted even better than I in relation to NHM.

    I was told about Nahom while attending a leadership meeting in Japan by Neal H. Maxwell in 1995. He was very excited about the discovery and painted a picture of this place being just recently found and therefore impossible for JS to have known about it. That seemed like a bulls-eye to me as well back then. Imagine my shock in finding out just how long the area has been known and who had written about it and mapped it.

    The fact that it was known and written about now makes the argument shift from what he couldn’t have possibly known to what he probably didn’t know as a poor farmer in upstate New York. Even you must admit that’s a much weaker piece of evidence then if NHM had been discovered after the BoM was published.

    I certainly appreciate the effort you go through to write these posts and I’m impressed with the rational approach you take. I guess for the believer, evidence that seems to boost the historicity claims of the BoM would out way the evidence against it. For the non-believer, the opposite applies. I don’t believe either side is going to win out in the foreseeable future, but having faith in something perceived as supernatural does bring a certain amount of comfort in confirming the existence of God. This may come as a bit of a shock to you, but in the end I actually hope your right about the BoM and the bible. It would be nice to have something solid to point at, unfortunately my thinking side tells me the chances are pretty remote…

  54. FireTag: The dilemma you mention applies more to an independently-verified or very widely-accepted theory or system. If we accept Einstein’s theory of relativity, then it may seem like genius to have ferreted it out from all the data in the Universe. But if we think like this about Mormonism, then we are essentially only saying that Mormonism is true because it is true. If we begin with the assumption that Mormonism (at whatever time period we wish to set it, for consideration) is true, then of course Joseph Smith’s task – apart from being inspired – would seem impossible. But Mormonism could have turned out to be almost anything else, as well. As I said in an earlier comment, if the burden of discovery of Joseph’s sources devolves upon us, that burden was never Joseph Smith’s.

    Ben McGuire: Your accusations are not really against me, but against some generic description you have espoused. I have more integrity and historical capability than you suggest. My book is a reference work, designed to supply raw data for researchers who need it. The work will stand, and I invite other readers to dig more deeply, and tear into my individual entries, comparing them carefully with similar sources, and exploring the portions I quoted very carefully to see if I twisted any contexts or authors’ original intents.

  55. Chuckle. Of all the time I am sure Ben McGuire spent reading that mammoth volume, I am surprised he (apparently) missed/forgot the title of the book, which very clearly states that it is “A Bibliographic Source.” I for one find the resource to be priceless, and look forward to using it in future projects to come.

  56. This may come as a bit of a shock to you, but in the end I actually hope your right about the BoM and the bible.

    Well Doug, that was a bit of a surprise. I guess you’ll just have to follow Alma 32 and let that desire work in you… 😉 On a more serious note, I attended Sunstone over the weekend. Apostle Susan Skoor of the Community of Christ gave a fascinating presentation on her own spiritual journey. She recounts losing her faith, and then finding it again. She specifically cited Alma 32 and a blessing she received. I’ll be posting about it in the coming weeks. (She gave me her email address, so I hope to invite her to stop by here as well.)

  57. Rick:

    I was assuming the starting point of belief in the supernatural (or, in my case, I should say, that nature is dominated at large scales by its personal rather than its impersonal aspects — I think God IS all of reality rather than separate from reality).

    The modern scientist, whether physical or social scientist, is trained to the notion that “natural” is the default position. It takes a conceptual leap to change to a notion of seeing the physical and spiritual as a unified whole, or perhaps a conceptual regression to get back to the notion that the spiritual is the important part of reality, even though we are one of the few cultures in history to hold the “modern” view. We don’t look for such a leap unless motivated by something — a religious teaching, a personal experience, or something else. So it takes prophetic genius to make the leap.

    It was in this context that I mentioned Einstein. The genius lies in REJECTING the notion of your everyday senses that space and time are a fixed stage and learning to see spacetime as an evolving character in the story itself. It wasn’t verified (or experimentally verifiable) for years afterward, and physicists only began training themselves to conceive of spacetime that way AFTER the verification. Now its obvious that even a bar magnet is a relativistic effect of electricity.

    Once motivated, exploring “anamalies” that stand the paradoxes of our belief systems out in the open are the way physical scientists make progress in looking for the right conceptual link — the right “crazy ideas”.

    In the Mormon faith, the Bible and the Book of Mormon present a huge anomaly because they each present an incompatible theory of scriptural transmission. There’s an analog in physics for that, too. The twin pillars of modern physics are quantum mechanics and general relativity. They are fundamentally incompatable on a conceptual basis because QM can’t be framed yet on anything but the “space and time as a fixed stage” basis, and unifying them is the biggest prize on the horizon.

  58. Re FireTag

    The modern scientist, whether physical or social scientist, is trained to the notion that “natural” is the default position. It takes a conceptual leap to change to a notion of seeing the physical and spiritual as a unified whole, or perhaps a conceptual regression to get back to the notion that the spiritual is the important part of reality, even though we are one of the few cultures in history to hold the “modern” view. We don’t look for such a leap unless motivated by something — a religious teaching, a personal experience, or something else. So it takes prophetic genius to make the leap.

    Well, I think there’s an underlying assumption here. You’re using the term “spiritual” as it relates to supernatural phenomena CAUSED externally by some force. One can easily view the physical and spiritual as a unified whole and still accept “spiritual” as being what benefits an individual “spiritually.” That is, one need not postulate external mystical CAUSAL relationships to explain spirituality. Nor does this, in my mind, invalidate the spiritual experience. Rather, it is a more honest acknowledgement of the experience. Of course, this distinction leads one nicely to a post-modern view which many find dissatisfying.

  59. JMB:

    “You’re using the term “spiritual” as it relates to supernatural phenomena CAUSED externally by some force.”

    I’m merely saying that the modern scientist is trained to reject the view described in the quote. The possibility you describe is CERTAINLY one way of relating the physical to the spiritual. The attraction of such views to the modern is that the “spiritual” is CONTAINED or ISOLATED to the metaphorical or the psychological and potentially subsumable to the modern worldview as our understanding of the arts, the social sciences, or the physical sciences grow. It keeps God in the gaps. It requires no conceptual leap.

    Our reality may work that way. The universe may be non-relativistic, too; I am aware of at least two theories that attempt to merge relativity and quantum mechanics by making relativity go away at extremely small length scales. Maybe Einstein’s conceptual leap turns out to be, at best a useful approximation. But we test those fundamental assumptions anyway, because that’s how we learn.

    What I am suggesting is that we need to look for new solutions to the problem of unifying the spiritual and physical that do NOT contain the spiritual within the physical any more than they contain the physical within the spiritual.

  60. “my personal belief is that mt sinai is located at jebel-musa in saudi arabia. scholars hotly contest these locations, but nearly everyone agrees that the traditional mt sinai is incorrect.”

    At the moment I am sitting in my office looking at the cover of a book on my bookshelf, titled “The Gold of Exodus”. It was given to me by an investigator on my mission, so settled down an knocked it on a P-Day. It was about two men, Larry Williams (yes the world famous, yet superstitious investor/advisor, and apparent grave robber) and Bob Cornuke, founder of B.A.S.E. (Biblical Arcaeology & Search Exploration). These two men apparently set on a quest to discover the “true” Mount Sinai sometime either in the 80’s or 90’s, and ended up hiking to the summit of Jabal-al-lawz in Saudia Arabia. Apparently the traditional site for the location is somewhere in Ethiopia.

    I would tend to agree that the prevailing sentiment, no doubt influenced by the subtle endorsements via Church media, is the Central American theory. This seems to be the position most widely accepted by those of the F.A.I.R. crowd, but there has been a vehement disagreement between this group and those associated with the theories of a former meat salesman by the name of Rod Meldrum. The evidences sited both groups are so quickly dismissed by the others, that it clearly demonstrates that the evidence is far, far, from conclusive for even those who ultimately share the same position. The same goes for the Bible. Yes, it may have a stronger foothold in antiquity, but it is one thing to say Sodom may have reference to some ancient city, and completely another to say that Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt as they fled.

    They main problem with all of this inquiry, is that evidence is fitted to the conclusion. This is true of both Bible and BoM scholars. In order to justify scientifically the parting of the Red Sea, we have theories that suggest that the Israelites had a much greater lead on the Egyptians, and passed through a wadi during conveniently timed moon-tides. Some have suggested that Soddom and Gomorrah lay beneath the Salt Sea, suggesting a metaphor for the whole salt business. At the end of the day however, the evidence of the wadi’s, or the salt content of Old World locations, do not independently lead to conclusions about the stories we teach. Just like NHM – depending on liberal we want to be on proximities, we can eventually find a beach that satisfies expectations of a percieved Bountiful.

  61. It’s not as if Mormon handed down some book or oral tradition to his progenitors who perhaps wrote it down or rewrote it, changed, and/or modified it eventually falling into the hands of JS> — the whole point of my deconstructing the Book of Mormon posts and a number of other analytical approaches to the text involve the fact that Mormon did indeed take various traditions, writings and such and edit/collect/summarize them into a book that he passed on to Joseph Smith, through Mormon’s son Moroni.

    Ben McGuire — interesting thoughts, thanks for sharing them.

    MH — look forward to your posts.

    Some interesting posts here, enjoyed reading the comments.

  62. cowboy, I think we are talking about the same mountain. jebel al-lawz sounds familiar to me. I know that jebel musa literally translates to ‘mount of moses.’ simcha jacobovici put together a documentary on the exodus and he has a location in israel for mount sinai in a restricted military zone. he got into a battle on a blog I read as to why his mount sinai was a better site than the saudi site. it was interesting to view the debate and reminded me of the meldrum-sorensen debates. I think few mormons delve into these biblical debates, but I think there are some really similar debates to book of mormon archaeology debates.

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