In my attempt to draw these exchanges to a civil conclusion, I suggested that Dr. Hamblin and I had reached stalemate. I was being polite, and magnanimous. Is there any doubt that I have entirely made the case I set out to a month or so back? What I said was that there was no evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon, whether historical, genetic, archaeological, or linguistic, and that anyone wishing to contradict that view should do so by producing credible and specific evidence. Dr. Hamblin is, I believe, one of the leading apologists in this field, and he has written a great deal recently on this blog, but without even attempting to produce a single example or illustration to contradict my view.
By default, that is a total victory for me. If he wishes to reverse that result, I await his evidence. Presently, the field is wholly mine.
Dr. Hamblin spoke of my “naive assumptions about how we can supposedly ‘prove’ the Book of Mormon.” This is a rhetorical masterpiece. He assumes the stance of the serious establlished scholar lecturing the inexperienced tyro who has not yet begun to master the skills of the historical craft. Think Lenny in OF MICE AND MEN: “Doh, Doc Hamblin, now I see! Yuk, yuk! You’re so smart.” Effect is added by putting quotes around “prove” as if that was something I had said, as I never did.
I do not believe you can prove the Bible, and you can’t prove the Book of Mormon. Nor can you disprove either. That is however a totally different matter from testing and verifying specific aspects of either Book. We can indeed seek and find “proof” of a wholly different kind. Defining what that substance of testing and verification is highlights precisely the issues about which we should be debating.
Is there any doubt that the most significant issue, by far, is establishing that the peoples and communities and societies described in either book were actually present at the times and places described? In past posts, I have described some of the resources available within the Middle East: “common archaeological patterns, of sequences in architecture and pottery and metalwork, of linguistic evidence, of inscriptions, visual records, and of course, of texts of all different kinds – historical, legal, religious, medical and all the rest… In particular, [one] would be strictly fastidious in drawing entirely on verified contemporary texts from the period in question. [One] would also be cautious about drawing on any text or object about which there was any controversy, or any suggestion that it was a later forgery.” (I adapt the following from my earlier answers to comments at my own blog).
If you apply those methodologies to the Bible, there is no doubt that between, say, the 13th century BC and the 1st century AD (to take a random date) the region of Palestine was definitely inhabited by a range of people whose ethnic and linguistic identities we are absolutely confident of. One among them was Hebrew, and we know the languages spoken at the time and place. We also have a great idea of who the Canaanites, Philistines, Nabateans, Edomites, Greeks, etc were, and can confirm they were really present more or less where the texts say they were. Also, those identities are thoroughly confirmed by texts and narratives from nearby societies, eg Assyrians, Egyptians, Romans, etc. In some cases, we can be quite sure of the individuals involved, and we can be certain of the real identity of many of the places.Now, I would argue that we confidently know a lot more than this, but for present purposes, I just offer that as a minimal floor.
There are plenty of people who would challenge the Bible on virtually every point of its belief system, and challenge large parts of its historical value, who dispute (for instance) the existence of most named characters before the fifth century BC. I disagree strongly with such Minimalists, but let that pass. Yet none of those skeptics disputes that the peoples, languages and ethnic groups described in the Bible were in fact there throughout that extended millennium I describe. If such a lone nut exists, I would love to know his or her name.
Take everything I just said and apply it to the Book of Mormon, which depicts a range of peoples, states, societies, ethnicities, languages, etc, none of which has ever received the slightest degree of confirmation, zero. Literally and precisely none of the peoples, none of the places. Lacking such evidence of mere existence, everything else we read in the Book of Mormon is of necessity a blank – all the narratives, all the claims, all the stories, all the individuals.
I say again: I am not asking you to “prove” anything. I just seek one simple fact that begins to confirm the claims made in the Book of Mormon. Then we can build on that, if you wish, but we have to start with one.
So the difference is this: we know that the peoples described by the Bible really were there, and can establish that fact overwhelmingly and convincingly by multiple methodologies verified by the most critical and skeptical scholarship. We have not the slightest morsel of evidence that the peoples described by the Book of Mormon were. If that does not seem to you a total and overwhelming night and day distinction, I fail to see how I can make that point clearer.
If such evidence exists for the presence of those alleged peoples in the New World, then produce just one piece. Answer please?
Nor do I see how even the most excruciatingly detailed knowledge of the Book of Mormon itself would change that picture. I have indeed read the book, which is as I say an inestimable goldmine for early nineteenth century US history. But please guide me. Where in its pages do I find any hint that might contradict the statements above, or help us find the errant evidence? By your admission, Ancient Book of Mormon studies has been what you call a thriving and highly active discipline for some thirty years now, with many publications. Surely these people have combed the Book of Mormon backwards and forwards in search of every clue. So why can’t they, and you, give me Instance One to contradict what I say here? Are there chapters of the book that they have not yet found in their searches?
As I have said, we don’t need your phantasmagoric “ground rules.” We need facts to establish that these peoples existed.
I have raised various types of evidence that might be used to test statements in the Book of Mormon, but let me focus here on one, namely inscriptions of various kinds. These are very common in the ancient Jewish world, for instance on stone and metalwork. The Book of Mormon supposedly describes a literate society, necessarily, because such peoples needed religious texts for worship and study. Presumably, those Middle Eastern immigrants kept up writing in the New World, in any one of a number of possible languages, including Smith’s wholly invented “Reformed Egyptian.” Also, those peoples reputedly kept up that high literate civilization for an awe inspiring thousand years.
So here is a specific question. Where, please, in the New World, do we find any inscriptions of any kind that preserve any one of those imported languages and their scripts? Where is the Hebrew or the Egyptian hieroglyphic? And if you say that we don’t know what Reformed Egyptian looks like, then point me to an area in Meso-America, say, where we have a large batch of puzzling and still untranslated carved texts in a mysterious script that vaguely recalls Middle Eastern precedents.
The Joseph Smith saga suggests that people kept important records on metal plates, including of near-indestructible gold. So where are they? In what Central American or Peruvian museum do we have a collection of mysterious golden plates in the unknown and untranslated script that just vaguely recalls Egyptian hieroglyphic? Does this museum have a website where we can consult its collections online?
You can legitimately say that a population can live in an area for a period without leaving such inscriptions and texts, perhaps because of inferior social status. But for a whole millennium? When the supposed immigrants were the rulers and the dominant peoples? Perhaps, during the long ocean crossing, those highly literate Hebrews had been struck by a fit of modesty that prevented them commemorating their deeds?
I am asking specific questions that can be answered briefly and precisely. If you know of Semitic inscriptions in, say, a mysterious temple in the wilds of Guatemala, then please point me to it and I shall be delighted to examine the evidence. But you can’t, can you, because no such thing exists.
Am I wrong about that? Then prove it.
I await with fascination the excuses, waffling and evasions you will be using to avoid answering these questions.
Over to you.