Ordinary Faith and Extraordinary History

Ordinary Faith and Extraordinary History May 22, 2015

As a historical source on the ancient Americas, the Book of Mormon is worthless. That observation, though, has not the slightest impact on the existence or growth of the LDS church, nor should it. Just why that is the case tells us much about the relationship between the claims of any faith and the reasons why people stay loyal to it. And however paradoxical this may sound, it might even point to the real merits and value of the Book of Mormon.

Reading the responses to my recent columns on the Book of Mormon, I have been bemused by the absolute nature of some of the views expressed, both by Mormons and ex-Mormons. The attitude goes like this: “Either every syllable of the Scripture is true, or else the whole religion is a vicious lie. Well, maybe we can allow an errant syllable or two due to mistranslation, but otherwise, it’s a hundred percent true or a hundred percent false.” That is, in other words, the attitude of nineteenth and twentieth century fundamentalism at its crudest and most simplistic. Obviously, I don’t accept it in the context of any faith-tradition. That doesn’t just mean I think it’s a bad idea, it’s a deluded and naive way to approach history.

Of all the reasons why Mormons leave the faith, archaeological or historical qualms surely account for an insignificant minority of defectors. Am I wrong about that?  At the other end of the process, I find it difficult to imagine many people becoming Mormon because of the church’s ability to explain the settlement of the New World. Newcomers join for excellent personal reasons, in search of community, of values, or new and better models of family. They are not going to abandon those powerful and enticing structures, those networks of community and family, just because a supposedly inspired text is wrong about ancient archaeology.

A religion – any religion – is vastly more than a single scripture. It is composed of the traditions and history accumulated by believers over the centuries, their experiences and memories, their shared daily realities. It is a matter of culture, and when I say that, do not take it as meaning something trivial or dismissive. Isn’t culture a vehicle for progressive revelation? As I say, I am speaking of any and all religions, Christian and otherwise.

For Mormons, as for other believers of most shades, historical or archaeological claims rank low in the structures of belief. Once within the faith, any nagging concerns about historical issues are easily set aside. People are often very good at juggling competing statements and belief systems in their minds, and when conflicts arise, they are assigned to separate mental compartments.

On a personal note, I have done my share of Mormon tourism: Independence, Kirtland, Palmyra, the hill Cumorah, and lots of places in Utah (I haven’t made it to Nauvoo yet). Once, at Palmyra, I visited the Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith reportedly received his first Vision. I met a woman there who was overcome with emotion contemplating the great events associated with the place, which had, she surely thought, led to the faith that formed her life. Not for a second do I demean or make fun of her experience, although I cannot possibly share it. Her experience of faith had made the grove sacred, and made it a holy place for her. And that theme of subjective life-experience is critical, whether or not an actual angel ever visited the spot, or whatever Smith may or may not have done there. No amount of reading in mainstream archaeology is ever going to shake such faith.

As I have argued, mainstream Christian faith is far, far, better rooted in authentic history than is Mormonism (as in, night and day), but the vast majority of ordinary mainstream believers would be hard pressed to explain or describe just why or how that is. Like Mormons, they take the history at face value without probing too deeply.

Nor of course is the Bible immune to historical challenges. If we took a survey of contemporary historical scholarship, we would find many scholars who give no credibility to statements in that book referring to times before the Exodus, and quite a number would discount the existence of Moses. The fact of the Exodus itself has been an academic battleground for decades. The reality of Solomon, David and their immediate successors is fiercely debated, as Minimalists deny the historical value of pretty much everything in the Bible before the sixth century BC.

I am quite conservative on those matters, to the point of defending the existence of Moses, as well as David’s dynasty. I believe in Moses partly because nobody would have invented such a convincingly foreign Egyptian name for the great Jewish national hero. I also think that, on occasion, the Minimalists are so determined to avoid evidence that runs against them that they themselves act like blinkered fundamentalists, but that is a debate for a later column.

We are not dealing with a Book of Mormon situation, where scholars deny that the societies and ethnic groups existed at that time, and the baby-and-bathwater critics do not represent the academic consensus. (Or should that be, throwing the baby out with the bulrushes?) Even so, much of the Biblical narrative is under severe attack, and in critical areas. Just what would happen to the Judeo-Christian narrative without the Exodus? Yet none of those assaults make the slightest impact on ordinary believers, few of whom have the slightest idea of the gulf between sacred scripture and secular criticism. If they know, they don’t care.

Nor, perhaps, should they. Religious narrative is simply different in kind from sober mainstream history, and teaches truth in ways that go far beyond painful literalism. If, for example, we were to reject the existence of Abraham as a historical individual, we still find immense value in the stories surrounding him.

That distinction is even more accurate when we deal with religious narratives that scarcely bother to claim historical roots. Even for many who reject the Bible’s religious claims, the Book of Job is an immensely valuable exploration of human dilemmas, not to mention the work’s stunning literary qualities. In that sense, then, it is absolutely true, even if Job himself never existed – as he presumably did not. As a sober historical treatment of tenth century Scotland, Macbeth fails miserably, but it is a miraculous source of truth about human behavior and political ambition. Would any critic be silly enough to reject the play’s value because of its historical deficiencies?

To take another example, both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien created fictional worlds that have had a vast cultural and religious influence worldwide. Both, too, created elaborately-described landscapes that can be mapped in some detail. Scholars have been able to track the influences that shaped the authors in the process of creation, so that Tolkien probably used the English Black Country for Mordor, and Lydney for the Shire. But nobody imagines that the events of the novels actually took place in those real-world settings. Similarly, nobody thinks that Narnia is a real place, although many millions have had their lives fundamentally changed by the stories set there.

Perhaps the ancient American worlds depicted in the Book of Mormon were Joseph Smith’s Narnia.

The more I look at Smith, the more in some ways I admire him. He showed all the talents of a creative thinker, and a maker of imaginative stories, much like Tolkien or Lewis. He was in love with the American landscape. Wherever he looked around him, in every hill and river, he saw a story. When he found a place or an object, he could immediately tell you a tale associated with it, and always with a romantic name. Yes, he invented those stories, but does that mean they should not be retold?

Smith also saw holiness everywhere, and following the ways of thought of his time, he reported that in Biblical and Hebrew forms. On occasion, other people came to the places, and saw the holiness he had read into the landscape. That’s why I regret the Mormon trend to relocating the sacred landscape down in Meso-America as opposed to in the US proper, in Ohio or Illinois or Missouri, where perhaps more modern Mormons could share Smith’s experiences.

The Book of Mormon does not contain literal historical truth. I say nothing about spiritual or religious truths that faithful believers can find in it.




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  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    The church is increasingly loosing members due to the availability of information. Members are taught that the book of mormon is historical, that the leaders will not lead them astray, and the official doctrine of the church is 7k year or so ago fall of man, and a global flood.

    These positions become untenable to hold for members as they encounter the hard science that contradicts so many of the church’s positions, and the contradictions in pronouncements from the leaders.

    The BOM as historical is taught at every level, from the 12 at general conference, to the volunteers teaching the 3 year olds. Like your observation about Christians, most members are not aware of the issues, or dismiss them as anti mormon propaganda. For many of those who study, issues with bom historicity, and the boa translation serve as a catalyst, that when combined with the history of the founders, becomes a sufficient reason to disbelieve.

    Couple this with the problems that polygamy and the race based priesthood ban present, then the whole kaboodle becomes sufficient to cause many formerly entrenched members to leave.

    Now a swarm of apologists will descend and through hand waving, try to make the issues disappear, they will say some of the issues I mentioned are not the doctrines of the church. Then they will start blaming those who leave, labelling them as uninformed, or never fully converted in the first place.

    You will also note, the large number of Mormons who leave for reasons of historicity, and contradictions with science, then apply their critical methodologies to the bible and land in the ranks of the agnostics and atheists.

  • Daniel Ortner

    While I strongly disagree with you on the historicity and truth of the Book of Mormon, I greatly appreciate your very charitable and thoughtful post. I admire your willingness to not believe in the Book of Mormon and yet engage with it and see the good that it does in the lives of millions.

  • Minjae_Lee

    “. . . increasingly loosing [sic] members . . .” Provide supporting evidence for this claim. I’ve heard the claim made, mainly by people who have recently left, but I have not seen credible evidence that the church is losing any more members now than they ever have. Since the beginning there have been those who fall away. I have seen no hard evidence that the numbers are increasing as a percentage of the total church.

  • Dean Cutrer

    While there may be some slim glimmer of historical analysis of the Mormon scripture here, as a Christian, I can really only see one prevailing presupposition that runs through this series of posts.
    Your initial thesis is that Christians should learn from the errors of the Mormon writings. You then take the common approach of most modern liberal scholarship, by throwing out various “possible” parallels (ie, Job), without ever proving actual evidence to the actual historical truthfulness of these “possible” Christian similarities. You don’t link to any scholarship that supports your claim, nor give your absolute position on the claim. It seems for you, muddying the water is quite enough. This I guess, in your thinking, will persuade many unsuspecting readers to your position, which as you state here, not accepting any religious book as 100% truth. Congratulations, you have done well in following the liberal pattern. However, for the discerning reader, this simply will not due. If an author wishes his words to actually carry any weight at all, he must do the work of an actual historian, make his claims plainly, and provide evidence of such claims so they can then be either refuted or agreed upon honestly. Due to the weakness of the overall thesis and presentation itself of your claims, I can scarcely even apply myself to find anything concerning the Mormon history here of any real value.
    Our standards must be higher, especially when evaluating and making claims on such weighty things as the Word of God, what He has said, and what He has not!

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Also remember that Mormons are taught that the BOM is the cornerstones of their faith, the most correct of all books, and contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus. They are taught that the bible contains translations errors and insertions. Once a Mormon is ready to abandon the BOM as scripture, because of their predisposition to view the bible as less correct, it is easier for them to abandon it than the BOM.

  • philipjenkins

    “slim glimmer of historical analysis of the Mormon scripture.” Have you actually read the earlier posts?

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Some discussion of statistics here: http://www.fullerconsideration.com/membership.php



    Yes, yes, correlation is not causation, but church growth has flat lined coinciding with the creation of the internet and the increased availability of good information about the church’s warts.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    OK so this does not support “increasingly losing members.” You switch from loss of membership to an alleged change in the rate of growth. The Pew survey recently had no statistical change since its last survey in the percentage of the US population which self-identifies as LDS, even while other religious faiths/denominations show declines. There is an increasing secularization of Western culture, which impacts religious affiliation across the board. But Mormon faith is less, not more, prone to the effects of that trend.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Your rejection of the Book of Mormon as historically “worthless” is an overstatement. As a result of the Book of Mormon, LDS archeologists will look for evidence tending to confirm the Book of Mormon’s historicity. There are instances in which they have found such evidence, even when previously thought not to exist. An example is barley – the reputed absence of barley from pre-Columbian America was once thought to be an anachronism, and evidence of the invented nature of the Book of Mormon. This argument was retained right up until evidence of the pre-Columbian cultivation of barley was uncovered. This is far from the only example. But it means that the Book of Mormon has not proven worthless, even as archeologists and others continue the search for new correlations.

    It would be more accurate to say that the Genesis accounts (both of them) of Creation are historically worthless, since consensus scientific opinion leads us to other interpretations entirely. This may well be your view, but I notice you stop short of mentioning that. It’s easier just to pick on the Book of Mormon than take on the scripture that Mormons share with you.

    You say, well, c’mon, the Bible is a lot more historically accurate. I take that point but it is really apples and oranges. The Book of Mormon is sui generis; undisputed scientific/historical confirmation of major elements of the narrative would have much different consequences in terms of religious belief. If the Bible refers to a place that you can identify on the map, you say, look, confirmation. When the Book of Mormon does the same thing (Jerusalem), you say, oh that doesn’t count. But when the Bible refers to a world-wide flood, or tells a story about the walls of Jericho or recounts other tales called into question by scholars of antiquity, you just say … the Book of Mormon is worthless! I think that’s not playing fair.

  • Dean Cutrer

    Sorry, I should clarify. I don’t mean to imply that you did not provide ample historical commentary and data. My intention and/or hopefully helpful critique is that much of what you presented looses much of its weight or potential impact due to the method of weak cross connections to Christianity. While you seem to hint at the fact that of course the Bible and the Book of Mormon are nowhere near on par with each other in regards to the overwhelming differences in valid historical representations, you then make accusations and imply that they are on par by you comparisons which are nowhere validated.
    This method of writing simply leads me to distrust the rest of what’s been written. Sorry, you just handle accusations concerning the Word of God far too carelessly and whimsically for my taste and in doing so, lost my potential readership of the value that I might have gleaned from the Mormon history that you did provide.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    The link provided has a calculated loss of members chart the Apostacy chart. As the church is not transparent with numbers, any claims need to be taken with a grain of salt, and the methodology/assumptions evaluated.

    As to the pew survey. The LDS church went from 1.7 to 1.6 percent during a time where they grew the missionary force by 40%. The rate of baptism per missionary is the lowest it has been in years. The 1.7 to 1.6 thing is within the range of statistical error, but church growth in the US has flatlined.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Both the bible and book of mormon (or any book of scripture/mythology) create ample rabbit holes for destroying faith. Once a believer realizes that there a portions of either that do not match with science they begin an exercise of then deciding what parts of scripture are accurate.

    In the case of the OT; once one throws out the creation, flood, exodus, united kingdom stories, and then analyzes the nature of God as conveyed in the OT; petty, vindictive, orders the slaughter of innocents, kills innocents by his own actions, condones slavery, mandates that a rape victim marries the rapist if reparations are paid, is elitist, is racist, kills youth for making fun of a bald prophet, yada yada…. well it leaves little reason for one to worship such a being.

    The NT has historicity issues as there are 0 primary sources, but the message of the NT is nicer, god comes off as a much more reasonable fellow (though seems bifurcated when compared to his OT persona) right up to the return of the god of destruction of the book of apocalypse.

    Noting that belief in the Christian set of scripture is more reasonable due to the existence of archeological sites is akin to arguing that we should be worshiping Zeus and the Greek Parthenon due to the existence of archeological Athens.

  • Minjae_Lee

    The charts you link to do not support your claim. The most damning to you is the first one showing a decided flattening of the line depicting “former members.” More importantly, the convoluted calculations described remind of the well known axiom “you can prove anything with statistics.” It is dizzying to say the least and, if you take some time and follow it through, you will see, again, that your claim of an increasing rate of people leaving the church is not supported. Sorry, you don’t win the prize this time – not even close. But you did try and I commend the effort.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    We agree the difference between 1.7 and 1.6 is statistically insignificant. It means that growth in the U.S. has kept pace with population growth. That is inconsistent with net membership loss, which please recall WAS your claim until you were called on it. Downward pressure is more readily explained by the increasing secularization of the culture, as seen from myriad data points including Pew’s finding that other faiths/ denominations HAVE experienced a net loss in self- identifying members. So it’s significant that Mormon affiliation remains stable as a percent of U.S. population, against the losses experienced elsewhere. You don’t consider that because it doesn’t fit your narrative but facts are still facts. It’s also more reasonable to consider a wide variety of cultural influences adverse to religious faith and lifestyle, across the board and more strongly affecting other affiliations than Mormonism, than to allude vaguely to “the Internet,” as though you’ve proven anything.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Not trying to win a prize. Until real numbers are released by the church, all the numbers are fuzzy. This includes the church’s own numbers that they report at conference as some of the operating assumptions for those are questionable.

    Here is an informative discussion for the statistics: http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=37620

    With this observation:
    The money stats for me are the members per ward and members per stake. Those go up when the number of active members go down. The number of members per ward and stake started going up in 1998. What else happened in 1998? Google was founded.”

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Memebers per ward is up, which can be interpreted to mean that inactives per ward is up. Yes, statistics. We also have a GA on records stating “realize that, maybe, since Kirtland we’ve never had a period of, I’ll call it apostasy, like we’re having right now, largely over these issues.” ~Marlin Jensen, which while anecdotal and unofficial, is telling.

    I have proven nothing. Nothing can be proven until the church is more transparent with the membership numbers.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    So Dean,
    Was there any death on the planet before the fall of Adam?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I was citing the Pew survey, which has longitudinal validity and is independent of formal membership tallies. Pew provides exactly the kind of “transparency” you say you want, and then when the numbers don’t fit your preconceptions, you go back to complaining about *different* numbers. Oh well.

    Elder Jensen’s comments years ago didn’t purport to be based on any particular study or analysis, and turn out to amount to his own speculation. It is perfectly reasonable for him or anyone to be concerned about any individual member’s loss of faith – whether attributed to the acquisition of information relating to Church history (the focus of the Q&A with Elder Jensen), Book of Mormon historicity, political viewpoints or anything else. The Church has been, and will be, proactive in communicating reliable, accurate and fair information regarding any of those topics and others.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    So you and I are in agreement here, despite our vastly different starting points, in terms of Phillip Jenkins’ argument. I think your comments illustrate well how either text or group of texts (but collectively the Bible on one hand and the Book of Mormon on the other hand) are subject to attack on the basis of scientific consensus as in effect at any point in time, both as the consensus view relates to historicity and to other topics (e.g., cosmology). Jenkins’ idea that while both may be subject to attack, one of them (the Bible) is less so amounts in our view (yours and mine) to whistling in the dark. Despite our other differences, I am pleased we can agree on that.

    Where we differ is on the issue of whether, and if so how, scientific understanding can be squared with faith. On that subject, I would tend more toward what I would assume to be Dr. Jenkins’ view, although he seems to be a little coy about that.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    And you don’t see what’s silly about that, I guess. Hmmm.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Really? Where has the church provided the numbers of resignations per year? And how many of those leaving actually go to the trouble of resigning?

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Yes, I would say “Live by the sword. Die by the sword.” Christianity coupled with the bible fares a little better than the bom in terms of being able to point to a real documented location and people; but once you start throwing out supernatural/non historically validated elements from either, where do you stop? You pare the supernatural, and non historical out of either document, and you are left with a very thin book.

    In the end you are left with faith. I have argued ad nauseum in the other post that all unfalsifiable beliefs are of equal value. I give you, Mr. Philip, and any other believer in any other religion/mythos the same weight in terms of validity of your spiritual experiences as I do my own.

  • Dean Cutrer

    Really? Now you want to have a debate about the historicity of Adam and the creation account with a man of no reputation or formal education on the issues in an attempt to shift the focus away from the simple critiques that were made? Not only is it shifting the topic, it also reveals a complete lack of desire to present the best form of journalism you can on such important issues. You now remind me of the woman at the well, when confronted with her sin, according to the Living Word of God, she tries to deflect and start a debate about which mountain was the right mountain to worship from. You have made you stance clear I guess, that you will not accept the Word of God as actually 100% accurate; most likely due to limiting any possibility of the supernatural and the fact that the hypothetical sciences and history are your absolute authorities to which all other truth claims must be submitted (perhaps I’m wrong).
    The fact is, you are the author of this series of articles on a widely read religious blog. I am not. You are the one making accusations and presenting “possible” doubts to the Word of God. Your responsibility therefore, within the scope of the series is to provide accurate documentation of the truth claims you make; unless throwing out shades of doubt is merely your objective. If you want to write a series on the historicity of Job and the creation account, then do so. Merely making implied connections to the Book of Mormon isn’t helpful for anyone to genuinely discern for themselves if there is any actual parallels. In fact I think we can learn things from your articles and their alleged truth claims as Christians, but I just disagree on how and where any parallels might be drawn.
    Not that anyone cares, or that it is at all relevant to my initial comments, but no I do not believe that death existed before Adam. I believe the inspired Word of God when it says “death entered through sin” and “death reigned from Adam”. I also believe the literal account of creation and in a literal 6 day creation. Of course I’m sure that your authority are things like archaeology and carbon dating methods, etc, which over time have all been proven to contradict themselves, and are all based on theories which require an atmosphere like we have now, and don’t allow for the potential of an actual dramatic atmospheric change like the one Scripture says God caused in connection with the flood, which also resulted in men’s lives being shortened from 900 years to 120. I also believe that just as God created mature adult men and animals, that it would also be logical to believe that He likewise created a mature earth (no pre-existence). My belief in the absolute truth and authority of Scripture however does not hinge upon those things, but instead is founded on the confirmed Word of God in my heart, by faith, when my heart agrees with every word it says about my sinfulness, and the grace and forgiveness found in the righteousness of Christ alone by grace, confirmed by the resurrection of Christ, the testimony of the apostles and many historical eye witnesses, who observed many signs and wonders in that day and never recanted of these things to the point of death. All of these words spoken over thousands of years through many human authors, but when the absolute harmony and agreement among every word of them is seen, the true single Divine Author is clearly and undeniably revealed.
    We could go back and forth all day. On the end I would hope that as an author on such a widely read blog, your education and reasoning would at some points surpass my own. That fact however, does not mean that either of us is wrong or right. It merely points to the need for having an honest conversation on a level playing field, with all the facts, and everyone’s presuppositions laid bare, which in fact, was my objective for you at the beginning.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I was citing the Pew survey, which has longitudinal validity and is independent of formal membership tallies. Pew provides exactly the kind of “transparency” you say you want, and then when the numbers don’t fit your preconceptions, you go back to complaining about *different* numbers. Oh well.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Dean are you addressing MFK or Phillip Jenkins when you refer to the blog?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Right. I understand this to be the argument for atheism, which starts to be off-topic for this thread but which makes my comparative religion point very effectively. Since I *used to be* an atheist, I naturally disagree with you but you folks are always too busy assuming your conclusions to listen to reason on that score.

  • Dean Cutrer

    Both. I really wasn’t intending to engage MFK but I guess he decided to jump in. Commenting from a phone is challenging to say the least. Please forgive my rambling.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    The number of formal resignations per year would probably be masked by the statistical error in that pew survey, hence without the hard numbers, this discussion while entertaining….

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Ok then, you are a YEC. Good to know. There a 100s of competing creation mythologies…. why give the Abrahamic one the gold star?

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Hmm. Yes, because your unfalsifiable assertions are more valid than some one else’s. That is “reasonable”.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Dude, you need to pay better attention. The Pew survey has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH CHURCH MEMBERSHIP TALLIES. I SAID THIS ALREADY. See, what they do in the survey is … conduct a survey. Amazing concept, eh? And then when they talk to people, they ask them what their religion is, if any. If the person says, “Mormon,” the interviewer checks a little box on a form. I should not have to explain this to you, but apparently I do. Anyway, if someone self-reports as a Mormon, this could possibly pick up people who have disaffiliated but you would not expect that former members who have resigned their membership or just stopped attending altogether based on some faith crisis or other (if not outright hostility, like yours) would not still be self-identifying as LDS. Right? You get that now? I could use brightly colored crayon pictures if that would help.

    So even though self reporting as Mormon might not be an exact proxy for “active membership” (a term you can’t really define anyway), it is a perfectly fine proxy for purposes of longitudinal comparisons with members of other faiths/denominations who are identified using the same survey methods. This is what we call “sociology,” and they teach it in colleges and stuff. Really. I promise. So once you do this, you don’t need to care what is or isn’t in SLC membership records, dig?


  • trytoseeitmyway

    I didn’t say that and don’t think that’s the case. You’re just projecting.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Ok ok, I was too liberal with my use of the word “increasingly” let me restate it in a way that might be more pleasing unto you.


    By most studies only 3.3 out of 10 folk baptized stick with the church and/or self identify as mormon (see http://www.cumorah.com/ for studies). For example : the recent Brazilian census indicates that the number of Brazilians that self identify as mormon is less than 23% of the folks that the church has on its records.

    Studies performed in the US recently indicate that one of the major contributing factors to people leaving the church is the availability of data about church history, and contradictions with prevailing scientific thought. (See John Dehlin’s stuff for this, and then we can argue about validity… but I really don’t want to)

    So the majority of folks baptized into the church leave (no longer self identify as LDS).


    And as it nominally takes X amount of people to run a ward, and Y to run a stake, the ratio of members per ward or member per stake are indicative of activity rates, from which attrition rates can be inferred. If the ratio is growing, then more folks might be leaving. This is an assumption that may not be correct, but as the church is not releasing activity rates, nor resignation rates, we have to make some assumptions.

    (Graphs produced by taking the number of folks reported by the church in its reports, and dividing by the number of respective units as reported by the church.)



    These people per unit/building ratios can possibly mean a couple of things. The church could be stuffing more butts, into each unit/building, or the number of inactives per unit/building is rising. As this ratio has been increasing for years, then “increasingly loosing” members is a definite possibility. As the number of active priesthood holders, and butts in pews is what drives the creation of new units, not gross numbers of baptized members, and the number of units per geographic area drives the construction of buildings. Since I am not aware of changes to these policies as to the numbers required, I am interpreting this ratio to be indicative of the number of inactives per unit/building.

    There is strong correlation between these rates (this growing attrition rate as deduced by the growing rate of members per unit) and the rates of the growth of the internet making information more readily available worldwide.

    The pew study is indicative of the US, not worldwide. And people might self identify as mormon for cultural reasons, like secular Jews; who no longer participate.


  • Dean Cutrer

    Well, YEC in the sense of actual age, but I leave the possibility open that God created an earth that was mature already. However, the issue of creation apologetics, in terms of earth age, is not the primary intention of the Mosaic account, but instead to point to the truth of the God of Israel being The One who created everything and His purpose in doing so for His glory.
    As to the reasons I hold to the literal claims of Genesis, there are far too many and too broad a range of issues to list and articulate effectively in a blog article, nor was that my intention for commenting. I’m not a blog junkie, nor have I commented before on this blog, and I’m quite certain neither of us will convince the other of a competing creation account via this platform. It is a great venue however for men to stroke their own egos by engaging in the latest creation account debates. I’m not interested in that.
    At the end of it all, the question of God, His nature, our sinfulness, and our justification before this Holy God is the centerpiece of the various Holy Book claims. My faith is in the claims made by the Book that reveals Jesus Christ as my righteousnes before God, as I have repented and trusted in Him for my justified standing. Therefore the truth claims that this Book also make are validated by the same faith, and I believe by science and history as well. Everyone has theories and alleged evidence that is based on other theories. Yet the true question every man must ask is not how has God created and when, but instead how has the God who created revealed Himself and what has He said about our sin. If we hold to any formula that results in man being justified by anything less than perfection before God, then God is indeed not entirely Holy, nor Righteous, nor Just. Indeed if he merely winks at our sin and says “work harder,do better”, and there is no wrath upon that sin, then what God is this? None at all I would say. Yet, in Christ alone we have perfect wrath poured out on our substitute, and perfect righteousness fulfilled on behalf of all those who look on Him in faith and repentance.
    God bless!

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    “My god can beat up your god.” Got it.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    What am I projecting on this statement:

    “I naturally disagree with you but you folks are always too busy assuming your conclusions to listen to reason on that score.”


    What then is the “reason” that I should listen to, to give one unfalsifiable belief primacy over another? To me, the reasonable conclusion is to give all unfalsifiable claims equal value.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I have the concern that a generalized discussion of atheism is very off topic. I’m going to let it go with, “I didn’t say that and don’t think that’s the case.” You should be able to figure out what is meant by that, but, if not, then we can pick it up at a more appropriate time and place. I feel sure the opportunity will arise. 😉

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Yes off topic. Have a fun afternoon and a good holiday.

  • Hordeum pusillum does not defend the Book of Mormon’s verses about barley. There is no way it came from Lehi. It is unique to America and diverged from the forerunner of Old World barley 12 million years ago. It shows up in archaeological sites predating Lehi by thousands of years.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    You too. 🙂

  • JohnH2

    That’s why I regret the Mormon trend to relocating the sacred
    landscape down in Meso-America as opposed to in the US proper, in Ohio
    or Illinois or Missouri, where perhaps more modern Mormons could share
    Smith’s experiences.

    So internal to the Book of Mormon, neither the Heartland model nor the Hemispheric model are supported. The Book of Mormon doesn’t primarily talk about geography, climate, or even populations, but those things do appear and Mormons at least have gone over that data with most people who consider the Book itself separate from the assumptions of the past, even assumptions that Joseph Smith may have held conclude that the internal descriptions are not that of the heartland or of a hemispheric civilization.

    Meso-America has its own problems in terms of geography and other aspects described in the Book of Mormon; such as North-South in the Book being rotated to be East-West in Meso-America. Obviously those that are tied to Meso-America make it work, just like those that are tied to the Heartland model and those tied to the Hemispheric model make it work.

  • “As a historical source on the ancient Americas, the Book of Mormon is worthless.”

    Good thing the BoM is a testament of Jesus Christ and not a history text book. I completely agree with you here, the BoM is worthless to anthologists unless they use it to get to know Jesus Christ.

    “The attitude goes like this: ‘Either every syllable of the Scripture is true, or else the whole religion is a vicious lie. Well, maybe we can allow an errant syllable or two due to mistranslation, but otherwise, it’s a hundred percent true or a hundred percent false.’”

    As a Mormon, I disagree with this idea and said so in the comments. The BoM is 100% true in its testimony of Jesus Christ – that only through Him may we be saved. In everything else (the stories, teachings/doctrines, etc) it is as accurate as the Bible which would be a mix of elaborated stories based on real people that teaches us but is sometimes incorrect in it’s teachings (i.e. darker the skin, greater the sin in the BoM [an irony seeing that the Nephites weren’t Caucasians] and Paul stating no one should get marry unless they can’t keep it in their pants in the NT).

    “I believe in Moses partly because nobody would have invented such a convincingly foreign Egyptian name for the great Jewish national hero.”

    This is interesting, seeing that this is the exact apologetic response given by Hugh Nibley on the BoM. He asked, how could Smith have made it up if he got so many of the names right? This argument, to me is weak souse. Lehi and Moses were real people, regardless of the fact that their names sounded authentic.

    “To take another example, both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien created fictional worlds that have had a vast cultural and religious influence worldwide.”

    This is a fair, but weak point. At no time does either book ask readers to pray to God to know if they are true. And I will admit that C.S. Lewis does have truth in his books, as they – in their own way – preach of Christ. But, they are not scripture nor do they claim to be. Though one might argue that is String Theory is correct and every possibility is possible, then on 2 strange worlds floating in the multiverse, another Earth met with Narnia. But this goes beyond my reasoning and grasp on logic.

    “The Book of Mormon does not contain literal historical truth.”

    As I stated before, nothing does. We’ll need a time machine to see just how accurate or inaccurate the BoM and the Bible are. Then we can go back and see Jesus Christ on the Cross and Nephi land somewhere between Alaska and the bottom of Chili. Until then, we’ll have to take God’s word for it. I trust His Word.

    I will never pretend the Book of Mormon is perfect or that readers should believe every word in it, as if they do they will have to believe the parts that admit to its imperfections and realize it is not a perfect book. But it does testify of Jesus Christ, that his Blood saves us. It does its job converting both the Jew and the Gential to the knowledge the Jesus is the Christ – the Savor of the World. I don’t ask any more of it than that, and you shouldn’t expect more from it than what it claims to be.

    If you want to know if the Book of Mormon is right, that Jesus died for your sins, read it and pray about it. God will testify to you that it speaks the truth of His love for us, even if it won’t help the Smithsonian.

  • philipjenkins

    “The Book of Mormon does not contain literal historical truth.” As I stated before, nothing does.” So there is no such thing as historical truth. Good to know. No such thing as World War II, or the Roman Empire, or presumably Bill Clinton’s Presidency. We all dreamed it.
    That is delusional.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Welcome to the entertaining world of debating mormon apologists.

  • philipjenkins

    As to “literal historical truth,” let me illustrate the point. Here is a historical
    event: in 587 BC, the Babylonians took Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and deported the city’s people. The event is referred to multiply in the Bible, in writings of various genres. That is a literal historical truth recorded in the Bible, as well as in multiple non-Biblical sources. No sane person doubts its reality.

    Here, meanwhile, is an example of a historical event from the Book of Mormon….. um. There aren’t any.

    Now, did you get the distinction?

  • Gadianton P. Robbers

    Interestingly, I think the Church leaders understand precisely what Professor Jenkins is talking about. There has not been mention of BoM evidence from headquarters in decades. In fact, there has scarcely been mention of any doctrine whatsoever. If you want to know what the Church teaches on any subject, the last place you’ll find an answer is from Church headquarters. The Church leaders are increasingly, accomplished professionals — pragmatists — from all white-collar venues. Many, and perhaps most, are totally unfamiliar with bible studies, philosophy, theology, and BoM apologetics or apologetics altogether. They know marketing, real estate (although not as well as they think), investments, law (corporate law!), accounting, banking, and sales. A little digging around the web reveals the general tactics taught to the missionaries for reeling in converts is now an actual trademark registered to Bonneville Communications called “HeartSell”. It doesn’t matter what your business trades in, these tactics really work for any product.

    Now, please accept the following insight in the spirit it’s intended as I’m not looking to derail our topic. Some may object and point to the hardline stance the Church has taken on same-sex relationships as evidence that doctrine does matter to church leaders. I don’t buy it. I think that once a person has established himself or herself as a successful international business person in a secular context, that it’s unlikely small-town values mean so much. I think Church leaders see tremendous opportunity to gain favor with the religious right. Ultimately, the payoff is in an expanding business.

    Before my post is deleted for straying too far away from Book of Mormon historiography and what it means to the average member, allow me to show why the diversion is relevant. Imagine a church running entirely from a pragmatic marketing angle for decades, and then all of a sudden, something as odd as Book of Mormon historiography matters to its members. Not to all members, but to some members who really do matter.

    We have Rod Meldrum, who recently burst onto the BoM evidence scene with his Heartland Model , a ‘limited geography’ that puts the BoM right in the North America Columbus discovered, as prophesied about, where the constitution was written, and the whole package rides under the banner of the art of Jon Mc Naughton. They have a few things to say about the academic model that puts the BoM way down in intellectually-fashionable Mesoamerica. This has become a significant movement. The word “FARMS” would mean nothing to my TBM relatives, but at my last family reunion Red Meldrum was brought up in two independent contexts, and I was shocked to learn that one of my relatives has a business roll in his organization.

    But strangely, the leading lights of the Mesoamerican model who hailed from the Maxwell Institute at BYU are no secularized intellectuals. They are every bit as conservative and fundamentalist in their Mormon values. They are Romney supporters basking in the opportunity of a trickle-down economy. It’s really, a matter of geography.

    But we’re not done yet. In 2012, the Maxwell Institute was purged of its traditional apologists who were little known to academia and the general membership alike. A new wave of thinkers have taken root at BYU, and they represent the liberal side of the equation. This younger generation of scholars represent the quasi-postmodern perspectives of ‘religious studies’. Whereas old-school apologists flirted with postmodernism in order to score rhetorical points against critics, labeling them fundamentalists and positivists steeped in 19th century secular humanism, the new generation is fully invested. They actually publish Derridean readings of the Book of Mormon, which is impressive to me given I was once told by a faithful philosophy professor that such a thing wasn’t possible. Heck, the Old Guard that used to make fun of Christians citing Revelations 22:17 against the BoM are now citing bible passages as evidence of its own divinity against the New Guard’s dismissal of the Bible’s infallibility (based on results of source criticism etc.)

    Rest assured, the old guard is tough as nails and they aren’t taking this laying down — they have connections everywhere. Meldrum is tough and he’s got one massive private organization. The new generation is tough, and they have new inroads to academia which could mean publicity and $$$ for the Church. Their peers look for novelty and equality rather than spade-in-dirt truth, and it’s a whole new come-together atmosphere that is quite compelling.

    These three groups are making their wakes, BoM geography and evidence is explicitly and implicitly vital to their projects, and all have some kind of connections to SLC headquarters. So does evidence matter? Well no, but, maybe yes? And how are the Brethren, who are ill equipped to deal with theology let alone history and geography going to settle all of this? Will they let it play out on its own? Will they step in and “stand for something?”

    I honestly have no idea. But I have my bag of popcorn open and I’m prepared to call out the play-by-play as it happens.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Um, the point is that barley was claimed not to exist in the Americas which claim was then cited as a disproof of the Book of Mormon. The disproof went away when barley was found to have existed pre-Columbus. The Lehi thing is a red herring.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    The Book of Mormon records the birth of Christ. It is known that Christ was born. QED. You say, oh, that doesn’t count. Then you pass lightly over all of the events recorded in the Bible whose historicity is explicitly questioned by scholarship. Walls of Jerico, that kind of thing.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Between the bag of popcorn and the tinfoil hat, you look a bit silly, but that’s just a personal impression.

  • X.M.C.

    I enjoyed the last few posts in this series. Last year a friend and I read through the Book of Mormon. I had requested a free copy from the Church’s website and it was delivered a few weeks later by two missionaries (of course). We met with the elders (LDS missionaries use the title Elder, but they’re about 18-20) semi-regularly, once a week or every other week, as we read through it. Occasionally another curious friend or family member would join us.

    From our point of view, it was a sort of eccumenical getting-to-know you. We didn’t want to play Trap the Missionary and we weren’t looking for converts, but we also didn’t want to lead them on. We tried to be open about our skepticism while also honestly asking questions about the Mormon point of view. We also covered a wide range of topics, including missionary life and comparing Utah Mormon culture with our own Mennonite background.

    I think the thing to understand is that personal revelation and experience are very important to Mormons. At one point early on, one of the elders was speaking when his voice suddenly became quieter and more intent. It was a little shocking because I didn’t understand what was happening. He said, “I know the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and I know that if you ask God, you can know this too.” He then told us that when he was younger, he asked God and believed that God had confirmed it to him. The other elders we interacted with also gave a similar testimony at some point, and I don’t doubt that each of them really does believe that God gave them personal confimation of the Book of Mormon’s truth.

    And so, when it came to history, they agreed that consensus was against them (though they assured us that evidence had been found), but the way to really know the Book of Mormon is true was to ask God ourselves. (They often referred us to Moroni 10:4-5.) (I did pray, with as much sincerity as I could muster, that God would convince me if it was true.)

    I think Book of Mormon archaeology apologetics serves the same role that Answers in Genesis provides for a lot of people in evangelical circles. I know some thoughtful people who are Young Earth Creationists, but if I pushed them on it, I don’t think they’d be able to argue for it beyond just the basic points. They believe in Jesus for other reasons and YEC just comes along as part of the package. They’re content just to know that someone out there is able to defend it. Of course there are other who take the issue more seriously.

    (There was one Book of Mormon apologetics site my friend and I occasionally referred to—among ourselves—as Answers in Nephi.)

    A side note: Apart from the fact that Mormonism is interesting in itself, it was also a bit like getting an outsider’s view of evangelicalsim. Mormonism and evangelicalism share common roots, so it was helpful to look at the ideas we share in common in a different context: what a Bible ought to look like and how it should work; and what God is like and how He ought to work. I have a lot more thoughts along these lines; Mormonism is a fascinating subject.

  • Your argument was that Hordeum pusillum is evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity. It isn’t.

  • Gadianton P. Robbers


    As I was explaining to the unwashed in a previous post, the (academic) Mopologists don’t generally market themselves as trading in the kind of positive evidence that archeologists deal with. As Professor Jenkins pointed out there is not a single pot offered as evidence of a BoM setting. You have barley. Well, let’s talk about barley in context of minimal plausibility. If the BoM says there was barley somewhere, then minimal plausibility requires that barley grow there. If a critic dismisses the BoM for many reasons, including the fact that hey, where’s the barley? The critic is ruling out the plausibility of the story. Now, suppose barley is discovered. The battle at this point could be so heated that even though it’s waged far at the outskirts of the city, there is a swell of victory among the faithful and frustration among the critics (granting your narrative is accurate). It may be that in the heat of battle, it was forgotten that not completely contradicting the lay of the land isn’t positive evidence that anyone in academia would take seriously. If Mark Hoffman would have written the Book of Mormon, we wouldn’t have to deal with all the anachronisms that rule out bare plausibility because he would have been more careful.

    Your comment about the mention of Jerusalem counting for something in the BoM is so utterly pedestrian that I had to set my pipe down to avoid choking on the smoke.

  • Gadianton P. Robbers

    O.M.G. You can’t be serious?
    How is it known that Christ was born?
    Are you in fifth grade or something?

  • Gadianton P. Robbers

    MFK is right. As immature as the argument is, there are plenty of faithful Phds who have argued exactly this.
    If the apologists can’t win, they go for a stalemate.

  • Gadianton P. Robbers

    Hello Dean Cutrer,

    Do you think writing coherent sentences might also help establish author credibility?

  • Caleb G

    Perhaps you can do some additional posts to more fully explain your position on the relationship of historical events and religious truth. I agree that the Bible is more rooted in history than the book of Mormon. You seem to argue that religious truth can be entirely divorced from historical truth. I agree that we can find much that is true in the Bible along with other literature (ancient and modern) irregardless of their historical truth. You mention Shakespeare, Lewis, and Tolkien. While Tolkien and Lewis have many fanboys, no one has turned their writings into Scripture. But the Bible and the Book of Mormon are seen as Scripture by millions of people. The authority they assign to their respective Scriptures goes far beyond seeing them as “fable.” If spiritual truth can be divorced entirely from historical truth, then why should I choose to be an evangelical Christian rather than say a Mormon or a non-Christian who appreciates the lessons that can be gleaned from these ancient texts?

    You are also correct when you state that most laypeople do not come to faith (evangelical or Mormon) based on the historical accuracy of their respective Scriptures. While it may not form the foundation for their faith, I’d wager many would be troubled if they came to realize that their Scriptures make historical claims which are not true. I mentioned in a comment to a previous post in this series that this is an existential issue for me. If Scripture has historical errors in it (which seems likely), is it possible for me to remain a Christian? Why should we trust the ethical and religious truth (which cannot be empirically verified) found in Scripture (be it the Bible or the Book of Mormon) when it contains historical and scientific errors (which can be empirically verified)? I ask these questions in all sincerity, not because I am trying to “expose you as a liberal and throw you out of the camp.”

    Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Muslims all claim to have experiences which reveal to them that their respective Scriptures are the true revelation from God. So while Mormons would point to experience as key evidence, I don’t see that as trustworthy in and of itself.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    The bible records the birth of Jesus. It mentions a census that does not coincide with known chronologies, and the murder of a cohort of children that is recorded no where else. The biblical record of the birth is very questionable.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    My argument was exactly what I stated it was. You have invented a straw man version of it for your own reasons. This is evident to anyone reading my words and yours. Thanks.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    No, not in 5th grade. I’ve even advanced beyond the age of 15, which is questionable for anyone who writes “O.M.G.” Let us know when you grow up, OK?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    The purpose of my comment obviously wasn’t to touch off a discussion of the historicity of Jesus. I was making a point in reply to Dr. Jenkins who surely doesn’t question the birth of Jesus. But I grant you – in parallel to a response I made to you previously – that there are historicity issues with the Biblical account of Jesus birth, of which you have identified two. This is consistent with the theme of my other responses to Dr. Jenkins – again, I think that you and I are in substantial agreement as far as this goes, while disagreeing about many other things – is that he seems to be throwing stones from the parapet of a glass house.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Well, see, we told you that smoking is bad for you.

  • Your argument was “LDS archeologists will look for evidence tending to confirm the Book of Mormon’s historicity. There are instances in which they have found such evidence, even when previously thought not to exist. An example is barley”.
    The barley you are referring to is Hordeum pusillum and it is not evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Gosh. The options here are that you are either dense or dishonest. Since you only selectively quoted my previous comment, I am guessing that the latter choice is the right one. I could rehearse the whole thing for you, but what would be the point. I’ll just leave it that your quotation from my prior comment left off additional sentences which made my meaning very clear, and which demonstrate how you are deliberately misunderstanding/mischaracterizing it.

  • You did in fact state that Hordeum pusillum is archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity. And I have maintained that it is not evidence. There is no need to make personal insults and/or accusations against my moral character.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    So, once again, if you read what I said you can see what I meant to say. It stands up. It is not contradicted by any fact you cite. You can say Hordeum pusillum over and over and it won’t change anything. I’m not making personal insults or accusations against your moral character, but rather I am drawing reasonable conclusions from available evidence.

    But here. Maybe I am wrong in opting for the second of the two possibilities I mentioned. Maybe it is the first possibility after all. I will go over this for you veeery sloooowly in the hope that mayyyybe you will get it this time. See, there is a category of criticisms of Book of Mormon historicity – yes I said, historicity – known as “anachronisms.” The argument is that the Book of Mormon refers to animals, plants (plants – this will become important later on, so keep that one in mind, OK?) and artifacts which are (so the argument goes) known not to exist in the New World prior to the European rediscovery (that is, before Columbus also known at the pre-Columbian period). I am sure that you have heard about the argument from anachronism, tapirrider1; your chosen name suggests a juvenile reference to an anachronism argument, right? Right.

    So, anyway, there was a time when one of the purported anachronisms had to do with barley. The Book of Mormon refers in a few places to barley. At one time, barley was not thought to have existed in in the New World pre-Columbian. This was regarded as a criticism from anachronism of the Book of Mormon. See how that works? Of course you do! You’re a smart lad.

    Lo and behold, a species of barley is discovered to have existed pre-Columbus in South America, right where the Book of Mormon would have it be. Whoops! That argument from anachronism goes away. There are others, to be sure, but that one … gone.

    This is exactly what I was referring to in my earlier comment. And you know it. Why you persist in your silly misrepresentation of it is beyond me. It is either because you are dense or dishonest. For purposes of this comment, I have been willing to assume the former to be the case, which is why I take the time to go over this again so painstakingly. But I have a little bet with myself. I am betting that you will come back with some statement along the lines of, “Hordeum pusillum is not evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity.” And then I will know for sure that you are *intentionally* missing the point, which is confirmation of the second possibility.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Yes, I was just fleshing out the details.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    You shouldn’t. Agnosticism is the rational answer.

  • Wayne Dequer

    In this article Professor Jenkins seem to write largely from the position of a religiously tolerant secular humanist, while he continues to profess that “The Book of Mormon does not contain literal historical truth” both at the beginning and end of this article. In between he makes a number of points.

    First he constructs a straw-man argument of a nearly absolutist status of the Book of Mormon when the work itself says: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men” (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/bofm-title?lang=eng even though Joseph Smith said it was the most correct of any book In That people can get closer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book). He denigrates this straw man as “twentieth century fundamentalism at its crudest and most simplistic” and later as “deluded and naïve . . . painful literalism.” Of course, LDS interpretation of scriptures generally rises above the literal vs. symbolic dichotomy, teaching that scriptures should be considered for both reasons at the same time (“. . . for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” – 1 Nephi 19:23). In fact Mormons are generally comfortable with the idea that many things may have multiple layers of meaning.

    Next is the single-scripture-and-cultural-revelations straw-man. This is surprisingly out of stride with the LDS tradition of an open cannon, many additional scriptures, and God-given revelation. I doubt that many Christian fundamentalists would welcome Mormons into their religious camp.

    The Book of Mormon is here likened to the beloved fictional works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Of course, Tolkien and Lewis made it clear they were writing thoughtful fantasy, but the Book of Mormon makes it clear that it is to be considered as a factual ancient record. Further, Tolkien and Lewis were writing as extremely skilled and erudite authors while Joseph Smith, at 24 years old, certainly was not. Much as Harold Bloom said that Joseph Smith was a religious genius (see http://www.wheatandtares.org/4941/bloom-calls-smith-%E2%80%9Cmost-eminent-intellectual-in-mormon-history%E2%80%9D/ and http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700197866/Yale-professor-Harold-Bloom-warns-of-Romney-and-Mormon-theocracy.html?pg=all ), Professor Jenkins characterizes Joseph Smith as a master frontier story-teller. Joseph certainly had a sense of humor, but he was not a seasoned master story-teller, especially in 1830 (see “Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling” by Bushman and http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/%22Amusing_recitals%22_of_ancient_American_inhabitants including notes). Of course, secular absolutists presume all accounts of communication between God and Man as well as all miracles must simply be tall-tales.

    Meanwhile this article by Professor Jenkins carefully avoids dealing with the text of the Book of Mormon, itself. I am choosing to write about specific LDS scriptures to counter that avoidance by this author. Some of those texts are found in 1 Nephi 8 and 11-12 which describes and interprets a prophetic dream of both Lehi and Nephi. In this dream many people were wandering in mists of darkness symbolizing ignorance and confusion. However, some individuals pressed forward, feasting on the word of God, to a tree of life, partaking of its precious fruit (the love of God). Many of them then noticed a great and spacious building across a gulf from them. The inhabitants of the building were mocking and scorning those who were feasting upon the love of God. That building represented the wisdom and pride of the world. Belittling and mocking of those with firm religious beliefs is dealt with carefully in the Book of Mormon (for examples see 1 Nephi 2:1-15, 1 Nephi 16, Jacob 7, Alma 5, Alma 30, Helaman 13, Ether 12:23-28). I note that this article seems quite willing to use that emotionally loaded/inflammatory language of derision.

    Within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we are taught that “the glory of God is intelligence” (see D&C 96:36-40). The prophets in the Book of Mormon are prophet-scholars, being instructed in a priestly language so they could record their history dealing with spiritual matters (see Mormon 1:2 especially references 2b) We are encouraged to learn “Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms (See D&C 88:76-80). Not all faithful Mormon have the same amount or type of knowledge. However, we try to “seek . . . out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith” (see D&C 109:7) We see study/learning and faith as complementary rather than contradictory. Many Mormons are, to varying degrees, quite familiar with the scriptures and issues involving them (see http://www.pewforum.org/2010/09/28/u-s-religious-knowledge-survey/ ).

    I am grateful that Professor Jenkins acknowledges that Mormons can have genuine spiritual experiences. We do not have to agree on all matters to be respectful of each other and work together constructively.

  • Here are facts about your barley claims:

    The anachronism comes from the lack of Old World barley in pre-Columbian America. The expectation for this particular barley comes from specific claims made in the Book of Mormon. Lehi’s family allegedly gathered seeds from the land of Jerusalem before coming to America and planted them in America. Barley and wheat are so fundamental to ancient Hebrew and Jewish festivals that even though it is not mentioned by name in the following verses, it would be illogical to think that those seeds were not included in the voyage and settlement.

    1 Nephi 8:1
    And it came to pass that we had gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind.

    1 Nephi 16:11
    And it came to pass that we did gather together whatsoever things we should carry into the wilderness, and all the remainder of our provisions which the Lord had given unto us; and we did take seed of every kind that we might carry into the wilderness.

    1 Nephi 18:5-6
    5 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came unto my father, that we should arise and go down into the ship.
    6 And it came to pass that on the morrow, after we had prepared all things, much fruits and meat from the wilderness, and honey in abundance, and provisions according to that which the Lord had commanded us, we did go down into the ship, with all our loading and our seeds, and whatsoever thing we had brought with us, every one according to his age; wherefore, we did all go down into the ship, with our wives and our children.

    1 Nephi 18:23-24
    23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.
    24 And it came to pass that we did begin to till the earth, and we began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.

    Hordeum pusillum does not fit the story. There is no way it came from Lehi (or the Jaradites). It is a unique American plant species separated from Old World barley by million of years. It shows up in North American archaeological sites predating Lehi by thousands of years.

    The case is still open concerning the domestication of Hordeum pusillum. Not all scientists concur with the claims made in the Hohokam study. The only agreed upon fact is that Hordeum pusillum has been gathered and used from the wild plant for thousands of years, predating even the mythical Jaradites. It is not evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity. Hordeum pusillum does not make the anachronism go away.

    The only place for the claim of its domestication is at the Hohokam site, a location not considered in the boundaries of Book of Mormon limited geography theory. Hordeum pusillum is not found in Mesoamerican archaeological sites. Its use was predominantly in the Eastern North America agricultural regions.

    You said “There are instances in which they have found such evidence, even when previously thought not to exist. An example is barley…”. That does not hold water because Hordeum pusillum’s use was known about long before “evidence of the pre-Columbian cultivation of barley was uncovered” and it was not considered to be the Book of Mormon barley until apologists tried to argue that its alleged domestication was proof.

    LDS apologist attempts to use Hordium pusillum to explain barley only opens up many more difficulties. Some LDS members do not think that Hordium pusillum is the barley mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but then LDS members don’t even agree on where the Book of Mormon stories allegedly occurred either. Joseph Smith’s own words get disregarded in attempts to make things fit and to remove anachronisms. The most rational and plausible solution leads to the conclusion that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century work of fiction.

    Many LDS members that I know and think highly of do not make insults and accusations as you have done. Nor do they treat someone as if they are dense or deny that they are throwing insults and accusations even while they continue to do it. Your behavior toward me is not representative of the fine and decent LDS folks I know.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    This is a VERY long-winded way of saying … nothing of relevance. You make the point that there is no reference in the Book of Mormon to the Nephites bringing barley from the Old World, and then say that the barley found in the New a world is native. This contradicts exactly nothing I said. My original comment stands on its own. You jumped in to take issue with it, based on exactly nothing. I point this out to you, and this hurts your widdle feewings. Poor widdle boy. “Tapirider” is intended by you as (juvenile) mockery, so guess what? I don’t care about whether you don’t like having someone call b.s. on your comments.

  • Caleb G

    I can understand why these issues might lead someone to become an agnostic. Really, I do. But fundamentalism/ evangelicalism or agnosticism are not the only 2 choices available. One can be a Christian (or Mormon) without holding to inerrancy. (I realize that Mormons call themselves Christians. I use the term here as a distinction, not to pass judgment on whether or not Mormons are Christians. That is a debate that is irrelevant to the present discussion). The Apostle’s Creed makes historical claims. If there was no Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, then of what value is Christianity? If you can divorce religious truth completely from historical truth, then what difference does it make whether one is a Christian, Mormon, or non-Christian? This is why I want Phillip Jenkins to clarify his position on the relationship between religious truth and historically truth. If one can completely divorce religious truth from historical truth, then perhaps Agnosticism is rational. But there are other issues of ethics and morality which complicate the discussion. One could see Christianity as having no connection to historical truth, but still providing good guidance for how I should live my life. But if you go this route, then I could just as easily be a non-Christian and just take from Christianity the principles and ethics I find useful, without self-identifying as a Christian.

  • echarles1

    I read The Gospels and the Jesus of History by Xavier Leon-Dufour. One of the book’s most important points is that the Gospel writers were concerned with one central truth, the Risen Christ, and it did not concern them that here and there the Gospels contradict. The Bible as history is an interesting topic, but the most important truth for the Christian contained in the Bible is the Risen Christ. Origen, a great but not entirely orthodox Christian saw the Biblical creation story as allegory. St. Augustine interpreted the Old Testament heavily as prefiguration of Christ. Not being a Mormon I do not know if there is any similar truth that survive in the BOM.

  • Wayne Dequer

    In a current article entitled “Doesn’t scientific evidence prove that the Book of Mormon couldn’t possibly be true?”, “the Church” responds on this topic. It can be found at https://www.lds.org/youth/article/common-questions-evidence?lang=eng along with some illuminating links for those interested in a thoughtful response.

  • philipjenkins

    The statement you cite raises a question that I would like to clarify.

    The statement says “For instance, it does not claim to be a record of the ancestors of all of the native peoples across the entire Western Hemisphere, nor does it claim that the people described in it were the first or only people inhabiting the area described in it.”

    I am curious here. I have seen people in this discussion making claims both ways, so let me ask. Does the Book of Mormon say that when the various tribes arrived in the Americas from the Middle East, they had the land to themselves, or were there other people here first? And does it say anything about where they came from?

    That has little bearing on the overall issue of Book of Mormon historicity, which is a settled issue (it contains zero history), but the question is interesting. If in fact the claim is that all pre-Columbian populations are descended from those Middle Eastern folks, the apologists are in deep trouble. But as I say, I am prepared to be corrected on that.

    What does the Book actually say on that issue? I stress, please tell me what the Book says rather than later apologists. Also, did Smith and other early Mormons address that question further?

  • philipjenkins

    Very interesting, thanks.

  • Al Johnson

    I have just read your post … twice … and I must say thank you for backing up , too me, the thoughts I had roaming my head just yesterday.
    It scares me a bit that I don’t think Hitler is in hell now, he is just dead. I am an atheist… WOW, that means to me that I really don’t have to answer to anyone , anything I do … So WHY don’t I kill and pillage and rape ? Is it BECAUSE of my Christian upbringing ? Or is it simply because I am inherently a good person ?
    Christianity, to me, is based not on love, but fear … Fear of burning for eternity. I don’t have that fear, so why don’t I rape and pillage and kill ?

  • Caleb G

    Hans Kung makes an interesting case that theism is plausible using a version of the argument from morality in his books Is There a God? and On Being a Christian. Both books are long and rambling at times, but they are still worth reading for that aspect.
    I think there is much to be said for virtue ethics which does not require a belief in the traditional Western idea of God to be useful. Certain branches of Christianity have incorporated Aristotle’s ethics, especially those who follow Thomas Aquinas.
    Not all Christians believe eternal conscious torment awaits all who reject Christianity. Some hold to Conditional Immortality while others are Universalists or inclusivists who think salvation is possible outside of an organized religion. Hans Kung also makes some interesting arguments in those same books on these topics.
    I guess you would need to ask yourself if your deep seated desire for justice which will be meted out could be fulfilled even after death, or if that desire is some kind of adaptation from our animal ancestors. Both could be true. If that desire comes from previous adaptations, does it provide sufficuent moral grounding to reject murder pillage and rape? Is theism necessary to provide moral grounding or can materialism/secular humanism provide this moral grounding? I don’t know. Your response is not exactly relavent to this comment thread, but it does raise important issues that I also wonder about. I am interested ro hear if the topic of this thread (Historical vs Religious Truth) is an issue which led you to reject Christianity for Atheism.

  • Al Johnson

    To answer your last question 1st.

    I think the historical truth vs. religious truth is probably what put the “nail in the coffin” for me, but I first questioned Christian morals in the 4th grade when my teacher … Sister Matilda was teaching us about Africa. Geography came right after Religion in the 4th grade and I asked her what would happen to someone that was good , say Chief of the Tribe, a good man , but had never heard of Jesus .

    She told me ” He goes straight to Hell ”

    Well, at 9 or 10 years old, that just didn’t sit right with me. By the 8th grade I had come up with what I perceived to be the magical question … IF God is all knowing and all powerful and KNOWS the past, present and FUTURE, where is my children’s free will ? Mind you , at the time, they had not born yet. The nuns thought is was blasphemy to even ASK the question and the Parrish priest was confused to say the least. I NEVER got an answer .So, by the time I was14, I had some serious doubts. Then I did something not many had done. I actually READ the Bible, cover to cover. Needless to say, that did it. SO many questions, and just by wanting to ask these questions I was considered a “smart ass” . Anyway, I ignored religion for many years. About 15 years ago I got curious again and with the advent of the WWW, there was so much information out there. Bertrand Russell , Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins. I read them all. Once you really get into the Bible. and read HOW it was put together and what was left out , that REALLY did it …
    I wouldn’t say I rejected Christianity for atheism, because one could go from Christianity to deism but , science led me to atheism . The Universe is too old and too big to be designed for “you and me” .
    As far as your first 3 paragraphs, with 30 thousand plus different sects of Christianity out there , there are so many takes on the Bible and theories of how to read it, well, one does not have the time to contemplate them all.

    // I guess you would need to ask yourself if your deep seated desire for justice which will be meted out could be fulfilled even after death, or if that desire is some kind of adaptation from our animal ancestors. //
    There is NO “after death ” in MY thought process.
    Maybe we are not evolved enough from our killer ancestors to get along without a God, some fear of reprisal .
    Or maybe some of us see the benefit of getting along with everybody for the benefit of everybody ” NO God required” , as you say “virtue ethics”…
    Why do some of us have empathy while others have apathy when after all we are just a ghost wrapped in a meat skeleton made of star dust …
    Anyway, we are a complicated bunch and it is thought provoking to get intelligent responses with different theories from people of different backgrounds …

  • Caleb G

    Thanks for sharing. I hope Phillip Jenkins responds to the issue I raised about historical vs. religious truth, because it is an important issue as your intellectual journey illustrates.
    Just because one representative of a certain religious or intellectual position gives a bad answer to a question does not undermine the position itself. For example, I could be put off by atheism because of Sam Harris’ rants against Islam. And I think that you would agree that Sam Harris could be wrong and atheism could still be true. Same thing is true about representatives of certain religions. Atheists and skeptics disagree on many issues, but such disagreement does not allow me to just dismiss atheism en toto. Same is true of Christianity or any other religion. There are many people smarter than I am who moved from Christianity to atheism and from atheism to Christianity. I must do my best to examine the evidence for myself as objectively as possible and come to my own conclusions.

    You are correct that we do not have time to read or examine what every adherent within every religious or philosophical position has to say. But we cannot use our inability to read everything as an excuse for not looking at all. It is better to take the best of each intellectual tradition (whether Christianity or atheism) and examine each to see which best holds up in light of the all the arguments for and against. I have more respect for someone who does that and ends up an atheist than a Christian who never bothers to ever critically examine their own beliefs.

    I’m not sure how science leads you to atheism. Science reveals many wonderful things about the world, but it does not tell us whether or not there is a God. Perhaps you can clarify what you mean by this. Many good scientists fully embrace science yet remain theists. For them science does not lead to atheism. I await your clarification on this, but I have a hunch that it was not science, but rather philosophical musings by various scientists who espouse atheism which led you to atheism. I think there are good philosophical arguments for atheism, but they should not be confused with science.
    I agree that the universe is “too old and too big” to have been created for us. But this says nothing about the truth status of theism. God could have deeper purposes for creating the cosmos in which humans barely register as part of the purpose. When I look at the Cosmos, I feel small and insignificant, but that would be true with either atheism or theism.
    Thanks again for sharing a portion of your intellectual journey. Keep seeking after truth and asking those kinds of questions.

  • Al Johnson

    Somewhere between my Catholicism and atheism, there was search for “something else” . Once I had read the Bible and deemed it ridiculous along with the notion of vicarious redemption, which I found immoral, I bought a book called ” The Religions of Man” , NONE of the 12 or so of the religions grabbed me as being unique or realistic. I ignored religion for a while again .
    Christopher Hitchens GAVE me a reason to be a anti-theist, along with 9/11.
    I don’t think I hated religion until then, I just didn’t care .
    Science … Even as a kid, I had a telescope. The “heavens” have always fascinated me. And along came the Hubble Telescope and it’s ability to “see” distances that befuddle the mind . The undefinable number of galaxies and stars and planets… It would be silly to think we are alone. That just didn’t match up with the religions I had been reading about.
    Maybe my small definition of WHAT a “God” actually IS supposed to be , led me to the conclusion that NO “Gods” exist…
    My Christian upbringing MADE me believe that “god” had to be ” ONE PERSON ” who is responsible for EVERYTHING . that didn’t make sense to me, HOW did HE get to be GOD… Lucky guy… How come I didn’t get to be God and so on …
    Krauss’s book ” A Universe from Nothing” gave me hope that there was SOME explanation to the question of WHY are we here …Maybe it was science that gave me something to believe in. Finally I found something that made sense to me , where religion was so illogical .
    I am good with the anthropic principle for life …
    No God required …

  • philipjenkins

    Although I don’t share your views, you express them eloquently and honestly. Thank you.

  • Al Johnson

    I enjoy intelligent , respectful conversations, no matter what the topic, or if you agree with me or not.
    What a boring world it would be if we ALL thought alike …
    Now if you look at ALL my posts, well, I can be an a$$hole .
    There are just some people who LIKE to be belligerent and I am really good at that also ..
    Thanks for noticing …

  • theravenandthewritingdesk

    I work in the technology industry and am not a trained historian or religious scholar, but I am active in the LDS church and served a church mission in South America. Although I’m not taken to commenting on discussion boards frequently, I’ve read a few of your articles here and appreciated that you have been respectful when talking about Latter-day Saint beliefs even when you clearly disagree with them.

    Granted that I’m not a trained expert, I’m personally inclined toward a limited geography model for the B of M, but arguing over the historicity of the B of M is not paramount to my core beliefs. I have found great value in the B of M for it’s “spiritual truths”–which I appreciated that you mentioned could be of value to a “faithful believer”–and feel that the B of M would have value to me regardless of archaeological evidence for or against the limited geographical model.

    Given that introduction to my background, I think that one reason why some apologists in past generations may have believed literally that all Native Americans descended from those “Middle Eastern folks” as you call them, is that the introduction to the Book of Mormon used to state that the Lamanites were the “prinicipal ancestors of the American Indians” from 1981 until 2006 when the word “principal” was replaced with “among the”:


    As the Deseret News article mentions, the title page was not written by Joseph Smith, but may have reflected a general belief among LDS members and some church officials in 1981.

  • philipjenkins

    I appreciate your kind words.

    Thanks for your comments about how that belief grew and was enshrined in church doctrine. I did actually mention the 1981-2007 thing in another post, but it would be astonishing if anyone had read every word of these lengthy exchanges.

    However, I was also referring to something else, and you tell me if I am off base here. My understanding was that in one of his early revelations, Joseph Smith was told that “the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham.”

    One might cavil that the angel did not specify whether some or all Indians fell into the category, but the reader was presumably meant to understand the wider and more far-reaching claim. Also, that statement occurs at a pretty early and foundational stage of church teaching.

    That also seems supported by early comments on church belief and doctrine collected in this impeccably Mormon source:


    To me, that all seems explicit. If I am wrong about this, then seriously, please do correct me.

  • TheMogabi

    “Does the Book of Mormon say that when the various tribes arrived in the Americas from the Middle East, they had the land to themselves, or were there other people here first? And does it say anything about where they came from?”

    One of the main themes in the Book of Mormon is the Americas as the “promised land.” When Lehi and company supposedly landed in the Americas, the text of the Book of Mormon says this in 2 Nephi 1:6-9 (particularly 8 and 9):

    6 Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.

    7 Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.

    8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.

    9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.

  • philipjenkins

    “there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.”

    Hmm, interesting passage. Sounds like it implies that the land was exclusively for the new migrants, so that all Native Americans would actually be of Middle Eastern genetic stock.


  • TheMogabi

    Another chapter to consider is 1 Nephi 13 (that I won’t quote due to its length) which is a vision that an angel shows Nephi of the Land of Promise before Lehi’s party would have arrived in the Americas. In 1 Nephi 13, the vision includes a description of the rise of the United States, among other things. This chapter would make no sense if the Land of Promise was not located in the United States.

  • JohnH2

    Problem with that is that there were at that time in the timeline internal to the Book of Mormon people who were not the new migrants explicitly being the Jaredites who had not been wiped out yet according to Mosiah and Ether, so even without reading anything not explicitly stated in the text itself that interpretation is wrong, sorry try again.

  • philipjenkins

    Well, that seems to me to be the obvious reading.

  • TheMogabi

    In Mormonism, the Jadeites were among those “brought by the hand of the Lord” to the Americas as well. Ether 1:42 mentions that the Jaredites would be brought to a land “choice above all the lands of the earth.” One of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is America as the promised land or a choice land that God preserved for those whom He would bring. The Book of Mormon mentions 3 migrations – the Jaredites, the Nephites, and the Mulekites – all, presumably, brought by the hand of the Lord. Aside from these groups, nothing in the Book of Mormon refers to any other people in the Americas.

  • JohnH2

    Something written by Moroni via Mosiah via Ether via the Brother of Jared (translated by Joseph Smith), with Moroni and Mosiah (and Joseph Smith) having a preestablished version of events regarding the creation and dispersion of peoples in the world. We don’t have enough information to be able to say that one of them didn’t fit in the records of Ether into how they already understood how the world operated.

    Regardless of that though, the Jaredites were already there by the time that the verse in question was written making the prior claim to be false without pulling in things that aren’t explicitly stated in the Book of Mormon itself.

  • Hillary Spragg

    test comment

  • Andrew

    > Of all the reasons why Mormons leave the faith, archaeological or historical qualms surely account for an insignificant minority of defectors. Am I wrong about that?

    Yes, you’re wrong. The point you miss, which is understandable being an outsider, is that the LDS church is fundamentalist. It teaches a very black and white paradigm, either it’s 100% true, or it’s 100% false.

    Here’s example quotes.

    “Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.” – President Gordon B. Hinckley, Prophet

    “…either Joseph Smith was a prophet, or this work is the greatest fraud ever perpetuated on the human race.” – President Gordon B. Hinckley, Prophet

    “I testify that one cannot come to full faith in this latter-day work—and thereby find the fullest measure of peace and comfort in these, our times—until he or she embraces the divinity of the Book of Mormon…If anyone is foolish enough or misled enough to reject 531 pages of a heretofore unknown text teeming with literary and Semitic complexity without honestly attempting to account for the origin of those pages…then such a person, elect or otherwise, has been deceived; and if he or she leaves this Church, it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.” – Elder Holland, Apostle

    The church takes itself very seriously and teaches a very literalist interpretation of things. The most common phrase you’ll hear inside an LDS chapel is “I know.” Members don’t say things like “I believe” or “I hope” or “I have faith” but instead the culture is to say “I know such and such is true.” Using another word would imply that there is some level of uncertainty, which isn’t acceptable.

    For converts who join the church as adults, for the spiritual / emotional / cultural reasons as you suggest, I would generally agree, they don’t care so much about history. However, for people who were raised in the church from birth, who had no say in joining the church, and have had this mindset brainwashed into them, they are leaving in droves over these historical and archaeological issues.

  • Andrew

    In the hands of apologists like Hamblin all of this can be lawyered. For instance while passages may suggest that they were the only people there, someone like Hamblin would argue that this may have been what Nephi or some other BOM author thought at the time they wrote that particular passage, but that they could have been wrong. This is the argument used to defend racism in the BOM for example. There are very plainly written passages that describe people with dark skin as being cursed. So does that mean God was a racist? No, it means the ancient people in the BOM were the racists, blame them. I know with every fiber of my being that Joseph was a true prophet! Amen. Because the book does not state in no uncertain terms that there were no other indigenous people, we are free to assume that there must have been. Yet oddly, at the same time, the book fails to ever mention them either. Interestingly the racist passages have been used to claim that the book does reference other people. The argument is that the curse with black skin was a natural curse that came from sleeping around with indigenous people who had dark skin. Even though book says nothing like this. There is no end to the madness.