What Scholars Do

What Scholars Do May 29, 2015

I have been discussing the historical credentials of the Book of Mormon, in order to illustrate the differences between mainstream and fringe scholarship. Briefly, the history that the book supplies of the pre-Columbian Americas is wholly fictitious, and should never be treated as literal historical truth. We are free to discuss its merits as spiritual or symbolic history.

A critic might say that, well, that is your opinion, but many apologists defend the historicity of the Book and would challenge every individual criticism that I might make. Actually, though, there is a larger issue at stake, which involves how scholars work.

In an earlier post, I remarked that “Scholarship is what scholars do, and if they don’t do it, it’s not scholarship.” In modern times, no reputable mainstream scholar, no mainstream archaeologist, has ever published a word supporting pre-Columbian settlement from the Middle East of the kind described in the Book of Mormon. Look at all the high-profile learned journals devoted to New World history or archaeology, such as the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, American Antiquity, Latin American Antiquity, Journal of Anthropological Research, Journal of New World Archaeology, or Contributions in New World Archaeology. None has ever published an article of that kind. Ditto for the many fine journals on historical linguistics. That fact is, or should be, a terminal problem for Book of Mormon apologists.

I am open to correction on this issue, but let me raise another point, which involves book reviews. Many apologists like to cite John Sorenson’s 2013 book Mormon’s Codex as the Summa of that particular field, the knockdown argument against critics. Most of the journals I mention have extensive review sections, which discuss all manner of books in the field, from the major to the quite minor and obscure. Moreover, literally hundreds of other journals discuss more specialized subfields of (eg) Meso-American history, archaeology, genetics, linguistics etc. That matters so much because the number of reviews in important outlets is a major gauge of the impact and significance of a book. So has any of those journals ever reviewed Sorenson’s book? I am just looking at the very, very wide range of academic journals comprehended in the JSTOR database, and can find no reference to Mormon’s Codex, either a review or a citation in another academic article. Am I missing anything?

I did find a rave review in Deseret News….

Unfair! you cry, claiming (tenuously) that Mormon’s Codex is too recent a publication to have been widely reviewed yet. OK, so look to bygone years to search for academic reviews of books on the core Mormon myth by Sorenson, Hugh Nibley, or any like figure. Good luck.

The main exception is Sorenson’s (1996) Annotated Bibliography of Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans. This did get some real reviews, but it is a wholly “secular” work that assumes no reliance whatever on Book of Mormon ideas. It is a fair and balanced research tool rather than apologetics. Oddly, if anything, it supports Pacific and East Asian contacts with the Americas far better than it does any possible Middle Eastern linkages.

Just to clarify, I have no problem in believing the idea of early transoceanic contacts with the Americas, including from the Norse world, from Polynesia, and East Asia. In each case, there is solid evidence for such links, ranging from the unquestionable to the pretty convincing, using archaeological, genetic and linguistic material. So how do I know that such evidence is convincing, while Mormon apologias are not? Easy: I look at the ways in which scholars present their case, and the outlets in which they do so.

If you want to see how objective scholars present and treat such evidence, then look at a book like Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World, a collection of essays edited by Terry L. Jones, Alice A. Storey, Elizabeth A. Matisoo-Smith and José Miguel Ramírez-Aliaga (Altamira Press, 2011). Thirty years ago, claims about Polynesian contacts with the Americas were viewed with scorn. Over time, though, scholars pointed to a number of really suggestive individual examples that seemed to support such connections. They documented these case-studies carefully and critically, published the results in major refereed journals, and soon, patterns emerged. Within the past decade, enough scholars were working in this area to form a critical mass, and that book represents a statement of the case. If you check out the citations supporting the Polynesian contact idea, they are from outlets such as American Antiquity, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Science, Journal of Archaeological Science, and so on.

Oh, and let me add: some major journals in the field have already published respectful reviews of Polynesians in America, not to mention citations in other periodicals.

Will the Polynesian linkage turn out to be correct? I don’t know, and there is still room for doubt – but at least there is a clear case for critics to debate and answer. Such evidence contrasts utterly with the absolute and complete lack of comparable remains from the Middle East.

Anyone hoping to defend the Book of Mormon’s historicity should treat Polynesians in America as required reading. It shows the sort of remains and evidence that one might hope to find if Mormon claims had an ounce of credibility, and how such findings can be marshaled to convince a suspicious academic world. The authors also acknowledge, as they must, that the burden of proof is on them. They can’t just assert “Polynesians came to America” and wait for others to disprove that suggestion.

By the way, there are outstanding archaeologists of Mormon faith, and some do indeed publish in such stellar outlets. They do not do so, though, on the Book of Mormon schema. Even some of the major apologists have on occasion published in respectable journals and series on other, non-related matters. The controversial (and confrontational) Hugh Nibley had some solid publications in good outlets on Middle Eastern religion and culture – but not, of course, on the Mormon myth.

No academic at a mainstream scholarly conference would dare cite the Book of Mormon as an authentic source on pre-Columbian conditions. No such academic has ever presented an archaeological paper concluding “and thus we see that the finds at site X must be taken to confirm the description of the conflicts described in the Book of Alma.” In contrast, plenty of scholars working on the Middle East use Biblical texts like Acts or Kings to support historical claims, even if they do not accept those works as literally correct in every detail. They can’t fail to do so, because these are priceless historical sources on particular eras.

You’ll note that I stress the role of mainstream, reputable publications. I regularly see attempts to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon by citing out of the way articles from very dated and fringe publications, which we can easily dismiss. Self-published books also surface frequently. If those are the best sources that can be marshaled in the cause, things are dire indeed.

If anyone believes in the Book of Mormon as a historical source, I would ask: why do you think we find that total academic silence? Is it because those many academics are part of a conspiracy of silence? Are they incompetent? Are they phobic about using evidence from religious scriptures? Are they afraid of Mormon religious claims? Are they deliberately suppressing evidence that might support the Mormon scheme of things?

I do not mention any of those options as serious possibilities, but rather to show how outrageous is any attempt to explain away that scholarly silence, and how far you have to wander into conspiracy theories. If a New World archaeologist ever found anything as anomalous as that suggested in the Mormon story, such as a confirmed Semitic inscription on American soil, he or she would be partying for days to celebrate a career-making find. That has, though, never once happened.

In fact, it is really remarkably easy to distinguish between real scholarship and pseudo-scholarship.

ADDENDUM

I have talked a lot about scholarship on the regions that seem to attract the most intense Mormon speculations in recent years. If you want to see what real scholarship on these regions looks like – and why, at no point, does it have the slightest correspondence with the apologist tracts – may I recommend this excellent book: Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). I have already recommended Timothy R. Pauketat, ed., The Oxford Handbook of North American Archaeology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Also, more specifically on a region of interest to Mormon theorizing, see Michael Love and Jonathan Kaplan, eds., The Southern Maya in the Late Pre-Classic : The Rise and Fall of an Early Mesoamerican Civilization (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2011). There are a hundred other comparable works, but these would start you off nicely.

The main point is that, in all this well-studied material, there is not the slightest space into which you can squeeze a rogue Nephite.

 

 

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  • Jon

    I think what most LDS apologists will say is that there will never be conclusive, hard, incontrovertible evidence of the Book of Mormon that will ever be found. There will be plenty of indirect or circumstantial or conjectural evidence, which they publish regularly. The reason, they say, of no hard evidence, is that God is hiding it. There can’t be any of the book’s evidence found in the physical world because that would prove beyond a doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true, and by extension, that the LDS Church is the one true church. That can’t happen and God keep man’s free agency and free exercise of faith intact. And so no hard evidence will ever be found, for God won’t allow it to be found. Pretty convenient reasoning.

  • philipjenkins

    Your comments betray an astonishing ignorance of scholarship of all kinds, including history, science, and archaeology, not to mention an utter contempt for the concept of objective truth. It’s not surprising to find somebody who thinks like this, but it’s startling to have them admit it. I assume you believe your car is powered by elves?

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Yes, because we all know there is no better way of knowing the truth than listening to the voices of your imaginary friends, who dwell in your head.

    I asked god, he said the book of mormon is bad bible fan fiction.

  • James or Not

    Of course! I’m quite sure Brigham Young felt the witness of the Holy Ghost when he declared Adam to be God, and when he, along with John Taylor prophesied that polygamy would overcome that evil, monogamy, and would never be taken away, and when he and every prophet up to Kimball reaffirmed that black african skin was the mark of Cain and a curse from God Himself, and then of course that same Holy Ghost testified to Monson in 2013 that all of that “curse of Cain” was indeed baloney and the church disavowed the doctrine on LDS.org.

    Clear as a ringing bell to me.

    Of course I still trying to figure out how modern christians missed that Jesus already came back again, just like he said he would in all four gospels before the end of that present generation. But then again perhaps he didn’t mean what he said and I need some scholars to explain it to me. ;->

  • David Tiffany

    Along with other evidence, the only spiritual history the Book of Mormon has to offer is that it has led many away from the truth to follow a different gospel.

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  • philipjenkins

    I am so glad you mentioned Richard Bushman, a quite brilliant historian who understands and cares about methodology in an impeccable and demanding way (Not the slightest irony intended). And a terrific person, as well. Mormon history usually follows very similar exacting standards – when dealing with the post-1830 period. Just try getting away with a questionable or poorly sourced statement in a source like the Journal of Mormon History!

    But here is my problem. It is a mystery to me why those scholars do not apply the same criteria to the Book of Mormon. Can you enlighten me on that?

  • philipjenkins

    Have I read all 800 pages of Mormon’s Codex? Of course not. I read enough of his amazing and convincing parallels to get an impression of his approach, but was laughing too hard to continue.

  • Brandon Centini

    Do you like doing pointless things? Because that iis what you are doing with the Book of Mormon. God wants you to follow the book’s precepts and that is where you will benefit. If you are doing something else with the Book of Mormon you’re wasting your time.

  • philipjenkins

    I’m sorry, I failed to answer the second question, about Second Witness. No, haven’t read that. Does he name a specific site or object that would confirm a word of the Book of Mormon? If so, please tell me which it is. Also, please tell me the refereed source in which his claims appear.

  • philipjenkins

    see above

  • philipjenkins

    I’m sorry to have to blacklist you, but you ventured into obscenity, and that’s not acceptable.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I take these observations (and those from the author in response to comments) seriously, although the mocking tone isn’t appreciated. Especially from someone lecturing on scholarship. In response to other essays in this series, I have commented on the parallel problems with Biblical historicity, once you delve below the surface (hey, look, Jerusalem – it’s there just like the Bible says). There are all kinds of historical issues with the literalness of Biblical accounts … but the essays elide over all of them while the author continues to throw stones from his glass dwelling.

    There is just an enormous amount of scholarship on the formation of the universe, and yet when you study it, you don’t find any evidence that it all started when God said, “Let there be light.” So there you go. The Bible is worthless as the author would have us conclude, except maybe as spiritually uplifting fiction. By the way, this is exactly the atheist position – Dr. Jenkins plays well to that here. And yet he is oddly silent on that issue; “oddly” since he is voluble with respect to criticisms of sacred texts not his own.

    But as I say, I take these criticisms seriously. As a Mormon believer, I need to be mindful that despite Sorensen, et al, the arguable consistency of some archeological findings with elements found in the Book of Mormon don’t individually or collectively add up to strong evidence that pre-Columbian American societies anywhere seem to have been influenced by a small band of religiously inspired travelers from the Middle East. But as I think about that, I sort of turn it around to ask, what if such evidence were found? What would the consequences be?

    Imagine that tomorrow the smoking gun (as it were) turned up in some archeological dig. A codex, let’s say, that when translated contains pretty much the same narrative as the Book of Mormon. Wouldn’t everyone or nearly everyone have to say that this was proof of everything Joseph Smith ever proclaimed?

    Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It’s hard to think of a plainer illustration of the role and purpose and requirement of faith, which is not just belief but *reliance* on truth in the absence of evidence. Heb. 11:1 (faith is the evidence of things not seen). And in his discussion of faith (as well as of hope and Christlike love), Paul tells us, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but . . . then shall I know even as also I am known.” Some truth is reserved from us for later revelation.

    So is this a rejection of science or of empiricism or of history? No. We should learn as much as possible about our world and its history, always. We should follow the clues of evidence wherever they lead, and be free to propose hypotheses without regard for matters held to be true as a matter of faith. But we can also look for where objective findings intersect with matters held to be true as a matter of faith, and should be free to call attention to those without, Dr. Jenkins, being mocked in the process. Whatever hand-wavy conclusions Jenkins insists be drawn, it is simply not the case that we understand pre-Columbian American history so well that we can rule out any possibility that there was colonization in the New World by a small band of religiously inspired travelers from the Middle East. And since that’s the case, the author really ought to admit it squarely.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Gosh you’re arrogant. I read Qwerty’s comment carefully and couldn’t find that it displayed ignorance of anything. Of course I suppose now you will just accuse me of the same thing. But even though my views don’t align with Qwerty’s entirely, I find them to be thoughtful and not at all unlike what you would hear from a conventional Christian discussing difficult questions of Biblical historicity. I don’t think you should be so dismissive of others merely because they offer a faith-based perspective.

    Here’s an idea: skip the ad hominem and respond to Qwerty on the merits? What a concept, huh?

  • philipjenkins

    Can I ask a favor? Please read that querty post again. It seriously is as off the wall as I suggested.

  • JohnH2

    Again, if the plates that the Book of Mormon were translated from were had alone and nothing else at all that would be quite the convincing ‘Monte Verde’.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    OK I did that. It is still my view that to say it “betray[s] an astonishing ignorance of scholarship of all kinds” is excessive. Maybe I’m out on a limb here, but I’m having trouble picking out the sentence or thought that is obviously factually wrong.

    In a back-door way, he seems to be making your case that the relevance of the text is entirely a matter of spiritual benefit for which literal truth is irrelevant. I sort of think that’s what you’re saying – you don’t wish to comment on the religious value of the Book of Mormon as long as we recognize that it’s historical fiction. Right? Qwerty says, “[A]nyone that uses the Book of Mormon as a history book as a ignorant as the person that used the Bible as a history book. If you think the Bible is a historical document, you don’t get why either book exists.”

    If you want me to agree that the Bible part of that is an exaggeration, yes, I’ll do that. Maybe that’s where you think Qwerty displays ignorance? (You haven’t really said, so I have to guess.) But to my eyes, that is in parallel with my own argument that there are more than one fairly serious historicity problems with the Bible, once you delve beneath the broadest understanding of the historical narrative. (Whereas the Book of Mormon by contrast has problems even at that high level.)

    I just find you often a bit snappish with commenters and this was an example. You can let the comments stand or fall on their own, or leave them to others to pick apart, but I would just urge you: if you want to engage a commenter, try to do it thoughtfully and not just by insulting him or her.

  • philipjenkins

    To give you one specific of many, the evidence for the historical truth of the general historical world of the Bible is immense and unquestionable. (I said nothing about any specific religious claim). Yet that poster reduced it all to nonsense about the search for the real Sodom and Gomorrah, and said that, therefore, the whole thing is basically a fiction. This is, as I say, off the wall, and suggested real ignorance, not to mention a contempt for any idea that History might be a real thing.

    I think you were too charitable in your response.

    I try and be as courteous as possible, but that really was beyond the pale.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Well, at least I guessed right about the basis for your comment. And of course I agree about the general historical world. I think that’s so obvious that I didn’t read him as questioning that, but I understand. I’m tempted to suggest how you might have responded, but the market for unsolicited advice has never really gotten off the floor.

  • philipjenkins

    If your final remark were correct, there would be no Internet discussion boards.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Good one. Thanks for the first out loud laugh of the day.

  • maggie galalgher

    “Social Proof” is far more important to Mormons in my experience than scientific proof. “Mormonism works” It works because it build on natural law in an intense communal setting. God bless them. I can’t be Mormon because I don’t think it is true, but they have their hands on certain key Truths. Bless them.

  • philipjenkins

    Amen to that.

  • James or Not

    “Mormonism works” is an interesting observation. I think where it works best is social cohesion through a powerful historical narrative of persecution, and when outsiders attack its claims, that narrative kicks in and deepens belief rather than weakening it. The most important key truth is ‘don’t question, at least not publicly.’ It is an awesome thing to get everyone on the same page and keep them there, regardless of facts. Too much truth is confusing and can tear such a tight-knit group apart.

  • Okay, would be scholars: what percent of the names used in the Book of Mormon have a Greek origin? What percent of the names used in Jerusalem and Palestine at the time Nephi left had Greek-origin names? Coincidences are weird, indeed. Maybe Joseph was very lucky. Joseph of Egypt, Joseph Smith both.

  • James Stagg

    “There is just an enormous amount of scholarship on the formation of the universe, and yet when you study it, you don’t find any evidence that it all started when God said, “Let there be light.” So there you go. The Bible is worthless as the author would have us conclude, except maybe as spiritually uplifting fiction.”

    Not exactly.

    One premise for the Big Bang theory is that God did just that: “Let there be light!” And, behold, there was the start of our universe. The resulting study of this theory is quite well-documented. Try Googling it.

    As far as the Bible being “worthless”, it is quite obvious you are not well read. There are many written works based on information derived from the Bible that deal with factual and proven archaeological and historical finds. You should follow Israeli discoveries more closely. Finally, what parts of the Christian Testament of the Bible are “worthless”? Here you have eye-witness accounts, backed by actual people who lived in history and observed the events as they occurred. The locations are still there, and more are being discovered.

    Perhaps there is an active Mormon archaeological dig in the South right now that we do not know of. Please inform us! Please.

    Until then, please confine your comments to that which you have studied and know for a fact……or post your thoughts as questions (unanswerable) as Jenkins has done.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    So, like, the proof of the Genesis account (either one) is what exactly?

    Don’t get me wrong. I accept the Genesis account as true or at least true enough in essence that it can be harmonized with contemporary cosmology. This I take it your position too, so the justification for your caustic remarks escapes me. My point is that it is inconsistent to take this approach to biblical cosmology and then insist that the Book of Mormon must be worthless because no one has unambiguously found evidence of a Nephites migration. You can’t have it both ways, no matter how much you stamp your little footsies and insist you can.

  • Aliquantillus

    The Book of Mormon is a historical falsification of such enormous proportions that the only historical thing about it is perhaps the fact of the falsification itself. Studying it and the pseudo-religion based on it is a waste of time. It is simply not interesting, except perhaps for scholars in psychiatry. Nobody in Church history could have predicted the phenomenon of Mormonism, because of its sheer oddity. It has the genius and the internal logic of madness according to the definition once given by Chesterton: A madman isn’t a man who has lost his reason; it is a man who has lost everything except his reason.

  • rockyrd

    I enjoyed your post. I find in your statement about Mormon’s Codex weak, however. The book is not exactly in the realm of mainstream archeology, so assuming no reviews in prominent journals would discredit it strains credibility. I doubt most secular archeologists would have enough interest to read it much less to post a review.

    On the other hand, your comment “car is powered by elves” above is rude, betrays your prejudices and does not align with the civil nature of your post. I do not agree with each point of your post, but it represented your view and was civil, I was disappointed by your rude comments which follow.

  • rockyrd

    The author used the search for Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. Your couldn’t see that? His emphasis is that the Bible is a holy book testifying of Christ as is the Book of Mormon. Obviously you don’t agree with the Book of Mormon part, but his case for the Bible being a witness of Christ makes a point. It’s focus is religious, not archeological. The same is true with the Book of Mormon whether you agree with it or not.

    I like archeological investigations of both books, but it is much easier in a desert than in jungles of Mesoamerica 80-90% of which has not been touched. Archeological evidence is interesting, but does not affect the spiritual message of either book.

    I’m trying to counter your argument, not attack you personally. I hope the distinction is apparent.

  • Can most of Christianity and other organized religions be tacked up the same way? Do you believe in the possibility of human resurrection or supernatural miracles?

  • Phil

    Mormonism is the mother of all absurdities. There is no reason to even respond to someone who subscribes to utter nonsense.

  • Alan Marchant

    Philip,

    The reason your piece comes across so weakly is that you don’t get beyond the thesis, “Scholarship is what scholars do, and if they don’t do it, it’s not scholarship.” This is embarrassing, really: a pure tautology that is nothing more than appeal to authority. In the post-modern era it requires neither mental exertion nor paranoia to consider the possibility that the anthropological franchise might not welcome results that carry a Book of Mormon taint. This alternate hypothesis appears all the more reasonable in the face of “total academic silence.” To turn your syllogism on its head, where are the modern academics scoring easy money by demolishing the BoM a la Sagan vs. Velikovsky? Maybe the mesoamerican facts are just not so obvious after all.

    Alan

  • Travailen

    Before I read a book, I look for the book’s title page or preface.
    It is the introduction of the book to the reader. It explains the author’s purpose
    in writing the book. The title page of
    the Book of Mormon contains this statement
    ..” Which is to show unto the
    remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their
    fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not
    cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
    As far as I can see, that is the sole purpose of the Book of Mormon. The title
    page and other parts of the Book of Mormon do reference known historical events
    but the author makes no claim as to the veracity of any of the referenced events,
    locations or times.

    The methods that the author uses to accomplish his stated goals
    are his alone. To try to measure the usefulness, value, historical accuracy or
    credibility of a book without rigorous appreciation of the authors stated
    purpose of the book is not scholarly, it is editorializing.

    So, if I understand your posting correctly, you are pointing
    out that the Book of Mormon is not a provable historical document. Well, the
    author never claimed it was. Perhaps you would consider reading the Book of
    Mormon one more time. And this time read it in the light of the author’s stated
    purpose for writing the book.

  • Mark Brooks

    An excellent article. Thanks.

  • philipjenkins

    A point I discuss at great length in the original post which is linked from this piece. Sigh.
    Please see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/05/outliers-and-iconoclasts/

  • philipjenkins

    But you do follow your region?
    I couldn’t resist the snap answer, but let me respond more seriously. Faith is obviously essential to religion, and particularly to Christianity of any shade. We are though dealing with the nature and substance of that faith quite differently from how you are defining it. I think I am right in saying – correct me here – that the Mormon tradition is the only one that as part of its system demands faith-based acceptance of a whole historical universe, literally a continent of history which – most neutral observers would say – never existed. That does make a massive difference. Do not, though, say that others who do not have such massive tasks to overcome are lacking in faith.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    This article is so typical of those who can’t prove their position. If the author is so confident that BoM is a myth, then why doesn’t he present evidence that it is, as opposed to talking about “experts” who agree with them?

    That is the same failed logic that they used to discredit Einstein; that most scientists disagreed with Einstein so it must be false. Its the same thing on global warming. If the evidence supported their claims they would talk about evidence, not the number of scientists and journals on their side.

    Same thing with this issue. You see in science and history, its not enough to claim so many “experts” agree with you so that makes you right. You actually have to show evidence. So, I ask what evidence do you have the BoM is false? And if horses and some weak DNA evidence against it is all you have, then maybe you should re-think your position.

  • philipjenkins

    As I wrote in my first post in this series, but will now reiterate:

    Let me begin with a basic principle of using evidence. I have no obligation to disprove the Book of Mormon, or indeed any religious text, because logically, nobody can prove a negative. I do not need to pick through the book and highlight every anachronism or error, sparking trench warfare with apologists who have built up elaborate defenses against every charge and cavil. Rather, it is up to anyone who believes in that Book to justify its authenticity, by producing positive arguments in its favor. If you are basing statements on the evidence of mystical gold plates that are not available for scholarly examination because they were taken up to Heaven, then you are making utterly extraordinary claims that demand extraordinary evidence. I am open to the concept of miracle, but the burden of proof clearly rests with the person making the claims.

    That would mean you.

    Can I just add though, that if you have been following my columns, you will see a lot of arguments that I have produced on this topic – archaeological, genetic, etc. I am not obliged to “disprove” the Book of Mormon, but the impulse to do so is pretty overwhelming.

    And easy.

  • philipjenkins

    And if you think the DNA evidence is weak, then you are dead center in my category of people who should not be commenting on the issue.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    I’m a biomedical engineer. I’m an expert in my field, and certainly am capable of understanding DNA evidence. So, if you’re so reliant on experts, you should value my opinion on the DNA evidence over your own.

  • philipjenkins

    And by what total dissociation of reason from faith does your biomedical skill desert you when you try to account for the total lack of Middle Eastern genetic signatures among Native American populations?

    Nor, of course, am I relying on experts. If you actually want a “disproof”, how’s this: In my first post in this series, I raised a question:

    Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.

    The question remains. Over to you.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    I don’t follow your columns. The only reason I comment on them is because RealClear references your articles, and there are many people interested in Mormons who follow RealClear.

    I’m not saying the BoM has been proven true based on historical evidence. I’m saying it certainly hasn’t been disproven based on any evidence. I am certainly under no obligation to provide extraordinary evidence.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    I’m fine with looking at the DNA evidence. But lets start with the actual studies, not the interpretation of an interpretation of a study. What data from the DNA studies is not compatible with the BoM?

  • philipjenkins

    Seriously? As I wrote,

    The Book of Mormon describes the movement of Middle Eastern populations to the pre-Columbian Americas – and not just one wave, but repeated movements. If such an event had ever occurred, even if each were on a numerically tiny scale, it would have left a Middle East-related genetic signature traceable among modern native populations in North or South America, or both. No such trace has ever been found. And no, the genes of a small minority population do not get washed out of the system over time to the point where they can no longer be detected. (Sorry to make such an obvious point, but I have seen that view expressed).

    Genetic evidence destroys the Book of Mormon’s
    claims to literal historicity so totally as to make any other debates irrelevant and unnecessary.

  • philipjenkins

    Did I mention the golden plates that are not available for scientific examination, as the only basis for the claim?

  • EngineerSenseHere

    Again, you are referencing interpretations of a study. What data do you have that actually supports your position? If you think DNA evidence destroys any argument, then it shouldn’t be very hard to make a compelling case based on the evidence.

  • philipjenkins

    There’s really no point in going around this endlessly, but what I am saying is this. Nobody has ever produced the evidence I am referring to, which would exist if the migrations had occurred. If you believe there is any such positive evidence, produce it. I can’t produce a negative.

    Is this not clear? It is not my job to disprove anything.

    I do not, for instance, believe in the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster personally, but I cannot disprove his existence. It is up to the true believers of the FSM Church to confound my doubts.

    Or to repeat a line you may have heard:

    Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.

    If nothing of the sort can be produced, surely that indicates a major, terminal problem with Book of Mormon apologetics?

    If that is not clear, let us suspend this debate, and may I wish you a fine week.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    Well, I’ll agree we have been down this road before. However, you keep double speaking. You keep saying you don’t need to disprove the BoM, but you also claim that it is obviously historically false.

    God specifically set the BoM so there wouldn’t be one undeniable evidence that is true. If he wanted to do that he would have left the gold plates.

    I’m not claiming to have historical proof that the BoM is true. However, this is the difference between my claims and yours. You don’t know that BoM is false, but I do know that it is true. Many others know it is true, and have testified that it is true.

    And sure there are some crazy dishonest people that claim the Flying Spaghetti monster is real. So here is the test for anyone who wants to know if the LDS church is true. Go meet an active Mormon. Decide for yourself whether they are crazy and dishonest. You will find just like my non-LDS friends know that we are reasonable and honest. We wouldn’t lie about knowing it is true.

  • philipjenkins

    I have Mormon friends who I admire greatly, and whom I find truthful and generous (including some real scholars). I also know sincere Muslims of whom I would say the same thing, and who are equally convinced of the truth of their revelation. Neither Mormons nor Muslims would deliberately lie to me about what they believe to be true. Whether that belief corresponds to objective truth is a different matter.

  • EngineerSenseHere

    I use to think the same way, and this should be a good exercise for you. I used to think, well every religion believes they are right and most religious people are honest, so how can that be? It didn’t make any sense.

    However, it turns out to be quite different in real life. When I actually started talking to people specifically about their beliefs I found an interesting difference. Most every religion believes they are doing whats right, and that following there religion is good, and that it is inspired of God. And I agree with them for the most part. I believe Muhammad was inspired of God. However, none of them have any evidence like the BoM, not that they don’t have a religious book, but that they have a book where if the characters in it were real, would not only prove the book true, but also the religion true. And I have never met one that would say they knew for sure, by revelation from God, that there specific religion was not only good, but the only one on Earth with the authority from God.

    Now, I invite you talk ask your Mormon and other religious friends. See if what I say is accurate. Find out for yourself if what I say is true.

  • Psycho Gecko

    Just curious, do you know any good popular archeology/history books or other collections? I have an interest in both, but not as much tolerance these days for the raw academic stuff.

  • philipjenkins

    Boy, such a big question! It depends on what kinds of history you like, and which parts of the world.

  • philipjenkins

    and the point about a Monte Verde is something that is utterly convincing to all mainstream scholars, even those who are initially suspicious. Really, not a bit like the Book of Mormon. So that’s a whopping “if”.

  • Chris

    For the sake of argument … let’s say the BoM was intended as a work of faith (not intended to be historic) then would you be so dismissive? In other words if it was solely written as a tool for the persuasion of individuals to become more Christlike would you be so quick to judge it as false? I think you would still be dismissive. You don’t write your articles like you are an unbiased individual. You put too much emotion into what should have been written in a “matter of fact” tone. You obviously have an anti-Mormon agenda. Live and let live. What’s it matter to you if others use this book as a tool to strengthen their faith in the Savior? Would you deny an individual his/her right to take any Road to Damascus that ultimately led them to Christ?

    Let it go and stop trying to target this group and call them out on something that in the end should mean nothing to you. So you have your own Road to Damascus. That doesn’t mean you have the only path to Christ. If the desired effects of practicing that religion results in honest and praiseworthy individuals then hurray for them (and all the world for that matter). You sound very judgmental and not very discerning. Enough already! Let this little grudge match go and move on to more worthy subjects.

  • philipjenkins

    I dismiss it entirely as a work of history or archaeology. I say not a word about it as a work of faith.

    I would not even mention the subject if its believers did not present it as objective history. If they stop doing that, I will have no further remarks on the subject.

    If you believe I have an anti-Mormon agenda, you have not read the earlier posts in this series. If you also believe that pointing out the terminal historical flaws in that Book of itself constitutes anti-Mormon prejudice, you are deeply and alarmingly misinformed.

  • Chris

    Let it be. There is no good that can come from tearing down someone else’s Road to Damascus. With as often as the world seems to be persecuting Christians this is not the time for Christians to be attacking there own.
    You have dedicated several posts to the subject and I have to think there are worse things than someone using this vehicle to become more Christlike. You don’t have to believe in it. In my experience they are not forcing their religion on people. In all the instances where I have known someone who has considered joining Mormonism they were given the choice and encouraged to pray for guidance. If they were inspired to join then they did. If they were not then they did not. Either way they chose a Road to Damascus without ridiculing the road someone else took. Drop it. You are sounding more petty with each post.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Funny that.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    As the BOM teaches;that chastity and virtue can be taken by force, and that god is a racist, I have no use for it as moral lessons from Christ, as it is toxic.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Chris, are we talking about the same religion that sends out 80k missionaries a year, teaching about how their’s is the one and only true church, and the rest are built upon creeds that are an abomination to god? Have you counseled them to stay home, and let it be?

  • Chris

    Did you know that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon use Jewish idioms? The words black and white are not in reference to the color of skin but are in reference to conditions of spirit. Black is a Jewish synonym for somber or spiritually removed. The color association with race was not introduced until 1775 when Johann Friedrich Blumenbach wrote his doctoral thesis on color of skin associated with human behavior. He assigned the color scheme (ie. red, yellow, black, brown, and white). He later retracted his conclusions but not before it took off like wildfire in the research and social circles as a justification for slavery. Abhorrent.

    As for chastity and virtue taken by force… I know of no scripture that condones this. If you know of one in the Bible or BoM then do quote it. There are references to these things existing in scripture but God does not condone removing someone else agency.

  • Chris

    However many they send they send with good intentions. I reiterate … In my experience they are not forcing their religion on people. In all the instances where I have known someone who has considered joining Mormonism they were given the choice and encouraged to pray for guidance. If they were inspired to join then they did. If they were not then they did not. Either way they chose a Road to Damascus without ridiculing the road someone else took.
    I ask … do you advocate for your religion?

  • J. Inglis

    Neither Jenkins nor other historians are trying to have it both ways. They are applying one set of standards (modern archaeological and historiological methods) to all those works (Bible, and the Mormon scriptures).

    “There are all kinds of historical issues with the literalness of Biblical accounts … but the essays elide over all of them” What essays do you speak of? Universities are full of historians and archaeologists that dispute the history found in the Bible, and there are also many books by Christian authors who also dispute the accuracy of the Bible.

    On the whole the Bible appears to be handled in a very critical manner, i.e., not accepted at face value. It is an ancient document, like other ancient documents we have found, and so it is a useful resource. However, nearly all academic archaeologists and historians would only consider it as one resource among many, and a resource that has both accuracies and inaccuracies.

    Lastly, I don’t see how your critique of some supposed approach to the Bible’s record of historical events supports your argument. Don’t Mormons also use the Bible as scripture? If so, then they also have a vested interest in how much of the Bible’s record of history is accurate.

  • J. Inglis

    Eh? I didn’t read his comment as betraying an astonishing ignorance of anything. Is his approach really any different that those who demythologize Christ? (Bultmann as but one example). There are many liberal christians who wouldn’t be troubled in the least if archaeology firmly established that the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews where never in Egypt at any point in time. For them, the value of Jesus is an existential value.

  • J. Inglis

    Nope. Not seriously off the wall.

    “Contemporary Christian proclamation is faced with the question whether, when it demands faith from men and women, it expects them to acknowledge this mythical world picture from the past. If this is impossible, it has to face the question whether the New Testament proclamation has a truth that is independent of the mythical world picture, in which case it would be the task of theology to demythologize the Christian proclamation.” (Rudolf Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings (1984), p. 3)

  • J. Inglis

    Eh? did you ready his post?

    He said he still believed in the existence of Sodom and Gomorrah despite the fact that various archaeological claims for their discovery have proven false. Even with the failure of archaeology he still believed that they existed and that the stories were just embellished.

    He did not say at all that the Bible’s record of history was entirely false. Nor did he say that the failure (to date) to discover Sodom and Gomorrah proved that the entire Bible was a fiction.

    His point, or at least one of them, was that archaeology does not necessarily prove or disprove the reality of faith in Jesus.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I think I can be brief. My remarks in context amply identified the essays (Jenkins’ essays “in this series”). If you agree that there is an absence of scientific or historical confirmation for some Biblical accounts (beginning as early as Genesis 1), then I’m pleased we agree. I would restate my observations about intellectual consistency in dealing with that absence of confirmation while taking quite a different approach to historicity issues with the Book of Mormon, but I have already expressed those observations clearly and to no rebuttal at all, so it should not be necessary for me to restate them. Mormons do indeed use the Bible as scripture, which is to say the revealed word of God. Thank you for asking.

  • Psycho Gecko

    You’re right, I should have specified. I’ve been a fan of the U.S. in the late 1800s, early 1900s, though that interest waned once out of college. It was revived recently by the book The Devil in the White City, about the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the infamous serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes. I found both stories in there pretty interesting.

    I also enjoyed the historiography work in the book Lying About Hitler, where Richard Evans delved into the work of David Irving to see if he was a Holocaust denier and Hitler apologist. I have a bit of a pet peeve about people trying to distort history.

    I don’t think I’ve actually had much in the way of popular archeology, though. I worked on a dig in Tennessee once where they gave us the backstory of one family that owned the big house in the area and that was pretty fascinating as well. The husband turned down an ambassadorial appointment thinking his wife wouldn’t like it. Then she told him she wanted that kind of thing and he rushed over to try and get a new one. So these folks from Tennessee wound up as ambassadors to Russia, hobnobbing with Russian royalty.

    I’m not a fan of the Lost Cause narrative, though. I still have to check and make sure that’s actually considered bunk by historians, because it’s pretty much the only way I’ve heard the story from teachers, regular folks, and the various “historians” that get presented on TV shows.

    I don’t know how helpful any of that is, but if you happen to know a good story or two, I’d be interested in checking it out.

  • philipjenkins

    Well, there are so many options!

    On the civil war, anything by James McPherson or Gary Gallagher is great. One terrific book I liked was S C Gwynne, EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON, on the Comanche.

    And Charles C Mann! – his two books 1491 and 1493 will knock your socks off.

    I also have a long standing love affair with the south west! See David Roberts, IN SEARCH OF THE OLD ONES or Craig Childs, HOUSE OF RAIN. I also enjopyed Roger G. Kennedy, Hidden Cities: The Discovery And Loss Of Ancient North American Civilization.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Not at all, I advocate nothing in regards to religion. But, critically examining the historicity of the BOM does not constitute ridicule.

    So the missionaries have good intentions…. Why would you ascribe any other intentions to Mr. Philips in this series of blog postings?

    Critical examination of BOM historicity does not ridicule make

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Did you know that the children’s illustrated book of Mormon shows pictures of the cursed lamanites, and that the BOM itself expressly says skins of blackness. So spin it however you want. The plain English is racist.
    2 Nephi 5:21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    Seems pretty clear that it is skin tone.

    You also seem to not know yor own scripture.

    Moroni 9:9 And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue—

    Hence the idea that rape victims have lost their chastity/virtue is promoted by the bom. A reprehensible idea.

  • Minjae_Lee

    Any response to Moroni Fielding Kimball is an exercise in futility. He/She is a troll who delights in any tidbit thrown as an opportunity to further denounce and defame, nothing more. Feeding this troll is not advisable (and, even though I am responding to Chris, this will be seen by the troll as another feeding – carnsarnit!).

  • philipjenkins

    Please respond to the specific point he raises?

    May I congratulate you on your imaginative bad language, carnsarnit.

  • JohnH2

    You are partially missing my point; ‘If’ we had the plates and any part of them were translatable and translated to anything like the Book of Mormon as we have it it would still be quite the ‘Monte Verde’, despite everything that today you and everyone else complains about and everything else that is unknown and scholars would then work on trying to figure out how it actually fit and what actually went on.

    Also, just because scholars don’t ‘do’ something doesn’t mean that it is ‘wrong’ or that they will never ‘do’ it;

  • Minjae_Lee

    You are asking me to feed the troll and I must, respectfully, decline. I choose not to get involved in this argument. I know what I know, you know what you know, and there is virtually no chance of either of us moving the other to change his mind. Attempting to do so will only result in bad feelings on one side or the other, if not both, and I would rather avoid that.

    My only intent earlier was to point out to “Chris” that any response he makes to the troll will only call forth more vitriol and hate. There are those with whom a respectful and productive discussion may be had but this troll is not one of them.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Who is trolling? You with your ad hominem or me who has actually contributed to this and the previous threads?

  • Zstur

    It’s nice to see the evidences that Mormon scholars have found to be worth review by professionals! In the past, it was simply brushed aside. Now we have professionals giving up their time about our research. I assume his intent is purely academic, so at least our research is getting noticed. I would prefer a blog, or better yet a research paper, about the actual evidences though.

    Mormons believe in the Book of Mormon both spiritually and literally. As more evidences come up, more scrutinizing will come. Scrutinizing can be good. I invite others to take a look at the other side, and to be open to the idea that many evidences have emerged, but not enough to prove. So it is with most scientific theories. Since the author already mentioned Mormons Codex, I will now mention The Geology of the Book of Mormon, and FairMormon.org.

    And as always, the only real proof for the Book of Mormon is to read it yourself, then ask God. That’s what drives these Mormon scholars, professors and scientists. Proof only comes from God. Evidences support the proof, but don’t always prove as soon as we would like it to.

  • Wayne Dequer

    A comment of on “Mormon’s Codex” by John Sorenson: There is, in fact, a lengthy scholarly review on the book entitled “John L. Sorenson’s Complete Legacy: Reviewing Mormon’s Codex” written in 2014 and available at http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/john-l-sorensons-complete-legacy-reviewing-mormons-codex/ . It is by Brant Gardner and Mark Alan Wright who have appropriate academic backgrounds to review the book as are provided in short bios at the end of the review. The review runs 11 pages (over 4,000 words) and has 34 footnotes. While the review is favorable, it is Not non-critical, noting: “It represents Sorenson’s best thinking on these topics, but not necessarily the best work currently available in the LDS scholarly community.”

    To be fair, this review does Not appear in the JSTOR academic data base. However, it is pretty easy to find simply using Goggle. I neither inherently trust or distrust sources found in particular data bases because of the rapid development in internet sources. Professor Jenkins seems to want us to put our intellectual faith in academic traditions and institutions. Meanwhile he admits that for many years, claims about “Polynesian contacts with the Americas were viewed with scorn” by those traditions and institutions.

    I used the term “intellectual faith” as a means of acknowledging that, in reality, we cannot be experts in all fields, so we have to trust the knowledge of others to some extent. On what do we base that trust and how complete should it be?

    Sorenson, Gardner and Wright are all Mormons and so is “Interpreter – A Journal of Mormon Scripture.” Of course the religious background of a scholar and/or journal should neither endorse nor negate the value of the work and opinion. It is only helpful to know the religious background as well as other factors in understanding potential bias and point of view.

    I suggest that we examine the evidence ourselves, sift out both the hype and mockery as best we can, and carefully reach our own conclusions.

  • philipjenkins

    That’s exactly what I mean when I say that is not a scholarly review. It is an in house Mormon religious paper. So my comment stands. I can find a dozen more like that.

  • philipjenkins

    Huh? Where are these Mormon “scholars ” being noticed by real scholars? I just cite them as devout activists, certainly not real scholars. It’s noticed only in the sense of “meanwhile, on the lighter side…”

  • Zstur

    Aren’t you a scholar. Aren’t you a professor of history. It’s nice that you are taking the time to address these claims by similar professors. As a professor, I hope you took the time to read all sources too. Specifically the Book of Mormon, Mormons Codex, and the Geology and the Book of Mormon would be a good start. I read a comment that you didn’t read some of those. At times, I don’t think you actually did your homework, so I hope you can put all your thoughts together, and tackle the specific evidences. And please don’t mix up theories either. I see you quoting “heartlander” theories for “mesoameican” theories at times. I’m not a scholar or professor like you. So I shouldn’t be seeing these simple mistakes.

  • Zstur

    What? Are you saying you’re a scholar but these people aren’t? Some of them are professors, I thought you were too. Shouldn’t you be scholarly, and study both sides? I’ve noticed big mistakes by you, and I’m just a passive reader. That shouldn’t happen. First mistake, why haven’t you read the other sources? You said in a comment you didn’t even read Mormons Codex? I suggest you be scholarly, and read it, plus the Book of Mormon, plus Geology and the Book of Mormon. I also suggest you research more about Heartlander vs Mesoamerican theory, because you mix the two up. Cmon, I’m a passive reader noticing these mistakes and that shouldn’t happen. You’ve got to do better than that. It’s a challenge to you. You claim to know so much, yet you haven’t taken the time to do the actual scholarly research. Take it if you dare.

  • Zstur

    I don’t see my comments being posted here. Maybe patheos takes a bit of time. Luckily I have it all screen shot.

  • Zstur

    Isn’t phillip a history professor. I challenge him to catch up on the actual source material.

  • Bruce Dale

    I had hoped someone else would have made these points already, but since no one has, I will. Hugh Nibley observed years ago that Book of Mormon archaeology is a waste of time until we know where to dig and what we are looking for when we dig. I agree. North and South America are big places. Less than 20 people formed the initial migratory group whose tribal record the Book of Mormon is. It is not hard to imagine how their physical artifacts might be hard to find, let alone their DNA. That fact alone ought to temper any pronouncements about not finding any of their artifacts or their DNA.
    One of the chief rules of scholarship is that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We have an absence of definitive evidence for either the artifacts or the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. So what? The basic theory of plate tectonics has been known for well over a century and there was lots of supporting evidence, but it wasn’t really widely accepted until the mid-1960s, when the data surrounding mid-oceanic ridges became overwhelming. Plate tectonics was there all the time, independent of the evidence or lack of it. Edgar Goodspeed said that Jews at the time of Christ were largely illiterate. He died, and shortly thereafter the Dead Sea Scrolls started popping up, with Jews writing all over the place. The Scrolls were there all the time, regardless of Professor Goodspeed’s opinions. Again, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    Hugh Nibley also pointed out that the first 50 pages or so of the Book of Mormon take place in the Old World, where a lot of Book of Mormon details CAN be checked. Here are just a few examples from Nibley’s writings and those of others: 1) Nephi’s colophon or opening statement) (check as authentic in the autobiographical literature of the time), 2) a very tense and divided Jerusalem on the eve of the Babylonian captivity (check with the Lachish letters and the Book of Jeremiah), 3) steel bows (check, see The Persians by Aeschylus), 4) a place of mourning “called Nahom” in the south east corner of the Arabian peninsula, check 5), a garrison of 50 soldiers in Jerusalem (check, I Kings 1:11) , 6) a “river of water” (what other kind is there? another good question), 7) the Ascension of Lehi, 8) good hunting in the mountains (called “the borders”) paralleling the Red Sea on its eastern side, 9) an unexpected lush region (called “Bountiful” in the Book of Mormon) on the Omani coast, and 10) a permanent stream about 3 days travel south and east of Jerusalem. Check, check, check, check and check.
    The Book of Mormon brims with evidence of all kinds. There is plenty of scholarship supporting it; but not much in the way of archaeological or DNA evidence. I agree with that observation and ask again “so what?”. Absence of evidence is not really evidence at all– that is a key principle of scholarship.
    I know a little about scholarship. I have a doctorate in chemical engineering. I have published over 250 peer-reviewed papers in my research specialty. I have 42 patents. From that background of scholarship, the Book of Mormon has passed every test my mind and heart could devise.
    I am only interested in what is real. If the Book of Mormon is not a real, historical document, then it is a fraud and so was Joseph Smith. But Joseph Smith was not a fraud, he was a true prophet. And the Book of Mormon is also true. It was sent by God to show that He who spoke to us in the Bible and through His son Jesus Christ is still speaking through living prophets.

  • philipjenkins

    You are an expert on chemical engineering, an important and complex subject about which (sadly) I know next to nothing. Hence, I do not make statements of any kind, public or private, on that topic. In contrast, although you evidently know nothing whatever about historical methodology, or New World Archaeology, or Old World archaeology, or the scholarly study of the Bible, or genetics, that fact does not prevent you making fatuous remarks like these.

    There’s no point in responding in any detail to anyone who takes the serial fantasist Hugh Nibley seriously. The best analogy I can find for Nibley is someone today who writes complex tomes seeking to establish the true GPS coordinates of Hogwarts, despite a pretty total consensus of grown ups that the actual location is “inside the head of the author”.

    You can always tell when Mormon apologists realize they are losing fatally in debates about New World evidence: they start rambling about bogus Old World sites, which they comically assume to be proved or provable.

    Um, no, we actually know exactly where we should seek that Book of Mormon Archaeology, namely in North America where Joseph Smith first imagined it. The problem is that nothing there bears the slightest resemblance to the Mormon myth, which is why they started looking elsewhere, somewhere over the rainbow. If you knew anything worthwhile about New World archaeology, you would not be recycling that garbage from Mr. Nibley.

    Two critical questions for you:

    Why is there no genetic evidence whatever of any Middle Eastern inheritance in any Native American population whatever, as would certainly exist if we had anything like the migrations of Book of Mormon legend?

    If I were a Mormon believer, I would accept that Joseph Smith was quoting an angel personally when he said that the Indians were “the literal descendants of Abraham.” In the context, that surely means the Indians of what became the continental US, rather than “Indians from some mysterious region thousands of miles away in South America, from a realm we shall call Nibleystan.”

    Don’t you believe the prophet’s own words?

    And before arguing about that genetic issue, please catch up with the exchanges on this blog over the past few weeks, I am not going to spell all this out again.

    BTW, I am patenting the word Nibleystan.

    Second, my now standard question

    Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.

  • philipjenkins

    Re your comment about an original party of twenty people, so they wouldn’t leave much genetic trace. If they had no descendants, no, but supposedly they generated vast societies many thousands strong at any given point, which should have been all awash with that original DNA

    Most scholars think the (authentic) original Siberian and East Asian settlers of the Americas might have run into a few hundred, max, yet later there would be many millions at any given time, all of whom would carry those East Asian genetic markers. Can you find the original individual settlers? No. Are you utterly overwhelmed by evidence of their descendants? Oh yes. This isn’t hard, honestly

    Which gives rise to a question: what on earth are you talking about?

    I don’t submit articles to Chemical Engineering journals praising alchemy, so why are you doing the equivalent here?

  • cynth

    history professor, not professor of fiction.

  • Bruce Dale

    How long were the
    Nephites and/or the Lamanites an isolated population after their arrival to the
    American continent?

    Obtaining
    answers to these questions would enable the design of research that could
    contribute to our understanding of the Book of Mormon as a historical record
    from a scientific approach. Without such information, we risk forming
    conclusions based on personal interpretation and biased assumptions. As
    outlined in this paper, the problems and limitations with attempting such an
    investigative approach are significant and cannot be overlooked by those
    honestly seeking for answers about the Book of Mormon through DNA.

    Trying
    to reconstruct and identify the DNA of these Old World migrants in the Americas
    is not a task comparable to that of finding a needle in a haystack. With time
    and diligence, the needle eventually will be found. With the Nephite record,
    the needle was once there, and then through population demographic pressures,
    such as drift and perhaps some degree of natural selection, the needle may have
    been removed from the haystack — with some people convinced that it is still
    there and therefore should be found. Consequently, these critics, rather than
    accepting the fact that the needle was once there and now is lost, prefer to
    take the position that it was never there in the first place. These are two
    very distinctive conclusions based on the same observations. Stating that the
    DNA of Book of Mormon people has disappeared or not been detected through time,
    following very basic and widely accepted population genetics principles such as
    genetic drift and selection, is much different from claiming that Book of
    Mormon people never existed because we failed to recover their DNA in the
    American indigenous gene pool.

    The
    advances with DNA technologies have provided never-before attainable knowledge
    in many fields, such as medicine, criminal justice, etc., including the history
    of humanity. However, much more still needs to be investigated, and some
    information might never be fully revealed with a molecular approach.

    We
    need to be wary about any statement against or in favor of Book of Mormon
    historicity based on genetic evidence and take the time to understand the
    difference between scientific data and claims people make about
    it. As with other religious texts and topics, science is often an inadequate
    tool to corroborate spiritual truths, morals, and ethics.

    DNA
    is a powerful tool in reconstructing recent and ancient historical events. The
    large body of published work on the topic of Native American origins using
    genetic markers stands as witness that researchers are still tackling some
    fundamental questions surrounding the history of the Western Hemisphere and of
    humanity in general. New publications provide helpful insights into the past
    but often pose new questions in need of further investigation.

    As
    extensively explained herein, there are specific limitations that cannot be
    ignored when using the available genetic data to infer conclusions regarding
    the DNA of Book of Mormon people. Such conclusions are not founded on solid
    science but are the interpretation of a few, as genetic data fails to produce
    conclusive proof weighing credibly in favor of or against the historicity of
    the Book of Mormon.”

    OK, that’s the bottom
    line: “genetic data fails to produce conclusive proof weighing credibly in
    favor of or against the historicity of the Book of Mormon”. As a non-forensic DNA expert, but as someone
    who has done a lot of scholarship and reading myself, I had already come to
    that same conclusion.

    On
    to the archaeological evidence.

    Similar to the DNA evidence, as far as
    Book of Mormon archaeology in the New World is concerned, we do not know where
    to dig, nor what to look for when we dig. Joseph Smith never told us where in
    North or South America the Book of Mormon history took place.

    Mr. Jenkins, you say “North America”….but
    that is one very large piece of real estate. Where would you like to start
    digging—the Arctic or the Caribbean?

    And what are we looking for that scholars
    would unanimously accept? A good scholar
    almost never closes doors nor do they make such definitive statements as you
    seem to ascribe to them about the Book of Mormon. The more a true scholar learns, the more he
    or she realizes we don’t know. Every
    real work of scholarship raises ten new questions for every question that it
    answers, always tentatively. Real
    scholars disagree all the time. Even if
    we found a building dated to about 600 BC, say in the Yucatan peninsula of
    Mexico, with the inscription “The Prophet Lehi slept here” or “Mormon made the
    gold plates here” over the doorway; I am sure some scholars would question the
    finding. J

    I have spent my life in scholarship in my
    field of engineering and science and I know this statement to be true: there is
    almost always some capable scholar somewhere who can be found to disagree with
    the findings of any other scholar, no matter how capable he or she is. Scholarship always consists in gathering
    evidence, reasoning from the evidence to arrive at tentative conclusions
    and then publishing the work for the scrutiny of other scholars. Very, very
    often, these other scholars will then apply other evidence and different
    reasoning to arrive at different conclusions. That is how we progress, if we
    do.

    In the words of Carl Popper “Every
    statement of science is forever tentative.” Science does not deal in
    finality…it deals in the next question to be asked.

    Back to Book of Mormon archaeology. Much of the Book of Mormon history revolves
    around a city called Zarahemla by its inhabitants. But we do not know where Zarahemla was. We just
    do not have the foggiest idea. I
    actually think Mesoamerica is the most likely site for the Book of Mormon
    events and the likely location of Zarahemla, but we just don’t know for
    sure. Unlike Jerusalem, we don’t know
    where Zarahemla was, so we have no unambiguous place to dig in and around.

    Professor John L. Sorensen has put
    together a persuasive but by no means overwhelming argument for a certain area
    around the Grijalva River in southeastern Mexico as the site of Zarahemla and
    the locus of much of Book of Mormon history.
    Professor Sorenson’s work and tentative conclusions are documented in a
    very interesting book that you may want to read.

    http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-American-Setting-Book-Mormon/dp/1573451576

    Why haven’t we found the Book of Mormon
    location or Book of Mormon artifacts?
    Again, because we don’t know where to look and we don’t know what we are
    looking for.

    It is completely possible for ancient
    civilizations to become so lost that that scholars question whether they ever
    existed at all. This was the case for the great Hittite empire mentioned in the
    Bible. That empire and civilization
    disappeared so completely that scholars questioned the accuracy of the Biblical
    account of the Hittites.

    Here is a pretty good reference. If you had lived in the early 1800s scholars
    would have told you that the Hittite empire never existed. Well, the scholars
    were wrong then. They will undoubtedly
    be wrong again.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittites

    It is also possible for important
    archaeological discoveries to be missed for decades…even when they are, so to
    speak, right next door. For example, the cliff-side caves in which the Dead Sea
    Scrolls were found starting in 1947 looked down on the site of Khirbet Qumran,
    where archaeological excavations had been under way since about 1850. All those folks digging on the site for
    almost a century, and nobody walked a few hundred yards up the (steep) hill to
    dig in one of those caves. So if someone
    had said, “There is no evidence that the Qumran community ever wrote anything
    down” they would have been correct…right up until the time they were proven
    wrong. One cannot logically take absence
    of evidence as evidence of absence.

    The
    scholarship of Dr. Hugh Nibley

    It is disappointing that you would dismiss
    Dr. Nibley and his work without, apparently, examining that work for
    yourself. Evangelical scholars Carl
    Mosser and Paul Owen wrote an interesting article about Mormon scholarship that
    perhaps you should read in this regard.
    They published their article in Trinity Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 179-205.
    Here is a link to the article.

    http://www.cometozarahemla.org/others/mosser-owen.html

    Specifically, here is what these two
    Evangelical scholars had to say about Hugh Nibley in their article.

    “Hugh Nibley is without question
    the pioneer of LDS scholarship and apologetics. Since earning his Ph.D. at
    University of California at Berkeley in 1939, Nibley has produced a seemingly
    endless stream of books and articles covering a dauntingly vast array of
    subject matter. Whether writing on Patristics, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the
    Apocrypha, the culture of the Ancient Near East or Mormonism, he demonstrates
    an impressive command of the original languages, primary texts and secondary
    literature. He has set a standard which younger LDS intellectuals are hard
    pressed to follow. There is not room her for anything approaching an exhaustive
    examination of Nibley’s works. We must confess with Truman Madsen, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and
    Religion at Brigham Young University: “To those who know him best, and
    least, Hugh W. Nibley is a prodigy, an enigma, and a symbol.”(7)

    The few evangelicals who are
    aware of Hugh Nibley often dismiss him as a fraud or pseudo-scholar. Those who
    would like to quickly dismiss his writings would do well to heed Madsen’s
    warning: “Ill-wishing critics have suspected over the years that Nibley is
    wrenching his sources, hiding behind his footnotes, and reading into antique
    languages what no responsible scholar would ever read out. Unfortunately, few
    have the tools to do the checking.”(8) The bulk of Nibley’s work has gone unchallenged by evangelicals despite
    the fact that he has been publishing relevant material since 1946. Nibley’s
    attitude toward evangelicals: “We need more anti-Mormon books. They keep
    us on our toes.”(9)

    No doubt there are flaws in
    Nibley’s work, but most counter-cultists do not have the tools to demonstrate
    this. Few have tried.(10) It is beyond the scope of this paper to critique Nibley’s methodology or
    to describe the breadth of his apologetic. Whatever flaws may exist in his methodology, Nibley is a scholar of high
    caliber. Many of his more important essays first appeared in academic journals
    such as the Revue de Qumran, Vigilae Christianae, Church History, and the Jewish Quarterly Review.(12) Nibley has also received praise from non-LDS scholars such as Jacob Neusner,
    James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Raphael Patai and Jacob Milgrom.(13) The former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, George MacRae, once
    lamented while hearing him lecture, “It is obscene for a man to know that
    much!”(14

    Mr. Jenkins: Dr. Hugh Nibley was indeed a
    scholar of high caliber. You demean
    yourself and weaken your case by simply insulting and dismissing him. He was not insulted and dismissed by great
    non-Mormon scholars like Neusner, Charlesworth, Gordon, Patai, Milgrom and
    others.

    While my field of scholarship is in
    another area, I know enough about the methods of scholarship to appreciate
    great scholarship in another area. That is why I have read all 19 volumes of
    the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, many thousands of pages of excellent
    scholarship and insights.

    In your last post, you asked me “what are
    you talking about?” apparently in reference to a number of points I had raised
    about evidences for the Book of Mormon.
    Some of these evidences were taken from the work of Dr. Nibley, some
    from other scholars and some were my own observations.

    Dr. Nibley wrote a wonderful book called Lehi in the Desert where he examines
    some of these evidences from the Old World for the historicity of the Book of
    Mormon. I listed several of them in my
    first post including Nephi’s colophon, the river of water, the “Ascension of
    Lehi” and others…all of these evidences in the first few pages of the Book of
    Mormon.

    http://www.amazon.com/Lehi-Desert-World-Jaredites/dp/B0020MZDLW/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1434153226&sr=8-2&keywords=lehi+in+the+desert

    I would like to give you a copy of this
    book, if you will accept it. That way you can interact directly with Dr.
    Nibley’s scholarship about the Book of Mormon and come to your own conclusions
    about the quality of his scholarship.

    If there are errors in his work that your
    own scholarship uncovers, please point them out to me and others. I honestly want to know the truth. I have
    spent my life looking for more knowledge and truth, both by my study and also
    through faith. I will continue to do so.

  • Bruce Dale

    June 13, 2015 from Bruce Dale to Mr. Jenkins.

    Apparently this server does not like long posts, so I am going to reply to Mr. Jenkins’ response to my original post (see below) in several independent sections. This is the first.

    June 13, 2015

    Mr. Jenkins,

    The discourteous tone of your response to my post and your insulting remarks about Dr. Hugh Nibley are disappointing. They do not strengthen your arguments.

    Apparently I was not clear enough in my first post. I will try to do better. Absence of evidence that something did happen cannot be taken as evidence that it did not happen. The fact that no DNA evidence has yet turned up unambiguously supporting an “Israelite” ancestry of aboriginal Americans cannot exclude the possibility that some such evidence will turn up. It is illogical to say that because something has not yet happened, it will never happen.

    After examining the assumptions, the DNA evidence and thinking about these
    issues, I believe that DNA evidence cannot currently either confirm or refute the historicity of the Book of Mormon…more about that below.
    But the idea that because something has not happened yet, it will never happen is simply illogical. And yet that seems to be what you are arguing: current DNA evidence does not support the Book of Mormon, therefore it never will.

    For example, I believe in Christ’s second coming. I assume you share that
    belief. Unbelievers often mock what we believe about that great future event. This statement from 2 Peter 3:4 is typical of the scoffers. “Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” In spite of the mockery, you and I go on believing in His second coming, don’t we?

    Mr. Jenkins, please consider: this is the same reasoning you use to mock Mormon
    claims of “Israelite” migrations to the New World and to criticize the apparent lack of New World artifacts supporting the Book of Mormon. You are saying that because something has not yet happened, it will never happen. Although you
    acknowledge in your original article the impossibility of proving a negative,
    you continue to use lack of evidence as if it were real evidence to support your belief that the Book of Mormon is not historical.

    In this response, I want to deal with the DNA evidence and archaeological
    evidence regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon. I also want to say a few words about the scholarship of Dr. Nibley.

    First, the DNA evidence. By way of background, the bulk of the forensic
    archaeological DNA evidence comes from mitochondrial DNA, inherited exclusively through the mother’s line. I mention this point here because of the importance of the maternal inheritance lines in the Book of Mormon. I will discuss this more below.

    The Book of Mormon records three migrations from the Old World to the New
    World. But it certainly does not rule out other migrations not recorded in the
    Book of Mormon and it does not rule out survivors from one migration remaining
    even if their societies are destroyed. To say that a society is destroyed (a
    frequent occurrence in the many wars recorded in the Book of Mormon) does not
    require that every individual in that society perish. Many may have, and
    probably did live on, and perhaps lived to pass on their DNA.

    The three migrations referred to in the Book of Mormon include the Jaredites,
    the Mulekites and the Lehites. The Jaredites came from Central Asia about the
    time of the tower—a very long time ago. All we know about them is contained in
    less than 30 pages of the Book of Mormon and much of the 30 pages deals with
    their wars with each other. The Jaredite people were always fighting, splitting
    off and founding new colonies in the New World. So we can’t rule out the
    possibility that some of the colonies survived the war of mutual extinction
    that finally ended the only Jaredite colonies that we do have record of. If
    some such colonies survived, then we have Central Asian DNA in the original New World genetic material, not just “Israelite” DNA.

    We know even less about the Mulekites. Their own oral history said that they
    came from Jerusalem around 600 B.C. But we don’t know what the genetic makeup of the Mulekite immigrant group was, so we can’t even begin to tell what they might have contributed to genetic background of Native Americans, if they did. When these Mulekites mingled with a small portion of the Lehite group in about 130 BC in a city/area/land they called Zarahemla, they were much more numerous than the Lehites, thereby diluting the Lehite genetic inheritance.

    Finally, who were the Lehites? They were the principal record keepers who gave
    us the Book of Mormon. According to the Book of Mormon, in about 600 BC, a prophet named Lehi led his wife (Sariah) and sons (no mention of any daughters in that family) and another family headed by a man named Ishmael (mostly daughters, apparently) and a former servant/slave named Zoram out of Jerusalem. Israelites were forbidden by the Mosaic Law to make slaves of other Israelites, so it is likely that Zoram was not of Israelite descent. Thus Zoram probably had some other genetic background, but we don’t know what it was.

    Lehi was a descendant of Joseph through Manasseh. Manasseh was the son of
    Joseph, the husband of Asenath, the daughter of the high priest of On in Egypt.
    Asenath was therefore a full-blooded Egyptian and may have passed maternal mitochondrial DNA down to her descendants, including Lehi. We don’t know the ancestry of Lehi’s wife, Sariah. Presumably she was “Israelite”. But we don’t know that and we also don’t know what “Israelite” DNA was like in 600 BC. That is a really big problem for drawing any conclusions from DNA evidence. Also, we don’t know Ishmael’s ancestry, but his name strongly suggests at least some Arab/Bedouin progenitors. Ishmael is the father of the Arabs and therefore “Ishmael” is probably not a name that a good Jewish mama in 600 BC would have given her boy. 🙂

    The Lehite colony divided itself into two groups (called Nephites and
    Lamanites) shortly after arriving in the New World. These two groups were
    political/religious, not ethnic, and there was a lot of mixing and wars between
    them until the visit of Jesus Christ to the American continent ended their
    conflicts and gave whoever the Lehite descendants were at that time
    approximately two centuries of peace. After this peaceful interlude, the
    Lamanites and Nephite groups formed again along religious/political lines and
    started warring again. It was not an ethnic division. The Lamanite group
    destroyed the Nephite group about 400 AD, ending the record keeping that gave us the Book of Mormon.

    Again, “destroyed” means that Nephite society was unmade, it does not mean that all Nephites were killed. In fact, we are informed in the Book of Mormon that
    some of these Nephites deserted over to the Lamanites. Thus we have no idea
    what genetic lines were lost from the initial Lehite colony in almost a millennium
    of warring and killing (600 BC to 400 AD). We also don’t know what happened to the surviving Lamanite group in the 1100 years between the end of Book of Mormon history and the arrival of the Europeans. We don’t know if they intermarried with subsequent migrations, or with previous migrations not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. We don’t know how much of their own DNA pool they destroyed in the small and large scale wars that we know were a prominent feature of aboriginal American life prior to the Conquest. We do know that the European conquest of the New World led to an enormous extermination of Native American peoples through “guns, germs and steel” as documented by Jared Diamond. It has been estimated that the population of the Native Americans was reduced by over 90% during the three centuries or so of the European conquest of the Americas. Genocide on a truly enormous scale and therefore loss of DNA on a huge scale.

    Okay, that’s it. That is what the Book of Mormon says about the genetic
    background of its three migratory groups and the possible survival of the DNA
    of such groups. We have the Jaredites (central Asian, unknown DNA survival),
    the Mulekites (unknown genetics, unknown DNA survival) and the Lehites (likely
    Arab, Egyptian, unknown DNA, Israelite DNA…whatever Israelite DNA was in 600 BC, and also unknown DNA survival) and Zoram (unknown genetics and unknown DNA survival).

  • Bruce Dale

    June 13, 2015 from Bruce Dale to Mr. Jenkins- part 2

    With this background, can anyone seriously claim to know what the genetic endowment is of the three groups of people mentioned in the Book of Mormon? And if we don’t know that initial DNA endowment, we don’t know what to look for in the DNA of Native Americans.

    Making matters even more difficult, the Book of Mormon does not preclude other
    migrations to the New World and it does not preclude intermarriage between these three migratory groups (Jaredites, Mulekites and Lehites) and other groups not named in the Book of Mormon. Thus, among other problems, we simply don’t know what our “control group” is. “Control group” is scientific language for the question: “What is the DNA endowment brought to the Americas by the three migrations mentioned in the Book of Mormon against which we are to compare Native American DNA?”

    After considering the evidence and the arguments, I think that current DNA
    evidence simply cannot be used to either confirm or deny the migrations
    described in the Book of Mormon. The data are not adequate to the task of proof
    required of them.

    This is the same conclusion that Dr. Ugo Perego and Ms. Jayne Ekins came to in
    their study of DNA and the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Here is the link to their study.

    http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/is-decrypting-the-genetic-legacy-of-americas-indigenous-populations-key-to-the-historicity-of-the-book-of-mormon/

    Here are the qualifications of Dr. Perego and Ms. Ekins (pasted from their
    article).

    “Dr. Ugo A. Perego has a PhD in Genetics and Biomolecular Studies from the
    University of Pavia in Italy, where he studied under the mentorship of
    Professor Antonio Torroni, who was part of the team of scientists to first
    identify genetic diversity among Native American populations in the early
    1990s. Dr. Perego was a senior researcher for the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation for 12 years, where he contributed to the building of one of the world’s largest repositories of combined genealogical and genetic data. He has published and presented extensively on DNA and its application in populations, forensic, ancestry, historical, and genealogical studies. He currently resides in Italy, where he is the director of the Rome Institute Campus and a visiting scientist at the University of Perugia.

    Jayne Ekins has 15 years of experience in the field of genetic genealogy. She
    has lectured throughout the United States and international venues on the
    applications of molecular biology to elucidating ancient and recent
    genealogical connections. She has authored and co-authored several peer-reviewed scientific publications as well as general articles on genetic genealogy”.

    I recommend reading their whole paper to get a deeper understanding of the
    problems in using the DNA evidence to evaluate the historicity of the Book of
    Mormon, but if anyone wants to skip to the conclusions of the Perego and Ekins
    article, here they are. Please pay close attention to the remarks of Professor Meltzer and Dr. Crawford, non-Mormon scholars and forensic DNA
    experts.

    “Conclusions

    In commenting on a recent article published in the scientific journal Nature
    and dealing with the number of original migrations by Paleo-Indians, Professor David Meltzer of Southern Methodist University said, “Archaeologists who study Native American history are glad to have the genetic data but also have reservations, given that several of the geneticists’ conclusions have changed over time. This is a really important step forward but not the last word.” On the same occasion, molecular anthropologist Michael H. Crawford added, “The paucity of samples from North America and from coastal regions made it hard to claim a complete picture of early migrations has been attained.”

    These and other comments from experts in the field of ancient American history
    provide further evidence that DNA is a valid tool to study ancient and modern
    populations, but they also remind us to be careful about drawing absolute
    conclusions based on the genetic data. Can genetic testing and science honestly
    answer any of the following questions?

    What did the DNA of the Book of Mormon people look like?

    Was it the typical DNA found in the population of Jerusalem in 600 bc?

    Can their DNA be differentiated from that of Europeans arriving after 1492?

    Is the current molecular clock adequate to discern pre- from post-Columbian
    genetic contributions to the New World within the last three thousand years?

    What degree of mixture did the Nephites and/or Lamanites experience with local
    natives?

    How long were the Nephites and/or the Lamanites an isolated population after
    their arrival to the American continent?

    Obtaining answers to these questions would enable the design of research that
    could contribute to our understanding of the Book of Mormon as a historical
    record from a scientific approach. Without such information, we risk forming conclusions based on personal interpretation and biased assumptions. As
    outlined in this paper, the problems and limitations with attempting such an
    investigative approach are significant and cannot be overlooked by those
    honestly seeking for answers about the Book of Mormon through DNA.

    Trying to reconstruct and identify the DNA of these Old World migrants in the
    Americas is not a task comparable to that of finding a needle in a haystack. With
    time and diligence, the needle eventually will be found. With the Nephite
    record, the needle was once there, and then through population demographic pressures, such as drift and perhaps some degree of natural selection, the needle may have been removed from the haystack — with some people convinced that it is still there and therefore should be found. Consequently, these critics, rather than accepting the fact that the needle was once there and now is lost, prefer to
    take the position that it was never there in the first place. These are two
    very distinctive conclusions based on the same observations. Stating that the DNA of Book of Mormon people has disappeared or not been detected through time, following very basic and widely accepted population genetics principles such as genetic drift and selection, is much different from claiming that Book of Mormon people never existed because we failed to recover their DNA in the
    American indigenous gene pool.

    The advances with DNA technologies have provided never-before attainable
    knowledge in many fields, such as medicine, criminal justice, etc., including
    the history of humanity. However, much more still needs to be investigated, and
    some information might never be fully revealed with a molecular approach.

    We need to be wary about any statement against or in favor of Book of Mormon
    historicity based on genetic evidence and take the time to understand the
    difference between scientific data and claims people make about it. As with
    other religious texts and topics, science is often an inadequate tool to
    corroborate spiritual truths, morals, and ethics.

    DNAis a powerful tool in reconstructing recent and ancient historical events.
    The large body of published work on the topic of Native American origins using
    genetic markers stands as witness that researchers are still tackling some
    fundamental questions surrounding the history of the Western Hemisphere and of
    humanity in general. New publications provide helpful insights into the past
    but often pose new questions in need of further investigation.

    As extensively explained herein, there are specific limitations that cannot be
    ignored when using the available genetic data to infer conclusions regarding
    the DNA of Book of Mormon people. Such conclusions are not founded on solid
    science but are the interpretation of a few, as genetic data fails to produce
    conclusive proof weighing credibly in favor of or against the historicity of
    the Book of Mormon.”

    End of extended quote from Perego and Ekins. Back to my comments.

    OK, that’s the bottom line: “genetic data fails to produce conclusive proof
    weighing credibly in favor of or against the historicity of the Book of
    Mormon”. As a non-forensic DNA expert, but as someone who has done a lot of
    scholarship and reading myself, I had already come to that same conclusion.

  • Bruce Dale

    June 13, 2015 from Bruce Dale to Mr. Jenkins- part 3

    On to the archaeological evidence.

    Similar to the DNA evidence, as far as Book of Mormon archaeology in the New
    World is concerned, we do not know where to dig, nor what to look for when we
    dig. Joseph Smith never told us where in North or South America the Book of
    Mormon history took place.

    Mr. Jenkins, you say “North America”….but that is one very large piece of real
    estate. Where would you like to start digging—the Arctic or the Caribbean?

    And what are we looking for that scholars would unanimously accept? A good
    scholar almost never closes doors nor do they make such definitive statements
    as you seem to ascribe to them about the Book of Mormon. The more a true
    scholar learns, the more he or she realizes we don’t know. Every real work of scholarship raises ten new questions for every question that it answers, always tentatively. Real scholars disagree all the time. Even if we found a building dated to about 600 BC, say in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, with the inscription “The Prophet Lehi slept here” or “Mormon made the gold plates here” over the doorway; I am sure some scholars would question the finding. 🙂 And they should.

    I have spent my life in scholarship in my field of chemical engineering and the
    related science. I know this statement to be true: there is almost always some
    capable scholar somewhere who can be found to disagree with the findings of any other scholar, no matter how capable he or she is. Scholarship always consists in gathering evidence, reasoning from the evidence to arrive at tentative conclusions
    and then publishing the work for the scrutiny of other scholars. Very, very often, these other scholars will then apply other evidence and different reasoning to arrive at different conclusions. That is how we progress, if we do.

    In the words of Carl Popper, the great historian/philosopher of science: “Every statement of science is forever tentative.” Science does not deal in finality…it deals in the next question to be asked.

    Back to Book of Mormon archaeology.
    Much of the Book of Mormon history revolves around a city/area/land called Zarahemla by its inhabitants. But we do not know where Zarahemla was. We just
    do not have the foggiest idea. I actually think Mesoamerica is the most likely
    site for the Book of Mormon events and the likely location of Zarahemla, but we
    just don’t know for sure. Unlike Jerusalem, we don’t know where Zarahemla was,
    so we have no unambiguous place to dig in and around.

    Professor John L. Sorensen has put together a persuasive but by no means
    overwhelming argument for a certain area around the Grijalva River in
    southeastern Mexico as the site of Zarahemla and the locus of much of Book of
    Mormon history. Professor Sorenson’s work and tentative conclusions are documented in a very interesting book that you may want to read.

    http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-American-Setting-Book-Mormon/dp/1573451576

    Why haven’t we found the Book of Mormon locations or Book of Mormon artifacts? Again, because we don’t know where to look and we don’t know what we are looking for.

    It is completely possible for ancient civilizations to become so lost that that
    scholars question whether they ever existed at all. This was the case for the
    great Hittite empire mentioned in the Bible. That empire and civilization disappeared so completely that scholars questioned the accuracy of the Biblical account of the Hittites.

    Here is a pretty good reference. If you had lived in the early 1800s scholars
    would have told you that the Hittite empire never existed. Well, the scholars
    were wrong then. They will undoubtedly be wrong again.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hittites

    It is also possible for important archaeological discoveries to be missed for
    decades…even when they are, so to speak, right next door. For example, the
    cliff-side caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found starting in 1947
    looked down on the site of Khirbet Qumran, where archaeological excavations had been under way since about 1850. All those folks digging on the site for almost a century, and nobody walked a few hundred yards up the (steep) hill to dig in one of those caves. So if someone had said, “The Qumran community never wrote anything down” they would have been correct…right up until the time they were proven wrong. One cannot logically take absenceof evidence as evidence of absence.

    The scholarship of Dr. Hugh Nibley

    It is disappointing that you would dismiss Dr. Nibley and his work without,
    apparently, examining that work for yourself. Evangelical scholars Carl Mosser
    and Paul Owen wrote an interesting article about Mormon scholarship that
    perhaps you should read in this regard. They published their article in Trinity
    Journal, Fall 1998, pp. 179-205. Here is a link to the article.

    http://www.cometozarahemla.org/others/mosser-owen.html

    Specifically, here is what these two Evangelical scholars had to say about Hugh
    Nibley in their article.

    “Hugh Nibley is without question the pioneer of LDS scholarship and
    apologetics. Since earning his Ph.D. at University of California at Berkeley in
    1939, Nibley has produced a seemingly endless stream of books and articles covering a dauntingly vast array of subject matter. Whether writing on Patristics, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocrypha, the culture of the Ancient Near East or Mormonism, he demonstrates an impressive command of the original languages, primary texts and secondary literature. He has set a standard which younger LDS intellectuals are hard pressed to follow. There is not room here for anything approaching an exhaustive examination of Nibley’s works. We must confess with Truman Madsen, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion at Brigham Young University: “To those who know him best, and least, Hugh W. Nibley is a prodigy, an enigma, and a symbol.”

    The few evangelicals who are aware of Hugh Nibley often dismiss him as a fraud
    or pseudo-scholar. Those who would like to quickly dismiss his writings would
    do well to heed Madsen’s warning: “Ill-wishing critics have suspected over the years that Nibley is wrenching his sources, hiding behind his footnotes, and reading into antique languages what no responsible scholar would ever read out. Unfortunately, few have the tools to do the checking.” The bulk of Nibley’s work has gone unchallenged by evangelicals despite the fact that he has been publishing relevant material since 1946. Nibley’s attitude toward evangelicals?: “We need more anti-Mormon books. They keep us on our toes.”

    No doubt there are flaws in Nibley’s work, but most counter-cultists do not
    have the tools to demonstrate this. Few have tried. It is beyond the scope of
    this paper to critique Nibley’s methodology or to describe the breadth of his
    apologetic. Whatever flaws may exist in his methodology, Nibley is a scholar of
    high caliber. Many of his more important essays first appeared in academic
    journals such as the Revue de Qumran, Vigilae Christianae, Church History, and
    the Jewish Quarterly Review. Nibley has also received praise from non-LDS
    scholars such as Jacob Neusner, James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Raphael Patai and Jacob Milgrom. The former dean of the Harvard Divinity School, George
    MacRae, once lamented while hearing him lecture, “It is obscene for a man to know that much!”

    Mr. Jenkins: Dr. Hugh Nibley was indeed a scholar of high caliber. You demean
    yourself and weaken your case by simply insulting and dismissing him. He was
    not insulted and dismissed by great non-Mormon scholars like Neusner, Charlesworth, Gordon, Patai, Milgrom and others.

    While my field of scholarship is in another area, I know enough about the
    methods of scholarship to appreciate great scholarship in another area. That is
    why I have read all 19 volumes of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, many
    thousands of pages of excellent scholarship and insights.

    In your last post, you asked me “what are you talking about?” apparently in reference to a number of points I had raised about evidences for the Book of Mormon. Some of these evidences were taken from the work of Dr. Nibley, some from other scholars and some were my own observations.

    Dr. Nibley wrote a wonderful book called Lehi in the Desert where he examines
    some of these evidences from the Old World for the historicity of the Book of
    Mormon. I listed several of them in my first post including Nephi’s colophon,
    the river of water, the “Ascension of Lehi” and others…all of these evidences
    in the first few pages of the Book of Mormon.

    http://www.amazon.com/Lehi-Desert-World-Jaredites/dp/B0020MZDLW/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1434153226&sr=8-2&keywords=lehi+in+the+desert

    I would like to give you a copy of this book, if you will accept it. That way
    you can interact directly with Dr. Nibley’s scholarship about the Book of
    Mormon and come to your own conclusions about the quality of his scholarship and some of the Old World evidence for the Book of Mormon.

    If there are errors in his work that your own scholarship uncovers, please point them out to me and others. I honestly want to know the truth. I have spent my life looking for more knowledge and truth, both by my study and also through faith. I will continue to do so.

  • Bruce Dale

    I have written a three part response to Mr. Jenkins’ response to my first comment on his article. Unfortunately, the server does not like long posts, so I have had to break up my response into these three pieces. Kindly scroll down three posts to the first one dated June 13, 1950 and then read part 2 followed by part 3.

  • Zstur