Apples, Oranges and Nephites

Apples, Oranges and Nephites July 12, 2015

Neil Rappleye is a Book of Mormon apologist. He recently did a piece about me at his blog, under the title The Goose and the Gander, and he is fully entitled to take issue with me on anything and everything. I don’t intend to respond to every criticism or comment he makes, but I am responding to this one because it raises interesting issues about methodology, and the relationship between authentic history and pseudo-history. Although I am addressing this to him personally, the same arguments apply to most of the apologist claims, particularly as they concern the Old Testament.

I have had a couple of exchanges with Neal Rappleye in the past. Then as now, he strikes me as smart and literate. I am no less struck by the puzzling disconnect between the articulate nature of what he writes, and the startling lack of sophistication of his arguments. By far his weakest spot concerns his use of far-fetched and wildly unconvincing analogies, which instantly destroy the credibility of his arguments – more on that shortly. This may all reflect the fact that Book of Mormon apologists really never engage with mainstream scholars. Virtually no mainstream academic takes his cause seriously enough to be worth arguing with, so an apologist never has an opportunity to test his/her arguments in that setting.

To over-simplify, Neal suggests that there really is remarkably little credible, concrete evidence for many aspects of the Old Testament story, so we have no better or worse grounds to accept the literal truth of that narrative than we do the Book of Mormon. There are two main rhetorical points at issue here.

1. When apologists have totally failed to supply any objective, credible evidence for any detail in the Book of Mormon, as requested repeatedly, they regularly throw up a smoke screen about an unconnected topic. So, no, the menu item here is neither goose nor gander, it’s wild goose, as in chase. Or maybe red herring is the better metaphor. Delicious, perhaps, but irrelevant.

2. The other rhetorical tactic is basically, no, he can’t produce a word of concrete evidence for the Book of Mormon, but (he claims) the same issues apply to the Bible as well! Christian claims depend just as much on faith as does the Book of Mormon! This has the rhetorical bonus of trying to divert the discussion from the Book of Mormon, where his views are completely untenable and indefensible, and off to the Bible, where the real, serious literature is immense. This art of diversion and obfuscation is a principal goal of “Ancient Book of Mormon Studies” if not its chief raison d’etre.

Let me explain why his Biblical analogy is wholly bogus.

As his central example, he takes the Biblical story of the Exodus. He cites James K. Hoffmeier, a fine and prestigious Biblical scholar, absolutely reputable, but certainly at the conservative end of the spectrum. So Hoffmeier says “that the Exodus and Wilderness narratives are central to O[ld ] T[estament ] T[heology], and that without them, the tapestry of Israel’s faith and the foundational fabric of Christianity unravels.” That’s his opinion, not mine, and not that of a sizable share of the academic profession examining the era, including a great many Christians and Jews. In my personal opinion, the argument has definitely gone against Hoffmeier’s point of view even more in recent years.

Just because Neal is a Book of Mormon fundamentalist doesn’t mean that Christians and Jews have to be fundamentalists to be authentic believers.

Neal then writes,

as Hoffmeier demonstrates with the Exodus, the strength of the case is not in “any single credible fact,” but in a myriad of subtle, circumstantial details that converge between the text and the external data. As such, there is no single data point that can satisfy a challenge like that of Jenkins for the Exodus. And things are similar for the Book of Mormon and Pre-Columbian America.

I assume he was fighting to retain a straight face when he wrote that atrocity, and especially when he used the word “similar”?

At an extreme minimum, here is what Hoffmeier could plausibly argue by way of circumstantial detail for his Exodus: We have the rock solid and well documented fact that the Pharaonic kingdom of Egypt existed. (Please don’t let’s argue about that?) We have the rock solid and well documented fact that Semitic peoples had often been in Egypt, that they had been a major part of the Hyksos coalition, and that many lived nearby under Egyptian suzerainty. We have the rock solid and well documented fact that, in the twelfth century BC, something called Israel appears in Canaan. We have the less solid fact that some of the Bible’s very oldest verses, such as the Song of Miriam, might record something like an Exodus event, but I don’t push that point. The most powerful single piece of evidence, of course, is the strong literary tradition of some kind of Egyptian connection, recorded no later than three centuries or so after the event.

Taking them altogether, might that suggest an Exodus? Maybe, but I would be careful in defining my terms. Just what do we mean by an Exodus anyway? Do we have to accept the Ten Plagues? In any case, Hoffmeier may well be right. Certainly, there is some kind of Egyptian connection or context to the founding of Israel.

Now let’s look at how exactly “similar” things are for the Book of Mormon and Pre-Columbian America:

We have no documented facts – none, not a single one – that confirm or vaguely point to the existence of any, any, peoples, nations, languages, places, or ethnicities in the New World that are described in Joseph Smith’s book. None – not now, not ever, never. Tell me again about your “myriad of subtle, circumstantial details that converge between the text and the external data”? Never mind a myriad, just give me one credible data point. Try not to giggle when you do so.

And “the text,” you say? In the context of the Book of Mormon, would that be a wholly unprovenanced document that emerged in 1830, not even in an ancient language, and which is more or less universally regarded as entirely lacking in authentic historical content? You mean that text? (“Unprovenanced” is the most charitable word I can find right now).

Go ahead, tell me that Reformed Egyptian is an authentic ancient language, and use any reputable Egyptologist you like to support that claim. I double dare you.

Also note the jaw-droppingly silly tactic here: comparing finding archaeological evidence for a single event, like the Exodus, which would have happened in a very short period of time (assuming it occurred) with seeking evidence for the supposed presence of a nation or community over a millennium. The archaeological footprint of a specific event is utterly and totally different from that of a community, nation, tribe or city over such a long period. And if the Exodus/Wilderness story is true, then it mainly involves nomadic societies, quite different from the settled cities alleged in the Book of Mormon. Is that not all too obvious to be worth spelling out? Not, obviously, to Book of Mormon apologists.

Night and day, black and white, apples and oranges.

I am delighted to see Neal reading my books. It might behoove him though to check out my 2011 book Laying Down The Sword, in which I did discuss this Exodus and Egypt issue in some detail. I argue, as do most scholars, that Israel emerged out of historic Canaan, from a variety of older ethnic groups and communities. Some might have been Egyptian derived. I don’t believe there is any hard archaeological evidence for the exodus as described in the book of Exodus, with all the miracles and stories. That is utterly different from the issue of some Semitic peoples in Egypt joining the movement to Canaan. Is there no single point of tangible material confirmation for the Exodus? OK, so no big thing.

Neal then gets into the early history of Israel, making the following cosmic leap:

This makes for a decent comparison to the Book of Mormon, because it likewise tells a story that starts with a family or small clan (smaller than that of Israel, in fact), which then grows into a large population over the course of several hundred (actually, about 1000) years. And, like the Book of Mormon in the New World, there is not a single scrap of evidence for the Israelites in Egypt or Sinai. In fact, one could aptly paraphrase Jenkins here: “Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from [Egypt or Sinai] that supports any one story found in the [books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, or Numbers]? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data?”

Oh Good Lord. This is such baloney from start to finish.

Can I produce such a piece of evidence? For a particular individual, such as Abraham or Isaac or Moses, no. But for the peoples being in the right place, roughly, at the right time, obviously yes, in the wagonloads. Were there Semitic peoples across the Fertile Crescent in the third and second millennium BC? I dunno, let’s go ask the Akkadians, Amorites, Eblaites and Canaanites/Phoenicians. Let’s look for some tens of thousands of data points about this. Were the states, empires and kingdoms described in the Pentateuch there, including such casually mentioned people as the Hittites? Oh yes indeed. Were Semitic peoples living under Egyptian rule in Palestine and Syria? Yup.

Evidence from Egypt itself, you ask? How about the Amarna Letters? They clearly show the existence of Semitic nations, cities and communities in Canaan/Palestine in the couple of centuries before the Exodus, and also indicate wandering bands of more or less certainly Semitic raiders, nomads and marauders in that region and at that time. Some of those cities are named in the Conquest narrative. Let’s also look at the history of the Hyksos in Egypt from the 18th century BC onwards, not to mention all the visual and textual descriptions of Semitic peoples in Egypt and the territories under its control.

And let’s look at the consequences and aftermath of the eras examined. Suppose we are dealing with small clans, in Israel and Mormon-Land:

No sane person doubts that, whatever its origins, something called Israel existed for centuries after the twelfth century BC, with the languages and ethnic characteristics described in the Bible. That is beyond argument.

Unless he is basing himself on unquestioning faith and dogma, no competent scholar believes that, whatever its origins, something called the Nephite polity existed in the New World, with the languages and ethnic characteristics described in the Book of Mormon. That is likewise beyond argument.

Israel was, incontrovertibly, there. The Nephites, just as incontrovertibly were not, and if you think they were, please start showing evidence. I’m getting tired of pleading.

By the way, I don’t have to produce evidence specifically from Egypt or Sinai (though as I say, I easily can) because in my view, it is not essential to the story of Israel. (Hoffmeier would disagree). Neal writes “The Mernepteh [sic] Stela (ca. 1208 BC) supports the existence of Israelites in Canaan, but not that they came from Egypt.” That’s right, and it indeed proves the existence of Israel. Now show me one inscription from some other New World people to confirm the existence of any of your Book of Mormon fantasy folks, any nation, tribe, language, city or people? Take your time …. I’m sure you have a huge selection of candidates to choose from. A myriad, probably.

Night and day, black and white, apples and oranges.

Neal Rappleye also writes this:

The fact is there is no evidence to support the idea that the Israelites were ever there [in Egypt]. No pottery. No inscriptions. No tools. No cities. In fact, there is no evidence to even suggest that Israelites existed before the late 13th century BC, and by then they are already in Canaan, and most experts (e.g., William Dever, Israel Finkelstein) would argue that they were an indigenous group—not immigrants from Egypt via Sinai. Again, in Canaan, there is no single piece of evidence to support a migration from Egypt. No pottery. No inscriptions. No tools. No cities.

I actually agree with most of this, and agree that Israel emerges in Canaan in the century or so following 1250 BC. That’s the position I have taken in my writings. So what? But then look at the lunatic analogy Neal then builds on that.

Suppose that I can’t prove that Semitic peoples are in Egypt in, say the thirteenth century BC (though everybody admits that their relatives had been there recently, and there were lots of Semitic peoples a hundred miles or so to the east. Really, not far when they chose to hitch up their U-hauls). This is, says Neal, precisely comparable to not being able to prove that similar peoples are in the New World over a period of a millennium or so, where the evidence for Semitic peoples ever having been present on the entire continent at any point before the time of the Spanish Empire is zero, nada, zilch, none.

And that is a valid comparison? What “there” are you talking about?

Zero plus zero = zero

(Zero plus zero) cubed = “Ancient Book of Mormon Studies.”

Put another way. We know that the peoples, languages and ethnicities described in the Pentateuch (you left out Deuteronomy) were in the regions described, as an absolutely certain, incontrovertible, multiply documented fact. Did they rewrite their history some, and reinvent their origins? Sure.

And that’s just like the Book of Mormon isn’t it? Where we are so sure that the peoples, languages and ethnicities described were in exactly the regions of the New World portrayed, as an absolutely certain, incontrovertible, multiply documented fact! And that’s why people like you and Bill Hamblin have failed totally to produce a single smidgeon of evidence in support of their mere existence. And Bill Hamblin and his friends have been searching for decades.

In other words, the situation with the Bible and the Book of Mormon is exactly identical, except that in the Mormon case, we have no trace of evidence that any of the peoples ever existed. Hmm, some difference, don’t you think?

Night and day, black and white, apples and oranges.

Here’s another key difference. Your view is entirely and totally based on faith, dogma and alleged revelation. Mine depends on none of the above (although I would subsequently use that history as a basis for faith). And the same distinction applies to all Book of Mormon apologists.

Let me explain.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Assume for the sake of argument that we did not have the Bible as a resource. Assume that we were reconstructing the history of Palestine in the first millennium BC using entirely non-scriptural sources – from archaeology, from non-scriptural texts and inscriptions, and from the various records (mainly texts and inscriptions) of outside nations. We would see Israel emerging in the thirteenth/twelfth century BC, we would have an excellent idea of its changing social and religious institutions through the centuries, we would know its languages, and we would have plenty of writers, both contemporary and later, to fill in the names of kings, dynasties, etc. We would know a lot about its interactions with neighboring powers, not to mention the presence of Israelites in other nations and regions. We would know a huge amount about domestic architecture and social structures, modes of life, class structures, and so on.

Without using religious scriptures of any kind, then, we would have an excellent view of Israel, its languages, ethnicities, people and history. No sane person would doubt the existence of that Israel, although they might argue over details of its political history.

Now look at Mormonia. Without the Book of Mormon, would any scholar ever have speculated about a Semitic or Middle Eastern presence of any scale or nature whatever in the New World? In nineteenth century racist crank theories, yes, but not in any kind of modern scholarship. If there was no Book of Mormon, we would have not the vaguest, slightest hint of any suggestion of a Middle Eastern/Semitic presence. Without using religious scriptures of any kind, then, we would neither know about nor speculate on any kind of “Nephite” presence in the New World, its languages, ethnicities, people and history. It would not exist, because it doesn’t.

Therefore, your views depend entirely on alleged religious revelation, and that is why you are constantly scrambling to find real world confirmation. That is also why your views are irrelevant to any kind of scholarship, other than theology. What bothers me is not that you are preaching religion and revelation – heaven knows! – but that you don’t recognize or acknowledge the fact.  If you believe or preach differently, you are deluding yourself.

Night and day, black and white, apples and oranges.

Neal should be ashamed to post an offering like this.

I said I respected Neal Rappleye’s intelligence and writing skills, and I seriously do. He is also fighting the last stand of “Ancient Book of Mormon” apologetics.

And what a fall was there. From Joseph Smith’s time through the mid-twentieth century, Mormons knew as a matter of faith that those ancient Semites had left huge footprints in the New World, not least in terms of the genetic origins of most or all Indians. Did not Nephites alone runs into the hundreds of thousands, or the millions? Was not Illinois in the Plains of the Nephites? (Don’t blame me for that observation, I am citing a credentialed prophet, right?) And then look what Neal Rappleye has to say, as his claim:

“Such convergence strongly suggests that the Book of Mormon is a particular version of Mesoamerican history–a version written from the perspective of a minority elite who traced their lineage to a small immigrant group from Palestine and maintained a form of Israelite religion.”

A minority elite, that never made a mark, never did much, never grew to any size or significance… just a bunch of boring stay at home Guatemalans. Why do we have that decline? Because Neal wants, of religious necessity, to believe in the Book of Mormon, but he is astute enough to know how slim-to-non-existent are the forms of evidence that can be offered to grown ups. The only way he can get around this is to postulate a story that makes no impact on the wider real world narrative, and where he has any number of possible let outs to explain the absolute lack of evidence for his cause.

Dare I say a myriad excuses?

I would say that the ”minority elite” story involves suspending a lot of the Book of Mormon narrative and assumptions, but hey, that’s his problem not mine.

It is a nice picture though. Instead of the mighty Nephite cities and civilizations dreamed of in days of yore, we have a tiny bunch of Semitic-derived transients, shouting “Look out, everyone, here comes the Gaze of Historical Research! Oh no, they’re looking for Objective Evidence! Everyone go hide behind a palm tree until they’ve gone. Thank heavens we are just a minority elite.”

That could be a great film. Does Mel Brooks do Mormon stuff?

In summary: if you want to claim truth for a single word of the Book of Mormon, then prove it. Don’t try and prove the whole thing, obviously, that’s an impossible task. But go ahead and give me one piece of credible evidence that at some point before Columbus, the New World was home to some people, who were derived from the Middle East, who were either Semitic or Semitic-derived. Show me one piece of evidence (not rooted in religious faith) for the existence of such ethnicities, nations, cultures or languages in the New World.

Particularly, show me one piece of worthwhile evidence for this thing about them keeping up some form of Israelite religion. “Good Heavens, Dr. Jones, look there – over the carvings of the severed heads, at the doorway of the jaguar temple! Isn’t that a mezuzah?” Dear Mr. Brooks, Have I got a script for you!

Does that sound like I’m making fun of you? Of course I am, but I am also asking a centrally relevant question. You have made this ludicrous assertion about Israelite religion in the New World. Produce one shred of non-faith based evidence to prove it. Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. Hilariously improbable ones demand no less.

If in fact those communities were there for over a millennium, the task should be simple. Oh heck, let me set the bar really low. Don’t bother trying to track down an individual or a name or a specific place, just show me anything suggesting the mere existence of that Middle Eastern linked community in the New World. For just one village, one family, one group.

You won’t do it, because you can’t. What you will do is spend a great many posts rambling about every other matter under the Sun, explaining why nobody can or should ask for such an outrageous thing as “evidence” (The horror! The horror!) and you’ll do so until you hope your readers stop noticing the sleight of hand and pretend the whole issue goes away. And behold, it was all a bad dream!

Am I wrong about that? Then show me.

 

 

 

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Randy Wanat

    Waaaaaaaaaaaait a minute…an apologist who’s full of crap? How can this be?

  • tyson355

    “Go ahead, tell me that Reformed Egyptian is an authentic ancient language, and use any reputable Egyptologist you like to support that claim. I double dare you.”

    Egyptologists are not going to know about this language because the language was known only to the Nephites, which the Nephites themselves called “reformed Egyptian”

    “And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.” (Morm. 9: 32)

    In the Book of Mormon at about 600 BC Ishmael died during the journey of Lehi and his family along the Arabian penninsula and was burried at a place they called Nahom(1 Nephi 16:34). Long after Joseph Smith tanslated the Book of Mormon, researchers reported that they discovered stone altars in the southern Arabian Desert with the name Nahom inscribed on them dated to about 700 BC in the same place the Book of Mormon describes the burial of Ishmael took place. This suggests that Nahom was a place name already in use when Lehi and his family arrived on the scene in about 600 BC.

  • philipjenkins

    Actually, I do have a serious question. Was Reformed Egyptian also the language in which the Book of Abraham was written, and which was translated by the prophet Joseph Smith? I’m just curious.

    As for Nahom, please see my earlier column “The Nahom Follies” for that particular fairy story.
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2015/06/the-nahom-follies/

  • Blaine Johnson

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I think its relevant, again. There are examples in history of a civilization being described in a legitimate historical account, but no evidence can be found of it. For example, just because scholars cannot find the Kingdom of Funan in Southeast Asia, must we conclude that it was some scam cooked up by two Chinese scribes in 240 AD?

    I know you aren’t interested in discussing this topic, but it is relevant to your post. The Chinese accounts of Funan are not much different from the Book of Mormon account of the Nephites. They both tell of a foreign merchant led by God across the waters to found a civilization full of walled cities with wooden towers. Both accounts tell of kings, judges, elephants, horses, silk, trade, chariots and battles. Both accounts tell of a group of “westerners” living among people with “dark skin”. The Chinese envoys also tell of disciples of an unidentified religion who study an unidentified religious book that, according to scholars, could only be Zoroastrian, Manichaen, or Christian. But how did they get there? Who are they? Scholars have no idea. They tell of a storage of texts written in a western script, but scholars have no idea what script that could have been because the people of Funan had no script, supposedly. The text and the archaeology don’t match up, at all. But nobody doubts the existence of Funan.

    I think its a good apples to apples comparison. And it begs the question, why must we reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon simply because no evidence has been found in the New World? The Book of Mormon makes no claim to a specific geography, we have no idea where it took place. We have a lot of guesses. But the only real hint we get from the text is that it was an island in the sea, or a land almost completely surrounded by water. This is not Mesoamerica, its not Illinois or the Great Lakes and no matter which way you turn the map, its not anywhere in the New World. And where are the elephants, chariots, horses, silk, and iron swords?

    Dr. Jenkins, I think this ongoing debate has demonstrated your claim that the Book of Mormon is not an account of Hebrews in Mesoamerica. That’s clear. But you’ve taken the gigantic leap from a dearth of evidence in Guatemala to the whole thing being a huge laugh. That’s premature.

  • philipjenkins

    I have read what you said about Funan and other SE Asian topics with real interest, and have been following them up

  • Blaine Johnson

    I’ve made a comparison between the account of Funan in the Liang Shu and the Book of Mormon account between 25 AD and 421 AD:

    https://www.evernote.com/l/AAjJSbyA_hdMJYBCrQ_CW0gVQ2yNW_d4oQ8

  • Zampona

    The idea that the Exodus story is not essential to Judaism and Christianity strikes me as a revisionist view of these faiths. Your refusal to acknowledge this basic understanding undermines your entire argument. That there are Israelites is completely irrelevant to the spiritual truth claims of the Bible.

  • Zampona

    Your cavalier brushing off of legitimate evidence as a “fairy story” speaks volumes of your hypocrisy in this area. Your criticisms have been adequately addressed elsewhere.

  • big fatty

    You discount the greatest source of information there is . That would be Joseph Smith himself . Where did he say it all occurred ? Why the fascination with Cumorah then ?

  • Kent Robinson

    Book of Mormon “Reformed Egyptian” looked like this:

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

    Which according to most scholars is nothing more than gibberish, most likely copied from a form of Latin shorthand.

    The Book of Abraham was “translated” from a very common Egyptian funerary papyrus:

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

    So no, reformed Egyptian isn’t the language of the Book of Abraham. But I bet apologists wish it was, it would make it a lot easier to brush aside the entirely inaccurate translation Joseph produced.

  • MesKalamDug

    We might compare the lake of Manoa and the golden city (ruled by El Dorado) written about by Walter Raleigh and other old authors under names like Rupa-Rupa, Opatari and Omagua.

    Mention by contempories is solider evidence than no evidence at all (compare Funan). But all we have ever found is a tiny image of a man on a raft.

    I think the Mormon literalists need to define some late date in their alleged
    history when God intervened and made the physical evidence all vanish (as
    a test of the faith of his followers).

  • Blaine Johnson

    Joseph Smith was hardly a great source of information on the subject. He did make a few weird guesses, but nothing of substance. There’s a thorough explanation of Cumorah here:

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

  • SJ
  • philipjenkins

    But didn’t Smith claim that it WAS Reformed Egyptian? Am I wrong on that? Serious question.

  • philipjenkins

    What an excellent question. It’s almost as if he thought the whole story happened in the north eastern and midwestern US, and not Meso-America at all. Go figure.

  • philipjenkins

    Probably when he planted the dinosaur bones.

  • big fatty

    When I opened your post reply I was taken back a bit . I was saying to myself did this gentleman really put that out there ? I know not of you or your credentials or background , but after that answer , let’s just say I’m highly suspicious .

  • Blaine Johnson

    I understand. It is the anonymous Internet, big fatty. So Google it. There is no consensus on where the Book of Mormon happened. If there was we wouldn’t be here discussing it.

  • big fatty

    I don’t argue if I can avoid it . It’s usually not very productive . But Blaine , that’s simply not true . You might make the argument that the beginning is an area for discussion . But the end of the book is quite explicit . Moroni either deposited the plates at the end of his life journey in Cumorah , or he didn’t . Joseph Smith said to many he had long discussions with the angel on the very events of the text itself . He is the ultimate authority on this . And somewhere in western New York State , an extremely large battle was purported to have occurred , killing essentially everyone . You absolutely must use Joseph Smith as the final say in all of this . O / T . I’m from SLC , ex missionary , elder , and somewhat of a novice history buff . I can find 10 examples of testimony from contemporaries of J S or himself that would refute every theory out there .

  • Blaine Johnson

    I’m definitely not interested in an argument. The Book of Mormon ends with Moroni saying he is wandering off with the plates, and where he goes it “mattereth not”. Then he wanders for a good 36 years and buries the plates, somewhere. He could have gone anywhere. So there is no way to connect this “Hill Cumorah” in New York (the name was given to the hill later) to any Book of Mormon location.

    I don’t know anything about a devastating battle in New York State. It seems highly unlikely to me. I’m looking at the Book of Mormon text and nothing else. According to the text, they were on an island in the sea almost completely surrounded by water. Smith knew the Book of Mormon said this, and it seems he was very cautious about making any contrary claims.

  • Kent Robinson

    I can’t find anywhere that Joseph Smith specifically referred to the funerary papyrus (the source of the Book of Abraham) as Reformed Egyptian. It seemed that he approached it as a traditional or non-Reformed text.

    The closest thing I found to Joseph prescribing anything “reformed” to the papyri was from Charles M. Larson’s “By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus”:

    Thus, “reformed Egyptian” has always been regarded among Latter-day Saints as a remarkably efficient and compact writing form, a kind of ancient shorthand. But did Joseph Smith attribute this same characteristic of compactness to the older Egyptian of his papyri as he did to the “reformed Egyptian” of the gold plates from which he claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon? At least two collections of early LDS documents — Smith’s Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar material and his Book of Abraham translation manuscripts — illustrate that he definitely did.

  • philipjenkins

    Ah, then I am wrong. Thanks.

  • tyson355

    Yes I saw your Nahom article, but I also saw a lot of good counter responses to it as well. The Book of Abraham was not written in Reformed egyptian. Like I said Reformed Egyptian was exclusive to the Nephites. They themselves called it that and was only known by them.

  • Me

    But why does it really matter what language the Book of Mormon was written in, since the golden plates were not even in the room most of the time when Joseph “translated” them. Joseph put a rock in his hat and the words magically appeared before him in the darkness of the hat. The plates were not even necessary to the process of translation.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Darn, disappointed again. Here I thought you were talking about some people who, although discussed in other literature, left no trace of themselves such that archaeologists “cannot find” them. Then I start reading the literature and find there are archaeological remains, just disagreement about the culture, politics, and history of Funan.

    As for placing the Book of Mormon elsewhere, that just means the angel Moroni and Joseph Smith lied or were mistaken about the origins of Native Americans. Like it or not, the location of the Book of Mormon peoples in the Americas is a central tenet of Mormonism, and jettisoning that tenet to defend the book’s historicity is about like saying you had to destroy the village to save it.

  • Moroni Fielding Kimball

    Did anyone else catch the list of works that Rapeleye forwarded as ABMS references? Not a one has anything to do with ABMS….

  • Blaine Johnson

    “Disagreement about the culture, politics, and history”. Exactly. And you forgot to mention ethnicity and language. So you found some archaeological evidence of Funan? Where? Because Khmer, Thai, Vietnamese and Malay scholars would really like to know. They don’t agree on the matter. Maybe you found some evidence in Vietnam, or central Thailand, or the Malay Peninsula, or Java. Pick any option and you’ll be met with disagreement. But say Funan had its start in Lembah Bujang, as it is one of the oldest archeological sites in the region. You find there iron furnaces and stone boxes and temples dated back to 500 BC? Nice. But who built them? Scholars claim Indian traders built them, but there are no traces of Indian influence in Lembah Bujang until the first century AD.

    The Chinese accounts say the people of Funan were “dark with frizzy hair”. But that doesn’t match up with what we’d expect to find in the Mekong River delta or in groups of Indian traders. The account also references “western” families, likely Indo-Scythians, with texts written in a western script. And priests from an unidentified religion with an Asura King. Where are these people, and where is the archaeological evidence they ever lived in Funan? Oh, and again, where is Funan?

    Between, I’m not interested in defending any faith, or “village” as you call it. I’m just looking at the Book of Mormon text and comparing it to other texts, and research already done anywhere between the Arabian Peninsula and the New World. If Joseph Smith and/or “Angel Moroni” lied, its of no concern to me.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Here’s the problem: with Funan, what you’re talking about is disagreement about certain aspects of a known society, not a complete lack of evidence that such a society ever existed. To steal from your argument, with the Nephites, there are no iron furnaces or stone boxes and temples, so there’s no need to ask who built them.

  • Blaine Johnson

    In Mesoamerica there are no iron furnaces and stone boxes. But in Lembah Bujang there are.

    http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Why-Not/Profile/Articles/2013/12/13/Dont-forget-our-history/

    I’m not arguing Mesoamerica. Again, the Book of Mormon doesn’t even argue Mesoamerica, or anywhere for that matter. Just an “island in the sea” nearly surrounded by water.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I’m not talking about Mesoamerica, either. I agree with you that the Book of Mormon doesn’t fit well anywhere in the Americas, but if you want to look elsewhere, you have to ignore the provenance of the book and what its creators/revelators said about it. Doesn’t make much sense to me.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Makes sense to me. Because (1) it obviously didn’t happen in Mesoamerica, and (2) the creators/revelators/authors didn’t make any such claims within the Book of Mormon text. The only claim is that the Book of Mormon was an account of the people of America and the source from whence they sprang. In my mind that means anywhere between the Arabian Peninsula and the New World. The genetic, archaeological and linguistic evidence shows that Native Americans “sprang” from Asia and maybe the Polynesian islands. I’d expect the islands of the sea, or a land almost completely surrounded by water, would be a more likely location.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I’m not sure why you’re arguing about Mesoamerica. So, your argument is, what, that the Book of Mormon took place somewhere outside of the Americas? In that case, anywhere will do. http://mormondiscussions.com/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=13858

  • Blaine Johnson

    There should be linguistic, genetic and archaeological evidence. You won’t find that just anywhere. PS, Italy is not between the Arabian Peninsula and the New World.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Sure, Italy is between the Arabian Peninsula and New World–if you travel west. And, as my friend points out, the linguistic, genetic, and archaeological evidence is much more substantial in Italy than it is in the Americas. Have you got a particular island in mind?

  • John Kirk Williams

    I know this is only tangentially related, but most people are unaware of Joseph Smith’s attempt to translate English words from the Book of Mormon back into “Hebrew.” You might find it interesting. https://runtu.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/hebrew-lessons-from-joseph-smith/

  • Blaine Johnson

    Touche. Your friend’s arguments are very convincing. He/she must have spent a whole hour, maybe even two, on that masterpiece.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Well, sorry if I have offended you. I’m just trying to keep things light. My point (and my friend’s) is that the Book of Mormon text did not appear in a vacuum, and it’s quite problematic to say that the action could have taken place literally *anywhere*. To me, this just seems like another unwarranted attempt to make the book unfalsifiable. If that’s what it takes to maintain faith, so be it.

  • Blaine Johnson

    If it could appear literally anywhere, there would be agreement for New York, or Peru, or Chile, or Baja or Italy or all the other places where it doesn’t fit.

    You’re right, the text did not appear in a vacuum. For that reason its very difficult to make it fit wherever you want. Just ask any ABMS scholar that has tried.

    PS, I acknowledge the point you’ve made. I’ve had some good laughs at more than one Book of Mormon geography. My personal opinion on the matter is probably pretty whacked to most people as well.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Yes, it is difficult because there isn’t a good fit for it. If you’re advocating a Pacific Island setting, you have the same basic problems as a Mesoamerican setting. And, in my view, you have some major problems with what the text says about the land and its destiny.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I completely agree. As Jenkins said of it all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

  • John Kirk Williams

    If you’re arguing that it is exceedingly difficult to find any place in the world that fits the Book of Mormon text, I will not disagree with you. Seems like we took the long way round to get here.

  • janeway

    I Have read several articles by this writer and I understand that he does not accept the Book of Mormon as true document. He has every right but what I do not understand why it is so important for him to refute it. If it is nonsense then why address it at all. As a “Mormon”, I do not need his permission to read it or even believe it’s words. I wish Morman apologists would stop apologizing. How about ignoring.

  • Brian Johnson

    May I respectfully suggest Mr. Jenkins’ history lesson misses the mark. Myriad agnostic skeptics as well as many — and I employ this label in anything but the pejorative sense — faithful believers remain unpersuaded that pivotal events described in the Bible important to Judeo-Christian doctrine possess meaningful factual support. Did Adam and Eve actually walk and talk with the Deity in the garden? Was the earth submerged completely in a deluge caused by God while Noah rode out the storm in an ark populated by two of every type of animal? Did Moses upon his ascension of Mount Sinai receive tablets inscribed by Jehovah? Was the Almighty engaged in an ongoing dialogue with the devil regarding Job? Did Sampson slay a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass with God’s power and imprimatur ? Was Joshua able to invoke the Deity to stop the sun’s celestial movement? Was Jesus born of a virgin, did He walk on water, was He able to raise Lazarus raised from the dead, and did He die and was He thereafter resurrected? I submit the evidentiary record supporting the forgoing episodes is as virtually nonexistent as the evidentiary record supporting the notion of Nephites, Lamanites, Jadeites, and Christ visiting the Americas. I also submit it doesn’t matter. A fair conclusion in that a central tenant of mainstream Christianity and mainstream Mormonism is faith (Matthew 16:17). Perhaps Mr. Jenkins will be blessed someday to extend to believing Mormons the same graceful tolerance for their faith as he affords to believing Christians.

  • philipjenkins

    My last few columns on this issue have been in direct response to writings by Dr. Bill Hamblin, a prominent Mormon apologist, who has gone out of his way to engage me and my ideas. (Neal Rappleye has also been writing on his blog, hence the present post). If Hamblin had not initiated and encouraged a debate, I would no longer be addressing the topic.

  • Brian Johnson

    I offer one final thought, with compassion. Mr. Jenkins’ article’s caustically benedictory invocation of the Missouri state motto “show me” brings to my mind the Pharisees’ confrontation of Jesus during which they demanded a sign as a predicate to their belief. A scholar of Mr. Jenkins’s repute knows well His response:
    “A wicked an adulterous generation asks for a sign.” (Matthew 12:39) Perhaps a more Christ like expression of tolerance for alternative religious beliefs than the one displayed by the well-meaning Mr. Jenkins is memorialized in the film Jeremiah Johnson. There, film aficionados will recall, the mountain man protagonist at one point leads US calvary members through an Indian graveyard, where he cautions them to be respectful because of the powerful magic that surrounds the cemetery. When one of the soldiers dismisses Johnson by observing that the latter “doesn’t believe that”, Johnson replies “it doesn’t matter, they do.”

  • philipjenkins

    I may not agree with you on many things, but your film reference shows you to be a person of excellent taste.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Being disrespectful toward a particular brand of apologetics is not the same as being disrespectful of another’s faith. And asking apologists for evidence of their assertions has nothing to do with asking for a sign. Dr. Jenkins has repeatedly said he respects the faith of Latter-day Saints. He appears to understand the difference between faith and poor scholarship. Perhaps you don’t.

  • Brian Johnson

    John: I think your well made point that Mr. Jenkins was merely addressing the easily understood problems with the positions of those LDS apologists who offer “evidentiary” support for the Book of Mormon rather than being discourteous toward their beliefs has substantial merit. There is an ocean of difference, of course, between the two approaches. For my mistake, I offer my genuine mea culpa. The sole point I was — obviously inartfully — trying to make — is that faith rather scholarship may in the end reconcile us to the Divine. And you are correct, my scholarship rests in the banal (antitrust law) rather than the transcendent (religion). I appreciate your pointing out my misread of Mr. Jenkins well researched and thought provoking piece.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I accept there could be a real geography behind the Book of Mormon, maybe. But if there is I expect it to be much closer to the “source” than upstate New York. It would first require a reimagination of geography. It would also require going back to the roots of what Mormonism really is.

    “We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true Mormons.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316)

  • John Kirk Williams

    I suspect that you and I have very different views about “the roots of what Mormonism really is,” but I appreciate where you’re coming from. I think there are huge problems in your proposed “reimagination of geography,” but I respect that you seem to realize the dead end of current apologetics.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Joseph Smith was probably the most imaginative and creative religious figure in American history, and apples don’t fall far from the tree. It seems a reimagination is the only thing left to do.

    Gotta run now. Thanks for the chat.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I agree with you. It’s just that we get into trouble when we try to defend faith with poor scholarship. If I’m reading Dr. Jenkins correctly, it’s that tendency he’s criticizing. As a former amateur Mormon apologist myself, I finally had to acknowledge that there wasn’t any positive evidence, and the responses of Hamblin et al. tell me none is forthcoming anytime soon. But that has nothing to do with the heartfelt faith so many people have.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I would say he was a gifted syncretist. Combining Judeochristian belief with moundbuilder mythology was a stroke of genius. My guess is that Joseph Smith himself may have been astonished at the success of his religious enterprise.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I’m glad you’ve taken the time to respond to Hamblin and Rappleye, and so on. Mormon apologists often complain that scholars don’t engage the Book of Mormon in a serious manner. Unfortunately, when it does happen, such as in your recent posts, it doesn’t work out too well for the apologists.

  • Rob Lilly

    Mr Jenkins,
    I have read some of your articles about the Book of Mormon and have been somewhat bemused by your failed efforts, like so many in the past, to try to discredit the Book of Mormon. But ending your article with the challenge “Just show me?” Surely you know by your experience in scriptural studies that this statement simply comes off as “just show me a sign,” and where does that place you?

  • John Kirk Williams

    So, criticism of apologists is an attack on your faith? Good to know.

  • philipjenkins

    So you can’t see the difference between “Show me evidence” and “Show me a sign”? Good grief.

  • Rob Lilly

    Is there a difference? If you’re looking for the truth why wouldn’t you search for it yourself rather than “challenge” someone else to do it for you?

  • philipjenkins

    No, I have no obligation to prove a negative. Let me illustrate this point.

    Here is a lesson in the burden of proof. Let us take the literal and objective existence of the Easter Bunny. Most sane adults say he does not exist. A few hardy believers assert he does. I have to confess that I am a non-believer.

    Can you tell me how I might disprove the existence of the Easter Bunny? Please, go ahead.

    By your logic, we are on equal terms in this debate. We each make our case, of proof and disproof.

    I, on the other hand, believe that the Easter Bunny Thesis is so self-evidently ridiculous and ludicrous – that is, as measured by its acceptance by any kind of scholarly consensus – that there is obviously no way in which the two sides are in any sense equal.

    I have nothing to disprove. You have everything to prove.

    If you want to make your case, go ahead, but your standards of proof and evidence had better be impeccable. In other words: Show me. I am challenging you.

    The number of scholars who believe in the literal truth of
    the Easter Bunny is roughly comparable to those who hold the literal, objective truth of the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

    Now, so who has the burden of proof on their side?

  • John Kirk Williams

    My guess is that Rob is going to find that analogy insulting. His response reminded me that years ago, I encountered someone online who believed, in all sincerity, that the LDS (Mormon) church was run by shape-shifting reptilians who lived in tunnels underground in downtown Salt Lake City. He was dead serious.

    Having worked at the LDS Church Office Building for a couple of years, I’ve been in the tunnels, which are there so that church leaders can get from one building to another without having to go out in the weather and traffic. There was no sign of such alien beings, and I told this guy so. He insisted he was right, so I asked for evidence. He couldn’t provide anything other than assertion or rumor. But in his mind, it was fact, and it was up to me to disprove the theory.

    I think that’s what’s going on here with some of your respondents.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Not sure the Easter Bunny is an apples to apples comparison to the Book of Mormon. The Tibetan Book of the Dead and those hundreds of golden Tibetan treasure texts that have been buried in rocks and hills are a better comparison.

    A Tale of Two Scriptures: The American Book of Mormon and the Tibetan Book of the Dead

    The Tibetan Book of the Dead is arguably the most popular Buddhist text in the world. It was dug out of a hill by a 14 year old boy after a tantric saint on a winged lion appeared to him. The Book of Mormon claims a similar origin, minus the winged lion.

    No scholar questions the value of the Tibetan Book of the Dead just because the story of its origins are ludicrous. Nobody questions the Dalai Lama’s sanity because he teaches from it. I see your point Dr. Jenkins, and I mostly agree with you, but I think you would have trouble applying these same standards to Tibetan Buddhist studies, or any other Department of Religion.

  • Rob Lilly

    I would have made no comments except that your challenge to “show me” at the end of your article stuck me as strange, since the article is ostensibly about religious truth. However, it appears to me that you issued your challenge not in hopes that you might learn something, but so you could say later, “see, I was correct.” Am I wrong in this assessment?

  • John Kirk Williams

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “value.” Does the Book of Mormon have value for the millions who believe it is God’s word? Undoubtedly. In the same way, it has value in explaining what Mormons believe and why. It also has value in understanding frontier American religious and cultural beliefs. Its value as a historical record that sheds light on life in ancient America is what is in question, as far as I can tell.

  • philipjenkins

    But here is a dead serious question: how do you ever DISPROVE an argument, as opposed to proving it?

    Yeah, OK, you take them to the tunnels and get them to look for the reptilian humanoids. But not all logic is that easy.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Yeah, that’s where I agree with Jenkins. Its no more a historical text about America than the Tibetan Book of the Dead would be about the bardo realms between life and death. But as Lopez says in his article:

    A text unearthed in upstate New York less than 200 years ago becomes a source of inspiration for a community of believers, but the object of condemnation and scorn for their neighbors…In America, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, sanctified by the sands of time and the lofty peaks of distant Tibet, has become a timeless spiritual classic; its rather dubious pedigree remains a tale untold. Yet The Book of Mormon, unearthed not so long ago from a more modest hill in upstate New York, is still an object of contempt in many Christian quarters in 2012.

    I agree that neither book should be treated as a historical text, but there is a double standard when a Tibetan say the bardo realms are real, and a Mormon says Zarahemla is real.

  • philipjenkins

    I am very serious in saying that if anyone ever found credible evidence of ancient Semitic settlement in the New World, I would be ecstatic, and would get ready for a new career trying to explore its implications.

  • JT

    You are correct if you are only trying to show that you (or anyone else) has no reason to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical. But if you are actively trying to disprove it from a historical perspective – to show that the events described therein never happened – then the burden of proof has indeed shifted to you as the claimant.

    It seems to me that you are often speaking out of both sides of your mouth on this point – making several assertive claims to show that the events in the Book of Mormon never happened, and then, when pressed, throwing your hands up and saying that the burden of proof lies with those who believe in Book of Mormon historicity.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Speaking for myself, I am fine with Mormons saying Zarahemla is real. But if they want me to accept something specific, I want to see the evidence. Does that make me a sign-seeker?

  • John Kirk Williams

    I suspect that, even if I had taken the guy to the tunnels, it wouldn’t have mattered. Of course they don’t look like reptiles; they’re shape-shifters, so they look like humans!

    Can you disprove the Book of Mormon as an actual historical record? I don’t think you can, but you can say that the evidence is overwhelmingly against its historicity. If the apologists want to change that, they need to put forward some real, positive, falsifiable evidence. As you have so thoroughly shown, it’s not happening.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Nope, questions should be asked. But its going a bit too far to compare a person’s religious beliefs to an easter bunny, considering that God and Buddha and Ganesh could all be Easter Bunnies as far as we know. By making a comparison like that you pretty much condemn all religion to the realm of fairy tales.

  • philipjenkins

    But help me with my question: how do I DISPROVE anything whatever?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Yes, exactly. With the only difference being that belief in the Easter Bunny is not nearly universal among humanity and the tangible incarnation of the Easter Bunny never became the most influential person in history. When Jenkins comes up with these silly parallels, he seems to be self-identifying as unserious.

  • Blaine Johnson

    When it comes to religion, I don’t think you can. Or maybe you can, but I don’t think its worth the effort. Unless you want to self-identify as an agnostic, without any religion. But that might be hard in your line of work.

  • J. Inglis

    Attempted misdirection again.

    The bottom line is that you still have no evidence for Mormon mesoamerican history, or Mormon north american history, or any Mormon history. None.

    Complaining about the lack of evidence for some other historical legend does not prove that your legend is true. If there is zero evidence for Funan, then archaeologists and historians will stop believing it. Unlike, for example, evidence of the Incas, or Mayans, etc. for which there is plenty of physical evidence.

    The issue is NOT what people believe without any evidence at all (or else we could believe a whole lot of things, like Tolkein’s Middle Earth being a real place). Rather, the issue is what can we believe on the basis of evidence? If beliefs about history have no evidence, they are discarded and rejected.

  • J. Inglis

    ” just because scholars cannot find the Kingdom of Funan in Southeast Asia, must we conclude that it was some scam cooked up by two Chinese scribes in 240 AD?”

    Yes, until we find some actual evidence.

    ” Where are these people, and where is the archaeological evidence they ever lived in Funan? Oh, and again, where is Funan?”

    No evidence = no Funan. It’s just a fantastic legend until there is some evidence. Just like Troy was a Greek legend until the city was found. Before the city was found, there was little evidence other than an ANCIENT legend (at least it had that going for it), and so it was rational to believe that it never existed. Of course, after it was found there was evidence supporting a rational belief in the existence of Troy.

    No evidence = no Mormon history in North America.

    Mormonism has nothing like the discovery of Troy.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    If you have a testable hypothesis, disproof is easy. And of course this leads people to say, well, any hypothesis must therefore be testable. There is no way to prove that to be an accurate statement though; the only reason why we think that hypotheses have to be testable is to enable disproof.

    It is OK to have hypotheses that aren’t testable, and human beings do this literally all the time. You can say “that’s not science” or (in Jenkins’ variant) “that’s not scholarship,” to which it is perfectly OK to respond, “OK, so what?”

  • Blaine Johnson

    Of course I don’t have evidence for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica. I don’t believe there is any. Did you read my post?

  • philipjenkins

    Indeed – except I am saying nothing about Christ or any authentic historical record of Christ. I am speaking of the Book of Mormon, which I am happy to take as a spiritual meditation concerning Christ, although lacking any historical content.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Well, you are saying that Christ isn’t the Son of God, and wasn’t born of a virgin and wasn’t resurrected in his body, since such extraordinary claims require a degree of evidence that is lacking. Right?

  • Blaine Johnson

    Just one week ago I had to sit and listen to some drunk guy rant about a Divine Jesus being nothing more than an Easter Bunny, or wait, I think he said Santa Claus.

  • philipjenkins

    Great, so please frame a testable hypothesis concerning the historicity of the book of Mormon.

  • Rob Lilly

    Really? Comparing members of the LDS Church to those who believe in the Easter Bunny or aliens in tunnels is not the way to foster discussion.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    It is OK to have hypotheses that aren’t testable, and human beings do this literally all the time. You can say “that’s not science” or (in your variant) “that’s not scholarship,” to which I respond, “OK, so what? It’s religion. I form hypotheses and even beliefs based on faith. I can then investigate and even change what I believe in based on evidence, without ever articulating a testable hypothesis.” I realize that to you this is some kind of insanity, but it is really not. It is just religion. It is just faith. It just means that in the words of the Apostle Paul, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2:14. I get that you don’t respect Biblical teachings, but that’s my answer.

  • John Kirk Williams

    That’s the problem: we’re not talking about religion; we’re talking about scholarship and evidence. If Mormon apologists were saying, “We believe, regardless of evidence,” that’s one thing. But what they’re saying is that there is objective evidence that supports their belief in the Book of Mormon. If there is such evidence, Dr. Jenkins is well within his rights to ask for it.

  • JT

    One thing that has been brought up is whether there are any serious non-LDS scholars who take Book of Mormon historicity seriously. However, given the unique manner in which the Book of Mormon was produced, why would someone not become a Mormon if he/she believed in its historicity? There is definitely some selection bias involved.

  • J. Inglis

    He’s not asking for a sign; he’s asking for physical evidence.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    No, they cite such evidence all the time. He then judges the evidence differently by referring to other evidence etc. etc. and criticizing their scholarship.

  • John Kirk Williams

    What I was trying to get at was that my correspondent couldn’t provide positive evidence of those aliens. No offense intended. I totally respect people who believe in the Book of Mormon, but when they assert that there’s positive, compelling evidence to support its historicity, I expect them to provide it. Is that so much to ask?

  • JT

    Nice – love me some straw men.

  • J. Inglis

    Why call it Reformed EGYPTIAN, given that it is unrelated in any way to any Egyptian language of any time period?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Hear hear. Jenkins can be similarly rude.

  • J. Inglis

    “OK, so what?”

    -OK, so it isn’t true.

  • John Kirk Williams

    If someone has joined the LDS church because they discovered objective evidence that the Book of Mormon is a record of an ancient people, that’s fine. But it would be nice if they shared that evidence with the rest of us.

    In some ways, this discussion is hopeless. To me, there are two things going on: 1) faith in the Book of Mormon as the word of God and 2) the objective evidence for the Book of Mormon’s historicity. To me, these are completely separate issues, but from the responses here, it seems others are unable to separate them.

  • J. Inglis

    “No, they cite such evidence all the time.”

    OK, cite some. You can’t because they don’t because there isn’t.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Again, what positive, objective, verifiable evidence is there? If it’s cited all the time, where is it?

  • philipjenkins

    I had hoped nobody was going to waste time with such an absurd and boring analogy.

    Those Christian statements are claims based on faith. Because they make no claim about their impact on mainstream history, they are in no sense testable, and I would never attempt to claim they were testable according to any scientific means. How different matters would be if, for example, I claimed that the Roman Colosseum collapsed at the moment of the crucifixion, or that the Resurrection was witnessed by all the provinces of the Eastern Empire. There is nothing by way of external history or science that can be tested or refuted.

    More important, all the documents on which I base this faith are contemporary or near-contemporary, with deep roots in the first century, and with the earliest claims of Resurrection datable to the 40s. The existence of those documents at no point demands any miraculous or supernatural intervention.

    The Book of Mormon, in contrast, was written c. 1830, has no discernable links to the events it portrays, and any supposed ancient quality depends on fragile ideas of supernatural intervention. It also posits vast ancient civilizations, the existence of which is easily testable and refutable.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I apologize if you think my example was rude. It wasn’t meant to be.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Did you guys read Hamblin’s side of the Jenkins argument?

    The evidence that gets cited all the time are things like there are landforms in Mesoamerica that can be related to place and geography descriptions in the Book of Mormon and that there was an ancient civilization there. There is more of course but that’s the gist of it. That is evidence, and it is cited. Now you say, well, that’s not *good* evidence because we can’t relate any of the inscriptions or iconography there to Book of Mormon themes or events, etc. etc. This becomes a discussion about the quality, significance or weight of the evidence, just as I said.

  • Rob Lilly

    I never made that assertion. My point was that Mr. Jenkins was not truly looking for evidence but was simply issuing a challenge so he could then conclude there was no such evidence. He now says that is not the case, so I’ll take him at his word and leave it at that.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    That’s your conclusion but you haven’t proven it. In fact, once you articulate a testable hypothesis, the only way you will know if it is true or false is if or when you show it to be false. Hypotheses are things that you don’t know to be true. That’s why they’re hypotheses.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Yes, I did. So, basically, bad evidence is evidence, so there!

  • philipjenkins

    Any evidence I have seen from him is totally subjective, and (eg with landforms) can be applied to any bit of landscape you want it to fit. His evidence from Mayan king-lists is, if anything, even funnier.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Ha ha. I am glad you are so easy to crack up. Funny funny guy. But I agree with you here. There is a difference between evidence and unambiguous or compelling evidence. People claim that the former is lacking when they really are referring to the latter.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Not bad but weak. Weak evidence is still evidence. Lots of by now well established theories began their lives as hypotheses backed by only weak evidence.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    But you don’t refute anything. You just demand to be shown compelling evidence, which is not the same thing. You turn the whole thing on burden of proof and say things like, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Well, OK. All those claims about Jesus Christ are extraordinary and yet they are not supported by the kind of evidence you demand for *other* extraordinary claims. You employ explicitly atheistic arguments against Mormon belief and then claim immunity from parallel arguments.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Dr. Jenkins has been asking for verifiable, testable evidence. Do you honestly see that “weak” evidence as in any way testable? Do you understand why scholars don’t consider that to be any sort of evidence?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    The evidence I mentioned is all verifiable and, hence, testable as well. What it is not is unambiguous or compelling. This is the point I have been making. If you can’t understand it, that is not my problem.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I understand completely. I haven’t seen anything from Dr. Hamblin that is objective and contemporary with the Book of Mormon. On the contrary, what he has provided is, for example, a possible near-match of a name separated by 1500 years. Can you provide some examples from Book of Mormon times, even ones that are less than unambiguous or compelling?

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Apology accepted then.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    No. If that assertion is made, it is not too much to ask. I express no view on whether or when that assertion has been made or whether the evidence was then forthcoming.

  • Brian Johnson

    John: Well said. My issues with the Faith of youth (and one which I’d like to think I served with at least passion if not distinction for a long season) are many. But the one which Mr. Jenkins ably points out and you echo is among the most troubling, namely the almost always facile and often disingenuous appeal to “evidence” the supports the historicity of the Book of Mormon. You have both addressed the task with politeness. I’m reasonably comfortable opining that evidence does not exist. Insisting it does (in a way like submitting the Shroud of Turin proves Christ’s resurrection — and I concede that submission as at least some substance) is dangerous. Like the late scientist Henry Eyring (not to be confused with the current Mormon apostle observed) “you can’t tell people the world is flat once they discover its round”.

  • Jack

    Who are these many scholars who believe in the existence of Funan? Does Funan meet the exceedingly low standard of “one shred of evidence” that Jenkins has set for the BoM? If it does, then perhaps that is why scholars don’t dispute its existence unlike the BoM which cannot meet even that simple standard.

  • JT

    Just to make sure I understand, you are not trying to disprove the Book of Mormon at all; you are just trying to show that there does not currently exist compelling archaeological or historical evidence to accept it as historical. Is that correct? Because if that’s the case, this believing Mormon agrees with you, and I would bet most Mormons would agree with you as well. But it sure seems to me that you are taking it one step further than that. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • Jack

    You completely missed the point. I believe Mr. Jenkins has been very clear that he takes no issue with any Mormon’s individual faith based belief. Only when they claim those beliefs as historical, scholarly facts does he ask for evidence.

  • Blaine Johnson

    There is not one shred of evidence linking any archaeological site in Southeast Asia to the extant accounts of Funan. There are no inscriptions, no texts, and no matching place names.

    Jenkins argues that if there were Hebrews in the New World they would stand out like sore thumbs in a semi-literate, multi-ethnic society 2000 years ago. That they would have left truckloads of artifacts and texts and inscriptions. I don’t think that argument holds. If you were to reconstruct Southeast Asian history without the Chinese accounts, nobody would have ever guessed there was a Kingdom of Funan with walled cities and towers and kings and western texts and priests and battles. It was completely invisible until Paul Pelliot translated those Chinese records in 1903. And its still mostly invisible today. Only difference is now academics refer to everything from that time period in Southeast Asia as Funan.

    I am not however arguing that this is proof that the Book of Mormon could have taken place in the New World. The weight of evidence against Mesoamerica is too great. No elephants, silk, chariots, iron, horses etc.

  • Keith Eppich

    I can actually speak to this with a fairly unique perspective. I was raised Mormon and have read the “Book of Mormon” several times. I am also an archaeologist who works in Mesoamerica.

    The biggest thing that Rappleye gets wrong is that while there is no evidence to support the narrative of the Exodus, there is nothing that frankly contradicts that same narrative. Additionally, as you point out, no one actively questions the existence of any of these cultures, people, or places.

    The “Book of Mormon,” on the other hand, is in direct conflict with the evidence from Pre-Columbian archaeology. Not only is there no evidence that supports the existence of any of the cultures, people, or places of the “Book of Mormon,” but the data that does exist flatly refutes it as a historical document. The Book of Mormon mentions meta swords, and horses, and chariots. None of these things existed during the great civilizations of Mesoamerica. The DNA and skeletal evidence clearly points to East Asia as a point of origin, not Jerusalem. Wheat? Silk? None of these things existed in Pre-Columbian civilizations.

    Lastly, we know what was important to the Mesoamericans, corn, chocolate, jade, jaguars, astronomy, calendrics and their writing, none of this appears in the “Book of Mormon.”

    Now, I usually steer clear of debates like this, because I think it feeds a very real antiu-Mormon prejudice that one finds in evangelical circles. I bear the Mormon church no animus, in fact, there is much to admire about it. If the “Book of Mormon” helps you live a rich, moral, and fulfilling life, more power to you.

    The problem comes when one tries to establish the historicity of the “Book of Mormon.” Then the claims fall under the eye of a critical scholarship. And the account given in the “Book of Mormon” simply cannot hold up under such criticism.

    When apologetics still try to defend it as serious scholarship, it always becomes useful to remind them that the same arguments can be used to defend Graham Hancock. Indeed, Rappleye’s exact same argument can be used in defense of ancient alien astronauts. If we can’t pin down the narrative of the Exodus, how can be doubt that aliens visited ancient Egypt?

  • Blaine Johnson

    No evidence = no Mormon history in North America

    I agree, but I don’t agree that

    No evidence in North America = no Mormon history

  • Brian Johnson

    Jack: I have responded to later posts acknowledging I had likely misread Mr. Jenkins’ intent precisely as you pointed out. I commend them to you if you are bored.

  • philipjenkins

    I just want to echo the words about “there is much to admire
    about [the LDS Church]. If the “Book of Mormon” helps you live a rich, moral, and fulfilling life, more power to you.”

  • tyson355

    I’ll ask a Nephite the next time I see one.

  • kaylayale

    Wait, Joseph Smith did make claims as to the geography of the Book of Mormon, do you not take that as value?

    Lehi “landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien” which would place Lehi’s landing on a western shore of South America. Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842, Vol. 3, No 22, p.922.

  • kaylayale

    Joseph Smith did state where, are you going to deny his statements?

    In an 1833 letter to N.C. Saxton, Smith wrote:

    The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western tribes of Indians; having been found through the ministration of an holy angel, and translated into our own language by the gift and power [of] God, after having been hid up in the earth for the last fourteen hundred years, containing the word of God which was delivered unto them. By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt, and that the land [of] America is a promised land unto them, and unto it, all the tribes of Israel will come, with as many of the Gentiles as shall comply with the requisitions of the new covenant. But the tribe of Judah will return to old Jerusalem. 4 January 1833 (from Times and Seasons [Nauvoo, Illinois] 5 [15 November 1844], 21:705-707)

  • kaylayale

    Actually no, according to Joseph Smith, only the America’s will do:

    While Zion’s camp was marching on the way to Jackson County [Missouri], near the bank of the Illinois River [in Illinois] they came to a mound containing the skeleton of a man. The history of this incident is as follows:

    “The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thickset man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains. The curse was taken from Zelph, or at least, in part—one of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.” [History of the Church, by Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, 1976, vol. 2, ch. 5, pp. 79-80]

  • kaylayale

    Here is a link to a letter written by the first presidency of where the plates were supposedly buried….so there is consensus on that, even if the Mormon apologist do not agree:

    Dear Bishop Brooks:

    I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.

    The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.

    The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.

    Sincerely yours,
    (signed)
    F. Michael Watson
    Secretary to the First Presidency

    http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/cumorah.htm

  • The B.H.R. Professor

    First, kudos to Dr. Jenkins for his in-depth and very thorough responses to this issue. It’s been fascinating and entertaining to watch the goings-on. That said, I think some background information is in order. First and foremost, I notice that Neal Rappleye and Dr. Hamblin have repeatedly mentioned “ancient Book of Mormon studies,” and that, in fact, Rappleye has produced a list of texts that support the alleged existence of such a field. It’s worth pointing out that there are some notable absences from his list, though. As Blaine Johnson has reminded readers many times, the plausibility of a Mesoamerican BoM is roughly the same as a Malaysian BoM. Likewise, Rappleye is leaving off the impressively prodigious work of Rodney Meldrum and the FIRM Foundation:

    http://www.firmlds.org

    Really, the notion that the Book of Mormon took place in Mexico (or thereabouts) is only supported by one faction of LDS apologists. The question I would pose for Rappleye, Hamblin, Gardner, and others is: If the Mesoamerican theory counts as “ancient Book of Mormon studies,” and should be taken seriously, then why did should we ignore Heartland and Malaysian theories? Have you read all the books by these folks? (We might ask, too, how many scholarly texts on Mesoamerican archaeology and history the apologists have read while we’re at it.)

    But there is also a very interesting “sociological” context to these discussions. In a different posting, Prof. Jenkins mentioned the “ejection” of the hardliner FARMS apologists from the Maxwell Institute. Obviously, this left a lot of sore feelings, and this surfaced in a pronounced way this past December, after a young, “liberal” LDS scholar named Ben Park published an article in the flagship journal of the revamped Maxwell Institute. The old FARMS apologists went after him pretty aggressively, and you can see how their responses reflect a literalist, fundamentalist approach to the study of the Book of Mormon. The new “Mormon Studies” scholars have tried to steer the scholarship in such a direction that questions of Book of Mormon historicity are “bracketed”–i.e., treated as matters of faith–thus opening up room for discussion on other (arguably more scholarly) facets of Mormonism. But see for yourself:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/enigmaticmirror/2015/02/07/is-modern-biblical-studies-a-historical-discipline/

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/enigmaticmirror/2014/12/12/clarification-on-parks-view/

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/enigmaticmirror/2014/12/28/despair/

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2014/12/more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger.html

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2014/12/shedding-the-plague-of-mormon-exceptionalism.html

    The FARMS apologists are trying to paint these new, “liberal” LDS scholars as latent apostates who want to tear down the LDS Church: that they will “secularize” the church so much that it will be indistinguishable from the Community of Christ. This attitudes has–needless to say–led to all kinds of acrimony. But it’s part of the context of the debate that’s now underway, and I think it’s helpful to understand some of the background, and some of the stakes (perceived or otherwise) that are in play. The FARMS apologists believe that an LDS Church without a historical, Mesoamerican Book of Mormon will spell the end of the Church as they know it. Their views really are that literalist, that absolutist, and that fundamentalist.

  • kaylayale

    Let’s go off this. Here is evidence of the Book of Mormon having a great deal in common it, that was a contemporary, called The Late War. So if we go with the idea that the Book of Mormon can be used as book that can teach moral values or a historical book, rather than be viewed as a work of god, then we can agree on that.

    Throughout the book, we see concepts of Joseph Smith’s time such as Manifest Destiny, for example. I can see the Book of Mormon being used to show literary concepts, such as chiasmus.

    However, the modern Mormon church continues to teach the Book of Mormon as a literal historical record as well as god’s word, so until a change comes from within its walls, we are just postulating.

    http://wordtreefoundation.github.io/thelatewar/

  • Steven James Whitmer

    “Most persons prefer the certainty of fiction to the
    uncertainty of reality.” – Donald E. Watson

  • Kent Robinson

    That is quite interesting, I wasn’t aware of his Reformed Egyptian to English to Hebrew translations. Thanks for sharing.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Its widely considered that this statement about the Isthmus of Darien was not endorsed by Joseph Smith. LDS Church History Scholars believe that John Taylor may have served as “the acting editor for the Times and Seasons” in Joseph’s absence in 1842.

    As I’ve said many times, I am not interested in speculation about the origins of the Book of Mormon made by hundreds of thousands of patriotic LDS Mormons over the last 200 years. I am only looking at the Book of Mormon text. There are no claims to a specific geography made in the Book of Mormon.

    If anything, the account in the Book of Mormon (elephants, silk, chariots etc.) sound like claims to an Asian setting. I doubt Joseph Smith would have intentionally referenced elephants if he was writing a fairy tale about moundbuilders in New York. Do you?

  • Blaine Johnson

    No need to deny them as they aren’t relevant to my study of the Book of Mormon text. If I’m studying the Book of Mormon text as a historical document why would I need to read a letter written to N.C. Saxton?

    Besides, all the letter says is that the Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of the western tribes of Indians. The forefathers of the western tribes of Indians came from East Asia and maybe Austronesia. Do you see my point? I suspect the Book of Mormon is most likely an account of people who migrated from the Middle East through Asia. Joseph’s letter to N.C. Saxton does not contradict this. There is no evidence that the Book of Mormon is an account of Hebrews that somehow made it to Mesoamerica and for some reason backtracked all the way back to Asia.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I find the story of Zelph to be one of the most imaginative and bizarre things Joseph Smith ever said. Its interesting, but I’m hardly going to include it in my research of the Book of Mormon text. Why would I?

  • John Kirk Williams

    What “The Late War” shows is that the Book of Mormon looks pretty much like what we would expect from a 19th-century Frontier American “romance” (for want of a better word). Most current apologetic efforts attempt to find ties and parallels to what is known about ancient America, but if we apply the same methods, we find that the book is a much better match for 19th-century moundbuilder mythology mingled with scripture. For example, here’s something I wrote several years ago. https://runtu.wordpress.com/2008/03/31/vintage-runtu-book-of-mormon-evidence/

  • Blaine Johnson

    Say I live in a bubble and have no knowledge of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Bishop Brooks and F Michael Watson. But say I know a decent amount about geography and history. Now, lets say someone gives me a Book of Mormon and asks me to place the account somewhere on a map.

    Knowing only what I know from the Book of Mormon text (elephants, silk, chariots, horses, honey, iron swords, barley, ships, trade etc.) I would put it somewhere in Southeast Asia, probably the Malay Peninsula since it is almost completely surrounded by water. In fact, Southeast Asia is the only place in the world that fits given the fact that you need a location with silk and domesticated elephants in 2000 BC. Can anyone identify a location in the world almost completely surrounded by water with domesticated elephants and silk in 2000 BC? Mesoamerica doesn’t work. Any other guesses?

  • philipjenkins

    Thanks for the detailed and helpful update.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Oh, I agree with you. The idea that the events of the Book of Mormon took place somewhere in transit before Moroni arrived in the Americas is extremely problematic. The Nephites arrive in a promised land, and the promises God is supposed to have made involve clear events in American history. But they are promises made when the Nephites arrive, and they don’t apply to some other, future promised land. And of course you have the problem of the Jaredites, who Joseph Smith said traveled to America, specifically to the “lake country of America.” And of course the Book of Mormon says that the land of the Jaredites would be where the New Jerusalem would be established (that would be Missouri). Anyway, the idea of a non-American setting for the Book of Mormon is at odds with the text and with everything every prophet from Joseph Smith has ever said about it.

  • Blaine Johnson

    If we added up every belief and every idea that critics accuse Joseph Smith of drawing from you would have an incredibly large library of incredibly diverse sources: Gnosticism, Kaballah, Swedenborgianism, Islam, Nestorian Christianity, Egyptology, Gullivers Travels, Freemasonry, Native American theology, Terma Buddhism, Encyclopedia Brittanica. And now we can add moundbuilder mythology and 19th-century Frontier romance to the list. He’s been accused of it all, and I won’t argue that he wasn’t drawing from multiple sources. I’m saying that was his strong point, and ultimately that is what religion is. Name one religion that isn’t a creative syncretization of preexisting folklore or beliefs.

  • John Kirk Williams

    I didn’t say anything about Joseph Smith “drawing from” anything, so I’m not sure what your disagreement is. And I agree with you about religion being creative syncretism.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Not a disagreement, I just read too much into your comment. But yes, I agree the Book of Mormon and its origins resemble a number of different mythologies and sources from moundbuilding mythology to Tibetan terma traditions. How? I have no clue.

  • philipjenkins

    Now you have gone and sent me off to read more about Terma traditions. Huh! Interesting stuff.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I once sat with one of the most respected scholars of Tibetan Buddhism, who also was the Prime Minister of the TIbetan Government in Exile at the time. I told him about the origins of the Book of Mormon and its “scribe” and he rattled off a few questions. After answering his questions he said that Joseph Smith met all the conditions required of a terton, or treasure finder. Even down to the requirement of taking a “consort” (Emma Smith) to the location of the golden text, which is usually written in ciphers and symbols only known to the scribe. It was enough to convince me there is another odd layer to this story that has not yet been explored.

  • Blaine Johnson

    The promised land potentially covers the Americas and all the islands of the sea. At least that is my untestable hypothesis.

    Although not important to an analysis of the Book of Mormon text, there are numerous accounts of prophets saying Polynesians are also a remnant of the Lamanites. Orson Pratt extended this to the Indian Ocean, which would include every island from Easter Island to the Comoros Islands near Madagascar.

    “Here let me say again, according to the Book of Mormon, many of those great islands that are found in the Indian Ocean, also in the great Pacific Sea, have been planted with colonies of Israelites. Do they not resemble each other? Go to the Sandwich Islands, to the South Sea Islands, to Japan–go to the various islands of the Pacific Ocean, and you find a general resemblance in the characters and countenances of the people. Who are they? According to the Book of Mormon, Israelites were scattered forth from time to time, and colonies planted on these islands of the ocean” (Journal of Discourses 14:333).

    I think the only reason you find a wider promised land problematic is because we’ve often left the Polynesians/Austronesians/Malay out of the discussion. Unfairly, in my opinion. They are supposedly a “remnant” entitled to the same promises.

    Is Hawaii a part of the New World, Guam, Philippines? All colonised by America

  • John Kirk Williams

    A Pacific Island/Malay setting has the same problems as an American setting, and quite a few more. The reason I find it problematic is that it doesn’t fit with the text; of course, neither does an American setting. 🙂

  • Blaine Johnson

    Have you looked into the Malay theory? It actually does fit, somehow. I don’t want to go into it here because I’ve done it elsewhere with mixed results. But there is plenty of odd “convergence”. Many more untested data points than Mesoamerica. Here’s a map just in case you can’t find it through Google. The Chinese historical record matches up nicely as well. But again, I don’t want to discuss it here.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Yes, I have read some material about the Malay theory, but in all honesty, I didn’t find it impressive. IMO, one has to take some major liberties with the text to make it plausible, and even then it doesn’t fit very well. In fact, every theory I can think of (Mesoamerican, Heartland, etc.) requires doing some violence to the text.

  • Blaine Johnson

    I do agree with you, textual violence is too easy. I feel awkward doing it myself. I’ll leave it to others.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Way back when I was mission historian in Bolivia, the first page of our mission history was a letter from circa 1970 from Joseph Fielding Smith saying that the mission would undoubtedly be successful because Bolivia was “one of the central locations of the Book of Mormon.” Even then, I didn’t think it fit very well, and since then, I haven’t seen a theory that doesn’t have serious problems. So, in all honesty, I don’t give Book of Mormon geography a lot of thought. I know, so why am I commenting here?

  • John Kirk Williams

    It’s relevant if one considers that the story might spring from the same source as the Book of Mormon.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Haha, me too. I served in Madagascar and now live in Southeast Asia. I actually do see parallels, but I’m mostly embarrassed when I find myself doing it. So yeah, why am I commenting here? I guess its just part of being raised a Mormon, always looking for convergence and synchronicity.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Even when I was still active in the LDS church, I never thought the historicity of the Book of Mormon was crucial to my belief. So, I’ve always accepted that, whatever it is, it’s likely not a real history of a real people.

  • Blaine Johnson

    My feelings exactly. But I do find something beautiful in a religious text that can speak to people almost anywhere in the world. As if they might, with just a relocation of a narrow neck of land, claim to be a part of the “House”. We can thank/curse the intentionally vague Book of Mormon geography for that.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Agreed, what the text means to people spiritually is its value. It doesn’t work particularly well as a history or geography text.

  • Blaine Johnson

    My favorite “Book of Mormon geography” was one drawn up by John Clark in his “Key for Evaluating Book of Mormon
    Geographies”. Simple, and universal, not unlike the geographies used by eastern religions. Enough I think

  • John Kirk Williams

    Ironically, it was Clark who wrote that terrible “points of convergence” piece that I rebutted a few years ago. Seems like a decent fellow, though.

  • Dr_Doctorstein

    If the Book of Mormon given to you for this thought experiment was the 1981/2013 edition, you would read that it’s “a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas,” “a sacred record of peoples in ancient America,” etc., so naturally you would place the account in the Americas.

    On the other hand, suppose you said to yourself, “These statements are all part of the editorial apparatus rather than the putatively ancient text itself,” and you then thought about all the anachronisms, the absence of Israelite DNA among Native Americans, etc.” Would that lead you to conclude that you should look elsewhere for your geography, or would you simply conclude that the book was fiction?

    Given the totality of the evidence, the most reasonable conclusion is that the Book of Mormon, as many have said, is Bible fan-fiction (a term that is rather too flippant, but otherwise pretty accurate). It’s a fascinating, but nonetheless clumsy and transparent, attempt to inscribe America into the Christian sacred story.

  • Dr_Doctorstein

    Maybe you would include it because it sheds so much light on the book’s author (the richness of his imagination)?

    Joseph Smith’s character is only irrelevant if one’s research already assumes the ancientness of the text — which is obviously not a valid assumption when that ancientness is itself the question being researched.

  • philipjenkins

    I have a small present for Blaine Johnson. I just attended a
    wonderful exhibit in Houston, with treasures from the finds at Sanxingdui.

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

    As I can explain if you wish, I do not believe in ancient Chinese or East Asian contacts with the Americas (ie not after 8,000BC or so), but it is easy to look at these images and see ancient Transpacific parallels.

    Enjoy!

  • Dylan Reyes-Cairo

    Not in disagreement here, I tend to agree with Jenkins’ analysis, but I have been wondering about DNA evidence suggesting middle-eastern connections among certain American tribes: http://ancientamerica.com/anomalous-dna-in-the-cherokee/

    I believe the analysis is likely very incomplete, but these studies keep cropping up and I don’t know what to make of it.

  • philipjenkins

    As I have said before, I am very wary of anything on the Ancient America site, as they publish so much that is, at best, very speculative. (eg long discredited Semitic inscriptions in N America). This genetic stuff is actually one of the most reputable things I have seen there!

    The X haplogroup is the best known issue here, and some quite serious scholars have suggested this might represent early transatlantic migrants, likely during the Ice Age. More recently, though, it seems as if this genetic inheritance was found among the early migrants who came across Siberia. There’s a good summary of the case here

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_X_%28mtDNA%29

    which pretty much dismisses the transatlantic case.

    There’s another well documented summary here

    http://www.csicop.org/si/show/civilizations_lost_and_found_fabricating_history_-_part_three_real_messages/

  • Blaine Johnson

    Interesting. I’ve been trying to do a quick read on Sanxingdui. Book of Mormon lore (via Hugh Nibley) tells of Jaredite migrations across Asia through Tibet and what became the Kingdom of Shu (Sanxingdui). The Tarim mummies found in the Tocharian/Bactrian speaking region of the Taklamakan Desert in China provide evidence of Indo-European migrations through this region as early as 1800 BC. Some historians (I don’t know how legit) have speculated these blond-haired mummies could be connected to the Greco-Roman accounts of Seres or Serica, an unidentified land of silk and iron populated by long-lived inhabitants that “exceeded the ordinary human height, had flaxen hair, and blue eyes.” Further speculation by Burmese scholars claim these people migrated down through the Kun Lun Mountains into Tibet and Burma, bringing their silk, chariots and bronze with them. A popular Burmese historian says these Kun Lun migrants may have mixed with earlier migrations from Sanxingdui, but I don’t know if that has been peer-reviewed anywhere beyond Wikipedia 😉 Here’s what he said:

    Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia

    Oddly, the Chinese accounts refer to the Mon-Khmer and later the Malay as Kun Lun, so at some point the name for the mythical center of the Tibetan/Chinese universe (Sumeru/Kunlun) became the name given to the austronesians/austroasians in Funan and possibly the origin of the name Funan itself, as Chinese envoys mispronounced the Old Khemara title given to Khmer rulers: Kurung Bnam (phnom), or King of the Mountains.

    Some evidence of possible migrations from the West to Funan exists in the Chinese accounts of a western script identified by some scholars to be related to Sogdian, a derivative (correct me if I’m wrong) of Syriac, Aramaic and Phoenician. Apparently the Funanese had an entire storage of texts written in this western script at one point. But it was all lost.

  • philipjenkins

    As you know, I disagree with you on many of your ideas, and won’t challenge every single point at issue. However, do note that the Tarim Basin people, the Tokharians, are certainly NOT from the Eastern Mediterranean. They are from the common home of the Indo-Europeans in the southern steppes of what is now Russia.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Falsified and now revised. I’m not qualified for any of this, so I do appreciate your professional input.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Saying it’s one of the most reputable things there isn’t saying much. I read the full article, and it’s kind of shockingly bad. What it boils down to is this, if you actually read the original piece: 52 people paid for DNA testing. They had two things in common: they claimed Cherokee ancestry, and they shared an unusual common ancestral haplogroup. Mr. Yates then said, “Wow this must mean that Cherokees have an anomalous DNA marker.”

  • philipjenkins

    As I say, I assume a low bar with that site!

  • Blaine Johnson

    Here’s another article on a similar topic from a more legitimate source and backed up by genetic research:

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131120-science-native-american-people-migration-siberia-genetics/

    Geneticists are discovering that more than 1/3rd of the Native American genome is from a western Eurasian source with links to the Middle East and Europe. It’s based on DNA testing done on remains found in the Altay Mountains of Siberia. It obviously proves nothing about Hebrews in America, but it is interesting that Denisovan DNA has also been found in the Altay Mountains. Denisovans likely migrated from Africa/India and at some point split into two groups. Some went north to Tibet and Siberia and others went east through Sunda to Melanesia. It is not evidence of Sunda/Denisovan migrations crossing over to the New World, but it is evidence that other groups in the same time and place were.

  • John Kirk Williams

    Interesting stuff, but not particularly relevant to the Book of Mormon, given the time periods involved.

  • Blaine Johnson

    It isn’t at all relevant. It only demonstrates that Siberians were more “western” than previously thought, with some probably migrating from Europe (based on similarities between Venus statues found in both locations).

    But unfortunately, I have heard cases of LDS using this as evidence of Middle East DNA in the New World. That should be nipped in the bud quickly before Mormons embarrass themselves with bad science, again.

  • John Kirk Williams

    So have I, and I agree it should be “nipped in the bud,” as it doesn’t help the LDS case.

  • Chris Falter

    Just following along the thread here. It seems like Jenkins is not arguing with “most Mormons,” but with Rappleye and Hamblin.

  • Chris Falter

    There is the obvious problem that the archeological evidence points to the Asian migration to America as happening over 10,000 years ago. Whereas Joseph was in Egypt about 3,500 years ago, so his progeny could not have migrated to the Americas over 10,000 years ago.

  • Blaine Johnson

    This is why I reject the notion that the Book of Mormon is an account of people in the Americas.

  • Emmef Jota

    Here is a piece of evidence: It is I. Me. Myself. I read The Book of Mormon. I did what Moroni said to do. I asked God if were not true. God answered me. It’s true. Without revelation, the work of God cannot stand, not in any age. And without God, YOU cannot stand, not now, and especially not after you die. No one can ask God FOR you. You have to do it yourself. The longer you wait, the more you will have to regret.

  • Dr_Doctorstein

    Guess what, Emmef — I did the very same thing, and got no answer at all. Is this not as good a piece of evidence as your own experience? Yes! Which is to say, it’s not very good evidence at all. It’s certainly not *objective* evidence. It’s subjective, by definition: my experience is evidence for me, and your experience is evidence for you, but neither is evidence for others. Given that our experiences differ so sharply, we simply cannot appeal to them to establish the objective truth of the Book of Mormon.

  • Shannon Menkveld

    Of course it is.

    It is clearly possible to draw a great circle line that has one end somewhere in the Arabian penninsula, crosses the territory of Italy, and has its other end somewhere between Tierra Del Fuego and the Arctic Ocean.

    So for any definition of “between” that makes sense in a spherical geometry, Italy is between the Arabian penninsula and the New World.

  • Blaine Johnson

    Oh, you’re right. The world is round. Nice!

  • Emmef Jota

    You did not follow the formula correctly. Go back and take another look at the instructions.

  • Emmef Jota

    When you are willing to give up half your kingdom to save your life, you will probably be spared. When you are willing to give up your entire kingdom in order to know God, then He’ll answer you. Surely you know who the individual of this example is. You read The Book of Mormon. You don’t know what it’s like to want something more than you want life itself.

  • disqus_48fUc8cixk

    Dan Peterson, an apologist colleague of Hamblin, says reformed Egyptian is CURSIVE Egyptian. I know, I know, don’t shoot the messenger.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “I asked God if I was right. God said YES!:

    . . . . said every crazy street corner preacher ever.

  • philipjenkins

    Also a fair number of serial killers.