I have been engaged in exchanges with Bill Hamblin at his blog, on the subject of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. My responses to his most recent posts are presently forming a sizable backlog, which I thought I would clear here. Throughout, the “you” refers to Dr. Hamblin. He is of course welcome to respond to anything I write here, and if he wishes, I will post it at this site.
For the uninitiated, several of the following concern apologist claims about an Arabian site called Nahom, which features in the Book of Mormon, and its supposed connections with a site of similar name that existed in the ancient world, and which appears on nineteenth century maps. Apologists get quite excited about this place, because it briefly diverts attention from their absolute failure to come up with a shred of evidence for their claims in the New World. When this failure is pointed out to them, they go all Bogie-and-Bergman-Casablanca, and get misty eyed as they sigh, plaintively, “But we’ll always have Nahom.” Yet as I have shown, the claims about supposed Nahom/Book of Mormon linkages are wholly spurious.
Another topic I deal with here is Ethan Smith’s 1823 book A View of the Hebrews, a massive influence on Joseph Smith as he was writing the Book of Mormon. For many observers, such influence, amounting as it does to near-plagiarism, is difficult to reconcile with the revealed status Smith claimed for his “scripture.” It’s always intriguing to see how the apologists deal with this particular elephant in the room.
You’ll notice that in what follows, I have several specific and clearly phrased questions for Dr. Hamblin. Past experience suggests that the odds of getting a concrete answer are not high.
The subheadings for what follows are:
1. The Nahom Strikes Back
2. Return of the Nahom
3. When You Wish Upon A Star
4. Bill Hamblin: An Apology
5. Coincidences and Excuses
6. These Aren’t The Nephites You’re Looking For!
7. Scattering The Peoples
I will also include a brief musical interlude.
1. THE NAHOM STRIKES BACK
Re your humorously entitled “Time for Clear Thinking on Nahom”
Nothing in what you write here begins to answer the comments and points raised in either of my older, previous posts on that topic. I particularly refer to my Nahom Part Deux piece at
That contained a dozen or so major questions and points directly demanding an answer from you. Several of them had already answered questions and objections that you raise in this new piece. I already offered clear thinking. You are reverting to obfuscation.
I actually thought your post might have been better entitled “Clear Thinking on Nahom: Its Prevention and Cure.”
You write, “First, there is no evidence for the existence of any such map on the New York frontier in Joseph’s day, let alone that Joseph could have had access to it.” Nor is there direct evidence that he had access to Ethan Smith’s book View of the Hebrews, but he assuredly did, as he borrowed so heavily from it in composing the Book of Mormon. I cite that example because it shows clearly that we cannot determine with confidence what books or printed materials Smith might or might not have consulted.
And please, do read the rather extensive things I wrote in that Part Deux post about modes of access to printed materials at this time and place (with the relevant academic citation). They directly answer the points you make in this particular rant. Why don’t you respond with specifics?
You write, “You are not privledged [sic] to assert and assert and assert and never be required to do actual research and provide any evidence.” That comment is breathtaking. Time and again, I have offered specific evidence, based on actual scholarly arguments, and you have sat there and responded with multiple smokescreens as to why no such evidence can ever be found, why historical scholarship can never be objective or empirical, and other such entertaining digressions.
I would have thought this is too obvious to mention, but here we go again. ALL the burden of proof in these matters is on the person making far-fetched and thoroughly bizarre claims that contradict the views of basically the entire academic community, whether we are looking at history, archaeology, anthropology, linguistics or genetics. That is doubly true when the claims are entirely rooted in supernatural claims of angelic visions and heavenly revelations. You have to make the case, by doing research and producing real evidence that is plausible and credible. So far, you have not even taken step one in that process. I have no obligation to prove anything.
If you had in hand any actual credible evidence or research supporting Ancient Book of Mormon Fantasies, I assume you would have produced it. So far, you have produced nothing that approaches either plausible or credible. Your efforts in this regard have been a lamentable waste of time.
I don’t wish to waste time correcting every error in your post, but I never said that Smith “decided to travel to consult a map instead of making names up.” Maybe he traveled, maybe he had one to hand, maybe someone loaned him one, maybe he read a newspaper. I don’t know. But as I made clear in my post, the burden of proof in this is clearly on the side of those wishing to make the ludicrous, extravagant, supernatural claims. I have offered a plausible and probable non-supernatural explanation of what happened. The counter-arguments you offer are trivial and irrelevant.
Summary of debate to date: you have produced zero evidence to back up any of the assertions you have made.
I have to take up your line about arguments from coincidence, which as it stands is twaddle. You write, “Coincidence is not an argument, or even an explanation. It is an excuse.” Your insight represents a powerful wake up call for scientists of all kinds, most of whose work involves proposing and testing supposed correlations. Now, though, under the revolutionary Hamblin Principle, we know that all such correlations must be taken ipso facto as proved. And correlation does, necessarily, imply causation. Otherwise, if you allege that coincidence alone is involved in any instance, then that is simply an “excuse.”
For Heaven’s sake, of course coincidences happen, and not every claim of a linkage or correlation is necessarily correct. A great many are not. What am I supposed to think? “Bill Hamblin writes a blog, and the very same day, ISIS captures a city in Syria. Coincidence, I mutter darkly? I think not!” Laughable. Oh, here’s another beauty. True statement: the rise of ISIS since 2011 correlates almost perfectly with the numerical growth of Snapchat users worldwide. How does the Hamblin Principle apply there? (Correlations with the worldwide sales of Justin Bieber songs are a little more tenuous and subjective).
If I can translate your argument: every time you allege a far-fetched linkage or correlation, and I shoot it down in flames, which is extraordinarily easy, then I must of necessity be grasping for an excuse.
But let’s keep your coincidence comment in mind, and I’ll return to it shortly. Let’s explore some implications of that statement, shall we?
2. RETURN OF THE NAHOM
So, for one last visit, back to Nahom. The beaches are lovely there this time of year! I am noting your comments about the subject at
In addition to my comments above, see again my Nahom Part Deux piece. Briefly, those pieces cover all the questions you raise in your thing, pretty comprehensively. On several occasions, I say clearly what can and can’t be known, and how we should understand those issues.
You are ignoring the fundamental issues I have raised repeatedly about the burden of proof. You write, “No more claiming you have no burden of proof. (How absurd!) You have just as much responsibility to provide evidence for your claims as I do.” No I absolutely don’t, for reasons I have spelled out above. Why not respond to the specific reasons I gave for this approach?
My answer to all your questions is: check out what I have actually written. As they say in the courtroom: Asked and answered!
That’s not entirely true, in fact, as you write so much new in this piece that is so self-destructive to your position. Eg you write this:
“The BOM does not say Nahom was a specific spot or city; it is a tribal region, just like Dan and Manesseh are tribal and regional place names in the Bible. If we say we buried grandpa in Nebraska, it doesn’t necessarily imply there is a city or a graveyard named Nebraska.”
Um, so many of the apologist claims going the rounds are based on the idea that there is a specific site or place called Nahom, which is also the site or place of the actual geographical discovery. Milagro! What are the odds! Yet you yourself prove that any such claims are bogus. You instead are saying that the fictitious Book of Mormon Nahom covers a potentially vast tribal area; while the historical Nihmites lived in a vast area, which may or may not have had the slightest overlap. And yet you have the gall to suggest that the two names match “precisely”?
Please, Bill, leave the job of demolishing the Ancient Book of Mormon stuff to me. Don’t you do it all for me!
That’s pretty much all I have to say on the Nahom topic. It’s a complete sideshow, anyway, as you realize very well. The issue in the whole world of Ancient Book of Mormon Fantasies is the New World, and you can always tell when apologists get desperate, because they try to divert attention to the Nahom thing, where they think, however implausibly, that they have a vague case. They don’t.
So now, back to the real issue. Why, after so many decades, can you produce nothing whatever by way of credible or plausible evidence for the New World?
On another matter, I have seen online posters complain that you lack a sense of humor. I am now in a position to deny this absolutely. I base that on your ability to write such wonderful lines of self-parody as,
“Put up or cut the crap. …. Please read what I say here and engage my actual argument … I find your rhetorical games extremely tiresome.”
Those are pretty much the reactions of everyone who’s been reading your blog for the past few months, and have seen the endless prevarications, equivocations and stonewalling that you have raised to every straightforward question of mine.
You know, perhaps you’re not a crusty, conservative, Mormon professor after all. A bit playfully, I suppose, I sometimes think you are a brilliant performance artist, and you are doing all this as a subversive parody of cranky pseudo history. You are much smarter than I initially thought, and it just took me a while to figure it out.
I am in the presence of a master!
3. WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR
I’m just musing over your tirade at
So you seem to be saying that pretty much any statement is evidence, although it falls short of proof. And that would apply no matter how wild, ridiculous or unsupportable it might be? So if someone were to say, for instance, that Philip Jenkins began his career as a disciple of Charles Manson, or that Bill Hamblin is one of the most notorious serial killers in Utah, by your definition, those monstrous and untrue statements would constitute evidence, although they fall short of proof. Is that correct? I say immediately, neither of those nonsensical statements contains the slightest germ of historical truth, any more than does the Book of Mormon.
“Evidence,” by your standard, appears to be any old stuff that someone should choose to utter, regardless of any probability or plausibility. For me, on the other hand, to speak of “evidence” demands a minimum standard of plausibility before it can earn that term, even though it is not actually proof. And I actually think that in that, it’s me rather than you that is reflecting conventional usage.
Which brings me to your comment that “There is clearly evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon. I’ve given a few examples. Jenkins says its [sic] not evidence.” And this must be because I am prejudiced against Mormon sources. Um, no, I spelled out precisely why in earlier posts. I invite anyone to read your “Homophony and Proper Names” column at
and to extract from it any single vague hint or suggestion that amounted to plausible evidence. Actually, it’s pretty hard to see what your argument was in the first place, but let’s pretend we can. Did you perhaps not read the demolition jobs I did on your efforts at
Did you not understand them? They were comprehensive, and left none of your ideas or claims standing.
Of course there is no evidence supporting the Book of Mormon, and certainly not from the embarrassing snippets you have proffered to date.
By that, I mean there is nothing that would meet the minimal standard I have offered of worthwhile evidence: “Evidence begins with a statement or datum presented for assessment and discussion. That evidence is credible or worthwhile if, after hearing and evaluating that discussion, it seems plausible or convincing to a reasonably sensible and literate adult who is not already committed to the causes and matters at issue. If it is neither plausible nor worthwhile, it cannot properly be called evidence.”
Have you offered anything that begins to be plausible? Nope.
Is there “clearly evidence in favor of the Book of Mormon”? In your dreams.
CUE MUSIC: “When you wish upon a star….”
4. BILL HAMBLIN: AN APOLOGY
I’m sorry! I’m sorry!
With all this foolishness about Nahom, I let you get out of the main point of all this, which is as follows. Answer this question:
“Can anyone cite any single credible fact, object, site, or inscription from the New World that supports any one story found in the Book of Mormon? One sherd of pottery? One tool of bronze or iron? One carved stone? One piece of genetic data? And by credible, I mean drawn from a reputable scholarly study, an academic book or refereed journal, not some cranky piece of pseudo-science.”
Since you are concerned about the precise definition of the word “evidence” (as distinct from proof) let me offer my own sense of the words. Evidence begins with a statement or datum presented for assessment and discussion. That evidence is credible or worthwhile if, after hearing and evaluating that discussion, it seems plausible or convincing to a reasonably sensible and literate adult who is not already committed to the causes and matters at issue. If it is neither plausible nor worthwhile, it cannot properly be called evidence. That seems pretty objective to me.
I hope that’s helpful. So go ahead.
So far, you have nothing.
This all gives rise to an interesting question. Bill Hamblin is always whining that I don’t read extensively in the literature of Ancient Book of Mormon Fantasies, and he is right. I don’t, because I don’t believe there is any “there” there, any more than there is in the literature on, eg Bigfoot, or the Reptilian Humanoid Conspirators supposedly ruling our planet. If I believed there was the slightest substance to the issue (I mean the Book of Mormon, not the Reptilian Humanoids), I would explore the material avidly, but nobody has yet shown me that the subject comes close to being authentic. So why would I, or anybody, waste the time? Hamblin on the other hand knows this literature inside out, as do his Merry Men, like Neal Rappleye. Presumably, that means they have read tens of thousands of pages of “research.”
So here’s the question. Based on that massively extensive reading, why can’t they highlight for me one single piece of credible or plausible evidence that might begin to convince a grown up about the historical truth of anything the Book of Mormon says about the New World? Why can’t they just swat me down with one stunningly obvious archaeological site, or inscription, or documentary find? Maybe they are taking so long because they have such a wealth of material to choose from, and can’t decide which clincher to use. Oh, the agony of choice!
Just one piece. Hmmm?
5. COINCIDENCES AND EXCUSES
I also have another question for you.
In your last post, you made this ringing observation: “Coincidence is not an argument, or even an explanation. It is an excuse.”
I am sure you are familiar with Ethan Smith’s book View of the Hebrews (1823, and expanded edition 1825). It has often been remarked that the parallels between this text and the Book of Mormon are numerous and substantial, extending as they do both to general matters of theme and structure, and to specific points of detail. In a much-quoted paragraph, B. H. Roberts wrote as follows:
Did Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith’s story of the Book of Mormon’s origin.
B.H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, 240.
As a source, Roberts would now be rather dated, although he was a well-informed reader. Moreover, similar points have subsequently been made by many critics and readers. Most non-Mormon writers on the Book of Mormon have since taken it for granted that Smith was using the View of the Hebrews as a major source for composing his own book. If true, that would destroy any claims that the Book of Mormon might have to be an authentic ancient text.
My assumption is that you strongly disagree with that perspective. But I wonder how you would account for those many parallels and similarities.
Is it just a matter of coincidence?
6.THESE AREN’T THE NEPHITES YOU’RE LOOKING FOR!
How silly I am! I pointed out the resemblances between the VIEW OF THE HEBREWS and the Book of Mormon, with a view to asking you whether the resemblances between the two works were coincidental. I failed, though, to give specific examples of the similarities involved. To an unbiased eye, these similarities and parallels seem quite overwhelming.
The strongest similarity is that the book describes ancient Hebrew settlers coming to the Americas. In the words of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism,
“The first chapter deals with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Romans, as referred to in scriptural prophecy and historical sources. The second chapter tells of the literal expulsion of the Ten Tribes of Israel in 721 B.C. and the establishment of the kingdom of Judah; it also maintains that their restoration will be literal, and it quotes heavily from Isaiah. The third chapter summarizes the outcast condition of Israel in 1823; it also argues that the natives of America are “the descendants of Israel” and propounds that all pre-Columbian Americans had one origin, that their language appears originally to have been Hebrew, that they had an ark of the covenant, that they practiced circumcision, that they acknowledged one and only one God, that their tribal structure was similar to Hebrew organization, that they had cities of refuge, and that they manifest a variety of Hebraic traits of prophetic character and tradition.”
You can find the whole text of the 1825 edition of View here:
According to Ethan Smith, the Hebrew settlers were divided into two major tribes or nations, and one eventually exterminated the other. See especially pp 172-73:
“It is highly probable that the more civilized part of the tribes of Israel, after they settled in America, became wholly separated from the hunting and savage tribes of their brethren; that the latter lost the knowledge of their having descended from the same family with themselves; that the more civilized part continued for many centuries; that tremendous wars were frequent between them and their savage brethren, till the former became extinct.
This hypothesis accounts for the ancient works, forts, mounds, and vast enclosures, as well as tokens of a good degree of civil improvement, which are manifestly very ancient, and from centuries before Columbus discovered America. These magnificent works have been found, one near Newark in Licking county, Ohio; one in Perry county, Ohio; one at Marietta; one at Circleville; one at Paint Creek; one on the eastern bank of the Little Miami river, Warren county; one on Paint Creek near Chillicothe; one on the Scioto river; and other places.
These works have evinced great wars, a good degree of civilization, and great skill fortification. And articles dug from old mounds in and near those fortified places, clearly evince that their authors possessed no small degree of refinement in the knowledge of the mechanic arts.
These partially civilized people became extinct. What account can be given of this, but that the savages extirpated them, after long and dismal wars? And nothing appears more probable than that they were the better part of the Israelites who came to this continent, who for a long time retained their knowledge of the mechanic and civil arts; while the greater part of their brethren became savage and wild.–No other hypothesis occurs to mind, which appears by any means so probable. The degrees of improvement, demonstrated to have existed among the authors of those works, and relics, who have ceased to exist, far exceed all that could have been furnished from the north-east of Asia, in those ancient times.”
Barbarous Hebrew immigrants became Indians, who exterminated civilized Hebrew descendants. Hmm …. now where have I read that before?
Also reminiscent of the Book of Mormon is the sense that these ancient realities might have been preserved in lost books that might yet be rediscovered on American soil. For example, page 217:
“Suppose a leading character in Israel – where ever they are – should found to have in his possession some Biblical fragments of ancient Hebrew writing. This man dies and it is buried with him in such a manner as to be preserved. Some people afterwards removing the earth, discover this fragment, and ascertain that it is an article of ancient Israel. Would such an incident be esteemed of weight?”
“An old Indian informed him that his fathers in this country had not long since had a book which they had for a long time preserved. But having lost the knowledge of reading it, they concluded it would be of no further use to them; and they buried it with an Indian chief.”
There is a useful popular summary of the issues involved, and a description of the parallels at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_of_the_Book_of_Mormon
Now, Book of Mormon apologists have an explanation for these resemblances. The one book cannot have influenced the other, they say, because there are differences between the two texts, and they can point to some “unparallels” as well as parallels. Let us for the sake of argument accept that disingenuous and utterly unconvincing defense. Even so, we unquestionably have many striking parallels between the two texts. Logically, we seem to have four options to explain this:
1. Joseph drew directly on Ethan’s work.
2. Joseph and Ethan were both independently reflecting ideas that were in the common culture at the time.
3. Joseph and Ethan were both drawing on some as yet unidentified other source.
4. The resemblances between the works of the two men were purely coincidental, and indicate no influence.
Options 1 through 3 all require us to assume that Joseph Smith was using outside sources in composing the Book of Mormon, which makes nonsense of any suggestion that he was transmitting a revealed scripture. Surely, if you wish to preserve a belief in the inspired character of the Book of Mormon, that would only leave coincidence as a viable option.
I have a simple explanation for what we are seeing here, namely that Smith was using the View when he wrote Book of Mormon, and the older work profoundly influenced the other.
So what is your alternative explanation? Is it all just coincidence?
7. SCATTERING THE PEOPLES
And another question for you. It may not immediately seem relevant to our present discussions, but it is very much so.
The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, tells the story of the Tower of Babel, and how the world’s languages were scattered at that event. This is in Ether 1.33:
“Which Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.”
Although the Biblical story offers no dates, I suppose it would be set during the third millennium BC (Genesis 11). Feel free to correct me on that dating if you wish.
Like most Christians (or Jews), I read that story as a rather beautiful myth designed to explain how the world’s languages became so diverse, and I would be astonished to find someone who actually believed it as a literal historical event. I suppose some Biblical fundamentalists might, but in order to do so, they would have to ignore all the textual evidence we have of languages predating that event.
So here is my question, and it is very straightforward, requiring only a yes or no answer: Do you believe in the story of the Tower of Babel as a literal historical event?
My own answer, as I have said, is No.
See? No equivocation.
If you do believe its literal historicity, how do you reconcile that with all the archaeological evidence of pre-Babel languages and civilizations?
If you don’t believe it, does that mean that you see at least parts of the Book of Mormon as symbolic, metaphorical and/or mythical, without a basis in literal historical reality?
In that case, are other faithful LDS believers free to believe that other sections of the Book of Mormon are symbolic, metaphorical and/or mythical, as opposed to literally historical? Which sections are those? Might they for example include all claims about early settlement in the New World?
Or are such matters of faith and belief entirely left to the conscience and discretion of individual LDS believers?
One request. Please don’t give me smoke and mirrors about Babel being a localized event, as LDS apologists do when trying to explain the Flood. It’s clear that this Tower of Babel story assumes the Genesis story as backdrop, and that is explicitly “the language of all the earth.”
I look forward to a specific answer.
I should add one thing for the sake of consistency. If Hamblin believes that he has ever asked me a specific question (questions) that I have left unanswered, I certainly did not mean to ignore it. Could he please restate it here so that I can tackle it directly?
I don’t know if I have to make this point yet again, but can I stress once more that what I am criticizing here is “Ancient Book of Mormon apologists,” rather than Mormon advocates or apologists as such. I say nothing whatever about LDS church beliefs, practices, or theology, partly because I simply don’t know enough to comment usefully, and what I do know about ordinary LDS believers tends to be favorable and sympathetic. I see their everyday faith with deep respect, and acknowledge their zeal to spread Christ’s teaching as they understand it.
You might regard this as a silly and hyper-sensitive comment, but I have more than once refused to go see the musical of the Book of Mormon, on the grounds that (as I understand it) it mocks or trivializes religious practice. I am not condemning anything sight unseen. I don’t object to the musical being made, nor to anyone else going to see it, and I have no objection to people making religious satire of any kind, against any religion whatever. I’m told that much of the musical is an insider joke, and is even sympathetic. All fair enough, and the list of things I want to see censored is very short indeed. In terms of my own religious freedom, though, I don’t want to patronize that activity personally. I don’t want that mockery inflicted on my faith, nor do I wish it on others.
I am on completely different territory when I see one particular form of activism, namely the “Ancient Book of Mormon” folks who make literal historical claims that are simply unsupportable. I am attacking their history and their pseudo-scholarship, not their religion. Could I make that more clear?