Hamblin 23: Great Expectations

Hamblin 23: Great Expectations July 3, 2015

In his #13, Jenkins writes:

So if the great Book of Mormon civilization is there, why is it not producing hundreds and thousands more inscriptions, in Hebrew, Reformed Egyptian, etc? It sort of suggests that civilization isn’t there, right?

Notice that this is a question of expectation, not evidence.  Again it is an epistemological and methodological questions, not an empirical one.  The problem here is that a book shouldn’t be evaluated on what you expect, hope, or wish the evidence for or against it should be, but on what the evidence actually is.  If there is insufficient evidence for one particular line of analysis, the methodologically proper response is to take another approach, not to declare the case closed.

I’ve already explained why a civilization might not either produce inscriptions, or have its inscriptions survive.  I’ll try to explain it again:

1- Most ancient civilizations did not produce much inscriptional evidence.  Many, perhaps most have left no inscriptional evidence whatsoever.  I remember vividly visiting Bronze Age Merv in Turkmenistan.  It was a huge site, bigger than most Middle Eastern Bronze Age sites I’ve visited.  I wandered through looking at burials, pottery, walls, houses, temples, etc.  It was obviously a huge city, and a great civilization.  Yet not a single text has been found on the site.  We know nothing of the name, language, religion, kings, etc. of this great civilization.

2- Ancient Israel has produced very little inscriptional evidence.  (John Gee reviews it here: http://fornspollfira.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-latest-on-hebrew-inscriptions.html).  Not a single inscription survives for David or Solomon, the two greatest kings of Israel.  Are we therefore to conclude, as Jenkins would have us, that “It sort of suggests that [David and Solomon weren’t] there, right?”  In fact, that is precisely the response of the biblical minimalists to this fact.  The reality is, most ancient people, places and events have no inscriptional evidence to support their existence.  I don’t know why Jenkins “expects” it to be otherwise.

3- During most of the BOM period, most inscriptions were painted on wood, stucco, or stone.  In the Mesoamerican environment wood and stucco decay, and paint fades and is washed off.  Some suggest that the rise of carved stone inscriptions–which were all once painted as well, although little paint survives–arose precisely when kings began to notice that the inscriptions of their ancestors painted on wood, stucco and stone were decaying and disappearing.  They therefore decided to make their new inscriptions more permanent by carving them in stone.  The swirling nature of the Maya script on Classic stone inscriptions clearly indicates it originated as painting rather than stone carving.

4- Preclassic sites are far less well represented than classic sites for a number of reasons.  A- There are simply more classic sites.  B- The Classic strata are always about the Preclassic strata.  Under many of the great Classic temples and palaces of Mesoamerica there are often Preclassic levels, but the entire Classic temple would have to be removed to expose it.  Generally, unless a site was abandoned in Preclassic times, the Preclassic strata can be seen only in small blocks or trenches where the archaeologists dug deeper to that level to establish pottery typology.  C- There is a bias among archaeologists toward the Classic period, which is generally larger and more magnificent.  D- Just like everywhere else in the world, archaeology in Central America is not done for purely academic reasons.  The tourist imperative drives Mexican archaeology.  People come to Tikal because the Classic ruins are so magnificent.  The Guatemalan government is simply not going to allow Mesoamerican archaeologists to tear down a Tikal temple to expose the less magnificent ruins underneath it–even if an archaeologist could raise funding to do so.  (The same thing happens in Israeli archaeology, but in reverse.  Post-Israelite layers on archaeological sites are generally completely striped away to expose the biblical layer, essentially for nationalistic and touristic reasons.)

5- Intentional destruction of the inscriptions of former rulers is quite common in Mesoamerica.

Thus, while Jenkins might “expect” us to find lots of inscriptions to provide us the information we need to make a judgement on the historicity of the BOM, the reality is, we find what we find–no more, no less.  Alas, the evidence is what it is, not what Jenkins expects or wants it to be.  Jenkins appears to think this is irrational special pleading on my part to explain away lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon.  I think it is simply the methodologically sound approach to the data.

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