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Why is there no archaeological evidence of any of the big events in the Book of Mormon?
This topic surfaced in a couple of my earlier columns, but to reiterate, I’d point out that there’s no archaeological evidence of many, if not most, of the “big events” in the Bible, either. The Flood, the Exodus, even the historical existence of major biblical characters such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, have little or no archaeological evidence. In other instances the archaeological evidence contradicts the biblical account: the conquest of Canaan, the establishment of Israel, and the extent of the kingdoms of David and Solomon, for example.
Back to the Americas, the current understanding is that up to 90-95 percent of the Native population, including entire cultures, died after contact with European colonists, primarily due to epidemics caused by diseases such as smallpox, typhus, and measles, but also because of wars with Europeans and with other Native peoples possibly as a result of environmental shifts and resource depletion. In addition, few Native cultures left written records that have been discovered by archaeologists; many passed on their history through oral means. Traditions, lore, and knowledge would have been lost when cultures were decimated.
To quote myself from an earlier column, “Archaeological discoveries are still being made all over the world that challenge earlier beliefs about ancient cultures. (I’m in the middle of reading a fascinating book right now called 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann that talks about how our knowledge of indigenous cultures in America has changed over the last few decades and how archaeologists and anthropologists expect it to continue to change.) [Update: I’ve since finished this book and highly recommend it!] There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of native populations and cultures all across the Americas over the past several thousand years. It is unlikely that we already know everything there is to know about all of those varied peoples, and it is to be expected that we will learn things in the future that contradict our current understanding.”
As a sidenote, Mormons are upfront about our views regarding scriptural inerrancy. Simply put, we don’t believe Scripture to be inerrant. And just as with many other Christian denominations, there are varying opinions within Mormonism regarding how to interpret Scripture. Some hold to a strictly literal and historical interpretation, others are willing to accept a more symbolic or figurative understanding.
All that being said, the main purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Christ. Again and again, the prophets in the Book of Mormon state in plain words that their intent is to persuade all those who read it to “come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved” (1 Nephi 6:4), to “believe in the Lord their Redeemer” (1 Nephi 19:23), “to be reconciled to God” (2 Nephi 25:23), “to do good continually” (Ether 8:26), and to “come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest” (Jacob 1:7). Archaeological evidence wouldn’t enhance that mission, and I don’t believe the lack of evidence detracts from that mission either, any more than the lack of archaeological evidence for biblical events detracts from the message of the Bible.