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Ask A Mormon: Why is there no archaeological evidence of any of the big events in the Book of Mormon?

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Why is there no archaeological evidence of any of the big events in the Book of Mormon?

SPO-House-ad_Ask-A-Mormon_0823139This 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.

About Emily Geddes

Emily Geddes
Emily H. Geddes was born to two physicists and grew up as a Navy brat. Born-and-raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she holds a bachelor's degree in theatre from Brigham Young University, and earned an MBA from Eastern Washington University.

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5 comments

  1. Actually there’s a lot of “big events” in the bible that have been corroborated by archaeology. (Read the Biblical Archaeology Review journal for the latest.) Google Ron Wyatt and learn what all his expedition was about. The inerrancy of scripture is cornerstone to the Christian faith. Anybody who says the scriptures are not inerrant is not a Christian. He has a different religion. Mormonism is NOT a Christian denomination because it isn’t even Christian. Testifying of “Christ” is meaningless unless we agree that we are speaking about Jesus, the only Christ, not some other “Christ.” The idea that we should believe any angel or man who would deliver a different gospel was squashed in 55 AD by the Apostle Paul (See Galatians 1:8.) Why believe the testimony of one man who claims he met God in a tent in New York instead of dozens of apostles and prophets in the bible?

  2. Jim Downard

    There is a difference between the level of problems the Book of Mormon has compared to the Bible. While the Exodus evidence claims of the late Ron Wyatt fall on the far fringe of archaeology, no one among critics of the Biblical Exodus as a historical event doubts that there was an Egypt, just as skeptics of the historicity of the Gospel stories about Jesus don’t question the existence of a Roman Empire. The chief difficulty for the historicity of the Book of Mormon is that no support has arisen for even the existence of the kingdoms and events recounted in it, compounded by the occurrence of glaring anachronisms (horse-drawn wheeled chariots for example) that make sense if you are a relatively uninformed resident of upstate New York in the early 19th century, as Joseph Smith was, but are thoroughly discordant to the horse and wheeled vehicle free Precolumbian world.

    As an atheist, but also a historically finicky person, I have to raise an objection to the canard that Mormonism isn’t “Christian.” Mormonism is no more or less a modified variant of Christianity than the official Catholic or Protestant beliefs are compared to the Torah version of the God of Abraham. Since the official Christian concept of the Trinity is only a later accretion, for example, it can be said that all Trinitarian versions of YHJH are a “heretical corruption” of Judaism, so that the pure monotheism of Islam can be seen as less of a stretch to adopt than the “Christianity” of Pat Robertson.

    One should never confuse dusty tradition with authentic historicity (just as Catholics defending priestly celebacy forget it was only made doctrine in the 12th century, or “one nation under God” Pledge of Allegence advocates forget it was only slipped in during the 1950s). However certain some writers may be that their version of Christianity is THE true and correct one, rest assured that at some times and places that view would have been deemed heretical and false.

    • You’re missing the Mormons’ point. Jesus rode over to the New World in a Roman wheeled chariot. Duh!

  3. Emily Geddes

    Jim~

    I completely agree with you that there are significant differences between the Book of Mormon and Bible from an archaeological perspective. The amount of scholarship, resources, research and archaeological projects that have been done in and around the Holy Land absolutely dwarfs what has been done in the Americas, a significantly larger area to study with thousands of different civilizations. Again, as I mentioned above, 90-95% of the native population of the Americas was killed off by disease after contact with Europeans, including entire civilizations that were decimated. Because of that, the New World doesn’t have the continuity of civilization that the Old World does. And historical record-keeping is also significantly different, in large part because history is written by the “winners” and European colonists didn’t care to learn much about the history of the indigenous people of the Americas, at least the 5-10% left. There is a *ton* of work still to be done before we get anything close to a complete picture of the pre-Colombian history of the Americas. And in just the past decade new archaeological discoveries have been made that significantly changed our understanding of early American civilizations. There’s still so much we don’t know, it seems presumptuous to me to declare definitively that anything resembling Book of Mormon events is an historical impossibility. Absence of proof isn’t proof of absence.

    As for the horses/chariots, as I mentioned in that earlier column, I think it likely to be a difficulty of translation or definition rather than an anachronism. Here’s a link that delves into that possibility further, if you’re interested: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/publications/horses-in-the-book-of-mormon

    I appreciate you bringing up early Christian history and Trinitarianism. That’s obviously a point of disagreement between Latter-day Saints and many other Christian denominations. I love your statement: “One should never confuse dusty tradition with authentic historicity.”

    Thanks for joining the discussion, Jim.

  4. First, let me site Mark Elliott’s entry above: “The idea that we should believe any angel or man who would deliver a different gospel was squashed in 55 AD by the Apostle Paul (See Galatians 1:8.)” Apostle Paul could not have been more clear and does everything but identify Moroni.

    Secondly, let me quote Raymond Matheny (former BYU Professor of Anthropology) and Dee Green (also involved in Archaeological Research at BYU): “Biblical archaeology can be studied because we know where Jerusalem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location are for that matter) were or are.”

    Third, after review of over 10,000 DNA tests to find evidence of Jewish ancestary in the Indian tribes from Canada to Argentina NONE was found. Let me quote Simon G. Southerton’s book, Losing a Lost Tribe: “By making it look like the critics are insisting that all American Indians must have Israelite DNA they have deflected attention from the fact that no American Indians have pre-Columbian Israelite DNA. The statement in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon was quietly changed by the church a few years ago and now says that the Lamanites “are among the ancestors of the American Indians”. LDS scholars who actually work in the field of human molecular genetics have now conceded that essentially all American Indians appear to be descended from Asian ancestors who migrated to the New World over 15,000 years ago and that Israelite DNA has not yet been found among their descendants. [See “The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint” by Ugo A. Perego at http://www.fairlds.org/Book_of_Mormon/Book_of_Mormon_and_DNA.html%5D“. So for the BOM to correct we must believe that DNA testing is a fraud science.

    Finally, read the biography of Thomas Stuart Ferguson (Quest For the Gold Plates, by Stan Larson). Simply the most well documented biography I have read (Larson uses Mr. Ferguson’s own personal correspondence to support almost every sentence of the book). It is short, a great read and so well documented it is hard to imagine the heart wrenching pain suffered by the Mr. Ferguson upon his revelation of the truth.

    Please READ the above books prior to responding. I took the time to read The BOM, D&C & Pearl of Great Price. The least anyone can do in the face of both compelling DNA science and the documented history of the true translation of 1/2 of a book of Mormon Scripture (i.e.: Pearl of Great Price) is to read these two short books before mounting a defense.