Twenty-five years ago a famous name among fiction writers,
Orson Scott Card, gave a speech at BYU that provided a novel way of evaluating
Book of Mormon claims. The speech was “The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?” at the
1993 BYU Symposium on Life, the Universe, and Everything; see his transcript at The Nauvoo Times. Card applied his profound skills to examine the artifacts of fiction we should find if the Book of Mormon had been fabricated and not merely translated by
Upon reading this article today, one familiar with Book of
Mormon studies may be impressed with how well Card’s analysis has stood the
test of time. So many of the points he made have become more relevant or
strengthened by subsequent explorations into the text of the Book of Mormon,
the details of its translation and publication, the scholarship into the lives
of the witnesses, and many new studies relevant to evidence for the
plausibility of the Book of Mormon and the meaning of the text.
When Card spoke in early 1993, he did not have the benefit
of the major discoveries related to Lehi’s Trail from the work of Warren Aston that highlight numerous details such as the existence and location of an
ancient place with the name like Nahom or the existence of a fully plausible
site for Bountiful exactly where it should be. Card did not have the benefit of
the field work of George Potter examining the prospects for what was once said
to be impossible, the River Laman in the Valley of Lemuel three days south of
the beginning of the Red Sea. He didn’t have the body of evidence from John Sorenson’s Mormon’s Codex or the insights about the Mesoamerican perspectives in the Book of Mormon
uncovered by Brant Gardner in his Traditions of the Fathers. He
lacked the revolutionary insights from the study of the earliest Book of Mormon
texts by Royal Skousen or the analysis of the language of the Book of Mormon by
Card’s speech was also before LDS scholars became familiar
with the work of Scottish researcher Margaret Barker and before she became
familiar with the Book of Mormon. Barker has sought to reconstruct the early
Jewish religion before the reforms of Josiah and before the major changes of
the Second Temple period. Barker was impressed with what she found in
the Book of Mormon, for it seemed to reflect an ancient environment and ancient
worldviews consistent with her research, and again, quite foreign to the
knowledge available to scholars in Joseph Smith’s day.
Much has changed since Card tugged at the text from
perspective of a master of science fiction, but for the most part the
knowledge twenty-five years later only increases the value of Card’s
Card looked for telltale threads of modern fiction, revealing instead
text was of quite a different weave. Card sees it as the tapestry of
authors from an era far removed from modern fiction, a work impossible
a skilled writer of fiction in our day or Joseph’s. Using the lens of a
fiction writer, Card reveals patterns woven into the text that defy
based on Joseph Smith as author. Today I’ll just mention two of the many
issues Card mentions and consider what we can learn from further
research since his speech.
Voices and Viewpoints of Authors, Ancient and Modern
Card points out that authors write with a vast network of
assumptions from their environment coloring the way they perceive and describe
events. The environment the author has inherited provides numerous views on
life and society that are easily taken for granted without realizing that it
may not be this way at other times or in other societies. The environment that
influenced the author can often be revealed by examining that which the author
recognizes as unusual and in need of explanation in the text versus what the
author sees as normal and requiring no explanation.
One of the first points Card mentions to illustrate such
subtleties is the contrast between the attitude toward valuable documents
showed by Book of Mormon characters and Joseph himself. He mentions Amaleki’s
statement in Omni 1:25 wherein he justifies his decision to turn over the
records he has inherited to King Benjamin:
Which, by the way, is something that would certainly not be a
cultural idea available to Joseph Smith. You don’t turn ancient records over to
kings in the world of the 1820s in America. Kings would have nothing to do with
ancient records. You would turn ancient records over to a scholar. We
know that that was Joseph Smith’s personal attitude because when he wanted to
find support for his translation in order to encourage Martin Harris’s
continuing support, he sent Harris, not to
a king or a president or a political leader, but to a scholar.
This is one of many indications of implicit cultural views
consistent with the ancient world of the Book of Mormon and highly divergent
from Joseph Smith’s environment, and a valuable observation by Card. Indeed,
the issue of the handling, preservation, and transmission of sacred records in
the Book of Mormon has been a fruitful area for additional research since 1993,
particularly John Tvedtnes’s book published in 2000, The Book of Mormon and
Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness unto Light. Tvedtnes examines the authentic
ancient aspects of relevant features in the Book of Mormon such as the use of
treasuries to store records, the practice of hiding or sealing ancient records
for a future time, the use of stone boxes to preserve records, traditions about
records entrusted to the care of angels, mountain repositories, and ancient
traditions about glowing stones used for revelation, all showing evidence that
the world of the Book of Mormon is highly consistent with ancient Near Eastern
practices and traditions.
Mesoamerica, John L. Sorenson also shows that Book of Mormon practices
regarding record keeping are consistent with ancient Mesoamerican traditions, as is also true for the nature of
records and writing systems, including the keeping of dates, recording of
prophecies, genealogies, keeping of lineage histories, etc. (Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, Chapter 5,
“The Nature of History in the Book of Mormon,” 104–108). For example, the Quiché Maya had an office of record keeper
that was passed from father to son, similar to the Nephites’ practice. The
records also played an important role as symbols of political and religious
authority (ibid., 106).
One thing I deeply appreciate about the Book of Mormon is the great care Mormon shows for his document and for his sources. There is no sense of an omniscient narrator. Statements may be flawed or imperfect, but we know where they came from and can often gain insights by carefully considering why something is said and how it relates to what others did or did not observe in making their report. As Card pointed out, digging into the assumptions and viewpoints of the authors of the text is a fruitful exercise, and one that frequently reveals the absurdity of crediting it all to Joseph’s creative dictation to his scribes. His many points in this regard are still fresh and meaningful today.
A Rarely Attempted Feat, Or, Mormon vs. Ossian
Card also makes an interesting argument regarding the alleged forgery of the Book of Mormon, one that may motivate some to examine some interesting but apparently forged ancient poetry from Scotland, the famous Ossian works of James Macpherson from shortly before Joseph’s day.
Critics frequently try to defuse respect for the Book of
Mormon by suggesting that the purported fraud of Joseph Smith is routinely done
with even more impressive results. J.R.R. Tolkien’s works such as The Lord of the Rings trilogy are
commonly cited, showing that it is possible for a writer to concoct a
beautiful, complex, and generally consistent “history” involving many places,
numerous new names, great battles, political intrigues, and so forth. The fact
that Tolkien had advanced education and put in a lifetime of work to produce
his polished masterpiece, points often made by LDS apologists in response to
critics citing Tolkien, is a minor point in light of Card’s insight.
Card’s experience as a science fiction writer enables him to
make a salient observation about the alleged fraud of the Book of Mormon. If it
is a fraud, what Joseph did is rarely attempted
and almost certainly results in obvious failure. What he did, if the Book of
Mormon were a fraud, was not simply write a work of fiction set in a different
culture and remote time. Many writers stand with Tolkien in being able to write
such fiction well, with a product that is clearly fiction written by a single
modern author for a modern audience. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand,
claims to be written by multiple ancient authors over a long expanse of time
within a distant and changing culture. Such a fraud, to have any hope of
long-term success, would need to be written from the cultural perspective of
the authors in that different culture, not one that explains or indicates what is
foreign relative to our modern culture. Such a work must reflect different
authorial interests of the various writers and reflect the changes in culture
or perspective that occur over time. It is a breathtakingly complex project.
Such a work almost never attempts to
pass itself off as a genuine document from a remote culture and time.
Card then cites an important example where a fraudulent work
purportedly from antiquity was passed off as genuine by a modern author. The
work was a collection of Gaelic poems said to be written by an ancient poet
named Ossian. The poems had been “translated” into English by a Scottish
politician and writer, James McPherson. McPherson’s publication was a hit and
added to his fame and fortune. He died wealthy, wealthy enough to buy a spot at
Westminster Abby for his tomb. But he did not die without being denounced as a
fraud by Samuel Johnson, who also was buried at Westminster Abby, but as a
token of respect, not as a result of his wealth.
The poetry of Ossian inspired many influential people
including Napoleon, Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, and others. Selma, Alabama was
named after Selma, the home of the Scottish warrior Fingal from the poems of
Ossian. The work has had a significant influence in many circles, in spite of
concerns about fraud.
The text is available at Sacred-Texts.com,
where J.B. Hare, the website’s founder, summarizes the
James Macpherson claimed that Ossian was based on an ancient
Gaelic manuscript. There was just one problem. The existence of this manuscript
was never established. In fact, unlike Ireland and Wales, there are no dark-age
manuscripts of epic poems, tales, and chronicles and so on from Scotland. It
isn’t that such ancient Scottish poetry and lore didn’t exist, it was just
purely oral in nature. Not much of it was committed to writing until it was on
the verge of extinction. There are Scottish manuscripts and books in existence
today which date as far back as the 12th century (some with scraps of poetry in
them), but they are principally on subjects such as religion, genealogy, and
For this and several other reasons which are dealt with in
the Preliminary Discourse et seq., authenticity of the work was widely
contested, particularly by Samuel Johnson. A huge (and probably excessive)
backlash ensued, and conventional wisdom today brands Ossian as one of the
great forgeries of history.
In fairness, themes, characters and passages of Ossian are
based on established Celtic and Scottish folklore. Much of the fourth volume of
J.F. Campbell’s massive Popular Tales of the West Highlands is devoted
to tracking down Ossianic fragments in circulation prior to Macpherson, or
elicited from illiterate Highland peasants who had never heard of Ossian.
Macpherson is today considered the author of this work. The
language of composition was probably English: As Campbell determined,
Macpherson wasn’t even particularly fluent in Gaelic. [
J.B. Blare, “The Poems of Ossian by James
Macpherson ,” introductory comments, Sacred-Texts.com]
What some view as a definitive work on the fraud of Ossian
came out after Card’s article with the 2009 publication of Thomas M. Curley’s Samuel Johnson, the Ossian Fraud, and the
Celtic Revival in Great Britain and Ireland Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2009).
Macpherson claimed to have original Gaelic manuscripts that
he translated. Samuel Johnson, recognizing the many indications of fraud in the
translation, demanded that Macpherson present the originals for review. One can
easily draw a parallel to Joseph Smith who was also asked to show his gold
plates to the world, if such existed. But unlike Joseph Smith and the gold
plates, Macpherson provided no extract of copied characters from the
manuscripts, sought out no independent scholarly examination of a portion of
his translation, had no witnesses to support the existence of the original
manuscripts, and had no witnesses of the translation process. Further, with no
angel requiring that the original document be returned for divine safekeeping,
Macpherson lacked any excuse for the failure to let others see the documents he
McPherson’s fraud is not without evidence of authenticity,
for many of the names he uses were ancient Gaelic names that can be found in
documents going back several hundred years. But as Curley and others have
explained, these are names that could have been picked up from current lore
that he extracted from his wanderings in the British Isles. Curley also
explains that there are also 16 authentic Gaelic sources that are used in some
way by Macpherson, giving it several small kernels of apparent authenticity.
Some have argued that Macpherson was simply taking liberties with the existing
poems and still acted largely as a loose translator, but Curley argues that
such defenses are unjustified and that the fans of Ossian poetry must confront
that fact that the vast majority of it is simply fabricated.
Curley argues that the evidence of fraud is clear cut and
easily exposed, and most scholars today may agree. On the other hand, some scholars
have sought to revive Macpherson’s Ossian, claiming that it is much more
authentic than Samuel Johnson recognized. Ultimately, though, it seems that what Macpherson offered his
enthusiastic audiences was his invention. Defenders suggest that Macpherson was drawing
upon authentic material but applying a great deal of his own creativity to
translate in his own style, but this overlooks what Macpherson insisted upon
from the beginning: that his translation was “extremely literal” and that the
unusual word order in the English was often adjusted to reflect that of the
this was artifice, not an artifact of authentic translation. Yola Schmitz
describes Macpherson’s artifice as translatese–the
deliberate creation of nonstandard syntax to create the sense of a highly
literal translation from a foreign language.
Compared to the Book of Mormon, what McPherson attempted was
not a complex history spanning vast stretches of time and epic migrations from the
Old World to the New, but mere poems, and not from a wholly unfamiliar culture,
but from his own island and from his own country and ancestors though removed
by fifteen hundred years. Macpherson had the benefit of being well educated, of
being raised in a society familiar with Gaelic tales, with access to abundant
sources of relevant information for his project. What Macpherson attempted is
quite unlike the feat of, say, having a poorly-educated New York farm boy with
scant resources write about travel across the Arabian Peninsula, or create
ancient poetry rooted in ancient Hebrew, or describe battles, cities, natural
disasters and other events in an unfamiliar New World setting. What Macpherson
attempted was kid stuff compared to the Book of Mormon, and yet his Ossian project
failed, in spite of some hopeful supporters seeking to overlook its flaws. It
was successful enough to add to his wealth, but he had already been vocally
denounced as a fraud by Samuel Johnson and remains widely recognized as a fraud
who got very much wrong. It has certainly not withstood the test of time. From
the beginning, basic questions about the existence of the original documents
could not be answered nor could witnesses be provided.
The Book of Mormon was a surprise bolt from the blue from a
poorly educated, impoverished farm boy not known to be a bookworm or a writer,
unexpectedly announcing he had received an ancient record, then daring to show
the plates to numerous people, and then translating it by dictation at a prodigious
rate apparently without the use of any manuscripts. Consider the contrast we
find in Macpherson’s preparation for his work, as described by Yola Schmitz in
her 2017 chapter on the Ossian fraud. See Yola Schmitz, “Faked Translations James Macpherson’s
Ossianic Poetry,” in Faking, Forging,
Counterfeiting: Discredited Practices at the Margins of Mimesis, ed. Daniel
Becker, Annalisa Fischer, and Yola Schmitz (Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript
Verlag, 2017), 167–180; http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1wxr9t.13:
upbringing put him in the perfect position. He was born in Ruthven, in the
Scottish Highlands where he was brought up in a Gaelic-speaking community and
accustomed to the oral tradition of the bards of the clans. Yet, he also
experienced first-hand the serious effects of British oppression. In 1745, the
nine-year-old Macpherson witnessed the Jacobite Rising with all its devastating
consequences for the collective identity and the heritage of the Scottish
clans. In its wake, many customs and traditions, such as the tartan plaid and
playing the bag pipes, were prohibited.
However, one of the worst consequences must have been the
subsequent ban on using the Scottish Gaelic language. Therefore, Macphersonʼs
forgery can also be considered an attempt to recuperate what was left of the
literary tradition of the Highlands and to rehabilitate a people, thought to be
uncultured and uncivilised.
These circumstances provided Macpherson with all he needed to
produce a successful forgery. He was an
insider of Scottish traditions and, at the same time, he had profited from an
academic education. He had not only learned how classic works of poetry were
studied, but also how they were supposed to be presented. When the scholars
in Aberdeen showed interest in this kind of poetry and offered to sponsor an
excursion to the Highlands, Macpherson seized the moment and delivered. [emphasis added]
Card’s comparison with Macpherson’s fraud makes valid points
that have only become stronger in light of further research both into the
Ossian fraud and into the origins of the Book of Mormon, including the
translation process, for which there were multiple credible witnesses.
Macpherson’s fraud could also be considered in light of a
few other attempted forgeries, including Thomas Chatterton’s Rowley papers,
purporting to be poems from a 15th-century monk named Rowley. The poems were
initially accepted due to a general lack of attention at the time of
publication to the details of the English language and its changes over the
centuries. Chatterton used antique paper for his poems, but was unable to
properly reflect the language of the time he sought to mimic, ensuring that the
fraud would be detected.
Failure to appreciate linguistic change over time was a key
weakness in the Ossian fraud. Macpherson claimed that the Erse language (ancient
Gaelic) of 300 A.D. had remained pure and unchanged over the centuries,
allowing him to read and understand ancient Erse and translate Ossian’s poetry
into English. In spite of Macpherson’s outstanding education, this was a
monumental blunder, one easily picked up by critics in his day. Some observed
that Gaelic in Scotland showed obvious variability just from one valley to the
next. With such obvious change across short distances, how could the language
remain unchanged over more than a thousand years?
On the other hand, the challenges of linguistic change over
time is an area where the Book of Mormon shines and far surpasses what
Macpherson and presumably Joseph knew. Linguistic change is implicit as a fact
of life in the Book of Mormon narrative. Nephi’s scribal work may already be
blurring the lines between Egyptian and Hebrew (1 Nephi 1:1-3; see Neal
Rappleye, “Nephi the Good: A Commentary on 1 Nephi 1:1–3,” Interpreter Blog,
January 3, 2014; http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/nephi-the-good-a-commentary-on-1-nephi-11-3/.).
We see the Mulekites, immigrants without written records to help maintain their
language, have lost much of their language (it had become “corrupted”) and need
to be taught to understand the Nephite’s Hebrew after just a few hundred years
of separation (Omni 1:17–18), with their rapid linguistic drift presumably
accelerated by contact with local peoples in the New World. We see Nephites
treasuring their written records as a means of helping them maintain their scriptural
language system (Mosiah 1:2–6). We see the Lamanites losing their written
language and later needing to be taught the Nephite writing system (Mosiah
24:1–7). And in spite of their written records, centuries later Mormon acknowledges
that their Hebrew had been altered (Mormon 9:33) and that their script for
recording scriptures, now called “reformed Egyptian,” had been altered over
time and was unknown except to them (Mormon 9:32, 34). These are realistic
views on linguistic change, in contrast to the much less reasonable claims from
the highly educated Macpherson.
Card’s comparison of Ossian and the Book of Mormon remains a fruitful exercise and one that I’ll mention in some more detail in the future.
I highly recommend Orson Scott Card’s “Artifact or Artifice.” There’s much of value there to contemplate, in spite of a great deal of new research since that day.
16 thoughts on ““Artifact or Artifice?” Orson Scott Card’s Brilliant 1993 Essay Still Rings True”
Committed Mormons might find Card's essay "brilliant," but to everyone else the Book of Mormon is obviously not an ancient text. It's probably best understood as a kind of extended 19th-century midrash on the Bible.
Card's essay is an example of Latter-day Saints bringing their own skills and experience to tbe study of the scriptures. Card's own academic study of literature and experience as an author and teacher of creative writing gives him a valuable perspective. He explains why the Book of Mormon does not fit into the literature of 1829 America, because it does not contain the assumptions and viewpoints that were assumed by authors to be in the minds of their readers. No educated author of that day would write this. And yet only a supremely educated author in 1829 could produce so many authentic details about Arabian geography and Hebrew literary forms. Once again, the secular theories about how the narrative was created fail to explain the known facts.
Among the known facts: Joseph Smith was a voluble raconteur. He was a money digger who defrauded people by claiming he could locate buried riches by staring into the very same "peep-stone" he later used to "translate" the Book of Mormon. He was well enough versed in the Bible to have absorbed its characteristic literary forms. The idea that Native Americans were stray Israelites was very much in the air in his time and place. So was the idea that these stray Israelites split into two groups, one civilized and the other savage, with the latter ultimately exterminating the former. Smith developed the strangely Masonic temple rituals shortly after becoming a Mason himself. Etc. All these facts fit very well with the idea that the Book of Mormon is a 19th-century production built out of the cultural bric-a-brac of 1820s upstate New York. There's absolutely nothing in the book that could not have come out of Smith's cultural mileu or his imagination.
Believe what you want, Raymond. Just be aware that everyone outside the Church (and many, many people within it) finds any of your apologetic arguments the least bit persuasive. You might as well try to convince people of the prophetic status of L. Ron Hubbard and the reality of Xenu, or the deification of Sun Myung Moon, or the existence of that spaceship lurking behind the comet Hale–Bopp.
Amazing is the power of religious indoctrination.
Anonymous, you said: "Joseph Smith was a voluble raconteur." Orsamus Turner of the same juvenile debating club as Joseph said that he was a "passable orator." However, that says nothing as to his education level nor authorship abilities. The critics of his day were quick to look elsewhere for a possible author, judging very quickly and forcefully that Joseph was too ignorant to produce the Book of Mormon. Subsequent research has only deepened that conviction.
Please provide your reference for the idea that some Americans in the eighteenth century believed that the American Indians were descended from stray Israelites that split into two groups, one civilized and one savage. It was a fairly common belief among American clergy that the American Indians were the lost tribes, etc. but I do not recall the split into two groups theme.
The masonic elements are not from the Book of Mormon.
And you said: "There's absolutely nothing in the book that could not have come out of Smith's cultural milieu or his imagination." I am afraid that you have not read much of the research that has been done on the Book of Mormon> There are so many elements that could not have come from a fertile mind, no matter what the (now supposed) genius level. The Early Modern English in the Book of Mormon is one such.
And you said: "Amazing is the power of religious indoctrination." There are many converts to the church that have not gone through an LDS religious indoctrination but are converted through the ministering of the Holy Ghost.
You may believe what you wish also. It has been shown by neuroscience that people do not make decisions and come to conclusions based primarily on facts and logic but emotion. So, you may claim that LDS are basing their views on emotion, but the reverse position is just as valid, i.e. that critics are too emotionally invested in their positions to look at the facts of the matter rationally. Just saying.
OK, what is your basis for Joseph being well-known as a voluble raconteur? I suspect your only source is the one endlessly expanded upon by anti-Mormons, Lucy Mack Smith's late recollection of Joseph discussing Book of Mormon peoples with the family. Perhaps you missed my recent post on that highly-abused account, "Joseph the Amusing Teller of Tall Tales: Lucy Mack Smith's Puzzling Statement in Perspective" (April 2018). Her account indicates that such discussions occurred after Joseph was introduced to the Book of Mormon, not before. There is no track record to show that he was a great story teller before then. And just as importantly, there is no evidence apart from Lucy's account that Joseph told such stories later in life. His voluble stories about Book of Mormon people's just don't show up in his sermons, his articles, his interviews, or the recollections of others about what he said.
Lucy is quoted as saying, "During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship." Curiously, this kind of information is not only absent from anyone else's accounts of Joseph's statements and stories, it is also largely absent from the Book of Mormon. There are no animals being ridden there. No details on dress or building design. Warfare is described in detail, when Mormon is writing, but otherwise Lucy's statement doesn't fit the Book of Mormon as we have it.
But Lucy's puzzling and perhaps not highly dependable statement about what Joseph discussed after he learned of the Book of Mormon has been magically transformed by our critics into evidence that Joseph was well known as a great story teller before his encounter with Moroni and the gold plates. Such is the power of religious indoctrination, as you said. It is also used to trivialize the obvious miracle of dictating the complex text of the Book of Mormon without notes, without a manuscript, hour after hour in his extremely rapid and consistent translation work. Ah, the power of indoctrination.
Is there any particular reason why "voluble raconteur" is better than just saying "capable storyteller" or something like that? Why do so many academics insist on using obscure words when well-known, easily understood words will do?
I like how Bill Watterson put it (sarcastically) in Calvin and Hobbes: "the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"
"It is also used to trivialize the obvious miracle of dictating the complex text of the Book of Mormon without notes, without a manuscript, hour after hour in his extremely rapid and consistent translation work."
Says the man who just stated Joseph had nearly a decade to memorize the stories told to him by Moroni. Ah, the power of indoctrination.
"Lucy's account that Joseph told such stories later in life." Say the man who apparently never heard of Zelph.
Or Mohonri Moriancumr. . .
Joseph indeed guilded the Book of Mormon lily later in his life. I think however, that he saw the real draw of his religion was his claim of continuing revelation, so he chose to look forward rather than backward. As evidence, we have the books of the Pearl of Great Price, the JST of the bible, and the never completed translation of the Kinderhook plates. Joseph continued to find sources to draw him into delving into the Hebrew historical milieu–a fascination that was first evidenced in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Of course his grammar got better in his latter attempts.
I remembered also that Joseph dangled the carrot of the sealed portion of the plates in front of his followers for years as well (Mormons are still told that the sealed portion will someday be translated when they are righteous enough). I suspect he was planning to revisit the Book of Mormon at some point when the well for his other continued revelations ran dry. Just like any other "voluble raconteur" worth his salt, he chose not to reveal the contents of that story before their time–George Lucas did this for years with the Star Wars franchise.
… George Lucas did this for years with the Star Wars franchise.
Great observation, ending with just the right word, franchise. Instead of thinking of the LDS canon as revelation, we should think of it as an early, religious precursor to what we now recognize as a media franchise.
As a faithful, believing LDS, I find a lot to like in this post, but also a lot that comes off as pure confirmation bias. For example, the idea that Joseph wouldn't have associated ancient records with kings ignores the fact that he read the King James Bible and that kings in the Old Testament maintained records. Joseph sent Harris to scholars because Moroni had told him about the Isaiah prophecy regarding the learned, as President Cowdery explained in Letter IV (an oft-overlooked detail).
The worst confirmation bias, of course, is the Mesoamerican theory. Jeff writes, "He didn’t have the body of evidence from John Sorenson’s Mormon’s Codex or the insights about the Mesoamerican perspectives in the Book of Mormon uncovered by Brant Gardner in his Traditions of the Fathers."
The "evidence" presented in those books is illusory because it consists of ordinary attributes of most human cultures, combined with the authors' proprietary interpretation of the text. The Nephites were Hebrews; they followed the model of the keepers of the brass plates according to the Biblical model, not some Mayan practice. E.g., the Nephites never mention recording their history on stone walls or stella, and they certainly didn't write in the Mayan language. Gardner finds parallels or correspondences between carefully selected details of Mayan history/culture and his contorted interpretation of the text, but this type of confirmation bias is completely unpersuasive to anyone who doesn't already share his bias–or to anyone who considers the text as written and the entire body of Mesoamerican history/culture.
Language problems were well known in colonial America. Few Europeans could communicate with the Indian tribes, who, like the Lamanites and Mulekites but unlike the Mayans, did not have a written language. The tribes themselves had different languages. Teaching Indians to read and write was a major effort toward "civilizing" them, just as Mosiah taught the people of Zarahemla how to read and write. The parallels between the Book of Mormon and the history/culture of the North American Indians are much closer than any illusory correspondences to Mayan culture, a reality that critics have always used to support their claim that Joseph wrote the book. The Mesoamerican theory developed partly to thwart this criticism, but the more we learn about Mesoamerica and ancient North America, the more we see the Book of Mormon fits the latter, not the former.
In my view, these elements serve to corroborate what Joseph and Oliver said about the Book of Mormon; i.e., that the hill Cumorah was in New York, that the plains of the Nephites were in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and that the Hopewell ruins were evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. The fact that all the modern prophets who have ever addressed the issue have affirmed the New York Cumorah is yet another reason to jettison the Mesoamerican theory.
Now all we need to do is check the geographic record for a cataclysmic event that happened in North America at the time of Christ's death and we have some good physical proof.
In response to johnathan3d and Mesoamerican versus "heartland America" setting for the book of Mormon, I would inquire, where in the north American continent do you find a "narrow neck of land" that people on foot (or even perhaps mounted on some sort of animal transport, would have been able to traverse in a day or two? And, as even the "anti" in the room pointed out, where in north America do you see evidence of massive destruction such as cities swallowed up, cities sunk in the sea, and things such as that? I don't know what kind of cool aid you're drinking to imagine that the north American continent matches up with the discriptions given in the book of Mormon text. Conversely, the Mesoamerican area does match up well.
Didn't Joseph Smith say that the Book of Mormon lands were basically what is now the continental United States? If anyone were to know, wouldn't it have been him?
Don't all the other geographical models amount to throwing the Prophet under the bus?
Has anyone here read the BYU study that confirms Joseph's translation of the bible is plagiarized from contemporary sources? Look it up!
Oh, that's a great article. Shows clearly that Smith was a bricoleur, building his "revelations" out of the cultural materials he had at hand. And from BYU, no less.