Brant Gardner’s essay at FAIRLDS.org, “The Case for Historicity: Discerning the Book of Mormon’s Production Culture,” is a must-read for those seeking to better understand the Book of Mormon. He makes the point that writing fiction about a foreign culture will inevitably show that the author was not part of that culture, for there are a thousand unconscious assumptions that must be made that will be informed by the author’s culture, not the actual culture being described. On the other hand, a text from a foreign culture will provide numerous puzzles to outsiders that will be confusing until insight is gained about the assumptions and ways of the other culture. With this in mind, the Book of Mormon is simply loaded with issues that are puzzling to modern Americans but thoroughly at home in the ancient world, including ancient Mesoamerica.
Brother Gardner’s article includes a detailed discussion of one especially interesting example, the story of the great missionary Ammon and his adventure at the waters of Sebus (Alma 17 and 18). Modern readers are puzzled over many of the details, and some may even mock the silliness of the strange events described. The story is puzzling if one relies on modern culture to interpret the story, but Brother Gardner shows how the story becomes profoundly more meaningful if interpreted in light of ancient Mesoamerican politics. This is one of many examples where a knowledge of the ancient world suddenly adds new depth to what was once puzzling in the Book of Mormon. How can such a track record be reconciled with the idea of the text being a modern fraud?
The fascinating part about Ammon is about halfway down Gardner’s text, under the section heading “The Test of Productivity.”