Where We Stand: Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

Debating the Foundations of Mormonism: The Book of Mormon and Archaeology” is a transcript of recent presentations by John E. Clark, Wade Ardern, and Matthew Roper. The first part by John E. Clark is especially noteworthy for those who wish to know what archeology has to say about the Book of Mormon.

After 178 years, the Book of Mormon is “truer than ever” and, in terms of external evidence, on more solid ground than ever. That ground has shifted substantially as some old and unjustified assumptions about the text have been updated, a process that began in the 1840s when information about ancient cities in Mesoamerica became known to the Saints, suggesting that they text may have taken place in lands completely unfamiliar to Joseph Smith (and providing compelling evidence for the once laughable concept of great civilizations among the ancient “savages” in America).

Please read the article before commenting. For this post, I’m not interested in getting dozens of the standard uninformed comments about how there is “no evidence for anything in the Book of Mormon.” And yes, I already know that there are serious questions about the evidence for horses, silk, metals, and iPods in the Book of Mormon. Well, maybe not all of the questions are serious. But please read the article and respond to the points that Clark makes, if you wish to comment.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

168 thoughts on “Where We Stand: Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

  1. I like John Clark’s explanation of archaeology being “among the crudest of methods for establishing facts and truth, … By focusing only on missing evidence, one loses perspective.” I’m reminded of my 9yo who after being sent to his (very messy) room to locate his shoes, returns insisting they are not there. His search lasted 15 seconds.

  2. It seems from the dates mentioned that this presentation was given in 2005. I’m curious what has been done in the last 2 to 3 years. Has any further research been published?

  3. Ipods … your so funny, Jeff.

    But seriously, I thought the article sucked because it was built around straw man arguments. Those ‘evidences’ are just plain silly. How about addressing the real problems, and leave the ipods out of it?

    And cement … seriously? Are you guys still going with that? Because apart from the external archeological problems with cement, that ‘scripture’ has internal problems. (as you know — the whole fire thing … and wood — but of course the article doesn’t mention that … and neither do the tours I assume).

    I would stay to chat, but my tapir is anxious to get on the road.

  4. The “fire thing” has been plausibly addressed elsewhere. One possibility is that the scarcity of wood came as a result of cement building, though later historians (Moroni) would naturally link the obvious scarcity of wood in the land with the abundance of older cement construction. On the other hand, you don’t need construction-grade timber to build a fire for calcining limestone to lime. Other things burn, too.

    However the land to the north became deforested, and however the cement industry was carried out, there is simply no questions that cement construction was used in a region that geographically fits with the Book of Mormon text. You can still see the cement construction at Teotihuacan. Search for “cement” at Mormanity and you’ll see some photos I took. Real cement. It’s there, in the right place. Lucky guess by Joseph Smith?

  5. Follow-up on the issue of cement making and the need to produce lime with fire:

    From an article on lime production at http://practicalaction.org/practicalanswers/product_info.php?products_id=210:

    “Almost any fuel can be used in lime burning. Traditionally, wood was most commonly used but increasing cost, environmental concerns and deforestation have restricted its use. Coal is probably the most common fuel used in recent years. Others fuels include oil, gas, some agricultural wastes and even, in a few cases, peat.”

    So you don’t have to have large trees to have useful fires for lime production. But that might be the easiest way, and that’s why the rising popularity of cement construction in the Teotihuacan area may have contributed to deforestation.

  6. Personally, I found the article a little long winded; he said lots of things – without really saying anything. Just an opinion of course.

    Question: What exactly is a ‘Seer’ in LDS? Please feel free to correct me, but I heard that it can mean the ability to read ancient texts (as Mr. Smith read reformed egyptian from these alleged gold plates)? Instead of using LDS archaeologists/FAIR to determine whether such things predate Christian era, couldn’t the current LDS prophet just go and ‘read’ some of the ancient writings in Meso-America to see if these things were the genuine article?

    Did the question make sense? Did it make sense, even if it proves itself to be nonsensical?

  7. NM:

    The question, I suppose, is whether such things have ever been a top priority for the Lord. Has the Lord ever been terribly concerned about having Peter double-check the translation of the Septuagint? Paul? Jesus?

    You know the Bible well…what say you?

  8. Russell,

    I’m really sorry but I don’t think I understood your question. =(

    Please be patient with me, but would you mind just saying a little bit more?

  9. You missed the point, but I forgive you. The article is silly because the ‘evidences’ are silly. None of the major concerns critics have with the BoM are even mentioned. Instead of talking about that, you want to ramble about fire and cement.

    And once you guys decide on a geo. model for the BoM, then go ahead and correlate the evidence in that location and put something respectable together. Taking little bits and pieces from the hemisphere and then crying limited geography makes you look like Mitt Romney explaining his stances on abortion.

    Lucky guess? No, I think stupid mistake after stupid mistake after stupid mistake. Enough fire to make all that cement would require a lot of wood, not just shrubs. And the quantity of homes is not supported either.

  10. To me, it’s circular logic. The BoM must be true, so let’s look to see which civilization(s), pulled from two whole continents, have the most parallels to the BoM. Then, whoa, hey, we found some parallels, from somewhere, anywhere, in the Western hemisphere, so the BoM must be true.

    My question is, if you used FAIR resources, could you find similar – or closer – parallels in eastern Asia? What about western Africa? Are these American similarities really so impressive? So, my homework assignment for FAIR: spend the next couple of decades hammering away at parallels for an eastern Asia setting for the BoM, then a couple of decades with an African setting for the BoM etc. What would the “trend” look like? Seems like it could only increase towards plausibility for an eastern Asian setting. And, would there be more cultural and archaeological parallels than in Central America, or fewer? According to Dr. Clark if, for example, an Asian setting for the BoM “were a hoax there should not be any evidence to support it, not even one bottle cap, hair pin, or cigarette butt. Because of the logic of evidence in this instance, one positive correspondence counts for dozens of missing ones. For example, one documented steel sword trumps several herds of missing horses and elephants.” Eastern Asia might even have steel swords AND elephants AND horses. Already we are ahead. BUT, not to worry, if you can’t find steel swords anywhere in Asia, or Africa, wooden ones will do (how else could they be stained with blood)? And as a BONUS, our FAIR researchers can feel free to ignore it if important Asian or African animals are missing from the BoM, or if the wrong ones are present. Hey, they just haven’t been found yet! Need evidence? Just use old citations that have been since disproven!

    Here you go, I’ll even get the ball rolling: Ancient writing in Asia? Yup! What about cycles of civilizations? Darn tootin’! Tree imagery? Everywhere! How could a farmboy from upstate NY in the early 19th century have known all of this? Amazing! Take it away, FAIR…

  11. TiredMo: “The article is silly because the ‘evidences’ are silly. None of the major concerns critics have with the BoM are even mentioned. Instead of talking about that, you want to ramble about fire and cement.”

    You raised the issue of fire, TM, in dismissing the evidence of cement as silly. You have missed the point of the article, which is that focusing on missing (“not found yet”) evidences as opposed positive evidences is not a reasonable way of assess the plausibility of the text. Instead, you want to bring up horses and tapirs again and dismiss the positive evidences as silly.

    You also missed the point of my response to your fire issue. There are actually 3 points: (a) the scarcity of trees may have been caused by heavy cement building, though four hundred years later it might look like the people had turned to cement because of lack of wood (the link between cement work and deforestation is actually an intriguing one for those interested in understanding the text); (b) alternatively or in addition, the lime burning behind cement construction can and does occur by using agricultural waste, low quality wood, or other materials in a region where construction-quality timber is not available, and (c) regardless of how the lime was produced and exactly when and how timber became scarce, there is a region in ancient Mesoamerica suitably positioned north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (the generally accepted region of the narrow neck of land in modern models of Book of Mormon georgraphy) that can plausibly correspond with the reference to cement construction in the Book of Mormon in the land north. Was there anything in Joseph’s environment that would have guided him to make a reference to ancient cement work in great cities in the ancient Americas? So can you explain why the description of cement building is so silly? Isn’t it an arguably plausible element after all?

    And Wagoneer, you misunderstand my writings and especially the article if you think any evidence can be used to “prove” the Book of Mormon true. I’m quite surprised, maybe even irked, that you don’t appreciate the role of evidence is not about “proving” the Book of Mormon. Your caricature of the LDS apologetic position really misses some important points.

  12. Wagoneer,

    You really do misunderstand the significance of what FARMS and FAIR do. And in doing so, set up a straw man for attack. They don’t pick an American setting for kicks…Joseph Smith claimed that it happened in America. They are testing a hypothesis. I know the wild-eyed apologist model is preferable for critics, but hey, we can’t have everything, right?

    And tiredmormon, this is just a cursory reading of your remarks on my part, but I see far more thoughtful analysis on Jeff’s part than in your posts. I’m far from a scholar in things scientific, so I will refrain in comment…but as a layman, I find myself more persuaded by proposed theses than cheap remarks like “stupid mistake after stupid mistake”–given that you have yet to cite any.

  13. This was a wonderful read! And I understand the point of it.

    I also know, like you Jeff, that having the testimony of the Holy Ghost is the only evidence that counts. That’s the witness that brings tears to my eyes. People who base their testimonies on ‘facts’ will never hold them. They will blow about like a speck of dust on the wind.

    And something that really speaks to my heart is how unfailing most of the early pioneers testimony was in spite of how ‘silly’ it all sounds. That’s what true ‘faith’ is all about. The testimony of the Holy Ghost is all we need.

    That said, please continue to post these wonderful articles! Not because we need facts, but because the Holy Ghost testifies whenever truth is presented. I hope that someone reading these will at least open themselves to the possibilities and then pray for the sure testimony.