Book of Mormon/Anachronisms

Table of Contents

Anachronisms claimed to exist in the Book of Mormon

Summary: "Anachronism" = out of time; something which is not in its proper historical context. It is claimed that a number of items or concepts in the Book of Mormon are not consistent with what is known about ancient American geography, history, or anthropology. These "errors" used as evidence that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century work rather than an ancient record.

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What is an "anachronism" and how does it relate to the Book of Mormon?

Summary: Translated documents (which the Book of Mormon claims to be) have many potential sources of anachronism. When trying to decide if something is a true anachronism, and when making judgments about the Book of Mormon's truth based on an assessment of anachronisms, we must take all these factors into account. Critics rarely do so.

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Animals or possible animal products referred to in the Book of Mormon

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Criticisms related to animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon

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Horses in the Book of Mormon

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The ass or donkey in the Book of Mormon

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Bees in the Book of Mormon

Summary: Among the supposed Book of Mormon anachronisms is the mention of “bees” (Ether 2:3)...It should be noted firstly that the Book of Mormon's use of the term "bees" occurs in an Old World (Jaredite) setting, it is never used in connection with the New World.

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Cattle in the Book of Mormon

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Elephants in the Book of Mormon

Summary: Elephants are only present in Jaredite times in the Book of Mormon. Both mammoths and gomphotheres are elephant-like creatures that are plausible candidates which may have lived up until Jaredite times.

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Sheep in the Book of Mormon

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Goats in the Book of Mormon

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Silk or Silkworms and the Book of Mormon

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Swine in the Book of Mormon

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Cureloms and Cumoms in the Book of Mormon

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Serpents in the Book of Mormon

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Alleged biblical anachronisms in the Book of Mormon

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Multiple "Isaiahs" and the Book of Mormon

Summary: The "Deutero-Isaiah" theory is the claim that parts of Isaiah were written later than others. This theory claims that there were three individual authors, whose works were later compiled together under the name of the first author Isaiah (referred to as "Proto Isaiah"). The critical issue raised is that the Brass Plates of Laban quote from sections of Isaiah that this theory ascribes to Deutero-Isaiah, so how could the Nephites have these writings if they weren't written until after they left Jerusalem?

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Nephite burnt offerings and their consistency with Jewish law and practice

Summary: It is claimed that the Book of Mormon report that Nephites offered burnt offerings of the firstlings of their flocks is not consistent with Jewish law or practice. While firstlings were not used for every sacrifice, they certainly did have a role in the sacrificial practices of Israel. The critics have misunderstood the Bible on this point.

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Alleged biblical textual anachronisms in the Book of Mormon

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The Book of Mormon and the location of the birth of Jesus Christ

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Lehi's ancestry and place of residence

Summary: It is claimed that the fact that Lehi was not of Judah, but of the tribe of Joseph, makes it absurd for him to have been living in Jerusalem before the Babylonian captivity: "The tribe of Joseph at Jerusalem! Go, study scripture-geography, ye ignorant fellows, before you send out another imposition, and make no more such foolish blunders."

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The Book of Mormon contains passages from the King James Bible

Summary: Critics of the Book of Mormon claim that major portions of it are copied, without attribution, from the Bible. They present this as evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon by plagiarizing the Authorized ("King James") Version of the Bible.

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Modification of the italicized text in Book of Mormon Biblical passages

Summary: It is claimed that in the Book of Mormon material which parallels the KJV, Joseph Smith generally modified the italicized text.

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Translation errors in the King James Bible appearing in the Book of Mormon

Summary: Critics wonder why many of the quotes from Isaiah in the Book of Mormon are identical to the King James version. The Book of Mormon incorporates text which seems to be taken from the King James Version, including passages which are now considered to be mistranslations in the King James Version. If the Book of Mormon is an accurate translation, some claim that it shouldn't contain these translational errors.

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The Book of Mormon and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Summary: Mistranslations of the King James version of Isaiah have been corrected using the Isaiah version found with the Dead Sea scrolls. Why is it that the quotes from Isaiah contained in the Book of Mormon have the same translation errors contained in the King James version instead of matching the original ancient text?

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Climate in the Book of Mormon

Snow

Summary: In 1 Nephi 11:8, Nephi says Lehi describes the Tree of Life by saying "the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." Since Nephi and Lehi were desert folk from Jerusalem, and then likely lived in tropical Central America, why would they have used "snow" as a description?

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Cultural issues in the Book of Mormon

Calendar

Summary: The Book of Mormon calendar is not identical to the calendar used by modern peoples. Learn about Nephite calendar(s) here.

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Olive horticulture

Summary: Does the Book of Mormon's account of olive horticulture in Jacob 5 match what we know about this subject?

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Legal codes and concepts

Summary: Do the legal concepts in the Book of Mormon better match Joseph Smith's day, or the ancient world?

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Alleged anachronisms related to Book of Mormon geography

Summary: Alleged Book of Mormon anachronisms related to geography.

Bethabara

Summary: Alexander Campbell, an early Book of Mormon critic, complained that the Book of Mormon "makes John [the Baptist] baptize in the village of Bethabara." The Book of Mormon, however, uses the same term as the King James Bible: "These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing." (John 1:28)

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River runs into a fountain

Summary: Is the description of "a river’s running into a fountain" in 1 Nephi absurd?

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Alleged anachronisms in the Book of Mormon related to government

Summary: Alleged anachronisms in the Book of Mormon related to government

Legal codes and concepts

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Items alleged to be anachronistic in the Book of Mormon

Chariots

Summary: The Book of Mormon mentions "chariots," which are assumed to be a "wheeled vehicle." No draft animals existed to pull such chariots. 3 Nephi 3:22 notes that the Nephites "had taken their horses, and their chariots" to a central fortified area for protection against robbers. It should be noted that we are not told if these chariots served a purpose in riding, or if they were for transport of goods, or if they had a ceremonial function. One assumes some sort of practicality or ritual importance in war, since they brought chariots to the siege. Conspicuously absent is any role of the chariot in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.

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Cimeters/Scimeters

Summary: Contrary to the claims made by some, the precolumbian New World had many examples of curved bladed weapons ("scimeters" or "cimeters").

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Coins

Summary: Does the Book of Mormon make references to Nephite coins? Coins were not used either in ancient America or Israel during Lehi's day. However, the word "coins" was only added to the chapter heading of Alma 11 much later, and the text of the Book of Mormon itself does not mention coins. The pieces of gold and silver described in Alma 11:1-20 are not coins, but a surprisingly sophisticated system of weights and measures that is entirely consistent with Mesoamerican proto-monetary practices.

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Compass

Summary: Critics charge that the description of the Liahona as a "compass" is anachronistic because the magnetic compass was not known in 600 B.C. However, believing it was called a compass because it pointed the direction for Lehi to travel is the fault of the modern reader, not the Book of Mormon. As a verb, the word "compass" occurs frequently in the King James Version of the Bible; and it generally suggests the idea of surrounding or encircling something

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"Gold" plates?

Summary: Could Joseph Smith, Jr. have manufactured some metal plates out of tin, copper, or some other metal in order to trick witnesses into thinking he had gold plates? Gold plates of the dimensions described by the witnesses would be too heavy (on the order of 200 lbs) to be realistically lifted and carried as Joseph and others described. This assumption, however, assumes a solid block of gold in the dimensions described, and does not account for the fact that pure gold would have been too fragile to form the thin leaves necessary for engraving.

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Gunpowder

Summary: Some have even claimed that the Book of Mormon mentions "gunpowder," and "pistols and other firearms," which are clearly anachronisms. The claim is false. There is no mention of "gunpowder" or firearms, or anything like them, in the Book of Mormon.

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Temple in the New World

Summary: It is claimed that Israelites would not have built a temple in the New World outside of Jerusalem. This ignores Israelite temples built in the Old World outside Jerusalem.

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Windows

Summary: Does the mention of "windows" imply the existence of glass in Book of Mormon times?

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Alleged anachronisms in the Book of Mormon related to language

Summary: Claimed anachronisms related to language used in the Book of Mormon.

"Adieu"

Summary: Jacob 7:27 ends with the phrase, "Brethren, adieu."

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And it came to pass

Summary: Some have often complained about the frequent repetition of "and it came to pass" in the Book of Mormon.[1] Mark Twain famously joked that if the phrase were omitted, Joseph would have published a pamphlet instead of a book. As it turns out, however, this much-maligned phrase is actually evidence of the Book of Mormon's authentic antiquity.

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Greek words in the Book of Mormon

Summary: It is claimed that the Book of Mormon cannot be an ancient work because it contains "Greek words" ("alpha and omega"). However, the Book of Mormon claims to be a translation. Therefore, the language used is that of Joseph Smith. Joseph could choose to render similar (or identical) material using King James Bible language if that adequately represented the text's intent.

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Modern phrasing

Summary: Critics maintain that Book of Mormon phrases or language is too "modern" to be of ancient origin. The Book of Mormon is a translation. As such, it may well use phrases or expressions that have no exact ancient counterpart. Modern Bible translations use similar expressions or phrases, and yet remain translations of ancient documents.

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Hebrew and Native American languages

Summary: Is there any evidence that Old World languages (such as Hebrew) had an influence on the languages of the New World? It is claimed that the Book of Mormon provides too short a time for the disappearance of the Nephite/Lamanite Hebrew language.

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Reformed Egyptian

Summary: It is claimed that Jews or Israelites (like the Nephites) would not have used the language of their slave period — Egyptian — to write sacred records, that there is no evidence in Egyptology of something called "reformed Egyptian," and that the Book of Mormon's claim to have been written in this language is therefore suspect. However, the claim that Israelites would not use Egyptian is clearly false. By the ninth to sixth centuries before Christ, Israelites used Egyptian numerals mingled with Hebrew text. The Papyrus Amherst 63 contains a text of Psalms 20:2-6 written in Aramaic (the language of Jesus) using Egyptian characters. This text was originally dated to the second century B.C., but this has since been extended to the 4th century B.C.

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Egyptian would not be shorter than Hebrew on the plates

Summary: It is claimed that Egyptian would be too lengthy and bulky on the plates to account for the Book of Mormon [Egyptian would take] "perhaps four times, or even more than four times, as much room as the English, and it is quite certain that, as the Book of Mormon is 600 pages thick, it would take at least a thousand plates to hold in the Egyptian language, what is there written."

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Freemasonry and the Book of Mormon

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The Gadianton robbers and Freemasons

Summary: Some claim that the Gadianton robbers are thinly disguised references to the anti-Masonic panic of Joseph Smith's era. Joseph's contemporaries did not embrace the "obvious" link between the Book of Mormon and masonry. Proponents or opponents of Masonry simply tended to blame their opponents for Mormonism. Given Joseph Smith's long family involvement with the institution of Freemasonry and the fact that he would, in 1842, become a Mason himself, it seems unlikely that anti-Masonry was the "environmental source" of the Gadianton robbers found in the Book of Mormon. The members of his day likewise had little enthusiasm for anti-Masonic sentiments.

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Materials alleged to be anachronistic in the Book of Mormon

Cement

Summary: The Nephites in the land northward built buildings out of cement in Helaman 3:7-11 (circa 47 B.C.). As author John L. Smith put the claim, "There is zero archaeological evidence that any kind of cement existed in the Americas prior to modern times."[1]In this case, however, an attack on an 'absence of evidence' backfired. Cement is not anachronistic. The Book of Mormon places it in exactly the right spot and time period for Mesoamerican use of this building material.

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The use of metals in the Book of Mormon

Summary: Some attack the Book of Mormon's mention of metal and metalworking in the Americas: 1)It is claimed that no metal use occurred in the Americas prior to A.D. 900. 2) It is claimed that certain metals mentioned in the Book of Mormon were not available in the Americas. Metal and metallurgy was more common and of earlier date in Mesoamerica than has been assumed. Critics also sometimes read the text anachronistically, inserting 21st century ideas about metals (such as steel) into Joseph Smith's 19th century context, and the Book of Mormon's pre-Christian context. Not every issue concerning metals can at present be correlated with archeological data, but the case has been strengthened considerably even in the last 50 years. Given the linguistic evidence for metal at an early date, it is premature to suppose that no physical evidence of metal will turn up for those periods still in question. Rejecting the Book of Mormon on these grounds commits a fallacy in which the absence of evidence is turned into evidence of absence.

Metallurgy and use of metals in the Book of Mormon

Summary: It is important first of all to realize that the Book of Mormon tends to use metals as sources of wealth and for ornamentation, and relatively rarely for 'prestige' weapons (e.g. sword of Laban) or items (e.g. metal plates for sacred records). It does not appear that Nephite society had as extensive a use of metal as the Middle East of the same time period. Attempting to insist otherwise misrepresents the Book of Mormon.

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Brass

Summary: "Brass" is an alloy of copper and zinc. It is a term used frequently in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Some occurrences in the Bible have been determined by Biblical scholars to actually reflect the use of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin), rather than brass.

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Copper

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Gold

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Iron

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Silver

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Steel

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Ziff

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Metal Plates

Summary: Is Joseph's report of finding a record on metal plates plausible?

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Plants or fibers in the Book of Mormon

Summary: Some plants or fibers mentioned in the Book of Mormon are not known to exist in the New World. Is this evidence that Joseph fabricated the text based upon his own cultural background? Not at all: None of the Book of Mormon's plant species causes a problem — Spanish conquerors described pre-Columbian products in exactly the terms used by the Book of Mormon. Barley, silkworms, and grapes were known. One of the terms unknown to Joseph's day (the Akkadian sheum) is impressive evidence for the Book of Mormon's antiquity.

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Barley in the Book of Mormon

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Flax and linen in the Book of Mormon

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Neas in the Book of Mormon

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Sheum in the Book of Mormon

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Silk in the Book of Mormon

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Wheat in the Book of Mormon

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Wine and grapes in the Book of Mormon

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Alleged anachronisms related to population and demographics in the Book of Mormon

Demographics

Summary: Critics charge that the initial Lehite colony is too small to produce the population sizes indicated, and that Lehi's group was sent to a land which was kept from the knowledge of other nations, therefore, according to the Book of Mormon, there could not have been "others" present. A superficial reading of the Book of Mormon leads some to conclude that the named members of Lehi's group were the only members of Nephite/Lamanite society. However, the Book of Mormon contains many mentions of "others" that made up part of both societies; indeed, many Book of Mormon passages make little sense unless we understand this.

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Scientific questions related to the Book of Mormon

Sweat and skin pores

Summary: It is claimed that the reference to blood coming from a pore is anachronistic, since Nephite authors would not have known about skin pores. Joseph Smith, it is claimed, would have known about pores, and so the Book of Mormon's addition of the word "pore" to the Bible's account in Luke 22:44 of Christ's suffering reflects Joseph Smith's 19th century worldview, and not an ancient author's.

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Shiz struggles to breathe

Summary: In Ether 15:31, a final showdown occurs between two warriors, Shiz and Coriantumr. Coriantumr "smote off the head of Shiz...[and] after he had smitten off the head...Shiz raised up on his hands and fell; and after that he had struggled for breath, he died." Critics insist that this would not, or could not, happen.

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Three days of darkness

Summary: Critics argue that the "three days of darkness" in the New World following Christ's death is implausible.

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Alleged anachronisms related to the Book of Mormon text


Descriptions of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon

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Chapter divisions

Summary: Is the fact that the Book of Mormon has chapters evidence that it is a modern production? The table of contents was a modern insertion; it had no counterpart in the dictated text of the Book of Mormon. It was added just as it is in modern Bibles. However, the first edition of the Book of Mormon did contain chapters (though much longer than the modern chapters), and chapter markers were part of Joseph's dictated text.

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Warfare and weapons in the Book of Mormon

Warfare in the Book of Mormon

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Cimeters/Scimeters

Summary: Contrary to the claims made by some, the precolumbian New World had many examples of curved bladed weapons ("scimeters" or "cimeters").

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Swords

Summary: Are Book of Mormon swords anachronistic? Have New World swords answering to the Book of Mormon's description been found?

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Notes

  1. John L. Smith, "What about those Gold Plates?" The Utah Evangel 33/6 (September 1986): 8.