Countercult ministries/The Interactive Bible/Difficult Questions for Mormons/Influenced by happenings of early 19th century America

Table of Contents

Response to "Difficult Questions for Mormons: Influenced by happenings of the early 19th century America"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Difficult Questions for Mormons, a work by author: The Interactive Bible
Claim Evaluation
Difficult Questions for Mormons
Chart DQFM Bom 19th century.jpg

Quick Navigation


Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon confuse the Old and New Covenants?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon confuse the Old and New Covenants? It stresses that before Christ, the faithful kept the Law of Moses (2 Nephi 5:10; 25:23-25, 20; Alma 30:3), yet they also established churches, taught and practiced Christian baptism, and were conversant with New Testament doctrines and events (e.g. 2 Nephi 9:23; Mosiah 18:17). In the Bible, the Old Covenant is taken away to establish the New according to Paul and his followers (Heb. 10:9). The Book of Mormon intermingles the covenants. Paul was the man who first tried to reconcile the Old to the New covenant--not anyone during Old Testament times."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This objection is profoundly confused. Our words "testament" for the Old and the New means "covenant." The old one was eventually fulfilled and the ceremonial elements, such as circumcision, were replaced with faith as the sign of the new covenants. In the Book of Mormon this change is partly anticipated. It was as if it was already but not quite yet until 3 Nephi. The moral elements of the Old Covenant were not abolished but stressed as faithful responses to God rather than elaborate codes of behavior such as Sabbath behavioral practices.


Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon discuss the concept of infinite sins paid by an infinite being? (Alma 12) This idea was originated by Anselm of Canterbury and was a raging debate during the time of Joseph Smith"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon discuss the concept of infinite sins paid by an infinite being? (Alma 12) This idea was originated by Anselm of Canterbury and was a raging debate during the time of Joseph Smith."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

Actually, the idea of infinite sins paid by an infinite being originates in the Bible.


Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon's teachings reflect the religious conflicts of the early 19th century including: grace, infant baptism, ordination, authority, repentance, resurrection, eternal punishment, fall of man, nature of man, fasting, etc.?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why does the Book of Mormon's teachings reflect the religious conflicts of the early 19th century including: grace, infant baptism, ordination, authority, repentance, resurrection, eternal punishment, fall of man, nature of man, fasting, etc.?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The reason that these teachings produced "religious conflicts" was because the Bible did not clarify some of them, which allowed a variety of interpretations. The Book of Mormon provided additional information which clarified some of these things.


Response to claim: "Why were there missionaries in the Book of Mormon before Christ? That certainly wasn't the case in the Old World"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why were there missionaries in the Book of Mormon before Christ? That certainly wasn't the case in the Old World."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

This criticism ignores the Old Testament stories of Jonah and Baalam. Clearly there are precedents for "outsiders" being called to preach to other cultures and peoples. Old testament prophets "went forth" to prophesy and call people to repentance. These were those that were cast out and stoned. How is that any different than Ammon and the sons of Mosiah?


Also, note that the Book of Mormon never refers to the sons of Mosiah as "missionaries." (In fact, the words "mission" and "missionary" are nowhere to be found in its text.) Our words "mission" and "missionary" are products of our sectarian Protestant environment. Calling the sons of Mosiah "missionaries" (and Mormons do, all the time) is overlaying our cultural understanding and expectations on the text. It puts their journey into a context that we, Latter-day Saints in the 21st century, can easily understand. But the text doesn't require that; and, in fact, there are many aspects of their time among the Lamanites that do not fit the popular idea of a "missionary" experience. So the question presumes a certain cultural overlay, and hence incorrectly criticizes the Book of Mormon for saying something that it doesn't.}}

Response to claim: "Why is King Benjamin's oratory like a 19th century camp meeting?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why is King Benjamin's oratory like a 19th century camp meeting?
  • Revival gathering (Mosiah 2)
  • Guilt ridden falling exercise (Mosiah 4:1-2)
  • Petition for spiritual emancipation (Mosiah 4:2)
  • Absolution and ecstasy (Mosiah 4:3)
  • Repentance (Mosiah 4:4-8)
  • Born again (Mosiah 5:7)
  • Take name of Christ (Mosiah 5:8-15)

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

The same elements that the critics consider 19th century attributes in the Book of Mormon are also evidences of ancient Israelite origin.


Question: Why would "camp meeting" elements appear in the story of King Benjamin's temple speech in the Book of Mormon?

The same elements that the critics consider 19th century attributes in the Book of Mormon are also evidences of ancient Israelite origin

Terryl Givens notes,

[A]lthough the content of the Alma conversion story suggests to some the influence of contemporary conditions, the account as narrated in the Book of Mormon exhibits a complex structure of inverted parallelism or chiasmus that has been persuasively connected to ancient Old World forms....The same story, in other words, is invoked as telling evidence of both nineteenth-century composition and authentically ancient origins. [Blake] Ostler sees an example of such divergent readings in King Benjamin's great temple speech (Mos 2-6), that incorporates elements common to Methodist camp meetings, but at least as convincing are more than a dozen formal elements of Israelite covenant renewal festivals contained in the speech.[1]


Response to claim: "Why do other works early in Joseph Smith's lifetime teach that the Indians were descended from the Hebrews?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why do other works early in Joseph Smith's lifetime teach that the Indians were descended from the Hebrews?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

It was a common belief at the time.


Question: Did Joseph Smith believe that the Book of Mormon explained local legends associated with the "Mound Builders" of the Eastern United States?

When the Book of Mormon appeared, it was a natural assumption by many that the book was the story of the mysterious "Mound Builders"

Joseph Smith himself initially believed that the presence of the mounds supported the story related in the Book of Mormon. In fact, as Zion's Camp passed through southern Illinois, Heber C. Kimball and several other participants claimed that Joseph identified a set of bones discovered in one of these mounds as "Zelph", a "white Lamanite." In a letter that Joseph wrote to Emma the day after this discovery, he stated:

The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.[2]

Statements made by Joseph Smith clearly indicate that his thinking regarding the actual location of Book of Mormon events evolved over time

Joseph felt that the presence of the mounds in North America and ruined cities in Central America supported the Book of Mormon. Since information about the ruined cities in Central America came to light after the publication of the Book of Mormon, it actually strengthens the theories and evidences which place the Book of Mormon in a Mesoamerican setting--Joseph was willing to consider a setting of which he apparently had no previous knowledge. The description of the ancestors of the American Indians as a highly civilized culture capable of building great cities was not a concept which would have been deduced from the contemporary beliefs regarding the Mound Builders.

The presence of numerous burial mounds in the eastern United States was the source of great speculation to those that settled there. The construction of such mounds was not considered to be within the ability of the Native Americans, who were considered to be savages. It was assumed that such sophisticated constructions constituted evidence of a long lost, highly civilized society which had long since vanished. Some even postulated the existence of separate civilized and a savage societies, with the highly civilized group eventually being destroyed by the savage one. After years of research, however, it was concluded that the mounds had indeed been constructed by the ancestors of the Indians that continued to live in the area.

Joseph clearly believed not only the region of the mounds to be part of Book of Mormon lands, but the entire continent, including Central America. The Book of Mormon itself, however, makes no mention of mounds.

In 1841, the Times and Seasons, of which Joseph was the editor at the time, commented on a popular book by John Lloyd Stephens called Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. This book described amazing ruined cities that had been found in Central America.

Joseph Smith himself, as editor of the Times and Seasons wrote and signed (as "ED[itor]") the following on July 15, 1842. Notice that he mentions both the mounds and the ruins in Guatemala as supporting the Book of Mormon:

If men, in their researches into the history of this country, in noticing the mounds, fortifications, statues, architecture, implements of war, of husbandry, and ornaments of silver, brass, &c.-were to examine the Book of Mormon, their conjectures would be removed, and their opinions altered; uncertainty and doubt would be changed into certainty and facts; and they would find that those things that they are anxiously prying into were matters of history, unfolded in that book. They would find their conjectures were more than realized-that a great and a mighty people had inhabited this continent-that the arts sciences and religion, had prevailed to a very great extent, and that there was as great and mighty cities on this continent as on the continent of Asia. Babylon, Ninevah, nor any of the ruins of the Levant could boast of more perfect sculpture, better architectural designs, and more imperishable ruins, than what are found on this continent. Stephens and Catherwood's researches in Central America abundantly testify of this thing. The stupendous ruins, the elegant sculpture, and the magnificence of the ruins of Guatamala [Guatemala], and other cities, corroborate this statement, and show that a great and mighty people-men of great minds, clear intellect, bright genius, and comprehensive designs inhabited this continent. Their ruins speak of their greatness; the Book of Mormen [Mormon} unfolds their history.-ED.[3]

A later Times and Seasons article, published on October 1, 1842 under Joseph's editorial supervision (though not signed by Joseph Smith as editor) stated:

It would not be a bad plan to compare Mr. Stephens' ruined cities with those in the Book of Mormon: Light cleaves to light and facts are supported by facts. The truth injures no one....[4]

If someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, they would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology

One thing that critics do not consider is that if someone of that era were to attempt to write a book about a history of the North American Indians, he or she would not have written about advanced civilizations with advanced technology. The mysterious "Mound Builders" were not considered to be the ancestors of the current "savage" race that were inhabiting the land at that time.

Some of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon realized that there were going to be problems with this assumption after the publication of the Book of Mormon. In a interview, David Whitmer said:

When we [the Witnesses] were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure that the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book.[5]


Response to claim: "Was "View of the Hebrews" one of the sources?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Was "View of the Hebrews" one of the sources? B. H. Roberts (Studies of Book of Mormon pp.240,242) said, "But now to return . . . to the main theme of this writing -- viz., did Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews furnish structural material for Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon? It has been pointed out in these pages that there are many things in the former book that might well have suggested many major things in the other. Not a few things merely, one or two, or a half dozen, but many; and it is this fact of many things of similarity and the cumulative force of them that makes them so serious a menace to Joseph Smith's story of the Book of Mormon's origin . . .""

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Roberts was providing arguments from the perspective of a critic in order to inform Church leaders of possible attacks on the Book of Mormon. Roberts stated that this did not represent his own beliefs. Roberts' parallels also only had validity if one assumed a hemispheric model for the Book of Mormon.


Question: Could Joseph Smith have used Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews as a guideline for creating the Book of Mormon?

Criticisms related to View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

  • It is claimed that a 19th century work by Ethan Smith, View of the Hebrews, provided source material for Joseph Smith's construction of the Book of Mormon.
  • Some also postulate a link between Ethan Smith and Oliver Cowdery, since both men lived in Poultney, Vermont while Smith served as the pastor of the church that Oliver Cowdery's family attended at the time that View of the Hebrews was being written.

Many of the criticisms proposed are based upon B. H. Roberts' list of parallels, which only had validity if one applied a hemispheric geography model to the Book of Mormon

The View of the Hebrews theory is yet another attempt to fit a secular origin to the Book of Mormon. Many of the criticisms proposed are based upon B. H. Roberts' list of parallels, which only had validity if one applied a hemispheric geography model to the Book of Mormon. There are a significant number of differences between the two books, which are easily discovered upon reading Ethan Smith's work. Many points that Ethan Smith thought were important are not mentioned at all in the Book of Mormon, and many of the "parallels" are no longer valid based upon current scholarship.[6]

Advocates of the Ethan Smith theory must also explain why Joseph, the ostensible forger, had the chutzpah to point out the source of his forgery. They must also explain why, if Joseph found this evidence so compelling, he did not exploit it for use in the Book of Mormon text itself, since the Book of Mormon contains no reference to the many "unparallels" that Ethan assured his readers virtually guaranteed a Hebrew connection to the Amerindians.


Question: Was the View of the Hebrews theory of Book of Mormon origin advanced during the lifetime of Joseph Smith?

The theory the Joseph Smith plagiarized View of the Hebrews was never advanced during Joseph Smith's lifetime

The theory the Joseph Smith plagiarized View of the Hebrews was never advanced during his lifetime. The prevailing theory of the day was the Spalding Theory, which quickly lost credibility upon the discovery of an actual Spalding manuscript in 1884 which bore no resemblance to the Book of Mormon. There are no records which indicate that Joseph Smith came into contact with the View of the Hebrews during the period of time that he was translating the Book of Mormon. The View of the Hebrews theory was in fact first proposed by I. Woodbridge Riley in 1902, 58 years after the death of the prophet.[7]

Joseph Smith quoted View of the Hebrews as supporting the Book of Mormon

There was, however, a reference to View of the Hebrews within Joseph Smith's lifetime, but it came from the prophet himself. In an article published in the Times and Seasons on June 1, 1842, Joseph quoted View of the Hebrews in support of the Book of Mormon:

If such may have been the fact, that a part of the Ten Tribes came over to America, in the way we have supposed, leaving the cold regions of Assareth behind them in quest of a milder climate, it would be natural to look for tokens of the presence of Jews of some sort, along countries adjacent to the Atlantic. In order to this, we shall here make an extract from an able work: written exclusively on the subject of the Ten Tribes having come from Asia by the way of Bherings Strait, by the Rev. Ethan Smith, Pultney, Vt., who relates as follows: "Joseph Merrick, Esq., a highly respectable character in the church at Pittsfield, gave the following account: That in 1815, he was leveling some ground under and near an old wood shed, standing on a place of his, situated on (Indian Hill)... [Joseph then discusses the supposed phylacteries found among Amerindians, citing View of the Hebrews p. 220, 223.][8]

It strains credulity to claim that Joseph drew attention to the work from which he derived most of his ideas. Why would he call attention to the source of his forgery?


Question: What did B.H. Roberts say about View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon?

B.H. Roberts was playing "devil's advocate" when he examined View of the Hebrews, and showing what a critic might do

The View of the Hebrews theory was examined in detail by B. H. Roberts in 1921 and 1922. Roberts took the position of examining the Book of Mormon from a critical perspective in order to alert the General Authorities to possible future avenues of attack by critics. The resulting manuscripts were titled Book of Mormon Difficulties and A Parallel. Roberts, who believed in a hemispheric geography for the Book of Mormon, highlighted a number of parallels between View of the Hebrews and The Book of Mormon. Roberts stated,

[C]ould the people of Mulek and of Lehi...part of the time numbering and occupying the land at least from Yucatan to Cumorah...live and move and have their being in the land of America and not come in contact with other races and tribes of men, if such existed in the New World within Book of Mormon times? To make this seem possible the area occupied by the Nephites and Lamanites would have to be extremely limited, much more limited, I fear, than the Book of Mormon would admit our assuming.[9]

Roberts concluded that, if one assumed that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon himself, that View of the Hebrews could have provided him with a foundation for creating the book. In fact, many of the issues highlighted by Roberts vanish when a limited geography theory is considered. The acceptance of the View of the Hebrews theory is therefore contingent upon the acceptance of a hemispheric geography model for the Book of Mormon. In order to promote View of the Hebrews as a source, critics necessarily reject any limited geography theory proposal for the Book of Mormon.

Roberts rejected the idea that the Book of Mormon was not divine

In 1985, Roberts' manuscripts were published under the title Studies of the Book of Mormon. This book is used by critics to support their claim that B. H. Roberts lost his testimony after performing the study. Roberts, however, clearly continued to publicly support the Book of Mormon until his death, and reaffirmed his testimony both publicly and in print.


Question: What are the similarities and differences between View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon?

Examples of parallels and differences

Some parallels do exist between the two books. For example, View of the Hebrews postulates the existence of a civilized and a barbarous nation who were constantly at war with one another, with the civilized society eventually being destroyed by their uncivilized brethren. This has obvious similarities to the story of the Nephites and the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon.

"Parallels" that actually aren't parallels

Many of the "parallels" that are discussed are not actually parallels at all once they are fully examined:

Both speak of... View of the Hebrews Book of Mormon
...the destruction of Jerusalem... ...by the Romans in A.D. 70. ...by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
...Israelites coming to the American continent... ...via dry land across the Bering Strait. ...via the ocean on board a ship.
...colonists spread out to fill the entire land... ...from the North to the South. ...from the South to the North.
...a great lawgiver (whom some assume to be associated with the legend of Quetzalcoatl)... ...who is identified as Moses. ...who is identified as Jesus Christ.
...an ancient book that was preserved for a long time and then buried... ...because they had lost the knowledge of reading it and it would be of no further use to them. [10] ...in order to preserve the writings of prophets for future generations.
...a buried book taken from the earth... ...in the form of four, dark yellow, folded leaves of old parchment.[11] ...in the form of a set of gold metal plates.
...the Egyptian language, since ...an Egyptian influence is present in hieroglyphic paintings made by native Americans.[12] ...a reformed Egyptian was used to record a sacred history.

Parallels that are everywhere

Some "parallels" between the Book of Mormon and View of the Hebrews are actually parallels with the Bible as well:

The Book of Mormon View of the Hebrews The King James Bible
The Book of Mormon tells the story of inspired seers and prophets. View of the Hebrews talks of Indian traditions that state that their fathers were able to foretell the future and control nature. The Bible tells the story of inspired seers and prophets.
The Book of Mormon was translated by means of the Urim and Thummim, which consisted of two stones fastened to a breastplate. View of the Hebrews describes a breastplate with two white buttons fastened to it as resembling the Urim and Thummim. The Bible describes the Urim and Thummim as being fastened to a breastplate (Exodus 28:30).

This highlights the fact that general parallels are likely to be found between works that treat the same types of subjects, such as ancient history. In what ancient conflict did one side not see themselves as representing light and civilization against the dark barbarism of their enemies?

"Unparallels"

Critics generally ignore the presence of many "unparallels"—these are elements of Ethan Smith's book which would have provided a rich source of material for Joseph to use in order to persuade his contemporaries that the Book of Mormon was an ancient history of the American Indians, and that they were descended from Israel. Yet, the Book of Mormon consistently ignores such supposed "bulls-eyes," which is good news for proponents of the Book of Mormon's authenticity, since virtually all of Ethan's "evidences" have been judged to be false or misleading.

The lack of such "unparallels" is bad news, however, for anyone wanting to claim that Joseph got his inspiration or information from Ethan Smith.

Scripture use in View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon

If the View of the Hebrews served as the basis for the Book of Mormon, one would think that the Bible scriptures used by Ethan Smith would be mined by Joseph Smith for the Book of Mormon. Yet, this is not the case.

Why was this only discovered later?

No contemporary critic of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon pointed out the supposedly "obvious" connection to the View of the Hebrews and the Book of Mormon. It is only with the failure of the Spaulding theory that critics began seeking a new naturalistic explanation for Joseph's production of a 500+ book of scripture. As Stephen Ricks notes:

Beyond these "unparallels," there is a further question that must be answered by proponents of the View of the Hebrews hypothesis: why do none of the early critics of the Book of Mormon mention Ethan Smith in their attacks on it? If the parallels are so evident, why weren't they noticed by individuals who were not only acquainted with Ethan Smith's book, but were also existentially interested in its claims? Why wasn't it prominently mentioned as a source for the Book of Mormon until the beginning of the twentieth century, when the book itself had only an antiquarian interest and its contents were no longer so widely a part of popular discussion? My suspicion is that what appear today to be "distinctives" of View of the Hebrews, eschatological and otherwise, seemed less so in the early part of the nineteenth century, when these ideas flowed freely in published and unpublished forums.[13]


Response to claim: "Was Josiah Priest's book "The Wonders of Nature and Providence", copyrighted by him June 2nd, 1824, and printed soon afterwards in Rochester, New York, only some twenty miles distant from Palmyra a source?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Was Josiah Priest's book "The Wonders of Nature and Providence", copyrighted by him June 2nd, 1824, and printed soon afterwards in Rochester, New York, only some twenty miles distant from Palmyra a source?"

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

This assertion was made by the Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Assertion is not an argument. The Tanners need evidence.


Question: Did Joseph Smith plagiarize Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed?

There is so little of The Wonders of Nature that has parallels with the Book of Mormon that it would provide a forger with little help

It is claimed that Joseph Smith plagiarized Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed in order to write portions of The Book of Mormon.

Matthew Roper makes several observations regarding this claim:

  1. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith ever read Priest's book before he translated the Book of Mormon.
  2. That there are very few ways to describe an isthmus. Roper states, "In his 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster defines the word neck as 'a long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury.' "[14]

Narrow neck

The Wonders of Nature(1825) Book of Mormon Other similar phrases
For instance, in many places, such as the isthmus of Darien, a narrow neck of land is interposed betwixt two vast oceans. (p. 598) And they built a great city by the narrow neck of land, by the place where the sea divides the land. (Ether 10:20) A long narrow tract of land projecting from the main body, or a narrow tract connecting two larger tracts; as the neck of land between Boston and Roxbury. (Webster's Dictionary (1828)

Vapour and darkness

The Wonders of Nature(1825) Book of Mormon Other similar phrases
"Darkness which may be felt.... vapours ... so thick as to prevent the rays of the sun from penetrating an extraordinary thick mist. ... no artificial light could be procured ... vapours would prevent lamps, etc. from burning. ... [T]he darkness lasted for three days." (p. 524) "[They] could feel the vapour of darkness, and there could be no light ... neither candles, neither torches, ... neither the sun ... for so great were the mists of darkness ... [I]t did last for the space of three days." (3 Nephi 8:20-23) They saw not one another. So deep was the obscurity, and probably such was its nature, that no artificial light could be procured; as the thick clammy vapors would prevent lamps, &c., from burning, or if they even could be ignited, the light through the palpable obscurity, could diffuse itself to no distance from the burning body. The author of the book of Wisdom, chap. xvii. 2-19, gives a fearful description of this plague. He says, "The Egyptians were shut up in their houses, the prisoners of darkness: and were fettered with the bonds of a long night. They were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly astonished and troubled with strange apparitions; for neither might the corner that held them keep them from fear; but noises as of waters falling down sounded about them; and sad visions appeared unto them with heavy countenances.

No power of the fire could give them light-only there appeared unto them a fire kindled of itself very dreadful; for being much terrified, they thought the things which they saw to be worse than the sight they saw not. For though no terrible thing did scare them, yet being scared with beasts that passed by, and hissing of serpents, they died for fear: for whether he were husbandman, or shepherd, or a labourer in the field, he was overtaken; for they were all bound with one chain of darkness. Whether it were a whistling wind, or a terrible sound of stones cast down, or a running that could not be seen of tripping beasts, or a roaring voice of most savage wild beasts, or a rebounding echo from the hollow mountains, these things made them to swoon for fear." See Psalms 78:49.

To this description nothing need be added except this circumstance, that the darkness, with its attendant horrors, lasted for three days. ("Commentary on Exodus X: The Ninth Plague - Thick Darkness, Verse 23" Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 1


Response to claim: "Was James Adair's 'A History of the American Indians' a source?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Was James Adair's 'A History of the American Indians' a source? On pages 377-378, he wrote the following about the Indians: "Through the whole continent, and in the remotest woods, are traces of their ancient warlike disposition. We frequently met with great mounds of earth, either of a circular, or oblong form, having a strong breast-work at a distance around them, made of the clay which had been dug up in forming the ditch on the inner side of the inclosed ground, and these were their forts of security against an enemy... About 12 miles from the upper northern parts of the Choktah country, there stand...two oblong mounds of earth...in an equal direction with each other... A broad deep ditch inclosed those two fortress, and there they raised an high breast-work, to secure their houses from the invading enemy." In Alma it states, "Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort: throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies...the Nephites were taught...never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy... they had cast up dirtround to shield them from the arrows...the chief captains of the Lamanites were astonished exceedingly, because of the wisdom of the Nephites in preparing their places of security...they knew not that Moroni had fortified, or had built forts of security in all the land roundabout ...the Lamanites could not get into their forts of security...because of the highness of the bank which had been thrown up, and the depth of the ditch which had been dug round about...they (the Lamanites) began to dig down their banks of earth...that they might have an equalchance to fight...instead of filling up their ditches by pulling down banks of earth, they were filled up in a measure with their dead...And (Moroni) caused them to erect fortifications that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land...And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch: and they did cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers". Why are there other direct word parallels between Adair and the Book of Mormon such as Omni 1:21 and page 125 of Adair which says, '...for the space of four moons...' or page 122 which says 'for the space of three days and nights...' and Alma 36:10."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

There have been many books that have been proposed as a source for the Book of Mormon. In this case, the authors are implying that Joseph Smith based the description of fortifications in the Book of Mormon on the description provided by James Adair. However, the fortifications in the Book of Mormon are consistent with those found in ancient Mesoamerica.


Question: Are the fortifications described in the Book of Mormon consistent with those built in ancient Mesoamerica?

The Book of Mormon's description of fortifications matches those in use in Mesoamerica

4 But behold, how great was their disappointment; for behold, the Nephites had dug up a ridge of earth round about them, which was so high that the Lamanites could not cast their stones and their arrows at them that they might take effect, neither could they come upon them save it was by their place of entrance. (Alma 49:4).

3 And it came to pass that after the Lamanites had finished burying their dead and also the dead of the Nephites, they were marched back into the land Bountiful; and Teancum, by the orders of Moroni, caused that they should commence laboring in digging a ditch round about the land, or the city, Bountiful. 4 And he caused that they should build a breastwork of timbers upon the inner bank of the ditch; and they cast up dirt out of the ditch against the breastwork of timbers; and thus they did cause the Lamanites to labor until they had encircled the city of Bountiful round about with a strong wall of timbers and earth, to an exceeding height. 5 And this city became an exceeding stronghold ever after; and in this city they did guard the prisoners of the Lamanites; yea, even within a wall which they had caused them to build with their own hands. Now Moroni was compelled to cause the Lamanites to labor, because it was easy to guard them while at their labor; and he desired all his forces when he should make an attack upon the Lamanites.(Alma 53:3-5).

The Book of Mormon's description of fortifications matches those in use in Mesoamerica. Multiple sites have been found; the city of Becan is well-known:

The moat at Bécan in the Yucatan is 16 meters wide, and covers a distance of 2 kilometers. The enclosed city covers 25 hectares (almost 62 acres). Reconstruction, on-line at http://mayaruins.com/becan.html
Artist’s rendering of Bécan fortifications [AD 100-250]; From John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, Utah: Research Press, 1998), 133 (Andrea Darais, artist).
“Bécan” earthworks, fortifications from Early Classic period (250-400 AD) David L. Webster, Defensive Earthworks at Bécan, Campeche, Mexico: Implications for Mayan Warfare (New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, Publication 41, 1976), 3.
Note the modern highway in the upper left corner! [Gives a sense of the scale.] David L. Webster, Defensive Earthworks at Bécan, Campeche, Mexico: Implications for Mayan Warfare (New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, Publication 41, 1976), 3.

The rise of Mesoamerican fortification in the archaeological record matches the introduction of this form of warfare among the Nephites by Captain Moroni in about 72 B.C.

It should be noted too that the rise of Mesoamerican fortification in the archaeological record matches the introduction of this form of warfare among the Nephites by Captain Moroni in about 72 B.C. (See Alma 49:8).The first number indicates "Definitive" sites; the second is "Possible" sites:

John L. Sorenson, "Fortifications in the Book of Mormon Account Compared with Mesoamerican Fortifications" (Table 2, p. 429) in Stephen D. Ricks & William J. Hamblin, (eds), Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 425-444. The first number indicates "Definitive" sites; the second is "possible" sites.


Notes

  1. Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, 173.
  2. Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, revised edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2002), 324.
  3. Joseph Smith (editor), "AMERICAN ANTIQUITIES.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 18 (July 15, 1842), 860, (emphasis added). off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. [Editor], "ZARAHEMLA.," Times and Seasons 3 no. 23 (Oct. 1, 1842), 927. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  5. Interview with James H. Hart, Richmond, Mo., Aug. 21, 1883, as recorded in Hart's notebook; reprinted in Lyndon Cook (editor), David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, Utah: Grandin Books, 1991), 76.
  6. John W. Welch, "View of the Hebrews: 'An Unparallel'," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, edited by John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1992), 83–87.
  7. I. Woodbridge Riley, The Founder of Mormonism (New York, 1902), 124–126.
  8. Joseph Smith, Jr., "From Priest's American Antiquities," (1 June 1842) Times and Seasons 3:813-815.
  9. Brigham H. Roberts, Brigham D. Madsen, ed., Studies of the Book of Mormon, (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1985) ISBN 0252010434 .
  10. View of the Hebrews: 1825 2nd Edition Complete Text by Ethan Smith, edited by Charles D. Tate Jr., (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1996), 223. ISBN 1570082472. off-site wikisource
  11. Ethan Smith, 220.
  12. Ethan Smith, 184-185.
  13. Stephen D. Ricks, "Review of The Use of the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon by Wesley P. Walters," FARMS Review of Books 4/1 (1992): 235–250. off-site
  14. Matthew Roper, "Unanswered Mormon Scholars (Review of Answering Mormon Scholars: A Response to Criticism Raised by Mormon Defenders)," FARMS Review of Books 9/1 (1997): 87–145. [ off-site]