Question: Did Dee F. Green say that there is no such thing as Book of Mormon archaeology?

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Question: Did Dee F. Green say that there is no such thing as Book of Mormon archaeology?

Green argues that the concept of "Book of Mormon archaeology" is inadequate, and that a broader anthropological perspective is necessary

Dee F. Green wrote the following in 1969:

I am not impressed with allegations that Book of Mormon archaeology converts people to the Church. My personal preference in Church members still runs to those who have a faith-inspired commitment to Jesus Christ, and if their testimonies need bolstering by "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon (or anything else for that matter), I am prone to suggest that the basis of the testimony could stand some re-examination. Having spent a considerable portion of the past ten years functioning as a scientist dealing with New World archaeology, I find that nothing in so-called Book of Mormon archaeology materially affects my religious commitment one way or the other, and I do not see that the archaeological myths so common in our proselytizing program enhance the process of true conversion….

What then, ought to be our approach to the Book of Mormon? In the first place it is a highly complex record demanding knowledge of a wide variety of anthropological skills from archaeology through ethnology to linguistics and culture change, with perhaps a little physical anthropology thrown in for good measure. No one man outside the Church, much less anyone inside, has command of the necessary information. Furthermore, it isn't just the accumulation of knowledge and skill which is important; the framework in which it is applied must fit. Such a framework can be found only by viewing the Book of Mormon against a picture of New World culture history drawn by the entire discipline of anthropology. Singling out archaeology, a sub-discipline of anthropology, to carry the burden, especially in the naive manner employed by our "Book of Mormon Archaeologists," has resulted in a lopsided promulgation of archaeological myth.

We have never looked at the Book of Mormon in a cultural context. We have mined its pages for doctrine, counsel, and historical events but failed to treat it as a cultural document which can teach something about the inclusive life patterns of a people. And if we are ever to show a relationship between the Book of Mormon and the New World, this step will have to be taken. It is the coincidence of the cultural history of the Book of Mormon with the cultural history of the New World that will tip the scales in our favor....

Several years ago John Sorenson drew an analogy with the Bible which bears repeating:

Playing "the long shots," looking for inscriptions of a particular city, would be like placing the family bankroll on the gambling tables in Las Vegas. We might be lucky, but experience tells us not to plan on it. After lo, these many years of expensive research in Bible lands, there is still not final, incontrovertible proof of a single Biblical event from archaeology alone. The great value of all that effort has been in the broad demonstration that the Bible account fits the context time after time so exactly that no reasonable person can suppose other than that it is genuinely historic. Twenty years or less of systematic "painting the scenery" can yield the same sort of convincing background for the Book of Mormon, I believe. For too long Mormons have sought to "prove" the Book of Mormon authentic by what is really the-- most difficult kind of evidence--historical particulars. In the light of logic and the experience of Biblical archaeology it appears far safer to proceed on the middle ground of seeking general contextual confirmation, even though the results may not be so spectacular as many wish. In any case such a procedure-- the slow building up of a picture and a case--will leave us with a body of new knowledge and increased understanding of the times, manner, and circumstances when Book of Mormon events took place which seems to some of us likely to have more enduring value than “proof.”(italics in original) (emphasis added)

A dated source

The reference is from 1969. Green was a believing archaeologist; believing archaeologists now have more positive things to say about whether archaeology can tell us anything about the Book of Mormon. For a more current assessment, see:

The manner in which critics of the Church use this quote distorts Green's message and intent

The manner in which critics of the Church use this quote distorts Green's message and intent. A few representative quotes demonstrate that Green is not dismissing the possibility of Book of Mormon archaeology. Instead, Green insists that the approaches taken up to 1969 were inadequate, and misdirected:

  • Among the morass of archaeological half-truths and falsehoods which we have perpetrated in the name of Book of Mormon archaeology, only Jakeman's suggestion of a limited geography and Sorenson's insistence on a cautious, highly controlled trait-complex approach are worth considering. The ink we have spilled on Book of Mormon archaeology has probably done more harm than good.
  • I am not impressed with allegations that Book of Mormon archaeology converts people to the Church. My personal preference in Church members still runs to those who have a faith-inspired commitment to Jesus Christ, and if their testimonies need bolstering by "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon (or anything else for that matter), I am prone to suggest that the basis of the testimony could stand some re-examination. Having spent a considerable portion of the past ten years functioning as a scientist dealing with New World archaeology, I find that nothing in so-called Book of Mormon archaeology materially affects my religious commitment one way or the other, and I do not see that the archaeological myths so common in our proselytizing program enhance the process of true conversion.
  • The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists. Titles on books full of archaeological half-truths, dilettanti on the peripheries of American archaeology calling themselves Book of Mormon archaeologists regardless of their education, and a Department of Archaeology at BYU [note 16 reads: Fortunately now changed to the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, with such qualified men as Merlin Myers, Ray T. Matheny, and Dale Berge giving students a sound and realistic education in anthropology.] devoted to the production of Book of Mormon archaeologists do not insure that Book of Mormon archaeology really exists. If one is to study Book of Mormon archaeology, then one must have a corpus of data with which to deal. We do not. The Book of Mormon is really there so one can have Book of Mormon studies, and archaeology is really there so one can study archaeology, but the two are not wed. At least they are not wed in reality since no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography. Biblical archaeology can be studied because we do know where Jerusalem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location for that matter) were or are. It would seem then that a concentration on geography should be the first order of business, but we have already seen that twenty years of such an approach has left us empty-handed (italics in original).
  • Another myth which needs dispelling is our Lamanite syndrome. Most American Indians are neither descendants of Laman nor necessarily of Book of Mormon peoples. The Book itself makes no such claim....
  • Finally, I should like to lay at rest the myth that by scurrying around Latin America looking for horses and wheels we can prove the Book of Mormon.

Green also praises some aspects of the approach taken by the Church and a few scholars

  • ...only Jakeman's suggestion of a limited geography and Sorenson's insistence on a cautious, highly controlled trait-complex approach are worth considering.
  • Considerable embarrassment over the various unscholarly postures assumed by the geographical-historical school resulted in the Church Archaeological Committee's attitude that interpretation should be an individual matter, that is, that any archaeology officially sponsored by the Church (i.e., the monies for which are provided by tithing) should concern itself only with the culture history interpretations normally within the scope of archaeology, and any attempt at correlation or interpretation involving the Book of Mormon should be eschewed. This enlightened policy, much to the gratification of the true professional archaeologist both in and outside the Church, has been scrupulously followed. It was made quite plain to me in 1963 when I was first employed by the BYU-NWAF [New World Archaeological Foundation] that my opinions with regard to Book of Mormon archaeology were to be kept to myself, and my field report was to be kept entirely from any such references.

Some of my colleagues and students, both in and out of the Church, have wondered if perhaps the real reason for the Church's involvement in archaeology (especially since it is centered in Mesoamerica with emphasis on the Preclassic period) is to help prove the Book of Mormon. While this may represent the individual thinking of some members of the Church Archaeological Committee, it has not intruded itself on the work of the foundation except to limit its activities to the preclassic cultures of Mesoamerica. Regardless of individual or group motives, however, the approach of the BYU-NWAF has been outstandingly successful. My numerous non-Church colleagues in Mesoamerican archaeology hold high regard for the work of the foundation and for most of its staff. Gareth Lowe, director of the BYU-NWAF, is as good a Mesoamerican archaeologist as there is in the country, and the foundation's outstanding publication series (which never mentions the Book of Mormon) consistently received good reviews in the professional literature.

Green is calling for a different approach

  • What then, ought to be our approach to the Book of Mormon? In the first place it is a highly complex record demanding knowledge of a wide variety of anthropological skills from archaeology through ethnology to linguistics and culture change, with perhaps a little physical anthropology thrown in for good measure. No one man outside the Church, much less anyone inside, has command of the necessary information. Furthermore, it isn't just the accumulation of knowledge and skill which is important; the framework in which it is applied must fit. Such a framework can be found only by viewing the Book of Mormon against a picture of New World culture history drawn by the entire discipline of anthropology. Singling out archaeology, a sub-discipline of anthropology, to carry the burden, especially in the naive manner employed by our "Book of Mormon Archaeologists," has resulted in a lopsided promulgation of archaeological myth.
  • We have never looked at the Book of Mormon in a cultural context. We have mined its pages for doctrine, counsel, and historical events but failed to treat it as a cultural document which can teach something about the inclusive life patterns of a people. And if we are ever to show a relationship between the Book of Mormon and the New World, this step will have to be taken. It is the coincidence of the cultural history of the Book of Mormon with the cultural history of the New World that will tip the scales in our favor.

Not surprisingly, it is this approach recommended by Green that has borne fruit in the thirty-five years since his article.

Also not surprisingly, this fact is carefully hidden from the critic's audience.

  • For an up-to-date assessment of the Book of Mormon and archaeology, see:
    • John E. Clark, "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 38–49. off-site wiki

Notes