Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/Archaeology

Table of Contents

Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD


Archaeology

Is There Archaeological Support for the Book of Mormon?

Like numerous critics before them, the makers of this video claim that archaeological support for the Book of Mormon is non-existent compared to the supposed voluminous archaeological support for the Bible. There are major differences, however, between Old and New World archaeology as well as the assumptions which many people bring to their approach of Book of Mormon archaeology.

LDS Mesoamerican expert John Clark has demonstrated numerous Book of Mormon parallels to New World culture that were unknown to Joseph Smith. Time and again, the Book of Mormon view has been vindicated.

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Claim: One of the ways to "prove the validity of the word of God" is from "the physical facts found in archaeology..."

Archaeology can not "prove" that a document is the "word of God." Does archaeology confirm that Jesus is the Christ, that he rose from the dead, or that he atoned for our sins? Archaeology supports the existence of Homer's Troy, does that make the Iliad the word of God? Are Hera and Zeus therefore to be worshiped?

There is no archaeological evidence for Moses, Abraham, Joseph of Egypt, Noah, or virtually any ancient biblical prophet, but this is never mentioned in the video. Many biblical archaeologists are not Christians. Why not, if the Bible has been proven to be the word of God by archaeological data?

All that archaeology has proven is that those who wrote the Bible lived in the ancient Near East, and knew its culture and geography—a not terribly revolutionary claim.

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Claim: The Bible has over "25,000 evidences" for its authenticity.

Old World archaeology has the advantage of continuity of toponyms (place names). In many instances (in direct contrast to what we find in Mesoamerica), Bible cities are still known by the same names as they were known anciently. It is impossible to know if the Book of Mormon names are "right," because no one knows the pronunciation of any city in the Americas for the period 600 B.C.–A.D. 420.

Even with the advantages of a constant language and habitation enjoyed by biblical archaeology, however, only about 7–8% of Bible locations are known with any degree of certainty, and another 7–8% are suspected with some degree of accuracy because they are in proximity to known Bible sites. If there had not been a continuity of toponyms, many more biblical sites would not be known.

Many readers are surprised to learn that the location of numerous biblical sites are unknown. The location of Mt. Sinai, for example, has over twenty possible candidates. Some scholars reject the claim that the city of Jericho existed at the time of Joshua. The exact route taken by the Israelites on their Exodus is unknown, and some scholars dispute the biblical claim that there ever was an Israelite conquest of Canaan. Many other examples could be given.

Non-LDS biblical archaeologist, William Dever, claims that archaeology should never be supposed to prove the Bible in any sense, and that

neither biblical scholars nor archaeologists have been able to document as historical any of the events, much less the personalities, of the patriarchal or Mosaic era.
—William G. Dever, Recent Archaeological Discoveries and Biblical Research (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1990), 5, 26.

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Claim: The video quotes BYU professor Dee Green who said that unlike biblical archaeology, which can be studied because we know the locations of cities such as Jerusalem, "no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography.... After twenty years of research," wrote Dee, "Book of Mormon geography has left us 'empty-handed.' "

What the video producers fail to tell their viewers is that this statement was made in 1969. Forty additional years of Book of Mormon studies and New World archaeological research has added significantly to our understanding of both disciplines. For example, Dr. John Sorenson (anthropologist) and Dr. John Clark (archaeologist and director of the New World Archaeological Foundation) have shown that the Book of Mormon fits neatly (and, at times, in surprising ways) with what we currently know about ancient Mesoamerica during Book of Mormon times. Such studies are more realistic than the research of Dee Green's generation and they tend to confirm the Book of Mormon narrative.

To read more:

  • John E. Clark, "Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/2 (2005): 38–49. off-site wiki
  • Book of Mormon and Biblical archaeology
  • John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture," Ensign (September 1984): 27–37. off-site
  • John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 2," Ensign (October 1984): 12–24. off-site

Claim: "Not one artifact from the Book of Mormon has ever been found. Not one city, not one empire...."

Such a charge is based on naive and faulty assumptions. Ancient Mesoamerica was virtually unknown to the people of Joseph Smith's day and locale. When the Book of Mormon was translated, there was almost no archaeological support for the record. Today, however, most things mentioned in the Book of Mormon have been confirmed to have existed in—what most LDS scholars believe—are Book of Mormon lands. This would include fortifications, armor, thrones, cement, towers, trade, and more. None of these evidences, however, translate into "proof."

How would we recognize uniquely Nephite/Lamanite artifacts? How would we recognize a Nephite potsherd from a non-Nephite potsherd? Writings or markings associated with an artifact would be necessary to tell us if such potsherds were Nephite. Writings and markings are generally either

  • iconographic: using pictures or symbols, such as a cross, or
  • epigraphic: written language, such as the word, "cross."

Surviving epigraphic evidence from ancient America, however, is very rare.

If we knew the place names by which all ancient American cities were known during Book of Mormon times, critics might have a stronger case. The fact is, however, that extremely few ancient inscriptions give us these place names. The few which are known are generally phonetic in nature (which means that we don't know for certain how these city names were pronounced). Because we don't know the original names of most ancient American cities, we use those designations assigned by the Spanish—such as La Venta, San Lorenz, etc. If we don't know the ancient names, how can some claim that—according to archaeologists—there were no Book of Mormon cities such as Lib, or Bountiful?

Old world inscriptional evidence

Critics almost never mention the discovery of "NHM"—an ancient site in Arabia with inscriptions which date to Lehi's era—that corresponds precisely with the Nahom of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 16:34) in time frame, location, and in relation to an eastward turn in the trail which the Lehites followed in their exodus from the Old World. While NHM does not constitute "proof" for the Book of Mormon, it does provide strong archaeological evidence for the book's narrative.

The precise identification of a viable route from Jerusalem across Arabia via a route totally unknown in Joseph Smith's day is also compelling evidence for 1 Nephi's ancient origins.

The video misleads its viewers about what is possible given current archaeological knowledge, and hides areas that give support to the Book of Mormon account.

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Claim: Not one Book of Mormon weapon, of any kind, has ever been found.

From iconographic evidence we know that ancient Americans used weapons that function in the same way as described in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon, for example, mentions swords. Metallic swords are mentioned, but they seem to be rare, elite weapons. These weapons disappear early in the Book of Mormon record.

Some swords with at least some metallic elements are mentioned for the Jaredites (e.g. Ether 7:9), and the Nephites were impressed enough by such swords to bring them back as evidence (e.g., Mosiah 8:11). This suggests that metallic swords may have been unusual to the Nephites, which correlates with the relative scarcity of metal in pre-Columbian America.

Furthermore, metal weapons are rare in any archaeological context (even in the much more heavily studied ancient Near East).

Most readers have assumed that the mention of swords always referred to metal (European-like) weapons. Such an assumption, however, is not always warranted by the text. Mesoamericans used wooden clubs, laced with volcanic obsidian (extremely sharp), or bits of sharp rock or even (on rare occasions) bits of metal. When the Spanish encountered these clubs, they dubbed them "swords," and one Spaniard claimed that these swords were so sharp that he saw a Native American cut the head off a horse with one blow.

In any event, how would we know if a weapon found was a "Book of Mormon" weapon or not? Do the critics expect these to be labeled? How do they know a weapon found in the Middle East is a "biblical" weapon, save that it came from the correct time period? How can they know if it was used by a biblical people or a different group?

The DVD misleads its viewers about what archaeology can accomplish.

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Claim: Not one coin "which were noted as being common in Joseph's writings" has ever been found in ancient America.

While twentieth-century editors (possibly James E. Talmage) mistakenly added the term "coins" to the chapter heading of Alma 11, the Book of Mormon text never mentions coins (let alone mentions them as "being common"). Interestingly enough, however, the Book of Mormon does mention a monetary system that has remarkable Old World parallels.

This has been frequently addressed, but anti-Mormons simply ignore the evidence and keep repeating the same claim.

To read more:

  • No coins in Book of Mormon
  • "The Numerical Elegance of the Nephite System": Table 1 and Table 2, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999)
  • John W. Welch, "Did the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica use a system of weights and scales in measuring goods & their values?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): N/A–N/A. off-site wiki
  • John W. Welch, "Weighing & Measuring in the Worlds of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 36–46. off-site wiki

Claim: "According to the Book of Mormon" the "hill Cumorah" was "in Palmyra, N.Y...." and the "Church won't even commit itself to a map of where the Book of Mormon was supposed to have happened."

The Book of Mormon doesn't tell us that Cumorah was in New York. And, contrary to what many people have believed, the Book of Mormon doesn't tell us where Moroni buried the plates. We do know, however, that all the plates except the Book of Mormon plates were buried in Cumorah. The term "Cumorah" was given to the hill in N.Y. by early Latter-day Saints, not the Book of Mormon.

Why is there no official map? The location of Book of Mormon events hasn't been revealed. Why is there no official map designating the exact location of Jesus' birth (which is debated among biblical scholars)? Why is there no official map designating the precise location of Mt. Sinai? It doesn't seem necessary for God to reveal all geographical information in order for a text to qualify as the Word of God.

The video's double standards are again on display.

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