Saturday, April 11, 2009

Enlightening Conversation

Here is a brief dialogue I have had with somebody who does not believe in the Book of Mormon. I thought much of his criticisms were rather basic. Many have been answered elsewhere(such as steel swords in the Book of Mormon, or the supposed lack of archaeological evidence) and others were based on shallow reading (the "millions" of dead commentin Ether 15:2). But I wanted to post it here because I did make some good points that I feel are quite original. These concern the possibility of technological borrowing from Jaredite to Nephite cultures, and a weapon cache (or mineral deposit) that made the lands north very important to Nephite society and caused the Lamanites to alter their strategic decisions based on it. I also wanted to point out the fact that I have already addressed many of these "problems" on my blog before. (I have also corrected some spelling errors on my part)

April 11th, 2009 at 12:01 pm
I have to disagree with your analysis posted here. I have studied the warfare in the Book of Mormon extensively. I find that warfare in the Book of Mormon is one of its greatest strengths and invite you to research the matter a little further, either on my blog or in the book “Warfare in the Book of Mormon” which addresses many of your problems.
I would also like to know what verse in the Book of Mormon mentions “great mounds” of weapons. Thank you for your time.

April 11th, 2009 at 1:21 pm
Hi Mr. Deane. Thank you for your comment. I did indeed visit your site and appreciate your studies in military matters. I myself write regularly for Military Officer and Today’s Officer magazines and so am interested in military subjects myself. I have not read the book you recommended.

Let me address the two main issues you raised. First of all is the matter of warfare in the Book of Mormon. I repeat that there is not a single non-LDS scholar who would agree that there is any archaeological evidence for the warfare described in the Book of Mormon — and on the scale described in the Book of Mormon. If there is such a scholar I would be most grateful to read what he or she has to say.

I used the phrase “great mounds of weapons” (which you accurately noted is not a phrase from the Book of Mormon, and I did not put it in quotes in my post.) Joseph Smith believed the mounds or drummonds of North America were the result of BofM warfare, as this quote shows:

We encamped on the bank of the [Illinois] river until Tuesday the 3rd during our travels we visited several of the mounds which had been thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this county, Nephites, Lamanites, &c., and this morning I went up on a high mound, near the river, accompanied by the brethren. . . . The brethren procured a shovel and hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot discovered skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs was a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death, Elder Brigham Young retained the arrow . . . The contemplation of the scenery before us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the spirit of the Almighty I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us, was a white Lamanite, a large thick set man, and a man of God. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Omandagus, who was known from the hill Cumorah, or Eastern sea, to the Rocky Mountains. His name was Zelph. . . . one of his thigh bones was broken, by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites. (Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, No. 1, p. 1076.)

Why do I say there were great mounds of weapons? “He saw that there had been slain by the sword nearly two millions of his people… two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children” (Ether 15:2). In preparation for the next battle, “they were for the space of four years gathering together the people… with their wives and children - both men, women and children being armed with weapons of war… they did march forth one against another to battle” (15:14-15). After about six days of battle, there remained only “fifty and two of the people of Coriantumr, and sixty and nine of the people of Shiz” (15:23). So what happened to all their weapons? Of millions? Are we to believe that the warlike Lamanites wouldn’t have reused them? (In which case Columbus and others would have seen evidence of this.) The only alternative, which Joseph Smith apparently believed, was that they would have been buried — or just disappeared altogether. That certainly isn’t true of Old Testament weapons.

April 11th, 2009 at 2:25 pm
Those are some good points. I would refer you to my post entitled “Ad Hominem in Mormon Studies”. Mormon scholars can make good points if they are indeed scholars. For instance, I have now been published multiple times by a variety of credible secular publishers. Its rather insulting to think that analysis and writing which is good enough for the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies is suddenly not good enough if it I turn my attention to The Book of Mormon.

In reference to the “mounds of weapons” I would point you to textual analysis that points to rather dubious foundations for the Joseph Smith quote. (There is a good article by Kenneth Godfrey in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies for one) The “millions” you refer to in 15:2 links to the prophecy of Ether in 13:20-21. Between 13:20 and 15: 2 there are 12 references to battle over 10 years that range over “all the land”. (Ether 13: 25, 28, 29, 30, 31; 14:3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 15, 16,17, and 27 ) Thus there are enough battles and references to destruction of women and children that millions could be accurate. “millions” may be a literary device, but that still does not disqualify the books historicity. Herodotus said that the Persian army numbered in “millions”. This number was obviously false, but we still consider him a real historian. (See an article by Brant Gardner called “If I told you once” or my blog post called “The problem with numbers”) Externally, anthropologist John Sorenson has outlined the parallels between Nephite history and Mesoamerican history. I am moving and have my books packed up, but his “Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon” places Jaredite history with the collapse and depopulation of the Olmec culture.

As far as the use of weapons goes, the book of Mosiah mentions a search party that found rusted and unusable weapons in Jaredite lands. So many weapons could have been unusable after a short time. But there are some scholars (like Hugh Nibley) that say there was a slight continuation of Jaredite culture, thus it would be an unstated and obvious assumption that the weaponry would be largely similar, since many aspects and military leaders were. (Helaman 1:15 has an army led by Coriantumr for example) There is a good article by William Hamblin that discusses swords throughout the Book of Mormon. In his article he hints that there was a technological loss between Nephi's time (550 BC) and the next mention of swords (around 200 BC), perhaps there was some cultural borrowing based on the remaining weapons from Jaredite society.

And the Lamanites were on the south and there are numerous references to the Nephites denying the Lamanites access to the lands in the North, so there would be little contact between Lamanites and the Jaredite homeland untill about 300 AD, or almost 600 years after the final Jaredite battles. Given that they were mortal enemies the Nephites would seek to deny access to those weapons, providing one more reason for the incessant warfare between them, and making the strategic decisions of Lamanite leaders make more sense. (Like Amalickiah seeking “the lands north” instead making a turn and flanking the Nephite capital in Alma 51, or that same Coriantumr from Helaman 1:15 driving for the land north as his top priority)

Finally, the time of Columbus’s arrival was over 1000 years after the end of the Book of Mormon. In a general sense many things were found. My post entitled “But Ricky” has many of them, Jeff Lindsey has complied many, John Sorenson, and Clark have as well, you simply need to take so time to look at many of these “evidences” that pile up in the Book of Mormons favor.

This post is getting rather long winded, I hope it made sense and answered some of the problems you had. If it doesn’t, I can clarify anything I left unclear. I appreciate your time, and suggest that you study the Book of Mormon more in depth and read some arguments from its adherents before you disqualify them right off the bat. If you don’t have any questions about my post, I will humbly bow out and agree to disagree with you.

(And yes I should be packing, but I don't want to)

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