Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Runnells Has an Absolutely Terrible Grasp of Warfare, Science, and Scholarship

I found and then wrote something on facebook that would be useful if posted in a more lasting setting with sources. I never engaged that much with Runnels because he repeats criticisms (badly), that have been refuted elsewhere.  My personal interactions with him, while brief, were incredibly negative and make him seem odious.  Finally, as I say and show in my response below, he just doesn’t practice sound scholarship so his "critical" thoughts are often insipid and mind numbing. 

Runnels wrote this in his section of the CES Letter on science:

Native Americans around this time did not have steel swords. Millions of dead natives would have left a trace. And according to historians,[Morgan’s note: this links to the incredibly scholarly reddit] hand to hand engagements did not last that long. We’re talking about a maximum of hours, not several days. Routing, sieges, and hunting down enemies would extend it, but that is not the story being told here. And the final one-on-one battle is so incredibly unlikely, especially when you get to the means of death. A beheaded man doing a pushup and trying to breathe? Not likely.

My response with added sources in parenthesis and footnotes: Just glancing at number 8 his points are superficial and don't engage the text or extant data. There are lots of points about steel. Personally based on the data I think the text refers to an extremely small number of weapons made out of meteoric iron (which is often compared to Damascus steel). And that’s ignoring the literary qualities that make the discussion of the sword of Shule and his band of followers sound more like Excalibur. He then conflates Ether 7:8-10 with the mention of millions in Ether 14-15. There are numerous differences and a rather great time span [25 rulers] between those chapters, so its lazy reading at best, and deliberately misreading at worst to assume there were millions or even more than a few steel swords that we should expect to find.

He has no clue about battlefield archaeology. Even one of the most studied battles at Hastings yields little direct evidence,[1] and historians still debate its exact location. Scholars recently "found" a lost army and so forth.

He then conflates the skirmish warfare of most Northern American tribes with far less social and political organization with the far more advanced cultures from Central America that had rather sophisticated cultures.[2] San Lorenzo and La Venta both had large populations and decent territorial control at a time when Rome was a still a collection of huts on a few hills, and this was centuries before the final battles of the Jaredites.

These societies could sustain rather long conflicts and battles. (For a general discussion of numbers and what Mesoamerican nations could field and sustain see this post.)  Moreover, medical studies show that failing to completely severing the head in one blow, such as by the last standing warrior in a three day battle, the body will go through upper body spasms.[3] Again, Runnels combines a narrow reading of the text with a shallow research to proclaim something as fact, when a careful reading of the text and better grasp of military history would suggest something else.

Overall, Runnells shows he is a dilettante that wouldn't recognize actual scholarship if a stele fell on him. 

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[1] John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex, (Deseret Book, 2014), 383, fn 9.
[2] The best book I found on native warfare is David Jones, Native North America Armor, Shields, and Fortifications, (UT press, 2004.) You might also consider my book that compares and contrasts Cree warfare, which was much less organized, with Mayan warfare from the same time period in the late 4th century AD, Morgan Deane, From the Cree to Korea: A World History of Battle at 400 AD.)
[3] M. Gary Hadfield, “Neuropathology and the Scriptures,” Brigham Young University Studies 33 no. 2 (1993), 325.  See also Morgan Deane, "Experiencing Battle in the Book of Mormon," Interpreter a Journal of Mormon Scripture, 23 (2017), 237-252. 

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