It’s time to get back to Terryl Givens book, By the Hand of Mormon. While acknowledging archaeological data isn’t as strong as other aspects of the Book of Mormon, Givens seems to feel Mormon academics have made some impressive contributions. Givens starts with Hugh Nibley on page 118:
No one in the history of Mormon scholarship has done more to establish rational grounds for belief in the Book of Mormon than Hugh Nibley. Acquiring impressive scholarly credentials (summa cum laude from UCLA and a Berkeley Ph.D. dissertation written in three weeks in 1938) before heading off to war….
[page 119] the first forty pages of the Book of Mormon engender under Nibley’s analysis a rich tapestry of linguistic, political, geographic, religious, and historical threads that are convincingly sixth century B.C. Middle Eastern. Palestine’s cultural and economic ties to Egypt at this time are reflected in Nephi’s instruction in “the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). The “reformed Egyptian and Hebrew in a process of fusion for which a great deal of evidence now exists7. Nibley compares the Book of Mormon “Hermounts” (the wild country of the borderlands) with Egyptian “Hermonthis” (a land of Month, god of wild places and things), and points out the “bulls-eyes” of the Book of Mormon characters Paanchi, Korihor, and Pahoran. Paankhi turns out to be an Egyptian name in the seventh century B.C., and Korihor turns up in both Egyptian and Asiastic derivatives.8 In this regard, it is well worth nothing that William Foxwell Albright, doyen of American ancient Near East studies, wrote to a critic seeking to debunk Smith’s writings that “when the Book of Mormon was written, Egyptian had just begun to be deciphered and it is all the more surprising that there are two Egyptian names, Paanchi[i] and Pahor[an] which appear together in the Book of Mormon in close connection with a reference to the original language being ‘Reformed Egyptian.'”9
Many critics of the Book of Mormon take issue with this idea of “Reformed Egyptian.” Givens quotes Moroni on page 132,
“we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech” (Morm. 9:32)
Mormon scholars take this to suggest the possibility that the writers used modified Egyptian symbols to represent Hebrew words (“Hebrew words, idioms, and syntax written in Egyptian cursive script”53), certainly a bizarre idea for a nineteenth-century audience. Now as John Tvedtnes points out, “the use of Egyptian symbols to transliterate Hebrew words and vice versa, is known from the sixth century B.C. text discovered at Arad and Kadesh-Barnea,”54 Papyrus Amherst 63, for example, “contains a scriptural text in Northwest Semitic tongue written in an Egyptian script.”55
Physical evidence for the unique script is limited to the purported transcription of characters taken from the plates and shown by Martin Harris in 1828 to Professor Charles Anthon.56 They consist of seven horizontal rows of unusual markings, that have been variously described as everything from Phoenician writing to Mayan script to occult symbols, from “a Nubian corruption of Egyptian” to secret Masonic code.
Though the expression “reformed Egyptian” garnered no small amount of ridicule at the time and since (“deformed English” rather than “reformed Egyptian,” sniffed Charles Shook in 1910, after looking at the Anthon transcript57), scholars now generally recognize that “Demotic Egyptian, of origin not long before Lehi’s Exodus, is certainly a ‘reformed Egyptian’ as are other well-known and less-known variations.”58 Nibley points out that Meroitic, “a baffling and still largely undeciphered Egyptian script which developed out of Demotic under circumstances remarkably paralleling the purported development of the Nephite writing, has the most striking affinities to the characters on the so-called Anthon Transcript.”59
Givens shows other parallels in the chapter, including:
- Lehi’s travel through the desert,
- his poetic structure,
- the golden plates parallel with the Copper Scroll found with the Dead Sea Scrolls (and other writings on ancient metal plates),
- similarities between Moroni’s Title of Liberty and the Quran,
- King Benjamin’s coronation was similar to Bablyonian rituals, and
- important plates buried in stone boxes by Darius, king of Persia.
From page 124,
Nibley’s legendary erudition, fluency across a spectrum of languages, and prodigious output (appearing in a wide range of scholarly publications from the Classical Journal and Encyclopedia Judaica to Church History and Revue de Qumran) have lent his work a weight that is unprecedented in Mormon studies.
Praised by the likes of non-LDS scholars Raphael Patai, Jacob Neusner, James Charlesworth, Cyrus Gordon, Jacob Milgrom, and former Harvard Divinity School dean George McRae (“it is obscene for a man to know that much,” he grumbled, hearing him lecture), Nibley has done more than any Mormon of his era to further the intellectual credibility of the Book of Mormon.23 Inspired by his work, a more recent generation of LDS researchers brings a range of impressive scholarly credentials to serious Book of Mormon scholarship.24
Givens goes on to talk about John Welch. As a missionary in Germany in 1967, Welch attended a lecture on chiasmus, a Hebrew literary device. Welch soon discovered chiasmus in Mosiah 5:10-12, a form of inverted parallel poetry. Welch went on to work with FARMS, the Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (formed in 1979.) The group looks at Old World parallels in the Book of Mormon. Givens addresses John Sorenson, the most recognized archaeologist advocating a Central American setting for the Book of Mormon. (I plan a future post exclusively to Sorenson and his theory.)
Givens says that Mormon Scholarship is causing alarm among Evangelical critics. From page 143,
Under the burden of Mormon scholarship that is increasingly well credentialed, and in the face of Mormon growth that is alarming to evangelicals,110 the polemics of nineteenth-century preachers are no longer an adequate response. Until recently, for example, criticisms of barley or pre-Columbian horses in the Book of Mormon would come from writers of anti-Mormon books–not from botanists or archaeologists. The latter have not, for the most part, taken the Book of Mormon seriously enough as a text to analyze its historical credibility. A recent paper by two evangelical scholars suggests that a realignment of the Book of Mormon wars may be coming.
The 1997 address of Carl Mosser and Paul Owen at a regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was remarkable for a number of reasons. First, it accorded high praise to the state of Mormon scholarship. They summarized a number of recent publications to illustrate their assertion that “in recent years the sophistication and erudition of LDS apologetics has risen considerably…[and] is clearly seen in their approach to the Book of Mormon.” As difficult as it may be to accept the fact, “LDS academicians are producing serious research which desperately needs to be critically examined,” they insisted.111
In addition, Mosser and Owen are adamant that evangelical resposes to Mormon scholarship have been, almost universally, “uninformed, misleading, or otherwise inadequate….At the academic level evangelicals are losing the debate.”112 Actually, it hardly resembles a debate, because Mormon scholars, they acknowledge, “have…answered most of the usual evangelical criticisms.” And, as of 1997, there were “no books from an evangelical perspective that responsibly interact with contemporary LDS scholarly and apologetic writings.”113
As a consequence, anti-Mormons continue to invoke long-discredited banalities, many of which actually turn to Mormon advantage upon inspection. For example, literature found in any cult section of Christian bookstores still criticizes Alma for writing that Jesus will be “born at Jerusalem, which is the land of our forefathers” (Alma 7:10) a seeming blooper. Actually, of course, such usage is consistent with Middle Eastern practice of naming areas for their principal cities.114 Or they mock Alma’s name itself, an apparent Latin feminine. But in 1960-61, the Israeli scholar Yigael Yadin found a land deed near the western shore of the Dead Sea dating from the early second century. One of the names on the deed was “Alma, son of Yehudah,” demonstrating Alma was to be “an authentically ancient Semitic masculine personal name.”115
…[page 144] The major force in anti-Mormon polemics has long been Jerald and Sandra Tanner…It is no wonder that non-Mormon historian Lawrence Foster has faulted these critics, the most prolific of all anti-Mormon writers, for “twisting” scholarship, resorting to “debaters’ ploys,” and, in general, demonstrating “lack of balance and perspective.”117
So, what do you think of the state of Mormon Scholarship?
I generally regard the Book as unexplainable with scientific validity EITHER as a 19th Century or as an ancient document. Neither explanation has sufficient scientific evidence to be plausible, and so, in my opinion, it remains an “anomaly” still to be scientifically understood.
That said, I find the scientific evidence for the Book’s historicity to be more impressive than I expected in those fields of my own professional training. So I read it very differently than the LDS “correlated” interpretations, but I’m quite comfortable accepting it, without my scientist personna glitching, on the basis of my personal experiences with the Book.
I must say I was surprised at both Givens’ sunny portrayal of Mormon academic opinions, but also the scathing rebuke of Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Perhaps I’m giving no horse and no barley in the BoM too much credit….
Givens cites sources from published Neal Maxwell Institute papers re the claims that a few horse remains have been found in Yucatan, and that the level of archeological remains supporting known usage of horses by the Huns is negligable.
The original sources, however, do not appear to support the Neal Maxwell Institute positions, as pointed out by Mormon MesoAmerica, a site that criticizes the limited geography theory. So that weakens the case Givens presents for horses considerably.
However, the Book of Mormon presents a picture of horse use that is consistent neither with horses being non-existent nor common (which also makes much of the debate about horses in Mormon MesoAmerica beside the point). They are in possession only of high lords. They are shown used only for personal transport by those lords and VIPs on state occasions. They are never used in battle, even though their use would be decisive if they were readily available in numbers. They are never used in general commerce, for transport, or for farming. They are rare enough to be luxury items — I’ve used the comparison of polar bears in zoos in the lower 48 states or southern Europe — but not the mostlikely things to be found in archeological records 2000 years in the future.
So the archeological evidence for horses is very weak. So is the evidence for including them in a 19th century work of fiction at an undetectable but non-zero level when the authors have in mind locations where they ignorantly would expect them to be common or, alternatively, where the “smart money” in their culture would bet on non-existence.
Barley is less of an issue because its easy to imagine the Nephites simply adopting the term for some local foodstuff rather than let a perfectly good word go to waste. If an American astronaut lands on a habitable alien planet someday and sees something flying in the sky, it’s probably going to get named an eagle.
You’ve pretty much hit it.
Thanks for the link FireTag. It looks like an interesting website. I’ve always viewed horses and barley as a problem for the Book of Mormon, and I think looking at other theories is always interesting. Your points have a bit of plausibility. (I wonder where zoos bury polar bears–in the US or back to the north/south poles?….)
The hohokam culture had a strain of pre-columbian barley
The Maya saw Cortez’s horse as a type of tapir
Interesting links Pedro. I do believe the Hohokam aren’t advanced enough to have built the great structures mentioned in the Book of Mormon. I don’t think they even had a wheel for a chariot. I guess the jury’s out on the tapir, but I don’t believe that is what the Book of Mormon is referring to.
I think the state of Mormon scholarship took a serious blow when Nibley passed away. He was truly a gifted and talented scholar. I read some of the “scholarship” in Mormon Times via Deseret News, and it is embarrassing by comparison.
I guess my question would be, why does it take a genius like Nibley to retroactively find evidences in support of plausibility?
If Nibley had never lived, or was never pro-LDS, what would be the state of the LDS church, compared to what it actually is? (IMO – LDS scholarship would be nowhere today if Nibley had not paved the way.)
Rhetorical question, I know.
why does it take a genius like Nibley to retroactively find evidences in support of plausibility?
That seems like a really odd question to me. The same question could be asked, “why does it take a genius like Einstein to discover relativity? If Einstein hadn’t lived, where would the world be if he hadn’t paved the way?”
I’m not sure where you’re going.
While Nibley’s death was a loss, Mosser and Owens seem to be more worried about current Mormon apologetics, and I don’t think Deseret News publishes articles Mosser and Owens are worried about. I don’t know if you were around my blog when I did a post on Wilfred Griggs, a world-renown Egyptologist. He has pretty impressive credentials.
I’m not aware of Griggs. I will check out your post. If you have read any of the stuff in Mormon Times, you will have to agree, it is pretty amateurish.
The point I was trying to make with Nibley is his work amplifies (IMO) the disconnect between the LDS leaders and BoM geography/archeology.
Apologists will say that the LDS Leaders have more to worry about than BoM authenticity, but I disagree, and would go as far to say that this response is a cop out. I understand that running a multi-million member organisation is no small task, but the fact that we are having this discussion points to how important this topic is to members. The LDS leadership approach to this has the appearance of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”…its almost like “I don’t want to know the answer”
Does this make sense? It matters where the BoM story takes place. If not, why are so many people expending so much effort and money (Mormon Scholarship) with theories and retroactive apologetics? One statement from LDS leadership could completely change that course.
Why isn’t that statement made? Because they don’t know the answer? Because they do know the answer? I’m left to speculate.
I think as more research is done and revealed in recent years only does the research come up to a level where collectively the findings are of general interest to members, as before it was good research but too little solid findings, so maybe both researchers and memebrs are now more compatible. Church humanitarian work always comes seemingly first, although I am sure most think research should run parallell to all outside of church and not be seen as luxury. The LDS Fair conferences are also interesting. Are these filmed in full, if not maybe they could be to be available to standard members also. However, it has always beeen somewhat difficult to understand for people that research finding is not the same as final truth, it is necessarily a process always forward to more findings and more clear understanding. I am happy the Tanners are more and more revealed as the opportunists they obviously were. One never got a feeling of research work only criticism, and sometime also too little proper research also from the other side with too fast conclusions. Now it seems research work follows a more academic pattern which is promising.
You use the term “great structures.” I’ve been looking everywhere in the Book of Mormon that can substantiate the adjective “great.” Does it mean they were really tall, or really wide, or does it mean there were a lot of them, or does it mean they were built with “great” stones or large timbers? I think most people have mental pictures of Nephite structures based on artists renditions and not the actual text. Do you have any references about the size or material used in these “great” structures” recorded in the Book of Mormon? I do agree they built structures but I’ve been unable to quantify what the structures were like from the text of the Book of Mormon. From what I have read it appears they probably used wood and often “dwelt in tents.”
1)Not saying the Hohokam are the people mentioned in the BoM. Just sayin, pre-columbian barley existed.
2)Not sayin the tapir is a Nephite horse, just sayin that ancient people did not have the benefit of our modern taxonomical system for classifying animals.
Bishop Rick, yes, Mormon Times is definitely not up to scholarship standards–neither is any newspaper. While Nibley did have an article or two published in the New Era and the Ensign, his contributions to Mormon apologetics occurred in many other scholarly publications. Certainly Griggs, Welch, and Sorenson didn’t get their reputations on lightweight publications like Mormon Times, but scholarly publications. I think Mosser and Owens critique of Mormon scholarship is pretty impressive, and I don’t think they were referring to Mormon Times either.
synnove, I get the impression that the Church is pretty uncomfortable with promoting FAIR, FARMS, or even Sunstone. The church moves pretty slow in embracing anything intellectual. The internet is great for those of us who have an interest in scholarship, but it seems to me the church always wants to keep matters of faith on a basic level–hence the renewed focus on Gospel Principles.
Pedro, these are interesting pieces by themselves, but by themselves, they aren’t strong evidence. Perhaps future findings will prove these anecdotes as more promising.
David, “Great structures” are hard to define, and several BoM geographry buffs seem to have different definitions. Central American theorists believe stone pyramids may be some of the temples/palaces spoken of the in the Book of Mormon, but others say these structures should have been built of cement (or adobe), rather than stone. One geo buff promoting the NY area said everything was made of timber, and there should be no evidence of buildings, but this is an extremely weak position IMO.
I think the greatest challenge to the Book of Mormon is coming from the studies of Jockers et al found in Literary and Linguistic Computing 2008. That Spalding was refered to as “mr old and it it came to pass” more frequently appears in those chapters of the BOM (Alma) which the study assigns to Spalding. There were 1403 uses of “came to pass” in the 1830 version and 1352 uses in the modern version. The disappearance of this phrase in 2 Nephi and Moroni is interesting and consistent with these books being added in 1828-29 as part of the replacement to the lost pages.
One of the premises of my studies to sift through fact and speculation. I look to the scriptures for facts and the source of all assertions regarding the geography of the Book of Mormon. There is no doubt we have to speculate on things that are not referenced in the scriptures, but more often than not, many spew speculation as fact. And then use “their” speculation as the “yardstick” (or fact). This is not scholarship and research, it is more akin to guessing then twisting interpretations. As I tackle the question of Book of Mormon geography I always try to anchor assertions to scriptural references. I’ve asked numerous people to provide any references in the Book of Mormon that would suggest their were pyramid structures made of stone. To date, no one has provided any reference to infer there were “great structures” from the scriptures. If you read Nibley’s work you will find the same frustration.
I’ve looked at the abstract of Jockers work and found that the probability is less than 0.5 (50%) that it matched the sampled authors, not a strong correlation. Does anyone have access to the entire paper. I would like to see if they sampled any other authors other than Cowdery, Spaulding and Rigdon. The hypothesis is interesting but more interesting is why wouldn’t Cowdery or Rigdon claim authorship, especially after Ridgon wanted to lead the church after Joseph’s death. That would have appeared as his best case to lead the church. The other question that this would raise is how the three authors were able to correlate all the details across each of their “supposed” submissions without any obvious errors. The best answer to this work is still exactly as Joseph testified.
Noel, there are BIG flaws with that Jockers study. For one, they never included Joseph Smith in the list of possible authors….don’t you think he would have shown up pretty likely? I plan a post on word print studies. Obviously the Jockers study wasn’t around when Givens wrote the book, but he has some interesting stuff on wordprint studies.
Timber and cement maybe an extremely “unwanted” position but the text of the Book of Mormon does not record much evidence for anything but timber and cement. I would love anyone who can provide evidence in the Book of Mormon to stone buildings shaped like pyramids. The key to finding the Book of Mormon lands is to match what is recorded in the Book of Mormon to the proposed geography. Far too often we base our understanding on artists renditions and what we hope to find.
I would love to know what they used as their sample texts from Cowdery and Rigdon. I’m sure their computer models can find some correlation, but I would like to read it from the standpoint of doctrine or history as compared to the Book of Mormon. It would also be interesting to add in people like Shakespear or Lewis as a control.
David, I just rescued your post from Feb 27–it was in my spam folder for some reason. Do a search for the word temple in the Book of Mormon at LDS.org–you’ll find at least 20 references. Now are these “great structures”?
If we can find temples of the Philistines in Israel that date prior to the Book of Mormon time period, and we can find Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, or other structures that seem to resemble a temple, I don’t think it is a great stretch to wonder if these are Book of Mormon structures. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not. People who support the idea that they are adobe have found Anasazi ruins in the 4 corners region of Utah that may come from 6000 BC, then I think it is reasonable to assume Book of Mormon structures could be found. Aztec or Olmec proponents think perhaps stone pyramids might be these temples.
Now, as a neutral party, I’m going to listen to these ideas and try to find strengths or weaknesses. I don’t know if these temple references refer to adobe, stone, timber, or other structure, but there are enough ancient structures out there from far older than the Book of Mormon period. To assume that Book of Mormon dwellings or temples won’t be found doesn’t sound like a reasonable position to me.
There is no doubt the Nephites built temples and used temples. They also built synagogues. In fact when Nephi first arrived in the land of Nephi, with a very small party, probably less than 50, it states “I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance. And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon’s temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine” (2 Ne. 5:15-16).
This is the best example of the size, shape and material of what a temple was built of in the Book of Mormon. From this it appears it was made of wood, and rectangular in shape, which was 90′ long x 30′ wide (1 Kgs. 6:2). With just a few people I can’t imagine Nephi building a large pyramid and stating that it was built similar to Solomon’s temple. The other unique thing about the verse above is that there was copper, gold and silver in great abundance. This is a huge clue as to where the land may be, as I suspect they didn’t mine it like we do today, but rather it would have been in outcroppings on the surface.
I assume from this verse the Nephites built temples like the Jews did and not like the Egyptians. The temples we should be looking for are rectangular buildings with a inner court and an outer court with a surrounding wall around the whole structure. In the Book of Mormon it states clearly that there were walls around their temples (Mosiah 2:7; 11:10) similar to Jewish temples. The pyramids just don’t fit, it was the apostate’s that built pyramids not the children of Israel. From everything I read the Nephites appear as an analog to the children of Israel.
I hope we do find remnants of Nephite temples but not unlike the search for king Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, which we still haven’t found, even being built with better materials around the same time period, in a location we know. The key, in my opinion, to finding Nephite ruins is first to understand what the record states about potential ruins so that we can match it to something we find. Without that matching ability we are just speculating.
I believe the Aztecs are descendants of Lehi (specifically Nephites that rejected the gospel) after A.D. 400, after they had destroyed the church and wandered away, not unlike how the Jews were scattered after the death of Christ. I believe that is why we see so many cultural things that match the Book of Mormon in Meso-America.
I don’t know if you have done any research on archeological evidence that the children of Israel lived in Egypt for hundreds of years and then wandered in the desert for 40 years and then established themselves in the land of Israel. Today there is virtually no archeological evidence of the events recorded in the Old Testament, just geographical evidence, which causes many to be disenfranchised with the Old Testament. The same problem may exist for the Book of Mormon people.
I think your comment regarding Anasazi is very insightful. Some believe the Anasazi people emerged as early as 1200 BC (but this is highly debated). The height of their activity was from AD 700-1200. It is this later period of time that correlates well with the Book of Mormon record. The interesting thing about the Anasazi is their overlap with the Uto-Aztecan people in geography. I suspect that after the destruction at Cumorah the remnants who survived scattered and broke into different groups, some of which could have been the Anasazi. If you get a chance you need to look at the Uto-Aztecan people, where they originated from and the similarities of their language to Hebrew. Brian Stubbs has done a lot of research on this topic (http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=5&num=1&id=112, see also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics_and_the_Book_of_Mormon).
Sorenson places the city of Nephi at the site of modern Guatamala City, which has been continuously occupied since that era or before. He would have no trouble with the notion of the original structures of temples being of wood — it was the mounds or hills they were built on that made them sacred places more than the building material (both in the new world and the mid east) Stone pyramids don’t show up in the records of archeology for 1000 years or so later.
So I’m a little confused about what the issue we’re discussing actually is.
The issue is, unless we can identify what the Book of Mormon states about the materials of their structures, and any identifying features, how are we going to know we have found a Nephite or Lamanite structure? We have assumed so many things through artists renditions and the hopes that the Nephites are in Meso-America that we have overlooked what is actually stated and may be looking in the wrong place. If the Book of Mormon is true then then the geographical assertions in the Book of Mormon should be identifiable. I believe we are looking in the wrong places, that is what their is so much confusion if we focus on the archeology before identifying the geography.
david, yes I am very familiar with the lack of evidence concerning the Exodus and have been planning a post on that topic as well. with Easter approaching I think it will be very timely. I haven’t done much research on uto-aztecan people. thanks for the links. I have heard a reference or 2 about their language and would like to research these claims more.
I’m not an expert in Old World archeology, but I like you, find it fascinating that there isn’t more archeological evidence of the events in the Old Testament, yet many believe in it based on it’s teachings, not unlike the Book of Mormon. I’ve found a lot of parallels between the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon, both theologically, as expected, as well as geographically.
Many don’t know that there is actually another river called Sidon in Lebenon (today it is know as Saida: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidon). The word Hermounts used in the Book of Mormon is similar to the word “Hermonites” (Ps. 42:6), see BD Hermon. The relationship between the River Sidon in Lebanon and Mount Hermon, also appears in the Book of Mormon between the River Sidon and Hermounts geographically. When you understand that Mulek probably came from this area in Israel it makes a lot more sense why many of the areas in the Book of Mormon have similar names in the north part of the Book of Mormon that match areas in northern Israel.
Anyways, I look forward to your posting on archeology from the Old Testament.
many interesting comments here, about the GD book an dits simplicity, I guess it is also because they ned to make sure mambers with growing numbers do not misrepresent the church also by telling misconceptions about basics…so its important from many aspects.