It’s been a long time since I discussed Book of Mormon Geography Theories. Every so often, I get an email from the FIRM Foundation. Basically Rodney Meldrum has proposed a theory in which he believes that Joseph Smith has indicated that Book of Mormon lands are in America’s Heartland. Meldrum believes that the Hopewell Indian mound builders are the ancestors of Book of Mormon peoples.
For skeptics, one of the biggest problems for the Book of Mormon is that no Hebrew or Egyptian writings have been found in the Americas. In Meldrum’s most recent newsletter (an update of the same information from 2012), Meldrum loudly trumpets a claim that indeed Hebrew writings have been confirmed. He references a History Channel program America Unearthed TV series, aired Nov. 30th, 2013. The episode references the Newark Holy Stones held in the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Ohio.
These stones depict the 10 Commandments, and have been a suspected forgery since 1860. A man by the name of David Wyrick discovered the stones in a Hopewell Mound. Meldrum believes that the History Channel documentary featuring the stones bolsters his claims that they are authentic.
Why haven’t you heard more about them? Well, it does seem that many consider Scott Wolter, the host of America Unearthed less than credible. Brad Lepper of the Ohio Historical Society Archeaology Blog dismisses Wolter’s claims as “pseudoscience” and that the stones are authentic.
1. Not only has the inscription on the Decalogue Stone not passed the scrutiny of skeptics, no less an authority than the late Frank Moore Cross, Harvard University Professor of Near Eastern Languages, declared it to be a “grotesque” forgery. Jeff Gill has demonstrated that the archaic-looking Hebrew letters on the Decalogue Stone are based on the standard Hebrew alphabet used in the 19th century. It is a 19th century artifact made to look as if it were ancient.
My biggest problem with Meldrum’s theories is that he is overplays his own evidence. He doesn’t address the weaknesses of his own theory. For example, the Hopewell Indians are not nearly as sophisticated as the ancient Nephites. Meldrum also loves to quote Joseph Smith saying that the Lamanites were near Ohio–yet Meldrum does not address Smith’s statements that Joseph claimed ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, and the coast of South America were evidence of the Book of Mormon. Meldrum is just as guilty of pseudo-science as Wolter.
In the comments, Jeff Gill (another writer at the Ohio blog) states:
A number of diverse groups in 19th century Ohio could have been motivated to perpetrate such a forgery — from Mormons to Freemasons. That’s one of the reasons it has been so hard to solve the mystery of whodunnit. My colleague Jeff Gill and I have settled upon the opponents of the doctrine of polygenesis — and therefore opponents of slavery — as the most likely people behind the forgery. The Holy Stones appear to be tailor-made to address the particular arguments of Josiah Nott, the foremost proponent of polygenesis and defender of the institution of slavery. Read our article in the magazine “Timeline” (see the reference in the blog post) for the fullest presentation of our arguments.
I just don’t think the evidence is at all compelling for Meldrum’s model. Have you studied “the Heartland Model”? What do you think of the Newark Holy Stones?
I haven’t really studied much about the stones. I have read here and there that they are generally regarded as a hoax. I not going to jump off onto any bypassing wagon until I know how solid the underpinnings are. I want rock solid proof that will withstand linguistic and forensic scrutiny before I will accept something that will tend to corroborate or disprove a theory. The Newark Holy Stones do not attain to that standard.
As far as the Heartland Theory, Meldrum has a ways to go to provide evidence to make it viable. Right now, a meso-American setting has the most plausibility based upon the current state of research, in my opinion.
Glenn, thanks for stopping by! (I thought you had abandoned me.) 😉
My own hypothesis is that at first the BoM peoples were fairly much confined to the MesoAmerican setting, not even necessarily the dominant culture therein. After the Savior’s coming and the nearly two hundred years of peace and propserity, during which time w/o doubt contact had been made (and also, whether a result of said contact or resulting from internal strife “Lamanites” broke off and became a political force again) with other peoples. It’s my theory that what Mormon describes in Mormon 1:7 could well be a description of the expansion of BoM peoples (along with assimmilation or confederation with neighboring peoples) northwards from Central America, through Mexico and well into the Americas, even into the MidWest where the mound builders lived. That isn’t necessarily saying that the mound builders knew of the BoM peoples at all, though. To get further evidence that this hypothesis is supportable would likely take several lifetimes of extensive research, something that is well beyond the means of yours truly.
Therefore, this purported Decalogue Stone, even IF it were genuine (and it appears to have been readily dismissed as a hoax), wouldn’t contribute much, since even a genuine placement wouldn’t necessarily mean that Hebrew was a part in any way of the Hopewell culture. There could be other reasons to explain its placement other than a BoM context.
Perhaps all it would show is that prior notions of the isolation of the Americas to the so-called Old World are wrong; that travel, and economic, social, and political interaction between the two hemispheres in Pre-Colmbian times are likely far more extensive than previously thought.