04 February 2011

Daniel's 'misleading' presentation

Daniel's online presentation from the last BMAF conference has been getting a lot of attention, not all of it positive. There are many theories about where Book of Mormon events took place. Mesoamerica is the location eventually chosen after years of study by most LDS archaeologists and scholars on the subject, but not everyone agrees. Recently, we were forwarded a newsletter from the Nephi Project, a group that has picked Peru as the site of Book of Mormon lands. In a feature article entitled "Metals in Mesoamerica: a Misleading Book of Mormon Defense," George Potter took Daniel to task for faulty scholarship and unwarranted conclusions based on an open letter the BMAF sent out, in which Daniel further clarified some of the salient points from his presentation. Apparently, after ten years of writing articles for the Nephi Project, only Daniel's presentation was so misleading that George needed to set the record straight and respond to it in an open letter published on his site and e-mailed to subscribers. Click here to read his article on the Nephi Project website. The link is at the bottom of their page. 

What follows in san-serif type is a summary of that article.

At first the metal artifacts shown in Johnson's slides from Mesoamerica might seem impressive; however, the slides fail to explain that these artifacts are, without exception, from civilizations that existed long after the plates of the Book of Mormon were buried by Moroni. The only hint that the artifacts are not associated with Book of Mormon people is Slide #31 which notes: "Stela H at Copán, site of the earliest gold artifacts in Mesoamerica, dating to 730 AD."

Suggesting that the metal articles that have been discovered in Mesoamerica-all of which date to post-Book-of-Mormon times-are evidence for the Book of Mormon is nonsense. The Book of Mormon clearly states that the Jaredite and Nephite civilizations had advanced metallurgical technologies (Ether 10:23; Hel. 6:9… Further, archaeologists now believe that Central Americans did not discover how to work metals but that the technology was introduced to them from Peru long after the Book of Mormon period

Apparently I was not the only reader who understood the fallacy of Johnson's presentation. The Book of Mormon Archaeology Foundation's follow-up newsletter BMAF: 66 (Metals and Gold Plates in Mesoamerica controversy) notes that:
"We have received feedback that some have used Brother Johnson's material to bolster their Book of Mormon proposals in Panama and Peru."
In response, the foundation published an "open letter" from Johnson in which he wishes "to clarify the points I [he] was trying to make with my [his] presentation at the BMAF conference last year."
So misleading were Johnson's clarifications that I found myself compelled to respond to his open letter. Daniel's open-letter clarifications are in black font. 
DJ- Mesoamerica (specifically the Guatemalan highlands) contains all the necessary ores for the metals mentioned in the Book of Mormon.   
GP- Yes, however currently there is no evidence that anyone in Mesoamerica was smelting gold before the 8th century A.D. To imply that 8th-century smelting had something to do with the Book of Mormon Jaredites and Nephites-who both wrote on gold plates-is a historical misrepresentation akin to saying that the Romans invented the airplane or silicon chip.
DJ- Metals were apparently mainly used by the Nephites (as opposed to the Lamanites) and may not have been used as much or as late as we have supposed. The main component of Nephite armor appears to have been thick clothing. This agrees with the archaeological record and Spanish accounts of the Mesoamerican conquest.
GP- The notion that the later Nephites did not work metals is a personal supposition that is not supported by the text of the Book of Mormon. The latter part of his clarification is simply inconsistent with the description of Nephite armor and weapons. Only on one occasion does the Book of Mormon describe the Nephite armor being made of cloth, which is a better description of Inca armor than the linen armor of the Aztecs. The Incas' thick cloth armor was adopted by the Spanish.
DJ- The last mention of Nephite steel is in 400 B.C., and the last mention of iron is in 150 B.C. These metals are never mentioned among or used by the Lamanites. Incidentally, biblical Hebrew does not distinguish between iron and steel. All the Hebrew words in the Bible refer to pure metals, not to their alloys.
GP- There have been hundreds of Book of Mormon period Mayan excavations, yet none of them have provided evidence of iron, copper, silver or gold usage in Central America! On the other hand, the only known mining of iron in the Americas during Book of Mormon times has been discovered in Nazca, Peru.
DJ- Book of Mormon weapons for most of the record can all be deadly effective without being made of metal, including weapons the Spanish called 'swords.' There are numerous eyewitness accounts of this.
GP- Johnson seems to suggest that the metal weapons described in the Book of Mormon were not actually metal! More than support for the Book of Mormon, this seems to be more of an excuse for why no evidence of Book of Mormon period metal weapons has been excavated north of Panama.
DJ- My main suggestion is that any Nephite metal item can be traced directly back to Nephi and was not shared with other groups. The use of metal tools and items may have been discarded as Nephites moved away from their sources of ore and adapted to more indigenous ways. The only metal items we absolutely know of at the end of Nephite history are the plates and other unique items in Moroni's possession.
GP- Alma wrote in circa 90 B.C. "And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need-an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth" (Alma 1:29). …It should also be noted, that since the Book of Mormon defined the Nephite weapons as being made of metal, it would seem practical that in later periods the authors would not have had to use the precious space on the gold plates to repeatedly tell the reader that they were "still made of iron." It would be more logical that if the Nephites had changed to "wooden" weapons, a later author would note this fact.
p.s. Mormon (3 Ne. 5:10-11) and Moroni (Mormon 2:18; 8:1) wrote on plates. If the Nephites moved away from their source of metal, where did the last Nephite prophets obtain the metal for their plates.

DJ- The practice of writing on metal plates appears to be mainly an Old World practice, one that Nephi brought with him and passed on to specific record keepers. That said, the main feature of my presentation was Mayan gold plates from the cenote at Chichen Itza that had hieroglyphic writing on them. As far as I know, there is no other artifact of this kind from the Americas that is not extremely controversial (at the very least).
GP- The Mayan gold plate is interesting; however, it is of no relevance to the Book of Mormon since it is from a later era and is in a language not related to Hebrew or Egyptian.
DJ- While there are no serious claims linking Olmec, Epi-Olmec, or Mayan glyphs to Hebrew or Reformed Egyptian, Mesoamerica is the only ancient American setting that has extensive written languages. I am not aware of any written language (other than the quipu, which is not really writing) from the Andean region.
GP- When the Spanish arrived in Peru, they were told by the Incas that their ancestors had once had a written language like the Spanish, but that it was lost. This is consistent with Jacob's prophecy (Jacob 4:1-4).

It is obvious that George Potter and the Nephi Project have picked their area and look for supporting evidence there; he is merely propping up his own theory. Rod Meldrum and Wayne May have picked North America and look for evidence there, such as it is. LDS scholars and archaeologists, however, have picked Mesoamerica, believing that the weight of evidence leads there. Maybe this isn't the place; all models, including the Andean region, have their strengths and weaknesses, some more than others. Peru has some similarities with the Book of Mormon in terms of metallurgy and animals, but it fails in terms of geography. Daniel merely presented his opinions and gave supporting evidence. Unless disagreeing with George is inherently misleading, Daniel didn't do anything of the kind. Many scholars including Richard Bushman, Richard Hauck, and Diane Wirth have said positive things about his presentation, stressing its accurate information. Even esteemed LDS archaeologist John Sorenson, who was not too impressed with our book, wrote to Daniel, "What you have written on metal and plates in relation to the Book of Mormon indeed contains information of value. I am glad whenever correct and valid information is drawn to the attention of the Latter-day Saints. I encourage you to continue your related studies."

Instead of an open letter, Daniel wrote to George to address these issues directly. That letter has been adapted into the final response below.
Click here to read the text of the original open letter sent out by the BMAF.
Click here to download George Potter's full article.
Click here to read Daniel's response to it.

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