30 April 2017

A good perspective on Book of Mormon Archaeology

We all know that Book of Mormon Archaeology can be a tricky subject. Notwithstanding all the interesting and enlightening items we have found that seem to correlate with the Book of Mormon account, there is no firm proof. In all likelihood, there never will be, either for or against. This debate will never be solved by the scientific disciplines of Archaeology, Anthropology, History, Linguistics, or anything else. As evidence for this, there is no general consensus; regardless of all the archaeological 'support,' many people reject the Book of Mormon as an ancient historical document. Conversely, despite all the 'proofs' of its 19th-century origins, many accept it as a true account and holy scripture.

At the FairMormon conference in 2005, Dr. John Clark, an archaeologist at BYU who has helped us out in the past, gave a presentation that provided a needed perspective on this issue. As a comparison, many events that are crucial to the narrative of the Old Testament have no archaeological support whatsoever. However, there is no doubt that the Bible is an ancient document. If the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, then it must be the product of an American 19th-century environment. In his presentation, which can be read here, Dr. Clark provides a helpful chart showing 60 specific items mentioned in the Book of Mormon, compared to what what 'known' about the ancient world at the time, many of which have been called 'blunders' by critics from the very beginning. As can be seen, the weight of the evidence was strongly against its authenticity. And this chart may be a bit generous, since it shows stone monuments and large cities as Confirmed in 1842. This is correct, but likely is due to the publication of Stephens and Catherwood's accounts of travels in Mesoamerica a few years previous, but which were unknown when the Book of Mormon was published in 1830. The status of its claims at that date would have been a better benchmark.

But the case was far from closed. Archaeology in the New World was practically non-existant at the time, so the apparent anachronisms lose much of their significance. The problems with this kind of evidence are obvious because of the amount of change newer discoveries can bring to overturn old beliefs, sometimes in just a few years. The chart looks very different when compiled in a more recent setting.

An objective observer should see that the tide of evidence has turned. Keep in mind that even this chart is now at least twelve years old, so its application is limited as well. We are pleased to see the status of horses go from Unconfirmed to Indeterminate, given the amount of research Daniel has done on this subject. That may be as good as we get. But some other topics are a bit confusing. These items seem to be relative to the Ancient Americas specifically, so we are surprised to see steel swords and brass plates. We will certainly be asking Dr. Clark about that. But also surprising and a bit disappointing is to see golden plates still at Unconfirmed, given what we have seen from sites like the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá. Still, this chart is a good example of the perspective we should have on how supportive or damaging Archaeology should really be to our faith in the Book of Mormon.