Section 9: Historical Enigmas

Historical Enigmas

Some find it difficult to reconcile that about 20 Jews were said to have left Jerusalem for America in 600 B.C.E. but that in less than 30 years, they had multiplied and split into two nations! (2 Nephi 5:28)

Gosh, the phrase "two nations" sure makes it sound like there was a sudden claim to masses of people! Unfortunately, the verse referenced (2 Ne. 5:28) only mentions the passage of thirty years' time, so we'll have to look elsewhere to discover where the sizes of these "nations" is mentioned.

2 Nephi 5:6

Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God…

2 Ne. 5:9

And all those who were with me did take upon them to call themselves the people of Nephi.

2 Ne. 5:14

And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people.

My computer's dictionary defines a nation as "a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory" (emphasis added). But, that's not what the Book of Mormon presents, is it? instead, what we have is a few families who become divided over whether or not to continue following the Lord. One man, the prophet Nephi, leads the righteous group elsewhere, and those who go with him begin calling themselves "the people of Nephi," or Nephites. His rebellious brother, Laman, remains with the rebellious folk, and they start calling themselves Lamanites, to distinguish themselves from the first group. That's not too hard to believe, is it? With time, of course, these groups do grow quite large, but there is no such claim made so early on. Remember, too, that non-Christians find it "difficult to reconcile" that from Noah and seven other persons in the Ark came all the nations of the world1!

Within 19 years of their arrival, this small band supposedly built a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon..., and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine"- a formidable task, indeed! The seven-year construction of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem occupied nearly 200,000 laborers, craftsmen, and overseers.- 2 Nephi 5:16; compare 1 Kings 5, 6.

This is yet another exaggeration of the claims made by the Book of Mormon. If we put aside "scurrilous tales" and look, instead, at the facts, a much different story emerges. First, why don't we examine the whole verse referenced here:

2 Nephi 5:16

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.

The first thing you'll notice is that Nephi both clarifies and qualifies his claims, explaining that their temple was not exactly like Solomon's temple, but that the construction was similar, although not as fancy, and they put their best into it, as would be expected when one builds a temple. Temples tend to have the same basic form. For instance, Solomon's temple was built "after the manner of" the temple that housed the Ark of the Covenant, although one was made of fine wood and expensive things (1 Kings 6), the other of curtains (Ex. 26:31-36); what they shared was the same basic form and purpose. Modern LDS temples are definitely built "after the manner of" the Salt Lake Temple, too, albeit the Salt Lake temple took 40 years to build, while modern temples take a few years at most. In fact, you could also say that modern LDS tempes are built "afer the manner of the temple of Solomon" because they share the same basic form and function.

Careful readers of the Book of Mormon have puzzled over certain events that seem out of proper chronological sequence. For example, Acts 11:26 says: "The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." (KJ) But Alma 46:15, purportedly describing events in 73 B.C.E., has Christians in America before Christ ever came to earth.

Of all the arguments presented so far, this is the silliest. If the assertion is that they couldn't have used the word "Christian" in 73 B.C. because the New Testament says that the word was invented more than one hundred years later, then we need to address a few facts, beginning with the actual origin of the word. According to Wikipedia, ""Christian" derives from the Koine Greek word Christós (Χριστός), a translation of the Biblical Hebrew term mashiach."2 This means that the Greek word for Christian (Christianos) is, itself, the equivalent of whatever the Hebrew word is for a believer in the Messiah, a term which would have been coined thousands of years earlier3.

The name of Jesus Christ is the English form of the Savior's name in Greek, the language of the New Testament. But neither the Old Testament, the brass plates, nor the golden plates were written in Greek… It is not likely, therefore, that the Greek name of the Lord appeared on the records from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. Rather, the name Jesus Christ served as the closest equivalent of the word or words used by the ancient writers of the Book of Mormon. In translating their writings, Joseph Smith used the name with which he and other Christians were familiar4.

In other words, "Christians" is merely the English equivalent/translation of whatever term was assigned in their language to the followers of Christ. Interestingly, the Dead Sea Scrolls show that Lehi was not unique in being an out-of-place, pre-Christ, Christian:

3. In a heretofore unparalleled situation we find the Qumran people offering animal sacrifice and observing the Law of Moses under the direction of legitimate priests and yet at the same time observing ordinances of a strangely Christian nature. It is a situation "difficult to visualize" (Cross), and yet its counterpart is found in the Book of Mormon.

4. The Qumran people denounce the Jews at Jerusalem for their corruption and laxity in observing the Law, They respect the temple and its traditions but despise the leaders of the Jews who have driven them from Jerusalem. This is exactly the attitude of Nephi.

5. They keep the Law of Moses but in everything anticipate the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant. Their sacrament is "a liturgical anticipation of the Messianic banquet" (Cross), as are their baptisms and their white garments—all belong to "a church of anticipation." This parallels the Book of Mormon situation exactly.

6. They see a peculiar significance in going out into the wilderness and in choosing a site where they can establish a large and elaborate system of tanks and basins for washings and baptisms. One thinks immediately of Alma's community in the wilderness at the Waters of Mormon.

7. There they were organized into a general congregation with a council of twelve laymen headed by three priests. Scholars have agreed that we have here a definite tie-in with the organization of the Early Church. Its closest parallel is in Christ's organization of the Church in 3 Nephi…

The strongest accusation against the Book of Mormon in the past has always been the presence in it of New Testament language, doctrines, and ordinances among people living in pre-Christian times. Today this objection not only vanishes but now furnishes powerful evidence supporting the Book of Mormon15.

Second, if the assertion here is that no one could have known about Christ because He had not been born yet, Amos 3:7 tells us that God doesn't do anything without first telling His prophets. So, if Christ was coming, as had been prophesied for thousands of years, obviously there were prophets who knew it, and it is not unlikely that His name would have been revealed to some.

The Book of Mormon presents itself more as a historical narrative than as a doctrinal treatise.

This is an interesting opinion, but it is not a fact, and facts were supposed to be the source of this article, remember? As a Mormon, and one who has read the Book of Mormon dozens of times, my personal opinion is that this assertion is false. I happen to know from personal experience that there are Christians who feel the same way about the Old Testament, and whose churches no longer believe it has any doctrinal importance, but I reject that assertion, as well.

The phrase "and it came to pass" occurs about 1,200 times in the current edition- about 2,000 times in the 1830 edition.

This is one of my favorite complaints from detractors. Donald W. Parry, instructor in Biblical Hebrew at Brigham Young University has said:

Mark Twain once joked that if Joseph Smith had left out the many instances of "and it came to pass" from the Book of Mormon, the book would have been only a pamphlet… however… [It is the] English translation of the Hebrew word wayehi, [and also] appears some 727 times in the King James Version of the Old Testament… Wayehi is found about 1,204 times in the Hebrew Bible, but it was translated only 727 times as "and it came to pass" in the King James Version5.

The author neglects to say why this should be taken as an error on the part of the Book of Mormon.

Many places mentioned in the Bible still exist, yet the locations of virtually all sites named in The Book of Mormon, such as Gimgimno and Zeezrom, are unknown.

To begin with, this is an illogical sentence. It begins by saying that some Bible locations still exist, but that no one knows where Book of Mormon events happened. It would be more logical to say that there are locations both from the Bible and Book of Mormon that are unknown. Of course, this would void the argument being made, but it would be the truth. For instance, LDS author, William J. Hamblin inform us that "only slightly more than half of all place names mentioned in the Bible have been located and positively identified."6 In his article Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon, we learn that the proclaimed "contrast between a Bible that is archaeologically "proven" and a Book of Mormon that is archaeologically "disproven" is fallacious. It rests on a misrepresentation of what biblical archaeology actually demonstrates. And it relies… on a persistent refusal to look at what Latter-day Saint scholars are actually saying about the Book of Mormon. There are still numerous disputes and unanswered questions concerning archaeology and the historicity of the Bible, despite the fact that the Bible has been studied by literally thousands of professional historians and archaeologists for over a century and a half."6

So, knowing where some Bible events are alleged to have taken place does not prove the Bible to be true anymore than not knowing where Book of Mormon events took place proves it false. Not knowing where some Bible events took place does not make it false, and not knowing for certain the validity of places that are alleged to be the locations of Biblical events also does not make it false. The truth is, many places mentioned in the Bible are also unknown, and many places with Biblical names today are Biblical in name only. Not knowing where something happened doesn't mean that it didn't!

Next, we must address the accusation that all Book of Mormon locations are unknown. While technically true, the issue is not that nothing matches the descriptions, but that there are multiple locations that match in multiple ways. On this issue, there are two primary schools of thought: one is that Lehi landed in South or Central America and most or all of the events chronicled in the Book of Mormon took place there; this is known as the Mesoamerican model. The other is that Lehi landed in North America and most or all of the events chronicled in the Book of Mormon took place in a specific area of North America; this is known as the Heartland model.

The Mesoamerican theory is the most well-known of the two, but there are several problems with this theory that have plagued its adherents and amused its detractors. These include the absence of swords, armor, fortifications, and certain animals mentioned in the text14. On the other hand, all of these things have been discovered in great abundance in the areas proposed by the Heartland model. Two researchers, Wayne May and Rod Meldrum, have released several books documenting their findings, and currently travel the country giving presentations and displaying artifacts. You can see two of their videos here:

Wayne May — Book of Mormon Archaeology in North America (YouTube)

While I recommend watching the videos in their entirety, the information I am specifically referring to can be found in the above video, beginning at the 43:07 mark.

Wayne May — Book of Mormon Geography in North America (YouTube)

One area that is usually ignored by detractors is the Middle East. In the opening chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives detailed descriptions of their travels out of Jerusalem and eventually to the seashore, where they build the boats that carry them to the Promised Land of present-day America. Joseph Smith's wife, Emma, testified that Joseph didn't even know there were walls around Jerusalem7, so he could hardly have described such travels accurately. Why, then, do people ignore this fruitful field? Perhaps because it is so accurate.

Researcher George Potter has spent many years in the Middle East studying these very details. His organization, the Nephi Project, traveled to Jerusalem and followed the directions outlined in the Book of Mormon in order to find out where they would lead. Along the way they discovered two temples belonging to a people known as the Lihyanites ("people of Lihi"), a burial site known as NHM (in exactly the spot Nephi describes a burial site called Nahom), a fertile area in the middle of the desert (right where Nephi says it should be), and they eventually ended up at the only site in the area where the people have been building ships for thousands of years. This shipbuilding area also happens to have honey, just as the Book of Mormon describes in Ether 2:38. Furthermore, according to the book An Index and Concordance of Pre-Islamic Arabian Names and Inscriptions (1971), LMN ("Laman") "was a proper name mentioned in a Lihyanite inscription."9

In their book, Discovering Lehi: New Evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia, researchers Lynn M. and Hope A. Hilton discuss the Lihyanites in-depth (pg 75), as well as the Arab tribe, village, and valley, all named Nahom (pg 123).

Some point out these things are not proof of anything, but gosh, isn't it convenient that these multiple non-proofs all exist, and just happen to be in exactly the locations they should be? This is especially hard to believe when you consider that the popular theory of the day is that a stupid farmboy made it all up. What an incredible confluence of lucky guesses!

The Mormon story tells of vast settlements across the North American continent. Helaman 3:8 reads: "And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread… to cover the face of the whole earth."

The habitants described [in the Book of Mormon] sometimes expand and sometimes diminish to near extinction, but such statistics as are mentioned suggest comparatively small numbers10.

Since numbers are frequently provided in the Book of Mormon, "to cover the face of the whole earth" is obviously a relative term. For those who remember the humble beginnings of any large metropolitan area, this would seem an appropriate phrase.

According to Mormon 1:7, the land "had become covered with buildings." Many people wonder where the remains of these sprawling civilizations are.

Except some Mormons, and Native Americans, who know these to be the "Anasazi" and other "ancient ones," whose ruins are abundant throughout the Americas. Remember, these are the forefathers of the American Indian. Also remember that more primitive building methods were probably employed, meaning that their structures were not intended to still be standing 2,000 years later. (Except for temples, which were built to last, many of which still stand to this day. The homes and laybuildings of the massive civilizations that came after Book of Mormon times, such as the Incas and Mayas, can no longer be found, either.) The ruins that can be found crumbling, barely in existence, all over Native American soil today are from people that lived much later than Book of Mormon times, so to suggest that lots of older buildings would still be in existence is absurd. The Heartland model proponents, however, have been finding artifacts that date to the appropriate periods, including the remains of fortifications, burial sites, and villages.

Where are the Nephite artifacts, such as gold coins, swords, shields, or breastplates?- Alma 11:4, 43:18-20.

The only thing on this list I am not sure of are the gold "coins." Everything else has been discovered, and can be seen in Wayne May's presentation on Book of Mormon archaeology, above. The interesting thing is that we know the early settlers were digging up these artifacts for hundreds of years, as they plowed their fields. They were so abundant that the museums began turning away donations, and these things can now be found in various private and public collections all over the world.

Now, to be honest, there is no mention of coins in the Book of Mormon, only a description of the weights and measures used, and how they relate to one another11:

Now these are the names of the different pieces of their gold, and of their silver, according to their value. And the names are given by the Nephites, for they did not reckon after the manner of the Jews who were at Jerusalem; neither did they measure after the manner of the Jews; but they altered their reckoning and their measure, according to the minds and the circumstances of the people, in every generation…11

One of the errors that was present in past editions of the Book of Mormon, that has been corrected in current editions, was the mention of "Nephite coinage" in the heading to Alma chapter 11. The headings are a modern convention, just like in the Bible, and sometimes reflect the assumptions of their authors.

The funny thing here is that the Awake! authors are disparaging the absence of gold and silver, which could just as easily have been dug up by the same impoverished settlers who were digging up artifacts, and which would probably not have been turned over to authorities.

Considering such questions, members of the Mormon faith do well to reflect seriously on the words of Mormon Rex E. Lee: "The authenticity of Mormonism stands or falls with the book from which the Church derives its nickname." A faith based upon solid Scriptural knowledge, rather than just on an emotional prayer experience, presents a challenge to sincere Mormons- as well as to all claiming to be Christians.

A "solid Scriptural knowledge" is to be commended, and can be beneficial to the earnest student. Faithful Mormons spend their lives studying the scriptures, just as Jehovah's Witnesses do. We are asked to read from the scriptures daily, both in personal and family study. Our children attend an early morning scripture study class, known as seminary, during all four years of high school. Those of us who follow this course do not find ourselves "challenged" by what we find there, as the author suggests. Rather, we find our testimonies only strengthened, and our love of the Saviour deepened.

Representative of many Mormons, I hold my "Scriptural knowledge" to be self-evident. My testimony is built upon the things that I have studied. However, it is the confirmation and calm assurance of the Spirit, in answer to my prayer, which is undeniable. It is not based on my own interpretations, or those of other men, but upon the peaceful feelings that attend the presence of the Holy Ghost.

John 14:26

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

As for gaining a testimony through prayer, do we not also "do well" to follow the admonition of the prophets and apostles who have advised us to ask God?

Matt. 7:7-8

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

1 Sam. 10:22

Therefore they enquired of the LORD further, if the man should yet come thither. And the LORD answered...

Matt. 21:22

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.

1 Jn. 5:14

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.

1 Ne. 15:8

And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?

I am unaware of any place in the scriptures where we are advised to base our faith solely on scripture study.

Former president of the LDS Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, said:

It is a requirement that is made of us, as members of this Church, to make ourselves familiar with that which the Lord has revealed, that we may not be led astray. … How are we going to walk in the truth if we do not know it? …

If we will hearken unto the words of the Lord and search for ourselves and obtain knowledge from the Book of Mormon, from the Bible, from the Doctrine and Covenants, from the Pearl of Great Price, and from the instruction given us from time to time by the authorities of the Church, and seek to do the will of the Lord, remembering our prayers and our covenants before him, we will not go astray. …

It would be well if we would follow the counsel the Lord has given us, which is: “And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.” [Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:37.] Treasuring up his word is far more than merely reading it. To treasure it one must not only read and study, but seek in humility and obedience to do the commandments given, and gain the inspiration which the Holy Spirit will impart.

We are expected to study and learn all we can by research and analysis. But there are limits to our learning abilities in the realms of reason and study. The things of God can be known only by the Spirit of God. We must gain knowledge by faith.

Men may search, they may study, they may learn, of course, a great many things; they may lay up a great fund of information, but they will never be able to come to the fulness of truth … unless they are guided by the Spirit of truth, the Holy Ghost, and keep the commandments of God12.

Latter-day Saints are taught to first study it out (scriptures, teachings, problems, etc.), and then, only after careful study and personal consideration, "inquire of the Lord." If God knows everything, which we believe He does, and the scriptures tell us to consult Him, then surely He will tell us what is right! The importance of prayer can be summed up in Joseph Smith's experience:

I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible13.

In Proverbs 3:5, we are advised to:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

The danger of basing one's testimony solely on their scriptural knowledge is that they have not sought the Lord's assurance that their interpretations are correct. In very fact, there are many things that Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses agree on. The disagreements we have lie mainly in interpretation of the scriptures, and not a lack of knowledge of the scriptures.

Notes

  1. Genesis 7:13.
  2. Christian, Wikipedia. Emphasis mine.
  3. This view is supported by Biblical translations for Jews, such as the Complete Jewish Bible and the Orthodox Jewish Bible.
  4. Book of Mormon prophets knew before the Lord’s birth that his name would be Jesus Christ. Did Old Testament prophets also know? "I Have a Question," Stephen D. Ricks, Assistant Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages, BYU, Ensign. Sept. 1984, 24. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1984/09/i-have-a-question?lang=eng)
  5. Why is the phrase “and it came to pass” so prevalent in the Book of Mormon? "I Have A Question." Ensign. Dec. 1992. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/12/i-have-a-question?lang=eng). See also search phrase and it came to pass on BibleHub.net for examples from the Bible, and Consonants and vowels in the Hebrew script, by Helmut Richter, to see the word wayehi as used in the Hebrew version of Genesis 11:1, with its English translation.
  6. Joseph, the Seer, Neal A. Maxwell, LDS General Conference, Oct. 1983. (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1983/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng)
  7. Major Discoveries (Nephi Project) (http://nephiproject.com/nephi_project_major_discoveries.htm)
  8. As referenced in Lehi and Local Color, Stephen D. Ricks, The FARMS Review 21/2 (2009). (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1465&index=8&keyword=lihyanite)
  9. "B. H. Roberts after Fifty Years: Still Witnessing for the Book of Mormon." Truman G. Madsen, Ensign, Dec. 1983. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1983/12/b-h-roberts-after-fifty-years-still-witnessing-for-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng)
  10. Alma 11:3-19
  11. Chapter 10: Our Search for Truth, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 139–50. (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-joseph-fielding-smith/chapter-10-our-search-for-truth?lang=eng)
  12. Joseph Smith-History 1:11-12
  13. To be fair, I was once in the Mesoamerican camp, but really only until I saw the evidences for the Heartland model. The Mesoamerican model does have proposals for artifacts that fit those listed here, but only by way of substitution. That is, the Book of Mormon says horse and Mesoamerica has something like a horse; the Book of Mormon says sword and Mesoamerica has something like a sword, etc. Of course, since we are dealing with translation between languages, these may be plausible. Cases are still being built on both sides. In the end, no one should lose their faith if it turns out one model was correct over the other. Perhaps the Hemispheric model is correct, which suggests that the Book of Mormon took place partly in Mesoamerica and partly in North America. Perhaps we are all wrong in our suppositions, and the Lord still has some surprises in store for us. Only time will tell.
  14. The Dead Sea Scrolls: Some Questions and Answers by Hugh Nibley. (Neal A. Maxwell Instute for Religious Scholarship) (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=977)