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By Gary F. Zeolla
What do the Bible and the Book of Mormon have in common? They both claim to be the Word of God. Also, major portions of both describe supposedly historical events.
The historical portions of the Old Testament in the Bible primarily focus on the history of the Israelite nation and God's dealings with them. The time period covered is from creation to the last writing prophet in about 400 BC.
The New Testament describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the growth of the early Christian church. The time period covered is from about 4 BC to 95 AD.
"The Book of Mormon claims that a people called the Jaredites, refugees from the Tower of Babel, migrated to America about 2247 BC. They occupied Central America until they were wiped out by internal strife" (McElveen, p. 58).
It also tells the story of an exodus of Jews from Judah around 600 BC in order to escape the Babylonian captivity. They travel by boat to the Americas. While there, two great civilizations develop, the Lamanites and the Nephites. Constant fighting occurs between these two nations. Jesus is said to appear to them after His resurrection and brings the Christian faith to them. In 421 AD, the Lamanites eliminate the Nephites. The Lamanites are said to be the ancestors of the modern-day American Indian (McElveen, pp. 58, 59).
Both books present their stories as being actual history. But is it? How can we know? A place to begin would be to turn to the end of each book. Virtually any edition of the Bible has maps back there. Why? So when mention is made of a particular place or city, the reader can turn to the back of the Bible and see where the city was located.
Maps for the Bible are possible since the locations of the majority of the cities mentioned are known. The remains of such cities as Ninevah (Nahum 1:1) and "Ur of the Chaldeans" (Gen 11:28) have been discovered (Keller, pp. 6-30). Other cities, such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem, still exist to this day.
But what about the book of Mormon? There has never been an edition published with maps. Why? Because no one knows where any of the cities mentioned were located and none of them still exists. In fact, Mormons are not even sure in what general geographic area in the Americas the cities were supposed to have been located. Some Mormons believe the cities were in what is now Central America. Others think the people lived in the southern part of Mexico. Others postulate the northern part of South America to be the place (Tanner, pp. 118-124).
The reason for all this confusion is that NO remains of the supposed Jaredite, Lamanite, or Nephite civilizations have ever been uncovered. In fact, archeology of the possible regions demonstrates that the types of cultures described simply did not exist at that time (Tanner, pp. 101-118).
Of course, Mormons claim otherwise (Talmage, pp. 283-293). I once even heard a Mormon proclaim there are "tons" of archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. So who should be believed?
How can these claims be verified? Why not consult a non-partisan source with the qualifications to speak on archeological discoveries? Two such organizations can be easily contacted. Write to the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC 20560) or the National Geographic Society (Washington, DC 20036) and ask for their statements on the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
The statement from the National Geographic Society states:
I referred your inquiry to Dr. George Stuart, the Society's staff archaeologist. He told me he knows of no archeological evidence that verifies the history of the early people of the Americas as presented in the Book of Mormon. Although many Mormon sources claim that the Book of Mormon has been substantiated by archeological findings, THIS CLAIM HAS NOT BEEN VERIFIED SCIENTIFICALLY (emphasis added).
The Smithsonian Institute writes, "The Smithsonian Institute has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archaeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book."
The document then has seven paragraphs explaining why this is so. But what about the Bible?
The National Geographic Society states:
But archaeologists do indeed find the Bible a valuable reference tool, and have used it many times for geographic relationships, old names, and relative chronologies. On the enclosed list, you will find many articles concerning discoveries verifying events discussed in the Bible (note: more than thirty articles are listed).
The Smithsonian Institute acknowledges:
...much of the Bible, in particular the historical books of the old testament, are as accurate historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. These Biblical works can and are used as are other ancient documents in archeological works.
Neither the National Geographic Society nor the Smithsonian Institute believe the Bible is inerrant (without error). Other portions of their statements make this clear. Furthermore, a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is an article of faith. It could never be proved empirically as sufficient archeological evidence could never be discovered to verify every event in the Bible. However, the above quoted portions of their statements do show that these two secular institutions do see a major difference between the reliability of the Bible versus the Book of Mormon.
They both clearly teach there is NO historical validity to the Book of Mormon. As such, the Book of Mormon's claim to be the Word of God is disqualified. Since the stories it tells are not genuine, then why would anyone trust what it has to say about God, salvation, and other spiritual topics?
On the other hand, the Bible can be demonstrated to be a generally reliable historical document. But this does not then necessarily mean its spiritual claims are true. It does, however, leave its claim to be the Word of God a possibility.
As the Smithsonian Institute states:
Even Biblical history is edited history; events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible . . . It is therefore not possible to try to "prove" the Bible by means of its historical or scientific accuracy. The only "proof" to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship?
Well does it? This question is addressed in the articles listed under the subject The Nature of God.
CLARIFICATIONS AND ADDITIONAL POINTS
To respond to comments I have received, I want to clarify a few points in the above article and add a couple of additional thoughts.
I am using the illustration of maps to indicate that Mormons simply do not know where the purported events of the Book of Mormon occurred, as stated in the article.
The issue is, the areas of the New World where the book of Mormon events supposedly occurred have now been extensively studied by archeologist. In their research NO remains of the supposed Lamanite and Nephite cultures have been discovered. See the following page for more on this point: Correspondence on the Book of Mormon.
Furthermore, what is known of the ancient Americas contradict the Book of Mormon. For instance, the "Statement on the Book of Mormon" from the Smithsonian Institute states: "American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492." Also, "Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric Iron)."
All of these items are mentioned in various places in the book of Mormon. So if the Book of Mormon is true, then when the supposed Lamanite and Nephite civilizations destroyed themselves, somehow all of these animals and plants must have also somehow become extinct and left no trace of ever existing. And all traces of the Lamanites and Nephites ability to make the items mentioned must have disappear and been unknown to others in the New World.
By way of comparison, the Inca and Mayan empires were destroyed long before Columbus came to America. But we know where their empires were located and the basics of their cultures. Civilizations as vast as these will inevitably leave behind some traces even after their downfalls. Also, many peoples and cities mentioned in the Bible were unknown of outside of the Bible until modern-day archeologists began to uncover their remains.
But, despite being described as vast populations, the Lamanites and Nephites seem to have left without leaving a trace. So our only "knowledge" of their cultures still come from the Book of Mormon, despite extensive archeological investigations of the possible sites. So unless a "miraculous" disappearance of all traces of their cultures occurred, the above means the background cultures to the peoples of the Book of Mormon simply did not exist.
On the other hand, the cultural conditions that backdrop Biblical events have been shown to have existed. Of course, not every event in the Bible has or could have archeological support; but many do. Now, there are difficulties at times in reconciling the Biblical record with archeological finds. But many such difficulties have been resolved with further investigations. So overall, it would be accurate to say that the Bible is a generally reliable, historical document.
So my overall point can be summarized as follows: If a book contains what is purportedly historical records, and those records can be demonstrated to be generally unreliable, then the books claim to be "God-breathed" are called into question. God would not speak through a novel that is trying to pass itself off as being a historical narrative, as I believe is the case in regards to the book of Mormon.
On the other hand, just because a book is historically reliable this does not therefore mean that it is God-breathed. There are many historically reliable books that are not inspired.
So my belief that the Bible is the Word of God is not actually based on archeological evidence. I simply believe that sufficient evidence for its generally reliability exists. And since supposed historical difficulties have been reconciled in the past, I have reason to believe that current claimed difficulties will eventually find a solution.
The reasons why I believe the Bibles inspiration rests on many grounds, as discussed in various places on my site. But in a nutshell, the overall worldview presented in the Bible I find to be the only truly logically consistent and livable belief system. For more on my views in this regard, see the articles listed at: General Theology and Apologetics.
Two additional points are worth mentioning. First, given the lack of archeological support, what "proof" do Mormons generally offer for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon?
I can remember very clearly an encounter I had with a Mormon missionary a few years back. After confronting him with the information in the above article, he shrugged it off by declaring, "The only way to know if something is true is by praying about it. God will then bear witness with your spirit that it is true." He then cited James 1:5 in the Bible and Moroni 10:3-5 in the Book of Mormon to support this notion.
I pointed out to him, however, that the context of James 1:5 is one of praying for God to give us "wisdom" to endure persecution. It has nothing whatsoever to do with praying about a book to find if it is from God.
I then showed him Acts 17:11. It does give us direction in how to determine if a new, supposed revelation is really from God: "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." So consistency with prior revelation is the test cited. No mention is made of praying about it.
As for the Moroni passage, all I had to say was, one would have to first believe what the Book of Mormon says in order to believe this passage and find out if the Book of Mormon is true. That would be circular reasoning.
I also asked him if you used this same method in determining the truth of other matters. "Does two plus two equal four? - Ill pray about it and get back to you." It was about this time that he politely excused himself.
Lastly, what if someone were to somehow become convinced that the Book of Mormon were true? The person most likely would want to join a group that also believed in the Book of Mormon. But what group would the person then join?
When most people think of the Book Mormon, they associate it with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
However, there are other groups that also profess a belief in the inspiration of the Book of Mormon: the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ based in Independence, MO; the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) also based in Independence, MI; the Stangites, founded by James J. Strang; the New Organization; the Bickerites, along with many other such groups. It was this proliferation of such groups that first caused James R. Spencer to question his involvement with the Utah based-group.
Gradually it began to dawn on my that all four points of a typical Mormon testimony could be recited by any one of these groups. All believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God, that they belonged to the Restored Church, and that a prophet was the head of the Church today (Beyond Mormonism. Chosen Books, pp. 85-87).
These groups can be distinguished by looking at their teachings that come from outside the Book of Mormon. Now on this site, I have only addressed the Utah based group. And it is mainly due to the contradictions between the teachings of this groups "prophets and apostles" and the Bible that I personally would not consider joining this group. See Mormonism vs. the Bible.
The October 13, 1997 issue of US News and World Report contains an article titled, "No new hoax under the sun" (p.9). The article discusses literally hoaxes; specifically, claims to find and translate ancient manuscripts that never actually existed.
The article states:
The first known literary hoaxes were perpetrated upon the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt, who created a huge market for fakes by offering hefty sums for ancient Greek manuscripts. In the centuries since, the craft has settled into well-established conventions. The story of a rare manuscript discovered in unusual circumstances and translated under terms of strict secrecy is a particularly clever angle, for it avoids the hard work of ginning up an actual forgery of the original document that can stand up to direct scrutiny.
This "story" should sound familiar to anyone familiar with the background to the "coming forth" of Book of Mormon.
Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
McElveen, Floyd. The Mormon Illusion. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1985.
Talmage, James. The Articles of Faith. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1968.
Tanner, Jerald and Sandra. Mormonism: Shadow or Reality?. Salt Lake City: Lighthouse Ministry, 1987.
All Scripture references from: New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1982, unless otherwise indicated.
Another good book on the history, beliefs, and practices of Mormonism is Behind the Mask of Mormonism by John Ankerberg and John Weldon.
The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1991.
It was posted on this website in July 1996.
The "Postscript" was added in October
The "Clarification and Additional Points" was added April 26, 1998.
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