Is the Book of Mormon an actual historical account of ancient civilizations who once existed on the American continent? I don’t doubt that many have had spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon. But people have had spiritual experiences in countless other religions as well, and most of those religions contradict what the LDS church teaches. As a missionary, I had been instructed to teach people about “Moroni’s promise” found in Moroni 10:4-5. Verse 5 says: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” At one time I really believed the Holy Ghost had told me the Book of Mormon was true. Once my shelf broke, I realized the Book of Mormon couldn’t be an actual historical account. It may teach people principles that will lead them to live good lives, but that doesn’t mean the people in the Book of Mormon actually existed. When I read “The Lord of the Rings” I’m inspired by the example of Frodo and Sam to persevere against all odds, but again, that doesn’t make the story historically accurate.
Does it matter if the Book of Mormon is historical?
The leaders of the LDS church sure seem to think so. Here’s a quote from Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“Let me quote a very powerful comment from President Ezra Taft Benson, who said, “The Book of Mormon is the keystone of [our] testimony. Just as the arch crumbles if the keystone is removed, so does all the Church stand or fall with the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The enemies of the Church understand this clearly. This is why they go to such great lengths to try to disprove the Book of Mormon, for if it can be discredited, the Prophet Joseph Smith goes with it. So does our claim to priesthood keys, and revelation, and the restored Church…”
“…It sounds like a “sudden death” proposition to me. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is or this Church and its founder are false, fraudulent, a deception from the first instance onward.“
It definitely matters to me if the Book of Mormon is historical or not. If it’s not, there go the truth claims of the LDS church, along with its priesthood authority, the necessity for temples, tithing, and everything else the LDS church uniquely teaches or claims. If the Book of Mormon isn’t historical, to me it’s Christian fan fiction. It may teach of Christ, but it doesn’t mean Jesus himself authorized it, or that he approves of it.
Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon
One way to tell if a purportedly historical account is fraudulent is to check for anachronisms. For example, say someone tells you he’s found an original George Washington journal. But the journal contains an entry about George using a telegraph for communicating with his troops. Right away you know the journal is a forgery because the telegraph hadn’t been invented at the time of George Washington.
The Book of Mormon contains many anachronisms that show it’s a product of 19th century thinking, and not an actual historical document of people who lived from 600 BC to 420 AD. Some examples include:
- Animals: Cattle, oxen, horses, asses (donkeys), goats, elephants, sheep, swine
- Metals: Steel, brass, metallurgy, iron, coins
- Crops: Wheat, barley
- Weapons: Steel bows and swords, cimeters
- Vehicles: Wheels, chariots
- Tools: Plows, plate armor, bellows, compass (Liahona)
Apologists try hard to explain some of these, but in my opinion their explanations are embarrassing. For example, they claim when the Book of Mormon says “horse,” it could have meant “tapir” or “deer.” Never mind there is no evidence the tapir or deer have ever been domesticated so that ancient Native Americans could ride them, or so the animals could pull chariots.
Besides the anachronisms that the Book of Mormon mentions, there are some things that should have been mentioned but weren’t. If the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica like most modern Book of Mormon apologists think, why is there no mention of the food that was eaten in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, like beans and squash? Why aren’t animals of Mesoamerica mentioned, like jaguars and monkeys?
Archeological and linguistic evidence
Daniel Peterson is an apologist who spends a lot of time trying to defend the historicity of the Book of Mormon. In a Deseret News article from May 14, 2015 he said: “Some critics dismiss the Book of Mormon because, they say, no archaeological evidence directly supports it. Archaeological evidence, though, is spotty, and it seldom shows up on cue.” And in another article: “I’m often confronted with the demand that I prove the Book of Mormon true. Surely, if I possessed real evidence for the Book of Mormon, historians and archaeologists would be falling all over themselves with eager excitement.” He’s right, historians and archaeologists would be excited to learn there is evidence that exonerates the Book of Mormon! Unfortunately for the LDS church, no such evidence exists.
- No Native American languages that derived from Hebrew, the language the Nephites and Lamanites would have spoken when they left Jerusalem in 600 BC.
- The Book of Ether says 2 million soldiers and all their families died at the same hill where Moroni deposited the plates. Then Moroni said hundreds of thousands perished at the same hill in the final war at the end of the Book of Mormon. Where are all the artifacts from these incredible battles?
- DNA evidence shows ancestors of Native Americans came over the Bering Strait from 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, not from the Middle East 2,600 years ago.
- No inscriptions found using any writing related to Hebrew or Egyptian.
- How was it possible for there to be so many Nephites and Lamanites so quickly from just the few that traveled in the ship? Apologists say there must have been many people already here, but that’s not what the Book of Mormon says.
The Book of Mormon has been around since 1830, and LDS apologists have spent a lot of time and money looking for any archeological evidence that supports the Book of Mormon. So why haven’t they found any? Because the Book of Mormon isn’t historical.
“Let me now state categorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, … nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon… is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere.”
–Michael Coe, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 42, 46
Not a single non-LDS archaeologist takes the Book of Mormon seriously as a historical work, because it’s an obvious forgery. Again, that doesn’t mean it can’t help someone have spiritual experiences, or live a better life. But for me, as Jeffrey Holland said, the church falls if the Book of Mormon is false, and I see no other option but to say it’s a 19th century work of fiction.
LDS.org: Book of Mormon and DNA Studies
MormonThink.com: Book of Mormon Problems
CESLetter.com: Debunking FairMormon’s debunking: Book of Mormon
utlm.org: Where is Cumorah?
SignatureBooksLibrary.org: Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes