Some Thoughts on Jaredites Barges

I know we’re all supposed to be on the D&C right now, but I’m a tad behind. A few people elsewhere were asking about the Jaredite voyage and I thought it’d be useful to list some things I noticed from my last close reading.

The typical view of the Jaredite voyage comes from art. As we’ve discussed before art for scriptural narratives more frequently distorts the text and history than illuminates it. Which wouldn’t be such a problem except that people tend to base their conceptions on the art rather than the text. You see this with say how Arnold Friberg’s painting determine how people think of Lamanites and Nephites in ways that are pretty dubious.[1] The art for the Jaredite barges seems primarily based upon traditional (non-Mormon) art for Noah’s ark.

It’s not quite clear why Joseph chose the word “barge” to describe the vessel. (Nor really for many word choices in the Book of Mormon) My guess is that it was tied to the barges on the canals near where he lived. This was before widespread railways in the United States so companies dug canals to transport goods by water. These barges were often pulled by horses that were on the side of the canal. Barges could often reach 78 feet in length and hold 70 people although most were much smaller than that. It’s worth noting though that these canal barges don’t fit the description we have in the Book of Mormon anymore than miniature Noah’s arks do. While I don’t want to dismiss the word choice entirely, I think it leads us astray more than it informs given the text.

Limiting ourselves primarily to the text the first thing to note is that the Jaredites were using barges before setting out into open sea. Ether 2:6 say that they cross many waters.[2] While we can’t know for sure it’s likely many waters means rivers and lakes.[3] Thus these barges at this point may be more akin to canoes or rowboats than anything else. The Jaredites then reach the sea but it’s clear they are supposed to continue.(Ether 2:7)

When the Brother of Jared repents from staying on the shore for several years they build barges “after the manner of the barges which [they] have hitherto build.” (Ether 2:16) Right off we see that the boats they sail the sea with are similar to boats they sailed to the beach with. We’re explicitly told they “were small and they were light upon the water.” This seems to go against the style of the vessels in the church art.

Everyone remembers from seminary that they were “tight like unto a dish” but few ask how this was done. While it’s possible this was done with boards it’s far more likely these were solid logs carved out. The key phrase in verse 17 is “the length thereof was the length of a tree.” We don’t know the size of the trees they used, but it suggests again a hollowed out log. That would explain why it was tight – because there were no seams. Whether we have two logs mounted on top of one an other or simply some technique where all sides of a log are kept isn’t clear. And again, we should emphasize the assumption it’s a hollowed log is just as speculative as the art – but perhaps more defensible.

An other assumption people bring is that there were no sails or oars. It’s true that Ether 6:5 talks of “furious winds” that blew towards their destination. While it’s possible to assume the ships were moved passively in a miraculous fashion, the emphasis on the winds more suggests the use of sails. Even if oars aren’t mentioned it’s quite possible they were used. Often writers take for granted aspects of a description that are assumed to be part of shared knowledge and just emphasize what’s different from the usual. If so, then oars and sails likely were used.

The my ears, I think what is being described is actually much more akin to a traditional polynesian vessel. The main difference seems to be that the canoe part had a top. Now polynesian vessels often were made of two canoe like parts and then a center room made of wood or cloth. During storms to keep from being blown off course this would be taken down. While the easiest explanation is just something akin to sealed canoes and other possibility is that the sealed portion was this central living compartment that was kept low in the water.

The miracle of course would be the surviving the trip. Even if we had some sealed area and one or two canoe like parts traversing the Pacific would be extremely dangerous. Doubly so for a group with no experience. Even in modern rowing across the pacific it’s extremely dangerous. People have done it of course. While some do it in open boats often it’s done with boats that have a sealed cabin. Note that these modern boats are also made of modern materials that would hold up much better than wood.

An other problem for oceanic travel would be food. While the text describes bringing fowl (presumably chickens) and other animals we don’t know if any of these survived the trip.[4] (Ether 6:4) The main issue is scurvy but yams, grapes, or even beans allowed to sprout along with other items found in Asia would have prevented this.

The assumption of a submarine like vessel seems unlikely. I’d imagine that most of the time they were out of the vessel and they only went into the sealed section during storms. While Mormon describes their encountering many storms verse 6 suggests this wasn’t the status quo. The use of the sealed part of the vessel seems primarily to survive being flipped and hit by waves.

Please note I’m not saying a polynesian like vessel is definitely what they used. I’m just saying this would line up better with the textual descriptions. It also has the strength of being a vessel type that people actually sailed in the open seas of the Pacific. The main novelty seems to be this sealed cabin although it’s not clear from the text whether this was the full canoe like part or a separate cabin tied to the canoe(s). Also note this doesn’t resolve all the questions we might have. How, for instance, did they manage to keep the boats together? I’m sure there are techniques but this seems very difficult to maintain during storms when the passengers were cowering in a sealed room with only faint light from rocks.

1. Friberg’s paintings are great of course. I’d encourage anyone in Salt Lake City to go to the conference center and look at the originals. But almost certainly the Nephites don’t look like a mix between vikings and Romans with gladiuses for swords. While the Church visitor centers has slowly been working in more mesoAmerican art, the influence of Nephites as Romans still dominates. One piece of art at the visitor’s center in Temple Square has Lamanites with macuahuitls (mesoAmarican sword made of obsidian and wood) while the Nephite in the same painting has a gladius.

2. We should note the text of Ether is a summarization by Moroni written more than a thousand years later. It’s likely that Moroni is not at all familiar with sailing. We should keep this in mind when reading the text. Moroni is likely bringing in assumptions from his ignorance much like readers of the Book of Mormon do. That is, we should read Ether recognizing it’s a third hand account and thus may distort the underlying narrative and descriptions we don’t have access to. We shouldn’t read the text of Ether as a “god’s eye view” of what was going on. Rather Moroni will read the 24 plates in terms of his own religious and cultural assumptions. What we have is an interpretation and paraphrase of a different text.

3. Other passages using “many waters” though could be read as the sea. See for instance 1 Nephi 13:12-13 although Old Testament passages like Is 17:13 are metaphors of rivers. Mormon uses the term in Mormon 6:4 in a fashion that seems to describe lakes.

4. Many people confuse the list of animals from chapter 2 with what was brought on the ocean voyage. It’s worth noting for instance that while bees are mentioned initially, this appears to just be the first part of the trip. Moroni doesn’t mention the Jaredites bringing bees on the sealed ships — which seems an impossible feat. My guess is that the first storm the Jaredites encountered wiped out many of the animals they brought. Again just speculation but it seems wishful thinking that they’d survive. It’s worth noting that when they land in America Mormon only talks about them tilling the soil and not tending livestock. While vague that could easily mean they had no surviving livestock. I’d imagine that if the journey took over a year even if they did stop at islands for supplies that livestock surviving storms would be soon eaten. That said though Polynesians have sailed in traditional vessels from eastern Polynesia to Hawaii with chickens and pigs surviving. Water is the toughest to keep but gourds refilled when it rained allow one to survive with careful water rationing. Liquid from turtles or certain fresh fish also helps with hydration.

Edit: As I mention in the comments below, Geordie Tocher carved a 40 foot canoe out of a douglas fir and sailed from Vancouver to Hawaii with no experience in ocean sailing. It’s appearance is fairly similar to what I describe except the cabin was tarp and sticks rather than sealed as in Ether. He was able to deal with storms and 35 foot waves.

105 comments for “Some Thoughts on Jaredites Barges

  1. I find your suggestions to be thought provoking. In my mind the Jaredites didn’t need to provide extra propulsion in that the Lord provided the wind to move them toward the Promised Land (Ether 6:5). With them being in the water for almost a year (minus just 8 days) it seems plausible to me that they simply rode the currents to their destination. What did stand out to me in my last reading, was that they sang. Ether 6:9 says they “sang praises unto the Lord . . .they did not cease to praise the Lord.” We don’t often invision the people of the new world as singers, but at least the Jaredites relied on song to keep their vessels moving, and probably their own sanity on such a long voyage.

  2. Thanks for your point in note 2. It’s obvious in hindsight, but it struck me as a brilliant insight when I read it.

  3. Meh. The scriptures are pretty clear that the Jaredite vessels would be buried in “the depths of the seas.” Based on that alone, I think a Polynesian-style boat is incongruent with the description. Similarly, the “tight like a dish” repeated throughout the description, and the great lengths they went to in order to have light on the voyage indicate a far more sturdy and enclosed vessel than your proposal.

    That said, I’m a big proponent of your style of thinking. I do think it possible–likely even– that the Nephites used a polynesian-style boat. It’s easy to make with primitive tools, is of “curious workmanship,” and is in danger of sinking during a storm.

    On the honeybees, it’s likely that the Jaredites took something besides European honeybees (apis melifera). Interestingly, Meso-America has several species of stingless honeybees, which has always struck me as a good fit for Ether. (Evolutionary biologists claim northern bees likely developed stingers to protect their winter stores from predators. In the sub-tropics where nectar is almost always available, the bees do not produce much excess honey, nor have the means to defend it.)

  4. I think it’s a good way of looking at the text. One more source of distance, though, between events and the recorded text is the long duration (according to the text) of Jaredite society. The final Jaredite redactor probably had no experience with ocean travel as well.

    Or to take things one step farther, even assuming that the Book of Mormon is a historical and closely translated text, one might still be faced with a Jaredite origin story that is 100% legendary. That is, it’s the story the Jaredites told about themselves, not necessarily what actually happened.

  5. No familiar artwork depicting Jaredite barges comes to my mind. The only Jaredite Friberg painting I can think of is the brother of Jared seeing the finger of the Lord.

  6. Jones (1) I’ll admit my bias that typically I think the miracles of the Lord are done through natural means. The greatest miracle in the narrative is the lighted rocks. Yet I’d not assume some unique miracle of pushing the Jaredites to America. I’d think it more likely we have a fragmentary account and the miracle was having winds they could use and then actually surviving to reach the destination. I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about miracles in the more super-science or magic style. But I think that should be what we go to last when interpreting texts. So for instance with the Liahona there’s no way to interpret it except as a kind of technological device.

    Other Clark (3) but it doesn’t say they’d be consistently buried in the depths of the sea. As I mentioned Ether 6:6 says there were times they were buried in the sea but the cause is explicitly “because of the mountain waves which broke upon them.” So it was only in storms this is a problem.

    The tight like a dish I think works with the more canoe-like model as it’s just a way to deal with storms. While not as good as a modern rower and its sealed cabin and certainly not as comfortable it seems workable. Again though I’d imagine most canoes with sealed compartments would be destroyed so it’s still a miracle they survived.

    To the bees, I’d just note again that while they’re listed in the initial journey they are not listed as being part of the ocean voyage.

    My main problem with the traditional barge view is that I can’t see those being useful for river/lake travel which Mormon emphasizes were very light. So the main point of argument is that whatever they used for the ocean was based upon the model of what they used in rivers.

    Jonathan (4) while that’s a situation we have to acknowledge as very possible, I think the way Moroni treats the texts suggests it’s not legend. Or put an other way, I think the burden of proof would be on why we should treat it as legendary. Of course accuracy is a different matter entirely. The key text for deciding what is trustworthy is Ether 4-5 where much of his writing is part of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. So the writings of the Brother of Jared seem pretty important. (Ether 4:1)

  7. John (5) the first picture of the Jaredite barges is from and is printed in quite a few manuals as well as I believe being available from ward libraries. Sorry I didn’t mean to imply that Friberg had done a painting of the barge. Just that his other well known Book of Mormon paintings tended to mislead people about what the text actually describes.

  8. Just to add to the above, since elsewhere some are dubious about sailing the ocean in a dugout canoe. In the late 70’s Geordie Tocher sailed in a dugout canoe somewhat akin to what I describe above from Vancouver to Hawaii. Now that’s not the full Pacific of course. But it shows this could be done. Now his cabin wasn’t sealed but was tarp and sticks. But that’s about the only major difference. He faced bad weather and 35 foot waves without problem although their radio broke. Of course he was following a current that went near Hawaii from San Francisco. A big question for the Jaredites is what plausible currents or winds could help them reach America from what many presume is south Asia. (Although we should note we don’t know where the Jaredites left from nor their path) Note he also did this journey unexperienced in ocean travel. So those who find the Jaredite experience implausible probably aren’t aware of historic precedents.

    While I’ll fully admit my ignorance here, I believe one plausible path is from more northern Asia near Taiwan to the Vancouver Island area. That’s not far enough south for a mesoAmerican model of course.

  9. Best part of this post were your footnotes. Great insights Clark.

    I don’t think they had large barges, and the word choice is interesting especially when compared to what Joseph Smith was used to (as you point out, the barges used to transport goods through the canals). Still, the text does not give sufficient insight into the kind of boat that is being used, though I tend to agree with most of your points.

    Just an added thought on ancient migrations (on land and sea) as I have written elsewhere (my point was not on trans-oceanic voyages, but actually tracking the stars during ones travel, and how this would have shaped their view of the world):

    Did ancient people journey long distances? The fact is that trade routes, migrations, and nomadic travels were far more complex and long distanced in the ancient world than has been previously thought. Maritime trade from the Mediterranean to the northwest coast of India was established as early as the mid-fourth millennium BCE (McEvilley 1-2). Caucasian populations had settled as far east as modern-day China by 2000 BCE (Barber 18). Similar population movements also occurred in Japan at equal and earlier dates (Yoshida 29-43). A few centuries later, grave goods at Mycenae contained objects that originated in Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Nubia, Anatolia, northern Europe, and Afghanistan (McEvilley 4). At this same period, Egyptian beads were buried in the burrows at Salisbury Plain (MJSP 258). By the middle of the second millennium BCE full east-west contact along the whole of Eurasia had been achieved (McEvilley 4). Compellingly, scores of depictions of functional boats have been found in prehistoric rock art throughout coastal Europe (Görlitz 90-109). It is truly curious that the earliest accounts of both Sumerian and Egyptian tradition assert that the first settlers of both lands arrived on boat.

    While many of these facts are verified by archaeological discoveries, certain other finds have been pushed aside by mainstream scholars because the data no longer fits the conformed theories of dispersion routes. Japanese ceramic wares dating to 3000 BCE have been found in Ecuador while Asian cotton and mythological figures carved into gourds dating to the late second millennium BCE have been discovered in Peru (Campbell, Flight 96). Traces of nicotine and cocaine have been discovered in Egyptian mummies (Balabanova 6-21). Inexplicable parallels exist between Eurasian and Mesoamerican calendar astrological systems (Kehoe 47). Mesoamerican art reflects indigenous ethnic features, but also displays Asian, African, and Caucasian traits in numerous carved figures—racial characteristics that require intellectual somersaults to explain away.

    Hundreds of similarities in vocabularies, myths, rituals, and cultural patterns are found in both hemispheres, making arguments for inventionism (the idea that different cultures invent similar words or symbols autonomously) problematic at best. Even if we discount trans-oceanic voyages as a viable method of contact and assert that dispersion followed land routes before the melting of the last Ice Age, then we must also be aware that such massive migrations across continents would have produced an awareness of changing landscapes—terrestrial and celestial.

  10. The story from Ether is so implausible that I am inclined to say that the account we have is just what people were saying in Ether’s time happened two thousand years before. That is, the story is a legend. I mean, how accurate do you expect the Jaredite history to be over the course of so many centuries, especially when it comes to operational details of the kind of journey that none of them had any grasp of? The presence of the tower of Babel story at the beginning of Ether seems to me to be further confirmation that the first chapters of the book of Ether are legendary.

  11. Clark,

    To build on what John wrote up (9), the fact that the Jaredites knew the exact number of days (344) suggests that they were a tribe conscious of their celestial bearings. One needs to know the when (time of year, by carefully counting days) to fully utilize their celestial observations and determine the direction. That implies to me that they were in control of their voyage.

    It is often implied that they never made landfall until the 344th day. I’m not sure I interpret the text that way.

  12. Old Man (11) Yeah, the exact dating seems interesting. I don’t know that it implies star knowledge but that’s definitely one way to read it. One thing not clear, as I said, is their trip. If they left Iraq/Iran region that may mean dropping down to Gulf of Arabia and then heading east to Micronesia. That’d imply a lot of abilities to stop along the way before the final push. So I think the idea they made no stops to be pretty dubious. Certainly the text doesn’t make that claim.

    Felix (10) I’m not sure it’s that implausible frankly. That’s part of my point. The most implausible part is just how far the text claims they went (along with the glowing rocks of course) but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of reason. The part about the Tower of Babel is interesting for several reasons. First it just says tower and not Babel (that’s the chapter head written by Bruce R. McConkie). Second it doesn’t say how fundamentalists take the Tower of Babel story. It just talks about confounding language and being scattered. Interestingly the Jaredites are scattered. But it doesn’t say they can’t understand one an other but the mysterious “not understand our words.” The way it’s it’s put suggests something to do with writing. While it’s speculative I tend to read it more as akin to what happened to the Mulekites according to their account. (Which is probably most open to skepticism and questioning given their lack of writing)

    John (9) yeah, I think we’re finding there are more journeys than once was thought. A lot of the claims are still pretty controversial. One I found while reading on this was the C-14 dating of chicken bones in south America that match chickens the polynesians had. The debate is whether fish bones were corrupting the testing. I suspect it’ll take a while to accept that there was more contact. Likewise further up the coast in Canada it seems debris still regularly float in from Japan and that was likely going on for millennia.

  13. I do not believe the Jaredite barges were hollowed out trees. Being the length of a tree isnt any kind of evidence on how they were constructed. As far as we know, they brought all of their herds with them to the Americas.

  14. Rob it’s definitely weak evidence. So what I present is speculative. I hopefully made that pretty clear in the original post. At best I can say the evidence for it is stronger than the traditional view of what the barges were like. The main strength of the canoe like model is that (1) people actually sailed the Pacific successfully in that fashion and (2) there are ways to read the text in that fashion with support from the text. The question of why they’d gauge height in terms of a tree though is interesting. Why not use an absolute metric?

    An other argument for dugout canoes is simply the difficulty of making sealed boats. Especially for a non-sea faring society that seems non-trivial. The biggest argument against this is that there is a sealed door. If they had the skills to make a door that well sealed why not board construction?

    The strongest argument against the traditional view IMO (beyond lack of evidence for that design) is Ether 2:16-17 which strongly emphasizes their small size and lightness. Also that they are based upon the design for the first leg of the journey across “many waters” which likely is rivers/lakes.

    The problem with the herds is what the herds would eat and drink during the trip. Water in particular is a huge problem. As I mentioned though polynesians did successfully move pigs and chickens that way. Indeed there are some strong arguments for at least some chickens reaching South America by Polynesians prior to Columbus. Although the conclusions are still quite controversial. (The chickens obviously didn’t multiply enough to persist historically that we can see)

    I should finally note that there is an argument for the account of Ether 1-6 following in some ways the Ugaritic flood narratives. Some people have suggested that the holes in top and bottom of the Jaredite boat parallel the nappashu ventilator in the Ugaritic boat. This Syrian/Iraq source would also explain the use of “barge” since Tyrian boats were used in canals in that region. While I’d postulated from an argument of silence that sails were postulated this Babylonian parallel has no sails. See for example this description.

  15. I think we need to just admit that the whole Jaredite story is fraught with problems. The text is pretty clear that the vessels were completely enclosed. They had no fresh air (hence, the holes the Lord commanded them to cut in the top and bottom). They had no light (hence the glow-rocks). These vessels were also large enough to carry “flocks and herds” as well as enough food for all the people and the animals. What about fresh water, we might ask. And the “furious wind” blew them across the ocean in 344 days, during which time they were both “above the water and under the water.” Quite a trip. A couple of years ago I came across a news story about a Japanese ship that was set adrift by the tsunami. It drifted, yes drifted, from Japan into U.S. waters in about a year. But the “furious wind” couldn’t get the Jaredites across in less than 344 days? Too much here is just unrealistic.

  16. Franklin, as I mentioned the polynesians were able to carry chickens and pigs in their relatively small vessels. I don’t think the text says everything was enclosed and it certainly doesn’t say they were always in the enclosed cabin. Rather the enclosure (whatever it was) seems designed for storms. The 344 days as I mentioned isn’t necessarily the trip just across the main open Pacific but the time from when the reach the sea. Also if one postulates that they stopped along the ways that would make the trip longer.

    The bit about the light is interesting since it’s not quite clear to me why the light is so important to them. It’s convenient of course but there’s something we’re missing in the details.

    The vents are interesting. There are lots of theories about them. While I’d be the first to admit my theory above is speculative I’m not about to guess too much about the holes. One theory I’ve seen is that the bottom hole had a tube like attachment to bring it above water level. Then as the boat bobbed in the waves it acts as pump circulating air through the upper hole. But that seems a danger if the boat goes sideways. Of course presumably in storms the holes could be plugged. The other common view is that it’s a moon pool. It’s not clear to me what the use of that would be beyond maybe having a hole in top and bottom then a tube connecting the two holes with pluggable holes on the side. Then it again acts like the pump ventilator.

    The other (to my mind more plausible) view of the ventilator is that top/bottom refers to the top & bottom of the tree or log and thus once carved to its front and back rather than top or bottom of sailing. So you have two holes, one in the top bow the other in the top stern. You keep both unplugged normally except in storms.

  17. The way I read the text is that the 8 vessels had bottoms, sides, ends peaked, and tops with a sealing door. They were light and completely submersable. They were large enough to take their flocks and herds into them along with food and water.. We know that there were at least 24 adults along with their many children that went into the barges. They began to be many before they even made it to the promised land. Lets say that the group was around perhaps 80 people. Thats 10 per vessel along with food and provisions for about a year on each vessel.

    The logistics of this endeavor wasnt some small “hollow out some trees and set sail” type of event. And even though the vessels were small and light upon the waters, its all relative. We know the ancestors of the Jaredites were very large people which lets me believe the first Jaredites were very large people.

  18. I know this may be beside the point of this post, but I’m not sure Royal Skousen would agree with your assertion that Joseph Smith “chose” the word “barge” for any reason. If I’m not mistaken, he believes, based on his extensive study, that Joseph was given actual words, not ideas that Joseph had to put into words.

  19. Mike I actually had started a digression commenting on that but then thought better of it. Problem is then you have to get into how meaning could be tied to Joseph’s mind yet not consciously chosen by him. Then you have the interpretation Royal at least gets close to of someone potentially doing the translation completely separate from Joseph (potentially with 15th century English somehow) and Joseph just read off the worlds. It all gets pretty complicated pretty quickly.

  20. Clark, I didn’t get that from Skousen (that perhaps someone had done a separate translation resulting in some 15th century language). While Skousen publicly claims he doesn’t know why that language is in there, I personally think the Lord caused that language to be inserted as a sort of “hidden key” indicating that Joseph could not have written the BOM. I will admit, however, that I have not been exposed to much of the detail of Skousen’s findings on that issue, so perhaps there’s something I am missing.

  21. I think Skousen just noted the 15th century language which of course isn’t necessarily from the 15th century. I think some critics speculated it was an artifact of rural US language. While in the 20th century linguists helpfully recorded regional dialects and in some cases their connection back to Europe via the original immigrants (especially Scottish) no one had done that for early 19th century dialects. (So far as I know) So it’s probably unanswerable. As an interesting aside Royal’s linguistic work is fascinating especially his algorithms for how language evolves in reaction to new languages coming in contact. I always thought that the 15th century stuff was right up his alley in terms of linguistic development and evolution. He has two technical books on the subject I read back in the 90’s although I don’t think they caught on in the field. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me but way back when he was still working on the critical text project he brought me into his office in the library and showed some of the code he’d written for doing the evolution. Fascinating stuff. I’ve often thought that using his techniques there may be a way to try to figure out where the 15th century language came from. But that might be impossible. I don’t know. I should also mention that at the time all these different copies of the Book of Mormon were all open for his work on that project. Some fond memories.

    Anyway back on topic.

    Because of the 15th century language some people (not Royal who seemed to distance himself from it) speculated that it was an other figure who translated the Book of Mormon. That is they postulated a traditional translation with the Urim & Thummim & seer stone merely channeling this other figure. Going by distant memory here but I think some had the theory Moroni was translated or didn’t die ala the 3 Nephites, learned English after going to Europe and translated the plates himself. So part of what I said was a bit of a joke about that. Of course when you have to explain the joke, especially an ironic one with that much complexity all humor is gone and I failed completely. LOL.

    My own view as I mentioned is that the method doesn’t matter too much compared to the idea much of the translation works by ‘quoting’ phrases, idioms, and ideas from Joseph’s environment. How that is managed matters less to my eyes. The more interesting question is tight or loose translation in terms of content. I think it has to be loose due to the place of the KJV. The question then becomes what to make of the variants.

    Trying to maintain some connection to our discussion of Ether 2 & 6 I’d note some of the interesting phrasing Moroni makes in his digressions and moralizing. Some of the language is kind of interesting but more interesting is recognizing the Moroni is taking a role relative to the brother of Jared that he has relative to Joseph. It’s a translation in a translation with a certain ironic distance I find really compelling.

  22. I’ve been thinking about these comments for a bit. We have this story, that at the primary level feels like it should be a firsthand recording, that’s been proof checked by heavenly hosts. But then after reading it, over and over, and thinking about context, we start debating about how it’s probably a third hand experience, that’s been exaggerated, abridged, translated, retranslated, etc. And on top of that, we’re asked to believe that this is part of the most correct book? Why????
    I don’t know about you, but I believe I would prefer something like the Quran model. Angel comes down, tells the prophet what happened, prophet speaks the experience aloud, and a scribe records it. Done. I really want my ancient scriptures to have been compiled with PBS Frontline accuracy. Given that Joseph couldn’t have possibly been using any skill of his own to translate a dead language, why even bother with the Golden plates? Why couldn’t an angel have come down and said “Here’s the records of a lost people that the angel documentarians were taking 2000 years ago. They are as Celestially accurate as an English translation can be. Go forth!”?
    Perhaps one day, we’ll look back and be grateful for the problematic, epic tale. Perhaps if the Book of Mormon was scientifically accurate, some of my ancestors might not have believed it, because it would have conflicted too much with their 19th century scientific knowledge. I don’t know. Apparently the Lord wants us to put our faith in the Book of Mormon, as it is. Fraught with problems, and all.
    I think back to Clarks post “Jeremiah, Truth and Intelligence.” Where (from what I remember) he explains how the concept of Truth didn’t start out as being something that’s unchangeably accurate, but Truth started out as “It is what it claims to be.” Perhaps that’s why the Book of Mormon is true. It isn’t because it’s 21st century, text book accurate. But because it says it’s the autobiography of a people (or three), and it IS their autobiography. Exaggerations and all.
    That must be really important to God. Not for us to get a perfectly accurate record, but to get what a group of people thought was important for us to get (or at least for their children to get). I want the perfectly accurate record, but apparently that’s not what I came here on Earth for. What lesson am I to take away from this? It certainly adds a human touch to the record. Perhaps there’s more fuzziness, nuance, forgiveness, and complexity in the Eternities than we think there is; and having this imperfect record helps us prepare for that in some way. I don’t know. But it’s something I’m thinking about.

  23. Interesting. Before the election I would have rejected these speculations out of hand; now I’m not so sure. Apparently anything is possible.

  24. I see and understand the Book of Mormon as a very accurate account of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. When combined with scientific study it shows me just how inaccurate modern secular scientific study is.

  25. Clark (12)
    Any claim that contradicts orthodox models are always controversial, and the lengths that orthodoxy goes to to stay orthodox is very often humorous (and sometimes dangerous). To suggest that Old World artifacts appear in the New World as flotsam and jetsam is one such example. Well yes, things can float across the waters, like gourds and pieces of wood. But if they can, so can people, on boats. Indeed, Polynesians could row their canoes 2000 miles between islands using the stars as guides. And for the record, almost all ancient cultures, especially sea-faring coastal cultures, had a great deal of star knowledge. It is we that do not.

    What is harder to float across the waters are stone reliefs, and by some of those we are able to determine that the Vikings made it to America over a century before Columbus. Of course, the older you get the more “controversial” it becomes. How does cocaine show up in first millennium BCE Egyptian mummies? Well, the official answer is that the technicians testing for it were using it and contaminated the samples. This is the length to which academia and orthodoxy goes to explain something they do not believe.

    The Book of Mormon, according to them, is really just imaginative brick a brack and absurdist religious flotsam and jetsam. But there it is, in all it glory and with its flaws, defying all orthodox models of history. And yes, while traditional Mormon interpretation of it has often been uncritical and rather Evangelical, there it is defying even us. It is the thunderclap in the historical silence of the unknown.

    But then again, almost all of history is unknown.

  26. I think my qualm would be that just because something ends up in a manual it doesn’t mean it’s an orthodox model. I think we have to be aware of vagueness in all this and just say the orthodox position is ill defined. Just because an artist’s painting makes it in a manual or visitor’s center doesn’t make it a defined orthodox position. That may be quibbling but I think it’s an important point to push on.

    Jader3d I think relative to the message of the text it’s the most correct text. Most of these things are incidental to that message. They’re interesting for scripture nerds and occasionally to show problems in critics attacks, but ultimately not really important at all. Moroni is, I think pretty clear to his aims as well as his weaknesses (Ether 12).

  27. John Lundwall,

    “almost all of history is unknown”

    This statement doesn’t ring in defense of a historical Book of Mormon, as you intended it to be, but quite the opposite. Are you willing to admit that the idea that Jesus actually visited the Americas is unknown? Are you willing to admit that the idea that Lehi and Nephi actually existed and crossed the ocean from the Middle East to the Americas is unknown? You seem fairly confident that traces of cocaine on mummies is near conclusive evidence of contact between ancient Egypt and the Americas (given your mockery of those who believe otherwise). You only say that almost all of history as an unknown as an odd justification of claiming near absolute certainty in a particular set of historical propositions (namely those of Joseph Smith) that have little to no evidence upon which to base them. For if we are to accept that most of history is unknown, which has some truth to it, then it would seem that we could assert knowledge only in historical propositions with overwhelming evidence and that we should be very cautious in asserting knowledge in historical propositions with little to no supporting evidence, or at least place those propositions in the category of unknown and therefore not worthy of excessive speculation and wonderment until evidence emerges. Yet I have every reason to believe that it is the opposite for you; that you have spent considerable time and effort wondering about whether Semitic peoples as early as 2500 BCE journeyed from Western Asia to the Americas and that you have constructed a rather formidable wall of justifications for believing that even to the extent that you place the burden of proof on those who are skeptical of it. Sorry, but skeptics simply don’t bear any burden of proving nearly unevidenced propositions wrong. It is those who make those propositions who bear the burden of proving them correct. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  28. Q, I fully agree skeptics don’t have the burden of proof. However evidence for limited pre-Columbian transatlantic crossings seems abundant. Not all the evidences are equally compelling. I don’t find the cocaine on mummies particularly persuasive for instance given the likelihood of contamination but find DNA of non-American chickens probably brought by Polynesians fairly strong if not yet fully confirmed again due to questions of contamination. So far as I know viking crossings are completely uncontroversial these days. Chinese crossings are still fairly controversial. Yet from what I can tell the general idea of crossings while not fully accepted also isn’t really controversial either. Of course nearly all of the crossing evidence is not for Jews and thus has no evidentiary bearing on the Book of Mormon beyond a certain plausibility threshold.

    For the record I think that the Book of Mormon was produced by God in the fashion it was precisely to require one to turn to God directly. I think God veils himself intentionally to make passive knowledge (it’d be irrational to not believe in him) difficult if not impossible. Given that and my view of the plan of salvation I don’t think there will be solid positive evidence for the Book of Mormon before the time it’s largely irrelevant. So the best believers will ever be able to produce is plausibility arguments.

  29. Clark, the issue is the logical tension that arises by saying that almost all history is unknown while in the same breath making bold assertions of knowledge about a great number of historical propositions about the Americas between 2500 and 400 BCE, few, if none, of which can be corroborated by evidence outside the Book of Mormon (if you want to consider the Book of Mormon actual evidence). But I’ll let John Lundwall answer for that.

    If you’re answer to lack of evidence for Jaredite crossings. I don’t see how pre-Columbian Viking crossings of the Atlantic to Newfoundland in the 900s makes that more plausible, especially when you’re considering the idea of Chinese crossings to be controversial.

  30. Controversial but with evidence. By controversial I mean there’s not reasonable agreement on the issue in the scholarly community and both sides can marshal arguments or plausible problems against a conclusion. The more interesting parallels are the Polynesian although again still controversial but gaining in proponents.

    To your other point I agree. We can’t make the mistake of simply saying so much is unknown that anything goes. That said we also have to recognize that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence when we know so little.

  31. Q (27)

    I had to re-read my post to see what your diatribe was about. I was not “mocking” anybody except a modern academic prejudice that has instilled itself in an immovable worldview; one that declares that it is impossible for people to have crossed the oceans before Columbus, or even the Vikings. I find such assessments the height of arrogance—I suppose my “flotsam and jetsam” was directed towards this view. But mind you, I was not directing that mockery to Clark or anyone at T&S. Far from it.

    Most of history is unknown. Most of the data which we need to construct accurate history is permanently missing. There is nothing anyone can do about it except recognize it.

    Contrary to your assumption, for the most part there is no real historical evidence for the Book of Mormon. One can only gather macro-patterns which might imply the historical plausibility of the Book of Mormon. The text implies large and complex civilizations within about a 300 square mile radius rising and falling through war, famine, and other social and natural means. Okay, if we look at Central America (and that is also an assumption) we find that such patterns existed. But that does not prove the Book of Mormon at all. The best evidence we have of the historicity of the BOM is the text itself, and the text provides many challenges, many strange confirmations, and many obstacles.

    One of the things I always talk about when teaching the BOM is what exactly would be considered historical proof? If archaeologists discovered a road sign in ancient Mayan that plainly said “Zarahemla this way” what would happen? Well, several papers would be written showing how that road sign was a fake, because it does not fit within our modern assumptions, and that much of our view of history is constructed by assumptions placed upon what little evidence we have left. Mind you, I take this same example and deconstruct the traditional Mormon view as well, asserting that many ways we interpret all of the scriptures are not the product of historical evidence or modern revelation, but a long tradition that is rooted in a great many unproven and unprovable assumptions. The prophets also live within these assumptions, and everything they say is not revelation.

    Cocaine in Egyptian mummies is not conclusive proof. It is provocative data that should allow scholars to ask, well, how could it have come about? What alternative theories might we deduce for some form of cross-continental contact within our understanding of Egyptian history (i.e., there is no inscription that shows Egyptians sailing to a far away land nor mention of any such travel in the surviving data). However, when dealing with ancient history, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence (which very often it is taken as exactly that). Many of our historical models, against which the skeptics must show far greater evidence than the orthodoxy, are based off large assumptions that are just that.

    I was not claiming absolute certainty in any historical propositions, especially as related to the BOM. For me, ancient history is the consideration of the perpetually ambiguous. For the record, I do believe in the historicity of the BOM, but I also am as cautious as I can be about my own inherited historical assumptions. This post started out as Clark challenging some of those inherited assumptions. I personally don’t think the Jaredite barges were single tree canoes, but Clark’s point that Mormon art tends to dictate our worldview more than the text is generally spot on.

    Meanwhile, there were some comments in this thread that flatly stated that the entire thing had to be made up. Why? Surely we cannot prove any of the supernatural elements of the story. But what about the natural elements (some ancient clan constructing boats and sailing the oceans?) I think such a proposition to be plausible, and the only thing that interests me is why would we consider it implausible?

    In the end, my faith in the BOM is just that, faith. That faith resides in the spiritual witness and growth I’ve obtained by studying it. As a sober thinker, and knowing that almost all of academic history thinks the historicity of the BOM is absurd, I ask, why is that? What are the assumptions? And if the BOM is historical, then what other historical models plainly accepted in our textbooks are also flawed? Of course, the BOM might not be historical, or it might not be historical in the way I think it is, but much fruit has been garnished by me by questioning the orthodoxy of history.

  32. But we don’t “know so little.” A great deal is known about the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, including their (overwhelmingly) likely origins. Also, a “crossing” is one thing; an immense, let’s face it, transcontinental civilization that has disappeared without a trace is quite another. But we’ve been over this ground before …

    It should here be noted that the average Mormon, judging from every ward I’ve been in, and there have been many over many years, cares not a fig about the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Could. Not. Care. Less. Historicity is the realm of the LDS equivalent of Trekkies. If the Brethren say the book is “true” it’s true. As a guide for life, you could do a lot worse.

  33. P, I suspect nearly everyone here (except likely Rob) assumes the Nephites were a small group largely assimilated into a larger group yet maintaining some persistent culture largely due to a textual tradition. That’s possibly not the mainstream view, although from what I can tell FARMs apologetics have had pretty significant theological effects in the church despite rather poor manuals from the church (IMO).

  34. “The best evidence we have of the historicity of the BOM is the text itself”

    Wait we’ve found the original and have radiocarbon dated it? This is circular logic. I suppose the best evidence we have that the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon is true, allegedly translated by Christopher Nemelka, is the text itself.

    “I was not claiming absolute certainty in any historical propositions”

    Of course you do. I have every reason to believe that you regularly proclaim that you know that the Book of Mormon is true. Your whole life is based on that proposition. Who are you fooling? All of history is practically unknown except the historical claims of Joseph Smith. That’s absolutely true in your mind. You pivot between relativism and absolutism when socially convenient. This is doublethink.

    “If archaeologists discovered a road sign in ancient Mayan that plainly said “Zarahemla this way” what would happen? Well, several papers would be written showing how that road sign was a fake”

    In your world, Lundwall, LDS apologists are the only open-minded thinkers and historians and there is this massive blindspot and bias in academia. Never mind the fact that mainstream academia is not a monolith by any means. And yet you’re probably as skeptical of Nemelka’s claims as mainstream scholars are of Joseph Smith’s. Paranoia + doublethink.

    Bottom line, don’t say that almost all history is unknown unless you really mean that, which you obviously don’t.

  35. I take a position somewhat between what Q and John raise. I think anyone looking at history recognizes that especially ancient history there is a lot of consensus built up out of fairly limited data and often circumstantial arguments. We can and should recognize that with such limited data our conclusions are limited and extremely fallible. However simultaneously we can’t use that to justify any type of claim. What we have to do is compare claims and our evidence for each. The reality is that as limited as the data there is for most historical consensus it’s orders of magnitude stronger than most competing claims. There’s a reason why there’s consensus.

    Of course the process of change is tricky and involves human politics and assumptions as much as anything. New ideas often require more evidence than the ideas they attempt to replace. Especially if they violate underlying theoretical assumptions. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

  36. “What we have to do is compare claims and our evidence for each.”

    For instance, Michael Coe’s claims that Mesoamarica was populated by Siberian Asiatics is supported by copious evidence; the LDS claim that this same region once supported a mighty Semitic civilization by absolutely zero evidence. Clark, isn’t it time we moved on? Honestly?

  37. Do you really think that for a Mormon that’s the only evidence? Don’t assume everyone has the same evidence. Of course not everyone will agree on what counts as evidence. And people without those experiences obviously won’t accept private religious experience as a guide.

  38. Okay, so I thought this point was a little afield until I realized the OP was hypothesizing the design Jaredite barges:

    Clark (37), “Do you really think that for a Mormon that’s the only evidence?” By all means, assert private religious experience as a factor in your faith, but for goodness’ sake, if you’re going to devote an entire blog post to hypothesizing the design Jaredite barges, why are you so dismissive of someone’s citing the research of Michael Coe?

    I’m not saying you can’t ask questions like the one in your OP. I think, however, that it would be more intellectually honest to first understand and tackle the bigger questions related to BOM historicity. If you go that route, however, you may not like what you find. Unless I am reading the thoughtful assertions of Michael Coe incorrectly, the consensus of the body of Mesoamerican anthropologists that he eminently leads is extremely doubtful of the BOM’s historicity.

    Perhaps this is just me, but I would never seek to publish (or blog) research on French field artillery used in the Thirty Years’ War if a number of eminent historians presented credible evidence indicating that the Thirty Years’ war never occurred.

  39. Michael, to clarify, I believe Coe’s position is that there is zero evidence for the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica, which is different than the position that the book is false. FTR, even BYU archeologists (including those I studied under such as Ray Matheny) agree that there is zero evidence for the Book of Mormon taking place in Mesoamerica.

    My personal theory is that the BoM took place elsewhere, so it’s not a dealbreaker for me. I do think it’s a stretch to conflate “not in Mesoamerica” to “patently false.”

  40. I think you’re conflating two issues Michael. First off whether there really were Nephites. For that anyone without a religious confirmation of its historicity will be doubtful because they require positive evidence. Further the only real positive evidence that would change their view would be the discovery of texts making pretty explicit reference to the Nephites. However that’s different from deciding the best way to read the texts assuming historicity. For the later I think we have to look at what is most probable given current theories. We may well be wrong but it’ll help orient our reading.

    For this second issue we’ll first be comparing theories and their grounds but I think we’ll also be showing a range of possible meanings. So while I wrote this post I’m certainly not arguing that’s the only way to read the text. Far from it. Rather I’m showing a different way of reading the text than I think has more support than the way many people read it. But I certainly don’t have particularly strong views that the Jaredites used carved logs for their boats.

    My view is that our knowledge in these regards is at best vague and thus we should be looking at the range of defensible possible meanings rather than pushing just a single way of reading the text.

  41. I wonder what damage is done the Church when we refuse, utterly refuse, to acknowledge reality and instead insist that reality is not all it is purported to be. At the very least institutional maturation is retarded and members who blindly trust are put at grave risk of discovering a truth that is awful only because it is so consistently denied.

  42. If one is willing to throw out pretty much all of mainstream secular understanding of ancient America history and just use the Book of Mormon as your guide then there is great evidence of the BoM.

    I have studied it over the years and am very convinced that the Olmec and Mayan civilizations were the Jaredites. Later on, after the Jaredite destruction, Nephites and Lamanites both moved in to their lands and adopted some of their customs and style. But it is still cleary distinct, in my opinion, that almost all of the Mayan ruins, stelae and artifacts all point to the testimony of the Jaredites. I dont really care what secularists have to say about ancient American history, they also say the BoM is a work of fiction. To me, that pretty much tells me just how bad academia has failed us in getting it right! Not only are they wrong, but almost entirely opposite of the truth. If the BoM is true (as a hypothetical-I already know it is) then secular understanding is wrong, dead wrong, and we must rethink everything. I find it ironic that too often we will cherry pick what info from secularism that fits our personal model but then refute those same sources on different but yet related issue if it isnt within scope. I have learned from long observance that mans understanding of history is very juvenile and often wrong where it matters the most.

  43. Wow Rob. I’ve heard the “Jaredites are the Olmecs” before, and it has some backing, such as the dates of the two civilizations match, the asiatic features of the giant heats at LaVenta support trans-oceanic travel, and the fact that both are considered the root of all subsequent cultures in the area.

    However. The Mayan= BoM people is pretty easy to disprove on virtually every level. Mayan civilization doesn’t even seriously begin until after the BoM time period. Plus, ancient Mayan scripts have been translated, and NOTHING in the thousands of stela matches anything in the BoM. Scholars know how they lived, what the y ate, how they conducted warfare, who they worshipped, etc. and there’s really nothing even close to the BoM. ( I’m partial to the Nephites=Hopewell, but that’s a threadjack.)

  44. The other clark,
    Its why you have to throw out the modern secularist understanding. The interpretation of mayan writing is fraught with difficult conjecture as is the correlation dates combined with c-14 techniques. We know that the original Mayans who built the thousands of ruins were an extinct race when the conquerers came. All of the ruins were long undisturbed and abandoned and overgrown with foilage. The Indians who did live on the land were definitely not the same culture of people that built the great cities long forgotten and lost long before.
    I agree that the Nephites were the hopewell Indians along with various others such as the Anasazi, the Pueblo, etc. The text supports this very well.
    The Mayans are the most misunderstood group in all of North America due to misidentifying their correct language and timeframe.

  45. Rob, apparently, knows more about this topic than everyone else. Anything that disagrees with his premise and his conclusion are wrong–and are the result of godless, secular learning, and probably are part of the ‘godless’ left. Listen to the man, you will understand the current situation of America. And, apparently, its very easy to understand past.

  46. #44 Rob– Actually, many Mayan cities were inhabited when the Spanish arrived, including Tulum, a coastal city south of Cancun. In fact, the Mayans fought so effectively that the Yucatan wasn’t effectively subdued for 200 years (1690s). While it is true that the peak of the “Classic Maya” period was past by the time the conquistadors arrived, the culture and people were absolutely the same, and had hundreds of books documenting their history. Unfortunately, nearly all of them were burned.

  47. The other Clark,
    There certainly were people living in the places of the Mayans, but they werent the same group or culture that built all the pyramids nor had the sophisticated society of great interlinked cities and city states. They definitely were not the same people.

  48. Donald Trump actually built all that stuff. This post is wrong. These comments are wrong. Clearly under the influence of Obama and secular humanists who want to destroy faith. Make America great again. Mayans and Olmecs for the win. 2017 will be their year with our new leadership.

  49. Other Christian cultures have their snake handlers and Marian apparitionists; we have our Robs. This is the glory of Christ: there is room for everyone.

  50. You guys mock Rob, but if you believe in the Book of Mormon, then you believe it is evidence that that Jesus has manifested himself to all nations. and we probably know 5% of accurate history at best. The Book of Mormon shows that revisionist history belongs to the Tyrants, the stubborn, and the hard-hearted. We don’t need to mock Rob here, just state disagreements and reasons for them. Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell is on point here and with regards to the general state of big media right now.

  51. What I find of interest about the Mayans is that when the Spanish came to conquer the natives and look for gold treasure they discovered ruins on a proportion that defied any rational explanation from even the natives. Not only could the inscriptions of buildings and stelae not be read, the natives own form of writing was a modified version, perhaps one that was copied from an earlier race. Current decipherment of ancient Mayan writing is still ongoing. Its not a writing system that has been solved by any means. One cannot simply read and translate Mayan inscriptions. The natives themsrlves cant read them. Mayan inscriptions are “interpreted” by various scholars and that interpretation is sometimes debated, changed, etc. Its not what we would call a true decipherment at all. Same with the correlation dates, it is still debated as to their start date and dates put on buildings, wars, etc. The standard GMT correlation as now widely accepted is fraught with a lot of speculation and guesswork as to how exactly the date was agreed upon. And even still, those who generally agree eith the GMT dates are often at odds with actual specific dates. The 2012 end of world Mayan prediction was testament of that, it sparking a lot of debate in attempting to truly decipher what Mayan civilization meant abd if the GMT was actually off.

    I sit back, watch all this unfold and just wonder why we as a people suck up everything they say as if they are gods that we worship. Why so many LDS hang on to their intellectualism when that philosophy is the very same philosophy that works to destroy evidence for the Book of Mormon. The reality of it is that we dont know jack about the extinct mayan ruins and peoples who once inhabited their mighty cities. It is estimated that the ancient mayans built perhaps over a thousand pyramids in meso America unlike anywhere in the rest of the world. When the Spanish conquerors came, how many pyramids of similar style were being built? None. They were living in pre-existing structures built at an earlier time. Their writing was very different as was their culture. The reality is that the ancient race that built the many ruins that litter all of meso-America was done by a far superior race that we really know nothing about. But, its the magnitude of ruins thst should catch attention. To build hundreds upon hundreds of pyramids along with tens of thousands of buildings, many of which were very large, should put it in scope of perhaps being the greatest civilization of its time in the whole world. This isnt something that even a few million people could build and sustain, no, it would require tens upon tens of millions of people as a united empire to build.

  52. Rob #53 because you refuse to read intelligent critiques of the BoM, you make the same mistake as its author(s): believing brown-skinned peoples incapable of advanced civilizations, i.e., the Mound Builder error.

  53. P,
    You are so wrong. I have read crtiques on every side. When I was younger I wanted to be an archeologist and work at the Mayan ruins. I never became that but my passion still lives on. I know the problems well enough to know that they havent gotten the history of the ancients in America correct be it the Inca, the mound builders, or any inbetween in any time period. They are so bad at interpreting the compiling evidence its unreal. And yet, we have a Book of Mormon that more closely matches the evidence and yet scholars even within our own church still get it wrong.

  54. Those ‘so-called’ scholars are wrong. So terrible. They should apologize. They want facts, I have facts. The best ones. Unreal.

  55. Rob, instead of unsupported generalities, lay out your evidence and conclusions systematically and let us take a look – IOW publish a paper.

  56. “I wanted to be an archeologist” followed by “yet even scholars within our own church still get it wrong” is about all I need to know about Rob’s contribution to this discussion.

  57. I believe Ive already laid out several points. For instance- if the current Mayans are the remnants of their mother civilization how come even they cant decipher the ancient Mayan writing?

  58. Almost no current ‘so called’ English speakers can decipher Old English! So bad. We should ban them until they can. Posers.

  59. Rob #62 “Most journal-style scientific papers are subdivided into the following sections: Title, Authors and Affiliation, Abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Acknowledgments, and Literature Cited, which parallel the experimental process.” (Bates College guide)

  60. Brian,
    The problem with the Mayan writing system was that the civilization the Spanish conqueres discovered did not read nor understand the ancient classic writing. They had their own modified language that may have been basef off of it but what we call the classical Mayan writing system wasnt in use when the Spaniards conqured the natives. The great pyramids, stelae and other achievements that had writing carved into them was a lost forgotten culture and art by the time the Spaniards came. The interpretation of the classic glyphs came down to trying to place current linguistics to patterns in the glyphs. No one even knows what the right interpretation would even sound like. We know that the Mulekites language had become so corrupt by the time they were discovered by the Nephites that they couldnt understand each other. Language is peculiar in that it only takes a few generations for it to become somewhat unrecognizable if one doesnt have a written record that is understood. As such, the written language that post classic Mayans were using was not the same language as the classic used. Its documented that no writing system was used between the classic and post classic for very long periods in much of the area of the Yucatan. The writing that did spring up was a different language system.

  61. My driving pt is that if you want to be anything other than a nuisance on T&S you’ll have to report your findings as per scientific publication protocol so that it can be peer reviewed. You claim to have read widely in this field. If so you should know this.

  62. People mock Rob on here, but his view is that of probably the majority of active LDS. The Book of Mormon is for most believers just as much of a history guide to the Americas as your average high school history textbook is for the world around us. Of course, for the average person, most of history is an abstraction. They haven’t taken the time to internalize it and figure it out. Average believers think it is true because they think they felt the spirit and because other people whom they think are smarter than them believe it is true and who are they to question them. Case in point is Brandon Flowers in his conversation with Richard Dawkins. Flowers couldn’t defend the Book of Mormon, so he simply said that there are really smart people who defend its historicity, therefore he shouldn’t be challenged for believing such.

    Rob is intellectually honest, I’ll give him that, even if his arguments wouldn’t hold water in any legitimate academic setting outside BYU. My question is for the seeming skeptics on this board. What are you still doing in Mormonism (if you’re still in it)?

  63. Generally members leave the culture, not the religion. Conversely, if the culture works for them, there are all sorts of work-arounds for irrational or troublesome aspects of the religion, esp BoM, which is first scripture and only secondarily history. Another example is SSM. If the bishop is progressive and/or welcoming of gay family members/spouses/children, then relatives are much more likely to take a wait & see approach w/ the Brethren and retain their membership.

  64. Dan, I doubt many at BYU hold to Rob’s particular take on the Book of Mormon. It’s an extremely dated and impossible to defend position. Effectively you have to avoid explaining most of the evidence. While some apologetic materials have trouble, they do at least try to conform with the evidence they need to explain.

    I don’t know what percentage of Mormons believe in a local geographical model (independent of adopting say a mesoAmerican model). My guess is that like most Bible readers most people just don’t care enough to investigate and have at best a superficial and naive knowledge. I’m not sure that indicates much. Of those who are curious and engage more scholarship I suspect the models developed by apologists are most widely accepted. It’s quite rare to meet someone under 65 who believes in the old hemispheric models. The reason for this is simply that most books one would buy adopt a mesoAmerican model or at least reference it. The older Institute manuals (originally produced in the 1970’s) don’t although off the top of my head I think they at least gesture towards a limited geography. (I’d have to check to be sure — it’s been a long time since I read them) If you go to Deseret Books most presume limited geographic models.

    P, I think it’s tricky. I suspect there are lots of people who feel strong cultural ties but don’t believe. I’m sure there are some who believe but can’t handle the culture but I suspect that’s the minority. Typically if you truly believe the culture is easier to put up with even when you don’t care for elements. SSM is somewhat different since there’s a fundamental question of justice at hand.

  65. p, my experience has been that leaving the culture and the religion go hand in hand. It seems like more and more are leaving Mormonism altogether, particularly younger folks.

  66. Dan, statistics don’t seem to back that up at least in the United States. We’ll see when the next ARIS study comes out of course. But it appears that with some variance retention has been between 60-70% for some time. The recent Pew study put it at 65%. It’s true the prior Pew study put it at 70% but there are some reasons to be doubtful towards that number. First off the sample size is pretty small and secondly some of the results Pew gave seem non-sensical (huge numbers of people paying a full tithe for instance and 65% of all people over 18 having a temple recommend, only a 2-8% inactivity rate for the church, etc.).

    I know there were some stories of millennials leaving the church at higher numbers. That’s just reporting the Pew numbers though and then comparing it to huge numbers in the 70’s. Yet those numbers in the 70’s are pretty dubious and it’s also an apples to oranges comparison for various reasons. A lot of the studies that go back to the 70’s either are using gss data with likely small sample sizes or are comparing Pew with far more limited samples that really aren’t measuring the same thing. For youth retention I did a post a year or so ago you might find interesting.

    I’m not saying there might not be changes we’ll see reflected in ARIS data. There was a significant shift in the late 90’s in terms of US religiosity for instance. But I confess I’m a bit skeptical.

  67. Clark, I’m highly skeptical of that 60-70% figure. The Pew data appears to measure those who self-identify as LDS, which is a smaller number than those who have been baptized. The ARIS data has a small sample size that makes it a bit difficult to extrapolate from in terms of figuring out the full number of actives, although it gives us a relatively good sense of religious demographics in the US as a whole. As ward clerk a couple of years ago in a Holladay ward, the activity rates of my ward were at 40%. I found a similar figure in leaked data from a Bountiful stake in the early 2000s. Almost all other religions in the US are experiencing decline, I don’t see how or why the LDS church would be a huge exception. It is just becoming more common for people who would have been stalwart devotee to fall away a couple of decades ago to go inactive. The nones are on the rise throughout the US. Lastly, if we look at religion data in other countries such as Brazil, Tonga, and Chile, we can compare the LDS church’s official figure with census data in those countries (which does measure religious affiliation) and find about 25% activity rates. I can see why Mormon communities in the US, particularly the Mormon belt, would be an exception to worldwide trends in Mormonism, but not at the figures your citing.

  68. Perhaps Dan and Clark could help some of us so we’re sure you’re not talking past each other. What is meant by “retention rates”? Those whose names remain on the church records, or those who remain “active”?

  69. Clark,
    You are right that there are very few at BYU that would defend my position. But, you are wrong that my position is impossible to defend. If one only believes generally accepted secular knowledge then perhaps you are right, but in so doing, one must admit, by that same premise, that the Book of Mormon isnt what it says it is. For me, I know the BoM is right and therefore the generally accepted secular knowledge is not only wrong, but dead wrong. And, as aI have mentioned a little bit in this forum, their secular knowledge they have come to accept is fraught with a lot of problems they havent solved. The GMT correlation date is but one of many that lacks solid evidence to state as a truth.

  70. Rob,

    I think you would be better served by not calling the position you reject “generally accepted secular knowledge.” I think that on your view what you are opposing are empirical claims which are justified by the evidence. So, on your view, they aren’t knowledge at all.

    Calling it “knowledge” that is false doesn’t make sense, and calling it “secular knowledge” makes people think that you’re opposing it just because it is secular.

  71. Sorry, I meant to say “I think that on your view what you are opposing are empirical claims which are *not* justified by the evidence.”

  72. Dan (76,77) that’s part of the apples vs. oranges comparison. What the church means by LDS and what most of these identification models mean are different. Likewise some of the retention studies are comparing people as teenagers with people in their early 20’s which then misses out on those who leave in their 30’s onward. So there’s a lot going on and one has to look at the details.

    I find ARIS more likely accurate than Pew. Part of the problem is Pew’s methodology. As I recall to save money what they did is kept track of Mormons who were found in the larger religious survey and then came back and asked them more questions. It’s just that the results, even assuming the respondents weren’t fully truthful, make very little sense to me.

    As to how to compare ARIS, Pew and Church figures fundamentally you just can’t do it. In a few posts back at my old blog I made some attempts but they rely on questionable although reasonable assumptions. The big issue is that the Church is counting anyone who is baptized and hasn’t had their name removed. (Although the Church puts much more effort into getting people off the rolls who don’t want to be there than when I was a kid) Most self-identification studies first off only are looking at people over 18 and how they identify.

    Anyway retention rate in terms of self-identification for anyone over 18 and activity rates are pretty different conceptually. While most people fall away from teenage to early 20’s some of those are converts who obviously likely didn’t have the commitment their parents had. Even so if I recall (can’t seem to find it – it was from one of those supposedly controversial leaks last fall) I think the figure is only 30% worldwide and something like 20% nationally. I know some have framed that as high that’s actually quite good to my eyes. It also neglects that some of that cohort will return to activity. Studies in the late 80’s (admittedly dated and not terribly relevant today) had something like 40% of all active members having spent time inactive.

    Getting back to your point, I think the conclusion of both Pew’s and ARIS’ data is that most of those who are inactive don’t self-identify as Mormon. I think of my own ward, at least the inactive members I’ve worked with, and that’s likely true of many of them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work with them or help them. We help because we should be helpful people to our neighbors. And hopefully some will return.

    BTW – I’m not sure sacrament meeting attendance is indicative of much. Due to kids getting sick at various times I think we’ve only made it to a few meetings since Christmas whereas I’d consider myself fully active. I can’t be the only one who stays home with sick kids. And with 9:00 church it’s hard if you’ve been up all night with sick kids to make it to sacrament. Now that we’re at 11:00 instead it’s much easier.

    Mike (78) Retention rates mean different things depending upon the study. That’s why it’s kind of meaningless. Different studies are measuring different things. Both Pew and ARIS mean by it whether the person polled is in the same religion as when they were young. That obviously misses aspects about people who were in multiple religions when young. Other studies are comparing the religion when a teen with the religion in ones 20s.

    Rob (79) By defend I mean explain objective evidence such as dating of artifacts and the like. I disagree that one can’t accept the Book of Mormon as what it says, although that then gets into a disagreement over how to read it. I don’t agree with how you read it, The way you read it, as you fully admit, means rejecting all the evidence you don’t like.

  73. Clark, if you don’t want to accept sacr. meeting attendance as a fully valid indicator, you should note from the leaked doc from Emigration Stake that the number of endowed members who held a temple recommend over an 18-month period 1999-2000 was 46%. My experience with SS, PH, and RS is that attendance counts aren’t too well done. Same goes for HT and VT stats. Headcounts are more reliable and temple recommends, even more so.

  74. 46% is a more reasonable number than what Pew gives. Which is why I’m a bit skeptical of Pew’s figures. But again I suspect we’re picking up a fundamental issue of what counts as activity and how many of those inactive really consider themselves Mormon.

    Put an other way both Pew and ARIS more or less show that most of those who self-identify as Mormon are pretty active. That means much of the people who aren’t coming to church by official figures really don’t think of themselves as Mormon. This lines up more with what I’ve argued about the rise of the Nones as a demographic category. These are people who were loosely associated with religion in prior decades but no longer feel the need to keep the name. I’m far from convinced they actually behave differently beyond the name. So what I suspect (but can’t fully prove beyond the circumstantial evidence) is that inactives are far less inclined to use the name than they were in the 80’s and even 90’s.

  75. How desperately far afield we’ve gotten, Brethren! Perhaps we should conclude with some Bonhoeffer?

    “We desire to speak of the call to follow Jesus. In doing so, are we burdening people with a new, heavier yoke? Should even harder, more inexorable rules be added to all the human rules under which their souls and bodies groan? Should our admonition to follow Jesus only prick their uneasy and wounded consciences with an even sharper sting? For this latest of innumerable times in church history, should we make impossible, tormenting, eccentric demands, obedience to which would be the pious luxury of the few? Would such demands have to be rejected by people who work and worry about their daily bread, their jobs, and their families, as the most godless tempting of God? Should the church be trying to erect a spiritual reign of terror over people by threatening earthly and eternal punishments on its own authority and commanding everything a person must believe and do to be saved? Should the church’s word bring new tyranny and violent abuse to human souls? It may be that some people yearn for such servitude. But could the church ever serve such a longing?” (Preface, pps 38-39 Fortress Press 1996)

  76. Felix,
    In the context of the Book of Mormon, secular understanding says the Book of Mormon is fictional. No mainstream scientific body recognized by the general intellectual body accepts any part of the Book of Mormon as even partly historical text. Its this same body of science that LDS scholars try to base their theories off of, and quite frankly, they just make their own research look bad.

  77. Clark,
    To be fair, every LDS who believes the Book of Mormon to be true has to reject various evidence they dont like. Otherwise, accepting all evidence as is now accepted by scholars outside LDS membership means rejecting the BoM as a historical text.

  78. Rob, I don’t think that’s true. Note that I’m here distinguishing between evidence and the range of conclusions on a particular narrow topic. While some might find apologetics attempts to explain metal or horses (the two biggest problems) implausible, I’m not sure the apologists are necessarily ignoring the evidence. Rather they’re trying to explain the evidence and the text in a way that reconciles them.

  79. So how then are they reconciling the fact that mainstream science has rejected the Book of Mormon as a historical account of ancient American peoples? I dont care how one chooses to look at it but according to LDS beliefs, the BoM is a historical ancient record. And that belief is contrary to mainstream accepted science. One therefore must reject parts of mainstreams beliefs if they want to believe the BoM is what it claims to be.

  80. Science says nothing about the Book of Mormon. (History isn’t a science but is in the humanities) Also note I made a distinction between evidence to be explained and conclusions people hold towards the Book of Mormon.

  81. Scientists say a lot about the Book of Mormon as not being real history just the same as scientists also say the flood in Noahs day wasnt a global event. Saying otherwise on either of these raises the heresy eyebrow from science.

  82. Scientists can say the flood wasn’t global because of the lack of mud deposits in caves and the like. That is that is a scientific question. I’m not aware of anything equivalent for the Book of Mormon.

  83. Even saying mud in caves is highly objectionable as a global flood would destroy the entire topography of tge land, but anyway…
    For the Book of Mormon they say stuff like- ancient Americans never used steel, nor worked with steel tools nor did they have use of elephants or crossed or sailed oceans in sea worthy ships so therefore the BoM is false. Stuff like that.

  84. But none of those things falsify the Book of Mormon. The seaworthy ship bit is of course also false as the examples in the original post demonstrate. So I think you are attacking a strawman.

  85. I guess my point is that we all cherry pick what information we want and refute or disband what we dont like. Everyone of us does it. I really dont care what mainstream intellectuals say about the ancient history of the Americas. It just proves to me how bad secularism is at finding truth.

  86. Rob,
    How can you say that secularism is bad at finding truth? The explosion in knowledge about everything from the atom to the Virgo Cluster since the Scientific Revolution is incomparable. And the benefit to human beings in quality and length of life is also astounding. I think there are non-empirical truths, and I think that knowledge by supernatural means is possible. But “secuarlism” (if you want to call it that) has been very, very successful at finding truth over the last 300 years.

  87. Felix,
    Not when it comes to anything in the past. They are so bad at it its unreal. I applaud technology and where we are headed, but that isnt necessarily “secularism” either. Attempting to write or interpret history void of all the beliefs we have as historical proofs is “secularism” and they are very far from the truth.

  88. Clark,
    LDS scholars are some of the worst cherry pickers when it comes to ancient American history. There nothing wrong with that, its just reality. Im a great cherry picker myself.

  89. Some are of course. I think the issue is ultimately a question of how to read the texts, how to acknowledge fallibilism in the authors, and how to examine the scientific claims and what their actual reach is. Often how people present science against religion isn’t quite what the science itself says.

  90. Well, we know c-14 dating isnt accurate. For example, we know the biblical chronology fairly well and accurately. Egypt was first found by the daughter of Ham, the granddaughter of Noah. Her son Pharaoh was the first to govern Egypt. This is according to our scripture.

    23 The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
    24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
    25 Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. (Abraham 1:23-25).

    According to published chronologies of the bible the flood was around 2350 bc. After the flood was the tower of Babel and the founding of Egypt. This would place the first government of Egypt to be roughly around 2250 bc. But, according to accepted c-14 dates the first government of Egypt to be at around 3100 bc. Thats almost a thousand years! The great pyramid would of obviously came at a later period after Egypt became established.

    If we apply this same faulty system of dating to the Americas we should question the validity of using c-14 dating methods to date the Mayans.

  91. I’m not going to take the time to look anything up, but there are quotes from general authorities indicating that the Bible is not intended to be a textbook for history, geology, etc. Talmage may have been one of them. I don’t write this for Rob’s benefit; he’s married to a very literal view of scripture, but rather to others who may come along and read this discussion.

  92. Not to mention the Book of Mormon’s warning about distinguishing what’s in the book (largely compiled by uninspired scribes from unknown sources around 200BC) from when it proceeded from the mouth of the prophet. Assuming inerrancy for the Old Testament over what science can demonstration (not to mention tree rings) seems deeply problematic.

    But we’re getting pretty far afield from the original topic so I think I’ll close things up.

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