September 01, 2005

What Mormon Archaeologists and Maytag Repairmen Have in Common

One of the advantages of working on the apologetics section of is that interesting related material, produced by our Broadman & Holman publishing division, often makes it into my hands. I recently obtained a copy of the Holman QuickSource Bible Atlas, and I was looking through it with my son when a thought occurred to me.

This colorful book is loaded with images of maps, charts, archaeological ruins, geographical points of interest, artifacts, and stone inscriptions. It is a graphic testimony to the historical grounding of the biblical narratives. Much to the embarrassment of various skeptics over the centuries, archaeology has been very kind to biblical Christianity. However, the same cannot be said for one of the cults of Christianity — Mormonism — which claims to be the true and "restored" church of Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon (BOM) is billed as "another testimony of Jesus Christ." In it are elaborate stories of Semitic tribes making their way to the New World. It includes descriptions of their peoples, cultures, and exploits, along with an alleged post-resurrection appearance of Jesus among them. The BOM includes enough description of these things that we ought to know what to look for (and where, in some cases) in order to validate its tales. The problem is, nobody can seem to find any evidence that any of these things has actually occurred.

Is the BOM just talking about an isolated region of the Americas? I'll let it speak for itself:
And it came to pass that [the Nephites in America] did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south, to the sea north, from the sea west, to the sea east. (Helaman 3:8)

The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea. (Mormon 1:7)
Unfortunately for them, none of the cities or battlefield sites has been found. No ancient documents or stone inscriptions in either Hebrew or "Reformed Egyptian" (the supposed language of the original BOM) have been found. No artifacts or coins found and none of the metals allegedly forged by these people. But it's not as though we have found nothing in the Americas. Indeed, the archaeological record is quite rich and we know quite a bit about the various people-groups across the two continents. It's just that we have not found any remains that match the BOM description of early American history (although some feeble attempts have been made).

And there are things mentioned in the BOM that ought to have still been around when westerners first hit this continent. According to the book of Mosiah (7:22, 9:9, 10:5) crops like wheat, barley, and flax were cultivated by these people. Unfortunately, these are unknown in the Americas until their introduction by Europeans. And in the book of Ether (9:18-19) there is mention of animals like cattle, oxen, sheep, swine, goats, horses, and even elephants — none of which had been on the continents for many thousands of years, if ever. Even the American Indian races themselves show no trace of their alleged Hebrew ancestry, which has been reconfirmed in modern times by DNA studies.

The bottom line is that a book like the Bible Atlas remains an unrealized fantasy for the Mormon. At best, an equivalent book would be filled with artistic conceptions. I think that we Christians are so used to making pilgrimages to holy lands, reading magazines graced by archaeological photos, and seeing biblical content echoed in secular histories that we are in danger of becoming desensitized to our rich historical legacy. When skeptics charge the Bible with being filled with mythology, it may prove difficult to confirm some of the miraculous events that they are really exercised about, but of those evidences that historical analysis can yield, we have more than enough to fill our books.

Writing in the secular publication Biblical Archaeology Review, Prof. William G. Dever of the University of Arizona concluded that the Bible's status as an authentic record of the ancient people it chronicles must be considered uncontested:
The Bible is no longer an isolated relic from antiquity, without provenance and thus without credibility. Archaeology may not have proven the specific historical existence of certain biblical personalities such as Abraham or Moses, but it has for all time demolished the notion that the Bible is pure mythology. The Bible is about real, flesh-and-blood people, in a particular time and place.



At 9/02/2005 1:08 AM, Blogger Vman said...

I don't doubt that the bible is grounded in fact. I just think that some of the story might've been tweaked and exaggerated a bit for the purpose of promoting christianity. By the way, you have disproven the mormon's faith but what about jehovah's witnesses.

At 9/02/2005 4:36 AM, Blogger ephphatha said...

Okay, I admit it. I don't get it. What does this have to do with the Maytag repairman? Is it because Maytag is a really bad brand, and can't really be fixed?

Vman, as far as archaeology and Jehovah's Witnesses are concerned, there's a book by Carl O. Jonnson called "The Gentile Times Reconsidered" that shows the archaeological evidence disproves their date of 607 BCE for the destruction of the first temple and the beginning of the Babylonian exile, which is pivotal to their date of 1914 for the end of the gentile times, the invisible return of Christ, etc. He shows the archaeological evidence to be consistent with 587 BCE as the correct date.

At 9/02/2005 10:07 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Sam (ephphatha),
I guess I'm showing my age now. Maytag used to have a series of TV ads where their repairman was depicted as a lonely old fellow with no one calling, nothing to do. I suppose a Mormon Archaeologist might have lots to do (searching for evidences and all), but his dig site or any museums he hoped to fill, would be pretty lonely places.

VMAN: “I just think that some of the story might've been tweaked and exaggerated a bit for the purpose of promoting christianity.”

Well, that’s a theory, and certainly a quite reasonable one if Christianity happens to be false. But that's the question, isn't it? I'd be happy to look over any early manuscripts you know of that contain any of the biblical stories prior to being "tweaked." In the absence of that, one can only speculate on what he thinks "really" happened in those authentic times and places referenced in Scripture. I guess it then becomes one "faith" against another. At least the Christian faith is based on ancient source documents. The non-Christian is basing his belief in what happened more on a presupposition that "it can't be true because stuff like that just don't happen." That's kind of begging the question. If there is a God, and He is personally involved in the world, then just about ANYTHING is possible. And I've already discussed in other posts the role of miracles in validating the supernatural authority of revelation or a spokesperson for God. You would be surprised how few other religious books even bother to claim tangible miracles for themselves. The problem with doing so is that if they are not true you have to suffer the criticism and correction of your contemporaries. Just imagine if the Liberals began writing a book about Bill Clinton that claimed he was a devout Christian and faithful husband! How many generations would they have to prop up that book against the howling ridicule before it had any hope of gaining the credibility that only cultural amnesia might provide? Jesus had at least as many enemies as Bill.

One thing that you should keep in mind when thinking through the idea that the founders of Christianity were just myth-makers. We know for a fact that the apostles and the earliest Christians claimed Jesus to be divine and were dying for their beliefs (not many are aware that there are writings outside of the Bible discussing Jesus and these Christian insurgents). This means that if the followers of Jesus knew that He really wasn't divine and did no miracles, that they were in fact dying for a lie. Now, we can imagine people dying for something that happens to be a lie (perhaps Islam), but they don't necessarily realize it is a lie, i.e., they believe that it is not a lie, but they are unknowingly wrong. However, if someone knows it is a lie (the apostles, according to your theory), then their will to stand up for it tends to melt away under threat of violence. Additionally, pushing a lie on others tends to be done for the sake of some gain. For example, Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) fits this profile, since he did quite well for himself with the women (he advocated polygamy and took full advantage of it) and he enjoyed many of the power and monetary benefits of leadership in his large community of believers. The apostles, on the other hand, lived meager lives on the run and suffered under the hands of both the Romans and the Jews. They also whole-heartedly rejected the idea that they were focal points, or power brokers, in this religion. They, and all of that first generation (and beyond) of believers, went down with the ship without defection. No one spilled the "real story," no one turned over the "stolen body," no one uncovered any moral scandals amongst the apostles, etc. Conversely, the story of Joseph Smith and his immediate followers is not such a pretty picture. In fact, I think that all three of his chief "witnesses" were excommunicated at least once and spoke against Joseph. Joseph also got himself into some financial and legal troubles and he seems to have died exchanging gunfire from a prison house. I know of several Jewish messianic cults from around Jesus' time who took to the sword, but the Christians, on the other hand, all seem to have died in a rather passive manner.

VMAN: "By the way, you have disproven the mormon's faith but what about jehovah's witnesses."

I'm flattered that you think I've single-handedly defeated Mormonism, but I think I'd want to throw in a few more arguments just to be safe. I'm not sure if you're suggesting I'm obligated to defeat all other cults and religions in order to vindicate Christianity (last one standing wins, so to speak). Conceptually, all I would have to do is demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity and all contenders are implicitly refuted. This approach may not be true for a pluralistic religion, or one that is mystical enough to not claim complete/exclusive truth. But Christianity is thoroughly exclusivistic. Jesus doesn't permit any peers.

As to the Jehovah's Witnesses, Sam has given some food for thought. To this I would add that their cultic theology hangs upon the authority of their Watchtower parent organization, which is said to be divinely inspired and inerrant (they have a few things in common with Rome). For this reason, all we have to do is demonstrate the error in the materials emanating from this organization. Anyone with access to their historical publications can see the numerous failed prophecies and doctrinal meanderings for themselves, and anyone with a basic education in Greek and Hebrew can see the blatant flaws in their self-serving Bible translation. If this organization can be shown to be fallible, and perhaps even deceptive, then there is no reason to presume that their unique, alternate understanding of Christianity carries any special weight.

At 9/04/2005 7:54 PM, Blogger Vman said...

on the topic of islam being a lie i just posted on it i think you'd be interested.

At 9/12/2005 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

VMan, let me restate what Paul said in shorter format. In regard to Christianity being a little myth mixed in with historical fact...
The truth is that the documents that comprise the claims of the religion can be reliably traced back to within a few years of the death of Jesus. They were written and distributed across the region in which the events transpired. If they had mythologized the contents, the eye-witnesses there would have cried foul. The theory that any of the claims in today's New Testament were fabricated, either early, or later can be put to rest with a critical analysis of the facts. I encourage you to do so.


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