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Michael Coe On The Book Of Mormon And Mesoamerica


Dan Vogel

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Michael Coe on the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica

What are the main archaeological challenges to the Book of Mormon? As a responsible archaeologist, looking at what's come up, what are the challenges? ...

The Book of Mormon is very explicit about what the Nephites brought with them to this land: domestic animals, domestic crops, all of Old World origin; metallurgy, the compass, things like that. Just take domestic animals, for example. I mentioned horses and cattle. Nobody has ever found the bones of horses and cattle in these archaeological sites. Horses were already in the New World, all right, but were wiped out about 7000 B.C. by people coming in from Asia. They never found horse bones in these early sites between the prime period, which is 500 B.C. to A.D. 200.; never found cattle bones there; never found wheat or rye and these other things that they grow in the Middle East. Plenty of evidence for all kinds of other things that are Native American, but nothing there. And that's the problem: They simply haven't shown up. ...

There are people at FARMS [Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies] who believe important archaeological discoveries are in the making. These are very intelligent people. What is it they are resting their hopes on?

To make Book of Mormon archaeology at all kind of believable, my friend John Sorenson has gone this route: He has compared, in a general way, the civilizations of Mexico and Mesoamerica with the civilizations of the western part of the Old World, and he has made a study of how diffusion happens, really very good diffusion studies. He's tried to build a reasonable picture that these two civilizations weren't all that different from each other. Well, this is true of all civilizations, actually; there's nothing new under the sun.

So he has built up what he hopes is a convincing background in which you can put Book of Mormon archaeology, and he's a very serious, bright guy. But I'm sorry to say that I don't really buy more than a part of this. I don't really think you can argue, no matter how bright you are, that what's said in the Book of Mormon applies to the peoples that we study in Mexico and Central America. That's one way of doing it -- to build up a kind of convincing background, a kind of stage set to this -- but there's no actors. That's the problem. ...

For more comments, see http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/coe.html#2

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One smart guy's opinion. Lots of smart guys. Lots of opinions.

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Coe also wonders how Mormon archaeologists deal with the state of non-evidence for the BOM:

How do they cope with this? I'll be the first to admit I don't know; I really don't. I don't really know how my friends that are Mormon archaeologists cope with this non-evidence, the fact that the evidence really hasn't shown up -- how they make the jump from the data to faith or from faith back to the data, because the data and the faith are two different worlds. There's simply no way to bring them together. ...
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Michael Coe on the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica

What are the main archaeological challenges to the Book of Mormon? As a responsible archaeologist, looking at what's come up, what are the challenges? ...- but there's no actors. That's the problem. ...

For more comments, see http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/coe.html#2

let sciencetific discivery take its course,,,,,there are a few more things that have been and are being discovered today!... that were not mentioned in your quotes?.........

lets not demonize and put to rest what we are still learning.........

the party isnt over yet?

:P

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Quite a fascinating interview with lots of insights, and complexities, and opinion. I was drawn to this:

He convinced a small number of people at the beginning, the witnesses -- not all of them, but he did. This man had an incredible memory. He made it up and dictated it nonstop. It's very long, the Book of Mormon. I mean, it's an incredible feat of the mind. Even if it is all made up, to do something like that is really extraordinary. And how literate was he? He knew the Bible very well, because it comes out in the language of the King James Bible, which I was raised on. But to be able to carry this through to its logical end, that's amazing. Really, it is. I mean, if it's a work of fiction, nobody has ever done anything like this before. And I think it is fiction, but he really carried it through, and my respect for him is unbounded. (My bolding)

According to Coe, crash goes all the "armchair experts" who have said writing a Book of Mormon is "easy". You know what many have said? "Anyone can do it. It's easy, look at Tolkien."

Coe has a different take.

Yep, the "fraud" at least has Coe's respect, and I don't think this is spin.

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Coe also wonders how Mormon archaeologists deal with the state of non-evidence for the BOM:

It's quite easy - even without the degree.

95% of Central America has yet to be explored and major cities are built on top of archeological sites.

It's a little soon for Coe's definitive declaration, is it not?

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Though he doesn't accept the BofM, Coe appears to me to be a breath of fresh air. He gives credit as he can even though he doesn't believe in the BofM. THanks for sharing this Dan....

His assessment of John Sorenson is by far and above all the rest, the most honest and realistic I have ever read, considering the utter insipidity found on CARM boards and rfm, and Shades......

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That's a really great interview, but with no surprises. I did like his discussion about the difference between "Book of Mormon Archaeologists" and "Mormon archaeologists who also believe the Book of Mormon"

I think that being a Mormon archaeologist, you have to be two people. You have to be, one, an archaeologist that happens to be a Mormon, and also, you have to believe in the Mormon religion. Mormon archaeology can be the Book of Mormon archaeology, where you're actually going right from the beginning, trying to find the evidence that the Book of Mormon is correct.

Doing archaeology as a scientist who happens to be a Mormon is another dish of tea completely, and this is what most of my friends who are archaeologists are doing right now. They're extremely good archaeologists, and they have made wonderful discoveries in what we call the Formative Period in southern Mexico and Guatemala and amazing stuff that's being discovered right now. But they are quick to tell me that they are archaeologists who are also Mormon, like you can be an archaeologist and you can be a Catholic or a Muslim or Buddhist or nothing, as I am. You can do this.

But again, still it must bother them, because there are many people in the Mormon Church who want them to be doing Book of Mormon archaeology, and this they don't want to do. And the people who do Book of Mormon archaeology are no longer in the ascendancy. In major educational places like Brigham Young University, which has an absolutely marvelous anthropology/archaeology department, most people are archaeologists and anthropologists who are also Mormons, and that's a different thing. ...

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One might wonder how my profession in general, the profession of archaeology, has used Book of Mormon archaeology -- or let's say archaeology done by Mormons; I always separate these two things out. I think that for the Book of Mormon, even though they don't know much about the Book of Mormon or Mormonism, they take the whole thing as a complete fantasy, that this is a big waste of time. Nothing can ever come out of it because it's just impossible that this could have happened, because we know what happened to these people. We can read their writings: They're not in reformed Egyptian; they're in Maya.

On the other hand, there are the archaeologists who are Mormons, and I think there's a huge amount of respect among my colleagues -- there certainly is with myself -- for the work that they have done and the work they're continuing to do. They're really great, whether they're from BYU or other institutions. They're doing a wonderful job; they're telling us about the American Indian past, the past of Native American civilizations. And they've made a unique contribution, I think, to the study of New World cultures. ...

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Dan Peterson talks about BOM problems on PBS says:

... But I would agree that you don't have anything remotely near slam-dunk proof for the Book of Mormon in the New World. ...

There are certain things that exist in the Book of Mormon that some people argue [are] anachronistic. Steel is an example of that, though the issue dissolves a little bit when you look at, well, what did the word "steel" mean? When words like that appear in King James's English, what do they mean? They don't necessarily mean what we mean by "steel" today. But we do have a problem with metals in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon seems to describe fairly widespread metal use. Well, I don't know if it's widespread; it's common throughout the Book of Mormon history and text, and yet we don't have any good evidence of any kind of metal industry, even small-scale cottage industry, in Mesoamerica at the time.

On the other hand, we have words for metals; you can use a technique called glottochronology where you use the technique of the development of languages. You can reason back to the evidence of words in these protolanguages in the time of the Book of Mormon suggesting somebody was doing something with metals at that period, or they wouldn't have words for them. They knew metals. But we don't have the hard archaeological evidence; we have the soft linguistic evidence. ...

Horses in the Book of Mormon would be another. You have relatively few mentions of horses, but there are some, and we don't know exactly how they were used; they don't seem to be all that common. Were they horses as we understood them, [or] does the term describe some other animal? Languages don't always and cultures don't always classify things the way we would expect. We have what we call common-sense ways of doing it. They're not common sense; they're just ours. But again, we don't have a strong case there. We're just problem solving there.

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His assessment of John Sorenson is by far and above all the rest, the most honest and realistic I have ever read, considering the utter insipidity found on CARM boards and rfm, and Shades......

Don't forget the others:

On the other hand, there are the archaeologists who are Mormons, and I think there's a huge amount of respect among my colleagues -- there certainly is with myself -- for the work that they have done and the work they're continuing to do. They're really great, whether they're from BYU or other institutions. They're doing a wonderful job; they're telling us about the American Indian past, the past of Native American civilizations. And they've made a unique contribution, I think, to the study of New World cultures. ...

But note these unique contributions I picked up off said RFM a few days ago:

BYU is a fascist police state.
BYU is working overtime to show the world how stupid they are.
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the compass

Did I miss that somewhere?

-=-=-=

...never found wheat or rye and these other things that they grow in the Middle East.

Barley--where was that in his quote? Finding barley--what would that mean, btw, to an archeologist?

-=-=-=

He's tried to build a reasonable picture that these two civilizations weren't all that different from each other. Well, this is true of all civilizations, actually; there's nothing new under the sun.

Obviously not an anthropologist...

-=-=-=

That's one way of doing it -- to build up a kind of convincing background, a kind of stage set to this -- but there's no actors. That's the problem.

I'd be interested to understand that quote more...

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Dan Peterson talks about BOM problems on PBS says: But again, we don't have a strong case there. We're just problem solving there.

If I recall correctly, Dan did write on this board that if one looks at the evidences they are about 50-50. That, I think, includes the internal evidences, which I do find convincing. The dilemma is, for me anyway, such strong internal evidences, but so little external evidence. I have been ridiculed for saying that the Book of Mormon is unique, and now Coe essentially says the same thing:

...nobody has ever done anything like this before.

Given the time frame, Joseph Smith's age and education, the unpalatable circumstances under which it was produced, and the complexity of the book, I still cannot believe he wrote it, and to me Spalding is a dead idea.

Coe believes Joseph had all of this memorised, a feat I think almost impossible, but he notes:

He knew the Bible very well, because it comes out in the language of the King James Bible, which I was raised on. But to be able to carry this through to its logical end, that's amazing.

He also says:

I really think that Joseph Smith, like shamans everywhere, started out faking it. I have to believe this -- that he didn't believe this at all, that he was out to impress, but he got caught up in the mythology that he created. This is what happens to shamans: They begin to believe they can do these things. It becomes a revelation: They're speaking to God. And I don't think they start out that way; I really do not. ...

If he was faking it then he had to be faking it since he was 14. I don't accept this. I think few 14 year olds would even think to set out to "fake it".

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If he was faking it then he had to be faking it since he was 14. I don't accept this. I think few 14 year olds would even think to set out to "fake it".

You are only thinking of JS (age 14) faking the entire Mormon religion from day 1 -- that's all wrong, Ray. He started faking it small like a 14 year old would do... treasure hunting with his peep stone... and it grew from there.

I really think that Joseph Smith, like shamans everywhere, started out faking it. I have to believe this -- that he didn't believe this at all, that he was out to impress, but he got caught up in the mythology that he created. This is what happens to shamans: They begin to believe they can do these things. It becomes a revelation: They're speaking to God. And I don't think they start out that way; I really do not. ...

Coe's comment here is spot on.

Ray, do you think JS could really see treasure in his stone? One commentor (white hair, English accent) prounounced that JS was exceedingly gifted at this trick. How do you explain JS's ability -- was it for real?

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You are only thinking of JS (age 14) faking the entire Mormon religion from day 1 -- that's all wrong, Ray. He started faking it small like a 14 year old would do... treasure hunting with his peep stone... and it grew from there.

Hi The Dude,

I always enjoy reading your posts. So you're saying, in effect, that this was a kind of "Santa Claus" belief by the young Joseph, which he elaborated into a complex theology which formed the foundations of a major world religion? What do you mean "it grew from there"? Do you have the imagination to do something like this? How many, in world history, have?

Coe's comment here is spot on.

I really think that Joseph Smith, like shamans everywhere, started out faking it. I have to believe this -- that he didn't believe this at all, that he was out to impress, but he got caught up in the mythology that he created. This is what happens to shamans: They begin to believe they can do these things. It becomes a revelation: They're speaking to God. And I don't think they start out that way; I really do not. ...

In case you didn't notice, Dude, Coe is heavily reliant on Brodie, and this was Brodie's thesis. IOW, he's adopted his view of Joseph Smith from Brodie. This was his comment on Brodie:

Well, in fact I'm a totally irreligious person, even though I was born and raised a perfectly good Episcopalian Christian. Yet figures like Joseph Smith fascinate me as an anthropologist, and I suppose as an American, too. When I read Fawn Brodie's wonderful book, No Man Knows My History, I couldn't put it down. I mean, it's the most exciting biography I've ever read. (My emphasis)

He relies on Brodie to form his opinion of Joseph Smith!! Yes, Brodie's psychobiography.

Ray, do you think JS could really see treasure in his stone? One com mentor (white hair, English accent) pronounced that JS was exceedingly gifted at this trick. How do you explain JS's ability -- was it for real?

Please quote your source. Who is this "one commentator" (white hair, English accent)?

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Until the very recent publication of Bushman's and Vogel's massive tomes (neither of which an archaeologist of Mesoamerica like Dr. Coe can be expected to have found time to read since their publication), "Brodie's psychobiography" was the single most important book on Joseph Smith on the face of the earth.

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Until the very recent publication of Bushman's and Vogel's massive tomes (neither of which an archaeologist of Mesoamerica like Dr. Coe can be expected to have found time to read since their publication), "Brodie's psychobiography" was the single most important book on Joseph Smith on the face of the earth.

I read No Man knows My History twice. And I know one person who was converted to Mormonism by reading it. But it is still psychobiography and speculative. She reads motives into Joseph Smith, and this is why it has been called "psychobiography". Refer to Dale Morgan, who often told Brodie that she needed to do some more "work" on her "subjective" interpretations of Joseph Smith, and needed to let go of her biases. Morgan was also an unbeliever, but he was also Brodie's mentor, and could see that her writings were not always objective. See Dale Morgan on Early Mormonism for all of his commentary. He said Brodie had "not got Mormonism out of her system". She has placed interpretations on Joseph Smith which have been accepted willy nilly by some, yet are all speculative.

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Michael Coe on the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica

What are the main archaeological challenges to the Book of Mormon? As a responsible archaeologist, looking at what's come up, what are the challenges? ...

The Book of Mormon is very explicit about what the Nephites brought with them to this land: domestic animals, domestic crops, all of Old World origin; metallurgy, the compass, things like that. Just take domestic animals, for example. I mentioned horses and cattle. Nobody has ever found the bones of horses and cattle in these archaeological sites. Horses were already in the New World, all right, but were wiped out about 7000 B.C. by people coming in from Asia. They never found horse bones in these early sites between the prime period, which is 500 B.C. to A.D. 200.; never found cattle bones there; never found wheat or rye and these other things that they grow in the Middle East. Plenty of evidence for all kinds of other things that are Native American, but nothing there. And that's the problem: They simply haven't shown up. ...

Where does the BoM say they brought a compass? I know about the Liahona, but is a device that works on faith, points you toward wild game, and leaves cryptic messages from the divine really a compass?

As for taxonomy:who said that the nephites used the same taxonomical system as we do? Take modern chinese for instance,

dolphin=海豚,hai3tun1, sea piglet.

seal=海豹,hai3 bao4, sea leopard.

giraffe=長頸鹿,changjinglu, "long neck deer"

crocodile=鱷魚,e-yu, "fish like fish"

panda=熊貓, xiong mao, bear cat

I think the same kinds of linguistic shinanigands was taking place among the nephites. Remember, ancients texts dont use modern taxonomy. Also, does the BoM say they brought horses and cattle from the old world? That must have escaped me.

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Hi The Dude,

I always enjoy reading your posts.

Thanks Ray. :P

So you're saying, in effect, that this was a kind of "Santa Claus" belief by the young Joseph, which he elaborated into a complex theology which formed the foundations of a major world religion? What do you mean "it grew from there"? Do you have the imagination to do something like this? How many, in world history, have?

Honestly, Ray, I think I had a knack for it when I was about that age. Now I'm old and boring, and reality has too much of a grip on me.

I agree with Coe. This is what shamans do, and there have been others. Mohammed and Paul are prime examples.

When you say "...which he elaborated into a complex theology which formed the foundations of a major world religion?" you are again giving JS way too much credit. He didn't turn it into a major world religion -- BY and the saints in Utah did that. I bet there have been hundreds of "shaman" figures in history, but only a few who planted their ideas in the most fertile ground and acquired powerful followers like Brigham Young. The right follow-up has to occur to grow a cult into a world religion.

In case you didn't notice, Dude, Coe is heavily reliant on Brodie, and this was Brodie's thesis. IOW, he's adopted his view of Joseph Smith from Brodie. This was his comment on Brodie:

He relies on Brodie to form his opinion of Joseph Smith!! Yes, Brodie's psychobiography.

So what? I don't take "reliance on Brodie" as a discredit to Coe.

Please quote your source. Who is this "one commentator" (white hair, English accent)?

If he shows up again to night I'll write down his name.

Richard Bushman says some similar things about JS and his early treasure seeking abilities. It always makes me wonder... do LDS actually believe JS could see treasure? I've never encountered a direct answer to this activity.

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It's quite easy - even without the degree.

95% of Central America has yet to be explored and major cities are built on top of archeological sites.

It's a little soon for Coe's definitive declaration, is it not?

Wait a minute, I guess I'm confused.

I thought the BOM was supposed to take place in what is now NORTH America?

?????

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Richard Bushman says some similar things about JS and his early treasure seeking abilities. It always makes me wonder... do LDS actually believe JS could see treasure? I've never encountered a direct answer to this activity.

Here is a direct answer -- don't know, don't care.

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Here is a direct answer -- don't know, don't care.

You have an unshakeable belief in a portion of JS's supernatural claims: First Vision, golden plates, etc.

But at the same time JS made another set of supernatural claims and was well-known for leading treasure hunting adventures.

"I don't know" ... okay, that's fine. But what do you think?

"I don't care" ... :P Coming from a Mormon who believes one set of JS's supernatural claims, how do you explain not caring about another set of his claims? And how in the world can you label this a "direct answer?" Glib dismissal is more like it. <_<

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Hi The Dude,

I always enjoy reading your posts. So you're saying, in effect, that this was a kind of "Santa Claus" belief by the young Joseph, which he elaborated into a complex theology which formed the foundations of a major world religion? What do you mean "it grew from there"? Do you have the imagination to do something like this? How many, in world history, have?

Well, I don't have, but there have been some marvelous writers who seem to create whole civlizations out of whole cloth.

For instance, has anyone read the Edgar Rice Bouroughs (sp?) series "John Carter's adventures on Mars"?

How about the Harry Potter books?

Stephen King?

"The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe"?

I could just as easily argue that Jesus was in reality created with the help of alien beings who have guided our evolution over the centuries.

As I understand it, there was a book, written in (I think) Croatia, called "Where are you going, human?" that posited that idea that "Yahweh" was the CEO of the intergalactic organization that did just that.

So, the imaginations of man are such that the Book Of Mormon could, in fact, be "elaborated into a complex theology which formed the foundations of a major world religion."

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I just watched it this morning. His name is Simon Worral(l). He is an author.

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