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Finding Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon


Sargon

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The new generation of BoM scholars/specialists have emphasized a methodology that focuses on finding traces of Mesoamerica in the BoM, instead of finding traces of the BoM in Mesoamerica. I find this to be a better approach. If the BoM text includes clues about Mesoamerica that wouldn't have been available in 1830 to Joseph Smith, then I think a strong case can be built for the authenticity of the BoM record.

This is essentially the method that scholars of a generation ago employed in arguing that the patriarchal narratives in the OT were authentic. They argued that the culture described in Genesis basically agrees with the culture of the time and place in which it claims to come from. Biblical archaeologists Finkelstein and Silberman describe:

The Bible Unearthed

Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman

Pg. 33

Before we describe the likely time and historical circumstances in which the Bibleâ??s patriarchal narrative was initially woven together from earlier sources, it is important to explain why so many scholars over the last hundred years have been convinced that the patriarchal narratives were at least in outline historically true. The pastoral lifestyle of the patriarchs seemed to mesh well in very general terms with what early twentieth century archaeologists observed of contemporary Bedouin life in the Middle East. The scholarly idea that the Bedouin way of life was essentially unchanged over millennia lent an air of verisimilitude to the biblical tales of wealth measured in sheep and goats (Genesis 30:30-43), clan conflicts with settled villagers over watering wells (Genesis 21:25-33), and disputes over grazing lands (Genesis 13:5-12). In addition, the conspicuous references to Mesopotamian and Syrian sites like Abrahamâ??s birthplace, Ur, and Haran on a tributary of the Euphrates (where most of Abrahamâ??s family continued to live after his migration to Canaan) seemed to correspond with the findings of archaeological excavations in the eastern arc of the Fertile Crescent, where some of the earliest centers of ancient Near Eastern civilization had been found.

However, this methodology has come under fire by critics, including Finkelstein and Silberman. They go on to point out various anachronisms in the text which they argue are more important in determining the production era. They argue that the existence of elements such as domesticated camels and the names of kingdoms that didn't yet exist are proof that the authors were describing stories hundreds of years removed from their own era.

So, does this criticism have any bearing on BoM studies? I suppose it simply boils down to whether or not the alleged anachronisms in the BoM are real or perceived.

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If the BoM text includes clues about Mesoamerica that wouldn't have been available in 1830 to Joseph Smith, then I think a strong case can be built for the authenticity of the BoM record.

Why are you looking for "clues" to "build a strong case" when you can just pray for answers and be done with it. IMO, this whole effort belies an unspoken weakness and doubt in the prayer method.

Furthermore, what frequency of "clues" would appear based on chance alone? This has never been addressed to my knowledge.

This is essentially the method that scholars of a generation ago employed in arguing that the patriarchal narratives in the OT were authentic. They argued that the culture described in Genesis basically agrees with the culture of the time and place in which it claims to come from.

Are you saying scholars have used this method to conclude that Moses really wrote Genesis? As in, "How could Moses have known?" :P

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I don't know. Going with only things that are known can backfire on you, too. How many times each year do I read of scientists or archeologists being surprised because they were wrong about something? This stuff is not static. Any science book or journal that's five years old or older is out of date. Any astronomy book that old is out of date. I think our guys are on the right track. They've been able to make reasonable predictions based on their research that seems to have paid off and because something doesn't fit in our known "snapshot" of time, doesn't really mean a whole lot.

The more that's learned about the Book of Mormon, the more credible it is. If it were a false record, the exact opposite should be true.

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I was under the impression that scholars are now using archaeology to enlighten the text rather then the text telling us about the archaeology. For example if you find a city it can give more clues to what the text is talking about more so then possibly trying to find the city through the text, just an idea!

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I was under the impression that scholars are now using archaeology to enlighten the text rather then the text telling us about the archaeology. For example if you find a city it can give more clues to what the text is talking about more so then possibly trying to find the city through the text, just an idea!
That would be finding mesoamerica from the Book of Mormon. We can agree that such is a relatively futile and poor approach.

But finding mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon (looking for evidence of mesoamerican thought/culture/influence in the text) is something entirely different.

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That would be finding mesoamerica from the Book of Mormon. We can agree that such is a relatively futile and poor approach.

Can we?

1) The location of Troy was discovered through such methods (an amateur going off clues in Greek texts - the same texts which a number of scholars viewed as fantasy).

2) The first Viking settlement in the new world was discovered through such an approach (a husband-wife team going off clues in Norse sagas which most respected scholars of the day viewed as fiction).

The parallels are there. I have confidence that all things will be revealed, as promised.

But perhaps I've misunderstood your meaning of "futile and poor"? :P

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1) The location of Troy was discovered through such methods (an amateur going off clues in Greek texts - the same texts which a number of scholars viewed as fantasy).

2) The first Viking settlement in the new world was discovered through such an approach (a husband-wife team going off clues in Norse sagas which most respected scholars of the day viewed as fiction).

The parallels are there. I have confidence that all things will be revealed, as promised

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Why are you looking for "clues" to "build a strong case" when you can just pray for answers and be done with it. IMO, this whole effort belies an unspoken weakness and doubt in the prayer method.

I won't address this, as it is outside the scope of this thread. Sorry! ;)

Furthermore, what frequency of "clues" would appear based on chance alone? This has never been addressed to my knowledge.

It would be an interesting study, no doubt. In my opinion, all we can do is count the number of parallels (or preferably "correspondences") and let folks decide for themselves how many of them (and which) are due to chance. It would be a neat debate.

Are you saying scholars have used this method to conclude that Moses really wrote Genesis? As in, "How could Moses have known?" :P

No, I don't think it is necessarily used for that end. Rather, I think it is used to simply demonstrate that the narratives probably describe real historic people.

Thanks!

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In practice, there is a conflict between your archaeological examples and your assertion that "the parallels are there."

Not really. It's a matter of perspective. You're basically talking about the binary issue of which side of the telescope we should be pressing to our eye. I'm talking about adding a third dimension - a separate baseline - in other words a potential way to triangulate. If you're not otherwise aware, I'm coming at the puzzle from the perspective that at least one sizeable Nephite colony was likely transplanted in northern Europe (in Hagoth's day).

The problem really is in finding the parallels.
Agreed. Completely. Plus the additional challenge of assessing the relative significance of those parallels.
What are we looking for?

I believe we are quite close to another potential useful answer to that question.

In the case of Troy, they knew they were looking for bronze age Mediterranean culture. In the case of the Viking settlement, they knew they were looking for a Norse village.

....and like those two examples, in the case of Nephites, what the search could use as a lever is a viable cultural baseline. I believe we're reasonably close to arriving at one, on multiple separate fronts (pottery, isotope analysis, DNA, etc.).

What has happened with the archaeology is that what has been found doesn't clearly represent Old World cultures. Personally, I think we were looking for the wrong thing anyway, since cultural contacts don't tend to move in that direction (from a very small immigrant population to the dominant culture).
Agreed.
The idea of looking for Mesoamerica in the Book of Mormon recognizes the plausible flow of cultural information and suggests that we may see the effect of the cultural context of Mesoamerica in the text of the Book of Mormon.

(emphasis added). Brant, I'm not disagreeing with your main premise here. On the contrary. Our approaches aren't at cross purposes - nor is either approach *the* one true approach. Hopefully, they aren't parallel approaches either, because that would mean there's a viable chance for our two approaches to intersect at some point - either as corroboration, or as a potential check and a balance.

When that happens, we then have the parallels that you are looking for to the times and places that archaeology has documented.

I will soon be shifting from a focus on documenting parallels between the text and specific cultural centers on the other side of the Atlantic to leveraging samples as a baseline to validate or disprove my hypothesis against yours (and other AmeriIndian-focused researchers). I'm basically talking about adding a third dimension (pinpointing likely candidates for Nephite colonies in Europe, within a few decades of their departure from Bountiful), and then using those samples to triangulate against AmerIndian findings. If this approach ever succeeds in finding and confirming a cross-Atlantic match, I expect it would enable future research on both sides of the Atlantic to quickly become more focused, efficient, and effective. (A potential hastening, if you will.)

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....and like those two examples, in the case of Nephites, what the search could use as a lever is a viable cultural baseline. I believe we're reasonably close to arriving at one, on multiple separate fronts (pottery, isotope analysis, DNA, etc.).

Agreed.

I will soon be shifting from a focus on documenting parallels between the text and specific cultural centers on the other side of the Atlantic to leveraging samples as a baseline to validate or disprove my hypothesis against yours (and other AmeriIndian-focused researchers). I'm basically talking about adding a third dimension (pinpointing likely candidates for Nephite colonies in Europe, within a few decades of their departure from Bountiful), and then using those samples to triangulate against AmerIndian findings.

I am very interested in your findings. Unfortunately, you are increasing the complexity of the problem, not decreasing it. The triangulation works of you have some common definition of your target. If you have that, I would love to hear about it. If not, then you are combining three unknowns into a single analysis and creating causal interrelationships. That is extremely difficult to do. I wish you the best in the search and hope to see the results soon (though I do understand that such things take time).

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Why do Mormon archaeologists try very hard to find something to prove the Book of

Mormon? Secular and other Christian ones do not do the same to prove the Bible.

Would it matter to Latter-day Saints if the Book of Mormon was purely fictional - like

the city of Atlantis?

Mark

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Why do Mormon archaeologists try very hard to find something to prove the Book of Mormon?

I'm unaware of any Mormon archaeologists who are out there digging to find proof of the Book of Mormon. Could you name one?

Secular and other Christian ones do not do the same to prove the Bible.

There is strong Protestant interest, at least, in finding supportive evidence for the Bible. Innumerable books have been published on the subject.

Would it matter to Latter-day Saints if the Book of Mormon was purely fictional - like the city of Atlantis?

Yes, it would. Just as it would matter to Latter-day Saints and to other Christians if the New Testament story of Jesus were fictional.

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It would help if you could be a little bit more specific. I'm in the Reference Companion myself, but can't think what you might be talking about.

I was thinking along the lines of what is written on the inside flap. "The entries have been

prepared by some of the finest scholars in the Church ... 111 in all - making this a truly

interdisciplinary and authoritative work ..."

It gives names, but not does say more about them other than some general titles.

Mark

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I was thinking along the lines of what is written on the inside flap. "The entries have been

prepared by some of the finest scholars in the Church ... 111 in all - making this a truly

interdisciplinary and authoritative work ..."

It gives names, but not does say more about them other than some general titles.

I'm one of those 111 scholars.

I still don't know of any archaeologists out there doing fieldwork to prove the Book of Mormon.

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Why do Mormon archaeologists try very hard to find something to prove the Book of

Mormon? Secular and other Christian ones do not do the same to prove the Bible.

Perhaps you've never come across an issue of Biblical Archaeology Review?

I think "proving" the Bible wouldn't fully align with their mission. However, making the scriptures real, intriguing and relevant is.

So it's much more about making scripture meaningful and vibrant than it is about putting the scriptures in a centrifuge.

They state that their goal is to bring ancient [biblical] civilization to life.

Would it matter to Latter-day Saints if the Book of Mormon was purely fictional - like

the city of Atlantis?

It would matter to me - even though I would likely still study it, would still love it, and would likely still believe that applying its principles would draw me nearer to God.

And I'm not sure this is relevant to the thread - but what evidence do you have that makes it reasonable to discount direct testimony from one of the greatest minds of western civilization? For clarity, he didn't define it as a mere city (that's just a garbled translation of the traditional Greek term for a centralized government). He said it was a civilization on a distant land that rivaled the size of Asia and Africa. In addition to his comments, Western geography and the name of the Atlantic Ocean offer pretty hefty pieces of evidence to support his otherwise respectable testimony that there likely was such an ancient society. So with Plato's reputation as a witness, the name of a vast ocean, and geography that matches his claims of size - that's a pretty considerable starting point to suggest there is substance to Plato's claims. With such initial evidence on one side of the scale, what's the foundation for claiming Plato was either a dupe or making it up? Other than a preference to doubt?

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Regarding Atlantis, Plato is said to have heard it from an Egyptian Priest. Now given the Greek Dark Ages when writing and literature were lost for around three hundred or so years ( a third longer than the existence of the US to put it in perspective). His recollections (and Egypts) might very well have been based on the explosion of Thera which doomed the Minoan trading civilization and brought on the Mycenaean (ie age of the Trojan War), and from that occurrance came the Sea Peoples and the destruction of the Greek Agean civilization at that time until the time of Homer and the first Olympics. At least from my viewpoint.

It matters to me that the Book of Mormon be true. What matters less to me is how we historically interpret it today (which may change) versus how the times in the Book of Mormon actually were. We tend to place cultures of what we explore within our own paradigm (like the earlier belief that Minoans were basically peaceful people in every sense of the word). We like to catalogue things neatly. So sometimes interpretations are what we perceive rather than what was. That will always happen when we read a religious text. Like Renn painters painting biblical scenes with Renn clothing.

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The new generation of BoM scholars/specialists have emphasized a methodology that focuses on finding traces of Mesoamerica in the BoM, instead of finding traces of the BoM in Mesoamerica. I find this to be a better approach. If the BoM text includes clues about Mesoamerica that wouldn't have been available in 1830 to Joseph Smith, then I think a strong case can be built for the authenticity of the BoM record.

This is essentially the method that scholars of a generation ago employed in arguing that the patriarchal narratives in the OT were authentic. They argued that the culture described in Genesis basically agrees with the culture of the time and place in which it claims to come from. Biblical archaeologists Finkelstein and Silberman describe:

However, this methodology has come under fire by critics, including Finkelstein and Silberman. They go on to point out various anachronisms in the text which they argue are more important in determining the production era. They argue that the existence of elements such as domesticated camels and the names of kingdoms that didn't yet exist are proof that the authors were describing stories hundreds of years removed from their own era.

So, does this criticism have any bearing on BoM studies? I suppose it simply boils down to whether or not the alleged anachronisms in the BoM are real or perceived.

If the material culture of the Nephites is identical to the material culture of their nieghbors then ya, its the best way to go.

I don't have a mormon car, a mormon jeans or mormon furniture.

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....and like those two examples, in the case of Nephites, what the search could use as a lever is a viable cultural baseline. I believe we're reasonably close to arriving at one, on multiple separate fronts (pottery, isotope analysis, DNA, etc.).

Agreed.

Pottery? Are you suggesting that you have some expectation for what Lehite ceramics would have looked like? If so, is your criteria somehow based in the text of the BOM? Are you talking about commonalities in Mesoamerican ceramics? As a archaeological ceramic analyst, I am very interested learning more about this statement.

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Pottery? Are you suggesting that you have some expectation for what Lehite ceramics would have looked like? If so, is your criteria somehow based in the text of the BOM? Are you talking about commonalities in Mesoamerican ceramics? As a archaeological ceramic analyst, I am very interested learning more about this statement.

See private IM.

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