The Book of Mormon
Archaeology and the Book of Mormon
Some members of the Mormon church have made fantastic claims about archaeologists using the Book of Mormon. For instance, we are informed that a letter which was written to Earnest L. English on May 3, 1936, was duplicated and "distributed to LDS church members by leaders (local) in Cleveland, Ohio in 1959." We quote the following from that letter:
The inquiry you made regarding the Book of Mormon is a commendable one and I will be pleased to mention the part which it has played in helping the government to unravel the problem of the aborigines.... it was 1920 before the Smithsonian Institute officially recognized the Book of Mormon as a record of any value. All discoveries up to this time were found to fit the Book of Mormon accounts and so the heads of the Archaeological Department decided to make an effort to discover some of the larger cities described in the Book of Mormon records.
All members of the department were required to study the account and make rough-maps of the various populated centers.... During the past fifteen years the Institute has made remarkable study of its investigations of the Mexican Indians and it is true that the Book of Mormon has been the guide to almost all of the major discoveries.
When Col. Lindbergh flew to South America five years ago, he was able to sight heretofore undiscovered cities which the archaeologists at the Institute had mapped out according to the locations described in the Book of Mormon. This record is now quoted by the members of the Institute as an authority and is recognized by all advanced students in the field.
Because of many false statements, such as the one cited above, the Smithsonian Institution has been forced to publish a statement concerning these matters (see photograph of this statement in Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 97). In this statement we find the following: "The Smithsonian Institution
has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the Book."
Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr., of the Smithsonian Institution, elaborated further on the subject in a letter dated February 16, 1951:
In reply to your letter of February 11, 1951, permit me to say that the mistaken idea that the Book of Mormon has been used by scientific organizations in conducting archeological explorations has become quite current in recent years. It can be stated definitely that there is no connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the Book of Mormon.
There is no correspondence whatever between archeological sites and cultures as revealed by scientific investigations and as recorded in the Book of Mormon, hence the book cannot be regarded as having any historical value from the standpoint of the aboriginal peoples of the New World.
The Smithsonian Institution has never officially recognized the Book of Mormon as a record of value on scientific matters, and the Book has never been used as a guide or source of information for discovering ruined cities (Letter dated February 16, 1951, photographically reproduced in The Book of Mormon Examined, by Arthur Budvarson, La Mesa, California, 1959, p. 37).
In 1973 Michael Coe, one of the best known authorities on archaeology of the New World, wrote an article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. In this article he stated:
Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples.... They believe that Smith could translate hieroglyphs.... Likewise, they accept the Kinderhook Plates as a bona fide archaeological discovery, and the reading of them as correct. Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group....
The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early migrants to our hemisphere (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1973, pp. 41, 42, 46).
In his pamphlet Archeology and the Book of Mormon, Hal
Hougey gives us the following information:
Latter-day Saints have only recently entered seriously into the field of anthropology, though they have "long evidenced an avid, though amateur, interest in the subject" since the earliest days of the Mormon Church....
While there are today only a few Latter-day Saints with a doctor's degree in anthropology, these few have served to curtail the extravagant claims which have been made by Mormon missionaries and by the lavish picture books published by Mormons....
When Mormon missionaries and writers make extravagant claims about American archeology proving the Book of Mormon, we need only to refer them to the following statements by their own anthropologists:
"The statement that the Book of Mormon has already been proved by archaeology is misleading. The truth of the matter is that we are only now beginning to see even the outlines of the archaeological time-periods which could compare with those of the Book of Mormon. How, then, can the matter have been settled once and for all? That such an idea could exist indicates the ignorance of many of our people with regard to what is going on in the historical and anthropological sciences." (Christensen in U.A.S. Newsletter, no. 64, January 30, 1960, p. 3).
"Many times, Mormon missionaries have told their investigators that such late-period ruins as Monte Alban (periods III-V), Yagul, and Mitla were built by the Nephites and that the archaeologists would confirm this. Both claims are untrue. However, the earliest periods of the area, Monte Alban I and II, although as yet little known, are of Preclassic (i.e. Book of Mormon period) date. One may think of these earlier peoples as Jaredites or Nephites, but if so it must be on the basis of faith, not archaeology, for so far there is no explicit evidence that Book of Mormon peoples occupied this area [Oaxaca, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec area of Mexico]" (Joseph E. Vincent in U.A.S. Newsletter, no. 66, May 7, 1960, p. 2).
Christensen chides his brethren with the following comment:
"As for the notion that the Book of Mormon has already been proved by archaeology, I must say with Shakespeare, 'Lay not that flattering unction to your soul!' (Hamlet 111:4)" (U.A.S. Newsletter, no. 64, January 30, 1960, p. 3).
What about the Mormon claim that non-Mormons have found the Book of Mormon helpful as a guide in locating ruins of cities in Central America? M. Wells Jakeman, Mormon anthropologist, answers this question:
"It must be confessed that some members of the 'Mormon' or Latter-day Saint Church are prone, in their enthusiasm for the
Book of Mormon, to make claims for it that cannot be supported. So far as is known to the writer, no non-Mormon archaeologist at the present time is using the Book of Mormon as a guide in archaeological research. Nor does he know of any non-Mormon archaeologist who holds that the American Indians are descendants of the Jews, or that Christianity was known in America in the first century of our era" ... (Ibid., no. 57, March 25, 1959, p. 4).
"With the exception of Latter-day Saint archaeologists, members of the archaeological profession do not, and never have, espoused the Book of Mormon in any sense of which I am aware. Non-Mormon archaeologists do not allow the Book of Mormon any place whatever in their reconstruction of the early history of the New World" (Christensen in U.A.S. Newsletter, no. 64, January 30, 1960, p. 3).
... We conclude, therefore, that the Book of Mormon remains completely unverified by archaeology. The claims Mormon missionaries have made are fallacious and misleading (Archeology and the Book of Mormon, by Hal Hougey, rev. ed., 1976, pp. 4-6, 8, 9, 14).
John L. Sorenson, a Mormon archaeologist who was assistant professor of Anthropology and Sociology at BYU, added his comments concerning some of the popular Mormon books on archaeology and the Book of Mormon:
Various individuals unconnected with these institutionalized activities have also wrestled with the archaeological problem. Few of the writings they have produced are of genuine consequence in archaeological terms. Some are clearly on the oddball fringe; others have credible qualifications. Two of the most prolific are Professor Hugh Nibley and Milton R. Hunter; however, they are not qualified to handle the archaeological materials their works often involve.... As long as Mormons generally are willing to be fooled by (and pay for) the uninformed, uncritical drivel about archaeology and the scriptures which predominates, the few L.D.S. experts are reluctant even to be identified with the topic (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1966, pp. 145, 149).
M. T. Lamb, a writer critical of the Book of Mormon, observed concerning archaeology and the Book of Mormon:
We shall find a great many other representations of the Book of Mormon equally at fault, squarely and flatly contradicted by the facts of ancient American history.
For instance, what can be more clearly stated than the religious condition of this country, especially Central America, for a period of over two hundred years after Christ? A Christian civilization prevailed all over both continents.
It is not necessary here to repeat the passages in the Book of Mormon which describe such civilization.... It is only needful now to show that nothing could be wider from the truth, unless all ancient American history is a lie, and its ten thousand relics tell false tales.
It may be stated in a general way that there never has been a time upon this western hemisphere within the historic period, or within three thousand years past when a uniform civilization of ANY KIND prevailed over both continents.
But this will be considered hereafter. We are to learn now—
1st. That a Christian civilization has never existed in Central America, not even for a day.
2d. The people of Central America, as far back as their record has been traced (and that is centuries earlier than the alleged beginning of Nephite history), have always been an idolatrous people, as thoroughly heathen as any which the history of the world has described, worshiping idols the most hideous in form and feature that have ever been found upon earth, and accompanying that worship by human sacrifices as barbarous as the annals of history have recorded.... A sad fatality, is it not, dear reader, that in the very region of country where the Book of Mormon fixes magnificent temples and sanctuaries erected by a Christian people for the worship of the true God, there should be dug up out of the ruins of old temples and palaces such relics of the real religion of these ancient peoples? All the records that have come down to us make it certain that these horrid idols instead of the Lord Jesus were worshipped throughout Central America 2000 years ago. It would indeed be a bright page in Central American history if the assertions of the Book of Mormon were true. But no such bright spot can be discovered either in the Nahuan or the Mayan records. For more than three thousand years it was one unbroken record of superstition and human slaughter... . The entire civilization of the Book of Mormon, its whole record from beginning to end is flatly contradicted by the civilization and the history of Central America (The Golden Bible; or, The Book of Mormon. Is It From God?, New York, 1887, pp. 284-289).
Dr. Hugh Nibley, the most well-known Mormon apologist of the present time, tries to explain away the fact that archaeologists have not found any evidence that the Nephites or Jaredites ever existed:
Book of Mormon archaeologists have often been disappointed in the past because they have consistently looked for the wrong things.... People underestimate the capacity of things to disappear, and do not realize that the ancients almost never built of stone....
Proceed with Caution!: There is certainly no shortage of ruins on this continent, but until some one object has been definitely identified as either Nephite or Jaredite it is dangerous to start drawing any conclusions.... The search must go on, but conclusions should wait. We are asking for trouble when we describe any object as Nephite or Jaredite.... Aside from the danger of building faith on the 'highly ambiguous materials' of archaeology and the 'unavoidable subjective' and personal interpretations of the same, we should remember that archaeology at its best is a game of surprises.
A Disappointing Picture: People often ask, if the Book of Mormon is true, why do we not find this continent littered with mighty ruins? ... Where are your Jaredite and Nephite splendors of the past? ... In the Nephites we have a small and mobile population dispersed over a great land area, living in quickly-built wooden cities.... Their far more numerous and enduring contemporaries, the Lamanites and their associates including Jaredite remnants (which we believe were quite extensive) had a type of culture that leaves little if anything behind it.... We have no description of any Book of Mormon city to compare with Homer's description of Troy. How shall we recognize a Nephite city when we find it? (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 1957, pp. 366, 370, 373).
In his book Since Cumorah, Dr. Nibley admits that there is no real archaeological evidence to prove that the Nephites ever existed:
From the first both Mormons and their opponents recognized the possibility of testing the Book of Mormon in a scientific way. The book described certain aspects of civilizations purporting to have existed in the New World in ancient times. Very well, where were the remains? A vast amount of time, energy, and patience has been expended in arguing about the interpretations of the scanty evidence that is available, but very little has been devoted to the systematic search for more. Of course, almost any object could conceivably have some connection with the Book of Mormon, but nothing short of an inscription which could be read and roughly dated could bridge the gap between what might be called a pre-actualistic archaeology and contact with the realities of Nephite civilization.
The possibility that a great nation or empire that once dominated vast areas of land and flourished for centuries could actually get lost and stay lost in spite of every effort of men to discover its traces, has been demonstrated many times since Schliemann found the real world of the Mycenaeans....
So it is with the Nephites. All that we have to go on to date is a written history. That does not mean that our Nephites are necessarily
mythical.... But as things stand we are still in the pre-archaeological and pre-anthropological stages of Book of Mormon study. Which means that there is nothing whatever that an anthropologist or archaeologist as such can say about the Book of Mormon. Nephite civilization was urban in nature.... It could just as easily and completely vanish from sight as the worlds of Ugarit, Ur, or Cnossos; and until some physical remnant of it, no matter how trivial, has been identified beyond question, what can any student of physical remains possibly have to say about it? Everything written so far by anthropologists or archaeologists—even real archaeologists—about the Book of Mormon must be discounted, for the same reason that we must discount studies of the lost Atlantis: not because it did not exist, but because it has not yet been found (Since Cumorah, Salt Lake City, 1967, pp. 243-44).
Fortunately, some Mormon scholars are beginning to face the truth with regard to Book of Mormon archaeology. Dee Green, assistant professor of Anthropology at Weber State College, has written an article for Dialogue. This article is very critical of "Book of Mormon archaeology," and this is very significant because Mr. Green was at one time deeply involved in archaeological work at the Mormon church's Brigham Young University. In 1953-54 he served as assistant editor of the University Archaeological Society Newsletter, and in 1958-61 he served as editor. In his article for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Dee F. Green stated:
Having spent a considerable portion of the past ten years functioning as a scientist dealing with New World archaeology, I find that nothing in so-called Book of Mormon archaeology materially affects my religious commitment one way or the other, and I do not see that the archaeological myths so common in our proselytizing program enhance the process of true conversion....
The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists. Titles on books full of archaeological half- truths, dilettanti on the peripheries of American archaeology calling themselves Book of Mormon archaeologists regardless of their education, and a Department of Archaeology at BYU devoted to the production of Book of Mormon archaeologists do not insure that Book of Mormon archaeology really exists. If one is to study Book of Mormon archaeology, then one must have a corpus of data with which to deal. We do not. The Book of Mormon is really there so one can have Book of Mormon studies, and archaeology is really there so one can study archaeology, but the two are not wed. At least they are not wed in reality since no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography. Biblical archaeology can be studied because we do
know where Jerusalem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location for that matter) were or are. It would seem then that a concentration on geography should be the first order of business, but we have already seen that twenty years of such an approach has left us empty-handed (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1969, pp. 76-78).
While we found Dee F. Green's admissions rather startling, they cannot begin to compare with the surprise we received on December 2, 1970, when we received a visit from Thomas Stuart Ferguson.
Mr. Ferguson has devoted a great deal of his life trying to prove the Book of Mormon by archaeology and is recognized by the Mormon people as a great defender of the faith. He has written at least three books on the subject—one of them in collaboration with Milton R. Hunter of the First Council of the Seventy. On the jacket to his book, One Fold and One Shepherd, we find the following:
Thomas Stuart Ferguson, 47, President of the New World Archaeological Foundation, is a distinguished student of the earliest high civilizations of the New World. He, with Dr. A. V. Kidder, dean of Central American archaeologists, first planned the New World Archaeological Foundation in 1952.... He raised $225,000 for the field work, incorporated the Foundation (being an attorney), assisted in the initial explorations in Central America and Mexico and has actively directed the affairs of the Foundation since its inception.
Thomas Stuart Ferguson really believed that archaeology would prove the Book of Mormon. In his book One Fold And One Shepherd, page 263, he stated: "The important thing now is to continue the digging at an accelerated pace in order to find more inscriptions dating to Book-of-Mormon times. Eventually we should find decipherable inscriptions ... referring to some unique person, place or event in the Book of Mormon." In 1962 Mr. Ferguson said that "Powerful evidences sustaining the book are accumulating."
The first indication we had that Mr. Ferguson was losing his faith in Mormonism was just after Joseph Smith's Egyptian Papyri were rediscovered. In 1968 he wrote us a letter saying that we were "doing a great thing-getting out some truth on the Book of Abraham." Later we heard a rumor that he had given up Joseph Smith's Book of Abraham, but this hardly prepared us for his visit on December 2, 1970. At that time, Mr. Ferguson told us frankly that he had not only given up the Book of Abraham, but that he had come to the conclusion that Joseph
Smith was not a prophet and that Mormonism was not true. He told us that he had spent twenty-five years trying to prove Mormonism, but had finally come to the conclusion that all his work in this regard had been in vain. He said that his training in law had taught him how to weigh evidence and that the case against Joseph Smith was absolutely devastating and could not be explained away. Mr. Ferguson found himself faced with a dilemma, for the Mormon church had just given him a large grant ($100,000 or more) to carry on the archaeological research of the New World Archaeological Foundation. He felt, however, that the New World Archaeological Foundation was doing legitimate archaeological work, and therefore he intended to continue this work.
From 1948 to 1961 the Department of Archaeology at Brigham Young University sent "five archaeological expeditions to Middle America," but no evidence for the Nephites was discovered. After these expeditions had failed, the church leaders gave "large appropriations" to support Mr. Ferguson's New World Archaeological Foundation. This organization also failed to find evidence to prove the Book of Mormon, and the man who organized it, hoping that it would prove Mormonism, ended up losing his faith in the church.
The Anthon Transcript
In the Book of Mormon, Mormon 9:32-33, we read as follows:
And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.
The anti-Mormon writer M. T. Lamb makes some observations concerning the idea of Hebrews writing in Egyptian:
The Book of Mormon sets out with four very improbable and really absurd statements.
1. The first is that Lehi and his family used the Egyptian language....
There are a multitude of reasons that make such a statement altogether improbable. In the first place, Lehi had lived all his lifetime, ... in the city of Jerusalem, surrounded constantly by those who spoke only the Hebrew language.... In the second place, the Jews hated the Egyptians with a bitter hatred, and it is
therefore inconceivable that a true-born Jew a real lover of his own people, loyal and patriotic as he professes to have been, would have been willing thus to insult his people, or that the Jews around him would have endured the insult. In the third place, the ancient Jew had an unusual veneration for his mother tongue, the sacred Hebrew.... Now that such a man with such a venerated language could have accepted instead the Egyptian tongue, which was associated only with ignominy and dishonor, [is] the height of absurdity....
2. The second statement is still more objectionable-that there were found in the possession of a man by the name of Laban, a relative of Lehi's, and also a resident of the city of Jerusalem, certain brass plates upon which were engraven, in the Egyptian language, the five books of Moses, containing the law, the entire history of the Jews from the first down to Laban's time, ... all of the Old Testament as we have it, that had been written up to that time, six hundred years before Christ.... All this engraven in the Egyptian language.... This is more improbable and absurd than the first statement (The Golden Bible, pp. 89-91).
Mormon writer J. N. Washburn admits that this is a real problem:
The point at issue is not that Father Lehi, the Jew, could read and understand Egyptian, though this is surprising enough.... No, the big question is how the scripture of the Jews (official or otherwise) came to be written in Egyptian.... If I were to suggest what I think to be the most insistent problem for Book- of-Mormon scholarship, I should unquestionably name this one: account for the Egyptian language on the Plates of Brass, and the Brass Plates themselves! (The Contents, Structure and Authorship of the Book of Mormon, p. 81).
Joseph Smith claimed that he made a copy of some of the characters on the gold plates and that Martin Harris showed them to Professor Charles Anthon, in New York. According to Joseph Smith's History of the Church, (vol. 1, p. 20), Martin Harris claimed that "Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen from the Egyptian." Since Professor Anthon was not an Egyptologist, and since the science of Egyptology was just in its infancy at the time, even Mormon scholars have questioned this statement about Anthon's endorsement of the translation of the Book of Mormon (see Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? p. 105). In a letter dated February 17, 1834, Professor Anthon denied that he had endorsed the translation:
The whole story about my pronouncing the Mormon inscription to be reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics is perfectly false.... the paper contained anything
else but Egyptian hieroglyphics (Letter by Charles Anthon, as quoted in A Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 103).
According to Mormon historians, "a fragment of the transcript of the Book of Mormon characters" that was submitted to Professor Anthon is still in existence (see A Comprehensive History of the Church, vol. 1, p. 100). Egyptologists who have examined the Anthon Transcript are unable to make any kind of translation. Klaus Baer, of the University of Chicago, thinks the characters are nothing but "doodlings." Mormon Egyptologist Edward Ashment could not identify the script (see Sunstone, May–June 1980, p. 30).
Whether Joseph Smith copied the characters or made them up, the Anthon Transcript provides no evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon because no one is able to read it. The Mormon scholar Sidney B. Sperry frankly stated that "no one, the prophet Joseph Smith excepted, has yet translated the Anthon Transcript. If modern students of Egyptians can't do it—at least they haven't—it is too much to believe that Professor Anthon could" (The Problems of the Book of Mormon, p. 60).
Actually, the Anthon Transcript provides a great deal of evidence against the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. M. T. Lamb stated:
The point we here wish to make is this: throughout North America, according to the Book of Mormon, this reformed Egyptian was the universal language of the people fifteen hundred years ago, when the Book of Mormon was compiled.
Now fortunately or unfortunately Joseph Smith has preserved for us and for the inspection of the world, a specimen of the characters found upon the plates from which he claims to have translated the Book of Mormon. He transcribed a few of the characters from the plates as specimens....
Well, now, unfortunately for the claims of the Book of Mormon, we are able to learn precisely what kind of characters were used in Central America by its ancient inhabitants. They have been preserved in imperishable marble. Engraven upon stone in such a way as to retain to the end of time a silent though solemn rebuke to the false and foolish pretensions of the author of this book.
In the ruins of the two oldest cities in Central America, Copan and Palenque, are found in abundance the strange hieroglyphics, the written language of the people who once inhabited those old cities. Thousands of these mysterious characters are scattered about, engraven over ruined doorways and arches, upon the sides and backs of hideous-looking idols carved in stone, upon
marble slabs, on the sides of immense pillars, here and there through the ruins of magnificent palaces and monster heathen temples....
These same hieroglyphics have been preserved in other form—for the ancient Mayas had books.... An examination of the three that are now known to be preserved, shows the same characters that are found upon the stone tablets, idols, etc., .... and represent the actual written language of the ancient Mayas—a people who are known to have occupied Central America, and been the sole occupants of a portion of that country at the very time, and covering the whole period, when, according to the Book of Mormon, the Nephites lived and flourished there.... A woeful fatality, is it not? that there should not be even one of Mr. Smith's characters that bears a family likeness, or the least particle of resemblance to the characters actually used by the ancient inhabitants of Central America! ... we should find, in thousands of places, these reformed Egyptian characters engraved upon marble blocks and granite pillars.... But need we say that just the contrary of all this is found to be true.... It would therefore be sheer nonsense to imagine that the assertions of the Book of Mormon may after all have been true, but that through the lapse of time all traces of such a written language may have disappeared. Stone and marble, and gold and silver, and copper and brass are not liable to disappear in the brief period of 1500 years (The Golden Bible, pp. 259-72).
In 1959 the Mormon archaeologist Ross T. Christensen frankly admitted that "'reformed' Egyptian" is a "form of writing which we have not yet identified in the archaeological material available to us" (Book of Mormon Institute, December 5, 1959, BYU, 1964 ed., p. 10).
John A. Wilson, who was professor of Egyptology at the University of Chicago, summarized the situation in a letter to Marvin Cowan: "From time to time there are allegations that picture writing has been found in America.... In no case has a professional Egyptologist been able to recognize these characters as Egyptian hieroglyphs. From our standpoint there is no such language as 'reformed Egyptian'" (Letter from John A. Wilson dated March 16, 1966).
Richard A. Parker, department of Egyptology at Brown University, added his corroboration that, "No Egyptian writing has been found in this hemisphere to my knowledge" (Letter to Marvin Cowan, dated March 22, 1966). In the same letter Richard A. Parker stated: "I do not know of any language such as Reformed Egyptian."
In Mormonism—Shadow or Reality? (pp. 108-16), we show that there have been a number of discoveries in the New World
which have been used to try to support the Book of Mormon. We demonstrate, however, that these finds do not support the claims of the Book of Mormon and a number of them have turned out to be forgeries.
Compared with Bible Archaeology
Apostle Orson Pratt once stated: "This generation have [sic] more than one thousand times the amount of evidence to demonstrate and forever establish the divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon than they have in favor of the Bible!" (Orson Pratt's Works, "Evidences of the Book of Mormon and Bible Compared," p. 64).
We feel that this statement is far from the truth. The only evidence for the existence of the gold plates is the testimony of eleven witnesses, and as we have already shown, this testimony cannot be relied upon. A comparison of the archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon with the evidence for the Bible clearly shows the weakness of the Mormon position. This, of course, is not to imply that there are no problems connected with biblical archaeology, or that archaeological evidence alone can prove the Bible to be divinely inspired. Frank H. H. Roberts, Jr., of the Smithsonian Institute, commented in a letter written to Marvin Cowan on January 24, 1963: "Archaeological discoveries in the Near East have verified some statements in the Bible referring to certain tribes, places, etc. On the other hand there is no way in which they could verify the narrative parts of the Bible such as the actions, words, deeds, etc. of particular individuals." In the same letter he continues: "There is no evidence whatever of any migration from Israel to America, and likewise no evidence that pre-Columbian Indians had any knowledge of Christianity or the Bible."
The reader will remember that Dr. Nibley frankly admitted that no ancient inscription mentioning the Nephites has ever been found, and that "nothing short of an inscription which could be read and roughly dated would bridge the gap between what might be called a pre-actualistic archaeology and contact with the realities of Nephite civilization" (Since Cumorah, p. 243).
While the Nephites are never mentioned in any ancient inscription, the existence of the Israelites is verified by many inscriptions dating back hundreds of years before the time of Christ. The "earliest archaeological reference to the people of Israel" is a stele of the Egyptian ruler Merneptah which is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. In The Biblical World (pp. 380-81), we find this information about the stele:
Merneptah, son and successor of Ramesses II, ruled Egypt from ca. 1224 to ca. 1214 B.C.... His campaign in Palestine, waged during the fifth year of his reign (ca. 1220 B.C.) is commemorated on a large black granite stele which was found in Merneptah's mortuary temple in Thebes. At the top is a representation of Merneptah and the god Amun, ... Merneptah states:
Israel is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru (i.e. Syria) is become a widow for Egypt.
The stele provides the first mention of Israel on ancient monuments, and provides proof that Israel was in western Palestine by 1220 B.C.
John A. Wilson, the noted Egyptologist, said that "an Egyptian scribe was conscious of a people known as Israel somewhere in Palestine or Transjordan" (The Culture of Ancient Egypt, University of Chicago Press, 1965, p. 255. Copyright (c) 1951 by The University of Chicago. Used by permission.).
Many ancient inscriptions mentioning the Israelites have been found, and some inscriptions even give the names of kings mentioned in the Bible. The New Testament mentions a number of rulers that are known to have lived around the time of Christ. For instance, the Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. That Pilate was an actual historical person was proved beyond all doubt in 1961 when "an inscription with the name of Pontius Pilate was found in the theater excavations" at Caesarea (The Biblical Archaeologist, September 1964, p. 71).
The fact that the Jews were in Palestine at the time the Bible indicates is proven by hundreds of ancient Hebrew inscriptions that have been found on rocks, pieces of pottery and coins. Portions of every book of the Old Testament, except for the book of Esther, have also been found. These manuscripts are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. In addition many inscriptions from other countries verify the fact that the Jews were present in Palestine.
When we turn to the Book of Mormon, however, we are unable to find any evidence at all that the Nephites ever existed. We must agree with the Mormon archaeologist Dee F. Green when he states: "The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists.... Biblical archaeology can be studied because we do know where Jersualem and Jericho were and are, but we do not know where Zarahemla and Bountiful (nor any other location for that matter) were or are" (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1969, pp. 77-78).
Beyond the Book of Mormon
Although Joseph Smith once said that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding its precepts, than by any other book," he departed from many of its teachings and proclaimed doctrines that were in direct contradiction to it. Although the Book of Mormon is still the primary tool used to bring converts into the Church, the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price have taken its place as far as doctrine is concerned. President Joseph Fielding Smith said that "the book of Doctrine and Covenants to us stands in a peculiar position above them all" (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, p. 198). In the chapters which follow we will show that many of the doctrines the Mormon leaders now teach are in direct contradiction to the Book of Mormon.