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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Response to Matt Slick or Steve Smoot's Excellent Adventure in Anti-Mormon Zombie Hell (Pt. 4)

"The Book of Mormon is tough. It thrives on investigation. You may kick it around like a football, as many have done; and I promise you it will wear you out before you ever put a dent in it."

- Hugh W. Nibley

One of the standard methods employed by anti-Mormons when it comes to criticizing the Book of Mormon is to create a long and impressive laundry list of "problems" with the text (must need items on that list include steel, horses, wheat and Jesus being born in Jerusalem) and present it to the audience without any further follow up or elaboration. After all, once the list runs well over several items that should be enough to have the Latter-day Saints shaking in their boots and other like-minded critics nodding in solemn agreement. 

Without failure, Matt Slick flawlessly executes this trick in his article with the unexciting, unoriginal and cliche title "Problems with the Book of Mormon".

After a watered-down and somewhat inaccurate synopsis of the Book of Mormon[1], Slick then presents his list of "problems" with the Book of Mormon and glibly remarks that the book therefore "is not of God".

Let us take a look at Slick's chart and see if it hold up. As with the other articles in this series, Slick's comments are in red whilst mine are in black.


Adam's Fall/ 2 Ne. 2:25 / False: Men exist without Adam's Fall.


Slick provides no Scriptural evidence for this claim. He simply asserts this and leaves it be. Paul, on the other hand, spoke of how "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). Does not death for everyone "in Adam" not also require first that we all partake of mortality? Furthermore, were not Adam and Eve unable to have children lest they fall from grace in the garden? It seems, therefore, that Slick contradicts scripture.

Birth of Jesus/ Alma 7:10/ Alma 7:10 contradicts the Bible in Matt 2:1

The fact that Slick brings up this old and worn out anti-Mormon chestnut demonstrates that not only is he unfamiliar with the usage of the words "land" versus "city" in the Book of Mormon (indeed, Jesus is said to have been born in the "land" of Jerusalem and not the "city") but that he also is either woefully ignorant of the most recent Book of Mormon scholarship or is simply ignoring it. 

It must be remembered that Bethlehem is less than 5 miles south of Jerusalem, and thus, it would have been considered to be apart of the larger geo-political "land of Jerusalem" as is recorded in the Book of Mormon and other texts such as the Amarna letters and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Like the ancient Greek City-States of Athens and Sparta, Jerusalem was both a "city" and a "land" in that there was the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding landscape and smaller cities that the "land of Jerusalem" encompassed. Daniel C. Peterson aptly sums up the issue thusly:

The prophecy of Alma 7:10 fits into antiquity very well. If, as Professors Eisenman and Wise observe, an allusion to "the land of Jerusalem" in Pseudo-Jeremiah fragment 4Q385 "greatly enhances [its] sense of historicity," does similar language not "greatly enhance the sense of historicity" of the Book of Mormon? Alma 7:10 is not the sort of thing that Joseph Smith would likely have invented, precisely for the same reason that it bothers enemies of Mormonism. Far from being a serious liability for the Book of Mormon, Alma's prophetic comment about the birth of the Messiah is plausible evidence that the Nephite record is exactly what it claims to be—an authentic ancient historical text with roots in the Near East. [8]

Cimeter (Scimitar)/ Mosiah 9:16/ Scimitars (Curved Swords) didn't exist until the 500's.


This is simply false. Plenty of epigraphical and archaeological evidence shows that scimitars were being used in both Pre-Exilic Israel and Pre-Classic Mesoamerica[2]. 


Elephants/ Ether 9:19/ Elephants weren't in America at the time of the BOM [Book of Mormon]


FAIR has created a nice summary on the issue of Elephants and other animals[3] in the Book of Mormon. I shall quote the page in extensio for the reader:

The only place that elephants are mentioned in the Book of Mormon is in Ether 9:19 in approximately 2500 B.C. Thus any elephants existing upon the American continents need not have survived past about 2400 B.C...Besides the traditions, five elephant effigies have been found in ancient Mexico. Dr. Verrill, a well-known (non-Mormon) archaeologist describes one of these figures as “‘so strikingly and obviously elephantine that it cannot be explained away by any of the ordinary theories of being a conventionalized or exaggerated tapir, ant-eater or macaw. Not only does this figure show a trunk, but in addition it has the big leaf-like ears and the forward-bending knees peculiar to the elephants. Moreover, it shows a load or burden strapped upon its back. It is inconceivable that any man could have imagined a creature with the flapping ears and peculiar hind knees of an elephant, or that any human being could have conventionalized a tapir to this extent’”...
The oral traditions, written records, and artwork depicting elephants lends strong support for the claim that the elephant existed in ancient America. Even more substantial support-- actual remains-- have also been discovered. Today all scholars agree that mastodons and mammoths (which are unquestionably elephants to zoologists) once lived in the Americas. The dispute today is how late they lived. According to the Book of Mormon they need not have lived later than 2400 B.C. Within recent years archaeological evidence has demonstrated that the elephant could very well have survived to such a late date. Butchered mastodon bones were recently discovered at one archaeological site which dates to shortly after the time of Christ. Another site, dating to approximately 100 B.C. has yielded the remains of a mammoth, a mastodon, as well as a horse.
Some scholars have suggested that the elephant (mammoth or mastodon) lived later than hitherto believed. Ludwell Johnson, in an article entitled “Men and Elephants in America” published in Scientific Monthly, wrote that
“Discoveries of associations of human and proboscidean remains [Elephantine mammals, including, elephants, mammoths, and mastodons] are by no means uncommon. As of 1950, MacCowan listed no less than twenty-seven” including, as noted by Hugo Gross, a “partly burned mastodon skeleton and numerous potsherds at Alangasi, Ecuador...There can no longer be any doubt that man and elephant coexisted in America.... Probably it is safe to say that American Proboscidea have been extinct for a minimum of 3000 years."
If the elephants had died off at least 3000 years ago, they would still have been well within range of the Jaredite era. And as noted above, some evidence indicates that the elephant may have survived in limited numbers for centuries later.

In short, the elephant presents no problem for the Book of Mormon. [4. Footnotes silently deleted]


Honey Bees/ Ether 2:3/ Honey Bees were introduced to America by the Spanish


Slick needs to read the Book of Mormon text more closely. The only mention of Honey Bees in the Book of Mormon occur in an Old World setting (that of the Jaredites in central Asia or western Mesopotamia). Furthermore, evidence of pre-Columbian domesticated Honey Bees is ample[5]. The simple fact of the matter is that Slick is wrong on both counts.


God Indwells the Righteous/ Alma 34:36/ BOM contradicts the D&C


Context is everything. The quotation from D&C 130 is speaking of the "old sectarian notion" that because God and Christ do not have bodies they therefore can literally dwell within the hearts of the men. The Prophet Joseph Smith clarifies and states (verse 22) that it is by the Holy Ghost (who does not have a body) that God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (who do have bodies) dwells within the hearts of the righteous. Therefore, the D&C does not contradict but instead clarifies the Book of Mormon by stating that it is by the Sprit that the Lord dwells within our hearts. 


Horses/ 1 Ne. 18:25/ Horses didn't exist in America until the 16th Century


Actually, horse remains have been found that date to the 2nd Ice Age (circa 10,000 BCE). The question, however, is whether or not any of those horses survived until the times of the Book of Mormon. Again, we turn to FAIR:

 As mentioned, one should not reject the possibility of "loan-shifting," — candidate species for "horse" under this interpretation include the tapir, deer or llama.

However, the case against pre-Columbian horses may not be as 'iron-clad' as the critics assume:

Excavations at the site of Mayapan, which dates to a few centuries before the Spaniards arrived, yielded horse bones in four spots. (Two of the lots were from the surface, however, and might represent Spanish horses.) From another site, the Cenote (water hole) Ch'en Mul, came other traces, this time from a firm archaeological context. In the bottom stratum in a sequence of levels of unconsolidated earth almost two meters in thickness, two horse teeth were found. They were partially mineralized, indicating that they were definitely ancient and could not have come from any Spanish animal. The interesting thing is that Maya pottery was also found in the stratified soil where the teeth were located.

Some have argued that horse remains ought to be better attested, if they did play a role in Nephite society. However, it should be remembered that horses do not play a major role in the Book of Mormon. They are mentioned in the following contexts:

Quotations from Old World scriptures

  • 2 Nephi 12:7 - citation from Isaiah
  • 2 Nephi 15:28 - citation from Isaiah

Apocalyptic teachings in Old World style

  • 3 Nephi 21:14 - Jesus speaks of "horses and chariots" in a symbolic and apocalyptic address

Horses in the New World

  • 1 Nephi 18:25: we did find upon the land of promise, as we journeyed in the wilderness,...the horse...
  • Ether 9:19 - Jaredites had "horses"

Used in conjunction with chariots

  • Alma 18:9 - Ammon feeds the Lamanite king's horses, which are associated with his "chariots."
  • Alma 20:6 - Lamanite king uses horses and chariot for visit to neighboring kingdom
  • 3 Nephi 3:22 - Nephites "had taken their horses, and their chariots" to a central fortified area for protection against robbers

(It should be noted that we are not told if these chariots served a purpose in riding, or if they were for transport of goods, or if they had a ceremonial function. One assumes some sort of practicality, since they brought chariots to the siege in 3 Nephi.)

Role in animal husbandry

  • Enos 1:21 - the people of Nephi did...raise...flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.
  • 3 Nephi 4:4 - During the robbers' seige, the Nephites "reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years"
  • 3 Nephi 6:1 - After the seige, Nephites each take their possessions home, including "horses and cattle"

It is interesting that the horses are often grouped with cattle, and seem to have played a role in the diet (though this may have been under the exigencies of the siege of 3 Nephi.)

Conspicuously absent is any role of the horse in the many journeys recorded in the Book of Mormon. Nor do horses or chariots play any role in the many Nephite wars; this is in stark contrast to the Biblical account, in which the chariots of Egypt, Babylon, and the Philistines are feared super-weapons upon the plains of Israel.

Nor do we see a role for the horse in gallant cavalry charges that were the romantic warrior ideal in Joseph Smith's day. Nor is there any sign of the rapid war of manoeuver and skirmish favored by the cavalry of the western nations. These are not the horses of the nineteenth century's practical realities or fanciful dreams.

There are societies in which the horse was vital, such as among the Hun warriors of Asia and Eastern Europe, for whom horses were a sign of wealth and status, and for whom they were essential for food, clothing, and war. Yet, there is no known horse bone from this period in the archaeologic record.

If the hundreds of thousands of horses owned by the Huns left little or no trace, it may not be surprising that little has been found in the Americas, given that the Book of Mormon's role for horses is minimal. Ironically, there is more evidence of horses among the Mesoamericans than among the Huns!

Besides, "everyone knows" there were no horses in the Americas before Columbus. Joseph Smith would have understood this common belief. If he was trying to perpetuate a fraud, why include an element that nearly everyone would have heard about, especially when it plays such a small role in the book? [6. Footnotes silently removed.]


Steel/ 1 Ne. 4:9/ The Jews did not have steel at that time.


Again, Slick is simply wrong. Evidence shows that steel swords were being made as early as the 10th century BCE in the ancient Near East. Furthermore, the "steel" mentioned in the Book of Mormon is most assuredly not modern steel (which was not invented until the 1850's) but is consistent with the ancient usage of the word[7].


Salvation/ 2 Ne. 25:23/ Salvation by works.


Slick reads this verse in the Book of Mormon (which talks of being saved by grace "after all we can do") as promoting salvation via works. As a fundamentalist Protestant this is nothing short of heresy for Slick. However, as has been demonstrated by Jeff Lindsay[9], plenty of Scriptural texts point to works being a vital role in our salvation. The Lord reminds us, for example, that not everyone who simply cries "Lord, Lord"[10] will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who "do the will of my Father" (Matt. 7:21). However, does this mean that we therefore can disregard the Atonement of Christ and his Grace? Absolutely not! The Book of Mormon is emphatic in its declaration that all men will be saved by the Atoning power of Christ. However, that does not mean that we can simply "confess Jesus" and expect to be saved willy-nilly. We must strive to keep the commandments of the Lord and follow His example that he has set for us in order to access the Atonement of Christ. 


Silk/ Alma 4:6/ The Jews didn't have silk at that time.


John Sorenson, in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon[11] and elsewhere has dealt with the issue of silk in the Book of Mormon. He shows evidence that ancient Mesoamerican cultures had fibrous materials that could qualify as silk. Again, we need not assume that the silk in the Book of Mormon is referring to Chinese silk that we modern readers are familiar with. Again, we turn to FAIR:

The production of Old World "silk" requires both silkworms and the mulberry trees upon whose leaves they feed, which critics have charged is impossible.

However, there are several examples of silk or silk-like fabric in pre-Columbian America:

  • wild silkworms do exist, and some commentators insisted that the Amerindians spun and wove it from their coccoons
  • hair from rabbit bellies was also spun into a cloth dubbed "silk" by the Spanish conquerors
  • floss from the ceiba (silk-cotton) tree was made into a "soft delicate cloth," kapok.
  • fibres from the wild pineable were also prized for their ability to be woven into a fine, durable fabric
  • cotton cloth in Mexico from A.D. 400 is "even, very fine, and gossamer-thin." [12]


Sufficiently Humble/ Alma 5:27/ How do you become sufficiently humble?



This is a gross misrepresentation of Alma's words and demonstrates that Slick is not only sloppy but also highly disingenuous with the Book of Mormon text. In that verse, the one which, it should be noted, Slick even posted on his webpage, so he cannot claim ignorance, it is clear that Alma is rhetorically asking how one can be sufficiently humble without the Atonement of Christ. The verse reads:

Have ye walked, keeping yourself blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? (Emphasis added.)

It is clear that Alma is asking this rhetorically because all throughout Alma 5 he asks a series of other rhetorical questions meant to call out the reader and put them on the spot. It is intended to show that without the Atonement of Christ we couldn't stand before God and seriously expect to escape judgement. After all, for example, how could we say that we have been sufficiently humble to God without the Atonement of Christ? 


Two Churches/ 1 Ne. 14:10/ If non-Mormon church is the church of Satan, why is Mormonism trying to appear like it?


This is a strange question. What does Slick mean by this? Is he suggesting that the Church of Jesus Christ is trying to become more mainstream? Is he suggesting that Mormons are trying to appear more "Christian"[13]? Until Slick clarifies his statement, this remains an anomaly that I cannot answer.

Conclusion

Not content with that list alone, Slick then again provides another list that shows supposed contradictions with the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day Saint teachings. I have also dealt with this list in parts 1 and 2 of this series.

Thus we see that Slick's list of Book of Mormon problems does not hold up under close scrutiny. Not only is he ignorant of the most recent scholarship that contradict his claims with regard to steel, scimitars, silk, horses, elephants and honey bees but he also is irresponsible when dealing with the Book of Mormon text on issues such as salvation, the birthplace of Jesus and Alma's discourses. Until Slick cleans up his scholarship, we must therefore dismiss his exegesis and analysis of the Book of Mormon as nothing more than pedantic and shallow polemics.


*** End of Part 4 ***


[1]: For example, Slick claims that the Book of Mormon covers a period of 600 BC to 400 AD. In reality, the Book of Ether provides a chronology much earlier than 600BC. Slick also claims that the Book of Mormon describes "some Jews" escaping Jerusalem. While it is true that the Mulekites would have been Jewish, Nephi and his family most certainly were not. The Book of Mormon records that Lehi was a descendant of Manasseh (Alma 10:3, 1 Ne. 5:14) and that Ishmael was an Ephraimite (JD 23:184).

[2]: On scimitars in the Book of Mormon, see Paul Y. Hoskisson "Scimitars, Cimeters! We Have Scimitars! Do We Need Another Cimeter?" and William J. Hamblin and A. Brent Merrill "Notes on the Cimeter (Scimitar) in the Book of Mormon" in Warfare in the Book of Mormon (FARMS, 1990) pages 352-359 and 360-364 respectively. Also see "Swords and "Cimeters" in the Book of Mormon" and "Mesoamerican "Cimeters" in the Book of Mormon" by Matt Roper. (See links here and here)

[3]: When dealing with plants and animals in the Book of Mormon, we must be careful not to read our modern presumptions or paradigms into the text. For example, when the Book of Mormon authors describe certain plants or animals, we must remember that the ancient peoples practiced what is called loan shifting, or, in other words, using a familiar name and applying it to an unfamiliar item (such as an animal or object). For example, the hippopotamus in Greek means "water horse" because when the Greeks first discovered the creature they had no other way of describing it. Thus, when the Nephites describe horses or elephants, we need to consider the possibility that they were using a familiar name and applying it to an unfamiliar creature (such as a deer or a tapir in the case of the horse or mammoths in the case of the elephant). We also need to remember that the Book of Mormon is a translation, which would also allow the possibility of Joseph Smith using a familiar word (like horse) to describe the original word in reformed Egyptian in his translation. 

[4]: See: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_anachronisms/Animals#Elephant

[5]: See: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_anachronisms/Animals#Bees

[6]: See: http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_anachronisms/Animals#Horse

[7]: See William J. Hamblin in "Steel in the Book of Mormon" (link here) and "On Nephi's Steel Bow" by Kevin Barney (link here). Also see "Ancient Steel Sword Unearthed" by Gordon C. Thomasson (link here).

[8]: Daniel C. Peterson "On Alma 7:10 and the Birthplace of Jesus Christ" (link here). Also see the offering by FAIR (link here).

[9]: See his website on Grace vs. Works (link here).

[10]: This would seem to contradict the Evangelical position that all one must do to be saved is confess the name of Jesus. Notice how the Lord specifically says that it is not enough to simply say "Lord, Lord" as Protestant theologians would have us think.

[11]: John L. Sorenson An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (FARMS, 1995) pg. 232

[12]:http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon_anachronisms/Plants#Silk

[13]: Which, of course, would be absurd considering the fact that, despite the protest from the likes of Slick, Latter-day Saints are Christians.