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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Response to Comments

From time to time, someone will comment on a post about items that a) are too involved to answer in a couple of paragraphs and b) merit being expounded in a post of their own.

This answer is from a comment thread on "Lehi and the Throne Theophany in 1 Nephi". The source comment related to the foregoing is found here.

You have mentioned some of the very things about which I wish to write multiple posts. Keep watching the blog for these, particularly about the purported contents of destroyed codices and those that were preserved, such as the Title of the Lords of Totonicapan and the Popol Vuh. Those are two works with which I'm the most familiar. I have both read and had them explained to me by indigenous Guatemalans who were direct descendants of the people from which these records arose. I will also do more reading of the other sources you mention. I've heard of them, but haven't had the chance to read through them.

As for your other items:

1) No Temple of Solomon replica evidence found...

If you asked a Muslim in Jerusalem about the location of Solomon's temple, you'd get a very different answer than if you asked an orthodox Jew.

Most moderate Muslims would admit that there was, of course, a Temple of Solomon but wouldn't be inclined to say exactly where. Moderate Jews will point to the temple mount and say "over there".

Casting this similarly archaeologically-based argument into a fundamentalist, Muslim, anti-Jewish mold, as a general corollary to the present fundamentalist, Evangelical, anti-Mormon stance it represents, the Muslim critic would deny the existence of Solomon's Temple at all, blaming it on some type of Zionist conspiracy to rule the world on false pretenses.

In fact, very few, if any, archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land have escaped scrutiny, dispute, discrediting, followed by validation, more dispute, ad nauseum. None have unanimously agreed on whether anything found to-date is 100% authentic or traced to the correct time period. Christians fight with the Jews, Jews fight with the Muslims, and the Muslims fight with the Jews and Christians as to whether something found validates a religious claim and, indeed, outlines territory, possessions, or even God's truth.

In other words, absence of the preservation of a particular Nephite temple is not evidence of its non-preservation (it may yet be found, and indications are that Solomonic temple layouts already have been found in multiple pre-Columbian temple ruins). That is, unless that non-preservation is all one is inclined to see through one's favored theological lens. Further, in such a mindset, one could be informed of evidence as it comes to light, but still only be satisfied with a whole and complete proof (probably nothing less than a photo of Solomon or Nephi standing in front of its outer wall, holding a sign saying "My name is Solomon/Nephi. This is the temple. I built it.") rather than the fragmentary bits and pieces that, by the very nature of antiquity, multiple conquests, cultural and literal genocides, and the erasing effects of universal entropy, are more likely to be the norm.

More about the true role and discipline of archaeology as it relates to BoM and Biblical studies is found here.

2) No text or fragments we can trace to the BoM...

Simply. Not. True. There are vast amounts of Old World texts that have come to light since the Qumran scrolls which correlate in such striking ways to BoM narrative, culture, and literature that it indeed becomes impossible to explain the existence of the BoM as Joseph Smith's own contrivance. There were simply too many things undiscovered in Joseph's time that today reveal what he could not have known on his own were he its sole author and not its God-inspired translator.

See "The Lachish Letters: Archaeological Bullseye for the Book of Mormon" for another set in addition to that which we already provide on this site in numerous instances and which other apologists, amateur and expert alike, provide in their texts and blogs. As for in the Americas, just wait until you see what I have to say about the Popol Vuh, the Title, and the various oral and cultural traditions of Mesoamerican people that indicate they once had possession of religious ideas dating from 600 BC and onward (in the case of the Nephites) and even earlier (in the case of the Jaredites). We were only able to translate Mayan texts as late as the mid-1990s! The linguistic and literary fruits of that breakthrough are only beginning to be realized, yet we have already found so much in terms of place and people names that corresponds to Semitic and Egyptian names.

3) Was there only one set of plates? If so, how did millions read the scriptures?

These questions are based on a foundationless premise that we would actually know, somehow, that millions of people read scriptures in the Americas in the same manner as we (incorrectly) presume, expect, hope or romanticize common, everyday people did in the Middle East.

There were multiple copies of plates, as far as we can tell from the text itself, both in analysis and from the narrative. Assuming that the BoM writers duplicated and disseminated their written works to the general populace (a phenomenon for which there is absolutely zero narrative support in the BoM itself nor in anything Joseph Smith ever said), they would have had to do so more economically than on metal plates. They would have necessarily written their copies on animal skins or parchment of some kind.

While we have found whole and fragmentary Mayan codices that served such a purpose, for allegedly "millions of people" to have read BoM writings as they were developing through time, there indeed would have had to have been a massive codex publishing industry, not to mention a 20th century-style editorial process and a few computerized printing presses, to carry this out. Such a thing never existed in the ancient Middle East, so why would anyone expect it in the ancient Americas, especially from a culture that came from the ancient Middle East?

Works of scripture were perpetuated in the ancient Middle East by deliberate and controlled hand-copying of scrolls, which eventually amounted to accumulations of certain amounts of scrolls at various times in history, but never in amounts such that "millions of people" had everyday access to them. Indeed, it's common knowledge today that copies of the Torah were kept in a special vault and carefully handled so as to ensure they wouldn't have to be copied too frequently to perpetuate them.

Yet, today, even in the Middle East, after all that's been dug up there over the centuries since the Crusades and earlier, and continues to be dug up, we don't find nearly the amount of preserved scrolls we might expect under this assumption. Why is that? I can tell you why. Multiple conquests and the general entropy that exists as part of the human condition. Just as it takes extraordinarily coincidential circumstances of mud, temperature, pressure, and a long period of time undisturbed for a dinosaur fossil to have been preserved, we necessarily require much more diligence and deliberateness for comparatively fragile papyrus or animal skin texts to stay around for that long. Only writings inscribed on metal plates, carved in stone, painted on walls, or carefully preserved via clay tablet engravings, survived the ravaging elements of the ages. Such attempts at preservation do not lend themselves well to mass production of literature for the general populace to have had then and especially not for us to have an abundance of their remnants now.

Next, compare the environmental climates of the two worlds. One, completely arid and dry, the other, so hot, humid, and wet that I've literally seen dead sticks come back to life when planted in the ground. Having grown up in a library as the son of a librarian in a dry, desert town in Southern Utah, I can tell you that the climate of Mesoamerica, at all times, is a special collections archivist's nightmare. When I visited the museum of Mayan artifacts housed in the relatively drier climate of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, I was astonished at how raggedy and spoiled even things only 100 years old had become as compared to how they must have appeared when new.

How could one then expect millions of people, living over two millenia ago, to have successfully preserved their copies of the scriptures to meet such astonishing requirements for credible evidence. It is a wild goose chase to expect to find it. It simply would not--could not--exist without the kinds of technology we have today to preserve perishables. And in perpetuity for over 2,000 years at that! So, we have to turn to other clues that pre-Columbian people left behind and that their descendants continue to perpetuate today.

4) If we did not have the BoM today, is there any independent evidence that we would even know of the "Nephites"? What does "Nephi" mean anyhow?