In part one, I gave an introduction to how to go about answering that question. Terms were defined, and I decided that it would be best to look at two aspects of the historicity of the Book of Mormon and other LDS authoritative writings.
First, since the LDS claims that the Book of Mormon is historically accurate, we’ll take a look at what non-Mormon sources can confirm the events related in that book. After that, we’ll look at the accuracy of the official LDS accounts of the early history of the Mormons.
So, lets look at some of the prominent historical claims of the Book of Mormon and compare those claims with other historical and archaeological findings.
One of the more frustrating problems I faced while researching this topic is that the LDS church has on numerous occasions rewritten portions of the texts that they have (and still do) present as the infallible and unchanging words of God. Note that I have chosen my words carefully. Unlike the Bible, which has undergone many different translations from the best available source manuscripts, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price have all had church – approved rewrites. In the case of the Book of Mormon, no new translations are possible as no source material in the original laguage is available. The other two books were originally written in English. I’ll examine this issue at length in part 3 of this series.
Many critics of the Mormons have discounted the Book of Mormon based on the fact that there is absolutely no definitive archaeological evidence to support any of the narrative contained in that book. While LDS archaeologists present a number of sites and artifacts that ‘may be‘ or ‘could possibly‘ be the site of certain events, there is nothing found to date that can be confidently stated as corroborative evidence for the Book of Mormon. Contrast that with the number of archaeological discoveries that have confirmed Biblical accounts and you will find a striking comparison.
While I fully realize that the Book of Mormon (or any other text) cannot be conclusively refuted by the absence of archaeological or historical evidence, that lack of evidence does deny any claim to validity on those grounds; it works both ways.
The introduction to the Book of Mormon until the latest revision, read as follows:
“It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fullness of the everlasting gospel.
The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”
The latest revision changes the last line to read “they are among the ancestors…”
Why the change? Apparently, the lack of any archaeological support combined with the widely-publicized DNA analysis of native North and Central Americas which contradicts the teaching of the LDS has proven too much for them to maintain the teaching that the Jaradites and Lamanites were both displaced Hebrews and the ancestors of the majority (if not all) of the native American people. This view was held as official doctrine until the widely pubilicized and duplicated DNA analysis disproved it.
Here are a few of the historical errors found in the Book of Mormon:
1) Both horses and elephants are mentioned as domesticated animals during a time period centuries before either were introduced to the New World and millennia after all related species (prehistoric horses, mastodons, etc.) had become extinct.
2) The Nephites and Lamanites are said to have cultivated both wheat and barley during a time period in which neither grain had yet been imported to the New World, and no similar native grain had yet been cultivated.
3) The book of Alma mentions both silk and chariots. Neither were know to prehistoric Americans.
4) The Book of Mormon presents the inhabitants of the early Americas has having a language (Reformed Egyptian) that is an Egyptian/Hebrew hybrid language. It also states in 1 Nephi and in the book of Omni that great pains were taken by at least one large group to preserve this language. Throughout the book, it is indicated that this language was the predominant language of the land. However, there is no historical or archaeological evidence to support that any people group in the Americas had any language or dialect with Egyptian or Semetic roots.
5) The Hill of Cumorah is presented as both the site of a massive ancient battle in which over 2 million combatants died and the site where Joseph Smith found the famous golden plates. That site is in upstate New York. Yet, the LDS says that the narratives in the Book of Mormon took place in Central America. There is no evidence of any major battle at the site, and the LDS gives no explanation of why so many people would travel so far in order to wage such a monumental battle. And, to give an idea of the magnitude of this battle (0f which there is no historical or achaeological evidence other than the Book of Mormon), the casualties of this single battle are more than twice that of the entire American Civil War!
6) There are many instances in the Book of Mormon where events that were future to the narrator are referred to in the past tense, yet clearly not intended to be prophetic, but recollection.
7) If the Book of Mormon is, as Josep Smith is quoted as saying, “the most correct of any book on this Earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.” , then it should not have both internal and historical dating problems.
As stated before, these are just a few of the problems with the historicity of the Book of Mormon. They serve to illustrate why I’ve concluded that unlike the Bible, the Book of Mormon is not historically accurate, and, again, unlike the Bible has no archaeological evidence to confirm any of the narrative it contains.
The Book of Mormon claims to contain not only historical, but doctrinal and spiritual truth. If the one is suspect, the other should be also. Since the claim of historical accuracy has been shown to be false, it is more than reasonable to conclude that any teaching on spiritual matters that the LDS hold that differs from orthodox Christianity is also false. We will look at that in part 4, but in part 3 we’ll examine the history of the founding of the Latter-Day Saints.
Below are some links to sites with more detailed as well as additional information about the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
Mormonthink.com is one of the best sites I’ve found for balanced, thoughtful examinations of the Mormon church. It provides, in addition to very well researched articles, links to resources both criticizing and supporting the Mormon church.
The Web Archive has a .pdf file of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price for those who want to read the documents in question. If you would like to compare various editions of the Book of Mormon, facsimilies of many of them can be found at Book of Mormon Online.
LDS-Mormon.com has an article here that discusses many of the problems with the Book of Mormon. It also has an article here that examines the historical and present LDS claims about the Lamanites and the origins of native Americans. Be aware, however that while a good summary of the topics, they do not cite sources as well as I would like. I include them as summaries, not sources.
Here’s a video that covers most what I have and will be presenting on the LDS from a bit of a different perspective. It might be a bit easier to follow for those of you who don’t want to wade through four posts worth of text.