Friday, April 8, 2011

Animals in the Book of Mormon - Part I: Cattle

Animals in the Book of Mormon
Much has been made by critics of the Book of Mormon regarding types of animals it lists as being present in the Americas before 1492. Yet, a detailed examination verifies their presence in Book of Mormon lands. Probably the most common criticism is the presence of horses in the New World before they were introduced on Columbus’s second voyage in 1493. This will be discussed more fully below.
Tomb Painting of Egyptian Cattle c 1422 B.C.
In addition to the horse, cattle represent a type of animal that archaeologists at the Smithsonian and others declared were not in America before the time of Columbus. There are archaeological records, though, that show domestic cattle were here well before then. Caves in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico in Mesoamerica have yielded bones of Bos taurus (the domesticated species of cattle) found in association with man going back thousands of years. Paleontologists as well as archaeologists have found a number of sites throughout North America, including Mesoamerica, where different types of cattle have been found associated with man.
Two Species of Extinct Bison
 It is not known if, when listing “cattle”, “oxen”, and “cows” in both the Jaredite (Ether 9:18) and Nephite (1st Nephi 18:25) records, whether different species are indicated. Nevertheless, several different species are possible. While they were thought to be extinct before Book of Mormon time by the Smithsonian Institution archaeologists, paleontological research now shows that many animals lived here much less than 10,000 years ago.  In the record of Leif Ericson’s voyage to America around 1000 A.D., mention is made of “cattle” along with wheat. The statement is, “A bellowing steer [emphasis added] bursting from the woods struck such terror into the Skraelings [natives] that they took to their boats and hastily departed.”
Besides domestic cattle (oxen, cows), there are several types of cattle native to North America. None of these, however, entered into South America before being introduced by man. Extinct species, in addition to extant species, are among the cattle known to be associated with man. These did not all become extinct before association with man.  Some extinct types may well have survived into Book of Mormon time. One or more of these could be included in the “cattle,” “oxen,” and “cows” listed in both the Jaredite and Nephite records. Early Spaniards in North America often referred to bison as “cows” or “cattle.” There are two other types of cattle besides bison native to North America. One is the woodland musk ox and the other the shrub ox. Although both these species are extinct, they might well have been living a very few thousand years ago. There are at least five different species of native North American cattle that could have been known to Book of Mormon peoples. It should be stated here that organisms which live in warm, humid conditions quickly decompose and disintegrate upon death. Therefore, the fossil record in these climatic conditions is generally poor. So, in areas like Mesoamerica, fossils of various organisms are especially incomplete.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Food Plants in the Book of Mormon

As languages evolved, and words used are translated, they can often be misunderstood. This was demonstrated in the previous blog with linen and silk. One food item that can be misunderstood in English is “corn.” Corn is strictly a New World plant. Yet it is mentioned in the Bible. Joseph, son of Jacob who was sold into Egypt by his brothers, was the overseer of gathering and storing “corn” by the Pharaoh (Genesis 41). However, the term “corn” as used here was meant to designate a grain or grains other than New World corn. It is usually assumed that this grain was wheat. So, too much emphasis should not be placed on a specific type of grain, food, or other materials when translations from one language to another are involved.
In Mosiah (9:9) the following seeds are listed: corn, wheat, barley, neas and sheum. The first three might be the same as we know these plants to be now. Corn as a native American grain was apparently cultivated in Mexico by 3000 B.C. from the "teosinte" plant. Wheat being native to the Old World could present a problem.

Field of Domestic Wheat
Smithsonian Institution archaeologists stated that there was no wheat in America before 1492. However, as a very useful grain, it seems more than likely that both Jaredites and Nephites would have brought seeds of true wheat with them. There is a record in addition to the one in the Book of Mormon that mentions wheat in America before Columbus’ time. About 1000 A.D. Leif Ericson led a voyage to eastern North America that he called Vinland, or Vineland, the Good. In a report made of his voyage it is stated, “On his voyage, Leif was cast on the shores of a hitherto unknown land where he found the vine and wheat [emphasis added] in a natural state…”  While it is possible that the “wheat” written here was another grain, the name given was indeed wheat. The wheat mentioned in the Book of Mormon is of course much older. And if wheat was in America before the time of Leif Ericson, it could have been an introduced grain growing here since Book of Mormon time.

Barley, too, can be explained as being in America for millennia even though it is a grain native to the Old World. Despite many archaeological studies, barley was unknown in America until recently. In fact this grain was not thought present here before Columbus and subsequent peoples came to America. It was, however, found at an archaeological site in Arizona in 1983. Since then other findings of Pre-columbian barley have been discovered in America.

Grains of Domestic Barley

Although it appears that “neas” listed in Mosiah (9:9) is still an unidentified food item, probably a grain, “sheum,” another food listed with it has been identified. It was reported that "še’um" (or "sheum") is a grain. This word appears in ancient Akkadian and Assyrian records, and represents a cereal, often barley or a barley-like grain. “Sheum” was a food not known by that name to the world at the time of Joseph Smith. It was only well after he translated the Plates containing the Book of Mormon that archaeological research  uncovered the word “sheum” in old Assyrian texts.

Regarding highly domesticated plants in general, without careful cultivation they usually revert back to a natural state that does not closely resemble the cultivated condition. After many generations of neglect, these types of plants could easily go undetected today.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Linen and Silk in the Book of Mormon

Linen and Silk
The Smithsonian Institution and others have declared that linen and silk were not present in the Americas prior to 1492. True linen is derived from flax which is native only to the Old World. Its uses were known in Egypt well before the beginning of Jaredite history. Linen was a common material used for many purposes including the wrapping of mummies. It has been claimed that linen was used by Egyptians dating back to 4000 B.C., and possibly earlier. Examples of this material being used by the Jaredites are found in Ether (10:24), and by the Nephites as found in Alma (1:29). A statement was made that both the Jaredites and Nephites, “…in all probability brought flax seeds with them on their trek to the promised land.”This is a reasonable assumption as seeds of every kind were brought with them to the New World. Although flax is a plant native to the Old World, it has grown well in many places in the Americas. Flax seeds are also useful as a source for linseed oil, another reason for their being transported. Even if flax seeds were never brought to the New World by Book of Mormon peoples, the references to linen by both Jaredites and Nephites can be explained. Today when the term “linen” is used, people commonly are referring to sheets and pillow cases. Yet in most instances these items are actually made from cotton – a native plant in the New World. Obviously some other cloth could have been used when reference was made to “linen.” It should be kept in mind when translating from one language to another, that meanings might not be the same when using a given word.
Silk, too, is another cloth that critics claim could not have been known to Book of Mormon people. But again, these people came from the Old World where this fabric was probably something with which they were familiar. It’s also possible that their “silk” might have been something different than what we regard as silk. “True” silk, known from China since nearly 3000 B.C., is produced from the mulberry silkworm (caterpillar), the larval form of the Bombyx mori moth. It is native to the Old World and apparently not present in the New World. However, a number of different kinds of moths have larvae capable of making cocoons from which silk can then be produced. Many of these are native to the Americas. It is also possible that the “silk” mentioned in the Book of Mormon is another material entirely. Many materials can be considered “silk like.” John L. Sorenson discussed this issue, and stated that fiber from the Ceiba (Kapok) tree of Mesoamerica can be woven into a silk-like material. He also reported that fine fur from the belly of rabbits can also be woven into a cloth which Spanish Conquistadors considered equal in finish and texture to silk. It should, therefore, not cause concern that silk was a fabric used by both Jaredites (Ether 10:24) and Nephites (Alma 4:6). In fact with the mention of “silks” in each of these scriptures, there is a possibility there was more than one type involved.   

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Iron, Steel and Glass in the Book of Mormon

In my first blog relating to criticisms leveled against the Book of Mormon by Smithsonian archaeologists and others, it was indicated that a number of items mentioned in this Book were not in America before     being brought in by Columbus and those that followed him. The Smithsonian statement regarding this was, "Iron, steel, and glass were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron)."

The above statement was in response to the fact that items made of these materials are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. It has long been accepted, though, that these materials were possessed and had been used by Egyptians and a few other Old World cultures for several thousands of years. Since there was close contact between the Egyptians and the neighboring peoples of the Palestine region for much of this time, it stands to reason that there would have been interactions which included the trading of goods and technologies. Nephi’s bow of steel is something to which many object. But he was in the Old World when this bow was made. It was while Lehi and his party were near the Red Sea when Nephi’s bow of “fine steel” was broken.  

Philistine steel sword from near Jerusalem > 600 B.C.

Iron and steel are of course mentioned a few times when Book of Mormon peoples were in the New World.

Iron, from which steel is produced, is the fourth most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Its ores are present in every continent. Therefore, its mention in the Book of Mormon should not be a surprise. The ability to make steel from iron has been known since very ancient times, and in different cultures. A low grade of steel can be produced from molten iron by mixing it with the coals of a fire. After all, steel is the result of combining iron and carbon. It no doubt was independently discovered by accident in ancient cultures. With time refinements would have produced higher grades of steel. Some items of steel, including ones with a surprising degree of hardness on the Rockwell scale, date to at least 1000 B.C. Others of equally ancient date are known from Egypt. The fact that items of iron and steel have not been discovered in America during Book of Mormon times should not be taken as evidence they didn’t exist then. If Mesoamerica were the land of Book of Mormon peoples, the warm, humid conditions there would have long since destroyed any iron and steel. Even in the Middle East, with its very arid conditions, discoveries of ancient iron and steel artifacts are extremely rare. There is certainly no good reason for not believing that the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites did in fact possess iron and steel.

Egyptian glass beads c. 3100 B.C.

The objection to the mention of glass in the Book of Mormon is in fact a bogus one. In the very few instances where glass is cited, it relates to items in the Old World. Concerning the Jaredites, it is stated in Ether 3:1 that the brother of Jared, “…did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass.” Actually these stones were not turned into glass (as we understand glass), but just had a glassy texture. Also in the Book of Ether, when the Jaredites were preparing vessels to cross the ocean, the Lord said, “For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed to pieces …” (2:23). The assumption could be made that glass is inferred here. But other materials, such as isinglass, a clear, transparent 
 variety of the mineral mica, have also been used as windows. Even so, this event took place in the Old World.The only other reference to glass is found in 2nd Nephi where Isaiah is quoted. “The glasses and fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails.” (Isaiah 3:23; 2nd Nephi 13:23). So nowhere in the Book of Mormon is it indicated that the people produced glass. Nonetheless, there is no reason they could not have done so. 

It is known that the Egyptian people had the ability to manufacture glass since at least 3000 B.C. With close contact between Egypt and neighboring Palestine, peoples in what is now Israel would certainly have known about glass and how to produce it. This technology could have been brought to the New World well before the time of Columbus.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book of Mormon Lands

Click on map to enlarge

Book of Mormon Lands
Before examining other criticisms which have been used in an attempt to refute the Book of Mormon, it might be well to comment on the geography involved. It has generally been understood that this land would have been somewhere in the Americas. Although sites in North America are thought most likely, some people hold to a region somewhere in South America. It never has been revealed by an LDS prophet, though, where the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites lived. The Book of Mormon, however, does indicate that the lands they inhabited overlapped. Still, doubt leads to much speculation concerning the location. While not essential to the spiritual purpose for which the Book of Mormon was written, it nonetheless generates considerable interest. A number of Latter-day Saint scholars as well as enthusiasts have written about this subject in recent years. Many, if not most, LDS Church members believe that the Book of Mormon lands center someplace around the Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith was led to the Golden Plates. Nevertheless, a number of LDS scholars maintain that the area was within what is now Mesoamerica. In October of 2009, a conference was held on this topic, with most participants advocating an area within this region.

Since many able LDS scholars have presented numerous reasons why Book of Mormon lands were likely somewhere within Mesoamerica, there is little to be gained by reiterating in this blog what has already been well discussed previously. But with that said, there is more supportive evidence for this location that has not been so thoroughly discussed. The fact that cold weather and snow are never mentioned in the context of where the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites lived certainly suggests a warm clime. In 4th Nephi, v. 24, it is stated that the people had, “…all manner of fine pearls.” While pearls do occur in oysters and other clams in many parts of the world, some even in fresh waters, gem (i.e., “fine”) quality pearls are from warm seas. The seas bordering Mesoamerica fit this condition. Animals listed in the Book of Mormon can all be accounted for in this book during the time mentioned. Elephants commented on in the Book of Jared were in North America until the last few thousand years. They are usually referred to as mammoths by paleontologists. Actually the North American mammoth is more closely related to the present Asian or Indian elephant than this animal is to the African elephant!The southern North American mammoth or elephant (not the northerly Woolly mammoth) extended well into Central America. However, it never did range into South America.

There are also geological factors favoring Mesoamerica as the Book of Mormon region. One relates to the statements made that there was an abundance of gold and silver in the land (e.g., Alma 1:29, and especially Helaman 6:9-11). This has been shown to be true in Historic times as much gold and silver has (and is) being obtained from many localities in Mesoamerica. However, gold and silver from New York and other New England states is rare. In Chapter 8 of 3rd Nephi, all the destructive events listed can best be explained by volcanic activity. This includes the terrible tempests, sharp lightnings,  earthquakes, fires, burying of cites, sinking of land, breaking up of rocks and land, and creating of thick darkness. Indeed it is difficult to imagine anything else but strong volcanic activity, coupled with plate tectonic movement, that could produce all the destructive events recorded in 3rd Nephi. Nowhere east of the Rocky Mountains, including the Great Lakes – New York region, has there been volcanic activity for many, many millions of years. However, one of the most volcanically active places on earth today is in Middle America.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DNA and the Book of Mormon Peoples ( Ancestry of the American Indians)

Native American Chiefs of Various Tribes
Much archaeological evidence exists to indicate other cultures were present then. It must be kept in mind that the Book of Mormon record, while documenting events for more than 3000 years, does so very incompletely, and then for only geographically limited groups (the Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites). Some serious objections have been raised by many people, both LDS and especially non-LDS, regarding ancestry of the American Indians based on DNA evidence. Many claims have been made that these inhabitants all stem from Southeast Asian ancestors. In fact some current DNA studies indicate that samples taken from numerous American Indians do show an Asian ancestry, not one from the Middle East. However, there are also studies which show ancestry other than from Asia proper, and probably including Europe.

The matter of DNA and Book of Mormon peoples has been ably discussed by an active Latter-day Saint DNA typing expert, John M. Butler.  Other qualified LDS scientists have also discussed this subject recently. Book of Mormon peoples probably only represented a small percentage of the population in the New World during the period of time there was record-keeping. The numerous wars and famines necessarily kept their numbers relatively low as indicated in the Book of Mormon. With low numbers, various DNA lineages could well be masked. For example if a man had no sons, his Y chromosomes would be lost to all his posterity. If a woman had no daughters, her mitochondrial DNA would be lost to all her descendants. When populations were especially low, this would have a major impact on which DNA markers were passed on. The beginnings of the Nephites and Lamanites can be traced to only three males (Lehi, Ishmael and Zoram).The matter of DNA and ancestral-descendant lines is far more complex than most people realize. DNA studies very likely will never prove or disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. God’s plan for all of us is that we are required to learn by faith. That is the only true way to obtain a testimony of the Book of Mormon.

Native American Family
The genealogical history of the American Indian has been oversimplified on the part of many people, including some scientists. Too many choose to “lump” them into a single homogeneous group. However, more recent studies show that lineages come from different geographical areas. Although most DNA-tested American Indians do show a Mongolian or Southeast Asian heritage, Caucasian bloodlines apparently are also involved, including some from the Middle East. On the title page of the Book of Mormon the prophet Mormon, who compiled the records of his antecedents, made a statement that this book was, “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel…” Unfortunately, it seems that too many Latter-day Saints (LDS) believe that all American Indians must be descendants from Israelites of the Middle East. This can only be an assumption. Nowhere in the Book of Mormon does it state that no other peoples inhabited the Americas at the time Jaredites, Nephites and Lamanites were living there.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Some Critics have Opposed the Book of Mormon

As a believing Latter-day Saint scientist criticisms of the Book of Mormon have been of great concern to me. Although coming from a variety of sources, some of the most damaging objections directed against the Book of Mormon have emanated from the Smithsonian Institution. This national establishment is America’s premier institution of science. Consequently, statements made by its scientists are usually given strong credibility. Many thousands of people over the years have contacted the Smithsonian asking if information relating to science in the Book of Mormon is true or not. Questions asked have come from both LDS (Latter-day Saint, commonly known as Mormons) and non-LDS individuals. The written response to people’s questions, including the response they wrote to me, has been sent out as a form letter. I here quote part of the statement sent to me by the Public Affairs Director of Smithsonian’s Department of Anthropology – which is apparently the same as that sent to all who have requested similar information. “Your recent inquiry concerning the Smithsonian Institution’s alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in the Office of Communications. The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.” It was also stated in the form letter I received that Smithsonian’s archaeologists have found no evidence to support the claims made in the Book of Mormon. This hardly is an endorsement of the book.

Smithsonian Institution

In 1998 the Smithsonian Institution’s response to public enquiries was shortened to that presented above. However, their earlier response was more detailed, and listed a number of objections to the Book of Mormon. Their objections have been repeated by many critics and are still used today. Some of the scientific objections to this book are presented below. They will be discussed item by item.
1. The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid
2. Iron, steel, glass, linen and silk were not used in the New World before 1492
3. American Indians had no wheat or barley before 1492
4. American Indians had no cattle, pigs, horses, donkeys or camels before 1492
5. Camels and horses were in the Americas, along with the bison, mammoth, and mastodon, but all these animals became extinct around 10,000 B.C.

These topics will be discussed in subsequent blogs.