Thank you for sharing this article, OP. Though concise, I think it is well organized and well argued, generally, and all of us here agree that this is an important topic. In general, the scope of your studies (across your blog) is impressive. I hope you continue researching, thinking, and writing.
The discovery of writing on metal plates certainly strengthens the case for a historical Book of Mormon (this is a good point). However, a few related considerations make this somewhat less compelling:
- Ancient metal plates with writing have all been small and contained very limited amounts of writing (so, very different in scope from the Book of Mormon). h/t Gold_star
- While there are some examples of symbols and designs carved into gold disks, no metal books have ever been found associated with an ancient American culture (records were kept on media like paper, skins or painted plaster).
Further, there is some indication that the idea of writing on metal plates preceded the creation of the Book of Mormon:
If we are to believe Peter Ingersoll’s affidavit, then Joseph Smith Sr. had already been referring to a “golden bible” some time before the creation of the Book of Mormon (see pg 232 here) (emphasis added):
One day he came, and greeted me with a joyful countenance. – Upon asking the cause of his unusual happiness, he replied in the following language: “As I was passing, yesterday, across the woods, after a heavy shower of rain, I found, in a hollow, some beautiful white sand, that had been washed up by the water. I took off my frock, and tied up several quarts of it, and then went home. On my entering the house, I found the family at the table eating dinner. They were all anxious to know the contents of my frock. At that moment, I happened to think of what I had heard about a history found in Canada, called the golden Bible; so I very gravely told them it was the golden Bible. To my surprise, they were credulous enough to believe what I said. Accordingly I told them that I had received a commandment to let no one see it, for, says I, no man can see it with the naked eye and live. However, I offered to take out the book and show it to them, but they refuse to see it, and left the room.” Now, said Jo, “I have got the damned fools fixed, and will carry out the fun.” Notwithstanding, he told me he had no such book, and believed there never was any such book..
The Art of Writing Short Hand Made Easy, Being a Concise and Complete System of Stenography, Etc, published in England in 1818, discusses a book made out of lead which contained “Egyptian Gnostic figures” (emphasis added):
… From Job, chap. 19, v. 24, it appears to have been usual in his day, to write or engrave upon plates of Lead, which might easily be done with a Pen, or Graver, or Style of Iron, or other hard metal. Montfaucon assures us, that in 1699 he bought at Rome a book entirely of lead about four inches long by three inches wide: it contained Egyptian Gnostic figures and unintelligible writing. …
As shown above, the book interprets Job 19:24 as an indication that lead could be inscribed with an iron pen. In addition, Jeremiah 17:1 alludes to carving tables or tablets (albeit metaphorical) with an iron tool. So, the idea of writing on metal tablets seems not to have been a stretch to imagine in Joseph Smith’s time.
Native American Jews
In general, the discovery of direct genetic ties between Native Americans and the Jewish people would strengthen the case for a historical BoM. In particular, the existence of the “T” haplogroup among some purported Cherokee people—given that post-Columbus admixture can be definitively ruled out—would definitely strengthen the case for the Book of Mormon were that to be shown definitively.
There are some good reasons to be skeptical of the “T” haplogroup claim, however:
- The scientific study upon which the claim was made has never been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal. Peer review and publication in a scientific journal is viewed by most scholars as a minimum bar for making credible scientific claims. To date, the claim that haplogroup T supports a transoceanic migration event has not even reached the level of attention that geneticists have felt the need to address it (like they have done with X2a).
- Yates appears to have zero years of formal academic training in DNA genetic analysis, although he is the owner of a DNA testing company. His batchelor and masters degress are in English, his PhD in Classical Studies. He was a part time communications professor and then an assistant professor for four years “teaching public relations, speech, and other communication arts courses” (from his LinkedIn profile). Science is often performed by those with little initial academic training, but these individuals tend to eventually distinguish themselves through publication in peer reviewed journals (e.g., Zack Simpson was a high school drop out who has co-authored a number of scholarly scientific studies). As far as I can tell, Yates has authored or co-authored zero peer reviewed publications to date.
At least some individuals used in the study are from Cherokee groups which had such poor ancestral claims that their petition for federal acknowledgement has been rejected (incidentally, rejected by Larry Echo Hawk, an LDS General Authority at the time).
The petitioner’s own statements confirm the PF’s analysis of the evidence that Petitioner #227 is a recently formed group of individuals from diverse origins who claim to have Indian ancestry, but who have not documented those claims.
- If we are dealing with a genuine genetic signature, an unbiased analysis of 993 and 650,000 SNPs demonstrates that it is being absolutely dwarfed by many other genetic signatures which all seem consistent with a land-bridge migration. This doesn’t nullify his research per se (Yates was specifically seeking odd-ball signatures), but these other unbiased studies do undermine the standard narrative typically advanced in both official and unofficial LDS channels for nearly two centuries.
A related claim is sometimes made that haplotype X2a is indicative of a transoceanic migration event from the Middle East. This claim is strongly disputed by multiple lines of evidence and reasoning.
Finally, given the potential influence of the View of the Hebrews and other such works on the culture in which Joseph Smith was dictating the BoM, we would expect Joseph Smith to claim Jewish ancestry for the Native Americans even if the Book of Mormon were a complete work of fiction. Hence, were Native Americans found to actually possess direct Israelite genetic markers this fact alone would still be insufficient to prove the Book of Mormon true (obviously, such a finding would increase our confidence in its possible historicity, but it is also possible that such a migration event took place and the BoM is still a complete work of fiction).
While early arrivals by boat increase the believability of ancient transoceanic voyages generally, the idea that Nephi was capable of building a vessel worthy of transoceanic voyage seems on its face impossible (in ways that go far beyond the miracle of ship-building presented in the book itself). John Larsen gives some sense for the complexity and various catch 22’s that Nephi would have had to surmount in their construction of such a vessel. So, the idea that fully coastal, ship-building people were able to make a very limited number of trans-oceanic voyages should impress upon the reader the incredible level of difficulty with tasking a people who likely were raised in a landlocked community with independently constructing such a vessel (not once, but 3 times between the Nephites, Mulekites, and Jaredites). Obviously, by definition God is capable of anything, but it would be more believable were God to merely transport these peoples directly than to expect them or enable them to build such a vessel.
The Downer article you reference is interesting in its own right. Primarily he is building off the work of Steven E. Jones, an emeritus BYU professor who has an obvious bias in seeking to substantiate the existence of pre-Columbian horses. Regardless, Jones has compiled an interesting list of evidence that supports the possible existence of pockets of wild horses well past the last ice age. To be clear, his research, and say, the research of Wade Miller with whom Jones collaborates, is still considered somewhat tenuous at best. The overwhelming scientific consensus still remains that horses did not exist during Book of Mormon times. Still, it will be interesting to see how additional investigation and peer review advances this particular theory. Perhaps the scientific consensus will yet be overturned on this question, and Downer’s article is another step in that direction.
Regardless, even if we grant that wild horses existed in BoM times, the use of horses and chariots (or large wheeled vehicles of any kind) in the manner implied by Alma 18 is undocumented among any pre-Columbian Americans. The fallback apologetic model is that the chariot was more of a human-powered litter and the horses merely accompanied the kingly procession in order to provide food for the journey (there is some support for this in the text). Still, we expect that such a program of domestication (for food or otherwise) would have left marks in a culture’s iconography and dramatically increased the odds that horse remains would be associated with archaeological digs (see, for instance, https://www.sapiens.org/column/off-the-map/horse-domestication-mongolia/ compared with http://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/mesoamericans-teotihuacan-kept-ferocious-animals-captive-and-may-have-fed-020668). As it stands, there is no record of horses being domesticated for food or as pack animals by any pre-Columbian American culture of which I am aware. So, even if horses were found to have co-existed, there is still an enormous gap in the archaeological record around the integration of horses in pre-Columbian societies in the manner we’d expect given the Book of Mormon narrative.
“Loan-shifting” has also been suggested as a way of dealing with the horse problem (so, perhaps “horse” meant tapir, elk, or deer). The difficulty here is that tapir, elk, and deer are not domesticable, so it is difficult to imagine any of these being used as described in the fallback model for Alma 18. In addition, we have no evidence that these animals were used in that fashion among any pre-Columbian American culture. Alpacas and llamas were used as beasts of burden (and perhaps to some much lesser extent for food) among ancient Americans, but it is hard to imagine these not being described as camels instead of horses in the Book of Mormon text (i.e., describing these as “horses” seems silly when a “camel” would have been well-known to Middle Easterners).
The prevailing thought in Joseph Smith’s time was that horses were brought to the Americas by the Europeans. However, the popular book “The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee” published in 1823 discusses in three places what are interpreted to be ancient horse tracks in association with human foot prints, associated with some gathering possible related to a great calamity (reminiscent of 3 Nephi 4:4), and “wheel carriage” tracks (which calls to mind the episode with horses and chariots in Alma 18 and later). So, while the book affirms the presupposition that the Europeans introduced horses it frequently presents evidence favoring the existence of pre-Columbian horses, and it does so in ways which parallel the usage of horses in the Book of Mormon.
Although many people try to disprove the claims of Mormon scripture
Of course, it is reasonable for those raised LDS to take seriously the claims made in the Book of Mormon since it is emphasized as the “keystone” of the religion, and a person’s testimony of the LDS Church is often linked to a testimony of the Book of Mormon (LDS missionaries use this logic frequently). But I should add that most scholars today give little thought to disproving the Book of Mormon, similar to how little thought the author has likely given to disproving many other holy books. In general, none of these books offer the kinds of compelling evidence which would persuade a non-biased observer to accept its claims as authentic. Said another way, for every 100 people with no skin in the game who examine the BoM with an intent to know of its authenticity, I would guess that only 1 person would decide it is a genuine record while another 99 will conclude it is the work of an early 1800s mind (and the more educated they are, the less likely it is they will accept the record as authentic).
The case for the Book of Mormon as the product of an early 1800s mind is substantial— many, if not all, theological doctrines and themes advanced in the Book of Mormon had close precursors, variants, or a deep foundation in, the theology and thought of the early 1800s.
So, while there is some congruence between the ancient world and claims made in the BoM, there is extraordinary congruence between the early 1800s milieu and the Book of Mormon. Thousands of data points strongly suggest that the Book of Mormon is a modern work and these seem to weigh far heavier than the few areas of congruence with the ancient record (even if we ignore the many points of remaining tension with the ancient world).
Finally, while not mentioned by the author, believing members often view Moroni’s promise (Moroni 10:3-5) as the epistemological silver bullet for deciding the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. However, there are good reasons to question the reliability of spiritual experiences generally, and the logic of the promise, specifically (e.g., here and here).
Acknowledgements: My response on the T haplogroup was influenced and informed in some part by this comment, which I think was by the reddit user barefootcherokee, a Cherokee Native American and former Mormon.