The Book of Mormon’s Historicity and Supporting Evidence – part 1
by Cody Calderwood
This is going to be a two part series. The first part will explain why I am writing this and why I am referring to Mesoamerica. The second part will discuss some of the interesting examples to support my claim.
First of all, let me just say that as interesting as I find all of this corresponding evidence from Mesoamerica (region of Guatemala and southern Mexico), I recognize that it is only through the Spirit that one can gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. This is because religion is a faith based endeavor, not an empirical evidenced based one. It is only through the Spirit that one can gain a testimony of Jesus Christ, and that is the central mission of the book. I have felt the peaceful confirmations through the Spirit. I have seen the power the Book of Mormon brought into the lives of people I taught on my mission, and I have a personal belief and testimony that the Book of Mormon contains prophetic counsel, witnesses of Christ, and lessons that we can learn and apply in our life to achieve greater happiness and peace.
Having said that, many people have had their testimony of the Book of Mormon and of Joseph Smith shaken because of evidence they have been presented or encountered that seemed to have called into question the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
My point of providing this piece is not to compile a comprehensive list that proves the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It would require way too much time and energy to put forth such a work, and I don’t think you will ever be able to prove beyond a doubt the historicity of the book. I believe that God allowed enough ambiguity to require faith. My intent is merely to provide some links that allow people to see that there is a possible connection with the Book of Mormon and actual historical peoples that will allow you to continue in faith, believing that the Book of Mormon is what Joseph Smith claimed it was. My hope is that after reading some of this you will come away saying that yes it is very possible that the Book of Mormon is an actual historical document. I have provided some references that should help allow people to see that it is not so farfetched to believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon. These references are brief, but I’m of the opinion that each point that gets referenced is worthy of an entire discussion. This is not meant to be a scientific paper that can withstand severe scrutiny, but rather an appetizer. It is meant to show that there is actual scientific data and evidence to support my claims and to refute many of the claims of the critics of the Book of Mormon. If after reading this you still disagree, that’s just fine by me. We can still be friends.
For context with this discussion I think it is helpful to dismiss a commonly held misconception of the people of the Book of Mormon. Some members of the church erroneously believe that the people mentioned in the Book of Mormon (Jaredites, Nephites, Lamanites and Mulekites) were the only human inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere. This is untrue. There is evidence enough in the Book of Mormon that there were other people populating this continent at the same time as them. One example is in 2 Nephi 5:6 when Nephi refers to “all those who would go with me.” He already specifically named his family, the other unnamed individuals are likely non-Lehite descendants. Another example is In Jacob 7:1–26 we read of Sherem’s encounter with Jacob. Since Jacob was one of the original Lehites in the New World, the maximum adult population among the Lehites couldn’t have been more than a dozen people. Yet Sherem had come from another settlement and had never met Jacob, the chief Nephite priest.
I personally believe that the Lord led many other groups of people to this hemisphere. Look at Jacob chapter 5 and read Zenos’s olive tree allegory as an example that the Lord led many groups of people away to populate different parts of the world that could include North, Central, and South America. Like the Mulekites, it’s possible that these other groups of people didn’t keep a record and fell into apostasy and illiteracy. Or, it’s possible that some of the other groups of people did keep records but the Lord hasn’t brought their records to light yet.
The other peoples interacting with the Nephites and Lamanites aren’t explicitly mentioned because that is not the purpose of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is essentially a family journal. This family journal was kept by divine commandment to help those members of this family (house of Israel) that landed in Mesoamerica and others who read to be convinced “that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” (taken from the title page of the Book of Mormon) Think of it this way. If you were commanded by God to keep a journal of the miracles you had experienced, the spiritual lessons you had learned, and the importance of Christ, would you list a detailed record of politics, sociology, and all of your neighbors? Most likely not. It is my personal opinion that we would have received much of that information in the lost 116 manuscript pages that would have been the Book of Lehi. That is the book that was charged with keeping record of the history of the people, whereas the plates of Nephi were charged with keeping record of the more spiritual matters. This is a big reason why the Book of Mormon doesn’t have detailed records of the history of the people. Thankfully though there is sufficient evidence to draw some parallels.
Some of the biggest critiques of the Book of Mormon are concerning the perceived anachronisms found therein. An anachronism is defined as: “something (such as a word, an object, or an event) that is mistakenly placed in a time where it does not belong.” Many critics point to these anachronisms as proof that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon from his own mind. Before I list some of these anachronisms, it’s important to understand two critical points. First is how archaeology works. Archaeology is the study of material remains. That means that archaeologists can only draw conclusions based on the limited material that remains. One important thing to remember is that if an item has not been found, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. The absence of evidence is not proof. This is very important with respect to the Book of Mormon because you will see that many of the early anachronisms associated with the Book of Mormon have since been discovered to actually be an accurate portrayal of Mesoamerican life. Many critics prematurely jump to a conclusion based off of limited archaeological data, which is incorrect.
The other important point to remember is that a lack of evidence in Mesoamerica has an explanation from Mesoamerican cultures with respect to conquering nations. In Mesoamerica we have evidence of warring nations battling each other. The nation that is victorious would then destroy the temples, the sculptures, the monuments and the historical record of the conquered people in an attempt to subjugate them and eliminate their past from memory so as to better control them. It is well documented that the Aztecs and Maya both practiced this on occasion. We have an example of this in the Book of Mormon. The final battle of the Nephites and Lamanites ended in the utter destruction of the Nephites. It is very possible that the Lamanites then proceeded to destroy the temples, sculptures, monuments and history of the Nephite people as was practiced by the Aztecs and Maya. Another tragic event that likely erased evidence of the Nephites was at the hand of the Spaniards who conquered the Americas in the 1500’s. When they came the overzealous priests destroyed all written records they could find because they viewed the Aztecs and Maya as heathens worshipping pagan Gods . And all gold that they found they caused to be melted down into gold bars and shipped back to Spain.
The Lord in his infinite wisdom caused the prophet Moroni to bury the gold plates in the earth far away from where the Spaniards were destroying all written records and were melting all gold down. I sometimes wonder what academic treasures we would have today had the Spaniards not destroyed so much of Mesoamerican written culture. There are only four written pieces, or codices, that survived the Spanish destruction. In fact, a quote by a famous Maya scholar, Michael D. Coe, represents well my thoughts with this. He said, “Our knowledge of ancient Maya thought must represent only a tiny fraction of the whole picture, for of the thousands of books in which the full extent of their learning and ritual was recorded, only four have survived to modern times (as though all that posterity knew of ourselves were to be based upon three prayer books and Pilgrim’s Progress).” Can you imagine if every historical document of the United States’ young 250 year history was destroyed except for 4 small books? What limited conclusions would future civilizations be able to draw from such a small source? Now to put that in perspective, the Mesoamerican culture that we know of spanned over 3,000 years.
Knowing that archaeology is limited in drawing conclusions about an ancient people, and knowing that most of the written record of Mesoamerica had been destroyed, we need to tread carefully in drawing any final and lasting conclusions from the current scientific evidence we have. This is not to say that science is evil or bad. Quite the contrary. Science can be a wonderful avenue for arriving at truth. But we need to use caution at drawing final conclusions and instead need to keep open the possibility that scientific theories will continue to change as new evidence comes forth.
Back to the anachronisms. When the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 there were many anachronisms found in it. Critics immediately latched on to these as proof that Joseph Smith was a fraud. Here is a sample of some of those anachronisms:
Molten stone (glass)
Barley-based monetary system
Bows and arrows
Reformed Egyptian script
Natives could read
Natives could write
Book of Mormon place names
Book of Mormon personal names
Two advanced civilizations
Older in north
Younger in south
Younger spread north
200 year period of peace
3 culture sequence
Narrow neck of land
East and West seas
North -> South flowing large river
Wide eastern sea coast
Narrow west coast
Clearly there are others that I haven’t thought of, but this is a pretty substantial list of anachronisms. One can see why initially Joseph Smith would have been thought of as a fraud. As of today, most of these have since been proven to have existed in the era the Book of Mormon was written. So, either Joseph Smith was an improbably lucky guesser with a very creative imagination, or the book was actually written by someone with intimate personal experience and knowledge of Mesoamerican life.
Let’s briefly discuss why I say the Book of Mormon occurred in Mesoamerica, and not in upstate New York or the Midwest like some Mormons believe. Using the information from the Book of Mormon itself, we can develop a very good idea of what the geography of their land looked like. A hemispheric or continental scope is contrary to the text. Mormon’s map cannot possibly be matched by such a large territory as North or South America, let alone by the entire western hemisphere. The total extent of the lands that Mormon knew about, based on his own words, did not exceed about 600 miles in length and 300 miles in width. This is why scholars now point to a smaller geographic area, in particular the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico as the narrow neck of land. This reason alone is enough to eliminate the one Hill Cumorah theory and the Heartland theory.
An example of a generic map drawn to Mormon’s descriptions of the land:
A view of possible locations in Mesoamerica:
Some people claim that we can’t know where the Book of Mormon took place based off of the descriptions found in the book due to large, catastrophic events that took place that changed the face of the land. Ancient geographical features were for practical purposes the same as those we see today. There weren’t large shifts in the position of the continents or oceans. For example, references to the narrow neck and the narrow pass were the same in Moroni’s (Mormon’s son) day as in the days of captain Moroni a few centuries earlier.
Most of the lands about which Mormon wrote were described as being advanced civilizations and that there were “cities”. Also many of the peoples involved were literate; the existence of many books was a cultural feature of note. That we know of, only one area in ancient America had cities and books: Mesoamerica. Also Mesoamerica is the only area in North America that has evidence of a civilization that numbered in the millions, like we saw in the Book of Mormon. Some scholars estimate the population of Mesoamerica to have reached well over 40,000,000 people at its peak. Most modern scholars are more conservative in their estimates but still consider that the area had between 20 and 25 million people. The Native Americans of North America (north of Mexico) numbered in the most about 40,000 at the largest city, and that peak population was in the establishment known as Cahokia. Cahokia didn’t reach that amount until about 800 years after the Nephites were exterminated. That population size is nowhere near the magnitude that would be required for the Book of Mormon peoples, and did not occur during the time period of the Book of Mormon people. This is another huge thorn for the supporters of the One Cumorah theory or the Heartland theory.
The climate of the Book of Mormon would indicate a temperate climate that was warm year round. There were battles described in the book of Alma that took place constantly over the course of several years. The Lamanites were described in these wars to have fought wearing nothing but a loin cloth. Fighting a battle in the cold months of fall through spring in nothing but a loin cloth would not be possible in the cold climate of upstate New York or the Midwest states. Mesoamerica on the other hand fits that type of climate perfectly.
Using Mesoamerica as the location for the Book of Mormon not only lines up well geographically, but it also parallels what archaeologists have found with cities in the same time frame in that area. The rise and fall of population (both at the end of the Jaredite period and the end of the Nephite period) described in the Book of Mormon coincides very well with what archaeologists have found in Mesoamerica.
As of now there is really only one location in the western hemisphere that consistently matches what we read about in the Book of Mormon. That location is the region of Mesoamerica that is around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
 Arther A. Demarest et al., “Classica Maya Deffensive Systems and Warfare in the Petexbatun Region: Archaeological Evidence and Interpretations,” Ancient Mesoamerica 8 (1997): 248.
 Robert J. Sharer et al., The Ancient Maya (2006): 126
 Helmuth O. Wagner, “Subsistence Potential and Population Density of the Maya on The Yucatan Peninsual and Cuases for the Decline in Population Density in the Fifteenth Century,” Proceedings of the 38th International Congress of Americanists (Stuttgart-Munich, 1968) (Munich: Renner, 1969), 1:194
 1975 A Population Estimate for Cahokia. In: PERSPECTIVES IN CAHOKIA ARCHAEOLOGY. Illinois Archaeological
Survey Bulletin No. 10, pp. 126-136. Urbana.
Thanks, can’t wait for # 2…¥
You give a long list of anachronisms but then simply explain them away as having been discovered to not be anachronisms after all. But this isn’t accurate. Just to take a few, where is the evidence for any type of steel or iron in all of pre-Columbian America, barley agriculture, manufacturing glass, a small group of people constructing a replica of the Temple of Solomon when it took 10,000s of men years to construct the original, Scimitars didn’t exist when mentioned in the Book of Mormon, Synagogues (you didn’t mention this one) didn’t even exist when they were first mentioned in the Boom of Mormon. None of these have answers and are very basic issues.
I didn’t say that all of the anachronisms had been resolved. Just that most of them have. There actually is evidence in the western hemisphere of steel usage long before was previously thought. As for your other anachronisms, I don’t have an answer currently, but that doesn’t mean that these won’t also be discovered later on much like the several dozen others that have been discovered. There will always be something for critics to hold on to, no matter how many of the anachronisms are discovered. I have yet to hear a valid explanation from critics as to how Joseph Smith could have gotten so many of those previously perceived anachronisms right when in 1830 they were considered preposterous and silly. I give a little more detail in part about some of the anachronisms.
As for iron use in Mesoamerica, Caso found part of a pre-Columbian “iron plate” in a tomb at Mitla, Oaxaca. (Sigvald Linne, Zapotecan Antiquities and the Paulson Collection in the Ethnographical Museum of Sweden (Stockholm: Thule, 1938), 53). Rebetez reported a number of iron artifacts from the Tarascan area. (Rene Rebetez, Objetos prehispanicos de hierro y piedra (Mexico City: Talleres Fraficos, 1936), 10). Other archaeologists have found huge meteorites in Mexico. The natives used iron in these meteorites to manufacture artifacts. As for steel, biblical scholars have now found that steel manufacturing was known in the Iron Age of Israel (1200 BC – 500 BC).
You made a list of anachronisms, please show where these have been proven to have existed in the era the Book of Mormon times? By saying when it was written implies that yes, in the 1800’s these anachronisms did exist.
Also have you ever looked at a map of North East US / South East CN? Lake Erie and Lake Ontario look similar to Sea West and Sea East in the Book of Mormon geography. There are plenty of other similarities for the Ohio region that made it into the Book of Mormon geography.
Your article is about supporting evidence and I don’t feel that anachronisms in the Book of Mormon support it.
Part 2 will go into a little more detail for the anachronisms. I will provide some links to where you can go and find more info on those.
I have looked at the map of the North East US. The problem with that geography is that there is no river that runs from south to north. Not to mention climate, and the complete lack of evidence of a literate society in that region. Also, there are no population centers in that area from 2,000 years ago that are any where near the scale that the Book of Mormon describes. Another major problem with the NE of the US and SE of Canada is the complete lack of precious ores that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The only place North of Mexico where those precious ores are found is in the Rocky Mountain states. There are far, far too many problems for that region to be seriously considered.
This is the bigges bunch of bs. The bible has emperical proof. This is just a story written by a crook and charlatan.
I beg to differ Ouzelous. The bible does not have empirical proof. To this day many biblical scholars disagree on many of the stories in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Even Jesus himself lacks empirical evidence.
Regardless of what YOU think the location is, Joseph Smith, the author, repeatedly referred to North America, finalizing in upstate New York, particularly Cumorah..aka Ramah of the Jaredites.
I find it interesting for you to discount his, and many other LDS leaders teachings that the setting is anywhere other than North America.
Who are you claiming to be wrong? You believe it is scripture, you believe it was divinely wrought yet all the previously leaders, including the founder were incredibly wrong about location?
Excellent point Scott, but Joseph Smith also repeatedly referred to Mesoamerica as the land of the Nephites. When he was shown a sketch of Palenque by Catherwood and Stephens he specifically said it was a Nephite structure. So, Joseph Smith himself was inconsistent with his claims. Joseph Smith wasn’t always perfect with his declarations. That’s because he was a man, a fallible one too. I prefer to make my judgements of it’s locations off of what the book itself tells us, and not so much off of what modern prophets have speculated because they are all over the board as to where they “think” it happened.
Also, you will find that most of the references from that link are from early members of the church who were speculating and trying to make sense of the Book of Mormon with their very limited knowledge. I hope that some day down the road in 150 years that people don’t judge me off of the information they have then, but rather off the information that we have now. This means to say that what I am proposing here could also be very wrong, but with the information we have available today, it makes a lot of sense and seems to fit quite nicely.
Excellent post, loved the idea of the BOM as a “family journal”
Using the Book of Mormon to prove itself is an exercise in futility simply because it abounds with anachronisms and improbabilities too numerous to mention.
Book of Mormon geography? Look no farther than Smith’s own backyard. The region where he lived is replete with lakes, streams, and rivers as described in the Book of Mormon. Additionally, the landscape in this region is covered with ancient and mysterious mounds and burial sites (possibly remnants of the Hopewell culture) indicating to the people living there in the early 19th century that, according to Ethan Smith (and many others) in his book View of the Hebrews, millions of inhabitants must have once dwelt there. No need for the Nephites and Lamanites (and Jaredites) to migrate thousands of miles from Central America to western New York for the final battle scenes and eventual deposition of the gold plates in the nearby Hill Cumorah/Ramah.
The narrow neck of land as described in various parts of the Book of Mormon conforms nicely with the Michigan Peninsula (although an adjacent narrow neck of land is also a good candidate), with an East Sea (Lake Huron, [throw in Lake Erie also if you’d like]) and a West Sea (Lake Michigan).
Since there is no description of the natural flora in the Book of Mormon, the region’s own trees and plants will do the job. And, of course, there are ample supplies of cattle, horse, swine herds and flocks as well as cultivated barley and other grains there. (But of course the Europeans brought them all).
The region is expansive enough for all of the imaginary excursions, get-aways, migrations, and battle scenes described in the Book of Mormon. Thus it makes perfect sense to designate this region as the setting for the Book of Mormon; many problems are resolved in doing so. So, does this “local” model conform exactly in every detail with Smith’s narrative? Of course not because his narrative is a fictitious blend of the real and the imaginary. But the local model does provide a basic structure upon which Smith’s miraculous fantasy tale can be built.
It is a possibility that Joseph Smith made it all up and used his local environment as inspiration for his story. But that explanation fails to explain how so much of his book correlates so well with what was at the time an unknown Mesoamerican culture. Much like Occam’s razor, the fewer exceptions that need to be made, the better. The Michigan peninsula does not have a highland, a wilderness, a narrow stretch by the west sea, nor a river that runs from south to north. The area has some similarities geographically, but falls far short of many other descriptions found in the Book of Mormon.
Also, the Book of Mormon never mentions a massive migration to the New York area. The migration it mentions is one that takes them to where the Jaredites landed. The Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon is not the same Hill Cumorah where Joseph Smith discovered the Gold plates. Much of that connection stems back to early church leaders who were speculating based off of the limited information they had available to them in the 1800’s and has perpetuated since.
As for the Hopewell culture, they were not known to be literate and have books and a written language. And at no time did they have a population size large enough to correlate with what the Book of Mormon describes.
And one more item of note, the Hill Cumorah in New York was named that by the early saints. They didn’t know about mesoamerica, and they assumed that hill is where the final battle took place. Joseph himself didn’t even refer to the hill as the Hill Cumorah.
Horses and chariots and goats and cattle and a seven day calendar and steel and silk and grains and elephants and Solomon’s temple… Smith got a whole lot of it wrong. And like I said before a fictitious account need not conform to reality. The Mound builders were spread throughout the central states including parts of Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, etc. Speculation in the early 1900s was that there must have been millions of Amerindian inhabitants in that region.(And no one at that time knew whether the Hopewell had a written system of language. See the Kinderhook Plates for additional speculation.) Please read View of the Hebrews, by Ethan Smith. It is one of several good metrics of what the popular theories were at that time concerning Native American origins.
Additionally, after extensive exploration and research by church member Thomas Stuart Ferguson and other archaeologists and anthropologists,not one trace of Nephite culture has yet to be discovered anywhere in the Americas.
Did he really get it wrong? Several of the things you just mentioned have since been discovered in Mesoamerica. I mentio elephants in particular in part 2. Taking such a hard lined stance on undiscovered things seems incredibly arrogant. Like I mentioned, many, many things were pointed out in 1830 to have been anachronisms. Now more than half of those have been discovered. The lack of evidence is not proof. And it seems incredibly interesting to me that many of the anachronisms have since been discovered to have actually existed.
I have read View of the Hebrews and found it interesting, but not very compelling.
Lack of evidence is just that, lack of evidence.
But I see I’m getting nowhere, so I’m signing off.
I feel like I just left FAIR LDS website….stretching to fit anything and everything to make sense of the book of Mormon.
I was referring to similarities of the region in which Joseph Smith lived. Your reply is trying to ignore the similarities and tell me instead what is dissimilar. That is not my point at all. There is too many convenient landmarks, names and characteristics that are “inspired” by the region in which the BoM was “translated”. I think you need to look more seriously into the Book of Hebrews, The Late War, and maybe even the Spualding manuscripts if you want to really find out the truth of the origins of the BoM. Sidney Rigdon is a big red flag. I also suggest looking at history of Josephs time over the history inside the BoM to validate. I agree that using the Book of Mormon to prove itself is an exercise in futility.
You do realize that the same Michael Coe you quoted absolutely obliterates any hope for BoM historicity in his publications in Dialogue and in his Mormon Stories interview, right? So who is more likely to be correct: an emeritus professor of archaeology from Yale University who specialized in Meso-America, or some dude who can write a blog and reads non-peer-reviewed articles from FAIR/FARMS and believes what they say? You’re living in a cute fantasy world if you think that many of those anachronisms have been resolved.
Deletion of alleged anachronisms doesn’t provide proof that the BoM is a historical record, if those anachronisms have currency in the epoch and milieu of the author (assuming for the moment that the author was JS). The weapons of war and animals (curlemons aside) mentioned in the BoM do not provide evidence in support of its authenticity even if they were all found to have existed in pre-hispanic America: it tells you more about the state of academic knowledge about the past. What you need to find in the BoM, is a good number of claims which were highly contrary to the state of knowledge in JS’s time in order to prove authenticity; coupled with an absence of PROVEN discrepancies. The example of great highways “cast up” is a good example, as these highways were not know about in JS’s time, and were not a plausible concept. Troops of 10,000 is not a good example; 10,000 is a common military unit in the old testament, and Joseph Smith was very well read in the bible. Both Mr Calderwood and his critics need to contain themselves to good evidence for or against the BoM. As Mr Calderwood points out, the absence of evidence for, is not evidence against; but neither is inclusion of things in the BoM which seemed plausible at the time, proof of authenticity; even if proven correct over time.