The Book of Mormon’s Historicity and Supporting Evidence – part 2
by Cody Calderwood
Much of what I write from here on out is borrowed from “Mormon’s Codex” written by John L. Sorenson. I’m not going to summarize his entire book, but I will highlight a few areas that help support the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
The text of the Book of Mormon can be compared with the findings of Mesoamerican scholarship at several levels. One example is the final battle in the land of Cumorah in which the Nephites were exterminated. We learn from Mormon’s text that the Nephite forces were organized in armies of 10,000 men. According to Bernal Diaz, the Tlaxcalan forces that Cortez met on his approach to the Aztec capital were organized into five armies of ten thousand. This comparison is interesting, although the single parallel does not constitute a particularly compelling evidence for a connection. But when additional related correspondences are considered, we are justifiably more impressed. Another correspondence is captain Moroni and his standard of liberty. He fastened a flag on a pole and led his men to battle. Bernal Diaz also reported that the Tlaxcalan commanders led their men to battle with a “great standard” or flag on a pole strapped to their backs. This sounds like the same custom. In another part of the Book of Mormon we learn of another similarity. It is documented that warriors serving under a Mesoamerican military leader were conceptualized in a kinship framework as sons. We note the interesting correspondence with Helaman and his 2,000 youthful warriors who he led and considered “my little sons”.
All parallels are not equal though. Some are so similar that it would be hard to imagine them having originated independently by chance, while other parallels have a weaker connection. There are some fantastic correspondences that coincide so well that we cannot merely write them off as coincidence. There are others though that could have occurred elsewhere. But when all of the correspondences that scholars have found are taken into account as a whole, it becomes very difficult to merely dismiss them as coincidence. There are many correspondences with geographical locations in the Book of Mormon that allow us to make a map from the evidence we have. There are locations that we can pinpoint to modern archaeological digs and geographical sites like the land northward and the land southward, the narrow pass, the city of Zarahemla, the city of Nephi, waters of Ripliancum, Waters of Mormon, Hagoth’s shipbuilding site, city of Mulek, the mountain pass, Hill Amnihu, the east wilderness, the narrow strip of wilderness, headwaters of the river Sidon, and many more. I won’t list them here, but you can read about them in “Mormon’s Codex” in much greater detail in chapter 7.
Until recently the thought process was that the western hemisphere was populated by human migration across the Bering ice bridge. Now there is evidence that supports the theory that in addition to the Bering ice bridge migration, other peoples arrived in this hemisphere by way of transoceanic voyages, much the same way as the Jaredites and Lehi’s family did. The new evidence falls under six categories: 1-flora and fauna transfers, 2- disease transfers, 3-traditions, 4-ancient watercraft capability, 5-linguistic evidence, and 6-cultural comparisons.
Flora and fauna evidence– since the year 2000, there have been nearly 100 species of plants that were present in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres prior to Columbus’s first voyage to the America’s. There is evidence that there are about 35 additional species that could be added to that list. The biological duplications cannot be due merely to natural processes. The exact same species never evolves a second time in a second area. Nor do mechanisms at work in unassisted nature allow the successful transmission or transplantation of plants across an ocean. In fact, in the case of plants like the agave, pineapple, or sweet potato, each of which reproduces vegetatively rather than from seeds, it is inconceivable that wind, currents, or seed carrying birds could ever account for their transoceanic transfer. The only plausible explanation for these and related findings is that a substantial number of voyages crossed the oceans in the interval between the sixth millennium BC and Columbus’s voyage of discovery.
At least six creatures, including the American turkey, existed in pre-Columbian times on both sides of the oceans that separate the Americas from the Old World. The case of the domestic chicken is particularly informative. The fowl originated in Southeast Asia, but for years a handful of scientists who doubted the possibility of transoceanic voyage asked in vain, Were chickens also in the New World before the arrival of the Spaniards? Early Spanish historical records confirm the presence of the chicken, Gallus gallus, soon after their conquest if not before. Any uncertainty about the pre-Columbian presence of chickens has been laid to rest by two forms of evidence, one linguistic and the other archaeological.
Two other organism also testify to early contact across the ocean. Alphitobius diaperinus, known as the lesser mealworm, has been with Egyptian mummies dating to 1350 BC, and it has also been found in Peruvian mummies. Also, Stegobium paniceum, the “drugstore beetle”, was also present in Peru, as it was in Egypt and in Bronze age Britain.
The Peruvian mummies have been dated from the 1st to the 13th centuries AD. American-originated tobacco was used in India many centuries ago. Chemical tests show traces of coca (a south American plant) in a number of Egyptian mummies. There are many, many more evidences of transoceanic plant exchange.
Evidence from diseases– at least 19 organisms that cause disease in humans were shared by the Eastern and Western Hemispheres before Columbus arrived in America. Particularly decisive cases with important chronological implications are two types of hookworm. The long-term prevalence of hookworms in East and Southeast Asia makes that area quite certainly the place from where the organisms spread anciently to the Americas. Some other diseases are herpes virus 3, ringworm, tuberculosis, typhus, and the plague bacillus.
Mesoamerican Traditions of Transoceanic Voyages– Peoples in central Mexico, Yucatan, Chiapas and highlands Guatemala believed that some of their ancestors originated from across the ocean. The number, distribution, and contents of these traditions indicate that they could represent several distinct arrival events. These accounts are recorded in some of the surviving codices and by way of oral tradition. By themselves one could dismiss them as merely legend. But in conjunction with the evidence we saw of flora and disease having crossed the ocean, one should add credence to these stories.
Ability to Sail Across the Ocean– In modern days, oceans have been crossed hundreds of times in unlikely craft- small boats, rafts, rowboats, canoes, and even less conventional vessels. In Peru balsa rafts were in use along the shore by 2500 BC and oceanic-going crafts by about 1500 BC. One historian proved his theory that one could travel from South America to Polynesia by successfully sailing a fleet of three Ecuadorian-built rafts with a crew of 12 over 9,200 miles to Australia.
A fourth century BC Greek ship that sunk off the coast of Cyprus was found to have on its hull a covering of large sheets of lead held in place by a compound of pine resin and agave fibers from Mexico. Either the ship reached Mexico itself where the agave grows naturally, or else some earlier voyage had transplanted agave plants to the Mediterranean area, where the fibers to make the new caulking were taken from plants descended from the original transplants.
There are surprisingly many Mesoamerican language ties with the Old World. Here is one example of some lexical similarities:
Sipah= smooth, plan off
There are many more language connections that are too numerous to list here.
Records and Writing Systems
There are also some incredible correspondences that we should mention, like how one set of Maya glyphs has been translated as signifying “it came to pass”, a phrase that any reader of the Book of Mormon will recognize. Also a detailed comparison has been made between the Book of Mormon as a record and uses of records and books reported in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures. In the Book of Mormon we learn of the following: Contemporary events, letters, victories and defeats in war, lives of rulers, adventures of individual heroes and villains, political histories, migration histories, information about ceremonial situations, prophecies, year counts and calendrical history, annals, tax or tribute lists, genealogies, divination, funerary texts, medical texts, and lineage histories. Many of the aspects of these points from the Book of Mormon coincide very well with what we know about Mesoamerican culture.
This comparison has demonstrated that a substantial degree of similarity exists in respect to form, content, social functions, style, scribes and users, writing systems, and other features. The Book of Mormon as a text is congruent with the records known from pre-Columbian Mesoamerica in all general ways and in many detailed ways.
It is most unlikely that such an extensive array of facts about ancient America could come under the control of even a modern Mesoamerica scholar were he or she to attempt to produce a work purporting to involve records in ancient Mesoamerica. Much of the information mentioned was not discovered or was inaccessible in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was first printed. The Mesoamerican-like features in Mormon’s volume could only be due to its origin from an ancient Mesoamerican author.
Some critics claim that Joseph Smith plagiarized many of the ideas and names in the Book of Mormon from other books. While those books are interesting, they don’t explain all the unique and original ideas, names and points in the Book of Mormon that correspond with Mesoamerica. There are many original ideas in the Book of Mormon that are not found in these books that critics point to. One such idea is with regards to roads. In frontier America of the early 19th century roads were common. Roads were built by clearing forest and leveling ground. One example of this is in 3 Nephi 8:13 when it says that “the level roads were spoiled”. That idea is not unique. But what is unique is the concept of roads being “cast up” as it tells us in 3 Nephi 6:8. “And there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.” There were several types of roads in Mesoamerica. Simple foot paths, roads, and even highways. The principal highway of Mesoamerica was the sacbe. One such sacbe at Dzibilchaltun was 66 feet wide and up to 7 feet high, with edges made of large limestone blocks. Between the limestone, coarse fill was leveled with gravel and then paved with plaster. There are seven such highways leading from Dzibilchaltun to other sites. This type of construction definitely fits the description of being “cast up”. And the dates of these sacbes are approximately the same as when the Nephite record mentions highways.
An example of a Maya sacbe:
There are many answers to that list of anachronisms that I provided earlier. A favorite of critics of the Book of Mormon is to mock the mention of elephants in the book of Ether by the Jaredites. Fossil records show mastodon (prehistoric elephant) bones in Florida that date to 100 BC and mastodon bones in the Yucatan that date to 1800 BC, definitely within the time frame of the Jaredites.
The same goes for horse bones. They have been found in America and Mexico refuting the earlier belief that horses didn’t exist in the western hemisphere before the arrival of Columbus. Horse bones, teeth and fossils have been found in multiple locations of Mesoamerica that date before the Spanish arrival.
Without going into too much detail, there are also many, many, many correspondences of warfare, government, and political processes between the Book of Mormon record and that of Mesoamerica. There are so many that it begins to paint a picture of authenticity of the Book of Mormon. The entire collection of evidence begins to paint a picture that allows one to believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
About that list of anachronisms that I showed earlier. I don’t have the time or space to explain how most of these have since been discovered to be true. Instead, I will just list this link to a website that discusses many of these anachronisms in more detail- http://en.fairmormon.org/Book_of_Mormon/Anachronisms.
Again, if you want to read about it in detail, go read Mormon’s Codex by John L. Sorensen.
In summary, I view it as an impossibility that an uneducated farm boy in frontier America in the early 1800’s could have fabricated a literary work of 531 pages that so intricately intertwines perfectly with the Bible and Mesoamerican culture. There is no way Joseph Smith could have had access to information of Mesoamerican life that was unknown to the scientific community of his day. Much of that information that has been discovered has taken over 180 years of scientific research and discovery to unfold the picture that the Book of Mormon gave us of Mesoamerican life. From this, my only conclusion is that the Book of Mormon is an actual historical document. So, it is up to us to learn the lessons that the ancient prophets of that book left us and to heed their warnings.
 Bernal Diaz del Castillo: The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, (New York: Farrer, Straus and Cudahy, 1956), 129
 Hubert H. Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States (1875; rep., San Francisco: Bancroft, 1883), 2:412
 Robert M. Carmack, “Toltec Influence on the Postclassic Culture History of Highland Guatemala,” in Archaeological Studies in Middle America (New Orleans: Tulane University, 1970), 80
 John L. Sorenson and Carl L. Johannessen, Scientific Evidence for Pre-Columbian Transoceanic Voyages to and from the Americas, Sino-Platonic Papers 133 (Philadelphia: Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania, 2004)
 Sandor Bokonyi and Denes Janossy, “Adatok a pulyka kolumbusc ellotti Europai elofordulas ahoz,” Aquila: A Magyar Ornithologiai Kozpont Folyoirata 65 (1953): 265-69
 Paul C. Buckland and Eva Panagiotakopulu, “Rameses II and the Tobacco Beetle,” Antiquity 75 (2001): 554
 Samuel T. Darling, “Observations on the Geographical and Ethnological Distributions of Hookworms,” Parasitology 12/3 (1920): 217-33
 Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Obras historicas, ed. Alfredo Chavero (ca. 1600; 1891-92; repr., Mexico City: Editora Nacional, 1952), 1:15-16, 19
 Presley Norton, “El senorio de Salangone y la liga de mercaderes: El cartel sponylus-balsa,” Miscelanea antropologica ecuatoriana 6 (1986): 131-43
 Vital Alsar, La Balsa: The Longest Raft Voyage in History (Pleasnatville, NY: Reader’s Digest, 1973), 6-91
 J. Richard Steffy, “They Kyrenia Ship: An Interim Report on Its Hull Construction,” American Journal of Archaeology 89/1 (1985): 71-101
 Michael D. Coe and Mark Van Stone, Reading the Maya Glyphs (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001), 33.
 E. Wyllys Andrews, “Archaeology and Prehistory in the Northern Maya Lowlands: An Introduction,” in Handbook of Middle American Indians, ed. Robert Wauchope and Gordon R. Willey (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965), 2:303.
 Ricardo Velazquez Valdez, “Recent Discoveries in the Caves of Loltun, Yucatan, Mexico,” Mexicon 2 (1980): 54-55
 Clayton E. Ray, “Pre-Columbian Horses from Yucatan,” Journal of Mammalogy 38 (1957): 278