This article is an extract from Michael T. Griffith, Refuting the Critics (Horizon Publishers, 1993). The article answers criticisms of the Book of Mormon made by Gordon Fraser in his book Joseph and the Golden Plates. The complete chapter, along with all references, can be found in Refuting the Critics.
THE BOOK OF MORMON IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Book of Mormon Civilizations and Ancient
Fraser: "It has . . . been established beyond question that the time periods of the florescence of the Indian cultures do not equate with the Book of Mormon datings (there is a difference of many hundreds of years). . ." (38).
RESPONSE: Fraser does not say just exactly who has established
this datum. Certainly no non-Mormon scholars have done so, since none of them
is familiar enough with the Nephite text's internal
chronology and geography to adequately address the subject. And the reference
to "the florescence of the Indian cultures" is extremely vague since
there were numerous native cultures in the ancient
In any event, there are definite correspondences between the Book of Mormon civilizations and major cultures of ancient Mesoamerica, which is the area identified by LDS scholars as the region where the events chronicled in the Nephite text took place. Even in 1968, M. Wells Jakeman was able to say the following:
What is now known
of the Book of Mormon or Pre-Classic" period in
Raymond Treat has added the following:
The succession of four righteous [Jaredite] kings and the recognition of Olmec came together at nearly the same time, 1400-1200 B.C. The Jaredite decline and the decline of Olmec civilization both occur from 600-200 B.C. The arrival of the Nephites and Mulekites which resulted in at least three new regional cultures, Nephite, Lamanite, and Mulekite, and a pattern of regional cultures with new traits are both seen in the 6th century B.C. The appearance of Jesus Christ, ushering in an outstanding period of happiness and prosperity known as the Golden Age and the rise of Maya civilization known throughout the world for its unique accomplishments, both occur in the first two centuries A.D. The division of the people, the downfall of the Nephite nation, the beginning of Maya hieroglyphs and the resumption of warfare are all dated in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.
The Book of Mormon outline, first published in 1830, has not changed . The Mesoamerican outline has been gradually filled in with most of the information coming after 1950. The major points of both outlines can now be said to be in essential agreement. (1982:10)
The Book of Mormon reports that from around A . D. 100-350 the Nephite
civilization enjoyed a tremendous cultural and economic expansion. There is
good evidence that such a florescence did occur in ancient
By A.D. 250 most of the sites in the Rio Bec Zone suggest the presence of the socio-political
structure, the ceremonialism, and most of the material expressions that were
characteristic of the Classical Maya civilization (Adams 80). In the
Moreover, R.E.W. Adams and T. Patrick Culbert note that by A.D. 250 the following civilizational traits were already firmly established in the Maya Lowlands: monumental architecture, an art style defined by specific conventions with thematic messages, mural paintings, illustrated books, jewelry products such as carved jades, palaces as administrative quarters, writing and a calendrical system, elaborate burials for the elite, functional and highly patterned urban centers, temples as burial sites, temples as kinship unit-ritual centers, and many others (4-5).
In short, Jakeman was right in saying that a study of the civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica in Book of Mormon times "will show that definite correspondences to the civilizations of the Book of Mormon, in both (1) geography and (2) chronology, as well as (3) number and order and (4) characteristics, have already begun to appear" (1963:102-103).
Semites, Mongoloids, and Others in
Fraser: "The most stubborn problem encountered by the
defenders of the Book of Mormon is the generally accepted fact that the American
Indians are Mongoloids from eastern Asia and not Semites from western Asia, as
they would have to be if they were descended from a group of Israelites who
RESPONSE: The blanket statement that "the American Indians are Mongoloids" is not supported by the facts. A number of years ago, Virgil Haws of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology conducted a study of the blood types of the American Indians. His study is entitled The American Indian and the Blood Groups. Haws found that in many of the American Indian tribes there occurs a type of blood which is common among them but which is extremely rare among Mongoloids.
Furthermore, Francois Eustache observes that
blood type B, which is common among Asians, is virtually non-existent among
American Indians in North, Middle, and
Nibley has summarized the situation in these words:
A number of
anthropological studies appearing in the past few years have been remarkably
free of the old doctrinaire cocksureness that once characterized discussions of
Indian origins. Here it will be enough to quote a remark of Carleton Beals, summarizing findings of the experts in the field of
blood-typing: "Few Indians of South America [and even less of North
America, according to Beals] have even 1 percent of B
blood, and most have none at all--though this is the most important and
characteristic non-O ingredient of Asia .... Here is a mystery that requires
much pondering and investigation." The Indians, that is, who are supposed
as we all know to have come from eastern
P. Rivet discusses the non-Mongoloid cranial forms of the Maya of Mesoamerica:
Physically, it is
difficult for us to relate the Maya to an Asiatic group. The cranial
deformation is absent from the northeast of
In relation to this issue, it is important
to keep in mind the fact that the Book of Mormon does not claim to be a history
of all of the ancient cultures in the
Fraser: "A final contrast" between Semites and Mongoloids "is in the presence of what is termed by anthropologists as the Mongolian spot on the sacral area of most Mongoloid babies" (40-41).
RESPONSE: The so-called "Mongolian spot" is not confined to Mongoloids and American Indian groups. It is found on most infants of most populations in which the skin has much pigmentation, as among the Polynesians, and also among some of the darker populations of the "white" race such as the Portuguese and the Spaniards (Haws 2).
Fraser: There were no Semites in ancient
RESPONSE: Actually, there is a great deal of evidence that
there were Semites in the ancient
To begin with, as mentioned previously, well over a hundred cultural and religious parallels between the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica have been documented by numerous scholars, both Mormon and non-Mormon (Heyerdahl 59-92; Kelley 1960; Sorenson 1971; Sorenson and Raish; Riley; Warren and Ferguson 201-230). These parallels include important resemblances in such areas as calendrics, plant life elements, belief and ritual practices, religious symbolism, social customs, politics, economic and subsistence elements, technology, language, and architecture
David Kelley, a leading authority in the field of Mesoamerican studies has found that certain day names and associated symbols in the Mayan calendar seem related to Hebrew; so much so, in fact, that he believes Semites played a role in shaping certain aspects of the Mayan calendar (1960).
Jakeman also sees Semitic features in the Mayan calendar, as well as Egyptian (1947). W.L. Mahoney agrees with Jakeman on the presence of Egyptian elements in the Mayan calendar.
One important piece of evidence for Semites
In fact, highly
realistic illustrations of the bearded and often almost Arabo-Semitic
ethnic type are extremely common all the way across
Jakeman points out that the ancient Itza people of
At the ancient Mesoamerican site of La Venta, a stela was discovered, Stela 3, upon which is carved a figure with some remarkably Semitic features. This figure, according to Mexican archaeologist Miguel Covarrubias, is "a fully bearded man with an enormous aquiline nose . . . , a personage with surprisingly pronounced Semitic features" (90, emphasis added).
To judge from their art, the Olmecs (ca. 2500-300 B.C.) comprised two contrasting ethnic types. One was remarkably Negroid. "The other Olmec type," says Heyerdahl, "is completely different, sometimes representing a strikingly Semitic type, with sharp profile, a prominent hooked nose, narrow face, thin lips, and a pronounced beard ...." (119, emphasis added).
Polish anthropologist Andrzej
Wiercinski examined a large series of skulls
excavated at dated sites in
A number of scholars have found parallels between some ancient Mesoamerican languages and Hebrew and Egyptian (Smith 1977; Agrignier; Gordon 1971:99; Sorenson 1985:74-81; Reed 8-10).
Ancient Mesoamerican religious texts and the writings of numerous Spanish priests and historians record two prominent native traditions: (1) that the ancestors of certain Mesoamerican tribes arrived by sea from across the ocean; and (2) that there were light-skinned, bearded peoples in the region anciently (F. Harris III; Sorenson 1955). Some of these sources--Diego de Landa, Diego Duran, and the Quiches--even asserted that the ancestors of some Mesoamerican tribes were Hebrews (F. Harris III 44-50).
Warfare in Ancient
Fraser: "There is no evidence that great wars occurred
among the inhabitants during the fifth century A. D., as would be required if
the Book of Mormon is reliable" (48) . "The inhabitants of early
RESPONSE: First of all, the actual period of the Book of
Mormon, when you include the Jaredites, spanned from
around 3000 B.C. to A.D. 421. This takes us from when the Jaredites
started off in
As for the idea that the civilizations of
The arts and weapons of warfare were
certainly well known in ancient
Obisidian-edged swords, knives, and lances are shown on various Preclassic Olmec monuments (Palmer 1981:136).
Numerous ancient Mesoamerican sites built
during Book of Mormon times, including Becan,
In the Rio Bec region near Becan, there is evidence of rapid population growth and movement toward the end of the Preclassic period, "related significantly enough, to large-scale warfare" (Webster 360)
In addition, Sorenson and others have amassed quite a bit of evidence of especially heavy fighting in Mesoamerica during the time the Book of Mormon indicates the last great battles between the Nephites and the Lamanites were being fought (Sorenson 1985 :260-264, 335-353; Palmer 1981:200-213; Allen 1989:80-82) . A plausible reconstruction of the geography of those last battles has even been worked out (Sorenson 1985:335-353).
Fraser: "Joseph Smith probably thought he was on safe
ground when he mentioned the bow and arrow. Wasn't the bow and arrow the very
symbol of Indian fighting? Unfortunately, we must once more spoil Smith's
picture. The sinew-backed bow is a Mongolian device that was
RESPONSE: To begin with, the Book of Mormon reports that Nephi
an his brothers knew of and used the bow and arrow while they were still living
in the Old World, well before they came to Mesoamerica. Therefore, they would
not have been dependent on the Mongolian sinewed bow,
since composite and solid metal bows were used in the ancient Near East long
before Lehi's party left Jerusalem in approximately
600 B.C. (Goff and Welch 1-2; Nibley 1952:66-69; Achtemeier 1985:1123-1124; Vos
99). So it makes no difference when the Mongolian sinewed
bow was first used in the
Concerning the use of the bow and arrow in
effect of outdated views is shown by a recent incident. One of my former
students wrote to me with some concern because his professor at an eastern
university had assured him that the bow and arrow, mentioned in several places
in the Book of Mormon, was not present in
Fraser: The Nephites could not have written their language down because "literacy in Middle-America came into its florescence many years after the Book of Mormon dates, and during most of the period ascribed to the Mormon record there was no true literacy known on the American continents" (52).
RESPONSE: Scholars have known for decades that highly developed writing was present in ancient Mesoamerica during Book of Mormon times In fact scholars are now agreed that Mayan hieroglyphic writing had its beginnings in Preclassic times (i.e., from the Jaredite era to the early part of the first century A.D.), and many authorities believe that writing in the region originated at least in part with the Olmec civilization (Marcus; Coe 1966:22)
At Uaxactun and
It is odd that Fraser could be so misinformed about writing in ancient Mesoamerica, (I) because the facts on the matter are so well known, and (2) because Victor Von Hagen's book, The Aztec: Man and Tribe, from which Fraser quotes on page 47, mentions the fact that by 500 B.C. the inhabitants of Monte Alban had already developed glyphic writing (Von Hagen 1961:34).
Fraser: In connection with his claim that during most of the Book of Mormon period there was "no true literacy known on the American continents," Fraser maintains that the earliest of the Mesoamerican calendar stones (stelae) whose date has been positively established "is the one known as Stela 9, discovered at Uaxactun, and bears the Maya date 18.104.22.168.15 which in our dating would be around A.D. 328 .... [This] was only 93 years before the civilization recorded in the Book of Mormon is supposed to have come to a bloody close" (52-53).
RESPONSE: If the earliest carved stone monument in
Fraser: The Book of Mormon's references to large Preclassic and Protoclassic Mesoamerican cities are in error because there were "no great cities such as are mentioned by the Book of Mormon" (58).
RESPONSE: The fact that there were large, impressive cities
Fraser: Contrary to what the Book of Mormon claims,
"During the entire period in question there were no great concentrations
of population" in ancient
RESPONSE: The Book of Mormon's references to great
concentrations of population in ancient
In 1560, Father Bartolome de Las Casas estimated
that forty million native Americans had perished "unjustly and through
tyranny" in New Spain in the two generations after
are not, of course, based upon speculation or interpretative whim. As
historical and archaeological sources are more carefully examined and the
specialists correct each other by mutual criticism, a better grasp of the real
numbers is emerging. William Denevan's 1976 volume,
The Native Population of the
The figures on
Mesoamerican population offered by demographers
decades ago could not be reconciled with statements in the Book of Mormon about
millions of people being destroyed in the concluding Jaredite
and Nephite wars. Now, analysis of the data on lands
occupied ecology, sizes, war casualties, and other population-related factors
in the Book of Mormon text shows striking consistency and realism in the
reported demographic changes. At the same time, the absolute numbers reported
in the book are of the same order of magnitude as the figures which current
The Wheel And Highways
Fraser: Chariots are "mentioned frequently in Joseph
Smith's war tales This is pure imagination . . .. The
chariots would, of course, suggest wheels This is
another gross blunder. The wheel was never used in
RESPONSE: There is substantial evidence of the use of the
Verneil Simmons finds evidence in support of the Book of Mormon's references to chariots:
In 1887 . . .
Desire de Charnay, a traveled Frenchman, published
Ancient Cities of the
Charnay also quoted and commented on a statement by an early Indian historian who used an ambiguous word meaning both "chariot" and "transport." He further referred to a drawing in the writings of Father Duran [an early Spanish Chronicler], which showed a "rude chariot with clog wheels, drawn by a multitude of Indians."
In 1940 the Stirling Expedition to
The use of chariots, or wheeled vehicles, is mentioned twice in the Book of Mormon . . .. We have no idea what these "chariots" looked like. They could have been two-wheeled carts or even flatbed bodies on four wheels which would have been practical for moving their goods. The toys come in two-wheeled and four-wheeled models and indicate that both types were possible. (134-135, see also Sorenson 1980)
Furthermore, the Nephites
certainly would have had every opportunity to learn about the wheel before setting
Fraser: "Mormon apologists will remind us of the
existence of highways in
RESPONSE: Not all of the highways built on the
The idea that the
Numerous roads have been found which date to the Book of Mormon period . Sorenson points out the following:
writers have in the past compared the "highways" and
"roads" mentioned in 3 Nephi (6:8; 8:13) to the lime-surfaced
causeways ("sacbes") on the
causeway known at this time  is in Komchen, in
Others were at Xochicalco, just south of
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:† Michael
T. Griffith holds a Masterís degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance
University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from
American Military University, a Bachelorís degree in Liberal Arts from
Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the
Community College of the Air Force.† He
also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of
Civil War Studies from
Mike Griffithís LDS Information Web Page