Monday, March 6, 2017

Answering Letter to a CES Director # 3

Claim 6- Archaeology:  There is absolutely no archaeological evidence to directly support the Book of Mormon or the Nephites/Lamanites who numbered in the millions.  This is one of the reasons why unofficial apologists are coming up with the Limited Geography Model (it happened in Central or South America) and that the real Hill Cumorah is not in Palmyra, New York but is elsewhere and possibly somewhere down there instead.  This is in direct contradiction to what Joseph Smith and other prophets have taught.  Never mind that the Church has a visitor’s center there in New York and holds annual Hill Cumorah pageants. 
We read about two major war battles that took place at the Hill Cumorah (Ramah to the Jaredites) that numbered in the deaths of at least 2,000,000 people.  No bones, hair, chariots, swords, armor, or any other evidence found whatsoever.   
Compare this to the Roman occupation of Britain and other countries.  There are abundant evidences of their presence during the first 400 years AD such as villas, mosaic floors, public baths, armor, weapons, writings, art, pottery and so on.  Even the major road systems used today in some of these occupied countries were built by the Romans.  Additionally, there is ample evidence of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations as well as a civilization in current day Texas that dates back 15,000 years.  Where are the Nephite or Lamanite buildings, roads, armors, swords, pottery, art, etc.? 
Latter-day Saint Thomas Stuart Ferguson was BYU’s archaeology division (New World Archaeological Funding) founder.  NWAF was financed by the Church.  NWAF and Ferguson were tasked by BYU and the Church in the 1950s and 1960s to find archaeological evidence to support the Book of Mormon.  This is what Ferguson wrote after 17 years of trying to dig up evidence for the Book of Mormon: 
“…you can’t set Book of Mormon geography down anywhere – because it is fictional and will never meet the requirements of the dirt-archaeology.  I should say – what is in the ground will never conform to what is in the book.”  (Letter to A CES Director, pg. 8)

This claim is a prime example of the fact that we have reason to be skeptical of Runnells' early claim that he researched thoroughly all the relevant information, because he is citing sources from over 50 years ago rather than engaging in what modern writers have said on the subject.

For example, Terryl Givens in his book By The Hand of Mormon dedicates two chapters to this issue, where he brings up recent discoveries that show that the Book of Mormon can be taken as historical based on archaeological discoveries. Givens states:
Subsequently, the band [Lehi and company] buries Ishmael at a place not named by them- "[it] was called Nahom," and there the women "did mourn exceedingly" (1 Nephi 16:34). The Arabic root NHM means "to sigh or moan" and the related Hebrew Nahum means "comfort," Nibley informs us. In 1978, an eighteenth century map was noticed indicating a place name "Nehhm" in that region, but it was not until the early 1990s that ancient evidence of the names authenticity surfaced. In that era, a German archaeology team discovered a carved altar a few dozen miles east of modern San'a in Yemen, inscribed with a reference to the tribe of Nihm, and another with a like inscription has since been found in that area. Found in the very area Nephi's record locates Nahom, these altars may thus be said to constitute the first actual archaelogical evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon." (By The Hand of Mormon, pg. 120, emphasis added)
Altar at Nahom

Close quote. So, it would appear that Runnells is plainly wrong that there is no historical archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. But there is more. Nephi mentions in the book that he and his family rested for years at a place called Bountiful, which was basically a paradise within the desert (1 Nephi 17:5). This would seem unlikely to the casual observer, since we do not think of such things when we think of the desert.

However a Book of Mormon Central article notes, there is also archaelogical evidence of Bountiful as well as Nahom:
Many people have rightly wondered if such a coastal paradise ever existed in the Arabian Peninsula.1 As early as 1950, Hugh Nibley proposed that Bountiful could plausibly be located in the Qara Mountains of southern Oman, in what is known as the Dhofar region.2 He based his suggestion on an early explorer’s account of “seaward slopes velvety with waving jungle, their roofs fragrant with rolling yellow meadows.”3
It wasn’t until 1976, however, that this region’s first LDS explorers—Lynn and Hope Hilton—sought to verify a specific site for Bountiful in their groundbreaking, though brief, trek into Oman.4 Since then, a number of LDS explorers and researchers have surveyed Dhofar’s coastal inlets. In 1994, Warren and Michaela Aston published a set of 12 logical and scriptural criteria (see chart)5 needed to identify Bountiful’s location in the real world, based on a careful reading of Nephi’s statements.6 After exploring and evaluating all the coastal inlets in the region, the Astons concluded that Wadi Sayq (“River Valley”) and its opening near the ocean at Khor Kharfot was the best candidate for Bountiful.7
Twelve Requirements for the Land Bountiful
  1. Fresh water available year-round
  1. Contain “much fruit” and honey (1 Nephi 17:5, 618:6)
  1. Both general area (17:5, 8) and specific location where the Lehites camped were fertile (17:6)
  1. Permit reasonable access from the interior desert to the coast
  1. A mountain prominent enough to justify Nephi’s reference to “the mount” (17:718:3) and close enough that he could go there to “pray oft” (18:3)
  1. Cliffs from which Nephi’s brothers could have thrown him into the depths of the sea (17:48)
  1. Shoreline (17:5) suitable for the construction and launching of a ship (18:8)
  1. Ore and flint for Nephi’s tools (17:9–11, 16)
  1. Enough large timber to build a seaworthy ship with (18:1, 2, 6)
  1. Suitable winds and ocean currents to take the ship out into the ocean (18:8, 9)
  1. No population residing in the area, based on details such as Nephi having to rely on his brother’s help, having to locate ore, and having to make his own tools.
  1. “Nearly eastward of Nahom” (1 Nephi 17:1)
Some have suggested that other inlets in the Dhofar region are a better match for Nephi’s Bountiful.8Most prominently, George Potter and Richard Wellington have argued that Khor Rori is a better fit based on what they call the crucial “maritime requirements.”9 While these proposals have their own strengths, Khor Kharfot remains the best candidate in the eyes of many Book of Mormon scholars.10
Image demonstrating the possible candidates for Bountiful. Image used with permission by Warren Aston.
Consistent with Nephi’s description, Khor Kharfot is “the most fertile coastal location on the Arabian Peninsula with abundant freshwater, large trees, fruit, and vegetation.”11 Its natural resources satisfy Nephi’s description of “much fruit and wild honey” (1 Nephi 17:5), as well as the need for substantial timber to build a ship.12Kharfot also features a prominent mountain (1 Nephi 18:3),13 with steep cliffs from which Nephi’s brothers could have menacingly threatened to throw him into the “depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 17:48).14Geological surveys have discovered that smeltable ore (1 Nephi 17:9–10) lay practically exposed at the surface of the earth in Kharfot and nearby locations.15
All told, Khor Kharfot fittingly complies with the numerous textual details contained in Nephi’s account, and it, along with the rest of the Dhofar region, just happens to be a long journey “nearly eastward” (1 Nephi 17:1) from the now archeologically-attested location of the “place which was called Nahom” (1 Nephi 16:34).16

The Why

Photograph of Kharfot. Used with permission from Warren Aston
Regardless of which specific inlet was Lehi’s campgrounds, Aston stressed, “Researchers generally agree that Nephi’s Bountiful must lie somewhere on the fertile southern coast of Oman.”17 Aston even felt “that several locations (all within a few miles of each other) being proposed as Bountiful actually strengthens the Book of Mormon’s claims” because, “None of these places was known in Joseph Smith’s 1829 environment.”18
After years of research and exploration of possible Book of Mormon sites, Aston has concluded that when important scriptural locations are “anchored in the real world, we can re-read the scriptural account with heightened appreciation for the story being told and its applications to our own life journey.”19 This is certainly true for Bountiful and its certain identification within Dhofar, most likely at Khor Kharfot.
Nephi described this area as being “prepared of the Lord that we might not perish” (1 Nephi 17:5). The full significance of this statement is meaningfully driven home by the first-hand accounts of explorers who have stumbled upon the region from the scorching desert inland. Bertram Thomas, for example, was greatly delighted when he “suddenly came upon it all from out of the arid wastes of the southern borderlands.”20 Concerning Wadi Sayq in particular, Aston has explained that the “vegetation inside the wadi changes from pure desert to scrubland as the coast is approached, climaxing in a remarkable concentration of lush vegetation and trees in the final two miles.”21
The variety of fruits, the wild honey, the fresh water, the large trees for shipbuilding, the accessible ore for tools, the prominent mountain for prayer and worship, the ancient bay for launching the ship—all these divinely prepared blessings become more readily apparent and appreciable to those who have contrasted Dhofar’s “thin green band of trees, flowers, and grass” with the surrounding desert.22
Painting of the lush vegetation in Kharfot. Used with permission from Warren Aston
Pondering upon such a scene can evoke not only a deep gratitude for the Lord’s providence, but also a recognition that He is aware of His children and is prepared to meet their needs. Lehi’s family had obediently left their land of inheritance. Nephi and his brothers had risked their lives to obtain the plates of brass. Ishmael and perhaps other loved ones died during their trek. In their years of travel, they all faced near starvation, desolate desert landscape, and certainly a number of untold trials. Yet as a resting point before their final destination, the Lord prepared a veritable coastal paradise which adequately blessed them with everything they needed to complete their journey to the promised land.23
Close quote. Remember that these areas were not known by anyone in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, so there was no way he could have known they corresponded with modern evidence. While one may choose to reject the Book of Mormon, and ultimately believing in it like believing in Jesus of Nazareth is a choice, one cannot say there is no archaeological evidence for it today.

Lastly, Runnells bring up limited-geography models, but he is wrong that such models are all recent. B.H. Roberts, one of the greatest minds in Mormonism, was against such models in his life, so to say that scholars came up with them due to modern evidence is simply not the case,; limited geography models of the Book of Mormon have been around since people started theorizing about the Book of Mormon geography. And also, it is worth noting that if one looks at the Book of Mormon carefully, it is pretty clear that Lehi and his family did not colonize all of the Western Hemisphere, because when they talk about areas they travel to they talk as though it only took a number of days to get there, which would be quite a feat if they were walking from New York to California.

Further Reading: By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl Givens, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book by John Sorenoson, Book of Mormon Central, An Approach to the Book of Mormon by Hugh Nibley

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