Book of Mormon Overview: Dating the Book of Mormon
Throughout these sections on the Book of Mormon, I’ve been trying to highlight the different ways that scholars can show that the Book of Mormon is without any question a 19th century document. Along with looking at why they can date the Book of Mormon to the 19th century, I’ve highlighted the areas where we can see Joseph Smith’s fingerprints that make clear that he is the author of the Book of Mormon.
In the last section I outlined the surrounding influences that Joseph Smith incorporated into the Book of Mormon. Those different influences allow us to both date the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith’s lifetime (Moundbuilders myth, fear of the Masons) while also showing the fingerprints that Joseph Smith left from events that happened during his life (Joseph Smith Sr.’s dream vs Lehi’s dream, the Charles Anthon visit, loss of the 116 pages).
In this section I want to briefly look at a few other ways we can date when the Book of Mormon was written by looking at the text itself, and how that helps scholars to date the Book of Mormon as a 19th century production. This includes not just anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, but also by highlighting some important items that were in the ancient Americas that should be mentioned in the Book of Mormon, but are not a part of the text.
Finally I want to briefly highlight some of the key doctrines of Mormonism that do not appear in the Book of Mormon, which again helps us to understand the evolution of Joseph Smith’s theology after the Book of Mormon was finished.
While there are lists of anachronisms in the CES Letter, the CES Letter’s response to FAIR Mormon, and Letter For My Wife, I want to just focus on a few in this overview.
The King James Bible
Without a doubt the easiest way to date the Book of Mormon is to look at the King James Bible. I’ve covered this in a number of overviews already, but if you haven’t read our section on the King James Bible and the Book of Mormon, that is a much longer overview of this problem.
The Book of Mormon is literarily dependent on the King James Bible – there is simply no way around it. Typically apologists point to Doctrine and Covenants 1:24 as an explanation for this problem:
“Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”
FAIR Mormon’s response about KJV issues expands on this verse from D&C 1 a bit more:
“When considering the the data, Skousen proposes that, instead of Joseph or Oliver looking at a Bible, that God was simply able to provide the page of text from the King James Bible to Joseph's mind and then Joseph was free to alter the text as he pleased. In those cases where the Book of Mormon simply alludes to or echoes KJV language, perhaps the Lord allowed these portions of the text to be revealed in such a way that they would be more comprehensible/comfortable to his 19th century, Northeastern, frontier audience. This theology of translation may feel foreign and a bit strange to some Latter-day Saints, but it seems to fit well with the Lord's own words about the nature of revelation to Joseph Smith. The Lord speaks to his servants "after the manner of their language that they may come to understanding" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:24). Latter-day Saints should take comfort in fact that the Lord accommodates his perfection to our own weakness and uses our imperfect language and nature for the building up of Zion on the earth.” (FAIR Mormon, Translation errors in the King James Bible appearing in the Book of Mormon)
I think it goes without saying that of course God would speak to us in our own language – if God spoke to us in some ancient or foreign language there would be no understanding of what was being commanded or revealed.
That being said, you can see that FAIR is taking that phrase of D&C 1:24 and then expanding it to create a solution instead of looking at what the problems tell us. In this case, no one is arguing about Joseph Smith receiving revelations “after the manner of their language that they may come to understanding,” but that Joseph Smith is writing in the King James language while also bringing the errors, mistranslations, and anachronisms into the text itself.
Furthermore, if you read D&C 1 in context, verse 24 is talking about the Book of Commandments and not the Book of Mormon. This becomes clear because the Book of Mormon isn’t mentioned until verse 29:
“And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.”
The point is that this revelation is making clear that God is giving revelations in the language we are familiar with so that we can obey them. It is not in any way attempting to explain away the King James errors in the Book of Mormon nor is it even explaining why the KJV specific language is used in the first place.
It’s important to establish this because it is a common response from apologetics to this problem, which is the biggest anachronism that dates the Book of Mormon as a modern text. There is no possible way the Book of Mormon could have been written before 1611, because there are too many phrases, wordings, and long passages that are taken directly from the King James Bible.
Whether we’re talking about the original 1611 version of the KJV of the 1769 version which many believe Joseph Smith would have studied from and used, the problem still remains: The Book of Mormon is not an ancient text. Apologists can argue that it’s a 19th century text mixed with an ancient source, but they then need to show where that source is independent of the Book of Mormon, because the literary dependence on the King James Bible occurs throughout the text.
I want to cover a few of the biggest anachronisms from the Book of Mormon to further illustrate why this is inescapable as a problem for the Book of Mormon, and how it shows that the author did not understand the text the text he was pulling from.
This is covered in much greater detail in our overview on Deutero-Isaiah, but I just want to mention it here again because it is incredibly important. Most scholars now agree that Isaiah was written by three different authors, and we detail the reasons for this in our overview.
Chapters 40-55 of Isaiah are believed to have been written by “Deutero-Isaiah,” and would have been written after Lehi left with the plates. This means that nothing from these chapters should be in the Book of Mormon, yet Isaiah 52 is not only quoted in the Book of Mormon but its theme is revisited multiple times throughout.
Again, this material should not be in the Book of Mormon if it is the ancient text that it claims to be. The problem here is that the author of the Book of Mormon was not aware of there being multiple Isaiah authors, which caused him to leave his fingerprints on the text.
New Testament Material in the Book of Mormon
Again we cover this in our King James Bible overview, but it needs to be stated here that any New Testament material is anachronistic in the Book of Mormon. There would have been no access to these words for the Book of Mormon prophets, and the apologetic that perhaps it was revealed to them by God does not hold up.
The Sermon on the Mount is a great example of where the Book of Mormon is using a text that had not been written yet, but the author did not realize the historical context behind it. We cover this more in our Sermon on the Mount overview, but the Book of Mormon copies the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew into the Sermon at the Temple, making some cosmetic changes where it obviously would not fit the Book of Mormon narrative (changing farthing to Nephite monetary system), but then leaving in the problems that Joseph Smith simply did not understand would make no sense to the Nephites such as the Roman law of going a mile and the Aramaic word Raca.
Furthermore, scholars are convinced that the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain were both compiled using the same “Q” or “sayings” source that was effectively a compilation of sayings that Jesus had spoken during his lifetime that were then woven into sermons independently by Matthew and Luke.
To be clear, not only is this New Testament material anachronistic to the Book of Mormon because it comes from the King James Bible that was not translated until 1611, it also is anachronistic because the Sermon on the Mount was almost certainly never given as a complete sermon. Beyond this problem, both Matthew and Luke were not even written until long after Jesus lived, so it could in no way be a word for word transcription but the result of oral retellings that were eventually copied down in some form.
Furthermore, you can see that Joseph Smith copied it from the KJV making changes only where it was obviously incompatible with the Nephite narrative, and left errors in the text where he did not realize it would be confusing to the Nephites. This is simply inescapable: If you want to argue that Joseph Smith was dictating the Book of Mormon in a language that would be accepted as scripture (King James language), you still have to answer for why the problems and errors are included.
This is another area where we can show that the author of the Book of Mormon was using existing text to create the story, and why the Book of Mormon is completely dependent on the King James Bible. If you have not already read our overview on the Sermon on the Mount, I highly recommend doing so in order to understand how problematic it is for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
Long Ending of Mark
Much like we covered above with the Sermon on the Mount, scholars have discovered that the earliest manuscripts for Mark did not contain the “long ending” that is in the King James Bible. In fact, many modern translations actually note that the ending was added well after the initial manuscript was written by the author of Mark.
Yet material from the “Long Ending of Mark” makes its way into the Book of Mormon.
Mark 16:17-18 (KJV): "17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."
Now compare this to the Book of Mormon:
Mormon 9:24: "And these signs shall follow them that believe—in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."
Again, you can read the longer overview on the “Long Ending of Mark,” but the problem is the same as above. Joseph Smith did not realize the ending was not original to Mark as he was writing the Book of Mormon, which is why material was pulled from it.
The use of Messiah and Christ in the Book of Mormon
This is an area we have not previously covered, but it runs into the same problems that we outlined above with Deutero-Isaiah. Joseph Smith did not appear to realize that Messiah and Christ are the same word with different translations.
From Brent Metcalfe’s book New Approaches to the Book of Mormon:
“The Book of Mormon’s use of the term “Christ” is a perplexing feature of the book. Biblical scholars concur that the Aramaic meshiha’ (Heb. mashiah; Eng. Messiah) and its Greek translation Christos (Eng. Christ) both mean “Anointed.” They further agree that “Christ” became a proper name along with “Jesus” only after non-Semites, who did not have a Hebrew conception of the title, were converted and an essentially Judaic Christianity began to be hellenized (DeJonge 1992; Fitzmeyer 1982, 85-87; Kittel and Friedrich 1964-76, 9:527-80; Perkins 1985; cf. Robinson 1992, 740; Welch 1992b, 749). In contrast, Book of Mormon Hebrews do not use the terms “Christ” and “Messiah” synonymously. Rather they employ the term “Christ” most frequently as a type of messianic surname…
"Christ” as a proper name poses linguistic problems that challenged early defenders of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery chided a critic who raised the issue as being “ignorant presumptuous and incompetent to handle the matter he has undertaken.” Cowdery argued that “[t]he words Jesus and Christ … are radically neither English nor Greek, for both have Hebrew roots” (Messenger and Advocate 3 [Oct. 1836]: 398). This remains apologists’ chief line of defense (see Brown 1984, 35; McConkie and Millet 1987, 265-66; Nibley 1988b, 167-68; Ricks 1984, 25; Welch 1992c, 228, 241n6; cf. McConkie 1988, 75-76).
Yet the Book of Mormon does not accommodate this apologetic since it insists at many points on a clear distinction between “Messiah” and “Christ.”38 The Book of Mormon ostensibly defines “Messiah” as “savior” or “redeemer” (1 Ne. 10:4-5, 1:19; 2 Ne. 1:10, 2:6). “Christ,” coupled with the term “Jesus,” becomes the Messiah’s name (e.g., 2 Ne. 10:3; 25:16, 19; Mosiah 3:8; 5:8).39 Because of this semantic [p.429] distinction, Nephi can prophesy that Jews at the end of time “shall believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name … and look not forward any more for another Messiah” (2 Ne. 25:16). And he can also proclaim, “[T]he Messiah cometh … [and] his name shall be Jesus Christ” (v. 19). “Christ” is even juxtaposed with other proper names such as “Nephi” and “Moses.”40” (Metcalfe, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon)
Effectively this presents a few problems for the Book of Mormon. First, they are using the name Christ 600 years before Christ’s arrival, which is anachronistic on the surface. The apologetic response to this is that the name Christ was given via revelation so it would therefore not be an anachronism, but again this does not make sense given that the Bible makes no such mention of Jesus Christ’s arrival.
Second, this shows that the author of the Book of Mormon did not understand the linguistics behind Messiah and Christ, and this leads to a very clear problem. In 2 Nephi we have the following:
“19 For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Because Messiah and Christ have the same meaning but under a different translation, what Joseph Smith has done here is the modern day equivalent of saying something like this:
“We will know that the sign of a good life is to be next to a dog [English word]. I have been told by an angel that the dog will be known as Perra [Spanish translation of dog].”
This is a pretty clear indicator that this not an ancient text that is a literal history, because the author is clearly unaware that he is using the Greek translation of “anointed” when introducing what he believes is the name “Christ.”
Furthermore, Joseph Smith makes this claim in the Times and Seasons in 1843:
“There was no Greek or Latin upon the plates from which I, through the grace of God, translated the Book of Mormon. Let the language of that book speak for itself.” (Times and Seasons, Nauvoo, Illinois, vol. 4 (1843), p. 194)
If there was no Greek upon the plates, there could be no Christ on the plates. This is a problem with Joseph Smith not understanding the linguistics as he produced the Book of Mormon, and we see this same problem in the Book of Abraham when Joseph Smith incorrectly translates Facsimile 3. From Egyptologist Dr. Robert Ritner:
“In Facsimile 3, Smith confuses human and animal heads and males with females. No amount of special pleading can change the female “Isis the great, the god’s mother” (Facsimile 3, Fig. 2) into the male “King Pharaoh, whose name is given in the characters above his hand,” as even the LDS author Michael D. Rhodes accepts. Here Smith also misunderstands “Pharaoh” as a personal name rather than a title meaning “king,” so he reads “king king” for a goddess’s name that he claims to have understood on the papyrus!” (Ritner, “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” - A Response)
As if that is not enough, this also occurs in the Kirtland Temple when Joseph Smith claims to see both Elias and Elijah during the same vision. What Joseph Smith does not realize is that Elijah is the Hebrew translation and Elias is the Greek translation. In other words, this is another instance where Joseph Smith mistakes a different translation for a separate being, which again shows us that the Book of Mormon is not an ancient record and that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God. (Mormon Think, Elias and Elijah appearing at the temple)
The Idea and Historicity of the Brass Plates
In the gold plates overview I covered that the idea of metal plates with long writings is simply anachronistic. There are no records or plates that the church can provide that show ancient writings on metal plates that are of any considerable length.
To recap from that section, we covered the Pyrgi Tablets (shown above), which apologists cite as proof of ancient writing on metal. You can read about them on Wikipedia, and take a look at how little text is on those three plates. If anything, the Pyrgi Tablets show how implausible the Book of Mormon is when you take a step back and think of the implications.
The Pyrgi tablets only contain about 200 words on the three plates/tables above. If you look at the images, you can see that the tablets/plates are packed with characters. Now understand that those three plates would need to have about 66,000 words for the math to work with the gold plates of the Book of Mormon.
This is a problem because the Book of Mormon includes the story of the brass plates, which were taken from Laban after Nephi killed him. These plates included very lengthy and detailed records. From the January 1988 Ensign:
“Although the information is sparse concerning the origin of the plates of brass, the Book of Mormon is quite detailed on what the plates contained. According to Nephi, the plates of brass contained the books of Moses and the Mosaic law (see 1 Ne. 4:15–16; 1 Ne. 5:11), tying the Nephites to their Old World kinsmen in both cultural practice and belief. They contained, in addition, a listing of Lehi’s fathers back through Joseph of old (see 1 Ne. 5:14), linking the Lehite colony genealogically with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby perpetuating the patriarchal covenant—“the promises made to the fathers” (D&C 2:2; JS—H 1:39)—in a new hemisphere. Finally, the plates contained a more extensive account of Old Testament peoples and events than the Bible (see 1 Ne. 5:12–13; 1 Ne. 13:23), although only a few precious remnants of this account are found in the Book of Mormon.” (The Plates of Brass: A Witness of Christ, Engisn January 1988)
The problems here are numerous, but I want to highlight how anachronistic this story is in the Book of Mormon.
Most scholars today conclude that the Pentateuch was not written until the 6th century or, more likely, 5th century BCE. This means that when Lehi left in 587 BCE, these five books (outside of Deuteronomy) were likely not even written at this point. (Davies, G.I, "Introduction to the Pentateuch")
What this means is that if Lehi left with records, they would not resemble the Pentateuch that is used by Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. Unfortunately for the Book of Mormon, the problems do not end here.
Beyond the text almost certainly not being written before Lehi left, the idea of a “codex” was not even practiced until the 4th century CE. Until this time the books of the Bible would have been on separate scrolls, which might have been kept together by religious leaders, but would not have been bound together. In other words, even if you believe Lehi had the ‘Five Books of Moses’ against the evidence that they had not been compiled yet, there is no way they would’ve been put together in a codex format. (Britannica)
Now even if we concede that the ‘Five Books of Moses’ were compile before Lehi left in 587 BC against the current consensus, and then even if we accept the idea that they were using a codex style of binding them together almost a thousand years before we have any record of that occurring, there is still the problem of language.
We are told that the brass plates were written in Egyptian, which is another problem for the Book of Mormon. Scholars can tell that the ‘Five Books of Moses’ were “originally written almost entirely in Hebrew, with a few short elements in Aramaic.” (Britannica)
This means that for the Book of Mormon’s narrative to be true, we would need the ‘Five Books of Moses’ to be compiled before Lehi left in 587 BCE, which is against the scholarly consensus that these books were being developed in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Then we would need these books to be translated to Egyptian, which goes against all evidence regarding the compilation of these books. After the translation, we would need them to be engraved on plates of brass, which again there is absolutely no evidence for and, as we will explain below, reasons to show this did not happen. After this translation into Egyptian and engraving on brass, we would finally need the five books to be compiled in a codex, which was not utilized until about a thousand years after Lehi left.
None of these four problems (compilation of the books, Egyptian language translation, engraved onto plates of brass, and codex format) are historically backed, which makes the idea that all four could’ve happened simultaneously impossible.
With regards to engraving these books on the plates, we also run into the same problems here that we did with the Book of Mormon, which is that the math is going to be a problem. The ‘Five Books of Moses’ alone contain 156,916 words, and that doesn’t even get into the vast material that are claimed to be on the brass plates beyond those five books.
There is no mention of “Reformed Egyptian” in the Old World, which means that these engravings would likely be in demotic Egyptian. As Egyptologist Dr. Robert Ritner explained, demotic Egyptian is a phonetic language, meaning that the amount of brass plates needed to engrave the ‘Five Books of Moses’ would be incredibly large.
Remember that those three Pyrgi plates above hold just about 200 words. The ‘Five Books of Moses’ alone contain over 156,000 words in English. That would imply that you’re looking at almost 800 plates needed just for the five books alone before getting into the rest of the material that were included in the plates that was mentioned in the Ensign quote above.
Just imagine having 800 brass plates that you’re carrying around with records. It just becomes absurd when you really break down this issue and look at how each layer creates another problem that is further compounded by the next. Even if we agree that the language could possibly allow for half the characters, you're still stealing a 400 plate collection at minimum.
The idea of plates was written into the Book of Mormon for two reasons: The first reason being that Joseph Smith claimed to have uncovered gold plates, so this allows the plates to have more weight as a method of record keeping by the inhabitants of ancient America. The season reason is that it made sense that you would need records to be on metal or stone in order to survive for so long in the ground, but it unfortunately is still incredibly anachronistic given not just what we have as examples of ancient writing on metal, but Joseph Smith’s indication that they were written in Egyptian before Lehi left.
The idea of steel is anachronistic to the Book of Mormon, and there’s really no way around it. From the Book of Mormon:
2 Nephi 5:15: “And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.”
Ether 7:9: “Wherefore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned to the city Nehor, and gave battle unto his brother Corihor, by which means he obtained the kingdom and restored it unto his father Kib.”
Creating steel necessitates a lot of resources that leaves a footprint behind, which is why we can be sure that there was no steel production in Book of Mormon times. When steel is produced to create weaponry, there is slag left behind along with remnants of steel weaponry along with the sites that would be used to create these weapons.
The Smithsonian puts it in even more clear terms:
“5. Iron, steel, glass, and silk were not used in the New World before 1492 (except for occasional use of unsmelted meteoric iron). Native copper was worked in various locations in pre-Columbian times, but true metallurgy was limited to southern Mexico and the Andean region, where its occurrence in late prehistoric times involved gold, silver, copper, and their alloys, but not iron.” (Smithsonian Letter)
Furthermore, the advantages that could be gained by having steel production are massive, and would not simply go away. This has led apologists to suggest that steel doesn’t mean “steel,” which is what FAIR Mormon replies to the Letter For My Wife with:
“The author assumes that "steel" refers to modern steel, which did not exist in pre-Columbian America. Steel has been found in the Old World in the appropriate time period.” (FAIR Mormon)
They further explain how this is not an anachronism in the following way:
“The steel of the Book of Mormon is probably not modern steel. Steel, as we understand today, had to be produced using a very cumbersome process and was extremely expensive until the development of puddling towards the end of the 18th century. Even in ancient times, however, experienced smiths could produce steel by heating and hammering pig-iron or, earlier still, the never-molten iron from a bloomery to loose the surplus of carbon to get something like elastic steel. Early smiths even knew that by quenching hot steel in water, oil, or a salt solution the surface could be hardened.
Any Mesoamerican production likely depended upon the first method, which requires lower temperatures and less sophistication. Laban's "steel sword" is not anachronistic; Middle Eastern smiths were making steel by the tenth century B.C.” (FAIR Mormon)
Anachronisms are elements that are out of time and place, which means that evidence of steel being made in the Middle East in the tenth century does not solve the problem in the Americas. This is an apologetic trick to try and focus in on a detail to ignore the problem at hand, but having evidence in the Middle East does not tell you anything about the Americas, which they cite because they know the Americans simply did not have this technology during Book of Mormon times.
FAIR then cites apologist William Hamblin’s contention that steel is not anachronistic because it is not specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon after 400 BCE. Their conclusion is that “Significantly, there are no references to Nephite steel after 400 B.C.”
Again, steel is not a problem if the events of the Book of Mormon took place in the Middle East where there is evidence of early work with steel, but the events described in the Book of Mormon happen in the Americas. Furthermore, the verses quotes above both take place in the Americas, which makes Hamblin’s assertion a deflection rather than an answer.
In other words, evidence of steel being produced in the Middle East does not help the Book of Mormon’s problem, but instead shows us that Joseph Smith is pulling ideas from his milieu when dictating the story, which unfortunately did not yet understand that steel was not being made in the Americas for weaponry until long after the Book of Mormon times.
Wheat and Barley
The idea of wheat and barley being available in the Americas during Book of Mormon times is certainly anachronistic, and I will cite this (church friendly) Maxwell Institute summary to outline the issue:
“Of the more than twenty-eight references to grain in the Book of Mormon, barley is mentioned four times (Mosiah 7:22; 9:9; Alma 11:7, 15) and wheat once (Mosiah 9:9). These references to barley and wheat in an ancient American record have puzzled some readers because it is generally assumed that domesticated barley and wheat were introduced to the New World by Europeans after 1492.
Research on this matter supports two possible explanations. First, the terms barley and wheat, as used in the Book of Mormon, may refer to certain other New World crop plants that were given Old World designations; and second, the terms may refer to genuine varieties of New World barley and wheat.” (Bennett, Barley and Wheat in the Book of Mormon)
The first thing I want to note is that again here we are being told that barley and wheat don’t actually mean “barley” and “wheat.” This is again loan shifting words in order to make sense of the problems that Joseph Smith created by including them. Again, this becomes a problem that is compounded by the translation process which we will cover in our next overview, but the moment you’re telling us that words don’t mean what they mean at face value, it’s a problem.
Dr. Michael Coe, who was the Charles J. MacCurdy professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University and curator emeritus of the Division of Anthropology at the school’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, made clear that if there were wheat and barley in the Americas during Book of Mormon times, we would know it through our studies of soil cores.
During his Mormon Stories interview, Coe explained how these plants leave pollen that can be found during archaeological digs, which is how we have so much information on what plants were indigenous to the Americas and which ones were brought over.
The following is a great illustration of just how important pollen is to understanding the history of agriculture in an area:
“An example of the type of research that shows Book of Mormon agriculture to be nineteenth century fantasy is David J. Rue's 1987 paper in Nature titled "Early Agriculture and Early Postclassic Maya Occupation in Western Honduras." By studying soil corings from Lake Yojoa and Petapida Swamp, both in western Honduras, Rue was able to reconstruct the agricultural history of the area from a time 4770 years before the present up to modem times. He could tell from pollen when the region was forested, when the forest was cut and burned for agriculture, what crops were grown and for how long. Although he found clear records of pollen from corn (maize) and amaranth - two Amerindian staples - he makes no mention of wheat, barley, or flax pollen.” (Zindler, How Do You Lose a Steel Mill)
Furthermore, this kind of study can also show us where plants came from, which is important when it comes to Barley. From Zindler:
“What does archaeology tell us of the presence or absence of the crops Smith claimed were the staples of ancient America? No remains of wheat or domesticated barley have ever been found. In fact, the one possible pre-Columbian specimen of barley discovered at a site in Arizona [not a Book of Mormon location anyway per apologists] is of a species different from the species of domesticated barley allegedly brought from the Near East.” (Zindler, How Do You Lose a Steel Mill)
In other words, the lone example of barley in the Americas that apologists cite as proof for the Book of Mormon can be identified as a separate specimen from the barley that was domesticated in the Near East, which negates any credibility to it being evidence for the Book of Mormon.
If you’ve never listened to Dr. Coe’s Mormon Stories interviews, I highly recommend them because they go well beyond wheat and barley and cover the idea of horses, chariots, wheels, silk, and so many more anachronisms for the Book of Mormon. (2011 Interviews, 2018 Interviews)
This issue is one I don’t see covered too often, but is important because it shows that the author of the Book of Mormon erred in the chronology of events leading up to the departure of Lehi.
From 1 Nephi:4:
“For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.”
The problem here is that Nephi says this happened during the first year of Zedekiah, but Zedekiah was only put in after Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon, sieged Jerusalem and made him king.
In other words, the first year of Zedekiah was the first year of the Babylonian exile, meaning that the city was already devastated and thousands had been taken captive and their property pillaged. To be clear, the Book of Mormon has Lehi making a prophecy for something that had already happened.
This problem is further complicated by the Book of Mormon stating that Lehi lived in Jerusalem his entire life, which means that he could not have been unaware that Jerusalem was already taken over and devastated before making this prophecy. If the Book of Mormon was a true historical record, Lehi would have already lived through the besieging in 605 BCE along with the siege of 599-597 BCE that led to Zedekiah being installed as king.
Furthermore, Lehi’s sons do not believe Lehi’s prophecy that Jerusalem could be destroyed. From 1 Nephi 2:13:
“Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.”
Again, this makes absolutely no sense given that Jerusalem has already been devastated, many thousands of leaders and ruling class people had been taken captive, and the city and temple pillaged. The chronology is off, and this timeframe is crucial in that it’s where most scholars agree the Bible becomes more reliably historical beginning with the reign of Zedekiah.
The timing is also problematic in that Lehi is portrayed as a prominent figure in Jerusalem, descending from the line of Joseph. When Jerusalem was sieged, they took over 10,000 of its citizens to Babylon, and yet Lehi was left in Jerusalem. This is also true of Laban, who is given importance in the text, yet he also remains behind with brass plates that would have also been of great wealth to Babylon if they existed.
As I mentioned above, this is where scholars can identify these events as historical because there are corroborating materials. In this case, the sieges and captures are recorded in both the Bible and Babylonian records, yet are completely absent from the Book of Mormon.
While on the surface it might seem like a small issue, the fact that the opening chapter of the Book of Mormon are out of the correct timeframe is a big problem for any claim to being a historical record. (On a small side note, this is exactly what happens in the very beginning of the Book of Abraham as well.) There is absolutely no way that Lehi could live in Jerusalem all his days and not know that Jerusalem had been taken over, let alone have children that did not believe it could happen.
As we’ve pointed out in these overviews, these are the seemingly tiny mistakes that let us know that a text is not what it claims to be. In the case of the Book of Mormon, throughout these overviews we have provided example after example where we can show that not only can the Book of Mormon not be an ancient text, but that the author has to be Joseph Smith.
A Developed Christology Before Christ
As we’ve pointed out already throughout these sections, the Book of Mormon features a Christology that was not developed historically until after Jesus’ life, hundreds of years before Jesus even arrives.
The Book of Mormon includes being baptized in the name of Christ over 150 years before Jesus would be baptized. From Mosiah 18:13:
“And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said: Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.”
Even more to the point, the Book of Mormon states early on the need to baptized in Jesus’ name in 2 Nephi.
2 Nephi 31:5,12: “And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water! …And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.”
While I understand the apologetic argument is that they received the concept of baptism through revelation, the Book of Mormon people are being baptized in Christ’s name before Christ even dies and before the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, Nephi is rewriting Isaiah to make Isaiah 48 about baptism, which is a problem not just because it’s reinterpreting Isaiah to fit the Book of Mormon, but because Isaiah 48 is part of the Deutero-Isaiah text that was not written before Lehi left with the brass plates.
1 Nephi 20:1 “Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.”
Isaiah 48:1 “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness.”
Much as I highlighted about the Charles Anthon visit, biblical scholars do not believe that Isaiah was speaking about baptism in this verse, and you can read an assortment of commentaries on this verse at Bible Hub. This is another instance where Joseph Smith changes a writing of Isaiah to fit the Book of Mormon narrative in a way that has not only not been confirmed by scholarship, but refuted.
Apologists tend to point to the Mikveh (Jewish font for the tevilah, which is a ritual cleansing by immersion) as proof of pre-Christian baptism, but again that is not the same practice and apologists know this. From a great article on pre-Christian baptism in the Book of Mormon, here are some of the reasons that the tevilah, that is, the Jewish immersion ritual, is done:
For converts to Judaism. As far as I can tell, if you were born “in the covenant,” you do not have this ceremony done. To my knowledge, there is, and never has been, a Jewish custom of baptizing their youth when they reach 8 years old. It’s strictly for Gentiles.
For men, after they ejaculate
For women, after their period is over.
For anyone who has had abnormal bodily discharges.
For people with certain skin conditions
For people that have come in contact with the aforementioned unclean people.
For someone who is being consecrated to the Aaronic Priesthood.
For the Priest who sends away the scapegoat
For someone who’s touched a corpse or a grave
This is certainly nothing like the concept of Christian baptisms occurring centuries before the atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes the inclusion of it in the Book of Mormon problematic. From the aforementioned article:
“Now I should note that I’ve simplified a complex subject in making this list; the tevilah is not observed the same way among all branches of Judaism, and I described the list of reasons tersely, at the expense of precision. But these requirements come from the Torah (aka, the first five books of the Bible) and the Talmud. They faithfully represent the purpose of the tevilah in Rabbinical Judaism. When you take a step back, you quickly recognize that the tevilah is really not that much like the ordinance of baptism. There are some physical similarities, but it is clearly not the “gate” that you must enter described by Nephi. It’s clearly not a covenant between you and God that sets you on your life’s journey and absolves you of your sins. It’s part of the ritual washing and purification tenets of the Judaic law. There’s no laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost afterwards. And of course – do I have to say it? – the tevilah is decidedly not done in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Pre-Christian Baptisms and Why It Was an Early Shelf Item for Me)
Again, apologists would argue that John the Baptist was performing baptisms before Christ, which means that the revelation from God could have occurred before Christ’s arrival. But that misses the point when we have Book of Mormon people doing it hundreds of years before Christ.
Another important point is that many biblical scholars contend that John the Baptist was an apocalyptical preacher and believed the end of the world was imminent. From New Testament scholar Dr. Bart Ehrman:
“And why is that significant [Jesus being a follower of John the Baptist] for understanding Jesus as an apocalypticist? Because of what John stood for. We get the clearest expression of John’s views in our earliest account of his preaching, in Q. Here John is shown to be a proclaimer of imminent apocalyptic destruction. As he says, in urging people to repent: “The axe is already laid at the root of the tree; every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and cast into the fire” (see Luke 3:9).
This is an apocalyptic image of coming destruction. People who do not live worthily of God by “bearing good fruit” will be cut down and destroyed by fire. And when will that happen? The axe is already laid to the root of the tree – in other words, the chopping is now ready to begin. Judgment is here and will soon take place.” (Ehrman, The Baptism of Jesus as a Apocalyptic Event)
To be clear, John the Baptist was Jewish, and he would have almost certainly been performing the cleansing ritual of the tevilah to make sure people were clean before the end times. It is difficult to then use this as evidence of pre-Christian baptisms such as the fully developed Christian baptisms in the Book of Mormon.
What You Would Expect in the Book of Mormon
Now that I’ve covered a few examples of anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, I want to highlight very quickly some important items and concepts that should be in the Book of Mormon if it was a literal history of the ancient Americas.
First, as I just mentioned above, the Book of Mormon has a Christology hundreds of years before Jesus Christ lives, which is problematic on its own. But what is even more telling about the Book of Mormon is that these are Jewish people who leave Jerasulem – not Christians – and yet they do not mention the most important Jewish customs in the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon mentions the ‘Law of Moses’ multiple times throughout the text (2 Ne. 25:24–30; Mosiah 12:27–13:32; 3 Ne. 9:17; 15:1–8), yet nowhere in the Book of Mormon are Jewish traditions actually present. There are no mentions of important dates such as Passover, no mentions of the practice of circumcision, observing the Sabbath, or religious rites such as burnt offerings.
I don’t want to get into the geography debate here, but many scholars point to the Mesoamerican model as where the Book of Mormon took place, but anachronisms hinder the ability of Book of Mormon people to practice the Law of Moses in Mesoamerica.
“Mesoamerica did not have lambs, sheep, rams, bullocks, doves, wheat, barley or wine during the time of the Book of Mormon. These were all necessary animals and plants to practice the Law of Moses.
Not only this, but the proper seasons were required to practice the Law of Moses. In Mesoamerica there is very little change in seasons.” (What’s Wrong with the Mesoamerican Theory? Seasons, Migrating & Domesticated Animals, & the Law of Moses)
Instead of the traditional Jewish practices, the Book of Mormon has already moved on to a form of Christianity that is much more representative of Joseph Smith’s time than it is of Old Testament times. While it might not seem as glaring when you read the Book of Mormon because it features Christian concepts so close to our time, it is problematic that the people in the Book of Mormon do not appear to celebrate the traditions that they came from.
Agriculture and Animals Indigenous to the Americas
As I mentioned above, I highly recommend Dr. Coe’s interviews because he was one of the top experts in the history of the Mayas and, since many apologists contend that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica, he is a great source on understanding not just what is anachronistic in the Book of Mormon, but what is missing as well.
Coe makes clear that there was no system of coinage among the Mayans, but that they used cocoa beans (or cacao beans) as a currency when bartering for goods. Yet there is no mention of cocoa beans in the Book of Mormon while there are 28 references to grains and references to some sort of monetary system.
Furthermore, the Book of Mormon mentions animals that are highly anachronistic to the Book of Mormon’s time such as horses, elephants, and domesticated livestock, but they neglect to mention animals that were indigenous to the ancient Americas such as wild turkeys.
Unique Doctrines of Mormonism
Finally, we are told as members that the Book of Mormon brings us the fullness of the Gospel. I hope in these overviews I have illustrated why this is problematic, given that so much of what is in the Book of Mormon is a rehash of the King James Bible, but it goes even deeper when you look at what is not in the Book of Mormon.
Below is a selection of key concepts in Mormonism that do not have any mention in the Book of Mormon:
Jesus and God the Father being separate beings, Godhood, and the Premortal Existence:
Joseph Smith’s later theology is clear that Jesus and God the Father are separate beings, yet in the Book of Mormon we are given a very mainstream Christian view of the ‘trinity.’ Compare the following:
D&C 130:22: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.”
Mosiah 3:8: “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.”
Ether 4:7: “7 …saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the eFather of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.”
Ignoring that Mosiah not only foretells of Jesus, but of the specific name Mary as well, you can see clearly that the Book of Mormon does not teach that Jesus and God are separate beings just as the original First Vision accounts do not. This is significant, and we cover it in much more depth in our First Vision overview.
The Book of Mormon is also clear that there is only one God, which Joseph Smith will later contradict as he learns Hebrew and creates the Book of Abraham. From Alma 11:
“28 Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God?
29 And he answered, No.
30 Now Zeezrom said unto him again: How knowest thou these things?
31 And he said: An aangel hath made them known unto me.”
This contradicts Joseph Smith’s later teachings that there are multiple Gods, which is compounded by the Book of Mormon being unaware of a premortal existence. There is simply no mention of this, nor is there a mention of God being the literal father of our spirits.
Last, we are taught as members of the church that God was once a man who progressed to Godhood, but the Book of Mormon tells us that God has not changed nor has ever changed. From the Book of Mormon:
Mormon 9:9: “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?”
Moroni 8:18: “For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
Again, these are problematic issues when we look at how Joseph Smith changes and evolves the theology of the church following the Book of Mormon. It is easy to miss these details when reading the Book of Mormon, but sometimes what isn’t in the Book of Mormon is as telling as what is included.
Other Key Doctrines Not Mentioned in the Book of Mormon
There are many doctrines that are considered crucial to Mormonism that are simply not mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Among them:
Baptism for the dead
A temple marriage being a requirement for exaltation
Celestial marriage lasting for time and all eternity
That salvation in the highest kingdom requires going through the endowment ceremony (in the Book of Mormon not only is there no mention of exaltation or an endowment ceremony, but the idea of “secret combinations” requiring secret oaths are condemned)
Multiple priesthoods or the Melchizedek priesthood
That the sacrament should include water
The Word of Wisdom
That prophets are promoted to the office by church leaders instead of God
The Garden of Eden being in Missouri
The idea of the “presidency” of the church is entirely anachronistic, and the Book of Mormon makes no such mention of anything beyond twelve disciples
This is just a brief list of key concepts that are completely absent in the Book of Mormon, and in future sections we are going to cover areas where the Book of Mormon is later contradicted by Joseph Smith including polygamy, the First Vision (separation of Jesus and God the Father), the two separate priesthoods, the temple ceremony, and the dark skin problem in the Book of Mormon.
For a longer list of concepts that were either not mentioned in the Book of Mormon or later contradicted by Joseph Smith (or Brigham Young), please check out Richard Packham’s write-up which I utilized for this selection above. (The Book of Mormon vs Mormonism, Packham)
Throughout these Book of Mormon overview topics, I have attempted to show how completely reliant the Book of Mormon is not just on the King James Bible, but on the beliefs in Joseph Smith’s milieu.
I did not want to spend the section on anachronisms by simply listing the ones that are so commonly discussed, but to highlight where we can show that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century composition by looking at how Joseph Smith utilized the King James Bible. From there we can use scholarship to show where Joseph Smith made mistakes in the composition (Deutero-Isaiah, Sermon on the Mount, Long Ending of Mark, and the use of Christ and Messiah) to show that it cannot be an ancient text as the authors could not have accessed this material.
Furthermore, I wanted to highlight some of the key items and concepts that are not in the Book of Mormon, because that also helps us to understand that Joseph Smith did not understand what was ancient to the Americas, but instead relied on both the text of the Bible and what was around him to compose the Book of Mormon.
I tried to give some of the apologetics to these issues above, and in our biblical scholarship overviews I have covered them as well. This is a problem that we saw in the translation process, as apologists contend that translation doesn’t mean “translation,” because at the end of the day the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith cannot withstand scrutiny if we take their claims at face value.
The moment that we propose changing the meanings of words, we can make literally anything possible, but then we also have to admit that we are going to run into a lot of problems with the translation process, which we will cover in the next section.
When we look at what should be in the Book of Mormon but is not included, the apologetic response is that this is a living church that was being restored line by line. The problem is that not only does the Book of Mormon not include many of these key doctrines, but that in many areas the Book of Mormon directly contradicts them.
At the end of the day, if someone gives the Book of Mormon the same scrutiny they would give any other church, politician, or organization, they would immediately be able to point to the book being a modern creation. It simply does not fit in an ancient setting because it has too many modern themes, items, and beliefs, which then leaves apologists stating that it was an ancient text that was then filtered through Joseph Smith’s prophetic mind.
But that leaves us with more problems than answers, because the Book of Mormon contains so many errors that come from taking the Bible as a literal text (Adam and Eve, global flood, Tower of Babel), that we have to then ask why Joseph Smith is getting revelations that are riddled with errors. This is the same problem we run into with the Book of Abraham, and the church has moved from a literal translation off papyri to a “catalyst theory” following the ability to read Egyptian which makes clear that Joseph Smith got it completely wrong.
As I’ve said throughout these overviews, apologists want to take each problem in isolation to try and explain it away, but these issues are all very connected and need to be taken in totality. We see the exact same problems with the Book of Mormon that we do with the Book of Abraham, with the main difference being that we have the source material for the Book of Abraham where there is no source material for the Book of Mormon to compare to beyond the “Caractors” document, and that is already highly problematic as I’ve presented previously.
The problem is that once we take these issues in totality, there is no getting around the fact that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century text. This reality leads us to how apologists try to explain away these anachronisms, and in the next section, I want to give an overview of the “tight” and “loose” translation theories, looking at how apologists will shift between the two methods as needed, but why the Book of Mormon cannot be both loosely and tightly translated.
Next section: Tight vs Loose Translation Methods/Theories