Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top 10 Archaeological Evidences for the Book of Mormon

A friend recently shared a story about a young man in his ward. The student graduated from high school and enrolled at Utah State University in Logan. Midway through his freshman year at college, he announced to his parents that he was leaving the Church because "there is no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon." I decided to compile a list of the 10 evidences I find most convincing. A few months ago, I received an email from John L. Sorenson who asked that I share some of his thoughts on the subject. Citing salient points from his 2013 magnum opus, Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book, John concludes that those who maintain there is no archaeological evidence for Mormonism's keystone scripture "remain ignorant of the actual situation." This article derives from my experience, John's thoughts, and Book of Mormon Central's superb KnoWhy series, the first 137 of which will appear soon in a new book from Covenant Communications entitled Knowing Why.

1. The Book of Mormon mentions Mulek (Yale 2009 Muloch), son of Zedekiah (ca. 618 - 587 BC), King of Judah deposed by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon Helaman 6:10, 8:21. A variant of the name Mulek as royal son is now attested in Levantine archaeology from a clay seal dating from the time of Zedekiah. See KnoWhy #103 published May 19, 2016.
Clay Seal Excavated in Jerusalem in the 1980's
2. The Book of Mormon mentions a pre-existing place called Nahom on the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula. Ishmael was buried at Nahom 1 Nephi 16:34, his family mourned there 1 Nephi 16:35, and Lehi's party changed direction at that place and traveled almost due east 1 Nephi 17:1 until they came to Bountiful 1 Nephi 17:5 by the sea. A place called Nihm/Naham does exist on the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula in modern Yemen. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Naham Tribal Area between Sana'a and Marib in Yemen 
Naham is home to the largest ancient cemetery in Arabia. The Semitic root of the term implies sorrow or mourning. The name in this geographic area is attested from Lehi's era.
My friend, Warren Aston, pointing out the name NHM on an altar that pre-dates Lehi
And, travelling almost due east from the Naham Tribal Area brings one to Khor Khofot, the one place on the south Arabian coast that meets all of the Book of Mormon criteria for Bountiful.
Nearly Eastward from the Naham Tribal Area to Likely Bountiful
See KnoWhy #19 published January 26, 2016.
See also this great new YouTube video published June 17, 2017.

3. The Book of Mormon says Lehi and his family used an amalgamation of Hebrew and Egyptian language elements 1 Nephi 1:2. A similar compound system was in use 1,000 years later at the end of the Nephite era Mormon 9:32-33. We now know that a form of Egyptian script known as Palestinian Hieratic was in use by Hebrew-speaking Judean scribes in Lehi's day. Nearly 200 examples of this Hebrew/Egyptian amalgam have been found.
Ostracon from Tel Arad ca. 597 BC with Both
Hebrew and Egyptian Language Elements
See KnoWhy #4 published January 5, 2016.

4. The Book of Mormon says the people of Zarahemla (commonly called Mulekites) sailed across the sea from the ancient Near East ca. 588 BC and made landfall in the land northward, then settled permanently in a sparsely-populated part of the land southward Alma 22:30-31, Omni 1:15-16. This means they must have sailed past the Olmec capital, La Venta, which was going strong in 588 BC. The presence of Jewish/Phoenician seafarers in what is today Tabasco, Mexico would have been sensational news to the Olmec and we have good evidence that they memorialized the inter-cultural encounter in stone on La Venta Stela 3 excavated in 1943 by Matthew W. Stirling and Philip Drucker. This sculpture is generally dated ca. 600 - 550 BC and is sometimes euphemistically called the "Uncle Sam Stela."
La Venta Stela 3 in 1943, Then Newly-Excavated
Drucker said "... the principal figures on this monument represent a meeting of Olmec and non-Olmec personages." Philip Drucker, "On the Nature of Olmec Polity" in The Olmec and Their Neighbors: Essays in Memory of Matthew W. Stirling, Elizabeth P. Benson, Editor, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1981, p. 44. He goes on to say that La Venta Monuments 13 and 19 also depict non-Olmec foreigners arriving at the site.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff called the person on the right "... a bearded man with a conspicuously aquiline nose." She called the figure a "bearded visitor" and a "bearded stranger." She said "... these figures represent two racially distinct groups of people." Tatiana Proskouriakoff, "Olmec and Maya Art: Problems of Their Stylistic Relation" in Dumbarton Oaks Conference on the Olmec October 28th and 29th, 1967, Elizabeth P. Benson, Editor, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1968, p. 122

This map shows La Venta with Mulek's likely sea voyage route.
Mulek's Likely Route in White Passing by La Venta
5. The Book of Mormon describes the first Nephite capital, the city of Nephi, in some detail. As John L. Sorenson and others have pointed out, the site of Kaminaljuyu (KJ) within the confines of modern Guatemala City matches the textual description of the city of Nephi remarkably well on point after point. The article "Kaminaljuyu" analyzes the latest scholarship on KJ from Lucia Ross Henderson (PhD, UT Austin, 2013) and finds more than 100 points of tangency between descriptions in her doctoral dissertation and the Nephite record. The article "Art and Iconography I" illustrates several sculpted scenes from KJ with direct textual corollaries in the Book of Mormon. Among the Nephi/KJ correspondences I find compelling are:
  • In every reference to the city of Nephi one goes up to approach the city and down to travel away from it (See the article "Test #1 Ups and Downs"). KJ is on the very summit of the continental divide. King Noah could view multiple surrounding lands from a prominence in the ceremonial precinct of his capital Mosiah 11:12, Mosiah 19:6.
  • The only point mentioned in the text at an elevation higher than the city of Nephi is a hill north of Shilom Mosiah 7:5-6 which is generally northward (toward Zarahemla Mosiah 11:13) from the city. A plausible candidate hill (Cerro Tuncaj) exists.
Proposed City of Nephi (Kaminaljuyu) with candidate hill north of Shilom:
Kaminaljuyu in Topographical Context
More correspondences:
  • The city of Nephi was the principal urban area in its region Alma 47:20. Ditto KJ.
  • A sister city, Shilom, was very close to Nephi Mosiah 9:8 generally in a northward direction (toward Zarahemla Mosiah 22:11). KJ was closely affiliated with the site of Naranjo 3 kilometers to the north.
  • The institution of kingship was established in Nephi 2 Nephi 5:18, 2 Nephi 6:2, Mosiah 11:8-9. KJ clearly had kings.
  • Nephi had a wall around it Mosiah 9:8 that deteriorated over time. A team of  Japanese archaeologists discovered a sizable wall around KJ made primarily of clay (John L. Sorenson, personal communication.)