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The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon denominations

The Restorationist movement's
view of Native American
origins

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Sponsored link.

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Quotations:

bullet"There are extensive and impressive evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as an ancient document dealing with real people and places, contrary to the endlessly and mindlessly repeated mantras of anti-Mormons." Statement by Jef Lindsay 18
bullet"Archeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere's past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon." Statement by the National Geographic Society 6
bullet"...faith in the scriptures—whether the Bible or the Book of Mormon—must rest upon something other than scholarly consensus and archaeological evidence... Ultimately, God will reveal what is true in such matters and we must trust him for our answers." The Newsletter of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), 1997-OCT
bullet"It can be stated definitely that there is no connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the Book of Mormon. There is no correspondence whatever between archeological sites and cultures as revealed by scientific investigations and as recorded in the Book of Mormon, hence the book cannot be regarded as having any historical value from the standpoint of the aboriginal peoples of the New World." F.H.H. Roberts, Jr, Smithsonian Institution, 1951
bullet"As long as Mormons generally are willing to be fooled by (and pay for) the uninformed, uncritical drivel about archaeology and the scriptures which predominates, the few L.D.S. experts are reluctant even to be identified with the topic." J.L. Sorenson, Brigham Young University, 1966

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Overview:

The Book of Mormon describes migrations of people from the Middle East to Central America, and further describes some features of their civilizations in the New World. If the Book is accurate, archaeologists would expect to find numerous pieces of hard evidence in Central America that confirm the presence of these societies: metal objects; writing in Hebrew and Egyptian, remains of old-world plants, animals from Palestine, etc. Some hard evidence has been found in the past. However, they have all been subsequently shown to be pious forgeries. To date, no actual evidence to confirm the Book of Mormon has been found, although many LDS believers have faith that it will be uncovered in the future. A popular saying in the field of archaeology is that no evidence of existence is not evidence of non-existence.

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The Book of Mormon and its archaeology

The Book of Mormon describes three migrations of people from the Middle East to  America. 1 The first occurred circa 2247 BCE, at approximately the time of the Tower of Babel as described in Genesis 11:1-10. 2 At that time, God "confused the language of all the [peoples of the] earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth." [RSV]  "All the earth" would presumably include the Americas. These people, the Jaredites, eventually died out circa 600 BCE with a massive battle at Hill Comorah in what is now upper New York State.

The second and third migrations occurred circa 600 BCE, between the times of the Assyrian and Babylonian victories over the Israelites. The immigrants:

bullet"established huge civilizations that stretched from sea to sea,
bulletwrote extensively using Hebrew and Egyptian, 
bulletdomesticated horses and cattle, 
bulletcultivated many Old World plants, 
bullettraveled in chariots, and 
bulletsmelted many metals, including iron and steel." 1

The Book of Mormon also discusses:

bulletGold and silver coins used by the Nephites. Their monetary system was based on the value of barley. 
bulletDomesticated species of animals: cattle, oxen, sheep, swine and goats.
bulletFighting with bows, arrows, and metal shields. 
bulletTemples, synagogues and sanctuaries for worship. 

One group, the Nephites, kept the Law of Moses. The other group, the Lamanites abandoned the beliefs of the Israelites. Because of their unbelief and idolatry, the "Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them." (2 Nephi 5:21). A major battle occurred between the Nephites and Lamanites at the Hill Comorah in 385 CE

If the Book of Mormon is true, then there would be certain logical consequences:

bulletStudies of the blood types, facial shape, and genetic makeup of modern-day Native Americans would show that they were related closely to the ancient Israelites, and thus to present-day Jews. Some DNA evidence among a minority of Native Americans has been found that shows the likelihood of a migration of individuals from Europe and Asia Minor to America. However, their arrival date in the new world was about 10,000 BCE or earlier. Thus, the migration is unrelated to activities in the Book of Mormon. No evidence has been found for a migration during the time span that the Book discusses. 18
bulletArchaeologists could go to the remains of ancient Native American towns, excavate down to the levels that were active between 600 BCE and 385 CE, and uncover evidences of Nephite or Lamanite writings, domesticated horses, old world plants, chariots, inscriptions, metal objects, etc.
bulletExcavating the Hill Comorah should reveal countless artifacts left by the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who died there in two major battles.
bulletOne would expect names from the Book of Mormon to be present in inscriptions left by the Nephites or Lamanites. Thomas Ferguson wrote:

"The important thing now is to continue the digging at an accelerated pace in order to find more inscriptions dating to Book-of-Mormon times. Eventually we should find decipherable inscriptions ... referring to some unique person, place or event in the Book of Mormon." 16  

Quite a few pious forgeries have been planted and "discovered." However, no convincing evidence was ever found that has been accepted by non-Mormon archaeologists.

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Sponsored link:

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Thomas Stuart Ferguson:

In 1952-OCT, Ferguson, a lawyer, organized the New World Archaeological Foundation (NWAF). He was a devout believer in the LDS faith, and thus in the validity of the Book of Mormon. He reasoned that if the validity of the Book could be proven, then countless individuals would flock to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), as the true Christian church. He was convinced that the Book of Mormon was an accurate historical document and that it would be relatively easy to uncover artifacts to prove its validity. The NWAF was initially funded directly by the LDS. As each year passed, the Foundation's scientists were unable to find any evidence that would support the Book of Mormon. The LDS church reorganized the NWAF under Brigham Young University in 1960. As of 1999, it consists only of a director and assistant, active in only one excavation. 14

In a book review, Duwayne Anderson commented:

"In 1993 Michael D. Coe, professor of anthropology at Yale University, summarized the situation by saying: 'I have seen no archaeological evidence before or since that [1973] date which would convince me that it [the Book of Mormon] is anything but a fanciful creation by an unusually gifted individual living in upstate New York in the early nineteenth century.' "

Ferguson eeventually became convinced that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, whose contents bear no relationship to the reality of Native American civilization prior to 385 CE. The NWAF "failed to find evidence to prove the Book of Mormon, and the man who organized it...ended up losing his faith in the church." 17

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Other observations skeptical of the Book of Mormon:

bulletDNA evidence: Genetic and blood testing studies have found that Native Americans are related closely to the inhabitants of Siberia and not to the ancient Israelites, as the Book of Mormon states. Thomas W. Murphy, 35, is chairperson of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, WA. He wrote a chapter in the anthology "American Apocrypha" in which he uses genetic data to discredit the Book of Mormon's claim that American Natives are heathen descendents of ancient Israelites. The essay is taken from his doctoral dissertation at the University of Washington. He faced a church disciplinary council on 2002-DEC-8 at which he might have been excommunicated for his beliefs. It was cancelled shortly before it was to have been taken place. More information. 19,20
bulletFinding of artifacts: "No unusual artifacts have ever been found at or around Hill Comorah." 4 No evidence of the remains of domesticated animals have been found prior to the European invasion in the late 15th century. Similarly, there is no evidence of barley or any other old world plants in North America at that time. "...Bows and arrows...were not invented in America until A.D. 1000." Although there are remains of Natives who made use of meteoric iron and native copper, there are no indications that Natives smelted metals during the time interval covered by the Book of Mormon. There are no indications of the remains of sanctuaries, temples or synagogues. One would not expect to find synagogues, because none are known to have existed in the Middle East until after the Babylonian exile - decades after after the second emigration, as described in the Book of Mormon.
bulletInscriptions: Some Mormons have promoted some records and inscriptions such as the "Bat Creek Stone, the Kinderhook Plates, the Newark Stones and the Phoenician Ten Commandments."  All were pious forgeries. 5 No names of individuals mentioned in the Book of Mormon have every been found in ancient inscriptions. 
bulletComments by scientific groups:
bulletThe National Geographic Society maintained in 1998 that:
bullet"Archeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere's past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon." 6
bulletThe Smithsonian Institution prepared a form letter in 1996. It seems to have been in response to a rumor that the Smithsonian had used the Book of Mormon as an archaeological guide book. Their letter says, in part: 
bullet"Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book [of Mormon]." 
bullet"The physical type of the American Indian is basically Mongoloid, being most closely related to that of the peoples of eastern, central and northeastern Asia."
bullet"...none of the principal Old World domesticated food plants or animals (except the dog) occurred in the New World in pre-Columbian times. American Indians had no wheat, barley, oats, millet, rice, cattle, pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, camels before 1492." 
bullet"Reports of findings of ancient Egyptian, Hebrew and other Old World writings in the New World in pre-Columbian contexts have frequently appeared...None of these claims has stood up to examination by reputable scholars."

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Material in support of the Book of Mormon

Many devout Mormons reject the findings of skeptics; they believe that the Book of Mormon is an accurate portrayal of life in the New World prior to 385 CE. 9,10,18 Some writers have found indicators of its validity:

bulletWith his limited education, the Mormon founder Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon because its extensive use of Hebraic names and expressions would have been beyond his ability to write.
bulletSome LDS researchers see bodily features among Amerindians that agree closely with inhabitants of Palestine.
bullet"The Book of Mormon [sic] patterns of seasonal warfare, festival celebrations at certain times of the year, religious gatherings, travels, kingship coronations, political turmoil as well as warfare, the keeping of records, natural calamities" all agree with the archaeological record. 11
bulletSome examples exist that prove the existence of the horse in North America during the pre-Columbian period.
bulletSome native languages in ancient times had a word for "metal." It is reasonable to assume that they actually used metal if they had a word for it.
bullet"...horned incense burners, models of house types, wheel-made pottery, cement, the true arch, and the use of stone boxes" have been found both in Mesoamerica and the ancient Near East. These might indicate some form of contact between people in the two areas.
bulletSome LDS researchers believe that:
bulletThe city of Nephi, mentioned in the Book of Mormon, might have been the ancient city of Kaminaljuyu -- the location of the modern city of Guatemala City. 
bulletEl Cerro Vigia, a hill in southern Mexico, may be the Hill Comorah.

Some authors have commented about the missing data in the archaeological record:

bulletAbsence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Just because no artifacts have been found that support the Book of Mormon, that is no proof that future artifacts will not be found which verify the book.
bulletThe term "horse" in the Book might really have referred to a deer that people rode.
bulletThe Book of Mormon does not say that all the natives in the New World were either Lamanites or Nephites. There may have been many more natives who entered America via the Bearing Strait, and left records in their blood type, facial characteristics and genes -- perhaps swamping the contributions of the Lamanites and Nephites.

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A one-word change to the Book of Mormon's introduction:

The late LDS Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, contributed an introduction to the Book of Mormon in 1981. It includes the statement:

"After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians."

A new revised version published by Doubleday has been revised to say:

"After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians." 21

(Emphasis ours).

A senior editor at Doubleday, Andrew Corbin, said that LDS leaders instructed his company to make the change so that it "would be in accordance with future editions the church is printing."

This change appears to show that the LDS church is moving away from their earlier belief that the Americas were populated by completely by Hebrew immigrants. This was expressed by their President Spencer W. Kimball who said in 1971 that Lehi was:

"... the ancestor of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea."

Simon Southerton, an ex-Mormon and author of "Losing a Lost Tribe" 22 said that this change shows that the church is:

"... conceding that mainstream scientific theories about the colonization of the Americas have significant elements of truth in them. ... DNA has revealed very clearly how closely related American Indians are to their Siberian ancestors. The Lamanites are invisible, not principal ancestors."

The DNA evidence is based on tests performed on more than 12,000 North American natives.

Some anti-Mormon web sites have questioned how the Book of Mormon can be considered inerrant if the church feels free to change it in response to modern-day scientific discoveries. This is an invalid criticism, since only the introduction to the Book of Mormon was changed, not its actual text. The introduction was written only a little more than a generation ago by a Mormon leader. It is just what it says it is: an introduction.

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References:

  1. Duwayne Anderson, "A tragedy of truth found and rejected," Amazon.com book review 
  2. "Scofield Reference Bible," Oxford University Press, Page 18-19.
  3. Stan Larson, "Quest for the gold plates: Thomas Stuart Ferguson's archeological search for the Book of Mormon," Signature Books, (1998), Page 70. An account of an unsuccessful search to validate the Book of Mormon.  Read reviews or order this book safely from the Amazon.com online book store
  4. J.R. Farkas & D.A. Reed, "Mormonism: changes, Contradictions and Errors," Baker Books, (1995), Page 155. (Out of print).
  5. L.C. Scott, "The Mormon Mirage," Zondervan, (1979), Pages 77 to 85.(Out of print).
  6. National Geographic Society, letter to Luke Wilson, Institute for Religious Research, 1998-AUG-12. Available online at: http://www.irr.org/
  7. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, letter to the Institute for Religious Research, 1997-SEP-28
  8. B.L. Metcalfe, Ed., "New approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology," Signature Books, (1993), Page 131 to 132. A series of essays by Mormon scholars into whether the Book of Mormon is ancient religious scripture or a 19th century writing by Joseph Smith, Read reviews or order this book
  9. Kerry A. Shirts, "Mormonism Researched" at: http://www.cyberhighway.net/ This is an enormous list of articles which support the validity of the Book of Mormon.
  10. Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies,  (FARMS) at: http://www.farmsresearch.com/  The publish a newsletter, and have a selected annotated bibliography on publications dealing with the Book of Mormon. 
  11. "Letter to the editor of The Ancient American (unpublished)", 1994-JUN-1. At: http://www.cyberhighway.net/ 
  12. D.J. Johnson, "Archaeology," at: http://www.mormons.org/
  13. "Book of Mormon Evidences," at: http://www.lds-index.org/ 
  14. New World Archaeological Foundation has a  web site at http://www.lib.byu.edu/
  15. J.L. Sorenson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 1966-Spring, Pages 145 to 149).
  16. Thomas Ferguson, "One Fold And One Shepherd," Page 263.
  17. Jerald & Sandra Tanner, "Archaeology and the Book of Mormon" from "The Book of Mormon, Chapter 5" at: http://www.utlm.org/
  18. Jeff Lindsay, "Evidence for the Book of Mormon," at:  http://www.jefflindsay.com/
  19. "Mormon Church May Penalize Grad Student," Associated Press, 2002-NOV-30, at: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/
  20. Thomas W. Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics;" part of Dan Vogel & Brent Metcalfe, Eds., "American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormons," Signature Books, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  21. Peggy Stack, "Single word change in Book of Mormon speaks volumes," Salt Lake Tribune, 2007-NOV-08. This is no longer online. However a copy is at: http://www.freerepublic.com/
  22. Simon Southerton, "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church,"

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Copyright 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-NOV-28.
Latest update: 2008-FEB-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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