Comments on William J. Hamblin's article
"Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon"

Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 161-97
Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1993

By Richard Packham

ABSTRACT: Hamblin chastises Book of Mormon (BoM) critics, singling out as an example a Christian critic's article, which asserted that the Book of Mormon's historicity is not supported by archaeological findings. He points out logical and factual errors of commission and omission in the critic's article, but then in his critique commits many of those same errors himself. The article, in fact, by explaining in detail why archaeological research has not supported the Book of Mormon, tacitly agrees with the main premise and conclusion of the article he is criticizing: archaeology does not support the Book of Mormon claims.


            Hamblin's article is intended as a general response to critics of Book of Mormon archaeology (or rather, lack of archaeology), but is mostly a response to an article by Luke Wilson of the Institute For Religious Research, "Does Archaeology Support The Book of Mormon?" at

            This article is the result of a discussion on an e-mail listserve where the article's link was posted, in response to a comment from me, by a Mormon participant to "bring [me] up to speed" (see also subsequent posts on that thread), where the poster perceived a lack of knowledge on my part about the status of Book of Mormon archaeology. I read the article and commented in a reply on the list that the author was guilty of considerable distortion, poor logic, and generally was unconvincing. Another poster, also Mormon, challenged me to point out the problems, since he apparently found the article well thought, well written, and convincing. Thus this article.

Hamblin's Basic Approach

Hamblin begins his article with this general statement:

            "Most anti-Mormon attacks on the authenticity of the Book of Mormon suffer from several severe logical flaws. The authors are inadequately informed about Latter-day Saint history, doctrine, and scripture; they have not read the text of the Book of Mormon carefully; they distort both what the text of the Book of Mormon says and the variety of Latter-day Saint interpretations of the text; they attempt to make all Latter-day Saint scholars responsible for the private opinions of some Latter-day Saint authors or General Authorities; and they frequently argue solely from the authority of selected authors or scholars, rather than providing evidence, analysis, and argumentation to support their case. They seldom advance the discussion by dealing with current Latter-day Saint thinking on the matter, being content instead to rely on an ad nauseam repetition of anti-Mormon arguments, many of which have been around - and have had adequate Latter-day Saint responses - for over a century."

            Much of that can be said equally as well about Mormon apologists, including Hamblin:

            The most fundamental logical error in Hamblin's article is that he begins with the assumption that the text of the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text. This is the fallacy of circular reasoning, or "begging the question," that is, assuming as already proven the very issue under discussion. The question of archaeology only arises when the original, preceding question has been answered affirmatively: Is the Book of Mormon a historical text? Is there any reason to reject its claim to being an authentic ancient text, even before arriving at the question of geography or archaeology? There are a number of other scientific areas (besides archaeology and geography) where evidence demonstrates that the BoM is a 19th century work of religious fiction, without even getting to archaeology. If Hamblin wishes to admit that he is similar to those fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories (admittedly fictional) who devote their time to looking for the places in London actually mentioned by A. Conan Doyle, that is quite something else. But I doubt that any of the members of the modern fan club "The Baker Street Irregulars" actually believe that the events in Doyle's stories really happened. (And would any of them claim, as many Mormon apologists do with the BoM, that by finding those actual locations one would be justified in concluding that the Holmes stories are not fictional?)

            By selecting as his target an article by a Christian apologist and critic of Mormonism, Hamblin has made his work easier, since Luke Wilson was, at the time he wrote the article, director of the Institute for Religious Research, a conservative Christian Internet organization which subscribes to the Lausanne Covenant (at Wilson is thus allied with the inerrantist position on the Bible, and Hamblin is able to score some points because of that. Wilson, to that extent, is a "straw man" and not necessarily representative of all critics. As is the case with many Christian critics of Mormonism, many of Wilson's criticisms can be turned back on him. Joseph Smith's accounts of the "First Vision" are contradictory? Well, no more contradictory than the New Testament gospel accounts of Easter morning. Is the story of the Jaredite barges (Ether 2, 6) absurd, with animals and people crammed into a tight space for 344 days, with one window? Well, you Christians believe in Noah's Ark, don't you?

Now to specific points of Hamblin's article:

Place Names

            Hamblin defends the shortage of American place-names having identifiable Hebrew or Egyptian characteristics by pointing to the similar problem with Bible place-names. He says, quite correctly, that only 55% of Bible places have been identified, and thus 45% of those places have not been located. Does that comparison help or destroy his argument? He seems unaware that he is merely emphasizing the fact that ancient places can be found, and that in America NO Nephite or Jaredite places have been found.

            Hamblin suggests that the problem of ancient locations for the Hittites in western Anatolia is similar to the Book of Mormon, in that scholars disagree, that they have suggested locations 300 km apart, and that some suggestions must skew the directions. In other words, exactly the situation with the Book of Mormon (except that the distances are several thousand miles). The analogy of the Hittites is logically faulty, however, as support for the existence of Nephites or Jaredites. For the Hittites we have independent contemporary documentation of their existence as well as genuine documents in their language. Whether we can locate specific Hittite places does not call into question their existence. We know they existed. The peoples in the Book of Mormon can offer none of that.

            The logical fallacy of Hamblin's comparison of the Hittites seems to be in his reasoning:

- We cannot locate any archaeological sites of the Hittites.
- However, the Hittites are an ancient people whom we know existed from other evidence.
- Therefore, we can assume, in deciding whether other supposedly ancient peoples (such as Nephites or Jaredites) existed, that they existed in spite of any lack of archaeological (or linguistic or independent contemporary) evidence.

            Hamblin claims that because place-names change over long periods of time, and because more modern Mesoamerican place names were given by the Spanish, and because we can never know how glyphs from ancient America were pronounced, we will never be able to identify any Nephite places by name. Some of which is perhaps true, but another (and simpler) explanation for the inability of Mormon scholars (or anyone) to identify Nephite place-names is that there were no places with Nephite names. Hamblin also seems to be unaware of the fact that we do in fact know how the Mayan glyphs were pronounced. (See Michael Coe, Breaking the Maya Code, 1992)

            And Hamblin makes too much of the difficulty of tracing the changing names of places over many centuries. It can be done, and has been done, especially when the population and the language continues. Hamblin believes, if I understand correctly, that the present-day Mayans (and Aztecans?) are directly descended from the Book of Mormon peoples. Just as linguists can examine and compare modern-day European languages and deduce what the ancestral languages looked like, even though there are no extant writings in those ancient languages, so one should be able with present-day American Indian languages to trace them back to their supposed Hebrew-Egyptian roots. It is not the lack of place-names that is the problem, but the fact that present-day native-American languages cannot be traced back to Hebrew, Egyptian, or any other near eastern language.

Selective Quotations

            In discussing Joseph Smith's statements about the Book of Mormon, Hamblin is guilty of the same thing of which he accuses Wilson: he accepts sources that further his thesis, and rejects out-of-hand those that do not. For each statement of Smith's which tends to make Smith a believer in the hemispheric model Hamblin finds some reason to dismiss it. It was not "given as revelation." It was printed in a paper edited by Smith, but we cannot assume this means that Smith endorsed it. It is from diaries of Smith's followers, recording what Smith said, but we cannot rely on the accuracy of their reports. All these are, in Hamblin's methodology, reasons to reject those statements. But in supporting Hamblin's suggestion that the limited geography theory began with Smith, Hamblin relies on exactly the same kind of evidence (and only a single item): an article in the Times and Seasons, which may or may not have been written or even seen by Smith, and which is acknowledged as "speculation," that Zarahemla was in Guatemala, thus north of Panama (which is the "narrow neck" in the hemispheric model).

            Thus Hamblin takes one statement, which may not even have been written by Smith, to contradict the hundreds of statements by Smith and his colleagues that assume the hemispheric model. Isn't this what he accused Mormon critics of doing?

Discrediting the "Hemispheric Model"

            Hamblin tries to make much of the fact that there is not, and never has been, an "official" geography, and, specifically, that the church has never "officially" endorsed the hemispheric model. That may be technically correct, but Hamblin's implication is contradicted by decades of teachings, sermons, lesson manuals, publications, even revelation (Doctrine and Covenant sections locating the Lamanites in Missouri, e.g. D&C 54:8) and statements by the angel Moroni in the official (and scriptural) report of the 1823 vision. Kevin Mathie gathered a large sampling of such statements in his four-part series "Who Are The Lamanites?" (archived at ). Hamblin and other LGT proponents would simply dismiss these statements by their own prophets, suggesting that the prophets didn't know any better, they were unaware of the science - they are, after all, "only human." One would think such an accusation - that the leaders were teaching untruths - would border on apostasy.

            Hamblin and other LGT proponents must go to great lengths to discredit recorded statements by Joseph Smith that do support the hemispheric model. Every such statement is disputed: the Prophet did not say that; the report is faulty; it may have been his opinion, but it was not a revelation; it has not been accepted by the church as official; etc. Was Cumorah in New York? Hamblin: it was not Joseph's idea, but Cowdery's. Joseph "...may have accepted this identification, [but] it was never put forward as revelation." If Smith accepted the identification, and allowed it to go forth to the people, should not that be sufficient endorsement? Especially in light of D&C 21:5? Did not Apostle Ezra Taft Benson emphasize that the Prophet need not say "thus saith the Lord" each time he speaks revelation? ("Fourteen Fundamentals In Following The Prophet," point number six or (See Dismissing The Prophets, below, for more on this point.)

            It is a misrepresentation for Hamblin to suggest that the LGT has been alive and equally accepted among Mormons for as long as the hemispheric model. Doubts about the hemispheric model arose in the late 19th century only in the minds of a very few well-educated Mormons who respected anthropology enough to realize that the American Indians were largely of Mongol ancestry, or who saw the impossible population growth reported in the Book of Mormon text, and realized that a small group of Lehites could not possibly have become "great nations" within a few generations. This was, until a few decades ago, a distinctly minority view among Mormons, who generally accepted the hemispheric model, from the humble primary teacher to the Quorum of the Twelve, and it is a distortion of Mormon history to claim otherwise. (Didn't Hamblin accuse critics of distorting or being unfamiliar with Mormon history?)

Where Did Lehi Land?

            Hamblin calls into question the long-held belief that Lehi landed in Chile, based on a paper by Frederick G. Williams III ("Did Lehi Land In Chile?" FARMS paper, 1988). This belief was included in the note to 1 Nephi 18:23 for many years in the official version of the Book of Mormon published by the church. The documentary background for that belief may well be questionable, but it seems to have had sufficient official endorsement, if it was published in the official edition of the Book of Mormon. Is this another example of a "true church" teaching falsehoods or unreliable claims? Hamblin mentions the doubts of B.H. Roberts about the Chile location, but does not mention that Roberts apparently accepted it in his posthumously published Studies of the Book of Mormon (p. 254). The Chilean landing location was still being preached to the Saints at General Conference in the Tabernacle in 1925 (see sermon by Seventy Rulon S. Wells, Conference Report, closing session, October 1925). At any rate, Hamblin does not mention or deal with the statement by Joseph Smith that Lehi landed "south of the Isthmus of Darien [i.e., Panama]" (Times and Seasons, Vol.3, No.22, p.922, 1842, editor, Joseph Smith: "When we read in the Book of Mormon that Jared and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and scattering at the Tower, and lived here more than a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities; and that Lehi went down by the Red Sea to the great Southern Ocean, and crossed over to this land and landed a little south of the Isthmus of Darien, ...". Notice that the Prophet said that the Jaredites "covered the whole continent..."

Zelph's Bones

            The finding of bones in Illinois during the march of Zion's Camp (1834) which (according to several accounts written by persons present at the discovery) Smith identified as the bones of a Lamanite named Zelph who had served under a military leader named Onandagus, and who was known "from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains" tends to support the assertion that Smith believed in a hemispheric model. That the area was Nephite territory is implied in his letter to his wife, written the following day, saying, "The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity..." The name Onandagus is obviously related to place names in New York state, as well as an Indian tribe there.

            But Hamblin dismisses the entire incident, based on minor differences in the accounts, and the fact that Smith himself did not refer explicitly to the finding of the bones. Hamblin does not deal with the implication in Smith's letter to his wife.

Are the American Indians Lamanites?

            Hamblin criticizes Wilson's claim that the church teaches that all Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites, pointing out that the (official) introduction to the then current Book of Mormon said that the Lamanites are "the principal ancestors" of the American Indians. He takes this to imply that the church realizes that other races, contemporary with the Nephites (i.e., from Book of Mormon times) are also in the native American heritage (a principal theme of LGT proponents to deal with the problem of the huge populations reported in the BoM, and the acknowledged fact that the bulk of native Americans are descended from Mongolian immigrants who first arrived in America around 15,000 years ago). That is not necessarily the only correct interpretation of the phrase, since it could also mean that the church realizes that the present Indians also may have some European background, due to the arrival of the Europeans and their occasional intermarrying.

            On the contrary, in fact, Smith and almost all of his successors as head of the church frequently said that the Indians are descended from the Lamanites, without qualification, just as Wilson says. Smith's account of the angel's visit, now canonized in Mormon scripture (JS-Hist 1:34), says that the Book of Mormon contains "an account of THE former inhabitants of this continent. [emphasis added]" Not "some" or "a few" or even "most" of the inhabitants. Not "of a small area in this continent" or "of two of the countries of Central America." Why would he even use the word "continent," unless he intended to include the entire continent? That would be like saying that you are writing a history of the inhabitants of "the continent of Europe" but then deal only with the Albanians. Smith seemed unaware that there were any peoples in ancient America except those described in the Book of Mormon and their descendants. And Smith had not only the text on the plates for information, but also what Moroni told him during his 1823 vision. See also Smith's specific statement in the well-known "Wentworth Letter") that the BoM is "the history of ancient America..., from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era." The BoM says, according to Smith, that "...America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit THIS country.... " (emphasis added)

            Interestingly, the phrase saying that the Lamanites are the "principal ancestors of the American Indians" in the introductory materials to the official Book of Mormon has been changed since Hamblin wrote. It now says that the Lamanites are "among the ancestors of the American Indians." Thus it seems that the church now officially acknowledges what scientists have known for quite some time: the ancestors of the American Indians were largely non-Israelite.

A Careful Reading of the Text

            It is quite surprising that Hamblin asserts that a "careful reading of the Book of Mormon text indicates that there must have been other, non-Book of Mormon peoples in the land.... [it] allows for, and in many ways insists upon, the existence of other inhabitants of the Americas." Hamblin refers to John L. Sorenson's article, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (Fall 1992): 1-34. Space does not permit a thorough critique of Sorenson's article here. Suffice it to say that Hamblin's "careful reading" requires one to abandon completely Occam's Razor, to overlook entirely the complete absence of any specific mention of large foreign populations in the text, to ignore the specific statements that the promised land had been kept untouched and preserved for the Jaredites (Ether 2:7) and the Lehites (2 Nephi 1:8-9) , to abandon the Mormon teachings about Adam, the Flood, and the scriptural teaching that "the earth's temporal existence" is seven thousand years only (D&C 77:6). Rather than a "careful reading," Hamblin and Sorenson would give us a "distorted, speculative" reading. Isn't that what Hamblin criticizes non-Mormon critics of doing, as a "methodological problem"?

            One need only compare the BoM text with the Old Testament record of the Jews - a similarly small population which really WAS surrounded by other peoples. Those other peoples are mentioned again and again in the biblical record. Their conflicts with the Israelites, their intermarriage, the condemnation of such intermarriage, the need to keep apart from them. Nothing of that sort appears in the BoM text. Proponents of the LGT have the additional problem that the land occupied by the descendants of Lehi was to be a "land of liberty" (2 Nephi 1:7 and many other passages). Aside from the fact that ideas of "liberty" and "free men" permeated the popular mind of Americans in the late 18th and early 19th century, and early readers of the Book of Mormon undoubtedly saw the United States as that prophesied land, why would God give that label to Southern Mexico? Knowing what we know about the ancient history of Mesoamerica, was there ever a time that it was notably a "land of liberty"?

Dismissing the Prophets

            One of the fundamental problems for proponents of the LGT is that their arguments effectively deny that their leaders are (or were) prophets, which is a basic doctrine of Mormonism. On the one hand, Mormons are supposed to believe that their prophets, especially the president of the church, are directed by God in providing the church with the truth. God has directed the Saints to receive every "word" from the mouth of Joseph Smith (and, presumably, his successors) "as if from mine own [God's] mouth" (D&C 21:5). One must wonder, then, how Hamblin and other LGT proponents can disregard what Smith has said? Why would God allow his prophet to provide the Saints with false information? Was God simply ignoring the incorrect information that his prophet was putting forth? Why wouldn't God have tapped Joseph on the shoulder, and whispered, "Joseph, you've got it quite wrong! Stop making things up! Here's the truth of the matter... "

            Some Mormon apologists have tried to explain Joseph's lack of correct information by saying that he simply had not asked God about it. That argument fails on two counts: 1) it assumes God doesn't care that his chosen people get false information; and 2) on other occasions Joseph did not have to ask (to "enquire of the Lord") before receiving revelations (e.g. the appearance of an angel to tell him he did not have to buy wine for use in the Lord's Supper - see introductory note to D&C 27).

            Hamblin also all too easily dismisses statements by the succeeding prophets of the church. Joseph Fielding Smith's and Harold B. Lee's statements can be ignored, suggests Hamblin, since they were made before those men became president of the church, and they were mere "opinions." It seems that in Hamblin's mind, a mere apostle is not sufficiently in tune with the Spirit to be trusted, even though apostles are sustained by the members (presumably also by Brother Hamblin?) in the annual General Conference as "prophets, seers and revelators." The non-Mormon Wilson seems to have more faith in the accuracy of apostles' statements than the Mormon Hamblin. When Hamblin wants to cite something official, however, he does not quote a president of the church, but rather a statement by a secretary, Michael Watson, secretary to the First Presidency. There seems to be a double standard here.

            (In the version of Wilson's article accessed May 16, 2010, there is no reference to any statement by Harold B. Lee. Rather, Hamblin uses a citation selected from John Sorenson's book Geography of Book of Mormon Events and dismisses it as "opinion" because Lee used the phrase "it seems" that the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders are in agreement that Lehi landed in South America, and also said "I believe". Hamblin seems to interpret these statements as expressing hesitation on Lee's part. He also seems to think that the two statements he deals with are the only statements by Mormon leaders that support the hemispheric model, whereas there are a great many.)

Does The Geography Fit?

            Hamblin says that the real issue is not what Mormon leaders believe, or even Mormon scholars, but rather "which model best matches the geographical data contained in the Book of Mormon." One would think that one would also have to include not only the geographical data, but also the cultural data, and match it not only with actual geographical features, but also cultural features. And, not to belabor the point, Hamblin's statement is based on the assumption (unproven) that the Book of Mormon is an accurate ancient record. Would Hamblin also agree that if we can match the geographical data in "The Wizard of Oz" with an actual place, that will prove the existence of flying monkeys, the Emerald City, and Munchkins?

Biblical Archaeology

            Hamblin correctly attacks Wilson's arguments comparing Biblical archaeology and BoM archaeology. Wilson does not acknowledge the fact that biblical archaeology actually disproves some of the founding events of the Bible (the Egyptian Captivity, the Exodus, the Conquest of Canaan) and that it fails to support others (the Flood, the Tower of Babel). And Hamblin quite rightly points this out. It is a legitimate tu quoque argument. What Hamblin fails to acknowledge is that many events and locations depicted in the Bible have indeed been verified. They have been found, based not only on the Biblical text, but also on contemporary, non-Biblical sources. The same cannot be said of Book of Mormon geography.

            And the LGT proponents are able to "fit" their model into Mesoamerica only by distorting the text and ignoring contrary textual and archaeological evidence.

            Hamblin explains why no non-Mormon scholars consider the BoM to be an ancient text:

"... acceptance of the historicity of the Book of Mormon logically necessitates acceptance of both the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith and the claims of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Many refuse even to consider the possibility of the historicity of the Book of Mormon because of their a priori rejection of the possibility of modern revelation - whether based on fundamentalist or secularist presuppositions."
Unfortunately, that kind of argument is a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways: for Mormon scholars, admitting that the Book of Mormon is not historical would require them to reject their prior beliefs - often inculcated in them since their Mormon childhood - that Joseph Smith was divinely inspired; that is, they have a priori rejected the possibility that it is not what it claims to be.

Ancient Transoceanic Migrations

            Hamblin cites an award-winning bibliography compiled by Mormons John L. Sorenson and Martin H. Raish which lists numerous books and articles by non-Mormon writers claiming frequent pre-Columbian transoceanic contacts between the Americas and the Old World. He wishes to refute Wilson's claim that there is no evidence of such voyages as those of Lehi, Mulek and the Jaredites. Wilson's claim is indeed perhaps overstated. However, the existence of such a body of writing as listed in the Sorenson-Raish bibliography in no way helps the Book of Mormon, on several counts: 1) how do claims of ancient Celts or Egyptians or Romans making their way to America confirm a claim that imaginary Israelites or refugees from the mythical Tower of Babel did so as well? 2) Many of the writings listed in the bibliography are pseudo-science, on the level of von Daniken's extraterrestrial chariots. 3) The fact that people make wild claims and write about them is not, per se, evidence for the claims - i.e., being simply listed in a bibliography says nothing about the validity of the work listed. Would a bibliography of works dealing with the fabled Lost Continent of Atlantis lend credence to its having actually existed? Wouldn't Hamblin agree that a bibliography of "hollow earth" writings would not invalidate an assertion that "there is no evidence for a hollow earth"?

"North" Really Doesn't Mean "North"

            The problem of skewed directions, necessary for the LGT, Hamblin says, has been adequately dealt with by himself and John Sorenson. ("North" in the Book of Mormon actually means almost "west," which Hamblin suggests is "slightly different," suggesting, I suppose, that 90 degrees off is only a slight difference.) Remember that he criticized archeologists studying Hittite geography because they had to "skew directions." He neglects, however to deal with the major difficult facing devout LGT theorists: it was God, the divine master of translation skills, who gave his amanuensis the word "north,'' knowing exactly what the word would mean to 19th century readers of the translation. Hamblin also fails to cite any non-Mormon who accepts the idea that Israelites would change their names of the four directions simply because they lived now in a place where they had a sea on a different side, and disregard completely the place of the rising and setting of the sun. Which is odd, if he and Sorenson have "adequately" dealt with it.


            Hamblin rejects Wilson's citing the negative statements by Ray T. Matheny concerning the problems with metals, animals, and other anachronisms entirely on the grounds that they were not intended by Matheny for publication, and Matheny did not want to be quoted. He chides Wilson for claiming that Matheny's statements represent a typical Mormon position. Wilson made no such claim. Wilson only listed the problems that Matheny discussed, problems that any other person knowledgeable about ancient American civilizations would also be able to list. Hamblin's objection has nothing to do with the content of what Matheny said. Hamblin clearly does not claim that Matheny's views are opposite of what Wilson quoted, because he could not very well do so.

            Hamblin admits that there was no large-scale metal-working in ancient America, and that the Americans were "dependent instead on obsidian and other stones for most tools." One must then ask, why does the BoM make no mention of obsidian or other stone tools? The only tools and weapons mentioned are metal, and the implication is that the metal-working was indeed widespread: "...workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it" (Helaman 6:11). And the Jaredites also had extensive metal-working: "...they did work in all manner of ore,... gold and silver, and iron, and brass, and all manner of metals" (Ether 10:23). No mention of obsidian. No mention of stone tools. (And Hamblin chides us for not reading what the text says!)


            Hamblin is correct in one objection to Wilson's list of problems, regarding barley. A strain of cultivated barley has been found in precolumbian sites in Arizona. Wilson objected that this was not "old world barley." Other critics have made the same objection. Hamblin quite rightly points out that the BoM never claims that the Nephite barley was brought from the old world. That barley was cultivated in ancient America, even though not an old-world strain, has been established. But does this help Hamblin's case? Hardly! The barley was found in Arizona, not in the area where Hamblin claims the Nephites dwelt. There was no barley in Mesoamerica. But among the Nephites it was so common that it was the standard for their currency. (Alma 11:15) And Hamblin says nothing about the lack of evidence for wheat, which is mentioned in the BoM almost as often as barley. Nor does he deal with the failure of the BoM to mention many of the actual staple food plants of the real ancient inhabitants of Mesoamerica: squash, beans, peppers, manioc, cocoa.


            Hamblin does no better in the anachronisms relating to animals. He suggests that the animals mentioned in the BoM were few in number and therefore left no trace, just as the Norsemen in the 11th century brought horses, cows, sheep, pigs and goats to their short-lived colony on Canada's Atlantic coast, and they left no trace. Is this comparable to the Nephites and Jaredites' settlement? How is a small band of several hundred Norsemen, who stayed in America for less than a generation, comparable to the BoM peoples, whose sojourns were over a thousand years each, and who "covered the face of the land" (e.g. Helaman 11:20, 4 Nephi 1:23, Mormon 1:7, Ether 10:21) and who always traveled with their numerous "flocks" and "herds" (look up the seven references to "herds" as wealth in the BoM index)?

            In trying to avoid the problem that the BoM says the people had horses, cows, sheep, elephants, etc., when there is no evidence that those animals were known to the ancient Americans, Hamblin (like others) suggests that "horse" in the BoM does not really mean "horse," for example, but perhaps "deer" or "tapir." He chuckles at the ignorance of BoM critics who are clearly unaware of how ancient peoples adapted known words to unknown things. We, in turn, must chuckle at how Hamblin's argument denies the claimed role of deity in the translation of the plates. A basic Mormon belief is that Joseph Smith did not simply use his own knowledge in translating the "reformed Egyptian" text, but that each word was given to him by God. (D&C 1:29) The eighth Article of Faith implies doubt as to the correct translation of the Bible, but no such reservation is made about the Book of Mormon. Hamblin (and similar defenders of ideas like "horse doesn't really mean horse in the BoM" or "north really means west") are treating the BoM translation as just another human translation, as though the Urim and Thummim were nothing more than a kind of pocket dictionary for the prophet, which he was not skilled at using. Doesn't that view border on apostasy?

            Horses are a real problem for Mormon apologists. Hamblin says (footnote 112):

"Horses are never said to have been ridden in the Book of Mormon. Chariots are mentioned in association with horses (only in one incident, Alma 18:9-12; 20:6). This may be another indication that the horse was uncommon, since in societies where horseback riding is known the use of chariots rapidly declines. Furthermore, cureloms and cumoms were thought to be more useful to man than horses (Ether 9:19), a clear indication of the relative unimportance of the horse in Book of Mormon societies. Indeed, horses may have been used primarily for food."

            Here we must shake our head at Hamblin's ignorance of the Book of Mormon text. Where to begin? First of all, no one has claimed that the Nephite horse was ridden. That is a "straw man" argument. Second, how uncommon was the Nephite horse? Lehi's party found horses immediately upon their arrival in America (1 Nephi 18:25, which also mentions the cow, the ass, the goat!). Enos 1:21 specifically says that the Nephites raised "many horses." 3 Nephi 3:22 reports the gathering of the Nephites, who took their "horses,... chariots,... cattle, ...flocks..." with them. Will Hamblin claim that such an uncommon thing as the horse would be listed like that? Rather than the horse being a rarity, the text clearly indicates that horses were plentiful. And horses as food? Which is it, Brother Hamblin? The horse was uncommon, but this rare animal was a food source? Ultimately whichever way you read the text, the horse (as well as every other BoM animal listed as domesticated) was unknown in any ancient American civilization.

            And the cureloms and cumoms? The Book of Mormon doesn't even mention cureloms and cumoms among the Nephites! Did you not read the text carefully, Brother Hamblin? They were considered by the Jaredites to be useful (along with elephants, of which Hamblin makes no mention, and which also were unknown in ancient America). What are cureloms and cumoms, anyway? Was the divine translator unable to identify those animals with any word which modern readers would understand? (We have names for millions of species of extinct and existing animals - why didn't God tell us which were found useful by the Jaredites?)


            Hamblin seems to admit that the Nephites had chariots, as we understand that word (a wheeled vehicle, mainly used in war, drawn by a horse or a pair of horses - see the official Bible dictionary attached to the official King James Bible published by the LDS church, article "Chariot"). So, which is it, Brother Hamblin: did the horses in the Book of Mormon pull the chariots, as you seem to imply - since they were not "ridden" - or were they food? And what about the complete lack of archaeological evidence for wheeled vehicles in ancient America (other than on toys, which no more proves the existence of chariots than the steam driven toys of the Romans proves that they had railroads)?

            I know something about the problems of translating, having worked professionally as a translator and having taught a graduate course in translating. The ideal human translator must know both the language he is translating from and the language he is translating into. And he must know also the cultures of both languages. He must strive to use terms in the target language that will reflect, in the minds of the readers, what was in the mind of the writer. Can we not expect that God has a perfect knowledge of all human languages? That if God (or God's divinely inspired translator) translates a term as "horse" or "north" or "gold" or "steel," he does so with the knowledge that the 19th century reader on the western frontier of the United States will take those words to mean pretty much what those words meant to those readers, and not something else? (See my comment on this issue in Dialogue:,28103.)

            Hamblin cites a non-Mormon authority on the lack of archaeological remains in Europe or Asia of the horses of the Huns. Apparently bones of Hun horses have not been found, even though the Huns had huge herds of horses. Does this fact support the claim that the Nephites in Mesoamerica could have had horses, even though no remains have been found? Hardly. We know, from numerous contemporary sources, that the Huns had horses. Is there that kind of evidence from Mesoamerica? No. No contemporary records. No pictures of horses on murals. No descendants of Nephite horses. No horses. Does anyone doubt that the Huns had horses? No. Does any non-Mormon authority believe that ancient Americans had horses? No.

Arguing From Authority

            Hamblin raises an invalid objection in asserting that Mormon critics are "arguing from authority." Wilson cited Michael Coe, a foremost authority on Mayan culture and language, as saying that there is nothing in the archaeological record that supports the Book of Mormon. First, that is not an example of the fallacious "argument from authority." Wilson was not suggesting that we should accept Coe's statement simply because Coe made it. Wilson was citing a valid scholarly source. But also, Hamblin stabs himself in the foot by saying: "When Coe says that there is "absolutely nothing" in the archaeological record which supports the historicity of the Book of Mormon, what he is more accurately saying is that all of the archaeological evidence known to him can be adequately interpreted and accounted for based on the assumption that there were no Nephites." Time for Occam's Razor, then. Has Hamblin presented anything that Coe is unaware of?

The Hittites (again)

            Hamblin then offers the example of the Hittites, whose existence was doubted until modern times, when archaeological evidence of their existence was found. Not quite a valid analogy, however, since, unlike Nephites and Jaredites, the existence of the Hittites had been recorded in ancient non-Hittite documents. No such non-Nephite documents from ancient America exist. Nor, I think, does Hamblin claim that they do. What then, should be our position with regard to the Nephites? The only honest position is to base our conclusion on the evidence we now have: there is no archaeological (or linguistic, or anthropological, or historical) support for the existence of Nephites or Jaredites.

More Problems With the "Limited Geography" Model

            This article cannot go into great detail in pointing out the wide range of problems with the limited geography theory. See a more thorough discussion in the article by Earl M. Wunderli, in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, "Critique of a Limited Geography for Book of Mormon Events", vol. 35, no. 3, pp. 169-205. Another vocal critic of the LGT is Mormon researcher Rod Meldrum, who favors a Great Lakes area for BoM events. Much of his argument is based on problems with the LGT. His website is at (this citation is not intended as an endorsement of Meldrum's theories, but only as a source for extensive criticism of the LGT).


            The basic problem is the question of how much evidence is sufficient to prove or disprove a hypothesis. In the law, when the issue is a matter of life or death, or punishment (e.g. a criminal case), the prosecution must present evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt." That is, the case fails if there is any - even a single - reasonable doubt about the case. The Mormon message is essentially that if the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be (a divinely inspired history of peoples of ancient America), we should accept the Mormon gospel, be baptized into the Mormon church, and follow the words of Mormon prophets. Such a grave consequence should require evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt." So, is there even one "reasonable doubt" about the Book of Mormon? Of course. Not just one, but a myriad. Dozens, hundreds of doubts, with archaeology being only one area. Hamblin and other Mormon apologists have the task of dispelling not just most, but ALL such reasonable doubts. Otherwise, their case fails. I submit that they have not done so, and cannot do so.

            To put it another way, even if there were archaeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon (and remember that Hamblin's entire article is an explanation of why there is none, not a presentation of such evidence), the evidence we have in abundance about ancient America contradicts almost all Book of Mormon claims. In deciding whether to accept a hypothesis, it is not the evidence for a claim that is decisive, but the uncontroverted evidence against it. This is the method of scientific inquiry.

            Hamblin needs to clean his own methodological house, the beam in his own eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

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