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Thread: ecosystem of north america and claims of book of mormon

  1. #1 ecosystem of north america and claims of book of mormon 
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    i am currently reading the book of mormon. it states that between 600 and 500 bc a small community of israelites led by a man named lehi built a boat and arrived somewhere in north america, presumably close to the same area joseph smith lived (manchester new york). on this boat they brought over seeds for farming and various cattle. i am wondering if any of these claims can be backed up by science. is there any evidence that plants or animals originating from the middle east could have made it to north america at that time?


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    I am not sure that boats designed in the med were suitable for crossing the Atlantic Ocean, that alone would make me highly suspicious, didn't Joseph Smith apparently find some gold tablets that 'disintegrated' after he read them, and before anyone else could (Odd that because gold does not deteriorate).


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  4. #3 Re: ecosystem of north america and claims of book of mormon 
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    Quote Originally Posted by nlwright
    i am currently reading the book of mormon. it states that between 600 and 500 bc a small community of israelites led by a man named lehi built a boat and arrived somewhere in north america, presumably close to the same area joseph smith lived (manchester new york). on this boat they brought over seeds for farming and various cattle. i am wondering if any of these claims can be backed up by science. is there any evidence that plants or animals originating from the middle east could have made it to north america at that time?
    If that were the case then the expeditions of the late 1400's-1500's would surely have found people of Israelite stock living in North America. They didn't. The genetics of native American peoples suggests that they split from Eurasian stock some 12,000 ago at the most recent. There's no evidence of any significant contact again until at least 1000 AD.
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    thank you...yes i am of course very skeptical. if i am to refute such a claim in my debates with mormons i need science to back me up.

    i haven't yet finished the book of mormon. doubtless there will be some mysterious disappearance of the "tribe of lehi" to account for lack of genetic stock amongst american first peoples....but certainly if there were plant seeds and animals some evidence of them might remain...

    of course the boat worked....it's builders were inspired by god and had god's divine instructions to build an infallible ship (right?) :wink:
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    I grew up Mormon. Here's my take on it:

    1. The Nephites were never more than a small colony. There's evidence in places in the book that you didn't have to travel more than a few days/weeks on foot to get to areas that they hadn't explored.

    2. "Lamanite" ostensibly were the children of Laman and Lemuel, who dissented from the Nephites and exiled themselves. There's verses like "God turned their skin dark as a sign of their wickedness." But keep in mind that the Book of Mormon was a condensation of the history books from the Nephi culture. Meaning that Mormon and Moroni (the ancient men who wrote the book that Joseph Smith translated) were working with history that was about a thousand years old.

    Likewise, their "chosen of God" superiority complex was very similar to that of the Israelites. In Israel, you were either part of God's chosen people (Israelite), or a dirty, dirty heathen (gentile). Genetic heritage was a distant distant second. My read of it then is that "Lamanite" was a term used like "gentile" was to the Israelites. It just meant people who weren't part of "God's chosen people". Meaning that the native peoples that were there when they arrived were all called "Lamanites".

    Meaning that I think the actual children of Laman and Lemuel died out very early on. The fact that the Nephites didn't wander very far tells me that life was probably pretty harsh. And Laman and Lemuel's character tells me they probably irritated their native neighbors to the point of war pretty quickly. Certainly by the time Europeans arrived in the Americas, none of the Israelite "colonists" had survived.

    When the Nephites died out a thousand years later (don't know how far into it you've read), it really meant their genetic heritage died out too. Their "chosen of God" thing meant they married in the faith and didn't intermingle with the native peoples.

    Certainly modern genetic testing of Native American peoples by BYU scientists (the LDS church's university) have not uncovered any genetic markers from the Middle East or anywhere like that.

    3. Joseph Smith wasn't an historian. And he had limited vocabulary and knowledge of bronze age technology. So when you read things about "horses" and "steel", these might be mistranslations of things Joseph wasn't familiar with.

    In essence, imagine that 800 years from now, America is on the verge of destruction. And you want to condense down a history of America for future generations. And specifically you're a religious right wing sort, so you believe that America was destroyed because it turned away from its religious roots. Imagine the sort of history you'd write. Imagine the details that would have been changed in the history records over the last hundreds of years from clerical errors or intentional misrepresentation of facts by past rulers. Imagine the rosy-eyed view of the Founding Fathers you'd have. Imagine what sort of history you'd cherry pick to create a very specific theme.

    Then imagine another 1300 years later an almost illiterate farmer from an entirely foreign culture finds your book and translates it.

    So yeah, lots of places for errors and bias to creep in. So don't read it as a literal word-of-God history. Read it like a book of philosophy. Treat the stories as parables. Maybe factual, maybe not, but the lessons they teach are valuable regardless. There's a specific religious and moral message which hasn't been corrupted, and that's the important bit.

    Oh, and, uh, spoiler alert I guess
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  7. #6 Re: ecosystem of north america and claims of book of mormon 
    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheBiologista
    If that were the case then the expeditions of the late 1400's-1500's would surely have found people of Israelite stock living in North America. They didn't. The genetics of native American peoples suggests that they split from Eurasian stock some 12,000 ago at the most recent. There's no evidence of any significant contact again until at least 1000 AD.
    12,000 is really pushing it, actually. About 15,000 is the earliest I've ever heard, for when they split from East Siberian groups.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
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    thank you numsgil, for your insight...often, now in modern times, we attribute symbolic and philosophical interpretations to any given scripture. however the truth of joseph smith's finding and translating the tablets is being presented to me as literal. if that is a literal truth, then i must treat the book itself as literal as well because why would nephi, at god's commandment, not only build the ship and forsake his homeland but also go to great lengths to create the tablets which are precious and limit what he records onto the plates because of their preciousness to record allegory? furthermore, why base an entire sect of religion on it? perhaps the details of the book itself may be wrong but the the existence of the book, its discovery and subsequent translation are being presented as fact. therefore, according to mormons, these people must have been in north america.

    and though many modern adherents to religion give a philosophical/symbolic interpretation to various scriptures there also exist those who do not. some of those who believe in the literal truth of scripture have wealth and political influence. perhaps they deliberately misrepresent (as you say) in order to achieve their own ends, but they will have followers who believe. people base their lives on such stuff. personally i would like to find out more about mormonism, its book and joseph smith before i come to any conclusions either way. that is the purpose of my research.

    i believe the explanation of no genetic markers amongst native peoples to be a good one. i imagine that nephi and his followers had the same xenophobic inclinations of their israelite peers (evils of assimilation and all that) BUT...

    wouldn't there be at least some archaeological evidence? remains of those people themselves, tools, evidence of farming techniques, the boat itself etc. the seeds and animals presumably do not follow the commandments of genetic purity. i am looking for any kind of evidence at all that these people were in north america.

    joseph smith may not have been an historian but he most certainly was a christian and at the time he lived he would have been well educated in his bible. i admit i am only in the second book of nephi. i mentioned to my husband that if it were a hoax it is an elaborately detailed one. he quite cleverly pointed out that so was "the lord of the rings". but you don't see anyone basing religion on that. one may as well base their faith on aesop.

    also if smith's vocabulary was limited it need not matter for the vocabulary was provided for him in the tablets. he was not translating a language he knew. he used a specific tool to enable him to translate...that is a big difference from a person learned in the hebrew language translating the bible into english. for smith it must have been more like decoding....would he really commit the blasphemy of changing even a syllable of god's true word because he could not understand the meaning of it? wasn't it his fear of divine retribution that prevented him from even showing the tablets to anyone not specified by god?
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    Quote Originally Posted by nlwright
    thank you numsgil, for your insight...often, now in modern times, we attribute symbolic and philosophical interpretations to any given scripture. however the truth of joseph smith's finding and translating the tablets is being presented to me as literal. if that is a literal truth, then i must treat the book itself as literal as well because why would nephi, at god's commandment, not only build the ship and forsake his homeland but also go to great lengths to create the tablets which are precious and limit what he records onto the plates because of their preciousness to record allegory? furthermore, why base an entire sect of religion on it? perhaps the details of the book itself may be wrong but the the existence of the book, its discovery and subsequent translation are being presented as fact. therefore, according to mormons, these people must have been in north america.
    The present Church is an orthodoxy. Like the early Christian church the early Mormon church had a lot of different ideas and views. But over time the one dominate "interpretation", for lack of a better word, took over and now there's only a single "accepted" interpretation. The missionaries who gave you the book, or the friend who did, probably believe in this single accepted interpretation.

    The problem with orthodoxy in my mind is that it "sanitizes" history. For instance, portraits of Joseph Smith have become more and more handsome. The real Joseph Smith wasn't all that good looking. Figures like Joseph Smith becomes idealized over time.

    This also has happened to the American founding fathers. George Washington, Abe Lincoln (not quite a founding father, but...), etc. have almost become our demigods. We build magnificent monuments to these people. Carve their heads in mountains. Etc.

    So my thinking is the same would have happened to the Nephites. 1st and 2nd Nephi may or may not have actually been written by Nephi. Authentic authorship wasn't as important to ancient peoples as it is today. Many early Christian texts were written from the point of view of holy leaders decades after their death. It might have been written during a time of religious revival centuries after Nephi lived as a sort of historical fiction type book, and later generations never learned this fact. Sort of like George Washington and the cherry tree.

    Or if Nephi did write it, it's still a rather biased account of the whole affair. Nephi's the author and hero of the story. He may have consciously or subconsciously distorted facts to make himself look good.

    So assuming that the Book of Mormon is in fact an ancient record, you already have numerous sources for factual errors and bias. If it's just something Joseph Smith made up (more on that later in my post), we can still read the text like this. We just do it from the point of view of literary criticism of a narrator's bias.

    and though many modern adherents to religion give a philosophical/symbolic interpretation to various scriptures there also exist those who do not. some of those who believe in the literal truth of scripture have wealth and political influence. perhaps they deliberately misrepresent (as you say) in order to achieve their own ends, but they will have followers who believe. people base their lives on such stuff. personally i would like to find out more about mormonism, its book and joseph smith before i come to any conclusions either way. that is the purpose of my research.
    The modern LDS church represents the evolution of the early mormonist movement towards an orthodoxy. The current partyline for the church is that the book of mormon is the unerring word of God and is infallible in any and all ways. Very similar to how the Qur'an is treated in Islam.

    This is not a view I hold necessarily, and it has put a lot of friction between church friends and myself. Basically I'm saying that there's a whole gradient of acceptance of truth you can put yourself on. The church would contend that it's either 100% true or 100% false. I take a more Humanist approach: It can be 100% true, it can be mostly true with factual errors, but the spiritual truth is 100% there, it can be factually incorrect but contain important spiritual truths, etc. etc.

    Likewise the partyline from the church is that the Native Americans today are at least in part represented by the descendants of Lehi. This is not a position I hold, for reasons I listed in my last post.

    Basically don't convolute the "truth" of the book with how you're told to interpret it by whoever gave you it. I think a lot of the interpretations from the modern church are factually incorrect.

    i believe the explanation of no genetic markers amongst native peoples to be a good one. i imagine that nephi and his followers had the same xenophobic inclinations of their israelite peers (evils of assimilation and all that) BUT...

    wouldn't there be at least some archaeological evidence? remains of those people themselves, tools, evidence of farming techniques, the boat itself etc. the seeds and animals presumably do not follow the commandments of genetic purity. i am looking for any kind of evidence at all that these people were in north america.
    As far as archeology, I don't know. Possible scenarios I entertain are either that "Lamanites" who destroy them at the end of the book (spoiler alert ) led a "scorched earth" campaign, and completely leveled the cities, or moved into the ruins, or that their cities were so incredibly meager by our standards that they've just fallen under the radar of modern archeology. I don't have a good answer. Part of the problem is that at the end of the book, Moroni takes the book of mormon with him into exile for X years before he eventually buries it. Meaning that the actual site of the book of mormon might not have been anywhere near New York.

    And as for Old World plants, again I don't have a good answer. Either the plants they brought weren't suited to the environmental conditions of their new home, or maybe were destroyed in the voyage (I don't remember if there are any textual places which would contradict this). Or maybe the plants they brought were already present in the New World. Are there any species of plants which are common to both New World and Old World? Or maybe there's a plant species we think is native to the New World but really isn't and is something they brought with them.

    Likewise with animals.

    joseph smith may not have been an historian but he most certainly was a christian and at the time he lived he would have been well educated in his bible. i admit i am only in the second book of nephi. i mentioned to my husband that if it were a hoax it is an elaborately detailed one. he quite cleverly pointed out that so was "the lord of the rings". but you don't see anyone basing religion on that. one may as well base their faith on aesop.
    That's actually a good analogy. The Lord of the Rings took Tolkien years. And he was a professor of English literature (or something very similar, I don't remember exactly). By comparison Joseph was in his early 20s when he wrote the book. Most of the book was dictated orally. There were no rough drafts or revisions, beyond some spelling and maybe grammar. And the whole process didn't last more than a few months if you don't count breaks.

    That, plus the fact that Joseph was an absolute failure at everything else he tried for pretty much the rest of his life, and the fact that he suffered a lot for his beliefs, tells me that it wasn't something he made up just for kicks and giggles. There are some glaring details that would seem to make the book made up at first glance (like the mention of steel and horses), but if you look at the underlying chronology it is remarkably self consistent. And matches very well with the Bible. There are a lot of "and seven years later..." thrown all around the book, especially in the middle. These would have been extremely hard to keep track of. And tehy jive pretty well with biblical chronology.

    Basically there are numerous minor details which work, and a few glaringly bad details which don't. And anyone who studied enough to get the minor details right should have known enough not to get the bad details wrong.

    Compare the Book of Mormon and the early church to a religion that was made up (Scientology). Hubbard profited tremendously from his church, and the current leaders of Scientology are basically unabashedly rich. By comparison Joseph Smith's life basically sucked the whole way through, mostly because of his church. He wasn't exactly dirt poor, but he wasn't rich by any stretch. And what wealth he did have he shared pretty openly (used his house for boarding for travelers quite often). And the current church leaders likewise don't profit very much considering their time and effort.

    Whatever else you believe, Joseph believed in himself and his church, and did not "make up" the book consciously.

    A far more likely scenario, if you're skeptic of the book of mormon's factual basis, is that Joseph Smith was doing spirit writing without realizing it. Only not writing, since it was dictated. Probably something similar to Edward Cayce's prophecies.

    also if smith's vocabulary was limited it need not matter for the vocabulary was provided for him in the tablets. he was not translating a language he knew. he used a specific tool to enable him to translate...that is a big difference from a person learned in the hebrew language translating the bible into english. for smith it must have been more like decoding....would he really commit the blasphemy of changing even a syllable of god's true word because he could not understand the meaning of it? wasn't it his fear of divine retribution that prevented him from even showing the tablets to anyone not specified by god?
    The exact translation process was sort of funny. There was definitely a bit of "God's power" involved. But it wouldn't have shown him words he didn't know, and was colored by his life and knowledge. He might not even have realized that a word was chosen badly. And presumably God didn't care too much if the book said there were horses in the New World.
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  10. #9  
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    I am going to offend any Mormon reading this. Just as well I have a nom de plume!

    There is no need to take anything written by Joseph Smith with the least bit of credibility. He was a convicted fraudster, and this is still shown by country records at the area he was jailed.
    http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon430.htm

    Joseph Smith had a scam, which involved "buried treasure" which he could find with the help of a 'magic' stone. Of course, those who owned the land on which this 'treasure' was buried paid him handsomely for his services in locating the treasure. By the time they dug deep enough to realise there was no treasure, Smith was in another county.

    Ultimately he was caught, tried, convicted, and jailed for his swindles. After his release, he wrote the Book of Mormon and turned preacher.

    One of the qualities of a successful swindler is the same as for a successful evangelist. That is : they have to have the gift of the gab. It appears that Joseph Smith was a more successful preacher than swindler, and he was doing nothing illegal!

    I am sceptical of the claim that he made no money from his religious endeavours. Two of his religious innovations are highly suspicious.
    1. His followers gave 10% of their incomes to him, as representative of the Mormon faith.
    2. He introduced polygamy, and personally had a number of 'wives'. For a sexually active man, this would seem to be a major benefit from his new religion.

    Conclusion : I would not take anything in the Book of Mormon too seriously. It is probably about as true as the Lord of the Rings.
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    Joseph Smith had a scam, which involved "buried treasure" which he could find with the help of a 'magic' stone. Of course, those who owned the land on which this 'treasure' was buried paid him handsomely for his services in locating the treasure. By the time they dug deep enough to realise there was no treasure, Smith was in another county.

    Ultimately he was caught, tried, convicted, and jailed for his swindles. After his release, he wrote the Book of Mormon and turned preacher.
    This is all true. Well except for the "in another county by the time they realized" part, which I don't think is true. However it wasn't like he was the only person doing this. There was a treasure hunting "fad" in New York at the time. Lots of "seers" lent their services. Joseph did this for quite a while, for numerous people. He was also pretty terrible at it. Eventually one of his clients got angry when he didn't find anything and brought up charges.

    You can make from that what you will.

    1. His followers gave 10% of their incomes to him, as representative of the Mormon faith.
    The "law of tithing" wasn't introduced until pretty late in the process. The early church was deeply indebted and on the verge of bankruptcy for most of its existence.

    When tithing was introduced, it's not like Joseph pocketed it. It went to the church. Clergy in the church was (and is) lay. They don't get paid, or only get paid a small stipend.

    Joseph did profit somewhat in that when the church moved to new areas his house was usually among the first built, and usually quite large. Because the members of the church really liked him and would give him gifts.

    But to really understand the distinction between Joseph's wealth and the church's wealth, you should visit Nauvoo Illinois. It was the headquarters for the church before they moved to Salt Lake. Take a tour of Joseph's house. Then go look at the newly rebuilt Nauvoo temple.

    To spare you the suspense, the word "mansion" doesn't even begin to describe the opulence and attention to detail of the temple. By comparison Joseph's house was a pretty modest frontier red brick house.

    2. He introduced polygamy, and personally had a number of 'wives'. For a sexually active man, this would seem to be a major benefit from his new religion.
    That's a legitimate criticism. Though it's important to note that, as far as I know, no records of him having an extramarital affair exist. And polygamy, like tithing, was introduced fairly late. So if he was a lecherous con, he was extremely patient about it, and extremely serious about marriage before sex.
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  12. #11  
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    Wiki has quite a few sources on the matter. Check out citation 12. From the sound of it the county magistrate decided he was a no good bum and arranged for him to leave the county and not come back.
    "A witty saying proves nothing." - Voltaire
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