|Date: Wed, 06 May 1998 09:32:27 -0600
From: John Tvedtnes <John_Tvedtnes@byu.edu>
To: Dennis Wright <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At 08:59 PM 5/5/98 -0500, you wrote:
>What an exquisite piece of satire! Your point is well taken.
> whom I have never met, does get carried away quite often in his
> analyses. However, he does make a point or two along the way that
> begs for further
Well, I have met Tom and really like him as an individual, while disagreeing
with his approach. We have had some good conversations, and I am
gratified to see my prayers answered in regard to his health. He
was expected to be dead by now.
I found no really valid points in the booklet, only statements made
out of ignorance of the facts. One that comes to mind immediately
is his contention that bees were unknown in the New World until after its
discovery by Columbus. Even if this were true, it would be non sequitur,
since the Book of Mormon speaks of
the Jaredites carrying bees during their wilderness travels, but never
indicates that they brought them on board the barges across the ocean.
But the fact is that there were bees and that the Aztecs were proficient
at beekeeping. When Matt Roper presented this evidence to Key, he
replied by saying that there were no bees in New York State at the time,
despite the fact that there is a general consensus among LDS scholars that
Book of Mormon peoples lived in Mesoamerica.
So he declined to change the argument and instead changed the venue,
ignoring the fact that the Book of Mormon
itself makes no claim for bees in the New World--something that in itself
invalidates the argument, regardless of whether the Aztecs or anyone else
>The lack of concrete archaeological evidence for certain Book
> Mormon animals within Book of Mormon lands
> chronological period demanded by the text comes to mind.
Reminds me of the lack of archaeological evidence for the Bible
until fairly recent times. Are you aware, for example, that there
had been no archaeological excavations in the Holy Land until 1864? That
only since the 1930s have any biblical sites in the Holy Land been identified
by in-situ inscriptions, and that only seven of them can so be identified,
the last such inscription being discovered as late as the summer of 1996.
People did not come to believe in the Bible
because of archaeological evidence; they first believed in the Bible,
for many centuries before there was any such evidence. Only this
year have archaeologists finally begun to suggest that there really was
a Nazareth, and even then the evidence is slim. Did any of us wait
until 1998 to begin believing in the New Testament story of Jesus?
As it turns out, there are several plausible suggestions for Book
of Mormon sites in Guatemala and southern Mexico. You
may object to the fact that there is no proof for these sites, but let's
note again that, in the Holy Land, only 55 sites have been identified with
any degree of certainty, mostly in the last century. A vast amount
of archaeological exploration has been carried on in Israel during that
time, while very little has been done in Mesoamerica. One Mesoamericanist
told me that less than 1% of all the Preclassic Mesoamerican sites (the
time period of the Book of Mormon)
had even been touched by archaeologists. By the time Mesoamerica
has seen as much of the archaeologist's spade as Israel did by the mid-1930s,
I expect we'll have a lot more to go on. I should note that, just
during the time I lived in Israel, the presumed location of at least three
prominent cities of the Bible changed
several times. One of these was Debir, whose identification is still
in dispute. Another, Ekron, has been identified with five different
sites over the years, until 1996, when the name was found on an inscription
at the latest guess, Tell Miqneh. Archaeology isn't what amateurs
think it is.
I suppose you'd like to see evidence of horses in the New World in Book
of Mormon times--one of the major criticisms often leveled against
it. A fair number of horse bones have been found in precolumbian
archaeological contexts, but only two, as far as I know, have been radiocarbon
dated, and both are from centuries before the arrival of Columbus. The
earliest, from ca. 100 B.C., was found near Jacksonville, FL. Neither of
these, however, is from Mesoamerica. Some Mesoamerican horse bones
found in association with precolumbian remains will soon be tested at a
facility in Arizona, and we'll have to see what results.
But let's look again at the Bible. David and Samson killed lions in the Holy Land, and a prophet mentioned
in 1 KIngs was killed by a lion. Jeremiah mentions lions and lions
are attested in the Jordan River Valley as late as the 16th century A.D.
But until 1983, not one single lion skeleton had ever been found
in Israel. Did people throw away their Bibles
in disgust because of this lack of evidence? So why should we throw
away the Book of Mormon because one
or more of the animals named therein has not been found? And why
should we expect better preservation in the acidic soil and humid climate
of Mesoamerica than in the dry land of Israel? Two lion skeletons
were ultimately found in Israel in 1983. A lion-like feline has been
spotted several times since the 1960s in Mexico and two specimens have
actually been killed by ranchers and put on display. Presumably,
there are others. Are you aware that, in the past three decades,
dozens of large animals previously unknown have been discovered in various
parts of the world, including the world's largest bovine, living in the
forests of Vietnam? There's an entire book that has been written
on this subject. So don't give up on the Book
of Mormon so quickly.
>I have recently read Stan Larson's Quest For The Gold Plates,
> which I found to be most interesting. As an archaeologist, I would
> be most
interested in your opinion of his work --- and that of Tom
> Ferguson as well.
I long ago lost interest in Ferguson's work. He was a well-intentioned
amateur and most of what he wrote has little bearing on the Book
of Mormon, even when he was trying to provide evidence for it.
Larson, on the other hand, is a much more serious scholar, and I
have enjoyed some of his work. His gold plates book has two major
flaws. The first is that he uses Ferguson as a vehicle to express
his own doubts about the Book of Mormon.
Most of the arguments are Larson's, not Ferguson's, and it seems
to me that the subtitle of the book deceptively suggests that Ferguson
had all the concerns mentioned. The second flaw is that Larson lists
what he considers to be problem areas and totally ignores all the research
that wipes away some of these problems. When the book came out, he
sent me a letter noting that he had referred to me in a footnote and suggested
that I would want to purchase the book because my name appears in it. But
the footnote is a nondescript and insignificant item. He didn't refer
to any of my substantive research on the Book
of Mormon. He did the same with a number of other people.
I see nothing wrong with books that give preference to one side of
the story, but it seems to me that once an argument has been adequately
refuted, even if one continues to accept the argument, it behooves the
author to acknowledge the opposing view and, if possible, respond thereto,
rather than suggest that his is the final word. This is Stan's greatest
failing. The situation is identical to the Alma fiasco at UMI, where
not only did no one have the courage to acknowledge that the argument was
invalid, but they continued to repeat it without even noting the refutation
and trying to respond thereto.
Well, I've rambled on much too long, but I hope I have given you insights
into my appraisal of these matters.