By Gary F. Zeolla
What do the Bible and the Book of Mormon have in common? They both claim to be the Word of God. Also, major portions of both describe supposedly historical events.
The historical portions of the Old Testament in the Bible primarily focus on the history of the Israelite nation and God’s dealings with them. The time period covered is from creation to the last writing prophet in about 400 BC.
The New Testament describes the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and the growth of the early Christian church. The time period covered is from about 4 BC to 95 AD.
“The Book of Mormon claims that a people called the Jaredites, refugees from the Tower of Babel, migrated to America about 2247 BC. They occupied Central America until they were wiped out by internal strife” (McElveen, p. 58).
It also tells the story of an exodus of Jews from Judah around 600 BC in order to escape the Babylonian captivity. They travel by boat to the Americas. While there, two great civilizations develop, the Lamanites and the Nephites. Constant fighting occurs between these two nations. Jesus is said to appear to them after His resurrection and brings the Christian faith to them. In 421 AD, the Lamanites eliminate the Nephites. The Lamanites are said to be the ancestors of the modern-day American Indian (McElveen, pp. 58, 59).
Where Are the Maps?
Both books present their stories as being actual history. But is it? How can we know? A place to begin would be to turn to the end of each book. Virtually any edition of the Bible has maps back there. Why? So when mention is made of a particular place or MidEast Mapcity, the reader can turn to the back of the Bible and see where the city was located.
Maps for the Bible are possible since the locations of the majority of the cities mentioned are known. The remains of such cities as Ninevah (Nahum 1:1) and “Ur of the Chaldeans” (Gen 11:28) have been discovered (Keller, pp. 6-30). Other cities, such as Jerusalem and Bethlehem, still exist to this day.
But what about the book of Mormon? There has never been an edition published with maps. Why? Because no one knows where any of the cities mentioned were located and none of them still exists. In fact, Mormons are not even sure in what general geographic area in the Americas the cities were supposed to have been located. Some Mormons believe the cities were in what is now Central America. Others think the people lived in the southern part of Mexico. Others postulate the northern part of South America to be the place (Tanner, pp. 118-124).
The reason for all this confusion is that NO remains of the supposed Jaredite, Lamanite, or Nephite civilizations have ever been uncovered. In fact, archeology of the possible regions demonstrates that the types of cultures described simply did not exist at that time (Tanner, pp. 101-118).
Of course, Mormons claim otherwise (Talmage, pp. 283-293). I once even heard a Mormon proclaim there are “tons” of archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon. So who should be believed?
What About the Archeological Evidence?
How can these claims be verified? Why not consult a non-partisan source with the qualifications to speak on archeological discoveries? Two such organizations can be easily contacted. Write to the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institute, Washington, DC 20560) or the National Geographic Society (Washington, DC 20036) and ask for their statements on the Book of Mormon and the Bible.
The statement from the National Geographic Society states:
I referred your inquiry to Dr. George Stuart, the Society’s staff archaeologist. He told me he knows of no archeological evidence that verifies the history of the early people of the Americas as presented in the Book of Mormon. Although many Mormon sources claim that the Book of Mormon has been substantiated by archeological findings, THIS CLAIM HAS NOT BEEN VERIFIED SCIENTIFICALLY (emphasis added).
The Smithsonian Institute writes, “The Smithsonian Institute has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archaeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book.”
The document then has seven paragraphs explaining why this is so. But what about the Bible?
The National Geographic Society states:
But archaeologists do indeed find the Bible a valuable reference tool, and have used it many times for geographic relationships, old names, and relative chronologies. On the enclosed list, you will find many articles concerning discoveries verifying events discussed in the Bible (note: more than thirty articles are listed).
The Smithsonian Institute acknowledges:
…much of the Bible, in particular the historical books of the old testament, are as accurate historical documents as any that we have from antiquity and are in fact more accurate than many of the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, or Greek histories. These Biblical works can and are used as are other ancient documents in archeological works.
Qualifiers and Conclusion
Neither the National Geographic Society nor the Smithsonian Institute believe the Bible is inerrant (without error). Other portions of their statements make this clear. Furthermore, a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is an article of faith. It could never be proved empirically as sufficient archeological evidence could never be discovered to verify every event in the Bible. However, the above quoted portions of their statements do show that these two secular institutions do see a major difference between the reliability of the Bible versus the Book of Mormon.
They both clearly teach there is NO historical validity to the Book of Mormon. As such, the Book of Mormon’s claim to be the Word of God is disqualified. Since the stories it tells are not genuine, then why would anyone trust what it has to say about God, salvation, and other spiritual topics?
On the other hand, the Bible can be demonstrated to be a generally reliable historical document. But this does not then necessarily mean its spiritual claims are true. It does, however, leave its claim to be the Word of God a possibility.
As the Smithsonian Institute states:
Even Biblical history is edited history; events were chosen to illustrate the central theme of the Bible . . . It is therefore not possible to try to “prove” the Bible by means of its historical or scientific accuracy. The only “proof” to which it can be subjected is this: Does it correctly portray the God-human relationship?