I posted this last year, and am repeating it for those who are interested, since it was brought up on another thread.
Journey of Faith: The New World
First, my one positive comment: the video of Mesoamerica and its art was beautiful.
It is very difficult to know where to begin in my critique of this video. This will be just my first entry of several, and it may take me a few days to finish.
My impression is that it was created for believers who have heard just enough to realize that some serious challenges to the Book of Mormon historicity have arisen, but haven’t studied the issues deeply and just want to be reassured that LDS scholars have studied the issues thoroughly, and can assure them that there’s no cause for concern.
I’ll start with the one most flagrant misrepresentation in the video. Yes, there were many misrepresentations, but this one was the most shocking. Under the special features section, one section is called “The Flora and Fauna of the Book of Mormon Lands”. One of their experts, “Wade E. Miller, Geology and Paleontology” was commenting on the animal life in the Book of Mormon. He said: “They would have found horses here, which are for the most part easily domesticated. The earliest horses in the world were here in North America, and it wasn’t until later, geologically speaking, that they got into the Old World.”
This statement is so inaccurate and misleading it can only be described as either a deliberate lie, or made by a person completely ignorant of the history of the horse in the New World. Since this individual is an expert is paleontology, I’m going to assume that he knew, good and well, that no experts, other than the Mormon fringe and a few other Christian fringe, believe that a visitor to the New World in 600 BC “would have found horses here”.
Now, he’s technically correct to state that the there were early horses here in North America, but omitting the fact that these same prehistoric horses went extinct thousands of years prior to 600 BC is such an egregious, misleading omission it’s best called a lie.
In the first section, several experts reassure listeners that there is a great fit between the cultural and social elements of Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon. One expert stated:
The Mesoamerican cultural development coincides chronologically with the dates of the events the Book of Mormon describes.
They then show some dates. They list the dates for Pre-Olmec-Olmec as 2200 BC to 200 AD, and lists the same dates for the Jaredites. The problem with this assertion is the “Pre-Olmec” period. This is a period in which the elements of Olmec civilization, including cities, were not yet evident, and the people were foragers and farmers. From Richard Diehl’s book The Olmecs, page 25:
Until recently archaeologists believed that Olmec culture did not emerge as an identifiable entity until 1200 BC, but today they can trace its origins probably to at least 1600-1500 BC. During that century true Olmec remains were ritually deposited at El Manati, a sacred shrine near San Lorenzo in the lower Coatzacoalcos basin. There is good reason to believe that the worshipers came from San Lorenzo, the first large Olmec center and possibly the original hearth of Olmec culture and art. The identity of these first Olmecs remains a mystery. Some scholars believe they were Mokaya migrants from the Pacific coast of Chiapas who brought improved maize strains and incipient social stratification with them. Others propose that Olmec culture evolved among local indigenous populations without significant external stimulus. I prefer the latter position, but freely admit that we lack sufficient information on the period before 1500 BC to resolve the issue.
So if the Jaredites arrived around 2200 BC, they would have to wait almost a thousand years before building cities, according to the archaeological remains.
The experts went on to assert that:
The rise of the highland and lowland Maya civilization occurred at the same time as the rise of the Nephite and Lamanite civilization.
The dates given for this assertion were “Late Preclassic Maya 500 BC – 400 AD, Nephite 550 BC – 400 AD.”
The problem with this assertion is, once again, an important omission, which is that the Maya civilization did not cease at the end of the preclassic period, but went on to the Classic period, which is viewed as the pinnacle of Maya civilization. And, of course, the Maya were around long before the preclassic period even began. So what, exactly, are these dates supposed to insinuate?
Just what are these dates supposed to insinuate? This becomes more clear as the video progresses. It becomes particularly apparent during the section on the City of Nephi.
Brant Gardner states:
Within a relatively short period of time the descriptions we’re hearing about the City of Nephi indicates there were a large number of people there which is a remarkable accomplishment in a very short period of time to not only be able to gather large numbers of people together, but to coordinate them, to get them to live in the same area, to get them to have the same basic beliefs, to get them to have the same economic system, to get them to work together rather than working separately. And Nephi’s able to do that, pull them together.
I will note a new speaker with a new quotation box. The video did not always identify the speaker. When I recognized the voice I will identify the speaker myself.
There has to be somebody pushing it, leading it – Nephi was such a leader.
At the same time period as Nephi, the site of Kaminaljuyu is governed by innovative leadership that is managing a complex system of canals, water purification projects, and a massive building project.
We know that there are people that are producing pottery, building structures of dirt, basically filling the whole place with a new culture.
And the sudden development is what I would expect of an immigrant party with a high level of skill technologically, but maybe more intellectually and culturally being inserted into a place of building in a new environment a new manifestation of civilization.
The influence of who dominates whom – the small arriving culture and the existing culture is the one with more success. Who has more success in technological matters, and in constructing buildings?
Nephi builds a city. Nephi’s a builder. His people claim him as a king. He has striking leadership abilities. He’s resourceful.
Later on, around 200 BC, there is an archaeological manifestation of reduced population. To me, that signals the period when Mosiah took those who followed him and believed him and left that area and went to Zarahemla where they discovered the people of Zarahemla and the Mulekites.
So now the insinuation is clear. Nephi build the city of Kaminaljuyu. Perhaps there were people of lesser “technological, intellectual, or cultural” skill already there, but Nephi built the canals, the projects, he made it into the powerhouse it was. And even they admit that Kaminaljuyu was the “seedbed” of Mesoamerican culture.
There are several serious problems with this picture. One is that Kaminaljuyu was actually a successful city centuries before the arrival of Nephi.
I discuss Kaminaljuyu at length in my essay here:http://mormonmesoamerica.com/holylord.htm
The Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World, page 30:
New centers emerged in the central Guatemala highlands at this period (middle Preclassic), probably because the flat plateaus became more habitable due to diminishing volcanic activity. All these new settlements were well situated for trade. Kaminaljuyu in the Valley of Guatemala, for example, could control nearby obsidian sources, but it was also in an enviable position to command trade between the Caribbean and the Pacific coast through the river routes in the Motagua Valley, and through the highland pass down to the Pacific. Cacao, obsidian, and jade were part of the valuable trade that would expand in the Late Preclassic, making Kaminaljuyu flourish into one of the most important cities of that period. By 700 B.C.E., Kaminaljuyu already had constructed a major irrigation canal, and by 500 B.C.E., it began carving freestanding stone slabs called stelae.
Yes, indeed, Kaminaljuyu had powerful leadership who built canals and other public projects – centuries before Nephi.
Just imagine – the most powerful polity in the area suddenly embracing a complete foreigner – foreign in language, appearance, and, most importantly religion – and making him king over their already successful polity!!! Quite a feat!
An additional problem is the frank insinuation that Nephi had superior skills – technological, intellectual, or cultural – than the natives already living in Kaminaljuyu. This is a huge problem because the technologies that made Kaminaljuyu great were the technologies that the natives possessed, and a stranger from the Old World wouldn’t have a clue about
– particularly the manufacture of obsidian blades.
There is another larger problem, that I go into at length in the previously linked essay. That is the fact
that the cultural evolution of Mesoamerica was driven by the most powerful polities of the day – they determined practices, religious and governmental – that the other polities followed. So we’re supposed to believe that THE most powerful polity of the time period – Kaminaljuyu – was actually a Judeo Christian polity, and yet Judeo Christianity had NO impact on the rest of Mesoamerica????
Yeah, right, and I’ve got a bridge to sell ya.
BTW, the population reduction at Kaminaljuyu was likely caused by a drought that dried up the lakes and canals and left the polity devastated, and no longer a powerful contender.
Interestingly, and in my view somewhat oddly, Teotihuacan was mentioned at length. I suppose they wanted to mention it due to the fact that they think it provides a good hit for the cement cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon, which apologists say critics used to focus on (I am not familiar with that particular criticism, but will take their word for it.)
Teotihuacan was an immense polity – in fact, up until the Aztec polity, the most powerful polity of all time in ancient Mesoamerica. It was to the north, outside of the Book of Mormon region, according to Sorenson’s geography, which the dvd used. It is also one of the most famous Mesoamerican cities, and lots of information is available regarding it. http://archaeology.asu.edu/teo/intro/intrteo.htm
Teotihuacan arose as a new religious center in the Mexican Highland, around the time of Christ. Although its incipient period (the first two centuries B.C.) is poorly understood, archaeological data show that the next two centuries (Tzacualli to Miccaotli phases; A.D. 1-200) were characterized by monumental construction, during which Teotihuacan quickly became the largest and most populous urban center in the New World. By this time, the city already appears to have expanded to approximately 20 square km, with about 60,000 to 80,000 inhabitants (Millon 1981:221). The development of the city seems to have involved inter-site population movements, exploitation of natural resources, an increase in agricultural production, technological inventions, establishment of trading systems and other kinds of socio-political organizations, and attractive belief systems. By the fourth century, unmistakable influences of Teotihuacan were felt throughout most parts of Mesoamerica. Teotihuacan was the sixth largest city in the world during its period of greatest prosperity, according to an estimated population of 125,000 (Millon 1993:33). The city seems to have functioned for centuries as a well-developed urban center until its rather sudden collapse, possibly in the seventh century. The place was called Teotihuacan by Nahuatl speakers several centuries after the city's fall, but its original name, the language or languages spoken there, and the ethnic groups who built the city are still unknown.
First, the concrete issue. Teotihuacan used a known Mesoamerican building technique with such enthusiasm that they succeeded in destroying their polity – the technique of plastering monuments and buildings. The plaster was created by burning limestone, which required an intense heat, constant fire, and huge amounts of wood. This eventually resulted in the deforestation of the area, which created an ecological disaster that destroyed the polity.
This creates an exciting “hit” for some apologists, due to these verses in the Book of Mormon, Helaman 3:
1 And now it came to pass in the *forty and third year of the reign of the judges, there was no contention among the people of Nephi save it were a little pride which was in the church, which did cause some little dissensions among the people, which affairs were settled in the ending of the forty and third year.
2 And there was no contention among the people in the forty and fourth year; neither was there much contention in the forty and fifth year.
3 And it came to pass in the *forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land anorthward to inherit the land.
4 And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to alarge bodies of water and many rivers.
5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.
6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the adestruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called bdesolate.
7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly aexpert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.
8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea awest to the sea east.
9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in atents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their bsynagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.
10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of ashipping.
11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.
The apparent problem is that the Book of Mormon claims that the people became experts in making houses out of cement due
to the lack of timber, and whenever a tree grew, they used it to build buildings. This is completely backward from what occurred in Teotihuacan. The deforestation of Teotihuacan was the result of the excessive use of plaster for their buildings. They did not use plaster/concrete due to lack of timber.
In addition to trying to create this link, some of the experts seem to be making another connection as well:
Archaeological investigations there (Teotihuacan) have placed the rise of that city at, interestingly, the time when Nephite immigrants are coming out of the land southward in the middle of the first century BC.
This one really left me scratching my head. What was he trying to say? Was he insinuating that the Nephites actually either founded or contributed to its rise as a power? I really have no idea what the point of that comment was. The idea that Teotihuacan could have been influenced by Nephites in any way is outlandish. Its powerful cultural imprint is clear and marked throughout the rest of Mesoamerica, and that imprint had nothing to do with some Judeo Christian transplant.
But the experts went on to assert that:
The Nephites, as long as they were contemporary to Teotihuacan, they would definitely had known about each other.
And later statements seemed to insinuate that the Nephites were smack in the middle between Teotihuacan and powerful Mesoamerican polities like Tikal, and that’s why they were destroyed.
What strikes me so strange about this is that it makes the Nephites a very significant force to deal with, hardly some small, insignificant, unnoticeable polity hidden away within the larger culture. In fact, I would cite this is the biggest problem in this entire dvd – it all presented the Nephites as a powerful, significant polity in Mesoamerica. This is a problem for the reason that this powerful polity has left no apparent trace or impact on Mesoamerica. If the Nephite polity were so powerful that the Teotihuacan were aware of them, and targeted them for destruction to get to Tikal, then they would have had an impact on the rest of Mesoamerica, and the hard fact is that the history of ancient Mesoamerica was not impacted whatsoever by the Nephites – otherwise we would find evidence of their existence.