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Mormonism and science/Global or local Flood
Mormonism and the reconciliation of the Flood of Noah with scripture and Church teachings
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- Question: How do Latter-day Saints reconcile scriptural accounts of the Flood of Noah with scientific evidence of continuous human habitation on the earth?
- John A. Widtsoe (1943): "The Old Testament records a flood that was just over fifteen cubits (sometimes assumed to be about twenty-six feet) deep and covered the entire landscape"
- Joseph Fielding Smith (1942): "Oh, no, it will not be literal fire any more than it was literal water that covered the earth in the flood"
- Question: Why does the Church teach that the flood was a global event?
- Question: Are Church members required to believe in a global flood?
- Question: How could the Garden of Eden have been in Missouri if the Flood was local?
- Question: Doesn't the Bible say that the continents were divided immediately after the Flood?
- Question: How did ancient people of the Old and New Worlds view the "the world"?
- Question: How can one properly view events in Ether scientifically?
This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FairMormon is aware and/or for which may learn more about "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FairMormon Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FairMormon volunteers, not an official Church position.
Question: How do Latter-day Saints reconcile scriptural accounts of the Flood of Noah with scientific evidence of continuous human habitation on the earth?
There is scientific evidence of diversity of species, language and of continuous human habitation
Modern scientific knowledge regarding the diversity of species, language and evidence of continuous human habitation does not support the Biblical story that a global flood wiped out most life as recently as 4,400 years ago.
The following criticisms are often applied and questions raised to Latter-day Saint (or traditional Christian beliefs) regarding the Flood:
- It is claimed that LDS scriptures require Mormons to believe in a global flood, and that if LDS doctrine or leaders are fallible in their statements concerning the flood, then they must be wrong about other Church doctrines as well.
- If Noah's Flood was not global, how do we account for Joseph Smith's claim that the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri?
- Isn't it true that before the flood all the continents were all one land mass, since the Bible says that the earth was "divided in the days of Peleg."?
Many things about the Flood can be accepted regardless of belief concerning its nature
There are a number of basic teachings which many can accept regardless of the exact nature of the Flood :
- There existed a prophet named Noah.
- Noah was commanded by the Lord to construct an ark.
- Noah warned the people of the impending deluge.
- Noah, his family and the animals he collected were saved from the deluge.
- The Lord made a covenant with Noah and his descendants.
Whether the Flood covered the entire earth at once, multiple smaller floods happened over a period of time, a localized flood happened, or no flood at all occured makes no difference
As demonstrated by D&C, a belief that this flood was global in nature is not a requirement for Latter-day Saints, we are encouraged to study and teach each other science to be better instructed in things pertaining to the Kingdom. Traditionally, many earlier members and leaders endorsed the global flood views common in society and Christendom generally. The accumulation of additional scientific information have led some to rethink their views as to the nature of the flood. Some still believe in a global flood. The absence of evidence for a global flood might mean that the Lord didn't want for that evidence to be present for discovery. Maybe the Lord managed to fold over the earth’s land mass into a size where he could cover it with 23 feet of water and then place it back in its original location and original condition. Some believe in multiple floods happening over time, and some believe in a local flood — one localized to the immediate surroundings of Noah — is the best explanation of the evidence. Some believe there was no flood at all. There’s many ways one could possibly make sense of the evidence. People of different views can be members in good standing.
Latter-day Saint theology is not harmed by science
Doctrine and Covenants 88: 78-79
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;79 Of things both in heaven (cosmology, astrology, etc.) and in the earth (biology, geology), and under the earth (archaeology); things which have been (history), things which are (sociology, politics), things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms--
When determining what God is trying to reveal, we shouldn’t be afraid of what science tells us about certain events recorded in the scriptures.
Eventually all will be revealed about the earth:
Doctrine and Covenants 101: 32-34
32 Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things-- 33 Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof--34 Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven
This seems to be a topic that we will learn more about and are learning more about “line upon line” (2nd Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10) This shouldn’t pose a great threat to any part of our belief about science, scripture, prophethood, or the nature of revelation.
John A. Widtsoe (1943): "The Old Testament records a flood that was just over fifteen cubits (sometimes assumed to be about twenty-six feet) deep and covered the entire landscape"
The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (a resource for which two apostles, Elder Neal A. Maxwell and Elder Dallin H. Oaks served as advisors, edited, and approved) includes a quote from John A. Widtsoe regarding the reported depth of the flood. It should be noted, however, that Widtsoe himself actually believed in a global flood. From the article "Earth," Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
THE GREAT FLOOD. The Old Testament records a flood that was just over fifteen cubits (sometimes assumed to be about twenty-six feet) deep and covered the entire landscape: "And all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered" (Gen. 7:19). Scientifically this account leaves many questions unanswered, especially how a measurable depth could cover mountains. Elder John A. Widtsoe, writing in 1943, offered this perspective: The fact remains that the exact nature of the flood is not known. We set up assumptions, based upon our best knowledge, but can go no further. We should remember that when inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation. The details in the story of the flood are undoubtedly drawn from the experiences of the writer. Under a downpour of rain, likened to the opening of the heavens, a destructive torrent twenty-six feet deep or deeper would easily be formed. The writer of Genesis made a faithful report of the facts known to him concerning the flood. In other localities the depth of the water might have been more or less. In fact, the details of the flood are not known to us [Widtsoe, p. 127].
Joseph Fielding Smith (1942): "Oh, no, it will not be literal fire any more than it was literal water that covered the earth in the flood"
Joseph Fielding Smith, The Signs of the Times, 41.
President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: “Somebody said, ‘Brother Smith, do you mean to say that it is going to be literal fire?’ I said, ‘Oh, no, it will not be literal fire any more than it was literal water that covered the earth in the flood.’”
Question: Why does the Church teach that the flood was a global event?
Without a doubt, the flood is always treated as a global event as it is taught by Church leaders
Without a doubt, the flood is always treated as a global event as it is taught by Church leaders. The challenge comes to those who examine scientific data showing the diversity of plant and animal life, and the millennia required to achieve such diversity. The story of a global deluge then appears to be at complete odds with scientific data, which may encourage some not only to doubt the scriptures, but to even question the existence of God. Therefore, can one create better assumptions about the nature of the Flood of Noah and yet still accept what is taught in Church? We examine several scriptures including those specifically referencing the flood from the point of view of the prophets who wrote the story of the Flood in order to answer this question.
One must examine the scriptures from the point of view of the prophets who wrote the story of the Flood and be open to scientific understanding of this issue
Although this criticism can be directed at the LDS church, it is really directed at anyone who believes in a literal reading of the Old and New Testament. LDS leaders have in the past taught the concept of a global flood based upon such a reading. We will continue to learn more "line upon line as we create more effective ways to understand this issue.
Genesis 7:19-23 reads:
- 19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.
- 20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
- 21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:
- 22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
- 23 And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
Similar references to the destruction of all flesh from off the earth are found in the New Testament in Matthew 24:39, Luke 17:26, 1 Pet 3:20, 2 Pet 2:5, and 2 Pet 3:6 and in Latter-day scripture in Moses 8:25-30, and Alma 10:22. These passages have long been interpreted to mean that the entire globe was covered by water (although some including John Widtsoe have pointed out that the reader is left to wonder how "the mountains were covered" by water "fifteen cubits" deep — approximately 23 feet.) The primary reason for this global interpretation is the use of the word "earth." When modern readers see the word "earth," they envision the entire planetary sphere. Dr. Duane E. Jeffery elaborates:
A critical issue in the Flood story in the King James Bible has to do with translations of the Hebrew words eretz and adamah as meaning the entire “earth.” What do these terms actually mean? It is widely recognized that Hebrew is a wonderful language for poets, since virtually every word has multiple meanings. But that same characteristic makes it a horrible language for precision. As it turns out, eretz and adamah can indeed be a geographical reference akin to what we usually mean by “the earth.” But it is not at all clear that the ancients had the concept of a spherical planet that you and I do. Many scholars argue that the Bible writers thought in terms of a flat earth that was covered by a bowl-shaped firmament into which the windows of heaven were literally cut..." 
The concept of a spherical earth did not appear in Jewish thought until the fourteenth or fifteenth century
In fact, the concept of a spherical earth "did not appear in Jewish thought until the fourteenth or fifteenth century."  The word "earth," as used in the Bible, simply refers to solid ground or land, as opposed to water (see Genesis 1:10 — "God called the dry land Earth; and...the waters called he Seas...."). It is, of course, possible that earlier prophets had a more advanced view of the nature of the earth—this perspective could, however, have been lost to later centuries and scribes.
The concept of a global flood has become further reinforced within the Church by the fact that Church leaders teach that the flood washed away the earth's wickedness (Baptism of the earth)
The concept of a global flood has become further reinforced within the Church by the fact that modern day prophets and apostles have taught that the flood washed away the earth's wickedness and at times with passages such as 1 Pet 3:20-21. For example, in 1880 Elder Orson Pratt stated that God "required our globe to be baptized by a flow of waters, and all of its sins were washed away, not one sin remaining."  Joseph Smith, Jr. taught that Noah was born to save seed of everything when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood.  Such wickedness could include man's wickedness, or it could imply a need for the earth itself to have a type of baptism.
- List of Flood Myths from Wikipedia (Flood myths from cultures on the different continents--dating origins to different times in history)
- Flood myth from Australia
Question: Are Church members required to believe in a global flood?
Members should study the scriptures from the perspective of the prophets who wrote details regarding the flood and compare them to scientific understanding.
More information on this is presented in this article.
Typically, references to the Flood are presented in the context of teaching some Gospel principle
The early prophets and apostles frequently taught their beliefs regarding a global flood using the scriptures. In modern times a belief in a universal, global flood event continues to be widely-held within the Church. A search for the full term "global flood" on the official Church website (www.lds.org) produces only a single reference in the January 1998 Ensign, although there are a number of references in other articles to the Flood being of a global nature even up to the present time. (see: Statements by General Authorities related to the Flood) Typically, references to the Flood are presented in the context of teaching some Gospel principle. One recent article in the Ensign, written by BYU professor Donald W. Parry, clearly and directly indicates his opinion that the flood was global in nature.
Still other people accept parts of the Flood story, acknowledging that there may have been a local, charismatic preacher, such as Noah, and a localized flood that covered only a specific area of the world, such as the region of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers or perhaps even the whole of Mesopotamia. Yet these people do not believe in a worldwide or global flood. Both of these groups—those who totally deny the historicity of Noah and the Flood and those who accept parts of the story—are persuaded in their disbelief by the way they interpret modern science. They rely upon geological considerations and theories that postulate it would be impossible for a flood to cover earth’s highest mountains, that the geologic evidence (primarily in the fields of stratigraphy and sedimentation) does not indicate a worldwide flood occurred any time during the earth’s existence.
There is a third group of people—those who accept the literal message of the Bible regarding Noah, the ark, and the Deluge. Latter-day Saints belong to this group. In spite of the world’s arguments against the historicity of the Flood, and despite the supposed lack of geologic evidence, we Latter-day Saints believe that Noah was an actual man, a prophet of God, who preached repentance and raised a voice of warning, built an ark, gathered his family and a host of animals onto the ark, and floated safely away as waters covered the entire earth. We are assured that these events actually occurred by the multiple testimonies of God’s prophets. 
Knowing the exact nature of the flood does not constitute a critical part of Latter-day Saint theology
Knowing the exact nature of the flood does not constitute a critical part of Latter-day Saint theology. Duane E. Jeffrey notes that ideas of a global flood may have resulted from a widespread local problem. A current hypothesis that has been gaining ground since 1998 with regards to the biblical account specifically is that a significant local (to Noah) flooding event occurred in the area now occupied by the Black Sea. Evidence has been discovered which has led a number of researchers to believe that the Black Sea area was once occupied by a completely isolated freshwater lake at a much lower level than the ocean. The theory is that the sea level rose and eventually broke through the Bosporus shelf, resulting in a rapid flooding event which would have wiped out all life living along the shores of the lake 
Question: How could the Garden of Eden have been in Missouri if the Flood was local?
This question requires a lot of assumptions, and cannot be answered
A question related to the scope of the Flood that arises is how the Garden of Eden could possibly have been located in Missouri if Noah's flood was not global, since his posterity appeared in the Old World. If one were making assumptions about a localized flood in Noah's day, one would have to assume that the flood originated wherever Noah was, and that for as long as the ark drifted, extended at least as far as Noah could see. It would be difficult to know where Noah was before the flood, but the length of Noah's journey could be quite far based upon storm conditions and the time afloat.
One "limited flood" explanation that has been proposed for this is that Noah built his ark and either went down the Mississippi River valley, or that he built the ark on the East Coast of the North American continent. Another line of thought is that the placement of the Garden on the North American continent was more of a symbolic act intended to "sacralize" the land—thus providing it with its own "sacred history" similar to that of the Old World. The truth is, however, that the Biblical description of the location of the Garden of Eden does not match up with existing Old World geography, any more than it does with New World geography.  (For a more in-depth treatment of this subject, see Kevin Barney, Was the Garden of Eden Really in Missouri? and the wiki article Garden of Eden in Missouri?).
Question: Doesn't the Bible say that the continents were divided immediately after the Flood?
At least a few leaders of the Church have been of this view that the continents were divided during or after the Flood
Prominently, prior to becoming president of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that
in the beginning all of the land surface was in one place as it was in the days of Peleg, (Genesis 10:25.) that the earth was divided. Some Bible commentators have concluded that this division was one concerning the migrations of the inhabitants of the earth between them, but this is not the case. While this is but a very brief statement, yet it speaks of a most important event. The dividing of the earth was not an act of division by the inhabitants of the earth by tribes and peoples, but a breaking asunder of the continents, thus dividing the land surface and creating the Eastern Hemisphere and Western Hemisphere. 
John Taylor also expressed similar views, albeit more briefly.  It is perhaps important to note that then-Elder Smith wrote that "By looking at a wall map of the world, you will discover how the land surface along the northern and southern coast of the American Hemisphere and Europe and Africa has the appearance of having been together at one time."  Elder Smith was writing between 1953 and 1966; modern continental drift theory was only beginning to gain acceptance during this period (even by 1977, a geology textbook would note that "a poll of geologists now would probably show a substantial majority who favor the idea of drift," while also providing a substantial critique of the theory. 
It is difficult to know, then, if Elder Smith would have revised his view of the implication that continents "fit," jigsaw-puzzle-like, into each other had he been aware of some of the later evidence. He was certainly humble enough to renounce other views which he had expressed which contradicted later scientific advances.
Scriptures that refer to the earth being "divided" refer to groups of people being separated
A few scriptures, then, refer to the earth being divided:
- Genesis 10:25 and 1 Chronicles 1:19: And unto Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg; because in his days the earth was divided: and his brother’s name was Joktan.
- D&C 133:24: And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.
There is no serious biblical scholarship that reads these verses as implying a rapid drift of the continents
The verses in Genesis and 1 Chronicles are describing the descendants of Shem. LDS scholar Hugh Nibley viewed Genesis 10:25 (which says that in the days of Peleg "the earth was divided") as meaning "the earth was divided among the children of Noah." There is no serious biblical scholarship that reads these verses as implying a rapid drift of the continents—partly because such an idea would have been utterly foreign to writers in that time period. Some members have preferred to take the reading of Elder Smith as described above.
Note that a belief that the continents were physically divided during the flood contradicts the belief that the Garden of Eden was on the Western continent, since there would have been no "Western hemisphere" prior to the Flood. At best one would have to say that the Garden of Eden was on the same continent that the modern Middle East is on, but that it was a little further west than believed by traditional fundamentalist Christians.
Question: How did ancient people of the Old and New Worlds view the "the world"?
Ancient people conceived of the world on a much smaller scale than we do today. For them, "the world" consisted of the lands and nations they were aware of in their immediate area
The way that ancient people viewed "the world" has critical implications for how we read ancient scripture.
Ancient people conceived of the world on a much smaller scale than we do today. For them, "the world" consisted of the lands and nations they were aware of in their immediate area. They didn't understand "the earth" to be an enormous sphere; rather, they visualized it as a comparatively small, flat disk. (When you look to the horizon, that's an obvious conclusion to make.)
In Exodus 10:15 we read that the Lord sent a swarm of locusts that "covered the face of the whole earth"
This view of the world appears throughout the Bible:
In Exodus 10:15 we read that the Lord sent a swarm of locusts that "covered the face of the whole earth." Obviously, this couldn't mean that locusts covered all the land on the entire planet earth! To the author of Exodus, "the whole earth" meant "all the land we can see." Similarly, according to Genesis 41:56, in the days of Joseph there was a famine that "was over all the face of the earth." This passage is not suggesting there was a global famine, but a famine that affected Egypt, Palestine, and all the other lands in the Near East. Neal has already mentioned Luke 2:1's description of "a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." Naturally, "all the world" refers to the limits of the Roman Empire, and wasn't meant to include Scandinavia, southern Africa, east Asia, or the American continent. Acts 2:5 tells us that devout Jews "out of every nation under heaven" had come to Jerusalem to observe the feast of Pentecost. Are we assume this means that "every nation under heaven" included the western hemisphere, where the descendants of Lehi still kept the Law of Moses? Of course not.
Regarding the Flood of Noah, the Genesis account tells us that "the waters were on the face of the whole earth"
Regarding the Flood of Noah, the Genesis account tells us that "the waters were on the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 8:9) and "all flesh died that moved upon the earth" (7:21).
Alma in the Book of Mormon: "his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth"
As an ancient document, the Book of Mormon employs the same usage of the phrases "the whole earth" and "the whole world":
Alma₂ testified that the angel who appeared to him and the sons of Mosiah₂ "spake unto us, as it were the voice of thunder, and the whole earth did tremble beneath our feet" (Alma 36:7), and "his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth" (Alma 38:7). Surely the entire planet wasn't trembling at the sound of the angel's voice; rather, all the ground in the area around the five men shook.
After the great Nephite-Lamanite War, the Book of Mormon peoples "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 west to the sea east" (Helaman 3:8). Notice how "the face of the whole earth" meant, for Mormon₂ (the editor), the entire lands the Nephites and Lamanites possessed (which were small enough to be traversed in a period of a few weeks). Nephi₂ called down a great famine, and we are told that "the whole earth was smitten, even among the Lamanites as well as among the Nephites" (Helaman 11:6). Clearly the planet earth was not struck with a famine, only the Nephite and Lamanite lands. When the sign of Christ's birth appeared in the heavens, "all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth" (3 Nephi 1:17). Notice again that Mormon₂ was describing the extent of Nephite/Lamanite lands, and calling them "the face of the whole earth." At the end of the Jaredite civilization, Moroni₂ lamented that "there were none of the fair sons and daughters [of the Jardites] upon the face of the whole earth who repented of their sins" (Ether 13:17). Clearly Moroni₂ wasn't insinuating that there were Jaredites on every continent of the planet earth.
For Samuel the Lamanite, "this earth" and "the whole earth" were synonymous
Samuel the Lamanite prophesied that, when Jesus died, "the rocks which are upon the face of this earth, which are both above the earth and beneath…shall be broken up; yea, they shall be rent in twain, and shall ever after be found in seams and in cracks, and in broken fragments upon the face of the whole earth, yea, both above the earth and beneath" (Helaman 14:21–22). Notice that, for Samuel, "this earth" and "the whole earth" were synonymous: They were, from his perspective and the perspective of those who heard him, the same thing. Likewise, he prophesied that "darkness should cover the face of the whole earth for the space of three days" (Helaman 14:27), i.e. the lands where the Nephites and Lamanites dwelt.
And so it was fulfilled that "the whole earth [did shake] as if it was about to divide asunder" (3 Nephi 8:6; cf. 8:12), "the face of the whole earth became deformed" (3 Nephi 8:17), the rocks "were broken up upon the face of the whole earth" (3 Nephi 8:18). Again, this didn't mean the planet earth, but rather the Book of Mormon lands.
When the darkness fell upon the Lehite people, the text tells us that it was "upon the face of the land" (3 Nephi 8:19; 10:9), which, from the perspective of the ancient authors, was synonymous with "the face of the whole earth."
One of the greatest challenges we have today is reading the scriptures in the mindset of the people who wrote them, who had different scientific and cultural understandings than we do.
Question: How can one properly view events in Ether scientifically?
Many critics have claimed that there are scientific problems with the stories recorded in Ether. This article examines each one of them and gives a logical way to reconcile them scientifically. Most of the supposed “problems” are only based off of hyperliteralistic readings of the scriptures and are thus easily addressed as we look at how the ancient writers intended to write the scriptures (2 Nephi 31:3; D&C 1:24) and use science as an additional backdrop to identify how that influences the stories we read (D&C 88: 77-79).
Tower of Babel (Ether 1:3-5, 33-37)
One of the first mentioned by critics usually is the Tower of Babel—mentioning how there were obviously more than one language present on the earth in 2200 B.C. This has been addressed elsewhere on the wiki.
One critic writes:
"The timing doesn’t work. Coriantumr was found and lived with the People of Zarahemla, who came over at 587 BC. The average generation length is in the upper 20 years, with some nations reaching 30. Let’s go with 30 as it’s more favorable to the LDS side. That gives us a maximum timeline of (28 * 30 + 100) = 940 years. The Tower of Babel was said to have fallen in 2200 BC. This puts the final battle where Coriantumr kills Shiz at 1260 BC, and it bumps Coriantumr’s life span to an unrealistic ~800+ years. The other option is to say that the generation gap was far higher than normal (~58 years); however, such a late start for children would severely decrease birth rates and put the 4 million+ population into question.
Jerry Grover’s assessment of Jaredite chronology is much more instructive and the assumptions are much more grounded in archaeology and history
Jerry Grover: A More Exact Jaredite Chronology
Having established a basic chronology above, we can further refine it by estimating the lengths of the reigns of the various Jaredite kings, based on the information given about them in the Book of Ether. The resulting chronology can then be confirmed and further developed by comparing it with major developments in Olmec settlement, as detailed by the archaeological record.
In the Book of Ether, the passing of kingship from father to son appears to follow the pattern of the last-born son receiving the kingship. This pattern began with the first generation, when Jared1 and his brother approached old age; none of the sons of the brother of Jared would accept the role, which was also rejected by all of Jared’s sons, except the youngest, Orihah (Ether 6:14, 21–27). Further in the record of Ether, there were six older sons who rebelled against their predecessors (Ether 7:4, 14–16; 8:2–3; 10:3, 13–14; 11:4) and 10 sons, who were born in the king’s “old age,” who replaced their fathers (Ether 7:3, 7, 10, 26; 8:1; 9:14, 23–25; 10:4, 13-16; 11:4).
Another factor affecting the ages of the youngest sons in relation to the father is polygyny (one man with multiple wives). Jared1 had 12 children, and his brother had 22 children (Ether 6:20). Orihah had 31 children, 23 of whom were sons (Ether 7:2). Many kings are said to have had “many sons and daughters” (Ether 7:12, 14; 9:21; 10:17). King Riplakish had “many wives and concubines” (Ether 10:5), and Jaredite men in general had “wives and children” (Ether 14:2).
Given this information, it is possible to at least estimate the chronology of the two separate Jaredite time periods, with a few assumptions. In order to attempt an estimate, the following assumptions will be made:
1.A descendant king takes the throne at an average age of 15 (if he were much younger than that, he may not have been capable of retaining the throne, given the Jaredite propensity for violent usurpation by older brothers).
2.The death ages of the kings are assumed as follows unless otherwise indicated in the text:
a) Unless otherwise indicated, the age of death is 70.
b) When the terms “good old age” or “old age” are used, the age of death is 80.
c) When the term “exceedingly old” is used, the age of death is 90.
d) If an individual was held entirely in captivity (which could cause a shortened lifespan based on poor treatment) or there was reference to a shorter life, then a “reign” of 35 years is assumed. An exception was made for Coriantor, since a variety of events occurred while he was in captivity.
3. On average there are no time elapses between the death of the old king and the ascendancy of the new king.
4. Where any age or reign is listed in the text, the years are adjusted to the 260-day calendar.
5. For Seth, since the text indicates his days were short, it is assumed he died at 55.
6. Jared1 and the brother of Jared were assumed to be 45 years old when they departed; the actual departure date is approximately 2650 BC
These initial date assumptions are not out of line with known ages of Maya kings:
Elites tended to have longer life spans because they had access to better quality food and they didn't wear their lives out with physically taxing work the way non-elites did. We only have data for both the birth dates and death dates of 17 Classic period Maya rulers, and their average age at death is 64.7 years. Some of the longest lived Maya kings were Itzamnaaj B'alam II of Yaxchilan was between 94.8 and 98.5 years old when he died, Calakmul's king Yukno'om the Great lived to be 85, Chan Imix K'awiil of Copan was about 83 when he died, a ruler of El Cayo named Chak Lakamtuun lived to 82, K'inich Janaab' Pakal from Palenque was 80, Aj Wosal of Naranjo was at least 78, and K'an Joy Chitam (also from Palenque) lived until he was 74. (Wright 2016)
One permutation of these assumptions is that, often, the “kings” listed were in captivity, so it would not be necessary for their offspring to be of sufficient age to defend the throne. This would provide for a longer term for that particular king. That may be offset by the death of a king earlier than the estimate.With the parameters establishing that the Jaredites departed prior to 2500 BC, and the radiometric dating of the Heth and Shiblom volcanic events and other corollary evidence and events discussed elsewhere, it is possible to establish a reasonable Jaredite chronology. Given these parameters, table 3 identifies the Jaredite calendar timeline, showing the years passed to the end of a particular king’s reign.
Gardner (2015) has argued for a shorter timeframe for the Jaredites—a total of 900 years, with an average reign of 30 years—based on the length of reigns of some known Maya kings, with no gap years between Riplakish and Morionton. Sorenson has indicated a span of 2,000 to 2,300 years (Sorenson 2013). Sorenson did not provide the methodology behind his most recent estimation, so comparisons of his method in that work is not possible. In a previous work, he did identify a Jaredite chronology starting in 3100 BC and extending to 570 BC (Sorenson 1969). In that 1969 work, he included a gap period of 100 years and, of necessity, gave many kings lifespans well beyond 100 years. Palmer (1982) also proposes a Jaredite chronology, extending from 2700 BC to 600 BC, assuming reigns of 70 years and a gap period of 130 years. It is important to note that the chronology in table 3 is a calculated framework based on known volcanic events as well as a known departure date range.
Discussion of Mesoamerican Archaeological Correlation with the Calculated Jaredite Chronology
The First Jaredite Chronological Period
The first Jaredite chronological period in the New World is 2600–2023 BC. Based on the description given for the founding Jaredite group, consisting of 24 individuals (Ether 6:16), it is not likely that there would be any archaeological evidence found for this initial group. If one assumes a standard annual population growth rate for ancient peoples of 1.25 percent per year, within 200 years, a population of 287 people would be expected. After 200 years (2400 BC), there is mention of a couple of “lands,” one city, and an “army” raised by an individual dissident exile (Ether 8:6). The word “army” is not mentioned again in the Book of Ether until the time of Morionton(Ether 10:9), which was in 1420 BC.
While one should not read too much into this terminology in relation to size (an early city may just be an agricultural village or hamlet, and an army could be only 100 people or so), it does seem very probable that the Jaredite group at this point was involving other native populations, since an “army” was raised by an exiled dissident.
According to our timeline, in 2401–2336 BC, the Jaredite population was reduced through warfare to 30 persons,plus Omer and his family with whom he escaped, so perhaps 50 to 60 people were left. Shortly thereafter, from 2336–2281 BC, the “house of Emer” prospered agriculturally and utilized some domesticated or semi-domesticated animals. From 2281–2195 BC, “many mighty cities” were built as the people began to spread over “all the face of the land.” Again, using average population growth rates, over roughly 120 years, a population that started with 60 people would be expected to grow to 266 people. As indicated previously, the reference made to population growth and population centers indicates there was an increase in the local indigenous population, over which the Jaredites maybe exerted some political influence. Again, these areas were likely agriculturally based hamlets or villages.
In 2160–2130 BC, there was a severe famine in which the “inhabitants were destroyed exceedingly fast” (Ether 9:30). No mention is made of the surviving population after the famine, however, and from 2130–2055 BC, many cities were built up “on the face of the land,” and people “began to spread all over the face of the land.” The fairly short period of recovery time in which cities were built indicates again that the size of a city from the perspective of the Jaredite record-keeper was quite different from modern perceptions or even later Jaredite perspectives. The text itself is indicative of limited population centers.
From 2055–2023 BC, during Riplakish’s reign, he built an “exceedingly beautiful throne,” levied taxes, and built many tax prisons (Ether 10). The people rebelled and waged war, and Riplakish was killed and his descendants driven “out of the land.” Though there was some higher level of cultural sophistication in the beginning, it appears that the ensuing war was still a tribal family affair. To this point in the Book of Ether, the only lands mentioned were Nehor and Moron, so it can be assumed that the geographic area was still quite limited, probably encompassing or in close proximity to the area of the Tuxtla Mountains.
In Mesoamerican archaeology this period falls into the Archaic Period (ca. 3500–2000 BC). During the Archaic Period agriculture was developed in the region and permanent villages were established. Late in this era, use of pottery and loom weaving became common and class divisions began to appear. Many of the basic technologies of Mesoamerica such as stone-grinding, drilling, pottery making, etc., were established during this period.
In the area of the Olmec, excavations at San Andres (near later La Venta) indicate domestication of manioc in 4600 BC, and in 2500 BC, people were practicing a mixed economy of foraging and farming, with the domestication of maize, sunflowers, and cotton; they presumably used canoes, weapons, digging sticks, net baskets, and ritual objects fashioned from wood or other objects (Diehl 2004, 24). Although this archaeological period is largely ignored, in the Tuxtlas, pollen of plants indicative of agriculture has been dated to 2880 BC. The Mesoamerican archaeological record is generally consistent with the limited description found in the Book of Ether.
The gap in the Jaredite record occurs in the time period encompassing 2023–1420 BC. All that is known about this period is that no primary king was in power (at least none is mentioned) and that at the end of the period there existed “many cities.” The Olmec archaeological record indicates, depending on the archaeologist consulted, that the Olmec culture started between 1450 BC and no later than 1250 BC.
In the Coatzacoalcos River basin, 105 sites have been identified with Ojochi and Bajío ceramic phases (ca. 1750-1450 BC). The earliest occupation identified at San Lorenzo was 1800 BC (Cyphers et al. 2014, 73). More than threequarters of these sites are clustered within 90 kilometers of San Lorenzo (Pool 2007, 125).
The Second Chronological Period
In the Jaredite chronology, the period of 1420–1065 BC starts with Morionton and an army of outcasts giving battle “unto the people.” Morionton gained power over many cities, and then, over the space of many years, gained power over all the land and made himself king (Ether 10:9). During this period many cities were built, and the people became rich in buildings and other worldly goods, and the people “did prosper in the land” (Ether 10:16). During this period there continued familial vying for political control by force.
The archaeological evidence in the Olmec heartland for this period mirrors the Book of Mormon description. San Lorenzo grew from 1400 BC until its demise in 1000 BC (Cheetham and Blomster 2017, 16), as did the regional settlements, with the total area of permanent settlement increasing 10 fold (Pool 2007, 126). At Laguna de los Cerros and the Upper San Juan Basin, prior to 1400 BC, settlement was sparse. Laguna de los Cerros was founded sometime between 1400 BC and 1200 BC. Settlement densities increased drastically after 1400 BC, reaching 35 settlements by 1200 BC and 153 settlements by 1000 BC (Pool 2007, 128). Some local settlements also existed in the La Venta area as well.
In the Jaredite chronology, the period of 1065–750 BC starts with Lib1 building a “great city” near the narrow neck where the sea divides the land. By some mechanism, poisonous serpents that had infested the area for a thousand years were killed, opening up a hunting area in the adjacent land southward. Initially the whole face of the land northward was covered with inhabitants. There were a variety of products manufactured including “all manner of fine work,” “all manner of cloth,” agricultural tools, and “all manner of work of exceedingly curious workmanship.” During the latter part of this period there was conflict, war, robbers, and changes in kingship.
The archaeological evidence in the Olmec heartland for this period mirrors the Book of Mormon description. The fluorescence of the city of La Venta is dated from 1000 BC to 400 BC (Pool 2007, 158). The city of Tres Zapotes was founded sometime in the centuries before 1000 BC and emerged as a regional center early in the Middle Formative Period, perhaps 900–800 BC, roughly coinciding with the decline of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan. San Lorenzo experienced its serious demise around 1000 BC, as did the San Juan River Basin, where Laguna de los Cerros was located, which continued through the end of the Middle Formative Period (1000–400 BC). All that remained of San Lorenzo was a medium-sized village, and the regional population fell by nearly 92%. In the adjacent San Juan River Basin, the number of identified inhabited sites fell by 63% (Pool 2007, 152). Military conflict is one of the suspected causes of the decline of San Lorenzo (Diehl 2004).
In the Jaredite chronology, for the period of 750-400 BC, the first decades included an “exceedingly great war,” followed by pestilence, famine, and a “great destruction.” The next three centuries included ongoing political and military conflict within and between kingdoms, which resulted in the final great civil war, which led to the destruction of the Jaredite nation. A king named Moron arose during the middle of this period, whose name perhaps makes reference to the early land of Moron.
The archaeological evidence in the Olmec heartland for this period mirrors the Book of Mormon description. San Lorenzo continued its demise, as did the San Juan River Basin. During the middle of the period, the population migrated to the outskirts of Tres Zapotes and La Venta. At the end of the period, La Venta (along with San Lorenzo and the rest of the Olmec heartland area) was also essentially abandoned. Tres Zapotes is not abandoned in 400 BC, but over the next few centuries, cultural changes result in the Olmec remnant Epi-Olmec culture.
The calculated Jaredite chronology outlined in table 3 corresponds well with the Olmec archaeological chronology
Food and Water for Those on Board including Animals
One author wrote:
"Lacking basic necessities. How much water would you need for 24+ people to survive 344 days on the ocean? According to the MayoClinic, each person needs 2.2-3.0 liters of water per day. Minimum. That's 756.8 liters per person per year, or 16649.6 liters for the entire trip for 24+. That's just for the sedentary adult. Now add the flocks and herds that they're also bringing. There's at least three sheep per flock. Multiple flocks, so even if we only add 6 sheep to the mix, that's another 12-24 liters per day or an additional 4128 liters of water per 3 sheep. If the herds are made of cattle, then you're now adding 40-70 liters per head per day. That comes to 13,760 - 24,080 liters per head. Now also ask how you're going to store these 40,729.6+ liters of water (40.7 meters, 1445 ft)? You're in a ship that can flip over any moment. You can't use pottery, barrels, or bowls. Any leaks would mean death. Animal skins would introduce bacteria. It's just not going to happen. And that's just water. Livestock, sanitation, scurvy/health, and food for everyone is another matter entirely. It's also worth mentioning that the WHO confirms these numbers will go up by 3-10x with even moderate activity or pregnancy/lactation. Higher salt intake (as it's the only means of preserving food at this time) would also increase water needs.
Propadeutically we should establish that the ocean crossing took the Jaredites 344 days and the text gives us good indication that they stopped along the way. In Ether 6:8 it states that “The wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters”. That phrase can be interpreted to mean that they were continuously upon the water, but the interpretation with more explanatory power would be that they stopped occasionally since they made the journey in 344 days and the average is no more than two-four months for a crossing (more information below). The next question we would need to answer is which ocean the Jaredites used to arrive in the New World---the pacific or Atlantic. There are good arguments for both sides.
If the Jaredites used the Atlantic Ocean, there are a few (though admittedly not many) places to stop for provision. If leaving from Northwest Africa or Southwest Europe (depending on which side of the Mediterrenean the Jaredites chose to come from or which direction they sailed through if going through the Med after leaving the Old World), the Jaredites would stop anywhere among the scattered Islands off the coast and then have to make on big push to the promised land. They could have plausibly stopped to reprovision, jettison animals and other unnecessary supplies. If we take the statements that the Lord blew towards to promised land directly, then they could have perhaps made stops in Cuba before making it to Mesoamerica (all assuming that Mesoamerica consists of the lands of the Book of Mormon).
The journey would have been much shorter if they didn’t stop for provisions. The journey from China to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec would have been 120 days if made continuously
While crossing the Pacific, it is possible that the Jaredites used “coasting” as a way of staying near land fall so that they could make any restock needed. It is now known that ancient transoceanic crossers made just such a journey. There are also several islands in the Pacific Ocean that could have been made for such a journey. The journey, if made continuously, would only be about 2-4 months. Thor Heyerdahl made the trip on raft from Morocco to the Caribbean in two months
Either way, we have ability to resupply and make adjustments to travels as necessary, we have plausible indications in the text that this was so, and we have plausible routes for them to follow. We have at least a good chance that they did not bring livestock with them all the way to the new world as there is no mention of them upon arrival. We have no indication that women and men conceived while aboard so points about lactation are moot. The only activity reported among the Jaredites is "[singing] praises unto the Lord" and "not [ceasing to praise the Lord". This is light activity. Along with potable water brought from home and collected from stops a long the way, fresh water rain collection is available through vents built into the structures. See here under "Joseph Smith and Jaredite Ships" for more information regarding likely structure of vents.
Sheep, Bees, and Barges
is often claimed that sheep were anachronistic to the Americas prior to the 1400s. We have addressed this here. Regarding the flocks carried on board, the text does not mention that the flocks arrived to the New World with them. In fact, it only claims that the Jaredites arrived and began to till the earth (Ether 6:13). Reference to Grover's chronology and the specific mentions of flocks in Ether may also be enlightening here.
It is claimed that bees are anachronistic to the Americas. This is addressed here. It has been further claimed that bees could not be transported to the Americas since moveable hives were not around. It is possible to take a hive and move it with a woven basket. Bees can also be temporarily disabled using smoke. But the text gives us no indication that they took their bees across the ocean. It also doesn’t tell us if they jettisoned the bees in their journey and/or if they gleaned whatever resources they could from the bees and then jettisoned them.
One critic claims:
These ships didn’t exist. It would be about 1500 years until sea faring barges showed up in history. It was also 3500 years earlier than the first known submarine. It’s also the only wooden boat in history that is made with several water tight and usable doors, water tight corks in the top and bottom, and doubles as a submarine. That’s not even mentioning how it can be propelled by a wind that never stops; seeing as it has no sails, but would have significant drag from the weight and shape.
- The comparison to a "submarine" is a straw man. The claim is not that the boats travel underwater. Instead, they are sufficiently water tight that they are buoyant--if they have a wave crash over them, they bob back up to the surface ("like a fowl upon the waters" as it puts it--we can think of a duck or the like floating along. You can submerge them, but they pop right back up.)
- The wind doesn't need sails to push the boat--if the wind is blowing, that creates waves, which moves the ship. If one has ever seen a floating piece of wood in a lake, and thrown stones near it to drive it in a give direction, the idea is the same--waves transfer energy. (Note that the text has this as something of a miracle--they "commending themselves unto the Lord their God" (Ether 6:5)). They seem well aware that this is a risky undertaking. The next verse describes exactly how the travel works—yet the critic doesn't mention it, or is unaware of it: "And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind" (6:6). We also have a travel time of 344 days which gives us a lot of time to travel to the New World. Remember, one can travel to the New World in 2-4 months. This took nearly 12.
- The earliest sea-faring boats date to about 65,000 years ago permitting the colonization of Australia, for example. Whether one chooses to label these as "barges" or not, they are sea-faring ships. So that part isn't anachronistic at all.
Once you have ships that are seaworthy in some sense, is it really that much of a stretch to enclose the boat? They're not building the things out of metal or anything that will sink if the design isn't just right. They're made out of wood. Once you have even a very primitive sea-going craft, enclosing it overhead is a relatively trivial exercise, and adding more wood to a wooden boat is not going to make it more likely to sink.
How about making it "water-tight"? By 3100 BC Egyptians were making "sewn boats". The use of pitch as an adhesive is attested to by 40,000 years ago "Since the Neolithic, bitumen served to waterproof containers (baskets, earthenware jars, storage pits), wooden posts, palace grounds (e.g. in Mari and Haradum), reserves of lustral waters, bathrooms, palm roofs, etc. Mats, sarcophagi, coffins and jars, used for funeral practices, were often covered and sealed with bitumen. Reed and wood boats were also caulked with bitumen." Pitch can be extracted from wood by dry distillation or from natural seepage. By the 5th millennium BC, bitumen was used to waterproof a crop storage basket. So at least by 5000 BC, people had figured out that coating boats with bitumen (pitch) made them more waterproof. Let's give ancient people some credit--they weren't idiots, and if you're using this kind of tech for a basket, then it's hardly unlikely that someone is going to think to apply it to boats. And in fact, this is what happened: "The earliest reed boat discovered to date was coated with bitumen, at the site of H3 at As-Sabiyah in Kuwait, dated about 5000 BC; its bitumen was found to have come from the Ubaid site of Mesopotamia." "Known as the Ubaids, the settlers of the marshy lands lived in houses made of marsh reeds, which they would bundle together with bulrush fiber. Before bitumen, the Ubaids only coated their walls with mud, leaving them vulnerable to frequent flooding and other elements. Once they discovered bitumen deposits and observed the substance’s behavior as an adhesive and sealant, however, they ditched mud and began coating their homes with bitumen.... The Ubaids didn’t stop with their homes. They also used bitumen to seal their paddle boats, also made of marsh reeds. The Ubaids became the first seafarers to be documented in history, thanks to waterproofed boats allowing them to venture further out to sea. "
By the 3rd millennium BC, it was used to line a great bath. The Sumerians also used it for ship caulking. There are words for it in Sumerian, Sanskrit, and Assyrian. Note that Noah's ark is said to use "pitch" to seal it (Genesis 6:14).
It’s unlikely that we would be able to locate such barges. Most boats, by nature, are going to be in the water. That increases the risk of breakdown over time. (And arguably if they have sunk, it may be that their waterproofing qualities have degenerated over time.)
It’s also uncertain why a "waterproof door" is a major problem. If you can make the bottom of a boat waterproof (after all, the bottom is not one solid piece of wood--it is wood joined together and made waterproof) why can't you do the same thing in the wall or roof of a ship?
It is claimed that preserving food would not have been available since “water tight dishes would not be needed as claimed”. It is never claimed that such things were “needed” — only that they were used. Such claims are meaningless without any indication from the Book of Mormon.
Transporting fish is not as anachronistic as once thought.We now have evidence from around 2000 years ago that it was possible. The cited article provides evidence that is later than the Jaredites, but the evidence depends upon discovery, and we have one example--from which an industry may be extrapolated.
The Final Battle
One critic writes:
Warfare is wrong. Native Americans around this time did not have steel swords. Millions of dead natives would have left a trace. And according to historians, hand to hand engagements did not last that long. We’re talking about a maximum of hours, not several days. Routing, sieges, and hunting down enemies would extend it, but that is not the story being told here.
The population sizes that fought in the battle
Some have claimed that the population sizes for the final battle in the Book of Mormon are too large from what we know from archaeology and other science. We shouldn’t consider the number of “two millions” (Ether 15:2) to be literal. This should be taken as a metaphorical accounting of the dead. There would simply be no way to count all of the dead.
What about the critic's assertion that such massive numbers would leave a trace?
Problems for Archaeology: Evidence for Warfare
How does one go about locating and excavating a battlefield? This rhetorical question points to many of the reasons why military conflict among the Maya went so long undetected by archaeologists. For example, David Webster, the leader in Mesoamerican war studies, observed, “If we had to rely only on archaeological materials, we would dismiss as inconsequential one of the most important components [i.e., warfare] in the structure and evolution of . . . society.” One reason is that “weaponry is seldom recovered from archaeological contexts [although it] is frequently depicted in art.” Yet artistic representations can be hard to turn into history. Rands’s dissertation in 1952 showed substantial artistic evidence of armed conflict during the Mesoamerican Classic period, but hardly anyone picked up on it for another 25 years, when the excavation of the fortification at Becán was reported. Chase and Chase agree that “warfare is extremely difficult to see in the archaeological record.” This is true not just for Mesoamerica but for anyplace in the world.Archaeologists have been dealt a bad hand by history and the erosive forces of nature; nevertheless, through a combination of documentary history, art, and archaeology it has become possible to draw a partial picture of war in the Mesoamerican past. But so much depends on the mindset of the archaeologists who interpret the evidence that the picture may long remain incomplete and confusing. (Cowgill contrasts his conservative interpretation of the effects of war among the Maya with the views of military-minded Webster, even though they both dealt with the same set of facts.)
A fundamental problem in interpreting the historical significance of warfare from the few remains revealed by archaeology was underlined by Stocker on the basis of Aztec history:
Were it not for the written record, conquest as the major variable in the expansion of the Aztec state would never have been known. Aztec history spanned some 200 years, and [we know from their documents] they conquered 250 major centers. These centers had their own tributaries; therefore, they in essence conquered approximately 1000 to 2500 centers.[They] placed governors and some of their own population at only eight of these conquered centers. There is no evidence of an Aztec conquest at centers without governors, nor is there any evidence of Aztec presence at . . . tributaries of the sites at which governors were placed.
If the same situation was the case in earlier centuries, then we must suppose that the archaeological evidence that has come forward in recent years in Mesoamerica must be seen as merely preliminary. Webster must be right in emphasizing the scale of the intellectual shift that has been required in coming to see a major role for warfare in Mesoamerican culture history. Fortifications are the most obvious material evidence for armed conflict. The first serious study of Mesoamerican fortifications was published in 1948 (in English in 1951) by archaeologist Pedro Armillas (a mentor of mine), but his work depended strictly on documentary sources on the Aztecs. The study was largely ignored by Mesoamericanist colleagues, just as Rands’s work was ignored by Mayanists. The conventional wisdom blinded experts to the significance of conflict in the cultures of the area. Decades later its importance became obvious as Webster and others “documented warfare over much of the [Maya geographical] range” by locating “destruction levels, mass burials, and fortifications from Middle and Late Preclassic times.”However, Webster warned, “no conclusions about war can be drawn on the basis of the lack of fortifications. . . . [Their] absence may be more apparent than real. Very flimsy defenses were highly effective given [limited] Maya military capabilities, and few traces of such constructions might survive or be initially recognized.”
The failure of once-impressive walls to survive visibly is easy to document. An extreme example is a case recorded by the Spanish conquistadors. They reported the presence of a six-mile-long wall across a valley on the main route between the Valley of Mexico and neighboring Tlaxcala; the wall was 20 feet thick and nine feet high, with a wooden breastwork atop it. Yet no trace of it has been reported by archaeologists. Furthermore, in colonial days the Spaniards forced the Indians of the Valley of Mexico to erect a great stone wall enclosing a huge area to contain the Europeans’ cattle. More than two million natives labored for four months on the vast project, yet today no trace of it has been identified. In Yucatan shortly before the Europeans arrived, “the temples and houses of the lords [of Mayapan] were said [in tradition] to have been surrounded by a wall, of which no trace could be found” by excavators. Much less could we expect to find more ancient defensive structures that had been deteriorating for longer periods. At Kaminaljuyu, after generations of archaeological research by many parties, only in the early 1990s did Japanese archaeologists find a 164-foot (50 m) segment of what they termed the “great wall”that dates back perhaps to the first civilized period there (ca. the sixth century bc, making it the earliest discovered fortification wall in Mesoamerica). It had been built of piled-up soil 25 feet (7.6 m) high. Finding a short section of that 2,500-year-old construction within the Guatemala City urban area was strictly a matter of luck; most of the original must have been destroyed long ago. Obviously the feature would have been functionally meaningless unless it had been completed around at least the heart of the city (as was the case later at Cholula and other Mesoamerican cities). Since the site of Kaminaljuyu is here considered to be the city of Nephi, and Nephi had a wall around it (Jacob 7:25; Mosiah 7:10; 9:8) at about that time, discovery of the Guatemalan wall by these researchers provides a striking correspondence. (Presumably, the wall around the city of Nephi would have been modeled in concept on the one that surrounded Jerusalem; compare 1 Nephi 4 and 2 Nephi 5:16.)
A supplementary correspondence involving the wall is that it needed consistent repair in order to retain its protective power. The wall found by the Japanese archaeologists was simply of piled-up earth, probably coated with a layer of clay. It would have been subject to erosion by the regular rains and thus required systematic maintenance. When the Zeniffites returned to the city of Nephi and reoccupied it, only a few years after Mosiah1’s people had abandoned the site, they immediately began to “repair the walls of the city” (Mosiah 9:8) to restore their previous function.
The criticism conflates Ether 7 with the mention of millions in Ether 14-15. There are numerous differences and a rather great time span between those chapters, so its lazy reading at best, and deliberately misreading at worst to assume there were millions of steel swords. Even one of the most studied battles at Hastings yields little direct evidence, and historians still debate its exact location. Scholars recently "found" a lost army and so forth.
Steel in this story isn't very problematic. We need to remember that this is Joseph's translation of Moroni's abridgment of Mosiah's translation of the Jaredite record. Mosiah may have translated the metal as steel since "in Mosiah's society a king was expected to have a steel sword as his royal weapon" Mosiah had inherited a sword, Laban's, "a steel weapon that was passed down as one of the insignia of royalty" . Nevertheless the Jaredites may have had magnetite, hematite, or other iron that they hardened into steel. More information here.
This article examines other ancient texts and proposes a few scenarios that may apply to Jaredite battle as well.
Shiz Raising Up on His Hands
Fighting for Many Days
This criticism conflates the skirmish warfare of most Northern American tribes with far less social and political organization with the far more advanced cultures from central America that had rather sophisticated cultures. San Lorenzo and La Venta (assuming a Mesoamerican geography for the Book of Mormon) both had large populations and decent territorial control at a time when Rome was a still a collection of huts on a few hills, and this was centuries before the final battles of the Jaredites.
The criticism seems to lack a good grasp of battle, including how they are defined and their length measured. The criticism assumes that battles just can't last very long, but a very short amount of research found many multi day battles. There are various reasons for this including partial sieges, stand offs between armies vying for position, pre and during battle maneuver, and chasing down defeated armies.
The criticism is aimed at the Jaredite account for having battles that lasted all day for multiple days, but there are plenty of ancient accounts that record similar or multi-day battles. The Battle of Fei River and Hulao Pass both had significant stand offs. This is where the armies skirmished a bit, but they both held defensive positions and were trying to see how they could break the opponents’ position. In the case of Fei River Fu Rong moved his soldiers which precipitated confusion, panic and retreat. The opposing soldiers read the signs in the ground and then pursued them and killed 70-80% of the army (which goes to large numbers of casualties as well.)
The Battle of Red Cliffs also featured a long pursuit through marshes and difficult terrain which might be considered a multi-day battle.
The Battle of Hulao pass Li Shimin (ruling name Tang Taizong), made the opposing army hold their position for hours which made them avoid lunch and get stiff, both literally and in their tactical responses. He sent a cavalry force to see how the enemy reacted. When they were slow in responding and reacted fearfully Li Shimin sent a full attack. The pre battle maneuver, stand-off, then resulting attack and chasing down the fleeing army and regrouping remnants took more than one day.
In the Sicilian Expedition the Athenian army tried to besiege Syracuse. But the Spartans landed an army in reinforcements and they fought a series of engagements and built counter reinforcements. This shows how classifying battles and determining their length can get confusing (especially when people deliberately apply a narrow definition to prove something doesn't fit with "science"). But they fought a bunch of mini battles, including one at night where one side painted themselves white to better facilitate command and control, and the cumulative total was a spring and summer of near constant fighting. One could almost say that they would "fight all day and conquer not." (Ether 15:15)
In the Battle of Gergovia Caesar fought Vercingetorix. The latter had a commanding defensive position so the former had to rely on a combination of maneuver, siege, fighting, and desperate battle to finally break the Gallic army. Again, its tough to time the individual actions as each element of the campaign (active battle, siege, maneuver, marching), blended into each other.
The more complex the battles are, the more they can raise armies and sustain them in the field, which means they can fight multiple campaigns and many battles. There were some tribes such as the Cree who for much of their history were hunter gatherers that fought very few of what we would call battles, most were skirmishes with a few soldiers. But others like the Aztecs raised large armies, sent them on long campaigns, and had battle after battle on those campaigns.
The Jaredites had a sophisticated society (as may be seen by places like La Venta and San Lorenzo in Mesoamerica but that is only authorial bias) with large populations that could raise and support large armies. Those armies could then fight a series of engagements: some combinations of pre-battle maneuver (Ether 15:8), stand offs (even exchanging messages Ether 15:18), chasing down fleeing armies (Ether 15:10), and then finally it seems they were two punch drunk fighters with nothing left in their armies to maneuver or negotiate and they just came to a place, likely with ritual importance (15:11) and strategic value. In fact, their four year standoff while they gathered strength reminds one of the build up to the Battle of Hulao. They didn't have the logistical strength to go any further, so they fought the pivotal battle (that with the army marching, then standoff, and then battle, then mopping up it all likely took longer than one day) all happened at one place.
In all, we should not forget that the accounts are covering hundreds of years of history and aren’t necessarily meant for super accurate history. We also don’t know every detail of how the Lord provided for the Jaredites in their initial journey to the New World and their extended history leading up to the Nephite arrival.
The Church does not take an official position on this issue
This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:
- Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
- When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
- Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.
Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:
- All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
- I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer.
This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):
- Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:
- Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
- Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility.
To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Earth" off-site
- Joseph Fielding Smith, The Signs of the Times, 41.
- Duane E. Jeffery, "Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions," Sunstone no. (Issue #134) (October 2004), 31–32. off-site Jeffrey notes that ideas of a global flood may have resulted from a widespread local problem. A current hypothesis that has been gaining ground since 1998 is that a significant flooding event occurred in the area now occupied by the Black Sea. Evidence has been discovered which has led a number of researchers to believe that the Black Sea area was once occupied by a completely isolated freshwater lake at a much lower level than the ocean. The theory is that the sea level rose and eventually broke through the Bosporus shelf, resulting in a rapid flooding event which would have wiped out all life living along the shores of the lake (see p. 34). Whether this is the source for the Genesis flood remains conjecture.
- Duane E. Jeffery, "Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions," Sunstone no. (Issue #134) (October 2004), 30. off-site
- Orson Pratt, "The Earth's Baptism In Water," (1 Aug. 1880) Journal of Discourses 21:323.
- History of the Church 1:283; Evening and Morning Star, August 1832.
- Donald W. Parry, “The Flood and the Tower of Babel,” Ensign, Jan 1998, 35. off-site
- Duane E. Jeffery, "Noah’s Flood: Modern Scholarship and Mormon Traditions," Sunstone no. (Issue #134) (October 2004), 31–32. off-site
- (see p. 34). Whether this is the source for the Genesis flood remains conjecture.
- Kevin Barney, Was the Garden of Eden Really in Missouri?, By Common Consent, July 4, 2007.
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1957–1966), 5:73. ISBN 1573454400. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- John Taylor, Government of God (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1852), 110. off-site
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1957–1966), 5:73. ISBN 1573454400. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) For essentially the same argument, see also 4:22; Church History and Modern Revelation (1947), 2:35; and Man: His Origin and Destiny (1954), 385, 421–422. Note that these sources are all even earlier, and likewise predate modern continental drift data and theory. President David O. McKay was clear on multiple occasions that the latter volume represented only President Smith's personal opinions, and were not Church doctrine (see here and here).
- Richard A. Davis, Principles of Oceanography, 2nd edition, (Addison-Wesley, 1977), ISBN 0201014645. For more on continental drift theory's history and development, see wikipedia.org off-site.
- This article is written in response to a list of supposed problems created by reddit user u/curious_mormon. The list has been used by other critics in order to bring up problems in the narrative of the Jaredites
- Jerry Grover, "The Swords of Shule" (Provo, UT: Challex Scientific Publishing, 2018) 61-6
- Brant Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 6:229. Gardner cites Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon (Orem, UT: SA Publishers, 1989), 260.
- This line written 29 March 2019
- See Jason Daley, “First Humans Entered the Americas Along the Coast, Not Through the Ice” <https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/humans-colonized-americas-along-coast-not-through-ice-180960103/#b4swDByY8eP6m68e.99> (accessed 29 March 2019); Cecily Hilleary, “Native Americans Call for Rethink of Bering Strait Theory” <https://www.voanews.com/a/native-americans-call-for-rethink-of-bering-strait-theory/3901792.html> (accessed 29 March 2019)
- Gardner , Second Witness 229 citing Allen, Lands of the Book of Mormon
- Wikipedia, “Shipbuilding – Pre-history <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shipbuilding#Pre-history> (accessed 3 April 2019)
- Connan, J., “Use and Trade of Bitumen in Antiquity and Prehistory: Molecular Archaeology Reveals Secrets of Past Civilizations.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, vol. 354, no. 1379, 1999, pp. 33–50., doi:10.1098/rstb.1999.0358.
- Wikipedia, “Dry distillation” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_distillation> (accessed 3 April 2019)
- Wikipedia, “Shipbuilding – Pre-history”
- K. Kris Hirst, “The Archaeology and History [of] Bitumen” <https://www.thoughtco.com/bitumen-history-of-black-goo-170085> (accessed 3 April 2019)
- All Mesopotamia, “Mesopotamia’s gooey symbol of progress” <https://allmesopotamia.wordpress.com/tag/bitumen/> (accessed 3 April 2019)
- Charles Q. Quoi, "Ancient Roman Shipwreck May Have Held Giant Fish Tank" <https://www.livescience.com/14406-fish-tank-ancient-roman-shipwreck.html.> (accessed 3 April 2019)
- Gardner, Second Witness, 6:320
- David Webster, “Warfare and Status Rivalry: Lowland Maya and Polynesian Comparisons,” in Archaic States, ed. Gary M. Feinman and Joyce Marcus (Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 1998), 350–51.
- David Webster, “The Not So Peaceful Civilization: A Review of Maya War,” Journal of World Prehistory 14/1 (2000): 101-2
- Robert L. Rands, “Some Evidences of Warfare in Classic Maya Art” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1952).
- Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase, “Texts and Contexts in Maya Warfare: A Brief Consideration of Epigraphy and Archaeology at Caracol, Belize,” in Brown and Stanton, Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare, 171–88.
- William Rathje, “Dr. Garbage” to archaeologists, has an authoritative word to say about the difficulties of battlefield archaeology: “At any battle site, archaeologists are enthralled by the specter of finding spear points and pieces of chain mail at the positions predicted by history or legend. Perhaps the most disappointed were the British archaeologists who excavated the reputed site of the Battle of Hastings, where William the Conqueror’s Normans decimated King Harold’s Anglo-Saxons, on the battle’s 900th anniversary in 1966. [All] the historical treasure trove they recovered consisted of a few human and horse teeth that survived the scavengers and the forces of nature. . . . After the deciding clash [at the Battle of Culloden] between the Scottish Clans and British troops on April 16, 1746, virtually all the dead were picked clean of weapons, armor, valuables, and clothing, down to the last memento, by the ubiquitous camp followers, both professional scavengers and ladies of the night. Then the bodies were neatly stacked in large piles and set ablaze.” William L. Rathje, “The World’s Oldest Profession,” MSW Management (The Journal for Municipal Solid Waste Professionals) (2002); at http://www.mswmanagement.com/MSW/Articles/The_Worlds_Oldest_Profession_3982.aspx.
- Terry Stocker, “Conquest, Tribute and the Rise of the State,” in Studies in the Neolithic and Urban Revolutions: The V. Gordon Childe Colloquium, Mexico, 1986, ed. Linda Manzanilla, BAR International Series 349 (Oxford: BAR, 1987), 367.
- Pedro Armillas, “Fortalezas mexicanas,” Cuadernos americanos 41/5 (1948): 143–63. For an English version, see Armillas, “Mesoamerican Fortifications,” Antiquity 25 (1951): 77–86.
- Angel Palerm, “Notas sobre las construcciones militares y la guerra en Mesoamerica,” Anales del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia 8 (1954): 123–34.
- David Webster, “The Not So Peaceful Civilization: A Review of Maya War,” Journal of World Prehistory 14/1 (2000): 69
- Webster, “Not So Peaceful Civilization,” 74; emphasis added.
- Hubert H. Bancroft, Native Races of the Pacific States (1875; repr., San Francisco: Bancroft, 1883), 2:416–17.
- Henry F. Dobyns, “Estimating Aboriginal American Population: An Appraisal of Techniques with a New Hemispheric Estimate,” Current Anthropology 7 (1966): 406.
- Harry E. D. Pollock et al., Mayapan, Yucatan, Mexico, Publication 619 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1962), 264.
- Kuniaki Ohi et al., “Los resultados de las investigaciones arqueológicas en Kaminaljuyu,” in X Simposio de investigaciones arqueológicas en Guatemala, 1996, ed. Juan P. Laporte and Héctor L. Escobedo (Guatemala: Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes, 1997), 93–94.
- Joseph B. Mountjoy and David Peterson, Man and Land at Prehispanic Cholula, Anthropology Publication 4 (Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1973), 3.
- George L. Cowgill, “Teotihuacan, Internal Militaristic Competition, and the Fall of the Classic Maya,” in Maya Archaeology and Ethnohistory, ed. Norman Hammond and Gordon R. Willey (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979), 62.
- John Sorenson, "Mormon's Codex: An Ancient American Book" (Provo and Salt Lake City: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and Deseret Book, 2013) Ch 18, "Warfare" under Problems for Archaeology: Evidence for Warfare
- written 3 April 2019
- William J. Hamblin and A. Brent Merrill, "Swords in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book/Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990), 347
- J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.
- Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445.
- LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007)
- Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).