Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: The difference between Old and New World archaeology

Published: Monday, May 23 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

And, as noted last week, scholars are still uncertain as to the pronunciation of some Mesoamerican cities — for which they do have names — because city inscriptions are often iconographic. Surviving icons are not only rare (as previously noted) but they are often symbolic rather than phonetic. In other words, when archaeologists find an iconographic inscription designating a place as the "Hill of the Jaguar," the pronunciation of this inscription would be dependent on the language of the speaker — be it a Zapotec, a Mixtec or a Nephite. The only way to identify an ancient site is by way of an inscription giving a phonetically intelligible name.

If the epigraphic data from the Old World were as slim as the epigraphic data from the New World, scholars would be severely limited in their understanding of the Israelites. It would likely be impossible, using strictly non-epigraphic archaeological evidences, to distinguish between Canaanites and Israelites when they coexisted in the pre-Babylonian (pre-587 B.C.) Holy Land.

The same problem would be apparent if scholars were faced with the absence of Christian epigraphic data. Dr. Hamblin notes, for example, that if the persecutions of Christianity had been successful, if Constantine had never converted and if Christianity had disappeared around 300 A.D., it would be very difficult if not impossible to reconstruct the history of Christianity using nothing but archaeological artifacts and imperial Roman inscriptions.

This should be a sobering reminder for those critics who claim that archaeology has proved the Bible but that New World archaeology had not proved the Book of Mormon.

Michael R. Ash is on the management team for FAIR (the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research FAIRLDS.org) and is the author of "Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's Testimony In the Face of Criticism and Doubt" (ShakenFaithSyndrome.com) and "Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith" (OfFaithandReason.com). Michael's column, "Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith," appears Mondays on MormonTimes.com.

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