John E. Clark, a respected authority on the archaeology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, teaches at Brigham Young University. In 2005, he published an article on archaeology and the Book of Mormon titled “Archaeology, Relics and Book of Mormon Belief” (see “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies” 14/2 (2005) publications.mi.byu.edu).
“The Book of Mormon,” he points out, “is unique in world scripture because its claimed divine origins can be evaluated by checking for concrete evidence in the real world. Prove the existence of Zarahemla, for example, and the validity of the rest follows. The logic is simple and compelling.”
“If Joseph Smith made the book up,” he explains, “then its peoples did not exist, its events did not happen, and there should be no trace of them anywhere. If, after a reasonable period of diligent searching, material evidence is not found, then the Book of Mormon would be shown to be imaginary, and by implication, Joseph Smith would be exposed as a liar and the church he founded unveiled as a hoax.”
However, while it’s easy to imagine something that might demonstrate the Book of Mormon true to all reasonable people — say, a stela bearing the name “Nephi, son of Lehi” and identifying him having built a temple patterned after one in his homeland across the sea — a decisive proof that the Book of Mormon is false is somewhat harder to picture. And how much time spent in “diligent searching” would be “reasonable”?
Nonetheless, many critics happily announce that the game is over, that the Book of Mormon has been proven false. The Bible’s claims, conservative Protestant critics of Mormonism often like to argue, are corroborated by geography and archaeology. But those of the Book of Mormon, they insist, are not. Decades of desperate archaeological research in Mexico and Central America, often (they say) sponsored by the LDS Church, have (they say) yielded absolutely no evidence for the Book of Mormon.
(On this latter issue, see my article “On the New World Archaeological Foundation,” which is online at publications.mi.byu.edu)
Professor Clark, however, is unimpressed by such critics: “They believe they are winning the day,” he writes, “but 175 years of falsehoods and weak arguments (have) not scratched the book’s credibility.” In his 2005 article, though, he spends little time rebutting critics’ claims. Instead, he offers positive support for the Book of Mormon in multiple areas, including the placing of metal records in stone boxes and the discovery of ancient Mesoamerican writing systems.
Until three or four decades ago, he notes, the Book of Mormon’s claims about fortifications and warfare were ridiculed by famous scholars. The peaceful peoples of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica were simply devoted, said the authorities, to cultivating their fields of maize and beans. But, says Clark, things have changed: “Now that Maya writing can be read, warfare appears to have been a Mesoamerican pastime.”
The cities, temples, towers and palaces depicted in the Book of Mormon, Clark notes, match Mesoamerican structures in striking ways, including, very specifically, the use of cement. So do the kings and monuments that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
“The book’s claim of city societies was laughable” in 1830, he further says, “but no one is laughing now.” Moreover, Clark finds notable parallels between the Book of Mormon and the geography of the Old and New worlds.
“The Book of Mormon’s metaphors,” he remarks, “make sense in the Mesoamerican world.” Similarly, intriguing parallels exist between the timekeeping and prophesying described in the Book of Mormon and what we’re learning about ancient Mexico and Central America. Likewise, the cycles of civilization that archaeologists have been able to discern in Mesoamerica correspond with what the Book of Mormon depicts, as does Mesoamerican demographic or population history.
“A trend of convergence” is appearing, Clark writes, between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology. And that, he correctly observes, is remarkable.
The atoms of which oxygen and hydrogen are made aren’t wet. But they form water, which is. Individually, the letters of which this column is composed mean nothing. Put together, however, they create an argument. Individually, none of the arguments yet advanced for the Book of Mormon constitutes decisive proof. Collectively, though, they possess considerable force. (See this previous column by Daniel C. Peterson, “Creating a convincing, cumulative case for the Book of Mormon,” published on deseretnews.com on Feb. 19, 2015.)
For related reading, see William J. Hamblin's “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” online at publications.mi.byu.edu.