Wednesday, September 5, 2012


"In science it often happens that scientists say, "You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken," and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that has happened in politics or religion."



Some time ago, Mormon scholars realized that the Hill Cumorah, where the Angel Moroni showed Joseph Smith the gold plates which later became the Book of Mormon, does not match the geographical description given in the Book of Mormon for that hill. This has caused a great deal of backpedaling since many church leaders had claimed that this hill was, in fact, the same hill mentioned in the Book of Mormon. They even hold a pageant at the Hill Cumorah every year (see left). This is significant because critics of the Church often say that there is no verified archaeological findings in support of the Book of Mormon, as I have mentioned before, and the fact that there is seemingly no geographical location in the Americas which matches the description in the Book of Mormon only verifies the counter-claim that Joseph Smith made it all up. So let's go over some of the responses Mormon apologists use in rebuttal.

First, with regards to the Hill Cumorah, they claim that there must be a second hill with the same name somewhere else in the Americas. This is odd when you consider that Joseph Smith got the name "Cumorah" from the Angel Moroni who, according to the Book of Mormon, is said to have buried the gold plates at the Hill Cumorah after watching his civilization fall at a hill called Cumorah (it's confusing, I know). Why would the Book of Mormon describe a battle at one Hill Cumorah and have Moroni bury the plates at another Hill Cumorah? Why didn't Moroni clarify this to Joseph Smith at the time? This argument seems to be nothing more than spin and desperation.

So, where did the Nephites and Lamanites of the Book of Mormon live? The general consensus of Mormon scholars is the Yucatan Peninsula in Mesoamerica (see left). It does seem to match some of the geographic descriptions offered in the Book of Mormon. But some such descriptions are a bit of a stretch, which is why some Mormon scholars don't agree with the consensus. Despite any geographic similarities with the Book of Mormon, there are still no archaeological findings in that region which support the claims in the book. Even their best guess is still speculative and tenuous. Isn't it odd that the "Land Northward" is west, the "Land Southward is south east, the "East Sea" is north and the "West Sea is south?

Skeptics have offered another answer. The map to the left contains many of the cities and land marks described in the Book of Mormon and in a way which does not stretch the meanings of words like "north, south, east and west." In fact, compared to the Yucatan Peninsula, this map even matches with the previous claim that there is only one Hill Cumorah.

Here is the same map with today's cities and land marks. It is the same region as the original Hill Cumorah, which is where Joseph Smith grew up. Pay particular attention to the names of the cities and land marks of the two maps. Do you notice any similarities? That's right. Many of the names used in the Book of Mormon are altered names of places near Joseph Smith's home in Palmyra, New York. Mormon Think explains this further and includes a chart of many such altered names, such as "Lehigh" to "Lehi," "Antrim" to "Antum," and "Kishkiminetas" to "Kishkumen." As these maps indicate, the locations of the real places match fairly well with the locations described in the Book of Mormon.

So, which is more convincing, that there are two hills called Cumorah, Moroni hiked between the two hills (a few thousand miles apart) with the gold plates, and the Book of Mormon peoples lived in the Yucatan peninsula despite no archaeological evidence, or that Joseph Smith uncleverly altered names of places near his home (and the first Hill Cumorah) as he made up a tall tale?

But wait, there's more. Mormon apologists like to offer the following as archaeological "proof" for the Book of Mormon. The beginning of the Book of Mormon describes the journey of the family of a man called Lehi from Jerusalem to the Americas. During this trek, a man named Ishmael dies near a place called "Nahom." And wouldn't you know it, archaeologists have found Nahom in Yemen exactly as described in the Book of Mormon, which, of course, Joseph Smith could not have known about, thus proving--once and for all--he was a prophet of god. Or so they say...

Actually what happened was they found a tablet near a cemetery in Yemen with the Hebrew letters "NHM" inscripted on it (see left). Ancient Hebrews did not include vowels when writing so we do not know which vowels are intended on this tablet. But there are some 25 or so different combinations which make actual Hebrew words, one of which is "Nachom" (similar to "Nahom" but a bit of a stretch grammatically). As far as I can tell, "Nahom" is not a real word in any language. Furthermore, the region in which this tablet was found is call "Nihm," which is a different word entirely. Mormon Think delves further into grammatical issues with the word "Nahom" as well as other supposed Old World words in the Book of Mormon. At any rate, which is more likely, that Joseph Smith really got it right and out of the couple of dozen possible words the letters "NHM" really mean "Nahom," or that the letters are merely the name of a nearby region called "Nihm" and Joseph made the story out of whole cloth?


Here are some Mormon apologists and scholars attempting to tie "Nahom" to the Book of Mormon as evidence. Notice how they don't talk about the letters "NHM" and other possible vowel combinations, and instead assume it means "Nahom." Is this is a fair portrayal, or leading the evidence? Also, notice that one of the Arab scholars actually pronounces it "Nihm" instead of "Nahom."

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