Blog Post #22: What are the Odds of That? Bayesian Statistics and the Prophetic Status of Joseph Smith

In my previous 21 blogs over the past two plus years, I have discussed some of the evidence that, at least to me, supports the claim that Joseph Smith was a true prophet.  In this matter, we have only two choices.  Either Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, or he was a fraud, a fake, a liar.  Specifically, the Book of Mormon is also a fraud and a fake, since Joseph claimed that he translated it by the gift and power of God.

It is incredibly important that we know which is correct.  This is a matter of eternal importance.  Was Joseph a prophet…or a liar?  Did God really speak to Joseph or not?

One way to test Joseph’s claims is to examine the evidence.  Joseph claimed that God and Jesus appeared to him and gave him revelations. These revelations contain a lot of very specific statements that claim to be facts given by God.  These statements can be tested with evidence.

There is a problem with this approach, however. Joseph could have been a good guesser.

One scientific (and reasonable and logical) way of dealing with the problem of guessing is to apply statistics. As I wrote in Blog #9:

If he (Joseph) was guessing, then his guesses ought to be distributed among right and wrong guesses, and easy to spot using statistics. He should be wrong part of the time, and right part of the time.

What is statistics? In brief, statistics is the mathematical description of the probability (the chances) of certain independent events occurring.  While statistics may sound complicated, at its heart, statistics is dead simple common sense and mathematics applied to better understand how likely certain events are.

One of the clearest illustrations of statistics is given by rolling dice.  The population here is the values (1 through 6) on the six sides of the die.  Since a die has six possible values, then there is a one in six chance (16.66666…% of the time) that the value “1” will turn up when the die is cast, ditto for each of the other values 2 through 6. If you have two dice, then each die is independent of each the other die and there is still only a one in six chance that any given value will turn up for that die when it is rolled.

Here is the key point: probabilities of individual events must be multiplied to estimate the probability of all the individual events occurring together or as a result of the same cause The probability of each individual die coming up with a “1” is 16.666% (out to as many “6s” as you want).

But the probability of rolling “snake eyes” or both dice coming up with a “1” on the same roll (simultaneously) is not 16.6% but 16.6% (0.0166) times 16.6% (0.0166) or about 0.02756 or approximately 2.76% of the time. So roughly three times out of a hundred times that you roll two dice at the same time you will get snake eyes.  

I invite you to perform that experiment.  You can test this assertion and verify it for yourself.

Going on further, if we want to roll three dice at the same time, what will be the probability of rolling three “1s”?  By the formula, it is 0.166 x 0.166 x 0.166 equals 0.00457 or about 5 times in a thousand.  (That’s a lot of dice rolling to test the assertion, or you can just take my word for it.  :)).  If we roll four dice together, what is the probability of rolling four “1”s simultaneously?  It is 0.000761, or about 8 times in ten thousand rolls of the four dice.

How about three different events, with different probabilities, each occurring simultaneously due to the same cause?  Let’s say that the first event has a probability of 1 in a hundred (0.01), the probability of the second event is one in a thousand (0.001) and the third is one in 10 (0.1). What is the probability of all three of these events occurring simultaneously if they are part of the same population? It is 0.01 x 0.001 x 0.1 = 0.000001 or 1 in a million. 

Conversely, the probability that all of these events will NOT occur together is 1.0 minus the probability that they all will occur together.  In this example, it is 1.0 minus 0.000001 or 0.999999, or 99.9999%, or 999,999 to 1. 

How do you like those odds? Would you bet against those odds? 🙂  (However, people do it all the time when they play the lottery–sigh…)”

OK, enough of quoting myself.  The “population” here is the specific testable facts, statements and claims in the revelations and other divine guidance given to Joseph Smith, in other words, when Joseph was acting as a prophet.

Why those times?  Because Joseph never claimed to be infallible. He never claimed to be more than a mortal man. And he never, ever claimed to be perfect in his statements as a fallible human being. So it is no use to test those statements, although many detractors of Joseph do exactly that. The detractors spend no effort on studying the revelations given to Joseph to test that revealed evidence, which is abundant and specific.

So, Joseph did say that there was no error in the revelations he had taught.  These revelations include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. Thus we can test Joseph’s prophetic credentials statistically based on the revelations he received.  If he really was a prophet, then those supposed statements of fact given to him by revelation are true. If Joseph was just a man, then all those statements of fact are just guesses.  If they are guesses, then some guesses will be right, and some will be wrong.

Now, in the real world, we usually don’t experience the kind of mathematically well-defined probabilities that rolling dice offers to us. Instead, we usually deal with “odds” or “probabilities”, many of which are somewhat subjective. By “subjective”, I mean that the individual must decide for himself/herself what constitutes strong evidence, what evidence is positive but not especially strong, and what evidence is just barely worth mentioning.

Bayesian statistics provides one approach to this kind of problem and is well-explained in this introductory article.

In the Bayesian approach, we write the likelihood ratio (the likelihood that Joseph Smith was a false prophet) as:


Where D is the data to be entered in the ratio.  Also, H is the hypothesis being tested, that Joseph Smith was false prophet and therefore a liar, because he claimed to be a prophet. On the other hand, ~H is the converse hypothesis, in other words, the hypothesis that Joseph was a true prophet and that he gained his knowledge from God.

We can assign a likelihood ratio or “Bayes factor” to each statement of fact associated with the revelations given to Joseph.  This likelihood ratio is the probability that the statement is true given the assumption that he was just guessing divided by the probability that the statement is true given the assumption that he was a prophet.  This likelihood ratio therefore represents the strength of the evidence, in this case the evidence against Joseph being a prophet.

Here is a good introduction to Bayes’ theorem, which underlies the analysis that I am going to present in this blog.

Once we have decided on the likelihood of guessing correctly about each specific fact, we then multiply the likelihoods of guessing right about each of these specific facts. The number obtained by multiplying all of those individual likelihoods together is the strength of the total body of evidence that Joseph was a really good guesser instead of a prophet. This number is also the likelihood that he was a liar and fraud, because Joseph was not a prophet as he claimed to be.

Now, here is a key point about Bayesian analysis.  It is important to understand that this Bayes factor or likelihood ratio, or the strength of the new evidence, tells us how much we should change our prior beliefs based on the new evidence. In Bayesian analysis, our prior beliefs about a particular hypothesis or idea are called the “skeptical prior odds”.  The change in the prior beliefs as a result of the new evidence are called the “posterior odds”.

This approach to data is frequently used in medical tests.  I thank my son, Brian Marshall Dale, Ph. D. in biomedical engineering, for this specific example. Brian pointed me toward Bayesian statistics and provided a number of helpful editorial suggestions for this post.

For example, if a disease is somewhat rare then an individual might have “skeptical prior odds” of 1:1000 for them having the disease.  If the test has a likelihood ratio of 100 (a good medical test for screening) then our posterior odds would be 1:1000 x 100 = 1:10 for them having the disease.  The individual piece of evidence changed our minds substantially (from 1:1000 to 1:10) but because we were initially quite skeptical (1:1000) that the person had the disease, we still think it is more likely that they do not have the disease (1:10). A doctor would then call for a more definitive (and more expensive or invasive) test to give additional information and we would continue to update our new odds as we received new information.

The subject of this blog is the prophetic status of Joseph Smith.  If we choose, we can start with an extremely “skeptical prior odds” that Joseph was a prophet.  We choose to allow only a 1:1,000,000,000 (one in a billion) chance that he is a prophet. Thus we start with odds of 1,000,000,000:1 (a billion to one) that he is just guessing.  This means that even before we look at the evidence, we are very confident that he is not a prophet, and the statement of facts he made are just guesses.  We would require supporting evidence with a likelihood of 0.000000001 (one billionth) in order to change our beliefs to the point where we would consider “even odds” (1:1) that he is a prophet, and evidence even stronger than that to consider it likely or be confident that he is a prophet.

So here is another illustration of the approach I am suggesting to test the prophetic claims of Joseph Smith.

An acquaintance of mine claims to have really good astronomical equipment and data. Using his equipment and data, he says that I will be able to observe the first rays of dawn from a particular window in my house at 5:10 a.m. on my 67th birthday, Tuesday June 13, 2017. He furthermore tells me that the moon (in its crescent phase) will disappear below the northwestern horizon that same morning at 3:25 a.m. as observed from that very same window.

So, I want to test this fellow’s claims. I am somewhat skeptical of his claims and decide to assign skeptical prior odds of 1000 to 1. In other words, I think it is about 1000 times more likely that he does not have the equipment and data that he claims to have, or stated another way, the odds of him having this equipment and data are 0.001 or one in a thousand.

But I want to test his claim. He might be telling the truth.  Does he have a good astronomical equipment and data or not?

I get up really early on June 13, 2017 and go to that particular window. Sure enough, I see the tip of the crescent moon disappear in the northwest right at 3:25 a.m., according to my wall clock, which happens to be a very accurate atomic clock.  I am impressed, so I decide to wait up and test his next prediction.   I go to the same window at 5:05 a.m.  Again, just as he predicted, I see the first edge of the arc of the sun appear just a few minutes later, as near as I can tell, right at 5:10 a.m.

So, I have two choices. Either this guy is a very good guesser, or he does have access to good astronomical equipment and data.

How good a guesser?

Well, this is not exactly the same as rolling dice where the odds are well known.  The odds are up to me to decide. For my own reasons, I can decide that the odds of guessing correctly that the moon would disappear at a certain place on the horizon at a particular time as seen from a particular point would be about 1 in 1000. Since the sun is bigger, and many people (at least us early risers), have a better general idea of when the sun comes up than when the moon sets, I give him a 1 in 100 chance of guessing the correct time of sunrise, as seen from the particular place on a particular day.

If I just consider the first event, the setting of the moon, then Bayesian analysis requires me to multiply the probability that he could correctly guess the time of moon set (1000 to one) times my skeptical prior of one in a thousand (0.001). The result is 1:1 or even odds. I am impressed but not yet convinced.

But he also correctly predicted the time of sunrise, which I thought was 100 to one against.  So I must multiply the odds of both correct predictions (1000 to one and 100 to one) times my skeptical prior of 1 in a thousand. The result is 100:1.  For me, this is really strong evidence. I am now convinced of his claim to have good astronomic equipment and data.

Now, let’s apply this approach to a just a few of the statements of fact in the revelations given to Joseph Smith.  Since I really, really don’t want to believe a false prophet, I decide to make the test a very severe one. On the other hand, there have been prophets before, and Joseph might also be a prophet, so I have to keep that possibility open.

But I am really skeptical, so my skeptical prior will be a billion to one. In other words, I decide ahead of time that the likelihood that Joseph was a false prophet was a billion to one. Said another way, the likelihood that he was true prophet was one in a billion.  So it is going to take a lot of evidence to convince me that he was a true prophet.

To make my analysis, I decide to assign one of three different likelihood ratios to each testable fact that I consider.  I will use 2 (0.50) for evidence that is “not worth more than a bare mention”, 10 (0.10) for “positive” evidence, and 50 (0.02) for “strong” evidence for (or against) H, the hypothesis that Joseph was a liar (or a true prophet).  These values are typically used in the literature on Bayesian statistics.

My blogs have all been about evidence against H.  Other people can provide evidence for H as they may choose. Also, other people may choose to assign other likelihood ratios.  More about these individual choices below.

  • Evidence only worth a bare mention (50% or 0.50)  Joseph could perhaps have found out this fact by study at the library or by studying the Bible carefully, but it is not by any means an obvious fact, for example, that people eat food. We won’t be impressed by the statement that someone has had dinner, but if we know that they ate a very specific kind of food on a specific day as a religious observance, then that might have some value as proof.  Joseph would have to be both lucky and clever to have inserted these 50% likelihood facts into the revelations. For example, we now know that the standard military unit in Old Testament times, their “platoon”, was 50 men. That is a very specific number, one that Joseph might have known if he had read the Old Testament very carefully (See Second Kings Chap. 1) and had both remembered the number and remembered to use it at the right place in his “made up” story, the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 4:1).
  • Positive evidence (10% or 0.10) Facts that I choose to assign likelihoods of 10% (one in ten odds) are those that Joseph might have been able to reason out, given time and expert knowledge, but which to me seem really unlikely for him to have guessed. One example might be the very good description of a volcanic eruption and earthquake given in 3 Nephi Chapter 8. Mesoamerica, the most likely setting for the Book of Mormon history, is earthquake and volcano country. But upstate New York where Joseph lived is not.  How would Joseph know how to correctly describe a volcano and earthquake from the point of view of the person experiencing the event?  I actually think facts like this have a very low likelihoods of being guessed correctly, but I am going to be really tough on Joseph’s claims and say that they have a 10% likelihood of being correct when guessed.
  • Strong evidence (2% or 0.02) Facts with a 2% likelihood (one in fifty chances) I am going to count as essentially impossible, given any reasonable amount of knowledge or study available to Joseph. But, once again, to be really tough on Joseph Smith’s claims, I am going to say that he had a 1 in 50 chance of guessing these correctly, even if I think the odds are more like 1 in a million or less.  The use in ancient America of heavy clothing as armor and in the Book of Mormon (Alma 43:19) have been described in an earlier blog. This is one such example of something that I think is a nearly impossible guess, probably odds of one in a million or less.  I have read lots and lots of books about all kinds of crazy and weird things, but, except in the Book of Mormon and the accounts of the Spanish Conquistadores, I have never read anything about clothing used as armor.  Maybe you have, and want to give it a higher likelihood.  Your choice.  But I am going to make it a 1 in 50 likelihood.

So, to start with, we have here three separate statements of fact in the Book of Mormon, which Joseph claimed to have received from God. Either they were all just guesses, or Joseph did in fact receive them as he said, from God.

What is the likelihood of getting all three of these guesses right? Standard military unit of 50 men (0.50) times an excellent description of a simultaneous volcano/earthquake (0.1) times using heavy clothing as armor (0.02) equals 0.001 or likelihood of one in a thousand.

But that is not enough for me.  My “skeptical prior” is a billion to one that Joseph was not a true prophet, and a billion to one (1,000,000,000) times one in a thousand (0.001) is still a million to one…that Joseph was a false prophet.

OK, now I will briefly summarize some of the other evidence that I have written about in this blog over the past two plus years and assign one of these three likelihoods to each piece of evidence: either 0.5 or 0.1 or 0.02.

As an engineer, I lean pretty heavily toward physical evidence. As a reading addict, I am also strongly impressed by literary proofs.  As a human being, the human side of the prophetic claims of Joseph Smith really fascinate me. Just so you know my priorities.

So, here goes.  I am going to briefly list each piece of evidence and maybe say a little more about it but the details for each piece of evidence are in my various blog posts.  The Bayes factors (likelihoods) I assign to each are given in bold script.

  1. The standard military unit in Old Testament times and in Jerusalem about 600 BC was 50 men. Blog post #8. 0.5
  2. A sober, factual account of an earthquake/volcanic event from the point of view of an observer. Post #13.  0.1
  3. Use of heavy clothing as armor in Mesoamerica and in the Book of Mormon. Post #15. 0.02
  4. Use of metal plates to record sacred and secular histories. Post #2. 0.5
  5. The Book of Mormon plates were an alloy of gold and copper, much less dense and much more durable than gold. We now know that a gold/copper alloy was widely used in ancient Mesoamerica. Post #2. 0.1
  6. The Mayan writing system used a glyph meaning “and then it happened”, which a good Hebrew would read “and it came to pass”. The Book of Mormon uses that phrase hundreds of times. Post #1.  0.5
  7. Nephi used a steel bow. This is a real zinger, with very little chance of it being a simply a lucky guess, as I explained in Blog #3.  Who on earth would make a bow out of steel in 600 BC?  0.02
  8. Sacred artifacts and sacred books are buried in boxes made of stone slabs, joined by cement, as was the Book of Mormon, see Post #3 and Post #15. Another home run for Joseph. 0.02
  9. The Book of Mormon has over 300 chiasms. I have read them all several times and even found a “new” one I think has been missed before (Alma 15:5-11). There are numerous other Hebrew literary styles and devices in the Book of Mormon.  How did Joseph Smith know to include chiasms and other Hebrew literary styles in his book? Another zinger.  I think this one is an impossible guess but I will count it as a one in fifty likelihood.  Post #4.  0.02
  10. Even if you knew about chiasms, could you write over 300 of them in your 531 page book in so subtle and integrated a way that no one noticed the chiasms for about 150 years after the book was published? I have a very hard time writing one simple, plain vanilla chiasm, let alone 300+ chiasms. One of them (Alma 36) is a particularly beautiful chapter-long chiasm on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Another home run for Joseph. Post #4. 0.02
  11. Matter is eternal—it cannot be created nor destroyed. I am going to be tough on Joseph here and assume that he could have read an English translation (from 1790) of Antoine Lavoisier’s French textbook on chemistry and then made the big intellectual jump from mass being conserved in the chemical reactions Lavoisier studied to the much more comprehensive and universal principle that matter cannot be created or destroyed.  Post #5.  0.1
  12. The existence of matter that we cannot see with our eyes. Science now tells us that about 95% of the mass of the universe is composed of matter/energy that we cannot see with our eyes or detect with existing instruments. But that matter/energy is undeniably there. (Deny it if you want, but the evidence for dark matter is very strong, and there are also neutrinos which can be detected today but had not even been conceived of in Joseph’s day.) Another real zinger, Joseph. Post #6. 0.02
  13. Joseph Smith gave the answer to the terrible question “Is this all there is?” when he said that God had revealed to him that human beings are coeternal with God (“man was also in the beginning with God”), thus solving the problems of conscience, consciousness and the human tendency to blame God for the existence of evil that have eluded human philosophers for thousands of years. This is not physical science but, at least for me, a real zinger in a human sense.  It is a rational, compelling, consistent and very liberating doctrine. Post #7.  0.02
  14. How many is “a few”? In the Book of Mormon and the Bible it is eight.  Post #9.  0.5
  15. Mormon’s military background keeps popping up everywhere in the Book of Mormon, almost unconsciously. Well if you had been a warrior and the commanding general of your people since you were 16 years old, you might let that background creep in also, but Mormon seems to do it unconsciously, as he should if he were in fact the editor/compiler. Post #11. 0.5
  16. Deep ditches, with high earthen banks, breastworks of timbers and parapets on top of the breastworks, all of this surrounding a city with a single narrow entry way are constructed as defensive works, noted in precise detail in the Book of Mormon among their warring peoples by Mormon and also observed exactly among the Maya by Conquistador Hernan Cortez. This is another real zinger.  Post #11. I give it a likelihood of 0.02
  17. In Posts #13 and #15 I mentioned a number of correspondences between the Book of Mormon and what actually happened in Mesoamerica. Point 16 above is one of them: deep defensive ditches.  In the next few points, am going to pick just a few of the other correspondences that seem particularly strong to me.  Here I mention the existence of detailed calendars among the Maya and in the Book of Mormon, with days, months and years. Careful, accurate calendar keeping was very rare in the ancient world, let alone ones accurate to days, months and years. Score a biggie but not quite a zinger for the Book of Mormon. Post #13.  0.1
  18. Millions of people in the Book of Mormon among the Jaredites and then the Nephites and Lamanites in their wars. That is a lot of people, but Mesoamerica could support that many. Post #13.  0.1
  19. The Book of Mormon peoples had writing and so did the Maya. The Indians Joseph Smith knew did not have writing, another rare technology in the ancient world. I think this is a biggie.  Post #13.  0.02
  20. The Book of Mormon peoples were “civilized”; meaning that they had cities, state institutions, large-scale public works, temples, record keeping, and means of keeping time. So did the inhabitants of Mesoamerica—correct on every point. But the Indians where Joseph lived did not have all these institutions, at least as far as I know. Post #13.  0.02
  21. The Book of Mormon peoples built with cement, and so did the Mesoamericans. But the North American Indians did not. How did Joseph know? Why would he put this far out (?) idea in his book?  Post #15.  0.02
  22. Domination of a subject or captive people by an external elite through marriage ties among their rulers, an institution found in the Book of Mormon and among the Maya. This is a very subtle point and right on culturally.  Post #13.  0.02
  23. Maize (corn) is the primary grain in Mesoamerica and among the Book of Mormon peoples. Posts #13 and #15  0.1
  24. The Book of Mormon people built roads and so did the Maya. North American Indians did not. How did Joseph know?  A biggie. Post #15.  0.02
  25. Deforestation, protection of trees and trade in timber among the Tikal Maya and also among the Book of Mormon peoples. Wow!  What a specific, testable point of evidence.  (Also, it looks like modern industrial society is not the only environmentally-destructive culture that has ever existed, we just do it bigger, faster and more thoroughly.)  Post #15.  0.02
  26. The Maya had baptism and so did the Book of Mormon peoples. Post #15. 0.1
  27. The political rulers were a class structure with power in the hands of a hereditary elite group of people, so knowing your genealogy was critical to your social position. The Book of Mormon peoples had both of these institutions and so did the Maya.  A biggie. Post #15.  0.02
  28. Abundant gold and silver which was used as money in the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica. But not among the Indians of Joseph Smith’s day. And there is very little gold and silver in eastern North America. A zinger. Post #15.  0.02
  29. The Mayan spiritual leaders use a crystal to seek revelation, and so do the seers in the Book of Mormon. Very cool and unusual, but not quite a zinger in my mind.  Post #15.  0.1
  30. There are “worlds without number”; many worlds have “passed away” (eg, supernovae and black holes), as taught by science…and by the revelations to Joseph Smith. “Mormonism” is truly a faith for the Space Age (and for science fiction addicts like me). 🙂 See Post #16.  0.02
  31. All eleven witnesses to the Book of Mormon remained true to their witnesses even though some suffered and died for it, and others were cut off from the Church in disgrace. Why would they do that for a fraud? Post #18.  0.02
  32. Emma Smith would certainly have known if Joseph were a fraud. But she remained true to her testimony to the end of her life. Emma endured through great suffering, poverty, the death of one of her children, the loss of all their property (several times) and her expulsion from at least four homes because of the persecutions she endured. Why would she do that?  For me the only reason she would do that is the reason she herself gave all during her life and then very forcefully near the end of her life: because she really did know Joseph was a prophet.  A real biggie. Post #19.  0.02
  33. Joseph remained true to his testimony in the face of multiple attacks on him and his family by mobs, the threat of castration, being imprisoned 43 different times, the longest for 6 months, and a life of persecution and poverty followed by the martyrdom he knew was coming…and so much, much more. Why would Joseph do that if he knew he was a fraud?  What did Joseph gain from his fraud but an early death and a life of troubles?  Another zinger.  Post #19. 0.02
  34. Two completely independent lines of evidence indicate that the Book of Mormon was written on about 135 individual plates, containing roughly 50% of the total surface area of the modern Book of Mormon in English. A lucky guess? I really doubt it. But not quite a zinger.  Post #20.  0.1
  35. Many, many important parallels between the experiences of Joseph Smith and other early Church members and Christ and his early followers of Christ, as detailed in two books written by non-Mormons. Is this just dozens and dozens of coincidences, or a case of the servant Joseph being treated as his (and our) master Jesus Christ?  Good evidence, but also not a zinger. Post #21.  0.1

OK, that’s it for now.  Perhaps I will add more of these likelihoods later, but for now, let’s multiply all these 35 different Bayesian factor likelihoods together and see what the resulting probability is that all of these were lucky guesses or coincidences on the part of Joseph Smith.

So we multiply 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.02 x 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.5 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.02 0.02 x 0.1 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.02 x 0.1 x 0.1 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.1 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.1 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.1 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.02 x 0.1 x 0.1 =  3.28 x 10 to the negative 46 power. This is an exceptionally strong body of evidence against the possibility that Joseph Smith was just guessing.

We multiply this number by our prior skeptical assumption of a billion to one (1 x 10 to the 9 power) that Joseph was a fraud.  The resulting number is about 3.3 times 10 to the minus 37 power, or less than one in a billion, billion, billion, billion.  In Bayesian terms, these are our “posterior odds”.  The accumulation of the total body of evidence is extremely strong, and therefore changes our opinion from being very confident that he was guessing to being very, very confident that he is a prophet.

OK, someone might point out here that I am “cherry-picking” the data, that is, I am only selecting data that agree with my point of view.

Fair enough.  That is true. It is also exactly what the critics of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon have always done. They never, ever consider any of the contrary evidence; the evidence that Joseph Smith was indeed a true prophet.  Not once have I seen any of his critics do that.

When we are fair to Joseph, and also consider evidence for his prophetic status, I think that the total body of the evidence paints a very different picture of the prophetic credentials of Joseph Smith.

The very specific, testable statements of fact in the revelations Joseph received are true precisely because he was a real prophet.  The Hebraic structures such as chiasmus that are found throughout the Book of Mormon are there precisely because it is indeed the record of a people with its linguistic and cultural roots in Jerusalem in about 600 BC.  Likewise, Joseph’s behavior in the face of persecutions and certain martyrdom and the behavior of those who knew him well is best explained by this fact: he knew and they knew that he was a prophet.

Now, anyone can assign any likelihoods they want to these events that I have listed above.  I have given numbers that satisfy my need for evaluating evidence in a skeptical, careful way. But none of us is actually convinced by piling up zeros or nines in odds—except in relatively unimportant things like whether or not airplane wings are going to fall off in a storm of a particular severity (high wind shear).

As far as things of eternal importance, we do not decide by calculating odds. Human beings are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures. That is to say, we usually make a decision first for all kinds of motives, both rational and irrational, and then we wait for or look for or make up evidence to support that decision.

We are also intuitive creatures.  We make intuitive leaps…we see a few pieces of evidence and our minds/spirits leap the gap and come to conclusions based on those few pieces of evidence. We fill in the gaps.

Me too.

I was convinced of the truth of “Mormonism” a long, long time before I accumulated all this evidence. In my case, I was convinced (received my very first strong evidence) when I read 2 Nephi 2:24-25 as I discussed in Post #14.  That evidence satisfied my heart and my mind.

I filled in the gaps between that powerful scripture, something I recognized in my heart and mind as being deeply true, and the fact that Joseph Smith was therefore a prophet of God, and that God was therefore inviting/commanding me to receive Joseph’s testimony as a message from God to me, his son Bruce Edwin Dale.

I think this is perhaps the kind of experience the Apostle Paul refers to in Hebrews 11:1 when he describes faith as “… the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is faith…not having to see all the evidence before making the connections between the different pieces of evidence and then acting on the evidence and connections.

In the intervening 50 plus years, I have received many, many more evidences. This additional evidence continues to satisfy both my heart and my mind.  A very, very, very small part of this evidence is summarized in these blogs.

The result for me is what Mormons refer to as a “testimony”.  This growing testimony keeps me moving forward in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  My testimony motivates me to write this blog, serve in the Temple, pay tithing, participate actively in the church and do many, many more things to advance this cause that I believe it so deeply.

So, why did write this blog if I think no one is convinced by piling up odds?

I did it for four reasons:

  1. I am an engineer, and I simply like numbers. It was fun for me to do this analysis and estimate the odds that Joseph was a fraud.  🙂
  2. Perhaps one or more of these “lucky guesses”, the pieces of evidence I cite above, may speak powerfully to one of my readers, helping them to have something like the same experience I had with 2 Nephi 2:24-25, and cause them to turn their lives to God, as I have tried to do all my life since age 16. I deeply hope and pray it may be so, particularly for my children, grandchildren and other posterity.
  3. I did it so that believing Mormons, wavering Mormons and fair-minded non-Mormons can better appreciate the intellectual strength of the foundations of “Mormonism”.  I don’t have much hope that it will help people, Mormons or not, who are not fair-minded. By fair-minded I mean those folks who are willing to consider all the evidence.
  4. Finally, there are a lot of so-called “experts” and detractors out there who claim the Book of Mormon is a fraud. Dr. Michael Coe, whom I discussed in Posts 13 and 15, is one of them. These experts usually cite one or two pieces of “evidence” that they claim disprove the Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But they never, ever cite any of the reams of physical, literary, social or other evidence supporting the Book of Mormon, Joseph or the Church.

This is dishonest and unfair. It is also deeply unscientific.  It is “cherry-picking”. Any real scientist and hopefully any honest person will want to consider evidence both for and against a particular point of view. They will not “cherry pick”.  They will be fair in their evaluations.

Dr. Coe and others like him have turned many against the Book of Mormon. Men and women like him have either kept non-members from investigating the church or have given church members intellectual cover (excuses or reasons) for leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But let’s be fair.  If a person wants to cite evidence against the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith, then in all honesty they should consider evidence for the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith also.  What kind of a juror or fair-minded person only considers evidence against the defendant?

Do you want that kind of person judging you or your works or your life? Then don’t be that kind of person.

Consider some of evidence for the defendant: Joseph Smith.

I am trying to provide evidence for the defense.  I feel no need to advocate for the prosecution, although I expect someday to summarize some of the evidence for the prosecution and evaluate it as I have done here for the defense using Bayesian likelihoods.

So I hope this particular post and my other posts will serve in some ways to “inoculate” church members against the intellectual dishonesty of cherry-picking, strengthen their faith, and help honest investigators see some of the breadth and depth of evidence that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet…so that they can know for themselves that these things are true.

As I know them to be true.

Blog Post #21: Ancient and Modern Witnesses of Christ: Some Interesting Parallels

During the past eight months or so, I have spent most of the time I have available for individual research and writing to communicate with others about the 2016 United States election and campaigns.  Now that the election and its immediate aftermath is over, I can finally return to writing about my faith…which is much more pleasant.  So, here goes.

Over a year ago, I sat on an airplane for several hours beside a young man named Seth VanderVlucht. Seth loves the Savior and was direct and strong in his witness of Jesus Christ. He told me how Christ had changed his life—how Seth has become bold in his testimony of Christ.  I in turned witnessed to him of my faith, and in particular, about the Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ and how its message of Jesus Christ had changed the entire direction my life has taken.

It was a wonderful conversation.  May God bless my brother Seth as he continues to witness for Christ.

Seth told me about two books that he had found very helpful in developing his faith. The books are “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell (1977 edition) and “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel (1998 edition).  I bought both books and read them carefully—in fact I read them both three times.  Both are well worth reading.  I recommend them to you.

I do have one caveat.  On page 114 Strobel unfortunately does not apply the same standard of fairness and equity to Mormons and Mormon teachings that he properly insists we all should apply to Christ and Christian teachings. That standard is that you let the interested party or parties speak for themselves.

Strobel does not do that with the Book of Mormon. In about a half a page Strobel dismisses and comes close to ridiculing the claims of the Book of Mormon.  But he does not give any Mormons a chance to speak in defense of the Book of Mormon.

Unless we allow others to speak for themselves, and do not try to speak for them about their faith, we are in grave danger of violating the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

Apparently it is easier to demand that the things we hold dear receive fair treatment than it is for us to insist on fair treatment for others with whom we may disagree.

But apart from that, Strobel’s book is very good.

As I read these books I noted a number of common themes or parallels between the experiences of Joseph Smith and the early Mormon leaders, and the experiences of Christ and his early disciples.

I am NOT saying that Jesus and Joseph Smith are equivalent. Joseph Smith was and always claimed to be nothing more than a prophet sent by Jesus Christ.  As a disciple of Christ, Joseph could expect to be, and actually was treated as Christ was treated.  These words of Christ are prophetic and appropriate for Joseph Smith.

Matthew 10: 24-25 The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord.  It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?

Strobel and McDowell applied a number of tests to Christ, Christ’s message and Christ’s followers.  These same tests can be applied to Joseph Smith, a modern prophet sent by Jesus Christ. There are also many important parallels.   This blog post will summarize just a few of the parallels and tests. There are many, many more parallels that I do not cover.

Again, I urge you to read both books. I am sure that faithful and reasonably well-informed Latter-day Saints will see many of these parallels.

I will first discuss a few examples from McDowell’s book, and then a few from Strobel’s book.

Josh McDowell “More Than a Carpenter” 1977 edition.

Pg. 17 “did they [the Jews] stop to consider whether his claims were true or not?”

Like Jesus, Joseph was killed first and foremost because of his testimony, his unwavering claim that God had sent him.  Because of this claim, Joseph suffered the same fate as did many of the ancient prophets.  As Christ said:

Luke 13: 34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!

Like Jesus, Joseph Smith was accused of blasphemy and murdered for it.  Like Jesus, Joseph Smith was not guilty of any crime.  (Joseph was jailed 47 times, but never convicted of any crime.)  Like Jesus, Joseph was killed to satisfy the blood lust of a mob.  Like Jesus, Joseph was given over to the mob by a corrupt and weak governor who knew Jesus (Joseph) was innocent of any crime: Pontius Pilate in the case of Christ and Governor Thomas Ford in the case of Joseph Smith.

Both Christ and his servant Joseph did many wonderful works to provide evidence that their claims were true.  Among these, I believe the Book of Mormon to be one of the most important evidences of the truthfulness of Joseph’s claim to be a prophet. Anyone can test that claim by sincerely reading and pondering the Book of Mormon for himself and then asking the question: “Does this book come from God or is it an invention, a work of fiction, a lie?”

Pg. 60 “Who Would Die for a Lie?”

McDowell observes that history is “a knowledge of the past based upon testimony.”

He further states. “Christianity involves a knowledge of the past based upon testimony, so now we must ask, “Were the original oral testimonies about Jesus trustworthy?”… “I can trust the apostles’ testimonies because of those men, eleven died martrys’ deaths on the basis of two things: the resurrection of Christ and their belief in him as the Son of God.”

Likewise, “Mormonism” is a historical faith.  We are asked to trust the testimonies of Joseph and Emma Smith, the Eight Witnesses, the Three Witnesses and many other formal and informal witnesses of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel. I believe we can trust these testimonies, as I have written in blog posts #18 and #19.

Why trust Joseph Smith? 

I have many reasons for trusting Joseph.  Here are a couple of them. If Joseph had been a false prophet, Joseph would have concealed the frequent rebukes he received from God.  Joseph would not have included so much material that was embarrassing to Joseph personally. He would not have made up a religion that is so very demanding of its followers. He would not have made up so many difficult, often shocking doctrines, and other beliefs that are often difficult to explain.

After all that Martin Harris, in particular, had done to help him, Joseph would not have allowed Martin to be described as a “wicked man” (Doctrine and Covenants, 10:1, 7).  Joseph certainly would not have rebuked many men and women so thoroughly.

Since Joseph did not leave out of the record what he could have easily left out, and which would have made his life easier if he had left it out, then I can trust him that the core of his message is also true. He did see the Father and the Son and that they did in fact speak to him.

Most of all, if Joseph Smith was a false prophet, he certainly knew it, and so did his beloved brother Hyrum. Along with Joseph, Hyrum died as a martyr on that June afternoon in 1844 in Carthage, Illinois.

Why would Joseph (and Hyrum) die for a lie, knowing it to be a lie?

I need to be very clear on this absolutely critical point.  Joseph knew that he would have to seal his testimony with his own blood.  He knew that he would die for his testimony of Christ, as a prophet sent by Christ in these latter days. Many people recorded the fact that Joseph prophesied his own death.

From the book “Remembering Joseph: Personal Recollections of Those Who Knew the Prophet Joseph Smith” by Mark L. McConkie, here are just a few of these people who heard Joseph prophesy of his own death:

  1. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (see pg. 149)
  2. John Neff (pg. 152)
  3. Bathsheba W. Smith (pg. 156)
  4. Joseph Smith (pg. 160)
  5. Brigham Young (pg. 172) (Brigham said that heard Joseph say many times “I shall not live until I am forty years of age”.) Joseph was martyred half way through his 38th
  6. Sarah T. Clark (pg. 198)
  7. David Lewis (pg. 327)
  8. Isaac C. Haight (pg. 380)
  9. Wandle Mace (pg. 387)
  10. Oliver B. Huntington (pg. 390)
  11. Wilford Woodruff (pg. 403)

So why would Joseph die for a lie?  Why would he go forward knowing what awaited him?

Knowing it to be a lie, why would Joseph undergo all the poverty and persecutions and beatings and imprisonments he and Emma personally endured? Why would he see the people he loved driven from their homes again and again? Why would he stand by and see one of his own children and his own father die because of mob violence? Why would he see Mormon men and women murdered for their faith, Mormon women raped by the mob and his people beaten, assaulted and robbed time and again of all their belongings?  Why?

Because Joseph knew it was not a lie.  He really had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ, his beloved son. They really did call him as their witness and prophet in these latter days.  And just as many of the ancient prophets were required to do, Joseph was required to give his life as a solemn witness of the truths he had taught.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.  

The intention test #1 “Was it the stated or implied intention of the witness to accurately preserve history?”

What is the intention of the Bible? Why was it written?

From the Bible: Luke 1:1-4 “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us. Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.”

John 20:31  “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon claims to be factual history. The Book of Mormon traces the history of a family that left Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah under the direction of God.  The Book of Mormon is not written as a mystical or allegorical book.

What is the intention of the Book of Mormon? The book itself answers that question, as does the Bible.

1 Nephi 6:4 “For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.”

The Book of Mormon teaches clearly that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is Jesus Christ (for example, see 1 Nephi 19:8).  Thus the intention of the Book of Mormon and intention of the Bible are the same. Both books are written to persuade us to come to Jesus Christ, to have faith in him and be saved.


The Bias Test

Strobel also asks (pg. 50): Did the Gospel writers have any biases that would have colored their work? “Did they have any vested interest in skewing the material they were reporting on?”

Professor Craig L. Blomberg, a distinguished evangelical Christian scholar interviewed by Strobel, points out “these disciples (of Christ) had nothing to gain except criticism, ostracism and martyrdom. They certainly had nothing to win financially.  If anything, this would have provided pressure to keep quiet, to deny Jesus, to downplay him, even to forget they ever met him—yet because of their integrity, they proclaimed what they saw, even when it meant suffering and death.”

Joseph Smith likewise bears witness to the integrity of the Latter-day Saints as they continued to proclaim what they had experienced, even when it meant poverty, suffering and often death. What did they gain?

“Where can we turn our eyes to behold such another? We contemplate a people who have embraced a system of religion, unpopular, and the adherence to which has brought upon them repeated persecutions. A people who, for their love to God, and attachment to His cause, have suffered hunger, nakedness, perils, and almost every privation. A people who, for the sake of their religion, have had to mourn the premature death of parents, husbands, wives, and children. A people who have preferred death to slavery and hypocrisy, and have honorably maintained their characters, and stood firm and immovable, in times that have tried men’s souls.”12

The Corroboration Test: A Faith Buttressed by Facts

Strobel also asks Blomberg, “When the gospels mention people, places and events, do they check out to be correct in cases in which they can be independently verified?” Blomberg then summarizes some of the archaeological evidence that corroborates the historicity of Jesus and the New Testament.

As an engineer/scientist evidence also matters to me.  But I know that evidence by itself cannot compel or coerce belief. Faith is essential. (Faith also turns out to be essential to science, but that is a blog for another day.)

And people can and do simply refuse to consider the evidence that is right before them. In the New Testament, many people saw the miracles that Jesus did, heard his marvelous teachings, heard John the Baptist and many others bear witness of Christ and saw how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Old Testament prophets…and still refused to believe.  They just chose to ignore the evidence.

Such behavior continues today in the case of Joseph Smith and his testimony of Christ.

As far as evidence is concerned, in previous blogs I have mentioned some of the people, places, events and other facts that have been independently verified with respect the revelations given to Joseph Smith.

These points of evidence include the extensive information on archaeology and the Book of Mormon. Recall that in earlier blogs, I have cited 47 specific cases in which what we now know of Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon are in perfect agreement. These were things not known in 1830 when the Book of Mormon was first published. Professor John Sorenson has noted 400 or so such correspondences.

I have also discussed the many human witnesses of the Book of Mormon plates and the divine calling of Joseph Smith.

Finally, the evidence I cited in past blogs also includes, to give only a few examples: the use of copper-gold alloys in Mesoamerica, the approximate surface area required to inscribe the plates, the use of Hebrew literary forms (eg, chiasmus) in the Book of Mormon, worlds that “pass away” (supernovae), the existence of matter that cannot be seen, that matter is eternal, steel bows, stone boxes, and a standard military unit of 50 men, to name just a few.

Sometime I expect to write blogs concerning other interesting evidence such as the authentic Arabian place name Nahom (in the Book of Mormon), the proper name Paanchi (an authentic Egyptian name in the Book of Mormon—how on earth did Joseph Smith guess THAT one!?), Joseph’s detailed and correct prophecy (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 87), almost thirty years before the fact, of the Civil War, that it would begin in South Carolina and that Great Britain would be asked to support the Southern States in that conflict.  Following the Civil War, Joseph prophesied, war would be “poured out upon all nations”.

What a fitting description of the two world wars that consumed the first half of the 20th century.  And, sadly, the wars that continue everywhere.

So, I believe that “Mormonism”, more accurately and correctly called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is also abundantly buttressed by facts.

I am going to close this blog with another correspondence, not well-known, between the Master, Jesus Christ, and his servant Joseph Smith.

The Bible states that the great prophet Moses was transfigured and that his face shone after meeting with God on mount Sinai (Exodus 34:9).

The transfiguration of Christ was even more pronounced, as recorded in Matthew 17:2. “And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”

Like Moses, Joseph Smith was also transfigured on multiple occasions, as witnessed by various individuals cited in McConkie’s book.

  1. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner (see pg. 175)
  2. William H. Maughan (pg. 203)
  3. Wilford Woodruff (pg. 269)
  4. Brigham Young (pg. 282)
  5. Nancy N. Tracy (pg. 285)

Of these, Mary Lightner’s account is the most descriptive and extensive. She wrote “…there was a search light within him, over every part of his body.  I never saw anything like it on the earth.  I could not take my eyes off him: he got so white that anyone who saw him would have thought he was transparent. I remember I thought I could almost see the cheek bones through the flesh.”

Indeed, Joseph Smith, the prophet and servant of Jesus Christ, was like his Master in many ways.

I post this blog on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017, and bear my witness that Jesus is our Savior, the Son of God. I love Him and strive to serve Him.

Because of what Joseph Smith did and taught I am able to worship and serve Christ more completely and more thoroughly and with greater understanding. For me, the service that Gina and I give in the Temple to redeem those who died without a knowledge of Christ or without essential ordinances such as baptism, is particularly satisfying to my soul.

Joseph Smith was a prophet of Jesus Christ in these the latter days.

How Big a Book? Estimating the Total Surface Area of the Book of Mormon Plates-Blog Post #20

Note:  After writing the original version of this blog post, I rewrote it to submit as a research article to the journal Interpreter.  Here is a link to the article as it was published by Interpreter.  I got a number of comments on the article, including one showing that I had made a mistake in my calculations.  🙂  Yes, I did. So I fixed my mistake and found out that the two independent calculations gave even better agreement after the error was corrected. The comments are interesting to read, but I have only provided my original article and the corrections in this blog post.

How Big A Book? Estimating the Total Surface Area of the Book of Mormon Plates

How Big a Book? Estimating the Total Surface Area of the Book of Mormon Plates


We do not have the Book of Mormon metal plates available to us. We cannot heft them, examine the engravings thereon or handle the leaves of that ancient record, as did the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses and the many other witnesses to both the existence and nature of the plates.  In such a situation, is there anything more we can learn about the physical nature of the plates without them being present for our inspection?

I believe so.

There are two questions addressed here. First, what was the approximate surface area of the plates on which the Book of Mormon was engraved?  Second, is this a reasonable value when compared with the printed surface area of the current English translation of Book of Mormon?  This article provides two separate, independent calculations that estimate the surface area of the plates on which the Book of Mormon was engraved.  These calculations are what engineers and scientists refer to as “order of magnitude” estimates—they are not intended to yield exact results. If the two independent calculations give roughly comparable and physically reasonable results then our confidence in both the calculations and the reality of the plates is strengthened.

The two approaches taken here are: 1) how many square feet of plates were actually used to engrave the Book of Mormon, given what we know about the physical nature of the plates and 2) how many square feet of plates would be required in order to write the Book of Mormon, given what we know or can infer about the language and script used. We will begin with things we already know, and then use that knowledge to learn more.

Background Knowledge

I am indebted to Jerry D. Grover, Jr., PE, PG for his interesting and useful paper entitled Ziff, Magic Goggles and Golden Plates (1).  Grover provides (see pages 68-70) a thorough summary of various accounts of the physical properties of the plates. Grover also performed an impressive number of experiments and calculations to learn more about the plates. I have relied heavily on Grover for portions of my analysis.

Since Joseph Smith, Jr., had more contact with the plates than anyone else, I will use the physical information provided by him whenever possible. Smith said that the plates containing the Book of Mormon measured about 6 inches wide by 8 inches long and were “not quite as thick as common tin” (2). The engravings were small and filled both sides of the plates (3).  The plates weighed approximately 40-60 pounds (4) and about half of the plates were sealed (5). Thus the Book of Mormon as we have it today was written on about 20-30 pounds of thin metal plates.

We have reasonably good estimates of the weight, length and width of the plates, but not the thickness. In the time of Joseph Smith “common tin” was actually tinplate, which was iron covered with a thin layer of tin to prevent corrosion.  A standard wooden box of tinplate sheets was 14 inches by 20 inches and held 112 sheets of tinned iron, each sheet weighing about a pound (6).

Obviously, for the tinplate sheets to fit in the box, they would have to be somewhat smaller than the outside dimensions of the box. The full box of tinplate sheets weighed well over 100 pounds and would need to be quite sturdy to withstand shipping and storage.  Accordingly, I assume that each of the boards from which the box was constructed was about one inch thick, meaning that the tinplate sheets measured about 12 inches by 18 inches, a convenient width and length for construction purposes.  I neglect the contribution of the density of tin to the overall density of a sheet of tinplate and assume that the density of the tinplate is roughly equal to the density of iron (491 pounds per cubic foot).

With these assumptions, I estimate the thickness of a sheet of tinplate.  The formula is weight equals (density x volume).  Volume is area (length x width) times thickness.  Thus the thickness of tinplate is approximately 1.0 pounds divided by 491 pounds per cubic foot times 1728 cubic inches per cubic foot divided by 12 inches wide by 18 inches long, or about 0.0163 inches thick.

Can we estimate the plate thickness using other approaches? Yes, we can.

William Smith, the prophet’s brother, stated that the plates were made of gold and copper (7).  Mesoamericans did use a copper-gold alloy that the Spaniards called “tumbaga”, but there was no fixed ratio of copper to gold in the alloy, which could vary from 95% copper to 95% gold (8). (Some silver was naturally present along with the gold.)

Grover evaluates four different likely scenarios for the composition and construction of the plates. Two of the scenarios exceed the weight limit of 60 pounds and the third applies to gold gilding on a copper base. Plates prepared under the third scenario would have been more susceptible to corrosion and therefore would probably not have been used by Nephi.

Grover’s fourth scenario uses an upper limit of plate thickness of 0.01 inches and estimates a total weight of the plates of 53.6 pounds with a composition of 85.2% copper, 11.4% gold and 3.4% silver.  For purposes of my calculation, I assume that Grover’s fourth scenario is both realistic and possible.

Mesoamerican craftsmen could form metal to a thickness of about 0.2 millimeters (about 0.008 inches) (9), agreeing well with Joseph’s statement that the plates on which the Book of Mormon were written were “not quite as thick as common tin” and also with Grover’s estimate that the plates may have been up to 0.01 inches thick. (Grover’s experiments actually indicate a thickness less than 0.01 inches for ease of manipulation.)  The fact that the plates could be manipulated with the thumb and would make a noise like paper does when ruffled also argues strongly for a thin, somewhat pliable sheet of metal (10).

Thus we can ask: is it plausible to write a record like the Book of Mormon containing some 250,000 words on 20-30 pounds of plates, each plate being about between about 0.008 to 0.016 inches thick by 6 inches wide and 8 inches long?

First approach to the question of the area of the Book of Mormon plates

The relevant equations are:

  1. Mass of plates = density x volume of plates = density x (plate thickness x plate width x plate length x number of plates)
  2. Total surface area for writing = 2 x area per plate (accounts for the front and back sides of a plate) x number of plates

We want to calculate the total surface area available for writing on 20 to 30 pounds of this metal. The math is straightforward if the thickness of the plates and the density of the metal in the plates are known.  The thickness is estimated at between 0.008 to 0.016 inches, and the density can be estimated from Grover’s calculations, assuming that the densities of copper, gold and silver are additive according to their mass percentages (85.2, 11.4 and 3.4%), respectively, in the mixture.  Applying this assumption, the density of the metal in the plates is about 646 pounds per cubic foot.

We solve Equation 1 for the number of plates using plate thickness of between 0.008-0.016 inches and total weight of plates between 20-30 pounds and then multiply the number of plates by 2 x the area per plate (48 square inches) and divide by 144 square inches per square foot to get the total surface area for writing.

The result is that 10-31 square feet would be available for writing on these plates.  The estimate of 31 square feet is probably closer to being correct than the lower estimate, because a thinner plate is needed to provide the necessary pliability, as Grover concludes.  If so, I estimate the plates contained about 30 square feet for engraving.

This is one estimate.  Is there an independent way of checking this calculation? Yes, there is. We can also try to estimate how many square feet of plates would be needed to write the Book of Mormon.

Second approach to the question

We can also compare the Book of Mormon (approximately 250,000 words) with the Qu’ran, which contains about 77,500 words.  Why the Qu’ran? Because Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages and thus have no vowels and no punctuation.  As a result they are very compact.  The Book of Mormon was apparently written in some system that allowed for a more compact script than even Hebrew (11). The combination of a compact language written in a compact script would help Mormon write a long book on relatively few plates.

Several years ago I visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was taken by my hosts to tour the Museum of Islam.  In this museum there is a beautiful painting of the Qu’ran in very small but perfectly legible Arabic script.  As I looked at the painting the idea for this calculation came into my mind.  I asked my hosts to take a picture of me standing by the painting. (I did not want to ask for a tape measure and measure the painting. My hosts were very friendly and kind people but I did not want to risk causing any offense to their sacred book.)

The hat that I wore to the museum measures is 12 inches front to back and about 10.8 inches side to side.   By proportion with my hat in the photograph, and by my own visual estimates while looking closely at the painting, this painting is about 4 feet high by 8 feet wide, or 32 square feet.  There are four decorative circles in the painting that I estimate are about 6 inches in diameter (0.8 square feet in total for the four of them) and a decorative strip running lengthwise that is about 8 inches tall and 7 feet long (4.7 square feet). So the entire text of the Qu’ran can be written on about 32-4.7-0.8 = 26.5 square feet.  (The photograph is available from the author but is not provided in this article because it would likely not reproduce well.)

How about the Book of Mormon?  If we are willing to make some assumptions and approximations, how many square feet of plates would it take to write the Book of Mormon?

Given the similarities of the languages and the size and compactness of both scripts, one approach is to assume it would take proportionally the same square footage of plates to write the Book of Mormon as it did to write the entire Qu’ran on this painting.

Since the painting required about 26.5 square feet to write 77,500 words of Arabic it would take approximately (250,000/77,500) x 26.5 square feet or about 86 square feet of plates to write the Book of Mormon in Arabic assuming that as many words can be written per square foot of plates in Reformed Egyptian as in Arabic.

Thus the two independent estimates of the writing area required to engrave the Book of Mormon differ by a factor of two or less. One estimate is about 30 square feet and the other estimate is about 86 square feet.

The two estimates would tend to converge if:

  1. the plates weighed closer to 40 pounds rather than 60 pounds as Martin Harris indicated (4), requiring more plate surface area for a given weight and thus also increasing the number of plates available from the first calculation
  2. the reformed Egyptian characters used by Mormon were more compact than the Arabic characters used in the painting so that more words would fit on one square foot of plates, reducing the number of plates in the second calculation
  3. the characters used by Mormon were placed together on the plates even more closely than the Arabic script was on the painting, again allowing more words per square foot of plates and also decreasing the number of plates in the second calculation

I believe conditions 2 and 3 could be achieved and likely were achieved in the construction of the plates and their engraving with the Book of Mormon.  In each case, the two primary motivations would be to reduce the weight and increase the durability of the plates that Mormon and Moroni (and later Joseph Smith) would be required to carry around.

Engraving on a hard metal is well-suited to producing small characters and is very difficult work, as Jacob attests (12).  While the Arabic characters of the painting in the museum were compact, I believe they could have been placed even more closely than they were without loss of readability.

Therefore, to a first approximation, the Book of Mormon was engraved on about 60 square feet of plates. This figure splits the difference between the two independent estimates and allows some room for the three rings by which the plates were bound and also free space around the edges so that the engravings did not fill the entire plate.

Using the 60 square feet estimate, if each plate measured 6 inches by 8 inches (roughly the page size of the modern Book of Mormon) and was engraved on both sides, then the entire Book of Mormon was engraved on approximately 40 individual plates.  In other words, it was about 80 pages long (two pages per plate), roughly fifteen percent of the size of our modern English copies of the Book of Mormon (531 pages).

These calculations and estimates all pass the test of reasonableness. They are two completely independent estimates of a single variable: the total surface area on which the Book of Mormon was engraved. And the different estimates vary by a factor of about three or less.

This may be only a small coincidence.  But perhaps it is a useful addition to the many other correspondences, large and small, with which the Book of Mormon is filled. Cumulatively these correspondences gain great force as their number increases.



  4. Martin Harris interview, Iowa State Register, August 1870, as quoted in Milton V. Backman Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986), 226
  5. 1878 Interview between Orson Pratt and David Whitmer. In Book of Mormon Compendium. Sydney B. Sperry, 55-56.  Salt Lake City: Bookcraft/Desert Book, 1970.
  9. Warwick Bray, “Gold-Working in Ancient America” Gold Bulletin 11/4 (1978): 137-38. (My thanks to Dr. John Sorenson and his book “Mormon’s Codex” for this valuable reference)
  10. Saints’ Herald, 26 (1879), p. 230
  11. Book of Mormon. Mormon 9:33
  12. Book of Mormon. Jacob 4:1

Correction and Additional Calculations for “How Big a Book?” by Bruce E. Dale


The thickness of tin plate in my article was estimated based on a link that no longer exists.  I didn’t copy that document or make a scanned PDF it for later distribution.  Lacking that source, I did some additional research to find out more about the thickness of tinplate, now and in the early 1800s.

In doing so, I found an error in my original calculations that is corrected below. Several readers of my article also noted this error.  I sincerely thank them.

In brief, the total surface area of the plates based on the corrected calculations and the new data on plate thickness is about 93 square feet.  This compares well with the 86 square feet estimate from the word count of the Koran compared to the Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon was therefore engraved on approximately 90 square feet of plates.

New Calculations

Recall that the article assumes that each plate of tinplate weighed one pound and that the width and length of the tinplate sheets were 12 and 18 inches, respectively.

With these assumptions taken from the now-defunct link, the estimated tinplate thickness was:  1.0 pounds divided by 491 pounds per cubic foot divided by width (12 inches) divided by length (18 inches) times 1728 cubic inches per cubic foot equals 0.0163 inches thickness.

What other data are available?

Well, another estimate of the thickness of tin-plated steel is given on page 12 of this document, “Tinplate and Tin Free Steel”.  According to this article, the normal thickness of tinplate is 0.15 to 0.25 mm or 0.00591 inches to 0.00984 inches.  Here is the link.

Since about 1965, tinplate thickness for “tin cans” has ranged (been reduced) from 0.25 to 0.10 millimeters or from 0.00984 to 0.00394 inches.  Thus presumably before 1965, tinplate thickness was about 0.01 inches.

From an article entitled “Basic Tinsmithing” I found this important information: “The material to use is called tin-plated steel, or tinplate (.012″ thick). This is basically the same stuff that was used 200 years ago.”

In a book on Architectural Metals, page 316, I found the same datum supplied in my article, namely that in the 19th century tinplate was sold in boxes of 112 sheets. Furthermore, this book states that the tin plate was sold in two gauges, 28 gauge and 30 gauge, for different roofing applications.

With this information on the gauge numbers of tinplate, I searched for information on the thickness of different gauges.  I found that 28 gauge sheet metal is 0.015625 inches thick and 30 gauge sheet metal is 0.0125 inches thick.  I assume that these gauge thicknesses used in the late 1800s are the same as those used in the early 1800s.

For purposes of this calculation, therefore, I assume that the plate thickness was between 0.008 inches (which we know that Mesoamerican craftsmen could produce) and 0.016 inches, the estimated thickness of the tinplate calculated from the original reference (link no longer available) as well as the 28 gauge metal thickness of 19th century tinplate (see above).  The average of these two values, 0.012 inches, is the thickness of the “same stuff that was used 200 years ago” (again, see above), so it seems reasonable to use these two extremes to approximate the thickness of tinplate in the early 1800s.

Thus the extremes of the plate thickness are assumed to be 0.008 inches and 0.016 inches. The extremes of the weight of the plates are 20 pounds and 30 pounds.  Therefore the maximum number of possible plates will be when the weight of the plates is greatest (30 pounds) and the plate thickness is least (0.008 inches).  The minimum number of possible plates will be when the weight of the plates is lowest (20 pounds) and the thickness of the plates is greatest (0.016 inches).

Thus the total weight of plates (either 20 pounds or 30 pounds) is equal to the density of the metal (646 pounds per cubic foot) times the total actual volume of plates.  The total volume of the plates is equal to the total number of plates times plate thickness (either 0.008 inches or 0.016 inches) times the width (6 inches) times the length (8 inches) divided by the conversion factor of 1728 cubic inches per cubic foot.

Solving for the number of plates at 30 pounds total weight and 0.008 inches thickness, the maximum total number of plates is about 209 plates.  Solving for the number of plates at 20 pounds total weight and 0.016 inches thickness, the minimum number of plates is about 69.7 plates.

Multiplying the maximum and minimum number of plates by the total surface area (front and back) per plate (96 square inches) and dividing by the conversion factor of 144 square inches per square foot, the minimum surface area of the plates is 46.4 square feet and the maximum is 139.3 square feet. The average of these two values is 92.9 square feet, less than 10% different from the independent estimate of 86 square feet based on the word count of the Koran versus the Book of Mormon.


In round numbers, therefore, the Book of Mormon was written on approximately 90 square feet ((86 + 92.9)/2) of total plate surface area.  Each plate contained about (6 inches x 8 inches x 2)/144 square inches per square foot or 0.667 square feet per plate for engraving. The total number of plates was therefore about 90 square feet total divided by 0.667 square feet per plate, or 135 plates. Each plate contained two sides for a total of 270 pages of text, or roughly half of the page count (531 pages) of the current English version of the Book of Mormon.


Bruce E. Dale.  June 22, 2017



The Sufferings of Emma and Joseph Smith- Blog Post #19

In this blog I want to summarize a few of the sufferings and sorrows that came to Emma Hale Smith and Joseph Smith as a result of their faith in the visions and revelations given to Joseph. The Gospel is no more popular in our time, the latter days, than it was in the time of Jesus, or before Christ came to earth.

The message certainly was not popular in the early 1800s when God spoke through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, and restored the Gospel. The same thing happened to the early Latter-day Saints that Jesus promised his disciples would happen to them in his day: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mark 13:13).

Like Joseph, thousands have given their lives during the Restoration for their testimonies of the truth.  Like Emma, tens of thousands more have suffered great hardships for embracing this very unpopular faith.  All of them could have avoided suffering and death by simply renouncing their faith.

In this blog I want to summarize the sufferings and hardships that Joseph and Emma endured for their faith. It is impossible in a few pages to adequately describe what they went through, but I want to outline a few of their sorrows and sufferings.

Much of the information about Emma that I summarize below comes from a book I recently read entitled “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Second Edition, 1994, published by the University of Illinois Press.  I highly recommend the book. I will provide several long quotes from this book that give some additional insight into Emma’s character and faith.

If you would like a shorter, but sensitive and intelligent summary of Emma’s life and faith, here is an excellent article:

I hope to emphasize what Emma endured and suffered for her faith. If Joseph was a fraud, he knew it and Emma certainly knew it also.  The question is: “why would anyone endure such sufferings to perpetrate a fraud? What did they gain from the fraud?”

Everyone who ever wrote about their interactions with Emma described her as a faithful, intelligent, articulate, strong-minded woman. (And, incidentally, a fine singer. Emma sang all the time).

If Joseph was a fraud, why did such a faithful, capable and independent woman insist throughout her life that God had truly called Joseph and then demonstrate that faith in both word and deed? Why did she suffer so much to perpetrate a fraud?

Emma was not a weak, gullible woman, an easy pushover for clever con man.  Emma had strength and brains and courage. Here is just one of many tributes to Emma, given by her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith (see pg. 217).  Lucy wrote “I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure—she has been tossed on the ocean of uncertainty—she has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other women.”

One incident in the book by Newell and Avery gives some insight into Emma’s “spunk”.  During the summer of 1843 Judge Stephen Douglas, who was running for President and had become quite well-acquainted with Joseph, visited Nauvoo. A large dinner was held, but Emma was caught without a dessert.  She quickly made apple fritters and fried them to perfection.  One of the guests asked what she called the fluffy morsel.  Emma smiled and said “I call it a candidate”.  “Why?” all the men wanted to know.  “Why not?” she answered them.  “Isn’t it just a puff of wind?”

So, what sufferings did Emma have to endure?  Here are just a few things.

Sufferings of Emma

  • Emma married Joseph against the angry and bitter refusal of her father.
  • She married Joseph only few months after his (first of many) arrests and trials. The first arrests and two trials took place in Bainbridge, New York, in March 1826. (What respectable woman, and Emma was respectable, would marry a jailbird—unless she knew that he truly was a prophet?)
  • Emma had to live with other people, having no home of her own, for several years after her marriage, because Joseph’s divine calling prevented a normal life
  • Emma, an independent and strong woman, lived on charity of others (for example, with help from Joseph Knight and Martin Harris) while she served as scribe for Joseph in translating the Book of Mormon plates.
  • Dolly Harris (Martin Harris’ wife) ransacked Emma’s home in search of the plates (This was Emma’s first home invasion.)
  • Emma was jeered and harassed by a mob of about 50 men during her own baptism.
  • Emma saw Joseph hauled away on the evening of her baptism to undergo two more spurious trials. She saw her new husband receive rough and contemptuous treatment from the mobs who took him to trial.
  • Emma was forced by mobs and persecutions to eventually leave her childhood home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Because of her faith she was never to see her mother or father again
  • On March 24, 1832 Emma’s home in Kirtland, Ohio was invaded by a mob that savagely beat Joseph and Sidney Rigdon (see below for a fuller description)
  • Emma lost her first three children during or shortly after birth. Then she lost their adopted son, Joseph, due to an illness that was aggravated by the mob’s invasion of her home in Kirtland
  • Emma endured the denunciation of her faith by her father in a book written by Philastus Hurlbut. (Hurlbut had already publicly threatened to kill Joseph.)
  • Emma frequently gave up her home and its comforts to take care of others while she and Joseph slept on the floor and did without their comforts to help others
  • Because of the frequent absences and imprisonments of Joseph, Emma was forced to bear the burden of being both mother and father to their children, including earning the family’s income and taking care of all business dealings
  • As a result of his calling and the many mobbings they suffered, losing nearly everything they had, Joseph and Emma were always poor. She had to endure the fear and anxiety for her children and herself that came with poverty
  • Because of violent dissensions in the Church in Ohio, Emma was forced to leave Kirtland with her children, alone, pregnant and in the dead of winter
  • Shortly after their expulsion from Kirtland, Emma crossed the frozen Mississippi alone, guiding her children across the ice while six months pregnant
  • Eight months after arriving in Missouri, the governor of the state Lilburn Boggs issued an order stating “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state”
  • This was no idle threat. Shortly after, the Mormon settlement at Haun’s Mill was massacred by the Missouri state militia and members of the militia raped and pillaged the Mormons at will
  • In Far West, Missouri, Emma’s home was invaded again. She and her children were driven from their home while the mob/militia pillaged their house
  • On Friday, November 2, 1838, the militia took Joseph from Emma and their children at the point of the sword. From pg. 75 of “Mormon Enigma…” I quote “Joyful to see him alive, desperately afraid to see him leave, Emma lost her composure and sobbed along with the children.  The guard allowed no moment for private parting and forced Joseph into the street.  Young Joseph still clung to his father’s leg. “Father”, he cried, “is the mob going to kill you?”  Emma watched a guard slam the child away with the side of his sword. “You little brat, go back. You will see your father no more.””
  • While visiting Joseph in jail, Emma’s home was once more invaded and she was robbed of everything she had, this time by angry Mormon apostates.
  • Thus a year after she first arrived in Missouri, Emma left the state, again alone, essentially destitute, crossing the ice on the Mississippi River alone to Illinois with her children and carrying Joseph’s papers in bags fastened to her waist.
  • From page 79 of the book, “Of this trek she [Emma] later wrote: “No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed except our little children, and took our journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving [Joseph] shut up in that lonesome prison. But the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken.”
  • Emma endured almost six months of separation from Joseph while he was in Liberty Jail, before his captors simply let him go. She was very poor and she and her children suffered as a result.
  • During this time, Emma wrote Joseph: “I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are… and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, …places my feelings far beyond description [and] endure the scenes of suffering that I have passed through but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind Heaven, that I should for your sake.”
  • Not content to have driven the Mormons out of Missouri, Governor Boggs began an active campaign to have Joseph arrested and brought back from Illinois for trial. Later, a reward of $1000 was offered for the head of Joseph. (Equivalent to about $250,000 today…it was a very serious threat.) I mean the literal head of Joseph, with or without the body attached.
  • Joseph and Emma’s new store in Nauvoo took in very little cash. The destitute Saints simply couldn’t pay for the goods they needed and left IOUs instead, while Emma and Joseph sank further into debt.
  • Again and again in Nauvoo, Joseph had to flee his home and hide from his persecutors. Emma often had to deal face to face with these vengeful and angry men. They watched her carefully, spied on her all the time, hoping that she would lead them to Joseph.
  • And then there was polygamy. Volumes and volumes have been written about this subject and I am not going to add to that discussion now.  Polygamy must have been so hard for Emma to bear.  She never did accept it completely.  But she never stopped believing in Joseph’s divine calling.
  • Then on June 27, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in Carthage jail by yet another mob. Emma was left a widow, four months pregnant, deeply in debt (about $500,000 in today’s dollars) and with a young family to care for.
  • In early 1846 the Mormons were expelled from Nauvoo by mobs and the state militia. Although she was invited to accompany the Saints westward, hard feelings and some arguments had apparently developed between Emma and Brigham Young regarding which things of Joseph’s belonged to the Church and which belonged to his family.
  • By the way, this is another evidence of Emma’s strength of personality. Brigham Young was no pushover, to say the least, but Emma simply wouldn’t give Brigham some of the things he thought the Church should have, including Joseph’s inspired version of the Bible.
  • After Joseph’s murder, I think Emma was simply worn out. She just didn’t have any more strength or energy to give.  So instead of going west, Emma took her children and relocated to Fulton, Illinois. This was yet another expulsion from her home because of her faith. It is probably harder for a woman to lose her home than it is a man, but Emma was expelled from her home at least four times because of her faith.

Emma later returned to Nauvoo, remarried (to “Major” Lewis Bidamon) and lived the rest of her life separated from the body of the church in Utah.  She never renounced her faith in the Book of Mormon or in Joseph’s prophetic calling. On the contrary, she witnessed strongly of what she had seen and done in the Restoration of the Gospel.

For example, toward the end of her life Emma received many visitors who asked her important questions.  I will just relate briefly two of these visits.

When she was 73, Parley P. Pratt, Jr., visited Emma and asked her a number of questions (see page 299-300). Here are two of the questions and her replies.

  1. “Do you believe that your husband, Joseph Smith, died true to his profession?” he asked. “I believe he was everything he professed to be,” Emma replied.
  2. “Did he receive the plates from which he claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon?” “Yes, they lay in a box under our bed for months but I never felt at liberty to look at them.”

In February 1879, just a few months before she died, two of Emma’s sons, Joseph Smith III and Alexander, traveled to Nauvoo to interview their mother.  Joseph was a lawyer and asked his questions in that fashion, question and answer, as if it were a deposition. This interview later became known as “Sister Emma’s Last Testimony”.   See pages 300-302 of the book by Newell and Avery for some context. The interview summary is found in its entirety here.

I want emphasize a few questions and answers from Sister Emma’s Last Testimony. Here they are.
Question (by Joseph III). What of the truth of Mormonism? 
Answer (by Emma). I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.

Question. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
Answer. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.

Question. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
Answer. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.

Question. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
Answer. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.

Question. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
Answer. Joseph Smith (and for the first time she used his name direct, having usually used the words, “your father” or “my husband”) could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to anyone else.

Question. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?
Answer. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so;

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

Answer. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.

Question (by Joseph III). Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin, of the Book of Mormon?
Answer. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity – I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.

The book’s title (“Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith”) seems to imply that Emma was an enigma, that is, a puzzling or inexplicable or contradictory person.  The authors do not explain what they meant by describing Emma as an “enigma”, so I will simply state that I don’t think she was an enigma at all. I think Emma would be surprised to hear herself described in that way.

Emma endured what she endured because she knew that Joseph was a true prophet, just as thousands of people in her day and now millions more know it. She was faithful to that testimony to the end of her life.

In the early morning of April 30, 1879, after an illness lasting several weeks, Emma called “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph” and died. Those were her last mortal words.

Incidentally, they were also the last words of Brigham Young.  I like to believe that Brigham and Emma are now reconciled to each other through their mutual love of the Lord Jesus Christ and his prophet Joseph Smith, Junior.

Sufferings of Joseph

I wanted to make sure I covered some of Emma’s sufferings first.  Since this blog is already longer than I want it to be, I will just hit a few high points of Joseph’s sufferings and persecutions.

While he was still a young boy, he was persecuted for telling people that he had seen the Father and the Son.

Joseph wrote of this period of his life (Joseph Smith 1:21-22):

“I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.”

This is no exaggeration. The people doing the persecuting of young Joseph (and his family), left their own accounts that confirm Joseph’s story.

Joseph had dozens of lawsuits and other trials against him. (Brigham Young counted 47 such imprisonments, arrests and trials.)  He was acquitted every time. He was in jail again, waiting for another trial, when he was murdered by a mob. The mobs never let him alone his whole life.

For example, in the evening of March 24, 1832, a mob of men broke into the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio where Joseph and Emma were staying with their two new babies. The mob dragged him from the home, tried to force poison into his mouth, tore his clothes off, beat him severely, choked him unconscious, and then tarred, feathered and left him on the frozen ground.  The mob had brought along a doctor to castrate Joseph but the doctor would not go through with it.

Joseph was 24 years old at the time of this mobbing…still a very young man.  (If I were a fraud, this particular mobbing and the threat of castration would be more than enough to make me give up the fraud and renounce any claim to ever being a prophet.)

At Far West, Missouri, he was sentenced to die by firing squad, but the officer charged with carrying out the order refused to obey it.

Joseph knew that if he maintained his testimony, he would die because of it.  Lucy Walker Kimball stated “I have often heard him say that he expected to seal his testimony with his blood.”  Numerous men and women witnessed that Joseph said on several occasions that if he and Hyrum returned to Nauvoo and gave themselves up to be imprisoned at Carthage, they would surely be murdered.

On one such occasion Joseph said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.”

God told Joseph in July 1830, fourteen years before his martyrdom:  “Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many, but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days” (D&C 24:8).

Yes, Joseph did experience many afflictions. And so did Emma–wonderful, faithful, strong Emma.

The question is: “Why? Why go through all that suffering to uphold and support a fraud?”  Joseph and Emma could have at any time avoided further persecution and suffering by simply admitting to the fraud and renouncing their testimonies.

Because it was not and is not a fraud. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restored through Joseph and upheld by Joseph and Emma is true. It is the Church and Kingdom of God on the earth. I so testify.


Blog Post #18: Three Witnesses, Eight Witnesses and One Witness

Some months ago I reread a very good book by Richard Lloyd Anderson entitled “Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses”.  I had read it for the first time many years ago, but I learned much more from this second reading.

I recommend that you do yourself a big favor and read this book.  It is the most complete account that I know of describing all of the different witnesses to the Book of Mormon and their various experiences with the Book of Mormon plates. It is abundantly documented with lots of interesting references.  Here is the link on Amazon.

The book is well-written, unemotional and full of factual information, for example, the fact that Hyrum Smith, one of the Eight Witnesses, was elected school trustee in 1828, two years before the Book of Mormon came forth. Hyrum and two other trustees managed school affairs and funds, including the hiring of teachers.  Hyrum Smith was a very trustworthy guy.

In fact, all of the eleven formal witnesses (the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses) were reliable, solid citizens, just like Hyrum. These are people you would be strongly inclined to believe if they testified in court.  More than their words, however, it is the life-long actions of these witnesses, the sacrifices they made to uphold their testimonies that are so impressive.  I will say more about their “living testimonies” below.

Anderson’s book also summarizes the experiences and testimonies of many other people who were not formal witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates, but whose informal testimonies we also have. These include Emma Smith, the Prophet’s wife, who lived a life full of hardship and persecution because of her testimony.  Emma never knew peace because of those who continually sought to imprison and kill her husband. Two of her adopted children, little babies, died from exposure to the cold when the Smith house was broken into during the middle of the night by a mob who tarred and feathered Joseph and threatened to mutilate him. I admire Emma as much as I admire Joseph–and that is a whole lot of admiration.

Other “informal” witnesses also include William Smith, the prophet’s younger brother and Katherine Smith, Joseph’s younger sister.  Emma, William and Katherine testified that they had picked up and handled the plates when the plates were covered. They were not permitted to see the plates, but they “hefted” them and found them to be very heavy.

One of the most remarkable “informal” witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates was Mary Musselman Whitmer, the wife of David Whitmer, Sr. (called “Mother Whitmer”). Several Whitmer family members recorded her encounter with an angel who also showed her the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Mother Whitmer had a house full of guests to care for while the translation of the Book of Mormon was going on in her home, and she felt quite burdened as a result. Her son David Whitmer recorded the following:

“My mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man (an angel whom David had previously seen) who said to her: “You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tried because of the increase of your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.” Thereupon he showed her the plates.  David also gave additional details in a later statement to Edward Stevenson: “She said that they were fastened with rings. He (the angel) turned the leaves over; this was a satisfaction to her.  A portion of them were sealed together.”

Well, I don’t want to spoil your own reading of Anderson’s book by giving you too many details. But I hope every Latter-day Saint will read his book. It is short—just 200 pages, but full of solid and useful knowledge—and uplifting details. Many people saw or held the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.  This experience strengthened them for a lifetime of testing and tribulation. Reading their testimonies will also strengthen you for a lifetime of testing and tribulation that you can expect if you are to be valiant in your testimony of Jesus Christ.

More than their words, however, their subsequent lives of sacrifice and testing bear witness to the fact that these men and women actually did see and handle the plates. Some fell away from the Church, some gave their lives, or died prematurely as a result of the persecutions the Church endured. But none of them, not one of these eleven men, ever denied having either seen or held the plates.

Let’s briefly summarize what happened in the lives of the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses after they gave their testimonies to the world that they had seen and handled the plates.  Here is the Testimony of the Three Witnesses:

“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.” 

Signed by:

Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris

OK, let’s take these Three Witnesses one by one.

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver was the scribe who wrote most of the Book of Mormon as translated by Joseph Smith.  About 90% of the printer’s copy of the Book of Mormon is in his handwriting.  More than anyone else, he was in a position to expose Joseph as a fraud.  In Missouri, he felt personally hurt in his relationship with Joseph Smith and allied himself with his Whitmer relatives in serious differences with other church members as the Church was gathering in Caldwell County, Missouri.  He left the Church in 1838 and spent the next decade apart from the Church, finally being rebaptized in late 1848.  He never denied his testimony of seeing the plates or of his role in its translation. He never denounced Joseph as a fraud.

Following Oliver’s death in 1850, Oliver’s wife Elizabeth Whitmer Cowdery wrote about her husband in a letter to her brother David Whitmer: “From the hour when the glorious vision of the Holy Messenger revealed to mortal eyes the hidden prophecies which God had promised his faithful followers should come forth in due time, until the moment when he passed away from earth, he always without one doubt or shadow of turning affirmed the divinity and truth of the Book of Mormon.”

David Whitmer

David joined the Church in 1829, one of its earliest members, and was excommunicated in 1838 while serving as the president of the Church in Missouri (equivalent to stake president today).  Few men were as prominent as David Whitmer in the early history of the Church.   Quoting Richard Anderson “This outspoken and utterly honest personality would have been the first to detect fraud and expose it.”  After excommunication, David lived for 50 years as a businessman in Richmond, Missouri. Starting in 1858 he was elected city councilman several times.  He was also elected to fill the unexpired term of mayor in 1867-68.

Two events give some idea of the strong and outspoken character of David Whitmer.

First, in Richmond, Missouri David lived in a society hostile to his religious views, and also to his political views as a firm Unionist in a divided country at the time of the Civil War.  A meeting was held in Ray County, Missouri, at which the majority were going to draft a resolution requiring all non-secessionists (i.e., all supporters of the Union), to leave the county.

In the words of one Ray County resident “At this point in the proceedings, David Whitmer arose, walked to the platform and delivered a short but very telling speech. He stated that no resolutions or threats would cause him to run away.  He declared that he was a citizen of the United States, and should remain such.  He proposed to live and die under the old flag.  If anyone desired to shoot him, then was a good time.  The resolutions were not passed.”

Second, shortly before David Whitmer’s death, the rabid anti-Mormon lecturer, Clark Braden, came to Richmond and denounced David as disreputable.  A local paper, the Richmond Conservator, responded with a front page editorial that was unsympathetic to Mormonism but insisted on David’s good character “If a life of probity, of unobtrusive benevolence and well doing for well nigh half a century, marks a man as a good citizen, then David Whitmer should enjoy the confidence and esteem of his fellow men.” The following year, the editor penned a tribute on the eightieth birthday of David Whitmer, who “with no regrets for the past” still “reiterates that he saw the glory of the angel.”

Martin Harris 

Martin Harris was the witness who seemed to require more physical proof than any of the other witnesses.  First, he interviewed all of the Smith family separately to see if their stories agreed.  Before he was permitted to see the plates, Martin Harris was allowed to lift the box that contained the plates.  Martin stated “I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead.” Before mortgaging his farm to pay for the printing, Martin took copies of characters that had been transcribed from the plates to prominent linguists including Charles Anthon, who pronounced the characters to be genuine.   For me, the point is not that the characters were genuine or not, it is that Martin sought additional evidence from a qualified person and that he got the evidence he sought.

Again, this skeptical, hard-headed farmer, a man who was determined not to be deceived, did receive the physical and other evidence that he required. Then, after humbling himself, he received the visit from the angel that he testified to during the remaining 46 years of his life.

In Kirtland, Ohio, in the last week of December 1837, Martin Harris was excommunicated from the Church. Soon the body of the Church moved from Kirtland, but Martin did not follow.  Martin remained in Kirtland for the next thirty years in a non-Mormon society which ridiculed him. He changed his religious affiliation eight times during that period.  But he continued to affirm that he had seen an angel and held the plates.

Quoting Anderson: “One may well ask, since religious instability is so much in evidence, why Martin Harris did not abandon his signed testimony.  Freely seeking and bound by no Mormon ties, the only constancy of this period is his witness of the Nephite record.  If Martin Harris’s experience was an invention or emotional aberration, why didn’t it go the way of his other religious flirtations? But if his doctrinal commitments in Kirtland were fickle, his testimony of the angel and the plates remained an immovable certainty.”

Good questions. Why indeed hold to that testimony?  During his thirty years out of the Church, Martin Harris continued to affirm that he had seen an angel and handled the plates.

In 1870, 33 years after he was excommunicated, Martin decided to return to the Church and moved west to be with the Saints.  His companion on the trip was Edward Stevenson, who arranged for an interview with the Iowa State Register in Des Moines. The non-Mormon editor of the paper wrote of this interview:

“Mr. Harris is now in his 88th year, though still quite vigorous and sprightly…The old gentleman evidently loves to relate the incidents with which he was personally connected, and he does it with wonderful enthusiasm… Joseph Smith was the first to handle the tables, and Martin Harris, one of the appointed witnesses, the second.  Mr. Harris describes the plates as being of thin leaves of gold, measuring seven by eight inches, and weighing altogether, from forty to sixty pounds…. He believes in the visitations of angels in bodily form, for he has seen and conversed with them, as he thinks, and is satisfied.”

In the last year of his life, Martin sent a letter to Hannah Emerson in which he wrote: “No man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates, nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints under the administration of Joseph Smith, Jun., the prophet whom the Lord raised up for that purpose in these the latter days, that he may show forth his power and glory.”

So, to summarize, three strong-minded, independent and reliable men were each excommunicated from the Church and were isolated from the Church for many decades in different towns that were hostile to their beliefs. There was absolutely no reason for them to continue in bearing testimony to a fraud.  There was every reason to fit in with their neighbors by repudiating their testimonies. But instead they remained true to their testimonies of the Book of Mormon and angelic visitors. All three men had every reason to denounce Joseph Smith as an imposter.  They would have known all kinds of details about Joseph’s private life. They could have exposed the “real” story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and exposed the fraud for once and for all. But they did not.

OK, now on to a much shorter summary of the Eight Witnesses. Here is their testimony.

 Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it. 

Signed by,

Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jun., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith

The Whitmers were of German stock who came to New York from Pennsylvania.  They were all solid citizens in their New York society.  All were persecuted for their membership in the Church and their testimonies.  During the Missouri persecutions, Christian Whitmer was threatened with death, and Hiram Page was nearly whipped to death.  Christian and Peter died in 1835 and 1836, respectively, at least in part due to infections and exposure to the elements resulting from the Missouri persecutions.

John Whitmer was a counselor to his brother David in the presidency of the Church in Missouri.  John was excommunicated March 10, 1938, a month before David’s excommunication.  Hiram Page and Jacob Whitmer were not excommunicated, but sided with their Whitmer relatives. From that time until they died they were all alienated from the Church.  However, all of them continued to affirm that they had seen the angel and handled the plates.

John Whitmer’s declaration is typical of the Whitmer group of witnesses.  Six months before his death, he spoke at a Sunday service.  A local newspaper reported: “Mr. Whitmer stated that he had often handled the identical golden plates which Mr. Smith received from the hand of the angel.  He said it was of pure gold; part of the book was sealed up solid, the other part was open, and it was this part which was translated.”

Now the Smith witnesses.   Joseph Smith, Senior was the prophet’s father. Hyrum was his older brother and Samuel was his next younger brother.  These three men constantly lived and worked with Joseph.  They would have known if Joseph was a fraud, an imposter.  Instead, all three lost their lives as a result of their testimonies.  All three of them insisted to the ends of their lives that they had carefully examined and held the ancient plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.

Samuel, in fact, was the Church’s first missionary and one of its most active missionaries in its early days.  Daniel Tyler was converted as a result of Samuel’s missionary service. Here are Tyler’s words:

“In the spring of 1832, Elders Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde…came to our neighborhood and held a few meetings.  Elder Smith read the 29th chapter of Isaiah at the first meeting and delineated the circumstances of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, of which he said he was a witness. He knew that his brother Joseph had the plates, for the prophet had shown them unto him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon. His speech was more like a narrative than a sermon.”

Deeds speak louder than words.  Quoting once more from Anderson (pg. 147):

“Worn out by middle-aged privation for the cause of the restoration, Joseph Smith, Sr., died of a severe lung condition a year after the Mormon expulsion from Missouri.  The strain of a dangerous horseback ride in an attempt of Samuel to reach his brothers before their murder, and the shock of their deaths, brought fatal sickness to this last-surviving witness of the Smiths, who died a month later.  With his beloved Prophet-brother, Hyrum earlier faced the guns of a murderous mob in his last moments.  And it is clear that his martyrdom meant exactly to Hyrum what the Latter-day Saints made of it.  Interviews with the prison companions of Joseph and Hyrum were the basis of historical details that Hyrum read portions of the Book of Mormon the night before the martyrdom, and the next day bore testimony of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.”

In 1839, five years before his martyrdom, Hyrum wrote the following words in a general letter to the members of the Church:

“Having given my testimony to the world of the truth of the Book of Mormon,… and the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, in these last days: and having been brought into great afflictions and distresses for the same—I thought that it might be strengthening to my beloved brethren, to give them a short account of my sufferings, for the truth’s sake, and the state of my mind and feelings, while under circumstances of the most trying and afflicting nature….

“[I] had been abused and thrust into a dungeon…on account of my faith…. However, I thank God that I felt a determination to die, rather than deny the things which my eyes had seen, which my hands had handled, and which I had borne testimony to, wherever my lot had been cast; and I can assure my beloved brethren that I was enabled to bear as strong a testimony, when nothing but death presented itself, as ever I did in my life.”

So, as I end this blog, I have some questions to ask of every honest person.

If these eleven formal witnesses were frauds, or if they knew Joseph was a fraud, why not denounce the fraud? Why not avoid the persecution, suffering and death which came to them and those they loved by continuing in the fraud? When every one of the Three Witnesses and the majority of the Eight Witnesses were excommunicated from the Church and no longer surrounded by fellow Mormons, why wouldn’t they retaliate against Joseph by repudiating their testimonies? What on earth did they gain from continuing with this fraud? What earthly benefit did it bring them?

No benefit at all.

The only explanation that makes any sense is that they truly had seen the angel and handled the plates. They were determined to keep faith with God and with the reality of that experience, even if they were separated from the Church.

Now, one more witness.  I have not seen an angel, nor handled the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. I do not need to.  But like these eleven men, and millions of other men and women, I know that the Book of Mormon is true. It comes from God.  I am another witness.

The Book of Mormon is Another Witness of Jesus Christ: More Evidences from Hebrew Literary Forms- Blog Post #17 on March 27 2016

Either the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be, a genuine historical document, or it is fiction. If it is fiction, then somebody (or somebodies) in the early 19th century made it up.

I have read a lot of fiction, thousands and thousands of books of fiction, written by a wide range of authors covering many literary genres from westerns to historical romance.  The Book of Mormon is not fiction.  It bears none of the characteristic marks of fiction.  In a later blog, I will explain why I say this. In this blog, however, I want to provide additional evidence that the Book of Mormon is a genuine historical document.

Why do I do this? The answer is both sobering and simple.  We will all have to account to God someday for how we have treated the Book of Mormon, another testament of his son Jesus Christ. 

This blog is written for those who believe the Book of Mormon is from God, to strengthen their faith and increase their appreciation for this marvelous scripture. It is written for those whose faith may be wavering.  It is also written for those who believe the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction.

But the Book of Mormon contains many, many Hebrew literary structures.  It is full of them.  How did that happen in a book supposedly written in the early 19th century? These are distinctive literary structures, very different from modern English (or 19th century English). In Blog Post #4 I dealt with the subject of chiasmus, one of these Hebrew literary structures. Here is the introduction to that blog if you don’t want to review the whole thing. Quoting myself (with some edits) from Blog #4 (in italics):

“Ancient literature, including classical Greek and Latin, and also the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible, and the Koran, made extensive use of what is called “chiastic” structures.  Here is a good reference on chiasmus that will introduce you to the subject.

The idea of chiasmus is that the critical or key point of the chiasm is at the center of the structure, and that corresponding ideas parallel each other on either side of the chiasm.  The ideas do not always use exactly the same words, but the thoughts and ideas are parallel.  Here is an example from Isaiah Chapter 60 verses 1-3.

A Arise,

B shine;

C for thy light is come,

D and the glory

E of the LORD is risen upon thee.

F For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,

F and gross darkness the people:

E but the LORD shall arise upon thee,

D and his glory shall be seen upon thee.

C And the Gentiles shall come to thy light,

B and kings to the brightness

A of thy rising.

The focus of this chiasm is the gross darkness that covers the earth and its people. The light of the Lord is thus promised to dispel this darkness. Do you see how powerful this message is when written in this chiastic structure? Reading it this way is compelling. 

Now imagine yourself listening to these verses read out loud. Imagine that you are culturally sensitized to chiasmus and chiastic structures. Imagine the speaker’s voice giving emphasis to the underlined word, and even greater emphasis on the darkness at the focal point of the chiasm. Read it out loud this way for yourself and see how much more powerful it is as the spoken word, even more so than the written word.

From blog #4 I quote: “Mormons assert that the Book of Mormon was written by a people with their linguistic roots in Hebrew from about the 6th century B.C.  If Book of Mormon is an authentic book, then it likely contains chiasmi.  And indeed it does—it contains many of them.”

“Many of them” is a real understatement.  To be specific, the Book of Mormon contains more than 300 chiasmi (the plural of “chiasm”), an average of more than one every two pages.

Readers should understand that chiasmus is not hypothetical or a “theory” or just an idea.  It is real literary device used by ancient writers (and speakers).  Many non-Mormon scholars have identified and written extensively on chiasmus in ancient texts, including the Bible and the Koran.  Here are just a few of the many sites you can visit to learn more about chiasmus.  I recommend the Wikipedia site to start with.

About seven months ago, I bought a hard copy of the Book of Mormon reformatted to emphasize the parallel structures in the Book of Mormon, including chiasmus.  Chiasmus is only one of several different Hebrew writing structures making use of parallelism, but chiasmus is my favorite…so I emphasize it this blog.  I finished reading that reformatted version a few months ago. It was a wonderful experience. I will share several of my favorite chiasmi in this post, then comment on them.

It may be difficult to get your own hard copy of the reformatted Book of Mormon. Amazon does not have a reasonably priced version anymore (as of March 2016).

But, good news, you can get a PDF or read it online using one or more of the following links.  In fact, I strongly recommend that you open up or download one of these PDFs before reading the rest of this blog. The PDFs are free (about 4.5 MB in size).

The section on chiasmus is given on pages xvi through xix of the Introduction.  It is only a three pages long.  Please read it now.   You need to read this so that you are more fully prepared to benefit from the chiasmi highlighted below.  (Sometime you should read the entire Introduction to this book, pages xi through xlvi, to increase your appreciation for the literary beauty of the Book of Mormon and all the Hebrew poetic structures it contains, including but not limited to chiasmus.)

OK, are you ready to proceed?  🙂

Good…here we go.

We have long sections of text in the Book of Mormon from many distinct individuals.  These include: Lehi, Nephi, Isaiah, Jacob, Enos, Jarom, Benjamin, Mosiah, Abinadi, Ammon, Alma, Alma (“the Younger”), Amulek, Zeezrom, Aaron, Zenock, Zenos, Moroni (“captain” Moroni), Helaman, another Helaman, another Nephi, another Lehi, Samuel, Lachoneus, Jesus Christ, Ammoron, Mormon, Moroni (son of Mormon) and Ether.

I have selected a very few chiasmi for you to read from just a few of these people—just a few chiasmi out of hundreds of possible examples.  I have done this to emphasize how each of the Book of Mormon prophets used chiasmus to emphasize their own particular prophetic messages, especially to witness of Christ.

Please use the reformatted Book of Mormon when you study each of these.  You will see how the formatting makes the message of the chiasm clear—as it undoubtedly was clear to those who heard it. I also suggest you read each chiasm out loud, giving emphasis as indicated in the text.

We sit down now and read a speech that was often delivered orally before being committed to writing. (Yes, the ancients could speak this way extemporaneously without necessarily writing the chiasm down first.)  The Greeks were particularly good at speaking this way.  The hearers of the original words got the message they were intended to get from the oral delivery…that is part of the power of chiasmus.


  • Read (out loud) 1 Nephi 3: 3-12 in the reformatted Book of Mormon. The Latter-day Saints often quote 1 Nephi 3:7 as a stand-alone verse without realizing that it is part of a larger chiasm focused on keeping the commandments of God.  Nephi is the paragon of obedience in the Book of Mormon, and this chiasm makes that clear.
  • But Nephi knows that keeping the commandments is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. What is that end, that final result?  Now please read (again, I suggest you read out loud) another chiasm by Nephi in 1 Nephi 13: 39-42.  The message of all scripture, including the Book of Mormon, is that we must come unto Christ to be saved.  This fits perfectly with the message of the New Testament in St. John 21:30:  “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name”.


  • Lehi’s teachings and revelations were mostly lost to us when Martin Harris took the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon and lost them. When we eventually receive the Book of Lehi, I believe we will find that Lehi often used chiasmus.  But we do have at least one chiasm from him.  The book of 2 Nephi opens with a powerful chiasm given by father Lehi in his prophetic blessing and farewell to his sons. In 2 Nephi 1: 13-23 he exhorts them to keep the commandments and, at focal point of the chiasm, he warns them of the destruction that awaits them and their descendants if they do not repent. Lehi prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem if they did not repent, and destruction of the wicked among his descendants if they did not repent. “Destruction in the absence of repentance” is one of the key messages of the Book of Mormon.


  • The extended allegory of the olive trees and the vineyard given in Jacob 5 are attributed to an earlier prophet named Zenos. The allegory deals with God’s great efforts over the centuries to save his children by nurturing and feeding his children on truth. God’s great exertions on our behalf, his determination to save us, is the message of the whole allegory and is summarized here in these few verses Jacob 5: 61-64.


  • King Benjamin uses many chiasmi in his great discourse to his people. One of my favorites is in Mosiah 4: 11-12. These two short verses tell us how to retain a remission of our sins by remembering always the greatness of God and our own nothingness. This is hard for proud, sinful humans to hear; and it is absolutely necessary.  “Remembering” the goodness and power of God is another key message of the Book of Mormon, and it is emphasized here.  We forget so quickly the great works of God in our lives and in the life of the world.


  • The prophet Abinadi was put to death for stating that God himself, as Jesus Christ, would come down among his people (see Mosiah 17:8). Abinadi’s testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and of the resurrection was direct and powerful. He stated it in a short chiasm found in Mosiah 15: 20-23.  His hearers would have gotten the message thus delivered in the chiasm, and then it was up to them to accept or reject the message.  Apparently only one person did accept Abinadi’s message, a young man named Alma, later called Alma the Elder.

Mormon-summarizing the teachings of Alma (the Elder)

  • In Blog #4 I wrote about Alma 36, a great, chapter-long chiasm focused on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. This chiasm was given by Alma (the Younger) as instruction to his son Helaman. His father Alma also focused his teaching on Jesus Christ, as he had learned of Christ from Abinadi. One example of Alma (the Elder’s) Christ-focused chiasmi as summarized by Mormon is given in Mosiah 18:1-3.


  • A primary responsibility of Amulek was to bear witness to the people in the city of Ammoniah that Alma (the younger) was a true prophet, so that in the mouths of two or more witnesses every word of God might be established. Thus the judgments of God upon that city would be just.  Amulek testified that he had been visited by an angel in Alma 10: 7-11.  By stating his testimony in this chiastic form, Amulek’s audience would have gotten the message that Amulek wanted to convey.  His testimony helped to convert some of his audience, and enraged many others.  The word of God makes us choose sides.


  • Mormon often gives us editorial comments in chiastic form. A short one is found in Alma 19: 6-7, commenting on the conversion of King Lamoni and the light of God that had illuminated his mind and soul. Do you see how powerfully the chiastic structure contrasts light and dark?

Samuel the Lamanite

  • Samuel’s preaching to the wicked Nephites focused in part on the coming of the Savior to visit the descendants of Lehi. One such testimony of Samuel regarding the coming of Christ is given in Helaman 14:2-8 as a chiasm.  The sign of the Lord’s coming was to be a day and a night and a day as if there were no night, and that great sign was at the focal point of the chiasm, right where it should be.

I had intended to give only ten chiasmi, but I want to do two last ones, one by the Lord Jesus Christ and another by Moroni.  Twelve is a good number for someone who wishes to be a follower of Christ.  🙂

Jesus Christ

  • The Savior structured many of his teachings to the Nephites in chiastic form. One example is actually a nested, or double chiasm, given in 3 Nephi 18:27-35.  Note the Lord’s concern for his people.  He wants us to take the Sacrament worthily in remembrance of him. But we are not to cast out those who are unworthy.  Their sins may cost them their membership in the church if they do not repent. Nonetheless, we are to continue to minister to them and help them to repent, and return to Christ.


  • Chiasmi need not be long to be powerful. The primary function of the Book of Mormon is to serve as another witness that Jesus is the Christ.  Moroni begins his own book, the last book of the Book of Mormon, by offering his witness of Jesus Christ, a witness that is so strong that he will suffer death rather than deny the Christ, Moroni 1: 2-3.  I think all the chiasmi benefit from being read out loud. This one absolutely should be read out loud to appreciate it.

Well, almost done with this blog. The next time I read the Book of Mormon (later this year), I will read the reformatted version, out loud, trying to speak it with the emphasis indicated by the formatting. As I do so, I expect to have receive more light and truth that will bring me closer to Christ.

I recommend you do the same thing.

As you read the Book of Mormon, you might be alert to the presence of all the beautiful Hebrew literary structures that the good people who prepared this reformatted version (bless them!) may have missed.  I did so and I think I found my “very own” chiasm in the Book of Mormon, one that was missed in this particular version.

Look carefully at Alma 15:5-11 and reformat these verses with verse 8 at the focal point: “If thou believest in the redemption of Christ, thou canst be healed.” Do you see the four parallel ideas on either side of that focal verse? Start with “they found him on his bed, sick” and end with “Zeezrom leaped on his feet”, those are the first and last of the parallel elements.  See the others now?  🙂

So to my fellow believers in the Book of Mormon, I hope that your faith and your testimony have been strengthened by this blog.  I hope that you see how this way of approaching the Book of Mormon, as a book full of Hebrew literary structures, can help you receive additional light and knowledge from the Savior.  I hope it will help keep you strong in the faith and valiant in your testimony of Jesus Christ. I hope you will believe even more strongly that through the redemption of Christ, we all can be healed.

My own faith in Christ’s redeeming power has healed me many times, both spiritually and physically, and I expect to be healed again and again through his grace and mercy, as I continue through my life and into the next life.

For those who do not believe the Book of Mormon to be true, or whose faith may be wavering, I ask that you consider this question in the silent honesty of your own soul: how it was possible for any modern writer to write this book?

Can you write a chiasm about a serious subject?  Can you write the twelve I have quoted above? Or can you write 300 of them, so finely tuned to the larger messages of the Book of Mormon and the individual experiences of the different authors of the Book of Mormon and woven so seamlessly into its text?

No, you cannot. I certainly cannot. We just do not write this way.  But ancient writers and speakers can and did.

The Book of Mormon is true. It is a genuine historical book, not a work of fiction.  And because it is true, Joseph Smith was a true prophet, right to the day he was martyred, no matter how difficult it may sometimes be to understand or accept what we think we know of some of Joseph’s actions and teachings. Because it is true, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is also true, no matter how socially unacceptable some of its teachings may sometimes be and no matter how obviously fallible and human its leaders and members are, were and will always be. It is indeed the restored church of Christ here on the earth in these last days, preparing the way for the Lord’s Second Coming. The Book of Mormon truly is another witness that Jesus Christ is the living Son of God.

On this Easter Sunday, March 27, in the year of our Lord’s grace 2016, I bear my own solemn witness to you that Jesus is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world and that the Book of Mormon is true and a true witness of Christ.  The tomb is empty. As testified by the Book of Mormon and by ancient and modern prophets alike, the Savior lives!


“Worlds without Number”: A Faith for the Space Age Post #16- February 14, 2016

My first reading material was comic books.  I read them all the time. When my parents went shopping I sat underneath the comic book racks in the store and read as many comics as I could (free of charge).  Once my dad took me shopping by himself.  He bought the groceries, checked out and drove home before he realized that he had left me in the store.  (My dad, like his eldest son Bruce, could really get lost in his own thoughts.) Anyway, when dad got back I was still happily reading along, not realizing that I had been, for a short time, an abandoned child.  No residual emotional trauma that I can detect.  🙂

From comic books I graduated to the Hardy Boys and then to science fiction of all kinds. My first science fiction book was Robert A. Heinlein’s “Have Spacesuit Will Travel”. I read it shortly after the Russians launched the first Sputnik, and thereby initiated the Space Age.  Over time, I read everything that Heinlein wrote, ditto for everything by the great science fiction authors Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Poul Anderson, Frank Herbert and Philip Dick.  I also read lots of Ron Hubbard, “Doc” Smith, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon and many others.  Besides just being fun to read, these books dealt with many themes, political, social and moral, both openly and indirectly.

But the crucial, underlying theme of science fiction is this: “Is there anyone out there? Or is humankind alone in the universe?”  This continues to be a central question of science today (not just science fiction).  Just listen to any cosmologist like Carl Sagan or Neil De Grasse Tyson, or to a first rate astronomer like Alex Filippenko to understand how important this question remains.

The question of humankind’s place in the universe has a very long history.  The Greek scientist Democritus (about 500 BC, the father of atomic theory) believed in the plurality of worlds and of the presence of intelligent life on such worlds.

The great scientist and philosopher Aristotle (about 400 BC) believed just the opposite. He thought that we were the only intelligent race on the only inhabited planet in the entire universe. We are alone in the universe.  Aristotle’s physical model of the cosmos was likewise earth-centric. Everything orbited in crystalline, concentric spheres around the solid, unmoving earth. The stars existed to help seamen navigate.

Aristotle was a key intellectual influence on Roman Catholic thought.  He also exerted a huge influence on Protestant theology.  Cosmology (the study of the whole universe) is serious stuff, and these questions were taken very, very seriously by the dominant religions throughout the Middle Ages and earlier.  In 1600 AD Giordano Bruno got himself burned at the stake (naked, as it turns out– a fate reserved for the most recalcitrant heretics) for insisting, among his other “heresies”, that the universe was infinite.

Likewise, the great Galileo spent the last years of his life under house arrest because, again among other things, his views on astronomy were considered heresy.  (Besides being a great genius, Galileo was also tactless and arrogant…which didn’t help him at all with the religious establishment of his day.)

So why this very brief review of the history of cosmology?

Because we have been in the Space Age for almost 60 years, all of my adult life.  Because any religious faith that hopes to give satisfying, defensible, realistic answers about the purpose of this earth must also give satisfying answers about the purpose of all those other worlds out there.

How many worlds?

We now know that there are at least 100 billion galaxies and that each galaxy contains on average 100 billion stars.  Many of not most of these stars will have planets orbiting them.  If we assume 10 planets per star (roughly like our own solar system), then we are looking at the possibility of 10 x 100 billion x 100 billion planets in the universe, or 100 sextillion possible planets, a one with 23 zeros after it.  (Or roughly Avogadro’s number of worlds for the chemistry students reading this blog.) That is one heck of a lot of possible extra-solar worlds (which are called “exoplanets”, by the way).

Here is a view of one small portion of deep space as seen from the Hubble space telescope. This picture alone contains over 5000 galaxies.

5000 galaxies from Hubble

Actually, there are almost certainly many more worlds than a few sextillion (interesting word! :)).  Every time we build a better, bigger telescope, and we look deeper and deeper into the universe, we see new galaxies that we were not able to observe before. So, based on past experience, I assume that the next time we look with a better gadget, we will see even more galaxies.

I agree with Giordano Bruno.  I think the universe is infinite, but that is a discussion for another time.  An infinite universe solves the “problem” of entropy…again, something for another blog.

So, now to my point. There are uncounted trillions and trillions of worlds.  Through science, we know that they exist.   That point is no longer in dispute.  But science does not know WHY they exist.  And thus far, science has been unable to put us in contact with life on those worlds.

As I have written in previous blogs, neither science (nor science fiction) can answer the “why?” question.  Science (and science fiction) can only speculate or guess or offer endless, highly conflicting opinions about “why”. No wonder we see so much conflict around us on these subjects.

As in so many other things, God inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to answer the question of other worlds long, long before science answered them.  God also clearly answered, through Joseph Smith, the “why?” question, which is the question that really concerns humankind.

First, how many worlds are there? God revealed the answer to this question to Joseph in about 1831…shortly after the Church was organized. We read from the Pearl of Great Price-Moses 1:33 and 35.

“And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten…. But only an account of this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, give I unto you. For behold, there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand, and innumerable are they unto man; but all things are numbered unto me, for they are mine and I know them.”

So, there are worlds “without number” and “innumerable are they unto man”.

As far as I am concerned, one hundred sextillion is pretty much innumerable unto me.  To illustrate, if all seven billion people on earth counted one star every second of their lives and we all lived for seventy years, we would still fall 10,000 times short of being able to count all of the  worlds we know about.  And there are almost undoubtedly many, many more worlds than that.

So, yes. There are worlds without number and they are indeed “innumerable unto man.” All the existing, known stars have literally not been counted. We haven’t assigned numbers to all of them.  We only give them numbers (actually alpha-numeric designations) when we study them specifically.

It is also interesting to note that that there are “many worlds that have passed away.”  Today we know about stars following the main sequence until they explode or “pass away” in novae and supernovae. We know about black holes swallowing planets (or even other black holes) and thereby passing away out of our knowledge or ability to observe them. Another “bulls eye” for Joseph Smith.

But why make all these worlds?  Is there any meaning to all these trillions of planets and stars?

Yes, there is.  And that meaning is intimately connected with the work of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  From Doctrine and Covenants Section 76: 22-24, given to Joseph in 1832, we learn:

And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!  For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”

The inhabitants of these worlds are literally sons and daughters of God, not in some vague mystical or allegorical sense, but as a physical reality.

And what God’s purpose for His children?

Once again, the answer comes from the revelations given by God to Joseph Smith.  In Moses 1:39 we read again: For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

God’s purpose in creating these worlds without number is to give places for his children to live while they gain physical bodies and have essential experiences that are only possible in such bodies. We must live for a while “on our own”, separated from Him, to see how we will behave when we are not in His presence. An important part of this testing is to see how we will treat other people.  The purpose of our earthly experience is to progress and become more like God, to become immortal beings with glorified bodies, and to eventually progress to the point where we live the kind of life that our Heavenly Father lives, a quality of life called “eternal life”.   So, we have a divine answer to the “why” question.

I cannot imagine a grander or more uplifting understanding of the physical universe and of humankind’s place in that universe than that revealed to the Prophet Joseph.

The French philosopher and mathematician Henri Bergson once stated “the universe is a machine for the making of gods.”

What Bergson offered as a philosophical speculation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims as reality.  Truly, it is a faith for the Space Age.





Farewell to 2015 and to Dr. Michael Coe-Blog Post #15 December 24-2015

Blog Post #15:  Farewell to 2015 and to Dr. Michael Coe

This is my final post for 2015.  I want to finish dealing with Dr. Michael Coe’s book The Maya. Actually I want to finish with Dr. Coe altogether.  🙂

As I said in Blog #13, Dr. Coe criticized the Book of Mormon as having little to do with the early Indian cultures on this continent, “in spite of much wishful thinking”…as he puts it. Apparently those who believe the Book of Mormon is a historical record, as I definitely do, are guilty of wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, Dr. Coe does not seem to have actually read the Book of Mormon, something that is essential if he wants to have an informed opinion.  Instead, he has just given us his prejudices, in other words, his opinions without facts.  If Dr. Coe had taken the trouble to actually read the Book of Mormon, he might have found a number of points of agreement between his book The Maya and the Book of Mormon.     

Well, as I said earlier, I am a helpful guy. So I did the necessary work for Dr. Coe.  I did the work he should have done for his opinions to be taken seriously.  I read his book carefully and I compared it with the Book of Mormon.

In Blog #13 I briefly listed and discussed a number of points of agreement, or correspondences, between the Book of Mormon and Dr. Coe’s book, but only up to page 107 of his book.  For continuity, I have repeated those points (1-21) below under the ten major headings used in Blog #13, but not my earlier discussion of each point.

In this blog, I want to cover the pages of his book after pg. 107.  In these pages, some new correspondences with the Book of Mormon have emerged. These are listed under Points 22-46 below and are briefly discussed. Also, some previous correspondences are repeated again in Dr. Coe’s book after pg. 107.  These are also listed under each major point (1-46).

Please note that I am not trying to “prove” that the Maya are directly connected with the Nephites or Lamanites. I don’t know if that is true one way or the other. All that I am trying to show is that the Book of Mormon is at home in Mesoamerica, culturally, politically and geographically.  That is, the Book of Mormon fits well in this particular area of the world—and nowhere else in the world that I am aware of.

Again, all page citations are from the 9th edition of his book.  The correspondences are in bold italics.  Here are the relevant quotations from Dr. Coe’s book, (all of them in italics and underlined):

  1. Points: 1) hieroglyphic writing, 2) books, 3) complex calendar, 4) highly specialized markets and 5) a complex pantheistic religion. Page 13  “All the Mesoamerican Indians shared a number of traits which were more or less peculiar to them and absent or rare elsewhere in the New World: hieroglyphic writing, books… a complex calendar,…highly specialized markets, …a highly complex pantheistic religion.”  Also on page 146 we read in Dr. Coe’s book about “a bustling marketplace”.  On page 233, “…highland Guatemalan markets were “great and celebrated and very rich””
  2. Points: 6) Severe droughts and 7) Domesticated bees 17 and 19 and 32. “…in bad years there may be severe droughts”  “early Colonial chronicles speak much of famines in Yucatan before the arrival of the Spaniards” severe drought AD 200-300 in Maya lowlands (Belize and Yucatan) Pg. 19—the Yucatan produced “honey, salt and slaves”. See also pg. 231 “As he still does today, the Maya farmer raised the native stingless bees.”
  3. Points: 8) Populations in the millions Pg 22  “lowlands could have been far more densely populated by the Classic Maya (era of time—after 250 AD to 800 AD) 2-3 million to 8-10 million  (Bruce’s note: Maya civilization collapsed in the 9th century AD)
  4. Points: 9 The Lehite colony could have come by sea. Pg 41 “”the very first Americans may well have taken a maritime route.”   See also pg. 224, the legends of the Kaqchikel Maya state “From the setting sun we came [Bruce’s note, that is, from the west, the direction from which the Lehite colony came], from Tula, from beyond the sea; and it was at Tula that arriving we were brought forth…”
  5. Points: 10) Steep decline of the Olmecs coincides with Jaredite decline. 11) A key  purpose of writing is to record the reigns of the kings.  Pg. 61: “As the Olmec civilization went into a steep decline, c. 400 BC rapid changes took place in the Maya area.”  …”Concurrently we see in this epoch the beginnings of Maya hieroglyphic writing and the calendar, perhaps to record the doings of the kings and dynasties.”
  6. Points: 12) Presence of cities, 13) Existence of temples, 14) Existence of large scale public works, 15) Existence of writing/record keeping (repeats Point 1), 16) Accurate keeping of time. Pg. 63 defining civilization “Cities are one criterion.” “state institutions, large-scale public works, temple buildings,..” “some form of record keeping” “…more or less accurate means of keeping time.” “These traits are known to have developed (Bruce’s note: developed for the Maya) in the Late Preclassic period.” (300 BC-250 AD).
  7. Points: 17) Decline of civilization, 18) Change in the dominant religion   Pg. 80-81 Kaminaljuyu was a great Mayan city/area in highland Guatemala near present-day Guatemala City and it was a pre-eminent city for the Maya in their Late Preclassic period. Speaking of Kaminaljuyu, Dr. Coe writes: its star began to sink by the second and third centuries AD, and most of it was left in ruins at the close of the late Preclassic.” “…indicating that there was a change in popular cults.”
  8. Point 19) Foreign rulers ruled over people Pg 103 “An elite class consisting of central Mexican foreigners, and the local nobility with whom they had marriage ties, could have ruled over a captive population of largely Maya descent.”
  9. Point 20) Human sacrifice  Pg 104 “The lords of highland Guatemala had their tombs accompanied by up to three people sacrificed for the occasion (generally children or adolescents).”
  10. Point 21) Volcanic eruption buries a village 107 Ceren, a small village in western El Salvador was buried by the eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano.


New points starting at Page 107.

  1. Points: 22) Large movements of people, 23) Elite classes had foreign spouses pg 109  “What is clear is that, far more than once thought, people moved about in the Early Classic period: [that is, between 600 BC and 250 BC]…including the introduction of foreign brides for elites.”  In the Book of Mormon, people also move around a great deal.  We especially see this trend as many, many Nephite dissenters go up and join the Lamanites. But it works the other way also.  Recall how the people of Ammon came down and became part of the Nephite nation. Later, large numbers of Lamanite warriors, sick of the war, go over and join the people of Ammon.  Further recall how king Lamoni offered one of his daughters in marriage to Ammon.  Amalickiah, a Nephite dissenter with a small band of Nephite followers, succeeds in taking over the Lamanite nation and is recognized as king by the Lamanites.  He then marries the previous king’s wife.  So, yes, the Book of Mormon people move around a great deal and at the higher ranks, at least, there was intermarriage between the Lamanites and Nephites.
  2. Point 24: Large defensive earthworks around cities. 122.  “… Becan in the Chenes region…was completely surrounded by massive defensive earthenworks between the second and fourth centuries AD.  In Blog #11 “Digging Deep Ditches” I described how huge earthen works were instituted by Moroni to protect the badly outnumbered Nephites.  Mormon, also a general, was obviously impressed by these defenses and described them several times in the last half of the book of Alma.  Dr. Coe could hardly have missed the this correspondence between his book and the Book of Mormon…if he had actually read the Book of Mormon
  3. Point 25: Existence of roads. 126  “…building complexes interconnected by causeways, known to the Classic Maya as sakbih, “white roads.”  Page 163: “There are more than sixteen of these (masonry causeways, or “white roads”).  [One road] continues west from Coba… for no less than 62 miles.” Also see pg. 182 and 242. So the Maya built roads—not a common practice among ancient cultures, including the various Indian cultures. I am not aware of any North American Indians who built roads, but the Maya did. So did the Book of Mormon peoples.  See 3 Nephi 6:8 and 3 Nephi 8:13.
  4. Point 26: Even if your ancestors had lived in the area for hundreds of years, you could still get badly lost. 139 “Lost and starving among the swampy bajos and thorny forests of northern Guatemala they (Father Avendano and his companions in AD 1695) came across…”  Pg. 219 “Safe in the fastness of an almost impenetrable wilderness [in northern Guatemala.]  So in parts of Mesoamerica you can get lost and starve even if your people have been in the area for more than a hundred years, as the Spaniards had been. In the Book of Mormon, whole armies could get lost.  According to Mosiah 23:30 “Now the armies of the Lamanites, which had followed after the people of king Limhi, had been lost in the wilderness for many days”  See also Mosiah 8:8, 21:25, 22:16 for other mentions of people getting lost who presumably had been in the region for a long time.  The Book of Mormon refers to wilderness a total of 212 times. Sounds like very rough, heavily wooded country, probably swampy also.  (Swamps make it difficult to go in straight lines…so one is always getting turned around.) So from Father Avendano’s experience, we see why the Book of Mormon might well describe multiple experiences of getting lost.
  5. Points 27: Continuing warfare among a group of people and repetition of Point 6: Existence of droughts.  Pg. 175  “Most Maya archaelogists now agree that three factors were paramount in the downfall (of Maya civilization”): endemic internecine warfare, overpopulation and drought.” …”Warfare seems to have become a real problem earlier than the other two.’ Pg. 236 “The Maya were obsessed with war.” As mentioned above in #2, droughts were a feature of Book of Mormon life.  “Endemic” means a continuing, persistent condition commonly found in a certain area or among a certain people.  “Internecine” means struggle within a group or people. So what Dr. Coe means is that the Maya were always warring among themselves…until their civilization disappeared.  As the curtain rings down on the Book of Mormon, this is exactly the situation we find “And behold also, the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war.”  (Mormon 8:8)
  6. Point 28: “Darts” used in warfare. Pg. 175 “Taneko found 217 projectile points; almost all were of flint, and had been used on darts propelled by atlatls—mute testimony to a final battle sealing the city’s death.”  The Book of Mormon tells us specifically that “darts” were used in Mesoamerican warfare.  (Jarom 1:8)
  7. Points 29) Deforestation, 30) Protection of trees, 31) Trade in timber: Pg. 176 “The botanists conclude, with one caveat, that the Tikal Maya had largely demolished the tall monsoon forest by the 740s. The caveat is this: in AD 810, sapodilla was again the species of choice, but beam widths (i.e the size of the timbers) were far smaller than they had once been.  Apparently Tikal’s rulers had set aside protected groves of their favorite trees or managed to import it from some distance…”   Points 32) and 33) Northward migrations and buildings of cement.  In Helaman Chapter 3, the Book of Mormon speaks of a great northward migration of both Nephites and Lamanites and also about deforestation, subsequent protection of trees and trade in timber.  Here is the quotation:

“And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers.  Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.  And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.  And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.  And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.  And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.  And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.  And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.”

So we have widespread deforestation described in the Book of Mormon, setting aside of protected areas for timber to grow up and the importation of timber into this area, just as Dr. Coe describes for the Maya.

Mayan civilization peaked in about AD 800 and then declined rapidly.  The northward migration mentioned above in Helaman Chapter 3 occurred almost 900 years earlier, so it could not have been the migration that coincided with the decline of the Mayan civilization.  The point I wish to make is that specifically northward migrations did occur, as stated in the Book of Mormon, Pg. 177. “Early Colonial chronicles in Yukateko speak of a “Great Descent” and “Lesser Descent” implying two mighty streams of refugees heading north from the abandoned cities into Yucatan.

Joseph Smith says specifically that this migrant group of people in the north, who did not have easy access to wood, became very expert in working of cement. Anyone who has read about or visited the pyramids and ball courts and other structures of the Maya will testify that they indeed were experts in working with cement.

As a chemical engineer, this point intrigues me.  I am going to read up on the cement-working abilities of Mesoamericans, and blog about it some day. But for right now, all I want to do is point out, very strongly, that the Native Americans Joseph Smith knew of emphatically did not work in cement. They had houses of hides or wood.  But not cement. If Joseph were making up the Book of Mormon, why would he refer to houses of cement? That is another very specific detail that adds weight to Joseph’s prophetic credentials.

  1. Point 34) Light and dark skin colors. Color figures in the center of Coe’s book, Figures xv and xvi.   These figures definitely show two different groups of people, one with darker skins and the other with lighter-colored skins.  One group is obviously dominated by the other. The Book of Mormon emphatically condemns racism (eg, Jacob 3:9) but acknowledges the existence of darker and lighter-skinned people.  Coe’s book shows at least one example of the existence of such different skin colors.
  2. Point 35) Use of quilted armor Pg. 210 “Left arms were protected by quilted padding…” See also pg 236 “footsoldiers wore cuirasses (breastplate and backplate) of quilted cotton. Coe’s book does not speak much about the quilted armor used by the Maya, but they did use such armor, as did the Aztecs. Another book (“Aztec Warfare” by Ross Hassig, University of Oklahoma Press, 1988) on page 88 states that “Quilted cotton armor was a common element of battle attire in Mesoamerica…was so thick that neither an arrow nor an atlatl dart could penetrate it.”  

The Book of Mormon mentions thick clothing as another military innovation of Moroni (Alma 43:19): “And when the armies of the Lamanites saw that the people of Nephi, or that Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing“

So I pause to ask the reader a question: have you ever heard of thick clothing as armor? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?  Would you have put this in the Book of Mormon if you were making it up?  But this cotton armor was so superior to the Spaniards’ own armor that they used this Mesoamerican armor whenever they could.

Would you have made up that silly story about thick clothing as armor if you were Joseph Smith?  The only armor Joseph Smith might have been aware of was the typical metal armor worn before the invention of guns. For me, this is another big point for the Book of Mormon.  This something that sounds silly initially…thick clothing as armor… then sounds more reasonable on closer inspection, and finally turns out to be actually what was done in Mesoamerican warfare.

  1. Point 36) Higher kings ruled over subordinate kings. Pg. 216 “The wily K’uk’ulkan II populated his city with provincial rulers and their families, thus ensuring dominion over much of the [Yucatan] peninsula.” See also pg. 236 and pg. 274-275.   See Alma Chapters 17 and 20.  Lamoni is the king over the land of Ishmael.  He and the king of the land of Middoni (whose name is Antiomno) are subject to the rule of Lamoni’s father, who is king over all the land of Nephi.
  2. Point 37) The Maya used parallelisms in their writing, like the Hebrews and like the Book of Mormon. Pg. 229. See an excerpt from one of the books of Chilam Balam, a sacred book of the Maya.   I will return to Hebrew poetic parallelisms, including chiasmus, in a later blog, but apparently both the Popol Vuh and the Chilam Balam, also use such literary structures.
  3. Point 38) The Maya had a baptismal rite.  Pg. 233 “The Spanish Fathers were quite astounded that the Maya had a baptismal rite.    So did the Book of Mormon peoples have a baptismal rite, from very early in their history (2 Nephi Chapter 31) right up to the very end (Moroni Chapters 6 and 8).  I think we should be astounded, too, that this rite of baptism was found in Mesoamerica—something the Book of Mormon explicitly states.
  4. Point 39) The ruling structure was a class society with an hereditary elite, or “nobility”. Pg.  234 “The ancient Maya realm was no theocracy or primitive democracy, but a class society with political power strongly concentrated in the hands of an hereditary elite.”  This is the same ruling structure we can find in the Book of Mormon, particularly among the Lamanites and the degenerate portion of the Nephites.  See Alma Chapter 51 for the most direct mention of this structure among the Nephites.  The “king-men” were those of “high birth” (verse 8) who wanted to rule over the rest of the people. However, even when the Nephites were ruled “by the voice of the people” (Alma 10:19), following the political reforms of King Mosiah, the office of chief judge, an elected position, often descended from father to son (eg, Alma to his son Alma, Pahoran to his son Pahoran, etc).  Obviously, there was a de facto hereditary elite even during a time of popular elections.
  5. Point 40) Lineage (genealogy) mattered a lot. Pg.  235 “…both kinds [maternal and paternal] of lineage were strictly ranked; and to be able to trace one’s genealogy in both lines was an important matter, for there were strongly demarcated classes. At the top were the nobles (“almahen”, meaning “he whose descent is known on both sides.”…at the bottom were the slaves…”)  In the Book of Mormon, Mormon tells us that he is a pure descendant of Lehi (3 Nephi 5:20). As anyone who does genealogical research will tell you, it is a really big deal to be able to trace your family back almost 1000 years, as Mormon was able to do.  Amulek began his sermon to the Ammonihahites by telling them (apparently to establish his credibility) that he was a descendant of Giddonah who was the son of Ishmael who was a descendant of Aminadi (Alma 10:2)–who had done a considerable miracle.
  6. Point 41) There was slavery. 19, pg. 235 (above) and pg. 236 “cacao groves worked by slaves”  There are many other mentions of slavery in Coe’s bookThis may not be a particularly strong correspondence because, sadly, human beings have frequently enslaved other human beings. Alma 27:8-9 mentions that king Mosiah had abolished slavery among the Nephites but it was clearly present among the Lamanites.  But the presence of slavery clarifies the otherwise confusing (to me at least) story of Ammon at the waters of Sebus. The servants of Lamoni who had had their flocks scattered at the waters of Sebus (see Alma Chapters 17-19) were afraid of being executed by the Lamoni. So why didn’t they defend themselves and the flocks against the robbers? Because they were either slaves or of such a sharply lower class that they could not strike a person of higher class. Ammon was the son of the Nephite king—and it was obviously known that he was a king’s son (which is why Lamoni thought a political marriage between his daughter and the son of the Nephite king would be a good idea).  So Ammon could fight back, but the Lamanite servants could not.
  7. Point 42) The land had abundant gold and silver and the people used both metals. See pages 22, 60, 179, 194, 212, 215, 219, etc. of Dr. Coe’s book. Nephi tells us that gold and silver were in great abundance (2 Nephi 5:15) and right from the beginning the Lehite colony “began to search much gold and silver” (Jacob 1:16) as did the Jaredites before them (Ether 10:23). The Nephites used gold and silver as money (Alma Chapter 11).   Use of gold and silver is characteristic of the Maya and the Inca, as well as many other cultures in Mesoamerica, where both metals are abundant. But it is not characteristic of the tribes of North America with whom Joseph Smith was familiar.
  8. Point 43) Use of stone boxes to contain books.  Pg. 239 “A few probable coffers exist for books, including the recent find of a lidded limestone box from Hun Nal Ye cave in Guatemala.” The Book of Mormon does not mention stone boxes, but Joseph Smith tells us that the plates were buried in the ground, contained in a box formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement (see blog post #3).
  9. Point 44) Corn is the first or primary grain. Pg. 242. “This crop (maize or corn) is so fundamental today that its cultivation and consumption define what it means to be Maya.” In Mosiah 9:9 and 9:14 and also in Mosiah 7:22, corn is mentioned first among other grains, before wheat and barley, just like a good Mesoamerican would do.   Corn first, everything else second.
  10. Point 45) The priests were responsible for keeping the calendar including days, months and years.  pg. 243.  Maya priests….list of duties…among them “the years, months and days…they also kept the all-important genealogies.”  Compare this with the Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi Chap. 8 verse 5 “And it came to pass in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month, there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.” This was part of a record kept by the priest Nephi, the son of Helaman, who also knew his descent as a son of another Helaman, who was a son of Alma, who was a son of another Alma.
  11. Point 46) Four hundred years would have been a significant number. Pg. 259.  The Maya numbering systems is based on twenty, rather than ten. (Ten fingers plus ten toes equals twenty—if you live in a tropical climate you can see your toes more easily.  🙂) “The first and lowest place has a value of one; the next above it the value of twenty; then 400…”  The Maya called any set of 20 things a baktun and a set of 400 years would have been a baktun of baktuns…a significant number.  So it may also be important that Helaman 13: 5 and 9 both refer to 400 years as the prophesied time of the destruction of the Nephite nation.
  12. Point 47) Maya spiritual leaders use a crystal as a part of prophecy. Pgs. 296 and 297. “[The “hmeen”] or “he who does or understands things”—that is, the shaman…still play an important role in divination and prophecy, using their crystals to scry the future.”  “The rite begins after hmeen has consulted his zaztun or crystal.”   The parallel here with the “interpreters” and the men called “seers” in Book of Mormon is obvious (to anyone who has actually read the Book of Mormon).  Speaking of king Mosiah who was a  “seer”, in Mosiah Chapter 28 we find that Mosiah “took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi; And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed. And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow. Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages; And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people; And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.”

Okay, that’s it. There are probably more correspondences in Coe’s book that I missed.  You are welcome to read it and find some for yourself.

But forty seven is a nice prime number and it is a good place to stop.  There are many specific correspondences between Dr. Coe’s book and Book of Mormon, some of them quite unusual or rare (eg, writing, thick clothing as armor, bee keeping, stone boxes for holding books, defensive earthworks, seers and seer stones, roads, a complex calendar, a continuing state of war, etc.) are more than enough to show that the Book of Mormon is very much at home in Mesoamerica, contrary to the opinions of Dr. Coe.

It is not wishful thinking on the part of those who believe the Book of Mormon; rather it is sloppy thinking and shoddy scholarship on the part of Dr. Coe.

It is painfully obvious that Dr. Coe has not read the Book of Mormon, at least not carefully. His position as a prominent Maya archaeologist does not give him the authority to opine on a book that he has not taken the trouble to read.

Dr. John L. Sorenson has written a lengthy book called Mormon’s Codex.  His book details more than 400 correspondences between the Book of Mormon and what we know of conditions in Mesoamerica.  I have already dealt with the amazingly-detailed correspondence between the defensive earthworks described in the Book of Mormon and the description given by Hernan Cortes and the other Spanish conquistadores.  Someday I will write a blog with additional selected correspondences between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerica that are described in Dr. Sorenson’s book.

Thus Latter-day Saints are fully justified in being politely and respectfully aggressive in their defense of the Book of Mormon as an authentic Mesoamerican artifact.   It is Dr. Coe who has not justified his position.  Shame on his sloppy and arrogant “scholarship” as it concerns the Book of Mormon.
So I bid both Dr. Coe and 2015 farewell. On to more worthy opponents of the Book of Mormon…if they can be found.

In Your Heart and In Your Mind: the Story of My (Continuing) Conversion. Part 1 Blog Post #14 November 26 2015

Most of my posts until now have dealt with “intellectual” evidences for the truth of the Book of Mormon and, consequently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  These are evidences that can be shared and evaluated among people more or less objectively using their intelligence, knowledge and reasoning skills.

I believe this is important evidence. But for me personally, concerning the state and fate of my own soul, intellectual evidence alone is not the most important evidence.  It never has been.

For me, the most important evidence is the many times when the Spirit of God has spoken directly to my heart and mind concerning the truthfulness of the Gospel as revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith.  These experiences led me toward conversion, and my response to these experiences has kept me converted and (I hope) moving forward for almost 50 years.

In this brief blog, I want to share a few personal experiences that have spoken directly to my heart and mind about the truth of the Book of Mormon and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as revealed by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

The first of these experiences came during my initial reading of the Book of Mormon. The missionaries who were teaching me asked me to read it so that I could know for myself if what they were telling me was true.  It is never difficult to convince me to read something new, so I started reading the Book of Mormon.

Thus began my love affair with that “book of books” (as Parley P. Pratt once called the Book of Mormon).  My love affair with the Book of Mormon continues to this very day, and is more passionate, committed and all-consuming than ever.  (If it sounds like my love of the Book of Mormon is personal; that is an accurate impression.)

It was a beautiful fall evening in 1966 in the little mining town of Kearny, Arizona. I was lying on top of my bed reading the Book of Mormon.  The window was open and a cool, gentle breeze was blowing, moving the curtains slightly and bringing fresh air into the room I shared with my brother Barry.  I was reading in Second Nephi, having enjoyed but not having been particularly touched by First Nephi.

That all changed as I read Second Nephi, Chapter 2 and began to be moved by the power and the beauty of the language and the ideas. Then I read verses 24 and 25:

“But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.  Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.”

As I read these verses I felt my mind and my heart expand with the power and the truth of the words.  I felt deep in my heart and mind that this statement was true. God knows all things and all things have been done in his wisdom.  I can trust God.  We are created to have joy. Joy is the purpose of our existence.

I felt an intense weight of peace, joy and warmth settle on me. It was physical as well as mental.  I felt as if a heavy, but not oppressive, not suffocating, weight was wrapped around me. It was like a very heavy, warm quilt, so that I could not move. I could not move my arms and legs…and I didn’t want to.  My mind was very clear and lifted up toward God.  I seemed to see myself on the bed below, from a point above me. The feeling persisted for about a minute, long enough for me to be completely conscious of it, to look around and think about what was happening, and to reflect in my mind “Wow! This is really cool!”   After a while, the feeling gradually withdrew.

That was the point at which I started taking the Book of Mormon seriously.  I began to read it very, very carefully. I started asking God if it was true…and I received answers.  But I never again received such a spectacular answer as this first one.

A month or two later, I had finished reading the Book of Mormon, and I wanted to become a Mormon.  I was working up the courage to ask my parents for permission to be baptized.  I was sitting on the back porch at night, looking up at the hill in back of our house where there were many large sahuaro cacti.  There was a full moon and the whole hillside, especially the sahuaro, seemed to be full of light. I was praying in my heart, and once again I felt a weight of peace and comfort and joy settle on me.  Both my mind and my heart were clear and happy and at peace.

It was enough. I knew what I should do.  I asked, and my parents said yes.

I found out later how hard this was for my folks.  They were raised in a generation and time in which prejudices against Mormons and Mormonism were widespread and deep-rooted. They had been affected by those prejudices. But they gave me the freedom to follow my conscience.  God bless them forever for letting me be baptized.

The next time I received this feeling was the evening when I was baptized.   My whole family attended my baptism in Tucson, Arizona, in the chapel on Broadway.  I remember the feeling of coming up out of the water, at peace and happy.

But on the way home, surrounded by my family, during a beautiful Arizona sunset, I once again felt the same physical weight of peace and joy on me and in me and around me. My mind was lifted up and very clear so that I seemed to be able to see everything around me all at once.  It only lasted for a few moments, and was not as intense as the first experience with 2 Nephi Chapter 2…but it was enough.

I have received this physical and mental confirmation of peace a number of times since then, but never again as intensely as that first time while reading 2 Nephi Chapter 2.  I do not need another very intense witness.  I have received multiple witnesses and it is my job to remember the ones I have had.

I believe these experiences of peace come from God.

The Doctrine and Covenants is a compilation of revelations, mostly given to Joseph Smith, to guide the establishment of the Church.  After I had been baptized, I started reading the Doctrine and Covenants also. In Section 6 verse 23, God spoke to Oliver Cowdery and reminded him of the witness Oliver had already received of the truthfulness of the work in which Oliver was engaged with these words:

“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?  What greater witness can you have than from God?”

Although these words were given to Oliver Cowdery, I felt that God was speaking, again, directly to me.  God had spoken peace to my mind. What greater witness could I wish for?

I recently had the same experience during a visit to Sicily in October 2015.  I had gotten up really early to catch a cab to the airport.  I was concerned and worried about a number of things, both personal and professional.  After showering, I read the Book of Mormon (Alma 32) and meditated on how the Gospel had truly brought forth good fruit in my life.

As I sat on the outside deck of my hotel room, looking out on the Mediterranean Sea, watching the play of moonlight on the waves, the same physical, tangible, real sensation of peace and warmth and comfort filled me. My mind and my heart were once more at peace.  My trust in God and in His plan for me, the individual child of God, the person known as Bruce Edwin Dale, son of Marshall Sommers Dale and Dorothy Emma Davis, was renewed yet again.

In all my reading of thousands and thousands of books, from William Shakespeare to Louis L’Amour, or my experience of art, poetry or music, from Bach to the Beatles, I have never had a similar experience of peace and joy. Not once.

I only have these experiences of peace and joy with the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, or when participating in the ordinances of the Gospel, including the ordinances of the Holy Temple, or when I am with Gina or others of my family in times of worship, or when I am out in the natural world and stop to think about its Creator.  I never experience similar mental clarity and intense inner joy and peace in any other way. I know that these experiences are from God and have been given to me to light my way home to my Heavenly Parents, to my Father and my Mother in Heaven.

I cannot share the actual physical and mental experience of this peace and warmth and comfort and clarity with anyone. These experiences are intensely personal. They are also real.

But I can witness of them.  I do witness of them.  I know these experiences come from God.  They do not and cannot come from man or from any human source.

I have never asked God for anything out of mere intellectual curiosity—to tickle my brain. I have always intended to act on the knowledge God gives me. And so God has told me, again and again, in my heart and my mind, because I have asked in faith with an honest heart, as He has promised (Doctrine and Covenants, 8:1-2).  We must ask, being fully committed to act upon the answers given to us.

My friends, you are now responsible for the witness I have borne to you.

I invite you to seek and find your own experiences of peaceful, joyful witness. Then be faithful to these experiences, remember them, and act upon them in faith and trust.

If you do so, you will receive additional experiences, at the time and place of God’s choosing, and in His own way.   It will be sufficient for your needs. It will be enough.


The Book of Mormon, the Maya and Dr. Michael Coe: Blog Post #13 October 17, 2015

I am writing this blog for two primary reasons. The first is to share with my children and grandchildren my testimony of the Gospel.  In doing so, I will also share a few of the many evidences I have received that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet.

The second purpose of my blog is to provide additional information and perspectives about controversial topics that have troubled the faith of some, so that they can be better prepared to resist assaults on their faith.  I intend to explain and sustain and defend the Gospel as best I can, as I imperfectly understand it.  I have already made in the temple this commitment to sustain and defend God’s Kingdom.  I will try to do so.

One such controversial topic is the relationship between the Book of Mormon and archaeology.  This particular blog deals with the Book of Mormon, the Maya Indians and Dr. Michael D. Coe.

Dr. Coe is probably the greatest living authority on the Maya Indians of southern Mexico and Central America.  I recently read his book “The Maya” (Ninth Edition by Michael D. Coe and Stephen Houston. Published by Thames and Hudson. 2015).   All the quotes I give below are from this specific edition of Coe’s book.

Many years ago (July, 1973 to be exact, the happy month and year Gina and I were married), Dr. Coe wrote an article for the magazine Dialogue entitled “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View”.  I have read this article four times in an effort to be both fair to Dr. Coe and thorough.

The bottom line for Dr. Coe and the Book of Mormon seems to be the following statement on page 3 of his article: “The picture of this continent between 2000 B. C. and A. D. 421 presented in the book has little to do with the early Indian cultures as we know them, in spite of much wishful thinking.”

The “wishful thinking” appears to be believing that the Book of Mormon is a real, historical document and actually relates to the American Indians.

Well, I am sure that the Book of Mormon is a real, historical document and that it does relate to the American Indians, although I don’t know for sure exactly which Indians and exactly where and exactly when things happened. Is that “wishful thinking” on my part or do I have some evidence to support my belief?

I have lots and lots of evidence.  I am going to summarize here some of the evidence from Dr. Coe’s own book.

First, a little background.  As I said, 1973 was a long time ago.  Perhaps Dr. Coe changed his mind about the Book of Mormon between then and now.  After all, 1973 was quite early in Dr. Coe’s career so he has had plenty of time to revisit the Book of Mormon and revise his opinions.  Thus I did a Google Scholar search on Dr. Coe to see if he ever published anything else on the Book of Mormon and its relationship, if any, to the Maya (and other Mesoamerican Indians) either before or after his lone 1973 article in Dialogue.

I could not find anything.  In other words, if Dr. Coe ever seriously considered the possibility that the Book of Mormon might be an actual, historical document, he does not seem to have written any scholarly articles about it either before or after this Dialogue article.  So I have only this one article to go on to evaluate his opinions.

After reading it four times, I think his Dialogue article is not a serious, scholarly examination of the Book of Mormon…more about that below.  By “serious” I mean that Dr. Coe actually did his homework, read the Book of Mormon carefully several times and drew his conclusions after putting in some real effort to understand the Book of Mormon according to its own claims.

Mostly Dr. Coe seems to have relied on a few secondary sources (i.e., not the Book of Mormon itself), and then drew his conclusions in that way.   I cannot find any evidence that Dr. Coe carefully read the Book of Mormon for himself.  He does not tell us in the Dialogue article how many times he read the Book of Mormon, if at all.  I think he must have read it superficially, if he did read it. For example, he wrongly identifies the Jaredite migration as coming from Palestine.  We don’t know where the Jaredites started their migration, but Central Asia is the more likely place. The Book of Mormon does not say their migration started in Palestine.

In fact, Dr. Coe’s article mentions only five specific points where he thinks the Book of Mormon differs from scholarly knowledge of the ancient Americas as it existed in 1973. These points are horses, chariots, wheat, barley, and metallurgy—which the Book of Mormon says existed in ancient America, but archaeology in 1973 said did not exist in ancient America.

I would like to point out the impossibility of proving a negative.  Just because in July 1973 there was no evidence for horses, chariots, wheat, barley and metallurgy in ancient America does not mean that such evidence will not turn up in 1983 or 1993 or 2033 or later.

Instead, in order to test the Book of Mormon using archaeological information, the most useful thing is to make a very broad comparison of the Book of Mormon with what is known about ancient America and see if any parallels turn up, that is, points of agreement. Accumulation of such parallels cannot “prove” the Book of Mormon, but if few or no parallels show up, then that would be a serious blow to the credibility of the Book of Mormon. The stranger or more unusual or more specific the parallel, the more powerful the evidence.  In a previous blog I shared one particular, highly specific parallel: the building of very deep ditches around cities to protect them, as described by the Spanish Conquistadores and also in the Book of Mormon. That kind of parallel, it seems to me, has a lot of value as evidence since it is so specific, so detailed and unusual.

I have read the Book of Mormon hundreds and hundreds of times, so I have some knowledge about it to compare to the information Dr. Coe has summarized in his book.  I also read Dr. Coe’s book very carefully.  It is unfortunate that Dr. Coe has apparently not studied the Book of Mormon closely and compared it carefully with information in his most recent book.  He might have found some interesting correspondences between his work on the Maya and the Book of Mormon.

Nice guy that I am, I did the necessary work for Dr. Coe.  🙂

So I am going to briefly list and discuss a number of points of agreement between the Book of Mormon and his book that are mentioned in the most recent edition of Dr. Coe’s book.  Again, all page citations are from the 9th edition of his book.  Here are the relevant quotations (all of them in italics):

  1. Page 13 “All the Mesoamerican Indians shared a number of traits which were more or less peculiar to them and absent or rare elsewhere in the New World: hieroglyphic writing, books… a complex calendar,…highly specialized markets, …a highly complex pantheistic religion.” 

Well, the very existence of the Book of Mormon clearly implies that the some ancient American peoples had writing and books. That’s a pretty obvious one and I am surprised Dr. Coe missed it.  🙂  It is one of the points that makes me wonder how much effort Dr. Coe put into the research for his article, that is, if he really took the Book of Mormon seriously, at least as a book of substance to be studied rigorously and thoroughly.

Writing and books are not common cultural traits among the American Indians.  In fact, they are “absent or rare elsewhere in the New World”, as Dr. Coe states.  (As far as we know, the great Inca Empire did not have books or writing.)

The Book of Mormon peoples also had a careful, detailed calendar and markets (see, for example, 3 Nephi 8:5 and Helaman 7:10). Finally, near the close of the Book of Mormon we also learn that the conquering Lamanites were making human sacrifices “to their idol gods” (Mormon 4:14).

There you have it: writing, books, a calendar, markets and pantheistic religion.  On five specific points the Book of Mormon agrees with Dr. Coe’s book.

  1. Pages 17 and 19 and 32. “…in bad years there may be severe droughts”  “early Colonial chronicles speak much of famines in Yucatan before the arrival of the Spaniards” severe drought AD 200-300 in Maya lowlands (Belize and Yucatan) Pg. 19—the Yucatan produced “honey, salt and slaves”.

The Book of Mormon talks clearly about devastating droughts and famines (Helaman 11 and Ether 9: 28-30).  (Not every region of the world experiences droughts—so it is not a “slam dunk” for a book to talk about droughts.)

The Book of Mormon also talks about bee culture being brought to the New World by the Jaredites (Ether 2:3). Bee-keeping is actually quite an unusual and specific cultural trait.  And it is pretty difficult to do.

So these are two more points of agreement between Dr. Coe’s book and the Book of Mormon.


  1. Pg 22 “lowlands could have been far more densely populated by the Classic Maya (era of time—after 250 AD to 800 AD) 2-3 million to 8-10 million  (Bruce’s note: Maya civilization collapsed in the 9th century AD)

The terrible wars that ended the Jaredite nation and destroyed the Nephite people were said to have involved millions of people (Mormon Chapter 6 and Ether 15:2).  Is that an unrealistic population density for Mesoamerica to support?  No, according to Dr. Coe it is not unrealistic.  Score another one for the Book of Mormon.


  1. Pg 41 “”the very first Americans may well have taken a maritime route.”

What Dr. Coe means here is that the Bering Strait is not the only way by which the ancestors of the American Indians might have arrived on this continent.  They might also have come by sea.  When I was a kid, the overwhelming “scientific” opinion was that all the ancestors of the Indians had come by the Bering Strait land bridge.  I got quite a bit of flak back then when I talked about the Lehite and Jaredite migrations by sea.

So this is another point that makes me wonder if Dr. Coe actually studied the Book of Mormon at all. Nephi doesn’t exactly hide the fact that his family came over in ship—and you find that fact in the first few pages of the Book of Mormon.  Another point for the Book of Mormon.


  1. Pg 61 “As the Olmec civilization went into a steep decline, c. 400 BC rapid changes took place in the Maya area.” …”Concurrently we see in this epoch the beginnings of Maya hieroglyphic writing and the calendar, perhaps to record the doings of the kings and dynasties.”

If you read the Book of Mormon carefully, you will see that the decline of the Olmecs lines up pretty well time-wise with the decline of the Jaredites in their wars of mutual extermination.  There may be a link there-although I am not saying that the Olmecs were the Jaredites. I just don’t know-but it is an interesting correspondence.

Also, the specific use of writing to record “the doings of the kings” is quite interesting given Nephi’s statement that the one of the two sets of plates he made was specifically to record the “reign of the kings”.  (See 1 Nephi 9:4.)  Two more points in which the Book of Mormon lines up with information from Dr. Coe’s book.


  1. Pg 63 defining civilization “Cities are one criterion.” “state institutions, large-scale public works, temple buildings,..” “some form of record keeping” “…more or less accurate means of keeping time.” “These traits are known to have developed (Bruce’s note: developed for the Maya) in the Late Preclassic period.” (300 BC-250 AD).

Many, probably most, Native American peoples did not build cities…thus according to Coe’s criteria they did not have “civilizations”.   But the Book of Mormon clearly states that the Nephites and Lamanites had cities-and so did the Maya-another point for the Book of Mormon.

The Nephites also obviously had state institutions including judges and priest-kings, record keeping (Omni 2, Mosiah 24:6-7) and public works including temples. For example, consider King Noah’s lavish building program including ornamenting their temple, (Mosiah 11: 8-10) as well as the other Nephite temples mentioned in 2 Nephi 5:16 and 3 Nephi 11:1. The Book of Mormon peoples also had means of keeping time as described above under point #1.

All this occurred during the time much of the Book of Mormon history takes place (a few centuries before Christ to a few centuries after Christ).  These are four more points in which the Book of Mormon lines up with information from Dr. Coe’s book.  (I am not double-counting the calendar point of agreement.)

  1. Pages 80-81 Kaminaljuyu was a great Mayan city/area in highland Guatemala near present-day Guatemala City and it was a pre-eminent city for the Maya in their Late Preclassic period. Speaking of Kaminaljuyu, Dr. Coe writes: “its star began to sink by the second and third centuries AD, and most of it was left in ruins at the close of the late Preclassic.” “…indicating that there was a change in popular cults.”

By “popular cults”, Dr. Coe is referring to the dominant religious world-view of the inhabitants of Kaminaljuyu.

Well, the Book of Mormon tells us (in 4 Nephi 1: 20) that by late in the second century AD, a small part of the people had revolted from the church established by the disciples of Christ.  From that time on, the false churches multiplied rapidly until by AD 210 there were many churches “which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his Gospel…” (4 Nephi 1: 27).  By AD 244, the false churches had become much more numerous than the Christians (4 Nephi 1: 40).  In other words, “there was a change in popular cults”.

This is another bulls eye for the Book of Mormon in terms of the timing of a major societal change—a change in the dominant religion.

  1. Pg 103 “An elite class consisting of central Mexican foreigners, and the local nobility with whom they had marriage ties, could have ruled over a captive population of largely Maya descent.”

One of the strange cultural features in the Book of Mormon is the way in which a small group often seems to move in and dominate a much larger group without necessarily conquering them in warfare.  One example is the apparent ease by which King Mosiah takes over as the king of the people of Zarahemla (Omni 1:19), even though the people of Zarahemla were much more numerous than the people of King Mosiah.  Why did the people of Zarahemla let a small group of outsiders take over and rule them?  And yet something very like that seems to have been part of the tradition of the Maya, as this quote from Dr. Coe’s book shows.  Another strong point for the Book of Mormon because it seems quite strange.


  1. Pages 104 “The lords of highland Guatemala had their tombs accompanied by up to three people sacrificed for the occasion (generally children or adolescents).”


Human sacrifice, particularly of women and children, apparently became part of the culture of the Lamanites during their long war to destroy the Nephites (Mormon 4: 14 and 21).  Human sacrifice is never mentioned previous to that time in the Book of Mormon.  Another point for the Book of Mormon.  It is also accurate that the practice of human sacrifice existed in the region that seems to be the best geographical candidate for the Book of Mormon lands, namely Mesoamerica.  The Aztecs also had human sacrifice, but it does not appear to have been widespread in the Americas.


  1. Page 107 Ceren, a small village in western El Salvador was buried by the eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano.

It is pretty obvious that the great destruction described in 3 Nephi 8, including the burying of cities, is due to at least one volcanic eruption and the associated earthquakes.  Central America is volcano country and earthquake country.  Upstate New York definitely is not.

So how on earth did Joseph Smith get the information to accurately describe an eruption and earthquakes? What a lucky guess!  This is a major point of correspondence for the Book of Mormon.  The Book of Mormon’s description of the events surrounding a big eruption and accompanying earthquakes is really accurate and detailed, something I will discuss in a later blog.

I wonder how Dr. Coe could have missed this important event in the Book of Mormon.  It seems to me that he should have made the connection between the Book of Mormon events in 3 Nephi 8 and what he knows about Central American volcanoes and earthquakes.

Thus the ten italicized quotes above from Dr. Coe’s book contain a total of twenty points where the record given in the Book of Mormon corresponds to information from his scholarly studies.  And I have only summarized a part of the evidence from the first 100 pages or so of his book—there is a lot more to come.  There are other things I want to write about before I return to other points of agreement between the Book of Mormon and Dr. Coe’s book.

As I close this post, I would like to offer some advice and encouragement to my fellow believers in the Book of Mormon, and also to those who may doubt or are in the process of doubting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

Some Advice to My Fellow Believers

Bring your brains to church (and everywhere else).  Opinion is not evidence.

Dr. J. B. S. Haldane, the great British biologist, once said that prejudice is an opinion arrived at without considering the evidence. I think Dr. Coe has given us his opinions about the Book of Mormon without considering much evidence.  If Dr. Coe has carefully read the Book of Mormon, I don’t see the fruits of that study in his article.  Therefore, according to Dr. Haldane, Dr. Coe has given us prejudices without many facts.

It is sad that the faith of some Latter-day Saints has been damaged by this superficial, prejudiced article.  I do not believe the evidence cited by Dr. Coe is at all sufficient to undermine the claims of the Book of Mormon—not even close.

Using our brains, we should be asking: “Dr. Coe, kindly cite a few examples of the picture of this continent presented in the Book of Mormon that have little to do with the early Indian cultures”.  I have cited from Dr. Coe’s own book a number of points where the Book of Mormon has quite a bit in common with the early Indian cultures. How about those points? Don’t they matter?   (There are many more such points of agreement that I will report on eventually).

I think Dr. Coe started with his theory, namely that the Book of Mormon is not a true account, and considered only a very small fraction of evidence before giving us his opinions.  So we are completely free to consider contrary evidence instead of simply accepting his opinions. That is what I have tried to do above.

Likewise I have heard Mormons claim that all the ancestors of the American Indians were descendants of Lehi.  The Book of Mormon makes no such claim.  I have heard some Mormons claim that the Rocky Mountains were formed by the destructions reported in 3 Nephi. The Book of Mormon makes no such claim.   I have heard some Mormons identify the “great and abominable church” described in 1 Nephi 13:26  with the Roman Catholic church while just a few verses later (3 Nephi 14:10) we are told that there are but two churches only.  Thus the Roman Catholic church cannot be that “great and abominable church”.  And on and on.

So Mormons need to be more critical of opinions offered without evidence, both inside and outside the church–no matter the “credentials” of the person offering the opinions.  We need to bring our brains to church…and to everything else we do.

Second, stop claiming, thinking or blindly assuming that everything Joseph Smith or other prophets said is automatically the word of God.  It isn’t. So stop it!  Stop claiming for Joseph and other modern prophets what they never, ever have claimed for themselves- infallibility.

Ironically, Dr. Coe makes this same mistake. Like far too many Mormons, he thinks Joseph was always speaking as a prophet (although he obviously doesn’t believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet).  Dr. Coe then faults Joseph for apparently believing that Palenque (in Chiapas, Mexico) was a Nephite city, for a second hand statement attributed to Joseph that there was a “white Lamanite” named Zelph and for Joseph’s involvement, which is not clear at all, with the phony Kinderhook plates.

There is no need for Latter-day Saints to be concerned about any of those things.  Joseph may have been wrong about Palenque.  What Joseph said about Zelph may have been wrongly recorded (it is second hand).  Or Joseph may have just been wrong.  The actual circumstances surrounding the Kinderhook plates are so muddled that I don’t think any good conclusions can be drawn, but once again, Joseph may just have been wrong.  So what?

Joseph Smith once complained that he did not have the same freedom as other Americans.  He was not free to speak his thoughts and opinions without having others think that every word he uttered was the word of God.   He said repeatedly that a prophet was only a prophet when he was acting as a prophet.

Mormons must allow our leaders, including the prophet, to be human, to make mistakes, without having it overthrow our faith. Since the Church is composed of fallible human beings, we must also allow the Church as a whole to make mistakes without having it overthrow our faith.  I believe those mistakes will eventually be corrected.

Third, we are entitled to ask the so-called “experts” some questions in turn.

I have written before about “cherry-picking”; that is, the practice of considering only a very limited range of evidence in formulating opinions.  That practice is completely unscientific and obviously unfair. And yet those who write and speak against the Book of Mormon almost always engage in cherry-picking.  In fact, I have yet to find a real scholarly treatment of the Book of Mormon by an opponent of the Book of Mormon which seriously considers and weighs a broad spectrum of facts, not just a selected few.   Dr. Coe is just the latest such superficial “expert” I have encountered.

I have quoted the great scientist Sherlock Holmes before in this blog, and I will probably do so again.  Here is what Holmes has to say about making up your mind before you have the facts.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.  Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Sherlock Holmes -A Scandal in Bohemia  

Cherry-picking is theorizing without considering all the data, all the information available.  I think important facts about the Book of Mormon have not just been twisted, instead they have been completely ignored by Dr. Coe and many, many others.

Fourth, the Latter-day Saints are obligated to seek further light and knowledge…and that implies we will keep learning new things that may make us revise or abandon previous ideas. This will be a painful process—it is supposed to be.

Ultimately, Latter-day Saints are only required to believe what is true. But we are also expected to grow in the truth—not to remain as children in our understanding.

So, my fellow believers, hang on to what you know to be true and keep seeking knowledge by study and by faith. Stick to the Lord, remember your covenants with Him, and to the truth as you understand it. And accept the fact that you will sometimes be uncomfortable as you fit more and more truth into your understanding of the world and of its God.

This is advice I try to follow for myself. I am always more or less uncomfortable or unsettled with some specific aspect of the Gospel as I strive to learn and experience more truth.  My mind is always struggling with something I don’t understand.  But I do not let what I don’t know over rule or overwhelm what I do know and have already experienced.

So in the meantime, I know that there is a God.   I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God.  Joseph was a great and good man, and a fallible human being also. And I know that the Book of Mormon has been given to us as powerful evidence for the truth of God’s existence and Joseph Smith’s mission of restoration.



A week or so after I posted the material above, I read the following article addressed to Dr. Coe by Dr. John Sorenson.   The article is in response to an interview that Dr. Coe gave to John Dehlin in August 2011. So Dr. Coe did say more about the Book of Mormon after his 1973 Dialogue article.  Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned any more about the Book of Mormon in almost 40 years.  What a shame.  What an abdication of Dr. Coe’s responsibility as a scholar.

Here is the link to the article by Dr. Sorenson.

By the way, Dr. Sorenson’s article also deals with horses, metallurgy, chariots, wheat, and barley.  He reports that there is now considerable or at least some evidence for horses, barley, metallurgy and wheeled toys in ancient America. So in the intervening years between Dr. Coe’s 1973 article in Dialogue at least three of the objections in Dr. Coe’s original article have been answered.

Let me quote myself from earlier in this post: “Just because in July 1973 there was no evidence for horses, chariots, wheat, barley and metallurgy in ancient America does not mean that such evidence will not turn up in 1983 or 1993 or 2033 or later.”

See what I mean?  Such evidence did turn up.  It is simply unscientific to argue as Dr. Coe did in the Dialogue article.  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

After I had finished reading this article, I felt even more strongly that Dr. Coe failed in his responsibility as a scholar to deal fairly with the Book of Mormon.  His comments are those of a prejudiced person and not an honest, well-informed individual.

Here are a few of the errors that Dr. Coe makes with regard to the Book of Mormon (Dr. Sorenson summarizes other errors):

  • “The Jaredites didn’t survive terribly long. They go back to four or five hundred BC”. Actually they left Mesopotamia (the area of the great tower) probably around 2500 BC and ceased to function as a society after 600 BC. So their society functioned for about 2000 years, about 10 times as long at the United States has existed.
  • “They had a compass to navigate by”. The Liahona was not a mechanical “compass”.  It was a means of receiving revelation from God to guide Lehi’s party and it worked by faith.
  • ”Maize, by the way, really isn’t mentioned in the Book of Mormon.”   Wrong, Dr. Coe.  Really wrong.  Maize is corn. Dr. Coe knows this very well.  Corn is mentioned in Mosiah 7:22 and in Mosiah 9:9 and 9:14.  It took me three minutes (I timed it) to search the on line scriptures at the Church’s website to find this out. If Dr. Coe had done his homework, he would not have made this obvious blunder.

By the way, in both cases, corn is mentioned first among other grains in Mosiah 7:22 and 9:9, just as corn was indeed first among all the grains in ancient Mexico and Central America…not wheat or barley, as Joseph Smith might have assumed if he were faking the Book of Mormon.  Another subtle but important point for the Book of Mormon.

I repeat: Dr. Coe’s opinions regarding the Book of Mormon need not be taken seriously. Those opinions are based on prejudice, not evidence.  He simply has not studied the Book of Mormon carefully.  He does not deserve any attention from Mormons (or anyone else) on this subject until he does his homework.

It is really, really sad that the faith of some Latter-day Saints has been damaged by Dr. Coe’s prejudices.   It makes me weep that such shoddy, prejudiced “scholarship” should be given any attention whatsoever.