Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mormons impose their bogus beliefs on Mexican archaeological sites

Today's Arizona Republic features an article titled "Mormon tourists travel to key sites of their faith," about Mormons from Utah and Arizona who are traveling with companies like Book of Mormon Tours, L.D.S. Guided Tours, and Liahona Tours to sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to be told that Mayan ruins are sites described in the Book of Mormon as belonging to the Nephites and the Jaredites. The different tours are not only contradicted by real archaeologists, but the tour companies contradict each other about what sites correspond to which locations in the Book of Mormon--a book by a con artist, plagiarized from the Bible, the Apocrypha, Josiah Priest's The Wonders of Nature and Providence Displayed (1825) and Ethan Smith's View of the Hebrews (1823) (itself lifting from other books such as James Adair's History of the American Indians (1775) and Elias Boudinot's A Star in the West (1816)), which also drew from Adair), which themselves are works of pseudo-history.

These tours are not so different in some respects from tours of some of the locations of alleged religious significance in the Middle East, where there are multiple claimed locations of the tomb of Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Noah's Ark. The difference is that the sites being visited are sites of real significance regarding real historical people who have nothing at all to do with the Book of Mormon.

Fortunately, these tour operators are treated with dismissal even by the Mormon church, as the Republic article points out with a quote from John Clark of the church's New World Archaeological Foundation at Brigham Young University: "I just see the tours as entertaining, and I try not to get upset that people are wasting their money doing foolish things."

If he cares about the truth, why wouldn't he get upset? Perhaps because encouraging his fellow Mormons to care about accuracy would be sure to lead to trouble if they ever carefully examined the historical foundations of their own religion, at least for any who were curious enough to look. But most aren't, as the article's quotation from one tour participant shows:
But whether the archaeological evidence backs up the Book of Mormon is irrelevant, said tour participant Dawn Frenetti, 28, of Milpitas, Calif. Just seeing such sites is inspiring, she said.

"It definitely helps me stay interested in learning more about the Book of Mormon," she said. "But, as far as confirming my faith, my faith has always been there."
If there were a religion based on the works of Mark Twain, a visit to Disneyland's Tom Sawyer island would no doubt be considered a pilgrimage to a holy site.

UPDATE (June 21, 2007): This Mormon response to plagiarism in the Book of Mormon is quite amusing, in that it completely fails to address the specific evidence of copying from the sources in question. It is no response at all to a plagiarism accusation to point out that there are also differences between the works! A more fair-minded LDS response also argues that the Book of Mormon is not entirely or mostly based on Ethan Smith's book, but states that "My analysis of Persuitte's parallels reveals that, with one exception, no single book in the Book of Mormon received more than 8.09% influence from View of the Hebrews (see chart 1)." But that is sufficient to refute Joseph Smith's claim of translating golden plates that predated Ethan Smith's book!


Michael C. Rush said...

What I find far more appalling, even, than the details of these dupes' delusions is the mealy-mouthed handling of them by this Chris Hawley who wrote the article.

"Although archaeologists say there is scant evidence to back up such beliefs..."

"Most Latin American archaeologists say there are no connections between the Mayas, who lived in that area, and the Hebrew tribes of the Middle East."

As well as abutting these two paragraphs in such a way as to make them seem equally plausible:

"Archaeologists know little about the people who built Teotihuacán, not even the city's original name or what language was spoken there. The city reached its zenith between A.D. 250 and 600."


"The city's builders may have been related to the Jaredites, whom Mormons believe came to the New World at the time of the biblical Tower of Babel, said Mont Woolley, the tour director."

Makes me wonder if Hawley is himself a Mormon or just fully onboard with the media's typical efforts to lend credibility to the irrational--or at the very least, not to challenge them.

Sheldon said...

I have often wondered about John Clark. I am an archaeologist (but not a Mesoaamerica specialsts). John Clark is actually a legitimate archaeologist. I am familiar with his work through both mainstream peer reviewed journal articles and edited volumes. There is nothing fishy (i.e. Mormon) in his work. He operates within accepted theoretical parameters of anthropological archaeolgy.

I have been meaning to do a little more detailed research on the New World Archaological Foundation. This is what I superficially know at this point. Apparently the NWAF was founded by a Mormon (name?) who hoped to find archaeological evidence in Mesoamerica supporting the Book of Mormon. He allegedly lost his faith when no evidence was found.

When I was an undergrad, I used a technical report published by the NWAF for a project. Again, absolutely nothing fishy (i.e. Mormon) about it.

I assume John Clark is a Mormon. All this brings up issues of how some religious folk are able to compartementalize their religious beliefs from that of their other rationally founded beliefs.

I agree with Rushmc, the journalist's writing is particularly appalling. Archaeologists know lots about Teotihauacan. They know that particular compounds were inhabited by immigrant peoples from Oaxaca and other parts of Mesoamerica. They know that there were various craft specializations. They know that they had political relations with the elites distant areas such as Tikal and Monte Alban etc..

Some types of evidence, such as language, or what people called themselves, are irretreviable from the archaeological record. That does not mean that archaeologist know nothing about a particular archaeological culture.

Lippard said...

Michael and Sheldon: Thanks for your comments. Your point abut the reporting is a good one--this is the kind of awful journalism that purports to be "balanced" but at the expense of giving credence to nonsense and failing to give appropriate respect (or even attention) to the actual facts of the matter.

birdchaser said...

John Clark is a real archaeologist, highly respected as an expert on early Mesoamerica. If you want to know what he thinks about the Book of Mormon you can read some of that here:

Lippard said...

birdchaser: Looks like he's a true believer, if he thinks that critiques of the Book of Mormon have "not scratched the book's credibility." He apparently hasn't looked at the evidence of plagiarism from other sources, or he's one of those people who thinks it somehow confirms its accuracy.

Joseph Smith's own personal history is, in my opinion, sufficient reason to cast huge shadows of doubt over the Mormon religion--the guy was a con artist.