Friday, October 9, 2015

Book of Mormon Hang-ups & Speed Bumps: The Ancient American Elephant & Horse Dilemma

Dates We All Know

In the Book of Mormon, one of the accounts given is of a people that had dwelled in America long before Lehi's 590 B.C. arrival. It is presented in an abridged form as the Book of Ether. It chronicles this people from "the great tower" down to the time their civilization had been destroyed due to their wickedness. Almost all Mormons have assumed the "great tower" referred to is the "Tower of Babel" of Genesis 11. And every Mormon who ever attended LDS seminary knows that the Great Flood happened around 2300 B.C., the Tower of Babel about a hundred years later, and that this was when the Jaredites departed for America, as the LDS Church has depicted here:

But these dates are not peculiar to Mormon belief--they are commonly believed by Christians throughout the world today.

Take these "commonly accepted" dates for the Jaredites being in America and toss in a few of the brief mentions in their abridged record in the Book of Mormon:
"And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms." Ether 9:19
Suddenly you have the Book of Mormon claiming the impossible according to virtually all modern scholars. (not that scholars can never be wrong, of course) "There just plain were not horses or elephants in the Americas by 2200 B.C.!" There are other similar apparent anachronisms among the Jaredites that have been similarly adjudicated. Therefore, they say, Joe Smith is a fraud and his Gold Bible is a hoax. And all of Mormonism with it. And all those now so convinced & newly awakened to this glaring Book of Mormon Jaredite anachronism exit stage left.

But is our underlying chronological assumption correct?

Numeric Words in English

Before we look at another verse taken from the Book of Mormon related to its chronology (and Biblical chronology in general), let's take a look at some words in English that have numeric quantities associated with them. Ask yourself how many apples you would say someone might have if they were to use these English words:
  • A couple: 2? 3?
  • A few: 3-5?
  • Several: 4-7?
  • A bunch: 6-10?
  • Quite a few: More than a bunch?
  • Many: 20? 50? Or more?
What about in this verse of the Book of Mormon:
"Yea, and behold I say unto you, that Abraham not only knew of these things, but there were many before the days of Abraham who were called by the order of God; yea, even after the order of his Son; and this that it should be shown unto the people, a great many thousand years before his coming, that even redemption should come unto them." Helaman 8:18
How many would "a great many" be? What do you think? How about four? Is "four" a great many? According to scholars the number of thousands of years from Adam and Eve to the birth of Jesus can be no more than four thousand. (take a look at the chronology above to check again)

But the Book of Mormon claims otherwise. What if a "great many thousand years" were as many as 100,000 years? Or 2,000,000 years? That is, what if the Jaredites, according to the Book of Mormon, had come "a great many thousand years" before modern Mormons believe? Could there be any evidence of horses or elephants in such a timeframe?

Absolutely. Although modern science wouldn't use the same terms. You'd hear them called Equus curvidens, Equus americanus, and mammut (or mastodons). These were the American horses and elephants of the Pleistocene, which ended about 10,000 years ago. I have hiked to and seen with my own eyes petroglyphs near Moab, Utah, that depict mastodons (elephants).

So, could the number ten be considered a "great many"? Did the Jaredites live through & survive the Pleistocene? Or could "cureloms" and "cumoms" refer to other extinct megafauna of the Pleistocene which didn't make it to light in time to be registered in the 1828 Websters Dictionary? Or what if Adam and Eve, according to the Book of Mormon, could have lived hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago? Or what about the "flood" "in the days of Noah" described in the Bible and referenced in the Book of Mormon? How long ago could that have happened? Could the Book of Mormon claim allow it to have been even as far back as the K-T extinction? (I.e., could 65,000 be considered a "great many"?) Could it be that our scriptural chronological assumptions have been massively screwed up? And that man could have been around, as scientists already argue, much, much, much longer than Bible believers have allowed?

Perhaps we should evaluate the book more based on its own claims rather than the claims of scholars and long-held traditions of men.

And once we can get ourselves past hang-ups and speed bumps like these, perhaps we should begin to consider what the book is really trying to say rather than what you've been told it says. Set aside the continual arguing over whether or not it could be an actual record. Set aside all traditions you've been handed about it and read it for what it says.

Because, what if its message were also not exactly what you've always been told by modern  Mormonism?

As boo pointed out in comments below, the fact that these supposed elephant, horse, and other anachronisms among the Jaredites could be accounted for if we re-evaluate the timeline, does not eliminate the need for readers bothered by such things to consider the few other scattered references to horses in the Book of Mormon. (Sorry, no other elephants, cureloms, or cumoms.) However, while that reader is wrestling with these, as I noted below, it's interesting to consider where you would expect horses to be referred to among a people having them. Consider the Native Americans who later picked up horses from the Spaniards, how it dramatically changed their lifestyle and culture, and how extensively they used them for riding (conveyance) and in war. These activities are curiously entirely absent from the Book of Mormon despite much description of many wars and lots and lots of travel by foot. And Lamoni's horses are implied to have only pulled his "chariots". Happy hunting!