A Mormon Adventure

Conversations with Mormons between December 2013 and May 2014

The Book of Mormon: Another Testament

In December of 2013, two young missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to talk about Jesus. The visit eventually led to a series of [almost] weekly meetings that lasted more than five months. The following summary of our discussions is posted here to help others -- both Mormons and non-Mormons -- become more aware of problems in the Book of Mormon.

Problem 1: Where are the sources?

During the first visit, Elders Boren and Christensen were made aware that I did not intend to join their church or any other during my remaining time on earth, though I would (and later did) attend one of their Sunday services. Nevertheless, they persuaded me to try reading the Book of Mormon to determine for myself whether it's true.

I did, and it isn't. The biggest problem in the BOM is its lack of sources. In 1823, a guy named Joseph Smith discovered some brass plates buried on a hill in upstate New York. These plates were engraved with characters in an unknown script that he was able to translate through a process called Divine Affirmation. The result was the Book of Mormon, published in 1830. He asked 11 witnesses to sign affidavits stating they had seen the plates with their own eyes, but he did not allow them to assist in the work of translation. Once the translation was complete, the plates mysteriously vanished. As a result, the Book of Mormon offers its readers no references when they question the origins of its words and phrases.

I was interested, for example, in the origin of the word "Christians" as found in Alma 46:13. This chapter is dated 73 BC, a century before the first documented occurrence of the word in Acts 11:26. Unlike the BOM, the Bible has many sources, and they show the term "xristianos" emerging for the first time shortly after the time of Christ. Such apparent contradictions should be red flags for those who think the BOM is true, but these kids displayed a puzzling lack of interest in researching this and other discrepancies. I believe this Impaired-Curiosity Syndrome is caused by a mysterious infectious agent called Faith, a potentially deadly killer of curiosity. Advanced cases of Faith, if left untreated, can eventually leave their victims incapable of remembering how to use the brains God gave them. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Problem 2: Where are the maps?

My first attempt to read the Book of Mormon came to an abrupt dead end in the 18th chapter of I Nephi, which tells about a group of Jews who set sail from the southern coast of Arabia in 590 BC and landed in some place they called the promised land. Nephi offers no clue where the promised land is, so I came up with three likely destinations based on the fact that the captain's log mentions no sightings of land between Arabia and the mystery destination:
  1. The south coast of Persia (now Iran)
  2. The west coast of the Vedic peninsula (now India)
  3. The west or south coast of Serendip (now Sri Lanka)
When the missionaries returned, I asked them where the promised land was. Their answer: America. I am not making this up! They believe a boatload of Jews left Arabia in 590 BC and either a) sailed around the southern tip of Africa and crossed the Atlantic to reach the east coast of America, or b) crossed two oceans (Indian and Pacific) against the trade winds and landed somewhere on the west coast of the Americas without a single sighting of land, not even in the Strait of Malacca. I tried to explain to these kids that if people from the Middle East had lived anywhere in the Americas prior to Columbus, genetic evidence surely would have been found by now. I showed them a recent article in New Scientist pointing to Siberians as ancestral to Native Americans on both continents. But once again I learned that faith trumps reason.

Aside from its excessive verbosity, the BOM is difficult to read because the book is infested with unknown place names and no maps to locate them. There's a whole lot of smiting going on in Antiparah, Nephihah, Zarahemla, Zeezrom, and scores of other places, but all that pseudo-history is meaningless without maps. The Mormons then came up with a reasonable question for me: How do I know the Bible is true? Answer: I don't. No one can prove the Bible is true. But as a historical record, the Bible is strongly supported by multiple sources of external evidence connecting it to the real world, while the BOM is floating off in some other dimension without a single link to reality. I don't need to invoke faith to believe in the existence of Biblical places like Nazareth, Athens and Rome. My feet have walked their streets.

Problem 3: Where are the coins?

The 11th chapter of Alma describes coinage issued by the Nephites. The alleged coins were struck in eleven denominations, listed here from lowest to highest: leah, shiblum, shiblon, senum, anmor, ezrom, onti, senine, seon, shum, limnah. Alas, no such coins have been found, nor will they be. Coins did not exist in the Americas until the sixteenth century, when the Spanish introduced them to the New World for the first time. Joe probably didn't realize how long coins last when he invented his imaginary ones. By contrast, every single coin mentioned in the Bible has been found, and some are very common. To emphasize this, I gave two missionaries each a Judaean prutah from the time of Jesus. These small copper coins, called lepta in Greek, are also known as widow's mites because that's what they're called in the KJV (Luke 21:2).

I was ready to end the adventure in April, but my last pair of missionaries (Elders Roundy and Tyndall) convinced me to read one more part of the BOM starting with the 11th chapter of 3 Nephi, which tells the story of Jesus in America. I tried to take it seriously, but I couldn't stifle a chortle when I read 3 Nephi 12:26 (a verse which parallels Matthew 5:26): "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence until thou hast paid the uttermost senine. And while ye are in prison, can ye pay even one senine?" Then it dawned on me that senines are not only fictional, but they're also the wrong denomination. Senines are made of imaginary gold, but they should be made of imaginary copper to fit the meaning of the verse. A senine is not an acceptable imaginary substitute for the genuine Roman quadrans (kodranton in Greek) that Jesus really spoke of. Joe has warped the words of Jesus.

When the "elders" (they're only 20) came for their final visit, I showed them a quadrans, which is even smaller than a widow's mite, and explained that I had to quit reading the BOM because it misquotes my Main Man.

Please say a little prayer for these sincere young men who are being forced to wear ties and push snake oil every day. They're really still kids, but they've already learned not to think. Ask the divine wind (agiou pneumatos) to blow into the lives of elders Anderson, Boren, Christensen, Evans, Roundy, Tyndall, and two others I forgot the names of and fill them with the freedom to think for themselves. Thanks. I'll actually miss these guys when they don't show up tomorrow.

What does the Head of the Mormon Church say?

Mormons claim Christ as the head of their church, but it's sometimes hard to see him, because the tentacles of Joseph Smith extend everywhere. Here are a few memos from the boss:
Posted May 21, 2014
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