|Mormon and Moroni by Joseph Brickey.|
“There is reason to believe that the story of Israel’s ancestors (Gen. 12–50), though understood in the light of later experiences, reflects to some degree the cultural background of the millennium starting with Hammurabi’s reign (second millennium B.C.E.).” So states Bernhard W. Anderson in his volume Understanding the Old Testament. Anderson offers three main categories of evidence to support this claim.
“First, ancient documents recovered at Ebla and other sites suggest that many parents in this period gave children names such as Abram, Benjamin, Michael, and Ishmael.” In other words, the names in the Patriarchal Narratives of the Pentateuch are authentic to the purported time period of the accounts.
“Second, Israel’s ancestral tradition depicts social customs and legal usages that are much more in harmony with Mesopotamian practice during the second millennium than with Israel’s life during the monarchy.” In other words, the culture described in Genesis more closely aligns with the second millennium BC (when the accounts purport to happen) than with the first millennium BC (when these accounts were finally committed to writing).
Third, “The religion of Israel’s ancestors . . . authentically belongs to the period that precedes Moses. . . . Many statements in the book of Genesis, when considered against the backdrop of the culture of the Fertile Crescent, help us understand the probably character of religious beliefs before Moses.” In other words, the form of religion practiced by the figures portrayed in Genesis appears to be authentic for the time.
(Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, abridged fourth ed. [Upper Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice Hall, 1998], 39.)
So, according to Anderson, one way you can count on a text having some measure of historicity is if the (1) names, (2) culture, and (3) religion of the text can be correlated with real world evidence from the period of time being portrayed.
This methodology has been fruitfully employed by such scholars as K. A. Kitchen, J. K. Hoffmeier, W. Dever, and others to illustrate the varying degrees of historicity underlying various accounts in the Hebrew Bible.
What about the Book of Mormon? Using these three categories, do we find evidence for the historicity of the Nephite record in the ancient Near East and ancient Mesoamerica? Doing a non-exhaustive and quick look at the available literature, we encounter the following.
With regard to names:
- “Were Any Ancient Israelite Women Named Sariah?”
- “Why Would Nephi Call The Ocean “Irreantum”?”
- John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 40–51.
- John A. Tvedtnes, “Names of People: Book of Mormon,” in Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, 4 vols., ed. Geoffrey Khan (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2013), 787–788.
- Stephen D. Ricks, “Some Notes on Book of Mormon Names,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 155–160.
- Stephen D. Ricks, “A Nickname and a Slam Dunk: Notes on the Book of Mormon Names Zeezrom and Jershon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): 191–194.
- Matthew L. Bowen “‘And There Wrestled a Man with Him’ (Genesis 32:24): Enos’s Adaptations of the Onomastic Wordplay of Genesis,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 10 (2014): 151–160.
- Matthew L. Bowen, “‘What Thank They the Jews’? (2 Nephi 29:4): A Note on the Name “Judah” and Antisemitism,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 12 (2014): 111–125.
- Matthew L. Bowen and Pedro Olavarria, “Place of Crushing: The Literary Function of Heshlon in Ether 13:25-31,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 227–239.
- Matthew L. Bowen, “Father Is a Man: The Remarkable Mention of the Name Abish in Alma 19:16 and Its Narrative Context,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 77–93.
With regard to culture, society, and jurisprudence:
- “Did Ancient Israelites Write In Egyptian?”
- “Did Lehi Use The Poetry Of The Ancient Bedouin?”
- “Who Called Ishmael’s Burial Place Nahom?”
- John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985).
- John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013).
- John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998).
- Brant A. Gardner, Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2015).
- Mark Alan Wright and Brant A. Gardner, “The Cultural Context of Nephite Apostasy,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 1 (2012): 25–55.
- John E. Clark, “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14, no. 2 (2005): 38–49.
- John E. Clark, “Archaeological Trends and the Book of Mormon Origins,” in The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress, John W. Welch, ed. (Provo, UT: BYU Press, 2006), 83–104.
- John A. Tvedtnes, “The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: 1991), 77–91.
- S. Kent Brown and Peter Johnson, ed., Journey of Faith: From Jerusalem to the Promised Land (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006).
- Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, ed., Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1990).
- John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998).
- John W. Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008).
With regard to religious practices:
- “How Could Lehi Offer Sacrifices Outside Of Jerusalem?”
- “What Fruit Is White?”
- “Did Pre-Christian Prophets Know About Christ?”
- “How Did God Call His Prophets In Ancient Times?”
- “Are There Really Only Two Churches?”
- What Does The Virgin Mary Have To Do With The Tree Of Life?
- Mark Alan Wright, “Axes Mundi: Ritual Complexes in Mesoamerica and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 12 (2014): 79–96.
Using this methodology accepted by biblical scholars, the Book of Mormon fits all three criteria. (So too does the Book of Abraham, by the way.) We might therefore ask: if scholars are willing to take the historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives in Genesis seriously on these grounds, why shouldn’t we take the historicity of the Book of Mormon seriously as well?