Why the Book of Mormon’s Battle Numbers Don’t Add Up (And Why That’s Evidence for its Authenticity)

I Even Remain Alone by Walter Rane.

An easy target for critics of the Book of Mormon is its reported army sizes and battle casualties. The final extermination of the Nephites, for instance, reportedly involved tens of thousands of combatants and hundreds of thousands of combatant and non-combatant casualties (Mormon 6:11–15). This pales in comparison to the level of Jaredite slaughter, which, Moroni lamented, reached into the millions (Ether 15:2).

This has led some to deem the Book of Mormon’s depiction of war fanciful. No less than the eminent authorities of the ex-Mormon subreddit have dismissed the Book of Mormon’s reported numbers as “hilariously impossible,” “not remotely plausible on any level by any stretch of the imagination,” and the sad result of Joseph Smith’s “fecund imagination and general ignorance.”[1]

How have Latter-day Saints responded to this challenge? Some, like James E. Smith and John L. Sorenson, have argued that the numbers are actually defensible on historical grounds.[2] 

But maybe there’s another way to look at this issue. Perhaps the reported battle numbers in the Book of Mormon, or at least those involving the extinction of the Nephites and Jaredites, were purposefully exaggerated by Mormon and Moroni or their sources. This would have been done, conceivably, to overwhelm the reader with a larger-than-life and almost Romantically tragic conclusion to an already turbulent narrative.

This is by no means some desperate, ad hoc apologetic ruse. Mainstream historical scholarship recognizes that sometimes ancient sources purposefully exaggerated numbers (including population sizes, army sizes, battle casualties, etc.) for rhetorical effect. Unfortunately, as explained by David Stuart (one the world’s leading Maya epigraphers) at last month’s meeting for the Society for American Archaeology, “Late Preclassic [Maya] political entities and geopolitical structures are impossible to reconstruct on current evidence,” and “no historical texts (epigraphic evidence) exist before the Early Classic.”[3] This effectively means that we’re in the dark when it comes to comparing the Book of Mormon with New World historiography during purported Nephite times.

We therefore turn to the Old World, where we encounter the venerable Herodotus: “The number, then, of those whom Xerxes son of Darius led as far as the Sepiad headland and Thermopylae was five million, two hundred and eighty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty” (Histories 7.186; cf. 7.184–185). In other words, the Persian invasion of Greece, according to the principal historical source, was slightly larger than the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 (the largest land invasion in modern military history) and almost five times larger than the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in June 1944 (the largest sea invasion in modern military history).

Lee L. Brice, commenting on Herodotus’ numbers, straightforwardly explains, “Accurate numbers would have been extremely difficult for sources to learn and really did not matter to ancient authors [like Herodotus] as much as the scale the numbers convey.”[4] Applying the logic of our experts at the ex-Mormon subreddit, we might be tempted to conclude, based on Herodotus’ numbers not being “remotely plausible on any level by any stretch of the imagination,” that the Father of History’s account of the Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century BC lacks historicity.

Instead of jettisoning Herodotus outright, though, we need to instead appreciate that ancient historians were as much concerned with providing a compelling story as they were with providing factual descriptions of their subjects. Concerning the Histories, “we are dealing with a work of art here, not dry annals,” Jennifer Roberts helpfully reminds us. “Consequently, there are elements of dramatic reconstruction and exaggeration.”[5]

Royal propaganda, in particular, almost effortlessly lent itself to exaggeration and hyperbole when it came to reporting the military victories of the monarch. Thus the celebrated war propaganda of Ramses II hailing his victory over the Hittites at the battle of Qadesh (1274 BC). According to the Egyptian sources, Ramses effortlessly quashed the Hittites and their allies in a triumphant Endsieg. Ramses, in fact, is praised for having practically conquered Egypt’s enemies singlehandedly. “I repulsed a million foreign lands, on my own,” boasts Ramses, “with (only)” the help of the gods and his trusty chariot-steeds “Victory in Thebes and Mut is Content” (COS 2.5A 251–276). The historical reality, of course, is that Qadesh ended in a stalemate, with the Egyptians and the Hittites enacting a reluctant truce. And yet despite Ramses’ baldfaced fibbing, nobody seriously doubts the historicity of the battle of Qadesh.

Likewise, the proud king Mesha of Moab exults at having utterly decimated his neighbors, including Gad and Nebo in Israel. Both Gad and Nebo, Mesha claims, suffered complete annihilation. “I killed all the people” of Gad, and “killed [the] whole population” of Nebo, the Moabite king’s victory stela reads (COS 2.23 10–18a). To make sure there was no confusion about the matter, Mesha gratuitously boasted that “Israel was utterly wasted forever” (my translation: וישראל אבד אבד עלם). Conspicuously missing from Mesha’s propaganda are descriptions of any setbacks or problems (logistical or otherwise) that he surely encountered in his campaign, or the inconvenient fact that Israel would go on to survive for another century until its fall to the Neo-Assyrian Empire. But like Ramses’ Qadesh reports, the contents of the Mesha stela are not discarded simply because of the propensity towards hyperbole on the part of Moab’s sovereign.

Turning to the Bible, readers quickly discover a similar phenomenon. John A. Tvedtnes summarizes,

As early as the time of David, when the kingdom of Israel was just getting started, we read that David slew 22,000 Syrian soldiers and captured 27,000 (1 Chronicles 18:4–5). In a subsequent battle, David’s army slew 47,000 Syrians (1 Chronicles 19:18). His cousin Abishai is said to have led an Israelite force that slew 18,000 Edomites in battle (1 Chronicles 18:12). One of David’s descendants, Abijah, king of Judah, waged war with the northern kingdom of Israel and slew 500,000 soldiers (2 Chronicles 13:17). Another Judean king, Amaziah, fought against the Edomites of Seir and slew 10,000 of them and carried away the same number of prisoners, whom they cast over a cliff (2 Chronicles 25:11–12; 2 Kings 14:7). In a battle with Syria, the Israelites slew 100,000 footmen “in one day” (1 Kings 20:29). During a subsequent war, Pekah, king of Israel, slew 120,000 Jews “in one day” and took some 200,000 “women, sons, and daughters” captive (2 Chronicles 28:6, 8).

This biblical hyperbole has been recognized by John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, and Anthony D. York, who write, “As we might anticipate, stories having to do with military activity are especially likely to show hyperbole” (emphasis added). After citing numerous examples of both military and non-military number inflation (Exodus 12:37; Judges 6:5; 20:1–2; 2 Samuel 18:8; 1 Kings 8:63), these authors continue, “These and other statistics should not be taken too seriously; behind them is the imagination of a storyteller, not the figures of a census taker.” As such, “it would be idle . . . to dispute them on factual grounds.” The point, then, of these inflated numbers weren’t to provide a factual description of the event, but rather were “intended to impress the reader with the magnitude of the subject: It is this that comes across to the reader, and this is only the important consideration.”[6]

This “deliberate exaggeration for effect” that is “so common in biblical writings”[7] is also arguably what’s happening in Mormon’s (and subsequently Moroni’s) historical narrative. If we grant that Mormon was an ancient historian who followed the conventions of ancient “historiography,” such as it is, then we must allow him the privilege of writing as other ancient authors wrote. This would include the privilege to heavily moralize on this or that topic (which he and other Nephite historians are ever wont to do) and to embellish story elements to meet ideological or narrative goals. To deny him this privilege is to otherwise fallaciously impose a presentistic standard on an ancient source.

“But Stephen,” one objects, “the Book of Mormon claims to be the ‘most correct book,’ meaning it has to be factually correct in every particular.” Actually, Joseph Smith claimed the Book of Mormon was “the most correct book” with regard to its doctrinal content, and in its ability to draw people closer to God. He, to say nothing of the Nephite annalists themselves, never claimed the Book of Mormon was infallible with regard to its historical content or textual transmission.

I essentially agree with Brant Gardner that we should read the large numbers of war casualties in the Book of Mormon as “communicating tremendous devastation with a greater loss of life than had ever been seen before.”[8] So the Book of Mormon’s battle numbers may indeed be fanciful. In fact, I suspect that they largely are. But even if so, this may, paradoxically, actually be splendid evidence for the Book of Mormon’s antiquity. Like other ancient histories, the Book of Mormon’s depiction of warfare appears to be highly exaggerated when it comes to the size and scope of the conflicts and their outcomes. We can perhaps therefore add “exaggerated numbers” to William Hamblin’s already impressive list of elements in the Book of Mormon’s depiction of warfare that bespeak its historical authenticity.[9]


[1]: “Do book of Mormon population numbers make sense?” at www.reddit.com/r/exmormon. See also John C. Kunich, “Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes,” online here.

[2]: See also John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 381–425, for an extensive look at Nephite warfare (including army organization) in the light of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican culture.

[3]: Email from Mark Wright to Stephen Smoot and Neal Rappleye, April 11, 2016, with accompanying notes and photograph of Stuart’s presentation.

[4]: Lee L. Brice, Greek Warfare: From the Battle of Marathon to the Conquests of Alexander the Great (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012), 74.

[5]: Jennifer T. Roberts, Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011), 31.

[6]: John B. Gabel, Charles B. Wheeler, and Anthony D. York, The Bible as Literature: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (New York, N. Y.: Oxford University Press, 1996), 24.

[7]: Gabel, Wheeler, and York, The Bible as Literature, 23.

[8]: Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 6:320.

[9]: William J. Hamblin, “The Importance of Warfare in Book of Mormon Studies,” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 495–496. “Let me conclude this overview by summarizing the military topics on which the Book of Mormon manifests clear parallels to ancient patterns of military behavior: the use of only pregunpowder weapons; communal bases of military loyalty; tribal military organization; agricultural economic base; seasonal patterns in warfare; military implications of geography and climate; limited use of animal resources; weapons technology and typology; fortifications; military innovations; social and economic impact of warfare; the military implications of changing demographic patterns; recruitment based on tribes and communities; the problems of supplying soldiers in times of war; complex prebattle maneuvering; extensive scouting and spying; prebattle war councils; use of banners for mobilization and organization; decimal military organization; proper tactical role of missile and melee combat; patterns of flight after battle; the importance of oaths of loyalty and surrender; dorms of international relations; the causes of warfare; treatment of robbers as brigands; laws of war; importance of plunder in warfare; guerrilla warfare; ritual destruction of cities; ritual capture of kings; human sacrifice; treatment of prisoners; disposal of the dead; centrality of war to the elite culture; the fundamental interrelationship between war and religion; religious ritual behavior before, during, and after battle; divination before battle; camp purity; and the ideology of holy war. In none of these topics does the Book of Mormon contradict the ancient patterns of the practice of warfare. In many of these topics, the Book of Mormon uniquely reflects its dual heritage of the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica.”

53 thoughts on “Why the Book of Mormon’s Battle Numbers Don’t Add Up (And Why That’s Evidence for its Authenticity)”

  1. You make a good point that when you try to compare the numbers with the battles of the BOM with other historical recordings of battles, there are exaggerations likely in both. I have to wonder, however, what Mormon and other prophets were thinking when threw these numbers around. Is it necessary to exaggerate numbers when trying to convey a sense of total decimation? If the point of exaggeration is to strike certain emotions within the reader, doesn't that feel a little exploitative?

    Also, when it comes to JS's claim about the BOM being "the most correct book," I'm unaware that he really ever expounded upon what he meant. So, of course, one would expect human error to occur along the way. What a "perfect" book looks like, I don't really know, just like its difficult to quantify what a perfect film or other work of art really entails. What the hell did JS really mean by that? Does "the most correct book" mean the book containing the most correct doctrines? The most correct statements? So much ambiguity there.

    Also, why did JS constantly emphasize how human error played a part in the translation process if it wasn't by the means that scholars go about it? How much better is a divine process of translation than human if it is subject to just as many problems? What does that say about how God tries to deliver revelation and instruction to his people?

    • "Also, when it comes to JS's claim about the BOM being "the most correct book," I'm unaware that he really ever expounded upon what he meant."

      This comes right from Wilford Woodruff.

      "Joseph Said the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any Book on Earth & the key stone of our religion & a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other Book."

      (Wilford Woodruff, Journal, November 28, 1841.)

      That, I think it's fairly clear, is what Joseph meant by the comment: the doctrine contained in the Book of Mormon, when practiced, gets man closer to God "than by any other book."

      I'm unaware of any other interpretive tradition when it comes to this saying by the Prophet. It's typically only ex- and anti-Mormons who want to turn this into a statement of scriptural inerrancy or infallibility.

    • Fair enough. Still not terribly satisfying to me, but I'll go with it. Regardless, it's a pretty pompous thing, don't you think, to put any book, much less the BOM, on such a pedestal.

      Thoughts about my questions regarding the translation process?

    • "it's a pretty pompous thing, don't you think, to put any book, much less the BOM, on such a pedestal."

      Eh. I'm a believer. What do you want from me? 😉 ¯_(ツ)_/¯

      "How much better is a divine process of translation than human if it is subject to just as many problems?"

      The difference, as Terryl Givens points out, is what such a translation signifies. If the BoM was translated by the gift and power of God through Joseph Smith, this goes much further in establishing Joseph's prophetic call than if it were done through non-revelatory means. Give them enough time and any schlub with a reformed Egyptian grammar and dictionary can translate the plates. But plop the plates down in the lap of an unschooled farmhand and have him dictate a translation in 60 working days? That's a miracle.

      At least that, according to Givens, is how the earliest crop of Mormons saw it.

    • Mormon was a historian and also a general. THE general in fact. Do you really think he embellished the numbers to reflect the devastation in his record even though he likely had a very good idea of the actual numbers of soldiers involved?

    • Jeremy,

      "Do you really think he embellished the numbers to reflect the devastation in his record even though he likely had a very good idea of the actual numbers of soldiers involved?"

      This is assuming he did have a very good idea to begin with.

      But yes, I do. Just like I think Ramses, the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian forces at Qadesh, specifically commissioned his royal propaganda to, well, be propaganda and not a "factual" recounting of the battle.

      In other words, Mormon the historian/author trumped Mormon the general when it came to finally committing this to writing.

    • "Give them enough time and any schlub with a reformed Egyptian grammar and dictionary can translate the plates. But plop the plates down in the lap of an unschooled farmhand and have him dictate a translation in 60 working days? That's a miracle."

      Show me "reformed Egpytian" and then I think we'll have more to talk about. Whatever wound up on the "Caractors" transcript JS produced was either total hogwash or Martin Harris gave Charles Anthon an impossible task.

    • Yeaaaaah, sorry Anonymous @ 11:32 P.M. Not buying it. This alphabet bears a greater resemblance to Biblical Hebrew than JS's characters. "Reformed Egyptian" is one of the most damning evidences against the BOM, IMHO. Certainly, the story of Charles Anthon and Martin Harris is problematic on many levels, whether taken from Harris' or Anthon's perspective, and cannot be effectively used as any kind of evidence for the BOM.

    • I appreciate your concern Felicia (assuming you are addressing me), but prayer plays no role in my life anymore as I have no belief in a higher power. However, FWIW, I did pray before and as time went on, I found myself only more and more confused as time went on. The more I have studied the BOM from a secular perspective, the more convinced I have become that JS was the author. While I find it has many good teachings, I find others to be very troubling. Not to mention, the book is so anachronistic to me in so many ways.

  2. Except that some of the numbers are reported with exceptional accuracy. While others were left out due to them being unable to count, which could mean they buried the dead before they (the record keepers) were able to count the dead. There are only a few round numbers reported when giving casualties in the Book of Mormon.

    The exaggerated numbers from the Bible and other sources are very suspiciously round.

    Also the numbers are in no way problematic from a question of population growth. See this link for estimates of growth compared to known population growth in the Roman Republic.

    • Thanks for sharing that link. I'll confess that historical demography isn't my strong suit, so I'll have to defer to others on that.

      What's interesting about the numbers, though, is they tend to be more accurate in more small-scale wars like the Nephite-Amlicite wars at the beginning of Alma.

      As I read it, once the Nephites have their final showdown, wherein they get decimated, that's where Mormon goes off the rails with his reporting in order to really get the point across that this was bad stuff.

  3. It's not like Mormon and Moroni had a list of everyone where they could come up with an accurate count, that would be harder to swallow in my book. I think they saw a big group and called it a big number of people using a big number. Not deliberate exaggeration but guesstimation, or more of an idiom like 'I told you a million times that ….'

  4. Pre-classic Maya info. won't help at all as the Book of Mormon occurred primarily in the Great Lakes region, U.S., according to Joseph Smith, so looking at the Hopewell people is accurate. According to non-LDS archaeologists, the Hopewell numbers maxed out at: ~250,000 persons, spread over a large area of Great Lakes. The Hopewell mysteriously disappeared in: 400 A.D. Adding Moroni's death count of the Nephites, we get: 250,000 people. Coincidence? No way. Hopewell spoke and understood ancient Hebrew, had numerous cities/villages with a church building in the center, with large trenches dug around their villages and a large lookout mounds in the center.

    • 20 against 1,000 and the 20 didn't die? If you lower one number you have to lower the other. Still the odds of no one dieing would be rare and in most cases unlikely. That's why it was still such a mirical it happened.that was the point.

  5. One thing that has always intrigued me is how the translation of numbers has been understood by Book of Mormon readers. For example, when we read "six hundred years since Lehi left Jerusalem" we automatically assume it was exactly 600 years, and not six centuries (kind of like we say Christ was born 2,000 years ago when we really man 2,016 or 2,019). To say six centuries allows, or an indeterminate period of time, allows for the actual date of not before 597 BCE.

    Also, when Mormon wrote of each of his captain's 10,000, does it necessarily translate to 10,000 married soldiers, each with a wife and two kids? Or is it more likely the word 10,000 is roughly equivalent to "battalion" or "regiment". Every army that has gone to war has had battalions and regiments that were understaffed, sometimes seriously. Hence Lamah's, Gilgal's, and Limhah's "10,000" could be understood to consist of significantly less than 10,000 each, resulting in a number far below 230,000 warriors.

    As a youth sitting on the slopes of Cumorah I was also admonished to imagine that each of those 230,000 soldiers had a wife and kids, and that the resulting death toll was close to a million. As a jaded adult I'm tempted to reduce both the initial number of soldiers and the associated carnage.

    A detailed account I read recently of the Roman battle of Cannae tells of the maths involved in killing 80,000 people in a daylong hand-to-hand combat engagement. It is terrifying to comprehend even that number. But this is only an engagement where two armies sought each other out for a few months. Mormon's battle was building for years. Did Mormon tell the whole story? Did he tell about the delaying tactics that Antionum and Josh fought several weeks in advance? Did he Tell of Shiblom's suicide raid deep into the Lamanite's camp to try to take burn the enemy's wagon train? No. He wrapped it up in less than two columns of text to spare us a few gory details (and him a few square inches of precious golden plate to inscribe something more important).

    Did the ancients exaggerate numbers. Yes, known and accepted fact. Were Mormon's 23 battalions at full strength. No. Did the bloodshed all take place in a day's battle on the plain in front of Cumorah? Probably not. However, that said, Roman history tells us that ancient armies were capable of killing 80,000 people in a single day. Mormon's annihilation of upwards of 150,000 people within a series of engagements is entirely plausible.

  6. The problem isn't really that the numbers are so high, but rather the complete absence of any evidence of the battles happening at all. Recently, archaeologists discovered the exact route Hannibal took through the Italian Alps due to the ground disturbance his massive army left behind. We know where many of Caesar's battles occurred thanks to archaeology. Likewise, we know about the sieges of Lachish through both the Bible and archaeological evidence, not to mention the destruction of Hazor mentioned in Joshua matches exactly what was found through archaeology. In the case of the Book of Mormon, however, not a single battlefield has been identified nor even a place name verified. That is the problem with claiming that the Book of Mormon has actual historical value beyond offering insights to 19th century Protestant beliefs in the Burned Over District of New York.

    • New World archaeology and the Book of Mormon is its own ball of wax. There are, unfortunately, some major handicaps in what modern Mesoamerican archaeology can reliably reconstruct when it comes to the pre-Classic and early Classic Maya periods. I won't get into those reasons now, as they've been discussed elsewhere and, ultimately, that's a conversation for another day.

      For now I'll say that you're right that this is a major hurdle for those such as I when it comes to sustaining Book of Mormon historicity in the New World. However, that hurdle is not insurmountable, and in fact there's already, I think, a respectable body of research that paints an eminently plausible picture for the Book of Mormon fitting in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, including a plausible picture of Book of Mormon warfare based on what we do know about Maya warfare through archaeological investigations. (See my reference to Sorenson above for one quick example.)

      Furthermore, for the purposes of my argument above the issues involved with archaeology are only tangentially relevant. For my purposes now I am interested in looking at the Book of Mormon as ancient historiography. The issues of archaeology are important, but have little bearing on my proposal above.

    • So by your logic, Hannibal never crossed the Alps until last year. The Battle of Trafalgar never happened because it's a little hard to find archaeological evidence in 100-500 feet of water. And the Battle of Gaugamela was a fiction invented years after the fact to explain Greek dominance over the Persian Empire.

      Just this year archaeologists published papers detailing a bronze age battle that, until it was discovered, they thought was impossible. To find archaeological evidence for major historical battles is actually very rare. As one archaeologist put it (from the link above), "despite hearing many tales of war, we never find such substantial archaeological evidence of its participants and victims." Or as another put it, "for a long time we didn’t really believe in war in prehistory….Most people thought ancient society was peaceful."

    • Quantum,

      That article was eye-opening, and directly relevant to the Book of Mormon. Thanks for sharing it.

      So basically, one of Bronze Age Europe's most massive, earth-shaking, incomparably epic battles went totally undetected by archaeologists until the late 1990s, and it wasn't until last year that the full scale of the battle was fully appreciated.

      And yet critics DEMAND that we should have archaeologically proven the battle of Cumorah by now. This despite the fact that it probably took place in an extremely poorly excavated part of the world during a time we know very little about.

      Go figure.

    • The problem is, the events depicted in that article were in Europe. They predate the book of mormon by 600 years, at least. We knew and have known that bronze-age battles happened in Europe, at that time period. Its not as ground-breaking as you want it to be, and certainly not in the way you think. Its totally irrelevant to BOM historicity because it changes nothing. Do you know where the Baltic sea is? Because the way you've talked about it, you may need a refresher. Record keeping wasn't all that great until long after this battle took place in the article. This battle took place during the Nordic Bronze age (1500 BCE – 700 BCE). But there has been evidence left behind of societies existing up there since people inhabited the region.

      There is no archaeological evidence for any bronze-age like society between 600BC and 600AD anywhere in the Americas. Zero. Never has been. There have never been horses here prior to the arrival of the conquistadors. Not even the vikings brought mounts to Vinland (Now Nova Scotia). It was too much trouble. No steel of the right age… it all post dates BOM timelines by at least 800 years. I'm not saying there should be evidence of a specific battle, but there should be evidence of something. And frankly, there just isn't. Even the Anasazi left stuff behind (They would have seen BOM tribes face to face – Anasazi were contemporaries to Mormon and Moroni). There's a littany of Anasazi remains, yet NOTHING left behind by people who had the knowledge to craft steel? Are you kidding me?

      I'm going reiterate: I'm not asking for archaeological proof of anything specific. I want archaeological proof of something in that book. There just isn't any. No horses, cattle, stables, ironworks, chariots, massive stone walls… all of those things would leave SUBSTANTIAL excavatable and above ground remains.

    • Anonymous,

      All archaeology is ground-breaking.

      What is notable about the site along the Tollense River is the number of people who died in a single battle. They estimate that 4,000 people took part in the battle. According to our current understanding of bronze age Germany there weren't many (or any) large population centers. Hence scholars assumed that warfare in Northern Europe was non-existent. But these finds show a large professional army with soldiers coming from 400+ km to fight. This indicates a level of organization far beyond what was previously assumed to be possible.

      The point is that until this site was studied archaeologists assumed that that part of the world was largely free from large scale conflict and professional armies. But this pushes back the date for when large scale social organization became common in Northern Europe.

      My purpose in sharing the article was to not to try and present it as evidence for the BoM, as you have assumed. But to make the point that "common knowledge" about the dates when [insert technology/social system] became possible can be overturned by new evidence, and that the earliest date for [insert technology/social system] is not fixed. As new archaeological evidence is found there will be many more instances where what was assumed to be impossible, or even improbable, becomes common knowledge.

      Regarding the list you give (I notice you don't mention barley, bees, wine, cement or anything else that has been discovered in the Americas since the BoM was first published), I doubt that any amount of normal archaeological evidence will ever reach whatever standard you choose to set for "SUBSTANTIAL excavatable and above ground remains". But let us take the example of walls. We'll gloss over the fact that the BoM never mentions stone walls, and in fact explicitly states that the walls were earthwork structures with wooden palisades. And I'll just mention that many walled cities, including cities with stone walls, have been found in central America, with some walls (Los Naranjos) dating to the appropriate time period. These fortifications, I think, should satisfy your requirements for "SUBSTANTIAL excavatable and above ground remains".

  7. Viewing at least some numbers in the Book of Mormon through the lens of Hebraic symbolism may be fruitful.

    Cumorah, for instance. Its 230,000 perhaps symbolizes 2 and multiples of 10, which may indicate division and complete decimation. And the 24 survivors, whether intentionally symbolic or not, as it is few enough to imply accuracy, perhaps symbolizes 12 and 2, which may indicate priesthood and division.

    However, the body counts given of at least most other wars appear specific enough to make symbolism unlikely.

  8. "False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases. They argue, therefore, that the scriptures require new interpretation and that they are uniquely qualified to offer that interpretation."
    (Oct 1999 General Conference – M. Russell Ballard)

    • I'm not sure if this was directed at me, but if so, I will point out that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, suggesting we read the scriptures "merely as the utterances of uninspired men."

  9. Who are you to question the Book of Mormon and what it says? People have a problem with the numbers? What a joke. What it says is what it says. Believe it or don't. Realize it's the truth or fix your testimony. You can't have it both ways.

  10. It's not a horrible argument. But at best you're left with it being *as least* as likely that JS was coming up with huge numbers to make the story more amazing, or just out of blind ignorance as to how many men would comprise a bronze age / iron age army. In other words, if you set aside a need to believe, at best you somewhat ameliorate the argument on this issue (and this issue alone).

    • I'm not attempting to definitively answer this. I'm offering what I believe is a defensible, but by no means final (hence my qualifiers throughout the post), explanation for a specific phenomenon in the Book of Mormon while operating under the assumption that it is an ancient record.

    • Editor Jack,

      I give props to the civil engineer for trying to make sense of characters that JS probably made up, but yeah. Until this goes through some serious peer review, I'm going to take it with a hefty grain of salt.

    • For the record, I'm not a fan of Grover's work above. His stuff on geology in the Book of Mormon is excellent, but this other stuff is dodgy. And I know other faithful, Book of Mormon historicity-affirming LDS linguists who also have major problems with his "Caractors" translation stuff.

  11. So, you're saying that the book is full of lies, that other books are full of lies, and so, your book full of lies is true. Are you an idiot, are you really that brainwashed, or are you just a liar, like your book full of lies?

  12. Are you suggesting that *all* ancient historians exaggerated the numbers when it came to troops involved in large battles, or only some. Because unless this was always the case, then you've got a situation where your book is made neither more nor less plausible based on this one issue. In other words, the issue becomes irrelevant, not something that supports the book's authenticity.

    • Don't be silly. Such absolutism is a complete non sequitur.

      I'm confident that I've provided enough examples from the ancient world to justify my thesis.

    • Not at all. I'm simply illustrating how you have turned this into a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation, which is a classic apologetic trick. If ancient historians sometimes do strive to be accurate in their numbering, then you get to say the BofM is plausible whether its author was exaggerating or being precise. At most, you have rendered the "numbers" issue immaterial. You certainly haven't shown how it promotes the book's authenticity.

  13. Or maybe you know…..it wasn't exhaggerated, but simply copied?

    Late War 35:6 two thousand hardy men, who … fought freely for their country … Now the men of war … were … men of dauntless courage.

    Alma 53:18-20 two thousand of those young men … to defend their country. … they took their weapons of war, … were all young men, and they were exceeding valiant for courage, …



    Late War 26:1 the fourth day of the seventh month, which is the birth day of Columbian Liberty and Independence,

    Alma 10:6 the fourth day of this seventh month, which is in the tenth year of the reign of the judges.

    20:11-16 … the land … most plentiful … yielding gold and silver, and … all manner of creatures which are used for food, And … the huge mammoth that once moved on the borders … It is more wonderful than the elephant;

    Ether 9:17-19… the land, … exceeding rich, … of gold, and of silver, and … all manner of … animals which were useful for the food of man. And … cureloms and cumoms; … and more especially the elephants …

    Late War 29:20-23 [men] were prepared … and they let loose their weapons of war … and smote … with great slaughter. And the deep ditch that surrounded the fort was strewed with their slain and their wounded.

    Alma 49:20-25
    [men] were prepared, with their swords and their slings, to smite … with an immense slaughter … ditches …filled up in a measure with their dead and wounded.


    Late War 50:24 made partly of brass … with curious works, like unto a clock; and as it were a large ball.

    1 Nephi 16:10 a round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles


    51:3-10 it came to pass that the husbandmen … gathered together, and pitched their tents, [and] assembled together … And the people shouted with a loud voice, …

    Mosiah 2-4 it came to pass that … the people gathered themselves together … And … pitched their tents … ye should assemble yourselves together … And they all cried with one voice, …

  14. 1. The Book of Mormon claims to be a firsthand historical record.

    2. The Book of Mormon gives inaccurate details.

    3. Some confirmed firsthand historical records give inaccurate details.

    4. Because the Book of Mormon gives inaccurate details, it must be a firsthand historical record.


    Do I understand this logic correctly?

    • Not exactly.

      1. The Book of Mormon doesn't really claim to be firsthand. At least the Book of Ether isn't. Ether is Joseph Smith's translation of Moroni's abridgment of Benjamin's or Mosiah's translation of Ether's abridgment of the Jaredite annals. Mormon is directly involved at the battle of Cumorah, but beyond that he's working with historical sources as they've come down to him.

      2. The Book of Mormon *appears* to give inaccurate details. For all we know the numbers were reported faithfully and reflect historical reality. I suspect, however, that such is not the case.

      3. Again, no. Herodotus was not a firsthand witness to the Greco-Persian Wars, which happened a century and a half before he was alive. The biblical accounts, while apparently based on older sources, are also not firsthand. Ramses was a firsthand participant at Qadesh, and so, apparently, was Mesha during his campaign.

      4. No, you've misunderstood. Because the Book of Mormon appears to engage in the same behavior as other known ancient battle accounts (specifically overblowing the numbers and scope of the battle, including its outcome) this would appear to place it in the same historiographical tradition of the ancient Near East.

      I hope that clears it up.

    • Ok, then, feel free to correct the details like "firsthand" or "appears" but the point still stands. Because the stories of the book of mormon share one or more characteristics with stories that we recognize as history, that's not enough to draw a conclusion that the book of mormon IS history, or should be placed "in the same historiographical tradition of the ancient Near East." In fact, to draw such a parallel, you have to assume from the start that the Book of Mormon is authentic, in which case, you're not really evaluating "evidence," you're just looking for things to confirm what you already believe.

    • "Ether is Joseph Smith's translation of Moroni's abridgment of Benjamin's or Mosiah's translation of Ether's abridgment of the Jaredite annals."

      What I see is, "an imperfect translation of an abridgment of one guy or another's translation of another abridgment of an even bigger journal or journals." Even IF we knew for sure that the Nephites and Lamanites existed, I don't know how on earth you'd made heads or tails of that.

    • Eh, kind of.

      I'm not saying this alone can make us conclude that the Book of Mormon is history. There are additional considerations that could be added. I'm specifically talking about how the Book of Mormon portrays war, and comparing that with other ancient Near Eastern texts. Does the Book of Mormon talk about war the same way other ancient texts do? Does it show the same signs of authorial method and narrative technique? I believe the answer is clearly yes. As I said in my post, "Like other ancient histories, the Book of Mormon's depiction of warfare appears to be highly exaggerated when it comes to the size and scope of the conflicts and their outcomes. We can perhaps therefore add "exaggerated numbers" to William Hamblin's already impressive list of elements in the Book of Mormon's depiction of warfare that bespeak its historical authenticity."

      "In fact, to draw such a parallel, you have to assume from the start that the Book of Mormon is authentic, in which case, you're not really evaluating 'evidence,' you're just looking for things to confirm what you already believe."

      Assuming a theory and proceeding to evaluate evidence that one thinks confirms that theory is not entirely illegitimate. While one is at risk of falling into the trap of confirmation bias if not careful, if done right such can be highly illuminating. This is, as I understand it, how Einstein initially approached relativity. He literally had faith that the theory he had already formulated strictly in his mind would find confirmation through further scientific investigation, and went from there.

      In fact, some schools of thought in anthropology (among other liberal arts professions) would insist that you must begin with an assumed interpretive framework before proceeding to evaluate the available data. If your theoretical framework can adequately account for the data at hand, then you can begin staking more definitive claims as to the correctness of your theory. If it cannot, or if an alternative interpretive framework can be counter-proposed that better or more robustly accounts for the data, then you shift your alignments accordingly.

      So take the Book of Mormon. I read the Book of Mormon as if it were an ancient text. That is the paradigm I approach the text with. If that paradigm can adequately explain most anomalies or other issues in the text, or can present a robust explanatory picture of the available data, through the use of any number of literary, historical, text-critical, or archaeological methods, then I feel confident to continue employing that paradigm as I approach this issue.

      It's really not much different than those who assume the Book of Mormon is a 19th century text to begin with and proceed to read it as such to make sense of what they see in the text. A number of academic projects have grown out of this method, including stuff I'm aware of forthcoming with respectable academic presses.

      So it's a bit more complicated, I think.

    • I think I see what you're saying. On the one hand, there's the approach of "If A is true, what other things would have to be true? Are all those other things true or are they not true?" Then there's the approach of "I think A is true. What can I find that confirms A is true?" They are not the same.

      You also must evaluate alternative hypotheses, and look at ALL of the evidence, not just the evidence that supports your hypothesis. And if the other hypotheses are more plausible, more supported by all available evidence, you are forced by your own intellectual honesty to reject your hypothesis, right? If you care at all if what you believe is actually true, that's what you have to do. That's what Einstein would have done the minute he found evidence that relativity was wrong.

  15. I agree with your point that the numbers were a hyperbole. And the Reddit scholar clearly has shown that the numbers really are not realistic, unless the this people had the fecundity of rabbits. Which also begs the question of where is the DNA?

    The part where you say that because the author or authors stretched the truth and exaggerated battle causalities is positive evidence for the truth of the BOM claims, is a huge stretch. And really intellectually misleading.

    Who says it wasn't someone in the nineteenth century, whom was also trying to impress their readers and create sympathy and connection for the story they were writing.

    Just because the numbers were not based in fact, does not make the over all claims of the Book of Mormon true or false.

    But hey at leased you impressed Dan Peterson.

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