long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


I've commented about this before, but the issue keeps resurfacing.

Advocates of the Mesoamerican theory claim the text describes cities made with stone cement, but there are three references to cement in the BoM, and none of them mention cement in connection with stone. 

Helaman 3:7
7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

Helaman 3:11
11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.

Helaman 3:9
9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

The only mention of cement with stone is in Joseph Smith's testimony:

Testimony of JS-“Having removed the earth, I obtained a lever, which I got fixed under the edge of the stone, and with a little exertion raised it up. I looked in, and there indeed did I behold the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the breastplate, as stated by the messenger. The box in which they lay was formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement. In the bottom of the box were laid two stones crossways of the box, and on these stones lay the plates and the other things with them.

Joseph uses the term "cement" to describe how the stone box was constructed--in New York. Besides Joseph's own description (and the even more detailed description by Oliver Cowdery), there is abundant evidence of the North American Indians using cement. Some of the mounds were covered with cement, to the point that they were difficult for farmers to tear down. People used jackhammers to break up the cement. Even today, at Cahokia, archaeologists have recreated a portion of the ancient wall around the city to show what it looked like anciently. It consists of tall timbers, covered with cement.

Granted, much of Cahokia was built during the Mississipian period, which is after Book of Mormon time frames, but the manner of construction matches what the text actually says. 

One thing is for sure: In North America (north of the Rio Grande), we don't see cities made of stone and cement. We see construction with wood and cement. In Mesoamerica, by contrast, we see cities made of stone and cement, not wood and cement. True, Mayans built houses out of wood, and built wooden structures on top of their stone temples, but the primary construction method was stone and cement.

We see this in the logos of the various Mesoamerican advocacy groups, including Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, and the Ancient American Foundation:

The inspiration for the Mesoamerican advocacy groups was the Arnold Friberg painting of Christ visiting the Nephites, which featured the massive stone stepped pyramid with the long staircase up the front and the big temple on top. This is some of the evidence of Mesomania. 

You know when an organization chooses a stone pyramid as their logo, they are focused on the Mesoamerican setting and not on the Book of Mormon text itself.

The scripture says they built houses of cement, and cities "both of wood and of cement." While there may have been Mesoamerican cities made of wood and cement, the ones cited in the 1842 Times and Seasons articles that started the Mesoamerican theory are all stone and cement (referring to Teotihuacan and the cities discovered by Stephens and Catherwood). Maybe the Book of Mormon says they built cities and pyramids out of stone and cement, but not in the version Joseph translated. 

Alma 38:8 says they built walls of stone around the cities, but look at the verse in context:

Alma 48:8
8 Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land.

They built banks of earth and also walls of stone--which is what the Hopewell in North America did, including the mounds Joseph described as Nephite. 

It's important to remember that they only built with cement because the lacked enough timber. This was a one-time exception. In the entire text, the only time they mention building with cement and wood was in Helaman 3.

Consequently, in my opinion these cement references in the text exclude Mesoamerica as a potential location described by the text.

1 comment:

  1. Jonathan,

    Off topic with respect to cement, but germane to the overall discussion vis-a-vis the "heartland" model:

    Within the context of the heartland model that the plains and woodland indians are the principle Lamanite ancestors, what do you make of the prophecy in D&C 49 that the Lamanites will "blossom as the rose?"

    I'm unaware of any heartland theorists seriously tackling that question, so I'd like to hear your thoughtful and reasoned opinion.