Aug. 1st, 2013

rubibees: (ancient bee)
Dear Dr. Ardren,
My name is Zachary Lien. I am a seventeen year old student from Boise, Idaho. I am currently compiling a project together of responses from notable Mesoamerican experts on a subject that I am curious on. I know you are a busy man, so I hope not to take up too much of your time.
I am an Ex-Mormon. Up until a year ago, I had been a Mormon my entire life. I left after some deep thought on the actions of the church and the historicity of the Book of Mormon. However, it seems that whenever I discuss the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon with members of the church they have claims of notable PhD’s who have proven the historical accuracy of the Book. Although they cannot name them, they trust the findings of these men with dedicated faith.
My question to you would be: What is your opinion is on the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon? I hope you do not feel uncomfortable answering because it relates to religious matters. I asked an American history professor from Hesston College about the same subject in person and he was too busy to answer at the moment, so he gave me his email and challenged me to ask other experts as well. Upon research, I found your name as an expert on Mesoamerican history. This is why I hope to get a response from you, because you are very knowledgeable and experienced on the subject of Mesoamerican history.
All in all, I hope you are able to enlighten me on the question: What is your opinion on the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon?
Some of the biggest claims in the Book of Mormon are as follows:
-In 600 B.C a family from Jerusalem sailed to what is now Central America and began a civilization there. This civilization split up into “Nephites” and “Lamanites” and after centuries of war the Lamanites were the last alive.
-Lamanites are the primary ancestors of Native Americans
-Nephites and Lamanites initially spoke Hebrew when they arrived in Mesoamerica. Over centuries, the linguistics evolved into what Native Americans speak today.
-And much more

Thank you for taking the time to read this email and I hope you are able to give a response that will enlighten me. I will be emailing other professors, too, but I absolutely anticipate yours.

Thanks,
Zachary Lien
zachtlien@gmail.com
Boise, Idaho

Dear Zachary,

I appreciate your critical eye and interest in finding accurate depictions of history. I am not an expert in the Book of Mormon, but as an expert in Mesoamerican history, I can say that the Book of Mormon is not seen as an accurate depiction of ancient Mesoamerican history by me, or by the vast majority of people in my academic field. Like all spiritual texts, the BoM is not, and should not be used as, an historical study. It is faith based, and its significance is as a spiritual text of great meaning to Mormons.

All spiritual texts should be understood as having almost no historical accuracy—not the Bible, or the Koran, or the teachings of Buddha…it simply isn’t important for faith based texts to record historical facts in the same manner as academic historical research.

In particular, on your question of whether a family from Jerusalem arrived in Central America circa 600 BC—there is no scientific proof, or even circumstantial proof of this. No serious academic in my field (anthropological archaeology) believes this to have occurred. There are a number of archaeologists from Brigham Young University who work in Mesoamerica, and they do not discuss this idea in professional academic venues, although I cannot comment on what they might say in private. Furthermore, there is overwhelming evidence that the people who inhabited Central America around 600BC were the direct cultural and genetic descendants of the original inhabitants who migrated into the New World around 14,000 BC (or earlier). The evidence is continuity of genetic connections between Native Americans and modern populations in Asia, linguistic connections, and continuous traditions in material culture. Many Native Americans take great offense at the idea that the accomplishments of the ancient states of the New World might be the result of people from the Middle East rather than their own.

Good luck with your quest for the truth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the BoM as an instrument of faith. But it’s a poor excuse for a history book.

Cheers,

Traci (a woman, not a man)

Traci Ardren, PhD
Chair, Department of Anthropology
University of Miami
Coral Gables, Florida 33124
USA

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