Four­teen years down the road, the ques­tions and issues raised in this let­ter remain sub­stan­tial­ly unan­swered, to my knowl­edge unad­dressed, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints.

August 30, 2003
153 Canemah Way
Ore­gon City, OR 97045

Pres­i­dent Gor­don B. Hinck­ley
The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints
50 East North Tem­ple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150

Dear Pres­i­dent Hinck­ley:

I have ques­tions regard­ing The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints’ doc­trine and his­to­ry. While even sci­ence must fall back on faith—axioms not ver­i­fi­able by empir­i­cal means—“worldly” mat­ters are sub­ject to ratio­nal exam­i­na­tion. Objec­tive inves­ti­ga­tion of nuts-and-bolts reli­gions issues remains as valid as teas­ing out the atoms in a DNA mol­e­cule.

While I am nei­ther sage nor sci­en­tist, mine could be ques­tions Socrates, René Descartes, or Isaac New­ton, might pose; nei­ther jurist nor sleuth, they could be ques­tions Jus­tice Holmes, Clarence Dar­row, or TV’s Colom­bo would ask. Legit­i­mate, fair-mind­ed, fac­tu­al­ly-based ques­tions like, Why only one book—gold no less? And what about the wheel?

Be assured my inquiry is meant in no way to detract from your exem­plary moral guid­ance, oth­er church lead­ers, or mem­bers. Indeed much of today’s “gen­tile” world would do well to emu­late the virtues espoused and exem­pli­fied by a major­i­ty of LDS peo­ple. Nor are my ques­tions about the­ol­o­gy, God’s role in the uni­verse, but rather man’s role in the gen­e­sis and his­to­ry of a sect.

I some­times brood over mat­ters oth­ers have long since laid to rest. Like­ly you have addressed my ques­tions. If this is so, please for­give my igno­rance and bring me “up to speed.”

Back­ground

Cir­ca 600 B.C.: Accord­ing to the Lat­ter Day Saint web­site, Lehi’s group, a hand­ful of Jews who nev­er before sailed more than a stones throw from shore, built sea­wor­thy ves­sels, left the Promised Land—the Land God Him­self gave them—navigated four thou­sand miles of open ocean, and found­ed a new home in the West­ern Hemi­sphere.

1492 A.D.: Three Span­ish ves­sels drop anchor off a Caribbean islet where Christo­pher Colum­bus reports sight­ing Stone Age peo­ple “naked as the day their moth­er bore them.”

The ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry: Joseph Smith, a New Eng­land teenag­er, talks with God, Jesus Christ, and angels. In time the lad is guid­ed to a book of gold tablets buried in a hill with­in walk­ing dis­tance of his home. The book is pur­port­ed to chron­i­cle human his­to­ry in the West­ern World from Lehi’s arrival ‘til his final right­eous heirs, the Nephites, were wiped out by depraved cousins, the Laman­ites. Joseph trans­lates the Book of Mor­mon from the gold plates and founds The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints.

The twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry: Researchers unearth arti­facts and anthro­po­log­i­cal evi­dence that humans migrat­ed from north­east Siberia to the West­ern Hemi­sphere at the end of the last Ice Age. The Asian look and man­ner of Eski­mos and Aleuts ren­ders these find­ings indis­putable. Less pro­nounced, hints of Asian roots remain evi­dent in North, Cen­tral, and South Amer­i­ca indige­nous peo­ple today. Con­sis­tent with archae­o­log­i­cal find­ings, car­bon four­teen dat­ing proves humankind first inhab­it­ed the West­ern Hemi­sphere more than ten mil­len­nia before Lehi’s pur­port­ed arrival.

My Con­cerns

As I under­stand LDS doc­trine, the indige­nous folks Colum­bus found—Atlantic to Pacif­ic, Point Bar­row to Tier­ra del Fuego, Tlin­git, Paiute, Iro­quois, Semi­nole, Apache, Maya, Inca, hun­dreds of tribes—descend from Lehi’s group. If the Book of Mor­mon is cor­rect the first res­i­dents of the West­ern Hemi­sphere are heirs to an Old World peo­ple embody­ing one of the most sophis­ti­cat­ed, enlight­ened, high­ly-rit­u­al­ized, reli­gious and cul­tur­al civ­i­liza­tions in world his­to­ry. Smoke Jaguar and Quet­zal Macaw, kings who wor­shiped ani­mal gods and glo­ried in human sac­ri­fice, are the lin­eage of Abra­ham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon. Today’s North, Cen­tral, and South Amer­i­can native peo­ple, a hun­dred gen­er­a­tions removed, descend from Jews!

If Lehi’s group were first to pop­u­late the West­ern Hemisphere—forgetting for the moment the Jaredites—the tim­ing is way off. Even BYU arche­ol­o­gists would be hard pressed to refute tan­gi­ble proof humankind began inhab­it­ing what became the Amer­i­c­as eons before 600 B.C. This fact has trou­bling impli­ca­tions for the Book of Mor­mon.

While not con­tem­plat­ing The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints’ doc­trine, a web­site sum­ma­rizes facts seem­ing­ly crit­i­cal with regard to LDS belief. Refer­ring to the Mayas—whose roots extend back sev­en mil­len­nia—One World Jour­neys Where Peo­ple and the Plan­et Con­nect (copy­right 2000–2002 Fusion­Spark Media, Inc.) points out, “With­out ben­e­fit of met­al tools, beasts of bur­den, or even the wheel, (my empha­sis) they were still mas­ters of archi­tec­tures, build­ing elab­o­rate pyra­mids and sprawl­ing cities.” This total absence of met­al oth­er than orna­men­tal gold, draft ani­mals, and the wheel—common through­out the sev­enth cen­tu­ry B.C. East­ern Hemisphere—holds true for the entire West­ern Hemi­sphere before 1492. The ear­li­est New World cit­i­zens were Stone Age peo­ple, not the east­ern Mediter­ranean, Iron Age cul­ture of Lehi’s time!

Nonethe­less, a search of the Book of Mor­mon reveals the fol­low­ing words in the num­bers indi­cat­ed: sword 157, brass 37, iron 18, cop­per 8, steel 5, wheel 1. In 2 Nephi, chap­ter 5, verse 15, the writer boasts of teach­ing his peo­ple in uses of iron, cop­per, brass, gold, sil­ver, and steel. With two hun­dred and twen­ty-five tex­tur­al ref­er­ences to met­al in the pre-Columbian West­ern Hemi­sphere, sure­ly over the past five cen­turies some­one some­where in the Amer­i­c­as would have unearthed one brass, iron, cop­per, or steel imple­ment: a blade, ham­mer, hoe, nail, nee­dle. We haven’t.

Steel? First Nephi verse 16 refers to a bow of “fine steel.” Apart from an extreme­ly rare—if ever—instance where iron ore and pure car­bon were acci­den­tal­ly heat­ed to near­ly six­teen hun­dred degrees Cel­sius and the ancient met­al­lur­gist had no clue what he’d accom­plished, decent qual­i­ty steel was vir­tu­al­ly unheard of ‘til the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. While “fine” is sub­jec­tive, pro­duc­ing high qual­i­ty steel was a hit and miss—much more often miss than hit—operation until Hen­ry Besse­mer per­fect­ed the sci­ence in 1856, half a cen­tu­ry after Joseph Smith’s birth.

What’s more, there is no hint these folks regressed from iron to stone tools. To the con­trary, imple­ments and cul­tur­al clues show West­ern World abo­rig­i­nals pro­gressed, slow­ly to be sure, from cob­ble­stone chop­pers and spear points to metic­u­lous­ly craft­ed stone and bone tools. Over mil­len­nia they per­fect­ed the atlatl, bow, arrow, nee­dle, awl, cordage, more ser­vice­able cloth­ing, san­dals, and pot­tery. Over the past five cen­turies tens- if not hun­dreds-of- thou­sands of such arti­facts have been found, but not one Iron Age imple­ment.

In what became the Amer­i­c­as, human shel­ters evolved from caves, stick hous­es, and mud huts to tents, long-hous­es, and mul­ti­sto­ry adobe and stone dwellings. Cur­rent con­sen­sus is the peo­ple who built and inhab­it­ing the struc­tures of Mesa Verde and Cha­co Canyon are indeed ances­tors of today’s Amer­i­ca Indi­ans. Cur­rent Hopi pueb­los bear tes­ti­mo­ny to this con­tin­uüm. There is, how­ev­er, no hint these folks’ ances­tors migrat­ed from the east­ern Mediter­ranean.

To bush off the dearth of Iron Age imple­ments in what would become the Amer­i­cans as a con­se­quence of moral decay is inde­fen­si­ble. Sad­ly the moral back­slid­ing of civ­i­liza­tions is all too famil­iar. To aban­don the mate­r­i­al ben­e­fits of civ­il devel­op­ment is not. To for­get or reject the obvi­ous advan­tage of an iron axe for a stone chop­per, leav­ing no tan­gi­ble evi­dence the axe ever exist­ed, defies rea­son. It is inconceivable—no mat­ter how depraved—descendents of sev­enth cen­tu­ry B.C. Jews could reject or for­get, not only Iron Age imple­ments and hous­ing, but mil­len­nia of rit­u­als, tra­di­tions, lan­guage, writ­ing, art, music, the Old Tes­ta­ment, irrev­o­ca­bly, total­ly, with­out a trace!

Where else in the lad­der of recorded—indeed unrecorded—human his­to­ry has a cul­ture descend­ed from the Iron to the Stone Age? Bar­ring famine, draught, and pesti­lence, for peo­ple to regress from ani­mal hus­bandry and olive groves to hunt­ing and gath­er­ing, to descend from the tem­ples, shops, and homes of Jerusalem to caves, sage­brush shel­ters, and mud huts is unprece­dent­ed.

Were Jared­ites, Jews who the Book of Mor­mon says sailed to the West­ern Hemi­sphere pri­or to Lehi’s voy­age, the ear­li­est humans of the New World? As I under­stand it, the last of Jared’s peo­ple pur­port­ed­ly died some time after Lehi’s arrival. To sug­gest Jared­ites as first to inhab­it the North and South Amer­i­can con­ti­nents falls short for the same rea­sons as Lehites. They came nine mil­len­nia or so after the last ice age, after the ear­li­est evi­dence of human life in the New World. They were Iron Age folks shar­ing the afore­men­tioned Jew­ish cul­ture, his­to­ry, tra­di­tions, and faith. More­over, killing off every human res­i­dent of the West­ern Hemi­sphere, coast to coast, Arc­tic to Antarc­tic, before and about Lehi’s time calls for a grad­ual or sud­den mass extinc­tion to beg­gar imag­i­na­tion.

Beyond the mere­ly phys­i­cal how­ev­er, first, last and above all, Lehite or Jared­ite, we are talk­ing about Jews, peo­ple with a com­pelling, thou­sands-of-years-old belief in one God, their God, the God who, over mil­len­nia, pro­tect­ed and guid­ed His Cho­sen Peo­ple from Ur of the Chaldee to the Promised Land. God, lit­er­al­ly the key to Jew­ish sur­vival from Abra­ham to Egypt to the Holo­caust to today’s Israeli/Palestinian atroc­i­ties and heartaches. Could any Jew, how­ev­er loath­some, how­ev­er depraved, total­ly for­get Him?

Regard­ing the Book of Mor­mon man­u­script, after five hun­dred years occu­pa­tion by those of us from across the Atlantic and Pacif­ic, why in all the Amer­i­c­as has only one “book” pre­dat­ing 1492 A.D. been found. Over two mil­len­nia between Lehi’s and Colum­bus’ arrival, to cul­mi­nate in a work of pure gold, vol­umes of more pro­sa­ic con­struc­tion sure­ly were writ­ten. Didn’t Lehi actu­al­ly bring texts from the Holy Land? If mil­len­nia-old san­dals, fab­ric, and copro­lites are unearthed in the Amer­i­c­as some evi­dence of a book after the man­ner of Jew­ish writ­ings, a scrap of papyrus, a tat­tered goat skin bear­ing char­ac­ters rem­i­nis­cent of Hebrew, Greek, even Egypt­ian hiero­glyph­ics, must long since have been unearthed from a Mayan tem­ple, an Ade­na mound, a Cen­tral Ore­gon cave, or New Eng­land pota­to patch. Such dis­cov­ery has yet to be made.

And why Joseph Smith? What made this young man so spe­cial, so blessed as the sole mor­tal since Jesus Christ to chat face-to-face with God and angels? Over uncount­ed gen­er­a­tions, per­haps a bil­lion human beings, on plan­et Earth between the cru­ci­fix­ion and Joseph Smith’s birth, sure­ly one or two tru­ly pious souls must have plead­ed for His enlight­en­ment. Were there no such peo­ple? If there were, why were their prayers ignored?

Final­ly, the wheel. Return­ing to the Iron ver­sus Stone Age busi­ness, there is no hint pre-Columbian inhab­i­tants of what became the Amer­i­c­as devel­oped or employed one of humankind’s most high­ly val­ued and ser­vice­able inven­tions. If Lehi’s or Jared’s peo­ple were first to pop­u­late the West­ern Hemi­sphere why on Earth did they not bring along, if no oth­er Old World device, the wheel, or build a pair right off the boat? Com­mon through­out the East­ern Hemi­sphere mil­len­nia before 600 B.C., no hint, not even a draw­ing of a wheel has been dis­cov­ered in the five cen­turies non-indige­nous peo­ple have swarmed the West­ern Hemi­sphere. No mat­ter how down­fall­en, igno­rant, or ungod­ly, it is incon­ceiv­able folks ful­ly famil­iar with char­i­ots, carts, and wag­ons would in stead choose to lug goods on their shoul­ders, man­han­dle gran­ite blocks up slopes of pyra­mids, and invent the travois for ani­mals to drag their pos­ses­sions across the prairie?

Hypoth­e­sis

Frankly Pres­i­dent Hinck­ley, the Book of Mor­mon’s pur­port­ed ori­gin trou­bles me a lot. Doubt­less you have addressed this propo­si­tion, but it is fair to argue that, caught between the fer­vor of a reli­gious revival and emerg­ing aware­ness Amer­i­can Indi­ans are not the igno­rant, a-cul­tur­al, god­less sav­ages pre­vi­ous­ly assumed, some ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry New Englander(s)—Joseph Smith or others—combined reli­gions zeal with cur­rent affairs and wrote from imag­i­na­tion, not gold tablets. Along with the book’s alleged roots and char­ac­ter, as best I can deter­mine whol­ly unique among all vol­umes ever writ­ten, at least half-a-dozen facts and obser­va­tions sup­port this hypoth­e­sis.
First, writ­ing and books: The Olmecs, pre­cur­sors to the Mayas and Incas, are cred­it­ed with invent­ing writ­ing in the West­ern Hemi­sphere around 650 B.C.. While the tim­ing is right for Lehi’s group, the styl­ized sym­bols of the Olmec sys­tem hint at nei­ther Hebrew nor any oth­er Mid­dle East­ern writ­ing.

Whether on papyrus or wood­en tablets, the only books approx­i­mat­ing a form which sev­enth cen­tu­ry B.C. Jews and ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry New Eng­land folk would rec­og­nize: bound vol­umes, cov­ers, pages, seem to be the Mayas’ codex. To my under­stand­ing nei­ther these nor any oth­er New World writ­ing pri­or to Colum­bus’ arrival—the Book of Mor­mon‘s pur­port­ed man­u­script excepted—reflect either the struc­ture or con­tent of an Hebrew text

Sec­ond, the form and orga­ni­za­tion of the Book of Mor­mon: Despite or per­haps because of its scrip­tur­al nature, the text is too Bible-like for com­fort. Sud­den­ly after a cou­ple of mil­len­nia with no trace in the Amer­i­c­as of any book in the clas­sic Mid­dle East­ern or Euro­pean sense, like Moses of old, Joseph Smith goes to the wilder­ness and is hand­ed the inspired word of God: books, chap­ters, vers­es.

Third, gold tablets: For­give me, but it’s fair to sug­gest that if the book were actu­al­ly con­jured up by Joseph Smith or some­one else, the author over­played his hand in select­ing the alleged medi­um. Heavy and frag­ile, gold plates were a lousy choice! Suf­fi­cient­ly ser­vice­able gold tablets in a num­ber com­men­su­rate with the size of the Book of Mor­mon would com­prised a “weighty” tome indeed. The choice of gold seems far more to reflect the world­ly val­ues of a New Eng­lan­der farmer than God the Father. Man, not God, cher­ish­es gold.

Forth, human prej­u­dice: While my knowl­edge of the Book of Mor­mon is indeed mea­ger, at least one pas­sage seems more to reflect the igno­rance of an upstate New York Yan­kee than the wis­dom of an omni­scient, all-lov­ing God. As I read it, regard­ing to Jews:

. . . for this peo­ple shall be scat­tered, and shall become a dark, a filthy and a loath­some peo­ple, beyond the descrip­tion of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Laman­ites, and this because of their unbe­lief and idol­a­try. (Mor­mon 5, verse 15)

One won­ders how Jews and Native Amer­i­cans (Laman­ites), along with black, brown, and yel­low peo­ple world­wide, view this damn­ing, anti-Semit­ic, indeed anti-non-fair-skinned sen­ti­ment, this seem­ing blan­ket indict­ment of four-fifths of Earth’s pop­u­la­tion.

Fifth, Joseph Smith: I need not repeat my pre­vi­ous con­cern regard­ing this youth’s seem­ing exalt­ed sta­tus among mor­tals.
Sixth, Iron Age arti­facts: If Lat­ter Day Saint doc­trine is cor­rect the pre­vi­ous­ly elab­o­rat­ed absence through­out the Amer­i­c­as of tools and devices—in par­tic­u­lar the wheel—common in the 600 B.C East­ern Hemi­sphere is inex­plic­a­ble.

Sum­ma­ry

(1) Humankind roamed what became the Amer­i­c­as ten or so mil­len­nia before Lehi’s peo­ple arrived. (2) There seems no ratio­nale for Iron Age peo­ple, how­ev­er deca­dent, to for­get or turn their back on met­als and every­day devices which make life eas­i­er and more effi­cient. (3) It is incon­ceiv­able that Jews, one of the great civ­i­liza­tions of world his­to­ry, would not only aban­don their cul­ture and God, but regress to pagan reli­gion, human sac­ri­fice, and chip­ping dots, squares, cir­cles, spi­rals, snakes, ante­lope, big-horn sheep, and hunters with dan­gling phal­lus­es on sand­stone ledges. (4) The first true “writ­ing” in the West­ern Hemi­sphere is clear­ly not of Jew­ish ori­gin. If a book of gold tablets sur­vived cen­turies, sure­ly a fad­ed page or tat­tered lla­ma skin with inscrip­tions rem­i­nis­cent of Hebrew, Greek, even Egypt­ian hiero­glyph­ics would long since have turned up some­where. (5) After eigh­teen cen­turies of humankind on plan­et Earth since the cru­ci­fix­ion, I am at a loss to under­stand why Joseph Smith was favored above all to con­verse with God, Jesus Christ, and angels and restore His church. (6) If no oth­er arti­fact, sure­ly evi­dence of the wheel should attest to the pres­ence of Lehi’s peo­ple in the West­ern Hemi­sphere. (7) Argu­ment can be made that white-skinned, nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, New Englander(s) made up the Book of Mor­mon.

Ques­tions

In view of these issues, please be so kind as to address a few ques­tions.

  1. Did all humans pop­u­lat­ing the Amer­i­c­as at Columbus’s arrival, and do their heirs today, descend from Lehi’s group?
  2. If your response to ques­tion 1 is, Yes, how do you account for tan­gi­ble proof human beings inhab­it­ed the West­ern Hemi­sphere at least ten mil­len­nia before 600 B.C.?
  3. If your response to ques­tion 1 is, No, does this not refute the Book of Mor­mon and rep­re­sent a crit­i­cal break from fun­da­men­tal ten­ants of The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints?
  4. If your response to ques­tion 1 is, Some but not all native Amer­i­cans descend from Lehi’s group, who’s who?
  5. If Iron Age Jews first inhab­it­ed the West­ern Hemi­sphere, what and where is the phys­i­cal evi­dence? (For­give me, but giv­en muse­ums, lab­o­ra­to­ries, and store­hous­es heaped with Stone Age arti­facts the, God works in mys­te­ri­ous ways, response only under­mines the LDS posi­tion.)
  6. If the Book of Mor­mon is true and arti­facts or oth­er tan­gi­ble sup­port­ing evi­dence are not forth­com­ing, why has no hint of Iron Age people—implements, books, cul­tur­al clues—been dis­cov­ered in the Amer­i­c­as?
  7. Why has no oth­er book—papyrus, calf­skin, whatever—remotely sim­i­lar to the alleged Book of Mor­mon man­u­script been found in the West­ern World?
  8. In par­tic­u­lar, if no oth­er Old World inven­tion, why did Lehi’s group not take advan­tage of the wheel?
  9. After two thou­sand years of uncount­ed, devout God-lov­ing mor­tals, why was Joseph Smith so favored above all oth­ers?

It seems cru­cial The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints address the issues I raise. Giv­en avail­able wealth and resources—Brigham Young Uni­ver­si­ty, the­olo­gians, schol­ars, researchers, his­to­ri­ans, lawyers—a cred­i­ble response is cer­tain­ly with­in your grasp.

The notion Lehi’s peo­ple were first to pop­u­late the West­ern Hemi­sphere flies in the face of fact. If you can pro­vide evi­dence to refute sci­en­tif­ic find­ings and ratio­nale to explain the glar­ing dis­crep­an­cies men­tioned, con­verts might be advised to flock to The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter Day Saints. If not, the church along with the gen­e­sis and the­sis of the Book of Mor­mon are seri­ous­ly sus­pect.

I look for­ward to your response.

Respect­ful­ly yours,

E. Dean Con­klin

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