We already dis­cussed the char­i­ots which I think is a huge prob­lem. Sev­er­al addi­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy advances are com­plete­ly out of place. I’ll go through these more briefly than the pre­vi­ous sec­tions, but I am hap­py to dis­cuss any of these in depth if you have any questions.


The Book of Mor­mon men­tions the use of silk six times. Silk is a mate­r­i­al that is cre­at­ed from the cocoon of the Asian moth “Bom­byx mori”, and was unknown to the pre-Columbian Americas.


The Book of Mor­mon also states that a “com­pass” or “Lia­hona” was used by Nephi around 600 BC. The com­pass is wide­ly rec­og­nized to have been invent­ed in Chi­na around 1100 AD, and remains of a com­pass have nev­er been found in Amer­i­ca. In the Book of Alma when Alma, speak­ing to his son Hela­man, explains “the thing which our fathers call a ball, or direc­tor — or our fathers called it Lia­hona, which is, being inter­pret­ed, a com­pass” (Alma 37:38). Alma tells his son that “it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ … to eter­nal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this com­pass … to the promised land” (Alma 37:44).

Joseph Smith, Jr would have been famil­iar with the use of the word “com­pass” in his King James Bible in the books of Exo­dus, Num­bers, Joshua, Proverbs, and Acts. So adding it to the Book of Mor­mon seemed rea­son­able, except that the Bible uses “com­pass” in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent way. All uses in the Bible are refer­ring to some­thing round or some­thing which moved in a curved fash­ion. This def­i­n­i­tion is con­sis­tent with one of the mean­ings of “com­pass” as found in any dictionary.

The Book of Mor­mon ref­er­ences “com­pass” to refer to, as Alma 37:38 states, a “direc­tor”. The impor­tant part of each ref­er­ence to the Lia­hona is the fact that it directs. Here are the oth­er ref­er­ences to this, with my empha­sis added:

1 Nephi 16:10
And it came to pass that as my father arose in the morn­ing, and went forth to the tent door, to his great aston­ish­ment he beheld a round ball of curi­ous work­man­ship; and it was of fine brass. And with­in the ball were two spin­dles; and the one point­ed the way with­er we should go into the wilderness.

1 Nephi 16:30
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did go forth up into the top of the moun­tain, accord­ing to the direc­tions which were giv­en upon the ball.

It makes sense that the name of the device, “Lia­hona, which is, being inter­pret­ed, a com­pass,” comes from the fact that it is a “direc­tor” which had “two spin­dles; and the one point­ed the way.” There­fore this use pre­dates the inven­tion of a direct­ing com­pass by more than 1500 years.

Submarines and Windows

The Book of Mor­mon describes that the Jared­ite peo­ple built sub­mersible boats, and they were famil­iar with the con­cept of “win­dows” near the time of the Bib­li­cal Tow­er of Babel (around 2000 BC), and that they specif­i­cal­ly avoid­ed craft­ing win­dows for light­ing in their cov­ered seago­ing ves­sels, because the win­dows would be “dashed in pieces” dur­ing the ocean voy­age. Trans­par­ent win­dow panes are a more recent invention—dating to the 11th cen­tu­ry AD in Germany.

I’d like to dig in a lit­tle deep­er about the story:

First, for a water voy­age pri­or to the ocean cross­ing itself, the Lord had instruct­ed Jared and his broth­er to build boats in which, accord­ing to the account, their fam­i­lies and friends “did cross many waters,” (2:6) car­ry­ing with them “seeds of every kind,” flocks (“male and female, of every kind”), “fowls of the air”, “swarms of bees,” and “fish of the waters.” (2:1–3) Accord­ing to the account, this boat trip was accom­plished successfully.

Next, four years lat­er, the Lord again ordered the men to build sim­i­lar boats “after the man­ner of barges which ye have hith­er­to built” (2:16), this time for an ocean cross­ing of near­ly one year’s dura­tion. These boats, sim­i­lar to the ones built four years ear­li­er, are described as “small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the light­ness of a fowl upon the water” (2:16), with struc­tur­al integri­ty such that they were “exceed­ing­ly tight,” top and bot­tom, entire­ly leak proof and air-tight (“tight like unto a dish”) (2:17) because they were going to be “many times buried in the depths of the sea” (6:6) by “moun­tain waves” (2:24) dur­ing many vio­lent storms. To be both (a) light (“like a fowl upon the water”), and (b) able to car­ry flocks and herds with food sup­plies for a year, the con­struc­tion would obvi­ous­ly have to be care­ful­ly planned and orga­nized because of the known chal­lenges of com­bin­ing light­ness with strength even today.

Fol­low­ing the Lord’s spec­i­fi­ca­tions, the work­men built each boat with just one tight-fit­ting door, and no win­dow or oth­er open­ing. Con­struc­tion of all eight boats was com­plet­ed, per the Lord’s per­son­al instruc­tions (“I have made the barges accord­ing as thou [the Lord] hast direct­ed me.” 2:18).

Next, the Broth­er of Jared looked at the fin­ished boats and won­dered, Whoa! How will we breathe in these things? Specif­i­cal­ly, quot­ing him: “… I have made the barges as thou hast direct­ed me. And behold, O Lord, we shall per­ish, for in them we can­not breathe, save it is the air which is in them; there­fore we shall per­ish.” (2:19) It was only then, that is, that he noticed that the boats were air-tight. He also noticed they were total­ly dark inside: “O Lord, in them there is no light; whith­er shall we steer?” (2:19)

As we are all like­ly aware, in Ether 2:20 the Lord answers that “Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bot­tom; and when thou shalt suf­fer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not per­ish in the flood,” and for light they have two glow­ing rocks in each ship (6:2).

So, the group had already built ships in the same way four years ear­li­er and suc­cess­ful­ly crossed waters with­out wor­ry­ing about light or air. For some rea­son with this longer trip, these issues final­ly come up.

Regard­ing that air, I want to pro­pose a few real issues with the plausibility:

  • If you were tak­ing your fam­i­ly on a car trip in a car that for some rea­son was com­plete­ly air­tight, would you tell them, “Wait until you notice you’re suf­fer­ing for lack of air, then open the win­dow.” Isn’t it the case that peo­ple who need air often don’t notice it until too late, because oxy­gen short­age has caused them to pass out? Don’t we read that peo­ple who suf­fo­cate often don’t know it’s hap­pen­ing? Pilots at alti­tude under­go­ing oxy­gen depri­va­tion expe­ri­ence the same haz­ard. Their aware­ness drops below the lev­el need­ed to know they lack “air.”
  • How would air enter and exit the same sin­gle hole sup­ply­ing the entire barge/boat? With one air hole (which was small enough to not weak­en the struc­ture of the barge) open only a frac­tion of the time, how did any of the air cir­cu­late through­out the ship? Air does not read­i­ly enter a closed space.
  • They had seeds of every kind, flocks of every kind, fowls of the air, swarms of bees, and fish of the waters, all inside the boats with them, for one year, with­out any open air cir­cu­la­tion. Based on some rough cal­cu­la­tions, one goat eats rough­ly 2–3 pounds of food a day, times 365 days is over 1,000 pounds of food per mam­mal. Plus they would need huge amounts of fresh water for each per­son and ani­mal since they couldn’t drink ocean water. All this food, water, and ani­mals were inside barges with­out fresh air, being “tossed upon the waves” (6:5) and “buried in the depths of the sea” (6:6) in a ship designed specif­i­cal­ly to be able to rotate upside down at will.

I could go on in look­ing at this trip with even a lit­tle com­mon sense. As you do this, it becomes hard­er to argue that it is any­thing more than a com­plete­ly fic­ti­tious sto­ry. As B.H. Roberts stat­ed in Stud­ies of the Book of Mor­mon, page 251, “… there is a cer­tain lack of per­spec­tive in the things the book [of Mor­mon] relates as his­to­ry that points quite clear­ly to an under­de­vel­oped mind as their ori­gin. The nar­ra­tive pro­ceeds in char­ac­ter­is­tic dis­re­gard of con­di­tions nec­es­sary to its rea­son­able­ness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter dis­re­gard for consistency.”

Last point about the Jared­ites. The sto­ry starts with Jared and his fam­i­ly leav­ing the Tow­er of Babel (Ether 1). In the book of Ether, the Tow­er of Babel is a real event. With­out it being a real event, noth­ing real­ly makes sense. The prob­lem is that the sto­ry of the Tow­er of Babel in the book of Gen­e­sis (11:1–9) is a typ­i­cal “eti­o­log­i­cal” myth. This is a sto­ry invent­ed to explain why some­thing is so, much like chil­dren’s sto­ries called “How the leop­ard got his spots,” “Why the sea is salty,” “Why the sky is blue,” etc. There are a num­ber of oth­er eti­o­log­i­cal tales in the Bible, such as the tales to explain why a snake has no legs (Gen. 3), or why we see a rain­bow after a storm (Gen.9:13–16). There nev­er was a Tow­er of Babel, but it had to exist for the sto­ry of the Jared­ites to make any sense. So, which is it? Was the Tow­er of Babel a real event, or is the book of Ether a com­plete­ly fab­ri­cat­ed sto­ry? I have to lean toward the fab­ri­ca­tion, in agree­ment with B.H. Roberts.

Uses of metal

Here are some of the vers­es in the Book of Mor­mon that ref­er­ence metals:

2 Nephi 5:15
And I did teach my peo­ple to build build­ings, and to work in all man­ner of wood, and of iron, and of cop­per, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of sil­ver, and of pre­cious ores, which were in great abundance.

Jarom 1:8
And we mul­ti­plied exceed­ing­ly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceed­ing­ly rich in gold, and in sil­ver, and in pre­cious things, and in fine work­man­ship of wood, in build­ings, and in machin­ery, and also in iron and cop­per, and brass and steel, mak­ing all man­ner of tools of every kind to till the ground, and weapons of war—yea, the sharp point­ed arrow, and the quiver, and the dart, and the javelin, and all prepa­ra­tions for war.

Mosi­ah 8:10
And behold, also, they have brought breast­plates, which are large, and they are of brass and of cop­per, and are per­fect­ly sound.

Mosi­ah 11:8
And it came to pass that king Noah built many ele­gant and spa­cious build­ings; and he orna­ment­ed them with fine work of wood, and of all man­ner of pre­cious things, of gold, and of sil­ver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of cop­per;

Mosi­ah 11:10
And he also caused that his work­men should work all man­ner of fine work with­in the walls of the tem­ple, of fine wood, and of cop­per, and of brass.

Ether 7:9
Where­fore, he came to the hill Ephraim, and he did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel for those whom he had drawn away with him; and after he had armed them with swords he returned to the city Nehor, and gave bat­tle unto his broth­er Cori­hor, by which means he obtained the king­dom and restored it unto his father Kib.

Ether 10:23
And they did work in all man­ner of ore, and they did make gold, and sil­ver, and iron, and brass, and all man­ner of met­als; and they did dig it out of the earth; where­fore, they did cast up mighty heaps of earth to get ore, of gold, and of sil­ver, and of iron, and of cop­per. And they did work all man­ner of fine work.

Some stud­ies have shown that met­al­lur­gy did exist in a prim­i­tive state in Mesoamer­i­ca dur­ing the Preclassic/Formative and Clas­sic peri­ods (which cor­re­sponds to the time peri­od in the Book of Mor­mon). These met­als include brass, iron ore, cop­per, sil­ver, and gold. How­ev­er, the met­als were nev­er used to make swords or armor.

Between 2004 and 2007, a Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty archae­ol­o­gist, Kevin J. Vaughn, dis­cov­ered a 2000-year-old iron ore mine near Naz­ca, Peru, how­ev­er there is no evi­dence of smelt­ing, and the ore (hematite) was appar­ent­ly used to make pig­ments. There are oth­er numer­ous exca­va­tions that includ­ed iron ore. He noted:

Even though ancient Andean peo­ple smelt­ed some met­als, such as cop­per, they nev­er smelt­ed iron like they did in the Old World…Metals were used for a vari­ety of tools in the Old World, such as weapons, while in the Amer­i­c­as, met­als were used as pres­tige goods for the wealthy elite.”

This is anoth­er real­ly big deal. There is no evi­dence of steel (hard­ened iron) pro­duc­tion in North, Cen­tral, or South Amer­i­ca. Mak­ing steel is a big process, which would leave big evi­dence, most­ly in the form of large ovens that can reach the very high tem­per­a­tures need­ed to puri­fy and then hard­en the iron, and the waste prod­ucts of steel­mak­ing. Nei­ther of these evi­dences would just dis­ap­pear over time. They would be eas­i­ly exca­vat­ed, and the pur­pose would be eas­i­ly under­stood. Yet, no evi­dence of steel­mak­ing in pre-Columbian Amer­i­c­as has ever been uncovered.

The word “dross” (mean­ing a by-prod­uct of this high-tem­per­a­ture smelt­ing need­ed to make steel) appears twice in the Book of Alma. Accord­ing to Brent Lee Met­calfe:

The impor­tance of met­al­lur­gy sug­gest­ed by these fre­quent ref­er­ences to the met­als them­selves is con­firmed by Nephite use of metaphors about met­al­lur­gi­cal process­es. For exam­ple, the word ‘dross’ is employed metaphor­i­cal­ly. Dross is the waste prod­uct of smelt­ing, the impu­ri­ties which rise to the sur­face above the heav­ier molten met­al. When cool, dross is a new­ly formed rock con­sist­ing of oxides, sil­i­cas, and oth­er com­po­nents of the ore in which the metal­lic min­er­al occurred. Dross has the usu­al qual­i­ties of a hard rock in that it resists ero­sion and dete­ri­o­ra­tion unless sub­ject to mechan­i­cal and/or chem­i­cal break­down. The con­text for the word ‘dross’ in two pas­sages in the Book of Mor­mon record sug­gests that the speak­er and audi­ence under­stood the met­al­lur­gi­cal process the metaphor implies (cf. Ps. 119:119; Prov. 25:4; 26:23; Isa. 1:22, 25; Ezek. 22:18–19). ‘There­fore they were not per­mit­ted to enter into their syn­a­gogues to wor­ship God, being esteemed as filth­i­ness,’ the text explains. ‘There­fore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; there­fore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart’ (Alma 32:3). Lat­er it is explained, ‘[T]herefore, if ye do not remem­ber to be char­i­ta­ble, ye are as dross, which the refin­ers do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trod­den under foot of men’ (34:29). Such apt metaphors sug­gest that met­al­lur­gi­cal process­es were an impor­tant and gen­er­al­ly under­stood fea­ture of Nephite life.”

Addi­tion­al­ly, the Book of Mor­mon details a sys­tem of met­al weights and mea­sures used by the soci­eties described there­in for com­merce. How­ev­er, the over­all use of met­al in ancient Amer­i­ca seems to have been extreme­ly lim­it­ed. A more com­mon exchange medi­um in Mesoamer­i­ca were cacao beans.

Real­ly, though, even if no evi­dence of the actu­al mak­ing of the steel or oth­er met­als were found, the big­ger mys­tery for me is how no actu­al swords, breast­plates, “all man­ner of tools of every kind to till the ground”, and oth­er “weapons of war” that were sup­pos­ed­ly made in abun­dance for at least a thou­sand years have been found. There are bat­tles in the Book of Mor­mon where mil­lions died. A bat­tle of that mag­ni­tude would have left piles and piles of swords and breast­plates, all oth­er types of arti­facts. Again, noth­ing sup­port­ing any of this has been found.

Series Nav­i­ga­tion: My Search for Truth — Wes Trexler« Book of Mor­mon Issue 2: Agri­cul­tureBook of Mor­mon Issue 4: Language »
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