Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mormonism, Anachronism #1

In the Book of Mormon, I have found a large number of anachronisms, which are errors that have to do with placing a person, animal, object, event, etc., in an inappropriate period of time. An example would be saying that Alexander the Great used machine guns to attack Tyre. In this series of blog posts, several of these anachronisms will be examined.

Possible Anachronism #1, Horses

To try to be as fair as possible we will examine one topic at a time, state a possible error in the Book of Mormon, consider evidence for and against whether or not there actually is an error, and attempt to draw a conclusion.

Thesis: Horses are mentioned multiple times in the Book of Mormon. However, no horses were on the North American continent (the location where the events of the BoM took place) during the time period described, 2500 BC - 400 AD. Horses became extinct in the Northern Hemisphere around 10,000 years ago and were not reintroduced until after 1400 AD by the Spaniards. The fact that Joseph Smith includes horses in the Book of Mormon at a time period when historical and archaeological evidence says that horses were not present is evidence against validity of the Book of Mormon.

In the statement above, I made several assumptions and statements which have not yet been justified. There would be no reason to agree with the statement above unless it is backed up with accurate information!

Josh's assumptions:
  1. Horses are mentioned in the BoM (Book of Mormon)
  2. There were no horses on the North American continent from 2500 BC to 400 AD
    • Horses became extinct in North America 10,000 years ago
    • Horses were not introduced until after 1400 AD
  3. What Joseph Smith meant by 'horses' is not a different type of animal (for example, a Tapir)
Justification for Josh's assumptions:

  1. Horses are mentioned as being present in North America by the BoM during the time period from 2500 BC to 400 AD. See:
    • 1 Nephi 18:25
    • Enos 1:21
    • Alma 18
    • Alma 20:6
    • 3 Nephi 3:22
    • 3 Nephi 4:4
    • 3 Nephi 6:1
    • Ether 9:19
  2. There were no horses on the North American continent from 2500 BC to 400 AD
  3. When Josheph Smith mentioned horses, he actually meant horses.
    • Mormon apologist Robert R. Bennett claims that Joseph Smith may have actually been reffering to 'tapirs' when he mentioned 'horses.'
    • Since everyone knows what a horse looks like, I encourage everyone to do a google image search of 'tapir' and decide for yourself.

Joseph Smith mentions horses being present on the North American continent at various points between 2500 BC and 400 AD, historical and archaeological evidence points towards the extinction of horses in North America before 10,000 BC and their introduction after 1400 AD, and the best interpretation of 'horse' in the BoM is 'horse' (not 'tapir' or some other 4 legged mammal). Unless my statement is shown to be false by solid evidence, the BoM contains a significant error.


  1. 1) Can I ask, how does this qualify as a "significant" error? I may be blinded by my LDS upbringing but this seems to be more of a "slide or swing" question. Especially since translations aren't ever perfect. For example, the word "days" in the Bible, doesn't actually mean "days" in the sense that we use it, because the translation doesn't account for connotations.
    2)You missed an assumption under "Josh's assumptions," that may want to read something like, "The Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith rather than translated from ancient texts by divine insight, as LDS church members believe." Obviously you make that assumption, and it affects the direction of your analysis of the text.

  2. First off, thank you for your comment!!!

    1) I agree that this one piece of evidence does not mean much by itself! It is the large number of anachronisms taken together that is significant (let me know what you think about the next blog posts in this series).

    However, including horses IS a "significant" error because a divinely inspired text would not include anachronisms. Supposedly God was around from 2500 BC to 400 AD, and would have known that there were no horses. The fact that horses are included suggests that Joseph Smith wrote the texts based on his own knowledge rather than translating the plates.

    I agree that there are multiple interpretations of words. But what is the best interpretation? Could you suggest an alternative meaning for the word "horse"?

    2)This second portion does not apply to my argument. If multiple anachronisms are present then that would suggest Joseph Smith wrote the BoM.
    Again I appreciate your input. Please let me know if you think I have made errors, and hopefully we will have some productive discussions! If you demonstrate that I am errant, I promise that I will change my opinion.

  3. I'm sorry, I can't suggest an alternative meaning, but that really wasn't my point. (But, for the record, I'm fairly certain "tapirs" isn't correct, either...) My point was, and I'm trying to be objective as humanly possible, that in anything that is translated, there are going to be mis-translations, and word choice can't be the deciding factor in determining truth, can it?

    Oh, and I don't think it's an error, horses are definitely in there and it doesn't make sense that they should be, I just don't...(okay, now I'm going to sound really LDS) think that it negates my whole belief system. Having a mistake in a book of scripture doesn't make God any less real, in my opinion. I know we differ here in our beliefs about the Book of Mormon, though, but the Bible (I suppose now I am making an assumption that you are Christian) reads the same way.

    I'm looking forward to the next few posts and giving my input. And if I'm being combative, let me know. I don't mean to stir up contention.

  4. You're not being combative at all!

    I honestly appreciate your input. Hopefully our conversation will continue to be productive!

    1) I agree that there will be mis-translations, but consistently mis-translated the same way in 8 different places? If we can't say that 'horse' means 'horse' then how do we know that 'love' means 'love'?

    2) I agree that this single post does not negate the entire belief system. Check out Anachronism #2 for more evidence!

  5. This is a response to northwesterlywind’s first comment, specifically, the second item.
    I would like to point out that the entire purpose of the analysis is to determine whether or not the document was written by Joseph Smith or by divine inspiration, so making an assumption either way is pointless.
    In any analysis of a foundational document, especially one which claims to be written through divine inspiration, I believe it is important to assume that the document is not inspired and prove the contrary. As a Christian, I check the validity of the Bible by searching for all the mistakes I can find and determining whether they are serious enough to indicate a fatal flaw. I have found that the Bible is accurate and consistent to such a high and unprecedented degree that it can only be explained by divine inspiration. I don’t think it is unfair to hold the book of Mormon up to exactly the same scrutiny.