If I could ask them one question . . .
Come Follow Me, Lesson 46
For Come Follow Me, lesson 46, Nov 23-29, Ether 12-15
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“What evidence would you expect from such large civilizations?”
Things to consider:
- This week’s Book of Mormon reading tells us that toward the end of the Jaredite civilization, “[Coriantumr] saw that there had been slain by the sword already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea, there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children” (Ether 15:2).
- This great destruction may have taken place over a dozen years or so, but regardless it gives us some idea of the size of the Jaredite population. Two million men are killed just on Coriantumr’s side of this epic civil war. Since in addition to the 2 million men Ether says these men’s wives and children were killed, we can reasonably extrapolate to 5 or 6 million killed on just one side of the war. Assuming both sides had roughly the same population, we’re talking about a death toll of the magnitude of 10 million or more.
- Wouldn’t such a large population leave ample evidence of itself? For example, the Book of Ether mentions swords 20 separate times by my count. It even says Shule (3rd generation Jaredite American) “did molten out of the hill, and made swords out of steel” (Ether 7:9). Later Ether tells us the Jaredites had advanced and extensive metallurgy. “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” (Ether 10:23). First of all, steel seems to have been invented in the Old World, but not until hundreds of years after its reference in Jaredite history (Timeline of materials technology). Pre-Columbian metal use goes back a long time, but the metals from the early Jaredite time frame were not typically molten from ore, and the metal was primarily for ornament and status symbolism. “Only with the Incas did metals really come into more utilitarian use” (Metallurgy in pre-Columbian America). That puts utilitarian metallurgy starting after 1300 CE. There’s also the fact that there were no swords in the pre-Columbian Americas. There was a club-like weapon with obsidian blades fixed to its edges called Macuahuitl that was similar enough to a sword that some call it the Aztec sword. The Macuahuitl wasn’t around until about 900 CE or later though (see my If I Could Ask … Lesson 31 about swords in the Americas during Book of Mormon times).
- And what about Jaredite animals? Ether tells us they had oxen, cows, domesticated sheep, domesticated goats, horses, asses, and elephants (Ether 9:17-19). But, these animals didn’t exist in the Americas at the time (see my “If I Could Ask” posts about horses and about sheep for a little more information on this).
- There was a great civilization in the Americas that roughly fit the time line of the Jaredites. The Olmec prospered as a large civilization from about 1200 BCE to about 400 BCE. Archaeological evidence indicates the Olmec had high regard for animals “such as jaguars, eagles, caimans, snakes and even sharks” (Olmec Civilization), but they seem to be unaware of the Book of Ether oxen, cows, domesticated sheep, domesticated goats, horses, asses, or elephants. The Olmec used spears, stone knives, wood shields, and even clay projectiles (Weapons and Warfare), but no steel swords. Not a lot is known about Olmec religion, but the evidence suggests their religion consisted of multiple gods, not one supreme being. The Olmec left a lot of archaeological evidence, and it seems they even left a cultural footprint on other Mesoamerican civilizations that followed (Influence of the Olmec Civilization on Mesoamerica). In summary, the Olmec seem very different from the Jaredites. I don’t think there’s evidence of any civilization similar to the Jaredites.
- Could it be that a civilization of 10 million people or more just disappeared, without a trace? I think it unlikely. Consider the small Viking settlement, L’Anse aux Meadows, in Newfoundland, Canada. This settlement lasted perhaps 10 years, it consisted of only several buildings and had perhaps as many as 100 Vikings. It was only about 1,000 years ago, but it was extremely small and short-lived contrasted to the reported Jaredite civilization, yet we know the Vikings were there and they even left behind evidence of iron smelting (L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site). If you don’t think the Viking settlement a good comparison to the Jaredites because of the time frame, then consider the Etruscans, a civilization that thrived between 900 BCE until they were conquered by Rome in the 3rd century BCE (Etruscan civilization). “An approximate estimate of the Etruscan population size in the 6th century b.c. is probably somewhere between 150,000 and 250,000 women” (The Etruscans: A Population-Genetic Study). That estimate is only for women because it’s based on a mitochondrial DNA study. Conservatively assuming the estimate only includes women who bore children, the total Etruscan population may have been to the order of 700,000. Even if it was 1 million, that would only be a tenth of the size of what we can reasonably assume for the Jaredites. There is a lot of evidence left from the Etruscan civilization. We know they existed. Apparently, the evidence is sufficient to let us know the Etruscans’ “principal weapons were bronze spears and double-edged swords” (Etruscan Warfare).
- It seems dubious to me that a civilization of 10 million people or more disappeared without a trace even as long ago as 2,500 years. But it would seem as if the Jaredites—a vast civilization, sometimes followers of God the Father, obliterated in a most epic war, possessors of technologies and beasts that would have been quite unique in the Americas—these Jaredites vanished without a trace as if they had never actually existed.
- But, in addition to the Jaredites, the Book of Mormon claims another large civilization that compounds the problem. It claims the Nephite/Lamanite civilization was intact until about 400 CE. This civilization was so large, “The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea” (Mormon 1:7). In fact, Mormon tells us that nearly a quarter million of his people were killed in the final battle between the Nephites and Lamanites. Again, assuming the other side had a similar population, the Nephite/Lamanite population would have had about 1/2 million people. In addition, the claims about that civilization specify additional evidence we should expect had the civilization actually existed, namely, that the people were descendants of the House of Israel, that they had kept extensive written records in at least two languages related to written languages that experts are very familiar with. As with the Jaredites, the Nephite/Lamanite society apparently left no evidence we can put our hands on including DNA or writings (see my If I Could Ask … Lesson 43 for more information about DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon). As far as the evidence is concerned, it’s as if they had never actually existed.
- But, what of the saying, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”? In other words, “not having evidence for large nations with distinct technologies, cultures, and agriculture is not evidence the nations did not exist.” Unfortunately for the Church, this apologetic argument holds little weight. It is true that the lack of evidence for these nations does not prove they did not exist, but it is definitely strong enough evidence to justifiably conclude this amazingly extraordinary claim is false.
Absence of evidence, or the failure to observe evidence that favors a hypothesis, is evidence against that hypothesis. This is because we are significantly more likely not to see evidence for a hypothesis when it is false than not to see it when it’s true — some assertions demand that the universe be screaming with supporting evidence, so when that evidence is not actually observed, it counts against it.”
~ RationalWiki, Absence of evidence
- Given the voluminous evidence for various nations of similar size and/or time frame as Book of Mormon nations, we would expect vast evidence from different fields of study to support the claim these Book of Mormon peoples existed. However, the evidence for Jaredites or Lehites seems to be as non-existent as it would be if these Book of Mormon peoples had not existed. Based on the evidence, what is the most reasonable and rational conclusion about the existence of Jaredites and Lehites?
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- Moroni preaches that faith must come before receiving a witness, though there are plenty of Book of Mormon examples of miracles preceding faith (Ether 12:6).
- The bold and clear fruit of Book of Mormon prophets seems to contrast sharply with that of modern prophets, seers, and revelators (Ether 12:30, 39, see also my If I Could Ask … Lesson 20 and If I Could Ask … Lesson 24 that contrast the seership and prophecies of Book of Mormon seers with that of modern seers). Could that be part of why they’re now using the term “global faith leader” in reference to President Nelson?
- It teaches that the Noachian flood actually happened. That’s problematic for so many reasons, and one reason very germane to the book is that the Church teaches that the flood happened by 2400 BCE at the earliest, but the first Americans populated the Americas starting at least 13,000 years ago and they never experienced a mass extinction by flood (Ether 13:2).
- The New Jerusalem will be in the Americas (Ether 13:3-4).
- I wonder why Ether would be telling his people about Jerusalem when it didn’t even have significance to God’s people in the Old World until maybe more than a millennia after Ether’s people had left the Old World (Ether 13:5-6).
- Swords seem anachronistic (Ether 13:18, Ether 14:1-2, 4, 24, and Ether 15:2, 5, 20, 22-24, 28-30).
- Holy Shiz! A guy’s head was cut off, and after that he raised up on his hands and struggled for breath (Ether 15:31).
- Moroni starts with records on 24 metal plates that are the Book of Ether. He doesn’t give us the first part of the plates and abridges (shortens, makes more concise) only the part after the history of Adam until the tower. He tells us he only wrote a hundredth part of the record, but somehow that concise abridgement of 24 gold plates ends up being 24.8 pages of text in English (Ether 15:33).
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 46