Hey guys! We’re going to talk about anachronisms today. An anachronism is something (in a movie, book, or presentation) that shows up in a time period in which it isn’t believed to have existed. For instance, in the movie “Gladiator,” you might notice that when this chariot crashes, there’s a gas canister in the back. But gas canisters didn’t exist in ancient Rome. It’s an anachronism.
Over the years, people have drawn much attention to things they view as anachronisms in The Book of Mormon. Things like steel, horses, cement, and stuff like that. So, let’s talk about it.
For reasons you’re about to see, I’m not going to address each and every alleged anachronism people are concerned about. Instead, I’m going to use the work of researcher Matthew Roper just to give you a birds-eye-view of what this controversy is all about. What Roper did was he hunted down every anachronism he could find that was brought up by Latter-day Saint critics from 1830 all the way until 2019.
And then he kept track of what happened with those claims over time. So we’re going to look at the status of alleged anachronisms from 3 different time periods. The first period is between 1830, the year the Book of Mormon was published, and 1844, the year Joseph Smith died.
Between those years, critics brought up 90 anachronisms. By 1844, further research debunked 4 of them, and 1 was trending towards being disproved, leaving 85 left, which is a lot.
Between 1845 and 1965, that’s 120 years, critics brought up 59 additional anachronisms for a combined total of 149. By 1965, a combined total of only 21 had been debunked. In addition to those 22, there were also 5 more trending towards being disproved.
As you can see, even by 1965 things still aren’t looking great for the Book of Mormon. There’s a lot of red on this chart.
And finally, between 1966 and 2019, 55 more anachronisms came up, for a grand total of 204. But since 1965, 122 anachronisms have been disproved, for a total of 143. Also, now a total of 27 are trending towards being debunked, leaving only 34 that are still unaccounted for, or about 17-percent. As it stands, about 83-percent of alleged anachronisms have either been debunked or are headed that way.
So. There are several things we learn from this. The first seems to be that when it comes to anachronisms, with time (at least in the last 55 years), Joseph is just looking better and better. And who knows what’s in store for the next 55 years.
But as of right now, there are still questions we don’t yet have answers for. For most members, that’s not a problem for a couple of reasons. First, as this data clearly indicates, perceived anachronisms are dropping like flies. But also, members’ testimonies are founded on the challenge described in Moroni 10 to study the Book of Mormon and ask God through prayer if it is true or not. And when God tells you the Book of Mormon is true, you don’t say, “But God, there’s no evidence of wheat in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.” You just patiently wait for the time when research catches up with revelation.
Latter-day Saints aren’t the only people in this boat. For example, a prominent non-Latter-day Saint biblical archaeologist named Kenneth Kitchen wrote,
“In the field of history, whether it be the patriarchs, or David, or anyone else, we are repeatedly told that no extra-biblical occurrences of this or that individual have been found, so their historicity is to be dismissed or treated as doubtful, regardless of all other indications. No such wrong criterion is applied elsewhere—why here? Absence of evidence is not, and should not be confounded with, evidence of absence.”
In other words, just because you haven’t found something yet, doesn’t mean there’s nothing there to find.
That said, there are some people who are of the opinion that if we haven’t found ancient steel swords or other “anachronisms” in the New World by now, it’s just a pipe dream. But it may be good to keep in mind that as of 2011, less than 1 percent of ancient Mesoamerican ruins had been uncovered and studied. That stat comes from George Stuart, who was one of National Geographic’s leading experts on Mesoamerican archaeology for a very long time. And after lidar technology revealed a glimpse of the vastness of ruins that need to be explored, that percentage is now probably significantly smaller than he estimated.
I’ve got one more quote for you, this time from Neal A. Maxwell. He wrote, “All of the Scriptures including the Book of Mormon will remain in the realm of faith. Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ. However, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith. Believers must be patient during such unfolding.”
And that’s exactly what’s happening with Book of Mormon anachronisms. Over the years enough evidence has come forward (in my opinion) to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but it doesn’t prove anything. Faith still is and always will be a requirement. Check out the links in the description for more info on this topic, and have a great day.
- Matt Roper’s research: https://bit.ly/2KYzghR
- Less than 1 percent excavated?: https://bit.ly/33pSbs4 (see footnote 5)
- Specifics on controversial anachronisms: https://bit.ly/33rqWxo
- Horses in the Book of Mormon
Full quote from Kenneth Kitchen: “The same criticism is to be leveled at the abuse of this concept in archaeology: the syndrome: ‘we did not find it, so it never existed!’ instead of the more proper formulation: ‘evidence is currently lacking; we may have missed it or it may have left no trace’…”