Charlatan's angels

Posted: Jun 06, 2006 12:05 AM

The fact that Joseph Smith roamed about in upstate New York as a young man searching for the lost treasures of Captain Kidd should have been enough to warn people that he was a few fries short of a happy meal. But his later claims to have received a set of Golden Plates from the Angel Moroni spared him from being seen merely as a quack. Instead, they ensured that he will go down in history as both a fraud and a heretic.

The Golden Plates of the Angel Moroni supposedly disappeared into heaven never to be seen again after Smith transcribed The Book of Mormon. This is but one of the evidentiary problems faced by the Latter-day Saints (LDS). The dearth of archeological evidence supporting the claims of Mormonism is also disturbing given that the events described in the book allegedly took place as late as the fifth century A.D.

That many of my LDS readers place The Book of Mormon in the same category with the Bible is odd, to say the least. While archeology has failed to substantiate The Book of Mormon, the veracity of the Bible - both the Old and New Testaments - has been demonstrated repeatedly in recent years.

Sometimes the discoveries confirming the Bible have been general, such as the evidence suggesting that the world did, in fact, have a single language at one time. Another example is the relatively recent evidence that the Hittites really did exist. Those who said for years that no such people ever existed must now contend with concrete evidence found in modern-day Turkey.

More specific examples include discoveries confirming passages in Samuel which say that after his death Saul’s armor was put in the temple of a Canaanite fertility goddess. Passages in Chronicles say his head was put in the temple of a Philistine corn god. Since the Canaanites and Philistines were enemies, critics of the Bible thought that it was an error to place their temples in close proximity. Now that excavations have placed these two temples side-by-side, the critics have been silenced.

Aside from the wealth of archeological evidence that sets the Bible apart from The Book of Mormon, there is another issue of confirmation by prophecy. The predictions in Psalms - that the hands and feet of Jesus would be pierced, that his bones would be out of joint and that lots would be cast for his garments - are amazing. Zechariah also speaks of the piercing of Jesus in a way that clearly foretells his crucifixion.

Prophecies concerning Jesus’ crucifixion are all the more amazing when one considers that the Roman method of execution had not yet been invented when these passages were written. People were simply stoned to death in Old Testament times. Isaiah 53 alone foretells a dozen amazing details of the crucifixion of Christ. (For further reading see Norman Geisler. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999).

When I was younger, atheists tried to convince me that certain passages from the writings of Nostradamus surpassed the Bible in terms of predictive credibility. For example, the following passage by Nostradamus was said to be a reference to Adolf Hitler: “…Beasts mad with hunger will swim across rivers. Most of the army will be against the Lower Danube [Hister sera]. The great one shall be dragged in an iron cage when the child brother [de Germaine] will observe nothing.”

Years later, I learned that Nostradamus’ predictions were meaningless. Hister was a place, not a person like Hitler. De Germaine represented “near relative,” not the nation of Germany. It seems that the hunger to minimize the uniqueness of the Bible is eternally strong, but the evidence is eternally lacking.

As it stands, the Bible I read as a child stands alone as a document that has the support of prophets looking into the future and archeologists looking into the past. The Book of Mormon has neither.

I wish I could classify the fraud of The Book of Mormon as the thing that bothers me the most about Joseph Smith. But, unfortunately, it is not. And, unfortunately, an enumeration of my other problems with Joseph Smith will have to wait until next week’s column.