Anachronisms in the Book of Mormon


By definition, an anachronism is an error in chronology relating to placement of objects, people or events that are inconsistent with their historical context. Simply put, it is a reference in the Book of Mormon that didn’t exist at the time.

Several such examples exist in the Book of Mormon.  A few examples set forth by critics have since been proven to be inaccurate.  But there are a many that have stood the test of time.  Apologists have commented on many of these in an effort to defend the Book of Mormon.  I will discuss a few.  Readers are encouraged to look at two great discussions on the subject at:

Horses are referred to numerous times (Alma 18: 9, Alma 18: 12, Alma 20: 6, 3 Ne. 3: 22).  Horses are not thought to have existed during Book of Mormon times.  Horses evolved in North America, but became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene (2.5 million to 12,000 years ago) period. Horses did not reappear in the Americas until the Spaniards brought them from Europe in 1519.  Pictographic and literary evidence of horses in the New World (outside of the Book of Mormon) has not been found.

Elephants are mentioned (Ether 9:19) in the Jeredite era (2500 BC).  There is no fossil evidence to support this placement.  Mastadons and Mammoths lived during the Pleistocene in the New World, however, the fossil record indicates that they became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago).

Domesticated cattle are mentioned (Ether 9:18). There has been no evidence recovered that Old World cattle inhabited the New World prior to European contact in the sixteenth century AD.

Goats and swine (Ether 9:8) are referred to as though they are domesticated.  There is evidence that some wild varieties of goats and pigs were present in pre-columbian america, but there is no evidence that these animals were domesticated.  There is no artwork portraying either of these types of animals.  Furthermore, animals that did exist are not mentioned, such as deer, sloth, monkeys and jaguars.

Apologists typically reply to these criticisms by suggesting that perhaps Joseph Smith had the problem of trying to use and english word for and animal that was unknown to the english speaking world.  In such a situation he was forced to use an approximation.  To me this seems like a convenient explanation, but far from conclusive.

Barley and wheat are mentioned numerous times in the Book of Mormon.  Domesticated forms of these grains were not introduced until after Columbus, about a thousand years after the close of the Book of Mormon.

Apologists have argued that these terms may have referred to other indigenous varieties of grain (the same argument used for animals).  There is evidence that a plant called Hordeum pusillum or “Little Barley” was cultivated by pre-Columbian native americans.  References to Barley, however, date to 121 BC in the Book of Mormon several hundred years before the cultivation of “little Barley.”  The Book of Mormon also does not describe the foods that ancient Americans did have - chocolate, lima beans, squash, avocado and potatoes, among others.

Chariots are mentioned numerous times in the Book of Mormon (Alma 18:9-10, 12, Alma 20:6, 3 Nephi 3:22).  There is no archeological evidence to support the use of wheeled vehicles at all in the pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.  This is probably because there were no large domesticated animals to pull wagons, carts, plows, or chariots.  The South American Incas had well developed roads but similar to the Mayans, no knowledge of the wheel. 

Apologist point to the discovery of toy chariots and brass bells found in some tombs.  Mainstream archeologists, however, see these items as proof that the tombs post-date the Spanish Inquisition.    While only a few chariots have been found in Old World excavations, their existence and use is well documented in the artwork of Mediterranean origin.  No such artwork has been found in the New World.

Steel and iron are mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 16:18, 2 Nephi 5:15, Jarom 1:8, Ether 7:9).  While there is no evidence for hardened steel in the pre-Columbian Americas, there is some evidence for limited mining of iron and its use for making rudimentary tools and weapons.  The Book of Mormon also refers to “swords” stating that “the blades thereof were cankered with rust” (Mosiah 8:11).  This reference is in context of the discovery of the final battlefield of the Jeredites where an estimated 250,000 warriors were killed.  No such battlefield has ever been found in archeological study, nor has any “sword” as we know them. 

Mesoamerican warriors are known to have used wooden clubs with imbedded blades of obsidian.  Metallurgy did exist in the time period corresponding to the Book of Mormon, producing metals like iron, brass, copper, silver, and gold.  These metals, however, were produced in relatively small amounts and used for prestige items for the wealthy elite.

Mosiah 8:10 refers to brass and copper breastplates used for armor.  No such thing existed in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.  Warriors did use leather clothing reinforced with pockets filled with sand as armor.

Cimiters” (presumably scimitars) are mentioned numerous times in the Book of Mormon.  A scimitar is a long, curved sword used by the Persians and Turks.  These weapons are not known to have existed at all in the Americas (nor anywhere else until 450 AD, approximating the close of the Book of Mormon period).  Furthermore, the word was not used by the Hebrews (a linguistic anachronism). 

Apologists use the same argument here as well.  That is, Joseph Smith had to use a term he knew to describe something he didn’t.  Incidentally, this argument is flawed because given the account of how Joseph Smith translated the plates (see Translation), he was never in a position to try to choose a word to describe something he had never seen.  The words were given to him through his seer stone or the Urim and Thumim.  A mistranslation error would be the fault of god, who was feeding him the words.

The BOM refers to a type of monetary system based on weights of precious metals (Alma 11).   Such a system, however, has not been demonstrated in Mesoamerica.  Instead, the typical trade medium was cacao beans.

The Book of Mormon mentions the use of silk six times (1 Nephi 13:7,8, Alma 1:29, Alma 4:6, Ether 9:17, Ether 10:24).  Silk is a product of the Orient and was unknown in the pre-Columbian Americas .  Apologists claim that other materials used in mesoamerica could have been called silk (like a jaguar could have been called a cow). 

The Book of Mormon describes several cultures whose language and writing had roots in Hebrew and Egyptian. Archaeological evidence shows that the only people who ever developed a written language in America were the Mayans.  The Mayan language has no resemblance to Hebrew or Egyptian.

Conclusion:  There is a wealth of evidence that suggests that whoever wrote the Book of Mormon had little or no knowledge of Mesoamerican culture or archeology.  These anachronisms, in my opinion, are enough to dismiss the Book of Mormon as fiction.  Unfortunately, there is more.

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