Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Pyrrho’s Comments on Anonymity

My friend and fellow time traveler Pyrrho of Elis has given some cogent remarks on why we, Legion, remain anonymous (or, more precisely, pseudonymous).

There is just one additional point I would like to add.

It is ideal for peer review to be double-blind to ensure that the review remains about the quality of arguments and not the individual authors. John Dehlin’s essays are anonymous, and so are our reviews, thus upholding this important standard.

We are confident that John Dehlin’s fanbase at Reddit will understand.

Why Do We Remain Anonymous?

Image result for pyrrho
Me in a former lifetime

Hello dear reader, my name is Pyrrho of Elis, and I am the founder of the Greek school of philosophy known as Skepticism. Or so my username says anyway; my real identity, like the rest of Legion, shall remain anonymous.

In the past few days since this blog was started, many have said that FairMormon is behind the blog, or that we are in the employ of the Church directly, or that we simply have a bone to pick with John Dehlin. There is something to be said for all of these claims, but they are all false.

FairMormon is an organization that we respect, but we are not affiliated with them and no one at FairMormon knows who we are either. I assure you that we are not being paid or supplemented in anyway by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (though all of us are believing members of said church). As far as having problems with John Dehlin, none of us have met him personally (as far as I am aware), but we do consider him an irresponsible intellectual and we are concerned for the welfare of those who leave the church after listening to his podcasts or reading his essays.

Now that that is all squared away, to the point of the present work: Why do we choose to remain anonymous rather than revealing our true identity’s? First, it is kind of fun to have dual identities (ask Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent). But most importantly, we are not seeking publicity or attention. Who we really are has nothing to do with the arguments and evidence that we will present and defend. Who we really are is immaterial; what matters is if we follow the evidence wherever it may lead and if we are honest about the problems that the Church faces. We consider these problems and questions important; we do not consider ourselves important and frankly you should not either.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Cheerio.

Scimitar (Cimeter) and the Book of Mormon

While there certainly are legitimate issues worth discussing about the Book of Mormon and archaeology, Dehlin’s essay on the subject is full of things that simply are not true. Take, for instance, this paragraph about the cimeter (more commonly spelled scimitar today):

Cimeter: The curved, bladed weapon, mentioned 3 times in the Book of Mormon, originated with the Ottoman empire in the 9th Century. Not only is it an Asian word for blade, it’s also made of anachronistic steel. It remains unknown how Lehi would be aware of it, as the word was unused in any contemporary Hebrew literature.

Mormon Stories “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” Essay
Screenshot of the Mormon Stories Archaeology and the Book of Mormon Essay

My honest reaction to this paragraph is:

Not only that, but it’s been known to be wrong for decades. More than half a century on some details.

Let’s review.

The Origins of Curved, Bladed Weapons

Curved, bladed weapons—which scholars freely call scimitars—have been known since the Bronze Age. Some scholars believe such weapons were known in the ancient Near East as early as the 3rd millennium BC.1 It’s certainly attested by the 2nd millennium BC. Describing weapons from the Later Bronze Age (ca. 1550–1200 BC), archaeologist Amihai Mazar wrote, “Sickle-shaped scimitars are known both from actual finds and from Egyptian artistic depictions.”2 Mazer shows an illustration of the Egyptian weapon, which he captions as “a scimitar.”

In Canaan, “the curved sickle-sword, or scimitar” is known even earlier, in the Middle Bronze Age.3 An Egyptian text written in the early 2nd millennium BC mentions the plundering of weapons, including scimitars, from Canaanite towns: “copper-cum-wood [weapons]: (battle)-axes, 10; scimitars, 33; daggers, 12; knives (?), 11.”4

There’s even evidence that Israelites specifically used curved-bladed swords. Boyd Seevers, an expert in Old Testament warfare, said, “Likely the typical early Israelite sword was a sickle-sword, which had a handle attached to a straight shaft that continued into a curved blade.”5 The only known artistic depiction of Israelite swords, from Assyrian reliefs dated to ca. 700 BC, illustrates them as curved-bladed weapons.6

For what it is worth, curved weapons that leading Maya scholars Mary Miller and Simon Martin have described as “scimitar-like” are also known in Mesoamerican art going back to the early pre-Classic period (ca. 1500–900 BC).7

So the existence of curved-bladed weapons, which scholars have freely referred to as scimitars, is well attested long before the Ottoman empire or the 9th century AD.

UPDATE: The Origins of Ottoman Empire

My fellow time traveler Ann Eliza Young has pointed out another inaccuracy in this section, which I failed note originally, as it is somewhat tangential to my post. But as she noted, the Ottoman Empire was founded in the 13th century–some 400 years later than that claimed in Dehlin’s essay. Given that this is in a section on anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, the anachronistic reference to the Ottoman Empire is comical, to say the least.

Asian Word for Blade

First, what’s an “Asian” word? This generalization is unhelpful, and also pretty racist. Asia is a huge continent, with literally hundreds of different languages and cultures—which includes the Middle-East, where Israel is. So technically a “Hebrew” word is an “Asian” word.

I assume that what they mean is it’s a Persian word, but even that is not really accurate. Scimitar is an English word—and there’s no problem with it showing up in an English translation. As quoted above, Egyptologist Donald Redford used “scimitar” in his English translation of an Egyptian word referring to curved-bladed weapons from around 2000 BC.8 So again, not clear what the problem is.

As for the origins of the word, its etymology goes back to 15th century French (cimeterre) and Italian (scimitarra). It’s origins beyond that are uncertain. Some think it comes from the Persian shimshir, but others think that connection is unsatisfactory.9

Anachronistic Steel

There’s a whole section on steel elsewhere in the essay, which I or one of my compatriots might decide to deal with in detail later. For now, I’ll just say three things:

1. Steel is definitely not anachronistic for Lehi’s time. Tests performed on iron objects from the early Iron Age proved that nearly all of them were technically made of steel.10 What’s more, a steel Israelite sword has specifically been found dated to the 7th century BC.11

2. The Book of Mormon never says what their “cimeters” are made out of (Enos 1:20; Alma 27:29; Alma 44:8).

3. Scimitars needn’t necessarily be made out of steel. As noted, sickle-shaped swords referred to as scimitars by scholars are known from the Bronze Age, and were made out of bronze, and sometimes even wood. In Mesoamerica, scimitar-like blades were made out of flint.12

The Word Unused in Contemporary Hebrew Literature

Obviously, the Englishword scimitar is not used in any Hebrew literature from Lehi’s day. But as noted, words translated as “scimitar” by scholars are known in the ancient Near East, going back to well before Lehi’s day. Obviously, since Israelites had curved swords (as noted above), they probably had a word for such swords as well. And indeed, there is just such a Hebrew word: kidon (כידון), defined as “javelin or short curved sword.”13 Roland De Vaux explains:

[Kîdôn] is usually translated ‘javelin’, … [m]ore probably, however, the kîdôn was a scimitar … like those shown on monuments discovered in excavations.14

In 1 Samuel 17:6 and 45, P. Kyle McCarter translates kidon as “scimitar,” and defines it as “a heavy, curved, flate-bladed, Oriental sword with a cutting edge on the outer (convex) side of the blade.”15

Significantly, the term kidon shows up twice in Jeremiah (6:23; 50:42), a contemporary prophet with Lehi—so it is used in “contemporary Hebrew literature.”

Conclusion

I honestly can’t imagine someone writing a single paragraph with more factual errors than this one. And while I’ve made it a point to cite mainstream academic sources here, it’s not like Mormon scholars have not pointed this out—in response to this very criticism—before.16 So why does critical literature, including here Dehlin’s essays, keep repeating this nonsensical claim over and over and over?

Perhaps it’s because they did nothing more than read the Wikipedia article on “scimitar”—a shallow and superficial research method if ever there was one. Or perhaps it’s because they know for many who lose faith over articles like this, it’s the cumulative effect of the arguments. Piling on one claim after another—no matter how tenuous—can overwhelm the unsuspecting reader who does not know any better, and doesn’t have the means to factcheck the information presented.

If this is the case, it’s easy to see why critics might continue to repeat old claims long since debunked, since reducing the number of arguments does not ultimately serve the cumulative effect very well. But it’s also extremely unethical. So let’s give Dehlin the benefit of the doubt and just assume that he really just didn’t know any better—his understanding of the topic too superficial. This still seriously undermines the credibility of the essays.

Is Beekeeping an Anachronism in the Book of Mormon?

The Mormon Stories essay on “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” argues that the mentioning of Jaredite beekeeping is anachronistic:

“The Jaradites are described in Ether as having carried honey bees to the New World, while ignoring the improbability of transporting bees in a totally enclosed submarine for a year. The honey bee is not native to North America.”

Screenshot of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” accessed February 12, 2019.

To support this claim, the article hyperlinks to a 2006 article from ScienceDaily.

The only reference to honeybees in the Book of Mormon is in the book of Ether:

“And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.”

Ether 2:3

Ignoring for now the arguably ancient etymology of deseret, it must be pointed out that the text actually does not describe the Jaredites taking honeybees with them across the ocean. It rather describes them carrying honeybees before they cross the ocean in the “valley of Nimrod” as they went “forth into the wilderness” (Ether 2:4–5). It might be assumed that the Jaredites took honeybees with them to the New World, but when the text catalogues New World Jaredite fauna (Ether 9:18–19), honeybees are absent.

Apiculture in ancient Egypt is documented as early as the third millennium BC.1 It is striking that the Jaredite word for honeybee, deseret, has a plausible Egyptian etymology (dšrt).2 It seems probable that Jaredite apiculture was imported from ancient Egypt, since evidence for beekeeping in Mesopotamia (the supposed homeland of the Jaredites) is scant, with the clearest data for Mesopotamian apiculture coming long after Jaredite times.3 A plausible reading of the Book of Mormon text could argue that the Jaredite honeybees did not survive the group’s pan-Mesopotamian (and pan-Eurasian?) migration.4

The claim made by Dehlin that there is no native pre-Columbian apiculture is demonstrably wrong. “Yucatan was a thriving center of apiculture from pre-Columbian times, persisting, little changed, to the present,” and there are several known native North American honeybee species.5 The Spanish described native honey-producing beekeeping upon their arrival in the Yucatan,6 and Michael D. Coe, whom Dehlin has interviewed and often cites as an authority on Book of Mormon archaeology, has discussed native Mesoamerican apiculture and specifically speaks of the “stingless honeybee” as a domesticated New World animal.7 Other scholars have also discussed the significance of apiculture in ancient Mesoamerican history and culture.8

Most recently, an article published in the journal Latin American Antiquity in June 2018 documents the existence of pre-Columbian beekeeping among the pre-Classic Maya.

While the Jaredites are usually associated by Book of Mormon scholars with Olmec culture,9 which is older than Maya culture, the attestation of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican apiculture refutes Dehlin’s sweeping claim that “the honey bee is not native to North America.”10 In fact, the species Melipona beecheii is native to Mesoamerica, and was used for collecting honey. As were the species Partamona bilineata and Tetragonisca angustula, to name just two others. The “honey bee . . . not native to North America” spoken of in the ScienceDaily article cited by Dehlin is referring to is a different, more common species (the European honeybee or Apis mellifera).

So even if the Jaredites did manage to bring honeybees to the New World (which the Book of Mormon never actually explicitly claims happened), there is abundant archaeological and zoological evidence for their domestication and use in pre-Columbian North America.

As in most matters related to archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Dehlin is out of date, uninformed, and demonstrably wrong.

Egyptian Influence in Israel?

John Dehlin’s “truth claims” essay “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” on the Mormon Stories website makes the following claim:

“The known hostility of Egyptians toward every other nation, particularly the Hebrews, renders it improbable that the Egyptians had sufficient interaction with the Jews so as to have them adopt their language and literature in 600 BC.”

This criticism has been repeated before by predominantly sectarian critics of Mormonism.1 It is, however, demonstrably false.

Egyptologists and biblical scholars have for nearly a century recognized that the close geographical proximity of Egypt and Israel/Canaan facilitated abundant cross-cultural exchange (including language and literature). In the words of one scholar, there was “close and intense relations between Egypt and Palestine through the millennia.”2 While the exact nature and extent of the Egypto-Levantine exchange remains debated, no serious scholar denies that such exchange did in fact occur:

  • Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Some Egyptian Background to the Old Testament,” Tyndale Bulletin 5-6 (April, 1960) 4-18.
  • Ronald J. Williams, “Some Egyptianisms in the Old Testament,” in Studies in Honor of John A. Wilson, ed. E. B. Hauser, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 35 (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), 93–98.
  • Ronald J. Williams, “‘A People Come Out of Egypt’: An Egyptologist looks at the Old Testament,” in Congress Volume Edinburgh 1974 (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 231–252.
  • Boyo Ockinga, Die Gottebenbildlichkeit im alten Ägypten und im Alten Testament, Ägypten und Altes Testament 7 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1984).
  • Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1994).
  • John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997).
  • Bernd Ulrich Schipper, Israel und Ägypten in der Königszeit: Die kulturellen Kontakte von Salomo bis zum Fall Jerusalems (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag Freiburg, 1999).
  • Gary N. Knoppers and Antoine Hirsch, eds., Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
  • S. Bar, D. Kahn, and JJ Shirley, eds., Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
  • James K. Hoffmeier, “Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews,” in “Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?” Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives, ed. James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016), 3–35.
  • Izak Cornelius, “From Bes to Baal”: Religious Interconnections Between Egypt and the East, in Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 209–217.

In particular, it is clear that Egyptian wisdom literature influenced Israelite compositions:

  • Adolf Erman, “Eine ägyptische Quelle der »Sprüche Salomos«,” Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 15 (1924): 86–93.
  • D. C. Simpson, “The Hebrew Book of Proverbs and the Teachings of Amenophis,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12, no. 3/4 (Oct. 1926): 232–239.
  • Glendon E. Bryce, A Legacy of Wisdom: The Egyptian Contribution to the Wisdom of Israel (Lewisburg: Bucknell University, 1979).
  • James K. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 15 (1983): 39–49.
  • James E. Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” The Journal of Theological Studies 51, no. 2 (2000): 441–477.
  • Bernd U. Schipper, “Egyptian Background to the Psalms,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, ed. William P. Brown (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2014), 57–75.
  • Nili Shupak, “The Contribution of Egyptian Wisdom Literature,” in Was There a Wisdom Tradition? New Prospects in Israelite Wisdom Studies, ed. Mark R. Sneed (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2015), 265–304.
  • Nili Shupak, “No Man Is Born Wise”: Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Literature and its Contact with Biblical Literature (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2016). [Hebrew]
  • Noga Ayali-Darshan, “Egyptian and Levantine Belles-Lettres–––Links and Influences during the Bronze Age,” in Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 195–205.

As one scholar concluded, “There is no reason to doubt that there could have been [Egyptian] literary influence on Hebrew cosmology as there was in other areas of Hebrew literature.”3

What’s more, it has been recognized for some time that a scribal tradition of using the Egyptian script known as hieratic developed in ancient Israel before and during the time of Lehi and Nephi:

  • Orly Goldwasser, “An Egyptian Scribe from Lachish and the Hieratic Tradition of the Hebrew Kingdoms,” Tel Aviv 18 (1991): 248–253.
  • Stefan Wimmer, Palästiniches Hieratisch: Die Zahl- und Sonderzeichen in der althebräishen Schrift (Wiesbaden: Harraossowitz, 2008).
  • David Calabro, “The Hieratic Scribal Tradition in Preexilic Judah,” in Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation in Ancient Egypt, BAR International Series 2397, ed. Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee (Oxford, Eng.: Archaeopress, 2012), 77–85.

Of course, Latter-day Saint authors have drawn attention to this data and have discussed its relevance for the Book of Mormon:

But one need to not turn to academic esoterica to see Dehlin’s claim is on its face absurd. One need only read the Bible to discover that Judah and Egypt were diplomatic allies during Lehi’s lifetime.

The only feasible conclusion is that John Dehlin (or the anonymous author of this essay) is either ignorant of this evidence or is deliberately deceiving his readers.