Saturday, March 11, 2017

Beasts in the Forest – Part I

Nephi informs us of the immediate area where Lehi landed in the Land of Promise: "There were beasts in the forests of every kind, both the cow and the ox, and the ass and the horse, and the goat and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals" (1 Nephi 18:25). While this statement in the scriptural record has been an embarrassment for many people, especially the many theorists who want to dodge the bullet of nearly every critic who points to a non-existence of such animals in their areas of where they place the Land of Promise, it would seem from our viewpoint they add to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
    Yet many critics have spoken out against such opinions as they feel Joseph Smith made, considering it a blunder on the young author’s part, succumbing themselves to the thinking of archaeologists and anthropologist who have no idea of a Flood and a later need to get the animals from Noah’s ark landing into what are now other continents. This statement in 1 Nephi is one of the passages in the Book of Mormon, which has very generally been relied on by adverse critics to prove that the volume is but clumsy fiction.
LtoR: John Fiske (Edmund Fiske Green); W. H. Holmes; John Winsor; and George Bancroft

    Even the historian and philosopher, John Fiske, birth name Edmund Fiske Green, took note in his 12-volume history, Discovery of America, to comment about Joseph Smith, "the veracious chronicler" whom Fiske, after outlining the briefest of descriptions of the Book of Mormon, stated: “There is, of course, no element of tradition in this story. It is all pure fiction, and a very clumsy sort such as might easily be devised by an ignorant man accustomed to the language of the Bible” (Fiske, “The Discovery of America,” The Historical Writings of John Fiske,1892, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1902, p4).
    This caused Dr. William Henry Holmes, an American explorer, anthropologist, archaeologist, artist, scientific illustrator, cartographer, mountain climber, geologist, and museum curator and director, to comment about those whose inability to see and think beyond the accepted view of science and history: “The compilations of a Bancroft, a Winsor, or a Fiske, illumined as they are by exceptional genius, could not always rise above the vitiated records upon which they drew." That is, they could not always see beyond the prejudicial and defective or impaired views of their source material.
    These three men, with impeccable credentials, were John Fiske, an American historian and philosopher who popularized European evolutionary Darwinism theory in the United States, especially after a visit to Europe in 1873–74 provided him the opportunity to meet and talk at length with Darwin, Spencer, and T.H. Huxley. About 1880 his interests turned to American history as interpreted in the light of evolutionary theory, and from 1885 to 1900 he lectured and published voluminous works on the American colonial and revolutionary periods.
    John Winsor, a prominent American writer, librarian, and historian, whose historical work had strong bibliographical and cartographical elements, was an authority on the early history of North America. His self-confidence, energy and congeniality augmented his entrepreneurial skills and were well received by his peers, who elected him as the first president of the American Library Association. Born the year after the Church was organized and two years after the publication of the Book of  Mormon, his father created the "Winsor Line," one of the first regular lines of clipper ships between Boston and San Francisco.
    George Bancroft was an American historian and statesman who was prominent in promoting secondary education both in his home state, and at the national and international level. During his tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Navy, he established the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1845. He was a senior American diplomat in Europe, and among his best-known writings is the magisterial series, History of the United States, from the Discovery of the American Continent. Bancroft’s family had been in Massachusetts Bay since 1632 and his father, Aaron Bancroft, was distinguished as a revolutionary soldier, a leading Unitarian clergyman and author of a popular life of George Washington.
    All three of these men were educated at Harvard and, as noted, were great men and “illumined as they are by exceptional genius,” simply could not get away from the learning of their age and the beliefs that spawned. If it was taught there were no such animals in the Americas before the Spaniards arrived with them, such as the horse, donkey, goat or wild goat, that is what they accepted, believed and defended. It was, after all, the mantra of their age.
    As such, they simply could not but criticize Joseph Smith’s work in the Book of Mormon as stumbling, bumbling, prose that held no truth. But as George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjökahl have said of this, “notwithstanding the cocksure criticism of the passage in the record of Nephi, I consider it one of the strong, irrefutable proofs of the authenticity of that book.”
Left: George Reynolds; Right: Janne M. Sjödahl

    Though unknown to most members of the Church today, George Reynolds, born two years before Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, was widely known by his fellow Saints a century ago for his service to the Church in a variety of impressive ways. But it is for his work with the Book of Mormon that George Reynolds was most recognized. Janne M. Sjödahl, a Swedish convert was the author of the influential commentaries on Church scriptures, and among the first commentators to advance a “limited geography model” for the theorized geography of the Book of Mormon.
    However, their approach to the “beasts in the Book of Mormon,” is startlingly inadequate, claiming that when Lehi arrived, they “saw here animals unlike any they had ever seen before, and yet bearing some resemblance to creatures familiar to them. If they landed in South America–and we may, for the time being, take that for granted for the sake of this argument–they saw, probably, the ancestor of the llama, an animal resembling the camel but smaller and without the hump. They saw the alpaca, an animal so closely related to the llama, that some have regarded the two as variations of the same species. Both bear a strong resemblance to sheep. The llama is about three feet high at the shoulder. It is not found wild anymore.”
Top: Sheep; Bottom: Llama. It is hard to think these animals look alike in any way

    According to Reynolds and Skojdahl, it must also be remembered that none of the strange animals, peculiar to this continent, when first seen by the colonists of Lehi, had a name, known to them. "How, then, was Nephi to mention them in his record? To be sure, he could have given them arbitrary names, but what useful purpose would that have served? He did exactly what any historian would have done in his place. He compared the strange animals he saw with animals he had known in his homeland, and gave to them familiar names, expressive of the peculiar qualities for which those names stood in his day."
Top: Guanaco; Bottom: Horse. There is nothing similar to these two animals, the horse is much larger, bulkier, with totally different lines than the long-necked Guanaco
    In reality, the Jaredites brought these animals to the Land of Promise, as part of the camelid family—camels—where they had been herdsmen, and raised animals and, no doubt, husbandmen who not only cultivated the land, but were involved in the management and care of farm animals and involved in husbandry, i.e., the work of breeding, rearing, and caring for domestic animals. When the Nephites arrived, we do not know what they called these animals, but themselves farmers and involved in husbandry, would certainly know what a horse and sheep, donkey and goat looked like. By Mosiah’s time, with the translation of the Book of Ether (Mosiah 28:11-13), would have known what the Jaredites called these animals—the cureloms and cumoms. Mormon, too, having read all the records, would also have known their name.
(See the next post, “Beasts in the Forest – Part II,” for more information regarding the animals and their names the Nephites found in the Land of Promise)


  1. You'll likely answer the question in the following posts but I'm curious as to what animals were in South America prior to the Spanish. Do we know? That is other than the Cureloms and Cummoms.

  2. Animal bones can last for many years, do you know if any of cow's bones have been found in Peru dating back to the times of the Nephites? The same for other animal bones mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

    So far in some tombs there have been found llama bones as well as dog's bones.

    Any insights on this?

  3. While bones can last for many years, the vast majority of them decompose fairly rapidly. However, the extreme aridity of a significant area of South America's west coast would appear to present an optimal set up for the preservation of animal remains. This may not have been the case prior to the mountains rising, but since that time, at least.