Sunday, January 21, 2018

Who First Settled Here? – Part IV

Continuing from the previous post regarding why there is no concrete evidence of the Nephite Land of Promise in terms of everyday archaeological findings. In  (answering the oft-asked question, “Why is there no archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon?”
    Interestingly, critics frequently like to compare the lack of archaeological support for the Book of Mormon with what they are certain is voluminous archaeological support for the Bible. There is a drastic difference, however, between the two worlds (Old and New) when it comes to epigraphic data, iconographic data, the continuity of culture, and toponyms (place names).
    We have already noted the dearth of readable New World inscriptions from Nephite times. From biblical lands, however, we know of thousands of contemporary inscriptions that have survived to modern times. We have pointed out that very few toponyms can be read in the surviving few epigraphic fragments from the Nephite-era New World. In contrast, we find for the Bible not only has scores of epigraphic records identifying ancient Mediterranean cities, but we also sometimes find a “continuity of culture” that preserves city names. In other words, many modern Near Eastern cities are known today by the same name as they were known anciently. Many biblical toponyms continued to be used in not only the Hebrew language, but also in Aramaic, Arabic, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian inscriptions and papyri.
The writings of Eusebius Pamphill, the 4th century Bishop of Caesarea (260-340 A.D.), known as the Father of Church History, supply biblical archaeologists with toponyms from the Holy Land as well as detailed lists (in some instances) of distances between cities. Knowing the exact location of one city helps biblical archaeologists locate other cities, simply by calculating the distances.
    Many people would be tempted to think that toponyms generally continue from one generation to the next, but that is not always true. Generally, a toponym changes during periods of major changes to that city–-because of political transformations or major cultural or language changes. Many Old World cities have changed toponyms through the years. As one of many examples, the classical Greek city Byzantium became Constantinople in the fourth century A.D. and then Istanbul in the fifteenth century A.D. We even see the same phenomenon in the Book of Mormon where the Jaredite hill Ramah is later called the hill Cumorah by the Nephites.
    Even acknowledging the archaeological advantages for determining the location and historical actuality of biblical lands, we find that only slightly more than half of all place names mentioned in the Bible have been located and positively identified. Most of these identifications are based on the preservation of the toponym. For biblical locations with no toponym preserved, only about 8% of them have been identified to a degree of certainty and about another 7% of them have been identified with some degree of conjectural certainty.
    The identification of these locations without place names could not have been made were it not for the identification of locations with preserved toponyms. If few or no Biblical toponyms survived, the identification of biblical locations would be largely speculative.
    Despite the identification of some biblical sites, many important Bible locations have not been identified. The location of Mt. Sinai, for example, is unknown, and there are over twenty possible candidates. Some scholars reject the claim that the city of Jericho existed at the time of Joshua. The exact route taken by the Israelites on their Exodus is unknown, and some scholars dispute the biblical claim that there ever was an Israelite conquest of Canaan.
    William Dever is a non-LDS biblical archaeologist, a professor of Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology at the University of Arizona, and head of the university’s Near Eastern Studies Department. He claims that archaeology should never be supposed to prove the Bible in any sense. “After a century of modern research,” writes Dever, “neither Biblical scholars nor archaeologists have been able to document as historical any of the events, much less the personalities, of the patriarchal or Mosaic era.” After more than a century of modern research, archaeology has never substantiated a variety of biblical narratives, including the existence of Abraham, Joseph of Egypt, Moses, or an Israelite presence in Egypt.
    The past is nowhere near as understood as many people think.
Current names found in Andean Peru and their meaning, which obviously shows more of a Lamanite naming process than that of the Nephite type names found in the scriptural record

What do we find in the Americas regarding the archaeology associated with toponyms? First, unlike the biblical lands where many toponyms survived due to a continuity of culture, there is no reason to assume that Maya languages and Nephite languages were related in Mesoamerica, or that Quechua and Nephite languages were related in Peru. Secondly, we find that toponyms often disappeared from one era to the next. Many of the American cities today have Spanish names such as San Lorenzo, La Venta, and El Mirador, or in Peru, where names often lack their original purity because of contractions, the introduction of new words and because names are sometimes incorrectly written down by those who are ignorant of Quechua and of phonetics. Thus, we have Cuzco (navel), Akilpo (fine sand), Jurau (thin-leafed grass), Choquequirao, (city of gold), Ancash (Azure), Llaca (ash-colored wheat liquid), Huinay Huayna (forever young), Putaca (thick mist), and Callán (earthenware cook pot).
    It is interesting that the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega noted how much Quechua had been corrupted during the first thirty years of the conquest. In 1573 Viceroy Toledo founded the Chair of Indian Languages at the University of San Marcos in the thirty-eighth year of that oldest of America’s institutions of higher learning. Courses on Quechua were given for 200 years until they were abolished in 1784 by Viceroy Jáuregui after the rebellion of the Inca Tupac Amaru.
    Señior Morales describes the principal works on the language of the Incas, especially the early seventeenth century studies by P. Gonzáles Holguín and Alonso de Huerta. He also mentions more modern works which deal primarily with Quechua etymology and with the naming of geographical features in Peru. He explains how Quechua is being spoken less, especially by hill people who move to Lima and of steps being taken by the government and by cultural groups to prevent its disappearance
    The “collapse of the indigenous civilizations before the conquistadors created a sharp historical discontinuity. We have the names of almost none of the Classic Mayan and Olmec cities of two millennia ago, which is why they are known today under Spanish titles.” Archaeologists simply don’t know what many of the original names for these Mayan cities were. If archaeologists don’t know the names of some cities they have discovered, how could we ever hope to provide English names for those cities, such as names provided in the Book of Mormon?
    The same is true in Andean Peru. At best, we may know the name the Inca gave a city or area, but not its original name 1000 or more years earlier, dating back into B.C. times. Such cases in the Americas is next to impossible to trace back names since there simply is no record of continuity of culture. Generally, what we know an area by is the name given it by modern archaeologists who uncovered or discovered the site.
    Additionally, scholars are uncertain as to the pronunciation of cities for which they do have names because city-inscriptions are often iconographic, and not all scholars are in agreement that such icons represent city names. These icons are not only rare (as previously noted) but they are symbolic rather than phonetic. In other words, when archaeologists find an iconographic inscription designating a place as the Hill of the Jaguar, the pronunciation of this inscription would be dependent on the language of the speaker–be it a Zapotec, a Mixtec, Moche or Wari, or for that matter, a Nephite. The only way to identify an ancient site is by way of an inscription giving a phonetically intelligible name. Barring further discoveries, we may never know how the names of American cities were pronounced in Book of Mormon times.
A short list of the numerous Old World city names known anciently by far different names than they were later called by other groups that took over the locations

If the epigraphic data from the Old World were as slim as the epigraphic data from the New World, scholars would be severely limited in their understanding of the Israelites or early Christianity. It would likely be impossible, using strictly non-epigraphic archaeological evidences, to distinguish between Canaanites and Israelites when they co-existed in the pre-Babylonian (pre-587 B.C.) Holy Land. We find that the same problems would be apparent in the study of early Christianity if scholars were faced with the absence of epigraphic data. For instance, if Diocletian’s persecutions of Christianity had been successful, if Constantine had never converted, and if Christianity had disappeared around 300 A.D., it would be very difficult if not impossible to reconstruct the history of Christianity using nothing but archaeological artifacts and imperial Roman inscriptions.
    “It is quite possible,” notes William J. Hamblin a professor of History at BYU and a former board member of FARMS, “for a religion, especially an aniconic religion [a religion without images], to simply disappear from the archaeological record. Despite the fact that there were several million Christians in the Roman Empire in the late third century, it is very difficult to [discover] almost anything of substance about them from archaeology alone.”
    Thus, it should be noted, that except for the epigraphic writing of the Book of Mormon, what we know about the Nephites and Lamanites, or the earlier Jaredites, would be almost nothing at all. The preservation of the ancient writings, which involved much effort and understanding on the part of these early writers, is remarkable, and with the Lord’s intervention, would be non-existent today. To expect to find obvious archaeological records of Nephites or the Jaredites before them, without the ancient writings in the scriptural record, would be impossible.

1 comment:

  1. What about Sodom & Gomorrah... two cities that were destroyed by God. They think they may know about where they are... but they are no longer called by those names. According to critics and the way they think... because the cities are not there now.. should not the pages about them be torn out of the Bible... as they can not be real but just a parable.