This article, entitled The Scientific Search for Nephite Remains, from the Institute for Religious Research contains a large number of quotes from Ray T. Matheny. Matheny earned his BA and Master's degrees at Brigham Young University in 1960 and 1962, and a PhD degree in anthropology from the University of Oregon in 1968. He was involved in many archaeological expeditions to Mayan cities. He was closely connected with the New World Archaeology Foundation and with the establishment of the BYU Field School in Southern Utah. He passed away in 2020 and was BYU Professor of Anthropology and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).

The article contains quotes from Professor Matheny on several topics related to reconciling geographic and anthropological claims found in the Book of Mormon (as well as corroborating statements from Joseph Smith and past Mormon presidents and elders) with data collected within the fields of Geography, Anthropology, and Archaeology.

I recommend the entire article (for more detail) but am asking only regarding the following quotes which the article attributes to Matheny and which summarize his responses to the Book of Mormon's claims of various industries such as an Iron Industry, Old World Agriculture, and Old World Domestic Animals being present in pre-Columbian MesoAmerica:

Regarding the Iron Industry:

No evidence has been found in the new world for a ferrous metallurgical industry dating to pre-Columbian times. And so this is a king-size kind of problem, it seems to me, for so-called Book of Mormon archeology. The evidence is absent.

Regarding Old World Agriculture:

There's a whole system of production of wheat and barley ... It's a specialized production of food. You have to know something to make flax [the source of linen], and especially in tropical climates. Grapes and olives ... all these are cultures that are highly developed and amount to systems, and so the Book of Mormon is saying that these systems existed here.

Matheny noted that a 1983 Science magazine article describing barley found in a pre-Columbian setting is wrongly claimed as support for the Book of Mormon because the grain described was not a domesticated old world barley.

Regarding Old World Domestic Animals:

You don't just have a cow or a goat or a horse as an esoteric pet or something. There is a system of raising these things, and the picture that is painted for me as I read this, and others too, is that we have [in Book of Mormon portrayals] ... domestic animals and so forth in the New World.

I mean in Alma there [18:10; 20:6,8] , you know he's using the stable there preparing the horses for King Lamoni, and also he's preparing the King's chariots because they're going to take a trip from one city to another over the royal highway. And also the horses are pastured, no less. So there are contexts within the Book of Mormon itself. These are not just substitutions, it seems to me, but the authors of the Book of Mormon there are providing the context, they're not trying to describe a tape deer or something else, it seems to me. This is a weak way to try to explain the presence of these names in the Book of Mormon.

This article began by acknowledging that archaeology cannot directly prove or disprove the spiritual claims of the Book of Mormon or the Bible. However, it can evaluate the historical claims which both books make.

Matheny is quoted in the article as having said:

"I would say in evaluating the Book of Mormon that it has no place in the New World whatsoever."

This viewpoint is echoed by the highly respected Mesoamerican archaeologist Michael Coe:

The bare facts of the matter are that nothing, absolutely nothing, has ever shown up in any New World excavation which would suggest to a dispassionate observer that the Book of Mormon, as claimed by Joseph Smith, is a historical document relating to the history of early immigrants to our hemisphere.

What impact is made within LDS theology regarding the spiritual content of the Book of Mormon when the historical claims therein are shown by both secular and Mormon scholars to be factually unsupported?


2 Answers 2


Without the Book of Mormon, nothing at all remains. If the Book of Mormon is true, Joseph is a prophet and everything else that entails. If it's not true, then so is the claim that Joseph is a prophet, and everything comes crashing down. It might still be a good spiritual book, but of human origin (and of a human who then wrongly claimed to be a prophet).

Joseph Smith himself stated:

“Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none” (Minutes and Discourse, 21 April 1834, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City).

That being said, there are several things that keep "unsupported historical claims" from actually being back breaking.

First, and most obvious, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. New discoveries are made all the time, for better or worse. For example:

FAIR on the topic of metal plates:

When it first appeared, the Book of Mormon was attacked for the alleged absurdity of having been written on golden plates and its claim of the existence of an early sixth century B.C. version of the Hebrew Bible written on brass plates. Today, however, there are numerous examples of ancient writing on metal plates. Ironically, some now claim instead that knowledge of such plates was readily available in Joseph Smith's day. Hugh Nibley's 1952 observation seems quite prescient: "it will not be long before men forget that in Joseph Smith's day the prophet was mocked and derided for his description of the plates more than anything else."

Second, it's actually unclear where the Book of Mormon exactly takes place. In other words, there is no really specific claim as to the location. That it's Mesoamerica is a theory that is currently the most popular, but it's not the first and only one. Even if a "historical claim" was disproven without a doubt(which I doubt is possible due to the first point), it only really means that a theory as to the location of the events in the Book of Mormon is disproven.

Book of Mormon geography

Since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have expressed numerous opinions about the specific locations of the events discussed in the book. Some believe that the history depicted in the Book of Mormon—with the exception of the events in the Near East—occurred in North America, while others believe that it occurred in Central America or South America. Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.

In conclusion, I would say actually disproving the Book of Mormon on historical grounds seems, to me, not very possible.

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    Yea this doesn’t seem like an answer to me. Even the quotes you cited included vast and broad speculations of where these locations might be. But the fact is, no ancient civilization that the Book of Mormon speaks about has been found, despite our findings of much smaller cities.
    – Luke Hill
    Mar 31, 2022 at 14:49
  • @LukeHill there is only speculation on where locations might be as there is no official stance explicitly on where the Book of Mormon took place. absence of evidence is not evidence of absence see also this answer # 3, 5, 8
    – depperm
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:00
  • @depperm I’d actually say that it’s true (in certain cases) to say that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Now is that true for the areas in the BoM? I’m not sure.
    – Luke Hill
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:24
  • @LukeHill there are always exceptions, but the same argument/logical can be applied towards the Bible or any historic document (erosion, decay, age/time, etc).
    – depperm
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:29
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    @LukeHill I actually have very little knowledge regarding the archeology in mesoamerica, but I want to point out that just last year 500 previously unknown Maya and Olmec sites were discovered: news.artnet.com/art-world/…. There is still lots to discover.
    – kutschkem
    Mar 31, 2022 at 15:31

What impact is made within LDS theology regarding the spiritual content of the Book of Mormon when the historical claims therein are shown by both secular and Mormon scholars to be factually unsupported?

None. Just as the bible is not an archaeological/scientific text (garden of Eden, Noah flood, etc), the Book of Mormon is not as well. It like the Bible is a religious text. Archaeological/historic evidence is nice to have but not necessary (though plenty of evidence exists IMO-see related questions mentioned in OP comments). The Book of Mormon's purpose from the title page:

And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations—And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.

I'll restate: Since we do not know exactly where the Book of Mormon took place, it should not surprise anyone that archaeology and anthropology professors do not believe that it has any support in the New World.

In response to Richard Matheny's quotes:

"I would say in evaluating the Book of Mormon that it has no place in the New World whatsoever."

He clarified this message in "Basic Methodological Problems with the AntiMormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993), pp.190-191 ... he answered as if he were a non-Mormon archaeologist

I received a copy of Heart and Mind and a copy of a letter sent to you by Luke P. Wilson, Executive Director of Gospel Truths Ministries. From these items I feel some obligation to give you a little more information about what took place at the Sunstone symposium in 1984. . . .

I had no idea that I was being used by Gospel Truths Ministries to discredit the LDS Church in their publication. . . . In 1984 I was asked by Sunstone to give a talk, which I refused. They persisted by calling and asked if I would be willing to sit on a panel and comment on papers that would be given on archaeology at the upcoming symposium. To this request I consented. However, when I arrived for the symposium, much to my surprise I was listed as a speaker. I objected and said that I had not prepared a paper. The Sunstone people then handed me a card with a question on it and asked if I would comment on the question. The question dealt with how does a non-Mormon archaeologist evaluate the Book of Mormon in terms of its cultural content and claims. My answer to the question was an ad hoc response where I tried to put myself in a non-Mormon’s professional shoes and talked about the nature of the problems that the Book of Mormon poses for the archaeologist. . . .

Gospel Truths Ministries is using my ad hoc response without my permission, without my knowledge, and in a pernicious way against the church, and against me. The letter sent to you said that a complete transcript of my response was forwarded to you. I don’t know what GT Ministries means by a “complete” transcript. I forbade any publication of my response by Sunstone or any one else, and did not authorize any tape recordings at the time.

emphasis mine

also of note is these quotes are from 1984 (~40 years ago) and more evidence has emerged and as it has in the past, emerging evidence won't convince anyone

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    Sunstone is a Mormon magazine, if anyone was planning to look it up. Apr 1, 2022 at 5:26
  • @KyleJohansen it does make that claim but is not an official LDS magazine like the New Era, Ensign/Liahona, or Friend which are official publications
    – depperm
    Apr 1, 2022 at 10:46
  • also Sunstone is an open forum. Publications and presentations are not peer reviewed, nor are they censored. The result is that any person willing to formulate and explore an idea related to Mormonism that the Sunstone editorial staff determine will be of interest to LDS readers (of all varieties) is very likely to find an outlet in Sunstone
    – depperm
    Apr 1, 2022 at 12:09

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