Anachronisms Found in the Book of Mormon

What is an anachronism?

Photo of Abraham Lincoln with a Laptop
Photo of Abraham Lincoln with a Laptop

Anachronisms are impossibilities or inconsistencies that include things that do not belong together. Something like the Flintstones is anachronistic because it portrays humans and dinosaurs living together, but science tells us that dinosaurs were long extinct before humans evolved. Something like the image above, portraying Abraham Lincoln with a laptop computer is anachronistic because computers did not exist at the same time that Lincoln lived. It shows that whatever depicts or includes the anachronism is not reality, it’s either a joke (like the Flintstones) or a forgery (like this image). They arise from misunderstandings in visual art all the time as is shown in the Wikipedia article with flags being misrepresented and even the Da Vinci painting of the last supper including a table is an anachronism because at the time they didn’t dine at a table, but Leonardo didn’t know this or if he did, didn’t think his patrons would understand why they were eating on cushions on the floor.

An anachronism (from the Greek ἀνά ana, ‘against’ and χρόνος khronos, ‘time’) is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of people, events, objects, language terms and customs from different time periods. The most common type of anachronism is an object misplaced in time, but it may be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a material, a plant or animal, a custom, or anything else associated with a particular period that is placed outside its proper temporal domain. (An example of that would be films including non-avian dinosaurs and prehistoric human beings living side by side, but they were, in reality, millions of years apart.)

What is the Book of Mormon?

The Book of Mormon is a book of scripture for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is where the Mormon nickname for the church originates. Joseph Smith, the church founder, allegedly was led by God to ancient writings on golden plates and with the power of God translated them. The book is a compilation of writings from ancient prophets in the Americas, and Mormon was actually one of the last writers and the compilation of scripture was named after him. The church purports that the book is inspired writings and also a historical record of the primary some of the Native Americans. The Book refers to these people as Nephics and Lamanites for the most part as the good guys and bad guys respectively. It tells the story of a family from Jerusalem who leave in 600BC and build boats, sail across the “many waters” and arrive in the new land. The church is mum on exact locations and there are even competing ideas that debate if the populations in the book consist of a localized region or the whole continent. There are cracks in the story, however, and things that do not make logical sense when we consider what we know about the native americans today. The most famous of the issues are the anachronisms that are on display in the book, which challenge the claim that the book is a historical record. If it’s not historical, where did it come from? Can it be fictional and also scripture?

Anachronisms are in the Book of Mormon

The book of Mormon gets a callout in the Wikipedia article about anachronisms:

A large number of apparent anachronisms in the Book of Mormon have served to convince critics that the book was written in the 19th century, and not, as its adherents claim, in pre-Columbian America.

Followed by a whole article devoted to the same:

There are a number of words and phrases in the Book of Mormon that are anachronistic—their existence in the text of the Book of Mormon is at odds with known linguistic patterns or archaeological findings.

Each of the anachronisms is a word, phrase, artifact, or other concept that mainstream historians, archaeologists, or linguists believe did not exist in the Americas during the time period in which the Book of Mormon claims to have been written.

Latter Day Saint scholars and apologists respond to the anachronisms in several ways. Depending on the anachronism in question, apologists attempt to: establish parallels to currently known ancient cultures, technologies, plants or animals; reframe the usage of individual words in question; question assumptions that may lead to an apparent anachronism; or point out that it is not known exactly where the Book of Mormon actually took place

What anachronisms are actually in the Book of Mormon?

The best example is perhaps the Book of Mormon mentioning Nephites and Lamanites with horses (and chariots) multiple times. Today, we know that precolumbian Native Americans did not have horses. Horses didn’t exist on the continent during these times and arrived with the Europeans. Though there is some evidence of horses existing on the continent tens of thousands of years ago, they died out before the times of the Book of Mormon, or at least there has been zero evidence found by archeologists. Once Europeans arrived, the natives do become familiar with horses and began to use them. This fact wasn’t apparent when the scriptures were published though. Even today, the concept of natives riding horses is so widespread that it takes a minute to step back and realized that they didn’t co-exist before Europeans came. Many apologists suggest that horses being in the scripture is a case of Joseph using a word in his lexicon for another word in the translation that he didn’t know. They suggest he may have meant tapir or llama by the term horse. It is of course ridiculous to picture natives riding a tapir and pulling a chariot and riding into battle on a tapir. Which is more like a pig than a horse.

A tapir is not a horse.
A hose is not a tapir. A sheep is not a turkey.

Horses aren’t the only thing brought on by the Europeans. The Columbian Exchange is the term to describe the massive exchange that opened up with the discovery of the new world. Influential things like livestock and crops as well as diseases. The list includes horses, cattle, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, cacao, coffee, smallpox, and measles all traveling across the ocean.

Visual depicting the columbian exchange of livestock, crops and disease.

Other natural anachronisms, beyond horses, found in the Book of Mormon are elephants, cows and cattle, goats, swine, barley, and wheat.

There are also anachronisms related to technologies found in the book when compared to archeological evidence: chariots, silk, compass, windows, many metals (like steel and iron), and weapons (such as swords and cimeters). Nephites had these materials, but archeology shows that Native Americans did not.

There are even scriptural anachronisms found in the Book of Mormon, like the long passages from Isaiah, including things that do not exist in the more ancient and authentic versions of these writings. The Book of Mormon even includes italicized words that match exactly with the KJV. These passages are directly copied from the exact version of the King James Bible that Joseph Smith had. The problem is that the King James Bible has translation issues on its own and contains things that were not likely in the brass plates that would have been available to the Nephites. This along with copies of the Sermon on the Mount (with slight changes for context to Nephites). Had Jesus visited these people, would he have said the exact same thing to them?

This doesn’t even cover them all, but these become very significant shelf items for many church members until the apologetic responses and explanations contain too much mental gymnastics to handle and we realize that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct answer, in that the Book of Mormon is not a historical document. Each and every example of anachronisms can become a debate on its own, but the sheer quantity of issues with the book speaks volumes.

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