Monday, June 15, 2009

The Book of Mormon 6/18

A long time ago, I read a book called The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson. It was about how Biblical, archaeological, and astronomical evidence pointed to 587 BCE as the date for the destruction of the Jewish temple rather than 607 BCE, which is when the Jehovah's Witnesses date it. The book pointed out many problems with Jehovah's Witness chronology.

The BOM also has a specific chronology, so I was curious how it would work out. The BOM repeatedly says that Jesus will be born 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 10:4, 2 Nephi 25:19, etc.). Lehi left Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4, 1 Nephi 2:2-4, etc.). That means Jesus should be born 600 years after the 1st year of Zedekiah.

The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the 11th year of Zedekiah, which was the 19th year of Nebachadnezzar (2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39; Jeremiah 52). That happened in 587 BCE, which means that Lehi left Jermusalem in 598 BCE.

If Lehi left Jerusalem in 598 BCE, that means Jesus was born in 3 CE.

But the problem is that according to Matthew 2, King Herod was still alive when Jesus was born. Herod died in 4 BCE, which means Jesus had to have been born in 4 BCE or earlier.

It seems like the only way to make the BOM chronology work is to argue for a different date than 587 BCE for the destruction of the temple, but that date is supported by some pretty strong evidence, which you can read about in Carl O. Jonsson's book. Another way would be to argue for a different date for King Herod's death. I've read (I can't remember where) that some people date Herod's death as late as 1 BCE, but there seems to be a strong consensus in favour of the 4 BCE date.

The footnotes in my copy of the BOM say that Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 BCE, and that Jesus was born in 1 CE. That would put the destruction of the Temple in 589 BCE, and the death of Herod no earlier than 1 CE.

I brought this up in the comment section of this blog and Kevin Winters directed me to a FARMS article called "The Jewish/Nephite Lunar Calender," by Randall P. Spackman, which addressed the points I raised. The rest of what follows is just cut and paste from my response to the article.

The article was actually kind of surprising to me because in the end, the author claimed to have solved one problem, but in doing so, created another--the problem of whether Lehi left Jerusalem in the 1st year of Zedekiah, as Mormon said in the heading of 3 Nephi, or whether he left between 588 and 587 BCE, as the author argued (being the 10th or 11th year of Zedekiah). To deal with THAT problem, the author quoted the preface to the BOM, which says, "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."

That is a really interesting response. It sounds like the author is saying in that section that Mormon made a mistake. There's a contradiction in the BOM about when Lehi left Jerusalem. But if that's the case, then why go through this long explanation, trying to reconcile the 600 year prophecy? Why not just begin with this claim about human error and avoid the whole thing?

This "human error" solution creates another problem, too. The introduction of the BOM quotes Joseph Smith as saying that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth." If the BOM is fallible, then there isn't an infallible book on earth--neither the Bible nor the BOM. We might as well give up worrying about contradictions and chalk them up to human error.

[I discovered later that Mormons do not subscribe to inerrancy, neither for the Bible, nor for the Book of Mormon. Mormon 8:12 says, "And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these."]

I admit that the author's solution works. I did the math, and, indeed, 600 lunar years (without adding a 13th month every three or so years) is equal to about 582 solar years, so 600 lunar years before 5 BC is 587 BC.

But I am highly skeptical that if this story were true, the Nephites, out of ignorance, would've failed to add the 13th month every 3 or so years. After all, they had every reason the Mesoamericans, Hebrews, and Egyptians had to notice a problem--harvests and festivals, especially. And living in the Hebrew/Egyptian world for much longer than 3 years before leaving like they did, and being acquainted with their calender, surely they would've known about the 13th month.

But if that's the case, then why not just say these are "the mistakes of men" and live with it?

Part 7


At 6/15/2009 12:38 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

With all due respect, don’t creedal Christians who hold to inerrancy do the exact same thing?

We have Dr. Craig’s “Galilean Calendar” in order to resolve the issue of the Synoptic Gospels placing Jesus’ last supper, garden visit, capture, trial(s), crucifixion and burial all on Passover whereas the Gospel of John places these events on the day before Passover.

In order to resolve the issue, Dr. Craig claims the Galileans used a completely different time for calculations of their days. Romans used midnight to midnight (true); Judeans used sundown to sundown (true) and Galileans used sunup to sunup (absolutely, completely made-up.) The only problem is that we have no proof whatsoever that Galileans used any different time, and even the author of this resolution (if I remember correctly from researching it) admits the only proof he has is that he needs it to be true to resolve this contradiction.

Further, the author of John would have to be switching back and forth between Roman, Judean and Galilean time without indication—the inerrantist carefully picking and choosing which time is which to maintain inerrancy.

Or in order to make the 70 week prophecy of Daniel fit (leaving aside the issue of the starting and ending point), some Christians claim Daniel was referring to a prophetic year of 12 months of exactly 30 days in each month in order to get close to the right time. ‘Course, again, we have no demonstration of such a “prophetic year” being on any calendar.

Evangelical Christians make up timing and calendars to fit their needs for inerrancy—why can’t Mormons? The problem I see is that the ONLY way for inerrancy to be sustained, for Evangelical Christians, is to lower the standard so low that “any possible logical resolution” is sufficient to defeat the claim of contradiction.

Yet to maintain consistency, the Evangelical Christian must likewise recognize this same standard in other people’s claims regarding their holy scriptures. Why is Dr. Craig’s made up “Galilean time” any more plausible than Mormon’s made up lunar calendar?

Sam: …why not just say these are "the mistakes of men" and live with it?
Yeah…that’s what I keep saying to inerrantists regarding the Bible…

At 6/15/2009 7:30 PM , Blogger Sam said...

With all due respect, don’t creedal Christians who hold to inerrancy do the exact same thing?

They do the same sort of thing, sure. I've seen a lot of that sort of thing in authors who write about prophecies and end time predictions. Daniel's prophecies are a good example.

I don't know anything about the Galilean calender, so I can't really say whether Craig's solution is legitimate or not. When I read John, I get the impression that John intended to place the crucifixion on Passover to make a theological point--that Jesus is the passover lamb. But if it's true that there were two calenders in use in those days, and they were a day off from each other, I don't see why Craig's solution wouldn't work. If it's true that Craig just made it all up, then that's good reason to doubt his solution.

Evangelical Christians make up timing and calendars to fit their needs for inerrancy—why can’t Mormons?

I think anybody has the right to speculate about possible solutions to apparent contradictions. And anybody else has the right to doubt the validity of those solutions.

Why is Dr. Craig’s made up “Galilean time” any more plausible than Mormon’s made up lunar calendar?

I don't know about Craig's made up calender, but the reason I doubt the lunar calender solution in that article I linked to is because (1) Lehi's people would've known about the calender used in Jerusalem since that's where they came from, and (2) Lehi's people would've had every reason to see the need to adjust the calender that the Israelites and the Egyptians had. I'm not saying the lunar solution isn't possible. I'm just saying I doubt it.

Sam: …why not just say these are "the mistakes of men" and live with it?
Yeah…that’s what I keep saying to inerrantists regarding the Bible…

It's different from inerrantists than it is for Mormons because Mormons are not inerrantists.

At 6/16/2009 9:57 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...


I agree it is not the exact thing, but is the same sort of thing. Isn’t that my modus operandi--to focus on the method more than the actual claims being made? To focus on the “sort of thing” rather than the thing itself?

Inerrantists propose inerrancy to make the Bible different. Special. Unique. As a reason for a skeptic to be given pause when reviewing the work. I assume Mormons are equally proposing this prophecy to make the Book of Mormon special. To show how the exact predictions of years makes this a marvelous prophecy.

Each is proposing something “special” about their writing as compared to other writings. Arguably, how it would require divine intervention to produce what is claimed—inerrancy or exact prophesy.

And, of course, there are hiccups along the way. You pointed out the problem of 600 years not quite lining up; I pointed out how the days of Jesus’ crucifixion do not line up. The Mormon proposes a logical possibility as a solution; the inerrantist proposes a logical possibility as a solution.

Each employing a similar method. Ironically, each does not understand how this completely undercuts the very reason for the initial claim in the first place! If all it takes is ANY possible logical resolution to resolve a problem, then billions and billions of works equally fall into the same category as the claimed work—thus losing its special or uniqueness.

Nostradamus’ works become equally as marvelous as the Book of Mormon at making predictions—since we can propose logical possible explanations for what he wrote about events occurring today. Your local telephone book is as “unique” as the inerrantists’ Bible, since we can resolve any errors by logically possible solutions.

By utilizing a standard so low—“any possible logical explanation”—we can satisfy the criteria necessary for the claim, but include so many other writings within the claim that the reason FOR the claim in the first place becomes moot.

I am truly appreciating this series, Sam. In fact, I downloaded a copy of the Book of Mormon to my Kindle and started reading it. (Ahh…gotta love living in this technological age!)

I do wonder, though, how much equal skepticism you have placed on some of creedal Christian claims. Such as inerrancy. I understand (and agree) with your doubt regarding a Mesoamerican lunar calendar’s plausibility. Can you understand my equal doubt regarding claims attempting to resolve the day of Jesus’ death? Can you turn the same microscope utilized on the Mormon claims to the inerrancy claims? Can you see how (to an outsider such as me) this is much of the Pot calling the Kettle black?

P.S. Two minor points on Jesus’ death.

1. The lamb was killed on Preparation Day (the day before Passover.) I agree John was making the theological point of connecting Jesus to the Passover lamb. But he was doing it by killing Jesus on the same day as the Passover lamb was killed.…having him eaten on the same day the lamb was eaten. Ewwww!

That is why John has Jesus killed on the day before Passover (John 18:28; 19:14; 19:31) The Synoptic Gospels have Jesus killed on Passover. (See Mark 14:12-17; 15:42. Matt. 26:17-20; 27:57-62. Luke 22:7-14; 23:54-56)

2. If you read Craig’s article he says, “Although we have no evidence that Passover sacrifices were made on both days, such a solution is very plausible.”

“No Evidence.” Yet plausible. In the same way we have “no evidence” of a lunar calendar, yet the Mormons find it plausible. Pot and Kettle?

At 6/16/2009 11:23 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Dagoods, I've heard some Christians point to the inerrancy of the Bible to prove that it is special (accurate prophetic predictions and such), and then I've seen other Christians comes up with mere logically possible scenarios to reconcile apparent contradictions. I agree there's a problem with sticking these two methods together. There's a circularity about it.

But historically, the reason the Bible is considered inerrant isn't because people just noticed that it never contradicted itself. It's because the Bible makes or implies such claims for itself. That's how inerrancy was arrived at in the first place.

If a person has a presupposition about the inerrancy of the Bible (or any other book), then it makes sense for them to harmonize, even if only by logical possibility. The reason we don't cut the same slack for other people's scriptures as we do for our own is because we lack that presupposition for the other person's scriptures.

I do wonder, though, how much equal skepticism you have placed on some of creedal Christian claims. Such as inerrancy.

If you listed all the standard beliefs I have as a Christian, and ranked them according to how sure I was that each was true, inerrancy would probably be at the bottom of the list.

Can you understand my equal doubt regarding claims attempting to resolve the day of Jesus’ death?

Yes, but again, I don't know enough about the attempts to reconcile the day of Jesus' death to have an opinion myself.

Can you see how (to an outsider such as me) this is much of the Pot calling the Kettle black?

Yes. But surely you must agree that there are times in our ordinary lives when it seems like people are contradicting themselves but really aren't when you dig deeper to understand what they're saying. Haven't you yourself ever been accused of contradicting yourself, and then tried to explain yourself further so the other person would realize you really weren't contradicting yourself? I know I have been in situations like that. That is why I think these contradictions and solutions have to be taken on their own merits. You can't dismiss every harmonization out there just because "harmonization" is a common method used by different people to hold on to the unique status of their book. I, for one, don't take issue with the method. Instead, I take issue with particular applications of the method. You seem to think this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black simply because both sides attempt harmonizations, and that I can't agree with.

“No Evidence.” Yet plausible. In the same way we have “no evidence” of a lunar calendar, yet the Mormons find it plausible. Pot and Kettle?

It's not simply because of a lack of evidence that I find the lunar calender theory inlikely. It's because of the presence of evidence against it, which I mentioned already.

But besides, am I the pot or the kettle? I'm neither a Mormon nor Bill Craig. And as far as I know, Bill Craig has never addressed the 600 year prophecy in the BOM. So who is the pot and who is the kettle?

But even if I was Bill Craig, I don't think I'd see this as the pot calling the kettle black since I'm not taking issue with the mere fact that Mormons attempt harmonizations; rather, I'm taking issue with the particular harmonizations they use.

At 6/16/2009 4:19 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...


Oh, I don’t care if you are the pot or the kettle. You choose. *wink* Unless, of course, you have written on how you disagree with a harmonization of an inerrantist and I missed that blog…

First of all, the Bible does not claim to be inerrant; at best inerrantists attempt to exegete out such an implication from 2 Tim. 3:16. However, absent the meaning of theopneustos (not to mention the determination of what is “scripture”)—this is one of those situations a person first presupposes theopneustos must mean a particular thing, and then use it to argue FOR that particular thing. If I remember correctly, a little item known as “begging the question” in philosophical circles.

No, the pot/kettle thing is NOT the attempt to harmonize—I should be clearer—it is a combination of the method and criteria where I see the exact similarity. Yes, we all have seen apparent inconsistencies that turned out to be non-contradictory—I am not saying a person is barred from attempting to harmonize. Some harmonizations I believe are justifiable. The one about the Tanakh getting Pi wrong by saying “3 times” rather than “3.1415 times” comes to mind. I think “3” is close enough to find the complaint pedantic that it was not exactly pi.

Let’s step away from the Bible/Book of Mormon for a moment. Imagine I show you two pieces of paper. It doesn’t matter what they are—they could be shopping lists, textbooks, notes on an envelope. But on these two papers is an apparent inconsistence where, for the present, no convincing solution is at hand. By what means do we make the determination there is error? And by “error” I mean does not conform to reality; is not true.

There are three (3) possibilities:

1) One is in error;
2) Both are in error;
3) Both are correct.

The common example I use is the Yellow pages. (Remember them?) Imagine we have a large boxed advertisement “Joe’s Plumbing. 555-1212.” Yet in the listing section we see “Joe’s Plumbing 555-1221.” Using our three choices:

1) One of the telephone numbers is not Joe’s Plumbing;
2) Both of the telephone numbers are wrong;
3) Both are correct.

In other words…

1) Either 555-1212 or 555-1221 is not Joe’s Plumbing.
2) Neither 555-1212 nor 555-1221 is Joe’s Plumbing.
3) Both 555-1212 and 555-1221 are Joe’s Plumbing.

Now in this example you may be in the position there is a contradiction; I claim there is not. What is the method/standard we typically use? I would argue that, in every other situation (outside of theology) we use the “more likely” standard. What is “more likely” to be the case. Given the proposed solution and comparing the contradiction—which is more plausible?

You might point out that typesetters make mistakes all the time. That this is a fairly common mistake of inverting numbers. That most business have one number and those with more typically have them in succession. 555-1212 and 555-1213 and so on.

And the argument I make in support of a non-contradiction is that “It is logically possible for Joe’s plumbing to have two numbers. Both 555-1212 and 555-1221.”

While my logic is impeccable—is it more convincing? Is it more plausible? Isn’t it true, Sam, in most situations like this, we expect to get a wrong number on one of these? We find the typesetter mistake more plausible?

At 6/16/2009 4:20 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...


See, in every other situation, outside theology, we use the “more likely” standard. In fact, I would maintain it is exactly this standard of criteria you used on the Mormon proposal regarding a lunar year.

Now—which is the higher standard? “More likely” or “any logical possibility”? I would say the harder standard to meet would be “more likely;” not “any logical possibility.” In fact, “any logical possibility” is fantastically simple to meet. All one has to do is say the event occurred more than once and then each paper recorded a different occasion. Peter denied Jesus 553 times—each different Gospel just happened to pick 3 different instances out of the 553. It is logically possible.

It is logically possible First Century Mediterranean used 553 different methods of hours and days and calendars. Mark happened to use one, Matthew another, Luke a third, John a fourth…. It is logically possible Mesoamerican had a billion different calendar systems. The one used in 1 Nephi corresponds to the one the Mormons need. Whether Jesus was born in 6 BCE to 6 CE—we can find one that fits!

This, THIS is where I see pot/kettle. I point out a contradiction in a book, a play, a movie, a blog, a forum, a pamphlet, a billboard, a magazine, or a restroom wall and we use the “most likely” standard. We compare the arguments for a contradiction with the proposed resolution and--given our knowledge and experience--determine which is more plausible. Which is more likely to be true.

But when it comes to one’s own claimed divine works—all of a sudden in order to maintain the idea the writing is neither 1) nor 2) (neither “one is in error” nor “both are in error”), the theist is forced to drop their standard to the lowest possible criteria in order to maintain it.


The single greatest Book (be it Bible or Book of Mormon or both) EVER WRITTEN—the ONLY writing actually inspired by a God—and it can only sustain by having a lower standard than what I expect from a restroom wall? Seriously?

The pot/kettle is the fact that when defending one’s theological position, the person uses the “any logical possibility” standard. When contending against another theological position—the person uses the “more likely” standard. The inerrantist, when defending the inerrantist claim, uses “any logical possibility” standard. But when countering the Mormon claim—uses the “more likely” standard. And, perhaps the Mormons do the same to the Muslims—use the “any logical possibility” standard when defending the Book of Mormon, but claim the Qur’an is wrong by looking at the “more likely” standard. (And I don’t mean to speak for Mormons here—I may be wrong about this.)

If you, Sam, are willing to accept the “any logical possibility” standard in your own claimed divine writings—why won’t you accept such a standard in other claimed divine writings? Is that a double standard? Or do you believe you hold inerrancy to the same standard you are applying to Mormons?

At 6/16/2009 5:22 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Unless, of course, you have written on how you disagree with a harmonization of an inerrantist and I missed that blog…

I remember back when STR had a message board, I did take issue with a harmonization by an inerrantist. I usually stay completely out of conversations about contradictions and harmonizations because from an apologetic point of view, I don’t think they are very practical or important. If I’m arguing with somebody who isn’t a Christian, I try to avoid the minor issues and stick with the important things like the existence of God, morality, the christology of Jesus, the resurrection, and stuff like that. I have never seen a productive conversation about contradictions and harmonizations.

First of all, the Bible does not claim to be inerrant

I think it clearly implies as much.

I agree with you that in most cases we use a “more likely” standard to determine whether there are contradictions or not. But you have to understand that when it comes to the Bible or the BOM, there are more factors involved that the immediate harmonization. There is a reason why Christians are satisfied with harmonizations that non-Christians are not satisfied with. It’s because they have some independent reason to believe that the Bible is inerrant. Maybe it’s because they’ve got a burning in the bosom, or a witness from the Holy Spirit, it’s what they’ve been taught, or they take it on the authority of those who wrote such scriptures as 2 Timonthy 3:16, or they take it on the authority of the Church.

Everybody knows, including Christians, that contradiction indicates error. So if somebody already has a preconceived notion that the Bible is inerrant, then all that’s required to maintain that notion is a merely possible harmonization. I can fully understand why somebody who didn’t take inerrancy as a given would find a harmonization to be unlikely, but they seem far more likely to Christians when other factors are accounted for, such as any independent reason for thinking the Bible is inerrant. They are still using the “more likely” standard; the difference is that they are basing their “more likely” on more factors than just the harmonizing explanation alone.

to be continued...

At 6/16/2009 5:26 PM , Blogger Sam said...

You are right that I used the “more likely” standard in the case of the lunar cycle explanation. If I were a Mormon and had this “witness” they talk about that gives them absolute certainty about the BOM and Joseph Smith, I would probably find the lunar cycle harmonization a lot more plausible. But since I already have serious doubts about the BOM for other reasons, I’m not presupposing the BOM is reliable before looking at harmonizations.

Ronald Nash has a good discussion on the role of noetic structures on forming beliefs in his book, Faith & Reason that I think you would probably agree with. Basically, he argues that whether any idea will seem plausible to you or not depends on your entire noetic structure, including all of your background beliefs.

If you, Sam, are willing to accept the “any logical possibility” standard in your own claimed divine writings—why won’t you accept such a standard in other claimed divine writings? Is that a double standard? Or do you believe you hold inerrancy to the same standard you are applying to Mormons?

In any case of a supposed contradiction and a supposed harmonization, I would apply this criteria: Which is more likely?—that this writing would contradict itself or that this seemingly far-fetched harmonization is true? In the case of the Bible, since I already believe it is theopneustos, I think it’s prima facie unlikely that the Bible would contradict itself. For me, that raises the burden of proof for those who claim it contradicts itself, and it lowers the burden of proof for those who attempt harmonizations. Since I have no such presupposition about the BOM, I am naturally going to find harmonizations less likely than I would otherwise. And since you have no such presupposition about the Bible OR the BOM, I can fully understand why you would find harmonizations less likely than either ordinary Christians or Mormons would.

At 6/16/2009 11:09 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Um, my head hurts! Do you guys really care about this stuff? I guess so, with all the effort you are putting into it. For me, it's kind of fun reading, but it isn't at all important.

At 6/17/2009 12:01 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Curtis, this particular subject isn't a big deal to me. If I were a Mormon, I'd just say "600 years is a round number" and move on. I just added this in here because it was in my notes, and I thought it might be interesting to somebody. I won't get my feelings hurt if you just skip all the stuff that doesn't interest you.

At 6/17/2009 11:03 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...


As always, thank you for your conversation. I find your honesty to be refreshing; making you a very rewarding person to engage.


I do find these conversations important. Not as much regarding the particulars, but in the methodology.

I agree with Sam’s assessment about our own predispositions causing us to favor or disfavor certain claims, arguments and evidences. If one is inclined to find the Bible inerrant, an element of subjectivity creeps in (human nature). If one is inclined to find the Book of Mormon to be special—subjectivity equally causes us to be predisposed toward or against certain arguments.

I would be a self-deluded fool to think I can avoid such predispositions in myself. So what I attempt to do, while recognizing there will always be some subjectivity, is to remove as much as possible. One means I do this is by methodology—be consistent in what standard of proof I use, and what evidences I employ regardless of who is making the claim; whether Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Muslim, Democrat, Texan or priest.

I am always curious as to what methods others use to remove their own subjectivity. If any. I find, in these conversations, most people don’t even realize what methods they are using, nor the fact they apply a higher standard to claims they disagree with, as compared to claims they agree with.

For an analogy—a person who is against abortion will tend to grant more leniency to an anti-abortion argument than a person who is pro-abortion.

The nice thing about inerrancy or errors regarding prophecy is that these are more “bright-line” issues. Either John intended to write Jesus was killed on the day before Passover; or he did not. Either 1 Nephi predicted Jesus’ arrival to the exact year; or it did not. And when talking about these things (while they may not be important in the grand scheme of things) it is easier to view our methodology DUE to the ability to agree to the bright-line issue.

Arguing over the sufficiency of Jesus’ atonement is murky waters indeed. I prefer to use these more simple; more easily-defined matters to dissect our methodologies. To view our subjectivity. To see if we can (or care to) remove as much subjectivity as possible. To argue over the methodology of sufficiency of satisfying God’s judgment is so difficult, due to lack of verification and often lack of agreement to the term’s meaning


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