Daniel Johnson's Blog

March 12, 2020

More support for Ancient American horses

Out of all the criticisms of the Book of Mormon, its mention of horses keeps coming up. Such has been the case for 190 years. Daniel has written papers and given presentations on strong support for the presence of horses in the Americas far before previously held beliefs. There may not be a definite answer yet, but more support from non-LDS sources keeps appearing. Of particular interest is research into Native American traditions and histories

Yvette Running Horse, an indigenous scholar, has a good bit of current research supporting native traditions that they have always had the horse. Many of her findings are very similar to the paper that Daniel had published in BYU Studies.  She doesn't seem to have any interest in supporting the Book of Mormon narrative, so we recommend her work for consideration. As more time goes by, our stance on the reality of horses in Ancient America far before the Spanish conquest becomes more commonplace.

Click here to read about Yvette Running Horse's dissertation.
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Published on March 12, 2020 15:58

July 8, 2019

A steel sword from 7th century BC Israel

Steel in the Book of Mormon is a common target for critics. The first mention is the sword of Laban, with its blade of 'precious' steel. The common thinking for quite a while is that this is an anachronism, several centuries out of date. We have found ancient examples of Middle Eastern steel: an 11th century BC dagger from Cyprus and a 12th or 13th century BC pick from Mt. Adir in northern Galilee (click here to read about them). However, an actual steel sword dating to Lehi's time has been found.

Now residing in the Israel Museum, a sword from the Vered Jericho fortress was found in the 1980s. It's over three feet long and is described as being made of mild steel. Some listings may describe it as iron, but because steel is so close to iron (up to 99%), academic descriptions often don't distinguish between the two materials. But articles delving into the details will mention the difference. According to Popular Mechanics and the Biblical Archaeology Review, it is indeed iron hardened into a mild steel (click here to read the article). According to the museum's 1992 journal, "Metallurgical analysis of a sample taken from the blade proves that it was made of mild steel, and that the iron was deliberately hardened into steel, attesting to the technical knowledge of the blacksmith."

Shad Brooks, an Australian swords and ancient weaponry expert, explains the significance of this find on his YouTube channel, Shadiversity. He defends its description as steel and explains just how close iron and steel are, especially in ancient metallurgy. Using the Vered Jericho sword as a base, he has even reconstructed a probable design of the sword of Laban, based on Nephi's description.

The sword of Laban can now safely be removed from any list of Book of Mormon controversies. No longer do we need to try and explain it away, as it fits fully into the historical record of the time, without any hit of anachronism.

Click here to watch Shad's recreation of the sword of Laban.
Click here to watch Shad's defense of the Vered Jericho sword as steel.
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Published on July 08, 2019 20:48

June 11, 2019

Pope confirms phrase from the JST

In an unexpected bit of news, Pope Francis recently approved a change to a phrase in the Lord's Prayer, found in Matthew 6:14. In this familiar scripture, Jesus teachers the pattern for praying to our Heavenly Father. The King James Bible contains the phrase, "And lead us not into temptation." Reasoning that God does not tempt mankind, but rather the devil, the pope has changed the phrase to “do not let us fall into temptation.”

This is interesting because the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, long criticized by many Christians, contains practically the same phrase, for likely the same reason. His rendering of this line reads "And suffer us not to be led into temptation." The beyond close similarity of the two phrases is interesting, since Joseph made this inspired change over 150 years ago. We wonder how and why the current pope came to this same conclusion, but we do agree with his decision.

Read here about Pope Francis' change to this and the Gloria.
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Published on June 11, 2019 11:39

December 25, 2018

An interesting story to share

Merry Christmas, everyone! At this wonderful season, we thought we would share an odd story about something that happened to Daniel earlier this year. As you know, the point of this blog is to share our studies and also to contact others who are interested in this information.

Some months ago, Daniel was contacted by someone in Panama; we'll call him José. He said he had found a post on our blog about a new discovery of gold items buried in a stone box in Mexico City. According to this individual, there was a museum in Panama called the Fort David Museum. It was somehow associated with an ancient nearby site called Barriles. After a bit of research, we found some information on this site and it appears to be legitimate. But it is on property owned by people that are looking to get publicity for it by making some outrageous claims.

José wanted Daniel to come to Panama to see the artifacts and get his opinion on them. He was even willing to pay his way to fly and stay there. What made this interesting was that he claimed that ancient steel swords and gold plates had been found in a tomb in Panama. While things like this are always intriguing, caution is paramount. LDS hopefuls have been misled in the past by bad archaeology. The story being presented to Daniel was that this site contained the tomb of a chief or powerful leader named El Quibián Malchía. This Malchía supposedly left the Old World around 600 b.c. and sailed with Phoenicians to Panama. The purpose of this journey was to save the Ark of the Covenant from Babylonian capture. Once in the New World, he set himself up as a king. His tomb containing these artifacts was accidentally discovered a few years ago. This image is from one of the museum's videos and purports to be the actual Ark of the Covenant from his tomb. If only Indiana Jones had known!

Many details about this story are unlikely, not the least of which is the poor quality of this 'artifact.' But when José finally sent photos of their gold plates, we knew there was a real problem. The first surprising detail to notice here is that the hieroglyphics engraved on them are exact copies of the 'Charactors' facsimile, even down to their sequence. José even tried to convince Daniel that these were the actual plates guarded by Moroni and used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. When Daniel sent him an image of the 'Charactors' and asked him to explain how it was exactly the same, José demanded to know where he had obtained this image, as they had been careful at the museum not to let let out any information on their plates. Daniel then had to explain to him that this image had been around since the early 1800s and was widely available. In fact, all the information needed to make this low quality replica of the plates could be found in posts on our blog.

From there, the communication just got even stranger, with José making some bizarre accusations and personal admissions. We don't know if he was complicit in this fraud or if he was fooled by it. We don't see much purpose in this whole affair, except maybe to scam LDS tourists into visiting this site and spending money there, and using Daniel to spread the word. While a free trip to Panama did sound tempting, Daniel did eventually decide against it and cut off all contact with José, after trying to convince him to give up on this hopeless fraud. Not wanting to be part of an obvious hoax, Daniel was also somewhat concerned for his own safety. Who was involved in this scheme and what did they really hope to achieve? Why did they want him to come, of all people? That is still a mystery to us. But if anyone is going through that area of Panama, it might be worthwhile to stop by the Fort David Museum and see what they have. We haven't seen anything there except very modern, crudely made fakes without any hint of authenticity or antiquity. They are about the quality that you would find as trinkets being sold to foreign tourists.

Click here to watch a video on some of the Fort David Museum's claims.
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Published on December 25, 2018 21:34

December 20, 2018

Evidences from the Book of Mormon

This one is a bit off our usual set of topics, but it is an interesting way of looking at the Book of Mormon. Obviously, those who believe in it do so as a principle of faith. Much of what we discuss is admittedly theoretical. But those who reject our traditional explanation for its origins must offer some other story. After all, it is a real book with a coherent storyline and doctrinal teachings. From our point of view, no one has ever submitted a serious alternate theory. This may be that the critics don't take the Book of Mormon seriously enough to study it and find out what it really contains. While there remains much that is still up for debate, there are a lot of internal complexities that should warrant some consideration. Here is an interesting video that goes over quite a few of these internal details that are usually ignored by critics. That's not too much of a surprise, since many members probably aren't aware of many of them.

Click here to watch this video on internal evidences.
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Published on December 20, 2018 23:51

August 26, 2018

Ancient horse bones found in Utah

Last year, a family in Utah came across some unexpected bones while digging in their back yard. After some inspection and having experts take a look, it was determined to be the unfossilized bones of an ancient breed of horse, dating to the Ice Age. It appears to have died about 16,000 years ago. The size is about that of a Shetland Pony. Paleontologists came in to excavate it professionally, and will do further work on the skeleton to find out more about it.

We find this to be an interesting find. Because of its age, it cannot have any direct connection to Book of Mormon events. We doubt that the events related in it extended as far as the western United States, but these finds should be a constant reminder that there is so much ancient history in this part of the world yet to be discovered. The existence of early horses in American prehistory is now commonly known, but it should be remembered that this was not always the case. When the Book of Mormon was first published in 1830, the common knowledge then was that there were no horses or similar large fauna at all until after European contact. Daniel has spoken and written extensively regarding the evolution of belief about ancient American horses and the evidence for pre-Columbian horses in this hemisphere. Click the links below to read more details about this find.

Read about this discovery on Live Science.
Read about this discovery at the NY Times.

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Published on August 26, 2018 20:33

February 20, 2018

More undiscovered Maya cities and large populations

Recent articles show that LIDAR has been used to see through the dense jungles of northern Guatemala and find what still lies underneath. Palaces, elevated highways, and the ruins of more than 60,000 houses have been discovered. What is now seen is a society that is far more complex and interconnected than previously thought.

Ten parcels of land, totaling more than 800 sq. miles was mapped, but this is just a small part of the large northern jungles of Guatemala, known as the Petén. It is likely that much more would be discovered if the unmapped areas were to be scanned. Because of these latest finds, the current estimate for the Maya population at its height is between 10 and 15 million. This is a surprisingly high number when compared to previous estimates.

The final battles of the Book of Mormon record large numbers involved in the fighting. In the past, these numbers seemed hard to justify, but as finds like these keep being announced, they are easier to believe. It should be pointed out that much of the Maya civilization existed after the end of the Book of Mormon, so these finds don't related directly to its history. But large populations among the Nephites, Lamanites, and other groups mentioned in this scripture are no longer a strong reason to discount it.

Read more about these discoveries at National Geographic.
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Published on February 20, 2018 16:15

January 20, 2018

Ancient elephants and horses in the Yucatán?

More unexpected artifacts have been found in caves in the Yucatán Peninsula. A recent article on the Latin American news site teleSUR tells of explorations by INAH of cenotes and the underwater tunnels linking them. The Yucatán is riddled with caves and tunnels going all through its limestone foundation. Many of them are filled with water and were the primary water source for the ancient Maya. They were also ritual and sacred spaces, seen as an entrance to Xibalba, the underworld and land of the dead, according to Maya religious beliefs. So, they were also commonly used as ceremonial centers and places of sacrifice.

In one of these cave systems, well preserved ceramic vessels and bones of sacrificial offerings have been found. In addition to human skulls, bones of extinct animals like giant sloths, elephants, and horses have been found. It's interesting how casually these animals are mentioned in the article, especially since many people still think they were never in Ancient America. Horses and elephants are mentioned in the Book of Mormon, and are still the source of much criticism against it, even though discoveries like this latest one keep happening from time to time. We explored the Loltún Caves, where ancient horse and mammoth bones were found many years ago, but these finds apparently are still not common knowledge. We find it especially noteworthy that this article mentions 'elephants' specifically (not mammoths or mastodons), not even bothering to comment on how revolutionary this idea must be to some people. It's obvious that these finds are likely prehistoric, long before the time period of the Book of Mormon, but it is nonetheless additional evidence supporting its veracity. Sadly this information will likely go ignored by our critics.

Click here to read the full article on teleSUR.
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Published on January 20, 2018 15:16

October 10, 2017

Some ideas on deity and the Old Testament

This post isn't about the Book of Mormon specifically, but more about LDS theology concerning God. Our rejection of traditional trinitarian creeds is unusual among mainstream Christianity, regardless of what individual Christians may believe. The idea that members of the Godhead are three distinct individuals has led some to declare that Mormons cannot be Christians, as this concept seems too close to polytheism. But the belief in gods that are literally father and son may have some surprising and ancient origins.

Judaism has long been considered as containing the earliest form of monotheism. But some secular scholars see evidence of polytheistic beliefs in the original text of Jewish scripture that has since been edited out. One example is in Deuteronomy 32:8-9:

When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.

The immediate assumption is that 'Most High' (El-Elyon in Hebrew), a common title for God in the Old Testament, refers to the the Lord or Jehovah (YHWH). However, some scholars see a connection between the Hebrew 'El' and the supreme Caananite deity, El. The oldest versions of Deuteronomy, including the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, don't have the phrase 'children of Israel,' but instead say 'sons of El.' The idea behind this passage is that El divided up the world's people into different ethnic groups to be ruled over by his divine sons. To Jehovah (the Lord), a Son of God, was given the nation or people of Jacob (Israel) as his people. So the Hebrew God wasn't the only God, but a son, and not the only one.

Latter-Day Saints have long identified the Jehovah of the Old Testament as a pre-mortal Jesus Christ, and refer to his Heavenly Father as Elohim, a Hebrew word meaning 'God' or 'Gods.' There is even a belief of a divine council of elohim meeting to create the world, an idea not found in traditional Christianity, but found in many ancient texts from the Middle East. Perhaps this possible evidence of earlier polytheism among the monotheistic Israelites seen by some non-religious scholars is fragments of this original understanding. This Mormon belief has been mocked by Christians and agnostics alike, but there may yet be some support for it, hiding under our noses in familiar scripture. Many of the Biblical 'contradictions' about the multiple gods El and Yahweh (Jehovah) that could be troubling to Christians are easily explained by LDS theology. Maybe there is something to this multiple gods idea after all.

Read more from Robert Wright, Professor of Science and Religion.
Click here for this Contradiction in the Bible.
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Published on October 10, 2017 12:18

July 10, 2017

Gold artifacts among the Aztecs

In April of this year, a cache of what has been described as 'some of the finest Aztec gold ever found' was uncovered near the main square in Mexico City. The capital city of Mexico, long known as a center of three cultures: Aztec, Colonial Spanish, and modern, seems an unlikely place for a new discovery of this magnitude. But like the new excavations at Chichén Itzá, this find shows that no matter how much we think we know about these famous and commonly-visited sites, there still exists the opportunity to find something new which increases our understanding of these ancient cultures.

Buried in a stone box and situated behind a Catholic cathedral in the vicinity of the principal Aztec temple, the gold was part of a buried offering and adorned a sacrificed wolf. The ceremonial items were interred some 500 years ago. It's obvious that the Aztec culture is far removed from any direct Book of Mormon involvement, but we find discoveries such as this one interesting in that they show the technology and inclination to create such items did exist in ancient America, even if it hasn't been connected to the Book of Mormon yet. The fact that such discoveries continue to be made and were unknown in the 19th century are also encouraging. Our curiosity is always piqued when we hear about pre-Columbian gold buried in stone boxes.

Admittedly, ancient American metallurgy is a complex and difficult topic, one that does not currently support many of the claims made in the Book of Mormon. We have discussed these issues many times and have found that, along with the lack of evidence, there are also some encouraging but little-known finds that show that there was more metal working going on in the New World than has previously been thought. We will look forward to further developments in this area.

Click here to read more about the discovery of this discovery of Aztec gold.
Click here to read about the current understanding of metallurgy in pre-Columbian America.
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Published on July 10, 2017 01:39