Michael Coe 1973 annotated
Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View
In 1973, Michael Coe published an article in Dialogue titled “Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View.” The article is dated in the sense that it refers to organizations that no longer exist, but Coe’s main points remain important because they are part of the intellectual genealogy of the current (2021) version of the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). Coe may have prompted some of the M2C arguments and even guided some of the M2C research.
In my view, Coe made some valid points but also relied on assumptions he considered facts. In this annotation, I’ll distinguish between facts and assumptions/inferences and explore his arguments as well as alternatives he apparently did not consider.
Michael Coe, a Yale archaeologist and anthropologist specializing in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies, died at the age of 90 on September 25, 2019.
He left numerous articles and interviews regarding Mormons and archaeology, including a 2006 interview on PBS’ Frontline.
His final interview turned into 3 one-hour episodes on Mormon Stories.
As near as I can tell, his 1973 article in Dialogue was his first detailed explanation of his conclusions about Mormons and archaeology, so it’s a good place to start. My comments (red) are written in terms common in 1973, particularly the term “Mormon.”
Mormons and Archaeology: An Outside View by Michael Coe
"Mormonism" must surely be the only major religious movement whose founder was fascinated by archaeology and whose members are imbued with a mystique based upon archaeological findings. Because of this element of faith, scientists who are not Mormons have found it exceedingly difficult to evaluate in a fair and objective manner the achievements and failures of Mormon archaeology and its practitioners. Members of the faith have often accused outside critics of ignorance, and often rightly so, on the grounds that almost none of them has ever read the Book of Mormon, and are unacquainted with Mormon history, values, and scholarship. While not myself a believer in the Mormon faith, I should warn readers that I have tried not to commit these sins of omission.
It's always refreshing when an author acknowledges implicit bias and limitations of knowledge and awareness of relevant issues. As we’ll see, Coe demonstrates fairly detailed familiarity with the Book of Mormon and Mormon archaeology. For that, he deserves credit and careful consideration.
His comment about the element of faith applies as well to LDS scholars who may find it difficult to evaluate in a fair and objective manner aspects of “Mormon” archaeology that contradict their own biases and beliefs, particularly in the so-called Heartland setting.
Most outside critics and many Mormons seem to be unaware that neither the Church in Salt Lake City nor the Reorganized Church in Independence takes an official stand on the identification of the places and events described in the Book of Mormon.
Coe doesn’t give a citation for this claim. Presumably he heard it from his friend John Sorenson. Two years after this article was published, President Marion G. Romney, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, attended the Hill Cumorah pageant on assignment and reported on it in General Conference in October, reaffirming the long-held teaching that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place at that location in New York.
The identification of Cumorah in the New World, like the location of Jerusalem in the Old World, is separate from the identification of any other places and events in the Book of Mormon, as the prophets have always made clear. In that sense, Coe is correct that, apart from Cumorah and Jerusalem, there has never been an official stand on the identification of the places and events described in the Book of Mormon
Nevertheless, the flyleaf of a Book of Mormon sent to me by a Reorganite friend has the following:
Have you ever wondered about the source of the prehistoric ruins now being discovered on the American continents? Have you ever been curious to know who some of the pre-historic forefathers of the American Indian were? In the Book of Mormon you'll find answers to these questions, and many others.
This flyleaf resembles arguments made by many early Latter-day Saints, including Orson Pratt in his 1840 missionary pamphlet. When he wrote the Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith borrowed much material from Pratt’s pamphlet, but he replaced Pratt’s speculation about the indigenous people of Central America with the statement that “the remnant are the Indians that inhabit this country.”
In hundreds of motels scattered across the western United States the Gentile archaeologist can find a paperback Book of Mormon lavishly illustrated with the paintings of Arnold Friberg depicting such scenes as Samuel the Lamanite prophesying on top of what looks like the Temple of the Tigers in Chichen Itza, Yucatan. Any curious archaeologist can hear guides in L.D.S. visitor centers from Sharon, Vermont, to Los Angeles confidently lecturing that the Nephites built the Maya "cities" and expounding on other subjects that are usually the preserve of experts in these matters. Small wonder that the outside archaeologist often feels bewilderment if not downright hostility when confronted with things he is sure cannot be true.
Coe correctly and insightfully points out that a “hemispheric” model had permeated LDS culture by 1973. Friberg asked for direction before he painted those scenes, but no Church authorities provided any, so he used his own artistic license. He included birds that were endemic to Central America, used Mayan architecture for guides, etc. But he also depicted Mormon and Moroni at Cumorah in New York, featuring a maple tree.
Not only outside archaeologists, but many “inside” Latter-day Saints look at the Mayan connection with bewilderment.
How did this all come about? One must go back to Joseph Smith himself and the milieu in which he lived to find an answer. During the 1820s, in the "burned-over district" of western New York and probably generally throughout the eastern United States, there was a great interest in the mounds that had been left by the former Indian inhabitants. Among white Americans, the belief was wide-spread that they had been built by a fair and intelligent race that had been over-whelmed by the dark-skinned and savage Indians.
This “moundbuilder” myth is expressly rejected by the Book of Mormon, which speaks not of racial divisions after Christ’s visit but of ideological divisions. In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery explicitly explained that, contrary to the moundbuilder myth,
It was not the wicked who overcame the righteous; far from this: it was the wicked against the wicked, and by the wicked the wicked were punished.— The Nephites who were once enlightened, had fallen from a more elevated standing as to favour and privilege before the Lord in consequence of the righteousness of their fathers, and now falling below, for such was actually the case, were suffered to be overcome, and the land was left to the possession of the red men, who were without inteligence, only in the affairs of their wars; and having no records, only preserving their history by tradition from father to son, lost the account of their true origin, and wandered from river to river, from hill to hill, from mountain to mountain, and from sea to sea, till the land was again peopled, in a measure, by a rude, wild, revengful, warlike and barbarous race.— Such are our indians. https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/91
Obviously, Oliver was writing from his own experience and culture, when the Indians were clashing with the European settlers. But the Book of Mormon explains that the mounds and fortification were built by the ancestors of the Indians, not by a separate “fair and intelligent” race.
Occasional and highly informal excavations in these mounds sometimes disclosed copper plates and other artifacts which seemed to confirm this view of the superiority of the "Mound-builders."
The Adena and Hopewell civilizations had stopped constructing elaborate mounds, such as the geometrically impressive sites in Ohio, after around 400 AD, until the rise of the later Mississippian culture. Adena and Hopewell artifacts, including metal working and artwork, were more sophisticated than later cultural artifacts.
There is some evidence that the young Smith might have participated in some of these treasure-hunting digs, and it is certain that he was fully acquainted with the speculative literature on the subject.
It is not “certain” but likely that he knew about the speculative literature about the “Mound-builders.” To what extent people generally knew about the Mound-builders is unclear; the Squire and Davis book on Midwestern mounds, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, wasn’t published until 1848.
The influence that such ideas and activities might have had upon the contents of the Book of Mormon can be judged in two different ways, depending on whether one accepts it as divine writ or not.
Multiple working hypotheses!
Joseph Smith's involvement with the pre-European past of the New World continued to be strong, long after 1830, when the Book of Mormon was published. In 1834, for instance, his volunteer army (known as Zion's Camp) encountered Indian remains in Spring Hill, Missouri, where some of his men excavated a large mound. In it, they found a skeleton of a man with an arrowpoint in his ribs. Smith enthusiastically declared this to be a "white Lamanite" named Zelph.
That’s a thumbnail sketch of what Joseph said about Zelph. Joseph reportedly also said Zelph (or Onandagus) was known from the Rocky Mountains to Cumorah. Professional archaeologists (non-LDS) have verified that artifacts in Zelph’s mound date to Nephite time frames and include materials from the Rocky Mountains to at least Ohio.
It was shortly after the Zelph discovery, after having walked across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, when Joseph wrote the letter to Emma, in which he wrote, “The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest men and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionaly the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-emma-smith-4-june-1834/2
The year 1835 saw the arrival of the famous Egyptian papyri in Ohio, and Smith's subsequent translation of part of them as a supposed "Book of Abraham."
A separate topic.
But probably the most significant year for Mormon archaeology was 1842, when the Prophet read Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by the founder of Maya archaeology, John Lloyd Stephens.
Coe should have written “the most significant year for Mesoamerican Mormon archaeology” because some Latter-day Saints consider 1823 the most significant year for archaeology related to the Book of Mormon. That’s the year when Joseph was led to the only known Nephite artifacts in the only known Nephite site build with the only known Nephite cement, the location on the hill that Moroni had named Cumorah during his first visit.
Here Coe understandably adopts the long-held assumption that Joseph Smith read the Stephens books (2 volumes). Historians have made the assumption because of a letter written to John Bernhisel on Joseph’s behalf in November 1841. Joseph neither wrote nor signed the letter, however. Historians assume he dictated it, but close analysis shows three key points.
First, Joseph and Bernhisel had exchanged several letters previously, and this one stood out as different in several respects.
Second, Bernhisel had given the books to Wilford Woodruff, who hand carried them to Nauvoo. During the journey, Woodruff read the books and wrote about them in his journal. Woodruff read other history books, including Stephens’ earlier book about his travels in Egypt and the Holy land, and mentioned how much he enjoyed them. The first time Woodruff mentions meeting Joseph in Nauvoo was October 31, 1841, but this is so near the date of the letter to Bernhisel that Joseph would hardly have time to read the volumes before the letter was written. None of Joseph’s contemporaries—not even Woodruff—mention Joseph reading these books.
Third, the language in the Bernhisel letter regarding the Stephens books is typical of Woodruff’s writing, not of Joseph’s. The second part of the letter dealing with Nauvoo real estate reads much differently.
From these and other factors, I concluded that Woodruff gave the books to Joseph, Joseph asked him to send a thank-you note, Woodruff composed or dictated the paragraph about the Stephens book, and someone, possibly John Taylor, composed the part of the letter about real estate. Historians claim the letter is in John Taylor’s handwriting, but that could mean he copied it from an earlier draft or note, or recorded dictation from Woodruff and/or someone else. Possibly even from Joseph regarding the real estate.
At any rate, it is far from established fact that Joseph ever read these books.
Smith immediately re-printed extracts in Times and Seasons, along with the editorial comment that in his opinion, the ancient cities described in the Book of Mormon lay in Guatemala (which then included Chiapas).
First, it wasn’t an immediate reprinting. The Bernhisel letter was send in November 1841, while the articles appeared in the September and October 1842 Times and Seasons.
Second, here again, Coe understandably adopts the long-held assumption that Joseph Smith wrote these anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. However, the historical evidence weighs against this assumption.
The articles were signed “Ed.” This has led some historians to conclude Joseph had to have written them because the boilerplate at the end of each issue says “Edited by Joseph Smith, Jr.” That’s not an unreasonable assumption, but the boilerplate also says “printed and published by Joseph Smith, Jr.” No one assumes Joseph was setting type and operating the printing presses; he was merely the nominal printer (printer in name only). Likewise, there is evidence indicating that Joseph did not know the content of the Times and Seasons until after it was published, which would mean he was the nominal editor just as he was the nominal printer.
In 1842, the Times and Seasons was printed in the same print shop as the Wasp, a newspaper started and edited by Joseph’s brother William. There is lots of evidence that William was actually writing and editing that paper, likely assisted by W.W. Phelps starting around June or maybe earlier. The two newspapers shared content, even though the Wasp was more of a Nauvoo paper while the Times and Seasons was meant for members everywhere.
Joseph became the named editor in March 1842, and there is some indication that he was directly involved early on, as when he published the Wentworth letter (which he published over his own signature) and the Book of Abraham. But in the summer, he spent time in hiding to evade the Missouri authorities. Woodruff recorded that Joseph barely had time to sign documents they prepared for his signature. Joseph’s journal never mentions editing (or printing) the Times and Seasons.
There is also abundant evidence that much of the content of the Times and Seasons was provided by Benjamin Winchester, whose writings were frequently published anonymously in the newspaper. By word count, Winchester was the largest contributor to the newspaper from inception through 1842, consisting mainly of unattributed reprints from Winchester’s Gospel Reflector newspaper. Winchester was among the first Latter-day Saints to make a connection between Mayan ruins and the Book of Mormon. He visited Bernhisel shortly before Bernhisel bought the Stephens books that he gave to Woodruff to take to Nauvoo.
All of this and more is discussed in detail in three books about the Times and Seasons: The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light, and The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith.
He explicitly stated that Palenque was "among the mighty works of the Nephites."
This statement underscores one of the problems with attributing these anonymous articles to Joseph Smith. The articles make anachronistic attributions; i.e., the ruins they claim are Nephite postdate actual Nephite chronologies. Whoever wrote these articles could not have known the results of modern dating techniques, but we now know that the Nephites could not have constructed the temples and pyramids assigned to them by these articles in the Times and Seasons.
Thus, despite the present day reticence of the Church on this subject, its founder had no qualms about placing Book of Mormon geography in what we now know as Mesoamerica.
“Despite” as used here is an unjustified pejorative. Church reticence on this subject is the only approach consistent with the teachings of the prophets and the known extrinsic evidence from history and science. There are thousands of archaeological sites that can be candidates for Book of Mormon sites, but it is impossible so far to connect the two frames of reference.
Except for Cumorah.
Coe didn’t mention that in September 1842, Joseph wrote and signed a letter to the Latter-day Saints, which he sent to the actual editor of the Times and Seasons for publication. This letter became D&C 128, including verse 20, which reads, “Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed.” (Doctrine and Covenants 128:20)
Joseph’s identification of Cumorah in connection with Moroni’s visit in New York corroborates what David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery had said all along about Cumorah. It also fit with Lucy Mack Smith’s history that she dictated in 1844, based on her memory starting with Joseph’s childhood.
As to whether Joseph had “qualms” about placing Book of Mormon geography in Mesoamerica, Joseph resigned as editor promptly after the October 1, 1842, Times and Seasons identified Quirigua as the city of Zarahemla in the Book of Mormon. There may have been many reasons for his resignation, but these identifications of Mayan sites as Nephite sites was surely among them.
It turns out, there is no unambiguous, direct evidence that Joseph ever connected the Book of Mormon to Mesoamerica. At the same time, there is unambiguous, direct evidence that Joseph did connect the Book of Mormon to the midwestern United States and Cumorah to the hill in New York.
Consequently, what Coe states as fact here is merely Coe’s assumption based on how others have interpreted the historical evidence.
Finally, in 1843 (the year before his death) the Kinderhook Plates incident took place. Six brass, bell-shaped plates were brought to him with the claim that they had been dug up by one Robert Wiley in a mound near his house in Kinderhook, Illinois. Again, as in the case of the papyri, Smith made a translation of the "hieroglyphs" which were incised upon them, presumably with the expertise derived from his decipherment of the "Reformed Egyptian" plates shown to him by the angel Moroni. This time, the Prophet stated that the text dealt with the history of a descendant of Ham.
Although Coe states this as a fact, the historical evidence regarding the Kinderhook plates is murky and ambiguous. People can cite the evidence whether they want people to believe Joseph translated the characters or they want people to believe Joseph never translated them.
These are the facts concerning Joseph Smith and the New World past.
As we’ve seen, these are more inferences and assumptions than facts.
Mormon archaeologists over the years have almost unanimously accepted the Book of Mormon as an accurate, historical account of the New World peoples between about 2,000 B.C. and A.D. 421. They believe that Smith could translate heiroglyphs, whether "Reformed Egyptian" or ancient American, and that his translation of the Book of Abraham is authentic. Likewise, they accept the Kinderhook Plates as a bona fide archaeological discovery, and the reading of them as correct.
I don’t know what people believed in 1973, but most current LDS scholars don’t think Joseph translated the Kinderhook Plates or that the Kinderhook Plates are authentic. Some modern LDS do think the Kinderhook Plates were real artifacts and that Joseph translated them. Few modern LDS think the Book of Abraham is a literal translation of the hieroglyphs; most think it was pure revelation or a translation of the symbols written on the papyrus.
Let me now state uncategorically that as far as I know there is not one professionally trained archaeologist, who is not a Mormon, who sees any scientific justification for believing the foregoing to be true, and I would like to state that there are quite a few Mormon archaeologists who join this group.
It’s not just non-LDS who think this way. There are numerous Latter-day Saints of all professions who don’t believe the Mayans were Nephites, that Joseph connected the Mayans to the Nephites, that the Book of Abraham is a literal translation of the papyrus, or that Joseph translated the Kinderhook plates.
This is in spite of a host of well-intentioned books and articles by Mormon intellectuals (whom I shall later discuss) trying to justify these claims.
Good point. There are numerous LDS books that seek to justify the M2C and other claims. The logical and factual fallacies are easy to spot, even by nonbelievers.
First of all, there is an inherent improbability in specific items that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon as having been brought to the New World by the Jaredites and/or Nephites. Among these are the horse (extinct in the New World since about 7,000 B.C.), the chariot, wheat, barley, and metallurgy (true metal-working based upon smelting and casting being no earlier in Mesoamerica than about 800 A.D.). The picture of this hemisphere between 2,000 B.C. and A.D.421 presented in the book has little to do with the early Indian cultures as we know them, in spite of much wishful thinking.
In 1973, this may all have been true. Since then, though, more recent evidence of horses has been found. It’s logically impossible to say when a species becomes extinct; at most, we can say no bones have been discovered past a given date. The famous example is the Coelacanth, but there are examples of other species that were formerly considered extinct. Because the text is a translation, and because Joseph said only that the Title Page was a literal translation, we cannot say definitively what is a literal translation and what is a transliterated.
As for smelting, there is evidence from Indiana of pre-Columbian smelting, at least of lead. Metalwork is mentioned only a few times in the text, mostly referring to the brass plates from Jerusalem. The Jaredites “did work in all manner of ore,” which does not state or imply smelting (except for brass). Ancient Native Americans worked in gold and silver and copper, as we can see in museums throughout the Midwestern U.S. Meteoric iron, too, can be “worked” without smelting. The text also speaks of ziff, an unknown metal, which suggests that brass, too, may be Joseph’s transliteration, possibly of what we would consider bronze (mostly copper).
The text refers to “precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper” (Mosiah 11:8) suggesting these metals were rare, although ancient mines in Tennessee and upper Michigan are well known.
The text refers to “heaps of earth,” “ridges of earth,” and “timbers” built on top of the ridges, all of which is consistent with archaeology in North America. Hopewell cultures had woven clothing, silk, pearls, and other materials described in the text, as well as head-plates, breastplates, and armshields on display in numerous museums and private collections.
There is also little doubt in the minds of non-Mormon scholars that Joseph Smith had no ability whatsoever to read "Reformed Egyptian" or any other kind of hieroglyphs.
No scholar, Mormon or otherwise, knows what language was on the plates, so no one can opine about Joseph’s ability to translate it, apart from whether they believe or disbelieve what Joseph claimed.
Joseph said he copied the characters off the plates and translated them by means of the Urim and Thummim. That’s the metaphysical element in his account that is impossible to verify, but given his translation of the characters, it is common practice to translate a text once one knows the characters. The text itself, consisting of language we would expect to come from Joseph’s lexicon, is consistent with Joseph’s claim that he translated the engravings on the plates. The eight witnesses testified they saw the plates and the engravings. Obviously, they could not testify whether it was a correct translation, but their testimony corroborates what Joseph and Oliver said about the translation.
The papyri translated as the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price are, in the opinion of qualified Egyptologists, a series of fragments of the Egyptian "Book of the Dead," something which Smith could not have known since Champollion's decipherment of the Egyptian script had not yet been published.
As originally published in the Times and Seasons, the account is different from how it reads to day.
Of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.
(Times and Seasons III.9:704 ¶1–2)
There is ongoing debate whether the extant papyrus is the one Joseph reportedly translated, but more fundamentally, we have few details of how Joseph produced the Book of Abraham. The Kirtland Egyptian Papers indicate that Joseph’s contemporaries sought to reverse engineer his translation. We can’t say for sure that he designated the material as a translation in the first place; it’s just as plausible that whoever was setting the type at the Times and Seasons assumed it was a translation.
Whether Joseph provided the translation through direct revelation, through a figurative interpretation of the literal Egyptian characters, or by misunderstanding the actual Egyptian cannot be determined from the available evidence. Plus, there is no indication that Joseph ever intended the translation to be canonized as scripture.
As for the Kinderhook Plates, W. P. Harris (one of the men involved in the supposed find), wrote in 1855 that they were a hoax perpetrated by Wiley, W. Fugate, and B. Whitten, and in 1879 Fugate revealed that the hieroglyphs had been etched with beeswax and nitric acid, rather than incised. When one of the plates was rediscovered recently in Chicago, a member of the University Archaeological Society at Brigham Young University attempted to discredit Harris' statement by securing the opinion that the object had not been etched. But definitive tests have been carried out at Princeton University by Dr. George M. Lawrence on the one surviving plate (Number Five), which conclusively proved it to be a low zinc brass or a bronze. "The dimensions, tolerances, composition and workmanship are consistent with the facilities of an 1843 blacksmith shop and with the fraud stories of the original participants," states Dr. Lawrence, and he concludes that the inscriptions almost certainly were produced by a combination of the acid-wax etching technique and engraving.
As previously discussed, it’s not clear that Joseph translated or even claimed to translate the Kinderhook plates. He did not keep them or translate them in any detail. All we have are second-hand accounts of what he is purported to have said.
Following the great exodus to Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young, there seems to have been little interest in antiquarian studies for many decades on the part of Mormons. Perhaps this was because the Church and its people, now effectively isolated from their gentile enemies and greatly strengthened politically, felt little need to convince the outside world of the historical truth said to be contained in the Book.
This makes sense because Utah was far removed from the sites in the Midwestern US and New York that directly related to the Book of Mormon, but there were ongoing discussions of ancient America, particularly by Orson Pratt. The 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon included footnotes that identified the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 as the hill in New York where Joseph found the plates. It also declared that the Lamanites were the American Indians and referred to the mounds in the Midwestern U.S. Separately, the footnotes included explicitly subjective theories about the locations of Zarahemla, Bountiful, the river Sidon, Lehi’s landing place, etc.
The close of the nineteenth century saw the inauguration of the intellectual movement called "Book of Mormon geography." Probably the most careful scholar to work in this tradition was Louis E. Hills of the Reorganized Church in Independence, a man whose contributions to the subject have been systematically ignored by Salt Lake City circles.
Some say Hills was ignored, others that he was plagiarized by LDS scholars.
Prior to his work, it was generally assumed that the locale of most of the cities in the Book of Mormon was to the south of the Isthmus of Panama, in contradiction to the stated belief of Joseph Smith (among those subscribing to this view were James Talmage and the Reorganite "American Archaeology Committee").
Again, Coe simply states as fact that his assumption that the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons were written or approved by Joseph Smith. As we’ve seen, though, the unambiguous, direct statements by Joseph describe the midwestern U.S. as the “plains of the Nephites” replete with mounds and bones left by the Nephites. Talmage embraced the New York Cumorah while also assuming a hemispheric model such as that set out by the Pratt brothers. Talmage apparently never noticed the way Joseph corrected Orson Pratt when he wrote the Wentworth letter.
In 1917, Hills published his Geography of Mexico and Central America from 2234 B.C. to 421. AD.
Hills’ book included his 1917 map that showed Cumorah in southern Mexico, much as shown on the maps still depicted on the BYU Studies web page, as well as the fantasy maps produced by CES and BYU. For an analysis and comparison, see http://www.bookofmormoncentralamerica.com/2021/04/the-greatest-student-is.html
He went over many of the Mexican historical sources (admittedly at secondhand, since he based himself largely upon Bancroft) to arrive at his main conclusion: the narrow neck of land described in the Book of Mormon was the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, so that Zarahemla comprised the lands immediately to the east of it (Guatemala and British Honduras), and Bountiful the lands to the west. According to Hills, the Jaredites were to be equated with those earliest settlers who were said to have landed at Panuco and proceeded south, according to several early sources. The 1917 study was followed in 1919 by Historical Data from Ancient Records and Ruins of Mexico and Central America.
Hills set out the basic premise for the modern M2C theory.
Hills' pioneering work has had many successors. I suspect that Book of Mormon geography is still the primary interest of most of those Reorganite Church members who consider themselves archaeologists. Few, if any, of these "archaeologists" actually carry out excavations, but rather engage themselves in antiquarian speculations which are all too frequently slipshod. For instance, as far as I know, the Society for Archaeological Research, the membership of which is drawn from the Reorganized Church, has never set spade in an archaeological site, although it has conducted tours among the ancient ruins of the New World. Many Book of Mormon geography studies are interesting and well-written (such as the Reorganite scholar Paul Hanson's Jesus Christ Among the Ancient Americans), but they are unlikely to convince any nonbeliever who knows something of the subject.
As a “dirt archaeologist” himself, Coe naturally values the opinions of those who excavate over those who read what the excavators discover. That’s standard credentialism. Slipshod speculations are problematic, to be sure, but that’s also true of archaeological conclusions based on confirmation bias. Often, experts are the least open to alternative possibilities—alternative working hypotheses.
One wonders whether Hanson’s intent was to convince unbelievers, or to simply weave together threads of evidence that corroborated his beliefs.
Next, we come to "Book of Mormon archaeology," which I would define as an attempt by Mormons to establish the historicity of the Book of Mormon by means of "dirt" archaeology, or by analysis of archaeological findings made by non-Mormons; this has been dealt with in a scathing review by Dee F. Green. I think that it is still a viable field of study in spite of Green's assertion that "The first myth we need to eliminate is that Book of Mormon archaeology exists" (p. 77).
The Green article is here: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/articles/book-of-mormon-archaeology-the-myths-and-the-alternatives/
I agree with Coe because Green made a series of straw man arguments. He wrote that “To suggest that Book of Mormon archaeology is largely useless — even a delusion — and that there are far more important things for Church anthropologists to worry about is not currently popular in the Church. … As far as I am concerned, "proving" (or "disproving") the historicity of the Book of Mormon will in no way change the atonement of Christ, or the plan of salvation. … I am not impressed with allegations that Book of Mormon archaeology converts people to the Church. My personal preference in Church members still runs to those who have a faith-inspired commitment to Jesus Christ, and if their testimonies need bolstering by "scientific proof" of the Book of Mormon (or anything else for that matter), I am prone to suggest that the basis of the testimony could stand some re-examination.”
No one thinks the historicity of the Book of Mormon is more important than faith in the atonement and other aspects of the Gospel. But Joseph Smith himself recognized that archaeological evidence in the midwestern U.S. offers “proof of its divine authenticity.”
The prevailing argument against the Book of Mormon is the claim that it is fiction. The prevailing argument in favor of the Book of Mormon is that people can get a spiritual witness of its truthfulness if they’ll read and pray about it. But why would people read and pray about a book they think is fiction?
Undoubtedly, there are some people who will accept the Book of Mormon on its face, even when they don’t think it’s an actual history of real people. They have a gift of faith. There are adherents of all religions who simply believe, no questions asked.
But the gift of faith is only one of the spiritual gifts Moroni identified. Those who insist faith is the only way to know the truth forget Moroni’s warning: “And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered” (Moroni 10:8)
The Book of Mormon can hardly fulfill its mission “to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations” (Title Page) if the only people who will read and believe it are those who have a gift of implicit belief. The book itself explains that “the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.” (Helaman 5:50)
Green appears to downplay archaeology by calling it useless and a delusion because, as he says, “no Book of Mormon location is known with reference to modern topography.” That would be news to Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and all their contemporaries and successors who have identified the hill in New York as the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6.
Green also complains about “our Lamanite syndrome” because “the current usage of the term ‘Lamanite’ by the Church membership is most unfortunate.” He makes a good point that the term has been applied overbroadly, but he seems to forget that the revelations in the D&C (28, 30, 32) identify specific groups of Native Americans as Lamanites.
There are plenty of faithful Latter-day Saints who take the Green approach, and that’s fine. People can believe whatever they want. But to insist that the only basis for belief is pure faith excludes spiritual gifts including knowledge and wisdom, and unnecessarily erects a wall around the Book of Mormon such that few people outside the Church (and few of the rising generations) will engage with the text.
Before plunging into this fascinating but somewhat bewildering topic, we might first consider the useful distinction which has been made by Richard Poll between two intellectual schools within the Church. Using metaphors from the Book of Mormon, Poll calls one group "Iron Rods" and another "Liahonas.” Iron Rod intellectuals, whether archaeologists, historians, or geographers, believe the Book of Mormon to be literally true, and use archaeology to "prove" it. Far less conservative are the "Liahonas," scholars who tend to view the Book of Mormon as a source of mores and guidance and for whom Book of Mormon archaeology would probably represent a waste of time and effort. What Liahonas exist would seem to be concentrated in the liberal wing of the Salt Lake City Church, since the members of the Reorganized Church appear to be solidly Iron Rod.
This is a useful distinction, although we could quibble about Coe’s word choice in some respects. Many if not most “Iron Rods” pursue extrinsic evidence not to “prove” the Book of Mormon is true, but to (i) offer greater insights into its context and meaning and (ii) establish sufficient plausibility to entice people to read it in the first place.
In 1973, Liahonas may have been concentrated in the liberal wing of the LDS church. As of 2021, they have become mainstream. The New York Cumorah has been de-correlated, omitted entirely from the Saints book and CES/BYU curriculum. CES and BYU students are taught the Book of Mormon in relation to fantasy maps that put the events in an imaginary geography found nowhere on earth (albeit suggesting Mesoamerica). The mainstream LDS scholars who still talk about historicity and could be considered “Iron Rods” according to Coe’s understanding focus primarily on M2C, explicitly rejecting the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
Next, Coe discusses the 1973 context of M2C.
As far as Mormon archaeology is concerned, the Iron Rod bastion appears to be the Society for Early Historic Archaeology. This started out, under the leadership of M. Wells Jakeman and Ross T. Christensen of Brigham Young University, as the University Archaeological Society [UAS]. It changed its name to the present one in 1965. The masthead of its Newsletter and Proceedings says that it is published for
the dissemination among its members of information on new discoveries in archaeology throwing light on the origins of civilization in the Old and New Worlds, on the earliest periods of recorded history in the two hemispheres, and on the important historical claims of the Hebrew-Christian and Latter-day Saint scriptures….
An amazing amount of information on Mesoamerican archaeology is presented in its pages, along with highly orthodox articles and editorial matter interpreting this information as proof of the historical validity of the Book of Mormon. Practically every LDS archaeologist, whether Iron Rod, Liahona, or apostate, has authored an article in this publication.
Few Latter-day Saints today are familiar with UAS. Six years after this article was published, John W. Welch established FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies). Welch who brought FARMS to Provo when he began teaching at the BYU Law School in 1980. FARMS adopted a logo that used a Mayan glyph to represent the Book of Mormon, demonstrating the organization’s commitment to M2C to the exclusion of all other possible settings for the Book of Mormon. FARMS became the focal point of LDS apologetics. Its successor, Book of Mormon Central, and its sister organizations including FAIRLDS and the Interpreter Foundation, share the commitment to M2C.
The next section of Coe’s article deals with UAS, but it points out some key problems with M2C.
One of the most curious pieces of scholarship in the Iron Rod tradition is by Jakeman, in his own right an outstanding authority on Mesoamerican ethnohistory. This appeared in two published versions, both in the year 1958, and both dealing with the very complex scene carved in relief upon Stela 5 at Izapa, a Late Formative to Proto-Classic site on the Pacific plain of Chiapas in Mexico. This monument shows seated and standing figures, richly garbed, arranged on both sides of a world tree, an iconographic element to be found elsewhere in Mesoamerican religious art (for instance, among the Classic Maya and in central Mexican ritual books). Version number one, issued as a number of Brigham Young University's series, Publications in Archaeology and Early History is a sober and quite insightful analysis of this scene. While comparisons are made with Mesopotamia and an Old World origin is suggested, no mention is made of the Book of Mormon, and the reader is left to draw his own conclusions. Not so with version number two. This is sumptuously published by the University Archaeological Society with blue covers stamped in gold, and is obviously meant only for members of the Church. It sets out from the beginning to prove that Stela 5 is a record of the vision or dream of Lehi about the Tree of Life, an event that supposedly took place about 597 B.C. near the Red Sea, while Lehi and his followers were headed for the New World.
As of 2021, Coe’s criticisms have become mainstream among faithful LDS scholars, few of whom still accept Stela 5 as evidence of the Book of Mormon. Brant Gardner, one of the most prolific of the M2C advocates, explicitly rejected it at a conference of FAIRLDS.
Green has commented extensively upon the accuracy of Jakeman's reconstruction. Regardless of inside and outside criticism, Stela 5, at least its miniature polyurethane replica, has by now taken on the function of a kind of cult object in the living rooms of Latter-day Saints around the world. I fear that nothing would convince the faithful that non-Mormon archaeologists are more likely to view Jakeman's twenty so-called "correspondences in main features" and eighty-two "detailed agreements or similarities" as a matter of mere chance based upon only superficial similarities.
As of 2021, many faithful Latter-day Saints see the long lists of “correspondences” offered by M2C proponents as a “matter of mere chance based upon only superficial similarities.” John Sorenson’s book Mormon’s Codex relies heavily on such “correspondences,” as do the “kno-whys” published by Book of Mormon Central. These are no more persuasive today than Stela 5 was in 1973.
Unlike the Book of Mormon geographers, the Book of Mormon archaeologists of the UAS and its successor, the SEHA, have undertaken real field work in south-eastern Mexico. By so doing, some of its members have changed themselves from Book of Mormon archaeologists into archaeologists who happen to be Mormons. But more of this later. At the same time, several ambitious books in the Iron Rod tradition appeared, the most noteworthy being Thomas Stuart Ferguson's One Fold and One Shepherd (1958) and Great Civilizations and the Book of Mormon (1970) by Milton R. Hunter. Both of these well-illustrated studies have tried to show that the latest archaeological research in Mesoamerica has completely demonstrated the accuracy of the Book translated by the Prophet from the "Reformed Egyptian." Ferguson, a lawyer by profession, went so far as to present his case as a series of legal exhibits that only the most prejudiced and ignorant judge and jury could fail to find convincing. Suffice it to say that non-Mormon archaeologists have remained totally skeptical of such claims.
As of 2021, not only non-Mormon archaeologists are skeptical of these claims, but so are many faithful Latter-day Saints of all backgrounds and expertise. The problem is not that the Book of Mormon cannot be a real history; the problem is M2C, which explicitly rejects the New York Cumorah.
Field excavations by Mormon archaeologists, sponsored in one way or another by the Church or Brigham Young University, got under way in the 1940s and 1950s, with two groups represented whose approaches to the subject were in total opposition. The first of these was the Iron Rod approach of the University Archaeological Society and its leader, Jakeman. Setting out with an expedition to confirm his belief that the Xicalango region of southern Campeche was "Bountiful," and the middle Usumacinta drainage as "Zarahemla" (without ever mentioning the Louis Hills geography of 1917), Jakeman and students made excavations and explorations that represented a small but significant contribution to Mesoamerican archaeology.
Coe insightfully notes that the modern M2C advocates never mention Hills’ geography from 1917. As we saw earlier, the maps used today by the M2C advocates are essentially Hills’ 1917 map.
Of far greater import were the events that culminated in the program of the New World Archaeological Foundation. While the guiding light of this endeavor, Ferguson, was also an Iron Rod, from the beginning everything was put on what non-Mormons would consider a scholarly underpinning. Based on Book of Mormon geography studies made by himself and others, Ferguson and Hunter conceived the idea "that a great Pre-Classic center should have existed in very early times adjacent to the Grijalva River." He obviously hoped that such a center would be one of the cities mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Unlike Jakeman, however, with his rival Zarahemla on the Usumacinta, Ferguson set up his program as an undertaking in modern anthropological archaeology, and created a committee that included not only Mormons like Milton Hunter and himself, but also non-Mormon experts in New World archaeology, such as A. V. Kidder, Gordon R. Willey, and Gordon F. Ekholm. The first field directors of the New World Archaeological Foundation were non-Mormons. By 1952, funds were made available by me Church, and the largest and most ambitious archaeological project ever funded by a religious institution (including the Vatican) got under way.
The futility of the NWAF prompted Church leaders to distance themselves from further involvement with Book of Mormon archaeology. This largely explains the prevailing approach today, including the de-correlation of the New York Cumorah.
Some outsiders may wonder why the NWAF, and Jakeman, have been exclusively concerned with the Pre-Classic or Formative period. The answer can be found in modern editions of the Book of Mormon itself. The Book describes three migrations to the New World by groups from Palestine, and all the events that transpired after their arrival in this hemisphere. Early editions of the Book of Mormon fix no dates to these happenings, but the precedent of the King James Bible, with its detailed chronology added as footnotes by the seventeenth century Archbishop Ussher, led Mormon scholars such as James E. Talmage to attempt the same thing. Accordingly, the time span for the first migrants, the Jaredites, runs from the Tower of Babel incident, around 3000 (or 2000) B.C., to their self-destruction between 600 and 200 B.C.; scholars like Hunter thus identify them with the archaeological Olmec, even though research by myself and others into Olmec remains has failed to reveal any basis for this assertion. The Nephite story, the main subject matter of the Book, includes Lehi and his followers and the Mulekites, and extends from about 600 B.C. to their final annihilation in 385 A.D. This chronology means that a Book of Mormon archaeologist would necessarily have to concentrate on the Formative period in Mesoamerica. But how is one to reconcile this dating with the flat statement of Joseph Smith himself that Palenque was a Nephite city? This Maya center was built after 600 A.D., according to all modern scholarship, some 215 years after the Nephites had been wiped from the surface of the earth. I can only sympathize with the Mormon scholar who has to work that one out!
Here Coe points out the anachronistic nature of the anonymous 1842 Times and Seasons articles. Coe frames them as “the flat statement of Joseph Smith himself.” His assumption remains to this day the primary premise for M2C. Few Latter-day Saints realize that M2C depends on such a shaky assumption—really, a mistake in Church history. This mistake in Church history has led to all kinds of mischief, not the least of which has been de-correlating the New York Cumorah by repudiating the teachings of the prophets.
There can be no question that the New World Archaeological Foundation's program has been an unqualified success. Its twenty years of excavations and exploration in Chiapas have put that state on the archaeological map and have established one of the longest and best archaeological sequences for any part of the New World. Credit for this goes to the foresight of Ferguson and the original directors, but especially to the first-class archaeologists who have carried out the program. First and foremost among them, I would name Gareth W. Lowe, who has been field director for a number of years and who has established himself as the outstanding expert in the field of Formative Mesoamerica. And full praise must be given to the generosity and wisdom of the Church leadership in providing financial backing for the Foundation. "Mormon archaeology" is no longer some-thing that brings chuckles in Gentile circles.
Coe means NWAF was a success for Mayan research, not for Book of Mormon studies.
Green has termed the Church's current approach to Mormon archaeology as a "back door" one, and he is right. There is here a close parallel to the Vatican, which, while encouraging and even financing excavations in its own foundations, has carefully avoided making official statements on the remains, while the faithful have assumed that the archaeologists have actually found St. Peter's church, tomb, and bones. No matter whether Zarahemla has been found or not, or whether Nephite cattle and metals actually turn up in excavations, or fail to do so, the Church, by remaining neutral, is always right. In this, the LDS leadership has shown itself to be far wiser than that of the SEHA.
Neutrality—the recognition of multiple working hypotheses—remains the wisest approach. If LDS scholars, particularly those participating in Book of Moron Central, FairLDS, and the Interpreter, followed the Church’s lead, there would be far more unity in the Church and far more productive discoveries and conversations. But because these groups—the M2C citation cartel—have put all their chips on their M2C bet, they cannot psychologically bring themselves to consider alternative settings for the Book of Mormon. They strenuously resist even efforts to compare the alternatives so Latter-day Saints can make their own informed decisions.
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 migrants to our hemisphere.
What Coe said in 1973 remains true as of 2021—at least with respect to Mesoamerica.
The archaeological data would strongly suggest that the Liahonas are right about the Book of Mormon. To me, as a sympathetic and interested outsider, the efforts of Iron Rod archaeologists to go beyond the moral and ethical content of the Book of Mormon arouse feelings not of superiority but of compassion: the same kind of compassion that one feels for persons who are engaged on quests that have been, are now, and always will be unproductive.
From Coe’s perspective, he is being empathetic, not condescending. From the perspective of those Latter-day Saints who still believe the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah, however, there is more a sense of betrayal than of empathy for the LDS scholars who have rejected the teachings of the prophets and have taught their students for decades to do likewise.
What has gone wrong, therefore, with Mormon archaeology? Even the Soviets, wedded as they are to a nineteenth century doctrine of social and economic evolution, have not remained so far removed from the mainstream of archaeological and anthropological thought as the Iron Rod archaeologists. Mormon intellectuals, it seems to me, have taken three ways to extract themselves from the dilemma. The more traditionalist, such as my friend John Sorenson, have tried to steer their stern elders away from Book of Mormon archaeology on the grounds that not even the best and most advanced research has ever been able to establish on purely archaeological grounds the historical details of the Bible, for instance the very existence of Jesus Christ. According to Sorenson, all one can hope to do is to "paint in the background," which in his case has meant building up a convincing picture of trans-Atlantic diffusion by presenting New World-Old World parallels. This is of interest to non-Mormon archaeologists, and Sorenson has done much to work out the methodology of such comparisons, but few non-believers have been swayed when faced with the indigestible cattle, horses, wheat, and so forth.
Sorenson’s work on diffusion has been helpful regardless of where in the western hemisphere one thinks the Nephites and Jaredites lived. But Coe (and Sorenson) set up a false comparison here. No one suggests, implies or even hopes that archaeology can establish the existence of any individual. But if there was no archaeological evidence of the Bible’s narrative—no known Jerusalem, no Sea of Galilee, etc.—few people would take the narrative seriously. The Bible has a real-world setting everyone can see, even if many biblical sites remain unknown and even the location of Sinai is subject to multiple working hypotheses. The real-world setting establishes the credibility of the text, lending plausibility to the narratives.
For the Book of Mormon, plausibility is no less essential. Joseph and Oliver left us the key of Cumorah, from which we can unlock both the interpretation of the text and a range of plausible settings. As with the Bible, we will likely never identify all the specifically named sites, which have been lost to history. But we can at least establish the plausibility of the Book of Mormon as a real history, which in turn will lend plausibility to the narratives. As Joseph said, the archaeology in the midwestern United States is “proof of its divine authenticity.”
The second escape is to take a Liahona approach to the problem. This is obviously Green's way, as it is that of several other Mormon archaeologists of my acquaintance. But then what does one do with the Book of Mormon itself? Even the most casual student will know that the LDS ethic is only slightly based upon the Book of Mormon, which has very little in it of either ethics or morals; rather, its ethic is heavily dependent upon such post-Book of Mormon documents as the Doctrine and Covenants. And what does one do with Joseph Smith, great man though he was, with his outrageous claims to be able to translate "Reformed Egyptian" documents, with the ridiculous Kinderhook Plates incident, with the "Book of Abraham," with Zelph the "white Lamanite," and with all the other nonsense generated by a nineteenth century, American subculture intellectually grounded in white supremacy and proexpansionist tendencies?
Coe’s argument omits his underlying assumption that M2C is the only “approved” setting. Given M2C, the Liahona approach is the only viable faithful alternative. But M2C is only one of multiple working hypotheses, and because it rejects the New York Cumorah, it compounds the problem by undermining the teachings of the prophets.
Coe’s pejorative interpretation of the events he lists confirm his biases, but other interpretations of the same historical facts don’t support his biases. Evidence of 19th century influences does not undermine Joseph’s claims; those influences corroborate Joseph’s claim that he translated the plates. Evidence of composition is also evidence of translation because translators necessarily uses their own lexicon and cultural understanding.
The third way out of the dilemma is apostasy. I will not dwell further on this painful subject, but merely point out that many unusually gifted scholars whom I count as friends have taken exactly this route.
Coe put his finger on the problem. The “M2C or bust” approach of the M2C citation cartel, symbolized by Book of Mormon Central’s Mayan logo, leaves faithful Latter-day Saints with a stark choice.
M2C requires them to either
(i) believe the prophets were wrong about the New York Cumorah and that there is no evidence of the Book of Mormon in Mesoamerica apart from “correspondences” that are mostly common to all human societies,
(ii) reject the Book of Mormon as an actual history.
Faced with this Hobson’s choice, apostasy has become an increasingly prevalent response.
And for outsiders investigating the Church, the dilemma posed by M2C is a nearly insurmountable impediment that obscures the larger message of the Restoration. This will always be the case so long as the Book of Mormon remains the keystone of our religion.
Unless and until LDS scholars recognize the alternative that the prophets were correct about Cumorah after all, and that there is extrinsic evidence to corroborate those teachings, Coe’s three alternatives will remain the only options most people will consider.
It would be supremely arrogant for any outsider to recommend any of these escapes from the dilemma of Mormon archaeology. But for those practitioners of archaeology who happen to be Latter-day Saints, and perhaps for those Church leaders for whom the discovery of the past is an urgent task, I would like to be the advocate for a kind of research that has only begun: the archaeology of the Mormons themselves. In all parts of the western world, and in Latin America, scholars are discovering that there is no more important research than the study of how we ourselves came to be what we are. There is a tremendous amount of information about our Euro-American background which just does not appear in history books or in the documents on which they are based. In the Pilgrim settlements of Plymouth, in frontier forts of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, in industrial sites of the early nineteenth century, archaeologists are not only throwing light on the material culture of our forebears, but are adding new theoretical dimensions enabling us to interpret the social, political, and economic aspects of all ancient societies.
Coe’s suggestion here is beside the point, of course. It’s not really a solution, but just as a hammer sees everything as a nail, Coe the archaeologist sees archaeology as a solution to a different problem.
There can hardly be any part of American history more exciting and inspiring than the story of the Latter-day Saints, from their humble beginnings in New York State, through the turbulent years in the Middle West, to the triumphs of Utah. The excavations of Nauvoo are illuminating an important facet of what was once the largest city in Illinois. But think of all the Mormon remains which simply cry out for excavation! I would begin with early nineteenth century cellar holes in the hill country of Vermont, in the villages of Sharon and Whitingham which nurtured the young Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. How much do we really know of Palmyra and the "burned-over district" in which the Book of Mormon was born? What about Kirtland, its Temple, and its way of life? The great city of Nauvoo itself is only partly known from excavation, recent findings there represent only a fraction of what could be learned from this site.
And how many excavations have ever been carried out in the homesteads of those unsung heroes, the Mormon pioneers? We have the numberless quilts, chests of drawers, family portraits, and so forth in room after room of the fascinating pioneer Museums of Salt Lake City, but what about the day-to-day life, spatial arrangements, division of labor, and family structure that resulted in such products? Only the spade and trowel of scientific archaeology could answer such questions.
In conclusion, an outside observer like myself would make these suggestions. Forget the so-far fruitless quest for the Jaredites, Nephites, Mulekites, and the lands of Zarahemla and Bountiful: there is no more chance of finding them than of discovering the ruins of the bottomless pit described in the book of Revelations. It has been Hugh Nibley himself, the Mormon philosopher and historian, who has pointed out the futility of such endeavors. Continue the praiseworthy excavations in Mexico, remembering that little or nothing pertaining to the Book of Mormon will ever result from them. And start digging into the archaeological remains of the Saints themselves.
So long as LDS scholars and educators adhere to M2C as the only acceptable possibility for the setting of the Book of Mormon, Coe’s advice is the obvious, and probably only, viable approach.
But it’s not an approach that bodes well for the future growth and development of the Church and the worldwide dissemination of the blessings of the Restoration.
 I wish to acknowledge my deep indebtedness to Randolf W. Linehan, whose Yale Senior Thesis, "Of Mormons and Indians: The Development of a Mormon Empire in the Western United States," and anthropology 33b term paper, "The Mormon Church and Archaeology," brought important background material to my attention. I also thank Alfred Bush and Dee F. Green for help in the preparation of this article. Neither of them is responsible for errors of fact and opinion which might appear in it.
 Welby W. Ricks, "The Kinderhook Plates," Improvement Era, 63 (1962), 636-660.
 "Report of a Physical Study of the Kinderhook Plate Number 5," Princeton University, May, 1966. Unpublished MSS. Original in Princeton University Library
 "Book of Mormon Archeology: the Myths and the Alternatives," Dialogue, 4 (Summer1969), 71-80.
 "What the Church Means to People Like Me," Dialogue, 2 (Winter 1967), 107-117.
 See Ross T. Christensen, ed., Progress on Archeology: An Anthology (Provo: Special publication of the University Archeology Society, 1963).
 "The Complex 'Tree-of-Life' Carving on Izapa Stela 5," Publication in Archeology and Early History, Mesoamerican Series, No. 4 (1958).
 "Stela 5, Izapa, Chipas, Mexico," The University Archeological Society (Special Publication),No. 2 (1958).
 Green, op. cit., pp. 74-76.
 See, for example, Ray T. Matheney, "The Ceramics of Aguacatal, Campeche, Mexico," Papers of the New World Archeological Foundation, No. 27 (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1970)
 John L. Sorenson, "Ancient America and the Book of Mormon Revisited," Dialogue, 4 (Summer 1969), 80-94.
 See Thomas F. O'Dea's The Mormons (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 119-154.
 An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957).