Misreading Scripture as Literal History: Elephants in the Book of Mormon

4 thoughts on “Misreading Scripture as Literal History: Elephants in the Book of Mormon”

  1. Well, OK, Sorenson could be wrong; he may need to update his research on that particular point. Still I find it interesting that elephants are mentioned only once–and in the Book of Ether. It’s possible that some might have survived among the Jaredites but were long gone by the time Lehi arrived.
    Even so, what about the rest of his letter to Dr. Coe?
    What about the many claims of the Book of Mormon that were once deemed ludicrous but are now accepted as fact?
    And what about Sorenson’s 400+ correspondences in Mormon’s Codex? Are they all just happy coincidences?
    The reality is, we’ve just barely scratched the surface:
    You might be interested in this, too (if you haven’t scene it already):
    That said, I may learn one day that Mesoamerica is the wrong setting–and I’d be OK with that. Even so, I take the Book of Mormon at it’s word–it might have occurred on Mars for all I know. But it happened somewhere.


    1. Yes, it seems Sorenson is mistaken. He uses sources which have been dismissed by scientists as faulty, and then says that those scientists are ignorant of these sources. This gives the impression to people that Sorenson knows far more than people like Coe. Is this good? No, I think it is not good. It leads us away from truth, not toward it. That which is good and true comes from God and leads us to God; that which is not good or true leads elsewhere.

      It is very improbable that “some” elephants lived anywhere on the American mainland after about 8500 BC. The Jaredites are alleged to have arrived in America in about 2500 BC. That is a difference of six millennia. It’s not likely, and there is no fossil evidence for that which has consensus agreement among scientists. You may have noted in the article from National Geographic that you shared that the Mayans did not use any “beasts of burden” to help them in their work, which is just one more problem in saying that the Jaredites had elephants and horses and other animals that were “useful unto man” (Ether 9:19). This doesn’t fit who the Mesoamericans were.

      The rest of the letter you may investigate if you wish. I’ve shown an example of the kind of errors that Sorenson makes, and I don’t think this is unique. I perceive that Sorenson’s 400+ “correspondences” in Mormon’s Codex are similar to the subject of elephants. They are unfortunate examples of “evidence,” and do not establish the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican document. His work may be classified as pseudohistory and pseudoarchaeology:

      Do we know everything about the ancient Mesoamericans? No. We are learning more about them all the time. But I think we know enough to know that the Book of Mormon does not originate there. It is a wholly different environment. The scientific consensus is that it is *very* far removed from anything genuinely Mesoamerican.

      I think that considering the book in *any* geography or ancient history is a fallacy, and won’t lead us to God. Myths are mythological, symbolic, allegorical, and are not to be taken as literal history in *any* time or *any* place. Doing so misses their message. The only place the book happened, I perceive, was *in* Joseph, in his mind and consciousness that was at-one in God. It was visionary, it was creative, it was mystical, it reveals the depths of the human soul, of human life, even perennial wisdom which has been written about in all cultures, times, peoples, and places. It is the universal gospel. God speaks to all people, all the nations of the Earth, and they have written it (2 Nephi 29:7, 12). Joseph wrote it too.


  2. Bryce, let’s keep this in perspective. Coe went on and on, drawing conclusions about things that were way beyond the purview of his expertise. And yet you seem offended at the fact that Sorenson was wrong on one point merely because of outdated sources. And then, because of that one oversight, you believe that his 400+ correspondences must be the result of some wacky pseudoscience–that he’s nothing more than a crank.

    As I’ve said before, I may learn one day that Mesoamerica is the wrong setting for the BoM. And if that happens, it will be because we will have found a better setting which, at this point, I can’t imagine happening. There are just too many things about that region that work, IMO. In fact, it works so well, IMO, that I’d be genuinely surprised if it turned out to be the wrong locale.

    That said, it seems to me that your reason for disagreeing with that particular setting — or any real world setting — has more to do with the way you view scripture and less to do with scientific consensus. And if that’s the case, then we can do little better than talk past each other. Because, IMO, while the BoM certainly has mythical elements in its construct, narrative, and prose, it is, general speaking, grounded in real history.

    And, so, our biases are diametrically opposed. You’ll tend to see all of the reasons why the BoM cannot be historical, whilst, on the other hand, I’ll see all the reasons why it must be historical.


    1. Why would Sorenson know better the things that you feel were way beyond the purview of Coe’s expertise? Why would Sorenson be more of an expert in these things than Coe?

      I’m not offended by Sorenson. I’m showing where he is mistaken. His methods are similar as other Mormon researchers. They find a few rare anomalies, which are often quite incongruous with other scholarship, and use them to illustrate that ancient conditions were just as the Book of Mormon describes. I used to do this myself. But this is not good science or methodology, and unfortunately doesn’t help us come to truth. Sorenson is not a crank, but he does not seem to be using good scientific methods or procedures in these particular subjects, which is perhaps why few, if any, non-Mormon experts have endorsed this work. There may be some valid correspondences in his 400+, yes, but they are not enough to substantiate a Mesoamerican source for the Book of Mormon. Many of his “correspondences” are more likely coincidences (concurrence circumstances without apparent causal connection), as described in this video:

      I perceive that as long as we look outwardly in the world for the source and setting of the Book of Mormon, we will not find it. Ever. Because I think ultimately it is not found anywhere “out there,” but “in here,” inside us. Joseph found it inside him, in his mind and consciousness, which is why he used a seer stone to alter his consciousness to retrieve it (he never looked at the “plates” during the translation, according to witnesses). I think the *mind* is the book’s true setting. It is “buried” in the “ground” of our being, our own being, even yours and mine. It is grounded in *us*, in humanity, in our mind, spirit, and soul. It is only grounded in real history insofar as humans have existed throughout all of history, and mystics, prophets, and sages have uncovered this same perennial wisdom throughout history and written about it using a host of different symbols. I think Joseph was allegorizing his *own* history and experiences, and there are *many* passages in the book which seem to parallel his own life story. But more generally, he was allegorizing the human experience, the human condition, the deepest intuitions of human Life itself as he perceived them deep within his mind.

      The reason I disagree with any historical world setting for the Book of Mormon goes far beyond science. It is because I have personally experienced the depths of consciousness, I have tasted of that spirit and that oneness, I have witnessed visions like Joseph, and I have known God within me. I know what is possible in divine consciousness from personal experience, and it far exceeds our typical daily experience. No one can know this for themself until they experience it for themself in deep meditation and contemplation (the highest forms of prayer). This is what the whole of the gospel is pointing us towards, but we often ignore it, refuse it, and reject it. The Kingdom of God is not “here” or “there” or anywhere external out in the world, but it is found first *within* you (Luke 17:21). Look for it inside, and you will not be disappointed. You will be filled to overflowing, and the revelations of God will be unfolded to your view, just as they were for Joseph and every other mystic the world has ever known.


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