I’ve come to the conclusion that Mormon apologetics is a rather ad hoc affair of scrounging to find plausible explanations for the implausible.
Case in point: On a message board, a skeptic asked if there were similarities between mound builder myths and Book of Mormon descriptions of mounds. Clearly the answer is yes. The mound builder myths sprung up as an explanation for the large earthen “mounds” that are not uncommon in parts of the eastern and central United States.
In Joseph Smith’s day, many people believed that these were remnants of ancient pyramids, tombs, and fortresses built by a white race (some even said they were Israelites) that had been destroyed by the wicked Native Americans (does this sound familiar?).
To the skeptic’s query, I responded with a passage from the Book of Mormon describing earthen fortifications together with a quote from a Thaddeus Harris circa 1803 describing one of the mound structures as a fortress that is eerily similar to the one described in the Book of Mormon.
Soon, an apologist responded, this time the perpetually dyspeptic Bill Hamblin (think Daniel Peterson without the wit or sense of humor). Hamblin claimed, “If the BOM was intended as an explanation for the mound-builders, it is most notable for its failure to mention, let alone explain, the mounds.”
When I asked him to explain, he simply replied,
I meant exactly what I said; it doesn’t mention the word “mound.” If JS was intending to connect the BOM with “mound-builders” then some might expect him to use the words “mound” or “mound-builders.”
So there you have it: so long as the word “mound” isn’t used, we aren’t talking about the same thing.
Keep in mind that these are the same people who insist that the Book of Mormon indicates that “others” (presumably aborigines of Siberian descent) were already occupying Book of Mormon lands when the Jaredites and Nephites arrived.
How do they know this? They insist that the Book of Mormon’s distinction between “goat” and “wild goat” means that some others had already domesticated said goats (no, I’m not making this up). Never mind that the Book of Mormon says that the land is “reserved” for people that God has brought out of Jerusalem:
8 And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
9 Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
The apologists explain that perhaps God brought the Siberians over the land bridge to inhabit the land before the Book of Mormon peoples arrived. But to do this, they have to ignore not only the Book of Mormon text but also Joseph Smith’s description of the people, which he said he received from an angel:
This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God. … I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.
I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people, was made known unto me. …
In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian Era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.
To recap, the angel declared that the Jaredites/Nephites were the first and aboriginal inhabitants of the land, and the Book of Mormon text tells us that the land was reserved from that time for those God would bring.
In short, some apologists are taking an inconsistent approach to the text. When it is to their advantage, they insist on a hyperliteral reading of the text (“it doesn’t mention the word ‘mound'”) and then turn around and read what they want to into the text (goats as indicative of the presence of others).
This approach seems a tacit admission that the Book of Mormon does not hold up to a consistent approach to its text. But then I think we already knew that.