No lion remains discovered in Palestine: another apologetic theory bites the dust

So I’m reading Mike Ash’s 2007 piece on the FAIR web site about horses in the Book of Mormon. He makes the claim that no horse bones have been found among Hun archaeological remains, though as others have shown, this claim is erroneous.

He also makes this statement, which made me curious:

Even in areas of the world where animals lived in abundance, we sometimes have problems finding archaeological remains. The textual evidence for lions in Israel, for example, suggests that lions were present in Israel from ancient times until at least the sixteenth century AD, yet no lion remains from ancient Israel have ever been found.

I should mention that here he’s suggesting that the lack of archaeological evidence for something attested to in ancient writings and art may not be conclusive negative evidence. We know that ancient Israel depicted lions as native to Palestine, but according to Ash, no lion bones have been discovered. Thus, if horse bones haven’t been found in the New World, that doesn’t mean the ancient Mesoamericans did not have horses.

Ash’s citation for this claim is:

John Tvedtnes, “The Nature of Prophets and Prophecy” (unpublished, 1994), 29-30 (copy in author’s possession); Benjamin Urrutia, “Lack of Animal Remains at Bible and Book-of-Mormon Sites,” Newsletter and Proceedings of the Society for Early Historic Archaeology, 150 (August 1982), 3-4.

So, here we have two LDS sources suggesting that “no lions remains from ancient Israel have ever been found.” That should be pretty easy to confirm, right?

Apparently not.

The fauna of the country [Palestine] is almost unchanged from the earliest historic times. The lion and the wild ox have become extinct; the former is noticed by an Egyptian traveller in Lebanon in the 14th cent. B.C., and is even said to have survived to the 12th cent. A.D.; its bones are found in caves and in the Jordan gravels. (Dictionary of the Bible, ed. James Hastings, 1900).

More recent archaeological excavation confirms this:

The largest faunal collections and most intensive archaeo-zoological research for [the Chalcolithic] period have been carried out in the northern Negev. This biological data provides us with a detailed picture of human/animal relations during this formative period. … If Shiqmim is taken as a representative sample for the valley, sheep … and goat … make up over 90 percent of the faunal assemblage with the remaining 10 percent consisting of cattle, … dog, equid and ca. 3.8 percent of wild animals (gazelle, hartebeest, hippopotamus, lion, small cat, fox, hare, ostrich, bird and fish). (The Archeology of Society in the Holy Land, ed. Thomas Levy, New York, Continuum, 1998, pp. 231-32)

Heck, even another Maxwell Institute article from 2000 contradicts Ash:

The biblical narrative mentions lions, yet it was not until very recently that the only other evidence for lions in Palestine was pictographic or literary. Before the announcement in a 1988 publication [L. Martin. “The Faunal Remains from Tell es Saidiyeh,” Levant 20 (1988): 83—84] of two bone samples, there was no archaeological evidence to confirm the existence of lions in that region. (Robert R. Bennett, “Horses in the Book of Mormon,” Maxwell Institute, 2000)


13 Responses to No lion remains discovered in Palestine: another apologetic theory bites the dust

  1. Diane Sower says:

    This won’t stop anyone from believing. I’m 58, out for 23 years, helping my kids navigate leaving, and it never ceases to amaze me. You can have concrete evidence for anything on the planet, but when it comes to a cult, well, you’re just gonna lose. We’ll get a few here and there, but the die hards, like my poor father, will never leave. All he wants is to see my mom when he dies, which, as a universalist I believe he will without all the damn work, but oh man, he’s worked so hard for that church all his adult life. So hard. It makes my cry.

    • runtu says:

      I concluded a long time ago that if people really want to know what I know about the church, they’ll ask. Pushing what I think on my family and friends doesn’t do any good to anyone.

    • Chris says:

      You may want to check out “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science” :

      “Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.”

      “In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.”

  2. Christopher Smith says:

    When I looked into the similar claim about Hun horse bones, I found much the same thing. The claims of their absence have been greatly exaggerated.

    If the FARMS folks put half as much effort into looking for lion and Hun horse bones as they do Book of Mormon horse bones, I’m sure we’d have piles and piles of the things.

    • runtu says:

      It was you I was thinking of when I mentioned that such claims have been shown to be erroneous. Come to think of it, a lot of the apologetic claims evaporate in the same way when you take the time to track down the sources. I’d love to see the original context for the “no usable horse bones” quote they cite. I’d bet it doesn’t mean what they say it does.

  3. Odell says:

    Mike Ash is yet another Mormon [lion] for the Lord!

    • runtu says:

      I actually like Mike Ash. I’ve known him for quite a long time, and he’s a good guy. I disagree with just about everything he’s written, but I still like him.

      • Odell says:

        Well, that being said, I thought I made a clever statement. And maybe Mr. Ash ought to research better>

  4. Seth R. says:

    Funny… I thought the claim was that animal bones are hard to find.

    That point still seems to be nicely intact.

    Especially considering that the Middle East has entire orders of degree more archeological searching going on than Mesoamerica.

  5. Diane Sower says:

    Spending all this time on animal bones isn’t going to change the fact that apologists have been “hardwired” to believe whatever the present day prophet says. He could tell the church that lesbians had priesthood power during pioneer days and they’d believe him.

  6. […] Faithful Mormons know how to gain a testimony and how to lose one, too! Runtu describes how one apologetic argument bites the dust, and Leah leads us to a journey to explain space […]

  7. […] and it wouldn’t be surprising if we just didn’t find any (as an analogy he repeats the debunked claim by John Tvedtnes that no lion remains have been found in Palestine and the also bogus claim from Bill Hamblin that no horse remains have been found among ancient Hun […]

  8. George Wilton says:

    Were palestinian lions the same as african lions.??

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