Could The Book of Mormon be considered mythology?

  • I have created this thread in order to start a meaningful discussion and in no way intend to hurt or offend those belonging to the Latter Day Saint Movement. May the Lord bless you all abundantly. -

Could The Book of Mormon be considered mythology? Much of its contents cannot stand scrutiny and it is not taken seriously by academics. From a historical perspective, the Book of Mormon is very much mythological and a product of its time comparable to similar stories and theory’s arising out of 19th century America. What do you think? I would also love to see some of our Mormon brothers and sisters at CAF discuss this with us. :slight_smile:

Ask a Mormon…and they will say absolutely not. It’s considered the “keystone” of their religion, without which the rest of the faith would crumble.
From the view of a scholar, it could be considered such, as there is absolutely no proof that any of the tribes/groups (Nephites, Lamanites. etc) ever existed, or that Christ visited the Americas.

Some might argue that then the Bible could be considered mythology by those that are not following a Judeo-Christian religion. the difference is that there is archaeological proof that the civilizations described in the Bible existed…whether or not we believe the miracles contained within is a matter of faith.

The Bible has been studied by religious and secular scholars alike…they might not agree on the accounts within, but secular scholars have found evidence for what i described above.

The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, does not stand up to scholarly or religious scrutiny. When you ask about this, you will generally be told that you need to believe it’s true through the eyes of faith…which is fine for the miraculous aspect, but not fine for the scholarly: Scholarship, reason, and faith should be able to work together in tandem, and the BOM fails on two of those accounts.

Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, wrote a brilliant book about this very topic:

I mean no disrespect at all. I was Mormon for almost a year, and the people were wonderful and their faith very strong. However, I believe that scholarship needs to have a place within the church, and while the LDS tries, it doesn’t stand up under apologetic scrutiny.

Yes, indeed. The Bible is a valid ancient text of historical value that was written and compiled over about a 1,000 year period. Studies of it are taken very seriously in academic circles. The Book of Mormon on the other hand is not ancient, but the work of a 19th century revivalist and self proclaimed prophet. It has been completely discredited and the stories and theory’s it contains are a product of its time.

Interestingly, I have heard that under critical review, this 19th century document contains 17th century English - strikingly similar to the KJV.


 I was a convert to the LDS church, and a few years later joined the temple lot group.  While I no longer believe in the historicity of the BOM, it still had a few good lessons of wisdom (not a lot).  In that sense it could be called mythology.

I would say its a little too modern to be mythology - maybe speculative fiction?

One of the key components of mythology is that it exists outside of time. Mythologies always happen “sometime in the past…” with no discernible connection to the era in which they are being told. From this standpoint, the Book of Mormon is not Mythology, as the author attempts to ground it in a specific period of time and relate it to the historical events of that time.

It is, however, a complete work of Fiction.

Ether fits the mythology construct better. It is an anomaly within the BoM.

I have recently enjoyed a line of exploration that purports to show that BOM English predates KJV English by about a century.
Some of the “problems” with the KJV English evaporate if one judges the book based on an older English language.
This avenue of investigation IMO does not provide the support for divine origins to the degree that Nahom does, but it is a greater positive than things like Olemec and Jarodite King Kish.

I might comment on mythological BOM some when I can. I currently believe the BOM as history provides strength to the truth claims of the church (when fully weighed), and this makes me reluctant to embrace an inspired fiction stance. As I weigh the pluses and minuses it would be harder to believe in inspired fiction than history inspired scripture. But, I already mythologies the NUMBER of Jews involved in the Exodus so such is part of my understanding of history inspired scripture.

Anyway, I had to comment on KJV English!
Charity, TOM

Unfortunately, Mormon apologetic is a really bad attempt at trying to defend the Book of Mormon when it just cannot be defended. Scholars and historians are unanimous on the origins of the Book of Mormon. It is concluded that it is nothing but a 19th century work of fiction. Nothing you do or say can change that because your “evidence” is pseudo-historical. It’s not because they have anything against Mormons or the Mormon faith, so please don’t pull that card. But, it’s because these people have studied these kinds of things for years and do actually know what they’re talking about. Just about all of them agree the Book of Mormon is a phony. All the evidence says it.

When I think of a mythology, I think of a system which includes a number of divine beings of more or less equal rank, with or without one in particular being their leader or ruler. In addition, I think of some expression of a cosmology with a creation story, and some legends relating to the aforementioned divine beings, or spectacular creatures, or epic voyages. So for me, the Book of Mormon does not qualify as a coherent mythology. For me, it is much easier to see the Book of Mormon as being chiefly made up of Protestant-like sermons, historical British prose and poetry (“land from which no traveler returns,” etc.), and a few imaginary adventures with Indians throw in to keep it exciting and encourage the reader to root for “the good guys.” The theology, soteriology, hamartiology, etc., are a somewhat confused, often self-contradictory mix, an incongruous mix as great or greater than appear in common mythologies. I vote no.

Mythology is a traditional story that is handed down. The Book of Mormon was published as a book in 1830, and even the story as stated wasn’t one that was handed down from generation to generation and ended up with the current generation. Instead it was given to Joseph Smith as a history written on a set of golden plates that he had to transcribe.

So mythology is not the correct term. It is either fiction or history.

As I read the original 1830 version of the BOM it reads more like someone who speaks Appellation English attempting to simulate KJV English than actual KJV English.

This isn’t how KJV English is written. It is though how not highly educated people talked in New York in the 1830s when they preached.

Well the definition of mythology is “the study and interpretation of often sacred tales or fables of a culture known as ‘myths’ or the collection of such stories which usually deal with the human condition, good and evil, human origins, life and death, the afterlife, and the gods. Myths express the beliefs and values about these subjects held by a certain culture.”

Now you could consider the BOM as fitting that definition for Mormons. But I think the problem becomes if you do so, you have to acknowledge that the BOM has some ancient origin. When reality seems to show that the BOM was the creation of Joseph Smith in upstate New York in 1830.

That is kind, thephilosopher6. I hope meaningful discussion is possible too. However, I have some issues with how you set the stage.

Much of its contents cannot stand scrutiny and it is not taken seriously by academics.

Well, to an extent, the Bible is in the same boat as the Book of Mormon. Both books claim things have happened which fly in the face of scrutiny by some academics. (In the interests of meaningful conversation, I would rather avoid posting examples of what I mean about the Bible - I’ll leave that to your knowledge or desire to google.) As for ‘not taken seriously by academics’, well, that is totally true of both books. And yes, you can find academics who take both books seriously. For example, here’s a website full of academics who accept the Book of Mormon.

If we measure the ‘mythology-ness’ of a book by the number of skeptical claims, or the number of skeptical academics, I would posit that whatever answer you arrive at for the BoM, can be equally applied to the Bible.


I wonder how many, if any, of these academics are not LDS? Of course LDS academics are going to support the validity of the BoM, but how about Catholic scholars? Or Protestant scholars? Or Jewish Scholars?

Michael D. Coe, a prominent Mesoamerican archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University, wrote,

[quote=Michael D. Coe, Mormons and Archeology an Outside View, 1973]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, … 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.

That would be a valid topic of discussion for a thread titled “Could the Bible be considered mythology?” Otherwise, it might be considered by some to be a distraction.

So the first step would seem to be a working agreement on what a myth is, and what mythology is. Thomas Ruin suggested, “Mythology is a **traditional story **that is handed down.” (I think that would more properly be a myth, and mythology would be a collection of such myths; or, of course, the field of study of such myths.) ProdglArchitect suggested “Mythologies always happen sometime in the past…’ with **no discernible connection **to the era in which they are being told.” Finally, Padres1969 offers, "Well the definition of mythology is *'the study and interpretation of often sacred **tales or fables of a culture *known as ‘myths’ or the collection of such stories which usually deal with the human condition, good and evil, human origins, life and death, the afterlife, and the gods. Myths express the beliefs and values about these subjects held by a certain culture.’" Although some myths are known to be based on historical reality, they are generally elaborations or fabricated re-tellings of those realities.

With those ideas of what mythology is, are the stories in the Book of Mormon “traditional stories” that have been “handed down”? Do they have a direct, uninterrupted connection with the past? Are they elaborations of what happened in the past? Are there any fabrications in the Book of Mormon that would qualify as myths, or is everything in the Book of Mormon a literal, unvarnished report of an actual historical event? Does any part of the Book of Mormon express beliefs and values held by a certain culture (e.g., Eskimeaux, Algonquin, Incas, Polynesians), or are the expressions of beliefs and values of modern invention (contemporary with the life of, and within the parameters of public knowledge available to, Joseph Smith)?

There are stories in the Book of Mormon that do not sound as though they are literal events, or historically possible, and have not been handed down to anyone, but only suddenly revealed as were the Oracles at Delphi, the books on Theosophy by Madame Blavatsky, and the authors of Oahspe, Urantia, and “The Sealed Portion” (of the Book of Mormon, by Christopher Nemelka).

Horton, I am not sure if you followed the link, but it goes to a site called “Mormon Scholars Testify.” So, no academics are “not LDS” at that site.

I pointed out on another thread that many scholars some of whom were Catholic point away from a very Catholic belief. A Catholic misunderstood and responded that, “this one is a bit unfair, of course non Catholics … If they did they would have converted …” Had I said that non-Catholics reject this uniquely Catholic thing, I would have agreed with him that I was really saying very little. It is tough to find folks who have come to recognize that some important aspect of the CoJCoLDS is true in a significant way and yet they do not join the church.

Still here is what came to my mind as if it was important:

  1. Harold Bloom a Jewish scholar called Joseph Smith a religious genius and said that Mormonism was “truly a Biblical religion.”
  2. Margaret Barker, a Methodist scholar found the BOM fit remarkably well in 1st Temple Cult Judaism exactly when it should fit if Lehi was who he claimed to be.
  3. Contra what thephilosopher6 said two evangelical scholars evaluated the state of Mormon apologetics and wrote Mormon Scholarship and Evangelical Neglect.
  4. David Waltz was a Catholic scholar when he wrote: A New Look at Historic Christianity (note: David W. is not a Catholic and not a LDS now).
  5. Jordan Vajda was in Catholic Seminary when he wrote: “Partakers of the Divine Nature”: A Comparative Analysis of Patristic and Mormon Doctrines of Divinization. Jordan Vajda is now a former Catholic priest and a LDS.
  6. Lynn Ridenhower is a Baptist minister who finds so much clarity in the gospel as outlined in the BOM, he uses it to teach his flock.
  7. Alejandro and Kim Sarabia are two professional archeologist who joined the CoJCoLDS. Don’t get me wrong, they joined because they felt the spirit not because their scholarship indicated they must. That being said, the state of Mesoamerican archeology does not necessitate the rejecting of truth claims of the CoJCoLDS.

I had decided to not include Dr. Coe, but since he is so popular, Coe is quite clear that he has tremendous respect for Mormonism. He is also quite clear that archeology provides ZERO evidence for the Exodus or Christ’s crucifixion and in these areas and others the Bible is just as unable to muster support from science (despite two thousand years of trying to find it). Coe’s 1973 paper addresses a concept of the BOM that LDS archeologists have not embraced for many years (some who didn’t embrace this before 1973). The last communication in this discussion as I understand was John Sorensen’s book and letter to Coe, but I do not think Coe has much interest in responding as Coe has not updated his views in any significant way since 1973. As an atheist, I reckon he doesn’t see the need.

Charity, TOm

Yet, zero non-Mormon scholars believe the Book of Mormon is true as claimed by Joseph Smith.
Since 1973, science has proven so overwhelmingly that the Book of Mormon is not true,** as claimed by Joseph Smith**, that the Mormon Church not longer believes the Book of Mormon is true as claimed by Joseph Smith.
Yes, the Mormon Church has even had to change the definition of what it means for the Book of Mormon is be true because the claims of Joseph Smith are so clearly false.

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