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The following letter was sent to Jerald and Sandra Tanner -- well known anti-mormons based out of Salt Lake City, Utah -- in response to a critique they published on the Book of Mormon Arabian geography. The letter itself is essentially self explanatory, but for those interested, I would recommend obtaining a copy of the Tanners' article which is discussed herein (titled "Back to the Old World), as well as the book it criticizes, In the Footsteps of Lehi to better grasp the background context of this unfolding debate. Incidentally, I originally sent this review of their rebuttal to them in December of 1996, and after six months with no response, I sent it once again with the following note attached:


Mr. and Mrs. Tanner,

The following letter was sent to you in December of 1996 but I have never heard back from you. I thought perhaps I sent it to a post office box, or somehow incorrectly sent it so that you did not receive it. If so, my apologies. Or perhaps you have been very busy in your ministries. In any event, now that I am finally online, I thought I would re-send it to you via cybermail. I am interested in your response.


After a couple of weeks, they finally sent me the following response. I must admit, Sandra does make a valid point in her response, posted below. Based upon the arguments [or lack thereof] she employs, I doubt she could persuade me on much of anything. It is her utter lack of a response to the substance of the Pro-LDS arguments, which causes the rest of us to believe that she simply is unable to effectively answer the essential points of the Arabian/Book of Mormon parallels. She therefore admits her arguments are specious by default, and sweeps away a discussion of the issues by making unsubstantiated (and wrong) generalizations. Here is her reply, precisely as she sent it to me in mid-1997:


We did not respond as you obviously have dismissed every thing we have to say, so what would be the point [sic]. I don't think you have actually read our books so you really don't know our arguements [sic]. You should also read B.H. Roberts [sic] book, Studies of the Book of Mormon, the compilation of articeles [sic] titled, New Approaches to the Book of Mormon, the Dialogue article by Prof. Michael Coe, vo.8, no.2, 1973, and the book by Stan Larson, Quest for the Gold Plates. Then you would have a good understanding of the arguements [sic] against the Book of Mormon.

Sandra Tanner


My response to Sandra:


On the contrary, Ms. Tanner, but I have read those works which you cite, as well as many others -- including some of your very own offerings. While there is some value in some of these books, none of them convincingly answers the very difficult questions of how Joseph Smith came up with this "fictional novel" called the Book of Mormon that has literally hundredsof identifiable ancient characteristics, most of which do not rely upon the Bible for their source, and most of which have had, to date, only very lame attempts by the detractors to debunk them.

And incidentally, the book Quest For the Gold Plates by Stan Larson was a particularly good book, but not for what it offered pertaining to the Book of Mormon. Most of his comments on this were merely regurgitated, tired arguments which were effectively refuted by LDS scholars long ago. His intellectual arguments on the Pearl of Great Price was what I thought was compelling, and it is those issues that need further Mormon response (See Kerry Shirts' exellent site for extensive LDS arguments and analysis on the Book of Abraham). As for the Book of Mormon, to date, the weight of evidence increasingly weighs in for its divinity, your hysterical denials notwithstanding.

Here follows the letter:



Dear Mr. and Mrs. Tanner:

I am a lifelong Mormon, a returned missionary, a father and husband. I am very interested in discussions pertaining to religion in general, but of course more particularly those pertaining to my own faith. I take the use of logic and reasoning very seriously when it comes to religion. Though faith is the primary sustaining force, it must be backed by rationality. Due to this importance, I read literature on Mormonism, both pro and anti, as well as other Christian denominations, as much as my busy schedule will allow.

I especially appreciate a good debate, and your article on the Nahom/NHM controversy has spurred me on to review the Mormon conclusions on the subject, to which this letter will present a defense. In the book entitled "IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF LEHI" (hereafter referred to as IFOL), researched and authored by Warren and Michaela Aston, is the following statement prefacing the presentation of the work:


"...those who still dismiss the [B]ook [of Mormon] as a fraud or merely the product of Joseph Smith's environment will have to explain how so much specific information (which was not available to anyone in 1830) can now be demonstrated as totally accurate."


This appears to be a challenge by the Astons directed toward those who believe the Book of Mormon to be a fraud, to demonstrate from the environmentalist paradigm how Joseph Smith could have produced such a work. I strongly felt after I read their book that such a demonstration would undoubtedly be attempted. No anti-mormon worth his salt could let such material as that contained in the book IFOL go unanswered.

I was therefore excited when I discovered that such an attempt had been made, especially when I learned that Jerald and Sandra Tanner, known in some circles for their objectivity and balance, were the source. Thus, the challenge given, the challenge taken up, let us see if the challenge is met.

Let me begin by summarizing after which I will give more in depth analysis. In my opinion your article entitled "Back to the Old World" wherein you attempt to throw cold water on the Astons' proposed Arabian parallels is seriously lacking credible evidence, mainly for these reasons:


  • You ignore important available data, both from the Book of Mormon as well as from IFOL, which repudiates much of your argumentation. With all due respect, did you actually read these two sources? Sometimes it appears not.

  • The method you use for evidentiary analysis is out of harmony with  long held standards of  scientific inquiry, and is instead driven by your environmentalist presuppositions.

  • The structural arrangement of your foundational arguments ensure a built in debunking of the Mormon conclusions, no matter the evidence.

  • The alternatives you present to these Mormon conclusions fail to consider the odds - the very long odds - which must be achieved in order for your alternatives to be taken seriously.


Ultimately and ironically, your speculations convincingly eliminate all other alternatives except the one in which you are trying to undermine - that Nahom and Bountiful have been discovered. Indeed, given the strength of the evidence, your task truly is daunting.

You begin by quoting several Mormon researchers who have sometimes contradicted one another regarding potential sites for Nahom, one of them called al-Qunfudhah and the other known as NHM. I certainly hope that you are not trying to insinuate a guilt (of invalidity) by association, i.e. since the al-Qunfudhah theory has been essentially discarded, therefore the same faulty research which considered it, must be rejected in the NHM model? This implicitly would say that since both cannot be right, both are therefore wrong, an absurdity surely unintended. Of course, we should evaluate the NHM theory upon its own merits.

The purpose apparent, then, for bringing al-Qunfudhah into a discussion of NHM was to show the wide geographic distance (350 miles) between the two locations, thus giving credence to your statement that "The details in the Book of Mormon are actually very meager." But by whose standards are we to make such an assessment? How do we judge the "meagerness" or prolificness of detail in a document of alleged antiquity? Your judgments? Mine? I think not.

Biblical as well as other historical documents demonstrate "ebb and flow" in the density of descriptive detail in the unfolding narratives. Such would be expected. After all, descriptive detail is merely a bi-product of the purpose for which such documents were originally written. Such is so with the Bible; such could as well be remembered when dealing with the Book of Mormon.

With this in mind, the Lehite trek through Arabia provides enough complexity in its descriptions to test its validity against the empirical world, or enough at least that we are not looking for Nahom in Persia or Egypt. Rather, it has been understood by virtually all concerned since 1830 that the area transversed was from Jerusalem, southward into Arabia. Supportive of what we know of the direction of travel is a hefty body of information describing the lay of the land through the course of the journey. This I will touch upon momentarily.

Another question of import deals with the area of our search. Is it somewhat large and ill-defined? Perhaps. Which is why, as you point out, speculation and not real potential sites have been our mode of investigation before the 1970's. But speculation will always be the driving force of scientific discovery before conclusive evidence is embraced by a consensus of experts. "Speculation" is not a naughty word in scientific discovery. Indeed, it is an essential ingredient!

With the emergence of the two aforementioned locations, speculation has played a diminishing role as we are actually able to test the claims of the Book of Mormon against Arab turf. After the NHM site was discovered, its consistency with intricate and subtle Book of Mormon details naturally caused the al-Qunfudhah theory to fade away.

All this said, "meager" as a characterization of Book of Mormon details is a very arbitrary and highly subjective adjective, but one upon which your entire argument, that Nahom and Bountiful have not been found, squarely rests. This is a precarious thesis-foundation indeed!

Let us now consider some specific criticisms you have levelled. You shroud otherwise clear Book of Mormon statements by insinuating that the direction of travel was ambiguous:


"In one place, we read that the group traveled in 'nearly a south-southeast direction'... (1 Nephi 16:13), and in the next chapter we find they 'did travel nearly eastward from that time forth' (1 Nephi 17:1). There is absolutely no way to know where the group was at any given time during the eight years of their sojourn. Consequently, it is impossible to say that any site has been identified; one can only speculate regarding this matter."


Within the absolutistic language you employ here ("absolutely no way...impossible to say...") is the idea that the group first went that way, then went this way, then went yet another way, as if there is no telling how many times they changed direction or at what points along the way they changed direction. The tone of this seems disingenuous. You and I both know that only two highly specific directions are ever mentioned pertaining to those eight years of travel. The first was a south south-eastern heading which took them from Jerusalem down along the western Arabian coast of the Red Sea, eventually concluding at the place which was apparently called by the locals "Nahom". Does the text say they altered this highly specific direction anywhere between point A and point B? No. Thus, can we conclude that Nahom will be anywhere other than the south west corner of Arabia? Again, no. Hence, notwithstanding your statement that "There is absolutely no way to know where the group was at any time during the eight years of their sojourn", it is clear fact that they would have concluded the first portion of travel in the far south west corner of Arabia. That is indisputable, folks, and remarkably you agree with that fact through a faux pas in your article as I will later show.

Increasing the weight of evidence for our potential Book of Mormon location of Nahom is the existence of the ancient trade route which connects Jerusalem and NHM and runs along this same coastal south south-easterly course, just as the book describes. Ancient Israelite expedition parties (such as were the Lehites) did use this route when traveling into Arabia, and if such expeditions would have gone far enough, they would have been brought into the immediate NHM area! This fact by itself is a remarkable parallel; however, another detail of the Book of Mormon yet further increases the odds that we have found our site: when the group arrived at Nahom, they buried Ishmael who had died about the time of their arrival there. The Book of Mormon makes a subtle score when the children of Ishmael use verbage reflecting the meaning of the name of NHM. Strikingly, an important portion of the NHM topography is devoted to those ancient burial grounds dating to three thousand years BC. And the meaning of NHM fits well into the idea that the area was named in light of these burial grounds, NHM meaning "to console". These complex yet subtle Book of Mormon details make for a dead center bull's eye for Joseph Smith. How did he know such precise information?

The only remaining question in our theoretical Book of Mormon model is what, if any, geographic cross references exist to indicate precisely how far south the Lehite party traveled before they reached Nahom. Such a cross reference is provided in the Book of Mormon - again in detail - and as will become clear, this cross reference will increase the complexity of our theoretical model exponentially.

The cross reference is derived from the second specific direction the Lehites traveled. Upon leaving Nahom, they did travel "nearly eastward from that time forth". Did they alter course from point B to point C? No, they did not. Point C then, places the Lehites on the eastern seashore, a place which they called "Bountiful". This relationship between Nahom and Jerusalem, and Nahom and Bountiful, gives us the ability to determine with great accuracy Nahom's position on the map. You may argue that Bountiful is a poor cross reference, itself being under dispute. However, we are not looking for Bountiful per se as our cross reference, but a coastal location with all of these criteria met:


  • Terrain and water sources from the interior deserts to the coast permitting reasonable access.

  • Beach site suitable for encampment and the building of a seaworthy vessel.

  • Very fertile, with much fruit, honey, and possibly small game.

  • Timber in the quantity and size to permit the construction of a ship large enough to hold several dozen persons and perhaps animals for at least a years duration.

  • Freshwater sources available year round.

  • A singularly prominent mountain in close proximity to the beach.

  • Substantial cliffs overlooking the ocean.

  • Ore from which metal could be smelted.

  • Flint.

  • Little or no local resident population.

  • Suitable winds and currents capable of bearing the ship out into the ocean.


As the Astons describe in their book IFOL, they articulated this list sometime before their significant discovery, thus proving that it was not influenced by anything other than Book of Mormon statements and logical conclusions derived from subtleties in its text. These Book of Mormon descriptions therefore can be tested against what we actually find on the south-eastern Arabian shore.

As they searched the eastern shoreline they found only seven isolated pockets having any fertile vegetation at all, and almost all of them failed miserably in measuring up to the above list. Their search entailed much work, money, and time, consuming several years work. It was quite by accident that they discovered what they were looking for, in large part because the valley was virtually hidden from view from the ocean, looking inland. This area, called "Wadi-Sayq" (meaning "river valley") readily met every criteria of their list except for one: the issue of ore. Work as yet needed to be done on that at the time of the publication of IFOL. But Wadi-Sayq clearly meets all other required specifications, and is the most beautiful and lush paradise anywhere along the south-eastern coastline [Editorial Interjection: Since the writing of this letter in 1996, Wadi Sayq has been surveyed for ore deposits by geologists and the results were conclusive -- the Book of Mormon account can now be said to match the proposed site in every particular detail.].

Arabian features such as the above location were not only unknown by virtually everyone (even the scholars) in 1830, merely the notion as to the existence of such a place would have been ridiculed and laughed out of town. Everyone knew that Arabia was a parched wasteland without a drop of fresh water or vegetation. The Book of Mormon indeed was laughed at for such preposterous "slips". Yet here we have objectively found a highly credible cross reference, and for that matter, what appears to be the only possible cross reference, Wadi-Sayq. The specific information given to us by the Book of Mormon is found at only one place anywhere along the south-eastern Arabian shoreline, an area which extends well over a thousand miles. This location just so happens to be on the 16th degree north latitude. If this indeed is the place of our Lehite encampment, the proper action would be to reverse their journey from the proposed beach site, travelling "nearly westward" into the interior. In so doing, one would eventually run directly into the NHM area, it also sitting on the 16th degree north latitude.




Probable route travelled 2,600 years ago by the Lehite expedition, nearly south-southeast along the western Arabian shoreline of the Red Sea.

The Book of Mormon text indicates they eventually arrived at "the place called NAHOM", where they buried the deceased Ishmael, and resided for a period of time.  The second leg of their journey took them "nearly eastward from that time forth", concluding at a coastal location they called BOUNTIFUL, due to its "much fruit" and great beauty.

It is highly unlikely that Joseph Smith could have accessed such information through his contemporary nineteenth century media. In fact, certain details the Book of Mormon precisely describes in this account were absolutely unknown to the world until discovered late in the twentieth century, well over 100 years after publication of the Book of Mormon.

How did Joseph Smith accurately describe these specific, complex details?

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. -- BOOK of MORMON, Moroni 10:4


Rarely if ever do we have a situation in archeology when 'X' marks the spot, but in the context of the aforementioned information, I would suggest that this very nearly qualifies as just such a case. The detailed directions of the Book of Mormon, as well as its descriptive lay of the land, matches in minute ways that of the known world of Arabia, locating the Lehite expedition at two specific locations virtually unknown in Joseph Smith's day, but confirmed only recently by science.

The profound parallels evident in this discovery appear to drive you ever harder to undermine them, this resulting in pushing you into fallacious or untenable rhetoric. Let us consider two examples. The first is your aim at nullifying you readers' belief that NHM is a place name which extends back into antiquity. Here again you are disingenuous. You quote the Astons' admission on the one hand that the "...earliest map located to the 1751 map of Asia which shows NHM...", while then completely passing over the core of their evidence which directly contradicts your resultant conclusion that "this of course, does not take us back to the time when Lehi's group passed through Arabia, i.e., almost 2,600 years ago." The fact that you bring up one of their statements which, out of context, helps you diffuse this dynamic parallel, while completely omitting their main argument on the issue, belies your inability, and thus fear, that you cannot effectively refute what they say! In essence such an omission appears to be on your part a surrender and an admission of the correctness of the Astons' evidence and conclusions. Straw-man arguments merely undermine credibility.

Of course, it is true that they have only as yet dated NHM with certainty to 600 A.D. in a letter written by Mohammed, and by inference to the Bakil Confederation of tribes, to 100 A.D. as mentioned by al-Hamdani. But just as the Astons state, NHM did not just appear out of a vacuum out of nowhere in 1761, 600, or 100 A.D. Undoubtedly its existence predated any of these historical acknowledgements. The fact that the burial ground dates to 3000 B.C., and that it seems to be closely associated with the word meaning of NHM - 'consolation' - seems to give strong circumstantial evidence that it predated the time of Lehi. I therefore see your criticisms on this point as widely missing the mark.

Which brings us to the second example, your misleading analysis on the etymology of the word NHM. Whereas the English words Nahom and NHM are objectively very similar, and thus strongly supportive of the Astons' conclusions, you attempt to again diffuse the issue by making much out of the fact that the Arabic word NHM has been spelled in several different ways by scholars and cartographers. It is presumed you are trying to play down the disquieting resemblance of the two words? Unfortunately your discussion on this point misinforms those unfamiliar with Semitic languages, leading them to believe that the particular vowel construction of "Nahom" is probably not the same as "NHM", and that therefore they are different words. But surely you know that Semitic languages have no vowels in written form, those to be assumed by the reader. You are probably also aware that even among Semitic experts, there is often disagreement over the exact or proper transliteration of some Semitic words into English, this again because of the lack of vowels, as well as the inherent inability of the English alphabet to fully express the Semitic sounds and pronunciations. You yourselves illustrate this very fact when you parade the NHM variants.

Furthermore, given the claimed circumstance that "Nahom" has come down to us translated twice, first from its native Arabic into Nephi's written language, then from the plates into modern English, thus also diverging etymologically from the original 600 B.C. "NHM" in linguistic verbal descent for over twenty four centuries, it is a testament to the striking kinship of the two words in today's English. But whether you acknowledge this broader view or not does not matter; the fact is it is irrelevant if scholars wish to quibble over the exact vowel construct of NHM in English, because the correct methodology in such a case would always be to compare the consonants in our English "Nahom" with the Arabic letters in the Arabian word "NHM". In making this comparison, we have ourselves yet another bull's-eye.

There is one other aspect on the derivation of the word "Nahom", which deserves consideration - your theory that it was pilfered from the Biblical word "Nahum". This assertion ironically helps to refute your prior assertion just discussed, because it begs the question: if "Nahom" is so similar to "Nahum" as you claim, must not "Nahom" also be similar to "NHM", which you dispute? The Hebrew "Nahum" is etymologically the equivalent to the Arabic "NHM". It is therefore simple logic that the Book of Mormon word "Nahom" cannot be like the Biblical word "Nahum" while at the same time different from the Arabic word "NHM", as you contend. It is either the same as, or different from, both of them together. In fact, it is almost certain that all three words have the same etymological genesis.

Though this was not a serious collision between your two arguments, it was worth noting. And in fact, even in spite of the evident contradiction, I will agree with you that Nahom and Nahum are the same word, and that Joseph Smith's scribe (accidentally or intentionally, it does not matter) altered the given KJV rendering. But in light of this, I again emphasize: English vowel constructs of the same Semitic word are frequently rendered differently from one translator to the next, so this alteration is meaningless.

Of course, your attempt is to show plagiarism, an understandable contention given your environmentalist presupposition. Be that as it may; given the close proximity of NHM to where Joseph Smith says Nahom should be, with its geographic relationship to Jerusalem and Wadi-Sayq, his is by far a more compelling witness. After all, that is the central question you never directly address - how did Joseph Smith know it was there? It is simply not enough to flatly deny this parallel in the face of this evidence, or at least in so doing, your credibility hovers nearly in the same sphere as the Holocaust deniers. This gaping "Black Hole" (to steal a term) in the development of your alternative theory underscores the paramount and fundamental issues of presupposition and the rigorous pursuit of scientific method.

Presupposition and bias are two closely associated words, and therefore the negative connotation of the one sometimes carries over to the other. However, they in reality mean different things; presupposition being the process of "assuming" before any evidence is at hand, and bias being a temperamental leaning to one side after the evidence is known. Thus, presupposition leaves open the possibility to change ones opinion, whereas bias does not.

We all have presuppositions and biases. Psychology holds that presupposition is prerequisite to the thinking process, because we need a point of reference in order to assimilate and evaluate data. The fact that we all come from different backgrounds and have different genetic characteristics means that we will all differ from one another in our world-views. This is fine and good, being the essence of what makes people different from one another. But intrinsic to human nature is the desire to be right, and when this desire over-rides our reasoning faculties for the purpose of preserving our presuppositions even in the face of new and conflicting data, this is not good, and this is what we refer to as being "close-minded" or "biased".

The scientific method provides a built in safeguard against bias. When followed, it should always lead to the elimination or resolution of conflicting data. This method embraces the "value-neutral" approach to knowledge, which will lead to a proper scientific detachment, if not in heart, then at least in mind.

As I read your article, I noticed several instances in which you demonstrated a posture which is, shall we say, methodologically challenged. I hinted at some of these already, as in the disingenuousness and absolutistic phraseologies which you seem so inclined to use. Let me show you another example:


"There is no way short of an inscription or some other remarkable discovery to validate the claims that are being made by Mormon scholars".


You do not think the evidence as presented in IFOL is convincing? It is understandable that your audience would feel this way, given the fact of your withholding critical evidence from them, quoting your opponents out of context to make it appear they say the opposite of what they actually mean, and producing evidence which has no bearing upon the Book of Mormon claims. But you who has supposedly seen the evidence, are you so convinced of your own point of view that you are not even mildly persuaded? You do not feel that Joseph Smith affixing Nahom and Bountiful in the same relative positions as NHM and Wadi-Sayq, properly positioned against Jerusalem, is "remarkable"? You say that an "inscription" would "validate" our claims. Since you spent so much energy trying to disprove the ancient origin of the word NHM, if research did in fact uncover this word dating to 600 B.C., would you then don your baptismal whites? I doubt it, for just after you make your statement that only "remarkable discoveries" would validate our claims, you dogmatically assert that there is "absolutely no way" to know where the group was, thus making it "impossible" to identify any such site in the first place. This all due, of course, to the Book of Mormon "meager" details. The argument is rigged, and if a similarly structured argument were used on other documents, they would likewise suffer a similar fate; debunked and defrauded. Such pretended open mindedness is itself almost mind-numbing to comprehend. It certainly has undercut my misguided assumption in your supposed "objectivity". Rhetorical double talk like this should be beneath you, for it clearly reveals a modus operandi, and dare I say it, "bias".

The reason you have difficulty in delivering non-contradictory or non self-refuting argumentation lies in the demonstrable fact that you have failed to adhere to the rules for discovery in scientific inquiry. In proper textual criticism, plausibility is the minimum burden for establishing serious consideration in the classifying a documents genuineness. And, as Dr. Hugh Nibley so often has taught, in order to establish a document as spurious or authentic, the recognized methodology has always been, for the sake of "unbiased" investigation, to take the document at face value, stipulating its claims, and placing it in its alleged original setting. In this manner it is most effectively tested against the known facts from which its claims should depend. However, because of the astounding revelatory claims of the Book of Mormon, it has never been exhaustively examined by serious non- mormon scholars.

Why is it that scientific method is so suddenly spurned when dealing with Mormon studies? Is it because of negative peer pressure associated with admitting even the possibility of its real historicity, thus acknowledging the inescapable: divine revelation? Nibley put it best:


"You always begin by assuming that a text is genuine. What critic of the Book of Mormon has ever done that? One can hear the screams of protest: 'How unscientific! How naive! How hopelessly biased!'"


But it is "equally biased", he continues, "to accept or reject a text at first glance." The reasoning behind the proven method of stipulating authenticity is, as Friederich Blass indicates, "once you assume that a document is a fake, no arguments to the end of time can ever vindicate it, even if it is absolutely genuine", i.e. bias at its best.

Likely, most scholars dismiss modern revelation a priori, thus rejecting the Book of Mormon as a nineteenth century fabrication. Perhaps a lack of awareness as to its claims or existence contribute to this snub. Or perhaps it is lack of time, money, or curiosity which keeps people from perusing its pages. Whatever the reason (and most likely it is the first), the Book of Mormon is either ignored or dealt with in an off handed manner by otherwise responsible scientists.

The unfortunate consequence is that those quasi-researchers who remain and are drawn to its pages shun meaningful investigation, and instead have an agenda to bash or try at all cost to undermine its claims, thus never giving the book a meaningful hearing. It is upon similar misguided methodologies that some atheists attack the Bible, all the while touting their own so called "enlightened objectivity." It is for this very reason that many Mormon intellectuals become so frustrated with articles like "Back to the Old World", because they see you using those same tactics which you yourselves (or people like you) complain are used against the Bible. It is a double standard to the Nth degree, and its resultant damage to real discovery cannot be overstated. Needless to say, atheists and evangelicals do not belong in the same bed.

The scientific method is in principle the theory which lies behind our modern "innocent until proven guilty" doctrine of American criminal law. When a crime has been committed, and a suspect is being investigated, our justice system considers that the suspect is innocent until proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". During the period of evidence gathering, investigators search for such complex data as physical and forensic remains, eyewitnesses, corroborative secondary evidence, and so on. If a suspect's alibi meets the criteria of the known facts, said suspect is exonerated. Only if the alibi is in tension with the known facts will investigators then formulate alternative hypotheses as to the suspect's whereabouts, motives, etc.

Consider the most highly publicized criminal case in American history as the flip side of this coin. In several significant ways, the O.J. Simpson murder trial in which he was acquitted for murdering Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman bears a striking similarity to Book of Mormon posturing. Most of the damning evidence against Mr. Simpson was forensic, such as hair, blood and skin tissue, and clothing fibers, which in such close proximity and sometimes actually intermixed, caused the defense to quickly realize that their case was, if not completely compromised, in serious danger of being so.

Because Mr. Simpson's defense team's mission was to exonerate their client at all costs, they devised an "alternative theory" that the evidence had been tampered with, or in other words, forged. It is most significant that such a forgery theory tacitly admits that the evidence against Mr. Simpson was, from a technical standpoint, solidly aligned against him. The defense in essence was saying something to this effect: "The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that our client is a murderer, that he slashed his ex's throat, then turned on the young man. But don't you believe it! Our client was framed! The trail of blood, our client's blood, was planted!"

In other words, because the forensic evidence proved he committed the crimes, all they could fall back on was the police tampering theory. And this very argument admitted that the evidence against Mr. Simpson appeared authentic.Though their only viable defense, it was a dangerous defense, because if they could not give reasonable evidence for believing such a theory over the amassed evidence of the prosecution, their client would have hung, so to speak.

The viability of the defense theory cannot be questioned since, after all, he was acquitted. And yet, there is a significant problem with accepting such a theory. A thinking person cannot avoid the presupposition of a highly complex conspiracy to accomplish such evidence tampering, i.e., the cooperation of numerous people and several departments (such as police, crime lab, medical examiners, prosecution, etc.) would be essential so that the necessary checks and cross checks inherent to such a conspiracy could be carefully safeguarded against leakage to outside sources.

I feel the odds of such a conspiratorial investigation staying "under wraps" with so many people for so long is bordering on the infinitesimally small. Keeping a lid on such a thing is tied proportionately to its complexity. The more complex, the more likely it would unravel. Somebody, somewhere, will have a slip of tongue. Just ask Richard Nixon and friends.

Is such a scenario within the realms of theoretical possibility? Perhaps. But in probable reality, no. Therefore what is at issue is "reasonable doubt", or the weight of evidence; how heavily must it weigh in order to convict? Unfortunately in the Simpson case, though the vast majority of criminologists believed his guilt ironclad, the jury chose to acquit. Whether such was racially motivated or not does not matter. The criteria used for determining his verdict, if applied to every other criminal case in our courts, would have the effect of destroying any hope in achieving justice in American Jurisprudence.

My point in all of this is that you are using the same method as that used by the Simpson defense, but on the Book of Mormon. Since (I assume) you adhere to the theology of sola scriptura and the doctrine of the closed canon, your presuppositions cannot allow for an historically authentic Book of Mormon, hence you must look, at all costs, elsewhere for explanations as to how Joseph Smith acquired the necessary knowledge to synthesize his story; otherwise your entire theology falters. Your presupposition, then, puts you immediately at odds with scientific method.

Just as the arguments of the Simpson defense would effectively (if other juries were equally as gullible) exonerate virtually every cold blooded murderer in America, so would your type of argument, if evenly applied, have the effect of destroying the face of the Bible. But we cannot have that, can we? Thus the double standard.

It is my understanding that your alternative explanation requires Joseph Smith to obtain information through his early nineteenth century, frontier New York environment. But to argue such a thing - Joseph Smith slavishly pouring over book after book - tacitly admits that the information in the Book of Mormon is factually accurate. I see this as a huge problem for you, for if you can never prove that he read this or that book, or at least provide a reasonable probability for it, the question must inevitably press you harder and harder: How did Joseph Smith acquire his knowledge?

But let us assume, for the sake of this discussion, that the alternative proposals introduced in your article are in fact true; Joseph Smith acquired and studied Geography Made Easy, from which he created or augmented his Arabian journey story. After all, you claim that "in this book, we find everything Joseph Smith would need to make-up a story of a trip through Arabia." Everything?

The Hounds of Dogmatism howl no louder than they do here. Where does Geography Made Easy discuss NHM? Where is there a discussion of ancient burial grounds dating to 3000 B.C.? Where is there mention of the highly fertile Wadi-Sayq, with its geographic relationship to NHM, as well as descriptions of its topographical, geological, and flora and fauna composition? The fact is, the author of your so-called "sourcebook" did not even conceive the existence of such places, did he? This is why you have such a monstrous "black hole" in your alternative theory. Since your sourcebook cannot be the source for this particular information, you must resort to an alternative to your alternative (a rather embarrassing situation). Hence the ill-fated arguments that Nahom and NHM are etymologically unrelated; that NHM cannot be shown to be ancient; that Nahom's placement on the map is unknowable. These are the only (ostensibly) viable arguments you have left since your sourcebook is silent on these issues.

Your whole argument rests squarely on the Book of Mormon's "meager" details. You insist that Mormon scholars "can only speculate" as to "where the group was" consequently making it "impossible to say that any site has been identified". But in quoting your alleged source, you commit your faux pas; you place the Lehites in a very specific area, Arabia Felix, which is toward the "southern extremity" of the peninsula, being a place of "fertility...produc[ing] frankincense, myrrh, balm of gilead, gum arabic, and coffee...". Since the Book of Mormon specifically states that the group was "on the borders nearer the Red Sea", while as at the same time, as you insist, being at the "southern extremity", this places our Lehites dangerously close to NHM. But how can this be, since according to you the Book of Mormon details are far too meager to warrant approximating Nahom to anywhere (absolutely no way...impossible to say...)?

However, since it is your unwitting contention that Joseph Smith placed the Lehites in the far south west corner, I think it only fair to assume that he also knew about NHM. The question must be, from where? The Astons do a reasonably thorough job in demonstrating the extreme rarity of this knowledge in 1830's scientific community. Perhaps Joseph Smith had the 1762 French Map? Perhaps some other map? This is a possible connection - but what are the odds? Incalculably long. Nor does such a theory answer the entire equation, as any map of the time will fail to identify Wadi-Sayq, not discovered for well over a hundred years later.

As far as your attempted refutation of Wadi-Sayq as Bountiful, your arguments simply do not cut the mustard for reasonable expectations from an environmental paradigm. I expect details from Joseph Smith's source book! All you are able to come up with as to Joseph Smith's descriptions is that Geography Made Easy indicates that "Arabia Felix" is an area of some fertility. But we are not talking about the dismal vegetation of southern Arabia! Relatively speaking, it is true that southern Arabia is much more fertile than the vast sandscapes of the central interior. But Wadi-Sayq is far more fertile than Arabia Felix at large. How did Joseph Smith know that? Nowhere within its covers does Geography Made Easy even acknowledge Wadi-Sayq's existence, much less give us a lay of the land of this coastal river valley, as the Book of Mormon has.

So. Just to which of these two volumes were you referring to when you used the characterization of "meager" details?

Herein lies the precise point of this letter, and why you fail to meet the Astons' challenge. The Book of Mormon hits its bull's eye time after time after time, though the shooter Joseph Smith had never before handled firearms, whereas Geography Made Easy, itself a so called "expert" marksman, cannot even find the shooting range, does not even show up for competition. This then, is how we judge the meagerness or prolificness of the Book of Mormon details: how does it line up against its contemporary "so called" source books as far as accurate detail is concerned? It far surpasses them.

As one final note on the issue of "source books", perhaps there were other sources dealing with NHM and Wadi-Sayq which Joseph Smith used, but of the existence of which, we are as yet unaware. This would be a completely viable argument (even though it would argue from silence), except for one thing, and any source book must face this dilemma: If Joseph Smith used a certain book (or books) as a source, why did not his contemporary critics accuse him of the same thing you are now accusing him of, i.e., borrowing? After all, they would have had just as much access to whatever book Joseph Smith allegedly used, and they certainly had the ambition to uncover his fraud, as the caustic tone of much of their writing reveals. Can we really pit the cunning of a twenty three year old farm boy with his third grade education against the sophistication and research capabilities of the myriads arrayed against him? But you would have me believe, in the face of this improbability, that for over one hundred and forty years this little borrowing went unnoticed? And in that time, just how many thousands of critics have tried to undermine its claims at every turn? But it wasn't until Hugh Nibley's speculations (there is that naughty word again) that such a possible parallel was even considered, and not for many years after that that research was put into it. This all, over a century and a half later, precipitating your efforts to determine what book Joseph Smith used, and voila!, Geography Made Easy! But that book as a source breaks down because the book contains no details pertinent to the Book of Mormon descriptions. Neither does it appear to have been readily available to Joseph Smith's contemporaries, to say nothing of Joseph Smith's access to the book. Thus, based upon such flimsy arguments, that Joseph Smith checked out books from his local library to write the Book of Mormon, you simply cannot convince me to reject the Astons' proposal. Period.

Given that last statement, I want you to know that I can be persuaded if the evidence justifies it. After all, simply rejecting the NHM/Wadi Sayq correlation does not compel me to reject the Book of Mormon - only one theory pertaining to it. And even if Joseph Smith did have access to this information, it does not disprove them as Book of Mormon sites, anymore than the fact that Joseph Smith being aware of Jerusalem's existence disproves that city as a Book of Mormon site. This is why I feel Mormons can be "objective" in their zeal to find confirming evidence - whether or not some theory holds up will do nothing to their faith which sustains their presuppositions. However, your presuppositions require you to reject any findings because if they were to turn out correct, sola scriptura and an entire theology crumbles! This must be what Brigham Young meant when he said there would come a day when those aligned against the Book of Mormon would be in a position tantamount to staring at the noon day sun, yet denying it was day time.

That day is not yet. But to date the empirical data is mounting, and with each cumulative parallel it becomes more palpably absurd to argue for the environmentalist paradigm. Is it in theory possible that a Joseph Smith could have fabricated a Book of Mormon? Perhaps. But the odds are so long I would not, given the current state of evidence, bet my soul.

The source for the Book of Mormon was not a product of Joseph Smith's mind, nor was it the product of the minds of his peers. The Book of Mormon is not a product of nineteenth century America, nor have its origins in any other way been scientifically explained in humanistic terms in such a way that meets rigorous objective standards. The Book of Mormon has come to us from supernatural sources. If one wanted to argue that it is of satanic origin, at least, I would feel, this would be consistent in acknowledging its highly enigmatic features. However, I have read the Book of Mormon and I testify that it is God's eternal word, revealed to us in these latter-days for the purpose of gathering Israel before the great and imminent day of the Holy Messiah’s triumphant second coming. The traditional revelatory paradigm for the book contains the fewest contradictions, the fewest leaps of faith, and provides the simplest explanations. I commend the authority of its teachings to you, to reconsider its divine authenticity. There will come a day when the empirical proof of it does come forth, but that day will be one day too late for you. If you wait until that great day of His glorious coming, when all the world will be made to know of His marvelous revelations, you will then discover that you will have cheated yourselves of your opportunity to demonstrate to the Lord your faith. It will then be too late to exercise faith in the book's claims, for on that day, you will know of a surety of its eternal veracity. You will have your proof (Matt 12:39).

In the final analysis I cannot help but wonder at the awkward result of an article which is so fraught with poor research and illusory arguments - and that result is manifest in this irony: That you, Mr. and Mrs. Tanner, the quintessential Book of Mormon doubters, have unwittingly provided some of the most telling evidence of all for the book's ancient and therefore divine origins. To that end, the time and energy you expended in the production of the article had value.






Dear readers -- judge for yourselves concerning the merit of the Book of Mormon Arabian geography, and Sandra Tanner's "response" to a critique of her analysis. If any of you have comments or criticisms, feel free to let me know, even if you disagree with my analysis. I am always open to suggestions or criticisms either way. If you would like further information, or would like to simply dialogue with me, press HERE to leave comments.