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4.0 out of 5 stars An essential read on American Indians, not Mormons, 10 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Columbus to Joseph Smith (Paperback)
Since the book deals with the history and archaeology of American Indians it is capital to keep in mind the date of publication, 1986. At that time DNA was not used in these fields and the human genome was not even started in its transcription. The second element is that carbon dating was still in its infancy and the more advanced dating procedures we use today did not even exist. In 1986 we were still very primitive archaeologists, though the anthropological approach was rather well represented with people like Claude Lévi-Strauss. Linguistics was finally starting to come out of the Paris School of Linguistics' banning of the question of the origin of language at the end of the 19th century. Joseph Greenberg was just in the process of emerging.

This means Dan Vogel is courageous to attack the problem of the origin of Indians in Northern America, especially since today the post-ice-age Indian population is pushed to at least 5,000 years BCE and moving backwards. But another dating before the ice-age around 20,000 or 25,000 years BCE if not farther is re-emerging after a long period of rejection. This brings up two questions.

1- When before and after the ice-age was the Bering Strait at least temporally or cyclically taken by ice to enable the crossing of it, though man was proved able to use boats before the ice-age to get to Crete for example around 120,000 years BCE and to cross from Africa's Horn to the Southern Arabian Corridor (along the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula) and then from there to either Iran/Pakistan across the strait of Hormuz, or even up the Persian Gulf, and all that as soon as 100,000 years BCE if not more. And again from South East Asia to Australia at least 50,000 BCE.

This leads to the question of the northern population moving south as the ice-cap progresses and then the regrouped population going back up north or down south again from Mesoamerica as the ice-cap recedes. Then the question is that of the adaptability of the human species that develops a very simple hunting and gathering civilization with some agriculture in Amazonia, a rich urban agricultural and architectural civilization in Peru-Bolivia, keeps and develops the rich Aztec and Maya urban agricultural and architectural civilization in Mesoamerica and finally the vast and varied redeployment of Indian civilization from the Rio Grande or slightly more to the North on the basis of hunting, agriculture, urban development varying from migrating tribes to sedentary tribes and to the Northern brand of extreme cold civilization in Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland.

2- The problem of language with the knowledge we have today about Northern American Indian language: they are most of them agglutinative and some seem to have evolved towards a more analytical or synthetic state, and some have the traits of Asian isolating languages. All these languages have to be attached to the palette of languages you find in Siberia. Aztec and Maya and other Southern American languages should be attached to the same Siberian origin. The Maya or Aztec writing systems have nothing to do with Egyptian hieroglyphs but everything to do with the universal ability of Homo Sapiens to create (and then develop and learn) a language and later symbols, generally representative of the concepts and designating meaning of what the language says or tells, to represent the language itself, hence to become a writing system. Even our Indo-European alphabetical writing systems started with the Phoenicians and the Greeks from stylized representations of simple objects. It seems the only ancient writing system - Sumerian - is not that obviously representative or iconic. It seems more of the "lego" type each character assembling various arrows and lines, and yet I am sure some specialists might tell me I am wrong.

Then Dan Vogel could have exploited the following vein: the sign language of the Northern American Indians is a type of semantic writing system with body-linguistic lexicon, syntax and alphabet (or at least sememes and lexemes). It is an abstract representation of oral language and its meaning like in any other writing system, for example the Chinese writing system that enables more than one billion people to communicate in writ though they could not orally understand one another due to the various dialects behind the unified writing system.

Now I have said this I would like to add the following idea. This book is essential and capital though the structure is not always as clear as necessary.

The Book of the Mormon, 1830, supposedly translated from golden plates found buried in the earth by Joseph Smith cannot in any way be from a distant and lost Indian civilization because it is in absolute and perfect continuity with the various theories developed from the end of the 16th century onwards by the Europeans settling in Northern America and especially the English colonists to mostly justify the extermination of the Indians as barbarous savages and to take their land in the name of the vacuum domicilium principle invented in 1622 by the English. People who want to work some land are justified in just taking it if it is not properly exploited and taken care of. This idea is commonly repeated by John Smith in his two books about Virginia in 1608 and 1624. As for that the Book of Mormon supports the principle by justifying it as a curse of God on the Indians who have been made unable to take care of their land and become civilized and as a command of God to the colonists to take care of the situation.

Then, apart from this, what are the main ideas Joseph Smith borrows - without saying, nor buying the copyright - from many others before him?

Joseph does not refer to, hence rejects, the theory of a first wave of immigrants after the Tower of Babel episode known as the Jaredites. That first would have been after the end of the ice-age since it is positioned within Biblical time after the flood which is the Biblical representation of the rising of water (120 meters) after the ice-age. Note the Bible does not contain any representation of the ice-age itself.

But he keeps the theory of two different peoples, though of one origin, the second origin speculated upon by many before Smith: "it is the lost ten tribes of Israel, 10 of the original 12 Hebrew tribes, which, under the leadership of Joshua, took possession of Canaan, the Promised Land, after the death of Moses. They were named Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun - all sons or grandsons of Jacob. In 930 BCE the 10 tribes formed the independent Kingdom of Israel in the north and the 2 other tribes, Judah and Benjamin, set up the Kingdom of Judah in the south. Following the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BCE, the 10 tribes were gradually assimilated by other peoples and thus disappeared from history." (Encyclopedia Britannica) The tribes being "found" in Northern America is attributed to Manasseh ben Israel (1604-57). In the Book of Mormon, these tribes are led by Lehi who dies shortly after arriving in Northern America. Two sons take the leadership and divide the immigrants in two groups. On one side Nephi leads the Nephites, white, industrious, builders of cities, fully dressed. On the other side Laman leads the Lamanites living in tents, hunting, virtually naked, savage warriors. As Dan Vogel writes:

"The Book of Mormon's description of the Lamanites sometimes sounds like an exaggerated version of contemporary stereotypes about North American Indians. After their separation from the Nephites, the Lamanites were led by their "evil nature" to become "wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness, feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat." (Enos 20) . . . Moroni records that the Lamanites were cruel to their prisoners of war, raping and "torturing their bodies even unto death" (Moro. 9:9-10)."

The Lamanites are cursed by God into getting "a skin of blackness" (note it is the same curse as for Cain seen by the Mormons as the ancestor of black Africans) till they repent and then they may turn white again.

The Lamanites are the Indians of Northern America. Note thus approach of course ignores the Azteks, the Mayas and the Incas who all built monumental cities, practiced agriculture like Nephites and yet practiced human offerings generally called sacrifices of still beating human hearts extracted from the chest of live chosen ones to their gods, which is similar to the practice of human torturing and ritual dismembering and offering of the Lamanites.

The Book of Mormon does not answer the case of the Northern Indians of Alaska, Northern Canada and Greenland. It of course does not answer either the case of the Indians of Amazonia.

But there is one argument Dan Vogel does not use. It is the Neolithic transformation in America which is in no way comparable to anything else in the world. Agriculture was developed in what is today Mexico originally, at least for one Indian plant, maize that all Indians cultivated in Mesoamerica and Northern America according to the colonists. The wild plant that could produce the cultivated plant exists in a few different species only in Mexico. The cultivated maize is unable to reproduce by itself due to the water tight and air tight wrapping up of the pod around the cob. This plant has been "genetically" manipulated by the Indians where it was growing wild of course and then it spread north. This happened necessarily after the ice-age, after the rising of the water (120 meters mind you: the famous flood) at a date that is not clearly set somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 BCE. I may suggest that it might have been earlier but the date is not important, though the period is. It then spread north as the people were spreading north too along with the receding ice-cap. Indian civilization in the north is founded on four sacred plants as identified by the colonists: maize, tobacco, squash and beans. They forgot the fifth one in northern America, Indian potato, a perennial creeper that grows tubers when some branches go underground and pods with seeds looking like peas on the branches that can be extensive. Of course we may also think of plain potatoes up to the top plateaus of Peru and Bolivia.

Then we should add Theobroma cacao (the food of the God) that is originally from Amazonia and Mesoamerica. Though coffee is from Ethiopia and spread from there and must have been brought to the Americas by the Europeans, cotton is more subtle since there is one specific American species, Among the different domesticated species, the most widespread are Gossypium arboreum and Gossypium herbaceum domesticated in the Old World (in fact in the Indus valley in India around 7,000 years BCE and it spread to the Mediterranean Sea quite later: India is not the "Old World"); and Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense domesticated in the New World. Cotton fabrics discovered in a cave near Tehuacán, Mexico have been dated to around 5,800 BCE, although it is difficult to know for certain due to fiber decay. Other sources date the domestication of cotton in Mexico to approximately 5,000 to 3,000 BCE. Note these facts would situate the Neolithic transformation in America several thousand years before the generally accepted date.

These plants plus tomato, peppers, chilli peppers and many others did not exist anywhere else in the world and could not have been brought by the Israelite refugees. They were developed a long time before the loss of the ten tribes of Israel. They are the absolute proof the Indians were in America a long time before any of the hypotheses of the Book of Mormon.

Then we can only agree with Dan Vogel's first conclusion: "The Theory" of the ancient Indians building walls and mounds in Northern America (the Nephites) destroyed by a second type of wild ferocious Indians of the same origin but gone savage, the Lamanites, "originates in order to explain Indian inferiority, and to justify the taking of Indian land," and that theory originated at least 250 years before the Book of Mormon that rehashes that "racist" description of the Indians mormonized as Lamanites.

Then we can also agree with Dan Vogel's second conclusion. "The better one understands the pre-1830 environment of Joseph Smith, the better he or she will understand the Book of Mormon. This, I conclude is the challenge facing future Book of Mormon scholarship."

The Book of Mormon as an historical or anthropological or archaeological work is just totally misguided. Be it based on a lie or a divine inspiration is beyond our judgment. But then what are the philosophy, the religion and the ideology that produced the Mormon social vision, action and ethical project, that has to be evaluated objectively.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
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