The history of Mormon leader and self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Smith, and the origins of the Book of Mormon are fascinating to say the least! Apart from practicing Mormons, very few people know this intriguing chapter of early American religious history. Even fewer people are aware of the historical claims made in the Book of Mormon to which there is actually not a shred of corroborating historical or archaeological evidence.  

Many Mormons today go by the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and currently, there are over 16 million practicing worldwide [1]. Many Mormons, or members of the Latter-Day Saints would not object to the label of being called, a “Christian.” Some even actively identify themselves as “Christian.” Mormons do follow and read the Old and New Testaments of Jews and Christians, but the primary document which distinguishes the Latter-Day Saints with mainline Christianity is the Book of Mormon and a collection of writings called, the Pearl of Great Price. 

One of the core questions we explore at Epic Archaeology is “What exactly is the relationship between religious texts or manuscripts, and history or archaeology?” Here, we will apply the same standards and criteria to the Book of Mormon as we do the Bible, when it comes to history and archaeology. 

As we have stated before, the three Primary Sources for history are the same regardless of the historical or religious text or manuscript: 

  1. Eyewitnesses
  2. Historical records
  3. Archaeological remains 

Historical scholars often seek to establish authenticity from eyewitness-historical accounts by seeking early attestation, and multiple attestation in independent sources. In other words, the earlier the eyewitness accounts or manuscripts (MSS) to the original event, the better. As a forensic science, archaeology can affirm many aspects of a historical text by helping corroborate the basic historicity of a text in question. 

Faith is not blind, it always has an object. Faith is only as good as its object. It is our firm belief that faith and reason (what is believed by faith) – are supported by historical and rational evidences. Truth, is that which corresponds to reality – not that which I want to believe is true. 


Joseph Smith (1805-1844)

In 1820 Joseph Smith said that he was visited by two beings — presumably Jesus Christ and God (the Father). Around that time, the region around Palmyra, New York was the location multiple “camp meetings” during the Second Great Awakening — a fervent Protestant religious revival that had been taking place in America in the late 18th, and early 19th centuries. Apparently, Jesus and God (the Father) had told Smith that churches by in large, had departed from the “true Gospel” and that he [i.e. Smith] was the one who was truly “saved.” Smith reportedly conveyed this encounter to his pastor who dismissed the vision in the strongest terms possible. 

About three years later in 1823 while praying in the woods near his home in Palmyra, Smith was presumably visited again, but this time by the angel Moroni (a prophet in the Book of Mormon). Smith said that the angel Moroni directed him to a hill (called “Hill Cumorah”) in which was hidden a book with Golden Plates which recounted the history of a Jewish family from one of the “Lost Tribes of Israel” who had traveled to the Americas before the Babylonian exile (see below).  

Joseph Smith receiving the book of the Golden Plates by the Angel Moroni on the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, New York (Wikipedia)

Moroni is thought by Latter-Day Saints to be the same person as a Book of Mormon prophet-warrior named Moroni, who was the last to write in the book of Golden Plates. 

The book states that Moroni buried them before he died after a great battle between two pre-Columbian civilizations. After he died, he became an angel who was tasked with guarding the golden plates and directing Smith to their location in the 1820s. According to Smith, he returned the golden plates to Moroni after they were translated and, as of 1838, Moroni still had the plates in his possession. Smith first published the Book of Mormon in 1830.

First Edition title page from the Book of Mormon (1830)

One can only wonder that when he shared to his pastor the strange “visions” and “visitations,” if the pastor shared with Smith the Biblical warnings about the very thing he was experiencing? Without dispute the New Testament and the Apostle Paul clearly warn of this very thing over 2000 years ago: 

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1) 

For false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)

Incidentally, the book of Golden Plates has subsequently never been located or translated by anyone other than Joseph Smith as they are now in the possession of the angel Moroni. 


Space will not allow us to list all of the historical allusions or claims found in the Book of Mormon, but there are some basic components that I would like to address here. 

The Book of Mormon essentially presents a historical, albiet prophetic, account of a Jewish family from the tribe of Manesseh – a prophet named Lehi, his wife Sariah, and their six sons: Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, & Joseph. 

Lehi is said to have lived sometime during the reign of Zedekiah (circa 600 B.C.). Lehi’s two sons which figure largely in the Book of Mormon and the Mormon understanding of Early Native American and Jewish history are, Laman and Nephi. 

According to 1 Nephi, Lehi and his family fled Jerusalem before it was besieged by Nebuchadezzar and the Babylonian army in 586/7 B.C.. The family made their way to the Arabian peninsula (in Yemen) where Lehi’s son, Nephi was instructed by the Lord to construct a ship and sail to the New Promised Land in the Americas. His extended family with their wives, children and animals boarded the ship and headed for the “new promised Land” in the “New World” (1 Nephi 18). 

Sometime during the journey, before his death, Lehi passed along some important teachings to his children that were recorded by Nephi on the Golden plates that were later used in compiling the Book of Mormon [these were the same golden plates that the angel Moroni revealed the location to Joseph Smith in New York]. 

According to the 1 Nephi 7, a disagreement broke out between Laman, Lemuel, two of the daughters of Ishmael, and Nephi and the rest of the family — the former group desiring to return to Jerusalem in the land of Israel. Nephi strongly disagreed and confronted the group. 1 Nephi 7:16 records what happened next: 

And it came to pass that when I, Nephi, had spoken these words unto my brethren, they were angry with me. And it came to pass that they did lay their hands upon me, for behold, they were exceedingly wroth, and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts.

From that point forward there was a great animosity between the descendants of Laman and Nephi (the Lamanites and the Nephites, respectively), and internecine wars broke out between the two families and their descendants. Battles, war and strife pockmarked their history culminating in ever larger ones – many of these battles resulting in great casualties. A monumental battle occurred in 420 B.C. resulting in the eventual extermination and eradication of the Nephites by the Lamanites. 

According to Mormon history, the Native North and South Americans are direct descendants of the victorious [“Jewish”], Lamanites. According to Mormon theology and history – because the Lamanites were successful in destroying their relatives (the Nephites) Latter-Day Saints must evangelize their descendants, the Native Americans in both North and South America – a practice they still do to this day.

So according to this historical scenario in the Book of Mormon, the indigenous cultures of both North and South America would have left behind a great material culture such as grand cities, temples and great building projects – in addition to archaeological remains of the extensive wars between the two groups. Below is a brief summary of some of the historical claims found in the Book of Mormon. 


  • Nephi builds a ship and sails to the Americas circa 6th Century B.C. 
  • The Jewish family of Lehi settles the Americas (North & South) 
  • Native Americans are the physical descendants of the Nephites [Jewish-Semitic stock]
  • The Lamanites and Nephites built great cities, temples and left behind a great material culture 
  • The Lamanites and Nephites engaged in great battles involving thousands of combatants and casualites


It would be impossible to list in detail the main challenges and problems for Mormon historical claims, so we will limit our response to a summary to the five listed above. 


In brief, archaeological, anthropological and genetic (matrilineal and patrilineal DNA) studies are in direct contradiction to the historical and anthropological claims found in the Book of Mormon.

The latest research in physical and genetic anthropology, [archaeo-genetics] reveals that Native American populatons did not originate in the Middle East, but rather in Asia, somewhere in Mongolia-Sibera. 

Several studies comparing accounts in the Book of Mormon with genetics have appeared in recent the years. Two such studies: a book by Michael Whiting titled DNA & the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective (2003), and a journal article by M. Doron Behar titled, “Contrasting Patterns of Y Chromosome variations in Ashkenazi Jewish and host-non-Jewish populations” (2004), have been devastating to Book of Mormon claims, to such a degree that leaders from the Latter-Day Saints have now admitted that genetic evidence connecting Native American populations with apparent [Lehite] Semitic descendents are inconclusive [2].  


Archaeology in North America has been conducted at least since the time of the third American president, Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His careful methods of surveying and studying Indian mounds were well ahead of their time. In the past 150 years or so, however, a more robust picture of the archaeology of Native American cultures has come into even sharper focus. Currently North American archaeologists recognize 7 distinct (often overlapping) archaeological periods in North America. They are listed below. 

Archaeological Periods of North America 

  1. Pre-paleoindian Period (17,000-12,000 B.C.) 
  2. Paleoindian Period (12,000-8,000 B.C.) 
  3. Archaic Period (8,000-3,000 B.C.) 
  4. Woodland Period (3,000 B.C.-1670 A.D.)
  5. Mississippian Period (1,000-1520 A.D.) 
  6. Exploratory Period (1520-1670 A.D.) 
  7. Historical Period (1670-Present)  

These various archaeological periods are generally distinguished by the type of pottery Native Americans created, their settlement patterns, food procurement and projectile point technologies (for example the Paleoindian culture is well known for their Clovis style projectile points, etc…)

Counter to Book of Mormon claims 1-2 listed above, both genetic and archaeological evidence do not support the the idea that Semites ever settled North or South America. 

According to archaeological record, the first Europeans came in contact with Native Americans during the Exploratory Period (1520-1670 AD) when Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto made contact with Natives in what is now the coastal area of Florida in the 1500’s. Archaeological evidence also reveals an even earlier contact (1000 AD) where the Norse briefly settled in L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. But still there is no evidence of a lost Lamanite or Nephite seafaring people in that period or any other. 


Finally, when Smith translated the language from the book of Golden Plates into the Book of Mormon, he said that the script was in something he called “reformed Egyptian.” In 1835, five years after Smith published the first edition of the Book of Mormon, he claimed to translate the Book of Abraham by the gift and power of God, another volume of scripture deemed Holy writ by faithful Mormons [3]. A few years earlier, Smith had purchased a papyri  from a traveling mummy exhibition and claimed that he had discovered a lost writing of Abraham when he was in Egypt. Smith said that the papyrus was written in Abraham’s very own handwriting. But there is a problem. Smith’s fanciful and imaginative interpretation of the papyrus does not fit any known understanding or reading of Egyptian hieroglyphics or history.

According to historian Andrew Robinson, “Hieroglyphic writing fell into disuse in classical antiquity: the latest surviving hieroglyphic inscription was carved by a priest on the Gate of Hadrian, on the island of Philae, in AD 394. Although this date comes at the end of the period of Greek and Roman rule in Egypt, in reality accurate knowledge of the language and script of the pharaohs had already dwindled” [4].

Historians, linguists and Egyptologists today, unanimously recognize Jean François Champollion as the scholar who unlocked the secrets of reading hieroglyphic script – in addition to being the father of Egyptology – not Joseph Smith. Champollion’s decipherment of the Rosetta Stone  was a huge breakthrough, not only for our understanding ancient Egypt, but also for understanding Egyptian inscriptions throughout Egypt. Prior to the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone in 1822 one of the few sources of Egyptian history was via Greek and Roman writers, as well as the Old Testament.

Smith’s fanciful translations of the Egyptian papyrus fragments he purchased, are the equivalent of someone who only knew Mandarin Chinese, finding an English manuscript of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and deciding that it was giving a factual, historical account of the life George Washington. There is simply no factual basis to it whatsoever.

“Abraham Papyrus” purchased by Joseph Smith presumably showing an Egyptian priest trying to sacrifice Abraham (see Book of Abraham, Chapter 1) The scene is actually from an ancient Egyptian funerary text (The Book of the Dead), possibly showing the Egyptian god, Anubis preparing the deceased for the afterlife.


As to the whereabouts of any pottery, cities, material remains or evidence of battles left behind from the Lamanites — the archaeological record, both in North and South America is completely blank and silent. It is no exaggeration to say that the Book of Mormon and its companion writings (i.e. the lost Book of Abraham, and the Pearl of Great Price) find no archaeological or historical support or corroboration at all. 

The Bible, on the other hand – has many infallible proofs both in the archaeological, historical, & geographical record, that it is a trustworthy text conveying truth in what it records.


**I am truly grateful for the keen insights of David Montoya – a former Mormon elder with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in writing this article. I could not have written it without his help.

[1] according to Wikipedia – (accessed 29 April 2019)

[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies”

[3] The Book of Abraham was published in the church’s periodical Times and Seasons in Nauvoo, Illinois, in March and May 1842. This published version was introduced as “A Translation Of Some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catecombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” 

[4] Andrew Robinson, Cracking the Egyptian Code: The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p.12