Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I've just started reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and I'm well and truly hooked by the narrative. The book jumps around a lot, but I think it holds together well for the purposes of the author. This is less a book about what America was like than a book about how we came to the new conclusions and why they differ from what we've been taught.

Anyway, while reading it I naturally started thinking about my own upbringing and The Book of Mormon. Having been raised with a particular viewpoint of the Americas, one that said they were a cultured people with massive empires, makes the "revelations" in 1491 less of a shock than they might be to some. I don't know. But I was amused when I hit the section of the book in which the author, Mann, discusses theories of where the Native Americans originally came from and he listed the Book of Mormon in the "Lost Tribes of Israel" section. I'm less than a third into the book, so I don't know if it'll come up again. But I thought I would clear up a very common misconception.

Nowhere in the entire Book of Mormon does it say that all the people living in America were descended from the single group that the book starts off with. In fact, at least two other groups are mentioned, who arrived in the Americas at different times and through different routes. Other groups may have been around that the narrators never ran into. In addition, all the action in the Book of Mormon takes place in a historically short amount of time well before the cultures that most folks think about (Inca, Aztec) even existed, and most of it in a fairly limited geographical area. Dismissing the whole book as historically inaccurate because it doesn't paint a full picture of the Americas would be a bit like dismissing the account of some small germanic tribe because they didn't paint a full picture of Europe.

That said, the Book of Mormon is not a history book, it's a piece of scripture and is meant to be taken as such. But I've read nothing in 1491 that makes the stories in the Book of Mormon any less likely. If anything, 1491 so far seems to make them more likely. Your mileage will no doubt vary on the issue... but it does irritate me when people make sweeping generalizations about a book, in this case the Book of Mormon, that they probably have never bothered to read.

Update: I just want to make it absolutely clear that I don't think that 1491 is making any generalizations about the Book of Mormon. Reading 1491 triggered thoughts of those generalizations, but was not the source. Charles Mann was absolutely correct in his mention of the Book of Mormon, and referenced it correctly. He was not the person I was referring to when I mentioned being irritated. Quite the opposite. 1491 is a great read, and has made me think a lot. It's one of those rare books that triggers thoughts and makes connections while you read it. The mention sparked this post, and the book so far has helped crystalize my thoughts on the Book of Mormon. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.

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