I believe in the Bible, in spite of some obvious, irrefutable textual problems and human errors -- i.e., "as far as it has been translated [or preserved] correctly." It is a precious, divine text, though it is not without problems, like any text that has passed though human hands. While I believe in it and fully accept its testimony of the role of Jesus Christ as our Savior, I would hesitate to say that there is archaeological and scientific "proof" for its divinity.

I think some people make far too much of the evidence pertaining to the historical reality of some parts of that text and fail to appreciate that faith is just as essential for accepting the Bible as it is for accepting the Book of Mormon. Those who endlessly insist that there are mounds of evidence supporting their faith in the Bible, in contrast to an alleged lack of evidence for the Book of Mormon, often fail to understand the differences between the two texts and why the mounds they speak of are not nearly as significant as they might think.

Of course the Bible is an ancient text from an easy-to-locate part of the world. It comes from the Jews [Hebrews] in ancient Israel. There has never been any question where that is. Their chief city of Jerusalem is still there and, unlike many ancient cities, bears its ancient name even today and has pretty much been continuously occupied for thousands of years and has long been well known to the rest of the world. So when the ancient text of the Jews speaks of Jerusalem, and we can see it is still on the map, yes, we have evidence of something, but not evidence of the divine nature of the Bible. Try using that to convert someone. It's entirely mundane and does nothing to support the miraculous claims of the Bible.

When we find references to other cities in Israel and surrounding regions and we either find those cities on maps today or uncover ancient writings that give the names of those cities (in the Ebla tablets, for example), we have evidence of something - but is it evidence that God is real, that Jesus rose from the dead, that Elijah rode a chariot of fire into the sky, or that Moses parted the Red Sea? No, it's primarily evidence that some of the cities mentioned in the ancient traditions of real Israelites in ancient Israel were actually there. Either the names persisted in tradition or were recorded in writings from ancient times, which is certainly nice to know, but is it truly surprising or inspiring? That evidence is helpful in refuting some critics of the Bible who said that some particular stories were entirely made up, for now we know that some of the place names at least were real. It's kind of like future archaeologists finding that some of the buildings in the movie Dark Knight actually existed in contemporary Chicago. Some parts of the backdrop may have been real, but does that prove the main plot is true or that any of the special effects are plausible?

It's the "special effects" of the Bible that really matter. Though often in dispute by some critics, the reality of the backdrop - ancient cities, tribes, wars, geographical features, and lifestyles - when confirmed by archaeological digs or other ancients texts may help increase our understanding and appreciation of the text, but may not be relevant in ascertaining the divinity of the text. We know it came from real people who may have lived in real cities and had genuine ancient Semitic names, but did one of them named Moses use miracles to induce Pharaoh to free his Hebrew slaves? Did some of them foretell the future? Did some of them see the Resurrected Messiah and touch and feel his real, tangible, glorious body of flesh and bone and know that God's Son was now immortal and alive?

To "believe in the Bible" is not just to acknowledge that Jerusalem is on the map and its ancient inhabitants wrote a text that mentioned some other real places. It is to accept the message of God's dealings and revelations. That's the real plot. The backdrop is of very little significance. But the "overwhelming evidence" we often hear about is directed to the backdrop, not the plot and its all-important special effects that testify of the reality of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ.

If there were scientific evidence proving or strongly confirming the reality of the Resurrection, for example, what need would there be for faith? I think such evidence will be withheld from us to try us and to give us a chance to grow by acting in faith before we see the miracles that truly are there for us in our journeys toward God. I think that evidence for the other miracles of the Bible are also going to be hard to find, by design, always leaving us room and freedom to close our eyes to God and not believe.

The Book of Mormon is a different matter. It was provided miraculously with the help of God's power and the ministry of a real angel who showed Joseph where the ancient text on metal plates had been stored. It was divinely translated through Joseph Smith. The gold plates, of course (add smirk here, if you wish) are not available in any museum to offer undeniable confirmation of its reality. There were witnesses of the plates, yes, and there are many interesting evidences for plausibility - perhaps just enough for those willing to exercise faith, and nowhere near enough for those lacking it - maintaining the proper balance of things, with God stacking the deck in favor of our free agency and our need to grow in faith before the miracles are seen with our eyes and felt with our hands. This balance requires quite a different approach with the Book of Mormon. Since the whole text came through a purported prophet of God, writing about peoples, places, and civilizations unknown to his time, with no clear direction about just where these Nephites and Lamanite civilizations were, very little in the text is of a mundane nature. By that I mean that confirming details of the backdrop is not irrelevant to the divinity of the text. For much of the text, direct hits pointing to plausibility in the backdrop help can be helpful in helping us to appreciate the potential reality of the main plot, for even the backdrop becomes part of the "special effects" associated with the miraculous origins of the Book of Mormon.

It begins in Jerusalem, which is mundane and not terribly exciting in terms of evidence, but soon we have Nephi and his family wandering through the Arabian Peninsula. They encounter a valley with continually flowing water that flows into the Red Sea. If such a valley can be plausibly identified - and an excellent candidate has - it is interesting. They move south-southeast until they came to an ancient burial place called Nahom. If such a place with such a name existed in Lehi's day, and there is compelling evidence in favor of this possibility, it is interesting. And then they turn due east and eventually arrive in place they called Bountiful, with trees, water, honey, fruit, flint, ore, etc. If such a place existed, and there are at least two reasonable candidates in Oman for this place, then it is interesting. All these "interesting" factors together help suggest that the backdrop of First Nephi may have been rooted in reality. Not proof, but evidence for plausibility. Now if First Nephi is rooted in reality, and if that hint of reality cannot readily be explained by plagiarism or other human means - those who read the text and study these matters with a little faith may see it that way - that may very well say something interesting about the entire text and the role of Joseph Smith as a prophet.

Please, I'm not saying that the fascinating evidence from the Arabian Peninsula "proves" anything, and it certainly doesn't prove that Jesus is the Christ. But it does open the door for further inquiry, and may open the minds of those who have heard that they can reject the Book of Mormon because there is not a shred of evidence for it. There are some rather palpable shreds, and while many pertain to the backdrop, in our case, such evidence has more significance than, say, finding evidence that there was an ancient city named Gomorrah in the Near East.

Of course, I would much prefer that someday, when the infant state of archaeology in the New World begins to catch up with the Old, scholars dig up ancient Semitic writings from the early days of Nephite culture, with many details that clearly fit the Book of Mormon. That's my will, for the record, but I'm afraid mine is not the will that matters - and most of you can be grateful for that.
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