Why I am not a Mormon, Part 4: World cultures, world geography, world history
Here I continue reviewing the options for finding an answer to questions about the ancient world. The case study question is about coins in the Book of Mormon, but it is just a case study for a larger point.
Well, ok, no manuscripts of the Book of Mormon and no idea of the original language of the Book of Mormon does pose a problem; are we out of options for finding an answer to our question? The world is a big place; there are usually multiple ways to find the answer to any given question. With the Bible, even if we had lost every ancient manuscript, even if we had no knowledge of the original language, just based on modern translations we could still check the culture of that place and time. There are all kinds of ways to date the happenings in the Bible, from the rulers they mention to the neighboring countries they mention to the wars they mention. From all these kinds of things we could place the happenings on a map and on a timeline, even if all the original manuscripts were gone and we had no idea of the original language. This could help us settle the question of what was in use for currency at the place and time in question. In the Bible, the mention of rulers like Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzer or Herod, kingdoms or empires like Persia and Babylon and Rome, places like Lebanon and Cyprus and Malta, cities like Nineveh and Tarshish and Jerusalem – these are known from world history. These are known from their own cultures. There are records of them entirely outside the Bible. All these would allow us to place the writing in its historical context even if we were so exceptionally challenged as to have no manuscripts at all and no idea of the original language at all.
Problem: with the book of Mormon, there hasn't been any real luck identifying the people or places mentioned. That's why Bibles come with maps and timelines showing how the events fit into the history of the world, and the Book of Mormon does not. It's as though nobody else in the New World had made a record of the culture that is claimed to have produced the Book of Mormon -- or even of themselves when they happened to interact with the people whose history is recounted in that book.
By this time, it is high time to wonder: how, exactly, can that be? But let's not give up yet. After all, there was a time when the anti-Bible skeptics claimed that Nazareth didn't exist at the time of Jesus, only to have a construction project in modern Nazareth show that the town was, after all, around in Jesus' day. Who is to say that the next construction project somewhere in the New World won't turn up evidence that some culture or place or person mentioned in the Book of Mormon may have been historical after all?