Book of Mormon Stories Metaphors

Poor Wayfaring Man

I was browsing the internet the other day and found a really interesting blog that discusses events and hot topics at BYU’s Provo campus. In this post about the conflict between the religious world and the secular world, the liberal-leaning Mormon author seems to support (very tentatively and with ample obligatory qualifications to deflect charges of heresy, since he is a BYU student) the view that the creation account in Genesis (six days, etc.) is just a metaphor, not literally true.

This seems like a neat and tidy way to avoid conflicts between science and religion–just treat the religious view as a divinely-inspired metaphor only.
The strategy carries forward to other events described in the Bible that conflict with science (e.g., Noah’s Ark (and the flood) , or even the Exodus). Once science has persuaded you that the events probably didn’t actually happen the way the Bible says (and perhaps you were taught to believe), you simply thank science and conclude that they’re just metaphors.

It’s actually easy for a Mormon to do this with the Bible, because Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God only to the extent that it has been translated correctly, and the current version of the Bible is missing many “plain and precious things” that were removed or otherwise corrupted since the books were first written. In the mainstream LDS view, the Bible is already a potential minefield of half-truths and uninspired poetry, so relabeling seemingly literal elements as metaphorical in light of new scientific knowledge is no big deal.

But what about taking that same approach with the Book of Mormon?

Such an approach is rarely seen in the LDS Church, if ever. Joseph Smith once said that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.” That quote is proudly printed in the introduction of every copy of the Book of Mormon published by the LDS Church, as is the following challenge to the world: “We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true.” Now, as a Mormon with those sweeping declarations ringing in your ears and permeating your concept of the religion, which Book of Mormon stories are you going to declare to be not literally true? I didn’t think so.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that events and facts depicted in Book of Mormon stories don’t conflict with the discoveries of science. In fact, I would assert that under scientific scrutiny, the Book of Mormon fares significantly worse than the Bible (which is saying a lot, considering the Bible’s track record). Here are a few clear opportunities to label Book of Mormon stories as metaphors that mainstream Mormons never take:

  1. The American Indians, who the Church (until 2006) believed were descended principally from large Semitic nations that dominated the Americas for about 1000 years (Nephites and Lamanites), as chronicled in the Book of Mormon,1 are actually genetically Asian. Their ancestors came from Siberia to the American continent via a land bridge that existed anciently.
  2. Crucial Book of Mormon animals (horses, domesticated cattle, elephants, domesticated sheep, goats, swine)? No trace.
  3. Crucial Book of Mormon ores and alloys (iron and steel)? No trace.
  4. Millions of Jaredites and hundreds of thousands of Nephites and Lamanites (numbers rivaling the size of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans) who died on the same battlefield, years apart? No trace.
  5. The Book of Mormon’s Jaredite civilization is supposed to have formed in the wake of the miraculous confounding of human languages at the Tower of Babel. LDS apologist John L. Sorenson places the date of that event at the unreasonably early date of 3100 BC2. Even accepting this strained, faith-accommodating date as the best estimate for the event, it is still right around the generally accepted date of the emergence of the Sumerian writing system (3100 BC), which developed long after humans were already speaking Sumerian and any number of other languages, not the mythical “Adamic” language.

For somebody taking the “inspired metaphor” approach, just the few conflicts between the Book of Mormon and scientific consensus listed above seem to place the entire Book of Mormon narrative in the category of metaphor. It’s no wonder this approach is not accepted in mainstream Mormonism–as applied to any LDS Scripture, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon. This rejection of the “inspired metaphor” approach places mainstream Mormons in the same camp as the creationists and intelligent design proponents.

Definitely not my camp.



  1. For example, the Nephites and Lamanites “did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east“ []
  2. I think 3100 BC is early because the Book of Mormon indicates that only about 30 generations of Jaredites lived prior to the civilization’s demise sometime after 600 BC, which requires an unthinkable 80+ years per generation, if we take Sorenson’s early date. With this in mind, the more mainstream Christian/LDS date (acknowledged by Sorenson) of around 2200 BC seems early too (50+ years per generation). Using Sorenson’s dates, about 125 generations (20 years per generation) would be more reasonable, but possibly still a bit low. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that as far as science is concerned, the chronology of Middle Earth is just as real. []

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