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Two or More Witnesses

The central room block of Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico; photograph 30 June 2015, Rationalobserver; Creative Commons. This photo is only an example of ruins in the Americas and does not suggest that these ruins date from the time of Christ.


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: March 25-31; Easter

We read a very strange account of events that occurred at the time of Christ’s death in Matthew 27:50-54, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.” This account seems to present an anachronism, because Jesus was the first to be resurrected, three days after His crucifixion, so how could anyone come out of their graves and appear to anyone until after Sunday morning? It is as though verses 521 and 53 were inserted into Matthew’s Gospel between events surrounding the crucifixion. With those verses removed, we read “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent…Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”


The earthquake mentioned in Matthew must not have amounted to much because none of the other Gospels even mention an earthquake, or the three hours of darkness. Mark 15:33, 38-39 tells us only that, “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour…And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.” Luke 23:46-47 says nothing about either an earthquake or the veil of the temple, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.” The Gospel of John says nothing about any of these events.


By comparison, there was enormous destruction in the New World at that time. We are told in 3 Nephi 8:5-25 that “there arose a great storm.” There was a “terrible tempest,” along with thunder and lightning, and Zarahemla caught fire. The city of Moroni sank “into the depths of the sea.” A mountain covered the city of Moronihah. The “whole face of the land” northward “was changed, because of “the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth…” The “highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough.” Many other “great and notable cities were “sunk,” “burned” or “shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth…and the places were left desolate.” Some (cities or people?) were carried away in the whirlwind…” “And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land.” (v. 18)

All of that destruction apparently took place in the space of only three hours. Then there was a “vapor” of “darkness upon the face of the land.” That darkness was so thick that, “…there could be no light, because of the darkness, neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all; And there was not any light seen, neither fire, nor glimmer, neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars [for three days], for so great were the mists of darkness which were upon the face of the land.” (verses 21-22) Fire needs three things to burn: heat, fuel, and oxygen. Nephi reports that they had “exceedingly dry wood,” so apparently fuel was not a problem. They most likely used the same sort of heat source as they always had — either friction or spark — and there appears no reason to believe that their heat source was unavailable. That leaves only the oxygen. If the “vapor” was either water vapor or fine ash as from an eruption, such vapor might interfere with fire-starting. However, such vapor would also be expected to interfere with people’s breathing — so, it remains unclear what actually happened at that time. 


We are told in 3 Nephi 9:1-2, “And it came to pass that there was a voice heard among all the inhabitants of the earth, upon all the face of this land, crying: Wo, wo, wo unto this people; wo unto the inhabitants of the whole earth except they shall repent; for the devil laugheth, and his angels rejoice, because of the slain of the fair sons and daughters of my people; and it is because of their iniquity and abominations that they are fallen!”


Then in verses 3-10, sixteen cities are listed that were destroyed either completely or partially. Eleven of those cities — one quarter of all the cities listed in the Book of Mormon (42 total) — are never mentioned elsewhere in the record. It is difficult to say how large a “city” was compared to a smaller town or village. Wikipedia sets the lower threshold for a city at 1000 — so, perhaps those sixteen cities had a combined population of as many as 16,000 people.1


With a 1% growth rate and, therefore, a seventy-year doubling rate, 100 people in 600 BC (about the size of the Lehites and Mulekites combined) would be 25,600 people six hundred years later. The problem is that a 1% growth rate is what we are seeing now, not the rate at the time of Christ, or any other time in antiquity. The population growth rate did not reach 1% until the late nineteenth century. Between around 10,000 BC and 1700 the population growth rate stayed constant at about 0.04%. So, during the time interval between 500 BC and 600 AD, the world population doubled (from 100,000,000 in 500 BC to 200,000,000 in 600 AD) — that’s doubling in 1100 years — or a growth rate of 0.0635%.2 At that growth rate, the descendants of the Lehites and Mulekites, combined, would have been less that 200 total people at the time Christ appeared. So, I am guessing that, without there being any other people around, the total population in the Americas would have been between 200 and 25,000 — and almost certainly closer to the lower estimate. So, where did all the extra people come from to populate sixteen destroyed cities — not to mention the many other cities that were not destroyed at the time of Christ’s crucifixion? All of the genetic and anthropological data demonstrate very strongly that the Lehites and Mulekites were by no means alone in the New World. On-the-contrary, there were several million other people here, the ancestors of whom arrived in the Americas many millennia ago.

Why doesn’t the Book of Mormon mention other people? When Lehi and his family left Jerusalem and traveled though the “wilderness” for eight years, they certainly were not alone. However, the Book of Mormon mentions no other people living in the Arabian Peninsula. If your family goes on a camping trip or even to a crowded vacation site, how many other people do you describe when writing about your vacation?           


However, the purpose of the Book of Mormon is not to describe New World populations at the time of Christ. Its purpose is to provide “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” We are told in 3 Nephi 11:13-17 that after Christ appeared in the New World, “And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto them saying: Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world. And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come. And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.”




Trent Dee Stephens, PhD


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