Note: I made some Mormon reader angry over my negative reviews of books written by Mormons out to prove the Book of Mormon, and that person has been slamming my reviews as soon as they are posted. Oh, well.
Your "helpful" votes are appreciated. Thanks, and note that even Mormons should read this book.
Robert Silverberg tells the fascinating history of the rise and fall of the myth of the Mound Builders in a massively-researched book. Not many people know, for example, that the myth of the Mound Builders was finally laid to rest by the work of the Smithsonian Institution in the 1870s and 1880s under the direction of John Wesley Powell, the Civil War hero and one-armed explorer of the Colorado River (note "Lake Powell).
By 1800, the mystery of the tens of thousands of mounds in the eastern United States called out for a solution, and that solution was not to be found in the Native Americans, who were considered too lazy to have constructed such great works. The mounds had to have been the work of some superior lost white race--notably the ancient Hebrews, but also others.
Prejudice was so strong that few, if any, scholars believed that the Indians, themselves, constructed the mounds (the view from our time). The logic of racial superiority, national pride, religion, and the pocketbook demanded a history in which the Indians killed off an ancient white race of "Mound Builders."
A vast continent lay at the feet of a young nation, and the only thing obstacle to its settlement were the Indians. Silverberg writes with brilliance and humor: "The dream of a lost prehistoric race in the American heartland was profoundly satisfying; and if the vanished ones had been giants, or white men, or Israelites, or Danes, or Toltecs, or giant white Jewish Toltec Vikings, so much the better."
Silverberg sees both "Manuscript Found" (1812) and the Book of Mormon (1830) as expressions of the Mound Builder myth. In about 1812, the Reverend Solomon Spaulding wrote a novel about two races in ancient America. A narrator in the story claimed to have found 28 parchment scrolls, which he translated. The scrolls tell the story of a shipload of Roman Christians who are blown across the ocean to America. Once here they meet the fair-skinned race of Mound Builders.
That civilization is described in detail, including its laws, religion, priests, money system, tools, animals, agricultural products, as well as a magical seer stone possessed by its prophets. Letters are exchanged between leaders (the Book of Mormon has "epistles"), "Censors" are the rulers ("Judges" in the Book of Mormon), and lists of generals are given for armies of tens of thousands. The mound builders also have horses and "mamoons" (mammoths).
The dead from great battles are heaped up in mounds (false explanations for the orderly Indian burial mounds of real history). The white race has continuous wars with a darker-skinned race, but hundreds of years of peace are established by a great teacher ("Bosaka" in "Manuscript Found" and Christ in the Book of Mormon).
This extraordinarily long period of peace ends in a battle near a hill. In a last battle in which the white race is exterminated, there is an incident in which a man is beheaded in a sword fight.
Silverberg is dispassionate about these similarities of plot elements to those of the Book of Mormon. "Neutral observers," he writes, "generally suggest the possibility that both works drew their inspiration from the fund of Mound Builder legends then in circulation, leaving aside the question of possible borrowing by Smith from Spaulding" (p. 96).
Silverberg continues this compelling history by showing that the Mound Builder myth continued independently of its expression in the Book of Mormon (1830). By 1839, the vastly popular play "Behemoth" had audiences transfixed with its portrayal of "Behemoth," rogue mastodon who destroyed the mound builders. Whole armies attack Behemoth, and even forts were of no protection against the raging mastodon!
During the early 1800s, copper Indian ornaments (described as "plates") were found in the mounds, and some of these ornaments were even mistaken for parts of swords. From such errors, the mound builders were soon thought to have had iron and steel. And so the myth grew (Thomas Jefferson was among the few who thought that the Indians themselves constructed the mounds).
Read this book if you would like some perspective on why a book like the Book of Mormon would emerge during the early 1800s. It is a brilliant unraveling of a forgotten part of American history.
See my negative, one-star reviews of books by Mormon authors: "Echoes and Evidences," "By the Hand of Mormon," "Lehi in the Deseret," and others. Click here: Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion Lehi in the Desert, the World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol 5).
Click here for links to the following great book that refutes Mormon claims: Robert Wauchope's tiny volume, "Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents: Myth and Method in the Study of the American Indians." Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents: Myth and Method In the Study of American Indians
Your comments--positive or negative--are appreciated. Thanks.