Critics of the Book of Mormon contend there is absolutely zero archeological or historical evidence to support its claim that Christian, Pre-Christ Jews were led out of the land of Israel before the conquest of Babylon to America. They also contend that there is zero archeological or historical evidence to support the claim that Jews would ever write Hebrew scriptures and other sacred writing in a "pagan" script like reformed Egyptian. Critics also complain that Jews of 600 BC didn't use metal plate technology but limited there writing to parchment, leather, pot-shard (ostracon) and papyrus in rare cases.
However, over the last 3-4 decades, numerous examples in the archeological record are turning up which vindicate the Book of Mormon claims while discrediting its critics. While not the basis for my belief in the Book of Mormon, I thought it fun to list several of the artifact descriptions, pictures, and links.
LDS Scholars John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks of the The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (FARMS), in 1996 co-wrote a paper entitled "Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters." This paper discussed several examples of Semitic languages and Hebrew scripture written in Hieroglyphics, demotic or other "reformed" Egyptian script.
Dana M. Pike of the The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (FARMS), writes an excellent chapter in the Book "Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem" entitled "Israelite Inscriptions from the Time of Jeremiah and Lehi."
Gezer Calendar (10th century BC)
While many associate written Hebrew with the squarish letters and curvy flourishes, early Hebrew was originally written in a script very similar to Phoenician. This paleo-Hebrew is first seen in the Gezer Calendar, which dates to around the 10th century BC and records agricultural activities throughout the year. During the exile to Babylon (6th century BC), the Hebrews started to use the Aramaic language and script, but continued to use paleo-Hebrew mostly in the religious writing. In later periods, Old Hebrew was sometimes inscribed on coins as a tool for Hebrew nationalism. The Old Hebrew alphabet ceased to be used at all by the 1st century CE and was replaced by "square" Hebrew.
This example suggests if Israel could adopt the alphabet of the "pagan" Philistines (Phoenician) why not learn and use Egyptian writing. Also, it is significant to remember that this Phoenecian-like, paleo-Hebrew is the script that the Nephites would have used preferentially for writing. The Book of Mormon suggests that their "Reformed Egyptian" was more difficult to use but suited itself for recording sacred writings on metal plates because of its compactness.
Papyrus Amherst 63 (2nd century BC)
This document was written in Egyptian demotic and dated to the second century BC. This papyrus was discovered in Thebes, Egypt preserved in an earthen jar like the Dead Sea Scrolls. For years, Egyptologists were unable to translate the text. The letters were clear, but they did not form intelligible words. In 1944, Raymond Bowman of the University of Chicago realized that, while the script is Egyptian, the underlying language is Aramaic. Among the writings included in the religious text is a paganized version of Psalms 20:2–6. This text represents a sample of exactly what the Book of Mormon claims to be. Papyrus Amherst 63 contains a passage of scripture written in Aramaic, but transliterated into Egyptian characters.
Tel Arad Ostracon (7th Century BC)
Pot shard (ostraca) discovered at Tel Arad, located near the southern border of the kingdom of Judah, dating from 700-600 BC show a combination of Hebrew and Egyptian Hieratic writing together. The text on the ostracon is written in a combination of Egyptian hieratic and Hebrew characters, but can be read entirely as Egyptian. Of the seventeen words in the text, ten are written in hieratic and seven in Hebrew. However, all the words written in Hebrew can be read as Egyptian words, while one of them, which occurs twice, has the same meaning in both Egyptian and Hebrew. This piece demostrates that there were those in Israel who understood and wrote in Egyptian and in this case mixed Egyptian and Hebrew writing.
The Lachish Letters (588 BC)
In 1935, a collection of letters written on pottery was unearthed in the biblical city of Lachish. These letters confirm events that occurred during King Zedekiah's reign in 588 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon conqured Jerusalem. The letters mention the names of biblical figures, possibly even the prophet Jeremiah or possibly a second prophet Urijah.
Lehi, Ishmael, and their families left Jerusalem several years before these Lachish ostraca were written. Mulek probably left Jerusalem within a year or two of their writing. The Lachish ostraca give an eyewitness account of setting of Lehi, Mulek, and Jeremiah at the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
King Darius Gold and Silver Plates of Persepoli (500 BC)
Ketef Hinnom Amulets (600 BC)
Ketef Hinnom, or "shoulder of Hinnom," is located on the west side of the Hinnom Valley,on the western boundary of ancient Jerusalem. Two small rolls of inscribed silver foil were discovered in 1979, along with a number of other items dating from the end of the First Temple period through the Second Temple period. These two inscribed rolls date to about 600 BC. From wear patterns, each of these silver rolls had apparently been worn on a cord, apparently around someone's neck, as an amulet or charm. When unrolled, one measures 9.7 x 2.7 cm (ca. 3.8 x 1.06 inches) and the other 3.9 x 1.1 cm (ca. 1.54 x 0.43 inches). The text on these two amulets was incised with a stylus with the Aaronic priestly blessing recorded in Numbers 6:24–26.
The Pyrgi Tablets, found in a 1964 excavation of a sanctuary of that town in Italy (current Santa Severa), a port of the southern Etruscan town of Caere, are three golden leaves that record a dedication made around 500 BC by Thefarie Velianas, king of Caere, to the Phoenician goddess ‘Ashtaret'. While the first two plates are writen in Etruscan. The 3rd plate is written in Phoenician. This find reveales the important link between the Ancient Phoenecian and Etruscan civilizations at the time of the Book of Mormon. In fact, some scholars believe that "Tarshish" the Biblical city Jonah was fleeing to, the city of Paul, and which is referenced by Isaiah when referring to the "ships of Tarshish" may in fact be referring to the island of Sardinia and the ancient "Tyrsenians" Etruscans and not Spain as has been believed by tradition. (Orientalische Litteraturzeitung, iii. 151, Cheyne ). Others believe it could be referring to ancient Carthage in Tunisia.
Whether "Tarshish" referred to a specific Phoenecian trading partner or was a general term for several Phonecian colonies, ancient Tarshish was important for its trade in metals and metal work. Carthage and the Etruscans were known for trade and work in copper, tin, silver, lead, bronze and iron. In addition to the Pyrgi tablets being another example of regious text from about 600 BC engraven on gold plates, the link between the Phonecians and the Etruscans and metal technology is of further significance knowing Lehi and Nephi's experience in trade, metal work and in ship building.
Bat Creek Stone
The Bat Creek Stone was excavated in 1889 from an undisturbed burial mound in Eastern Tennessee by the Smithsonian's Mound Survey project. While initially believed to be Cherokee, in the 1960s, Henriette Mertz and Corey Ayoob correctly identified the inscription as Paleo-Hbbrew. According to Cyrus Gordon in 1971, the five letters to the left of the comma-shaped word divider read, from right to left, LYHWD, or "for Judea." In 1988, wood fragments found with the inscription were Carbon-14 dated to somewhere between 32 A.D. and 769 A.D. (McCulloch 1988).
Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., and Mary L. Kwas in 2004 wrote in American Antiquity that the inscription was copied from an illustration in an 1870 Masonic reference book. They conclued that the Bat Creek Stone is a nineteenth century forgery by the Smithsonian field assistant who found it. An 1860s artist's impression of how the Biblical phrase QDSh LYHWH, or "Holy to Yahweh," looks suprisingly similar in Paleo-Hebrew letters to the Bat Creek Stone.
Despite their simularities, the inscriptions are not the same. Therefore, together with other similar archeological oddities like the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone I think there is a good case for its authenticity. The possiblility for forgery must be considered in each case, but in light of our emerging understanding of the Phoenecian naval trade, and cocaine identified in Egyptian mummies (Balabanova, S. Homo, 48 (1) 1997, pp. 72 – 77), the connection between the Pre-Columbian Old World and New World is gaining momentum. If the Paleo-Hebrew Bat Creek Stone is a forgery, it's a good one, and exactly what Pre-Columbian Jews in American would be expected to leave behind.