Organizers of an upcoming conference on archaeology and the Book of Mormon hope to draw additional participants this year by setting the event just before the opening day of the semiannual general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Book of Mormon Archaeological Foundation will host its third annual event Sept. 29 and 30 at the Red Lion Hotel, 161 W. 600 South, in Salt Lake City. Though the foundation is not formally affiliated with the LDS Church, the vast majority of scholars, researchers and presenters are members of the faith.
Topics this year include "Ammon and the Mesoamerican custom of smiting off arms," "Creation, Garden of Eden, and Resurrection in Mesoamerican Thought," and "Scholars Support 3rd Nephi Without Knowing Its Content."
Dave Asay, a spokesman for the foundation, said organizers hope to attract nearly 300 people to this year's event, primarily through word of mouth via past participants.
The conference provides a forum for the latest in archaeological research by LDS scholars and others in Mesoamerica, where many believe the events chronicled in the Book of Mormon took place from approximately 600 B.C. to A.D. 400 Latter-day Saints believe the book was translated in the 19th century by church founder Joseph Smith from plates inscribed by ancient prophets and delivered to Smith by an angel. They consider the book to be the central scriptural canon of their faith, along with the Bible.
Asay believes interest in Mesoamerican archaeology will continue to grow among Latter-day Saints as researchers find and document evidence for theories that many in the LDS community have long discussed regarding the events in the book.
"The vast majority of LDS archaeologists and scholars strongly agree that Book of Mormon lands are in the Mesoamerica area. There's really no evidence to put it anywhere else." Asay said to date, the area is the only place known to have had a written language during the time period chronicled in the book.
At least two scholars in recent years have cited DNA data in publicly disputing the notion that peoples chronicled in the Book of Mormon descend from Israelites, as the book states. Simon Southerton, a former Latter-day Saint living in Australia, penned a book disputing the Israelite heritage. He was excommunicated from the LDS Church earlier this year, after LDS leaders in his jurisdiction charged him with adultery, rather than apostasy.
The LDS Church has never issued a formal statement citing specific locations for Book of Mormon events.
"We don't give too much credence to detractors or those with different theories," Asay said. "When those are put before a true group of researchers, scholars or archaeologists, they simply don't hold up." He said presenters are professionals "who have walked the ground and know what they are talking about."
Scholars from Brigham Young University and its Foundation for Ancient Research in Mormon Studies are presenting, along with archaeologist V. Garth Norman of the Ancient America Foundation, and Elder Ted E. Bremerton, an emeritus general authority with the LDS Church.
For information or to register, call 801-414-5150.