This is one of a series of web pages I created between 2001and 2006. I was angry and frustrated at the LDS Church. Since then I have moved on and calmed down. So please remember, if you read these pages, that they reflect my past and not my present feelings. Thanks for your understanding!      -  Chris Tolworthy

home

Cement in the Book of Mormon

Is it "concrete proof" that the Book of Mormon is true?

by Chris Tolworthy

Introduction

I used to be a Mormon. I used to collect evidences to support the Book of Mormon. One of the best evidences was the mention of cement.

In 1929 LDS Church president Heber J. Grant recalled: "When I was a young unmarried man, another young man who had received a doctor's degree ridiculed me for believing in the Book of Mormon. He said that one lie in the Book of Mormon is that the people had built their homes out of cement and that they were very skillful in the use of cement. He said there had never been found, and never would be found, a house built of cement by the ancient inhabitants of this country, because the people in that early age knew nothing about cement. He said that should be enough to make one disbelieve the book. I said: 'That does not affect my faith one particle. I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart.' I also said to him, 'If my children do not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will'" (in Conference Report, April 1929, 129).

The Book of Mormon says the people used cement, the Mormons were mocked for believing such nonsense, and what do we find? The ancient Americans used cement. Slam dunk! He shoots, he scores! Here is a photo of cement used in ancient American ruins. Pretty impressive, eh?

cement used at Teotihuacan

What the Book of Mormon actually says

This is not the only evidence used to support the Book of Mormon, but it is one of the best known. I will examine it here as a representative of all the other evidence that I once believed. First, what does the Book of Mormon actually say about cement?

Helaman Chapter 3 (emphasis added)
1 And now it came to pass in the forty and third year of the reign of the judges, there was no contention among the people of Nephi save it were a little pride which was in the church, which did cause some little dissensions among the people, which affairs were settled in the ending of the forty and third year.
2 And there was no contention among the people in the forty and fourth year; neither was there much contention in the forty and fifth year.
3 And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.
4 And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers.
5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.
6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.
7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.
8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.
9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.
10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.
11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.
12 And it came to pass that there were many of the people of Ammon, who were Lamanites by birth, did also go forth into this land.
13 And now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them.

On the surface, the cement houses claim looks pretty good. A lot of Mormonism looks good from a distance. But when we look closer a number of serious problems appear.

Problem 1: all the other evidence says the Book of Mormon is fiction

Occasionally Joseph Smith seemed to get lucky, as with mentioning cement, but most of the ideas in the Book of Mormon have been proven false. For example, the Nephites and Lamanites were supposedly descended from Semitic peoples - Lehi, Zoram, Melek, etc. The Book of Mormon title page says they were the "principle ancestors of the American Indians," and for a hundred and fifty years, every American Indian and Polynesian person has been called a "Lamanite." Yet DNA studies have shown that there is simply no Semitic blood in any of the so-called Lamanites.

The Book of Mormon is about a group who worshipped Jesus. For years, church leaders like Mark E. Petersen taught that Jesus was Quetzalcoatl. But anyone who studies the Quertzalcoatl myths soon sees that this is impossible. That was pretty much the only serious evidence for Jesus in the Americas, and it has fallen apart like all the other evidence.

Another example: all but the believers were killed in 3 Nephi 8, and there were two hundred years when monotheistic Nephites filled the land. Yet archaeology shows that at this time the people were polytheists, as they always were.

Thus the biggest historical claims of the Book of Mormon are proven false. Other claims are equally crazy - for example, that the first Americans arrived in submarines after the tower of Babel (see Ether chapters 1-3). And the other details, that they had elephants and horses and steel swords and chariots and Bible texts- are simply without foundation, and can only be believed by twisting the words: "sword means obsidian club, horse means tapir, elephant means ice age mammoth" etc.

All this is hardly surprising when we see all the other evidence that the whole Mormon church is man-made. Given so many mistakes it is hardly surprising that occasionally the Book of Mormon gets one or two things almost right. But I say "almost" right because the cement claim is a lot weaker than it seems, as we shall see.

Problem 2: One or two coincidences do not make proof

Have you ever read any alternative history? Or "proofs" of other religions? Or conspiracy theories? Everyone who believes something can provide evidences that appear very strong on the surface. But not everyone is right. Having a small number of interesting evidences proves nothing. We need much more than that. But Mormons just have a few isolated "evidences." On the strength of the cement houses and similar "evidences," the Book of Mormon is just one more alternative history, but one where the major claims (Semitic monotheistic Indians) have already been proven false.

Problem 3: The claim is so weak that it is almost meaningless

The statement that ancient Americans have cement is just not a very remarkable claim. It is like claiming that they have bricks. So what? If the Book of Mormon had said "they have wooden walls and concrete roofs" that would have been more interesting. But it just says "cement" and apologists have stretched the meaning of cement to mean anything from concrete to mud (see below) so it would be far more remarkable if the ancient Americans did not have cement.

Problem 4: You need lots of trees to make cement

Jeff Lindsay admits that "The key to making cement is the conversion of calcium carbonate to calcium oxide (lime) in a process called calcination. It requires fire, and the ancient producers of cement in Mexico needed a lot of flammable material to sustain the cement industry." In other words, you make cement because you have a lot of wood. If you don't have a lot of wood, you can't make cement. Yet "Helaman" said they made cement because they had no wood. Seems like Joseph didn't know much about cement.

Brant Gardner suggests that the cement buildings were made before the wood ran out, the complete opposite of what the Book of Mormon says. Perhaps the writer of Helaman did not know the order of events? But we are told that Mormon had "many records" and he tells us what happens in each year, one after the other. The Book of Mormon is very clear. They used cement because there were no trees.

Jeff Lindsay concludes that there must have been other stuff to burn. But what? Did they discover oil? Did they burn the dung from their cumoms and cureloms? The people covered the land from sea to sea. That implies thousands of houses, many of them made from cement. You cannot make that much cement without trees.

So the Book of Mormon description is just impossible.

Problem 5: It says cement, not stone or concrete

The Book of Mormon talks of "houses of cement." But "houses of cement" would crack and crumble. Cement only has strength as a binder for stone or brick. Cement, by itself, has no structural strength and is useless as a construction material, except as a mortar or grout between masonry, bricks or stones. So perhaps the Book of Mormon really meant concrete, stone or brick?

Perhaps the Book of Mormon meant "houses of stone held together by cement"? But that is not what it says. It says, very clearly, "houses of cement." It contrasts houses of cement with houses of wood. The author seems to think that houses can be made of cement in the same way that houses can be made of wood.

So apologists have to twist the words to fit.

Problem 6: Where are the thousands of cement houses?

The Book of Mormon says the people covered the land from north to south, from east to west, coast to coast:

8. And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.

Judging from the numbers given elsewhere, there were hundreds of thousands of Nephites, so if they covered the whole land there must have been tens of thousands of houses. Even if most of them lived in tents, there must have been thousands of cement houses. Where are they? Mormons point to concrete roofs, not concrete houses, and certainly not cement houses. And all the examples come from centuries later, and from the south as well as the north. The only contemporary concrete buildings are great temples. Where are the cement houses?

Not one example of a cement house has been found.

Problem 7: Helaman is not talking about adobe

Because of these problems, it is common for apologists to now say that "cement" meant adobe - the mixture of mud and stones that has been used to make houses since time began. Sometimes this is called cement. But adobe was such a common building material that there would be no point in mentioning it. Yet the Book of Mormon makes a great point of mentioning this as something special, and says "they became exceedingly expert in the working of cement." This would make no sense if the houses were adobe like all the other houses. Most apologists still say that cement means concrete (see for example John W. Welch, Reexploring The Book of Mormon, p. 213) .

Perhaps Helaman is talking about some clever new use of adobe - perhaps the adobe "cement" usually required wood, but the ingenious Nephites find a new wood-free method? Perhaps the word "cement" means something different to Joseph Smith? Or something different to the ancient Americans? Or...

And here we have the real problem.

The real problem: blind faith is not science

The real problem with the cement claim, as well as every other "evidence," is that believers are determined to believe, regardless of the evidence. If one line of evidence fails them, they will try looking at it in another way. If that approach fails, they look in yet another way. They keep on changing how they look until they find a way that they can believe. The response from a believer can be paraphrased thus:

"The DNA evidence says the book if false? But what about the mention of cement?"

"Oh, you can't make cement without trees? Well, Helaman must have made a mistake - they obviously made the cement before the trees ran out."

"What, cement houses would fall down? He must have meant concrete, not cement."

"What, no concrete houses have been found? When he wrote "cement" he probably meant "adobe" - but he didn't have a word for "mud" or "brick."

"What, the text does not make sense if it means adobe? Then he must have meant something else, because obviously the book is true..."

This is not science. This is not archaeology. This is blind faith.

Conclusion: exactly what we would expect from fiction

Despite what I have said here, some people - those who have a heavy investment in Mormonism and need to believe - will still believe that the mention of cement is a powerful evidence for the Book of Mormon. But I think that most people will agree that it is an unremarkable claim that is only weakly supported by the evidence.

Please remember that this is one of the strongest evidences for the Book of Mormon. There are a handful of other "strong" coincidences, like the existence of metal plates or the letters NHM, but most of the alleged evidence is much weaker. And all the evidence "supporting" the Book of Mormon is trivial details like this. The central claims - semitic, monotheists who were visited by Christ - are contradicted by the evidence.

In conclusion, the major historical claims of the Book of Mormon are false, and of the hundreds of minor claims, a few unremarkable claims have some parallels in reality, but this can easily be attributed to chance, plus years of hard work by believers. These believers will leave no stone unturned, no word untwisted, no interpretation untried, intheir efforts to find a parallel, however weak, between something in the Book of Mormon and something in the real world. This is exactly what we would expect from a work of fiction supported by earnest believers.

 

home