We are excited to revisit Dr. Michael Coe at his home in New Haven, Connecticut, to discuss some of the challenges facing Mormon archaeologists attempting to prove the historical truth of their central scripture.

Dr. Michael Coe is the Charles J. MacCurdy Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University and Curator Emeritus of the Division of Anthropology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is an expert on the Maya, who inhabited the same part of Mexico and Central America where Mormon scholars say the events of the Book of Mormon took place.


Show Notes:


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Part 1

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Part 2

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Part 3

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  1. Bliss Doubt April 18, 2018 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Well John, all I can say it it’s a good thing we’re not living in the inquisition era, or you’d either be rotting in a dungeon or tied to a stake.

    Enjoyable podcast, thank you.

  2. Dale April 18, 2018 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    Coe is obviously not current with the latest apologetic arguments. I can understand that as reasonable considering his age and professional standing. Nevertheless, he was very inconsistent in some of his statements. First, he claimed that every inch of Mayan land was looked over and understood. Later he says such would not be possible and how ridiculous to even consider so. Huh? Coe’s use of Stevens work, that was published in early 1840 a decade after the publication of the BofM, and the basis of how supposedly Joseph Smith’s use of such in the BofM, was a real miss! . If Ash didn’t expose that little fact the listeners would have had the wrong impression. Also, Coe’s using the excuse “I don’t have time” to spend the energy of exploring seriously the claims in the BofM was not too encouraging as a response if we are to give credence to the subject at hand. Also, the giggling and mocking by both Coe and Dehlin, at least for me, was rude and unprofessional. At least use some decorum if you want to be taken seriously in a serious matter.

    There were some interesting points but nothing new under the sun. Still the same old debate using outdated critique of BofM apologetics when there have been great shifts in current understanding. DNA is not even an issue if a group of 30 old world Israelites entered into an indigenous population. The text in the BofM shows in clear terms the distance of travel we are dealing in points to small geographical areas. Using the old paradigms on large geography and empty continent models that were taught in the past by non revelatory sources is just another example of the disingenuous tactics that are still being used. I would hope Coe and Dehlin would be beyond such.

    It is time to catch up with new understandings and quit cornering the new light and understanding that science and LDS faithful should all be afforded with. Why is only science given such consideration???

    • David April 19, 2018 at 6:40 am - Reply

      Very much agreed. The original podcast was perhaps Top 30, not top 3.
      But he didn’t add much perspective beyond LIDAR which I had already fully understood previously from other sources.

      I do agree that the revelation of ancient structures isn’t automatic proof for the book of Mormon, but my perspectives on the Book of Mormon are that it’s in an inspired production. Joseph felt he produced something from God, and the plates were only to be seen through spiritual eyes. In a very real way he believed in his on imaginations and fantasies, and in doing so he was able to draw from the the Divine even God. Joseph Smith was so impressed with it’s production and creation that he called it the most correct book on earth in the process. Sure it has anachronistic things within it a 19th Century world view and understanding, but that is to be expected when it is a product of his time, but with it there are also many things that he got right and the paradigms that it creates and leaves behind are amazing in of itself as it breaks the mold of traditional Christianity.

      I wonder if bringing these perspectives in to the Church can create an explosion of inspiration and creativity. Hopefully we can bring back some of the original power that being Mormon had minus all the negative stuff. Mormonism has potential for something truly beautiful and this is something we should putting our efforts into bringing about.

      • G. Kallen April 19, 2018 at 10:37 am - Reply

        But remember that B.H. Roberts, one of the 7 presidents of the Quorum of the Seventy wrote in a book, “Studies of the Book of Mormon”, that he felt it very likely that Joseph Smith had written the Book ob Mormon. And he reported this opinion, after much in depth study, to the 12 and the First Presidency. And had they felt he was incorrect and had apostasized, why did they not excommunicate him?

        Great interview, John!

        • David April 19, 2018 at 11:36 am - Reply

          I will need to investigate this deeper. Good point.

      • V. Richards March 26, 2019 at 2:07 pm - Reply

        I have currently been watching the series Lost Treasures of the Maya on National Geographic. The new LiDAR technology is amazing! Archeologists have been finding many new cities they never knew existed and hundreds of new buildings in sites they thought they had already thoroughly excavated. They say the previous calculation of the total Maya population is only a small fraction of what it probably was. Although I still cannot explain some of the arguments against the historicity of the BoM, I believe the possibility of the smaller Nephite/Lamanite population not infiltrating the already existing Mayan population is now a more plausible theory than Dr. Coe believed. It will be interesting to see what archeologists find in these new sites (whether or not they prove or disprove the historicity).

    • Neil April 19, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply

      I’m sorry you’re offended by the so called giggling and mocking. In my opinion you’re drinking the Kool aide if you don’t understand the humor in Sorenson’s obtuse nature of defending the Book of Mormon with archaeology evidence.

    • Robert April 28, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      Doesn’t the Book of Mormon say that a promise was given regarding the Book of Mormon people’s place in this promised land and that “none other shall possess it”? That would seem to rule out the possibility of Lehi’s people coming here and blending in with indigenous people, but never mentioning any such interaction anywhere in the book, wouldn’t it? It seems that the Book of Mormon commits irrevocably to a position that no one else but the Book of Mormon people were in America.

    • Ryan Wimmer May 17, 2018 at 11:50 am - Reply

      If nothing new under the sun then I assume a small number of Mormon apologists will continue to be the only scientists studying mesoamerica that will take the Book of Mormon as as ancient history seriously.

    • Matt Brown July 27, 2020 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      If LDS apologists were as intellectually honest as scientists, accepting new evidence that changes the accepted theories amd hypotheses, then perhaps they would also be given such considerations.

      As it stands, you have misunderstood what Dr Coe said and are taking things out of context. Perhaps you could share some of these “new understandings” if you believe they are of value.

  3. Dwayne April 19, 2018 at 5:54 pm - Reply

    I liked the interview. I found Dr. Coe to be entertaining, thoughtful, and knowledgeable. I’m still a bit confounded as to how a people would use the wheel to form pottery and create toys but never conceived the idea of building a simple carriage which would attach to an animal (dog?) to transport merchandise and food.

  4. John April 19, 2018 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    In the words of Jim Carey in the movie Dumb and Dumber
    “ so there’s a chance “

  5. Phil April 20, 2018 at 4:31 am - Reply

    How about a podcast from the Maya at the Lago event? See the blurb below….

    M@L brings some of the worldís top Mesoamerican archaeologists together to share their experiences and current research with colleagues, students, and the general public. The research is fresh and the delivery is easy to digest. Regardless of your experience, Maya at the Lago has an offering that will pique your interest.


  6. Cory April 20, 2018 at 6:36 am - Reply

    Excellent! Dr. Coe’s original interview is one of the best, and it’s great to hear from him again.

  7. Andy April 20, 2018 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    The interesting irony is the apologetics keep trying to minimize the size of the nephites and their abilities — yet they are excited to hear about the LiDAR findings of Mayans civilizations size and complexity and somehow think this data may support their beliefs? Seems illogical… when it seems they now believe it was a small, genetically lost population – When the B of M talks about how many there were – This conversation keeps getting more convoluted!

  8. Ray April 22, 2018 at 10:40 am - Reply


    Please interview Dale and David (commenters above) so they can provide the “new” information that Ash and Sorensen will not.

    I would like to hear about any/all new evidence that science is obscuring and hiding and the apologetic arguments that authenticate the BoM.

  9. Dave April 23, 2018 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Great podcast. Just like geologists don’t study Noahs’ Flood (because there is no evidence of a worldwide flood), there are no real archaeologists that study the B of M because there is no evidence of Nephites etc . There is also so much other information showing the B of M was made-up by Joseph Smith that it seems unnecessary to even bring up archaeology, but I am glad for these types of post-casts showing how far fetched the arguments of apologists have to go. I agree with Ray, how about an interview with an apologist and an archaeologist – my guess is the apologists would be very embarrassed.

  10. Dave P April 24, 2018 at 1:06 am - Reply

    I have a comment about barley, which was mentioned in the podcast. Here is a quick run-down. In the book of mormon, barley is mentioned a number of times, however from my memory it is not claimed that the barley was brought by the nephites. there is no archaeological evidence of a large American culture during BOM times using a Hordeum species. There are a number of New world species of ‘barley’ (Hordeum). One of these, Hordeum pusillum (little barley), evolved and was domesticated in the new world. Its closest ancestors are not other North American species or old world species – its closest ancestors are south american species. Little barley diverged from old world species approximately 12 million years ago. Little barley with characteristics that show evidence of domestication has been found in various places in the US, but not northern Mexico, and definitely not in the land of the Maya.

  11. Zak April 24, 2018 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    When Dr. Coe was talking about JS’s projection of Old Testament history to Book of Mormon I thought about other things that JS projected his world view into the Book of Mormon. Pilgrims came to North America on ships. The Nephites and Jaredites came to the Promised Land on ships. The actual inhabitants of the ancient Americas migrated by the Bering Strait.

  12. David April 28, 2018 at 11:01 pm - Reply

    Joseph Smith. The Donald Trump of early 19th century New England.

  13. St. Elias April 30, 2018 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Dave, in a way geologists have studied floods such as Noah’s. There is a book out there, written by two geologists called “Noah’s Flood”, and it describes a giant flood at about the correct time as the one in the Bible, and Russian geologists looking for oil in the Black Sea, have discovered signs of civilization 400 feet below the bottom of that sea. But this flood was a very large regional flood and fits the Bible story very well.

  14. Ryan Wimmer May 16, 2018 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    Excellent interview. Sounded like Sorensen may have had a point or two but overall seemed to mostly nit pick. I can see why a professor in Coe’s position would not have time to stay up on the current Mormon apologetics and found his humored reaction to it quit entertaining. I think it would be great if Michael Ash would come on, my past experience with Ash has taught me he is a decent and kind human being and believe a discussion with mutual respect would be good. I know John Dehlin would be respectful, sometimes even frustratingly respectful (I would have grilled Brant Gardner and Shaw
    McCraney far harsher). So I think It would be a good discussion between them without it getting too heated.

  15. Pacumeni June 14, 2018 at 3:32 am - Reply

    At the time Lehi is said to have left Jerusalem, that “city” may have had around 3,000 people. That is one pertinent frame of reference for what the word “city” might mean in the Book of Mormon. In the U.S. today, there are many places that are self designated cities that have a few thousand inhabitants. So to suggest that the urbanization in the Mayan areas was insufficient to sustain claims that there were cities there is to attack a straw man. Archaeologists working in the pre-Classic Mayan Mirador Basin who combine Lidar evidence with the magnitude of the pyramids there estimate that one city may have had as many as a million inhabitants and may have been the largest in the world at the time. Given its size, one pyramid discovered there would have required about 3,000 workers working on it full time for 30 years to complete construction. Clearly, only a large surrounding population could support that number of workers, and that is just one structure among the thousands found there. So a community doesn’t have to be all that large to warrant being called a city, and there is evidence, at least in the Mirador Basin, that there were communities that meet almost any standard one might reasonably set for the word “city.” These discoveries are not proof of Book of Mormon historicity, but at least in his discussion of urbanization, Dr. Coe’s critique lacks substance.

    • Coriantumr June 22, 2018 at 2:33 pm - Reply

      Here we have the Mormon connection to Pacumeni’s comment. https://www.weeklystandard.com/king-of-the-jungle-the-mayan-empire-of-archaeologist-richard-hansen/article/2010638 . Richard Hansen is associated with providing scholar support in archaeology for the movie Apocalypto. The movie has been taking flak from certain sides of the Archaeological world for allegedly misconstructions of Maya culture. The movie is set in an immediate time prior to first contact. I’m not sure if Hansen expertise is in Post Classic Maya period but he certainly has studied Maya culture with rigor. His work in El Mirador basin is of course well known. EL Mirador appears from the start to be a complex of sister cities states . The article does not set a strict time of construction progress of the cities. The pyramid refer to by Pacumeni is only slightly higher than Tikal’s main temple. Tikal’s time line by many archaeologists, including BYU’s Mesoamerican Studies do not depict Tikal as a 300,000 plus area, but the environment is of course, different. The interesting connection is the association of certain interest in re-enforcing the BoM historicity in the Maya area and Hansen himself who seems to be a bit off-side from the mainstream academic world. The writer of the article is, of course, clearly biased. Although Maya culture made use and perfected the Long Count calendar the 63 million year quotation is a bit “extensive”. And the consensus is that the Maya as we define them today from language and anthropological findings did not create the Long Count calendar. That is attributed to the Olmec, which in some archaeology circles are considered pre-maya people. The term empire, used in the title is also a bit difficult to swallow. To our humble knowledge there is no empire in Mesoamerica. There are cities states that have influence and difficulties with one another. The only civilization that eventually took the mantle of Statehood is the Inca. There u can see a definite political and religious State organization. I would search in Academia if there is some more rigorous papers on El Mirador. keep u posted.

  16. Jim August 5, 2018 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    If Joseph Smith’s translations related to horses, textiles, and chariots are so inarticulate, what other misunderstandings might he have introduced? Wouldn’t there instead be some infallibility to his divine translation?

    If the faithful have investments alone in excess of $30 billion—married to the intense effort at apologetics—why not devote, say, 1% ($300 million) to Mesoamerican studies?

    As Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. “

  17. Stanley September 2, 2018 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    No central American evidence because you’re focused on the wrong part of the Americas.
    Startlooking in north America, Florida to Canada.

  18. Matt Brown July 27, 2020 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    This was an outstanding interview, I only wish that Dr Coe were still around to thank! What a great example of a life well lived!

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