Cement in the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon claims that cement was used in the ancient Americas.
Cement has been widely found in ancient Mesoamerican structures in many forms. This was not common knowledge in North America until the early 1900s. This article addresses the following:
Structures made of cement north of a narrow neck of land dating near the beginning of the Common Era
Charcoal from Teotihuacan found under an ancient concrete slab radiocarbon dates between 50 BC and 110 AD. Teotihuacan is located in Mexico near Mexico City just north of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and further north of the Isthmus of Panama.
Earliest related published discovery date: 1845
Cement use in the Book of Mormon
According to the Book of Mormon the crafting of cement was in its ascent in the Americas around 50 BC, almost 600 years after the time described in the opening pages of the Book of Mormon. Its use is contained entirely within a single chapter of the book of Helaman. Here the author is describing the expansion of the people around the city known as Zarahemla and how the people to the north were becoming expert in the working of cement.
Here are the related verses in the Book of Mormon:
The first mention of cement is in verse 7 of chapter 3 in Helaman:
"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."
The second is in verse 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."
The final use of cement is found in verse 11 where the author is completing a point made in the verse 10 that the land did not support the timber needed to make cement so it was being shipped in:
"And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement."
We know that the land northward as described in verse 9 is North of the city of Zarahemla from a previous verse in the chapter:
"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."
We also know that the land north of Zarahemla was separated by a narrow neck of land because of a later verse in the book of Alma:
"And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half’s journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward."
Knowledge of cement in the 1800s:
When the Book of Mormon was published in 1830 the world was unaware of any cement structures in the ancient Americas that had existed prior to Columbus. While some explorers had made contact with the sites, there was no archeological work that had been published about them. It wasn't until 1845, 15 years later, that the first publication was produced that included the discovery of cement in ancient Mesoamerican construction. It was written by John Lloyd Stephens in his work titled Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which chronicles his journey to Central America that he started in 1839.
By 1929 ancient cement use had become common knowledge in the United States. Heber J. Grant, then president of the church, acknowledged it's existence in the archeological record in the April conference of the church. In his comment he shared an early experience in his life which is just as easily applied today:
"I have often said and desire to repeat here that 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 he could point out two lies in that book. One was that the people had built their homes out of cement and that they were very skilful 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.' He said, 'Well, what is the good of talking with a fool like that?' Now, since that time houses made of cement and massive structures of the same material have been uncovered."
The second point that the educated individual was trying to make was the ability for a voice to be heard over great distances.
Why is the word cement used in the Book of Mormon?
What's interesting about the use of the word cement is that cement is not really a building material on its own. Cement is a binding agent that is found within other building materials. For example, when cement is mixed with a larger, more course filler it forms concrete. When mixed with a finer aggregate, like sand, it forms a plaster. Plaster can then be used either for mortar or stucco. The most common cement since the 1900's has been Portland cement. Prior to this cement was made from a chemical known as lime.
In ancient Hebrew, the most common words that could be translated into cement were also synonymous with mortar. There wasn't a big distinction between the two. It would either be the word מֶ֫לֶט (pronounced as mhe-let or meh-let), or the word חֹ֫מֶר (pronounced as kho-mer). That latter word is more commonly used to represent a type of filler than it is to represent a mortar, but could be translated into English as a mortar or cement, depending on how it was used in the writing. There are a few other words that represent specific types of mortar, and other similar words that are more synonymous to bricks, mud, or bitumen, but these usually do not translate well into a binding material such as cement. Modern Hebrew has a broader vocabulary.
Concrete in the Book of Mormon
The noun concrete could not appear in the Book of Mormon because it didn't exist in the English language until 1834, four years after the book was published. Up until that first appearance as a noun it existed as an adjective only.
Cement use in Mesoamerica:
Today we know that lime based cement was a common material used in ancient America for mortar, stucco, and what we now define as concrete. The most famous archeological sites where cement was used are the cities of Teotihuacan and El Tajin.
Charcoal found in mounds at Teotihuacan radiocarbon dates somewhere between 50 BC to 110 AD. This same date range is reconfirmed by radiocarbon dating in charcoal that was found under concrete slabs under the Temple of the Sun. This temple is a massive stonework construction, and one of the largest pyramids ever built. It includes floors that were made of concrete and walls and other areas that were covered in cement stucco. Teotihuacan is located just outside of Mexico City, north of the narrow neck of land that forms most of Central America, and north of the Yucatan Peninsula.
El Tajin dates later than the Book of Mormon, however, cement was used here to create pre-formed concrete slabs which were then used in housings and other materials.
Additional works of lime based stucco are prevalent throughout the Mesoamerican world.
The problem with cement in the Book of Mormon
There is one factor to consider when looking at the word cement in the Book of Mormon. Cement production requires a lot of timber, and, according to the Book of Mormon, the people were building these structures where there was "little timber on the face of the land." Some who are quick to grasp at reasoning without research have latched onto this as an obvious problem in the Book of Mormon. If you stop reading there, it is. However, the Book of Mormon does address this a mere three verses later. According to the book the wood that was needed for cement construction was being shipped in from the south where it was plentiful. The verse reads,
"And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping."
This same wording is found in the original 1830 edition of the book at the bottom of page 412.
|2 -||99th Annual Conference, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Heber J. Grant, pg. 129, April, 1929, accessed 03/29/2014|
|5 -||Concrete, Online Etymology Dictionary, accessed 03/29/2014|
|References according to the 1st edition Book of Mormon||Show|