Lamanites No More: DNA and Lost Ties to Father Lehi
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) teaches that the literary work dictated by Joseph Smith – known as the Book of Mormon – is an ancient historical record that recounts the origins of Native American peoples. Groups of migrating Hebrews left Israel, traveled to the Americas and:
"After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon – every English edition since 1981).
According to noted Mormon sociologist and historian Armand L. Mauss,
Since the very founding of the church in 1830, Mormons had believed that North American Indians were Lamanites, described by the Book of Mormon as literal Israelites, the seed of Abraham, who would flock to the church as lost sheep responding to the voice of the true Shepherd of Israel and would actually take the initiative in building a New Jerusalem on the American continent.1
Mormon leaders over the years have also taught that these supposed Book of Mormon people called Lamanites are the ancestors of Native American peoples from Alaska to Argentina as well as the native inhabitants of the Polynesian islands.2 Thus, Mormon leaders have taught that millions of modern-day Native Americans and Polynesians are direct descendants of Hebrews who migrated to the New World and as such they are also Lamanites, since they descended from the last surviving people mentioned in the Book of Mormon by the same name.3
However, the Book of Mormon story is challenged on multiple scientific fronts. There is no credible evidence that a small band of migrating Israelites populated the Americas with millions of people, generated an iron-age culture, built many buildings, and fought massive wars with thousands of casualties. To the contrary, for nearly 100 years archaeologists, biologists and linguists have presented evidence that: “physical similarities, cultural and linguistic ties and archeological and molecular data all indicate a Siberian/Asiatic origin for Native Americans, not a Hebrew one.”4
In addition, DNA studies used to trace the ancestry of Native American peoples support the conclusions of scientists in other fields and together the evidence raises serious questions about the veracity of the Book of Mormon and the historical and theological authenticity of the Mormon faith in general.
In the past, Mormon Church leaders have ignored the issues, and encouraged troubled members to wait for more revelation or additional scientific discoveries that would support the Book of Mormon story. More recently these challenges have received significant media attention and in turn, Mormon Church leaders have deferred to Mormon scholars and apologists to provide a response. Many of these apologists, rather than supporting traditional views, are arguing that the traditional Mormon understanding about Book of Mormon geography and the identity of the Lamanites is wrong. Mormons who become aware of this issue are forced to grapple with the implications for their faith. For example, the March 2004 Sunstone related the angst of a young Peruvian student named José, who attended a presentation on DNA and Book of Mormon at BYU:
He told the audience and panelists how he grew up believing he was Lamanite and now felt ‘overwhelmed with the surprise coming from science … We don’t know where the Book of Mormon took place. We don’t know where the Lamanites are. If we don’t know who the Lamanites are, how can the Book of Mormon promise to bring them back? It’s an identify crisis for many of us that [must] be understood’ (“Reframing the Book of Mormon”, Sunstone 131 [March 2004], p. 19.)
This issue and the ever-heightening awareness among Mormon people of the problems it raises, presents unique opportunities for Mormon-related apologetics and ministry. This paper will survey the relevant data, evaluate the Mormon apologetic responses, and suggest guidelines for effective ministry to Mormons.
Starting with the Common Ground
Mormon apologists and scholars agree with their non-Mormon counterparts on the basic facts and scientific evidence. For example, there is general agreement that:
- DNA studies done to determine the genetic background of American Indians do not support the traditional Mormon teaching that Amerindians are of primarily Hebrew descent.
- Many Mormon leaders, including Mormon Prophets and Apostles, have held and taught views regarding both the geography and people of the Book of Mormon that scientific evidences show to be false.
- Many Mormon people today continue to hold the erroneous and scientifically unsustainable views taught by their leaders.
There is then, significant common ground when it comes to the scientific data. The facts are not the issue, but rather how one relates the scientific evidence to what past and present Mormon leaders have taught.
A Question of Revelation
The Mormons response to this information will depend in part on how he understands latter-day revelation. Is the Mormon Church a religion in flux, continually changing and adapting to the latest cultural or scientific developments? Is revelation a man-to-God issue where a person experiences ‘truth’ in subjective ways only they can define and apply? Within this framework the teachings of the Church’s living prophets and apostles need not be considered absolute truth, but rather guiding principles for today that not surprisingly may lose their relevance tomorrow as knowledge increases and circumstances change. Examples of how this has already happened in Mormon history include: the 1890 Manifesto disavowing polygamy, the 1978 granting of priesthood to blacks, and the 1990 revision of Mormon temple ceremonies. The Mormon Church is then a Church with truth, and a source of helpful, personal revelation, but should not be held to a standard of providing objective, unchanging spiritual truths.
If this is how the Mormon Church and the teachings of its leaders are viewed then few things should trouble the average Mormon when it comes issues of science and truth – DNA evidence has simply showed that past prophetic teachings on the subject of the Lamanites is in error and such teachings are no longer relevant for today. A new understanding of the Book of Mormon and new teaching from the Brethren will soon emerge that take into account the latest scientific findings.5
However, if the Mormon Church is the only true church on the face of the earth and the only source for God-given modern-day revelation, and if indeed it is the only religion with authority and ability to bring man into a right relationship with God, then the teachings of these divinely inspired prophets and apostles are both absolutely true and absolutely essential for all people. Since the claimed source for such teaching is God Himself, any error in the teaching of Mormon leaders undermines the credibility of their claim to speak in His name.
What must be understood at the outset is that no faith community can have it both ways. Either there is God-to-man revelation with objective content coming through divinely appointed and inspired leaders or there is not. The Mormon Church has canonized the assertion that the Lord will never allow the Prophet to lead others astray (D&C Declaration I). The question is: Has he? Can official teachings and Scriptural interpretations be set aside or deemed erroneous without invalidating the authority of those making them? This is crucial to the discussion of scientific evidence and the Book of Mormon.
This paper brings together the three critical components that relate to Mormon revelation in the context of DNA studies pertinent to the Book of Mormon. It is divided into three parts. Part One will look at official Mormon teaching on the subject of the Lamanites and how it has been embraced by the membership, especially in Latin America and the Polynesian islands.
Part Two will provide a brief summary of the relevant data regarding DNA studies related to the ethnic origins of Native Americans and Polynesians, including statements from scientists like Thomas Murphy, Dennis O’Rourke and Simon Southerton, as well as a synopsis of the genetic data provided by Southerton in his recent book, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church, (Signature Books, 2004). This data provides additional support for the view that the Book of Mormon is fictitious and that both Joseph Smith in his day and the Mormon Church today are advancing spurious claims when they present it as an historical record of actual peoples.
Part Three will explore the resulting tensions and conflicts between traditional Mormon teaching and the scientific data. It will also survey some of the Mormon scholarly defenses to this new challenge and examine their validity and relevance.
In the conclusion I will offer suggestions on how this issue can be used to engage Mormon people in fresh, frank dialogue regarding:
- the model of truth and revelation one employs within his worldview
- the level of confidence one should have in the Book of Mormon and the truth test used to validate it
- the reliability of Mormon leaders, from Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley
- the integrity of Mormon proselytizing among Native Americans and Polynesians
Context and backdrop
For the past 175 years the Mormon Church has taught that Native Americans from Alaska to Argentina were direct descendants of the Book of Mormon Lamanites. This has been done in both official and unofficial contexts. Since the early 1850s Mormons speculated that Polynesians were also descendants of Lehi. This received prophetic approval with Brigham Young’s 1858 declaration that “Those islanders, and the natives of this country are of the House of Israel, of the seed of Abraham” (Addison Pratt, cited by Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, p. 49). This belief in an ancestral link of Native American peoples and Polynesians to the Israelite protagonists of the Book of Mormon story persists among the vast majority of Mormons to this day. While some Mormon leaders and scholars have taught otherwise, their positions have not gained wide acceptance.6
Part 1: Book of Mormon History according to the Mormon Church
Official Mormon Teaching
Official Mormon teaching is found in various sources including Scriptures, Church curriculum and official Church publications featuring quotes from the highest ecclesiastical leaders. Following are direct quotes from the sources unless otherwise indicated, arranged in chronological order. Some Mormon apologists will argue that only the four standard works should be considered official and normative teaching. The answer to this objection is found in the Student Manual for Religion 333, published by the Mormon Church regarding the words of the Living Prophets:
Prophets have the right to personal opinions. Not every word they speak should be thought of as an official interpretation or pronouncement. However, their discourses to the Saints and their official writings should be considered products of their prophetic calling and should be heeded.
… The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture. (Teachings of the Living Prophets: Student Manual for Religion 333, copyright 1982, Corporation of the President, Church of JCLDS, p. 21).
This manual also cites Elder Ezra Taft Benson’s BYU devotional talk titled, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophets,” in which he says:
Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.
Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet. The living prophet has the power of TNT. By that I mean "Today's News Today." …. Therefore, the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet contained each week in the Church Section of the Deseret News, and any words of the prophet contained each month in our Church magazines. (“Fourteen Fundamentals In Following The Prophets,” President Ezra Taft Benson, BYU Devotional Assembly Tuesday, February 26, 1980, 10:00 a.m.)7
Thus, a prophet’s words, published in church magazines become for the Mormon membership, “the most important reading we can do.”
Term “Lamanite” Defined
President Spencer W. Kimball:
The term Lamanite includes all Indians and Indian mixtures, such as the Polynesians, the Guatemalans, the Peruvians, as well as the Sioux, the Apache, the Mohawk, the Navajo, and others. It is a large group of great people. (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7)
Ethnic origins of the Lamanites – or – Were the Lamanites really direct blood descendants of the Hebrews?
From the Book of Mormon
“And then shall the remnant of our seed know concerning us, how that we came out from Jerusalem, and that they are descendants of the Jews.” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 30:4)
According to Joseph Smith, an angel sent from God told him that Native Americans were “literal descendants of Abraham.”
When I was about 17 years old I saw another vision of angels in the night season after I had retired to bed I had not been asleep, … all at once the room was illuminated above the brightness of the sun an angel appeared before me … he said unto me I am a messenger sent from God, be faithful and keep his commandments in all things, he told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham (The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol. 2, Journal, 1832-1842, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, copyright 1992 Corporation of the President, pp. 69-70, emphasis added).
At the grove President [Joseph] Smith addressed the Indians at some length, upon what the Lord had revealed to him concerning their forefathers, and recited to them the promises contained in the Book of Mormon respecting themselves. … How their hearts must have glowed as they listened to the prophet relate the story of their forefathers—their rise and fall; and the promises held out to them of redemption from their fallen state! (B.H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2:88-89, 1957)
President John Taylor
President Taylor renewed missionary labors among the Lamanites following a revelation he claimed to receive in October of 1882. The revelation stated in part:
Thus saith the Lord to the Twelve, and to the Priesthood and people of my Church: … proceed forthwith and call to your aid any assistance that you may require from among the Seventies to assist you in your labors in introducing and maintaining the gospel among the Lamanites throughout the land (Revelation to John Taylor, 13 October 1882, section 83:1,6, in Unpublished Revelations, compiled by Fred Colier, 1979, p. 138).
Sociologist and historian, Armand L. Mauss, notes that a few days following this revelation, President Taylor elaborated on its meaning in a letter in which he stated:
The work of the Lord amongst the Lamanites must not be postponed if we desire to retain the approval of God. Thus far we have been content to simply baptize them and then let them run wild again; but this must continue no longer; the same devoted effort; the same care in instructing; the same organization of the Priesthood, must be introduced and maintained among the house of Lehi … 8
Thus in the case of both Joseph Smith and President Taylor, the identity of Native Americans as Lamanites descended from Abraham and Lehi, is linked to direct revelation from God.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball (Apostle, President)
And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7, emphasis added).
M. Dallas Burnett
The CJCLDS is unique in its theological and philosophical understanding of the peoples in the Americas known as Indians and of the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands. These people are a remnant of the House of Jacob and descendants of Lehi, an Israelite who left Jerusalem and came to the Americas around 600 B.C. (“Lamanites and the Church,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 11).
The redemption of the Lamanite as a remnant of scattered Israel, in accordance with Book of Mormon prophecy, is one of the vital responsibilities and opportunities of the restored church (“What Is a Lamanite?” Ensign, Sept. 1972, p. 62ff).
Elder Mark E. Petersen (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
As the ancient Israelites suffered a dispersion which sprinkled them among all the nations, so the descendants of Laman and Lemuel [sons of Lehi] were sifted over the vast areas of the western hemisphere. They are found from pole to pole (Children of Promise, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1981, p. 31; emphasis added).
What is the Book of Mormon?, missionary pamphlet published by Mormon Church in 1982, p. 3.
Lehi’s people and Mulek’s people eventually merged and became one nation, the ancestors of the American Indians. The Book of Mormon is the ancient history of this people, telling of their wars, movements, kings, and their religion—which was the religion of Israel, for these people were Israelites and practiced the law of Moses.
Elder Ted E. Brewerton (G.A)
Many migratory groups came to the Americas, but none was as important as the three mentioned in the Book of Mormon. The blood of these people flows in the veins of the Blackfoot and the Blood Indians of Alberta, Canada; in the Navajo and the Apache of the American Southwest; the Inca of western South America; the Aztec of Mexico; the Maya of Guatemala; and in other Native American groups in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific islands. These choice native people recognize the truth of the Book of Mormon, which was recorded for them by their own ancestors. (“The Book of Mormon: A Sacred Ancient Record,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 30ff).
President Gordon B. Hinckley
President Hinckley next visited Lima, Peru, where he met with missionaries and held two conferences attended by a total of 28,000 Latter-day Saints. …President Hinckley recognized the Book of Mormon heritage of his listeners in Lima: “As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi, whose sons and daughters you are. I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude. … This is but the beginning of the work in Peru. This work of the Almighty will go on and grow and grow.” (“God’s Holy Work” in Peru, in “News of the Church,” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 73).
President Gordon B. Hinckley
“I sense a great spirit of gratitude for this new temple,” remarked President Hinckley. “The Saints have waited a very, very long time.” He continued: “It has been a very interesting thing to see the descendants of Father Lehi in the congregations that have gathered in the temple. So very many of these people have the blood of Lehi in their veins, and it is just an intriguing thing to see their tremendous response and their tremendous interest.” (Remarks at the dedication of the Guayaquil, Ecuador temple, reported in “News of the Church,” Ensign, Oct. 1999, p. 74)
President Gordon B. Hinckley
The Cochabamba Bolivia Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in four sessions on 30 April 2000. In his dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley said: “This nation is named for Simón Bolívar, the great liberator of much of South America, who died the year Thy restored Church was organized. May the incomparable principle of democracy be preserved forever in this republic. We remember before Thee the sons and daughters of Father Lehi. Wilt Thou keep Thine ancient promises in their behalf. Lift from their shoulders the burdens of poverty and cause the shackles of darkness to fall from their eyes. May they rise to the glories of the past. May they recognize their Redeemer and be faithful and true Saints of the Most High.” (Remarks at the dedication of the Cochabamba, Bolivia temple, reported in “News of the Church,” Ensign, July, 2000, p. 74)
Lamanite geographic expansion – Were the Lamanites a small grouping of people confined to a limited geographic region?
Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith — History, 1:34, Joseph Smith relates that “[Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from which they sprang.”
Joseph Smith (1834)
In June of 1834 Joseph Smith identified a skeleton found in an Indian burial mound in Illinois as that of a Lamanite warrior named Zelph. The Zelph incident is especially significant in that Smith claimed to have made the identification by divine revelation:
... the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph ... who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains (History of the Church, 7 vols. (Deseret Book Co., 1946), II:79,80. See also, Times and Seasons, Vol. 6, no. 20 (Jan. 1846), p. 1076, which states that the Illinois burial mounds were “thrown up by the ancient inhabitants of this county, Nephites, Lamanites &c.” and that “He [Zelph] was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites.”
Perhaps one of the most extended critiques and outright rejection of the limited geography theory for the Book of Mormon comes from 10th Mormon President and Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith in three volume work, Doctrines of Salvation, (Bookcraft, SLC, 1956). The following quotes are excerpted from over eight pages devoted to this subject. Expanded excerpts are found in the supplemental material at the end of this paper which includes a link to this material online.
Joseph Fielding Smith
Speculation About Book of Mormon Geography. Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico—the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the "narrow neck" of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama (p. 233).
Locale Of Cumorah, Ramah, And Ripliancum. This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. (p. 233, emphasis added)
Early Brethren Locate Cumorah In Western New York … the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon. …. In the face of this evidence coming from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, we cannot say that the Nephites and Lamanites did not possess the territory of the United States and that the Hill Cumorah is in Central America. Neither can we say that the great struggle which resulted in the destruction of the Nephites took place in Central America. (pp. 234, 239-240. emphasis in original)
Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, Lesson 40: “Then Will I Gather Them In”, Purpose, p. 177ff, copyright 2004 Intellectual Reserve —
The Savior prophesies of the temporal gathering of the house of Israel. Have a class member read 3 Nephi 16:16 and 3 Nephi 20:14 aloud. According to these verses, what specific promise did the Lord extend to the Nephites? (They would be given the lands of the Americas as an inheritance. See also 2 Nephi 1:5–7.)” emphasis added.
Letter from First Presidency regarding Hill Cumorah location, October 16, 1990 —
Brother S — inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
Note: This is significant in that it expands the Book of Mormon lands at least to upstate New York where the final battle took place, making it impossible to limit Book of Mormon geography to a small region of Central America. (Copy of letter on file at Institute for Religious Research)
“The Lamanites (Introduction)”, Ensign, July 1971, p. 5 — “Most members of the Church know that the Lamanites, who consist of the Indians of all the Americas as well as the islanders of the Pacific, are a people with a special heritage.”
Spencer W. Kimball (Apostle, President)
Now the Lamanites number about sixty million; they are in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego [Southern Argentina] all the way up to Point Barrows [Alaska], and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7)
President Spencer W. Kimball
This process of redeeming the Lamanite people has been far from easy, especially for the Lamanites themselves. For a thousand years after the closing of the Book of Mormon record, these people wandered in spiritual darkness and were scattered upon the American continents and the isles of the sea. … When Columbus came, these descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples and those with whom they had mixed numbered in the millions and covered the islands of the Pacific and the Americas from Point Barrow to Tierra del Fuego.
… So, my appeal today is for the Lamanites, all the Lamanites, the Mexicans, the Polynesians, the Indians, to live the commandments of God and prove themselves worthy of this choice land. (First Presidency Message “Our Paths Have Met Again,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, p. 2 ff)
This is the beginning of a great fulfillment of prophecy and promise that the gospel message would be carried back to these people, ideally by messengers of their own great Lamanite heritage. …. The Missionary Department informs us that more and more Lamanite young men are accepting mission calls. There have been more stakes and wards organized in Lamanite areas. … Much more must be done, and the magnitude of Lamanite work in the heart of Central and South America largely still awaits us. (“First Presidency Message "The Uttermost Parts of the Earth" Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, July 1979, p. 2ff.).
Elder Ballard made this reference to the work that would be done among the Lamanites in the South American lands: —“And we also pray that we may see the beginning of the fulfillment of thy promises contained in the Book of Mormon to the Indians of this land, who are descendants of Lehi, millions of whom reside in this country, who have long been downtrodden and borne many afflictions and suffered because of sin and transgression, even as the prophets of the Book of Mormon did foretell. …(Cited by Dean L. Larsen, “Mingled Destinies: The Lamanites and the Latter-day Saints,” Ensign, Dec. 1975, p. 8)
Genetic connection of Lamanites with indigenous peoples of the Americas
Spencer W. Kimball
At the October 1960 Mormon General Conference, then Apostle Spencer W. Kimball linked the Native Americans to Book of Mormon prophecies regarding the day of the Lamanites found in 2 Nephi 30:3-6, which states:
And now, I would prophesy somewhat more concerning the Jews and the Gentiles. For after the book of which I have spoken shall come forth [Book of Mormon], and be written unto the Gentiles, and sealed up again unto the Lord, there shall be many which shall believe the words which are written; and they shall carry them forth unto the remnant of our seed. [Native Americans]
 And then shall the remnant of our seed know concerning us, how that we came out from Jerusalem, and that they are descendants of the Jews.
 And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers.
 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people. [Note: About 22 years after Kimball’s General Conference address, this Book of Mormon passage was changed to read “pure and delightsome.”]
Apostle Kimball, alluding to this Mormon prophecy, proclaimed the following in his discourse titled “The Day of the Lamanites”:
I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people ... The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.
At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl - sixteen - sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents - on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather... These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder joked that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.
… Not only the southwest Indians, but Lamanites in general, are facing an open door to education, culture, refinement, progress, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church has spent its millions in Hawaii and New Zealand and other islands to provide schools for the young Lehites. Surely no descendants need go now without an education, and schools (Spencer W. Kimball, "The Day of the Lamanites," Improvement Era, Dec. 1960, pp. 922-923, 925, emphasis added).
M. Dallas Burnett
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique in its theological and philosophical understanding of the peoples in the Americas known as Indians and of the inhabitants of the Pacific islands. These people are a remnant of the House of Jacob and descendants of Lehi, an Israelite who left Jerusalem and came to the Americas around 600 B.C. Found in the Book of Mormon, a record of revelations received by these ancient peoples, are great promises for the Lamanites (“Lamanites and the Church,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 11ff.)
Spencer W. Kimball
With pride I tell those who come to my office that a Lamanite is a descendant of one Lehi who left Jerusalem six hundred years before Christ and with his family crossed the mighty deep and landed in America. And Lehi and his family became the ancestors of all of the Indian and Mestizo tribes in North and South and Central America and in the islands of the sea, for in the middle of their history there were those who left America in ships of their making and went to the islands of the sea. (page 7)
My brothers and sisters, you belong to a great race. Your father is Joseph who was sold into Egypt, the virtuous man who went to prison rather than yield to the seduction of a queen. Your father was Jacob, the father of twelve sons. You came through one of them. One of the great prophets of all times, your father, was Isaac. Another great prophet, your father, was Abraham, than whom there were no greater ones. Abraham was a great man who walked and talked with God. He is your father back those many generations. Be proud of him and know that you are of royal blood; with your royal blood you can achieve, rising to the top. (page 10).
There are no blessings, of all the imaginable ones, to which you are not entitled—you, the Lamanites—when you are righteous. You are of royal blood, the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Lehi (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 10).
The redemption of the Lamanite as a remnant of scattered Israel, in accordance with Book of Mormon prophecy, is one of the vital responsibilities and opportunities of the restored church
As the gospel is taught in various nations of the Americas and on the Pacific islands, missionary programs for Lamanite and mestizo segments of the population might well be adapted to the language and the ethnic position of the descendants of Father Lehi in each nation. Missionary work in Bolivia, for instance, is done in Spanish and in two Indian languages, Quechua and Aymará (“What Is a Lamanite?” Ensign, Sept. 1972, 62ff).
Boyd K. Packer (Senior Apostle over Lamanite affairs)9
There are more than 60 million people of Lamanite extraction. It is no accident that the Church now prospers among them in Mexico, Central and South America, in the islands of the sea, and among the Indian tribes of North America. (“President Spencer W. Kimball: No Ordinary Man,” Ensign, Mar. 1974, 3ff).
In contrast to the relatively few in North America who could claim Lamanite lineage (1.3 million), Packer pointed to the many millions in Mexico, Yucatan, Guatemala, and throughout South America: “In all … there are seventy-five million six hundred thousand who share in your [Native American Lamanite] birthright, of whom thrity-one million nine hundred ninety thousand are pure Indians.” (Address given during proceedings of the annual Indian Week at BYU, cited by Armand L. Mauss, All Abraham’s Children, p. 96).
The Mormon Church teaching manual, Gospel Principles links the conversion of Native Americans to the coming of Jesus Christ when it states:
The Lord said that when his coming was near, the Lamanites would become a righteous and respected people. He said, “Before the great day of the Lord shall come, … the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose” (D&C 49:24). Great numbers of Lamanites in North and South America and the South Pacific are now receiving the blessings of the gospel. (Gospel Principles, 1997 edition, p. 268.)
Elder Gene R. Cook (First Quorum of the Seventy
My family and I are presently living in South America among the Lamanites — the children of Lehi, the people of the Book of Mormon, a people of great promise. For a number of years we have been witnesses to spiritual miracles among that people:
1. We have seen thousands converted to the Lord who had his law put into their minds and written in their hearts (see Heb. 8:10).
2. We have seen them organized into numerous stakes of Zion.
3. We have truly seen them “blossom as the rose” as prophecy has been fulfilled through them (see D&C 49:24). (Gene R. Cook, “Miracles among the Lamanites,” Ensign, Nov. 1980, 67.)
Elder Cook makes reference to an important prophetic Mormon scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 49:24, which says, "But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as a rose." Native American converts in North, South and Central America have been told repeatedly that since they are Lamanites, their conversion to Mormonism is a fulfillment of this Scripture, giving them not only special historical identity, but a prophetic one as well.
Modern Day Lamanites Embrace Their ‘Identity’
The September 1920 Improvement Era carried the conversion story of a prominent Mexican Mormon named Margarito Bautista. The heading of the article identified him as, “M. Bautista, a Descendant of Father Lehi.” It is clear from his testimony that the Mormon teaching of Israelite heritage in Native American people resonated with him, as Margarito wrote,
As a literal descendant of our Father Lehi, I feel in my soul that the gospel which was once known among my people but [was] taken away on account of transgression has been restored again to mankind. I feel that the Book of Mormon is one of the most glorious books on earth” (“A Faith Promoting Experience, Improvement Era 23 [September 1920]: 978-84, cited by Thomas W. Murphy, “Other Mormon Histories: Lamanite Subjectivity in Mexico,” Journal of Mormon History, 26:2 [Fall 2000], pp. 190-191.).
This perspective continues today among Mormon Latino membership. Thomas Murphy relates his experience in a priesthood meeting in Antigua, Guatemala:
Luis, (a pseudonym) was teaching a lesson on the Abrahamic Covenant. In the midst of the discussion Luis turned to me and explained that what distinguished Latin American Mormons from Anglo-American Mormons was the fact that the former were direct descendants of Abraham through the peoples of the Book of Mormon, while ‘los americanos’ or ‘los anglos’ were adopted into the Abrahamic covenant. This view was echoed by others in the group, and subsequent discussions indicated that a similar view was held by many Latin Americans.” (Thomas W. Murphy, “Reinventing Mormonism: Guatemala as Harbinger of the Future?”, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 29:1 [Spring 1996], pp. 178-179).
In my own travels to eight different Latin American countries in the past five years I’ve experienced similar incidents in both private conversations as well as public settings such as Mormon Temple open houses, wherein Native American or mestizo Mormons proudly spoke of their Lamanite identity and the unique connection this gives them to the Book of Mormon and the Mormon Church. There can be little doubt this has been an effective and oft-employed selling point in Mormon proselytizing among Native Americans in Latin America. When the Mormon Prophet tells members throughout the Americas that they are modern-day Lamanites, they seize upon this as an aspect of their identity that sets them apart. They have something the privileged, envied gringos do not:
- a biblical identity as descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
- a unique American identity as descendants of a race of people visited by Jesus Christ himself after his crucifixion and resurrection, with its accompanying ethnic link to Book of Mormon peoples (and they have the dark skin as proof) and,
- a prophetic identity as they are the people whose conversion to Mormonism will signal the second coming of Jesus Christ.
This Lamanite identity has been a source of Amerindian pride for Latino Mormons in a Caucasian-dominated Church. But this identity is in jeopardy given the current scientific data.
Part 2: Relevant Scientific Facts and Data
This section will briefly review the implications of the following facts:
- DNA studies can determine ethnic history
- Indigenous peoples of the Americas lack Semitic or Hebraic genetic traces
- Mongolian/Northern Asian ethnic descent clearly established
- There is general scientific consensus on these points
The question for today’s Mormons, especially those of Native American ancestry is, should they really be considering themselves Lamanites? Is this an authentic ethnic heritage they have a reason to be proud of, or have they been led astray and proselytized under false pretenses?
Genetic and ethnic links can be traced along both paternal and maternal genetic lines. The mapping is done using mitochondrial DNA (for maternal lines) and Y chromosome DNA (for paternal lines), grouping people by unique DNA lineages. According to Simon G. Southerton, senior research scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) in Canberra, Australia, “Mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome DNA are particularly useful for studying human population because they remain remarkably intact from generation to generation.” (Southerton, 2004, p. 67).
Along maternal lines, DNA research done with over 7000 Native Americans from about 175 different groups showed that maternal lineages among Native Americans predominantly fall into four lines, designated A, B, C and D. All four of these are found in moderate frequencies in Asian populations, but are absent in all others. Therefore, 96.5% of Native Americans from Alaska to Southern Argentina show predominant Asian ancestry.
Paternal studies focus on molecular distinctives of the Y chromosome. Among Native Americans the most prevalent Y chromosome lineage has been designated Q. Once again, when compared with Asian, European and Middle Eastern Y chromosome types, Q is rare in either European or Middle Eastern populations but appear with moderate frequency in Asian populations. The Q lineage of the Y chromosome is present in 90% of South American Indians and about 75% of North American Indians, once again demonstrating the predominant Asian background of Native Americans (Southerton, 2004, pp. 88-93).
While not accepting it as conclusive, Mormon scholars acknowledge the legitimacy and efficacy of DNA studies for determining a person or group’s ethnic history. Sorenson gives the example of how DNA testing was used to confirm that a group of black South Africans known as the Lemba people were of Jewish origin. The group, which included Jewish priests, migrated first to Yemen and then to Southern Africa over 2000 years ago (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 9:2, p. 70). Southerton found it notable that Sorenson acknowledges the persistence of these DNA markers in a group of people nearly 3000 years removed from their ethnic Semitic origin, yet is skeptical of its ability to do the same for a more recent Jewish ancestry in the Americas (Southerton, 2004, p. 190).
Indigenous peoples of the Americas lack Semitic or Hebraic genetic traces
While apologists have long accepted the fact that other groups outside of the Book of Mormon record made their way to the New World, few apologists would have predicted that the Lamanite influence would be virtually undetectable. The accumulating DNA data has provided the first quantitative measures of an Israelite presence in the New World gene pool and it is slim to none (Southerton, 2004, p. 202).
Mongolian/Northern Asian ethnic descent clearly established.
DNA studies have only served to confirm the Northern Asian link to Native Americans. It has long been recognized that there are strong physical resemblances, as Southerton summarizes:
The two groups share morphological features characteristic of Mongoloid peoples such as straight black hair, prominent cheek bones, spare body hair, reddish to brown skin, relatively flat faces and the Mongoloid sacral spot (Crawford 1998). Other frequently shared traits are darkly colored eyes, the Mongoloid eye fold, and dental characteristics such as shovel-shaped incisors. (Southerton, 2004, p. 79).
There is a comprehensive, widespread consensus among anthropologists today from all sub-disciplines of anthropology that the homeland of Native Americans is east Asia. … Characteristics of Jewish populations that are the most prominent in defining Jewishness are absent generally in Native American populations … If you look at genes that are most commonly found in Native American populations and those that are most commonly found in Jewish populations they don’t coincide at all. To my knowledge there is not any compelling evidence for a connection between Jewish populations and Native American populations based on genetics. … There is simply no close connections mitochondrially between any Jewish population that I am aware and any Native American population that I’m aware of. (From interview conducted by Living Hope Ministries found at http://www.lhvm.org/dna_sci.htm)
Randall Shortridge, Ph.D., Molecular Biologist
The overwhelming evidence negates the claim, the Book of Mormon claim, that the American Indian represents a genealogical descendant from Israel. (DNA v. the Book of Mormon video transcript, p. 11)
Dr. Dennis O'Rourke, Molecular Geneticist
The molecular data, the DNA data, indicate the closest affinities of contemporary Native American populations are with populations in east Asia and central Asia. I think it is true that there is a scientific consensus that the original peoples that came to the Americas came from Asia. (Living Hope Ministries interview found at http://www.lhvm.org/dna_sci.htm).
Thomas Murphy, Mormon Anthropologist
As a Mormon anthropologist I have a serious problem with the Book of Mormon representations of American Indians, not only does it claim that Lamanites are principal ancestors of the American Indians but throughout the text it repeatedly refers to them as Israelites, descendants of Joseph, as descendants of the biblical patriarchs, of Abraham, those repeated references to an ancient Israelite connection have been clearly invalidated by scientific research into the genes of American Indians. … What is most significant about the genetic research and its applicability to the Book of Mormon is that it validates what we already knew from other scientific disciplines. From biological anthropology more generally, we knew a long time ago that American Indians resembled Asians and particularly the people from the regions around Mongolia, and Siberia more than they did any other peoples. Archeologically we knew that there were similarities between the cultures of north east Asia and those of the early Americans … We also knew based on the linguistic evidence that American Indians shared a common ancestry with at least some of the north east Asians and Siberians so we had all this other evidence from scientific disciplines as diverse as linguistics, archaeology and human biology all showing us an Asian origin of the American Indians. Now the genetic data confirms what we already knew from that other material. (Interview quoted at: http://www.lhvm.org/dna_sci.htm
Simon Southerton, Molecular Biologist, former Mormon Bishop
It was during my second year as a bishop that I stumbled upon DNA research on Native Americans and became quite concerned with what I was reading because as a plant molecular biologist I dealt with DNA all the time. I was extracting DNA from plants and cloning genes, sequencing DNA and I was very familiar with the fundamental technology that was used in these research papers on native Americans and I very quickly over a couple of weeks discovered that in excess of 99% of Native Americans were clearly descended from Asian ancestors. I was a Latter-day Saint that hadn’t been exposed to any research so threatening to my beliefs, and I was deeply, deeply shocked to find that research and DNA evidence that I understood particularly well would so fundamentally challenge the beliefs that I had. And I for several weeks lived with two completely contradictory beliefs in my brain. On the one side I was deeply committed to a belief in the Book of Mormon and to the beliefs of the church which taught that the Native Americans were principally descended from the Lamanites who were derived from Israel. But on the other hand I was faced with DNA research which I had a high degree of confidence in, which completely and utterly contradicted my beliefs. I knew without a doubt that greater than 99% of Native Americans were undoubtedly related to Siberians and not to the Lamanites, to Israelites. And it was only after two weeks that I was able to sort of come to terms with the problem here and that was that the only alternative was that the Book of Mormon beliefs that I had were just not right. And the only way that I could honestly confront this research was to say to my leaders from now on I cannot serve as a bishop because I’m so deeply troubled by some research that I’ve come across. (DNA v. the Book of Mormon, video transcript, pp. 26-27).
Simon Southerton, Molecular Biologist, former Mormon Bishop
If the Y-chromosomes all come from Asia and the mitochondrial genomes all come from Asia, then the only explanation for where all the rest of the chromosomes come from is Asia. That is a very scientifically valid explanation; it’s the only explanation. In excess of a hundred and fifty tribes have been tested now, these are scattered all over north and central and south America, even to Greenland. And from the survey in excess of five and a half thousand individuals have been involved and have been tested, from those five and a half thousand… 99.4 percent of Native Americans have a mitochondrial DNA lineage that originated in Asia. There can be no question, 99.4%. The other 0.6% have either a European or an African mitochondrial lineage. The very tiny minority of European and African lineages that they do find came after Columbus.” (DNA v. the Book of Mormon, video transcript, p. 17-18).
Part 3: Mormon Responses to the DNA Challenge
This section examines ways Mormon apologists and scholars have attempted to defend the Book of Mormon. There has been no “official” response from the Mormon Church regarding the DNA research, Native Americans and the implications for the Book of Mormon, other than the statement posted on the Mormon.org website under the heading “Mistakes in the News” which states:
DNA and the Book of Mormon
Various media outlets, 11 November 2003
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is exactly what it claims to be — a record of God’s dealings with peoples of ancient America and a second witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. The strongest witness of the Book of Mormon is to be obtained by living the Christ-centered principles contained in its pages and by praying about its truthfulness.
Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill considered. Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin. The scientific issues relating to DNA, however, are numerous and complex. Those interested in a more detailed analysis of those issues are referred to the resources below.
There are links to five articles, four of which have been published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, a publication of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies [FARMS] at Brigham Young University. The articles are the basis for understanding the Mormon response to the DNA challenge.
For each article I will look at the foundational statements or arguments set forth to counter the DNA challenge to the Book of Mormon and provide observations and critiques on the Mormon defense proposed.
"Before DNA" (John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2003). In this article the authors argue for a comparatively small population of Nephites occupying a limited section of Mesoamerica and surrounded by a much larger non-Semitic population. The presence of non-Israelite peoples can be assumed, even though they are not mentioned, because the small group of people mentioned in 2 Nephi 5 would not have had the ability to build temples, put together an army or engage in wars. Since the Book of Mormon attributes such things to the Nephites, this must mean that their small group was surrounded by much larger groups of people. These people then joined with the Nephites in order to help them accomplish all the tasks that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon. In the process of intermarriage, all traces of Jewish ancestry were lost.
It is very interesting to note defenders of the Book of Mormon utilizing the same arguments to support the Book of Mormon’s historicity and it’s authenticity that critics of Mormonism have used for the past several decades to discredit it.10 Yet, in their appeal to a new understanding of Book of Mormon history, Mormon apologists who seek to defuse DNA-based criticism, provide interpretations that run counter to the explanations and defenses of the Book of Mormon given in materials published by the Mormon Church. For example, Sorenson and Roper argue that the Nephites had to have been surrounded by other peoples with whom they joined forces, otherwise it is not feasible that they would be able to build a temple “like unto Solomon.” Sorenson and Roper state, “So few men could not have put up much of a temple.” (p. 14) And yet in the Book of Mormon Student Manual for Religion classes 121 and 122, published by the Mormon Church in 1989, the argument advanced is that the temple of Solomon was not so big, and that “it was quite possible for a small number of Nephites to erect a temple as large as that erected by Solomon, omitting the costly ornamentations.” (BOM Student Manual, p. 26).
Another example of the Sorenson-Roper attempt to rewrite Book of Mormon history is where they state that early Mormon leaders “did not read the text carefully on matters of doctrine.” The result is that “no statement shows that anyone read the scripture closely enough to grasp the fact that the plates Mormon gave to Moroni were never buried in the hill of the final Nephite battle.” (emphasis added, p. 10). It would appear that Mormon leaders are still not “reading the scripture closely enough” given the following statement by Elder Mark Peterson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until his death in 1984:
Moroni’s father was commander of the armies of this ancient people, known as Nephites. His name was Mormon. The war of which we speak took place here in America some four hundred years after Christ. (See Mormon 6.)
As the fighting neared its end, Mormon gathered the remnant of his forces about a hill which they called Cumorah, located in what is now the western part of the state of New York.
Their enemies, known as Lamanites, came against them on this hill. … Then he spoke of other leaders serving with him in the Nephite army, all of whom had fallen with the forces under their command. He accounted for about a quarter of a million Nephite soldiers killed in that final encounter at Cumorah.
… At the time Mormon recorded the details of this dreadful tragedy, he said that only twenty-four remained alive of all the men, women, and children of the Nephites. These surviving few were themselves killed the next day—with one exception, Moroni, whom the Lord spared to close up the written record.
When finished with the record, Moroni was to hide it up in that same Hill Cumorah which was their battlefield. It would come forth in modern times as the Book of Mormon, named after Moroni’s father, the historian who compiled it. (Mark E. Petersen, “The Last Words of Moroni,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 57ff, emphasis added).
Sorenson and Roper are in essence saying, “Our highest spiritual leaders and our primary teaching manuals have been wrong for over 150 years. Presidents, Prophets and Apostles have been in error and have been leading Mormon people astray for the entire history of the Church up until the present.” Will the Mormon Church’s spiritual leadership defer to the apologists and academicians? Given the articles provided on the official Mormon website, it would appear to some degree they already have. I’m guessing there will be no more Ensign articles on the Lamanites, nor will presentations to Hispanic members or speeches given in a Latin American context refer to those present as descendants of Lehi who have the blood of Abraham in their veins. Nor is it likely that future Dedicatory prayers will praise those in attendance as “sons and daughters of Father Lehi.” Slowly, yet deliberately, church manuals, magazines and General Conference speeches will be revised to exclude any connection between Book of Mormon Lamanites and Amerindian peoples living today. Such references undermine the limited geography theory and therefore have ever decreasing usefulness as the Mormon Church attempts to salvage Book of Mormon credibility by adopting a limited geography model.
What is notable is that both Mormon and non-Mormon writers find glaring problems with proposed limited geography theories. Mormon writer Earl M. Wunderli provides an extensive and detailed critique of the Limited geography theory advocated by Sorenson and others. His rejection of it is based primarily on internal evidence from the Book of Mormon and he draws the following conclusions in a recent Dialogue article:
Sorenson and other Mormon scholars have recognized that the traditional hemispheric model no longer works, but their solution of a limited geography model does not work either. Sorenson’s model requires contorting terminology and text to make a case riven by esoteric complication. His model wanders far afield from what the Book of Mormon straightforwardly describes. It solves many problems with the hemispheric model but only at great cost to the Book of Mormon’s internal reliability as scripture, as a book that presumably means what it says (Earl M. Wunderli, “Critique of a Limited Geography for the Book of Mormon Events,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, v. 35:3 [Fall 2002], p. 197).
As of this writing I could find no response by Mormon apologists to Wunderli’s detailed 36-page critique.
Mormon researcher and writer, Brent Metcalf, also provides a cogent analysis of the problems raised by the new apologetic defenses suggested by Roper and Sorenson, noting that “Such theories turn traditional understandings of Book of Mormon lands and peoples, including Joseph Smith’s revelations, on their head.” (Metcalfe, Sunstone 131 (March 2004), p. 20. In his article, “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,” Metcalfe provides evidence from the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith himself that the Mormon apologists’ novel interpretations are unsupported and unwarranted. For example he cites the Mormon Scripture, Joseph Smith – History, v. 34 which says that the Book of Mormon plates contain “an account of the former inhabitants of this [the North American] continent, and the source from whence they sprang.” Metcalfe concludes that:
apologetic scholars have an arduous task ahead of them. They have yet to explain cogently why all the Book of Mormon characters—God included—seemingly know nothing about the hordes of indigenous peoples that the revisionist theories require; … and why their word should count more than that of Mormon prophets on the one hand, and that of secular scholars on the other (Metcalfe, p. 23).
"DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective" (Michael F. Whiting, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2003). Applying DNA studies to the Book of Mormon assumes the validity of the “global colonization hypothesis”.
The local colonization hypothesis is more limited in scope, includes many more complicating factors from a genetic perspective, is much more difficult to investigate by way of DNA evidence, and, in my view and that of Book of Mormon scholars, is a more accurate interpretation of the Lamanite lineage history. This hypothesis suggests that when the three colonizing parties came to the New World, the land was already occupied in whole or in part by people of an unknown genetic heritage. (Whiting, p. 31).
Whiting’s operating premise then is that the Book of Mormon peoples were of such a small number and found in such a limited geographical area that “there is no expectation that the descendants of the Lamanites should have any specific type of genetic signal, since their genetic signal was easily mixed and swamped out by other inhabitants of unknown genetic origin.” (Whiting, p. 31). He later states that according to the local colonization hypothesis, “the Lamanite lineage did not populate the whole North and South American continent.” (Whiting, p. 33). Given his starting point, Whiting’s argument is logical, scientifically sound and accurately relates the difficulties such a scenario would cause for even finding Lamanite genes. He does not debate that “Native Americans have a preponderance of genes that carry a genetic signature for Asian origination” (p. 35), and he acknowledges:
There is no statement within the text of the Book of Mormon identifying who these descendants might be, though later commentators and church leaders have associated them with the Native Americans and/or inhabitants of South and Central America. The introduction to the Book of Mormon states that the Lamanites were the “principal ancestors of the American Indians,” but this, again, is commentary not present in the original text and was based on the best knowledge of the time. (Whiting, p. 34).
However, this is a limited disclosure at best and a somewhat misleading since other Latter-day Scriptures and Mormon sources do identify the Lamanites. For example, the previously cited statement in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith — History, 1:34, where Joseph Smith relates that “[Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from which they sprang.” In the early Mormon publication, Times and Seasons, (March 1, 1842) III:707, Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as "the history of ancient America . . . from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel [the Jaredites].” A later Mormon publication, a brochure distributed at the Hill Cumorah pageant, states: About A.D. 421 Moroni, the last survivor of a great civilization that inhabited the Americas from 600 B.C. to A.D. 420, buried in this hill a set of gold plates on which he recorded the history of his people” (“Welcome to Historic Mormon Country”).
These descriptions, provided by the founding Mormon Prophet11 and current leaders of the Church he established, do not seem to fit with a limited geography hypothesis that now acknowledges the first inhabitants of the Americas were from Northern Asia thousands of years before the Jaredite landing, and which limits Book of Mormon peoples to a small 400 mile stretch of Central America. It also seems to too casually brush aside the Book of Mormon Introduction statement, as if no one of any spiritual authority had anything to do with the statement published in every English-language Book of Mormon since 1981. It also ignores the fact that Mormon prophets and presidents refer extensively to Book of Mormon passages to support their teachings on the identity and ultimate salvation of the Native Americans they’ve identified as Lamanites: For example, Spencer W. Kimball’s article, “Of Royal Blood,” in the Ensign, of July 1971, contained 10 references to Mormon Scriptures that pertained to the Lamanites. The article itself was adapted from an address he gave at the Lamanite Youth Conference on April 24, 1971 in Salt Lake City.
One can accept Whiting’s thesis and limit the Book of Mormon peoples and events to a small, barely discernable cultural blip on the radar screen of history and to some degree salvage the Book of Mormon from the ravages of DNA studies. But doing so requires acceptance of an arbitrary interpretation of Book of Mormon passages that touch on the extent of Book of Mormon geographical expansion. The limited geography / local colonization hypothesis requires a series of assumptions that go contrary to the natural reading of the Book of Mormon—witness the hemispheric geography understanding propagated by generations of Mormon leaders. Also, adopting a limited geography for the Book of Mormon comes at the cost of rejecting both the teachings of the Prophets of the Mormon Church and their interpretations of Mormon Scriptures.
"A Few Thoughts from a Believing Scientist" (John M. Butler, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2003, pp. 36-37) Butler’s primary point is stated early on in his short article. The Book of Mormon does not provide sufficient information on the biological backgrounds of Ishamel’s wife and the wives of his two sons (who would have provided the mitochondrial DNA lineages of the Nephites and Lamanites).
Thus we are left without enough information from the Book of Mormon record itself to identify definitively an appropriate genetic source population that could be used to calibrate the claims of the Book of Mormon. Likewise, we do not have sufficient information to declare the Book of Mormon not true” (p. 36).
Nor, according to Butler, is it possible to know if there is any genetic tie to the biblical patriarchs via Y chromosome male lineage.
… it is unclear whether or not these [Lehi’s] offspring would also have Manasseh, Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham in their patrilineage” (p. 36).
After rehearsing other Book of Mormon ambiguities, Butler is content to settle for a scientific stalemate.
Thus, we are left where we started (and where I believe the Lord intended us to be)—in the realm of faith. A spiritual witness is the only way to know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Although DNA studies have made links between Native Americans and Asians, these studies in no way invalidate the Book of Mormon despite the loud voices of detractors. (p. 37).
It appears Butler’s intent is to reassure the Mormon faithful that one can be a DNA scientist and still be “believing.” However, one wonders what or whom Butler believes. The Book of Mormon is indeed lacking certain lineage details, yet how necessary are they, in light of the proclamations of the living prophets? Should Mormon people believe Spencer W. Kimball when he is quoted in The Ensign of July 1971, pp. 7ff saying,
The term Lamanite includes all Indians and Indian mixtures, such as the Polynesians, the Guatemalans, the Peruvians, as well as the Sioux, the Apache, the Mohawk, the Navajo, and others. It is a large group of great people. (p. 7)
… There are no blessings, of all the imaginable ones, to which you are not entitled—you, the Lamanites—when you are righteous. You are of royal blood, the children of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Lehi (page 10).
In an attempt to leave the door open for other populations in the new world at the arrival of Lehi, Butler also questions the complete annihilation of the supposed Jaredite nation as related in the Book of Mormon. He suggests that Ether’s prophecy only relates to Coriantumr’s household, leaving open the possibility that breakaway groups of Jaredite descent would have not participated in the battle and would have survived. And yet, even a cursory reading of Ether chapters 13-15 makes it clear that while Coriantumr and all his household were to repent to avoid destruction, if they did not the people would be destroyed for “every soul should be destroyed save it were Coriantumr” (Ether 13:20-21).
There is no repentance, and war rages over the whole face of the land (v. 25) which lasts for years resulting in the deaths of millions of men as well as their wives and children and culminates in a final battle. Prior to this final battle, for four years the Jaredite people gather together “that they might get all who were upon the face of the land” (Ether 15:14). Once the people are gathered there is one final six-day battle at the Hill Ramah where everyone is killed except Coriantumr.
It is interesting that the Book of Mormon explains “and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred”12 (Ether 15:11). The Book of Mormon Index entry for Ramah, Hill reads: “Jaredite name for Hill Cumorah” thus unequivocally linking the two names to the same geographic location. Is it possible that current Mormon Church leaders, who have put the link to Butler’s article on their website, do not care if rank and file members follow Butler’s lead and call into question both the clear reading of his faith’s scriptures as well as the teachings of his church’s highest ecclesiastical leaders?
Accepting a limited geography/local colonization hypothesis requires a series of assumptions that go contrary to the natural reading of the Book of Mormon, a reading both assumed and taught by generations of Mormon leaders. Further, these assumptions are dictated by apologetic necessity.
"Who Are the Children of Lehi?" (D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, 2003, pp. 38-51.) This article forthrightly acknowledges the biological and cultural connection between New World and Asian populations, and cites genetic studies that conclude that “the origins of 99.6 percent of Native Americans are accounted for now by the five haplogroups: A,B,C,D, and X” and that the data gathered, “in concert with archaeological and anthropological studies, have largely confirmed the scientific hypothesis that northeast Asia is the primary source of the majority of the early inhabitants of the Americas” (p. 42).
The authors acknowledge that the hypothesis that all Native Americans are of Middle Eastern (Semitic) origins is advocated by people who accept the Book of Mormon, but admit this hypothesis is refuted by the genetic data (pp. 42-43). Like the previously cited apologists, Meldrum and Stephens also propose a limited scope and setting for the Book of Mormon:
The Book of Mormon is the account of a small group of people who lived on the American continent, interacting to some degree with the indigenous population but relatively isolated from the general historical events occurring elsewhere in the Americas (p. 44.)
Meldrum and Stephens concede that the assumption that all Native Americans are Lehi’s direct descendants “seems to have been held by many early members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is still held by most today” (p. 40). Where has this view come from? According to the authors, “A superficial consideration of the Book of Mormon account has led to misconceptions about its scope and context” (p. 40). Unfortunately, what is left unsaid is where these “misconceptions” and “assumptions” originated. As shown previously, most Mormons today hold these views because they came from the teachings of their highest spiritual leaders. (See, for example, the 1990 letter from the First Presidency on the location of the Hill Cumorah.)
A unique contribution by Meldrum and Stephens is the idea that from Lehi there arose Nephite and Lamanite ‘cultures’ as opposed to ethnic groups. The Lamanites in particular should be understood as a cultural-political-religious group, not one defined by lineage (p. 39). The authors draw concepts from a book by Richard Dawkins entitled The Selfish Gene, in which he proposes the existence of a non-genetic replicating entity he calls a meme (rhymes with ‘cream’). Cultures and peoples are connected non-genetically by shared experiences or ideas passed on through social human interaction and imitation. The authors cite Dawson’s examples of memes as “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches” (p. 47). This concept is likened to those of ‘covenant’ and ‘kinship’ as social and religious unifying factors. These effectively render genetic connections irrelevant. According to Meldrum and Stephens,
The data suggest that a small colony under the leadership of Nephi established kinship within the fabric of a larger resident population. In effect, it was a situation of ‘them and us’—Lamanites and Nephites. The Nephites were the believers, while the Lamanites were everyone else (see for example Jacob 1:14; Alma 3:11). This perception differs little from the concept of “Jew and Gentile,” the latter term encompassing all non Jews. With final destruction of the Nephite kinship, all who remained in the Americas were “Lamanites. … All Native Americans are in fact descended from these “Lamanites”—these “Gentiles” of the record of Nephi’s people (p. 51).
While gutting the term Lamanite of any ethnic significance removes the indicting sting of DNA evidence contra the Book of Mormon, it in turn raises an important question. If since the close of the Book of Mormon everyone is a Lamanite, then Lamanite is no longer a valid ethnic identity or category. But if Lamanite is not an ethnic category connected to Hebrews who immigrated to the Western Hemisphere, then what hope is there of fulfilling the Book of Mormon prophecies that a Hebrew remnant would be gathered in the last days? As seen previously in this paper, Mormon Presidents, Apostles and General Authorities have spoken repeatedly of Lamanite conversions from all over the world as a fulfillment of Book of Mormon prophecies. These prophecies, which refer to the “gathering of Israel” (3 Nephi 21) the “remnant of our seed” (2 Nephi 30:3-4; D&C 19:26-27), and “the Day of the Lamanite” (Helaman 15:11-16), depend to a large degree on the identification of Lamanites as the Jewish remnant that is to be gathered. Mormon Church study manuals which provide interpretations of these prophecies given by modern-day prophets continue to teach this.
For example, The Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121 and 122, from 1989, provides this commentary under the heading Helaman 15. “The Day of the Lamanite,”
The day of the Lamanite is here and the gospel brings opportunity. Millions from steep hillsides of Andean ranges and market their produce with llamas and burros. .. Millions in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia serve in menial labor … Millions through North America are deprived, untrained, and achieving less than their potential. …The brighter day has dawned. The scattering has been accomplished – the gathering is in process. May the Lord bless us all as we become nursing parents unto our Lamanite brethren and hasten the fulfillment of the great promises made to them. (Spencer W. Kimball, cited in The Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121 and 122, p. 111).
All such Book of Mormon prophetic interpretations are rendered null and void if, as Meldrum and Stephens suggest, “all who remained in the Americas were ‘Lamanites.’”
Like Butler previously, Meldrum and Stephens conclude that “the veracity of the claims of the Book of Mormon lies beyond the ken of modern DNA research” and that the “final implications of the book, as a witness of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith and as another testament of the divinity of Jesus Christ, remain within the realm of faith and individual testimony” (p. 51).
"Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon?" (Jeffrey D. Lindsay, Ph.D., 16 November 2003). In this 70+ page article (including over 10 pages of resource and bibliographic material) Mormon apologist Lindsay presents a dizzying array of quotes, sources and commentary pertaining to DNA studies.13 His conclusions are similar to those of other Mormon scholar-apologists, to wit, the evidence is too complex, confusing and uncertain to allow us to be able to draw any negative conclusions about the Book of Mormon:
It is clear that the origins of the Americas are more complicated than previously thought. This applies not only to scientists, but to those who accept the Book of Mormon. Just as scientific progress requires abandoning old errant assumptions, increased knowledge of the Americas and improved understanding of the Book of Mormon text itself shows that many Latter-day Saints have incorrectly assumed that the Americas were a vacuum prior to Lehi’s arrival, and that Lehi’s group provided the primary genetic source for all Native Americas. These errant assumptions should be abandoned, but since the text does not make such claims, all we need abandon is our misunderstanding, not a sacred volume of scripture that is indeed an authentic ancient text.
Lindsay, like the apologists before him, concedes significant ground on “old errant assumptions” regarding the Book of Mormon, and yet like the aforementioned writers, makes no attempt to determine or identify where such ideas originated; ideas that now need to be abandoned. Lindsey also declares the Book of Mormon to be “an authentic ancient text” which in itself is a judgment of an historical, scientific nature.
Resultant Tensions and Conflicts
Scientific facts run counter to official teachings. Each of the articles provided on the official Mormon website frankly admit that the scientific evidence runs counter to traditional teachings. As Leavitt, Marshall and Crandall state in their article in a recent Dialogue, “Clearly, many Mormon leaders have taught the hemispheric model, so it should be no surprise that this is the scenario accepted by the majority of church members.” (“The Search for the Seed of Lehi, Leavitt, et. al., Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 36:4 (Winter 2003), p. 137). Millions of Latter-day Saints have understood and embraced the clear teachings of their most trusted spiritual leaders and now a broad spectrum of objectively collected, carefully studied scientific data shows these leaders have been wrong. According to Mormon scholar Trent Stephens (Ph.D., professor of anatomy and embryology at Idaho State University) writing in the March 2004 issue of Sunstone magazine, there are four ways that people may react to the data regarding Native Americans and the Book of Mormon:
One—The data refute the historic authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Therefore, belief in the book is unfounded and should be abandoned.
Two—The data may be ignored. In spite of the data, people may continue to believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that all pre-Columbian Native Americans were descended from people of Middle Eastern decent.
Three—People may take a wait-and-see attitude. Future data may exonerate their belief that the Book of Mormon is true and that all pre-Columbian Native Americans were descended from Middle Eastern populations.
Four—The Book of Mormon story is still true. However, the data refute the notion that all pre-Columbian Native Americans were descended from people of Middle Eastern descent. (Trent D. Stephens, Ph.d., “Now What?”, Sunstone, Issue 131 (March 2004), p. 26-27).
Stephens acknowledges that “Rejecting the authenticity of the Book of Mormon because its story is not supported by scientific evidence may be the most practical and rational choice” (p. 27). However, none of the above will likely be attractive options to faithful Mormons. On the one hand, those who accept the science and begin a journey of reflection and exploration will likely find this path leads to diminishing confidence in the Mormon Church and its claim to divine authority. Their tensions will be immediate and acute but will likely lead to ultimate spiritual and intellectual freedom as they pursue, encounter and embrace the truth.
On the other hand, those who ignore or set aside the facts in an effort to continue following the spiritual leadership of the Mormon Church, may well find themselves with less immediate tension, but are likely to face increasing amounts of cognitive dissonance that results in a death of their spiritual and intellectual balance and integrity.
In either case, those of us who are evangelical Christians need to be willing to come alongside Latter-day Saints who find themselves struggling with the tensions. After all, we can relate to the faithful Mormon’s desire for deep spirituality and worthiness before God the Father, and can encourage them to continue to move toward the God of Truth even while they move away from the errors of Mormonism.
Current scholarly explanations undermine historic teachings of Mormon spiritual leaders. As this article has shown and Southerton explains:
Most Mormon apologists now accept that Native Americans are principally descended from Siberian ancestors who migrated across the Bering Strait thousands of years before Lehi arrived and that the descendants of Lehi made up an infinitesimally smaller proportion of the New World Populations. However, this change in perspective has not been granted the church’s blessing in any official way.
… There is the further problem for apologists that in trying to rescue the Book of Mormon from science, they have had to reject the clear pronouncements of every church president from Joseph Smith to the present. (Southerton, 2004, p. 202).
Mormon people are now faced with a new tension. To whom will they listen in order to gain a true theological understanding and framework of Mormon history and scriptures? Do they follow the General Authorities or the apologists? What does it mean for the concept of “modern-day revelation” when the Mormon Church’s spiritual leaders begin deferring to apologists and scientists?
When Mormon missionaries seek to convert Native Americans in Mexico or Chile, do they take their cues from past General Conference talks or the latest FARMS articles? When a Mormon is called to teach the Gospel Doctrine class at his ward, and is given the Book of Mormon study manual, does he perpetuate the “errant assumptions” contained in the manual produced by the Church, or does he go with factually true material provided by the church scholars, knowing this material contradicts the manual and the general understanding of the members in his class?
Compared with the last 20 years, current articles available at LDS.org indicate a fairly radical change in the Mormon Church’s response to scientific challenges to the Book of Mormon. On July 29, 1979 the Church section of the Deseret News contained the following blunt editorial regarding new theories of Book of Mormon geography:
The geography of the Book of Mormon has intrigued some readers of that volume ever since its publication. But why worry about it?
Efforts to pinpoint certain places from what is written in the book are fruitless because the record does not give evidence of such locations in terms of our modern geography.
… To guess where Zarahemla stood can in no wise add to anyone’s faith. But to raise doubts in people’s minds about the location of the Hill Cumorah, and thus challenge the words of the prophets concerning the place where Moroni buried the records, is most certainly harmful.
…Why not leave hidden the things that the Lord has hidden? If he wants the geography of the Book of Mormon revealed, He will do so through His prophet, and not through some writer who wishes to enlighten the world despite his utter lack of inspiration on the point. (Deseret News, Church section, week ending July 29, 1979, p. 16)
In the Church News, week ending May 9, 1992, p. 14, an article appeared titled, “Sacred Text is a book of doctrine, not geography,” which cited various Mormon leaders and concluded:
It is folly to associate oneself with any peculiar notion… Such ventures in thought are merely guesses, and such speculation leads to confusion. … [If] the time comes, or that it is expedient for the saints to have this information, it will come to them through the regularly established source, the prophet, seer, and revelator, the Presiding High Priest of the Church and no one else.”
It appears times have changed, and the ‘prophetic’ leaders of the Mormon Church are now willing to let the scholars provide the necessary information to church members and a watching world. In doing so they have relegated Book of Mormon Lamanites to a small, culturally imperceptible corner of Mesoamerica and stripped this identity from thousands of Native Americans and Polynesians proselytized to the Mormon faith. For some like José, the Peruvian Mormon quoted at the beginning of this paper, this is an identity-shattering development. A July 26, 2004 USA Today article titled “DNA Research and Mormon scholars changing basic beliefs” stated:
…some church members who have always understood themselves in light of Mormon teachings about the people known as Lamanites are suffering identity crisis.
“It’s very difficult. It is almost traumatizing,” said Jose Aloayza, a Midvale attorney who likened facing this new reality to staring into a spiritual abyss.
“Its that serious, that real,” said Aloayza, a Peruvian native born into the church and still a member. “I’m almost here feeling I need an apology. Our prophets should have known better. That’s the feeling I get.”
The challenge will be to help these people evaluate their commitment to the Mormon Church apart from their commitment to a God who reveals Himself in Scripture and who desires them to be in relationship with Himself through His son Jesus Christ. There is already a segment within Mormonism, who, in being honest with the scientific data regarding the Book of Mormon, have decided this also disqualifies the Bible and the Judeo-Christian faith in general on the same grounds. Articles such as Trent D. Stephens’ “Now What”, Brent Lee Metcalfe’s “Reinventing Lamanite Identity, and Thomas Murphy’s “Inventing Galileo,” in (Sunstone, March 2004), as well as Robert Price’s “Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 36:4 (Winter 2003), pp. 89-96) all draw parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Bible as Scriptures that are better taken on faith, and are best left out of the realm of scientific discovery.
It is understandable that Mormon writers would draw such parallels, especially since there is so little serious biblical scholarship to draw from within the Mormon community. However, jettisoning the Bible into the same quicksand of unreliability, unverifiability and implausibility that has engulfed the Book of Mormon, is both unreasonable and unwarranted. The Bible has withstood scientific scrutiny and, unlike the Book of Mormon, is supported by ample objective historical, literary and cultural evidence.14
As evangelical Christians, committed to the authority of the Bible, our challenge is to strike a balance between faith and reason for the questioning Mormon that avoids mere rationalism yet highlights the need for faith founded on objective truth.
We need to be compassionately bold, engaging Mormon people in fresh, frank dialogue regarding several points:
1. The model of truth and revelation one employs within his worldview. We need to ask the question, “Is there absolute truth, unchanging and unalterable because its source is the unchanging, perfect character and nature of God Himself?” We should not assume a Mormon shares that point of view. I spoke to a Mormon missionary sister, a convert from Russia, on serving her mission here in the USA, who assured me as long as a person was true to what they believed, and followed that sincerely, God would accept them. The content was not as important as their sincerity. Neither of her two American companions made any attempt to counter or correct that point of view. It may be necessary to challenge the Mormon’s truth paradigm before the differences between her Mormon belief and biblical truth even matter to her. We can ask questions that help the Mormon see the mutual exclusivity of absolute and relative truth and help them move toward the need for a reliable, objective source for absolute truth. Once they recognize their need for a source, the Bible becomes the natural point of reference for evaluating other truth claims, since it is historically prior to any of the other Latter-day scriptures. This may also be the time to point them toward resources that affirm the reliability and historical authenticity of the Bible so they can divest themselves of the wrong perceptions they’ve received at the hands of their church.
2. The level of confidence one should have in the Book of Mormon and the truth test used to validate it. Rather than attacking the issue of the Book of Mormon’s authenticity head-on, it may be profitable to ask the Mormon to look at the issue from your point of view as a seriously interested, discerning outsider. Given Jesus’ warning concerning false prophets, and the apostolic injunctions to “test all things”, “test the spirits” and watch out for “false teachers” with “destructive heresies”,15 does she accept you are justified in investigating the data relevant to the claims made by and for the Book of Mormon? If so you can slowly work through areas of concern to you, raising questions and sharing conclusions that you can preface with the phrase, “Can you see how in light of this evidence, a person might naturally or logically conclude …” ? You are not asking them to come to that conclusion or even agree with your conclusion, but rather grant you the benefit of a reasoning and discerning mind.
3. The reliability of Mormon leaders, from Joseph Smith to Gordon B. Hinckley. This area is potentially more volatile, but like the previous topic, does not need to be the subject of a frontal assault. Instead, questions like: “What content does Gordon B. Hinckley provide for the Mormon Church that is unique or different from what a pastor of a large evangelical church (or my pastor/minister) provides for his congregation? What new revelation have you benefited from during the last general conference?
4. The integrity of Mormon proselytizing among Native Americans and Polynesians. This is where material in this paper can be most useful. It may be wise to first find out how conversant the Mormon is with the subject. Are they aware there has been controversy? Did they know that Mormon bishops and other church leaders have left the church over this subject? In there understanding, who are the Lamanites and how far did they expand? Do Native American peoples today have the blood of Lehi? What would they think of a Mormon scholar who openly declared that the Mormon spiritual leaders have been teaching error regarding the hemispheric model and Lamanite identity? How would you feel if you were a Quechua or Mayan Mormon convert and believed what you’d been told by the current prophet regarding your Lamanite ancestry, only to find out that articles on the Church website by Mormon scholars say none of it is true? Is it significant that non-Mormon scholars and scientists have been right about Native Americans for over 100 years while the majority of Mormon prophets and apostles have been wrong?
One cannot avoid the revelations of Joseph Smith and the clear teachings of nearly every other Mormon President regarding Book of Mormon peoples, their historical setting and ethnic heritage. Nor should one turn a blind eye to the vast array of scientific evidence that challenges these teachings. Mormon people who value the truth are faced with a daunting challenge to evaluate the prophetic claims of their religious leaders. In like manner, evangelical Christian who love the truth and care about their Mormon neighbor are challenged to use this truth as a brightly lit torch to dispel the darkness rather than as a club to bludgeon error.
— Joel B. Groat
APPENDIX: SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL
Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, 1956, p. 232-43 — Where Is The Hill Cumorah? What follows is a more complete citation of Mormon President Joseph Fielding Smith’s frank critique of the limited geography theory. It can be found online in an even more complete citation provided by Jerald and Sandra Tanner here:
Speculation About Book Of Mormon Geography. Within recent years there has arisen among certain students of the Book of Mormon a theory to the effect that within the period covered by the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and Lamanites were confined almost entirely within the borders of the territory comprising Central America and the southern portion of Mexico—the isthmus of Tehauntepec probably being the "narrow neck" of land spoken of in the Book of Mormon rather than the isthmus of Panama.
This theory is founded upon the assumption that it was impossible for the colony of Lehi's to multiply and fill the hemisphere within the limits of 1,000 years, or from the coming of Lehi from Jerusalem to the time of the destruction of the Nephites at the Hill Cumorah. Moreover, they claim that the story in the Book of Mormon of the migrations, building of cities, and the wars and contentions, preclude the possibility of the people spreading over great distances such as we find within the borders of North and South America....
Locale Of Cumorah, Ramah, And Ripliancum. This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. …
Early Brethren Locate Cumorah In Western New York. … the Prophet Joseph Smith himself is on record, definitely declaring the present hill called Cumorah to be the exact hill spoken of in the Book of Mormon.
Nephite And Jaredite Wars In Western New York. In the face of this evidence coming from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, we cannot say that the Nephites and Lamanites did not possess the territory of the United States and that the Hill Cumorah is in Central America. Neither can we say that the great struggle which resulted in the destruction of the Nephites took place in Central America. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 3, 1956, p. 232-43)
FAIR attack on Thomas Murphy
(The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research)
The following is from the Summary portion of an article by Allen Wyatt titled, "Motivaton, Behavoir, and Dissension," published on the FAIR website. It is cited here as an example of some of the the ad-hominem attacks and personal invectives Murphy has been subject to. For the full article see link below.
Murphy's reply immediately follows this excerpt.
Whatever the future holds for Mr. Murphy, his behind the-scenes behavior clearly indicates that he is not an innocent scholar being sacrificed at the hands of the oppressive Mormon Church for his intellectual integrity— that is a media persona carefully fostered by his supporters and activist friends. He is not a neutral academic observer whose professional views place him, à la Galileo, on the religious sacrificial altar. Nor is Mr. Murphy a patient scholar who has tried to work with and within the structure of the Church. His behavior leading up to the announcement of his disciplinary council indicates he is a willing, active supporter of and conspirator with those who would like to see the Church of Jesus Christ destroyed. Of course, you won’t hear that information from Mr. Murphy or any of those working behind the scenes to support him; such Oz-like machinations were not meant to be part of the manipulation of the media that they have pulled off. Fortunately, the very strengths of the Internet that enable the conspiracy of disinformation to occur also leave the indelible footprints carefully documented in this paper.
Mr. Murphy’s actions show he is all too willing to broadcast his ecclesiastical differences through the media, when he knows that the Church will not reciprocate for reasons of confidentiality. Mr. Murphy has placed himself at odds with the Church of Jesus Christ and taken specific steps to aid those who have a mission to tear down the Church. While attempting to claim the moral high ground of academic integrity, he has failed to notice that his bedfellows gave up any legitimate claim to that position long ago.
Murphy’s reply of problems in the Wyatt article:
What did he get wrong?
1. Wyatt claimed that racism, sexism, and homophobia in the church are far afield from my area of specialty. I am a cultural anthropologist specializing in ethnicity, folk biology, and religion. Racism and sexism in the church have been a central concern of my research for the past decade. I have been publishing articles on the subject in peer reviewed journals since 1996. See a list of my publications at the page below.
2. Wyatt suggests that my approach is "akin to anti-Semitism" and by implication that I am an anti-Mormon. It is precisely this dichotomous view of the world, one as simply black and white, that I hoped to challenge by agreeing to be interviewed by Living Hope Ministries. I hope to show viewers that one could be a Mormon and still think critically. One of the most empowering moments for me as a college student was when a member of my bishopric told me that he believed the Book of Mormon was a nineteenth century document. Finally, I felt that I could be a Mormon and a critical thinker at the same time. By challenging such simplistic views of the world I hope to provide similar inspiration for young Mormons wrestling with the same sorts of questions, ones that are inevitable in today's college classrooms.
3. Wyatt claims that I am seeking alliances with people who want to destroy the church. A more accurate statement would be that I seek alliances with everyone who is willing to pursue the truth.
Wyatt did not tell his readers that last August, when I was interviewed by Living Hope Ministries, that I also sought alliances with FAIR. I asked Scott Gordon, President of FAIR, if he would be willing to host a panel of scholars to discuss the DNA evidence no matter where the evidence might lead. He said, no, that only those who began and ended with the assumption the Book of Mormon was an ancient document would be welcome at FAIR. The difference between FAIR and Living Hope Ministries is that the latter group sought all perspectives on the issue, thus I was included in their presentation but have not been included at FAIR. Incidentally, Trent Stephens, a Mormon biologist at Idaho State University, is also interviewed by Living Hope Ministries in the same video.
Wyatt is also likely unaware of other alliances I have sought. Well before my association with Living Hope Ministries I invited Scott Woodward or another representative of the Molecular Genealogy Research Group to come to Edmonds Community College, at our expense, to give a presentation about their project. He never replied to the invitation. Alternatively, we invited Pearl Duncan, the first African American to trace her genealogy back to Africa, to speak on our campus.
I have offered to co-sponsor a forum with FARMS on DNA and the Book of Mormon. This offer has included raising at least half the money to bring leading genetic researchers in the field, Book of Mormon, and Native American scholars to the Edmonds Community College campus for the forum. Bill Hamblin expressed no interest but said he would forward the offer to other researchers associated with FARMS. So far, they have not replied to the offer.
4. Wyatt claimed that my actions were the "the moral equivalent of a Jewish person aiding and abetting anti-Semitic groups." I see them quite differently. I see them as the moral equivalent of loving your enemies. By showing an openness and willingness to confront the most difficult questions from within Mormonism, we can show people that they have nothing to fear from Mormons.
5. The small stipend I received from Mormon Scripture Studies did not come from critics of the Mormon Church. It came ultimately from an active Mormon member who prefers to remain anonymous. Using Mormon Scripture Studies as a medium of exchange allowed him or her to preserve anonymity.
6. Steven Clark did not leak my story to the press. After I had expressed my intention to go public, Ron Priddis of Signature Books forwarded my letter to Richard Ostling of the Associated Press who forwarded it to Patty Henetz. Ultimately, I must take full responsibility for my desire to go public and for agreeing to the interview. I did so because I believe that the best way to deal with ecclesiastical abuse is to expose it.
7. Wyatt claims that the Mormon Church would not respond to my statements through the media. Actually, they did so twice that I am aware of. From Salt Lake City, the church issued a statement noting that I had written a number of other articles that were critical of the church besides the one in American Apocrypha. While that is true my stake president appeared to be unaware of those other publications when he called me in for an interview. Matt Latimer, my stake president, also sent a letter to the press expressing his concern for my emotional well-being and a desire to avoid publicity as a reason for indefinitely postponing the disciplinary council.
I hope that these statements help clear the air. I appreciate Wyatt taking the time to investigate my case but wish he would correct his factual errors and avoid trying to demonize me. As Mormons we should aspire to a higher standard. FAIR would provide a much greater service to the Mormon community if it would sponsor and encourage honest and open exploration of the most difficult issues facing Mormons today. It could start doing so by actually dealing truthfully with the serious problems that the genetic data pose for both hemispheric and limited geographic models of the Book of Mormon.
2 For example, Spencer W. Kimball, 12th Mormon president, stated, “Now the Lamanites number about sixty million; they are in all of the states of America from Tierra del Fuego [Southern Argentina] all the way up to Point Barrows [Alaska], and they are in nearly all the islands of the sea from Hawaii south to southern New Zealand (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7).
3 Sandra Tanner has written a good summary of the Book of Mormon story in the Salt Lake City Messenger, Issue 103, November 2004. The whole issue is dedicated to the subject of the Lamanites and includes information on the 19th century historical context as well as some of Joseph Smith’s revelations concerning Native American peoples. It also traces Mormon teaching on this subject from Smith's day up through the present.
4 Leavitt, Marshall and Crandall, “The Search for the Seed of Lehi: How Defining Alternative Models Helps in the Interpretation of Genetic Data,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 36:4, Winter 2003, p. 134.
6 In past years some Mormon scholars and leaders have recognized that the popular Mormon teaching is untenable. Among those are John L. Sorenson who advocated a limited geography view in his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, (Deseret Book, 1985), and Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks who claims to have been introduced to this theory in a BYU class in the early 1950s. Oaks explains:
For me, this obvious insight goes back over forty years to the first class I took in the Book of Mormon at BYU. … Here I was introduced to the idea that the Book of Mormon is not a history of all of the people who have lived on the continents of North and South America in all ages of the earth. Up to that time, I had assumed that it was. If that were the claim of the Book of Mormon, any piece of historical, archaeological, or linguistic evidence to the contrary would weigh in against the Book of Mormon, and those who rely exclusively on scholarship would have a promising position to argue.
In contrast, if the Book of Mormon only purports to be an account of a few peoples who inhabited a portion of the Americas during a few millennia in the past, the burden of argument changes drastically. It is no longer a question of all versus none; it is a question of some versus none. (“The Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” given at FARMS annual dinner 10/29/93, online at: http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=transcripts&id=30). To my knowledge no one has tried to reconcile Elder Oaks views with the teachings of Mormon Prophets and Presidents to the contrary.
7 The full text of this presentation by Elder Benson can be found online here: http://www.irr.org/mit/WDIST/wdist-fourteen-fundamentals.html.
Some confusion regarding what is authoritative revelation is inevitable given statements like the following from the 10th Mormon Prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith:
It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine. (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, pp. 203).
10 Arguments like the diversity of languages, the inability of a small group of immigrants to populate and settle the North and South American continents in such short time and the Asian rather than Semitic ethnic ancestry evident in the great majority of Native American peoples, all troubled early Mormon historian and apologist B.H. Roberts in the early 1920s. Critics of the Mormon Church recognized the inherent problems of the hemispheric model of Book of Mormon history and culture and were quick to point out the problems raised by science. Yet Roberts was loath to employ a limited geographic model in order to solve these problems because to do so would go beyond what a natural reading of the Book of Mormon allowed (Studies of the Book of Mormon, p. 92-93). For example, Roberts writes:
Can we answer that the Nephites and the people of Mulek – really constituting one people – occupied a very much more restricted area of the American Continents than has heretofore been supposed, and that this fact (assumed here for the argument) would leave the rest of the continents – by far the greater part of them say – to be inhabited by other races, speaking other tongues, developing other cultures, and making, though absolutely unknown to Book of Mormon people, other histories? … To this answer there would be the objection that if such other races or tribes existed then the Book of Mormon is silent about them. .. To make this seem possible the area occupied by the Nephites and Lamanites would have to be extremely limited, much more limited, I fear, than the Book of Mormon would admit of our assuming” (Roberts, pp. 92-93).
11 For additional documented examples of statements by Joseph Smith regarding Book of Mormon geography see Luke Wilson’s paper, “Does Archaeology Support the Book of Mormon? A survey of the evidence”, 1992, pp. 6-10, available in print form from IRR or online here: http://irr.org/mit/bomarch2.html.
12 This lesser know battle at Hill Ramah / Cumorah (like that of the Nephites and Lamanites that would follow) also was said to involve great numbers of people— men, women and children— all outfitted with “weapons of war, having shields, and breastplates, and headplates, and being clothed after the manner of war” (Ether 15:14-15). So we have not one, but two massive battles fought in the same location with hundreds of thousands of casualties, weapons and war gear – all vanished without a trace.
14 A good example of a recent scholarly examination of the Bible’s reliability and historical authenticity is Jeffrey L. Sheler’s book, Is the Bible True: How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, Harper San Francisco, 1999, 278 pages. Sheler, an award-winning U.S. News & World Report religion writer, notes in the conclusion of his book:
And yet as we have seen, the Bible and the faith it commends are by no means entirely detached from historical examination. To the contrary, we have discovered an abundance of evidence — both direct and indirect — that sheds light on the historical claims and the context of the Scriptures. As we have examined that evidence and considered scholarly arguments drawn from it, and as we have compared the Scriptures to other written histories from the ancient Near East, we have found the Bible consistently and substantially affirmed as a credible and reliable source of history (p. 254).....