Your Friday Firestorm #6

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel…. 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)

Discuss.

Comments

  1. Oops.

  2. yep, that’s right.

  3. cj douglass says:

    It’s annoying to hear people like Bill Maher state that DNA evidence proves the BoM false because Mormons believe Native Americans were Israelites. The book itself makes no such claim and the words of Joseph and past prophets on the subject has always been speculation.

  4. cj douglass says:

    After all, I’ve never heard anyone say, “I know the Intro to the Book of Mormon is true.”

  5. You know…

    I’m not half as bothered by the Amerindian thing as by this statement:

    “and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel”

    Does it really?

    I wasn’t aware that either the Bible or the Book of Mormon contained a “fullness” of the everlasting gospel. It seems to me that a lot of stuff we regard as rather important was left out of both books.

    The biggest one pops up when you simply ask the question: “what is God like?”

    You won’t find that in either the Book of Mormon or the Bible.

    So what gives?

  6. john scherer says:

    We owe science a good deal for clearing up our misconeptions regarding the Book of Mormon. It allows us to leave behind old assumptions and look at what the book actually says. For me this shows that the Book of Mormon is bigger than Joseph, or any other man.

  7. mfranti says:

    and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel”

    crap seth, as if I don’t have enough to think about.

  8. If I can’t have a testimony of a given proposition (like the actual genetic ancestry of current native Americans), then I don’t feel required to accept it as Gospel. Admittedly that narrows the scope of my belief quite a bit, but that’s how I prefer it.

  9. “they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”

    Which group(s) of American Indians are we talking about? How big or broad is that category intended to be?

    Are we talking about Indians in North America, Central America or South America? All of the above? Some of the above?

    I do believe that there are descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites walking around on the American continent. Having served a mission in Guatemala, I’m not entirely averse to thinking some of the Maya might have Lehite/Nephite blood in them.

    But it’s obvious that there are major gaps in history here and there’s a lot we (whether we are talking about Latter-day Saints or everyone) don’t know.

  10. MikeInWeHo says:

    It requires some serious mental contortion to get around the words “principle ancestors” although I’m sure our limber friends at FAIR are up to the task. Does anybody know who originally penned this introduction? When was it added to the BoM? I could imagine it being quietly dropped or changed someday.

  11. Steve Evans says:

    MikeinWeHo, I believe it was added in 1981.

  12. Megatron says:

    Obviously there was some sort of DNA change from the very beginning or the Lamanites wouldn’t have had darker skin than the Nephites.

    Would it be a stretch to assume that maybe the Semitic DNA traces in the Lamanites were changed too in order to make acceptance of the BofM strictly a matter of faith?

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Seth R., the fulness of the Gospel is not the same thing as the answers to every question. So far as I can tell, the fulness of the Gospel consists of the basic principle of repenting and turning to Jesus. He says as much in 3rd Nephi.

  14. SC Taysom says:

    B.R. McConkie and his father in law spent a lot of time dealing with the “fulness of the gospel” issue. In addition to the sort of explanation that Steve Evans offered (fulness=basic principles), I think they also suggested that the BOM could be said to contain the fulness of the gospel because it was a record of a people who had the fulness of the gospel. I think I find Steve’s reasoning more convincing on that score.

  15. Isn’t there a school of thought that those who Nephi refers to as “my people” were the natives already on the American continent when they arrived?

  16. Fascinating. I’m reading Hugh Nibley’s “Lehi in the Desert” and Jaredites papers. It seems that he is implying that the broken nation of the Jaredites ended up in the end mixing with the Lamanites to form much of the Native American world. It isn’t implausible.

    As to the fullness of the gospel question, well, I think this brings up a very good question about what aspects are the actual “gospel” and what else is merely peripheral.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    Ezra Taft Benson‘s take on Seth’s question was:

    As mentioned before, the Lord Himself has stated that the Book of Mormon contains the “fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (D&C 20:9.) That does not mean it contains every teaching, every doctrine ever revealed. Rather, it means that in the Book of Mormon we will find the fulness of those doctrines required for our salvation. And they are taught plainly and simply so that even children can learn the ways of salvation and exaltation. The Book of Mormon offers so much that broadens our understandings of the doctrines of salvation. Without it, much of what is taught in other scriptures would not be nearly so plain and precious.

  18. Left Field says:

    Rumor has it that the 1981 introduction was written by B.R. McConkie. It of course is not canonized and is not part of the Book of Mormon any more than the Epistle Dedicatory is part of the Bible.
    Critics love to quote the introduction as evidence that the Book of Mormon requires a belief that Native Americans are primarily descended from Book of Mormon people. Of course, the Community of Christ publishes a Book of Mormon without McConkie’s introduction. Obviously the claims of the Book of Mormon itself are independent of whatever any particular publisher chooses to bind with it.

    Although the principal ancestors claim cannot be defended, I was actually quite pleased when the introduction was published because it implicitly acknowledges that the Lehites are not the sole ancestors of the Native Americans. I have no doubt that the claim will be left out of the next edition.

  19. cj douglass: We shouldn’t get too upset about our critics repeating and critiquing what the large majority of members and leaders, including prophets and apostles, have taught and believed since 1830.

  20. “the fulness of the Gospel consists of the basic principle of repenting and turning to Jesus. He says as much in 3rd Nephi.”

    Alright then. But doesn’t the Bible contain that as well? Yet I believe we assert that the Protestants, Catholics, et al, do not have the fullness of the everlasting Gospel, do we not?

    And why don’t they?

    I think we’d assert that it’s because the Priesthood authority was lost from the earth. But the Priesthood is only alluded to in the Book of Mormon. It’s the Doctrine and Covenants that outlines the Restored Priesthood. Is the Priesthood not a part of the “fullness” of the gospel?

  21. cj douglass says:

    Point well taken. But…I’ve known very few who have let their testimony of the book hinge on the principle ancestor specualtion. Maher and others seem to suggest that it does.

  22. I believe it does contain the “fulness of the Gospel” in more than just the basics. The closer I read “The Book of Mormon” the more I find teachings that, according to many, are only found in the Doctrine and Covenants.

    In many ways, even talking about the basics, the Bible tells what happened and a small portion of why and how, but only the Book of Mormon seems to have fleshed out the why and how of the chrystological doctrines. If you doubt that, just look at what has happened to Mormon concepts of Jesus Christ and the Atonement after a push to have the Book of Mormon emphasised.

    As to the “ancestors” bit, there are two courses that can be followed. The first is that we believe that the Mormon leadership is not considered infallable, and the Book of Mormon can speak for itself. The other, and one I think is religiously meant, is that the American Indians are the spiritual ancestors of the people in the Book of Mormon just as all members of the LDS Church are considered of the House of Israel. God has chosen them and that makes them so, not just DNA and blood.

  23. John Williams says:

    I like the 1981 (if that is indeed the year it was written) introduction. It provides a straightforward summary of a book that might leave outsiders confused. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce R. McConkie wrote all or most of this intro, and I think one of his strenghts is clarity of language.

    Having said that, I do think it’s high time for a new intro. In addition to “principal ancestors” there is “We invite all men…” That could be replaced with “we invite all people.”

    I suggest that Richard Lyman Bushman help write the new intro. I absolutely loved his description of the Book of Mormon in Rough Stone Rolling. Maybe he could get together with some scholarly-inclined General Authorities and Dallin H. Oaks to write it.

    I also think that it’s high time for a new edition of the LDS scriptures. Computer technology would allow the Church to create something more impressive than it did in 1981. I appreciate the current edition, but it could use a fresh coat of paint. I think there are too many footnotes that just repeat the word they’re footnoting, i. e. footnote letter a on the word “repent” refers to a footnote at the bottom of the page that says “TG Repentance.” That’s not very useful. And the LDS scriptures are loaded to the gills with footnotes like this.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    #10 MikeInWeHo, I’m involved in FAIR as a volunteer, so I’ll give you my take on the key passage.

    #18 Left Field is correct that the introduction was written by Bruce R. McConkie (I think it’s more than rumor), and is not a canonical part of the text.

    I know a few people who agree with the sentiment of the statement. And I know other people who try to rationalize it by taking “principal” in the sense of “most important,” not “most numerous.”

    I personally disagree with both perspectives (and I think it’s an apologetic mistake to try to defend it). In my view, the statement is simply false, and I am in print as saying so.

    (But of course, as always, I don’t speak for FAIR, and this is simply my personal view.)

  25. Joshua A. says:

    It seems to me that a lot of stuff we regard as rather important was left out of both books.

    The biggest one pops up when you simply ask the question: “what is God like?

    You’re not reading very carefully–or at least correctly. Don’t think of the books as just a compendium of stories. Their very purpose is to offer insight as to God’s character, plan, and purpose. For a basic example of this, check out the Lectures on Faith.

  26. I would simply in the next edition either eliminate the sentence or Say… “Among the ancestors of the American Indians”

    Its pretty clear that most American Indians are descended from Asians but that does not rule out that there may be a smattering of Nephite/Lamanite blood mixed in as well.

    My own theory on how the Lamanites got darker skin is simply intermarriage with the people already here. It also explains the development of different customs amongst the lamanites.

  27. Thank you for this post. It’s an answer to my prayers. Earlier this week, one of my classmates (who happens to be a Buddhist nun) asked me about this very issue. I told her that I didn’t know offhand, but that I would look into it and share what I found out.

  28. Last Lemming says:

    I agree with the Benson quote in #17 with the exception of two words: “and exaltation.” Unlike Jettboy, I cannot find in the Book of Mormon all of the principles of exaltation that are contained in the D&C. And I think it is entirely proper to limit “the gospel” to the principles of salvation, as I believe that such was the intent of the ancient prophets.

    As for the “principal ancestors” phrase, recall that by the time of Mormon, the term Nephite referred to a self-selected community with a common theology and/or ideology who choose to identify themselves with Nephi. There was no necessary correlation with genetic ancestry. Since the record was made by a Nephite, he might have simply used the term “Lamanite” to refer to anyone who was not a member of his community, regardless of ancestry. In that case, the “Lamanites” were, indeed, the principal ancestors of today’s Native Americans.

  29. LL, I couldn’t agree more with your first paragraph. In terms of more complicated doctrines (3 degrees of glory, etc.), those stem from readings of the Bible, not the Book of Mormon, which Joseph did not seem to use very much in the theological development of the early Church. Of course, we can imbue the most harmless of verses with deep doctrines if we’re so inclined, but the text itself doesn’t support them.

    I’ve often considered the ancestral “reshuffling” that took place as a result of the events in 4th Nephi, and wondered why we don’t make more of the concept that post-4th Ne “lamanite” isn’t necessarily the same as a direct descendant of Laman. Either way, though, to say that any group in the BoM is the “principal” ancestor of today’s Native Americans is a bold statement at best and extremely problematic.

  30. John Williams says:

    Last Lemming, the 1981 intro pretty clearly indicates genetic ancestry. And the problem is not anything that Mormon said, it’s what the 1981 intro says. And it’s not that big of a problem since it’s not canonized and it was added recently.

  31. JW, even if the 1981 introduction isn’t strict canon, it’s de facto canon as are the chapter headings, Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary — everyone in the church uses them and relies on them. They haven’t been expressly approved by the members as revelation, but that doesn’t lessen their influence. As such I don’t think we can dismiss it; it firmly expresses the perspective of the Church as of 1981, and I’d argue that it probably still does.

  32. John Williams says:

    Steve, I agree with your #31. What I meant was that it’s not a problem in that the Church can release a new intro without the “principal ancestors” wording. There might be some blow-back from anti-Mormons, of course, but at least the Church could say that the ’81 intro was technically not canonized scripture.

  33. Agreed. Now the big question is WILL they. Seriously, I doubt it will happen for 20 years.

  34. Thomas Parkin says:

    Somewhat tangetially:

    Today, I’m grateful that we are a people that can learn. We don’t believe the Bible to be the inerrant, perfect and complete word of God. And we don’t believe that of the Book of Mormon, either. We do not have to be fixed to old ideas simply because we once had them. We have a foundation of truth, not the whole superstructure. In fact, we believe that one of the ways we can fail in the arena of light and truth is in misapplying the ‘tradition of … the fathers.’

    That said, I think the whole DNA bit, as well as the whole ‘principle ancestor’ bit, will be seen as a bit of a canard. Call it some prophsy’n, if’n you’d like.

    ~

  35. anothernonymous says:

    The Title Page of the Book of Mormon written by Moroni indicates that the record is written primarily to the Lamanites. It is a pretty universal assumption that any investigator who has yet to read the Book of Mormon would self-identify themselves as Lamanites, so they would have to identify with the culture in which they were raised. I keep hearing commenters here and elsewhere say that Church members are prone to infering things about the Book of Mormon from their own culture that the Book of Mormon itself does not explicitly say. This may be true in several instances, but how is a descendant of Lamanites going to arrive at an independent confirmation that s/he is in fact a Lamanite?

    So will the real Lamanite please stand up? It will come as no surprise that Native Americans who read the Book of Mormon and come to believe it is what it claims to be will come to identify themselves as the audience to whom Moroni was addressing in the title page. So why are we giving BRM (or whoever wrote the Introduction) such a hard time? The claim is corroborated by statements given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, which he gave not as his opinion but as inspired counsel (HC 5:479-81):

    “The Great Spirit has told you the truth. I am your friend and brother and will do you good. Your fathers were once a great people. They worshipped the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit did them good. He was their friend, but they left the Great Spirit and would not hear his words or keep them. The Great Spirit left them, and they began to kill one another, and they have been poor and afflicted until now.

    “The Great Spirit has given me a book, and told me that you will soon be blessed again. . . . This is the book which your fathers made. I wrote upon it (showing them the Book of Mormon.) This tells you what you will have to do.”

    If Joseph Smith is a prophet, then at least the native inhabitants of the Great Plains are principally of Lamanite descent. He didn’t say “I give it as my uninspired opinion that you’re descendants of Lehi” – as you’ll note at the beginning of the quote he said that God told him so. Remember, the first missionaries were called in 1830 to go “preach to the Lamanites” in what was then the American frontier. Were they off course???

    Do whatever you want with the DNA findings – just remember that whatever faithful conclusion you arrive at, to be consistent that conclusion has to accommodate both the Title Page of the Bookf of Mormon and statements by Joseph Smith on the subject.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    anotheronymous, thanks for those quotes. Extremely valuable.

  37. “…I believe it was added in 1981.”

    In his book “By the hand of Mormon” Terrel Givens tells us that Joseph Smith and other church leaders presented the Book of Mormon to world with the notion that it was as much an historic document as a spiritual or scriptural document and that the American Indian was a direct decendent of the Lamenites. It was just one of the long standing questions the BofM was supposed to have answered. But I’m sure that teaching was not considered part of the canon either.

  38. anothernonymous,
    While I don’t disagree with you that JSJ (and pretty much every other believing member up until the last 20 or 30 years) believed that the BoM populations were the sole–or, at least, principal–ancestors of today’s Native Americans, I disagree with your analysis of the impact of his statement.

    Just because he said it–just because he said it and believed it–doesn’t mean he was right. I have no problem with his having been wrong about the ancestry of Native Americans; that doesn’t diminish his prophetic capacity or importance. In the same way, I don’t have a problem believing that BY was wrong about African Americans. It doesn’t mean, in either case, that they weren’t prophets, authorized to lead God’s church and inspired. But I don’t need for every word–even the words that they felt the Great Spirit gave them–to be impeachable Truth. I just need the important ones to be.

  39. to comment 5-
    the gospel as defined by the Savior himself in 3 nephi 27:

    “behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you–that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.”

    the bom gives us a pretty good view of the gospel in that sense.

  40. Costanza says:

    Sam,
    That logic works well in hindsight, but how do you apply it to the present? How do you know which doctrines are the “important ones”? If, for example, we believe that the prophets in the past were wrong about some of the things that they, and the members at the time, didn’t think were wrong, how do we know when something being taught by church leaders today is correct and important, or incorrect and peripheral?

  41. Re: anotheranonymous (#35),

    Do whatever you want with the DNA findings – just remember that whatever faithful conclusion you arrive at, to be consistent that conclusion has to accommodate both the Title Page of the Bookf of Mormon and statements by Joseph Smith on the subject.

    But doesn’t this bind us to an either/or approach? By insisting that a “faithful conclusion” requires that one believe that Lamanites are the “principal ancestors” of modern Native Americans, as taught by Joseph Smith and generally implied by the Book of Mormon itself, are we being unnecessarily narrow in our approach? Can’t one reject such notions in light of modern discoveries while generally remaining true to both the Book of Mormon as scripture and Joseph Smith as a prophet?

    I sure hope so. I’m not so sure about Book of Mormon historicity (in other words, I’m not convinced that Native Americans have any Lamanites in their genealogy), but I still consider the book scripture. While I’m certainly aware of the difficult implications raised by the notion of a non-historical Book of Mormon, I like to think that I can still believe that the book is scripture and that Joseph Smith, in bringing it forth, was acting in a prophetic role.

  42. I find that I ask that question a lot, Costanza (comment #40).

    I know you weren’t addressing me, but my personal thoughts are that this conundrum presents one more reason why members should subject current Church teachings to more scrutiny. The “when the prophet speaks, the debate is over” paradigm really doesn’t fit the historical trend, which reveals that prophets have a tendency to add to, take away from, and even contradict their predecessors.

  43. Costanza,
    Applying that logic to the present is the hard part, I agree. So I generally do (more or less, hopefully more, but I’m far from perfect) what the Church asks me to. If I were asked to do something egregious—or something that felt wrong to me—I wouldn’t, hopefully with the Spirit’s blessing, but I haven’t been asked do anything wrong yet.

    The things I tend to disagree with prophets and leaders about are peripheral, (salvifically) unimportant things: evolution happened, withholding the priesthood from blacks was uninspired, the Limited Geography model fits the BoM better than the idea that Nephites and Lamanites came to and overran a virgin continent.

    So I’m not denying that there are hard things about how I see things, but, frankly, my belief in evolution doesn’t negatively impact my ability to be charitably one way or the other. If, however, something I’ve long considered immutable changes, c’est la vie. In fact, that’s the vie I like: continuous revelation, plus a requirement that I only have faith in those things that are true.

  44. “The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.”

    No problem with that one.

    “It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas”

    SOME (probably a small percentage) of the ancient inhabitants – according to its own claim

    “and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel”

    No problem with that one, based on how I define “the fulness of the Gospel”. Most of our doctrines that people use to call us non-Christian cultists are taught more extensively in the Bible (and the D&C) than the Book of Mormon. Some aren’t taught at all in the Book of Mormon. (I find Mormon 7 fascinating in this regard – truly and deeply profound.)

    “After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites”

    all of those described in the book (not necessary for the intro, but just a point of clarification, since I believe there were MANY people on the continents who were not related to the Nephites and the Lamanites – and the book itself talks of or implies those who stayed out of the final battles each time a civilization was “annihilated”)

    “and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”

    Wrong opinion, IMHO. I doubt they are the “principal” ancestors of many people, although my parents-in-law heard oral traditions from a small, isolated tribe on their mission in Ecuador that were amazingly similar to the BofM. I believe strongly that there are living descendants of the Lamanites – but that their genealogical lines are largely, if not almost completely, so mixed that there are few, if any, that are “primarily” descended from the Lamanites at this point.

  45. And actually, I do make those judgments in the present: I don’t think there’s any spiritual significance to Pres. Hinckley’s injunction for men to avoid earrings; I firmly believe that that is rooted in the cultural milieu he’s a part of. Still, I don’t have an earring (partly out of obedience, partly for professional reasons, and partly because my wife would kill me). (And I do recognize that Pres. Hinckley never claimed direct inspiration for his statements on earrings, and that, for various secular and professional, as well as image, reasons, they’re generally good ideas, but it is what leapt to mind, slowly, of course, and after I’d added my comment.)

  46. I don’t see “they will never lead you astray” as “they will never teach anything that is incorrect or that will be abandoned in the future.” I just see it as “they will never ask you to do something that will make you end up outside the Celestial Kingdom if you do it.” There are any number of admonitions and statements of belief that I believe are cultural and not “creedal” – and I tend to accept and follow them. Unless I feel like they are going to put me on the wrong road away from exaltation, I accept them – and I have yet to reach that conclusion. Also, compared to what my evangelical friends are required to accept and believe in order to be accepted in their congregations, I have it quit easy in this regard.

  47. When the prophet of God says, “God told me X,” per #35, when are we just fine with saying “He’s mistaken.” Who’s mistaken? God? The prophet for thinking God talked to him?
    Joseph Smith claimed a number of things that God told him to do. Which ones was he mistaken about? Why couldn’t he tell the difference? And for Pete’s sake, if he’s a prophet and HE can’t tell the difference, how are WE supposed to be able to tell the difference?

  48. John Williams says:

    Ann, #47

    Things aren’t as black and white as you infer they have to be. Just do what you feel right doing. After all, everything is supposed to be based on receiving a witness from the Holy Ghost. Take a leap of faith– that’s what religion is all about. I think it’s a very beautiful, moving thing to take such a leap of faith. I think religion brings inner peace.

  49. Many people have said or implied that the BOM itself makes no claims about Native American descent.

    I wonder what do you all make of 1 Nephi chapters 12 and 13? Surely the most natural reading is the one that agrees with the traditional view.

  50. Thomas Parkin says:

    Ed,

    I think it is pretty clear that the Israelitish ancestry of some Native Americans needs to be seen as _meaningful._ What reality is neccesary for that ancestry to be meaningful isn’t so clear to me. I think that ancestry as, say, total percentage of blood line could be pretty thin and still be meaningful.

    I have a picture of my great-great grandfathers family (Ransom Hatch, probably some people here are related to me). His youngest daughter, Ada, is the spitting image of my 17 year old daughter. It’s haunting, actually. Not just in looks, it is a sameness that goes beyond that. There are all kinds of things going on there in the genes in the subsequent five generations … yet there it is, the clarity of it. Of the hudreds of offspring prodused in those generations, these two are a fit, they belong, they are of a kind. I’m not sure how this relates … only to say that the bloodline could be pretty thin and still have not only symbolic but genetic meaning. In my head … and I’m being vague because this is right at the edge of my thinking, it’s pretty much new to me right now … we want to back off these teachings for all kinds of reasons, of which the current kerfluffle over DNA is only one. But, I personally think that, in time, it will make something of a comeback – without racial prejudice.

    ~

  51. I agree with Thomas, but I would phrase it this way:

    Nephi was focusing on his descendants. At one point, the angel described them as the “mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren.” No description was given of that mixture – what percentage were his actual descendants or what other populations were included in their ancestry at that point. I look at genealogical research and see the exact same thing. My 32nd great-grandfather (MUCH closer to me than my generation is to Nephi) can claim to be an ancestor of many millions of people – that they are among his seed – without erring in that claim. He might not be their “primary” ancestor, but he can claim them as his seed – since his blood lines can be traced to them.

  52. Actually, Bbell, the genetic research rules out Israelite ancestry of native Americans entirely. Y-chromosone and mitrochondrial DNA analysis proves conclusively that no Indian population has Israelite DNA.

    Joseph Smith was quite clear in mission callings and many other statements that Indians were supposedly the descendants of Israelite. So were almost all of his prophetic successors.

    If the prophets were wrong then that is a serious issue. Either the Book of Mormon is so obtuse that even seers, prophets and revelators cannot understand it or the seers, prophets and revelators are in no position to properly instruct the saints.

    Either way, the findings are devastating to LDS folklore and traditions that the overwhelming majority of the saints continues to practice right now.

  53. Wrong, Hellmut. Won’t debate it here, but you are wrong.

  54. I am willing to reconsider my position, Ray, in the light of facts but just telling people that they are wrong without being willing to justify one’s conclusion strikes me as doctrinaire and unkind.

  55. Some highly intelligent posts on this very subject over at Jeff Lindsay’s Mormanity blog. Particulary this one on Icelanders.

    Other related ones here, and here.

    There are even more articles on DNA and the BofM at his blog, but I’m at my link limit. Check them out.

  56. Hellmut, I knew when I typed it that it was abrupt, but I just don’t want to reconstruct a debate here. There is a tremendous body of scholarly work on this topic, and nearly all of the ones I have read without a direct agenda relative to the BofM agree that the research doesn’t lead yet to conclusive claims for populations that are dispersed across thousands of years and multiple continents, with potentially complicated mixtures of genetic variance. This is true particularly if the “primary ancestors” opinion of the BofM is incorrect, and even more so if there was extensive genetic mixing among the people described in the account itself – mixing that was implied but never admitted openly (as I believe when I read it), that was downplayed or ignored in order to emphasize the major political divisions of Nephite and Lamanite by a historian hundreds of years later.

    I’m not saying there are not serious issues and concerns raised by the research, Hellmut. It just isn’t conclusive in eliminating Israelite ancestry among a relatively small population in a limited area over a thousand years ago, especially given what is said and implied in the BofM itself. I’m open to other interpretations of the nature of the BofM, particularly if further research finds a way to prove no DNA connection at all, but we just aren’t there yet. In some cases, the research has been applied to populations that obviously do have Israelite heritage – and the research results still couldn’t prove that ancestry.

    Literally, there are thousands and thousands of pages written about this topic in general (thousands just on the BofM itself). I just have no desire to hash through all of it here. That’s all. I apologize for being so abrupt in the last comment.

  57. OK, one more very quick comment, just as an example of assumption vs. actual claim:

    What was Nephi’s maternal ancestry? Nobody knows. It’s easy to assume, but, if you agree with Nibley that Lehi appears to have been a traveler (perhaps a traveling merchant) this question is impossible to answer.

    I really don’t want to pursue this, so pardon this comment. I simply thought I owed Helmutt a quick example.

  58. Eric Russell says:

    This article, among others, demonstrates the sheer impossibility of conclusively ruling out such a thing.

    As for the above quote, I’m not convinced that Israelites are the even the principle ancestors of the Lamanites. It’s a thousand years between Lehi’s arrival and the “Lamanites” that Moroni knew. A thousand years of wars and breeding with the locals would have created a very different people.

  59. Thanks for the link, Eric. The concept of “Lamanite” meaning anyone on the continents who was not a part of the small group that retained a belief in Christ and, therefore, a spiritual, namesake connection to Nephi (and the subsequent rejection of that very heritage that made the title “Nephite” a political designator only) easily could have been the way it was defined from Mormon and Moroni’s perspective. If I adopt that definition, even though I don’t think I have to do so, the “principle ancestor” claim is perfectly valid on its face.

    I’m not at all sure that’s what BRM had in mind when he wrote it, but it’s interesting, nonetheless.

  60. I don’t think you need thousands of pages of scholarly research to refute what Hellmut appears to be claiming. Some general knowledge and basic arithmetic will suffice.

    First of all, Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA deal with the paternal and maternal lines exclusively. If you go back 40 generations, there are over a billion slots on your pedigree chart. Y and mitochondrial data deal with precisely two of those slots, so they can’t say anything at all about who might be lurking at the other billion-plus slots.

    Furthermore, if you had changed one of those ancestors at any one of those slots, it would likely have had an undetectable effect on your DNA. I believe the total number of human genes is estimated to be less than 100,000, so the vast majority of “slots” in your 40-generation pedigree must have contributed less than even a single gene to your current genetic makeup. In fact there are only about 3 billion nucleotide pairs in the genome, so if you go back 50 generations there is more than one ancestor per nucleotide pair.

    Therefore you simply can’t “rule out” Israelite or any other ancestry using genetic data, since it just takes one Israelite in one slot before someone can literally and correctly be said to have “Israelite ancestry.”

    (The real question is whether such attenuated ancestry is meaningful, and whether it is consistent with the BOM narrative.)

  61. Careful, Hellmut. If you press that argument then you also have to conclude that very few, if any, present-day Icelanders are genetically related to their own geneologically ascertainable ancestors.

  62. To be more accurate, I should restate # 60 as follows:

    If you press that argument then you also have to conclude that many present-day Icelanders are not genetically related to their own geneologically ascertainable ancestors.

  63. Hellmut, it seems you have read and are convinced by Murphy and Southerton, but have you read anything addressing the theories they raise and the claims they make?

    Here is a little something from FAIR — no reason not to see an article pointing out where Murphy and Southerton have gone too far in their claims, is there?

  64. SC Taysom says:

    Come on John, you know you’re just a shill apologist for the Icelandic cult! You fool no one!:)

  65. Shar Golding says:

    I have a 1976 BoM and that intro is not there.

    Also changed in 1981 addition in 1 Nephi 13:24 “Plainness” of the gospel is changed to “fulness” of the gospel. Plainness and fulness are not the same. I have always understood we do not have the greater things they are with held to try our faith Mormon 8, 3 Nephi 26 when our faith is tried we will be given more.

    Is this not trying our faith? Anyone that was rasied Mormon know the Indians of today and the Lamanites are the same people ok – ancestors (what is 3 Nephi 16 all about; who is the gospel going to go back to?).

    What of the DNA is it a theory like evolution? I have yet to see anything evolving. A duck is a duck, a man is a man and an ape is still an ape. Who is behind the research on the DNA? How is it funded? And also, just to make it interesting maybe Lehi was adopted into the house of Israel. Lehi finds his genealogy on the plates of brass but he is not specific on how he fits into the house of Israel.

    So are we just tossed to and fro in doctrine (Ephesians 4:14)? Do we say let’s not rock the world’s boat; so we will just say Joseph Smith was wrong, God forbid! It’s time to make a stand on what you believe don’t let the world cloud your spiritual witness.
    Smile

  66. Joshua A. says:

    What of the DNA is it a theory like evolution? I have yet to see anything evolving. A duck is a duck, a man is a man and an ape is still an ape. Who is behind the research on the DNA? How is it funded? And also, just to make it interesting maybe Lehi was adopted into the house of Israel. Lehi finds his genealogy on the plates of brass but he is not specific on how he fits into the house of Israel.

    Whoa…DNA analysis (and evolution) are pretty solid science–as solid as gravity, for a point of comparison. DNA will give you a flawless answer, but you have to ask the right question. I’ll have to agree with the above analysis–it’s pretty much impossible to disprove a relationship. Our friend Hellmut is endulging in a little bit of intellectual dishonesty when he presents the choice between solid science and belief in prophecy. As has been pointed out already, there are numerous other possibilities. It’s certainly not worth staging a Bourne-esque escape from your mission field, declaring yourself a homosexual, and then renouncing religion entirely over :).

  67. I guess the right question would be how extensive was the research? How many native Americans did they test? Did they test people in South and Central America? How many Asians did they test? I have heard this about the DNA for quite a few years, but I think seeing the research and who is behind it would explain more. Is there a book written about the research?

  68. Thanks for the example, Ray. That was very kind of you.

    Taking a second look, I have changed my mind and agree with you that there is room for hope. However, one really has to cling to straws.

    With respect to your observation, remember that maternity determines membership in an Israelite tribe. Of course, there is the possibility that Sariah or one of her maternal ancestors converted but in light of the importance of such information, it is implausible that the Book of Mormon would not have mentioned that essential fact.

    However that may be, Sariah has to come somewhere from the Mediterranian or Arabic region, which still limits mitrochondrial DNA. Also, one should be able to find the mitrochondrial DNA of Ishmael’s wife.

    (In fact, Nephi’s maternal ancestry is irrelevant because as a male, he cannot pass on mitrochondrial DNA. But that’s just hairsplitting as the same issues arise with the other female members of the immigrant group).

    First of all, Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA deal with the paternal and maternal lines exclusively. If you go back 40 generations, there are over a billion slots on your pedigree chart. Y and mitochondrial data deal with precisely two of those slots, so they can’t say anything at all about who might be lurking at the other billion-plus slots.

    That’s an interesting point, Ed. The relevant question, however, is how many patrilineal descendants that one ancestor might have. After all, the researchers are sampling living Amerindians. Each male subject will inevitably have a patrilineal ancestor, each female a matrilineal ancestor.

    The Book of Mormon mentions six sons of Lehi, Zoram and an unspecified number of sons of Ishmael. Since the BoM uses the plural lets estimate conservatively that Ishmael had two sons. Around 600 BC, according to the BoM, there are then at least nine Israelite males who landed somewhere in the Americas. (That number excludes Lehi and Ishmael who are unlikely to have fathered more children).

    If one assumes that each male had 1.2 male children on average (one fifth of Lehi’s male children) and estimates each generation at thirty years on average (86 generations between 600 BC and 2000 AD) then there should be some 58 million patrilineal descendants of the Israelite immigrants in the year 2000.

    Furthermore, if you had changed one of those ancestors at any one of those slots, it would likely have had an undetectable effect on your DNA. I believe the total number of human genes is estimated to be less than 100,000, so the vast majority of “slots” in your 40-generation pedigree must have contributed less than even a single gene to your current genetic makeup. In fact there are only about 3 billion nucleotide pairs in the genome, so if you go back 50 generations there is more than one ancestor per nucleotide pair.

    Genes are different from chromosomes, Ed. Each human being only has 46 chromosomes, half of which are being passed on to our off-spring. Each male only has one y-chromosome, which has to be passed on identically from father to son.

    I suppose there could be mutations of the y-chromosome but I don’t know enough about that. Does anyone else know?

    If you press that argument then you also have to conclude that many present-day Icelanders are not genetically related to their own geneologically ascertainable ancestors.

    Thanks for pointing me to the Icelandic research, John. That’s very interesting and I had not yet explored it.

    Almost all Icelanders can be traced back to two clusters of ancestors with y-chromosome and mitrochondrial DNA analysis. All of those ancestors are northern Europeans.

    I suppose defenders of the Book of Mormon can take solace in the fact that a lot of ancestors are washed out by y-chromosome and mitrochondrial DNA analysis.

    See Agnar Helgason et al. 2003. A Populationwide Coalescent Analysis of Icelandic Matrilineal and Patrilineal Geneaologies: Evidence for a Faster Evolutionary Rate of mtDNA Lineages than Y Chromosomes. American Journal of Human Genetics. 72:1370-1388.

    If you have access to a university library gateway then you can download this study as a PDF document.

    What of the DNA is it a theory like evolution? I have yet to see anything evolving. A duck is a duck, a man is a man and an ape is still an ape.

    While I do like some of your other questions, Shar, I don’t think bashing evolution is a useful move, especially not in a discussion that attempts to reconcile faith and reason.

    Evolution is the paradigm of the life sciences. All of the discoveries from basic biology to medicine during the last hundred years have taken place within the framework of evolution.

    And yes, you can “see” evolution, be it by direct observation of microorganisms or fruit flies in the lab, the fossil record, and the DNA record. In fact, the emergence of genetic research has powerfully confirmed the evolutionary paradigm of the life sciences.

    I am quite sympathetic to William Jennings Bryant’s concerns about solidarity but there cannot be a religious duty to embrace ignorance. That only emaciates faith.

  69. Hellmut: “If one assumes that each male had 1.2 male children on average…”

    Then you’d have to assume a total population growth rate of 20% per generation, or around a doubling in population per century. So that would mean that if there were, say, 10 million people in the Americas in 600 B.C, there would have been 20 trillion by the time of Columbus.

    Here’s another way to look at it: if a population has one million people, and it grows over the centuries to 2 million people, then on average each of the original males has exactly 2 male patrilineal descendants. The average number of patrilineal descendants today for each male at 600 B.C. is equal to the total population of descendants today divided by the total population at 600 B.C. I don’t think this ratio is anything near 58 million.

  70. No doubt, Ed, all my assumptions are too simple. Most importantly, it is unrealistic to assume steady growth rates for 85 generations. It’s merely an illustration to show that we must be talking about a large number of people.

    I have no idea how many people lived in the Americas in 600 AD. I have seen an estimate between seventy and seventy-five million for all of the Americas in 1492.

    There are some anthropologists, like Jody Hey, that have developed rather sophisticated demographic models to estimate pre-Columbian American populations. It would be fun to take one and calculate estimates but that would probably take me two or three days.

    Notice, that doubling populations per century are not unheard of. In the 1750s, England only had five million inhabitants, which means that the population has multiplied by a factor of ten in some 250 years.

    With respect to your example, notice that the original population of one million people would already share a small number of Y chromosomes. If we were to sample the two million descendants then we would find a lot more than two people sharing the same Y chromosome.

  71. Hellmut,
    If evolution were true it would not be called a “theory”. You gave me no examples just bla bla
    What is a fruit fly becoming a house fly? What is “the fossil record”?

    And my original question: Who is behind the DNA research and is there a book?
    Smile!

    -And yes, you can “see” evolution, be it by direct observation of microorganisms or fruit flies in the lab, the fossil record, and the DNA record. In fact, the emergence of genetic research has powerfully confirmed the evolutionary paradigm of the life sciences.-

  72. OK, two more – not so quick. After this, I really am done:

    1) Lehi’s own “Israelite” ancestry was maternally Egyptian (Joseph’s wife was Egyptian). Lehi wasn’t devout before he began to prophesy. (changed by hearing prophesy and clueless as to his lineage) Lehi knew how to write in scholarly Egyptian – fluently. (extensive travel to that area or regular communication with that group or raised and educated there) We have no idea if Nephi’s mother was Middle Eastern at all. She very easily could have been Egyptian or from any number of areas where Lehi could have traveled. We simply know very, very little of the genetic make-up of Lehi’s family – and there is a very good chance that it was not primarily Israelite from a purely genetic perspective even at Nephi’s time.

    2) Even just the wars mentioned explicitly in the BofM total hundreds of thousands of people killed, and the Nephites ALWAYS were the smallest of the groups described. Mormon never speaks at all about the world of the Lamanites, except to juxtapose them against the Nephites. Therefore, we have NO clue if they mingled with other populations in much the same way the Nephites did with the Mulekites. Furthermore, we only know of the Mulekites because they were discovered by the Naphites. If they had been assimilated in with the Lamanites, we wouldn’t even know of their existence – since they just would have been Lamanites to Mormon. Again, since the Nephites always were the smallest of the groups discussed (even with their assimilation of the Mulekites), it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the Lamanites also were assimilating or being assimilated by other, more populous peoples. Either way, even if their genes quickly were overwhelmed by other genes, they still would have been Lamanite in Mormon’s eyes.

    Modern DNA research can’t prove no connection to a large and populous, pure Israelite civilization, much less to a small group that might have had little Israelite blood in the first place – and might have had that diluted greatly almost immediately.

    Almost all of the very inconclusive evidence (both ways) rests on assumptions about the original ancestry that can’t be substantiated in the first place, as well as assumptions about the genetic diffusion that also can’t be substantiated. It’s important work – very important, but it’s an exercise in futility to try to prove the historicity of the BofM based on it. At best, it eventually might be able to eliminate some possibilities, but until we know much more about the people and civilizations in the BofM, we will not be able to answer the questions authoritatively – especially when the book itself is read by many as compatible with the largest single migration (the Jaredites) coming from Asia. (I have zero confidence that the entire destructions actually were entire destructions – much like my lack of confidence in the idea that all people in the world paid taxes to Caesar when he decreed that all the world should be taxed – or that all mankind were killed by Noah’s flood.) History is written in the hyperbole of the winner, and scripture is no exception. If even that hyperbole doesn’t give us enough to substantiate a claim, then the reality being hidden by the hyperbole probably will be understood only when all records are revealed during the Millenium.

  73. John Williams says:

    Hey Ray, I actually kinda like #72. Good job.

  74. Hellmut, you’re a smart guy but I can’t even tell what point you’re arguing for anymore. You originally wrote “the genetic research rules out Israelite ancestry of native Americans entirely.” My point is simply that if you insert a handful of Israelites into a population of millions of non-Israelites, you’d be very very unlikely to be able to detect that fact in the DNA 2000 years later. So you can’t “rule out” such an insertion, and your original claim is false.

  75. John Williams says:

    ed #74,

    I’m not a biologist, but I think you make a good point in #74.

  76. Notice, Ed, that I conceded the point in post 64. Check the second paragraph.

    Ray, Lehi’s maternal line is irrelevant. He is a male and cannot pass on mtDNA. To the best of my understanding, the researchers do not distinguish individual peoples but group the mtDNA and y chromosome clusters by geographic region. If that is correct then it does not matter if the matrilineal lines are Israelite, Egyptian, Phoenician, Assyrian, or even Roman.

    While I do agree with you that there is the possibility of “overwhelmed” mtDNA and Y chromosomes, one has to realize that such a chance is very small. It would mean that every patrilineal and matrilineal lines were wiped out.

    (There is, of course, the FAIR piece that you linked but their reference to the common Siberian and Israelite mtDNA marker would not be sufficient to establish maternity because arguably one has to assume that the one marker in question comes from the same origin as the other nine markers. Insisting on Israelite origin in the context of the other nine markers leaves a tiny opening but is really clasping at straws, especially in the absence of any other evidence of Israelite links).

    Notice, Ray, that the Mulekite mtDNA and Y chromosomes would also be Israelite. There is no indication of interbreeding with non-Israelite populations in the BoM whatsoever. That is only a rationalization, which the facts force upon us but for which the BoM provides no evidence.

    Finally, let me point to two recent research successes to link populations to their ancestors over two millennia.

    The Boston Globe reviewed Colin Thurbrow’s book The Shadow of the Silk Road. Thurbrow claims that genetic tests linked Chinese residents to their Roman legionary ancestors who arrived there in 54 BC. I have to admit that I am skeptical about this but it’s interesting.

    However, I am quite confident in the work of Jeannine Davis-Kimball who was able to link the corpse of an “Amazon” warrior woman who died no later than 330 BC to a living Mongolian girl. Secrets of the Dead screened a fascinating episode about this research.

    MtDNA and Y chromosome analysis are powerful tools. After more than 2300 years, Davis-Kimball was able to find a bearer of the identical mtDNA. If the Silk Road story pans out then that would demonstrate that DNA documents a relatively small group of Roman ancestors after some 2000 years. Somebody looking hard and long enough ought to be able to find evidence verifying the testable claims of the Book of Mormon.

  77. Left Field says:

    #30-31

    JW, even if the 1981 introduction isn’t strict canon, it’s de facto canon as are the chapter headings, Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary — everyone in the church uses them and relies on them.

    at least the Church could say that the ‘81 intro was technically not canonized scripture

    I don’t think the introduction can be considered scripture in any sense, de facto, technical, or in any other way.

    Perhaps it feels different to those young enough to have not known a Book of Mormon without the 1981 introduction, but there was no sense in 1981 that the introduction constituted new scripture or new revelation. Introductions come and go.

    The Ensign, in announcing the 1981 edition, described a number of features including the new introductions, and then, before discussing changes in the scriptural text, indicated that the “new features mentioned thus far fall into the category of study or enrichment aids. Of equally great interest to the members of the Church are new elements that have been added to the text itself and the work that has been done to make this edition as accurate as possible” –clearly distinguishing “enrichment aids” from the scriptural text.

    Unlike scripture, the Introduction is not divided into verses and is never cited in general conference or church materials except rarely as a secondary source for Joseph Smith’s statement that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book.

    I agree that by virtue of being bound with scripture, the Introduction does carry some extra weight, but I don’t think it can be regarded as scripture in any real sense. The fact that it is never cited argues against the claim that everyone uses it and relies on it. Mostly it’s used and relied on only by critics who find it a useful rhetorical devise.

    It is interesting that lds.org does not show a single hit for the phrase “principal ancestors.”

  78. VelikyeKniaz says:

    That’s it, Helmut, “Somebody looking HARD and LONG ENOUGH…”. The sample used to definitively state that there was no Israelite connection to the peoples of the ‘new world’ was far too small to conclusively prove such a claim. As Nibley was so fond of saying, “All the evidence isn’t in yet!” As of the fascinating case of the Mongolian girl, yes, it was intriguing and exciting. But numerically speaking, did the steppes ever support the concourse of people that the Americas have seen? It was a fortuitous shot in the dark that was helped by a perpetually sparse population on some forbidding high plains.

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