DNA and the Book of Mormon

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Gospel Topics: "Basic principles of population genetics suggest the need for a more careful approach to the data"

"Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Although the primary purpose of the Book of Mormon is more spiritual than historical, some people have wondered whether the migrations it describes are compatible with scientific studies of ancient America. The discussion has centered on the field of population genetics and developments in DNA science. Some have contended that the migrations mentioned in the Book of Mormon did not occur because the majority of DNA identified to date in modern native peoples most closely resembles that of eastern Asian populations.

Basic principles of population genetics suggest the need for a more careful approach to the data. The conclusions of genetics, like those of any science, are tentative, and much work remains to be done to fully understand the origins of the native populations of the Americas. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples, and even if their genetic profile were known, there are sound scientific reasons that it might remain undetected. For these same reasons, arguments that some defenders of the Book of Mormon make based on DNA studies are also speculative. In short, DNA studies cannot be used decisively to either affirm or reject the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon.[1]

Questions: What are the criticisms related to the Book of Mormon and DNA?

DNA attacks against the Book of Mormon account fail on numerous grounds

Few criticisms of the Church have received as much media attention as this criticism, with so little thought and science being applied to the question. DNA attacks against the Book of Mormon account fail on numerous grounds.

It is important to realize that critics of the Book of Mormon base their arguments on DNA data that has never been shown to be even relevant to the issue of Book of Mormon genetics, let alone conclusive. Such critics have cobbled together DNA data gathered from unrelated studies to produce arguments with the appearance of scientific weight but having no real significance. No genetic studies have been designed and performed to test the hypothesis that Native Americans were of Lehite descent and that this inheritance is detectable today.

DNA samples taken from modern Native Americans do not match the DNA of modern inhabitants of the Middle East. Critics argue that this means the Book of Mormon's claim that Native Americans are descended from Lehi must be false, and therefore the Book of Mormon is not an ancient record as Joseph Smith claimed. [2]

"Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA evidence are ill considered."[3] Various geographical models introduce issues unique to each model, but the DNA data is no where as conclusive as some claim, regardless of the geographical model chosen.

Critics tend to opt for the most naive, ill-informed reading possible of the Book of Mormon text, and then cry foul when the Saints point out that they have given much thought to these issues and come to more nuanced conclusions that are more faithful to the Book of Mormon text than the critics' poorly-considered caricatures.

Critics do not provide the "whole story" of the DNA data, and seem to want to use the certainty which DNA provides in modern crime-solving as a springboard to trick the Saints, the media, and investigators into thinking that their historical DNA conclusions are as solid.

DNA data tells us nothing which we did not already know from archaeological data

In fact, DNA data tells us nothing which we did not already know from archaeological data—at present, the human settlement of the Americas is thought to date thousands of years before the advent of Lehi. Many of these settlers have links to east Asia. None of this is news, and none of it threatens the Book of Mormon's status as authentic history.

But, the critics hope that their listeners will be awed by the banner of DNA science, and conclude that something more impressive is going on. Informed members of the Church have not been persuaded by their tactics, and much has been written to help non-specialists understand the "numerous and complex" issues in the fascinating and valuable science of genetics.

Question: Do Christian critics of the Book of Mormon have a double standard regarding DNA evidence?

Many sectarian critics use DNA science in a figurative "suicide bombing" attack on the Church

It should be remembered too that many sectarian critics use DNA science in a sort of "suicide bombing" attack on the Church. [4] The fundamentalist Christian critics are happy to use DNA as a stick to beat the Book of Mormon, but do not tell their readers that there is much stronger DNA evidence for concepts which fundamentalist Christian readers might not accept, such as:

  • evolutionary change in species
  • human descent from other primates

Fundamentalist Christians do not call on their congregations to abandon such literalistic Biblical concepts as a "young earth"

And, despite being inconsistent with DNA data, fundamentalist critics do not call on their congregations to abandon such literalistic Biblical concepts as:

  • the earth being only 6,000 years old
  • a Biblical Adam and Eve were the parents of all humanity only 4,000 years before Christ
  • a world-wide, Noachian flood which exterminated all life except that which was in the Ark, occurred approximately 5,000 years ago

The critics are often hypocritical—they claim the Saints should abandon the Book of Mormon on flimsy, dubious science, and yet do not tell their audience that they should (by the same logic) abandon religious beliefs of their own that have much more DNA evidence against them.

Question: What scriptures in the Book of Mormon affirm the presence of other people in the Book of Mormon in the New World?

Matthew Roper: Nephi’s Neighbors


Prophecies about the Scattering

The scriptural evidence against the presence of others, then, is sparse and unimpressive. The scriptural evidence for the presence of others, however, is abundant. For instance, prophecies from the Old Testament would have led Lehi’s people to expect to be placed in a new land in the midst of other people. The prophets of ancient Israel had foretold that the tribes of Israel would be “scatter[ed]…among all people” (Deuteronomy 28:64) and “removed to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jeremiah 29:18) and that they would become “wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17). Further, Moses informed them, “The Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you” (Deuteronomy 4:27). These prophecies make plain that the whole house of Israel was subject to being scattered among non-Israelite peoples who would be more numerous than they.[5]Lehi taught his children that they should consider themselves to be a part of this scattering: “Yea, even my father spake much concerning the Gentiles, and also concerning the house of Israel, that they should be compared like unto an olive-tree, whose branches should be broken off and should be scattered upon all the face of the earth. Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered” (1 Nephi 10:12-13).

The allegory of the olive tree, as recounted by Jacob, spells their fate out even more plainly. Branches broken off the tame tree, which represents historical Israel (Jacob 5:3), are to be grafted onto the roots of wild trees, meaning non-Israelite groups. In other words, there is to be a demographic union between two groups, with “young and tender branches” from the original tree, Israel, being grafted onto wild rootstock in various parts of the vineyard or the earth (Jacob 5:8; see also 14). Jacob 5:25 and 43 clearly identify Lehi’s people as such a broken-off branch. That branch is to be planted in the choicest spot of the vineyard. In that prime location, the Lord has already cut down “that which cumbered this spot of ground” (Jacob 5:44)–clearly a reference to the destruction of the Jaredites.[6] In addition, the statement that one part of the new hybrid tree “brought forth good fruit,” while the other portion “brought forth wild fruit,” is an obvious reference to the Nephites and Lamanites respectively (Jacob 5:45). So the Lehite “tree” of the allegory consists of a population geographically “transplanted” from the original Israelite promised land and “grafted” onto a wild root–or joined with non-Israelite people. Note that the Lord considers the new root to be “good” despite its being wild (Jacob 5:48). This allegorical description requires that a non-Israelite root–other peoples, in terms of this discussion–already be present on the scene where the “young and tender branch,” Lehi’s group, would be merged with them.

Open-ended Promises concerning the Land

Book of Mormon prophets describe for latter-day readers the responsibilities that rest upon those who inherit the land of promise. But these conditions did not begin with Lehi’s family or even with the Jaredites; this land has been one of promise from its beginning (Ether 13:2).[7]Those conditions specify that the people and nations who inhabit the land are to be free from bondage, captivity, and “all other nations under heaven” if they will serve God (Ether 2:12). The reverse is also implicit in Moroni’s statement: those who do not serve God have no promised protection and may expect to be subjected to bondage, captivity, and affliction by other nations who will come to the land and exercise God’s judgment upon them. Some people, then, are brought to the land for their righteousness, and others are brought to scourge the inhabitants. Moroni also states that unrighteous nations or people may be swept off the face of the land, but “it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off” (Ether 2:10), suggesting that those peoples who do not reach a “fulness of iniquity” may yet remain in the land. “And he raiseth up a righteous nation, and destroyeth the nations of the wicked. And he leadeth away the righteous into precious lands, and the wicked he destroyeth, and curseth the land unto them for their sakes” (1 Nephi 17:37-38). Nephi’s statement in the context of his own family’s journey to a New World land of promise suggests that their experience is not unique but indicative of the activities of other groups. Upon his family’s arrival, Lehi explained the nature of the covenant by which they would inherit the land. The Lord had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, “but, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:5). We know that the Mulekites were, like the Lehites, led out of the land of Jerusalem “by the hand of the Lord” (Omni 1:16). Lehi’s reference to “other countries” suggests countries other than the land of Jerusalem. Modern readers may correctly include in that category gentile peoples who migrated to this hemisphere during historic times, yet Lehi does not limit the application to post-Columbian gentile groups. Their identity is left open and unspecified.

Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever. (2 Nephi 1:7)

Lehi’s words parallel similar promises in both the Book of Mormon and latter-day revelation:

Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe. (Alma 45:16)

And thus the Lord did pour out his blessings upon this land, which was choice above all other lands; and he commanded that whoso should possess the land should possess it unto the Lord, or they should be destroyed when they were ripened in iniquity; for upon such, saith the Lord: I will pour out the fulness of my wrath. (Ether 9:20)

And I said unto them, that it should be granted unto them according to their faith in their prayers; yea, and this was their faith–that my gospel, which I gave unto them that they might preach in their days, might come unto their brethren the Lamanites, and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions. Now, this is not all–their faith in their prayers was that this gospel should be made known also, if it were possible that other nations should possess this land; and thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land might have eternal life; yea, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people they may be. (D&C 10:47-52)

In both the Book of Mormon and modern-day scripture, the language of the scriptural promises concerning the land is open-ended. It refers to “whoso should possess the land” (Ether 2:8), “whatsoever nation” (Ether 2:9, 12), “he that doth possess it” (Ether 2:10), “all men…who dwell upon the face thereof” (Ether 13:2), “whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land” (D&C 10:50), “all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue, or people they may be” (D&C 10:51). The covenant conditions under which blessings may be inherited are explained, while the identification of who may inherit them is left unspecified in terms of both identification and time. Whoever they are, whenever they come, whatever their origins, the Book of Mormon makes clear that “this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring” (2 Nephi 1:7).

The People of Nephi

After telling us that “Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were angry with me because of the admonitions of the Lord” (2 Nephi 4:13) and were planning to kill him (2 Nephi 5:3), Nephi then relates:

And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me. Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words. (2 Nephi 5:5-6)

At the time the Nephites and the Lamanites separated, then, Nephi was accompanied by his own family, Zoram and Sam and their respective families, his younger brothers Jacob and Joseph, and his sisters, in addition to “all those who would go with me.” Who were these others who “believed in the warnings and the revelations of God”? The most likely answer seems to be other people living in the land, not of Lehi’s family. Significantly, at this point in the text Nephi introduces the term people of Nephi for the first time in reference to his followers (2 Nephi 5:9), a term that may be suggestive of a larger society including more than his immediate family.

It is also at this point that the term Lamanite first appears. Nephi explains that he made preparations to defend his people “lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people” (2 Nephi 5:14). As demographer James Smith observes, “One reading of the latter phrase is that ‘Lamanites’ is a new name for the family and followers of Laman, Nephi’s brother-enemy from whom Nephi fled. Another possible reading is that some people not previously called ‘Lamanites’ were now so called, presumably because of Laman’s affiliation with them.”[8]

After explaining how he and his people separated themselves from Laman, Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and their people and having told how the people of Nephi became established in the land, Nephi quotes a prophecy of the Lord. “And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done” (2 Nephi 5:23). This prophecy anticipates future mixing and intermarriage with the Lamanites, but the immediacy of Nephi’s personal observation that “the Lord spake it, and it was done” suggests that the process was already underway at the time Nephi left or very shortly after the separation. That is, unidentified people had, at this early period, already joined with the Lamanites in their opposition to Nephi and his people and had become like them, and Nephi saw this event as a fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy. Since Nephite dissensions are not explicitly mentioned until several generations later,[9] Nephi’s statement about unidentified peoples intermarrying with the Lamanites seems to indicate the presence of other non-Lehite peoples who had joined or were joining the Lamanites.

Being Numbered with the People of God

In light of the possibility that additional non-Lehite peoples had united with both the Nephites and the Lamanites, the teachings of Nephi and Jacob relating to Isaiah take on greater significance. After explaining that “we had already had wars and contentions with” the Lamanites (2 Nephi 5:34), Nephi inserts a lengthy sermon delivered by his brother Jacob (2 Nephi 6-10). Jacob indicates that he has previously spoken about “many things” (2 Nephi 6:2) but that Nephi now wants him to preach from Isaiah. In fact, Jacob says that Nephi had even selected the scriptural passages he was to discuss: prophecies of Isaiah that concerned the relationship between scattered Israel and the Gentiles (2 Nephi 6:4). Further, Jacob asks his people to liken these passages from Isaiah to their present situation (2 Nephi 6:5) and suggests that the application of these teachings concerns “things which are” as well as things “which are to come” (2 Nephi 6:4). As Latter-day Saints, we quite appropriately focus on the latter, but what was the context that made likening Isaiah’s words to themselves meaningful to the Nephites?

Jacob prophesies that in the latter days some Jews will reject the Messiah and be destroyed, while others will believe and be saved (2 Nephi 6:14-15). Jacob also interprets Isaiah as referring to two distinct groups of Gentiles: those who nourish and unite with Israel (2 Nephi 6:12; 10:18-19), and those who fight against Zion (2 Nephi 6:13; 10:16). In the latter days, both groups of Gentiles will play an active role in the drama of Israel’s gathering and redemption. “Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God” (2 Nephi 10:16). Certainly, Jacob’s sermon looks to the future, but I am persuaded that in likening Jacob’s teachings to themselves, Nephite contemporary listeners would have drawn the obvious parallel with their own situation. As a branch of scattered Israel in a new land of promise, they sought to establish Zion but were opposed, hated, and persecuted by their former brethren. Even when Jacob applies these prophecies to the latter days, his words have immediate relevance to his contemporary listeners, who would likely have seen their Lamanite persecutors as the “Jews” of Jacob’s prophecy and the “Gentiles” as those non-Lehite peoples who had joined with the Lamanites against the people of Nephi. However, in his application of Isaiah to the Lehites, Jacob explains that not all Gentiles would oppose Zion and that some would be joint heirs with the people of Lehi in the blessings of the land: “But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land” (2 Nephi 10:10). How would the Gentiles in the land be blessed? By being numbered among the children of Lehi.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, thus saith our God: I will afflict thy seed by the hand of the Gentiles; nevertheless, I will soften the hearts of the Gentiles, that they shall be like unto a father to them; wherefore, the Gentiles shall be blessed and numbered among the house of Israel. Wherefore, I will consecrate this land unto thy seed, and them who shall be numbered among thy seed, forever, for the land of their inheritance; for it is a choice land, saith God unto me, above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me, saith God. (2 Nephi 10:18-19)

The Lord’s promise, delivered to the people of Nephi by Jacob, is a perpetual one, having application from their own time forward. In the context of its time, Jacob’s sermon can be read as addressing the immediate question of how Lehite Israel was to relate to and interact with non-Lehite peoples in the promised land.[10] The answer was that they might, if they so chose, join with the people of God in seeking to build up Zion as joint inheritors of the land. Once they did so, they too became Israel and were numbered with Lehi’s seed. Some have wondered why, if other people were present in the land during Book of Mormon times, they were not mentioned more frequently in the record. The precedent of making no distinction between Lehi’s descendants and converts from the rest of the population, introduced by the Nephites’ first priest, would have been foundational to the unity of Nephite society, would have influenced the words of later Nephite prophets, and may have set the additional precedent of viewing all peoples in the land in polar terms, such as Zion/Babylon or Nephite/Lamanite. Previous cultural identity would have been swallowed up in this polarized frame of reference. An example of this process can be seen in the case of Nephi’s righteous brother Sam. When Lehi blesses Sam, he promises, “Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days” (2 Nephi 4:11). Lehi blesses all his children, but only Sam is promised that his seed will be numbered with Nephi’s. Interestingly, when Lehite tribal designations are mentioned, there is no tribe of Sam (Jacob 1:13; 4 Nephi 1:35-38). Why? Apparently because when one is numbered with a people, one takes upon oneself the name and identity of that people. Similarly, Gentiles, once numbered with Israel or Lehi, are thereafter identified with their covenant fathers without respect to biological origin. From then on, they too are simply Israel.

Nephi’s emphasis on the universal nature of God’s love is even more meaningful if written and taught to a people grappling with issues of ethnic and social diversity. “And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33). Nephites would understand Jews to be those who came out from Jerusalem, yet the additional reference to Gentiles and heathen would only make sense to a Nephite if there were others in the land. Likening Isaiah unto the Nephites

If there were others in the land, it would also help explain why many of Nephi’s people had difficulty understanding Isaiah, although not all of them did (2 Nephi 25:1-6). Converts who had never lived in the ancient Near East would have lacked the historical and cultural background that made the words of Isaiah “plain” to Nephi. It is also apparent that some Isaiah passages cited by Nephite prophets would make better sense to a Nephite if there were others in the land. Here we will mention just three. Strangers join the house of Israel. “For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land; and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob” (2 Nephi 24:1). Such prophecies may quite properly be applied to latter-day readers of the Book of Mormon as we liken the scriptures to ourselves, but they need not refer to us exclusively. How would the Nephites have likened this scripture to their own situation, as their prophets invited them to do? They would no doubt recognize the great mercy of the Lord in bringing them out from Jerusalem and saving them from destruction, and they would also see the Lord’s hand in setting them in a new land of promise where they could establish Zion. Significantly, this prophecy would also suggest to the ancient audience that there were “strangers” in the land who had joined or would join with them in accepting the teachings of Nephi and could be numbered with the house of Jacob. Temples and people. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, when the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (2 Nephi 12:2-3, quoting Isaiah 2:2-3). While there are several ways of reading this passage, the Nephites would likely have thought about their own temple, recently constructed at the direction of Nephi “after the manner of the temple of Solomon” (2 Nephi 5:16). This was the temple at which Jacob taught (Jacob 1:17; 2:11) and likely the one at which Nephi’s own teachings to his people and his quotations of Isaiah were presented. Isaiah’s reference to “many people” coming up to be taught would evoke the idea of people joining the Nephites and accepting their traditions and beliefs.

A confederacy against Zion. Nephi cites Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the alliance of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, against Ahaz, king of Judah (2 Nephi 17-22, quoting Isaiah 7-12). Ephraim, Judah’s brother-tribe, has allied itself with a non-Isaelite nation (Syria), and they seek to depose Ahaz and replace him with someone of their choosing (2 Nephi 17:1-6, quoting Isaiah 7:1-6). Responding to the crisis and the fears of the king and the people of Judah, Isaiah prophesies that the conspiracy of their enemies “shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass” (2 Nephi 17:7, quoting Isaiah 7:7) and urges Ahaz simply to have faith and be faithful (2 Nephi 17:9, quoting Isaiah 7:9). The application to Nephi’s day is plain: In his ambition to gain power and assert his claims to rulership, Laman, leader of the brother-tribe of “the people who were now called Lamanites” (2 Nephi 5:14), has very possibly, like Pekah of Israel, acquired non-Israelite allies and made war on another ruler of Israelite descent, Nephi, and his people (2 Nephi 5:1-3, 14, 19, 34). Perhaps frightened by the superior numbers of their enemies, the people are counseled to trust in the Lord.

Although, as Sorenson posits, the Book of Mormon may be a lineage history with an accordingly narrow focus, scriptural evidences hinting at the presence of other peoples in the New World are abundant within the Book of Mormon and other scriptures. Many of these passages, in fact, take on a clearer meaning when their wording, content, and context are considered with the possibility in mind that Lehi’s family and the Mulekites were merely two groups among many others in the land of promise[11]

We might add to this list a few passages from the Book of Mormon that make the Nephite population open-ended:

(Jacob 1:13-14)

13 Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.

(Alma 45:14)

14 But whosoever remaineth, and is not destroyed in that great and dreadful day, shall be numbered among the Lamanites, and shall become like unto them, all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct. And now, because of iniquity, this prophecy shall be fulfilled.

(4 Nephi 1:38)

And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did willfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.

Book of Mormon Central has also produced a list of scriptures that support others being present:

  1. The reported size of early Nephite populations, the accounts of their warfare, and their unsanctioned polygamous marriages all indicate that they had an unbelievably high population growth rate.[12]. This suggests that outsiders mixed with and added to their population from the beginning.
  2. In the book of Jarom, readers learn that the hunter-gatherer Lamanites had become “exceedingly more numerous” than the Nephites who cultivated the land (Jarom 1:6). This situation goes against the historical trend of higher population growth among agricultural societies. It seems that outsiders would have been necessary to swell the Lamanite population so disproportionately.[13]
  3. Some researchers have felt that Jacob’s statements about Sherem, who “sought much opportunity” to speak with Jacob and who “had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people,” suggest that Sherem was an outsider to Nephite society (Jacob 7:3–4).[14] This is because it makes little sense to emphasize that a community insider had a good grasp of their language or that he would have to seek out an encounter with Jacob.
  4. For several reasons, the Nephites’ quick ability to grow corn (maize) and raise flocks and herds seems unlikely unless they had obtained this knowledge from local natives.[15]
  5. The Mulekites’ language seems to have been “corrupted” too quickly for natural language evolution. This indicates that their language was being mixed with another language or languages from outside groups (Omni 1:17).[16]
  6. The terms “Nephite” and “Lamanite” were broad enough to include a variety of ethnic and cultural sub-groups.[17] Moreover, there are examples of Book of Mormon societies adopting the name of a host group upon joining them.[18]
  7. The way that Jaredite culture and names were preserved among the Nephites shows how cultural influence from one group upon another goes unmentioned and unexplained in the text.[19]
  8. The use of some terms or group designations, such as “Lamanitish servants” (Alma 17:26) or “Ishmaelitish women” (Alma 3:7), hints at affiliated groups of outsiders.[20] If the social identity of the servants or women was one of the named groups in the Book of Mormon, then we would expect a straightforward label. Instead, the “ish” indicates that they may have been outsiders who were adopted into the Lamanite and Ishmaelite tribal groups.
  9. Several prophetic interpretations of Isaiah hint that the Nephites were concerned with the spiritual welfare of “others” in the land.[21]

To their list we might add 3 Nephi 5:20

I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi. I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought out fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, (and no one knew it save it were himself and those whom he brought out of that land) and that he heath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls>

It would be strange for Mormon to point out that he was a pure descendant of Lehi if there were no other groups that could influence the population's ethnic makeup.

Of course, all of this this doesn’t answer the question of why these others don’t get much explicit reference in the text. BMC addressed this:

However, these clues still don’t explain why outsiders were never mentioned directly in the text. One likely answer can be found by comparing the Book of Mormon with other ancient American historical documents. Anthropologist John L. Sorenson has noted that ancient Mesoamerican histories are similarly ethnocentric—meaning that, like the Book of Mormon, they focus almost solely on a particular society or lineage and that they exclude political, cultural, or religious information that isn’t directly relevant.[22]With this ancient American context in place, the Book of Mormon’s lack of information about outside societies is perfectly understandable and even expected.[23]

Question: What scriptures might challenge the view of a limited geography and the Nephites not being alone on the continent or other issues regarding DNA?

There are five that could potentially be cited by critics

JS History 1:34

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang…

Alternative approaches

  • Focus on “an account”, “the former”, and “this continent”. The statement may be read to mean that the Book of Mormon is not giving the “full account” or “the entire history” of the inhabitants. “[T]he former” implies that these inhabitants (at least in their majority) are now no longer here. “This continent” can have alternate meanings. In Joseph Smith’s day, This could apply to the Western Hemisphere, the North American continent (from Mexico to Canada) or simply the United States (the North American interpretation of "this continent" could actually work with the Hinterland Model for Geography). We have seen also that Joseph was willing to shift his views of geography with where he believed the best evidence was shored up for the text. “The source from whence they sprang” can refer to geographical movement instead of DNA. Joseph Smith’s day didn’t have a concept of DNA—so there is a good possibility that he didn’t mean to say that literally every person in the western hemisphere came from a single ancestor.
  • Treat the passage as Joseph’s memory of the event. We have seen how Joseph’s recounting of visions could emphasize different details at different times and that he recalled the events differently with each retelling (See First Vision). Perhaps some details aren’t being recalled accurately as this account was, after all, penned in 1838—over ten years after the fact.

“kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations” 2 Nephi 1:8-9

Matthew Roper:

One reading of this statement could be that Lehi’s people inherited an empty promised land when their ship arrived, but the Book of Mormon allows for other interpretations.[24] Is there a distinction, for example, between “nations” and other social groups? Lehi would have been familiar with nations such as Babylon and Egypt that had well-organized armies capable of waging sophisticated warfare and extending their power over large distances. Lehi’s prophecy could allow for smaller societies that did not yet merit the description “nations.” For instance, Sorenson’s model of Book of Mormon geography places the land of Nephi in highland Guatemala near the site of Kaminaljuy˙. At the time Nephi and his people separated from Laman’s followers to found their own settlement in the early sixth century B.C., archaeological evidence shows that that region had only scattered, sparsely populated villages.[25] Also, to “possess this land unto themselves” does not necessarily mean to be the only inhabitants but can also mean–as it often does in Book of Mormon contexts–that a group has the ability to control and exercise authority over the land and its resources (see, for example, Mosiah 19:15; 23:29; 24:2; Alma 27:22, 26).[26] Significantly, however, even Lehi’s statement about “other nations” is conditional. Lehi indicates that the promised protection from threatening nations would be removed when his children dwindled in unbelief. Sorenson has observed that the Lamanites, at least, dwindled in unbelief from the beginning. How then could Lehi’s prophecy about “other nations” being brought in have been kept long in abeyance after that? Furthermore, the early Nephites generally did the same thing within a few centuries. Their wickedness and apostasy culminated in the escape of Mosiah and his group from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla (see Omni 1:13-14). And if the Lord somehow did not at those times bring in “other nations,” then surely he would have done so after Cumorah, 1100 years prior to Columbus. Even if there were no massive armed invasions of strange groups to be reported, we need not be surprised if relatively small groups of strange peoples who were neither so numerous nor so organized as to be rivals for control of the land could have been scattered or infiltrated among both Nephites and Lamanites without their constituting the “other nations” in the threatening sense of Lehi’s prophecy. Thus in the terms of Lehi’s prophecy, “others” could and probably even should have been close at hand and available for the Lord to use as instruments against the straying covenant peoples any time after the arrival of Nephi’s boat.[27][28]

Ether 2:5

Matthew Roper:

…it is evident that the passage from Ether 2:5, stating that the Jaredites were “commanded…that they should go forth into the wilderness, yea, into that quarter where there never had man been,” when taken in context, actually refers to the wilderness through which the Jaredites were to travel in the Old World and says nothing about the populations of the New World at that time[29]

Doctrine and Covenants 49:24

24 But before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose

The reading with the most explanatory power is that the flourishing is at a future date. Therefore this poses no problem for Latter-day Saints.

Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (April 6 and October 22, 1845

The 1845 Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles was a document written in response to a revelation given to Joseph Smith 19 January 1841 (D&C 124:1-11). Since it is a document signed by all of the highest governing officers of the Church, this does hold weight. There are generally two cited passages from this that cause some controversy:

The city of Zion, with its sanctuary and priesthood, and the glorious fulness of the gospel, will constitute a standard which will put an end to jarring creeds and political wranglings, by uniting the republics, states, provinces, territories, nations, tribes, kindred, tongues, people, and sects of North and South America in one great and common bond of brotherhood; while truth and knowledge shall make them free, and love cement their union.

The question is why specify only North and South America? The reading suggests that this is referring to the Lamanites. So are all the people of North and South America Lamanites? Technically, yes. If Lehi had any descendants with the existing New World population, then, after 2600 years, nearly all of the people living on the North and South American continent would have him as an ancestor. See here for more details]. The other passage is this:

He has revealed the origin and the records of the aboriginal tribes of America, and their future destiny.-And we know it.

Interpretive Approaches

  • ”Origin” can simply refer to covenant origin as in the prophecy of Lehi (2 Nephi 1: 6) or simply the geographic origin. It does not have to refer to ancestral origins. Again, nothing was known about DNA until 1869 when Friederich Miescher discovered “nuclein” in the pus of discarded bandages from surgery.
  • ”records”—in the early days of the Church, close to nothing was known about the early tribes of America. To have a set of records be brought forth was a miracle to them. This does not have to mean that the Book of Mormon was the record of the entire American continent, but that certain records had been revealed. There’s nothing that requires us to read it straight forward.
  • ”aboriginal tribes” – one of the definitions of “aboriginal” in the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary for aboriginal is “primitive”. Primitive suggests that we can be getting a record pertaining to the beginning but not necessarily the beginning. As in, we are getting records from people among the earliest tribes but not the earliest tribes. This reading is strengthened by contemporary usage of the term “aborigine” and “aboriginal”.
  • ”America” – the phrase could have been used can be used to refer to the entire Western Hemisphere, the North American continent, or the United States. Even in this very proclamation we have “this continent to refer to the United States in “He has commanded us to gather together his Saints, on this continent, and build up holy cities and sanctuaries – And we know it.” This refers clearly to revelations in Doctrine and Covenants. Earlier we have references to the holy city (new Jerusalem in Jackson County) and temple (Nauvoo Temple [D&C reference]) to be built on “this continent”.

This is strengthened by the changing views of John Page and John Taylor to eschew any South American geography from their views after the publication of Catherwood’s explorations of the Yuchatan in 1845—after the publication of the proclamation.[30]

Historical Approach

Another approach to this objection is to not interpret this necessarily as a statement about geography nor DNA but of ultimate destiny of the Native Americans. This is a time in Church history where the Saints are actively proselyting Native Americans because of our firm belief that they are a covenant people, a remnant of the Lamanites (Doctrine and Covenants 3:18, 20; 10:48; 19:27; 28:8-9, 14; 30:6; 32:2; 49:24; 54:8). The United States through President Andrew Jackson is trying to forcefully relocate thousands of Native Americans off their lands because of the Indian Removal Act. The proclamation may have solidified the covenant nature of the Native Americans and their divine right to their land. Going back to the phrase in question, it states that "[God] has revealed the origin and the records of the aboriginal tribes of America, and their future destiny.-And we know it." Thus it's possible that reading this with declarations of Book of Mormon geography and DNA is the wrong approach altogether. This approach would benefit more from more historical research into the origins and setting of the proclamation which is forthcoming.

Authoritative Approach

A different approach is to deny the binding status of the proclamation altogether. The proclamation was not canonized and the scriptures themselves announce that the canon is the standard of law for the Church (D&C 42: 12-13, 15-16, 56-60; 104:58-59). The revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants itself announces that the proclamation should be written by Joseph Smith and Robert B. Thompson, not the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Joseph Smith had already been martyred by the time of this proclamation. Therefore the proclamation can be treated as more of a historical document that outlines the beliefs of the Quorum of the Twelve at that time.

Some might object to this approach by citing Doctrine and Covenants 1:37. That scripture states:

37 Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled.

Notice how the scripture makes a distinction between commandments and prophecies and promises. The scripture in D&C 124:1-14 is a commandment. The Lord does not say that all commandments will be fulfilled but the prophecies and promises. He says that commandments are "true and faithful." Commandments do not have to be followed. We have agency. That's the point of giving a commandment in the first place! Look at what the Lord said about the commandment to build a temple in independence missouri (in the very same revelation as this commandment given to Joseph Smith!).

49 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.

Why couldn't we apply a similar scripture to this situation? Joseph Smith in all likeliness tried to fulfill this commandment but his enemies came upon him and hindered him from performing that commandment by martyring him. Wouldn't the Lord simply not require that work at Joseph's hands anymore? Robert Thompson died only 7 months later in August 1841 of tuberculosis. Therefore, he couldn't keep the commandment to have Robert Thompson help him write the proclamation! Could Joseph have abandoned the project after Thompson died using similar reasoning given in verse 49 above?

If one wants to take the position that the proclamation must anyway come forth at some point then perhaps a document written by Joseph Smith (and maybe Robert Thompson) will come forth through the prophet similar to how Doctrine and Covenants 7 came forth.

All of these approaches might seem off putting to some Latter-day Saints, but this is the type of contemplation of the Gospel that is demanded of us. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:77-79, we read:

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall each one another the doctrine of the kingdom.
78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms

Notice how this revelation gives us the commandment to instruct each other in all things so that we can better understand the Gospel and vice versa. Going to the original historical context of something and interpreting in light of that context is something that will help us to be better instructed in "theory" and ultimately keep our testimonies of God, the Savior, and their Church strong.


  1. "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (January 31, 2014)
  2. Criticisms regarding DNA and the Book of Mormon have been raised in the following publications: Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 73 367 n.131-135. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin, "Why People Leave the LDS Church," (2008).; Hank Hanegraaff, The Mormon Mirage: Seeing Through the Illusion of Mainstream Mormonism (Charlotte, NC: Christian Research Institute, 2008), ?.; Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 202. ( Index of claims ); John Dehlin,"348-349: Simon Southerton, DNA, Lamanites and the Book of Mormon," Mormon Stories Podcast (21 May 2012).
    ; MormonThink.com website (as of 4 May 2012). Page: http://mormonthink.com/book-of-mormon-problems.htm; Thomas W. Murphy, "Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics," in American Apocrypha, ed. Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), [citation needed].; Thomas W. Murphy and Simon G. Southerton, "Genetic Research a 'Galileo Event' for Mormons," Anthropology News 44/2 (February 2003): 20; Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 1–207. ( Index of claims ); Tower to Truth Ministries, "50 Questions to Ask Mormons," towertotruth.net (accessed 15 November 2007). 50 Answers
  3. John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki
  4. The expression "suicide bombing" in this context comes from Stewart, "DNA and the Book of Mormon."
  5. D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, “Who Are the Children of Lehi?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 38, 46-51.
  6. The previous tree, or at least that part which cumbered the ground, is said to have been “cut down,” not uprooted. Younger olive branches can be planted or grafted into an older rootstock or stump. For pictures of such hybrid olive trees, see The Allegory of the Olive Tree, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 536, 539.
  7. I interpret the “waters” in this passage to refer to the waters of creation (Genesis 1:9-10) rather than to the waters of the flood of Noah.
  8. James E. Smith, “How Many Nephites? The Book of Mormon at the Bar of Demography,” Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1997), 272.
  9. Although wars and contentions are mentioned by nearly every chronicler who wrote on Nephi’s small plates, most of these conflicts are specified as being between Lamanites and Nephites. It is not until Amaleki, the last of these chroniclers, begins his account that dissent among the Nephites themselves is implied. He records in Omni 1:12-13 that Mosiah, “being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi,” departed into the wilderness with “as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord” and eventually encountered the people of Zarahemla. This exodus, reminiscent of Nephi’s departure from the land of first inheritance generations earlier due to family contention, is estimated to have occurred sometime between 279 and 130 B.C.
  10. For a similar perspective, see Brant Gardner, “A Social History of the Early Nephites,” presented at the 2001 FAIR Conference (http://www.fairlds.org/FAIR_Conferences/2001_Social_History_of_the_Early_Nephites.html), also serialized in Meridian Magazine, 2003, www.meridianmagazine.com/sci_rel/030731fair.html (accessed 16 October 2003).
  11. Matthew Roper Nephi's Neighbors FairMormon Conference 2003 <https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2003/nephis-neighbors-book-of-mormon-peoples-and-pre-columbian-populations#en63> (accessed 8 January 2019)
  12. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 1–4
  13. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 26–32.
  14. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 4; A. Keith Thompson, “Who Was Sherem?” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 14 (2015): 1–15; Kevin Christensen, “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,” FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004), 86‒88.
  15. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 4–6.
  16. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 18–19.
  17. a. b. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 8–17
  18. a. b. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 8–17
  19. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 19–21. See also Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 5 (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 242–263.
  20. See Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 31.
  21. See Book of Mormon Central, “Did Interactions with ‘Others’ Influence Nephi’s Selection of Isaiah? (2 Nephi 24:1),” 45 (March 2, 2016).
  22. See John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 104–106.
  23. See Book of Mormon Central “Did ‘Others’ Influence Book of Mormon Peoples? <https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/did-others-influence-book-of-mormon-peoples> (accessed 29 March 2019)
  24. George Reynolds followed this interpretation, noting, however, that this would not apply to the Jaredites, since “we have no account in the sacred records that God shut them out from the knowledge of the rest of mankind when he planted them in America.” George Reynolds, “History of the Book of Mormon VI: The Contents of the Records,” Contributor 5 (April 1884): 242. See also George M. Ottinger, “Old America: The Phoenicians,” Juvenile Instructor 10 (6 February1875): 33.
  25. Sorenson, Ancient American Setting, 85. For an overview of the argument for a limited Book of Mormon geography, see Sorenson and Roper, “Before DNA,” 7-10. For an overview of the evidence of archaeology and other sciences for population diversity in the New World, see ibid., 18-23.
  26. See also John L. Sorenson, Nephite Culture and Society: Collected Papers, edited by Matthew R. Sorenson (Salt Lake City: New Sage Books, 1997), 205-7.
  27. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived,” 7-8. For an earlier but similar view, see Gareth W. Lowe, “The Book of Mormon and Early Southwest Cultures,” U.A.S. [University Archaeological Society] Newsletter, no. 19 (12 April 1954): 3.
  28. Matthew Roper “Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations” <https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2003/nephis-neighbors-book-of-mormon-peoples-and-pre-columbian-populations#en57> (accessed 6 January 2019)
  29. Ibid
  30. Matthew Roper, “Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations,” FARMS Review 16, no. 2 (2004): 225–275; These were found just with a casual glance through Roper's article. More might be found by researching through BYU's Comprehensive Online Book of Mormon Bibliography and Source Grab. Obviously other Church leaders have held different views on Book of Mormon Geography including Limited Geography. More information may be found by reading Roper's article, Book of Mormon Central's content, and this article from us.