Ch 5: Book of Mormon DNA

I remember learning in elementary school the theory that the Native Americans traveled thousands of years ago across the Bearing Straight from Asia. My mother became upset at this because it obviously contradicted LDS teachings. Science has come a long way since then and it has confirmed the earlier Asian migration theories rather than bolstering the Book of Mormon’s claim. Despite claims by LDS prophets and the Book of Mormon to the contrary, science does not support the position that Native Americans are of Hebrew stock.

Instead, it clearly disproves that view.

Natives of North and South America (and Pacific Islanders) have genetic alleles that can be traced exclusively to Asia. As noted by geneticist Simon Southerton the author of Losing a Lost Tribe:

“In the last decade scientists from several research groups had tested the mitochondrial DNA of over 2000 American Indians from about a hundred tribes scattered over the length of the Americas. It soon became apparent to me that about 99% of their female lineages were brought into the Americas in excess of 12,000 years ago. Almost all of these lineages are most closely related to those of people in Asia, particularly in southern Siberia near Mongolia. Several tribes in Mesoamerica (which included Aztecs and Mayans) had been tested and all but a couple of individuals out of about 500 had mitochondrial DNA of Asian origin. The small fraction of Native American lineages that were not from Asia appeared to originate in Europe, most likely Spain. DNA studies also showed that the female ancestors of the Polynesians came from South East Asia and not the Americas. Y-chromosome studies, which trace male migrations, strongly support the mitochondrial work, except that the European influence is higher (about 10% in the Americas).

“For two weeks I wrestled with the research. I collected more and more research papers but failed to find anything that supported migration of Jewish people before Columbus. Enough is known about the DNA lineages of Jews to be very confident that they are clearly distinguishable from Asian lineages. They would also be easily identifiable if they were present in the Americas in significant numbers. I struggled with the complete discrepancy between the research and my understanding of the Book of Mormon and the doctrine of the Lamanites. The Book of Mormon describes the occurrence of Hebrew civilizations in the Americas numbering in the millions. It is clear that the victorious Lamanites would have numbered in the millions in about 400 AD. I could not understand how such large numbers of people could have escaped detection…

“Soon after I came to the realization that the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, I became deeply upset. I had firmly believed that it was true. I had not been looking for evidence to prove it wrong. I had been looking for research that could be viewed as supportive. It was a shock to have my belief shattered so quickly…”(Simon Southerton, DNA genealogies of American Indians and the Book of Mormon, March 17, 2000)

Consider also this conclusion (May, 2002) by Thomas Murphy that genetic research fails to show any connection between Native Americans and Israelite DNA:

“Some Latter-day Saints have expressed optimism that DNA research would lead to a vindication of the Book of Mormon as a translation of a genuine ancient document. The hope is that DNA research would link Native Americans to ancient Israelites, buttressing LDS beliefs in a way that has not been forthcoming from archaeological, linguistic, historical, or morphological research. The results, though, have been disappointing.

So far, DNA research lends no support to traditional Mormon beliefs about the origins of Native Americans. Genetic data repeatedly point to migrations from Asia between 7,000 and 50,000 years ago as the primary source of Native American origins. DNA research has substantiated the archaeological, cultural, linguistic, and biological evidence that also points overwhelmingly to an Asian origin for Native Americans. While DNA evidence shows that ultimately all human populations are rather closely related, to date no intimate genetic link has been found between ancient Israelites and the indigenous peoples of the Americas-much less within the time frame suggested by the Book of Mormon. After considering recent research in molecular anthropology, summarized here, I have concluded that Latter-day Saints should not expect to find validation for the Book of Mormon in genetics. My assessment echoes that of geneticist and former LDS Bishop Simon Southerton whose survey of the literature on Native American DNA also “failed to find anything that supported migration of Jewish people before Columbus.” (Thomas W. Murphy, “Lamanite Genesis, Genealogy, and Genetics”, American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon)

I don’t think it’s necessary to prove that the church has always taught the American Indians descended from the Lamanites. The Introduction to the Book of Mormon says it, scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants confirm it (See D&C 3:16-2019: 26-2754:8), prophets from Joseph Smith onward have taught it and the vast majority of LDS members believe it.

Yet, the go to argument apologists jump to is that we don’t really know who the descendants of the Lamanites are today. Here is another situation where I was asked to completely disregard the confident statements of past prophets and rationalize away the facts. It’s interesting that before scientific facts about the historicity of the Book of Mormon became known they were pretty confident. Now, not so much.

Some LDS scientists are also now trying to say that the Lamanites only lived in one small part of America – in a limited geography – and that there’s no reason to be alarmed by the inability to find traces of Hebrew DNA in Native Americans (“Who are the Children of Lehi”, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol 12, No.1 2003). That argument fails to explain the population claims made in the Book itself as well as descriptions of migrations out of the Book of Mormon lands by Nephites.

Still others who so desperately and sincerely want to maintain faith but who honestly see the writing on the wall for the Book of Mormon claim that while it may not be historical, it’s still divinely inspired. Unfortunately, a modern apostle has condemned these people:

”Some who term themselves believing LDS…are promoting the feasibility of reading and using the BOM as nothing more than a pious fiction with some valuable contents. These practitioners…raise the question of whether the BOM, which our prophets have put forward as the preeminent scripture of this dispensation, is…history or just a story. The historicity – historical authenticity – of the BOM is an issue SO FUNDAMENTAL that it rests first upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ…

Those who take this approach assume the significant burden of explaining how they can praise the contents of a book they have dismissed as a fable. If an account stands as a preeminent witness of Jesus Christ, how can it possibly make no difference whether the account is fact or fable – whether the persons REALLY lived who prophesied of Christ and gave eye witnesses of His appearances to them?

But he…said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, SATAN: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savorest NOT the things that be of God…” I suggest that we do the same thing and DESERVE THE SAME REBUKE AS PETER whenever we subordinate a witness of the Spirit…to the work of scholars or the product of our own reasoning…” The Historicity of the Book of MormonElder Dallin H. Oaks, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute

I’m not sure why it is so evil to say that a story may be valuable yet untrue. It is odd since Jesus primarily told such stories as parables during his ministry. Are we to required to believe that the Good Samaritan, the unwise servant and all the other characters in Christ’s stories were real people?

Additionally, without knowing where these Jewish/American Lamanites now live (and that they were real), a major purpose of the Book of Mormon remains unfulfilled. For, as described in the scriptures, it was meant to bring these people back to Christ (D&C 3:20). So without knowing where they are, the Book of Mormon is unable to live up to its mission. The LDS church therefore should be the MOST interested in studies that try to find traces of Israelite DNA in Native Americans if they felt it was their mission to fulfill the book’s own promises.

As a young man, I remember the bold claims of church leaders that science would eventually vindicate all LDS claims especially those in the Book of Mormon. It’s interesting to see the change in the church’s confidence and attitude coming AFTER scientific findings that clearly contradict LDS beliefs. Suddenly, proof means nothing and suddenly “search, ponder and pray” means JUST pray.

“The Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians… By it we learn that our western tribes of Indians are descendants from that Joseph that was sold into Egypt…”. From a letter written by JS to Rochester, New York, newspaper editor N. C. Saxton, January 4, 1833. (Page 297, “Personal Writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, edited by Dean Jessee).

In an official church publication, The Times and Seasons, Joseph Smith described the Book of Mormon as

“the history of ancient America . . . from ITS FIRST SETTLEMENT by a colony that came from the tower of Babel [the Jaredites]” – Times and Seasons, (March 1, 1842).

Why shouldn’t he, when that’s what the Book of Mormon says?

In the future, I predict the church will likely do the same thing they did with the Kinderhook Plates. They will try to remove themselves from claims that the American Indians are Lamanites and pretend it was never taught. They won’t have the courage to come right out and say it but it will be a gradual change and most LDS won’t even notice. But I was alive when they taught it and I’ve read Joseph Smith’s bold claims

(I wrote that last paragraph 8 years ago and I believe we’re actually seeing this happen today)

*See the “Why I Left Mormonism” link in the menu above for the rest of the story.

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