Book of Mormon/Geography/Borders of the Lamanites

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The "borders of the Lamanites" in North America

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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.
—Doctrine and Covenants 10:48 (emphasis added)
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Question: Does a Mesoamerican limited geographical Book of Mormon setting contradict D&C 54:8, which discusses the "borders of the Lamanites" being in North America?

The statement "borders of the Lamanites" applied to a Missouri setting does not exclude any possible geographical model for the Book of Mormon

In the revelation that became D&C 28, the location of the city of Zion is originally stated to be "among the Lamanites."

And now I say unto you, that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the City shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you, that it shall be among the Lamanites. [1]

When this revelation was published in the Book of Commandments (Chapter 30), Sidney Rigdon modified the text "among the Lamanites" to read "on the borders by the Lamanites". [2]

8. And now behold I say unto you, that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter.
9. Behold I say unto you, that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites. [3]

From the present D&C:

9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites. DC 28:9

The present Doctrine and Covenants Section 54:8 contains a command to journey to the "borders of the Lamanites."

And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites. (DC 54:8) (emphasis added)

Compare this to Alma 39:3, which states:

And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel. (Alma 39:3) (emphasis added)

Critics use the revelatory association of the "land of Missouri," "among the Lamanites" and the "borders to the Lamanites" to conclude that Church members must accept that the geographical region covered by the Book of Mormon encompasses the area occupied by the present state of Missouri. This is used by critics to "prove" that we are required to accept a hemispheric geographical setting. The same reasoning could be applied in order to "prove" the validity of a limited North American setting.

There is no revealed Book of Mormon geographical setting. Although many LDS scholars favor a Mesoamerican setting based upon a substantial amount of evidence, there are many different models which propose settings in other regions in North America, South America or the entire hemispheric New World. The response to this criticism is not intended to promote a particular setting over another, but rather to rebut an attempt to exclude any setting other than a North American one.

All who can be considered "Lamanites" are not described in the Book of Mormon

It is important to note that the Lamanites are a people, and that they are not limited to the geographical area described within the Book of Mormon itself. For example, the story of Zelph identifies a potential Lamanite who lived in the area of Pike County, Illinois. During this period of time Joseph Smith clearly considered the lands of the Nephites and Lamanites to be associated with the "Indian Territories" of the western frontier. The identification of this individual as a "Lamanite" does not mean that the events surrounding this individual are covered during the period of time or geographical area associated with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon describes a number of migrations to "the land northward:"

And it came to pass that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward. (Alma 63:4)

And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year. (Alma 63:9)

And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land. (Helaman 3:3)

As people continued to migrate northward, they passed out of the scope of the Book of Mormon narrative. In essence, the "borders of the Lamanites" continued to expand far beyond the scope of the original Book of Mormon narrative long after the period of time described. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect to see "Lamanites" in the land northward that are not accounted for or described in the Book of Mormon.


Question: Who can be called "Lamanites"?

The name "Lamanite" later ultimately referred to a religious/political faction whose distinguishing feature was its opposition to the church

Although the term "Lamanite" was first applied to the literal family of Laman, the name "Lamanite" later referred to a religious/political faction whose distinguishing feature was its opposition to the church. (Jacob 1:13–14) The concept of Lamanites being associated with lineage "became an increasingly minor factor, and later there are many examples of Lamanites becoming Nephites and Nephites becoming Lamanites." [4]

Matthew Roper notes that the term "Lamanites" does not necessarily mean a genetic descendant of Lehi:

Early revelations to the Prophet Joseph Smith found in the Doctrine and Covenants associate Native American groups with the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon. In Doctrine and Covenants 3:17—20 we read that the Book of Mormon is intended to bring the Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites "to the knowledge of their fathers" (v. 20). Similar ideas are found in Doctrine and Covenants 10:45—51 and 19:27. The Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery and others to "go unto the Lamanites" and teach them (D&C 28:8—9; see D&C 28:14; 30:6; 32:2) and told Newel Knight and others to "take [their] journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites" (D&C 54:8; see also 28:9). The land west of Missouri was then known as the "Indian Territories," so the passage connects at least some Native Americans of that region to the Lamanites. However, the nature of this association is not entirely clear, since the term Lamanite is, as demonstrated, not exclusively genetic in its meaning. It is certainly possible that North American Indian groups visited by early Latter-day Saint missionaries included within their number at least some who were actual descendants of Book of Mormon peoples. [5]

In fact, the Lord, in D&C 10:48, tells us who the Lamanites are and how He defines that term:

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. (DC 10:48) (emphasis added)

Similarly, Helaman 3:16 states:

And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites. (Helaman 3:16) (emphasis added)

Not all "Lamanites" were literal descendants of Laman

President Spencer W. Kimball clearly understood that all "Lamanites" were not literal descendants of Laman.

I have met some who are a little bit ashamed that they are Lamanites. How can it be? Some would rather define themselves as Nephites, or Zoramites, or Josephites, or something else. Surely there must be a misunderstanding. Would they separate themselves from the great blessings the Lord has promised to his covenant people? Would they cast off their birthright? For the Lord himself has chosen to call these people Lamanites—all the mixed descendants of Father Lehi, and Ishmael, and Zoram, and Mulek, and others of the Book of Mormon record; all of the literal seed of the Lamanites, “and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions.” (D&C 10:48.) [6]

When Joseph spoke of the "Lamanites," he was clearly speaking of the descendants of the people described in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon describes people as being Lamanite either through lineage, or through dissension.

Modern population studies have suggested that after about 2,000 years all those that lived at that earlier time, and had descendents, would be ancestors of everyone living today. This would make all of the inhabitants of the New World in both North and South America literal descendents of Lehi and his family, to some degree. All could properly be literally referred to as Lamanites. This is a recent development, and many earlier statements were made without this knowledge. [7][8][9]


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. "Ezra Booth Letter," Ohio Star Nov. 29, 1831.
  2. Manuscript Revelation Books, vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2009), 51-53.
  3. Book of Commandments, Ch. 30.
  4. Lane Johnson, "Who and Where Are the Lamanites?," Ensign (Dec. 1975), 15. It should be noted that this Ensign article, published in 1975, clearly promotes a hemispheric geographical model for the Book of Mormon, as illustrated by the map shown.
  5. Matthew Roper, "Swimming the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 129–164. off-site
  6. Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Our Paths Have Met Again," Ensign (Dec. 1975), 2.
  7. John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki
  8. Matthew Roper, "Swimming the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 129–164. off-site
  9. Brian D. Stubbs, "Elusive Israel and the Numerical Dynamics of Population Mixing," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 165–182. off-site