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Response to "Difficult Questions for Mormons: Book of Mormon Races"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Difficult Questions for Mormons, a work by author: The Interactive Bible
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Difficult Questions for Mormons
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Response to claim: "If the Book of Mormon is true, why do Indians fail to turn white when they become Mormons?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "If the Book of Mormon is true, why do Indians fail to turn white when they become Mormons? (2 Nephi 30:6, prior to the 1981 revision)."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The verse in question says that the Lamanites will become a "pure and delightsome" people. In the 1830 edition, this read "white and delightsome." When Joseph Smith prepared the 1837 edition for publication, he exchanged "white" for "pure"—probably because he realized that readers were seeing this as a literal issue, rather than symbolic. The change removed the ambiguity.
  • Unfortunately, this change went unnoticed in subsequent editions, until the preparation of the 1981 edition. So, the 1981 edition restored a reading that went back to 1837; the change is not (as the critics want to portray it) a "recent" change. The history of the change makes it clear why "Indians do not become white"—the verse is not about skin color, but about purity before God.

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Question: Why was the phrase "white and delightsome" changed to "pure and delightsome" in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon?

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition, lost, and then restored again in the 1981 edition

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition but because subsequent editions were based off the European editions (which followed the 1837 edition), the change did not get perpetuated until the preparation of the 1981 edition. The change is not (as the critics want to portray it) a "recent" change designed to remove a "racist" original.

The idea that the Church has somehow "hidden" the original text or manuscripts of the Book of Mormon in order to hide this is simply unbelievable. Replicas of the 1830 Book of Mormon are easily obtained on Amazon.com, and the text is freely available online. In addition, Royal Skousen has extensively studied the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and published a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon. The claim by the critics that the Church has somehow hidden these items is seriously outdated.

The change in the 1840 edition was probably made by Joseph Smith

This change actually first appeared in the 1840 edition, and was probably made by Joseph Smith:

  • 2 Nephi 30:6 (1830 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
  • 2 Nephi 30:6 (1840 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a pure and a delightsome people."

The 1837 edition was used for the European editions, which were in turn used as the basis for the 1879 and 1920 editions, so the change was lost until the 1981 edition

This particular correction is part of the changes referred to in the note "About this Edition" printed in the introductory pages:

"Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith."

It’s doubtful that Joseph Smith had racism in mind when the change was done in 1840 or other similar verses would have been changed as well.

The "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator

Furthermore, "white" was a synonym for "pure" at the time Joseph translated the Book of Mormon:

3. Having the color of purity; pure; clean; free from spot; as white robed innocence....5. Pure; unblemished....6. In a scriptural sense, purified from sin; sanctified. Psalm 51.[1]

Thus, the "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator.


Response to claim: "Why aren't any of the Indian tribes racially or genetically the same as Hebrews?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why aren't any of the Indian tribes racially or genetically the same as Hebrews? American Indians are all of Mongoloid origin."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event

There were other people already on the American Continents at the time that Lehi's group arrived (for example, the Mulekites from the Book of Mormon). Even if it were possible to genetically identify a Hebrew, their DNA would have been lost long ago.


Gospel Topics on LDS.org: "The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA"

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

The evidence assembled to date suggests that the majority of Native Americans carry largely Asian DNA. Scientists theorize that in an era that predated Book of Mormon accounts, a relatively small group of people migrated from northeast Asia to the Americas by way of a land bridge that connected Siberia to Alaska. These people, scientists say, spread rapidly to fill North and South America and were likely the primary ancestors of modern American Indians.
The Book of Mormon provides little direct information about cultural contact between the peoples it describes and others who may have lived nearby. Consequently, most early Latter-day Saints assumed that Near Easterners or West Asians like Jared, Lehi, Mulek, and their companions were the first or the largest or even the only groups to settle the Americas. Building upon this assumption, critics insist that the Book of Mormon does not allow for the presence of other large populations in the Americas and that, therefore, Near Eastern DNA should be easily identifiable among modern native groups.
The Book of Mormon itself, however, does not claim that the peoples it describes were either the predominant or the exclusive inhabitants of the lands they occupied. In fact, cultural and demographic clues in its text hint at the presence of other groups.6 At the April 1929 general conference, President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency cautioned: “We must be careful in the conclusions that we reach. The Book of Mormon … does not tell us that there was no one here before them [the peoples it describes]. It does not tell us that people did not come after.”[2]


Question: Are all Amerindians the exclusive descendants of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi?

Even critics of the Church acknowledge that their criticisms are based upon the assumption that Amerindians are the exclusive descendants of Lehi

In their more candid moments, those who present this argument concede that their criticisms revolve around a key assumption. One critic of the Church writes of how some Mormons have argued that

Bottleneck effect, genetic drift, Hardy-Weinberg violations and other technical problems would prevent us from detecting Israelite genes [in Amerindians].[3]

This is a technical way of explaining a relatively simple fact: if a small group is placed in contact with a larger group and allowed to intermarry, it becomes harder to detect the small group’s “genetic signature.”

It is as if one placed a teaspoon of red dye in an Olympic swimming pool, mixed well, and then withdrew a sample. Critics are in the position of someone who complains loudly because the sampled water does not seem to be “red”!

The same critic of the Church then goes on to say:

I agree entirely. [!] In 600 BC there were probably several million American Indians living in the Americas. If a small group of Israelites entered such a massive native population it would be very, very hard to detect their genes 200, 2000 or even 20,000 years later. But does such a scenario fit with what the Book of Mormon plainly states or what the prophets have taught for 175 years? Short answer. No! Long answer. Nooo![3]

This is really quite astonishing. The critic has obliged us by shooting himself in the foot. He admits that there are many genetic objections to his attack, unless we accept that the American Indians are only descendants of Lehi and Mulek.

Contrary to the critic's assertion, the short answer is that he is ignorant of the facts.

For those who are interested, we turn to the long answer.

Remember, the critic claims that we must accept his version, because

  1. the Book of Mormon ‘plainly’ teaches it; and
  2. “the prophets” have taught this doctrine (and no other, we must presume) for 175 years.

Yet, the same critic goes on to state in July 2008:

[LDS scholars] believe that they have conclusively shown that the Lehites entered a continent inhabited by millions, entered the large pre-existing civilizations, and then their DNA was diluted away so that we can't detect it. They also set up the straw man that I am arguing that according to the Book of Mormon all American Indians are descended from Hebrews. I have never claimed this. The vanishing geography theory is utter desperation.[4]

The critical argument is entirely dependent upon a “whole empty hemisphere” model of the Book of Mormon

So, by critic's own admission, his model is in fatal trouble if a “whole empty hemisphere” model (as opposed to what he mockingly refers to as the "vanishing" geography model) is not taught by both the Book of Mormon and the prophets. That he would make such a claim, and put his theory on such shaky ground, illustrates how poorly he understands the Book of Mormon and writing about it that has gone on for decades prior to Watson and Crick's discovery of the double helix.

  1. LDS leaders and members have been of a variety of opinions regarding the degree of contribution which Book of Mormon peoples provided to the Amerindian gene pool.
  2. Church spokesmen indicate that there is no official position.
  3. As Church members have understood that there was more than one "group" of Indians, they have read the Book of Mormon as being only a partial history of Amerindian ancestors
  4. If Lehi had any descendants, population genetics virtually guarantees that all Amerindians have him as a common ancestor.
  5. Church discussions of Lamanite ancestry (or Israelite ancestry generally) is not about genetics, but is focused on covenant promises and blessings.


Sorenson and Roper: "Lehi saw from the beginning that Nephites and Lamanites were labels that would include a variety of groups that could have differing biological origins, cultures, and ethnic heritages"

John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper:

Lehi saw from the beginning that Nephites and Lamanites were labels that would include a variety of groups that could have differing biological origins, cultures, and ethnic heritages. According to the title page of the Book of Mormon, the generic term Lamanite was applied by Moroni to all the amalgamated groups whose descendants would survive right down to Restoration times as "the [American] remnant of the house of Israel." There is no indication anywhere in the Book of Mormon that "the Lamanites" were to be a genetically exclusive line descending only from the two oldest sons in Lehi's family.[5]


Response to claim: "Why did Joseph Smith send missionaries to the 'Lamanites' if the American Indians at the time weren't really 'Lamanites'?"

The author(s) of Difficult Questions for Mormons make(s) the following claim:

Response to claim: "Why did Joseph Smith send missionaries to the 'Lamanites' if the American Indians at the time weren't really 'Lamanites'? (D&C 10:48, 28:8, 54:8, etc.) He certainly considered the Indians to be Lamanites (even if the current leaders of the church no longer believe them to be so). ' 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 who was sold into Egypt, and that the land of America is a promised land unto them.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 17). 'He told me of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold, I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited, he said the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham.' (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Diary 1835-1836, pg. 76). (Note - this was one of Smith's 'founding visions'. Apparently, Moroni was not aware that there were other, non-Semitic natives in America either)."

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The Book of Mormon defines "Lamanites" as those that were not Nephites, therefore, all of the Native Americans in the entire North and South American continents were (and still are) considered to be "Lamanites."


Question: Does the fact that the Doctrine and Covenants refers to North American Indians as "Lamanites" contradict the theory that the Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica?

By the time the Doctrine and Covenants was written, Lehi's descendants had ample time to migrate to the north and intermarry

The Doctrine and Covenants refers to North American Indians as "Lamanites":

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)

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)

Since in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord refers to American Indians in North America as "Lamanites" (e.g., DC 28:8-9,14, DC 30:6, DC 32:2, DC 54:8), does this cause problems for the Limited Geography Theory (LGT) or issues of Amerindian genetic data?

By the time the Doctrine and Covenants was written, Lehi's descendants had ample time to migrate and intermarry with the large number of "natives" postulated by the LGT. Such descendants are "Lamanites" in at least three senses:

  1. all shared descent from Lehi, to some degree.
  2. none embraced Nephite kingship or their doctrine of Christ, making them "Lamanites" politically.
  3. all were eligible for the covenant blessings promised to Lehi's descendants, if they would repent.

Joseph Smith was inspired by the Lord to use the term "Lamanite"

Joseph's use of the term "Lamanite" to describe all native American inhabitants, including those in Missouri, was inspired by the Lord. Joseph, and many Latter-day prophets since, have described the native inhabitants of the North and South American continents as Lamanites. So, how do these statements made by living prophets align with the possibility that the Book of Mormon occurred within a limited geographical region? We examine this in the following sections.

The Book of Mormon defines "Lamanites" as those that were not Nephites

The LGT is not a doctrine of the Church and there is no necessity to accept it as the only interpretation of the Book of Mormon text. Those who accept the LGT view it as the only theory that is consistent with the geographic descriptions and distances found in the Book of Mormon. The truth of the Book of Mormon does not depend, however, on proving or supporting the LGT.

The LGT assumes that a small number of Lehites were introduced into a larger "sea" of native peoples, most of whom were of presumably of Asiatic origin. Critics mistake the use of the term "Lamanite" as requiring descent from Lehi through his son, Laman. But, from very early in the Book of Mormon record, it is clear that the term "Lamanite" does not refer to descent, but to political and religious affiliation:

...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. (Jacob 1:14)

So, any person who wasn't a Nephite was, by exclusion, a Lamanite. Lamanites were not confined in any geographic sense at all.

The Lamanites occupied a region far greater than the limited geography described in the Book of Mormon

The LGT holds that the story of the Book of Mormon and the peoples with which it is concerned were confined to a narrow region, since this is all the area with which the authors of the Book of Mormon were directly concerned. Yet the Book of Mormon has several references that suggest a knowledge of and interaction with a much greater geographical area. The story of Hagoth (Alma 63:4-9) speaks not only of the shipbuilder and his movements northward (out of the general area referred to in the Book of Mormon) but also others that migrated to the north. In Helaman 3 we find other references to people migrating to the north:

And it came to pass in the forty and sixth [year], 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. And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers. Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land. (Helaman 3:3-5)

The migration was out of the general area of the Book of Mormon story and is referred to as "an exceedingly great distance." This gives opportunity for Lamanites and Nephites to be found in all parts of the western hemisphere. There is no reason not to believe that similar migrations could have occurred to the south. Migrations to both the north and to the south were possibly more common than is recorded in the text.

The native Americans in the region where Joseph lived were Lamanites

Some people who first hear about the LGT wonder if this theory means that most modern native Americans are not actually descended from Laman. But the LGT does not imply this at all. Even under the LGT it is likely that every single native American in the hemisphere was a descendant of Laman by Joseph Smith's day. This would have been true even if Laman's direct descendants inhabited only a small area somewhere in the Americas in A.D. 400.

This doesn't mean that modern native Americans get the majority of their DNA from Laman or even that some genetic marker from Laman could be detected anywhere in the Americas. The LGT predicts that essentially every native American would be a literal descendant of Laman to some degree and yet all native Americans would have predominantly Asian DNA markers.

The nature of quotations found in the Doctrine & Covenants: Joseph clearly did not consider them word-for-word quotations from God

Many readers assume that revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants in which Joseph Smith speaks in God's voice to be direct word-for-word quotations from God. The recently published second volume of the Joseph Smith Papers REVELATION BOOK 1 (April 1829-B [D&C 8]), released by the Church's official Church History Press, provides greater insight into the process by which the revelations in the D&C arrived in their present form. The Church notes revisions in the revelations from their earliest form. A good example of this is the revelation concerning Oliver Cowdery's "gift"—this revelation was edited by Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, and one other unidentified editor. The Church has identified which specific edits each of these individuals made to the original revelation which eventually became D&C Section 8.

Joseph didn't claim to be hearing a voice or that he was simply taking dictation. Rather, impressions would come to him, which he would put into words. Joseph clearly did not consider them word-for-word quotations from God, since he, and others, felt comfortable revising them prior to publication.

The use of the term "Lamanites" to describe the American Indians was Joseph's word choice based upon inspiration. The few personal statements he made on Book of Mormon geography indicate that he believed it took place on a hemispheric scale, so it would follow that he believed that all Native Americans were pure descendants of Laman, and hence were literal "Lamanites." Even so, as noted in the preceding section, all of the inhabitants of the North and South American continents are considered to be Lamanites, and can likely count Lehi among their ancestry.


Notes

  1. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "white."
  2. "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (January 31, 2014)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Simon Southerton, e-mail, “Answering the DNA apologetics,” 15 February 2005, 18h42 (copy in editors' possession).
  4. Simon Southerton, e-mail posted to discussion board, July 5, 2008.
  5. John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper, ["Before DNA," https://publications.mi.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1402&index=2] Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12:1 (2003)