Criticism of Mormonism/Articles/Reinventing Lamanite Identity

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Response to "Reinventing Lamanite Identity"

A FairMormon Analysis of: Reinventing Lamanite Identity, a work by author: Brent Lee Metcalfe

Response to claims made in "Reinventing Lamanite Identity", a work by Brent Lee Metcalfe


Index to claims made in Brent L. Metcalfe, "Reinventing Lamanite Identity," Sunstone March 2004

This is an index of claims made in this work with links to corresponding responses within the FairMormon Answers Wiki. An effort has been made to provide the author's original sources where possible.

20

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

The author claims that "the Book of Mormon teaches—that 'the Lamanites...are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.'"

Author's sources: "Introduction," Book of Mormon (1981 edition).

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

This is based upon a phrase added as an introduction to the Book of Mormon in modern times. The 1830 Book of Mormon contains no such claim.

Question: Why did the Church modify the introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors?"

The Church changed the wording to remove the assumption (inserted into the Book of Mormon in the 1920's) that all of the inhabitants of the Americas were exclusive descendants of Lehi

The Church made the change in wording to the introduction to the Book of Mormon to remove the assumption, which inserted into the Book of Mormon introduction in the 1920's and not part of the original text, that all of the inhabitants of the Americas were exclusive descendants of Lehi. This had been the generally held belief from the time that the Church was restored.

This change makes the Book of Mormon introduction compatible with current DNA evidence and acknowledges the fact that Lehi's group likely intermingled with the native inhabitants of the American continents based upon current knowledge of the DNA composition of the inhabitants of the New World. There is substantial scientific evidence of habitation in the Americas for thousands of years prior to Lehi's arrival.

If Lehi had any descendants among Amerindians, then after 2600 years all Amerindians would share Lehi as an ancestor. Even if (as is probable) the Lehite group was a small drop in a larger population 'ocean' of pre-Columbian inhabitants, Lehi would have been an ancestor of virtually all the modern-day Amerindians if he has any ancestors at all.


The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author claims that LDS scholars have been led to "shrink and dilute" the Book of Mormon's "American Israelite" population as the result of DNA analysis showing that Native Americans have an Asian genetic signature.

Author's sources: The author quotes a number of genetic studies.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author argues that LDS scholars or apologists are "shrinking and diluting" their view on the Book of Mormon because they are being driven back in a rear-guard action by science. But, in fact, many LDS leaders and scholars argued for a restricted geography and small numeric contribution of Lehites before DNA was even discovered. These conclusions did not arise because of scientific "pressure," but because the reading of the Book of Mormon text required them.

Roper: "Critics of the Book of Mormon have claimed that the limited geography is only a late, desperate attempt to defend the Book of Mormon"

Matthew Roper:

Recently, some critics of the Book of Mormon have claimed that the limited geography is only a late, desperate attempt to defend the Book of Mormon. It is, they assert, contrary "to the Book of Mormon text, early Mormon history, [and] Joseph Smith's divine edicts."2 In order to place the assertions of these critics in perspective, it is necessary to address several questions: What was the hemispheric geography based on? Granted that this early view was popular, was it based on revelation? Is there any authoritative interpretation of Book of Mormon geography? Is the localized geography some kind of debater's ploy or are there substantial reasons for this view? [1] —(Click here to continue)


Question: Was the Limited Geography model created in response to DNA claims?

The Limited Geography Model was introduced in 1927, many years before DNA claims

Was the Limited Geography model created in respond to DNA claims? The answer is no. The idea that Lehi's party entered a larger, pre-existing New World population was introduced as early as 1927, well before the Book of Mormon was being challenged on issues related to DNA. [2]

An examination of both Part 1 and Part 2 of Sorenson's 1984 Ensign articles quickly shows that they do not even contain the term "DNA". The articles focus on anthropological and geographical topics which support the Limited Geography model.

I have said repeatedly that the correspondences in geography, history, and cultural patterns—large scale or micro-scale—between Mesoamerican cultures and the Book of Mormon peoples do not “prove” anything conclusively. Still, the fact that large numbers of such correspondences exist ought to register in the minds of truth-loving people. With this in mind, it is clearly misleading for a scholar—one of our own—to imply that there is no “important archaeological evidence” to support the Book of Mormon story “of Indian origins,” or for another to find it amusing to think that anyone would seriously try to compare the Book of Mormon with objective facts of historical importance. [3]

The Sorenson map of Book of Mormon lands as it appeared in the September 1984 church magazine, the Ensign. This map may be viewed on the official Church website LDS.org


The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author states: "As BYU geneticist Michael Whiting stipulates, a hemispheric colonization model for the Book of Mormon 'is indeed incorrect' and 'appears falsified by current genetic evidence.'"

Author's sources: *Michael F. Whiting, “DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 1 (2003): 28, 31. off-site

FairMormon Response

  • The fragments quoted by the author in context:

If we grant that the global colonization hypothesis is the correct lineage history...the above hypothesis is indeed incorrect. To this point all we have shown is that the global colonization hypothesis appears falsified by current genetic evidence. But is the global colonization hypothesis the only hypothesis emerging from the Book of Mormon? This is the crux of the matter....if the above description of the lineage history in the Book of Mormon is oversimplified, then these genetic results demonstrate only that this oversimplified view does not appear correct. But Book of Mormon scholars have been writing about certain complicating factors for decades, so this conclusion about oversimplification really comes as no surprise. (emphasis added)


21

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author notes that others were "prophetically precluded" from inhabiting the land occupied by Lehi's people. He cites

And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance. Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves . . . and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. 2 Nephi 1:8-9

Author's sources: *2 Nephi 1:8–9
  • John C. Kunich, “Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes,” New Approaches to the Book of Mormon: Explorations in Critical Methodology, 261–62.

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author makes the completely unwarranted assumption that "this land" refers to the North and South American landmass.

Note that the word "land" is used several times in this passage from 2 Nephi. Among the uses are:

  1. "this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations."
  2. "those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem."

The "land of Jerusalem" is a very small geographical area. It is reasonable that a small geographical area was intended as the reference for "this land" as well. And it is really not reasonable to think that there would be "no place for an inheritance" for Lehi's people on two continents just because someone else was inhabiting the Americas at the time. So it is very unlikely that the prophecy refers to the entire North and South American continents.

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author quotes 2 Nephi 1:10-11, to note that the Lord would bring others nations to "take away from them the lands of their possessions" and cause them to be "scattered and smitten" when they "dwindled in unbelief."

Author's sources: *2 Nephi 1:10-11

FairMormon Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains mistakes and/or errors - The author has stated erroneous or incorrect information or misinterpreted their sources

The author seems to be assuming that this refers to other nations coming across the ocean to scatter and smite Lehi's people. Yet, this passage is completely consistent with others outside the land occupied by Lehi's people coming to take away the Nephites' lands when they became wicked. The Book of Mormon certainly describes many times that the Nephites descended into wickedness. Each time they were "scattered and smitten" by the Lamanites. If the descendants of Laman and Lemuel joined others who were in lands outside of Lehi's "promised land," this promise would be completely and adequately fulfilled. The "other nations" referred to in the scriptural passage could easily have existed on the American continents.

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

Nephi talks of the Gentiles coming upon the land of promise and scattering the seed of his brethren.

FairMormon Response

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

This passage is often interpreted to mean the arrival of Europeans and their subsequent scattering of existing Native American populations.



The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author states that the "promised land" encompasses all of North America, since it must account for the prophesied arrival of British and European settlers, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the construction of a New Jerusalem.

Author's sources: *1 Ne. 13:12–42; 3 Ne. 20:13–14, 22; 21:2–7, 22–24; Ether 13:2–11; D&C 10:48–51; 19:27; 84:2–5;
  • see Dan Vogel, Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2004), 407–09.

FairMormon Response

  • 1 Nephi 13:12-42: Gentiles to be brought across "many waters" to inherit the land.
  • 1 Nephi 20:13-14: The "remnant of Jacob" to inherit the land from the Gentiles.
  • Ether 13:2-11: A New Jerusalem to be built upon the land.
  • DC 10:48-51: "...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 19:27: "...the Jew, of whom the Lamanites are a remnant."
  • DC 84:2-5: Location of New Jerusalem in Missouri.

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*Many proudly proclaimed their Israelite lineage. The Book of Mormon reiterates this lineage many times.

Author's sources: *Mosiah 25:13

FairMormon Response


22

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author notes that "Book of Mormon readers are not told of a single Nephite or Lamanite who descended from anyone other than an Israelite," and that scholars attempt to mitigate this by claiming that others were adopted into the Abrahamic covenant or that the Nephite record is an ethnocentric "lineage history."

Author's sources: *John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (1985), 50–56;
  • John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper, “Before DNA,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 1 (2003): 17–18;
  • Whiting, “DNA” (2003), 25–28, 31, 33–34.

FairMormon Response


The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author states that neither the Jaredites nor the "Amerisraelites" ever mention indigenous "others."

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*Joseph Smith taught that the Book of Mormon recounts the origin of Modern Amerindians.

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*The author claims that apologists' response to Joseph's statements are that "prophets are fallible" and that Joseph "expressed or authorized divergent opinions about the Book of Mormon setting and peoples."

Author's sources: *No source provided.

FairMormon Response


The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

*Joseph stated that the Book of Mormon is a record of the forefathers of our western Tribes of Indians and that the Land of America is a promised land.

Author's sources: *Joseph Smith to N. C. Saxton, 4 January 1833, Joseph Smith Letter Book 1, p. 17
  • Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 2nd ed., 297.

FairMormon Response


The "white Lamanite" named Zelph

The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

The "white Lamanite" named Zelph.

Author's sources:
  • Donald Q. Cannon, “Zelph Revisited,” Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: Illinois, 97–111
  • Kenneth W. Godfrey, “The Zelph Story,” Brigham Young University Studies

29, no. 2 (Spring 1989): 31–56;

  • Kenneth W. Godfrey, “What Is the Significance of Zelph in the Study of Book of Mormon Geography?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8, no. 2, 70–79

Brent Lee Metcalfe, “A Documentary Analysis of the Zelph Episode,” 1989 Sunstone Symposium.

Wilford Woodruff, Journal, [3 June] 1834, LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City

FairMormon Response

Question: What is the story of Zelph?

Joseph Smith reportedly found the bones of an individual named "Zelph," during the Zion's camp march

The most common version of this story is found in the History of the Church.[4] It should be noted, however, that the History of the Church version was created by amalgamating the journal entries of several people:

  • Wilford Woodruff (WW),
  • Heber C. Kimball (HCK),
  • George A. Smith (GAS),
  • Levi Hancock (LH),
  • Moses Martin (MM),
  • Reuben McBride (RM).[5]

All of the accounts were published after the death of Joseph Smith

The text has a convoluted history:

In 1842 Willard Richards, then church historian, was assigned the task of compiling a large number of documents and producing a history of the church from them. He worked on this material between 21 December 1842 and 27 March 1843. Richards, who had not joined the church until 1836, relied on the writings or recollections of Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and perhaps others for his information regarding the discovery of Zelph. Blending the sources available to him, and perhaps using oral accounts from some of the members of Zion's Camp, but writing as if he were Joseph Smith, historian Richards drafted the story of Zelph as it appears in the "Manuscript History of the Church, Book A-1." With respect to points relative to Book of Mormon geography, Richards wrote that "Zelph was a white Lamanite, a man of God who was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus who was known from the [hill Cumorah is crossed out in the manuscript] eastern Sea, to the Rocky Mountains. He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during a [last crossed out] great struggle with the Lamanites" [and Nephites crossed out].

Following the death of Joseph Smith, the Times and Seasons published serially the "History of Joseph Smith." When the story of finding Zelph appeared in the 1 January 1846 issue, most of the words crossed out in the Richards manuscript were, for some unknown reason, included, along with the point that the prophet's name was Omandagus. The reference to the hill Cumorah from the unemended Wilford Woodruff journal was still included in the narrative, as was the phrase "during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites."

The 1904 first edition of the seven-volume History of the Church, edited by B. H. Roberts, repeats the manuscript version of Richards's account. However, in 1948, after Joseph Fielding Smith had become church historian, explicit references to the hill Cumorah and the Nephites were reintroduced. That phrasing has continued to the present in all reprintings.[6]

A comparison of the various accounts is instructive:[7]

Aspect WW HCK GAS LH MM RM
Date May-June 1834 JS on 3 June 1834 Group on 2 June 1834 -- -- JS on 3 June 1834
Place Illinois River Illinois River -- Illinois River Pike County --
Description -300 ft above river
-Flung up by ancients
-Several 100 feet above
-3 altars on mound
300 ft above river Big mound -many mounds
-fortifications
--
Artifacts Body, arrow Human bones, a skeleton, arrow Human bones Human bones, arrow Human bones, arrow Skeleton of man, arrow
Person? Zalph, large thick-set man,
warrior, killed in battle
Zalph, warrior, killed in battle -- Zalph, warrior, white Lamanite Mighty prophet, killed in battle Zalph, warrior, white Lamanite,
man of God, killed in battle
Nephite/
Lamanite?
Nephite and Lamanite Lamanite -- Lamanite -- Lamanite
JS Vision? Vision: Onandangus, great prophet
Known Atlantic to Rockies
-- -- Onandangus -- Onandangus,
Known Atlantic to Rockies

William Hamblin described some of the difficulties in identifying the roots of this story:

many significant qualifiers were left out of the printed version [of this account]. Thus, whereas Wilford Woodruff's journal account mentions that the ruins and bones were "probably [related to] the Nephites and Lamanites," the printed version left out the "probably," and implied that it was a certainty. [There are] several similar shifts in meaning from the original manuscripts to the printed version. "The mere 'arrow' of the three earliest accounts became an 'Indian Arrow' (as in Kimball), and finally a 'Lamanitish Arrow.' The phrase 'known from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountain,' as in the McBride diary, became 'known from the Hill Cumorah' (stricken out) or 'eastern sea to the Rocky Mountains.' " The point here is that there are many difficulties that make it nearly impossible for us to know exactly what Joseph Smith said in 1834 as he reflected on the ruins his group encountered in Illinois.[8]


Question: How reliable are the accounts of the discovery of Zelph?

LDS scholars have differed about the reliability of the accounts

LDS scholars have differed about the reliability of the accounts, and their relevance for Book of Mormon geography.[9] As Kenneth Godfrey observed:

If the history of the church were to be revised today using modern historical standards, readers would be informed that Joseph Smith wrote nothing about the discovery of Zelph, and that the account of uncovering the skeleton in Pike County is based on the diaries of seven members of Zion's Camp, some of which were written long after the event took place. We would be assured that the members of Zion's Camp dug up a skeleton near the Illinois River in early June 1834. Equally sure is that Joseph Smith made statements about the deceased person and his historical setting. We would learn that it is unclear which statements attributed to him derived from his vision, as opposed to being implied or surmised either by him or by others. Nothing in the diaries suggests that the mound itself was discovered by revelation.

Furthermore, readers would be told that most sources agree that Zelph was a white Lamanite who fought under a leader named Onandagus (variously spelled). Beyond that, what Joseph said to his men is not entirely clear, judging by the variations in the available sources. The date of the man Zelph, too, remains unclear. Expressions such as "great struggles among the Lamanites," if accurately reported, could refer to a period long after the close of the Book of Mormon narrative, as well as to the fourth century AD. None of the sources before the Willard Richards composition, however, actually say that Zelph died in battle with the Nephites, only that he died "in battle" when the otherwise unidentified people of Onandagus were engaged in great wars "among the Lamanites."

Zelph was identified as a "Lamanite," a label agreed on by all the accounts. This term might refer to the ethnic and cultural category spoken of in the Book of Mormon as actors in the destruction of the Nephites, or it might refer more generally to a descendant of the earlier Lamanites and could have been considered in 1834 as the equivalent of "Indian" (see, for example, D&C 3:18, 20; 10:48; 28:8; 32:2). Nothing in the accounts can settle the question of Zelph's specific ethnic identity.[10]

Since the accounts are second hand and differ from one another, it is unclear exactly what Joseph said

Thus, it is unclear exactly what Joseph said. Many of the accounts date from many years after the event, and may have been shaded by later ideas in the writers. Joseph never had a chance to correct that which was published about the event, since he was killed before it was made public. The "Lamanites" may refer to native Amerindians generally, or Book of Mormon peoples specifically. If the latter are referred to, the events may well apply to post-Book of Mormon events, in which case it can tell us little about the geographic scope of the Book of Mormon text. It is at least clear enough that Joseph Smith called the peoples of the area "Nephite" in the statement that he made in the letter to his wife, but those titles of political factions again don't do much for determining ethnicity.

As always, the Book of Mormon text itself must remain our primary guide for what it says. Joseph Smith does not seem to have later regarded his knowledge about Zelph as excluding other peoples or locations as being related to the Book of Mormon, or to have discouraged other Church leaders from similar theories.


The author(s) of Reinventing Lamanite Identity make(s) the following claim:

Joseph said that Moroni told him that "the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham" and that they were "the former inhabitants of this continent."

FairMormon Response

  • Matthew Roper, "Limited Geography and the Book of Mormon: Historical Antecedents and Early Interpretations," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 225–276. off-site
  • Janne M Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, Deseret News Press (1927)
  • John L. Sorenson, "Digging into the Book of Mormon: Our Changing Understanding of Ancient America and Its Scripture, Part 2", Ensign (October 1984) off-site
  • Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 2:79–80. Volume 2 linkGL direct link
  • Kenneth W. Godfrey, "The Zelph Story," Brigham Young University Studies 29 no. 2 (1989), 31–56.
  • Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki
  • Data as summarized by Donald Q. Cannon, "Zelph Revisited," in Regional Studies in the Latter-day Saint Church History: Illinois, edited by H. Dean Garret (Provo, Utah: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1995), 57–109. GospeLink (requires subscrip.) Note that some things that seem similar (e.g., "arrow" had substantial differences in the account, as discussed by Hamblin, below).
  • William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link
  • Kenneth Godfrey's articles have cast doubt on the reliability of many key elements of the story as we have them. Donald Q. Cannon has argued for the basic reliability of the accounts. See the articles by each author for both perspectives.
  • Kenneth W. Godfrey, "What is the Significance of Zelph In The Study Of Book of Mormon Geography?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/2 (1999): 70–79. off-site wiki