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?

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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 three generally 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. “the 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 Geography could actually work with the Hinterland Model for Geography). We have seen also that Joseph was willing to shift is 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 this.
  • 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 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.[1] 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.[2] 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).[3] 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.[4][5]

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[6]

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.

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? Techinically, 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.

Alternate interpretations

  • ”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 1829 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.[7]

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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)
  6. Ibid
  7. 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.