Question: Who can be called "Lamanites"?

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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." [1]

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. [2]

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.) [3]

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. [4][5][6]

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. Matthew Roper, "Swimming the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 129–164. off-site
  3. Spencer W. Kimball, "First Presidency Message: Our Paths Have Met Again," Ensign (Dec. 1975), 2.
  4. John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki
  5. Matthew Roper, "Swimming the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 129–164. off-site
  6. Brian D. Stubbs, "Elusive Israel and the Numerical Dynamics of Population Mixing," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 165–182. off-site