Book of Mormon/Lamanites/Relationship to Amerindians

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  • Are all Amerindians descendants of Lehi?
  • Critics claim that Church leaders "seem reluctant or powerless to curtail" the belief among Mesoamerican and South American saints that they are descendents of the Lamanites.
  • Critics say that Joseph Smith said that the angel Moroni told him that all American Indians were "literal descendants of Abraham," but DNA has disproved this.

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




Statements by Church leaders related to the identity of the Lamanites

Summary: A collection of all known statements made by Church leaders regarding the identity of the Lamanites


How have LDS members understood Amerindian origins?

In their more candid moments, the ex-Mormon critics admit that their criticisms revolve around a key assumption. Simon Southerton 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].[1]

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. Southerton and his fellow critics are in the position of someone who complains loudly because the sampled water does not seem to be “red”!

Southerton 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![2]

This is really quite astonishing. Southerton 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 Southerton’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, Southerton 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, Southerton 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.[3]

So, by Southerton’s own admission, his model is in fatal trouble if a “whole empty hemisphere” model (as opposed to what Southerton mockingly refers to as the "vanishing" geography model) is not taught by both the Book of Mormon and the prophets. That Southerton 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.

Origin of the American Indians: 19th century views

It is not surprising that some Church members concluded that all Amerindians were descendants of Lehi/Mulek. In fact, this was the initial conclusion drawn by many contemporaries of Joseph Smith. For example:

  • Lucy Mack Smith describing the Book of Mormon: "a history of the origin of the Indians."[4]
  • WW Phelps, 1833: "That wonderful conjecture, which left blank as to the origin . . . of the American Indians, was done away by the Book of Mormon…"[5]
  • Parley P. Pratt [apostle], 1837: "reveals the origin of the American Indians, which was before a mystery." [6]
  • Orson Pratt [apostle], 1875: I refer to the American Indians, all remnants of Joseph and belonging to the house of Israel. [7]

Origin of the American Indians: 20th century views

Contrary to the claims of critics who attempt to use DNA evidence to discredit the Book of Mormon, some readers and leaders reconsidered these ideas. Critics are fond of citing Church leaders such as Spencer W. Kimball, who was certainly a powerful advocate for the Amerindians or “Lamanites." President Kimball often made statements which supported the view that Lehi was the exclusive progenitor of all native Americans. However, many apostles and seventies have made many statements which differ from critics' understanding of the matter, taught them in General Conference, and the Church has published such perspectives in their magazines, study guides, and manuals. The Church’s university has passed them on to their students for generations. The Church’s official spokespeople disclaim the interpretation which critics insist we must hold.

When asked about the Church’s official position on this matter by a writer, a Church spokesman said:

As to whether these were the first inhabitants…we don't have a position on that. Our scripture does not try to account for any other people who may have lived in the New World before, during or after the days of the Jaredites and the Nephites, and we don't have any official doctrine about who the descendants of the Nephites and the Jaredites are. Many Mormons believe that American Indians are descendants of the Lamanites [a division of the Nephites], but that's not in the scripture.[8]

It is astonishing that critics do not realize that this puts a fairly “official” stamp of approval on this perspective—at the very least, it is hardly out of the ‘mainstream’ of Church thought to think that others besides Israelites make up modern Amerindians, and this perspective existed long before the DNA issue came to the fore.

For a detailed response, see: Statements made by Church leaders regarding the relationship between Amerindians and Lamanites

Why have there been different opinions on this matter?

We have seen that Southerton and the other critics’ claim that a “Lehi-only” teaching has been the unanimous voice of the prophets is false. To be sure, there clearly have been Church leaders who felt that all Amerindians were descendants of Book of Mormon peoples (and, as we will see below, population genetics demonstrates that this is true). Some leaders and members have also believed that the Book of Mormon peoples are the only, or major, ancestors of Amerindians.

But, there have also been those who believed that Lehi was only one ancestor among many. Later readers were more likely than early readers to hold a “many ancestors” view. Why?

All readers approach scriptures from their own cultural perspective, and with their own biases. What biases did readers of Joseph Smith’s day have about American Indians?

One further theoretical issue dictated by the discussion in Joseph Smith's day should be mentioned here: only a few early nineteenth-century writers suggested multiple origins for the American Indians. The very term "Indian," as Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., has pointed out, embodied a unitary concept of the native inhabitants of the Americas invented by Europeans. "By classifying all these many peoples as Indians," writes Berkhofer, "whites categorized the variety of cultures and societies as a single entity for the purposes of description and analysis, thereby neglecting or playing down the social and cultural diversity of Native Americans then--and now--for the convenience of simplified understanding."[9]

Thus, in Joseph Smith’s day, it was “common knowledge” that the Indians were a single racial group, and so most likely to have a single origin. Since the Book of Mormon seemed to teach that at least some Indians must have come from Israel, it was a natural conclusion to see them all as coming from Israel since the early Saints likely did not even conceive of there being multiple “groups” of Indians at all. To explain some was to explain them all.

Elder Brigham H. Roberts of the Seventy noted the prevailing wisdom of his era:

[The expert] Boudinot…hold[s] that the same color of the Indian generally is evidence of unity of race.[10]

However, the understanding of "the Indians" as a single, monolithic group began to change, and it is not a recent change brought on by the critics' DNA material!

In 1937, John A. Widtsoe [Apostle] and Franklin S. Harris, Jr., listed as one of the “claims” of the Book of Mormon that


Other members, such as Milton R. Hunter, First Council of Seventy, came to similar conclusions:

At least part of the ancestry of the American Indians came from Jerusalem; however, evidence is available which shows that people from other lands migrated to the Western Hemisphere following the close of Book of Mormon history.[12]

A more recent discussion by James R. Christiansen, published by BYU, said:

Based on figures given sometime after their arrival, these 150 to 200 pilgrims multiplied and spread throughout the land (Ether 6:13-21). Whatever their ancestral composition, these Jaredites were the true Paleo-Indians and must have carried with them the inheritable characteristics that came to typify modern American aborigines. The widespread O blood type, the dental peculiarities, the hair, and facial features were common within the group and became standardized as they intermarried and moved unrestricted, often compelled by war and insurrection, to all points of the compass. In time, language and customs changed, but these basic traits remained dominant.
The next known group to arrive, in 589 B.C., was small (1 Nephi 18:1-25). It too experienced divisions and strife and soon migrated into the wilderness (2 Nephi 5:1-25). There, the followers of Laman, called Lamanites, and some of those who allied themselves with Laman's brother Nephi, called Nephites, met and intermarried with the remnants of the original Jaredite population, thereby becoming part of the established and more ancient gene pool. Within one or two generations, basic physical and cultural characteristics were greatly altered. As they received, however, they also gave, and in time the language, the culture, and the physical makeup of the Paleo-Indian or Jaredite population was indelibly influenced.
Soon after the arrival of the Nephites and Lamanites came a third group, the followers of Mulek, a son of the Jewish King Zedekiah. The Mulekites crossed the ocean and located some distance north of the central Nephite settlements (Helaman 6:10; Mosiah 25:2). In time the remnants of these two societies merged, but retained the Nephite designation. Again their languages and cultures "blended," and within a few generations a new, more complex society emerged. Centuries passed and peripheral mixing of all the inhabitants occurred. A new and distinctly American gene pool was forming, radiating outward from several major areas of influence.
The process heightened following A.D. 33, stimulated by a general combining of the principal Nephite and Lamanite factions. Major divisions followed a two-hundred-year period of integration, resulting in a total breakdown of Nephite society (4 Nephi 1:1-45; Mormon 6:1-20). The ensuing assimilation was final. The foundation population was in place, scattered throughout the Americas. Composed of remnants from prior Jaredite, Lamanite, Nephite, and Mulekite societies, it was further impacted over a 2,500-year period by countless other transoceanic and Bering Strait arrivals. Depending on individual numbers and the extent of their subsequent assimilation, such ingraftings may have profoundly enhanced cultural—especially language—variations among peripheral elements of the population. Thus viewed, the Americanization of the Indian was complete.[13]

Thus, Christiansen saw the Jaredite remnants as playing a key, even dominant, role in the composition of the later Amerindians, and described “countless other transoceanic and Bering strait arrivals” as also important.

The text of the Book of Mormon has not altered on these issues, and yet the perspectives of both members and leaders has undergone a definite shift since its publication in 1829. Clearly, the growing appreciation that “the Indians” were not a single, monolithic block allowed readers of the Book of Mormon to see things that previous generations had not appreciated.

It is vital to recognize that leaders of the Church have expressed opinions on both sides of this question. This would seem to suggest that there is no “fixed” or “official” doctrine on the topic, since why would general authorities, Church publications, and BYU classes spend decades contradicting each other if there was a clear consensus about what the ‘doctrine’ was?

Well-known LDS scholar Hugh Nibley also argued forcibly and consistently for this point of view over a long period:

1947, 1952: once we have admitted that all pre-Columbian remains do not have to belong to Book of Mormon people, . . . the problem of the Book of Mormon archaeologist, when such appears, will be to find in America things that might have some bearing on the Book of Mormon, not to prove that anything and everything that turns up is certain evidence for that book.[14]
1967: the Book of Mormon offers no objections . . . to the arrival of whatever other bands may have occupied the hemisphere without its knowledge. [15]
1980: [it is a] simplistic reading of the book . . . [to] assume that the only people in the hemisphere before Columbus were either descendants of Lehi or of Jared and his brother. [16]

Quite simply, Southerton and other DNA critics are guilty of this “simplistic reading.” And, by his own admission, his theory falls flat if he indulges in it. The cautious reader might suspect that he has more interest in finding an excuse to discard the Book of Mormon, rather than a reason to understand it at a more mature level.




  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.



  1. [note] Simon Southerton, e-mail, “Answering the DNA apologetics,” 15 February 2005, 18h42 (copy in author’s possession).
  2. [note] Ibid.
  3. [note] Simon Southerton, e-mail posted to discussion board, July 5, 2008.
  4. [note] Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, England, 1853), 152.
  5. [note] W. W. Phelps, "The Book of Mormon," Evening and Morning Star (January 1833), ?. off-siteGospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  6. [note] Parley P. Pratt, A Voice of Warning and Instruction to All People, etc. (New York: W. Sandford, 1837), 135.
  7. [note] Orson Pratt, "Redemption of Zion—Persecution—Baptism of Indians—Second Coming of Christ—Every Jot and Every Tittle of Divine Revelation will be Fulfilled," (7 February 1875) Journal of Discourses 17:299.
  8. [note]  Stewart Reid, LDS Public Relations Staff, quoted by William J. Bennetta in The Textbook Letter (March-April 1997), published by The Textbook League (P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, California 94966).
  9. [note]  Dan Vogel, Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon: Religious Solutions from Columbus to Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1986), 8—9. The reader should be cautioned that Vogel—a former Church member and current atheist—believes that the Book of Mormon is a nineteenth-century fiction concocted by Joseph Smith. For a review of the strengths and weaknesses of this volume, see Kevin Christensen, "Truth and Method: Reflections on Dan Vogel’s Approach to the Book of Mormon (Review of: Indian Origins and the Book of Mormon)," FARMS Review 16/1 (2004): 287–354. off-site
  10. [note]  Brigham H. Roberts, Studies of the Book of Mormon, 2nd edition, edited and with an introduction by Brigham D. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 203; also published by (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985). (needs URL / links)
  11. [note]  John A. Widtsoe and Franklin S. Harris, Jr., Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon: a collection of evidences (Independence, Jackson County, Mo: Press of Zion's Printing and Publishing Company, 1937), 15, 84, italics added, capitals in original.
  12. [note]  Milton R. Hunter, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956), 53.
  13. [note]  James R. Christiansen, Book of Mormon: the Keystone scripture, edited by Paul R. Cheesman, (Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 232–233. (needs URL / links)
  14. [note]  Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret and The World of the Jaredites, 1st edition, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1952), 253 (emphasis in original). ; reprinted in Hugh W. Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, the World of the Jaredites, There Were Jaredites, edited by John W. Welch with Darrell L. Matthew and Stephen R. Callister, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 251.
  15. [note] Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, 2nd edition, (Vol. 7 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), 249. ISBN 0875791395.
  16. [note] Hugh W. Nibley, "The Book of Mormon and the Ruins: The Main Issues," F.A.R.M.S. paper, 1980.
  17. [note]  Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Ensign (July 1971), 7. off-site
  18. [note]  W. Robertson Smith, "Sacrifice Among the Semites," from Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, Revised edition, (1907), 273-274.
  19. [note]  Eldred G. Smith, "Lectures on Theology: Last Message Series," Address given at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion (30 April 1971), 2.
  20. [note]  Spencer W. Kimball, "Of Royal Blood," Ensign (July 1971), 10. off-site

Further reading

FairMormon Answers articles

Anachronisms claimed to exist in the Book of Mormon

Summary: "Anachronism" = out of time; something which is not in its proper historical context. It is claimed that a number of items or concepts in the Book of Mormon are not consistent with what is known about ancient American geography, history, or anthropology. These "errors" used as evidence that the Book of Mormon is a 19th century work rather than an ancient record.

Jump to Subtopic:

The Book of Mormon and DNA evidence

Jump to Subtopic:

FairMormon web site

DNA FairMormon articles on-line
  • David Stewart, "DNA and the Book of Mormon" FairMormon link
  • Allen Wyatt, "Motivation, Behavior, and Dissention" (background on Thomas Murphy's anti-Mormon activity). FairMormon link



The Book of Mormon and New World DNA, FAIR Video, (Link to all FAIR Videos)
The Children of Lehi: DNA and the Book of Mormon, D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, 2003 FAIR Conference
DNA & the Book of Mormon as Examined by a Molecular Biologist, Ryan Parr, 2005 FAIR Conference, (Link to all FAIR Videos)
DNA and the Book of Mormon, Dr. David Stewart, 2006 FAIR Conference

External links

DNA on-line articles
  • John M. Butler, "A Few Thoughts From a Believing DNA Scientist," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 36–37. off-site wiki
  • John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site wiki
  • Glen M. Cooper, "Appendix, On Aping Aristotle: Modern-day Simplicios," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): lxiii–lxiii. off-site
  • Brant Gradner, "This Idea: The "This Land" Series and the U.S.-Centric Reading of the Book of Mormon (A review of "This Land: Zarahemla and the Nephite Nation; This Land: Only One Cumorah!; and This Land: They Came from the East" by: Edwin G. Goble and Wayne N. May; Wayne N. May; and Wayne N. May)," FARMS Review 20/2 (2008): 141–162. off-site wiki
  • David A. McClellan, "Detecting Lehi's Genetic Signature: Possible, Probable, or Not?," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 35–90. off-site
  • D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, "Who Are the Children of Lehi?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 38–51. off-site wiki
  • Ryan Parr, "Missing the Boat to Ancient America . . . Just Plain Missing the Boat (Review of: Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church)," FARMS Review 17/1 (2005): 83–106. off-site
  • Ugo A. Perego, "The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint," FARMS Review 22/1 (2010): 191–227. off-site wiki
  • Daniel C. Peterson, "Editor's Introduction," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): ix–lxii. off-site
  • Daniel C. Peterson, "Prolegomena to the DNA Articles," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 25–34. off-site
  • Matthew Roper, "Nephi's Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 91–128. off-site
  • Matthew Roper, "Swimming the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 129–164. off-site
  • James E. Smith, "Nephi's Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon (Review of Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes by John C. Kunich)," FARMS Review of Books 6/1 (1994): 255–296. off-site
  • John L. Sorenson, "The Problematic Role of DNA Testing in Unraveling Human History," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 66–74. off-site wiki
  • Gregory L. Smith, "Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA (A review of "Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant through DNA" by: Rod L. Meldrum)," FARMS Review 22/1 (2010): 17–161. off-site wiki
  • John L. Sorenson and Matthew Roper, "Before DNA," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 6–23. off-site wiki
  • David G. Stewart, Jr., "DNA and the Book of Mormon," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 109–138. off-site wiki FairMormon link
  • David Stewart, Jr., "DNA and the Book of Mormon Rebuttal to Signature Books," off-site
  • John A. Tvedtnes, "Reinventing the Book of Mormon (Review of: “Reinventing Lamanite Identity,” Sunstone, March 2004, 20–25)," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 91–106. off-site
  • Michael F. Whiting, "DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Phylogenetic Perspective," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12/1 (2003): 24–35. off-site wiki

Printed material

DNA printed materials
  • Blake T. Ostler, "Assessing the Logical Structure of DNA Arguments Against the Book of Mormon," Sunstone no. (Issue #135) (December 2004), 70–72. off-site
  • Blake T. Ostler, "DNA Strands in the Book of Mormon," Sunstone no. (Issue #137) (May 2005), x–y. off-site
  • Blake T. Ostler, "Reply to David A. Anderson (letter to the editor)," Sunstone no. (Issue #138) (September 2005), 8–10. off-site PDF link