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I just found your blog. I am too a member of the church and in So. Ca. It is nice to see others writing about the church. Speak boldly!

I see no "backpedaling" from FARMS on this issue. These guys have been expressing the same theories about BoM geography long before the debate over DNA and the BoM. It is true that their views are at odds with many traditionalist views of BoM geography that have been expressed over the years, but these subjects were hotly debated even during early church times.

So let's get this straight: there is a disconnect between the traditional view that the Nephites and Lamanites are the "principal ancestors of the American Indians," as stated in the BoM introduction (not part of the inspired text, mind you) and the current FARMS' view, but they have not "backpedaled," which I take to mean they are claiming things now that contradict what they said earlier. They have been in favor of a Mesoamerican geography pretty much ever since they began. And let's be fair and honest. While this is not the traditional view, there is nothing in the BoM that disputes it and much that favors it.

The Lord has allowed and continues to allow people to believe things that are not true. Just because they don't have a perfect understanding of the truth doesn't mean that he rejects them and doesn't allow them to progress further. Throughout history, the Lord has taught people the truth when they ask Him. If they don't ask Him, then they continue to be in error. Many of the prophets' understandings of doctrinal issues were corrected and added to over time.

In judging this matter we should be as willing and eager to forgive human weakness as we are to receive the Lord's forgiveness. I admit that there are still some unresolved problems with the Mesoamerican view, but I get the feeling from your tone that you would be uncomfortable being judged by the same standard to which you are holding others.

Carl, nice comments. My "backpedaling" reference was not really aimed at the substantive position or positions on DNA, ancestry, or the LGH. I was alluding to the disclaimers made by two FARMS officials. To say that "FARMS research and writings are not aimed at proving or disproving the Book of Mormon" seems misleading when it's obvious that everything FARMS says or does is intended to bolster the plausibility of LDS truth claims vis-a-vis the Book of Mormon. Nothing wrong with FARMS doing that and they do produce a goodly amount of interesting stuff, I just don't see why they try to deny it.

The second remark was that "[w]e don't speak officially for the church in any way. These are our opinions, and we hope they're helpful." Again, they have been officially brought under the umbrella of BYU, they are funded by BYU and the Church, and they certainly have a tremendous amount of credibility for lay members, Mormon scholars, and Church leaders. This posture of "we're just offering helpful opinions" is just the standard way to preserve deniability for official LDS publicists or leaders. They may be "unofficial opinions," but the article itself labels the traditional, hemispheric theory (Joseph Smith's theory) as "naive," and the Church spent three months trying to excommunicate Murphy for publicly espousing the "no links to Palestine" theory. So, at this point, LGH is more than just an unofficial theory, it's the only live option for non-naive Mormons. Classifying 95% of the Church as naive doesn't seem to faze FARMS, but that's a different issue and speaks less about the average members of the Church than about the FARMS mentality.

But all this is just politics. As to the substantive questions, which are more interesting, no doubt there will be additional discussion and a few responding articles when the book comes out.

"To say that "FARMS research and writings are not aimed at proving or disproving the Book of Mormon" seems misleading when it's obvious that everything FARMS says or does is intended to bolster the plausibility of LDS truth claims vis-a-vis the Book of Mormon. "

I think though that FARMS has been pretty upfront over that since the early days. While they think they can produce arguments and show flaws in arguments against the church, they are quite explicit that the *only* proof is by the spirit. They used to have an essay along those lines in most of the early issues of Review of Books. So I don't think they are being duplicitous in that regard. Rather it fits into their contextualist view of evidence.

The key word might be "proving." I have no qualms about stating that I am an unofficial amateur apologist interested in advocated the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. But I refuse to say that I can prove it or the Bible. I think there is evidence that Joseph Smith could not have fabricated, say, First Nephi, based on what he had available, but that does not prove the book is "true" as the word of God. It does not prove that Jesus is the Christ or even that Nephi existed. It may hint that the author of the Book of Mormon had to be familiar with the Arabian Peninsula and ancient Hebrew poetical forms and so forth, but I rankle at the suggestion that anyone can logically "prove" that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God. I feel much more honest in saying that I, like FARMS, am working to provide helpful information to refute the attacks of critics and provide evidence in favor of authenticity rather than "proving" it to be true. The goal is to allow the minds of others to see past the attacks and be able to give the book a fair chance. When people write me and say they find me writings convincing, I urge them to do the real test of reading, pondering, and praying, and seeking knowledge through the power of God, not the logic of Jeff.

Regarding the DNA issue, I wish to emphasize that those of us tackling the DNA issue have been trying to point out what leading thinkers in the Church have been teaching long before the DNA issue became hot: that the text itself does not purport to explain the origins of all ancient Americans, and that there is plenty of room for major migrations from Asia to have occurred without posing any trouble for the text. See my article, DNA and the Book of Mormon, which I am pleased to report is also available at LDS.org as an external and unofficial helpful resource, along with several FARMS articles. Some people in the Church liked my article, but I know they don't consider it as anything more than a potentially helpful resource. I can also accept that for the work of FARMS.

To further defend the FARMS people, I think it's perfectly accurate to say that they don't speak officially for the church. True the church funds them, but that doesn't imply official sanction of what they produce...the University of Texas doesn't speak for the state of Texas, for example.

Jeff, your candor is exemplary: what you are doing (offering thoughtful and informed unofficial apologetics) and what you say you do (same thing) are in alignment.

It is well known that GAs turn to FARMS (or other BYU religious faculty) to answer tough doctrinal questions or respond to prickly historical or scientific issues. So they are creating what is at least semi-official apologetics or commentary that does, in fact, influence or even determine LDS doctrine and policy. They're on the payroll, folks.

Look--it's a big church with lots of questions that bubble up from time to time. The GAs are not trained clergy or specialists. So of course they rely on people for analysis and guidance. They don't just pick names out of a phone book, they turn to informed people with the necessary experise who they can trust. There's nothing wrong with doing this. The GAs still retain executive prerogative to accept or reject proffered guidance or analysis. Why is admitting this is what they do so controversial?

Just to repeat: I'm not criticizing the fact they solicit input from FARMS. If anything, they should get more input from FARMS people and (importantly) broaden the range of informed, trustworthy scholars from whom they seek input.

The same article appeared in USA Today. I was going to write about it but didn't have time to give it proper attention and analysis. I'm glad someone did. :)


Thanks danithew, that's a better link to the story than the RNB link I have in my post. I'll splice it in a little later.

What if Lehi had Asian DNA? That would make this whole 'controversy' somewhat laughable, wouldn't it?

CHeck out Mormanity. I sent a book review on Southerton's book to Jeff about a week ago in hopes of an insightful tearning into.

Frankly...I'm confused re: the DNA. How does this stuff work? The folks living in Israel today are NOT the tribe of Judah. So...how can any accurate DNA test be made? And how much % change in the DNA structure is ok? I mean, we are talking about DNA being 50% the same for an orange, a pig or a human.

Lyle, don't you mean "not of the tribe of Mannaseh"?

I keep reading posts about DNA and the Book of Mormon (not just on this site) and I wonder if I grew up reading the same book. The Book clearly states that the Americas were left empty for Lehi’s people to discover and that Lehi’s decedents would be those who would greet Columbus and the pilgrims. I’m also taken back by the idea that FARMS has been static since their inception on the geography of Book of Mormon civilization. This seems to be a bit nieve and uninformed. Ron Priddis points out one of FARMS inconsistency in his latest response to their reviews:

“In a 1993 essay by John C. Kunich in Brent Metcalfe’s New Approaches to the Book of Mormon calculated the largest possible number of people that might result from a Lehite settlement of about thirty individuals over the period of time covered by the Book of Mormon. He estimated this to be upwards of 30,000 people but cautioned that this would imply “an average annual growth rate of 1.8 percent ... a rate that has never been reached in the industrialized world and has only been achieved in the world overall since 1950” (250). FARMS, in its Review (6:1), produced a rival demographer, James E. Smith, “vice president of a national research corporation near Washington, D.C.,” who according to a formula of his own creation (285) and pushing the data both toward higher fertility and lower mortality (271-72, 290), came up with a larger population by a factor of ten (292-94). This number failed to reach the millions mentioned in the Book of Mormon (293-94), but the point of Smith’s article seemed to be to ridicule Kunich for challenging Book of Mormon population figures. Smith accused Kunich of using “uncritical and specious methods of scriptural interpretation” and claimed that Kunich's study “fails in its understanding and use of historical demography,” that his approach was “conceptually and mathematically” flawed (261-63). Now it appears that FARMS favors a smaller population growth than what was suggested by Kunich, repeated emphasizing the word “small” in describing at least the founding population (5, 90, 112-13). They brag about the advantages this position offers in that, as they believe, it makes it impossible for anyone to find evidence to contradict the presence of such a tiny and insignificant population (92-3).”

Just so the uninformed understands. We do know what haplotypes are in the middle east. They are H, K, U, W, X, E, G, I, J, N, and R. The groups in the America’s are A, B, C, D, and X. Before we get to excited about "X," it is also found in Siberia and came over the straight with ABC and D after mixing with those groups over 20,000 years ago. DNA studies is capable of tracking lineages for 200,000 years. 2,000 years is—to say the least—a bit easier. This is why Mormon apologists like FARMS are looking for a strategy like the Meso-America or limited geography to hide behind. Unfortunately the bad news is that X "isn’t" found in Meso-america. Lets face it. The only scenario that fits the Book of Mormon is the original idea that all of Americas both north and south are the Book of Mormon lands and that there were millions of decedents of Lehi. But DNA studies proves otherwise.

The real story isn’t that Signature Books is publishing a book on DNA studies in the Americas. The real story is that Mormon leaders have told millions of it’s Native American and Polynesian converts that they are the sons and daughters of Lehi and that they will be the recipients of the blessings prophesied by the prophets in the Book of Mormon. Now those associated with FARMS are in essence taking those blessings back.

So, now for the real question. What do I tell me kids?


Nice comments, Tom. Unlike most Mormon bloggers, I don't find FARMS counterarguments particularly convincing. But they are persistent, aren't they?

Tell the kids to do their homework, to clean up their rooms, to stay away from drugs, and to never get in a car with a driver who might have had a drink or a toke (since LDS kids have no ability to discern whether another kid is drunk or intoxicated). If you prefer a more traditional approach, go find the old Kenny Rogers lyrics (know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run).

If "son" doesn't necessarily mean just by blood, but by promise, then I think the problem goes away. This seems the strongest argument for Mormon to make - that along with the lack of evidence of what Lehi or Sara's DNA consisted of. I'm afraid making judgments based upon 20th century Israelites is unlikely to shed much light of what a pre-exile person claiming Mannasah as a tribe would consist of. (Along with the unknown lineage of the wives, Zoram, and perhaps the Mulekites)

Great comments Dave. For me the practical issues of Mormon is where the church really shines. Scout camp with my eleven year old this weekend is a good example. I'll work on my family poker statagy. :)


I'm Trent Stephens publicist and we have spoken about Lehi’s markers for hours. At best it's still a red herring. (and if you think scientists are only comparing 20th century Israelite DNA to American natives your misinforming the people, it’s well known that when the Israelites returned from Babylon that they only brought back about 10% of their markers. Markers from 600BC Jerusalem still are not A, B, C, or D, and these are the only markers found in Meso-america) The real story, is that the Limited Geography proposal by FARMS, creates more problems than it solves. Limited geography calls Joseph and modern prophets "nieve" at best and pious frauds at worst. If we take the text of the book of Mormon at face value then we run into the DNA issue. Either way it’s a lose, lose situation.

I still wonder if I read a different Book of Mormon growing up.

Tom, that's quite interesting. I bought Stephens' "Evolution and Mormonism" some time ago and have traded emails with him. While I sense Mormonism drifting right doctrinally and morally (which I see as an unfortunate trend) I at least take pride in Mormonism's ability to absorb evolution without much of a fuss. It's what makes Mormons different from Luddite Evangelicals.

Trent is a class act! In my mind he's one of the great hero's in the whole Book of Mormon, DNA discussion. (He’s my hero anyway) He's been able to talk about the issues without the typical character assassination we have unfortunately grown accustom to in the LDS apologia world. Trent is working on a book much like his evolution book that introduces DNA issues to LDS college students. He has a difficult road ahead of him. He’s been unsuccessful so far. I wish him luck.

I disagree with you on the church absorbing evolution without a fuss. Trent and Jeff’s book on evolution is heresy to several members of my close family. Joseph Fielding Smith’s idea that Dinosaurs came from other planets has a firm foothold in popular LDS belief. But we have hero’s on that issue. Duane Jefferies at BYU wrote the introduction to Evolution and Mormonism. He’s someone to look up to.

Speaking of evangelicals. I find it interesting that they jump on the Book of Mormon, DNA issue. The video on DNA that was distributed out of Brigham City, Utah edited out statements that talked about Asians coming to the America’s 13,000 years ago. It seems the same evidence that’s critical of the Historicity of the Book of Mormon is also critical of evangelical creationist ideas.

For evangelical critics of Mormonism, the DNA evidence sems to be the good news that they just cant use. Having been harassed for two years as a missionary in the south, deep inside the irony warms my heart.


Tom, I'm not sure how that answers my question. What was the *individual* Lehi's genetics? If we can't answer that question, it seems quite difficult to say what his inclusion into a large gene pool would result in thousands of years later.


I did address your question. I know it's a hard thing to understand. But it's not really about Lehi's individual DNA. It's about haplogroups. 98.6% of the haplogroups in the Americas are A, B, C, D and X. Only X is found in the middle east. But the problem is that the American brand of X is the same as that found in the Lena area of Northern Siberia and from the predictable mutation rate of haplogroups they are finding that X mixed with A, B, C, and D, 20,000 years ago when these groups met with eastern European groups that had this haplogroup.

If Lehi was the father of a great civilization in the Americas. We would find a middle eastern haplogroup in the Americas. If father Lehi’s family stayed small and in meso-america and was later swamped out by the existing Asians then Joseph’s revelations are not true and all of the prophets since have been incorrect about the Native Americans.

So as you see. We don't need his specific DNA. Lehi wasn't Asian. (I'm assuming you read the same version of the Book of Mormon that I did) The Book of Mormon states that when they came that the land had been preserved from other nations. (clearly so there would be no mixing, ok, ok, speculation on my part...) Lehi's decendants would greet Columbus and the Pilgrams. (or did you skip Sunday school this year) The Native Americans who greeted the pilgrims would not have been Meso-americans... Right? Do I really need to get into Zelph?? I'm sure you heard these stories just like I did growing up. The fact that someone doesn’t see a problem here says more about their inability to deal with new evidence than it does about my attempt to come to terms with what is likely the outcome. Read Simons book. It’s not a rant. It’s fair. (No pun intended) And it lays out the issue well.

Sorry bud, I wish there was a clear solution to this issue. Unfortunately sentimentality or cognitive dissonance seems to have clouded the issue for some. Unfortunately we are going to get some who should know better who will reduce the issues into something they are not. Just like when Joseph Fielding Smith reduced the dinosaur bones into aliens. DNA is going to be a problem one way or another for Latter-Day Saints. The fact that we don’t have Lehi’s specific DNA isn’t going to stop the discussion for very long. We do know what haplogroups he would fit in. These haplogroups aren’t in the Americas, ancient or pre-columbian.


"If Lehi was the father of a great civilization in the Americas. We would find a middle eastern haplogroup in the Americas."

That was the part of my response you missed. Was Lehi genetically the father of a great civilization.

I admit my relative ignorance in this area, but the other question is what is the diversity in an area from what is expected. Further how might that apply to *individuals* from 600 BC.

"Joseph Fielding Smith’s idea that Dinosaurs came from other planets has a firm foothold in popular LDS belief."

They do? Really? How do you know this? Has there been some sort of broad study of attitudes about Mormons to alien dinosaurs that I am unaware of? I can say that after roughly 30 years of experience in the church, I can't recall hearing anyone seriously advocate this idea. But then my experience may not be representative. Of course, that begs the question of whose experience IS representative...

I'm with you, Nate.

Actually as loath as I am to admit it, I've heard the dinasaur bit many times. Not from anyone who's been to college and taken any real classes. But from those who simply don't know much about the data for evolution, history or so forth and are trying to reconcile their very limited information. It is a simple way of reconciling it, once you adopt the Mormon view of planets.

It's wrong, of course. But I think we tend to be far too critical of those without exposure to science than we ought. People tend not to spend much time worrying about such matters and so when asked, come up with the best answers on short notice they can. I think this ought not be necessarily compared with what the "correct" or possibly correct answers are so much as the "default" view of our culture. (Meaning American culture and no necessarily Mormon culture -- I think that with respect to evolution Mormons are more typically American than representing some unique Mormon anti-intellectualism or anti-science)

I wish to respond to Tom’s various posts. He seems to think that it is impossible to reconcile a limited mesoamerican geography with the Book of Mormon itself and with statements by various prophets, but I think he is mistaken. Someone using Science as proof against the Book of Mormon ought not set up a straw man Book of Mormon. By all means, use science, but compare your findings to the Book’s actual claims about itself.

There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that claims only Lehi’s descendants inhabited the Americas. The fact that other peoples (other than the Mulekites) are not mentioned could mean that they were simply not worth writing about (Mormon did not even write the hundredth part of their history - W of M 1: 5; Hel. 3: 14) and/or that they were discovered by the Lamanites or the people in the land Northward (about whom we know very little - Al 63:7; Hel 6:6).

As to the “Columbus/Pilgrims” passage in the Book of Mormon - 1 Ne. 13:
12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.

Nothing in this passage requires all Native Americans to be Lehites, nor does it necessarily refer to Columbus or, especially, the Pilgrims.

On to Zelph: http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=202.

With respect to Polynesians, the Book of Mormon says that Hagoth and others left in ships and were never heard from again. Alma 63. These people can be among the ancestors of the Polynesians, but do not have to be the exclusive Polynesian forebears. Note also that if the Lehites had mixed with indigenous groups, Hagoth and friends might not have shared had the Lehitic Haplotype.


I think we have a lot of options here.

I think I could narrow them down though my guess is that there are probably more options.

1. Lehi is a factitious person. So, no he was not a father of a great nation.

2. Lehi was a father of a small group that stayed in meso-america. this would create other problems for Joseph Smith. (for example the ZELPH story would be fiction. Which one is worse?? I don't know.) This is just the tip of the iceburg of problems facing the limited geography theory. Honestly, in my mind this is the worst scenario for the church.

3. Lehi was the father of a great civilization that covered both continents and the south pacific. (Then we run into science issues)

4. Lehi lived in a different dimension, Malay Peninsula, Africa or some other non-traditional location.

Did I miss a scenario? I can’t seem to get around two end results. 1. The book is fiction., 2. Joseph made stuff up.

As to your other question: I never got the impression from the Book of Mormon that Lehi was anything but a regular if not exemplary citizen of Jerusalem and that he had great pride as a decedent of biblical characters such as Joseph who was sold into Egypt. If you found something else please chip in.. I don’t get the sense from FARMS that he was Asian. Dan Peterson at the Michael Whiting speech last year eluded that the curse of dark skin was when Lehi’s children married the American Asians. I honestly don’t think the “Lehi was Asian” is going to play out well but it wold solve the DNA problem.


I guess now is as good as any to say this.

[Edited 7/30. Send an email if this is an opinion you feel needs to be shared.]



“Nothing in this passage requires all Native Americans to be Lehites, nor does it necessarily refer to Columbus or, especially, the Pilgrims.”

Seems I remember in Sunday school this year, the teacher reading the Columbus/Pilgrim thing right out of the church lesson manual. You do know what the word “seed” refers to??

I understand that this is a difficult issue for a lot of people. I remember as a missionary when people used to tell me that there could be no more scripture than the bible then they would quote chapter and verse. I think they missed the point and I apologize in advance, but I think you have also.

Good luck with the Zelph thing. But in the end I don’t think that this is going to play out well for you. See Ken Goddfrey’s article on Zelph in the Journal of Mormon History. I don’t think that he would not have thought in a million years that his definitive research would cause such a problem in the whole DNA question.

Here is what’s being said at BYU on Polynesians:

Excerpts from the Q&A session immediately following his deviotional.

"Archeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief"

John E. Clark
Professor of Anthropology and Director of the New World Archeological Foundation, BYU

(Delivered 25 May 2004 in the de Jong Concert Hall, BYU)

[Mp3 Time: c. 7 mins.]

[Question from audience member:] Do you have any views on the idea that the people described in the Book of Mormon are the principal ancestors of the group of people we call today Native Americans and Polynesians? Any views you'd be willing to express on that?

[John Clark:] I'm glad you clarified that. Of course—I'm an opinionated person. ... They may actually have some blood and DNA from these Mesoamericans, so calling them and considering them and considering them literal descendants could have some validity. But basically their tradition has nothing to do with Book of Mormon peoples.

[Question from same audience member:] "Their tradition"—Native Americans? [Clark nods approvingly in response.] Polynesians—do you have any views about them?

[John Clark:] I don't think they're involved in any way. But some people do. And that's all a question of how they, of how they figure out the geography. So they think that Hagoth took off to the South Seas, other people think that he just went up to Acapulco and then never came back. Well, would you come back from Acapulco?

[Mp3 Time: c. 24 mins.]

[John Clark:] Those who choose not to believe it [i.e., the Book of Mormon] will never believe it; those who choose to believe it already do. ...

But I'm, I would never tell anybody to try to prove the Book of Mormon is true through physical evidence, just because of the way metaphysics and epistemology work—it's not possible. And so, you have to get the testimony some other way, and then the evidence will become very clear. If you're on the opposing side you can say we basically just, ah, brained washed ourselves (one or two words inaudible). You're free to think that—we're not doing anybody any harm.

[Mp3 Time: c. 26 mins.]

[John Clark:] And, no, I can't convince any of my archeology colleagues that the evidence proves the BoMor is true. They have read it, but they just read it like they're reading an archeology book, and that's not going to go anywhere.

[Mp3 Time: c. 41 mins.]

[John Clark:] Well, for example, you had this flap about DNA recently. ... The DNA question is never going to be a problem. It only works one way, and in our favor. But the only reason that it looked like a flap or a problem is because they say: Well, Mormons believe (first of all they tell us what we believe) Mormons believe that all Indians in North and South America descended from these people who came over that are described in the Book of Mormon. I grew up believing that—but that's false, that's absolutely wrong.

And so once you say there were other people here, you say: OK, where were the Nephites, and how many more people were here. We have all kinds of other DNA signatures to worry about all of a sudden. It may be that we never find any Hebrew DNA (whatever that looks like) in the New World. ... But if we do find some, that's fine; if we don't find some, that's fine too. There's no way that negative evidence on that hurts the Book of Mormon whatsoever once you believe in a limited geography. If you believe in a global geography, you're basically done, toasted, game over.

[Mp3 Time: c. 49 mins.]

[John Clark:] If a general authority—I don't care who it is—says something that contradicts the Book of Mormon, I do not accept it. ... So nothing that they can say on the matter, other than the prophet saying "Thus saith the Lord," matters to me at all.

[Question from Richard Jensen, BYU associate professor of church history:] What if the general authority is Joseph Smith? How about then? The statements he's made placing [...] [Jensen is cutoff by Clark's response.]

[John Clark:] He was all over the map. ... The Book of Mormon is truer than Joseph Smith ever realized. What that means is Joseph Smith didn't understand the book that he translated.

Tom, once again I think you miss my point. Unless we know the diversity within the Jerusalem region in 600 BC we can't say what the probability of Lehi or the other Lehites having "typical" markers is. That's all I'm saying. You are assuming they are typical near eastern markers. All I'm saying is that this is an untested assumption.

With regards to limited geography, I agree with Clark whom you quoted. I don't think Joseph's understanding of the Book of Mormon ought be assumed to represent the Book of Mormon. That is only true if we assume, a priori, that Joseph wrote the book. If he didn't write the book but merely translated it, then we ought to expect him to have erroneous readings based upon his culture.

The obvious problem with Joseph's (and many others') views are the problem of reconciling a continental reading with the distances and descriptions in the book itself. If Joseph wrote it, he'd surely know the distances and interpret it accordingly. (Especially if, as some naturalistic critics postulate, it was based upon the Great Lakes region) To me the conflict and many other internal issues truly suggest that Joseph's own views are somewhat irrelevant.

Zelph, as we discussed at T&S, is slightly more problematic, but only if we take the later accounts when the "Nephite" interpretation blends in with the accounts of the vision. Yet the earliest accounts don't conflate Zelph with a Nephite. Further if Lamanite simply is the word most Mormons (perhaps erroneously) use to understand all Indians then even the significance of "white Lamanite" ought be re-evaluated.

The only real critique of the Zelph story is based not on the accounts and BoM geography, but on reconciling the accounts with the archaeological record of the Hopewell people buried there.


You are correct. I don't understand the nuances of your thesis. Joseph used to give his family renditions of the Nephite wars, politics, culture ext., to his family just before Alvin died. It gave the impression that he was intimate with the world of the record he would later translate. What you propose seems to me to be another non-traditional spin that doesn’t reflect our traditional history or the documentary record. Respectfully I don't think it will ever fly. In the end, your thesis still makes Joseph out to be a story teller not a prophet. You will have to explain how to get around that sometime.

I've asked Simon if he knows anything about studies of Middle-eastern markers in the 600 BC. I know he addresses it in the book. I'm sure that studies have been done. Something akin to the Lambda (sp?) issue in Africa. Remember, genetic studies are conducted on dead people, not just the living. I'm sure there are plenty of graves that relate to pre-Babylon Jerusalem to study...

Well, off to Scout camp....


"It gave the impression that he was intimate with the world of the record he would later translate. What you propose seems to me to be another non-traditional spin that doesn’t reflect our traditional history or the documentary record."

The question is *how* he learned of these things and what was entailed by any extra-BoM teaching and what he, himself, filled in. After all I too told my family of Nephite wars, politics, culture and so forth, but all my tales came from interpretations of the text. The de facto assumption that everything Joseph spoke was intended to be taken as prophecy seems highly questionable.

Whether this is traditional or not seems, to me, irrelevant. This, to me, is the strawman than many naturalistic critics of Mormonism pose. Yet if Mormonism is true and continuing revelation is as well, we ought not expect that all traditions are true. Indeed we ought be quite skeptical of all non-canonized and non-revealed traditions. This, to me, ends up being an appeal to the old "Chapel vs. Internet Mormon" dichotomy I find so problematic.

One more brief comment. The real issue with the 600 BC samples are whether the sample size is sufficient so as to tell us the diversity.

Tom says

Seems I remember in Sunday school this year, the teacher reading the Columbus/Pilgrim thing right out of the church lesson manual. You do know what the word “seed” refers to??

I said

"compare your findings to the Book’s actual claims about itself"

1. It's easy to prove the lesson manual, your Sunday school teacher, or your memory wrong. But I thought we were talking about the Book of Mormon?

2. The BofM says some Gentile will come to visit Lehi's seed. If anybody living anywhere in the Americas was Lehi's seed, this passage is true. It does not say "Lehi is the one and only progenitor of everyone in America pre-Columbus."

3. Your post is basically nonresponsive. I mean, who cares what John Clark says? If he says it at BYU does that make it the gospel? No way, because, generalizations aside, there is quite a diversity of opinions at BYU. This following remark of his is absolutely correct and applies to his own remarks: "If a general authority—I don't care who it is—says something that contradicts the Book of Mormon, I do not accept it. ... So nothing that they can say on the matter, other than the prophet saying "Thus saith the Lord," matters to me at all."

My main point: It is disingenuous to 1. misinterpret the Book of Mormon's claims about itself (or to rely somebody else's misinterpretation) and 2. then claim the evidence does not match up with the misinterpretation. --- Of course the evidence does not match the misinterpretation! If you start with false assumptions, it is easy to prove them wrong.

Nice comments, SamLam. But I wish those defending the Book of Mormon were able to spell out its specific historical claims rather than simply attack any commentator who critically examines a plausible construction of those claims. Defenders seem to adopt the general line that we have no knowledge of any specific location or of the scope of Jaredite/Nephite civilization (thus freeing them to attack anyone who attempts to give serious consideration to those claims) yet turn around and support (with a straight face) the general claim that the book is true--by which they mean historically accurate in its unknown and seemingly unknowable particulars (which, of course, they can't seem to consistently articulate).

The popular Mormon conception is that LDS apologists have produced real-world evidence supporting the Book of Mormon. As I see it, methodologically they have moved to a scorched-earth approach, attacking the validity of any evidentiary argument (because we can't really know what the Book of Mormon is claiming) and thereby sacrificing the basis for appealing to real-world evidence as support, then falling back on some form of intutitive knowledge to anchor favorable evaluations of the Book of Mormon.

It's interesting that the "but that's not what the Book of Mormon really says" argument is never raised against real-world evidence that supports a possible reading of the text.


Interesting, I still think it poses a problem that Joseph translated the book by revelation. Then preceded to give revelations based on his false understanding of the culture and location of the Book of Mormon.

I’m just trying to play out the whole Elder Jones and Mr Brown discussion on the subject. I can’t see anyone finding the contradictions as warm fuzzy experience.

I reread Simons chapter on that covers Middle-eastern and Jewish DNA. I found it compelling and apparently so do others in his field. A, B, C, D, and X are still the markers found at or near the Bering Straight, It won’t take a genius to conect the dots. This isn’t phrenology. It’s good science.

I feel that your playing right into the hands of the critics when you make Joseph out to be someone who was willing to make up faith promoting stories then pass them as revelations. This has a feel to it that you are willing to trash Joseph's integrity to save the historicity of the book. It would seem to me that the other way around is the safer of the two choices. The bible isn’t completely historical (if at all) yet, can be the words of the prophets and still be valuable to the reader. The Bible to many isn't totaly historical yet can still be "true" Wouldn't this be the safer angle to pitch?

What do you think?


I don’t feel that I have much for you. But I can appreciate your concern about the value of the Church lesson manuals. I would be interested in where you feel the weak link are for the lessons. In a backward direction of authority it seems that we should start with the teacher, then the manual, correlation, quotes from General Authorities, most of them would defer to Joseph Smith, then the scriptures (Book of Mormon), then Jesus and/or God. Where do you feel that the weak misinterpretations are coming from?

Or are there weak links all the way up?


I think you misunderstand my point Tom. I'm not saying Joseph made up faith promoting stories. Rather I'm saying that Joseph had no extended special insight in the background of the Book of Mormon beyond what any other reader of the BoM had. The fact he translated it gives him no special interpretive ability of the meaning of the text.

"It's interesting that the "but that's not what the Book of Mormon really says" argument is never raised against real-world evidence that supports a possible reading of the text."

That is untrue. People at FARMS disagree on how to read the text as well. The problem is that the text is vague on these matters and thus intrinsically can't be pinned down. Any FARMS reading is just that: a reading. As such it provides an alteranitve to competing readings. Obviously anyone valuing a particular reading will claim opposing readings are not correct.

I think you misunderstand my point Tom. I'm not saying Joseph made up faith promoting stories. Rather I'm saying that Joseph had no extended special insight in the background of the Book of Mormon beyond what any other reader of the BoM had. The fact he translated it gives him no special interpretive ability of the meaning of the text.

Ok, I’ll try and use your words this time. You say that he had “no extended insight into the background of the Book of Mormon” and yet in his own hand he wrote this revelation.

“On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars having been erected one above the other, according to ancient order and the remains of human bones were strewn over the surface of the ground. The brethren procured a shovel and hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of was a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs Brigham Young retained the Arrow, and the bretheren carried some pieces of the skeleton to Clay County The contemplation of the scenery around before us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms and subsequently the vision of the past being opend to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose Skeleton we had seen was before us was a white Lamanite, a large thick set man and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus who was known from the hill Cumorah or eastern Sea, to the Rocky Mountains, His name was Zelph. The curse was taken from Zelph him, or at least, in part. One of his thigh bones was broken by a stone flung from a sling, while in battle, years before his death. He was killed in battle, by the arrow found among his ribs, during a last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites: Elder Woodruff carried the thigh bone to Clay county. “

Joseph Smith

And previously had this revelation.

D and C 28: BEHOLD, I say unto thee, Oliver...
8. And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.
9. And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites...

This seems to me to be a type of “special insight in the background of the Book of Mormon.”

In light of these types of statements and revelations by Joseph I can’t see why you think he didn’t have “special interpretive ability of the meaning of the text.”


Tom -

The weak links end only at Jesus. Everyone else in the chain is a person like you and me subject to human error. Joseph Smith never claimed infallibility - nope, he's no pope. Even the Book of Mormon admits it is subect to men's mistakes (title page).

As to "statements by Joseph",
If you read the link I provided earlier re Zelph, you'd know that the quote you attribute to Joseph was not penned by him. Most of the Zelph accounts do not say anything about Nephites. Since to Joseph "Lamanite" = "Native American", you can't claim that these statements prove the Lehites lived in North America, but only that Native Americans lived in N. America.

Clearly Joseph believed (at the time of Zion's camp, at least) that the Lehites occupied all of N. and S. America. Assuming that is wrong, does that make the BofM wrong? No, it makes Joseph's opinion wrong.

And by the way, even if the events in the BofM took place only in Mesoamerica, most Native Americans could still be of the seed of Lehi. (if you go by the one-drop rule)

This is a fascinating discussion. I have opened a new post, "What Did Joseph Know . . .", to continue the discussion. I confess that I was hoping to hear at least one comment from Tom on the Scout camp experience. My highlights a couple years back were (1) a Scout flat-out fainted at the morning flag salute from dehydration; and (2) my kid flying off his bike at the bottom of a big hill--helmet cracked but kid unharmed.


I realize there are those who are re-spinning this the zelph story but we do in fact have Joseph, in a letter to Emma, in his own handwriting stating the same thing. (Ken Goddfrey's Journal of Mormon History article)

Sam: You said: "Clearly Joseph believed (at the time of Zion's camp, at least) that the Lehites occupied all of N. and S. America. Assuming that is wrong, does that make the BofM wrong? No, it makes Joseph's opinion wrong."

No, that would make Joseph the type of person who was willing to make up stories and pass them as revelations. These weren’t assumptions on Joseph's part. They were visions. (From his own words) These accounts are similar from several different people including Joseph. I respectfully have to disagree with any article or person that says otherwise.

To be honest. I'm not sure I'm talking with someone who has read the Book of Mormon recently... or even popular Church history. (let alone critical church history) More likely just Apologetics. Which is a lot like getting information from correlated church manuals.

Good luck peddling this stuff, my guess is that history will not be kind.


Here's the actual Joseph Smith letter, written in his hand to Emma the day after the Zelph vision.

“The whole of our journey, in the midst of so large a company of social honest and sincere men, wandering over the plains of the Nephites, recounting occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon, roving over the mounds of that once beloved people of the Lord, picking up their skulls & their bones, as a proof of its divine authenticity, and gazing upon a country the fertility, the splendour and the goodness so indescribable, all serves to pass away time unnoticed.”

This with the other six accounts seem to make a good case that Joseph had the Zelph revelation. Wilford Woodruff later felt strongly that this was a revelation. I'm not sure we can build confidence in others that our leaders are Prophets of God if they are so often and easily duped.

I like the part where he talks about recounting Occasionally the history of the Book of Mormon. That statement should address Clark’s theory. He clearly felt intimate with Book of Mormon history.


Tom, the question isn't what Joseph believed but what he knew. For instance I know many people who, wandering around mesoAmerica, might say the same thing. The question is the source of the belief.

With respect to Zelph, Joseph's own account doesn't mention Zelph nor the vision. Other accounts mention Zelph, but limit the information a great deal more. Further you've not yet addressed the fundamental problem of why we should assume Joseph must not interpret his own revelations.

I feel I've received personal revelation. Yet I also recognize most of my beliefs regarding such communication are interpretive. Sometimes my interpretations - especially over time - are vastly incorrect. The problem you assume is that "recounting history" entails that it all be fact from revelation and not interpretation. You've not made a compelling argument for that in the least.


Just so I understand. Are you implying that because Joseph Smith didn't write the word Zelph in his letter to Emma that it is likely that he did not actually have a "vision" about Zelph like the other accounts talk about.? Considering "all" the other testimonies from credible whitnesses in cluding later prophets of the church. Would this not have a negative carry over to the "witness to the gold plates" issue? The parallel is interesting. Respectfully, I really think your on the verge of opening a bigger pandora's box. This really is a mass of confusion.

I'm saying that Joseph's comments are so broad and vague that we can't separate out what came via vision. I'm certainly *not* saying he didn't have a vision. Merely that the letter isn't helpful in distinguishing the content of the vision from the unique content of interpretation.

The more useful accounts of the vision aren't Joseph's but people like Wilford Woodruff. Woodruff in particular adds a lot of qualifiers in his account. Why would he do this if this was such a clear and straightforward account, as you suggest?

I don't see the problem with the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. My understanding is that all agreed to the accounts they signed. I certainly do agree that interpretations given years after the fact are most likely more colored by interpretation. But that is simply true of all witness accounts of any event.

There has been talk that Joseph Smith knew nothing in relation to what he wrote when he wrote it, and that it is just a coincodence that native american ruins were found in South America.

There is no official map of the Book of Mormon, and the ruins found in South America do not represent the same people who spoke/wrote with Reformed Egyptian.

The reason that the LDS church can't pin-point any of the locations where the Book of Mormon took place, but the Bible places are completely mapped out, is because Jews didn't sail over to this continent 3000 years ago.
I think Simon Southerton has done a great job in his books and articles to show that the DNA evidence found in Native Americans does not point to Jews in any way, but to the Mongolians that came to the Americas by crossing the Barren Straight.

For example in Ether 15:2 (Book of Mormon) says "there had been slain 2 million of his mighty men, *and also their wives and children". This makes the population of the Jeridites between 4-6 million people. Joseph Smith himself declared that "Jared (another Biblical character from Jewish lineage) and his brother came on to this continent from the confusion and the scattering at the Tower, and lived here (the Americas) more then a thousand years, and covered the whole continent from sea to sea, with towns and cities. (Teachings of the prophet Joseph Smith, p.267)

If these people had such a massive culture, would n't these peoplehave left some kind of distinct mark on the land that shows evidence of their existance?
You would think that with such educated and advanced people, that we would find their writings all over the land.

Or, for that battle, you would think that of the 2 million Jeredites, that there would possible be atleast 1 sword left behind? Possible a helmet, a breast plate?

There is nothing.

Altough the city of Jerico, said to be the oldest city in the world, which is around 6-7 thousdand years old has been found. Which predates ANY of the people in the book of Mormon.
(reference: www.bibleplaces.com)

On the subject of "Reformed Egyptian".

Why would Jews use the language that was used by their enemies, the Egyptians, who put them into bondage?

Wouldn't it make more sense for these Jews to use their sacred language that God gave them, to write the Book of Mormon with instead of Egyptian?

Interesting comments, Ryan, although I'm fairly sure Southerton would be surprised to find himself characterized as saying, "The Jaredites came from Mongolia." Of course, it's hard to state precisely what Southerton is saying because the book isn't out yet. The publisher's site says it will be released in August 2004.

Ryan: The apologist line is Reformed Egyptian (whatever that is, it's not a publicly known language, despite Nibley's conjecture it is some form of Demotic or abbreviated, written Egyptian) is more compact, thus good for etching into metallic plates, whereas Hebrew would be too voluminous. However, to my admittedly untrained eye the characters on the Martin Harris fragment do not appear particularly compact. Nor do they look particularly Egyptian.

As I recall the historical discussions I have read, when Joseph developed the Book of Abraham in 1842 using papyrus scrolls with real Egyptian characters, the notes of his translation suggest he would write a whole sentence or verse as a "translation" of just one character. If this was the technique he used with the Book of Mormon, it's obvious why he viewed Reformed Egyptian as more compact than written Hebrew.

Simon has wrote a lot of material, and has been interviewed a few times because of his findings.

Being that Simon Southerton, not only is a leading authority in Microbiology and DNA research, but a former LDS bishop and missionary, his views are less then biased toward an opposing belief system as opposed to other scholars.

So I have a link for you to review and see Simon Southerton's comments about his research. It is an AVI, so you can see the interview as it took place.


As for the Reformed Egyptian. I still find it hard to believe that these Jews would write in the language of their oppressors. It would be a rare occassion.
The only thing that I can imagine would justify having to use Egyptian to "compact" their writtings, is if they were running out of metals or time.

It is my understanding that they had plenty of time to write the records, and that gold was in abundance according to the Book of Mormon and commentary by Joseph Smith Jr.

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