Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Book of Mormon 8/18

In the introduction to the BOM, it says that of the three groups written of in the BOM--the Jaredites, the Nephites, and the Lamanites--all were destroyed except for the Lamanites, and the Lamanites "are the principle ancestors of the American Indians."

DNA tests have confirmed that Native Americans came to the Americas from Asia, not the middle east. Mormons are well aware of this. The explanation I've heard most often is that there were other natives here when Lehi's people migrated to America from Jerusalem, and that Lehi's people made up a small percentage of the population of north and south America. Essentially, they are arguing that the Lamanites are not the principle ancestors of the American Indians, and that's why they haven't shown up in DNA tests. These DNA tests have been done extensively in both North and South America, and there have been no traces of any native Americans of Jewish descent.

The BOM itself seems to support the notion that the Lamanites are the principle ancestors of the native Americans. Shortly after Lehi's people got to America, Lehi made a speech in which he said:
And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance. Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. (2 Nephi 1:8-9)
The BOM doesn't mention any civilizations that were already in America that didn't come from Jerusalem, and I get the impression from this passage that there were no natives in the land. They must've spread pretty wide, too, because they built cities, had large populations, and waged massive wars. The "promised land" had to have been pretty big.

In Alma 22, it talks a little bit about the geography of some of the land. In verse 31-32, it mentions two areas of land that share a boarder--Desolation to the north and Bountiful to the south. There is a sea on the east and west of these lands, and it takes a day and a half to walk from the east sea to the west sea along the boarder between Desolation and Bountiful. It goes on to say, "and thus the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." That sounded to me like a good description of central America. That's the only place where one can walk a day and a half to get from the east sea to the west sea.

But then later we find both the Lamanites and the Nephites in the land of Cumorah, by a hill called Cumorah. That's where the final battle between the Lamanites and the Nephites took place, and according to the official LDS website, the hill Cumorah is in New York. It's where the prophet Moroni hid the gold plates, and that's where Joseph Smith found them. Surely, the Nephites and Lamanites were spread more widely than Mormon apologists seem to think.
And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich because of their prosperity in Christ. (4 Nephi 1:23)

And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south, to the sea north, from the sea west, to the sea east. (Helaman 3:8)
The Lamanites eventually wiped out the Nephites. In Mormon 6:12-15, it says 220,000 Nephites were killed. But this slaughter was merely the last of a long series of battles in which massive numbers of Nephites were killed. And if there were that many Nephites, think how many Lamanites there must've been! In Mormon 5:6, it says the Lamanites were beating the Nephites because the Lamanites were so great in number. Surely, they outnumbered the Nephites. I think it is unlikely that such large numbers of people would be confined to an insignificant area of land.

Toward the end of the BOM, after the Nephites had all been wiped out except for maybe five people, it says, "And now, behold, I say no more concerning them, for there are none save it be the Lamanites and robbers that do exist upon the face of the land" (Mormon 8:9). The Lamanites are descendents of Lehi, who was a Jew who migrated from Jerusalem in 598 BCE.

There is one more piece of evidence that I think indicates the BOM intends to make the Lamanites out to be the principle ancestors of the native Americans. There are two prophecies concerning the Gentiles' interaction with the descendents of the Lamanites.
Nevertheless, thou beholdest that the Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance; wherefore, thou seest that the Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren. Neither will he suffer that the Gentiles shall destroy the seed of thy brethren. (1 Nephi 13:30-31)

And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed--And at that day shall the remnant of our seed know that they are of the house of Israel, and that they are the covenant people of the Lord; and then shall they know and come to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also to the knowledge of the gospel of their Redeemer, which was ministered unto their fathers by him; wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved. (1 Nephi 15:13-14)
These two prophecies seem to be about Europeans coming over to America. They did not "utterly destroy" the native Americans, but they did kill a bunch of them. The native Americans did "dwindle in unbelief," assuming they ever believed in the first place. The "fulness of the gospel" came to the gentiles by way of Joseph Smith restoring the church of Christ. From there, the gospel ought to reach the native Americans. So the BOM presumes that the descendents of the Lamanites are still around, and that they will convert to Mormonism. They must be among the native Americans. That seems to be the assumption of these "prophecies."

Part 9


At 6/21/2009 10:30 AM , Blogger Seth R. said...

Umm... you are aware that the LDS Church changed the language from "principle ancestors" to "among the ancestors..." right?

And the language in the Book of Mormon always has to be viewed as the limited perspective of a man of the time period. When Moroni says "spread upon the whole face of the earth" what makes you think he was even aware of the full scope of the American continents?

At 6/21/2009 11:45 AM , Blogger Sam said...

No, I wasn't aware of the change. My copy of the BOM still says, "principle ancestors."

So your answer is that Moroni didn't know what he was talking about?

At 6/21/2009 12:38 PM , Blogger Seth R. said...

Did Moroni write that particular passage?

Or was it a committee within the modern LDS Church?

At 6/21/2009 12:52 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Sorry for the confusion, Seth. When I said, "So your answer is that Moroni didn't know what he was talking about?" I wasn't referring to the BOM intro, which says the native Americans are the principle ancestors of the Lamanites. I was referring to when you said:

And the language in the Book of Mormon always has to be viewed as the limited perspective of a man of the time period. When Moroni says "spread upon the whole face of the earth" what makes you think he was even aware of the full scope of the American continents?

It sounds like you're saying Moroni didn't know what he was talking about.

At 6/21/2009 4:33 PM , Blogger Seth R. said...

Well, that depends.

Does his statement "face of the whole land" have to mean the entire continent?

Why couldn't it just refer to the "land" with which he was familiar? Ancient people often referred to the limited location they found themselves in as "the whole land."

To them, it was the whole land.

At 6/21/2009 7:57 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Seth, I think that is perfectly reasonable. "The whole land" isn't very specific unless it specifies what the boundaries of "the land" are. But what do you think about the description of "the whole earth" in Helaman 3:8 where the boundaries appear to be the sea on the north, east, south, and west? That appears to me to be a description of a whole continent, or at least an island.

At 6/21/2009 10:17 PM , Blogger Seth R. said...

Well, there are a lot of interesting theories floating around out there. And mind you, that's all they are - theories. The LDS Church refuses to specifically endorse one geographic model over another.

The starting point for deciphering Book of Mormon geography (assuming you don't think it's all made up to begin with) is usually the "war chapters" in the Book of Alma. Mainly because it specifies a river (Sidon) that flows from south to north. Very few rivers in the Western Hemisphere qualify.

The main reason the Book of Alma is so important is because the author outlines military maneuvers, including march times of the various armies moving from city to city. Using these march times and calculating how fast a mass of foot soldiers can move per day, we can approximate how big the "Land of Zarahemla" was.

These march times yield a geography not much larger than modern day Guatemala.

The most popular Mormon scholarly model for Book of Mormon geography today places the events in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. There's a river there that runs north to the Gulf of Mexico. Since the peninsula juts north into the Gulf of Mexico, the land has sea on east, west, north, and south.

The weakness of this model is the "narrow neck of land" that the account mentions several times. From the Yucatan, Mexico does actually narrow before widening out again into the rest of Mexico. So that could be the "neck" that is spoken of. Problem is, it is more to the west than to the north. But it is sort of to the north (kind of). So maybe that's good enough for the general imprecision of ancient writings that is so common.

One of the advantages in putting the geography in the Yucatan is that this is the location of known Olmec, Aztec and Mayan civilizations that seem to approximate the civilizations spoken of in the Book of Mormon quite well (namely the Olmecs and Mayans - Aztecs were historically too late). Stone buildings and temples, fortified cities, cement roads, large battles. It's all there, in addition to some other cultural parallels and such that you can view as entirely coincidental or not - as you choose.

These scholars typically posit that Moroni fled and traveled thousands of miles by foot alone to upstate New York where he hid the plates. Which one guy actually could do over the course of a few years.

That's the most popular theory anyway.

A rival theory puts the events in upstate New York. Some Mormon scholars point out that Joseph Smith himself made several personal statements about the land he was traveling with his companions being "Nephite" or "Lamanite." The mesoamerican model simply responds that Joseph got this bit wrong and perhaps got a bit carried away.

This isn't satisfactory to some Mormon scholars, and they assert that Joseph had it exactly right. The Book of Mormon did take place in North America - in Joseph's own neighborhood. They still hold a limited geography - based on the Alma war chapters. But they place it in the Finger Lakes region (thus satisfying the requirement of sea on East and West. There's also a river running north into the Great Lakes which they designate as the Sidon.

You can find a good explanation at this website:

It should be pointed out that there are actually remnants of large Native American societies in the north-eastern United States. Ohio has large earthwork defenses and such. But there certainly isn't the wealth of ancient cities and structures that Meso-America offers.

Another off the wall theory puts the area in Malaysia, of all places. I find this one hard to square with what we know, but...

Anyway, I don't pretend this stuff is convincing to any but those who believe in the Book of Mormon for other reasons. I just point it all out to say that it's not impossible to square the geography with the book.

At 6/26/2009 5:51 PM , Blogger Angela said...

Just to add to the reason for the change to the introductory note in the BOM. It was written by McConkie mid-20th century, based on his supposition about the Lamanites. Early Mormons frequently assumed all Native Americans and Polynesians were related to or descendent from Lamanites (although this is never stated explicitly in the BOM) mostly based on guesswork and groupthink.

At 9/10/2009 1:43 PM , Blogger tlferney said...

I'm not sure how I found your blog, but I've been reading your comments on the Book of Mormon. As you can tell....I've made it to section 8/18.

I've often wondered wy so much emphasis is place upon the Book of Mormon as being a historical account. Through out the book the authors mention that they have only written 1/100th of the records, and from there it has also been abridged. The purpose of the book is to testify of Christ. The manner in which it does this is truly unique in comparison with the bible. Both books witness of Christ, but each seems to approach it from a different perspective. The book of Mormon seems to be from a very personal level. The authors often write down their emotions and pleadings with the Lord. The bible on the other hand seems to be summary account of God's dealings with the Jews.

At 9/10/2009 4:34 PM , Blogger Sam said...

I've often wondered wy so much emphasis is place upon the Book of Mormon as being a historical account.

It's because the historicity of the BOM is relevant to the credibility of Joseph Smith, and the credibility of Joseph Smith is relevant to the credibility of the LDS Church.

At 9/10/2009 4:38 PM , Blogger Seth R. said...

That doesn't exactly answer tiferney's point.

At 9/10/2009 4:51 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Maybe I'm missing his point then. Nothing he explained is relevant to the reason I had for placing so much emphasis on the historicity of the BOM. He wondered why I had placed so much emphasis on its historicity, and I told him.

At 9/10/2009 5:00 PM , Blogger Seth R. said...

He was making the point that detailed verifiable history was not the main point of the book in the first place.

But I guess you have a point too.

At 9/10/2009 5:07 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Oh, well I don't have a problem with that point. I wouldn't expect the BOM to give an exhaustive 1000 year history considering how short it is.

At 10/26/2011 3:41 PM , Blogger Tyson said...

lol...I wish I would have followed up on this topic. I never new Sam answered my question. Sorry for the confusion....after 2 years.

At 10/26/2011 4:10 PM , Blogger Sam said...

What question did I answer? I didn't see any of your previous posts in these comments.


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