Fwd: There's no evidence to support Israelite ancestry of American Indians
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Date: Thu, 04 Nov 2004 19:07:12 -0700
From: Gershon Caudill <ecorebbe@...>
Reply-To: Gershon Caudill <ecorebbe@...>
Subject: There's no evidence to support Israelite ancestry of American Indians
To: ECOREBBE <ecorebbe@...>
DNA Research and Mormon Scholars Changing Basic Beliefs
LDS researchers question Mormon tenet that Polynesians and Native Americans
descended from Israelite patriarch Lehi.
By Patty Henetz, Associated Press July 27, SALT LAKE CITY (AP)
Plant geneticist Simon Southerton was a Mormon bishop in Brisbane,
Australia when he woke up the morning of Aug. 3, 1998 to the shattering
conclusion that his knowledge of science made it impossible for him to
believe any longer in the Book of Mormon.
Two years later he started writing "Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans,
DNA and the Mormon Church," published by Signature Books and due in stores
next month. Along the way, he found a world of scholarship that has led him
to conclude The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belief is
changing, but not through prophesy and revelation.
Rather, Southerton sees a behind-the-scenes revolution led by a small group
of Brigham Young University scholars and their critics who are
reinterpreting fundamental teachings of the Book of Mormon in light of DNA
research findings. Along the way, he says, these apologist scholars, with
the apparent blessing of church leadership, are contradicting church
teachings about the origins of American Indians and Polynesians.
"You've got Mormon apologists in their own publications rejecting what
prophets have been saying for decades. This becomes very troubling for
ordinary members of the church," Southerton said.
And while the work of the BYU apologists the term means those who speak or
write in defense of something remains confined largely to intellectual
circles, some church members who have always understood themselves in light
of Mormon teachings about the people known as Lamanites are suffering
"It's very difficult. It is almost traumatizing," said Jose Aloayza, a
Midvale attorney who likened facing this new reality to staring into a
"It's that serious, that real," said Aloayza, a Peruvian native born into
the church and still a member. "I'm almost here feeling I need an apology.
Our prophets should have known better. That's the feeling I get."
Southerton, now a senior researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and
Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, Australia, has concluded along
with many other scientists studying mitochondrial DNA lines that American
Indians and Polynesians are of Asian extraction.
For a century or so, scientists have theorized Asians migrated to the
Americas across a land bridge at least 14,000 years ago. But Mormons have
been taught to believe the Book of Mormon the faith's keystone text is a
literal record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the
Americas who descended from the Israelite patriarch Lehi, who sailed to the
New World around 600 B.C. The book's narrative continues through about 400
The church teaches that Joseph Smith translated this record from gold plates
found on a hillside in upstate New York in 1820, when he was 14. The Book of
Mormon was first published in 1830.
In Mormon theology, Lamanites are understood as both chosen and cursed:
Christ visited them, yet their unrighteousness left them cursed with dark
skin. The Book of Mormon says Lamanites will one day be restored to
greatness through the fullness of the gospel. (The original 1830 version of
the Book of Mormon said they would become "white and delightsome;" in 1981,
the passage was changed to "pure and delightsome.") Though not mentioned
specifically in the Book of Mormon, Polynesians have been taught they are a
branch of the House of Israel descended from Lehi.
Traditionally, Mormons have understood the Book of Mormon to cover all of
the Americas in what is known as the hemispheric model. At a Bolivian temple
dedication in 2000, church prophet and President Gordon B. Hinckley prayed,
"We remember before Thee the sons and daughters of Father Lehi." And in
1982, the church's then-President Spencer Kimball told Samoans, Maori,
Tahitians and Hawaiians that the "Lord calls you Lamanites."
Southerton's book details how these teachings have helped LDS efforts to
convert new members, especially among Indians in Latin America and Maoris in
New Zealand. He also offers primers on Mormon history and American race
relations, quick tutorials on DNA research and syntheses of Mormon-related
genetic research and DNA scholarship.
But in light of BYU scholars' recent opinion that the Book of Mormon's
events could only have occurred in parts of Mexico and Guatemala that is,
Mesoamerica the final third of the book is dedicated to examining the work
of LDS scholars at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies,
or FARMS, established 25 years ago and housed at BYU.
FARMS findings on Mesoamerica are based on the Book of Mormon's "internal
geography," that is, descriptions of how long it took the ancient peoples to
get from one place to another. The apologists now believe the events
occurred only hundreds of miles from each other, not thousands provoking
new questions including how the Americas could have been so rapidly
populated with people speaking so many languages without the presence of
vast numbers of people who never appear in the narrative.
In a telephone interview from his Canberra office, Southerton said that
keeping up with the rapidly growing body of work in genetic research made it
difficult for him to finish the book while also keeping it up-to-date with
critics and apologists and those in between all seeking to reframe the Book
of Mormon in light of DNA research.
In particular, he's tried to keep up with FARMS qrticles, which he said are
"completely at loggerheads with what the church leaders are teaching."
Church spokesman Dale Bills on Thursday said the church teaches only that
the events recorded in the Book of Mormon took place somewhere in the
Americas. The doctrine of the church is established by scripture and by the
senior leadership of the Church, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the
"Faithful Latter-day Saint scholars may provide insight, understanding and
perspective but they do not speak for the church," he said.
On its Web site, under the "Mistakes in the News" heading, the church
declares, "Recent attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon based on DNA
evidence are ill considered. Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes
migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin. The scientific
issues relating to DNA, however, are numerous and complex."
The site then offers Web links to five articles, four of which were
published last year in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, a FARMS
Aloayza believes that is tacit approval of what FARMS is saying.
"There is such a huge divide between what the scholarly elite with the LDS
church knows and will discuss and what the ordinary member knows," Aloayza
said. "The burden of proof is on the people who are advancing the Book of
Mormon as the word of God."
BYU political science professor and FARMS director Noel Reynolds said FARMS
research and writings are not aimed at proving or disproving the Book of
Mormon. "We understand the difficulties of that. We get dragged into these
discussions repeatedly because of books like Southerton's or ordinary
anti-Mormon questions," he said.
The work of FARMS shouldn't be considered counter to church doctrine because
the geography of the Book of Mormon has "never been a matter of official
church pronouncement," Reynolds said.
While believing in a hemispheric model might be considered "naive," he said,
"it's also fair to say that the majority of LDS over a period of time have
accepted a hemispheric view, including church leaders."
Added FARMS founder and BYU law professor John Welch, "We don't speak
officially for the church in any way. These are our opinions, and we hope
Southerton, who no longer is a member of the church, said given the state of
DNA research and increasing lay awareness of it, church leaders ought just
to own up to the problems that continued literal teachings about the Book of
Mormon present for American Indians and Polynesians.
"They should come out and say, 'There's no evidence to support your
Israelite ancestry,' " Southerton said. "I don't have any problem with
anyone believing what's in the Book of Mormon. Just don't make it look like
science is backing it all up."
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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