Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

DNA and the Book of Mormon

Robert Pollack, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion at Columbia University, published an interesting article, "The Fallacy of Biological Judaism," in the respected Jewish periodical, The Forward. Dr. Pollack makes a point that needs to be considered by those clamoring about the supposed lakc of Jewish DNA among Native Americans:

Unlike asking "Are Jews a family?", as historians have traditionally done, geneticists seeking to advise Ashkenazic families are also, in passing, asking, "Do Jews all share the same versions of one or more genes?" -- a question with a testable, precise answer. As no two people except pairs of identical twins have exactly the same version of the human genomic text, this claim could be confirmed or rejected by a search for versions of the human genome shared by all Jews and no other people.


Given the historical context of the Nazi "experiment," it is all the more remarkable that Jews all over the world have been flocking to the new technology of DNA-based diagnosis, eager to lend their individual genomes -- each a surviving data point from the terrible experiment in negative selection -- to a revisiting of this issue of biological Judaism.


At a recent meeting of the Association of Orthodox Jewish scientists and the Columbia Center for the Study of Science and Religion, it became clear that Jewish curiosity has provided sufficient genetic material to give a perfectly clear negative answer: There is no support in the genomes of today's Jews for the calumnious and calamitous model of biological Judaism. Though there are many deleterious versions of genes shared within the Ashkenazic community, there are no DNA sequences common to all Jews and absent from all non-Jews. There is nothing in the human genome that makes or diagnoses a person as a Jew.

If there is no clear DNA marker that makes one a Jew in this century, what DNA markers should we expect Lehi and Nephi to have brought to the New World?


The issue of DNA and the Book of Mormon involves quite a number of interesting issues. One useful new resource in this area is "DNA and the Book of Mormon" by David Stewart, M.D. at Limhi.com. I have also written an extensive article on the topic, with many references that you can check yourself. My article is "Does DNA Evidence Refute the Book of Mormon?" I was pleased when LDS.org chose to place a PDF version of my DNA article on their Website in their newsroom section, along with some articles from FARMS.


Also see the lastest FARMS Review of Books at farms.byu.edu for further information.

20 comments:

cayblood said...

A fascinating book regarding Jewish origins is Arthur Koestler's THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE, in which he traces the history of the Khazars, an ethnic group who converted to Judaism during the time of Charlemagne and are, according to Koestler, the ancestors of the German Jews of our day who were persecuted by Nazi Germany. Koestler goes on further to demonstrate that after a long-term diaspora many original Jews (members of the tribe of Judah) may have ended up in Germany, thus making the atrocities of Nazi Germany a case of ethnic Jews (Germans) persecuting non-ethnic converts to Judaism.

Definitely an interesting idea, though I confess that I have not read the whole book yet and much of what I know about it is second-hand.

Daniel Carlson said...

Hi jeff. I finished reading your very, very, very long DNA essay (did I mention it was long?) Many have attacked it (e.g. Latterday Lampoon)but personally, I have also read Murphy's essay in "American Apocrypha" and believe your conclusions to be accurate. However, I do have a few minor questions pertaining to Lamanite identity and "others"

· 2nd Nephi 1 and the presence of “others”: Because of the references to commandment keeping and how the ONLY ONES on the land were brought by the Hand of the Lord and from “The Land of Jerusalem”, etc, it seems like only the Nephites, Jaredites and perhaps "Mulekites" (i.e. people of Zarahemla) are meant, not the Mesoamerican natives. If they were, and as they clearly were not followers of the one true God (they were not montheists, etc) the land would have been “over-run” by “Other nations” due to not keeping this and other commandments.
· If the "Lamanites" (i.e. the Amerindians) are not Jewish, what about D&C 57 verse 4?
How come the Book of Mormon specifically mentions the People of Zarahemla (the “Mulekites”) while it remains silent on the Mesoamerican Natives?

Good luck with the site!

nathanielmacrae said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

If you use logic, and are not biased it is another one of the thousands of reasons to conclude that Mormonism is bogus.

pwhyrumut said...

HI,
I just found your site and it is very interesting. I watched a program on the Dead Sea Scrolls on BYU this morning, and there are scholars from BYU using mitonchondrial DNA testing to put together the fragmented peices of the scrolls (that are on animal hide) in order to render a more proper translation of the text on them. I find it interesting that when President Hinkley was asked about DNA testing (testing that said Jewish DNA was not found in the early inhabitants) that had come out prior to the Olympic games in an interview with a German journalist, he said that DNA testing was not true - that it was highly scientific and we can't put any stock in it. Why would BYU use this type of testing if not acceptable to the Prophet, and on the program they said that it was the most accurate form of testing. Was President Hinkley wrong??? Plus, what are they trying to prove by looking to the Dead Sea Scrolls? Don't most of the Church's doctrines come from texts written later than those anyway?
Thanks!
Renee'

Anonymous said...

I'm relieved to have found your site. I'm really glad you do this! I just saw a video of some NY comedian who's on CNN, I think, saying that DNA issue proves Mormons incorrect etc.

But look, I could only glance over that very long DNA article.

But aren't people missing the main point regarding race and genealogy? Couldn't we be miss-reading the main point made in the Book of Mormon? That is that the Jewish DNA carrying people (Nephites) where all killed off and those who where left, Lamanites, who changed their race -hence changed their DNA- because, according to the Book of Mormon, God changed their race into something else and became a different race from the Jewish/ Mediterranean race?

If this is the case (if one accepts the Book of Mormon to be true off course) one would expect different DNA to be found in Native Americans than what is found today in Jewish/ Mediterranean race? Simply because God changed the Lamanites DNA (race/colour) into something else (due to sin, etc)

Maybe the explanation which pro-Mormons should be using would be almost the same as what is given to explain why there are different races dating back to the Old Testament and tower of Babel and blacks in Africa and on and on... even though we are all descendants of Adam & Eve?

I'm no expert in this, so please consider this as my opinion only and not an experts opinion. I'd welcome criticism on this to exchange opinions.

Carlos C

Anonymous said...

When Lehites, Jaredites and Mulikites arrived in the Americas they
> > were met by the Maya or other indigenous people. They quickly were
> > adsorbed into the indigenous population and became unrecognizable
> > from the local population with in a few years. Again they were sent
> > here to preach the gospel and set up God's kingdom not dominate the
> > area or leave behind DNA or archeological proof that they were here.
> > It would have be easy for God to have Lehi or others people to build
> > markers all over the land and then have a clear map in the BofM to
> > guide modern day scientists to them for discovery.
> > When Lehi arrived in Mesoamerica they were quickly absorbed into the
> > indigenous population. Laban and Lemuel may have been from another
> > mother. Even another mother and father of African/Asian decent.
> > Nephi, Sam, and Joseph were a mix of Jewish/Asian decent. The rest
> > of the group were a mix of Jew/Asian decent. When Laban and Lemuel
> > split off from the others this could account for the dark skin as
> > well as the lack of Jewish DNA problems. This could also account for
> > the bad feelings between the brothers. Some not being allow to have
> > the priesthood, leadership roles and coming from two different parents.
> > They were lost into the Mayan population within two generations. If
> > Laman and Lemuel came from another mother even another mother and
> > father of African/Asian decent and the Jardites came from
> > African/Asian decent this to would account for the Olmec stone heads
> > appearing to look African/Asian but no longer appear to be found in
> > the Mayan population of today. (Books on Africans and the Olmec are
> > on the internet.) Again the African influence could have remained in
> > the kings role and the Asian influence could have been the priestly role.
> > The African influence was killed off in wars described in the BofM
> > about the Jardites and the priestly Asian people were absorbed into
> > the Mayan people that were here when they arrived.
> > Nephi's group were lost into the Mayan population within 3 to 4
> > generations or may have been segregated by being in leadership,
> > royalty and hierarchal standing in society an intermarrying within
> > their own tight group. This would keep the Jewish DNA in a very
> > small group until it died off or was killed off. Many marriages were
> > arranged with other royalty for political reasons in the Mayan
> > culture. Such relationships would keep it a tight knit group at the
> > top. Within one generation the term Nephite and Laminite became a
> > cultural or political term not a racial term. As the BofM states the
> > Nephites which are now families of heads of state were the target of
> > assassination and hunted to extinction. Also the Mayan history
> > follow this same pattern of arranged marriages and killing of the
> > kings families and leaders of city states. Capture the king and his
> > family then kill them. Then set up your own king and his family.
> > The BofM record was kept by a small select secret priestly group (of
> > Mayans) that were rigorously trained in middle eastern language,
> > culture, history, thought and were directed to follow strict rules
> > to record and compile the BofM scriptures in middle eastern thought.
> > They lived the rest of their lives as Mayans but recorded in the
> > middle eastern traditions. Some of the middle eastern culture may
> > have made it into the Mayan culture but would be hard to detect
> > today. I think we should not look for a Jewish Nephite but, 99%
> > Mayan and maybe 1% middle eastern influence. This is the only way I
> > am able to justify many of the problems that the BofM has with us
> > trying to place the middle eastern culture in Mesoamerica. If a
> > Mayan historian of the BofM time was ask to record it's history with
> > no middle eastern training, the book would read very Mayan in style.
> > (One example is the story that a group of Central American people
> > migrated to Mesoamerica inside or on the back of 8 turtles. Not very
> > helpful to people seeking the truth of the gospel but might be fully
> > understood by a Mayan historian of their time. The 8 turtles were
> > the Jardites ships.) The reason for such strict middle eastern
> > record keeping was to keep it encoded so no one could tamper with
> > the scriptures and it would have the same feel and spirit as the
> > Bible. Many cultures down through time have recorded scriptures or
> > other important documents in code to keep others from knowing the
> > contents and to keep other people from altering them. Also the high
> > priests were the only one with access to the scriptures and secret
> > writings. The common people most likely could not read or write or
> > have scriptures. All the above are just my personal thoughts on
> > these subjects but would follow a pattern of many cultures.

joshsybs said...

I find the notion of science proving any religion true of false rather ridiculous.

I was surprised to read the DNA findings in the LA Times a year and a half ago and have studied them much after that point.

Ironically, those pushing the "evidence" seem to be other Christian religions, not scientific groups. The irony is this: they seem to be twisting the content to make it fit their anti-mormon stance, oblivious to how their theories also would disprove the bible if their manipulated science was in fact true. I find it odd that the envy of the Book of Mormon runs so deep in these groups, that they would discredit the bible in order to attack the Book of Mormon.

I have a degree in science, and do many investigative experiments. However you just choose a method applicable to the experiment. The Book of Mormon is very specific in what it is and what it isn't. It is not a history, or an atlas; those items seem to corroborate the story, but will never prove it. Rather it's a record of religion with ample instruction on how to find proof from God Himself. It's foolish to dismiss the invitation to find out in the manner suggested, and focus on the manner stemming from content specifically excluded from the Book of Mormon.

The absence of evidence can't be used as evidence of somethings absence. How vain and foolish it is for someone to say that something like he Book of Mormon has been proven to never exist. Something that has never existed, by definition, can never produce evidence that it hasn't existed.

I believe that there are logical explanations for the histories and even the DNA research in the Book of Mormon. I also believe that there were other civilizations in the land and that this civilization didn't exist in a bubble (google "did lehi find others" for an excellent article on it). Suggesting that the DNA was changed when the Lamanites pigment was changed is suggesting that there were no others (skin-tone change happens every time someone marries another race); and giving credence to a faulty DNA study in the first place.

If science eliminates the need for faith, then what good would religion be as it would eliminate itself.

Bill Thompson said...

Isn't the DNA of Native Americans from the people of North West Asia? If so, it would not matter if there is no jewish DNA

mike said...

the introduction to the book of mormon, which i assume is considered part of the book says the lamanites are the 'principal' ancestors of the american indians. we can say it is not in the translated portion of the book but this is part of what is put forward as 'official' standard work. i would love clarification here

Bill Thompson said...

Does anyone consider it racist that (according to Mormonism) the bad Native Americans were cursed with darker skin?

Bill Thompson said...

The introduction to the book of mormon says the lamanites are the 'principal' ancestors of the american indians. It does not matter if it is not in the translated text. Joe Smith would not lie, would he?

Mormanity said...

That statement came from Bruce R. McConkie, as far as we know, and is not scripture but reflects his understanding of scripture. It's been corrected to "among the principal ancestors," a more accurate reflection of the text itself.

Bill Thompson said...

Are you saying Bruce R. McConkie wrote that intro to the Book of Mormon?

Bill Thompson said...

"among the principal ancestors" is wrong too ... unless you want to resort to thnking that the people of the Mormon story came from Asia or if you use magic.

A simpler answer is this. Earlier Americans were in a crisis and needed an explaination for the origins of peoples that were not accounted for in traditional biblical stories. Smith saw the opportunity and provided an answer.

This is a simpler explaination and easier to believe.

Bill Thompson said...

I have heard that there is also a passage in the Book of Mormon that says that when the people in the Mormon story came to the Americas it was not inhabited.

Anonymous said...

I think the DNA match sought is not "Jewish DNA" but Middle Eastern biological heritage...and that seems to be the issue at hand...

Walrus said...

"the introduction to the book of mormon, which i assume is considered part of the book says the lamanites are the 'principal' ancestors of the american indians. we can say it is not in the translated portion of the book but this is part of what is put forward as 'official' standard work. i would love clarification here"

Jacob 1:13-14
13 Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.

Other authors have concluded that the dark skin that became the mark of the Lamanites is attributed to a mixing with an native 'heathen' population that where already there..for though God blessed the Nephites and they prospered and became numerous, the Lamanites always out numbered them many times over. A small white group intermixing with a large non-white will eventually be swallowed up.
That established, Lamanites (who are considered to be anyone who isn't a Nephite) ARE the principal descendants of our current Native Americans. I think the issue has been scrutinized beyond the definition that the BoM itself gives to Lamanites...as that given by Jacob, abridged by Mormon. Mormon, in rewritting Jacob's words, probably saw them suitable enough to not feel the need to repeat or elaborate on the topic further.
But taking it literally, those who were considered Lamanites. At the latest point in the history of the Nephites they count around 230,000 terrified at the numbers of the Lamanites..how many would there have need been there to cause such great fear in 230 thousand people? 2:1 is pretty whoa, but I think its more...but say 460,000 Lamanite men fighting, with their woman and children, and old ones at home. 1 maybe 2 million? Probably more..and you wouldn't consider that population a principal ancestor..count in the many groups who just got up and left, because there was no room. Where did they go? North and South...becoming a principal ancestral contributer to the entire hemisphere.
(Before you dismiss the large population idea due to lack of food, look up Terra Preta http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_preta. The very first accounts of "large civilizations" "thousands upon thousands" are finally being taken seriously.)
That Lamanites are principal ancestors of modern Native Americans stands up to scrutiny.

Walrus said...

Bill Thompson said...
"I have heard that there is also a passage in the Book of Mormon that says that when the people in the Mormon story came to the Americas it was not inhabited.

2:54 PM, February 24, 2010"

Oh yes? It's fair to say that it has been or was assumed empty. We have been commanded to read and study that which God has given us, but some not as carefully. The truth may be that it was never a question that was asked. But whatever the case, the Lamanites population was 1-1.5 million minimally, at the end of the record...and ALLL the mixing and moving that they did..groups going to sea, up north, south...all this centuries BEFORE the last count in that one region in 400AD.

I would love to read this passage..and post it even. Nothing like looking at the actual source to draw our conclusions from! (Instead of shadowy insinuations) Mysterious that you haven't yet..

id said...

Sorry for a post that's unrelated to the discussion going on in the other posts, but a recent article came out that sheds some light on Jewish DNA. I felt like it was relevant to this topic, so here's the link for your enjoyment: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science_and_environment/10276393.stm.

Here are some tidbits from the article, which was titled "Genetic study sheds light on Jewish diaspora":

"Their study, published in Nature, revealed that most Jewish populations were "genetically closer" to each other than to their non-Jewish neighbours."

"It also revealed genetic ties between globally dispersed Jews and non-Jewish populations in the Middle East."

...

"It seems that most Jewish populations and therefore most Jewish individuals are closer to each other [at the genetic level], and closer to the Middle Eastern populations, than to their traditional host population in the diaspora," he explained."

Exceptions to this finding:
"He said that his research revealed that Ethiopian and Indian Jewish communities were genetically closer to their neighbouring non-Jewish populations."

Again, I just felt this may be of interest. My knowledge of the DNA issue with the BoM is next to nothing. I'll come back later after (fully) reading this article and the responses.

Blessings