Book of Mormon/Lamanites/Referenced in the Doctrine and Covenants
The American Indians in North America as Lamanites
Question: Does the fact that the Doctrine and Covenants refers to North American Indians as "Lamanites" contradict the theory that the Book of Mormon events took place in Mesoamerica?
By the time the Doctrine and Covenants was written, Lehi's descendants had ample time to migrate to the north and intermarry
The Doctrine and Covenants refers to North American Indians as "Lamanites":
Yea, and this was their faith—that my gospel, which I gave unto them that they might preach in their days, might come unto their brethren the Lamanites, and also all that had become Lamanites because of their dissensions. (DC 10:48)
And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites. (DC 54:8)
Since in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord refers to American Indians in North America as "Lamanites" (e.g., DC 28:8-9,14, DC 30:6, DC 32:2, DC 54:8), does this cause problems for the Limited Geography Theory (LGT) or issues of Amerindian genetic data?
By the time the Doctrine and Covenants was written, Lehi's descendants had ample time to migrate and intermarry with the large number of "natives" postulated by the LGT. Such descendants are "Lamanites" in at least three senses:
- all shared descent from Lehi, to some degree.
- none embraced Nephite kingship or their doctrine of Christ, making them "Lamanites" politically.
- all were eligible for the covenant blessings promised to Lehi's descendants, if they would repent.
Joseph Smith was inspired by the Lord to use the term "Lamanite"
Joseph's use of the term "Lamanite" to describe all native American inhabitants, including those in Missouri, was inspired by the Lord. Joseph, and many Latter-day prophets since, have described the native inhabitants of the North and South American continents as Lamanites. So, how do these statements made by living prophets align with the possibility that the Book of Mormon occurred within a limited geographical region? We examine this in the following sections.
The Book of Mormon defines "Lamanites" as those that were not Nephites
The LGT is not a doctrine of the Church and there is no necessity to accept it as the only interpretation of the Book of Mormon text. Those who accept the LGT view it as the only theory that is consistent with the geographic descriptions and distances found in the Book of Mormon. The truth of the Book of Mormon does not depend, however, on proving or supporting the LGT.
The LGT assumes that a small number of Lehites were introduced into a larger "sea" of native peoples, most of whom were of presumably of Asiatic origin. Critics mistake the use of the term "Lamanite" as requiring descent from Lehi through his son, Laman. But, from very early in the Book of Mormon record, it is clear that the term "Lamanite" does not refer to descent, but to political and religious affiliation:
...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. (Jacob 1:14)
So, any person who wasn't a Nephite was, by exclusion, a Lamanite. Lamanites were not confined in any geographic sense at all.
The Lamanites occupied a region far greater than the limited geography described in the Book of Mormon
The LGT holds that the story of the Book of Mormon and the peoples with which it is concerned were confined to a narrow region, since this is all the area with which the authors of the Book of Mormon were directly concerned. Yet the Book of Mormon has several references that suggest a knowledge of and interaction with a much greater geographical area. The story of Hagoth (Alma 63:4-9) speaks not only of the shipbuilder and his movements northward (out of the general area referred to in the Book of Mormon) but also others that migrated to the north. In Helaman 3 we find other references to people migrating to the north:
And it came to pass in the forty and sixth [year], yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land. And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers. Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land. (Helaman 3:3-5)
The migration was out of the general area of the Book of Mormon story and is referred to as "an exceedingly great distance." This gives opportunity for Lamanites and Nephites to be found in all parts of the western hemisphere. There is no reason not to believe that similar migrations could have occurred to the south. Migrations to both the north and to the south were possibly more common than is recorded in the text.
The native Americans in the region where Joseph lived were Lamanites
Some people who first hear about the LGT wonder if this theory means that most modern native Americans are not actually descended from Laman. But the LGT does not imply this at all. Even under the LGT it is likely that every single native American in the hemisphere was a descendant of Laman by Joseph Smith's day. This would have been true even if Laman's direct descendants inhabited only a small area somewhere in the Americas in A.D. 400.
This doesn't mean that modern native Americans get the majority of their DNA from Laman or even that some genetic marker from Laman could be detected anywhere in the Americas. The LGT predicts that essentially every native American would be a literal descendant of Laman to some degree and yet all native Americans would have predominantly Asian DNA markers.
The nature of quotations found in the Doctrine & Covenants: Joseph clearly did not consider them word-for-word quotations from God
Many readers assume that revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants in which Joseph Smith speaks in God's voice to be direct word-for-word quotations from God. The recently published second volume of the Joseph Smith Papers REVELATION BOOK 1 (April 1829-B [D&C 8]), released by the Church's official Church History Press, provides greater insight into the process by which the revelations in the D&C arrived in their present form. The Church notes revisions in the revelations from their earliest form. A good example of this is the revelation concerning Oliver Cowdery's "gift"—this revelation was edited by Oliver Cowdery, William W. Phelps, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, John Whitmer, and one other unidentified editor. The Church has identified which specific edits each of these individuals made to the original revelation which eventually became D&C Section 8.
Joseph didn't claim to be hearing a voice or that he was simply taking dictation. Rather, impressions would come to him, which he would put into words. Joseph clearly did not consider them word-for-word quotations from God, since he, and others, felt comfortable revising them prior to publication.
The use of the term "Lamanites" to describe the American Indians was Joseph's word choice based upon inspiration. The few personal statements he made on Book of Mormon geography indicate that he believed it took place on a hemispheric scale, so it would follow that he believed that all Native Americans were pure descendants of Laman, and hence were literal "Lamanites." Even so, as noted in the preceding section, all of the inhabitants of the North and South American continents are considered to be Lamanites, and can likely count Lehi among their ancestry.
For a detailed response, see: Doctrine and Covenants—Direct quotation from God and Doctrine and Covenants—Textual changes prior to publication