Book of Mormon/Lamanites/Relationship to Amerindians/Descendants of Lehi
Are all native Americans descendants of Lehi?
If Lehi existed and had any descendants among Amerindians, then after 2600 years all Amerindians would share Lehi as an ancestor. Even if (as is probable) the Lehite group was a small drop in a larger population 'ocean' of pre-Columbian inhabitants, Lehi would have been an ancestor of virtually all the modern-day Amerindians if he has any ancestors at all.
LDS leaders have expressed a variety of opinions regarding whether or not all Amerindians are literal descendants of Lehi. Population genetics indicate that Lehi can likely be counted among the ancestors of all native Americans—a position that the Church reinforced in the 2006 edition by changing the Book of Mormon introduction originally introduced in 1981 from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors." (see Book of Mormon Introduction on lds.org)
Many Church leaders, most notably Spencer W. Kimball, have made clear statements regarding the belief that Lehi was the exclusive ancestor of all native Americans. However, contrary to the claims of critics who attempt to use DNA evidence to discredit the Book of Mormon, many readers and leaders have also noted that those in Lehi's group were not the exclusive progenitors of the inhabitants of the American continents. When asked about the Church’s official position on this matter by a writer, a Church spokesman said:
- As to whether these were the first inhabitants…we don't have a position on that. Our scripture does not try to account for any other people who may have lived in the New World before, during or after the days of the Jaredites and the Nephites, and we don't have any official doctrine about who the descendants of the Nephites and the Jaredites are. Many Mormons believe that American Indians are descendants of the Lamanites [a division of the Nephites], but that's not in the scripture.
In addition, apostles and seventies have made many statements which differ from critics’ understanding of the matter, taught them in General Conference, and the Church has published such perspectives in their magazines, study guides, and manuals. The Church’s university has passed them on to their students for generations. The Church’s official spokespeople disclaim the interpretation which critics insist we must hold. Why must we? Well, because critics’ DNA theory “disproving” the Book of Mormon is in deep trouble otherwise.
The popularity of Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, led many Christians to consider the question of whether (as the novel postulates) Jesus Christ could have sired children and have living descendants today.
Non LDS-writer Steve Olson (an expert in population genetics) wrote:
- If anyone living today is descended from Jesus, so are most of us on the planet. That absurd-sounding statement is an inevitable consequence of the strange and marvelous workings of human ancestry...Say you go back 120 generations, to about the year 1000 B.C. According to the results presented in our Nature paper, your ancestors then included everyone in the world who has descendants living today... If Jesus had children (a big if, of course) and if those children had children so that Jesus' lineage survived, then Jesus is today the ancestor of almost everyone living on Earth. True, Jesus lived two rather than three millenniums ago, but a person's descendants spread quickly from well-connected parts of the world like the Middle East...In addition to Jesus...we're also all descended from Julius Caesar, from Nefertiti, from Confucius...and from any other historical figure who left behind lines of descendants and lived earlier than a few thousand years ago. Genetic tests can't prove this, partly because current tests look at just a small fraction of our DNA. But if we're descended from someone, we have at least a chance—even if it's a very small chance—of having their DNA in our cells...People may like to think that they're descended from some ancient group while other people are not. But human ancestry doesn't work that way, since we all share the same ancestors just a few millenniums ago.
Another non-LDS author discussed the difficulties associated with using genetic tests to determine ancestry even a few generations back:
- Many amateur genealogists are interested in whether they might have a Cherokee ancestor, for example. And for some people, admixture tests can give a relatively accurate answer about Native-American ancestry. But other people, including Greeks and Ashkenazi Jews, may have "Native American affinity," according to the tests, even if they and their ancestors have never been to America. As far as anthropologists know, there were no lost tribes connecting Greeks, Jews, and ancient Americans. [LDS readers might pause here and wonder!] So, maybe this "Native American affinity" reflects the scattering of alleles by prehistoric Asian nomads to the ancestors of Greeks and Jews as well as to American Indians.
Articles which address the phenomenon of how large groups (or the entire human population) can have fairly recent common ancestors include:
- John M. Butler, "Addressing Questions surrounding the Book of Mormon and DNA Research," FARMS Review 18/1 (2006): 101–108. off-site PDF link wiki
- Matthew Roper, "Swimming the Gene Pool: Israelite Kinship Relations, Genes, and Genealogy," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 129–164. off-site PDF link
- Brian D. Stubbs, "Elusive Israel and the Numerical Dynamics of Population Mixing," FARMS Review 15/2 (2003): 165–182. off-site PDF link
- [note] Stewart Reid, LDS Public Relations Staff, quoted by William J. Bennetta in The Textbook Letter (March-April 1997), published by The Textbook League (P.O. Box 51, Sausalito, California 94966).
- [note] Olson is co-author of a letter to Nature, in which he discusses these ideas in a more technical format. See Douglas L. T. Rohde, Steve Olson, and Joseph T. Chang, "Modelling the recent common ancestry of all living humans," 431 Nature (30 September 2004): 562–566. off-site Olson provides a "semi-technical" description of his findings here.
- [note] Steve Olson, "Why We're All Jesus' Children," slate.com (15 March 2006). Last accessed 12 October 2006 (emphasis added). off-site
- [note] See, for example, Joseph T. Chang, "Recent Common Ancestors of All Present-Day Individuals," Yale Statistics Department (12 June 1998). PDF link
- [note] John Hawks, "How African Are You? What genealogical testing can't tell you," slate.com (15 March 2006), accessed 12 October 2006. off-site