The Book of Mormon and DNA evidence

Responding to critical claims regarding DNA evidence and the Book of Mormon

Summary: DNA samples taken from modern Native Americans do not match the DNA of modern inhabitants of the Middle East. Critics argue that this means the Book of Mormon's claim that Native Americans are descended from Lehi must be false, and therefore the Book of Mormon is not an ancient record as Joseph Smith claimed.

Geography issues

Summary: A variety of geographic models have been suggested for the Book of Mormon. Some geographic models introduce other difficulties for the DNA attacks.

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Haplogroup X2a

Summary: Some have tried to use a genetic group called haplotype X2a as proof of the Book of Mormon, but the science at present cannot support this.

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What is Lehi's ancestry?

Summary: Genetic attacks on the Book of Mormon focus on the fact that Amerindian DNA seems closest to Asian DNA, and not DNA from "the Middle East" or "Jewish" DNA. However, this attack ignores several key points, among which is the fact that the Book of Mormon states that Lehi and his family are clearly not Jews.

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How does one identify "Jewish" or "Middle Eastern" DNA?

Summary: Identifying DNA criteria for Manasseh and Ephraim may always be beyond our reach. But, even identifying markers for Jews—a group that has remained relatively cohesive and refrained from intermarriage with others more than most groups—is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking.

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Lemba and Cohen modal haplotype

Summary: Some critics use the "Lemba" as an example of a group proven to be Jewish via DNA testing as proof that such a testing should be possible for Book of Mormon people. But, this example is misleading. The Lemba were identified as Jewish because of a marker called the "Cohen modal haplotype." This marker is carried by about half of those who claim descent from Aaron, Moses' brother, and only 2-3% of other Jews. But, the Book of Mormon does not suggest—and in fact seems to exclude—the idea that Levites (the priestly family of Aaron) were among the Lehi party.

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What methods of DNA tests are available?

Summary: DNA issues can be complex for the non-specialist (especially those who were in high school more than twenty years ago, before much of the modern understanding of DNA was available). In this article we review the methods of DNA testing that are available, along with their strengths and their limitations.

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New World death rate after European contact

Summary: Approximately ninety percent of the Amerindian population died out following contact with the Europeans; most of this was due to infectious disease against which they had no defense.[1] Since different genes likely provide different resistances to infectious disease, it may be that eliminating 90% of the pre-contact gene pool has significantly distorted the true genetic picture of Lehi's descendants.

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Jaredite influence

Summary: Critics often over-look the Jaredites, and assume (as in the hemispheric models that the Jaredites can have contributed nothing of consequence to the Lehite DNA picture. But, it is not clear that this must be the case. Some LDS have believed in a total eradication of the Jaredites, others have argued that Jaredite remnants survived and mixed with the Lehites. Bruce R. McConkie, while believing that the majority of Amerindian descent was from Israel (i.e. Lehi, Ishmael, and Mulek) nevertheless wrote: "The American Indians, however, as Columbus found them also had other blood than that of Israel in their veins. It is possible that isolated remnants of the Jaredites may have lived through the period of destruction in which millions of their fellows perished."

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Fundamentalist "suicide bombing"

Summary: It should be remembered too that many sectarian critics use DNA science in a sort of "suicide bombing" attack on the Church.[2] The fundamentalist Christian critics are happy to use DNA as a stick to beat the Book of Mormon, but do not tell their readers that there is much stronger DNA evidence for concepts which fundamentalist Christian readers might not accept, such as evolutionary change in species, or human descent from other primates.

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  • Suzanne Austin Alchon, 'A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective,' Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, c2003.
  • The expression "suicide bombing" in this context comes from Stewart, "DNA and the Book of Mormon."