The emergence of molecular research on the ancestry of American Indians in the last two decades has sparked a flurry of activity in the LDS apologetic community. It has been unsettling for scholars to learn the DNA of living American Indians is similar to the DNA of populations living in the vicinity of Lake Baikal in southern Siberia. If there were any Middle Eastern groups who entered the New World as recently as 2500 years ago and built large civilizations, their DNA has disappeared and their civilizations have vanished without a trace.
“In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell into battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.”
- Joseph Smith, 1842
“The Lord said that when his coming was near, the Lamanites would become a righteous and respected people. He said, “Before the great day of the Lord shall come, ... the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose” (D&C 49:24). Great numbers of Lamanites in North and South America and the South Pacific are now receiving the blessings of the gospel.”
Faith clashes with scienceGospel Principles 1997, page 268.
"Ten centuries ago a handful of Norse sailors slipped into Newfoundland, established small colonies, traded with local natives, then sailed back into the fog of history. In spite of the small scale of their settlements and the brevity of their stay, unequivocal evidence of their presence has been found. Just six centuries earlier the Book of Mormon tells us, a climactic battle between fair-skinned Nephites and dark-skinned Lamanites ended a millennial dominion by a literate, Christian, Bronze Age civilization with a population numbering in the millions. Decades of serious and honest scholarship have failed to uncover credible evidence that these Book of Mormon civilizations ever existed. How is it that they remain a great civilization vanished without a trace, the people along with their genes?"
- Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe, 2004 page 199
The problem is compounded further by the fact that the apologists frequently disagree with each other. Mormons may be excused for thinking that LDS scholars speak with one voice in defence of the Book of Mormon. However, LDS apologists come in all stripes, and deep and often bitter divisions exist between rival camps. The arrival of the DNA research has had a deeply polarizing impact on the Latter-day Saint apologetic community.
A common theme running through most apologetic theories is that New World civilizations arose through the "diffusion" of cultural ideas and inventions from the Old World. Diffusionists, as they are called, are scholars who believe that the most important inventions and technologies developed in human civilizations emerged just once and were spread around the globe from a common source. Virtually all New World anthropologists utterly reject diffusionism.
Arguably the most passionate and persistent diffusionist scholar in the United States is Book of Mormon apologist John Sorenson. The earliest signs of Sorenson's emerging diffusionist views of the settlement of Polynesia can be seen in his recollections from his missionary days in the Cook Islands. He was clearly heavily influenced by the even more famous diffusionist named Thor Heyerdahl, who was catapulted to fame by his remarkable voyage from South America to the Society Islands (after being towed 50 miles into the west flowing Humboldt Current!) aboard the balsa-log raft Kon-Tiki, in 1947. In 2002 Sorenson recalled when he first began to take the Book of Mormon seriously.
"I had no special interest in the Book of Mormon before going on my mission. Then I imbibed the living waters of Polynesian tradition—about Hagoth. In New Zealand, members had been taught by generations of mission presidents and missionaries that they descend from Hagoth. Everyone pointed to the Book of Mormon. In the Cook Islands, where I was assigned, people were so new in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1947 that they didn't really know enough to think any complicated thoughts, and the Book of Mormon wasn't translated into their language. So we had to answer their questions at a basic level. I guess that activity made me somewhat interested. Furthermore, while I was there, Thor Heyerdahl was on his raft Kon-Tiki going from Peru to the Society Islands. As a matter of fact, where I was serving there was a very odd American who was a ham radio operator. He invited us once to come to his home while he was trying to make radio contact with the raft Kon-Tiki. He was unsuccessful that night, but for me it was a moment of contemplation about oceanic crossings."
- John Sorenson, 2002
The limited geography model creates acute challenges for Mormons who understand the Book of Mormon as it is plainly written, a problem exacerbated by the fact that other LDS scripture supports this plain understanding. The God speaking to Joseph Smith in LDS scripture frequently referred to American Indians in North America as the Lamanites (See Doctrine and Covenants 28:8-9, 14; 30:6; 32:2; 54:8). The model raises some immediately obvious questions. If the book's narrative took place in Mesoamerica how did the plates get to the Hill Cumorah which lies 3,000km to the north in New York state? Why does the Book of Mormon never mention the multitudes of indigenous people who inhabited Mesoamerican civilisations that greeted the Lehites? Surely they must have almost immediately encountered them.
Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.
Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.
And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.
Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.
(2 Nephi 1: 6-9)
The dissappearing Lamanite apologetics that has appeared post DNA is the most desperate apologetics we have seen. It relies on testimony-shattering reinterpretations of the Book of Mormon history and the arrogant dismissal of almost two centuries of prophetic declarations.
Mormons accepting a Mesoamerican model must now believe that:
- The Lehites met vast numbers of Native Americans when they arrived in the Promised Land but chose to never mention them in their records
- The Lehites joined and assumed leadership of large New World civilizations soon after their arrival
- Native Mesoamericans handed control of their civilizations with minimal resistance to a small band of displaced Hebrews
- The term Lamanite is largely a cultural term (the baddies)
- The genetic Lamanites have essentially been wiped out
- Book of Mormon civilizations were located in Mesoamerica, not in North America
- There are two Hill Cumorah’s where the gold plates were stored. One in Mesoamerica mentioned in Book of Mormon and one in New York, mistakenly thought to be the Book of Mormon Cumorah by every Mormon prophet and the vast majority of Mormons throughout history
- The narrow (1 1/2 day walk) neck of land separating a western and eastern sea is the (not so narrow) Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico that separates a northern and southern sea
- Moroni carried the 60-80lb gold plates from Mexico to New York so that the plates were conveniently located near Joseph Smith's home
- Anything Joseph Smith said that connects North America with the Book of Mormon civilizations is just his opinion
- When God refers to Indians in the Western United States as Lamanites in the D&C, it is Joseph Smith’s personal opinion influencing scripture
- Anything any prophet said that implies there are millions of Lamanites across North and South America is just personal opinion and not doctrine
Meldrum is now heavily promoting his Heartland views via books, DVDs and large (regularly 400+) sellout half-yearly conferences. The vast majority of attendees at these conferences are older members (over 95% over the age of 45). In light of this Meldrum is supporting a new Mormon Evidence campaign targeting younger members via social media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube). Numerous Mormon celebrities have been recruited to promote the heartland "movement' including controversial talk show host Glenn Beck, former LDS General Authority Hartman Rector Jr. and former Relief Society General President Mary Ellen Smoot, singing star Alex Boye', filmaker Kieth Merrill, several Osmonds and 9/11 conspiracy theorist Steven E. Jones. Heartland apologists now brazenly claim that Latter-day Saints have been led astray by the Mesoamerican apologists and are even blaming them for the recent increased rate of apostasy among the youth. Meldrum has interpreted the demise of FARMS and the ousting of Daniel Peterson as a sign that the church is attempting to distance itself from Mesoamerican theories and consequently more open to his heartland ideas. Its more likely that the Brethren are trying to distance themselves from awkward Book of Mormon apologetics, period.
DNA lineage X marks the spot where the heartland theory first arose. A key piece of evidence Meldrum has used from the outset to sell his heartland model is mitochondrial DNA lineage X. The X lineage occurs at its highest frequency in North American tribes, and Meldrum is convinced it originated in Israel. Meldrum's first apologetic publication was a DVD entitled DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography - the DVD that "started it all". One of his followers recently claimed on the Mormon Evidence Facebook page that the Native American X lineage "is only found in one other location on the planet: Among Jewish populations of Europe and the Middle East", a claim that is demonstrably false. None of the scientists who have published the X lineage research would agree with Meldrum's interpretation of their research. I review Meldrum's X lineage claims elsewhere on my blog.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
The four scientists conclude their responses with this devastating critique of Meldrum's Heartland ideas.
When the scientists who have provided much of the evidence upon which the Heartland theory is based, object so strongly to Meldrum's interpretation of their work, you would think this would temper the Heartland rhetoric. It appears to have had the opposite effect. If it hasn't already, the heartland movement will soon capture the hearts and minds of most Mormons desperate for solid evidence that the Book of Mormon isn't just 19th century mythology."In the past, many scholars have pointed to a sometimes explicitly racist agenda behind the claims of diffusionists who argue that the glories of Native American civilizations were achieved only through borrowing from various Old World groups. The producers of the Lost Civilizations of North America and the diffusionists they feature in their documentary turn this argument on its head by suggesting that it is instead those “mainstream” scholars who are the real racists because they deny Native Americans their role in an already globalized world of the early centuries of the Common Era. However, the only support for this picture of Native American–Old World interactions two thousand years ago comes from resurrected frauds and distorted history. There is no credible archaeological or genetic evidence to suggest that any Old World peoples migrated to the Americas after the initial incursion from Siberia prior to the tentative forays of the Norse beginning at around 1000 CE other than limited contacts between Siberia and the American arctic."
- Bradley T. Lepper, Kenneth L. Feder, Terry A. Barnhart, Deborah A. Bolnick, 2012