Book of Mormon DNA

Recently a group of scientists have claimed that DNA evidence disproves the Book of Mormon, which is a book of scripture used by the Mormon Church. DNA evidence shows that a number of Native American groups have close genetic ties to Asian races instead of the Middle East. Since the Book of Mormon states that Native Americans are descendents of the House of Israel it must be false.
Yet what many choose to ignore is that Mormon history shows that Mormons are open to the idea that other races besides those descended from the House of Israel lived on the American continents. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said, “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ is exactly what it claims to be — a record of God’s dealings with peoples of ancient America and a second witness of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ… Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin.” 1
Although Joseph Smith himself stated, “the Indians were the literal descendants of Abraham.” 2 He does not specify that they were the only ancestors of modern Native Americans. And was interested in descriptions of other groups coming to America. 3
The Book of Mormon is a record of a small group of people living in America just as the Bible is a record of the Israelites and not neighboring groups. Neither book is a record of all the groups living at that time. Hugh Nibley, renowned LDS historian, believed that other people were led to the Americas by the hand of God. He says, “Now there is a great deal said in the Book of Mormon about the past and future of the promised-land, but never is it described as an empty land. The descendants of Lehi were never the only people on the continent, and the Jaredites never claimed to be.” 4
In 1961, Ariel Crowley, a Book of Mormon scholar stated, “The Book of Mormon attests the presence of the blood of Israel. It is not in the least impugned by extraneous proof that other blood, by other migrations, found this land and mingled with the peoples there.”5
The Book of Mormon itself gives numerous evidences that point to other people living on the American continent at the time Lehi’s family arrived, thus explaining the evidence of other DNA. When Nephi took part of his family into the wilderness he mentions others that went with him, “And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.”6
Further evidence that those that accompanied Nephi were not just those of his family is found when the Lord spoke to Nephi saying, “Wherefore, I will consecrate this land unto thy seed, and them who shall be numbered among thy seed, forever.”7
Some scientists question the accuracy of genetic testing since it is such a new field. As noted by John Relethford, renowned geneticist, “Although working in such a young and developing field is exciting, it is also frightening because the knowledge base changes so rapidly.”8 DNA testing cannot determine all previous genetic lineages. Through the testing of Y-chromosome (passed through males) and mitochondrial DNA (passed from mother to child) only a small fraction of an individual’s ancestry can actually be tracked.
So although some claim that the DNA evidence disproves the Book of Mormon it is up to the individual to decide.


(1) DNA and the Book of Mormon Los Angeles Times, 16 February 2006

(2) Roper, MatthewReview of Nephi’s Neighbors: Book of Mormon Peoples and Pre-Columbian Populations. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2003. Pp. 91–128

(3) “Facts Are Stubborn Things,” Times and Seasons 3 (15 September 1842): 922.

(4) Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 218–19.

(5) Ibid., 145.

(6) 2 Nephi 5:5–6

(7) 2 Nephi 10:18–19

(8) Relethford, J.H. Genetics and the Search for Modern Human Origins. Wiley-Liss: New York (2001); quotation from p. 205.

  1. I am a student of Historical Linguistics and East Asian Cultures. I have been reading about the debate between scientific DNA mapping of the genes of the native people in ancient America.

    In my studies, I too believe that the American Indians have Asiatic DNA and similarities in culture, appearance and the like.

    Recently, I have read a book that might shed some light on the Asiatic DNA mixed with the American Indians. This book is by Gavin Menzies. The title is 1421 the year China Discovered America.

    In this book, the author Gavin, has done extensive research as to the period of discovery during the Ming Dynasty and other Chinese Dynasties. He also refers repeatedly to the evidence of DNA and Chinese colonies and voyages that have happened during the 1400’s. Gavin Menzies states that the Chinese who went on these voyages took with them Arabs, people from India, and around the globe on these sea faring missions. He also states that these explorers were to set up settlements throughout the world to subjugate the countries into the Chinese tribute system. This would explain why the results of the DNA of American Indians would be the way that they are.

    May I suggest, that we take a closer look to this book and the DNA evidence presented in it as the underlying answer as to why there is Chinese and Asiatic DNA found in the American Indian today?

  2. A Problem for Scientists Engaged in Genetic Studies of American Indians

    In 1996 Dr. Peter Underhill, a PhD from Stanford University calculated that the most recent common male ancestor of most Native Americans lived 2147 prior or 151 BC. He determined this from the genetic diversity of Y-chromosomes in living Native Americans. Essentially he counted mutations and applied a rate of 2.1 per 1000 and a generation length of 27 years. This date can, of course, be adjusted by altering variables like the generation length. For example with a generation length of 32.65 years, a date of 600 BC is obtained. The mutation rate of 2.1 per 1000 was taken from the research of Weber and Wong on pedigrees.

    Underhill has never believed that this date is true. In fact he and a colleague named Zhivotovsky have spent a good deal of time developing what they call an ‘effective’ mutation rate for Y-chromosomes to be used in evolutionary studies. The theory is that even though rates of 2.1 per 1000 (Weber & Wong) can be seen in pedigrees and rates of 2.8 per 1000 have been observed in father/son pairs (Kayser) that over thousands of years mutations don’t really accumulate that fast. The latest work of Zhivotovsky and Underhill, published in 2006, indicates that male lineage extinction can result in an ‘effective’ rate that is slower than observed rates by a factor of 3 or 4. [1] Their effective rate is about 0.7 per 1000.

    This effective rate has already been used in some genetic studies. One example was work by Zegura et al in 2004. Using this effective rate of 0.7 per 1000, Zegura calculated that the Q-M3 lineage, found in 27% of American Indians in the USA, is roughly between 10,000 and 17,000 years old. He also calculated that the Q-P36 lineage, found in 31% of Native American males in the USA, entered the Americas in roughly the same date range. Of course, applying the 2.8 per 1000 mutation rates observed by Kayser would reduced the lower bound of this time frame to 2500 years before present (BP).

    A genetic study by Pakendorf et al. of the Yakuts in 2006 used the Y chromosome mutation rate observed by Kayser (2.8 per 1000) and got a pretty accurate date for the migration of the Yakuts north. Historical evidence supports the view that the Turkic speaking Yakuts went north from Lake Baikal when the Mongols moved into that area. What this means, of course, is that Kayser’s observed mutation rate is more accurate in some cases than the ‘effective’ mutation rate.

    Pakendorf states, “… it has recently been proposed that ‘effective’ mutation rates (Zhivotovsky et al. 2004), which are not based on pedigree studies but on archaeologically calibrated migrations, may reflect the true historical processes better than pedigree rates. Using the average ‘effective’ rate of 0.69 [per 1000] or 6.9 [per 10000] calculated by Zhivotovsky et al. (2004) results in a much greater age of the Yakut male expansion of approximately 3800 years … However, these older dates are inconsistent with linguistic and archaeological evidence: … the split of Yakut from Common Turkic cannot be earlier than 1,500 years BP.” [2]

    So we have a study where Kayser’s mutation rate is used successfully. This means at the very least that the effective rate is not universally valid. As stated above, if we apply Kayser’s rate to Zegura’s calculations we get a lower bound of 2,500 ago for the common ancestor of most Native Americans. This is similar to Underhill’s result back in 1996 which was 2147. Clearly this is within Book of Mormon times.

    Ancient MtDNA and archeological evidence indicate that Man has been in the Americans for 10,000 years or more. Furthermore, the maternal lineages show continuity. Ancient MtDNA has been found belonging to the A, B, C and D lineages as far back as 10,000. Ancient X lineage has been confirmed as far back as 1300 years. So why do we get dates of 2147 or 2500 years Before Present (BP) when observed mutation rates are applied to Y chromosomes?

    Possible Answers

    1. A Genetic Bottleneck – It is possible that about 2600 years ago, the population of the Americas underwent a drastic decline. All living Native Americans are descended from the relatively few survivors. This bottleneck could have been more severe for males than females for some reason; leaving multiple female survivors for every male survivor.

    2. Underhill & Zhivotovsky’s ‘effective’ Y-chromosome mutation rate – Male lineage extinction occurs on a regular basis even when the total population does not decline.

    3. Y-chromosome replacement – Colonists from the Old World arrived and produced a lot of children with native women and their descendants outnumber the descendents of the previous males. We know this did happen in 1492. Today there are at least 200 million people with pre-Columbian MtDNA. At least 75% of them have European Y-chromosomes that have only been in America for about 500 years.

    4. The Book of Mormon account – This is basically both 1 and 3. The Book of Ether records two sever genetic bottlenecks in Jaredite history. The first is the result of a drought and famine. It is also during this famine that a few Jaredites go to the “land southward”. Presumably this is South America. The second genetic bottleneck comes in the time of Ether and Coriantumr and is the result of a fratricidal civil war. Just as this civil war ends and the Jaradite population is at its lowest point two groups of colonists arrive in America from the Middle East. They are led by Lehi and Mulek respectively. It has been theorized since the late 19th century that Mulek’s men married Jaradite women and that is why they spoke a language foreign to the Nephites. It has also been theorized that Coriantumr fathered children while he lived among the Mulekites.

    Footnotes

    [1] Zhivotovsky LA, Underhill PA, Feldman MW (2006) “Difference between evolutionarily effective and germ line mutation rate due to stochastically varying haplogroup size”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?tmpl=NoSidebarfile&db=PubMed&cmd=Retrieve&list_uids=16956974&dopt=Abstract

    [2] Brigitte Pakendorf et al (2006), “Investigating the effects of Prehistoric migrations in Siberia: genetic variation and the origins of Yakuts” | Hum Genet (2006) 120:334–353 | DOI 10.1007/s00439-006-0213-2
    http://www.eva.mpg.de/genetics/pdf/Yakut_article_2006.pdf

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