Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The first Mission to the Lamanites

This week's Come Follow Me lesson focuses on D&C 30-36. Sections 30 and 32 discuss the Mission to the Lamanites.

Because Church members hold a variety of theories about the identity of the Lamanites, it's always useful to review the scriptures on this topic, as well as what Joseph Smith taught, and then compare the teachings of other theories, such as the hemispheric theory and M2C. 

People can believe whatever they want, but they should at least make informed decisions.

And we know from long experience that people will confirm their biases regardless of the facts. But sometimes there are people who are willing to change their minds when they learn new information, especially when the new information comes from the scriptures and from authentic Church history instead of spin from the scholars.

For those few who have open minds, here are some facts to consider.
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There are 12 references to the Lamanites in the D&C. Five of these focus on the mission to the Lamanites.

8 And now, behold, I say unto you that you shall go unto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them; and inasmuch as they receive thy teachings thou shalt cause my church to be established among them; and thou shalt have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment.

9 And now, behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed, and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given hereafter. Behold, I say unto you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.

14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 28:8–9, 14)

6 And be you afflicted in all his afflictions, ever lifting up your heart unto me in prayer and faith, for his and your deliverance; for I have given unto him power to build up my church among the Lamanites;
(Doctrine and Covenants 30:6)

2 And that which I have appointed unto him is that he shall go with my servants, Oliver Cowdery and Peter Whitmer, Jun., into the wilderness among the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 32:2)

There is a nice summary of the Mission to the Lamanites here:


Separately, the Lord referred to Missouri as the borders of the Lamanites.

8 And thus you shall take your journey into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites.
(Doctrine and Covenants 54:8)

These verses are the only scriptural references that identify specific people as Lamanites; i.e., the Lamanites include the Indian (Native American) tribes these missionaries visited in New York, Ohio, and Missouri/Kansas. These are the tribes Joseph Smith met with when he told them the Book of Mormon told them about their ancestors. These tribes are predominantly haplogroup X2, not the Asian haplogroups ABCD that predominate in Latin America.

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Outside of the scriptures, several traditions have arisen in the Church about the identity of the Lamanites. Orson Pratt, especially, taught that the native peoples of Latin America were Lamanites. 

For example, in his 1840 pamphlet, Orson Pratt spent several pages of commentary to describe his hemispheric model of the Book of Mormon:

This remnant of Joseph were also led in a miraculous manner from Jerusalem, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. They were first led to the eastern borders of the Red Sea; then they journeyed for some time along the borders thereof, nearly in a south-east direction; after which, they altered their course nearly eastward, until they came to the great waters, where, by the commandment of God, they built a vessel, in which they were safely brought across the great Pacific ocean, and landed upon the western coast of South America.

In the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah, at the time the Jews were carried away captive into Babylon, another remnant were brought out of Jerusalem; some of whom were descendants of Judah. They landed in North America; soon after which they emigrated into the northern parts of South America, at which place they were discovered by the remnant of Joseph, something like four hundred years after.

... The persecuted nation emigrated towards the northern parts of South America, leaving the wicked nation in possession of the middle and southern parts of the same. The former were called Nephites... the Lord gave unto them the whole continent, for a land of promise...

The second colony, which left Jerusalem eleven years after the remnant of Joseph left that city, landed in North America, and emigrated from thence, to the northern parts of South America; and about four hundred years after, they were discovered by the Nephites, as we stated in the foregoing.
They were called the people of Zarahemla....

And in process of time, the Nephites began to build ships near the Isthmus of Darien, and launch them forth into the western ocean, in which great numbers sailed a great distance to the northward, and began to colonize North America. Other colonies emigrated by land, and in a few centuries the whole continent became peopled. North America, at that time, was almost entirely destitute of timber, it having been cut off by the more ancient race, who came from the great tower, at the confusion of languages...

The Nephites and Lamanites were all converted unto the Lord, both in South and North America...

The Lamanites, at that time, dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North America.
A great and terrible war commenced between them, which lasted for many years, and resulted in the complete overthrow and destruction of the Nephites. This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive to both nations for many years. At length, the Nephites were driven before their enemies, a great distance to the north, and north-east; and having gathered their whole nation together, both men, women, and children, they encamped on, and round about the hill Cumorah, where the records were found, which is in the State of New York, about two hundred miles west of the city of Albany. 


When Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter, published as "Church History" in the March 1842 Times and Seasons, he adapted some of Orson Pratt's pamphlet. The Joseph Smith Papers notes that "“Church History” echoes some wording from Orson Pratt’s A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, and of the Late Discovery of Ancient American Records."


In writing the Wentworth letter, however, Joseph deleted all of Orson Pratt's speculation about the hemispheric model. Instead, he reiterated D&C 28, 30, and 32, as well as Moroni's explanation during his first visit.

"Church History" (aka the Wentworth letter):

"The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."


"This country" is the same phrase Moroni used when he first explained the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith.

"He [Moroni] then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." 


Orson Pratt outlived Joseph Smith. Orson inserted his hemispheric theory into the footnotes of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon, and many Latter-day Saints accepted the hemispheric model. 

Others accept the designation in D&C 28, 30, and 32; i.e., the Lamanites are the Indians who live in the U.S. circa 1830-1842 (the northeastern tribes and those who had been removed to the borders of Missouri).

In the early 1900s, RLDS scholar L.E. Hills proposed a limited geography based on Mesoamerica, with Cumorah in southern Mexico (M2C, or the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory). Eventually, LDS scholars such as John Sorenson, Dan Peterson, and Jack Welch adopted M2C. They have been promoting it ever since.
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Orson Pratt's hemispheric model retains some vitality, however. Lots of people over the years have alluded to it. 

In the modern world, people have traveled and migrated so much that bloodlines and DNA are mingled everywhere in the world. In that sense, just as Abraham's descendants are everywhere, we could say Lehi's descendants are everywhere.

The demographics of Latin America show that, apart from the indigenous populations (Amerindians) whose ancestry is north Asian (mtDNA Haplogroups A, B, C, and D), the ancestors of most of the population originated in Europe. It was the incongruence between the DNA evidence and Orson Pratt's hemispheric model (Lamanites are the ancestors of all the Latin Americans) that caused such confusion and led to rewording the Introduction to the Book of Mormon from "principal ancestors" to "among the ancestors" of the American Indians. Introduction (churchofjesuschrist.org)

The studies summarized in Wikipedia indicate that "Whites presently compose the largest racial group in Latin America (36% in the table herein) and, whether as White, Mestizo, or Mulatto, the vast majority of Latin Americans have white ancestry."

In Latin America as a whole, 36% of the population is "white" (mainly Europeans from Spain and Portugal), 30% is Mestizo (mixture of European and indigenous), 20.3% is Mulattoes (mixture of African and European), and only 9.2% are Amerindians. 


You can see the data here (click to enlarge):



As we saw at the beginning of this post, people will confirm their biases no matter what the facts are. We have M2C scholars who claim the Book of Mormon took place entirely in a limited geography of Mesoamerica, yet who also claim the descendants of Lehi are found throughout Latin America. It's unclear why they designate Latin America to the exclusion of North America, but maybe this is merely the legacy of Orson Pratt living on.

Which is fine. 

People can and will believe whatever they want.

But if you look at this issue from the perspective of missionaries teaching nonmembers, Orson Pratt's theory is probably not the strongest argument in favor of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. 

You can decide yourself whether it is a strong argument to reject D&C 28, 30 and 32 by claiming that the X2 Haplogroup Indians to whom those sections refer are not Lamanites, because the Lamanites are the A, B, C, and D Haplogroup Indians in Latin America.

But again, people can believe whatever they want.

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