No Palmyra Revivals?

The Mormon Stories essay on the First Vision says the following about the historical setting of Joseph Smith’s First Vision:

Joseph’s mother, Lucy, dated the Palmyra revivals after Alvin’s death in 1823—during the time she began seeking comfort in the religious community. The revival periods are an important question, as Smith’s 1838-39 account states that “great multitudes” joined the various churches. Reverend Wesley P. Walters concurred, pointing to contemporary records that state 1824 as the date of the revival Joseph Smith referred to, not 1820. [6] Oliver Cowdery, likewise, places the revival in 1823 and, according to Walters, “makes no reference to any vision occurring in 1820.” [7] Lucy kept a personal journal. Though she frequently elaborated on mundane things, such as being offended when a gathering of local ladies criticized her modest log cabin, she recorded no mention of her son’s visitation with God.

Joseph did not identify the 1820 date for his vision until he dictated his history eighteen years later. Indeed, in earlier retellings, Joseph vacillates on his age being between fourteen and sixteen. One historian suggested that he may have relied upon the affidavits in Mormonism Unvailed to narrow down a year and season only, an argument bolstered by the conflicting ages he provided. The affidavits of his Palmyra neighbors consistently affirm that the Smith family was deeply engaged in treasure-digging in 1820. [8]

Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.
Screenshot of Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.

There are multiple factual errors in this section of the essay.

  • “Joseph’s mother, Lucy, dated the Palmyra revivals after Alvin’s death in 1823—during the time she began seeking comfort in the religious community.” This is not entirely true. Lucy’s 1844–1845 draft version of her history does seem to place the religious excitement in the Palmyra area in the year 1823 in connection with the visitation of Moroni. But her the second draft of that same history quotes Joseph’s 1838 account of the First Vision where he places the “great excitement” during the year 1820. The reason for this discrepancy is not entirely clear. What is clear, however, is that the author of the Mormon Stories essay has not been entirely honest about what Lucy’s history actually says.
  • “Reverend Wesley P. Walters concurred, pointing to contemporary records that state 1824 as the date of the revival Joseph Smith referred to, not 1820.” The essay cites the article “The Question of the Palmyra Revival” for this claim. However, this article dates to the 1960s. Subsequent research has debunk Walters’ conclusion that there was no revival around the year 1820. This includes research by Richard Bushman and D. Michael Quinn, two of the authors cited in the Mormon Stories essay. The Mormon Stories essay is relying on thoroughly outdated work.
  • “Oliver Cowdery, likewise, places the revival in 1823 and, according to Walters, ‘makes no reference to any vision occurring in 1820.'” While this is true, there is a very plausible reason for it besides the idea that Joseph Smith was just making things up. The Mormon Stories essay never informs its readers about alternative ways of interpreting this data because the author has an agenda to diminish faith in Joseph Smith’s claims.
  • “Lucy kept a personal journal. Though she frequently elaborated on mundane things, such as being offended when a gathering of local ladies criticized her modest log cabin, she recorded no mention of her son’s visitation with God.” Calling Lucy’s 1845 history “a personal journal” is misleading. While her 1844-45 history did rely on earlier sources, it was not a contemporary record of the history of the Smith family in the 1810s and 1820s but rather a retrospective cobbled together from Lucy’s personal dictation to scribes and the redacting of disparate extant sources.1 Besides, this point is irrelevant because Joseph Smith in his 1838 history specifically says he declined to inform his mother about the details of his First Vision when she asked him, so why would we expect her to have preserved an account of such in the first place?
  • “Indeed, in earlier retellings, Joseph vacillates on his age being between fourteen and sixteen.” As pointed out in an early post, the detail that Joseph was 16 when he had his First Vision comes not from Joseph himself but from one of his clerks making a secondary insertion in the Prophet’s 1832 history. In fact, Joseph was broadly consistent in reporting how old he was when he had the First Vision: between 14–15 years old.
    • 1832 Account: “from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind”
    • 1835 Account: “I was about 14. years old when I received this first communication”
    • 1838 Account: “I was at this time in my fifteenth year”
    • 1842 Account: “When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state”
  • The Mormon Stories essay cites D. Michael Quinn in footnote 8 (Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p. 141) for this claim: “The affidavits of his Palmyra neighbors consistently affirm that the Smith family was deeply engaged in treasure-digging in 1820.” The irony here is that Quinn does not agree with the author of the Mormon Stories essay. The reason for the (negligible) discrepancies in Joseph’s reported age at the time of the First Vision is not because of any fabrication, but, as Quinn himself says, because “like many people today, Joseph Jr. was confused by the distinction between stating his age (‘fourteen years old’) and its equivalent year-of-life (‘fifteenth year,’ which begins on one’s fourteenth birthday).”

Practically every single point raised in these two short paragraphs are debatable or flatly untrue. A more reliable retelling of these historical details can be found in the RSC book Exploring the First Vision.

Eat your heart out, Dehlinites.

Post-Script:

Speaking of Lucy’s 1845 history, the Mormon Stories makes this claim:

1853 – Lucy Smith, Joseph’s mother, published Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith. This is where we first learn of Joseph Smith’s heroic childhood leg operation, Joseph Senior’s 7 visions and 2 of her own. There was no mention of any first vision. This absence is troubling when contrasted against Lucy’s lengthy stories about the angel and the plates. Recognizing the omission, Orson Pratt later placed the canonized vision story into her book word for word.

Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.
Screenshot of Mormon Stories essays, “First Vision,” accessed April 17, 2019.

Lucy’s 1844-45 first rough draft of her history does not mention the First Vision. However, the second revised draft prepared in 1845 under Lucy’s supervision, also called the “fair copy,” did include verbatim quotations of Joseph’s 1838 history, including a verbatim quotation of his First Vision account.

The conspiracy theory cooked up in the Mormon Stories essay that Orson Pratt “placed the canonized vision story into her book word for word” because its “absence” and “omission” in Lucy’s history “is troubling” has no supporting evidence. The manuscript evidence alone refutes this laughable claim, since the “fair copy” prepared by Howard Coray in 1845 and utilized by Pratt in his 1853 publication contains a verbatim quotation of the “canonized vision story.”

The author of the essay is literally just making things up.

What About the Lemba?

John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon makes the following claim:

The Lenba [sic] are a group of 80,000 South Africans who claim Jewish heritage, practice many Jewish rituals, and claimed to be descended from small group of Middle Eastern men (perhaps as small as seven) who migrated to South East Africa 2,500 years ago and intermarried with the local women. Modern science backs their claim.

More than 50% of the Lemba Y-chromosomes are West Asian in origin. The DNA evidence suggests a migration date between 2,670 and 3,200 years ago, not far from their claim of 2,500. A study in 2000 found that a substantial number of Lemba men carry a particular haplotype of the Y-chromosome known as the Cohen modal haplotype (CMH), as well as a haplogroup of Y-DNA Haplogroup J found among some Jews, but also in other populations across the Middle East and Arabia. The genetic studies have found no Semitic female contribution to the Lemba gene pool. This indicates that Israelite men migrated to Africa in ancient times and took wives from among the local people while settling in new communities, just as their origin story suggests.

The similarities to the Book of Mormon premise are striking. Taking for granted that the Book of Mormon people existed in history, the migrations took place at the same time, the groups were of similar size, both had Israelite DNA, and likely intermarried with the locals. The big difference – abundant DNA evidence vs. no DNA evidence, and preserved Jewish culture and ritual vs. no preservation of Jewish culture or ritual.

Screenshot of “DNA and the Book of Mormon,” accessed March 14, 2019.

First of all, the name of the tribe in question is Lemba, not “Lenba” [sic].

More important is whether the essay’s central claim is correct: there is “abundant DNA evidence” that the Lemba are descendants of ancient Israelites.

Using the primary research method of John Dehlin and his anonymous collaborator(s), when we consult Wikipedia we discover that the most recent scientific study does not support claims of Lemba descent from ancient Israelites on genetic grounds.

The Wikipedia article cites three studies published in 2013, 2014, and 2016 which conclude:

While it was not possible to trace unequivocally the origins of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba and Remba, this study does not support the earlier claims of their Jewish genetic heritage. . . . It seems more likely that Arab traders, who are known to have established long-distance trade networks involving some thousands of kilometres along the western rim of the Indian Ocean, from Sofala in the south to the Red Sea in the north and beyond to the Hadramut, India and even China from about 900 AD, are more likely linked with the ancestry of the nonAfrican founding males of the Lemba/Remba.

Soodyall (2013)

[O]ur results stress the limitations of using the above haplotype motifs as reliable Jewish ancestry predictors and show its inadequacy for forensic or genealogical purposes. . . . [W]hile the observed distribution of sub-clades of haplotypes at mitochondrial and Y chromosome non-recombinant genomes might be compatible with founder events in recent times at the origin of Jewish groups as Cohenite, Levite, Ashkenazite, the overall substantial polyphyletism as well as their systematic occurrence in non-Jewish groups highlights the lack of support for using them either as markers of Jewish ancestry or Biblical tales.

Tofanelli et al (2014)

When blood groups and serum protein markers were used, the Lemba were indistinguishable from the neighbors among whom they lived; the same was true for mitochondrial DNA which represented the input of females in their gene pool. However, the Y chromosomes, which represented their history through male contributions, showed the link to non-African ancestors. When trying to elucidate the most likely geographic region of origin of the non-African Y chromosomes in the Lemba, the best that could be done was to narrow it to the Middle Eastern region. While no evidence of the CMH was found in the higher resolution study, no inferences can be made about their claims about being Jewish—all that can be said is the lineage commonly associated with the Cohanim is not found in the Lemba.

Soodyall and Kromberg (2016)

So much for “abundant DNA evidence.”

Of course, had the author of the Mormon Stories essay merely consulted an actual scientist like Ugo Perego, they could have avoided this embarrassment.

Or they could have even read this short column by Michael Ash.

Or these observations by David G. Stewart, Jr. (pp. 113–116).

In fact, “modern science” does not back Lemba claims to Jewish heritage as purported in the Mormon Stories essay. What it has done is show that the picture is much more complicated than Dehlin’s simplistic and misinformed claims lead on.

Is A Seven-Day Week Anachronistic for the Book of Mormon?

John Dehlin’s essay on Archaeology and the Book of Mormon claims that the mentioning of a seven-day week is anachronistic.

Referenced as the “seventh day” or the Sabbath day in Mosiah, the concept of a 7 day week didn’t originate until well after Lehi left Jerusalem.

“Archaeology and the Book of Mormon”
Screenshot of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” taken on February 18, 2019

The essay does not cite where in Mosiah there is reference to the “seventh day” or Sabbath day. In fact, the reference is Mosiah 13:16–19 (with another reference to the “sabbath day” at Mosiah 18:23 at Jarom 1:5). Mosiah 13:16–19, however is a quotation of Exodus 20:8–11.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lordblessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Without providing the full citation from Mosiah (which is a biblical quotation), the author of the Mormon Stories essay (as well as Dehlin) is misleading his or her readers.

But what about the claim that “the concept of a 7 day week didn’t originate until well after Lehi left Jerusalem”? The Mormon Stories essay hyperlinks to the Wikipedia article for “Week.” The essay appears to be following the conventional understanding given in the article that “a continuous seven-day cycle that runs throughout history paying no attention whatsoever to the phases of the moon was first practiced in Judaism, dated to the 6th century BC at the latest,” and that “it seems likely that the Hebrew seven-day week is based on the Babylonian tradition, although going through certain adaptations.”

What the Mormon Stories essay leaves out, however, is this sentence in the same article:

Niels-Erik Andreasen, Jeffrey H. Tigay, and others claimed that the Biblical Sabbath is mentioned as a day of rest in some of the earliest layers of the Pentateuch dated to the 9th century BC at the latest, centuries before Judea’s Babylonian exile. They also find the resemblance between the Biblical Sabbath and the Babylonian system to be weak. Therefore, they suggested that the seven-day week may reflect an independent Israelite tradition.

The Wikipedia article cites four sources for this:

  • Andreasen, Niels-Erik A. (1972). The Old Testament Sabbath: A Tradition-historical Investigation. Society of Biblical Literature.
  • Shafer, Byron E. (1974). “Reviewed Work: The Old Testament Sabbath: A Tradition-Historical Investigation by Niels-Erik A. Andreasen”. Journal of Biblical Literature. 93 (2): 300–301.
  • Tigay, Jeffery H. (1998). “Shavua”. Mo’adei Yisra’el: Time and Holy Days in the Biblical and Second Commonwealth Periods (Heb.), ed. Jacob S. Licht: 22–23.
  • Hallo, William W. (1977). “New Moons and Sabbaths: A Case-Study in the Contrastive Approach”. Hebrew Union College Annual. 48: 1–18.

So the fully developed concept of a seven-day week as we know today may have been the product of the Jewish exile in Babylon, but this theory is disputed.1 There are mainstream biblical scholars who recognize the strong likelihood that this concept has historical antecedents which well predate Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem. Shafer, reviewing and encapsulating Andreasen’s work, lays out one plausible historical development for the Sabbath:

(A) The earliest traditions were “the regulations for the six days of work and the seventh day of rest” and “the prohibition against performing any work on the seventh day at the risk of death.” These were perhaps pre-Mosaic, but that is uncertain. The themes are encountered in well-developed form in the earliest period, and we are unable to press behind that time to the origins of the institution or its traditions. (B) in the 9th and 8th centuries, traditions reflect a Sabbath which was a cultic feast day celebrated at the sanctuaries and temple . . . (C) In the later monarchy, the literary traditions re-emphasized the old Sabbath tradition of humanitarian concern and link the Sabbath with the exodus event of Israel’s salvation history. Andreasen argues that the abundant references to Sabbath in the exilic literature of P and Ezekiel cannot be satisfactorily explained by the traditional scholarly arguments from a sudden increased exilic interest in Sabbath . . . Therefore, he hypothesizes that this theological elaboration of the old traditions began during the reform movement of Hezekiah and continued through the reign of Manasseh into the reign of Josiah. . . . (D) In the exilic period, Ezekiel and P elaborate these traditions and, in addition, identify the Sabbath as a sign and covenant between Yahweh and Israel.2

Hallo, who is also cited in the Wikipedia article hyperlinked to in the Mormon Stories essay, likewise says this concerning the development of the Sabbath:

As early as the time of Solomon, we are entitled to detect a seven-day cycle in the festivities marking the dedication of his temple. The double injunction to work for six days and to rest every seventh is the most fundamental piece of social legislation written into the Decalogue. . . . The cultic counterpart of this legislation permeates every one of the many ritual calendars in the Pentateuch. Creation itself is retroactively cast into the mold of the seven-day week, as also of the Exodus typology, and thus secondarily turned into the justification for the earthly ordinance.3

Dating the composition of Exodus 20 is complicated. “The Horeb-Sinai narrative (chaps. 19–24, 32–34) will always frustrate attempts to understanding its composition history.”4 Notwithstanding, the origin of the material in the version of the Decalogue in Exodus 20 is frequently “assign[ed] dates . . . from the twelfth through the ninth centuries B.C,”5 and in any event, “the Sabbath observance does not owe its origins to the Fourth Commandment, since the practice is apparently very ancient, having existed in Mosaic times (cf. Exod 16:22–30). The Fourth Commandment merely recalled and reinforced the traditional observance.”6

The nineteenth and early twentieth consensus that “such features of the Decalogue as the sabbath law . . . could not have arisen until after the eighth century, or even later, in the exilic period . . . no longer exists.”7 Now scholars, such as those cited above, recognize that “the Sabbath was the cornerstone of Israelite religious practice from earliest times,”8 as well as the complicated evolution of ancient Israel’s social and religious institutions, including the Sabbath. “How widely and in what periods [the Sabbath] was observed is unclear,” observes Meyers, but evidence “suggests that at least some part of the population was committed to sabbath observance in the preexilic, exilic, and postexilic periods.”9

Finally, there is even non-biblical evidence for a pre-exilic origin of the Sabbath:

It is often argued that the sabbath observance is mainly an exilic or postexilic development. That may be true with reference to how widespread it was. Nevertheless, it seems to have a long history behind it and was thus probably observed in some form or other by some elements of the population long before the end of the monarchy. The texts here confirm its existence and its practice in the [Elepnatine] community; on the other hand, how it was celebrated is not so clear.10

The simplistic claim made in the Mormon Stories essay (“the concept of a 7 day week didn’t originate until well after Lehi left Jerusalem”) reflects a surface-level reading of a single non-academic source (Wikipedia) that does not adequately cover the scope of the issue. What’s more, the very Wikipedia article that the author of the Mormon Stories essay relies on includes information that directly refutes the essay’s simplistic claim!

As in most other matters, all that John Dehlin has done in this instance is mislead his readers.

Is Beekeeping an Anachronism in the Book of Mormon?

The Mormon Stories essay on “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” argues that the mentioning of Jaredite beekeeping is anachronistic:

“The Jaradites are described in Ether as having carried honey bees to the New World, while ignoring the improbability of transporting bees in a totally enclosed submarine for a year. The honey bee is not native to North America.”

Screenshot of “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” accessed February 12, 2019.

To support this claim, the article hyperlinks to a 2006 article from ScienceDaily.

The only reference to honeybees in the Book of Mormon is in the book of Ether:

“And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.”

Ether 2:3

Ignoring for now the arguably ancient etymology of deseret, it must be pointed out that the text actually does not describe the Jaredites taking honeybees with them across the ocean. It rather describes them carrying honeybees before they cross the ocean in the “valley of Nimrod” as they went “forth into the wilderness” (Ether 2:4–5). It might be assumed that the Jaredites took honeybees with them to the New World, but when the text catalogues New World Jaredite fauna (Ether 9:18–19), honeybees are absent.

Apiculture in ancient Egypt is documented as early as the third millennium BC.1 It is striking that the Jaredite word for honeybee, deseret, has a plausible Egyptian etymology (dšrt).2 It seems probable that Jaredite apiculture was imported from ancient Egypt, since evidence for beekeeping in Mesopotamia (the supposed homeland of the Jaredites) is scant, with the clearest data for Mesopotamian apiculture coming long after Jaredite times.3 A plausible reading of the Book of Mormon text could argue that the Jaredite honeybees did not survive the group’s pan-Mesopotamian (and pan-Eurasian?) migration.4

The claim made by Dehlin that there is no native pre-Columbian apiculture is demonstrably wrong. “Yucatan was a thriving center of apiculture from pre-Columbian times, persisting, little changed, to the present,” and there are several known native North American honeybee species.5 The Spanish described native honey-producing beekeeping upon their arrival in the Yucatan,6 and Michael D. Coe, whom Dehlin has interviewed and often cites as an authority on Book of Mormon archaeology, has discussed native Mesoamerican apiculture and specifically speaks of the “stingless honeybee” as a domesticated New World animal.7 Other scholars have also discussed the significance of apiculture in ancient Mesoamerican history and culture.8

Most recently, an article published in the journal Latin American Antiquity in June 2018 documents the existence of pre-Columbian beekeeping among the pre-Classic Maya.

While the Jaredites are usually associated by Book of Mormon scholars with Olmec culture,9 which is older than Maya culture, the attestation of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican apiculture refutes Dehlin’s sweeping claim that “the honey bee is not native to North America.”10 In fact, the species Melipona beecheii is native to Mesoamerica, and was used for collecting honey. As were the species Partamona bilineata and Tetragonisca angustula, to name just two others. The “honey bee . . . not native to North America” spoken of in the ScienceDaily article cited by Dehlin is referring to is a different, more common species (the European honeybee or Apis mellifera).

So even if the Jaredites did manage to bring honeybees to the New World (which the Book of Mormon never actually explicitly claims happened), there is abundant archaeological and zoological evidence for their domestication and use in pre-Columbian North America.

As in most matters related to archaeology and the Book of Mormon, Dehlin is out of date, uninformed, and demonstrably wrong.

Egyptian Influence in Israel?

John Dehlin’s “truth claims” essay “Archaeology and the Book of Mormon” on the Mormon Stories website makes the following claim:

“The known hostility of Egyptians toward every other nation, particularly the Hebrews, renders it improbable that the Egyptians had sufficient interaction with the Jews so as to have them adopt their language and literature in 600 BC.”

This criticism has been repeated before by predominantly sectarian critics of Mormonism.1 It is, however, demonstrably false.

Egyptologists and biblical scholars have for nearly a century recognized that the close geographical proximity of Egypt and Israel/Canaan facilitated abundant cross-cultural exchange (including language and literature). In the words of one scholar, there was “close and intense relations between Egypt and Palestine through the millennia.”2 While the exact nature and extent of the Egypto-Levantine exchange remains debated, no serious scholar denies that such exchange did in fact occur:

  • Kenneth A. Kitchen, “Some Egyptian Background to the Old Testament,” Tyndale Bulletin 5-6 (April, 1960) 4-18.
  • Ronald J. Williams, “Some Egyptianisms in the Old Testament,” in Studies in Honor of John A. Wilson, ed. E. B. Hauser, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 35 (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1969), 93–98.
  • Ronald J. Williams, “‘A People Come Out of Egypt’: An Egyptologist looks at the Old Testament,” in Congress Volume Edinburgh 1974 (Leiden: Brill, 1975), 231–252.
  • Boyo Ockinga, Die Gottebenbildlichkeit im alten Ägypten und im Alten Testament, Ägypten und Altes Testament 7 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1984).
  • Donald B. Redford, Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1992).
  • James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1994).
  • John D. Currid, Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997).
  • Bernd Ulrich Schipper, Israel und Ägypten in der Königszeit: Die kulturellen Kontakte von Salomo bis zum Fall Jerusalems (Freiburg: Universitätsverlag Freiburg, 1999).
  • Gary N. Knoppers and Antoine Hirsch, eds., Egypt, Israel, and the Ancient Mediterranean World: Studies in Honor of Donald B. Redford (Leiden: Brill, 2004).
  • S. Bar, D. Kahn, and JJ Shirley, eds., Egypt, Canaan and Israel: History, Imperialism, Ideology and Literature (Leiden: Brill, 2011).
  • James K. Hoffmeier, “Egyptian Religious Influences on the Early Hebrews,” in “Did I Not Bring Israel Out of Egypt?” Biblical, Archaeological, and Egyptological Perspectives on the Exodus Narratives, ed. James K. Hoffmeier, Alan R. Millard, and Gary A. Rendsburg (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016), 3–35.
  • Izak Cornelius, “From Bes to Baal”: Religious Interconnections Between Egypt and the East, in Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 209–217.

In particular, it is clear that Egyptian wisdom literature influenced Israelite compositions:

  • Adolf Erman, “Eine ägyptische Quelle der »Sprüche Salomos«,” Sitzungsberichte der preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 15 (1924): 86–93.
  • D. C. Simpson, “The Hebrew Book of Proverbs and the Teachings of Amenophis,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 12, no. 3/4 (Oct. 1926): 232–239.
  • Glendon E. Bryce, A Legacy of Wisdom: The Egyptian Contribution to the Wisdom of Israel (Lewisburg: Bucknell University, 1979).
  • James K. Hoffmeier, “Some Thoughts on Genesis 1 & 2 and Egyptian Cosmology,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 15 (1983): 39–49.
  • James E. Atwell, “An Egyptian Source for Genesis 1,” The Journal of Theological Studies 51, no. 2 (2000): 441–477.
  • Bernd U. Schipper, “Egyptian Background to the Psalms,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, ed. William P. Brown (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2014), 57–75.
  • Nili Shupak, “The Contribution of Egyptian Wisdom Literature,” in Was There a Wisdom Tradition? New Prospects in Israelite Wisdom Studies, ed. Mark R. Sneed (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2015), 265–304.
  • Nili Shupak, “No Man Is Born Wise”: Ancient Egyptian Wisdom Literature and its Contact with Biblical Literature (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2016). [Hebrew]
  • Noga Ayali-Darshan, “Egyptian and Levantine Belles-Lettres–––Links and Influences during the Bronze Age,” in Pharaoh’s Land and Beyond: Ancient Egypt and Its Neighbors, ed. Pearce Paul Creasman and Richard H. Wilkinson (New York, NY.: Oxford University Press, 2017), 195–205.

As one scholar concluded, “There is no reason to doubt that there could have been [Egyptian] literary influence on Hebrew cosmology as there was in other areas of Hebrew literature.”3

What’s more, it has been recognized for some time that a scribal tradition of using the Egyptian script known as hieratic developed in ancient Israel before and during the time of Lehi and Nephi:

  • Orly Goldwasser, “An Egyptian Scribe from Lachish and the Hieratic Tradition of the Hebrew Kingdoms,” Tel Aviv 18 (1991): 248–253.
  • Stefan Wimmer, Palästiniches Hieratisch: Die Zahl- und Sonderzeichen in der althebräishen Schrift (Wiesbaden: Harraossowitz, 2008).
  • David Calabro, “The Hieratic Scribal Tradition in Preexilic Judah,” in Evolving Egypt: Innovation, Appropriation, and Reinterpretation in Ancient Egypt, BAR International Series 2397, ed. Kerry Muhlestein and John Gee (Oxford, Eng.: Archaeopress, 2012), 77–85.

Of course, Latter-day Saint authors have drawn attention to this data and have discussed its relevance for the Book of Mormon:

But one need to not turn to academic esoterica to see Dehlin’s claim is on its face absurd. One need only read the Bible to discover that Judah and Egypt were diplomatic allies during Lehi’s lifetime.

The only feasible conclusion is that John Dehlin (or the anonymous author of this essay) is either ignorant of this evidence or is deliberately deceiving his readers.

DNA and the Book of Mormon: A Note on Sources

The new “Truth Claims” essays on John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories website purport to be “accurate and robust.” One way to test this claim is by checking what sources are cited in each essay. After all, citations of peer reviewed scholarship are what make a piece of writing “accurate and robust,” no?

Screenshot from the Mormon Stories “Truth Claims” webpage.

To see just how “accurate and robust” the Mormon Stories essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon is, let’s do a tally of what sources are cited or otherwise linked to in the essay:

The first source cited in the essay is “Dr. David Glenn Smith/U.C.-Davis molecular anthropologist, Sunstone Symposium, 2002.”

Screenshot from “DNA and the Book of Mormon”.

Dr. Smith is a qualified scientist, but the source cited is not a scientific paper. It is, instead, a non-academic symposium presentation.

The next two sources cited are a piece from Scientific American, a reputable science magazine, and a non-peer reviewed Internet article by Joel Groat, who has no training in molecular science or population genetics.

Screenshot from “DNA and the Book of Mormon”.

The next source is a hyperlink to Wikipedia (hyperlinked to the word “Lenba”.)

Screenshot from “DNA and the Book of Mormon”.

The next source comes from Nature, another reputable science journal.

Screenshot from “DNA and the Book of Mormon”.

Finally, the last two sources are the Gospel Topics essay “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” and a blog post by Simon Southerton, an excommunicated former Latter-day Saint with training in molecular science.

Screenshot from “DNA and the Book of Mormon”.

Dehlin’s essay cites a total of seven sources. Of these seven sources, only the citations to Scientific American and Nature qualify as peer-reviewed scholarship. The rest are from Internet sites and a non-academic symposium.

Now let’s take a look at the sources cited in the Church’s Gospel Topics essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon. Unlike Dehlin’s article, we actually know who the primary author of the Church’s Gospel Topics essay is: a population geneticist and molecular scientist named Ugo Perego. (Perego has gone on the public record as being the principle author of the Gospel Topics essay.)

A list of Ugo’s scientific publications relating to population genetics can be seen here. A list of his peer-reviewed publications related to the Book of Mormon can be seen here. So until the author of the Mormon Stories article comes forth and proves he or she is more qualified than Perego to reliably guide readers through this issue, Perego has the anonymous author beat in terms of scientific expertise and academic publications relevant to this subject.

Looking at the footnotes of the Gospel Topics essay, one sees the following citations:

  • Antonio Torroni and others, “Asian Affinities and Continental Radiation of the Four Founding Native American mtDNAs,” American Journal of Human Genetics 53 (1993): 563–90.
  • Alessandro Achilli and others, “The Phylogeny of the Four Pan-American MtDNA Haplogroups: Implications for Evolutionary and Disease Studies,” PloS ONE 3, no. 3 (Mar. 2008): e1764.
  • Ugo A. Perego and others, “Distinctive Paleo-Indian Migration Routes from Beringia Marked by Two Rare mtDNA Haplogroups,” Current Biology 19 (2009): 1–8.
  • Martin Bodner and others, “Rapid Coastal Spread of First Americans: Novel Insights from South America’s Southern Cone Mitochondrial Genomes,” Genome Research 22 (2012): 811–20.
  • Peter A. Underhill and Toomas Kivisild, “Use of Y Chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Population Structure in Tracing Human Migrations,” Annual Review of Genetics 41 (2007): 539–64.
  • International Society of Genetic Genealogy, “Y-DNA Haplogroup Tree 2014”.
  • Mannis van Oven and Manfred Kayser M., “Updated Comprehensive Phylogenetic Tree of Global Human Mitochondrial DNA Variation,” Human Mutation 30 (2009): E386–E394.
  • Vincenza Battaglia and others, “The First Peopling of South America: New Evidence from Y-Chromosome Haplogroup Q,” PLoS ONE 8, no. 8 (Aug. 2013): e71390.
  • Ugo A. Perego and others, “The Initial Peopling of the Americas: A Growing Number of Founding Mitochondrial Genomes from Beringia,” Genome Research 20 (2010): 1174–79.
  • Jennifer Anne Raff and Deborah A. Bolnick, “Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas? A Critical Re-Evaluation,” PaleoAmerica 4, no. 1 (2015): 297–303.
  • Rasmus Nielsen and others, “Tracing the People of the World through Genomics,” Nature 541 (2017): 302–10.
  • Maanasa Raghavan and others, “Upper Palaeolithic Siberian Genome Reveals Dual Ancestry of Native Americans,” Nature 505 (2014): 87–91.
  • Stephen L. Zegura and others, “High-Resolution SNPs and Microsatellite Haplotypes Point to a Single, Recent Entry of Native American Y Chromosomes into the Americas,” Molecular Biology and Evolution 21, no. 1 (2004): 164–75.
  • Pedro Soares and others, “Correcting for Purifying Selection: An Improved Human Mitochondrial Molecular Clock,” American Journal of Human Genetics 84, no. 6 (2009): 740–59.
  • Alessandro Achilli and others, “Reconciling Migration Models to the Americas with the Variation of North American Native Mitogenomes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 35 (2013): 14308–13.
  • Morten Rasmussen and others, “Ancient Human Genome Sequence of an Extinct Palaeo-Eskimo,” Nature, Feb. 11, 2010, 757–62.
  • Quoted in Cassandra Brooks, “First Ancient Human Sequenced,” Scientist,Feb. 10, 2010, www.thescientist.com/blog/display/57140.
  • Michael H. Crawford, The Origins of Native Americans: Evidence from Anthropological Genetics [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], 4.
  • David S. Jones, “Virgin Soils Revisited,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 60, no. 4 (Oct. 2003): 703–42.
  • Michael H. Crawford, Origins of Native Americans, 49–51, 239–41, 260–61.
  • Agnar Helgason and others, “A Populationwide Coalescent Analysis of Icelandic Matrilineal and Patrilineal Genealogies: Evidence for a Faster Evolutionary Rate of mtDNA Lineages than Y Chromosomes,” American Journal of Human Genetics 72 (2003): 1370–88.
  • Beth Alison Schultz Shook and David Glenn Smith, “Using Ancient MtDNA to Reconstruct the Population History of Northeastern North America,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 137 (2008): 14.
  • How Many Genetic Ancestors Do I Have?” Co-op Lab, Population and Evolutionary Genetics, UC Davis.

The number of scientific publications on the matter of DNA and population genetics cited in the Gospel Topics essay is 23. (I have omitted citations of pieces appearing in Latter-day Saint journals pertaining to the history and interpretation of the Book of Mormon, although those are relevant as well.)

So on the one hand, the Gospel Topics essay was written by a trained and qualified population geneticist and is replete with citations of scientific scholarship. On the other hand, Dehlin’s essay cites only two pieces of scientific scholarship and opts to cite non-peer reviewed Internet websites for the rest of its citations.

Even without necessarily getting into the matter of who is correctly interpreting and synthesizing the relevant scientific evidence, it is very clear that at first glance the Gospel Topics essay is much more “accurate and robust” compared to Dehlin’s essay.

The truth is that genetics is a complex and nuanced field of study. Laypersons can only go so far before they are obliged to rely on the testimony of scientific authorities. If you have to put your trust in just one of these two essays to give you an “accurate and robust” picture of what’s going on with DNA and the Book of Mormon, the safe bet is to go with the Church’s Gospel Topics essay, not Dehlin’s essay.

(Said another way, the Gospel Topics essay would be more likely to get a passing grade in a freshman biology class, whereas Dehlin’s essay most likely wouldn’t.)