Change in Book of Mormon about Indians causes stir

Salt Lake City, Utah (AP) 11-07

A change in the introduction to the central text of the Mormon faith is seen by some observers as having serious implications about the church’s beliefs about American Indians.

Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe American Indians, known as Lamanites, are direct descendants of two ancient tribes of Israel living in the Americas.

A 1961 introduction in the Book of Mormon says they “are the principal descendants.”

But a 2006 edition published by Doubleday reads: “After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” The distinction between “are” and “are among” may seem slight. But some observers say it justifies claims that the book was church founder Joseph Smith’s creation, not a historical record.

It also looks like a concession to DNA research that concludes the earliest settlers to colonize the Americas came from Asia via the Bering Strait and lack a genetic connection to Hebrew blood.

“DNA has revealed very clearly how closely related American Indians are to their Siberian ancestors,” said Simon Southerton, a molecular biologist in Australia and DNA researcher who is an excommunicated Mormon. “The Lamanites are invisible, not principal ancestors.”

The Book of Mormon is said to have been translated by Smith from a set of gold plates revealed to him by an angel in New York state in the 1820s.

LDS scholars dispute the idea that DNA eliminates the possible veracity of the Lamanites.

Mormon researcher and DNA expert John Butler said a demographic analysis of the Book of Mormon leaves room for population growth and genetic mixing.

“Events related in the Book of Mormon likely took place in a limited region, leaving plenty of room for other Native American peoples to have existed,” he said.

The Mormon church’s Web site states: “Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin. The scientific issues relating to DNA, however, are numerous and complex.”

Doubleday said church leaders asked for the change.

Church spokesman Mark Tuttle said new language “takes into account details of Book of Mormon demography which are not known” and “will be included in the next edition of the Book of Mormon printed by the church.”

Details about the change, first reported Thursday by The Salt Lake Tribune, have caused a stir on Web sites among current and former church members.

But others say it’s much ado about nothing. John Sorensen, Brigham Young University professor emeritus of anthropology, said the word change doesn’t change the Book of Mormon’s impact.

It “eliminates a certain minor embarrassment in the use of language, that’s all,” he said.