Recent scientific challenges to the Book of Mormon are reshaping the self-understanding and identity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, reports the independent Mormon magazine Sunstone (March).
Recent scientific DNA confirmations that the ancient Amerindian people are of Asian genetic origin has caused considerable controversy both inside and outside Mormonism. News of a challenge to the LDS teaching that Indian peoples of North, Central and South American continent are the lost tribes of Israel has “spread like wildfire among various Christian groups eager to win the souls of potentially disillusioned Latter-day Saints. More important, perhaps, is [that] the questions produced by these studies have also begun to reach Latter-day Saints in the pews.”
The article continues that “LDS scholars, particularly those in [the Mormon apologetic group] FARMS and BYU, have scrambled to educate lay Latter-day Saints on where Book of Mormon studies currently stand.” In the last 25 years, believing Book of Mormon theorists have increasingly moved to a “limited geography model,” where the references to events surrounding Amerindians in the text are reframed to mean they existed in a small locale in Mesoamerica rather than throughout North, Central and South America. Thus the actual Book of Mormon populations were much smaller than originally believed and through intermarriage with other Amerindians eventually lost their Middle Eastern genetic markers.
What is new is that the official church seems to be tactically endorsing the limited geography model and “its attendant implications for the identity of the Book of Mormon peoples.” Since Indian converts have been assigned a special place in the Mormon cosmology, the new findings have particularly alarmed these members. Brent Lee Metcalfe concludes that these findings may encourage doubts and even defections and that church apologists have an “arduous task ahead of them.”
(Sunstone, 343 N. Third West, Salt Lake City, UT 84103-1215)