Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I thought I'd write bout this, since I think I have things to say that haven't been noted by others.
A recent attack on the validity of the Book of Mormon is the argument that the DNA of Native Americans does not reflect Jewish populations, but looks more like Asian stock. There's a bundle of objections that could be raised to that argument, but I'm gonna focus on one. That is, that the Nephites and Lamanites were not alone in the Americas.
The earliest evidence for this theory is the story of Sherem, the first anti-Christ to come into view in the narrative. His story is at the end of the Book of Jacob.
1 And now it came to pass after some years had passed away, there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem.
6 And it came to pass that he came unto me, and on this wise did he speak unto me, saying: Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ.
A man came among the people of Nephi. He was not a Nephite. He didn't grow up with them, he came later. He seeks an audience with Jacob and talks to him as a stranger, meeting for the first time. Not possible in a tiny community representing at most 5 generations descended from two families.
So he's not a Nephite. Is he a Lamanite though? The text doesn't say so, which seems odd. But there is this, his next line to Jacob:
7 And ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and akeep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence.
10 And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea.
Why would a non-Lehite speak of the Law of Moses? Why does he believe the scriptures? Here's the weakest point in the argument that Sherem was an "other." There's evidence elsewhere (for example during Jacob's beratement of the Nephites for being worse than the Lamanites in their treatment of women) that the Lamanites continued for some time to live the Law of Moses - that Laman and Lemuel were learned and practitioners of the Jewish faith, and that these practices were passed on.
So how can that be explained in a theory of others besides the Lehites? The answer is that when the Lehites arrived, they integrated themselves into existing communities and thaught them their religion (it helps explain the growth rate, that a "People" that could sustain a King can exist so soon). The Law of Moses spread through the local area as the true faith - but a split developed between the high priests of the new faith: Nephi and Jacob on one side, and Laman and Lemuel on the other. In this theory Sherem is a missionary with the zeal of the convert come to save the heretical Nephites.
Other phrases used are consistent with (but don't prove) this theory. Sherem "was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people." (v. 4) Maybe this means Jacob wasn't quite so learned or perfect in the language? How does someone in a community of no more than a few hundred (maximum with the Lehites alone theory) become "learned," or gain such a great distinction as perfect knowledge of the language? You don't - you adopt the speech forms of your community.
The alternative is there were cities or centers of learning already in existence, where Sherem could go to learn big words and flattering speech. That Jacob hadn't had that opportunity, but had gained sway simply through the power of the Spirit.
So anyways those are my thoguhts. Most accounts I see of it don't mention Sherem's apparant belief in the Law of Moses, so I figure that's my contribution.
As a final note, some of this pattern is repeated later in the case of the Zoramites. Alma, who had been Chief Judge, is suprised at the practices of the Zoramites when he goes on his mission there. It seems Zarahemla never had an especially tight hold on the Zoramites. When Alma speaks of why they should go on a mission there he says "and many of them are our brethren." Many means not all. Were they a Nephite/Lamanite mix? Possible. But very frequently elsewhere in Alma and the Book of Mormon the Lamanites are described with the term brethren, and why not here? "They are all our brothers!" seems more persuasive than "many of them are our brethren." But again the Zoramites have a religion derived from the Lehite faith - they mention not being decieved by their parents religious deviations (meaning the teachings of Christ), again mirroring Sherem's quest.
EDIT: Recently reread that section, and the Zoramites were included with the Nephites previously and dissented, and their apostasy came after their separation. I was also incorrect on when Alma said what he did. It was actually part of his prayer after his missionary force arrived. But that end makes it stronger - when speaking about the Lamanites in a religious context in particular they're always refered to as brethren. For example, on their way to their mission among the Lamanites, the sons of Mosiah prayed to the Lord for assistance, and He responded: "Go forth among the Lamanites, thy brethren, and establish my word" (Alma 17:11).
Final final word. If Lehi's party arrived in the Americas and found an existing civilization that they integrated themselves with and spread their religion in, even if Lehi found his way into the family trees of every inhabitant of the Western Hemisphere (also possible) it wouldn't even be a blip in their genetic code.
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