The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint
No Weapon Shall Prosper : New Light on Sensitive Issues
Religious Studies Center, BYU, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company
Over the past decade, critics of the Book of Mormon have promoted the idea that since the majority of Amerindian DNA lineages are closely related to Asian populations, and since no perfect genetic affinity to the Middle East has been found, it must be concluded that the Book of Mormon account is fictional. This argument is sometimes bolstered in part by a common sentiment among Latter-day Saints generally that all Native Americans are descendants of the Old World migrants described in the Book of Mormon text, particularly Lehi's colony. To contend with these arguments, some Mormons dismiss DNA studies as being unreliable for reconstructing history, while others are quick to embrace any news of possible Middle Eastern DNA in the Americas as conclusive proof that the migrations to America described in the Book of Mormon are real.
In this article, I will provide an updated review on the properties of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and explain how these pertain to the study of ancient population expansions, specifically focusing on the origin of Native Americans. This topic is especially relevant to the current debate on the applicability of DNA evidence to the question of Book of Mormon historicity, as such evidence is based mostly on mtDNA data published during the past two decades. The major arguments in this debate have been presented at length in previous publications and will not be restated herein. The most pertinent supporting material that follows will provide a foundation to the reader regarding the basics of mtDNA heredity, a review and update on the most recent mtDNA data available pertaining to the origins of Native American populations, and a summary of how this information relates to the larger DNA and Book of Mormon discussion. It is important for readers to understand that while mtDNA and other genetic motifs are useful in elucidating some historical questions, it may not be possible to achieve a full resolution of questions arising between secular and religious history.