Mormonism in The New Germany, by Dale Clark

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

Re: Mormonism in The New Germany, by Dale Clark

Postby admin » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:53 pm

Israel’s “Other Tribes”
by Vern G. Swanson
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
January, 1982

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When the Prophet Joseph Smith set down the Articles of Faith in 1842, he included an interesting declaration concerning the tribes of Israel which now reads in part: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; [and] that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American Continent.” (A of F 1:10.)

In that statement the Prophet acknowledged, first, a historical fact—that a large portion of the house of Israel had been taken by Assyria from the land of their inheritance and thus were lost from the common knowledge of the tribe of Judah, the ancient record-keepers; and second, the Prophet acknowledged the Lord’s promise for the future—that these tribes “lost” in terms of immediate recognition, would be gathered in again in the latter days.

It was the Lord himself who referred to these of his scattered sheep as the “other tribes of the house of Israel.” (3 Ne. 15:15.) The scriptures and related sources give us a limited body of information about these “other tribes” up to the point when they were “lost” to Judah’s record-keepers.

After the conquest of the promised land of Canaan (Palestine) following Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Joshua partitioned the area into thirteen geographical entities to be possessed by the tribes of Israel. The tribes lived under a government of judges for 334 years, and then under the kingship of Saul, David, and Solomon for another 120 years before the land was divided into the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah in 975 B.C.

Because of Solomon’s transgressions, the Lord declared the end of his kingdom: “And it came to pass at that time when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, that the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him in the way. …

“And Ahijah caught the new garment that was on him, and rent it in twelve pieces:

“And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon and will give ten tribes to thee.” (1 Kgs. 11:29–31.)

Thus at the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam suffered a rebellion that left him the southern part, known as the kingdom of Judah, while a northern kingdom, known as the kingdom of Israel, formed under Jeroboam. This northern kingdom was also sometimes called the kingdom of Ephraim (which was the largest and most prominent tribe), or simply “Samaria,” after the capital city of the Ephraimite province.

Jeroboam immediately plunged the kingdom of Israel into enduring wickedness. Fearing that his people would travel to Jerusalem to worship at the temple in the kingdom of Judah and thus eventually shift their allegiance there, he made idols for their false worship. (See 1 Kgs. 12:26–33.) Nevertheless, the northern kingdom of Israel endured for another 253 years before the people’s wickedness weakened the kingdom to the point that Assyria conquered it.

The Assyrian conquest began about 738 B.C. when the armies of Tiglath-Pileser III marched against Menahem, king of Israel, wresting part of his dominion and compelling him to pay tribute. By 733 B.C., all of the northern kingdom except Mount Ephraim was conquered by the Assyrians, including the lands occupied by the tribes of Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar, and the half-tribe of Manasseh in the region of Galilee, and Reuben, Gad, and the other half-tribe of Manasseh in trans-Jordan. (See 2 Kgs. 15:29; 1 Chr. 5:26.) After Tiglath-Pileser’s death in 727 B.C., he was succeeded by Shalmaneser IV, who immediately laid siege to Ephraim’s capital city of Samaria. After three years, Shalmaneser died and Sargon II took power. His famous “cylinder inscription” declares that it was he who was “the conquerer of the city of Samaria and the whole land of Beth-Omri.”

In his treatment of the kingdom of Ephraim (Israel), Sargon II followed the policies established by Tiglath-Pileser: deportation and colonization. Excavators have found, amid the ruins of his palace at Khorsabad, the annals of his conquest. One entry reads:

“In the beginning of my reign I besieged, I took by the help of the god Shamash, who gives me victory over my enemies, the city of Samaria. 27,290 of its inhabitants I carried away. … I took them to Assyria and put into their places people whom my hand had conquered.”

The Old Testament confirms this account, stating that “in the ninth year of Hoshea [722–21 B.C.] the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the fiver of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” (2 Kgs. 17:6; also 2 Kgs. 18:9–12; see map.) Then Sargon “brought men from Babylon, and from Cutha, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel.” (2 Kgs. 17:24.)

The people thus transplanted into Samaria eventually mingled with the remaining peoples of the northern kingdom and produced a religion that was a mixture of portions of the true faith and portions of pagan worship, for “they feared the Lord, [yet] served their own gods.” (2 Kgs. 17:33.) This mixture of nationalities and pollution of the religion appalled the Jews to the south and created enmity between them and these new “Samaritans.” Even in the time of the Savior, the Jews had a superior attitude toward the Samaritans.

Just how many Israelites were carried into Assyria is not known. Sargon II claimed 27,290 captives, but that number only represents the captives taken from the city of Samaria alone. Doubtless the total number carried away was significant, for Samaria never recovered as a power from the expulsion and never again became the dominant force that the northern kingdom of Israel had been. Nevertheless, the depopulation was not total, since it was the usual policy of the Assyrians to select only the ablest, most skilled, and intelligent of the people for deportation, just as Nebuchadnezzar later did in the captivity of Judah: “And he [Nebuchadnezzar] carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.” (2 Kgs. 24:14.)

It may be that those taken captive by the Assyrians numbered in the hundreds of thousands. In any case, these members of the Lord’s Other Tribes were taken away as colonists to the area of northwestern Mesopotamia, toward the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, there to await the time of their escape. Today those areas are associated with eastern Syria, northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, and the Armenian region of eastern Turkey.

Eventually, some of the displaced Israelites escaped from their captivity, to the fulfillment of the word of the Lord through his prophet Amos: “For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve.” (Amos 9:9.) How this portion escaped, and when, are not known.

Perhaps the fall of Assyria afforded the captives the opportunity to escape. In the period from 614 to 610 B.C. the army of the Medes under Cyaxeres overran all the territory of the Assyrians, including the areas of Halah and Gozan, where many of the captives had been settled. This was the end of the Assyrian empire. Subsequently, some of the peoples held captive by Assyria migrated. This migration seems to have been under way by the early part of the sixth century B.C., for at that time Nephi wrote: “Behold, there are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem. Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away.” (1 Ne. 22:4; italics added.)

The best account of the departure of the Other Tribes by Judah’s record-keepers is found in the book of 2 Esdras (also called 4 Ezra). In verses 40 through 47 of chapter 13 we read:

“These are the ten tribes which were led away captive out of their own land in the days of Josiah [Hoshea] the king, which (tribes) Salmanassar the king of the Assyrians led away captive; he carried them across the River, and (thus) they were transported into another land. But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a land further distant, where the human race had never dwelt, there at least to keep their statutes which they had not kept in their own land. And they entered by the narrow passages of the river Euphrates. For the Most High then wrought wonders for them, and stayed the springs of the River until they were passed over. And through that country there was a great way to go, (a journey) of a year and a half; and that region was called Arzareth. There they have dwelt until the last times.” (R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2 vols., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964, 2:619.)

This report agrees with 2 Kings 17:6, 18:11 [2 Kgs. 17:6; 2 Kgs. 18:11], and 1 Chronicles 5:26 [1 Chr. 5:26] in that the tribes would have been taken “across the River” (the Euphrates) on the way to the places of captivity named in those verses. An escape “by the narrow passages of the river Euphrates” (that is, in its upper reaches—see map) into “a land further distant, where the human race had never dwelt” points to a northward direction for the subsequent migration of the tribes (the lands east, west, and south of Assyria were already inhabited at that time). This, too, agrees with a number of scriptural prophecies relative to the eventual return of those Other Tribes from the “land of the north,” or “north countries.” (See, Israel, Ten Lost Tribes of, in Topical Guide, LDS edition of the King James Bible.)

Beginning in 721–22 B.C., the Assyrians carried many Israelites captive, settling them “in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” From these areas, according to one account, they later migrated northward “by the narrow passages of the river Euphrates.”

This was to be an event of such significance that the prophet Jeremiah spoke these powerful words:

“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

“But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jer. 23:7–8.)

Precisely where the tribes journeyed after the fall of Assyria is another unknown, even as it is unknown to Judah where Lehi and Mulek went; Arzareth itself simply means “another land.” But seeking an actual locale is perhaps an irrelevant question, since the scriptures clearly indicate that the Other Tribes were to be scattered among many nations, even though a distinct remnant of them clearly would remain in the “land of the north.”

It is also clear that part of the scattering surely involved portions of the Other Tribes that didn’t go north. As mentioned earlier, some of the population of the northern kingdom were left in the conquered lands of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians and not taken captive at all. Others, although taken captive, elected to remain in the land of their captivity, for Isaiah indicated in his well-known prophecy: “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.” (Isa. 11:11; also 2 Ne. 21:11; italics added.) Assyria, Elam, Shinar, and Hamath were all lands involved in the Assyrian captivity. This same principle also applies to Judah, for many Jews did not return to Jerusalem after establishing themselves in Babylon and places where they fled.

Nevertheless, as a distinct remnant, the Other Tribes did become “lost” to Judah’s record-keepers—not simply because they were taken captive, but also because they left their captivity and went forth “into a land further distant,” numerous of them undoubtedly choosing to settle in the lands through which they traveled.

Since that time—particularly in the last few centuries—attempts to locate and identify the Other Tribes have been numerous. At different times and by a variety of Christian authors the Other Tribes of Israel have been identified with the Japanese, Chinese, Turks, Ethiopians, Persians, Yemenites, Nestorians, Afghans, Arabians, Britons, Kassites of Russia, Hindus and Buddhists of India, Scythians, Cimmerians, Celts, Kareens of Burma, North and South American Indians, Australians, and Eskimos. Indeed it is possible that remnants of the Other Tribes may have spread out and became part of all these peoples in fulfillment of the prophecies that Israel would spread itself throughout many countries.

In the ninth century, for example, a man called Eldad ben Mahli went to Kairwan, Tunisia, announcing that he was from a Jewish kingdom in Ethiopia comprising peoples of four of the ten tribes. This tradition continued into the sixteenth century when the geographer Abraham Yagel placed the Other Tribes in Ethiopia and India. Perhaps the most interesting accounts of Other Tribes “hunting” came from a merchant named Benjamin de Tudels, a Jewish-Spanish traveler at the time of the Crusades who shared an account of Jewish communities in the Near East and communities of the Other Tribes in Iran, India, and beyond, northward as well as eastward. Many are the legends, romantic tales, and speculations concerning the locale or present-day identification of the “Lost Tribes.”

It was in this vacuum of reliable reformation regarding the Other Tribes that in November 1831 Joseph Smith received this revelation from the Lord:

“They who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.

“And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep. …

“And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim, my servants.

“And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their presence.

“And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim.

“And they shall be filled with songs of everlasting joy.” (D&C 133:26–33.)

In the last days, then, the Other Tribes are to come to Zion, “upon the American continent,” there to receive blessings from Ephraim. The keys of the “gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” were committed to the Prophet Joseph Smith by Moses on 3 April 1836 in the Kirtland Temple. Since Ephraim itself was one of the Other Tribes lost to Jewish and Christian history, we see that the promised restoration has already begun. In fact, we have been blessed to identify many from another tribe, Manasseh. This identification of tribal lineage is made under the hands of inspired patriarchs in the normal spiritual processes incident to the functions of the priesthood.

As we look toward our common future, we see that, as foretold, the great gathering, or restoration, of all the peoples of Israel who have spread themselves throughout the world will be accomplished and distinct remnants of all of the tribal units of Israel will at last be united again in fellowship under Christ. All tribes are to have representation in the establishment of the New Jerusalem. All tribes will have representatives in the calling of the “hundred and forty and four thousand” mentioned in John’s revelation, twelve thousand out of every tribe of Israel. (Rev. 7:2–8.) These are “high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.” (D&C 77:11.) Thus, a great work awaits representatives of each tribe as they continue to preach the gospel throughout the world to all mankind. Ultimately, in righteousness the Other Tribes of Israel will be prepared to return to Jerusalem, to receive with Judah the lands of their first inheritance. (See Deut. 30:1–5.)

Certainly all the reasons why the Lord “hid” the tribes—as he did with both Ephraim and Manasseh—and exactly when we will identify the others and when a distinct remnant of “they who are in the north countries” will come to “the boundaries of the everlasting hills” is information that remains with God. However, we do know that it will ultimately be for the benefit of all—for those who were “lost,” for the nations who were blessed by their leavening seed, and for us in Israel today who await the gathering of these Other Tribes and the great work of restoring to all the peoples of Israel the true knowledge of their God and King, Jesus Christ.

Bas-relief from the Black Obelisk showing the Israelite King Jehu bowing to Shalmaneser III, King of Assyria, which took place around 820 B.C. (Photography courtesy of the British Museum.)

Vern Grosvenor Swanson, director of the Springville, Utah, Museum of Art, teaches the seventies group in his ward.
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Re: Mormonism in The New Germany, by Dale Clark

Postby admin » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:58 pm

Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted: DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies are being twisted to attack its beliefs.
by William Lobdell
Los Angeles Times
February 16, 2006

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From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faith was shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East.

"I've gone through stages," he said. "Absolutely denial. Utter amazement and surprise. Anger and bitterness."

For Mormons, the lack of discernible Hebrew blood in Native Americans is no minor collision between faith and science. It burrows into the historical foundations of the Book of Mormon, a 175-year-old transcription that the church regards as literal and without error.


For those outside the faith, the depth of the church's dilemma can be explained this way: Imagine if DNA evidence revealed that the Pilgrims didn't sail from Europe to escape religious persecution but rather were part of a migration from Iceland -- and that U.S. history books were wrong.

Critics want the church to admit its mistake and apologize to millions of Native Americans it converted. Church leaders have shown no inclination to do so. Indeed, they have dismissed as heresy any suggestion that Native American genetics undermine the Mormon creed.

Yet at the same time, the church has subtly promoted a fresh interpretation of the Book of Mormon intended to reconcile the DNA findings with the scriptures. This analysis is radically at odds with long-standing Mormon teachings.

Some longtime observers believe that ultimately, the vast majority of Mormons will disregard the genetic research as an unworthy distraction from their faith.

"This may look like the crushing blow to Mormonism from the outside," said Jan Shipps, a professor emeritus of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who has studied the church for 40 years. "But religion ultimately does not rest on scientific evidence, but on mystical experiences. There are different ways of looking at truth."

According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an angel named Moroni led Joseph Smith in 1827 to a divine set of golden plates buried in a hillside near his New York home.

God provided the 22-year-old Smith with a pair of glasses and seer stones that allowed him to translate the "Reformed Egyptian" writings on the golden plates into the "Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

Mormons believe these scriptures restored the church to God's original vision and left the rest of Christianity in a state of apostasy.

The book's narrative focuses on a tribe of Jews who sailed from Jerusalem to the New World in 600 BC and split into two main warring factions.

The God-fearing Nephites were "pure" (the word was officially changed from "white" in 1981) and "delightsome." The idol-worshiping Lamanites received the "curse of blackness," turning their skin dark.

According to the Book of Mormon, by 385 AD the dark-skinned Lamanites had wiped out other Hebrews. The Mormon church called the victors "the principal ancestors of the American Indians." If the Lamanites returned to the church, their skin could once again become white.

Over the years, church prophets -- believed by Mormons to receive revelations from God -- and missionaries have used the supposed ancestral link between the ancient Hebrews and Native Americans and later Polynesians as a prime conversion tool in Central and South America and the South Pacific.

"As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi [patriarch of the Lamanites], whose sons and daughters you are," church president and prophet Gordon B. Hinckley said in 1997 during a Mormon conference in Lima, Peru. "I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude.... This is but the beginning of the work in Peru."

In recent decades, Mormonism has flourished in those regions, which now have nearly 4 million members -- about a third of Mormon membership worldwide, according to church figures.

"That was the big sell," said Damon Kali, an attorney who practices law in Sunnyvale, Calif., and is descended from Pacific Islanders. "And quite frankly, that was the big sell for me. I was a Lamanite. I was told the day of the Lamanite will come."

A few months into his two-year mission in Peru, Kali stopped trying to convert the locals. Scientific articles about ancient migration patterns had made him doubt that he or anyone else was a Lamanite.

"Once you do research and start getting other viewpoints, you're toast," said Kali, who said he was excommunicated in 1996 over issues unrelated to the Lamanite issue. "I could not do missionary work anymore."


Critics of the Book of Mormon have long cited anachronisms in its narrative to argue that it is not the work of God. For instance, the Mormon scriptures contain references to a seven-day week, domesticated horses, cows and sheep, silk, chariots and steel. None had been introduced in the Americas at the time of Christ.

In the 1990s, DNA studies gave Mormon detractors further ammunition and new allies such as Simon G. Southerton, a molecular biologist and former bishop in the church.

Southerton, a senior research scientist with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, said genetic research allowed him to test his religious views against his scientific training.

Genetic testing of Jews throughout the world had already shown that they shared common strains of DNA from the Middle East. Southerton examined studies of DNA lineages among Polynesians and indigenous peoples in North, Central and South America. One mapped maternal DNA lines from 7,300 Native Americans from 175 tribes.

Southerton found no trace of Middle Eastern DNA in the genetic strands of today's American Indians and Pacific Islanders.

In "Losing a Lost Tribe," published in 2004, he concluded that Mormonism -- his faith for 30 years -- needed to be reevaluated in the face of these facts, even though it would shake the foundations of the faith.

The problem is that Mormon leaders cannot acknowledge any factual errors in the Book of Mormon because the prophet Joseph Smith proclaimed it the "most correct of any book on Earth," Southerton said in an interview.

"They can't admit that it's not historical," Southerton said. "They would feel that there would be a loss of members and loss in confidence in Joseph Smith as a prophet."



This seaport of Smyrna, our first notable acquaintance in Asia, is a closely packed city of one hundred and thirty thousand inhabitants, and, like Constantinople, it has no outskirts. It is as closely packed at its outer edges as it is in the centre, and then the habitations leave suddenly off and the plain beyond seems houseless. It is just like any other Oriental city. That is to say, its Moslem houses are heavy and dark, and as comfortless as so many tombs; its streets are crooked, rudely and roughly paved, and as narrow as an ordinary staircase; the streets uniformly carry a man to any other place than the one he wants to go to, and surprise him by landing him in the most unexpected localities; business is chiefly carried on in great covered bazaars, celled like a honeycomb with innumerable shops no larger than a common closet, and the whole hive cut up into a maze of alleys about wide enough to accommodate a laden camel, and well calculated to confuse a stranger and eventually lose him; every where there is dirt, every where there are fleas, every where there are lean, broken-hearted dogs; every alley is thronged with people; wherever you look, your eye rests upon a wild masquerade of extravagant costumes; the workshops are all open to the streets, and the workmen visible; all manner of sounds assail the ear, and over them all rings out the muezzin’s cry from some tall minaret, calling the faithful vagabonds to prayer; and superior to the call to prayer, the noises in the streets, the interest of the costumes—superior to every thing, and claiming the bulk of attention first, last, and all the time—is a combination of Mohammedan stenches, to which the smell of even a Chinese quarter would be as pleasant as the roasting odors of the fatted calf to the nostrils of the returning Prodigal. Such is Oriental luxury—such is Oriental splendor! We read about it all our days, but we comprehend it not until we see it. Smyrna is a very old city. Its name occurs several times in the Bible, one or two of the disciples of Christ visited it, and here was located one of the original seven apocalyptic churches spoken of in Revelations. These churches were symbolized in the Scriptures as candlesticks, and on certain conditions there was a sort of implied promise that Smyrna should be endowed with a “crown of life.” She was to “be faithful unto death”—those were the terms. She has not kept up her faith straight along, but the pilgrims that wander hither consider that she has come near enough to it to save her, and so they point to the fact that Smyrna to-day wears her crown of life, and is a great city, with a great commerce and full of energy, while the cities wherein were located the other six churches, and to which no crown of life was promised, have vanished from the earth. So Smyrna really still possesses her crown of life, in a business point of view. Her career, for eighteen centuries, has been a chequered one, and she has been under the rule of princes of many creeds, yet there has been no season during all that time, as far as we know, (and during such seasons as she was inhabited at all,) that she has been without her little community of Christians “faithful unto death.” Hers was the only church against which no threats were implied in the Revelations, and the only one which survived.

With Ephesus, forty miles from here, where was located another of the seven churches, the case was different. The “candlestick” has been removed from Ephesus. Her light has been put out. Pilgrims, always prone to find prophecies in the Bible, and often where none exist, speak cheerfully and complacently of poor, ruined Ephesus as the victim of prophecy. And yet there is no sentence that promises, without due qualification, the destruction of the city. The words are:

“Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”


That is all; the other verses are singularly complimentary to Ephesus. The threat is qualified. There is no history to show that she did not repent. But the cruelest habit the modern prophecy-savans have, is that one of coolly and arbitrarily fitting the prophetic shirt on to the wrong man. They do it without regard to rhyme or reason. Both the cases I have just mentioned are instances in point. Those “prophecies” are distinctly leveled at the “churches of Ephesus, Smyrna,” etc., and yet the pilgrims invariably make them refer to the cities instead. No crown of life is promised to the town of Smyrna and its commerce, but to the handful of Christians who formed its “church.” If they were “faithful unto death,” they have their crown now—but no amount of faithfulness and legal shrewdness combined could legitimately drag the city into a participation in the promises of the prophecy. The stately language of the Bible refers to a crown of life whose lustre will reflect the day-beams of the endless ages of eternity, not the butterfly existence of a city built by men’s hands, which must pass to dust with the builders and be forgotten even in the mere handful of centuries vouchsafed to the solid world itself between its cradle and its grave.

The fashion of delving out fulfillments of prophecy where that prophecy consists of mere “ifs,” trenches upon the absurd. Suppose, a thousand years from now, a malarious swamp builds itself up in the shallow harbor of Smyrna, or something else kills the town; and suppose, also, that within that time the swamp that has filled the renowned harbor of Ephesus and rendered her ancient site deadly and uninhabitable to-day, becomes hard and healthy ground; suppose the natural consequence ensues, to wit: that Smyrna becomes a melancholy ruin, and Ephesus is rebuilt. What would the prophecy-savans say? They would coolly skip over our age of the world, and say: “Smyrna was not faithful unto death, and so her crown of life was denied her; Ephesus repented, and lo! her candle-stick was not removed. Behold these evidences! How wonderful is prophecy!”

Smyrna has been utterly destroyed six times. If her crown of life had been an insurance policy, she would have had an opportunity to collect on it the first time she fell. But she holds it on sufferance and by a complimentary construction of language which does not refer to her. Six different times, however, I suppose some infatuated prophecy-enthusiast blundered along and said, to the infinite disgust of Smyrna and the Smyrniotes: “In sooth, here is astounding fulfillment of prophecy! Smyrna hath not been faithful unto death, and behold her crown of life is vanished from her head. Verily, these things be astonishing!”

Such things have a bad influence. They provoke worldly men into using light conversation concerning sacred subjects. Thick-headed commentators upon the Bible, and stupid preachers and teachers, work more damage to religion than sensible, cool-brained clergymen can fight away again, toil as they may. It is not good judgment to fit a crown of life upon a city which has been destroyed six times. That other class of wiseacres who twist prophecy in such a manner as to make it promise the destruction and desolation of the same city, use judgment just as bad, since the city is in a very flourishing condition now, unhappily for them. These things put arguments into the mouth of infidelity.


-- The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain


Officially, the Mormon Church says that nothing in the Mormon scriptures is incompatible with DNA evidence, and that the genetic studies are being twisted to attack the church.

"We would hope that church members would not simply buy into the latest DNA arguments being promulgated by those who oppose the church for some reason or other," said Michael Otterson, a Salt Lake City-based spokesman for the Mormon church.

"The truth is, the Book of Mormon will never be proved or disproved by science," he said.

Unofficially, church leaders have tacitly approved an alternative interpretation of the Book of Mormon by church apologists -- a term used for scholars who defend the faith.

The apologists say Southerton and others are relying on a traditional reading of the Book of Mormon -- that the Hebrews were the first and sole inhabitants of the New World and eventually populated the North and South American continents.

The latest scholarship, they argue, shows that the text should be interpreted differently. They say the events described in the Book of Mormon were confined to a small section of Central America, and that the Hebrew tribe was small enough that its DNA was swallowed up by the existing Native Americans.

"It would be a virtual certainly that their DNA would be swamped," said Daniel Peterson, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, part of the worldwide Mormon educational system, and editor of a magazine devoted to Mormon apologetics. "And if that is the case, you couldn't tell who was a Lamanite descendant."


Southerton said the new interpretation was counter to both a plain reading of the text and the words of Mormon leaders.

"The apologists feel that they are almost above the prophets," Southerton said. "They have completely reinvented the narrative in a way that would be completely alien to members of the church and most of the prophets."

The church has not formally endorsed the apologists' views, but the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- http://www.lds.org-- cites their work and provides links to it.

"They haven't made any explicit public declarations," said Armand L. Mauss, a church member and retired Washington State University professor who recently published a book on Mormon race and lineage. "But operationally, that is the current church's position."

The DNA debate is largely limited to church leaders, academics and a relatively small circle of church critics. Most Mormons, taught that obedience is a key value, take the Book of Mormon as God's unerring word.

"It's not that Mormons are not curious," Mauss said. "They just don't see the need to reconsider what has already been decided."


Critics contend that Mormon leaders are quick to stifle dissent. In 2002, church officials began an excommunication proceeding against Thomas W. Murphy, an anthropology professor at Edmonds Community College in Washington state.

He was deemed a heretic for saying the Mormon scriptures should be considered inspired fiction in light of the DNA evidence.


After the controversy attracted national media coverage, with Murphy's supporters calling him the Galileo of Mormonism, church leaders halted the trial.

Loayza, the Salt Lake City attorney, said the church should embrace the controversy.

"They should openly address it," he said. "Often, the tack they adopt is to just ignore or refrain from any opinion. We should have the courage of our convictions. This [Lamanite issue] is potentially destructive to the faith."

Otterson, the church spokesman, said Mormon leaders would remain neutral. "Whether Book of Mormon geography is extensive or limited or how much today's Native Americans reflect the genetic makeup of the Book of Mormon peoples has absolutely no bearing on its central message as a testament of Jesus Christ," he said.

Mauss said the DNA studies haven't shaken his faith. "There's not very much in life -- not only in religion or any field of inquiry -- where you can feel you have all the answers," he said.

"I'm willing to live in ambiguity. I don't get that bothered by things I can't resolve in a week."

For others, living with ambiguity has been more difficult. Phil Ormsby, a Polynesian who lives in Brisbane, Australia, grew up believing he was a Hebrew.

"I visualized myself among the fighting Lamanites and lived out the fantasies of the [Book of Mormon] as I read it," Ormsby said. "It gave me great mana [prestige] to know that these were my true ancestors."

The DNA studies have altered his feelings completely.

"Some days I am angry, and some days I feel pity," he said. "I feel pity for my people who have become obsessed with something that is nothing but a hoax."
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