Meldrum, D. Jeffrey

Who Are the Children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon


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D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens, Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007, 5.75×8.75″ hardbound, 174 pages.

The Book of Mormon stands as the keystone of the LDS faith. Millions regard it as a book of scripture, another testament of Christ, produced in the New World by the descendants of a small party of Israelite immigrants who are among the ancestors of the American Indians. Yet DNA sequencing of modern natives of both North and South America clearly imply that their ancestors came from Asia, not the biblical lands of the Middle East. How serious is this challenge to long-held assumptions about the identity of Book of Mormon peoples? Does the DNA evidence undermine the historicity of the Book of Mormon?

In Who Are the Children of Lehi? Meldrum and Stephens, professors and researchers, provide a solidly scientific guide for the layperson, beginning with the basics. The scientific method works by proposing testable hypotheses and eliminating those that are incorrect. But the scientific method can’t falsify untestable hypotheses (for example, is there a “Lehite” genetic marker in the Americas?) nor can it prove a negative (for example, if we can’t find “Lehite” DNA, then it never existed). They also explain the fascinating process of genetic inheritance itself, illuminating technical points with easy-to-grasp examples and using their own family histories to show how DNA sequence data captures only a fraction of the 1,024 ancestral “slots” on a ten-generation pedigree chart.

This discussion lays the foundation for a fascinating overview of DNA studies on existing Native American populations, which does indeed confirm Asian origins for most current Native Americans sampled by such methods. However, that discussion leads to a sober analysis of the genocide that swept Native American populations with the arrival of Europeans. In vivid historical examples and reports of contemporary studies, the authors explain how simplistic assumptions about DNA survival must be qualified by the often drastic effects of swamping out, bottlenec ks, founder effects, genetic drift, and admixture. The result is a rich and complex view of the realities of genetic transmission. They also offer diffusionism, a hypothesis with mounting evidence of numerous transoceanic contacts, as an alternative to the “crossing the Bering land bridge” paradigm.

In their conclusion, they return to the foundations laid out in their introduction: The ultimate issues of the veracity of the Book of Mormon record as it relates to Native American ancestry lie squarely in the arena of faith and personal testimony—beyond the purview of scientific empiricism. In the end, Lehi’s legacy is one of kinship through covenant, rather than through bloodlines or genes.

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