"I Nephi, having been born of goodly parents… make a record in the language of my father" (1 Nephi 1:1,2)

So begins the story in the Book of Mormon concerning the migration of a man named Lehi and his family from Jerusalem in 600 B.C to the American continent. The book then continues, recounting some of the historical events that happened to Lehi's descendents for the next thousand years. Just as the Old Testament tells the history of God's dealings with a man named Jacob and the descendents of his twelve sons, so too the Book of Mormon tells the spiritual history of Lehi's children, who went on to form two great nations. One nation was named after Lehi's eldest son, Laman, who called themselves Lamanites, while the other nation took upon themselves the name of their founder, Nephi, who was Lehi's fourth son and called themselves Nephites.

For millions of people who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this book is consider to be a factual and accurate account and believe that it is the word of God in the same way as is the Bible. They further believe that a young man named Joseph Smith translated this book from an ancient record that was written on gold plates back in 400 A.D. and that the location of where these plates were buried was shown to him by an angel of God.

However, to many outside the LDS Church, especially those of other religions, this book is viewed as a work of fiction, dreamed up in 1830 by an imaginative, out-of-work twenty-five year old man named Joseph Smith. Because of this view, for more than a hundred and seventy-five years these critics have diligently tried to find some kind of concrete, absolute, irrefutable evidence to prove that the Book of Mormon is nothing more than fanciful literature, thereby proving that the LDS Church and its doctrines are based on a lie.

Recently, scientists have finished mapping the human genome, which allows them to better understand and study the DNA molecule that provides our bodies with the blueprint it needs to know how to form and develop. With this knowledge scientists are now better able to determine our ancestral heritage through the study of our genes. By comparing the genes of one group of people to another, they have been able to determine who is descendent from whom. Of particular interest to many has been the study of tracing the lineage of the Jews.

Since Lehi was a citizen of Jerusalem, and therefore, presumably a Jew, it was felt that if the story in the Book of Mormon is true then there should be evidence of Jewish heritage in the DNA of the native people living today in North, South, and Central America. However, when scientists did study the mitochondrial DNA of these people, no evidence was found linking them to the Jews. Therefore, the critics of the LDS Church believe they finally have the proof they've been looking for to prove that the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be.

Biblical genealogy generally follows the ancestral line of the son to the father. Genetically, this can easily be done by comparing the Y-chromosomes of men, which is transmitted without variation from father to son. By comparing the Y-chromosome of one male with that of another, if the two match identically then scientists know they are related to one another. This is true even if the two individuals are separated by many generations.

On the other hand, by comparing a person's mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) with that of someone else, scientists are able to determine that person's lineage through their mother because this gene is transmitted to all of her children without any change. Because of this fact, the critics claim that since Lehi's wife, Sariah, was a Jew, we should be able to find evidence of Jewish mtDNA among the native people of Central, South, and North America where, it is believed, the people of the Book of Mormon lived. However, from studies that have been made, comparing the mtDNA of native Americans with those of today's Jewish population, scientists have not been able to find any similarities so far between these two groups of people. To some, this strongly suggests that the native people of the Americas are not related to the Jews. Because of these findings, critics of the LDS Church have been very vocal in broadcasting the news that the story in the Book of Mormon is not supported by scientific fact and is therefore a false book.

Since the field of genetic research is fairly new and most people don't know very much about it, they tend to accept without question what someone has to say on this subject, especially if that person appears to know what they are talking about. Furthermore, not all scientists agree with one another on this subject. Therefore, when someone is given the perspective of just one group of scientists they may easily believe that such a perspective is endorsed or held by all other scientists in that field. Since the critics of the Book of Mormon have a stake in making sure that the evidence they present supports their viewpoint, they don't always tell the full story. As a result, many people, both within and without the LDS Church, tend to accept the conclusion of the critics based on the evidence they alone present. Since that's the case then it becomes important for us to look at all sides of this issue before coming to any firm conclusion.

There are several flaws in the argument made by the critics of the Book of Mormon concerning DNA research.

To illustrate the first one, let's suppose there is a woman named Mother 1 (M1). When she has children (1 and 2 in the illustration to the left), all of them, both male (in black) or female (in red) will carry her mtDNA, meaning that when their mtDNA is examined it will be identical to that of Mother 1, thereby showing they are related to one another. When child 1 marries and has children (3 and 4 in illustration to the right), each of them will likewise carry the mtDNA of Mother 1.

However, when child 2 marries, all of their children (5 and 6) will carry the mtDNA of their mother, who is carrying the mtDNA of Mother 2 (M2). That means, even though children 5 and 6 are the grandchildren of Mother 1 they do not carry her mtDNA. As such, studying their mtDNA would not show they were related to Mother 1.

In the next illustration to the left, if child 3, who is carrying the mtDNA of Mother 1 either dies before having any children or is unable to produce any children of her own, then the mtDNA line of Mother 1 would cease to continue and therefore the mtDNA line of Mother 1 in our illustration would become extinct at that point. If child 3 had all male children (7 and 8), each of them would have the mtDNA of Mother 1 but, when they marry, it would be the mtDNA of their wives that would be passed to their children, not that of Mother 1. At this point the mtDNA line of Mother 1 would end. For the mtDNA of Mother 1 to continue it would require an unbroken line of females.

What this means to our discussion is that if Mother 1 is of Jewish descent and if child 2 (a male) marries a woman of Jewish descent, then their children would have the mtDNA of the Jews. However, if child 2 marries a woman who is not of Jewish descent, then none of their children, through all future generations, would contain any Jewish mtDNA. Even though their children were raised in a Jewish community according to the Jewish faith, their mtDNA would not show them as being Jewish.

The number of generations that have elapsed since 400 A.D. is well over 100. To find any Jewish blood among Book of Mormon people who have survived since the time that Lehi left Jerusalem would require them to have married exclusively among their own race for over 2,700 years. If they didn't do that then the mtDNA line of Lehi's wife, Sariah would have become diluted among the population or perhaps even become extinct, depending on the amount of intermarriage that took place with other races of people. To illustrate this problem, there could be 1,000 people living today whose mtDNA can be traced directly back to one woman who lived 500 years ago but it also means there could be 100 other women from the same race who lived 500 years ago who may not have one person living today that carries their mtDNA.

The next flaw in the critics' argument is that while we know the lineage of Lehi we know nothing of Sariah's. She might have been of Jewish descent but we don't really know that for sure. That's only an educated guess based on previous historical tradition. And even if she was born to a Jewish family, for all we know, somewhere back in her distant past one of her grandmothers might have been a Gentile which means her mtDNA could be from any nationality. If her mtDNA has survived among some of the American natives of today scientists may have discovered it without recognizing it.

The next flaw is in determining what is"Jewish" mtDNA.Technically speaking, a "Jew" is someone who is a direct descendent of only one of the twelve tribes of Israel - Judah. While all Jews are Israelites, not all Israelites are Jews. However, when speaking in a general sense, a "Jew" is someone whose ancestors once belonged to the kingdom of Judah.

Until the time of Solomon, all twelve tribes of Israel lived together, but after Solomon's death the kingdom split in two, with ten of the tribes forming what was called the kingdom of Israel and the remaining two tribes (Judah and Benjamin, along with the Levites who were not counted as being a tribe) called themselves the kingdom of Judah, primarily because the tribe of Judah had, by far, the most number of people.

The Book of Mormon specifically tells us that Lehi was a descendant of Joseph through Manasseh (Alma 10:3). On the other hand, he and his wife did live in the kingdom of Judah, which means, generically speaking, they were "Jews," but, genetically speaking, they were Josephites. To understand the genetic differences between the two we need to understand the genetic makeup of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) had four wives - Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah - who bore him twelve sons. Leah's third child was Levi (Genesis 29:34) and her fourth son was Judah (Genesis 29:35). Rachel's first child was Joseph (Genesis 30:22-24). Since Leah and Rachel were sisters, they had the same mtDNA, which was transmitted to their children. That means, Judah, Levi, and Joseph all carried identical mtDNA. However, it was not passed to their children because these men married women whose mtDNA was different from Leah or Rachel's. Therefore, beginning with their grandchildren, Leah and Rachel's mtDNA line ended, making the mtDNA of Judah and Levi's descendents different from one another. Yet, while they married within their own race, after Joseph was sold into slavery he later married an Egyptian woman. That means, all of Joseph's descendents from that point on carried her non-Israelite mtDNA.

As time went on, this same situation occurred among all the other tribes of Israel and they began to intermarry, first among the twelve Israelite tribes and secondly among people from various Gentile nations. The story of Ruth is an excellent example of this. Ruth was a Moabite, which was a Gentile nation, yet she married an Israelite man named Boaz. That means, even though their children were born and raised as Israelites, they had no "Jewish" mtDNA in them. If scientists today were to look at their mtDNA they would conclude that they were not of Jewish descent.

But the situation is more complicated than this. When Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 B.C. the kingdom of Judah had never been taken captive by any other nation (although the kingdom of Israel had). If we assume that the Jews of that time only married among their own race, then Sariah's mtDNA might have been, what today's scientists consider to be, Jewish. However, shortly after Lehi arrived on the American continent, king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took captive thousands of Jews who were then scattered among his kingdom.

Forty years later a small number of Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the city. During that time many young, Jewish boys no doubt married Babylonian women. When that happened, the Jewish mtDNA gene would not have been passed to their children. Many of today's scholars assume that the men who did return to Jerusalem and reestablished the kingdom of Judah, had married Jewish women, but we don't know that for a fact. Without that knowledge, we have no way of knowing how different their genetic makeup was from those Jews who once live in Jerusalem forty years earlier. Nearly three hundred years later, Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem and turned the kingdom of Judah into a vassel state. Although the Jews were allowed to govern themselves under Alexander's rule, he nonetheless sought to impose Greek culture on all his subjects.

After them came the Romans who then took control over the Jews and sought to impose their culture on them. With all of this intermixing of culture, there is no way of knowing how much intermarriage took place among the descendents of Israel (A.K.A. Jacob) by the time Christ was born. Sixty years after the birth of Jesus, the Romans sacked Jerusalem and scattered the Jewish population throughout their empire. History shows that many of them ended up living among the native people of Europe.

Today no one knows for sure what pure Jewish mitochrondrial DNA really should look like. In order to make that determination they would have to have found the bones of Judah's wife and tested them for her mtDNA. Then, only by comparing that to the mtDNA of those living today, could they tell who was a Jew (someone from the tribe of Judah) and who wasn't. But, since we can't do that, the only other thing scientists can do is take a large sampling of mtDNA from people living today who claim to be of Jewish descent and compare their mtDNA to one another, looking for specific genes that they all have in common. It is assumed by certain scientists that these common traits would then define a person as being "Jewish."

However, this method has created some problems because some of the most common traits found among certain Jewish populations are identical to those who live in Asia rather than those who live in the Middle East where the Israelites came from. Because of this and other factors, there are scientists today who say there is no such thing as a "Jewish" gene by which we can tell if someone is a Jew or not, while other scientists believe there are certain DNA traits that are common among many Jews, but not all. What that means is that a person could be "Jewish" and still not have the same mtDNA as that of other Jews, thereby giving credence to the theory that there really is no such thing as a Jewish gene.

When it comes to the Book of Mormon, the problem is further compounded because Sariah's mtDNA in 600 B.C. is no doubt very different from the Jewish mtDNA of Christ's day, which is no doubt very different from the mtDNA of today's Jews. Therefore, it is no wonder why the mtDNA of today's native Americans doesn't match that of today's Jewish population. In reality, we should not expect it to be the same. In fact, if it was, such a condition would raise some unanswerable questions. But, because these two populations don't have the same mtDNA, the critics of the LDS Church claim they now have scientific proof that the Book of Mormon cannot be a true story.

When it comes to the study of both the Y-chromosome and the mitochrondrial DNA and how it relates to our lineage there is still so much more that has not been discussed in this article. In fact, the things mentioned in this article only scratch the surface of what scientist has discovered to date. Therefore, when the critics, in their haste to disprove the story of the Book of Mormon, want to cite some of the preliminary findings of science concerning mitochrondrial DNA and ancient lineage they only present a very small fraction of the full story. More than that, the study of DNA is still in its infancy and what scientists know today will no doubt change as they uncover more knowledge about our genetic makeup. However, since the average person doesn't know very much about this subject to dispute what the critics say they tend accept, without question, what they hear.

However, when the critics use this evidence to discredit the Book of Mormon they are unknowingly discrediting the Bible at the same time. The study of DNA evidence has also determined that modern humans have been on the earth for more than 59,000 years. Once such study of DNA, done from the bones of a Neanderthal man, found that humans and Neanderthals lived together as long as 38,000 years ago. Other researchers have concluded through their study of mtDNA that there was one woman from which the entire human race is descended and that she lived 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. At the same time, a study of the Y-chromosome, done by twenty-two scientists, and published in the Journal of Nature Genetics in 2002, concludes that the man from whom all humans are descended lived 80,000 years ago. If their analysis is correct that means our "Adam" and "Eve" never knew each other. In 2006 a group of researchers from the Board of Institute at MIT analyzed 800 times more DNA samples than previous studies and have concluded that the human race separated from our ancestral apes 6.3 million years ago. ("DNA Study: Human-Chimp Split was Messy" from AP story reported on CNN.Com, May 18, 2006)

So, while the critics want to use DNA evidence to disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the same science also disproves the story of Adam and Eve as recorded in the Book of Genesis. But, just as we take the Bible on faith rather than relying on the science of today to validate our beliefs, so also members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rely on faith rather than in today's study of DNA when it comes to believing in the Book of Mormon.

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