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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Another Round: DNA, Zelph, and the Book of Mormon 

by John H
Patty Henetz of the Associated Press has written an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon, focusing on geneticist Simon Southerton and his forthcoming book, Losing a Lost Tribe. Although DNA and the Book of Mormon has probably made the rounds through the bloggernacle, I suspect it’s a story that won’t go away for a while. I find the DNA issue to be fascinating, though hardly the death knell for the Book of Mormon that some portray it as. But I had an experience sometime ago that both troubled me and helped me resolve many of these issues, albeit perhaps unsatisfactorily for most members.

After hearing about the Zelph story here and there, and remembering it when I read History of the Church on my mission, I decided to do some digging. As a quick reminder, the Zelph story goes as follows: While on Zion’s camp, some bones are unearthed on top of a small mound. Joseph Smith declares that the man was Zelph, a white Lamanite and a righteous man.

I expected to hear that the Zelph story couldn't be taken seriously as an actual event - it was just a rumor. It turns out at least 7 or 8 people present at the camp reported on Zelph, including Wilford Woodruff. President Woodruff recorded in his journal that Joseph had a revelation, and that he learned that Zelph was a warrior under the great Prophet Onandagus. After doing my reading, I came away pretty convinced that the Zelph episode did in fact take place.

The first problem with this story is immediately evident. If Joseph had a revelation about Zelph, what does that mean for the limited geography theory? If the Book of Mormon took place, as we’re now told, in a small area in Mesoamerica, how did Zelph’s bones end up on a mound in Illinois? For whatever reason, that didn’t affect me too much. What surprised me, to the point where I had what might be called an epiphany, was reading about this great Prophet “Onandagus” that Zelph served under. I served my mission in upstate New York - just slightly east of Palmyra. One of the areas I served in was Onandaga County, one county over from where Joseph Smith lived. Coincidence? I think not.

I know it probably seems silly, but this information struck me hard. Rarely have a felt so sure of something: Joseph Smith was making stuff up. I’d always been able to negotiate my doubts and my faith without making scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, a casualty. It seemed now I couldn’t even keep the most basic parts of my faith safe from my Sunstone side. Since this experience, I’ve calmed down, chilled out - relaxed a bit, if you will. The reality is I don’t know what the Zelph story means. I see several possibilities:

1. The Zelph affair never happened. One or two men saw Joseph looking at the bones on a mound, told some of the other men, a story got cooked up and passed on as truth. Or, Joseph speculated a bit, and it was reported as revelation. (For the record, I think this is highly unlikely. The consistency and specifics with which the men report the event are impressive.)

2. The Zelph affair did happen, and Joseph did have a revelation. The limited geography theory is simply wrong, or flawed, and Lamanites and Nephites did live in what is now Illinois, despite what current research and science suggests.

3. The Zelph affair did happen, and Joseph did have a revelation. However, the bones were actually not that of Zelph, but this event was a way for God to strengthen those who were in his service in Zion’s camp. They may have been feeling down and out, and this boosted their spirits. The theological implications of God revealing something that isn’t true are problematic, but I also think this possibility need remain open.

4. The Zelph affair did happen, but Joseph received no revelation. Instead, he made it up to boost the men’s spirits and remind them of the divinity of their mission. This does not necessarily invalidate the Book of Mormon, but suggests that Joseph was willing to lie to help people.

5. The Zelph affair did happen, but Joseph received no revelation. He not only made this story up, but made the entire Book of Mormon up. He was, as Dan Vogel might suggest, a pious fraud.

I’ll confess I’m partial to number 4. (I’ve left off a few other variations on these possibilities, such as Joseph was delusional.) What this experience forced me to do, for the first time, was look at what I valued in the scriptures. I was guilty of what a lot of us are guilty of - I paid lip service to things I didn’t really believe. We say that we don’t try and prove the Book of Mormon true, because we’re really only interested in its spiritual message and witness of Christ. But how do we react when it’s veracity as a historical book is challenged? FARMS, for example, will spend one paragraph in a book saying that the spiritual witness the Book of Mormon provides is what’s important, and that we can’t prove it to be true, then they spend the rest of the entire book trying to do just that.

We’ve tied so much into the Book of Mormon (if it’s true, then Joseph’s a prophet, and if he’s a prophet, then Mormonism is true, yada, yada, yada.) For my part, I’m learning to appreciate the book as a wonderful spiritual guide, regardless of its origins. I find I enjoy the New Testament a bit more (as if that doesn’t have its own historical dilemmas), but for the first time in a while, I’ve learned to read the Book of Mormon without the baggage we’ve attached to it. It’s really quite remarkable.

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Comments:
In 45 B.C., a group of Ammonites set out on a journey that took them along the gulf coast to the mouth of the river now called the Mississippi, and thence up the river to the confluence with what is now called the Missouri. There they settled and were joined by others over the course of many years. They thrived for several generations and were the principal ancestors of native tribes that ultimately spread into the upper drainages of the Illinois, Ohio, Wabash, and other tributaries of the Mississippi in North America. Zelph was a descendant of the initial settlers, but was not born until shortly after 200 A.D.
 
"Joseph Smith was making stuff up"

OK, I'm going to come at this from way out in left field.

I just don't think we can let stories like this bother us to the point where we can only enjoy the Book of Mormon as "enlightening literature" or think "maybe it didn't actually happen but it's still true".

Let's consider this:

If Joseph Smith "made stuff up", then did the prophets after him "make things up" too ?

Wilford Woodruff, the 4th prophet of the Church, tells us that he was in the St. George temple and the Signers of the Declaration of Independence appeared to him - for two days- and requested baptism.

http://www.stgeorgetemplevisitorscenter.org/temple-sg/woodruff.html


Does this mean any of the following:

1) Wilford Woodruff had the same problem with "making things up" ?

2) WW only saw a "vision" - these were not actually spirits that appeared to him (spread over two days' time) ?

3) Mischievious spirits appeared to WW and played an elaborate joke on him

4) Joseph Smith passed into the spirit world and convinced all the Signers that they could have another chance to be "baptized by the proper authority". They were convinced of this in spite of the fact that many had already been baptized during their mortal life. In fact, they were so convinced that they got special dispensation from God to appear to WW in the St. George temple and berate him for not doing anything for them sooner.

It just doesn't make sense that Joseph could "make things up" and be so convincing that even the spirits beyond the veil believe he was given special authority to do temple baptisms.

To this day, spirits still appear in the temples and ask for baptism. How could God give such authority to the same man who fabricated a story about an entire book and claimed it was written by ancient prophets ?
 
I just read an article entitled: Religion According to Chief Jahtlohi Rogers
A PEOPLE IN EXODUS
By Chief Charles Jahtlohi Rogers, M.D.
Cherokee Nation of Mexico
THE ANCIENT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF THE CHEROKEE PEOPLE.

This Chief says:
The Cherokee pushed on to the big waters of the Mississippi, then on to the headwaters of the Ohio, where they built walled cities and huge mounds for burial. The Delaware came from the west and, with assistance from the Iroquois federation, fought to remove the Cherokee, for the time period of 7 chiefs, or approximately 200 years, before the Cherokee went East to the mountains and coast. The exodus was pressured by war to continue south with the Cherokees arriving in the Georgia area in approximately 800 to 1000 A.D.

He tells how his people were most likely desendants of or associated with the Maya. He tells about the ONE God they worshiped and how the Cherokee were originally from 12 tribes that were NOT originally in the Americas and came by ship. He writes of a people with dark and light skin and even with blond and red hair.
He tells of a people with beards and shows Maya art works showing such a people.
This chief is not LDS.
We know that MANY Nephites left and went north and were never heard from again. We do not know if Lamanites went north but we have no reason to believe they did not. We do know that Joseph Smith did not place the statements about Zelph into the scriptures. We know that President Young spoke volumes about the Adam God theory but never placed them in the official documents of the church. We know that the prophets of old made many errors in judgment and said things, of which, that God did not approve or give as revelation. Many revelations are nothing more than impressions and each individual see it ONLY from the minds set that they have at the time. Every word that came from Smith's mouth and every word written down by the prophet or his scribes were not and are not to be considered as scripture or from God.
I find the Zelph story interesting as a side note found in the writtings of men so weak in faith that they did not get a revelation on the subject themselves.

christopher@independentamerican.org
 
The other interesting challenges to the Limited Geography Theory are:
1.) Joseph's identification of Chile as Lehi's landing point.
2.) The Nephite tower Joseph discovered in Missouri
3.) Joseph's description of the Book of Mormon population in the "Wentworth Letter".
"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel, at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian Era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites, and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."


Jake
 
Consider also the origin of the name of Onandaga County. Could the place have retained a name across 1400 or so years and could it have been the same person in question here or some other person of same name or perhaps even a word of some other significance that carried over.
Too bad there wasn't more given on the subject to provide more than a simple distraction.
Thanks for the info!
 
"I’m learning to appreciate the book as a wonderful spiritual guide"

Thank you! I'm not LDS, and, in truth, get rather frustrated with most organized religions because it's my oppinion that you just CAN'T take all this as fact - well, I take that back, I think it's all well and good for YOU to take it as fact, or ME to take it as fact, but it's no good for ME to take it as fact and then demand that you do the same. So I love your interpretation and that you're finding new joy because you've gotten over proving things to someone else and are just enjoying the scriptures for yourself.
 
D&C 125: 3 "Let them build up a city unto my name upon the land opposite the city of Nauvoo, and let the name of Zarahemla be named upon it."

When God gives a location a name I don't think he gets it confused. The Book of Mormon lands are in the United States. All the physical evidence is there. We just call the people the Hopewell Indians.
 
This comment has been removed by the author.
 
If Onandagus was known from the Rocky Mountains to the Hill Cumorah, is it so hard to believe that the name passed down for generations or was adopted by a group of people? After all, there are still plenty of Adams out there.
 
On too many levels in our modern intellectual world where we see the big picture on a level unprecendented in history, this Zelph story is preposterous no matter how I look at it. Joseph Smith was a con ARTIST of the highest order for the people of his time who were looking for these kinds of answers whether they were real or not. They were magical belief thinkers whether they labeled their magic religion or not...the same as a child's belief in Santa where there's "evidence" all over and the emotional feeling of love and giving validates the 'truth' of the literalness.
That's the most reasonable explanation there is and any other is a big stretch!
I'm glad I see it...my life is better for accepting full responsibility for my life...after 45 years of brainwashing. Sunshine and strength at last
 
technical posting to get email comments back.
 
A man passed over to the other side and was shown two men. One was brooded over by darkness and evil spirits pressing him. The other stood in sunshine and beauty all around.
After a moment of pondering the scene the man said within himself, surely the man in darkness is a wicked and evil man.
Just then a voice came and said, "No my son, you have it backward. The man in darkness is the righteous one being attacked by the evil spirits for his righteousness. The other they have no need to bother."

Mankind, ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.
 
Our testimony of the Book of Mormon is the core of our faith as Latter-Day Saints. Physical evidence is fascinating, but we do not base our beliefs upon them. If you have gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon, then all the evidence in the world telling you its wrong are just whispers in the dark. If your testimony is weak, however, it will begin to crumble and you will begin to question everything. If you claim to be a Mormon, then you MUST accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God, and not just a nice spiritual guide, because everything in our faith hinges on it. Like another said in an earlier comment, if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and all other points of the gospel are also true.

As for me, my testimony is not based on what scientists and archaeologists have discovered, and is therefore not shaken by these either. My testimony is strong because the Holy Ghost has whispered to my heart that this book is true, and nothing anyone can do or say will shake this belief. I don't care if, as others have commented, that this makes me appear to be "brainwashed". I know the truth, and if no one else does, that is there problem.
 
Our testimony of the Book of Mormon is the core of our faith as Latter-Day Saints. Physical evidence is fascinating, but we do not base our beliefs upon them. If you have gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon, then all the evidence in the world telling you its wrong are just whispers in the dark. If your testimony is weak, however, it will begin to crumble and you will begin to question everything. If you claim to be a Mormon, then you MUST accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God, and not just a nice spiritual guide, because everything in our faith hinges on it. Like another said in an earlier comment, if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, and all other points of the gospel are also true.

As for me, my testimony is not based on what scientists and archaeologists have discovered, and is therefore not shaken by these either. My testimony is strong because the Holy Ghost has whispered to my heart that this book is true, and nothing anyone can do or say will shake this belief. I don't care if, as others have commented, that this makes me appear to be "brainwashed". I know the truth, and if no one else does, that is their problem.
 
Look, believe what you will--the simple facts are the the Book of Mormon cannot withstand scrutiny. Taking its "messages" for what they are may be well worth it, but as for the history and evidence... well... they're nonexistent. To the responder who asked if the other prophets made stuff up--the answers is a resounding YES. Church doctrine has changed so much since it first began that it is unbelievable. If it is the one true church, then it would stay the same, for truth is consistent; but the Mormon church just can't seem to do so.
That being said, I think there can be much good value found in reading the Book of Mormon, just as I believe there can be good value found in right about anything we read. Joseph Smith was one of the most brilliant con artists of our time (making people pay a 10% membership fee to get into heaven was a pretty damn good idea). Take what came from it, and do what you will with it--but don't ever try to defend the historical "evidence" of the BOM because, simply put, it isn't there.
 
To address the last poster and many others:

The point of the Book of Mormon is neither to prove the existence of landmarks or people of the day nor to be proven by them but to instruct in the truths and teachings of God. It is becoming more evident as time goes on that it is a reference to guide the people of God in preparation for the return of Christ to rule over this world and how they dealt with various situations we may encounter in these last days. Where places where, what their DNA consisted of and a myriad of other trivial facts are of little if any import. It is the message of the book that Christ lives and his message to us on how to become like Him so that we may live with Him again that is of the utmost importance. The self absorbed will always look for proof (or a lack thereof) to rationalize their position rather than seek for understanding and wisdom. The book has withstood all and will not be disproven by least of all lies. Repent and follow Christ is the message of the Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith Jr. was not a con man nor ever had any such intentions. He gave his time, talents, labor, money and life for the work he did and all that he did was for the welfare of his fellow man. Thousands that knew him attest to it even with their lives. He saw, heard and spoke with God himself and with God’s only begotten son Jesus of Nazareth. This I know of myself for sure because the Holy Ghost declared it to me just as he did to Peter. Jesus is the Christ and will soon return having made His announcement through His modern/latter-day prophets. The stone has been cut and is rolling forth and none can stay the work.

The doctrine is the same now is as it was written originally. 10% is not an original idea of the LDS church nor new but existed anciently and the most severe account was that of Ananias and Sapphira. Besides who said all you have to give up is 10%? The Lord requires everything; your heart, soul, mind and strength! - Mark 12:30 (:24 it happens)
 
"Where places where, what their DNA consisted of and a myriad of other trivial facts are of little if any import."

Your talking about ignoring the claims upon which the LDS church first established its credibility/identity. This would seem to be a HUGE problem, wouldn't it? It could easily be argued that without these early elements of the church, folks simply wouldn't have been convinced of its need to exist, and would remained whatever christian sect they already were.

So what i am hearing is "never mind how we started, it's how we are now".

That's fine. Except that Mormons still defend these claims, citing them as "proof" of the rightness of the BOM and the church Smith started based on his translations.
 
Exactly the problem, people “hear what they want to hear.” Even Mormons that try to prove the church or the doctrine with science are as big foolish as those who try to disprove via same. It would help to actually read and understand what I wrote.

NO, that is NOT what I was saying. First of all none of the claims mentioned have anything to do with how the church first established its credibility or identity. That was established by modern revelation, God calling prophets again in our time as it was foretold and promised in ancient times as He has always done.

Any honest seeker of truth no matter how different it turned out to be from their current path of life will see the truth and change their life accordingly. Relying on the arm of flesh is the first obstacle to finding truth. But if one studies the history of prophets the seeker of truth will see that more often than not the prophet is ignored, mocked, ridiculed or killed because they preach the concepts of God that run contrary to the desires of the natural man. To know a true prophet and his message one must study scripture and ask God if He sent it no matter the source. Even Mormons, as they are told, are to not accept at face value any prophecy or doctrine presented by the church, but are to pray for confirmation of the truth of the matter. Mormons can be just as lazy as anyone else and usually don’t ask for confirmation, but mostly because they have already had confirmation enough. Not that these are blind; if they see or hear something irregular they will reference the scriptures for alignment of doctrines and take appropriate action.

The folks that join the church at any time in its history all have their own reasons. To place thoughts in their heads and try to understand them from one’s own point of view is to demonstrate closed mindedness and short sightedness. “We are the standard by which we judge others and the world around us.” If we do not seek understanding by opening the mind to possibilities we limit ourselves and our growth.

Finally; you really DON’T want to have it proven to be true. If it were possible to prove the church is the only true church (meaning contains all of the doctrine and ordinances necessary for life eternal) of God then one would be compelled to join to it or be summarily relegated to a lesser reward. While one still has doubt then that one is not bound by the law of knowledge until it is accepted. Therefore “we walk by faith, not by sight” is for the benefit of man’s weaknesses that we may obtain greater reward by faith than by seeing we condemn ourselves. And with that I say that “scientific proof” is trivial and should not be available for everyone’s sake.
 
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