“They Are Among the Ancestors”: Origins of the Native American People
A recent change in Book of Mormon introduction gives support to the idea that when Lehi arrived at the promised land here in the Americas, that he was not alone. The introduction used to read:
…After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principle ancestors of the American Indians.
With a change of one word, it now reads:
…After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.
This significance of this change and why it was made is something fascinating to explore. The previous rendering seemed to lend credence to the supposition that all of the Native Americans were descendants of the Lamanites while the new rendering clearly implies that Lamanite remnants are instead mingled among the ancestors of the Native Americans. Like Jerry Seinfeld, we ourselves are left to ponder “Who aaaare these people?”
Everyone has their own theory about where the Native American people came from. There are all kinds of methods from DNA to archeology that we use to try and find out how things may have happened.
There is a lot of talk about DNA. Some say that when we analyze the DNA we find strong evidence that most Native Americans are related to Asian peoples that may have arrived on the American continent via a land bridge, by boat or some other means unknown to us today. On another part of the spectrum you have individuals like Rod Meldrum who claim that they have found genetic markers among the Hopewell civilizations in North America that could provide evidence of a Middle East connection.
While those guys are playing around with DNA and theories, I’m going to play around with some theories of my own and suggest that maybe the answers are right in front of us and can be found within the text of the scriptures themselves.
All the World Was One at Babel
According to the book of Genesis, after the flood humanity lived together in one place and all spoke the same language.
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech… And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth…And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language;…So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:1,4,6,8,9)
Assuming that the Genesis account is accurate, this would mean that all the genetics of the earth were gathered together in one geographic location. This means that everyone on the earth is descended from Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham and Japeth. At some point, you had individuals who went east an inhabited all of Asia and other parts of the world including the Americas.
However, the Book of Mormon claims to have a record of a group that came directly from Babel at the time the languages were confounded – the Jaredites. What I propose is that the Jaredites and any related Asian races had a common ancestor or ancestors in the collected civilization of Babel. I don’t think this theory is that much of a stretch especially when the entire population of Babel, and therefore, the world at that time was possibly only tens of thousands. [source]
The odds of proving this via DNA testing or other application of modern knowledge is probably implausible. I bring it up, however, only to make a point that there are other alternative ways that these events could have unfolded.
But Weren’t All the Jaredites Destroyed?
The Book of Mormon teaches that all the Jaredites were destroyed except Coriantumr…and Ether. All dead but those two. That’s what I always supposed growing up, but what if that just simply wasn’t the case at all. As we explore this idea, consider the words of Hugh Nibley on the topic of destruction and what it implies:
“What does the Book of Mormon mean by ‘destroyed’? The word is to be taken, as are so many other key words in the book, in its primary and original sense: ‘to unbuild; to separate violently into its constituent parts; to break up the structure.’ To destroy is to wreck the structure, not to annihilate the parts. Thus in 1 Nephi 17:31 we read of Israel in Moses’ day that, ‘According to his word he did destroy them; and according to his word he did lead them,’ bringing them together after they had been ‘destroyed,’ i.e., scattered, and needed a leader. ‘As one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews,’ according to 2 Nephi 25:9, ‘even so they have been destroyed from generation to generation according to their iniquities.’ A complete slaughter of any one generation would of course be the end of their history altogether, but that is not what ‘destroyed’ means. Of the Jews at Jerusalem Nephi says (1 Nephi 17:43), ‘I know that the day must shortly come that they must be destroyed, save only a few.’ Later, ‘after the Messiah hath arisen from the dead . . . behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again’ (2 Nephi 25:14). In these two cases what actually happened was that the Jews were all scattered ‘save a few only’ that remained in the land. The Israelites upon entering the Promised Land, we are told, drove out ‘the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction’ (1 Nephi 17:32). Here it is plainly stated that the destruction of the Canaanites was their scattering—as is known to have been the case. Likewise of the Nephites: ‘and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold these things shall be hid up’ (1 Nephi 13:35), where both Nephites and Lamanites dwindle in unbelief after they have been destroyed.”
“So when we read that the Jaredites ‘were destroyed by the hand of the Lord upon the face of this north country’ in the very first verse of Ether, we are to understand that the nation was smashed and dispersed, but not that the catastrophic final battle was necessarily the whole story. The first thing that occurs to King Mosiah [actually King Limhi] on the discovery of the twenty-four gold plates was, ‘perhaps they will give us a knowledge of the remnants of the people who have been destroyed, from whence this record came’ (Mosiah 8:12), showing that whether anyone survived or not, for Mosiah [Limhi] at least it was perfectly possible for remnants of a people to exist after that people had been ‘destroyed.’ But did not Ether prophesy that ‘every soul should be destroyed save it were only Coriantumr?’ (Ether 13:21). Every soul of what? Specifically of ‘his kingdom . . . and all his household.’ Ether himself, hiding out in a cave, was not included in the number, and neither were other inhabitants of the continent—Nephites, Lamanites, and Mulekites that were actually living here at the time of the Jaredite destruction. Neither were renegade Jaredites, wandering far and wide beyond the confines of the kingdom. That there were such renegades will appear from a number of things.” (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, 1988], p. 239
The Nephite culture survived on the American continent for approximately 975 years (First landing in 590 BC to final destruction in 385 BC). Throughout a history of almost 1000 years did everyone stay in one spot and in one group only to all perish at once a millennia later? Sounds ridiculous when you think about it that way. Take Hagoth, for example, who built ships and carried people into the northern lands until one point where he was never heard from again. The Book of Mormon is only an abridgment so we don’t get the whole story, but with all the dissensions and wars we read about, I can envision tribes and families periodically heading out into the wilderness to escape and never returning.
With this thought in mind, consider that the Jaredites lived on the American continent from 1600 – 1900 years , about twice as long as the Nephites! I suggest that this gave the initial population of Jaredites an even greater likelihood of expanding deeper and wider across the ancient American landscape than the Nephites.
If splinter civilizations off of the original Jaredite civilization had spread over North, Central and South America over the course of the 2000 or so years they lived upon the American continent, this might offer an explanation of who the ancestors of the vast majority if not all of the Native American cultures were – Jaredites.
The Maxwell Institute researched the concept that others where here when Lehi arrived and began their research with the abstract:
A number of statements in the Book of Mormon text are examined, which indicate the presence in Lehi’s “promised land” of peoples other than those descended from Lehi’s party. Reasons are considered why the topic is not addressed more explicitly in the record. It is concluded that there is clear evidence for the presence of “others.” [source]
I suggest taking a look at their research, there are many great points made that support the idea that others were present when Lehi’s party arrived.
The site Mormon Geography has some great quotes about what they refer to as “Neo-Jaredites” here is one from John Sorenson:
“It is a safe presumption, however, that some groups existing at the time when the armies referred to in Ether 15 were destroyed simply refused to participate in the suicidal madness of Coriantumr and Shiz. They would have ensured their own survival by staying home and minding their meek business in this or that corner of the land. Such minor peoples might hardly even have noted the distant slaughter of the dynasts, so absorbed would they have been in their local affairs. The likelihood is that more than a few such groups continued past the time of the ‘final destruction’ of the armies at the hill Ramah, and some could well have been living in the land southward as Nephi and Laman built up their small colonies.” (When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There? John L. Sorenson, FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 (Fall 1992), 6.)
And another from John Tvedtnes:
” I have long believed that some Jaredites survived the last great battles of their civilization and that it was the civilization itself that was destroyed, not every single Jaredite. This is evidenced mostly by the existence of Jaredite names in the Nephite population. Ether reported only what he saw; he could not have been everywhere. Some would cite Ether’s prophecy in Ether 13:21 as evidence that all the Jaredites except Coriantumr were to be destroyed. However, a careful reading of that verse indicates that it was all of Coriantumr’s ‘household’ that was to be destroyed. We cannot know for sure how many Jaredites may have escaped to other places before or during the last great war. It is not impossible in the scenario painted by Sorenson that some of the people with whom the Lamanites intermarried were Jaredites. This brings us to the question of indigenous peoples with whom the Lamanites may have joined. [We might suppose] that such outsiders would have been mentioned in the Book of Mormon. But since that book was a clan record, it may have deliberately left out mention of peoples not originating in Jerusalem, with the sole exception of the Jaredites, who left a written record that came into the hands of King Mosiah.”
“There are, in fact, some possible references to outsiders in the Book of Mormon. For example, we never learn the real origin of the Amalekites, unless they are the same as the Amlicites. I have noted elsewhere that the antichrist Sherem (Jacob 7) may have been an outsider. Jacob wrote of him, “there came a man among the people of Nephi” (Jacob 7:1). Does this mean that he was not a Nephite? Jacob further notes “that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people” (Jacob 7:4). Don’t all native speakers? This would have been remarkable only if the man were not a Nephite.” (John A. Tvedtnes. Review of John C. Kunich, “Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes.” In FARMS Review of Books. Vol. 6:1. 1994.)
Finding a culture that believed in a “feathered serpent” that may or may not be a corrupted reference to Christ may or may not mean that that civilization used to be Nephite or Lamanite. I think it is quite possible that many of the great civilizations of Central and South America were not Nephites or Lamanites at all, but broken-off Jaredite remnants that never had contact with Lehi’s posterity but had preserved within their cultures the doctrinal debris of the earlier Jaredite religion.
Often the Central and South American people are referred by the Church today as “Lamanites”. This might be technically correct, depending on how you look at it. Michael Ash points out:
The term “Lamanite” meant different things to Nephi, Alma, Mormon, and even Joseph Smith (which is what we would expect—and happen to find—if the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient text written by multiple authors over many centuries). As with Jews, we read in the Book of Mormon that someone could “become” a Lamanite. After Christ’s visit to the New World, Book of Mormon peoples lived in harmony for many decades. During that time, there were “no Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites; but they were one, the children of Christ” (4 Nephi 1:17). Several decades later we read of a small revolt of people who had “taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land” (v. 20). [source]
Nephi’s brother Jacob also makes an interesting statement concerning how he was going to label the people spoken of in his record:
Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites. But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings. (Jacob 1:13-14)
So Jacob used the word “Lamanite” in a similar way that the Jews referred to all non-Hebrew nations as “Gentiles”. The usage of the term “Lamanite” this way may have included those Jaredite remnants as well. If you have Native American blood, you could be related to at least any of the original non-Israelite Jaredite clans, Lehi (Manasseh), Zoram (?), Ishmael (Ephraim), Mulek (Judah) his fellow refugees (?) OR anyone else not mentioned in the Book of Mormon that the Lord could have led to the American continent.
The presence of Jaredite remnants not only provides a potential answer for the DNA connection of the Native Americans to the Asian races, it also provides an interesting framework for seeking to understand some of the ancient civilizations we uncover from North to South America.
It is good that the introduction of the Book of Mormon was changed to illustrate that the Lamanite descendants were only “among” the ancestors of the American Indians. But maybe the words of Moroni to Joseph Smith’s have been the most accurate and consistent all along:
“He [Moroni] said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.” [source]
 I base this calculation on the time of the tower of Babel, 2200 BC as the oldest date to a minimum range between the arrival of Mulek’s party which would have arrived in the Americas probably no sooner than 590 BC and the discovery of Coriantumr by the people of Zarahemla that could have been no later than 279 BC when Mosiah translated the stone, but was probably a lot earlier. The Jaredites went extinct between 590 BC and 279 BC.