The Mormon Church and the Lost Tribes of Israel

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor
of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

For many years, the Mormon Church has claimed that Native Americans were the descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel that migrated to the Americas around 600 B.C.  In addition, according to Mormon doctrine, this tribe divided into two groups, the Nephites, who were whites, and the Lamanites, who became black as a punishment for worshiping idols.

However, DNA tests have contradicted the teachings of the Mormon Church.  In an article written by William Lobdell and published in the Los Angeles Times on February 16, 2006, Lobdell said that the Mormon Church has disregarded DNA evidence as irrelevant.

I recommend the reading of this article.

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 Staff Writer

February 16, 2006

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.”

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary



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3 Responses to The Mormon Church and the Lost Tribes of Israel

  1. >Thanks for bringing attention to this story. Earlier in my Christian life I felt passionate about reaching out to “Christians” of peculiar religions like Mormonism. I once fielded a phone call from a young woman missionary who was cold-calling people to visit her Mormon church. I expressed an interest since I had a similar agenda, to show her and others like her the error of their ways. I went to the church where I was promptly seated in a choir room, I think it was, in the center of a semi-circle surrounded by the young lady with whom I spoke, another young lady, and the pastor and his wife. We talked for about an hour, and I was amazed how much the pastor let me speak about my critique of Mormonism as I primarily addressed the two young ladies. I was amazed that none of them considered how strange it was that the book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith into Elizabethan English, a form of English predating Smith by nearly 300 years! In other words, it is obvious that Smith wrote the Book of Mormon to reflect (sometimes plagiarizing) the English of the King James version of 1611. I remember leaving the church with a broken heart and a profound sense of dread that I could not reach people such as the four I talked with; and I later came to recognize an uneasy feeling in myself that I might naively believe and practice my Christian faith in the same way. That was probably 12 or 13 years ago, and now I have a much different attitude toward relating to people who hold different viewpoints or faiths than I do. I feel strongly we would all be much better off if we humbly check our egos and learn about the views and faiths of others, no matter how bizzare than might seem. And if someone is interested in the historical Christian faith then hopefully we will do our best to share it and the truth of God’s grace.


  2. Anonymous says:

    >D. Jeffrey Meldrum addresses many of the issues relating to the recent DNA controversy about the Book of Mormon in this presentation at the 2003 FAIR Conference.Go to


  3. >Saying Native Americans came from Asia, thus they didn’t come from the Middle East is a bit mis-leading. The Genographic Project and other massive genetic testing institutions such as FamilyTreeDNA show that most all Eurasians migrated through the Middle East to get to Europe and/or Asia. I’m Hg. Q myself, while most Native American men are Q, but my Q came to America via Europe… but we originally all came from Central Asia after first migrating through the Middle East. I’m not a Mormon, but I believe they were profoundly accurate when they called Native Americans descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes.


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