Book of Mormon edit spurs debate
Published: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.
The introduction to the 2006 edition of the Book of Mormon has a new word: among.
It sounds trivial, but to some it represents a huge change to teachings that have been passed on for generations within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The new wording comes in a passage about American Indians, who have long been presented by Mormon leaders as direct ancestors of a lost tribe of Israel known as the Lamanites.
"After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians,'' the new introduction reads.
In previous editions, the phrase was "are the ancestors.''
What's the big deal? Church defenders say there is nothing important in the change.
But skeptics view it differently.
The issue is that church missionaries have long portrayed Book of Mormon stories as fact. To them, it looks like the new wording is a quiet concession that DNA research accurately contradicts the scriptural claim.
"Now they're going to say, 'We got that wrong?''' said Edmonds Community College professor of anthropology Thomas Murphy in Lynnwood, Wash.
A Mormon, Murphy said he predicted the church would ultimately concede the Lamanite story was folklore and not science in a 2002 essay that appeared in "American Apocrypha,'' a collection of writings about the Book of Mormon.
Murphy said the use of "among'' makes a somewhat deceptive change. It gives the appearance that the institutional church is moving to a position more consistent with science.
"In a way, this is a mask for a more serious problem,'' said Murphy, who was also threatened with excommunication in 2002. "The Book of Mormon is entirely inconsistent with the archaeology, the DNA, actually with all the evidence we have from the ancient Americas.''
Mormons believe the Book of Mormon was translated with a seer stone by founder Joseph Smith from a set of gold plates buried in upstate New York.
The faithful consider it the word of God and a valid testimony of Jesus Christ's work in the ancient Americas.
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