A Review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Part 6)

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The Abuse of DNA Science

One of the foundational claims of Rod Meldrum for his “heartland” model of Book of Mormon geography is that modern science has verified a genetic link between native peoples of North America and those of the Middle East.1 Meldrum uses this evidence to bolster his argument that the events described in the Book of Mormon took place around the Great Lakes region of the United States and that the remnant of Lehi’s seed can be identified with specific North American Indian tribes. As a corollary to this, Meldrum believes that this genetic evidence can be used to pinpoint the “prophecies and promises” made in the Book of Mormon and by Joseph Smith concerning the identification and restoration of Lehi’s seed in the last days.2

Meldrum’s arguments have not found acceptance among population geneticists and North American anthropologists.3 This includes believing Latter-day Saint population geneticists and other scholars.4 Meldrum is aware of these criticisms. Besides having been personally informed of the problems with his theory by Latter-day Saint population geneticist Ugo Perego,5 Meldrum has responded to criticisms of his theory which have appeared in print and online.6 He therefore cannot claim ignorance of the hard pushback he has received from qualified Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scientists.

In spite of this, Meldrum (along with his co-editor David Hocking) invokes this same DNA evidence in the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (554–555). They use a specific genetic haplogroup (X2a) to argue that the Hopewell Indians, like the Nephites, are “from Semitic (Caucasian/Jewish) lineages” (538). They also argue that Algonquian Indians share a genetic association with the Druze of the Galilee region of Israel (91). Finally, they use recent scientific discoveries related to the genetic makeup of Native Americans to vindicate President Gordon B. Hinckley, who in 2002 urged patience and caution on the matter of what DNA might say about Book of Mormon historicity (555).

The fundamental problem with the use of DNA evidence in the AEBOM is the same problem that has plagued Meldrum’s earlier efforts: the genetic evidence being cited by Meldrum is far too early to have any connection to Book of Mormon peoples and is not exclusive to the Middle East. This has been made clear by the scientific responses to Meldrum, and in fact is even made explicit in the sources Hocking and Meldrum cite in the AEBOM

  • The Shlush et al. study cited by Hocking and Meldrum gives an “estimated coalescence times for the major mtDNA X subhaplogroups X1 and X2 [as] 42,900±18,100 and 17,900±2,900 [years before the present] respectively.” This is far too early to have any relevance for the Book of Mormon by the order of at least 10,000+ years. 
  • The National Geographic source cited by Hocking and Meldrum uses evidence from 24,000 and 17,000 years ago to show a genetic connection between western Eurasian and Native American peoples, not the 2,600 and circa 4,000 or so years ago required for the migration of Book of Mormon peoples.
  • The PhysOrg article cited by Hocking and Meldrum states that “some 15,000-18,000 years ago, people came from Asia through the Bering Strait and began to fill the American continents.” This is the chronology that researcher Cecil Lewis operated with in his study. Neither the chronology nor the method of migration described by Lewis support the Book of Mormon.

More recent scientific studies have confirmed this timescale for the entrance of haplogroup X2a into North America and have even explicitly mentioned the failings of Meldrum’s theory:

Despite — or perhaps because of — this gap in the phylogeographic record for haplogroup X2, the presence of X2a in North America has been cited as evidence for two different trans-Atlantic migrations before European contact. First, Meldrum and [E. Steven] Smoot suggested that X2a is the result of an ancient Hebrew migration from the Middle East to North America approximately 2500 cal yr BP. This hypothesis is undermined, though, by four key findings: X2a is not found in the Middle East, none of the X2 lineages present in the Middle East are immediately ancestral to X2a, the date of coalescence for X2a (14,200–17,000 cal yr BP) significantly precedes the hypothesized migration from the Middle East, and haplogroup X2a was present in North America far earlier than the hypothesized Hebrew migration, having been found in the 8690–8400 cal yr BP Kennewick Man remains from Washington state. Thus, X2a does not provide any evidence for an ancient Hebrew migration from the Middle East to North America.7

As I mentioned above, Meldrum is aware of these critiques. He has been made aware of them both face-to-face and in print by qualified scientists. For him to simply ignore these irreparable problems with his theory and proceed to package them for popular consumption in the AEBOM without even so much as attempting to refute them is utterly irresponsible and borderline dishonest.

For good measure, the AEBOM‘s use of DNA evidence to somehow prove the Heartland theory also runs contrary to the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. An article published in 2014 and revised in 2017 under the supervision of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles makes it clear that “much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views, the evidence is simply inconclusive. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. Even if such information were known, processes such as population bottleneck, genetic drift, and post-Columbian immigration from West Eurasia make it unlikely that their DNA could be detected today.”

Hocking and Meldrum’s attempt to the use of DNA evidence in the AEBOM to confirm Book of Mormon historicity in the “heartland” therefore stands in opposition to both the scientific consensus and the official position of the Church. 

  1. Rod Meldrum, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant Through DNA (New York: Digital Legend, 2009).
  2. Bruce H. Porter and Rod L. Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America (New York: Digital Legend, 2009), 135–147; Rod Meldrum, Exploring the Book of Mormon in America’s Heartland: A Visual Journey of Discovery (New York: Digital Legend, 2011), 54–55.
  3. See the representative views in Bradley T. Lepper et al., “Civilizations Lost And Found: Fabricating History; Part Three: Real Messages in DNA,” Skeptical Inquirer 36, no. 1 (January/February 2012): 48–51; Jennifer A. Raff and Deborah A. Bolnick, “Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas? A Critical Re-Evaluation,” PaleoAmerica: A Journal of Early Human Migration and Dispersal 1, no. 4 (2015): 297–304.
  4. Gregory L. Smith, “Often in Error, Seldom in Doubt: Rod Meldrum and Book of Mormon DNA,” FARMS Review 22, no. 1 (2010): 17–161; Ugo A. Perego, “The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint,” in No Weapon Shall Prosper: New Light on Sensitive Issues, ed. Robert L. Millet (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2011), 171–217; Ugo A. Perego and Jayne E. Ekins, “Is Decrypting the Genetic Legacy of America’s Indigenous Populations Key to the Historicity of the Book of Mormon?” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 12 (2014): 237-279.
  5. In early January 2017, Perego and Meldrum were among the participants in a retreat to the Zermatt Resort in Midway, Utah to discuss competing Book of Mormon geography theories. On that occasion, Meldrum presented his theory to the group then excused himself from the conference. After he left, Perego then delivered a presentation critiquing Meldrum’s theory. Meldrum returned to the conference later that evening and then “a very heated discussion” on the matter of DNA and the Book of Mormon ensued between Perego, Meldrum and other participants. Even before this time, Meldrum and Perego had corresponded personally with each other on multiple occasions, including “at least two or three” in-person consultations in Perego’s office at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in Salt Lake City, Utah on the question of Book of Mormon DNA studies and “the problems with [Meldrum’s] theory.” Personal communication, Ugo Perego to Stephen Smoot, May 20, 2019.
  6. These responses have been scattered across various blogs, message boards, emails, and YouTube video comments. For just one example of Meldrum being aware of and responding to the criticisms of his theory, see “An Open Letter to Rodney Meldrum #1” and “An Open Letter to Rodney Meldrum #2”.
  7. Raff and Bolnick, “Does Mitochondrial Haplogroup X Indicate Ancient Trans-Atlantic Migration to the Americas?” 298–299, citations silently removed. Note, incidentally, that Raff and Bolnick cite Latter-day Saint Ugo Perego in their study critiquing Meldrum.

10 thoughts on “A Review of the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon (Part 6)”

  1. In order to accept that “The Shlush et al. study cited by Hocking and Meldrum gives an “estimated coalescence times for the major mtDNA X subhaplogroups X1 and X2 [as] 42,900±18,100 and 17,900±2,900 [years before the present] respectively” and other such academically-accepted assumptions are correct, therefore concluding that “This is far too early to have any relevance for the Book of Mormon by the order of at least 10,000+ years,” one must first ignore the standard scriptural and prophetic understanding that man from the time of Adam has been on earth for only about six thousand years. DNA evidence should be considered on its own merits, separate from debatable timelines.

  2. From the Annotated Book of Mormon Editors;

    A statement on our united position vis-a-vis Creation and DNA dating.

    It might be useful to point out to the casual reader of these articles, that the scholars involved in critiquing the Annotated Edition of the Book of Mormon differ from the editors on some fundamental assumptions which accounts for much of the discord and criticism in their expose’. First off, the Book of Mormon Central critics do not accept, as literal, the accounts of Creation which are found in Exodus, Moses, Abraham, the temple endowment and the words of latter-day prophets. Of course, this is their right and prerogative and we do not hold it against them, but they rarely inform their readers of this going-in assumption. Once this difference is understood there is very little left to argue in terms of scientific interpretation.

    Now, it is acknowledged in the scientific literature (and by Brother Smoot in this article) that Northern Native American populations do share common DNA ancestry with Hebrews (the X2 haplotype), but the primary problem, as pointed out in this article, is not the common factor but rather the DATE of its arrival in America. However, not only has the dating changed dramatically over the past decade – by tens of thousands of years – but, as pointed out in a previous comment, it pre-dates the arrival of Adam and Eve on the earth by thousands of years, which presents a problem for those who hold a literal view of the Creation accounts, which the editors of the Annotated Book of Mormon do hold.

    The editors further acknowledge that the dating put forward by mainstream and some LDS geneticists is inconsistent with the timing suggested by the text of the Book of Mormon as well as the scriptural Creation accounts and the long-standing words of the prophets, nevertheless, we hold these later sources to be more authoritative than even “credentialed” and published geneticists. The fact that certain secularly-trained geneticists hold membership in the Church of Jesus Christ does not necessarily grant them any more clout or authority than that which is wielded by their non-member counterparts. Ugo Perego is a wonderful geneticist and highly acclaimed by the world’s standards, however we do not embrace his views on human evolution in which he sees man as evolving from lower life forms over the course of millions of years.

    One of our members (Rod Meldrum) has provided a lengthy and in-depth look at the origins of genetic dating techniques and why they are problematic because they ignore the observed mtDNA mutation rates (which are easily measurable and observable) in favor of theoretical (phylogenetic) rates, which were derived – by their own admission – from the assumed date of the ape/human “split” some 5-6 million years ago. In Meldrum’s book, “ReDiscovering the Book of Mormon Remnant Through DNA” (available as a free download at http://bookofmormonevidence.org/free-downloads/), he provides an overview of the science of DNA dating techniques through quotes taken from a broad array of scientific journals which documents how the genetics community has chosen to deal with the dating problems, that, by their own admission has resulted in dating discrepancies spanning several orders of magnitude. Which is to show that serious scientists are not all in agreement on the dating of the DNA arrival either. It would appear that our two camps just happen to agree with opposite sides in this ongoing debate.

    We, the editorial board of the Annotated Book of Mormon, affirm our belief in Creation as outlined in scripture, we affirm our firm conviction that Adam and Eve were the direct offspring of God literally and physically which in turn makes us all literal sons and daughters of a loving Heavenly Father. We maintain–even in the face of what appears to contradict modern science–that the scriptures and prophets tell us the truth and that the time will come in the not too distant future when it will be clearly shown that the wisdom of God is greater than the cunning of the devil and the philosophies of men.

    • “The editors further acknowledge that the dating put forward by mainstream and some LDS geneticists is inconsistent with the timing suggested by the text of the Book of Mormon as well as the scriptural Creation accounts and the long-standing words of the prophets, nevertheless, we hold these later sources to be more authoritative than even ‘credentialed’ and published geneticists.”

      What’s most interesting to me about this statement is that the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon DNA was written by “credentialed and published geneticist” Ugo Perego and published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the direction of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Apparently the Brethren don’t perceive the same conflict as the editors of the AEBOM do.

      Our Heartlander friends claim allegiance to “the long-standing words of the prophets,” but it appears that they prefer the words of dead prophets over the living ones who published the Gospel Topics Essay. That’s exactly the way every fundamentalist offshoot from the Church has had its start. How long will it be before Rod Meldrum, Jonathan Neville, and their associates claim “the Church is in apostasy” and break off to form their own religious group, with the standard words and the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith as their scriptures?

      The clock is ticking.

      — Peter @ NevilleNevilleLand.com

    • This is a remarkable comment. Since I don’t know which editor in particular I am addressing, I’ll just use the nondescript “you” as a collective pronoun for the entire team.

      Basically, what this comment reveals is that you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to appeal to science to prove the Heartland theory (“Hey look, science has shown there is Hebrew DNA in North America!”) but you also want to freely disregard science when it contradicts you (“Oh, well, it’s much too early. I guess the scientists are just wrong about that.”). But you can’t have it both ways. You also can’t pretend like you can have any meaningful discussion about the genetic ancestry of, well, basically any population without bringing evolutionary biology into the question.

      In other words, you’re engaging in the most flagrant form of pseudo-science. You are wantonly deciding to only countenance scientific evidence when it supports your predetermined pet theory.

      If this is what you want to do, then fine. You have every right do to so. You have every right to double down on young earth creationism and other pseudo-scientific claims and selectively decide to believe in science when it suits you. But what you don’t have a right to do is misrepresent the scientific literature. You have misrepresented every single scientific reference in the AEBOM when it comes to Haplogroup X2a. None of these references you cite agrees with your young earth creationist position, and in fact explicitly contradict such. You can’t pretend otherwise for your readers customers.

      So if you’re serious about updating future editions of the AEBOM to remove errors and other misrepresentations, you better start by taking out the references to Shlush et al., National Geographic, and PhysOrg. You can, of course, argue for a young earth creationist position as you please. But you can’t invoke science to back you.

      Now as for this comment: “the Book of Mormon Central critics do not accept, as literal, the accounts of Creation which are found in Exodus, Moses, Abraham, the temple endowment and the words of latter-day prophets.” In my experience, Latter-day Saints who talk a big game about taking these things “literally” typically don’t actually know what the scriptural texts say. What they do is force a preconceived fundamentalist worldview onto the text based on their poor reading of a 17th century English translation of the text garnished with some dogmatic quotations from Joseph Fielding Smith.

      For example, do you literally believe that the sky is a רקיע as depicted in the Priestly Genesis creation account? Do you even know what a רקיע is and why the author of this account chose that word? If so, what possible scientific evidence do you have that the sky is a רקיע? How does the sky being a רקיע affect meteorological and cosmological phenomena according to this worldview?

      Or what about this passage:

      וַיַּפֵּל֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֧ים׀ תַּרְדֵּמָ֛ה עַל־הָאָדָ֖ם וַיִּישָׁ֑ן וַיִּקַּ֗ח אַחַת֙ מִצַּלְעֹתָ֔יו וַיִּסְגֹּ֥ר בָּשָׂ֖ר תַּחְתֶּֽנָּה׃ וַיִּבֶן֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֧ים׀ אֶֽת־הַצֵּלָ֛ע אֲשֶׁר־לָקַ֥ח מִן־הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְאִשָּׁ֑ה וַיְבִאֶ֖הָ אֶל־הָֽאָדָֽם׃

      Could you please explain how exactly you take this “literally”? What implications do these two verses have for human physiology and biological procreation by reading it “literally”?

      I am also perplexed at your boast that you take the temple Endowment “literally.” Unless we had different temple experiences, the Endowment explicitly presents itself as a symbolic or allegorical narrative that freely incorporates anachronistic elements and breaks the fourth wall multiple times to draw the audience into the story. The order of Creation presented in the Endowment also contradicts the same order presented in both Genesis and the Pearl of Great Price. So why on earth should we approach it “literally”?

      You also write, “The fact that certain secularly-trained geneticists hold membership in the Church of Jesus Christ does not necessarily grant them any more clout or authority than that which is wielded by their non-member counterparts. Ugo Perego is a wonderful geneticist and highly acclaimed by the world’s standards, however we do not embrace his views on human evolution in which he sees man as evolving from lower life forms over the course of millions of years.”

      When have I ever appealed to Ugo Perego’s membership in the Church as some kind of proof of his scientific authority? This is a complete straw man. And, for the record, not only is Ugo a highly acclaimed scientist, he is also a trusted authority by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, who approved his authorship of the Gospel Topics essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon. I know that this is an enormously obnoxious truth that is hard for Heartlanders to swallow, but the fact is that at the end of the day the First Presidency and the Twelve trust scientists like Ugo over non-scientists like Rod Meldrum. (Speaking of, do you take “literally” the words of the prophets when they say DNA cannot be used to prove the Book of Mormon is true?)

      Finally, you declare, “We maintain–even in the face of what appears to contradict modern science–that the scriptures and prophets tell us the truth and that the time will come in the not too distant future when it will be clearly shown that the wisdom of God is greater than the cunning of the devil and the philosophies of men.” That you believe faithful Church members like myself and Ugo (to say nothing of past Apostles like James E. Talmage and John A. Widtsoe, who flatly rejected your young earth creationism) are ensnared by the “cunning of the devil and the philosophies of men” speaks volumes. I must ask if you think Elders Talmage and Widtsoe were in apostasy for their views that were friendly to an old earth and human evolution. Or if you think the current First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are against the word of the prophets and have succumbed to the philosophies of men because they approve of Ugo’s work.

      Well, I suppose I’m in good company, in any event.

  3. “First off, the Book of Mormon Central critics do not accept, as literal, the accounts of Creation which are found in Exodus, Moses, Abraham, the temple endowment and the words of latter-day prophets.”

    First of all, you do not know most of us at Book of Mormon Central and have no idea what we personally believe. I know, as a matter of fact, that none of you have ever had a conversation with me about my beliefs. This hasn’t stopped Jonathon Neville from saying incredibly slanderous things about me, specifically, nor you from assuming what I believe.

    Second, as you well know our view is 100% consistent with the Church’s official position, as outlined in the Gospel Topics Essay on DNA and the Book of Mormon on ChurchOfJesusChrist.org. Are you saying that the Church’s official position does not accept the words in scripture or the teachings of the living prophets? You might want to think carefully about your answer.

    “Now, it is acknowledged in the scientific literature (and by Brother Smoot in this article) that Northern Native American populations do share common DNA ancestry with Hebrews (the X2 haplotype), but the primary problem, as pointed out in this article, is not the common factor but rather the DATE of its arrival in America.”

    No. This is wrong. Even if you throw the dating issue out the window, the X2a haplotype found in the Americas is not directly descended from the X2 lineages known from the Middle East. This is pointed out in the above post, and I know as a matter of fact (because I was there) that this has been explained to you by Ugo Perego. This means that the X2a haplotype did not come from the Middle East. End of story.

    “One of our members (Rod Meldrum) has provided a lengthy and in-depth look at the origins of genetic dating techniques …”

    When the Church needed a response on the DNA issue, they did not go to Mr. Meldrum, nor did they draw on any of his work at all. Why not?

    The fact is, Mr. Meldrum’s work has been devastatingly reviewed by actual, trained geneticists who showed, pretty definitively, that Mr. Meldrum does not properly understand the scientific literature that he cites and attempts to critique. Furthermore, he was already drawing on outdated science when he published in 2009, and is especially out dated now as the field has moved forward in the last ten years and he has not kept up at all.

  4. Without getting deep in the weeds here, let me just add one thought that I hope the Meldrum/Neville train will take seriously. The comment above that, “the Book of Mormon Central critics do not accept . . . the words of latter-day prophets,” is quite ironic in that the Heartlanders are *literally* rejecting the living prophets here. From the introduction to the Gospel Topics essays:

    “Recognizing that today so much information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be obtained from questionable and often inaccurate sources, officials of the Church began in 2013 to publish straightforward, in-depth essays on a number of topics. The purpose of these essays, which have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has been to gather accurate information from many different sources and publications and place it in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org, where the material can more easily be accessed and studied by Church members and other interested parties.”

    The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have *literally* approved the Gospel Topics essays, including – “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies.” Meldrum, et al, *literally* rejects this essay and they continue their stubborn march of hobby-horse zeal because, 1) they do not have the education to understand Genesis, 2) they are apparently unaware that if you take Genesis (rather than Exodus, which I presume is an accidental mistake on their part), Moses, Abraham, and the temple literally then there is no room to reconcile contradictions (the sequence of events, etc.), and 3) they are either deliberately ignoring prophetic/apostolic statements that contradict their pet theories, or they simply do not have the intelligence to understand that church leaders are not in agreement with them (I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the former).

    Honestly, I could care less if anybody believed that the Book of Mormon took place in the “Heartland” of the United States. What drives me nuts is Meldrum and Neville’s condemnation of those who disagree with them and Team Heartland’s continual rhetoric of BOMC and others rejecting the prophets, when Meldrum, Neville, and fellow priest crafters are *literally* rejecting the living prophets and apostles.

  5. Steven,

    Nice write up overall and it does point out the deficiencies in the theories of the Heartland model.

    The approach of Meldrum & Company does show one of the problems that apologists run into. While in the religious sphere they deride rationalization, in the apologetic sphere it is their main tool. Too often they end up inscribing a circle of truth that only includes the facts that they agree with. While ignoring much of the truth outside of it.

    Your short article was effective at this. But the circle of rationalization that you are using is only marginally larger and ignores many other facts just so you can make sense to yourselves.

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