Issue 167: Letters to the Editor

Assumptions

In Michael Vinson’s Cornucopia article in the December 2011 issue of Sunstone (“Where Is That Darn Lamanite DNA?), he cautioned against making unwarranted assumptions about Native Americans and DNA. He then went on to write in a way that assumed much about the Book of Mormon being literal history and little about what conclusions could be derived from studies of mitochondrial DNA.

Unfortunately, Vinson has not kept up with advances in population genetics, where scientists like Theodore Schurr (University of Pennsylvania) now utilize nuclear DNA (SNPs), which no longer leave open a possibility that a small, successful and genetically unique group could be introduced into a larger population without detection. According to the scientists, Native Americans are exclusively Siberian. There is no longer anywhere for a successful population of Middle-easterners to hide in the Native American family tree. (Zegura, et al., “High-Resolution SNPs,” Molecular Biology and Evolution, 2004)

Nor do Vinson’s assumptions square with what is known about biblical Israelites, who were in actuality Canaanites enslaved to Egyptians in Palestine, not in Egypt (Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World). I think it’s fine to hold personal opinions and to interpret the evidence variously, but the starting point should be what is known to be factual, not the mythology of the past that has been debunked.

Tom Kimball

American Fork, Utah

Response

Our differences are in the realm of religious persuasion, which by its nature is substantiated not by scientific facts but by our personal mythologies and beliefs. Mr. Kimball wants to stake our religious discussions on “facts,” as he puts it, and to cast aside “mythology.” I am sorely tempted at this point to invoke Karl Popper and Joseph Campbell, but in the interest of brevity, will refrain.

First, Mr. Kimball claims I should have cited population genetic studies to show that all Native Americans came from Siberia, thus excluding the possibility of any free-ranging Jewish groups who might have strayed from the Middle East, and in his opinion, permanently putting to rest the possibility of any future DNA discoveries. However, Mr. Kimball qualifies his assertion by using the word “successful” in connection with Nephite populations. But isn’t “unsuccessful” the very population definition of the Nephite stragglers as we know them? Besides, some Native Americans in New Mexico do have the Cohen Modal Haplotype (technically a Middle Eastern and not specifically Jewish DNA marker). While it is most probably derived through intermarriage with Sephardic Jews who were forced to flee Spain for Mexico, it is still considered a DNA marker of the ancient Middle East (for more, see Atzmon, et. al., 2010, “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry,” American Journal of Human Genetics 86:850–859). This hardly leaves the question as neatly resolved as Mr. Kimball would indicate.

Mr. Kimball also quibbles with the presence of enslaved Canaanites in Egypt by saying they were actually in Palestine. This is another question which is far from settled. For example, see the work by noted Biblical scholar Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel (Schocken, 1996), which contends that the Israelites were in Egypt. Furthermore, the first use of the name “Palestine” for a geographical location (by Herodotus and Aristotle) occurs hundreds of years after the Egyptian enslavement, and the official naming of “Palestine” does not occur until the Romans renamed Judea and other rebellious Jewish provinces in the Second Jewish War in 135 AD—at least a millennium later.

Michael Vinson

Salt Lake City, Utah

I’ve Some Mothers there

Holly Welker’s point in her afterword in the March 2012 Sunstone is well taken. It seems counterintuitive that the Church, with its focus on heterosexual marriage and the primacy of the nuclear family, should not take the opportunity to provide heavenly role models for married couples.

One of the few reasons I can come up with for this lack is that the majority (or at least the most influential) of the upper echelon of general authorities believe that the form of marriage God participates in is polygamous. In such a situation, I imagine the public relations department convincing them that making that information pubic would destabilize the Mormon marriage imagination too severely, not to mention thrust us into a political backwater so murky that not even the Tea Party could countenance us. The PR department’s reasoning might sound something like: “Yes, it’s sad to not have a heavenly role model for females, or a model for divine heterosexual marriage dynamics, but it would be worse in our current situation to have those models based in polygamy.”

In his satirical novel, Eternal Borderlands, D. Jeff Burton takes an interesting approach to how mainstream Mormons imagine polygamy by painting the premortal life as something like BYU campus, where, though the gendered spirits interact during the day, they are segregated into vast apartment complexes during the night. Orbiting above is the planet where God and his Wives reside. The Wives have little, if any, contact with their spirit children. At one point, a spirit attempts a protracted Kafka-esque paperwork process just to meet his mother. Would having a polygamous mother in heaven indeed be like having none at all?

Being raised in a monogamous family, I admit that it would be difficult to think of my Heavenly Mother as being one of many, but I wonder what new doors such a paradigm could open. Might it allow more room for us to perceive personality in divine feminines? Could I, for example, feel that I could draw on the help of a particular heavenly aunt because I would know that she has a salty personality like my own? Could I learn a bit more about my own potential by contemplating the unique traits of my own Heavenly Mother (as opposed to someone else’s)?

Yeah, it sounds like polytheism. But hey, I thought we were.

Scott Robbins

Tallahassee, Florida