Thursday, November 17, 2016

Visit to the Church History Museum

Last week we visited the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. It's an awesome museum. I highly recommend it if you haven't been there before. Lots of unique historical items, beautiful exhibits, well-planned explanations, etc..

Except there's a bit of Mesomania there I need to point out.

Early on, you'll come to this display:

Notice the section on the left, titled "The Indian Mission."

Now, look closer and see what the message is:

"Early Church members believed that these Indians were descendants of Israelites who were known as Lamanites in the Book of Mormon."

Do you see the Mesomania here?

Without Mesomania, this display would read something such as this:

"In Doctrine and Covenants sections 28, 30, and 32, the Lord identified these Indians as descendants of Israelites who were known as Lamanites in the Book of Mormon."

There's a big difference between telling the world that "early Church members" believed these Indians were Lamanites, and telling the world that the Lord Himself identified these Indians as Lamanites.

Think about this a moment. Are we really backing away from the Doctrine and Covenants? I don't think so. I hope not.

Then why would this display describe the mission to the Lamanites this way, as a quaint belief held by "early" Church members, and not as a series of revelations from the Lord?

The only reason I can think of is because these sections undermine the Mesoamerican theory by identifying specific Indian tribes in the Northwestern United States as Lamanites. No other group of indigenous people were specifically identified this way in any of the scriptures. Certainly not the Mayans.

While you're at it, ask yourself why they used the adjective "early" here. Don't Church members still believe these New York, Ohio, and Midwestern tribes are Lamanites?

You'll find a similar approach in the Joseph Smith Papers, unfortunately.


  1. I'm saddened by this. To be an early Church member again!

  2. I agree, it should read as the D&C indicates. I'm not sure it's due to "Mesomania" per se, though--although I do acknowledge Mesomania exists.

    And even if it definitely is Mesomania, I'm not sure why someone would feel the need to alter the truth as related by the caption. After all, even Mesoamericanists know that peoples migrate over time. Just because there are Lamanite descendants in NY, OH, and the midwest NOW doesn't necessarily prove that's where they were 1600-2000 years ago.

    Do Mesoamericanists make the case that cultures and peoples don't migrate and move over time? I'm not aware of any such claims. That's why I hesitate to agree that the altered caption is a manifestation of Mesomania.

    I'm inclined to think other factors are at play here, although which I can't say for sure. But I think it's a bit reactionary to attribute it to mesomania.

  3. Great comment, WonderBoy. I attribute this to Mesomania partly for the lack of another explanation, and partly because Mesoamerican advocates have questioned these passages on the ground that the Doctrine and Covenants has not been sufficiently "proof-texted" by scholars. That's a discussion for another post someday.

    The larger point is that Mesoamerican advocates strongly argue against the "hemispheric" model that early LDS authors such as the Pratt brothers and Benjamin Winchester emphasized (and which Joseph explicitly rejected, although not strongly enough, it turns out). Joseph wrote and spoke only about the Indians in the U.S., and he told them their fathers wrote the book. When Joseph wrote in the Wentworth letter that the remnants are the Indians "in this country," Mesoamerican advocates recognize the threat to their theory so they claim he was referring to the entire hemisphere. They recognize that there is little commonality between the indigenous people in Latin America--almost exclusively Asian in origin--and the indigenous people in the Northwestern U.S.

    As far as I know, everyone agrees that ancient people migrated. And you're right that theoretically, the tribes Cowdery visited could have migrated north from Mesoamerica. But that's not what the anthropology or the DNA shows. These tribes have high concentrations of the X2 haplotype that is not found in Latin America. There is some mixture of Asian DNA brought up from Central America in the southern areas of Hopewell culture (which is what I noted in my post about the temple dedicatory prayers in Latin America), but the more north you get, the less there is. I'm not aware of any as far north as New York, for example, but maybe someone can comment on that.

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