In a recent article on “MormonTimes”, LDS apologist Michael Ash tackles the problem of “Others” in the Book of Mormon. The problem being that the book doesn’t clearly acknowledge there being existing peoples and civilizations when the Lehites landed.
Why aren’t other peoples mentioned in the Book of Mormon?
For reasons I do not know, Ash declined to acknowledge some of the reasons people feel strongly that there weren’t “others” here when the Lehites landed (for the purposes of discussion, “Others” refer to people not specifically integrated into the Book of Mormon narrative; the Jaredite remnant and Mulekites aren’t counted.)
So, for the benefit of those who like to see both sides of an issue, here are some of the reasons people might believe there weren’t others:
– For a book that is so focused on Christ and bringing people to him (and missionary work in general), it seems odd that they wouldn’t mention the conversion of whole cultures of natives in the first few decades of their colonization. The mass conversion of such people (who didn’t even share a common language upon Lehite Landfall) would be one of the greatest miracles in the history of Christianity, and hopefully worth mentioning somewhere between the lengthy transcriptions of Isaiah and descriptions of Nephite coinage.
The Lehite conversion of the indigenous pagans would also offer an interesting precedent for missionary work throughout the rest of the BoM. At the very least, I can imagine the Sons of Mosiah being inspired by the story of their ancestors long ago converting whole populations at the same time they were learning their language.
–Jacob 1 (~40 years after Lehite landfall) presents a “laundry list” of the existing population, naming each group by name. There is no “other” category. This may be explained by having every existing native aligning with a Lehite sub-group, but that kind of destroys the “small sub-culture” theory of Lehite integration.
13 Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.
– Intermarriage. Traditionally, the God of the Old Testament takes a dim view towards his chosen people intermarrying with the pagan natives in designated promised lands.
–2 Nephi describes the Promised Land as being “kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.” This would seem to be at odds with the idea of a land already populated by numerous pagan cultures.
It would be like someone inheriting a house from a grandparent and being told the house had been “preserved” for them as a special place of sanctuary and peace. Then, when the family shows up, they find it overrun with a bunch of squatting Canadian illegal immigrants. They then look at the fine print in the will, and see that the grandparents knew about the squatters, and that it was intended for the two families to intermarry and get along sharing the house.
– When Nephi catalogs what they find in the New World, he includes cows, horses, goats, wild goats, and “all manner of wild animals”. He also includes gold, silver, and copper. But no mention of…unusually dark skinned, loin-clothed people who speak an odd language but are particularly susceptible to conversion to pre-Christianity?
– In the Wentworth letter, Joseph Smith describes his first visit by Moroni, in which Moroni gives an other-less overview of the history of the Americas:
I was also informed concerning the aboriginal inhabitants of this country, and shown who they were, and from whence they came; a brief sketch of their origin, progress, civilization, laws, governments, of their righteousness and iniquity, and the blessings of God being finally withdrawn from them as a people was made known unto me.
In [The Book of Mormon] the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem, about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites, of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country.
So, while I agree there are some interesting (and, as it turns out, necessary) arguments to be made for “others”, we shouldn’t forget why some believers in Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon might find such arguments to be less than convincing.
Whether or not the expression of such ideas would be welcome in “MormonTimes”, I can only imagine.