There are 16 thoughts on “Written to the Lamanites: Understanding the Book of Mormon through Native Culture and Religion”.

  1. It is my understanding that the Pueblos Native Americans being descendants of the Anasazi, but not the Navajo, could be your competing peoples since they are closest in geographical location to modern day Latter Day Saints. They are scattered tribes and would be hard for the church to influence them all. Trying to integrate the Navajo just based on their numbers, is at best superficial and lazy. On a personal account, my experience with some lds church members is the lack of understanding on how frail the relationship is. It falls on the European LDS members to act in good care and be true to the Faith, as the adversary prays on the humanistic weakness of unguarded people. Native Americans have suffered in the hand of evil, and they have nothing but their faith to guide them.

  2. 400 years or so …. year 2220 …. you have approximately 202 years left. Very few worthy Nephites left in latter day. I believe in the prophecy.

  3. I should say: excelent !!. I think the point of view exposed here is possible, i mean the remaining beliefs of our religion (the true religion) could be traced in the native cultures of the America continent, since The Book of Mormon is, as it says “written to the lamanites”, and because, i quote:

    ” that view holds [Page 35]true for technology but not for religion.4 “Primitive” is all too often a judgmental and derogatory term like “myth”: terms we use for beliefs and religions outside of our own to make ours seem more valid or truthful. Hugh Nibley would insist that it is also true for language.) “

  4. Thank you for this very fine, thoughtful article. You may have known Professor Merlin Myers in the BYU Anthropology Dept. Bemoaning the limitations of our contract rather than family based society and our increased separation from the natural world around us, he often used to say, “We pay a high price in terms of family, feeling, and spiritual sensitivity for our advanced, technological society.”

  5. 16 Nevertheless, my work shall go forth, for inasmuch as the knowledge of a Savior has come unto the world, through the testimony of the Jews, even so shall the knowledge of a Savior come unto my people—
    17 And to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers—
    18 And this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindled in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations.
    19 And for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people;
    20 And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved. Amen.
    (D&C 3)

  6. I would like to read this article at some point. I tried to read it at work during my lunch break and, unfortunately, I couldn’t make it past the 3rd sentence without the hackles on the back of my neck dancing at full attention. This is because of the statement, ‘unless the Nephites are included under the rubrics “Jew” or “Gentile.”’ My initial response is to ask if Gary is really being serious, if this is a trick statement, or if he is just trying to be funny. I fear that I must be very naive because I fail to see the trick or joke and so I have to assume that he is really serious. This creates great concern because the fate of the Nephite culture is a major theme throughout the Book of Mormon. After I got home I immediately set about searching the Book of Mormon for references concerning the fate of the Nephite culture and found them too numerous to list in this type of response. So I am content to just list Alma 45:10-14;

    10 And these are the words: Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit of revelation which is in me, in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief.
    11 Yea, and then shall they see wars and pestilences, yea, famines and bloodshed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct—
    12 Yea, and this because they shall dwindle in unbelief and fall into the works of darkness, and lasciviousness, and all manner of iniquities; yea, I say unto you, that because they shall sin against so great light and knowledge, yea, I say unto you, that from that day, even the fourth generation shall not all pass away before this great iniquity shall come.
    13 And when that great day cometh, behold, the time very soon cometh that those who are now, or the seed of those who are now numbered among the people of Nephi, shall no more be numbered among the people of Nephi.
    14 But whosoever remaineth, and is not destroyed in that great and dreadful day, shall be numbered among the Lamanites, and shall become like unto them, all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct. And now, because of iniquity, this prophecy shall be fulfilled.”

    So, Gary, the reason why the title page does not include the Nephites as part of the target audience is because it’s author(s) read the prophecies, personally witnessed, and understood that the Nephites from that time forth were numbered among the Lamanites.

    • I find 1 Nephi 13:30-31 instructive:

      30 Nevertheless, thou beholdest that the Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance; wherefore, thou seest that the Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren.

      31 Neither will he suffer that the Gentiles shall destroy the seed of thy brethren.

      I think a distinction can be made between Nephi’s seed, and the Nephites as a people, a cultural unit. I also find Lehi’s blessing to his son Jacob in 2Ne 3:23 helpful:

      23 Wherefore, because of this covenant thou art blessed; for thy seed shall not be destroyed, for they shall hearken unto the words of the book.

      So it appears that descendants of Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, Sam(?), and Zoram are among us. But you are right, when it comes to the righteous group of people known as Nephites, they went extinct as prophesied and witnessed.

      After years and cycles of wars, peace, righteousness, wickedness, missionary work and conversions, dissentions, trade, correspondence, intermarrying, and so forth, the designation of Lamanite probably had little to do with direct bloodline at the time the Nephites were destroyed.

  7. If only positive feedback should included here, I apologize. I did not find this article useful or insightful. For the sake of brevity, I include three reasons.

    First, one can only wonder why Gillum wants to “open some doors to possible studies of Native history and culture regarding the Book of Mormon and Mormonism,” when for decades numerous attempts have already been made. In other words, there is nothing novel about this latest attempt.

    Second, it seems that with so many competing geographical locations for Book of Mormon, one is left with many possible settings and backgrounds. Gillum wants us to see the book through a multitude of backgrounds lumped into one category – Native Americans.

    And third, the real significance of this article hinges on this platitude: “Technically, however, we don’t precisely know who the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon are today.” His vague definition of “Lamanite” leaves much to be desired.

    • In my opinion, the door that he opened was to a general understanding of how the Book of Mormon might be read against different cultural backgrounds. I certainly agree with you that understanding a particular geography provides a possible cultural backdrop against which the Book of Mormon may come more alive, but I see Gillum’s reading heading in a different direction. Try reading it again for the way the text might connect with people who have different backgrounds rather than what LDS authors typically do, which is use the Native American as a proof text for the Book of Mormon.

  8. I greatly appreciate this article. Several years ago I spent a week in the mountains near Pendleton, Oregon at a course taught by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The course was on tribal perspectives and government relationships and focused on how for the people of the Cayuse, Umatill, and Walla Walla tribes their traditional lands, first foods (salmon, wilde game, roots, berries, and clear, pure water), and religion are all integrated. The first foods have been the centerpiece of feasts for centuries in a serving ritual that starts with water and proceeds to salmon, deer and elk meet and edible roots, followed by huckleberries, chokecheries or other berries. The ritual is linked to tribal creation beliefs that the first foods willingly agreed to give themselves to sustain the life of the first people. The first people in turn covenanted to honor, respect, and be stewards over the first foods. I also got to experience and learn about the beautiful symbolism of the sweat (sweat lodge) ceremony. A sweat lodge is like a dome tent made of willow sticks covered in many layers of canvas. River rocks are heated outside the lodge in a fire until they are glowing red. The rocks are then placed with a shovel into a rock lined hole in the ground in a corner of the lodge. Historically, participants without clothes (naked like a newborn baby) would back into the lodge (representing the womb). An officiating elder of the tribe would take his place by the hot rocks with a bucket of water and a bundle of herbs to lead the ceremony and splash water on the rocks. The door is closed from the outside so that no light shines in anywhere. The officiator begins the ceremony by splashing water on the rocks and calling on the creator to here the prayers and bless the participants. Participants are asked to think about all their evil or unpleasant thoughts, problems, burdens, guilt, and sins and give them to the creator and join with the officiator in silent prayer and meditation. Then each participant is given the opportunity to say whatever is on their mind or in their hearts. Participants often express joy in their blessings, ask the creator and the other participants for help and understanding with difficulties, confess their shortcomings and ask the other participants for forgiveness. All the while, the officiator continues to splash water steeped with special herbs onto the rocks keeping the lodge full of steam. As your body sweats, old skin and impurities are expelled from the skin. The steam will help clear out your sinuses and lungs. After all the participants have had a chance to share, the officiator ends the ceremony by thanking the creator and asking that each of the participants be blessed with his challenges. He then calls for the door of the sweat lodge to be opened and each person exits the lodge face first like newborn baby or reborn adult, washed clean of his physical and spiritual impurities by the creator. It has been several years since I attended this course and I may have confused some of the specific terms or practices but I have not forgotten how I felt. I was amazed by the parallels between the sweat ceremony and the baptism and sacrament that we believe in as Mormons. I was struck by the simple but profound truths that they had taught me.

  9. “With the Book of Mormon being written especially to the Lamanites…”

    It is easy to forget that truth.

    Although the promise contained in Moroni 10:3:5 is certainly applicable to anyone reading the book of Mormon, it was directed specifically to the latter day Lamanites who will one day accept the Book en masse.

    “NOW I, Moroni, write somewhat as seemeth me good; and I write unto my brethren, the Lamanites”

    • The title page of the Book of Mormon twice highlights the three groups to which the book is directed, with the Lamanites in first position, but Jews and Gentiles listed as well (which Gary mentions as an afterthought).

      It is quite true that Moroni addresses the Lamanites specifically at Moro 10:1-23, at which point he shifts to addressing “all the ends of the earth” (vs 24), and even directly addresses “thee, O house of Israel” (vs 31), which presumably refers to all the missing and scattered tribes of Israel (1 Ne 13:39,42, 22:25, 2 Ne 10:8, 3 Ne 16:5, 21:1).

      Moreover, aside from specifying the role of Joseph Smith, Jr., in the Restoration (2 Ne 3), and his specific ability to read the sealed book which the learned cannot read (2 Ne 27, in fulfillment of Isa 29), the future history of the discovery of the New World by the Gentiles is sketched (1 Ne 13), and finally the ordination, baptism, and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper instituted by the Lord himself (3 Ne) leads Joseph & Oliver to seek ordination and baptism for themselves (JS-H 1:68-73).

      With all due respect, the Book of Mormon is directed to multiple persons & peoples and fulfills a multiplicity of purposes.

  10. I did like your essay pointing out the correlations with native religion and the Book of Mormon. Having experienced the Inipi ceremony, vision quest and the sundance my self I know first hand the sacredness and closeness to the spirit that is felt in these ceremonies. When you enter the seat lidge on with humility on hands and knees calling recognizing and calling upon all out relations you enter in to the womb of Mother Earth and are in a place of complete connectedness to all things living. I totally agree that we can and should learn so much form our native brothers and sisters if we are to preserve this earth. The only thing I am not sure of is the use of Laminate for all native peoples. I do not accept the idea that the Book of Mormon took place on the entire continent. I believe labeling my Souix, Hopi,Cheyenne and other native friends as Lamanite takes away from their traditional and ancient beliefs and spirituality. Even though as you have pointed out we can find correlations in their religion I believe thier religion and spirtuality as more ancient that the Book of Mormon. Thanks Brother Gillum for your insights!

  11. I’ve felt for years that our Anglo culture is impoverished by our assumed cultural superiority to other, less quantitative and empirical cultures, like the Native American culture mentioned in this piece. That unfortunate assumption militates against allowing much of their culture into ours.

    The Tenth Article of Faith includes the statement that the “earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory”. I guess we assume that transformation will be a reversal of what happened to the earth after the Fall and that it will be quick and effortless. But, I wondered if it isn’t likely the Lord will say to us: “You made this mess, now you get to clean it up.” If that happens, I’ll bet it will be the Native Americans, Polynesians and others who understand the earth who will be in charge and it will be the Anglos who know how to move dirt but have little feeling for the earth who will be on the picks and shovels.

    I also wonder about the Millennial culture. I expect it will be a rich, fascinating amalgam of every mortal culture now extant except those few that are wholly evil.

  12. This was a very thought-provoking look at the interconnectedness of the the Book of Mormon with Native American mythology. I have always appreciated our indigenous brothers and sisters and have sensed their innate wisdom of things of the earth. Thank you for sharing your insights.

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