Did the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon Plates Contain More than Just the Brother of Jared’s Vision? A Theory

The Gold Plates; GAK 325; Primary manual 5-13; Alma 37:4

Introduction

A puzzling feature of the description of the gold-colored metal plates, on which the Book of Mormon text was written, was the thickness of the sealed portion.  The unsealed plates could be turned like the pages of a book, but the sealed plates were bound together by some means (which was never actually described by witnesses) whereby  the individual leaves could not be separated from each other and read.  David Whitmer, one of the witnesses privileged to actually see the plates, estimated the sealed portion to constitute about one half of the total number of leaves, while Orson Pratt, who did not personally see the plates but wrote about what eyewitnesses had told him, estimated the sealed portion to be two thirds of the total.1  The overall thickness of the sealed and unsealed portions together was estimated as ranging from four (Martin Harris’ version) to six inches (Orson Pratt’s version).2  The unsealed portion produced what is now 531 pages of text in the Book of Mormon, so presumably, the sealed portion, if translated, would produce approximatedly that same amount or more.

This short essay suggests a possible explanation for why the sealed portion of the ancient plates was as thick as reported by witnesses, and what other texts might have been contained within that portion in addition to that which is already known.

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How Scripture and History Show the Pre-Millennial Gathering of the Lost Tribes of Israel is Mostly Complete

The purpose of this essay is first, to carefully analyze the doctrinal and scriptural foundations of the Mormon belief in the “literal gathering of Israel and the restoration of the ten tribes,”1 and second, to consider whether the evidence suggests that said gathering is yet to occur, now partly underway, or mostly complete.  In the latter part of the essay the following hypotheses will be advanced:

1.  The prophesied physical gathering of  Israel found its most prominent fulfillment in the gathering to the present-day nation of Israel that occurred primarily in the 20th century.

2.  To the extent that ancient scriptural prophecies contemplate a gathering in the Americas by the lost tribes of Israel, these prophecies refer to a spiritual gathering as opposed to a physical one.  They have been largely fulfilled by the following groups who at some point in history came to the Western Hemisphere, and some of whose members were converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ: first, the groups led by the Lehi and Mulek, and other groups yet unknown to us, in the sixth century B.C. and before and after, as described by the Book of Mormon; second, European Gentiles among whom is mixed much of the seed of ancient Joseph; third, European Gentiles of all genealogies who embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ; and fourth, Sephardic Jews.  The last three groups migrated to America over the last five centuries.

3.  Book of Mormon scriptures make clear that the spirtual gathering of the lost tribes began when the Book of Mormon was brought forth , and has continued since then as Jew and Gentile alike continue to embrace the gospel of Christ.  It is now mostly complete.

4.  The prophesied acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jews in the last days has already come to pass on a far greater scale than most Mormons realize.

MISCONCEPTIONS

Few LDS doctrines have engendered so much speculation as the belief in the latter-day gathering of the ten tribes.  Before we determine whether these prophecies have been fulfilled, we must take great care that we’re not looking for events to occur that were never prophesied, and, of equal importance, that momentous events foretold in scripture don’t escape our notice merely because of the unexpected form in which they came.

Several common Mormon assumptions about the gathering of Israel need to be scrutinized.  The following list of doctrinal question is by no means exhaustive.

  • Do the scriptures indicate the “lost ten tribes” would remain together in one cohesive or semi-cohesive body after they disappeared from history?
  • Do the scriptures indicated  that “ten” tribes would be lost, or instead, that all the tribes of Israel would be scattered?
  • Do the scriptures indicate that all the members of the northern ten tribes were lost when the Assyrians took them captive in 722 B.C., or just a relatively small portion of them?
  • When the people known as the “Jews” were taken captive or scattered from Jerusalem and Judea leading up to and including 587 B.C., were they composed of more Israelite tribes than just Judah, Benjamin and Levi?
  • If the answer to the preceding question is yes, weren’t the people who returned to Judea after their captivity, and whose posterity remained there until being scattered in subsequent centuries, composed of the same tribally diverse group?
  • If the Jews who were scattered from Judea were tribally diverse in the six centuries before Christ and in the first century AD, what conclusions can be made about the tribal ancestries of the Israelis who’ve gathered to modern-day Israel over the last 150 years?  In other words, shouldn’t today’s “Jews” be descended from the same integrated group of tribal descendants as the original “Jews” who were composed of most or all of the tribes of Israel?
  • As the tribes gather in the latter days, do we have clear scriptural indication that they will necessarily know their respective ancient tribal affiliations?
  • Do the great majority of modern-day ethnically “Jewish” Israelis identify one specific tribe from which they descend?
  • Is there any scriptural evidence to suggest that when Jesus visited the lost tribes of Israel after his resurrection and appearance to the Nephites (see III Nephi 17:4 in the Book Mormon), he made only one visit to one place and one people in the Americas?
  • Do we have any basis for inferring that after the majority of the Israelite tribes appeared to be lost to history, subsequent scriptural references to them still identified them by their Israelite tribal lineage, instead of referring to them by the names of the broader groups of people with whom they had assimilated?  I.e., might the scriptural references to the Gentiles, for example, be referring to both the Gentiles and the tribes of Israel interspersed among them?
  • In looking for the lost tribes to come from the land of the “north,” from which geographical frame of reference should we look northward?  Of equal importance, do the scriptures indicate they will gather exclusively from the north, or that they will come from other directions as well?  Why is the gathering from the north given scriptural emphasis?
  • Is the belief that the scattered Israelites are to gather to America in the last days scripturally well-founded, and is this gathering something in which all tribe members are likely to participate?

The latter-day gathering of the dispersed members of the House of Israel was prophesied by Isaiah about 2,700 years ago with these memorable words:

     And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea.

And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

The envy of also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off:  Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.

But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together;  they shall lay their hand upon Edom and Moab; and the children of Edom; and the children of Ammon shall obey them.

Isaiah 11: 11-14

Jeremiah also spoke much of this gathering, stating that it would eclipse even the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt in magnitude:

Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them; and I will bring them again into their  land that I gave unto their fathers.

Jeremiah 16: 14-15.  See also, Jeremiah 31: 7-8, 10-12.

Many centuries after Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus himself spoke plainly about the latter-day gathering back to the land of Jerusalem in his sermon to the Nephites:

And I will remember the covenant which I have made with my people; and I have covenanted with them that I would gather them together  in mine own due time, that I would give unto them again the land of their fathers for their inheritance, which is the land of Jerusalem, which is the promised land unto them forever, saith the Father.

. . .

Then will the Father gather them together again, and give unto them Jerusalem for the land of their inheritance.

III Nephi 20:29, 33.

The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi recognized the tremendous importance of  prophecies concerning a future gathering, and repeated Isaiah’s words in his own small plates.  It’s now found in II Nephi 21:11-12.  He also recognized that his own family’s departure from Jerusalem with Zoram and the family of Ishmael was a significant and historic part of the dispersal of the house of Israel, and he expounded on said dispersal.  From I Nephi 22 we read:

3 Wherefore, the things of which I have read are things pertaining to things both temporal and spiritual; for it appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.
4 And behold, there are many who are already lost from the knowledge of those who are at Jerusalem. Yea, the more part of all the tribes have been led away; and they are scattered to and fro upon the isles of the sea; and whither they are none of us knoweth, save that we know that they have been led away.                                                                               5 And since they have been led away, these things have been prophesied concerning them, and also concerning all those who shall hereafter be scattered and be confounded, because of the Holy One of Israel; for against him will they harden their hearts; wherefore, they shall be scattered among all nations and shall be hated of all men.

(Emphasis added)

Nephi introduced three concepts which are usually overlooked or forgotten by members of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints when studying the lost tribes of Israel, things of which many non-Mormon Christians are also unaware.  First of all, Nephi doesn’t say that the “lost ten tribes” of Israelites had been led away to the lands in the north, as is commonly believed in Mormonism, but that the house of Israel, which includes all twelve tribes2 had been, and would be, scattered everywhere on earth, including the isles of the sea, and among all nations.  In fact, neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon contain any concept of the gathering of the “lost ten tribes.”  Second, not only would those people in the area of Jerusalem not know where all these groups went, but none of the Jews would know, not even prophets like Nephi himself.3  Third, the scattered tribes would be characterized not by their continuous adherence to their Israelite religion, but by their abandonment of it.  

It must be acknowledged that the assertions in this essay differ from traditional beliefs within Mormonism, and in the Christian world at large, regarding the “lost ten tribes.” This is generally because this essay’s source  texts, though available to all, are significantly different from those usually relied upon heavily by others.  Latter-day Saints are taught in their canonized Doctrine and Covenants that the “lost ten tribes” are to gather to America from the land of the north, and that this gathering will be directed and overseen by the president of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The Doctrine and Covenants further instructs that the lost tribe of Ephraim, from which Joseph Smith believed himself descended, will be given richer blessings than the other lost tribes. (See footnote 3 for further information on LDS beliefs.)

This author agrees, of course, with the common understanding throughout Christianity that the Assyrians took their Israelite captives to Media, a province of Assyria to the northeast of Israel on the far side of the Euphrates River, in approximately 721 B.C.  The author also doesn’t dispute the fact that the prophecies concerning the latter-day return of exiled Israel describe them coming from “the north” most prominently among all the places from which they will come.  See II Kings 17:5-6; Jeremiah 16:15, 23:8 and 31:8.  But throughout Christianity, and Mormonism in particular, surprising reliance is placed on the writings of the unknown author(s) of the apocryphal book of Esdras II. This book is accepted by almost all scholars as having been inscribed after the death of the Roman emperor Nero in 68 C.E., which was  approximately eight centuries after the Assyrians carried away captive Israelites from Samaria.4  Esdras II is primarily a philosophical explanation of why God permits tragedy to befall his chosen people while non-Israelites, whom are not chosen by God as his people, still prosper.  The context of the book is a lamentation in the wake of the Romans burning the Jewish temple in 70 C.E.  In one small part of it, the book purports to describe where the Israelite tribes went when they migrated northward after being held captive by the Assyrians.  It claims that the ten tribes stayed together, and resolved before they departed to keep intact their devotion to the true religion from which they had strayed in Israel.  No mention is made of when they departed, or how they were able to do so without interference from the ruler of the empire.  They are said to have crossed the mighty Euphrates River by the Lord parting the water for them, as he had done with the Red Sea, at the river’s narrowest point. From there, the tribes are claimed to have headed north to a land that had never before been inhabited by man.  In this new place they are said to have succeeded in being religiously devout to the Most High.  The writer then assures the reader that these lost ten tribes will eventually return en masse and be reunited with the chosen people.  See Esdras II 13:40-48.

However, to Jews and Christians alike, Esdras is an apocryphal book, as opposed to a scriptural one, for many reasons.  Its writers claim to be one man–the Old Testament Jewish religious leader Ezra (Esdras is Greek for Ezra)–though its anachronistic content betrays its First Century A.D. origins.  In many respects it reads more like a wishful-thinking legend than history.  It contradicts several important aspects of Nephi’s summary of the tribes’ dispersal in the Book of Mormon, as well as Moses’ prediction that the Israelites would be scattered by the Lord “among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy father have known, even wood and stone.”  See Deuteronomy 28: 64.  The writings of Esdras II have not been designated by the Lord as scriptural or authoritative, as opposed to, for example, the Book of Mormon, which Nephi proclaimed would contain the fulness of the gospel.  See I Nephi 15:13-14.  On the other hand,  the assertions in this essay are drawn  from biblical and Book of Mormon sources such as Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, Jesus himself, and from exhaustively chronicled events in the 20th century which no one disputes.  The reader is urged to consider the authoritativeness of the sources relied upon before deciding which views to believe.  But it should be remembered that the Jews have been notorious for not understanding their own ancient history correctly, and Christ upbraided them for it.  Not only did they historically ignore prophetic teachings and much that was negative about themselves, see Matthew 23:37, but they also showed a decided disinterest in the Jews/Israelites who had left them, who Jesus taught were “other sheep not of this fold.” See 3 Nephi 15: 12-20.  Thus the Lord never taught the Jews what became of the scattered tribes, or where they went.  The author of Esdras II was one of those Jews who didn’t know about the departures of Lehi or Mulek, or of the many other groups of Israelites that Jehovah led away from Palestine down through the centuries.  Because of this, his claim to know where the lost ten tribes had gone, and that they had remained faithful to the Hebrew religion, assumed false facts and reached erroneous conclusions.

Notwithstanding the obvious flaws in Esdras II’s account, Bruce R. McConkie, in an article entitled  “Lost Tribes of Israel” in his well-known book Mormon Doctrine, quoted from Esdras extensively, but failed to quote the contradictory information provided by Nephi.  McConkie seemed determined to bolster the notion that the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel will occur when they are beckoned by the LDS Church president to come from the land of the north, and the Esdras II account appears to serve those purposes better than the unequivocal verses of the Book of Mormon.5  In The Articles of Faith, another well-known LDS scriptural commentary, its author, former apostle James E. Talmage, also makes prominent mention of Esdras’ writings in adhering to the lost-ten-tribes-are-somewhere-in-the-north notion.  Though Talmage was conscientious enough to provide all Bible and Book of Mormon scriptures relevant to the issue, he made no attempt to address, much less reconcile, the contradictions inherent in the Esdras version.

UNDERSTANDING WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED ANCIENTLY

To understand the latter-day gathering of the lost tribes of Israel, we may need to first correct some common notions about who remained in Israel when the tribes of Israel first began to be dispersed.

The conventional understanding of history is that at the time of the division of Israel into two separate kingdoms, Judah and Benjamin inhabited the southern kingdom of Judah, and the other ten tribes lived in the northern kingdom if Israel.  Rehoboam was king in Judah when this happened, and Jeroboam led the rebellion against Judah and became the northern kingdom’s first king.  We are further taught that the ten tribes in the north were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 B.C.  After being taken to the northern reaches of the Assyrian empire, they never returned to Israel and were lost to history.  The common view further holds that the  tribes of Judah and Benjamin resided in the southern kingdom of Judah until taken captive by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.  Furthermore, because a good number of people from these two tribes returned to Judea 70 years later when freed by Cyrus of Persia, we consider these two tribes to not have been lost.

However, the above conception is so overbroad, that if believed, may be more misleading than informative about the history and future of Israel.  A more meticulous scrutiny of the scriptures reveals that the “Jews” who inhabited the general Jerusalem area immediately before its Babylonian captivity in the early sixth century B.C., and whose descendants returned to that city-state 70 years later, were composed of most, if not all, of the tribes of Israel.

When the tribes of Israel first moved into the land of Canaan under Joshua and were assigned their respective geographical areas to inhabit, some of the tribes besides Judah and Benjamin were assigned to, and settled in, the southern land that later became known as the kingdom of Judah.  The tribe of Levi had been assigned cities throughout the original land of Israel, and many of these cities were within what later became known as Judah (see Numbers 35:1-8).

The tribe of Simeon was likewise within the boundaries of Judah.  Simeon’s area was described in the Bible as “within the inheritance of the children of Judah.” (See Joshua 19:1 specifically, and verses 2-8 generally; see also Map 5 of the “Maps” section of the LDS Bible.)  Some members of Simeon moved eastward into “mount Seir,” the land where Esau’s posterity lived.  (See I Chronicles 4:24-33, 42-43.)  Though they started out wholly within the south, it appears that at some point some of the tribe later settled in the northern kingdom of Israel.  We infer this because the Old Testament records that during the reign of the Judean king Asa in Jerusalem, some of Simeon’s descendants, along with others of Ephraim and Manasseh, migrated from the kingdom of Israel when they saw that Asa was redirecting himself and his kingdom to God.  (See II Chronicles 15:8-10.)  Later, during the reign of the Judean king Josiah, which began some 82 years after the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom, cities of the tribes of Simeon, Manasseh, Ephraim and Naphtali are mentioned in II Chronicles 34:6 as being under his rule.  (The migration to the south of Manasseh, Ephraim and Naphtali, as well as that of other tribes, will be discussed hereinafter.)  It seems justifiable, therefore, to say that the tribe of Simeon was at least as much a part of the kingdom of Judah as it was of Israel, and the descendants of Simeon were among the earliest to intersperse with the descendants of Judah and Benjamin.

In addition to the tribe of Judah, Benjamin, Levi and Simeon, the tribe of Dan was given land which, though initially west of Benjamin’s and Ephraim territory, formed the northern corner of the kingdom of Judah when the previously unified nation of Israel was split into separate northern and southern kingdoms.  The cities designated for Dan are set forth in Joshua 19:40-46 and 21:5, 23-24.  A look at Maps 5 and 9 of the LDS Bible shows that all of these cities were either within Philistine territory or the boundaries of Judah by the time of the division.  Later, however, Judges 18 relates how 600 men of the tribe of Dan journeyed north past the northern end of Israel and conquered the city of Laish, establishing it thereafter as the city of Dan.7  Nevertheless, there is no indication that the entire tribe of Dan migrated north to Laish to live there after it had been conquered, or that the aforementioned 600 men constituted the whole of the tribe.  In fact, the opposite inference is justified, since the taking of only one city would hardly seem to provide a territory for a whole tribe.8  It seems likely that some of the tribe, probably even a majority, remained in the original homeland and formed part of the kingdom of Judah when the country became two kingdoms.

We have seen that the geographical boundaries of Judah originally contained all or part of Judah, Benjamin, Levi, Simeon and Dan.   But clearly, by the time Jerusalem was overthrown, 388 years after the two nations had become separate, Judah had also acquired portions of almost all the other tribes as well.

When Jeroboam founded the northern kingdom of Israel and became its first king, he  quickly led it into idolatry.  (See I Kings 12-14, generally.) Thereafter, over the years, many descendants from the northern tribes in Israel migrated south into Judah because of their desire to worship the true god rather than participate in the idolatry all around them.  These migrations are mentioned as occurring during the reigns of the southern kings Asa, Hezekiah and Josiah.  The first two of these, Asa and Hezekiah, reigned in Judah before the Assyrians overthrew the northern tribes, thus allowing the northern tribes to mix and intermarry with the other tribes in Judea before their captivity.  In describing Asa’s reign, II Chronicles 15:8-10 states, as noted above, that because Asa abolished idolatry and hearkened to the Mosaic law, descendants from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon left Israel and settled in Judah “in abundance.”

Apparently, an even greater number came south during Hezekiah’s reign.  II Chronicles 30:11, 13 and 18 indicate that “much people” from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh, Zebulon, Issachar and Ephraim responded to Hezekiah’s invitation to come to Jerusalem and observe the Feast of the Passover in accordance with the Law of Moses.  Unlike the quoted scriptures regarding Asa’s reign, the latter scriptures don’t expressly say that the northern tribes came to Jerusalem to live, as opposed to coming to participate, in the Passover observances.  Much can be inferred from what is said, however.  The scriptures describing these pilgrimages make obvious that there was much intercourse between the tribes in Judah and those in Israel, and that a great many of those in the north were attracted to the southern kingdom for religious purposes.  Clearly, the religiously devout in Israel felt a kinship with their sister nation to the south, and it’s probable that, as in the time of Asa, they would be likely to migrate to Judah and intermarry with Judah’s descendants as they watched with dismay the growing religious perversions in their own country.

The following very important point regarding the overthrow of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. is often overlooked.  Not all members of the northern Israelite tribes were captured.  After Assyrian king Shalmaneser besieged the northern kingdom for three years, the final overthrow of Israel’s capital, Samaria, was accomplished by his successor, Sargon II.  On an inscription found in his palace, Sargon boasted:  “The city of Samaria I besieged, I took; 27290 of its inhabitants I carried away; fifty chariots that were among them I collected.”10  It may be assumed that the egotistical Sargon II was unlikely to underestimate the number of the Israelites he deported from their homeland, thus lending credibility to the conclusion that his numbers are accurate.  If Sargon II would have taken 100,000 prisoners from Israel, he would have said so, with pleasure.  Since all population estimates for the nation of Israel from that time period put the number at much greater than 27,000, it appears a smaller percentage of Israelites were exiled to Assyria than is commonly believed.  One explanation for this may be that both Shalmaneser and Sargon II concentrated their efforts on conquering and exiling the inhabitants of the city of Samaria, Israel’s capital, and probably its immediate surroundings, thereby leaving alone other Israelites they considered less valuable living in more rural areas of the country.  See II Kings 17:5-6.11 

Of those that remained behind, many continued to migrate to Judah, attracted again by the restoration of religious devotion to Jehovah taking place under King Josiah.  Josiah and the prophet Lehi in the Book of Mormon were contemporaries, since Josiah lived until 609 B.C.  During his reign, however, in what would have been approximately 100 years after the Assyrian captivity, the biblical record informs us that Josiah was supported in his religious devotion to God by the descendants “of Manasseh, and Ephraim, and Simeon, even unto Naphtali. . . .throughout all the land of Israel.”  (See II Chronicles 34:5-6, 9.)  These verses are significant not only because they reveal the continued presence of these tribes in Israel a century after they were supposedly carried away captive and lost to history, but also because they affirmatively show their intermixing with those thought of as “Jews” living in Judah.  The Jews had, over the centuries, become a melting pot of the other tribes of Israel.  As Nephi made clear in the II Nephi 22:3-5 scripture quoted above, while the “more part” of the “tribes” (a term Nephi seems to use to denote smaller groups of people than all the descendants of one particular son of Jacob) had already been led away by 600 years before Christ, a minority remained still unscattered.

In fact, the only tribes about which we have no specific information indicating the degree to which they integrated with the kingdom of Judah prior to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities are Reuben and Gad.  These two tribes had been assigned to, and had settled on, the east side of the Jordan River from the beginning of Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  (See Joshua 13.)  They therefore had been separated from the other tribes in Judah and Israel by this geographical boundary, and biblical writers appear to have paid less attention to them than to the other tribes in the following centuries.  We read of these two tribes and half of Manasseh having been taken captive by the Assyrians in I Chronicles 5:26, but the scriptures provide no evidence regarding the integration of Reuben and Gad with the Israelites in Judah prior to that time.

The facts above are very significant.  Even though members of the tribes of Israel had been taken hostage by Assyria in 721 B.C., many members of those tribes remained behind and continued to be mixed in together with the “Jews” of the southern kingdom. This means that over the centuries that followed, the people called “Jews” consisted of almost all of the tribes of Israel, and not just Judah and Benjamin.  When these Jews were later scattered down through the ages, and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 C.E., the tribes from the north were scattered with them, having long since assimilated with them.  And, as the Jews have gathered in the last days, the tribes of Israel, which have been part of them since ancient times, have gathered with them.  This conclusion is bolstered by scriptures outside the Old Testament.

OTHER TRIBES MENTIONED IN THE BOOK OF MORMON AND NEW TESTAMENT

When God led away groups of Jews from the area of Jerusalem (as opposed to them being scattered by their enemies), thus causing many of them to be lost from the knowledge of Jewish historians, the groups themselves were composed of more than just Judah and Benjamin.  The Book of Mormon tells us that Lehi, who lived in the area of Jerusalem, was descended from Manasseh, son of Joseph (see Alma 10:3).  Interestingly, Lehi didn’t know his tribal lineage until he read it in the scriptures and genealogies written on brass plates he had acquired from a man named Laban in Jerusalem.  See I Nephi 5:10-16.

Although Lehi was descended from Manasseh, his son Nephi considered himself and his people “Jews,” see II Nephi 30:4 and 33:8.  This illustrates how broadly the term “Jew” should be construed in interpreting last-days prophecies about the return of the “Jews” to Jerusalem. Nephi also considered his abode in America an “isle of the sea,”  see II Nephi 10: 20, in partial fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy quoted near the beginning of this essay. It’s apparent that those living in the land round about Jerusalem considered themselves Jews regardless of their tribal ancestry.  In fact, it’s likely that specific tribal ancestry had become irrelevant in the southern kingdom of Judah.  If the prophet Lehi in 600 B.C. was unaware he came from Joseph through Manasseh until he read his genealogy in the brass plates that had been kept by someone else, it’s likely most other inhabitants of Judea in his time, and thereafter, were equally ignorant of their tribal blood lines.   Laban himself was also descended from Joseph (see I Nephi 5:16), which means he was either from Ephraim or Manasseh.  The descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh are presently considered two of the supposedly lost-from-history ten tribes, but the Book of Mormon corroborates the Bible in establishing that some descendants of these tribes were still in Jerusalem 600 years before Christ’s birth, the year that Levi was led out of that city.

During the early part of Jesus’s  ministry, Matthew 4: 12-13 states that he left Nazareth and went to the Galilee area, and “came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon [Zebulun] and Nephthalim [Naphtali].”  It may be that those areas carried still carried the names of the two tribes that originally settled there, without any actual descendants of those two tribes still remaining in those areas.  But it’s also at least as reasonable to interpret this verse as demonstrating that some descendants of these two supposedly lost tribes of Israel were still living in the area where they had first settled many centuries earlier, thus enabling them to preserve the old tribal place names.  This conclusion is bolstered by the fact that no other lands were still being called by their ancient tribal names except for Judah/Judea, where Jews descended from Judah were still known to live.

Similarly, the New Testament book of Luke mentions Anna the prophetess, who “departed not” from the temple in Jerusalem during Jesus’ time, and who was member of the tribe of Aser [Asher], another supposedly lost-to-history Israelite tribe.  See Luke 2:36.

The tribe of Levi should also not be considered one of the “lost ten tribes.”  Levi’s descendants had to remain among the people of Jerusalem to administer the ordinances of the temple there.  Therefore, the Bible specifically mentions the Levitical lineage of Zacharias and Elizabeth of Jerusalem (and of course their son John the Baptist) and Joses Barnabas of Cyprus.  See Luke 1:5 and Acts 4:36.  Moreover, that Levites were a prominent part of Jewish society is shown by the mention of them questioning John the Baptist, see John 1:19, and Jesus’ inclusion of them in his parable of the Good Samaritan, see Luke 10:32.

The Book of Mormon also describes a “choice seer” in the latter days.  Through this seer, a new book of scripture, called a “marvelous work and a wonder” containing the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, would come forth in the latter days.  We can now reasonably identify this seer as Joseph Smith, since through him the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.  The Book of Mormon declared this latter-day seer to be descended from the lineage of Joseph of old, the birthright son of Israel, in II Nephi 3:7-15, though it is not known whether his ancestors were among those taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. or that portion that remained behind in Israel thereafter.  We know from modern genealogical research that Joseph Smith’s ancestors came from the British Isles. This fact corroborates the biblical and Book of Mormon scripture quoted above that the tribes of Israel were to be scattered everywhere, and it suggests that some of them obviously migrated to the British Isles and the rest of Europe.  It also demonstrates that latter-day descendants of the “lost tribes” are integrated into, and indistinguishable from, the populations within which they live.  Discerning a person’s lineage from the lost tribes of Israel cannot be done by merely asking her about her genealogical line, or her name, or her religious persuasion.  In Joseph Smith’s case, though he was descended from the tribe of Joseph, he was also referred to as a Gentile, since it was the Gentiles through whom the Book of Mormon was prophesied to come forth.  See I Nephi 15:13-14; III Nephi 21:1-11.

It is instructive to note that neither Lehi, living 600 years before Christ, nor Joseph Smith, living 2,400 years later, was aware of his tribal descent until he discovered it in scriptures.  This forces the question of whether descendants of the lost tribes in the latter days should be expected to know their ancient tribal affiliations.  There is no Bible or Book of Mormon prophecy that suggests that the tribes gathering in the last days would know they were of Naphtali, or Asher, or Ephraim, or Simeon.  One might ask, unless genealogical records are kept going back four thousand years, how could they know?  Even if one knows her religion to be Jewish, does she know which tribe she’s from?  Is she certain her ancestors didn’t descend from Japheth, or Ham, or from a non-Abrahamic branch of Shem,12 and later converted to Judaism? Might not millions of people likewise be part of the prophesied gathering of Israel without specific knowledge of their own tribal affiliations, if they have any, or those of their neighbors?

Thus we see that the scattering of the “lost ten tribes” of Israel didn’t transpire the way it was described in Esdras II.  The group taken captive by the Assyrians by no means included all members of the tribes of Israel besides Judah and Benjamin.  The Assyrians took away just one of many groups of Israelites.  Those many scattered groups obviously did not stay together and keep intact their religious beliefs and observances from the Law of Moses.  Instead, they dispersed and mixed in among nations everywhere. Their tribal affiliations are now indistinguishable from the people among whom they live.  Accordingly, if we wish to determine if the lost tribes have gathered or are now gathering, we can do much more than seek to trace the history and movements of the Israelites exiled to northern Assyria.  Identifying the fulfillment of the prophesied gathering then becomes much easier.

EVIDENCE THAT THE LOST TRIBES HAVE ALREADY PHYSICALLY GATHERED

It is the contention of this essay that the historic gathering of the lost tribes is mostly complete, and that its most momentous events have already occurred.  The evidence is strong that the gathering to Israel that took place leading up to and during the 1940s was of tremendous historical and scriptural significance.  It brought to pass the famous prophecy in the 11th chapter of Isaiah, and was one of the two most prominent fulfillments of the great predicted gathering of Israel in the Bible and Book of Mormon.

What happened in the 1940s that was so momentous? At the end of World War II, millions of Jews (which, as noted, consisted of descendents of most or all of the lost tribes) gathered to Israel from the four quarters of the earth.  In 1948, the nation of Israel  was founded, and a man named David, David Ben Gurion, became it first prime minister. Thereafter, between 1948 and 2002, 424,000 migrated to Israel from North Africa to the west, and 174,000 from the Americas farther to the west.  From lands north of Israel, 681,000 came from Europe, 60,000 from Turkey, 1,032,000 from the former U.S.S.R. excluding central Asia, and 115,000 from central Asia. From the  northeast and east came 32,000 from South Asia and 205,000 from Iraq and Iran.  From the south and southeast came 51,000 from Yemen and 80,000 from Ethiopia and South Africa.13 These regions include the four quarters, or corners, of the earth.  There has never been any other gathering like this one that fits so perfectly Isaiah’s prophecy.  Notice the places Isaiah said they’d come from: Pathros, Egypt and Cush describe the African places; Shinar and Elam and Assyria describe Iraq and Iran; Hamath is a famous city in Syria (part of Turkey in the 1940s), and the isles of the sea describe many places, including the Americas. The north countries described by Jeremiah in Jer. 31:8 and in Ether 13:11, from which the tribes would also gather, are geographic matches for Europe, Syria, Turkey, and the formerly Soviet part of Asia.

Similarly, recent history has shown that currently in the modern nation of Israel, Ephraim does not envy Judah, nor Judah vex Ephraim.  In other words, there no longer exist tribal factions and divisions (except political “tribes”) within the nation like those that divided the country anciently. Already, the Jews have flown upon the shoulders of the Philistines (Palestinians) to the west, spoiled Edom and Moab, and subdued the children of Ammon. This happened in the 1967 Six Days War, and has happened since.  [Edom, Moab and Ammon are all locations within modern-day Jordan.  “Ammon” refers to the Jordanian capital of Amman.]

These events were enormously significant to the Lord, as they fulfilled Jehovah’s ancient promises and restored to Israel a military strength it had not possessed for more than 3,000 years.This conclusion is shown decisively by the Book of Mormon. Note these words of Moroni, in Ether 13:11, concerning the latter-day gathering of Israel, and the people who, with their descendants, shall inhabit the millennial land of Jerusalem:

And then also cometh the Jerusalem of old; and the inhabitants thereof, blessed are they, for they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who were scattered and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth, and from the north countries, and are partakers of the fulfilling of the covenant which God made with their father, Abraham.

We must therefore conclude that the historic physical gathering of the lost tribes of Israel, of which Isaiah and multiple Book of Mormon prophets prophesied, was to be to Jerusalem, not to North America, unlike what Joseph Smith understood and taught.  Old Testament prophets corroborated this conclusion in the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah quoted hereinabove, and in Ezekiel 37: 21-22, and Amos 9:14, 15.  It is also consistent with the allegory of the olive tree, found in the Book of Mormon, which describes the dispersal and latter-day gathering of the house of Israel.  At the end of the allegory, the lord of the vineyard and his servant graft the branches from the mother tree, which have been previously been broken off and planted in the nethermost parts of the vineyard, and have grown up there, back into the mother tree from which they were broken off.  See Jacob 5:  52-74.  This symbolizes the temporal return of the scattered tribes back to their original mother land, Israel, as well as their spiritual return to the true religion from which they had strayed.  See also I Nephi 10:14, 19:16, and 22:12.

It is also noteworthy that this gathering to Jerusalem is shown by 1 Nephi 19:16 to include a gathering from “the isles of the sea,” which, as shown above, would include the Americas:  “Yea, then will he remember the isles of the sea; yea, and all the people who are of the house of Israel, will I gather in, saith the Lord, according to the words of the prophet Zenos, from the four quarters of the earth.”  This indicates that temporally speaking, the gathering of lost tribes to Israel from America is mentioned in scripture as is the spiritual gathering in America from scattered Israel.

DIFFERENT WAYS THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL CAME TO PERMEATE THE AMERICAS

At this point, it is useful to consider what evidence exists that the house of Israel had a numerically impressive presence in America.  We have already made mention of groups who came from Jerusalem to America 600 years before Christ—the descendants of Lehi, who was of tribe of Manasseh, and the descendants of Ishmael and Zoram, who lived in the Jerusalem area and were thus presumably of Israelite descent.14 

Mulek, a son of Zedekiah and therefore a descendant of Judah who had not been captured by the Babylonians, also came to America during this time.  Mulek’s group’s descendants, when discovered by the Nephites,  were “exceedingly” numerous, and had, like the Nephites and Lamanites, already been intermarrying with other native races in the Americas for the last approximately 400 years.  See Omni 1:17.  Moreover, the group of individuals who sailed to America with Mulek almost certainly included the descendants of other Israelite tribes as well since, as we have seen, those at pre-exilic Jerusalem were already of mixed tribal blood.

Thus Jewish/Israelite blood had always been spreading through the Americas at a rate that was beyond the ability of Nephite writers to chronicle.  The Book of Mormon only purports to be a record of those who stayed religiously faithful enough for their religious leaders to keep track of them.  For example, when Nephi left the land of first inheritance and migrated to the land of Nephi, and when Mosiah led the Nephites out of the land of Nephi to Zarahemla, both men left behind all Nephites who weren’t devout enough to want to follow them.  See II Nephi 5: 6 and Omni 1:12-13.  Those who stayed behind became lost to history.  Similarly, when the Lamanites and Nephites had first separated, it’s evident that the Lamanites immediately began intermarrying with native races, not only adopting their heathen culture and practices, but acquiring their skin color.  See II Nephi 5:19-25.

The Book of Mormon account of Sherem is also instructive on the issue of Israelite presence and influence in the Americas in the late sixth century B.C.  Jacob 7:1 states Sherem “came . . . among the people of Nephi,” indicating he was not already part of the Nephites, but from some other group, to dispute Nephi’s brother Jacob’s teachings about the coming of Christ.  “And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people,” according to Jacob 7:4.  He also argued that the law of Moses was the right way, and should be adhered to strictly, and that the coming of Christ wasn’t scripturally indicated.  Later, when struck down by God, he admitted that the coming of Christ was foretold by scripture, and confessed he’d been dishonest in professing his arguments to be scripturally sound.  See Jacob 7:1-19.  The question naturally arises, Where did Sherem come from?  He didn’t live with the Nephites, and given his scriptural knowledge, it’s highly unlikely he was of the Lamanites, who possessed no scriptures.  Neither did the Mulekites, who lived too far away for Sherem to be aware of  what Jacob was teaching.  Where would an Aramaic- or Hebrew-speaking scriptorian come from so early in Nephite history in America?  It’s reasonable to assume he was from some other Israelite group which neither Nephi nor Jacob saw fit to mention in the small plates of Nephi.  Perhaps neither of them were aware of Sherem’s background or people, or perhaps they were aware and mentioned them in the large plates of Nephi.  At any rate, it is apparent that much Israelite presence in America could have been growing in the Western Hemisphere without the Nephite keepers of the spiritual record knowing or writing about them.

Furthermore, when Jesus came to the Nephites, he told them he had to leave to visit the other lost tribes of Israel.  See III Nephi 17:4.  He did not say where those tribes were, but it’s not unlikely that some, or several of them were living in other parts of the Americas.  In fact, it is probable that some of them had gotten to America before Lehi’s group.  As noted above, Nephi declared that most of those God had led away from had already been led away before his own group left.  See I Nephi 22:4.

But there is another historical occurrence that contributed a great influx of Jews/Israelites to the Western Hemisphere.  In their paper “The Children of Lehi and the Jews of Sepharad,” authors D. Chad Richardson and Shon D. Hopkin recount the history of the Sephardic Jews who came to the Americas from Spain.15  The salient points are summarized as follows:

Following the Roman destruction of Jerusalem of 70 AD, the Jews scattered all over Europe and the Middle East, but the largest concentration of Jews in Europe came to reside in Spain.  (Sepharad is Hebrew for Spain.)  After centuries of persecution and forced conversions to Christianity under Romans and then German Visigoths, their situation greatly improved when in 711 AD the Muslim Moors of Africa overthrew the Germans.  For the next 600 years, the Jews prospered and multiplied.  By the 15th century, those of Jewish extraction (including a mixture of most or all Israelite tribes) in Spain numbered in the millions.  In fact, not only were there more Jews in Spain than in any other country of the world, it appears they outnumbered self-identifying Jews in the entire rest of the world.16 

As Catholic monarchs began reconquering the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors, Jews were pressured to convert to Catholicism or leave the country.  During this time, many Jews voluntarily converted, while others did so to protect their lives and property.  Nevertheless, as a result, they intermarried with Spaniards and became indistinguishable ethnically and religiously.  By 1492, all Jews in Spain were ordered by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to convert or leave Spain.  About half chose to convert, 150,000 left for Portugal, and other fled elsewhere.  Many of those who converted eventually rose to the highest echelons of church and state in Spain.  But the Spanish Inquisition resulted in intense pressure on those converted Jews to prove their conversion had been genuine and thorough.  In the 1500s, when the Portuguese instituted their own Inquisition, torture and execution had then become common in both countries.  The non-converting Sephardic Jews fled the Iberian Peninsula in droves, some going to Africa, and others to Turkey where Muslims were still in power.  But at least half, rather than leave, converted to Catholicism.17  Those who converted outwardly, but secretly retained their devotion to Judaism, came to be referred to by scholars as crypto-Jews.

Not surprisingly, in the 16th century and thereafter:

As the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers left for the Americas, they took with them substantial Jewish ancestry, produced by forced or pressured conversions over more than fifteen hundred years.  Additionally, in order to escape the Inquisition, many more recently “converted” crypto-Jews fled to the Americas, though the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions followed them there.  Despite the vigorous activity of the Inquisition, groups of secret Jews continued to arrive in Latin America from Iberia and other parts of Europe and persisted ins secretly practicing their Judaism.  The largest number of crypto-Jews went to Mexico (which then included the Southwestern United States) and to Brazil.  Boleslav Lewin estimates  that there were 30,000 crypto-Jew in the Spanish American colonies, while there were 10,000 in Brazil.  [David M.] Gitlitz stresses, however, “Presumably the number of assimilationist new Christians [conversos] was much higher.”18

Richardson and Hopkin continue:

Over the next two or three hundred years, the Inquisition and a gradual conversion process virtually eliminated the crypto-Jews as a category.  By the time the Latin American nations received their independence in the early 1800s, the Inquisition had been abolished and the great mestizo race (known as cholos in Peru) was formed in the Americas from the mixing of the Native Americans with the Spanish and Portuguese colonizers (with their substantial Jewish ancestry) . . .

[M]any of the same Gentiles who colonized the Americas were also to a considerable extent descendants of the tribe of Judah . . .[As many of them] subsequently intermarried with the Native Americans, they created a mestizo race that also mixed blood of Judah with Lehite seed of Joseph.  This mestizo race would eventually permeate Latin American society.19

EVIDENCE THAT THE SPIRITUAL GATHERING OF ISRAEL IS MOSTLY COMPLETE

We have seen that the term “Jew” was used by Nephi to include refer generically to  a member of the House of Israel, whether of Judah or not.  Nephi also spoke about the latter-day spiritual gathering of those same Jews:

Wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered among all nations; yea, and also Babylon shall be destroyed; wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered by other nations.  And after they have been scattered, and the Lord God hath scourged them by other nations for the space of many generations, yea, even down from generation to generation until they shall be persuaded to believe in Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement, which is infinite for all mankind–and when that day shall come that they believe in Christ, and worship the Father in his name, with pure hearts and clean hands, and look not forward any more for another Messiah, then, at that time, the day will come that it must needs be expedient that they should believe these things.  And the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people from their lost and fallen state.  Wherefore, he will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder among the children of men.

II Nephi 25:15-17

That the spiritual gathering of the Jews and the scripturally synonymous house of Israel is a much broader event than the physical gathering is demonstrated by the fact that it is described as taking place in the multiple “lands of their inheritance,” not merely their original homeland in Jerusalem.  Nephi said when the Jews were brought into the true “church and fold of God,” they would be “gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.”  (Emphasis added).  II Nephi 9:2. Later he added, quoting the Lord: “And it shall come to pass that my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home unto the lands of their possessions; and my word also shall be gathered in one.” See II Nephi 29: 14.

Jesus indicated to the Nephites gathered in the land Bountiful that the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon (a “great and marvelous work” among the Gentiles) to the house of Israel, the building of the New Jerusalem in the New World with Gentile assistance, the physical gathering of Israel, and the Israelites’ acceptance of Christ would all occur in the same general time period.20  III Nephi 21:1-27.  See also, II Nephi 10:7-9.   We thus see from the above scriptures that the spiritual gathering of Israel began at the same time as the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon in 1830.  Since that time, missionaries carrying the gospel message contained within the Bible, and the fulness of that message contained within the Book of Mormon, have fanned out around the globe, gathering many millions to accept Christ’s gospel.  The acceptance of Christianity has been most prominent in the Americas, the home of the New Jerusalem.  Moreover, descendants of the house of Israel have come to know not only the fulness of the gospel, but many who were not aware of their ancestry have come to learn that they are descended from God’s covenant people.  Other Gentiles who have accepted the gospel have learned that they too, are counted among the house of Israel by so doing, regardless of their specific ancestry.  See III Nephi 21:14-22; see also II Nephi 10:7-9.

Many readers will remember that Nephi prophesied that in the day that the Book of Mormon would go forth to the descendants of the house of Israel, the Jews would “begin to believe in Christ, and shall begin to gather in upon the face of the land; and as many as shall believe in Christ shall also become a delightsome people.”  See II Nephi 30:7, and verses 3-8 generally.  They may have failed to see the strong evidence, set forth above, that this prophecy has been fulfilled.  Its most spectacular fulfillment in the Americas has been seen in the ubiquitous presence of Jewish ancestry among the millions of Latinos who have embraced Christianity.  To a lesser, but still significant extent, the Gentiles in Europe, so many of whom unknowingly possess Israelite/Jewish blood, have helped fulfill this prophecy to the extent that they have embraced Christ and his gospel.

Because of the above, it would appear that the spiritual gathering is mostly complete.  Obviously, this conclusion is based on these three major, previously unstated assumptions:  first, that the gathering we’re speaking of is that which is to happen before Christ’s second coming, not during the Millennium; second, that the rate of conversion to Christianity is in most places decelerating around the world; and third, that Jesus’s return is soon enough that the number of those individuals yet to accept his gospel is smaller than those who already have.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

Joseph Smith taught that only the Jews would return to Israel, not comprehending that the term “Jew” implied more than merely the tribes of Judah and  Benjamin.  He also believed and taught, as described in footnote 3 above, that the lost ten tribes, which excluded Judah and Benjamin, lived together in the north, fully aware of their tribal lineages and led by prophets, and would physically gather to America.  The reality appears to be that all of the tribes would gather in both hemispheres, with the physical gathering primarily occurring in Israel and the spiritual gathering occurring to its most spectacular extent in the Americas, but also transpiring worldwide.  Though it is heretical within Mormon circles to say so,  it appears Joseph Smith’s teachings were informed by an incomplete understanding of the complexity of the subject of the gathering of the lost tribes.

In studying the Bible and Book of Mormon, the author feels that no Christian should make the mistake of deferring to someone else’s scriptural understanding in order to obtain his own, even if the deferred-to person is a revered church leader or reputed scriptorian.  Scripture study should be thoughtful, thorough, frequent, repetitive, and the conclusions of others should be independently verified.

That said, the purpose of this article is not to denigrate Joseph Smith.  Rather, it’s an attempt to shed light on a very important subject, so that readers may consider that prophecies they understood to be yet unfulfilled have already come to pass.  They should not be wondering where in the north the ten tribes live, or why prophesied gatherings to Jerusalem or America have been so long-delayed.  They should not wonder when the world will see the Jews accept Jesus as the promised Messiah in significant numbers.  They should glean from the scriptures that these things have happened.  More than anything, the reader should consider that the Lord’s Second Coming is perhaps nearer than previously thought, “even at the doors.”

FOOTNOTES

1. See Tenth Article of Faith, in The Pearl of Great Price (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1989), p. 61.

2. Many are confused as to how many tribes existed within Israel.  Jacob, or Israel, had twelve sons, and each became the head of a separate tribe.  If the tribe of the eleventh son Joseph is counted as one tribe only, there were twelve tribes, Benjamin being the twelfth.  But when the Israelites moved into Canaan and divided up the land among the tribes, Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were each given a tribal inheritance of land, thus arguably increasing the number of the tribes to thirteen because Joseph was no longer just one tribe.  Ever since then, Ephraim and Manasseh have been treated as separate tribes. However, in that same land division, the tribe of Levi was not given its own territory, but was given cities within the boundaries of several tribal lands to share with the tribe inhabiting that area.  Thus there were twelve tribal territories, but thirteen different tribes.  Interestingly, when John in Revelation Chapter 7 named “all the tribes of the children of Israel,” for some reason he included Ephraim and Manasseh as separate tribes, but omitted the tribe of Dan.  See Rev. 7:4-8.

3. Non-Book of Mormon LDS scriptures teach that the lost tribes of Israel are gathered together in some unidentified, icy, “north countries,” that they are led by prophets, and are aware of their own specific tribal lineages. Furthermore, they will eventually gather to Zion, also known as the New Jerusalem, which will be built in America, by crossing a highway built across the ocean.  This gathering will be overseen by the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Among those to gather in the Western Hemisphere, Ephraim is taught as being the foremost of the tribes, and therefore destined to receive a “richer” blessing than the rest of the house of Israel when the process is finished.  The nature of this richer blessing is not explained.  See Doctrine and Covenants 110: 11 and 133: 26-34, and the aforementioned LDS Tenth Article of Faith, all of which passages are canonized Mormon scripture.  Mormon conceptions are heavily influenced by these verses, even though, as demonstrated in this essay, the doctrine contained therein is in direct conflict with scriptures from the Bible and Book of Mormon.  The author’s position is that the referenced Doctrine and Covenants scriptures have been mischaracterized as divinely inspired, and should not have been canonized, as they represent instead Joseph Smith’s insufficiently researched interpretation of the apocryphal book of Esdras II and selected ancient scriptures.  Of course, the author’s conclusion rests on the assumption (admittedly divisive within Mormonism) that Joseph Smith was not incapable of misrepresenting his views as revelations from God.

4. The Apocrypha: an American Translation, Edgar J. Godspeed, trans. (New York: Random House, Inc., 1959) Introduction by Moses Hadas, xxvi.

5.  Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1966), pp 455-58.

6. James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1924), pp. 325-26; see also pp. 314-44 and 513-14 generally.  On page 514 of the Appendix, Talmage quotes a prophecy he himself made in General Conference in 1916, wherein he prophesied that there were people living and present at the conference who would live to see the lost ten tribes gather, and bring their scriptures with them, which would chronicle the visit of the resurrected Jesus to them after he had visited the Nephites.  Sadly, Talmage’s prophecy was not fulfilled.

7.  See also Joshua 19: 47, which states that “the coast of the children of Dan went out too little for them: therefore the children of Dan went up to fight against Leshem [Laish], and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword,  and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan after the name of Dan their father.”

8. From a reading of Judges 20, it appears that 600 armed men would be a small minority of a normal-sized tribe.  The chapter describes a battle involving 426,000 armed Israelites from all twelve tribes, 26,000 of which were from Benjamin.  This battle took place before men from Dan had departed to the north to overthrow Laish.  Dividing the total number of soldiers gathered for battle by 12 renders the average number of soldiers per tribe as 35,500.  While Old Testament numbers have been often suspected by many biblical scholars to be overstated when referring to numbers of soldiers, the same suspicion would apply to the account of Dan’s 600 armed men.  This reinforces the inference that the 600 armed men were a minority of the tribe.

9. The custom of allowing daughters from individual tribes to intermarry with men of the other Israelite tribes was already well established since the early days of Israel’s occupation of Canaan, as is demonstrated by a reading of the 21st chapter of Judges.     10. Herbert Lockmeyer Sr., Ed., Illustrated Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), p. 972.

11. While some scholars have speculated that Sargon II’s inscription failed to mention the number of captives that may have already been taken from Israel by Shalmaneser before his sudden death, thus understating the total number of Israelite captives carried away to Assyria, later Old Testament scriptures chronicling the reign of Josiah, together with Book of Mormon  scriptures, leave no doubt that notable populations from the northern tribes remained within Israel after the Assyrian conquest.  These scriptures are discussed in the next paragraph of the essay.

12. The author hypothesizes that the Bible doesn’t offer itself as the history of all humankind, but only follows the descendants of Adam, who was the father of the race called “man”, but wasn’t the first human.  It’s further hypothesized that Noah’s Flood was not a global event that wiped out all of humankind, but rather, a localized event which reduced Adam’s posterity, or “man”, to the families of Japheth, Shem and Ham.  If these theories are true, today’s individual could also have many other lines of descent from Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia or the Americas which weren’t originally traced to Noah’s sons.  These theories would also explain why the Hebrew writers seem to have a very limited view of world geography, being unaware of lands and peoples in the Far East or thousands of miles across oceans.

13. See map insert in Oct. 2002 National Geographic Magazine, “Middle East: Crossroads of Faith and Conflict,” also available for viewing online.

14. Erastus Snow (1818-88) a former LDS Church apostle, quoted Joseph Smith as having said that Ishmael, who traveled to the Americas in Lehi’s group and whose sons and daughters intermarried with Lehi’s children, was of the tribe of Ephraim.  Smith said he had obtained this information from the translation of the 116 pages of Book of Mormon text that were lost.  See Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855-86) 23:184-85.

15. D. Chad Richardson and Shon D. Hopkin, “The Children of Lehi and the Jews of  Sepharad” in BYU Studies Quarterly 53, no. 4 (2014), 147-67.

16. Ibid., p. 153.

17. Ibid., 157.

18. Ibid., 158-9.

19. Ibid., 161-2.

20. LDS readers are likely to believe that the New Jerusalem, which they have taught will be built in Jackson County, Missouri, has not yet been built, just as they don’t believe the lost tribes have already been gathered.  However, the author theorizes that the New Jerusalem has been built, and that it, like its Old World counterpart, is known worldwide as the headquarters of a well-known religion whose most prominent symbol is a famous temple.  Also like the old Jerusalem, from which Christ’s disciples dispersed to carry the gospel message, the New Jerusalem is the city from which missionaries were first sent to take the Book of Mormon to the descendants of Lehi, a branch of the house of Israel living in the Americas, and to all people everywhere.  And if those similarities were not clues enough, this city, like Jerusalem in Israel, is also found in the desert, not far from a freshwater river running into a large body of salt water.  The author believes the role this city shall play in the future is yet to be realized, but that it has been built.  Ironically, those who occupy it, and gather to it, have been unable to see its significance, believing that the New Jerusalem is elsewhere.

RELATED READINGS

“How History Shows the Great and Abominable Church was Overcome by the Church of the Lamb,” essay posted on this website, by Scott S. Mitchell.

“Mormonism’s Current Practice of Giving Patriarchal Blessings,” essay posted on this website, by Scott S. Mitchell.

“Damage Done by Doctrinal Errors,” essay posted on this website, by Scott S. Mitchell.

“The Most Consequential Reason behind Doctrinal Errors Gaining Acceptance in the LDS Church,” essay posted on this website, by Scott S. Mitchell

“Apparently Erroneous Teachings Concerning the Last Days from Doctrine and Covenants 133,” essay posted on this website, by Scott S. Mitchell

“Erroneous Doctrine and Covenants Teachings Regarding the New Jerusalem,” essay posted on this website, by Scott S. Mitchell.

“Genetic Research: almost 25 percent of Latinos-Hispanics have Jewish DNA,” by Ashley Perry, Jerusalem Post, March 1, 2019.

Mormonism’s Current Practice of Giving Patriarchal Blessings

The average active member of the LDS church has received, in his teenage years or early adulthood, what is called within Mormonism a patriarchal blessing. The blessing is given to him or her by a man who has been ordained to be a patriarch for 3,000 to 6,000 church members living in the patriarch’s geographical area. The patriarch gives the blessing by laying his hands on the recipient’s head and prophesying experiences and blessings which will occur in the recipient’s future. The prophecy/blessing usually includes exhortations to righteousness as well, and conditions the promised blessings on the person’s faithfulness in keeping God’s commandments.

One striking additional feature of all such blessings is the patriarch’s declaration of the person’s descent from one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The specific tribe is always named. The Israelite tribal declaration is provided regardless of the individual’s known ethnicity. The overwhelming majority of church members are declared to be descended from the tribes of Ephraim or Manasseh. Usually, Native Americans, Latinos, and brown- or black-skinned individuals from races around the world are declared to be from Manasseh, and whites are almost always designated as being from Ephraim.

LDS patriarchs receive no formal training on how to discern the futures of those who receive blessings from them, but Mormons are taught to believe that the patriarch, after being ordained to that office, acquires the gift from God to foretell future events in the life of the church member. The practice of ordaining patriarchs, and providing patriarchal blessings to individual church members, began in the 1830s during Mormonism’s early years.

In analyzing whether this uniquely LDS practice is consistent with God’s will for His church, I feel it necessary to begin by stating my thoughts and feelings about my own patriarchal blessing. Readers may thus judge for themselves whether my analysis of the practice is unduly influenced by my reaction to what my area patriarch told me in my blessing. I received my blessing one Sunday at my church meetinghouse after the stake patriarch showed up and told my father, who was the bishop, that he was there to give patriarchal blessings. Accordingly, Dad instructed me to go into one of the classrooms with the patriarch, which I did. I was sixteen, and had not prepared or planned for this occasion, though I was well aware of the practice and how it worked, and had expected that at some point, I would receive my blessing the same as everyone else. I was alone in the little classroom with the patriarch, whom I knew by sight and name but had never spoken to before. The elderly man turned on his tape recorder, laid his hands upon my head and delivered the blessing while I listened attentively. Not many days later, I received a typed transcript of the words he had spoken.

As it turned out, the blessing I received that day didn’t disappoint me, except where it admonished the performance of much genealogy work and regular temple attendance to facilitate vicarious temple rites for my undiscovered deceased ancestors. Even at that early age I didn’t want to hear this exhortation, for despite my pronounced youthful religiosity, I was nevertheless unconvinced of the necessity of such rituals for dead people. (I never did become convinced that these rites were from God.  And indeed, many years later, I concluded, after much study and thought, that though he was a righteous, well-intended man, if the patriarch were truly inspired of God, he wouldn’t have exhorted me to spend effort on this doctrinally erroneous practice.)  But the rest of my patriarchal blessing was generally what I hoped for, though it failed to promise me I’d become a general authority in the Mormon church some day, which I wished for, and had  heard David O. McKay’s blessing had promised him. I was of the tribe of Ephraim, it declared. It told me I had a gift of healing, and would use it during my mission and my life thereafter. It predicted I would reach the pinnacle of the goal that I set for myself in my profession, and admonished me to take my academic studies seriously and pray always. It said I would one day marry in the temple and with my wife welcome special spirits into the world.  Although most of its promises turned out to be true, I’ve never known how to measure whether I reached the “pinnacle of the goal” that I set for myself, since I had several profession-related goals, and some were realized and some weren’t.  And, I felt that virtually all of the predicted accomplishments or events were going to happen anyway as a result of the course my life was already following.  They seemed easily predictable, whether the stake patriarch was inspired or not.

I do not think, looking back, that my current analysis of patriarchal blessings is based on anything peculiar to my own blessing. Rather, it is based on some characteristics which I’ve learned, in the decades since I was sixteen, are common to all such blessings, and other characteristics which, though not universal, are common in a great many of them.  Indeed, it seems impossible that any thoughtful person with long experience in the LDS faith could ponder this subject very long without the following questions necessarily coming to mind:

-Why is there no mention in the Bible or Book of Mormon of patriarchal blessings being given anciently to non-family members like they are today?

-Are all those patriarchs in the church really seeing the future when they give blessings?

-Are all the things predicted by Mormon stake patriarchs coming true, and if not, are the explanations satisfactory as to why those predictions fail?

-When people talk glowingly about their patriarchal blessings, and claim all the things predicted in them have come true, is the evidence sufficient to conclude that church patriarchs are truly inspired by God to foresee individual futures, and declare, amazingly enough, our unresearched genealogical lineage?

-Do people whose patriarchal blessings have failed to come true reveal that fact in church meetings as frequently as those who claim fulfillment of the promises made to them, or do members of the former group usually not speak at all about that subject?

-Are there pressures working on the minds of some people which would inhibit them from admitting in church that no important promises in their own patriarchal blessing have come true, even though they have lived righteous lives? If so, and if the explanation given to these people by fellow church members is that the predictions must not have been meant to apply to the person’s mortal life, but only to the post-mortal life, as I have seen happen more than once, doesn’t that mean the blessing was then superfluous, merely repeating what was already promised to virtually everyone in scripture?

-Are spectacularly unfulfilled patriarchal blessings a help or a hindrance to the recipient?

-Should I accept the practice of giving patriarchal blessings as being God-ordained without knowing the answers to the above questions?

Answering this last question requires a review of all the intellectual and spiritual evidence available.  But of note, I remember that even as an orthodox and devoted sixteen-year-old Mormon, the practice of declaring genealogical descent in a patriarchal blessing seemed obviously uninspired and in error.  I feel strongly now that the Holy Ghost, ever present to reveal falsehood as well as truth to those who seek its influence, was loudly whispering this to me.  Even my youthful mind had concluded that in God’s economy, lineage meant exactly nothing to Him, insofar as it related to eligibility for salvation and eternal life.  John the Baptist had famously explained that a person’s descent from Abraham meant nothing to God (see Matthew 3:9 and Luke 3:8); Jesus had taught that a good Samaritan (of mixed descent) was better than an uncaring pureblooded priest of the Israelite tribe of Levi (see Luke 10: 27-37), and the Lord revealed to Peter that “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (See Acts 10: 34-35.)  Moreover, I had recently read in the Book of Mormon that God “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.’’ (See 2 Nephi 26: 33).  Genealogical descent therefore wasn’t worth mentioning in an ostensibly important patriarchal blessing. It had no significance. And to this very day, no Mormon church leader has ever been able to logically explain why such a declaration of lineage should make any difference.

Aside from the immediately-apparent spiritual meaningless of being declared to be of Israelite lineage, the practice became increasingly problematic from an intellectual standpoint as I pondered it in succeeding years. It seemed against God’s methodology to grant patriarchs the ability to discern a person’s ancient lineage, when every other person on earth had to do much research just to trace their ancestry back 300 years. In fact, upon reading about the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi in church Seminary classes as a youth, I had reasoned that if determining ancient lineage was so easy as suggested by Mormon practices, why did Lehi have to read through volumes of genealogical records in the brass plates to discover that he was descended from Joseph and Manasseh? Why didn’t he save himself the effort and just have it declared to him by some patriarch, like modern-day Mormons do? And, why was virtually every patriarchal blessing recipient informed he descended from one of the twelve tribes, when we know that most people don’t descend from them, or if they have some Israelite blood, they have no more of it, or probably have less of it, than the blood from other peoples?  And why were virtually every brown- or black-skinned recipient declared as descended from Manasseh, regardless of lacking affiliation with Lehi’s Lamanite posterity? The LDS church not only has never been able to answer these questions, it has never even tried.

In time, the conclusion became so strong that lineage declarations were not inspired of God that I no longer wasted time thinking about it. On several occasions I had either listened to talks by patriarchs, or spoken to them privately, and listened to what they’d said about the process of giving patriarchal blessings.  One of them, whom I’d heard other Mormons describe as an unusually spiritual man, spoke freely, and even proudly, I felt, about how many people he’d declared to be of a different lineage than either of their parents. By definition, of course, this is impossible.  In scripture, tribal descent was determined by reference to the lineage of one’s father, without exception.  (Judaism currently allows “Jewishness” to be established automatically if the individual’s mother is Jewish, but that is a different subject.)  This same patriarch had also given my son his patriarchal blessing. During it, he’d told my son he had a special mission to the tribe of Benjamin, but afterwards, when queried, he admitted he didn’t know anything about the tribe of Benjamin, except that “they are one of the lost tribes.”  He was wrong on this point, of course; Benjamin has always been known as one of the two tribes that wasn’t lost. Further questioning by my son revealed the patriarch didn’t know how my son would ever know he was talking to a Benjaminite, nor of anyone who knew themselves to be descended from Benjamin, nor where these Benjaminites might live.  So, if this spectacular-sounding prophecy came true, neither my son nor the Benjaminites would ever know it, and the accuracy of the prediction would remain undiscoverable. This experience was a new permutation of the problem of declaring blessing recipients to be of this or that Israelite lineage, but similar to the usual practice, it was useless, doctrinally baseless, and easily faked.  I have concluded that the only reason this practice of identifying unverifiable lineages in patriarchal blessings has survived in Mormonism is because Mormons lack the desire to open a new can of worms, so to speak, and speak openly about the many errors inherent in it.

Aside from lineage declarations being doctrinally and logically wrong, however, time has also shown unnecessary harm is being done in the church by people feeling disrespected and diminished when they receive pedestrian blessings which tell them nothing that is unique to them or isn’t already obvious.  In the case of a brother of mine, he had what he considered the misfortune of receiving his blessing from a new patriarch who hadn’t yet perfected the art of forseeing anything noteworthy.  In fact, it turned out the only unique aspect of the my brother’s blessing was that it suggested, inaccurately, whom my brother would someday marry.

Another son of mine was told he would serve a mission for the church, return and marry in the temple, and raise a family during his earthly sojourn. But these things didn’t come to pass because he was killed in an automobile accident days after his nineteenth birthday.  Had I been less experienced in the church, I might have relied too heavily on the expected fulfillment of the promises within my son’s patriarchal blessing, and been devastated when they proved uninspired.  Fortunately, the blessing’s words, having never been relied upon to begin with, added nothing to the grief already felt by my wife and me when they went unfulfilled. But such is often not the case with other church members who take such promises on face value and cannot reconcile the unexpected outcome.

Familiarity with other blessings has shown just how common it is to have wonderful events prophesied to spiritually deserving people, without those events ever coming close to actually occurring.  I once spoke extensively with a woman I home taught, who to her great disappointment had never married. Lamenting she’d never had the chance to be loved or bear children, she concluded as she wept that she must have sinned her way out of deservingness for the blessings of temple marriage and posterity which had been promised her in her patriarchal blessing.  But of course, try as she might, she couldn’t think of any sinfulness that had so altered her future, and I couldn’t either, having known her for 30 years. Desperate to console her in some way, I told her that she was blameless, and that the patriarch who’d given her her blessing had promised wonderful events in this life, not because he was inspired to actually foresee them, but because he didn’t want to leave her disappointed by revealing that he couldn’t really see her future. Moreover, I explained, the patriarch, being human, undoubtedly thought the blessings he promised her were so predictable within a Mormon’s life that he could promise them without much risk of being wrong. I doubt my words were much consolation.

A search through the scriptures for any hint that patriarchal blessings were an ancient or important practice reveals that the only precedents were of the Isaac/Jacob/Lehi/Alma variety recorded in the Bible and Book of Mormon, where a family patriarch prophesied and/or admonished his own sons or grandsons regarding their futures.  The declaration of previously-undiscovered lineage wasn’t recorded as having been included in such blessings, either, and no person in the Old World or the New World appears to have been designated to give such blessings to non-offspring, much less to strangers.

A review of LDS Church history similarly reveals a convoluted development of the idea and practice of giving patriarchal blessings. It is evident that Joseph Smith, Jr. demonstrated during his lifetime a pattern of trying to prop up his father, to afford him the dignity and respect that life had otherwise not conferred.  The elder Smith had struggled with alcoholism, and through repeated financial failures had failed in his attempts to adequately provide for his family.  Joseph Smith seemed eager to elevate his father’s status, and in December of 1834 (though Oliver Cowdery later erroneously recorded it as occurring in December of 1833) he ordained him to the position of “Patriarch.” See Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, (Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2005) 55, 262-3. (I actually like this story, truthfully, despite the scripturally-baseless practice it eventually spurred, as it manifests Joseph’s laudable desire to help his father achieve self-respect).

Historian D. Michael Quinn describes the evolution of patriarchal blessings in Mormonism in his book The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books,, 1994), 46-52. He writes that before Joseph Smith, Sr.’s ordination to the office of Patriarch, on February 19, 1834, Hyrum Smith and his brother Joseph had become the first recorded recipients of their father’s formal pronouncements of what he said were the “blessings of thy progenitors,” though their father was yet unordained as a patriarch.  That same day, John Johnson, also unordained as a patriarch, gave a similar blessing “of his forefathers” to his adult son. Perhaps significantly, at that time, John Johnson and Joseph Smith Sr. were the two oldest members of the Kirkland High Council, which had been organized two days earlier.

Contrary to popular belief, Quinn explains, though Joseph Smith, Sr. had provided the first recorded patriarchal blessings in February of 1834,, he was not the first man in Mormonism to be ordained to the office of patriarch. Following the Smith and Johnson father-to-son blessings described above, Brigham Young’s family requested that Brigham’s father, John Young, Sr., be ordained as a patriarch “so that he can bless his family.” Accordingly, Joseph Smith performed the requested ordination in August of 1834, after which John Young, Sr. was able to provide blessings to his own sons. The formal ordination of Joseph Smith, Sr. to the office of Patriarch didn’t take place until December 6, 1834, performed by his son Joseph. In so doing, Joseph told the elder Smith he would be called “a prince over his posterity, holding he Keys of the patriarchal priesthood over the Kingdom of God on earth, even the Church of he Latter Day Saints.” Thereafter, it appears the elder Smith was regarded as much more than a mere patriarch over one family, but instead, the patriarch over Mormonism’s first family, the one with the most authority, which included the church’s first elder, his son, Joseph Smith, Jr. He was thus a patriarch presiding over the whole church, preeminent over any other family patriarch, and he held this status until his death.  Shortly before he died, he conferred his title on his eldest living son, Hyrum. Naturally, in December of 1834 the Smith family’s patriarch’s first act in his new formal calling was to give blessings to his own offspring, and this he did on December 9 with his children gathered in his son Joseph’s home. The blessings to Hyrum and Joseph contained the elder Smith’s expressions of gratitude, praise, and comfort to his sons Hyrum and Joseph, as well as assurances that their righteousness would be rewarded the same as the ancient prophets had been. Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 262-3.

Predictably, other church members sought to receive the same kind of blessings from the church’s patriarch that had had so far been restricted to the Smith family.  John Young, Sr. could not provide these, as his jurisdiction covered only his own family. Indeed, it was originally contemplated that such blessings would be delivered by each family’s own patriarch. So, during Joseph Smith, Sr.’s life, he only provided blessings to those who didn’t have a father of their own who could provide it, due to not being alive, or not being a member of the church. Only on rare occasions did he vary from this policy, and this was done only when worthy fathers had granted him permission to do so. Being unique in his authority over the whole church, he thus began traveling far and wide giving blessings to non-family members within these parameters. Writing of these early years, Michael Quinn writes: “Within a few years of December 1834, patriarchal blessings adopted their present character. At first primarily “comfort blessing,” patriarchal blessings developed qualities of seership and prophecy, speaking of potentials, predicting future activities, and designating lineage in one of the twelve tribes of Israel.” Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, 51.

In 1837 Isaac Morley was ordained as a patriarch to provide blessings for the Missouri saints, whom Joseph Smith, Sr. had never yet visited. Later, only when Brigham Young assumed control over the church was authorization given for patriarchs to give blessings to anyone, regardless of the availability of a worthy male parent. Thus begun the practice of patriarchal blessings that exists today, but initially, the practice had only been contemplated as something a father would perform for his own children whose needs and personalities he knew intimately.

Joseph Smith, perhaps aware of the fact that no ancient office of patriarch had existed in the ancient Church of Christ in either the eastern or western hemisphere, equated the calling of Patriarch with that of an “evangelical minister” in verse 39 of an 1835 revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants section 107. Evangelists had been mentioned in Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11 and 2 Timothy 4:5. Smith then explained in 1839 that “[a]n Evangelist is a Patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham . . .as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his sons, etc.” See Doctrine and Covenants 107:39  and History of the Church 3:381. Joseph’s definition of the term“evangelist” is novel, unsupported by any other Christian scholar or traditional interpretation, whether ancient or modern. The universally accepted meaning of the term, as it is used in the New Testament, is “a person authorized to proclaim the gospel of Christ. In a more narrow sense, the word refers to one of the gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Literally, however, the term means, ‘one who proclaims good tidings.’” Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Ronald F. Youngblood, Ed., (Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 422. Joseph’s reappropriation of the term “evangelist” to mean patriarch, something it has never meant before, lacks credibility. It is as if he were to say that the term “apostle” means Elders’ Quorum President. The evidence supports an alternative conclusion: Joseph Smith wanted to create an important church calling for his father.  In so doing, he used a term that meant “male head of a family”, transformed it into a title suggestive of an elevated position of church authority and responsibility, then claimed the position had ancient origins in Christ’s church but was known by another name. Joseph Smith appears to have believed that linking a patriarch to an evangelist would deflect criticism that he was straying from the organizational structure Jesus’s church had anticipated.

CONCLUSION

Given my personal experience seeing numerous patriarchal blessings prove themselves to be uninspired, unprophetic, misleading, often based on doctrinal or historical misconceptions, frequently restating promises which are already found throughout the scriptures, and easily fabricated, and having failed to see evidence that God ordained Mormonism’s current practice either anciently or in our time, my conclusion is, therefore, that we shouldn’t defend this practice or preserve it.  The practice should be therefore discontinued, if for no other reason than to spare the Church the necessity of always having to explain why so many blessings contain logically impossible lineages, or don’t come true in any meaningful respect, or prophesy of future developments which will never be verifiable, or state nothing more than what is already obvious, or simply, appear to serve no clearly useful purpose.

To be clear, I lack the evidence to conclude that no patriarchal blessing ever given has been prophetic, or that it’s improbable that an ordained patriarch could actually foretell future events or provide much-needed admonitions to the recipient. But I do conclude that whatever blessings individual church members have received which they attribute to the words spoken by a stake patriarch in a patriarchal blessing could just as easily be obtained by interacting and speaking with other inspired Christians in an infinite number of settings, if said fellow Christians take seriously the Lord’s encouragement to be each others’ caring neighbors. And if someday it should turn out that I am wrong about this, I will truthfully be able to say to God that I used the intellectual and spiritual tools he equipped me with to reach my conclusions.

Apparently Erroneous Teachings Concerning the Last Days from Doctrine and Covenants 133

(Note to reader: the following is an excerpt from a letter sent by M. S. Brothers [a pseudonym] to seven LDS apostles in early 2015.  No response was ever received.  Also, while the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel is one of the topics briefly covered in this excerpt, that topic is fully addressed in a separate essay posted under the title “The Lost Tribes of Israel.”)

Joseph Smith produced a revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 133 which he claimed came from God concerning the events to transpire in the last days. The section repeats much biblical eschatology. But some of its text creates reasonable doubt regarding its authenticity in the mind of even the faithful believer because of the scriptural contradictions it creates. Verses 20 and 27, for example, indicate a highway is going to be “cast up in the midst” of the ocean to facilitate the return of the lost tribes. However, this already-implausible event is also made even more so, as well as unnecessary, by verses 23 and 24, which assert the earth’s land masses will no longer be separated by water, and the ocean will be driven back into the north countries when the lost tribes return. The reader of these things, while believing that God will of course accomplish anything he says he’ll do, justifiably wonders whether God actually said these things. This doubt seems to be justified for the following reasons:

First of all, since 1831, when the putative revelation was purportedly received, the prophesied events have not come to pass, and become more and more unlikely by the day. Airplanes have been invented, and hundreds of millions of people have come to America either to visit or to make it their home by sailing in boats or flying in airplanes. The prospects of building a highway across the two-and-a-half-mile-deep ocean, or of expelling the ocean to the north countries, now appear extremely unlikely.

Second, it’s also noteworthy that today, the overwhelming majority of converts to the church come from southern countries, not northern ones, but in Section 133 only the latter geographical area is mentioned in the text as the immigrants’ point of origin. D&C 133 seems to not anticipate the latter-day demographics of the church, apart from the modes of travel in our time.

Doctrine and Covenants sections 110 and 133 combine to create a third issue. It’s evident that Joseph Smith believed that the lost tribes were gathered and hidden in the icy north somewhere (see D&C 110: 11; 133: 26, 34), and that they knew they were descended from the Israelites. But Joseph’s beliefs on this subject are now no longer taught by the church. Presumably, this is because the northern regions of the earth are well known, and the ten lost tribes of Israel are no longer thought to be concealed there. But while the church doesn’t affirmatively teach the specifics of it, Joseph’s claimed revelation containing his belief remains in the form of an immutable quotation from God.

The fourth and most obvious indication that this revelation isn’t of God comes from D&C 133: 30, 34, which speaks of the tribe of Ephraim receiving a “richer blessing” than the other tribes after they’ve gathered to Zion. The gospel of Jesus Christ unequivocally refutes any notion that tribal lineage will determine the extent of an individual’s blessings among otherwise equally-righteous individuals. Instead, John the Baptist illustrated the meaninglessness of lineage to God when he taught in Luke 3:8 that God could “of these stones raise up children unto Abraham.” Peter taught God is no respecter of persons, Acts 10:35. And Nephi taught that God “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” II Nephi 26:33.