At a multi-stake conference in Berlin in 2010, Area President Erich W. Kopischke quoted Joseph Smith as having declared that “England, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium have a considerable amount of the blood of Israel among the people which must be gathered out.” It was surprising to be reminded of that doctrinal concept.1
Older members who grew up with the “doctrinal answers” of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie are no doubt well acquainted with the notion: scores of Europeans, especially in northern countries, are literal descendants of the House of Israel through the lost tribes, in particular the tribe of Ephraim. That would explain why so many British and Scandinavian citizens in the 19th century were willing to accept the gospel, for their “believing blood” recognized the truth. As these thousands of European converts heeded the call to emigrate to Zion, first to Nauvoo and then to Deseret, it became common to say these “Israelites” saved the fledgling church in America, injecting it with their sheer numbers, their goods, tools, skills, and knowledge. In 1890, two-thirds of Utah’s population consisted of such immigrants and their children.2 Genetic studies confirm the ancestry of white Utah Mormon residents: 61% British, 31% Scandinavian, with Swiss and German for most of the remainder.3
In the 1960s and 70s, lost tribes, Israel’s blood in Europe, as well as somewhat implausible explications in popular Mormon books, slowly faded out of official view. Church manuals and magazines turned to what correlation emphasized as the more central tenets of the faith, fit for an expanding, worldwide church. The 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban also led to a growing awareness of the racist backdrop that had crept into the church more than a century before. The relation between racial lineages and degrees of faithfulness in the preexistence became an awkward topic. To refer to that relation as justification for the priesthood ban is now simply “not done”, as Randy Bott found out. The Church reacted strongly to his faux-pas: “The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding. We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”4
So how can this notion of Europeans’ electivity based on blood composition still be understood without racialist innuendoes? In this article I first give some background on the origin of the notion before portraying the present situation. Next I suggest positive aspects of the notions of “believing blood” and “lineage.” Finally I discuss also some drawbacks of the present references to Israelite blood in Europe.
Origin of the notion
Arnold Green5 and Armand Mauss6 have well documented the origin of the notion of Israelite blood in Europe. I summarize their research and analysis.
From the early days of Mormonism two doctrinal approaches appear side by side, one expressing a high regard for Israel’s elect lineage, the other emphasizing the gospel’s universalism which directly includes all mankind. The relation between lineage and universalism is an issue that also the early Christian church had to confront, as various events and discussions in Acts and Epistles demonstrate. Both approaches can be found in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, hence the possibility of selecting verses that give more support to one position or the other. Joseph Smith frequently stressed universalism, but within it he could simultaneously see the literal gathering of Israel and the restoration of the Ten Tribes. In the original perspective, white Europeans and Americans were considered Gentiles who could through conversion be adopted in the House of Israel. But the recognition of literal Israelite descent, which was first applied to Joseph Smith and his family, became gradually applied to all Latter-day Saints. Such literal descendency could be explained by the mixing of “remnants” of scattered Israelites with Gentiles somewhere in their ancestry.
During the decades after Joseph Smith’s death, in that creative period of doctrinal expansion, differing explanations on the process and timing of gathering and conversion led to an array of viewpoints. Important for our topic are two developments which fed on elements present in the Scriptures and in initial Mormonism.
First, there was British-Israelism (or Anglo-Israelism). Promoted by some marginal Protestant movements, it reified romantic myths about the biblical ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons. Widely popular became the story of the migration of the “lost” ten tribes of Israel. Authors scrutinized in “scientific fashion” the possible ancient paths of such tribes across the continent to the British Isles. British-Israelism tied in with a glorification of Anglo-Saxon cultural superiority, which became racialist in tone as it contrasted its achievements with primitive populations elsewhere is the world. Similar romantic pride in mythological ancestry and national glory arose in the Germanic and Scandinavian realms. In the 1880s Mormon leaders integrated the assertions of British-Israelism into the Mormon framework of Israelite descent to illustrate how the “believing blood” of Ephraim had permeated Britain. They added Scandinavia and Germanic countries, as also part of these people responded to the preaching of the restored gospel. By the start of the 20th century, the concept of Israelite blood in Northern Europe had become an integral part of Mormon doctrinal (and often plain racist) rhetoric. The lack of success of the church in European Latin countries was attributed to a lack of Israelite blood. After World War II the whole notion started to fade as the Church grew in other continents, while conversions in Europe had already slowed down since the end of the 19th century.
Second, there was the expanded conception of preexistence. The original scriptural basis (mainly D&C 29:36–37, 93:23–33; Abr. 3:22-28) limited comprehension to a premortal existence of all individuals, the calling of the Savior, the exercise of choice with the resulting “war” that cast one third out, and the presence of “noble and great ones” who would be chosen as “rulers”, with Abraham as the prime example. In the 1850s Mormon authors extended this idea of superior premortal value and election to all church members and to their children yet to be born: these noble spirits had been set apart to be born in these last days and in privileged circumstances. The connection with their physical ascendance next fused with British-Israelism and its racialist blood rhetoric: the most “valiant” in the preexistence were to be born in the royal lineage of the House of Israel, while the less valiant ended up in other races and dire circumstances, including the priesthood ban for blacks. In the first half of the twentieth century, influential leaders strongly articulated and confirmed this doctrine of premortal categories, blood lineages, exceptionalism, and “unintended” racism. At the same time, as prospects for missionary work increased in more and more countries, Mormon leaders found reasons to affirm the presence of Israelite descendants in other parts of the world – as long as they were not black.
The preceding summarizes, in general lines, the analysis provided by Green and by Mauss. Both provide numerous sources.
Where do we stand now on lineage issues?
I look first at lineage related to the preexistence and next at the issue of Israelite blood in Europe.
On the one hand, the notion that “the people of Israel were a distinct and noble people in the premortal existence” and that “foreordination determined, to a large extent, an individual’s placement among tribes and nations” seems to remain official doctrine, as e.g. taught though current CES Institute material, with ample quotations from Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, but leaving out the parts about the “less valiant.” The quotations further confirm that “Israel is an eternal people. Members of that chosen race first gained their inheritance with the faithful in the pre-mortal life.” And: “The great majority of those who have come into the Church are Ephraimites. It is the exception to find one of any other tribe, unless it is of Manasseh.”7
On the other hand, specifically since 1978, members of the First Presidency and of the Twelve have repeatedly emphasized universalism, which is attested in both ancient and modern scriptures and which had never been ignored in previous decades either. I point to a few examples that also refer to race – which seems interesting in view of the notion of premortal “chosen race” versus others. Howard H. Hunter decried the “stifling traditions based on race” and stated:
Race makes no difference; color makes no difference; nationality makes no difference. The brotherhood of man is literal. We are all of one blood and the literal spirit offspring of our eternal Heavenly Father. . . . Our common paternity makes us not only literal sons and daughters of eternal parentage, but literal brothers and sisters as well. This is a fundamental teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.8
James E. Faust affirmed that “no race or class seems superior to any other in spirituality and faithfulness,”9 a statement possibly implying a rejection of more spiritual and more faithful categories in the preexistence. Boyd K. Packer exclaimed: “However many generations in your mortal ancestry, no matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God!”10. Gordon B. Hinckley gave a stern warning: “We all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given to President Kimball … I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ … Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”11 In 2006 a clarifying Ensign article about “life before birth” strictly limits information to the Scriptures, without any mention of a premortal chosen race or lineages based on merits obtained in the first estate.12
At the same time, in conformity with Joseph Smith’s dynamic incorporation of both lineage and universalism, church authorities continue to use the imagery of the Abrahamic covenant and of the House of Israel, with emphasis on its all-encompassing nature. In Mormon doctrine, indeed, universalism does not exclude the continued recognition of Israel as a separate people, hence in the Book of Mormon the predicted fruitful interaction between the Gentiles and the scattered House of Israel for the salvation of both, as illustrated in Zenos’ allegory of the olive trees (Jacob 5). James E. Faust declared: “Believing Gentiles, even though not of the blood lines or genealogical ancestry of Israel, become adopted into the house of Israel.”13 Dallin H. Oaks said: “The Book of Mormon promises that all who receive and act upon the Lord’s invitation to ‘repent and believe in his Son’ become ‘the covenant people of the Lord’ (2 Ne. 30:2). This is a potent reminder that neither riches nor lineage nor any other privileges of birth should cause us to believe that we are ‘better one than another’ (Alma 5:54; see also Jacob 3:9).”14 Note the dismissal of “lineage” and of “privileges of birth,” which are features in the expanded conception of preexistence.
Just like in the days of Peter and Paul, it is not always evident to balance the advocacy of chosen lineage and the acceptance of a totally deracialized humanity. Peter identified the Church contrastively as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9), while Paul focused on universalism: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28–29). Hence the need for clarifications, such as Daniel H. Ludlow was invited to give in the Ensign.15 Hence also the tensions when some authors, who uphold the doctrines of a preexistent House of Israel and of the subsequent chosen bloodlines based on premortal merit, feel that these insights are now being “untaught” and “ignored.”16
As to the notion of Israelite blood in Europe, where does it stand now after its extensive use in former decades? Its occurrence seems rather rare, but it tends to turn up at weighty conferences and meetings in Europe, raised by eminent church leaders, in order to boost the faith in church growth. In 1969, when the first British stake was organized, Spencer W. Kimball visited Malvern Hills and declared: “This is a place where the blood of Israel is richly concentrated, and there are many still to gather.”17 In 1971 Harold B. Lee testified in a regional general conference in Manchester that a temple had been built in Great Britain “because of its great contribution to the early and continuous growth of the Church, which gave evidence to the great outpouring of the blood of Israel among the people of these great British Isles.”18 In 1987 British General Authority Derek A. Cuthbert proclaimed that “these [British] islands have a divine destiny . . . Yes, the blood of Israel is richly concentrated in these islands and the promised blessings will all be fulfilled.”19
Next to Britain, the presence of Israelite blood had also been recognized early on in Scandinavian and Germanic countries. As the church slowly expanded in European Latin countries (Italy, Spain, and Portugal), they too became included in Israelite descendency. In 1995, at a seminar for European stake and mission presidents held in Paris, Jeffrey R. Holland strongly reemphasized the notion:
The Church in Europe must live again. The work of the Church has run on the backs of its European saints since the beginning. Don’t think that you are just minding the shop waiting for the Savior to come. Don’t think that the great days of gathering in Europe are over. This is our time. Europe is the richest composition of the blood of Israel we’ve known. The blood of Israel out of these lands saved the Church. They left behind family members, children, grandchildren, and friends. They are still here. And we must find them. The blood of Israel is here.20
In 2010 in Berlin, as mentioned at the onset of this article, Elder Kopischke referred to Joseph Smith as having declared that “England, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium have a considerable amount of the blood of Israel among the people which must be gathered out.” One should remark that this quotation comes from the White Horse prophecy, which has been identified by Church leaders and by experts as a late nineteenth-century document, of which the content cannot be verified as authored by Joseph Smith.21 But it is telling that more than one document in the second half of the 19th century tried to foist later Mormon beliefs upon Joseph Smith. The mention of “a considerable amount of the blood of Israel” or “the richest composition of the blood of Israel” in these countries vastly amplifies the early Mormon idea of only “remnants” of scattered Israelites who had mixed with Gentiles.
Of course, the core message each of these dedicated leaders wants to convey in our time is not the precise measurement of Israelite blood in European veins, but that significant church progress is still possible in Europe, through the traditional imagery of the chosen lineage that will recognize the restored truth. The aim is to foster hope and confidence. But there are also some drawbacks that I will discuss later.
Positive views on “believing blood” and “lineage”
The preceding discussion may give the impression that concepts such as “believing blood” and “lineage” are better seen as obsolete because of their position within the doctrinal perspective that later also harbored racist beliefs. That should not be the case as long as the concepts are clearly circumscribed and remain within their proper scriptural realm. Also, sometimes some critics throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Bruce R. McConkie defined “believing blood” as “the aptitude and inclination of certain persons to accept and believe the principles of revealed religion.”22 That sounds quite satisfactory if applicable to any individual from whatever background or race. Scriptures such as “my sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26) or “mine elect hear my voice“ (D&C 29:7) support the notion that a number of people readily react to the message and others not. The factors that contribute to conversion are also an interesting object of sociological and psychological research which helps us understand the complex framework that facilitates or hinders that drastic mental step.23 The concept of “believing blood” only becomes problematic with the rest of McConkie’s explanation: “In general the Lord sends to earth in the lineage of Jacob those spirits who in preexistence developed an especial talent for spirituality and for recognizing truth. Those born in this lineage, having the blood of Israel in their veins and finding it easy to accept the gospel, are said to have believing blood.” Such an appendix to the definition makes us enter into a speculative realm with the racialist implications of past add-ons. No, it is clear that “believing blood” can be found equally in any culture or race.
The concept of “lineage” as tied to the House of Israel is deeply ingrained in Mormon doctrine and in the Scriptures. As mentioned supra, it is very possible to combine it with a universalist perspective, without referring to premortal classes. The pivotal principles of scattering and gathering can be interpreted on various levels and in various locations, including their extension to multiple Zions. “Lineage” can continue to have special significance in the patriarchal blessing which, since the dawn of Mormonism, has become a treasured once-in-a-lifetime experience for Latter-day Saints. In earlier times, when nearly all members were of North European descent (including the American-born white converts), it seemed uncomplicated to assume literal tribal descendency from Ephraim, in line with the beliefs of scattering of the lost tribes. For American Indians, as supposed descendants of Lamanites, the physical lineage was evidently traced to Manasseh. But in view of expanding the church to all countries and races, as well as of advancing insights in demography, adjustments in rationale and formulation help smooth the attribution to a certain tribe, such as through adoption, assignment to a tribe, bestowal of the blessings of a tribe upon an individual, or by simply accepting that over some three millennia, the blood of Israel, literally or figuratively, spread to all corners of the world, even to Pygmies and to Aboriginals. Whether literal or spiritual, the determination of tribal descent is meant as an emotional confirmation of belonging to the House of Israel.24
Both the concepts of believing blood and of lineage can fulfill a beneficial role in strengthening family bonds and in raising the expectations of children and grandchildren about their loyalty to the gospel. Conversely, it should be added, disaffection from the ancestral faith can also cause greater pain in such tight relationships. We should also be sensitive to the fact that worldwide many converts stand alone, without any or hardly any kin in the Kingdom. Assertions that stress the blessings of belonging to a first-rate pedigree of Mormon ancestors and of having scores of faithful children and grandchildren make the concept of lineage sometimes needlessly ostentatious and distressing to others.
Potential drawbacks to the notion of Israelite blood in Europe
1 – Depression after unfulfilled promises
When a prominent church leader, addressing European leaders and members, mentions the rich presence of Israelite blood in Europe, it is not a simple factual assertion. It has always been part of a stirring call to do more and better missionary work. It has been part of a solemn promise to members and missionaries that if they increase their efforts and are obedient in all things, the number of members would double in five years25. That promised growth of the church in Europe is glowingly presented as the “second harvest,” parallel to the first harvest of the nineteenth century. But when after five years and more of increased efforts and sacrifices, nothing happens, depression follows. One day the Netherlands mission president called me to help solve such a mission-wide crisis when the firm promises were not being fulfilled. For years members and missionaries had strictly obeyed the precise conditions tied to the promises, firing each other up, only to see convert numbers sag even further. Many blamed themselves for being deficient in some unidentified way. Former missionaries who served in Europe speak of the crisis they experienced when the sacred guarantees that their faithfulness and diligence would yield results led to nothing: “Hard-working missionaries who fasted, prayed, believed with all their might, tracting their guts out, still never had any success. There is only so much of the negative reactionary blaming that one can take when he or she knows they ARE doing all they can do.”26 Similar reports and echoes came from other European countries.
2 – Unwelcome speculations
The notion of literal blood lines is known to open doors to speculations, encouraging some members to dig deeper into the rich imaginative literature of the lost tribes. I don’t think our present leaders want us to go there. Not to speak of the trouble we’re inviting from critics who can slam such theories with genetic and other studies, causing more controversies.
3 – Different conversion reality
There is little doubt that the traditional “blood of Israel” refers to Caucasians, in line with the stories of ancient migration and with the way it has always been understood. But since the 1990s the majority of converts in Europe are immigrants from other nations, mainly from Africa and Asia. Even with those immigrants, conversion numbers are very low compared to fields outside Europe. In 2011, two-thirds of new converts in Europe were born elsewhere.27 Chapels in Europe, in particular in the larger cities, now welcome a multicolored and multicultural population. In that perspective, the strong and urgent call to find “Israelite blood” can be interpreted both as a rebuke to missionaries that they succeed in only finding “foreigners,” and as a signal to these “foreign” converts that they were not the intended converts and remain second choice. That leads to the following and probably most serious drawback.
4 – Racial undertones
Especially in the European context, home of British-Israelism and its imperial and racist past, the affirmation of preeminence through blood lineages can still imply the notion of inferior races. The old beliefs of the less valiant or fence-sitters in the preexistence are begging to filter through. In this peculiar context, blood lineages as determinants of divine election or restriction still reek of the discrimination the Church wants to definitely leave behind.
Mormon parlance still seems to struggle with its transition from racialist perspectives to universalism. How to best present the concepts of House of Israel and lineages, which remain central and precious in old and new Scriptures, is one of the challenges of changing times.
- Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der Letzten Tage. “Bericht über die Multi-Pfahlkonferenz am 21. Februar 2010 – Elder Kopischke: Die Verheißungen werden sich erfüllen.” 2010. http://www.hlt.at/kirchenliteratur/pfahlkonferenzen/multi-pfahlkonferenz-21-februar-2010.html (accessed September 19, 2012). Text in German: “Joseph Smith habe einmal gesagt: “England, Deutschland, Norwegen, Dänemark, die Schweiz, Holland und Belgien haben in ihrer Bevölkerung eine erhebliche Menge vom Blut Israels, das heraus gesammelt werden muss.” ↩
- Jensen, Richard L. “Immigration to Utah.” In Utah History Encyclopedia, edited by Allan Kent Powell, 270–273. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994. ↩
- O’Brien, Elizabeth, Alan R. Rogers, Judy Beesley, and Lynn B. Jorde. “Genetic structure of the Utah Mormons: comparison of results based on RFLPs, blood groups, migration matrices, isonymy, and pedigrees.” Human Biology 66, no. 5 (1994): 743–759. ↩
- Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church statement regarding ‘Washington Post’ article on race and the Church. February 29, 2012. http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article (accessed September 22, 2012). ↩
- Green, Arnold H. “Gathering and election: Israelite descent and universalism in Mormon discourse.” Journal of Mormon History 25, no. 1 (1999): 195–228. ↩
- Mauss, Armand L. All Abraham’s children: Changing Mormon conceptions of race and lineage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003; “In search of Ephraim: Traditional Mormon conceptions of lineage and race.” Journal of Mormon History 25, no. 1 (1999): 131–173; “Mormonism’s worldwide aspirations and its changing conceptions of race and lineage.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34, no. 3–4 (2001): 103–133. ↩
- Doctrines of the Gospel – Student manual – Religion 430 and 431. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church Educational System, 2010, 2nd edition, 56. ↩
- Hunter, Howard W. “All Are Alike Unto God.” Ensign (June 1979), online. ↩
- Faust, James E. “Heirs to the Kingdom of God.” Ensign (May 1995), online ↩
- Packer, Boyd K. “A few simple lessons.” Ensign (August 2002). online. ↩
- Hinckley, Gordon B. “The need for greater kindness.” Ensign (May 2006), online. ↩
- “The Fullness of the Gospel: Life before Birth.” Ensign (February 2006), online. ↩
- Faust, James E. “Your patriarchal blessing”. New Era (November 2005), online. ↩
- Oaks, Dallin H. “All men everywhere.” General Conference (April 2006), online. ↩
- Ludlow, Daniel H. “Of the House of Israel.” Ensign (January 1991), online. ↩
- Millet, Robert L and Joseph Fielding McConkie. Our destiny: The call and election of the House of Israel. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft 1993. ↩
- Quoted in Cuthbert, Derek A. “Breakthrough in Britain.” Ensign (July 1987), 28–32. ↩
- Lee, Harold B. “The way to eternal life.” Ensign (November 1971), 10. ↩
- Cuthbert, Derek A. “Church growth in the British Isles, 1937–1987.” BYU Studies 27, no. 2 (1987), 20. ↩
- In Brewster, Hoyt W. The Promise. The prophesied growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Netherlands and Belgium and Western Europe. Amsterdam: Netherlands Amsterdam Mission, 1998, 4. ↩
- Cobabe, George. “The White Horse prophecy”. The Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (2011). http://www.fairlds.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/cobabe-whitehorse.pdf ↩
- McConkie, Bruce R. “Believing blood”. Mormon Doctrine. Online. ↩
- Among dozens of recent studies: Gooren, Henri. Religious conversion and disaffiliation: Tracing patterns of change in faith practices. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010; Martin, Peter E. Religious conversion: A critique of current major social science models of conversion and a Christian anthropological response. Doctoral dissertation. Arlington, Virginia: The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, 2009; Rambo, Lewis R. Understanding religious conversion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. ↩
- See Ludlow, “Of the House of Israel”; Mauss, “In search of Ephraim”, 168–169; Faust, “Your patriarchal blessing”. ↩
- See the quotations in Brewster. The Promise. ↩
- Kim. “My experience in France”. http://www.exmormon.org/mormon/mormon154.htm. (accessed July 9, 2011). ↩
- Decoo, Wilfried. “The International Church: Europe.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, edited by Terryl L. Givens and Philip Barlow. Oxford: Oxford University Press (in press). See also Lobb, C. Gary. “Mormon membership trends in Europe among people of color: Present and future assessment.” Dialogue 33, no. 4 (2000): 59–68. ↩
Does the Green or Mauss cite Earl W. Harmer’s Our Destiny: A Brief, Vital Story of God’s Covenant Race from Patriarchal Times to the Present of the Mormon Church? I found a 1942 copy at D.I., and it includes a hilarious pull-out pedigree chart (don’t know if that centerfold of Ephraim porn was included in later reprints). Unfortunately, I have loaned it away to a scholar doing more race work so can’t comment much further on the source, except that I recall vast quotations from other non-LDS authors to build his case.
Yes, AnnE, Arnold Green refers to that book with this explanation:
Though it is interesting to point out how Mormon authors in the first half of the 20th century interpreted history, I think we should refrain from judging them too harshly. They were brought up in a different cultural context. But their writings help explain to what aberrant views their approach could lead.
Then there’s “Tracing the Dispersion” by Terry M. Blodgett in the February 1994 Ensign, claiming that the Lost Tribes are responsible for the sound shift that distinguishes Germanic from Romance languages.
Very helpful discussion, Wilfried — I covered some of the same ground in an earlier T&S post a couple of years ago. This sort of vestigal racial doctrine seems relatively harmless until someone like Prof. Bott comes along and reminds us of the cost of tolerating aberrant doctrine in the Church.
John Taber (3), yes, indeed. Mauss mentions Blodgett and says the following in that connection (in “In search of Ephraim”, 167-168):
I have noticed that some current supremacist defenders of “Western civilization” based on “Israel”s lost tribes” refer to Blodgett. I do not know how convincing his linguistic research is.
I noticed as a missionary in Europe 10 or 12 years ago that the vast majority of non-European new converts had gone less active. For that reason, we were told by our mission president to focus on people who had roots in the country. We of course still taught immigrants, but we didn’t tract in refuge and immigrant apartment buildings.
That being said, I was in one ward in Europe, a pretty standard ward, that had 25 baptisms in one year. All but one or two were Europeans. I returned a few years later and many of the new converts were still active (although many were not). I’ve heard all kinds of garbage in church about “all the good blood is already gone from Europe, so that’s why they’re not baptizing much,” to “the missionaries are in Europe to baptize non-European immigrants” (that last one from a former stake president…)
The truth is, the church can grow in Europe, but we need to accept that growth is possible. If we believe the church is stagnant or shrinking there, that belief will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Wilfried, an excellent post. Just the other day, I heard my mother-in-law talking about this very idea from some book (which seemed rather questionable) that she was reading. It seems to be quite difficult to prove or disprove the idea that northern Europeans intermingled with Jewish people early on. It could have very well been that Jewish traders found clientele in northern Europe and intermingled with them there. Of course the irony in all of this is that for the Jews to intermingle with northern Europeans they would have had to violate their legal code of not intermingling with Gentiles. So in essence the church leaders who promoted this idea were sort of celebrating this violation.
While I believe that in isolation the question of Jewish blood among the Europeans is quite fascinating and worthy of greater research, I object to it being used as a doctrinal explanation of conversion. The idea that physical bloodline has anything to do with belief (to quote Eric Hobsbawm who says this in relation to nationalist histories) “requires too much belief in what is patently not so.” The conversion of relatively large numbers of English, Danes, Welsh, and others to Mormonism can’t be explained without taking into consideration a number of cultural, political, and economic factors of the time. The idea of having an interactive religion, migrating to the US to own land, and belonging to a community that was not bound to the old social classes was very attractive for 19th century northern Europeans; not to mention the fact that the religious ideas of Mormonism provided convincing explanations that interested them. But I strongly doubt that there would be much Jewish blood (if any at all) among people in the Philippines. So high conversion rates there can’t be explained because of their supposed Jewish lineage (of course I suppose that someone could try to claim that they were descendants of the Lamanites/Nephites somehow as many do in relation to the Polynesians).
Tim (6), thanks for this contribution from your experience. Globally seen, all over Europe, it is difficult to conclude who remains the most active and who the least, native Europeans or immigrants, since the church does not release statistical data on this (I do not even know if the church can follow up on such data because “ethnic” identification is not used in the church).
To counter a possible overgeneralization that immigrant converts quickly turn inactive, I have seen church units thrive on solid immigrant converts, just as have seen many native Europeans become less active. Much also depends on the socio-economic and emotional stability of the converts, whether native or immigrant, and on the strength and maturity of the local church unit to integrate and sustain newcomers. These and other variables play a role, making each situation different.
“The truth is, the church can grow in Europe, but we need to accept that growth is possible. If we believe the church is stagnant or shrinking there, that belief will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
I think that is a bit overly optimistic. Growth isn’t determined merely by one’s optimism. I could create some grand vision about how the church is going to spread among Saudi Arabia’s 27 million inhabitants, and it is just not going to happen; same thing with Norway, Switzerland, and other parts of Europe. John Dehlin did a fascinating interview with Ryan Cragun on Mormon demographics back in January. Cragun believed that Mormon church is facing a growth crisis and needs to change its missionary approach to adapt. One of his ideas to do this was to accept the fact that Europe is no longer a good source of growth and greatly reduce the number of missionaries there, and instead send them to places such as Africa, India, and even perhaps develop a strategy for Muslim world growth (borrowing even from models of the Seventh Day Adventists and JWs, who have had some success in Muslim countries) in order to build a new convert base. I really think that European missions should only be kept in order to keep the existing Mormon community afloat and to proselytize non-European migrant communities. But the hope of a new surge of conversion among Danes is just wishful thinking.
How to make the church grow (or keep it afloat) in Europe is somewhat of a different topic though of course related to the topic of “promise” of church growth discussed in this post. Again, quite a few factors. I would refer to my post on sacrifice and retention for some aspects.
Related to all this is the idea taught by (I think it was) Parley Pratt that when a non-Israelite receives the Holy Ghost it works a physical change in him and changes his formerly non-Israelite blood into Israelite blood. Despite its alchemic quality, I’ve found this notion attractive because it is one possible way to reconcile the lineage and universalist impulses. Also, I think I look fondly on it because I’ve heard that my grandfather relied on it, pre-1978, as a reason to conclude that the priesthood ban was doctrinally incorrect—there could be no cursed blood after baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost. Maybe it’s best seen as a useful “doctrinal fiction,” that is really a metaphor for the concept of adoption.
JKC (11), indeed. That concept was already taught by Joseph Smith and is indeed one way to move directly to universalism:
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 149-150. See also the fuller context here on First and Second Comforter.
Oh, and quite an astute observation: “my grandfather relied on it, pre-1978, as a reason to conclude that the priesthood ban was doctrinally incorrect—there could be no cursed blood after baptism of fire by the Holy Ghost”.
Dave (4), I reread your interesting post on the issue. I can follow you to a certain extent, but just trying to do away with the concept of lineage is, in my opinion, not feasible nor desirable. As Scriptures and modern-day prophets explain, lineage and universalism can be compatible and complementary. But I agree with you that church lesson material needs to be updated as to the kind of quotations they use.
Wilfried, the linguistic evidence from Blodgett’s article is very, very bad.
What I noticed in Europe is that a combination of language, cultural, and racial barriers made it harder for immigrants to stay active.
New convert immigrants who didn’t speak the language had a very difficult time coming to church week after week, even with missionaries or members doing the translating. It was hard for them to make friends.
Cultural differences can also create difficulty, and we see some of this in congregations in the U.S. with African American members. Inner city branches with mostly African American members seem to, at least in my experience,retain more African American members than big suburban wards where the handful of African American members get lost in a sea of white. People like to be around people that are like them, and immigrants and minorities will have an easier time sticking around if the rest of the ward is like them (ie–also immigrants and minorities). The diverse Frankfurt Germany English-speaking ward is going to have a much easier time retaining immigrant members than a smaller-city German-speaking ward.
I think racism and xenophobia also play a small part–members in Germany were sometimes reluctant to embrace new convert immigrants, especially if they were Black or from the Middle East. I see the same thing here in the U.S. with Latinos.
The church has, in the past twelve years, shut down numerous missions in Germany. I believe there are about half as many missionaries there now as there was then. I think that made sense–I served in a tiny branch with five other missionaries, and in a ward with seven others, and that was frankly too much. I stand by my statement that growth is possible, and that missionaries who are headed to Europe need to know that it is possible to have success.
I really wish we would just abandon the concept of “race” and the “believing blood” nonsense. I don’t even believe we could find large numbers of people who did NOT literally descend from the Patriarch Abraham.
If one examines the numerical paradox of family history, with the exponential growth in the number of ancestors from one generation to the other, most Caucasians literally descend from everyone who lived in Europe before 1000 CE (including Jews). But with Jews showing up in history throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, and with Jewish lines literally crossing with the Conquistadors, every continent save Antartica has scores of Jewish descendants.
This article explains the math and science behind my assertions:
P.S. Wilfried, Thank you for an excellent bit of research.
Terrific article Wilfried. I’ve often thought that 19th-century Mormonism, and even much of present-day Mormonism, was Anglonavian Mormonism, thus that the Anglonavian way of doing things in the church was assumed to be not cultural or particular but neutral and universal. Now of course that’s another subject, but your article helps make clear to me how that assumption could be based in part on the idea of believing blood….
Brilliant, Wilfried. However, as an Englishman, part of me reluctantly lets go of these old ideas because they make one feel fabulous!
I got a double whammy of this growing up as my dad was both a Mormon and an occasional fan of Herbert Armstrong’s ideas about Britain and America.
What’s interesting about Br. Kopischke’s remarks is that he includes Germany. Old school British Israelism often saw the Germans as descendants of those mad, bad Assyrians. He seems to be equating Israelite blood simply with the white-white Europeans, which is a bit troubling, but as he is intending to quote Joseph Smith, I imagine any negative connotations are not consciously intended.
Tim (15), I appreciate your confidence that “missionaries who are headed to Europe need to know that it is possible to have success”. There is no doubt in my mind either that there is still a lot of potential for Mormonism in Europe, but hardly with the present missionary techniques and the present membership requirements. We need to think about significantly different missionary approaches and about viable formats of Mormon dedication in different socio-cultural contexts if we want to hold on to converts. Of course, even if such reflexion were possible, I am afraid our system is now too rigidly correlated to hope for changes, even if only experimental.
Suleiman (16, 17), thanks for your input. I agree that a generational concept of “believing blood” has become untenable because of the racial implications, but, like I said, I would not throw the individualized concept of “believing blood” overboard. The baby and the bathwater… It remains a fascinating phenomenon that one person readily responds to a religious message (from whatever proselyting religion) and another not. In the 1960s, when the missionaries taught me, I was immediately elated but my parents and friends not at all. We see it often that in a family only one or two members open their heart and mind for the message of the restoration, while others don’t feel anything. As I mentioned, it is also a topic for academic research and I am sure that the Missionary department is interested in such research. Meanwhile it remains a sufficiently observed fact that at least it deserves a name. “Believing blood” may not be the best because of the descendency implication, but as long as we circumscribe it with a strictly individual connotation, I think we’re fine.
Thanks also for the reference to the “exponential growth in the number of ancestors from one generation to the other”. It seems to have only one flaw: in many cases our ancestors also intermarried between each other’s lines. If you do genealogy in a rural area with little or no regional mobility, the same names from the same surrounding villages keep popping up. In some cases you can go hundreds of years back with all ancestors remaining in intertwining lines of a few dozen families. This does not mean that going further up the lines will not expand to other regions, but the calculation that “by the 15th century you’ve got a million ancestors. By the 13th you’ve got a billion. Sometime around the 9th century — just 40 generations ago — the number tops a trillion” is indeed a little too “simple math”. It would render the notion of “our first parents” and also of Abraham obsolete. No need to argue about it here… For sure, “spiritual universalism”, i.e. becoming heirs of the covenant by accepting Christ, is definitely easier.
Maybe the brain is a better place to look than blood for explaining why some people, like you Wilfried, immediately believe. Of course Michael Shermer’s already got a book out on the believing brain, which provides a pretty naturalistic explanation of belief, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be other brain-based explanations that satisfy believers too.
Craig (18, 22), thanks for the thoughts! You raise a tricky issue about the “way of doing things” and a relation with “Anglonavian” culture and believing blood… Not sure what to say about that…
Brain or blood to express the roots of our behavior: I assume that for ages the blood trope has been the basic element to express anything that has to do with life, traits, moods — if one also looks at all the expressions that use “blood”. And why not? Brain needs blood just as well. But the main issue you point at here is of course the attempts at naturalistic explanation of belief, like love is explained as a chemical reaction. Even so, it should be fascinating what scientists come up with.
Ronan (19), you’re an example of the English virtue of fairplay.
Gee, Herbert Armstrong, I do remember… I was 15 or 16 when I got the free subscription to The Plain Truth – 50 years ago. I had no idea about the tendencies the magazine represented — there was also no name of a church or organization –, but I enjoyed practising my English reading those well presented articles.
Indeed, what is the place of Germany in our Anglo and Scandinavian story? I assume Mormon parlance added countries as part of the Israelitic realm according to missionary progress or hope for progress. Plus, from the U.S., Europe is sometimes viewed as just one country with a number of touristic varieties.
Thanks for this, Wilfried. Green’s and Mauss’ papers are some of the most interesting academic works on Mormonism I’ve ever read. I enjoyed your review of them, as well as your additional thoughts.
Wilfried, I think you misunderstand Suleiman. The fact that you don’t actually have trillions of ancestors is precisely the point. Clearly you DO have trillions of slots on your pedigree chart if you go back to biblical times, which is why the same ancestor will appear in thousands, millions, or even billions of distinct slots.
The implication is that every single modern European (or African or Asian) is literally descended from Abraham, as well as from all twelve sons of Jacob. So the whole lineage thing gets very confusing. I honestly can’t figure out what are we even talking about.
Indeed, wondering (26), thanks for the clarification. Yes, the link Suleiman provided also says:
“Furthermore, Olson and his colleagues have found that if you go back a little farther — about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago — everybody living today has exactly the same set of ancestors. In other words, every person who was alive at that time is either an ancestor to all 6 billion people living today, or their line died out and they have no remaining descendants.”
At the same time, looking in the other direction, you may get the wrong idea with this quotation from the link: ““by the 15th century you’ve got a million ancestors. By the 13th you’ve got a billion. Sometime around the 9th century — just 40 generations ago — the number tops a trillion”. But, indeed, not all different.
Thanks again for helping us understand the math.
This article, and the derivative comments, leave me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is a pleasure to read Wilfried’s work, which is always so well informed and offers readers a rich mixture of thoughtful scholarship and personal experience from a European Latter-day Saint. Naturally it’s gratifying also to see that a few people have read my own writings on the subject (though where my 2003 book is concerned, the number is VERY few, to judge from the publisher’s sales figures each year!).
On the other hand, I am distressed at the continuing evidence of racialist thinking among today’s Mormons, especially in high places. Considering the wholesale conversions that have taken place for decades in parts of the world far outside the supposed concentrations of Israelite “blood” in northwestern Europe, it is sheer folklore to continue perpetuating ideas from 19th-century LDS leaders that were based upon the early but temporary success of our missionary work in the UK and in Scandinavia. Also, once we recognize with Paul (to the Galatians) that conversion to Christ immediately renders irrelevant all questions of race, lineage, or “blood” in the convert’s origins, then there is no reason to find (or even seek) any theological or doctrinal significance in one’s origins, whether mortal or premortal. Even the mention of lineage in today’s patriarchal blessings is less a claim about a person’s literal ancestry than an “assignment” of lineage for future administrative purposes in the Lord’s kingdom — or such is at least one recurring explanation that I have gotten from numerous stake patriarchs whom I have interviewed over the years. In short, the Church will be far better served by allowing all such racialist thinking to drift quietly into the dustbin of non-scriptural LDS folklore.
Thank you so much, Armand, for adding your insights to the discussion.
One of the interesting semantic distinctions we seem to make is between “racial”, “racialist” and “racist”. On the one hand “racialist” may just emphasize specific hereditary characteristics in an anthropological sense, like in the official U.S. “racial” categories asked in identification, while “racist” definitely implies the despicable feelings of superiority over other races. On the other hand, the way we use “racialist” in this discussion has an in-between, somehow less harsh, but still condemning connotation – where church talking about other races continues to have negative references because of past “racist” interpretations.
Yeah, Wilfried, I agree with you on the semantic ambiguities involved in the use of such terms. As I think I have indicated in my earlier writings (though perhaps only in footnotes), I use the term “racial” as a description of a category, much in the same as one might use the term “ethnic.” Although I know anthropologists have doubts about the clarity and usefulness of either one, such terms seem to function well enough in popular parlance. I use the term “racialist” in reference to any doctrine or description that attributes salience of some kind to different racial categories, but where invidious comparisons are not necessarily implied. I use “racist” in reference to such descriptions that do carry clear invidious comparisons, intentional or not.
Recent studies have identified the “Cohen gene”, that correlates with Jews who have documented traditions of descent from the tribe of Levi, on the male Y chromosome that is passed from father to son. Like mtiochondrial DNA that is passed from mothers to children, that genetic marker stays intact through generations of descent. I think many of us have heard of how the Cohen gene has been found among certain black Africans in east Africa who had cultural traditions of their descent from Israelites who had left Jerusalem and stayed for a time in Yemen before sailing westward on the monsoon winds to settle coastal East Africa.
Another study of males in Spain and Portugal found that as many as 25% of males charry the Cohen gene! This is clearly a result of the demand by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 that all Jews in Spain either convert to Christianity or leave the country. The Spanish Inquisition was created to root out those “conversos” who still secretly practiced Jewish rituals. Fortunately for many conversos, the expulsion/conversion order coincided with Columbus’ discovery of the Americas, and many Spaniards of Jewish ancestry decided it was safer to live in the colonies than in Spain. There are pockets of “crypto Jews” in places like New Mexico, where Hispanic women on Friday evening perform rituals that include some of the forms of the Jewish sabbath. Given the Spanish research, and the desire of many Jewish converts to find safety in the New World, if we undertake a massive search for the Cohen gene in the Americas, we will find people who appear to be Native Americans who carry this gene. They have had five centuries to integrate with the Spanish.
One co-worker who was Hispanic said that her husband’s family in New Mexico thought they had always been a purely Hispanic family, until they discovered that one of their great grandfathers had been named Jenson and was an American cavalry officer originally from Norway.
In my own family’s ancestral records, it appears that the earliest of our Swedish ancestors had a Jewish name derived from Eastern Europe. If he carried the Cohen gene, then I as a direct descendant linked to him through my grandfathers, should carry it too!
In one of sociologist Rodney Stark’s books about the demographics of early Christianity, he shows a map indicating how Jewish communities were scattered all over the Roman Empire, including in Iberia and Gaul. He notes that in the First Century, there were about 6 million Jews in all countries scattered around the Mediterranean. He also notes that a couple centuries later, Christianity had grown to several millions, while only about one million Jews remained. He suggests that, since there is no historical reason for killing the Jews back then, the loss of Jews was primarily to Chrstianity. So People all over Europe and North Africa have Christian, and before that Jewish, ancestry.
This is NOT the Ten Lost Tribes of 700 BC, of course, but many Jewish people of 100 AD who lost their identities as Jews when they voluntarily converted to follow Chrsit.
The Jews who left Spain in 1492 preserved their heritage, including the old form of Spanish that is called Ladino, when they gathered at places like Istanbul. Some of these Sephardic Jews decided to leave for America about a century ago and ended up in the Seattle area. They still have cousins with the same last names, like Bensussen (son of Susa, former capital of the Persian Empire).
There is certainly the blood of Israel among the Hispanics of the Americas, especially among the ones with European ancestry.
Wilfried (23), there isn’t much to say, except that if you have the true blood, then that only adds to the assumption that your way of doing things (like say, the classic Anglonavian idea that being reverent means to be quiet) is the true way and your culture the true culture, rather than just A way or A culture.
P.S. I thought about this again (but really I think about it most every week at church) because of last week’s temple dedication. There are few better examples of Anglonavian reverence than the Hosanna non-shout.
Thank you, Raymond (31) for that substantial explanation on the Cohen gene. Whether genetic, as you mentioned, or just in a spiritual sense of adoption, there is enough to affirm that the whole of humanity belongs to the same family. So reason enough to see everything in universalist perspective and let “lineage” rhetoric slowly die. As Armand Mauss said supra: “Once we recognize with Paul (to the Galatians) that conversion to Christ immediately renders irrelevant all questions of race, lineage, or “blood” in the convert’s origins, then there is no reason to find (or even seek) any theological or doctrinal significance in one’s origins, whether mortal or premortal.”
Very interesting and helpful post, I wasn’t aware of this. I served my mission in French Polynesia where a similar understanding is had of polynesians (perhaps this idea applies everywhere, and perhaps it is correct?)
The more I think about it, the more I see all ethnicities as having this ‘blood.’
On a more abstract level, whenever I think about who the ‘lost tribes’ are or who will be the focus when the ‘time of the gentiles’ is past and the ‘time of the house of Israel’ returns, I usually think of those we’d least expect: Africans, Arabs (sorry, I’m not aware of the most sensitive or accurate terminology)? Those in Asia? Hispanic people of course. There are so many layers to this, it can be interpreted many ways. That is why I think, as you have said, it is wise to focus on the one that truly matters, the Spiritual adoption and bloodline.
Craig (32, 33), your remarks open up the question of “Mormon” culture. There are some strange twists to this.
On the one hand, some feel that the Church carries with it an Anglo-Saxon (or American or Anglonavian) culture, shown in many aspects (like your example of the concept of reverence as quietness). As a sign of multicultural understanding, they are willing to accept more variety and more openness to other expressions of culture (like why not allow African members to use drums and more rythm with singing?).
On the other hand, even that well-meaning attitude is also somehow paternalistic as if “we” are able to determine what others would like (and moreover sometimes influenced by folkloristic images of foreign cultures). It reminds me of the anecdote of the American who made some critical remarks about the architectural concept of one of our temples in a foreign country, saying it did not reflect the national style of religious buildings. The local member answered: “Why should it? It would not be a Mormon temple anymore.” A similar remark was heard at the recent Women Studies conference in Salt Lake by Mariama Kallon from Sierra Leone, when asked about musical expression in Mormon wards in Africa. She answered that it is precisely the Mormon style of our singing and the silence during Sacrament that makes the difference with all the others “loud” African churches.
I do not say that the “American” way of doing things in the church is always ideal (in particular the business-suit leadership style), but in terms of religious expression similarity helps us feel part of a worldwide community, making one feel “home” in whatever ward or branch. If that similarity has American or Anglo-Saxon protestant or puritan roots, so be it. We also expect Hinduism or Islam to retain their typical religious expression, wherever they gather in the world.
Nice points Wilfried. You’re right, if someone is trying to say, this is what some other culture would like, it’s paternalistic and not really helpful. But can’t it also be paternalistic to say, maybe you think you can incorporate that aspect of your culture, but it makes me uncomfortable, so don’t. For instance: I was in sacrament meeting last year in a big European city that you know really well. The pretty sizeable congregation was about half white (mostly North Americans, some local Europeans), and half black (mostly recent immigrants from Africa, as I gathered from talking to some of them). The bishop and first counselor were American, the second counselor recent African immigrant. Three of the young immigrant women who were sisters stood up and sang a musical number, Amazing Grace, a capella. They sang it with, to put it mildly, a lot more emotion and action and volume and head-moving-with-eyes-closed feeling than you’d usually see in say Utah County. Since most of the white congregants were sitting in the front, and most of the recent immigrants in the back (another subject), it was easy to watch reactions to the number. The bishop and first counselor and many in the front were sitting really stiff with arms folded and looking alarmed, while the second counselor and most people in the back had their eyes closed and heads back and moving just like the singers. Then when the number was over, the whole back of the church burst out in applause, which also caused some alarm up front. So I chuckled to myself and wondered which was the true form of worship. Probably each was just fine (but I think I was converted to the other form that day): religion always takes a cultural form.
The problems just come when you think your own cultural way is the true way, and thus the only way. There are all sorts of things like this, of course, as the Jesuits discovered when they first went out into all the world in the 16th century, and having to confront that all the time made them pretty good at deciding what was essential to the faith, and what was incidental. Which of course is what any international church has to do. Anyway, this is all cultural stuff obviously, and a separate topic from yours, but my point earlier was that the believing blood idea can also make it possible to justify certain cultural practices as universal.
Craig, my sense is that Mormon reserve is a bit more than culture. Joseph Smith deliberately wanted to control outbursts in worship that were going on at the camp meetings. The hallelujah shout is a good example of this. JS liked carisma but not disorder; the saints were to shout but in an orderly manner. One of the best examples of this is the conversion of the United Brethren in England, many of whom engaged in shouting and falling. At their baptism into Mormonism, many fell and shouted but Wilford Woodruff told them to stop. These were people who were very eager to join the Mormons and had the same heritage (northern England) but the Mormons had a different attitude about religious expression. But the United Brethren all converted anyway.
I’m pretty sure Pentecostalism came out of the same culture, but express themselves quite differently.
This is not to say that it’s right or wrong, but I don’t think the term “Anglonavian” explains it.
Cameron N. (35), it’s nice to hear from you. You bring up this other notion that is also part of our Scriptures, “the times of the Gentiles”. It’s not just a Mormon concept, but in Jesus’ words: “and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 24:24). In many Christian churches, lots of speculation on that notion, its chronology, the identification of “Gentiles”, and the meaning of “fulfilled”. Like you said, “There are so many layers to this, it can be interpreted many ways.”
It’s interesting to notice how Mormonism, through correlation and the emphasis on Christ and Christian living these past decades in General ConferenceS, has been moving away from these interpretations and their predictions that were so popular until the 1970s. It’s also part of the growing focus on universalism among the General Authorities. On the other hand, some manuals, in particular for Institute (and not to speak of what is still for sale at Deseret Book) keep giving weight to some of these interpretations. Some are valuable for some insights, but many tend to keep the concept of lineages and the racialist implications alive.
The concept of gathering the blood of Israel from the populations of the British Isles and Scandinavia has become a meaningless phrase thanks to the fast moving science around the use of DNA for population studies.
Before I go further, I want to clarify what is meant by the term Jewish as used in these studies. I have only heard Mormons limit the term Jewish to the descendants of the Tribe of Judah. For the rest of the world the term “Jewish” designates all the descendants of Jacob. Even the Levites who attempt to maintain their tribal identity consider themselves to be Jewish. — There is a small group, the Samaritans, who do not call themselves Jewish but identify as direct descendants of Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh or of the high priest Aaron the brother of Moses (Cohanim). Their DNA is basically the same as their ancient Jewish neighbors.
Back to the Jewish (Israelite) blood in Europe. If Jacob (Israel) lived about 3,500 years ago then his descendants would have had to some how intermarry with those people who settled northwestern Europe. There is little if any evidence of this earlier than many years after the death of Christ. Even since then there has been very little DNA flow in that direction.
On the other hand, there is a strong genetic connection among the Jewish people, the Kurds and the Armenians. Perhaps this could be accounted for by the dispersion at the time the temple in Jerusalem was first destroyed, i.e. the so-called lost 10 tribes.
The Jewish people arrived in Europe after the invasion of 70 AD when the Romans massacred the local residents and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem for the second time. This triggered a great dispersion. Jews fled to Northern Africa, Spain, Italy and Greece. — But apparently not to the islands of the Pacific, the Western Hemisphere or Northwestern Europe.
Very recent research is showing that there were major genetic contributions to the European Jews by the Italians, Greeks and possibly the Khazars. It now appears that from 30% to 50% of the DNA among the descendants of European Jewish people has been contributed by their European neighbors. On the other hand there is little to no evidence showing that the DNA flowed from the Jewish people to their European hosts. (This contribution has been amplified by something called founder effect because it came early when the Jewish group in Europe was small.)
Accordingly, if Mormon missionaries wanted to gather the blood of Israel out of Europe they missed the boat by not getting this done before the Holocaust. They should have been knocking on doors in the Jewish shtetls of central and eastern Europe not in the gentile towns in the British Isles and Scandinavia.
Based on my personal observations of the results for people who have their DNA tested today by FamilyTreeDNA.com, Ancestry.com/DNA, or 23andME.com except for a few rare cases Mormons do not carry “Israelite” DNA. (I do not include Mormons who became so by the process of Baptism for the Dead.)
David S. Howard (nee Horwitz)
Family Tree DNA Volunteer
Group Administrator for Horowitz Surname
And Jewish_Q projects
Following are references to support my points above.
Following is a link to download the benchmark study published January 22, 2004, by Behar et al “Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome variation in Ashkenazi Jewish and host non-Jewish European populations”
The 2004 work has been updated to include the study of mtDNA and autosomal DNA comparisons as well as the computation of the Fixation Index (FST). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixation_index
They’re in Japan!
I am a Caribbean woman of African origin and I have been been following this discussion for a couple of days.
In the fourth paragraph of the post, Wilfried says: “So how can this notion of Europeans’ electivity based on blood composition still be understood without racialist innuendoes?” He also says: “From the early days of Mormonism two doctrinal approaches appear side by side, one expressing a high regard for Israel’s elect lineage, the other emphasizing the gospel’s universalism which directly includes all mankind.”
I just want to question the very common belief that to be of Israelite descent, one has to be white, preferably a white Anglo-Saxon. Of course, the book of Mormon teaches us that the Lamanites are also of Israelite origin.
I would not want us to forget that every person on this earth is entitled to adoption into the covenant people of the lord. But I also tend to believe that seeing Israelite blood as having been infused mostly if not only into northern Europe comes from a very restrictive reading of the scriptures.
Let’ go back to Isaiah 43: 5,6.
43.5 Fear not: for I [am] with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;
43.6 I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;
It seems to me that no cardinal point, that is to say no part of the Earth has been excluded.
And in Isaiah 11:11 we read: 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.
Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia) being in Africa, it seems that Africa is included in the gathering process. And nowhere in the text is it said that those Africans called to the gathering were not of the sacred bloodline. Of course some Africans will be adopted into the covenant people but some may also be literal descendants of Israel.
First of all, why should we not consider as true the Lord’s promise to Jacob? (Genesis 28:14): And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
Wilfried says that: “the affirmation of preeminence through blood lineages can still imply the notion of inferior races.”
1. Why should belonging to a certain blood line imply preeminence?
– Jesus himself said (Luke 3:8) Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
– If we, who pretend to be part of the covenant people, organize a lineage hierarchy among us, are we not in great danger of behaving like the Book of Mormon “Kingmen” of old who “who professed the blood of nobility”? (Alma 51: 21)
2. Why belonging to the sacred Covenant blood line should be limited to people whose ancestors are or were from Northern Europe?
We have all heard of places in the world (apart from Europe) either in China, India or North Africa important Jewish communities are attested to have been established. It is highly unlikely that all of the people of these communities stuck to themselves and that not a single drop of Israelite blood was infused in the countries where they had settled.
Speaking as a Caribbean woman of African origin I feel especially interested in following the blood of Israel in what is often referred to as “Black Africa”.
To those that feel interested, I would recommend Dr. Edith Bruder’s book “The black Jews of Africa”. ( Dr. Bruder, a British scholar of the University of London, is very much involved in researching the existence of Jews and Jewry in Africa. And she is not (as far as I know) LDS. Here is a link to information about her book. http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Judaism/?view=usa&ci=9780195333565
David Howard (40) and Lucienne Jeanne (42), thank you for those substantial contributions (and also Master Blaster (41) for the short one!). You bring to the discussion, on the one hand from a genetic perspective, and the other hand from a mainly scriptural perspective, the confirmation that the blood of Israel can be found anywhere in the world among any people — in line with everything that has been said so far.
(I will not include here David’s mentioning the measure of Jewish DNA in European hosts and vice-versa as a consequence of the late Diaspora, as we approach the matter here from a much broader and earlier Abrahamic perspective)
Lucienne, from your position as a Caribbean woman of African origin, I think your contribution adds a particular perspective some “whites” may not have thought about.
Let’s first unequivocally reaffirm the principle we all agree with: there is no place whatsoever for any form of racism, not even for racialist nuances which would imply considering one race inferior to another. When I wrote the sentence ” “the affirmation of preeminence through blood lineages can still imply the notion of inferior races”, it is part of the last paragraph mentioning the worst potential drawback of referring to “the blood of Israel in Europe”, as some church leaders have unwittingly done in the past when visiting Europe, because in British-Israelism that blood has been historically understood as only applying to Caucasians.
These past few decades, and this also appears clearly from the comments in this thread, there are two (complementary) approaches to get rid of the racial implications of blood lineages:
One is to affirm the total senselessness of still referring to lineages: we are all members of one and the same humanity, and colors and ascendancies do not matter. As Elder Packer expressed it (see reference supra): “No matter what race or people you represent, the pedigree of your spirit can be written on a single line. You are a child of God.” The members of the First Presidency and of the Twelve whom I quoted affirm the same. Such a “single universalism” renders all discussion of dispersion of members of the House of Israel, as well as the ensuing demographic, linguistic, scriptural, and genetic research obsolete or at least unnecessary. But… judging from some comments, this approach might be sensed as an easy “white” solution which does not immediately satisfy others and cannot simply erase ingrained feelings and frustrations nor the many scriptural passages that refer to lineages, to scattering and gathering, and to the movement of populations.
The second approach to get rid of the racial implications of blood lineages is to affirm the presence of the genes of the “seed of Abraham” in all nations and races. Hence the demographic, linguistic, scriptural, and genetic research in various directions that would help confirm this. We could call this a “researched universalism”. Is it possible that the “single universalists” underestimate the need, which perhaps many believing people around the world feel, for this researched confirmation of their lineage belonging? When I read Lucienne, I recognize that need and the reassurance that both the Scriptures and this kind of research give.
Again, both approaches aim at the same. But those recent comments made me realize that not everyone around the world can be obliged to follow the same easy path to come to the same conclusion, in a personal, satisfactory way. Of course, proponents of “single universalism” no doubt see the potential controversies and hurdles on the path of “researched universalism”. But should we not recognize also that path as valuable for those who seek its reassurance?
A little expansion on what Suleiman said about pedigree collapse. One of the consequences of pedigree collapse is that, after n centuries have gone by, either you’re no one’s ancestor or you’re everyone’s ancestor. Lines that don’t die out end up in every pedigree of a population, thanks to the perpetual demand for someone unrelated (or not closely related, anyway) to marry. People who have done the statistics say Fatimids married into the Spanish royal family long enough ago that probably everyone of European descent is descended from Mohammed. So I suspect, if we really knew all the genealogies all the way back, that just about everyone anywhere has got some line that meanders back into the Assyrian Empire and hits an Israelite.
But there’s an even more interesting corollary. What other individual lived so long ago that, if he has any living descendants at all, it’s virtually certain that we’re all his descendants? Yep: Cain. One more nail in the coffin of certain late and unlamented folklore.
Thanks to Master Blaster for the link to Japan. I would like to comment on Arimasa Kubo’s yDNA connection between the Japanese and the ten lost tribes.
He makes the point that many Japanese are in yDNA Haplogroup D and that many Jewish populations carry Haplogroup E. He says that D and E are closely linked. This DNA analysis may have been based on some work first published by Michael Hammer at the University of Arizona in 1997 and 1998.
In about 2000 Peter Underhill at Stanford University Medical School added some research which reset the paradigms with respect to Haplogroups D and E.
Giving consideration to Underhill’s work, in 2008 Dr. Hammer published a new study where he estimated that Haplogroups D and E broke apart about 31,000 to 50,000 years ago. This breakup probably occurred in Africa.
If you want to read more on this split here is a good link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_DE_(Y-DNA)
Craig H. (37) and Steve Fleming (38), thanks for your thoughts on aspects of unified Mormon culture or not. I think the topic ties in well with the topic of universalism. On the one hand, the same gospel and church for all without any racial restrictions, on the other hand respect for traditions that are often related to racial cultures. The question remains unresolved: church authorities have often stated, these past years, that converts kan keep their cultures, as long as “not incompatible” with the gospel, but that leaves room for lots of interpretation. Like the style of singing, the concept of reverence…
As you mentioned, Craig, the Jesuits, and Catholicism in general, have been pretty good at “deciding what was essential to the faith, and what was incidental”. Hence quite some variety in Catholicism around the world, but the core remains pretty intact.
Is our church still too young to allow greater freedom because of fear of quick deviations, controversies, and schisms? In many area’s of the world, the church has no long tradition yet. Are our strict procedures and traditions the reflection of our concern with rules, obedience and conformity? Do we want to feel “safe” and welcome in a fixed church environment, whereever we enter a Mormon chapel in the world? This topic is far from exhausted and will continue to pop up for many decades.