Blake Ostler’s Errors

It Takes a Lot of Wishful Thinking
to Make DNA Lineages Go Away
by Ron Priddis

In his two-part series in Sunstone magazine,1 Blake Ostler tried to shore up the Book of Mormon against recent DNA studies. One reader praised him as an “expert” in “logic” and thanked him for putting the issue to rest once and for all.2 Ostler is a celebrated defender of Book of Mormon historicity, an attorney by profession; but what I noticed in his writing was an underlying disconnect between what he portrays of the cultures of the ancient Near East and ancient America against what one finds in scholarly articles and books, together with some questionable footnotes to document his views.

One eye-popper for me was a footnote citing two German sources for the meaning of the Hebrew text of Malachi, where Ostler misspelled two German words in the title of the first article and anglicized the German form of the name Malachi in the second title.3 This aroused my curiosity, so I read the sources and ended up wondering if Ostler had actually read them himself or if he had borrowed the citations from a secondary source, which he also must have misunderstood (more below). The further I read Ostler’s articles, the more problems I found: errors in Hebrew, glosses of biblical chronology, a skewed sense of ancient history and ethnicity, and utter confusion about population genetics—all of which he managed to cobble together to defend what he called a logical conclusion, verbally attacking scientists and scholars along the way. What follows are just a few concerns I have about both the substance of his approach and his presentation.4

Ostler’s Black Indians
The central point Ostler makes is that geneticists who have looked at the Book of Mormon’s claims about the ancestors of American Indians and called into question the book’s antiquity need to look at the other evidence in support of its authenticity as a real history of ancient America.5 Ostler rejects “Book of Mormon archaeology”6 and accepts that Native Americans are at least partially of Siberian origin.7 He suggests that even though we don’t know where Book of Mormon events occurred, it had to have been in a limited region,8 maybe even an island,9 which are revisions that effectively place the Book of Mormon out of the reach of anthropologists. But Ostler finds evidence for the Book of Mormon for Hebrew culture, including what he calls “Hebrew literary forms” and “Hebrew ritual forms.”10 One specific example is the “curse” of a “skin of blackness” reported in 2 Nephi 5:21, which Ostler interprets as a genetically inherited skin tone based on intermarriage with Native Americans, a conclusion he arrives at by comparison to what he calls the biblical “curses” against interracial marriage.11

In looking for parallels between the Book of Mormon and ancient Israel, Ostler lands on the biblical books of Ezra and Malachi wherein the Jews allegedly found themselves in circumstances similar to those of the Nephites. For instance, in both cases they were constructing a temple coincident with a religious reformation and had not been long in their respective vicinities. In the Nephite account, Ostler finds a similarity to what he calls a “primary concern throughout the entire history of the Old Testament”: the “abomination” of “breeding with non-Israelites,” of “mixing seed” with other inhabitants of Canaan.12 Comparing 2 Nephi to the King James version of Ezra and Malachi, the parallels are striking even if Ostler’s interpretation is creative. Never mind, for instance, that Ezra and Malachi were written a half century after the Lehites left Jerusalem, according to the Book of Mormon.

Misinterpreting the Hebrew
So confident is Ostler about the Book of Mormon being of Hebrew origin, he provides readers with Hebrew script and transliterations for key words in Book of Mormon passages. This leaves the false impression that he is consulting an original text—one which, in fact, does not exist. As with his reading of German, Ostler gets the Hebrew wrong by reading the Hebrew script for “seed of the people” as “mixing seed.”13 This is important because he considers “mixing seed” to be a Hebrew idiom. The truth is that “mixing seed” occurs only twice in the Hebrew Bible (Ezra 9:2; Dan. 2:43) and only once in a way that could be interpreted as referring to interracial marriage between Israelites and those outside the covenant. To interpret “mixing seed” as a coded reference to miscegenation is unjustified.14 One can see the advantage if the phrase could be considered idiomatic because Ostler might then be able to construe it as a general concept predating Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem in 600 BCE, thus bridging the chronological gap to Ezra. That 2 Nephi pre-dates the two post-exilic books but is dependent on them is the larger problem he chooses not to address.

Misreading the Sources
Where Ostler asserts that “scholars of the Hebrew Bible” understand intermarriage to be “a particular category of crime: an ‘abomination,'”15 Ostler’s authority consists of the two German commentaries mentioned above.16 The first was written in 1979 by Stefan Schreiner, an East German scholar who explicitly contradicts Ostler. Schreiner explains that based on the Hebrew (Masoretic Text), the “abomination” condemned by Malachi is “devotion … to another God”17and that Malachi is concerned about religious rather than racial purity—”not the thought of maintaining the purity of blood.”18 That Malachi was “not racially motivated has to be stressed with all possible emphasis,” Schreiner wrote.19

The second article, by Clemens Locher, states that the passage in question (Mal. 2:10-16) is “the most difficult section of the Book of Malachi”20 and lacks scholarly consensus regarding its meaning.21 However, Locher does not feel limited by the Hebrew text—the “Masoretic orthodoxy”22—and thinks we should consider the context,23 translations into Aramaic and Greek,24 and “stylistic considerations,”25 all of which may allow a more literal meaning. Even so, he still disagrees with Ostler. Locher contrasts the metaphorical interpretation of the passage—one that questions whether Malachi was even addressing marriage at all26—with his own understanding that the “abomination” was in fact marriage27 to a “devotee of a foreign god.”28 In other words, it is a matter of emphasis—worshiping a foreign god, evidenced by marrying into another faith, or marrying a woman of another faith as evidence of sympathy with the cults of idolatry—neither case having to do with discrimination based on race or skin color.29

A good summary of Malachi is available on-line from Dr. Eugene H. Merrill, whose commentary references the same two German articles.30 Merrill’s conclusion is that intermarriage with “pagans” is what was disallowed, that this prohibition was “theological and not biological.” Malachi’s concern was over the “accompanying moral and spiritual defection, a predictable drift toward idolatry” resulting from mixed Jewish/pagan marriages. This fairly encapsulates what Schreiner and Locher wrote.

In summary, Ostler promised readers the consensus of scholars, citing two foreign-language articles, one of which directly contradicted him and one which containing a nuanced interpretation, closer to but still not supportive of Ostler. It seems that where scholars may disagree over some of the finer points of the meaning, few agree with Ostler’s position. In any case, he has yet to cite one who does. Of the two biblical books, Ezra is closer to what Ostler was looking for, but he curiously chose two commentaries on Malachi. Although Ostler said he was relying on the underlying Hebrew, he dismissed Schreiner’s painstaking examination of the Masoretic Text to quote from the King James Version.31 Ostler favored Locher’s broad survey, in which Locher connected “abomination” more closely to marriage, although not as closely as Ostler would have us believe. Neither German author discussed “mixing seed.”32 The long and short of it is that the footnote does not support Ostler. In addition, I am at a loss to understand the point of the Hebrew in Ostler’s article when it is the least supportive of his interpretation.

Withholding Evidence
Of all Ostler’s errors, I think the most disappointing was his silence on Israelite ethnicity. The near consensus of scholars—archaeologists, historians, and linguists—is that Israelites came from within the larger Canaanite population and were themselves Canaanites—the same race and language, with the same culture—until about the thirteenth century BCE when urban dwellers began settling the Canaanite hillsides.33 It was among these rural people that the religion of Yahweh spread, as opposed to the Canaanite religion of Elohim and Baal. For 200 years to this point, Egypt controlled Canaan through military garrisons and administrative palaces, keeping close oversight of the mines and trade routes.34 This imperial domination of the region began to deteriorate when the so-called “Sea Peoples” (the biblical Philistines) arrived from the northern Mediterranean and carved out a territory in southwestern Canaan.35 By the twelfth century BCE, Egypt was ready to withdraw. The resulting political vacuum produced a power grab among the Israelites, their Canaanite cousins, and the Philistines. Eventually everyone settled down into an uncomfortable co-existence.36

This history of the land now occupied by Israel, Lebanon, western Syria, and the Palestinian territories is uncontroversial, at least in its broad contours, except among the most hard-core biblical literalists. It is based on excavations of Canaanite sites, including the Canaanite city-states, Philistine cities (four of five cities of the so-called pentapolis), Egyptian administrative centers, and hillside villages; translation of hundreds of clay tablets containing correspondence between the Pharaoh and his Canaanite vassals, among others; linguistic comparisons—Hebrew, Moabite, Phoenician, and Punic being Canaanite dialects; and biblical research. Regarding the latter, Ostler says he is a proponent of the JEPD (Jahwist, Elohist, Priestly, Deuteronomist) documentary hypothesis, but he neglects to inform readers or to explore the implications of the fact that according to the JEPD, the Bible as we know it was written about 600 years after Israel became a political entity and that the story was added to and edited during the exilic and post-exilic periods.37

So the Israelites and the Canaanites were of the same Semitic race, substantiating Schreiner’s suspicion that Malachi was not racist. Ostler should not tar ancient Israel with such an assumption even though there was certainly a sense of religious superiority and an emerging nationalism among the proto-Israelites. But just as they and other Canaanites shared the same genetic heritage, implying the same skin tone and other physical traits, one struggles to think of a reason to suspect that ancient Hebrews and Siberians would have had significantly different skin complexions. It seems Ostler did not give much real thought to this and must have assumed something on the order of contrasting skin hues between northern Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans for the Nephites and Lamanites.38

Judaizing the Book of Mormon
Just as Ostler is wrong about what he calls “interbreeding” in the Bible and Book of Mormon, he is equally wrong to say the Book of Mormon reflects an underlying Hebrew linguistic and cultural environment. With a moment’s reflection, anyone who has read the Book of Mormon will realize it is fundamentally a Christian text. For instance, after being told the Nephites built a temple like Solomon’s, we hear nothing of the elaborate ritual sacrifices the temple would have supported, nothing of the observance of the Jewish high feast days, no circumcision of male babies, ritual purity, dietary strictures, or a concern over the correct priestly line.39 Of the distinctively Jewish religious observances one could think of, the Book of Mormon mentions only the Sabbath, and it is not clear whether it is the Jewish Sabbath. Of three Sabbath references, one is part of a passage informing us the people “were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time [145 BCE] forward” (Mosiah 18: 17, 23).

When the Nephites gathered at the temple, it was to hear sermons. Ostler rightly acknowledges that the temple’s crowds are “larger than we could reasonably expect given the number of ‘brethren’ among about eight families who left with Nephi when he fled from Laman and Lemuel.”40 We soon read that Christian missionaries are going out “preaching repentance to the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews” (Alma 16:13).41 So there was more than one temple. How did these few immigrants manage the construction of so many edifices, including a main temple said to be “like unto Solomon’s”? In response to a letter to the editor,42 Ostler decided the main temple must have been on the order of the tiny “temple shrines” excavated in Palestine, with “the same general layout as the much larger temple of Solomon” but “quite small” and of a type that “could easily be built in a short period of time by three or four people.” After all, he asks, “How many people does it take to build a temple that has the same layout as the temple of Solomon but smaller?”43 Regarding the dimensions of the temple, the Book of Mormon records that “the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine,” only that it was “not built of so many precious things”—nothing about skimping on size (2 Ne. 5:16).

The Illogic of Apologetics
Ostler scolds those who read more into the Book of Mormon than is present in the text itself, arguing that interpretation should be limited to “what the Book of Mormon actually says about itself instead of against what others say that it says—even if those expressing such views have been or are currently Church leaders.”44 Simultaneously, he warns readers that the text should not be read too literally because, he says, “those who wrote anciently did not follow (or even know) modern canons of historical scholarship, and their accounts of events were often intended to function as propaganda.”45 He elaborates:

It is a common practice in ancient texts to hyperbolically overstate population and areas of land seized to demonstrate the enormity of the feat accomplished. For example, as Old Testament scholar David M. Fouts argues, theological and population claims served numerous purposes in ancient texts, and they tend to be hyperbolic figures of speech for rhetorical and literary purposes rather than historically verifiable claims as in modern histories.46

Thus, while arguing for a literal reading, Ostler simultaneously warns against a literal reading, which clears the way for him to find in the text whatever best suits his argument—the criticism he levels at others. For instance, with regard to population figures, he maintains that the Nephite numbers are too high but finds the Jaredite numbers too low. “It is just not credible,” he writes, “to believe that a population the size of the Jaredites existed without many of them separating themselves from the larger culture and creating new settlements.” Even though the Book of Mormon “presents itself as a totalizing account of all Jaredites, it is far more likely only a dynastic report of a minority. No human writer could possibly know that every last one of the Jaredites was included within the population whose slaughter is recounted in the epic tale of the various Jaredite dynasties.”47

A few pages earlier, he interprets the story about the Lamanites becoming righteous and Nephite preachers being rejected in the “land northward” to mean those in the north were “neither Nephites nor Lamanites.” His assumption here is that if the Book of Mormon says the Lamanites were righteous (Hel. 6:1), the text means exactly what it says and there could not have been other Lamanites who were not—directly contradicting his caution not to read too much into the text with regard to the Jaredites.48

In another instance, Ostler cites the incident in the Book of Mormon when a man named Sherem, who is well versed in the Law of Moses (Jacob 7:7) but is curiously unknown to the Lehites, wanders out of the forest and into the Book of Mormon narrative. Ostler assumes Sherem is Native American and that his presence proves the Book of Mormon is aware, though without explicitly acknowledging it, that there were “indigenous others” in the New World. A more compelling conclusion is that Ostler has mistaken an orthodox Jew serving a literary function for a native-born American Indian—yet another example of how wishful thinking drives Ostler’s analysis.49

Whom Did the Nephites Marry?
Ostler initially informed readers that the “people of Nephi” must have taken indigenous women as wives because the text refers to “concubines” and “many wives” at a time when the population was “at most two generations removed from the initial group of about eight families.… Thus,” he writes, “it seems reasonable to conclude that within one or two generations, both the Lamanites and the Nephites had begun to intermarry with others from a preexisting population of ‘indigenous others.'”50 Regarding whether the Nephites acquired black skin through this intermarriage—something several readers noticed as a problem51—Ostler responded that the presence of “indigenous Amerindians among Nephi’s people doesn’t require or even suggest that they interbred or intermarried at the time in question.… Just because a lot of people are doing something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t violate covenants. As an Israelite, Nephi would disapprove of intermarriage with non-Israelites even if many of those who followed him married others during his lifetime.”52 So is he saying the Nephites married Indians or not? Yes, … no, yes, no, and yes!

The Ever-Popular Straw Man
Ostler’s intent in his first article was to expose Thomas Murphy’s “logical fallacies” regarding DNA. Readers may have noticed the slippage as he supplied what he admitted was an unstated premise on Murphy’s part to reach a conclusion Murphy denied.53 Ostler dismissed Murphy’s writings to the contrary as “disingenuous.” In the end, it came down to quibbling because Murphy made an off-the-cuff statement during an interview and did not think to qualify what he said. If Ostler fairly represented the anthropologist’s views, he would have supplied the missing qualifier to read:

C: The Book of Mormon is probably not an ancient history.

With that, there would have been nothing more to write about. In fact, Murphy confirmed this by writing that if his antagonist had added a qualifier to indicate the dispute was over the principal (rather than all) ancestors of Native Americans, allowing for any unexpected yet-to-be-discovered evidence, he would have been satisfied.54 But when scientists have qualified their statements, Ostler has taken this as an invitation to claim equivocation or that they are changing their minds. Ostler strip quotes them, making it appear that a conclusion the scientists believe is only remotely possible is actually the outcome one would expect. (For more on this, see “Misunderstanding DNA” below.)55

Not that Ostler qualified his own statements. If I were to diagram his reasoning, it would look like this:

A. The evidence from science is compelling.
B. But scientists don’t know everything.
C. Therefore, the Book of Mormon is ancient.

Ostler would like to appear accepting of science but keeps it at arm’s length in order to advance beliefs at variance with science and still be able to claim empirical validation. Nowhere did he articulate exactly what he had concluded, so readers had to imagine it. He seemed to be saying there is a small chance the Book of Mormon might still be shown to be ancient—as the only possible conclusion I was able to draw from his articles.56

For the record, there was one last defensive line from Ostler, in which he pled that “any attentive reader of the Book of Mormon who takes the time to review its geography” realizes its limited scope and that there are hints of indigenous people within the text. He stated that thoughtful Latter-day Saints have known this since “before the turn of the [twentieth] century” and that the interpretation was “derived from a careful reading of the Book of Mormon text itself, not a desire to escape challenges from science or anthropology.”57 To the contrary, as Dan Vogel documented, the stimulus behind the limited geography theory was the Rev. M. T. Lamb’s 1887The Golden Bible, which elicited responses from RLDS scholar Louis Edward Hills and LDS scholar B. H. Roberts, both of whom suddenly realized there might be usefulness in a limited geography model.58 It was a response to a critic, not something “any attentive reader” would have previously noticed.

Misunderstanding DNA
Ostler thinks it would be improbable for scientists to find genetic evidence for a small colony of Hebrews in the Americas, adding that the scientists “avoid” saying so even though they know this to be true.59 In fact, scientists have not hesitated stating the opposite, that they would indeed hope to find evidence for sixty Hebrews whose descendants are said to be still walking about the Americas. Murphy tried to convince Ostler how likely this would be, especially if these Hebrews were among the “principal ancestors of American Indians”60 But Ostler would not hear of it—as if he had set a trap for Murphy by ascribing to him something he would have to deny. “Murphy,” Ostler wrote, “is always free to try to strengthen his argument,” but “the problem remains that we don’t know whether [it] is true and are not in an epistemic position to know what could make it true—and Murphy’s suggested change makes matters worse because, as discussed above, the inclusion of the phrase about ‘principal ancestors’ makes us uncertain what the premise means. Thus, the argument is not inductively valid.”61

Ostler dismissed Dr. Southerton’s patient attempt to explain the DNA to him, as well, insisting instead that the geneticist had “admit[ted] a party the size of Lehi’s could become genetically lost in the pre-existing population and leave no trace of DNA.”62 Southerton responded that this would be true only if the small party experienced a short and tragic history and left no descendants.63

Where Ostler tried to convince readers otherwise, he confused individual (recombinant) DNA with lineage families (Y-, mtDNA), which are of interest to population geneticists. The way Ostler portrayed it, one imagines a drop of dye dispersing in the ocean to an undetectable level of dilution. Ostler wrote that “sixty people at most were quickly assimilated into the existing population of Asiatics.” Just in case this might not be sufficient interference, he hedged further: “However, large numbers of those descending from the non-Asiatic groups did not survive because of their mass destruction.” Then he thought better of it and added: “If I am correct, the number of Israelites who were assimilated into the preexisting culture was so small that bottlenecks and genetic drift are very likely.”64

The diffusion of a few people into a larger population became a mantra for Ostler, repeating that “a small group of Lehites could be assimilated into a larger population (as I and the vast majority of LDS scholars who write about the Book of Mormon geography and populations agree) and leave no trace of DNA at all.… I suggest Southerton’s position will not work because it ignores that DNA evidence cannot tell us about a small group of Lehites who arrived in a New World already populated by Amerindians. Southerton’s argument commits the logical fallacies of ‘hasty generalization’ and the ‘undistributed middle,’ in addition to the fact that the argument doesn’t have a logically valid structure”65

What Ostler seems unwilling to accept is that if sixty Hebrews arrived in the New World, they would not have to genetically overwhelm millions of Native Americans to survive; it would more a matter of one person at a time pairing with one person, the DNA markers remaining intact as the subpopulation increased over time, the Middle Eastern haplotypes surviving in about 50 percent of their descendants. As Southerton has written, “While individual DNA lineages can and do go extinct, the DNA lineage families they belong to generally don’t go extinct in a population unless the particular lineage has reduced fitness.”66 And “the Book of Mormon says its seafaring immigrants fared very well in the New World.”67

Getting Personal
If Ostler had chosen to disagree civilly with others, it could have led to a productive discussion; instead, he insulted everyone in sight, labeling Dr. Murphy’s views “vacuous,” “irresponsible,” “disingenuous,68 and Dr. Southerton’s thinking “untenable and naive.”69 When a Sunstonereader sent a thoughtful reply to the editor, Ostler insinuated the letter writer must be “anti-Mormon”70 and feigned impatience:

Citing Jacob 3:5-7, [David A.] Anderson also asserts that the notion that intermarriage is an “abomination” is “flatly contradicted by Jacob’s unqualified praise of marriage as practiced by the Lamanites.” Is Anderson serious? Jacob clearly and flatly states that marrying additional wives is an “abomination” and breach of covenant (Jacob 2:10, 16, 28, 31)—which I demonstrate is a term in Hebrew thought that refers to intermarriage with non-Israelites.71

Another Sunstone subscriber was dismissed as something of an atheist as Ostler misattributed to him the sentiment that “all religion is false.” The subscriber had actually addressed the response of religious fundamentalism to science.72 But the strongest salvo was reserved for Southerton, whom Ostler insinuated was an adulterer based on what Ostler was albe to glean from newspaper accounts of Southerton’s church disciplinary council. The matter is, of course, devoid of substance and, in any case, irrelevant to Southerton’s competence as a researcher and writer.73 It demonstrates what we already knew about Ostler’s fits of righteous indignation, which may very well draw crowds but cannot be characterized as responsible scholarship—behaving in this instance as neither a gentleman nor a scholar.

The biblical Conquest of Canaan pitted people against each other who were of different religious affiliations rather than of different races. It pitted cousins against cousins. One could think of the Irish conflict for an apt comparison, or perhaps the Protestant Reformation. If one is looking for racial discrimination, why search farther than early American history? It may be Ostler thinks he made a wise tactical retreat by shrinking the amount of acreage occupied in the Book of Mormon, but he seems to have abandoned everything else in the process. He may think he bested the scientists by suggesting it all took place on some remote island and that interracial marriage between a small group of Book of Mormon people and Native Americans obscured the DNA signatures of their descendants. He may think he has added to the obscurity by claiming the Book of Mormon is a “dynastic history,” not an epic account spanning continents.74

Yet by any reading, what one encounters in the Book of Mormon is walled cities, large public buildings, and other material trappings of vast cultures. If Hebrews arrived in the Americas and became the elite of competing dynasties, scientists would encounter their DNA among their descendants. Scientists would also encounter distinctive architecture, pottery, and other evidence of their presence whether the immigrants retained a uniquely Hebrew culture or experienced cultural hybridization. Clearly, Ostler does not want a testable hypothesis. He should welcome more research in hope of finding real answers, but he apparently wants to obscure the evidence by minimizing its stated scope, thus impeding further understanding in a blizzard of misplaced lawyerly rhetoric.

1. Blake T. Ostler, “Assessing the Logical Structure of DNA Arguments against the Book of Mormon,Sunstone, Dec. 2004, 70-72; “DNA Strands in the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone, May 2005, 63-71.

2. Gerry Ensley, “Logical Decision,” Sunstone, Apr. 2006, 4.

3. See Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 70n3, with “Mischen” for what should have been Mischehen, “Ehebrach” for Ehebruch, “Malachi” for Maleachi, and other errors. The spelling and punctuation are good throughout until Ostler cites academic sources, then the errors accumulate. He misspells Bibliotheca Sacra, Vetus Testamentum (71n22), Mélanges, the city Göttingen, and the names Dominique Barthélemy and Pierre Cassetti (70n3).

4. My thanks to the following for their insights and suggestions: Ron Huggins, Associate Professor of Theological and Historical Studies, Salt Lake Theological Seminary; Neal C. Chandler, whose Ph.D. is in German, currently coordinator of the Creative Writing Program, Cleveland State University; Simon G. Southerton, Senior Research Scientist, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization; and David P. Wright, Professor of Bible and the Ancient Near East, Brandeis University.

5. Ostler, “Assessing Logical Structure,” 71. Ostler criticized anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy’s comment that genetic research has simply verified what scientists already knew about Indian origins (72). The insinuation was that Murphy had prejudiced his conclusion with information extraneous to the DNA question. Ostler’s response was to champion his own non-DNA evidence.

6. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 69-70: “Moreover, there is no such thing as Book of Mormon archaeology unless and until we find something that can be directly linked to the text somewhere.”

7. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 69. Ostler isn’t ready to admit that all Indians are of Siberian origin but does concede that “there is clear evidence of Asiatic progenitors among Amerindians.… It is likely that not all Amerindians are descendants of [Book of Mormon] Lamanites” (emphasis added). He chose not to inform readers that 99.6 percent of Native Americans are of demonstrated Asian origin. Nor could he resist suggesting that Asian DNA could be derived from the Book of Mormon Jaredite population (66). For the percentage of Native Americans who fall into one of five lineage families of Siberian origin, see Simon G. Southerton, “DNA Über-Apologetics: Overstating Solutions—Understating Damages,” Sunstone, Sept. 2005, 70-73.

8. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 63.

9. Ibid., 64-65; Blake Ostler response to Ralph A. Olsen, Sunstone, Mar. 2005, 8.

10. Ostler, “Assessing Logical Structure,” 71.

11. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 64. In a subsequent posting on the Internet, Ostler pointed out that I had mistakenly attributed to him the term “interracial marriage,” which I had placed within quotation marks. My mistake, and I subsequently removed the quote marks. His exact wording had been “intermarriage with indigenous populations who had darker skin” in reference to Native Americans (“black skin as a sign of cursing”) and the so-called “crime” in ancient Israel of “breeding with non-Israelites.” On the Internet, Ostler emphasized that he was “not talking about interracial marriage at all and never do—I speak of intermarriage with non-covenant people.” He had previously focused exclusively on “marriage with foreigners” and “intermarriage with any non-covenant peoples as requiring the curses of God” (see especially the section “Whom Did the Nephites Marry?” below), but on the Internet he acquired a new emphasis: the inclusivity of the covenant, non-Israelites being welcomed if they chose (Ostler, DNA Strands,” 64; comments by Ostler, Aug. 11, 16, 2006, “New Article Out Regarding Lamanite DNA” Blog, Mormon Stories: Building Bridges through Stories (

12. Ibid. The Book of Mormon says transgressors were “cut off”—”cursed”—along with anyone whose “seed … mixeth with their [the transgressors’] seed” (2 Ne. 5:16-23). Notice that the transgression, whatever it was, preceded the curse, not vice versa. The King James Bible criticizes “the people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, [who] have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations…. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands” (Ezra 9:1-2). Combining that thought with Malachi (and reading between the lines), those who had married foreigners are thought to be threatened with being “cut off” (Mal. 2:11-12). Ostler infers that the Lehites must have encountered indigenous people in the Americas (and seems to imply that the Lehites must have conquered or dominated them in some way since the parallel he draws is the conquest of Canaan) and that because “Nephi is an Israelite,” Nephi would have viewed “intermarriage with any non-covenant peoples as requiring the curses of God,” the “crime committed by Laman and Lemuel.” There are many leaps in logic here. Ostler cannot derive the meaning he wants without taking snippets from Ezra and combining them with snippets from Malachi. It is actually quite fascinating to see how he reads the Book of Mormon into the Bible and then cites the biblical passages as evidence for the antiquity of the Book of Mormon.

13. Ibid. This was pointed out to me by Professors Huggins and Wright. Cf. John R. Kohlenberger III, ed., Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 209; see also below. When asked about this, Ostler wrote: “As for the Hebrew, any first year student could see that the text regarding mixing seed was taken from Ezra 8 [sic]. The Hebrew text I used was the standard: Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, ed. K. Elliger and W. Rudolph (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1966/77). I dispute that an inappropriate Hebrew script was given (you are clearly mistaken) but there should have been an ellipses between the words. I agree that the words are not transliterated because I wasn’t attempting a transliteration but merely a help with pronounciation [sic]. (Suntone [sic] does not have the scripts for such transliteration.)” (Ostler to Priddis, July 31, 2006). Bascially what Ostler is saying is: Who you going to believe, me or your lying eyes? (See immediately below.)

From the text of Ostler's Sunstone article, "DNA Strands," 64. For the repetition of the error in two footnotes (p. 70), click here.

Blake Ostler

Blake OstlerThe text of Ezra 9:2, Interlinear NIV, 209 (the relevant line, followed by the entire verse). Ostler meant to choose “and-they-mingled” + “race [seed]-of” but instead chose “race [seed]-of” + “with-people-of.” He needs a verb to complete his term “mixing seed.”

14. My thanks to Dr. Huggins for drawing this to my attention and for the following overview of race and ethnicity in the Bible:

In the Bible, “mixing seed” is NOT “a Hebrew idiom for marriage outside the covenant.” It is used in that connection only once in the Old Testament. The other occurrence of something similar is used in a different connection.

It is NOT, as Blake contends, “a primary concern throughout the entire history of the Old Testament that Israelites will breach their covenant with God by breeding with non-Israelites.” The emphasis throughout the Old Testament—far from intermarriage with foreigners leading to the abomination of ‘mixed seed’—is that intermarriage leads to idolatry (Exod. 34:12-16; Num. 25:1-9; Deut. 7:3-4; 11:1-8; Neh. 13:26). The view of the Old Testament is that first you marry a foreign woman and next thing you know, she’s dragging you to a barbecue down at the temple of Baal. The classic case of this is King Solomon being led into idolatry by his foreign wives (Neh. 13:26), eventually building “a high place for Chemosh … and for Molech … [and] for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (1 Kings 11:1-8).

In another passage in Deuteronomy (23:2-7), it seems permission to marry Edomites and Egyptian women is implied, while at the same time it is forbidden with Moabites and Ammonites because they “did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor … to curse you” (2-7). Still, we have to remember that Ruth, a Moabite, adopted Israel’s God (Ruth 1:16) and became highly honored in Israel as the grandmother of King David. In addition, where Malachi speaks of those who have “married the daughter of a foreign God,” this is rendered as “pursued a foreign God” in the Septuagint and “married the house of a foreign God” in a Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, giving some flavor to the ambiguities of this difficult passage” (Huggins to Priddis, July 31, 2005).

A passage in Exodus (12:43) stipulates that no foreigner was allowed to participate in the celebration of Passover. It goes on, however, to say that if a foreigner wishes to participate, he may do so if he and all the men of his household become circumcised, after which “he shall be regarded as a native of the land.” In Deuteronomy (21:10-14), permission is given for Israelites to marry foreign women taken captive in war. There are two ways of relating this to the statute (Deut. 7:2-4) which had stipulated that as the children of Israel occupied the promised land, they were to enter into no covenant relationships with the peoples living there: “Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons. For that would turn away your children from following me” (cf. Exod. 34:12-15).

The first way to regard this is that by taking a woman in battle, one did not become involved in family bonds with her extended family as the ancient monarchs did, when Solomon, for instance, sealed the good will of neighboring monarchs through marriage. (Against this interpretation, see esp. Josh. 11:12-15.) The second way is to assume one could marry foreigners from outside the promised land. In either case, the clear meaning is that it was NOT the mixing of blood that was at issue, but rather the mixing of religion. When Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam rebelled against his authority, their excuse was that he had married a Cushite woman (KJV: “Ethiopian woman”; Num. 12: 1-2). Those who have read that story lately will recall that God sided with Moses and that Miriam and Aaron ended up repenting of it.

15. According to Ostler, “a primary concern throughout the entire history of the Old Testament is that the Israelites will breach their covenant with God by breeding with non-Israelites. Indeed, according to scholars of the Hebrew Bible, a breach of covenant by intermarriage or interbreeding with indigenous people already present in the land constitutes a particular category of crime: an ‘abomination.’ And the penalty for breach is ‘to be cut off from the Lord’s presence'” (“DNA Strands,” 64).

16. Stefan Schreiner, “Mischehen-Ehebruch-Ehescheidung: Betrachtungen zu Mal. 2:10-16,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 91 (1979): 207-28; Clemens Locher, “Altes und Neues zu Maleachi 2:10-16,” in Mélanges Dominique Barthélemy: Etudes bibliques offertes a l’occasion de son 60e anniversaire, ed. Pierre Cassetti, et al. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1981), 241-71; cited by Ostler in “DNA Strands,” 64, 70n4.

17. Schreiner, “Mischehen,” 222: “In Malachi’s eyes, this abomination of evident devotions, not to Yahweh, but to another God, already indicated that the ‘holiness of Yahweh’ had been profaned (v. 11b) because it infringed on the absoluteness and violated the commandment about the exclusive worship of Yahwe—Exod. 20:3; Deut. 6:4; 4:35” (“Diese Greul, die nicht YHWH, sondern einem anderen Gott erwiesenen Verehrungen, stellen in Maleachis Augen schon eine Profanation der ‘Heiligkeit YHWHs’ dar—v. 11b—weil hier deren Absolutheit angetastet und das Gebot der ausschliesslichen Verehrung YHWHs—Ex. 20:3; Dtn. 6:4; 4:35—übertreten worden sind”).

18. Ibid., 221: “On these grounds it is therefore not the ‘thought of maintaining the purity of blood’ but—as G[erhard]. von Rad has rightly voiced—the intent, already from the beginning, to guard against the ‘danger of religious mixing'” (“Anlass hierfür ist nicht der ‘Gedanke der Reinerhaltung des Blutes,’ sondern—wie G. v. Rad zu Recht betont hat—der Wille, der ‘Gefahr der religiösen Vermischung’ zu wehren, und zwar von Anfang an”).

19. Ibid., 220: “That these [Malachi’s] stipulations are, of course, not racially motivated has to be stressed with all possible emphasis” (“Dass diese Bestimmungen natürlich nicht rassisch motiviert sind, sei hier mit allem Nachdruck betont”). Another example (221): “It was not ‘racial superiority’ but rather ethical and, to the same degree, religious earnestness that motivated him [Malachi] to speak” (“Nicht ‘rassische Auserwähltheit,’ sondern der ethische wie gleichermassen religiöse Ernst veranlassten ihn zu der Rede”).

Dr. Chandler provided the following synopsis: “Schreiner acknowledges that it was a cultural expectation that one would marry within one’s own ‘Volk,’ but this was not at issue for Malachi. Unlike Ezra, who comes later and will be more adamant and extreme about it, Malachi’s preoccupation is with a different, predominantly ethical matter, the treatment of the ‘wife of one’s youth’ who in the post-exilic period was too often cast off in favor of a new foreign wife. It is a question Malachi approaches not with dogma or new laws but with ethical admonitions to monogamy in a culture where polygyny is pervasive. One might assume Malachi’s prophetic view saw beyond the strictures of the law to issues that truly mattered. Or one can see him as wandering off into a liberal fog from which Ezra would later pull things back to the straight and narrow. In either case,” Chandler concludes with a personal observation, “Malachi is the wrong prophet to make Ostler’s racial argument about, what, celestial eugenics?” (Chandler to Priddis, July 20, 2006.) To see the entire Schreiner article, click here .

20. Locher, “Altes,” 242, quoting J. M. Powis Smith, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1912.

21. Ibid., 244: “The truth is, since antiquity two contradictory textual interpretations have simultaneously existed. Both are equally traditional.” (“Die Wahrheit ist, dass sich seit ältester Zeit zwei konträre Textauffassungen gegenüberstehen. Beide sind gleichermassen traditionell.”) As an example of the problem, the Hebrew for v. 16 states that “if one no longer loves, then dissolve the marriage, says Yahweh, God of Israel,” whereas the King James Version states that “the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away” wives. In preparing an exegesis for the United Bible Societies translators, Locher, and the committee he headed, decided to convey both possibilities with a note that the committee itself tended toward a “divorce-ban” stance. See Schreiner, “Mischehen,” 217; Locher, “Altes,” 245, 247, 262.

22. Locher, “Altes,” 251: “For our understanding, not only the Masoretic ‘orthodoxy,’ but also stylistic considerations carry weight” (“Für unser Verständnis sprechen aber nicht nur die masoretische ‘Orthodoxie,’ sondern auch stilistische Gründe”).

23. Ibid., 246: “The message and intent of this passage are to be understood in the context of the contemporary historical situation, with almost the same viewpoint for Malachi as for Ezra and Nehemiah” (“Aussage und Absicht der Perikope sind also aus der zeitgeschichtlichen Situation heraus zu verstehen, die nach fast allgemeiner Anschauung für Mal. etwa dieselbe wie für Esr. und Neh. ist”).

24. Ibid., 252: “The metaphorical understanding of the passage and its singular characteristics (above all, the previously mentioned individualization of the offense mentioned in verses 11-12, 14-16) has too little to substantiate it. The literal reading of the Masoretic Text is confirmed by the Targum, Aquilla, Symmachus, and Theodotion (“Die metaphorische Deutung hat aber in der gesamten Perikope und ihren einzelnen Zügen—vor allem der bereits erwähnten ‘individualisierung’ des Vergehens: vv. 11-12, 14-16—nur ungenügende Anhaltspunkte. Das wörtliche Verständnis von MT wird von Targ., Ag., Symm., und Theod. bestätigt”).

25. Ibid., 260-61: “Our main argument concerns a clausal structure with a key word in the text as the referent (five examples: verses 10b, 11a, 14b, 15b, 16b).… In my opinion, one can only understand the context by connecting all five examples to one and the same word—”faithlessness”—which becomes more flexible and understandable as the text progresses.… This method, working toward an increased and enhanced inner content, fades from view if one separates verses 10-12 from 13-16 so the abandonment of the ‘wife of your covenant’ no longer appears as the apex of the reprehensible transactions already established by reference to Baal” (“Unser Hauptargument ist jedoch ein Aussagensystem, das auf dem Leitwort des Textes beruht—5 Belege: vv. 10b, 11a, 14b, 15b, 16b.… Man kann den Tatbestand, m.E., nur verstehen, wenn man alle 5 Belege auf eine und dieselbe ‘Treulosigkeit’ bezieht, die jedoch mit dem Fortschreiten des Textes immer plastischer und greifbarer wird.… Diese Methode, die mit Steigerung und zunehmender inhaltlicher Füllung arbeitet, gerät aus dem Blick, wenn man die vv. 10-12 und 13-16 auseinanderreisst und wenn die Verstossung der ‘Frau deines Bundes’ nicht als Gipfel des einen verwerflichen Handelns erscheint, das schon mit ba’al eingesetzt hat”).

26. Ibid., 252: “Compare the identification of Moabite women as ‘daughters of Chemosh’ in Numbers 21:29. Now ‘marriage to the daughter of a foreign God,’ already carried over from the Septuagint (and Peshitta), is understood as idol worship. Up to the present, this understanding has repeatedly found supporters” (“Vergleich die Bezeichnung der Moabiterinnen als ‘Töchter des Kamosch’ in Num. 21:29. Nun ist das ‘Heiraten der Tochter eines fremden Gottes’ bereits von LXX—und Peschitta—im übertragenen Sinne des Götzendienstes verstanden worden. Dieses Verständnis hat bis Heute immer wieder Anhänger gefunden”).

27. Ibid., 252: “The dative object [in verse 12] establishes who is intended to receive the curse: ‘the one who does this,’ in other words, the grievous ‘abomination’ of verse 11, which is to say the one entering into a mixed marriage” (“… während mit dem Dativobjekt—Dativus incommodi—festgelegt wird, wen dieser Fluch treffen soll: ‘der Mann, der das’—nämlich den in v. 11 beklagten ‘Greuel,’ d.h., das Eingehen einer Mischehe—tut”).

28. Ibid., 251: “The last part of the verse [v. 11] is to be understood as ‘marriage to the daughter,’ which is to say a devotee, ‘of a foreign God'” (“Das letzte Glied des Verses [v. 11] ist vom ‘Heiraten der Tochter’—d.h., der Verehrerin—eines fremden Gottes’ zu verstehen”).

29. To see the entire Locher article, click here. A brief summary by Dr. Chandler is forthcoming.

30. Eugene H. Merrill, “Malachi,” Merrill is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary.

31. Personally, I tend to Schreiner’s point that pursuing “the daughter of a foreign God” may be interpreted either poetically or literally, but that in either case it leads to the same conclusion—not to interracial marriage (“Mischehen,” 215, 217). Read as a metaphor for the relationship between Judah and Yahweh, Malachi’s rhetoric is beautiful and meaningful. To read it literally is to rob it of its prophetic voice and make it appear dull and uninspiring—in addition to which, one cannot find interracial marriage in the text without reading between the lines. The traditional Christian interpretation derives from Jesus’ opposition to divorce (207-08). But Malachi, while demonstrating a general respect for the Torah, does not insist on strict observance to its particulars, which can be confusing to readers (223). Ezra and Malachi are both dependent on Deuteronomy, a seventh-century BCE composition, wherein Israelites are told to “utterly destroy … nor show mercy” toward the Canaanites, nor to marry their daughters (Deut. 7); but a few chapters later, one finds instructions on how to marry a Canaanite (Deut. 21)—so the picture is not at all clear (cf. Deut. 23), even less so when one considers the foreigners among Jesus’ progenitors in the Gospel of Matthew.

32. When asked about this, Ostler wrote the following: “I am well aware that there are questions regarding whether intermarriage was a breach of covenant and I cited the two German articles to suggest a spectrum of ideas. I dispute that they don’t both support the view that the penalty for the violation addressed in Malachi is ‘an abomination.’ I suppose it is open to discussion whether that violation was a breach of covenant, but the category of ‘abomination’ is what I was interested in and both articles discuss and support that view. Further, I discuss [in a “longer article that will shortly be submitted for publication”] a number of texts in the OT and Jewish (Tosepta, Midrash, and Talmud and pseudepigraphic) literature where the phrase ‘mixed seed’ or cognates is used to refer to mixed marriages (and it clearly was in the Book of Mormon). The phrase is used in Ezra 8-10 and the term translated as ‘mixed’ usually refers to mixed marriages” (Ostler to Priddis, July 31, 2006). What Ostler is saying here, although it may be pointing out the obvious, is that his sources represent a range of opinion but simultaneously agree with him. When he writes, “I dispute that they don’t both support” his view, it indicates he probably doesn’t know if they do or don’t. In his article, they were clearly intended to bolster his position, which he introduced only by indicating that he was offering readers the understanding of “scholars of the Hebrew Bible,” not his contrary view, and also suggesting a consensus among scholars. The two sources constitute the only documentation Ostler gave for his key point, which served as the fulcrum on which he delicately balanced everything else.

In a later blog posting, Ostler asserted: “In fact, I cite Schreiner because he notes the penalty in Deuteronomy for mixed marriages is to be cut off from the people (220-21) and discusses the technical category of a to’bah translated as an abominable thing and its relation to polygamy in relation to breach of the covenant (222-23).” Contra Ostler, I find no discussion of being “cut off from the people” on pages 220-21 of Schreiner and only this reference to to’eba on pages 222-23: “Accordingly, in the mouth of the prophet, to’eba (v. 11a) designates a ritual through which another foreign divinity besides Yahweh is worshipped”—that is, if “bat’el nekar does not refer to a foreign goddess.” Schreiner does observe on page 220 that according to Deuteronomy, the children of mixed marriages are supposed to be excluded from the congregation for ten generations. According to Schreiner, this is exactly the kind of ethical problem Malachi is railing against. On page 215, Schreiner gives the Hebrew for Malachi 2:12: “Yahweh may destroy from the tents of Jacob the one who commits fornication and disgrace and still offers a sacrifice for Yahweh Sabaoth.” The passage has to do with hypocrisy and does not prescribe exclusion from the congregation, which in any case implies a post-exilic environment, anachronistically for the Book of Mormon. See comments by Ostler, Aug. 14, 16, 2006, “New Article Out”; Ostler, “DNA Strands, 64.

33. This is summarized in Professor Ann E. Killebrew’s Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: An Archaeological Study of Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Early Israel, 1300-1100 BCE (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005). She writes of “the emergence of ancient Israel … as a process of ethnogenesis, or a gradual emergence of a group identity from a ‘mixed multitude’ of peoples whose origins are largely indigenous,” 149-50; also 140-41, 155-57, 159, 188, 190-92. See also Michael D. Coogan, The Oxford History of the Biblical World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 106, 119, 123-34, 137. For an attempt to reconcile archaeology with a more traditional understanding of the biblical text, see George E. Mendenhall, Ancient Israel’s Faith and History: An Introduction to the Bible in Context, ed. Gary A. Herion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), although Mendenhall and Herion cannot answer the challenges Coogan poses in Oxford History, 129ff.

34. Killebrew, Biblical Peoples, 11, 51, 55-57, 81-83; Coogan, Oxford History, 55, 60-67, 107, 109, 111-13, 117, cf. 57, 108.

35. In Killebrew’s survey of the material culture, she documents how closely the Philistines were tied to Cypress in trade and culture, with the added presumption of family ties, and that the Cypriots had immigrated to the island from Mycenae three generations earlier (Biblical Peoples, 197, 206-08, 216-17, 231; see also Coogan, Oxford History, 153, 203-04).

36. The Philistines (to whom we owe the name Palestine) underwent a gradual “creolization” and “acculturation” not seen at Egyptian sites. Killebrew, Biblical Peoples, 138, 187, 233-34, 248-51; Coogan, Oxford History, 156.

37. See Killebrew, Biblical Peoples, 94, 99-100, 139, 187; Coogan, Oxford History, 36, 58, 65, 82-84, 96, 112-13, 152-4, 205, 217, 227, 231, 276; cf. “Canaanite Languages,” “Hebrew Language,” and “Phoenician Language,” Encyclopedia Britannica online, 2006, which has Hebrew, Moabite, Phoenician, and Punic as very closely related Northwestern Semitic languages; Blake T. Ostler, “Simon Says, But That Doesn’t Make It So,” Sunstone, Nov. 2005, 7. Of further significance is that covenant theology, which Ostler makes quite a lot of as another parallel between the Book of Mormon and Old Testament, originated at the Temple of El / Baal of the Covenant in Schechem, which the Bible says Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, and others visited before Yahweh emerged. The relationship of Judaism to the religion of El / Baal / Asherah was similar to Christianity’s relationship to Judaism: both began as sects of the parent religion. Just as the first Christians were Jews, the first Jews were Canaanites. This is part of the general understanding of scholars who subscribe to the documentary hypothesis (“Assessing Logical Structure, 71, 72n6; Coogan, Oxford History, 281-88, 346-47, 373, 385, 397-98, 402, 402, 407-8, 414, 459-60).

38. Notice Ostler’s strategic use of ellipses in the list of undesirable Canaanites from Ezra 9:1-2 (Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 70n4). He excluded the Ammonites and Moabites, whom the Bible identifies as relatives of the Israelites (descendants of Lot’s incest with his two daughters); the Amorites, who are identified by the LDS Bible Dictionary as “fair skinned and blue-eyed” (cf. Coogan, Oxford History, 45-6); and the Egyptians—all no doubt to support Ostler’s view of “indigenous peoples already present in the land” being of a different race and presumably darker complexion (64). Elsewhere, Ostler tries to temper the impression of racism but is unsuccessful: “Since this issue of black skin as a sign of cursing causes modern readers so much concern in that it appears to sanction a form of racism, it is important to note that ancient Israelites would have had very different sensibilities” (“DNA Strands,” 64). Nor is he particularly convincing in criticizing “the morally reprehensible belief that blacks could not receive the [LDS] priesthood” as a “cultural overbelief—a belief that is not warranted by LDS scripture or revelation,” while simultaneously endeavoring to convince readers otherwise.

39. There is a brief reference to burnt offerings by the Lehites before they leave Jerusalem (1 Ne. 5:9), but no details, and a note in passing about a “great number of people” gathering at the temple in the New World to hear a sermon, upon which they “took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the Law of Moses” (Mosiah 2:2-3). The latter statement offers no details, although the content of the sermon is reported: “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ” (Mosiah 2:2-3, 5:7).

40. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 64, 70.

41. Notice that the references to “the Jews” indicates that the author is probably not himself a Jew. In addition, synogogues were a post-exilic development and anachronistic in the Book of Mormon (Coogan, Oxford History, 360).

42. David A. Anderson, “Too Great a Leap,” Sunstone, Sept. 2005, 6-8.

43″Blake T. Ostler Responds,” Sunstone, Sept. 2005, 9.

44. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 63. He repeats this in various ways: “To see what the Book of Mormon teaches, we shouldn’t rely on what Joseph Smith said about it. We should read what the Book of Mormon says about itself” (66); this is the “clear-eyed view” (68).

45. Ibid., 66.

46. Ibid., 68-69.

47. Ibid., 64-66, 70.

48. Ibid., 65.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid., 64.

51. Anderson, “Too Great a Leap,” 7; Southerton, “DNA Über-Apologetics,” 72.

52. “Ostler Responds,” 10.

53. Ostler, “Assessing Logical Structure,” 70, 72n1. Ostler wrote that Murphy “presupposed” the premise. If Ostler had worked backward from a conclusion Murphy had actually stated or that fairly represented Murphy’s position, then all right. But a presumed premise and a manufactured conclusion do not add up to anything of value. Ostler manufactured another premise for Murphy on page 71, acknowledging that Murphy had not “expressly asserted” it; again for Brent Metcalfe’s alleged logic, with a note that “Metcalfe doesn’t actually make the argument” (Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 68). When Ostler pointed out the logical fallacies in Murphy’s reasoning, it was Ostler’s own logic on trial, not Murphy’s.

54. Thomas W. Murphy to the editor, Sunstone, Mar. 2005, 3. Murphy wanted Ostler to change “all aboriginal inhabitants of ancient America” to “principal ancestors of American Indians” with regard to what the Book of Mormon claims for itself. Therein lies the key to the difference between what Murphy said and what Ostler said he said. When Murphy made his comment, it was in response to the long-standing LDS position that the Book of Mormon explains the origin of Native Americans. Between the time Murphy was interviewed and Ostler composed his two articles for Sunstone, LDS scholars had published article after article questioning the doctrinal basis of this belief, arguing that only in the introduction to the Book of Mormon does the concept of Indian origins appear explicitly, that the introduction should therefore be considered part of the scholarly apparatus rather than as part of the scripture itself. A good summary of this position, first championed by BYU’s Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and then adopted by the LDS Church, was posted on the official church website under “Mistakes in the News” on February 16, 2006: “Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiastic origin” (“DNA and the Book of Mormon,” Official Internet Site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The site directed readers to twelve online articles, mostly published by FARMS, asserting that the Book of Mormon refers to prior inhabitants who were not of biblical ancestry. In this context, when Ostler considered the meaning of Murphy’s statement, he assumed Murphy was talking about the question that emerged later of whether it was at all possible, in light of genetic findings, that any non-Asians (Israelites) could have inhabited the New World—not the prior question of whether the Book of Mormon explained Indian origins.

55. See, e.g., Ostler, “Simon Says,” 5-6, 8.

56. Other missteps in Ostler’s reasoning—various contradictions and equivocations—were noted in reader responses, including Michael J. Barrett, “Conceding the War”; Doug Ward, “Syllogisms Gone Wild,” Sunstone, Mar. 2005, 7; Anderson, “Too Great a Leap”; Southerton, “DNA Über-Apologetics,” 6-8, 70-73.

Philosophy professor R. Dennis Potter pointed out that faith has its own logic (“Toward a New Reading of the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone, Nov. 2005, 71-73) and faulted those who want to prove their faith scientifically or take an “ultra-literal” approach to religion; Potter was equally critical of those who think religious history is less true than empirical history. But Potter called for a socio-political approach: “Does the Book of Mormon narrative help us liberate Native Americans from their marginalized positions in society?” It seems obvious this question will not be resolved until everyone on both sides recognizes the difference between mythological and secular history. As Professor Carol A. Redmount articulated in Coogan, Oxford History, 119: “The biblical text has its own inner logic and consistency, largely divorced from the concerns of secular history.… Historiographic methods alone can never do full justice to the spiritually informed biblical material; conversely, the Bible, never intended to function primarily as a historical document, cannot meet modern canons of historical accuracy and reliability.” Cf. Dan Vogel, “The Real Conflict,” Sunstone, May 2004, 3-4.

57. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 63, 68.

58. Dan Vogel, “Can Ostler Save Book of Mormon Historicity?” available on-line at “Book of Mormon Historicity,” Brent Lee Metcalfe suggested more generally that the limited geography represented a defensive response to criticism (“Reinventing Lamanite Identity: Are Apologetic Theories of Lamanite Identity Consistent with the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s Prophetic Legacy?” Sunstone, Mar. 2004, 20-25), which Ostler responded was “patently false” (Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 68).

59. Ostler, “Assessing Logical Structure,” 71-72.

60. Murphy to the editor, 3.

61. Blake Ostler, response to Thomas W. Murphy, Sunstone, Mar. 2005, 3.

62. Ostler, “Simon Says,” 5, 6.

63. See Simon G. Southerton, “Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon,”

64. Blake Ostler, response to David H. Bailey, Sunstone, Mar. 2005, 5.

65. Ostler, “Simon Says,” 5.

66. Southerton, “Answers to Apologetic Claims.”

67. Simon G. Southerton, “An Apologetics Shipwreck: Response to Dr. Ryan Parr,”

68. Ostler, “Assessing Logical Structure,” 70, 72.

69. Ostler, “Simon Says,” 4. Ostler writes dismissively about “arguments that critics rely upon to stir the pot” (“DNA Strands,” 66), Metcalfe’s “simplistic” analysis (68), and so on.

70. Ostler wrote that “unlike Anderson, I don’t have a reference to an anti-Mormon website where I have posted my arguments to refer readers to” (“Ostler Responds,” 10). Anderson had referenced Zarahemla City Limits, which looks to me to be uncensored but neutral.

71. Ibid., 10.

72. Steve Oakey’s observation was that “science-generated criticism of a religious canon” can be “onerous and difficult to bear for the inquisitive, but for ‘true believers,’ textual veracity is ultimately subsumed to a faith which is untestable, unfalsifiable, and outside the purview of the scientific method. Fortunately, intellectual integrity concedes to the inexorable crawl of science. As all religions bend, shape, or retreat, there will be a smaller community of hardcore believers” (“The Inexorable Crawl,” Sunstone, Mar. 2005, 5-6). “I suppose that Oakey’s real beef,” Ostler responded, “is that he wants the ‘jury of peers’ to consist of people who are not LDS or who know nothing about the Book of Mormon—in other words, people who are more likely to agree with him that science has supposedly shown that all religion is false. From my perspective, Oakey’s criticism is without merit. What he needs to deal with is the evidence and not whether the panel of peers shares his biases” (“Blake Ostler Responds,” ibid., 6).

73. Ostler, “Simon Says,” 8. Ostler wrote that responsible people “haven’t called United Press International to claim that they are being excommunicated for writing books instead of for their admitted adultery,” thereby teasing out somewhat exaggerated details from Jennifer Dobner, Associated Press, “DNA Author Faces Excommunication,” July 17, 2005; “The Mormon Odyssey,” Newsweek, Oct. 17, 2005; Graham Downie, “Mormons Shut Out Canberra Scientist,” Canberra Times, Aug. 2, 2005.

74. Ostler, “DNA Strands,” 66.

2010 DNA update by Simon.