Sin, Skin, and Seed: Mistakes of Men in the Book of Mormon

Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association 25 (2005): 36-51.

16 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2012

Date Written: March 24, 2004


Common understandings of the Book of Mormon in communities of the Latter-day Saint restoration face a fundamental challenge from emerging biogenetic research. Mormon folklore about skin color, patriarchal seed, and Native American origins naturalizes the power and authority of white men; yet, it is undermined by twentieth century discoveries in the biological sciences. Is the Book of Mormon’s assumption that skin color reflects sinfulness consistent with biogenetic understandings of human physical variation? Are Biblical and Book of Mormon images of a patriarchal seed transmitted from fathers to sons consistent with modern understandings of biogenetic procreation? Is an Israelite heritage of Nephites and Lamanites reflected in the genes and biology of American Indians? No, skin color does not reflect sin. A mother’s contribution of half her children’s chromosomes is not accurately represented in scriptural models of human procreation as akin to seminal seeds planted in nurturing soil. DNA research into Native American origins points to a Northeast Asian rather than a Middle Eastern ancestry. Each of these common assumptions reflects common 19th century concepts that should now be relegated to the status of “mistakes of men.”

Keywords: Book of Mormon, Restoration, Latter-day Saint, Mormon, Skin color, patriarchal seed, Native American origins, DNA, Bible, White men

JEL Classification: Z10

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Thomas, Sin, Skin, and Seed: Mistakes of Men in the Book of Mormon (March 24, 2004). Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association 25 (2005): 36-51., Available at SSRN:

Thomas Murphy (Contact Author)

Edmonds College ( email )

20000 68th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98036
United States
425-640-1076 (Phone)
425-771-3366 (Fax)


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