Everyone is the Literal Blood of Israel

April 18, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 5:27 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

I suspect I’m not the only one who has been baffled by the advantage (or not) of being the literal blood of Israel vs. being adopted into the house of Israel. Being adopted in to the lineage by taking baptismal covenants makes good enough sense to me, but then we hear various authoritative quotes about how basically everyone that joins the Church probably has the literal blood of Israel coursing through their veins already anyway. Here is an example:

The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Improvement Era, Oct. 1923, p. 1149.)

How can we know if it applies to us? What are the advantages of having the literal blood of Israel? Does it even matter? If not why bring it up so often? It seems the whole thing is confusing enough to warrant entire articles explaining it in the Ensign. Here is a fine example of one of them by Daniel H. Ludlow from January of 1991.

Well, I have interesting news on this front. It now looks like everyone on the planet has the literal blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob running through their veins.

In the comments of a recent post J. Stapley and Nate Oman mentioned an article in the The Atlantic Monthly that was published a couple of years ago. The header is sufficient for my purposes right now I think. It says:

The mathematical study of genealogy indicates that everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne

Well that solves that problem! Let’s see… Confucius lived after the time of Lehi and Nefertiti lived some time in the 1300’s B.C. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all lived before that so it is an easy deduction that we’re all partial descendants from all of them. (I didn’t get a subscription and read the whole article so feel free to correct me if you did read it and my assumptions are wrong here.)

Sure, it might make us a little less unique blood-wise than we might have hoped, but it sure makes it easier trying to figure out who is literally descended from Israel and who is adopted. It looks like in the church we’re all both. And in terms of feeling good about ourselves, isn’t it better to focus on the fact that you are part of the modern spiritual house of Israel because you opted in (either here or in your pre-mortal life) anyway? Being gathered into spiritual Israel is always due to a choice and never due to luck. After all — His sheep hear His voice.


  1. I think that there is truth to that, but of course with regards to blood even if they don’t have it they are adopted at baptism. So it’s kind of a moot point. The only place, I can see, where blood matters more is in the Patriarchal Priesthood. But since that’s been devalued since around the turn of the 20th century, that’s not an issue for most either.

    Comment by Clark — April 18, 2005 @ 6:15 pm

  2. I think this is a pretty solid idea, and it changes the way we should think about ancestry. (I’ve pointed out the Atlantic article several times in the bloggernacle, but nobody ever seemed very interested, for some reason.)

    Another implication of these ideas is that most or all native americans would be literal descendents of Lehi, as long as Lehi was a real person. This would be so even if the Nephites were only a small tribe living on a continent previously populated by others. Evidence from DNA doesn’t do anything to show whether native americans are literally descended from Lehi, only whether they are “primarily” descended from him and his band.

    On a related note, I thought it was interesting that Pres. Hinckley went out of his way to deny any nepotism in the appointment of his son as a GA. The Biblical patriarchs didn’t have any objections to nepotism, nor did Joseph, or Brigham (who ordained two of his sons apostles on the same day, one of whom was only 19 years old).

    Comment by ed — April 18, 2005 @ 7:23 pm

  3. ed,

    That is an excellent point about Lehi. If everyone in the world is descendant of Confucius (who lived after Lehi) it is a guarantee that every Native American is a descendant of Lehi (and his sons). Just because there has been genetic dilution that does not mean it is inaccurate to call all American Indians “Lamanites”. According to this study they literally are.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 18, 2005 @ 8:11 pm

  4. There is one point that needs to be clarified. The model is more comprehensive than simple dates. Everyone can be related to these indaviduals, because of their historical primacy. I.e., their decendants fit into a prefered breading stock, if you will. In Lehi’s case this would definately be the case.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 18, 2005 @ 8:30 pm

  5. Thanks for the clarification, J. Certainly the same “preferred breeding stock” thing applies to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob so it looks like the basic premise of the post remains sound.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 18, 2005 @ 9:02 pm

  6. I concur.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 18, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

  7. I’ve had the theory for some time that the whole world getting to be part of Israel (or at least Abraham) is part of the plan. I find it interesting that in the Old Testament, the story of Abraham comes right after the tower of Babel Story. It’s as if the narrative of bringing the people together again follows directly the narrative of scattering them. That is to say, as soon as God scattered the people into separate peoples, the main thing of importance is how he plans to reunite them through Abraham. I think it’s all tied into the idea of the sealing power and the welding link that must be created. This way we’re all sealed to each other in multiple ways.

    Comment by Steve H — April 19, 2005 @ 12:34 am

  8. Somebody needs to actually read the Atlantic article. Its claim is simply implausible. African Bushmen and Australian aborigines descended from Confucius? I don’t think so.

    And even if the article’s claim is true, the statement that “If everyone in the world is descendant of Confucius (who lived after Lehi) it is a guarantee that every Native American is a descendant of Lehi (and his sons)” is a wild leap of logic. It works only if Confucius was himself a descendant of Lehi. Unless Lehi left children in the old world, that cannot have happened.

    Nevertheless, I have always said the the “north countries” from which the ten tribes will return are all those north of the South Pole.

    Comment by Last Lemming — April 19, 2005 @ 6:49 am

  9. I agree that very isolated populations such as Austrailian and New Guinean aboriginies may well not be descended from Confucious, or Abraham.

    The statement about Lehi is independent of anything about Confucious. The important idea from these types of models is that our intuition about descent is often wrong. Over long periods (millenia), expected levels of mixing within a population will lead to everyone in the population being descended from everyone who lived N years before (except for those who have absolutely no surviving descendents at all).

    Furthermore, even when populations are mostly separated, it only takes one person from group A to be introduced into group B, and after a few hundred years everyone in group B will have all the group A ancestsors, in addition to the group B ancestors. For example, all african bushmen will be descended from Abraham if one guy with any abrahamic ancestry impregnated a bushman woman anytime between, say, 500 BC and 500 AD. And remember, by this time people with any abrahamic ancestry would have included most romans, greeks, ethiopians, etc.

    “Primacy” matters a little, but a few hundred years matters a lot more. Abraham may have had 50 grandchildren while joe average has only 4…but after 400 years, joe average will likely have thousands of descendents (if he has any). I’m very confident I’m descended from William the Conquerer, but probably not from Henry VII. On the other hand, it’s almost certain that all of my thousands of descendents in 20 generations (assuming I am lucky enough to have any at all) will all be descended from Henry VII.

    Comment by ed — April 19, 2005 @ 9:18 am

  10. Last Lemming:It works only if Confucius was himself a descendant of Lehi. Unless Lehi left children in the old world, that cannot have happened.

    It looks like you must have misread my statement, LL. The logic is this: If everyone in the world today has some of the blood of Confucius, then it is an easy assumption to make that every person today of Native American descent has some of the blood of Lehi. That is no leap of logic…


    Good points once again. The speed at which everyone could have some tiny portion of the genes of some patriarch is much faster than we might initially think.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 19, 2005 @ 9:19 am

  11. Another thing this brings to mind is the ridiculous statements of many past church leaders about people being disqualified from the priesthood if they have any level of “negro blood” or “lineage of Ham,” or whatever. Obviously we are all descended from millions of “negros,” even Brother Brigham himself. (On the other hand, we’re all descended from Aaron, too, so maybe we all get to be bishops!)

    Comment by ed — April 19, 2005 @ 9:38 am

  12. Ha! Well I guess this is a sword that cuts two ways isn’t it? We can’t use this research to defend some comments about literal blood without exposing others to scrutiny. Perhaps those others deserve some hard scrutiny, though.

    Comment by Geoff Johnston — April 19, 2005 @ 11:17 am

  13. Another thing. This isn’t to say that racial or ethnic classifications are meaningless. I’m sure I’m descended from Abraham, but if I trace all my lines back to his time I might find that maybe only one-millionth of them go back to Abraham. An ethnically “jewish” person might find that something like a quarter of his lines go back to Abraham. It’s a matter of degree, not a binary thing.

    Geoff said: “Just because there has been genetic dilution that does not mean it is inaccurate to call all American Indians “Lamanites”.”

    Yes, perhaps, but that sort of stretches the meaning of the concept of “Lamanites.” People have tended to assume that “a literal descendent of Lehi” and “Lamanite” are synonymous, but that’s a strange way to think about it. I may well be descended from Confucious, but it would be weird to call me “Chinese.”

    Comment by ed — April 19, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

  14. Back in 2003 National Geographic news reported this on the Y-chromosomal Adam. The very first line says: “By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, geneticist Spencer Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago.”

    Maybe most people have some of Abraham in the, but not all people (according to Spencer Wells).

    Oh, and sorry to be digging up old posts like this (if you wanted them to be dead).

    Comment by Jason — April 11, 2007 @ 11:48 pm

  15. I’m glad you’re digging into the classics Jason.

    I am not claiming Abraham is the y-chromosomal Adam in this post. Rather, I was pointing out this evidence that says every living person on earth today has some genetic connection to Abraham. Yes it is incredibly diluted but that is sort of beside the point here.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 11, 2007 @ 11:53 pm

  16. As someone who has decided to be adopted into the Jewish faith, I find this study quite interesting.
    However, how would studies that say that the most recent common human ancestor would be an Ethiopian woman who lived nearly 140,000 years ago?
    ((Of course, science has been wrong before, and Scripture would go against that statement as saying that it would have to at least be Noah, but meh))

    Comment by Jared — February 2, 2008 @ 10:35 am

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    Comment by Dave Kump — February 10, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

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