DNA and Diffusion
The Genealogy of the Players
By Robert A. Pate

Starting the Journey

     The Book of Mormon takes Lehi’s group from Jerusalem along the borders of the Red Sea then back again for the Brass Plates of Laban and Ishmael with his many daughters. How many daughters did Ishmael have? What was the make-up of Lehi’s family and Ishmael’s family?

     Lehi’s family consisted of himself, his wife Sariah, his sons Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, and later Jacob and Joseph, and two daughters. Zoram came along also and was numbered with the Nephites.

     It appears that Ishmael’s family consisted of himself, his wife, two sons, and five daughters. The two sons of Ishmael seem to have acquired wives prior to their departure from the Jerusalem area. There are two verses and possibly a third that so indicate.

And it came to pass that as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters. (1 Nephi 7:6)

     Right away, before arriving at the camp of Lehi, two of the daughters of Ishmael had aligned themselves physically and ideologically with Laman and Lemuel. The three daughters of Ishmael that sided with Nephi and Sam probably became the wives of Zoram, Sam, and Nephi.

     Notice that the two sons of Ishmael already had their families in place and these families were old enough to rebel against Nephi and Sam. That would mean they each had one or more wives and possibly children old enough to participate in the fray.

     Nephi was bound but with the power of the Lord he burst the bands. And in verse 19, one of the daughters of Ishmael, and her mother, and one brother, plead with Laman and Lemuel not to harm Nephi. No doubt that was when Nephi decided which of the daughters he would marry. But notice also that one son of Ishmael now supported Nephi. Was this a third son of Ishmael or, had one of the previously mentioned two sons of Ishmael changed his allegiance?

     Arriving at the camp of Lehi in the desert, Zoram married the eldest daughter of Ishmael (1 Nephi 16:7). And Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi each married a daughter of Ishmael. Jacob and Joseph were not yet mentioned as having been born. The two daughters of Lehi did not marry the two sons of Ishmael as we see in another verse.

Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words (2 Nephi 5:6, emphasis added).

     At this time, after Lehi’s death, when Nephi fled the land of Lehi and traveled in the wilderness for many days to start the land of Nephi, we see that Nephi, Zoram, and Sam each had families. Jacob and Joseph did not. Nor did the two sisters of Nephi who also fled. Had the sisters been married to the sons of Ishmael they would almost certainly have stayed.
By the time of Alma in 87 BC, some ethnic diversity is mentioned.

And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women. (Alma 3:7)

     This account in Alma was about 512 years after the family of Ishmael met the family of Lehi in the desert. Laman and Lemuel were long since gone, but the Lord possibly used the Ishmaelitish women, or some earlier inhabitants of the land, to provide the genetic characteristics that became a distinction between the Lamanites and Nephites. This apparent distinction has long since disappeared in the mixing of the remnants even though there is much diversity in skin color among the indigenous peoples of the Americas. One possibly identifiable group that still has a lighter shade of skin is the Lacandon branch of the Maya
     Who were the Ishmaelitish women? Who was Ishamael? Ishmael was a righteous man who believed the revelation of the Lord to Lehi and followed with his family into the desert. Is it possible that he was not from the city of Jerusalem, but from the general land area of Jerusalem (1 Nephi 7:2). The Book of Mormon does not mention his lineage though a note in the index states that he was an Ephraimite from Jerusalem. There is nothing in the Book of Mormon that would indicate he was of the tribe of Ephraim. Lehi took great pride in discovering that the Brass Plates of Laban showed his own descendency from Joseph through Manasseh. Had Ishmael shared this heritage, Lehi or his son Joseph would surely have mentioned it.

     Several people have said that Joseph Smith said it was mentioned in the lost 116 pages of the manuscript. Erastus Snow mentions this in 1882 (Snow 1882, 183-184). Orson Pratt mentions the lineage but does not mention the source in 1851 (Pratt 1851, 91-92). Was this rumor or is there a closer, more substantive reference? Is it possible that Nibley was correct when he indicated that Ishmael was a descendant of the earlier Ishmael, the son of Abraham through the Egyptian handmaid Hagar.

     The Ishmaelites occupied much of the land south of Jerusalem through which Lehi’s group traveled. The Arab world today claims birthright from Abraham through Ishmael. Lehi may have been a well-traveled merchant knowing much of the Egyptian culture and Ishmael’s descendants. Lehi’s son Nephi was certainly a metallurgist and this profession would require much travel and trade in the raw materials. The name of the game in metallurgy is alloying, which requires the correct amounts of the correct materials in very critical, controlled processes to achieve the desired result. Cassiterite, the ore for making tin, used in bronze, came from the Cassiterites Islands now known as the British Isles. This involves extensive shipping of materials. The fact that Lehi and his family traveled the “gold and incense road” possibly means that they were familiar with it from before.

     In addition to the Ishmaelitish women, the wives of the sons of Ishmael and possibly all of Ishmael’s family could have been ethnically distinct. It is apparent that there were many remnants of the Jaredite and other tribal peoples in Central America. These could have been the Ancient Ones, the U Mamae or old men (Goetz 1953, 169). They are currently known as the Mam branch of the Maya people.

Pure Nephites

If the Nephites tended to be a fairer skinned people, where did they get it or how did they maintain it? Mormon took pride in the fact that he was a pure descendant of Lehi (3 Nephi 5:20). He was also larger in stature, like Nephi.

     It appears likely that Nephi had daughters but no male offspring. Note that the records went to his brother Jacob and then to Jacob’s son Enos. Enos records his touching prayer as he wrestled before God. After receiving forgiveness for his sins he prayed for the safety of the records. The Lord covenanted with Enos that He would preserve the records and in His own due time bring them to the Lamanites.

And the Lord said unto me: Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine (Enos 1:18, emphasis added).

     Notice that Enos’ fathers have required this thing. Who were his fathers? Jacob and Nephi had made this request of the Lord, not Lehi as far as we know. Nephi had molten the plates and made the record. Jacob and the first-born daughter of Nephi were probably close to the same age and may have married, both being born in the wilderness of the south Arabian Peninsula (1 Nephi 17:2; 18:7).

     Nephi probably had girls and Sam, boys, but no tribe of Sam is ever mentioned in the Book of Mormon. This may be why:

And after he had made an end of speaking unto them, he spake unto Sam, saying: Blessed art thou, and thy seed; for thou shalt inherit the land like unto thy brother Nephi. And thy seed shall be numbered with his seed; and thou shalt be even like unto thy brother, and thy seed like unto his seed; and thou shalt be blessed in all thy days. (2 Nephi 4:11)

     Thus, Lehi’s blessing to Sam was that his seed would inherit the land like unto Nephi’s and his seed would be numbered with Nephi’s.
While, in the Book of Mormon, Sam’s name gets lost as a branch of the people, in the indigenous literature it does not appear to have been lost. Rather, it is Nephi’s tribe that looses its unique identity.

     The three great tribes of the Quiché Maya nation are the Tamub, Ilocab, and Cavekib. These correspond to Sam (Tamub— they often put t’s in for their s’s, and the ub on the end is plural; the singular would be Tam, or Sam), Jacob (Ilocab, closer to the Hebrew Ya’acob, Iakob in Greek), and Joseph (Cavekib, or Yeweeph in Hebrew). These three Quiché tribes formed the larger group of Nahuales, which appear to be the Nephites or people of God, as they are called nine times in the Book of Mormon. The name Nahual means “God” according to the translators of the Title of the Lords of Totonicapán (Goetz 1953, 169, 171, 172).

     While it is possible that some genetic diversity may have been added to the Nephite group through the wives of Nephi and Sam, this was apparently much less so than in the case of the two wives of Laman and Lemuel and their four in-laws. It should be noted that there is a great variation in the skin color of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. They range from very black, to brown, to tan, to yellow, to white. Many are as white as Caucasians. As they get out of the sun and come to the universities, one realizes that their skin is quite fair, with much rich black hair.

     Some of the early Spanish writers, including Sahagún, mention that there were many fair skinned people when they arrived (Dibble 1963, 184). There would be three darker-complexioned children along with two fairer-complexioned children in the same family. Some whole tribes were lighter. Díaz mentioned that Montezuma was tall and not very dark skinned; he even had a short black beard (Cohen 1963, 224). They said that some of the women were as fair as the fairest women in the Spanish court. Even today this continues, as noted by missionaries that work with the people in the smaller villages. 1

     During the 1600 years since the end of the Book of Mormon, the tracks have clouded. In the beginning, the Nephite identity was very clear. Now, 2600 years later, the secular remains of the Nephites are harder to find in Guatemala. Nahua is the residual name of Nephi. The Spanish name Nahua was written as Naoa by Sahagún and these were the Aztecs. The Nahua people and the language Nahuatl still exist in Mexico.

Zoram, the Bat Man

     There is always the question of Zoram’s contribution to the genetic mix. The word mix may not be quite appropriate because mixing between these tribes may have been somewhat limited. Limited to the extent that throughout the Book of Mormon history and until the arrival of the Spaniards with their small-pox, the tribes maintained their separate identities in spite of some mixing.

     Zoram was the servant of Laban. He may have had some blood other than, or in addition to, that of father Jacob (Israel). The people of Zoram maintained their identity as a separate group throughout the Book of Mormon history and even today. They would appear to be the Tzutuhil branch of the Maya and at times appear to be linked to the Cakchiquels. This name is spelled many different ways including Tzotzils and Zotzil. The Quiché root for the name is Sotz or Zotz and means “bat,” as in the little black flying creature. According to The Annals of the Cakchiquels, when they arrived at the gates of Tulán only a bat guarded the gate. Zotz, the bat, is the symbol of the Cakchiquel race, whose totemic name was zotzil. Apparently the king of that nation was titled Ahpop-Zotzil, which is “lord of the mats” or “chief of the zotzils.” (Recinos 1953, 47, 49)

     Is there a similarity to the Book of Mormon story in these legends? Suppose the mats are the papyrus reed mats used for writing upon, and Zotz was the one in Tulán (Jerusalem) who guarded the gates or doors for the record repository. That sounds very similar to the account of Nephi and Zoram. The indigenous legends go on to say that they paid tribute to Tulán in the night. Remember that Lehi’s sons brought all their treasure to Laban in an attempt to buy the plates (1 Nephi 3:24).

     It sounds like Zoram was the legendary Lord of the Mats or keeper of the records and he was called Zotz, meaning “bat.” Coe has written that the lu-Bat glyph has been translated and means “he that knows how to engrave” and was still being used in Terminal Classic Maya to identify the engraver of the stone texts (Coe 1992, 249).

The Jaredite Lines

     The Jaredites came from Sumer, which has been known for years as Mesopotamia. Today it is known as Iraq. Jared and his brother were possibly from Umma just northwest of Ur and southeast of Babylon and Kish. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees and may have been of similar ethnicity. Many conquerors have entered this area over the centuries but it is assumed that the people back then were similar to those who live there today.

     As we have discussed in the text, the Jaredites apparently traveled up through Nineveh, the valley of Nimrod, then through Russia, China, Mongolia, and Manchuria. During some part of that trip they traveled into that quarter where men had never been (Ether 2:5). They called the place where they stayed for four years before setting sail, Moriancumer, which may refer to the mouth of the Amur River (Amur being the sound of the last syllable in the name Morianc-umer). The language connections to this area are extensive so it is possible that some locals joined them on the trip or followed at a later time. There does appear to be a strong Oriental influence in the peoples of Mexico, their languages, and the stone carvings attributed to the Olmecs, who might have been the Jaredites.

Ix or Ish Implies Women

     In Hebrew, the masculine indicator is ‘iysh pronounced eesh. The female indicator is ‘ish shah pronounced eesh shaw which is very similar to Quiché where the word for “woman” is ixök and was probably a contraction from Hebrew pronounced eesh-shak. In Chortí the word for “women” is ixik. The male indicator ‘iysh did not come across from the Hebrew into the Maya where roots like ama’, ah, and achi are reserved for the male. However, in Mam “male” is xinak and in Quichua it is masha.

     Why did the female indicator come across from Hebrew to Maya? Ishmael may have brought more than his girls, he may have brought the name that has persisted in the indigenous languages for anything feminine, ish or ix. Again, was Mormon playing with words or was Ishmael the man’s real name? Perhaps his name was used for a double meaning—the one who provides the females.

     The Lamanites were a compound of not only the regulars, but also all the Nephite dissenters, the Amalekites, the Zoramites, and the descendants of wicked king Noah. These later groups were centered in the western end of El Salvador (the land of Lehi, or Lenca). The Lenca are still in the land of Shilom (the old land of Nephi-2), which is La Paz, Honduras in the Comayagua area. This region was the capitol of Honduras until 1880. At the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in this valley, the Lencas were a bilingual people. They spoke both Lenca (Lehite) and Nahuatl (Nephite). The Nahua settlements extended from this exact region up into most of central Mexico. 2

     Likewise, when the Spaniards arrived at Cumorah (Qumarkah), it was the capitol of the Quiché Nation and the people there were also bilingual. Both the Quiché and the Nahuatl languages were spoken there when Alvarado and the Catholic priests arrived in 1524 (Carmack 1981, 3).
How could two groups that started so close and shared their origins and much of their history have developed two languages so different yet with some commonalities? The other branches of the Maya share similar origins and their languages are closer. Still when one has a Hebrew root word, often it can be recognized in Yucatec, Chortí, Quiché, Mam, Ch’ol, and Cakchiquel, etc. The spelling and pronunciation of these words can be very different, but when they are lined up together one can often recognize that the words share a common source. Many of the Nahua words are also recognizable but they seen to have been changed much more than is commensurate with their historical closeness.
Consider for example the word for white, clean, or pure. In Hebrew the word is zak. In Quiché it is sak. In Mam it is sak. In Chortí it is sak. But in Nahua, it is iztac. Clearly they all came from Hebrew, but why is the Nahua so different and what is the difference.

     The Nahua are the Nephites that departed and traveled northward, while the Quiché are the Nephites that remained in Mormon’s lands. The Quiché also show the contribution of the Jaredites and the Mulekites. The extent of the spreading is not certain. The Lenca went down into Colombia and the peoples of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia also have roots in the Guatemala area. Is there a relationship between the Quiché and the Quichua, or between the Xinka and the Inca? Is it relevant that the word Quechua in the Quechua language means “robber”?

     The lands discussed in the Book of Mormon were actually very small. The spreading occurred but the extent is not known. If one attempts to reconstruct the Book of Mormon history and people from DNA, at least look in the correct area among the tribes that have maintained their identity. Specifically these are the Nahua, Lenca, Tzutujil, Quiché (Tamub, Ilokob, and Cavekib), and Cakchiquel who still occupy the same lands they did in Mormon’s day.


1. E. g., Elaine Jensen Fukui, personal conversation, 2002.
2. National Geographic Society map, Spain in the Americas. National Geographic Society, Washington D.C. February 1992.


Campbell, R. Joe. 1997. Florentine Codex Vocabulary (Available from http://www.umt.edu/history/NAHUATL/florent.txt, INTERNET).

Carmack, Robert M. 1973. Quichean Civilization, The Ethnohistoric, Ethnographic, and Archaeological Sources. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

----. 1981. The Quiché Mayas of Utatlán: The Evolution of a Highland Guatemala Kingdom. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Coe, Michael D. 1992. Breaking the Maya Code, Printed and bound in Slovinia by Mladinska Knjiga: Thames and Hudson.

Cohen, J. M. 1963, translator. Bernal Diáz, The Conquest of New Spain. Aylesbury, Bucks, Great Britain: Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd.

Dibble, Charles E., Arthur J. O. Anderson (translators). 1961. Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain. Book 10 – The People, by Bernadino Sahagún. Monographs of The School of American Research and The Museum of New Mexico, Number 14, Part XI. Santa Fe, New Mexico: The School of American Research and the University of Utah.

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Gott, Elisabeth (translator). 1938. Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España -- Códice Florentino by Bernadino de Sahagún. Mexico, D.F., P. Robredo.

Mapa Arqueológico De La República De Guatemala. 1991. Guatemala City, Guatemala, C.A: Instituto Geográfico Militar.

Mapa Oficial: Republica De Honduras. 1997. Tegucigalpa, M.D.C., Honduras, C.A.: Instituto Geográfico Nacional.

Recinos, Adrian. 1953. The Annals of The Cakchiquels. Translated from the Cakchiquel Maya by Adrian Recinos and Delia Goetz. First edition, fourth printing, 1974. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Sahagún, Bernadino de. 1590. Códice Florentino, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva España. 5 volumes. Direct translation from the Aztec text by Elisabeth Gott. Mixico, D.F: P. Robredo, 1938.


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