Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Does Corn Prove Others Were in the Land of Promise When Lehi Landed? – Part I

According to John L. Sorenson in his book An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, (p146): “Latter-day-Saints are not used to the idea that other people than Lehi’s immediate descendants were on the Book of Mormon scene. Abundant evidence from archaeological and linguistic studies assures us that such people were indeed present.” 
   He then goes on to cover a number of statements in the Book of Mormon text indicating the presence in Lehi’s promised land of peoples other than those descended from Lehi’s party, which we will cover later on.
Sorenson claims that there were natives already in the Land of Promise when Lehi arrived—here shown watching Lehi’s ship approach off the coast

Sorenson goes on to say that the “reasons the topic is not addressed more explicitly in the record include a focus on the Nephites (and not on other people), a generic treatment of Lamanites, and a desire not to waste space on something obvious or insignificant. Clear evidence for the presence of others in substantial populations is present in the Book of Mormon. The demographic or cultural history of Lehi’s literal descendants must take into account these other groups.”
    After stating his several reasons to support his view, he provides “his clincher” in an article entitled: "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, BYU, Vol. 1 : No. 1 , Article 2): “After all this evidence,” Sorenson claims that “the real clincher regarding an established population in the promised land at the time of Lehi's arrival is the Nephite cultivation of corn as mentioned in Mosiah 7:22 and Mosiah 9:9, 14. Sorenson points out that corn is a domesticated crop — it does not grow wild. Lehi could only find corn in this new world if there was already a people here who were cultivating it.”
    As for the seeds Lehi brought with him, they are not specifically differentiated. Nephi tells us simply that when they landed, they “began to plant seeds; yea, we did put all our seeds into the earth, which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance” (1 Nephi 18:24).
Lehi’s main grain crop would have been wheat and barley, not corn

The idea that Lehi might have brought corn seed with him is shown to be inaccurate as seen in the Bible Dictionaries that state: “the grains available in bible times were wheat, barley, spelt, rye, fitches, millet, and oats. Our Indian corn was unknown. While the word “corn is used,” it was a term meaning grain of all kinds, including peas and beans.”
    So when Lehi planted his “seeds brought from Jerusalem,” they did not include corn. Nor do we find the term “corn” used when Nephi separates from his brothers, and he “gathered together all manner of seeds of every kind, both of grain of every kind, and also of the seeds of fruit of every kind” (2 Nephi 5:11), and traveled to an area they called the land of Nephi.
    Consequently, it cannot be said that Lehi had corn when they arrived, or that anyone gave it to them before he died, for Nephi did not have it, according to the scriptural record, when he left his brothers.
    Thus, there are two glaring errors in Sorenson’s (and Mesoamerican theorist’s) view, and while the statement about wild corn is not accurate, the other glaring error is found within his statement about Lehi who, at least according to the scriptural record, did not have corn, nor did Nephi, nor did anyone else in the Nephite community until around 175 to 150 B.C., when Zeniff returned to reclaim the city of Nephi, after Mosiah discovered Zarahemla.
    In Mosiah 9:9, we learn that Zeniff planted seeds of corn. In Mosiah 7:22, which is an earlier entry, but of a later time when Zeniff’s grandson, Limhi, is telling Ammon of their plight of subjugation to the Lamanites while living in the city of Nephi and the heavy tax with which they were burdened, including having to forfeit one half their corn. Mosiah 9:14 jumps back to Zeniff’s earlier time when they were attacked by the Lamanites who came in and killed the Nephites in the fields, stole their flocks and “the corn of their fields.”
Thus, the corn seeds Zeniff had and planted could have been from corn plants that the Nephites domesticated themselves during the previous nearly 450 years; or could have been from corn plants the Mulekites domesticated during their 450 years in the promised land, and gave to the Nephites; or they could have been seeds Coriantumr had with him—from domesticated corn plants the Jaredites developed in their 1500 years in the Land of Promise—and gave to the Mulekites before his death; or they could have been from corn plants that Coriantumr taught the Mulekites how to domesticate during his nine months staying with them.
    The point is, there does not have to be some unknown group of people in the land the Lord promised to Lehi, who mysteriously domesticated corn plants instead of something the Nephites did themselves, or the Mulekites during their 450 years or so in the land before we learn of Zeniff planting corn.
    The second glaring error is the simple fact that the cross-pollination of the wild grass that leads to domesticated plant is entirely possible. In fact, corn has a wild ancestor from which it is domesticated, and that ancestor is well known and well-studied—it is the wild grass called Teosinte.
Teosinte plants have many branches, while corn plants have just a few short branches with ears at the tips

There are several wild species of zea, a genus of plants in the grass family Zea mays, and variously called maize, corn, or Indian corn, of which several are commonly known as teosintes and native to the Americas. Teosinte is a grass that does not look much like corn (maize), especially when you compare its kernels to those of corn, but it does strongly resemble maize in many ways, notably their tassel (male inflorescence) morphology.
    Because of this disparity, the greatest surprise in all this research into the parent plant, and the source of much past controversy in corn archeology, was the identification of this ancestor of maize. Many botanists did not see any connection between maize and other living plants. Some concluded that the crop plant arose through the domestication by early agriculturalists of a wild maize that was now extinct, or at least undiscovered. In fact, when teosinte was first considered, the leggy vegetation and small ears of the plant did not seem to be connected to maize in any way.
    On the other hand, at the DNA level the two are surprisingly alike. They have the same number of chromosomes and a remarkably similar arrangement of genes. In fact, teosinte can cross-breed with modern maize varieties to form maize-teosinte hybrids that can go on to reproduce naturally.
One of the first scientists to fully appreciate the close relationship between teosinte and maize was George Beadle. In the 1930s (some fifty years before Sorenson wrote his book), Beadle studied teosinte-maize hybrids and showed that their chromosomes are highly compatible. Later, he produced large numbers of teosinte-corn hybrids and observed the characteristics of their offspring. By applying basic laws of genetic inheritance, Beadle calculated that only about 5 genes were responsible for the most-notable differences between teosinte and a primitive strain of maize. So important was his work of linking teosinte to maize that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958, 27 years before Sorenson wrote his book, later becoming chancellor and president of the University of Chicago.
(See the next post, “Does Corn Prove Others Were in the Land of Promise When Lehi Landed? – Part II,” for more information on the natural domestication of the teosinte plant to form modern maize and what bearing this has on understanding if other people were in the Land of Promise when Lehi arrived)


  1. We are finding out that a lot of Sorenson's claims and clinchers are actually kinda corny.