Fundamental teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about some events in the Book of Mormon are changing - not through revelation, but through church-sanctioned scholars' reinterpretations, an Australian geneticist and former LDS bishop writes in a new book.
In Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church, author Simon Southerton applies his own and others' DNA research to Mormon beliefs, while also examining the writings of Brigham Young University scholars at the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, or FARMS.
Southerton's work examines church teachings that American Indians and Polynesians have a historic bond with ancient Israelites.
While the question of whether such a connection exists may seem like an arcane theological point to outsiders, to some Mormons, a reinterpretation would be startling and disturbing.
Indeed, Southerton himself, once a bishop leading a local congregation in Brisbane, left the church because of his conclusion that no such tie exists.
The church takes issue with his findings.
A senior researcher with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra, Southerton also takes aim at FARMS' assertions that the Book of Mormon's events could only have occurred in parts of Mexico and Guatemala.
That interpretation goes against traditional church teachings that Book of Mormon events took place across the Western Hemisphere and that Native Americans are the descendants of the Hebrews who settled the Americas in 600 BC, he notes.
"You've got Mormon apologists in their own publications rejecting what prophets have been saying for decades," Southerton said.
"This becomes very troubling for ordinary members of the church."
For a century or so, scientists have theorised that Asians migrated to the Americas across a land bridge at least 14,000 years ago.
Over the past 20 years, researchers examining American Indian and Polynesian DNA have found no evidence of Israelite ancestry.
But Mormons have been taught to believe that the Book of Mormon - the faith's keystone text - is a literal record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas called Lamanites.
They are said to have descended from the Israelite patriarch Lehi, who sailed to the New World around 600 BC. The book's narrative continues through about 400 AD.
The church teaches that Joseph Smith translated this record in the 1820s from gold plates he unearthed on a hillside near Palmyra, New York. The Book of Mormon was first published in 1830.