The Great Spirit?

I received e-mail alleging that the term “Great Spirit” used by some of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon (Alma 18) is an anachronism in the Book of Mormon. The author alleges that it is not a part of original Native American culture, but is a term they picked up from Christian missionaries. That surprised me, because in my readings of Indian lore over the years, it seemed like it was a pretty pervasisve term and seemed to fit a variety of native beliefs reasonably well. Since I’m short on research time right now, I thought I’d toss this question out for your comments. Is the term “Great Spirit” as used in Alma something that really fits ancient Native American beliefs, or a modern import from contact with Christians?


Author: Jeff Lindsay

8 thoughts on “The Great Spirit?

  1. Interesting article here, about pre-columbian “Son of God” and Great Spirit traditions along the lines of Quetzalcoatl, etc.

    I don’t know if this magazine is owned/operated by Latter-day Saints. There is no church affiliation mentioned on the site that I could readily find.

    Here’s a web site about Canadian Indian history and uses the term “Great Spirit” in articles about pre-Columbian Indian history.

    And while searching, I found this book. I don’t know if the author is LDS, but it shows evidence of vast populations in the 10’s of millions prior to Columbus.

  2. Sorry, I don’t have the energy to moderate a heated discussion on racism right now. A VERY lengthy and completely off-topic diatribe on the issue was deleted.

    Mike Parker made a good point in responding to it, though:

    The author’s research seems limited to anti-Mormon web sites. Note also how he portrays black Latter-day Saints as dupes and white Latter-day Saints as closet racists, thereby squelching any hope of a rebuttal. (This tactic is referred to as “poisoning the well.”)

    Were LDS leaders in the 19th and the first 2/3 of the 20th century racists? By modern standards of definition they were, but then so was virtually everyone else in the United States. Mainstream LDS feelings on race and civil rights mirrored the society around them. Like most other Americans, we grew out of it.

    This goes back to the old problem of people expecting perfection from members of the Lord’s Church.

    My two-cents on the issue are on my LDSFAQ page on race issues.

    But I’d prefer people to stay on topic, when possible – though I do appreciate the efforts of Mike and others to respond to the projectile hurling of accusations we get from critics.

  3. In translating the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith may have used the vocabulary he had to explain a word he was translating where there wasn’t a good analogous term in english.
    Some think he had the english version presented to his mind and just read the words as they popped into his head. That may be, we don’t really know. If the former condition existed, the term “great spirit” or any other anachronistic terminology shouldn’t bother us too much.

  4. Since the Native Americans didn’t speak Spanish or English when the conquistadors or colonists arrived, OF COURSE the newcomers and their missionaries were the first to use the English words “Great Spirit” or Spansih words “Espiritu Grande”.

    After all “Great Spirit” has to be a translation of whatever words the Natives were using in their own language.

    Those Europeans who took the histories of the Natives shortly after their arrival (I provided links above) clearly translated “Great Spirit” from words that the Natives were already using.

  5. Ah, yes. Were we to discount using contemporary language, we would discard virtually every modern translation of the Bible. I have a friend who is an ex-con that received a “Good News” Bible (a interesting translation, to say the least). Putting aside the fact that it refers to the Holy Spirt as “the Friend,” (a true, though odd appellation) I’m willing to grant it its dues provided that it helps bring my friend to the truth.

    As much as possible, standard historical scholarship must be applied to Mormon studies if we are ever to understand historigraphical trends. Aside from divine assistance (and who said divine assistance and scholarship were opposed?), this would be the first step to taking the venom out of the antis.

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