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Mormonism and racial issues/Blacks and the priesthood/The "curse of Cain" and "curse of Ham"
Mormonism and the "curse of Cain"
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- Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"
- Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"
- Question: What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?
- Question: When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"
- Question: When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?
- Question: How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with Mormonism?
- Question: Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?
- Question: Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?
- Question: Do the scriptures promote racism?
- Question: How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?
Gospel Topics: "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life"
"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.
Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.
The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is “no respecter of persons”24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: “[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.—(Click here to continue)
Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"
Gospel Topics on LDS.org:
Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings. —(Click here to continue)
Question: What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?
There is a distinction between the “curse” and the “mark” of Cain
The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.
The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.
Question: When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"
The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years
The basis used is Genesis 9:18-27:
- 18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan.
- 19 These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.
- 20 And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
- 21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
- 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
- 23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
- 24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
- 25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
- 26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
- 27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
- Genesis 9:18-27 (emphasis added)
Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D.  This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered."  Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery.  As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." 
Question: When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?
The biblical “mark of Cain” associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery
The idea that the “mark of Cain” and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.
Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1856 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races."  Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition."  Palmer declared:
Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. 
Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.
God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) 
Question: How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with Mormonism?
Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism
Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the “mark of Cain” was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious “folk doctrine” in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the “mark of Cain” to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.
Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.
At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.
Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:
It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. 
Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the “mark of Cain” was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious “folk doctrine” in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the “mark of Cain” to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.
The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4:11–15; Moses 5:23–25, Moses 5:36–40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.
As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.
Question: Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?
Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."
In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:
Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.
Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:
we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.
Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.
The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.
Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"
After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:
So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."
The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages
On the LDS Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:
[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost 30 years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.
There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form
It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.
Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,J. Reuben Clark, Bruce R. McConkie, and Delbert Stapley. Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.
Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.
The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban
It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5:21-25 and Alma 3:6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26:33.
The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence
Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1:26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:
[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.
Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:
...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23:18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.
One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:
The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.
A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.
Question: Do the scriptures promote racism?
No, the scriptures contain explicit condemnation of disparaging those who are foreign.
Some have questioned if the scriptures sanction racism whether implicitly or explicitly. The scriptures contain specific language affirming the equality of all people before God. Just a small sampling:
- Genesis 1:26-27 – Man is made in the image of God.
- Exodus 22:21 – foreigners are to be given respect in Israel
- Leviticus 19:33-34 – Foreigners are not to be vexed while sojourning in Israel.
- Leviticus 25:39-42 – If foreigners are poor, they are to be hired with contracted, paid labor. Not slave labor.
- Deuteronomy 24:7 – If someone kidnaps another to sell them into slavery, the thief was given capital punishment.
- The Book of Ruth – Ruth, a Moabitess (Moabites receiving a restriction from entering the congregation of the Israelites) was permitted to enter the congregation and was even given the opportunity to canonize her writings that had the object of opposing the restriction of intermarrying with the Moabites.
- 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 – The Lord is not a respector of persons.
- Mark 12:31 – Love thy neighbor as thyself
- Philippians 2:3-4 – let everyone esteem each other better than themselves.
- 2 Corinthians 8:14 – A look towards Equality
- 1 John 4: 19-21 – If a man says he loves God but hates his brother, he is a liar.
- Romans 1:16 – Both Jew and Gentile receive Gospel.
- Romans 10:12-13 – No difference between Jew and Gentile
- Mark 16:15 – The gospel should be preached to every creature.
- Acts 17:26 – God hath made one blood of all nations.
- 1 John 3:15-16 – Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.
- John 7:24 – Judge not according to appearance.
- Colossians 3:25 – there is no respect of persons.
- Acts 10: 34-36 – God is no respector of persons.
- 2 Nephi 26:29 – all are alike unto God.
The Challenging Texts
The majority of the texts of the Bible for which racism is claimed have to do with interracial marriage. All passages that do have to do with marriage are not distinguishing based on race but rather the worship of other Gods. All idolatry and worshipping of other Gods in the Old Testament was strictly forbidden to all Israelites on the penalty of death (Exodus 20:5 22:20). This is the focus of every passage dealing with intermarriage.
- Deuteronomy 7 (The Canaanites)
The text of Deuteronomy 7 consists of the Lord’s preliminary commands to Israel for the conquest of Canaan. Verse 3 states that
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
As stated before, this had to do with idolatry and the worshipping of other Gods. The very next verse states:
4 For they will turn away they son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.
- Numbers 25 (Intermarriage with the Moabites)
Numbers 25 is another example of the discouragement of intermarriage based upon the fear of worship of other Gods. The chapter begins by indicating that Israel began to commit whoredoms with the daughters of Moab and that the Moabites seduced Israelite men into orgiastic adultery and worship of Baal (this becomes crucial to the Lord’s decision in Numbers 31 to kill them). God then commands that the heads of the Israelites to be arrested and executed (likely my impalement), and hung up to show the severe punishment brought for this idolatry. Moses issues another command: to kill any idolaters. Because the wrath of God is not turned away by following God’s command to execute a few, a plague follows (see 25:8-9; cf. 25:18; 31:8-16). The second story follows the beginning of this plague. Zimri, an Israelite man, marries Cozbi, a “Midianitish woman” (“Midianitish is translated simply as “Midianite” in the NIV, NET, and NRSV). Phinehas, an Israelite man, slays Zimri and Cozbi with a spear (translated as “javelin” in the KJV). The plague is turned away but it is recorded that roughly 24,000 had died. The Lord declares he (Phinehas) “hath turned my wrath away from the Children of Israel…” He then rewards him with a “covenant of peace” interpreted as a covenant of “everlasting priesthood.” By turning away the idolatry and harlotry away from Israel, God was pleased.
- Nehemiah 13: 1-3, 23-30
Nehemiah contains prohibitions against Moabites and Ammonites from entering the congregation of the Lord. Both Deuteronomy and Nehemiah state that this prohibition is “forever.” Deuteronomy is the first to mention the prohibition against Moabites and Ammonites. Genesis 12:3 implies judgement on those who do wrong against Israel. Deuteronomy gives the actual rationale for the prohibition in 23:4
4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, and because they hired against thee Mesopotamia, to curse thee.5 Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD they God loved thee.
The prohibition was not because Israel was racist. Rather, it was that Israel had to have the Moabites and/or Ammonites accept Yahweh and be genuine worshippers of him. For instance, as has been noted elsewhere "[s]ome scholars believe that the book of Ruth was written (or, at least, finalized) during or just after [the fifth-fourth centuries before Christ." Ruth the Moabitess was allowed into the congregation and allowed to canonize her "protest or caution against overemphasis on racial purity. Ruth, a Moabite woman — the Moabites were despised neighbors of Israel — converts to the religion of the Israelites, marries into Israel, and becomes the ancestor of the royal house of David and, thereby, of the Messiah himself."
The Jews as a “Chosen People”
Some have seen the Jews as being a “chosen people” as a type of ethnocentrism and racism. This is an interesting accusation considering they were trying to preserve the covenant that eventually blessed “all the families of the earth.” (Genesis 12:3; 28:14). This also disregards passages that provide explicit injunctions for the inclusion of foreigners among the Israelites such as has been listed above.
The Canaanite/Syrophoenician woman
Some have criticized the Savior for being a “racist” for the encounters with the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 and Mark 7. This has been addressed thoroughly by Evangelical apologist Tim Barnett.
Some have criticized certain passages of scripture that are claimed to promote anti-semitism. These passages include Matthew 23:31-35; 1st Thessalonians 2:14-16; Acts 2:22-36; 3:15; 10:39; John 8:44; Titus 1:10-11; Titus 15-16; and 2 Nephi 10:3. These passages have been used by Christians in the past to justify prejudiced sentiments and actions towards Jews. That cannot be disputed. What can be disputed is that there's is the only way to understand them. One way to interpret these passages is that they all relate specifically to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Readers have and should always normally separate the larger group of people from the people and specific actions they take. The Book of Mormon is actually one of the best guides in this regard as has been demonstrated by author Bradley J. Kramer.
Regarding 2 Nephi 10:3-5 specifically, Kramer insightfully observes:
[D]uring the rare times when the prophets in the Book of Mormon do attempt to identify Jesus' killers, they do so sing vague terms such as "the world" or "wicked men" (1 Nephi 19:7-10), or they employ phrases that while they may appear at first to indict all Jews everywhere actually absolve the vast majority of Jews of any involvement in Jesus's [sic] death. Jacob's "they at Jerusalem" (2 Nephi 10:5), for example, may seem to some readers unfamiliar with Jewish history to prophesy that the Jews in general will crucify Jesus. These readers link this phrase with "the Jews" in verse 3 and see it as both affirming and intensifying Jewish culpability. To them, the statement that "there is none other nation on earth that would crucify God" seems to damn all Jews everywhere. However, only a relatively small percentage of the world's Jews in the first century lived in Jerusalem and the area around it. During the time of Jesus, most Jews were still residing in Babylon or were scattered throughout the eastern Mediterranean, in cities such as Alexandria, Antioch, and Ephesus. These "diaspora" Jews were the descendants of the vast number of Jews who did not return to their ancient homeland after the Persians defeated the Babylonians and instead took advantage of the new opportunities afforded them by their conquerors to spread themselves throughout the region. Indeed, David Klinghoffer, a Jewish historian and essayist, estimates that during Jesus's time there were about a million Jews living in "Jewish Palestine" while five million Jews were dispersed around the Mediterranean and throughout the Middle East. Other scholars, such as Samuel Sandmel, think that this 5 to 1 ratio could have been even higher, possibly even 10 to 1. And Jerusalem was only one city in this "Jewish Palestine." As a result, "they at Jerusalem" instead of prophetically spreading the responsibility of Jesus's death to all Jews everywhere actually limits it to a smalls segment of the overall Jewish population...
But were all Jews living in the 1st century Jerusalem responsible for Jesus's death? Not according to the Book of Mormon. Just as the subject of 2 Nephi 10:5 prophetically reduces the number of Jews who will be involved in Jesus's death to a small fraction of the Jews living during the first third of the first century CE, its predicate softens what that involvement will be. Here, "they shall crucify him" of verse 3 becomes "they...will stiffen their necks against him, that he be crucified." In other words, not only will a small number of Jews contribute to Jesus's death sometime in the future but their contribution will also be small--possibly consisting only of an unwillingness to speak up against it or a reluctance to challenge publicly those pushing it. Furthermore, as the introductory phrase of 2 Nephi 10:5 points out, whatever these people will (or will not) do will occur not because of an informed, deep-seated, conscious conviction but "because of priestcrafts and iniquities." In other words, many of these first-century Jerusalemites will be manipulated, psychologically or physically, by corrupt priests and leaders. Consequently, it is these Jewish priests and leaders who bear most of the non-Roman responsibility for Jesus's death, not the general Jewish populace.
[. . .]In this way, by analogy, the Book of Mormon renders a verdict as to who was responsible for Jesus's death. Ruling decision-makers, mostly Roman, are clearly guilty, as are to some degree their advisors, those who pressed for his death. However, the general population of Jerusalem was not. And neither were the vast majority of Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem. Some Jewish leaders at that time were most likely involved in Jesus's death in some way or other and therefore bear some guilt, but given the methods used to execute him, even they cannot, strictly speaking, be called Christ-killers. Since only Romans crucified people, that term can only be applied to Romans--not to Jews then and certainly not now.
One may be able to hedge on Kramer's interpretation of Jacob 10:3-5. For example:
- "Priestcrafts" could refer to Jewish leaders but it could also be referred to generally as those that set themselves up as a "'light unto the world,' in order to 'get gain and praise' without concern for the welfare of [God's people] (2 Nephi 26:29; cf. Alma 1:16; 3 Nephi 18:24)."
- "Iniquities" is ambiguous since it could refer to the priests, Roman leaders, the general populace, a small subsection of the general populace, or some other combination of them. Whose iniquities are we referring to? The question remains unanswerable.
- The references to "nation" and "they at Jerusalem" could refer to 1st century AD Jerusalem but could also refer to 7th century BC Jerusalem with no diaspora Jews--thus the entire race of Jews could be condemned. Under this line of logic, the Lehites would have felt prejudice towards those at Jerusalem who chased them out of their land and thus Jacob here would be issuing a polemic against them. The Jews are those most guilty for being complict, orchestrating, and/or facilitating in any other way the death of Jesus. If one adopts this interpretation, then the only possible apologetic response would be to suggest that this is a hyperbolic yet mistaken indictment. This wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility for Latter-day Saints since The Book of Mormon states that some mistakes may be present in the record. Are we really to going to claim that no other nation would crucify Jesus?
All this said, Kramer's argument still works within the syntactical structure of the verses as a fully-viable interpretive possibility--demonstrating that some measured skepticism should be had towards those that would seek to make these verses have only one possible interpretation: the most negative one possible.
”Dark mark” on Lamanites and the racist perception of the Nephites?
Some have claimed that the “Dark mark” on the Lamanites (2 Nephi 5:21) is the result of a type of racism that the Nephites practiced against blacks. According to this reading of the Book of Mormon, Nephi says that the Lamanites were cursed by God with a literal skin of blackness and that their skins literally changed in their melanin content from lighter to darker. Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles specifically disavowed this interpretation of 2 Nephi 5 on behalf of the Church in January 2020. Additionally, this is not the only possible interpretation of the verses. It does not hold the distinction of being even the most likely correct interpretation of these verses. Brant Gardner has marshaled a lot of evidence to suggest that these verses and others that refer to skin in the Book of Mormon refer to moral/spiritual purity that led to a change in countenance. Ethan Sproat argues that references to skin color are in fact references to “a kind of authoritative garment. The relevant texts further lend themselves to associating such garment-skins with both the Nephite temple and competing Lamanite claims to kingship.” Author Adam Stokes has provided Semitic background as potentially helpful interpretive aid to the Book of Mormon's passages on darkness/blackness. Gerrit M. Steenblik argues that references to skin in the Book of Mormon refer to “an ancient Maya body paint tradition, chiefly for warfare, hunting, and nocturnal raiding. This discovery shifts possible explanations from the Old World to the New and suggests that any ‘mark’ upon Book of Mormon people may have been self-applied.” Steenblik’s explanation enjoys a lot of popularity among scholars of the Book of Mormon. David M. Belnap has outlined other possibilities for interpreting and understanding these passages from the Book of Mormon in a long, beautiful paper in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship on the inclusive, anti-discriminatory message of the Book of Mormon. Jan J. Martin argues "that all four of the Lamanite descriptors in 2 Nephi 5—cut off, cursed, skin of blackness, and loathsome—are best understood from within a covenant perspective, specifically from within the ancient Near Eastern suzerain-vassal covenant relationship that God made with Lehi's family." Clifford P. Jones argues that the dark mark was "a sacrilegious, permanent mark made by incision (an ancient tattoo) which, under the law of Moses, represented rebellion against God and his laws."
Another meaningful way to look at this might be to look at how Egyptians labeled their enemies. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt notes that, in their murals and other iconography, Egyptians used to colorize foreigners and their enemies as black even when they were not black since "[w]ithin the scheme of Egyptian/non-Egyptian skin color, black was not desirable for ordinary humans[.]" Black "marked out figures as foreign, as enemies of Egypt, and ultimately as representatives of chaos; black thereby contrasted with its positive meaning elsewhere." Something similar may very well be going on in the Book of Mormon.
Even if we are speaking about a literal skin change, the Book of Mormon does not argue that the Nephites are inherently superior because of their white skin as racism entails. 2 Nephi 26:33 immediately refuted that. The skin was applied to the Lamanites because the Lord did not want the Lamanites to be sexually appealing to the Nephites and thus so that the Nephites would not have unbelieving posterity with the Lamanites. As anyone from the Lamanites repented, the curse was removed from them. This is about moral responsibility; not stratifying people according to different races and assigning them less or more inherent moral worth.
Obviously, there's not one way to interpret these texts and further revelation will be needed to clarify them; but this should be sufficient to demonstrate, against critics, that immediately going for a literal skin change interpretation and charging the Book of Mormon of racism has serious issues.
Another related criticism to this is that the supposed racism stems from Joseph Smith's racist 19th century worldview and that he was injecting it into the Book of Mormon. Though there are problems with this reading. The first is that the Book of Mormon does not imbibe in the 19th century conceptions of Native Americans. Author Jeremy Talmage has astutely observed that if the Book of Mormon were to assign any racial categorization to Native Americans, they would have been described as "red" and not "black". The second is that, as non Latter-day Saint historian Max Perry Mueller observes, the Book of Mormon overturns many then-popular conceptions of race. To wit, the Book of Mormon does not see race as immutable. In Mueller's view, "the Book of Mormon taught its earliest believers that race was not real, that is, race was not a permanent part of God's vision for humanity." The Book of Mormon says that if the Lamanites repented, they would be changed (under the literal interpretation) from their darker skin to their lighter skin (2 Nephi 5:22). This was a mark placed on the Lamanites and not a permanent race (and especially not like that conceived in antebellum America).
Darkness on the Canaanites (Moses 7)
Moses 7 is part of a vision of the prophet Enoch. Verses 8 and 22 have caused some concern for some. The texts state:
8 For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.
22 And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.
Author Stephen O. Smoot explains clearly why these verses should not be interpreted as referring to a literal change in skin color.
The text describes a curse of barrenness upon the land of the people of Canaan as well as a “blackness” covering the people. The curse applies only to the land, however, with no mention of a curse upon the pre-Flood Canaanites themselves. The “blackness” of the people of Canaan is never explicitly depicted in a racialized manner (that is, as speaking of skin color). Elsewhere in the text, “blackness” is used to describe the presence of Satan in contrast to the brilliant glory of God, suggesting that a spiritual or metaphorical reading of the “blackness” of the Canaanites and the descendants of Cain (Moses 7:22) is to be preferred. (See the commentary at 1:15.) Modern leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have officially rejected any racist interpretations of these and related passages of scripture that attempt to link personal worthiness and value in the eyes of God with skin color.
Author Adam Stokes has also proposed alternative, informed, non-racist readings of the Book of Moses' passages at length.
That race that was cursed according to the Priesthood (Abraham 1:24-27)
Some have held that the Book of Abraham preserves doctrines of the African race being cursed by God relevant to the priesthood. Stephen O. Smoot has pointed out the main problems with this interpretation.
These verses have in the past been (mis)read to justify a ban on men of African descent from holding the priesthood, even though the text says nothing about the curse and priesthood restriction being associated with skin color. From the immediate context it is apparent that the issue is more along the lines of rightful priesthood succession rather than skin color (compare Abraham 1:3–4, 25–27, 31). The racist reading of these verses that links worthiness to hold the priesthood with skin color has been officially rejected by modern leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Following along Smoot's line of thought, Latter-day Saint egyptologist John S. Thompson has demonstrated at considerable length and detail why the racist interpretation of the Book of Abraham is incorrect.
As can be seen, claims of the scriptures being racist generally lack context and depth.
Question: How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?
This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.
Introduction to Question
From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.
During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.
Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages. How can one reconcile this?
Response to Question
Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings
FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.
What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed
In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.
Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.
It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.
The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders
The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.
(For further discussion see: Official Church doctrine and statements by Church leaders.) To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here
- "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
- "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
- Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
- Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
- Haynes, p. 7-8.
- Haynes, p. 8.
- Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
- Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
- Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
- Haynes, p. 161.
- Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike unto God,” address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
- "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
- Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
- Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
- Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003 off-site
- "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press. LDS Church. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
- See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
- Ibid., 73.
- Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
- Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FairMormon link, #2 FairMormon link
- Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
- Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
- Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God (Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2011) Ebook loc 313. Copan cites Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, New American Commentary 2 (Nashville: B & H Publishing Company, 2008) 478; John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Life, vol. 3 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2009), 618.
- Daniel C. Peterson, "A note on race and ethnicity in the scriptures," Sic Et Non, June 8, 2020, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2020/06/a-note-on-race-and-ethnicity-in-the-scriptures.html.
- Bradley J. Kramer, Gathered in One: How the Book of Mormon Counters Anti-Semitism in the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2019).
- Kramer, Gathered in One, 54–55, 57. Kramer cites the following in order: (6) David Klinghoffer, Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 44. (7) Samuel Sandmel, A Jewish Understanding of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2005), 19–20.
- Terry B. Ball, "Priestcraft," Book of Mormon Reference Companion, ed. Dennis Largey (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2003), 656.
- Gary E. Stevenson, "At NAACP Luncheon, Elder Stevenson Reiterates ‘All Are Alike Unto God’; Addresses Printing Error in ‘Come, Follow Me’ Regarding Race," LDS Living, January 21, 2020, https://www.ldsliving.com/at-naacp-luncheon-elder-stevenson-reiterates-all-are-alike-unto-god-addresses-printing-error-in-come-follow-me-regarding-race/s/92253.
- Brant Gardner, “ What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by ‘Skin of Blackness’?” FAIR Publications, accessed March 20, 2022, https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/archive/publications/what-does-the-book-of-mormon-mean-by-skin-of-blackness.
- Ethan Sproat, “Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon: A Textual Exegesis,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 24 (2015): 138–165.
- Adam Oliver Stokes, “’Skin’ or ‘Scales’ of Blackness? Semitic Context as Interpretive Aid for 2 Nephi 4:35 (LDS 5:21),” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 27 (2018): 278–89. A helpful literature review was done around the time Stokes published. See Russell W. Stevenson, "Reckoning With Race in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 27, no. 1 (2018): 210–25.
- Gerrit M. Steenblik, “Demythicizing the Lamanites’ ‘Skin of Blackness’,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 49 (2021): 167–258.
- David M. Belnap, “The Inclusive, Anti-Discrimination Message of the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 42 (2021): 195–370.
- Jan J. Martin, "The Prophet Nephi and the Covenantal Nature of Cut Off, Cursed, Skin of Blackness, and Loathsome," in They Shall Grow Together: The Bible in the Book of Mormon, ed. Charles Swift and Nicholas J. Frederick (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2022), 108 (107–41).
- Clifford P. Jones, "Understanding the Lamanite Mark," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 56 (2023): 172.
- Gay Robins, "Color Symbolism," in Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, ed. Donald B. Redford (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 1:293.
- Jeremy Talmage, "Black, White, and Red All Over: Skin Color in the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 28, no. 1 (2019): 49–50, 52–54, 67.
- Max Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 33. Cited in Talmage, "Skin Color," 49.
- Stephen O. Smoot, The Pearl of Great Price: A Study Edition for Latter-day Saints (Springville, UT: Book of Mormon Central, 2022), 38.
- Adam Stokes, "The People of Canaan: A New Reading of Moses 7," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 47 (2021): 159–80.
- Ibid., 61.
- John S. Thompson, “'Being of that Lineage': Generational Curses and Inheritance in the Book of Abraham," Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 54 (2022): 97–146.
- Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
- "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.