Foundation for Discrimination

Timothy Oliver

While the Bible speaks of Cain being marked by God, there is not a trace of information there about the nature of that mark. It also speaks of Canaan, the son of Noah's son Ham, being cursed by Noah, that he and his descendants would serve Shem and Japheth and their descendants. All of this is obviously insufficient evidence on which to base any theory that African blacks are descendants of Cain, Ham or Canaan, or that their skin color is either a mark or a curse from God, or that they should be prohibited from holding the priesthood.

Uniquely Mormon scriptures, however, all in the Pearl of Great Price, bridge the doctrinal chasm. "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"(Moses 7:8). To many Mormons, the land here described sounds like the African desert, and it seems sufficient to identify the people dwelling there at one time as having black skin.

Four verses later it is stated that Enoch, a giant of the faith, "continued to call upon all the people, save it were the [black] people of Canaan, to repent" (v. 12). There is no direct statement of a curse here, but surely such a man of God as Enoch would not withhold the opportunity for repentance from the people of Canaan out of base prejudice. So, it is reasoned, there must have been some kind of curse from God upon them, of which, supposedly, their black skin was emblematic.

Finally, the connection with Cain is made: "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" (v. 22). The above verses establish for Mormons that the descendants of both Cain and Canaan had black skin. However, no direct genealogical link between the "seed of Cain" and the "people of Canaan" can be found even in Mormon scriptures. It required later "continuing revelation" through the Mormon prophets to make that connection. For instance, Mormon Apostle and Church President Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. wrote: "It was well understood by the early elders of the Church that the mark which was placed on Cain and which his posterity inherited was the black skin. The Book of Moses informs us that Cain and his descendants were black. Enoch taught the Gospel among all the people everywhere, except the people of Canaan. The people of Canaan lived before the flood, and were descendants of Cain" (The Way to Perfection, p. 107; emphasis added).

It is important to note that the black "people of Canaan" described in Moses 7 are a group living in Enoch's own day. Therefore they are not the descendants of Noah's grandson, Canaan, the Canaan cursed by Noah. Noah himself was not born until shortly after the passing of Enoch. The Bible traces Noah's, and thus Canaan's, patriarchal lineage through righteous Enoch to Seth, not to Cain. Even assuming, then, that the black "seed of Cain" and the black "people of Canaan" are one and the same, it remains to be explained how this race survived the flood in Noah's day. Here the scene switches to another portion of the Pearl of Great Price. "Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;" (Abraham 1:21-27).

According to the above passage, Ham married a woman by the name of Egyptus, whose name meant "forbidden." If this woman's name being "forbidden" indicates she was a descendant of Cain and/or the people of Canaan, and if she was the mother of Ham's son Canaan, then there would be a maternal genealogical link (one not likely to be noted by Hebrew scripture) between Cain and the Canaan cursed by Noah. These are both "ifs" for which there is no incontrovertible proof in Mormon canonized scripture, only the pronouncements of the modern oracles of God (see below).

According to the above passage, Egyptus and Ham had a daughter whom they also named Egyptus. The latter supposedly discovered the land of Egypt while it was still under water, and eventually settled her sons there, of whom the eldest was the first Pharaoh. Pharaoh is said to be both "of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood," and also, "a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites." The natural assumption would be that these are equivalent expressions, meaning that the blood of the Canaanites is that lineage which was cursed to be denied the priesthood. The text is not indisputably clear whether "the blood of the Canaanites" of which Pharaoh was "a partaker" refers to the black "people of Canaan" from Enoch's day, or to descendants of Ham's son, the Canaan cursed by Noah, or to both. The language of, "thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land," immediately following reference to descent from Ham, seems to suggest "preservation" through the flood, thus making Pharaoh a descendant from the "people of Canaan" of Enoch's antediluvian time. If "the blood of the Canaanites" of which Pharaoh was "a partaker" also refers to descendants of Ham's son Canaan, it would seem the first Pharaoh must have been the son of both the younger Egyptus and Canaan. These both being children of Ham, their marriage would have been incestuous. 

Bypassing Ham's son Canaan, however, would mean counting not just one, but two generations of matriarchal lineage - the two women named Egyptus - in a time when lineage was virtually always traced by patriarchal order. Indeed, the governments of Pharaoh, Ham, and Adam are stated by the passage itself to have been patriarchal. And it says that Pharaoh claimed to have the right to priesthood "from Noah, through Ham." His government being patriarchal, it is evident that he would not have traced his claim to priesthood authority through a matriarchal lineage, particularly since women did not hold this priesthood to begin with.

The Mormon scriptures, then, indicate that Pharaoh and all the Egyptians were descendants of the younger Egyptus and Canaan, a brother and sister, both children of Ham, and at least one of them, probably both, the children of the elder Egyptus. By this means that lineage which had no right to the priesthood, "the blood of the Canaanites, was preserved in the land," - preserved, ostensibly, through the flood. Mormon President and Prophet Brigham Young stipulated that "Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the priesthood" (Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff-His Life and Labors, p. 351). He also taught that the curse upon Noah's grandson Canaan was a continuation of the curse placed on Cain: "Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race - that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed..." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 290; emphasis added). The curse of being a "servant of servants" is the curse that was pronounced upon Ham's son Canaan. Young thus confirms that Canaan, too, was a child of the elder Egyptus.

Mormons self-conscious over their Church's history of racism against African blacks sometimes deny that the black skin was the curse; rather, say they, the curse was in being unable to hold the priesthood. This does not make the situation any less racist, however. It matters little whether one says the curse was the black skin, or, the identifying mark of the curse was the black skin - in the end, those of that race were the objects of official discrimination by the Mormon Church for nearly 130 years. Moreover, the African black race is not the only race that Mormon scripture, prophets, and apostles have said was cursed. The other curses never prohibited the other races from holding the Mormon priesthood, but they did include dark skin, specifically. The Book of Mormon teaches that God cursed the Lamanites, thought by Mormons to be the ancestors of most Native Americans, with a "skin of blackness." "And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities. And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done" (2 Nephi 5:21-23; emphasis added). This verse actually puts the word "loathsome" on the lips of God Himself, and makes Him responsible for the Lamanites being loathed by the Nephites.

Other passages in the Book of Mormon touch on this same doctrine: "Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you... O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God" (Jacob 3:5, 8).

"And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men" (Alma 3:6).

"...[F]or this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry" (Mormon 5:15).

The Book of Mormon also promised that when the Lamanites in the last days would believe the gospel, their curse would, within but a few generations, be lifted, and they would regain their white skin. "And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people" (2 Nephi 30:6). It even tells of a group of Lamanites who became white: "And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites; And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites..." (3 Nephi 2:14-16). All Book of Mormon editions since 1981 have changed 2 Nephi 30:6 from "...save they shall be a white and a delightsome people," to read, "...save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people" (emphasis added). All the cross references found at the bottom of the page in pre-1981 editions that connected the word "white" with other Book of Mormon passages on the skin color of the Lamanites have been eliminated. There is nothing about the verse as it is found today to tie it to the curse of skin coloration. Anyone unfamiliar with the doctrine would never guess it existed by reading this verse and its current cross-references.

This makes it all the more interesting that other Book of Mormon passages which speak of the Lamanites' skin color as a curse also have cross-references to 2 Nephi 30:6 - including verses that were not so cross-referenced in pre-1981 editions. For instance, in 2 Nephi 5:21, the word "skin" in the phrase "skin of blackness" is cross-referenced not only to 2 Nephi 30:6, but also to 3 Nephi 2:15, which tells of the dark-skinned Lamanites who became white. That verse, in turn, is cross-referenced back not only to 2 Nephi 30:6, but also to 2 Nephi 5:21 and Jacob 3:8, both of which refer to the Lamanites' skin color.

Now that 2 Nephi 30:6 has been made to look as though it has nothing to do with skin color, why do other verses that speak explicitly of skin color have cross-references to 2 Nephi 30:6? It appears the Mormon leadership was embarrassed by the "skin color equals cursed by God" doctrine, or at least by the prophecy of Lamanites turning white after accepting their gospel. It seems they sought to cover up that prophecy by changing the word "white" to "pure" and removing relevant cross-references at that verse.

It is equally apparent, however, that they were unwilling to relinquish the basic doctrine about skin coloring being a curse from God, as so clearly taught in other Book of Mormon passages. No wonder, then, that the First Presidency of the Church recently affirmed they had not discussed, and had no intention of, removing passages from their scriptures that were racially offensive to African Blacks. To do so without addressing the curse of dark skin taught in the Book of Mormon would be both hypocritical and politically dangerous. But to also remove the curse of dark skin teaching from the Book of Mormon would interfere with the entire story line of that book, and leave unexplained how dark skinned Native Americans could possibly be the descendants of fair skinned Israelites.

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