Curses (on Cain and Ham), foiled again!

June_2007_cain-and-abel-vouet-pietro-novelliIt’s going to take me a few paragraphs to get there, so here’s advance notice that this post is intended to be a pointer to recent scholarship on how biblical curses associated with the stories of Cain and Ham came to be misinterpreted by some Christians as applying to dark-skinned Africans.
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In 18th and 19th century America, prior to the Civil War, the Cain and Ham curses were interpreted by many Christians as explaining the skin color of black Africans and as justifying the practice of African slavery. After slavery ended, and as late as the 1960s, the curse on Ham continued to be put to work by some Christians to justify ethnic segregation. (1)

Given Mormonism’s geographic beginnings, it’s not much of a surprise to find occurrences of Mormons making the same uses of these stories. For example, the early Mormons swung back and forth between fairly strong abolitionist tendencies to the eventual 1850s legalization of slavery in the Utah Territory. (2) In lobbying for the territorial law, Brigham Young is quoted as stating “In as much as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordenances of God, in the Preisthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in Slavery- The seed of Canaan will inevitably carry the curse [of servitude] which was placed upon them, until the same authority which placed it there, shall see proper to have it removed.” (3)

A hundred years later, when segregation was an issue of national debate, some Mormons matched conservative Southern Christians in justifying American segregation with biblical authority. A prominent example is McConkie’s 1958 Mormon Doctrine, published during the aftermath of nationally prominent desegregation attempts in Little Rock, Arkansas. In its entry on “Caste Systems,” the book expressly approved of ethnic segregation and “caste systems” as originating in the gospel.

Of course, the serious disagreements among Americans in general over slavery and segregation were mirrored within Mormonism: there were Mormon contemporaries of Young and McConkie that didn’t share those men’s views (examples that come to mind include Joseph Smith, Walker Lewis, Sterling McMurrin, Hugh B. Brown, Hugh Nibley, and David O. McKay).

But one peculiarly Mormon function of these two Genesis stories is that some Mormons also used them to justify the ethnicity-based restrictions on temple worship and priesthood membership. Such attempts seem understandable, as members were motivated to discover logic in a policy that could otherwise seem inconsistent with gospel teachings. Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie were the preachers in our era who most notably put these stories to that use. (4 )

None of the above is news; in analyzing Mormon teachings about ethnicity and lineage, each of Newell Bringhurst, Lester Bush, Arnold Green, and Armand Mauss have pointed out the role of the Cain/Ham teachings in justifying Mormon practices, and Green and Mauss have identified JFS and BRM as the primary forces spreading the teachings among 20th century Mormons. (5) What is new is additional scholarship that supports the scriptural interpretations of those who, like Bush , Mauss, and Nibley in the 1970s, and Lowry Nelson and David O. McKay in the 1950s, felt that the Cain and Ham stories could not be applied to black Africans.

As an example of such a 1970s viewpoint, here is Lester Bush’s description of a 1976 conversation with Nibley:

[Nibley] does not think the blacks are related to Cain, or the early Canaan, and probably not to Ham, Egyptus, Canaan or Pharaoh. He’s unsure but would guess now that Brigham Young was “wrong” relating blacks to Cain. He said–“we all have Negro blood”-there was intermixture everywhere. I asked about the accounts of the early patriarchs marrying apparent blacks. He exclaimed yes[.] I mentioned Moses–Yes. But the real “irony” was Joseph marrying a daughter of the priest of On–who he says by definition had to have been a Hamite–and their sons were Ephraim and Manasseh, who[m] we are all so proud to claim. He said it was as though the Lord was trying to tell us something.” (emphasis in original) Bush, “Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ (1973): Context and Reflections, 1998, ” JMH, 25:1 (Spring 1999), 268-269.

The Curse of Cain
Genesis chapter 4 reports that after killing Abel, “the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” The account makes no reference to skin color. It says nothing to imply that whatever the mark was, it would also apply to Cain’s children (Nibley’s 1981 book Abraham in Egypt offered various interpretations of the “mark of Cain”–none of which included skin color).

In his 2003 book, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Jewish Studies scholar David Goldenberg explains that a belief that Cain’s “mark” was black skin is a relatively recent phenomenon. It began first –and slowly– with a mistranslation in apocryphal Armenian literature from around the sixth century A.D.; the initial mistake was mistranslating the Genesis statement that Cain’s “countenance fell” as meaning Cain’s face turned dark. By the 17th and 18th centuries, he shows, a belief that the curse was black skin was becoming common in Europe, due in large part, presumably, to the economic usefulness of the belief in supporting the practice of enslaving black Africans. By Joseph Smith’s time, the belief was widespread among Christians in slaveholding America.

The Curses of Ham
In Genesis 9 Ham observes a drunk and unclothed Noah. Noah responds by enigmatically “cursing” Ham’s son Canaan: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” The text itself contains no reference to skin color and Noah doesn’t suggest the curse applies to Canaan’s descendants. Yet thousands of years later this curse was redirected to Ham and became a keystone in how European and American Christians justified African slavery.

How, why, and when did readers direct the curse at black Africans? After his exhaustive research of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sources, Goldenberg concludes that seventh century Arabia is when and where an explicit link between blacks and slavery is made with the curse. He writes that this occurred precisely “when the Black became strongly identified with the slave class in the Near East, after the Islamic conquest of Africa.” It first appeared in the Christian West in the fifteenth century as Europe discovered Africa and started to trade slaves. Then, “As the Black slave trade moved to England and then America, the Curse of Ham moved with it.” (6)

Religious historian Benjamin Braude explains that over time the story of Ham and the curse was interpreted in many and inconsistent ways: “Ham was the archetypal Other. Whatever the phobia of the moment, Ham was it. In the course of his long history Ham was Egyptian, heretic, sinner, sodomite, Jew, Muslim, Mongol, Black, Asian, and African.” Among Christian readers, up until the 18th and 19th centuries, the “Curse of Ham” was likely to be viewed by Christians as an indictment of Jews, not blacks. In fact, Braude notes that medieval and later Christian iconography depicted Ham with “archetypal images of Jew-hatred — crooked nose, hunchback, pointed cap, bearded face,” and claims no Christian artist depicted Ham as a black person until the American Presbyterian Josiah Priest included a drawing of a black Ham in his 1843 book Slavery, as it Relates to the Negro.

Braude concludes that it was only in 18th and 19th century Europe and America, where scriptural support for slavery of black Africans became economically useful, that the story of Ham became commonly interpreted as a story of curse that involved dark skin. (7)

For Priest, the claim that Ham had black skin relied primarily on the argument that Ham’s name meant “black” (so he thought), so Ham must have been black. Others thought his name meant “hot,” and saw that as an indication he had settled in hot Africa. These assumptions about the meaning of Ham show up in JFS’s and BRM’s writings, and even in the LDS Bible Dictionary.

However, Goldenberg examines in detail the history of the interpretation of Ham’s name. He shows these meanings were developed in the centuries after Christ…thousands of years after the text was written. After reviewing of the word’s etymology in the involved languages (including Arabic, Aramaic, Coptic, Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, Old South Arabian, Semitic, Syriac, and Ugaritic), Goldenberg concludes the biblical name Ham did not mean “black,” “dark,” “heat,” and was not related to the Egyptian or Semitic words for “black,” “dark,” or “hot.” He believes the mistaken interpretations developed in part because in reducing spoken Hebrew to written form two different phonemes were represented with one graphical symbol, leading to confusion between words that in oral Hebrew were distinguished.

Those are a few of the details from Goldenberg’s, Braude’s, and Haynes’ research. Their books and articles on this topic provide much more historical information and analysis on the ethnicity-focused readings of the Cain, Ham, and other biblical stories (such as the story of Nimrod). Goldenberg suggest that many readers in the era of the New World have misinterpreted these biblical texts “ultimately due to an assumption that the way things are now is the way things were in the past,” failing to realize “our perceptions of the Black have been conditioned by the intervening history of centuries of Black slavery and its manifold ramifications.”

Stirling Adams

End Notes
(1) See Stephen Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (Oxford University Press, 2002).
(2) See, for example, Bringhurst’s chapter “The Missouri Thesis Revisited,” in Black and Mormon (University of Illinois Press, 2004).
(3) Quoted in in Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Whence the Negro Doctrine? A Review of Ten Years of Answers” in Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church ( Signature Books; 1984). See footnote 16 and the associated text.
(4) Among other of their writings, see Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection (Genealogical Society of Utah, 1931, it had at least 18 printings, including by Deseret Book in 1984); In McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, see, for example, entries on Cain, Ham, Caste Systems, and Races of Man.
(5) Among other of their works, see Lester E. Bush, Jr. “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 8:1 (Spring, 1973); Newell G. Bringhurst, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism (Greenwood Press: 1981); Arnold H. Green, “Gathering and Election: Israelite Descent and Universalism in Mormon Discourse,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 25 (Spring 99); Armand Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (U. of Ill. Press: 2003).
(6) David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton University Press, 2003)
(7) Benjamin Braude, “Cham et Noé. Race, esclavage, et exégèse entre Islam, Judaïsme, et Christianisme”, Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales, 57 (2002), no. 1, Jan-Feb, 93-125 (unedited English version); see also, Braude, “Ham and Noah: Sexuality, Servitudinism, and Ethnicity.”

Comments

  1. Nice work Stirling. Some related comments:

    Noah doesn’t suggest the curse applies to Canaan’s descendants.

    Explicitly it doesnt. Implicitly it does. The curse is because of Ham’s actions but is placed upon Canaan, son of Ham, suggestive of the curse being lineage-based, as sons tend to take up their father’s transgressions, a theme which pervades the Hebrew Bible. There are plenty of Rabbinical sources which discuss the obscurity of this text and generally talk about the curse applying to Ham’s lineage. However, how early these go back, and how influenced these readings are by the slave trade, as noted by you above, is up for debate.

    Second point of obscurity owing itself to the LDS Canon (cf. PofGP Moses 8:27) is that prior to the Deluge, Noah and all three sons, explicitly including Ham, are considered perfect in their generation and as walking with God. For Ham to have walked with God and then to have fallen so far after the Flood as to be cursed by Noah suggests something particularly egregious, perhaps in the Mormon parlance he became Perdition.

    Final point of obscurity is the Hebrew of Gen 9. When Ham saw “his father’s nakedness”, what he was probably doing was harboring incestuous desire for his own mother, or Ham’s wife, which may or may not have been his mother, but was still absolutely condemned in the Law, cf. Lev. 18:7, Deut. 27:20, Ezek. 22:9-11.

  2. I think it goes a little deeper than BRM and JFS. The book of Moses has a few scriptures that, interpreted plainly, would indicate that the seed of Cain was in fact Black, though I agree with your assessment here.

    Moses 7:8
    Moses 7:22

    And then you have Abraham 1:26-27.

    I think these verses could be used as justification moreso than BRM or JFS quotes.

  3. Thanks for the useful essay. 1830s JSJ translations are a fascinating and rich source that do deserve additional careful attention.

    What are the precise relationships among Egyptians and African blacks in these racist ideologies? at least in KEP, Ham is the source of Egyptian mummies.

  4. The fact that something is severely politically incorrect does not mean it doesn’t have some elements of truth in it. It would be very difficult, looking at the history of the African continent to suggest that they haven’t at the very least had some awefully bad luck. I don’t think I’m eloquent enough to explain my feelings on this, but historically, with few exceptions Africa has not really made much progress without the help of western influence. That does not mean God does not love them, or that they are all terrible people, but certainly children pay for the sins of the father in a temporal cause-effect, consequential sense for many many generations sometimes. They aren’t in anyway at fault for it, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Getting back to who exactly is a decendent of Cain, I don’t really know. Ultimately it doesn’t matter much for my salvation nor for any Black person’s.

    It seems like we have this knee jerk reaction from people who view it as a sticking point for someone in the gospel that we must disavow any such statements out of concern for political correctness.

    The Lord certainly makes a way for bad experiences and actions by men to have a positive impact sometimes. Perhaps many in Africa or of that heritage have been preserved, culturally speaking, from this so called curse. A two sided sword so to speak.

    Anyway, I don’t really know and I think that is the best answer. No one gets up and bears their testimoney about the curse of Ham. What I do know is that we shouldn’t dismiss certain elements of the Earth’s history simply because it makes us uncomfortable. I don’t see this as part of “the gospel” in any means, much like I wouldn’t see the son born out of the rape of his mother who later went on to become a great missionary a gospel truth. The actions of men may cause great sorrow in this world, but that does not mean they were inspired by God or a part of the Gospel when we attempt to explain them. Like I said near the start, I have no idea if I did this any justice, it’s a complicated issue and hard to really explain it properly.

  5. Kevin Christensen says:

    Good discussion. Too often, discussions of LDS racism treats the topic in a vaccum, as though it is something inherent in LDS doctrine, original and inherent in us, rather than baggage carried in from the larger culture. I notice that BYU Studies recently reviewed the Haynes and Goldberg books, making the obvious connections and implications for LDS readers. More discussion is welcome.

    Regarding the verses in Moses, Kerry Shirts recently reported that an non-LDS Enoch scholar was interested in the Moses “black” passages in comparison to depictions in 1st Enoch in the Animal Apocalypses that depicted the Cainites as black bulls. I don’t know quite what it means, except that we shouldn’t assume that the ancient cultural assumptions about the significance of “black” in the Enoch passages in the LDS Book of Moses texts are the same cultural assumptions into which our text arrived. There may be more going on than we think, and it may not be what we think.

    In Abraham and Egypt, Nibley dissected carefully the passage about pharoh in Abraham 1:26-27, showing that there is nothing about race in the passages, or connecting any race with any particular curse. What was denied pharoh, he explained (persuasively to me, at least) was the claim to a patriarchal priesthood based on a matrilinial descent. So pharoh imitated the patriarchal order, but the kingship actually followed the matrilinial line. That actually described the historical situation in Egypt.

  6. Tim (#2): In this post I’m focusing on the two Genesis stories, but yes, those scriptures have also been used as justification. It would interesting to have a separate conversation about the past interpretations of those scriptures (and how New Testament, BoM, and D&C teachings were, or were not factored in). Speaking of interesting, Leonard Arrington wrote that “A special committee of the Twelve appointed by President McKay in 1954 to study the issue [of the priesthood/temple ban] concluded that there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy but that the church membership was not prepared for its reversal.” I’d like to see the committeee’s written report.

    Nibley’s 1981 interpretation of the Abraham verses was that that priesthood participation was not denied in on the basis of being black; instead, “What was denied was recognition of patriarchal right to the priesthood made by a claim of matriarchal sucesssion.” In several places in the book he emphasizes race was not a factor in the Abraham verses, stating, typically, “In all of this, please note, there is no word of race of color, though that has been the main point of attack on the Book of Abraham by the enemies of the Prophet.” Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (he failed to note that until 1978 many Mormons (friends of the prophet) interpreted that verse as describing a restriction based on skin color).

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    Great stuff, Stirling. Thanks for this.

    Aaron B

  8. Kevin,
    I like your point that “we shouldn’t assume that the ancient cultural assumptions about the significance of “black” in the Enoch passages in the LDS Book of Moses texts are the same cultural assumptions into which our text arrived.”
    Regarding Mos. 7:22, a couple of other thoughts are that this verse is part of the recounting of a vision in which Enoch is shown “the world for the space of many generations”(v4). In addition to the caution that we should exercise before drawing historical facts from texts that may have passed through many hands, scribes, languages, cultures, and translations, I think we should be extra chary of expecting a dream/vision to be intended to accurately rely historical details.
    Other poetic/visionary language from the dream includes “And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness;…..the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?”
    We wouldn’t use this verse to make a case that rain is a result of God’s tears, or that night is caused by a chain Satan’s hand. Similarly, we ought to be cautious about applying verse 22’s text as factual assertions.
    While Moses 7:22 states, “the seed of Cain were black,” it doesn’t say they had black skin. Is that the intention? I prefer the interpretation that “black” is used here only as a symbolic expression of a level of purity–not as a literal description of skin color. Such a symbolic use of “black” is found in each of the Old Testament, Book of Mormon, and 19th century American culture.

    I’ll be interested to see any forthcoming analyses involving the Animal Apocalypses. Thanks.

  9. Cdub,

    With regard to your suggestion that black Africa’s lack of progress might be a consequence of sin, curse or whatever, I suggest a book called “Guns, Germs & Steel” by Jared Diamond. The question he sets out to answer is something like, “why do some societies rule and conquer while others are ruled and conquered?” The answer to the question is based on geography, not biological differences of the people, or in this case, God’s displeasure with the people. Africa just isn’t a good place, geographically, for a thriving, expanding civilization.

    The question now is; could a society’s placement by God in a terrible land be some kind of curse or punishment for past sin? Possibly. But we don’t know that that’s the case with regard to Africa. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people.

  10. Stirling says:

    Sam (#3 ),
    I don’t know the Kirtland Egyptian Papers (but see that I should), and I don’t have a good answer to your question of “What are the precise relationships among Egyptians and African blacks in these racist ideologies?”
    But, what about the broader question of “among the ancient Jewish, Islamic, and Christian peoples, what were the attitudes or prejudices towards African blacks?”
    In Goldenberg’s chapter 4, “Postbiblical Isreael: Black Africans,” Goldenberg reviews commentary on Moses’ reportedly Ethiopian wife in biblical, Targum, Hellenistic-Jewish, and early rabinnic texts. He concludes there is no evidence that biblical and post-biblical Judaism saw “anything denigrating in African origin or in miscegenation.” His look at the broader question of whether there was a cultural reproach with regards to black Africans yields a similar conclusion: “Apparently Kushite ancestry did not matter one way or the other.”
    This is similar to Hugh Nibley’s findings in Abraham in Egypt. In a subchapter entitled “No Prejudice,” Nibley concluded that in the Abrahamic era there was not a prejudice against skin color: “In the drawings and texts, which are numerous, the proportion of black to white seems to follow no pattern but that of a society in which the races mingle freely and equally.” He agreed with Heinrich Brugsch that in records of the “four races” of the period and geography (Egyptian, Asiatic, Black, European-Berger), there was not “the slightest indication of race distinction.” From reviewing numerous royal portraits and royal mummies, “from the earliest dynasties right down to the end,” Nibley determined that if black skin “did not prevent one from becoming pharaoh, neither was it a requirement. There was simply no prejudice in the matter.” He concludes the subchapter with the statement that in the Abrahamic era it is “clear that there is no exclusive equation between Ham and Pharaoh, or between Ham and the Egyptians, or between the Egyptians and the blacks, or between any of the above and any particular curse.”

    Frank Snowden’s draws similar conclusions in his books Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience and Before color Prejudice : the Ancient View of Blacks (1970, and 1983, both from Harvard U. Press)

  11. Cdub, I think that what you describes leads us to forgive the atrocities of human kind as God’s will. Was Cambodia disfavored of God for the Khmer Rouge? Or China for the Cultural Revolution? Or the Saints in the furtive State of Deseret?

  12. ED (#1),
    It is relevant to note, as you do, that “prior to the Deluge, Noah and all three sons, explicitly including Ham, are considered perfect in their generation and as walking with God.”
    The BoA also describes Pharoah as righteous, wise, just, and blessed by Noah with the “blessings of the earth,” and “blessings of wisdom.”

    Portrayals of Ham or his descendants in the scriptural texts as righteous, or wise, benevolent, etc. runs counter to the past (or current, if now is when you buy a new copy of BRM’s Mormon Doctrine) speculations among some Christians of other ethnic groups as being “degenerate.”

    Regarding your comment that what Ham “was probably doing was harboring incestuous desire for his own mother, or Noah’s wife, which may or may not have been his mother…”
    That is one of the many, many glosses that readers have suggested to fill out the story. Haynes’ book Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, lists some of the creative additions that have been suggested for the story over the ages. I think it’s a stretch to offer any extra details as “probable” depictions of actual events.

  13. Stirling, I can get you a copy of my paper on KEP, which I’d like to be sending to academic (non-Mormon) journals in the next month or so. I don’t go into the racist ideologies really at all, but I would comment that Hamish descent is invoked for the mighty queen Katoumun (one of the mummies, reportedly the daughter of Onitas). This would then lead toward an identification of Ham as the ancestor of the mummies, who were not African in the same sense as American slaves. Hence my question as to whether Hamish genealogy was described (focusing here on early national American period) as encompassing both African blacks and North Africans like the Egyptians.

  14. Cdub, in 4, you mention you aren’t sure who is a descendant of Cain/Ham (neither am I, though based on the lineage models described by Rohde, Olson, Chang in “Modelling the Recent Common Ancestry of All Living Humans.” Nature 431 (2004), it seems likely everyone now alive is):

    But when you write “we shouldn’t dismiss certain elements of the Earth’s history simply because it makes us uncomfortable,” I read you as suggesting you give the benefit of doubt to the past speculations that dark-skinned Africans are predominantly descendants of Cain/Ham (If you don’t intend that meaning, correct me). Some Mormons grow up hearing the occasional speculation regarding blacks Africans as descendants of Cain and Ham, but don’t also hear church-related discussions about what the common 20th and 21st century assumptions are about where early humans lived, and when they migrated to where (though I have participated in EQ lessons that in discuss Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, only very recently, of course). Because of that, I think it can be easy to hold default assumptions about specific ethnic groups that are shaped by the Cain/Ham speculations.

    What interested me about the Goldenberg book was that in uncovering substantial portions of the history of those speculations, it adds to the significant data suggesting they are inaccurate, at best. I think now our default assumptions should be that those speculations are wrong, and any conclusions that rely on those speculations for support need to be completely rethought.
    Any response?

  15. Stirling #12

    I think it’s a stretch to offer any extra details as “probable” depictions of actual events.

    Various lexical sources (including Genesius’ Lexicon) considers the Hebrew term in question to be equivalent in meaning and import between the Gen 9:22-23, Lev. 20:11, Lev. 18:8, 16, and 1 Sam. 20:30. I dont see that as a gloss.

    See:

    http://cf.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=06172&version=kjv

  16. Sam, I’d like to see the paper, thanks.s
    The BoA says that “Egyptus” was the wife of Ham, mother of Pharaoh. The earliest handwritten manuscripts of the BoA use the name of Zeptah for Ham’s wife, instead of Egyptus. I’m keeping an eye out for information that may explain the occurrence of Zeptah or the change to Egyptus. Have you run into anything related to this?

  17. ED (15), I don’t see how that or those scriptures would lead one to guess with confidence what the actual event being suggested is. The plethora of possibilities suggested over the millennia would seem to bear out the difficulty of dong so.
    One of various difficulties is that Lev. 18 prohibits uncovering the nakedness of many persons (“father, mother, uncle, aunt, in-laws, siblings, grandchildren, woman and daughter, and more). Commentators view various acts as qualifying as “uncovering the nakedness.”
    The actual text of Gen. 9 refers says Ham “saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.” I don’t see any probable conclusions as to what that meant.
    From your perspective, what am I failing to see?

    BTW, I used the term “gloss,” to describe the speculation, which I think is too pejorative for what I meant. Instead, I meant to identify it as one of the various details people have suggested to complete that particular plot element in the story.

  18. I’d also add that perhaps Brigham’s position on slavery was more nuanced than the quote in the orignal post. As noted in his Office Journal – Book D:

    Dec. 26, 1860 (pg. 184)
    Mr. Creighton called in and had Some Conversation with him upon the Government and remarked [that] the South had not learned to govern by whipping &c. riding Niggers. Slavery is the ruin of the South observed the President. The South has a beautiful climate and rich soil, but slavery ruins any soil. To these remarks Mr. Creighton acquiesced.

  19. One of various difficulties is that Lev. 18 prohibits uncovering the nakedness of many persons (“father, mother, uncle, aunt, in-laws, siblings, grandchildren, woman and daughter, and more). Commentators view various acts as qualifying as “uncovering the nakedness.”

    Correct, in various contexts it has various meanings. However, in all those contexts the implication is clearly that of incestuous desire.

    From your perspective, what am I failing to see?

    That there are clear exegetical indicators from contemporaneous texts which shed light on the current passage in question.

    BTW, I used the term “gloss,” to describe the speculation, which I think is too pejorative for what I meant. Instead, I meant to identify it as one of the various details people have suggested to complete that particular plot element in the story.

    Fair enough. But, I would have to assume that among the various details and possible speculations, that those with good exegetical support are to be favored over those without it. My point is there is good exegetical support for the particular reading that what got Ham cursed was incestuous desire.

  20. Julie M. Smith says:

    “But the real “irony” was Joseph marrying a daughter of the priest of On–who he says by definition had to have been a Hamite–and their sons were Ephraim and Manasseh, who[m] we are all so proud to claim.”

    /slaps self on forehead. Of course.

  21. I’ve already told this story I think but when I was a soph in college at OU I was in a literature survey course in which we read most of Genesis. I didn’t read closely since I felt like I knew everything pretty well, or at least better than my classmates.
    The teach asked what was the curse on Cain and I rose my hand, the only one in the class and said it was dark skin. The guy looked at me funny and said no that’s not it at all and said the correct thing (as you mentioned Stirling) I was flustered and mad, like I knew this was in Genesis. I know it’s right. After much hunting, in fact I was wrong and I’m sure I looked stupid/evil. Doh.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Funny story about this. I’m sitting at a table for one of the meals at an MHA conference, and somehow this topic comes up. I mention this great review of two books in BYU Studies that sheds tremendous light on the broader Christian and other origins of these ideas many of us once thought were uniquely Mormon. The same review Kevin C. alludes to above. And it turns out that the guy sitting to my left is none other than Stirling himself–the very author of that review! It was sort of like the scene in When Harry Met Sally and Carrie Fisher quoted from a magazine article, not realizing that Billy Crystal’s friend was the actual author of them. So that was when I actually met Stirling, and this is the kind of cool stuff that happens at MHA.

    Two odd ideas that seem to persist among a lot of Mormons:

    1. That there is some linguistic relationship between Cain and Canaan. They are completely unrelated, and the apparent similarity is just an accident of English. More accurate transliterations from the Hebrew would be Qayin (a name having to do with metal smithing) and Kena’an (a name meaning “Westland,” as Canaan was to the west of the great Eastern powers.

    2. That Canaanites were black. Sorry, but no. Canaanites were a Semitic people, who lived in the same land (Palestine) with approximately the same culture as the Israelites themselves. Hebrew is actually a form of Canaanite.

  23. Stirling says:

    On identifying Ham’s transgression, here is some of Haynes’ commentary on the issue (from p. 69):

    Among the various forms of ignominy applied to Ham through the ages, sexual themes have dominated…Bible readers have figured Ham’s transgression as attempted rape or castration of his father, as incest with his mother…as willful violation of Noah’s policy of celibacy on the ark, or as some combination…[I]mages of Ham “brimming with sexuality” animate rabbinic comments, the writings of church fathers, medieval legends, Renaissance art and drama, and biblical commentary. Even modern Bible scholarship has contributed to the remarkable longevity enjoyed by sexual readings of Genesis 9. These are encouraged by historical-critical inquiry (which suggest the story is an etiological tale explaining Canaanite sexual practices the ancient Isralites found abhorrent), as well as by canon criticism.

    Charges that Ham was guilty of disobedience, disrespect, or irreverence also appear throughout the history of the interpretation.

    In Goldenberg’s review of Jewish sources, he focuses on two speculations: 1) from a tannaitic midrashim, that Ham, a dog, and a raven, together violated a prohibition against engaging in sex during the flood (p.102-05); 2) from another midrashic tradition, that Ham had castrated his father (105).

    With the exception of the violation of celibacy, there are examples of many of the above variations within past Mormon teachings (the celibacy one may occur, also, I just can’t think of an instance). Here are two examples from Abraham Cannon’s diary (thanks to J. Stapley):

    March 29, 1892; Tuesday
    I asked Jos. F. Smith why it was that Ham’s son Canaan was cursed instead of Ham for exposing his Father’s person. He said that the Prophet Joseph is credited with saying that the sin of Ham consisted in trying to castrate his father, Noah, and kill his brothers, Shem and Japhet, so that he might become the head of the nations of the earth.

    July 13, 1892; Wednesday
    [On discussion by President Snow in the weekly meeting of the FP and Q12] Also the case of Noah’s sons who covered his nakedness though Noah had been in great sin and was uncovered because of his drunkenness. The son of the latter who made sport of his father’s condition was cursed, while his brothers were blessed. The lesson he desired to teach us by these examples was that we should not expose the weaknesses of the Priesthood which is over us, if they have weak points, but should try to shield them from the gaze of the unbelieving or scoffing multitude.

    (we missed you at MHA this year, Kevin)

  24. J. Michael says:

    Wonderful and stimulating thoughts. This discussion always seems less than satisfying in the sense that the unwinding of previously accepted explanations for the delay in extending the priesthood to blacks leaves us with no acceptable rationale for the policy. We are eventually left to hope that there was a good reason, but one the Lord has not yet clearly revealed.

    From the perspective of having lived in Africa for a few years, an observation: if the priesthood had been available to blacks in, say, 1900, would we have sent missionaries to “black” Africa (the Church was already established in South Africa by then)? I believe the answer is “yes”. And I believe Africans would have joined the Church in very large numbers. And, in my opinion, the strain of rapid growth in such an impoverished area could have bankrupted the Church. At the very least the expansion model of the 20th century would have been dramatically altered. I believe it is possible the priesthood may have been withheld from Africans until the Church had grown strong enough in developed lands to financially support the African Church we now see – 70,000 members in Nigeria, as an example. This speculation admittedly does not address why one area of the world would be so economically disadvantaged in the first place, but perhaps Diamond’s book, which I haven’t yet read, is helpful in that part of the discussion.

    African missionaries of my acquaintance don’t make much of this issue, by the way. They seem to make their peace with it when they gain a testimony of living prophets and accept what they cannot yet know as a matter of faith. Regardless, they generally resist the temptation to “say much where the Lord has chosen to say little” – a talent I have not yet developed.

  25. Adam,

    I don’t think geographically that England is a good place for a thriving civilization, much less one which went on to have at least as much influence as Rome, if not more, in shaping the history of the modern world. You may be able to point to circumstances and exceptions which they had the opportunity to exploit, but surely Africa and its people had at least as many opportunities?

    In response to another post:

    “I think that what you describes leads us to forgive the atrocities of human kind as God’s will. Was Cambodia disfavored of God for the Khmer Rouge? Or China for the Cultural Revolution? Or the Saints in the furtive State of Deseret”

    In re-reading my statement I can see how my language could be construed to mean God inspires evil actions for a good result.

    To clarify that’s not what I believe, I am suggesting that because bad and terrible things happen does not mean that good things can’t come out of them. It’s difficult to tell the daughter, and her daughter, and her daughter, and so on for generations that resulted perhaps from rape that you wish she never existed. That’s easy to say from a keyboard for sure, but it gets to the sticky nuances that even though people do bad things, and maybe we are descendant of “bad things” we still have our agency and can be inspired of God and be a force for good.

    Likewise, I could care less who a descendent of Ham is, as was pointed out, for all I know I have some of that heritage, maybe we all do. I just don’t know why there is so much hand wringing about the priesthood was denied to blacks. This is like asking why the full blessings of the temple were denied to so many during the Apostasy or why somone in the Phillipines were denied the chance to hear the gospel simply because he lives in those mountains over there. There are always some injustices we have to suffer in this life, perhaps because I am not one of those suffering it at the administrative hands of the church I don’t care as much…but I hope that is not the case.

  26. Great post, Stirling. _Noah’s Curse_ is full of good stuff (it was one of the major sources for my post on race a few weeks back where I discussed Benjamin Morgan Palmer and some other figures).

    What I find interesting is not only the similarities between the narratives, but also the differences. In Mormon culture, the curse is primarily linked to Cain. It is secondarily linked to Ham, but that is based on the idea that he married a woman of Cainite descent. There’s no specific link to Ham’s uncovering of Noah. Ham is instead just a vector of Cainite blood. (Cf. MoDoc on “Ham.”) Canaan and Pharoah are treated relatively similarly.

    This is similar in many ways to the main Protestant narrative — there is a hereditary curse, it relates to Blacks, it is used to provide scriptural justification for slavery and racism, and so on.

    On the other hand, there are important differences. The Protestant narrative of slavery apologia, articulated by Palmer and Stringfellow and many of their contemporaries, focused primarily on the _Hamitic_ curse and on the act of Ham violating his family’s honor. The Protestant narrative also gave a key role to Nimrod, as the ambitious tower-builder, instigator of rebellion against God, and fomenter of any number of other vices.

    (Hmm. I ought to put in some footnotes and make this into a post . . . )

    Also, is your review online anywhere? It looks like it’s out of the range of the digital archives. I’d be interested in reading it.

  27. Mondo Cool says:

    Somebody help me here, please.

    I remember being told that Joseph of Egypt married a daughter of On who was probably of the Hyksos persuasion – who were the rulers at the time – which would make her a Semite.

    Have I incorrectly understood the matter? Is the timeframe for Hyksos rule anachronistic for when Joseph was there?

  28. Cdub,

    but surely Africa and its people had at least as many opportunities?

    The short answer is no, they did not have as many opportunities. Without having Diamond’s book here at work as a reference I can’t comment on the details of his argument. Suffice it to say, black Africa did not have the opportunities presented to Northern Europeans. The reasons for this, as mentioned earlier, are geographic.

  29. a daughter of On who was probably of the Hyksos persuasion

    *cough* crapologia *cough*

    No-one knows when Joseph lived, and so the Hyksos thing is a shot in the dark intended to get around the embarrassing fact that Ephraim is a Hamite. And anyway, she was the daughter of a priest of On and I find it unlikely that such a priest would be a foreigner.

    Sorry, no comfort here.

  30. Adam,

    The argument of Guns, Germs, and Steel, in a nutshell, is this:

    Europe had the guns, germs, and steel that allowed it to conquer Africa and the Americas. Why?

    Because Europe had big cities and better agriculture first. Why?

    Because Europe and the fertile crescent were able to successfully tame more native plants (wheat, barley) and animals (horses, cows). Why?

    Because Europe and the fertile crescent are on an East-West geographical axis, which allows for developments to travel to new locations without having to pass through major climate changes. So while the horse, the cow, wheat, and barley were all initially developed in different areas of the East-West axis, they all migrated quickly and became an agricultural package.

    Africa (Sahara) and Americas (Central America) lacked this feature. So developments in one part of the continent (corn in Mesoamerica, the wheel in Mexico, llamas in Peru) could not travel through different climates (corn wouldn’t grow in Central America) and so never became the potent agricultural package that allowed for quicker development among Europeans.

    It’s a very good book — this quick summary of the argument doesn’t do it justice. But yes, Diamond does trace it ultimately to geographical factors — the East-West axis of Eurasia, to be precise.

  31. Stirling–as always, WONDERFUL work.
    Mondo Cool–I’ve heard the Hyksos argument from Mormons AND Southern Baptists who were all very nervous about what it would mean if Joseph’s wife were “African.” (It would mean, ultimately, that even Jesus Christ had some “black” blood.) Even if the Hyksos had been ruling Egypt at the time, they typically left the local religious leaders in place, so it is highly unlikely that On would have been Hyksos. Some of the writing about the Hyksos is just plain silly.

    The one thing I dislike about these periodic discussions of race and folkore is that the commenters, from what I can tell, are all white. It is so easy to talk around these issues philosophically without grasping even a particle of the pain the folklore CONTINUES to produce. Even as we comment, there are families in Utah preparing to leave the state because their African American children are still coming up against the pervasive teachings of the past.

  32. Mondo Cool says:

    Ronan (#29):

    Good point about “when” Joseph lived. That _was_ my question, however.

    But, I thought “Hyksos” meant “foreign ruler.”

    (Sorry, yes, Asenath was a daughter of a priest of On.)

  33. Thank you, Kaimi. That’s an excellent summary.

  34. Mondo Cool says:

    Margaret Y (#31):

    Thanks, I didn’t realize that the Hyksos would typically leave the local religious leaders in place – there are examples of others who would not.

  35. Mondo Cool says:

    Ronan (#29):

    I just have to ask this: If no one knows when Joseph lived, how then is it a “fact” that Ephraim is a Hamite?

  36. Mondo Cool,
    The OT story places Joseph after Abraham and before Moses. Based on internal chronology, the setting would be the second millennium BC. In this setting, according to Mormon scripture (see the Book of Abraham), Egyptians were “Hamitic”; thus, the daughter of a priest in an ancient Egyptian religious center at this time would also be Hamitic.

    (Not that I take all this blood-line stuff literally anyway. Besides, science has debunked it.)

    But go ahead and believe Ephraim was not touched by the cursed blood if it please ya.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    Margaret makes a good point. One thing I’m proud of in my association with FAIR is that we have endeavored to have a number of black speakers at our conferences. An early example is this address by Renee Olson, a black sister from the Atlanta area.

    I was there when Renee gave this speech, and I well recall there was some real discomfort in the audience when she was quoting past racist statements by Church leaders. And I thought it was perfect, just what was needed. If I stood up there and tried to give that talk, people could dismiss me. But for her, a black woman, to stand up and express these things? The discomfort arose because there was no way to get around it or explain it. These were simply awful, indefensible statements, and having a black woman give that speech gave it a power and an influence that would not have come with a white speaker.

    Cathy Stokes has often said that she has consecrated her black skin to the Church, and if the Lord can use it for his purposes, he is welcome to do so.

  38. Stirling: egyptus, if i recall in KEP is the woman who discovered Egypt (under water, incidentally), and the Queen Katoumun is her descendant. I don’t remember a Zeptah. I’d have to look (my focus has not been on the racist ideologies, so i haven’t kept up on it).

    let me finish up current revisions on the paper, and i’ll send it your way. it’s mostly about what I call Smith’s “sacerdotal genealogy” and his quest to overturn the curse of Babel.

    I’m with Margaret on this overall. This may be a case where philosophical wranglings have unintended sad consequences.

  39. John Williams says:

    I took the Advanced Placement U. S. History test in high school. On one of the essay questions, I wrote about slavery and used the Cain’s curse story as an example of what white Americans used to justify slavery.

    Right after I took the test, I spoke to a non-Mormon student who had also taken the test. I told him about how I had used Cain’s curse as an example of slavery justification in one of my essays. The non-Mormon student acted as if I were nuts.

    This post shows that it wasn’t foolish for me to write that on the AP US History test. Thanks.

    For what it’s worth, I did get a 5 (the highest possible score) on the test.

  40. Stirling says:

    John, maybe Armand grades history exams for extra cash?

  41. John Williams says:

    re Hyksos / On’s daughter

    Last year I decided to try to carefully read the Old Testament because it was the Sunday School book of scripture for 2006.

    When I came across On’s daughter being the mother of Ephraim I thought I was really on to something scandalous. Then I think the Bible Dictionary extinguished my enthusiasm with the whole Hyksos invasion thing.

    This thread has given me a new-found hope that Ephraim would have to be black according to Mormon theology. Thanks.

  42. Good thing we don’t have to defend Brigham Young, John Taylor, or McConkie on their speculative racial interpretation of scripture. Elder McConkie in August of 1978 who said, “Forget everything I have said, or what…Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said…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.”

    However, this quote does not address whether the original decision to institute the ban was inspired or not. It just says the speculative justification for it was all wrong.

  43. Steve Evans says:

    BRoz, too bad that quote isn’t canon, huh.

  44. That is a fine statement. It was given in an impromptu address (and perhaps reflects impromptu revelation given in the moment?), and it is unclear exactly how widely far McConkie wished to apply it.

    In the months after he gave that speech, though he revised a few entries in Mormon Doctrine that were directly affected by the 1978 revelation, he left most of the racial folklore unchanged, including what most would consider to be the most offensive language (the “Races of Men” and “Caste Systems” are examples). In his chapter, “Whence the Negro Doctrine? A Review of Ten Years of Answers,” Bush’s commentary on this is:

    Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, for example, was widely commended for his humility when, shortly after the revelation, he called upon seminary and institute teachers to “forget everything I have said … that is contrary to the present revelation,” adding that “it doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June 1978.” The misimpression was created that he was disavowing much of his own extensive, though archaic dogma on the subject. As events have transpired, it is apparent that he had discarded only the claim that blacks would not be allowed to hold the priesthood in this lifetime-a modest enough concession under the circumstances. The next published version of his Mormon Doctrine, though incorporating word of the revelation, retained all the previous, traditional assertions about blacks. That this was no editorial oversight was made clear when McConkie published an expanded version of the seminary and institute talk in Priesthood, a collection of essays, in 1981. In setting the stage for his 1978 address, he had added, in part, “The ancient curse is no more. The seed of Cain and Ham and Egyptus and Pharaoh-all these now have power to rise up and bless Abraham as their father. All these, gentile in lineage, may now come and inherit by adoption all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Blacks thus were descendants of Cain after all!

  45. Mondo Cool says:

    Ronan (#36):

    Sorry. Been away for awhile. I will grant you that Ephraim having “cursed blood” (as you put it) is a well-reasoned opinion (and, incidentally probably correct), but I halt at calling it fact.

    Do you think, however, that Joseph knew the story of his great-grandfather who thought it important enough to send his servant to find a suitable bride for his grandfather and the story of his grandfather instructing his father about who to marry? There was a strong tradition in the family about marrying the “wrong” girl. I just think it could be argued that Joseph _may_ have preferred marrying a Semitic woman.

    I do believe there was “a curse.” I don’t think enough information exists for me to definitively say “who and what” that curse meant. Because, I agree like you that our Presidents are not infallible, I cannot decide if JS was too eager by okaying priesthood ordinations before he should have or if BY was too much influenced by prevaling traditional/societal views of blacks. But, I firmly believe SWK had the full approval of Deity for the 1978 revelation.

  46. I firmly believe SWK had the full approval of Deity for the 1978 revelation.

    Me too.

    Other than that, even if the daughter of the priest of On was Semitic, this does not mean she was a Hebrew. I mean, what the hell was a good Israelite doing as a priest in Heliopolis…? Either way, Joseph married outside of the covenant. Lots of OT heroes did. Alas, our neat view of these things does not stand up to scrutiny.

  47. Whether or not SWK enjoyed divine approval is not the most important question. The problem is rather why Mormonism preserved discriminatory folk believes in spite of the role of continuing revelation.

    That becomes even more troubling in light of the fact that most protestant organizations have been able to shed such a prejudicial reading of the scriptures without the benefit of revelation.

  48. Hellmut,
    Most protestant organizations maintained and maintain the status quo. Readings of the scripture alter to justify what people already think. I don’t think that you can use them as a bellweather for the need or lack thereof of prophetic intervention.

  49. And Hellmut, I’d question your assertion that Mormonism preserved discriminatory folk beliefs. I, for one, having been raised in the Church, never heard such beliefs or justifications until I went to BYU. Even there, frankly, I didn’t hear them, except be people debunking them.

    It may be that some Mormons have preserved–and indeed continue to preserve–bad and wrong folk beliefs. But I don’t see any institutional propagation; there may not have been an institutional effort to repudiate them (but then, you’ll have to specify what institutional level–the ward? the stake? the COB?–you’re talking about), but that’s a different, though relevant, inquiry.

  50. Joshua Madson says:

    Ronan,

    there are other clues in the Joseph story itself that makes the idea of a semitic/Hyksos lineage less likely.

    I can’t remember all of them, but Donald Redford (Egyptologist) points out there are some cultural aspects such as Joseph having to shave all his facial hair, not eating with semites, etc. that fit an Egyptian ruling class and not a Hyksos

  51. Sam B,

    I think the racist folk beliefs are more prevalent than you have let on, at least judging by my experience. We’ve got members here suggesting that Africa’s lack of progress is the result of curse. A close family member of mine, and a convert to the Church even, still holds the outrageous belief that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence.

    The institution may not be perpetuating the racism, but some members seem to have a hard time letting go.

  52. Mondo Cool says:

    Ronan (#45):

    what the hell was a good Israelite doing as a priest in Heliopolis…? Either way, Joseph married outside of the covenant.

    Maybe. Possibly, Joseph was re-introducing the Pharoah crowd to the concepts his great-grandfather had previously taught them? (See Fac. #3.)

  53. Mondo Cool says:

    Sorry, Ronan.
    My fingers are too fast.

    Or, do you mean that the priest of On was a good Israelite?

  54. Sure, Mondo, but if Asenath was cursed, then her children should be cursed, which would mean that the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh shouldn’t have the priesthood, right? After all, there is no question that Asenath is an Egyptian.

  55. Ronan can speak for himself, Mondo Cool, however it is quite certain that he was being facetious. He is stating that Joseph married outside of the covenant and that our covenant lineage is derived from that union. Not sure how that relates to teaching astronomy, though.

  56. Ronan speaketh:
    I’m completely lost.

  57. Adam,
    I’m not trying to “let on” anything; I don’t claim to have knowledge of an overall scheme. I can say that I’ve never heard the racist ideologies propounded in San Diego, Provo, Brazil, New York City, or Northern Virginia. That is neither to claim that they haven’t been propounded in any of those locations, nor that there aren’t people in each of those locations who believes them. On those two points, I respectfully confess I have no information. I am saying, however, that you can get through at least 30 years in the Church, in various locations, and never have anybody assert that the priesthood ban was caused by lack of valiance in the preexistence, a curse on some ancient biblical character, or some other pretextual reason.

    I don’t disagree that there may be members who have a hard time letting go of racist ideology (although I hope that, as they pass on, so does the racism); I do maintain, however, that I’ve never met a Mormon who believes (or at least admits to believing) such things. And I haven’t been totally insulated from crazy talk, but I have from that particular crazy talk.

  58. John Williams says:

    re Hyksos and On’s daughter

    Last year I decided to try to carefully read the Old Testament since that was the 2006 book of scripture for Sunday School. When I came upon the part about Ephraim’s mother possibly being black according to LDS theology, I thought I had found something really scandalous. I was quite thrilled.

    Then the Bible Dictionary extinguished my enthusiasm with the Hyksos domination explanation of On’s daughter.

    This thread has rekindled hope that maybe Ephraim would have to be black according to LDS doctrine. Thanks.

  59. John Williams says:

    Sam B,

    What would your parents have said if you had brought a Black girl home from BYU and said that you were going to marry her?

  60. John,
    They were very supportive when my sister dated a black guy, so I imagine “congratulations.” (Or maybe, “Thank goodness he’s getting married.”) Thanks for asking.

  61. John Williams says:

    Congratulations, Sam B. Your parents are apparently a lot more open minded than mine are.

  62. Sam B,
    Well good! I’m glad you haven’t exposed IRL to these stupid beliefs. I think it’s an indication that the membership is (sometimes slowly) moving in the right direction.

  63. Sam B,

    You are lucky you have not been exposed to the “folk lore”. I heard it taught as doctrine (not the less valiance part, but everything else–curse of Cain/Ham, etc…) over several weeks in Gospel Doctrine class just last year. It is very hard to argue that the “folk lore” is not good doctrine when the “folk lore” is based on statements of prophets and apostles which have never been repudiated by the Church, and which remain, for example, in Mormon Doctrine (which a substantial portion of the membership still regards as authoritative).

  64. DavidH,
    How did the class respond? I remember hearing Margaret Young at BYU talking about how one of her kids had heard some crap like that (at a youth conference or fireside, IIRC), and stood up and corrected the speaker (again, IIRC). I never expect to be somewhere where somebody actually says those things and means it, but if I am, I hope I’d counter the person (and I hope I’d do so in a polite way, rather than the unproductive you’re-an-idiot way).

    Also, while a substantial portion of the membership may regard Mormon Doctrine as authoritative, I’d be surprised if any substantial portion (at least of those born around or after 1978) have any idea what it says about race. Of course, again, that’s based on no objective inputs, so I can’t say for sure that I’m right.

    Adam,
    I tend to agree—I think we’re moving in the right direction. But I agree that we’re not there yet.

  65. I subbed the Noah’s Ark less last year, so I know the manual skips from disembarking the Ark to the Tower of Babel, omitting the Noah-drunk-curse text. I checked the previous lesson that covers Cain’s story and found no mention on lineal curses.

    Your lineal-curse-teaching gospel doctrine teacher was out of his/her text, and you ought to have called her on it. That ridiculous story is not going to appear in any official church publication, and we can all help things along by questioning source on any teacher who brings up that damaging folklore.

  66. Johnna: I would go a step further and denounce those prior teachings as false and harmful. Let’s do our part to stamp it out.

  67. Stephanie says:

    I always found the story of Ham and Noah to be very interesting. I think there must have been something else going on there, because it hardly seems fair to curse someone because they saw you naked while you were all drunk and crazy. I’m kind of thinking Ham must have molested Noah in some way…

    But that’s all kind of a tangent, isn’t it?

  68. As long as we’re speculating, my speculation is that the story of Noah’s curse was written by an author who was trying to provide an explanation to his audience as to why it was that the Canaanites and other tribes in his day had certain economic advantages or disadvantages in comparison to other peoples.

  69. Jason Work says:

    Please excuse my ignorance if what I’m about to say has been completely discredited somewhere but regarding the Ham and Noah story, I once read a theory that this cryptic event had everything to do with Noah’s patriarchal status and his ownership of the Priesthood garment of Adam.

    The theory posited that Ham, aware that his lineage was to be denied some kind of priesthood authority (whether due to bloodlines or the the matri-lineal descent of Pharaohs or whatever) attempted to steal the Priesthood garment of Adam that Noah wore as a symbol of his patriarchal authority. His plan was to claim priesthood authority by right of his possession of the garment. When his plan came to light, an angry Noah reiterated some kind of curse on Ham’s offspring.

    Incidentally, according to what I read, it was this same priesthood garment that ended up in the hands of Nimrod who used it to bolster HIS claim to authority. And later, according to some folklore, Nimrod is later killed by Esau who takes the garment and trades it (trades his “birthright”) to Jacob, who recognizes its importance.

    The garment then passes to Joseph as his “coat of many colors.” Is this total hogwash? Because, even if it is, I’ve always thought it was a pretty cool story. Can somebody enlighten me here? Or am I already too late to this discussion?

  70. I have to admit, it’s one of the more creative justifications I have heard. Someone had too much time on their hands, IMHO.

  71. And later, according to some folklore…

    I think that’s the key there, Jason. Talmudic folklore is fascinating, but fantasy nonetheless. Nibley’s Jaredite volume channels this stuff.

  72. Off hand, most of the jewish folklore behind such speculation is equally speculative. In other words, the early rabbis were just as eager as Mormons have been to justify a ban that doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. So these stories, which are attempts to justify the unfair treatment of people based on skin color/nationality in a religion with a famously fair God, begin to circulate.

  73. “the early rabbis were just as eager as Mormons have been to justify a ban that doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface.”

    I am not aware of a priesthood or other ban in the history of Judaism.

  74. David, an oversimplification, I know, but: the entire OT and NT up to Paul’s revelation is precisely a ban on extending the Priesthood – couched in a denial of “chosen” status to non-Israelites. It also is non-sensical, since Moses received the Melchizedek Priesthood from his father-in-law, Jethro – a Midainite descended from Abraham but not Israel. Further, Ruth was a Moabite – a descendant of Lot, not Abraham. Just from what we can infer from the OT, it is clear that the concept of lineage-based “chosenness” was abolished in Jesus, who was descended explicitly from non-Abrahamic ancestors, as well.

    Frankly, FWIW, from what I know of the old concept of chosenness, I believe it was distorted by lack of human understanding and clannishness just as the modern ban was. The Abrahamic covenant very quickly changed from a responsibility to extend blessings and unite all to Abraham’s God and became seen as proof of special and exclusive elitism – a way to separate truly chosen children (heirs to the kingdom) from bastard imposters. Hence, Paul’s juxtaposition of the old inheritance system of the firstborn with the new inheritance system of equal joint-heirs.

    Paul’s revelation should have ended it, but Priesthood authority didn’t last long enough to make it happen. I believe modern prophets relied on incorrect justifications of ancient prophets to promulgate the same type of ban that those earlier prophets had established – ignoring Paul’s revelation in the process. Joseph Smith, like Paul, didn’t accept that incorrect practice but died before he could ordain enough Black members to establish universal availability. That’s my opinion, at least.

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