Artistic racism

adam_eveThis picture of Adam and Eve used by the Church is problematic to say the least. Apparently, Adam and Eve were white. Not only were they white, they were Rocky Mountain Mormons (who simply wore skins instead of Gap). Now, if you think Geoff is right (that many aspects of the Adam and Eve story are figurative), then it doesn’t matter: Adam and Eve are you, and you are (predominately) white Americans. So this, in fact, is a perfectly reasonable picture.

But I don’t think most Mormons think that way. For them, Adam and Eve were literal people, the first humans and ancestors of all of us. So, this painting says: Adam and Eve were white, and white is somehow original.

Church art rarely stops there. Jesus is white, God the Father is white, angels are white, spirits are white. In the Lamb of God video (seminary version), when Jesus enters the spirit world, he is greeted by people who are not only dressed in white, they are white.

You may think this is simply a benign reflection of the Church’s predominant culture. Maybe. But I worry that despite major efforts (I for one do not think the Church is racist today — far from it), we are not careful enough in the messages we send. I’m not just thinking of our international expansion here, but also of the Church in the US and our relationship with African Americans.

If our art is taken literally, it not only says God is white and the first humans were white, but that whiteness is somehow the natural colour of the human family. And that, my friends, is racist. It’s also rubbish.

Newsweek’s article on DNA lineages should be an eye-opener for some: not only do we all carry technicolour DNA, we are, of course, descended from Rift Valley Africans many thousands of years ago. However one factors a literal Adam and Eve into the history of our species (and I have my own ideas), one thing is for sure: they were not white. Not that there’s anything wrong with white, but Church art should reflect the full spectrum of the human family. We can have white Adams and Eves if we can have African, Asian, Hispanic, and Indian ones too. But we don’t, and I don’t like that. It doesn’t lead Mormons to the KKK (as I said, in my experience Mormons seem pretty tolerant, by and large), but it must be tough at times for the people of colour in our congregations. That makes me sad. And it’s easily remedied.


  1. Amen,Ronan!

  2. The thing that I find most intriguing about this portrait of Adam and Eve and of the Celestial Kingdom (as depicted in the Gospel Principles book)is that apparently there were/are barbers in Eden and in heaven!!!

  3. That picture is pretty scary, but at least Adam is secure enough in his manhood to wear a skirt that is shorter than Eve’s. When did the church decide to save money by splitting the cost of artwork with the JWs?

    Ronan, don’t you think it is ironic that the most productive missionary work, in the US at least, is being done among the African-American and hispanic populations?

  4. Mark,
    Not in Baltimore (a very black city) where I live, alas.

  5. I agree, Ronan, with two slight quibbles:
    Even if one views the Garden story as wholly figurative, I think our consistent portrayals of Adam and Eve as white are still problematic. As you point out, the message is “Adam and Eve are you, and you are (predominately [and in artistic representations of the Garden, always]) white Americans.”
    Whether or not that message is offensive to the majority of church members that aren’t “white,” it is inaccurate.
    I agree that this would be easily remedied by occasional Ensign drawings with Adam and Eve models drawn from different cultures. But, I think it’s harder than it sounds to get to that point because for some Mormons there is a theological obstacle. They believe they are literal descendants of a chosen lineage (Adam/Noah/Abraham/Israel/Ephraim/Odin/etc..) that is “white,” presumably because that is God’s color.
    For them, it may be seriously disconcerting (though enlightening) to encounter an Ensign painting showing a dark-skinned Adam/Eve based on African, Fijiian, or Yap models.
    I think the belief in this literal Israelite lineage has significantly diminished–enough to accept the artistic change?
    Why don’t you break the path by soliciting a new Adam/Eve drawing for a cover for the Archipelago e-magazine?
    My second quibble is the assertion that it is “racist” for someone to assume that white is the “natural colour of the human family.” I agree the assertion appears to be erroneous, but it seems to me that it only becomes “racist” when it is used to support discriminatory or exceptionalist practices (that we did, so I think it ended up “racist,” so my quibble is slight).
    Thanks for your post.

  6. Yes, Stirling, there are hangover theological issues that lie at the core of this problem.

    Why don’t you break the path by soliciting a new Adam/Eve drawing for a cover for the Archipelago e-magazine?

    I hereby solicit such a cover! Better yet, a black Adam and a white Eve. Ha!

  7. Is the racism in the painting deliberate? Probably not. I bet it was painted by a guy who would have yacked if he saw what we’re doing to it here. The artist can’t be blamed.

    That said, they ought to cancel the picture. Even if A&E weren’t real (most likely), they ought to update the pic with some ethnicity or something — couple of Latinos maybe (isn’t that where most the church lives anyway?). Maybe those J-Dubs have a good point in their corny artwork (which is extremely diverse, almost to the extreme).

    Would the church ever allow for a black couple in the pic? Are we there yet, or will that come a few generations down the road?

  8. There must be some existing Mormon art work with a non-white Adam and Eve. Anyone have examples?

  9. Ronan, following up with your #6 reference to a black-skinned Adam and white-skinned Eve, if in fact people started out with dark skin pigmentation (or any uniform skin color), what explains the variety we see now?

    Just last month, in the 16 December issue of Science, a group of zebrafish researchers reported they found a zebrafish pigmentation gene. They looked for the same gene in several mammals, including humans, and found it. Then, they looked through databases of human DNA samples, and conclude that a mutation of this gene (20,000 to 50,000 years ago, according to one news report of the article) is responsible for much (1/3?) of the skin color variation between pale Europeans and dark Africans. Apparently the pale skin of Asians is accounted for by a different gene mutation.
    The EBSCO/JSTOR/Proquest library services haven’t posted the entire article yet, so I’ve only read newspaper summaries and the free on-line abstracts.

    The related Science articles are:
    “Zebrafish Researchers Hook Gene for Human Skin Color,” Balter, Science 16 December 2005: Vol. 310. no. 5755, 1754-1755
    “A Putative Cation Exchanger, Affects Pigmentation in Zebrafish and Humans,” Lamason et al. Science. Washington: Dec 16, 2005.Vol.310, Iss. 5755; 1782-86

  10. God the Father is white, angels are white, spirits are white. In the Lamb of God video (seminary version), when Jesus enters the spirit world, he is greeted by people who are not only dressed in white, they are white

    “… His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters”

    I think what promotes racist attitudes is that white does equal purity. By white I do not mean white skinned. I mean whitey white white above the brightness of the sun white light. The unfortunate confusion is when we label light skinned people “white” when in reality my english-irish skin is sort of a tawny bisque color with dark brown freckles and such. Unfortunately, my ugly mug (and others of my skin type) is the closest thing the human race can get to “white” therefore whites are a substitute or a symbol of the pure white of God/Christ/Angels…. It is somewhat foolish to criticize the ability of a symbol to accurately portray what it symbolizes. After all, the letters G, O and D are a poor symbol for the majesty of our Heavenly Father, but they are sufficient to remind us of all w eknow about Him.

    I recognize that this argument does not, however, apply to the Adam and Eve picture. I do not yet have a response to the issue.

  11. John Mansfield says:

    It is a little much to lay this all at the feet of Mormonism. It’s not just Mormon art; it’s the whole tradition of religious art in Western Civilization.

  12. You’re worried about skin tone in this picture Ronan? Isn’t the more disturbing theological message the idea that Adam and Eve both sported 80s hairdo’s and that Adam wore a miniskirt?

  13. The theory about skin color differences that I’m aware of is that light skin is an evolutionary adaptation to more northerly latitudes where less sunlight makes it harder to get enough vitamin D.

    Ronan: “we are, of course, descended from Rift Valley Africans many thousands of years ago. ”

    Are you sure this is as settled as you make it sound?

  14. Steve McIntyre says:

    During the holiday season, Temple Square displays nativity scenes from different cultures, which frequently display the various figures as members of different races and cultures. We know that Christ was Jewish, but we don’t seem to have any problems depicting his birth setting in different racial and cultural settings (and I think this is a good thing). I would hope that we could show the same flexibility when it comes to Adam and Eve, whose race is neither doctrinally nor historically determinable. Unfortunately, I think there is a fairly prevelant false notion that Adam and Eve were indeed white. Furthermore, since Adam and Eve were formed in the image of God, the next logical jump concludes that God is also white (which is also doctrinally inconclusive).

    People can believe whatever they want, but I get worried when people further extrapolate and conclude that in the resurrection, we will all be white, as Adam, Eve, and God supposedly are.

  15. I would hope that we could show the same flexibility when it comes to Adam and Eve, whose race is neither doctrinally nor historically determinable. Unfortunately, I think there is a fairly prevelant false notion that Adam and Eve were indeed white.

    These two sentences contain in inherent contradiction: you say that their being white is a “false notion” after having said that their race is “neither doctrinally nor historically determinable.”

    I agree with you that their race is so far not historically determinable. There is no reason to put blind faith in the mere inferences that arise from the extremely paltry historical record of what happened in pre-history. (Pre-history, that is, if you do not consider the scriptures to be historical.)

  16. In other words, the historical record is not as complete as everyone around here is making it sound. The “conclusions” people are throwing around are only inferences and theories based on random things that have been found out so far.

  17. (None of this, by the way, is a defense of lame JW-style depictions of anything, whether Eden, the afterlife, or anything in between. If you’re looking for an ally in the war against Mormon kitsch, you have one in me.)

  18. My consciousness was raised on this issue in the early 1990’s while watching the movie “Malcolm X”. In one scene, Malcolm (brilliantly played by Denzel Washington) attends church services in prison and notices a picture of a blue-eyed, blonde (white) Jesus on the wall. Malcolm then begins to explore why (and how) he has come to absorb the associations of word “white” with purity and goodness, and the word “black” with wickedness and despair, into his own self image as a black man.

    It was a moving scene, and made me realize that my own naive assumptions about what Jesus looked like could be potentially damaging to my own cognitive and spiritual development, not to mention a serious impediment to respecting and cherishing differences in race and culture.

  19. JF,
    I actually have no problem with a white Adam and Eve in art as long as it’s not exclusionary. You’re not listening, man. My problem is that EVERY PICTURE I have ever seen in the Church (and yes, in many other Christian settings, John Mansfield) of Adam and Eve, they are white.

    Also, John, the idea that the first humans could have been “White” in the sense of “North-European-American white” in this picture seems, well, unlikely.

    therefore whites are a substitute or a symbol of the pure white of God/Christ/Angels
    Not for me, mate.

    No, nothing like that is ever settled fact. But consensus points in that direction.

  20. I seem to recall seeing an Ensign with artistic depictions of the Garden/Adam&Eve at one point. AM I confusing it with the international tree-of-life or international nativity art articles?

  21. Possibly, Ben. I wish the stuff in the Ensign international art contests would be more widely available.

  22. John Mansfield says:

    Regarding Ronan’s comment #4, Baltimore is 2/3 black, but I was under the impression that Ronan lives and worships in the county, which is 1/5 black. I left in 1997, but during my time living in Baltimore, the units I attended were about half black. My little seminary class meeting on the Alameda had two white kids, one Phillipine girl, and five black kids. Black members served in every capacity in the Church there: Relief Society president, ward mission leader, gospel doctrine teacher, executive secretary, bishop’s counselor, branch president.

  23. Sorry, John M: our Ward, whose boundaries go down to North Avenue in the city, seems to have lost some black members since you were here.

  24. I should point out that’s it not so much the skin tone (white, brown, black — we’re all a shade of something else), it’s the very culture-specific “white” of Adam and Eve here.

  25. Elizabeth, I had the same sort of experience, only it happened during Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” video.

  26. But would this post exist if that picture had a black Adam and Eve?

  27. harpingheather says:

    Why have clear races at all? Even going from a literal Adam and Eve model we still have a development of the races. Adam and Eve weren’t black, white, asian, hispanic or anything else. They most likely had a mixture of all those traits. If you’re really concerned about racism in our imagery then you ought to ask for multi-racial Adams and Eves. Time magazine did an issue on the coming face of America (or something like that) in which they took pictures of people from many different ethnic backgrounds and blended them to create an image of a person who truly represented “the melting pot.” Now THAT would make good representation.


  28. But would this post exist if that picture had a black Adam and Eve?

    If ALL our Adam and Eve artwork were black, then that would be a problem too. Underline, capitalize, highlight ALL, ALL, ALL.

  29. John (#17), I agree the historical record isn’t settled, and it’s true there is much more data to be collected, analyzed, re-thought, etc., regarding human origins and the human diaspora.

    But, I suggest that it would be healthy for us to fess up to some past theological/interpretative errors in order to think clearly about the new information as it comes. For example, regarding some of our past Mormon claims related to Adam and Eve and our genetic lineage.

    1. The Garden of Eden, in the sense of a place that was the initial spot from which human reproduction began, or from which human civilization spread, was not in North America. Was it Africa, was it the Mediterranean, Asia? I’m not sure, but I don’t think Missouri makes the short list.
    2. The age of the earth (and history of human civilization) isn’t 6,000 years old.
    3. A flood did not kill all humans except for 8 on Noah’s boat (thus giving the human family a new start a 4-5000 years ago).
    4. 19th and 20th century Mormons were wrong in assuming they were of pure or predominant Israelite lineage.

    Given our errors on the above points, and given the available research there is now on human origins and migration, though I don’t think we can say “the first homo sapiens were a particular shade of color,” I think it would be reasonable to conclude that, “Hmmm, the facts and research aren’t all in, but I think we Mormons may have been wrong in assuming white was the initial human skin color. In fact, it seems pretty likely that early homo sapiens did not have the same skin pigmentation as light-skinned Western and Northern Europeans.”

  30. I have always wanted to know, seriously, if the camera operators who broadcast general conference are acting on their own volition when they allow the camera to linger on the one (1) black face in the tabernacle choir. Or are they given instructions to do so?

    I have been in homes of people who came to the US from Haiti. They often display religious art in their homes with a black Jesus, black Mary, and so on. One impressive sized painting depicted the last supper where Jesus and all the disciples were black.

  31. Aaron Brown says:

    If you’re looking for the Church to vary the racial features of Adam and Eve, Ronan, I advise you not to hold your breath. Too many Mormons are invested in the literalness of every aspect of the story, and don’t count on the Church making waves with that crowd.

    Aaron B

  32. More than anything I think the church is frugal (read: cheap). The art isn’t that great, and for the most part, church art never really is. As Geoff pointed out this picture is very dated, and was painted in a time where everyone knew Adam and Eve were white. All of the art packets given to primary teachers have pictures that are older than me. I think it would be good for the church to comission a series of paintings where A&E are portrayed in a variety of races and leave it to the individual teachers to use the ones that are most representative of their students. This would be rather costly, and troublesome to print and distribute which is probably why it hasn’t happened yet.

    What I’d like to see more than anything is a picture of Jesus where he actually looks like a Jew from Gethsemane.

  33. The first time I saw a black nativity my thought was “that’s silly, Christ wasn’t black”. However, my feelings have changed. This last year my daughter and her husband adopted an African-American boy and he was sealed to our family in December. As I did my Christmas shopping I came across another black nativity. I bought it – because now I realize that the color of Christ’s skin is not what is important – he is Savior to us all. Our skin color is not important – we are all God’s children. Maybe the only way to make this point without offending anyone is to depict everyone with green skin.

  34. It’s interesting that the image in question (along with several other paintings done by LDS artists) is posted on a website for St. Mary & St. Antonious Coptic Orthodox Church in New York.

  35. Yeah, Justin, funny eh?

  36. Aaron Brown says:

    I should probably register agreement with Stirling and point out that the word “racism” is really too strong a word to be using here, even though I agree with many of the sentiments in this post.

    Aaron B

  37. Ryan,
    therefore whites are a substitute or a symbol of the pure white of God/Christ/Angels
    Not for me, mate

    Why not?

  38. Oh, Ryan, if you can’t see why that would be problematic, I don’t know where to start.

    BTW, I hereby invoke the Larry King Rule:

    Larry: President Hinckley, were Adam and Eve caucasian?
    Hinckley: __________

  39. Except for the (over?)sensitive racial question, I lump their skin color in with Adam’s navel and whether they had hair and fingernails.

  40. As others have pointed out, I think the movement to highlight international conceptions of the nativity, such as in the 2003 Dec. New Era (pg. 21) are hugely important. I imagine that most people look to it and think that their personal conceptions of the nativity are obviously the only true one. However, looking at the nativity in scores of different ethnicities can only help us to understand our own ethnocentric perspectives.

    Isn’t it Nate’s dad that does alot of work with getting that sort of stuff into the Ensign? Bravo.

    Perhaps, folk depictions will make large enough in roads (heaven knows they are more authentic) that the Church will start utilizing them for official purposes.

  41. I personally like the nativity set that is made up of animals. That pertty inclusive isn’t it? I am also keeping my eyes open for an Adam & Eve painting done with bears. (My wife is a bear collector.)

  42. Does anyone know if the temple videos we see in America are the same ones shown around the world? I was sitting in the temple one day thinking how I hope that different cultures see Adam and Eve portrayed as “one of them” instead of being white.

    I have to wonder if God is Asian. If he made us in his image, and Asians make up the majority of “us” then it mught logically follow.

  43. Does anyone know if the temple videos we see in America are the same ones shown around the world?

    Yes, they’re all the same. White.

  44. I’ve heard a recurring rumor that there are separate temple videos for some other cultures (as I recall, Japan?), but I don’t know whether these are true.

  45. I know at one time there was different videos and some showed different ethnicities. However I have not been to the Temple enough of late to see all the latest ones. (Shame on Me)

  46. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was at BYU many years ago, I knew a Tongan fellow who had played Satan in the Tongan endowment film. So at least in Tonga there was a culture specific film. But perhaps they’ve done away with that in the intervening years; I don’t know.

  47. I remember reading somewhere that they do have a temple video with hispanic actors. It makes sense, after white americans, most members are hispanic.

  48. When the ordinances were first put on film in the 60’s, they had natives from each country that had a temple do it, because they needed the speakers for the soundtrack.

    That’s my recollection from reading President Hinckley’s bio, anyway.

  49. Buerger (Mysteries of Godliness) discusses the temple video on p.167ff.

    The first movie had casts in English, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish. Then later in Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, and Maori.

    Subsequent movies have had one (white American) cast with foreign dubbing.

    Interestingly, an African-American actor was slated to play Satan in the third filmed version, but protests from LDS Polynesians saw a Caucasian fill the role instead.

  50. Jeremiah J. says:

    I’ve have problems with some of the standard depictions in the church, but racism is only one part of a larger complex. the bigger problem is the desire to make Adam and Eve into a 30 something couple from Orem. (e.g. ‘I guess they must be wearing skins, but let’s at least make them well-tailored skin-robes’) There’s nothing wrong with people from Orem. But Adam and Eve weren’t and our depictions should at least allow us to realize that our first parents were quite different from us. Besides the gospel we have more in common culturally with present day inhabitants of Nepal. If we realized that, then our artwork would probably be more diverse (in the broad sense of divsersity).

    Race is a problem here, but a complex one. Since each depiction cannot both black and white or otherwise colored, and because the conscious decision to vary depictions has its problems as well (why are we depicting them at all if they’re going to look radically different in appearance from image to image? If most of these people were Hebrews, why are are we painting them as if they were as diverse as a subway car in Brooklyn? At some point it becomes forced), variation probably can’t simply be put into the artwork like it can in many other things (like the missionaries at temple square). An artist who imposes from the outside the imperative simply to vary color (in the absence of other good artistic reasons for doing so) might, I suspect, end up with artwork just as stiff and unimaginative as much of what we already have. I can imagine that there could be a wonderfully compelling piece of art featuring a black Adam. But I can also imagine a diverse set of depicitons whose diversity seems just as forced as our present sameness does. The norms of religious art must be higher and more complicated than the standards of church public relations materials.

    This is not to say that the default in art has to be white–far from it. I’ve been in African American homes where in depictions of the ancient prophets are all black (though not with 20th century African American dress and grooming, at least). Somehow it’s hard to blame someone for depicting–in the absence of evidence and given the fact that a single depicition cannot represent all races–an ancient prophet as racially (or more accurately–“color-wise”) like him or herself. It may not be great art but it’s often innocently done.

    This is partly a paradox created by the simple admission that Adam and Eve really were actual people who had skin, which skin probably had a pretty specific color. We don’t quite know to what degree it was like or unlike us (whatever color we happen to be). No, I don’t think anthropology or DNA evidence is a very good guide here (at least in Adam and Eve’s case–we’re talking about a very unique pair!). So the decision to make them like oneself seems just as arbitrary as the reverse. We should be open to either possibility and yet have to decide on one when depicting someone. This is not the case with their dress, styles of grooming, etc., where we know they must have been quite different and need to come to terms with that fact.

  51. Jeremiah,

    Good points. I agree that this is all innocently done, and doing the opposite is not without problems. But, even though, “the decision to make them like oneself seems just as arbitrary as the reverse,” I am now wondering who exactly is “oneself”? In the case of the Church, it is today just as likely to be an hispanic as a caucasian. So, we shall look forward to some hispanic Adam and Eves in the future. Cool.

  52. Steve McIntyre says:

    Perhaps I should clarify my earlier post, in which I said,

    “I think there is a fairly prevelant false notion that Adam and Eve were indeed white.”

    I didn’t take the time to proofread my post. I wasn’t trying to say that Adam and Eve were or were not white; the “false notion” is that there’s some doctrinal declaration that Adam and Eve were indeed white. Sure, they could have been, but we don’t know that.

  53. Oh, Ryan, if you can’t see why that would be problematic, I don’t know where to start.

    Yeah I wish I was more smarter so I could understand.

    Unfortunately I’m not. Humor me would you?

  54. This post reminds me of my favorite episode of the 70s sitcom “Good Times”: the one where JJ paints a picture of “black Jesus” with Ned the wino as the model. Now there is trenchant religio-political commentary

  55. Ryan,

    Sorry if I sounded uppity. Anyway, ever seen Bruce Almighty? Well, God is black (Morgan Freeman), but they retain the white/bright/light of God symbol by having him dress in white and work in a white building. There are good ways to symbolise “glory” beyond skin colour.

    (Morgan Freeman would make a great God, BTW.)

  56. I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe this has already been pointed out, but since Cain was given a mark, being a skin of blackness, doesn’t that strongly suggest that Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, started out not black? I don’t think it says anything about other skin tones, but there does seem to be a scriptural basis for saying that Adam was not black.

    That doesn’t mean one couldn’t do whatever one wanted in the art, since one purpose of art is to play with how things look.

  57. but since Cain was given a mark, being a skin of blackness,

    Frank – Please tell me you’re joking!? I thought that racist, outdated, quite honestly offensive idea was long gone.

  58. ummm….Frank? I know that there are some strains of thought that ascribe Cain’s Mark as blackness. These theories were often brought out as support for priesthood prohibitions in the early and mid 20th century of the church. There is no basis for this belief in revelation or scripture. It is a relic of racist theologies that supported slavery.

  59. Rebecca, is there something I am missing in this scripture?

    Moses 7:22

    ” 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.”

  60. A couple of years ago a print of a black Jesus was on sale in the BYU bookstore. I’ve heard second hand that due to a complaint from a faculty member (apparently in the Relig. Department) it was removed. Then, several people complained about its removal and the print was returned to the sales rack. It sold out and is no longer there (I just called), but I know some one who bought a copy, and I’ve heard it is beautiful painting.
    If the painter was Mormon, I’ll follow up as maybe she has painted a black Eve and Adam.

  61. If there are any black people reading this thread, I would like to apologise that you have to hear people call your skin colour a curse. I am deeply ashamed. Listen to J. Stapley. And Frank, you are an educated and genial fellow, but if Mormons still believe that, then I am truly a stranger in a strange land. (Unfortunately, I fear they do and I am sorry for all my black brothers and sisters because of it.)

  62. No, Ronan, I did not say curse, I said mark. I thought the difference was well understood.

  63. Frank – my understanding is the same as J’s. I don’t think you’ll find that taught as doctrine.

  64. If Adam and Eve were our first parents and of one race, then from where did the different races come from? The tower of Babel, perhaps?

  65. Obviously a sensitive subject. To those who don’t believe Cain’s mark was blackness could you comment on what I think is a prevalent idea in mormon culture, that the darker tone of hispanics is due to the mark placed on the Lamanites.

  66. I am no exegete. However, I think there is nothing in that scripture that speaks of Cain’s mark or his skin color. Chapter 5 of the same book which dwells on the life of Cain and his decendants make only reference to Cain’s personal “mark” and also the the “works of darkness”:

    And thus the works of darkness began to prevail among all the sons of men.

  67. If we insist on literal and historical readings of the pre-Abrahamic stories then it is hard to completely discount Moses 7:22 as evidence of light skins on Adam and Eve. All the more reason to see those accounts as theological narratives rather than literal history in my opinion…

  68. finn, Stirling had an excellent comment on another thread that responds to your question.

  69. J. and Rebecca,

    Are you saying that the scripture in Moses doesn’t say the seed of Cain was black? Because those are exactly the words it uses. If you wish to argue that this blackness was not connected to Cain’s mark and just coincidental, I think that is a stretch, but either way, I think a pretty clear inference would be that Adam was not black.

  70. Am I wrong, or is the prevailing assumption on this thread that Adam actually existed and that he was the first man?

  71. Geoff (#13 – yes I’m late to the thread): That’s not a mini-skirt. That’s a deerskin kilt. As all scots know Adam was Scottish.

  72. That is an excellent comment, thanks for highlighting it. My original comment was trying to get a response as to why in our culture we seem to find it is more acceptable to believe the darker skin of hispanics as being the Lamanite mark for wickedness, but are much more sensitive when it comes to Cain’s mark. I would have thought both ideas would be as equally offensive.

  73. Frank – I guess I’d just interpreted it in the same way you would if saying a missionary was ‘black’ – ie bad, non-rule keeping. I’ve never thought of the mark of Cain or that scripture as a changing in skin colour. The scriptures are very often figurative/symbolic, and I think are in this case.

  74. Frank’s sentiments are exactly why people (rightly) accuse us of being a racist church. The saddest part of this, perhaps, is the fact that he has adequate scriptural authority for his conclusions, and plenty of (pre-1978) church teaching to boot.

    Instead of attacking Frank, perhaps we should appreciate the strength of his position and bemoan it.

  75. Ronan,

    Your argument skirts the issue that we know that Jehovah, Elohim, and the angels (such as Moroni) are a type of light/white tonality. Again, I do not argue that the Adam and Eve (Moses, Noah, et al.)images you are questioning are not very PC or even historically correct. But your extension to Christ, God and the angels is unwarranted.

  76. Dave,

    Don’t tell us that you want to talk about the historical evidence for Adam now.

    I mean, come on. Adam had a son who killed his own brother. That is embarrassing. Therefore, under a criterion of embarrassment, Adam must have existed. Q.E.D. And don’t try any of your jedi mind tricks on us. We’re immune to that kind of stuff.

  77. Anon – you’re right PRE 1978. I like to see if anything has been said supporting this from a more recent, or more importantly, from our current Prophet. Invoking the Larry King Rule – what do you think would be Pres. Hinckley’s answer is asked are black people carrying the mark of Cain? I have a very hard time thinking he’d agree with that.

  78. Rebecca, since 1978 we have kept completely silent on the subject.

    As for the Pres. Hinckley rule, he’d probably say “we have no idea,” as the Prophet is wont to do.

  79. Geoff J seems to miss the point about the 80s hair. Their grooming habits and their outfits are supposed to be dated–this is the Garden of Eden, for crying out loud.

  80. Kaimi, you win.

  81. Greg Call says:

    Just one quick point on the passage in Moses: In the Moses account, all of Cain’s seed are destroyed in the flood. So whatever Cain’s seed were or were not, they have absolutely no relationship to any peoples in the world today.

  82. Clark (#73)

    Good point. And as a tartan wearin’ member of the Johnston Clan I am reminded that “If it’s not Scottish, it’s CRAP!”

    DKL (#81)

    Excellent point too — it looks ancient for effect

  83. Rebecca,

    You are welcome to interpret it that way if you wish, but it seems to me that that is a more strained interpretation, given that we know there was a “mark” placed on Cain it seems quite reasonable that this is the mark, which would imply a physical change in features. That might be wrong but it isn’t rocket science. Also, it fits in well with the idea of the mark put on Lamanites to keep them separate from the Nephites, which mark was, in 2 Nephi, called a “skin of blackness”. There the blackness is explcitly pointed out to be about skin-tone (as well as being a symbol). So Cain’s people being black seems like the most reasonable interpretation, even if it is not the most comfortable if you never want the scriptures to talk about race.

    Which interpretation you use does not particularly matter to me, but there were several cries about there being _no_ scriptural or doctrinal warrant for making Adam of any particular race. But clearly there is such a warrant, even though it may be wrong. If some prophetic counsel has intepreted this scripture as explicitly not being about skin tone, I’d be interested to hear about it.

  84. Greg,

    Isn’t the combined meaning of Abraham 1:21-27 and Moses 7 that Ham’s wife was of the seed of Cain? I’ve always heard it explained that way (though it’s not unambiguous, from the text).

  85. Greg Call says:

    I don’t see it Kaimi. There is an indication that Ham’s progeny “preserved the curse in the land,” and was barred from the priesthood, but I don’t see any indication of a genetic link to Cain.

    Don’t you believe in the worldwide flood, man?

  86. Greg,

    Well, it’s certainly not _ruled out_ under the text. And I’m sure I’ve seen it written somewhere. (MoDo, perhaps?). But you’re absolutely right that it’s also not definitely shown by the text.

  87. (re:#72) DKL – I think that many here probably do believe Adam was a real man. I’m not one of them, so I guess I shouldn’t be getting so hot under the collar about the Cain/race thing!

  88. Frank,
    I agree that your interpretation is the more literal one.
    You are also right: until 1978 one can find many examples of black skin being taught as being the mark of Cain. Since then, silence.

    Both of these things make me very, very sad. They are painful to me. I do not accept them, but I realise that puts me outside of the Mormon mainstream. So be it.

  89. Probably the most disturbing thing about this picture is the fact that Ronan has used it here in connection with a cognate of the word art. I mean, really. If it were up to me, this picture would be entitled, “Adam and Eve’s First Date.” They’re walking peacefully home from seeing a nice, G-rated movie. Adam has a wry smile, because he’s already seen her naked.

  90. Alright… I’ll admit it DKL…


  91. Jonathan Green says:

    As much as I enjoy denouncing Frank, his reading of the verses he mentions is pretty reasonable. I think we can even accept that our scriptures teach that Cain & Co. and the Lamanites were given darker skin pigmentation as a consequence of sin without getting our noses out of joint or putting anyone else’s nose out of joint, if–if–we remind ourselves that we know exactly nothing concerning what that darker pigmentation might mean in contemporary, real-world terms. What was Cain and Laman’s skin tone like beforehand? Who knows? How much darker did it get? Who knows? Various peoples around the world that Western eyes would lump together in crude racial categories actually distinguish themselves from their differently-pigmented neighbors. The idea that truly has no scriptural support, and that I find truly abhorent, is the notion that any person, African or not, is a descendant of Cain. There’s simply no way to support a statement like that on any reasonable grounds. A ‘skin of blackness’ does not make anyone Black. Thankfully no one’s making that argument here.

  92. Frank (and JG), I agree that if we look at just Mos. 7:22, it has the potential of being interpreted as possibly reporting that Cain’s descendants had black skin.
    Below is my brief argument why that is not the best interpretation, and why the Genesis 4 Cain/mark story does not mean that Cain was marked with black skin.

    First, regarding Gen 4 and Cain, note that the verse says nothing at all about the mark being skin color. And, it doesn’t say that the mark would apply to his children. Many Christians and Mormons have interpreted the mark as being dark skin (and as affecting his reproductive cells). I found it interesting to learn from Goldenberg’s The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton, 2003), that the belief that Cain’s “mark” was black skin is a relatively recent phenomenon. It apparently began thousands of years after the verse was written –with an apocryphal Armenian mistranslation of the statement that Cain’s “countenance fell” as meaning translated as meaning Cain’s face turned dark. By the 17th and 18th centuries, a belief that the curse was black skin was becoming common in Europe, due in large part, presumably, to its economic usefulness in enslaving black Africans. By Joseph Smith’s time, the belief was common (but not ubiquitous) among Christians in slaveholding America.

    Also, for what it’s worth, Nibley, in Abraham in Egypt, discusses various pre-modern Judeo-Christians traditions regarding the “mark. ” He lists as possibilities for the mark a Tau-sign or a circle and a cross on the hand or arm, a letter of the alphabet on Cain’s hand, a smith or a tinker’s practice of marking his face with soot, or a mark on the brow. Significantly, he doesn’t include skin color as a possibility. Lester Bush reports that Nibley told him that Nibley did “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.”

    Back to Mos. 7:22.
    Mos 7 is 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, and translations, I think we should be extra chary of expecting a dream/vision to be intended to accurately rely historical details.

    Here is some more poetic/visionary language from the dream (7:26, 28): “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?”

    I 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 in Satan’s hand. Similarly, I suggest we ought to be cautious about applying verse 22’s text as factual assertions.

    As you quoted, Moses 7:22 states:
    “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.”
    The verse does say, “the seed of Cain were black.” But, it doesn’t say they had black skin. Is that the intention? I suggest the better interpretation is that here “black” is used as a symbolic expression of a level of purity–not as 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. This comment #15 on a different bcc thread has a little more information on that issue.

    Similarly, in Mos 7:7 Enoch reports he saw “the people of Canaan” in battle. In v 8, he says the “there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.” Does “blackness” in that verse refer to skin color, or is it a symbolic way of referring to their ‘despised status’?” I suggest the latter.

    Sorry, that was longer than I intended. Let me just add that while I recognize the scripture is vague, and can be interpreted in multiple ways, given our culture’s (European/American) history of using skin color as a religious and civil discriminatory weapon, it seem wise to be extra careful to avoid perpetuating beliefs/interpretations that appear to have been influenced by that cultural context.

  93. Ronan,

    I don’t think that believing Cain’s seed was black has any required implications for black people today. Jonathan, I think, nicely sums up the issue. Thus I don’t see that one needs to get all morose about it. Nor do I think one needs to bother with the mental gymnastics that Stirling goes through to try to avoid that interpretation. (no offense :) )

    Although such views were used to support bad things in time’s past, we no longer live in those times, nor do we wish to ressurrect slavery. It is, for example, okay for the academic Robert Fogel to point out that slavery was economically viable, even if it was morally wrong. Being honest is not going to cause the South to rise again!

  94. “I agree that your interpretation is the more literal one.”

    Ronan, man, welcome to Mormonism. Literal interpretations are a plenty, didn’t you get the memo? They’re usually the most obvious / easy to understand. Not that I necessarily agree with Frank, but I do have to point out that, in my Sunday school experiences, “figurative” is often code for “I don’t agree with what that says.” Let’s not forget that the Bible isn’t exactly the epitome of equality. We won’t get very far if we refer to it much in the quest for political correctness in the 21st century.

  95. I should also add that, in my experience, literal readings are much more agreeable when referring to positive things like inheriting kingdoms and glory and stuff. But if something has a negative connotation, must be figurative!

  96. Anon said:
    “Instead of attacking Frank, perhaps we should appreciate the strength of his position and bemoan it.”

    Well said.

    Aaron B

  97. Controversy, controversy, controversy! The thing is, you’ve all missed the “really” scandalous statement by Jeremiah J. at Comment #52:

    “There’s nothing wrong with people from Orem.”

    What planet are you from, Jeremiah? Have you ever been to Orem? I have, and let me assure you … them folks is weird!

    Kindly refrain from making demonstrably false statements at BCC, or we will have to ban you.

    Aaron B

  98. I wonder how many Utah ward Christmas dinners end with the arrival of a black Santa Claus?

  99. Ho, ho, ho!

  100. If you look on page 41 of January’s Ensign, you’ll see a painting called Leaving the Garden of Eden. This (a close up detail of the two) was the cover of the Jan. 1998 Ensign, and I remember really liking it at the time, because Adam and Eve both had black hair and looked vaguely un-American. I always hated that picture you posted above, but then, I’ve never been a fan of feathered hair in general.

  101. How far is it from Frank’s glib (and IMHO, unwarranted) assertion that these scriptures are talking about skin color, to the white supremacy of Mormon works like Mormon Doctrine, which still teaches that dark skin color is a curse from god, that caste systems are part of Christ’s plan, that people with dark skin are physically and spiritually inferior, etc.?

    I don’t know Frank, so I’m not suggesting that Frank would agree with McConkie. My point is that once people come to interpret the scriptures as having something negative to say about one skin color (as pointed out above, this is a new development that accompanied a social need to justify slavery), it has been pretty easy for Christians, including some prominent Mormons, to stoop to trash talking.

    For example, this is from McConkie’s “Races of Man” entry to Mormon Doctrine:

    “Racial degeneration, resulting in differences in appearance and spiritual aptitude, has arisen since the fall. We know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were cursed with what we call negroid racial characteristics. The Book of Mormon explains why the Lamanites received dark skins and a degenerate status. If we had a full and true history of all races and nations, we would know the origins of all their distinctive characteristics. In the absence of such detailed information, however, we know only the general principle that all these changes from the physical and spiritual perfections of our common parents have been brought about by departure from the gospel truths.”


  102. If Frank is right, and it turns out that God does go around zapping people’s DNA to change skin pigmentation as punishment, I better prepare for a TK smoothie ‘cos that ain’t my God. Stirling’s effort at understanding these verses in a more charitable light seems entirely plausible to me. I just cannot understand why Frank et. al. seem to want to preserve the distasteful meaning. As I said, I’m a stranger in a strange land

  103. Mos. 7:22 states “the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.” Mos 7:7 states “there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.”

    How is the most “literal” interpretation of these verses one that concludes the descendants of Cain and Canaan had black skin? I agree it is a possible interpretation, but it isn’t the most likely, especially under a review of symbolic use of color in scripture.

    The skin-based interpretation becomes more likely if you start with an assumption of a society riven with racial division. That was a part of the context in J. Smith’s era, and of ours, BUT NOT in the time of Abraham. For that research see Frank Snowden (Before Color prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks; Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians n the Greco-Roman Experience), and our own Nibley (Abraham in Egypt) and Tvedtnes.

  104. Eric Russell says:


    According to modern definitions of “homophobe” the Mormon god is a homophobe and according to modern definitions of “misogynist” the Mormon god is a misogynist. As such, why is it such a stretch to believe that, according to modern definitions of “racist” the Mormon god is also a racist?

  105. Then today I have had a revelation, Eric: your Mormon God is not my Mormon God. I like mine better.

  106. Matthew M says:

    kelly, I’d be cautious about quoting mcconckie’s racial teachings. There are a fair number of people that still view that book as authoritative, and no need to spread that teaching. Much better to remember him for his enlightening 1978 speech:
    “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. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.” Mark McConkie, Editor, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 164-165.

    He gave that speech without preparation because he was asked on the spot by the person presiding at the meeting (at Rick’s College) to address the recent 1978 revelation. Since McConckie later republished his Mormon Doctrine racial teachings, it doesn’t appear like he was able to fully accept his own advice, but still, let’s remember the best of him and prune the rest.

  107. Ronan, I’m still waiting for you to explain why this is so evil if it has no actual implications for today. I mean, however you wish to do it, God did create man and some skin color at some point was a part of that. If one particular group of antiDiluvian people became black at one time, and if God knew perfectly well that that would seperate them from others, why does that make your world fall apart? Why is that so devastatingly uncharitable? What belief about God has been violated? You think that skin tone is never allowed to be related to the actions of your ancestor? Why would that be a foundational belief in your testimony? The Church is built on faith in Christ and repentance, not the doctrine that God will never change skin tone or do anything to a person that affects their children.


    As Mathew notes, McConkie himself at one point pointed out post-OD-2 that the revelation superceded the stuff that had gone before about Blacks and the priesthood. As such, I don’t see that McConkie’s statements in Mormon Doctrine are all that useful outside of historical interest. Astoundingly, one can believe the book of Moses without suddenly becoming a racist or hitching a Confederate flag up in your yard. Especially since the verse has no obvious implications for today’s saints.

  108. Matthew M says:

    Because, Eric (106), aside from the fact that your “modern definitions” seem like straw men (I don’t mean the word “straw” literally, as in suggesting that a particular person or argument is made of plant material), the scriptures don’t support such a conclusion. The only thing that might are the verses in the BoM that seem to suggest that God was darkening or lightening skin color as a result of sin and righteousness. I very much like sterling’s approach
    to dealing with those verses. ( #15)
    But, even if you can’t find your way to view those verses symbolically, look around you. People don’t get lighter and darker skin as a result of sin and righteousness (if you have examples to the contrary I’m interested). If that is the BoM claim, it is factually wrong, and likely the result of the personal prejudices or misunderstandings of the author or translator.

  109. Elisabeth says:

    As such, I don’t see that McConkie’s statements in Mormon Doctrine are all that useful outside of historical interest.

    Frank, saying McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine is “interesting” from a historical perspective without any comment from you denouncing the insidious racism he propogated is, to me, outrageous. Especially when this book, Mormon Doctrine, is owned and displayed on the bookshelves of almost every Latter Day Saint I know.

    I like Matthew’s approach – recognize that some of our Church leaders held offensive beliefs about our black brothers and sisters – and vigorously denounce these offensive beliefs – instead of examining them antiseptically as a curious historical perspective.

  110. Frank,
    Go find a black student at BYU (if you can) and tell him or her that “it has no actual implications for today” that their skin colour is a consequence of the mark/curse of Cain. Once you’ve had that conversation, we’ll talk further.

  111. Eric Russell says:

    I think I was unclear. I don’t have an opinion on the subject. I’m just thinking logically.

    If we believe in a God who
    -Commands a people (Isreal) to go among another people and slaughter them.
    -Denies the priesthood to women
    -Commands polygamy
    -Condemns homosexuality despite many people’s allegations that they cannot feel otherwise.
    -Etc. I’m sure the bloggernacle could come up with hundreds of things that the church formally or officially teaches that people find offensive or deeply problematic.

    If we believe in a God who can do all the above things and more, I don’t see, logically speaking, why a Mormon would believe that he can’t darken the skin of a people because of the sins of one man.

    Essentially we believe lots of things about God that are “offensive” to the world, I’m just trying to understand why this one is different.

  112. Ronan,

    Done. He knew the doctrine better than me and, I would guess, better than you. What’s next?

  113. Frank,
    What’s next? OK, now write a paper on why a national healthcare system should be adopted by the US.

  114. Sadly, I think Frank and Eric Russell’s line of thinking is very, very common in today’s church. Also sadly, I think their interpretations of scripture are not unreasonable. I do think they lead to all kinds of prejudice and problems. And I don’t think they are any more likely to be the correct interpretation of the scriptures than Ronan/Stirlings’s views. If I’m going to err one way or another, I’d much, much, much prefer to err on the side of Ronan and Stirling.

  115. I do think they lead to all kinds of prejudice and problems.

    Just because this line of thinking has led to all kinds of problems, doesn’t invalidate the line of thinking. Anti-semitism exists mainly because of the belief that the Jews killed Christ. Just because we don’t want anti-semitism to exist, doesn’t mean we should all of a sudden erase or sanitize history.

  116. Tim J,
    It gets worse!
    Hitler did not kill Jews because they killed Christ, man! And anyway, I thought the Romans killed Christ (with some encouragement from the Jewish hierarchy). TGIF.

  117. Tim – Please think about what I actually said. I conceded that the line of thinking isn’t invalidated because there are prejudice and problems. HOWEVER, let’s take a moment to think about how serious the problems have been, for how long those serious problems have caused people pain, and how widespread those prejudices and problems–and the pain they cause–are today. Given that, I think we’re warranted in trying (if not morally compelled to try) to fight these problems. Highlighting possible misreadings of our scriptures is a very important step in this direction, IMO. As you point out, just because people living in Jerusalem killed Christ (with a lot of Roman help) doesn’t in the least justify anti-semitism. Let us make the same arguments with respect to Biblical and LDS scriptural references to race. And let’s make them loud and clear. If by so doing we can cause members of the Church to pause, to rethink their notions of race, then we may be able to reduce the prejudices and problems that cause so much pain.

  118. I wasn’t necessarily referring to Hitler. Jews themselves think portrayals of Christ’s death will ultimately lead to feelings of anti-semitism (think ‘Passion of the Christ’).

    One could make the same argument about Pearl Harbor and anti-japanese sentiments.

  119. Eric,

    Problem is, I don’t believe that “God” was the author of some of these things. For example, the conquest narrative in Joshua is an OT nationalistic story written by zealous, nationalistic scribes. Neither archaeology, nor history, nor even the Book of Judges supports it. Sounds like the philosophies of men to me. Since when did we believe everything written in the Bible? I am confident God is not the capricious, petty tyrant we have painted him to me.

  120. Sigh….Wal-mart is seriously affecting my real life.

    118 comments, guys, cool. This issue puzzles me in so many ways.

    I was thinking this morning about all our differences and wondering how it will be worked out in eternity.

    NO clue.

  121. Matthew M says:

    Eric (113), “This one [a claim that God changes skin pigmentation as result of righteousness or wickedness]” is different because it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t happen.
    Look around, attend church in Ghana, or Atlanta, or the SLC East Bench. It doesn’t happen. Now, we understand the genetic principles of how one generation might grow lighter in skin color. Joseph Smith couldn’t have understood that.

  122. Eric Russell says:

    LOL Ronan,

    OK. Two points real quick. I’m sure any one of the points I gave can be dismissed as “not divine,” heck, there are people who dismiss all of them as not divine. But my point is, one lesson I think the scriptures, church history and church doctrine all teach us is that truth is offensive. As such, “X cannot be true because I find it offensive” isn’t a very good argument. That’s all I’m trying to say.

    Second, do you really believe the Jews aren’t responsible for Christ’s death? Just curious.

  123. Eric Russell says:

    Matthew M,

    I don’t think anyone’s claiming that people always change skin color according to their righteousness. I believe the claim under dispute is that people’s skin color changes when God makes it change.

  124. No, Eric, I’m saying X isn’t true because it simply isn’t true.

    do you really believe the Jews aren’t responsible for Christ’s death

    Er, yes. Does anyone here believe that the entire Jewish nation is responsible for Christ’s death? Holy crap. This has been a shocking couple of days for me….

  125. Ronan,

    I’m with Eric. I think the Romans received a wee bit more than mere encouragement from the Sanhedrin concerning the arrest, conviction, and execution of Christ. Or do you wish not to believe this so as not to offend your Jewish brothers. :)

  126. Tim,
    It sounds like Eric is equating the “Sanhedrin” with “the Jews.” That’s what’s outrageous.

  127. Eric – Are you kidding? What do you mean when you say “the Jews”? Do you mean Jewish people living today? Do you mean Jewish people living in Europe in the late 19th/early 20th centuries? Do you mean those living in Jerusalem at the time of Christ? If the latter, do you mean everyone in the city? If you are suggesting that anyone other than those who actively (or perhaps even passivly) participated in or contributed to Christ’s death, than I think you are totally off your rocker. That’s putting it mildly.

    We could look at the question another way. Are you and I responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

  128. You guys are making my point. Of course they are not all responsible. But that doesn’t mean we need to change history to fit our politically correct belief. To say there was NO Jewish involvement in the execution of Christ is as laughable as it is to say the whole Jewish nation is responsible. The Jewish leadership had FAR more to do with the death of Christ than did any Roman.

    Whether or not this leads to anti-semitism is beside the point–it doesn’t change the fact that it happened!

  129. Eric Russell says:


    I think you’re saying something more. You’re saying “X is not true because I think its offensive.” X may or may not be true in this case, I don’t know. But I do know that that’s a logical fallacy.

    As for as the other issue, folks, we can save that for another thread. I just thought Ronan was saying none of the Jews really had anything to do with it. (As was the claim during the Passion controversy.)

  130. Tim – Of course it happened. Neither Ronan nor I am suggesting that we change history. In fact, we suggest that you check your history. The fallacy that “all Jews” are responsible for the death of Christ has been used as justification for many horrible acts over the centuries by “God fearing Christians”.

    Your concession that this argument (e.g. “all” not “the few” are responsible) is not true doesn’t make anti-semitism beside the point. We’ve got to be clear when we talk about this. Given the weight of history on this issue, I think the onus is on us to make sure we don’t fan the flames of anti-semitism.

  131. Travis,

    EXACTLY. We shouldn’t hold Jews responsible for the actions of a few a couple thousand years ago–I’m with you. We are able to make the distinction.

    Likewise we should not hold our Negro brothers responsible for Cain’s action. The fact that some do and have in the past, does not mean that we need to change history.

    Like I said, you’re making my argument for me.

  132. Ronan (#115)

    “OK, now write a paper on why a national healthcare system should be adopted by the US.”

    That’s gonna take me even longer than it took Stirling to ignore race in the scriptures!

  133. Eric, the problem with your line of thinking is that it relies entirely on blind faith and an overly confidently reading. We don’t really know the entire context of the “conquest” narrative, nor do we really understand the nature of the various Biblical and Book of Mormon curses. We assume that we know, because they are couched in terms that we are familiar with (black, white, etc.), but even at that kind of face value, the terms are elusive (what does “black” or “blackness” really mean? Where is the line crossed between white and black skin tone in this setting? and so forth). If we believe that we understand it, we fall into the same trap that Elder McConkie did. Short of direct revelation, it is better to keep our conclusions tentative. If you have received direct revelation on this matter, I assume that you are meant to keep it to yourself in any case.

    I accept the concept that “if x is offensive to me, it must be false” is a dangerous and uncritical approach. However, I don’t see your approach as being less so. How does one convince the Dan Laffertys of the world that God isn’t telling them to kill their sister-in-law’s in such a system? Maybe such isn’t possible, but if you operate from a system where anything can be justified from revelation, then the problem will grow (I think).

    ps. The Romans killed Christ (under apparent blackmail from a small group of Jewish leaders). Can’t we lay the blame on both groups jointly.

    pps. Regarding, the lesson that the church, scriptures, etc. teach us (that truth is offensive), I think that Joseph Smith’s taste rule necessarily invalidates that. Sometimes, God does ask people to do things that we find offensive. I don’t think though that, in those conditions, he would be happy if we had a “how high!” attitude.

  134. “Likewise we should not hold our Negro brothers responsible for Cain’s action. The fact that some do and have in the past, does not mean that we need to change history.”

    Agreed, Tim. But let’s not take this as a point in favor of the Frank/Eric reading of these passages of scripture. As I’ve already noted, their reading is reasonable. But there are other reasonable readings as well. For the reasons I stated above, I prefer the reading offered by Ronan and Stirling.

  135. Travis,

    Hey, I’m definitely open to alternative interpretations. But I think it’s wrong to dismiss one interpretation for the sole reason that we don’t like its’ implications, as happens much to often here in the bloggernacle.

  136. Travis,

    Your logic goes like this:

    1. A or B could be true
    2. I think A implies C which I despise
    3. So I’ll tentatively believe B and reject C

    That’s fine as long as you don’t believe that those that disagree with you accept C. TO my mind, the path goes like this:

    1. A or B could be true
    2. A is noticeably more likely
    3. C is distasteful, but A does not imply C
    4. I’ll tentatively believe A and reject C.

  137. Rebecca (Re #89), I’m with you, and part of the reason why I don’t get hot under the collar about the race thing is because I believe that Adam and Cain both have the ontological status of an imaginary friend.

    Even the scriptures are confused about the progeny of Cain. There’s Jabal, about whom Moses (according to the traditional account) writes, “the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle;” and there’s Jubal, “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe;” and then there’s Tubal-cain, “the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron.” But presumably their descendants died in the flood, so that it’s not clear how they can be herding cattle or playing music or forging instruments by the time that Moses sits down to pen the Pentateuch.

    In general, though, I have a hard time getting up-in-arms on behalf of folks who harbor grievances over past evils. There are now so many victim-groups competing for the limelight that I’ve become a victim of exhaustion with regards to the entire matter. This type of sensory overload leads to habituation and indifference. And besides, things are tough all over.

  138. Yeah, you’ve got a rough life, DKL.

  139. If it were up to me, this picture would be entitled, “Adam and Eve’s First Date.” They’re walking peacefully home from seeing a nice, G-rated movie. Adam has a wry smile, because he’s already seen her naked.


    I don’t see, logically speaking, why a Mormon would believe that he can’t darken the skin of a people because of the sins of one man.

    Because it contradicts the spirit of the 2nd Article of Faith.

  140. “I don’t see, logically speaking, why a Mormon would believe that he can’t darken the skin of a people because of the sins of one man.”

    For this Mormon, the answer is, “Because I don’t believe in magic.” God operates subject to natural laws. Skin is darkened or lightened according to natural phenomena such as genetic mutation, genetic recombination, etc., not due to curses.

  141. Tim –

    I agree that it can be dangerous to reject a doctrinal interpretation or reading of the scriptures because we don’t like the consequences. But then, isn’t it equally dangerous to accept one doctrinal interpretation or scriptural reading over another because of tradition? I think we’re in trouble either way and the solution, IMO, is to be very careful about how we read the scriptures and make conculsions about doctrine–and especially about how we accuse others of being wrong or unfaithful when their conclusions or interpretations are different. (Note: I’m not saying you’re doing this).

    Frank –

    “That’s fine as long as you don’t believe that those that disagree with you accept C.” I’m cool with that, except when people come out and say “I believe in A, therefore I accept C” (which does happen with this particular “C”). Otherwise, agreed.

    The main problem I have with your logic is this: When you say “A is noticably more likely”. I just don’t agree that this is true.

  142. For this Mormon, the answer is, “Because I don’t believe in magic.” God operates subject to natural laws. Skin is darkened or lightened according to natural phenomena such as genetic mutation, genetic recombination, etc., not due to curses.

    I totally agree.

  143. I’m sorry, but I still think some here are “shooting the messenger” as they bemoan Frank’s comments. Take it up with the scriptures, folks. I agree that various passages can be interpreted in various ways, and I’m all in favor of non-racial interpretations in order to weed out noxious views, but let’s not pretend that the scriptures themselves aren’t the cause of the problem, to some extent.

    Aaron B

  144. I think it is much more reasonable to believe that the Lamanite “curse” was a result of intermarriage with existing indigenous peoples than with a DNA “zapping” from God.

  145. I do not agree with your reasoning! I believe that this was a retarded plea for attention and that you are being racist!

  146. This has been a huge issue for me because of an incident I experienced in the mission field.

    I was attending a primary meeting in a Navajo ward in Arizona in 1992. We were playing a Mormon trivia game from about 1955 (from the look of the box). The primary president (who besides us two missionaries was the only white person in the room) pulled out a question and asked the children:

    True or False, in the BOM when the Lamanites repented their skin turned white.

    40 children in unison aswered: False!
    The primary president said: No, I’m sorry, its true.

    I’ve never felt more ashamed than I did that day as 40 pairs of eyes looked me up and down, and the children wondered what unrepented sins they must have committed that still kept them from turning white.

  147. I do not agree with your reasoning! I believe that this was a retarded plea for attention and that you are being racist!

    Its a well known fact that Canadians cannot be racists. Its genetic!

  148. #142 and #143 – My thoughts exactly – thank you!

  149. #149 – Talon – that literally makes me feel sick. How awful.

  150. Eric Russell says:

    Eric, the problem with your line of thinking is that it relies entirely on blind faith and an overly confidently reading.

    What? What’s my line of thinking? I didn’t think I had a reading of anything. For the record here, let me say that I do not believe that Cain was cursed with a dark skin. I really don’t. I’m just saying there’s no way to know for certain that it’s not true – and that the whole “it couldn’t possibly be true because it’s not very nice” argument just doesn’t cut it. If someone could come up with a convincing argument though, I would be as glad as any to hear it.

  151. SA,

    “For this Mormon, the answer is, “Because I don’t believe in magic.” God operates subject to natural laws. Skin is darkened or lightened according to natural phenomena such as genetic mutation, genetic recombination, etc., not due to curses.”

    You believe what you wish, but it sounds like this reasoning either eliminates a ressurection (or any number of other miracles) or, if not, requires defining “natural law” as including “whatever God does”. In which case you are back to square one.

  152. “Then today I have had a revelation . . .: your Mormon God is not my Mormon God. I like mine better.”

    Thank you Ronan.

    While I wish the Church would disavow prior racialist teachings, I am glad, at least, that the Brethren have not repeated them. In the meantime, I choose to ignore any pre-1978 teachings (including those in reprintings of Mormon Doctrine), and any potential interpretations of any scripture that would lend any support to the notion that race has anything to do with worthiness of anyone either in this life, the premortal existence, or the hereafter.

  153. Ronan–thanks for a fantastic post. I’ve been wondering about this issue myself for some time.

    Several commenters have made the point that we do not KNOW absolutely from our doctrine that Eve and Adam were light-skinned, or that we do not KNOW absolutely from scientific investigation that Adam and Eve were dark-skinned. This is exactly the point. In one sense, the picture is a “lie.” I think we can suspect that our first parents never looked exactly as they appear in our art–it’s not a snapshot of them. So why not represent a wide range of depictions? If we don’t really know, why invariably choose white?

    As for our undeniably racist scriptures, it seems to me we need to take their implications seriously (heaven forbid!) or find hermeneutically valid ways of actively refuting them. It’s definitely the case that just because something is appallingly offensive does not mean the scriptures don’t say it. But if something is appallingly offensive to me and goes against my own (albeit fallible) conscience, I’m going to need some serious direct personal revelation that the scriptural passage in question reflects God’s actual attitude (especially given the contradictory and problematic nature of the scriptures as you’ve outlined well in #121). I’m not going to accept any such belief as “truth” on the basis of scriptural authority alone.

    I put my faith in a loving God who’s fair to all of his children. Regardless of scriptural claims, I see no reason to perpetuate implicit assumptions that “white” is the “default” human physiology.

  154. Jonathan Green says:

    Ronan, sorry you’re having a bad day, sorry I’m just adding to it. Any reading of Genesis, Moses, or Nephi is going to have to deal with the uncomfortable fact not that sin darkens skin, but rather that the people who wrote our scriptures believed in a connection between righteousness and pigmentation. That former perception is something that shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed, because we might yet still learn something from it. For example, one way to read the Book of Mormon is as a terribly relevant warning about what happens to a people that can’t see past ethnic differences.

    The most interesting theory about Cain’s descendants that I ever came across was a marginal note in a 15th-century printed book that proposed Cain as the ancestor of Job, and thus through Job the ancestor of Jesus Christ.

  155. Everyone knows that Cain is Bigfoot, so you can all just shut up.

  156. God operates subject to natural laws.

    Except we’re not aware of every natural law that exists, and there may be things that have happened outside of natural laws–things we call miracles.

    What natural law allowed Jesus to turn water to wine?

    To feed 5000 people with a few fish and loaves of bread?

    To raise Lazarus from the dead?

    To Cure the blind?

    Please, tell me what natural laws Christ was following to perform these things.

  157. Aaron Brown says:

    Wow. Comment #149 really is the most awful thing I’ve ever heard. It should get some kind of award.

    Aaron B

  158. (I didn’t post the blogpoll, but I think whoever did was trying to point out the utter ludicrosity of having a conversation about Cain’s colour and his alleged connection with Africans, when there’s a whole Mormon folklore — including the Miracle of Forgiveness — that suggests Cain is some kind of Bigfoot character. Come on! We’ve entered La-La Land. DKL is right: we may as well be discussing the colour of Rudolph’s nose. It is just a shame when fantasy ends up supporting racism. Adios.)

  159. I’m sorry to see Jonathan Green’s comment deleted. I completely agree that the blogpoll pictures are out of bounds. Take them down.

    Have something lighthearted with the blogpoll, fine. But I really think that’s taking things too far. It’s too blunt an instrument to make the point you want, Ronan.

  160. Travis: je suis innocent. I’m not the boss ’round here.

  161. Travis, Jonathan Green, et al: we’re not taking it down. It may take things too far, but that’s our prerogative. In any event, it doesn’t come nearly as close to taking things as far as some of the comments in this thread, so let’s all settle down.

  162. Understood, Ronan. If you talk to the boss, would pass along the message?

  163. Frank,

    I actually think that there are “natural” laws out there that allows these supposed “miracles” to happen. Water to wine, feeding five thousand with just a few morsels of food, healing of all sorts of ailments without surgery or “medical” intervention. “Since I can’t understand them, they must all be a crock!”

    We call them miracles because we don’t understand them. Some people feel like they have to try to justify or explain what happened (as is in this post) to make it fit their notions of belief.

    When it comes down to it, it is an interesting question as to how we became who we are. I wonder if Joseph had any preconceived ideas of God the Father and Jesus Christ in their color of skin. If so, I wonder if he was surprised during the first vision. If so, he didn’t note it.

    It probably didn’t matter.

  164. Travis, I have no idea who the boss is.

  165. Nathan,

    “I actually think that there are “natural” laws out there that allows these supposed “miracles” to happen. ”

    That is the point I was trying to make.

  166. Hey, I’ve found something we can all agree on (apart from the abomination that is Eve’s hairdo):

    The picture is simply incorrect. Their attire suggests they’re out of Garden, so why is that tiger just chilling out there as they stroll past?

  167. Sorry Frank,

    That was supposed to be friendly banter to strengthen your position.


    They are the many great-grandparents of Siegfried & Roy. It’s a genetic thing, I’m sure.

  168. Julie M. Smith says:

    Ronan, I want you to know that not only am I a stranger in your strange land, but Stirling’s reading is almost exactly what I told my SS class last week.

  169. Julie,

  170. I love the international entries to the church art competition for exactly this reason. I love seeing portrayals of tree of life visions with all Asian partakers and scoffers, all-Hispatic pre-earth or postmortal heavens, black Abraham and Sarahs… We need more of these diverse portrayals. Ah, for the days of all-live participant endowments. Then the story really would be colorblind worldwide.

  171. Fratello Giovanni says:

    Regarding #149 . . .

    I’m reminded of a YM/YW Sunday evening fireside (back when I was in Young Men). We were playing that same game, and that question came up. I don’t know how it was answered, but my father (then bishop) jumped up to declare that the card was wrong.

    The basis given on the card was 2 Nephi 30:6, which said that the Lamanites would become a “white and delightsome people” until the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon. (Since Dad was bishop, this would have been sometime between 1986 and 1990.) Anyway, this Primary president clearly was injecting something that never should have been there, and had long since been repudiated.

  172. Wow, this is one of those threads were I agree with most things to a certain degree, even DKL’s comments! Talk about an inner conflict. But that’s what you get when you venture into discussing anything related to what I call the big three: women’s rights, homosexuality, and race.

    And pardon my naivety, but is #175 accurate? Have phrases been changed/omitted from the Book of Mormon over a hundred years after it was transla-, uh, released?

  173. What I’m trying to say is that I think good points have been made all around. But as is the case with these loaded topics, it takes nearly 200 comments for us to stop reading too much into each other’s comments.

    I don’t think anyone here is inherently racist for interpreting scripture one way, as I don’t think anyone here is trying to change history by interpreting scripture another way.

  174. Jonathan, in 157, I like your point. But in the first sentence, you write “Any reading of Genesis, Moses, or Nephi is going to have to deal with the uncomfortable fact not that sin darkens skin, but rather that the people who wrote our scriptures believed in a connection between righteousness and pigmentation.

    I don’t think Genesis fits in the sentence. The scholars who have looked at this issue (including Nibley, and most recently and comprehensively, Goldenberg in The Curse of Ham, have specifically concluded there is not good evidence of such a connection. For example, 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 analysis of the broader question of whether there was a cultural reproach with regards to black Africans yields a similar conclusion: he finds no evidence of such a stigma and concludes “Apparently Kushite [black African] ancestry did not matter one way or the other”. This is quite similar to Nibley’s findings in Abraham in Egypt.

  175. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    that people with dark skin are physically and spiritually inferior

    I think we can all agree that those of the african race are not physically inferior to whites. a black investigator proved this at stake young mens basketball.

    but in all seriousness it is interesting to note that he decided to not get baptized because of this very issue. hmm. maybe it is a hurtful “doctrine”. just a thought.

  176. Stirling, re: 178, I have Nibley’s Abraham in Egypt, and I’m interested in knowing what his “quite similar” findings are. Can you provide a page number? Thanks for the Goldenberg info.

  177. Ok, MA. In Abraham in Egypt, in the subchapter entitled “No Prejudice,” Nibley discussed whether there existed in the Abrahamic era a prejudice against skin color. He concluded there did not: “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.” Abraham in Egypt, 585-587.

  178. Bob Caswell: this is one of those threads were I agree with… even DKL’s comments!

    Bob, are you feeling OK? I’m absolutely, positively the best commenter ever, so it’s not like I don’t appreciate your expressing some kind of agreement with me… I just think you’ll do best to keep opinions like that to yourself. Seriously, the chances are that your current frame of mind will pass, and when you’re feeling more level headed you’ll find that you’ve said something that you regret. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

  179. Elisabeth (111),

    I appreciate your thoughts on ownership of MoDo, but I think they’re a bit overblown. Ownership and bookshelf display do not equate to endorsement.

    I’ve got a copy of MoDo on my bookcase, on display, as it were. I don’t think that a serious student of Mormon thought — something that I at times pretend to be — should lack a copy of MoDo. It’s one of the more important statements of Mormon thought over the past half century. Being a Mormon without MoDo is like being a Catholic without Augustine or Aquinas.

    This _does not_ mean that I agree with everything there. I’ve got a _lot_ of books on my bookcase. I’ve got Michael Quinn, probably sitting right next to MoDo, and I certainly don’t agree with everything _he_ writes. I’ve got Mein Kampf, from a college class, and Lord knows I don’t agree with that. I’ve got Eldridge Cleaver and the Communist Manifesto and Che Guevarra and Robert Bork and Catherine McKinnon and Robert Nozick. And if you think it’s possible that the presence of all of those on my bookcase means that I _endorse_ them all — I don’t think it’s even _possible_ to be endorsing all of those.

    /end mini-rant.

    I think on the narrower point, you’re absolutely right. MoDo is not a valid source of doctrinal authority; to the extent that large numbers of people are drawing normative conclusions from statements made in MoDo, we have a real problem. But the subset of Bookcase people who view MoDo as a valid instructional manual is necessarily smaller than the total number of Bookcase people, no?

    Travis (116),

    I like your suggestion that we adopt an interpretive rule that ambiguities are to be resolved in the way that is least likely to be racist. Of course, that opens up further cans of worms. How do we cabin this rule? Who determines where it falls in the heirarchy of other interpretive rules? Nevertheless, I think that this rule is a good addition to the interpretive canon.

    (Also, you make a very good point about MMM in 129).

    John (136),

    Agreed that an interpretive approach of minimalism may be most appropriate here. Move cautiously, go case-by-case, avoid sweeping generalizations. The sensitivity of the topic, and that fact that it may be in flux, are reasons to adopt a minimalist approach. (This is not unlike Cass Sunstein’s constitutional arguments on when the Supreme Court should take a minimalist position).

    Dave (140),

    It’s very important to know what skin color your imaginary friends have.

    SA (143),

    Um, most Mormons _do_ believe in God’s ability to do these sorts of things.

    Kiskilili (156),

    Nice comment. Given that most people here reject racism as an ideology, we’ve got confusion about what hermeneutic approach to use, as is evidenced in the comments.

    Also, it’s nice to see another unpronouceable, unspellable K name in the nacle.

    Jonathan (157),

    Yep – that’s the hard part. Do we write off prior statements as cultural baggage? Do we reframe them? Do we reframe our ideas on race? No result is going to be pretty.


    I don’t know about strangers or strange lands, but I definitely think you’re pretty strange, mate. Does that help?

  180. Jonathan Green says:

    Stirling, you’re probably right about Genesis.

    Also, I’m honored to join the elite circle of those whose comments have been deleted at one time or another. I had thought that I’d start out my career in censorship at M* and then move up to provoking Adam Greenwood into doing something rash at T&S, and that BCC would be the tough nut to crack, but the hard part is taken care of already. Now nothing can hold me back from the LDS blog censorship triple crown!

  181. Elisabeth says:

    But the subset of Bookcase people who view MoDo as a valid instructional manual is necessarily smaller than the total number of Bookcase people, no?


  182. DKL,

    You must have missed the NibletCast, the best commenter was Annegb followed by Roasted Tomatoes. Of course, you could be the Jeff Daniels of the Bloggernacle: a good year with little recognition.

    But whatever the case may be, you’re probably right. What can I ever do for you to forgive me (and to alleviate this unbearable regret)? Can I write you in for next year’s Niblet awards?

  183. Jonathan: to be precise, you were deleted twice. Of course it was the same comment both times, but still. Just in case you were keeping score. BTW, it was a nice comment, one of your finest. Too bad the public shall never see it.

  184. BCC Admin,

    Could we spice things up a little and admit to the public that BCC permabloggers save, read, and discuss deleted comments behind the scenes?

    This one sounds so interesting that I’m willing to disclose some of the inner workings of BCC to be able to read it… er, doh!

  185. #187

    Did I detect an English accent in that comment?

  186. Jonathan Green got a comment deleted on bcc before me!? How is that right? All I’ve ever gotten is matronly reminders from Steve Evans. Ronan is ashamed to be a part of the same religion as me, but do I get delete-button loving? Not once!

    There’s some serious favoritism going on here…

  187. Tim,



  188. Jonathan,

    The triple crown requires a lot more effort than that, grasshopper. Why, there is an interlocutor or two on this very thread whose accomplishments make your puny efforts at comment deletion look pale in comparison.

    The identitie(s) of such interlocutor(s) are of course a closely guarded secret.

  189. Julie M. Smith says:

    Help me out here because I’m not an expert on Mormon folk doctrine, but . . . if Ham’s wife is the seed of Cain and therefore bears the mark/curse (not that these two should be conflated, but I’m working with the folk dotrine here!) and so some of the people on the ark are the descendents of Cain and therefore carry the curse/mark beyond the flood . . .

    . . . if all of that is true (and I don’t think it is), then how/why was Ham worthy enough to earn his ark ticket if he married one of these wicked, marked people? Or, the other way around: if these people were worthy to be on the ark, wouldn’t it suggest that they were *not* wicked?

  190. Julie (193), we could discuss some of the creative ways in which Mormons and U.S. Southern Protestants dealt with your question in the middle to late 1800s. But, it would be an ugly experience, and it would end up doubling the length of this thread. It might be more productive if we identified the most interesting places to get ethnic food in Austin, or the best molé poblano recipes.

  191. Come on, Stirling, we’ve got to reach 200!

  192. Re #176:

    The 1981 reading of “pure and delightsome” in 2 Nephi 30:6 represents a restoration of the reading in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon.

    “Instead of ‘white and delightsome,’ as in most earlier editions, the 1981 edition uses ‘pure and delightsome,’….The printer’s copy says ‘white.’ Unfortunately, the remaining portion of the original dictated manuscript does not include this scripture. The 1830 and 1837 editions of the Book of Mormon, based on the printer’s copy, also say ‘white.’ However, the 1840 editions, which was ‘carefully’ revised by the Prophet Joseph Smith, uses ‘pure’ in place of ‘white.’ All subsequent edition have reverted to ‘white,’ probably because the 1852 edition (the next after the 1840) was based on the 1837 edition rather than on the 1840. In the process of arranging the 1981 edition the [Scripture Publications] committee presented all of the textual corrections along with the reason for each proposed correction to the First Presidency and the Twelve for approval. The decision to use ‘pure’ in this passage was made not on the basis of the original manuscripts (as were most other cases) but on the 1840 revision by the Prophet Joseph Smith and the judgment of living prophets” (Robert J. Matthews. “The New Publications of the Standard Works–1979, 1981.” BYU Studies 22.4 (Fall 1982): 398-399.

  193. Aaron Brown says:

    Oh my gosh, this thread is about to exceed the length of my “Brokeback Mountain” thread. Intolerable! Please head on over and make gay cowboy comments forthwith.

    Aaron B

  194. How about this, instead of repeating the folklore, let me echo Julie’s point about Ham. An Ensign article points out that “[M]odern revelation assures us that all three [of Noah’s] sons were righteous, something only implied in the Bible. The Lord declared that Noah and all of his sons ‘hearkened unto the Lord, … and they were called the sons of God’ (Moses 8:13).” (Romney, “Noah, The Great Preacher of Righteousness,” Ensign, Feb. 1998, 22)

    Stephen Haynes, in Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery has a good discussion of how Southern Protestants used racial folklore about Ham, Cain, and Nimrod as justifications for slavery before the Civil war, and for segregation after the war. The Southern Protestant folklore has a fair amount of overlap with the Mormon lore of the same period (less so in the case of Nimrod).
    He has an interesting chapter called “Redeeming the Curse: Ham as Victim.” There, he reinterprets the Gen. 9 story of Noah cursing Ham’s son Canaan (in response to Ham discovering Noah naked and drunk). Using René Girard’s theory of mimetic rivalry and scapegoating, Haynes assumes a competition for a scarce good among Noah’s oldest sons Shem and Japheth. Haynes explains “The object of the brothers’ desire — their father’s blessing — is shared in exchange for their complicity in scapegoating a third party.” Although the sacrificial Ham is not killed, “he becomes a perpetual human sacrifice, surviving as a target for whatever postdiluvian corruption must be accounted for. Abandoned to dishonor but never consumed, Ham is available for literary lynching whenever needed”. Haynes reads the story of Noah and his sons as a type of “the willing victimhood of God’s Christ,” with Ham as an innocent victim and the curse as teaching “we are all victims, all victimizers, …all in need of rescue and redemption, all loved and favored by God, all revealed in our depravity by God’s truth. Seen in this light, the designation ‘Noah’s curse’ not only displaces the stigma of guilt from Ham the innocent victim but also implies that the curse and responsibility for redeeming it belong to all”

  195. Well, I felt that I had to read the whole thread before commenting, and I haven’t had the time until now. People have probably moved on but:

    ON ART
    I think it is a natural inclination to think of people you like (those in the scriptures) as being like you. We read the story of Joseph and say “ahh, he loves his family, just like I do;” we read about Jeremiah and say “he is just like me–he is sad when people sin” and read about Mary and think “she loved Jesus: I love Jesus, too.” In art, we represent these people we admire as we are, mostly as people of our race. That is why I don’t think it is BAD that a lot of Mormon art in the past has been ridiculuosly eurocentric. I also think it entirely appropriate to make art representing scriptural figures who resemble you. As we are now a multi-ethnic church, it would be wise for us to have increasingly multi-ethnic representations.

    I was told in Kenya that the Bible translation (must have been swahili) of the story had Adam and Eve’s fall caused by them choosing to eat “the white man’s fruit.” This was the name for apples. Maybe they would be as happy to see the original sinners as white people.

    Eddie Braun (a Navajo) used to be in my ward (Bush I’s head of the BIA) and he told this story illustrating the prevelant, tragic, and absurd racial ideas of Mormons past:

    The summer before he left on his mission was spent painting houses in the Arizona sun and he was tanned very dark when he left. His mission was served in Canada, and he came home pretty pasty from being inside so much. When his stake president interviewed him at his release, he said (in reference to the change in his skin color): “You must have had a very successful mission!”

    I would guess that was in the 1960s, but it is a sad and revealing story. I wish I could believe that it couldn’t happen now. I really wish it never happened, though.

  196. Now that you have even the score for Abel by beating Cain and his seed back into the ground lets talk Black. In my earlier days Black was beautiful and still is, but so is Red, Yellow, White etc. The question is how do we relate to our different colored friends now?

    Some of you might know of The Genesis(Black) Group in SLC. I resently wrote a letter to a member of this group after he shared his church conversion experience with me.

    “Dennis, It is wonderful and amazing how the Lord ministers to each one of us and then connects us all together. I truly enjoyed your story and life and rejoice in the great blessings God has given you and your eternal wife. It has touched my heart deeply. When he opens our eyes, hearts and minds to his greater love and mercy we can truly forgive the sinner within and then go on and forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive me for preaching, but like you I feel the words you write on a deep level that I judge no one and rejoice in the stories of the converts. While on my mission (Northern California 6/72-7/74) I learn many hard lessons from the saints. Being a new convert, a New Yorker and a former “wanna be hippie” my status among the Elders was very low. However, as you know being low in the gospel works in your favor in the eyes of the Lord. As a youth in my life I always looked to the Black people around me as the more humble and spiritual ones. I read a book once “Black Like Me” written by a white man who injected himself with a dye to look black who moved down south during the 50s or 60s to experience first hand how blacks were treated. I guess my becoming a hippie was a way of taking the low road to find out how it would feel to be misunderstood and looked down upon. I went to answer the call of Jimi Hendrixs. I wanted to be experienced! Now thanks to the Lord I can say “I Have!” During my first month out on my mission in the Sacramento area my companion and I baptized a black man. This man John had great faith and joined the church before the ban on the priesthood was lifted. I was over joyed in this blessing to know and bless this man who was lowly in heart, but rich in faith. I know the Lord lives and his church is truth, but as you know the members are many times not true. It has always been easier for me to love the sinner (especially those who repent), than the saint ( who thinks he has done no wrong). However, over the years the Lord has increased my love, patience and understanding to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile and love the saint like the sinner.”

    I hope we can all reach out in love one to another without having to rehash the sins of our past.

  197. Julie in Austin says:


    Korean: Koreana

    Thai: Satay or Thai Tara

    Persian: Alborz

    Indian: Clay Pit or Star of India

    Dominican: Mangu

    Texan: Threadgills

    Mexican: Fonda San Miguel

    Tex-Mex: Baby A’s

    (The only thing I really need that we lack is Ethiopian.)

  198. not ophelia says:

    And let’s not forget —

    Critters [Elk, Boar, Rattlesnake, etc.]: Hudson’s on the Bend.

    Only in Texas . . .


  199. Justin to the rescue! Thanks, Justin B., you remain one of my favorite things about the Bloggernacle. You’re like Mormon Google (Mormoogle?). You never cease to amaze.

  200. Julie M. Smith says:

    The correct term is ‘moogle.’ But I think J. Stapley holds that honor.

    (No offense, Justin B. You were probably just a little less righteous in the pre-existence :).)

  201. Who cares if Adam and Eve are 1970s era Rocky Mountain Caucasians?

    Did anyone else notice that Adam gets to wear a shorter skirt than Eve?

    Well? Did you?

    Now THAT’S something worth getting upset about!

  202. Did anyone else notice that Adam gets to wear a shorter skirt than Eve?
    That’s because Eve had better control over her thoughts than Adam had over his, silly. : )

  203. Their attire suggests they’re out of Garden, so why is that tiger just chilling out there as they stroll past?

    Tummy must be full of pre-Adamites.

  204. This thread has made Ronan my hero.

  205. I suggest a BCC interview with the artist of Adam and Eve in the Garden.

    Some possible questions:

    *Did you use models for the painting?
    *Were they a 30-something couple from Orem? If so, do you think that there is anything wrong with that?
    *What is the theological significance of the fact that Adam and Eve both sported 80s hairdo’s and that Adam wore a miniskirt?
    *Are they wearing mini-skirts or deerskin kilts?
    *Why does Adam have darker skin than Eve?
    *Are Adam and Eve in the garden (In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, for short) or out of the garden (Out-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, for short)? Their attire suggests they’re Out-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, so why is that tiger just chilling out there as they stroll past?
    *Have you ever seen the 70s sitcom “Good Times”: the one where JJ paints a picture of “black Jesus” with Ned the wino as the model? Did it influence your painting of Adam and Eve?
    *Have you ever seen Bruce Almighty? Did it influence your painting of Adam and Eve?
    *Just when did you do this painting?
    *Have you done an Adam and Eve painting with bears?
    *If Adam and Eve were our first parents and of one race, then from where did the different races come from?
    *Are you under the assumption that Adam actually existed and that he was the first man?
    *Do you agree with the following logic: Eve had very feathered hair. Adam apparently shaved his legs. That is embarrassing. Therefore, under a criterion of embarrassment, Adam and Eve must have existed. Q.E.D.?
    *Isn’t the combined meaning of Abraham 1:21-27 and Moses 7 that Ham’s wife was of the seed of Cain?
    *Okay, in the Moses account, all of Cain’s seed are destroyed in the flood. So whatever Cain’s seed were or were not, they have absolutely no relationship to any peoples in the world today. Don’t you believe in the worldwide flood, man?
    *If Ham’s wife is the seed of Cain and therefore bears the mark/curse (not that these two should be conflated, but we’re working with the folk dotrine here!) and so some of the people on the ark are the descendents of Cain and therefore carry the curse/mark beyond the flood….if all of that is true (and we don’t think it is), then how/why was Ham worthy enough to earn his ark ticket if he married one of these wicked, marked people? Or, the other way around: if these people were worthy to be on the ark, wouldn’t it suggest that they were *not* wicked?
    *Do you believe that Cain is Bigfoot?
    *Do you agree that the subset of Bookcase people who view MoDo as a valid instructional manual is necessarily smaller than the total number of Bookcase people?
    *Do you believe that Justin was just a little less righteous in the pre-existence than J. Stapley?
    *Do you believe in pre-Adamites?
    *Do you think that Ronan is a stranger in a strange land or a simply strange mate?
    *Finally, do you know who the boss is at BCC or the most interesting places to get ethnic food in Austin?

  206. jjohnsen,
    You’re very kind. I’ll post a PayPal link soon.

    who knew you could be funny? where’s the Mormon history oddity here?!

  207. I suggest that this blog is a demonstration that the interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, of this painting, and of the cited scriptures is a political activity.
    Some think that Genesis 4, 9, and Mos 5, 7, don’t contain references to skin color marks or curses. Others think that if you squeeze hard enough, the marks/curses bleed through as black. Others claim a “literal” reading yields references to skin color (though, this resort to the authority of “what does the text say literally” confused me since whether or not the text is meant to be taken literally, the text doesn’t “literally” say skin color. If it has that meaning (I grant it may), it is only through at least some figurative extension).

    I find it interesting that the women who’ve posted seem not to buy a “Cain was black” interpretation, and that among the men there seems to be a strong correlation between the author’s spot on the cultural and political conservative/liberal spectrum (my judgment here comes from reading their T&S, Bcc, ldslibfront, and BS posts), and whether he is more likely to accept a reading that turns Cain’s skin dark. Of course, this group of bloggers is a self-selected sample, so I don’t mean to draw any population-wide conclusions, I’m just describing a tentative observation.

    Following Justin’s lead in 209, here are some other questions that I think are relevant as to how a person read’s experiences these texts.

    O Do you believe the Church’s temple and priesthood ban regarding people with black African ancestors was divinely inspired?
    O Do you believe there is any religious reason that people with different skin colors and ethnic backgrounds should not marry?
    O Do you regard the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden as recounting historical events that occurred as described?
    O What is your own skin color?
    O What is your understanding of why variations in human skin color exist? (is your answer for this any different than as to why there are variations in whether the second toe is longer than the big toe?)
    O Do you believe there are separate human races. (If so, how many?)
    O Have you sent your DNA sample to National Geographic yet for a report of your “deep ancestral history?”

  208. Back at post 58 Frank (without reading the thread!) started a ruckus by claiming “Cain was given a mark, being a skin of blackness.” I’ve now read all the comments and the scriptures involved. Unless someone has more evidence to offer (Frank, do you have an ace up your sleeve?), THERE IS NO SCRIPTURE THAT SAYS CAIN WAS MARKED WITH A SKIN OF BLACKNESS (much less that his children were).
    I think that’s the main take-home point for me. Yes, Frank and Eric can find it reasonable to speculate that “black” in Mos. 7:22 means black skin. I disagree with that interpretation, and find it possible, but not reasonable.

    If I read the verse in context, along with the rest of the chapter/vision, and with or without the context of the other relevant scriptural texts and historical context, I find an interpretation of “black skin” unlikely-not as unlikely as interpreting verse 28 to mean that rain comes from god’s tears (#94), but unlikely (and then, highly unlikely in light of the information about how the slavery of black Africans impacted readings of the Cain and Ham verses).
    I learned a lot from this thread. Thanks.

  209. not ophelia says:

    Well, here’s something else about the the Mark of Cain

    Who’d’ve thought . . .


  210. harpingheather says:

    Not to derail the thread or anything but I wonder if you all could give me a hand.

    I’d like to offer a special present to the girl in my Sunday School class who does the best this year. (Bribery is not only wrong, it’s absolutely necessary.) I’m considering giving them their choice of (a) a nice CTR ring, (b) scripture study materials or (c) some spiritual art.

    Now it just so happens that all three girls in my class are of African descent. So I’d like to offer them pictures with African people. There was a beautiful picture of Jesus talking with a young woman and teaching her not to hide her candle under a bushel but the girl was Caucasian. Does anyone know where I can find art like that? Keeping in mind that I live more than 500 miles away from the nearest “This Is The Place” store.

  211. Marcus Lloyd says:

    Hey all,

    Help me out, I’m colour blind what does white look like anyway? Now, if I could hear a sample of what they sounded like maybe I can get a better ethnic picture of their racial makeup.

  212. Paul McKinnus says:

    Common origin in Africa is only ONE of the human origin theories based on evolution and migration. To single out that “all signs point to Africa” and not even mention the opposing point of view holding that there were several locations where humanity sprung up reveals Newsweek’s agenda and purposeful bias. Just who’s “common ancestors” are they talking about? Yet the general population buys into the rhetoric of the age of internationalist thinking without a single afterthought. Newsweek’s article is just another attempt to indoctrinate and make the concept of “white” look ridiculous. There are plenty of holes in the Africa origin theory, and any standard text dealing with evolution always acknowledges both theories.

  213. Paul McKinnus says:

    West Des Moines, IA: What does all this new knowledge say about such things as race and family heritage, how we see ourselves and others, and what is real about them and what is not? How can we use the knowledge to free ourselves from old ideas about race and family and nationality and such that impede human progress?
    Claudia Kalb: Another important point. As much as there are concerns about dangerous stereotyping and ethnic and racial divisions, there is also hope that by learning more about our lineage, we will learn to appreciate our common heritage. Most scientists support the theory that all humans evolved in Africa and then some groups migrated out around the world. The genetic “Adam” and “Eve” add weight to that theory. And then there’s the fact that any two people share DNA that is 99.9 identical. All of this argues for a radical step away from old ideas about race and nationality and a giant step toward unity. Forget about skin color and religion: underneath it all, we are all genetically related.

  214. Paul McKinnus says:

    Sorry not to clarify earlier, but that last bit was from an interview with the author.

    I thought this was interesting:

    “At African Ancestry, an unhappy customer peppered company President Gina Paige with e-mails after DNA testing of his male line indicated that he had descended from a white man. “He was especially upset that (the ancestor) was German,” she recalls. “More so than white, he had a problem with being even a little bit German.”

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