*Separation IS the Curse: An Urgent Re-reading of 2 Nephi 5:21

Over the last few weeks, Latter-day Saints have had an intense and necessary discussion with ourselves about what Laman’s curse in the Book of Mormon was not: it was not dark skin, it was not wild savagery, and it was absolutely, unequivocally not the origin of any racial phenotypes that still exist today. 

But knowing what something is not doesn’t always help us understand what it is, so I have been thinking a lot this week about what Laman’s curse actually is. What was Laman cursed with? Who else suffered as a result of the curse? And how did this curse play out in the remainder of the Book of Mormon.

The answers, I think, cannot be found in Second Nephi. But they can be found in Fourth Nephi, in one of the most important and depressing passages in the entire Book of Mormon: 

And now it came to pass in this year, yea, in the two hundred and thirty and first year, there was a great division among the people. And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites. . . . And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle. (4 Nephi 1: 35-38)

This is the passage where the people lose Zion after 231 years of living in a society where there are no ethnic, class, or religious divisions. And when they do, they create new affiliations out of thin air and ancient history using terms like “Nephites” and “Lamanites” that had not meant anything in centuries. It would be like contemporary Americans dividing up into “Ring Danes” and “Jutes” and then trying to invest these ancient divisions with modern significance just to give them an in-group to love and an out-group to hate.

The division of the people in Fourth Nephi is a slightly demythologized version of the original division of Lehi’s family into warring factions. Together, they constitute a type scene that we are meant to connect together to form a single understanding of the Book of Mormon’s central curse. When we do this, we can see that, in both passages, the nature of the curse is the separation of a single family or community into competing peoples. Separation is not a result of the curse; separation IS the curse, and it is a curse on both Nephites and Lamanites because it deprives them of each other. 

And this is also the Book of Mormon’s original sin, as sin is always separation. The Original Sin in Genesis was the separation of human beings from the divine presence. The Original Sin in American history–according to Abraham Lincoln’s unforgettable Second Inaugural Address–was the separation of humanity into slaves and masters, which produced the separation of the Republic into North and South. And the Original Sin of the Book of Mormon was the separation of a family that belonged together. 

The ultimate theme of the Book of Mormon–Christ’s Atonement–procedes logically and necessarily from the original separation. Reconcilliation between Nephites and Lamanites occur throughout the text in small ways (Enos’s prayers for the Lamanites, the Anti-Nephi Lehis, etc). But the healing of the community is accomplished once, but not quite and for all, by the appearance of Jesus Christ and the creation of Zion. This lasted, we are told, for exactly 230 years. In the 231st year, people divided themselves back into -ites–which also restored the curse, since being split into “all manner of -ites is precisely what “the curse” means.

I don’t want to make too much of the coincidence, but the United States of America, established by the ratification of the Constitution in 1789, turns 231 this year. We have hardly been a Zion community, but we have managed, in the face of very long odds, to hang together and create a political culture that values disagreement, debate, compromise, and reconciliation under the assumption that the Republic itself is more valuable than any single strain of thought within it.

But we are also susceptible to the Curse–to the division into political factions who have utter contempt for each other and who cannot visualize a functioning nation in which the other side exists. That is the essence of factionalism and the nature of Laman’s curse.

*Author’s Note: The original title of this post was “Tribalism IS the Curse.” Several people whom I respect greatly called me to re-think this in light of very reasonable objections by indigenous people to using the racially-loaded term “tribal” to describe political divisions. I agree with these objections and have repented.

Comments

  1. I love this reading. I’ve always been a devoted believer in bridging gaps, finding good in both sides, and chiseling out a way to live in peace. Lately I’ve been discouraged, but I think your reading is supported by the other mention of the curse at the end of Alma 23, describing what happened to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies:

    “And they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them.”

  2. I sometimes read tribalism as the narrative arc of the whole book, set up and foreshadowed in 1 Nephi. Regarding both the Book of Mormon and the United States, 230 years has always struck me as remarkably long. Of course, for the United States it was punctuated by the Civil War (and other lesser internal strife). We have been in worse places as a country.

  3. I hope it doesn’t detract too much from this excellent take on tribalism to note that the Nephite Zion society seems not to have begun until shortly after Jesus’ visit in year 34, by their calendar.

  4. 1989 was really 231 years ago?

  5. Michael Austin says:

    Jader3rd,

    Time totally files when you’re having democracy.

  6. The American Republic was not founded in 1989. I assume it is just a typo and would be easy enough to fix.

  7. Uh, what? I get the whole point of separation but let’s not go hyper-apologetic and try to wrangle away the fact that the BoM taught (and teaches still) that dark skin is a curse. (or at least was a curse at a point in time)

    2 Ne 5:21 “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    3 Ne 2:15 “And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

    Now, in our enlightened state most of us would agree that dark skin is not a curse from God, and some of us would just say that the BoM is wrong. Yet, for many TBM they just can’t pull themselves to admit there is any error in the BoM, so they create some alternate reality where the BoM doesn’t really say what it clearly says.

  8. More please says:

    No More, there are legitimate interpretations that read the Book of Mormon otherwise. There is evidence both for and against the idea that Nephites and Lamanites were visually distinct in the BoM, and it may have changed over time.

    Whether devout believers or devout non-believers, people who deny that scripture requires interpretation are fundamentalists.

  9. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    No More: those lines don’t imply that all dark skin is a curse, merely that it was in that instance. The fact that Brigham Young interpreted this verse to mean that all melanated persons were under a curse was more a function of his prejudices and ignorance than anything else. (He had some real whoppers about Asian geography, among many other things.) Joseph Fielding Smith’s mid-20th-century interpretation could be seen as a way of acknowledging that textual ambiguity, while still declaring “The Negro” to be under a curse for other reasons that BY and his contemporaries had pulled out of their rectal cavities. I mean, lots of things could have been used as a curse; it could have been a giant nose, or the inability to pronounce a guttural “h” sound. (The latter is the infamous “parsley test” used by the Dominican Republic to ethnically cleanse the country of Haitians, who pronounce the “j” in perejil with the French “zh” instead of the Spanish hard h.)

    BTW, per the secretary filling out the EEOC survey at the law firm where my dad worked in the ’70s, Jews don’t count as white.

  10. Yeah, I understand legitimate disagreements with interpretations when wording is not precise or clear, or can have multiple meanings, is symbolic, etc. But to deny that “skin of blackness” means skin of blackness, or that “their skin became white” means their skin became white is just mental gymnastics. What you call legitimate interpretations I call Mormon apologetics running from the racism of the Book of Mormon. Up until the 1970s, and perhaps beyond, the general interpretation and teaching of the church and its leaders was exactly what is clearly written. It wasn’t until we became racially enlightened that we now try to disavow our racist past, teachings, and scriptures. It’s revisionist history and doctrine all over again.
    If you want to interpret skin of blackness to mean whatever you want it to mean then you can interpret anything in the BoM to mean whatever you want it to mean, thus removing any true meaning from the book. We can all play that game.

    Horses really were tapirs
    Nephi’s bow wasn’t really steel, it was just a hard wood, like oak
    Jesus didn’t literally visit the Americas, it was just metaphorical
    Nephi didn’t really chop off Laban’s head, he just knocked him out
    and the list goes on and on and on….

    Is the BoM really the most true book? Or, just true according to personal interpretation? I guess the BoM suffers the same problem as the Bible, we get to make it mean whatever we want it to mean.

    Perhaps some scripture does require interpretation, but if you can interpret anything and everything then nothing has any meaning.

  11. To Heptaparaparshinokh, true that the BoM doesn’t say all dark skin is a curse, neither then or now. But it does clearly state that the Lamanite dark skin was a curse.

    And to More please, it is fair to argue through interpretation that just because dark skin was a curse for a certain people at a certain time does not make it a perpetual curse for all people at all times. I will agree to that point.

  12. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    No More: OK, I think I misunderstood your argument. That said, BY in particular used that passage to argue that dark skin was always and everywhere a curse, which is completely not obvious from the text, and also is something that somebody who looks like a lobster after 30 minutes in the sun would say. (Utah must have been hard for most early converts, especially the ones from places in Scotland and northern England where the sun is a rumor at best.)

  13. Wondering says:

    No More: The BoM “does clearly state that the Lamanite dark skin was a curse.”

    Does it? Or does it clearly state that Nephi reported that the dark skin followed the Lamanites having “dwindled in unbelief,” 1 Ne 12:23, that Nephi attributed the “skin of blackness” to God’s intention “that they might not be enticing unto [his] people,” 2 Ne 5:21, that Alma, Jr. interpreted the dark skin itself as the curse, rather than as something which followed the unbelief or curse, Alma 3:6, and that a much later Nephi noted that those (or the descendants of those) Lamanites who joined the Nephites had skin that had become white, 3 Ne 2:15. I haven’t grasped why Nephi, Alma, and later Nephi couldn’t simply have been in error in some of the things they wrote, just as other prophets have sometimes been in error. Doesn’t attributing those statements to the Book rather than to their authors go a bit beyond what the Book actually says?

    JS claimed: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct [not “most true”] of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.” (History of the Church, 4:461.) Perhaps what he meant by “most correct” is merely that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.” That would fall a great deal short of an assertion that each statement by each character in the Book of Mormon was true — and a great deal short of a claim of prophetic infallibility.

  14. the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them

    Wondering – Really? So, the authors said it but we can’t attribute it to the book? Is that just like the authors claimed Jesus is the son of God, but we can’t attribute that to the book?

    So how do you pick and chose which statements are true and which are errors?

    If we can cherry pick from the BoM then we can each create our own religion.

    (by the way, I reject any claim that dark skin is a curse – that is just racist garbage)

  15. I have not been convinced by any of the “alternative” interpretations of the Lamanite curse, but this might be the most tortured of all. If your interpretation of 2 Nephi 5 involves ignoring 2 Nephi 5, you’re on the wrong path.

    But let’s run with it. Nephi is very clear that the Lord caused the curse to come upon the Lamanites, the curse made the Lamanites loathesome to the Nephites, and the Lord warned that the seed of one who mixes with the cursed people will also be cursed. How does your “tribalism is the curse” thesis fit? Isn’t it tribalistic of the Nephites to loathe their cursed brethren and avoid mixing with them? Did the Lord cause the Lamanites to be tribalistic in order to increase tribalism among the Nephites? Tribalism among the Lamanites is a curse, but tribalism among the Nephites is a way to keep themselves free of the curse?

  16. “We can all play that game.”

    No, we can’t. Interpretation requires expertise, and not all interpretations are of equal standing. Tradition certainly provides some weight, but when it’s clear that traditional interpretation was little more than a context-free surface reading made uncritically through 19/20th century lenses, well, it’s not nearly the nihilistic free-for-all you imply.

  17. Yes more – you have a valid point about expertise, but there are limits. I also agree that not all interpretations have equal standing. But to deny that the skin of blackness was the curse, as is clearly written and reinforced by multiple other verses, opens up the door to any other absurd interpretation everywhere else in the book. I know it is hard to digest, and the church struggles to admit it, but denying it just isn’t honest.

  18. Wondering says:

    No More,
    I wonder if attributing a statement of one of multiple writers whose words are included to the Book might be akin to attributing a statement by the author of one essay in a collection of essays to the collection or its editor, or akin to attributing a statement of one of the characters in Hamlet, or another of his plays, to Shakespeare. Why could not a book or a play as a whole mean something more or different than the statements of one of the characters in that book or play? or demonstrate a principle that is different from a principle adhered to by one of the characters?

    If that approach is valid, then your question “how do you pick and chose which statements are true and which are errors?” may be answered by the same verse that sent Joseph to the grove, or by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.:

    “The question is, how shall we know when the things they have spoken were said as they were ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost?’ I have given some thought to this question, and the answer thereto so far as I can determine, is: We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ … There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ … This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where subsequent Presidents of the Church and the peoples themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’ How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest.” (Church News, July 31, 1954; reprinted in Dialogue, Vol.12, No.2, p.68)

    I am simply wondering why the statements of individual characters in the Book of Mormon should be thought to be immune from standards of interpretation or analysis or evaluation thought applicable to utterances of modern prophets or presidents of the Church. Maybe somebody out there can explain it to me.

  19. Michael Austin says:

    One dynamic that has always amused and puzzled me is that the people who are the most committed to seeing the Book of Mormon as a histsorical record are the ones least likely to treat it like they would treat any other work of history; and the people most likely to see the Book of Mormon as fiction are the least likely to treat it as they would any other work of fiction.

    If we assume that the BOM is a novel, or a fictional adventure tale, then it probably doesn’t make sense to read the skin color out of the curse narrative in 2 Nephi 5:21. If it is a work of fiction, then Nephi would have to be considered a reliable narrator, and if he says that God meant for the curse to apply to skin color then, without textual evidence of Nephi’s narrative uneliability, a good reader would probably assume that the author intended for us to see Nephi’s words as somethig like “truth” in the terms of a narrative.

    But if we consider it an actual historical record, then such an interpretation makes no sense at all. Working simply from the text, Nephi is telling this story 50 years after it happened, and incorporating all of the biases that have been produced by the last 50 years, And Mormon is coming to it as an editor nearly a thousand years later and using this as an etiological narrative to explain his own society, during which people called “Nephites” and people called “Lamanites” are fighting each other to extinction. Even in our highly literate society, things that happened a thousand years ago are almost impossible to assess with any certainty, and this was primarily an oral culture. To Mormon, who ultimately assembled the record (and we don’t know how much he redacted) Nephi was a myth, not a historical figure.

    Whenever we see etiological narratives in the scriptures, they are influenced by the propaganda of the people doing the writing and redacting. A good example would be Genesis 19, where Lot’s daughters seduce him and get pregnant with Moab and Ammon, the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites. This is nonsense, of course, and it is motivated by the desire of the Israelites to give an unflattering ancestry to their current enemies. And the time periods involved are about the same–a thousand years in a mainly oral culture in which etiological tales born out of propaganda become fixed in the scriptural record.

    This is why I look at 4th Nephi to try to understand the actual nature of the curse and its theological significance. That narrative is at odds with the narrative in 2nd Nephi, but it shows light on at least one way to read the text that makes it consistent throughout, and that controls for both Nephi’s and Mormon’s desire to invoke propagandistic etiologies to explain, incorrectly, their current realities.

  20. Not only does a proper reading of 2 Nephi 5 requires contradicting the obvious interpretation of 2 Nephi 5, but anybody who accepts the obvious interpretation of the text isn’t taking the text seriously?

    I can’t wait to hear your interpretation of 2 Nephi 9:28.

  21. Michael Austin says:

    Or, perhaps, anybdoy who uncritically accepts a thousand year-old folk etiology in a text is not treating the text they way that any competent reader would treat any other historical text. Herodotus says lots of stuff like this and puts it in the mouths of other recognizable ancient figures. But we don’t accept this uncritically just because Herodotus said that somebody said it. We temper the “obvious interpretation of the text” with critical distance and outright skepticism about sources because that is how we treat texts that we actually see as historical.

    On the other hand, it would never fly if Tolstoy tried to do something like this. We would say, “this is what the text says, it is the obvious interpretation of the text, so you have to live with what it says because you said it.” That is how we treat fiction.

    Relying on “obvious interpretations” is the correct reading strategy for novels and other works of fiction, It is a very poor reading strategy for works of history whose sources cannot be verified. Such texts demand more scrutiny than such a strategy allows for.

  22. The dark skin curse = evidence that Joseph Smith saw dark skin as a mark of inferiority and a divine curse. Of course then one of the first missions he called people to was the Lamanite mission. Joseph Smith was a complex figure. To reduce him to and dismiss him as a racist (as pretty much everyone was in 19th-century America) misses a lot of details. Then again the Book of Mormon racism didn’t help Mormonism moving forward as it held onto racist discrimination for years after the Civil Rights Act.

    On tribalism. I don’t mind tribalism as long as it is on the side of justice. Tribalism sometimes is a more effective way to get things done. But we should all learn critical thinking. And yet it can be a folly at the same time. Academics are always parsing hairs and figuring out ways to disagree. They are difficult folks to manage and are like herding cats. Tribalism is more likely to produce swift unity among a select group even if its negative byproduct is polarization among larger groups.

  23. I’m a simple man. I’m not a scriptorian, don’t have a degree in english or philosophy, nor was I called by God to interpret scripture for the Church. But I can read. If I can’t trust that the words on the page mean what they mean, what’s the point of reading scripture? If I can’t trust that Nephi’s writings are more than the self-serving propaganda of a racist patriarch, why would I share the Book of Mormon with any of my friends? If plain readings of Nephi’s words perpetuate racism, why don’t we rip out and burn the offending pages. At the very least we should not allow rustic folk like me to read scripture for ourselves, we might get the wrong ideas.

    I suppose that’s why God called learned men like you to blog, right Michael?

  24. Michael, I think you really hit on something with this blog post. Thank you for that. For the longest time I found it odd how “the curse” seems to have either been applied or taken away from someone in their life time. But there was also enough wiggle room when it was written that it could have been a multi generational change. Which isn’t to say that God isn’t capable of doing that, He just doesn’t seem to work like that.
    I think you are correct that the real curse is the tribalism and separation. Any perceived change to skin color would have been more of a means to an end than the end itself. Even if the authors of the Golden Plates didn’t pick up on that fact, it doesn’t mean that that wasn’t what God was doing.

  25. Wondering says:

    I wonder what Bryan would do with the obvious interpretation of the following words of prophets other than Nephi:

    “… if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation.” “Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 9:311. (Remarks by President BRIGHAM YOUNG, made in the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, July 13, 1862. REPORTED BY G. D. WATT.)”

    or

    “We do condemn all racism, past [including Nephi’s] and present, in any form, and we disavow any theory advanced that black or dark skin is a sign of a curse.” Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the 36th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Luncheon in Salt Lake City hosted by the NAACP Salt Lake City branch. https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/1/20/21069626/naacp-huntsman-foundation-rosie-rivera-elder-stevenson-common-ground

  26. Oh Michael Austin – So you think you are the critical thinker and the rest of us are dunces? I still don’t know why you are referencing Herodotus and Tolstoy. Is that some smoke and mirrors deflection tactic? The LDS church and its prophets have declared that the BoM is the word of God, the most correct book, divinely written, divinely translated. It is not to be treated as mere history or fiction, but rather as holy scripture, the word of God, and thus deserves a different level of scrutiny. Of course Mormon let’s us know that there might be errors in it, and of course we know that no book is perfect, and yes we get that some things need to be contextualized. But just like Bryan said, if we can’t trust the words to mean what they mean then what’s the point of reading scripture?

    The first Nephi wrote that dark skin was the curse, the third Nephi also wrote it, Mormon compiled it and perhaps edited it, and JS translated it supposedly by the power of God. Why would God let at least these 4 men perpetuate the teaching that God cursed the Lamanites with dark skin?

    I agree that dark skin is not a curse. But that is not what we are arguing here. The argument is whether or not the BoM teaches that the Lamanite dark skin is a curse, and it clearly does. I do not accept that teaching of the BoM; but I know how to read and think critically and I can’t escape what the text actually says. My conclusion is that the BoM is wrong, and all the LDS prophets who have perpetuated the horrific teaching are also wrong. That just puts the church in a pickle, but that’s not my problem to solve.

    Chances are you and I won’t ever agree. I am reminded of what JS wrote in his history:

    “…for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.”

    And so it is with the Book of Mormon. We just can’t settle the question by an appeal to the Book of Mormon. The book is so inherently flawed. And to paraphrase Bryan, not just rustic folk, but if numerous (dare I say thousands or even millions) of us honest and educated folk, can’t simply read the book and know its plain meaning then there is no point in reading the book and it becomes useless. It has taken us 190 years to figure out we can’t trust that book. So sad.

    By the way, thank you for the dialogue. I always enjoy a reasoned and thoughtful discussion, even if we disagree.

  27. Wondering says:

    “we can’t trust that book”

    Must trust be an all or nothing thing? I wonder if one can trust the book on some things and not others, e.g., trust it to have reported accurately Nephi’s racism, without trusting that Nephi’s attributing his racism to God was an accurate reflection of God’s will.

    I still don’t grasp why some folks are so willing to say BY or SWK or ETB or BRM, etc., were wrong about some things and right about others, and so unwilling to admit that possibility as to Nephi, et al. without concluding that there is “no point in reading the book” that includes an abridgment of Nephi’s report.

    Maybe my having essentially given up the quest for certainty and simplicity affects my ability to grasp what is driving some others’ thoughts.

  28. A “Curse” is a matter of perpsective. Let me illustrate. God “cursed” my wife and I that we could not have kids. At least, that is how it appears to look to many of our well-meaning (but ignorant) friends and relatives based on many comments we have received. However, to my wife and I, although hard at first it has turned out to be a huge blessing. We do not view it as a curse.

    Nephi sees his brothers skins darkened and calls is a curse. To him it may have appeared that way. But nothing about darkening the skin actually lessens the quality of life of the Lamanites, so I doubt the lamanites viewed it as a curse. Perhaps they even considered it a blessing. Now they weren’t as prone to sunburn (so they could walk around in their loin-Speedos without worrying about skin cancer). Perhaps God didn’t have anything to do with it at all, and their darkened skin was a natural reaction to a leisurely life in the sun. Yet Nephi sees this change and considers it a curse, and records it as such.

    It’s a matter of the perspective of the author. This does not oblige the readers to interpret his perspective the same way. Nor does it oblige me to defend Nephi for his personal interpretation of darkened skin. I wouldn’t have said it was a curse, but I don’t have the same cultural background as Nephi. Perhaps someone versed in jewish history can tell us about the history of racism in Judaism and explain why nephi felt it was a curse. But in the end, we are not obliged to share their cultural views.

  29. This is a really interesting take, Michael. I also appreciate your point in the comments about whether people imagine Nephi and Mormon to be historical figures with biases, depending on whether they see the BoM as historical or fictional, and seeming to get it exactly backward. FWIW, the Herodotus and Tolstoy examples totally make sense to me. I’m sorry the comments have been such a train wreck.

  30. I think you’re right MA for what my opinion is worth, but I absolutely get NM’s point that the text is pretty uncompromising, to my utter dismay and confusion.
    There is no explanation here that will fly for a woke 14 year old seminary student, indeed the ‘clarification’ published by the church and much vaunted around here with good intent I’m sure does nothing but obfuscate.
    I think it could be a fairly easy job for the church to offer a bit of deniable speculation, perhaps along the lines of ‘this is how Nephi and his people may have interpreted this at the time’. Maybe that feels like a bridge too far for the church, but this is why we are losing our youth.
    ‘Believe what I tell you to believe because I tell you to’ is no longer an acceptable position for our youth who will not tolerate cognitive dissonance on this scale.

  31. Wondering,
    What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If it is legitimate to reject scripture because ancient prophets were influenced by the racist sensibilities of their time and place, then it is legitimate to reject the current disavowals as reflections of the egalitarian sensibilities of our current time and place.

  32. Bryan, I don’t think we have any disagreement as to the sauce, the goose, and the gander. In the end the question may be what one chooses to take as the determining factor(s) as to what one should reject out of the words of ancient or modern fallible prophets.

  33. I apologize if I have upset anyone, contention was never my objective. I’m really looking for understanding. To extend on what wayfarer said, my biggest concern is that the regular reinterpretation of church history, doctrine, policies, and scripture will result in even more membership losses for the church, as the youth (and adults) are in a constant head-shake. This is because the church has painted itself into a corner with truth claims and prophetic claims. This is a risk most other churches don’t face. The mental gymnastics and twisting of words can only go so far. One day the church might disavow its sexual and gender theories and people like us will debate ad nauseam the Proclamation and numerous talks of DHO. We might look back and say, “oh that was just 2020 thinking and sensibilities, but now we know better.” That just won’t fly. We don’t expect prophets and apostles to be perfect in all things, but we do in the big things.

    It is the inconsistency of teachings over time and reinterpretations that will shake the foundations of historical truth claims and claims that God or Christ is actually at the helm. It is sad and tragic.

  34. Michael Austin says:

    I promise that I was really trying to clarify, not confuse, with the examples of Herodotus and Tolstoy, but let me try to rephrase a little bit.

    Herodotus was a Greek historian who wrote in the 5th century BC–roughly around the time that some of the events in the Book of Mormon are claimed to take place. He is often considered the world’s first historian. But he was writing history at a time when there were no models, no citation standards, and no way to verify quotations. So most contemporary readers treat the things that Herodotus has other people say with a good bit of skepticism.

    So, to try to make the example as comparable as possible, suppose that we read in Herodotus (we don’t, but it is not outside of the realm of the possible) that “the great Athenian lawgiver Salon once told King Croesus of Lydia that the Spartan race was born when Zeus coupled with a turtle, which is why they always appear today with armor on their backs.” Now we can be pretty sure that this is not a correct etiology, just as we can be fairly sure that the “dark skin as curse” narrative is not correct etiology. Ancient people, and some modern ones, came up with all kinds of dumb narratives to explain phenotypical differences among human beings because they had no understanding of evolution or geological time scales. So nobody would have trouble discounting Herodotus on this point, just as we should have no trouble discounting Nephi (or Mormon, or Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young) on this point. Stupid folk etiologies occur throughout history and work their way into otherwise respectable texts at a very high rate.

    But most readers would also discount the claim that Salon made this statement to Croesus on the grounds that, if Salon had made such a statement, there would have been no mechanism to pass that along to Herodotus a hundred years later, other than records that were likely to be incomplete or oral narratives, which are not reliable. The general assumption would be that Herodotus made this bit of folk etiology up in order to throw shade at a current enemy.

    That is how history works.

    Tolstoy, on the other hand, was a writer of fiction–and, by many accounts, a rather good one. If Tolstoy says that Count Vronsky considered Cassocks to be the spawn of a demon and a mule, then we can have no doubt that Count Vronsky considered Cassocks to be the span of a demon and a mule. Because Vronsky only exists in Tolstoy’s imagination, and we have a reasonable expectation that the author is not misleading us (there are some who do, but they are outliers). Generally, we trust what narrators tell us in fiction, but we are skeptical of what narrators report in history unless we can evaluate the sources.

    So, to the Book of Mormon. These are the points that I am making:

    1. That the “dark skin as curse” narrative is a ridiculous folk etiology that is very consistent with the way that ancient people explained ethnic phenotypes. Nobody should take it seriously today.

    2. That when we encounter folk narratives like this in actual history, we always approach them skeptically and assume a great possibility for bias among authors and historians.

    3. That the belief that either Nephi was wrong in his narrative, or that Mormon reported Nephi’s narrative incorrectly is completely consistent with seeing the Book of Mormon as a historical record, because that is how we treat historical records.

    4. That the belief that the words on the page (1 Ne 5:21) are the clear and obvious truth of the text is consistent with the belief that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction.

    5. That most Latter-day Saints see the Book of Mormon as a historical document and should therefore not be afraid to apply the same skepticism that they would apply to any other similar work of history.

    6. That a work (be it history or fiction) can be inspired and divine and still require interpretation.

  35. I think we’re getting somewhere. Thank you for your detailed explanation. What I will add though is simply that the majority of Mormons do not see the BoM as just history or fiction. They read it as divine, holy scripture, from the mouth of God, (with history too, of course) and since 1 Ne 5:21 (and other verses) passed through multiple prophets (Nephi, Mormon, and Joseph Smith) it adds weight. To your last point (#6), I think this is the real heavy question. Should Mormon’s evolve from seeing the BoM as the word of God to merely inspired? I think the church will eventually move in that direction and disavow many of the truth claims. I would be fine discarding the book as fiction.

  36. Michael Austin says:

    “I would be fine discarding the book as fiction.”

    I never discard fiction. Most of the true things I know come from novels and poems. Fiction can be a powerful moral and theological tool. History, meh. Just because something happened doesn’t mean that it is true. And just because something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it isn’t.

  37. Interesting where No More and I overlap and where we diverge. I have generally been in agreement with his posts, and certainly think scripture is a category of its own and should be treated differently than secular history and fiction.But if the Church treats the BoM as fiction, or even demotes it to the status they ascribe JoD, I will necessarily conclude that the Church has fallen into apostasy.

  38. “Should Mormon’s evolve from seeing the BoM as the word of God to merely inspired?”

    I don’t think we should draw such a line. Nobody should think scripture is actually dictated by God, whether ancient or modern. That’s rank fundamentalism, which *ought* to be culturally foreign to LDS but is culturally common. (A few years ago at UVU, Boyd Peterson gave a presentation in which he used a neighbor’s amateur painting of Jesus handing the Proclamation on the Family to President Monson, his visualization of how revelation worked.)

    Whether the “word of god” is coming from the Bible or the General Conference pulpit, it’s still going to be accommodated to the human condition, and then has to be understood, voiced, interpreted, applied, etc.

    I don’t think the Church can survive if the Book of Mormon is entirely fictional; but I think we can and must do a much MUCH better job talking about the nature of revelation, prophets, scripture, interpretation, etc. That said, Orson Scott Card has argued that (bad paraphrase from memory) fiction can presents the truest truths, because we’re not constrained by history in writing fiction.

  39. T. L. Peterson says:

    In these comments there are unexpressed and maybe unexamined assumptions about what it means for a book to be scripture. I agree with Bryan, to some extent, that scripture is a category of its own. But putting the label of “scripture” on something doesn’t tell us how to analyze it or exactly what to expect from it that’s different from other categories.

    Part of the challenge here is thinking in terms of “category” at all. The Book of Mormon, more than the Bible and the Doctrine and Covenants, defies categorization because of its mysterious, miraculous origins. The Book of Mormon really is sui generis, so there are no generic expectations about how to approach it. It might be useful to analyze it as we would analyze a novel or a work of history, as long as we recognize that even if it has some characteristics of these or other genres, it is really something more and different. (By the way, I think that Michael Austin’s book about the Book of Mormon is a good example of being very flexible in his readings, always aware of other possibilities unbounded by the rules of genre.) This characteristic of the Book of Mormon, in my view, is part of its miracle. We can treat Nephi and Mormon as unreliable narrators, or not, and either way we can arrive at insights that are spiritually and intellectually edifying.

    This super-generic or sui-generic approach to the Book of Mormon is, I believe, entirely consistent with its status as scripture. We ought to be guided by the Spirit as we interpret the book, while we use our full creative powers. It seems foolish to me to shut down the possibilities of creative interpretation before we give the Spirit a chance to enlighten us.

    The fact that the Book of Mormon can’t be pinned down can make both believers and non-believers uncomfortable. Many believers think that scripture has to be straightforward and uncomplicated to be any good. Many non-believers would prefer to have an easy target that doesn’t keep moving. So lots of people prefer to pretend that the book is something it really isn’t. Too bad. They’re missing the best stuff.

  40. Michael, very interesting and useful post for LDS and non-LDS readers of the Book of Mormon. And your summary here clarifies your points very well, especially for those of us not well versed in classic literature. Have to admit I struggle with this part of the BOM and how the Church tries to deal with it. My perspective is one that believes there were many, probably a million or more native Americans here thousands of years prior to Lehi’s landing. So Nephi’s explanation of phenotypes is more confusing. Maybe he considered the indigenous people his enemy from the start, like his brothers cane to be, so he cast them in that same light. There is some evidence in reports of people who had seen the text of the 116 page lost manuscript that Nephi referred to the “conquest” of the promised land. It’s dangerous ground in my typical Utah Ward to suggest that Nephi may have had character flaws.

  41. decons prize says:

    The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that the Book of Mormon is the “record of a fallen people.” (D&C 20:9.) Why did they fall? This is one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon. Mormon gives the answer in the closing chapters of the book in these words: “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction.” (Moro. 8:27.) And then, lest we miss that momentous Book of Mormon message from that fallen people, the Lord warns us in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.” (D&C 38:39.) this is the pride of you shallow sheep.

  42. Ezratbesoon says:

    I earnestly seek an interest in your faith and prayers as I strive to bring forth light on this Book of Mormon message—the sin of pride. This message has been weighing heavily on my soul for some time. I know the Lord wants this message delivered now.

    In the pre mortal council, it was pride that felled Lucifer, “a son of the morning.” (2 Ne. 24:12–15; see also D&C 76:25–27; Moses 4:3.) At the end of this world, when God cleanses the earth by fire, the proud will be burned as stubble and the meek shall inherit the earth. (See 3 Ne. 12:5, 3 Ne. 25:1; D&C 29:9; JS—H 1:37; Mal. 4:1.)
    Three times in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord uses the phrase “beware of pride,” including a warning to the second elder of the Church, Oliver Cowdery, and to Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet. (D&C 23:1; see also D&C 25:14; D&C 38:39.)

    Pride is a very misunderstood sin, and many are sinning in ignorance. (See Mosiah 3:11; 3 Ne. 6:18.) In the scriptures there is no such thing as righteous pride—it is always considered a sin. Therefore, no matter how the world uses the term, we must understand how God uses the term so we can understand the language of holy writ and profit thereby. (See 2 Ne. 4:15; Mosiah 1:3–7; Alma 5:61.)

  43. Michael Austin says:

    I agree that scripture is, in some ways, its own thing. But I am not comfortable saying that it is its own genre. Such a formulation obscures the fact that many different genres have been canonized as part of our standard works. This is fairly easy to see in the Bible, because we know a lot about the genres of Greek and Levantine genres at the times they were written. We can compare the books that got canonized with similar works that did not get canonized and see the similarities: Job is a narrative poem, Esther is a work of inspirational fiction, the Psalms are devotional lyric poems meant to be sung, the books of Samuel and Kings are histories, 1 Corinthians is a letter, and Revelation is an apocalypse (a genre that we don’t find much these days, but it definitely was a thing).

    When we mix all of this together into a genre called “scripture,” we end up creating strings of proof texts that do not account for the narrative assumptions that the original writers and their readers shared when the texts were written. This has not, in my experience, lead to a high level of scriptural literacy among our people.

    TL Peterson makes a good point about the Book of Mormon. It is sui generis for us because we don’t have any other examples of the kind of thing that it is. If we assume some kind of ancient origin, then it is the only book we have from the cultures who produced it. We don’t understand any of the original genre conventions–or the assumptions that writers and readers shared when it was written. This does not mean that there weren’t genre conventions, or that the Book of Mormon does not have several different kinds of narratives in its mix. It just means that we don’t know what they are.

    This should actually give us more interpretive freedom, not less, as we should be free to try out different interpretations to see how well they work. Assuming that the work has some historical basis frees us up to treat it with the skepticism that we always bring to historical texts. Or not. Not knowing is a kind of freedom.

    And all of that said, with the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, there are always going to be different ways to read things, and different people are always going to come to different conclusions, and with moral questions like the one raised in 2 Nephi 5, we have some responsibility to find moral readings of the text. To cite a passage from the wonderful, too-soon-gone Rachel Held Evans in The Year of Biblical Womanhood:

    ““If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an out-dated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not “what does it say?”, but “what am I looking for?” I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.”

    If we are looking for interpretations of the Book of Mormon to support racism, we will find them. If we are looking for interpretations to counter racism, we will find those too. That is how reading ethically works.

  44. No More,

    I, of course, can’t answer for Michael. And you’re correct, I believe, that the majority of Mormons read scripture as functionally inerrant, except for the odd verse here and there that has a JST or that would seem on plain reading to contract current doctrine (it must therefore have been mistranslated or misunderstood!).

    But I think point number #6 is where a lot of important questions revolve. Personally, I believe the Book of Mormon is scripture, but don’t think that this particular categorization excludes others: some scripture is (arguably) historical (as I tend to see the Book of Mormon), some is folklore, some is parable, some is poetry, some is epistolary, and some is, for lack of a better word, administrative (some D&C sections, ODs).

    I suppose that, yes, to most members, scripture is the word of God and must therefore be as inerrant as God is. But the Word of God, in this world, can only ever reach us as mediated through human minds (including our own), human cultures, human languages, and human writers or speakers, all of which are susceptible to human bias and error, as the writers of the Book of Mormon frequently remind us. I don’t myself feel that my belief that the Book of Mormon is scripture/the word of God has to invalidate my recognition that that word comes to me via (ancient) human writers who thought and believed in some things that I don’t think are true (and that I myself think some things are true that may not be, including about those writers’ words). I’m not sure that platonic, unadulterated sources (or interpretations) of truth exist in this world. But I can still value truth where I find it and distill the divine voice from an earnest that necessarily imperfect human vehicle like scripture. Moroni told us as much:

    “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been” (Mormon 9:31).

    While I agree that non–skin color interpretations of 2 Nephi 5:20–21 have their pros and cons, I think it’s most likely that, yes, the plain reading is probably what Nephi, Jacob, and Mormon believed. And I can give thanks that God has made manifest to us their imperfections, so we can learn to be more wise than they were. Just as I can from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Peter, or other scriptural figures (historical or otherwise) whose imperfections are manifest.

    Sorry, that’s sort of rambly and perhaps not quite what you were asking about. But I don’t think the church needs to evolve from seeing the BoM as scripture of the word of God. But I would like it if the church evolved toward a more nuanced view of what it means for something to be scripture or the word of God.

  45. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    I think there is a very useful case study in 3 Nephi 2, where we observe a curse reversal.

    Increased pressure from the Gadiantons leads the righteous Lamanites to join with their righteous Nephite neighbors for mutual protection. The curse is lifted, and the darkness is dissipated, but I think it is very significant that Mormon emphasizes that it is the young men and daughters who become exceedingly fair.

    To our modern understanding of genetics, it is not a mystery that blending two phenotypes will result in the darker skin becoming lighter in successive generations (especially if there was a decent amount of Mediterranean DNA already floating around in the Lamanite gene pool). To an ancient historian, it may not have been so clear, especially as he is compiling his record in the midst of his people’s extinction at the hands of darker skinned antagonists.

    Note: One reading of 3 Nephi 2 might suggest that the skin tone changed almost immediately, as one year follows another. I think, rather, that Mormon is simply describing the beginnings of a process that continues through the first 200 years AD, as noted in the OPs discussion of 4 Nephi.

  46. Maybe somebody’s already said this, but something that’s never made sense to me about the dark skin being the curse is that Nephi pinpoints the curse as the cause of the Lamanites becoming idle, mischievous. and (most strangely) hunters of wild beasts. I’ve never seen how a change to skin color would cause such a fundamental change to the personalities and especially the resource gathering model of a people. The separation explanation, however, makes a lot of sense if we think about what we know about Nephi vs. Laman and Lemuel.
    Nephi:
    – was grateful for the promised land (saw it as deliverance and blessedness)
    – has knowledge of how to make tools and craft large structures like a ship
    – has the disposition to put such knowledge to use in service of community and religious goals
    – doesn’t give up easily
    – sees the agricultural richness of the promised land as a blessing from God
    – is creative with resources and proactive in developing them (the broken bow incident)

    Laman and Lemuel
    – didn’t want to be there anyway (saw it as punishment)
    – resisted laboring on large projects
    – tended to cling to notions of past comfort and dwell on what they had lost
    – were prone to frivolity and rudeness instead of gratitude and humility (on the ship)
    – were apparently willing to support their ways with cruelty and violence, or at least threats of violence

    I realize both of these lists are exaggerated because they’re based on Nephi’s perspective, but assuming that the essentials are correct, it makes perfect sense that when Nephi left with most of the people like him (plus all the important artifacts), one of the resulting groups was more agricultural and industrious, while the other was of a more nomadic, hunter-gatherer flavor. It also makes sense that the second group would try to get back what they had lost, and that Nephi would perceive this as idleness and mischief.

  47. Michael Austin says:

    AKK

    This is a very sensible observation, which I would like to problematize just a bit by pointing out that, in all human cultures ever studied, agriculture allows populations to grow much larger than nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, which are normally fixed at around the “Dunbar Number” of 150 to 200 people. Yet the Book of Mormon portrays the Lamanite population as equal to, and arguably larger than, the Nephite population. This set of facts suggests (to me, at least) that the Nephite perspective on the Lamanites might be more self-serving than people have supposed.

  48. Wondering says:

    AKK’s reading of 2Nephi 5:24 assumes that the dark skin color was the “cursing.” While there is good reason elsewhere in the BoM for that reading, I had not found it in 2 Nephi 5. If one eliminates the versification which is not original to the 19th century text and one doesn’t hang too much meaning on punctuation – also not original, as I understand it, a different reading might make more sense out of the “because” in v.24.

    “Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing [i.e. being cut off from the Lord’s presence], because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint.

    Wherefore, as they [once] were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

    And cursed [as to the presence of the Lord] shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing [because of the hardness of their hearts without which they would not have joined with the Lamanites]. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

    And because of their cursing [lack of presence of the Lord] which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey [i.e. unclean beasts under law of Moses, not merely wild beasts].”

    This reading has the advantage of making some sense out of v. 24 and the advantage [for some, anyway] of being more consistent with their sense of the Lord’s workings and with 2 Nephi 26:33. It has the disadvantage of being inconsistent with some other BoM passages on the curse. But I’m not sure consistency is to be expected of an abridgement of a compilation of many peoples’ writings over a very long period of time.

  49. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    Michael

    It seems clear that a diversified agricultural society would certainly have more robust population growth than a scattered nomadic society. And then we learn in Mosiah 25:2 that the Nephite colony was undersized compared to the Mulekite colony that they merged with a few hundred years later.

    So, why are there always double or triple the number of Lamanites floating around? Nephite dissension doesn’t account for those numerical discrepancies in the Captain Moroni wars and the eventual Nephite extinction — remembering that there are periods where it wasn’t just bad Nephites trickling away, but in several instances includes righteous Lamanites joining the Nephites.

    I think it is a slam dunk that the term Lamanite would eventually include not only the direct descendants of Laman and Lemuel, but also the surrounding indigenous (darker skinned) population that they blended with.

  50. Stephen Hardy says:

    Larry:
    Why were the surrounding populations “darker skinned?” Did native Palestinians in 600 BCE (Lehi’s genetics) have darker skins than native Americans at the same time? Please don’t think of lehites and nephites as Caucasian. They most assuredly were not.

  51. Michael,

    I considered that, and it suggests the same to me. Nephi wouldn’t have seen any such population limitations in his lifetime, though (even if he might have in vision). I was just pointing out that the dark skin interpretation of Nephi’s explanation of the curse didn’t make sense to me, for the reasons stated, whereas your suggestion made better sense.

    Wondering,

    I’m a little confused. My comment was about why assuming dark skin was the curse doesn’t make sense. It makes sense that Nephi might perceive it that way, but I thought I was leaving at least two possibilities open. 1) Nephi perceives the dark skin as the curse even though that doesn’t make sense to me, and 2) Nephi knows the dark skin isn’t the curse, but his words about it can be confusing.

  52. There is so much that the BoM does not say, which I credit to the various authors and editors. We have to bear in mind, as Michael pointed out, that Nephi, when writing his account some 50 odd years later, exhibits some characteristics of a bitter old man. He had been warned that unless the family dynamics changed, his own descendants would eventually dwindle and die away. Then he sees that is exactly what is going to happen in vision. He has had to take up the sword of Laban against his own brothers and nephews, presumably, and likely has caused the death of family members. His only consolation is that his record, and the record of his descendants, will be preserved and serve as a tool for healing some of the tribalism by teaching the truths of the Book of Mormon.

    There is also the idea that Lehi’s family probably did not find the promised land empty of inhabitants. Don Bradley makes a good point about this in his “The Lost 116 Pages,” drawing parallels between the flight of Lehi’s family and the Exodus led by Moses. Brandt Gardner, among others, points to Jacob’s sermons to the Nephites in 2nd Nephi as indicating that in two generations, the Nephites had grown in population far beyond what would be expected even with prolific birth rates. How else to describe Jacob’s warnings about “many wives and concubines?” Where did this surplus of women come from? Also, Jacob warned of seeking after gold and silver and other prideful, materialistic sins, that could only exist in a larger community, probably with trade going on with other prior inhabitants of the land. Gold and silver have no value in an agricultural subsistence economy, except in trade with others. Just as Israel was warned in the Old Testament times against intermarrying with the Canaanites, not because of skin color, but because it increased the likelihood that husbands and children would be influenced towards idol worship and neglecting worship of Jehovah, so it is likely that an extended Israelite family, finding themselves in a strange new land with other peoples probably of Asian descent, would be warned against intermarrying with the indigenous people, not because of skin color, but because of the potential for turning away from God. This is probably what Nephi writes about the Lamanites, who may have been begun intermarrying with the local populations early on.

    Speculation, yes, but it fits the patterns we see in the Old Testament, and is consistent with current day admonishments to marry within the faith to raise up righteous posterity.

  53. Micheal, regarding the population difference between Nephites and Lamanites, from early on until the end, I agree with Larry that the most apparent reason is a large indigenous population already in the Americas before Lehi’s arrival. Mixing with them would produce darker skinned descendants from the first generation onward. @Stephen, compare a present day Inuit to a typical Israeli and it’s no stretch to say there could have been a wide difference in skin tones from the beginning. Nephi called his people white.

  54. Wondering says:

    AKK, Sorry. I didn’t understand your comment that way. I was responding to what I had understood from its first sentence: “…Nephi pinpoints the curse as the cause of the Lamanites becoming idle, mischievous. and (most strangely) hunters of wild beasts.” I’m not sure he did.

  55. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    Well, my bias is certainly skewed by Arnold Friberg, who painted all of the Nephite heroes to look like Norse gods.

    But Nephi and Mormon were the ones actually using the word “fair”, and I suspect it had to do with the difference between their Mediterranean genetic pool, and the surrounding natives. I don’t think the Nephites appeared quite as Caucasian as we see in many artistic interpretations.

  56. Stephen Hardy says:

    Here is a photo of what a typical man from Galilee May have looked like at the time of Jesus. Note the skin tone

    Now here’s a photograph of a Native American:

    https://qph.fs.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-d12ecdd2ae98525027ecdaefc16f46bb-c

    The point isn’t so much what Nephi called himself. Apparently he saw himself as white. He wasn’t Caucasian. And the skin color of natives around him could have been almost anything depending on whether you place the BoM in Peru, Chile, Guatemala, the Great Basin, the Great Lakes region, Malaysia or wherever else the whole story has been described as unfolding. The BoM seems to take upon itself contemporary (1800s) ideas of skin tone. Members of our church have pictured the Nephites as Caucasian (look at any “official” depictions of Nephi, Lehi, or Jared in our church publications.). Moreover the BoM describes such “dark skins” as loathsome. Again an 1800s concept of beauty.

    It is a significant issue when looking to the BoM as a bastion of righteousness, or as a guide to how we should think or act when dealing with others who are different than we are.

  57. Am I missing the point? I thought darkness of skin was a Hebrew idiom for darkness of mind, sin causing people to lose faith in God ‘s truths and lose the light of the gospel in their life and its radiance in their faces. That is what I have been taught for decades. Yes, I was taught it was a literal skin darkening when I was young, but that Brigham Young and other church leaders had gotten it wrong was the interpretation later. I lived in Oakland, California where this did matter because much of the city was Black.
    It was really no different from some of the ridiculous things various church leaders have said about the role and doctrine concerning women. So much of “the traditions of men” being thrown about as doctrine. If you really want to find offensive scripture, why are we not discussing the parts of D&C Section 132 where women are discussed like property that can be passed around instead of free thinking and feeling individuals.

  58. Another Roy says:

    Fascinating conversation. Great ideas to think about. Jaime at 8:12am brings up an important question referring to D & C 132. Is it possible that even revelations dictated by the prophet JS in the 1st person as thought they were God’s own words could have gotten elements wrong? To put the question another way, how much of the mind, heart, and assumptions of the prophet end up on the page when he acts as the Lord’s vessel or conduit in bringing forth scripture?

  59. Levi Rasmussen says:

    This article was amazing. Thank you!