The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #47

Q. Is it true that The Book of Mormon teaches that God cursed the Lamanites with a dark skin?

Yes, but to leave it at that would be to give a false impression. The Book of Mormons does not teach that all dark-skinned peoples are cursed. It teaches that it was a curse for Israelites to have dark skin; because it was a sign that they had broken their covenant with God to remain separate from all other peoples. The Lamanites in The Book of Mormon are Israelites; the descendants of Israel through Lehi of Manesseh.

That the ancient Israelites were white-skinned is attested by most Bible-scholars. Evangelical scholar Arthur C. Custance paraphrases the eminent Bible-scholar and archeologist A.H. Sayce by stating that the native populations of the Middle East were dark-skinned--

“But the Semitic population according to A.H.Sayce (Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments, London, 1893, p.26) distinguished themselves with racial pride from other peoples by their own light colored skin, and claimed that Adam too was a white man. They were his racial descendants.” (Noah’s Three Sons, p.152)

*Israelites Commanded Not To Marry Other Peoples

The ancient Israelites were a white-skinned people. They were the pure descendants of Adam and Eve. The very name Adam means “to blush, to turn red in the face”. The Israelites were commanded by God not to intermarry with people of other nations or races. This command was not because the Israelites were superior. In fact, the Israelites were less civilized than the Egyptians or the Canaanites or the Philistines that they lived next to. The LORD commanded that the Israelites not intermarry with other nations for two reasons:

1. They lived next to Hamitic peoples. If they intermarried with Hamites, they could come under the Curse of Cain; thus disqualifying them from the Priesthood of God. But God wished to make them His Priesthood.

2. If they intermarried with other nations, even other white nations, they would loose their distinctiveness as a people, and they would become amalgamated with those other pagan peoples. They would have accepted the language, culture, and heathen religion of those foreign peoples. This would have frustrated the Will of God because He wanted them special and set apart from all other nations; including white Gentile nations. If the Israelites were pure Adamites, and if Adamites had red hair and extremely light skin, then even intermarriage with other, darker, white nations would have turned their skin a darker hue; a sign of a intermingling.

Evangelical Bible-scholar Arthur C. Custance writes:

“Now in the famous six-sided prism of [the Assyrian king] Sennacherib, the king refers to the conquered Canaanites as Gim-Ri Sal-Mat Kakad-du-u (“Blackness of the Head People”). In this case it seems that Canaan could have been a black child, the homozygous offspring of his mulatto parents, Ham and his wife. The black people have quite a remarkable series of high cultures to their credit, and are almost born metallurgists. So were these ancient Canaanites.” (Noah’s Three Sons, p.152)

African-American write John L. Johnson writes:

“Canaan is the most talked-about black character in the Bible. The Sidonians, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgasites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arbadites, Zemarites...,were all black nations living in the land during Israel’s invasion.” (The Black Bible Heritage, p.27)

The Prophet Moses prayed to the LORD:

“I pray thee, if I have found grace in they sight, shew me now they way...and consider that this nation is they people....If they presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For where shall it be knwn here that I and they people have found grace in thy sight? Is it now in that thou goest with us? So shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:12,15,16)

Hundreds of years later, because the Israelites had sinned by rejecting the true Prophets, and worshipping other gods, the LORD allowed the Assyrians and the Babylonians to conquer the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The Northern Kingdom, the Ephraimites, were lost among the nations of Europe and Central Asia. The Southern Kingdom, the Jews, were captured by the Babylonians, but they returned from Babylon to the land of Israel (Palestine). Not all Jews went to Babylon. A few stayed. Some who stayed were Levites; the Priests of God. Because the Assyrians had removed the ten Northern Tribes (the Ephraimites) this left a lot of land available, and this land was settled by numerous non-Israelite peoples; Canaanites, Egyptians, Assyrians, and others. The Bible says that the Israelites had once before intermarried with the ‘people of the land’:

“And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods.

Therefore the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia: and the children of Israel served Chushan-rishathaim eight years.” (Judges 3:5,6,8)

When the majority of Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity their leader, a Prophet named Ezra, noticed that many of the Israelites had taken Canaanite wives. This saddened him, and he was determined to keep Israel separated from Gentiles (non-Israelites); especially those of Hamitic lineage. The Prophet Ezra writes:

“Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.

2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.

3 And when I heard this thing I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and my beard, and sat astonished until the evening sacrifice.

4 And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God.

5 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush [show blood in the face] to lift up my face to thee, my God: For our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up into the heavens.” (Ezra 9:1-6)

The Bible goes on to say that the people gathered and cried, and confessed their sins of marrying “strange wives” (meaning non-Israelite wives). Ezra commends them to separate (divorce) themselves from their wives. The people do so. The Bible says:

“Ezra the priest stood up, and said unto them, Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore make a confession unto the LORD God of your fathers, and do his pleasure: and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives. Then all the congregation answered and said with a loud voice, As thou hast said, so must we do....Let now our rulers of all the congregation stand, and let all of them that have taken strange wives in our cities come at appointed times, and with them the elders of every city, and the judges thereof, until the fierce wrath of out God for this matter be turned from us.” (Ezra 10:10-14)

The Israelites actually separated from their foreign wives and children; which to us today seems a very cruel thing to do. Yet, Israel had been commanded to remain separated from other peoples, and the Israelites obeyed.

The Jews considered all goyim (a Hebrew word meaning ‘foreign nations’--usually translated into English as “Gentiles”) to be ‘unclean’; because they ate things and did things which were considered to be ‘unclean’ to Jews and other Israelites. Thus, the Jews got into a habit of referring to Gentiles as “swine” (pigs); because pigs were very unclean animals.

*The Samaritans and Canaanites

The Canaanite and foreign wives and children of the Israelite men who divorced them, at the command of Ezra the priest, settled in Samaria (the land in northern Palestine which the Ephraimites had once settled), and became known as “ Samaritans”. The Samaritans were thus partly Jewish (of the tribe of Judah--one of the sons of Israel). They were also part Canaanite, and probably had other lineages as well. Yet, because of their Hamitic lineage, they were forbidden to ‘enter the Congregation of the LORD’; meaning they were forbidden to be ‘Jews’ or ‘Israelites’. Thus, they continued amongst themselves. They practiced the Way of the LORD (the religion of Israel which is today referred to as Judaism). They considered themselves the Chosen People of God; because they had Israelite lineage. But because they also had Hamitic lineage, they had darker skins than the Jews. The Jews referred to them as “dogs”; which means “servants”. It was Noah who pronounced a curse upon Canaan, the son of Ham and Egyptus; that he would be a “servant of servants” to his brethren (the children of Shem and Japheth). The Samaritans were forbidden from worshipping in the Temple at Jerusalem. Jews were forbidden to eat from a Samaritan table, or to associate with them in any meaningful way. Such association might lead to marriages; which were forbidden. So, the Samaritans built their own temple, on Mt. Gezerim, in Samaria. They established their own priesthood, and ordained their own priests and high priests, in imitation of the Levitical Priesthood which they--as Hamites--did not have.

Before Jesus’ death he said to His Apostles (all Jews):

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” (Matt. 7:6)

Obviously, Jesus was not speaking of literal dogs and literal swine (pigs) or literal pearls. He was talking about Gentiles and Canaanites and “that which is holy”. Most scholars believe He was talking about the Gospel; that it shouldn’t be presented to Gentiles and Canaanites, but to Israelites only. This seems to contradict other statements of Jesus, after His death, where He specifically tells His Apostles to take the Gospel and make disciples of “all nations”. Some believe He was not referring to the Gospel as the “pearl”, but to the Priesthood of God.

*Lamanites and Amerinds: Three Views

The Book of Mormon is a religious history of a small colony of Jews who came to the New World. The two main groups in this history are the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Nephites are named after Nephi, the third son of Lehi; a Jewish prophet contemporary with Jeremiah. The Lamanites are the descendants of Laman and Lemuel; the first and second sons of Lehi. Laman and Lemuel rebelled against Lehi and later Nephi, and separated themselves and their wives and children from the Nephites once they were established in the Americas. It says that God cursed the Lamanites with a “skin of blackness”:

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren...and this was done that their seed night be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might perserve the people....” (Alma 3:6,8)

The interpretations of what that means are as follows:

1. The Lamanites were changed in an instant into Indians. In a “poof” they went from a white-skinned bearded Semitic people into a smooth-skinned, beardless, Mongolian people known today as Amerinds, or American Indians. This is the Folk-Mormon view.

This view was very popular with Mormons in the 19th and early 20th century; when most Mormons were simple farmers, and not sophisticated thinkers. Most Mormons believed that The Book of Mormon was the history of North and South America, and that there were no people living in the continents when Lehi and his family landed around 600 B.C. Mormon scholars have proved that all events recorded in The Book of Mormon happened in an area the size of Palestine, and could not have occurred throughout North and South America. Archaeology and genetic studies have throughly refuted the Folk-Mormon view that Amerinds are the pure descendants of Lehi. Scientific studies have proven that Amerinds are the descendants of the Tuvan people of Siberia; although Amerinds probably have a little Caucasian in them as well. Amerinds have been in the Americas for at least 12,000 years, and probably a lot longer than that.

2. The Lamanites went around without clothing, but only wearing a loin-cloth. Their white skin became blackened by the sun. They were tanned. This is the Sunstone-Mormon view. Why the LORD would call a good tan a “curse” is beyond us.

3. The Lamanites intermarried with the native peoples of the Americas at that time, and thus became a colored (dark-skinned compared with the Nephites) people. This is the Mormon-scholar view. This occurred when the sons of Mormon farmers began going to universities in the early 20th century. Many came back and looked at The Book of Mormon in a new way; relying not on the traditions of their fathers, but rather looking deeply at what the text actually says and what it does not say.

A dark-skin was a curse to an Israelite not because dark skin is bad in itself (it is actually a protection from the ultraviolet rays of the Sun), but because it was a sign that the Israelites had abandoned their covenant with the LORD, and intermingled with a non-Israelite people. And the LORD told them that if they intermarried with Gentiles, He would curse them; not the Gentile peoples, but the Israelites who had disobeyed Him. An Israelite with a dark skin is a descendant of an Israelite who disobeyed the LORD by intermarrying with a “strange wife”.

It says in The Book of Mormon that a “skin of blackness” came upon the Lamanites so that “they might no be enticing unto my people.” (2 Nephi 5:21)

To Semitic peoples as dark skin is not ‘enticing’; unlike Europeans who often try to ‘tan’ their skin to make themselves ‘more enticing’ to members of the opposite sex. To Semites a white skin is enticing. Still today among Arabs a white skin among females is highly prized, but a dark skin is considered unattractive. Whether or not we agree with this, these are the facts of the Semitic mentality.

*The Canaanites: General Term for Various Peoples in the Land of Canaan

Some Mormons reject the Mormon-scholar view because they read The Book of Mormon and they can’t find any mention of native peoples other than the Nephites and the Lamanites. Mormon-scholars point out to these doubters that the term “Canaanite” meant people living in Canaan who were not Israelite.

In Canaan, at the time of Abraham and afterwards, there lived Hamitic, Semitic, and Indo-European peoples. They were collectively called “Canaanites”. Not all the Canaanites were descendants of Canaan; although through intermarriage with real Canaanites they probably all became so. The Israelites were commanded not to intermarry with people of other nations; so they alone were not “Canaanites”. Everyone in Canaan who was not an Israelite was a Canaanite. In the same way, the Lamanites were everyone in The Book of Mormon who was not a Nephite (an Israelite who was a descendant of Nephi and who did not intermarry with Gentiles).

The Bible does not mention any children of Adam and Eve besides Cain, Abel, and Seth. Yet Mormons who believe in the First Humans Theory and the Folk-Mormon View of The Book of Mormon (they often go hand-in-hand) accept that notion that they existed; even though the Bible doesn’t mention them. Yet they believe that native peoples before Lehi and his family did not exist in the Americas; because The Book of Mormon doesn’t mention them (except for the Jaredites, who were utterly destroyed long before the Nephites arrived). This of course is a contradiction.

When Laman and Lemuel rebelled against Nephi and separated from the Nephites, their descendants eventually discovered and intermarried with Amerinds; thus breaking the covenant with the LORD and falling under a divine curse. The Jewish Lamanites fell under a curse; not the Amerinds themselves. The white skins, beards, and other Semitic features of the original Lamanites would have been lost over time; when the Mestizo (half white and half Amerind) descendants of would have intermingled with more and larger Amerind genetic stocks. The 10 to 20 original Israelites which included Laman, Lemuel, and their wives and children, would have been completely absorbed, in only 6 or 7 generations, by the Amerinds. By the 10th generation, all the remnants of Caucasian blood (genes) would have been gone; washed out.

*Lamanites NOT Inferior to Nephites

But The Book of Mormon in no way presents the Lamanites as inferior or less righteous than the Nephites. In fact, the Lamanites are usually, but not always, presented as more righteous. The white-skinned Nephites, because they had not intermingled with other nations, had become prideful because of their white-skins. The Nephite prophet Jacob warned the Nephites (around 450 B.C.):

“BUT behold, I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction.

2 O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.

3 But, wo, wo, unto you that are not pure in heart, that are filthy this day before God; for except ye repent that land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you, nevertheless, they are cursed with a sore cursing, shall scourge you even unto destruction.

4 And the time speedily cometh, that except ye repent they shall possess the land of your inheritance, and I will gather the righteous out from among you.

5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you;....

8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.” (Jacob 3:1-5,8)

Mormons today call Amerinds “Lamanites”. Over thousands of years it is probably true that most Amerinds have Lehi and Laman as ancestors; just like if a Chinese family went to Africa in 600 B.C. and intermingled with black Africans, within only 6 or 7 generations their descendants would not appear in any way Chinese. Over thousands of years their descendants would intermarry with other black Africans, and there would be millions of black Africans who would be the descendants of that Chinese family; even though they would have no Chinese features whatsoever, and would have no “Chinese blood” (genes) in them; it having been completely washed out by the 10th generation.

*Evidence of Semites in Ancient America

When the Spaniards first went to South America, specifically the Andes Mountains, they found the Incas. The Incas were the noble or ruling class. They were lighter skinned and taller than the peoples they ruled, and they had slight beards. All of the other Amerinds are completely beardless; like the Tuvans of Siberia. This may show that the Incas, who ruled over many native Amerinds, were a remnant of Lamanites who had kept to themselves over thousands of years. The Incas were Amerinds who probably had a Lamanite bloodline, and they had lighter skin and slight beards because they still had some Semitic Caucasian blood in them.

There are sculptures and pottery in Central and South America that show men with beards and Semitic features. These sculptures are very old; some dating back to 600 B.C.; around the time that Lehi and his family came to the New World.

*Nephites destroyed because of white-racial-pride

Now, because the Nephites had not intermarried with the Gentile nations of the Americas (the Amerinds), they remained white-skinned. This created a feeling of pride and superiority in the Nephites. They began to look down upon the Lamanites; like the Jews looked down upon the Samaritans. Various Nephite prophets came and warned them not to be prideful because of their white skins. The Nephites sometimes listened, but other times they did not:

“AND now it came to pass in the eighty and sixth year, the Nephites did still remain in wickedness, yea, in great wickedness, while the Lamanites did observe stictly to keep the commandments of God, according to the Law of Moses.”(Helaman 13:1)

When people rely upon their egos and not God they become prideful, and when they become prideful they harden their hearts; meaning they loose feeling for spiritual things. This is what Pharaoh did, and why the LORD sent horrible plagues upon the Egyptians; because his pride hardened his heart.

In The Book of Mormon we read how the LORD sent a Lamanite prophet to warn the Nephites to repent or God would destroy them. His name was Samuel the Lamanite, who declared to the Nephites:

“Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my spirit from them, and I will suffer [put up with] them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren [the Lamanites] against them.

9 And four hundred years shall not pass away before I will cause that they shall be smitten; yea, I will visit them with sword and with famine and with pestilence.

10 Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction.” (Helaman 13:8-10)

This white racial pride of the Nephites continued to grow over the centuries; notwithstanding the warnings from their prophets. They continued to be prideful and to harden their hearts against the LORD, His Prophets, and His Laws. Eventually, this white-supremacist pride caused the LORD to decided to destroy the Nephites utterly, and use the dark-skinned Lamanites to do it. The Prophet Mormon wrote to his son Moroni shortly before this destruction, and said:

“Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they repent.” (Moroni 8:27)

The Nephites did not repent. Their own white racial pride caused their utter destruction. The prophet Moroni wrote:

“BEHOLD I, Moroni, do finish the record of my father, Mormon. Behold, I have but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father.

2 And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.” (Mormon 8:1-2)

The Nephites and Lamanites had one last great battle, and the Lamanites utterly destroyed the Nephites; only leaving Moroni and a few others alive. Those Nephites that went south were utterly destroyed. Moroni then took the sacred records of the Nephites, and the few Nephites who were left traveled north, and over the course of many years, they traveled hundreds or perhaps thousands of miles in order to escape the Lamanites; who were bent on completely exterminating the Nephites. Before his death (about 421 A.D.) Moroni took the sacred records, on plates of gold, and deposited them in a hill near what is now the village of Palmyra, in what is now the Iroquois area of northwestern New York State. Fourteen hundred years later this same Moroni, as an angel, appeared to Joseph Smith and instructed him to retrieve the record. It became known as The Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon speaks thus about pride:

“For behold, saith the prophet, the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned.” (1 Nephi 22:15)

“For the day of the Lord of Hosts soon cometh upon all nations, yea, upon the proud and lofty, and upon every one who is lifted up, and he shall be brought low.” (2 Nephi 12:12)

“O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!” (2 Nephi 28:15)

“And it also came to pass that whosoever did belong to the church that did not repent of their wickedness and humble themselves before God-I mean those who were lifted up in the pride of their hearts-the same were rejected, and their names were blotted out, that their names were not numbered among those of the righteous.” (Alma 6:3)

So, in conclusion, the Lamanites are presented as cursed in their skins; because they, as Israelites, disobeyed the LORD and intermingled with other peoples. But The Book of Mormon presents them usually as a righteous people; more righteous than the white-skinned Nephites. And The Book of Mormon is primarily a Nephite record. The Book of Mormon is a history about a white-skinned people (the Nephites ) whom the LORD utterly destroyed because of their white racial pride.

The Book of Mormon contains condemnations of both the Nephites and the Lamanites. It contains hard truths about both peoples. The Nephites no longer exist, but the Lamanites do. Those who are too prideful to accept what The Book of Mormon says about their ancestors, both good and bad, are not the Elect of God.

The Nephites thought they were favored of God because of the whiteness of their skins; proof that they were not ‘cursed’ like the Lamanites. But The Book of Mormon declares:

“Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one; he that is righteous is favored of God.” (1 Nephi 17:35)

Brigham Young declared:

“The Lamanites, or Indians, are just as much the children of God as we are. So also are the Africans.” (Journal of Discourses 11:272)

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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