This video discusses scriptural misunderstandings of curses, marks, and Hebrew idioms referring to “black skin,” the modern-day construct of race, and how skin color is actually a sign of God’s love for all of his children.
Okay, so on this video I wanted to talk about skin color and curses in the scriptures. I must first say I saw a phenomenal presentation on this at the FairMormon Conference in 2014 by Marvin Perkins in the Utah FairMormon Conference. And I’m going to post this on the resources section of this video and I just challenge you to spend, it’s a little less than an hour, to watch it. It’s absolutely phenomenal. I’m going to share some highlights from that and a few other things, but it was fantastic.
Also, a couple of great websites I would suggest, blacklds.org and blacksinthescriptures.com. Marvin Perkins runs that last one with Darius Gray. It’s a fantastic resource, a great program; they’re running an outreach program. It’s phenomenal. So first of all, I wanted to talk about something that I remember hearing this at the FairMormon Conference from Perkins that just blew my mind. One, he talked to us about the race was a social construct that started in 1775 from a man named Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. I never heard of this guy, but he wrote his doctoral dissertation in 1775, and was the first one to define race, essentially, as a characteristic.
And he said you could basically define somebody’s personality, character and aptitude if you knew the color of their skin, and the size and shape of their skull. So he later basically debunked the paper, but he’d opened Pandora’s Box. And so Perkins said that people were looking for any excuse to elevate themselves above another or separate himself from his brother. So there are no races. We are all the same. In fact, he then went to show that genetically we’re 99.99% the same. We do have these changes in our skin tone. There’s really no one that’s pure black or pure white. We’re all different shades of brown.
And it was beautiful, as he put up a graph of the world. And if you look, the dark skins were close to the equator, which was where we had natural sunblock so we could stay alive in those hot areas. When we moved out of the hot area and there was less sun, the Lord commanded the body to produce this different protein that triggered a yellow to red melanin in our skin, which lowers the natural sunblock so that the little bit of sun there that there was in those other areas can actually get in and synthesize Vitamin D within our bodies, or we wouldn’t be able to procreate or survive. So it really is one of the greatest signs of the Lord’s love for us. But instead, we’ve let it to divide us.
Now, there’s a very famous scripture that definitely helps to show that the Lord does not look on the skin color or how you look on the outside. 1 Samuel 16:7, “But The Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
Now I want to talk a little bit about black and white in the scriptures. First of all, let me define what an idiom is. It’s a construction or expression of one language whose parts correspond to elements in another language, but whose total structure or meaning is not matched in the same way in the second language. Or another way to say it, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. It means something totally different in another culture or language. So if we could talk about black and white and some of the ways those terms were used throughout the Bible, and then the Book of Mormon were people from the Bible and ancient Hebrew times. First of all, if you look at a couple of these scriptures, Jeremiah 8:21, “For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.” Then the footnote, if you look at 21a footnote, black means “A Hebrew idiom meaning ‘gloomy'”. Jeremiah 14:2, “Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up.” Look at the footnote there. It says “Dejected.”
Joel 2:6, “Before their face the people shall be much pained; all faces shall gather blackness.” Another Hebrew idiom meaning “gloom.” Nahum 2:10, “She is empty, and void, and waste: and the heart melteth, and the knees smite together, and much pain is in all loins, and the faces of them all gather blackness.” In Hebrew, “idiom meaning gloom.”
Okay. Now, if you say, well, let’s look at the Book of Mormon, it talks about a skin of blackness, so in 2 Nephi 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.” Now I’ll come back to the footnote that’s referenced there now, but if you were to say skin of blackness, that actually shows up in the Bible multiple times. To give you an example of Job, Job 30:30, “My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.” Obviously symbolic. If his bones were burned with heat, he would not be alive, so it’s symbolic.
Lamentations 5:10, “Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.” So being extremely hungry doesn’t turn your skin black. Again, it’s a Hebrew idiom there. Going back to the footnote for 2 Nephi 5:21 the skin of blackness, there was a footnote added after the 1981 when the scriptures came out, the new edition in 1981, there was a footnote to 2 Nephi 30:6. If you look at that, it says, “And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generation shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.” By the way, Joseph changed… It used to say “white and delightsome.” In 1840, he changed that to “pure and delightsome.” It wasn’t included in some of the additions after that. And in the 1981 edition, as they went back to the earlier additions, they saw that change and made it in the 81 edition.
But the point I wanted to make particularly was the scales of darkness and the reference to that. Now the footnote is to spiritual blindness or spiritual darkness, and so that is often what is referred to. So if you follow that clearly, hopefully that made sense that the scales of darkness were spiritual blindness, and that was now the reference tying back to the 2 Nephi 5:21 talking about a skin of blackness. And this is in a few other spots in the Book of Mormon, and they’ll reference now some of these footnotes.
And in fact, in the new edition, the electronic edition of the scriptures, there’s actually several different changes. And if you go to blacklds.org, they’ve got a great spot where they talk about eight different changes to footnotes or headings in the electronic version of the scriptures that came out about 2010. And many of the… I’ll just give you some examples of, there are six different changes I could see here. The words were it’s “dark, blackness, curse, black, blackness”, and they all footnote back to 2 Nephi 26:33. If you look at this, it says, “For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of man; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
And there’s another interesting tie to this where it mentions the black and white here. There’s two other spots in the Book of Mormon that have the same terminology that’s here, but they change the black and white to some other wording. So if you go to Alma 11:44 it says, “Now this restoration shall come to all both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female.” So you’ve got all of the same kind of wording that we had before, but now instead of black and white, it says, “both the wicked and the righteous.” And then look at Alma 1:30. “And they did not set their hearts upon riches, therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond or free, both male and female,” we’re seeing that again, the wording, and now, “whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.”
So very interesting where you can see again the symbolism of the black and white that represented things from a spiritual perspective, and that’s the way it was to be interpreted. Some of the two interesting changes to the headings in the scriptures in two chapters in the Book of Mormon, Mormon 5 and 2 Nephi 5 both had chapter heading changes. So 2 Nephi 5, the chapter heading did read, “The Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness,” and it’s changed now to say, “The Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed.” Mormon 5 chapter heading says it used to say, “The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people,” and it’s replaced now with, “Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered and the Spirit will cease to strive with them.” Again I think very helpful changes.
Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about cursing, what a curse is. Many times we talk about a curse without even defining what it is. It is really separation from God. Two examples from the scriptures, Deuteronomy 28 and 29, Israel is told basically that they’re blessed if their obedient to God and cursed if they’re disobedient. D&C 41:1, this is a great one, “I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings ye that hear me, and ye that hear me not, I will curse.” Now, some famous cursings there, we’ve talked about some of these from the Book of Mormon just recently, but Cain, Cain was cursed to be a vagabond, and his fields would not produce fruit. He was to wander through the earth. A mark was placed on him. The mark was that he was going to be protected, basically. Nobody would be able to kill him, so he’d have to suffer, basically there.
Nothing mentioned about priesthood, nothing mentioned about being passed down to another generation there. That was the curse of Cain. The curse of Ham. It was really to Noah’s, grandson Canaan, Ham’s son Canaan, the curse was pronounced on, and we’re not exactly sure why it was on Canaan, but he was to be a servant of servants. And again, nothing about skin color or about priesthood. And this was used to justify slavery for a very long time. And then there is a mention in Abraham, the book of Abraham about the only place that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage was there, and it’s a specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt. And there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood or whether the prescription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that prescription.
If you look closely at the text, it does talk about how they were imitating the priesthood, and that may have definitely had something to do with it. Okay. So one last thing, and this is kind of fun to maybe end on as you think about skin color and the Book of Mormon in particular, two examples where skin color should have made a difference but it didn’t. One was the Amlicites in Alma 3, how they mark themselves to distinguish themselves apart from the others. They wouldn’t have needed to do that under circumstances if it was clear skin color differences that were there. So kind of an interesting note, but my very favorite is in Alma 55 when Maroni wanted to send people over to the guards, the Lamanites, to get them drunk as part of a strategy, and they put out a search among the people, the Nephites, for a Lamanite. If in fact it was by skin color, it would have been very easy to have identified who that was, but they had to do a search.
They did find somebody, and they sent that person, along with a small group of Nephites, there to the guards. And as they went, now if you can picture this, now why did they probably do that is they probably wanted somebody that understood the Lamanite culture, maybe had the dialect, that type of thing. May have been some important aspects to that. We don’t know, but it says, “And when it was evening Laman went to the guards,” this is Alma 55:8, “went to the guards who were over the Nephites; and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him, but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite.” He would not have needed to do that if his skin color was dark like the Lamanites, supposedly. “Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us. Now when the Lamanites heard these words, they received him with joy.”
That’s my favorite verse on this, that when you read that and really think about it, it’s pretty clear that there wasn’t a difference in skin color. And it’s fun to think back on a Marvin Perkins’ chart of where, if you look and see where Lehi and his family came from, the Middle East, they would’ve had a darker skin. So you could say we had the Lamanites right, but maybe not the Nephites there, the way we thought about it over the years. Hope you enjoyed the video.
Official Church Resources:
Official Church Statement: Race and the Church: All Are Alike Unto God https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/articl…
Official Church Gospel Topics Essay – Race & The Priesthood https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-t…
Introduction to Official Declaration 2 (at end of D&C) added in 2013: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-tes…
All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage, by Armand Mauss
Neither White Nor Black, by Lester Bush and Armand Mauss
Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, by Paul Reeve
LDS Perspectives Episode 43: Discussing the Priesthood Ban with members of the Genesis Group http://www.ldsperspectives.com/2017/0…
LDS Perspectives Episode 83: A History of Blacks and Global Mormonism with Russell Stevenson http://www.ldsperspectives.com/2018/0…
Marvin Perkins at 2014 FairMormon Conference: Black Man Speaks Candidly About LDS, Race, Past Priesthood Restriction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfzFS…
Darius Gray presents at SLCC Lecture in 2007: Blacks in the Bible https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFZUV…
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.