Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A New Perspective On The Lamanite "Skin Of Blackness"

     The “skin of blackness” mentioned by Nephi (2 Ne 5:21) - translated at other times into English as “very dark” or “dark” - may have actually been understood by Mayans according to extensional meanings represented in their language - and not physical coloration.

     According to Alexandre Tokovinine of Harvard University,
...the significance of the logogram for the color black extends beyond the notion of color into a broader range of meanings that includes hollow objects … The association of the term ihk with the notion of emptiness is indicated by the presence of dark or cross hatched spots on representations of objects, which are not necessarily black, but almost certainly hollow.
     This opens up some interesting possibilities. “Emptiness” could of course mean "emptiness of soul." We might expect they were excommunicated from the Church and assumed different habits and practices. 2 Ne 5:24 tells us that because of the curse "they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey." The reference to "beasts of prey" could mean the jaguar in a Mesoamerican context - a beast of prey which was worshipped.

     In the context of skin, perhaps there was a lack of clothing? Or garments? As far as literal darkness goes, lack of clothing would certainly cause darker skin under the hot Mesoamerican sun. Interesting possibilities.

     Tokovinine goes on to state that when Mayans described objects and beings as a certain color, they usually didn’t mean the object or being actually was the color: "Classic Maya narratives’ fascination with extensional meanings … cautions us against automatically linking every instance of basic color terms in writing and imagery with color properties of objects or beings. The actual evidence suggests that, more often than not, this was not the case."

     All of this is consistent with the fact that Joseph Smith changed the word “white” to “pure” (2 Nephi 30:6) in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon, before race was an issue. Nephi may have written a word for the color “white,” intending to convey a meaning other than color, but which in English is usually understood as just a reference to the color. Of course, Nephi would have expected his people to understand in terms of their culture, not ours, and that would be true regardless which language Nephi was writing in. Every language, not just Mayan, has a word for black. Presumably it is the color, not the language, which is the underlying factor behind the extensional meanings.

     This explanation is also consistent with the Book of Mormon telling us the mark on the wicked is something they do to their own selves (Alma 3:18-19).

     And, of course, the Native skin color of people living in the Americas when Nephi arrived was probably a beautiful brown or dark brown, having nothing to do with the mark the wicked placed on themselves.

     In response to this, some people may quote Spencer W. Kimball or other church leaders and point out how they evidently understood the word "blackness" in terms of more modern cultural assumptions. If they had ideas that did not bear out, that does not diminish their stature as Apostles. I think we can learn a lot about how revelation works by looking at Christ's mortal ministry. He didn't reveal everything to His Apostles, and they had some misconceptions, but He was still leading them.

As knowledge shines forth in the Last Days, the Lord lights my path of faith with His Spirit.

39 comments:

  1. Of course. Anything politically incorrect simply *must* have a meaning other than the plain English one.

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    2. Sarcasm noted...but this article is saying that this politically correct things *may* have a meaning other than the English one...

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    3. Certainly, when I consider the Book of Mormon is not a text originating in modern America or from modern racial concepts in America. Written by an ancient culture, in a totally distinct language, at a time completely divorced from our own. To believe that the "plain English" meaning is the correct one is an act of epic ahistorical presentism and cultural arrogance on our part.

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  2. Is this claiming that they Mayans are Nephites?
    Does this not also raise the question as to what understanding differences there may have been between the Mayan written language and Reformed Egyptian?

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    1. Hi :) If the Lehites landed in Mesoamerica, the Mayans would have been very relevant. Every language, not just Mayan, has a word for black. Presumably it is the color, not the language, which is the underlying factor behind the extensional meanings.

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    2. The word 'skin' is the word at issue here and the BoM clearly refers to skin and its color being a reflection of the curse on the Lamanites: 2 Ne 5:21: "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." (emphasis added)
      and
      Jacob 3:5: "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;" (emphasis added)

      So the "curse" that "God" put on the Lamanites is the "blackness" of their "skin". It doesn't get much more racist than that.

      Oh wait. Maybe it does. Perhaps this quote from Joseph Fielding Smith: "There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits." -- Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, pp. 65-66

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    3. The curse wasn't skin color, regardless, The curse that had been pronounced was the separation from the presence of God of Laman and Lemuel and their descendents (because of personal wickedness). If later generations of Nephites conflated the two, that is their own cultural problem, not an issue with the Book of Mormon which is simply recounting their history. Their skin color would have been a characteristic (a "mark" as the Book of Mormon also puts it) that would simply distinguish the two peoples (at least initially, since it is clear that the term "Nephite" and "Lamanite" came to represent different cultural belief systems, not racial ones -- a great deal of intermixing had occurred throughout their history with no distinction at all at one point for centuries after the appearance of Christ).

      God is also free to use cultural prejudices for his own purposes which, according to the Book of Mormon was to make sure foreign gods/teachings wouldn't be introduced into, or corrupt the teachings of, the prophets as they had received them originally (similar to the Biblical injunction to Israel to marry within its own lineage so as not to be tempted to go after "strange" gods that were worshiped by outside groups).

      Finally, it is specifically the Lamanites who were of the promised seed (of the House of Israel) to whom the Book of Mormon was written in order to remind them of their origins and the great promises that had been made to them and to which they were rightful heirs. It had nothing to do with considering them "cursed" (except in the sense that one separates themselves from God) -- just the opposite is the directly stated purpose of the Book of Mormon: to bring them into remembrance of the great promises made to them as a remnant of the house of Israel, and the future blessings they were to inherit.

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  3. Again after adam, and Eve had pertook of the curse, we find they had two sons Cain and Able, but which was the oldest I cannot positively say; but this I know, Cain was given more to evil practices than Abel, but whether he was the oldest or not matters not to me. Adam was commanded to sacrifise, and offer up his offerings to God, that placed him into the garden of Eden. Through the faith and obedience of Able to his heavenly father, Cain became jealous of him, and he laid a plan to obtain all his flocks; for through his perfect obedience to father he obtained more blessings than Cain; consequently he took it into his heart to put able able of this mortal existance. after the deed was done, the Lord enquired to able, and made Caine own what he had done with him. Now says the grand father I will not distroy the seed of michal and his wife; and cain I will not kill you, nor suffer any one to kill you, but I will put a mark upon you. What is that mark? you will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see. Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals seed. Then Cain's seed will be had in rememberance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.

    Now then in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has has the Affrican blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of preisthood; Why? because they are the true eternal principals the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it, men cannot. the angels cannot, and all the powers of earth and hell cannot take it off, but thus saith the Eternal I am, what I am, I take it off at my pleasure, and not one partical of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the says he will have it taken away. That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privelege of and more. In the kingdom of God on the earth the Affricans cannot hold one partical of power in Government. The the subjects, the rightfull servants of the resedue of the children of Adam, and the resedue of the children through the benign influence of the Spirit of the Lord have the privilege of seeing to the posterity of Cain; inasmuch as it is the Lords will they should receive the spirit of God by Baptisam; and that is the end of their privilege; and there is not power on earth to give them any more power.

    -Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah
    Official LDS document source available:
    https://dcms.lds.org/delivery/StreamGate?is_rtl=false&is_mobile=false&dps_dvs=1438202364202~197&dps_pid=FL4530991

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  4. There is one major flaw in any discussion about this. GOD HIMSELF wrote on a magic rock the words skin of blackness and white and delightsome. Joseph did not read some word and use his best translation skills and came up with an approximation of what the "Mayans" ROFL were talking about.

    The translation was to benefit Joseph Smith, and those that would read it later. God KNEW beforehand, that if he translated it this way, it would be interpreted by 99% of people from 1830 to 2015, including HIS CHOSEN prophets and apostles and official doctrine to mean black skin and be racist.

    So God did on purpose, and meant what he meant exactly what mormons for 185 years have thought it meant.... if you believe the church to be the one true church.

    There is no other explanation if you are a believer.

    Sorry.

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    1. Incorrect. The Book of Mormon is not a text originating in modern America or from modern racial concepts in America. Written by an ancient culture, in a totally distinct language, at a time completely divorced from our own. To believe that the racial interpretative meaning is the correct one is an act of epic ahistorical presentism and cultural arrogance on our part. This is not something Mormons are immune to either.

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    3. “The Book of Mormon … was written for our day. The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us.” - Ezra Taft Benson (Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 6.)

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    4. Rick, I believe Ezra Taft Benson was saying that Mormon redacted and compiled the records for our use - He was not saying the Nephites kept records hidden from themselves for hundreds of years. Am I wrong?

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    5. You'll have to ask Ezra Taft Benson what he meant. I can only infer that he meant what he said. Maybe if you translate what he said into ancient Maya, and then back to English, the meaning will be clear to all of us.

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    7. Rick, thats like saying the Jews never had the Bible.
      And why is it so hard to distinguish doctrines vs teachings?
      Or the word of God vs understanding of men?
      The plan is perfect--People will only believe what they want to believe.

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    9. Mark Hansen- There is no indication that the stone God wrote on was magical, nor did he write anything about skin color. God wrote ten laws given to Moses for Israel. But this has nothing to do with the current discussion, nor is any kind of rock writing relevant to Church history. If you are curious about the mechanics of a Urim and Thummin, you may search Hebrew testimonies if you do not trust Mormon testimonies. I hope this clears up your confusion.

      Personally, I believe Laman and Lemuel were marked, just like Cain, for similar reasons. It is the racists behind the modern "political correct" movement that want to make this an issue, to decieve us

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    10. Why is it so hard to distinguish doctrines vs teachings? I don't know. Maybe it's because Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained a prophet, seer, and revelator at the time he wrote that in the book called DOCTRINES of Salvation.

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  5. Nineteenth-century American racial ideology is all over the Mormon scriptures, for the simple reason that they are 19th-century American texts.

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  6. Great. We can put this issue to rest. Now, we just need to prove that the author of the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price was Mayan so we can make sense of the skin curse in that book, too

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    1. "the author of the Book of MOSES... was Mayan..." ...? Wat?

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  7. Did you realize that many of the phrases you might think are uniquely Mormon phrases are actually found in non-Mormon writing between the years 1800 and 1828. Check it out.

    "plain and precious truth" "true and living church" "plan of salvation" "can't look at sin with the least degree of allowance" "forth out of obscurity" "new and everlasting covenant" "shrink with awful fear" "God ceasing to be God" "opposition in all things" "dwell in unholy temples" "infant baptism an abomination" "procrastinate the day of repentance" "after all we can do" "deny yourself of all ungodliness" "satisfy the demands of justice" "infinite atonement" "Christ comes in meridian of time" "degrees of glory in heaven" "probationary state"

    None of it is original. None of these are in the Bible. Go to Googlebooks. Limit your search to 1800-1828. Type in any of these phrases. You will find photocopies of the sources that contain these phrases. These were all part of the global Christian dialogue before the Book of Mormon was even published. One can wonder how they all made their way into the Book of Mormon. But one can be certain that the Nephites weren't the ones who came up with these concepts.

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    1. All of the words in the Book of Mormon, with the exception of some names, had been used as part of the English language prior to the translation. Joseph was not inventing a language, but using a language as a tool to convey meaning. Phrases are like words, and are even made up of words. They are part of the language and can be used to convey meaning in a translation.

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  8. It isn't just phrases. The phrases in many cases refer to doctrinal and theological concepts that were developed by Europeans and Americans. For instance, the concept of an "infinite atonement" is found discussed in Universalist and Unitarian literature of the period. The idea of "satisfying the demands of justice" is from the Satisfaction Theory of Atonement developed by St. Augustine. The phrases refer theological constructs that were not being discussed in any ancient Jewish literature, especially not Ancient American Jewish literature. But these ideas are found in European/American religious writings.

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  9. I have long maintained the "blackness" was metaphorical, though in the context of Old World traditions which link black to evil and white to purity. Part of the definition for "blackness" that Daniel Webster provides in his 1828 dictionary is "atrociousness or enormity in wickedness." http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/blackness

    I think this is borne out in the fact that the term "Lamanite" came to be applied to people of a particular religious and/or political persuasion. The Maya use of the term adds an intriguing twist to the term.

    The only problem I have with the article is that it was too short!

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  10. I have always taken 2 Nephi 5 as a great demonstration of people already being around when the Lehites arrived. The chapter spans about 30 years which allows it to cover multiple generations. If Laman and Lemuel joined up with some locals and their children intermarried with them, the result would be that the dominant genes for darker skin would be present in the offspring. This chapter is where Nephi refers to his brothers, not as "brethren", as he always had before, but as "the people who were now called Lamanites", which could include any people that had mixed in. Nephi didn't know about genetics so he simply said God had marked them.
    I don't think we can apply much of Mayan meaning to Nephi, since he had just arrived and might not have altered his Hebrew view or the reformed Egyptian meanings from what he had been using. I think the Mayan/Meso-American ties would have to come in after the first generation had gone. Later in the 3 Nephi when some Lamanites become white like unto the Nephites this meaning could easily be applied. This new perspective also misses that the purpose of the mark as Nephi saw it, no matter how politically incorrect, was so "that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them". As modern pop culture demonstrates, hollow insides have no bearing on the level of enticement to others unless it is taken literally. And with the Hebrew view of not mixing with outsiders, having different skin color would make it easier to see who outsiders were and to not be enticed to mix as a result of that cultural view.

    Chapter 5 doesn't say that the people put this mark on themselves. It quite explicitly says that God did it. Which is technically true since they would be born with the aforementioned genes, which Nephi knew nothing about, as God intended. We also have a strong case that marks and curses are not the same thing, even though they can be found together. The whole skin of blackness thing is, in my belief, Nephi's way of explaining that his brother's descendants had mixed with the locals and at the same time were dark spiritually as they learned to hate him and his group and were cut off from God.

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    1. Interesting. Though, Nephi was not retarded. A dark skinned child born of dark skinned parent(s) is not a difficult concept.

      I have often wondered about the people of Zerahemla, and the Jaredites, and how they affected genetics. Even though Ether was clear that ALL the Jaredites were destroyed... knowing people as I do, its very possible some managed to escape from society beyond Ethers comprehension

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  11. Too bad God wasn't capable of telling his prophets that all his children were created equal. Instead God seemed more than happy to let a large percentage of His children on earth be banned from the blessings of the temple for a large period of time...

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    1. It happened in the Bible, too. For a period of time in ancient times, the vast majority of people in the world could not hold the priesthood, including most of Israel.

      Even in the New Testament it happened and people did not receive blessings for a time in certain lands. Jesus told the disciples to go into all the world, but when they were carrying that out the Holy Ghost forbade them to go into Asia (Acts 16:6); and, so on and so forth.

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  12. The mental gymnastics you people are capable of boggles the mind. You rival Scientologists in your ability to excuse away the bad of the religion you were indoctrinated into.

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    1. Not every reference in the Book of Mormon to color was necessarily so. Amorites were referred to as "dark" in color in some texts but Egyptian murals portrayed them with light skins and blue eyes.

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  13. Maya during the Book of Mormon times were cultivating staple crops of maize, beans, squash, and chili pepper. They were not cultivating wine, olives, and wheat as mentioned in the Book of Mormon. It is so obvious that the Book of Mormon Nephites are the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Lamanites are the Medes and the Persians. Duh.

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