Blacks In Mormonism: Black and White in the Book of Mormon Pt 1

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Official declaration in 1978 was more than a revelation that removed all restrictions regarding the Mormon priesthood ban. Elder Bruce R. McConkey said that it also provided a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, erasing all the darkness, views, and thoughts of the past. Today, the church is clear that it disavows all theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse. But this truth might get confusing when you look at scriptures in the Book of Mormon that seem to identify a cursing of skin, and the skins of the Lamanites were dark according to the mark set upon their fathers, which was a curse because of their transgression and rebellion. 

One approach that might be helpful is to examine the Old Testament. After all, the Book of Mormon is an Old Testament book, a story about Old Testament people that came from Old Testament lands and uses Old Testament language. So, let’s see how skin color is used in the Old Testament. With each scripture example, we’ll need to ask whether the passage should be understood metaphorically or literally. In Numbers chapter 12, Miriam is punished because she murmured against her prophet brother Moses, and it says that Miriam became leprous, white as snow. I think this is a literal skin color change; her skin is changed to white as a punishment for murmuring against the prophet. 

In 2 Kings, Gehazi has the same thing happen to him after trying to receive financial reimbursement for curing Naaman’s leprosy. Gehazi’s skin becomes white as snow, and it is said that this curse will cleave to his seed forever. So, I perceive the skin color change to be literal as an outward sign of their punishment. However, leprosy as we think of it today doesn’t make your skin white. The Bible dictionary mentions that the word leprosy can mean other sicknesses or diseases as used in the Bible. The main disease that changes your skin color is vitiligo, a condition where melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, are damaged. This causes a loss of melanin production, resulting in lighter skin. Vitiligo could be a good fit for Gehazi’s condition because, unlike leprosy as we think of it today, vitiligo can be hereditary. In Job 30:30, he says his skin is black upon him. 

To understand whether we’re speaking literally or metaphorically, let’s look at the verse in context. Job describes himself as a brother to dragons and a companion to owls. His skin is black upon him, and his bones are burned with heat. Now does this mean that he would relate to blacks in Mormonism? This seems to be a poetic description used metaphorically to describe his suffering. Other references to a black appearance in the Old Testament, using the footnotes in our scriptures, describe a gloomy countenance, not a literal skin color change. In Jeremiah, for example, describing the suffering of the Jews after the destruction of the temple, their skin is described as black, which is an idiom for gloominess. This description of outward countenance shouldn’t be that foreign to us. After all, we may commonly use a color to describe someone’s outward appearance as well. 

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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