If Lamanites were black, why didn’t anyone notice?

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One of the most controversial verses in the Book of Mormon is 2 Nephi 5:21, which states:

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.

The focus of this verse has been the phrase “skin of blackness,” which is read rather literally as a change in pigmentation. It is much easier to compile a list of writers who take the phrase literally than of those who suggest an alternate reading. As a single representation of this reading, see Milton R. Hunter of the Council of the Seventy:

As is well-known, two peoples—a white race and those of a darker color—inhabited ancient America for approximately one thousand years’ time. The white race was called Nephites and the darker race Lamanites…. The reader may say: “Yes, we understand that there were a white race and a dark race in ancient America from approximately 600 B.C., until approximately 400 A.D., but we have understood also that by the latter date all the white people (Nephites), except Moroni, had been killed in a war with the darker people or Lamanites.”

It is true that the Nephite nation ended toward the close of the fifth century A.D., but probably many of the white Nephites were saved from death by joining the Lamanites. These then would not be followers of Christ and would be unfaithful ones. The last great war was not fought entirely on the lines of race, but probably the determining factor was that one group allied itself with the Lamanite traditions, and the other group followed the Nephite traditions, including a belief in Jesus Christ. Thus there probably were dark and white people in each army.[1]

The modern cultural assumption that a skin of blackness must equal black skin is probably informed by racial issues in the United States. The 1981 change in verse 2 Nephi 30:6 from “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome” is therefore similarly interpreted in the context of political correctness, and an accommodation to issues of race in the United States. Of course, the fact that the change was made in 1981 obscures the fact that it was a change that Joseph Smith made for the 1840 Nauvoo edition of the Book of Mormon.[2] While issues of race were certainly important in 1840, it is much less likely that the change was due to pressure to be politically correct in 1840 than it would have been had the change been unique to 1981.

I have elsewhere argued that this skin of blackness was a metaphor for a spiritual state rather than a change in pigmentation.[3] While there are arguments to be made for or against that proposition, the decision as to whether a “skin of blackness” is a description of a physical or spiritual change should be decided upon something stronger than personal preference for one reading or the other. The text is the final arbiter of such questions. What might the text tell us to help us decide?

What would be ideal is to find a place in the text where some Nephite said something like “Oh, I see by your black skin that you are a Lamanite.” That doesn’t happen. What we do get are some situations in which a difference in pigmentation should make a difference in an event. We do have a couple of those, but what we find is that what should make a difference, doesn’t.

One that I have noted before is found in Alma 55:4–8:

4 And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words, he caused that a search should be made among his men, that perhaps he might find a man who was a descendant of Laman among them.

5 And it came to pass that they found one, whose name was Laman; and he was one of the servants of the king who was murdered by Amalickiah.

6 Now Moroni caused that Laman and a small number of his men should go forth unto the guards who were over the Nephites.

7 Now the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.

8 And when it was evening Laman 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. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.

Moroni’s plan requires a Lamanite. He finds one. What could a Lamanite do that a non-Lamanite could not? For most readers, conditioned by years of assumptions, the expectation is that he is darker skinned, while Nephites were “white.” However, this reason is unlikely, given the actual working-out of the plan (v. 8):

First, Laman is not alone. Moroni has selected other men to go with him. Moroni had searched for a Lamanite and found one. His companions were, therefore, not Lamanites. However, they approach with the one “true” Lamanite. If skin color identified the one Lamanite, then his companions would obviously be recognized on sight as Nephites. Furthermore, the Lamanite armies are being led by a Nephite dissenter, and many of those in the city of Nephi who had ejected the people of Ammon were also Nephite dissenters. According to the record, Laman does all of the talking, and the guards immediately accept his announcement that he is a Lamanite. Thus, there is a language difference between the two groups. Clearly, this difference is not great, because Nephite dissenters easily assimilate into the Lamanite ranks. However, there must be some differences, either in dialect or accent, so that the target Lamanites identified Laman’s voice as soon as they heard it as truly “Lamanite.” As long as his companions remained silent, this ruse would be sufficient. That reading fits the evidence, and the evidence does not allow for a pigmentation difference that is sufficient that it would be noticed.

A second event occurs in an earlier war. This particular experience is important because it specifically references the curse, mark, and dark skin of the 2 Nephi quotation that is the foundation of all of the racist assumptions. The following is Alma 3:6–16, with comments as we read:

6 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, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.

This verse gives us the three important elements and some relationship among the three. The “skins of the Lamanites were dark.” (This corresponds to the “skin of blackness” from 2 Nephi 5:21.) Of course, we have the substitution of dark for black, suggesting that the specific color is not required. Next, this skin of darkness/blackness was set upon them “according to the mark” and it is the mark which is the curse.

7 And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women.

8 And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction.

9 And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.

Part of the definition of becoming Lamanite was that they inherited the curse. Of course, because the definition of Lamanite was one who was an enemy to a Nephite, that seems pretty clear. The possible issue here is genetic, in that it comes from “mingling” with Lamanites. However, the opposite change to “white and delightsome” appears to happen upon conversion, so that puts this interpretation in doubt. We see in 3 Nephi 2:13–16:

13 And it came to pass that before this thirteenth year had passed away the Nephites were threatened with utter destruction because of this war, which had become exceedingly sore.

14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;

15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

16 And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites. And thus ended the thirteenth year.

Before the thirteenth year passes away (v. 13) there are Lamanites who unite with the Nephites and become Nephites (v. 14). As part of their conversion “their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (v. 15). Then we have the reiteration that all of this takes place before the end of the thirteenth year (v. 16). The speed of this change precludes any naturally occurring process that changes pigmentation. Nevertheless, simply by becoming Nephites the curse is gone and their skins are no long black but are now white.

Knowing that this change is virtually immediate becomes important as we read the rest of the story from Alma 3:

10 Therefore, whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites was called under that head, and there was a mark set upon him.

Verse 10 reiterates that conversion from Nephite to Lamanite sets the mark, just as simple conversion from Lamanite to Nephite removes it.

13 Now we will return again to the Amlicites, for they also had a mark set upon them; yea, they set the mark upon themselves, yea, even a mark of red upon their foreheads.

14 Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.

15 And again: I will set a mark upon him that mingleth his seed with thy brethren, that they may be cursed also.

16 And again: I will set a mark upon him that fighteth against thee and thy seed.

These verses are consistent. They speak of the same mingling and the same curse. Interestingly, however, the Amlicite mark was red on the forehead, which the Nephites linked to the scriptural mark. Thus the Amlicites are marked, but it is not only a voluntary marking, but one that required red on the forehead. If the Amlicites were to be marked, why wasn’t it with the skin of blackness? Of course, if we read “skin of blackness” as a metaphor, then they do change their hearts (we idiomatically speak of a black heart which is not intended literally).

More importantly, if they really did have an immediate pigmentation change, the mark was unnecessary. Why was the mark necessary from the Amlicite perspective? The Amlicite battle plan required that they flee from the Nephites towards a Lamanite army. That Lamanite army needed to know that the fully armed warriors running full speed at them were friends. They had to know the difference between the Amlicite friends who were springing a trap and the Nephites who were falling into it. If there were a pigmentation difference, it would have been obvious. It wasn’t visually obvious, so a red mark was required to mark the ones that the Lamanites should allow to pass.

Nevertheless, Mormon sees this marking in the context of the curse. If Mormon were familiar with the changeable skin pigmentation, he had no reason to case the Amlicite actions in the connection with that curse and mark. This even further clarifies that there was no available obvious difference that would allow someone to see that someone was Lamanite or Nephite. The “skin of darkness” is only textually consistent if read as a metaphor. It cannot be supported as a pigmentation change.



[1] Milton R. Hunter, Archaeology and the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956), 191.

[2] Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, The Critical Text of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2005), Volume 4, Part 2, 895.

[3] Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 Volumes (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:117–22.

17 thoughts on “If Lamanites were black, why didn’t anyone notice?

  1. iamse7en

    “The text is the final arbiter of such questions.”

    Actually, I’d say the Prophets are. All of the early prophets who were well acquainted with the Book of Mormon properly interpreted this as a LITERAL skin change. You are jumping through hoops, textual gymnastics, and very stretched logic to spiritualize what the text is actually saying, because of the extreme PC-world that we live in now. My guess is you would never make this radical interpretation if you lived in the 1800’s or the early 1900’s. This is a culturally-induced interpretation you are making. I prefer to stick to the prophets.

    “Verily, I say unto you, that the wisdom of man, in his fallen state, knoweth not the purposes and the privileges of my hold priesthood, but ye shall know when ye receive a fullness by reason of the anointing: For it is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just, for even now their females are more virtuous then the gentiles.” (Joseph Smith, Jr., 1831 revelation, recorded in a letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, dated August 12, 1861)

    “All the varieties in physiognomy and the different shades of color—the tawney and copper colored, the black and white, are His; and if there be any who are not white and delightsome, it is because their sins and iniquities have brought a curse upon them.” (Brigham Young, 8/4/1867; Utah Historical Quarterly 29 [January 1961]: 66-76)

    “The Lamanites, now a downtrodden people, are a remnant of the house of Israel. The curse of God has followed them as it has done the Jews, though the Jews have not been darkened in their skin as have the Lamanites.” (Wilford Woodruff, JD 22:173, 6/12/1881)

    “In after years when President Joseph F. Smith preached the funeral sermon of this same faithful woman [Aunt Jane] he declared that she would in the resurrection attain the longings of her soul and become a white and beautiful person.” (Wilford Woodruff by M.F. Cowley, p. 587; though this is referring to a black sister, the same principle applies)

    “After the people again forgot the Lord and dissensions arose, some of them took upon themselves the name Lamanites and the dark skin returned. When the Lamanites fully repent and sincerely receive the gospel, the Lord has promised to remove the dark skin. The Lord declared by revelation that, ‘before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as a rose.’ The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. Many of these converts and delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord. Perhaps there are some Lamanites today who are losing the dark pigment. Many of the members of the Church among the Catawba Indians of the South could readily pass as of the white race; also in other parts of the South.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, v. 3, p. 123, 1953)

    I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today … they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people. … For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. … The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. (Spencer W. Kimball, Oct 1960 General Conference)

    There is also the interesting statement that Joseph made about Zelph, the “white lamanite,” especially in light of 3 Ne 2:15: “Brother Joseph had a vision respecting the person; he said he was a white Lamanite. The curse was taken from him or at least in part” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, May 1834).

    That is, unless Brandt Gardner is smarter than our prophets, and they have been interpreting the scriptures wrongly for almost 200 years…

  2. D_Rolling_Kearney

    “I have elsewhere argued that this skin of blackness was a metaphor for a spiritual state rather than a change in pigmentation.”

    You are correct. I spent more than half my mission on the Navajo reservation. We had lots of people who were involved with the Native American Church, best known for its use of the hallucinogenic cactus, peyote. We were able to tell when investigators were actively on peyote because their skin physically looked darker. It was an obvious change from lighter to several shades darker, and was not permanent as far as I could tell. Scoff if you will, but this is God’s honest truth, and the reason I agree with your interpretation.

  3. justapunkkid

    iamse7en, I am glad that you brought up Zelph.

    Hey Brant, what do you think of Joseph’s teachings on Zelph? I’ve read them in Rough Stone Rolling as well as a host of less-than-favorable to FARMS/FAIR blogs. I’ve never read the quote in its entirety. Is there a place I could go to look up the whole quote? Also, is there any place I can look to for a variety of interpretations about the Zelph incident? I hate to feel locked into “Well, the truth behind Zelph is…” which is what I feel like people on many sides try to do so I haven’t known what to believe. Anyway, I would appreciate any thoughts from Brant or anyone from FAIR.

    iamse7en, I do disagree with the premise of your argument, mainly that the prophets know the scriptures/history/perhaps everything better than we do.

    For example: I think that Joseph Fielding Smith’s teachings on the atonement are very sublime and beautiful. However, I don’t think I’m forced to believe the earth was created in 6,000 years because he thought that the scriptures said so.

    Like the age of the earth, Prophets and Apostles read the scriptures to the best of their understanding. Sometimes they get stuff wrong. I suppose this doesn’t bother me, since from an empiricist perspective prophets and apostles and even the Savior himself–well to the degree we have any of his words written down–made incorrect statements. The reason this doesn’t bother me is because the scriptures aren’t supposed to be a science book, a history book, a physics book, ect. They are supposed to bring us closer to God.

  4. Midway

    Iamse7en seems confident in his response to Brother Gardner’s explanations of the words used in scripture. As for myself, I won’t lose any sleep over either opinion. However, Brother Gardner’s explanations follow a logical line of reasoning, and it may very well be that the “skin of blackness” was not physical but a metaphor for spirituality. The fact that even Joseph Smith made a similar correction from “white” to “pure” in the 1840 Nauvoo edition of the Book of Mormon gives the idea some plausibility. Joseph Smith, of all people knew that in translation original meanings and contexts are often lost and what seems clear to readers in modern times may have meant something totally different to the writers of ancient times. The fact that our prophets, as Iamse7en mentions, have interpreted these verses literally rather than metaphorically when they were giving some instruction reflects their own understanding rather than revelation from God on the specific subject. None of the statements quoted by Iamse7en are positions that have been officially accepted as church doctrine. And, I believe it very incorrect and dangerously arrogant to believe, as iamse7en apparently does, that white ancestry equals less ancestral sin. Curses from God have rarely been issued and generally have the effect of a reduction in blessings of the priesthood and gospel knowledge, etc., rather than a physical cursing. As for myself, I believe that the stripling warriors were very righteous and faithful, and beautifully brown skinned.
    Iamse7en’s reference to President Kimball’s statement in conference in 1960 reflects a good, kind-hearted, and righteous man’s hopes for the acceptance of the gospel by the people of the Arizona reservations that he was so familiar with and whom he loved so dearly. His statement, I am sure, was not intended to imply that righteous Navajos could be expected to turn white skinned, but instead would eminate a pure light of righteousness to their own people and to the world.
    From Iamse7en’s response and intense reply to Brother Gardner’s comments, one would suppose that Iamse7en believes that our wonderful African saints will begin turning white skinned with just a little more temple attendance. The idea, of course, is insulting and absurd.

  5. Brant Gardner Post author

    I should begin by acknowledging the obvious, which is that there is a traditional reading of “skin of blackness” as a pigmentation change. That reading began quite early and has been repeated by many, including apostles. That is not to say that I believe that any of those repeating the traditional reading were doing more than accepting the tradition. I don’t see any of them specifically indicating that they were providing revealed meaning, or specifically declaring an interpretation of the text. Having any General Authority make a remark simply records that the remark was made. Joseph Smith himself was careful to tell people that sometimes he didn’t speak as a prophet. Forgetting Joseph’s admonition and applying inerrancy to later leaders is socially understandable, but not a doctrine the church teaches.

    What about Zelph the white Lamanite? That rather depends upon what “white” means, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, all that instance does is use the word. It doesn’t tell us how to interpret the word. Was Zelph a righteous Lamanite or an albino Lamanite? The text doesn’t say, though the rather obvious use in the text would say that the reason for mentioning that he was a white Lamanite was to indicate a state of righteousness (which is what I would argue any way).

    The biggest problem I see with discussions about this issue is that it too often proceeds from a decision about meaning that has been made before approaching the text at all. Therefore, one tends to find what they are looking for.

    In my case, I actually approached the text assuming that there was some sort of pigmentation change. I went looking for the evidence to show it. What I found was that in places where it should have been obvious, it wasn’t. I am still willing to reconsider, if ever I can find any event in the Book of Mormon where a difference in skin pigmentation should have made a difference and it is clear from the text that it happened just that way. I have been through the entire text and haven’t found one. What I have found are occasions where there should have been a difference, but there wasn’t one (and few of those).

    When I combine that evidence with the way ancient people saw their world, the modern readings born of racial prejudice just don’t explain the text as well as they do modern social history.

  6. D_Rolling_Kearney

    “The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. (Spencer W. Kimball, Oct 1960 General Conference)”

    Pres. Kimball was talking about the same people I referred to earlier.

    My comment was intended to imply that the **spiritual change** that came over the people when they were doing something that specifically put them under Satan’s influence was **physically noticeable**. Pres. Kimball could well have meant the same thing.

    As for skin color changes of different races being marks of curses, though, I suppose it would explain a few things since we believe we all descended from the same original couple anyway, who were not omni-racial.

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  8. adamtaylor

    There are much better scientific explanations for people with different skin color than curses.

  9. GentlyHewStone

    I came up with much the same conclusion a couple of months ago. In short, I suspect that the Book of Mormon’s “skin of blackness” is equivalent to the text’s metaphorical “scales of darkness” (2 Nephi 30:6) and “dark veil of unbelief” (Alma 19:6), especially as the three terms–skin, scales, and veil–are essentially synonymous: thin coverings that obscure spiritual sensitivity, but which can be removed upon enlightenment.

    http://gentlyhewstone.com/2012/03/06/what-was-the-mark-of-the-curse-in-the-book-of-mormon/

  10. sethjn

    Brent,

    I personally would like to believe your view that the skin of blackness was not a physical change because it fits better with my understanding of the Gospel. Nevertheless, I struggle to see the same strength of support from the text that you do. I have a couple of comments that I would be happy to hear your opinion on.

    1. The Alma 55:4-8 text: I have always read this quite differently than you have. First, I assumed that Laman had to call out to them because the mission was undertaken in the later hours of the evening and it was dark. He had to call out to them first before his visual appearance could be taken into consideration. Second, when it says “Laman and a small number of his men,” I assumed the “his” referred to Laman and not to Moroni. After all, Laman was not the only servant to escape and it would be no surprise if he was the leader of the group that escaped. Even if I am wrong and the others in the party are Nephites, as you yourself point out there were a lot of dissenters in the Lamanite ranks, so their appearance by itself would not give cause for alarm.

    2. The part of this I never took to be literal was the time involved (this is in reference to your analysis of how long it took for the curse to become apparent). The Book of Mormon is full of cultural expressions that are obviously not literal (e.g., spreading across the whole earth, the entire population crying out with exactly the same words at exactly the same minutes, etc.). I think this is especially applicable with respect to your comments about the converted Lamanites that joined with the Nephites to stop the Gadianton Robbers. To describe this as an “immediate conversion” of the Lamanites is just not supported by the rest of the text because the Lamanites had been the righteous ones for the all the recent history (despite the rising generation mentioned in chapter 1).

  11. Brant Gardner Post author

    sethjn: It is always possible to read a text differently if it doesn’t contain enough disambiguity as to preclude multiple readings. In the case of Alma 55:4-8, it is possible to believe that “one” doesn’t really mean that Captain Mormon found only one. Changing the literal meaning of “one” allows us to have more Lamanites accompany Laman. That is possible, but it requires that we take an assumption built on a literal reading of “skin of blackness” and use that assumption to provide a non-literal reading of a count. Now, I’m all for understanding that counts are sometimes estimates, but I am reasonably certain that “one” wasn’t an estimate. There is no reason for the editor to emphasize “one” if the answer was “a bunch.”

    I am also interested in the fact that you don’t see any change occurring over a short period of time. Of course, I agree that there is no known process that makes a big difference in pigmentation that occurs rapidly. Therefore, we are both quite willing to read the text in a non-literal way. My question would be why you are so willing to take a non-literal approach to the text in order to defend something that can only be defended on a very literal reading? Of course, even the very literal reading has problems, because no one in the New World had a “blackness” pigmentation. So even the very literal reading still requires that we see part of the phrase as metaphorical.

    If we look at the way “skin” color is used in the Book of Mormon, we find that it has a direct parallel to the way “face” is used in the Old Testament, and that is universally understood as a metaphor.

  12. sethjn

    Brant: you misunderstand me. I am not looking for text to justify literal skin pigmentation and, as I said, I would like to believe it is all a metaphor. Rather, I’m challenging your proof texts. I’ll make that more clear in this comment.

    1. You say, “First, Laman is not alone… If skin color identified the one Lamanite, then his companions would obviously be recognized on sight as Nephites… and the evidence does not allow for a pigmentation difference that is sufficient that it would be noticed.”

    I disagree. As I said,
    A. There were recent Nephite dissenters in the Lamanite ranks
    B. it was dark (the account says it was evening).

    2. You also say: “Before the thirteenth year passes away (v. 13) there are Lamanites who unite with the Nephites and become Nephites (v. 14). As part of their conversion “their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” (v. 15)

    I disagree with your interpretation of the timing of the Lamanites conversion. Here is verse 12:

  13. sethjn

    Sorry, I accidentally hit the submit button early.

    Here is part of verse 12:

    “Therefore, all the Lamanites who had become converted unto the Lord did unite with their brethren…”

    It uses the words, “had become converted.” It gives no time frame for when their conversion happened. There had been righteous Lamanites for a good number of years and no record of these converted Lamanites ever having the “curse” taken away and becoming fair. From the record, it seems that only when they physically joined with the Nephites was such a change noted.

  14. Immovable11

    Brant,

    I tend to agree with you (though if either instance were the real answer, I would have no problem with both–We are all God’s children and He has used other things as curses in the past).

    I’ve read all of those passages carefully and have come to the conclusion for myself that it is metaphorically speaking. I’d like to share with you a couple thoughts from my last two nights of scripture reading. I’m in the Book of Alma when Ammon is having huge success with the Lamanites in converting them. There are two points I’d like to bring to light (one is a scripture, the other is a an account during this event)
    1) “And it came to pass that they called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites. 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.”
    Alma 23:17-18
    *In this simple scripture, I find it interesting the phrase, “and the curse of God did no more follow them”. It doesn’t mention their skin turning a different color or that the curse “left them” (in this case) but that it “did no more follow them”. That terminology is not conducive with a physical or tangible happening. That terminology is solely metaphorical.
    2)This account found only a couple Chapters later; refers to the same group of–now righteous Lamanites–who’s curse stopped following them. This is after they made the covenant to put down their weapons even at the cost of their lives. The Lamanites that did not convert were angry–attacked the Lamanites who had the curse taken away and killed over a thousand of them. No where in that account does it say they even noticed a physical change in “their bretheren” (fellow Lamanites). “Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee…….now when the Lamanites saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword.” I believe if a physical change had occurred, the wicked Lamanites would have, not only noticed, but would not have had such sympathy on them and they would not have still considered them brethren. Anyways, just small things I picked up just from that read–and I have found many, many more like it.

    Also, in regards to our Prophets; I have been taught and understand that a prophet can only accurately preach within the realm of knowledge of his time and what makes sense to their understanding and culture. Of course they are seers and I believe many have seen visions of the future in some form or another……but even when Nephi saw visions of our day—-or better yet, when John the Revelator was given visions of the second coming; many things in how he describes things of our day seem odd to us, but he was only trying to describe what he saw and heard according to his understanding and speech (the understanding and speech of his day. That same principle would be the same, today.

  15. Brant Gardner Post author

    Immovable11–you are finding the kinds of things I found when I was looking for textual evidence. Knowing that a metaphor is possible, it was a question of finding any evidence that contradicted the metaphorical meaning and supported a literal meaning. In the small places where we don’t tend to pay attention, such as the one you note about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, the metaphorical meaning works much better in the text.

    Now, I know that it can be read in other ways, but from what I have seen, only if you begin with the assumption of the literal reading and then make sure that any text you read is reconciled to the assumption. That tells me more about our modern culture than it does about the ancient.

  16. MarkH

    If skin colour was the differentiation, one might also wonder how it was that dissenting nephites (eg amalekites, zoramites) were so easily absorbed amongst and recognised as Lamanites, and Amalickiah was so easily accepted as king.

    I would like to hypothesise an additional possibility concerning the ‘dark skin’ that could I think also fit, that is that it referred to self imposed tattooing (dark markings on the skin). It is known to have been common amongst ancient american tribes (as in many other ancient cultures), and would clearly disappear in a generation if children were not tattooed.
    It has generally been subdued in judeo-christian religions because of Leviticus 19:28.
    It was often used as a mark of tribal/family affiliation. The mark the Amlicites placed upon themselves could be seen as a temporary tattoo, perhaps imitating the Lamanite markings.

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