No More “Skin of Blackness”?: Race and Recent Changes in the Book of Mormon

By September 18, 2008

Last year, Peggy Fletcher Stack ran an article in the Salt Lake Tribune highlighting two important changes in the 2006 Doubleday Edition of The Book of Mormon. Those changes were discussed at length thoughout the bloggernacle. Well, it looks like there were even more changes made—over a hundred more, in fact. I have heard rumors that the latest printing of The Book of Mormon by the Church includes these changes as well, although no printings newer that those issued in 8/2007 were available in the BYU Bookstore when I checked today. While it doesn’t appear that the text of The Book of Mormon was altered, the wording of several chapter headings throughout the Doubleday edition (2006) has changed. Most of these changes are relatively insignificant (capitalizing the first letter in certain words, restructuring poorly written phrases and sentences to read more clearly, modernizing words (i.e. “bringeth” now reads “brings”), etc.).

However, there were a few changes made that strike me as much more profound. Most significantly, chapter headings that detailed Divine curses in the form of racializing the Lamanites have been changed to highlight the spiritual nature of the curse instead of the physical, racial component. Below are two such changes:

Chapter 1981 (Official LDS Church Edition) 2006 (Doubleday Edition)
2 Nephi 5 ? Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites. Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.
Mormon 5 ? The Lamanites shall be
a dark, filthy, and loathsome people ?
Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them

 To many (myself included), these are welcome changes that represent a more appropriate stance on the nature of Divine punishment and curses found throughout the Mormon canon of scripture. While they are clearly related to the change made in the introduction concerning the Lamanites being “among the ancestors of the American Indians” instead of “the principal ancestors of the American Indians,” these changes cannot be chalked up to shifting stances concerning the Limited Geography Theory of The Book of Mormon narrative. Rather, these changes appear to represent a proactive effort on the part of the Church, demonstrating an increased awareness of the sensitivity to racial issues among Latter-day Saints.

However, one related chapter heading has not been changed. It follows below:

Chapter 1981 (Official LDS Church Edition) 2006 (Doubleday Edition)
3 Nephi 2 Converted Lamanites become white and are called Nephites. Converted Lamanites become white and are called Nephites.

Thus, while the racial element of Divine punishment evident in The Book of Mormon‘s text is no longer emphasized in chapter headings, physical changes in the form of white skin tied to conversion are still highlighted. What do you think of these changes, and also of this related chapter heading that went unchanged?

While unrighteousness may no longer be tied to notions of dark or black skin in current LDS discourse, is righteousness still approached in terms of whiteness to some degree (as the unchanged chapter heading to 3 Nephi 2 suggests)? I’m not sure that many Mormons today hold to a belief that the skin color of converts of a different complexion will change depending on their faithfulness, but from time to time I still hear echoes and hints of this idea among Latter-day Saints expressing the expectation that in the hereafter, race won’t exist. Unfortunately, all too often this is imagined in terms of whiteness—the lack of race, in other words, is equated with a universal heavenly white race.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Great post, Chris. Like you, I welcome whole-heartedly these changes while sighing at the one heading that stayed the same. I agree in that while “dark” is hardly used anymore as describing a sinful state, “white” still represents purity and cleanliness. I could imagine hearing some people arguing that the chapter heading for 3 Nephi 2 is not speaking about skin color at all–rather, their becoming “white” was an inward change.

    Unfortunately, all too often this is imagined in terms of whiteness?the lack of race, in other words, is equated with a universal heavenly white race.

    Amen and amen.

    But hey, these few changes are at least a step in the right direction, no?

    Comment by Ben — September 18, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  2. Great post, Chris. You mention that the changes seem to be only in the headings. I know the terms “dark” and “filthy” and “loathsome” are in the text as well. Do those references not change?

    Love the graphics, too…flaaashyyyy.

    Comment by Jared T — September 18, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

  3. It isn’t just white folk who hold to the notion that a change in skin color is evidence of righteousness. I’ve had conversations with Hispanics who believe the same. Crazy.

    Comment by Jack — September 18, 2008 @ 11:01 pm

  4. You gotta be kidding me.

    These changes better not come to the new prints of the Book of Mormon.

    It was translated as it is for a reason. I would be very dissatisfied if they did that. They shouldn’t have even changed it for the DoubleDay version.

    Comment by se7en — September 19, 2008 @ 12:04 am

  5. Ummm, se7en, regardless of the many changes that have been made to the actual text over the last two centuries, the changes pointed out here are just in the chapter headings (which are not translations…).

    Comment by Ben — September 19, 2008 @ 12:28 am

  6. Se7en,

    You’re kidding, right? You forgot the smiley face.

    Besides, I don’t think the chapter headings were translated from the Gold Plates, so maybe you wanna rethink your dissatisfaction.

    [no smiley face]

    [D’oh, Ben beat me to it]

    Comment by Jared T — September 19, 2008 @ 12:41 am

  7. Yeah I can’t wait until I can get Black Garments because that will be so much cooler. How about some dark rye bread for sacrament and lets bring a little color to Baptism’s too; haven’t the white outfits worn out their welcome? Lets get with the times.

    Seriously though you guys make it that much easier to see how a people can cave for the sake of the world rather than what the scripture says. If people understood the context of what the scriptures say we wouldn’t have to change any of this. I for one would like to see a “Thus sayeth the Lord” on some of this. Sorry to break the news but the gospel is not a politically correct machine.
    As for the universal heavenly white race maybe somebody got that idea from the First Vision maybe? Backpedaling like this only strengthens our enemies not ourselves.

    And before anyone can call me a number one racist, my wife and hence my kids have Lamanite blood = Big deal they are able to get all the same blessings anyone else is. God cursed people for a reason, who are you to say that wasn’t fair? Besides it doesn’t mean they are damned for the eternities. What you do in this life is what matters.

    Comment by David — September 19, 2008 @ 1:17 am

  8. David, you’re a hoot.

    Good luck with that rye bread.

    Comment by Jared T — September 19, 2008 @ 1:37 am

  9. As for the universal heavenly white race maybe somebody got that idea from the First Vision maybe?

    Artistic depictions of the event certainly suggest God is a Caucasian man. But is art “true”? On Mormon artistic racism, see this old post.

    Comment by Ronan — September 19, 2008 @ 2:02 am

  10. If it ends up that there is skin (or whatever we have up there) color in heaven like there is here on earth, fantastic. If not, fantastic. Either way it won’t matter too much, I don’t think. Perhaps, also, in using the word “white”, those who have had contact with the divine are just doing the best they can to describe the indescribable.

    I’m not convinced that views of “whiteness” in this heavenly case are fundamentally “unfortunate”.

    Comment by Jared T — September 19, 2008 @ 2:10 am

  11. Although I “agree with” these changes, it isn’t & shouldn’t be up to me. I think it’s a little odd that someone, we don’t know exactly who, authorized changes to the wording of this English translation that significantly alters the meaning or even elides a very common widespread understanding of these words from past editions. I wonder if it’s whitewashing (pun unavoidable) to make that change without footnoting it or calling it out in some way (e.g. “in previous editions, this phrase read “a dark, filthy and loathsome people”). What happens when someone feels like changing some wording I personally like? I might not be so thrilled to see that. I guess we are entering the realm that most Christians have been in for at least a hundred years on the Bible, that is, straining at gnats in different human-authored translations of a sacred text and being more aware of the human footprint on the text. That in itself is not so bad, except that in this case, no one seems to claim “authorship” of the change, and the historian in me revolts at the thought.

    Comment by tona — September 19, 2008 @ 6:41 am

  12. Ok, I take the point that these changes were made to the headings and not the translation itself. But I think my point still stands. I’ll be curious to see if there are textual changes too that alter meaning.

    Comment by tona — September 19, 2008 @ 6:45 am

  13. Regarding the “?the Joseph Smith Translation items, the chapter headings, Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, footnotes, the Gazeteer, and the maps.
    None of these are perfect; they do not of themselves determine doctrine; there have been and undoubtedly now are mistakes in them. Cross-references, for instance, do not establish and never were intended to prove that parallel passages so much as pertain to the same subject. They are aids and helps only.? ? Elder McConkie, ?The Bible- A Sealed Book? in Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 290.

    As long as they’re limited to chapter headings…

    Comment by Nitsav — September 19, 2008 @ 7:09 am

  14. se7en, the chapter headings aren’t scripture.

    Comment by john f. — September 19, 2008 @ 7:22 am

  15. Let me reiterate for all that these changes have only been made in the chapter headings and not in the actual text of the Book of Mormon itself.

    se7en, I’m curious as to why this bothers you so much. Can you explain?

    David (#7), to which “enemies” do you refer, and how does being more racially sensitive help them in any sense? And your last paragraph seems to say that you believe your wife and children are the inheritors of the curse mentioned in the Book of Mormon? Do I understand you correctly?

    Ronan, thanks for the link to that post. No doubt that Mormon material culture contributes to perceptions concerning race within the Church.

    tona, for a good example of how not to act when someone changes some chapter headings that you like, see David’s #7.

    Nitsav, an interesting and very relevant quote. Thanks for posting it.

    Jared, the notions that heaven will be race-less and that everyone will be white in heaven are fundamentally imcompatible.

    To all, because these are sensitive issues, I’m okay with people posting their very personal reactions, beliefs, etc. here. I even include my own feelings on the matter in the post. However, I am more interested in how these changes represent changing approaches to the social and scriptural construction of race within the church, and how the lens of whiteness apparently continue to frame that discussion.

    Comment by Christopher — September 19, 2008 @ 8:27 am

  16. While the changes mentioned above only occured in the chapter headings, changes to the actual text, as is well known, have occured frequently in the past, perhaps the most well-known of which was the change of the phrase “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome”–a change that delighted very conservative Mormon folk such as my Grandma.

    A question Chris and I discussed the other day, which I now pose to the bloggerworld: If changes to the actual text, which surely related to issues of racial sensitivity, were made in the past, why are we only comfortable with changes to the non-canonical chapter headings now? So what if changes were made to the text proper? If it is guided and approved by those we sustain as prophets (continuing revelation?), what would be the problem?

    (hope this isn’t thread-jacking, Chris)

    Comment by stan — September 19, 2008 @ 8:57 am

  17. The Book of Mormon as we have it today has gone through a variety of changes. Chapters, verses, headings, and footnotes are all additions that were not original to the translation.

    It seems apparent that these changes in the chapter headings are giving a manner to interpret the verses theologically. The headings are not what we consider canonized, but definitely helpful.

    As for Chris’s comment about a popular conception of eventual whiteness…(eh.)…doesn’t anyone listen to the hymns? What about W.W. Phelps in If You Could Hie to Kolob? “There is no end to race”? I know Phelps conception of this would be very different than mine, but I don’t think he was really off.

    I personally vote for the version of the first vision which puts the father and the son in the pillar of fire….but then it’s difficult to imagine such a heaven without thinking about skin falling off a la Indiana Jones.

    Comment by jlj — September 19, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  18. With regards to the text, if it is what the Nephite prophets actually wrote, should we change that?
    The reality is, they may very well have been elitists and looked down upon others. They may have been racist, and by following tradition, blamed a skin change on a curse. What is more likely? Lamanites encountered others with dark skin, and joined with them. No curse, really, attached to the skin, except the old Israelite curse from marrying outside one’s faith/tribe.

    Comment by Gerald Smith — September 19, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  19. I do not think God sees color. When we were created in his image I do not think that skin tone/color was part of it. I think in heaven people of all races will be there and they will be as they are now, created in God’s image.

    However, I do feel that on occasion the lord has made it appear to us mortals with limited vision that people were being cursed with a dark skin. ie if you have children of mixed race parents (a White father and a black wife) they will have darker skinned children than the father, genetics. If everyone in the community is white, then they would assume the children are being cursed and if the reverse was true ie a light chocolate child in a mostly black community he would be the cursed child.

    Does this make us all racist? I think if we think or act this way it would so us to be racist, since we understand more about what is really happening with genetics, neither child is being cursed by God. But 1500 years ago people’s understanding of what “God” was doing was somewhat less than perfect.

    Does this mean the BOM is flawed, of course not it just means men’s biases made it into the text. (Even prophets are men)

    All is my opinion of course.

    Comment by Donnie Morris — September 19, 2008 @ 9:18 am

  20. As far as what Moroni actually wrote. He is not more or less of a Prophet than Thomas S Monson is. If the Lord told President Monson to change it, then let it be done!

    Comment by Donnie Morris — September 19, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  21. #19 – Those were always my views. Moreover, “de-racing” some of the racist passages in the Book of Mormon undercuts Jesus’ implications in 3 Nephi when he calls out the Nephites for failing to maintain the record of Samuel the Lamanite’s sermons. I always read that particular passage as not just indicating the Nephite’s reluctance to remind themselves of their sinfulness, but of God’s direct discussion relating to race relations being much different than the prophets (e.g. Nephi) phrased things.

    Not that I’m a champion of racism or segregation, but I think the Book of Mormon is supposed to function as a race narrative in several ways, and learning to see past our own self-imposed segregation and xenophobia is one of its intended messages. I’m not convinced that the new changes to the text reinforce those messages–maybe they do OUTSIDE the text (e.g. in our dicussion), but not within the text itself.

    Comment by Bro. Jones — September 19, 2008 @ 9:21 am

  22. Along the lines of the discussion from last year, it is unclear to me when these changes were first introduced. The 2004 Doubleday edition, for instance, features the changed chapter headings for 2 Nephi 5 and Mormon 5. I checked the Spanish and French online editions ( and they too have the revised chapter headings.

    I wonder if the church will release a statement on these matters in the near future.

    Comment by Justin — September 19, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  23. Great post Chris. I’m in favor of these changes, and am slightly baffled by the fact that the chapter heading was not changed. This was always how I had personally understood the curse anyways. I’ll be interested to see if these changes are made in the next canonical version of the Book of Mormon.

    Comment by Brett D. — September 19, 2008 @ 10:36 am

  24. I mean the chapter heading in 3 Nephi.

    Comment by Brett D. — September 19, 2008 @ 10:37 am

  25. Thanks everyone for your continued comments. I think Stan brings up important points in his #17. Others echoed with similar comments. Any changes to the Book of Mormon’s text get at not only the significance of the words changed, but also how Latter-day Saints view scriptures and continuing revelation.

    Justin, thanks for the info on the 2004 edition. I only have in my possession a 2006 edition, so I didn’t check to see if the changes were made in the 2004 version. I appreciate the correction.

    Regarding an announcement …. I doubt we’ll hear anything from the church in an official press-release sort of way concerning this.

    Comment by Christopher — September 19, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  26. Interestingly, “white” as righteous is a pretty westernized approach to color. For example, in China, white is the symbolic color for mourning.

    If God created the earth with variety and beauty, I could see the same for heaven.

    In regards to the chapter heading that stayed the same, Chris, how would you change it and still reflect what we find in the BoM text itself?

    Comment by BHodges — September 19, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  27. perhaps the most well-known of which was the change of the phrase ?white and delightsome? to ?pure and delightsome?

    This change wasn’t motivated by racial accommodation or anything but text-critical considerations. JS flip-flopped between “white” and “pure” (both valid translations of Heb. lavan), and it was an historical accident that “white” remained in the BoM until 1981.

    See, among others, Douglas Campbell. “‘White’ or ‘Pure’: Five Vignettes.” Dialogue, vol. 29, Num. 4 (Winter 1996), p.119-135. Robert J. Matthews. “The New Publications of the Standard Works–1979, 1981.” BYUS 22:4, p. 398.

    Comment by Nitsav — September 19, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  28. BHodges,

    In regards to the chapter heading that stayed the same, Chris, how would you change it and still reflect what we find in the BoM text itself?

    How about, “Many Lamanites repent and are numbered among the people of Nephi”? That reflects the actual text as much as the new chapter headings for 2 Nephi 5 and Mormon 5 do.

    And thank you for pointing out that white symbolizing heaven, purity, etc. is a very Western approach.

    Comment by Christopher — September 19, 2008 @ 11:39 am

  29. Everyone can calm down these are changes to the chapter headings only. The chapter heading were written by Bruce R. McConkie some years back. They are not part of the source text of the Book of Mormon they arer not part of the canon.

    This is more like they decided to update the maps, or re do those pictures or something.

    Comment by Greg Kearney — September 19, 2008 @ 11:43 am

  30. However, I am more interested in how these changes represent changing approaches to the social and scriptural construction of race within the church, and how the lens of whiteness apparently continue to frame that discussion.

    Here’s to hoping more “scales of whiteness” will fall from more eyes. White can obstruct as much as black.

    Comment by BHodges — September 19, 2008 @ 11:44 am

  31. The reality is, they may very well have been elitists and looked down upon others. They may have been racist, and by following tradition, blamed a skin change on a curse. What is more likely? Lamanites encountered others with dark skin, and joined with them.

    Indeed, I tie some of the Book of Mormon “racism” to this verse:

    Morm. 9: 31
    Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.

    Comment by BHodges — September 19, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  32. This is more like they decided to update the maps, or re do those pictures or something.

    If only!

    Comment by BHodges — September 19, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  33. Robert J. Matthews. ?The New Publications of the Standard Works?1979, 1981.? BYUS 22:4, p. 398.

    Matthews’ comment on the change:

    “This correction does not negate the concept that future generations of Lamanites will become white, but it removes the concept that one has to be white to be delightsome to the Lord” (p. 399).

    Comment by Justin — September 19, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  34. Yeah, I think Matthews is out to lunch on that one. The whole idea of Pres. Kimball, of people turning white, was based on that verse…

    Comment by Nitsav — September 19, 2008 @ 11:53 am

  35. I think that there are several issues at play in this discussion. First, it seems that the old chapter headings were pretty obviously applying a very modern, essentialized understanding of race in the United States to what Mormons believe is a very ancient, Old World-influenced text. It seems like the changes to the headings in general are trying to change this presentist reading of race. Such a move also manifests the current Church’s understanding of the implications of racism in our present historical moment, but probably does not include an understanding of “whiteness”–which as a conceptual category really hasn’t gone mainstream. I do not really think this change is particularly radical, but instead represents a much-needed correction to past perceptions manifestations of racism.

    Second, to change the actual text itself would require an examination of whether Joseph Smith included his own ideas about how race works in the translations process. I think this could be possible, but we have no way of knowing–so the argument will be purely scholastic and mostly based on individual perceptions of how God views race.

    Third, there is the question about how the Nephites and Lamanites and well as Mormon viewed race. I think that it would be logical to assume that their conceptions of race were probably significantly different then our own, and are very hard to tease out because of our presentist conceptions of racial understanding

    Fourth, what is the role of whiteness in the Church today? How do Caucasian church leaders’ conscious or unconscious ideas about the chosen status of the white race govern their interpretation of the scriptures and their actions as church leaders.

    I personally think that the evidence in the Book of Mormon could be read either way in regards to the Lord’s involvement with skin color. What I have to reiterate is that even if skin color was involved, it does not substantiate any ideology that people of color are inferior to those that are white. God might have created us with different skin colors, but he did not create “race”–it took the pride of men to create and re-create such social constructions.

    Comment by Joel — September 19, 2008 @ 1:08 pm

  36. Another heading change is in Alma 11, where ?Nephite coinage set forth? was changed to ?Nephite monetary system set forth? which is a clarification that was needed, since coins were not mentioned in the text.

    I think the business of white being a sign of righteousness is not necessarily racist, but has more to do with the fact that when one is filled with the Holy Ghost one becomes full of light and radiates brightness, even above the brightness of the noonday sun. There are accounts describing the clothing of such people also becoming brilliant and the best word they could use to describe it was white–like the driven snow, etc. This doesn?t pretend to thoroughly cover the issue, but is suggested as an additional thought on the subject.

    Comment by Dan Knudsen — September 19, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

  37. The whole idea of Pres. Kimball, of people turning white, was based on that verse.

    That seems like a bit of an over-simplification. Doesn’t the earliest reference to polygamy arise out of someone asking Joseph Smith how the Indians would turn white, and he said it would be by the Elders taking Lamanite wives and producing lighter offspring?

    Comment by JimD — September 19, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

  38. Joel, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think you’ve summed up the issue nicely.

    Dan Knudsen, thanks for your thoughts. Unfortunately, the text doesn’t back up your assertions. Lamanites skin becomes permanently white because of their repentance. Equating white skin with righteousness is indeed racist.

    Comment by Christopher — September 19, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

  39. I guess the really tough question becomes, what makes us think that God isn’t racist (or sexist or homophobic, or whatever)? In other words, what if the text means what it says about this and it isn’t the fault of racist prophets who wrote it down wrong? The scriptures themselves aren’t really much help here because they are contradictory (just as we would expect of documents written down as discrete texts and later cobbled together in such a way to suggest, incorrectly–that they are all of a piece)–people tend to cherry pick the sections that fit best with whatever mode of morality is most prevalent at the time of interpretation and downplay the conflicting sections as somehow less inspired or the work of human hands, etc. I really have no agenda in asking the question, it just occured to me as I was reading through the post and the comments.

    Comment by SC Taysom — September 19, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  40. I don’t think it was ever meant to refer to the color of skin, anyway. I think it meant to refer to the repelling thing that happens in the countenance of the wicked. Dark, filthy, loathsome. The “skin” here is not literal, just like “heart” is figurative throughout scripture.

    For illustration of my point, I present two exhibits.

    Exhibit One: James E Faust, especially in his last years.
    Exhibit Two: Ron Jeremy, also Caucasian (careful with image searches)

    The extreme example is to make the point. To be even more effective I should have included two contrasting people from other ethnicities. We do receive in our visible countenances the image of Christ. Or lose it, depending.

    Also, not that the Amlicites received a mark, too. But in there case it was centered around the fact that they painted themselves with a red dot. The curse has nothing to do with race, though it does have to do with appearance.

    As to whether God is white: we have this in D&C 110: “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun …” White doesn’t really say it.


    Comment by Thomas Parkin — September 19, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  41. Count me among those skeptics who question whether this refers to skin color. There are several episodes in the BoM which suggest the opposite, though as S. Taysom points out, the data are mixed.

    The ANE societies I’m familiar with were certainly *colorist* but they didn’t apply that racially, though moderns tend to read it that way. In other words, light is good, dark is bad, white is good, black is bad.

    For example, Surah [3.106-7 in the Koran.

    On the day when (some) faces shall turn white and (some) faces shall turn black; then as to those whose faces turn black: Did you disbelieve after your believing? Taste therefore the chastisement because you disbelieved.
    And as to those whose faces turn white, they shall be in Allah’s mercy; in it they shall-abide.

    Comment by Nitsav — September 19, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

  42. Huh. I always just assumed the indigenous Americans tended to have darker complexions than the Hebrew Lehites, and that the Lamanites’ willingness to marry non-Israelites led to a change of their racial makeup over time.

    Comment by JimD — September 19, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

  43. 30. “This change wasn?t motivated by racial accommodation or anything but text-critical considerations.”

    Nitsav, I read Campbell’s article. I wasn’t aware of the 1840 change–thanks for pointing that out. But I’m not sure I’m interpreting him the same way you do. Campbell seems to imply that there probably were racial sensitivities involved in the committees decision to go with the 1840 wording rather than the 1830 or 37. He emphasizes that the decision came only 3 years after the priesthood ban was lifted, and he mentions several other items to buttress that point, despite the fact the he feels the whiteness discussed in the text is purely symbolic.

    So why did they go with the 1840 ed? Perhaps because it was the text with JS’s final revisions–the last one he had control of personally? (that is apparently why Laurie Maffly-Kipp chose that edition for the recently released Penguin Classics ed., which has “pure” instead of “white”)

    And another thing Campbell does not answer: Why was the wording changed in 1840? Mistake? That’s likely, but how do we know? (I don’t have my Skousen Crit Text, handy–anyone know?

    Comment by stan — September 19, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  44. I think the Nephites were just so racist, they saw outsiders as dark, and insiders as white. Particularly, as they wrote in retrospective and had Lamanite grandparents, they decided their converted Lamanite grandparents couldn’t really have been dark after all.

    It’s a lot easier to understand the Book of Mormon if you keep in mind that the Nephites are not good guys.

    Comment by Johnna — September 19, 2008 @ 8:45 pm

  45. Stan, in my experience, it’s often stated that the Church simply modified the text to avoid racism. My point is that there were text-critical reasons for the change, as well as the other changes made in the 1981 edition to conform to what were perceived as Joseph Smith’s latest intentions for the translation. Any other motives or results, however fortunate from a racial perspective, were secondary.

    Comment by Nitsav — September 19, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  46. Of course, what does it say about us, that this line about “their skin became white” is so important to us that it belongs in the chapter summary.

    I would have picked that they started reckoning time off the sign. Or that they drove the Gadiantons out of the land, but because of wickedness the Gadiantons made it back.

    Comment by Johnna — September 19, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  47. The Doubleday chapter heading revisions were made at the request of the Church. These same revisions will appear in the official Church editions whenever they do a new edition. Since the Doubleday version was a new edition, it was easier to roll these changes out in that version.

    At some point there will also be changes to the text as part of a new edition. My working assumption is that they (wisely) are waiting for Skousen to finish his work before jumping into a new edition.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — September 19, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

  48. Kevin, as I mention in the post, I’ve heard that new editions have now been printed with the changes silently implemented, though I have been unable to confirm this. Anyone have any information confirming or denying this?

    Comment by Christopher — September 20, 2008 @ 1:10 am

  49. Beating a dead horse here, but if “pure” might be a better word in one verse, wouldn’t it be better in another: “Lamanites will become pure“.

    I have looked into this issue from translation point of view, and found that our concepts of what certain words mean change with time. There are several examples in the last 200 years in five languages that I have looked at.

    Anyhow, one could wish that they had changed the chapter heading in Alma where the heading introduces Nephite “coinage”, when the text itself clearly deals with weights. I haven’t met many people who still think that “shekel” in the Exodus time frame meant a minted coin – although at some point it did become that.

    Textual change is only an issue if you believe that the Lord did really give particular words instead of understanding. In D&C section 1 the revelation explicitly denies this: “after the manner of their language” is what the Lord says.

    Comment by Velska — September 20, 2008 @ 6:43 am

  50. Thanks, Chris. This really is an intriguing issue. I’m glad that these changes were made; I really disagree that these should be interpreted in the same light as changes to maps or the TG. Chapter headings, in my view, serve as interpretive guides that readers use everytime they read the scriptures, and from my experience Mormons do assign almost equal weight to the chapter headings as to the text itself in terms of inspiration. I’ve even heard an FHE lesson in a singles ward explicitly teaching that since BRM wrote them, we should see chapter headings as scripture. I doubt the teacher is alone in that view.

    BTW, I’m sure glad we have Joel around. I want to be as theory-informed and articulate as him when I grow up.

    Comment by David G. — September 20, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  51. since BRM wrote them, we should see chapter headings as scripture

    An astonishingly broad standard for canonization, I must say. I won’t even begin to discuss what else would have to be admitted to the canon under that standard. We’d just as well not bother with a canon.

    Perhaps the introduction, chapter headings, and other such materials seem to carry more weight for some of those younger than me or who were not in the church 20-30 years ago. To me, those materials are expressly not canon in any way. They have already changed several times during my lifetime, and not once have they been presented in conference for approval, By contrast, I personally raised my hand to sustain the canonization of sections 137-138 and OD-2. To me, the difference is stark.

    Comment by Left Field — September 20, 2008 @ 1:51 pm

  52. LF: Agreed that it’s a broad standard, and not one that I personally hold. But, I’ve seen even broader standards out there, such as the idea that anything said by the brethren is scripture. And beyond that, some Mormons that I’ve interacted with argue that anything said by anybody “under the direction of the spirit” is scripture. But let’s not detract from Chris’ great post by getting sidetracked too much with the definitions of scripture.

    Comment by David G. — September 20, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  53. The idea that Heaven will be “Race-less” is absurd. Race and variety is a good thing and something I believe our Father in Heaven delights in and is sacred to him. The scriptures teach that when we are resurrected not a hair of the head shall be lost, and we will be “ourselves”. Other statements in the scriptures say that the Lord will grant us “all that we desire” if we are faithful. I for one (and many African-Americans that I know) want their color and ethnicity to continue for eternity. The Lord is not just going to make everyone the same. My wife is African-American and I would not want her to be White or “clear” or anything else other than who she is. It does not matter to me if we lived a trillion years in Heaven before we came to Earth and were “colorless” (which I don’t believe we were) our earthly color and etc is very sacred to me. Thank goodness the church is changing these ideas!!

    Comment by j walker — September 21, 2008 @ 6:29 am

  54. To add to my comment, I simply wanted to add that the notion of a race-less or “all one color” Heaven makes me nauseated and certainly not a Heaven I would want to be in. It would be more akin to Hell if anything. God would not create something so beautiful on earth and then just take it away in Heaven. —

    (but enough of my rantings!)

    Have a good day


    Comment by j walker — September 21, 2008 @ 6:35 am

  55. Among Humans, there are tall and short persons, But there is no tall or short race. Likewise, there are old and young, but not an old race or young race. There are persons of light skin tone, and persons of dark skin tones. But there is no white race or black races.

    Comment by Bob — September 21, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

  56. And there are weird comments, and even weirder ones. And then there’s this weirdest of all comments.

    Comment by anon this time — September 21, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  57. #61: The nice thing is you don’t have to accept my word for it. Look it up. It’s on Wikipedia, or whatever source you want.

    Comment by Bob — September 21, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  58. #61: Weirdo

    Comment by David G. — September 21, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  59. “The American Anthropological Association, drawing on biological research, currently holds that “The concept of race is a social and cultural construction… . Race simply cannot be tested or proven scientifically,” and that, “It is clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. The concept of ‘race’ has no validity … in the human species” (Wikipedia: Race)

    Comment by Bob — September 21, 2008 @ 6:46 pm

  60. I suspect that Anon is aware of that (as are most of us), Bob. Anon was probably referring to the way that you phrased your comment. But thanks for providing the definition for us. Race certainly is a social construction.

    Comment by David G. — September 21, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  61. #63: I was supposed to be anonymous, David G., and there you go, giving out my real name! Thanks a bunch.

    Comment by anon this time too — September 21, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  62. If we’re gonna play the Anon game for snarky comments, I’m in.

    the notion of a race-less or ?all one color? Heaven makes me nauseated and certainly not a Heaven I would want to be in. It would be more akin to Hell if anything. God would not create something so beautiful on earth and then just take it away in Heaven.

    J. Walker,

    To say that heaven had better be what you envision it to be or else you won’t want to be there is nothing short of insanity. I suggest you reconsider your nausea, and take some Pepto.

    Comment by Anon Too — September 21, 2008 @ 11:05 pm

  63. I have only said we are already one color..Human, but of many tones.
    I don’t see why these couldn’t happen in Heaven also. (?)

    Comment by Bob — September 21, 2008 @ 11:22 pm

  64. The earthly Jesus, of course, was not caucasian (i.e. white). He was of middle-eastern Semitic ancestry and rose from a people who had spent more than 400 years in Africa. He would have had lovely, brownish-olive colored skin, a prominent nose, and very dark (probably curly and short) hair. This is, of course, not the image that has ever been presented in western or LDS art, including depictions of the First Vision.

    As far as skin color in Heaven, I vote for a pinkish, babies-bottom hue, but would have no problem with a smurfish blue.

    Comment by larryco_ — September 22, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  65. It’s also important to note that Nephites were never “white folk”, having descended from the same ancestry that Jesus would later be born to.

    Comment by larryco_ — September 22, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  66. larryco_
    Why? Why must you do it? Everyone loves their auburn headed, anglo-saxon Jesus. Please don’t confuse anybody by dragging facts into this.

    Comment by SC Taysom — September 22, 2008 @ 11:55 am

  67. #69:larryco, it takes a little doing, but you can find YOUR Jesus on

    Comment by Bob — September 22, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

  68. He was of middle-eastern Semitic ancestry and rose from a people who had spent more than 400 years in Africa

    Not to get too far afield, but . . .

    I wonder whether the Israelites’ time in Africa is really a “smoking gun”. They were in Egypt, yes, but are we certain as to the racial makeup of the ancient Egyptians? I thought I’d heard somewhere that one of the Rameses’ mummies has red hair.

    If anyone knows of any good websites I can visit to educate myself on the question, I’d appreciate the links.

    Comment by JimD — September 22, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  69. Thanks for this! I was unaware of these changes. I’d love to know who authorized them–or suggested them in the first place.

    Comment by Margaret Young — September 22, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

  70. #72

    Bob, why thank you! I like to think of Him as my Jesus…but ya’all are free to share.

    Comment by larryco_ — September 22, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

  71. I wonder whether the Israelites? time in Africa is really a ?smoking gun?. They were in Egypt, yes

    Depending upon who the “we” is and the “they” are, we may not even know that much.

    Comment by SC Taysom — September 22, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  72. #73:” The Rameses? mummies has red hair.” No..that’s Dennis RODMAN.

    Comment by Bob — September 22, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  73. #73: Ginger’ is believed to be the earliest known ancient Egyptian “mummified” body, being Late Predynastic and dating to approximately 3300 BC. The body, which lies in a fetal position and is nicknamed ‘Ginger’ because of its red hair.” (Wikipedia “Ginger”)

    Comment by Bob — September 22, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  74. Since we are going PC maybe we can have Nephi put Laban in a “sleeper hold” and knock him out rather than kill him.

    Comment by ThomasB — September 22, 2008 @ 10:11 pm

  75. Interesting insights Brett. The problem is that it doesn’t matter what the headings say, the text of the Book of Mormon still reflects 19th century concepts of blackness being some sort of curse. Alma 3:6 and Jacob 3:5 still make it clear that the dark skin of the Lamanites was a curse. 3 Nephi 2 says the Lamanites became white. The idea of black skin being a curse and turning white when righteous is part of the Book of Mormon. It does not matter how politically correct the headings are as long as the text itself still purports these racist ideas.

    Comment by Ryan — September 23, 2008 @ 2:44 am

  76. Well, a thought on the ‘no race in heaven’ argument. The hymn, If you could hie to Kolob has the line, “There is no end to race.” These lyrics are all approved by the first presidency before they are included in the hymn book. Is there any reason to suppose there aren’t different races in heaven? Mormons believe that polygamy is a celestial principle, thus it is logical to assume it would be practiced by a celestial God, thus multiple wives with possibly different races???

    Comment by Nigel — September 25, 2008 @ 11:14 am

  77. I wasn’t aware that the Church teaches that there will be polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom. A lot of us assume it will, but it isn’t taught that way.

    Also, to my knowledge, we don’t know why there are different races. I don’t think we should read a meaning into it that might not be valid. There is much that we just don’t know.

    Comment by Margaret D — September 29, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

  78. I didn’t say it was taught as a church principle, I said the plural marriage is taught to be a celestial principle. We are striving for a celestial life, to life with a celestial God….I don’t see a flaw in that logic.

    Comment by Nigel — September 30, 2008 @ 9:33 pm


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