© 2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.

Dispelling the Myth of the “Curse of Cain”
“One clear-cut position is that the folklore
[about the priesthood ban] must never be
perpetuated…. My earlier colleagues…were
doing the best they knew to give shape to
[the policy], to give context for it, to give
even history to it. All I can say is however
well-intended the explanations were, I think
almost all of them were inadequate and/or
“It probably would have been
advantageous to say nothing, to say we just
don’t know…but some explanations were
given and had been given for a lot of years….
At the very least, there should be no effort to
perpetuate those efforts to explain why that
doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I
know anything about it, as one of the newer
and younger [apostles] to come along,…we
simply do not know why that practice, that
policy, that doctrine was in place.”

Despite this statement by Elder Jeffrey R.
Holland in 2006, and other statements by general
authorities before and since then, the doctrinal
folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and
Ham continues to be taught by well-meaning
members of the Church. Ironically, the dubious
―folk doctrine‖ in question is no longer even
relevant, since it was created to explain a Church
policy that was reversed over thirty-five years ago.
This theory was adopted by early Latter-day
Saints from similar beliefs in early American
Protestantism that were used to justify slavery. The
Saints used it to explain the policy of denying
priesthood ordination to those of African descent, a
policy for which no revelation or prophetic
explanation was ever given.

This paper is a condensed and adapted version of Armand L.
Mauss, ―The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in
Misplaced Apologetics,‖ paper given at the 2003 FAIR
Conference in Provo, Utah (http://bit.ly/fair2003mauss).
Jeffrey R. Holland, interview with PBS, 4 March 2006
The idea went something like this: In the
premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to
come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and
marked, first by Cain’s murder of Abel and covenant
with Satan, and then again later by Ham’s offense
against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage
was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they
were somehow less valiant than their premortal
brethren during the war in heaven. Because of this,
then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from
everyone in this life who had had any trace of Cain’s
As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem,
the scriptures typically cited to support it cannot
logically be interpreted this way unless one starts
with the priesthood ban itself and then works
backward, looking for scriptures to support a
predetermined belief.
This paper will set forth the problems with the
―curse of Cain‖ theory.
Cain (Genesis 4:11–15; Moses 5:23–25, 36–40).
Following Cain’s covenant with Satan and murder of
Abel, the Lord cursed him that the earth would not
yield its strength for him, and that he would be a
fugitive and a vagabond. Nothing in the scriptures
indicates anything about a priesthood restriction on
him or his descendants.
The Lord placed a mark upon Cain, not as part of
the curse, but to protect him from others who would
kill him. The mark itself was not described: There is
no indication that it involved a change in skin color,
or that it would be passed to Cain’s descendants.

Six generations after Cain, Enoch saw a vision of
an unspecified future time (Moses 7:4) in which ―the
seed of Cain were black‖ (7:22). There is no
explanation of this blackness or where it came from; it
is not even clear if we are to understand it as
something physical or spiritual.

See Alma 3:18, where the Amlicites ―began to mark themselves
in their foreheads, [for] they had come out in open rebellion
against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall
upon them.‖
In the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith
changed the phrase ―white and delightsome‖ in 2 Nephi 30:6 to
read ―pure and delightsome,‖ indicating that ―white,‖ in at least
this context, did not refer to literal skin color, but to
© 2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
Canaanites (Moses 7:7–8). Before the flood,
there was a race of people called the Canaanites
upon whom ―a blackness came.‖ The text does not
indicate if this ―blackness‖ was physical or spiritual.
The Canaanites who were neighbors of the
Israelites (first mentioned by Abraham in Abraham
2:15) lived in modern Palestine, after the flood. For
reasons given below, it’s doubtful there is any
connection between the pre-flood and post-flood
Canaan (Genesis 9:20–27). Ham’s son
Canaan, for reasons that are unclear,
was cursed
for his father Ham’s offense against Noah. The text
doesn’t mention a change in skin color, nor does it
include any statement about priesthood.
According to the Bible, Canaan was the founder
of the Canaanite nation (Genesis 10:15–19). The
Canaanites were Caucasian, not black, and had no
connection with sub-Saharan (black) Africans.

The Hebrew words ―Cain‖ (qayin) and
―Canaan‖ (kěna’an) are not related; it is a
coincidence that they sound alike in English.
Egyptus (Abraham 1:21–27). The Book of
Abraham speaks of the priesthood being withheld
based on lineage, but it is only the specific lineage
of the Pharaohs of Egypt. There is no explanation
why that lineage could not hold the priesthood,
whether the restriction was temporary or
permanent, or if any other lineages—especially in
the modern world—would be covered by that

The Genesis text seems to suggest that the story of Noah,
Ham, and Canaan was meant to explain to later Israelites why
the Canaanites were a fallen and wicked people, and why it was
forbidden to intermarry with them.
If anyone is a candidate for the ancestor of black Africans,
it’s Cush, Canaan’s brother, whose people founded what is now
known as Ethiopia (Genesis 10:6; see the reference to skin
color in Jeremiah 13:23).
Hugh Nibley offered the explanation that the denial of the
priesthood to the Pharaonic line had to do with the claim of the
priesthood through the matriarchal line (through Egyptus)
rather than the patriarchal. See Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book, 2000 [2nd ed.]), 360–61
The Hebrew name for Egypt was Mizraim, which
was the name of a son of Ham who was Canaan’s
brother (Genesis 10:6, 13; this may explain why
Abraham 1:21 connects Egypt with the Canaanites).
Joseph, son of Jacob and great-grandson of
Abraham, married an Egyptian (Asenath, daughter of
Potipherah, an Egyptian priest) who became the
mother of his sons Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis
41:45, 50–52). There is no mention in the Bible of any
concern about race or priesthood in this marriage.
Lehi, the first Book of Mormon prophet, was a
descendant of Manasseh (Alma 10:3), and our modern
understanding of patriarchal lineage is connected to
the tribe of Ephraim, so the priesthood restriction
mentioned in the Book of Abraham seems to be have
limited or temporary, and not based on race.
Egyptians, both ancient and modern, were not
black Africans, but Northern Africans, culturally
related to peoples of the Middle East.
Conclusion. The speculation that modern blacks
are the descendants of Cain and Ham is unsupported
from the scriptures. In reality we do not know why
God allowed the denial of the priesthood to blacks for
a time in this dispensation. All we do know is that
policy has been reversed by a living prophet.
The ―curse of Cain‖ folk doctrine may have been
understandable for our LDS ancestors, but it is
neither understandable nor necessary today. The
Church is for all God’s children, for ―he denieth none
that come unto him, black and white, bond and free,
male and female…and all are alike unto God‖ (2 Nephi

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