Tuesday, 21 December 2010

If I Were a Lamanite: More Book of Mormon Changes

If I were a Lamanite I wouldn’t know right now whether to laugh or cry, whether to have a party or have a quiet little identity crisis. Are my ancestors the primary ancestors of Native Americans or just among the ancestors of Native Americans? Once the Mormon Church taught the former, now it teaches the latter; very confusing.

Now the Mormon Church is expunging from Book of Mormon chapter headings clear allusions to key aspects of Lamanite history – and racial content. The heading for 2 Nephi 5 previously read:

The Nephites separate themselves from the Lamanites, keep the law of Moses, and build a temple -- Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.

The same chapter heading after 17 December 2010 reads:

The Nephites separate themselves from the Lamanites, keep the law of Moses, and build a temple—Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed, and become a scourge unto the Nephites.

Another significant change has been made in the heading of Mormon 5. The original read:

Mormon again leads the Nephite armies in battles of blood and carnage--The Book of Mormon shall come forth to convince all Israel that Jesus is the Christ--The Lamanites shall be a dark, filthy, and loathsome people--They shall receive the gospel from the Gentiles in latter days.

After 17 December 2010 it reads:

Mormon again leads the Nephite armies in battles of blood and carnage—The Book of Mormon will come forth to convince all Israel that Jesus is the Christ—Because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them—They will receive the gospel from the Gentiles in the latter days.

White and delightsome

This is not the first time changes were made to disguise the racist foundation of the Book of Mormon. Until 1981 the “dark-skinned, filthy, and loathsome” Lamanites had held out to them the promise that their repentance would make them “white and delightsome”:

And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers.

And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people. (2 Nephi 30:5-6)

This was then changed to “pure and delightsome” and I wonder if a Lamanite should be delighted to be promised “pure and delightsome” or disappointed to be left with the “curse” of a “skin of blackness.”

Of course, this “skin of blackness” thing never really had any legs. Native Americans have skin better described as olive coloured. Just as there is no evidence of Hebrew forbears for native Americans, so there is no evidence of them having or ever having had black skin.

Uninspired headings

A Mormon might typically object that the changes have been made in chapter headings that first appeared in the Book of Mormon in 1920 and not the “sacred” text of the book. This I have always found puzzling and, to be frank, rather childish. Mormons are adamant in their claim to being led by prophets and, as a consequence, are better enlightened. At the same time they feel no compunction in dismissing vast tracts of their prophets’ teachings when it suits them.

But the chapter headings faithfully reflected the “sacred” text until these changes were made. Now an essential element of the story is absent from the heading; why? It can hardly be a stab at clarification, as claimed, since it removes information that is true to the text.

The following is reported in the Salt Lake Tribune:

The original headings remained in most English editions until 2004, when Doubleday published the first trade version of the LDS scripture and implemented the editing.

Until this month, the 1981 headings remained in the church’s online version at lds.org. When the church upgraded its website, the Doubleday changes were included online. The former version will continue — for now — in the printed English versions.

“Doubleday changes”? Is Mormon doctrine now subject to the dictate of secular publishers? The Doubleday Book of Mormon is, of course, the trade edition intended for sale in retail book outlets.

Ah, I get it.

I guess the Lamanite will have to keep his swarthy looks and work harder on his character.

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