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Demythicizing the Lamanites’ “Skin of Blackness”

TitleDemythicizing the Lamanites’ “Skin of Blackness”
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsSteenblik, Gerrit M.
JournalInterpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship
KeywordsAncient America – Mesoamerica; Lamanite; Lamanite Mark; Native Americans - Maya; Racism; Skin Color; Skin of Blackness

Racial bias is antithetical to the Book of Mormon’s cardinal purpose: to proclaim the infinite grandeur of the atonement of Jesus Christ. The book teaches that the Lord welcomes and redeems the entire human family, “black and white, bond and free” — people of all hues from ebony to ivory. Critical thinkers have struggled to reconcile this leitmotif with the book’s mention of a “skin of blackness” that was “set upon” some of Lehi’s descendants. Earlier apologetics for that “mark” have been rooted in Old World texts and traditions. However, within the last twenty years, Mesoamerican archaeologists, anthropologists, and ethnohistorians have curated and interpreted artifacts that reveal an ancient Maya body paint tradition, chiefly for warfare, hunting, and nocturnal raiding. This discovery shifts possible explanations from the Old World to the New and suggests that any “mark” upon Book of Mormon people may have been self-applied. It also challenges arguments that the book demonstrates racism in either 600 bce or the early nineteenth-century.