Cain, Ham, and the Priesthood

Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., The Way to Perfection, p.104-111


              We see that the wife of Ham was named Egyptus, which name signifies "that which is forbidden." We know it was the custom in those early times to give to children names conveying a definite meaning based upon some striking event connected with birth or early life, or to point out and fix attention on some peculiarity of character or habit which they may have formed. Frequently, in later life, names were changed because some outstanding event in or characteristic of the life of the individual was discovered. In this manner the name of Esau was changed. At his birth he was called Esau because he was covered with "an hairy garment," but later in life when he sold his birthright his name was changed to Edom because of that event, and his descendants were known as Edomites. So it appears very probable that Egyptus was so named because she partook of the curse of her fathers. Moreover, this thought is strengthened in the statement that from Ham sprang the race which preserved the curse in the land. The implication seems to be very strong that this curse preserved through the seed of Ham was a curse which came from the other side of the flood. Elder B. H. Roberts several years ago discussed this question as follows:

              Now, why is it that the seed of Him was cursed as pertaining to the Priesthood? Why is it that his seed "could not have right to the Priesthood?" Ham's wife was named "Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden * * * and thus from Ham sprang the race which preserved the curse in the land." Was the wife of Ham, as her name signifies, of a race with which those who held the Priesthood were forbidden to intermarry? Was she a descendant of Cain, who was cursed for murdering his brother? And was it by Ham marrying her, and she being saved from the flood in the ark, that "the race which preserved the curse in the land" was perpetuated? If so, then I believe that race is the one through which it is ordained those spirits that were not valiant in the great rebellion in heaven should come; who, through their indifference or lack of integrity to righteousness, rendered themselves unworthy of the Priesthood and its powers, and hence it is withheld from them to this day. “Contributor” 6:297.

No Neutrals in Heaven

              President Brigham Young, answering a question put to him by Elder Lorenzo D. Young in a meeting held December 25, 1869, in Salt Lake City, said that Joseph Smith had declared that the Negroes were not neutral in heaven, for all the spirits took sides, but "the posterity of Cain are black because he (Cain) committed murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure (i.e., innocent. See D.C. 93:38.) that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam, except the sons of perdition."J.H., Dec. 25, 1869.

When the Curse Will Be Removed

              On another occasion in a discourse President Brigham Young said:

              Cain conversed with his God every day, and knew all about the plan of creating this earth, for his father told him. But, for the want of humility, and through jealousy, and an anxiety to possess the kingdom, and to have the whole of it under his own control, and not allow any body else the right to say one word, what did he do? He killed his brother. The Lord put a mark on him * * * When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity. He deprived his brother of the privilege of pursuing his journey through life, and of extending his kingdom by multiplying upon the earth; and because he did this, he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God. J.D. 2:142-143.

              President Woodruff, in his journal, records the words of President Young as follows:

              The Lord said, I will not kill Cain, but I will put a mark upon him, and that mark will be seen upon the face of every Negro upon the face of the earth; and it is the decree of God that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cain until the seed of Abel shall be redeemed, and Cain shall not receive the Priesthood, until the time of that redemption. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the Priesthood; but the day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have. History of Wilford Woodruff, p. 351.

              These remarks indicate the enormity of the offense of Cain. He sinned against the light, having been taught by the Almighty, and knowing perfectly the plan of salvation. Moreover, he was cursed and his posterity after him because he cut off Abel in his youth without posterity.

A Skin of Blackness

              President Young also gave this explanation:

              Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy Priesthood, and the laws of God. They will go down to their death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood. J.D. 11:272.

              It was well understood by the early elders of the Church that the mark which was placed on Cain and which his posterity inherited was the black skin. The Book of Moses informs us that Cain and his descendants were black. Enoch taught the Gospel among all the people everywhere, except the people of Canaan. The people of Canaan lived before the flood, and were descendants of Cain. Is it not probable that Ham named his son Canaan after Cain or one of the descendants of Cain, who gave his name to the land in which the posterity of Cain lived before the flood?

The Peoples of Cainan and Canaan

              The Cainanites, who lived in the land of Cainan, from whence Enoch came, were a righteous people and evidently were descendants of Seth. Then there must have been another people called Canaanites who were a black race and the descendants of Cain. Speaking of these peoples, Enoch said:

A Servant of Servants

              President Brigham Young, at another time said: "The seed of Ham, which is the seed of Cain descending through Ham, will, according to the curse put upon him, serve his brethren, and be a "servant of servants, to his fellow creatures, until God removes the curse; and no power can hinder it."J.D., 2:184.

              The name of Ham is also rather significant, for it means "swarthy" or "black." It is possible that this is an appellation given to the third son of Noah because of the part he played in preserving through his lineage “and that most likely, as we have tried to show, through his wife Egyptus the race of blacks upon whom the curse was placed. Piecing together the evidence as we discover it in holy writ and in tradition, we are brought to the conclusion that Ham, through Egyptus, continued the curse which was placed upon the seed of Cain. Because of that curse this dark race was separated and isolated from all the rest of Adam's posterity before the flood, and since that time the same condition has continued, and they have been "despised among all people."

              This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. At a meeting of the general authorities of the Church, held August 22, 1895, the question of the status of the Negro in relation to the Priesthood was asked and the minutes of that meeting say:

              "President George Q. Cannon remarked that the Prophet taught this doctrine: That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood nor act in any of the offices of the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain's offspring."

              Joseph Smith has left very little on record in his own words outside of the Pearl of Great Price. During the course of a discussion in Nauvoo in 1842, on the question as to whether the Negroes or the Indians have received the greater ill-treatment from the whites, the Prophet Joseph said: "The Indians have greater cause to complain of the treatment of the whites, than the Negroes, or sons of Cain." (D.H.C., 4:501.) But we all know it is due to his teachings that the Negro today is barred from the Priesthood. The Negro may be baptized and enter the Church; and some of these unfortunate people have been baptized and have proved their faithfulness and worthiness before the Lord, in this their second estate, setting examples in righteousness which many of the sons of Shem and Japheth could emulate with everlasting profit. Surely the Lord will remember their faithfulness and reward them accordingly.