Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Does the Bible say black skin is a curse?

The short answer is no.  What follows here is a very abbreviated version of the longer answer.

The book of Genesis tells of curses on Cain and Canaan.  In ancient Jewish folklore the curse on Cain was linked with slavery and the curse on Canaan, somehow transferred to his father Ham,  with a black skin.  Eventually this mythology was picked up by Islamic people and the two concepts merged to justify the enslavement of black people.  There is no evidence in Egyptian, Greek or Roman history of skin colour having any bearing on social status.

The development of sugar and cotton plantations in the New World in the seventeenth century created a need for a cheap labour force and this folklore was seized upon as providing some pretense of Biblical justification for the use of African slaves.

Both Catholic and Protestant colonies used African slaves.  However, in Catholic territories the slaves were regarded as people entitled to the ministrations of the Church and could be freed by their owners, or purchase their own freedom.  Protestants could not in good conscience own a fellow human being, so developed the curse mythology further to convince themselves that these black-skinned creatures were a sub-human species without a soul.  Thus, black slaves in Protestant countries were often treated as livestock, excluded from worship services and husband, wife and children often separated and sold to different owners.

Slave traders and plantation owners were among the more prominent church members in England and America.  Church leaders, preachers and Bible commentators were complicit in propagating this sub-human view of black people.

What does the Bible really say?  Cain and his descendants were enterprising people, building cities, owning flocks, forging things from brass and iron, musicians . . . no indication of them being slaves or a lower class of people.

In chapter nine of Genesis it is repeated three times that Canaan was cursed, not Ham.  Later passages speak of the immorality of the Canaanite cites of Sodom and Gommorha and their destruction.  Later yet, the Israelites were commanded to destroy the Canaanites because of their idolatry, which included child sacrifices.

Another son of Ham was named Cush, meaning “burned black by the sun.”  His descendants are referred to as Ethiopians, usually referring to their skin colour rather than their country of origin.  The Bible gives no hint of a curse on Cush, or on anyone because of the colour of his skin.

The Bible records one instance of prejudice based on skin colour.  In Numbers 12:1, Miriam and Aaron found fault with Moses because of his “Ethiopian” wife.  Moses’ wife was Zipporah, a Midianite, probably several shades darker in colour than the Hebrews.  God’s response was to punish Miriam with leprosy, causing the colour to drain from her skin, leaving her a very pale-faced woman.  She was banished from the camp until she repented and got a little colour back into her cheeks.  This is not a sign that a white skin is a curse from God, just dramatic evidence of God’s repudiation of prejudice based on skin colour.

In Acts 17:26, the Apostle Paul, speaking to the Athenians who believed themselves to be distinct and superior to all other peoples of the world, said: “(God) hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.”  There is only one human race.

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