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A New Perspective on Racial Questions about the Book of Abraham
The Book of Abraham has been viewed by some as preserving racist ideas that were common in Joseph Smith’s day. This is largely due to the fact that some people in Latter-day Saint history have erroneously interpreted several passages in the Book of Abraham in racist ways. Conversely, others, in strong reaction to any racist interpretations, appear to have made interpretive errors of their own by glossing or explaining away such things as lineal or generational curses that actually appear in scripture.
An article by John S. Thompson, a new full-time member of the Scripture Central team, appearing in the Interpreter Journal attempts to elucidate the meaning of lineal or generational curses within the Book of Abraham (and other scripture) by examining such within its claimed ancient origin. In antiquity, lineal or generational “curses” often reflected a legalistic concept, applicable to any person regardless of race, that simply meant one was currently in a state of disinheritance. An individual might be in a state of disinheritance if they violated any requirement necessary to receive their inheritance, and any descendant who remained an heir of a person who no longer had an inheritance to give was also considered disinherited or “cursed,” even though they may have personally done nothing wrong.
This ancient understanding of cursing as disinheritance provides better context and clarity to many of Joseph Smith’s revelations and translations, including the Book of Abraham. Arguably, the scriptures and revelations of the Latter-day Saint tradition, including the Bible, indicate that the eternal blessings of a kingdom (land) and priestly kingship/queenship (priesthood) originate from God but must be inherited through an unbroken ancestral chain forged via covenants. Indeed, an express purpose of sealing children to parents in modern Latter-day Saint temples is to make them “heirs.” Consequently, moving towards a better understanding of the roles inheritance and disinheritance play in receiving the divine blessings of the covenant might be beneficial generally and help readers avoid racist interpretations of or gloss legitimate concepts in the Book of Abraham and other scripture. This is especially the case when it is understood that being disinherited, in a gospel context, does not need to be a permanent status when one relies on the grace of the Holy Messiah and submits to those divine laws and covenant rites whereby one can literally inherit the promised blessings.
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