Adjusting the Narrative: Part 1b-The Blood of the Canaanites

While my next post (I promise!) will explore the story of Abraham, Pharaoh, and Egyptus in the Book of Abraham as it relates to perpetuation of Priesthood, I will first be exploring an intermediate group found narratively in between the time of Cain, and the family of Pharaoh as set out in the Book of Abraham. Please see the introduction to this series here, and the follow-up here: Part 1a – The Scriptural Curse and Seed of Cain.


A Tale of Two Canaans

In the book of Abraham, we find this note:

Now this king of Egypt [Pharoah] was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. (Abraham 1:21-22)

This reference to “Canaanites” can be confusing, given the context. In Genesis, and the rest of the Old Testament for that matter, there is one family group who can be referred to as Canaanites – the descendants of Canaan, the son of Ham, and grandson of Noah.

This Canaan is the eponymous ancestor of all Canaanites, the constant enemies of the tribes of Israel who inhabited their Promised Land of… Canaan. In other words, they were inhabiting the land where Jerusalem – Zion – would be built, and they were a nuisance that needed to be driven out.

In Genesis, Canaan’s siblings were also the eponymous ancestors of other national villains to the Israelites, such as his brother Mizraim – which is literally the name of the nation we known in English as “Egypt”. Roots relating to Mizraim are not only used in the scriptures, but used by modern-day Egyptians to name their nation in Arabic: Misr. (For an example of another modern linguistic disconnect, consider how Germans would say in their own language they live in Deutschland, and Japanese would say they are from Nihon).


However, the Book of Moses had added a distinct ante-diluvian (pre-flood, and pre-Noachide) group known as Canaanites, who preceded the birth of Noah’s son Canaan. For clarity, I will refer to this group as Proto-Canaanites.

The Proto-Canaanites

These Proto-Canaanites do not have an explicit origin [1]. They are presented as a war-loving murderous community who attacks and conquers the peaceful community of Shum (not to be confused with the later Canaan’s uncle Shem, the eponymous father of the S[h]emites, Hebrews, etc).

And again the Lord said unto me: Look; and I looked towards the north, and I beheld the people of Canaan, which dwelt in tents. And the Lord said unto me: Prophesy; and I prophesied, saying: Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous, shall go forth in battle array against the people of Shum, and shall slay them that they shall utterly be destroyed; and the people of Canaan shall divide themselves in the land, and the land shall be barren and unfruitful, and none other people shall dwell there but the people of Canaan; (Moses 7:6-7)

Much like their namesakes in future generations, The Proto-Canaanites become the antithesis and rival to Enoch’s Zion Community of Saints. As what would become Enoch’s Zionites  are blessed, the land that was conquered by the Proto-Canaanites becomes cursed to become desolate, and the conquering inhabitants are despised by all – they are left with nothing:

 For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people. (Moses 7:8 )

Enoch is ordered to go on a missionary/gathering tour to build up the community soon to be labeled Zion – and everyone but the murderous Proto-Canaanites are invited along. (Moses 7:12)

What followed was epic warfare between Enoch’s people, and the Proto-Canaanites. The lord declares that those who join with Zion is “blessed, but the residue of the people have I cursed.

Enoch is given a vision of the bifurcation of the world:

And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.

Here, we have the conquering and pillaging Proto-Canaanites designated and identified with the “Seed of Cain”. The righteous are designated the “Seed of Adam”.

This vision leads to commentary on the scene by the Lord, who weeps at the wickedness upon the earth, of those who have chosen Satan as their Father by their acts and desires:

But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

We now have three terms which have been applied to the murderous rebels who actively oppose Zion: Canaanites – Seed of Cain – Children of Satan. The Lord also shows deep sorrow at the sinful choices made which inevitably leads to their suffering. None are cursed or identified with the group who are not also categorized as willful rebels and antagonists to the covenant people, and the Lord.

Proto-Canaanites as Proto-Babylon

In the modern Church, the opposite of Zion is regularly designated as Babylon. Babylon is seen as representing all that is in opposition to the Zion Ideal, to the expression of True Religion she is “The apostate, the whore… that maketh all nations to drink of her cup, in whose hearts the enemy, even Satan, sitteth to reign.” (D&C 86:3) Those who remain in Babylon who do not gather to Zion the Lord “will not spare”, and he will “burn them up.” (D&C 64:24) – much like what is said to have happened to the land of the Proto-Canaanites.

Proto-Canaan is presented as the ante-diluvian equivalent of Babylon. Babel is scripturally presented as having its origin in the Tower that is built following the flood, and does not play a substantial antagonistic role until the period leading up to the breaking up of the Monarchy and Israelite Exile. So while the society prior to the flood is presented as equivalent to the latter scriptural expressions of Babylon, to distinguish it chronologically, the society is known as the Canaanites.

Proto-Canaanites and Babylon have one key thing in common – they are presented as the counterfeit opposition to the true order of Zion, and its associated Priesthood. Ham, at the time of the Flood, is stated to be someone righteous who “walked with God” along with his father Noah, and older siblings. (Moses 8:27). It is suggested that all of their offspring up to that point in time had become corrupt, and were not saved in the Ark, and that all those on board the Ark ([resented as just Noah, his sons, and their wives – 8 individuals) were designated as the righteous Sons and Daughters of God, to differentiate them from the Sons and Daughters of Man, or those who rejected the covenant. IE, there would be no one on board who would have been considered “The Seed of Cain”.

So what then to make of the statement that the father of a competing religious and political order to that of Abraham was a “descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth”?

The New Generation of Canaanites

In the admittedly vague story as presented in Moses and the rest of Joseph Smith’s Bible Revision, it is suggested that through an act of disrespect to the Patriarch Noah that Ham falls from grace in his designation of being after the order of the Son of God, and his posterity becomes described as being covered with, as were the proto-Canaanites, a “veil of darkness[2] . Ham’s son Canaan is explicitly singled out as typical to suffer as a direct result, and becomes the nominative father of the Neo-Canaanites.

While Pharaoh might be said to perpetuate the ideological blood of the Canaanites from his parents, it may be possible to to read this as an indication that Ham fathered his daughter Egyptus (Pharaoh’s mother) through a daughter of his son Canaan. After all, we are told without further explanation that the mother of Pharaoh is designated with a name said “to signify that which is forbidden.” (Abraham 1:23) [Note: while the current Book of Abraham lists this person’s name as Egyptus, as well as her daughter, the manuscripts list the matriarch as Zeptah. To avoid confusion, I continue to refer to Egyptus’ mother as the distinct Zeptah][3]pharoah_family_tree

The traditional suggestion that Ham married a lineal Proto-Canaanite and brought her aboard the Ark where she remained to perpetuate her ideology and genealogy would constitute what I see as a significantly different and incompatible tradition than currently exists in the Book of Moses. It is certainly not supported by the text.

However, the scenario proposed above would parallel and reinforce (and perpetuate) the Book of Moses tale of ante-diluvian men leaving their righteous traditions, and literally getting into bed with that which diverted them from Zion, leading them to actively fight against the Order of the Son of God.  [4]

We can perhaps also see a parallel in Esau, who showed contempt for his Patriarchal birthright (and also chose as wives Hittite women – considered to be descendants of Canaan, see Genesis 26:34-35). While he was given the  blessing of “the fatness of the earth and of the dew of heaven from above” (much like Pharaoh’s “blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom”), he was denied the ultimate blessings of leadership given to his brother Jacob, who prized the Patriarchal Birthright, to “be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee:” And I will be suggesting in a further post that it is because of the rebellion of his own parents that Pharaoh, Ham’s grandson, likewise, was very practically (and perhaps somewhat ignorantly) initially “cursed pertaining to” access to what could have been his Birthright – “the Priesthood.”

In all cases, the blessings were removed due to either one’s own acts of rebellion (Ham, Esau), or perpetuated upon their direct children (Canaan, Pharaoh) due to the loss of the ability of their Fathers to directly bestow the Right of Priesthood.

Thus, the problem is presented of the individual who is cut off from a lineal line of succession due to the chosen apostasy of their fathers. This is the story that continues in the first chapter of the Book of Abraham. It is a story that also contains a solution in the example and ministry of Abraham.

NEXT: Abraham v. Pharaoh: Priesthoods In Competition

[1] The Book of Moses also features a clan of righteous “Cainanites” (note the different spelling) descended from the Sethite named Cainan. The land named after Cainan is said to be “a land of promise” (Moses 6:17). While the text does not appear to make any explicit connections between the ‘Cainanites’ and the Proto-Canaanites, the reference to the Land of Cainan being a Land of Promise might allow the suggestion that a spelling inconsistency (not unlike the Amlicite and Amalekite spelling mishap in the text of the Book of Mormon – see Alma’s Enemies: The Case of the Lamanites, Amlicites, and Mysterious Amalekites) hides the story of a single group of people who went from the righteous people of Cainan to the bloodthirsty and cursed Canaanites. This would present a powerful parallel to Cain himself who went from a promising son of a Patriarch, to choosing a bloodthirsty course of action which brought a curse upon himself. It would also further reinforce the association of the Canaanites as the spiritual “Seed of Cain”

[2] Compare Moses 7:61, “And the day shall come that the earth shall rest, but before that day the heavens shall be darkened, and a veil of darkness shall cover the earth; and the heavens shall shake, and also the earth; and great tribulations shall be among the children of men, but my people will I preserve

[3] Connecting a form of incest with the story of Ham is actually not new, although this iteration of it is, as far as I am aware, unique. For the understanding of Canaan’s curse being due to his birth as a child of incest between Ham and Noah’s Wife, see here: Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan. See also the story of Lot, in Genesis, becoming the father of additional eponymous ancestors of Israelite enemies through the guileful incestual actions of his daughters.

[4] Compare also the Book of Mormon story of the Daughter of Jared (son of Omer), who, “seeing the sorrows of her father, thought to devise a plan whereby she could redeem the kingdom unto her father.” She notes that she had access to “the record which our fathers brought across the great deep?…an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory” Following an act of seduction to gain power, she further “put it into [a rival King’s] heart to search up these things of old…And it came to pass that they formed a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God;” (see Ether 8) – I would suggest this would relate to Zeptah seeking power by seducing Ham, and then claiming authority for her children, daughters and sons, by virtue of her relationship with Prince Ham.


Adjusting the Narrative: Part 1b-The Blood of the Canaanites — 9 Comments

  1. Fantastic analysis!

    Your reading of Canaan is actually not too dissimilar to the Zoharic understanding of the same.

  2. I am very much attracted to your presentation of opposing types in Mormon scriptural narratives. You are suggesting, and I believe that you are right, that you can’t understand Abraham without understanding Pharaoh, or Esau without Jacob, or on the social level, the people of Enoch/Zion without the people of Canaan/Babylon. Every society has its mirror image. Every person, a shadow. Every Christ, an Antichrist.

    The ontological dualism of Lehi’s opposition in all things therefore appears to have an analogue in Mormon scriptural narrative as well. Every Me implies an Other. Every X necessitates a not X. The Mormon scriptural narrative is essentially dualistic. I do not know if you believe this—I am simply rambling on with what appears to be the implications of your interesting theory for Mormon scriptural narrative.

  3. Allen – Could you sum up in generalities the Zoharic idea?

    Mark – It really has been fascinating to me what in-text parallels have presented themselves as I try to read these texts as they stand in their internal canonical context rather than any assumed historical context (whether modern or ancient).

    In other words, even without even the need to apply Egyptology or any sort of ancient study, I find there is still much un-mined material in the text of the first chapter of Abraham as it stands that, I believe, has gone unnoticed or simply not expounded on because there has been the assumption “we have the answers already”. An inability to see the forest through the trees, so to say.

    Especially, the relationships between the three key Egyptian Religious figures (Pharaoh Prime, Abraham’s Pharaoh, and the Priest of Elkenah) are very interesting, and I believe could have an extremely beneficial didactic reading for LDS when applied to interfaith relations. I’ll be touching on some of this in the next part.

    It’s all a part of why I see the need for us to re-claim our modern and unique stories of Cain, Canaan, and the Abrahamic Pharaohs from their traditional relegation to simple and embarrassing justification for racial discrimination. They currently sit dead and unused for that reason. With the old assumed traditional meanings having lost relevance, there’s a void that needs to be filled.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t scriptural stories that in their own context really do, necessarily, express quaint racist ideas. I think it’s important to distinguish those that actually canonically do so (and address those in that context), from those that have only been assumed to do so to justify a policy or traditional belief.

    There’s actually three types of Racism I’ve noted we can find connected with the scriptures:

    1) Racism promoted both by characters in the text, and by the text narrative itself.
    2) Racism promoted by characters in the text, but countered by the context of the author and overall narrative.

    3) Racism imposed on the text by interpreters, but not necessitated by the characters, text, or narrative.

    This is why I’m setting out the canonical narrative – as I see it – for current modern scriptural texts that have been commonly associated being of type 1 and promoting/justifying racism, and trying to determine if that is even what the text (or authors/characters within) are necessiarily promulgating.

    This all builds the foundation for what I will be exploring in the Book of Mormon text – which I believe does include characters presenting racist ideas within the book, but also narratively prophetically corrects and overrules them as the narrative of the book plays out. IE, it is possible to say protagonists in the BoM promulgate harmful racist ideas while the BoM itself does not.

    I am exploring the suggestion that the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham texts are in the category of group (3) above, while noting and acknowledging that this is not typical of all scriptural texts which incorporate racist ideas.

  4. “Allen – Could you sum up in generalities the Zoharic idea?”

    Sure. I’ll skip the complex sefirotic schema. In expounding the verse “And Ham was the father of Canaan,” The name Canaan represents the evil spirit of impurity, the same serpent that was in the garden, which by his misdeed Ham has now reawakened. Ham thus is the father of Canaan, because he reintroduced that evil into the world. Much like Cain in Moses 5:24 being the father of Satan’s lies. There is more, but this is the general idea.
    Canaan is also the spirit that darkens the countenances of men, that is, takes away their divine light. That too has a parallel in our scriptures, D&C 93:39.
    All in all, I find it a remarkable conceptual parallel.

  5. “Canaan is also the spirit that darkens the countenances of men, that is, takes away their divine light. That too has a parallel in our scriptures, D&C 93:39.”

    Holy crap, that’s cool.

  6. Hmmm. When one looks more closely at the text, a new way of looking at it emerges. Thanks for the illuminating post Dave. I need to go back and re-read the BoA.

  7. “Holy crap, that’s cool.”

    The usual translation has to do with death, but one cannot stop there, as death is the manifestation of sin’s consequences, and is elsewhere connected to the dimming of divine light (this lies at the basis of Jewish metoscopy), one tradition of which even appeared in a Hugh Nibley piece for the church magazine, but not in this connection.

    What I’m really trying to say is that David has discovered a very compelling way to read the narrative, one that is similar in many ways to the Zoharic reading, but reached independently.

  8. Clair: “a new way of looking at it emerges”
    Allen: “a way to read the narrative”

    This is exactly what I’m going for here, and want to make that clear. I’m not trying to define a One True Or Original Intended Interpretation, whatever that might be. But approaching the canonical context (which is different from historical/production) to see if and how the passages can have a valid and viable way to be relevant without necessitating their past unfortunate traditional trappings.

    I appreciate all the comments!