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Interpreting Interpreter
A Hamite View

This post is a summary of the article “The Hamites: The Pre-Restoration Monotheism of the Children of Ham in the Book of Abraham” by Adam Stokes in Volume 59 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Stokes argues that the Book of Abraham, despite its perception among critics as a racist document, generally presents the descendants of Ham as righteous and faithful.


The Summary

In this article, Adam Stokes presents a view of the Book of Abraham (BoA) and its treatment of the descendants of Ham, arguing that these descendants are depicted in a positive, faithful light, and as practicing an early form of monotheism. This perspective differs from the critical view, which generally highlights passages that can be interpreted as racist against those with presumably dark skin. In addition to efforts from scholars to frame these passages as 19th century interpolations or interpretations that are less problematic than they seem, Stokes suggests that these positive depictions actively counter the narrative of a racist BoA. He specifically highlights the book’s treatment of Onitah’s daughters as well as Pharaoh—the former are portrayed as losing their lives for refusing to bow down to pagan idols, and the latter is described as “a righteous man” who judged acted wisely and justly, and who was blessed for doing so.

Stokes acknowledges that the BoA retains features that may be racially problematic, particularly the curse applied to Pharaoh, which was often used in support of the priesthood ban. That modern application of the BoA text may have made it racially problematic by extension. But he nevertheless sees in the Hamites a basic monotheism, one that corresponds with foundational elements of the ten commandments and the Articles of Faith, which seems to represent a “deeper knowledge” of God inherited from the early patriarchs. This leads Stokes to conclude that the Hamites are not themselves portrayed in an overall racist light. “On the contrary”, he says:

“Hamites such as the daughters of Onitah and the first Pharaoh himself are portrayed as righteous, God-fearing individuals. In many respects, their behavior reflects a monotheistic spirituality in as much as it expresses faith in one true God towards salvation combined with righteous living. These righteous Hamites in the BoA provide an example for readers to emulate…[and] supports the Restoration’s central claim that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been known to all people and in all ages.”


The Reflection

Stokes makes an interesting argument here, and one made especially poignant by the fact that his Restoration tradition doesn’t actually accept the BofA as canonical scripture. Stokes would normally have plenty of reasons to go along with critical narratives of the BofA, and that he argues otherwise lends a bit of strength to the sincerity of his position. Though we probably wouldn’t want to take counsel from these specific ancient Hamites on how to organize the priesthood, we can nevertheless learn from their righteous examples, and see them in the same positive light in which the book itself portrays them.

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