In the Old Testament we learn that after Cain killed Abel, a “curse” was laid on him that he shall have a unique mark so that people will know and recognize him, so that he shall not be killed by anyone, and therefore that he will not die. My question is: Is Cain still alive? Is he amongst the current inhabitants of this earth?
Sivuyile Pezulu, from Durban, South Africa
You are undoubtedly referring to the scripture found in Genesis 4:11-15—
And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand; When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
Two things about this passage: 1) the passage does not say nor mean that Cain would never die. A mark was placed on Cain so that he would not be murdered in some sort of revenge for what he had done. That mark was a blessing to Cain in order to preserve his life, but the mark was not designed to extend life beyond the normal span. 2) In the above verses both the Lord and Cain are using the name of Cain in a generic sense. They are not talking only about Cain the individual, but indeed the family, including the descendants of Cain. This is first apparent from Cain’s statement that every one that findeth me shall slay me. If he were speaking of himself alone, he would not have used the phrase every one that findeth me, which implies multiple findings and multiple slayings.
Neither the specifics of the curse placed upon Cain by the Lord nor the details of the protective mark are mentioned in the Genesis account, but the details of the curse are elucidated in the Book of Abraham, found in the Pearl of Great Price. This account develops how the curse on Cain (and his descendants) was carried through the great flood. From Abraham 1:21-23—
Now this king of Egypt 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. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden.
Ham had married Egyptus, who was a Canaanite–in other words, of the seed of Cain, and her very name signifies that which is forbidden. The curse that the Lord placed upon Cain was that neither he nor his descendants could be ordained to the holy priesthood, and thus officiate in the church and kingdom of God. This, Pharoah, the king of Egypt, understood, upon whom the curse also fell. Concerning this Pharoah, the Book of Abraham continues—
Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry (Abraham 1:25-27).
The fact that the mark on Cain was a black skin is recorded in the Book of Moses, also a part of the Pearl of Great Price—
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 (Moses 7:22).
The priesthood curse thus extended to all those with a black skin, and it was renewed when the church and kingdom of God was restored to the earth in these last days. However, every president of the Mormon Church, from the first prophet, Joseph Smith to President Spencer W. Kimball, prophesied that the time would come when the Lord would remove the curse of Cain to permit full fellowship and priesthood privileges to all those to whom the priesthood was denied.
In September of 1978 the Lord spoke to President Kimball and revealed to him that the time had come for such a restoration. Thus an official declaration, under date of Sept. 30, 1978, was publsihed to all the Church that it would now be appropriate to ordain all worthy men to the holy priesthood without regard to race or color. This news was received with rejoicing throughout the Church, and today Africa is one of the fastest growing areas in Church population, and members of the black race have stepped into all the major positions of leadership in the Church.