Friday, January 4, 2008

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: How Sharper than a Serpent's Tooth Edition

As bad as his science was, Samuel Cartwright's theology was probably worse--if you can say that any interpretation of the Bible is "worse" than any other one.

For quite a while, Cartwright believed in the Curse of Ham, where God curses Noah's son Ham (or his grandson Canaan, depending on who you ask), declaring that he shall be a servant to Noah's other sons, Shem and Japheth. So people, eager to come up with any bullshit that will justify their decisions, decided that this meant black people (descendants of Ham) were ordained by God to be servants of white people (descendants of either Shem or Japheth, depending on who you ask). In several accounts the curse actually transformed Ham into the first black person, explaining where different races came from after the flood.

You can recall in his discourse on drapetomania, Cartwright quoted the Bible to say "He shall serve Japheth; he shall be his servant of servants." That was in 1851, so at that point he seemed to be a believer in the Curse of Ham. Nine years later, though, someone had apparently introduce Cartwright to the concept of polygenesis, and he decided to embrace that instead. Thus we find him writing "Unity of the Human Race Disproved by the Hebrew Bible", in De Bow's Review, vol. 29, August 1860. Polygenesis alone is one thing, but... well, read what Cartwright had to say:
Fifty years ago, Dr. Adam Clarke, the learned commentator of the Bible, from deep reading in the Hebrew, Arabic, and Coptic languages, was forced to the conclusion that the creature which beguiled Eve was an animal formed like man, walked erect, and had the gift of speech and reason. He believed it was an orang-outang and not a serpent. If he had lived in Louisiana, instead of England, he would have recognized the negro gardener. Eve was a new comer, and had evidently been questioning, out of curiosity, the gardener about the tree with the forbidden fruit. The ophidian Bimana begins his reply to her question with an exclamation of astonishment, rendered aye! in our version, equivalent to "Is it possible." Can it be that Elohim has said you are not to eat of every tree in the garden? Ye shall not die, but in the day you eat thereof you will be as gods, knowing good and evil.

We are told, in the 19th verse of the second chapter, that all the creatures were brought before Adam to receive names, and that what he called every living creature that was the name thereof. What these names were, appears afterward. The names he gave very often contained an abridged history of the thing itself shut up in the name--a sealed book to those who did not know the thing, and intended so to be, until, perhaps, thousands of years' experience had enabled man to acquire the key of knowledge to unlock and read the book. The first one of these names, enclosing within the name a history of the thing named, occurs in the 1st verse of the 3d chapter of Genesis. It is Nachash. That is the name of the creature which beguiled Eve. The history of the creature is enclosed in the name, under cover of a bundle of ideas, so incongruous and disconnected as not to be understood until, in the revolutions of ages, sufficient knowledge of the thing named had been acquired by experience to furnish the key to unlock the book. We see around it the serpent--the charmed--the enchanted--watching closely--prying into designs--muttering and babbling without meaning--hissing--whistling--deceitful--artful--fetters--chains--and a verb formed from the name, which signifies to be or to become black. Any good overseer would recognize the negro's peculiarities in the definition of Nachash, and the verbs connected with it, if read to him from a Hebrew lexicon.


The seventy-two who translated the Bible into Greek, rendered the word Nachash by Ophiz, a serpent. There were so many meanings to the word, they were puzzled to tell which to choose. Dr. Clarke thought that orang-outang would have been a better choice than serpent, for the name of a black creature, formed like a man, with the gift of speech and reason, a great deal of cunning, yet playful and good-natured, walking erect, a sorcerer, and a slave to something that charmed it. If the seventy-two had lived in our day, they would have rendered the word Nachash, as the great Hebrew scholar of the East, but now of the West, C. Blanchard Thompson, has rendered it, by the word negro.


When at work in the fields, they do not stoop like white people; their heads being thrown back, their knees bent, their legs bowed out, their feet flat, hips thrown upward, their abdomens are brought parallel with the earth, as if moving over its surface on their bellies. "Upon thy belly shalt thou go," said Elohim to the Nachash. We have only to look at them eating the bread which they prefer to all other kinds of bread, the ash-cake, and to witness their fondness for the ashes, and eating dust by the handfuls, to see re-written upon living negroes, a translation of the Hebrew word, "and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life."

So, yeah. Cartwright believed that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was a Negro. Amazing, innit?

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