From time to time we stumble upon a photograph that catches our eye. We are especially interested in photos of politicians with religious connotations: you may recall the photo of Obama against a white cross, or those images of George Bush against the presidential seal, peeping out from behind his head like a halo.
We make no real attempt to discern the author's intent. In a kind of "New Criticism" approach we can only analyse the contents of the image. But to use another literary term -- reader response criticism -- we feel that "meaning" is something that is an interplay between the text and the reader. Or in this case, the photo and the viewer.
This image comes from the Washongton Post article Herman Cain is the Republican flavor of the month. It is an interesting image in hues of gold. Herman Cain looks into a mirror, serious, a bit uncertain.
As for myself, my first thought was of the magic mirror in the Snow White tale....as if Cain, insecure, is asking "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?" Which is appropriate; as the current flavor of the month, he is the fairest. But as in Snow White, the mirror one day stops telling the Queen she's the fairest--when Snow White turns seven. The Queen has been replaced.
Cain's current popularity may be symbolized here by the laurels which adorn the frame of the mirror, like a:
Στέφανος (Stephanos) meaning "crown, garland", in turn from the Greek word "στέφανος", meaning "wreath, crown, honour, reward", literally "that which surrounds or encompasses".
At the top of the frame is in fact, a literal crown (remember the Queen). What a mirror! It ensures that anyone who looks into it is crowned and surrounded by victory laurels! Any further analysis would be redundant. I can't even begin to imagine what the Tazo tea would represent....
But we'd like to have a go at a pastime we haven't indulged in much lately, the name game. OK.
Herman Cain is probably one of the most resonant candidate names we've heard in a while. Wiki:
Herman is a Dutch and English male given name. Its original meaning was "army man" (Arman) and derives from the Germanic elements "heri" meaning "army" combined with "man" meaning "man" (compare archaic Dutch "heer", meaning "army" and "man").
So what is an army man but a soldier? And what is a soldier but a person paid to kill? (The etymology of the soldier is in fact from the word for "mercenary"). Not to dis soldiers, but there you have it. Solders are hired to kill others, that is their function. Let's not be squeamish.
So this army man bears the family name of the first murderer in the world, according to the Bible. And since Herman Cain is a Baptist minister, I think it's fair to reference the Bible!
The story of Cain essentially is that his offering of fruit and veggies to the Lord was rejected, while brother Abel's offering of meat was accepted. In a jealous rage, Cain then kills Abel. Cain is then punished by God, cursed to walk the earth forever. (Although some Medieval legends have it that he ends up on the moon with a bundle of twigs!)
Associated with this punishment is a "mark"--the Mark of Cain. Some believe the punishment and the mark are one and the same. Others propose a literal mark, perhaps a way God indicated to others that no one should harm him, that punishment of Cain was in His hands alone.
Now, a lot of stuff about Herman Cain's race has been flung about. Being a black Republican is not an enviable position, as accusations of Uncle Tom-ism are sure to follow one everywhere; this is disgraceful.
What's ironic about this is that many religious denominations have taught that the Mark of Cain was in fact, blackness.
Some of these interpretations date from very early in Christian history. Syriac Christianity apparently conflated the mark and curse and interpreted the curse as black skin.
Wikipedia quotes Church Father Ephrem the Syrian (306-378):
"Abel was bright as the light, / but the murderer (Cain) was dark as the darkness".
Likewise a 5th or 6th-century Armenian text:
"And the Lord was wroth with Cain....He beat Cain’s face with hail, which blackened like coal, and thus he remained with a black face."
A late 10th-centruy Irish text has the following warning from Gabriel to Adam:
"Dark rough senseless Cain is going to kill Abel".
More recently, the idea that Cain's mark/curse was his black skin was used by mainstream Protestant groups to justify racial segregation. The problem with this idea is that some teachings have it that all Cain's descendants perished in the Flood.
The Mormons teach that the curse does not in fact stem from the murder of Abel. His descendants had committed atrocities against the people of Shum and were therefore punished.
Statements concerning the curse of Cain clearly identify both the mark and curse with the "Negro" race, in Latter Day Saint writings and lectures. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both identify the Black people of African descent as descendants of Cain. The Latter Day Saint movement was founded during the height of white Protestant acceptance of the curse of Cain doctrine in America, as well as the even more popular curse of Ham doctrine.
The LDS church has never officially repudiated this teaching, and blacks are today, unlike in times past, admitted to the priesthood. The attitude seems complex, but apparently Joseph Smith himself ordained blacks, so who's to say what their positions are. I'm not entirely convinced their exoteric teachings are the real story.....
So what's this Ham business?
It all begins with Genesis.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son [Ham] had done unto him.
25 And he said, Cursed [be] Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26 And he said, Blessed [be] the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
As the quote about the LDS mentions, it was once a common belief that the connection between blackness and servitude were a result of Ham's indiscretions' aboard the Ark. Ham, shamed his father Noah by looking on as the latter as he lay in a drunken stupor (although some have speculated Ham in fact sodomized his father or cuckolded him, sleeping with his own mother). Noah thus cursed his progeny forever (The Curse of Ham).
Commentators from all the Abrahamic religions have cited the Curse of Ham as the reason for the connection between blackness and slavery, and mainstream American protestants continued to espouse this doctrine until the latter years of the 20th century.
The curse of Ham may more rightly be known as the Curse of Canaan; but, as the KJV quote above demonstrates, there is no blackness mentioned. Blackness is a later elaboration to justify slavery or bolster racist views.
Making the curse a racially based issue ignored the primary issues of the curse and the racial interpretation of the curse was used to justify black servitude to whites. The doctrine became part of the institution of slavery and it also influenced the reasoning of many racist white Christian institutions in the West.
But anyway, we're not here to give a total overview of the Cain/Ham/Canaaan curse.
This Herman Cain (Whose man Cain? Her man Cain!) would access the highest office in the land. The
hierophant of America, the priest king. One man standing in his way is....a Mormon. Another is a man who until quite recently took pals hunting at a place called Niggerhead. But that's another story....
“Topsy would hold a perfect carnival of confusion....in short, as Miss Ophelia phrased it, ‘raising Cain’ generally.” Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1862.