What is Joseph Smith’s Enoch?

Few scriptural puzzles challenge us as does Enoch. Now that the Old Testament and the Pearl of Great Price are again front and center, I would love to know how you analyze the problems and what you think of Joseph’s Enoch.

Enoch is now widely available in a handful of versions. The most complete is 1 Enoch, the Ethiopian Enoch; it’s available in numerous translations, notably those of R.H. Charles, J.T. Milik, Matthew Black and, the one I use, James H. Charlesworth in his The old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol I, Doubleday, 1983.

Dialogue published Douglas F. Salmon’s analysis in Vol 33 No 2, Summer 2000 and entitled “parallelomania and the Study of the Latter-Day Scripture: Confirmation, Coincidence, or the Collective Unconscious?” He concludes that Mormon scholars, especially Nibley who believed that Enoch “offers the nearest thing to a perfectly foolproof test–neat, clear-cut, and decisive of Joseph Smith’s claim to inspiration.” (Nibley, Enoch the Prophet, 94), ignore important issues. Salmon writes:

There are a lot of issues that are not discussed anywhere in the investigation. For instance, what is the methodology for selecting the parallels? Are the parallels examples of verbal agreement, or are they simply examples of similar thought patterns? Is the dual occurrence of a single word enough to establish a parallel, or is an entire phrase required? Does the phrase of the single word have to occur in a similar context in the text? What are the criteria for selecting the texts that are to be mined for parallels? If the religious community from whence the text comes important? Is it enough that the figure Enoch is mentioned in the text, or does it have to contain the actual words/writings of Enoch? Does the age of the manuscript of the selected text matter at all? Does the age of the tradition contained in the manuscript matter? Does the provenance of the manuscript matter? Is the original language of the manuscript and/or tradition important? (Salmon, 133)

Salmon concludes that using apocryphal literature “to prove the prophetic status of Joseph Smith is a misguided endeavor.” He notes the intriguing parallels between 1 Enoch and the Book of Moses but attributes them largely to a collective unconscious, a light of Christ recognition. I certainly agree that Mormon scholars–yes, Nibley too–prooftext far too much. Of course our Old and New Testament manuals offer little else to the lay member, but that’s another thread. Still I am not as quick as Salmon to downgrade Joseph Smith’s inspiration.

There is no convincing evidence that Joseph Smith had access to the first English translation of the book, by Lawrence in 1821. In fact, it wasn’t until 1853 that an English translation aroused much interest in Europe. The Enochian Son of Man or Righteous One, a preexistent Messianic figure, intrigues even when he seems more Jewish than Christian. The figures Mahijah in Moses and Mahujah in Enoch intrigue. The comparison the the fallen angels and the sons of God intrigues. The Enochian concept of tracing sin not to Adam but to Satan intrigues. Matthew Black’s alleged protestation to Hugh Nibley that Joseph Smith’s source for Enoch would some day be found intrigues. I could go on. However, additions to Joseph Smith’s version but not in any of the ancient Enochs perplex. What do you make of the many outright differences and the many potential parallels for which we must add the missing link?


  1. Interesting questions, Molly. Isn’t the concept of proof-texting against pseudapegriphal sources a bit self defeating? I like your ideas of not discounting parallels completely, though. Solomon’s argument smacks of a postmodernist cultural ownership of the parallels. This seems problematic considering the dates of the documents in question and the lack of other American sources.

    Considering the provenance of any pseudaperiphal work, it seems that, at best, we could hope for some interesting parallels if the piece had some real history linking it to an historic or “true” apocalypse of Enoch. I haven’t read the Nibley piece you cite, but my reading of him is that he is a big fan of finding Mormon parallels in the “apostate” remnants of the true religion. Isn’t that what he is trying to do with Enoch?

  2. Hi Jonathan. Prooftexting is arguably a bit self defeating whatever the source. Whether elements of the argument are true or not, it’s hard not to question the conclusion on some level for want of the surrounding story.
    Nibley fascinates me as our chief apologist and perhaps our most widely read scholar of ancient sources. Consequently I can’t dismiss him but I’m too often frustrated by my own ignorance. I don’t know enough to know if he is right or wrong but he often hasn’t told me enough to convince me either. He just tells me enough to bring me back to his work every so often. (Actually I find his social commentary his most compelling arguments but that is another thread too.) And he tells me enough to send me to the original sources I can get and don’t have to translate. This year I am reading along with the Old Testament SS course in the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible translated by Abegg Jr., Flint and Ulrich and, most importantly, only recently out in paper so it’s easy to carry to church.
    I’m not sure what you mean by “Mormon parallels in the ‘apostate’ remnants of the true religion.” Enoch is a particularly interesting text. In common usage at the time of Christ, it is heavily quoted in both the Old and New Testament and was only later driven from the canon by the Rabbinic school and such luminaries as Augustine. But initially some Christians did see it as part of the true religion.

  3. I’ve always wondered whether (i) Sidney Rigdon had influenced content of the Enoch portions of the Book of Moses and (ii) may have actually had prior access to the Ethiopian Book of Enoch. There’s no evidence for (ii) to my knowledge, but some of Rigdon’s communitarian ideas may have influenced elements of Book of Moses chapter 7 (for instance, see 7:18 below), although this could have come from the NT as well, or could have been in an biblical ancient text, or any combination of the above:

    18 And the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

    The Joseph Smith Enoch passages are impressive works, no matter how you come out on their origin.

  4. Nibley reads/read texts the same way Eliade or Campbell do/did. (since they are all pretty much dead, but written approaches are often addressed in the present tense, even when past).

    If you take Nibley to be saying “this text is consistent with a prior belief or source that says that” you are fine and he is on target. If you take his footnotes to mean “the source says exactly what I am saying” you aren’t — though he has some writing in that line as well.

    But mostly he is saying that the reader can find support for the idea in texts that indicate thoughts that are consistent with it.

    Kind of like if I cite to the blog “No death before the fall” for proof of the concept that there are people who believe that there was death before the fall. I think the blog establishes very well that there is disagreement and that there are people who believe the point it disagrees with. Yet, it does not, in itself, support the position of death before the fall.

    Bloom and others believe that there is a gnostic collective unconcious that spills forth its truths over and over again. Kind of like replacing “God” in the Oxford Groups with “Higher Power” in the subsequent AA.

  5. Levi Peterson says:

    Molly expresses my own experience when she says of Nibley, “I can’t dismiss him but I’m too often frustrated by my own ignorance.” I note that the term “parallelomania” is gaining considerable currency with scholars reiewing apologetic publications. I wish I knew at what point the claim of a parallel is sound and at what point it is a mania. I hope some bloggers who are versed in the scholarly literature on Enoch will chime in on this topic.

  6. That issue of Dialog is interesting.

    I didn’t realize that Fawn Brodie issued a public statement about one of the blessings she received, but never remarked about the others. I guess as long as they occurred in private, at her home, she said nothing about them.

    The amazing thing is that she had home teachers the entire time. (there is a Fawn Broadie discussion as well).

    A parallel is sound if you agree with it, a mania if you don’t.

  7. Ghost of John Lennon says:

    Please, Please, Please, do not compare Nibley with Eliade.

  8. #7–don’t compare Nibley with Eliade? Why not? Is it a slight to Nibley or Eliade? (I think I know your response, just checking)

    I also agree that Nibley falls into the same camp with Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade and I would throw in Robert Graves as well. All of them are imaginative “big picture” guys with some idiosyncratic views. They sometimes neglect details that would derail their overarching theories, but their overarching theories are so darn elegant and useful, even if too simplistic to explain everything adequately. I like them all and admire them all for their creative output, if nothing else.

  9. Argument over what parallels do or don’t prove is alive and well in Hebrew Bible/Archaeological studies. I blogged on it (and its implications for the BoM) a bit here. And of course, William Hamblin responded to Salmon in FRB 13:2.

    I’ve seen little proof-texting among actual scholars who are LDS. Did you have something in mind?

    Certainly Nibley made some mistakes, disappointingly so. In one case I checked myself, he undermines his point completely, but I don’t know if its his interpretation of the text (the Temple Scroll) or the secondary literature he cites. I’ve checked the Temple Scroll in Hebrew, but not the secondary source. On the other hand, some things of Nibley’s that I dismissed have turned out to be completely accurate. I find generalizations about his scholarship or conclusions to be fairly shallow.

    As to the Enoch debate, I have nothing to add, since I know little about it. Do you have a source for Matthew Black’s statement? (I assume this is the Aramaic/NT scholar, correct?)

  10. Of course our Old and New Testament manuals offer little else to the lay member, but that’s another thread.

    Molly, not every citation of scripture is proof-texting.

    And I’m not convinced by Salmon that the intriguing parallels between 1 Enoch and the Book of Moses are more likely attributable largely to a collective unconscious, a light of Christ recognition. That is just as bizarre a suggestion as that there are actual parallels between 1 Enoch and Moses that Joseph Smith very likely couldn’t have known about (having presumably never heard of the Ethiopian Enoch or any apocryphal Enoch material) and that therefore support Joseph’s calling as a true prophet. People dismiss Nibley far too easily, in my opinion, without actually addressing his conclusions. It usually consists of doing what Salmon has done — writing a list of seemingly erudite questions that go wholly to method. A similar list of questions can be raised about Salmon’s methods or anyone else’s methods. Questioning method is important and can lead to informative reexaminations, but questioning method alone does not discredit substantive conclusions. Rather, the substantive conclusions produced by following methods developed based on questioning previous methods can replace the previous substantive conclusions.

    An example is the current BoM DNA issue and the Iceland study. Because DNA evidence suggests an Asian ancestry for American Indians, critics draw a substantive conclusion that the BoM narrative of Hebrews coming to the New World cannot be authentic. The Iceland study comes to a substantive conclusion through a “better” method (comparing complete genealogical ancestral data with DNA evidence) that has direct relevance for the soundness of the substantive conclusion reached by anti/exmos. Essentially, through the comparison used in the Iceland study, it would seem that many modern Icelanders are not related in any way to their own ancestors (as documented in their genealogies). The DNA traces have disappeared over the generations. Suddenly, we have to ask what possible value the BoM DNA substantive conclusions can have whatsoever, and certainly they cannot be taken as evidence against the historicity of the BoM.

    In much Nibley-criticism, I see a lot of method-bashing but I don’t see substantive conclusions that really refute Nibley’s conclusions. Some alternative substantive conclusions might be offered, but in many cases, they seem more often to be mere alternative suggestions rather than refutations of the soundness of the previous conclusions.

    The bottom line is that there is no reason I should prefer Salmon’s speculations to Nibley’s.

  11. By the way, Jeff Lindsay has an informative post about the Iceland study. Also, John Butler speaks about the study on the Hugh Hewitt show (with Dan Peterson). A link is here.

  12. Ed, #3, says that the Enoch chapters are “impressive works.” I’d go further and say that they’re the most impressive of all of Joseph’s works. They exude authenticity. No wonder Harold Bloom likes them so much.

  13. John F.,
    Nibley’s theory is effectively a closed loop because of the methodology. Evidence for it confirms the theory and evidence against it also confirms the theory. This is the element that scholars find objectionable and this is why so many of them talk about his methodology. The only possible way out is to offer an alternate, equally powerful theory and to suggest that testability is an essential aspect to any academic theory. That is what they try to do. The degree to which they are successful depends on the degree to which the reader gives their theory power or the degree to which the reader believes testability to be important.

    I don’t know enough about Enoch studies to comment on the status of the parallels therein. Please know that parallelomania is rampant in Ancient studies out of necessity (for that matter, it is a big feature of all modern anthropological thought). The methodology of comparison is still hotly debated and hard to definitively divine.

    Along that note, I am curious about Salmon’s methodology. How does he accept a “collective unconscious” or a “light of Christ”, while rejecting an inspired Joseph for the connections that he sees?

  14. One difficulty in discussions of the Enoch material is that virtually nobody is well versed in all of the major hypotheses. One is that the Enoch material are a genuine translation of ancient records, and that parallels with late pseudepigraphic sources arise because those late sources reflect the underlying truth present in the Joseph Smith texts. Another is that Joseph himself somehow composed the whole thing. A third is that Joseph drew on ideas available in his environment in formulating the text. This third idea isn’t nearly as insane as people make it sound. The Enoch texts demonstrably affected both the hermeneutic culture which provided the basis for New England treasure digging and the development of Masonry. Joseph, in turn, was demonstrably exposed to both of those cultural streams.

    I don’t know enough about the apologetic work to comment on whether the third hypothesis is in fact stronger than the first or not. But I do know that the third hypothesis is nowhere near as ludicrous as it is sometimes portrayed as being. There’s a clear intellectual geneology and clear transmission mechanisms right up to Joseph Smith.

  15. Thanks for the interesting comments. I tried to be quite noncommittal re Salmon to leave you a wide canvas but am certainly in agreement with those of you, like John C. and John f., who do not find a preference for “collective unconscious” any more convincing than an inspired Joseph. There is no verification possible in comparing the Enochs. We’re stuck with the analogues. We can just compare the methods, their suggestions and their approximations of truth. Ronan may well be right in saying Enoch is Joseph’s most impressive work. My primary aim in the post is to stimulate us all to spend more time reading the originals and the commentaries.
    Ben S., Nibley cited his conversation with Matthew Black (you’re right: Aramaic/NT. Also Syriac studies. Published Fragments of Cave 4 with Milik in 76 and his own Book of Enoch in 1985, shortly before he died) in his course Personal Development 80, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, Lecture 21, page 13. Thanks for your references; I found much with which to agree and a few things to ponder. Re Hamblin’s answer to Salmon: I read with the regret Dialogue couldn’t have published it. We at Dialogue would love to publish answers to our authors, either in the Journal or now on the webpage. Finally, I did not have a prooftext in mind but I stand by my statement that it happens. You may well be in a better position than I to conclude that it is rare.
    John f., of course not every scriptural reference is proof texting in its most negative connotation, but I remain convinced our manuals decontextualize most of the scriptures quoted, sometimes losing no “truth” and sometimes losing much of it. I find the pervasive decontextualization disrespectful to the text and the student. Ex: last week’s SS lesson Gen 24 plus was a lesson on temple marriage. Rebecca, et al, were lost in the wake.

  16. Molly, if by decontextualize you mean “not look carefully at the context”, I agree that the manuals don’t look carefully at the cultural and literary context of each story and passage (I’m not convinced that this should be the focus of a church-wide lesson manual, though I’d agree there’s room for improvement on this front).

    But if you mean that the manual is discussing something or raising an issue that is not in the scriptural context, I’m not sure your claim, at least in this instance, is defensible.

    In the case of Abraham’s servant and Rebekah, Abraham’s motivation seems related to spirituality and/or divine covenants (we discussed this a bit at Jim F.’s T&S lesson starting at comment #30). To me, it doesn’t seem a big stretch to relate this to temple marriage as pertaining to today’s members.

  17. Robert C., Certainly “not look carefully at the context.” Issues not in the scriptural context, no, as long as you are willing to stretch a bit. (And when we carefully pick and choose what to discuss based on how it reinforces current doctrinal emphases, we not only stretch but we also omit lots of import.) To continue with Abraham’s servant and Rebekah, I too see spirituality and/or divine covenants as obvious lessons. Analogous to temple marriage, yes. But I seem to see a little bigger stretch to temple marriage as we know it today. And I see a real loss in slighting the ancient themes ya’ll discussed on Times and Seasons to drive home (AGAIN) temple marriage, regardless of it importance.
    As one still figuring out the culture of the blog, I hesitate to go too far afield the thread, but I was interested in your suggestion cultural and literary context might not be the focus of a church-wide lesson manual. One of my greatest personal concerns is the number of intelligent, educated and demanding people leaving activity in the Church. Some I know complain of being bored to death. A partial solution would be to offer multiple classes. A competent teacher could use more extensive materials for those who desired a different kind of class. There are some risks but the currect “one size fits all” carries risks too.

  18. Let someone who has only done a few years of seminary and Sunday School (gotta love split custody with a UU parent,) and taught the Primary manuals to 7 year olds, ask the stupid question the dictionary wouldn’t answer:

    What exactly is “prooftexting” and why is it bad?

  19. Sarah, let me give you my understanding, others should feel free to correct/supplement my take: Prooftexting is where you have some preconceived notion of what you believe or think about a certain topic, and then you approach a text looking for proof of that notion. With this approach, there’s no way to really learn anything from the text, because you are only looking to reinforce your already-held beliefs. The preferred approach, esp. with the scriptures, is to read in a child-like manner that is humble and teachable, letting the text speak for itself.

    Interesting analogies can be made with human interaction—a good listener will hear what the other person has to say. Several philosophers (mostly in the continental tradition) have aslo taken up this topic more generally, (cf. Buber’s “I-though” vs. “I-it” and “the other” in writings by Levinas and many others).

  20. Molly, regarding different Sunday school classes, there was a lengthy discussion of this on LDS-Phil back in January (try the “Structure, content and implications of Sunday School lessons” thread which I think carried on for several weeks. The thread’s kind of all over the place and probably doesn’t address your question specifically until a few weeks later (and the thread probably got renamed several times). T. Allen Lambert in particular took the view you suggest.

    I think a really good teacher can teach to a class with very diverse students, those who like a more scholarly approach and those who like a “gospel emotions” approach, as my father-in-law puts it. Given a diverse set of students, I think the GD manual isn’t too bad. If it were longer, more scholarly, or more intellectually challenging, I think it would frustrate many GD teachers. For “more advanced” teachers, I don’t think there’s a proscription on using other scripture commentaries. (The intro to this year’s manual seemed softer on this point than what I remember reading from earlier manuals.)

    Another issue is balancing the intellectual vs. spritual issues, which I think can be a very difficult task. I again, I think one could do a lot worse than the current GD manual.

    My understanding is that bishop’s have a fair amount of latitude on this front. In Pittsburgh we had basically four levels of classes, Gospel Essentials (new members and investigators), Gospel Living (an intermediate-level class that the bishop experimented with), the main gospel doctrine class, and second, smaller gospel doctrine class where the intellectuals and so-called apostates would tend to congregate (come to think of it, there was also a fifth “celestial marriage” class that may’ve over-lapped with the “gospel living class”; I think they used old RS and Priesthood manuals for the gospel living class).

    I was in the SS Presidency and was mainly in charge of the adult classes and sort of pushed for this approach. I usually down-played to the SS president and bishopric how often the ‘aspostate’ class would use Dialogue articles in lessons, for precisely the reasons you mentioned—there were several students attending that class who probably wouldn’t have attended church if it hadn’t been for that class. On the other hand, I sort of cringed when newer and more conservative members would attend that class (they tackled pretty controversial topics more often then not). Moreover, the class wasn’t typically very spiritual, at least in any conventional sense of the word….

  21. Proof-texting tends to take verses in isolation and ignore context. Consequently, a proof-texted verse rarely means what the proof-texter claims. It’s something missionaries and most Bible-bashers (LDS or no) do frequently.

  22. While I’m thread-jacking, let me add a couple more thoughts on more intellectual approaches in the church:

    I’ve been trying to understand better the way Mormons approach biblical criticism. I started a list of quotes and links here. I was mainly looking for attitudes toward literary criticism vs. “more objective approaches” (see Stephen Robinson’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism article linked there) amongst Mormon religion teachers and scholars. I’d love any additional insights, links, or sources (it’s a wiki page, so anyone can add to it).

    Also, Sunday school classes that don’t dig too deeply at the scriptures don’t bother me too much (now) b/c I think there are pretty good resources out there now for deeper digging. I tend to view the internet as a good place for more intellectual thinking about the church, and Sunday meetings as being more spiritual (at best, fluffy and lachrymose at worst). But maybe there’s more less-intellectual activity than intellectual activity amongst Mormons on-line, I don’t really have a good sense….

  23. I’ll have a review of two books that essentially discuss biblical criticism for laypeople in a few days.

  24. Doug Salmon says:

    I am somewhat disheartened that there has been considerable confusion regarding my paper on Nibley and the Book of Enoch. With regard to this thread, it did not deal with the “inspiration of Joseph Smith,” but rather, the obsession of Nibley to scour every scrap of obscure apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature for some possible parallel to LDS scripture. This exercise was, and is, a misguided endeavor.

    Consider the phenomenon at hand: the Joseph Smith Enoch (JSE) contains some level of parallels to the Ethiopic Enoch (EE). My point is simply, so what? For purposes of discussion, let’s grant the parallels are valid. Let’s further grant that Joseph Smith actually produced his Extracts from Enoch acurrately and by divine means. We thus have a divinely inspired work from the nineteenth century that has parallels to a work from intertestamental Judaism. Once again, so what? The EE does not contain any of the important truths of the restored gospel, in short, it is an apocryphal work, not worthy of canonization. If we want to adopt religious/theological speak, we should be wary of it, for in part, at least, it is full of the wiles of the devil. Thus, is the standing of JSE somehow enhanced if parallels to a doctrinally deficient, apocryphal work established?

    Let me make a bold assertion, Enoch did not write EE. The work was written by a Jew from the intertestamental period. No one believes EE was written by someone from the fourth millennium before Christ, nor is it believed by anyone that EE preserves traditions from the patriarchal period. There is, therefore, no benefit in drawing parallels to JSE–other than to demonstrate that when some intertestamental Jew fabricated a work supposedly written by Enoch, he produced a document in some regards parallel to what Joseph Smith supposedly received by revelation in the nineteenth century. If the LDS church wants to grant canonical status to EE, and maintain that it is Scripture written by the inspiration of God, then, and only then, will these parallels be of true apologetical value.

    So how does the “collective unconscious,” or its LDS analogue, the “light of Christ,” come in? Well, it is a possible explanation for why the parallels exist. A viable explanation from the LDS perspective might be: the author of EE was inspired in some degree by the light of Christ and that is why there are parallels to JSE. In other words, these parallels in no way strengthen the claim that Joseph Smith was a divinely inspired prophet; yet, they do demonstrate that the light of Christ was active, inspiring certain individuals with portions of the truth.

    Finally, on the work of Nibley, the paper sought to present a taxonomy of errors–that is, the errors discussed are the types of errors one may find in Nibley’s work, they are by no means an exhaustive list from that work. If anyone thinks I have been overly harsh in my criticism, I suggest that they pick a similar work by Hugh where he is enlisting parallels to support LDS scripture and examine every one of his notes. I know that is not an easy task, but until one performs the exercise for herself, one will never truly appreciate the issues involved, nor the criticisms I have offered. If that is too hard, then use my paper and check the references that I give. Do not trust Hamblin’s most unfair FARMS review. He never bothered to read the contents of my notes, but rather, routinely ignored the caveats I included there. Even more instructive, read Hamblin’s own review of Nibley that I cite in my paper. It’s hard to believe that the same man wrote both pieces.

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