Enoch and the Silmarillion Part 1: Context and Structure of the Tale of Enoch.

I’d like to do a series of posts on the tale of Enoch as it is found in the Pearl of Great Price. There is a lot of interesting stuff in there, and I’ll probably take note of a few interesting tangents along the way, but where I’m ultimately going with this is that I want to make a comparison between the weeping God of Enoch’s vision, and Nienna, the weeping goddess of Tolkien’s fictional epic, the Silmarillion, and see what insights I can draw out of such a comparison.

But first, I want to put the text of Enoch’s vision in its context as a part of Joseph Smith’s biblical revision project. None of what I write below is groundbreaking, but I think it helps to summarize it before getting into the text.

Background on Joseph Smith’s Biblical Revision Project and the Enoch Revelation

The biblical revision project has several names: Joseph Smith and his associates ultimately settled on calling it the “New Translation,” and that name was used in at least one revelation (D&C 124:89). The Community of Christ (then known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) first published it in 1867 as the “Inspired Version” of the scriptures. Our Church now calls it the “Joseph Smith Translation” in non-canonical footnotes and an appendix to its edition of the King James Bible, and also publishes canonized extracts from it as “The Book of Moses,” and “Joseph Smith–Matthew” in the Pearl of Great Price.

As an initial point, the word “translation” may be misleading if taken in the sense that it usually has. Joseph Smith did not begin with a text in one language and produce an equivalent text in another language. He began with an English text and produced an English text with significant additions and revisions. “Revision” is probably a more accurate name for most of the project, but to call it just a revision may not really capture it either, because the New Translation also includes significant expansions, such as the visions of Enoch, that are probably better described as additional new “revelations” than as mere “translations” or “revisions” of the existing text.[1]

Joseph Smith and his contemporaries themselves used the term “translation” to describe revelatory processes that are unlike traditional “translation.” Most obviously, they presented the Book of Mormon as a “translation” of an ancient text that the prophet physically possessed, but apparently did not refer to during the translation itself. And they also used it to refer to texts that were produced by direct revelation without reference to any manuscript, like the April 1829 revelation now codified as section 7, for example, which was presented as a translation of a text written on parchment many centuries before by the Apostle John. Joseph Smith never even claimed to have found or possessed any parchment manuscript from which he translated the contents of that revelation. But in the 1833 Book of Commandments, and in the 1835 and 1844 editions of the Doctrine and Covenants, all published during Joseph Smith’s lifetime,  this section is described in the heading as “translated from parchment, written and laid up by [John],” indicating that a “translated” text could include a text that was produced solely by revelation. See Book of Commandments at 18 (Zion, Mo: W.W. Phelps & Co. 1833); Doctrine and Covenants at 160 (Kirtland, Ohio: F.G. Williams & Co. 1835); Doctrine and Covenants at 236 (Nauvoo, Ill: John Taylor 1844, 2d ed.). (The heading to section 7 in the current LDS edition of the Doctrine and Covenants states that this “revelation is a translated version of the record made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself.”) This April 1829 revelation might be considered an early precedent for the portions of the biblical revision project like the visions of Moses and Enoch, that were new additions or expansions to the King James text. [2]

Unlike the Book of Mormon and the revelations canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants, most of the biblical revision was never officially added to the canon of the LDS Church. This is due more to historical accident than to any conscious determination that the biblical revision was less worthy of canonization than other canonized scriptures, but whatever the reason, it is mostly not part of the canon. [3] Still, the biblical revision’s current non-canonical status should not diminish in our eyes how important it was during its time. During the early 1830s, after the Book of Mormon, this project was arguably the major focus of Joseph Smith’s work.[4]

The project began in June 1830, just weeks after the Book of Mormon publication. It is not clear that it began with a definite plan to revise the bible, but if it wasn’t, it soon became that. It began with a revelation recorded by Oliver Cowdery under the heading “A Revelation given to Joseph the Revelator,” which described a vision of Moses, prefaced as “The words of God which he spake unto Moses at a time when Moses was caught up into an exceeding high Mountain.” This revelation does not appear to correspond to any material in the King James bible. Later, still in Oliver Cowdery’s hand, under the undated heading, “A Revelation Given to the Elders of the Church of Christ On the First Book of Moses,” and a Subheading “Chapter First,” the manuscript continues with an account that corresponds to the King James Genesis account, but with additions and alterations. As the work progresses, it becomes clear that the ultimate goal is to revise, or “translate” the King James bible with the benefit of Joseph Smith’s revelatory gift.

By December 1, 1830, Joseph Smith was dictating the revision of what is chapter 5 of Genesis in the King James translation. The December 1, 1830 dictation opens with the genealogy of Adam, which, in the King James version, mentions Enoch, but says little about him. But the dictation then takes a dramatic departure from the Genesis account and opens into a lengthy narrative about Enoch which does not correspond to anything in the King James Version.

Although the new translation began with Oliver Cowdery as scribe, a number of different people acted as scribe. The Enoch material began with Emma Smith serving as scribe. She wrote about two pages, then was replaced by John Whitmer, who wrote about a page and a half and was replaced by Sidney Rigdon when he arrived in Fayette, New York, in early December. Rigdon was named as Joseph Smith’s scribe in a revelation to him recorded about the same time, on December 7, 1830. See D&C 35:20.

Narrative Structure of the Tale of Enoch.

After opening with the genealogy of Adam, which, as given in the King James version, mentions Enoch, but says little about him, Joseph Smith’s biblical revision opens into a lengthy narrative about Enoch. One way of looking at this narrative is to divide it into 6 distinct episodes: three visions, and the aftermath of each vision:

  1. Enoch’s First Vision: His Calling as a Preacher and Initiation as a Seer.
  2. Enoch’s Preaching: the Plan of Salvation Given to Adam.
  3. Enoch’s Second Vision: His Initial Reception into God’s Presence.
  4. Enoch’s Career: the Establishment of Zion.
  5. Enoch’s Third Vision: The Weeping God, the Flood, and God’s Oath and Covenant to Enoch.
  6. Enoch’s Translation: His Final Reception into God’s Presence.

I’ll give a quick overview of the first two visions, then in the next post, we’ll take a look at the Third Vision.

  1. Enoch’s First Vision: His Calling as a Preacher and Initiation as a Seer.

The Enoch tale opens with Enoch, 65 years old, journeying, when suddenly the Spirit of God falls upon him (Moses 6:26) and God speaks to him and calls him to preach repentance (v. 27) because Enoch’s contemporaries have “denied” God, have “sought their own counsels in the dark,” have “devised murder,” have not kept the commandments given to Adam (v. 28), have “forsworn themselves, and by their oaths they have brought upon themselves death” (v.29).

Enoch protests that he is “but a lad” (a curious protest from a man of 65, though understandable in a story where men regularly live past 800 or 900), that he is “slow of speech,” and that “all the people hate me.” (Moses 6:31). God’s response to this protest is to assure Enoch that he will protect him, and that “all flesh is in [his] hands.” (v. 32) He further tells Enoch that his “Spirit is upon [Enoch]” and that “all [Enoch’s] words will [he] justify” such that at his words, even mountains will flee before him and rivers turn out of their course (v.34).

After this assurance, the Lord tells Enoch to anoint his eyes with clay and to wash them, which he does, resulting in his being granted the gift of seership: the ability to see “the spirits that God had created” as well as other “things not visible to the natural eye.” (Moses 6:35).

  1. Enoch’s Career as a Preacher: the Plan of Salvation Given to Adam.

The narrative continues with Enoch fulfilling the assignment given to him by preaching “standing upon the hills and high places.” (Moses 6:37). The reaction he gets is that “all men [are] offended because of him,” (v. 37) but still, their curiosity appears to get the better of them and they say : “[W]e go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth; and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us” (v. 38).

One man is brave enough to confront Enoch (Moses 6:40) and asks him who he is and where he comes from. Enoch tells them where he came from (v. 41) and recounts his first vision and calling, (v. 42) but then “continue[s] his speech” (v.43). First, he emphasizes that the God that called him is the God of his audience as well, and that they are “brethren,” and he asks them “why counsel ye yourselves, and deny the God of heaven?” (v. 43), echoing God’s statement to Enoch in his first vision that they had “denied” him. Enoch then launches into a narrative within the Enoch narrative about a vision of Adam. He recounts that following Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden, God himself called upon Adam to repent (v. 51-52) and be baptized in the name of Christ, that God forgave Adam’s transgression (v. 53), but that his children, because of the fall, are nevertheless susceptible to sin (v. 55). Accordingly, he commands Adam to teach his children about the fall, the need for repentance, and the need to be born again (v. 57-59)(echoing the Lord’s comment in Enoch’s first vision that the people had not kept the commandments given to Adam). He continues by recounting that Adam was baptized in water (v. 64) by the Spirit of the Lord, and that following his baptism, the Spirit of God fell upon him (v. 65) and he was born of the Spirit and, in a particularly powerful detail, says that Adam thus became a son of God, and thus may all of Adam’s descendants become sons of God (v. 68). [5]

  1. Enoch’s Second Vision: His Reception into God’s Presence.

The narrative says that Enoch began “from that time forth” to prophesy, and then recounts another vision. Again, Enoch is travelling, He stops to pray when a voice from heaven tells him to climb Mount Simeon. (Moses 7:2) [6] When Enoch reaches the mountaintop he “beheld the heavens open,” was “clothed upon with glory,” “saw the Lord” and spoke “face to face” with the Lord (v. 3-4).

The Lord tells Enoch that he will “show [him] the world for the space of many generations.” (Moses 7:4) Enoch then looks down into the valley where he sees the “people of Shum” and, to the north, the “people of Canaan.” (v. 5-6) At this point the Lord commands him to prophesy, which he does, prophesying that the people of Canaan would commit genocide against the people of Shum and that the land would be barren thereafter. (v. 7) After this, the Lord shows Enoch many other nations and commands him to preach repentance to them and baptize them. (v. 9)

  1. Enoch’s Career as Leader of God’s People: the Establishment of Zion.

The narrative then tells us that as Enoch preaches to all nations except the people of Canaan, he becomes the leader of the “people of God.” (v. 9-14) We then read that God’s promise to Enoch in his first vision is fulfilled, and that mountains and rivers flee at Enoch’s words “so powerful was the word of Enoch and so great was the power of the language that God had given him.” (v.13)

In a tantalizingly mysterious (and oddly Tolkienesque) detail, we are then told that a land comes up out of the sea, and that the enemies of the people of God, who are afraid of Enoch’s powerful language that causes mountains and rivers to flee, flee themselves to this new land, and that the “giants of the land” stood “afar off.” (v. 14-15) But God’s people flourished and were called “Zion,” “because they were of one heart, and of one mind, and dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them.”(v. 17-18) Enoch then continues his preaching and builds a “City of Holiness” or the City of Zion. (v. 19)

Next time: Enoch’s Third Vision, the vision of the weeping God.

[1] In fact, early editions of the Pearl of Great Price separated the visions of Enoch and Moses from the rest of the extract of the revision of Genesis. See Pearl of Great Price, F.D. Richards, Ed. (Liverpool 1851), at 1-7, 8-17. Similarly, the RLDS church did not incorporate the vision of Moses into the Book of Genesis in the Inspired Version, but published it as “A Revelation, Given to Joseph the Seer,” prefacing the Book of Genesis in the Inspired Version. In the Community of Christ’s Doctrine and Covenants the vision of Moses is published as section 22 and the visions of Enoch are published as section 36.

[2]  Of course, categorizing Joseph Smith’s revelations and translations in this way raises the question of the Book of Abraham: which category does it fall into, a text based on a record that Joseph Smith physically possessed, like the Book of Mormon, or one based on a record that he never possessed, like Section 7? Answer: I put the Book of Abraham more into the Section 7 category, but that’s not uncontested. It’s complicated and I won’t try to address it here. I will note, however, that to my mind the question of what category it falls into and the questions of whether it is historical, authentic , or true are independent questions.

[3] The story of how only portions of the New Translation made it into the LDS canon is a strange one:

Joseph Smith intended to publish the revised bible text as the “New Translation” of the Scriptures. But it was never published in complete form during his lifetime, though some excerpts were published in church periodicals. When he was killed in June 1844, his widow, Emma Smith, retained the manuscripts of the New Translation, and did not go west with Brigham Young. The Utah church thus did not have the manuscripts. But it did have some extracts from the New Translation that had been published previously, and in 1851, Franklin D. Richards, an apostle serving as the President of the British mission, compiled some of them, with a number of other important items that had been published in church periodicals in the United States, and published them in a single volume, which he called the “Pearl of Great Price,” to provide access to such materials to church members living in Europe.

Elder Richard’s compilation, the Pearl of Great Price, was officially accepted into the canon of the LDS church in 1880. It went through several editions, where material that was already contained in the Doctrine and Covenants was removed, and other items were consolidated. The current edition contains the first eight chapters of Genesis from the New Translation, including the visions of Moses and Enoch, as “The Book of Moses.” It also contains the revision of Matthew 24 as “Joseph Smith—Matthew.” The remainder of the New Translation was never formally added to the LDS canon.

For many years, suspicion and mistrust between the two churches, as well as some historical amnesia on the part of the LDS church meant that many LDS members were suspicious of the accuracy or authenticity of the Inspired Version and, aside from the extracts that were contained in the Pearl of Great Price, the New Translation did not enjoy wide circulation or acceptance among LDS church members. In the 1960s and 1970s, relations between the LDS and RLDS churches became more cordial and thanks to the persistent efforts of LDS researcher Robert J. Matthews, the RLDS church opened access to the original manuscripts to LDS researchers. Matthews completed an exhaustive study which largely corroborated the accuracy of the RLDS church’s Inspired Version, and in the 1981 edition of the LDS King James bible, the changes that appeared to a church committee be doctrinally significant (i.e. more than just renumbering verses, or minor typographical changes) and were not too long to be unwieldy, were incorporated into the King James Text as footnotes. Those that were too long for footnotes were included in an appendix. These changes were given the label “Joseph Smith Translation,” or “JST.” Except for the portions that were canonized as part of the Pearl of Great Price, however, the JST is treated as a study aid to the scriptures, but is not itself officially scripture.

[4] In fact, the work of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in revising the bible was the catalyst for several revelations later received. See, e.g., D&C 86 (December 6, 1832); D&C 76 (February 16, 1832); D&C 91 (March 9, 1833). The project was also referred to repeatedly in other revelations. See D&C 37:1 (December 1830) (instructing Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to put the project on hold until they had moved to Ohio); D&C 45:60-61 (March 7, 1831) (informing Joseph Smith that he will not be given further revelations about the parable of the ten virgins until he revises the New Testament, and instructing him to skip straight to the New Testament in the project); D&C 90:13 (March 8, 1833) (Joseph Smith’s calling is first to finish the revision of the Old Testament, and then to preside over the church); D&C 94:10 (August 2, 1833) (designating, along with the layout of the Kirtland temple, that a printing house should be built adjacent to the temple in order to publish  the biblical revision project); D&C 104:58 (April 23, 1834) (instructing the “United Firm” to organize themselves to, among other things, publish the biblical revision).

[5] The idea of being “literal spirit children” of God has become established LDS doctrine, but it isn’t very well defined. As we affirm that doctrine, I think we sometimes forget that being “literal spirit children” of God is not the only way LDS scriptures describe the saints as children of God. This verse seems to suggest, independent of any premortal “literal spirit” sonship and daughtership of God, that in mortality we become children of God by adoption, through Jesus Christ. The December 7, 1830 revelation to Sidney Rigdon, which was received around the same time as the Enoch revelation, makes the same point, only it frames sonship of God as a consequence of belief in Christ rather than of baptism: “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one.” D&C 35:2. This idea was not novel. John’s gospel says the same thing. John 1:12. But after the Enoch revelation, it seems to have repeated emphasis in the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants. See, e.g., D&C 39:4; D&C 42:52; D&C 45:8.

[6] We haven’t gotten to the Tolkien part yet, but I can’t help note a piece of trivia here. The footnote to this verse in the current Pearl of Great Price says that “The Hebrew equivalent of Simeon is Shimʼon, which means ‘hearing.'” If so, were Enoch’s visions ever translated into Sindarin, “Mount Simeon” would probably be rendered as “Amon Lhaw.” Somebody should get on that translation work. It would be amazing.


  1. it's a series of tubes says:

    Based solely on the title that includes “Enoch” and “Silmarillion”, this is the quality stuff that keeps me coming back to BCC. Now, to read it!

  2. I do wish they would add the forgiveness of Adam (and presumably Eve) into the Endowment film. It’d remove any reason to make us swear to hearken to God or Husband, since it wasn’t meant to be a forever oath. We could even take off the fig leaves at that point, and rejoice that even that mistake could be forgiven.

  3. Huh, I thought “Amon Lhaw” was Numenorean, not Sindarin. Learn something new everyday!

  4. Well, you’re kind of right. The Numeoreans spoke both their native Adunaic and Sindarin (until the later kings outlawed the use of Elvish languages, but even then “the faithful” kept learning and teaching Sindarin and Quenya). But when Elendil fled the downfall of Numenor he didn’t use Adunaic, so the Dunedain inherited the use of Sindarin from Elendil, and didn’t really preserve the use of Adunaic. Sindarin was the only language they kept in use from the time of Numenor, so in a sense, it was “Numenorean” to the Dunedain.

  5. You lost me at “Silmarillion.” I even looked twice to spell it. But this includes a well done compact treatment of 19c “translation”, “revelation” and “revision.” I’m noting for future use (with attribution, of course).

  6. Interesting comment, Frank. I personally understand the “law of the gospel” to refer to what Enoch describes (God giving Adam and Eve the commandment to repent and be baptized), but it’s important to remember, as you point out, that the law of the gospel did actually result in real forgiveness.

  7. JKC–Interesting. I figured the Numenoreans at their height wouldn’t have used Sindarin, reflecting their growing distance from the Valar. It makes sense that Elendil, as one of the “Faithful”, would use Sindarin.

    The rise and fall of Numenor is one of my favorite stories in Middle Earth. Not only is it a brilliant use of the Atlantis myth, but it is also a fascinating riff on the biblical Fall, with ArPharazon as Adam and Sauron as the serpent (though of course the Numenoreans already have the knowledge of good and evil, it is the tree of eternal life that they are trying to seize.) Tolkien even sneaks a reference to Moses in there–Elendil as Moses, ArPharazon as the Pharaoh. Good stuff.

    Love this series, by the way.

  8. Thanks, Christian. I’m glad it’s helpful. The next post or maybe even two posts will probably also be mostly about 19th Century stuff before I get into the super nerdy stuff, so maybe I’ll keep you around a little longer before I completely lose you?

    Nepos, I agree. In fact, I think the fall is the major theme of the entire legendarium. The Akabelleth is a particularly poignant expression of that theme.

  9. JKC–certainly! Pride is the worst sin in Tolkien (and arguably in the Bible). In the Silmarillion we see how pride leads to the fall of the Elves. The Akabelleth shows the fall of the Numenoreans. In LOTR, the One Ring embodies the temptation of pride (and we must not forget poor Smeagol, who symbolizes the Fall both figuratively and quite literally.)

    Of course, Tolkien was always careful to show that in the end the faithful (and humble) would be triumphant–Earendil, Elendil, Aragorn, all prefiguring Christ, the King Triumphant. But that’s another post.

  10. Of course, Elendil is most like Noah, of all biblical figures, and the way Noah functions in the New Translation as the survivor of the cataclysm and the link between the ante-diluvian and post-diluvian worlds to carry on the covenant that began with Enoch, in my opinion only makes him even more like Elendil.

  11. JKC this is nerd-nip. Love it. Let me know when you’re going to get to Luthien as an Eve-figure.

  12. I hadn’t planned on making that connection in this discussion, Steve, but you’re right. Melian, Luthien, Arwen, all make Eve’s choice. Though in some ways, they are more like Adam because they choose mortality to be with a mortal spouse. And then Elwing is sort of a reverse Eve/Christ figure.

  13. The Akallabeth certainly has, as Tolkien noted, connections to Atlantis and Noachian themes, though I’ve noticed curious echoes as well of the stories of the Jaredite and Nephite migrations. In the Akallabeth, a people had been rewarded for their righteousness with a land of promise and great knowledge. In a classic pride cycle, they become prosperous and powerful but eventually also proud and rebellious. They begrudgingly obey out of tradition, then fear, then openly defy the gods, then worship another god. Ultimately, like the inhabitants of Babel, they attempt to take the Blessed Realm for themselves by physical force, which provokes a cataclysm from which a faithful family escapes by ship to found a kingdom in exile.

    Rather than eight barges or one ship, the faithful in Tolkien’s story escape in seven ships, but bring heirlooms from their destroyed home, including a distinguished sword, spherical means of communication (the Palantíri), scrolls of lore, and a white tree that bore white fruit. The Nephites likewise brought out from Jerusalem a sword (which also symbolized kingly authority), a spherical means receiving divine oracles, and records, as well as an account of a vision of white tree. (The translucent Palantíri may also echo the sixteen glowing Jaredite stones.)

  14. *Edit: “the faithful in Tolkien’s story escape in NINE ships.” (Sorry, I didn’t have my copy open at the time.)

  15. The Akaballeth obviously invites comparision between Numenor and Babel, but I hadn’t thought of extending that comparison to the Jaredite story before reading that comment.

  16. Fall from Grace and Civilizational Downfall are the overwhelming themes in the entire Silmarillion. Loved this post and the comments and am looking forward to the entire series.

  17. I’ve been away and only just saw this. Needless to say, awesome!

  18. Thanks, John and Ronan.

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